Friday, 29 January 2016
The Stalking Death - Part 4 of 9
The Stalking Death - Part 4 of 9
Lacey Amy’s Newest and Most Dramatic Story (Luke Allan)
A serialized novel from The Canadian Magazine, October, 1932. Illustrated by Carl Shreve
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January, 2016.(Link to previous)
The Story So Far
The sudden shrill note of a police whistle brought Phyliss Aulinloch quickly to her feet, but her husband sat unmoved, curiously alert. As she raised the blind he came and stood beside her. On the step of the house opposite, Fergus Stirling, one of a group of jewellers, had been found, murdered.
Only a fortnight before, she remembered, Austin Lamed had died suddenly. She glanced at her husband with quick suspicion. She did not love him. Their marriage had been the result of a quarrel with Brander Charlesworth. But, not loving her husband, she felt an added need to be loyal to him.
Inspector Broughton has questioned them both without discovering anything. The next day he is visited by the giant Kalmberg, who tells of seeing Aulinloch’s car in a suspicious place at the time of the murder, while the Inspector by a clever ruse proves that Kalmberg’s powerful hands were capable of strangling a man. Just then Aulinloch is announced.
In the interview the hatred between the two is evident. When they have left the Inspector surprises his assistant with the statement that
Stirling was not shot but
strangled and the apparent bullet holes made after death with a nail.
Brander Charlesworth, in a small house in the suburbs, is talking bitterly to his mother of the group of jewellers whom he believes have swindled her of valuable jade carvings. While he is there McElheren, one of the group, arrives and tries to induce Mrs. Charlesworth to go back on her bargain. When he had gone. Brander decides to visit Phyliss to try to secure from her some information. As he nears the house he sees the Inspector enter.
Meanwhile in his office Aulinloch is calling his four confederates in to a conference on the disposal of the jade. It is here that Freyseng, one of their number, announces that Zaharoff has been killed in a motor accident—the third violent death among the group that had banded together to defraud Mrs. Charlesworth of her carvings.
AND THE STORY CONTINUES
“NEVER mind how I know,” Aulinloch went on, anticipating their questions. “That young scamp threatened me, too, and I made up my mind he was worth watching . . . Yesterday he was supposed to be writing up that golf tournament. After the games he disappeared. It doesn’t take long to drive seventy-five miles. If you add two and two—”
“I knew it—I knew it!” McElheren exclaimed. “I knew I heard him—he was there listening in the stairs.”
He shrank before their surprise, but more before the grim suspicion behind the surprise. “I—I was there today—at the Charlesworth house.” He mopped his forehead with the sodden handkerchief.
Aulinloch’s teeth closed. “Go on—and quick about it!”
The lump in McElheren’s throat worked up and down. “I thought of young Charlesworth. I can’t forget his threats, and I wanted to know. About
Stirling’s murder, I mean. Just like you, Aulinloch. Why,
he—he shook his fist right under my nose after we bought the jade. So this
morning I went to see his mother.”
He saw their unspoken questions were unanswered, that their suspicions were even increased. “I—I made an excuse, of course. I asked her if she had sold the jade.”
Freyseng’s fury found expression in a blast of foreign oaths. “Yeah, ve know all about that. You vanted her to get them back for you. You told her she vas robbed.” He raised a clenched fist and cursed again. “Vy did ve let you in the deal, I ask? You vere born a fool and you grow more foolish every day.”
McElheren’s protestations were vehement, indignant—but unconvincing.
He had risen and was striding about the room, wringing his hands. They watched him with disgust, with contempt too deep for words, and he felt the crowding antagonism in the air, their hatred, and was frightened.
“What does that matter—now?” he pleaded, stooping before Aulinloch’s desk. “If what you say is true—that Larned and Zaharoff were murdered—”
“I didn’t say so,” Aulinloch snapped.
McElheren ignored the snub. “We could make sure of it. We should. We might write the police an anonymous letter. They’d follow it up.”
“Sure they would,” Aulinloch agreed. “They’d follow up the letter—and find who wrote it. Will you write it?”
