- Lord Benjamin Petty . . . master of Dungarees Castle
- Lady Henrietta “Hetty” Petty . . . his wife, a former movie star
- Worth . . . the butler
- Mrs. Jolley . . . the cook
- Peter Moss . . . the gardener
- Gladys . . . the housemaid
- Countess Sophronia Lancaster . . . eldest daughter of the castle’s former owner
- Diogenes Pratt . . . local pharmacist and Petty’s nephew
- Lucinda Leaharian . . . buxom owner of the local bookstore
- J.K. Diebehnkorn . . . American film director
- Greta Frink . . . Diebehnkorn’s secretary
- Rodney Lawrence Plum . . . literature professor at West Chiswick School for Boys
- Zuzana Materska . . . the Countess’ maid
- Mick . . . Moss’ friend
- Inspector Oakleigh . . . of Scotland Yard
- Sergeant Albert Corn
- Dr. Chandler . . . local medico
Dungarees Castle, Wednesday, 28 March, 4:00pm
A popular notion long held in Scotland Yard’s inner circle is that the pairing of Inspector Thomas Oakleigh with Albert Corn as his sergeant was the febrile inspiration of a now-retired Superintendent known for his sense of humor. It was, of course, the poor Sergeant who came in for the brunt of the ribbing, with one constable going so far as to have his wife embroider a pillow with the adage: “Into Mighty Oakleighs Do Little A. Corns Grow!”
Those inclined to the ironic will note with satisfaction that the “Little A. Corn” is fully fifteen stone’s worth of tightly packed muscle, which would give any superior a sense of security when caught in a pinch. And it would also do well to note that, whatever the inspiration, the pairing was a rousing success. Not only did Oakleigh and Corn quickly create a reputation for routing out criminals and solving cases of the most complex variety, but they became boon companions off hours, and Oakleigh was deemed an unofficial but loving uncle to Corn’s three children.
It had taken but a quick moment for the pair to be assigned the investigation of the stolen submarine plans and the emergence of a tenuous connection with a member of Parliament. With equal dispatch, both men had packed a bag, climbed into an official car, and proceeded apace out of the City.
What no one could have predicted was that a massive storm strike down parts of several ancient trees and that Oakleigh and Corn would find themselves at the mercy of the local populace’s efforts to clear the road. And now, despite Sergeant Corn’s offer to assist the farmers and tradesmen now striking wood with axes and pushing chunks of wood down the hillside, Oakleigh has insisted that they remain in the car, conserving their energy for the mental task ahead.
“Nervous, Al?” Oakleigh observes the larger man squirming in his seat. His smooth, open face breaks into a scowl.
“I hate these kinds of cases, Tommy! Give me a nice sordid murder on the streets of London any day. I don’t hold for these aristocratic types. They’ll expect special treatment, and I’m not going to give it to them.”
“Nor should you,” say Oakleigh, puffing contentedly at his pipe. “Murder is the great leveler.”
“Tell that to His Highness up there. You can be sure that Lord Petty and his gang will expect us to bow and scrape before them.”
“The Countess Sophronia is amongst the party. I’ve met her before, at a fundraiser for police widows and orphans. She was a perfectly charming, natural woman with a great deal of respect for what we do. And from what I’ve been able to gather, most of the other guests are locals and mere commoners, like you and me, Sergeant.”
Corn shifts his feet uncomfortably in the inadequate space provided for his long legs. “Maybe I’m just intimidated by nobility, Inspector.”
Oakleigh laughs heartily. Believe me, Albert, that group up there will be far more intimidated by you.” He claps a hand on the other man’s beefy shoulder. “We’re going to seek information from them just as we would do any shopkeeper or chimney sweep. And Sergeant – they may be a polished lot as you say, but our questions will undoubtedly turn up enough dirty secrets to fill a swamp. So, highborn or low, what is the task before us, Corn?”
The Sergeant sighs. “Draining the marsh, sir. Draining the marsh.”
