Death on Romney Marsh
The situation for Carolus would have been tricky, not to say dangerous, if there had not been in his pocket sufficient change for the box. By one of those lucky chances there was. His luck held when he got through to the Churchers and found that Dennis was in.
“I’m in trouble,” Carolus told him. “If you’ve got your MG there would you do me a favour?”
“Okay. Spill,” said Dennis.
Carolus gave him the location of the pub.
“Drive right up to the door of the Saloon Bar; it’s the door farthest from you as you drive in, going towards Dover.”
“Don’t sound the horn but rev the engine up and keep it running. The hood will be open?”
“Leave it open and clear the nearside front seat. I shall come out like a rabbit with a ferret behind it and dive straight in. You’ll have to be out of the car park before two characters here can come out after me.”
“Not so easy. These are not nice gentleman at all.”
“What about the Bentley?”
“We shall have to leave it here.”
“I’ll be right over,” said Dennis.
Carolus saw through the glass-panelled door of the box that Withers, though apparently deep in conversation with two women, had backed up to be near enough to the box to hear at least the tail end of the conversation. He blessed the two women for keeping him away so long and prepared to satisfy his curiosity.
“Goodbye then, darling,” he said, doubtless to the momentary bewilderment of Dennis. “I shan’t be late. No, of course I don’t think so. How could I? Of course I love you. Bye, then.”
Carolus left the box with a happy smile and returned to his place beside the bar. As soon as he caught the blonde’s eye, he ordered another Scotch.
He was fit and knew his Unarmed Combat, but he also knew that type with whom he had to deal and against two of them he would not have a chance. Nor had he any intention of dragging young Dennis Churcher into this. With his pretty clothes and his hair worn long and curly like that of a Restoration dandy he had not struck Carolus as a fighting man. But he could help him to get away.
The two were still sitting there, apparently taking things easy, and apparently not interested in Carolus. The room had filled up now but they were near enough to the door to be beside him if he tried to go out.
It could only be Withers who had sent for them, yet they could not have been so very far away, and once again Carolus found himself up against forces he did not understand. He knew that these were trained and practised toughs and without bringing on their heads a murder investigation could put him out of action for a considerable time and this was doubtless their intent. But why? What did he know? Or what was it feared he would know soon?
Withers was no longer in the saloon bar but was doubtless on the other side of the door into the private part of the house to prevent Carolus from making any attempt at escape that way.
The two men, Carolus calculated, were too experienced to suppose that he had called the police, or to think that if he had they were in any danger of interference. There was nothing Carolus could say that would bring a police car out here on a moment’s notice. They probably felt confidence in the fact that the Bentley was outside. In their world it was scarcely conceivable that he would leave that to take care of itself. So one read an evening paper and the other yawned over his drink.
Carolus manœuvred himself to be in line with the door but not suspiciously near it. A tubby little man stood beside him, talking about golf with another.
It was impossible to calculate by timing the approach of the MG. He simply waited for the sound of an engine being revved up at the door and when at last he heard it he pushed the golfer towards the two men as they rose, and in a continuous series of swift movements got to the door, opened it, jumped in the car which moved off without a jerk, accelerating with gratifying promptness. Carolus had just caught a backward glimpse of the two men stumbling over the infuriated golfer.
Dennis said nothing and waited for Carolus to report on activities behind them. The two men were surprisingly quick in following and just as Dennis rounded the first bend, lights came out of the car park.
“How many of them?” Dennis asked.
“Two. But they’re killers.”
“I don’t know. Anything handy.”
“Why don’t we see to them?”
Carolus glanced at the calm young man wearing funny clothes beside him. It suddenly dawned on him that Dennis was not an effeminate boy, but in spite of his garb a tough and determined young man.
“I could manage one,” he said.
“What are we waiting for, then? I’ve got something very handy under the seat.”
“Know any judo?” Carolus asked.
“I might get by.”
“Right. Up the first side street and stop in the middle of the road. I’ll stay this side for the driver. You cross the road and get the other. We’ve just got that blessed moment as they’re climbing out. Right?”
“Right,” said Dennis.
With a fiendish swerve and a scream of tyres Dennis took a turn to the left. Carolus remembered afterwards that he saw on a signpost the words ‘To Bindley 3 miles’. The MG came to a halt and he and Dennis moved into their respective positions as the following car roared up.
The driver of this made one tactical error. He should have stopped far short of the MG to give himself time to get out. As it was Carolus was at his door and swung downwards while the driver was half-out of the car. He seemed to slump but was up again in a moment.
With a sort of exultation Carolus found it all coming back to him from the past and was amazed at his own agility and strength. The man was down before having time to get out a knife—or anything else.
Dennis was not interested in the Queensberry rules. He came round to Carolus’s side of the car and seeing the driver of the car down but not out gave him a sickening kick in the stomach and would have followed it if Carolus had not restrained him.
His own man he had struck once, with something heavy, on the head.
“You wicked little bastard, I believe you’ve killed him,” said Carolus.
“No. He’ll lie peaceful for a bit though. You said they would not nice gentleman at all, didn’t you?”
“I did. But I didn’t mean you to murder them.”
“We can’t get past all this,” said Dennis coolly. “It’s a Jag they’ve got, I see. I hope one of them can drive it. We’ll have to keep on this road and work our way back to the pub.”
“Not going to leave your motor-car out all night, are you? Besides, I want a drink. Jump in, Mr. Deene. I’m enjoying this.”
Just as Carolus had got in the MG Dennis turned back.
“Waking up,” he explained and shot his foot out again, this time at the driver’s face. Then he drove away.
