Crime in Nobody’s Room
It's rather awkward for the man who discovers a murder when the room in which he says it occurred doesn't exist
BANDS were playing and seven suns were shining; but this took place entirely in the head and heart of Mr. Ronald Denham. He beamed on the car starter at the Regency Club, who assisted him into the taxi. He beamed on the taxi-driver. He beamed on the night porter who helped him out at his flat in Sloane Street, and he felt an irresistible urge to hand bank notes to everyone in sight.
Now Ronald Denham would have denied that he had taken one over the eight, not to say the eighteen. It was true that he had attended an excellent bachelor jxtrty. to celebrate Jimmy Bellchester’s wedding. But Denham would have maintained that he was upheld by spiritual things; and he had proved his exalted temperance by leaving the party at a time when many of the guests were still able to navigate.
As he had pointed out in a speech, it was only a month before his own wedding to Miss Anita Bruce. Anita, in fact, lived in the same block of flats and on the same floor as himself. This fact gave him great pleasure on the way home. Like most of us, Denham in this mood felt a strong urge to wake people up in the middle of the night and talk to them. 1 Ie wondered whether he ought to wake up Anita. But in his reformed state he decided against it, and felt like a saint. He would not even wake up Tom Evans, who shared the flat with him—though that stern young businessman usually worked so late at the office that Denham got in before he did.
At a few minutes short of midnight, then, Denham steered his way into the foyer of the Medici Arms. Pearson, the night porter, followed him to the automatic lift.
"Everything all right, sir?" enquired Pearson in a stage whisper.
Denham assured him that it was, and that he was an excellent fellow.
"Youer don't feel like singing, do you, sir?” asked Pearson with some anxiety.
"As a matter of fact,” said Denham, who had not previously considered this. “I do. You are full of excellent ideas, Pearson. But let us sing nothing improper, Pearson. Let it lie something of noble sentiment, like—”
"Honestly, sir,” urged Pearson, ‘if it was me, I wouldn’t do it. He's upstairs, you know. We thought he was going to Manchester this afternoon, to stay a week; but he changed his mind. He’s upstairs now.”
This terrible hint referred to the autocrat of the Medici Arms, the Tudor Arms, the Bourbon Arms, and half a dozen other great hives. Sir Rufus Armingdale, high khan
of builders, not only filled London with furnished flats which really were the last word in luxury at a low price; he showed his pride in his own merchandise by living in them.
"No special quarters for me,” he was quoted as saying, with (ist upraised for emphasis. "No castle in Surrey or barracks in Park Lane. Just an ordinary flat; and not the most expensive of ’em either. That’s where I'm most comfortable, and that’s where you’ll find me.”
Considering all the good things provided in Armingdale’s Furnished Flats, even his autocratic laws were not much resented. Nor could anyone resent the fact that all the flats in a given building were furnished exactly alike, and that the furniture must be kept in the position Rufus Armingdale gave it. The Medici Arms was "renaissance,” as the Bourbon Arms was "Louis XV"; a tower of rooms like luxurious cells, and only to be distinguished from each other by an ornament on a table or a picture on a wall.
But Sir Rufus’ leases even discouraged pictures. Considering that he was something of an art collector himself, and had often been photographed in his own flat with his favorite Greuze or Corot, some annoyance was felt at this. Sir Rufus Armingdale did not care. You either leased one of his flats, or you didn’t. He was that sort of man.
Otherwise, of course, Ronald Denham's adventure could not have happened. He returned from the bachelor party; he took Pearson’s advice about the singing; he went up in the automatic lift to the second floor; and he walked into what the champagne told him was his own flat.
npiIAT HE went to the second floor is certain. Pearson saw him put his finger on the proper button in the lift. But nothing else is certain, since the hall upstairs was dark and he moved in a fog of nobility. Pushing open a door— either his key fitted it or the door was open—he congratulated himself on getting home.
