The Cinema Murder
The Cinema Murder
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
ABERRATIONS from the strict business of watching and listening on the part of a tense cinema audience are seldom expressed more definitely than by
muffled gigglings and whispers. The scream, therefore, which suddenly split the tobacco-hung air, a scream of agony from a human being apparently stricken with mortal pain or fear, was paralyzing in its effect, a thunderbolt startling and harrowing. Among the several thousands of closely wedged people who comprised the audience of the Pagoda Palace Cinema, there was not one who could escape the sound, who did not feel the thrill. Cynthia threw her arms outrageously around her husband’s neck.
“Malcolm !" she cried in terror. “What is it?”
He held her reassuringly to him. Like most of the audience, he had sprung to his feet, and was facing a comer in the back row of the stalls a short distance removed from where they were. Electric torches were flashing like fireflies in the gloom, dark shapes of men were visible, gathering together in a cluster around that one particular spot. The screen was suddenly blank. The picture had ceased to operate. Then the lights flared up and everyone stood on their stall or chair, whatever they could find, to look in one direction. Perhaps no one saw more in those few seconds than Malcolm Gossett, whose profession liad taught him to take in swiftly the impressions and externals of an unexpected happening.
"What is it, Malcolm?” his wife cried again, clinging desperately to him.
"I think that a man has been hurt.” he explained. “He has either been hurt or he has been taken ill.”
“No one who was taken ill could cry out like that,” she gasped, shivering. "It sounded like a man being killed.” "I’m afraid that may be so,” Malcolm Gossett agreed.
“You see, they are taking him
The whole thing was admirably handled. A limp, inert form, completely covered by a sheet, was carried out on a stretcher by two of the attendants escorted by a policeman. Others of the Force who seemed to have arrived miraculously from nowhere in particular had made a little cordon around the spot from which the trouble had come. One young man who tried to take his leave was gently detained. The manager of the picture palace, which was one of the largest and most splendid in London, came hurrying down to the sergeant.
“What is this, officer?” he exclaimed breathlessly. “For heaven’s sake, don’t detain the performance longer than you can help.”
The sergeant was a trifle unsympathetic.
“There has been a murder committed here, Mr. Hamshaw,” he announced. “The lights must remain up until I have the names and addresses of the two people on either side of that vacant place and the young man seated exactly behind.”
“Do you mean that the man whom they have carried out is really dead?” the other demanded incredulously.
“He is as dead as you or anyone else would be with six inches of cold steel in the top of your back. Excuse me, if you please. I will send you word when you can go on with the performance.”
"THE SERGEANT completed his I task. The two men on either side of the vacant place and the man seated immediately behind accepted the sergeant’s invitation to retire into an anteroom with him. A few' other precautions were taken and the whole affair was finished. The lights w-ent down, the showing of the picture recommenced. Among the few people, however, who had had enough for the evening were Malcolm Gossett, the consulting detective, and his wife. They took a taxicab home, and Cynthia at any rate gave a cry of relief as she sank into an easy chair in their comfortable study.
“Oh, what a joy to get away from that awful place,” she exclaimed. “Malcolm, I shall never forget that cry as long as I live.”
“It was pretty bad,” Gossett admitted as he' mixed himself a whisky and soda. “Can I bring you anything, Cynthia?”
“A glass of port,” she begged. “The decanter is in the sideboard there.”
They settled down for a comfortable half hour. Cynthia before long was sitting on the arm of her husband’s chair.
“Tell me why you are so thoughtful, Malcolm,” she asked. “Are you trying to think out a theory?”
"Not exactly,” he replied. “I was trying to memorize the faces of those three men w'hom the sergeant took out to question.”
“They seemed very harmless looking people,” Cynthia remarked.
“There were none of them known criminals,” Gossett observed.
“Which do you think did it?” Cynthia asked. “They all looked terrified to death.”
“I mustn’t risk my reputation by guessing so early in the proceedings,” her husband answered, smiling. “There’s one thing you must remember—the man who
had the best chance of doing it unobserved w'as the man seated immediately behind him. There was no one else on his row within half a dozen places. Furthermore, why did he choose that particular seat? As a rule, a man with a whole row to choose from takes either the outside one or the one nearest the middle.”
