At Death’s Door, Chapter Twenty-Nine

At Death’s Door 


“One remaining piece of unexplained evidence,” continued Carolus, “was given to me by Detective Sergeant Moore when he told me what Mrs. Slapper had said to the desk sergeant at the police station on the night of the murder.  To a superstitious man, or one who supposed that coming events cast their shadows before, or even to one who believed in telepathy, there was nothing here difficult to explain.  For him it would appear that Mrs. Slapper had had some premonition of what took place.  But I am not superstitious, I scout the whole idea of telepathic communication and I wanted some very practical and cogent explanation of the things which Mrs. Slapper said at half-past three in the morning, after the two murders had been committed.
“Let me remind you, or tell some of you, what these things were.  ‘Something must have happened to him,’ she said and when the sergeant asked her what could have happened to Slapper she grew excited.  ‘It has.  I know it has.  I . . . I’ve got instincts in these things.  I never make a mistake.’  Later the Sergeant said that Slapper would be in in a minute.  ‘He won’t!’ cried Mrs. Slapper.  ‘Never again.  You’ll see.  I knew it would happen.  But I never thought . . . I oughtn’t to have let him go.’  The Sergeant pointed out that Slapper had to come on duty.  ‘But not tonight,’ said Mrs. Slapper.  Finally she repeated hysterically a number of times ‘I’m to blame.’  When Constable Waymark returned and told her what had happened, she said ‘I knew it’.
“Now some of you may be able to dismiss all that as the raving of a frantic woman who believed that she had second sight.  I would point out that there is no reason for us to think that until that evening Mrs. Slapper believed anything of the sort.  The first claims to ‘second sight’ which she is known to have made were voiced to the sergeant after she had shewn an unnatural anxiety over Slapper’s lateness.  She was not, for instance, a member of Mrs. Grove’s circle.”
Here Mr. Polling made his one contribution to the conference.
“She was a sceptic,” he said.
Mrs. Millen could not let this pass.
“Oh go on with you!” she said.  “What do you know about it?”
“Mr. Polling attended the meeting at Mrs. Grove’s house,” Carolus pointed out.  “At any rate it can be said that though we have heard other things about this Mrs. Slapper, reliable or not, we know nothing of any interest of hers in the occult.  Why, then, the sudden knowledge of something terrible which had happened to her husband?  The suggestion that she already believed him dead?
“When I asked Geoffrey Baker, in view of Mrs. Slapper’s behaviour at the police station, whether he had noticed anything unusual about her at the dance the evening.  He said that he personally had noticed nothing.  But presumably because he thought I might question his wife he said that she, Lena Baker, had thought that Mrs. Slapper had been ‘funny’ all the evening.  I do not need to point out that she wasn’t attributing to Mrs. Slapper conduct in any way comic.  Mrs. Slapper had been odd, strange, not herself, and Lena Baker had noticed it.
“Then there was another point which those of you who know the facts may or may not have noticed.  When Baker was describing his drive home after the dance he said ‘When the dance was over I passed Iris Blake and her sister walking home alone.  They live in Meldon Road road where I live.  I drove past them.  I wasn’t going slowly because I had to take Connie Slapper to her home afterwards and she was in a bit of a hurry.’  He had to take her home afterwards.  Why afterwards?  Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to drive first to Slapper’s home in Lower Bridge Street, not far from the Town Hall, and dropped Mrs. Slapper, then go home with his wife, particularly as Mrs. Slapper was in a hurry?  What reason could he have for this extraordinary procedure—driving home, then to Slapper’s home, then to his home again?
“I was puzzling over these very facts when Mrs. Slapper came to see me.  She came only an hour or two after I had told Detective Sergeant Moore that I had a completely new view of the case, strongly suggesting that I had perceived the cardinal fact which would eventually implicate Baker, and Baker was the only man to whom Moore would mention this.  Baker had known for some time that I was becoming dangerous.  He was present when I told Detective Sergeant Moore what were the unaccountable pieces of evidence I was puzzling over, and he knew that they pointed straight to him.  If on top of these I had, as he now heard, formed a new idea of the case, it was time he acted.  Mrs. Slapper came, I am convinced, after she had spoken with Baker, and her object wasn’t dual.  She wanted to find out find out how much I knew and, if it was not too late, to throw me off the scent.”
John Moore spoke slowly.
“You’re right in thinking I told Baker,” he said.  “I met him just after I left you and we were rather amused, I remember, to think of you starting all over again.”
“If I am right in thinking that he and Mrs. Slapper were in constant touch he would have passed that on and suggested that she should see me at once.
“Now Connie Slapper was not in any sense an intellectual woman.  Nor was Edith Thompson.  But Baker was not such a fool as Bywaters.  There is, I believe, a good deal of similarity in the two cases.  This Connie Slapper, a sensual, crude, sentimental creature, was wildly in love with Geoffrey Baker, and he with her.  I admit that I can as yet produce no direct or concrete evidence on this point.  I should not be surprised if there are letters somewhere.  It was her letters to Bywaters which hanged Edith Thompson and it may well be that Connie Slapper’s letters will implicate her securely, if any can be found.* But though I had nothing in black and white on the relationship between these two, my instincts told me to presume it and for the rest of my investigations I did so.  Rightly, as I am now convinced.
“In any case, After Mrs. Slapper had left me that evening I had a piece of unconscious confirmation from my housekeeper, Mrs. Stick.  She is one of the few really reliable people I know and when she said that Mrs. Slapper was ‘no better than she ought to be’ I knew it was no mere a scandal-mongering.  She herself had seen her at night ‘with a married man’.  I put out an audacious feeler by saying that she had been with Baker on the night of the murder and from the look Mrs. Stick gave me in reply to this I concluded that it was with Baker that she had seen Mrs. Slapper.
“There was one more thing about her visit to me that led me to direct suspicions.  I felt sure that her occultism was entirely bogus.  It was out of character.  It had been recently adopted, and with a special object in view.  And now it was being used too deliberately, both as cover and as a means of suggesting things which the pair wanted suggested.  In fact by it she gave herself away and when she asked if I found what she had told me about the voice of Slapper ‘interesting’ I said it was very, very interesting.
“It was.  It had given me the one thing I then lacked:  a motive.  Looking at Mrs. Slapper, hearing her talk, I could understand at last why Baker had wanted to kill her husband—or how she had made him believe that he did.
“To draw one more parallel with the Bywaters-Thompson case, it may be remembered that the man and woman in that resolved to kill Thompson not so much because he was jealous or made their illicit relationship difficult as because he was naturally possessive and insisted on his marital rights.  I think these murders will prove to have a similar cause.  Slapper was a tedious, meticulous man and Connie Slapper was a lustful, emotional woman.  Once young Baker was in love with her she could work on his sentiments with ease, she could fill him with jealousy and horror by merely giving him the details of her married life.  I see her as a fatal woman.  A provincial, pretty, vulgar one, but in Rupert’s phrase a femme fatale.  Married to that conscientious, punctual, scrupulous policeman she became an imprisoned tigress.
