Author’s Note: The places which form the principal scenes of this story are entirely imaginary and the people that move in it are fictitious. For the purpose of giving reality to the last part of the story it was necessary to pretend that Wolfeton, Rockingham and Winslow were situated in the eastern part of the Province of New Brunswick, and as a result some readers may imagine that they recognize these places as real towns or as a real university. Any reader who should so imagine will fall into error.
Needless to say, the author does not intend to throw discredit on any municipal police force in the Province. The misdeeds of the Wolfeton Force are purely fictitious.
INSPECTOR JEAN LATOUR of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was on vacation. His rich tweeds, his pipe and his tanned face indicated the sort of vacation he liked—long walks over the windswept marsh country, where the eye could rest on the massive expanse, and the mind move in a leisured contemplation harmonious with the place and time.
He turned now to walk back to the little inn where he was staying on the far side of Rockingham. On his way he paused a moment to watch Winslow University’s rugby fifteen at practice. Two sides, obviously “Probables” and “Possibles,” were playing. The former had the ball and their three-quarters were running it across the field.
LaTour frowned. “They should run straight and draw their tackles,” he thought.
He watched them carefully and saw that they were doing this to get the ball to Spengler, the famous wing three-quarter who had been Winslow’s great scoring threat for two seasons and whose reputation was known all through the rugby-playing provinces. He was strongly built but lithe, and like an arrow when he ran, his knees lifted high —dangerous to tacklers—his black head thrust forward with a desperate determination.
He was running with the ball now. A plucky tackier crouched in his path. Spengler’s “inside” called for a reverse pass, as he was running free. But Spengler tried to run through the tackle. As he fell he threw the ball wildly over his head.
“H-mm,” murmured LaTour. “Very fast, he is—but not very clever.”
He walked on, his mind idly considering the game he had seen. When he reached the Trout Inn, the maid handed him a telegram. As he read it his vague vacation dreaming was rudely dispelled, for the telegram called him back to his duty as officer in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department of the New Brunswick Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
He had a hurried tea and caught the six o’clock train for Wolfeton. As his train ran past the rugby field, now deserted and cold in the autumn twilight. LaTour shrugged and smiled at the contrast between his thoughts now and his idle speculations of the afternoon. Yet, as we shall see. he was shortly to recall his observations of rugby in a very different and very grim connection.
LaTour took out the telegram and read it with an angry pucker on his countenance. The darkness outside made a mirror of the car window and his features were reflected in a classic profile. Intelligence and determination showed in the forehead, eyes and chin, and there was a Latin mobility to the whole physiognomy. People who were not his friends said he had no sense of humor, and it is certain that he was inclined to solemnity. But those who were not his friends were very few, for his modesty and restraint and his charm of manner won him almost universal friendship and respect.
The telegram he was reading was signed by Eccles, Superintendent of the New Brunswick Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and it read:
Proceed Wolfeton at once stop Pecksniff municipal police chief wants help in Hollow murder investigations.
A newsboy coming through the car thrust an evening paper under La Tour’s nose. The headlines glaring in great black type caught his eye:
MURDER IN POLICE STATION: CONSTABLE STABBED DEAD
UNDER COLLEAGUE’S EYES KILLING OF JOHN HOLLOW
BAFFLES WOLFETON POLICE
LaTour bought the paper and moved along to a smoking compartment. Seated there, he produced and filled his pipe. When it was finally lighted he settled back and read carefully the report of the murder he was to investigate.
The train ran on through the gathering darkness, making a great roar and bustle of the business, and the autumn wind blew petulantly and noisily about its passage.
CHIEF OF POLICE PECKSNIFF, sitting comfortably in his office in the Wolfeton Police Station, saw Inspector Leyden pause at the open door of the office and then continue on his way to the officers’ common room. Pecksniff folded his freckled hands comfortably across his paunch and sighed. But his comfortable quiescence was disturbed by a hoarse, alarming cry from the corridor.
"Chief!” he heard Leyden shouting. “Chief!”
Pecksniff lumbered to the dimly-lit corridor. He blinked his eyes, for he had been sitting under the glare of a desk lamp.
“Yes, yes,” he said petulantly. “What is it, Leyden?”
“Hollow has been killed, sir! Stabbed to death ! Come along !”
Together they moved across the corridor to the officers’ room. Lying in a chair before the open fire and just to the right of the door was Sergeant John Hollow, his dark, stem face set in surprised and protesting lines. A newspaper lay across his knees. Standing by the body and staring mutely at the bone-handled knife that protruded from the dead man’s chest was Constable Durham a most incongruous figure, for his tunic was unbuttoned and he was in his stockinged feet, with one great toe showing through the heavy grey wool.
“Good heavens, Durham! What’s this?” Pecksniff cried, looking suspiciously at the heavy-featured constable.
Durham looked up, his face brooding, but under the chief’s gaze his countenance cleared and he answered readily enough:
“I don’t know, I’m sure, sir. I heard Inspector Leyden's call and came around here at once.”
“Where were you?” Pecksniff asked.
