Authors: Edmund Crispin
Tags: #Gervase Fen
And unfortunately, it was also established that he could not, in the nature of things, be anywhere else.
Fen took no part in this investigation, having already foreseen its inevitable issue. He retired, instead, to the Station-master’s office, by whose fire he was dozing when Humbleby sought him out half an hour later.
“One obvious answer,” said Humbleby when he had reported his failure, “is of course that Bailey’s masquerading as someone else—as one of the twelve people (that’s not counting police) who definitely
cooped up in this infernal little station.”
“And is he doing that?”
“No. At least, not unless the Guard and the two porters and the Station-master are in a conspiracy together—which I don’t for a second believe. They all know Bailey by sight, at least, and they’re all certain that no one here can possibly be him.”
Fen yawned. “So what’s the next step?” he asked.
Whit I ought to have done long ago: the next step is to find out if there’s any evidence Bailey was driving the train when it left Borleston… Where’s the telephone?”
“Oh, yes… I don’t understand these inter-station phones, so I’ll use the ordinary one… God help us, hasn’t that dolt Maycock made a note of the number anywhere?”
“In front of you.”
“Oh, yes… 51709.” Humbleby lifted the receiver, dialed and waited. “Hello, is that Borleston Junction?” he said presently. “I want to speak to the station-master. Police business… Yes, all right, but be
And after a pause: “Station-master? This is Detective-Inspector Humbleby of the Metropolitan C.I.D.. I want to know about a train which left Borleslon for Clough and Bramborough at—at—“
“A quarter to midnight,” Fen supplied.
“At a quarter to midnight…Good heavens, yes, this last midnight that we’ve just had…Yes, I know it’s held up at Clough; so am I…No, no, what I want is information about who was driving it when it left Borleston: eyewitness information…
…You actually saw Bailey yourself? Was that immediately before the train left?…It was; well then, there’s no chance of Bailey’s having hopped out, and someone else taken over, after you saw him?…I see: the train was actually moving out when you saw him at the controls. Sure you’re not mistaken? This is important…Oh, there’s a porter who can corroborate it, is there?…No, I don’t want to talk to him now…All right…Yes…Good-bye.”
Humbleby rang off and turned back to Fen. “So that,” he observed, “is that.”
“So I gathered.”
“And the next thing is, could Bailey have left the train between Borleston and here?”
“The train,” said Fen, “didn’t drive itself in, you know.”
“Never mind that for the moment,” said Humbleby irritably.
“No. He couldn’t. Not without breaking his neck. We did a steady thirty-five to forty all the way, and we didn’t stop or slow down once.”
There was a silence. “Well, I give up,” said Humbleby. “Unless this wretched man has vanished like a sort of soap bubble—”
“It’s occurred to you that he may be dead?”
“It’s occurred to me that he may be dead and cut up into little pieces. But I still can’t find any of the pieces… Good Lord, Fen, it’s like—it’s like one of those Locked-Room Mysteries you get in books: an Impossible Situation.”
Fen yawned again. “Not impossible, no,” he said. “Rather a simple device, really…” Then more soberly: “But I’m afraid that what we have to deal with is something much more serious than a mere vanishing. In fact—”
The telephone rang, and after a moment’s hesitation Humbleby answered it. The call was for him; and when, several minutes later, he put the receiver back on its hook, his face was grave.
“They’ve found a dead man,” he said, “three miles along the line towards Borleston. He’s got a knife in his back and has obviously been thrown out of a train. From their description of the face and clothes, it’s quite certainly Goggett. And equally certainly,
—he nodded towards the platform—“is the train he fell out of… Well, my first and most important job is to interview the passengers. And anyone who was alone in a compartment will have a lot of explaining to do.”
Most of the passengers had by now disembarked, and were standing about in various stages of bewilderment, annoyance and futile enquiry. At Humbleby’s command, and along with the Guard, the porters and Mr. Maycock, they shuffled, feebly protesting, into the waiting-room. And there, with Fen as an interested onlooker, a Grand Inquisition was set in motion.
