Authors: Basil Thomson
“Between ourselves, Inspector, I did break it once this week, but for goodness' sake don't tell Mr. Hartmann, or I may lose my job.”
“You lent the key to somebody?”
“It was only to Mr. Stammer, and he's a member of the committee. He seemed to make such a point of it, and he's a most respectable man. He said that he wanted it for interviewing one of the applicants, and that he would faithfully return it in the morning. I didn't think that there could be any harm.”
“Did he return it?”
“Yes, yesterday morning.”
“You mean that he had the key in his possession on the night of the suicide in the flat below?”
The girl nodded, but did not speak. Her eyes were dilated with alarm. At last she mastered herself sufficiently to falter, “I hope you won't make a fuss about this, Inspector. I'm sure Mr. Stammer is a most respectable man.”
“What is his occupation, do you know?”
“He keeps an antiquity shop at 173 Fulham Road, I've been told.”
“Did Mr. Stammer ask you not to tell Mr. Hartmann?”
“Not quite that, but he let me understand that it was a confidential matter between him and me.”
“Very well, Miss McDougall, I need scarcely warn you not to part with the key again. Now I'll leave you to get on with your work.”
When the two police officers found themselves alone in the flat below they began to converse about what they had heard.
“What do you think about that young woman?” asked Richardson.
“She struck me as being straightforward enough, but I suppose we'll have to put Master Stammer through the hoop.”
“We will. The girl was a fool to risk her job by listening to him.”
“That telephone conversation she overheard was funny, talking about murder and suicide.”
“It was; we'll have to look up that number that the girl gave us and find out who she was talking to. The first thing we've got to do now is to deal with that coffee-cup and see what an analyst will say about it.”
From the wardrobe he took a quarto-sized envelope, used, no doubt, by the dead woman for forwarding manuscript, and carried it into the kitchen. The dregs in the coffee-cup on the table and had now dried up. He put the cup into the envelope, labelled it, and stowed it in his pocket.
“Now, Williams,” he said; “we'll tackle those house-agents in Lower Sloane Street. You'd better come with me.”
It was a bad moment for letting houses and flats; they had the office to themselves. A clerk hurried forward to receive them. “What can I do for you, gentlemen?”
“We want to see your principal, Mr. Harding.”
“Very good, sir,” said the clerk, leading the way to a door marked private. They found themselves in the presence of a harassed-looking gentleman, sitting at a table, with a ledger before him.
“I must introduce myself, Mr. Harding. I am Inspector Richardson from New Scotland Yard, and this is my colleague, Sergeant Williams. I believe that you had a visit yesterday from Sergeant Hammett of the B Division who called to inquire about the lease of the flat in 37
Seymour Street. The case has now been handed over to me. He tells me that the late Miss Clynes, who took the flat, furnished two references, and I must ask you to allow me to see their replies.”
“Very good, sir, I'll have them looked up. Both replies were satisfactory, otherwise we should not have sublet the flat to her.” He touched his bell: the clerk appeared. “The Clynes' correspondence,” he said.
In less than a minute a thin file was on the table. “Here are the two letters, Inspector; they seem to be all right.”
Richardson made a rapid note of their contents. The first was signed Horace Crispin, Vicar, and was dated from St. Andrew's Vicarage, Liverpool, February 23rd. It ran:
“I have much pleasure in saying that Miss Naomi Clynes is well and favourably known to me. She is a member of my congregation and a regular communicant, besides being a friend of my wife and a helper in parochial work. I have every reason to think that she would be a satisfactory tenant.”
The other letter ran:
“Miss Naomi Clynes was in my employment as a clerk for more than ten years. She left me only because I am shortly closing down my business. She was employed in a position of trust, and I believe that she would be a desirable tenant.”
The letter was dated from “4 Apsley Terrace, Liverpool,” and was signed “John Maze.”
Richardson made a shorthand copy of both letters and returned them to Mr. Harding.