Also, he was a little giddy. I Ie found himself in the small foyer, where lights were on. After a short interval he must have moved into the sitting room, for he found himself sitting back in an armchair and contemplating familiar surroundings through a sunglass. Lights were turned on here as well; yellow-shaded lamps, one with a pattern like a dragon on the shade.
Something began to trouble him. There was something odd, he thought, about those lamp shades. After some study, it occurred to him that he and Tom Evans had not got any lamp shades like that. They did not own any bronze book ends either. As for the curtains . . .
Then a picture on the wall swam out of oblivion, and he stared at it. It was a small dull-colored picture over the sideboard. And it penetrated into his mind at last that he had got into the wrong flat.
Everything now showed itself to him as wrong; it was as though a blur had come into focus.
“Here, I’m sorry !” he said aloud, and got up.
There was no reply. The heinousness of his offense partly steadied him. Where in the name of sanity was he? There were only three other flats on the second floor. One of these was Anita Bruce’s. Of the others, one was occupied by a brisk young newspaperman named Conyers, and the other by the formidable Sir Rufus Armingdale.
Complete panic caught him. He felt that any minute a wrathful occupant might descend on him, to call him a thief at worst or a snooper at best. Turning round to scramble for the door, he almost ran into another visitor in the wrong flat.
This visitor sat quietly in a tall chair near the door. He was a thin, oldish, well-dressed man, wearing thick-lensed spectacles, and his head was bent forward as though in meditation. He wore a soft hat and a thin oilskin waterproof colored green; a jaunty and bilious-looking coat for such a quiet figure. The quiet light made it gleam.
"Pleaseexcuse . . . ” Denham began in a rush, and talked for some seconds before he realized that the man had not moved.
Denham stretched out his hand. The coat was one of those smooth, almost seamless American waterproofs, yellowish outside and green inside; and for some reason the man was now wearing it inside out. Denham was in the act of telling him this when the head lolled, the smooth oilskin gleamed again, and he saw that the man was dead.
rT'OM EVANS, stepping out of the lift at a quarter past one. found the hall of the second floor in complete darkness. When he had turned on the lights from a switch beside the lift, he stopped short and swore.
Evans, lean and swarthy, with darkish eyebrows merging into a single line across his forehead, looked a little like a Norman baron in a romance. Some might have said a robber baron, for he carried a brief case and was a stern man of business despite his youth. But what he saw now made him momentarily forget his evening’s work. The hall showed four doors, with their microscopic black numbers, set some distance apart. Near the door leading to Anita Bruce’s flat, Ronald Denham sat hunched on an oak settle.
There was a lump at the base of his skull, and he was breathing in a way Evans did not like.
It was five minutes more before Denham had been whacked and pounded into semi-consciousness; and to such a blinding headache that its pain helped to revive him. First he became aware of Tom’s lean, hook-nosed face bending over him, and Tom’s usual fluency at preaching.
“I don’t mind you getting drunk,” the voice came to him dimly. “In fact, I expected it. But at least you ought to be able to carry your liquor decently. What the devil have you been up to, anyway? Hoy !”
“He had his raincoat on inside out,” was the first thing Denham said. Then memory came back to him like a new headache or a new explosion, and he began to jxmr out the story.
“. . . and I tell you there’s a dead man in one of those flats! I think he’s been murdered. Tom, I’m not drunk; I swear I’m not. Somebody sneaked up behind and bashed me over the back of the head just after I found him—” “Then how did you get out here?”
“How should I know? Don’t argue; help me up. I suppose I must have been dragged out here. If you don’t believe me, feel the back of my head. Just feel it.”
Evans hesitated. He was always practical, and there could be no denying the bruise. He looked uncertainly up and down the hall.
“But who is this dead man?” he demanded. “And whose fiat is he in?”
“I don’t know. He was an oldish man with thick glasses and a green raincoat. I never saw him before. Looked a bit like an American, somehow.”