Its results were both baffling and remarkable. Apart from the motorman, there had been nine people on the train when it left Borleston and when it arrived at Clough; and each of them had two others to attest the fact that during the whole crucial period he (or she) had behaved as innocently as a new-born infant. With Fen there had been the elderly business man and the genteel girl; in another compartment there had likewise been three people, no one of them connected with either of the others by blood, acquaintance, or vocation; and even the Guard had witnesses to his harmlessness, since from Victoria onwards he had been accompanied in the van by two melancholy men in cloth caps, whose mode of travel was explained by their being in unremitting personal charge of several doped-looking whippets. None of these nine, until the first search for Bailey was set on foot, had seen or heard anything amiss. None of them (since the train was not a corridor train) had had any opportunity of moving out of sight of his or her two companions. None of them had slept. And unless some unknown, travelling in one of the many empty compartments, had disappeared in the same fashion as Bailey—a supposition which Humbleby was by no means prepared to entertain—it seemed evident that Goggett must have launched himself into eternity unaided.
It was at about this point in the proceedings that Humbleby’s self-possession began to wear thin, and his questions to become merely repetitive; and Fen, perceiving this, slipped out alone on to the platform. When he returned, ten minutes later, he was carrying a battered suitcase; and regardless of Humbleby, who seemed to be making some sort of speech, he carried this impressively to the centre table and put it down there.
“In this suitcase,” he announced pleasantly, as Humbleby’s flow of words petered out, “we shall find, I think, the motorman’s uniform belonging to the luckless Bailey.” He undid the catches. “And in addition, no doubt…
Stop him, Humbleby!”
The scuffle that followed was brief and inglorious. Its protagonist, tackled round the knees by Humbleby, fell, struck his head against the fender, and lay still, the blood welling from a cut above his left eye.
“Yes, that’s the culprit,” said Fen. “And it will take a better lawyer than there is alive to save
from a rope’s end.”
Later, as Humbleby drove him to his destination through the December night, he said: “Yes, it had to be Maycock. And Goggett and Bailey had, of course, to be one and the same person. But what about motive?”
Humbleby shrugged. “Obviously, the money in that case of Goggett’s. There’s a lot of it, you know. It’s a pretty clear case of thieves falling out. We’ve known for a long time that Goggett had an accomplice, and it’s now certain that that accomplice was Maycock. Whereabouts in his office did you find the suitcase?”
“Stuffed behind some lockers—not a very good hiding-place, I’m afraid. Well, well, it can’t be said to have been a specially difficult problem. Since Bailey wasn’t on the station, and hadn’t left it, it was clear he’d never entered it. But
had driven the train in-and who could it have been
Maycock? The two porters were accounted for—by you; so were the Guard and the passengers—by one another; and there just wasn’t anyone else.
“And then. of course, the finding of Goggett’s body clinched it. He hadn’t been thrown out of either of the occupied compartments, or the Guard’s van; he hadn’t been thrown out of any of the
occupied compartments, for the simple reason that there was nobody to throw him.
he was thrown out of the motorman’s cabin. And since, as I’ve demonstrated, Maycock was unquestionably
the motorman’s cabin, it was scarcely conceivable that Maycock had not done the throwing.
‘Plainly, Maycock rode or drove into Borleston while he was supposed to be having his supper, and boarded the train—that is, the motorman’s cabin—there. He kept hidden till the train was under way, and then took over from Goggett-Bailey while Goggett-Bailey changed into the civilian clothes he had with him. By the way, I take it that Maycock, to account for his presence, spun some fictional (as far as he knew) tale about the police being on Goggett-Bailey’s track, and that the change was Goggett-Bailey’s idea; I mean, that he had some notion of its assisting his escape at the end of the line.”
Humbleby nodded. ‘That’s it, approximately. I’ll send you a copy of Maycock’s confession as soon as I can get one made. It seems he wedged the safety handle which operates these trains, knifed Goggett-Bailey and chucked him out, and then drove the train into Clough and there simply disappeared, with the case, into his office. It must have given him a nasty turn to hear the station was surrounded.”
“It did,” said Fen. “If your people hadn’t been there, it would have looked, of course, as if Bailey had just walked off into the night. But chance was against him all along. Your siege, and the grouping of the passengers, and the cloth-capped men in the van—they were all part of an accidental conspiracy—if you can talk of such a thing—to defeat him; all part of a sort of fortuitous conjuring trick.” He yawned prodigiously, and gazed out of the car window. ‘Do you know, I believe it’s the dawn… Next time I want to arrive anywhere, I shall travel by bus.”
