At Death’s Door
In the private ward in which Carolus lay there was a hurried conference that morning. John Moore and Dr. Tom sat looking at the sorry figure on the bed while Carolus surreptitiously smoked a cigarette.
“I can’t keep this up after today, Carolus,” said Dr. Tom. “It has been difficult enough already. I half think Matron suspects something now.”
“I don’t think you’ll need to,” said Carolus.
“You’re more optimistic than I am,” said John Moore. Geoff Baker and I are beginning to get our legs pulled down at the station. Couple of sick nurses, the inspector said yesterday.”
“I know. I only want twelve hours more. If we don’t get results then you can lay off. I do appreciate what you’ve done.”
“I wouldn’t mind it it looks like getting anywhere. But it doesn’t.”
Carolus gave a last pull at his cigarette..
“Try giving out that I am going to recover,” he said. “That might do it. Get it round as far as you can. Not out of danger, but likely to recover. If that doesn’t bring results I won’t ask for another day’s grace.”
A step was heard in the passage and Carolus quickly became unconscious again while John Moore returned to his chair and Dr. Tom leaned over the patient.
“Smoke!” she said.
John Moore quailed.
“Strictly forbidden,” Matron continued awesomely.
“I’m sorry, Matron.” John Moore was not usually lacking in courage.
“See that it is not repeated. Any change doctor?”
Dr. Tom shook his head.
“I wanted to speak to you,” said Matron significantly, and Dr. Tom followed her to the passage.
John Moore resumed his watch.
At ten o’clock he was relieved by Geoff Baker.
“Wicks is getting pretty impatient,” said the Detective Constable. “Asking what business Deene had to be mixed up in the case at all. Says he doesn’t believe that his information will be worth a light if we do get it.”
“We shall get it all right. Doctor says he’s going to recover.”
“Shouldn’t be surprised if you get it this morning. I’ll see you at two.”
He went out and Geoff Baker took his place. The minutes began to pass in silence broken only by the footsteps of nurses in the corridors and a rattle of crockery. Geoff Baker took out his cigarette case but at that moment Matron’s voice could be heard saying simply, “No, nurse” some yards away. Geoff Baker returned his case to his pocket.
Then, nearly an hour after Geoff Baker had come on duty on the promised events began to happen. The young detective stood up and quietly crossing to the door opened it and stood looking and listening for a moment. Satisfied, it seemed, that no interruption was likely he closed the door and came to the bedside. For fully a minute he stared down at the pale face and closed eyes of Carolus, and quickly pulled out one of the pillows from beneath his head. This was not done gently by a man about to rearrange a patient’s pillows for his greater comfort, but briskly, almost brutally, so that the head lolled.
Then, deliberately and firmly he pressed the pillow over the face of Carolus and with all his strength held it there.
All this had happened in silence. For a few moments it seemed that he would be uninterrupted, then, almost simultaneously, the right arm of Carolus shot out in the direction of his face, striking it a glancing blow, and Dr. Tom and John Moore rushed into the room.
There was a struggle. No one spoke but Baker put up a short desperate fight against the two men until Moore succeeded in knocking him down and, before he could recover or rise, pulling on a pair of handcuffs.
“What’s what the hell is this?” asked Baker. “I was just arranging his pillows!”
Moore turned to Carolus.
“All right?” he asked
“Yes. Glad you thought of that bell-push in the bed. Did you see enough?”
Dr. Tom began to examine Carolus while Moore led Baker from the room.
“He made a good attempt to suffocate you,” he remarked. I suppose he thought that in your supposedly critical condition you would snuff out easily and he would not leave a trace.”
“Yes. I suppose I should have done if that bullet had really been so near the heart?”
“Probably. Without any trouble. I doubt if I should have noticed anything.”
Carolus lit a cigarette and sat up in bed.
“Thanks heavens I’ve got no more unconsciousness to go through. You’ve no idea what a bore it is.”
“But worth it, surely? You’ll get your conviction now.”
“Moore will get his. Yes. It’s a rather beastly case, Lance.”
Suddenly, as if descending from Olympus, Matron was in the room with them.
“Dr. Thomas!” she called. Thirty years of dealing with doctors gave a particular your residents and indignation to her tones. She did not need to enquire what was the meaning of the sudden recovery of Carolus, why he was allowed to sit up and smoke or what his doctor was doing about it. Her four syllables were enough.
“I’m sorry we could not give you more information, Matron,” said Carolus blithely. “It was essential that I should seem to be dying. Dr. Tom has been tremendously helpful.”
“I am waiting for an explanation,” said Matron.
“You shall have it this evening when I get my notes together. You are invited to hear the whole story.”
“I understand that there has been some sort of scuffle here,” said Matron without acknowledging the invitation.
“A murderer has been arrested,” said Dr. Tom, “after he made a second attempt on the life of Deene.”