“Nonsense ! Nobody wears a green raincoat.”
“I’m telling you, he was wearing it inside out. If you ask me why, I’m going to bat my head against the wall and go to sleep again.” He wished he could do this, for he could not see straight and his head felt like a printing press in full blast. “We ought to be able to identify the flat easily enough. I can give a complete description of it . .
He paused, for two doors had opened simultaneously in the hall. Anita Bruce and Sir Rufus Armingdale came out, in different stages of anger or curiosity at the noise.
If Evans had been more of a psychologist, he might have anticipated the effect this would have on them. As it was, he stood looking from one to the other, thinking whatever thoughts you care to attribute to him. For he was an employee of Sir Rufus, as manager of the Sloane Square office of Armingdale Flats, and he could risk no trouble. Anita seemed to take in the situation at a glance. She
was small, dark, plump, and fluffy-haired. She was wearing a negligee. Seeing the expressions of the other three, she smiled. Sir Rufus Armingdale did not kx)k so much formidable as fretful. He had one of those jx^werful faces whose features seem to have run together like a bull pup’s, and a head of heavy whitish hair. But the old dressing gown, fastened up at the throat as though lie were cold, took away the suggestion of an autocrat and made him only a householder. •
He breathed through his nose, rather helplessly, until he saw an employee. His confidence returned.
“Good morning, Evans,” he said. “What’s the meaning of this?”
Evans risked it. “I’m afraid it’s trouble, sir. Mr. Denham—well, lie’s found a dead man in one of the flats.” “Ron!” cried Anita.
“A dead man,” repeated Armingdale without surprise. “Where?”
“In one of the flats. He doesn’t know which.”
“Oh? Why doesn’t he know which?”
“He’s got a frightful bump on the back of his head,” said Anita, exploring. She looked back over her shoulder and spoke swiftly. “It’s quite all right, Tom. Don’t get excited. He’s d-r-u-n-k.”
“I am not drunk,” said Denham, with tense and sinister calmness. “May I also point out that I am able to read and write, and that I have not had words spelled out in front of me since I was four years old? Heaven give me s-t-r-e-n-g-t-h ! I tell you, I can describe the place.”
He did so. Afterward there was a silence.
“Ron old dear,” Anita said, going over and sitting down beside him, “I’ll believe you if you’re as serious as all that. But you ought to know it isn't my flat.”
“And I can tell you it isn’t mine,” grunted Armingdale. “There certainly isn’t a dead man in it. I’ve just come from there, and I know.”
If they had not known Armingdale’s reputation so well, they might have suspected him of trying to make a joke. But his expression belied it as well. It was heavy and lowering, with more than a suggestion of the bull pup.
“This picture you say you saw,” he began. “The one over the sideboard. Could you describe it?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Denham desperately. “It was a rather small portrait of a little girl looking sideways over some roses, or flowers of some kind. Done in that greyishbrown stuff; I think they call it sepia.”
Armingdale stared at him.
“Then I know it isn’t mine,” he said. “I never owned a
sepia drawing in my life. If this young man is telling the truth, there’s only one flat left. 1 think 1 shall just take the responsibility of knocking, and—”
HIS worried gaze moved down toward the dxr of the flat occupied by Mr. Hulx*rt Conyers, of the Daily Record. But it was unnecessary to knock at that dxr. It opened with such celerity that Denham wondered whether anyone had been looking at them through the slot of the letter box; and Hubert Conyers stepped out briskly. He was an unobtrusive, sandy-haired little man, very different from Denham’s idea of a journalist. His only extravagance was a taste for blended shadings in his clothes, from suit to shirt to necktie; though he usually contrived to look rumpled. He was always obliging, and as busy as a parlor clock. But his manner had a subdued persuasiveness which could worm him through narrower places than you might have imagined.
