Trick of the Trade
By Frances Ann Roper
Sent to Ellery Queens Mystery Mag
13th April 1949
Sent to ‘Argosy’
23rd Jan. 1951.
TRICK OF THE TRADE
By Frances Ann Roper
When I became known that Professor Laugham was planning a ‘dig’ on the South Downs, a ripple of excitement spread throughout the archaeological world. For several summers prior to 1939 he had conducted excavations on some of the prehistoric hill forts, and the results of his researches had had far-reaching effects in erudite circles. The workers were mostly drawn from among his own students, and he had gathered a small band of trained assistants who helped with the organisation and instruction. Naturally the ‘digs’ had had to be abandoned during the war years, and the little nucleus of trained assistants had been scattered to the winds. Now, at last, he had been able once more to get a party of students together, and some half dozen of the old gang as ballast.
After high tea on the first evening of camp the Professor beat upon the trestle table with a spoon for silence, and rose to make an announcement. As his six feet odd of endless bony frame unwound itself and towered into the root or the marquee almost above the range of the hurricane lamps set at intervals down the tables, a sonorous and most beautiful voice from the level of the Professor's elbow intoned,
“My Lords, Ladles and Gentlemen, budding Archaeologists, and all other variegated scum, pray silence for the most Worshipful and Venerable - ”
The chant was cut short by an imploring whisper from the Professor.
“Armitage, for heaven's sake, don’t be more or a fool than you can help. Haven't you grown up at all during the last seven years?”
Silence being at last secured, the Professor looked round the marquee, where at long tables were gathered some forty or fifty students, all clad in the most amazing selection of camp attire. He himself looked very unlike the long dignified figure in gown and mortarboard so familiar to the majority or the students. Huge hobnailed boots with rough socks turned down over them were continued upwards by incredibly long bony legs, these in turn sketchily clad in chalk-stained corduroy shorts. Above this came disgracefully shabby suede wind-cheater, the whole surmounted by a magnificent head and face that might have served as model for Durer’s portrait of Erasmus.
In his best lecture hall voice the Professor outlined the scheme of work for the next few weeks, and gave a brief and dignified welcome to the half dozen or so foreign students who had, at the request of their various Universities, come to study English methods of excavation.
“I w111 now ask the old gang to come along to my tent while we work out the teams. All others are free for the rest of the evening. Cocoa and buns will be served at the cook-house at half past nine, and all lights out in tents at ten-thirty.”
“And no scuffling over cocoa and buns either”, appended the same beautiful voice that had interrupted before, “you'll all form up and parade in threes or I’ll know the reason why.”
“Must you really play the goat, Armitage?”, pleaded the Professor. “How are we ever going to get any discipline in this camp if you insist on fooling all the time?”
"Sorry, Big Chief”, grinned the offender, “It is simply youthful joie-de-vivre at being in camp again after all these years.”
Armitage, dark and saturnine, possessed of a voice of the most amazing charm, and an astonishing pair of Mephistophelean eyebrows, was an erstwhile student of the Professor’s, and one of his most competent and highly trained assistants; and incidentally his most devoted henchman and admirer. An ex-Captain of Commandos he had now returned to his pre-war job of junior Science Lecturer at the Professor’s college.
The old gang adjourned to the bell tent which was the Professor’s bedroom and study, as well as the centre for all the archaeological stores. Innumerable paper bags for specimens and ‘finds’, boxes of labels, bundles of pegs of all sizes, tins, steel tapes, tools of all sorts and kinds, in fact such a heterogeneous collection that the human beings could hardly find any unoccupied spot on which to dispose themselves.
Besides the Professor and Armitage, the old gang comprised Colonel and Mrs. Enderby, Baxter, Hardcastle, and Wilkinson.
The Colonel, a lawyer in civilian life, had spent seven years in the Army, ending up by taking a responsible part on the War Crimes Commission. He was a large and powerfully built man, an indefatigable worker, and the Professor’s close friend and right hand man. His capacity for tireless work had led to Armitage’s famous remark – “If you see a hole in the Downs and a non-stop jet of rubble flying out of it, you can be certain Enderby is at the bottom”.
