Death of an Airman - Christopher St. John Sprigg - ebook

Death of an Airman ebook

Christopher St. John Sprigg

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When George Furnace, instructor of the Baston Aero Club, is found dead in the wreck of his crashed plane, everyone assumes it was a tragic accident, even though he was a skilled airman. An Australian visitor to the Aero Club, Edwin Marriott, Bishop of Cootamundra, suspects that the true story is more complicated. Could this be a dramatic suicide – or even murder? The intrepid Bishop and Inspector Bray of Scotland Yard make an appealing pair of detectives, and ultimately a cunning criminal scheme is uncovered. „Death of an Airman” is an enjoyable and unorthodox whodunit from a writer whose short life was as remarkable as that of any of his fictional creations.

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Liczba stron: 361

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Contents

CHAPTER I. ARRIVAL OF A BISHOP

CHAPTER II. CREATION OF A CORPSE

CHAPTER III. INQUEST ON AN AIRMAN

CHAPTER IV. PERCEPTION OF A PRELATE

CHAPTER V. DISCOVERY OF A DOCTOR

CHAPTER VI. SHORTAGE OF SUSPECTS

CHAPTER VII. ADMISSION OF AN ANALYST

CHAPTER VIII. AUTOROTATION OF AN ECCLESIASTIC

CHAPTER IX. FRANCOPHILIA IN GLASGOW

CHAPTER X. APPOINTMENTS OF ROYAL PERSONAGES

CHAPTER XI. SCOTLAND YARD IN PARIS

CHAPTER XII. INEVITABILITY OF SELF-MURDER

CHAPTER XIII. INTERESTING CONTENTS OF A NEWSPAPER

CHAPTER XIV. END OF AN ENGINEER

CHAPTER XV. SIMULATION OF A SUICIDE

CHAPTER XVI. TROUBLES OF A TRANSATLANTIC FLYER

CHAPTER XVII. DIFFICULTIES OF TWO DETECTIVES

CHAPTER XVIII. AWKWARDNESS OF AN AMERICAN

CHAPTER XIX. METHOD OF A MURDER

CHAPTER XX. KIND CONSIDERATION OF A KILLER

CHAPTER I. ARRIVAL OF A BISHOP

A young woman with a reddish face and horn-rimmed glasses appeared suddenly out of a door marked “Manager, Baston Aero Club”.

“Well, young man, what do you want?” she asked sharply.

The middle-aged man in grey flannels who was standing in the club hall looked round to see who was being spoken to, and then perceptibly started when he realized that it was he who was being addressed.

“Are you the manager of the Baston Aero Club?” he asked.

“Manager and secretary. In fact, I run the place,” she answered.

“I see.” The speaker, though obviously not shy, had not quite recovered from the surprise of being addressed as “young man” by a woman some years his junior.

“The fact is, I want to learn to fly. That is,” he added diffidently, “if I am not too old for that sort of thing.” His diffidence contrasted with a certain deep richness of voice–the kind of voice which inevitably suggests public speaking.

The young woman beamed. “Don’t you worry! We’ll teach you if it kills us–or you.” She rummaged over a table in the hall which was littered with papers and picked out a form.

“We’d better make you a member before you lose your nerve. Are you a British subject? We’re not particular, but if you aren’t British we don’t get a subsidy for teaching you, so we charge you more.”

“I am an Australian.”

The red-faced young woman peered at him anxiously from behind her glasses. “I hope you don’t get fighting drunk? Our last Australian smashed every glass in the place the day he went solo.”

The stranger cleared his throat deprecatingly. “I think it unlikely that I should do the same. I am the Bishop of Cootamundra.”

For the first time the girl looked a little disconcerted. “Well, I’m... I mean how odd!” She looked at him critically. “You have got a bishopy air now one looks for it, and that sort of creamy clerical voice. But why haven’t you a doodah round your neck and the obbly-gobblies on the legs?”

“You refer, I fancy, to the Roman collar and episcopal gaiters.” The Bishop’s stiff manner was contradicted by a twinkle in his clear blue eyes. “I am at the moment on leave. In any case we are less rigid about these formalities in the Commonwealth. The spirit quickeneth, you know.”

“Talking about spirits,” said the young woman vaguely, “I must close the bar. It’s gone three. Those damned soaks will lose me my licence if they can. Excuse my language, by the way. We haven’t many bishops here.”

“Don’t let me detain you.”

“That’s all right,” the girl answered with quiet determination. “I’m going to get your signature on the dotted line before I leave you!”

While she spoke, the manager was rapidly filling up the form, and now she handed it to him. He signed it and took out his cheque-book. “I see the entrance fee is two guineas and the subscription another two guineas; that is four in all. To whom shall I make out the cheque?”

“My dear old soul, nobody takes any notice of the entrance fee–only the disgustingly rich ones. Make it out for two guineas to the “Baston Aero Proprietary, Ltd.’ ”

“Oh, thank you.” The Bishop completed and signed the cheque.