He came forward drawing on his coat, and with a deft gesture he got into the middle of the group.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he began, seeming to propitiate everyone at once. “I couldn't help overhearing, you know. Good evening. Sir Rufus. The fact is—it's not my flat either. Just now, the only ornaments in my sitting room are a lot of well-filled ashtrays and a bottle of milk. Come and see, if you like.”
There was a silence, while Conyers looked anxious.
“But it’s got to be somebody’s flat!” snapped Sir Rufus Armingdale, with a no-nonsense air. “Stands to reason. A whole confounded sitting room can’t vanish like smoke. Unless—stop a bit—unless Mr. Denham got off at some other floor?”
“I don’t know. I may have.”
“And I don’t mind admitting—” said Armingdale, hesitating as everyone looked at him curiously. The autocrat seemed worried. “Very well. The fact is, I've got a picture in my flat something like the one Mr. Denham described. It’s Greuze’s ‘Young Girl with Primroses.’ But it certainly isn’t that. Mine’s an oil painting, of course. Mr. Denham is talking about a sepia drawing. That is, if he saw anything at all. Does this dead man exist at all?” Denham’s protestations were cut short by the hum of an ascending lift. But it was not the ordinary lift in front of them; it was the service lift at the end of the hall. The door was opened, and the cage grating pulled back, to show the frightened face of the night porter.
“Sir,” said Pearson, addressing Armingdale as though
Continued on page 33
Crime in Nobody's Room
-— Continued from page 17—Starts on page 16 --
he were beginning an oration. “I’m glad to see you, sir. You always tell us that if something serious happens we’re to come straight to you instead of the manager. Well, I’m afraid this is serious. I—the fact is, I found something in this lift.’’
Denham felt that they were being haunted by that phrase, “the fact is.’’ Everybody seemed to use it. He recalled a play in which it was maintained that anyone who began a sentence like this was usually telling a lie. But he had no time to think about this, for they had found the elusive dead man.
THE UNKNOWN lay on his face in one corner of the lift. A light in the roof of the steel cage shone down on his grey felt hat, on an edge of his thick spectacles, and on his oilskin waterproof. But the coat was no longer green, for he was now wearing it right side out in the ordinary way.
Anita, who had come quietly round beside Denham, seized his arm. The night porter restrained Tom Evans as the latter bent forward.
“I shouldn’t touch him, sir, if I was you. There’s blood.”
Pearson indicated a stain on the grey rubber floor. “And if I’m any judge, sir, he died of a stab through the heart. I—I lifted him up a bit. But I don’t see any kind of knife that could ’a’ done it.”
“Is this the man?” Armingdale asked quietly.
Denham nodded. Something tangible, something to weigh and handle, seemed to have brought the force back to Armingdale’s personality.
“Except,” Denham added, “that he’s now wearing his raincoat right side out. Why? Will somebody tell me that? Why?” “Never mind the raincoat,” Anita said close to his ear. “Ron, you don’t know him, do you? You’ll swear you don’t know him?”
He was startled. She had spoken without apparent urgency, and so low that the others might not have heard her. But Denham, who knew her so well, knew that there was urgency behind the unwinking seriousness of her eyes. Unconsciously she was shaking his arm. His wits had begun to clear, despite the pain in his skull; and he wondered.
“No, of course I don’t know him. Why should I?”
“Well, I know him,” said Hubert Conyers.
Conyers had been squatting down at the edge of the lift, and craning his neck to get a close view of the body without touching it. Now he straightened up. He seemed so excited that he could barely control himself, and his mild eye looked wicked.
“I interviewed him a couple of days ago,” said Conyers. “Surely you know him, Sir Rufus?”
“ ‘Surely’ is a large word, young man. No, I do not know him. Why?”
“That’s Dan Randolph, the American real-estate king,” said Conyers, keeping a watchful eye on Armingdale. “All of you will have heard of him; he’s the fellow who always deals in spot cash, even if it’s a million. I’d know those spectacles anywhere. He’s as nearsighted as an owl. Er—am I correctly informed. Sir Rufus, that he was in England to do some business with you?”