Baxter was a small, anxious person, too frail and short-sighted to have taken any active part in war service. He had, however, developed into one of the moat outstanding experts in Radar research. Despite this, he was almost too nervous to raise his voice above a whisper, and his admiration for Enderby and Armitage was touching in its humility. Wilkinson was a tough and virile individual, games coach in civilian life, P.T. Instructor in the R.A.F. during the war, and now back at his old job once more. Hardcastle was a gentle, apparently dreamy soul, junior librarian at the same college as the Professor. To everyone’s astonishment he had blossomed out into a fighter pilot of outstanding brilliance, and had now returned happily to his beloved library with the rank of Squadron Leader and several decorations to his credit.
Alison Enderby was the only woman in the old gang and had been accepted as one of themselves from the first. Small and fragile in appearance, she usually wore an expression of wide-eyed innocence, which masked a brain equal to that of any of the men for keenness, linked with a devastating quickness of intuition and insight which often left the men gasping. During the pre-war camps each one of the old gang, excepting perhaps the Professor, had laid his broken heart at her feet, only to have it restored to the owner with a grace and air of surprised gratitude which went far towards re-establishing balance and mutual respect. She was far happier and more at ease in the company of men than of women, and had that rare gift of listening which made her a beloved and welcome member of the gang. In her slim fingers lay all the wizardry of the pencil; hers was the responsibility for preparing all the multitudinous drawings, plans, sections and sketches which form so vitally important part, of an archaeological dig.
The old gang had not forgathered in its entirety since the dramatic dig in the summer of 1939, when the camp had been summarily broken up by the Army commandeering all their equipment on the spot; so for an hour or so the talk shuttled back and forth across the lamp-lit tent, news, reminiscences to be exchanged, and threads to be picked up. Presently Wilkinson asked,
“Did you see any active service, Professor?”.
The Professor looked coyly down his nose.
“I was in the Home Guard”, he replied with an air of modest worth, “and I was a corporal for a short time”.
A roar of delight made the tent pole rock.
“Our Professor was a corporal in the Home Guard”, chanted Armitage, “Our Professor with more brains in his little finger than all the rest of us put together - he was a corporal in the Home Guard.”
“Why only for a short time Professor?”, asked someone.
The Professor looked positively sheepish.
“We were out on manoeuvres on the Downs”, he replied. “I knew every inch of the area, so was deputed to act as guide to our side. I was crawling up a steep elope on my - ahem – waistcoat, when I found my nose in a rabbit scratch, and I saw that that rabbit scratch was full of fragments of Bronze Age pottery.” The Professor’s eyes shone behind his thick glasses. “Think of it!” he exclaimed, “Bronze Age Pottery in that area where never a trace of it had been found before. Naturally I became so enthralled that I forgot all about the manoeuvres and the next thing I became aware of was whistles blowing and my name being shouted in rather rude and uncivil tones. To cut a long, and rather painful, story short – I found my platoon had gone far ahead of me, and become embroiled with the opposing troops. They had then fraternized in the most reprehensible manner at the nearest pub, and finally had all broken off and returned home without having been given any authorization whatever to do so.”
By this time his hearers were in helpless convulsions of laughter.
“Go on Professor”, gasped Armitage, “tell us what happened when your C.O. heard of it.”
“I would really prefer not to recall that interview too vividly”, replied the Professor primly, “it was painful in the extreme, and I was demoted on the spot.”
“Who was your C.O.?”, asked Colonel Enderby. He was a silent soul in general, but the Professor’s recital had reduced even him to suppressed chuckles.
“Sad to say”, replied the Professor, “he was not the type of person who would in any way appreciate the importance of my discovery. He was concerned solely with the manoeuvres, which by comparison with the discovery of Bronze Age pottery in that area, were matters of no moment whatever. I attempted to explain this to him, but his language became so abusive that I desisted. I believe that in private life he was a chief bartender at the Hotel Magnifique, so perhaps I could hardly expect him to view my position with anything approaching sympathetic comprehension”.
“And what about Mrs. Enderby?”, he went on, in the fatherly tones which always roused her ire. “Have you been keeping the home fires burning while the Colonel has been away this last few years?”
