Marta Hallard, as befitted a leading lady who alternated between the St. James’s and the Haymarket, lived in the kind of apartment block which has deep carpet on the stairs and a cloistered hush in the corridors. Grant, climbing the stairs with weary feet, appreciated the carpet even while his other self wondered about the vacuum cleaning. The dim pink square of the lift had fled upward as he came through the revolving door, and rather than wait for its return he was walking the two flights. The commissionaire had said that Marta was at home: had arrived about eleven from the theater with several people. Grant regretted the people, but was determined that this day was not going to end without his obtaining some light on Christine Clay and her entourage. Barker had failed to find the lawyer, Erskine, for him; his man said he was suffering from the shock of the last three days and had gone into the country over Sunday; address unknown. (“Ever heard of a lawyer suffering from shock?” Barker had said.) So the matter which most interested Grant — the contents of Christine Clay’s will — must wait until Monday. At the Yard he had read through the dossier — still, of course, incomplete — which they had gathered together in the last twelve hours. In all the five sheets of it Grant found only two things remarkable.
Her real name, it appeared, was Christina Gotobed.
And she had had no lovers.
No public ones, that is. Even in those crucial years when the little Broadway hoofer was blossoming into the song-and-dance star, she seemed to have had no patron. Nor yet when, tiring of song-and-dance pictures, her ambition had reached out to drama; her rocket had shot to the stars under its own power, it would seem. This could only mean one of two things: that she had remained virgin until her marriage at twenty-six (a state of affairs which Grant, who had a larger experience of life than of psychology textbooks, found quite possible) or that her favor was given only when her heart (or her fancy, according to whether you are sentimentalist or cynic) was touched. Four years ago Lord Edward Champneis (pronounced Chins), old Bude’s fifth son, had met her in Hollywood, and in a month they were married. She was at that time shooting her first straight film, and it was generally agreed that she had “done well for herself” in her marriage. Two years later Lord Edward was “Christine Clay’s husband.”
He took it gracefully, it was reported; and the marriage had lasted. It had become a casual affair of mutual friendliness; partly owing to the demands of time and space that her profession made on Christine, and partly to the fact that Edward Champneis’s main interest in life (after Christine) was to invade the uncomfortable interiors of ill-governed and inaccessible countries and then to write books about them. During the book-writing solstice he and Christine lived more or less under one roof, and were apparently very happy. The fact that Edward, although a fifth son, had nevertheless a large fortune of his own, inherited from his mother’s brother (Bremer, the leather king), had done much to save the marriage from its most obvious dangers. And Edward’s delighted pride in his wife did the rest.
Now, where in that life, as shown in the dossier, did a murder fit in? Grant asked himself, toiling up the padded stairs. Harmer? He had been her constant companion for the three months she had been in England. True, they had work in common (producers still liked to insert a song somewhere in the plot of Christine’s films: the public felt cheated if they did not hear her sing), but the world which amuses itself had no doubt of their relations, whatever their colleagues thought. Or Tisdall? An ill-balanced boy, picked up in a moment of waywardness or generosity, at a time when he was reckless and without direction.
Well, he himself would find out more about Tisdall. Meanwhile he would find out about the Harmers of her life.
As he came to the top of the second flight, he heard the gentle sound of the lift closing, and he turned the corner to find Jammy Hopkins just taking his thumb from the bell push.
“Well, well,” said Jammy, “it’s a party!”
“I hope you have an invitation.”
“I hope you have a warrant. People shriek for their lawyer nowadays at the very sight of a policeman on the mat. Look, Inspector,” he said hurriedly in a different voice, “let’s not spoil each other’s game. We both thought of Marta. Let’s pool results. No need for crowding.”
From which Grant deduced that Hopkins was doubtful of his reception. He followed Grant into the little hall without giving his name, and Grant, while appreciating the ingenuity, rebelled at providing a cloak for the press.
“This gentleman is, I believe, from the Clarion,” he said to the servant who had turned away to announce them.
“Oh!” she said, turning back and eyeing Hopkins without favor. “Miss Hallard is always very tired at night, and she has some friends with her at the moment —”
But luck saved Hopkins from any necessity for coercion. The double doors to the living room stood open, and from the room beyond came welcome in high excited tones.