“I was around the cell, sir, reading the paper.”
"Yes, Durham came round the comer of the room just as I was getting you, sir,” said Leyden. “If I may say so, I think we should send for a doctor at once and also get Fellow's to come down. He’s on traffic duty just near the door and may have seen someone.”
"Of course,” Pecksniff said. “Will you get Fellows, Leyden? I’ll phone Dr. James.” He looked dazedly at the dead sergeant. "Poor Hollow!” he said. He knelt over the figure. “Yes, poor chap. We came on the force together.”
Leyden nodded and went out to fetch Constable Fellows. Durham, at a sign, accompanied the chief from the room and limped out to the street after Leyden.
The chief called the doctor. As he finished telephoning, Leyden, accompanied by Fellows, came into the office. Fellows, who was always rather weak on discipline, said: “So old Hollow has got his at last, eh?”
Pecksniff frowned and said:
"When did you go on duty?”
“Six o’clock, sir.”
"See anyone enter the station?”
"You, sir, when you came in at seven-thirty. Then there was Durham, who came in with Jenkins a bit before. Jenkins left, of course, soon after you went in. Hollow himself came in just past eight.”
“Yes. Anyone else?”
Fellows hesitated. A look almost of slyness came over his features.
“No, sir,” he said at length, "not till Mr. Leyden came at about twenty past eight.”
"Yes. It was just twenty past when you called me, wasn’t it, Leyden?”
“Tell me, Leyden, just what happened.”
"There’s nothing to tell, sir. I came down to see you, but observed a queer dark shadow around the common room door. I moved over to it and saw it was blood. I pushed open the door -- it was not quite closed and saw Hollow. I looked to see that he was dead, then raised a cry.”
"Here’s the doctor.”
It was half-past eight when the police surgeon examined the body. He placed the time of death at no earlier than eight o'clock. He said that Hollow had been stabbed by a slanting upward blow. The weapon which had caused the wound was the knife which was found protruding from his body. It had penetrated between the fifth and sixth ribs, and had entered the right ventricle near the breast bone. The pericardial sac had not been pierced and that accounted for the external flow of blood. The fact that the body, from the force of the blow had been thrown over the left arm of the chair accounted for the great pool of blood on the floor.
The blood need not have spurted over the arm of the stabber, the doctor said. If he were quick he could withdraw his hand in the second or so it took the pericardial sac to fill. The blood might come out in spurts or in an even flow.
From the nature of the blood pool the doctor judged that it had come in an even flow. Death would not be instantaneous, but unconsciousness would be and death would follow very rapidly.
From Hollow’s general physical condition the doctor judged that death would set in within, at most, two minutes of the stabbing. The amazing thing was that Hollow did not cry out, but slight marks about the mouth indicated that the murderer had put his hand over the mouth and nostrils at the time of striking. This would account for the absence of any cry. The wound could not be self-inflicted.
A fingerprint examination showed no marks on the knife.
Durham was questioned again and admitted having heard the sound of rustling paper and the noise of a cough at about ten minutes after eight. This was taken as evidence as to the time of death.
Pecksniff was troubled. He had the pool wiped from the floor, and the room locked up. The officers left.
Alone in his hot office, Pecksniff shuddered. He felt afraid in this place of death. Someone had to inform Hollow’s daughter, Alice, of the tragedy, he thought. She would be an orphan now. He reached for the telephone.
All this, or most of it, LaTour was able to reconstruct from the detailed newspaper account. By the time he had finished reading, his train had pulled into Wolfeton, and LaTour went directly to the police station.
LATOUR WAS FACING two men in the chief’s office at the Wolfeton police station. One man, very big and stout, with a rather common but good-natured round face was dressed in uniform. The other, in plain clothes, was thin, determined-looking, with a keen, rather grey face and greying light hair, sharp eyes and lean jaw.
The big man rose as LaTour was shown in.
“Ah, LaTour,” he said, "I’m very glad, I’m sure, that it’s you who has come. When I decided we must call in help from you people, I hoped Eccles would be able to send you. A fine job you made of that Brownsville case.” He turned, waving a fat, freckled hand. “This is Detective Inspector Leyden, of Montreal. Inspector LaTour. Inspector Leyden has come down to help us round up the Corrigini gang.”
The chief waved them both to chairs.
“Very complicated affair, this of ours,” he said. “I am hoping you and Leyden will work it out between you. I shall put it entirely in your hands. Of course, I’ll help you all I can.”
LaTour nodded. He glanced at Leyden, whose face was inscrutable.
“I’ll get on with him,” La Tour thought. “He’s a cut above most of these municipal officers. Keen and reliable and not apt to be jealous of outside help being called in.”
"Anything you’d like to ask, LaTour?” said Pecksniff genially, as though he were a teacher explaining a theorem of Euclid to a class of small boys.
"A great deal,” LaTour replied with his quiet smile.
“I have only read this newspaper account, and in my experience the press is usually inaccurate. And then, of course, there will be information that you haven’t given the reporters.” Pecksniff nodded.
