Murder in Four Degrees - J.S. Fletcher - ebook
Opis

Elderly John Marbury, who came from faraway Australia the day before, was killed in central London. But who could wish death to a man who had not been in England for a long time? Investigation investigator Detective Rasbery turns for help to his friend, crime reporter Frank Spargo. Soon they learn that shortly before the death of Marbury, he met with MP Aylmore.

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Liczba stron: 269

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Contents

PART ONE

MURDER OF MR. HANNINGTON

I

II

III

IV

V

PART TWO

MURDER OF THE UNKNOWN WOMAN

I

II

III

IV

V

PART THREE

GO NORTH, GO SOUTH!

I

II

III

IV

V

PART FOUR

MRS. GOODGE AND THE HINDU STUDENT

I

II

III

IV

PART FIVE

THE SWIMMING-POOL

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

PART ONE

MURDER OF MR. HANNINGTON

I

I entered into partnership with ex-Inspector William Chaney (late Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland Yard) in November, 1920, some little time after he and I had successfully concluded our (non-official) investigation of the Wrides Park Murder. Our business, under the style of Camberwell and Chaney, was to be that of private enquiry agents. We took offices in Conduit Street, a few doors out of New Bond Street; we had two very good rooms, with a smaller one for our clerk, a sharp-witted London lad named Chippendale, who, before he entered our service, had been a sort of glorified office boy to a solicitor, and had picked up a lot of extremely useful knowledge, especially of the seamy side of the Law. Over these offices there was a small suite of rooms which I took for myself, and fitted up as a bachelor flat: I, therefore, may be said to have lived over the shop, and, like a medical man, to have been available by night as well as by day: Chaney, being a married man, lived elsewhere. But though I was always on the spot, I don’t ever remember being called up before regular hours until, early in February, 1921, I was rung up on the telephone one morning at half-past six by somebody who announced himself as Mr. Watson Paley, private secretary to Lord Cheverdale, and who wanted to know if I could see him on most urgent business if he called on me at a quarter to eight? I replied that I was at his service at any moment from that in which I spoke, he answered that the time he had named would do, and that he would be there to the minute. He didn’t mention his business, but I thought it best that my partner should be there to hear it, and as Chaney was on the telephone, I summoned him. He came in at half-past seven, and a quarter of an hour later I opened our door to Mr. Watson Paley.

Looking back at things, I realized that I took a curious, not easily explainable dislike to this man from the moment I set eyes on him. So–as he very soon told me–did Chaney. What sort of man did we see?–to give us these impressions? Mr. Paley was a slightly built, medium-sized man of apparently thirty to thirty-five years of age, very correctly and scrupulously attired, even at that early hour of the morning. His black morning coat and vest, his striped trousers, looked as if they had come home from Savile Row the day before; his linen was irreproachable; his neck and foot-wear exactly what they ought to have been; his silk hat and umbrella were–just so: his immaculately gloved hands were as small as his feet. A sort of bandbox gentleman, as far as clothes and accessories went, and while everything, from the points of view of tailors, haberdashers, and bootmakers was perfection, there was something oppressive in it–yet one couldn’t say what. However, I liked Mr. Paley’s face less than his clothes, and his manner less than his face. He was a man of pale complexion and his eyes resembled those of a sheep; he had a sharp, rather long nose, a thin beard and moustache, of an indefinite light brown, and there was something about his lips which seemed to indicate that if he did not openly sneer at everybody, he at any rate felt himself vastly superior to the general run of people. Somehow, in some queer way, he gave me a chill.

But Mr. Paley came in the guise of possible employer or client, or as the representative of one, and I hope I was duly polite to him. He took the chair which I offered, deliberately drew off his gloves, and assumed the attitude of a tutor who is about to instruct a class of neophytes in some subject of which they know nothing.

I told you my name over the ‘phone, Mr. Camberwell,’ he began, in calm, level tones. “Mr. Watson Paley, private secretary to Lord Cheverdale. You know all about Lord Cheverdale, of course?’

I know Lord Cheverdale by name,’ I replied. “Nothing more.’

I know all about Lord Cheverdale,’ said Chaney.

Paley turned to my partner.

Then you know–Mr. Chaney, I presume?–that Lord Cheverdale, when he is in town, lives at Cheverdale Lodge, Regent’s Park?’ he said.

I know,’ answered Chaney.

Morning Sentinel?’

I know that, too.’

Morning Sentinel, since Lord Cheverdale founded it, a few years ago, has been edited by Mr. Thomas Hannington?’

I’m aware of that, also.’

Paley drew his gloves through his fingers, looking from Chaney to me, and from me to Chaney, with a curious expression in his pale eyes.

Well,’ he said in his calm, level tones. “Mr. Hannington was found dead in the grounds of Cheverdale Lodge, late last night. Perhaps I should say very early this morning. The exact time is not quite certain. About midnight.’

Dead?’ exclaimed Chaney.

As a matter of fact, murdered,’ replied Paley. “I don’t think there is the least doubt about that! Beaten to death by repeated blows on the head–by some blunt weapon.’

There was a moment’s silence. Chaney and I looked at each other. Paley continued to draw his gloves between his fingers. Then I spoke.