“I don’t think it was he,” Cynthia declared firmly. “He had such a nice expression and although he looked frightened—well, who wouldn't be?—he didn’t look as though he’d done anything wrong.”
"Well, inspiration is a great thing.” Malcolm Gossett observed. “I've learned to trust in it more than 1 list'd to. But tell me, was there nothing odd that you noticed alxmt that young man? You seem to have made a careful study of him.”
“Odd? In what way?”
“Well, his appearance or dress or anything.”
“There was one thing,” Cynthia acknowledged. “He was wearing gloves.”
Gossett patted her on the back.
“Good for you, little lady,” he declared. ‘Those gloves may hang him.”
“THE MURDER in the Pagoda Palace Cinema captivated I the imagination of the whole country. This was no ugly crime in a low-down neighborluxxl committed by some miscreant who lied into the darkness. It had in it every essential of horror and drama. Whoever the guilty person may have been, whoever was responsible for that awful death cry which many of the audience swore they would never forget to their dying day, must have remained stolidly in his place. Deliberately he must have driven the knife home in that one vital spot with almost superhuman skill and ferocity, and then, without movement or any attempt to escape, have joined in the general throb of consternation. The more people read about it, the more inhuman and impossible the thing seemed to become.
The dead man was easily identified by his immediate theatre neighbor. His name was Julian Brest, his age fiftyfour. He was a retired diamond merchant of comfortable means, living in a bachelor flat on the heights of Hampstead. He belonged to two quite respectable clubs and also a golf club within easy distance of London. His neighbor pn the right, Samuel Johnson, had been for years his partner in the business which he had taken over at the murdered man’s retirement. They were Saturday partners at golf, dined together once a week, and Julian Brest had been a frequent visitor at the other’s villa in Golders Green. There was not the slightest evidence of any ill feeling between them.
A man who sat to the left of Brest was apparently a stranger to the other three. He rejoiced in the somewhat singular name of Carnforth Dent. He had a watchmaker’s and jeweller’s shop in the City, and from everything which could be learned seemed to be a commonplace person. He was a married man living happily with his wife and two children in a block of flats just over Hammersmith Bridge. He declared that he had never spoken to the dead man and had taken no particular interest in him.
The name of the young man in the seat behind, who had won Cynthia Gossett’s sympathy, was Edward Sims. He was a manufacturing chemist with a small but prosperous business, single, and lived in rooms by himself in Kensington. Asked why he had chosen the somewhat indifferent seat behind the dead man, he explained that he suffered at times from claustrophobia, and he chose that particular seat because there were two empty ones on either side. There was no evidence that he had ever known or spoken to the dead man. Continued on page !t0
Continued on page 40
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These, with Johnson’s wife, who was seated on his other side, were the four people who were in the immediate vicinity of Julian Brest when his death cry had brought that awful note of tragedy into the crowded house. It seemed difficult enough for any one of them, but almost impossible for anyone else, to have delivered that death blow unnoticed. On the other hand, the exigencies of the film demanded that it should be shown in as complete darkness as possible, and the corner where the tragedy had hapjiened, being underneath the balcony was perhaps the darkest spot in the whole auditorium; for which reason, although popular with flirtatious young couples, it was not as a rule in great demand with the staider section of the public. In the case, however, as the manager pointed out, of a film so hugely popular as the one then tóng shown, people were glad to get places anywhere. By some means or other, by accident or design, these five people, two of whom professed themselves entirely unacquainted with the other three, had come together in the only spot where such a tragedy could have passed unseen. One of the five had died in agony. From the other four the press, the man in the street and the whole world in general demanded a victim.
FIVE DAYS after the coroner’s inquest, at which the only possible verdict had been returned, Mr. Edward Sims was shown into Gossett’s office. The latter glanced at the card which his office boy had brought him with curiosity. He studied the young man who followed it with even greater interest.
“Mr. Edward Sims,” he repeated. “Won’t you sit down, Mr. Sims, and tell me what I can do for you?”
The young man accepted the clients’ chair. In the daylight lie appeared to greater advantage than under the garish lights of the cinema. His clothes were well cut and showed off his athletic figure to advantage. He wore the tie of a well-known public school, his bearing was frank, and he endured Gossett’s rather close scrutiny without embarrassment.