“Yes, we can give you a bit more than the paper has. But as a matter of fact we’re pretty well stumped. That paper is right enough about the ‘baffling mystery’.” Then, in answer to LaTour’s implied question, he added: “The paper has the story pretty accurate so far as it goes.”
“In that case,” LaTour said, “I had better ask some questions, I think. There is no point in your going over the story again if this information that I have is correct.”
“Fire away,” said Chief of Police Pecksniff.
“First of all, there is this matter of time. At eight o’clock Hollow came off duty. At eight-two he was seen entering the station. At a few minutes past eight—shall we say eight-four.....he was seen by you to pass along the corridor there, and was heard though not seen by Durham.”
“Heard and not seen by me, too,” interrupted Pecksniff. “I was sitting here at my desk with my back to the door, and the door itself was only open a few inches.”
“Thanks,” said LaTour. “Now, to continue. The next time we have is eight-ten, when Durham heard the rustling and the sound like the clearing of a throat. How does he place this time?”
“I’m afraid we haven’t asked him.” It was Leyden who replied. His voice was unexpectedly tired and flat.
“We can do that,” LaTour said. “There is nothing more until eight-twenty. It was then you found him, Leyden?”
“Were you going to the common room?”
“No, I was coming in here to see the chief. But I saw the blood, or rather for I didn’t know it was blood I saw the pool which had trickled out into the corridor. I went up out of curiosity, threw open the door and saw him.”
“He was still bleeding?”
“And the blood had spread to quite an area?”
“How large an area?”
“I couldn't say.”
“Did you notice. Chief Pecksniff?” LaTour turned from Leyden to the chief.
"No, I didn’t notice it,” replied the latter. “I hurried right in at Leyden’s cry. But I daresay we could have told from the stain on the floor. Do you think it important?”
“Yes,” LaTour said slowly, “and for this reason: The doctor arrived at eight-thirty and could not place the time of death more definitely than within the past half-hour. Is that right?” Both Leyden and Pecksniff nodded. “Now,” LaTour continued, “I think if we could ascertain the spread of the pool of blood when it was first seen by Inspector Leyden, and the extent to which Hollow was still bleeding, we could get a more accurate calculation of just when the stabbing was committed.”
“But,” said Pecksniff, “I don’t think we need this. The noises Durham heard would seem to me to place the murder at eight-ten, and this time squares with the doctor’s evidence and with the spread of the blood pool by eight-thirty. In any case”—he looked rather shamefaced—“I had the pool of blood washed up. It made, such a smell and it never occurred to me that it was important. It’s a linoleum floor and there is no stain, nor any indication of one, left. I’m awfully sorry.”
LaTour looked annoyed.
“We shall have to drop that line," he said. “The next thing is to discover who came in here between eight o’clock and eight-twenty.”
LEYDEN and Pecksniff looked at one another and both started to speak. Then they both stopped.
“Carry on, Leyden,” the chief said.
“Well, sir, if I may. There are two points in this connection, Mr. LaTour, that we have thought worth considering. First, it occurred to me that the murderer may have been concealed in the common room. He may have come in any time during the evening and hidden behind the door, or more likely in the lavatory. So far as we can discover, the lavatory was not entered by any of the men after half-past six. The murderer may have come in any time after that and hidden there. He could easily have come out suddenly, stabbed Hollow before he could cry out and then sneaked out along the corridor, and by turning right when he came on to the street have escaped the notice of Fellow's, who was on traffic duty there.”
“H-mm,” said LaTour. “And the second point?”
Leyden glanced at Pecksniff, who nodded.
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, inspector, it’s this man Durham. His story does not strike the chief as being any too probable. It’s a queer thing to have sat there all through a murder. However quiet the murderer was, there must have been some noise—a gasp as the blow was struck, the sound of the blow, a death rattle. It seems incredible that the thing was done so quietly—”
“I don’t know',” LaTour said. “If death or unconsciousness were instantaneous it would be credible. Then there’s the doctor’s suggestion that his mouth was held. That would stifle any cry.”
“There’s something more, LaTour,” Pecksniff said, “that I think you should be told. There was a certain amount of bad feeling between Durham and Hollow. They were two of my oldest men. Came on the force together soon after I did—I was a sergeant then—twenty years ago that was. When Sergeant Finch left us a month ago, they both wanted the promotion. Well, Hollow got it. I thought he was the better man. But Durham was jealous and nasty about it. He brooded over it, and has been scarcely civil to Hollow or myself since. I’ve even been thinking of giving him his papers. Can’t have bad feeling in the force, you know."
"But still,” LaTour remarked, "it’s a very insufficient motive for murder.”
“That’s just it,” Pecksniff said eagerly. "A clever lawyer would soon tear it to shreds. We’d never make a case against the man. It’s a diabolically clever murder. The killer stabs his man and then retires quietly to his corner of the room. He’s not found with a weapon or anything. Opportunity, yes. But we could never prove anything more. Our only chance is that he may have overreached himself. If we can show beyond a doubt that no one else could have committed the murder, we may get him.”
