Behind The Scenes
by Dornford Yates
On the thirtieth day of November a barrister left his chambers in Fountain Court. His name was famous—Sir Weston Gale, K.C. He was a man of habit at fifty-five. Unless some part-heard case was insisting that he should stay, he always left his chambers soon after a quarter-past five. Thence to the club: and thence again to his flat in Albert Court. This was the way of a man who had made his name. Many a consultation was actually held at his flat—after dinner, of course. Solicitors groaned, but complied. They had to put up with that, if they briefed Sir Weston Gale. He was a bachelor.
There was a dense fog in London. In the Temple at a quarter past five visibility was virtually nil.
Sir Weston crossed the court and passed down the shallow steps, with the lawns on his left. He was for the door in the wall, and from there for the Temple Station, where he would take the train to St. James’s Park. Fog or no fog, he would walk across the park to his club in St. James’s Street.
He was unaware of the shadow that moved so close to his heels. He was, in fact, composing an opening speech. But this was never delivered. As he came to the door in the wall, the shadow behind him struck at the base of the skull, and Sir Weston Gale, K.C. fell dead in his tracks.
* * * * * * * *
At a quarter to eight the same evening Sir Weston Gale’s cook-housekeeper burst into tears.
“’E’s bin knock down,” she wailed. “Knock down an’ run over, ’e ’as—in this blarsted fog.”
“Now, now, Mrs. Dunn,” said the butler. “’E may be only delayed. Stuck in the toob or something.”
For all that, he sat down again and rang up the police.
“Oh, is that Scotland Yard? . . . This is Sir Weston Gale’s butler . . . Sir Weston Gale, K.C. . . . Well, Sir Weston has not returned—returned to his flat. I mean, he’s unusually late. I’ve rung up his club, and they tell me he’s not been in—and that again is unusual. And under the circumstances. . . . Oh, no, his chambers are closed. That would be quite normal. I did ring up, to make sure, but they said there was no reply. And what with this fog an’ all. . . . Yes, Sir Weston Gale. . . . Kensington two-four-two-four-five. . . . Oh, certainly. Thank you very much.”
The butler replaced the receiver and got to his feet.
“They’ll institoot inquiries,” he reported, “an’ let us know. An’ now we’ve done it, you see if ’e don’t walk in.”
But Mrs. Dunn refused to be comforted.
“’E’s bin knock down,” she sobbed. “Lyin’ in Charin’ Crorse ’Ospital, like as not. An’ them lovely sweetbreads waitin’—’is favourite dish.”
* * * * * * * *
Four and a half hours later the Assistant Commissioner lighted his third cigar.
“I warned you,” he said, “that we might have to wait some time.”
The Director of Public Prosecutions uncrossed his legs.
“I’m perfectly happy,” he said. “When you want to go to bed, you can turn me out.”
At that moment the bell of the house was rung.
A moment later Chief Inspector Falcon was ushered into the room.
Chief Inspector Falcon was thirty-six. He had been at Harrow and Oxford and had been called to the Bar. After two years in the chambers of Treasury Counsel, he had left the Bar and entered the ranks of the Metropolitan Police. For six months he had walked his beat: then he had been transferred to the C.I.D. His rise had been very swift. You cannot keep such men down.
“Sorry I’m so late, sir.”
“Quite all right, Falcon. The Director and I understand. Will you have a drink?”
“Later on, if I may, sir. I’d rather talk first.”
“As you please. Sit down on the sofa.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The Chief Inspector sat down. The other two men leaned forward, watching his face.
“The body was found,” said Falcon, “by a porter at seven-fifteen. Bow Street caught me as I was leaving, and I was on the spot at five and twenty to eight. Rain had then been falling for half an hour. The body had been dragged a few feet, aside from the path which people would usually take: the fog being very thick, it lay where it was unobserved.
“At twenty to eight the Divisional Surgeon arrived. The base of the skull had been fractured. One heavy blow—with a hammer, or something like that. Death instantaneous. Had occurred not less than one hour and not more than five hours before. No sign of robbery.
“Sir Weston’s chambers were closed, which was natural enough. But I got a key from a porter and left a sergeant in charge.” Falcon glanced at his chief. “I’ve been rather prodigal of men, sir; but I felt that in such a case . . .”
