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Authors: Edmund Crispin

Tags: #Gervase Fen

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BOOK: Beware of the Trains
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“He wrote adventure stories for boys.” Beeton leaned back with an air of luxury, his heavy bulk overflowing the swivel-chair; he was the archetypal countryman, slow but intuitive, blank of eye yet with a vein of simple cunning such as all those who trap or shoot animals tend in time to acquire. “Adventure stories,” he reiterated, “for boys—though they, I take it, wouldn’t be about the sort of adventures he was partial to himself.”

“Oh,” said Fen. “Oh.”

And Beeton nodded slyly. “Yes, he was a funny bloke: mad about the women, and not too scrupulous as to whether they were married or not. But in spite of that, you couldn’t help liking him—same way you can like a cat, provided you keep your pet goldfish out of its reach.”

And Fen remembered Beeton’s own wife, whom he had glimpsed on arrival: brunette and by no means unattractive. “Someone,” he pointed out, “doesn’t seem to have been quite so tolerant.”

“Ah. You’re right there, sir. It’s the husbands of women there’s been scandal about that we’ll have to be keeping an eye on… But now look; here’s what happened:

“Derringer hadn’t been renting ‘The Moorings’ long: not more than six months, anyway. And he was planning on starting for America some time today, with the idea of living there permanently. Well, now: last evening—according to Mrs. Jerrold, Bert Tyler’s ma-in-law that is, who was Derringer’s housekeeper—Derringer was due to go to a posh dinner in London. There was some sort of a quarrel about it, and at the last moment he decided not to go to the dinner. But he
did
go to
London
, by the late afternoon train. How he spent his time there, we haven’t found out yet. But he came back on the train that gets to Windover Halt at 11.10, and at that time he was wearing a
green
tie; the porter who took his ticket is ready to swear to that. So the conclusion you’re forced to, really, is that for some unknown reason the murderer took the green tie off, and put the black one on, after he’d done the murder… Perhaps,” said Beeton without much conviction, “as a sort of gruesome joke: black for a funeral, you know.”

Fen nodded. “Go on.”

“Derringer gets back from London at 11.10, then. And he stays at Windover Halt for twenty minutes or more, talking to the porter, who he’s pally with. All right. But now here’s the second queer thing. Bert Tyler found the body at five to twelve; and the trouble about that is that Windover Halt’s much too far from ‘The Moorings’ for Derringer to have walked the distance, or even cycled it, in twenty minutes or so. He was on foot when he left the Halt—the porter’s sure of that. So what it
must
mean is that somewhere on the way he was picked up by a car… Only trouble is, we can’t find the car.”

“Can’t
find
it?” Fen echoed rather blankly.

Beeton reached for a map. “See here, sir. Here’s ‘The Moorings’. Well now, there’s only two roads away from it a car could possibly take. One direction, all the road does is just peter out at the edge of an old quarry. And in the other direction—quite apart from the fact that any car’d have had to pass Bert, and no car did—there’s
this
.” Beeton’s stubby forefinger hovered again above the map. “Level-crossing,” he explained. “It’s the sort that’s only opened to road traffic on demand; and there are good locks on the gates, so you can’t get them open on your own… Anyway, the gate-keeper’s willing to take his oath that not a single car or motor-bike (apart from the doctor’s) went through all last night, after a quarter to midnight. Nor none’s been through today, either.”

“What about before a quarter to midnight?”

“Ah. That’s a bit different. Old Willis—that’s the gatekeeper—he left the crossing open between 11.15 and 11.45, while he was away from his cottage. Shouldn’t have done, strictly speaking, but there’s no trains go through between 11.5—that’s the one Derringer came home on—and 1.30 in the morning.”

“M’m. I see. To sum up, then: a car traveling from Windover Halt to ‘The Moorings’ would have had to go via that level-crossing. It could have got
through
all right, up to 11.45. But it wouldn’t have had time to get
back
.”

“That’s it, sir, exactly. And I know what you’re going to say now—that the car must still be somewhere in that area between the level-crossing and the old quarry beyond ‘The Moorings’. Only it isn’t. We’ve searched everywhere—woods, sandpits, barns, sheds, and of course the quarry itself. And there’s not a trace of it.”

Fen examined the map again; then: “I
think
,” he said slowly, “that I can probably tell you what became of the car. But before I do that, let’s hear the rest of it.”

