Authors: Basil Thomson
“Yes, sir; I've told you everything I know, and now I do hope that you'll say nothing to Mr. Hartmann about that key.”
“I shall say nothing unless it becomes necessary in the interests of justice to call you as a witness, but as a matter of form you'll have to give me the name and address of the young woman who was with you.”
“Must I, sir?”
“Certainly you must.”
Peter Stammer heaved a sigh; the net of embarrassment had closed round him: there was no escape.
“Miss Rose Cohen, 93 Lambeth Road.”
“Shop assistant, sir, but I do hope that the name won't come out; it would kill the poor girl if it did.”
“Now, Mr. Stammer, I must get this down on paper and ask you to sign it before you go. Just sit here; I shan't be long.” And to the messenger as he passed him he said, “Just keep an eye on him and see that he doesn't leave the building.”
He wrote out the statement rapidly and returned to the waiting-room. “Kindly sign here, Mr. Stammer. As I told you, if I find that you've told me the whole truth I shall try to keep you out of the case, and if you feel like taking my advice never attempt to borrow that key again.”
“No, sir, you can rely upon it that I won't.”
Richardson smiled as he thought of Sergeant Williams' disappointment when he came to hear of the tame ending to the adventure on which he had been building his theory. He spent the rest of the morning in making his final examination of the dead woman's papers. He did not, of course, wade through every page of the half-finished novel which she had typed, but he scrutinized every other scrap of paper that he had found in her cupboard.
“There's a gentleman to see you, Inspector,” announced the messenger. “Name of Milsom.”
“Have you put him in the waiting-room? Tell him I'll come.”
Jim Milsom rose and shook hands with cordiality. “I've come straight from the inquest on that poor lady. Lord! What a slow country this is! The whole thing was over in less than fifteen minutes.”
“Then why do you call it a slow country, Mr. Milsom?”
“Because there wasn't a man in that dreary little court-house who said anything that we didn't know before. It was a pure waste of public time. The coroner rapped out his piece as if he'd learnt it by heartâthe doctor the same. Then the coroner adjourned the proceedings for a week. I was the public; there was no one elseânot a solitary reporter to write up the proceedings; it was a real dishonour to that poor lady's memory. Why, on the other side of the water we put some zip into it. If the police can't find a murderer, why the reporters do it for them.”
“Reporters are apt to be a nuisance to the police, Mr. Milsom.”
“You wouldn't mind them if they boosted you as the greatest criminologist of the century and called you a âwell-tailored dude, the highly-skilled sleuth of the homicide squad.' Think what an inspiration and encouragement that would be.”
“I'm getting on quite nicely without that.”
“You are; that's what I came round to ask youâthat and leave to read the manuscript of Miss Clynes' unfinished story. It'll have a high publicity value when we've discovered the murderer. I suppose that you're convinced now that it was a murder. Have you found anyone belonging to her yet?”
“No near relative, I'm sorry to say, but one or two friends and acquaintances in Liverpool.”
“But surely there must have been addresses in that diary of hers. She was always pulling it out and making notes in it when I talked to her.”
“There was no diary among her papers, Mr. Milsom.”
“The devil there wasn't! Then someone must have pinched it.”
“There were no private papers at all, except a letter from you which I found among these pages and her bank pass book. There was not even a cheque book.”
“You're getting warm, Richardson. The man who did her in must have pinched all her private papers, and I'll be shot if I understand why. Well, I must be trotting along. I suppose I can't tempt you out to lunch? You could meet a fair lady novelist with horned spectacles and a squint who'll make your flesh creep if she lets herself go: she's our latest big noise in the thriller world.”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Milsom, but I can't accept your invitation to-day: I've too much to do.”
Morden's messenger had promised to tell Richardson when his Chief returned from lunch and to arrange for an interview with him. He made his appearance at half-past two.
“Mr. Morden will see you now, Inspector.”
“Good; I'll come.”
“Well, Mr. Richardson, the inquest has been adjourned for a week: that will give you time to get on with your inquiry. You know, of course, that Sir Gerald found traces of poison in that coffee-cup and since then he found traces in the body itself. So far there is nothing inconsistent with your theory. You think that a man was in the flat that evening; that he contrived to drop poison into the woman's coffee-cup and that when the poison had begun to act he dragged her into the kitchen on her back and pushed her head into the oven.”
“Yes, sir, and I think that he then came out of the kitchen, typed that letter and made a hurried search for her diary and all her private correspondence. He couldn't stop to go through them because of the gas, so he took them all away to search for the letter he had written to her making the appointment. I know from the milk-woman downstairs that she received a letter that morning. The postman gave it to her instead of taking it round to the flat because she was just going up with the milk. I haven't been able to find that letter anywhere in her flat.”
“No; but some people make a habit of destroying their letters as soon as they've read them.”
“Quite so, sir. But the milk-woman always took up her weekly bill on Tuesday morning, and she did so on the morning of Miss Clynes' death. She states that Miss Clynes made a point of looking in on the following day to pay it and to get it receipted. I didn't find that bill, sir. Her publisher has just told me that she kept a diary in which she entered everything; that he has seen the diary himself; yet it was not in her flat when I searched it.”
“Did you search the pockets of her clothing and her handbag?”
“Yes, sirâSergeant Williams and I searched thoroughly. There was nothing in any of the pockets, but one thing I did find. This French stamp and postmark torn off an envelope. It was hidden right at the bottom of her little leather jewel-case.”
Morden examined the stamp. “âClermont-Ferrand, February 13th, 1934.' Why, that is only a short time before she took over the flat. I wonder why she kept it so carefully. You mustn't lose this, Mr. Richardson.”