“We shall probably never know how much of the scheme was hers, how much his.  They were both wholly without scruples.  Baker’s part was that of a willing Macbeth.  He could not have carried out his murders so effectively if he had been a mere pawn in a scheme made by Connie Slapper.  He was a murderer, all right, and never flinched from his terrible work from the time he decided how it was to be done till he returned in the small hours to his home.  Since she knew what was to be done that night she was certainly an accessory and probably as guilty as he.
“It is true that she lost her head for a time later.  Alone in the house to which her husband would never, as she knew, return, she must have paced and perhaps drunk and smoked.  If Baker had returned to her, if she had had something to wait for, it might have been better.  But accustomed as she was to waiting for Slapper, she now knew that no one would come to relieve the solitude.  We know that she never went to bed for she was still wearing her dance frock when she arrived at the police station.  Her nerves must have been in a bad state by three o’clock as she wondered what had happened and how successful her lover had been.  At last she could stand it no longer and went down to the police station.
“Much of what I have said of Baker and Connie Slapper is, of course, speculative at this stage, though I feel sure that further evidence will not be hard to obtain.  There are, however, several irrefutable pieces of condemnatory evidence against each of them.  Against Baker there are his attempts on my life when he realized that I had perceived the basic truth of this matter and against Connie Slapper there is her knowledge of what had happened to her husband that night.  There is no blinking either of these.
“As for more proof—I am pretty sure that a careful search of Baker’s home will produce something.  When he left Purvice’s shop that night he must have borne some marks of what he had done and we may come down to a matter as simple and common as that of bloodstained clothes.  All very well to remember that he was a policeman and therefore versed in these things—what can a murderer do with bloodstained clothes?  His wife was in the house and, it can safely be presumed, knew nothing of the affair.  It is not so easy as it first it may seem to dispose of these tell-tale garments.  You may say that a man who had planned so well would not fall down on this.  But it is just the sort of obvious thing that incriminates so many murderers.  Put yourselves in his position.  He comes in at half-past two in the morning, knowing that his wife will be in bed and probably asleep.  He realizes that he carries the stains of his crimes.  Can he burn the clothes?  The kitchen fire is out and in any case it would be several hours’ work to destroy these things completely.  Better conceal them for tonight and tomorrow take them somewhere for destruction.
“Yes, but how take them from the house unobserved?  How destroy them, once taken?  How account to his wife for their absence?  I don’t say these things could not be got over, but I feel sure some trail is left. that will be up to the police if they are sufficiently interested in my suggestion.
As for the shot at me while I was pretending to fish—that ought not be too difficult to bring home to Baker.  The obvious questions, as I need not tell the police, are:  where was he at the time?  Where was his car?  Where did the rifle and ammunition come from?  Where is it now?  Who knew of my being at that reach of water?  Of evidence there is already quite a good deal.  He was the only person except John Moore to know that I was learning the truth about the murders and had not get reported my discoveries to the police.  He knew exactly where I was likely to be found because Connie Slapper had been to the place with her husband on many occasions and could indicate where it was.  He was in a fortunate position because if he was seen making for the place he could always say that he was coming to chat to me about the case.  He had lost some of this caution by this time, or at least was acting without sufficient preparation, so he should have left plenty of evidence behind.
“Then there was his last desperate act, when he tried to suffocate what he believed to be a man whose life was already in the balance.  A trap was laid for him here and if he had not lost all caution he would have seen it.  It was an easy trap to prepare because I knew that Baker would be one of the police ‘watching at my bedside’ and had only to be ready to defend myself.
“I had some difficulty in persuading Detective Sergeant Moore not to tell Baker that I was pretending to be unconscious.  He felt that his colleague should know as much as he did.  I could not give him my reason for pleading for silence but managed to persuade him about that.
“For his first time watching Baker did nothing and I began to despair.  It seems that he was so sure of himself as a rifle shot that he never doubted I should die.  It was only when Moore told him that I was likely to recover that he acted.  You know what happened then.
“It may be harder to get a verdict against Connie Slapper.  This will depend on what is found when the houses are searched and other data collected.  But I feel sure that she is at least as guilty as was Edith Thompson.
“There you have it.  There are gaps to fill and t’s to cross, but that is the outline.  It’s a rather beastly story, cruel and sordid and full of selfishness.  But it has been for me deeply interesting.  The moment in which I realized the basic truth, that Slapper and not Purvice was the intended victim, was, to say the least of it, exciting, for it gave me a large open field to enjoy alone. 
“Thank you all for listening so patiently.  And thank you, Matron, for allowing my little party to be held.”
Matron slowly inclined her head in acknowledgement of this.  As Bugs Fitchley said when she had left the room, she made you think of cathedrals.
Mrs. Polling was ecstatic.
“Well, I never did,” she said, beaming round on them all.  “And I half thought you was going to try to make out it was me or Mr. Polling helped him.  I said to Mr. Polling, this evening, I said, I shouldn’t be surprised if he was to try and make out it was you or me who helped that baker, I said.  It’s not as though we knew anything about such things because I’m sure I for one would never have thought of murdering anyone, not even if she was going to put us out on the street the next day.  As for Mr. Polling he wouldn’t hurt a fly; he’s that quiet I sometimes say to him, you ought to have been an undertaker, I say.”
Mrs. Millen gave a rather noisy laugh.
“Undertaker?” she said.  “Nice sort of funerals he’d have, I must say.  He’d be dancing round the churchyard if they wasn’t careful.  Wouldn’t you?” she asked the mournful Mr. Polling.
Mr. Polling shook his head wistfully, whether in denial or in regretful reminiscence of the incidents which had given rise to Mrs. Millen’s opinion of him it was impossible to say.
“I’m sure we’re all very grateful to Mr. Deene,” he said.
“Well, it’s a blessing to know that no one’s going to pull out a pair of handcuffs and march you off any minute, I must say that,” said Mrs. Polling.
After rather effusive good-byes she and Mr. Polling and Mrs. Millen left the room.
This acted as a signal to Detective Inspector Wicks and John Moore to stand up and take their leave.  Moore promised to call on Carolus tomorrow and Wicks went so far as to say that the whole case would have to be very carefully reviewed in the light of what Carolus had said.
Bugs Fitchley stood up like a heavyweight rising from his corner of the ring.
“Come on, you too, she rumbled to Marcia and Jane.  “Train to catch.  On duty at seven in the morning.  Thanks, Deene.  Dammed good job of work.  Should think you’d hang the pair of them.  Be sending us Slapper in a few days?  Good-o, Bye.”
Marcia and Jane exchanged smiles.
“Isn’t she incredible?” whispered Marcia behind the broad retreating shoulders of Bugs Fitchley.
“Superb,” said Jane.  “Thank you, Mr. Deene.  You’re as good as your book.  Isn’t he, Marty?”
“I don’t know.  I haven’t read it.  But thanks for putting us in the clear.”
