Affluence Rather Than Good Taste
Berkeley square underground station has never been busy, for Berkeley Square is quiet, sedate, and remote from shops and offices.
On this particular occasion, shortly before 10 p.m., it was deserted, except for three people who stood a few feet apart from one another at one end of the platform.
There was a young man reading an evening paper; a thick-set, red-faced man, of forty or so; and a slim, glamorously-dressed lady, whose glossy, high-heeled shoes, fur wrap, and vivid red dress and hat combined to speak of affluence rather than good taste.
The woman and the young man were both preoccupied with their own affairs, but the older of the two men was jovially tipsy, and disposed to take notice of his surroundings.
He peered over the young man’s shoulder at the headline in the paper.
“Monravian Sweepstake ‘Curse’, “ he read out. “Huh! What I say is — just lemme win one o’ them fifty-thous’nd-pound prizes, an’ you can curse me till you’re blue in the face.”
The young man grinned, and grunted his approval of this sentiment. The woman, however, standing three or four yards away, paid no attention to the men, but continued to stare across the line at the opposite wall.
Then, conceiving a sudden affection for the young man, the tipsy fellow produced a visiting card from his waistcoat pocket, and thrust it upon him.
“That’s me,” he said, “John Blake’s the name. Mecca Traction Comp’ny. Any time you wanna buy a shteam roller, jus’ remember. I’m your man.”
Mr. Blake had by this time moved over to the lady, and was now raising his hat, and asking her if she was, by any chance, one of the three sisters — Faith, Hope and Charity.
He was very properly snubbed. The lady drew her coat collar a little more closely about her face, and strolled on towards the extreme end of the platform.
Blake came back mumbling.
At this juncture the train came in at the other end of the station, and John Blake and the lady got in the front carriage, which was empty.
The young man remained on the platform, his being the next train.
An instant later, the train had pulled out, and the young man had entirely dismissed the incident from his mind. He was engrossed in the paper once more, little dreaming that he would be figuring in its next issue as an important witness in a murder case.
It was a case which eclipsed the Monravian Sweepstake Curse in public interest, and everybody had been reading about that.
Tommy Burke was discussing the “curse” with his employer, Dixon Hawke, when Detective-Inspector Gray called at the Dover Street chambers, and the Scotland Yard man contributed his opinion.
“As I see it,” he said, “this Archbishop’s denunciation of the sweepstake has just been made use of by the sensationalists to air a pet theory. I see nothing remarkable in the fact that half a dozen winners have come to grief since this so-called curse. A sudden windfall’s always liable to be bad for the man who hasn’t been used to money.”
“The chap who’s just committed suicide, apparently for no reason at all, is the third to do so,” commented Hawke. “Another died from heart failure about three years ago on hearing of his good fortune.”
“That was immediately after the Archbishop’s denunciation had been pronounced,” put in Tommy.
“The others,” said Gray, “drank themselves to death, and I guess they just happened to be the kind who would have done that anyway.
“Enough of that,” he went on briskly. “I didn’t come here to talk about the Monravian Sweepstake. I came to tell you we’ve pulled in the man who seems to have committed this underground railway murder.”
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The Mysterious Note
Hawke picked up his morning paper, and glanced at a paragraph in the stop press.
“Mrs. Watson,” he said, after he had read it, “of Waverley Court, Berkeley Square. Understood to be living apart from husband — h’m — fractured skull — powerful blow with some metallic object.”
He shot an inquiring glance at the inspector.
“A young chap named Edward Thomas,” explained the latter, “saw that paragraph, and came along to tell us a fellow named John Blake, who had given him his card, got in the train with her at Berkeley Square, two stations before she was found murdered.
“We called on John Blake,” he continued, “and found blood on his coat sleeve. He admits that he’d had too much to drink, and that he made a fool of himself by speaking to Mrs. Watson in Berkeley Square Station. His story is that he got off at Park, the next station to Berkeley Square, leaving the woman quite O.K.”
