Authors: Michael Gilbert
Tags: #Petrella At Q
He was thinking about Mick as his driver inched the car through the thick traffic in Kentledge Road. He was thinking about his two brothers, nearly as big as Mick, and about the small white-haired woman who was the mother of the three. He had a weakness for the Irish. He wished they had taken up Mick’s offer when he made it and gone after the Pole. It would have been a lot more satisfactory that way round.
The policeman on point duty recognised the car and held up the traffic for them whilst they turned into Kentledge Mews. They squeezed in behind a large blue station-wagon parked in front of an unmarked door which, Petrella assumed, led up to Mr. Lempard’s office. The door was locked.
He walked round to the front of the building and took the lift up to the first floor. Here he found Mr. Lempard and, lounging in a chair in front of the electric fire, his legal adviser, Eric Duxford.
“Good of you to come round,” said Mr. Lempard. “Have a drink?”
“Not just now.”
“Show him the paper, Duxford.”
Eric Duxford uncoiled himself from the chair. He had a long white face, made longer by a pointed beard. He smiled thinly at Petrella. He had been a thorn in the flesh of the South London police for twenty years.
“I think the wording is quite clear,” he said. “It’s at the top of page two. ‘In consideration of the remission of any rental then due and a release from all obligations arising from his tenancy or occupation of the room on the fifth floor of Radnor House in Endless Street the tenant surrenders to the landlord the said room and all fixtures fittings furniture and other contents thereof.’”
Petrella took the document across to the window and read it through slowly. He was particularly interested in the last page, which was some inches shorter than the other two. Ignoring Mr. Duxford’s outstretched hand he walked across to Mr. Lempard, holding the paper so that the last page only was visible and said, “You say that Mr. Hinn signed this in your office one evening.”
“So he did.”
Petrella could see the tell-tale flush creeping up again.
“And I see that you witnessed his signature.”
“Which means that you actually saw him writing his name.”
“Then why hasn’t he done so?”
There was a moment of absolute silence. Mr. Duxford said, “I don’t understand you, Inspector—”
Petrella swung round on him and said savagely, “I advise you to keep out of this,” and swung back on Mr. Lempard.
“I’m going to ask you once again, and I advise you to be very careful about what you say. Did Mr. Hinn sign this document in your presence?”
Mr. Lempard seemed to be finding some difficulty with his breathing. In the end he said, in a voice so thick that they could scarcely make out the words, “Of course he bloody did. I told you.”
Petrella pointed to the straggling letters “L. Hinn”, stretching in an almost illiterate scrawl across the paper. He said, “I suppose you thought that was how Mr. Hinn would write his name.”
“Really, Inspector,” said Eric Duxford. “I’m not sure what you’re insinuating. It’s well known that he was practically illiterate—”
“All that was known about him,” said Petrella, “was that he chose to initial documents with a personal hieroglyphic. Quite a common practice in some countries. When he
have to write his name on an official paper for instance, he was perfectly capable of doing so.” As he spoke he was laying on the desk in front of the lawyer the documents which Mrs. Hinn had produced. These were a form of application to the Home Office for naturalisation dated two years previously, a ten-year-old passport in their joint names and a certificate of marriage. Mr. Duxford stared at them, his face nearly as white as his client’s.
“You will observe,” said Petrella, “that not only does he write his name in a characteristic but perfectly legible hand, but he also spells it in the Nordic way, Hynn.”
Both men looked at Mr. Lempard, but he seemed to be incapable of speaking.
Petrella said, “I must warn you that a very serious charge may be made against you. A charge of forgery. Mr. Duxford will advise you about your rights.”
Mr. Lempard stared at him without speaking. Petrella could see his lips moving.
“What first gave you the idea that it might be murder?” said Watterson.
“It was a tiny thing,” said Petrella. “When I told him he was likely to be charged with forgery, I’ll swear his first reaction was relief.”
“Try explaining that to a jury.”
“And why did he cut off the bottom of the last page? Obviously because there were bloodstains on it.”
“Always supposing he did cut it off.”