We wondered,” said Jane at the door, “whether you’d like to have Barry.  As a present, I mean.  He’d be rather a good souvenir.”
Carolus said he would be delighted and the three women left.
Mr. Colbeck shook Carolus by the hand.
“I feel a new man,” he said.  “I’m most grateful to you.”  His hair bristled conspicuously, whiskers, nosekers and earskers.  “It is a great relief to feel free of the whole unpleasant thing.”  His voice sounded as though he were trying to reach the psychopathic ward on the next floor.  “Those who have never been involved in a murder should be humbly thankful for it.  I indicated that to Mr. Gorringer when he came to see me.  I told him how splendid I considered the work you were doing.”
“I bet he pricked up his ears at that,” suggested Rupert Priggley.
“You keep out of this,” said Carolus.  “Little pitchers . . . Mr. Colbeck.”
“Was he head over ears in excitement about it?” asked Rupert irrepressibly.
The first time in many days Mr. Colbeck managed to smile before he left the room.
To Jimmy Drew Carolus said wearily:  “I suppose I shall have to tell the police that I don’t want to charge you in connection with the car.  But what about Mr. Evers?”
“You could tell him that you told me to do it,” returned Drew.
“Do you mean to keep your job there, then?”
“Told you, didn’t I?”
“All right.  If you’ll stop wearing that absurd get-up I’ll lie for you to Evers.”
Jimmy Drew didn’t haggle.
“The Teddy Boys have had it, anyway,” he said.  “Thanks, Tosh.  Decent bit of car you’ve got.  If you want it cleaned or anything, any time . . .  Anyway, thanks.”
Only Mr. Limbrick remained now with Carolus and Rupert.  It was clear that he had something rather portentous to say.
“My only criticism is that part of your theory was not sufficiently supported by evidence.  I refer, of course, to the relationship between Baker and Mrs. Slapper.  I don’t think any of the masters would have put that forward without more plausible proof.”
“I agree,” said Carolus.  “But instinct must surely have its place in detection.  I am more sure of that part of the business that anything else.  I think the police will find all the proof they need in time.”
“Good.  Good.  If that is so, I congratulate you without reserve.  As one who has made no small study of such things I find you most logical and convincing.  I wish you good night.”
“You’ve done it,” said Rupert when the door was closed.  “A good deal of bluff and some woolly bits here and there but you’ve done it.  I shall pick up a fiver on this.”
“Insufferable little monster,” said Carolus, and motioned him from the room.  He was very tired now and Matron, looking in a moment later, found him blissfully unconscious, this time not acting, but fast asleep.

*  Carolus Dean’s prediction was true.  In the trial of Geoffrey Baker and Constance Slapper for the murder of John Slapper Mrs. Slapper’s letters to her lover were of great value to the prosecution.  His letters to her were never found.
†  One of the chief exhibits at the trial of Geoffrey Baker was a shirt with a small stain of human blood on the cuff apparently unnoticed by him or his wife.  It was recovered from the laundry before it had been washed.  The remainder of his clothes were never found.  It is believed that he buried them.
‡  Carolus Dean was wrong here.  The jury after an absence of only twenty minutes found her guilty.  She was sentenced to death with Baker but later reprieved and given life imprisonment.  Baker was hanged.

At Death’s Door, Chapter Twenty-Eight

At Death’s Door 


“I went on reconstructing events,” said Carolus.  “The next ones to concern us happened at the depths of the Town Hall.  And we come here talk possibility so ugly that I prefer not to dwell on it.  Sympson suggested to Drew that he should break into Purvice’s that night because he knew that she would have a hundred pounds on the premises.  He was able to tell him where it would be hidden because Dick Purvice and he had once been friends and probably planned to raid old woman’s hiding-place together.  Now it may be that he told Drew all this in order to get a half share of the money.  I hope so.  But it could go much deeper.  It could be that Geoffrey Baker had told him that afternoon to encourage Drew to rob the house.  We have reason to suppose that Sympson and Baker were together that day and that Sympson told Baker about Mr. Colbeck’s collection of funds.  Suppose, therefore, that Baker had already decided on his actions that night.  He might have thought of young Drew and told Sympson to make the suggestion to him.  Drew would be the perfect suspect.  If he could be induced to break into Purvice’s after the murders he would almost certainly be accused of them.  With a Borstal record and Baker’s own description of him as a very bad young man he might even hang.
“If this was what happened, if Baker really went to this length in planning to implicate Drew, he was fairly safe so far as timing was concerned.  He believed that Drew would take his girl home as usual and therefore would not reach the shop till half-past one or two, when he, Baker, would have finished and gone.  He did not anticipate Drew’s decision to break in while Mrs. Purvice was still as he supposed at her séance.  But as I say, all this is supposition.  The suggestion for Drew’s robbery may have been Sympson’s own.”
“The lousy swine,” put in Jimmy Drew.
“I am inclined to agree with you,” said Carolus, “whichever way it was.  There seems no doubt that Sympson and Purvice worked together for years.  If, however, Baker did plan for Drew to be a suspect it was his one miscalculation.  Drew threw the foreseen time-table out by not taking his girl home, but going straight to the shop after the dance.  He also upset prediction in another way.  He was able to persuade Mrs. Polling, when he called on her during the dance, to let him break into the house from her backyard, instead of making a difficult entry across several walls at the back.”
“There!” said Mrs. Polling, “and I thought you weren’t going to mention that unless you had to!  It’s not very nice for Mr. Polling and me.  The first time in my life I ever thought of such a thing . . .”
“I have the assurance from the police that no charge will come of it,” said Carolus.  “I hope you will agree that it helps us to get all this clear.  Drew came over to you soon after eleven and arranged to return at about half-past twelve.  In the meantime, shortly before twelve, Mr. Colbeck went into the shop and paid over his hundred pounds.  Marcia and Jane, you may remember, saw him leave.  They told me about this during my second visit to them.  ‘First someone came out.  That was just before twelve when we had only been at the window for a few minutes.  All black.  Hat, coat, everything.  I remember whispering to Jane that it must be an undertaker and we thought it was a pity he had not gone to measure her.’  Mr. Colbeck, like most ministers of religion, wears black.”
Mr. Limbrick interrupted.
“As a purely technical point,” he said, “which I know Mr. Colbeck will excuse in the interests of detection, is there anything to prove that he had not then murdered Mrs. Purvice.  Could it not be that Baker found her there dead and took advantage of this in the way you suggest to kill Slapper?”
Carolus considered.
“Nothing absolute or final,” he admitted.  “Except common sense and one little scrap of evidence.  Sympson told me that he saw Mr. Colbeck that night sometime after half-past one rushing along as though hell was loose behind him.  This he said with relish, pleased to involve someone else.  Actually it almost freed Mr. Colbeck from suspicion.  Would a man who had committed a brutal murder at twelve o’clock have still been rushing about the streets looking guilty an hour and a half later?  Besides there is the doctor’s evidence, which is fairly reliable in this case, since he examined the corpse before four o’clock that morning.”
