The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)
The Thirteenth Clue Or The Story Of The Signal Cabin Mystery
These incidents are complete in themselves, but the characters are all related.
When the body of Pat Lauder was found in the signal cabin, the super - detective, Impskill Lloyd, deduced the possible causes of death as: (1) Drowning, (2) burning, (3) a kick (or a punch as good as a kick), (4) poison, (5) a stab, (6) strangling, (7) fear, (8) heart disease, (9) electrocution, (10) a fall, (11) a motor smash, and (12) starvation.
[Preceding instalments have given the thrilling adventures of Lloyd, his chauffeur (Gillespie), Police Constable Fanning, and others in trying to find a passable explanation of the mystery. The search for a 13th clue has so far proved in vain.]
“Forty-hour week!” groused Police Constable Fanning. “My weeks have seemed like 400 hours or years each since some infernal fool or fools murdered Pat Lauder. I wish the thugs had been cannibals and had scoffed the body, bones and all. Then there wouldn't have been this disturbance of the peace which is the birthright of the police.”
He was sitting at a table in his cosy cottage, sadly scanning a list of his troubles. He began to bang his helmet on the table.
A door softly opened, and a bantering voice was heard. P.C. Fanning looked around and saw a smile of broad and deep amusement on the face of Gillespie. The harassed man threw the ruins of his headgear at the visitor.
“I'll need a much bigger helmet if I have to do much more thinking,” said the constable gloomily.
“Well, the next best thing. I've had 49 head-aches and 27 tummy-aches on this Lauder case.”
“Now, now, constable, they wouldn't all be due to the Lauder case,” laughed “Gill.”
“Perhaps not. I blame the bushraiding cases for some of them. Those blackguards in the bush can't brew or distil the stuff that the old hands turned out long ago. I got a friend to sneak an expert into the gang, but the poor devil fell into a gully and died on us. But let's get back to the less important business.
“I was quoting some figures. There are some more. I've had 37 backaches, 17 spasms, and 19 bad colds; I've missed 25 breakfasts and 59 dinners. I've been on 111 false clues. I've made 83 wrong arrests; at least the court said they were wrong, but they looked right to me. I think it would have been better for the country if all the men I rounded up had been sent to work for the King. I've had 101 reprimands and 77 threats of the sack. And trousers and tunics! I've enough torn tronsers and tunics to start a flock-mill. I do love New Zealand, but I wish it wouldn't grow so much barbed-wire. Scars! you should see—–”
“Please don't let us go into all that,” interrupted Gillespie. “If you will go wandering about at night without mother you must expect to flounder into something. Don't blame the barbed wire too much. You'd have had the sack long ago if it hadn't been for me. I thought you were one of Lloyd's gang, and I persuaded the Commissioner to keep you on. We've had you trailed in the hope that you would help us to land accomplices, but we've only wasted time. We really owe an apology to the gang.”
“Gang? Lloyd's gang?” gaped Fanning. D'you mean to say—”
“Yes,” said Gillespie in a tone of certainty and finality. “I've nearly enough evidence to show up Lloyd as a more clever prince of crime than any one ever imagined by Conan Doyle, Gilbert Chesterton, Edgar Wallace and the smaller ink-wasters. Lloyd's as smart as they're made or nearly so. He'll be up to my class when he has read a few more of my books.”
“So he's not a numbskull, after all,” murmured the much-astonished constable. “Here's another headache coming. Your story beats the professor's.
“Professor? What professor?” asked the puzzled Gillespie.
“Didn't I tell you? Well, a professor of psychology—or ‘psy’ something or other, but it might have been page 100 ‘phy’—called here last week, and said we'd all been humbugged by a hypnotist. ‘There's been no murder, no Lauder to murder,’ the professor said—‘somebody made us fancy we saw things, the same as the Indian wizards make people believe that they see the miracles of the rope trick’.”
“An economist could have told a better story,” commented Gillespie, dismissing the professor with a puff and wave of his cigarette.
The constable's brow was deeply corrugated by rocketing thought and bewilderment. “This chauffeur racket—chauffeur to the chief of the gang,” he gurgled.