Gray paused to light a cigarette.
“He wants you to act for him,” he said.
“Then perhaps,” replied Hawke dryly, “he really is innocent of the crime. How does he explain the blood on his sleeve?”
“He says that, being slightly unsteady on the feet, he stumbled on the steps when he was coming out of Park Station, and fell on his nose, causing it to bleed. Nobody was about who could bear witness to this, and he’s quite unable to prove that he did get off the train at Park.”
“Well, what happened to Mrs. Watson?”
“The next station after Park,” proceeded Gray, “is Chester Road, and a crowd of people were waiting for the train there. The first few who got in saw the woman sprawled on the floor. Her hat lay a few feet away, and there was blood on her forehead.”
Hawke was frowning thoughtfully as he packed tobacco in his pipe.
“Let me see,” he said. “I believe it’s an exceptionally long run from Park to Chester Road. Isn’t there a disused station on the way?”
“That’s so. Newbury Street. Been closed for some years. It’s a derelict place — all in darkness — but if you’re thinking that somebody might have broken through the boarded-up entrance and got on the train there, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree, old man. The train doesn’t stop there. Goes through at express speed, in fact.”
“Really! My recollection is that the trains very often draw to a standstill along that stretch.”
“Ah, but not at the old station. Some little distance before. There’s a junction just ahead, and the signals are very often against the train. It’s quite impossible for anyone to board the train in the tunnel. It fits too neatly.”
“You’re depressing me,” said Hawke with a frown.
The inspector grinned, and pulled out his wallet from his breast-pocket.
“There’s just one tiny outlet for your activities,” he said. “It may mean nothing, or may serve only to convict Blake, should it transpire that he knew the lady.”
He handed over a half-sheet of grubby notepaper.
“This was in her handbag,” he remarked.
Hawke read the following message, which was scrawled in pencil:
“Shall want to see you before you go, and, as you’re in such a hurry, you’d better get on to the 9.58 southbound at Berkeley Square to-night. We’ll have a talk about the money.”
Hawke studied the message for some moments, and when he glanced up his face reflected something of the interest it had aroused.
“Is John Blake connected with the railway?” he asked, after he had read the note.
“No. He sells traction engines and steam rollers.”
“That’s very interesting.”
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An Interview with Blake
Gray scowled slightly. “What’s interesting about it?” he demanded.
“It’s a bit early for anyone to start making suggestions,” answered the criminologist, rising. “We’ll go and see Mr. Blake, and hear what he has to say for himself.”
Tommy accompanied his employer to the cells, where they found the commercial traveller looking very sorry for himself.
“I felt a bit hilarious when I was on the platform,” he said in answer to Hawke’s queries, “having just celebrated a successful deal, and I made a fool of myself. I never saw her before in my life, and I didn’t speak to her in the train. I sat at the back end of the coach, and she sat right up at the front.”
“And you’re quite sure there was no one else in the coach?”
“And no one got in that coach when you alighted at Park Station?”
“I don’t think anyone got in the train at all. Two or three others got out — from the rear coaches.”
Hawke next visited the police surgeon, who told him:
“There are marks round the neck of the victim, Mr. Hawke, and she has a fracture of the skull. It looks as though the murderer seized her by the throat with one hand, and dealt the death blow with the other.”
The detective and his assistant next visited the block of flats where Mrs. Watson had lived.
They were rather high-class flats, and Captain Willoughby, who occupied that next to Mrs. Watson’s, was a man of culture and some social standing.
“She held parties in her flat,” he informed the detective. “My wife and I were always being invited. We only went a couple of times. Mrs. Watson struck me as a sort of social climber. Newly rich, and all that — little bit ostentatious with her money, and a shade over-careful in her speech. Never revealed anything of her past history.”
“How long had she been here?”
“About eleven months. There was a husband in the background. Only came here once or twice.”
“What sort of man was he?”
