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Chapter 25

In the morning, because the doctor said that "there was a certain congestion which in the subject's weakened condition might at any moment develop into pneumonia," Grant summoned Tisdall's Aunt Muriel, whom the Yard obligingly found, Tisdall having refused to consider the presence of any aunts. Williams was sent to Canterbury to arrest Brother Aloysius, and Grant planned to go back to town after lunch to interview Champneis. He had telephoned the good news of Tisdall's reappearance to Colonel Burgoyne, and the telephone had been answered by Erica.

"Oh, I'm so glad for you!" she said. "For me?"

"Yes, it must have been awful for you."

And it was only then that Grant realized quite how awful it had been. That continual pushing down of an unnamed fear. What a nice child she was.

The nice child had sent over for the patient in the course of the morning a dozen fresh eggs taken from the Steynes nests that very hour. Grant thought how typical it was of her to send fresh eggs, and not the conventional flowers or fruit.

"I hope she didn't get into trouble for giving me food that time?" Tisdall asked. He always talked as if the occurrences of the last week were many years away; the days in the attic had been a lifetime to him.

"On the contrary. She saved your neck and my reputation. It was she who found your coat. No, I can't tell you about it now. You're supposed not to talk or be talked to."

But he had had to tell all about it. And had left Tisdall saying softly to himself, "Well!" Over and over again: "Well!" in a wondering tone.

The shadow of the Champneis interview had begun to loom over Grant. Supposing he said frankly: "Look here, both you and Jason Harmer went out of your way to lie to me about your movements on a certain night, and now I find that you were together at Dover. What were you doing?" What would the answer be? "My dear sir, I can't answer for Harmer's prevarications, but he was my guest on the Petronel and we spent the night fishing in our motorboat." That would be a good alibi.

And still his mind dwelled on the contraband idea. What contraband was of interest to both Champneis and Harmer? And it didn't take a whole night to hand over even a whole cargoload of contraband. Yet neither of them had an alibi for that night. What had they done with the hours from midnight to breakfast?

He had felt, ever since Rimell's revelation at Dover, that if he could remember what Champneis had been talking about just before his fib about the day of his arrival, all would be clear to him.

He decided to go downstairs and have his hair cut before he left the Marine. He was to remember that haircut.

As he put out his hand to push the swing door open, he heard Champneis's voice in his mind, drawling a sentence.

So that was what he had been talking about!

Yes. Yes. Pictures ran together in Grant's mind to make a sequence that made sense. He turned from the saloon door to the telephone and called the Special Branch. He asked them half a dozen questions, and then went to have his hair cut, smiling fatuously. He knew now what he was going to say to Edward Champneis.

It was the busy time of the morning and all the chairs were full.

"Won't be a minute, sir," an anxious supervisor said. "Not a minute if you will wait."

Grant sat down by the wall and reached for a magazine from the pile on a shelf. The pile fell over; a well-thumbed collection, most of them far from new. Because it had a frontispiece of Christine Clay, he picked up a copy of the Silver Sheet, an American cinema magazine, and idly turned over the pages. It was the usual bouquet. The "real truth" was told about someone for the fifty-second time, being a completely different real truth from all the other fifty-one real truths. A nitwit blonde explained how she read new meaning into Shakespeare. Another told how she kept her figure. An actress who didn't know one end of a frying pan from the other was photographed in her kitchen making griddle cakes. A he-man star said how grand he thought all the other he-man stars. Grant turned the pages more impatiently. He was on the point of exchanging the magazine for another when his attention was suddenly caught. He read through an article with growing interest. At the last paragraph he got to his feet, still holding the paper and staring at the page.

"Your turn now, sir," the barber said. "This chair, please."

But Grant took no notice.

"We're quite ready for you now, sir. Sorry you've been kept waiting."

Grant looked up at them, only half-conscious of them.

"Can I have this?" he asked, indicating the magazine. "It's six months old. Thank you," and rushed out of the room.

They stared after him, and laughed a little, speculating as to what had taken his fancy.

"Found his affinity," someone suggested.

"Thought they were extinct, affinities," another countered.

"Found something to cure his corns."

"No, gone to consult his best friend."

And they laughed and forgot him.

Grant was in the telephone booth, and the impatient gentleman in the patent leather shoes was beginning to wonder if he was ever coming out of it. He was talking to Owen Hughes, the cinema star. That was why the patent leather gentleman didn't go upstairs to the numerous booths on the ground floor. He was hoping to hear some of the conversation. It was about whether someone had mentioned something in a letter to someone.

"You did!" Grant said. "Thanks! That's all I wanted to know. Keep it under your hat. That I asked, I mean."

Then he had asked for the Thames police, pulling the door tighter and so exasperating the waiting gentleman.

"Has 276 River Walk a motorboat, do you know?"

There was a consultation at the other end.

Yes, 276 had a boat. Yes, very fast. Seagoing? Oh, yes, if necessary. Used it for fowling along the Essex flats, they thought. Used for navigation of the lower river, anyhow? Oh, yes.

Grant asked if they would have a boat ready for him in about an hour and a half, by which time he'd be in town, he hoped. He'd take it as a great favor.

Certainly, they would.

Grant telephoned to Barker — at which point the patent leather gentleman gave it up — and asked that if Williams was back in town within the next ninety minutes he should meet Grant at Westminster Pier. If Williams was not back in time, then Sanger.

