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Authors: Margery Allingham

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BOOK: The Fashion In Shrouds
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‘Yes,' said Mr Campion slowly. ‘Yes, I think I do. Hadn't she any other papers?'

‘None at all. Not a card, not a letter, not a mark on her clothes. This scrap in the powder-box may have been overlooked.'

He was waiting expectantly and Mr Campion hesitated. He knew from experience that complete openness is the only thing to offer the police once one is convinced that one's affairs are also their own, but while there is still a chance that things may not be as bad as that it is wisest not to awaken their insatiable curiosity.

‘I'd like to see the body before I mention any name,' he said.

‘Naturally.' Oates looked disappointed. ‘Perhaps you'd like to go along with the inspector now? The identification is holding us up,' he continued, relapsing into a more natural manner for a moment. ‘We can't very well turn her over to Sir Henry until we get that done.'

Mr Campion stirred. Sir Henry Wryothsley, the eminent pathologist, was not called in for the obvious or mediocre.

Pullen heaved himself out of his chair.

‘It's a little way out of town, I'm afraid, sir,' he said. ‘Do you mind?'

‘Not at all. How long is it going to take me?'

‘It all depends on how much you know, my boy.' Oates grinned as he spoke. ‘I think I'll come down with you if you don't mind, Pullen. If she does turn out to be a friend of Mr Campion's I may be able to give you a hand with him. He's a slippery witness.'

There was general laughter at this, none of it ringing quite true, and Mr Campion found himself checking up on dangerous points, considering Val's position, Gaiogi's and his own. He had time to notice that the inspector took his superior officer's co-operation in very good part. The two
men had worked together for some years and were fortunate in possessing different faults and qualities. As he sat jammed in the back of a police car between the two of them he reflected that they made a formidable team and hoped devoutly that he was going to be on their side.

‘It's technically an Essex crime,' Oates remarked as they swung down the Embankment. ‘The corpse was found on a common at a little place called Coaching Cross. Where is it exactly, Inspector?'

‘Half a mile off the Epping and Ongar main road.'

Pullen rattled the words more cheerfully. In the open air, away from the official atmosphere of the Yard, both policemen seemed to have experienced a humanizing change, a loosening of the belt, as it were, and there was even just a hint of the ‘outing' spirit in their smiles, but Mr Campion was no more misled by them than they were by him.

‘It's hardly a common. More of a wood,' the inspector continued more conversationally. ‘A sort of thicket. It's a bit of the old forest, I should say. It's full of brambles and hasn't done my trousers any good. I'm a London cop and my clothes aren't constructed for a cross-country beat. Still, the Essex Police say it's a London crime and I think they're right. They called us in straight away, not but what an hour or so earlier wouldn't have hurt 'em.'

‘Anyway, it's our body from now on,' Oates remarked complacently. ‘If they call us in within three days we pay the cost of the inquiry; if not, it's their County Council's pigeon.' He paused. ‘We're talking lightly and there's a poor girl lying dead. I hope we're not hurting you, Mr Campion?'

The naïveté of the question was disarming and Campion smiled.

‘No,' he said. ‘No. If it turns out to be the girl I think It may be, I know her name and that's about all. She was a very beautiful person with a terrible voice.'

‘This young woman is good-looking,' said Pullen dubiously, ‘but she hasn't much voice left, poor kid, with a damned great wound clean through her chest. It's a funny wound. I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite like it except once, and that was made by a sword. However, that's for Sir Henry to say.'

The rest of the drive took place in comparative silence, both parties having indicated quite clearly just how far they were prepared to talk, but as soon as they entered the long cool room at the back of the police station at Coaching Cross Mr Campion realized that the mischief was done. The canker had come to the surface. Now there was no hiding, no saving of faces nor guarding of reputations. The realization thrust a little thin stab of alarm behind his diaphragm, but in the back of his mind he was aware of a sense of relief. The pseudo-Nemesis had slipped up at last. The hand of Providence so seldom has a knife in it.

The detective-sergeant of the Essex Constabulary, who had lifted the sheet from the sharp-angled mass on the table, looked at him inquiringly and he nodded.

