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19: The Hospital and the Hotel

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Author Topic: 19: The Hospital and the Hotel  (Read 37 times)
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« on: April 22, 2023, 04:43:28 am »

THE ward sister said, "You can see Mr. Todman now. But please understand that he is to be kept very quiet. And you are not to stay too long. When I tell you that you're to go, you'll go, and no nonsense about it. Is that understood?"

She was a tiny little woman with red hair and a thin, hard mouth. The two large detectives quailed before her. Meekly they assured her that they understood perfectly. Meekly they followed her down echoing, hygienic passages to Mr. Todman's bedside.

From beneath a mass of bandages a pair of cold grey eyes stared hatefully up into Trimble's face.

"So it's you again, is it? I might ha' known," said Jesse Todman.

"I'm not going to worry you for long," said the Superintendent in a reassuring tone. "Just a few questions----"

"You can keep your questions, mister, and I'll tell you straight. That cyclist never gave a signal. I don't care what anyone says. Never a sign of a signal. How was I to tell he was going to turn?"

"I'm not concerned with the cyclist, Mr. Todman. The Sergeant here and I are only interested in the case of Mrs. Pink."

"Perishing old bitch!" said Mr. Todman. He closed his eyes, and for a moment it seemed as though that was his final comment on Mrs. Pink. Then he looked up again, and this time there was an expression of fear in what could be seen of his face.

"'Ere!" he said. "Have you been on at my Marlene again over that house of mine?"

"It's nothing to do with the house this time, Mr. Todman."

"That's all right, then. So long as Marlene's comfortable I don't care what happens to me. Mrs. Pink! Ha! That was a turn-up and no mistake. I wrote and warned her, but it wasn't no use. If she'd got out when I told her to, maybe all this would never have happened. Three hundred pounds I offered her and she wouldn't see reason. And if she'd waited to listen to me I'd have made it four fifty. But would she stop when I called to her? No. There she went, with four hundred and fifty pounds behind her and sudden death in front. That's a judgment, if ever there was one, eh, mister?"

"Where did she go, Mr. Todman?"

"Down the hill, of course, down the Glade---you know."

"And you went after her?" said Trimble softly.

At first it seemed that Todman had not heard him. He had closed his eyes again, and now leaned back on his pillow, apparently exhausted by his effort. The sister, standing at the head of the bed, turned towards the Superintendent and drew breath to speak. Then, quite suddenly, Todman came to life again, and this time there was an unexpected malicious grin on his face.

"I could 'ave, couldn't I?" he said. "I know what you're getting at, mister---you can't fool me. But I didn't. Just sat there in the car like an idiot, cussing and swearing to myself, for I don't know how long---five, ten minutes perhaps. I never so much as set foot on the path. Ask Mrs. Ransome if I did."

"Oh! Mrs. Ransome saw you there, did she?"

"I'm not saying she did. All I'm telling you is she would have seen me if I had. See?"

"Would have seen you? Why?"

"'Cause I should have walked on top of her, of course," said Todman impatiently. "That path only leads one way, s'far as I know."

"Let's get this quite clear," said Trimble as calmly as he could. "You saw Mrs. Ransome going down the path---with Mrs. Pink?"

"Not with her---after her."

"How long after her?"

"How should I know? A tidy time, I suppose. Not so long, either. Say a couple o' minutes, more or less."

"Was she walking fast or slow?"

"Oh, she was hurrying all right. Fast enough to catch that fat old cow up if she'd wanted to."

"Had she anything in her hand? A stick or anything?"

"I didn't take that much notice."

"And you didn't see her come back?"

Todman shook his head.

The sister had her hand on Todman's pulse. She frowned slightly. "I think----" she said.

"Just a few more moments, madam, please," Trimble begged. "We shan't be long now, I promise you. Mr. Todman," he went on hastily, "after you had seen Mrs. Ransome go down the path, what did you do?"

"Went home."

"Now I want you to think very carefully, because it may be important. Did you see anybody on the hill as you came down it?"


"Nobody at all?"

"Nobody---except Mr. Rose, of course."

"I don't know why you say 'of course', Mr. Todman."

"'Cause I'd left him at the bottom to walk up, that's why. It stands to reason he'd be coming up when I was coming down, don't it?"

"Where did you see him?"

"On the brow of the hill. I was taking the corner on the other side of the valley, like, and I looks across and sees him."

"And you saw nobody else?"

"I've told you that already."

"Did you see Mr. Wendon's car?"

"Yes, I saw that."

Todman's speech was becoming ominously feeble. It was a question, Trimble felt, whether he had already reached the stage when he was prepared to agree to any suggestion put to him from sheer lassitude. Fighting against time, and desperately avoiding the sister's eye, he put another leading question.

"And Mr. Wendon was in his car?"

"No he wasn't." The answer was faint but quite decided.

"How do you know?"

"I know because I looked," said Todman with a renewed spasm of petulant energy. "Wanted to ask him about that account of his---been waiting long enough for it. Car in the park, under the trees. Wasn't no sign o' Wendon. No sign. No signal. Like that bloody cyclist. He never gave no signal. They're all the same---push-bikes and motor-bikes. No signals. You ask Mrs. Pink what I did to her bike. She . . ."

"That will do," said the sister firmly.


"Where are we going to now?" said Sergeant Broome, as the Superintendent's car turned on to the by-pass road that, avoiding the narrow streets of Markhampton, led northwards up the vale of the Didder.