“I ought, perhaps,” he explained, “to have brought you a card from Sir George Littledale. It was he who suggested my coming to see you. You can ring him up if you like.”
“I’m quite willing to take your word for it,” Gossett replied. “Go ahead and tell me what is the trouble.”
“The trouble is,” the young man went on, “that I am one of the three people who are suspected of having murdered Julian Brest at the cinema the other night. You heard about it, of course."
“I don't suppos« there is a man, woman or child in London who hasn’t. However, reading over the evidence. I see that you deny having seen or heard of the murdered man before in your life, that you drifted into the place you sat in entirely by accident.
and that you are, to cut the matter short, absolutely innocent of the crime.”
" And you told the whole truth, of course,” Gossett remarked, with the air of one speaking almost carelessly.
The young man remained silent. He was looking down at a particular spot on the carpet and twisting his bowler hat round in his hands.
“I don’t _ suppose you’ve attempted to realize the situation, Mr. Gossett, as it must present itself to one or two of us,” he said at last. “If we leave out the wroman—you probably noticed the evidence which declared that it would have been impossible for her to have driven that blow home—there were just three of us w'ho might have killed the man. His partner, the other young man whose name I’ve forgotten, or myself. Naturally if the police can scrape together a single shred of motive on the part of any one of us three, that one would be done for.”
“It would certainly be a very awkward position,” Gossett assented.
“For some reason or other,” Edward Sims continued, “they seem to be trying to work it up against me. I can’t move without being shadowed. All sorts of questions are being continually asked about my past. I am quite certain that my rooms have been searched twice in my absence.”
“If your story,” Gossett pointed out quietly, “is absolutely and entirely true there is nothing they can discover. The police have their faults, but they would never go so far as to try and inculpate a perfectly innocent person.”
"Perhaps not,” the other assented, “but j there is, unfortunately . . . Before I go any j farther. Mr. Gossett. I must ask you a question.” j
“I went to Sir George Littledale to ask him several questions about criminal law and, to tell you the truth, to ask him if he j would defend me if by any chance I should be charged with this horrible thing.”
1 he young man paused to wipe the j perspiration from his forehead. He had ; become more nervous.
“I must ask you this. Mr. Gossett. Supposing I were to confide in you a certain fact which might be considered almost as evidence against me in this case, should you feel yourself called upon to pass it on to the police?”
“Certainly not." was the emphatic rejoinder. "I wrork not for the criminal but for the possibly innocent man who is accused of being a criminal. Of course, if you told me you were guilty I cannot say what would happen, but so long as you declare yourself innocent no confidence which you might make will be broken. I work outside the police and more often against them than with them."
The young man drew a breath of relief. “Yen»’ well, then,” he confided, "I am
going to tell you this. The knife which was found in the dead man’s back is mine.”
GOSSETT for once in his life was entirely startled.
“Good lord!” he exclaimed. “That’s rather a terrible confession. Mr. Sims.”
“It isn’t a confession, it’s a statement,” the other man declared. “I’ve got it off my chest to one person at last, thank heaven. That knife was, or rather is, mine. I bought it in the Caledonian market four years ago. When I changed rooms a year ago, moving from Bayswater to Kensington, the knife disappeared. I’ve never seen it since until that night. I examined it again at the coroner’s court. There is no doubt whatever about it. It is my knife. It is a Spanish design and a portion of the filigree work just above the hilt is missing on one side, also the knob at the top of the handle is slightly bent. It is my knife, Mr. Gossett.” “Is there anyone likely to be able to identify it?” Gossett asked gravely.
“I can’t tell,” Edward Sims answered wearily. “It was hanging up in my rooms for at least two years. The police have got it up against me so badly that they might try some of my acquaintances or friends to see if they could identify it. There are several who could. I am sure.”
“I suppose you realize how serious a business it would be for you if they did?” “It looks horrible, I know, but I didn’t do it,” the young man declared. “I never heard of Julian Brest. I didn’t care whether he lived or died ... I’ve come to you for advice, Mr. Gossett. What should you do if you were me? I have three intimate friends who used to visit me frequently. Should you go to them and tell them the whole story and beg them not to identify the knife if they’re asked, or should you leave it to chance? That’s what I want to know. I can’t make up my mind. Which should you do?”