Gillespie looked at him pityingly. “Hasn't it struck you yet that I worked a confidence trick on the masterful Lloyd?” he asked. “Hasn't it dawned on you that I must be in the secret service of the police? It's too long a story to tell why I first began to suspect Lloyd as a new kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde.”
“Playing hide and seek,” interjected the constable.
“Not bad for you,” resumed Gillespie. “I knew—”
“But the libel's on you—the pots, the pints, buckets,” gasped the constable. “The reports of those terrible liars have made you a kind of St. Pewter.”
“Yes,” laughed Gillespie. “I encouraged 'em. It was all an illusion. Those pewters were only stage properties. You know the old saying: ‘The quickness of the hand deceives the eye.’ I used to shift my stuff into other fellows' vessels. You didn't see it. How could you? I'm a past-president of the Magicians Monastery. It was a part I played to delude the Lloyd.”
“Couldn't I do something about the liars?” pleaded the constable. “I've had so many misses that I'd like to be sure of a win.”
“Let 'em lie in their own layer of stupid stucco,” answered Gillespie. “Let's get back to Lloyd.”
“Yes, sound the Lloyd tocsin. We've tried to hear too many dumb-bells,” said the constable.
Gillespie deigned no reply to this cheap stuff. “I could cheerfully hang Lloyd to any kind of tree,” he went on, “and yet I have to admire him for his almost superhuman subtlety. He began as a straight-out detective, and had some sensational successes, as the Press might say. Then he began to see opportunities of mixing it—and that was where I came in. Out of 167 applicants I got this job as chauffeur. He hadn't the least notion that I was destined to destroy him.”
The constable reached for some medicine. “I hope my head will stand all this,” he said. “What about Lauder's body? How did it all happen? Twelve deaths for one man, weren't they?”
Gillespie lit another cigarette and laughed. “I haven't clewed up the whole thing yet,” he said, “but I think I know what happened. If I may be allowed to use that very popular word ‘major,’ Lloyd schemed a major operation for the police. He had no grudge against Pat Lauder. It merely happened that Pat Lauder was handy and served a turn. Lloyd felt that a complicated murder would keep the police so busy that he and his gang would have easy opportunities for many kinds of crime. I suppose you have noticed that the normal burglary figures have been multiplied by ten since Lauder was murdered.”
“Now that you say it, I do remember something,” replied the constable. “But, going back to Lauder's body, how—”
“Oh, yes, the twelve causes of death you were about to say,” Gillespie cut in. “It seemed baffling, but it was all very simple to anybody in the know. It was a novelty in New Zealand, but I remember a much more extensive case in Paris—twenty-four possible causes of death. It was one of my big cases. We unearthed a fiendish gang of scientists, medical men and technicians who could do more queerness to the human body than the toughest of all-in wrestlers could imagine.
“I must go back to that word ‘major.’ The Lauder case has become a major problem for the Government. You moan about your little tally of headaches and spasms. What about the headaches and spasms of the Commissioner? Economists have calculated that the thought and talk given to the Lauder mystery have reduced industrial efficiency by at least 10 per cent. Even the output of butterfat has been affected.”
“Butterfat!” exclaimed the constable. “I know that cows are educated, but I don't believe they read the papers or listen to the radio.”
Gillespie sighed. “I suppose I'll have to explain again,” he said. “Cows are sensitive beasts. When hand-spankers or machine-minders were thinking more of mystery mullock than milk what are the poor cows to do? What would you do if you were a cow?”
“I wonder what Mussolini or Hitler would do,” mused the constable.
“Let us be serious, please,” replied Gillespie.
“That chap Lloyd. What about his last exploit when he fell down a chimney into a nest of crooks?” asked the constable.
“Stage-managed,” replied Gillespie. “It was a ruse in the hope that I'd be misled. He'd begun to suspect that I wasn't what I seemed to be. That's why I'm here to-night. The curtain's rising for the last act. My chauffeur job for. Lloyd has run its course.”
“Do you think you'll be able to get him?”