“Me—me write it?” McElheren coughed. “Yes—I see. It wouldn’t be wise.”
Kalmberg peered at them from his small eyes; there was something slyly significant about it, and they waited for an explanation. “Why do we need to worry? There is only young Charlesworth. Surely four of us are a match for him! . . . Besides, there are ways—of stopping him.
“I know a fellow,” he added slowly, “who makes a business of it. Just a few hundred dollars—and young Charlesworth won’t trouble us any more . . . or anyone else.”
Kalmberg waited only a few seconds. When none answered, he chuckled; the joke, he wished to imply, had gone far enough.
“Let’s see,” he murmured, his eyes on the ceiling, “isn’t this Charlesworth a relative of yours, Aulinloch—or is it your wife’s. I seem to remember hearing their names together—”
Aulinloch sat very still, so still that Kalmberg stopped before finishing the sentence. “My wife,” he said distinctly, and paused, “is my wife.” He waited for someone to take up the challenge, but they were silent “Yes,” he said, “my wife is distantly related to the Charlesworths, I believe. She used to see something of them at one time. May I ask, Kalmberg, where all this is leading?”
“I was wondering,” Kalmberg replied, still staring at the ceiling, “if she couldn’t keep track of this young spitfire for us.”
Cold anger blazed in Aulinloch’s face. “Be good enough to leave my wife out of this.”
Freyseng said: “Ve all must look after ourselves, of course, but there’s vun thing ve can do—ve can put the jade vere it vill be safe.”
“That’s what I say.” Kalmberg had not thought of it before, but he saw how it would annoy Aulinloch. “It should be in a safety deposit vault.”
“Are you afraid I’ll run off with it?” Aulinloch asked, with a cold smile.
Kalmberg elaborated with ill-concealed delight. “We’ve got to face the fact that someone is after those carvings. If we—”
“If that were so,” Aulinloch argued, “it would be me he’d murder, not
Stirling, or Zaharoff—”
“Not at all.” Kalmberg waved a contemptuous hand. “What would be the use of murdering you, with six of us, and your estate, to fight him afterwards for possession? No, he knows you have the jade, so he plans to get rid of the rest of us and then there’s only you between him and the jade. If it was kept in a safety deposit vault he could never hope to lay hands on it, even if he did away with us all. Of course, that’s assuming you’re right, Aulinloch, that there’s anything in these three deaths.”
Aulinloch was plainly impressed, but he stiffened against the suggestion that he should give up possession of the beloved carvings. He pointed to the vault at the end of the room. “Isn’t that as safe as any deposit vault? And if—if anything happens us all—and that’s silly, of course—the jade is still as safe there—”
“And it would be your wife’s—your estate’s, I mean!” Kalmberg protested, with a cunning leer, would be yours no matter what happened even if you’re the next to go—because it would be found in your safe. Where would our agreement be then, I’d like to know.”
“Do you wish a legal document drawn up by a lawyer?” Aulinloch scoffed.
There was a chorus of dissent, that broke into renewed discussion of the deposit vault. Kalmberg knew one where arrangements could be made that the jade would go to the survivors. Freyseng supported him. McElheren trusted no one and was unwilling to support them. Aulinloch saw the argument going against him.
“I can do something better,” he said. “I’ll place a paper in the suitcase with the jade, saying anything you wish. You see,” more genially, “I must have the carvings where I can show them to a prospective buyer.”
Their dread of publicity, their distrust of one another, ended the discussion there.
“It ain’t likely,” Freyseng said, “after Stirling being done in shoost last night—and maybe Zaharoff today, if vat Aulinloch says is right—it ain’t likely they’ll do anything more right avay. The police could get suspicious—all us dealers in precious stones kicking out.”
They rose to go. Aulinloch led to the side door opening on the stairs. Each was to go down as he had come up. Softly he opened the door, after listening a moment at the keyhole. Then he staggered back. A Chinaman stood in the opening, a gun covered them.
“Get back to the other room!” the Chinaman ordered.
They retreated before him, hands raised, consternation and bewilderment on their faces. The Chinaman lined them against the wall.
