Death of Cold
When Carolus set out for beach-hut number seventeen he did so very coolly, with no sense of drama and certainly no pleasurable excitement. He knew that he would find the murderer or that the murderer would find him. He was quietly confident that the trap he had laid would work. The essential ’phone call had been made—the murderer knew that Carolus would come to the hut this evening. His only chance was to wait for Carolus and obliterate him while there was yet time.
Whether he would wait in or near the beach-hut was another matter. There were arguments in favour of each alternative. Carolus must be prepared for him anywhere after he had left the road.
He felt very much alone. He knew that within earshot Sergeant Cotter and his men were waiting, but it made little difference to his sense of isolation. He had to go to the murderer who had killed twice already and was determined to kill him.
He left his car—this time in a cinema car-park a quarter of a mile away—and set out on foot. It was a warm night with a sea-mist blowing into the town and very few pedestrians out. There came to the mind of Carolus old phrases from the thrillers of his boyhood—‘dirty work at the cross-roads’, ‘what a night for murder’—and he smiled a little grimly as he went forward.
He checked on the situation. The murderer had first been responsible for the death of one. He had intended to stop there. One murder for a reason that seemed to him adequate. At first it had seemed a remarkable success. There was nothing to indicate to the police that Wirral had been murdered, and the whole matter seemed likely to be forgotten. Then Jack and Greta Fyrth had asked Carolus to look into it and he had started investigating. He had collected facts without much coherence for a time, encouraged to go on only by his instinct that Wirral’s death was neither accident or suicide. Perhaps the murderer had not taken Carolus very seriously. He may have felt as safe as ever during those weeks.
Then he had had an unpleasant shock. He had realized that Miss Pepys knew something which, if it were revealed to someone intelligently studying the matter, pointed straight at him as the murderer. He had acted swiftly and ruthlessly, and Miss Pepys lay dead in the beach-hut. She might have remained there till the following spring or summer if Carolus had not looked at the place. What has made him? Deduction? A guess? A little of each, perhaps.
‘No peace for the wicked’, the old adage said. No peace of mind for this particularly wicked murderer, anyway. Today he had learnt—as Carolus intended—that this evening Carolus was going to the beach-hut. There was only one thing for him to do, and he could be relied upon to attempt it. At all costs he must prevent Carolus finding the body concealed there, or living to report it. He must strike again. Perhaps his third time would be lucky. Perhaps with Carolus out of the way he would feel safe at last.
As he left the road to cross the grass, Carolus had one sudden misgiving. Suppose he was not the first to take this way tonight. Suppose Cotter had tried to anticipate him—or someone else got wind of the matter and come here before him? Suppose Lily Wirral had talked too much? Carolus was willing to take the risk of approaching the beach-hut himself, but would not willingly send anyone else there. It did not seem likely, but he gave him a chilling sense of apprehension as he came nearer.
Somewhere, by the breakwater, the police were concealed. Somewhere, in the shadows of the beach-huts or in one of them, was the murderer. Carolus pictured him standing alone and alert in number seventeen, his eyes grown used to the darkness, but not looking towards the poor little corpse in the corner, ready at all events for Carolus to approach. It was not a comfortable thought.
He took precautions with a wariness learnt long ago when he was under training. He first looked down on the beach-huts from the little cliff behind them, examining their roofs carefully, as though someone might be lying there waiting. He noted that they joined the cliff itself—no one could be concealed behind them. There was enough light from the misty moon to be sure of this.
Carolus felt as fit and as ready to deal with the murderer as he had felt when he had been dropped with a parachute during the war. Fear had no meaning for him now. He knew, as if by some occult assurance, that he would not die or even be harmed. He approached the first of the beach-huts cautiously, but quite confidently.
The moonlight shewed him that no one was in front of any of them. He could see the line of them from end to end, and there was no one waiting before them. The space between them was too narrow to conceal a man, but he did not trust this fact entirely. The gaps through which a human being can pass are deceptively small, and it seemed possible to Carolus that two huts might be slightly farther apart that others, and as he walked along the line he made sure of this.
When he came to number seventeen it was with something like relief. Now he knew what he was up against. Inside, he was convinced, the murderer awaited him. He sidled quietly up to the door. Standing flat against the beach-hut next door, he stretched out his hand towards the handle of number seventeen. It took him a few moments to grip this securely without bringing more than his hand and wrist into range from within. But when his fingers were round it he tried to open the door—and failed. It was locked.
He did not hurry. He drew out his key and slowly, rather than laboriously, inserted it, while he remained always out of range. Then he turned the key in the lock and again gripped the handle.
The next few seconds gave Carolus a surprise, and a particularly hideous one. Once the handle was turned, the door seems to be pushed open by a dead weight against it. He soon realized that ‘dead weight’ was a horribly apt expression. There fell forward out of the doorway a man very obviously dead—obviously, because the top of his head had been blown off by a shot fired into it. But the man was recognizable as soon as Carolus shone his torch on him. It was Jack Fyrth.