“And look at those two tiny spots, close to the signature. There. One of them looks almost like a full stop. If you hold them up to the light you can see a sort of reddish tinge.”
Watterson held the paper up to the light and said, “
they’re spots of blood, the laboratory will tell us quick enough. But suppose they are. What does it amount to? They could have come from a cut finger or a nose bleed. They don’t add up to murder.”
“I’m not sure that it was murder,” said Petrella. “My guess would be that Mr. Hinn agreed to the money that was offered to him – or said he was going to agree. The document was got ready and when he went round to sign it that night he changed his mind. Perhaps he thought he could squeeze a bit more money out of the situation. Lempard’s a big man and he’s got a hair-trigger temper. I think he hit Mr. Hinn a lot harder than he meant, and found himself with an unsigned document and a dead man on his hands.”
“Since you’ve been gazing into the crystal ball,” said Watterson sourly, “perhaps you can tell me what he did with the body?”
“If the first part’s right, there’s not much doubt about the next bit. He’d pick the little man up, carry him down those private stairs and put him into the back of the station-wagon. He’d need a bit of luck there, but it was dark and there wouldn’t be many people about in the Mews at that time of night.”
“Drop it in the river, dump it in Epping Forest, bury it in his own garden.”
Watterson thought about it. He said, “It’s full of ifs and buts and guesswork and precious little hard evidence. I can tell you straight away that the Director won’t underwrite a murder charge on the strength of one hunch and two drops of blood.” He thought about it some more. Petrella waited patiently. He knew his man.
Finally Watterson grunted and said, “All right.
the laboratory says these spots are human blood, we might have enough to justify a few precautionary measures. Lempard’s house is in ‘P’ Division. I could ask Haxtell to have it watched.”
“I don’t think he’ll try to bolt,” said Petrella. “He’s got too much sense.”
Many of his guesses were shortly to be proved right, but over this one he was wrong.
A month later, as proceedings leading to a charge of forgery ground slowly forward, with reports from handwriting experts and statements from Mrs. Hinn and others, Lempard decided to leave. He had made a number of discreet preparations and on a rainy night towards the end of April, he drove to Heathrow Airport, unaware that a car was following him and that a telephone message had gone before him. The proceedings at the airport were brisk and, for Mr. Lempard, uncomfortable. He could offer no explanation of why he was carrying ten thousand pounds in Swiss notes under the lining of his suitcase and a quantity of small but very valuable diamonds embedded in two cakes of soap in his sponge bag.
A search warrant was now felt to be justified. The body of little Mr. Hinn was discovered, four feet down, in the rose-bed at the foot of Mr. Lempard’s well-kept garden and Mr. Lempard was charged with his murder.
Mrs. Hinn’s claim to the money was conceded. Grudgingly and after considerable pressure, she gave up ten per cent of it to the finders, Fred Jury and Johnny Tredgett, who spent most of it in a celebration party which ended with both of them in the cells of Patton Street Police Station, charged with being drunk and disorderly and assaulting the police.
Petrella took very little part in these final transactions. By that time other matters were occupying his attention fully.
It was half past six and it was getting dark when the knock on the door came. Mrs. Milton, the wife of Fred Milton the bookmaker, was just lifting the kettle from the gas-ring to make tea. She called through to her twelve-year-old daughter, Sylvia, “Go and see who it is, love.”
Sylvia put down the magazine she was reading and got reluctantly to her feet. Nurse Patricia had just slapped the face of young Doctor Fosdyke and it was clear that young Doctor Fosdyke, who was tall and dark and had deep blue eyes, wasn’t going to take it lying down.
Mrs. Milton heard her daughter’s high heels tittupping down the passage, heard the door open and then heard something that sounded like a scream quickly cut off. She put down the kettle and hurried back into the living-room, in time to be knocked down by a back-hand swipe across the eyes.
From the floor, she saw a second man come into the room carrying Sylvia. He had one arm round her body and a big hand clapped over her mouth and nose. Both men were wearing masks made out of nylon stockings.
The man who had hit Mrs. Milton, and who seemed, from his build and general appearance to be the younger of the two, sat down and stretched out his legs. He said to Sylvia, “One scream out of you, and I’ll kick your Ma’s head in. Understand?”
