The Three Snails - Aidan de Brune - ebook

The Three Snails ebook

Aidan de Brune

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Another breathtaking novel by the master of mystery Aidan de Brune (Herbert Charles CULL). A dead man and three dead snails. What could it mean if not murder? The story is fast-paced with some surprising twists, well written and great to read. This genuine mystery story takes the reader from one exciting adventure to another with all the adroitness and ingenuity of de Brune’s previous successful books. One is left gasping with suspense as the many clues are unraveled only to be followed by others still more stubborn. An entertaining tale of mystery and intrigue, this book constitutes a must-read for lovers of crime mystery.

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Liczba stron: 112

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER I

INSPECTOR Walter Paull of the Criminal Investigation Branch, Sydney stood in the doorway between the two offices, gazing before him reflectively. Behind him stood a white-faced girl, trying to peer fearfully past the Inspector’s large bulk into the inner office.

The room was barely furnished. By the window stood a large plain sloping desk, in which rested a big drawings board and a large assortment of rulers, paints, inks, etc. Against the wall opposite the door was an ordinary desk, the swivel chair drawn close to the knee’s aperture. In the chair sat a man leaning back, his head lolling to one side and turned so that a considerable portion of his face could be seen from the door. A small book-case and three plain chairs completed the furnishing of the room.

There could be no doubt but that the man at the desk was dead. Yet, Paull hesitated to advance into the room. For some moments he stood scratching his clean-shaven chin carefully; then, carefully keeping his large bulk between the desk he turned.

“Haven’t been in there, Miss–er–You didn’t say what your name was–”

“Anstey, Maude Anstey!”

The girl spoke in low hesitating tones. “No, I haven’t been in there. I couldn’t! I–”

“There there!” Taking the girl by the arm, the inspector led her to a chair in the outer office.

“Just a bit of an accident, I should say. Nothing for you to be frightened about. Now, sit there, m’dear. Have a drink of water? No? Well, well. Now, Miss–yes–Miss Anstey. You rang Police Headquarters? Quite right. Let me see–Yes, twenty minutes ago; Just after you got here this morning, eh? Sharp to time, yes? Ten minutes to ten now; that makes your time to arrive at half-past nine, eh? Thought so–”

The inspector rambled on, waiting for the girl to recover, in some measure, her composure. For a awhile she sat, shaken, and with little choking sobs rising irregularly in her throat. At length she quieted.

“Get here at nine-thirty; don’t you?” repeated the inspector.

“Nine o’clock, sir.” She spoke weakly.

“Never mind the ‘sir.’” The little cupid-bow mouth twisted to an expression of distaste. “Call me inspector, or Mr Paull; I answer to both–Except when I’m at home and the missus is wild. Then to anything she thinks of.”

“Yes–Inspector.”

“That’s right!” The soft podgy hand of the detective patted the girl’s reassuringly. “Feel better, eh? Well, well! You get here at nine, eh? What time does Mr. Delaney get here?”

“About half-past, as a rule; sometimes later.”

“Irregular, eh? Well, you came in here. Got a key to the offices, eh? Thought so. Opened the door and walked in. Now–was that door open when, you arrived? Think carefully. Plenty of time! I’m in no hurry, and he–” Paull shrugged nonchalantly.

“The door was shut, Mr Paull.”

“Didn’t go in there at once?”

“Not for some time. I didn’t think that Mr. Delaney had arrived–and there was nothing for me to do there.” The girl hesitated. “I had a drawing to finish for him by the time he came and–and I was a bit behind with it–”

“So you settled down to work? Finish the drawing?”

“Yes. You’re an artist, eh, like Mr. Delaney? Commercial artist. Heard of him. Good man, they say. Plenty of work here?”

“Quite a lot.” The girl smiled faintly

“Well, well! You went on with the drawing and finished it. Then–well, then–”

“I thought I would tidy up Mr Delaney’s room. He’s–rather untidy, you know, like all men.”

“Leaves things about and–“ Paull grimaced. “Poor devils, men!” A slow chuckle came from the thick throat. “Ever thought what an untidy world this would be, if it weren’t for the women, Miss Anstey? No? Well, take my word for it. So you went in there.” He pointed to the inner office.

“I opened the door.”

“Didn’t go in?”

“Ah well, perhaps as well.”

He paused a moment. “Where’s the ‘phone? Ah, here on your desk.”

“There’s two–one in Mr Delaney’s room. There’s a switch here. I take, calls and put them through to him.” The girl illustrated as she spoke.