“Well, from what little I saw of him, I should have put him down as a working man in his Sunday suit. I don’t hold that against him, of course. She seemed anxious to keep him in the background, though once, when my wife came on the scene, she was prevailed upon to introduce him.”
“And she introduced him as her husband?”
“You would recognise him again?”
“I think so.”
Hawke expressed his thanks, and left the building.
Outside he bought the mid-day edition of an evening paper. It contained pictures of Mrs. Watson, of the young man, Edward Thomas, of John Blake, and of Edward Higgins, driver of the train on which Mrs. Watson had met her death.
“Well, guv’nor,” asked Tommy, “what do you make of it all?”
“I’m somewhat bewildered as to the circumstances under which Mrs. Watson met her death, but perhaps it won’t be long before the air is cleared, since we now know who the real murderer is.”
“Since we what?” gasped Tommy.
“Perhaps I am being a little rash, but the facts all seem to point to one man.”
“And that man is — ?”
“Really, Tommy, I must call upon you to do a little constructive thinking.”
“He is not John Blake?”
“I’ll put it this way. If John Blake is innocent, there can only be one other man who could have committed the crime. And the evidence we have so far all goes to show that it was, in fact, that one other man.”
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A Photograph Proves Useful
Hawke called a taxi, and directed the driver to take them to the offices of the Evening Globe, where, twenty minutes later, he was interviewing the art editor.
“Yes,” said that gentleman. “I can supply you with copies of any pictures that have appeared in the paper.”
“I’d like one of your retouching artists to do a little work on one of them for me.”
When they came out of the newspaper office, Hawke was in possession of a quickly-dried photographic print of a man who, in the words of Captain Willoughby, looked like “a working man in his Sunday suit.”
Back at the block of flats, Willoughby identified him instantly.
“That’s the fellow,” he said. “He is Mrs. Watson’s husband. I’ll swear to it.”
He called Mrs. Willoughby, who confirmed this opinion.
“It is still a difficult thing to prove,” said Hawke, when he and Tommy left the flats. “Pop over to that call-box, Tommy, and ring Gray. Ask him if he can arrange for us to see the train on which the murder was committed.”
There proved to be no difficulty about this.
The train had been taken off the regular service, and was at one of the suburban sheds, at the disposal of the investigators.
In company with a railway official and a police inspector, Hawke spent some time examining the front coach.
He examined it with great care, inside and out. The search took him along the footboards to the driver’s cabin, where he seemed to develop an interest in the control levers.
“I would like to question driver Higgins,” he said at length, “as to whether he had occasion to pull up between Park and Chester Road.”
“He’s in the office at the other end of the shed,” said the official. “I’ll fetch him.”
The driver, wearing his railway uniform and shiny peaked cap, presently appeared on the scene. He was a man of medium height and powerful build, and his manner, as he answered Hawke’s questions, was somewhat brusque, as though he resented other people’s presence in his driver’s cab.
“I did have to pull up for a few seconds,” he said in answer to Hawke’s question. “Just before we reached the old Newbury Street station.”
“It’s rather important,” said Hawke, “that I should know the exact spot.”
The driver glared at him for a moment.
“Well,” he said at length, “I could show it to you, if we went there. There’s a lamp at the side of the tunnel, just above the cables, with a battered top. I couldn’t swear as to how far that lamp is from the old station, but I’d recognise it again.”
Hawke persisted with his point, and after he had drawn the attention of the railway official to the fact that a man’s life was at stake, it was arranged that Higgins should take him for a run on the train at three o’clock the following morning — in the interval between the cessation of night traffic and the commencement of the morning traffic.
“You can ride in the cab with Higgins,” said the official.
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The Ambitious Wife
Hawke and Tommy’s appointment in the early hours was at a junction in North London. Having left their car at an all-night garage nearby, they entered the deserted station in which their footsteps echoed strangely.
The train was waiting for them at the down platform, the morose-looking driver, its sole attendant, leaning against the door of the control cabin.
