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Authors: George Bellairs

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BOOK: Death Before Breakfast
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Macready was up in arms again.

‘I resent that, sir. I did my best for him. He was doomed from the beginning. The knife had pierced the lung and there was serious internal bleeding. No hospital treatment would have availed in the case.'

‘That isn't for you to judge. Instead of being able to sign a death certificate, you had to see the body removed and flung in the canal to keep you out of trouble.'

Macready turned yellow with rage.

‘I will not stand your insinuations, Littlejohn. You might think I killed the man myself. My share of the business was in rendering the best medical service I could. …'

‘Why didn't you send him to the hospital, then?'

Macready hesitated and then tried to be calm. The funny thing about it all was that, in spite of his fits of temper
and the heat of his rages, the doctor always managed to remain elegant in his Sunday clothes!

‘Let me put it to you, Littlejohn. Jourin had crossed to England in his flight. He was in love with my sister. There seems to be no doubt about it. He obviously sought her out in the place where he knew she lived. In France, she'd foolishly given him her address. Instead of reaching her, he was murdered by accomplices he had cheated and who had followed him here. They took with them the loot he carried and also stripped the body of all valuables. Does that sound right?'

‘You're a better judge than I am, doctor. Go on. …'

‘The body was found near my home – mark you,
my
home – and I had sworn to kill the man if I ever came across him near my sister again. How do you think I felt? The first thing the police would say is that I'd killed him. I'd every reason for doing so. But I didn't. I assure you, I didn't. If you arrest and charge me, you are simply allowing a brutal murderer to get away scot-free. I was called in and gave medical aid. We removed him from Barnes's, where the noise was appalling and there was no comfort or convenience, to Peeples' house. …'

‘Why choose Peeples?'

‘He was an employee and a tenant of Barnes's and had served in the RAMC in the war. It seemed the best way.'

‘The Peeples family were rushed off to his mother-in-law's at Chatham and the presence of a badly wounded, wanted man, hushed-up.'

‘Yes, for the reason I have given.'

‘How did he come to be found in July Street, dead?'

‘Peeples fell asleep and Jourin must have come-to and tried to get away. He'd been drugged to ease'his pain and keep him quiet. He must have been bemused and thought only of flight. He seems to have crossed the street, started the haemorrhage again, and died in a matter of minutes.'

‘And then you connived in disposing of the body by dropping it in the canal.'

‘Someone else did that. Peeples came to tell me what had happened, I ran out in the street, and found the body had disappeared.'

‘You have a lot of good friends in July Street, doctor.'

‘I resent your sarcasm, Littlejohn. I'm telling you the truth as it happened. …'

Littlejohn didn't speak at first. Macready stood eyeing him, trying to assess the impression his story had made.

‘This is a funny business, doctor. I'm afraid I must ask you not to leave this house until I return. I've some further enquiries to make.'

‘You don't trust me, I see. Am I under arrest?'

‘Unless I have your word that you will remain here, I shall take you to Willesden police station and charge you with being an accessory to murder.'

‘You'll suffer for it if you do. You're making a big mistake. I've told you the truth.'

Littlejohn was on his way to the telephone in the hall, where he rang-up Cromwell, standing-by for further duty at the local police station. He asked him to join him at No. 19, and when the sergeant arrived, he told him briefly how matters stood and left him with the doctor.

‘You may, if you like, doctor, dictate a statement to my colleague, and sign it. By the time you've finished, I hope I shall be back with fuller information and be able to decide what steps to take.'

Back at Willesden police station, Littlejohn started telephoning again.

‘Get me Paris, please. Police priority.'

Luc was absent from the Sûreté, but his colleague, Bessan-court, was there and eager to help.

‘Commissaire Luc and I were in Sens yesterday, Bessan-court, and discussed with the landlord's son at the
Hôtel du Cathedral
a visit they had from Etienne Jourin, the jewel thief. Whilst there, Jourin met a Miss Macready, who left with him for Cannes, where they stayed together at the
Carlton
. Now, I wish to obtain the precise dates of their stay in Cannes and you also might ask the police in Cannes if any jewel robberies occurred locally around that time. The matter's urgent. Please ring back and ask them to contact me when the answer comes through.'

