The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 1 (April 1, 1937)
Theory of a Fall
”Too much local colour,” exclaimed Impskill Lloyd, wiping the lens of his detective microscope as he stared abstractedly at the blankly bland face of his faithful but erring henchman, Gillespie.
“What!! me?” said “Gill,” putting his left hand over his highly incarnadined dial, “I'm just about as usual, I think, Boss!”
“Gill” was sensitive about his high complexion, which, as he often explained, was like some meters he knew—“it registered more than was consumed.”
“My observation,” replied Impskill, with a haughtiness which wiped out “Gill's” incipient guffaw like a damp sponge over a slate—“My observation applied to Matamata—not to your grossly illuminated map of Ireland. Your countenance, ‘Gill,’ merely accounts for the use of dark glasses by those who have to view you frequently.
“An investigator,” he continued, impressively, “must get away from the influence of local colour which, among the Matamatarians, is developed to an extraordinary degree.
“That is why I have brought you back to Wellington. Here, in the seclusion of my own home, with all the facilities for examination that modern science has placed under my control, and with the opportunities for deep thought which only silence and complete freedom from distraction can bring, I can concentrate upon the remaining clues in this most baffling mystery.
”‘Gill,’ bring me my stethoscope and an Imperial pint of ale.”
“Gill” bounded briskly from the room, while “Imp.” bent once more over the microscope, through which he was examining the stitches in the initials of a handkerchief.
These initials, “M.U.G.,” he instinctively recognised as a blind. The handkerchief had arrived by air mail that morning, addressed to himself in disguised English, with two slight French accents, one somewhat grave over the second “1” in Lloyd, and the other quite acute over the third or unseen L in Impskill.
These peculiarities, only distinguishable by a scholar trained in the Hit or Missler School of European Etymology, might be significant or negligible according to the mental speed of the stitcher. But the stitches, themselves, he felt to be the nub, or hub, or nucleus of the problem.
He could easily see that they were worked with Coats cotton, of 25 guage, and that every other stitch was somewhat longer than each alternate one.
He noted, too, that, on every fifth stitch, there was a discoloration that looked like a rust mark.
There were 70 rust marks—so Impskill divided this number by 5 to produce 14. If the first mark were regarded as a “sighter” this left 13, and as he had only twelve clues upon which to work so far, this sign from the cotton fields of old Alabama confirmed his growing suspicion that there did exist a thirteenth clue, which some unknown friend was anxious he should know about.
He remembered immediately that a stitch in time saves nine, which left four clues still to be pursued after the one upon which he was engaged—perhaps the most awkward of all the clues—the evidence of Lauder's death by a fall, or push.
He remembered Milton's lines about Satan's fall—how the Arch-Fiend had been “Hurled headlong, flaming from the ethereal sky, with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition.”
Had the same fate followed Lauder; and if a fall had ended his career, had it been accidental? Or had Lauder been pushed! Thoughts of the evil reputation of some Australian “pushes” he had met, and a recollection of the great push in the Great War, made his mind warm towards the theory of evil intention.
Never had his path been so beset with obstacles. First there was the gang of what could be called “legitimate” murderers who appeared to be receding as fast as they could from his vicinity.
And then there was a mob of crude amateur murderers, cursed with the habits of modernity, who paid not the slightest attention to the sound rules which every good murderer of the page 14 past had strictly complied with—from Lucrezia Borgia to Bill Sykes, from the brazen Ringer of the change to the deadly Crooner of Crocodile River.
Mixed up between these two groups of associates was a third body consisting of amateur detectives. These sought notoriety, followed false clues, and got themselves into outrageous situations from which even the nimble pens of clever recorders could scarcely extricate them. For besides the dualnatured Imp-Lloyd (Tab. Lloyd to his friends) and Unimp-Lloyd, who is the hero of this drama, there were many lesser Lloyds who deserve to be remembered if only to show by comparison how superior Impskill was to any of them.
There was, for instance, the haughty or stuck-up Lloyd, known as G. Lloyd, or Gloyed, for short. Then there was Deep Lloyd, who had been in the Army and who now couldn't walk a straight line after 6 p.m., and Al. Lloyd, a mixture of brass and boldness; the notable salesman Sellu Lloyd; the fiery Jell Lloyd; the sugary C. Lloyd, called “Cloyed” for conciseness in classification.
It is clear, then, that with the landscape littered with Lloyds, contending professional and amateur murder associations, and a bunch of amateur detectives, it was particularly disconcerting to have two Pat Lauders in the field—one dead and the other imitation.
But Impskill's plight was further complicated by the arrival of another Lauder in the country, this time Sir Harry himself. Although well known to a few with inside information, his arrival caused great surprise in the country. Little did any one guess that it had anything to do with the “to do” about the Matamata murder mystery and Pat Lauder's clue-rich body. But riches are like gold—they are where you find them—and tastes differ in Lauders as they do in whisky—some preferring the Irish Pat (or straight) Lauder, and others the Scotch Harry (or with a dash) Lauder.
The combined effect was that of a diabolical conspiracy to frustrate the application to this case of those methods of cold analysis, after intensive research, which had never failed to find the criminal in every case where the genius of Impskill Lloyd had been engaged.
Amongst those who had stood in the way of this gigantic investigation, readers will recall some of the following:—
There was the notoriety - seeking Blobson, a decadent relic of the stagecoach days, an ex-super of the old Vic, who had masqueraded for a few days as a Lauder come to life again.
