Colonel Melchett and Superintendent Harper looked at each other. Harper had come over to Much Benham for a consultation. Melchett said gloomily, "Well, we know where we are or rather where we aren't!"
"Where we aren't expresses it better, sir."
"We've got two deaths to take into account," said Melchett. "Two murders. Ruby Keene and the child, Pamela Reeves. Not much to identify her by, poor kid, but enough. One shoe escaped burning and has been identified as hers, and a button from her Girl Guide uniform. A fiendish business, superintendent."
Superintendent Harper said very quietly, "I'll say you're right, sir."
"I'm glad to say Haydock is quite certain she was dead before the car was set on fire. The way she was lying thrown across the seat shows that. Probably knocked on the head, poor kid."
"Or strangled, perhaps."
"You think so?"
"Well, sir, there are murderers like that."
"I know. I've seen the parents. The poor girl's mother's beside herself. Damned painful, the whole thing. The point for us to settle is: are the two murders connected?"
The superintendent ticked off the points on his fingers. "Attended rally of Girl Guides on Danebury Downs. Stated by companion to be normal and cheerful. Did not return with three companions by the bus to Medchester. Said to them that she was going to Danemouth to Woolworth's and would take the bus home from there. That's likely enough. Woolworth's in Danemouth is a big affair. The girl lived in the back country and didn't get many chances of going into town. The main road into Danemouth from the downs does a big round inland; Pamela Reeves took a short cut over two fields and a footpath and lane which would bring her into Danemouth near the Majestic Hotel. The lane, in fact, actually passes the hotel on the west side. It's possible, therefore, that she overheard or saw something, something concerning Ruby Keene which would have proved dangerous to the murderer say, for instance, that she heard him arranging to meet Ruby Keene at eleven that evening. He realizes that this schoolgirl has overheard and he has to silence her."
Colonel Melchett said, "That's presuming, Harper, that the Ruby Keene crime was premeditated, not spontaneous."
Superintendent Harper agreed. "I believe it was, sir. It looks as though it would be the other way, sudden violence, a fit of passion or jealousy, but I'm beginning to think that that's not so. I don't see, otherwise, how you can account for the death of the child. If she was a witness of the actual crime it would be late at night, round about eleven p.m., and what would she be doing
round about the Majestic Hotel at that time of night? Why, at nine o'clock her parents were
getting anxious because she hadn't returned."
"The alternative is that she went to meet someone in Danemouth unknown to her family and friends, and that her death is quite unconnected with the other death."
"Yes, sir, and I don't believe that's so. Look how even the old lady, old Miss Marple, tumbled to it at once that there was a connection. She asked at once if the body in the burnt car was the body of the Girl Guide. Very smart old lady, that. These old ladies are, sometimes. Shrewd, you know. Put their fingers on the vital spot."
"Miss Marple has done that more than once," said Colonel Melchett dryly.
"And besides, sir, there's the car. That seems to me to link up her death definitely with the Majestic Hotel. It was Mr George Bartlett's car."
Again the eyes of the two men met. Melchett said, "George Bartlett? Could be! What do you think?"
Again Harper methodically recited various points. "Ruby Keene was last seen with George Bartlett. He says she went to her room, borne out by the dress she was wearing being found there, but did she go to her room and change in order to go out with him? Had they made a date to go out together earlier, discussed it, say, before dinner and did Pamela Reeves happen to overhear?"
Colonel Melchett said, "He didn't report the loss of his car until the following morning, and he was extremely vague about it then; pretended that he couldn't remember exactly when he
had last noticed it."
"That might be cleverness, sir. As I see it, he's either a very clever gentleman pretending to be a silly ass, or else well, he is a silly ass."
"What we want," said Melchett, "is motive. As it stands, he had no motive whatever for killing Ruby Keene."
"Yes, that's where we're stuck every time. Motive. All the reports from the Palais de Danse at Brixwell are negative, I understand."
"Absolutely! Ruby Keene had no special boy friend. Slack's been into the matter thoroughly. Give Slack his due; he is thorough."
"That's right, sir. 'Thorough' is the word."