“So that’s how the wind lies?” thought LaTour. “The course of least resistance. Durham is the obvious man, pin it to him.” Aloud he said:
“You are inclined to suspect Durham, then?”
“Well, yes if you put it like that, I am.” Pecksniff nodded vigorously.
“I don’t think Durham did it,” Leyden said. “Not in the man, I shouldn’t think. And as for grounds of suspicion, we might just as well suspect the chief here.”
LaTour said: “Exactly.” And poor Pecksniff went very red in his fat cheeks and cried angrily: “What’s that? Suspect me !”
“Quite,” said LaTour quietly. “So far as opportunity goes, you, too, were alone here. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m only saying that mere opportunity is very risky ground for suspicion.”
“It’s a different kettle of fish altogether, sir, I’ll have you understand,” Pecksniff said angrily. "However, if I’m to be one of your suspects I can soon clear myself. I had a visitor here with me from eight o’clock till a few minutes before Leyden arrived. And you needn’t suspect him either, because he’s a man entirely above suspicion.” The chief was a very angry man.
LaTour poured oil on the troubled waters.
"Quite, quite,” he said. "There’s no question of suspicion in my mind, at all. You must know that, Chief Pecksniff. But there would be weaknesses in any case against Durham that rested on nothing more than jealousy and opportunity.”
But Pecksniff was only partially appeased.
“I don’t know about that, sir,” he said. “There’s been many a man hanged on proof of motive and opportunity.” Leyden came to the rescue.
“Would you like to see the scene of the crime?” he asked LaTour.
“Yes, if you please.”
“Well, come along. We can see Durham and Fellows as well. Shall you come with us, chief?”
“No, I have a great deal else to do. I’ll leave this case to you men. Mind you don’t come arresting me, though.” He laughed heartily at his own joke, which was, so to speak, a sign of forgiveness and a benediction.
LEYDEN LED the way to the common room where Hollow had been killed.
Except for its peculiar shape, the room was in no way remarkable. To the right of the door as one entered was a small gas fire, and in front of it the leather armchair in which Hollow had been sitting when he was killed. A long table stood in the centre of this section of the room. Several old and tattered papers lay on this table. Two newspapers were on the floor under it. Along one wall were pegs on which were hung helmets, peaked caps, greatcoats and capes. There were one or two easy chairs. Across the room, to the left of the door, was partitioned a space some six feet square which contained a lavatory.
Around the comer of the room—that part in which Durham had been sitting—were two more large chairs and two card tables with eight straight chairs, four grouped about each table. Two high windows looked out over the street. The place smelt of stale tobacco smoke, and it was evident that the windows were not often open at this time of the year.
"I am as glad,” Leyden said, “that the chief did not come with us. I think he might tend to cramp our style.” LaTour did not offer a reply, and Leyden turned to the chair by the gas fire.
“This is where we found Hollow,” he said. “He was sprawled here. Nothing has been disturbed beyond moving the body. We had the room sealed up.”
LaTour took in the room and its geography carefully. “Would you mind sitting in the chair in the position of the body as you found it?” he asked.
Leyden sprawled in the chair, his feet toward the fire, his knees slack and unnatural. His body was twisted and hung over the left arm of the chair. His head lolled half sidewise. The left arm dropped straight from the shoulder, the other was crooked and lay across his stomach.
“So,” said LaTour. Then, after a pause: “And the paper?”
“Paper?” asked Leyden, sitting up.
“Yes. The newspaper he was reading.”
"Oh.” Leyden thought a moment. LaTour handed him a newspaper from the table. Leyden folded it, laid it across his thighs and curled up again.
“Now that,” said LaTour, “is very strange. You see Hollow could not have been reading the paper when he was stabbed.”
“No?” Leyden said. “But of course not. You mean it was folded up?”
“Yes.” LaTour replied. “That and another point. If he had been reading the paper, it would have covered the heart. In that case the murderer would have had to stab through the paper or else push it aside, in which case Hollow would have had time to cry out or struggle.”
“That’s right,” Leyden agreed, “and the paper was folded and was not stabbed through. There was blood on it, of course. We have it if you’d like to see it.”
"Not now. Later perhaps. There is. of course, another interesting point here. Hollow was dozing with his hands folded across his middle. You see he was facing the door and half facing the lavatory. He would have seen anyone entering from either door, if he had been awake and watching. But he was stabbed unawares—must have been, to have died without a sound. And again, the position of the body. He gave just one half start and turned a bit to the left side. The left arm dropped down. The other arm was undisturbed. Yes”—examining Leyden’s position — “just so.”
LATOUR stood, his eyes darkly musing. Leyden had straightened up.
“Very uncomfortable,” he said.
"Quite,” said Inspector LaTour. "And that upsets the value of Durham’s evidence as to the time of the murder. The sounds he heard were probably just what at the time he thought they were Hollow folded his paper, cleared his throat and prepared to doze. He was killed some time after eight-ten.
“By the way, what was he sticking around for? He was off duty. Why didn’t he go home?"