“Perfectly right,” said the Assistant Commissioner. “No stone unturned. If it takes the Yard to lift it, it can’t be helped. Can you see the headlines to-morrow? And, while we’re on it, what have you done with the Press?”
“Let them right in, sir. It can’t do any harm and it may do good.”
“The porter gave me the addresses of the senior and junior clerks, and whilst I was taking them, a message came through from the Yard, to say that Sir Weston’s butler had just rung up. Getting uneasy, because he had not returned. Albert Court. I sent Ross off there at once, to break the news to the servants and take charge until I came. And then I took a car and went after the clerks.
“The senior clerk took some finding. I never ran him to earth until a quarter to ten. That was in a bar-parlour, and he was the worse for drink.”
“Name of Masters?” said the Director.
“That’s right, sir.”
“I remember him. He was junior clerk to Charles Mason—that’s years ago. And a very good man: and then he took to drink.”
“I’m much obliged, sir,” said Falcon. “I mean, one never knows.”
“Well, I tried him naturally. Sometimes a man who’s drink taken is very valuable. But he’d gone over the line; so I left a man to trail him and went for his junior. I found him at home—in bed. I got a lot out of him—he’s a noticing lad.” Falcon took out his notebook.
“First, the news shook him—knocked him right out. I think he was the last person to see Sir Weston alive—with one exception, of course but we won’t count him. Sir Weston left chambers as usual between five-twenty and five-twenty-five. As usual, sir. He left to go to his club. Said so, as usual, when Parsons—that’s the junior—was helping him on with his coat. Always walked to the Temple station, using the door in the wall. His chambers are on the ground floor, and Parsons, letting him out, saw him start off that way. Saw nobody else: the fog was ‘that thick.’ The moment Sir Weston had left, the senior clerk went out. I don’t think there’s anything in it, for he makes a practice of that and, although he covers it up, he really goes out for a drink: but he daren’t go out until Sir Weston has gone. Still, there it is. In fact, to-night he left on Sir Weston’s heels. He was back in some twenty minutes—about a quarter to six. Behaviour perfectly normal. No one else left those chambers till six o’clock. Parsons gave Sir Weston a very good chit. Couldn’t understand his having an enemy. Gentle, easy-going, generous. Often took papers out to his flat. By order, whenever he did so, he went to the servants’ hall and was given a glass of port. Knows the butler and cook-housekeeper quite well. Was sure they would be terribly upset. Could recall no visits to Sir Weston which were not professional. Or telephone calls—except to his flat or his club. Never once remembered hearing high words. Occasional scraps in Court, but these were rare. ‘Sir Weston was too good-tempered.’
“Well, then I went off to the flat . . .
“Ross opened the door. The butler was there with him, but the cook-housekeeper and the two maids had gone to bed. I saw Ross alone, while the butler was getting some tea. I wanted to know how the latter had taken the news, but that we shall never know, because the housekeeper fainted and that tore everything up. You may think me foolish, sir, for looking so hard at him and the senior clerk; but I felt they were possibles and I wanted all I could get.”
“I don’t blame you at all,” said his chief. “In fact, I agree with you.”
“In a word,” said the Director, “this murder was done by someone who knew Sir Weston’s ways—and knew them well?”
“That’s my belief, sir,” said Falcon. “I may be wrong.”
“I don’t think you are. Please go on.”
“Well, first for the butler’s movements. In fact, to-day—yesterday now—was his regular afternoon out. He seems to have gone out most days—on errands and things like that. Quite legitimately, of course. But Thursday is his regular day, and so he went out. As a rule, he spends his time off in walking about, but this time the fog was so bad that he went to the cinema—a Lower Regent Street house. The picture was still going when he suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to send a telegram. A wire for Sir Weston, reserving his rooms at Sandwich for the week-end. Golf. He left the show at once and sent off the wire—from the Office in —— Court, between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street. Then he took a ’bus to the Army and Navy Stores, bought a pound of tobacco for Sir Weston—his usual brand—and took a ’bus home, arriving at half-past six.
“Well, that was that. I’ve asked for the telegram, which seems to have been sent off about five-and-twenty-past five. If it was, well, it lets him out—no doubt about that.”