* * * * *
Albert’s sense of inferiority is not assuaged when the front door of the castle is opened by a butler of Jeeves-like bearing. He stands at stiff attention and fixes them with a gaze of mild inquiry, to which Inspector Oakleigh responds by flashing his credentials. The servant opens the door wider, admitting them into a long, spacious hallway.
“I assume, gentlemen, that you would like to see the . . . His Lordship at once,” says the butler.
“Where exactly is the body?”
“In the study, sir. The gentlemen had to break the door down in order as Lord Petty had locked himself in.” The two policemen exchange a look. “We took every precaution to secure the scene, Inspector. The women retired to their rooms, while the men stood guard in pairs. Shall I take you – “ He is interrupted by a sharp knock. The butler turns and opens the front door, revealing a husky man of late middle age in a faded tweed overcoat and sporting a pair of luxuriant gray moustaches.
“Afternoon, Worth!” the man shouts. “Police arrived?” He looks past the butler, and his mouth opens in a wide smile, revealing large suspiciously white teeth. “Ah, the Yard has arrived!” He steps across the threshold, extending a hand. “I’m Dr. Chandler! Local constable rang me up, asked me to offer you my services. Terrible business this, simply terrible!”
Oakleigh introduces his sergeant to the doctor and then asks Worth to show them to the study. The butler escorts them down the hall. They pass a formal dining room on the left and a large, comfortable-looking drawing room on the right, then turn left before they reach the staircase and find themselves in a short hallway. Two men are sitting on the ground together, their backs against the wall, facing an open doorway. They turn as the policemen approach and struggle to their feet. Both are big men, and the younger of the two has muscles to rival the Sergeant’s.
“Inspector Oakleigh and Sergeant Corn, sir,” says the butler. He then turns confidentially to Oakleigh and says in a low voice, his face betraying the first hint of uncertainty, “If I may be excused, Inspector, I have to get back to the kitchen and attend to the evening meal. The cook was unable to get up to the castle this morning, and I cannot find the girl.”
“Gladys, sir, the housemaid. I’ve been unable to locate her all day.”
Corn jots a name in his notebook, as Oakleigh nods briskly. “Very well, Worth, I’ll get the doctor settled in here and have a look around, and then I’d like to have a chat with you.”
“Very good, sir.” Worth gives Oakleigh instructions on how to find the kitchen and disappears down the hall. Oakleigh directs his attention to the two men. The older one runs his hand through silver-streaked hair. His face gives the impression of great distinction gone to seed. The younger man’s eyes dart back and forth from one man to the other, his whole physique brimming with nervous energy. He struggles to calm his face into an ingenuous grin, and when he speaks, his words burst out with the force of a dog’s bark.
“Diogenes Pratt, Inspector. I am – I was Lord Petty’s nephew.”
“Do you live here, Mr. Pratt?”
“No, no. I’ve lived my whole life in the village. I run the local pharmacy. It was I who informed my uncle that the castle was available, and now I reap the reward by being invited to share in this luxury.” He laughs and then thinks better of it. “Er, this gentleman is Mr. Diebehnkorn. He’s a film director.”
Oakleigh’s eyes widen. “Not – are you J.K. Diebehnkorn?” That gentleman bows stiffly. “I happen to be a big fan of your work, sir. I believe I saw The Master Swordsman three or four times.”
“That is very flattering, Inspector.” The director does not sound flattered. “Would you excuse me? We have been guarding this entry for several hours, and I am fatigued. I would like to have a bathe and lie down – that is, if you can spare me.”
“I can spare both of you for the moment. I ask only that you remain in your rooms like the others so that when we need to speak with you we can find you.”
Diebehnkorn bows again and retreats down the hall. Diogenes leans in confidentially.
“Lots of Hollywood types here this week,” he says with a grin. “I wouldn’t compliment them too much if I were you. It doesn’t improve their demeanor.” He takes his leave of them, whistling all the way up the stairs. The Sergeant looks after him.
“Not too broken up about the death of his uncle, is he?”
“I wonder how well they actually knew each other,” muses the Inspector. “After you, Al.”