He wiped his forehead again. Face to face with his self-propounded problem he seemed terrified.
“First of all, let me ask you something else,” Gossett said. “Why did you keep your gloves on all the time that night at the cinema? You have them on now, I see. There’s no reason why you should take them off here, but it isn’t often one keeps on a pair of thick doeskin gloves inside the cinema.”
The young man exposed his bared hands. There were dark red stains on both.
“Sintric acid.” he confided. “1 broke a bottle in my laboratory. That's why I was wearing gloves that night.”
Gossett made no immediate remark. There was a sudden light of horror in the young man’s eyes. He rose to his feet, trembling.
“You think . . . ” he began, hesitatingly. "You think ...”
“I thought it was so that you would leave no fingerprints on anything you touched.” Gossett admitted. “So. I daresay, did the police. That is no doubt one reason why they have suspected you.”
Edward Sims seemed as though he were on the point of completely losing his selfcontrol. He made a great effort, however, and replaced the gloves. He looked half fearfully across at Gossett.
“I believe,” he muttered, “that you think I’m guilty.
“Whatever I think won’t do you any harm,” was the quiet reply. "I have seen too much of this sort of thing to be led away by entirely circumstantial evidence. I shall keep an open mind. I promise you. With regard to your first question, I should do nothing. Don’t seek out any of your friends who might identify that knife. I don't think you’re called upon to claim possession of it unless you’re asked the question point blank. If things get worse, your only chance is to tell the truth.”
“You’ll help me if the worst comes?” “Certainly I will,” Gossett promised. “I should like the address of the rooms from which you moved in Bayswater and the address of the man who moved you.”
The young man took a piece of paper and scribbled down the names.
“You have told me that you knew nothing
of Julian Brest, the murdered man,” Gossett ' continued.
The young man turned away with a groan. “I’ll try.’’ he promised, as he made his uncertain way toward the door. “That last word, though, has made cowards of better men than I.”
MALCOLM GOSSETT, on his return to his very comfortable study, threw himself into an easy chair with a little groan, j Cynthia, in a very pretty afternoon toilette, ¡ busied herself at the sideboard making him an aperitif. He sipped it gratefully.
“You look very smart,” he remarked, smiling. “More bridge?”
“At Mrs. Selwyn’s,” she told him. “They i are the new people who took number seven, j And Malcolm, do you know who was there?” “No idea.”
“The woman who sat in front of us the other night at the cinema when that horrible thing happened.”
"The Mrs. Samuel Johnson?”
“That’s her name. Yes. It seems she’s a very old friend of Mrs. Selwyn.”
“She didn't talk about the murder, I suppose?"
“She couldn’t talk of anything else. I did wish sometimes that she’d leave off. Are you still interested in it, Malcolm?” “Couldn’t help it very well, could I? I should think you were, too.”
She looked at him with earnestly enquiring eyes. His face had become like a mask. Only his eyes held her, and they seemed at the same time compelling yet empty of expression.
“When I said ‘interested.’ ” she went on, “I meant as you would say professionally. Have you been consulted by anyone?”
He shook his head gently.
“Better for you not to ask me that sort of question, dear,” he warned her. “Detectives in the eyes of the law have no wives, you know.”
“I never saw or heard of him before in my life.”
“Does the same apply to his three companions?”
“Absolutely. They were just members of j the audience to me. I was very tired and took little notice of them.”
“You realize. I suppose,” Gossett pointed out, “that it seems almost incredible that anyone should have been able to commit that murder, practically under your nose, without your having seen anything.”
“I know,” was the dreary assent. “That’s another of the horrors, of course. The truth seems so bald and stupid. I was tired out with work. The atmosphere was stuffy and heavy. I'd gone off into a doze twice before at the beginning of the film, and I was dozing when I was awakened by that awful cry.”
Gossett nodded sympathetically.
“I’m like that myself sometimes.” he admitted. “It’s reasonable enough. The only trouble is that this time it becomes linked up with those other two horrible j coincidences. You have no objection to my ! making a few enquiries, I hope? I expect the I police are doing the same thing.”