The Vicar of All Saints nodded sadly.
“He went away and did not enter the shop again that night.  I see no reason to doubt his word about this.”
“You mean, I am cleared?” said Mr. Colbeck.
“That is, of course, for the police to say.  I am merely an amateur putting forward my theory.  But so far as I’m concerned I know that you had no part in these murders.”
“There!  Isn’t that nice?” said Mrs. Polling, beaming.  “That’s one less under suspicion anyway.  I wish you’d hurry up and tell us who else is in trouble and I’m sure we’d all feel better.”
Carolus continued unperturbed.
“There was only one coincidence connected with this affair,” he said.  “And that was the fact that Marcia and Jane decided to get their dog back on this night of all nights.  They didn’t even know it was the one night in the month when Purvice went out.  Am I right?”
“Dead right,” said Marcia.  “We hadn’t a clue.  We simply waited till we saw a character let into the shop and so thought the old girl was busy downstairs.”
“In a sense she was.  She was being murdered.  The character, as you put it, was Geoffrey Baker.  He had run his wife home, dropped Connie Slapper at her house, and come hell-for-leather down here.  I do not know where he left his car but I’m pretty sure he was on foot and had not his car anywhere near.  She let him in, of course.  Was he not the detective to whom she was accustomed to giving information?  One of the useful things that Mrs. Millen told me about Emily Purvice was this:  ‘She was In With the police down there.  I can tell you that.  How do I know?  Well, you can believe your own eyes.  I’ve seen her talking to them.  Thick with them, she was.  It paid her to be, I suppose, only you can see what it’s done for her now.  She was what they call round here a nark when it paid her to be.  Give anyone away, she would.  Has done, scores of times.’  Detective Sergeant Moore knew nothing of this so almost certainly the contact was with the only other C.I.D. man in Newminster, Geoffrey Baker.  When he arrived at her shop door soon after half-past twelve she do not hesitate to admit him.  He murdered her about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour later.  So it will be interesting to you, Marcia, and you, Jane, to know that while you were breaking into the house from the roof to rescue your dog its owner was being battered to death in the back shop.”
“Gosh!” said Marcia.
“Oh dear!” said Jane.
“Teach the pair of you,” said Bugs Fitchley.  “It’ll be sometime before you go house-breaking again, my girls.  Did you really suspect ’em, Deene?”
“Not very seriously,” he admitted, “though when I saw Marcia hacking away at the horse meat it might easily have given me ideas.”
“What rot!” said Marcia.
“I know.  But I would still like to know what delayed you in Purvice’s house that night after you had handed the dog up to Jane.”
“If you want to know,” said Marcia sulkily, “I was sick.  That house and the effort.  You needn’t laugh,” she said, turning on Bugs Fitchley.  “We can’t all be as tough as old boots.”
“Oh, Marty, and you never told me!” said Jane reproachfully.
Carolus thought it best to return to his reconstruction.
“We know, too, about Drew,” he said.  “And that he looked through the window from the Polling’s yard just after Mrs. Purvice was murdered.  If he had waited till Baker turned his face it would not, as might appear, have helped investigation because no one would have believed him.  And if he had managed to convince anyone it might have made a premature charge against Baker which would have failed.  I was convinced, as soon as I knew the murderer’s identity, that there would not be a successful prosecution unless he could be induced to try his hand at murder again, as he was this morning.  So it may be just as well that Drew fled in panic from that very frightening scene without identifying Baker.  Drew’s actions have been under pretty thorough scrutiny.  I’m inclined to think that he had been used by Purvice and Sympson and was a fool not to realize it.  Purvice used her usual device of hinting at mysterious powers behind her, ‘They’, who were unspecified and all-powerful people, and Sympson had informed against Drew when he was sent to Borstal.  Yet Drew allowed Purvice to drag him back to crime and accepted Sympson’s suggestion to rob Purvice herself.
“His scheme for this robbery was a particularly silly one.  He might have realized that Mrs. Polling could not help revealing it when she was questioned.  He might also have foreseen that the small window from Purvice’s back room to the Polling’s yard would be screwed in pretty firmly.  Finally he gave himself away during his first interview with me.  I retarded the time of Purvice’s death a little in order to try a small bluff and it worked at once.  When I said that Purvice was not killed till half-past one, ‘Yes, she was,’ he exclaimed.  You’re not a very good criminal, Drew, and I suggest that you try some more appropriate calling.
“However, let us return to the movements of Baker.  Having murdered Purvice and arranged the body as he wished, he settled down to wait for Slapper.  A minor but interesting point occurs here.  Did Mrs. Purvice neglect to re-lock the shop door after admitting Baker, or did he go across to it now and unlock it in readiness?  I don’t suppose we shall ever know, and perhaps it does not matter.  He wore gloves all the time, of course.  He had seen too many criminals caught through leaving fingerprints to neglect to do so.
“Slapper behaved precisely as anticipated.  There was very little chance that he would do otherwise.  The only risk was that someone else might call on Mrs. Purvice after the shop door was unlocked and before Slapper reached it.  Baker minimised this risk as far as he could by leaving the smallest possible margin of time.  The risk was justified; no one came.  At a few minutes to one Slapper was killed as he stooped over the dead woman’s body.  Baker was now free to take his weapon and leave.  He did so, observed from above but unidentified by Marcia and Jane.  He left the door of the shop unlocked, deliberately I think.  He did not want to cumber himself with the key.  He knew that some search would be made for Slapper later and he did not mind how quickly, after his return to his home, the bodies were found.  If anyone else entered that night, so much the better, another suspect.  He may even have had Drew in mind.  At all events he did not lock the door.
“Then, I think, he went straight home, ridding himself of his father’s crowbar on the way.
Bugs Fitchley re-crossed the mighty calves of her legs.
“Quite a character, this copper,” she observed.
“Cold-blooded brute,” said Jane.
“Clever, though,” her father replied.  “You must admit that, my dear.  Fiendishly clever.”
“The movements of only one other person on that night need concern us now,” went on Carolus.  I mean Dick Purvice.  And about these I am prepared to accept his original statement word for word.  He came to the shop soon after the murderer left, was astonished and delighted to find so much cash in his mother’s place of concealment, looked in the back shop, was appalled and scared by what I will describe as ‘the mess’, and left the building before Constable Waymark reached.  He kept on the move until the time of the workmen’s train in the morning when he took itself off.  He is, in fact, a very lucky man.  He will inherit quite a fortune, chiefly of the most scandalously ill-gotten kind, and I hope he will make what reparation is in his power.  I never seriously suspected him.  I did not believe that his mother would admit him to the shop and she had certainly admitted her murderer.  I did not think from what I knew of him that he had the makings of a matricide.  I was convinced that the planning of this murder needed more brains and he had.  At any rate, I am sure of his innocence now.”