Hawke stepped into this tiny compartment, and, there being only room for the driver, in addition to himself. Tommy got into the first coach.
Higgins moved the brass lever on top of the control box and set the train in motion.
It was one of the queerest trips the detective had ever taken.
At first he found the sensation of rushing headlong into a black chasm a trifle unnerving, but he quickly accustomed himself to it.
Station after station flashed by as the train sped on its journey south, all the time getting deeper below the street level.
The end of a tube section, opening on to a station, would appear, at first as a tiny pinpoint of light, rapidly enlarging until they rushed through into the station, and they would then be rushing along at express speed towards the circle of solid blackness at the far end of the platform.
The train’s speed was rather higher than that normally maintained, and the unladen coaches rocked crazily from side to side.
Eventually they reached Berkeley Square Station, and, at Hawke’s request, the driver pulled up.
“Now,” said the detective, “start off, and proceed exactly as you did on the occasion of the murder.”
The train journeyed to Park Station at rather slower speed, and stopped.
“This is where Mr. Blake says he got off. Carry on — and pull up exactly where you pulled up before.”
The train drew to a standstill after another quarter of a mile or so, and its light showed the deserted platform of the old Newbury Street Station a few yards ahead.
“Carry on,” directed Hawke, and the train proceeded until the first half of the front coach was actually in the station. Then Hawke signalled Higgins to stop again.
“Now, Higgins,” he said, “with the object of saving Blake, whom I believe to be innocent, from the gallows, this is the suggestion I am putting forward. You did not stop the train back there in the tunnel, as you suggest — but just here. The others in the rear of the train would not know, that part of it being in the tunnel, of course.”
“Well,” snapped the other, “what about it?”
“Having stopped the train here, you left your cab, and stepped into the passenger-carrying section of this front coach, with the idea of having a brief word with your wife, before the signals changed.”
“My wife! What are you talking about?”
“Your photograph appeared in the evening paper. You were in uniform, but I had the picture retouched by an artist, who sketched in civilian clothes. That picture was instantly identified by Captain and Mrs. Willoughby. They were positive you were the man whom Mrs. Watson had introduced as her husband.”
The driver did not answer.
“I suggest that seeing the coach deserted, except for your wife, you gave vent to your anger with her and killed her.”
“With that control lever. It is detachable, of course, and you always take it with you when you leave the train, so that it may not be started by an unauthorised person. You had the handle with you when you stepped into that carnage, and you struck her with it. I found bloodstains on it.”
Higgins looked as though about to deny the suggestion, but then he appeared to give way to a mood of dejection and resignation.
“All right,” he said. “You win. I don’t particularly want another man to hang for what I did, and can’t say I care overmuch what happens to me. I’m fed up with everything.
“I did kill her,” he went on. “I suppose it’s just that the curse got me after all.”
“Just superstition that, of course, but it’s played on my mind like superstitions do. You see, I won a first prize in that Monravian Sweepstake about fifteen months ago, and I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to let it make any difference to my way of life.’ Every winner says that, I know, but I was an exception. I meant it and stuck to it. Twenty-four years I’ve been on the railway, and a railway worker I decided to stop.
“It didn’t suit my wife,” he continued. “And I said to her, ‘You go on and have a good time. We’ll go our separate ways for a while.’
“That suited her, and I thought that when she got mixing with a lot of stuck-up people out of her natural class she’d soon get fed up with it and want to come back to the old life.
“She didn’t like the sound of the name Higgins,” continued the man with a bitter laugh. “Too common. So she used her maiden name, Watson, and went to live in a posh flat. More and more money she had, and more and more she wanted. I let her have it, until I began to realise I’d lost her for keeps. She was ashamed of me. She wanted to go over to Paris with some of her fine friends, and she wanted an extra large sum of money out of me. I found there was another man in the picture helping her to spend my money, and I determined to have it out. She was going the day after, and I sent her a note to say that I wouldn’t send the cheque she wanted unless I saw her before she went.