“Open that safe!” he ordered of Aulinloch.
Aulinloch’s lips twitched. “I can’t. It’s a time-lock. No one can open it till tomorrow morning.”
The Chinaman scowled toward the safe. “Serve you right if I plugged you right now,” he hissed.
He glared at them, then slowly backed to the side door and, turning, bolted out of sight, slamming the outer door behind him.
Freyseng sprang to the telephone, but Aulinloch caught his arm.
“Not that, for God’s sake! Don’t you see the mess we’d be in? Do we want the police to know about the jade—about this conference?”
Arnold Platt walked into Inspector Broughton’s office and sank into a chair with a sigh of satisfaction. The Inspector lifted his eyes from a report he was reading and regarded his assistant with some excitement.
“Got something more, Platt?”'
“Got a lot, sir,” Platt replied. “But I don’t see yet how it gets us any nearer the murderer of Fergus Stirling. Seems to me it gives Adolph Aulinloch a complete alibi.”
Inspector Broughton was unconcerned. “If it didn’t—well, I don’t personally need an alibi for Aulinloch . . . and it isn’t that I have a soft spot in my heart for him. I’ve certain ideas about Aulinloch that don’t include the murder of Fergus Stirling, and I’m rather glad to have them substantiated . . . Of course it would be a lot easier for us if he were guilty—we have plenty of evidence against him—but nothing so upsets my self-confidence as to read a man wrongly. But go on with your story. A little thing I have here before me doesn’t help any.
“Give me a prod, Platt, if I don’t seem to be listening. I’ve a lot on my mind this morning.” He tapped the sheet of paper. “Things are getting complicated . . . or perhaps it simplifies the whole affair . . . Again, perhaps—but what’s the use of speculating? Go ahead.”
“I started out, sir, as you suggested, after Mrs. Aulinloch, and it wasn’t long before I ran down some interesting facts. Surprising, too. She’s rather well known socially—or she was before her marriage to this fellow—so it wasn’t difficult to ferret out her story. She’s so much younger than her husband, and sort of different, that I suspected one of those rebound cases. I find that’s just what it is. She’s a member of a golf club where I happen to have a friend, and he told me a lot about her. Her name was Brander before her marriage. Where that figures is that she was supposed to be engaged at one time to a second cousin by the name of Brander Charlesworth. Brander is a family name.
“Well, it appears she and her young cousin had a quarrel; at any rate they broke it off. It seems that young Charlesworth refused to take advantage of the money she would bring him. She rides a pretty tall horse, it seems—or she did.
“Anyway, Aulinloch intruded into the picture, and caught her on the rebound.”
“And yet, you know,” Inspector Broughton said, “she’s as loyal as a loving wife can be . . . In fact, her loyalty has already blocked me—and it promises to block me more. What you tell me explains an attitude that puzzled me. It makes me a bit reluctant to pump her. I can rather admire her. Go on.”
“I Haven’t started yet,” Platt said. “I found where this young Charlesworth lives and I wandered around that way. You see, we’ve decided that someone is trying to fasten the crime on Aulinloch, and I figured who more likely than his wife’s former lover. Particularly when, if anything happened to her husband now, Mrs. Aulinloch would be well fixed. I began to make enquiries among the neighbors . . . I learned more than I anticipated, more than I ever hoped for.
“The Charlesworths live on the west side, right across the city from the Aulinloch’s. It must be seven or eight miles. There’s only mother and son. Asking a question here and there, I discovered that Aulinloch could not have murdered Fergus Stirling because at the time we fix the murder he was away out near the Charlesworths—poking about the house.”
He nodded to the Inspector’s surprise. “Yes, by good luck I found two neighbors who saw Aulinloch there night before last at the time the murder was committed. It’s a complete alibi. A woman who knows him by sight, because her husband works in the
Aulinloch's office is, saw him on the street at a few minutes to nine—not more
than ten minutes before. Commerce
“Then the druggist on the corner two blocks from Mrs. Charlesworth’s saw him at a few minutes after nine about the same place. He is certain of the time because he closes at nine exactly, and he was on his way home when he saw Aulinloch.”