Grant took full advantage of the lunchtime lull in traffic, and in unrestricted areas excelled himself in the gentle art of speed with safety. He found Williams waiting for him, a little breathless, since he had that moment arrived from the Yard and sent the disappointed Sanger back. Williams had no intention of being out of anything, if he could help it. And the Superintendent had said that something exciting was due to break.

"Well, was the Reverend Father shocked?" Grant asked.

"Not as shocked as Brother Aloysius. He didn't for a moment imagine we'd got anything on him. By the way he behaved, I should think some other police forces must be anxious to catch up with him."

"I shouldn't wonder."

"Where are we going, sir?"

"Chelsea Reach. Beloved of painters and folk dancers."

Williams looked benignly at his superior and noticed how much better he was looking now that the Tisdall boy had turned up.

The police boat drew in to the bank at 276 River Walk where a large grayish motorboat was moored. The police boat edged gingerly nearer until only a foot separated the gunwales.

Grant stepped across. "Come with me, Williams. I want witnesses."

The cabin was locked. Grant glanced up at the house opposite and shook his head. "I'll have to risk it. I'm sure I'm right, anyhow."

While the river police stood by, he forced the lock and went in. It was a tidy, seamanlike cabin; everything was neat and ship-shape. Grant began to go through the lockers. In the one under the starboard bunk he found what he was looking for. An oilskin coat. Black. Bought in Cannes. With the button missing from the right cuff.

"You take that, Williams, and come up to the house with me."

The maid said that Miss Keats was in, and left them in a dining room on the ground floor; a very austere and up-to-the-minute apartment.

"Looks more like a place to have your appendix out than to put roast beef into you," Williams observed.

But Grant said nothing.

Lydia came in, smiling, her bracelets jangling and her beads clashing.

"I'm sorry I couldn't take you upstairs, my dear Leo person, but I have some clients who mightn't understand that this is just a friendly visit."

"So you knew who I was, at Marta's?"

"Of course. You don't flatter my powers of divination, my dear Mr. Grant. Won't you present your friend?"

"This is Sergeant Williams."

She looked faintly disconcerted, Grant thought, but managed to be gracious to the sergeant. Then she saw what was under Williams's arm.

"What are you doing with my coat?" she asked sharply.

"Then it is your coat? The one in the locker of the boat?"

"Of course it is my coat! How dare you force my cabin! It is always kept locked."

"The lock will be repaired, Miss Keats. Meanwhile I regret to tell you that I must arrest you for the murder of Christine Clay at the Gap at Westover on Thursday morning, the 15th, and warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you."

Her face changed from her habitual expression of satisfaction to the convulsed fury he had seen when Judy Sellers had made light of her powers. "You can't arrest me," she said. "It is not in my stars. Who should know if not I? The stars have no secrets from me. The stars have predicted a glorious destiny for me. It is you, poor mistaken fool, who will go on stumbling and making mistakes. My sign is achievement. Whatever I will I can do. It is set there in the sky that it shall be so. Destiny. 'Some are born great' — that is true and the rest is lies. One is born great or is not great at all. I was born to achieve. To be a leader. To be looked up to by mankind —»

"Miss Keats, I should be grateful if you would prepare to come with us at once. Any clothes you want can be sent after you."

"Clothes? What for?"

"For use in prison."

"I don't understand. You can't put me in prison. It isn't in my stars. They said that what I wanted I could do."

"Everyone can do what they want if they want it enough. But no one with impunity. Will you send for your maid and explain to her? She will fetch your hat if you want it."

"I don't want it. I am not going with you. I am going to a party this afternoon at Marta's. She's got Christine's part, you know. In the new film. That's one good turn I did. It was all written a long time ago what we should do. It falls into place, like the cog things in a musical box, you know. Or perhaps you don't know. Are you musical? And from Marta's I'm going to Owen Hughes. After that we shall see. If you come back in the evening we can talk about it. Do you know Owen? A charming person. He had his appointed place, too. If it hadn't been for Owen it would never have come into my head. No, I don't mean that. Great enterprises belong to great minds. They would happen in any case. But the releasing agent is often very small. Like electric light and the switch. I used that simile in a lecture in Scotland the other week. It went very well. Neat, don't you think? Will you have some sherry? I'm afraid I'm very remiss. It's the consciousness of these people upstairs waiting to be told."

"Told what?"

"About me, of course. No, about themselves. That is what they came for. I'm a little muddled. They want to know what destiny has in store for them. And only I can tell them. Only I, Lydia Keats —»

"May I use your telephone, Miss Keats?"

"Certainly. It is in the cupboard place in the hall. One of the new colored kind. The telephone, not the cupboard. What was I saying?"

Grant said to Williams, "Ask them to send Reynolds around at once."

"Is that the painter? I shall be glad to meet him. He was born to greatness. It is not a matter of application, or mixing pigments, you know. It is having the matter in you. And that the stars arrange. You must let me do a horoscope for you. You are a Leo person. Very attractive people. Kingly born. I have been sorry sometimes that I was not August born. But Aries people are leaders. Talkative, too, I'm afraid." She giggled. "I do talk a lot they tell me. Chatterbox, they called me as a child."

Chapter 24 | A Shilling for Candles | Chapter 26