“Well, sir, there’s only one other thing—which doesn’t make sense any more than the black tie or the disappearance of the car—and that’s the burglary at ‘The Moorings’. Window smashed, and someone had definitely climbed in through it. Bert Tyler discovered that when he entered the house-using the door-key from Derringer’s pocket, of course—to phone me after finding the body. But the thing is, that as far as we can make out, there was nothing at all taken.”

With that, they both fell silent. A hay-cart rumbled past outside, and a fly sang on the pane. Though the sun was now westering, it seemed hotter than ever—and with a muttered apology, Fen rose, while Beeton swallowed the last of his stout, and set the door ajar. “If there is any through-draught,” he said, “we’d better have it.” And Beeton nodded. “A few questions, then, if you can bear them.” Beeton nodded again. “First, if Derringer had walked home from Windover Halt, starting at 11.10 when his train got in, what time would he have arrived?”

“Well, he was quite a fast walker. Around midnight, I’d say. But—”

“Secondly, where was the doctor between 11.30 and 12.30? The doctor who examined the body, I mean.”

Beeton smiled. “I was wondering if you’d think of that. It’s no go, though. He was at a confinement—definitely.”

“Thirdly, then, just how reliable is the evidence of the porter at Windover Halt and the evidence of the gate-keeper at the level-crossing?”

“Well, sir, as far as the porter’s concerned, his evidence is
confirmed
—confirmed by two chaps who were going home late and actually saw Derringer leaving the Halt on foot, at 11.30. As to old Willis, I admit we’ve only got his word for it. But he’s not daft, not by any manner of means, and I’m willing to take my oath he’s telling the truth.”

“Then here’s my last question: what time was Tyler due to report back here at the end of his beat?”

“12.30, sir. And starting from ‘The Moorings’ at 12.0, he’d have had to pedal pretty hard to—” Beeton broke off. His eyes widened. “Good Lord, sir! You can’t be thinking that
Bert
—”

“Look,” said Fen. “If you haven’t found a car, then there just wasn’t a car. Which means that Derringer, on foot, must have reached home about 12.20. Which in turn means that Tyler’s telephone call to you was a simple lie.”

“But why, sir?
Why?”

“Because Derringer was delayed, that’s why. The murder had to take place last night, because Derringer was to have left for America today. On the other hand, if Tyler hung about waiting for him, he’d have to explain to you why he was so late back from his beat—and although there were plenty of excuses he
could
have made, he didn’t want there to be anything out-of-the-way about his doings on a night when a murder had been committed. Well, he knew you’d need a good half-hour to get to ‘The Moorings’. So he took a risk, announcing the murder as a
fait accompli
before the victim had even arrived… ‘Black tie’, he told you; which at once suggests evening dress.
Tyler
thought that Derringer had gone to London for a posh dinner—he didn’t know that that plan had been altered. So when, having killed Derringer, he found that his victim
wasn’t
wearing a black tie, he was obliged to do something about it, in order that your suspicions shouldn’t be aroused by a discrepancy between his statement on the telephone and the clothing you saw when you reached the scene.”

“Then the burglary—”

“Wasn’t a burglary at all. In order to telephone you from ‘The Moorings’, Tyler was obliged to break into the house since Derringer hadn’t yet turned up with the keys… Is Tyler married?”

“Yes. To a pretty, flighty girl, a good bit younger than him; so—My God, what’s that?”

A pistol-shot had sounded in the next room; and now the smell of cordite was in their nostrils. Cursing, Beeton leaped to his feet.

“Blasted door half open,” he said incoherently. “If I’d had any idea where this was leading—” Then he turned savagely to Fen. “For God’s sake, man, why couldn’t you keep your voice down? Why—” He checked himself. As comprehension came, his anger faded as quickly as it had arisen. “Oh, I see. Yes. You—”

“I get on well with policemen,” said Fen. “That’s all. And if it can be avoided, I don’t like seeing their good name dragged through the mud; for the reason, you understand, that the good name is genuine and deserved. So what could be more natural than that a constable, who sometimes has to handle guns, should be involved in an accident?” He got up and moved towards the door. “Come on, Beeton,” he said. “Let’s make sure that it
was
an accident.”

The Name on the Window

Boxing Day; snow and ice; road-surface like glass under a cold fog. In the North Oxford home of the University Professor of English Language and Literature, at three minutes past seven in the evening, the front door bell rang.