The young man shivered.
“If you think it necessary,” he agreed. “You are not like the police, though. I should be a fool if I came here and told you ¡ lies.”
“Glad you realize that,” Malcolm Gossett said, touching the bell. “What time will you come in tomorrow?”
“Any hour, any day,” was the prompt reply. “I’m no good for work. I can do nothing. I sit and shiver every time the bell of my door rings. I daren’t even answer the telephone.”
“Remember this,” Gossett said as he nodded his farewell. “Under our present system an innocent man is very seldom, il ever, punished. Keep on telling yourself that. Innocent men are never hanged.”
“1 asked you.” she told him. “because from something she said 1 believe that ¡ Samuel Johnson, her husband, may be j coming to see you.”
“What about?” Gossett asked without! moving a muscle.
j “This case—the murder.”
Gossett finished the contents of his wine glass and set it down empty.
"What on earth could he have to do with it? He and his partner seem to have been on excellent terms.”
“Nothing, I suppose, directly,” Cynthia replied. “But you see everyone seems agreed upon one thingthe murder must have been committed by either the man in the seat behind, or the man who sat on the other side of Julian Brest, or by Mr. Johnson. As Mrs. Johnson kept on saying, the only thing the police have to look for is some sort of a motive.”
“Better not tell me any more,” Gossett advised.
“But Mrs. Johnson didn’t make any secret of it,” Cynthia went on. “It isn’t anything very dreadful, after all. It was just a business arrangement made between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brest to guard against capital being drawn out, if you know what that means. They each insured their lives in favor of the other for ten thousand pounds. That means that, now Mr. Brest is dead, Mr. Johnson will draw ten thousand pounds.”
The telephone bell out in the hall rang. Cynthia went to answer it. When she returned she was looking thoroughly scared.
“Malcolm,” she cried, “thank heaven it was only you. That was Mrs. Samuel Johnson. She rang up to tell me that her husband was simply crazy with her because she admitted she had told us about the insurance, and whatever happens she implores that we don’t tell another soul. She has rung up the others and they’ve promised. Of course, I told her we wouldn’t.”
Gossett tapped a cigarette upon the arm of his chair and lit it.
“I should think that Mrs. Samuel Johnson must be one of the biggest fools in the world.” he observed.
Cynthia laughed as she threw her arm around his neck.
“Aren’t you glad I’m not like that, dear?” she whispered. “I never repeat things.”
MAJOR MOODY, the sub-commissioner, and Chief Inspector Arbuthnot were together when Gossett was ushered into the former’s room at Scotland Yard. They greeted him cordially, installed him in an easy chair and offered him cigarettes. Arbuthnot remained lounging against the table. Moody leaned back in his place and regarded his visitor with a smile.
“Gossett,” he asked, “who murdered Julian Brest?”
“1 wish I knew,” Gossett answered seriously enough.
"But I gather that you were within a few yards of the whole show,” Moody observed.
“So l was. But you know how dark they get these modern cinemas nowadays, and he was in the darkest comer of it.”
“Yes. 1 appreciate that. Arbuthnot and I and a few of the others have been down there on the reconstruction. We had two dummies in your seats, too. Must have been almost impossible to have seen anything definitely. Queer business, though.”
“Are you working upon it?”
“In an indefinite sort of way,” Gossett admitted. “You know very well how I conduct my business, major. 1 f a man comes to me whom 1 have sound reasons for believing guilty 1 don't talk with him. If it’s an open matter and he makes no confession, then lie becomes my client and after that I'm dumb.”
“Quite sound.” the sub-commissioner murmured. “Would it be a fair question to I ask you if one of the three possibilities in the Julian Brest case has become your client?” “One of them has approached me,” Gossett acknowledged. “I have not yet adopted him as a client. I am making a few enquiries, as much to satisfy myself as on his behalf.”
j “It’s a queer business altogether,” the j sub-commissioner reflected. “We are rather j hoping that the guilty person will get nerves land confess. If he doesn’t, the one thing I you used to fight against so strenuously may ¡ come to pass. A man may be convicted and
hanged on circumstantial evidence alone.” “I sincerely hope not.”
The sub-commissioner shrugged his shoulders.
