Death by the Lake
Carolus was not good in a situation like this. Cynical and unemotional, it was years since he had tried to comfort a woman obviously in a state of strain and exhaustion. But there was something else.
“What address did you give them?” Marie asked accusingly, when she had fought back her tears.
“Why do you want to know, Marie? You haven’t given them any address. Don’t let’s talk about it now, anyway. You’re all in, my dear, and we’ve got to get out of this place. I’ve got no car here. Do you think you can walk across to Ben Tanner’s bungalow?”
“I suppose so. You haven’t answered my question . . .”
“I’m not going to, just at present. Or any other question, Marie. At any rate not till we’ve got to some place where you can sit down and have something to eat and drink. Later, we’ll talk.”
They left the house and started to walk through the farmyard. Fortunately, before they had gone far, Ben Tanner’s jeep appeared and he stopped beside them.
“Ben, can you take us to your cottage? I will explain everything later, but Miss Morton needs . . .”
“I can see she does,” said Ben briskly. “Get in, both of you.”
No questions were asked till he reached his bungalow and called Elsie. He quickly said something inaudible to her about Marie and she took charge. The two women disappeared and left Carolus and Ben together.
“You don’t look so good yourself,” said Ben. “I think I can find a drop of Scotch if it will help.”
“It will,” said Carolus.
“How much should he tell Ben? “Remembering the other experience they had shared he decided that he could trust him, not perhaps to keep silent about all he heard but for secrecy in the essentials of the matter.
“Marie was kidnapped,” he said.
“Yes. A couple of old-time villains who wanted to get some information from her. She was kept up at the farmhouse for two nights.”
“Good God! I was up at the farm yesterday evening.”
“Didn’t notice anything?”
“Not a thing. The light’s been cut off, but you’d have thought I should have seen or heard something round the place. Two of them, you say? Did they have a car?”
“Yes. They ran it into a barn. They only had candles apparently.”
“What about you?”
I came out with one of them last night, to try to find Marie. I was fool enough to let him blindfold me because I guessed where he was going and thought my knowledge of the hide-out would surprise them. I was being too clever. One of them put me out while I still had plaster over my eyelids. It shews what comes of trying to score off bastards like that. Anyway, they’ve gone now.”
“Did they find out what they wanted?”
“Not from Marie. I told them something. Whether it was what they wanted or not remains to be seen. Anyway, they’ve gone. They’ll be on a plane to Spain in a few hours.”
“You do seem to get mixed up in things,” said Ben with a touch of admiration, or perhaps envy. “First George Garrison’s death, and then this. Think the two were connected, by the way?”
“Everything in this affair is connected, but if you mean, do I think either of these two birds of last night killed George Garrison, no I don’t.”
“But you don’t know who did?”
“Not with any certainty.”
“Are you going to let the police in on this?”
“It depends on Marie. It was her party. She must do as she likes.”
When Marie returned to the room with Elsie she looked much better.
“Your wife’s been wonderful,” she told Ben. “I’ve been eating masses of breakfast cereal in the kitchen, and had a huge cup of coffee.”
“I told Ben that you were kidnapped,” said Carolus.
At once her face clouded.
“Kidnapped?” she said. “Why did you say that? It wasn’t kidnapping.”
“I don’t know what else you would call it.”
“I spent two nights in George Garrison’s house. That’s all.” Marie had become defiant. “That’s all that will ever be said about it. Please!”
“I shan’t say anything more,” said Ben.
“It’s none of our business, is it?” put in Elsie.
“There’s no need to say any more,” Marie went on. “I am perfectly all right now, thanks to Mrs. Tanner. Can’t we just forget about it?”
“I can. If you want it that way,” said Carolus. “But I think probably your sister will have been to the police.”
“She would! I shall just have to tell them that I stayed out here. People don’t expect me to tell them everything. I have a reputation for being uncommunicative.”
“Yes. You have. Anyhow, this is up to you. If you don’t want to charge that precious pair.”
“I don’t. Let’s not talk about it any more.”
Yet, later that day when Carolus went to Marie’s cottage they found themselves, inevitably, returning to the subject.
“You know, my dear, this simply can’t go on. I’ve told you I don’t mean to question you about the past but I didn’t anticipate this sort of thing.”
“What sort of thing?”
