The Satan Bug, p.16Alistair MacLean
“A thousand stones and nothing under any of them,” Hardanger said grimly. “The hammer and pliers were definitely the ones used in the break-in. But we’d been sure of that anyway. Not a single useful print in the Bedford decoy van. The same for the telephone box which was used to make the call to Reuter’s last night. We’ve put your money-lending friend Tuffnell and his partner through the mill and had the Fraud Squad examine their books until we know as much about their business as they do themselves: we could have them both behind bars in a week but I just can’t be bothered. Anyway, Dr. Hartnell is definitely their only customer from number one lab. The London police are trying to trace the man who sent the letters to Fleet Street, if we’re wasting our time down here they might as well waste their time up there. Inspector Martin has spent the entire morning questioning everyone in number one lab about their social relations with each other and the only thing he has turned up so far is that Dr. Hartnell and Chessingham were on visiting terms. We already knew that. We’re having a check made on every known movement of every suspect in the past year and we have teams of men checking with the occupants of every house within three miles of Mordon to see if they noticed anything strange or out of the way on the night of the murders. Something is bound to turn up sometime. If you spread the net wide enough and the meshes are small enough. It always does.”
“Sure. In a couple of weeks. Or a couple of months. Our friend with the Satan Bug has promised to do his stuff in a few hours. Damn it, Superintendent, we can’t just wait for something to turn up. Organisation, no matter on how massive a scale, won’t do it. Method number two, lighting a meerschaum and making like Sherlock, isn’t going to get us far either. We have to provoke a reaction.”
“You already provoked a reaction,” Hardanger said sourly. “See where it got you? You want more reactions. How?”
“As a starter, investigate every financial transaction and every bank book entry of everyone working in number one, every entry in the past year—and don’t forget Weybridge and Cliveden. Let the suspects know. Then squads of policemen to every house. Search each house from top to bottom and have the searchers list every tiniest thing they find. This will not only worry the man we’re after—it might actually turn up something.”
“If we’re going to go that far,” Inspector Wylie put in, “we might as well throw the lot of them in the cooler. It’s one sure way of taking our man out of circulation.”
“Hopeless, Inspector. We may be dealing with a maniac but he’s a brilliant maniac. He’d have thought of that possibility months ago. He’s got an organisation—nobody in Mordon could possibly have delivered those letters in London this morning— and you can bet your pension that the first thing he’d have done after getting the viruses would be to get rid of them.”
“We’ll try stirring things up,” Hardanger said reluctantly. “Though where I’m going to find all the men to——”
“Pull them off the house-to-house questioning. It’s a waste of time.”
He nodded, again reluctantly, and spoke at length on the phone while I finished dressing. When he put the phone down he said to me, “I’m not going to waste my breath arguing. Go ahead and kill yourself. But you might think of Mary.”
“I’m thinking of her all right. I’m thinking that if our unknown friend gets careless with the Satan Bug there’ll soon be no Mary. There’ll be nothing.”
This seemed to be a pretty effective conversation stopper but after some time Wylie said thoughtfully, “If this unknown friend does give a demonstration I wonder if the Government really would close down Mordon.”
“Close it? Our pal wants it flattened to the ground. It’s impossible to guess what they will do. Things are only at the badly-scaring stage so far— no one’s out and out terrified.”
“Speak for yourself,” Hardanger said sourly. “And just what are you thinking of doing now, Cavell? If you’ll be kind enough to tell me,” he added with heavy irony.
“I’ll tell you. Don’t laugh, but I’m going to disguise my self.” I fingered the scars on my left cheek. “A little assistance from Mary and her war-paint and these will be gone. Horn-rim spectacles, a pencil moustache, grey suit, credentials identifying me as Inspector Gibson of the Metropolitan Police and I’m a changed man.”
“Who’s going to supply the credentials?” Hardanger asked suspiciously. “Me?”
“Not necessary. I always carry them around with me, anyway, just in case.” I ignored his stare and went on, “And then I’ll call again on our friend Dr. MacDonald. In his absence, if you understand. The good doctor, on a modest salary, manages to live like a minor Eastern potentate, everything except the harem, and maybe he discreetly keeps that somewhere else. Also drinking heavily because he’s worried stiff, about the Satan Bug and his own personal safety. I don’t believe him. So I’m calling on him.”
“You’re wasting your time,” Hardanger said heavily. “MacDonald is above suspicion. Long, distinguished and spotless record. Spent twenty mintues this morning going over it.”
“I’ve read it,” I said. “Some of the star turns in the Old Bailey over the past few years have had immaculate records—until the law caught up with them.”