“Quite neat,” Paull nodded. “So you didn’t go in, there? Rang us up from here? Good! Now about yourself, m’dear. Feel all right, now? Able to stay here for a time? Good! May want to ask you some questions, later. I’ll have a little look around, first. He raised himself from the low chair on which he was seated and strolled to the inner room, the girl watching him fearfully. At the door he turned.

“By-the-bye, Miss Anstey. Been long here?”

“Just over six months.”

“Clerk, or–”

“Apprentice artist.” The girl spoke quickly. “I’m here to gain experience in commercial work.”

“Ah! Hm!” Paull nodded; “Well, if anyone calls, or telephones, just say that Mr. Delaney’s engaged, and will be for some time. That’s true–as true as ever will be. Get their names and make a list of them. Get me?”

The girl nodded. Paull turned to the inner room. Just within the door he hesitated, glancing about him inquisitively, yet not allowing, his eyes to rest on the dead man. Nothing in the room appeared to be out of place. There were no signs of a struggle. He took a few steps forward and peered over the dead man’s body at the desk. On the blotting pad lay a large sketch, covered by a sheet of paper.

Again Paull scratched his chin. There was an atmosphere in the room he could not understand. The man had been murdered. From where he stood the detective could plainly view the swollen distorted face, the big powerful frame. It seemed impossible that a man of that build could be done to deaths without putting up a fight. Yet–

Nothing in the room had been disturbed. He bent to the ground close to: the desk, examining the linoleum under the deed man’s feet: A few marks showed, but nothing out of the common. Then Delaney had died swiftly; almost unknowingly, as he sat alone before his desk.

The sounds of someone in the outer office brought the detective to his feet. He went to the door. Miss Anstey was at the counter, talking to a tall, thin man; carrying a bag.

“Ah, doctor! Thought you wouldn’t be long after me.” Paull ambled to the counter and lifted up the flap.

“Come in. I want your opinion on things before anything–or–well, you know–is moved.”

He preceded the doctor into the inner office and stood on one side while the medical man made his examination. In a few minutes the doctor turned, shrugging.

“How long, Dr. Carter?”

“About twelve to fourteen hours!”

“Hm! Eight to ten o’clock last night!” Paull mused a moment; then turned in the doorway. “Miss Anstey, what time did you leave work last night?”

“Five o’clock, Inspector.”

“And Mr. Delaney was still here?”

“Yes.”

“Said he was going to work late?”

“He usually, did, Mr. Paull.” The girl hesitated. “He never did much work in the daytime–drawing, I mean. Used to be in and out; rarely at his desk. Late in the afternoon he would commence work. I nearly always left him here. He would go out to dinner about six and then come back and work on.”

“Late?”

“Till about ten o’clock–sometimes later.”

Paull nodded. He turned again to face the doctor. “Cause of death?” he asked casually.

“Want me to tell you?” The medical man pointed to the thin cord embedded in the flesh of the neck. “That’s plain–strangulation–and by someone who knew what they were doing.”

Paull stepped to the side of the dead man and bent to examine the cord.

“Nothing out of the ordinary here; doctor. Stuff you can buy in any shop, almost. Still–”

“Want that cord, Inspector?” Dr. Carter placed his bag on the desk and opened it.

“Hmmm–Yes.” Paull frowned. “The cord’s not worth much; but the knot now, that’s interesting. Can you–”

“Course!” A few deft movements and the cord came away from the flesh. The doctor handed it to the detective, who placed it on the desk. “That all you want from me?”

“For the time–and here,” the detective nodded. “Thanks. I’ll want you to see our friend later, of course. But now–well, the ambulance men are here and before I examine things we’ll send him on a journey.”

Paull accompanied the doctor to the door and out into the corridor. There; as he expected, he found the ambulance men, waiting. A few minutes and the body was carried out of the office. Paull shut’ the door with a sigh of relief and walked over to where Miss Anstey sat at her desk.

“Mr. Delaney married, miss?”

“No.” The girl hesitated. “There was a young lady who used to call sometimes.”

“Hm! Engaged?”

The girl nodded.

“Any relations?”

“A brother, Ernest. Delaney. He’s a printer–manager for Ferroll and Royce.”

“A printer, eh?” The detective took a toothpick from his pocket and chewed it meditatively. “Commercial artist and a printer. Ah! Hm! Well; give the gentleman a ring and tell him that his brother–say, what’s his name?”

“David, Mr. Paull.”

“Say that brother David has met with an accident. Get me? Accident! Say he’d better come round here, at once. That’s all, ‘cept–Any ‘phones while I was in there?”

“A Mr. Matthews rang up.”