“You mean the murderer? The man guilty of the murders in . . .” Matron them could not bring herself to enunciate the whole alliterative phrase and waved her hand to indicate her meaning.
“One of them,” said Carolus.
Dr. Tom chuckled.
“No need to be that mysterious,” he said. “Do you mean one of the murders? Or one of the murderers?”
“I mean, in a sense, one of the murderers. But you shall hear the details tonight.”
It would seem,” said Matron magnificently, that with your connivance, Dr. Thomas, this board has been used for some kind of dramatics and horseplay. This is a hospital and I hope there will be no repetition of such nonsense. On the other hand… she turned to Carolus and from remote and magnificent heights and bent a little to smile, on the other hand I am pleased to see that you are recovering, Mr. Deene.”
Thanks, Matron,” said Carolus. This breezy address sounded blasphemous
“I have decided to attend when you state your case,” said Matron. “I presume you will not be discharging Mr. Deene yet, doctor.”
“Not till tomorrow, anyhow.”
Matron slightly inclined her head.
“Then it shall be arranged for him to receive a limited number of visitors to hear his recital.”
As sublimely as she had entered, Matron left them.
“You’ve really got the thing worked out, Carolus?”
“I really have.”
“You knew Baker would attack you?”
“I hoped so, yes. I argued that it would be by suffocation. As far as he knew it needed only one small action to finish me and certain things would die with me. To kill me with a nice soft pillow, when there was so little life—as he thought—to destroy, was an admirable to eliminate me without leaving a trace. As soon as I had stopped struggling he would have called for help. Yesterday he thought he did not need to do it because I was on my way out, anyway. But when he heard this morning that I should recover he decided to hasten my exit. Yes, I knew that would happen.”
“He might have used some quicker, deadlier method.”
“Why should he went it would only incriminate him? Clearly it had to be something that would leave no trace.”
When Dr. Tom had left, Carolus requested a nurse to send for Rupert Priggley and of this young man he asked if he still had his motor-cycle. When Rupert admitted it Carolus gave him instructions for bringing his notes in from his bedroom at Pear Tree Farm.
Don’t let Limbrick see them or he’ll never let you go till he has read them. If he wants to come in tonight to hear me go over the case he can, tell him.”
Rupert was absent for about an hour but brought the required papers.
“Limbrick was out on the farm, fortunately; Acidity Ann let me go up and fetch them. She’s pretty sure he’ll be in tonight”
“Let ’em all come,” said Carolus. “The whole boiling of suspects and their associates.”
“You can’t do that,” said Rupert. “It’s madly hackneyed. Arrest one man then shew after all it was another and pick him from the bunch, I mean.”
“I have no intention of doing anything of the sort. I have said that Baker is one of the murderers, though.”
“That’s corny, too. Hoping to hold our interest till the last minute.”
“Anyway, run round and see them, there’s a good chap. As many as you like. Not Baker’s parents—that would be too painful. But anyone else even remotely connected with the case.”
All right. I’ll fetch ’em in. I hope you’ve got something pretty good by way of motive. It needs it, I can tell you. I, for one, can’t imagine, for instance, what Baker wanted to kill Purvice for.”
“I don’t think you need worry about motive.”
“So long as you can convince the police. By the way, Acidity was a bit worked up about your car. She hadn’t told that the old man it was there and when the mechanic came for it . . .”
“You sent out, didn’t you? From Evers’s Garage.”
“Oh god! Drew!” said Carolus.
“Taken the Bentley?”
“Sounds like it. The silly young fool. You’d better get on the ’phone to John Moore.”
“All right. It won’t take them long to find him in that thing. What a bore, though. It means that one of your star ex-suspects won’t be here tonight.”
“Being enigmatic, are you?” said Rupert. “You can’t play that game much longer. You’ve got to put your cards on the table tonight. The police aren’t going to be much impressed by the inscrutable private detective who knows everything but can’t speak”
“No, I’ll speak. Now just check up, will you? I want Marcia and Jane, Mr. Limbrick, the Pollings, Mr. Colbeck, Drew if he has been found, and anyone else concerned with the case who wants to come.”
“Sympson?” suggested Rupert.
“What about Slapper’s widow?”
“Just as she likes.”
“All right. I’ll see what I can do. I think you ought to ask Gorringer.”
“Oh, you do. In that case you can go and ask him.”
Rupert looked back steadily.
“I will,” he said and left the ward.
Carolus settled down to an examination of his notes, scribbling items in the margin and once or twice chuckling to himself.
Yes, he thought, it all fitted now. Even that and that. There were no more ifs. What a dammed ingenious idea! That poor for Baker. He was sorry for him in a way. But hell, he was sorry for everyone in this. There was so much cruelty here and greed and mercilessness and horror that he had more than once felt sick. He would be glad when he had got the whole thing off his chest.