“He’s a highly respected character locally,” Wylie put in. “Bit of a snob, associates only with the very best people, but everyone speaks very well of him.”
“And there’s more to his record than you’ve read, Cavell,” Hardanger went on. “In the report there’s only a brief mention of his wartime service in the Army but it so happens I’m a personal friend of the colonel who commanded Mac-Donald’s regiment in the last two years of the war. I rang him up. Dr. MacDonald, it seems, has been strangely reticent about himself. Did you know that as a second lieutenant in Belgium in 1940 he won the D.S.O. and the bar, that he finished up as a lieut-colonel in a tank regiment with a string of medals as long as your arm?”
“I didn’t and I don’t get it,” I admitted. “He struck me as a phoney-tough type, who, if ever he’d done any valorous deeds, wouldn’t have been backward about admitting them. He wanted me to think he was afraid: he didn’t want me to think he was brave. Why? Because he knew he had to justify his heavy drinking so he put it down to personal fear. But, in view of his record, it almost certainly wasn’t that. Queer item number one. Queer item number two—why wasn’t all this listed in his security report? Easton Derry compiled most of those dossiers—and Derry would be unlikely to overlook so large a gap in a man’s history.”
“I don’t know about that,” Hardanger admitted. “But this much is certain—if the report I had on MacDonald is correct then on the face of it it seems highly unlikely that a man so brave, selfless and patriotic could possibly be mixed up in anything like that.”
“This colonel of MacDonald’s regiment who told you about him—could you get him down here immediately?”
Hardanger let me have his cool speculative look. “Thinking he’s a phoney in every sense? That this man’s been substituted for the real MacDonald?”
“I don’t know what to think. We must have another squint at his record card and check that Deny really did compile it.”
“We can soon fix that,” Hardanger nodded. This time he was on the phone for almost ten minutes and when he’d finished with that so had Mary with my face and I was all ready to go. Hardanger said, “You look bloody awful but I wouldn’t recognise you if I saw you in the street. The file’s in the safe in my hotel. Shall we go there?”
I turned to leave the room. Hardanger took a look at the palms and fingers of my hands, still slowly welling blood from the hack-saw scratches. He said irritably, “Why didn’t you have the doctor bandage your fingers as well? Want to get blood poisoning?”
“Have you ever tried to use a gun with your fingers bandaged together?” I asked sourly.
“Well, man, a pair of gloves then. That’s ridiculous.”
“Just as bad. Couldn’t get a finger through the trigger guard.”
“It’s a point,” I agreed. “Certainly it would hide those damn’ scratches.” I stared at him without seeing him then sat down heavily on the bed. “Hell’s bells!” I said softly.
I sat very still for a few seconds. Nobody spoke. I went on, speaking more to myself than anyone else, “Rubber gloves. To cover the scratches. Then why not elastic stockings? Why not?” I looked up vaguely and saw Hardanger glancing at Wylie, maybe thinking that they had let the doctor go too soon, but Mary came to my rescue.
She touched my arm and I turned to look at her. Her face was set and the big green eyes wide with apprehension and the birth of an unpleasant certainty.
“Mordon,” she whispered. “The fields round it. Gorse, they’re covered with gorse. And she was wearing elastic stockings, Pierre.”
“What in heaven’s name——” Hardanger began harshly.
“Inspector Wylie,” I interrupted. “How long would it take you to get an arrest warrant? Murder. Accessory.”
“No time at all,” he said grimly. He patted his breast pocket. “I have three of them here already signed. Like you said yourself, there are times when we can’t wait for the law. We fill’ em in. Murder, eh?”
“And the name?” Hardanger demanded. He still wasn’t sure that he shouldn’t be calling the doctor.
“Dr. Roger Hartnell,” I said.
“What in the name of God are you talking about?” Dr. Roger Hartnell, a young man with a face suddenly old and tired and strained, stared at us, then at his wife who was standing rigidly beside them, then back at us again. “Accessory after murder. What are you talking about, man?”
“It’s our belief that you know well enough what we are talking about,” Wylie said calmly. It was the Inspector’s bailiwick and it was he who had just read out the charge and was making the formal arrest. He went on, “I have to warn you that what you say now may be used against you at your trial. It would help us if you made a full confession now, I admit: but arrested men have their rights. You may wish to take legal advice before you speak.” Like hell he was going to take legal advice: he was going to talk before he left that house and Hardanger, Wylie and I all knew it.
“Will someone please explain what this—this nonsense is about?” Mrs. Hartnell said coldly. The slightly supercilious incomprehension, the well-bred distaste were done to a turn, but the hostile rigidity of the figure overdone, the gripping hands so tightly clasped that the tremor showed. And she was still wearing the elastic stockings.