“I suppose you know,” said Mrs. Millen in tones of disappointment.  “But if anyone was to have asked me who done for Emily Purvice I should have said straight away it was that son of hers.  He never was any good.  Too much of his mother in him.”
“I don’t know who to suspect, confessed Mrs. Polling.  “Some days I thought it was one, some another, till I scarcely knew whether I was standing on my head or my heels.  Well, it seemed so funny.”
“Screamingly,” said Marcia, who was still taciturn.  “Especially when we were suspects ourselves.”
“And may be still for all we know,” retorted Mrs. Polling.  “There’s a lot we’ve got to hear yet.”
Matron looked severe.
“I cannot allow the patient to talk much more,” she warned them all.
“All right, Matron,” smiled Carolus.  “The end is in sight.  That was how I reconstructed the events of the evening, anyway, and it all fitted like a glove.  But still there was something missing.  I knew the Man.  I knew the Method.  What was lacking was the Motive.”
“That’s very important, isn’t it?” said the matron, as One Who Knows.
“Very important,” agreed Carolus.  Without it, in fact, there can be no case.  Only a collection of circumstantial evidence and interesting possibilities.”
“Only,” said Detective Inspector Wicks, speaking for the first time, “only a lot of high falutin’, rather literary sort of theorizing without any substance to it.”
“Only,” chorussed John Moore with a twinkle, “only some very persuasive, neatly rounded off hypotheses of your own.”
“I accept the challenge,” said Carolus.  I am the first to agree that the case as I saw it then was airy and unfinished, to say the least of it.  I will go further and admit that if Baker had not tried to kill me this morning I might never have convinced you of his guilt, even after I had expanded expounded his motive.  Further still, and say that without more evidence, which, I have every hope, you will be able to obtain, we could not be sure of a conviction even now.  After all, a police officer might be stung to the attempted murder of a private detective, even if he had nothing to hide.
“But now I proposed to shew you both his motives and his accessory and suggest how final and conclusive evidence may be obtained.”
“Good for you, sir,” said Rupert Priggley.  “Don’t you be put upon.  After all, it was you who were potted at, wasn’t it?  You’ve a right to your theory.”
“Police?” said Mrs. Millen, apparently waking up from a reverie.  “I’d shoot ’em.  All the lot of ’em.  They’re no good.  Never have been and never will.”
Bugs Fitchley trust out her horny hand and seized Mrs. Millen’s.
“With you there,” she said.  “We girls in the prison service can’t stick ’em.”
Inspector Wicks smiled frostily.
“I wonder whether either of you has some particular cause for this bitterness?”
“I have,” asserted Mrs. Millen.  “A —— good cause, too.  My old man is a copper, the lousy rat.  What you think he done?  Shopped his own wife.  It was like this . . .”
“Aren’t we rather wandering from the subject?” suggested Mr. Colbeck, his ringing tones at once hushing the rest of them.  “I for one am anxious to hear the rest of Mr. Deene’s very lucid exposition.”
“There’s not much more,” said Carolus.  “I had to find a motive if my theory was to hold water.  And just as I was giving up hope one was thrust under my nose.  I received a visit from Connie Slapper.”
Whatever has she got to do with it?” asked Mrs. Polling.  “I know the party well.  Comes into the shop regularly and pays cash for everything.  I always found her a very nice person and never would believe what people said about her.”
“All I said about her so far,” pointed out Carolus mildly, “is that I received a visit from her.  It was my housekeeper who disapproved.  A woman of keen perceptions, Mrs. Stick.  No scandalmonger either.  But when Mrs. Slapper called me she threatened to give notice.  It made me think.”
Mr. Limbrick could restrain himself no longer.
“I knew it,” he said.  “It had to come.  Cherchez la femme.  On you go, Deene.  Let’s hear it.”
“A femme fatale ?” suggested Rupert.
“There’s no need for all this French,” said Carolus severely.  “A fatal woman.  A very fatal woman, as I think you will agree.”

At Death’s Door, Chapter Twenty-Seven

At Death’s Door 


“This new idea of mine answered one of my questions about unexplained evidence anyway.  I knew now why Mrs. Purvice’s body was moved.  If the murderer’s intention was to kill Slapper and the murder of Mrs. Purvice was incidental to this aim, the movement of her body was a logical outcome.”
“I don’t see why?” growled Marcia.
 ‘You will, Oscar you will’,” said Rupert Priggley.  “Go on, sir.  This is getting good.”
“I put myself in the position of a man who wanted to murder Slapper.  How and when could it be safely done?  Obviously in some way which would appear to be incidental.  If Slapper could be killed while he was looking into a crime the man suspected of his murder would be the man who had committed the crime which Slapper was investigating.  A man would not be sought, therefore, who had a motive for killing Slapper, but one who had a motive for committing the first crime.”
“Oh, dammed ingenious,” said Rupert Priggley.  “Quite absurd, of course, but dammed ingenious.”
“Murder is absurd,” said Carolus.  “It is many other things.  It is cruel, sordid, horrible.  But it is also, very often, absurd.  Grant me my man for a moment.  He knows Slapper.  He knows his habits.  He has studied the beat he is on just now and the times he reaches which points.  He knows he is conscientious to the point of being a paragon.  He knows, for instance, that he would never miss trying all the shop doors on his route and investigating one which was left open.  It would not be difficult he realizes to be sure of Slapper being on the right spot at the right time.  Slapper, above all, is a reliable man.  He can be relied on to walk into a trap if to do so is his duty.
“Then he thinks of Mrs. Purvice and her mean little crimes.  Blackmail.  Receiving.  He realizes that there must be a score of people with good strong motives for killing Mrs. Purvice, and that he is not among them.  He has no motive for killing her.  He would never be suspected of killing her.  Here is a magnificent opportunity.
“What he has to do is to enter Mrs. Purvice’s shop shortly before Slapper is due to reach it, murder the old woman and leave the shop door open so that Slapper will walk in.  Unable to get a reply, Slapper will look in the back room.  The lights having been turned off at the main switch Slapper will start peering round with his porch.  He will see the body of Mrs. Purvice on the floor.  The face will be covered and he will step down to remove the piece of curtain.  As he does so the murderer, concealed behind the curtain just inside the door, will strike one blow with a heavy weapon and Slapper will fall, killed obviously in the course of his duty by the murderer of Mrs. Purvice trapped in the room.
“By putting the body where it was found the murderer could be sure that Slapper would be in exactly the right position to receive his fatal blow.  That was why he was moving it when Drew saw him.  It was a beautiful little plan and it nearly worked.  It deceived me for several days and might have continued to deceive me if Drew had not happened to see the body being moved.  That was the action I could not account for, the action which led me to postulate the whole plan.”
Carolus paused there.  He looked pale and exhausted.  Although his wound was not as serious as he had pretended, it was real enough and he had lost a good deal of blood.  He wanted to rest for a moment.
Mrs. Polling could be counted on to fill the breach.