“Home fires burning my foot”, was the brisk retort, “I haven’t had any time to waste on domesticity. I had two years in the A.T.S. till I was discharged on medical grounds, and since then I have been back at my old job again.”
“Pharmacy - medicine dispensing in hospital”, she replied. “I was qualified before I married and did several years in hospital, but things have advanced so rapidly this last few years that I found it a bit of a strain to pick it all up again. I haven’t touched a pencil for ages”, she went on, spreading her hands out in the lamp-light and examining them dismally, “I wonder if I have forgotten how to draw.”
“You’d better hadn’t”, observed Armitage severely, “what is going to happen to the dig if we haven't got our Mrs. Enderby to do the drawings for us?”
“Now about fixing the teams”, said the Professor, producing a list of names, “I shall want a good hefty team on that south rampart. It will be a hundred and twenty foot cutting at least.”
“Enderby’s job, obviously”, said Armitage, “and I suggest he has all those Scandinavian students. They look a husky lot and good for a bit of solid work.”
The foreign students comprised an assortment of huge, fair young Nordics, one or two of whom were Dutch, a couple of Danes, and the rest either Norwegians or Swedes.
“I shall never know one from the other”, he complained”, “and as for sorting out their names - . Besides”, he went on, “I have been speaking German for months past, and, if I come out with a bit of German to a Dutchman or Norwegian, my name is going to be mud.”
“Why worry?” said Armitage cheerfully. “just call them Hi-you, and stick to English. They’ll understand soon enough.”
Next morning work started in full swing. Enderby and his team of huskies got down to the main cutting, Armitage and a team of senior schoolboy started a nice little cutting on the west rampart, Baxter and the girl students started a nice little hut site, and the rest of the old gang, each with his own team were appointed to their several jobs. Alison Enderby annexed two budding surveyors aged about 18 and 19, and, armed with drawing board, steel tapes, chains and theodolite, spent her time moving backwards and forwards over the whole area, making out the preliminary ground plan. The downland sun blazed in a sky of dull steel blue, pierced and fretted with the filigree of the larks’ song.
At eleven came the welcome sound of the whistle, announcing the arrival of Bert Betts with tine of sandwiches. Betts senior was porter at the Professor’s college, an ex-Navy cook. His joy in life was to spend his holidays running any camp of which the Professor was in charge. He saw to all the catering and cooking and, together with Mrs. Betts and a variegated assortment of junior Bettses, undertook all responsibility on the domestic side. Being of a large and solid build Betts himself never scaled the giddy heights of the Downs to the excavations, preferring to busy himself in the sheltered field in the valley where the camp was set up; but, there was always some junior Betts available for carrying up the elevenses and the midday lunch.
The workers flung themselves down on the slopes of the northern rampart in any available spot of shade, the old gang as usual congregating a little apart.
“Well”, and how are the teams working out?”, asked the Professor, who had spent most of his time flitting from one to the other, superintending everything. “How are you and your huskies getting on with the main cutting?”, he turned to Enderby.
The huge man stretched prodigiously.
“Amazing lot of workers”, he replied, “they’d cut their way through anything, but one or two are shockingly ham-handed. I shall have to watch them when we get down to anything in the way of post-holes or finds, or they’ll wreck everything before I can stop them. Why, one of them nearly put the end of his pick through my skull this morning.”
Alison was up in arms at once.
“For heaven’s sake, Jock, be careful”, she exclaimed, “I have only just got you back home again and I won’t have any blond beast putting his pick through your skull. Which of them was it?”
“Haven’t the remotest idea”, he replied lazily. “I haven’t begun to get them sorted out yet. That’s the worst of fair men”, he added, with a glance at the saturnine Armitage, “they all look so alike”.
Armitage smirked revoltingly. He was looking more piratical than ever with a red handkerchief tied round his head and his dark skin already deepening to a rich mahogany.
“There’s one thing about it”, he observed, “you needn’t fear that Mrs. Enderby will go and fall for your Nordic types. Look at what she chose." Enderby was if anything, darker than Armitage. But Alison would not be drawn.
“I mean it, Jock”, she insisted, “you must find out who is the clumsy one and give him a good choking off. If you won’t, I will”.