‘With pleasure, Superintendent. Anything else?'

‘You recollect, Bessancourt, that three false passports were found in Jourin's strong-box at the Châtelet safe-deposit. Could you send copies of the passport photographs over on the next 'plane from Paris to me at Scotland Yard … ? And by the way, the four latest jewel robberies thought to be the work of Jourin. I'd like to be more familiar with his methods. Could you include the files of those with the passport pictures, as well?'

‘Of course. I'll see them off express myself. You should have them in a couple of hours at the most.'

It looked like being a busy Sunday, after all! Littlejohn remembered Cromwell cooped-up with Macready in July Street, waiting for his return. It couldn't go on until mid-afternoon, when the files from Paris, which would determine Littlejohn's next move, arrived. He telephoned to No. 19 and told Cromwell to return to Willesden, meet him there, and they'd go back to London for lunch and await the Paris package at The Yard.

Cromwell was glad to join him again. As far as the sergeant's ideas went, the whole case was still a mix-up. He hadn't the faintest notion of who'd killed Jourin. The high-spot in his mind was the dirty trick the wretched little French-polisher, Peeples, had played on him. If it had been in Cromwell's power to inflict a severe attack of whooping-cough on Peeples personally, he'd have given it to him with gusto. As for the case itself … Cromwell was used to
working with Littlejohn and knew his methods, if methods they could be called. Probably the chief didn't yet know himself who'd killed Jourin. Cromwell was content to wait patiently.

They lunched together and shortly after they'd finished, the courier arrived with the parcel from the Sûreté.

The first job was to have the excellent reproductions of Jourin's phoney passport photographs copied. Then, Cromwell, with some official help, was again to undertake the weary task of canvassing July Street and the neighbourhood showing the three pictures and asking all and sundry if they'd ever seen any of the men before.

‘And you might, also, call at No. 17 and No. 21 July Street and talk to the occupants there. Ask discreetly about the two Macreadys. What sort of neighbours they are; what they do with themselves; who visits them; do they hear much of them through the walls, which aren't too thick, I imagine? Get a general picture about the doctor and his sister.'

Cromwell took his instructions with a smile, although he didn't feel at all merry about it. His eldest daughter was home from boarding-school that week-end and, of course, as usual, matters had warmed-up on a case. This time, it was July Street again. And more door-to-door work. He wished July Street in hell.

Left to himself, Littlejohn took out the Sûreté files on the robberies which seemed to bear signs of Jourin's handiwork. The Sûreté as well as the Paris police, had been brought into them, because they were spread around the country.

The information was full and set down with customary French energy and precision. There were three main files, which Littlejohn read with the greatest interest.

Jourin's method seemed to be to commit one great theft each winter, and then rest on his laurels and the proceeds
for another year. The loot had, in each case, been quite enough to keep him going, with plenty to spare, provided he had been able to dispose of the jewellery itself.

The three successive annual sensations, according to the dossiers, had been first, the theft of the Broaze pendant, composed of five large, perfect diamonds worth, in all, not far short of £100,000. Monsieur Broaze, (later changed to Monsieur Broaze de Mandeville) was a land speculator who had made himself a millionaire from his deals. Twice divorced, he had taken as third wife a film-star half his age, and, to celebrate the occasion, had ornamented her splendid bosom with a shower of diamonds and given a reception to show them all off. The jewellery had vanished during a mêlée caused by a sudden irruption of television interviewers and newspaper men, all of whom had received special invitations. Nobody knew who had issued the invitations. Many people said it served Broaze right, but as he had insured the jewels, he didn't care much what they thought.