“But what in the world,” the Inspector puzzled, “would he be doing there? Jealousy? But then, if this former lover of his wife’s isn’t even in the city!” Platt looked thoughtful. “I wonder if we couldn’t follow that up. You see, this young Brander often pays flying visits to his mother. He’s very secretive about it and never lets anyone see him if he can help it.”
“Perhaps,” suggested the Inspector, “young Charlesworth includes someone else in his secret visits. That would account for Aulinloch prying about the house—if he suspected anything.”
Platt nodded. “Aulinloch certainly didn’t wish to be seen. The woman almost ran into him as she hurried out to post a letter for the nine o’clock collection, and he dropped his face quite noticeably. He acted much the same way when the druggist passed him . . . At any rate, it puts Aulinloch right out of the picture so far as the murder is concerned.”
The Inspector thought it over. “Then Aulinloch was lying when he said he telephoned Kalmberg about nine o’clock. Though he may have telephoned from some place around the Charlesworth’s . . . The one thing that stands out is that he threatens to give us trouble. He’s a smart one, Platt. If his car was used in connection with the murder, then he must have gone to the Charlesworths some other way. We can gather from that, apart from the fact that he did not wish to be seen, that he was out there for no honest purpose. That exact measurement on his speedometer—as he says—”
“But I’ve checked up on that, sir,” Platt interrupted. “I’ve been to the garage where Aulinloch parks his car during the day. I had a stroke of good luck there, too. Everything—everything seems to combine to support his story. The garage man who attends to his car says he’s the most methodical man be ever knew. That’s how I happen to be able to check up on the mileage Aulinloch changes the oil in his car every eight hundred miles, and he expects the garage attendant to keep an eye on the mileage for that purpose. On the day of the murder he had noticed the mileage—it was getting near the eight hundred—and again yesterday when the car was put in by Aulinloch. The distance it had gone in the meantime is very close to what Aulinloch says it went during the night, plus twice the distance between the garage and his house. The small difference—a matter of two miles—would be accounted for by the little run Aulinloch says he took through the parks before going home to dinner. If all that is cleverness, then he’s too clever for roe.”
“Did you happen to enquire, when you were out in the Charlesworth neighborhood, if young Charlesworth was at home night before last?” Inspector Broughton enquired.
“1 was coming to that, sir,” Platt replied. “This same woman who saw Aulinloch says she got up about midnight to close the window—there was a strong wind, you remember—and she saw a car pull up before the Charlesworth house and then go on. It looked like Brander Charlesworth’s. Also she had an idea Brander was at home because all day long she only saw Mrs. Charlesworth once outside the house, though usually she spends most of the day pottering about the garden. They’ve learned to connect that with her son’s visits.”
“And that,” declared the Inspector, “gives us another slant to follow.”
“But if young Charlesworth had wished to get rid of his rival, sir, surely he’d have taken more direct means. Why do
Stirling in when he
could just as easily murder Aulinloch himself and be sure of clearing the way?”
The Inspector smiled. “My dear Platt, have you ever been in love? No? Then you may be excused for your ignorance. It’s not the object of one’s affections that satisfies one, but the love of that object. In other words, it isn’t Mrs. Aulinloch this young fellow would want but Mrs. Aulinloch with her love. He might get Aulinloch out of the way and be no nearer his goal; but if he could get rid of Aulinloch by convicting him of murder—surely you see the difference in his chances with Aulinloch’s wife!
“But I’m inclined to go further in considering this secret visit of Aulinloch’s to the neighborhood of his former rival’s house. Isn’t it possible there may be other, more immediate, reasons? He couldn’t spend every evening spying about Charlesworth’s house . . . Which proves again what a liar Aulinloch is. He told me he had been at home for an hour and a half before the police found
body. Why should he do that? It may be only because of the secrecy of his visit
to the Charlesworth neighborhood—or it may be for a more substantial reason .
. . And then the fact faces me that Mrs. Aulinloch supported him in that lie.
