A Louse for the Hangman
From the moment the body was discovered, Carolus ceased to have any hand in the direction of the case. There was a great deal of practical work to be done and there were measures to be taken which were quite outside his power or authority, and he was content to leave these to the police. He would, in fact, have moved down to the Duke of Suffolk Hotel had not Lady Penge, on arrival that morning, insisted on his doing nothing of the sort.
She rather shocked both the household and the investigating police by the cool and business-like way in which she heard of her husband’s death.
“Murder, you say?” she said to Scudd. “Where is the weapon?”
“It hasn’t been found, but a rifle similar to the one that killed Ratchett is missing from the gun-room.”
“That’s it, then. Somebody took it during the night and shot him. But how did the murderer persuade him to leave the house and go out to the garage so conveniently? He was actually shot in the garage, you say, not taken there afterwards?”
“No. He was shot there. We shan’t get a report from the ballistics people for some days, but there can be little doubt. The bullet was embedded in the wall behind him.”
“You think he was killed by the killer of Ratchett?” asked Lady Penge.
“It is too early to say. I couldn’t give any opinion on that,” said Scudd importantly.
“What about you, Mr. Deene?”
“Oh yes,” said Carolus off-handedly. “Of course he was.”
It was then that Carolus suggested to Lady Penge that he should move to the Duke of Suffolk.
“Your family naturally feels that I have been remiss,” said Carolus, “that I could have prevented this. I think it would be better if I stayed in the village.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Deene. I should like you to be here. I think we understand one another better than might be supposed.”
“Perhaps we do, Lady Penge. But you understand that in no circumstances can I be a party to any kind of misdirection of justice. I’m sorry if I sound priggish, but I have no alternative, really.”
“I see that. I shan’t ask you to lie. But surely you ought to be here to see what the police are up to?”
“Thank you for letting me stay.”
It was not easy, as a matter of fact, for Carolus to learn what the police were up to. The position in which Lord Penge’s body was found suggested that he had stood with his back to the wall, almost as though he faced a firing-squad. The single shot which had killed him had been fired at very close range and death would have been instantaneous. As usual, the exact time of expiry was hard to fix, but it had been somewhere in the small hours. The fact which the police took most seriously was that the drivers of the two cars here were missing.
Their longest cross-examination was naturally of Gribbley. As he told Carolus afterwards, he thought they would never finish with him. They concentrated on the shot—he must have heard it, they said: his flat was not twenty paces away. No, he had heard nothing. He was a heavy sleeper, but a shot fired in the small hours would awaken him, of course. He was positive. Yes, he had been in his flat all night. No, he had never left it for an instant. No, No one had telephoned during the night.
“Didn’t it occur to them,” suggested Carolus when Gribbley told him this, “that there may have been a silencer on the rifle?”
It must have done in the end, thought Gribbley, because they did eventually leave him alone and start on some of the others.
Lord Penge had still been wearing a dinner jacket when he was shot and an overcoat over it. Carolus gathered that there was no indication of exactly how he had been standing or where his hands were (except that he had his back to the wall), but, remembering Ratchett’s death, Carolus was not much perturbed by the absence of evidence on this point. He remembered that in the case of Ratchett accounts have been rather at variance, Ronald saying that just before he was shot Ratchett had his hands up, and the body when it was discovered shewing both hands in the overcoat pockets.
It appeared that little more could be gathered from the dead body, and before noon, after it had been photographed, it was removed. Carolus guessed that the police were concentrating on finding the weapon and questioning Piggott and Lockyer when the whereabouts of these was known.
If Carolus had been surprised at the family’s behaviour immediately after the death of Ratchett, he was even more amazed at it now. Eustace seemed more angry than anything else. He looked at Carolus with resentment and dislike, but otherwise seemed to behave as normal, going over to the stables for an hour before lunch. Hermione was nowhere to be seen, but young Ronald shewed no great grief, and Lady Penge shewed nothing at all. It was astonishing that a man who had loved his family and been loved by at least some of them, who had been shot dead a few hours earlier, received so little mourning, at least of a discernible kind. The life of the house went on, lunch was served punctually at one and consisted of a cucumber-cream soup, grilled sole, blanquette de veau and roast duckling. Lady Penge spoke of her visit to her relative and explained why she had been able to leave, and although Hermione looked pale and peaked, she said nothing about her father’s death.