They carefully step past the broken doorway. Oakleigh leans down and examines the knob. “Standard lock. Key’s still in the door.” He rises and takes in the scene before him. The doctor has moved past them and kneels before the body. Sergeant Corn moves his great body with nimble dexterity around the room. He points to a wall in the corner.
“The safe is open.” Oakleigh moves past the fireplace and examines the opening.
“Nothing forced. I would assume that His Lordship himself opened this in order to – what? Count his assets? I see no money. There are some papers, deeds or contracts perhaps.”
“Maybe a will? In mysteries, there’s always a will,” says Corn with a grin.
“We’ll have to examine it all, but on the face of it, I see nothing of value here. Look through the desk. I want to have a word with that butler to get the lay of the land.” He turns and, with a start, finds himself nose to nose with Dr. Chandler.
“Sorry to startle you!” The Doctor grins. “I find no marks upon the body, but I’m not surprised. Unless I miss my guess, His Lordship has been poisoned. One of the cyanides, I would expect.”
“You feel sure of that?”
“I do. The lips are blue, the face flushed. Whatever he took worked quickly on him, but it was still an unpleasant death. I feel badly about this. He was a medical man himself, you know. We used to trade war stories. Interesting chap. Ah, well. As soon as I get him down to the village, I’ll run some tests.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll see you out and we’ll arrange for the removal of the body.”
They turn toward the doorway, and then the doctor wheels round again.
“Oh, before I forget, I found these under the chair.” He hands Oakleigh a pair of spectacles. The Inspector takes them gingerly and looks through the lenses.
“They must have fallen off as he was in the throes of dying. For reading, I expect.” He examines the body, looks over the table beside the chair, and then falls to his hands and feet, nosing around the floor. He rises slowly, scratching his head. “But what was he reading?”
* * * * *
Oakleigh sits at the kitchen table, his pad covered with notes detailing the butler’s succinct account of the events of the previous evening. He looks up and stifles another smile at the spectacle of Worth standing at the counter. His erect figure sports a frilly apron as he snaps beans into a ceramic bowl with great concentration.
“A staff of three then – yourself, a gardener and a housemaid – as well as the cook who comes in from the village?”
“Yes, sir. Granted that before this week we had only his Lordship and his wife – and occasionally Mr. Pratt – to care for. But she alone requires – “ Worth cuts off any editorial remarks about his employer. “At any rate, Lord Petty has not asked me to serve as his valet, and both of the smaller wings of the castle have remained closed, so we have been able to manage with the staff we have.” With a snap, half a bean flies out of his hand and lands on the floor. He leans over, gives it a hang-dog look, and resumes his task.
“Now, in addition to your employers and the two gentlemen we met outside the study, can you tell me the other members of the house party, along with the day they arrived? I am aware that the Countess Sophronia is present.”
“The Countess arrived early Friday evening in her car. She brought her own maid with her, thank goodness, although the woman will not deign to lift a hand in service to others.”
“And her name is . . . ?”
“Miss Materska.” Worth says with some distaste. “I believe she hails from one of those unsettled nations in eastern Europe. Mr. Diebehnkorn arrived with his secretary, a Miss Fisk, on Saturday. They had sailed from New York and took a train to the village. Lady Petty herself took the car and met them.”
Oakleigh jots down the information. “And Mr. Pratt?”
“Mr. Pratt resides in the village but is a frequent guest here. We keep a guest room ready for him. He also arrived on Saturday. Finally, there is Miss Lucinda Leaharian. She is also from the village. She owns a book shop there. Quite well stocked, I must say.”
“Was Miss Leaharian also a guest here?
“Lord Petty hired her several weeks ago to organize his vast library. She found it advantageous to move up here temporarily.”
“I see. Very well. Is there a room where it would be convenient for us to question each of these people?”
Worth carries the bowl of beans to the sink and runs water over them. “I think the small study by the stairs would suit your needs perfectly, Inspector.” Oakleigh thanks him, rises, and moves across the kitchen toward the door. He pauses as the butler blurts out a startled, “Oh!” Oakleigh turns around to regard him inquiringly.