“Piccadilly to the Temple?” said the Assistant Commissioner.
“Twelve minutes by taxi, sir, in weather like that.”
“Yes. Go on.”
“He spoke very warmly of Sir Weston—seemed genuinely grieved. Had been with him more than twelve years. Plenty of people to dinner, but very few intimate friends. Relatives two—niece and nephew. The former, ‘a very nice lady’: the latter, not so good. The only time he remembered Sir Weston cross was when his nephew turned up. Mr. Ronald ——, of Cork Street. In the motor-car trade—at the moment. I expect he’ll appear to-morrow, so I thought I’d leave him to-night. Telephone-calls, nothing doing. Sir Weston seldom spoke and never took calls himself. Hammond—that’s the butler—remembered nothing suspicious at any time. No women at all.
“I think that’s all of importance. I left Ross there with one man. He’ll deal with the Press.
“We may or may not find the weapon. It’s probably in the Thames: from the door in the wall to the river is only a biscuit’s throw. But I’ve asked the River Police to look at the mud by the wall and I’m having the sand-bins searched for a quarter of a mile. Biggins is at the mortuary: I’m going on there after this.
“To-day, if you approve, sir, I go to the Post Office first. Then to Sir Weston’s solicitor—the butler gave me his name. Mr. Wallace of Newton and Crosby, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Perhaps you know him, sir?”
“I know him,” said the Director. “Would you like me to say a word?”
“I’d be very grateful, sir. If you could ring him up at his private house, before he leaves for his office . . . I hope to be there about a quarter to ten.”
“It shall be done, Chief Inspector.”
“Thank you, sir. After that, I return to the flat, with either Mr. Wallace or one of his clerks. I thought I’d send Stock to the chambers, to see the senior clerk and learn what he can.”
The Assistant Commissioner nodded.
“I can’t improve upon that.” He pointed to drinks on a table. “Help yourself, Falcon; and then let’s hear what you think.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The Chief Inspector rose, mixed himself a whisky and soda and turned about, tumbler in hand.
“There’s a chance, sir, the Will may help us. I think the crime was committed by someone who stood to gain by Sir Weston’s death.”
The Director fingered his chin.
“Who could have known the contents of Sir Weston’s Will?”
“I don’t know, sir. But there may have been a copy.”
“To which someone had access? That’s true. And if the Will doesn’t help?”
“I still think it was done by someone who stood to gain by his death. A forged cheque, for instance, which, when his account came in, Sir Weston was bound to spot. I mean, I cannot believe that the murder was done in revenge. And it wasn’t for robbery.”
The Assistant Commissioner offered the box of cigars. Falcon thanked him and took one. As he slid off the band—
“You’re looking at the butler,” said his chief.
“Yes, sir,” said Falcon, “I am.”
“I’ll tell you,” said the Director. “Because his alibi is a shade too good to be true.”
The Chief Inspector smiled.
“That’s right, sir.”
The Assistant Commissioner seemed to be thinking aloud.
“One, he was out at the time. Two, he was familiar with Sir Weston’s ways. Three, he might have had access to a copy of the Will. If we can crack that alibi . . .”
The Director cleared his throat.
“We’re assuming that the dead man walked straight from his chambers to the door in the wall?”
“I think we can do that, sir. We have Parsons’ statement that that was the way he went. And he said he was going to his Club. But he’d pass several chambers en route. I’ll have them visited to-morrow, just in case.”
The Assistant Commissioner was speaking.
“From the Temple to the Stores, and from Piccadilly to the Stores?”
“Nothing in it, sir. Perhaps a shade quicker from the Temple by Underground.”
The three men talked for another quarter of an hour. Then Falcon took his leave and, after calling at the mortuary, went to his bed.
* * * * * * * *
“Tell me this,” said the Chief Inspector. “A man comes into this office to send a wire. How does he get a form?”
“From one of the boxes,” said the Postmaster. “There’s one over every desk. You know. As you pull out one form, another comes down.”
“You don’t use pads here?”
“Only for foreign forms. All the others are loose.”
“Then this telegram was sent from here, but was not written here?”
“I’d say you were right there, sir. This form has been torn from a pad.”
