One Too Many
by Dorothy Sayers
A Montague Egg Story
When Simon Grant, the Napoleon of Consolidated Nitro-Phosphates and Heaven knows how many affiliated companies, vanished off the face of the earth one rainy November night, it would have been, in any case, only natural that his family and friends should be disturbed, and that there should be a slight flurry on the Stock Exchange. But when, in the course of the next few days, it became painfully evident that Consolidated Nitro-Phosphates had been consolidated in nothing but the name - that they were, in fact, not even ripe for liquidation, but had (so to speak) already passed that point and evaporated into thin air, such assets as they possessed having mysteriously disappeared at the same time at Simon Grant - then the hue-and-cry went out with a noise that shook three continents and, incidentally, jogged Mr Montague Egg for an hour or so out of his blameless routine.
Not that Mr Egg had any money in Nitro-Phosphates, or could claim any sort of acquaintance with the missing financier. His connection with the case was entirely fortuitous, the byproduct of an savage budgetary announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which threatened to have alarming results for the wine and spirits trade. Mr Egg, travelling representative of Messrs Plummet & Rose of Piccadilly, had reached Birmingham in his wanderings, when he was urgently summoned back to town by his employers for a special conference upon policy, and thus - though he did not know it at the time - he enjoyed the distinction of travelling by the very train from which Simon Grant so suddenly and unaccountably vanished.
The facts in the case of Simon Grant were disconcertingly simple. At this time the L.M.S. Railway were running a night express from Birmingham to London which, leaving Birmingham at 9.5, stopped only at Coventry and Rugby before running into Euston at 12.10. Mr Grant had attended a dinner given in his honour by certain prominent business men in Coventry, and after dinner had had the unblushing effrontery to make a speech about the Prosperity of British Business. After this, he had hastened away to take the Birmingham express as far as Rugby, where he was engaged to stay the night with that pillar of financial rectitude, Lord Buddlethorp. He was seen into a first-class carriage at 9.57 by two eminently respectable Coventry magnates, who had remained chatting with him till the train started. There was one other person in his carriage - no less a man, in fact, than Sir Hicklebury Bowles, the well-known sporting baronet. In the course of conversation, he had mentioned to Sir Hicklebury (whom he knew slightly) that he was travelling alone, his secretary having succumbed to an attack of influenza. About half way between Coventry and Rugby, Mr Grant had gone out into the corridor, muttering something about the heat. He had never been seen again.
At first, a very sinister light had been thrown on the incident by the fact that a door in the corridor, a little way up the train, had been found swinging open at Rugby, and the subsequent discovery of Mr Grant's hat and overcoat a few miles farther up the line had led everybody to fear the worst. Careful examination, however, failed to produce either Simon Grant's corpse or any evidence of any heavy body having fallen from the train. In a pocket of the overcoat was a first-class ticket from Coventry to Rugby, and it seemed clear that, without this, he could not have passed the barrier at Rugby. Moreover, Lord Buddlethorp had sent his car with a chauffeur and a footman to meet the train at Rugby. The chauffeur had stood at the barrier and the footman had paraded the platform in search of the financier. Both knew him very well by sight, and between them they asserted positively that he had never left the train. Nobody had arrived at the barrier ticketless, or with the wrong ticket, and a check-up of the tickets issued for Rugby at Birmingham and Coventry revealed no discrepancy.
There remained two possibilities, both tempting and plausible. The Birmingham-London express reached Rugby at 10.24, departing again at 10.28. But, swift and impressive as it was, it was not the only, or the most important, pebble on the station beach, for over against it upon the down line was the Irish Mail, snorting and blowing in its three-minute halt before it roared away northwards at 10.25. If the express had been on time, Simon Grant might have slipped across and boarded it, and been at Holyhead by 2.25 to catch the steamer, and be in Dublin by 6.35, and Heaven only knew where a few hours after. As for the confident assertion of Lord Buddlethorp's footman, a trifling disguise - easily assumed in a lavatory or an empty compartment - would be amply sufficient to deceive him. To Chief Inspector Peacock, in charge of the investigations, the possibility appeared highly probable. It had also the advantage that the passengers crossing by the mail-boat could be readily reckoned up and accounted for.