During the next few days Enderby noticed that picks swung perilously near his head, and once, as the cutting deepened a heavy chalk block missed him by a fraction, but it was always impossible to spot the offender, and sooner than alarm Alison he made no mention of it.
The Enderbys had their tent at the far end of the camp, somewhat apart from the rest. The Professor had his right in the middle whence he could keep an eye on everything. It was Enderby’s habit to make his way each morning at about six o'clock, down the long lines of tents to the cookhouse at the opposite end of the field, where the faithful Betts had an invariable tray of tea awaiting him. The Enderby’s were specially favoured as old Betts had a very soft spot for Mrs. Enderby, and Mrs. Betts an equally soft spot for the Colonel. No one else, not even the Professor, was favoured by early morning tea.
About the beginning of the second week of camp Alison awoke one morning with that strange sense of the hour being later than usual, even before looking at her watch. For a moment she lay still expecting to hear the familiar swish or her husband’s gumboots through the dew-thick grass, accompanied by the cheering little rattle of the tea tray; then with a sudden jerk she sat upright looking across the tent to the other camp bed. It was twenty past six, and Enderby lay in a horribly twisted position, his long limbs flung about like those of some huge rag doll. As Alison bent over him she noticed his eyelids and lips were blue, and as she lifted his hand she saw the nails were of the same livid colour. Pressing her fingers on the great sun-tanned wrist, she found the pulse beats followed a definite and quite peculiar rhythm, and something clicked at the back of her brain, claiming registration in the conscious mind. This was no time for registering sub-conscious brain-clicks, however; Alison tugged on gumboots and mackintosh over her pyjamas, and hurried down through the camp to the Professor’s tent. In response to her urgent scratching at the canvas, and low-voiced calls, the Professor stuck out his head, like a tortoise from its shell, blinking in the low rays of the early sun.
“Do come, Professor”, whispered Alison, “Jock seems awfully queer, and I don’t know what to make of it.”
In a few moments he joined her at Enderby’s bedside. “I will send young Bart for the doctor at once”, he said after a cursory examination of his friend, “no”, he amended, “I don’t want to alarm anyone. I’ll get Armitage to go, and tell him to keep it to himself.”
In a few moments Alison saw Armitage flying toward the village on his bicycle, his battered old blazer thrown over his pyjamas, and his feet thrust into ancient tennis shoes.
During, the terrible time of waiting for the doctor’s arrival, the sub-conscious hammer kept beating in Alison’s brain, beating through ever nearer and nearer into her consciousness. Somewhere - somehow - she had read or heard of just such symptoms as had developed in her husband; her sub-conscious mind knew all about it, but she must wait till it could break through into her brain. Grasping her husband’s wrist once more, she jotted down the pulse rhythm in a series of dots and dashes. The awareness of this sub-conscious knowledge, and the inability to register it, added to her anxiety about Enderby, drew on every ounce of Alison’s reserve of self-control.
The doctor proved to be a kindly and sympathetic soul, but Alison’s hospital experience told her that he was not very well up in the latest therapeutic developments.
“It is obviously a form of poisoning”, he said, “but what exactly it is I can’t say. Has anyone else in the camp shown anything similar?”
“Not a sign of anything”, said the Professor, who had already checked up. “We all had the same for dinner last night and the Colonel had not been out of camp or eaten anything apart from what we have all had.” Alison nodded corroboration.
The doctor looked worried.
“I am sorry to have to suggest it”, he said, “but this is such a peculiar case, and so completely outside my sphere, that I should feel much happier if I could call in the advice of the police. Dr. Hannaford does most of their work, and I should be glad for him to see the case. In the meantime”, he turned to Alison, “you have no need to worry. Your husband has a magnificent constitution, and will probably be quite himself again in a few days time.”
The students were dispatched to the excavations under the charge of Hardcastle and Wilkinson. Presently the police Inspector arrived, accompanied by Dr. Hannaford. The doctor examined Enderby very carefully. The peculiar pulse rhythm was already fading and giving place to the regular beats. Alison gave the doctor the slip of paper on which she had recorded the rhythm, and he put it carefully away.
“This is definitely a case of poisoning”, he said, “but what exactly the nature of the poison can be it is extremely difficult to tell.”
