By nine o’clock on the following morning Nigel had got his story ready to go to press. He warned his sub-editors of his activities and they agreed, with a certain display of irritated enthusiasm, to hold back the front page while he submitted his copy to Alleyn. The morning papers were blazing with effective headlines, supported by exceedingly meagre information. Nigel sought out his friend at Scotland Yard and found him more amenable to persuasion than he had anticipated. The article laid great emphasis on the view that Gardener’s part in the tragedy, painful though it had been for himself, did not point in any way to his complicity in the murder. Alleyn did not dispute this, or censor a word of it. Nigel had made little of the personal relationships of Surbonadier, Gardener and Miss Vaughan, beyond using the romantic appeal of the engagement between the last two. He made a lot of his first-hand impression of the tragedy, and of the subsequent scenes behind the curtain.
“Less culpable than I anticipated,” said Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn. “With the few deletions I’ve pencilled it can go through. Are you returning to your office?”
“Not if you’ll have me here,” said Nigel promptly. “I’ve got a boy to take back the copy.”
“Aren’t you a one? All right — come back. I’ve come to the stage when I can do with a Boswell.”
“Throwing bouquets at yourself, I see,” said Nigel. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
Having sent the boy off to Fleet Street, he returned to find Alleyn at the telephone.
“Very well,” he said into the instrument as he glanced round at Nigel, “I’ll see you in twenty minutes”—and hung up the receiver.
“A very unpleasant gentleman,” he grunted.
“How — unpleasant?”
“An informer, or hopes to be.”
“Who is it?”
“Mr. Saint’s footman. Wait and see.”
“I will,” said Nigel enthusiastically. “How are you getting on, inspector?”
“Oh, it’s a devil of a job,” Alleyn complained.
“I’ve been trying to get it straight in my mind,” ventured Nigel, “as far as I know it. I made a sort of amateur dossier.”
“I don’t suppose you know what a dossier is,” said Alleyn. “However, let’s see your effort.”
Nigel produced several sheets of typewritten paper.
“Here are the notes I took for you.”
“Thank you so much, Bathgate. Now do show me your summary. It may be very useful. I’m bad at summarizing.”
Nigel glanced suspiciously at him, but Alleyn seemed to be quite serious. He lit his pipe and applied himself to the sheet of foolscap, at the top of which Nigel had typed in capital letters:
“MURDER AT THE UNICORN.
“Surbonadier was shot by Gardener with the revolver used in the piece. According to the evidence of the stage manager and the property man, dummy cartridges, of which one was faulty, were placed in the drawer of the desk, immediately before the scene in which Surbonadier loaded the gun. Traces of sand, found in the prompt box, seem to support this theory.”
“There was also sand in the top drawer,” said Alleyn, glancing up.
“Was there? That’s pretty conclusive, then.” Alleyn read on:
“Props says the faulty cartridge only went wrong that night, when he dropped it Unless he is lying, and he and the stage manager are in collusion, that means the dummies were in the top drawer just before the scene opened. Therefore the murderer substituted the lethal cartridges either immediately prior to, or during, the blackout, which lasted four minutes. He used gloves, took the dummies from the top drawer, substituted the real ones, put the dummies in the lower drawer, and got rid of the gloves. A pair of men’s grey suede gloves was found in the bag that hung on an arm-chair on the stage. Surbonadier took the cartridges from the top drawer and loaded the revolver. During the scene that followed Gardener took the gun from him and fired point-blank in the usual way. The cartridges afterwards found in the gun were all live ones;
“Everyone behind the scenes had the chance of changing the cartridges. The people on the stage, perhaps, the greatest opportunity. These were Miss Max, Miss Emerald, Surbonadier himself, and the stage manager. On the other hand, anyone may have come out on to the darkened stage and done it. Miss Vaughan, Barclay Crammer, Howard Melville, Miss Deamer, the dressers and the staff, all come under the heading.
“The characters involved may now be taken in turn.
Alleyn looked up.