“There!” she said.  “It’s enough to give you the shudders, isn’t it?  Working it all out like that and not minding about the old woman so long as he got what he wanted and would never arouse any suspicion himself.  You wouldn’t believe that could be such wickedness, would you?  And to think that I was sitting next door all the time.  I don’t know what to say, I’m sure.”
Mr. Limbrick, on the other hand, remained curiously silent.  His ecstasy as he listened at last to the unravelling of a murderer’s plot may have been so great that it carried him beyond words.  Or he may have been shocked into silence, as Mr. Colbeck certainly was.
“The man was a stinker!” announced Bugs Fitchley in her soldierly voice.
“Yes,” said Carolus, “but who was this man?  I had no more than this idea to go on, this rather fantastic theory.  I had as yet no suspicion as to who the murderer might be.  I knew certain things about him.  I knew that he’d been admitted by Mrs. Purvice at half-past twelve at night and so clearly was known to her.  I knew that he was aware that she would not be going to her séance that night, or, it might be, that he knew nothing of her séances, the only occasions on which you left the premises after dark.  I knew that, according to my new theory, he wanted to murder Slapper.  I knew that he left the shop with a dragging limp.
“It was Mr. Baker’s crowbar which gave me the first hint of who the murderer might be.  On the Sunday after he had finished working at Purvice’s he had announced that he had left his crowbar there.  In his own words:  ‘Poor Jack snapper was forewarned in a way.  My elder son brought him to tea on the Sunday before he was killed with his wife and Geoffery’s wife. . . .  That afternoon it was I who joked at my own expense.  You would smile, I said, if you knew what I have forgotten this time, and I told them I had left my favourite little crowbar in Mrs. Purvice’s back room.’  So Mr. Baker’s elder son Geoffrey knew that a weapon was lying handy and ready for use in the very place necessary.
“Now that may seem very trivial as a pointer to Geoffrey Baker, but it was not quite as trivial as it may appear.  Whatever else this murder was, it was carefully planned.  A man willing to kill an old woman with whom he had no quarrel merely in order to effect the safe murder of another man, was not one to forget to bring his tools with him.  Whoever went to that room that night in order to kill would either have taken a weapon or known that there was one waiting there.  The only men who knew of the crowbar were old Baker, his son Geoffrey and Slapper.  Inconclusive, of course, but interesting.
“The crowbar was later found in Meldon Pond which, as Detective Sergeant Moore told me, is at the corner of Meldon Road.  Already I had heard from Geoffrey Baker:  ‘When the dance was over I passed Iris Blake and her sister walking home alone.  They live in Meldon Road where I live.’  Since we supposed that the murderer threw the weapon away at night, this was an additional indication, though no more.
“Then there was the cord on the crowbar and there was the man with the limp.  I saw how these two could be connected.  Suppose that Geoffrey Baker was the murderer.  He knew that the crowbar was in the shop.  He was closely aware of the customary movements of both Slapper and Mrs. Purvice.  ‘Geoff’s contacts are famous with us,’ the Detective Sergeant Morton me.  ‘He can tell us about everything.’  He, more than anyone, knew how many suspects there would be for the murder of Mrs. Purvice.  He had in fact prepared some notes for the inspector on this woman.  He fitted the bill in many respects.  Suppose he committed the crimes with his father’s crowbar he could not possibly, as any other murderer might have done, leave it on the premises afterwards, a pointer, however improbable, to himself.  He had to get rid of it and Meldon Pond was a reasonably good solution.  As a policeman he knew how improbable it was that it would be found.  In his own words:  ‘That’s one of the advantages of having the Yard in on an investigation of this kind, they can order all sorts of work to be done for which we couldn’t take the responsibility.’  All sorts of work that came as a complete surprise to him and a very unpleasant surprise, too.  He never dreamt that the crowbar would be found.  He dismissed the whole idea of the crowbar when his father tried to report it.  He cannot have been very pleased when I was inclined to take his father seriously in this.
“But how was he to get to Meldon Pond at all?  As Detectice Constable Baker he was perfectly safe in walking about the streets on the night of the murder—but not with a crowbar in his hand.  He acted promptly, or more probably be acted in accordance with a carefully prepared design.  Having committed his murders he quickly tied a cord round the crowbar, and dropping it down the leg of his trousers, tied the cord around his waist—and easy way to carry this weapon unseen.
“But it had one effect.  He could not bend his right leg.  He walked with a dragging limp.  Marcia and Jane were perfectly right in thinking that they saw the murderer leave the premises.  The murder was, in fact, the man with a limp.”
“Oh, pretty!” said Rupert Priggley.
At this point there was a dramatic interruption in that Matron rose to her feet.  The mere statement of this fact, sufficient with lesser beings, gives little idea of its impressive significance now.  Some great sacred bird might have ruffled her feathers as Matron made audible her starch. z “That is sufficient for the moment, Mr. Deene.  You must not overtime yourself.  We will pause for tea.”
“I could do with a wallop of char, said Bugs, and the idea received general approbation, even from the two detectives.
Conversation, however, was restricted and difficult, perhaps because it was remembered that Carolus had yet to pick another suspect and nobody was anxious to be too closely associated with the guilty one.
“Deeply interesting,” Mr. Colbert was heard to say, his voice inevitably audible above the restrained babble.
“Madly,” agreed Marcia sourly.  “Only when is he coming to the point?”
“He’s not to be hurried,” said Mr. Limbrick with some asperity.  “I won’t have him hurried.  I wouldn’t miss a word of this.”
“It’s ever so thrilling, isn’t it?” agreed Mrs. Polling.  “I’ve often wondered what it would be like to hear all about a murder and now we know.  I mean, it’s not everyone who gets asked, is it?  Mr. Polling was only saying this morning, there is one thing, he said, we are in on the ground floor of this.  I never would have thought of it being that young detective though, would you?  He seemed such a nice quiet chap and his father was ever so strict with him when he was small, I do know that.  Oh, thank you; what a welcome sight.  Just one spoonful, dear.  Thanks ever so much.”
“Aren’t you having a cup of tea, Matron?” asked Mr. Colbeck boldly.
Matron sadly shook her head.
“It would Never Do,” she said.
Mrs. Millen heard that.
“Oh come on,” she said, “have a cup and done with it, ducks.  If you came from where I do you wouldn’t worry what they said.  You go on and enjoy it.”
It seemed that the whole company held its breath at this astonishing audacity.  But to everyone’s relief a faint smile appeared at the lowered corners of Matron’s mouth.
“Perhaps I will,” she said.  “Just one.”
Carolus was again lost in his notes.
“It is not easy to remember in what order my pieces of deduction came,” he said at last when the empty cups have been removed.  “I had at this point a theory which fitted with the two crimes as we know them, and a suspect—for you could not call Geoffrey Baker more than that just then.  There was quite a lot of evidence but it was wholly circumstantial.  There was certainly no proof.
“Nor did I believe that if he was guilty he could have acted alone.”
Carolus paused to let this sink in.  It seemed to disconcert almost all of them.  There was a stir of movement through the room and Mr. Colbeck cleared his throat.