“It's a sad business, Inspector, isn't it? I suppose that I mustn't ask you whether you have discovered any reason for her rash act.”
“The inquiry is still going on, Mr. Harding,” replied Richardson diplomatically.
“Ah! There'll be an inquest, no doubt.”
“Yes, an inquest has to be held in all cases of this kind. Good day and thank you.”
Richardson had one question to clear up before he interviewed the six members of the Jewish committee who rented the little office over the flat.
He looked at his watch. “Twenty-five minutes past ten. We've plenty of time for another interview before lunch.”
“Who are we going to see?”
“Miss Clynes' publishersâStanwick & Company. Here's their address, 19 Charing Cross Road. Hallo! I never noticed that. They give the very telephone number that Miss McDougall gave us. I shouldn't be surprised to find that J. Milsom, the junior director of Stanwick & Company, is an old acquaintance of mine, who made himself useful in one of Superintendent Foster's cases in Hampstead two years ago. We'll take the Underground to Charing Cross.”
The exterior of Stanwick & Co.'s place of business looked as prosperous as painters, gilders and glaziers could make it. A young clerk, sitting before a bookshelf filled with the productions of his firm, was apparently engaged in killing time by perusing a copy of one of the firm's books when he should have been pasting press-cuttings of reviews into the enormous scrap-book lying open on the table before him. At the appearance of Richardson he slipped the book into a drawer and became the busy and assiduous clerk who more than earned his salary. Richardson tendered his card and asked for “Mr. J. Milsom.”
The clerk's eyes bulged. The book he had just been reading dealt with a functionary of this metal-Inspector Pilchardâwho cut a rather sorry figure in the story when compared with the brilliant young journalist who stood at his elbow and was the real author of the deductions that had made him famous, and here was an inspector in the flesh!
“Mr. Milsom, sir? I'll see whether he's free to receive you.”
Left to themselves they scanned the titles of the works in the bookshelves. “The Poisoned Cup”; “A Hidden Hand”; “The Fatal Kris”; “The Mystery of Chinatown”âMessrs. Stanwick & Co. seemed to be making a corner in police mysteriesâand Richardson and Williams, having enough mysteries of their own to solve, never read mystery stories when their duties left them time to read anything.
“Mr. Milsom will be very glad to see you, sir, if you'll kindly step this way.”
Leaving his sergeant downstairs, Richardson followed his guide to the lift and was shot up to the third floor. The door at the end of the passage was thrown open; his name and rank were chanted by the clerk, and he found himself in a tiny room in which the greater part of the floor-space was occupied by a table piled high with a stack of papers.
“My God!” exclaimed the man, who sprang up from his chair and stretched a welcoming hand across the table, “it is you! So they've moved you up a step! When I read the name on your card I thought it must be another man, and I wondered which of my crimes had at last come to light.” He swept a pile of papers from the only vacant chair on to the floor. “Sit down, won't you?”
Richardson squeezed his way round the table and sat down. “I scarcely expected to find that you had become a publisher, sir.”
“I'm not surprised at that. It is my uncle's doing. He has a curious prejudice in favour of
âhard workâand as I didn't seem to share it, he made one of his lightning journeys from Montreal to this little village. He chummed up with old Stanwick on the boat, and the old boy poured out all his financial troubles into his sympathetic earâtold him what a hard row a publisher of really
fiction had to hoe, and how, if he couldn't raise a bit of capital, he would have to put up his shutters. âIn these degenerate days,' he said, âpeople won't read anything unless there's a seduction or a divorce in it.' My uncle snorted âYou're wrong there. What people want is CRIME, preferably a good, startling murder which could only have been committed by the dean, or possibly one of the canons. Mr. Fidget harnesses his great mind to the job and proves triumphantly that it was the pew-opener. That's what your readers want. I never read any other kind of literature myselfânever haveâand look what it's done for me!'