"Druids Hotel," Trimble answered briefly. They were the first words he had uttered since leaving the hospital.

Broome shrugged his shoulders philosophically and turned once more to the difficult task of writing up his notebook in a car that was being driven at speed.

They found Humphrey Rose sitting in a deck-chair on the lawn behind the hotel under a copper-beech tree. The customary cigar was in his mouth and he was reading the Financial Times. He did not get up when the detectives approached but nodded to them in a friendly and slightly patronizing fashion over the top of his newspaper, which he did not bother to put down.

"Mr. Rose," said Trimble, "have you any objection to answering a few more questions on what you said to me yesterday?"

"Not the slightest," said Rose genially.

"Then perhaps you would come into the hotel with us for a few moments."

Rose looked meditatively round the garden. The only other occupants were an elderly couple sitting together on a rustic seat well out of earshot. He looked up to the sky, which was a pure unclouded blue.

"Thank you very much," he said, flicking the ash off his cigar, "but I am quite comfortable where I am."

There being no other seat within sight, the officers were left with the choice of sitting on the ground or remaining standing---the choice, in other words, between crouching at the feet of their suspect like disciples before their teacher, or standing in front of his chair, like servants receiving orders. It was the kind of calculated rudeness at which Rose was particularly adept. Trimble recognized it for what it was and mastered his temper only with difficulty.

"Very well," he said. He looked at the grass, realized that it was slightly damp, and decided on the more tiring though less undignified alternative. "I have just come from interviewing Mr. Todman," he went on, staring down into Rose's untroubled face.

"Todman? Ah, yes, the garage proprietor. A very temperamental driver. Did I tell you, by the way, that he tried to run my poor wife down with his car the other day? The Ransome boy will tell you about it if you are interested."

"Todman," Trimble continued doggedly, refusing to be sidetracked, "Todman took your luggage up to The Alps on Thursday, leaving you to walk up the hill."

"So he did. But we've been into this before, surely?"

"What we have not been into before, Mr. Rose, is this---if you were walking up the hill as you say, why did not you and he see each other when he was driving back down the hill?"

Rose shook his head gravely.

"Certainly you ought to have thought of that yesterday, Superintendent," he said in a reproving tone.

"I am asking you now, did you see Todman's car coming down the hill?"

"If Todman came down direct from The Alps, and if I happened to be looking in his direction at the moment, no doubt I did."

"Then it was his car you saw and not Wendon's?"

"You seem to jump to conclusions in a most irresponsible fashion. I haven't said that I didn't see Wendon's car." Rose yawned slightly and glanced down at the newspaper in his hands.

"Listen, Mr. Rose. I don't think you are attending properly to what I am saying. Todman tells me that he saw you on the brow of the hill. He tells me further that Wendon's car was not on the road at that moment at all, but standing in the car-park at the top, unoccupied. If that is correct, it follows that you could not have seen it on the road, because once over the brow you are out of view of the road. Do you follow me?"

"Perfectly. What I understand you are trying to convey, in a rather muddled fashion, is that Todman tells one story and Wendon another."

"I have not said anything about Wendon's story," said Trimble, by now thoroughly nettled. "I am concerned with yours."

"My story, if I am to call it that, did not mention Wendon, if my recollection is correct."

"It mentioned a car which was readily identifiable with his."

"Quite right."

"And that was in answer to a question of mine after you knew I had seen Wendon at the police-station."

"Quite right," repeated Rose amiably.

"I suggest that you invented that answer so as to agree with Wendon's statement."

Rose raised his eyebrows.

"It would have been very clever of me to have guessed what it was that brought Wendon to see you yesterday," he observed.

"I think you are a very clever man, Mr. Rose."

Rose nodded his head. "Yes, I am," he acknowledged.

"If Todman is telling the truth your answer was a complete fabrication."

"So it would appear."

"For the last time, Mr. Rose, are you prepared to tell me whose car it was you saw on the hill?"

Rose blew a fragrant cloud of smoke through his nostrils and very deliberately ground the butt of his cigar into the grass beside his chair.

"No," he said, "I am not. On reflection, I am not prepared to say whether I saw any car at all. As I suggested just now," he went on before the disgusted Superintendent could interrupt, "you are really asking me to determine between the truth of what you tell me Todman says and what, as you suggest, I am clever enough to guess that Wendon says. Now, I am not a policeman, and it is a matter of complete indifference to me which of these two unimportant individuals is telling the truth—if either of them are. As you will already have observed, I am not particularly interested in truth as an abstract principle. I am interested in one thing, and one thing only, and that is"---he spoke deliberately and with long pauses between the words---saving---my---own---neck." He let the crude phrase sink in before he went on in his usual measured tones, "You told me yesterday that there was only my word to vouch for the fact that I was in a particular place at a particular point of time. It now appears that I have the word not of one but of two independent witnesses to support my story. That is quite good enough for me. The fact that they are so independent that their accounts are mutually inconsistent does not worry me in the least. It is sufficient for me that between them they make it completely impossible for anybody outside Bedlam to think of prosecuting me. Have I made myself clear?"

Rose extracted another cigar from his case, cut it with a gold cigar-cutter and lighted it. He then looked up at the detective still glowering speechless before him, gave what could only be interpreted as a nod of dismissal, and opened his newspaper with a flourish. When Trimble looked back across the lawn he could see only the white sheets of paper extended wide, a thin column of blue smoke rising above them, and, beneath, the beautifully trousered legs of Humphrey Rose, stretched out in comfortable relaxation.

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