“Thugs appearing and kidnapping you. Because that’s what it was. You know and I am know what they wanted.”
“I know what they asked for. But they didn’t get it—from me at least. You haven’t told me what information you gave them.”
“Fair’s fair, Marie. If you’ll tell me what you know, what you’re hiking, I’ll tell you everything I have found out about the case.”
“I know nothing.”
“That’s not true. You may not know the whole truth but you certainly could tell me something which would enable me to find it out.”
“But why should I, Carolus? Even if I could. I’ll sound unkind, but what business is it of yours?”
“Marie, a man has been murdered and you know perfectly well it is related to the events of five years ago. Then you’re taken out to Garrison’s farm and kept there for a whole day and two nights. This too comes from the same cause. I don’t want to say that your life is in danger but it may well be true.”
“My life in danger? What on earth do you mean? From Dobell and Werner?
“I didn’t say so, but that’s not impossible, either. They’ll be back, you know.”
Marie looked at Carolus accusingly.
“So you sent them off on a false trail?” she said.
Carolus did not answer directly.
“When I said your life was in danger I meant that whoever killed George Garrison may have just as much motive in killing you.”
He was talking bluntly and she responded to this.
“Motive?” she said scornfully. “All you think of is motives and clues—the stock-in-trade of the detective. I am not afraid.”
“Why aren’t you? You must know who there is to be afraid of. You must know who killed George Garrison and feel sure that you have nothing to fear from him.”
“I don’t know who killed George Garrison!” said Marie passionately. “I will give you my word on that.”
“Then why aren’t you afraid?”
Even as he repeated that question, Carolus realized that—though proof was still lacking—he knew the answer.
“Oh Carolus, do let’s forget about this. Just take it that I’m not afraid, and leave it at that.”
“I want to help you, Marie.”
“I don’t need help. Really I don’t. I’m not in any danger, and I have never been.”
“Not even five years ago?”
“Not even then. Anyhow, I have decided to go away for a time.”
“I think at least you should tell me where you’re going.”
“London,” said Marie.
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so. Now don’t try to make a mystery about that. I often have a week or two in London. Theatres, and so on.”
“Extraordinary girl. Do you really think I’m going to accept that as an explanation?”
“There is no other. I want to be friends with you, Carolus. I don’t want to be mysterious and secretive. But you must accept a few things about me, and one of those is that just now I need to get away and be on my own for a time. So don’t try to find out where I’ve gone.”
“But Marie . . . I can’t let you go away like that. I . . . You know I . . .”
“Don’t say any more.” She spoke a little sadly. “You can’t feel anything much for someone who doesn’t tell you the truth. It may be that some day . . . we can know one another, really know one another, with all the rubble of mystification cleared away. But not yet, dear Carolus. Not here.”
There was a long pause.
“When do you mean to go away?” asked Carolus.
“Tomorrow, probably. There’s a good train up in the afternoon.”
“I’ll see you before then. I will come round after breakfast and see if you have changed your mind.”
But after breakfast Julie Nantwich ’phoned.
“Marie’s left for London,” she said. “Took the last train yesterday evening. She told me she was going.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She particularly asked me not to. There’s nothing odd about her going to London. She does this from time to time.”
“Where does she stay?”
“That I’ve never discovered. She has friends somewhere. It wouldn’t be Marie if she gave her address!”
“I suppose not.”
“I’m used to it,” said Julie. “I used to think she created mysteries on purpose, just for the pleasure of it. But don’t think so now. She has a whole life of her own which no one knows about. These secret visits to London have been going on for several years.”
“Well, ever since you know what,” said Julie. “I don’t think anything of them now.”
“She has a friend named Margot Denver. You don’t think she goes to see her?”
“Margot Denver? No! She works in Liverpool and there’s no mystery about Marie’s visits to her. She has even been known to call at Marie’s cottage and go out on the lake in our old dinghy with Marie. I’ve never met her as it happens; she came while Bertram and I were away. But other people have, and Marie talks quite freely about her. They’ve been friends since their school days. She wouldn’t need all this elaborate camouflage if she was going to see Margot Denver, I can assure you. No, it’s someone in London. She always comes back from a visit talking about the shows she has seen and all that. But surely with your inquisitive mind, you can find out?”
“There’s a limit to that,” said Carolus rather stiffly. “I don’t see how I could justify invading your sister’s privacy if, as you say, she has just gone for a holiday to London.”