Armingdale smiled bleakly. “You have no information, young man,” he said. “And so far as I’m concerned you’re not getting any. So that’s Dan Randolph! I knew he was in England ; but he’s certainly not made any business proposition to me.” “Maybe he was coming to do it.”
“Maybe he was,” said Armingdale, with the same air of a parent to a child. He turned to Pearson. “You say you found
him in that lift. When did you find him? And how did you come to find him?” Pearson was voluble. “The lift was on the ground floor, sir. I just happened to glance through the little glass panel, and 1 see him lying there. So I thought I'd better run the lift up here and get you. As for putting him there ...” He pointed to the recall button on the wall outside the lift. “Somebody on any floor, sir. could have shoved him in here, and pressed this button, and sent him downstairs. He certainly wasn’t put in on the ground floor. Besides, I saw him come into the building tonight.”
“Oh?” put in Conyers softly. “When was this?”
“Might have been eleven o’clock, sir.” “Who w-as he coming to see?”
“You live here, sir,” said Pearson with a certain contempt. “These ain’t service flats, where you telephone up about every visitor. You ought to know' w'e’re not to ask visitors anything unless they seem to need help, or unless it’s somebody who has no business here. I don’t know’. He went up in the main lift, that’s all I can tell you.”
“Well, what floor did he go to?”
“I dunno.” Pearson ran a finger under a tight collar. “But excuse me, sir, may I ask a question, if you please? What’s wrong, exactly?”
“We’ve lost a room,” said Ronald Denham, w'ith inspiration. “Maybe you can help. Look here, Pearson; you’ve been here in these flats a long time. You’ve been inside most of them—in the sitting room, for instance?”
“I think I can say I’ve been in all of ’em, sir.”
“Good. Then we’re looking for a room decorated like this,” said Denham. For the third time he described what he had seen, and Pearson’s expression grew to one of acute anguish. At the end of it he shook his head.
“It’s nobody’s room, sir,” the porter answered simply. “There’s not a sitting room like that in the whole building.”
AT THREE o’clock in the morning, a sombre group of people sat in Sir Rufus Armingdale’s flat, and did not even look at each other. The police work was nearly done. A brisk divisional detective inspector, accompanied by a sergeant, a photographer, and a large amiable man in a top hat, had taken a statement from each of those concerned. But the statements revealed nothing.
Denham, in fact, had received only one more mental jolt. Entering Armingdale’s flat, he thought for a second that he had found the missing room. The usual chairs of stamped Spanish leather, the refectory table, the carved gewgaws of the Medici Arms, greeted him like a familiar nightmare. And over the sideboard hung a familiar picture—that of a small girl looking sideways over an armful of roses. “That’s not it?” said Anita quickly.
“It’s the same subject, but it’s not the same picture. That’s in oils. What sort of game do you suppose is going on in this place?”
Anita glanced over her shoulder. She had dressed before the arrival of the police; and also, he thought, she had put on more make-up than was necessary.
“Quick, Ron; before the others get here. Were you telling the truth?”
“Certainly. You don’t think—?”
“Oh, I don’t know and I don’t care; 1 just want you to tell me. Ron, you didn’t kill him yourself?”
He had not even time to answer before she stopped him. Sir Rufus Armingdale. Conyers, and Evans came through from the foyer; and with them was the large amiable man who had accompanied
Divisional Inspector Davidson. Misname, it appeared, was Colonel March.
‘‘You see,” he explained with a broad gesture, “I’m not here officially. I happened to be at the theatre, and I dropped in on Inspector Davidson for a talk, and he asked me to come along. So if you don’t like any of my questions, just tell me to shut my head. But I do happen to be attached at the Yard —”
“I know you, colonel,” said Conyers with a crooked grin. “You’re the head of the Ragbag Department, D-3. Some call it the Crazy House.”