“I told her to get on this train, and — well — you seem to know all the rest. I — I coshed her,” he added with a strange, hysterical laugh, “coshed her with this.”
As he spoke, he pushed over the control lever.
He pushed it farther and farther, and the train accelerated sharply. He pushed the lever to its limit, and Hawke saw that he was laughing crazily.
“Here,” exclaimed the detective, “steady!”
“… with this — I coshed her with this.”
He had taken the control lever off, and was waving it about.
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A Leap for Life
Before Hawke could act — could even suspect what he was about to do — the man had thrown the lever out of the window.
“You fool!” shouted Hawke. “How are you going to stop the train?”
Higgins was laughing, almost uproariously.
“When we come to the buffers,” he said. “Then it’ll stop.”
Hawke shot out his fist, and dealt the mad driver a heavy blow on the jaw, so that he slumped senseless to the floor.
Hawke turned his attention to the control box, but there was nothing but the square end of the key shanky and human fingers were not powerful enough to move it.
He did not understand the mysteries of the box, which was locked, and did not know whether it was possible to stop the train by pulling out a fuse.
He searched feverishly through the senseless driver’s pockets in the hope of finding the key of the control box, but he found no key.
The train plunged madly on, and was presently racing up a gentle slope into the pale light of early morning.
The lamps along the track were still alight, and it was possible to see for some distance ahead.
“What’s up, guv’nor?”
Hawke turned to see the startled face of Tommy peering in at him. The youth had climbed along the footboard, and was holding on to the frame of the open window.
The detective motioned him to move back along the footboard, and, opening the cab door, stepped out by his side.
“He’s thrown the control lever out, and I can’t see any way of averting a crash,” answered Hawke grimly.
The train was going at a speed which made the senses reel, and it was grim work holding on until they were able to climb into the passenger compartment.
“We shall stand a better chance at the rear end,” said Hawke, and they ran to the other end of the coach.
It was impossible to get through into the second coach without climbing out on to the footboard again.
They were about to make the perilous trip when Tommy pointed to some iron rungs set in the end of the second coach.
“What about the roof, guv’nor?”
Hawke nodded, and the young man scaled the rungs, his employer following.
They reached the rounded, swaying roof to find a horrifying state of affairs.
About two hundred yards ahead the track crossed a river over an iron bridge, and a hundred yards or so beyond the bridge, on the same line, was a stationary train.
A crash was inevitable within the next few seconds.
“We must jump, Tommy,” shouted Hawke. “Into the river! Jump when we reach this near side bank. Our speed will carry us into the middle.”
They jumped together almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
They cleared the iron parapet, and felt themselves sailing on across the river whilst in process of falling.
Both were horrified to see timber-laden barges below, and it looked as though they must be dashed to pieces on these.
However, they hit the water between two of the barges with only ten or twelve feet to spare on either side of them.
Their heads had scarcely come above water when the district was fit up by a dazzling, blue-white flash.
At the same time there was a terrific crash and next moment bells and sirens sounded, and there were excited cries from all sides. Fortunately, no one was killed, except the unhappy sweep winner.
Blake was released after Hawke had outlined to Gray all that had taken place.
“It seemed obvious to me, from the very first,” ho explained, “that Mrs. Watson must have had an appointment with a railwayman. The note in her handbag referred to the 9.58 southbound train. Are there many people in London, other than railwaymen, who know the exact times of tube trains — which arrive and depart within a few minutes of each other?”
“H’m. I never thought of that. And it is rather a point, isn’t it?”
“Keeping that idea in mind,” he concluded, “I was looking for a railwayman as the possible murderer, and it wasn’t long before I saw that train driver was our man.”
~ The End ~
Voodoo On The Riviera
A Dixon Hawke Mystery
(50 min read)
Dixon Hawke Library | May 31, 1941 | No. 561
Up against the fearsome forces of Caribean voodoo, can Hawke and his assistant Tommy Burke defeat the forces of dark magic?
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