“Inspector, I’m terribly sorry.” Worth’s face has reddened. “There is one more person present, a man who was not part of the original party.”
“The unexpected guest?” Oakleigh says bemusedly. “I would expect nothing less.”
“His name is Plum . . . he’s an educator at a nearby boys’ school.” Worth relates the tale of the Professor’s dramatic entry on Monday afternoon.
“Hmm. I was going to start with Lady Petty, but I might have a word with the Professor first.” Worth’s eyes stray to the bowl of beans. “Listen, my good fellow, I can see that you’re being run ragged here. I tell you what? If you can help me put a chart together of each person’s bedroom, I’ll leave you to your regular duties and do without that interview room.”
Worth releases a breath. “That’s most understandable of you, sir, but I wouldn’t want to upset the guests.”
“You leave them to me,” Oakleigh says with a twinkle.
* * * * *
Inspector Oakleigh stands at the top of the stairs and, cursing his aging vision, holds the sketch of the floor’s layout as far away from his face as he can. He counts the doors on the left – one, two, three, four – and is heading to the midpoint of the hall when he is arrested by a violent commotion emanating from behind the second door. A woman’s voice, high, hysterical, alternating with the low but no less emotional tones of a man.
A short scream from the woman, followed by the sound of a slap, and then another, brings Oakleigh in a few bounds to the door where he begins pounding with his fist. There is a silence.
“Please open this door at once,” the Inspector demands. Another pause, followed by the sound of footsteps, and Oakleigh finds himself face to face with Mr. Diebehnkorn. His face is suffused with rage, and a trickle of blood seeps from a cut on his left cheek.
A woman emerges from behind the director, her platinum hair mussed, her eyes running with mascara and tears. She beats her hands against Diebehnkorn’s back and screeches.
“Get out. Get out!!”
“Gladly.” The director pushes past Oakleigh and starts down the hall. The woman slams the door shut. The Inspector calls Diebehnkorn’s name, and he freezes, turns around, and saunters back to stand, looking down upon the policeman.
“Do you care to explain to me what happened?” Oakleigh asks.
J.K. Diebehnkorn gives a harsh laugh. “Here’s my statement, Officer: you can investigate all you want, but you won’t pin anything on me. Petty was my ticket back to the top, and the only obstacle in my way was that lousy bitch in there. So, you see – you’ll never throw me in chains because, as far as I’m concerned . . . the wrong person died.”
Diebehnkorn turns and walks away. Oakleigh watches him until he enters a room near the end of the hall on the right and closes the door behind him with surprising gentleness. Then the Inspector turns back and raps on the lady’s door.
It opens immediately, and Oakleigh notes that the woman has taken these few moments to wipe her face clean and apply fresh lipstick. She places her hand on her hip and fixes him with a cool stare.
“Lady Petty, I’m Inspector Oakleigh from Scotland Yard. I’ve been sent down here to investigate a theft that occurred in London last week.”
Her eyes blaze. “My husband just died.”
“Yes, your Ladyship, I’m aware of that. And it forces me to see if I can find a connection between his death and the missing plans. Now I suggest you pull yourself together and meet me in the downstairs parlor in fifteen minutes.
She makes him wait thirty minutes. In the meantime, Sergeant Corn has pulled an armchair over to a small, decorative table and created a makeshift desk for himself. He sits and flips his notebook to a fresh page. Oakleigh sits in the armchair before the fire. Finally, the door opens and both men rise.
Lady Petty stands in the doorway. She has changed from the satin robe she had been wearing into a black outfit, too glamorous to be suitable for mourning. She stares insolently from one man to the other, pausing to appreciate the Sergeant’s muscular frame. Oakleigh indicates his own chair, and when she is seated, he settles himself against the mantel
“I recognized you immediately. I don’t mean to appear inappropriate at this sad moment, but I am a great fan of your work, Miss Landless.”
As he expected, this approach elicits a more desired effect than he suspects any expression of condolence might have done. She softens immediately.
“You’re very kind,” she says.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your private, er, conversation upstairs, but I grew alarmed when I heard the gentleman raising his voice against you.”