Colonel March nodded seriously. He wore a dark overcoat, and had a top hat pushed back on his large head; this, with his florid complexion, sandy mustache and bland blue eye, gave him something of the look of a stout colonel in a comic paper. He was smoking a large-bowled pipe with the effect of seeming to sniff smoke from the bowl rather than draw it through the stem. 1 íe appeared to be enjoying himself.
“It’s a compliment,” he assured them. “After all, somebody has got to sift all the queer complaints. If somebody comes in and reports, say, that the Borough of Stepney is being terrorized by a blue pig, I’ve got to decide whether it’s a piece of lunacy, or a mistake, or a hoax, or a serious crime. Otherwise good men would only waste their time. You’d be surprised how many such complaints there are. But 1 was thinking, and so was Inspector Davidson, that you have a similar situation here. If you wouldn’t mind a few extra questions ...”
“As many as you like.” said Sir Rufus Armingdale. “Provided somebody’s got a hope of solving this—”
“As a matter of fact,” said Colonel March, frowning, “Inspector Davidson has reason to believe that it is already solved. A good man, Davidson.”
THERE was a silence. Something unintentionally sinister seemed to have gathered even in Colonel March’s affable tone. For a moment nobody dared to ask him what he meant.
“Already solved?” repeated Hubert Conyers.
“Suppose we begin with you. Sir Rufus,” said March with great courtesy. “You have told the inspector that you did not know Daniel Randolph personally. But it seems to be common knowledge that he was in England to see you.”
Armingdale hesitated. “I don’t know his reasons. He may have been here to see me, among other things. Probably was. 1 le wrote to me about it from America. But he hasn’t approached me yet. and I didn’t approach him first. It’s bad business.” “What was the nature of this business. Sir Rufus?”
“He wanted to buy an option I held on some property in never mind where. I'll tell you in private, if you insist.”
“Was a large sum involved?” Armingdale seemed to struggle with himself. “Four thousand, more or less.” “So it wasn’t a major business deal. Were you going to sell?”
Colonel March’s abstracted eye wandered to the picture over the sideboard. “Now, Sir Rufus, that Greuze, ‘Young Girl with Primroses.’ I think it was recently reproduced, in its natural size, as a full-page illustration in the Metropolitan Illustrated News?"
“Yes, it was,” said Armingdale. He added, “In —sepia.”
Something about this afterthought made them all move forward to look at him. It was like the puzzle of a half truth; nobody knew what it meant.
“Exactly. Just two more questions. I believe that each of these flats communicates with a fire escape leading down into the mews behind?”
“Yes. What of it?”
“Will the same key open the front door of each of the flats?”
"No, certainly not. All the lock patterns are different.”
“Thank you. Now, Mr. Conyers—a question for you. Are you married?” Hitherto Conyers had been regarding him with a look of watchful expectancy, like an urchin about to smash a window and run. Now he scowled.
“And you don’t keep a valet?”
“The answer to that, colonel, is loud and prolonged laughter. Honestly, I don’t like your ‘social’ manner. Beston. our crime-news man, knows you. And it’s always, ‘Blast you, Beston, if you print one hint about the Thing-gummy case I’ll have your hide.’ What difference does it make whether I’m married or not, or whether I have a valet or not?”
“A great deal,” said March seriously. “Miss Bruce—what is your occupation, Miss Bruce?”
“I’m an interior decorator,” answered Anita.
She began to laugh. It may have been with a tinge of hysteria; but she sat back in a tall chair and laughed until there were tears in her eyes.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she went on, holding out her hand as though to stop them, “but don’t you see? The murder was done by an interior decorator. That’s the whole secret.”
Colonel March cut short Armingdale’s shocked protest.
“Go on,” he said sharply.