The question of tickets now became matter for inquiry. It was not likely that Simon Grant would have tried to secure them during his hasty one-minute dash for the Mail. Either he had taken them beforehand, or some accomplice had met him at Rugby and handed them over. Chief Inspector Peacock was elated when he discovered that tickets covering the train-and-steamer route from Rugby to Dublin had actually been purchased for the night in question from the L.M.S. agents in London in the absurd and incredible name of Solomon Grundy. Mr Peacock was well acquainted with the feeble cunning which prompts people, when adopting an alias, to cling to their own initials. The underlying motive is, no doubt, a dread lest those same initials, inscribed on a watch, cigarette-case or what-not, should arouse suspicion, but the tendency is so well known that the choice of initials arouses in itself the very suspicion it is intended to allay, Mr Peacock's hopes rose very high indeed when he discovered, in addition, that Solomon Grundy (Great Heavens, what a name!) had gone out of his way to give a fictitious and, indeed, nonexistent address to the man at the ticket-office. And then, just when the prospect seemed at its brightest, the whole theory received its death-blow. Not only had no Mr Solomon Grundy travelled by the mail-boat that night or any night - not only had his ticket never been presented or even cancelled - but it turned out to be impossible that Mr Simon Grant should have boarded the Irish Mail at all. For some tedious and infuriating reason connected with an over-heated axle-box, the Birmingham-London express, on that night of all nights, had steamed into Rugby three minutes behind time and two minutes after the departure of the Mail. If this had been Simon Grant's plan of escape, something had undoubtedly gone wrong with it.
And, that being so, Chief Inspector Peacock came back to the old question: What had become of Simon Grant?
Talking it over with his colleagues, the Chief Inspector came eventually to the conclusion that Grant had, in fact, intended to take the Irish Mail, leaving the open door and the scattered garments behind him by way of confusing the trail for the police. What, then, would he do, when he found the Mail already gone? He could only leave the station and take another train. He had not left the station by the barrier, and careful inquiry convinced Mr Peacock that it would have been extremely difficult for him to make his way out along the line unobserved, or hang about the railway premises till the following morning. An unfortunate suicide had taken place only the previous week, which had made the railwaymen particularly observant of stray passengers who might attempt to wander on to the permanent way; and, in addition, there happened to be two gangs of platelayers working with flares at points strategically placed for observation. So that Peacock, while not altogether dismissing this part of the investigation, turned it over as routine work to his subordinates, and bent his mind to consider a second main possibility that had already occurred to him before he had been led away by speculations on the Irish Mail.
This was, that Simon Grant had never left the express at all, but had gone straight through to Euston. London has great advantages as a hiding-place - and what better thing could Grant have done, when his first scheme failed him, than return to the express and continue his journey? His watch would have warned him, before he reached Rugby, that the Mail had probably left; a hasty enquiry and a quick dash to the booking-office, and he would be ready to continue his journey.
The only drawback was that when the Chief Inspector questioned the officials in the booking-office he was met by the positive statement that no ticket of any kind had been issued that night later than 10.15. Nor yet had any passenger arrived at Euston minus a ticket. And the possibility of an accomplice on the platform had now to be dismissed, since the original plan of escape had not involved an accomplice, and it was not reasonable to suppose that one had been provided beforehand for such an emergency.
But, argued the Chief Inspector, the emergency might have been foreseen and ticket purchased in advance. And if so, it was going to be extremely difficult to prove, since the number of tickets issued would correspond with the number of passengers. He set in train, however, an exhaustive investigation into the question of the tickets issued in London, Birmingham, Coventry and Rugby during the few weeks previous to the disappearance, thinking that he might easily light upon a return half which had come to hand very much subsequent to the date of issue, and that this might suggest a line of inquiry. In addition, he sent out a broadcast appeal, and this is where his line of inquiry impinged upon the orbit of Mr Montague Egg.