The current festive season had taken heavy toll of Fen’s vitality and patience; it had culminated, that afternoon, in a quite exceptionally tiring children’s party, amid whose ruins he was now recouping his energies with whisky; and on hearing the bell he jumped inevitably to the conclusion that one of the infants he had bundled out of the door half an hour previously had left behind it some such prized inessential as a false nose or a bachelor’s button, and was returning to claim this. In the event, however, and despite his premonitory groans, this assumption proved to be incorrect: his doorstep was occupied, he found, not by a dyspeptic, over-heated child with an unintelligible query, but by a neatly-dressed greying man with a red tip to his nose and woebegone eyes.

“I can’t get back,” said this apparition. “I really can’t get back to London tonight. the roads are impassable and such trains as there are are running hours late. Could you possibly let me have a bed?”

The tones were familiar; and by peering more attentively at the face, Fen discovered that that was familiar too. “My dear Humbleby,” he said cordially, “do come in. Of course you can have a bed. What are you doing in this part of the world anyway?”

“Ghost-hunting.” Detective-Inspector Humbleby, of New Scotland Yard, divested himself of his coat and hat and hung them on a hook inside the door. “Seasonable but not convenient.” He stamped his feet violently, thereby producing, to judge from his expression, sensations of pain rather than of warmth; and stared about him.
“Children,”
he said with sudden gloom. “I dare say that one of the Oxford hotels—”

“The children have left,” Fen explained, “and will not be coming back.”

“Ah. Well, in that case—” And Humbleby followed Fen into the drawing-room, where a huge fire was burning and a slightly lop-sided Christmas tree, stripped of its treasures, wore tinsel and miniature witch-balls and a superincumbent fairy with a raffish air. “My word, this is better. Is there a drink, perhaps? I could do with some advice, too.”

Fen was already pouring whisky. “Sit down and be comfortable,” he said. “As a matter of interest, do you believe in ghosts?”

“The evidence for poltergeists,” Humbleby answered warily as he stretched out his hands to the blaze, “seems very convincing to me… The Wesleys, you know, and Harry Price and so forth. Other sorts of ghosts I’m not so sure about—though I must say I
hope
they exist if only for the purpose of taking that silly grin off the faces of the newspapers.” He picked up a battered tin locomotive from beside him on the sofa. “I say, Gervase, I was under the impression that your own children were all too old for—”

“Orphans,” said Fen, jabbing at the siphon. “I’ve been entertaining orphans from a nearby Home… But as regards this particular ghost you were speaking of—”

“Oh, I don’t believe in
that
.” Humbleby shook his head decisively. “There’s an obscure sort of nastiness about the place it’s supposed to haunt—like a very sickly cake gone stale—and a man
was
killed there once, by a girl he was trying to persuade to certain practices she didn’t relish at all; but the haunting part of it is just silly gossip for the benefit of visitors.” Humbleby accepted the glass which Fen held out to him and brooded over it for a moment before drinking. “…Damned Chief-Inspector,” he muttered aggrievedly, “dragging me away from my Christmas lunch because—”

“Really, Humbleby”—Fen was severe—”you’re very inconsequent this evening. Where is this place you’re speaking of?”

“Rydalls.”

“Rydalls?”

“Rydalls,” said Humbleby. “The residence,” he elucidated laboriously, “of Sir Charles Moberley, the architect. It’s about fifteen miles from here, Abingdon way.”

“Yes, I remember it now. Restoration.”

“I dare say. Old, in any case. And there are big grounds, with an eighteenth-century pavilion about a quarter of a mile away from the house, in a park. That’s where it happened—the murder, I mean.”

“The murder of the man who tried to induce the girl—’

“No, no. I mean, yes.
That
murder took place in the pavilion, certainly. But then, so did the other one—the one the day before yesterday, that’s to say.”

Fen stared. “Sir Charles Moberley has been murdered?”

“No, no, no. Not
him
. Another architect, another knight—Sir Lucas Welsh. There’s been quite a large house-party going on at Rydalls, with Sir Lucas Welsh and his daughter Jane among the guests, and it was on Christmas Eve, you see, that Sir Lucas decided he wanted to investigate the ghost.”

“This is all clear enough to you, no doubt, but—”

“Do
listen
… It seems that Sir Lucas is—was—credulous about ghosts, so on Christmas Eve he arranged to keep vigil alone in the Pavilion and—”

BOOK: Beware of the Trains
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