The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 5 (August 1, 1936)
TheThirteenth Clue — Or — The Story Of The Signal Cabin Mystery
A Fantastic Poisoning Mystery.
While Dr. Eric Brannigan knelt down again to examine once more the lifeless body of his old friend, he saw the multiple wounds on his head and shoulders, the clear marks of throttling, the terrible fear which even death had failed to remove from his features, to say nothing of the knife wound to the heart and the appearance of drowning. Mechanically he placed his thumb and forefinger on the wrist to satisfy himself that death was not being feigned, for he knew what a practical joker Pat Lauder always had been.
“Dead, Gentlemen,” he pronounced with that certitude which is possible only in a great scientist. “Quite,” remarked the great detective.
That fact having at last been established to the satisfaction of the small group present, the representative of the law, the local police constable, took charge. From his cavernous hip pocket he extracted a pocket book. This he elevated before him, and then gravely, as befitted the occasion, after carefully placing upon the end of a spatulate thumb a supply of saliva, he laboriously lifted page after page until he reached the first one that was blank. Diving his hand into his right trouser pocket he extracted a short stump of pencil which he first placed upon his tongue and then pointed to the great private investigator, Impskill Lloyd.
“Here, you what were you doin’ 'ere at this time of the morning?” At once the doctor gazed at Impskill. “Was this the murderer, this man who belonged not to Matamata?” “I Sir, am Lloyd; Impskill Lloyd.” This was said with savage ferocity, for the great investigator was upset to think that even in Matamata there was someone who did not know him, that is, without his disguise.
All the pomposity of the overfed constable disappeared. “Not the great 'tec?” he asked in awe. Impskill nodded. “Help me turn this body over,” he said. The constable slumped down on his knees at once. He turned the body over. “As I thought,” muttered Impskill, “dry as a bone.” The others gazed wonderingly at the great detective, yet he had only stated the simple truth. The front of the victim was dry while his back and shoulders were drenched. As the local constable, a grossly overfed and corpulent person, moved his knee, there was a slight sound of crushing glass and there arose at once a sweet odour which the sensitive nostril of Impskill at once noticed. With a heavy blow the constable was hurled on his back. A second later Impskill was extracting from a pocket on the dead man fragments of a broken bottle. Hastily he sniffed at those pieces which he was able to pick out; most had been pulverised under the great weight of the constable. “Cy-pot!” he said to himself. He did not have time to say, cyanide of potassium, though if he had cared to do so, he really had time to say prussic acid.
Whipping out his powerful torch—for that weapon was more important to him than his automatic, which, as it happened, he had left at home for his children to play with, he switched it on and carefully examined the halfopen mouth of the dead man. Lowering his face to the dead man's he sniffed, then rose with a look of triumph in his steely eyes. A moment later he was down on his knees again and was gazing intently at the feet. He raised one foot up, gazed carefully at the toeplates, for toeplates are worn in Matamata, and again with a gleam of triumph in his eyes, rose to his feet, dropped the foot with a bang alongside its mate, and strode rapidly to the windows across the cabin.
It was nearing dawn and the roadway across the railway track could just be discerned. The trio in the cabin watched spellbound as the mighty Impskill stepped back and stood over the recumbent form on the floor. The constable was watching, with his mouth almost as wide open as the book which he held in his hand. The doctor was rubbing his chin in bewilderment, while Gillespie, the blase, used as he was to his great master's voice and work, had stopped rolling a cigarette.
Once more Impskill dived his hand, this time into a waistcoat pocket of the dead man. He extracted a torn page 33 piece of paper which he examined minutely. There were no bloodstains on it, but there were the words, “Send it at once to me or take the consequences. The position is desperate.” The signature at the bottom was almost indecipherable, though the surname appeared to be Mulligan.
“Hurry constable,” said Impskill, in such an imperative tone that the great human walrus jerked himself, forward to obey the command. Impskill stopped to watch the result. Unheeding a swinging piece of fencing wire the constable caught his nose in a ring at the end of the wire. In a moment the huge leather pipe vomited 100 gallons of icy water upon the head and shoulders of the constable who fell prostrate upon the duckwalk. Again Impskill rubbed his chin.