“I thought of it first off. Of course there’s no ‘vanishing room.’ Some sitting room has just been redecorated. All the actual furnishings, tables and chairs and sideboards, are just the same in every room. The only way you can tell them apart is by small movable things—pictures lamp shades, book ends—which could he changed in a few minutes.
“Ron accidentally walked into the murderer’s flat just after the murderer had killed that old man. That put the murderer in a pretty awful position. Unless he killed Ron too, he was caught with the body and Ron could identify his flat. But he thought of a better way. He sent that man’s body down in the lift and dragged Ron out into the hall. Then he simply altered the decorations of his flat. Afterward he could sit down and dare anyone to identify it as the place where the body had been.”
Anita’s face was flushed with either defiance or fear. Colonel March took the pipe out of his mouth and contemplated it.
“Warm,” he said. “Unquestionably warm. That is why I was wondering whether you couldn’t tell us what really happened.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“Well, there are objections to the redecoration. You’ve got to suppose that nobody had ever been in the flat before and seen the way it was originally decorated. You’ve also got to suppose that the murderer could find a new set of lamp shades, pictures and book ends in the middle of the night. Haven’t you got it the wrong way round?”
“The wrong way round?”
“Somebody,” said March, dropping his courtesy, “prepared a dummy room to begin with. He put in the new lamp shades, the book ends, the copy of a wellknown picture, even a set of new curtains. He entertained Randolph in that dummy room. He killed Randolph there. Afterward, of course, he simply removed the knickknacks and set the place right again. But it was the dummy room into which Ronald Denham walked. That, Mr. Denham, was why you did not recognize—”
“Recognize what?” roared Denham. “Where was I?”
“In the sitting room of your own flat,” said Colonel March gravely. “If you had been sober you might have made a mistake; but you were so full of champagne that your instinct brought you home after all.”
There were two doors in the room, and the blue uniform of a policeman appeared in each. At March’s signal, Inspector Davidson stepped forward. He said:
“Thomas Evans, I arrest you for the murder of Daniel Randolph. 1 have to warn you that anything you say will be taken down in writing and may lx* used in evidence at your trial.”
OH, LOOK here,” protested Colonel March when they met in Armingdale’s flat next day, “the thing was simple enough; we had twice as much trouble over that kid in Bavswater, who pinched all the oranges. And you had all the facts.
“Evans, as one of Sir Rufus’ most highly placed and trusted employees, was naturally in a position to know all about the projected business deal with Randolph. And so he planned an ingenious swindle. A swindle, I am certain, was all he intended.
“Now you, Sir Rufus, had intended to go to Manchester yesterday afternoon, and remain there for a week. (Mr. Denham heard that from the night porter, when he was advised against singing.) That would leave your flat empty. Evans telephoned to Randolph, posing as you. He asked Randolph to come round to your flat at eleven o’clock at night, and settle the deal. He added that you might be called away to Manchester; but, in that event, his secretary would have the necessary papers ready and signed.
“It would have been easy. Evans would get into your empty flat by way of the fire escape and the window. He would pose as your secretary. Randolph—who, remember, always paid spot cash even if it involved a million—would hand over a packet of bank notes for a forged document.
“Why should Randolph be suspicious of anything? He knew, as half the newspaper-reading world knows, that Sir Rufus lived on the second floor of the Medici Arms. He had seen photographs of Sir Rufus with his favorite Greuze over the sideboard. Even if he asked the hall porter for directions, he would be sent to the right flat. Even if the hall porter said Sir Rufus was in Manchester, the ground had been prepared and Randolph would ask for Sir Rufus’ secretary.
“Unfortunately, a sizable spanner was suddenly thrown into the plan. Sir Rufus decided not to go to Manchester. He decided it yesterday afternoon, after all Evans’ plans had been made and Randolph was due to arrive. But Evans needed that money; as we have discovered today, he needed it desperately. He wanted four thousand pounds as he did not want salvation.