As he spoke the sub-conscious knowledge sprang through into Alison’s brain. In common with all pharmacists she was a weekly recipient of a startlingly erudite publication which contains information on all the latest and most abstruse research into the labyrinths of chemicals, vaccines, viruses and drugs of all sorts, and is completely incomprehensible to the layman; and largely so the average member of the profession. It is, however, printed on pages of a very convenient size for use as wrappings for small articles such as cakes of soap, nailbrushes, and bottles of camomile and anti-midge lotion. It was in this capacity that Alison’s eye had been caught while packing her suitcase for camp; and she now dropped on her knees and started searching feverishly through the papers and oddments that invariably collect in the bottom of suitcases. The doctor and the Inspector withdrew with the Professor and Armitage to the Professor’s tent to continue their inquiries, leaving Alison to keep an eye on her husband, who was now sleeping quietly.
After frantic digging through torn and crumpled debris, Alison at last discovered the paper she sought. The short monograph entirely corroborated the knowledge which had been so tormenting her. Calling young Bertie Betts, she left him to keep a watch on the Colonel, and, armed with the paper, made her way to the Professor’s tent. Inquiries were in full swing, the Professor looking pathetically worried, and Armitage more Mephistophelean than ever with his brows drawn down in a frown of anxiety.
“I think I can tell what the poison was”, said Alison, advancing into the tent, paper in hand.
Doctor Hannaford looked up.
“That would indeed be information worth having, my dear young lady”, he replied with heavy sarcasm, “may I inquire how you come to be in possession of such vital information, which is outside the experience of the medical profession?”
The Inspector was less offensive, but equally incredulous.
“If we knew the nature of the drug”, he said, “we should be more than halfway towards finding the criminal; but the poison used in this case is one which has never before been recorded to our knowledge.”
Alison appeared quite unmoved by this reception, though the Professor and Armitage recognised her resentment by the precise and somewhat clipped tones of her voice as she replied,
“Judging by the symptoms, the drug would appear to be an obscure German synthetic, specially prepared for secret distribution among the higher war criminals, for use in the event of their being captured and brought to trial. In the majority of cases the dose is fatal within five minutes, but one or two cases have been known in which the constitution of the individual has been strong enough to withstand the first reaction, and once the first five minutes is withstood the victim exhibits exactly similar to those exhibited by my husband, and usually recovers within a few days.” The group of men stared at Alison in amazement. Then Dr. Hannaford recovered himself and, adjusting his horn-rimmed spectacles, regarded her with a bland smile.
“That is certainly very interesting my dear Mrs. Enderby”, he replied in a tone of kindly toleration, “but perhaps an expert such as yourself would be good enough in the first place to vouchsafe to us the source of your information, and in the second place to explain how such a substance as that which you mention would have escaped the notice of a mere amateur such as myself.”
Alison laid the sheet of paper on the table.
“It is all described here”, she said shortly, “I don’t see that you can require any more authentic source of information than that”, pointing to the name of the publication at the top of the paper, “though how it has escaped your notice you should know better than I.”
The doctor and the Inspector read the article closely, Armitage and the Professor leaning over their shoulders and following every word.
“H’M”, said Dr. Hannaford, somewhat nonplussed but fighting hard, “that would seem to be authentic enough. But”, he went on, tapping the last paragraph of the article with a certain triumph in his manner, “I am afraid that somewhat nullifies your ingenious theory.”
The paragraph in question reads:-
“This drug has so far only been produced in extremely small quantities. As far as is known the individual capsules each containing the lethal dose have been issued, under conditions of extreme secrecy to the persons for whom they were intended, direct from the laboratory. It has never been produced commercially, and in fact is almost unknown outside a very restricted circle of German scientists.”
“That would seem to put paid to your clever idea, I fear”, said the doctor, whose professional pride had been stung by Alison’s self-possessed attitude. “No, we must look elsewhere for the cause of your husband’s seizure. I grant you that the symptoms appear to correspond, but in view of this statement I do not see the least possibility of this drug being the cause of the trouble.”
