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Chapter 23

Grant managed to get his boots on (by dint of thinking strenuously of something else, his childhood's recipe for painful moments), but after two or three steps hastily took them off again, and hobbled homeward as he had come: stocking-soled. It was not easy to find his way back, but he had an excellent bump of locality (it was said at the Yard that if you blindfolded Grant and turned him until he was dizzy he still knew where north was) and the general direction was clear enough to him. He stood in a doorway on the opposite side of the street and watched the officer on the beat go by, rather than ask a direction and have to explain himself. No member of the C.I.D. likes to appear before a borough policeman with his boots in his hands.

He wrote a note asking Williams to telephone the Yard when he came in at six and ask for any information they might have about a sect or order or whatnot called the Tree of Lebanon, and to waken him when the answer came. He then fell into bed, and slept dreamlessly, the passports under his pillow until Williams called him just before ten o'clock.

"News of Tisdall?" Grant said as his eyes opened.

But there was no news.

The Yard said that the Holy Order of the Tree of Lebanon had been founded by a rich bachelor in 1862, for the furtherance of the monastic life, he having been what was then known as jilted by the object of his affections. He himself had been the first prior, and all his wealth had been used to endow the foundation. The rule of poverty had been very strict, money being used only for charities approved by the prior of the moment, so that by the present day the order had the reputation of having a lot of money laid away. A prior was nominated by his predecessor, but a prior could be superseded at any moment by the unanimous vote of the brethren.

Grant drank the horrible coffee supplied by the establishment, and considered things. "That is what our Herbert wants: the prior-ship. He has the prior dancing on a stick. It's almost incredible that a man like the prior could be such a fool. But then! Think of the fools we've known, Williams."

"I'm thinking, sir," Williams said, eloquently.

"All those hardheaded self-made pieces of original conglomerate who fall for a few honeyed words from a confidence man in a hotel lobby! And of course Herbert has no ordinary gift of tongues. Perhaps he worked his churches in America as leaven to the prior's interest. Anyhow, he's the prior's fair-haired boy at the moment. With the prospect of having a fortune in his hands if he plays his cards rightly for the next few weeks. Not much wonder he was scared of getting in wrong. He wanted to know just how much his sister had left him, without compromising himself with his brethren. If she had left him enough to make it worth his while, he'd give up the monastic life. I shouldn't think it appeals greatly to him. Even with occasional visits to the villa."

"How long do you think he'd stay in any case, sir?"

"Till he had transferred enough hard cash to his own particular charities. Oh, well, these," he indicated the passports, "will be enough to frame a nice little indictment on, so that we can have him under our hands when we want him. The thing that disappoints me, Williams, is where is the murder in all this? I don't mean that he didn't do it. I've no doubt that he was having his twenty-four hours off at the time. But why did he do it? He came to England when he heard that she was coming. I think, judging by his woman's clothes, that he was possibly broke when he arrived. That was why he took to the Tree of Lebanon. But the possibilities of the Tree must have occurred to him pretty soon. Why kill his sister?"

"Went to see her and had a quarrel. The queer hour that's puzzled us all would be quite normal for him. Six o'clock would be just as usual as lunchtime."

"Yes, that's true. I'm going now to find out from the Reverend Father whether Brother Aloysius was out of the monastery a fortnight yesterday. The Reverend Father would have sat on a very high horse yesterday, but he'll talk when he sees what his favorite looks like on these passports."

But the Reverend Father was not receiving callers. The little guichet displayed the sour face of the doorkeeper, who delivered his stolid message in answer to all Grant's questions, whether the phrase was relevant or not. Herbert's golden tongue had been at work. The guichet shut, and Grant was left helpless in the little lane. There was nothing for it but a warrant. He went slowly away, his feet still aching; admired the job Herbert had made of oiling the cellar entrance in the pavement, and climbed into his car. Yes, he had better get that warrant.

He went back to the hotel for his pajamas, razor, and toothbrush (he had no intention of spending another night there) and was leaving a message for the sleeping Williams, when he was called to the telephone by the Yard.

Would he go to Dover? The man there wanted him. Something had turned up, it seemed.

He changed the message for Williams, threw his things into the car, found time to wonder why he overtipped the frowsy virago for her inattendance, disgusting food, and deplorable cooking, and set out for Dover.

Something had turned up. That could only mean Champneis. Something out of the ordinary. If they had merely found where Champneis had spent the night, it would have been reported by telephone in the ordinary way. But something had turned up.