“But an eyewitness to this murder,” he pointed out, “would be an impossibility.” “Granted.” Gossett acknowledged. “But what about the natural corollary to circumstantial evidence—motive?”
“Just the point I was coming to,” Major Moody observed. “We’ve got a line out, Gossett, but we’re not getting on with this case as well as I had anticipated. I hope you’re going to look upon it as a compliment, but we really sent for you to see if you could help us. Have you any idea as to who the guilty person is?”
“I think so, major. I should like to hear a little more about the life insurance before I make up my mind absolutely.”
“You have no certain conviction then?” “None. You see, if I had certain convictions about anyone I shouldn’t be talking to them.”
“You’re no use to us today then, Gossett,” the sub-commissioner said good-naturedly but with a curt little nod of dismissal.
Gossett picked up his hat.
“I’d interfere to save an innocent man if I was convinced that he was innocent, or I’d give you all the information about a guilty man if I believed that he was guilty,” he declared as he took his leave. "As it is, I don’t think I am of any use to you for the moment.”
“THERE’S A MAN in the waiting room,” j the office boy announced, on Gossett’s return. “Been waiting for you some time. Name of Dent. There’s something else to it but I couldn’t catch it all, and he hasn’t got a card.”
“Show him in as soon as I’ve taken my coat off,” Gossett directed.
Mr. Carnforth Dent was not an attractive unit of humanity. He was small and slight, with a mass of grey-brown hair and a thin mustache. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles of an ancient design and his black clothes had seen better days. The most attractive things about him, Gossett decided as he waved his visitor to a seat and took mental stock of him, were his hands with the long muscular fingers of the watchmaker.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Dent?” Gossett asked curiously.
“Do you know who I am?” the man enquired.
“I think so. I was within a few places of you the other night at the Pagoda Cinema.” “Well, I'm glad I haven’t got to explain all about that anyway,” the other went on in an unexpectedly deep voice. “They tell me you’re a kind of detective but nothing to do with Scotland Yard or the law. How much do you charge for a bit of advice?” "Nothing at all to you,” Gossett answered. “I'm too interested in the case.”
“Nothing is the price that suits me all right." Mr. Dent declared, “because that’s just what I’m earning since that night.” “How is that?”
“Nobody won’t come in my shop,” Dent confided. “There’s boys looking through the window all day, trying to catch a glimpse of me. I stand in the doorway and I can hear them talking. ‘That’s him,’ they keep muttering, ‘what sat next the bloke that got the knife in his back.’ Then one of them will say, 'I guess he done it all right.’ And another one: ‘He's the only bloke that couid have reached him proper.’ And then they go and fetch their friends to come and stare. It’s enough to drive a man crazy.”
"It’s very bad luck,” Gossett acknowledged. “Let's have the matter clear to start with, to prevent any misunderstanding. I suppose you didn't kill him, did you?”
There was a brief silence. The man’s face seemed to have become somehow or other convulsed, twisted a little on one side. He was a very ugly person.
“That’s a new game, that is,” he remarked, “asking a question all in a moment like that. A Scotland Yard game, eli? Did I kill him? I didn’t come here to answer questions.”
“All right,” Gossett said good-humoredly. “No offense. What do you want to know?”
“I wanted to know this,’’ the watchmaker explained, leaning a trifle forward. “I have been reading the papers about this case. They seem to have made up their minds that one of us three must have done it; either me, or the young man with the gloves that sat behind, or the elderly chap who was his partner and sat next to him. One of us three, all the newspapers say in their smug way. The only thing to do is to find the motive. Now here’s my question, and if you’ll answer it free I’ll be obliged to you. Supposing I’d come across that chap Brest' some time in my life and things hadn’t gone well with us; supposing, for instance, he'd sent me to prison, whether it was justly or unjustly, so that I had a grudge against him; supposing the police found out that—what about me?”
“If the police knew as much as you’ve just told me,” Gossett confided, “you would be placed under immediate observation, and every effort would be made to obtain some circumstantial evidence such as the knife or threat or something of that sort. If they succeeded in getting hold of a thing you would certainly be arrested and tried for murder.”
Carnforth Dent’s expression was not a pleasant one. He sat in his chair brooding.