“Who’s he?”

“A friend of Mr. Delaney’s Mr. Paull.”

“What’s his line?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hm! Anyone else?”

“Mr. Persus rang up. He wanted to see Mr. Delaney as soon as possible.”

“Mr. Persus! Who is he?”

“Mr. Delaney used to buy copper plates off him, Mr. Paull.”

“Copper plates?”

“Mr. Delaney used to make wonderful etchings.” The girl pointed to some’ frames on the wall. Paull strolled around examining the etchings. They were certainly beautiful examples of the art–even to the detective’s inexpert eyes. “No one else?”

“No.”

Paull nodded and returned to the inner office, closing the door after him. Again he made a rapid survey of the room. Its order and exactness exasperated him. A murder should not be committed in such surroundings. The criminal should leave some signs of his presence! An overturned chair–something smashed! But, here was nothing–nothing but the empty chair where the dead man sat. And, before the chair a large square of cardboard, covered with a sheet of paper.

Sometime between eight and ten o’clock on the previous evening David Delaney had sat at that desk, at work. Someone had stealthily entered the room creeping up behind him. The sudden cast of a thin strong cord–a strangled cry! The sudden tension of the cord; a gasp–and the deed was accomplished. David, Delaney had ceased to exist!

But, what had the murdered man been doing at the time of his death? He had not been working. The covered drawing showed that. Yet if he had finished work and covered the drawing for the night, how had his attention been engrossed so that the murderer could steal up to him? If there was one thing certain, it was that Delaney had considered that he was alone in the offices.

Paull frowned perplexedly. There was a mystery here–one he could not fathom. With a sudden gesture of impatience he drew out the chair and sat down before the desk. He leaned forward, drawing imaginary lines on the paper before him. Yes, in the quietness of the evening it would have been possible for a man to steal up behind him–to attack him unawares. But Delaney had finished work. He had covered his drawing. That meant that he had finished for the night. It was reasonable to suppose that he was on the point of rising from his chair to leave the offices. Then–

A quick examination of the surface of the paper and Paull lifted it from the drawing–to sit back, with an exclamation of astonishment. On the cardboard was a complete drawing of a man seated in a chair, bending forward over a desk, at work. Behind him was a crouching figure, holding over the seated man’s head a slender cord! A revulsion of feeling, shook, the portly frame of the detective, as with ague. Delaney had been strangled while he sat at his desk before his work–at work on the sketch of a man being strangled at work!

The idea was fantastic–almost unbelievable. For long minutes Paull sat, staring at the sketch. Then, something on the upper edge of the cardboard attracted his attention. They were three little dark, round objects. He picked up one, to drop it in disgust. Three small dead snails! How had, they come to be on the drawing the dead man had been engaged upon a few seconds before he met his death?

CHAPTER II

“THREE snails!” Paull murmured the words, a grim smile playing around his lips. “The three snails! Now, what the devil are they doing here–in a common-place commercial office. A market garden–and a fellow would understand! Even an ordinary garden would help–or a window box, but–“ He pursed his lips in a low whistle–then laughed, noiselessly.

Picking up a pencil he flicked the little round objects until they rolled down the cardboard to the edge of the desk. He took a powerful magnifying glass from his pocket and carefully scrutinised the shells. So far as he could see they were innocent of any foreign marks.

“No fingerprints! No marks!” He shook, his head sadly. “Now, what’s a fat policeman going to do if crooks forget to leave their ‘cards’ about? T’isn’t fair! All this scientific stuff is hampering the police. What’s it all going to come to? Why, they’ll want the police to attend University lectures soon–same as they do journalists–and then–Lord! We’ll not only, do our detecting work but we’ll be writing our own account of the crimes for the newspapers. Oh hell!”

Emptying out a matchbox he swept the three snails into it and stowed the box: in his pocket. Again he let his attention revert to the sketch. A careful scanning of the drawing, and he half-turned in the swivel chair.

“Miss Anstey!” He waited until the girl came to the dividing door. “Oh, come on in, there’s nothing here to bite you–or I wouldn’t be here, myself. Have a look at this. Mr. Delaney’s work? ‘Course! Jolly good eh? Seen it before?”

“Yes, Mr. Paull,” the girl replied promptly. “It’s for a story. I–”

She bent to the desk and from a drawer pulled out a bundle of printers’ proofs.

“Here it is. Mr. Delaney asked me to read the story and mark the places where I thought it would illustrate.”

“So!” Paull was surprised. “In a story, eh? Well, Well! So Mr. Delaney illustrates a story and–and dies the same way, sitting looking at his work. That’s a newie. Hm! There’s something in this. Now, let’s see–?”