Rimell, the detective in charge a kind, melancholy-looking boy, whose greatest asset was his unlikeness to the popular conception of a detective was waiting for Grant at that police-station door, and Grant drew him into the car. Rimell said that he had, after endless delving, unearthed an old fellow called Searle, a retired deckhand, who had been coming home from his grand-daughter's engagement party about half past twelve on the Wednesday night or rather, the Thursday morning. He was alone, because very few people lived down the harborway nowadays. They'd got ideas and lived up the hill in gimcrack villas you'd be afraid to sneeze in. He had stopped a minute or two when he had got to the sea level, to look at the harbor. It still made him feel fine to look at riding lights at night. It was beginning to mist over, but it was still clear enough to see the outlines of everything. He knew the Petronel was coming in had seen her through his glasses before he went to the party and so he looked for her now, and saw her lying not at the jetty, but out in the water at anchor. As he watched, a small motorboat came out from her side and made for the shore, going slowly with a quiet chug-chug as if not anxious to call attention to itself. As it touched the jetty steps a man moved out of the shadows by the quay. A tall figure whom Searle identified as Lord Edward (he had seen him often and had in fact once served aboard a previous yacht of his brother's) appeared from the boat and said, "Is that you, Harmer?" and the smaller man had said, "It's me," and then, in a low tone, "Customs all right?" Lord Edward had said, "No trouble at all," and they had gone down into the motorboat together and pushed off. The mist had come down quickly after that, blotting out the harbor. After about fifteen minutes Searle had gone on his way. But as he was going up the street, he heard a motorboat leave the Petronel. Whether it came ashore or went out of the harbor he didn't know. He didn't think at the moment any of all this was of any importance.

"Great Heavens!" said Grant. "I can't believe it. There just there just isn't one single thing in all the world that these two men have in common." (His subconscious added before he could stop it: except a woman.) "They just don't touch anywhere. And yet they're as thick as thieves." He sat silent a little. "All right, Rimell. Good work. I'm going to have lunch and think this over."

"Yes, sir. May I give you a friendly piece of advice, sir?"

"If you must. It's a bad habit in subordinates."

"No black coffee, sir. I expect you had four cups for breakfast and nothing else."

Grant laughed. "Why should you worry," he said, pressing the starter. "The more breakdowns, the quicker the promotion."

"I grudge the money for wreaths, sir."

But Grant was not smiling as he drove lunchwards. Christine Clay's husband and her reputed lover had midnight business together. That was strange enough. But that Edward Champneis, fifth son of the seventh Duke of Bude, and a reputable if unorthodox member of his race, should have underhand traffic with Jason Harmer, of Tin Pan Alley, was definitely stranger. What was the common bond? Not murder. Grant refused to consider anything so outr'e as murder in couples. One or the other might have wanted to murder her, but that they should have forgathered on the subject was unimaginable. The motorboat had left the Petronel again, Searle said. Supposing only one of them had been in it? It was only a short distance north along the coast to the Gap at Westover; and Harmer had turned up at Clay's cottage two hours after her death. To drown Clay from a motorboat was the ideal way. As good as his groin theory, with escape both quicker and easier. The more he thought of the motorboat, the more enamored of the method he grew. They had checked the boats in the vicinity as a matter of routine at the time of the first investigation; but a motorboat has a wide cruising radius. But oh, well, just but! The theory was fantastic. Could one imagine Jason saying, "You lend me your boat and I'll drown your wife," or Champneis suggesting, "I'll lend you the boat if you'll do the work." These two had met for some other reason altogether. If murder had resulted, then it had been unplanned, incidental.

What then had they met for? Harmer had said something about Customs. It had been his first greeting. He had been anxious about it. Was Harmer a drug fiend?

There were two things against that. Harmer didn't look like an addict. And Champneis would never have supplied the stuff. Risk might be the breath of life to him, but that kind of risk would be very definitely out.

What, then, was to be kept from the eyes of the Customs? Tobacco? Jewels? Champneis had shown George Meir, next morning, the topazes he had brought back for Christine.

There was one thing against all of it. Smuggling Edward Champneis might descend to, as a ploy, a mere bit of excitement; but Grant could not see him smuggling for the benefit of Jason Harmer. One ran one's head continually against that. What had these two men in common? They had something. Their association proved it. But what? They were, as far as anyone knew, the merest acquaintances. Not even that. Champneis had almost certainly left England before Harmer had arrived, and Christine had not known Harmer until they worked together on these English pictures.

No digestive juices flowed in Grant's alimentary tracts during that lunch; his brain was working like an engine. The sweetbreads and green peas might as well have been thrown into the chef's waste bin. By the time coffee had arrived he was no nearer a solution. He wished he was one of these marvelous creatures of superinstinct and infallible judgment who adorned the pages of detective stories, and not just a hard-working, well-meaning, ordinarily intelligent Detective Inspector. As far as he could see, the obvious course was to interview one or other of these men. And the obvious one to interview was Harmer. Why? Oh, because he'd talk more easily. Oh, yes, all right, and because there was less chance of running into trouble! What it was to have someone inside you checking up your motives for everything you did or thought!