“I'll head him, or tail him, into his own hide-out. It's been a long way to Tipperary, but we're nearly there. I've a good mind to let you see the finish.”
“Will it be safe?”
“Safer than your sallies by night among the barbed wire and brambles.”
“All right; I'm well insured. Anyhow, what does it matter? No other world could be worse than this civilised one.”
Gillespie was not listening to the constable's philosophy. “What's all this medicine for?” he asked, with a glance at the varied stock.”page 101
“Some of it's for the aches and pains caused by the Lauder hunts in bad weather.”
“We'll have some of the other,” said “Gill,” selecting a bottle of good promise. Fanning looked for some sleight of hand which would raise a laugh against him, but his guest felt that he had earned a right to a real uplift.
* * *
A week later P.C. Fanning was again sitting at his table, writing some new figures on his list of mishaps. It was a cold, wet, blustery nigt. “I'll bet some fool will lure me out to-night on a false scent,” he thought. At that moment the door opened and Gillespie walked in. “Get ready,” he said in a tone which commanded obedience. “I've a car outside. We'll land Lloyd to-night. I've a disguise for you and another for myself. We'll impersonate two members of the gang. Now, let me get busy with that fat face of yours.”
In a few moments Fanning looked a better subject for police action than any of the 83 suspects whom he had arrested, and Gillespie made himself look like nothing else on earth except the man he was impersonating.
“What kind of noises will we make?” asked the constable.
“Use your own voice, just as it is. It's one of those queer coincidences that the journalists like to find. That's why I've picked you for to-night's adventure. If the chap you're supposed to be heard you, he'd think he was talking to himself. My case is easy; I can mimic any voice.”
“No—except a flask.”
In ten minutes they were speeding on a very dark road. “Lloyd has a house a few miles from Hamilton,” said Gillespie. “He uses several houses, but this is the one he'll be using tonight. We'll trail him to it. I've managed to get a stranglehold on one of his gang, a criminal known to his pals as Puggy Pete. I caught him housebreaking, and let him go on condition that he kept me posted about Lloyd's movements. Puggy Pete will be with Lloyd about 11 o'clock tonight, on the way to the hide-out. We'll park our car in a handy place, meet them and stroll along with them.”
Various things in this narrative puzzaled Fanning. He was just about to ask a few questions when Gillespie checked him. “I know what you're thinking,” he said. “I'll answer the questions later on. I've special reasons for working this way. I wish to find some very important incriminating evidence in that house.”
They ran the car into a side-street, stepped out, and strolled to the main road. Presently they saw the dim outlines of two figures, and soon these were recognised by Gillespie as Lloyd and Puggy Pete. Even the constable felt sure about the saturine features of Lloyd.
“Good night, boys! Coming along?” said Lloyd.
“Yes,” replied Gillespie.
In a few minutes they crossed the threshold of a handsome house, about 25 yards back from the street line. They entered a very comfortable room. “Sit down. Help yourselves,” said Lloyd, indicating cigarettes, cigars and drinks. “I'll feel better without this”—and he began removing the artistic make-up which had made a lieutenant look like the chief.
“Thought you had Lloyd?” laughed the impersonator.
“We'll have you anyway,” roared Gillespie.
“Some day, perhaps,” grinned the criminal. He kicked a switch—and the two raiders instantaneously lost consciousess. It was not a killing charge of electricity, but it was enough. The criminals were safe in their thick rubber-soled shoes.
In came the real Lloyd. “You've done your jobs well, boys,” he said. “We've had a lot of fun with Gillespie lately, and we'll have some more before we leave for a safer land.” He gazed at Gillespie more in whimsical amusement than in a mood of vengeance. “They'll be all right after a while,” he went on. “But we must give them souvenirs. We'll tattoo them. I've a Maori friend, an expert artist, in the next room. We won't do much to the constable. He's harmless enough. We'll put a few scrolls and a caricature of myself on his dome. But we must make a proper job of Gillespie. We'll make him look like a big chief of the old times. He'll have as many tangles of lines on his face as one of the modern poems.”
The Maori was called in, and he began his task with deft hands.
(To be continued.)page 102