“In my job,” said Detective-Inspector Humbleby, “a man expects to be shot at every now and again. It’s an occupational risk, like pneumoconiosis in coal-mining, and when you’re on duty you’ve obviously got to be prepared for it to crop up. But a social call on an old acquaintance is quite a different matter. Here am I on my Sabbatical. I drop in to see this man I’ve known ever since the 1914 war. And what happens? Before I have a chance to as much as open my mouth and ask him how he is, he snatches a damned great revolver out of his pocket and lets it off at me. Well, I was petrified. Anyone would be. I was so astonished I literally couldn’t move.”
“He doesn’t seem to have hit you, though.” From the depths of the armchair in his rooms at St. Christopher’s, Gervase Fen, University Professor of English Language and Literature, regarded his guest with a clinical air. “l see no wound,” he elaborated.
“There is no wound. Three times he fired,” said Humbleby dramatically, “and three times he missed. Which, of course, makes it all the odder.”
“Why ‘of course’? I’ve always understood that revolvers—”
“I say ‘of course’ because Garstin-Walsh, whom I’m speaking of, is a retired Army man: a brevet-rank Colonel, to be precise … Yes, I know what you’re going to tell me. You’re going to tell me that Army men seldom actually use revolvers, even though they may carry them; and that consequently it’s naïve to expect them to be good marksmen. Agreed. But the trouble in this instance is that Garstin-Walsh has always made a hobby of shooting in general—he’s the sort of man it’s impossible to visualise outside the context of dogs and guns and an interest in dahlias—and of pistol-shooting in particular. That`s why I’m so certain he missed me on purpose: at a yard’s range even
could hardly go wrong… But perhaps I’d better begin at the beginning.”
Fen nodded gravely. “Perhaps you had.”
“As you know,” said Humbleby, “I was in Military Intelligence during the 1914 war; and it was while I was investigating an unimaginative piece of sabotage at an arms depot near Loos that I first met Garstin·Walsh, who at that time was a Captain in the Supply Corps. It’d be an exaggeration to say that we became close friends—and looking back on it, I can’t quite see why we should have become friends at all, because our temperaments weren’t at all alike, and we had very few interests in common. Still, for some obscure reason we did in fact get on well together; and I think that much of his attraction for me must have been due to his complete humourlessness—we were all a bit hysterical in those days, whether we knew it or not, and a man who never laughed was unexpectedly
“We used to meet, then, as often as we could; and after the Armistice we kept up a sporadic correspondence and managed some sort of reunion once or twice every year. Then eighteen months ago Garstin-Walsh retired and went to live at a village called Uscombe, which is a few miles from Exeter; and since I was staying with my sister at Exmouth, and hadn’t seen him for some considerable time, I decided, the day before yesterday, to drive over and pay him a surprise visit.
“I left Exmouth immediately after breakfast and got to Uscombe about ten-thirty. Uscombe’s not as cut off from the rest of the world as some Devon villages, because it’s only a quarter of a mile from the main London road; but in all other respects it’s fairly typical—settled to some extent by middle-class ‘foreigners,’ I mean, with an unsuccessful preparatory boarding-school in a tumble-down manor-house, and a church tower scheduled dangerous; you know the sort of place. I hadn’t been there before, so I stopped at one of the village shops to enquire for Garstin-Walsh’s house. And the way they looked at me, as they gave me directions, was the first intimation I had that anything was wrong.
“The house proved to be a nice, trim, up-to-date little red-brick villa beyond the church, with lots of chrysanthemums in the garden and a carefully weeded front lawn; so that was all right. But then the trouble started. The painters were in, for one thing; an Exeter C.I.D. Inspector was hanging about the hall, for another; and an undeniably dead body was in process of being removed by a mortuary van. I need hardly tell you that if I’d known about all this I should have gone back to Exmouth and tried again some other day; but by the time the situation became clear I’d rung, and been let in by the housekeeper, and so couldn’t very well escape without positive incivility.