“Game of poker when the boys came in at nine.”
“Ah.” LaTour looked thoughtful. "What boys?”
“Fellows, Fisher who was on patrol out in the east end, and.....just between ourselves—the old chief in there. They all used to play a hand or so every night.”
“Quite. Well. Leyden, had a look at that lavatory?”
“Yes. Nothing there at all. Fingerprints galore, of course, but nothing very distinguishable.”
“Any cigarette ends?”
“Nothing. Not a sign or clue of any sort.’’
"H-mm.” LaTour fished out his pipe. He knocked it out against the heel of his boot.
“Fingerprints on the knife?”
“Just so. Have you been able to find where the knife came from? Where it was bought? Who owned it?”
“No,” Leyden said. “We’ve had a man working on that end. We can’t trace the owner. It’s an old one, made in Sheffield, but we can’t find out who sold it. Our stores here say they sold hundreds of them a few years ago.”
LaTour glanced sharply at him.
“Have you a theory of the crime yet, Leyden?” he asked quietly.
“No.” Leyden replied. “No, I haven’t yet.” Then he added: “Durham will be back in a moment. I asked him to drop in after he came off duty. I wanted to question him a bit. Since you are here, maybe you will take over the investigation?”
“Very well,” LaTour replied. “We can do it together. By the way, was there an inquest?”
“Yes -this afternoon. It was adjourned for two weeks. Ah, here is Durham.”
The constable who entered the room was a big man, dark, dour, with sulky eyes and strong temper lines running down from the comers of his eyes to his mouth. LaTour estimated his age at forty-five years.
“This is Constable Durham, Inspector LaTour,” Leyden said. He turned to Durham. “The inspector has come down to help us in the Hollow investigation. If you’ll both come along to my rooms, we can talk there more comfortably.”
LaTour was glad to leave this rather sordid room. It was a poor place, much too dingy, it would seem, to have been the stage for high passions and fierce jealousies and crime.
It was raining, and as they walked along glistening, deserted streets LaTour was heavy with a sense of depression. “Dirty, sordid little town,” he thought, and suddenly he wanted the open marsh with its persistent wind, the great wide roads to walk on, the solid life of the earth about him.
LATOUR STRETCHED himself comfortably in his chair in Leyden’s rooms and looked keenly at Durham. His face was flushed, but his complexion was sallow.
“A queer world,” Leyden said, sententiously, “Here today, gone tomorrow. Poor Hollow, we went to school together.”
"Did you?” said LaTour. “Well, Durham, you were in the room when Hollow was stabbed?”
“How long had you been there?”
“Since seven o’clock.”
“And how long were you alone?”
“Jenkins came in about ten past seven. We played checkers for about half an hour. Then he went out on duty. Hollow came down ten or fifteen minutes later.”
“Did you see him?”
"No. I was around the corner in what we call the card room. I didn’t get up. We weren’t on very good terms.”
"No? But he spoke to you?”
“Oh, yes. Said it was a dirty night, and that he didn’t envy me going on duty later. I was supposed to have gone on at nine.”
“Did you?” LaTour asked.
“Not at nine. The chief had us all in for questions. I went on my night beat about nine-thirty.”
“I see. Was there anyone in the room when you came in at seven?”
“Did you go to the lavatory?”
Durham flushed. "Not then,” he said. “But I was in there at nine-thirty, before going up. It wasn’t locked, and there was no one there.”
“Wasn’t the common room sealed up.” LaTour asked sharply.
Leyden replied : “The undertaker’s men were there. We sealed it up just after that.”
“H-mm.” LaTour lit a cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke which swirled to the fireplace. Eventually he said: “Now about that noise you heard, Durham? Was it clearly a rustling of paper and clearing of the throat?”
“It was definitely a paper rustling,” Durham replied. “But I am not sure, I suppose the other noise would be the gasp when he was killed.”
“But there is a difference between a gasp and a half cough or clearing of the throat,” LaTour said sharply. “At the time you thought this noise was made by Hollow clearing his throat?”
“Yes. It was a habit of his.”
“When was it?”
“At ten past eight.”
“Yes. To the minute.”
“How do you know?”
“I looked at my watch.”
“Just at that moment?”
“Why?” LaTour glanced at him keenly.
“Why? Why, I don’t know. I just did.” Durham was confused. “Guess the sound took my attention from the magazine I was reading, and I just looked to see how time was passing.”
“I see. Well, thanks very much, Durham. It’s not very helpful, I’m afraid, but I suppose it’s all you know?”
“Yes, it’s all I know, sir, about that night. I do know as how Hollow was unpopular, though.”
“Yes? With members of the force or with the criminal classes?”
“Well, with both, if I may say so, sir. He was a hard man, and there’s many the poor guy he’s sent to jail. Pretty harsh and nasty he’s been with the prisoners, too. One of them might be glad to do him the dirty.”
“Yes,” said LaTour. “That’s interesting. Anyone in particular?”
“Well, there’s Bud Lawlor. Hollow arrested him and beat him up for resistin’ the law and got him a couple of years in Dorchester. Lawlor swore he’d get him when he came out.”