“The poor old guy shook his head and looked doubtful. âSee here,' went on my uncle, thinking of me, âI'll make you a proposition. I've a nephew in England with a very remarkable brain for these thingsâScotland Yard calls him in whenever they're really up against itâhis name's James Milsomâbut he's a singularly modest bloke and doesn't blow his own trumpet on a housetopâhe's the very man for you. If you'll form a company and take him on as one of your directors, I'll put ten thousand pounds to add to your capital, but only on the understanding that you'll go hot and strong for detective mysteries. What about it?' Well, money talks, and here I am!”
“Making a success of the business, I hope, sir?”
“Not exactly making our fortunes so far, but we're on the way. Poor dear old Stanwick shudders a bit when I show him one of my dust-covers, but he unfreezes when he looks at our circulation returns. He was shy about frequenting the Athenaeum after taking me into the business, until a bishop stopped him one day in the hall to congratulate him on one of our best sellers. And then someone spoilt it by telling him that the prelate had been preaching against the modern âthriller,' and had bought some hundreds of them to serve him as a text. But you haven't looked in to gossip about fiction.”
“No, sir. I called to ask whether you had heard of the sudden death of a lady you knowâMiss Naomi Clynes?”
“Naomi Clynes? Good God! You can't be serious! I wrote to her only two days ago about a book she was publishing with us, and she rang me up next day.”
“That must have been only a few hours before her death. Did she seem to be in good spirits?”
“That depends on what you call good spirits. The telephone sounded as if she would have kissed and hugged me if the Postmaster-General had not been listening in. You see, the firm had agreed to publish her first book on a royalty basis, and she put it all down to me. It was a topping yarn.”
“Do you happen to know whether she had any private worries?”
“No, I knew nothing about her at all. She shot in the manuscript and I sat down to wade through it, but after reading the first chapter I found that I couldn't lay it down. I couldn't even stop to get my lunch that day. I got one of my co-directors to dip into it, and it hit him in a vital spot, too. What did the poor woman die of? Heart failure?”
“No, sir; she was found with her head in a gas-oven.”
“What is it that makes gas-ovens so fatally attractive to Englishwomen? Whenever the landlord calls for the rent, or they are disappointed in love they crawl to the gas-oven, turn on the taps, and set out to meet their Maker. I should have thought that this was a simple case. What did you hope to get from me?”
Richardson's face registered disappointment. “Well, sir, I hoped that you would be able to give me the addresses of her relatives and friends. The coroner has asked us to trace them, and I've been put in charge of the inquiry. So far I don't know anything about her except that she has friends in Liverpool.”
“I didn't even know that. When she called here she never talked about herself, but only about her books. She was half-way through a second book for us, and she was so keen about it that when I asked her to come and lunch with me to meet one or two of my friends she refused, saying that she had registered a vow never to accept an invitation until her book was finished. No, Mr. Richardson, if you had asked me for a list of ladies of my acquaintance who would resist the blandishments of a gas-oven, Miss Clynes would have headed it.” He stared hard at Richardson. “Ah, I thought so, you don't believe that it was suicide any more than I do. You think that she was knocked out before her head went into that oven. Well, if you want me to butt in and lend you a hand, you know where to find me. I can be useful sometimes, as I think you'll remember in that case of my dear old pal, Poker Moore.”
Without directly accepting the offer of help, Richardson took his leave.
From Charing Cross Road to New Scotland Yard is but a step. He signed to his sergeant to follow him into the street, and they stopped for a moment as if to examine the titles of the books exposed in the window.
“James Milsom was the man I knew, but he couldn't help us at all. Before we interview those Jews one of us will have to take a trip to Liverpool, I fancy, but we'll hear what Mr. Morden says about it first. This trip may not help us, but it will appease the coroner.”
Charles Morden had a remarkable faculty for laying aside one task and picking up the threads of another. He looked up, and his tired eyes became keenly alert as soon as he recognized his new visitor.
“Well, Mr. Richardson, have you anything fresh to report about that suicide?”
“I have, sir, but I haven't yet had time to write out my report, or to follow up an important clue. I want your authority for running up to Liverpool this afternoon.”