“Didn’t you hear? Melville and Crammer were together in Crammer’s room during the black-out. Before that Melville had been on the stage. Miss Deamer was next door and heard their voices. I’ll write it in for you.”
He went on with the summary.
“See Fox’s report. Motive. — None, except professional jealousy in Barclay Crammer’s case.
Here Nigel’s document ended abruptly. Alleyn laid it down on his desk.
“It’s all quite correct,” he approved. “It’s even rather suggestive. If you were a policeman, what would you do next?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Really? Well, I’ll tell you what we have done. We’ve been delving in the murky past of Mr. Jacob Saint.”
“Yes. Rather a chequered career. You can help me.”
“I say — can I really?”
“How long have you been a Pressman?”
“Ever since I came down from Cambridge.”
“Almost the G.O.M. of Fleet Street. It’s a matter of a year, isn’t it?”
“And three months.”
“Then you don’t remember the illicit drug scandal of some six years ago, and an article in the
Nigel whistled shrilly and then became thoughtful. “I do remember vaguely,” he said.
“The case was spectacular. The article hinted pretty broadly that Saint’s fortune had been amassed through the rather wholesale supply of proscribed drugs. Ladies and gentlemen with unattractive portmanteaux under their yellow eyeballs were, said the writer, constantly being obliged with opium and cocaine by some agency controlled by a ‘well-known theatre magnate whose recent successes in a playhouse not a thousand yards from Piccadilly… ’ and so on. As I have said, Saint took it to court, won hands down, and emerged a little tarnished but triumphant. One very curious fact came out. The identity of the author was unknown. A leading reporter on the
“What’s all this leading to?”
“The postmark was of a village near Cambridge.”
“Are you thinking of Felix?” said Nigel hotly.
“Of Gardener? Where was he this time six years ago?”
Nigel paused. He eyed Alleyn uncomfortably. “Well, since you must know,” he said at last, “he had just gone up to Cambridge. He was two years ahead of me.”
“Look here — what are you thinking?”
“I’m only wondering. That article reads like undergraduate stuff. There’s an unmistakable flavour.”
“Suppose there is? What are you driving at?”
“Literally only this. Gardener may possibly be able to throw some light on the matter.”
“Oh, if that’s all—” Nigel looked relieved. “I thought you meant he might have written it”
Alleyn looked curiously at him.
“That particular year,” he said, “Surbonadier was sent down from Cambridge.”
“Yes,” said Alleyn. “Now do you see?”
“You mean — you mean Surbonadier may have written the article and, therefore, knew too much about his uncle.”
“That is possible.”
“The catch in it is that all this happened six years ago.”
“Surbonadier may have blackmailed Saint for six years.”
The telephone rang. Alleyn took off the receiver. “Yes. Who? Oh, send him up, will you?” He turned to Nigel. “This may help,” he said.
“Who is it?”
“Mr. Jacob Saint’s footman.”
“Yes. I hate this sort of thing. He’s going to make me feel ashamed.”
“Really? You don’t want me to go?”
“Stay where you are. Have a cigarette, and look as if you belonged. Have you seen Gardener this morning?”
“No, I’m going to ring him up. I’m afraid he’s not going to forget this business in a hurry.”
“I don’t suppose so. Would you, in his place?”
“Never. But I think I’d worry a bit more about whether the police thought me guilty. It’s the shock of having fired the revolver that seems to have got him down.”
“Isn’t that what you’d expect in an innocent man?”
“I’m glad to hear you call him that,” said Nigel warmly.
“I talk a great deal too much,” declared Alleyn. “Come in!”
The door opened to admit a tall, thin, and rather objectionably good-looking man. His face was a little too pale, his eyes were a little too large, and his mouth a little too soft. He closed the door tenderly, and stood quietly inside it.
“Good morning,” said Alleyn.
“Good morning, sir.”
“You wanted to see me in reference to the murder of Mr. Arthur Surbonadier.”
“I thought you might wish to see me, sir.”
The footman glanced at Nigel. Alleyn paid no attention to this indication of caution.
“Well?” he said.