To the Chief Commissioner of Police
wrote Mr Egg in his neat commercial hand
understanding as per the daily Press and the B.B.C. that you desire to receive communications from all persons travelling by the 9.5 p.m. Birmingham-London express on the 4th ult., I beg to inform you that I travelled by same (3rd class) from Coventry to Euston on the date mentioned and that I am entirely at your disposal for all enquiries. Being attached to the firm of Plummet & Rose, wine and spirit merchants, Piccadilly, as travelling representative, my permanent address will not find me at present, but I beg to enclose list of hotels where I shall be staying in the immediate future and remain, dear sir, yours faithfully.
In consequence of this letter, Mr Egg was one evening called out of the commercial room at the Cat and Fiddle in Oldham to speak with a Mr Peacock.
'Pleased, I'm sure,' said Mr Egg, prepared for anything from a colossal order for wine and spirits to a forgotten acquaintance with a bad-luck story. 'Monty-on-the-spot, that's me. What can I do for you, sir?'
Chief Inspector Peacock appeared to want every conceivable detail of information about Mr Egg, his affairs and, in particular, his late journey to town. Monty disposed capably of the preliminaries and mentioned that he had arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare, and so had contrived to get a seat as soon as the train came in.
'And I was glad I did,' he added. 'I like to be comfortable, you know, and the train was rather crowded.'
'I know it was crowded,' said Mr Peacock, with a groan. 'And well I may, when I tell you that we have had to get in touch with every single person on that train, and interview as many of them as we could get hold of personally.'
'Some job,' said Mr Egg, with the respect of one expert interviewer to another. 'Do you mean you've got in touch with them all?'
'Every blessed one,' said Mr Peacock, 'including several officious nuisances who weren't there at all, but hoped for a spot of notoriety.'
'Talking of spots,' said Monty, 'what will you take?'
Mr Peacock thanked him, and accepted a small whiskey-and-soda. 'Can you remember at all what part of the train you were in?'
'Certainly,' said Mr Egg promptly. 'Third-class smoker, middle of the coach, middle of the train. Safest, you know, in case of accidents. Corner seat, corridor side, facing engine. Immediately opposite me, picture of York Minster, being visited by two ladies and a gentleman, in costumes of 1904 or thereabouts. Noticed it particularly, because everything else about the train was up to date. Thought it a pity.'
'Hum,' said Mr Peacock. 'Do you remember who else was in the compartment at Coventry?'
Monty screwed up his eyes as though to squeeze recollection out through his eyelids.
'Next to me, stout, red, bald man, very sleepy, in tweeds. Been having one or two. He'd come from Birmingham. Next him, lanky young chap with pimples and a very bad bowler. Got in after me and tripped over my feet. Looked like a clerk. And a young sailor in the corner seat - there when I arrived. Talked all the time to the fellow in the corner opposite, who looked like some sort of a parson - collar round the wrong way, clerical hat, walrus moustache, dark spectacles, puffy cheeks and tell-me-my-good-man way of talking. Next him - oh! yes, a fellow smoking a pipe of horrible scented sort of tobacco - might have been a small tradesman, but I didn't see much of him, because he was reading a paper most of the time. Then there was a nice, inoffensive, gentlemanly old bird who needed a haircut. He had pince-nez - very crooked - and never took his eyes off a learned-looking book. And opposite me there was a chap with a big brown beard in a yellow inverness cloak - foreign-looking - with a big, soft felt hat. He came from Birmingham, and so did the parson, but the other two on that side got in after I did.'
The Chief Inspector smiled as he turned over the pages of a formidable bunch of documents. 'You're an admirable witness, Mr Egg. Your account tallies perfectly with those of your seven fellow-travellers, but it's the only one of the eight that's complete. You are obviously observant.'
'My job,' said Monty complacently.
'Of course. You may be interested to know that the gentlemanly old bird with the long hair was Professor Amblefoot of London University, the great authority on the Higher Calculus, and that he described you as a fair-haired, well-mannered young man.'