“No, sir; you'll find it with my report. But I ought to tell you that there is further evidence that a man was in her flat that evening.”
“Oh, that's new. How do you know?”
“One of the Jewish committee upstairs had borrowed the latchkey from the secretary that evening. As it was strictly against the rules of the committee, at first he denied that he used the key, but he's been here to-day to admit that he told a lie; that he was there with a girl whose name and address he gave me, and that when passing the door of the flat on their way out he overheard conversation in a male and female voice.”
“What time was that?”
“A few minutes after ten, sir.”
“Do you think he was telling the truth?”
“Yes, sir, I believe that he was. I've taken his statement. I've also fetched away from the flat all the medicine bottles I could find, but there were no paper packets or pill-boxes bearing a chemist's name. With your permission, sir, I will take the bottles round to Sir Gerald.”
“Yes, please do so. Sir Gerald may find some trace of poison in one of the bottles.”
“In view of the care with which Miss Clynes preserved that postage-stamp, would it not be wise to write to Mr. John Maze in Liverpool and ask him if he has still kept the references given by that American society in Paris for Miss Clynes when she entered his employment?”
“You mean that that would give us the address of these people and enable us to trace some friend of Miss Clynes who may still be living in France?”
“Very well, ask Superintendent Cox to draft a letter for my signature. Give him all the necessary particulars.”
And then one of those strokes of luck which lighten the labours of all detectives in the course of their career befell Inspector Richardson. On the way back to his room the messenger waylaid him.
“Sergeant White from the Lost Property Office was up here looking for you two or three minutes ago, Mr. Richardson. He asked me whether you were the officer in charge of that Chelsea suicide case of Miss Clynes. He'd read about the inquest in the evening paper.”
“What did he want to see me for?”
“He'd got something to show you, I think.”
“You might get on to him on the 'phone and ask him to come up.”
Richardson began to draft the letter which was to be written to John Mazeâa letter which was not destined to be sentâwhen the door opened to admit Sergeant White carrying a bundle of papers in his hand.
“I thought that you might like to have a look at this bundle, Inspector. The taxi-man who found it in his cab last Tuesday night brought it in yesterday, and I happened to see the report of an inquest on a woman of the same name and address that you'll find on these envelopes.”
“Did he say who left the letters?”
“He said he thought it must have been his last fare that night, but he couldn't remember what he looked like. He thinks that he set him down somewhere in the Edgware Road.”
“H'm! That's not very helpful, is it? Let's have a look at the letters.”
The bundle which Sergeant White set down before him was so carelessly tied up that the Lost Property Office had had to put an additional string round it to carry the office label. Richardson untied both strings and examined the addresses on the envelopes. All were addressed to Miss Naomi Clynes, 37
Seymour Street, S.W.3. One of them bore a French stamp. Besides the letters there were quite a number of loose receipted bills.
“You've done very well, Sergeant, in bringing me these. They seem likely to short-circuit my inquiry, but I'll have to take time to go through them. Will you leave them with me until to-morrow?”
“Right oh, but let me have the label and I'll mark the bundle out to you. You see the owner may pop in at any time and ask for the letters.”
“I don't think he will, but you shall have the letters back after I have copied the more important of them.”
Richardson put aside the draft letters he was writing and proceeded to sort the letters and bills. Most of the receipted bills were those from the milk-shop underneath the flat; there was none from any chemist. For the most part the letters were replies from magazine editors accepting short stories, or enclosing cheques; there was one from Mrs. Crispin, the wife of the Liverpool vicar, and a formal letter from James Milsom's firm, acknowledging the receipt of a manuscript. The letter with the French postage-stamp was postmarked from Paris, and this proved to be of special interest. The letter ran:
196 BOULEVARD DES ITALIENS
Typewriting and Shorthand Bureau
MY DEAR MISS CLYNES,
“It was a great pleasure to hear from you again after not having heard from you in years. As you see, I am still in Parisâthe only member of our committee that hasn't crossed the waterâand as you see, I'm embarked on a school for secretaries, which paid well enough as long as the dollar and the pound were on the gold standard, and there were English-speaking girls in Paris, but is scarcely paying its way now, but I mean to hang on as long as I can.
“I needed cheering, and your letter cheered me, not only because you seem to be knocking the town with your writing, but also because you are thinking of coming over. Of course I will advise you to the best of my ability, as I did in the old, sad days. I am wondering what you have to tell me. As soon as I know the date of your visit I will take a room for you on very easy terms, and we can spend all our spare time together.
Richardson noted the address in the margin of his report and carried the letter to Morden's room.
“Can I come in, sir?” he asked after knocking at the door. “It won't be necessary now to write to Liverpool for those references. I have just been given this letter to Miss Clynes from Paris.”
Morden took and read the letter. “How did you get this?” he asked.
“It was brought with a number of other letters to the L.P.O. by a taxi-driver, and Sergeant White happened to see an account of the inquest in an evening paper. He brought it to me.”
“Smart work in the L.P.O. That taxi-driver will have to be seen.”
“Yes, sir, I mean to catch him early to-morrow morning before he goes out, and I'll try to get a description of his fare. Then, with your approval, I will get one of the partners in that publishing firm who accepted Miss Clynes' novel to run over to Paris and see the writer of this letter and get from her the letter she had from Miss Clynes. That ought to throw some light on the case.”
“Why do you think that he will consent to go?”
“Because he is very much interested in the case, sir, and only yesterday he asked me how he could help me. He is in quite easy circumstances, and he would not think of making any charge.”
“The Receiver wouldn't pay it if he did. He must be a rare kind of person.”
“He is, sir. Probably you don't remember how he helped us in that murder case in Hampstead”
“Your great case, you mean,” laughed Morden.