He refrained from his second cup of coffee, with a smile for the absent Rimell. Nice kid. He'd make a good detective someday.

He rang up Devonshire House, and asked if Mr. Harmer could make it convenient to see Alan Grant (no need to advertise his profession) this evening between tea and dinner.

He was told that Mr. Harmer was not in London. He had gone down to see Leni Primhofer, the continental star, who was staying at Whitecliffe. He was writing a song for her. No, he was not expected back that night. The address was Tall Hatch, Whitecliffe, and the telephone number Whitecliffe 3025.

Grant rang Whitecliffe 3025, and asked when Mr. Harmer could see him. Harmer was in the country motoring with Fralein Primhofer and would not be back before dinner.

Whitecliffe is a continuation of Westover: a collection of plutocratic villas set on the cliff beyond the cries of trippers and the desecration of blown newspaper pages. Grant still had a room at the Marine, and so to Westover he went, and there Williams joined him. All he could do now was to wait for a warrant from the Yard and a visit from Harmer.

It was cocktail time when Harmer presented himself.

"Are you asking me to dinner, Inspector? If not, say you are and let the dinner be on me, will you; there's a good sport. Another hour of that woman and I shall be daffy. Loco. Nuts. I have known stars in my time, but holy mackerel! she takes the cake. You'd think with her English being on the sticky side that she'd let up now and then to think a bit. But no! Jabbers right along, with German to fill in, and bits of French dressing here and there to make it look nice. Waiter! What's yours, Inspector? Not drinking? Oh, come on! No? That's too bad. One gin and mixed, waiter. You don't need to climb on the wagon with a waist like that, Inspector. Don't say you're Prohibition from conviction!"

Grant disclaimed any crusading interest in the drink traffic.

"Well, what's the news? You have got news, haven't you?" He became serious, and looked earnestly, at Grant. "Something real turned up?"

"I just wanted to know what you were doing in Dover on that Wednesday night."

"In Dover?"

"A fortnight last Wednesday."

"Someone been pulling your leg?"

"Listen, Mr. Harmer, your lack of frankness is complicating everything. It's keeping us from running down the man who killed Christine Clay. The whole business is cock-eyed. You come clean about your movements on that Wednesday night, and half the irrelevant bits and pieces that are weighing the case down can be shorn off and thrown away. We can't see the outline of it with all the bits that are covering it up and hanging on to it. You want to help us get our man, don't you? Well, prove it!"

"I like you a lot, Inspector. I never thought I'd like a cop so much. But I told you already: I lost my way looking for Chris's cottage, and slept in the car."

"And if I bring witnesses to prove that you were in Dover after midnight?"

"I still slept in the car."

Grant was silent, disappointed. Now he would have to go to Champneis.

Harmer's little brown eyes watched him with something like solicitude.

"You're not getting your sleep these days, Inspector. Heading for a breakdown. Change your mind and have a drink. Wonderful how a drink puts things in their place."

"If you didn't insist on sleeping in the car, I'd have a better chance of sleeping in my bed," Grant said angrily, and took his leave with less than his usual grace.

He wanted to get at Champneis before Jason Harmer had time to tell him that Grant had been making inquiries. The best way to do that was to telephone and ask Champneis to come down to Westover. Offer to send a police car for him at once And if necessary keep Harmer talking until Champneis would have left town.

But Champneis had already left town. He was in Edinburgh addressing a polite gathering on "The Future of Galeria."

That settled it. Long before anyone could get to him, Harmer would have communicated with him either by telegram or telephone. Grant asked that both means of communication should be tapped, and went back to the lounge to find Jason still sitting over his drink.

"I know you don't like me, Inspector, but honest to God I like you, and honest to God that woman is a holy terror. Do you think you could sort of forget that we are famous-detective and worm-of-a-suspect, and eat together after all?"

Grant smiled, against his will. He had no objections.

Jason smiled, too, a little knowingly. "But if you think by the end of dinner I won't have slept in that car, don't kid yourself."

In spite of himself, Grant enjoyed that meal. It was a good game: trying to trap Jason into some kind of admission. The food was good. And Jason was amusing.

Another telephone message came to say that Lord Edward was returning on the first train in the morning, and would be in London by teatime. Grant could expect the warrant for Gotobed by the first post in the morning.

So Grant went to bed at the Marine, puzzled but not suicidal; at least there was a program for the morrow. Jason, too, slept at the Marine, having declared his inability to face Leni anymore that day.

Chapter 22 | A Shilling for Candles | Chapter 24