No, she did not say so, but her silence meant the same. I did notice that her
back looked uncompromisingly stiff as her husband talked. I was right behind
her at the time, going upstairs . . .
“It’s up to us, Platt, to find out if young Charlesworth really was in the city night before last. But that can wait for the time being. More important is the purpose of Aulinloch’s visit out there. Did he really call on Mrs. Charlesworth—and why?”
He leaned his head on his hands and bent over the written sheets on the desk. “Now there’s more, Platt, a great deal more. Here,” tapping the paper, “I have another mystery, and I’m wondering if they overlap. Zachary Zaharoff was killed in a motor accident this afternoon. I sent Falkner out to nose about. I’ll get him in.”
He rang a bell and asked that Falkner be sent in. In a few moments a tall, rangy man with a peculiar lift to one eyebrow and abnormally long arms slouched into the room and stood waiting. In appearance, in carriage, in the inquisitive, indifferent lift of that eyebrow, he might have been one of the unemployables. As a matter of fact he was a particularly brilliant detective. In his hand he carried a sheet of foolscap.
Inspector Broughton waved him to a chair. “I want to talk over this Zaharoff affair, Falkner—the three of us.”
Falkner placed on the desk the sheet he carried. “I was just putting down there, sir, some points I missed in the first report.”
“Then you can save time by telling me. I’ve read the report through, and I don’t wonder you felt it necessary to supplement it. You’ve got a lot of stuff down here—your deductions, I mean—that call for some explaining. I hope you aren’t taking to pipe-dreams, Falkner, at this stage of your career.”
Falkner grinned. “I never felt more certain of anything, Inspector, and the more I think it over the more certain I am. Maybe you’ll think I didn’t see enough to justify what I make out of the affair, but that’s because I haven’t thought to include everything—a dozen little things that all point the same way but are difficult to describe. I’m surer than ever Zaharoff was murdered!”
Platt lifted his head sharply and stared from Falkner to the Inspector.
“Murdered?” he cried. “Isn’t this Zachary Zaharoff a jeweler, too?”
“Ah! So that struck you, too?” The Inspector’s eyes twinkled. “Great minds, you see. I thought of it right away. And that makes the third—in two weeks! Larned, then
Stirling, and now Zaharoff!”
“But Austin Larned died of heart trouble—in his bed,” Platt protested.
Inspector Broughton paid no attention. “Let’s have the whole story from the beginning, Falkner.”
“I went straight out to the accident yesterday afternoon, sir, as you ordered,” Falkner began. “The country police were a bit peeved at first, but I let on it was sort of accidental . . . and I soon had them interested.”
“I hope you didn’t give away all that’s in this report,” the Inspector said, tapping the paper.
“Not likely.” Falkner settled himself in his chair. “There was so much about the whole affair that was suspicious that I scarcely know where to start. In the first place Zaharoff was supposed to have run into the ditch, and the smash was supposed to have started a fire that burned the car and Zaharoff in it. Now Zaharoff’s car was a large coupe, a heavy, well-built affair that doesn’t break into flames every time it jabs into things—”
“But,” the Inspector reminded him, “this was no little jab but a real crash. Zaharoff was badly smashed up”
Falkner smiled. “That’s one of the funny things about it, sir: Zaharoff was badly smashed, more badly than the car. That’s what roused my suspicions first. The accident happened on an unfrequented road, a bad motor road that leads nowhere. That in itself is peculiar. The road runs off Number 25 and serves only a few small farms. What was Zaharoff doing there? Again, in all that side- road there is only one spot where such an accident could have occurred. I mean, one that would look serious enough to do what this one seemed to do. At that point there’s a swamp on the left of the road, and to stop the mucky earth from caving into the ditch a log wall has been built on the swamp side. It’s the one spot where a car could upset, because it’s a three-foot ditch.
“If it had upset—if it had fallen on Zaharoff—one might expect what happened. But it didn’t upset. What’s more, almost the only wreckage was caused by the fire itself. The left end of the front bumpers struck the logs, to be sure, but so lightly that the bumpers are scarcely bent, and the mark on the logs is a mere scratch.”