"If there was anything to ferret out he'd have ferreted it out. But there's nothing there. He
got a list of her most frequent dancing partners all vetted and found correct. Harmless fellows, and all able to produce alibis for that night."
"Ah," said Superintendent Harper. "Alibis. That's what we're up against."
Melchett looked at him sharply. "Think so? I've left that side of the investigation to you."
"Yes, sir. It's been gone into very thoroughly. We applied to London for help over it."
"Mr Conway Jefferson may think that Mr Gaskell and young Mrs Jefferson are comfortably off, but that is not the case. They're both extremely hard up."
"Is that true?"
"Quite true, sir. It's as Mr Conway Jefferson said; he made over considerable sums of money to his son and daughter when they married. That was a number of years ago, though. Mr Frank Jefferson fancied himself as knowing good investments. He didn't invest in anything absolutely wildcat, but he was unlucky and showed poor judgment more than once. His holdings have gone steadily down. I should say that Mrs Jefferson found it very difficult to make both ends meet and send her son to a good school."
"But she hasn't applied to her father-in-law for help?"
"No, sir. As far as I can make out she lives with him and, consequently, has no household expenses."
"And his health is such that he wasn't expected to live long?"
"That's right, sir. Now for Mr Mark Gaskell, he's a gambler, pure and simple. Got through his wife's money very soon. Has got himself tangled up rather badly just at present. He needs money badly, and a good deal of it."
"Can't say I liked the looks of him much," said Colonel Melchett. "Wild-looking sort of fellow, what? And he's got a motive, all right. Twenty-five thousand pounds it meant to him, getting that girl out of the way. Yes, it's a motive all right."
"They both had a motive."
"I'm not considering Mrs Jefferson."
"No, sir, I know you're not. And, anyway, the alibi holds for both of them. They couldn't have done it. Just that."
"You've got a detailed statement of their movements that evening?"
"Yes, I have. Take Mr Gaskell first. He dined with his father-in-law and Mrs Jefferson, had coffee with them afterward when Ruby Keene joined them. Then said he had to write letters and left them. Actually, he took his car and went for a spin down to the front. He told me quite frankly he couldn't stick playing bridge for a whole evening. The old boy's mad on it. So he made letters an excuse. Ruby Keene remained with the others. Mark Gaskell returned when she was dancing with Raymond. After the dance Ruby came and had a drink with them, then she went off with young Bartlett, and Gaskell and the others cut for partners and started their bridge. That was at twenty minutes to eleven, and he didn't leave the table until after midnight. That's quite certain, sir. Everyone says so: the family, the waiters, everyone. Therefore, he couldn't have done it. And Mrs Jefferson's alibi is the same. She, too, didn't leave the table. They're out, both of them out." Colonel Melchett leaned back, tapping the table with a paper cutter.
Superintendent Harper said, "That is, assuming the girl was killed before midnight."
"Haydock said she was. He's a very sound fellow in police work If he says a thing, it's so."
"There might be reasons - health, physical idiosyncrasy or something."
"I'll put it to him." Melchett glanced at his watch, picked up the telephone receiver and asked for a number. He said, "Haydock ought to be in now. Now, assuming that she was killed after midnight −"
Harper said, "Then there might be a chance. There was some coming and going afterward. Let's assume that Gaskell had asked the girl to meet him outside somewhere say at twenty past twelve. He slips away for a minute or two, strangles her, comes back, and disposes of the body later in the early hours of the morning."
Melchett said, "Takes her by car twenty miles to put her in Bantry's library? Dash it all, it's not a likely story."
"No, it isn't," the superintendent admitted at once.
The telephone rang. Melchett picked up the receiver. "Hullo, Haydock, is that you? Ruby Keene. Would it be possible for her to have been killed after midnight?"
"I told you she was killed between ten and midnight."
"Yes, I know, but one could stretch it a bit, what?"
"No, you couldn't stretch it. When I say she was killed before midnight I mean before midnight, and don't try and tamper with the medical evidence."
"Yes, but couldn't there be some physiological whatnot? You know what I mean?"
