A Bone and a Hank of Hair
Back at Bluefield Carolus decided to stop at the Stag for a drink before going out to Glose Cottage. Mr. Lofting greeted him like a brother, then leaned across the bar to give him some confidential information.
“The police have been out at your place today,” he said. “Digging, I understand. I suppose they’re looking for the remains of Mrs. Rathbone. I know the chap in charge. A detective sergeant called Cromarty. Dammed good scout. An old Hucknall-Torkardian.”
The earlier part of this information was confirmed by Mrs. Luggett when she stumped in and dropped gasping in a chair.
“I wouldn’t let them into the house, though, till you came. They said they’d got an order and I said so had I—orders not let anyone in. I never liked policemen and I wasn’t going to have them tramping all over the place just when I’ve begun to get is a bit presentable. So they’ve been messing about in the garden day, digging holes and that.”
“Did they find anything?”
“Not so far as I know, and I was keeping a pretty sharp look-out on them. They say they’ll be there again tomorrow.”
“I’m afraid we can’t prevent them searching the interior,” said Carolus.
“That’s up to you. I wasn’t going to let them, anyway.”
Carolus was awakened next morning by the sound of digging, and looked up to see two burly men turning the soil over while a third in a raincoat looked on. This was presumably Detective Sergeant Cromarty, described by Mr. Lofting as a damned good scout. While he was having his breakfast before a blazing fire in the dining-room, this officer was shewn in. Carolus saw, only too plainly, what Mr. Lofting had meant.
“Sorry about this,” said Cromarty in a man-to-man way. “I’m afraid we’re making a bit of a shambles of the garden.”
“Not at all,” said Carolus. “I enjoy nothing more than to see the police at work. Have some coffee?”
“Thanks. Ectually we have nearly finished outside.”
“ I suppose I oughtn’t to discuss it, but no. Not up to date.”
“Tried the rubbish heap?”
“Been through it with a fine comb.”
“And under it?”
Carolus saw that this had gone home. “We shall come to that,” said Cromarty casually. “Then I’m afraid we’ve got to start on the house. Naturally we’ve got a search warrant.”
“All right with me.”
“I was going to suggest that you might like to move out for a few days.”
“I’m afraid we shall produce chaos, rather.”
“Can’t be helped.”
“Floorboards up, perhaps. Wouldn’t you be better at the Stag for a bit?”
“Very good of you. But no.”
“You see, I can’t ectually insist . . .”
“Insist on what?”
“On your moving out. On the other hand we’ve got our job to do.”
“Quite. It will be a unique opportunity to study the methods you learnt on those courses.”
“I don’t know what to say,” said Cromarty uncomfortably. “What is your business, Mr. . . .”
“Deene. I am a private investigator.”
“You mean you’re ectually concerned in this matter of the Rathbones?”
“I can’t think of anything else that would induce me to occupy this house.”
“This is . . . I scarcely know . . .”
“Why not ask your inspector?”
“We can’t have someone hanging round why we conduct a search. Particularly someone interested.”
“Awkward isn’t it? On the other hand I’m in occupation of this house. Rented it.”
“I see that; but it practically amounts to obstructing the police.”
“You exaggerate. I’ve told you that I welcome your search. There’s a most unpleasantness smell in the house. I wouldn’t think of of obstructing you.”
Detective Sergeant Cromarty returned to his diggers. From the bedroom window Carolus saw him direct them to remove the pile of rubbish from its corner. One of them seemed to protest mildly, perhaps pointing out that they had done so once. But they fell to and, when the rubbish was gone, shewing finely manured earth undisturbed beneath it, Cromarty told them to dig this. Not for a moment did Carolus leave his place of concealment while this was going on, and he was rewarded by seeing one of the men stoop to recover something and hand it to Cromarty. Clearly Carolus could see that it was a gold for gilt ear-ring.
Standing with it in his palm, Cromarty seemed suddenly to remember Carolus and looked across to see whether he were being watched. The temptation was too much for Carolus. He opened the window. “You’ll probably find the other one there,” he said affably.
Cromarty was not amused. “I don’t need you to tell me that,” he said, and indicated to the two men that they should dig on. Presently one of them stooped again. The pair of ear-rings was complete.
When it was time for the three policeman to come inside the house, Mrs. Luggett stood squarely in the back doorway, almost filling it. “You wipe your feet on that scraper,” she said. “I’m not having all that mud on my clean lino. You may be able to search, but you can’t do what you like in other people’s houses. She admitted them after an inspection of the boots and, making straight for the drawing-room, they locked the door behind them.
“That’s the kind,” Mrs. Luggett said to Carolus, explaining her hostility, “that go into Court and swear anyone was drunk and disorderly when all I had was a couple of pints of mild. That’s the kind that take their oath you was singing at the top of your voice and waking all the neighbours when I’d done no more than hum a bit of Annie Laurie as I walked home.
