Case for Three Detectives
He drove violently fast, of course. It was not to be supposed of him that in speed, of all things, he should shew an uncharacteristic moderation. So I leaned back in the seat of the Rolls, and comforted myself with the somewhat selfish reflection that most other cars were, smaller, lighter, and more easily crumpled than this one.
“Strange name for a village—Sidney Sewell,” I observed.
“Not really,” replied Lord Simon; “it only seems so because when you first heard it you assumed that it was the name of a man. Almost any place with a double name would seem like that. Horton Kirby, for instance, or Dunton Green. Chalfont St. Giles might easily have been the villain of a Victorian novel, and I see no reason why Compton Abdale (a village in Gloucestershire) should be thought to be the name of a place more than Compton Mackenzie. It just depends on how you hear of them first.”
“But what made you think of Sidney Sewell as a village?”
“I didn’t. I just tried it in all the reference books I could lay hands on. There chanced to be an out-of-date telephone directory which I got from the post office, and a Times Atlas which I found at the hotel.”
We purred quietly over a narrow bridge at fifty miles an hour, and ten minutes later I was relieved to catch a glimpse as we shot by, of the name Sidney Sewell on a signpost. It was something to have got as near as that without actual disaster.
The village itself was a pleasant and rather dignified one. The central street was divided from the houses on each side of it by wide grass strips, which gave the whole place an air of spaciousness. We were travelling through it at a still fairly considerable speed when Lord Simon applied his brakes with skilled force, and brought us to a standstill.
“Good Lord—look at that!” he said.
Now all I could see was the quiet village street before us, with very little traffic and scarcely a human being in sight. There was a butcher’s shop over to our right, from the door of which the proprietor was watching us rather indifferently. On our left was an inn called the Black Falcon, and a blue saloon motor-car stood outside. Next to the inn, and nearer to us, was a garage. But nowhere in the placid and normal scene could I see anything which might have caused Lord Simon’s exclamation. Unwilling, however, to admit that I was less perceptive than he was, I waited for him to reveal more.
“That car,” he said at last. “Surely you know it? Thurston’s.”
I looked again at the blue saloon. It was a standard model of Austin make. I did not see how I could be expected to recognize it, and said so.
Lord Simon sounded quite irritable. “Have you ever heard of index numbers?” he asked. “That’s Thurston’s all right.”
I realized what I was expected to say in order to restore Lord Simon’s good humour, and the tone in which I should say it. “Then what on earth is it doing here?” I asked.
“Fairly obvious, don’t you feel?” said Lord Simon, smiling amiably again.
It was, of course, far from obvious to me, but it was pleasant to have our respective roles happily restored, and I nodded.
Lord Simon, with a bold sweep of his large car, drove straight into the garage, and told a mechanic there that he wished to leave it under cover for half an hour or so. He saw that it was place in the far recesses of the corrugated iron building, out of sight of the road, and we walked out of the place.
He led the way, however, not past the windows of the inn, but into the yard at the back, and went up to a small back door. He knocked rather gently, and presently an untidy woman opened it.
“Yes?” she said unencouragingly.
“Oh, would you mind tellin’ us where the gentlemen from that car may be? I mean the car standing in front of your house.”
The woman eyed him curiously. “What business would it be of yours?”
“Nothing really. Just my silly curiosity,” smiled Lord Simon, and handed her a ten-shilling note.
“They’re in the private bar,” she replied sulkily.
“How many of them?”
“Three? That’s odd. Is there another bar?”
“There’s the public.”
“Can it be seen from theirs?”
“No. It can’t. There’s glass partitions round the counter, to prevent prying and spying.”
“But the same bar serves them both?”
“Yes. Anything else you want to know? Haven’t you got nothing better to do than ask questions?”
“Yes. Something far better. We’ll have a drink. And we’ll have it in the public bar. And we won’t talk there, if you don’t mind. And you won’t mention that we’re here. That’s for two whiskies. My friend likes, whisky—drinks it with lobster. Keep the change. Now which is the way?”
Through an untidy kitchen in which washing was hung to dry the woman led us to a door, and left us alone with a large cat. We sat down in silence and waited.
The voices which came through from the other bar were not loud, and the words they spoke were indistinguishable. But the speakers could be identified. Fellowes—I distinctly heard him say, “Cheerio, sir!”—Strickland, who called for “Three more!” in his rather thick, deep voice, and, to my surprise, Alec Norris, whose shrill laugh would have been recognizable anywhere.