He sat back in his chair, pondering deeply, the girl standing beside him, curiosity in her eyes. The Inspector was acknowledging himself frankly puzzled. During his service he had solved many problems–some of them bringing to him great credit and promotion–mainly by an inability to acknowledge defeat. But here, in this office he had a case where none of the ordinary methods of detection would serve.

David Delaney had been murdered while illustrating a story of a murder! The murder had been committed in a manner exactly similar to that depicted by the artist. Then the murderer had been acquainted not only with the story but with the actual lines that the artist had decided to illustrate–or there had been a coincidence far out of the common. Again, the murderer had known that David; Delaney had been commissioned to illustrate the story. Paull shook his head. Here was a situation bizarre to an absurdity! With a shrug Paull pulled the proofs of the story before him and scanned the heading:

THE ATELIER MURDER! By Austin Farnborough.

With nervous fingers, he turned the long slips of paper, watching for the heavy double pencil marks on the margin that indicated the words the artist was to illustrate. In a few minutes he found the lines:

The door opened slowly. Into the darkened room crept a shadow. For some seconds it hovered behind the chair on which the artist sat; then moved swiftly. A strangled cry; a throaty gurgle, and the man fell back in his chair–dead.

“Humph!” Paull leaned back in the seat scowling. “Couldn’t have described it better: myself.” He pushed back the chair and turned his attention to the drawers of the desk. There was nothing of consequence in them. He turned to the desk-top. Under a pile of papers he found a thin copper plate–blank. “Interesting!” The detective turned to where the girl had stood, but she had disappeared.

A little chuckle came from his lips, immediately suppressed. He struggled to his feet and wandered to the door, expecting to find the artist-apprentice ‘in the outer office, but she was not there.

“Feelings overcame her, eh?” Again he chuckled, wandering over to the high table on which the girl worked. There was nothing on it that interested him; only the usual paraphernalia of the studio. “Ah, well!”

He heard the click of the door-lock but did not turn.

“Miss Anstey!”

“I beg your pardon!” The strange voice caught his attention. In spite of his bulk he whirled round, quickly.

“Sorry!” He surveyed the pretty girl on the other side of the counter, quizzically. “I’m not used to keeping office, y’know, and–”

“Mr. Delaney in?” Without waiting for a reply the girl lifted the counter-flap and passed into the outer office, making for the inner room. Paull quietly interposed between her and the door.

“Sorry, Miss–er–”

“Again?” A bright smile flashed on the girl’s face. “Is being sorry a habit of yours?”

“Always–when I have to disappoint a charm–”

“Thanks!” A moue pursed the girl’s lips. “Then Mr. Delaney is not in?”

“I’m afraid–he’s out–right out!” Paull spoke slowly, looking restlessly towards the outer door for the girl artist. “I’m afraid he’ll be out for quite a time.”

“Dear me!” The girl paused, undecided, for a moment: “Perhaps if I wait?”

“You may; have to wait a long time, Miss–er–”

“And you are busy, Mr.–er–” The girl mimicked, laughingly.

“Paull, Walter Paull,” The Inspector interposed hurriedly. “Of course, I shall be delighted if–”

“Mr. Delaney’s partner, Mr.–er–Walter Paull?”

“Well–hardly that. I’m–er–sort of interested in him at the moment. Not attached here–nor anywhere else. Just drop in when anything happens, y’know.”

Where the devil had the girl got to?

“Miss Anstey’s out for the moment–”

He tried to remember if the girl-artist had told him the name of Delaney’s fiancée. No, he hadn’t asked that question. What the–

“Have you an appointment?”

“No, Mr. Paull. Do you suggest that I should have rung up Mr. Delaney and asked for an interview? It’s not very usual between–“ she hesitated and swung round at the opening of the office door. “Why–Bill! Fancy you coming here! Have you come to see David? Mr.–er–Paull says he’s out–and he’s so rude–he won’t let me into David’s private room.”

“Sorry, miss.” A couple of strides brought the detective to the door of the inner room. He flung it open with a flourish. “If I’d thought–”

“Thank you!” The girl gave a little mocking curtsy as she passed into the inner room. The young man was about to follow her when Paull tapped him on the shoulder significantly.

“Just a moment. Mr.–er–”

“Sinclair! Bill Sinclair!” The young man looked puzzled. “I don’t recognise you here. Has anything happened to David?”

“A bit.” Paull nodded suggestively towards the other room. “There’s been an acci–”

“Bill!”

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