“Then how the devil did the fire follow?” the Inspector asked.
“That’s what I asked myself, sir. And the only answer is that the car was set afire!” He paused, pleased with their interest. “What is more, Zaharoff was intended as part of the wreckage. He, too, was set afire—after being knocked unconscious by some blunt weapon! No, it was not the shock of the accident did it. The shock was not great enough for that. To do that the marks on the car and the logs would have been much more extensive. Zaharoff’s skull was crushed in: and even if the crash had been severe, I could find no part of the machine that could have made the mark on his temple.
“Now, sir, what started the fire?” He looked at the Inspector, as if expecting an answer.
The latter shrugged. “What usually causes it—if it isn’t a real smash: the gas in the carburettor or the pipe line getting on the hot engine.”
“But the fire did not reach the engine at all, sir. Nor was the pipe line broken. No, it burned only around where Zaharoff sat. It was gasoline, yes, and enough of it to make a satisfactory job under any other conditions. There was a puncture in the tank, but what the devil caused it? As the car stood there was no explanation, nothing to account for that puncture. In fact, the first man on the scene declares that the fire had not reached the tank at all until he had Zaharoff’s body dragged from the flames. And then there was nothing but a shoot of flame from the hole, proving that the tank was already drained. There was, too, almost no fire on the ground, where the gas would surely have run from the hole.”
“Go on,” urged the Inspector.
“My conclusion was this: That Zaharoff had been struck on the head and killed, and then the car was run into the ditch, the tank holed and drained, the gasoline poured on the body and seat and set afire. There’s something more: I was particular to find out how the first man to come on the wreck found the body. The body, he said, was lying along the seat, the head toward the road. Not at all the position it would have taken had the crash knocked him unconscious, especially when it was severe enough to crush the skull.
“I went further. Zaharoff’s car had been stopped some thirty yards from the point of the accident. Stopped suddenly. I saw the marks of the wheels skidding under the brakes. I gather that someone met him on the road and stopped him.”
“Had be been robbed,” Inspector Broughton asked.
Falkner shook his head. “Money and watch and everything that wouldn’t burn was there. In fact, the burning of the body was not so very great; it concealed nothing I wanted to find out”
Inspector Broughton leaned his elbows on the desk and fixed his eyes vacantly on a map on the wall. His two subordinates did not speak. Suddenly he drew the telephone to him and called a number. It was Zaharoff’s office. After a short conversation he rang off and got another number, this time a rural one.
The result was surprising: Zaharoff, he learned at his office, had been called on the telephone to a farmhouse on the very road where he met his death; an aged relative was visiting there. But at the farmhouse it was denied that a message had gone from there to Zaharoff. Indeed, the relative had never expressed a wish to see Zaharoff with whom he had not been on speaking terms for years.”
Inspector Broughton whistled through his teeth.
“What did I tell you, Platt? Three of them! Two we know were murdered . . . I wonder if it’s too late to disinter Larned and have an examination . . . Boys, we’re just beginning to realize how deep this affair is . . . It seems to tell us this—that Larned and Stirling and Zaharoff were somehow associated, that someone profits from their deaths . . . Perhaps it’s beside the question that Kalmberg and Aulinloch, two more in the gem business, arc tangled up in Stirling’s death, at least; perhaps it’s more than coincidence. What—if any—is the connection? Are there more in it? Are more to be murdered as these were—or as the two we know of were? . . . Is it love—or money—or revenge . . . or fear? Any connection there is must have something to do with precious stones. Precious stones—and these men—it’s a combination that—”
He broke off as the telephone jangled. He frowned at it, hesitated, lifted it from the hook and asked impatiently what was wanted. As he put the receiver back a light of excitement shone in his face.
“Speak of the devil, boys!” He glowered at them. “It’s another of them. I guess, Falkner, you’d better clear out. I’m receiving visitors—important visitors . . . under the circumstances . . . A very sensitive caller he is. Well, what a funny world this is!”
(To be continued) (Link to Part 5)
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.