It was Caroline Adamson. Rigor had set in before the body had been moved and she lay in a dreadful, unnatural attitude, with one knee a little bent and her spine curved. Her face lay on the sheet, so that he had to stoop to see it properly. She was still beautiful, even with the greying flesh shrinking away from the cosmetics on her face and her long eyelashes stiff with mascara, and Mr Campion, who had never quite got over his early astonishment at the appalling waste when death comes too soon, drew back from her with pity.

‘Do you recognize her?' Oates was touching his elbow.

‘Yes,' he said, and was aware of a general sigh of relief from the assembled policemen. One more step in the inquiry had been accomplished.

There was an immediate adjournment to the Charge Room, where there was an embarrassment of important police officials. The Essex superintendent, who, etiquette demanded, should receive a place of honour, sat on Oates's right hand at the solid kitchen table which half filled the room. Pullen was beside him, while Flood and the Essex detective-sergeant stood behind. A constable perched at the desk, pen in hand.

Mr Campion sat on the other side of the table before this impressive array and gave Miss Adamson's name and a list of addresses where he had sought her without success.

Oates listened to him with his head a little on one side. He looked like a very old terrier at a promising rat-hole, and Mr Campion spoke casually and with engaging candour.

‘I didn't know the girl at all,' he said. ‘I only had one conversation with her in my life and that was over the phone yesterday morning, but I'd seen her once when she was a mannequin at Papendeik's and once or twice at various restaurants.'

‘Yet you knew all these former addresses of hers?' Pullen sounded puzzled rather than suspicious.

‘Yes, I'd been looking for her. I thought she might be able to give me a little information on a private matter.'

Mr Campion regarded the London superintendent steadily as he spoke, and Oates, who knew better than any man the advantage of having a willing witness, hurried on with routine questions. He had the statement finished in fifteen minutes and as soon as Campion had signed it the telephone wires began to buzz and purposeful detectives in London went off to make inquiries at the houses where Miss Adamson had lodged.

Oates had a word apart with Pullen and returned to Campion with an entirely unprecedented invitation to take a stroll down the road to see the scene of the discovery of the body.

‘It's only a step,' he said and added charmingly, ‘I know you're interested in these things. I've got full instructions. I think I'll find it. Pullen will be along in a moment. He wants a word with Sir Henry on the phone.'

On a less uncomfortable occasion his guest might have been amused. Oates in tactful mood was delightfully unconvincing.

They avoided the loitering sightseers and circumnavigated the Press, and as they walked down the narrow lane together, the flint-dust eddying before them and the brown grasses nodding in the hedgerows, the air was warm and clear, soft and sweet-smelling. The superintendent breathed deeply.

‘If I hadn't been ambitious I might still be getting a lungful of this every night,' he said unexpectedly. ‘This isn't Dorset, but it's not bad. That's what getting on does for you. Nowadays I never see a bit of uncut grass but what it leads me to a perishing corpse. What about this girl, Campion?'

‘I've told you practically all I know.' The younger man
was speaking slowly. ‘She was once the hat and coat attendant at the Old Beaulieu. From there she went on the stage, where she was not successful. After that she got a job at Papendeik's, where there was a spot of bother over a stolen design for a dress and she was sent down to Caesar's Court to show models there. While she was at the hotel she participated in a silly joke on a client and got the sack. This was about six weeks ago. Where she's been since then I cannot find out.'

Oates trudged along in silence. His shoulders were bent and his hands were deep in his pockets, rattling his money.

‘Caesar's Court,' he said at last. ‘Seems like I've heard that name before, quite recently.' He pursed his lips, and Campion, glancing up, caught him peering at him out of the corners of his eyes. The superintendent laughed, drawing back his lips from his fine narrow teeth. ‘I'm a terrible one for a bit of gossip,' he said. ‘It seems to me I heard a funny story about this lad who died in an aeroplane down at Caesar's Court. He died so pretty there wasn't an inquest or anything. It was about him and his wife and a very clever lady who's the head of Papendeik's, a very clever, pretty lady. She's a sister of yours, isn't she?'

Mr Campion's eyelids flickered and for a long time he said nothing at all. Oates walked along, jingling his money.