There was a crash from the drawing-room.
“Whatever are they doing in there?” asked Mrs. Luggett. I had that carpet right out the back yesterday, now they’ll go and tramp all over it. It isn’t right, you know. And what do they expect to find? I suppose they think there’s a skelington under the floor. Hark at that! That sounds as though one of the chairs had gone over.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Carolus consolingly. “We’ll have a little scotch while they’re busy.”
“I didn’t know you had any,” said Mrs. Luggett rather too quickly and eagerly
“Yes. I brought a bottle down last night.”
“Oh, I see,” said Mrs. Luggett. She was clearly relieved. She had been afraid that it had lain undiscovered in the house during Carrolus’s absence in London yesterday.
“Will you have one,” Mrs. Luggett?”
“I don’t mind. You need something to keep you going, with them doing I don’t know what in my clean droring-room. Cheerio, then.”
They were interrupted by Fred Spender with the post. Carolus was pleased to see a fairly bulky letter from Battersea, and knew that Gillick’s report on the fingerprints, the ashes and the dust from the dressing table has arrived.
When Mrs. Luggett had drunk, said “That’s better,” and gone out to the kitchen, Carolus opened the envelope. He found a lengthy report using a good deal of technical phraseology. The house, it seemed, have probably been wiped almost clear of fingerprints before Carolus had occupied it, trouble being taken by someone who had spent time in wiping and polishing every likely surface. In fact the first print that Gillick found was one of Carolus’s own, and for a long time he had feared that he might find no other. But, expert in finding prints in places likely to be overlooked by someone deliberately wiping them out, Gillick had eventually discovered three. All were from the same hand, and that hand was the one which had held the glass sent by Carolus—in other words the hand of Rathbone. (Gillick congratulated Carolus on securing this very clear set.) There were no fingerprints discoverable in the house from any other hand. Gillick found nothing extraordinary in this. He did not know how much Carolus had studied the subject, but he would remind him that an ordinarily print on a polished surface lasted at the most twenty-four hours, while one on a good surface like that of a looking-glass might be recognizable after three days. The only prints he had expected to find in the house with those left by someone with oily or greasy fingers which would last for weeks. Normally in any house such prints were to be found in the bathroom or kitchen, but in this case there had been a deliberate attempt to clean them up.
The ashes came from coal fires, probably lighted with wood. There was no trace among them of anything such as Gillick presumed Carolus expected to find. No bones or flesh had been burnt in these fireplaces during the time the ash had fallen. But there was evidence of a considerable quantity of cloth having been burnt and, most interesting, a pair of shoes. Gillick had recovered bootmaker’s small nails sufficient for at least one pair as well as other evidence that leather had been burnt. Of the dust from the crack in the dressing-table Gillick said simply that it contained a considerable quantity of face-powder.
Immersed in these details Carolus had not noticed that noises from the drawing-room had ceased. He looked up to see the face of that ‘good scout’ Detective Sergeant Cromarty in the doorway.
“We want to come in here now,” he said.
“Well, you can’t!” said Mrs. Luggett, appearing in the doorway behind him, “because I’m just going to give the gent his dinner and he doesn’t want you kicking up the dust while he’s eating. I suppose,” she went on, obscurely so far as the policeman were concerned, “I suppose you’re going to put your hand on the Bible and swear someone couldn’t walk and had to be assisted when all I’d had was a small port-and-lemon on Christmas Eve? That’s what you’d like to do, I dare say. I know your sort.”
“We could do the bedroom first,” said Cromarty to Carolus, and so it was arranged.
“You should just see how they’ve left my droring-room after I Did It Out yesterday! But what can you expect? Assisted! I should like to see one of them trying to assist me. I’d give him some assistance he wouldn’t forget. Saying anyone was reeling all over the place and knocking on doors when I never done such a thing in my life! They’d swear your life away, some of them.”
It was not until the next morning when some floorboards have been taken up in the entrance passage that another cause of The Smell was discovered. A rat had died there; probably, Carolus told Mrs. Luggett, of old age.
Carolus was fairly certain that nothing of any interest had been found by the police. He had himself searched the rooms, and beyond the ear-rings the garden had yielded nothing.
“Of course,” he said mischievously to Cromarty, “there’s the cement floor of the garage. It looks newly laid to me. Then there’s the coal-shed. The coal has only been put in recently.”
These gave Cromarty’s two assistants a few hours of healthy exercise but revealed nothing. Carolus felt it was time to leave Bluefield. He was unlikely to hear any more of interest and he’d seen all he wanted of Glose Cottage. There were other lines of inquiry which he was anxious to follow. He told Mrs. Luggett that he would be leaving on the following day, and she accepted this philosophically.