“Right,” said Falcon. “And now may I see the girl?”
A moment later an assistant entered the room.
“Just look at that wire, Miss Hollis.”
One glance, and the girl exclaimed.
“There now!” she said. “I knew I’d seen the name somewhere. Quite lately, I mean. Poor gentleman. Why, it must be almost the last thing he ever did.”
“To send this wire? He never sent it, Miss Hollis. And that’s where I want your help. What did he look like? The fellow that sent it, I mean.”
The girl reflected.
“Oh dear,” she murmured. “One gets so many wires.”
“I know. But this is very important. Cudgel your brains.”
“I might recognize him,” said the girl: “but I can’t recall him at all.”
“Man or woman?” said Falcon.
“Oh, a man, I know.”
“How d’you know that?”
“Because I remember his hands.”
“What about them?”
“Well, I only saw one properly.”
“Right or left?”
“It’d be his right—as he handed the telegram in.”
“What was it like?”
“The nails were bitten—dreadful. It made me feel queer.”
“Sure you’re making no mistake?”
“Oh no. I’d swear to that. But I wish I could remember his face.”
“Well, go on trying,” said Falcon. “Tell the Postmaster if you do. Not a word of all this, of course, to anyone else.”
“Oh no, sir.”
As the girl left the room, the Chief Inspector pointed to a telephone.
“Can I use that to speak to the Yard?”
“Certainly, sir,” said the Postmaster.
“Can anyone overhear me?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ll stand outside the door.”
“If you’d be so good.”
The Chief Inspector spoke first to Albert Court.
“Everything all right, Ross?”
“I’ll be along before long. If anyone wants to go out, they must wait for me.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Nobody has been out?”
“Oh no, sir.”
Then Falcon spoke to the Yard.
“That you, Sims? Look here. The four best trailers you’ve got for Albert Court. I’ll be at the Yard to see them one hour from now. Inform A. C.”
“Very good, sir.”
Falcon reflected that he was very well served.
* * * * * * * *
The solicitor unfolded a document, straightened it out.
“It’s very short,” he said.
“Legacies?” said Falcon.
“Only to his clerks and his servants.”
“May I hear them?”
“Certainly. One thousand pounds to his butler, Hammond by name: two-fifty to Mrs. Dunn, cook-housekeeper: six months’ wages to the two maids. Five hundred to his senior clerk: one-fifty to his junior. All free of all duties.”
“I see. And the rest?”
“Four-fifths of the residue to his niece, one-fifth to his nephew. Executors, myself and one of my partners. That’s all.”
“I see. Was Sir Weston supplied with a copy of that Will?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll soon find out.”
Wallace pressed a button and picked up a telephone.
“And whilst we’re waiting,” said Falcon, “what is the date of that Will?”
The solicitor glanced at the back-sheet.
“June of this year,” he said.
“Had he made a Will before?”
“Oh yes. One or two, I think.”
“Have you got a copy of the last one?”
“A copy—yes. The original’s been destroyed.”
“I’d like to see it,” said Falcon.
“So you shall.”
Five minutes later, perhaps, Falcon left his seat and crossed to the fire.
“The position is this,” he said. “First, it is clear that a copy of Sir Weston’s last Will was sent by post to his flat in Albert Court. It is, therefore, possible that its contents may have been known to somebody else. Secondly, by the last Will but one, three persons benefit less than they do by the last Will of all. Those three are the butler, the cook-housekeeper and the niece. The first two received only six months’ wages apiece, and the third only half the residue instead of four-fifths. Am I right?”
“Perfectly,” said Wallace.
“Now let me put a hypothetical case. Richard Roe makes a Will, a copy of which falls into the hands of John Doe. Reading the copy through, John Doe perceives that Richard Roe has left him ten thousand pounds. John Doe covets this fortune and presently kills Richard Roe, either because he can’t wait or because he fears that Richard may change his mind. Very well. So far, so good. But conceive John Doe’s state of mind when the lawyers propound an old Will—by which he is left only five hundred pounds.”
“My God!” said Wallace, starting up.
“Exactly,” said Falcon. “His face will be a study: but never mind that. He will feel that he must take action—do something, something to open the lawyers’ eyes. After all, he has risked his neck. And if, after that, he is not to receive his reward . . .”