Then there was the fatuous Unna Lloyd, a distant cousin of Impskill's but a fellow of no standing, who had counted upon his family resemblance to the great Impskill to deceive the men of Matamata—with what effect we have seen in the last chapter, where, but for the timely arrival of P.C. Fanning with his two revolvers blazing, the foolish Unna would have paid the penalty intended for a more worthy, but infinitely less easily trapped member of the famous Lloyd family. Fanning's fame was fanned to its highest pitch by this episode—which would never have occurred had he not been “DeLloyd” on the way by four frothing handles and a Mendelssohn's Police March, and a crowd who called Bach to him with all the ardour of a Llama's Lament.
His deep concentration was disturbed by the return of Gillespie with the Imperial pint of ale and the stethoscope.
Impskill, with all the skill of a finished practitioner, immediately applied the apparatus to his own chest and listened intently to what his heart had to tell him.
The tale it told was unfolded in a regular series of beats, like the footfalls of a cantering horse over a gently undulating field of red clover.
He next drank the Imperial print of Crown ale, specially imported from Russia for such tests—and again applied the stethoscope.
The heart beats now sounded like the guggle of the soda syphon used by hospital nurses for cleaning sinks; or like the flurried breathing of a bull in its first desperate charge upon the Matador; or like a cow-bell rung hurriedly to break up the Fire Brigades' Annual Conference; or like any old-time cow-cockie counting the spurts as he milked into the pail “over-draft, over-draft, over-draft — mine !” every seventh pull representing his quota from the cow.
Impskill remembered that where the treasure is, there will the heart be also, and he was proud to find that this vital organ still responded, as of yore, to the impetus of internal stimuli.
He measured with a pair of callipers the difference in the measure of the heart beats, and found that the proportions were as four is to five.
Now that was exactly the proportionate difference between the alternating stitches in the letters “M.U.G.”
This proved the matter quite beyond the power of mere coincidence.
A lightning flash of intuition told him he was definitely on the trail of the sinister power that had so badly baffled him so far, and he laughed with glee, and then without, as he noticed the diabolical lengths to which the legions arrayed against him would go to gain their ends.
The different objectives of these forces were very evident to his inner consciousness. Would he win out?page 15
He pulled out his medal for winning the “Flat-Foots' Handicap” of Pinnacle Creek. Of course he would win!
Handing “Gill.” the stethoscope which now needed some repairs from the strain of recording his faster heart impulses, and surrendering the empty mug, he rang No. 13 on the telephone.
A sepulchral voice answered him: “Is that you, Chief?”
Disguising his voice to an equally sepulchral note, Impskill replied “You betcher!”
This reply appeared to be the correct one, for the man at the other end said: “Been trying to get you all day, Chief. The meet's at 13 Tucker Street. Johnny had to change it, as the cops are fly!”
Any one but Impskill might have been misled by this talk of meat and tucker and flies.
But Impskill now knew he had correctly interpreted the significance of the stitches on the insignificant handkerchief, and that he had at last identified the new meeting place of the head of the underworld, who had evidently abandoned his previous rendezvous because of police activities at the old quarters.
Impskill hung up suddenly, marked the site of the rendezvous on the map, and then lay down to think things out.
He had long ago discovered that the brain gets tired if it stays long in one position. Hence he did his thinking in some extraordinary attitudes, with even more extraordinary results.
He even sometimes stood on his head to produce certain of his most notable thoughts. But this, of course, he did only behind a locked door.
To-night he let the whole weight of his high head rest upon the back or cerebellum position. This eased the tension on the base of the skull.
Very soon the frontal section got active, and then he decided all was ready for the next stage of the drama. He was loaded to go!
Steered by the dispirited Gillespie, who had up to this point been puzzling over his master's most recent criticism, he called at the local gas-works and borrowed a petrol lamp. This he carried to the front door of a chimneysweep living in the locality and by its light proceeded to blacken himself until his skin resembled the pure ebony of an African negro.
So disguised, and using a limp which he could put on with impunity, and closing one eye to look as much like a calendar as possible, he quickly walked to the place of meeting.
It was a very handsome house in generous grounds.
Once on the roof he went over the top and crawled carefully down inside the wide stack, aided by a rope he attached to the topmost brick.
The chimney fortunately was not smoking, so he lit a cigarette in the shelter of its interior and listened from the dark side of the register grate.
The inner circle were assembled within the room. His space was cramped and try how he would he could not get his eye to the crack left in the lid of the grate by a previous tenant.
But he heard a voice, evidently that of the leader, and this voice thrilled him by its extraordinary timbre.
And now he caught the words: “This push has fallen in over Lauder.”
“Do you think so?“’ came a sycophantic voice and a hoarse murmer of consternation from the others.
“I'm sure so!” replied the Chief. “It's too cold here, light the fire, someone!” he continued.
Impskill realised his own peril at the words, put out his cigarette, and commenced to reclimb the inside of the chimney.
He knew now that no fall had caused Lauder's death. If the push had fallen in over Lauder, how could they have pushed him in?
But now the first smoke from the newly kindled fire reached him. His clutch on the rope faltered, his toe missed the next brick, and with a reverberating crash he fell down, feet foremost into the blazing grate.
There was a wild outcry and scramble in the room, and as Impskill struck the mounting flame he lost consciousness, as a terror-stricken voice cried: “Look out you mugs—here's Impskill Lloyd!”
(To be continued.)page 16 page break