“Mr. Hopkins! How charming! Now you can tell us what all these midday editions were talking about. I didn’t know you knew Mr. Hopkins, Marta darling!”
“Who’d have thought I’d ever be glad to hear that voice!” Jammy murmured to Grant as he moved forward to greet the speaker, and Grant turned to meet Marta Hallard, who had come from the room into the hall.
“Alan Grant!” she said, smiling at him. “Is this business or pleasure?”
“Both. Do me a favor. Don’t tell these people who I am. Just talk as you were talking before I came. And if you can get rid of them fairly soon, I’d like to talk to you alone for a little.”
“I’d do a lot more than that for you. Every time I tie these around my neck,” she indicated a rope of pearls, “I remember you.”
This was not because Grant had given her the pearls but because he had once recovered them for her.
“Come and meet the others. Who is your friend?”
“Not a friend. Hopkins of the Clarion.”
“Oh. Now I understand Lydia’s welcome. And they say professional people are publicity hounds!” She led Grant in, introduced people as they came. The first was Clement Clements, the society photographer, radiant in purple “tails” and a soft shirt of a pale butter color. He had never heard of an Alan Grant, and made it perfectly clear. The second was a Captain Somebody, a nondescript and humble follower of Marta’s, who clung to his glass of whisky and soda as being the only familiar object in an unknown terrain. The third was Judy Sellers, a sulky fair girl who played “dumb” blondes from year’s end to year’s end, and whose life was one long fight between her greed and her weight. And the fourth was that intimate of the stars, Miss Lydia Keats, who was now talking all over Jammy Hopkins and enjoying herself immensely.
“Mr. Grant?” Jammy said, nastily, as Grant was introduced.
“Isn’t it ‘Mr.’?” Lydia asked, her ears pricked, her eyes snapping with curiosity. “No, it isn’t!”
But Hopkins met Grant’s eye and lacked the courage of his desire. It would be folly to make an enemy of a C.I.D. Inspector.
“He has one of those Greek titles, you know, but he’s ashamed to own it. Got it for rescuing a Greek royalist’s shirt from a Greek laundry.”
“Don’t pay any attention to him, Mr. Grant. He loves to hear himself talk. I know, you see. He has interviewed me so often. But he never listens to a word I say. Not his fault, of course. Aries people are often talkative. I knew the first time he crossed my threshold that he was April born. Now you, Mr. Grant, are a Leo person. Am I right? No, you don’t need to tell me. I know. Even if I couldn’t feel it — here —” she thumped her skinny chest, “you have all the stigmata.”
“I hope they’re not very deadly?” Grant asked, wondering how soon he could disengage himself from this harpy.
“Deadly! My dear Mr. Grant! Don’t you know anything of astrology? To be born in Leo is to be a king. They are the favorites of the stars. Born to success, predestined to glory. They are the great ones of the world.”
“And when does one have to be born to qualify for a Leo benefit?”
“Between the middle of July and the middle of August. I should say that you were born in the first weeks of August.” Grant hoped he didn’t look as surprised as he felt. He had certainly been born on the 4th of August.
“Lydia’s uncanny,” Marta broke in, handing Grant a drink. “She did poor Christine Clay’s horoscope about a year ago, you know, and foretold her death.”
“And wasn’t that a break!” drawled the Judy girl, poking among the sandwiches.
Lydia’s thin face was convulsed with fury, and Marta hastened to pour oil. “You know that’s not fair, Judy! It isn’t the first time Lydia has been right. She warned Tony Pickin about an accident before he was smashed up. If he’d listened to her and taken a little more care, he’d have two legs today. And she told me about not accepting the Clynes’ offer, and she —”
“Don’t bother to defend me, Marta darling. The credit is not mine, in any case. I only read what is there. The stars don’t lie. But one does not expect a Pisces person to have either the vision or the faith!”
“Seconds out of the ring,” murmured Jammy, and hit the rim of his glass with his fingernail so that it made a light “ping.”
But there was to be no fight. Clements provided a distraction.