The atmosphere—was musty, the advertisements on the wall out of date and dismal, and the words of those in the other bar inaudible. I was beginning to get thoroughly impatient, when I heard some movement, and Strickland’s voice raised.
“Wait here, then, Fellowes,” he said, and his voice came from this side of the room. “We shan’t be more than a quarter of an hour.”
There was a slight tinkle in the shutting of the door, indicating that it was glass, as ours was, then a ring of feet on an iron mat at the door. Looking out of the window of our bar we could see Strickland and Norris setting off together along the road by which we had entered the village.
Lord Simon did not hesitate. He walked straight through into the private bar and confronted Fellowes. But the chauffeur, beyond putting down his drink and facing us, remained undisturbed.
“Interestin’ meetin’,” began Lord Simon, “I wonder what you’d happen to be doin’ here?”
“Obeying orders,” Fellowes returned.
“Indeed? Whose orders?”
“Dr. Thurston’s. He told me to take these two gentlemen wherever they wished to go.”
“Did you ask him, then?”
“Yes. Of course I did. When they said they wanted a run in the car somewhere, it wasn’t for me to take them without permission. So I asked Dr. Thurston.”
“And what did he say?”
“He told me not to bother him. Take them anywhere.”
“So you decided to come to Sidney Sewell.”
Fellowes was silent for a moment, then said, “No. I didn’t choose it. They said where they wanted to go.”
“Mm. So you’ve no idea why this place was chosen?”
“You had no object in coming here yourself?”
“Rather good at monosyllables, aren’t you, Fellowes?’
“Don’t know what you mean.”
We returned to the public bar. Lord Simon seemed rather quiet, even perplexed at that moment. But very shortly we saw Strickland and Norris returning. Fellowes must have told them at once of our presence, for Strickland burst into the room, and Norris followed him.
“What the devil do you mean by trailing us about like this?” Strickland asked furiously.
“Cool down, my lad,” drawled Lord Simon. “Can’t a fellow have a run in a car without all this excitement?”
“Don’t talk rot, Plimsoll,” shouted Strickland. “You followed us here! You must have. As for you, Townsend, sneaking round with these dam’ detectives—I’m disgusted. Are you trying to prove that I did this murder?”
There was a high-pitched question from behind him. “Perhaps you suspect me?” asked Alec Norris.
Lord Simon smiled to them with aloof boredom. “My dear old boys, don’t work yourselves up. You’ll know soon enough whom I suspect. Nice place, Sidney Sewell. Ever been here before, Strickland?”
“Oh, I’m sick of answering your silly questions, Plimsoll. Come on, Fellowes, we’ll get home.”
And the three of them marched out. From the window we watched Fellowes get into the driving-seat, and Strickland and Norris sit behind.
“Well, well, well,” said Lord Simon.
The interview had made me uncomfortable. If Strickland turned out not to be the murderer it would be awkward when we met again, for I certainly seemed guilty of spying. Detection was, after all, Plimsoll’s job, but for me, it would seem, there could be little excuse.
“And now,” said Lord Simon, as we walked out into the pale autumn sunset, “I have one more call to make. I wonder where we are likely to find the post office?”
I proved myself helpful by stopping a passer-by and enquiring. It was a hundred yards down the street I was told, and we set out briskly together.
“I wonder whether you’d mind awfully just waitin’ outside for me a moment?” asked Lord Simon, when we had reached the little general store which combined its business with that of the G.P.O. “Sorry to be ill-mannered and all that, don’t you know.”
“Oh, not a bit,” I said, presuming that he wished to make a private telephone call.
But it was not long before he returned, smiling broadly. I began to think that all this investigation was giving me detective habits, for I had already deduced that he must have been on the ’phone to the Thurstons’, since he had not had time for a long-distance call, when he said suddenly:
“Well, that settles that.”
“What?” I asked obligingly.
“The identity of the stepson.”
“You know who it is?”
“Yes. I know who it is.”
“Then your case is complete?”
“And you’re not going to tell me?”
“Terribly sorry, old boy. Against all professional etiquette. You shall hear this evening, I promise you. Interestin’ case, though. Very interestin’ case.” And he continued to smile contentedly as he drove us back at a slightly less breakneck speed.