“Gentleman? Hah!” she snorts. “He’s a big old brute. But don’t you worry – I can handle myself.”
“I see that you can,” he says with a smile and an inclination of his head. “And though it pains me to pry, that, I’m afraid, is my job. Can you explain the nature of your disagreement?”
“Sure.” She gives him a smile, and its flirtatious nature almost causes him to flinch. Careful, he thinks, and composes himself. “Jimmy was trying to welsh on a promise, and I was – explaining to him what a bad idea that would be.”
Oakleigh nods understandingly. “What was the nature of that promise?”
“My husband was putting up financing for Jimmy’s new film. It’s gonna be my comeback, see? One of them new talkies. And I get to sing.”
“That’s very exciting news.” He nods and smiles at the radiant woman before him. One would hardly guess that her husband lay dead less than fifty feet away. “I have to ask – now that Lord Petty has been murdered – “
Hetty gasps. “What? Murdered!” Her hand clutches her throat in a theatrical fashion. “But – but – surely it was his heart of somethin’ . . . “
“We suspect poison.”
“But I saw him last night, and he was fine.”
“Was this at dinner?”
“Well, yes, but after that. Benjy went to his study after everyone went to bed, and I went in to talk to him.”
“What did you talk about?”
“The movie! The one I was just telling you about. It was all arranged. Benjy would put up the money, and Jimmy would cast me as the lead.” Her words come out in a breathless rush. And then her face grows hard. “Except now Jimmy says he won’t cast me. And I say he will.” She sinks back in the chair and stares into the fire. “Or there will be no movie.”
Oakleigh observes her with interest. He recalls seeing several of her films, that was the truth. The lie was in telling her he liked her work.
“If I understand you,” he says, and he waits until she turns her head from the fire and looks at him, “your husband’s willingness to finance Mr. Diebehnkorn’s film was dependent upon your being cast. Mr. Diebehnkorn objected to this provision?”
Lady Petty shrugs. Then her eyes widen.
“Hey, wait a minute! You’re not thinking – but that’s ridiculous! If Jimmy wanted to kill a man, he would simply break him in half.” She says it with a tone of thrilled admiration. “What point would he have in hurting my husband?”
“I take your point.” Oakleigh nods. “And what will happen now?”
“Most of the money will come to me, I expect. And when it does, the offer stays the same. Hey!” She claps her hands in delight. “I’ll be actor and producer! How do ya like that?”
A muffled sound comes from the direction of the sergeant, but when Oakleigh looks his way, Corn is writing innocently in his pad. He turns back to Lady Petty.
“I very much appreciate your openness about this matter. Now I wonder if you could take me through the events of last evening.”
With a great deal of prodding to keep her on track, Oakleigh manages to produce a detailed outline of Hetty’s movements on the preceding day. When she has finished, he leans against the mantel and sighs.
“I’m afraid your husband played a very dangerous game, Lady Petty. By voicing aloud to his guests his suspicions that one of those present could be responsible for the theft of important naval documents had the potential to put his life at risk.”
Hetty stares at him for a moment and then shakes her head.
“You look at my husband, and he seemed like a ridiculous little man. I dunno: maybe he had something to prove for some reason. But he liked living life a little dangerously. He rode horses and bet on things. He liked to stir the pot. He – “ She stops. For the first time, tears appear in her eyes. As if embarrassed by a show of genuine emotion, she wipes them away quickly with her sleeve. “I liked him, Inspector. I thought he was a lot of fun.” She stands up and holds out her hand. He takes it, and she gives him a squeeze and then walks to the parlor door. She turns around and says:
“You know what? You should snoop around that professor. We don’t know anything about him. He came out of nowhere. Crashed his car outside our place and then made himself at home as nice as you please. I’ll bet he stole the submarine plans and brought ‘em here in that little suitcase of his.”
Oakleigh and Corn exchange a look.
“What little suitcase?” Oakleigh asks.
“An old brown briefcase. He had it with him when he came in. He asked my husband if there was a place where he could keep it safe. Benjy offered to lock it up in his safe. I’ll bet that’s where you’ll find those plans. Only problem is, I don’t have the combination. Nobody did but my husband.”
