On Tuesday morning word came from Collins, the man who was investigating Champneis’s wardrobe. Bywood, the valet, had proved “very sticky going,” he reported. He didn’t drink and he didn’t smoke and there seemed to be no plane on which Collins could establish a mutual regard. But every man has his price, and Bywood’s proved to be snuff. A very secret vice, it was. Lord Edward would dismiss him on the spot if he suspected such indulgence. (Lord Edward would probably have been highly pleased by anything so eighteenth century.) Collins had procured him “very special snuff,” and had at last got within inspecting distance of the wardrobe. On his arrival in England — or rather, in London — Champneis had weeded out his wardrobe. The weeding out had included two coats, one dark and one camel hair. Bywood had given the camel hair one to his brother-inlaw, a chorus boy; the other he had sold to a dealer in London. Collins gave the name and address of the dealer.
Grant sent an officer down to the dealer, and as the officer went through the stock the dealer said: “That coat came from Lord Edward Champneis, the Duke of Bude’s son. Nice bit of stuff.”
It was a nice bit of stuff. And it had all its buttons; with no sign of replacements.
Grant sighed when the news came, not sure whether he was glad or sorry. But he still wanted to know where Champneis had spent the night.
And what the Press wanted to know was where Tisdall was. Every newspaper in Britain wanted to know. The C.I.D. were in worse trouble than they had been for many years. The Clarion openly called them murderers, and Grant, trying to get a line on a baffling case, was harassed by the fury of colleagues, the condolences of his friends, a worried Commissioner, and his own growing anxiety. In the middle of the morning Jammy Hopkins rang up to explain away his “middle” in the Clarion. It was “all in the way of business,” and he knew his good friends at the Yard would understand. Grant was out, and it was Williams at the other end of the telephone. Williams was not in the mood for butter. He relieved his overburdened soul with a gusto which left Hopkins hoping that he had not irretrievably put himself in the wrong with the Yard. “As for hounding people to death,” Williams finished, “you know very well that the Press do more hounding in a week than the Yard has since it was founded. And all your victims are innocent!”
“Oh, have a heart, Sergeant! You know we’ve got to deliver the goods. If we don’t make it hot and strong, we’ll be out on our ear. St. Martin’s Crypt, or the Embankment. And you pushing people off the seats. We’ve got our jobs to keep just as much as —”
The sound of Williams’s hang-up was eloquent. It was action and comment compressed into one little monosyllable. Jammy felt hardly used. He had enjoyed writing that article. He had in fact been full of righteous indignation as the scarifying phrases poured forth. When Jammy was writing his tongue came out of its habitual position in his cheek, and emotion flooded him. That the tongue went back when he had finished did not matter; the popular appeal of his article was secure; it was “from the heart”; and his salary went up by leaps and bounds.
But he was a little hurt that all his enemies-on-paper couldn’t see just what a jape it was. He flung his hat with a disgusted gesture onto his right eyebrow and went out to lunch.
And less than five minutes away Grant was sitting in a dark corner, a huge cup of black coffee before him, his head propped in his hands. He was “telling it to himself in words of one syllable.”
Christine Clay was living in secret. But the murderer knew where she was. That eliminated a lot of people.
Jason Harmer knew.
Herbert Gotobed almost certainly knew.
The murderer had worn a coat dark enough to be furnished with a black button and black sewing thread.
Champneis had such a coat, but there was no missing button.
Jason Harmer had no such coat; and had not lately worn any such coat.
No one knew what Herbert Gotobed wore.
The murderer had a motive so strong and of such duration that he could wait for his victim at six of a morning and deliberately drown her.
Champneis had a possible motive.
Jason Harmer had a possible motive if they had been lovers, but there was no proof of that.
Herbert Gotobed had no known motive but had almost certainly hated her.
On points Gotobed won. He knew where his sister was; he had the kind of record that was “headed for murder”; and he had been on bad terms with the victim.
Oh, well! By tomorrow Gotobed might have declared himself. Meanwhile he would drug himself with black coffee and try to keep his mind off the Press.
As he raised the cup to his lips, his eyes lighted on a man in the opposite corner. The man’s cup was half-empty, and he was watching Grant with amused and friendly eyes.
Grant smiled, and hit first. “Hiding that famous profile from the public gaze? Why don’t you give your fans a break?”
“It’s all break for them. A fan can’t be wrong. You’re being given a hell of a time, aren’t you? What do they think the police are? Clairvoyants?”
Grant rolled the honey on his tongue and swallowed it.
“Someday,” Owen Hughes said, “someone is going to screw Jammy Hopkins’s head off his blasted shoulders. If my face wasn’t insured for the sum total of the world’s gold, I’d do it myself. He once said I was ‘every girl’s dream’!”
“And aren’t you?”
“Have you seen my cottage lately?”
“No. I saw the photograph of the wreck in the paper one day.”
“I don’t mind telling you I wept when I got out of the car and saw it. I’d like to broadcast that photograph to the ends of the earth as a sample of what publicity can do. Fifty years ago a few people might have come a few miles to look at the place, and then gone home satisfied. They came in charabanc loads to see Briars. My lawyer tried to stop the running of the ‘trips,’ but there was nothing he could do. The County Police refused to keep a man there after the first few days. About ten thousand people have come in the last fortnight, and every one of the ten thousand has peered through the windows, stood on the plants, and taken away a souvenir. There is hardly a scrap of hedge left — it used to be twelve feet high, a mass of roses — and the garden is a wilderness of trampled mud. I was rather attached to that garden. I didn’t croon to the pansies, exactly, but I got a lot of kick out of planting things people gave me, and seeing them come up. Not a vestige left.”
“Rotten luck! And no redress. Maddening for you. Perhaps by next year the plants will have taken heart again.”
“Oh, I’m selling the place. It’s haunted. Had you ever met Clay? No? She was grand. They don’t make that kind in pairs.”
“Do you know of anyone who would be likely to want to murder her, by any chance?”
Hughes smiled one of the smiles which made his fans grip the arms of their cinema seats. “I know lots who would gladly have murdered her on the spot. But only on the spot. The minute you cooled off, you’d cheerfully die for her. It’s most unlikely death for Chris — the one that happened to her. Did you know that Lydia Keats prophesied it from her horoscope? She’s a marvel, Lydia. She should have been drowned when she was a pup, but she really is a marvel. I sent her Marie Dacre’s year, day, and minute of birth from Hollywood. Marie made me swear an oath before she divulged the awful truth of the year. Lydia hadn’t the faintest notion whose horoscope she was doing, and it was marvelously accurate. She’d be a wow in Hollywood.”
“She seems to be heading that way,” Grant said dryly. “Do you like the place?”
“Oh, yes. It’s restful.” As Grant raised his eyebrows: “There are so many pebbles on the beach that you’re practically anonymous.”
“I thought they ran rubbernecking tours for Midwest fans.”
“Oh, yes, they run motor coaches down your street, but they don’t tramp your flowers into the ground.”
“If you were murdered they might.”
“Not they. Murders are ten cents the dozen. Well, I must get along. Good luck. And God bless you. You’ve done me a power of good, so help me you have.”
“You’ve brought to my notice one profession that is worse than my own.” He dropped some money on the table and picked up his hat. “They pray for judges on Sundays, but never a word for the police!”
He adjusted the hat at the angle which after much testing had been found by cameramen to be the most becoming, and strolled out, leaving Grant vaguely comforted.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01