“What made me go into that blasted cinema I can’t imagine,” he muttered. “Then to find myself next to him of all men in the world. Is there any reward for finding the cove that stuck that knife between his shoulders?”
“Not that I know of,” Gossett answered.
The visitor rose slowly to his feet.
“I’ll be going,” he announced.
“I’ll give you another word of advice free, if you like,” Gossett said. “Stick where you are and get on with your job. If you bolt you’ll never get clear. The police will have you, and then if there has been anything between you and Julian Brest in the past they’ll dig it up. They’re probably watching you—and the others.”
The man picked up his hat viciously.
“Seems to me,” he muttered, “I’ve got to stay at home and starve or clear out and hang. I don’t think much of your advice, guv'nor.”
“It didn’t cost you much,” was the cool reply.
ÇUB-COMMISSIONER MOODY looked ^ up from the file of papers which his secretary had just laid before him.
“Hello, you're soon back. Gossett,” he remarked. "Is it the Julian Brest affair again?”
“If ever during my lifetime,” he said, sinking into the chair which Moody had indicated, “I come across another case like this one, I think I should break stones on the road sooner than go on with my job.”
Moody laid down his cigarette and stared at his visitor in astonishment.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “You look as though you had seen a ghost.”
Gossett laughed hardly.
“I have seen three ghosts,” he answered.
“All the ghosts of men who were hanged for
a crime they didn't commit. Don’t look at
me as though I were drunk, sir,” he went on,
his tone becoming a little more natural.
“There never was a case like this before and
never will be again. There’s a man murdered
with his partner by the side of him and two
other men within a yard or so. apparently
strangers. How much you know, major, of
course isn't my business. I haven’t even
heard what information the department has,
but I’m going to tell you this because I
know you’re a human being and this might
be one of the worst pitfalls of your life. There
is circumstantial evidence backed with
motive sufficient to make out a clear case
against two of these men and, I believe, the
third; only I simply refused to listen to his
story. I couldn’t bear any more of it.
I’m telling you the truth, major. Only one
man killed—Julian Brest—but nine juries
out of ten would bring in a verdict of guilty
Continued on page 44
Continued from page 42
; against two of them and perhaps three.”
"You don’t need to worry, Gossett,” the sub-commissioner said kindly. ‘‘We’re not blood fiends here. We want the guilty man, of course, but there’s no framing up dene, as you know very well, in this country'. We don’t put a man on trial for murder unless—”
The telephone bell rang. Major Moody broke off his sentence and took off the receiver. He listened for a moment imperturbably, then he spoke.
“Show her up,” he directed.
He laid down the receiver and looked across at Gossett.
“I’m beginning to agree with you that there is something uncanny about this case, Cossett,” he said. “Here’s the woman now; Mrs.—what’s her name?—Mrs. Samuel Johnson asking for an interview. I’m not very keen about it. We can’t put her in the box against her husband.”
He swung round to where his secretary was sitting in the shadows.
“Move behind the screen,” he directed, “and take down what this woman has to say. Don’t go, Gossett. Sit in the inspector’s chair there. You’re one of the staff for the moment.”
Gossett did as he was bidden. The door was opened. A strong waft of perfume heralded the arrival of Mrs. Samuel Johnson. The sub-commissioner rose to his feet.
“Good afternoon, madam,” he said. “Will you take this chair and tell me what I can have the pleasure of doing for you?”
Mrs. Samuel Johnson wore expensive furs and a fashionable hat. She had used cosmetics freely, but she was still, of her type, a handsome woman. She was perhaps a little out of breath from her climbing the stairs, however, for she was a moment or two collecting herself.
“So this is Scotland Yard,” she remarked, looking round her.
“A very unimportant part of it, madam,” was the courteous reply.
“And you’re one of the head policemen ” she went on.
“I am the sub-commissioner.”
“The same thing, I suppose,” she continued. “Well, you know who I am—Mrs. Samuel Johnson. I am the woman who sat next but one to Julian Brest that horrible night at the Pagoda Cinema. I have come to tell you who killed him.”
There was a brief silence. Gossett found himself gripping the sides of his chair. Major Moody leaned forward.