“What I want to know,” he drawled, “is not what Lydia found in the stars but what the police found at Westover.”
“What I want to know is who did her in?” Judy said, taking a large bite of sandwich. “Judy!” Marta protested.
“Oh, bunk!” said Judy. “You know we’re all thinking the same thing. Going around the possibilities. Personally I plump for Jason. Has anyone any advance on Jason?”
“Why Jason?” Clements asked.
“He’s one of these smoldering types, all passion and hot baths.”
“Smolder! Jason!” Marta protested. “What nonsense! He simmers. Like a merry kettle.” Grant glanced at her. So she was sticking up for Jason? How much did she like him? “Jason’s much too volatile to smolder.”
“Anyhow,” Clements said, “men who take hot baths don’t commit murder. It’s the cold-plungers who see red. They are possessed by a desire to get back on life for the suffering they have endured.”
“I thought masochists were rarely sadists,” Grant said.
“Whether or not, you can put Jason out of it,” insisted Marta. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Oh, wouldn’t he,” Judy said, and they all paused to look at her.
“What exactly does that mean?” Clements asked.
“Never mind. My bet’s on Jason.”
“And what was the motive?”
“She was running out, I suspect.”
Marta interrupted sharply. “You know that’s nonsense, Judy. You know quite well that there was nothing between them.”
“I know nothing of the sort. He was never out of her sight.”
“A bitch thinks all the world a bitch,” murmured Jammy into Grant’s ear.
“I suspect”— it was Lydia’s turn to break into a growing squabble —“that Mr. Hopkins knows much more about it than we do. He’s been down at Westover today for his paper.”
Jammy was instantly the center of attraction. What did he think? What had the police got? Who did they think had done it? Were all these hints in the evening papers about her living with someone true?
Jammy enjoyed himself. He was suggestive about murderers, illuminating on murder, discursive about human nature, and libelously rude about the police and their methods, all with a pleased eye on the helpless Grant.
“They’ll arrest the boy she was living with,” he finished. “Take it from me. Tisdall’s his name. Good-looking boy. He’ll create a sensation in the dock.”
“Tisdall?” they said, puzzled. “Never heard of him.”
All but Judy Sellers.
Her mouth opened in dismay, stayed that way helplessly for a moment, and then shut tightly; and a blind came down over her face. Grant watched the display in surprised interest.
“I think it’s utterly ridiculous,” Marta was saying, scornfully. “Can you imagine Christine Clay in a furtive business like that! It’s not in the part at all. I’d as soon — as soon — I’d as soon believe that Edward could commit a murder!”
There was a little laugh at that.
“And why not?” asked Judy Sellers. “He comes back to England to find his adored wife being unfaithful, and is overcome with passion.”
“At six of a morning on a cold beach. Can’t you see Edward!”
“Champneis didn’t arrive in England till Thursday,” offered Hopkins, “so that lets him out.”
“I do think this is the most heartless and reprehensible conversation,” Marta said. “Let’s talk of something else.”
“Yes, do,” said Judy. “It’s a profitless subject. Especially since you, of course, murdered her yourself.”
“I!” Marta stood motionless in an aura of bewildered silence. Then the moment broke.
“Of course!” Clement said. “You wanted the part she was due to play in the new film! We’d forgotten that!”
“Well, if we’re looking for motives, Clement, my sweet, you were raving mad with fury because she refused to be photographed by you. If I remember rightly, she said your works were like spilt gravy.”
“Clement wouldn’t drown her. He’d poison her,” Judy said. “With a box of chocolates, Borgia-wise. No, come to think of it, Lejeune did it, in case he’d have to act with her. He’s the virile type. His father was a butcher, and he probably inherited a callous mentality! Or how about Coyne? He would have killed her on the Bars of Iron set, if no one had been looking.” She apparently had forgotten about Jason.
“Will you all kindly stop this silly chatter!” Marta said, with angry emphasis. “I know that after three days a shock wears off. But Christine was a friend of ours, and it’s disgusting to make a game of the death of a person we all liked.”
“Hooey!” said Judy, rudely. She had consumed her fifth drink. “Not one of us cared a brass farthing for her. Most of us are tickled to death she’s out of the way.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14