“Lawlor was discharged last week!” Leyden interjected excitedly. “I wonder where he is?”
“In Wolfeton, sir,” Durham said. “We’ve been keeping tab on him.”
“Bear looking up,” LaTour said. “And the members of the force, Durham? You said some of them didn’t like Hollow?”
“No. And small wonder, too. I didn’t like him myself, sir, and there’s the truth. He was so sure of his own rightness. He couldn’t never understand humanity. And a hypocrite, too, I’ll swear. Always toadying to the chief and looking for advancement. They went to the same church, and when the owning come Hollow got made sergeant over the heads of better men. A piece of favoritism,” he concluded viciously.
“Quite so,” said LaTour. “Thanks very much, Constable Durham. And now, if you’d like to go, I’m quite finished, and I d like to chat things over a bit with Detective Inspector Leyden. Good night.”
When Durham had gone, Leyden smiled and said :
“And there from his own mouth is the case against Constable Durham."
LaTour laughed. “Nothing in it,” he said. “At least, I don’t think so.”
“No,” Leyden said, “No. I don’t either.”
There was a pause. Eventually Leyden said:
“No case against him would stand.”
"No,” LaTour replied, “but that is no reason for giving up if we thought him guilty. Personally I do not think the man so stupid as to give himself away like that if he is guilty, nor so astute and courageous as to admit his jealousy in that manner in order to mislead us. He is no fool but he is no actor. His statements about his dislike for Hollow were spontaneous and true. I don’t think for a moment he was pretending.”
“Nor do I,” Leyden said. “But if he is telling the truth, how are we to explain the crime?”
“I haven’t the least idea yet,” LaTour said. “But I’d like to hear some gossip. Will you tell me something about the various people on the force here, and what you know about Hollow’s private affairs?”
AS IT happens,” Leyden replied, “I can tell you a good deal, though much of what I must say is, as you suggest, gossip. You see, I have been away from Wolfeton for nearly twenty years. But, as a boy, I grew up with Hollow, Durham and Pecksniff and we all joined the force here together. During the first year of our service, Hollow got married to a girl whom we had all known at school. We were all pretty fond of her, I guess—you know these boy and girl affairs— but with Pecksniff it had got to more than that. He was very shocked, I know, to learn that Hollow had married the girl—took it to heart pretty badly. There was a lot of gossip at the time, too. Mrs. Hollow had a baby girl too soon after the marriage, and some said Pecksniff was the father. Myself, I don’t think there was anything in it because Pecksniff got over his heartbreak pretty quickly. He was the best policeman of us all, and got advancement rapidly. Two years after joining, he was a sergeant, and then he got married himself.
“I cannot tell you much about affairs then, for I was ambitious to be something more than a mere policeman. I went away some six months before Pecksniff’s marriage, and used my savings to study as an apprentice in a private enquiry agency in Montreal. But my history is hardly important. I got on the Montreal Detective Force and became a detective inspector.
“I came down here once before the war —on vacation. Pecksniff was happily married and had got over his jealousy of Hollow. They were good friends and Pecksniff was then pushing Hollow for promotion. This summer the Wolfeton Police asked us for a man to come down to help round up a gang of rum-runners who were operating through here from the coast. This gang was supposed to have Montreal connections. I jumped at the chance to come down, and was just finishing up my business here when poor Hollow was killed. We got the whole gang. Hollow was instrumental in their capture. But they are all behind bars, so I don’t think they had anything to do with his killing.”
LaTour asked: “Was Durham, too, in love with Hollow’’s wife?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t say that. Poor Durham was an awkward fellow. Marie wouldn’t look at him seriously.”
“But Pecksniff was?”
“For a time, yes. But he got over it.” “Durham suggested tonight that Pecksniff and Hollow were friends. You think that relationship existed between them?”
Leyden replied slowly: “Yes—definitely, yes. In fact. I should say that Pecksniff showed him a great deal of favoritism. As Durham said, most of the members of the force thought that Hollow’s appointment was sheer favoritism and undeserved.”
"And you?” asked LaTour. “Did you think that?”
“Frankly, I did.” Leyden paused, then said: “Hollow was not a good policeman. He was harsh, bitter—used to love to run in small boys for the most trivial reasons. Always arousing criticism by his officiousness. I remember as a young man he had the makings of a good officer. But he soured with age. I didn’t think he was a wise appointment.”
“Pecksniff had the power of promotion?”
“Oh, yes. He has full authority in the control of personnel.”
“About Hollow’s home life—anything of interest there? You say there was a child. Did that cause him to suspect his wife?”
“That I can’t say,” Leyden said. “He never showed it at the time. I went away so soon after that I couldn’t mark any changes in his attitude toward his wife. But when she died he was a soured man. I know that.”
“The wife died?”
“Yes. A couple of months ago. Consumption.”
“Natural death, then?”
“Good lord, yes. Why?”
“I just wondered. No particular reason.”