“By God,” said Wallace, “I’ll do it. I’d risk my Certificate to bring the murderer down.”
“I don’t say it will,” said Falcon. “But I honestly think it might help.”
* * * * * * * *
Some six hours later the Chief Inspector entered the Assistant Commissioner’s room.
“It’s Hammond all right, sir,” he said. “But I haven’t got half enough to make an arrest.”
“Does he know that you know?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Exactly what have we got?”
“First, he did not send the wire which he said he did. He wrote the wire on a form in his master’s flat: and he gave it to someone to send. The sender bites his nails; but Hammond does not. His alibi, therefore, has gone. More. He presented an alibi which he knew to be false. Secondly, he was dumbfounded when he heard that Sir Weston had left him fifty pounds. Shaken to the foundations. I watched his face. Which suggests—very strongly indeed—that he had read and destroyed the copy of the true Will. That copy was sent to the flat: it is not there now. Only two of the drawers were locked, and the locks were poor.”
“Why d’you think he destroyed it?”
“Lest his finger-prints should be found.”
The Assistant Commissioner nodded.
“When d’you think he destroyed it?”
“After the murder, on his return to the flat.”
“Right. Go on.”
“That’s all so far, sir. I believe that he’ll take some action—I don’t know what. I’ve four men waiting to trail him, if he should leave the flat. And Ross and another are inside.”
The Assistant Commissioner smiled.
“You’re taking no chances. I hear you’ve got the weapon.”
“I think so, sir. A heavy adjustable spanner. Two feet down in the mud at the foot of the wall.”
“Doesn’t that connect him with the motor-car trade?”
“I think so, sir. But I’m waiting for him to move.”
“Depend upon it, he will. You’ve done very well.”
Falcon wrinkled his brow.
“I don’t know about that, sir. I’ve put him in balk. I’m afraid to talk to him now, for he’s like a cat on hot bricks.”
“That’s just as well. I’m all against talking too much to a man you hope to arrest. By the way, what of the others? Hadn’t the nephew to do with motor-cars?”
“Yes, sir. But he’s been in the Clinic for over a week. And the niece is in Switzerland.”
“As well for them as for us.” The Assistant Commissioner laughed. “Whatever did Wallace say when you said he’d got to propound an out-of-date Will?”
“He saw the point, sir, all right.”
“I must say I give you best.”
“If it makes Hammond move, sir, it will have served its turn.”
With his words, the telephone rang.
The Assistant Commissioner picked the receiver up.
“Yes? . . . Hold on.” He gave the receiver to Falcon. “For you,” he said.
“Yes?” said the Chief Inspector.
“Ross speaking, sir,” said a voice.
“Hammond left the flat, sir, two minutes ago.”
* * * * * * * *
At half-past ten that night Falcon reported progress at the Assistant Commissioner’s house. The Director of Public Prosecutions was also there.
“I’ll cut out the chase, sir,” said Falcon, “and only say this—that he did his level best to cover his tracks.”
“You had four men on him?”
“Only three really, sir. They work in shifts, and the fourth is always resting—I find it better that way. Well, two of them lost him: it wasn’t their fault at all. But the third got home.
“Hammond went to a garage in Islington—a place on the small side that seemed to have seen better days. There he picked up a fellow that bites his nails. The two went off to the place where the latter lives. Lodgings, I think, above a greengrocer’s shop. There they spent over an hour. Then they came out together, and the fellow went back to the garage and Hammond to Albert Court.”
“Very good indeed,” said the Director. “And now what?”
“I think we should wait on him, sir. If we do nothing, I think he may move again.”
“In what direction?”
“If you ask me, sir, I think he’ll go for the Will. How he’ll do that, I cannot say. An anonymous letter, perhaps. But, putting myself in his place, I’m sure I should try and do something to get my rights.”
The Assistant Commissioner chuckled.
“That’s how you do it, Falcon. Always putting yourself in the other man’s place.”
The Chief Inspector smiled.
“It’s a great help, sir.”
“Hammond believes,” said the Director, “that the lawyers have made a mistake?”