"I know that you don't know what you're talking about. The girl was perfectly healthy and not abnormal in any way, and I'm not going to say she was just to help you fit a rope round the neck of some wretched fellow whom you police wallahs have got your knife into. Now, don't protest. I know your ways. And, by the way, the girl wasn't strangled willingly, that is to say, she
was drugged first. Powerful narcotic. She died of strangulation, but she was drugged first." Haydock rang off.
Melchett said gloomily, "Well, that's that."
Harper said, "Thought I'd found another likely starter, but it petered out."
"What's that? Who?"
"Strictly speaking, he's your pigeon, sir. Name of Basil Blake. Lives near Gossington Hall."
"Impudent young jackanapes!" The colonel's brow darkened as he remembered Basil Blake's outrageous rudeness. "How's he mixed up in it?"
"Seems he knew Ruby Keene. Dined over at the Majestic quite often, danced with the girl. Do you remember what Josie said to Raymond when Ruby was discovered to be missing. 'She isn't with that film man, is she?' I've found out it was Blake she meant. He's employed with the Lenville Studios, you know. Josie has nothing to go upon except a belief that Ruby was rather keen on him." "Very promising. Harper, very promising." "Not so good as it sounds, sir. Basil Blake was at a party at the studios that night. You know the sort of thing. Starts at eight with cocktails and goes on and on until the air's too thick to see through and everyone passes out. According to Inspector Slack, who's questioned him, he left the show round about midnight. At midnight Ruby Keene was dead."
"Anyone bear out his statement?"
"Most of them, I gather, sir, were rather... er... far gone. The... er... young woman now at the bungalow, Miss Dinah Lee, says that statement is correct."
"Doesn't mean a thing."
"No, sir, probably not. Statements taken from other members of the party bear Mr Blake's statement out, on the whole, though ideas as to time are somewhat vague."
"Where are these studios?"
"Lenville, sir, thirty miles southwest of London."
"It's about the same distance from here."
Colonel Melchett rubbed his nose. He said in a rather dissatisfied tone, "Well, it looks as though we could wash him out."
"I think so, sir. There is no evidence that he was seriously attracted by Ruby Keene. In fact," Superintendent Harper coughed primly, "he seems fully occupied with his own young lady."
Melchett said, "Well, we are left with X, an unknown murderer, so unknown Slack can't find a trace of him. Or Jefferson's son-in-law, who might have wanted to kill the girl, but didn't have a chance to do so. Daughter-in-law ditto. Or George Bartlett, who has no alibi, but, unfortunately, no motive either. Or with young Blake, who has an alibi and no motive. And that's the lot! No, stop. I suppose we ought to consider the dancing fellow, Raymond Starr. After all, he saw a lot of the girl."
Harper said slowly, "Can't believe he took much interest in her, or else he's a thundering good actor. And, for all practical purposes, he's got an alibi too. He was more or less in view from twenty minutes to eleven until midnight, dancing with various partners. I don't see that we can make a case against him."
"In fact," said Colonel Melchett, "we can't make a case against anybody."
"George Bartlett's our best hope," Harper said. "If we could only hit on a motive."
"You've had him looked up?"
"Yes, sir. Only child. Coddled by his mother. Came into a good deal of money on her death a year ago. Getting through it fast. Weak rather than vicious."
"May be mental," said Melchett hopefully.
Superintendent Harper nodded. He said, "Has it struck you, sir, that that may be the explanation of the whole case?"
"Criminal lunatic, you mean?"
"Yes, sir. One of those fellows who go about strangling young girls. Doctors have a long
name for it."
"That would solve all our difficulties," said Melchett.
"There's only one thing I don't like about it," said Superintendent Harper.
"It's too easy."
"H'm - yes, perhaps. So, as I said at the beginning, where are we?"
"Nowhere, sir," said Superintendent Harper.
VI. Translate these sentences into Russian. | Chapter 8 | I. Revise Assignment 3 and translate the sentences into English in writing. | IV. Correct the false statements. | VIII. Write a summary of what you have read on pages 10-57. | Chapter 10 | I. Revise Assignment 4 and translate the sentences into English in writing. | II. Find the phrases and words, write them out, translate them into Russian, recall the situations in which the author used them. | VI. Find the following word combinations, write them out, translate them into Russian. | Chapter 12 |