‘It's not far down here,' he remarked conversationally. ‘We're to look out for a turn to the left and a cop with a bike. I don't believe all I hear,' he added as his companion made no comment. ‘When a man's safely buried, with a certificate backed by a P.M. report and nobody making any complaints, I know he died as naturally as makes no difference. I just happened to pick up a bit of high-class scandal which fixed it in my mind. That was all. Who was this dead girl exactly? Did she know Ramillies?'

‘Yes. I'm afraid she did. She got the sack from Papendeik's when he dressed her up as his wife, whom she resembles, and took her to dine at the restaurant where Lady Ramillies was having supper after her show. Ramillies got hopelessly tight the night before he died and no one knew where he spent the hours between midnight and noon. I thought he might have been entertained by Caroline Adamson. That was why I looked for her.'

‘Oh.' The superintendent seemed relieved. ‘That accounts for it. That covers the telephone number very nicely. It's funny how I stumble on things, isn't it? I never seem to forget a name. Faces often mislead you but names have a way of linking up. That “
Caesar's Court
” stuck in my head. You can't call to mind anyone else who knew this girl besides the landladies at these addresses? Papendeik's, of course; they knew her. What about the Caesar's Court people?'

‘That place is run by Mr Laminoff,' remarked Campion without expression.

‘Laminoff?' Oates turned the name over on his tongue. ‘Gaiogi Laminoff, a naturalized British subject. He used to run the Old Beaulieu.'

‘Did he?'

‘He did.' Oates wagged his head. ‘It's funny, I should have thought you would have known that, somehow,' he said. ‘There's the footpath and there's our man with his bike. Good afternoon, Constable. Detective-Superintendent Oates of the Central Division here. Can you take us along?'

As Mr Campion stood on the bald path and peered over the superintendent's shoulder through a gap between two bramble bushes at the spot where Miss Adamson had been found, a distressing sense of travesty assailed him. The scene was the traditional
Midsummer Night's Dream
set. There was the overhanging oak-tree, the lumpy bank, and even the wings of thorn for Moth and Mustard to vanish into, but here was none of the immortal wild thyme, the sweet musk roses nor the eglantine. This was a forest which three hundred years of civilization had laid bald and waste. The brown grass was thin and there were roughnesses and threadbare patches which suggested that the coaching of Coaching Cross was motor-coaching and the place had been frequented by untidier souls than sweet Bully Bottom and his company.

The constable indicated the position of the body and the sordid joke was complete. Unlike Titania, Miss Adamson had lain head downwards on the bank, one leg drawn up and her face cushioned on a tuft of soiled twitch.

The constable, who was a cheerful countryman, forgot his awe for the distinguished London detective after the
first three stultifying minutes and presently so far forgot himself as to impart a circumstance which had been delighting his bucolic soul all day. The local detective, gathering clues, had removed at least two barrowloads of waste paper, cigarette-ends, used matches, cartons, tins and other delicacies which had lain defacing the clearing for the past three years. The constable also pointed out with some glee that the ground was so ‘turrible hard' it afforded no wheel- or footmarks and was so trodden over at the best of times that any information which it might yield was practically certain to be misleading. Oates listened to him with a sad smile and a patience which made Campion suspect him until he realized that the old man was merely enjoying the country accent, and finally sent him back to his post with the gentlest of snubs.

‘Poor chap, he's got too much sense of humour for a policeman,' he remarked when the man was out of hearing. ‘He'll stick to his helmet and his bicycle for the rest of his days, lucky bloke.'

He looked round him and indicated a fallen tree-trunk which might have been a piece of sylvan loveliness had it not been for the remnants of a dozen picnic meals strewn around it.

‘Have a sit down,' he suggested, wrapping his thin grey overcoat tightly round his haunches before perching himself uncomfortably upon the wood.

Mr Campion took up a position beside him and waited for the ultimatum. It came.

‘I've always found you a particularly honest sort of a feller.' The superintendent made the announcement as if it were an interesting piece of information. ‘You've been very fair, I've always thought. Your Dad brought you up nicely, too.'

BOOK: The Fashion In Shrouds
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