“Exactly. Mr. Wallace was careful to tell him the date of the Will. Hammond knows that one was made later—and almost certainly thinks that the lawyers have taken the wrong one out of the safe. Well, that’s enough to break a man’s heart, when he’s gone as far as murder to get his legacy.”
“I agree,” said the Assistant Commissioner. “If we sit perfectly still, he’ll move again. What about the inquest to-morrow?”
“He won’t be wanted, sir, but I’ve told him that he must be there. Six short witnesses. Mr. Wallace, to identify: the junior clerk, the porter who found the body, the Divisional Surgeon, Sir Bernard, to speak to the wound—and myself. Adjournment for a fortnight, I hope. That will suggest that we’re baffled. Of course were keeping the spanner up our sleeve.”
The Director held up a ‘Late Night Special’ edition of The Evening News.
“And who is responsible for this?”
The headline flared.
DANGER SPOT PATROLLED
“I’m afraid that was me,” said the Assistant Commissioner. “I hoped it would suggest that we feared a second tragedy. You know. Homicidal maniac at large. And I felt that everyone—the murderer included—would be pleased.”
“But what finesse,” purred the Director. “And how un-English. That comes of visiting Biarritz. I do hope you’ll go again.”
The others laughed.
“Take a drink and a smoke, Falcon, and call it a day.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Motive,” said the Director. “That’s all I ask.”
The Assistant Commissioner frowned.
“What about a thousand spot cash?”
“Not good enough,” said the Director. “I’m sorry to be so trying, but you want a conviction, don’t you? You don’t want him to walk out.”
Falcon looked over his shoulder.
“I’ve hopes, sir, of Islington.”
“Good,” said the Director. “As long as you bear it in mind. Why did he want the thousand—and want it quick? Only tell me that, and my people will send him down.”
“Only,” said the Assistant Commissioner.
The Director looked down his nose.
“Juries,” he said, “are exacting—when they’re trying a murder case. Never mind. If the Chief Inspector continues as he has begun, the day will come when Mr. Hammond will regret that he—er—eliminated a man who, to my knowledge, has saved six several necks.”
* * * * * * * *
The Inquest was held and adjourned, according to plan. When it was over, Falcon returned to the Yard, and there Wallace rang him up at ten minutes to six.
“That you, Chief Inspector? I don’t want to come to you. Could you come to me?”
“Yes. At what hour?”
“Shall we say seven o’clock at my private house?”
“I will be there.”
* * * * * * * *
Wallace went straight to the point.
“Hammond approached me as I was leaving the Court.”
“I know,” said Falcon. “I saw him.”
“He asked me to give him an appointment. I said I’d see him to-morrow at half-past three.”
“Good,” said Falcon. “He’s going to say he believes there’s another Will. Some cock-and-bull story, of course, as the reason for this belief.”
“What d’you want me to do, Chief Inspector?”
“First,” said Falcon, “have a stenographer there. Behind a screen, or something. I want every word that is said. Secondly, comply with his request and look for a later Will. Seem perturbed. Do it at once. Send for your managing clerk and tell him to look himself—in Sir Weston’s box in the strong-room. Is that all right?”
“He will return with the true Will—shamefacedly. You will behave exactly as if there had been a genuine mistake. You will seem put out and will look through the Will. And then you will tell Hammond that it is as he thought and that he now stands entitled to one thousand pounds. He is sure to ask when he can have this. You will say, ‘As soon as the Will has been proved.’ He will ask when that will be. How late can you decently put it?”
Wallace reflected. Then—
“In five or six weeks.”
“Will you tell him that?”
“And see what he says.”
* * * * * * * *
At two o’clock the next day a taxi drove into a garage at Islington.
“Want a job, mate?” said the driver, leaving his seat.
“What then?” said the gloomy foreman.
“Leak in me petrol-tank—jus’ above the exhaust.”
“Not so nice,” said the other, peering.
“Can you do it right away?”
“It’s a two-hour job,” said the other. “Yes, if you like. The solderin’ ’s nothin’. It’s takin’ the —— down.”
“I’ll bear a ’and,” said the other. “Gimme a wrap.”
Much may be learned in two hours by a well-trained man. When Detective-Sergeant Sims left the garage at half-past four, he drove to Scotland Yard at a dangerous speed.