“I hope you weren’t telling stories about them,” he said. “It would never do if you’d made a mistake and we’d quietened a pair of nice friendly citizens.”
“You needed worry about that.”
“Will there be any more to come?”
“Shouldn’t be surprised. Somebody wants me out of this.”
“Ah. Well, there won’t be any more from those two. One’s a hospital job and the other will never have those handsome features back. But we shall have to take care if there are any more when they come from. We shan’t have all the luck again.”
After a wide circuit they came back to the Blue Boys and entered the same bar. Carolus saw Withers at the counter and knew that the landlord was trying to conceal his surprise at the sight of them.
“You’d better take a run up the road,” said Carolus. “What are you having, Dennis? Two Scotch, then.”
“Up the road?”
“Yes. Your friends need you, I think. They’ve been fighting together.”
“They’ve been what?”
“Silly boys. Having a fight in the middle of the road. Quite a lot of damage, I’m afraid. Perhaps you should take an ambulance.”
Withers pulled himself together.
“What friends are you talking about?” he asked haughtily.
“Those two nice-looking gentleman who followed me out. Your health, Dennis.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No? Forget it then.”
“They’ll keep till morning,” put in Dennis.
Withers was not very consistent.
“Where did this happen?” he asked.
“That’s better. I’m glad you feel some responsibility. After all, you sent for them. But you must tell them to be good boys in future, Otherwise when I do get access to that sealed envelope of Mowlett’s . . .”
Withers made his first serious mistake.
“You’ll never do that,” he said.
Carolus smiled to shew that this had registered, then went on—“Yes, tell your friends not to try it that way. They might get away with it, but it wouldn’t do you any good. Any good at all. Even if I was washed up with the tide, as you put it. Now I must be running along.”
“What’s this about . . . Where are they?” said Withers.
“Oh that. Straight up the main road till you see a turning off to the left, ‘To Bindley 3 miles’. Go up there for a few hundred yards and you’ll see a Jaguar in the road with the driver fast asleep. You can’t miss it,” ended Carolus.
To his surprise the Bentley started at once. The two must have been very sure of themselves.
“Race you home,” said Dennis.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort. There’s been quite enough fast motoring tonight.”
“May I come in to Mortboys for a drink?”
“Please do. But take it easy before my aunt and housekeeper. Just a little contretemps.”
“See you,” said Dennis driving off.
Aunt Vicky looked very calm and old-world in her fireside chair when Carolus came in.
“There!” she said. “You’ve missed such a nice little dinner. Pin tardy, oh Syd Ree I think Mrs. Stick said. It tasted like guinea-fowl cooked in cider. Wherever have you been?”
“Across to Dover. I found Withers.”
“You mean he’s not dead?”
“Not in the least. He has a very successful pub on the main road.”
“Oh, I am glad. He was such a nice young fellow. Did he say why he went off without telling anyone?”
“He said he was tired of the place.”
Mrs. Stick came in to say there was someone at the front door—she was not quite certain whether it were a young man or a young woman.
“That will be Dennis Churcher,” said Aunt Vicky equably. “He often comes in for a chat in the evening. Such a well-mannered young man.”
Carolus was reflecting that Mrs. Stick would not have had much doubt if she had seen him an hour or two earlier, but it was perhaps as well that she hadn’t.
“Beat me to it,” said Dennis to Carolus when he had greeted Aunt Vicky.
“So you two have seen another this evening,” said Aunt Vicky who missed nothing. “What mischief have you been up to?”
Mrs. Stick, who remained in the room, looked as though she would like to know that too. Her tight mouth shewed that she feared the worst.
“I’m to take it you’ve had your dinner, sir?” she said to Carolus severely.
“To tell the truth, Mrs. Stick, I’ve been rather busy.”
“It will have to be cold then.”
“Of course, Mrs Stick.”
“I told Stick when you didn’t come, I said, ‘I’m not going to keep Miss Morrow waiting while he’s out goodness knows where’.”
“And what did Stick say?”
“I really don’t know what’s come over Stick lately. He said, as though there was anything funny about it, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he was after another murderer,’ he said. I told him, ‘Don’t you dare talk like that,’ I told him.”
“He didn’t suggest that the murderers might be after me, I suppose?” Carolus could not resist asking.
“He did not, sir. I should be very sorry to think Stick would ever say anything like that, even in the way of a joke. Because if I was to think, after all we went through the last lot and poor Mr. Gorringer with a pistol in his stomach . . .”
“You exaggerate, Mrs. Stick. Now what about something to eat for Mr. Churcher and me?”
Mrs. Stick brightened a little as she always did when there was someone extra to enjoy her food.
“It will have to be Assy ate on glaze,” she said.
“Do for you, Dennis? Assiette anglaise—cold mixed things.”
“I could manage a pottage provincial first,” admitted Mrs. Stick.
“You just give us anything handy,” said Carolus. “And tell Stick I wasn’t chasing murderers. Quite the contrary.”
When Mrs. Stick had left them, Aunt Vicky turned to Carolus.
“I hope you haven’t involved Dennis in anything? He’s inclined to be delicate and he’s very young.”
“I’m twenty-two, Miss Morrow,” said Dennis.
“Are you really, dear boy? You don’t look anything like that, with your complexion. And my nephew goes in for such dangerous investigations. But I’m sure you wouldn’t allow him to leave you astray. Was Withers able to tell you anything about Mowlett, Carolus?”
“Not consciously. But I think I’m beginning to get some inkling of the truth.”
“That’s nice,” said Aunt Vicky cosily and became absorbed in her needlework.