“Well, I suppose it was a natural death. It was just before I came down from Montreal, as a matter of fact. But I never heard her death questioned.”
“And the daughter?” LaTour asked. “Do you know anything about her? Is she alive?”
“Yes. She is alive. Named Alice. Takes after her mother. She’s a gay young thing, I hear—nothing bad, you know. But I think Hollow was stern with her.”
“Do you know her? I’d like to meet her.”
“No,” Leyden replied. “I don’t know her, except to see her, of course. I caught a glimpse of her once or twice when I was around to see Hollow these last months. I met her once. Hollow introduced me. He seemed quite proud of her.”
“I must go around and see her,” LaTour said. “I wonder if she has any men friends?”
“She’s pretty enough,” Leyden said, smiling.
“Not much of a lead, really,” LaTour smiled back. “Not much of a lead anywhere, in fact.” Absently, LaTour lit a cigarette, then very abruptly he said:
“I wonder who the chief’s visitor was the night of the twenty-fifth—Tuesday, that would be.”
Leyden looked sharply at him, then he, too, lit a cigarette and said with a swirling exhalation :
“I had wondered, too.”
“We must just ask him,” LaTour said, in his quiet, matter-of-fact tones. “That’s all.”
“I’m darned glad you’re here, LaTour,” Leyden said frankly.
“Well,” LaTour answered, “I’m not. It's a bloody case, and I’m going to bed. There doesn’t seem to be a single point of departure.”
“Something may turn up tomorrow.”
“Yes. In any case, I’m going to sleep on it. I’ll meet you in the morning at the station.”
“Right. What time?”
“Say nine o’clock.”
“Very well. I’ll be there. Can you find your way back to the hotel?”
“I think so. thank you. Good night.”
It had stopped raining. As he turned the corner to his hotel. LaTour met a police constable who was stolidly trying doorknobs. LaTour watched him for a moment, then smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and walked rapidly to his hotel.
AT NINE O’CLOCK the following morning, Inspector LaTour, in uniform, presented himself at the Wolfeton police station. He went straight along the corridor to Chief Pecksniff’s door. It was half open, but the chief, at his desk, was out of sight. Quietly LaTour poked his head around the door. The chief’s broad back was turned toward him. LaTour watched silently for a half minute or so. Pecksniff continued writing at his desk.
“And that is that,” LaTour said to himself. He knocked at the door.
“Come in,” Pecksniff called. He swung round clumsily in the chair.
“Oh, good morning, inspector. Get a line on anything last night?”
“Not much.” LaTour replied, smiling. His manner was, as usual, restrained.
“Well, well. Have a seat. Want to see me? As a matter of fact I’m very busy. I've turned this whole matter over to you and Leyden - both much more used to this sort of thing than we are here. Been round to the R.C.M.P. offices, here yet? They should give you any men you need. We’re short-handed at present. Do anything we can, of course.”
All these remarks and questions were rattled off before LaTour had time to reply to any of them. He chose to answer the last of the questions.
“No,” he said. “I've not been up to our offices yet. I daresay they will put men at my disposal since you're short-handed here, and since you’ve called us in, in any case. But first, I wanted to check up on one or two things here. I'm chiefly interested for the moment in the possibilities of entering that room.”
“The door from the corridor—that’s the only way,” the chief replied shortly.
“How about the windows?”
“They’re all on the far side. Durham was there all the time. Would have seen anyone enter that way.”
“Of course.” LaTour actually blushed. “Stupid of me,” he said.
The chief made no comment, and LaTour smiled to himself.
“And the doors into the corridor from the cells,” he asked, “they were locked?”
“Of course. Both doors locked and the cells locked.”
“But the window at the far end of the corridor, the end there between the men’s and women's cells?”
“No, it’s not locked. Never opened though. If it’s been prised up we can soon find out. Want to have a look?”
They went out into the corridor and turned to the right. A door separated the part of the corridor which led between the chief’s office and the men’s room from the extended part which led between the men’s and women’s cells. This door was unlocked.
“We never lock this,” Pecksniff said. “You see, each cell is separately locked, and then the doors on each side of the corridor leading to the cells are locked. So it would be unnecessary to lock this.”
“Quite,” LaTour replied. “And here’s the window. Humph. No one has come through there.”
Unbroken cobwebs running across panes and sill, together with heavy dust on the sill, sufficed to show that the window had not been opened for many months.
“So,” said the chief. “Well, I could have told you.”
As they came out into the main corridor again, they met Leyden coming in from the street.
"Hello,” said Pecksniff, not too graciously. “You here, too.”
“Yes,” said Leyden, nodding a smiling good morning to LaTour. "We appointed to meet here.”
“All right. You can use my office if you like. I am going out. Want to see me any more, LaTour?”
“Only a moment, Chief Pecksniff. You had a visitor here on Tuesday night?”
“Yes.” Pecksniff was bridling.
“I’d like to meet him if I could. It’s a case of checking up carefully on people moving down this corridor. You heard and saw no one other than Hollow himself and Jenkins. Your visitor might have noticed something.”