“I thought so.” Then he added, “You can get up constable,” and stepped forward to assist him. As he helped him to his feet he flashed his torch on the drenched man. “As I thought,” he muttered again. “Almost dry in front.” He turned him round and then, in a tone as if he had made a great discovery, he added, “You are very wet, my man,” “So I am,” answered P.C. Fanning. “I can't stay now, I'll 'op 'orf 'ome and change or I might get pneumonia.” He pronounced it “pumonia,” for he could never remember if the “p” was silent, as it is in some words and places, or whether it was the “n.” He knew it was one of them, but he usually picked the wrong one. “I shall have to go on with the inquiry myself then,” said the great Impskill with a trace of irony in his deep voice. “Does that matter?” stuttered the shivering constable. “A little local affliction apparently,” remarked the ever ready Gillespie. The constable floundered across the patch of grass, through a wire fence and was soon shambling along the road to the police station.
“It must have happened near here,” said Impskill to Gillespie, for he was killed on the road and carried up to the cabin. Gillespie nodded his head, not because he followed the reasoning of his master, but because he could not think of any better idea. “As I thought,” said Impskill as they walked down the street for about ten yards. “Do you see that score on the road Gill?” and he pointed to a definite scratch on the tar-sealed road. It was there all right, and both before and after the scratch there was the mark of a motor-car tyre. Some car had been stopped suddenly there and not so long ago. “That car was travelling at 55 miles an hour or in modern and more precise terms, about 80 feet per second.”
As he made this further comment the great investigator swept the bitumen with his ninety candle power torch. There were stains which he measured and a strange smudge running diagonally across the road and heading towards the gap in the fence through which the party had passed.
“We will feed,” suddenly remarked Impskill. A door had just opened over which a notice proclaimed that breakfast was ready at any time of the day. The two men entered after assuring the doctor that they would see him later. It was a cold morning, and Impskill, after calling the girl and ordering the conventional bacon and eggs, went up to the fireplace. He switched his torch into it. The fireplace had not yet been cleaned. There was some unburnt paper, and the hawk eye of the detective noticed that the writing was the same as that of the piece he had removed from the pocket of the dead man. At that moment the girl returned to set the table. Impskill stood up and tried to appear as if he had seen nothing, in spite of the tremendously important discovery he had made. Then to his alarm, for he had not yet taken possession of the paper, the girl approached to clean the gratt.
“Did you know Pat Lauder, Miss?” the detective asked the girl. She started nervously. Had her secret been discovered? “What's that to you, Mr. Imperence?” she asked, trying to get off her alarm with a bold front. “Oh, don't be alarmed, for I was only wondering,” answered Impskill. “Have you not heard that he has been found dead?” “What, Pat dead? Well, I did not do it. Sir,” she cried. “When did you see him last?” and he fixed her with his hypnotising gaze. “Last night Sir, but I did not do it,” and the girl started to snivel. “Where did you see him?” pursued the relentless inquirer. “Here Sir,” and the girl pointed to the very seat the detective was himself occupying. “He was reading a letter or something that he had just received. He said that it was all rot and threw it in the fire.” “He tore it up first, girl” said the detective sternly. “How did you know that Sir?” The girl was obviously scared. “When did he leave you?” was the next question. “Oh, about eleven o'clock Sir. He had been to a party with the Mayor. We were giving him a send off as he was going away.” “What was the present you all gave him?” “Ten pounds,” was the reply.
“Was Pat glad to be going,” asked Impskill. “No, Sir, he was very depressed.page 34
He had had a lot of beer and he was very melancholy. He told me he would miss me.” Here the girl sat down and burst into tears. “Where else did Pat go that night, Miss?” “Only to the chemist and the Mayor's,” she replied. “Why the chemist; do you know?”
The girl then told how Pat had an old dog, too old and rheumaticy for practical use, and he had told her he was going to destroy it before he left. He was going to get some prussic acid. Hastily eating his eggs and bacon, the detective left Gill, who was a slow eater, in the restaurant, and made for the local chemist. “Let me see your poison book,” he said as he walked up to the counter. “Poison book; what for, who are you?” and the chemist looked suspiciously at the stranger. “What did you sell to Pat Lauder yesterday?” asked Impskill. He was becoming impatient, for he was now hot on the scent. “I sold him some throat paint,” said the chemist defiantly, for he had forgotten to enter the prussic acid in the book. “Why is that bottle of cyanide out of its place, amongst the tonics?” asked the detective.