The blandly patronising voice, and the ‘don’t be silly, little girl’, manner, infuriated Alison almost beyond control. The Professor and Armitage, who knew something of her explosive temper, looked on apprehensively. Seeing the distress in her friends’ faces Allison, though white with anger, managed to speak with a certain amount of restraint. She was obviously quite unaware of the enormity she was perpetrating in thus pitting her opinion against that of the famous criminologist.
“I shall make no attempt to influence your outlook, or the course of your investigations”, she said sweetly, “but I shall continue my researches along my own lines, and if, as I fully anticipate, I find the criminal before you do, I hope that you will concede me the congratulations that I shall deserve”. And with a charming smile, she withdrew, leaving the men speechless. The Inspector found his voice first.
“Well, I will be damned”, he exclaimed, “who does she think she is coming here trying to put it across us like that. Does she think she owns Scotland Yard, or what?”
“I don’t know about Scotland Yard”, he replied, “but I do know that she owns a better brain than most of us in this camp, and we are supposed to be a pretty bright lot in our way. I've even known her put one across the Professor before now.”
The Professor nodded agreement.
“She is a very exceptional young lady, and of most deceptive appearance”, he said, “she carries a better brain and more acute perceptions behind that innocent face than anyone would credit.”
Inquiries and investigations went on rigorously and ruthlessly. The Inspector and his assistants became a permanent part of camp life, and each and every member of the dig was questioned with a thoroughness that left them with the sensation of having been turned inside out and placed under a microscope. At the Professor’s earnest request the work at the excavations were allowed to go on, but no one was permitted to leave the camp and the excavators had to work under the eye of a constable.
“Might as well be a party of convicts on Dartmoor”, observed Armitage gloomily.
The presence of the police in camp was strongly resented at first, but the Inspector was a tactful soul, and when it was explained to the workers that their presence was a regrettable necessity owing to the suspected existence of a would-be murderer in their midst, the entire party swelled with self-importance, and took the constabulary to their hearts without more ado. Amateur detectives sprang up like mushroomed and the whole camp revelled in a delightful orgy of sleuths, clues, and mystery.
The English students and workers were very soon cleared. The Professor could personally vouch for the great majority, and the others had unimpeachable credentials. The foreign students presented rather different problem. One of the chief difficulties in the case was the entire lack of discoverable motive. Why anyone should wish to poison the quiet, efficient and popular Colonel, constituted one of the main problems. For poisoned he had certainly been, and by the use of an extremely rare drug, as Dr. Hannaford had at last been compelled to admit, which drug could only have been obtained by someone acquainted with pharmacy, and having entry to a pharmaceutical laboratory. The only person who in any way fulfilled these requirement. was Mrs. Enderby, and she was put through a gruelling examination which she survived with complete self-possession, somehow contriving to leave her questioners with the feeling that they were a party of rather foolish amateurs being kindly humoured by an expert.
Alison’s challenge to Dr. Hannaford that she would find the criminal before he did, rapidly became known throughout the camp, and partisanship ran high. Armitage and Wilkinson ranged themselves at the head of her supporters, while the more cautious and less rashly chivalrous Baxter and Hardcastle rather apologetically sided with orthodox investigation. Feelings became acute, bets were freely laid, the junior members of the camp flung themselves joyously into the fray, and young Bertie Betts covered himself with blood and glory by punching and being punched by a senior High school boy, who had dared to cast aspersions on Bertie’s heroine.
Some days elapsed before the credentials of the foreign students could be established, but, eventually all were satisfactorily checked up, each one being vouched for by the Principal of his own College or University.
This seemed to bring the investigations to a dead end; there appeared to be no-one in the entire party on whom suspicion could be placed. No-one could be found harbouring any grudge against the Colonel, nor could anyone, except Mrs Enderby be found who had any knowledge whatever of drugs or chemicals. It was all very disheartening, particularly to Dr. Hannaford, who, well aware of the partisan atmosphere throughout the camp, felt that his professional reputation was at stake.