Sylvia nodded. The man who was holding her let her go and she slipped down on to the floor and sat there, sobbing quietly.
The young man swung one well-shod foot and hooked over a small table. A china dog, a glass vase and a framed photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Milton on their wedding day crashed together on to the floor. The young man then picked up the table, swung it round his head and pitched it into a dresser full of crockery.
Mrs. Milton had climbed back on to her feet. She was still dazed. She said, “What—” and stopped.
“Yes?” said the young man politely.
“Why are you doing this?”
“You’d better ask your old man when he comes home.”
“Fred’s never done nothing to you.”
“That’s right. He hasn’t done what he ought to have done. He hasn’t paid his dues. This your daughter?”
“How old is she?”
The young man got up, walked across to Sylvia, put one hand down, grabbed the front of her dress, and jerked her up on to her knees. The dress ripped down the front.
“She’s a big girl for her age, isn’t she?”
Desperation in her eyes, Mrs. Milton bolted for the kitchen door. The young man pushed out a leg and tripped her. She fell forward, hitting her head on the door as she went down.
“Like I was saying—” said the young man.
In the room upstairs old Mrs. Milton, who was nearly eighty, had got out of her bed when she heard the smash of glass and china. She was not a fast mover. First she tottered across to the window and drew up the blind. Then she padded slowly back to the electric light switch by the door. She knew what she had to do. Up, down. Light off. Light on. A second terrifying crash downstairs. Off, on. Darkness, light. Off, on. Darkness, light.
Mrs. Robbins, who had the house which backed on to the Miltons, saw the agreed signal and ran for the telephone. When the two squad cars reached her house, she gabbled out an explanation. Sergeant Blencowe said, “On foot from here. You two with me, three round the back. Sharpish.”
The older and larger of the two intruders put up a fight. It lasted for three seconds. Blencowe had a daughter of his own and was in no mood for picking daisies. He hit the man once, very low and, as he doubled up in agony, jerked a knee under his chin. The younger man had run for it and was half-way out of the kitchen window when Lampier caught hold of one foot and started to twist it. As the man was forced over on to his back, Lampier brought the sash of the window down across his throat.
Fred Milton arrived as they were tidying up. The two men had been taken to Patton Street and Mrs. Milton was away being patched up in the casualty department of the local hospital. Sergeant Milo Roughead gave him a brief account of what had happened. When Mr. Milton had got over the first shock he said, “You’ll put these men away?”
“For a long, long time,” said Milo. “In fact, with a bit of luck, we might be able to pick up the rest.”
“If you can do that,” said Mr. Milton, who was short and fat, but not lacking in courage, “it’ll be worth it. Almost.”
“It’ll be worth it quite,” said Milo. “We won’t need to bother your wife until the morning, but we’d like your daughter to come along and make a statement. I could drive her in my car.”
“All right, Sylvie?” said Mr. Milton.
Sylvia thought it was quite all right. The Sergeant was tall and dark, like young Doctor Fosdyke, and had deep blue eyes. She was feeling better already.
“The older of the two,” said Petrella, “is a man called Dimitri Ossupov. On this occasion he was a conscript, rather than a volunteer.”
“That’s his story,” said Superintendent Watterson.
“Agreed. We’ve only his word for it. But I’ve got a feeling he might be telling the truth. He was in the leather business and was bought out by Augie the Pole. He got the money back to his family, who live on a farm near Cracow. I expect the Bank of England would be interested to know just how he did it. Anyway, he was planning to go back there and settle down to do a little fanning. He was more or less ordered to come out on this last job to keep an eye on young Stanislaus. He’s Augie’s kid brother.”
“What I was thinking—”
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Watterson. “I could put it up to the legal boys. Evidence by an accessory. It’s not a line they’re too keen on. It might be worth it in this case.”
“If it puts Augie away,” said Petrella, “it will surely be worth it. He’s a nasty customer.”
Dimitri said much the same thing to Sergeant Blencowe. He seemed to bear him no ill-will for loosening two teeth in his lower jaw.