“He was probably capable of carrying out the operative part of the plan, but I did not believe that he could have worked it out entirely himself.  I decided that someone, in whose interest it may have been to eliminate either of the two victims, helped him here, so that any one of the original suspects might still be guilty.  I was not really much farther on than I had been when I first started collecting facts about Emily Purvice.  I almost despaired of progressing any farther.
“Then I decided to reconstruct the events of the afternoon and evening as I believed they happened, in the hope that they would lead me to what I wanted.  The first fact of any direct significance seemed to me that Syd Sympson knew that Mr. Colbeck was collecting a hundred pounds in small sums to pay to Mrs. Purvice in cash that night.  He knew this because Mr. Colbeck told him.  Sympson probably tried to gain what advantage he could from the knowledge.  I imagine that he went to Mrs. Purvice and asked for a share of the proceeds, since they had so often worked in partnership before, and that she told him that there would be nothing for him, even if the money was paid before midnight, as stipulated.
“Next, I think, he did what he had done on many occasions in the past and acted as copper’s nark.  He got in touch, as often before, with Geoffrey Baker.  I knew that Sympson gave other information to Baker.  I had heard from Sergeant Moore that when Purvice appeared in town on the day before the murder, Baker had heard about it from Sympson.  Besides, when Detective Sergeant Moore told me about Mr. Colbeck changing the cheques, I asked him how he knew this.  His reply was:  ‘My young assistant, Geoff Baker.  He’s mustard on local events.  He was able to tell us at once but only these facts about Colbert but where he had cashed most of the cheques.  Remarkable.’  I do not see how else Baker could have this information unless Mr. Colbeck gave it to him?”
The Vicar of All Saints appeared embarrassed at this sudden reference to himself.
“I?  Certainly not.  It was several days after the murders before I was asked about this, and then it was by Detective Sergeant Moore, who already had an almost complete and accurate list of the cheques and where they were changed.  I never spoke to Baker at all.”
“Then he must have heard from Sympson,” said Carolus, “that Mr. Colbeck was paying over the money that night.  This would account for his knowing that Mrs. Purvice would be in her shop waiting and not at her monthly séance.

At Death’s Door, Chapter Twenty-Six

At Death’s Door 


Limbrick was the first to arrive.  He seemed in jovial mood as he came in and greeted Carolus.
“This is the part I enjoy most,” he said.  “The explanation at the end, from which one learns what everything meant.  All the little actions of the investigator become logical, all the loose ends are tied up.  I hope you’re not going to get disappoint us, Deene?”
“I hope not.”
“I was sorry to hear about this further attack on you.  Nearly got you, didn’t he?”
“Very nearly.”
“I’ve been round to your house and taken the liberty of leaving a few farm products for you.  I understand will be home there tomorrow.  Some of our own butter.  A little cream.  Oddments, merely.  I wish I had the means of shewing my gratitude for the interest this case has given me”
“You should thank your daughter and her friend for that.  After all, it was through them that you became involved.”
He looked rather irritable.
“Perhaps.  Did you say involved, though?  Involved, Deene?”
He was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. and Mrs. Polling and to the great pleasure of Carolus, Mrs. Millen.
“Mrs. Millen would come when she Heard,” said Mrs. Polling at once.  “Well, it’s interesting to her, isn’t it, being her sister-in-law that was done for.  I said I was sure you wouldn’t mind.  I sent to Mr. Polling, I said, I’m sure Mr. Deene won’t mind, I said, and he agreed with me, so here we are.  What a good thing he missed you, though!  It must have been a narrow squeak.  Fancy shooting anyone.  It only shews you, doesn’t it?  I’m ever so glad you’ve got him, though, really I am, because it was beginning to worry me and Mr. Polling, not knowing where we were an answering questions half the time.  I sent to Mr. Polling, there’s one thing, I said, I never want to live next door to a murder again, I said.  Well, you can have enough of it, can’t you?  Asking you this and that half the time.  I feel better now.”
“You forget Mr. Deene’s still got another suspect to name,” said Mr. Polling gloomily.
“Now don’t you start!” put in Mrs. Millen.  “Don’t let him begin his larks or we shall all be waltzing through the hospital before you can say knife.”
“I only said, there’s one more to be named, yet,” said Mr. Polling obstinately.
“Yes, but I know what you are,” retorted Mrs. Millen, shaking her head.
John Moore came in next with Detective Inspector Wicks whom he introduced to Carolus.  Weeks was a large smooth-faced man, a brown pate shewing between patches of clipped hair and very quick dark eyes set close together.  He was evidently making an effort to treat the occasion lightly.
“I’ve no objection to listening, Mr. Deene,” he said to Carolus.  “I’ll listen to anything if I think it will help with the job in hand.  My colleague here assures me that what you have to say will be interesting, if nothing else.”
There was an unexpected interruption from Mrs. Millen.
“Oh go on,” she said.  “Why don’t you own up to it?  He’s found out what you couldn’t with all your microscopes and fingerprints and that.”
Inspector Wicks smiled indulgently
“I hope he has,” he said
“Of course he has.  Came to see me, didn’t he?  You never thought of that.  I never did like coppers and I never will.”
“You’re not alone in that,” admitted Wicks.
“Not by a mile, I’m not.”
The argument was momentarily abandoned because Matron came in.
“I hope my consenting to this gathering will not be taken as a precedent,” she told Carolus.  “I can’t have the hospital used for social purposes, even if it is in the cause of detection.  Are you expecting anyone else?”
“Quite a number,” admitted Carolus.
Then Matron voiced the greatest concession of her reign in Newminster Hospital.
“I have arranged for tea,” she said.
“That’ll be nice,” said the irrepressible Mrs. Millen.  “I’d rather have a glass of stut myself,” she added aside to Mrs. Polling.
“Still, it’s something,” said Mrs. Polling.  “I always say, there’s nothing like a cup of tea when you’re feeling done for.  Poor Mr. Deene will need something, too, before he’s finished telling us all about it.”
There was an unexpected element in the next arrival, for Marcia and Jane brought Bugs Fitchley with them.
“Wouldn’t miss this!” she bloomed.
“Bugs refused to go home till she heard the story.  You don’t mind, do you?” Marcia asked Deene.
“I’m delighted.  Do sit down, Miss Finchley.  Yes, next to Matron,” Carolus said.
With an artist’s appreciation of his own skill and sketching in the figures of a crowd, he smiled on this piece of juxtaposition.  He would have liked to overhear any small talk which might pass between them, if even talk between two such Titans could be small.  Jane Limbrick obeyed a sign from her father to sit beside him, at which Marcia seemed inclined to sulk.
Mr. Colbeck came in with some hesitation.
“You . . . er . . . I understand you had been good enough to suggest . . .”  His voice was almost subdued.
“Yes, do sit down, Padre.”
“He’s going to pull all the rabbits out of his hat,” said Marcia bitterly.  “We’re going to hear just which of us is guilty of what, and why.”