Could it be that he was wrong, Carolus wondered, and that these people had hated Penge? Was even Eustace indifferent? If this were so, there was an added sadness in situation, for there could be no doubt that Penge had cared deeply for his son and heir.
But Carolus found over coffee that, at least so far as he was concerned, this indifference was assumed, for when Chilham had left the room the family rounded on him as though by pre-arrangement.
“Mr. Deene,” said Lady Penge. “You said this morning that the same man killed Ratchett and my husband.”
“I did not say ‘man’, Lady Penge.”
“The same person, then. Do you know who it was?”
“Yes. It’s not very puzzling, really. Anyone who knows what I know should see it at once. And I have no secret information at all.”
“When are you going to tell us?” said Ronald.
“Never, I think,” said Carolus slowly, “unless there is danger of a miscarriage of justice.”
“Now what do you mean by that?” asked Lady Penge calmly.
“I mean if the wrong person is blamed, or seriously threatened with blame, I should have to give all the details I know.”
“You seem to have great sympathy for the murderer of my father,” said Eustace bitterly.
“I have very little sympathy for anyone in this case.”
“But do you think the wrong person will be blamed?” asked Hermione anxiously.
“I’m afraid I think it is quite likely. So many people’s actions last night would seem inexplicable to an outside observer.”
“What persuaded my father to leave the house, Mr. Deene, after your warning to him? Do you know that?”
“Yes, I know that. But I don’t think I’ll say any more on the subject unless I am forced to do so by circumstances.”
When the rest of them had gone, Hermione came to Carolus.
“How much do you know?”
“I’m afraid I know it all,” said Carolus, “the whole wretched business. There are some parts I’ve had to fill in with guesswork, but the outline’s whole.”
“And you say you have to sympathy for anyone? How can you say that? ”
She was crying as she left the room.
All that day Scudd was interrogating the people in the house, and he came out last to Carolus. It was sitting at Lord Penge’s desk in the library.
“You understand, Mr. Deene, but so far as we’re concerned you’re simply another guest in this house. You realize, I hope, they would be a serious matter to withhold information from us?”
“What do you want to know?”
The usual questions followed—what time Carolus had gone to bed, had he noticed anything unusual the evening, did he see or hear anything during the night. He answered each question frankly and to the last gave what details he could of the three things that happened after midnight: the weeping woman, Ronald’s report about Lockyer and the footsteps under his window. He thought that Scudd would like to ask him his opinion in the matter, but refrained, perhaps for pride’s sake.
“Do you still want me to consider this matter of hidden papers?” Scudd asked.
“The papers aren’t hidden, exactly. I certainly want to see them still.”
“They have not become irrelevant?”
“Oh no. I think they are more to the point that before. From them I think you may gather who killed Lord Penge.”
“Something you know already?”
“One can’t have too much confirmation, though, can one?”
“We must see what we can do when we’re not too busy. Can’t possibly go flying off today.”
Detective Inspector Scudd was in fact heavily occupied with matters which he considered far more important than the mysterious ‘papers’ Carolus had mentioned. He had fingerprint experts at work, still more persons to interrogate, prints and photos to study, reports to read from various parts of the country, messages to send, superior officers to reassure, the Press to interview; It was small wonder that he had not much time to wonder who killed Lord Penge, and certainly none to spare for a drive to an uncertain destination with Carolus Deene.
When the evening newspapers came out Detective Inspector Scudd found himself famous, but he did not altogether like some the references to ‘previous warnings’ and the fact that Lord Penge was stated to have been under police protection when he was killed. Nor did he like the allusion in one paper to the presence in the house of the famous private investigator Carolus Deene, ‘who, it is understood, will shortly give an exposition of the whole case’.
Carolus liked the evening paper less, for from it he learnt for the first time that Piggott had been found and was being interrogated. It appeared that the truck had been seen outside Piggott’s home in Brighton and that a Savage 30•30 rifle from which a shot had recently been fired was still in Piggott’s possession.
Carolus went with this news to Gribbley.
“Nobody seriously thinks it’s Piggott, do they?” he said at once. “They must be crazy if they do. He’d never think of such a thing. Besides, what would he have to gain?”