“I should have noticed anyone, I assure you.”
“On the contrary,” LaTour could be as abrupt as the next man when occasion suited. “You did not, for example, notice my approach this morning, though I came along without taking any precautions against noise. It is a case of your being so used to sounds in that corridor that when you are at work you do not hear them.”
“Nonsense, man.” Pecksniff replied. “I heard Jenkins and Hollow right enough.”
“You recalled hearing them because you knew they passed, or were supposed to pass, at a certain time. But you don’t know, and we don't know, if the footsteps you heard belonged to either of these men. It’s pure guesswork. You heard sounds --all right. When? At what hour? You don’t know. You repeat the hours at which you ought to have heard sounds, but that’s not satisfactory to us. We know Jenkins went out at seven-fifty. We know Hollow came in at eight-two. We want, if we can, to get reliable evidence as to the sounds heard in this corridor and as to when they were heard. I am not meaning to be rude, but you are so I used to men passing your door that you take no notice. Hence your evidence on this point is not reliable.”
THIS SHARPNESS did more good than harm. Pecksniff belonged to the class of men who succeed when they can bully, but who recognize and succumb to superior strength when someone else bullies them. He replied quite meekly:
"I guess you’re right, LaTour. I didn’t notice very much that night thinking of other things. Of course. I suppose I noticed in a kind of unconscious way when Jenkins and Hollow passed ...” He hesitated.
LaTour refrained from smiling at this rather weak and self-contradictory explanation. He looked expectantly at the chief. As the other mumbled something unintelligible and relapsed into silence, LaTour prodded him with a question:
“You can see, then, why we are anxious to question your visitor, who would probably be more apt to have noticed anything in the corridor. After all, your door was open.”
"Yes.” The chief was definitely upset. “I’m sorry, LaTour. I'll question him myself and let you know what he heard.”
“And now I must go. Make yourselves comfortable here, if you can. ’Morning.”
He went out hurriedly. Leyden sat down weakly and said to LaTour:
"Now what the devil do you make of that?”
“Nothing very much. Do you know, Leyden, who were in the cells here the night of the murder?”
“Why, yes,” Leyden replied, “We had my crew of rum-runners in for two nights. They were all locked up in there Tuesday night.”
“Where are they now?”
“In the jail. They appeared before the magistrate Wednesday and were sent up for trial. Do you think they could have been mixed up in this?”
“Hollow was instrumental in their arrest?” LaTour asked.
"Yes. As a matter of fact, he brought in the leader of the gang.”
“Was he rough with them?”
"He always is-- or was, I mean.”
“What was this fellow’s name—the rum-runner, I mean?”
“Toni Corrigini, an American Sicilian. A bad actor, too. He’s a Chicago gunman who came across the border to run rum. He and his gang were working from the Pictou County coast in Nova Scotia and taking the stuff by car to Montreal. We followed one of their cars and found their distributing headquarters here in Wolfeton. When we raided the place Corrigini pulled a gun. Hollow jumped him and gave him a mauling he’ll never forget. That was Monday night.”
“And he was here, in the cells, Tuesday night?”
“Yes he and his gang.”
“Let’s have a look at those cells.”
Leyden agreed and they made a careful examination.
When they returned to the chief’s office LaTour was thoughtfully studying some scraps of broken metal which glistened in his hand.
Leyden was saying: "But this murder must have been committed by someone familiar with the station, its geography and the habits of the men. The murderer must have known that Hollow dozed there every night in his favorite chair.”
“Yes,” LaTour said, glancing keenly at him. “A brother officer, perhaps.”
“Or someone familiar with the station.”
“This man Lawlor—the discharged convict you told me about—was familiar with the station?”
“Yes. He was ticket-of-leave. He was due to report here Tuesday night, in fact.”
LaTour looked again at the bits of metal in his hand.
“So,” he murmured. "We’re to see him. When?”
“I told Fellows to bring him in this morning.”
“Good. Did you look into the lavatory that night after you found the body?”
“No. Oh, good lord! I see what you mean. The crime might have been committed just before I came down, and the criminal could have hidden there. What fools we were !”
LaTour smiled. Before he could reply, heavy feet sounded in the corridor. There was a knock.
“Come in !” Leyden shouted.
Fellows entered, young, keen and flushed from the exertion of dragging along his companion.....a shaggy little man with a low brow, a weak chin and a face marked in ugly lines.
“Let Lawlor wait in there,” said Leyden. “We want to talk with you, Fellows.” He indicated the door leading to the anteroom of the chief’s office. “There’s a chair in there, Lawlor,” he said. “We’ll be wanting you in a minute.”
Fellows turned irrepressibly to LaTour.
"I’ve solved it,” he said, “I've traced the knife. I’ve found out he was in here that night. I know the motive.” He was almost incoherent with excitement.
“Who is it?” Leyden asked.
As Fellows turned to reply, Lawlor flung open the door of the waiting room and like a rat dodged between Leyden and Fellows and dashed out into the corridor.
“After him!” Fellows screamed hoarsely. “It’s him!”
To be Continued