The next sensation was quite a novelty. The St. Marc emeralds consisted of a unique collar, bracelet, and eardrops, composed of stones collected over two lifetimes by the Marquis de St. Marc and his father before him, insured for £75,000, and a heirloom of the St. Marcs, the Dufy diamond coronet, worth £50,000. The jewels had, of course, received publicity from time to time, in social and trade papers, but Monsieur de St. Marc was no parvenu, like Monsieur Broaze (with de Mandeville tacked on for swank). He kept the jewels in a special safe in his château at Beaumont-sur-Marne, with the key on a silver chain in his pocket and a duplicate in the Banque de France. He, too, was middle-aged and had married a nice decent young lady in her twenties and she had presented him with a son and heir. To celebrate this the Marquis had held a grand party of friends and staff (he owned oil-wells in the desert somewhere)
at his château. There, amid the feasting and dancing, the precious key had vanished from his pocket, later to be found in the open safe (minus the coronet and the emeralds), which hid behind his first wife's portrait in his study. Some of his friends made a secret joke of the safe and the portrait, regarding it as laughably ironical. The Marquis enjoyed the joke; he'd insured the jewels for more than they would realise at a quick sale, and he needed the money. This information came on the file through the courtesy of one of the nobleman's friends.

Lastly, the du Pan diamonds. Mr. George B. Patternmaker, the American oil king, was so pleased when his daughter married the Marquis Malleville du Pan, that he gave her a string of magnificent diamonds and a villa at Melun. During a dance and housewarming at Melun, the lights went out. When they revived, the diamonds had vanished from the flat chest of Marion, the Marquise. Perhaps it was as well that the villa was not burned to the ground at the same time, for the insurance of the jewellery and the property had, greatly to the disgust of Mr. Patternmaker, been overlooked by his son-in-law, a woolly aristocrat, who had spent the cheque given him for the premiums, on a flat for a young lady in Suresnes. (Information supplied for file by friend of Marquis).

At this point, Littlejohn, who felt he'd had enough of high life for the time being, went and had tea and toast in the canteen.

When he resumed his researches, Littlejohn at once found himself engulfed in lists of guests. The Paris police had worked hard after each party, but with few results. The principal and high-class guests had easily been traced and knew nothing. The riff-raff and gate-crashers had vanished into thin air.

Then, he came to the interesting part of the investigations. There had been a dance-band at each gathering.
The police had a theory that Jourin had been a member of the band at all three parties. This idea was only born upon them after the du Pan affair, at which the violinist had disappeared. On investigation it was found that Jourin played the violin very well. He must have been a man of parts!

This band business showed Jourin's good sense in committing only one theft a year. It gave the last sensation time to die down and also afforded him an opportunity to train and publicise a fresh crowd of players for his next choice of jewellery.

For a good six months prior to the Broaze affair, Paris had been hearing of a very amusing jazz-band. They called themselves
Les Mouches
, the flies, because they all wore black from head to foot. Dressed-up like battered dandies, tumbledown Victorian toffs, they featured imperials, or heavy moustaches and side-whiskers, and their leader was a man who called himself Willy. When the confusion occurred at the mansion of Monsieur Broaze at Méry-sur-Seine, the band was playing and continued playing throughout the invasion of unruly reporters. When the riot died down, they were all there and still hard at it. Nobody thought to question them, but when later the police decided to do so, all were traced except Willy, the leader with the violin, who, it seemed, had gone to Argentina to play under contract.

Nobody associated another jazz band, called
Les Masques
, which grew popular in Paris the next winter, with the now defunct
Mouches
. When the police questioned them after the St. Marc robbery, they were a completely different gang, except the leader, a violinist, who, before the interval in the dancing, had asked his band to carry-on without him for a time, as he didn't feel well. As a matter of fact, he left them to explore the safe behind the first Marquise. This band was understood to be composed of aristocrats
playing to make-up their depleted incomes. They were all masked, for the tale went that they had all names they didn't wish to disgrace. When the police interviewed them, unmasked, they proved to be a rickety-rackety crew, but hardly likely to have taken the jewellery. They'd played, minus their leader, all through the fatal interval.

When the police asked for a description of the leader they found he wasn't without sense of humour. His description answered to that of Willy, of the
Mouches
; heavy moustache, sideboards, and spectacles, slightly tinted because he'd weak eyes.

BOOK: Death Before Breakfast
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