“It’s ever so exciting, really,” said Mrs. Polling.  “I’ve often said I’d like to hear about anything like this.  Mr. Polling’s read Mr. Deene’s book and says he ought to be able to put two and two together if anyone can.”
Finally Rupert Priggley appeared.
“Got the lot?” he queried.
“All but the headmaster,” said Carolus.
Rupert smiled provokingly.
“Won’t touch it with a barge pole.  I told him you would like to come along but he made a noise like a horse with a couple of husks of corn up his nostril.  I gathered you will be hearing what he thinks of your invitation.”
“Bit of trouble with the boss?” said Bugs Fitchley.  “Shouldn’t be surprised if I have the same.  I know what to do with our Guv, though.”
“Juju?” suggested Marcia with a sneer.  “Throw her over your shoulder?”
Bugs gave a bass laugh.
“Something like that,” she said.
“What about Mrs. Slapper?” asked Carolus of Rupert.
“Not a hope.  She seems very much put out because you ignored her Revelation.”
“Yes.  And we decided against Sympson, I think.”
“You’ve got something else to face when you get out of here,” warned Rupert.  “And frankly I’d sooner it was you than me.  That housekeeper of yours.”
He whistled.
“What’s the matter with Mrs. Stick?”
“I’d like you to hear her.  ‘I told him what it would come to.’  ‘Getting himself shot at like that.’  ‘I never thought when Stick and me came to work here we should find ourselves in the middle of a murder mystery.’  ‘What people will say now I can’t think.’  You have got some explaining to do when you get home, sir.”
Detective Inspector Wicks looked at his watch.
“You’ll forgive me if I remind you that you have some explaining to do here and now, Mr. Deene.  I am holding one of my most promising detectives because apparently he made a lethal assault on you.  But I need to know a great deal more than that.”
“You shall, inspector, you shall.  I’m just gathering my little audience.  I’m entitled to that, I think.”
A further delay was not, in any case, his fault.  A policeman in uniform came in and whispered to Wicks himself.
“We’ve picked up Drew,” he said.  “He’s downstairs.  Do you want him to be present?”
“Yes,” said Carolus.  “What about my car?”
“No news of that, I’m afraid.”
Jimmy Drew looked sulky and very sorry for himself.
“You told me I could,” he opened accusingly to Carolus.
“Could what?”
“Drive your car down to the coast and back.  That’s all I done.  Well, not back, because they picked me up down there.”
“Where’s the car?”
“In a garrige down at Brightpool.  All I wanted was to try it out.”
“I told you I’d let you drive it if you had told me the truth.”
“Well, didn’t I?  All what I said was gospel.”
“If it was the truth,” said Carolus, “was it the whole truth?”
“Can’t remember what I said now.  You do the talking, tosh.  I’ll stop you if you’re wrong.”
“Very well,” said Carolus, and looked down at his notes.
“I don’t know about the police,” he began at last.  “But I found this a difficult case for the very reason intended by the murderers.  I fell into the trap.”
“You did say ‘murderers’?” put in Wicks.
“I did.  But I don’t yet know how far I’m justified in using the plural.  Technically, yes.  Ethically is another matter.”
“I wish you wouldn’t keep using all them words,” grumbled Mrs. Millen, her temper tried by a evening without a glass of stout.  “Whatever do you mean?  How many murderers were there, for God’s sake?”
“There were two,” said Carolus.  He looked rather distressed.  “There were technically, as I say, two murderers and one performed the physical act of killing.  And I fell right into the trap.  I saw this case as they wanted me to see it, as they were quite sure I would see it.  When I began to see it in another way they knew they had to kill me before the whole thing became clear.
“I was led to the truth because I kept puzzling myself about several bits of evidence which I could not account for.  In research, it’s the same—the unexplained things matter most.  Who, for instance, was the man with the limp seen by Marcia and Jane?  They were positive about him.  They had no reason to lie—on this matter at any rate . . .”
“Oh, thanks,” said Marcia sarcastically.
“Steady, Marty old girl,” called Jane musically across the room.  Marcia frowned.
“A man with a limp, leaving the scene of the murder at the time when the murderer would be doing so.  You just can’t have something like that in a case and not account for it.  Such a peculiar and vividly described link to.  ‘He seemed to drag one leg as though it were artificial or stiff,’ said Marcia.  That was one of the pieces of evidence that wouldn’t fit.
“Then there was Drew’s account of the body being moved across the room.  No theory advanced for that satisfied me.  Why, I asked myself again and again, why should the murderer, or anyone else for that matter, move Mrs. Purvice’s body?  I could understand his covering her face with a piece of curtain since it was in a very horrid state.  But why move her corpse across the room?
These were two of the unaccountable things.  There were others—perhaps not quite so important.  What I wanted was a theory of the crime which would include an explanation of them.  I kept nearly getting it.  I remember saying to you, John, that I had almost caught a solution by the tail.  Then suddenly I had what Mrs. Slapper would call a revelation.  It came one evening while I was alone in my study.
“It was this.  We had here two murders, one committed with forethought for motives of profit, of hatred, of fear or of envy, the other an incidental murder committed in order to effect the escape of the murderer.  On that hypothesis we had done all our investigation.  But suppose, I thought suddenly, suppose it was the other way about ?  Suppose that the planned and intentional murder was that of Slapper and the incidental one the murder of Mrs. Purvice?  Obviously in that case we had been looking for all the wrong motives.  We had been searching for people who had reasons for killing Mrs. Purvice.  Now we should have to look for someone who wanted to kill Slapper—a very different matter.”
“I don’t quite follow,” said Limbrick from across the room.  “How could the murder of Purvice be incidental?  It took place first, didn’t it?”
“Yes.  You’re interested in fishing, Mr. Limbrick.  You won’t be shocked or disgusted as I was to realize that Mrs. Purvice’s corpse was used as bait, while her death was almost perfect cover under which to plan and effect the murder required.”
“Oh, God!” said Marcia.
“But what gave you this idea?” queried Limbrick.  “What first suggested that Slapper was the real, the chosen victim?”
“It’s awfully hard to say.  There was something I didn’t like in the idea of Slapper’s death being almost casual, the result of a blow struck by man merely wishing to escape.  It was not natural, particularly since the murderer had apparently waited for the supremely right moment.  What would actually have happened if Slapper had come by chance on a recently committed murder would probably have been a rough-and-tumble of some sort.  This hiding behind curtains and striking at the right moment was too calculated and clever to be the act of some robber who merely wanted to escape.  All this was suggestive.  I don’t know how I thought of it, though.”
“Inspiration,” sneered Marcia.
Carolus ignored this.  “It was at this point that the case became most interesting,” he said.  “The point at which, to Detective Sergeant Moore’s amusement, I decided as I said to start afresh.  I had an entirely new field, and I had it to myself.  All I needed was a chance to think.  As soon as I could get away from school, I believed, I could identify my man.”