In the middle of this stalemate attention was suddenly focussed on Mrs. Enderby, and this in the most unexpected way. To the dismay of her friends and adherents she began flirting and carrying on with the students in a way entirely foreign to her usual attitude of rather aloof toleration. The Professor and the old gang were dismayed beyond words. Man-like, they had placed her on a very high pedestal in their esteem and this unexplained departure from precedent left them shocked and hurt to the very core. Enderby himself was still too unwell to join in any of the activities of the camp, and spent most of his time recuperating in a deckchair outside his tent. His meals were conveyed to him there, so he saw and knew nothing of the fresh developments, and none of his friends felt competent to tell him.
In the laughing circle which Alison collected round her it might have been noticed that the foreign students were always well to the fore; she seemed to avoid her own friends and to encourage all those that Armitage wrathfully described as “outsiders”.
Things came to a head one evening when Alison collected a party round her at dinner, and the proceedings at her end of the tent became absolutely riotous. The Professor was miserably distressed and bewildered. It was strange enough that she should desert her own seat at his side a position which was hers by old established precedent, but that she should elect to gather a rowdy crowd in a far corner of the marquee, was really carrying things a bit too far. After dinner the old gang gathered disconsolately in the Professor’s tent, almost too distressed and dismayed for words.
Armitage, loyal as ever, spoke first.
“I don’t care what anybody says”, he observed with a certain gloomy defiance, though no-one had opened their lips, “she’s playing some game of her own which is too deep for any of us to fathom as yet.”
“It is most undignified behaviour for one in her position, and a married woman too”, piped up little Baxter in virtuous tones.
“I can't think what’s possessing her”, said Hardcastle, “letting us all down like that.”
“Oh, shut up”, exclaimed Wilkinson, “I agree with Armitage. She is probably playing some deep game of her own, and in any case no-one is going to make any derogatory remarks about her while I am around”, and he glared so belligerently at the company that they all subsided without a further sound. An ex-P.T. Instructor is not a safe person to argue with.
Dr. Hannaford and the Inspector had joined the group, in fact during the course of the investigations they had become quite a part of the camp, and very good friends with the Professor and the old gang. Only between Dr. Hannaford and Mrs. Enderby was there an atmosphere of armed neutrality; he, coming slowly to realise that she was a more formidable opponent than her youthfulness and innocent face would lead one to suppose; she, always perfectly gentle and polite, though treating him with a mocking sweetness in which there was more than a trace of patronage.
This sudden alteration in Alison’s behaviour towards the students roused Dr. Hannaford’s suspicions, for he had come to respect her far more than he would admit.
“I am inclined to think that Armitage And Wilkinson are right”, he said, “she is certainly behaving in a very peculiar way, and quite unlike her usual manner I should imagine. She was playing some rowdy game with the foreign students at dinner time which seemed to centre round a bottle of Worcester sauce as far as I could see.”
“She was apparently teaching them to call it Worcester and not Wor-ces-tor-shire”, said the Professor unhappily, “though why she should need to encourage so much noisiness I cannot understand.”
At that moment the tent flap was unceremoniously flung back, and Alison stepped into the lamp-lit circle. Her usually pale face was flushed, and there was something like defiance in her eyes as she gazed round the group. All the men immediately looked extremely sheepish, except Dr. Hannaford, who watched her keenly from behind his horn rims.
“I have found the Criminal”, she announced with well-simulated nonchalance, addressing herself to the Inspector and ignoring Dr. Hannaford entirely. “Get that student who calls himself a Dane and says his name is Gunnar Jensen, and grill him a bit. I think you will find I am right.”
Armitage let out a whoop of delight and drew Alison down on to the packing case beside him.
“Good girl”, he exulted, treating her to a brotherly hug, “I knew you would do it. Come and tell us all about it.”
The Inspector and Dr. Hannaford were out of their seats like a streak, but Alison called them back.
“Ask him where he got his pharmaceutical experience”, she said, “that will shake him, and the rest should be easy.”
Despite the congratulations and delight of her friends Alison firmly refused to divulge anything.
“If I am right I will tell you all about it”, she said, “but I would rather wait till the Inspector has made his inquiries. Besides I want to see Dr. Hannaford’s face”, she added with an impish grin.
At the end of about an hour the Inspector and Dr. Hannaford returned to the tent; the former beaming with satisfaction and the latter eyeing Alison with a certain wariness.