“I suppose we shall hear in good time,” said Carolus, “why he went off like that and was found in Brighton.”
“Of course we shall. There must have been some reason. Piggott liked a laugh and that, but he wasn’t a lad to go chasing off without some good reason.”
“Then how did he come to have the rifle, do you suppose?”
“Somebody must have planted it on him. Whoever shot the old man, I suppose.”
“So far all we know is that they’ve questioned Piggott. They’ve questioned everyone here, too. But I don’t like that rifle being found with him.”
“No. But there can’t be anything against young Piggott. I’ve known him for years, in the Andrew and out. He’s straight as a die. His old mum will be pretty upset when she reads this, though. She’s Getting On and thinks the world of him. However, I suppose it will soon clear up.”
“Now that they’ve all finished with the place, would you mind shewing me just how and where you found Lord Penge? ”
“Certainly I will. Come over to the little garage.”
They went over to the smaller of the garage buildings. Carolus remembered seeing Piggott the other day very skilfully as swiftly back his truck into this, and come over grinning to join him and Gribbley. They entered now to find it completely empty.
“You see, there was just room for the two in here, and for over a year now Lockyer had kept his Rover there and the truck was kept here. When I was told to search this morning, I thought it dam’ silly to search the garages at all, but I did what I was told and looked all through the big garage and all the cars in it, then came over here. I saw it at once, of course. The old man was on the ground back there, between where the two cars stood. He was sort of slumped over, but I understand the police say he must have been facing this way towards the door and been shot from quite close.”
“Mm. I notice there’s no electric light in this garage.”
“No. It had been ordered, but the local electrician’s pretty slow. This is the only building on the whole estate that hasn’t got it.”
“These doors are normally kept open or shut?”
“Shut at night. Piggott used to open them up to get the truck out in the morning. But they weren’t locked.”
“If Lockyer took his car out before Piggott took the truck, as all our information suggests, he might have left them open or shut after him?”
“We shan’t know that till we see Piggott.”
“I hope to God that’s soon. This is getting on my nerves. Fancy their interrogating a decent lad like Piggott. What the hell next?”
“So long as it’s only interrogation,” said Carolus.
“You mean, you think they may charge him?”
“I think you should be prepared for it. So Lord Penge lay just here. Can you suggest anything that might have brought him to this garage?”
“I can’t. I don’t suppose he has set foot in it for years. He had no reason to. Now tell me what you think the police will do with Piggott.”
“They can’t hold him much longer without bringing a charge, but of course they may hold him by just charging him with stealing the truck or something till they decide what they intend to do.”
“It’s a rotten turn-out, the whole thing.”
“I agree with you. Now I want to take my car out for an hour.”
Carolus drove straight to the Duke of Suffolk and went to the manager’s office, when he found Major Stour.
“Dreadful business this,” said the Major. “Worse to think the police knew Penge had someone gunning for him and couldn’t prevent it.”
He said ‘the police’, but Carolus felt himself included in the condemnation.
“Yes,” he said curtly. “Where’s Tramper?”
“Gone,” said Major Stour. “Fellow came in about six yesterday afternoon and paid his bill for everything owing since Saturday, then went upstairs and packed his bag.”
“What time did he actually leave the hotel?”
“Bit hard to say. Fellow went to the public bar. My barmaid wouldn’t have him in the lounge. She’s a very decent young woman and wouldn’t stand for Tramper. The barman in the public bar remembers him coming in and having a game of darts, but can’t remember when he left. He had his bag with him there.”
“He had no car?”
“Car? No. All he had was one suit-case.”
“Surely there must be some idea when he left? Was he still there a closing time, for instance?”
“No, no. It was before then. Between eight and nine, so far as I could gather. He was talking to some lorry-drivers, so he may have got a lift with some of them. No one saw him leave. Why?”
“You don’t suspect the fellow of . . .”
“I didn’t like him.”
“Nor did I. But you surely don’t think he had anything to do with Penge’s death? The police would have been round asking questions today if it was anything like that, I should have thought.”
“I’m glad to see the back of the fellow, anyway.”
“Would you be kind enough to ’phone me if he reappears?”
“I’ll do that. But I hope I never set eyes on him again.”
“Don’t be too sure that you won’t. Good night.”