“No . . .” said Julie, evidently dismissing such objections. “Unless you two were engaged, or anything.”
“We’re not engaged—or anything. And she doesn’t want me to know where she has gone. I’m certainly not going to try to follow her.”
Yet what Carolus did during the next few days did not argue the scrupulousness he had claimed. Among the informants and experts who have helped in previous cases, was one who specialized in matters connected with the telephone. By devious means he could read more from a telephone account then the recipient of it and when Carolus had sent him Marie’s telephone bill, which Carolus had borrowed for the purpose, he was able to tell him a number in Liverpool with which Marie had been in frequent communication.
Carolus dialled it and was answered by one of those unnaturally cheerful voices cultivated by young ladies whose profession calls for endless bright replies to telephone callers.
“Good morning. Merseyside supermarket . . .”
This was rather baffling. But nothing could be lost by trying and the odds against results were not so enormously long Will stop
“Could I speak to Miss Denver, please?”
“Mrs. Denver is not here at the moment. Can I take a message?” Carolus thought quickly. He did not want to arouse any suspicion.
“Yes. Please tell her that Mountney and Company called. Mr. Philips speaking.”
“Certainly, Mr. Philips. I will give her the message.”
Carolus relapsed into one of his moody periods of absentmindedness. He took little notice of things immediately about him and remained in his Lakeside house, avoiding any outside contacts.
He was faced with the gruelling problem of two murders: one of five years ago for which he had a suspect but knew little or nothing, except by hearsay, of the circumstances; the second of less than a fortnight back of which he knew almost everything about the circumstances but had no logical suspect. That they were connected he did not doubt but, for the rest, had only and intimidating collection of suspicions, deductions, circumstantial evidence and sheer guesswork. He had never been so much at a loss for facts and the worst of it was that he was involved, through Marie, in a more personal way than in any other case which had occupied his leisure and intelligence.
As never before he was floundering—there was no other word for it. He would not admit that he was feeling his age but was irritated to find that at this point, just after retiring from the school in which it worked since the war, he should be faced by a problem which seemed to have no way out. Here was no scope for his special talents of deduction and the technique of the chess-player. And if he felt that, in both cases of murder, the police with all their technical appointment, their reliance on Interpol, their professionalism and discretion were as baffled as he was, it was small consolation to him in his present troubles.
It was at this point that he was at first dismayed to receive a letter from the headmaster of the Queen’s School, Newminister, under whom he had served.
My dear Deene (wrote Mr. Gorringer),You will be aware—for I make no doubt that you recall the events of a profession you had so recently left—that the school has broken up for the summer holidays. My wife has gone to stay with her kinfolk in Cornwall, ‘a little more than kin and less than kind’ she remarked recently when she accepted the somewhat grudging invitation, and I find myself désœuvré for a week or two.
I intend to accept the pressing invitation of some friends unfortunately resident in the remote city of Carlisle and propose to break my journey thither by calling at your lakeland fastness to see you.
If, by chance, you care to offer this measure of hospitality to your former headmaster I shall not hesitate to accept it, arriving at Millgrove Junction, which I understand is some four miles from Millgrove Water, at 6.22 on the evening of the 24th inst. Doubtless your excellent motor car will await me there. I shall look forward to recalling the years in which we have laboured together for the greater enlightenment of youth.Should you, by any chance, be prevented by circumstances from giving me the great pleasure of visiting you, perhaps you would be kind enough to telegraph without delay as I shall then be constrained to refuse my Carlisle friends and join Hollingbourne and his family at Clacton.
Your former mentor and sincere friend,Hugh Gorringer.
Amused by the headmaster’s characteristic verbiage Carolus send him a welcoming wire and on the appointed day drove to Millgrove Junction.
“My dear Deene,” Mr. Gorringer boomed heartily. “I am indeed delighted to see you!”
Carolus remembered that the headmaster had once been extremely extremely annoyed by the frankness of his wife when she had called him “Dr. Watson to Carolus Deene’s Holmes”, but there was a faint suggestion of the relationship in the headmaster is solid acceptance of Carroll’s lighthearted leg-pulls and breezy way of dismissing Mr. Gorringer’s pretentions to theorizing. But Carolus delighted in the other’s pompous clichés and artless self-importance and look forward to be considered banality of his conclusions in the current problem.