“Well, we’ve got him”, exclaimed the Inspector, rubbing his hands. “It Is a most extraordinary story, and if it had not been for Mrs. Enderby spotting the right man by some method of her own, it would probably have had to be filed among the unsolved mysteries.”
“Tell us the story”, cried half a dozen voices, and the Inspector willingly obliged.
“It seems that this fellow is actually a German of the name of Friedrich von Winkelhausen”, he said. “His father was one of the top secret criminals that Colonel Elderby was instrumental in bringing to justice. This chap had been employed in the laboratories where this special drug was prepared, and had been the chief agent entrusted to smuggle the capsules to the prisoners. His father was one of the rare cases, similar to Colonel Enderby; that resists the action of the drug, and he was eventually executed among the other war criminals. The son swore to avenge himself on the man that had compassed his father’s death. He made his way to Denmark – where incidentally he had lived for many years and knew the language like a native - entered the University, which he knew frequently sent students to England, and, having provided himself with a couple of capsules saved from the demolition of the laboratory he eventually tracked the Colonel down. We found another capsule concealed in the top of his fountain pen, and he was waiting till the Colonel returned to normal camp life in order to give him this second dose, which would certainly have been fatal. The drug is a tasteless powder which he had contrived to scatter over the Colonel’s dinner while taking his turn as camp Orderly, to hand the plates round.”
“It is all extremely satisfactory as far as that is concerned”, said Dr. Hannaford, “but the question still remains - how did Mrs. Enderby spot the criminal?”
Alison picked up a bottle of calamine lotion from the packing case which served as the Professor’s dressing table. She handed it to the Professor, and amid a staring and breathless silence.
“Give that a shake and take the cork out”, she said.
He shook the bottle to and fro in a rather gingerly manner, then carefully pulled the cork out between finger and thumb looking as it he thought it might explode at any moment. Alison smiled, took the bottle from him, and drove the cork home with the open-handed smack of long experience. Her eyes sought and held Dr. Hannaford’s.
“Now look”, she said.
Gripping the bottle, she clamped her forefinger on the cork, turned the bottle upside down and shook it up and down with a vicious purposefulness. Then grasping the cork in the crook of the left little finger she pulled it out with a quick twist. Her audience stared uncomprehendingly, as if it had been a conjuring trick.
What has all that got to do with finding the criminal?”, asked Hardcastle at length.
Alison threw him a pitying glance, then looked at Dr. Hannaford again.
“Do you follow me, doctor?”, she asked. “or do I have to explain in words of one syllable?”
“My dear young lady”, he replied, and there was deep and genuine admiration in his voice, “if I follow you correctly it is the prettiest bit of observation and deduction that I have come across in the course of a long and widely variegated career. But for the sake of our lay brethren I think you had better explain in - as you say - words of one syllable.”
Alison looked round on the completely mystified group.
“I was convinced”, she said, “that Jock had been poisoned by the use of that particular drug when I recognised the characteristic pulse rhythm, of which I had read in that article. It is quite unmistakable, and was very clearly described, and no other condition gives that particular heart reaction. I also realised that the drug could only come into the possession of someone who had the entry to a pharmaceutical laboratory, and who understood something about chemistry and drugs. So I took a long chance. I encouraged all those foreign students as it occurred to me that if anyone had a grudge against Jock it would probably be connected with his work on the War Crimes Commission. In other words it boiled down to this – if I could find one of those foreigners who knew anything about pharmacy I would bet everything I possess that he was the man. That is why I got them all fooling round with that Worcester Sauce bottle”.
Dr. Hannaford nodded delightedly, but every other face in the group remained blankly mystified. Alison looked round with slightly exasperated patience.
“You will have to put it in words of one syllable”, said the doctor, “remember we are of the inner circle and they aren’t.”
“Well”, she said, “shaking a bottle and taking out the cork is an infallible guide as to whether a person is in any way acquainted with the use of drugs. The average person handles them as the Professor did, very tenderly, and as if they might bite. Anyone who has had anything to do with chemistry or pharmacy grabs the bottle and shakes it as I did, and hitches out the cork with the left little finger. Our pseudo-Danish friend was the only one who handled the Worcester sauce bottle in that way.”