“Madam,” he enjoined, “I hope you will be careful before you speak. This is a very serious matter.”
“I am not a fool,” she answered scornfully. “I have been hysterical for several j days, but I am calm enough now. You can I send for one of your doctors presently, if I you like, to tell you whether I am sane or i not. First of all,” she went on, opening her I bag and drawing out a letter, “read that. Read it aloud so that the other man can : hear.”
Major Moody adjusted his eyeglass and I spread out a square sheet of paper. The printed address at the top was Brest and Johnson, Number 17a, Hatton Gardens. He read very slowly and turned his head slightly to where the secretary was seated.
“My dear old Susie:
“There has been enough of this nonsense. You must please understand that this time I am definitely in earnest.
I am leaving Samuel the business and I am going back to South Africa next week. You will have plenty to live on, and once and for all I cannot spare another penny. We have had some good times together, but I’m through. You and Samuel will be all right. The business is still worth something, and if anything happens to me there is the ilO.CCO life insurance which will come your way. I am proposing to Samuel that we dine at the Trocadero tonight for the last time and go to a cinema afterward—the three of us. I’ll send you a line sometimes, old girl, and I hope we shall part pals. Julian.”
The sub-commissioner finished the letter and looked up. She met his enquiring eyes.
“Yes,” she said, “that’s the way a man gets rid of his sweetheart after eight years. Now you want to know who killed Julian Brest. I did.”
"THE SUB-COMMISSIONER regarded I her doubtfully.
“But, my dear madam,” he protested, “what you tell me is practically an impossibility.”
She laughed scornfully.
“In the first place,” he pointed out, “you were not even sitting next to him. In the second place, it would take a surgeon to know the exact spot in which to push that knife. In the third place, it would have taken a man’s strength to have driven it home like that.”
“You’re not such clever folk up here as I fancied,” she scoffed. “Listen now, and I’ll answer you. In the first place it may have occurred to you that my husband is a slim man. I ask you,” she went on, “to look at the length of that arm.”
She slipped off her fur coat, disclosing her really magnificent though too ample figure, imperfectly concealed by a tight fitting cloth dress. She extended her arm with a smile.
“I had this around his neck all the evening,” she went on. “That’s nothing for a cinema, as I daresay you know. I could have had it round Julian’s, too, without exerting myself. That should answer your first objection. In the second place, before I was married I was a qualified nurse at one of the best hospitals in London, and I know as much about anatomy as any surgeon. In the third place, give me a knife and I’ll drive it as far as you like into your own desk, or give me your arm—there, just like that, I could break it if I wanted to.”
Major Moody drew away from the reach of her fingers with a stifled cry of pain.
“But the knife?” he enquired.
“I bought it at a second-hand shop in Bayswater,” she told him. “It had been left behind in some apartments there. I took it out with me that night deliberately and I did what I meant to do. It was easier than I had dreamed of. The man behind with the gloves on was asleep. No one else could see.”
“I am to take this seriously,” he asked, with a new note of gravity in his tone, “as your confession of the murder of Julian Brest?’’
“What do you suppose I’m here for?” she demanded.
“No one has suspected you,” he pointed out. “Why have you come here with this confession?”
“To stop my poor old husband from going mad,” she replied scornfully. “It’s just dawned upon him that the deed was done with the knife that dozens of people have seen in our house, and that Julian Brest’s life was insured in our favor for ten thousand pounds, and that it was he who was sitting next him at the cinema. He’s off his head. He’s too crazy even to realize that it was I who did it. Let him live. I haven’t been such a good wife to him. This will put matters straight.”
The sub-commissioner stretched out his hand toward the little row of bells which stood upon his table.
“I suppose you realize, madam,” he said, “that I shall have to place you under arrest, that you will have to spend the night in the cells here and come before the magistrate in the morning?”
“Not on your life,” the woman scoffed. “You can touch another of those bells for one of your doctors if you like. I saw to that before I came out. Another half an hour I may be good for. I’m not sure I’ll last as long— Now I’ve finished.”
Her head fell back. Both men noticed at the same time the ghastly pallor beneath her rouge. She was unconscious before the doctor arrived, and dead before he could complete his examination. From behind the screen came the click of the machine, as the secretary began to type out the confession.