“Come, out with it man, I'm in a hurry.” Impskill thrust his visiting card in the chemist's face. He at any rate had heard of the great detective. “It's no use trying to kid you. I know that, Sir. I did give him prussic acid.” “Had you quarrelled?” “Oh no, Sir, he wanted it for his old dog. I gave him an ounce in a bottle. I marked it poison, so that he would not confuse it with the paint which was in the same kind of bottle.”
“The case is clear now, but where are the two men who concealed the corpse?” Leaving the chemist in a nice state of mind, for he did not know if Impskill would have him arrested or not, the detective returned to the restaurant where Gill, and the maid were in very close consultation. However, as he entered the room, Gill, pushed her violently away and adjusted his tie. “Come with me,” said his master, and Gill, followed wondering how much the detective had seen.
The two men were soon slipping along the road out of the village; round the next corner they stopped at a garage. “Drive right inside,” said Impskill, and Gillespie did so. An attendant came to the side window of the Hispano Suiza. “Did you have any cars call early this morning?” asked the detective. “Yes Sir, a Calipso, 1933 model.” “Were there two men in it?” asked the detective. “Yes Sir, they were a funny pair. One of them said that they had borrowed the car from their father and they wanted a wash down. They insisted on hosing down the car themselves. Seemed anxious that I should not see the car too close.” “Did you notice any marks on the radiator?” asked the detective. “Yes Sir, there was a broken or dented left mudguard and there were marks on the radiator.” “I was suspicious of the car, so I took a description, and here it is.” As soon as he learnt that it was Impskill himself, the attendant handed the detective the details.
They returned at once to the village and at their request the local doctor started at once with a post mortem examination. The detective wanted to know only one thing. Was there prussic acid in the stomach? There was, and plenty of it.
“That was a most interesting case, Gill. It might have been caused by a number of things, yet it is now all clear.” “Was interesting,” said Gillespie. “You don't mean to say that you know who did the dirty deed?” asked Gill. At that moment the policeman came out from the station to them. “Well, how is things now; got any more information for me?” he asked. “Oh, yes, it is all over.” “Who did it then?” asked the policeman, looking page 36 page 37 round for someone to arrest. “Felo de se?” queried Gillespie. “No, can't be that, there's been no sailors round here for months,” answered the policeman.
“Killed himself,” said Gill, as one wise man to a fool.
“No, you are both wrong,” and Impskill looked pityingly at them both.
Constable Fanning scratched his head, first carefully removing his best shako for the purpose. “Oh, by the way, Constable, will you kindly go to the gap in the fence where we got through and I shall be surprised if you do not find a stiletto there, probably on this side of the fence?”
They all hastened to the spot where, just as Impskill said, there lay a stilletto. It was a beautiful narrow blade with a cross-like handle which must have been caught in the wire, for it lay immediately beneath the wires in the long grass.
“The pub is open,” said Gill, hopefully, for his master was wont to relax whenever he had solved a problem. They all adjourned to the local hotel, and then on a bench in front of a large log fire which had been alight throughout the night the great detective unfolded the story. “You know, Gillespie, there is only one small matter that has to be cleared beyond doubt, but I am fairly certain of even that.
“There was no murder, there was no suicide, it was accidental death. The original message suggested murder or a perverted sense of humour. It has turned out to be the latter. You will remember the tar on the toes?” and he turned to the policeman. “Yes Sir,” answered the policeman untruthfully, for he had noticed nothing. “Did you also notice that the toes were pointed downward and the body was lying just as if it had been dragged into the cabin and left there?” He said he had. “It had not been drowned. It was wet only on one side. You will understand that?”