“If I might inquire, sir, whether a little inside information about the late Mr. Surbonadier’s relationships with my employer—”
“Oh,” Alleyn cut him short, “you want to make a statement.”
“Oh, no, sir. I only wanted to inquire. I don’t want to mix myself up in anything unpleasant, sir. On the other hand, there was an incident that might be worth the police’s while.”
“If you are withholding any evidence that may be of value to the police, you will get into quite serious trouble. If you are expecting a bribe, however—”
“Oh, please, sir.”
“You won’t get one. Should your information be relevant you’ll be called as a witness, and you’ll be paid for that.”
“Well, sir,” said the man, with an angry smirk, “I must say you’re very outspoken.”
“I should advise you to follow my example.”
The footman thought for a moment, and shot a rather apprehensive glance at the inspector.
“It’s merely an incident,” he said at last.
“Let’s have it,” said Alleyn. “Will you take it down for me, Bathgate?”
Nigel moved up to the desk.
“I understand you are a footman in the employ of Mr. Jacob Saint.”
“Yes, sir. Or rather I was.”
“Joseph Mincing. Age twenty-three. Address 299a, Hanover Square,” volunteered Mr. Mincing, with a little burst of frankness.
“Tell me, in your own words, what this incident was.”
“It took place a month ago before this play come on. The twenty-fifth of May to be exact. I took special notice. It was in the afternoon. Mr. Surbonadier came to see Mr. Saint. I showed him into the library and waited outside in the ’all. Angry words passed, of which I heard many.” Mr. Mincing paused and looked self-conscious.
“Yes?” said Alleyn.
“My attention was first aroused by hearing Mr. Surbonadier say very loud that he knew why Mr. Saint had paid Mr. Mortlake two thousand pounds. This seemed to make Mr. Saint very wild, sir. He didn’t speak so loud at first, but his tones are penetrating at the best of times. Mr. Surbonadier says: ‘I’ll do it,’ very defiant, and over and over again. I rather gathered, sir, that he was using pressure to force Mr. Saint to give him another part in the play. At first Mr. Saint took on something dreadful and ordered Mr. Surbonadier out, but presently they settled down a bit and spoke quieter and more reasonable.”
“You still heard them, however?”
“Not everything. Mr. Saint seemed to promise Mr. Surbonadier a leading part in the next production, saying he couldn’t alter this one. They argued a bit, and then it was settled. I heard Mr. Saint say he’d left his money to Mr. Surbonadier, sir. ‘Not all of it,’ he says. ‘Janet gets some, and if you go first she gets the lot.’ They looked at the will, sir.”
“How do you know?”
“Mr. Saint came out with Mr. Surbonadier later on, and I saw it on the desk.”
“And read it?”
“Just glanced, as you might say, sir. I was familiar with it, in a manner of speaking. The butler and me had witnessed it the week before. It was quite short and on those lines — two thousand pounds a year to Miss Emerald, and the rest to Mr. Surbonadier, and a few legacies. The fortune was to go to Miss Emerald if Mr. Surbonadier was no more.”
“They seemed to get quieter after that. Mr. Surbonadier said something about sending back a letter when the next piece was cast. Soon after that he left.”
“Were you with Mr. Saint six years ago?”
“Yes, sir. As knife boy.”
“Used Mr. Mortlake to call on him then?”
The man looked surprised. “Yes, sir.”
“But not recently?”
“Why did you get the sack?”
“I–I beg pardon, sir?”
“I think you heard what I said.”
“Through no fault of my own,” said Mincing sullenly.
“I see. Then you bear him a grudge?”
“No wonder if I do.”
“Who is Mr. Jacob Saint’s doctor?”
“His doctor, sir?”
“Er — it’s Sir Everard Sim, sir.”
“Has he been called in lately?”
“He comes in, quite regular.”
“I see. No other information or incidents? Then you may go. Wait outside for half an hour. There will be a statement for you to sign.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The man opened the door quietly. He hesitated a moment and then said softly:
“Mr. Saint — he fair hated Mr. Surbonadier.”
He went out, closing the door very gently after him.