“So he hit on another plan. Sir Rufus would be at home and Sir Rufus’ flat could not be used. But, with all the rooms exactly alike except for decorations, why not an imitation of his flat? The same plan would hold good, except that Randolph would be taken to the wrong place. He would come up in the lift at eleven. Evans would be waiting with the door of the flat open, and would take him to a place superficially resembling Sir Rufus’. The numbers on the doors are very small; and Randolph, as we know, was so nearsighted as to be almost blind. If Evans adopted some disguise, however clumsy, he could never afterward be identified as the man who swindled Randolph. And he ran no risk in using the flat he shared with Denham—”
ANITA interposed. “Of course!” she said. “Ron was at a bachelor party, and ordinarily it would have kept him there whooping until two or three o’clock in the morning. But he reformed, and came home early.”
Denham groaned. “I still can’t believe it,” he insisted. “Tom Evans, a murderer?” “He intended no murder,” said Colonel March. “But, you see, Randolph suspected something. Randolph showed that he suspected. And Evans, as a practical man, had to kill him. You can guess why Randolph suspected?”
“Well?” prompted Conyers.
“Because Evans is color blind,” said Colonel March.
“It's too bad,” the colonel went on
sadly, “but the crime was from the first the work of a color-blind man. Now, none of the rest of you could qualify for that deficiency. As for Sir Rufus, I can think of nothing more improbable than a colorblind art collector unless it is a colorblind interior decorator, like Miss Bruce. Mr. Conyers here shows by the blended hues of brown or blue in his suits, shirts and ties that he has a fine eye for color effect; and he possesses no wife or valet to choose them for him.
“But Evans? He is not only partially but wholly color blind. You gave us a spirited account of it. Randolph’s body was sent up in the lift by Pearson. When Evans stepped forward. Pearson warned him not to touch the body, saying that there was blood. Evans said, ‘Where?’— though he was staring straight down in a small, brightly lighted lift at a red bloodstain on a grey rubber floor. Red on any surface except green or yellow is absolutely invisible to color-blind men.
“That was also the reason why Randolph’s waterproof was put on inside out. Randolph had removed his hat and coat when he first came into the fiat. After Evans had stabbed him with a clasp knife, Evans put the liât and coat back on the body previous to disposing of it. But he could not distinguish between theyellowish outside and the green inside of that seamless oilskin.
"You, Mr. Denham, let yourself into the fiat with your own key; which in itself told us the location of the ‘vanished’ room, for no two keys are alike. I also think that Miss Bruce could have told us all along where the ‘vanished’ room was. I am inclined to suspect she saw Randolph going into your flat, and was afraid you might be concerned in the murder—”
“Oh, well,” said Anita philosophically.
“Anyhow, you spoke to a corpse about his coat being inside out; and FNans rectified the error before he put the body in the lift. He had to knock you out, of course. But he genuinely didn’t want to hurt you. He left the building by way of the fire escape into the mews. He disposed of his stage properties, though he was foolish enough to keep the money and the clasp knife on his person, where they were found when we searched him. When he came back here, he used the main lift in the ordinary way as though he were returning from his office. And he was genuinely concerned when he found you still unconscious on the bench in the hall.”
There was a silence, broken by Armingdale’s snort.
“But color blindness! What’s that got to do with the solution? How did you come to think the murderer must have been color blind to begin with?”
Colonel March turned to stare at him. Then he shook his head, with a slow and dismal smile.
“Don’t you see it even yet?” he asked. “That was the starting point. We suspected it for the same reason Randolph suspected an imposture. Poor old Randolph wasn’t an art critic. Any sort of colored daub, in the ordinary way, he would have swallowed as the original ‘Young Girl with Primroses’ he expected to see. But Evans didn’t allow for the one thing even a nearsighted man does knowcolor. In his effort to imitate the decorations of Sir Rufus’ fiat, the fool hung up as an oil painting nothing more than a sepia reproduction out of the Metropolitan Illustrated News.”
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