Falcon received him at once.
“First, the spanner, sir. The foreman missed it just over a week ago. He’s properly sore, for he’s very hot on his tools.”
“Very good, Sims,” said Falcon. “How did you drag that out?”
“My spanner slipped somehow, and I asked him if none of his tools could bite any better than that. And then he was off.”
“Well done. Go on.”
“Then Amos comes into the garage—the fellow what bites his nails. He’s not the boss, but he has some sort of position—I don’t know what. Gives orders—an’ they’re obeyed: but he’s not at all popular. Went into the office an’ stayed there. Used the telephone. Later the boss comes in—Stammers, by name. Easy-going, cheerful, bone-lazy an’ drinks. Stood chatting for quite a while an’ made everyone laugh. Presently Amos comes out an’ goes up to some car. ‘Mate,’ says Stammers to me, ‘d’you want to buy a garage for fifty thousand quid?’ An’ everyone laughs fit to burst, an’ Amos looks very black an’ turns on his heel an’ goes out. I ask ‘What’s the joke?’ An’ Stammers shakes his head. ‘A family affair,’ he says. ‘You ask my brother: he’s a better vocabulary than me.’ ‘But I don’t know your brother,’ I says. ‘What, you don’t know George Stammers of Chertsey,’ he says, ‘the lawyer that’s never been done?’ They all roared with laughter again. ‘I don’t indeed,’ says I. ‘Well, you go and ask him,’ says Stammers. ‘Say you want to buy a garage, but you don’t want to pay more than twenty thousand quid. But be ready to jump when you’ve said it. He’s no sense of humour, George.’ They laughed like hell at that, an’ I left it there. Then Stammers starts again. ‘Skin-an’-Grief been here to-day?’ ‘Not to-day,’ says the foreman. I asked who Skin-an’-Grief was. They said it was Amos’s brother. I asked why they gave him that name. By God, sir, it’s Hammond.”
* * * * * * * *
George Stammers of Chertsey was only too ready to talk. After a moment, Falcon held up his hand.
“Tell me shortly first,” he said. “I want to get the hang of the thing. Then you shall give me a statement, as full as you please.”
George Stammers, solicitor, nodded. Then—
“My brother’s a wash-out,” he said. “Came to me for money a year ago. I don’t give wash-outs money; but I bought the garage from him and made him manager.”
“You thought the property would appreciate?”
“Yes. And I was right. Three months ago a lawyer went to him and asked for an option to purchase at twice what I’d paid.”
“What had you paid?” said Falcon.
George Stammers moistened his lips.
“Pretty cheap, Mr. Stammers.”
“Maybe,” said the other, frowning. “Anyway, he wanted an option—a six-months’ option to buy at twelve hundred pounds. The lawyer offered my brother twenty-five pounds—and he had the money there. My brother took it, and gave him the option he asked. The option he gave was worthless, but the lawyer didn’t know that. He believed him to be the owner, as most people did.”
Again Stammers moistened his lips.
“Then that Jackal, Amos, came in . . .
“He’d done one or two deals with my brother—finding mugs to buy his second-hand cars. Fifty-fifty, you know. So he had the run of the office, more or less. And he found out what had happened—and got to work. Remember, I knew nothing. If only I had. . . .
“You’ve heard of the Box Corporation? That lawyer was acting for them. They’d bought the whole of the block. Bought or got options on every stock and stone. The whole block is coming down, and they’re building a picture palace and modern flats. Amos discovered all this—and what does that blackguard do?”
George Stammers leaned forward, tapping his desk.
“He comes down here to me and offers me fifty pounds for an option to purchase the garage for twelve hundred pounds. Option for three months only. Produces five ten-pound notes.”
“You gave it him, Mr. Stammers?”
“I’ll say I did. And ten days later the Box Corporation starts taking their options up . . .
“Well, as soon as they went to my brother, the gaff was blown. But they wasted no time on him. The lawyer was here—in this office, within two hours. . . . I shan’t forget our interview—neither will he. When I gave him Amos’s address—care of my brother at the garage—the blood went out of his face.