'Much obliged to him, I'm sure,' said Mr Egg.
'The foreigner is Dr Schleicher of Kew - resident there three years - the sailor and the parson we know all about - the drunk chap is O.K. too - we had his wife along, very voluble - the tradesman is a well-known Coventry resident, something to do with the Church Council of St Michael's, and the pimply lad is one of Messrs Morrison's clerks. They're all square. And they all went through to town, didn't they? Nobody left at Rugby?'
'Nobody,' said Mr Egg.
'Pity,' said the Chief Inspector. 'The truth is, Mr Egg, that we can't hear of any person in the train who hasn't come forward and given an account of himself, and the number of people who have come forward precisely corresponds with the number of tickets collected at the barriers at Euston. You didn't observe any person continually hanging about the corridor, I suppose?'
'Not permanently,' said Monty. 'The chap with the beard got up and prowled a bit from time to time, I remember - seemed restless. I thought he perhaps didn't feel very well. But he'd only be absent a few minutes at a time. He seemed to be a nervous, unpleasant sort of chap - chewed his nails, you know, and muttered in German, but he - '
'Chewed his nails?'
'Yes. Very unpleasant, I must say. "Well-kept hands that please the sight seize the trade and hold it tight, but bitten nails and grubby claws well may give the buyer pause." So the Salesman's Handbook says' - and Monty smirked gently at his own finger-tips. 'This person's hands were - definitely not gentlemanly. Bitten to the quick.'
'But that's really extraordinary,' said Peacock. 'Dr Schleicher's hands are particularly well kept. I interviewed him myself yesterday. Surely he can't suddenly have abandoned the habit of nail-biting? People don't - not like that. And why should he? Was there anything else you noticed about the man opposite you?'
'I don't think so. Yes. Stop a moment. He smoked cigars at a most extraordinary rate. I remember his going out into the corridor with one smoked down to about an inch and coming back, five minutes afterwards, with a new one smoked half way through. Full sized Coronas too - good ones; and I know quite a bit about cigars.'
Peacock stared and then smote his hand lightly upon the table.
'I've got it!' he said. 'I remember where I met a set of badly chewed-up nails lately. By Jove! Yes, but how could he . . .'
Monty waited for enlightenment.
'Simon Grant's secretary. He was supposed to be in town all that day and evening, having 'flu - but how do I know that he was? But, even so, what good could he do by being in the train in disguise? And what could Dr Schleicher have to do with it? It's Simon Grant we want - and Schleicher isn't Grant - at least' - the Chief Inspector paused and went on more dubiously - 'I don't see how he could be. They know him well in the district, though he's said to be away from home a good deal, and he's got a wife - '
'Oh, has he?' said Mr Egg, with a meaning emphasis.
'A double life, you mean?' said the Chief Inspector.
'And a double wife,' said Mr Egg. 'You will pardon my asking a delicate question, but - er - are you certain you would spot a false beard at once, if you weren't altogether expecting it?'
'In a good light, I probably should, but by the light of the doctor's reading-lamp - But what's the game, Mr Egg? If Schleicher is Grant, who was the man you saw in the train - the man with the bitten finger-nails? Grant doesn't bite his nails, I know that - he's rather particular about his appearance, so I'm told, though I've never met him myself.'
'Well,' said Mr Egg, 'since you ask me, why shouldn't the other man in the train be all three of them?'
'All three of which?'
'Grant and Schleicher and the secretary.'
'I don't quite get you.'
'Well, I mean - supposing Grant is Schleicher, with a nice ready-made personality all handy for him to step into, built up, as you may say, over the last three years, with money salted away in the name of Schleicher - well, I mean, there he is, as you might say, waiting to slip over to the Continent as soon as the fuss has died down - complete with unofficial lady.'
'But the secretary?'
'The secretary was the man in train, made up as Grant made up as Schleicher. I mean, speaking as a fool, I thought he might be.'