In a few moments Sergeant Cotter and his men had come up. Almost nothing was said as they examined the place, saw the two corpses and realized the full horror of it.
Carolus stood by, quite impassive. Cotter seemed to think he was stunned or at least bewildered by what it happened. When the Sergeant at last addressed him, it was with scarcely repressed fury.
“You see what comes of pandering to amateurs, Mr. Deene? Another murder, under my very nose. This man has not been dead many hours.”
“Less than one hour, I should say,” put in Carolus quietly.
“While I allowed myself to be persuaded by you to play hide-and-seek with the murderer. I shall lose promotion over this.”
“Think so?” asked Carolus hopefully.
“And deserve to. If you knew the woman’s corpse was here, why couldn’t you say so? You might have saved this man’s life.”
“Yes, I might,” admitted Carolus sadly.
“You were so sure that you would get the murderer. All wrapped up in silver paper. He was going to have a go at you, and it would prove he had done for Wirral and Miss Pepys. Now look what you’ve done.”
“It’s the last time I’ll ever listen to any damned amateur. I can’t think what made me do it. And now we’re no nearer knowing who done for Miss Pepys than ever we were.”
“How are we? And I still don’t see what it’s got to do with Wirral. That case was closed long ago. All we’ve got is this slaughter-house here.”
“It’s a pity you ever left your more important work.”
“You’re telling me. We’ve missed a nice little conviction over this. Going back to London tomorrow.” Sergeant Cotter bit his lip. Then he spoke more quietly and with a touch of slyness to Carolus. “Still think you know who did it?”
“Yes, I know.”
“What? Killed all three?”
Carolus nodded ruefully.
“Yes. Killed all three.”
“Know for certain? Can you prove it?”
Carolus thought for a moment.
“I am not sure about proof. Such a tricky word. I think I could convince any unprejudiced person.”
“Going to tell us?” asked Sergeant Cotter.
“If you really want to know.”
“We should find out, of course. Wouldn’t take us long, either. We always get our man.”
“That is a very silly claim. Do you know how many murderers go unhanged in Great Britain?”
“A great many. There’s a nice comfortable popular belief that murderers are always brought to book in England. Rubbish. Even of the murders which come to light not nearly all are solved. What about all the murders which are never even discovered? Quiet little poisonings in the family, disappearances that are never even noticed. There are scores of men and women who have taken life and never stood trial for it. Scores of them.”
“That may or may not be,” said Sergeant Cotter grandly, “but in a case like this, where there are two corpses to go on, is different. We should get our man here all right.”
“Get him, then.”
“But if you can tell us anything that would save time and trouble, you might as well do so.”
“I will,” said Carolus wearily. “But not here. Not now.”
Carolus looked down at the remains of Jack Fyrth and said, “Because I feel a little sick. And I’m very tired.”
“So while you’re having a nice rest someone else will be for it, I suppose?”
Carolus thought for a moment.
“No,” he said. “No one else.”
“And when is it going to be convenient for you to tell me what you know?” asked Sergeant Cotter with heavy sarcasm.
“Tomorrow evening. I have to be in school all day tomorrow. In the evening I’ll come down and tell you what I can.”
“If we don’t already know the answer,” said Sergeant Cotter. “We shan’t be idle, you know. We shall be working on this most of the night. Two corpses. There’s work to be done here. No amateur messing about, but real work.”
“I’m glad to hear it. There seems to be a good deal of cleaning up, in any case. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
At this point Detective Constable Hawkins approached.
“This was all there was in his pockets,” he said.
He displayed in a handkerchief three objects—a bottle of chloroform, a cigarette lighter and the key of the beach-hut.
“I suppose these tell you a lot, Mr. Deene? Like Sherlock Holmes, you can deduce the whole story?”
“I certainly understand two salient matters,” admitted Carolus.
“The lighter’s got the initials C. D. on it,” said Hawkins.
“Yes. It is mine.”
Carolus seemed anxious to escape. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
“You’ll come to the police station?”
“Well, I’d rather not. I never find police stations conducive to clear thinking. Let’s make it the bar on the pier. The Elizabeth Bar. All right? Good night, then.”
He left the policeman to stare after him resentfully. Sergeant Cotter could not have looked more hostile if Carolus himself had been the murderer.
Ten minutes later he could have taken his revenge, for the speed at which Carolus drove out of Oldhaven very generously passed the limit allowed. Nor did he slacken it as he took the main road towards London from which he would branch off to his home. The grimness which had shewed itself when he recognised the body of Jack Fyrth kept his mouth tight and his eyes hard, even when he went down to the school next morning.