“He went to Amos and offered to buy his option; And Amos said he could have it for twenty thousand pounds. You see, he knew he’d got them. They’d gone too far. Twenty thousand pounds . . . And I’m glad to say their lawyer told him to go to hell.
“That was the end of October.
“Well, that was all right. Bluff, if you like—but it didn’t suit Amos’s book. He’d been banking on selling his option. He hadn’t got twelve hundred pounds—or a fifth of that sum . . . After a bit, he offered to take fifteen thousand. The lawyer laughed in his face. ‘Take up your option,’ he said. ‘And then we’ll talk.’
“And that’s how it stands. Unless he can raise the money, instead of making a fortune, he’s fifty quid down on the deal. And raise it he can’t, Inspector. I know he’s been to the Jews, but the lawyer’s a Jew himself, and the word has gone round. And so he’s stuck. Near nineteen thousand dangling—ill-gotten gains. But he can’t move, an’ soon they’ll be out of his reach.”
“And within yours,” thought Falcon. Aloud he said, “How soon, Mr. Stammers?”
“Little over a month now. His option expires on January 10th.”
* * * * * * * *
The Director of Public Prosecutions was bristling.
“Oh, you would, would you?” he said. “You’d arrest the two to-morrow—and give us the fight of our lives. Falcon, I’m ashamed of you. After two years in Treasury Chambers, you should know better than that.”
“You think we should wait, sir?”
“Think? It’s as clear as paint. When does the option expire? On January 10th. Very well. Hammond has already visited Wallace again—to beg him to quicken up probate. Towards the end of the time, he’ll be camping in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Let him. And let Wallace pay him on January 8th. By open cheque. And let Wallace warn his bank to have the notes all ready—the numbers written down. Hammond gives the notes to his brother. And his brother goes to Chertsey, to take his option up. And that is where you arrest him—with the notes in his hand. And Hammond at the same time, wherever he is. And then you’ll have a good case. Don’t think that I’m trying to save my Department work. But I want to send these men down. Frankly, I think they deserve it. It was a cold, black crime. And I’d known poor Weston Gale for forty years. He was to have married my sister . . . and then she died.”
There was a little silence.
“I never knew that,” said the Assistant Commissioner.
“Only three people do,” said the Director. “And they are all in this room.”
* * * * * * * *
On January 9th Amos and Hammond reached Chertsey soon after eleven o’clock. The brothers were in excellent fettle. Their ship had come home.
As they sighted the solicitor’s office—
“I won’t come in,” said Hammond. “I’ll stroll round and about. You won’t be long.”
Amos went in . . .
As he entered the solicitor’s presence—
“Good day, Mr. Stammers,” he said. “I believe I’ve an option outstanding . . . a matter of twelve hundred pounds.”
“That is so,” said Stammers, drily.
Amos’s hand went into his pocket.
“Due to expire to-morrow. I’m here to take it up.” He pitched an envelope down. “You’ll find a thousand there, and here’s another two hundred to square the account.”
“Amos,” said Falcon, standing behind his back.
The man swung about.
“You’re under arrest, Amos. You’ll hear the charge at the station. And now, if you please, I must ask you to come with me.”
“Under arrest? You’re mad.”
“And I must warn you that anything you may say will be taken down and may be used in evidence against you.”
“Arrest for what?”
“Murder. Sir Weston Gale.”
Amos’s eyes bolted.
“You’ve got the wrong man,” he said. “I was over a mile away.”
“I know,” said Falcon. He opened the door. “Come on.”
“What about that money?” said Amos.
“We shall take charge of that—until the end of your trial.”
Amos’s eyes were burning.
“You filthy ——,” he said.
Falcon held open the door.
“Come on,” he said.
Amos passed out of the room, down the ill-lighted hall, over the pavement and into a dun-coloured car.
As Falcon followed him in—
“And his brother?” he said.
“Gone on ahead, sir,” said Ross.
Falcon slammed the door.
* * * * * * * *
The King against Amos (alias Hammond) and Amos was what lawyers call a ‘dead’ case.
As the two were being sentenced to death, Amos turned upon Hammond and seized his throat. The warders got him away before damage was done.
“Not so impatient,” breathed one. “Besides, the hangman’ll do it better than you.”
He was perfectly right.
End of Behind The Scenes by Dornford Yates