'But where was Schleicher - I mean, Grant?'
'He was the man in the train, too. I mean, he may have been.'
'Do you mean there were two of them?'
'Yes - at least, that's how I see it. You're the best judge, and I shouldn't like to put myself forward. But they'd be playing Box and Cox. Secretary gets in at Birmingham as Schleicher. Grant gets in at Coventry as Grant. Between Coventry and Rugby Grant changes to Schleicher in a wash-place or somewhere, and hangs about the platform and corridor till the train starts with him in it. He retires presently into a wash-place again. At a pre-arranged moment, secretary gets up, walks along the corridor and retires elsewhere, while Grant comes out and takes his place. Presently Grant walks down the corridor and secretary comes back to the compartment. They're never both visible at the same time, except for the two or three minutes while Grant is re-entering the train at Rugby, while honest witnesses like me are ready to come forward and swear that Schleicher got in at Birmingham, sat tight in his seat at Coventry and Rugby, and went straight through to Euston - as he did. I can't say I noticed any difference between the two Schleichers, except in the matter of the cigar. But they were very hairy and muffled up.'
The Chief Inspector turned this over in his mind.
'Which of them was Schleicher when they got out at Euston?'
'Grant, surely. The secretary would remove his disguise at the last moment and emerge as himself, taking the thousand-to-one chance of somebody recognising him.'
Peacock swore softly. 'If that's what he did,' he exclaimed, 'we've got him on toast. Wait a moment, though. I knew there was a snag. If that's what they did, there ought to have been an extra third-class ticket at Euston. They can't both have travelled on one ticket.'
'Why not?' said Mr Egg. 'I have often - at least, I don't exactly mean that, but I have from time to time laid a wager with an acquaintance that I would travel on his ticket, and got away with it.'
'Perhaps,' said Chief Inspector Peacock, 'you would oblige me, sir, by outlining your method.'
'Oh, certainly,' said Mr Egg. '"Speak the truth with cheerful ease if you would both convince and please" - Monty's favourite motto. If I had been Mr Grant's secretary, I'd have taken a return ticket from Birmingham to London, and when the outward half had been inspected for the last time at Rugby, I'd pretend to put it in my pocket. But I wouldn't really. I'd shove it down at the edge of my seat and go for my stroll along the corridor. Then, when Grant took my place - recognising the right seat by an attache-case, or something of that sort left on it - he'd retrieve the ticket and retain it. At the end of the journey, I'd slip off my beard and spectacles and so on, stick them in my overcoat pocket and fold the conspicuous overcoat inside-out and carry it on my arm. Then I'd wait to see Grant get out, and follow him up to the barrier, keeping a little way behind. He'd go through, giving up his ticket, and I'd follow along with a bunch of other people, making a little bustle and confusion in the gateway. The ticket-collector would stop me and say: "I haven't got your ticket, sir." I'd be indignant, and say: "Oh, yes, you have." He'd say: "I don't think so, sir." Then I'd protest, and he'd probably ask me to stand aside a minute while he dealt with the other passengers. Then I'd say: "See here, my man, I'm quite sure I gave up my ticket. Look! Here's the return half, number so-and-so. Just look through your bunch and see if you haven't got the companion half." He looks and he finds it, and says: "I beg your pardon, sir; you're quite right. Here it is." I say: "Don't mention it," and go through. And even if he suspects me, he can't prove anything, and the other fellow is well out of the way by that time.'
'I see,' said the Chief Inspector. 'How often did you say you had indulged in this little game?'
'Well, never twice at the same station. It doesn't do to repeat one's effects too often.'
'I think I'd better interview Schleicher and his secretary again,' said Peacock pensively. 'And the ticket-collector. I suppose we were meant to think that Grant had skipped to the Irish Mail. I admit we should have thought so but for the accident that the Mail left before the London train came in. However, it takes a clever criminal to beat our organisation. By the way, Mr Egg, I hope you will not make a habit - '
'Talking of bad habits,' said Monty happily, 'what about another spot?'