Constable Fanning scowled at the thought of the risk that he had incurred of “pumonia,” even if it had been in the course of his duty. Moreover, he felt that the detective had rather run him into it. “When I saw that Lauder had probably received his wetting from some artificial origin, I looked for the cause close at hand and saw how it could have happened. The constable demonstrated that theory in a very practical manner,” and he smiled at the policeman. “The heart thrust then required to be solved. That was not so difficult. The motor car which we traced to the garage cleared that up all right. What happened was a pure accident. You will remember that Lauder had a party and I ascertained that a good deal of the local beer was consumed. That beer has an intoxicating content of a high order and Lauder was not much of a drinker—as you will have noticed from his clear skin. On this occasion he quite excusably drank rather more than his wont. He became, if not inebriated, careless and indifferent. As he was walking home with the local chemist, because he would be leaving early next morning, the chemist had opened his shop and given him the two bottles, one of throat mixture and the other the deadly poison, prussic acid. He gave him more than was necessary to kill the old dog, yet he was fond of Lauder and no doubt did not wish to appear mean in his eyes. Lauder left the chemist after having taken a few brandies there in addition to the powerful Matamata beer already referred to. He was walking up the street in the middle of the road, no doubt happily crooning the latest song, for as you all know Lauder was the village crooner. A motor car approached whose lights were of poor quality. The car was travelling at 55 miles per hour, or, as I previously remarked, in more modern parlance, about 80 feet per second. The two men in the car were strangers to the locality, they had borrowed the car without going through the formality of first apprising the owner of their intention to do so.
“This little incident upset the men. They were not dangerous crooks, mere thieves, and they did not want to be charged with murder or manslaughter. They got out of the car and saw the crumpled body of Lauder page 38 page 39 whom they imagined they had killed. They looked wildly round, and then decided to remove the body from the road and perhaps no one would suspect a motor accident. They noticed there was a railway signal cabin not far away. They both seized the body and dragged it, face downwards through the fence. Dragging it through the fence loosened the stiletto which had penetrated Lauder's heart as he was thrown to the ground. Then they made the walk along the duckwalk with the same unfortunate results as happened to our friend the constable.” Here Impskill smiled at Constable Fanning, who turned beetroot red. “The two men then dragged the body up the steps and pushed open the cabin door. It was not locked. Doors are not locked in Matamata, so strong is the inherent honesty of Matamataians. They then left the corpse which bore the indicia of having been drowned, stabbed, and throttled, apart from any chance of a collision with a motor car. They then left the village hurriedly, stopping at the garage for a clean up.
“I am, of course, not interestd in the trivial matter of stealing motor cars. There was no murder; there was no felo de se; it was a pure accident for which the motor car thieves were not responsible at all. I think they would like to know that, for they must be worrying. The throttle marks were not marks of violence at all. Sophie of the restaurant had the same stain on her thumbs, and she had been clasping the unfortunate Lauder in her hands round the neck in a tender embrace. You, Gillespie, will understand what I mean.”
The great detective finished and began to move away. Then the constable had a flash of intelligence. “That is all right so far as it goes Mr. Lloyd, but what about the telephone ring and the gurgle.” “That, Sir,” said the great Impskill with humility, “is the only thing that deceived me, but I have solved that also. That message was sent by one of the two motor thieves. They knew that the police might find them and charge them with the serious crime of murder or manslaughter, and as they already have a long list of convictions, at least that is probable, their sentence would be death or a life sentence. Then they revealed that they possessed intelligence of the highest order. They knew that I, and I alone, could solve this mystery of mysteries and they hit upon their ingenious method of drawing me into the investigation. Good day, Gentlemen.”
He rose and made for the outer door. Not a murmur escaped the enthralled audience. Even the nonchalant Gill, dropped his half-made cigarette in amazement.
Somebody has been writing to a London weekly to ask which is the least harmful form of smoking. The Editor refused to commit himself. Perhaps he isn't a smoker, and really didn't know, although editors are supposed to know everything. Had he been a New Zealand editor, he'd have had no difficulty in answering that question. He'd simply have said—at any rate in effect— “Smoke ‘toasted,’ because in that case it doesn't matter a button whether you puff pipe or cigarettes or both, this tobacco's O.K.” And he'd have been dead right, because whether you smoke “the pipe of peace” or “roll your own” toasted is so pure and comparatively free from nicotine (the toasting eliminates the stuff) that you can indulge in any number of pipes or cigarettes without fear of their letting you down. Yes, toasting does make a difference! In fact, it makes all the difference, whether you smoke Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Cavendish, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead Gold or Desert Gold. They're all unapproached for flavour and bouquet, and are the only genuine toasted brands.*page 40