Why have you come to us, Mr. Paley?’

He looked from one to the other of us with a slight smile in which there was more than a little of the cynical.

Morning Sentinel office. And as regards expense–well, you know, of course, that Lord Cheverdale is one of the wealthiest men in England! You are to spare no expense–literally! There is a mystery in this matter which Lord Cheverdale insists on being solved. May I go back and tell Lord Cheverdale that you will undertake the solution?’

You may go back and tell Lord Cheverdale that we will do our best, Mr. Paley,’ I said. “We will go up to Cheverdale Lodge at once: at least, as soon as we have swallowed a cup of tea. But tell me–is there any clue? do you know of anything–’

Paley rose and slowly drew on his gloves as he turned to the door.

There is no clue!’ he answered. “No clue whatever!’

II

Morning Sentinel, or Mr. Thomas Hannington: Chaney, apparently knew a good deal, so I suggested that he should post me up. This he proceeded to do as we sped through the waking town, still obscure in its February haze.

Lord Cheverdale, eh?’ said Chaney. “Ah, his story makes what they call a romance of the Peerage. It’s pretty well known, though. He used to be plain John Chever. I’ve heard it said that he was originally a small grocer and Italian Warehouseman at some little town in the Midlands. But whatever he was, he got a notion that there was a fortune to be made in tea. He proceeded to make it, and pretty rapidly, too. Don’t know how he did it–lucky speculations in tea shares, I reckon. Then he started a big tea business here in London–haven’t you heard of Chever’s Tea?’

Can’t say that I know the style or title of any particular brand of tea,’ I replied. “As long as it’s tea, and good tea.’

Morning Sentinel–to air his views before the British public. He’s a good deal of a crank and a faddist. Social purity–temperance–no betting–all that sort of business. And the man he got as editor, Hannington, who, this Paley fellow says, has been murdered, was a man after his own heart. I’ve come across him once or twice when I was at the Yard and he was a bigger faddist than his employer. Always got some bee in his bonnet–full of enthusiasm for some cause or other. Odd thing he should be found murdered in Lord Cheverdale’s grounds!’

And–no clue!’ I remarked.

So Paley says,’ replied Chaney, with a sniff. “But I reckon little of what Paley says! Our job will be to find a clue. There’s a thing strikes me already–before I know anything of the peculiar facts of the case.’

Yes?’ I asked.

Morning Sentinel–’

I don’t!’ I interrupted. “Never seen it, except on the bookstalls.’

Oh, well, it’s an awful puritanical rag,’ said Chaney, “but anyway, Hannington has of late been attacking the Bolshevist movement, tooth and nail. That’s the sort of man he was–couldn’t do anything by halves; must always go to extremes. And, of course, old Lord Cheverdale, being a man of similar views, backed him up. Shouldn’t wonder at all if this is a political murder. But here we are at Cheverdale Lodge.’

Cheverdale Lodge was approached from the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park–a big Georgian Mansion, embowered in tall trees and surrounded by extensive grounds so thickly planted with smaller trees and shrubs that the house itself could not be seen until you were close to it. It was approached by a carriage drive which wound in and out through the grounds, gardens and lawns; from this drive paths went off in various directions through the shrubberies. Chaney and I, after bidding our cabman wait for us in the Inner Circle, walked the length of the drive to the house; as we passed along I caught sight of a policeman’s helmet amongst the undergrowth on the right, and drew his attention to it.

Scene of the murder, no doubt,’ he remarked. “Got it roped off, I guess, and set a guard over it. We shall see!’

Paley met us at the door of the house, and at sight of us turned and beckoned to someone within the hall. A youthful-looking footman came forward.

This,’ said Paley, pointing to him as we came up, “is the man who found Mr. Hannington’s dead body–Harris, one of our footmen. Do you wish to question him first, or will you inspect the spot where the body was found?’

We’ll see the place first, Mr. Paley, and talk to Harris afterwards,’ replied Chaney. “Is Harris free to come with us?’

Paley turned to the footman.

Morning Sentinel office and begin exhaustive enquiries there, for he feels sure that it is there, and not here, that relevant facts will be established. Here is a stock of Lord Cheverdale’s cards–on presentation of his card, anywhere at the office, you will have every facility given you. And, later in the day, if Lord Cheverdale feels equal to it, he would like to hold a consultation with you and the official police about the whole thing, as it presents itself to you and to them. I think that’s all I have to say, at present.’

He dismissed us with a wave of his hand which began at us and terminated at the footman, and Harris politely bidding us to follow him, we walked away from the door, in silence–cowed, I think, by the private secretary’s somewhat dictatorial manner. And we kept silence, all three, until the footman, turning out of the carriage drive along an asphalted sidepath, narrow and winding, which traversed the shrubberies, led us to where a policeman stood, idly contemplating a roped-off enclosure, some two yards square. There he paused.

This is the place, gentlemen!’ he said, pointing to within the ropes. “He was lying just there!’

We looked, of course, and, of course, there was nothing to see but a square yard or two of asphalted surface. Chaney glanced at the policeman, who was regarding us with speculative glances.

What’s it roped off for?’ he asked.

The policeman shook his helmeted head.

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