“We actually found the safe open when we arrived. I checked the contents – we found no suitcase.”
Lady Petty hurries forward and grips the Inspector’s arms, heaving dramatically.
“But don’t you see? He must’ve gone in after I went to bed. He must’ve demanded that Benjy give him back his suitcase. And then – he killed him!”
* * * * *
After sending his sergeant to fetch Professor Plum, Oakleigh rearranges the furniture in the parlor to make it more conducive to interviews. He returns the second armchair to the fireplace and sets both chairs facing each other. Since the only other chair – an 18th century fauteuil of carved walnut and Savonnerie tapestry – is too fragile to support Corn’s massive frame – Oakleigh retrieves a chair from the dining room. He is placing it behind the makeshift desk when the door opens and the Sergeant ushers in a reedy man in dapper clothes, sporting a faint mustache and with a pair of pince-nez perched atop his long, thin nose. Oakleigh indicates an armchair, and when both men are seated, the Inspector regards the other in silence for a moment, until the Professor begins to fidget and nervously clears his throat.
“Let’s begin,” Oakleigh says. “Could you give me your full name and tell us where you reside?”
The Professor takes a deep breath and exhales. Then, to Oakleigh’s surprise, he repeats the breathing exercise twice more.
“Are you all right, sir?”
“ Oh – oh yes, yes, I’m all right. I’m sorry, but this is all so much more of an ordeal than I ever imagined . . . “
Oakleigh glances sharply at Sergeant Corn, who shakes his head. “And what ordeal would that be?”
“Why – this, Inspector. This situation. I mean, to actually be involved in a real murder – oh!” He claps a hand to his mouth. “I mean – it is murder, I assume.”
“And why do you assume that?”
The Professor’s face colors, and he shifts nervously in his chair. “I – my – my name is Rodney Lawrence Plum. I reside at the West Chiswick School for Boys. I have taught Literature there for the past thirteen years.”
“And how were you acquainted with Lord Petty?”
The spots of color deepen on the Professor’s sallow cheeks. “I think you know that I was not part of Lord Petty’s circle, Inspector. I – I had an accident with my car outside the castle. Lord Petty was kind enough to invite me to stay while my car was being fixed.”
“Why didn’t you stay in the village?”
“Well . . . “ Plum runs a finger around his collar. “Frankly, it seemed like something of a lark. I mean – how many English Lit professors have the opportunity to spend the night in a castle?” His laugh emerges as a squeak. “Of course, it didn’t turn out so lucky for me. I seem to have run right into a murder.”
“Here is where you and I have something in common, Professor.” Oakleigh offers a grim smile. “You see, the Sergeant and I came down here from London to investigate the theft of some vitally important military plans. Little did we know that we would also run into a murder.”
The Professor gives a wan smile. “I didn’t mean to make light of – “
“Now, it is my understanding that the victim sat you all down last night and told you about the possible connection between the theft and this castle. Is that correct?” The Professor nods. “We were tasked to investigate that connection, and it requires us to ask certain questions of everyone here. Were you in London on Thursday, Professor?”
“No!” Professor Plum sits up straight. “I – I was teaching until late in the afternoon. That was followed by our weekly faculty meeting, after which I dined with two of my colleagues. I’m sure they will vouch for me.”
Oakleigh smiles. “Of that I have no doubt. Well then, it appears you could not have had anything to do with the theft itself. However – “ He leans forward until he is nearly nose to nose with the other man. “If the thief had made plans to deliver the plans to someone at Dungarees, you could very well have been that person.”
Plum stares at him in horror, and then his expression turns to one of outrage. “But – but – that’s ridiculous!”
“It it, sir?”
“Yes, it’s ludicrous. How could I have assured any – burglar that I would be in residence here? As I explained, my whole presence here was an accident.”
“Was it, Professor? Why were you driving along this road? Where were you going?”
Professor Plum’s mouth clamps open and shut. “I was – I was heading to London to spend my spring recess there.”