The manager glanced at the firm clear signature.

“Edwin Marriott,” she read. “I thought you signed yourself “George Canterbury’, “Arthur Swansea’, and so forth.”

The Bishop smiled. “I’m afraid not. Edwin Cootamundriensis sounds a trifle unconvincing, don’t you think?”

She folded the Bishop’s cheque with a caressing gesture. “This ought to be a good cheque–for a change,” she said with an air of relief. “We should christen it with a quick drink really, shouldn’t we? Oh, of course, I was forgetting. You probably don’t drink. You know it will take a bit of getting used to, your Bishop line,” she went on confidentially, “but it will be first-rate publicity when you take your “ticket’. Exchanges mitre for flying helmet, you know.”

The Bishop shuddered perceptibly at this remark.

The girl handed him a booklet and some leaflets and made a shooing gesture. “Pop out on the tarmac, there’s a dear, and have a squint at the flying. I’ll join you in a jiffy, and introduce you to your instructor and so forth.”

The Bishop, hazy as to what the “tarmac” might be, walked out through the door in front of him and came out on to a concrete expanse. Chairs and tables were scattered al fresco, and to the right of the wooden club-house from which he had emerged was a gaunt shed which he supposed housed the club’s aeroplanes. Before him, obviously, was the aerodrome, for even as he watched an aeroplane was running rapidly across it.

“Taking-off,” he murmured with satisfaction.

The manager joined him later, looking still more reddish and dishevelled. Evidently this was the effect of attempting to close the bar.

“I’d better introduce myself first,” she remarked briskly. “Sarah Sackbut, but everyone calls me Sally–or worse.”

“How do you do?” said the Bishop politely.

“I suppose you’re a lordship?” she went on. “I’m a little vague about the Australian Church?”

“I’d rather not. Few of my flock in Australia do so, and when I hear it over here it always makes me feel not quite real. I prefer Doctor Marriott. Or, as a fellow club member, call me Bishop–American, perhaps, but more familiar to me.”

The Bishop’s gaze wandered to a slim figure in white overalls and flying helmet which was standing near them. The portion of face which the Bishop could see was very attractive, and it was also faintly familiar, but he could not see enough to put a name to it.

A word from Sally made the girl turn. “This,” Sally told her, “is our new member–the Bishop of Cootamundra. No nonsense about him–hail-fellow-well-met–the world’s Bishop.” Sally smiled at Dr. Marriott. “I suppose you recognize her? Face creams, you know. “Lady Laura Vanguard, Society’s leading beauty, uses Blank’s Skinfude exclusively,’ and so forth. She’s worth pounds to us in publicity, aren’t you, Laura?”

“Well, why are you always worrying about my silly account?” asked Lady Laura plaintively.

“Hard cash is more than coronets,” answered Miss Sackbut grimly.

“How too right!” Lady Laura flashed a smile at the Bishop. “Appallingly pleased to meet you. Is it one of Sally’s silly jokes or are you really the Bishop-thing?”

“I really am,” admitted the Bishop, feeling more unreal than before.

“What do you want to learn to fly for? Nearer my God to Thee sort of thing?”

“Don’t be blasphemous, dear,” said Sally.

“Better than being profane,” replied Lady Laura. “I am sure you’ve terrified the Bishop with your language already.”

“My ambition is quite earthly,” interrupted the Bishop hastily. “It takes several weeks to travel from one end of my diocese to the other by the present primitive means of transport. The diocese has offered to buy me an aeroplane, but funds do not permit me to employ a pilot. I propose, therefore, to pilot myself.”

Lady Laura murmured something, but her attention was on the aeroplane now climbing steadily into the blue afternoon sky.

Miss Sackbut strolled forward and the Bishop followed her. His attention was attracted by a woman in a black leather flying-suit who was standing in the attitude of determined isolation adopted by well-known persons in public places.

The features, pretty at a distance but on closer inspection somewhat aged and battered, were still more familiar to the Bishop than Lady Laura’s classic profile.

“Bless my soul!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t that–yes, surely it’s Mrs. Angevin, the transatlantic flyer! Dear me, quite an honour for the club!”

Miss Sackbut laughed sardonically, and the Bishop wondered whether his remark was inappropriate.

“Transatlantic flyers!” The girl snorted contemptuously. “The place is lousy with them! That tall fellow over there talking to our ground engineer is Captain Randall. He’s flown both Atlantics both ways now. Having a crack at the Pacific this year. He’s giving Dolly Angevin a bit of a dirty look, isn’t he? They’re as jealous as chorus girls, half these famous pilots. Still, he’s a pilot and she isn’t.”

“I don’t understand?” ventured Dr. Marriott. “Surely she flew the machine to New York? Wasn’t she alone?”

“Oh, she can fly from A to B all right,” admitted Miss Sackbut unenthusiastically, revealing the depths of disdain of the flying world for its public heroes, “as long as her engine turns round, but she’s hamhanded.”

“Poor girl! What a deformity!”

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