“I was afraid you might, as soon as ever I saw those coppers nosing round. No one’s going to stay where they start looking under the bed every five minutes. I shall be sorry in a way. I can get work, but it’s not everything that suits me. Besides, I’ve got my own place to look after. Of course, I’ve got my pension from my husband, but it doesn’t go very far. Will you be coming back?”
“I dare say I shall have to do.”
“I’ll pop in tomorrow then and see you off. But I dare say you will be in at the Stag this evening?”
He did not reach the little bar until nearly nine o’clock and found it crowded. He was surprised at the number of customers he had met in his short stay. There were Mrs. Luggett herself, Fred Spender, Mr. Toffins and his large silent son, while in a corner in solitary dignity sat Mr. Wallbright, the postmaster.
“Well, how did you get on with old Cromarty?” asked Mr. Lofting breezily.
“Not well,” said Carolus.
“Not? Pity that. Plays cricket for our team here. His mother lives in the village. I saw him knock up a dam’ fine 82 last summer on a wicked pitch.”
Carolus ordered his drink.
“Perhaps that’s where I’ve met you,” reflected Mr. Lofting. “Do you go to the Canterbury week?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what it is.”
Lofting laughed. Carroll’s disclaimer was not to be taken seriously.
Carolus went over to greet Mr. Wallbright, who looked as though he was overcome with mourning the tragic fate of all mankind.
“I’ve been told,” he said after a minute or two, “that you’re trying to find out what has happened to the Rathbones.”
“I could tell you something, only it’s against regulations.”
“If I could be sure it wouldn’t be repeated . . .”
“You mean, a letter has come to them?”
“For her, yes. Came this morning. I shall have to send it back ‘Gone Away. Address Unknown’.”
“I suppose you will.”
“It will go back to the sender if there’s an address in it. If not to the Dead Letter Office.”
“That sounds very suitable.”
“You mean she’s no longer alive?”
It depends on whom we mean by ‘she’. I must go over and talk to Mr. Toffins.”
He found the coal merchant in the throes of laughter.
“I was just saying to Fred here,” he said controlling himself, “it makes you split your sides to think of those coppers digging up all the garden and not finding anything.”
“What did you expect them to find?”
“Her, of course. What do you think? What else were they digging for?”
“That, I take it, would have been an even greater joke?”
“I don’t know about that,” said Mister Toffins. “I like to think of them doing all that work for nothing.
“Moving all that coal! I bet they were as black as chimney-sweeps when they’d finished. It tickles me. I could’ve told them she wasn’t there because she gave me the cheque for it when we’d finished.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Quite sure. I remember saying to my son, I wonder where the old man’s gone, because it was him opened the door when we first arrived.
“That’s very funny,” said Carolus
“I don’t see anything funny about that,” regretted Mr. Toffins.
When he drove out of Bluefield next morning, Carolus hoped that he would not have to return. Almost the only pleasant thing in the village was the gross and bubbling personality of Mrs. Luggett. In Grimsgate he returned the keys to Mr. Drubbing, who whispered a secretive inquiry. “Not satisfactory?”
“Most. But I’ve had as much as I wanted.”
“Between you and me, I feared you might not stay. It isn’t a cheerful house, is it?”
Carolus was delighted to enter his own comfortable home in Newminster, even if he had to find some pics for nations for Mrs. Stick.
“There’s been several inquiries, she said we should brought in his tea. “I had to say I didn’t know when you’d be back.”
“Well, here I am,” said Carolus with cheerful fatuity.
“I can only hope you’re going to stay, sir,” said Mrs. Stick.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible just at present. I need some sea air, Mrs. Stick.
“You’ve always said Newminster was so healthy.”
“No. No. Hastings is the place. Strongly recommended. I leave tomorrow.”
“I don’t know what to think, I’m sure. I said to Stick last night, one doesn’t know what to think, does one? Of course, if it really is a blow of sea air you want and not anything else, I’m sure we should be the last to say anything. But whenever you get down to the sea something always seems to happen. Look at that time down at Oldhaven* when you nearly got yourself murdered! And what about Blessington-on-Sea† when those bodies kept turning up? I don’t know that Hastings will be any better.”
“I’m sure the whole Corporation would reassure you, Mrs. Stick.”
“We can only hope for the best, can’t we? I must go and see about your dinner. I’m glad you sent me that telegram this morning or we shouldn’t have had anything in. I’ve got some nice rizzdy vow.
“What?” asked Carolus, genuinely baffled.
“Sweetbreads,” said Mrs. Stick severely, and left him.
❦* Death of Cold by Leo Bruce (Peter Davies).
† Our Jubilee Is Death by Leo Bruce (Peter Davies).