“Heading to London?” Oakleigh scratches his head. “But this road doesn’t take you anywhere near London. This road is as off the beaten path as you could hope to find.”
The Professor sags back in the chair and runs a shaking hand through his hair.
Oakleigh says, “Let’s return to that in a moment. I have another question. When you arrived, I’m informed that you handed Lord Petty a suitcase or briefcase – “
“My satchel,” Plum whispers.
“ – and that he told you he would keep it in his safe for you. Is this correct?”
The Professor bows his head.
“And yet upon examination of the safe, which we found open upon our arrival, there was no receptacle of any kind present. Can you explain this, Professor?”
Plum remains silent for a moment and then slowly nods his head. He rises from his chair and turns to face Corn.
“Sergeant, can you come with me?”
Sergeant Corn stares with surprise at him, then turns to Oakleigh for confirmation. He rises and both men leave. They return a few minutes later, a worn brown satchel dangling from the Professor’s hand. He goes back to his chair and clutches the satchel to his chest as if holding something precious. He waits until Corn has returned to his place and holds a pen poised in his hand.
“Inspector, I first want to appeal to your sense of logic. If I had wanted to meet a miscreant to receive stolen goods, I can think of a dozen more appropriate spots than the great castle of Dungarees. If I was was foolhardy enough to make the exchange here, I would have been better off doing so in a private spot, like the woods adjoining the estate. There were would have been as little purpose to my becoming a member of the house party as there was a likelihood of my being invited.” The Inspector opens his mouth to speak, but the Professor raises a hand. “Furthermore, let’s say I did meet with this criminal on the grounds of Dungarees. Why would I then stay? Why would I not flee to parts unknown to deliver the submarine plans to my masters?”
Corn pipes up, “Perhaps you intended to receive the good from someone else in the castle.”
Plum shakes his head. “That doesn’t make sense, Sergeant. If I needed to be present to receive the, er, goods, as you say, why did I give my satchel to Lord Petty for safekeeping. And if Petty himself had the plans and intended to slip them into my bag, why on earth would he announce to everyone that the thief or his confederate was present? No, sir, this is bad plotting indeed!”
Oakleigh looks to Corn, who gives a shrug. “What you say makes sense, Professor, I’ll not deny it.”
Plum heaves a sigh of relief. “Good! And now, I beseech you – do not make me open the satchel!”
Both policemen stare at him with mouths hanging open.
“But – “
“Gentlemen, I assure you, the contents of this case have nothing to do with the matter at hand. They are private papers and will mean nothing to you.”
“Professor, I don’t mean to cast doubt on what you say or intrude on your privacy. However, we’re dealing here both with murder and matters of national security. I’m afraid it is my duty to examine the contents of your case.”
For a painful moment, Plum hugs the satchel tighter to his chest, and then, with an exasperated groan, he pushes it forward and hold it out to Oakleigh. The Inspector takes the case and begins to undo the straps. As he pulls open the top flap, Plum’s hand comes down on the satchel. He looks at Oakleigh with pleading eyes.
“I beg of you to keep these contents a secret. I ask not only for myself but for others as well.”
“I’ll do my best.” Oakleigh reaches a hand into the case and slowly draws out a tightly bound sheaf of white papers. He stands up and places the document on the table where Corn is writing. The top sheet is blank except for two lines of neatly centered typescript.
“Sergeant, I seem to have left my reading glasses in the car. Would you – ?”
Sergeant Corn leans forward and peers at the manuscript. In a solemn voice, he intones: “The Stain in the Sidecar. A New Gideon Kane Mystery by Ruth La Pale.”
Both men look up at the Professor, who now stands beside his chair, wringing his hands in despair.
“But, gentlemen, don’t you see? I am Ruth La Pale!”
The investigation continues next week as our dear professor joins forces with Oakleigh and Corn to solve the Murder at Dungarees! In the meantime, I leave you with the first edition cover of Ruth La Pale’s 1929 mystery, The Stain in the Sidecar. Thanks to Bev Hankins for allowing me to use a photograph of her prized possession, the only extant copy known to exist today.