After dinner—‘a princely repast, my dear Deene; I see that your good Mrs. Stick has lost none of her cunning’—they lit cheroots and Carolus gave him a fairly detailed outline of what Mr. Gorringer called “the case under consideration”.
After a long pause the headmaster promulgated. “It seems to me,” he said, “that the key lies in the words of your informant William Rudge. If the scoundrel Flitcher has indeed indulged in some form of transvestism and has taken on the outward characteristics of a woman . . .”
“There isn’t the smallest evidence that he has done so.”
“Except, Deene, the word of the proprietor of the filling station, Gerald Farleigh. He actually mistook him for one.”
“Aren’t you rather jumping to conclusions? We have no evidence that Flitcher murdered Garrison.”
“Evidence, in the strict sense of the word, no. But logic, common sense, natural deduction all point to it. Who else would wish to get the unfortunate farmer out of the way? It is clear to me that the wretched Flitcher, either in the person of a male or female, has effectively changed his appearance and, armed with the ill-gained wealth from his life of crime, is lurking not too far away to be able to observe events in Millgrove as they take place”
“Good heavens. Do you think so?” said Carolus with exaggerated alarm
“How else can you account for all the features in the case?” asked Mr. Gorringer.
“In that event none of us is safe.”
Mr. Gorringer became thoughtful.
“I trust you’re armed?” he said.
“Oh yes. But Flitcher had the reputation of a cat burglar. He was an acrobat; they tell me he could lead over any obstacle. If your theory is right we must be ready to protect ourselves.”
“I have learned by long association with you in your varied investigations always to be so prepared,” said Mr. Gorringer. “I little thought, when I proposed to visit your rustic retreat, that I should be plunged so quickly into the maelstrom of murder or I might have armed myself with some handier weapon. As it is, I have in my suitcase what I think is called a blackjack: a flexible, loaded life-preserver.”
“Let’s hope you never have cause to use it,” he said
When he had accepted a nightcap of a last whisky-and-soda, Mr. Gorringer meditated further on the situation.
“We’re dealing with no ordinary murderer,” he announced. “A man who is capable of killing his wife and committing her body to burial under several times of concrete, then assuming the guise of a woman with none of her gentleness and pity, and finally, on learning that the adipose George Garrison threatened to give you details of his present identity, coolly shooting him through the head, is no run-of-the-mill assassin. You will do a service to humanity when you unmask him, Deene.” Mr. Gorringer paused. “I have made no study of that curious phenomenon on of transvestism, which, carried to criminal lengths, the man Flitcher’s alibi resembles. But a picture begins to form in my mind of a creature, unnaturally effeminate yet with what you have described as the hands of a strangler, a creature so ruthless and immune to pity that he thinks nothing of murdering a woman at one minute and acting the buffoon in a public house in the next! It is not a pleasant picture, Deene. You remember the words of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy—‘I dare do all that may become a man; who cares do more is none . . .’ ”
Carolus sat up. His face shewed genuine excitement.
“Would you repeat that?” He requested Mr. Gorringer.
“Certainly,” the headmaster replied, and did so.
“Thank you. I thought that was what you said.”
“My theorizing has led you to enlightenment?”
“Yes. Thank you,” he replied. “You have a remarkable memory.”
“For circumstances once described? Yes, I rather think I can pride myself on that.”
“Not for circumstances, headmaster. For quotation. You had helped me more than you know. I must leave for Liverpool in the morning.”
“This is the first mention you have made of the port of Liverpool.”
“There is a little matter I must clear up in the only way open to me. Mrs. Stick will look after you. She’ll be delighted to do so, as you know. I shan’t be absent longer than I can help.”
“Ah, Deene, you do not change,” said Mr. Gorringer reproachfully. “How often in past years have I known you to abandon some urgent duty, even perhaps a school cricket match, for the sake of one of your investigations. Now it is your old headmaster that you abandon.”
Mr. Gorringer looked so downcast that Carolus relented.
“That must not be!” he said, in Mr. Gorringer’s own manner. “I shall postpone my visit to Liverpool.”
“Most gracious of you. Particularly as I must leave for Carlisle early on the following morning.”
As it turned out Carolus had reason to be glad that he had made the small concession to good manners.