“Gladly,” Wylie said. “Yesterday, Dr. Hartnell, you made a statement to Mr. Cavell here to——”
“Cavell?” Hartnell did some more staring. “That’s not Cavell.”
“I didn’t like my old face,” I said. “Do you blame me? Inspector Wylie is talking, Hartnell.”
“—to the effect,” Wylie went on, “that you made a late trip night before last to see Mr. Tuffnell. Intensive investigation has turned up several people who were in a position to have seen you had you travelled in the direction you said you did at the time you said you did. Not one of those people saw you. That’s point number one.” And quite a good point it was, too, even if the purest fiction: the check had been made all right, but not a single witness found to confirm or deny Hartnell’s story, which had been just as expected.
“Point number two,” Wylie went on. “Mud was found last night under the front mudguard of your motor-scooter, a mud which seems to be identical with the red loam found locally only outside Mordon. We suspect you went there early in the evening to reconnoitre. Your machine is at present being moved to police laboratories for tests. Point number——”
“My scooter!” Hartnell looked as if a bridge had fallen on him. “Mordon. I swear to——”
“Number three. Later that night you took your scooter—and wife—to a spot near Chessingham’s house. You almost gave yourself away to Mr. Cavell—you said that the policeman alleged to have seen you on your scooter could back up your story about the trip to Alfringham and then you remembered, almost too late, that if he had seen you he would also have seen your wife on the pillion seat. We found the imprint of your scooter’s wheels among bushes not twenty yards from where the Bedford had been abandoned. Careless, Doctor, very careless. I note you’re not protesting that one.” He couldn’t. We’d found the imprints less than twenty minutes previously.
“Points four and five. Hammer used to stun the guard dog. Pliers used to cut the Mordon fence. Both found last night in your tool-shed. Again by Mr. Cavell.”
“Why, you filthy, sneaking, thieving——“His face twisted, the hair-trigger control suddenly snapped and he flung himself at me, clawed hands outstretched. He didn’t get three feet, Hardanger and Wylie just moved in massively from either side and pinned him helplessly between their bulks. Hartnell struggled madly, uselessly, his insane fury increasing. “I took you in here, you—you swine! I entertained your wife. I did——” His voice weakened and faded and when it came again it was another man talking. “The hammer used to stun the dog? The pliers? Here? In my house? They were found here? How could they have been found here?” He couldn’t have been more bewildered if he’d heard the late Senator McCarthy declaring himself to be a lifelong Communist. “They couldn’t have been found here. What are they talking about, Jane?” He’d turned to his wife and his face was desperate.
“We’re talking of murder,” Wylie said flatly. “I didn’t expect your co-operation, Hartnell. Please come along, both of you.”
“There’s some terrible mistake. I—I don’t understand. A terrible mistake.” Hartnell stared as us, his face hunted. “I can clear it up, I’m sure I can clear it up. If you have to take anyone with you, take me. But don’t drag my wife along. Please.”
“Why not?” I said. “You didn’t hesitate to drag her along a couple of nights ago.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said wearily.
“Would you say the same thing, Mrs. Hartnell?” I asked. “In view of the statement made by your doctor, who saw you less than three weeks ago, that you are in perfect health?”
“What do you mean?” she demanded. She was under better control than her husband. “What are you getting at?”
“The fact that you went to a chemist’s in Alfringham yesterday and bought a pair of elastic stockings. The gorse outside Mordon is pretty vicious stuff, Mrs. Hartnell, and it was very dark when you ran off after decoying the soldiers from their truck. You were pretty badly scratched, weren’t you? And you had to cover those scratches, didn’t you. Policemen are just naturally suspicious—especially in a murder case.”
“This is entirely ridiculous.” Her voice was flat, mechanical. “How dare you insinuate——”
“You are wasting our time, madam!” Hardanger spoke for the first time, his voice sharp and authoritative. “We have a policewoman outside. Must I bring her in?” Silence. “Very well, then, I suggest we leave for the police station.”
“Could I have a few words with Dr. Hartnell, first?” I asked. “Alone, that is?”
Hardanger and Wylie exchanged glances. I’d already had their permission but I had to have it again to make things right—for them—if the need arose at the trial.
“Why?” Hardanger demanded.
“Dr. Hartnell and I used to know each other fairly well,” I said. “We were on fairly friendly terms. Time is desperately short. He might be willing to talk to me.”
“Talk to you?” It’s no easy feat to sneer and shout at the same moment, but Hartnell achieved it. “By God, never!”
“Time is indeed short,” Hardanger agreed sombrely. “Ten minutes, Cavell.” He nodded to Mrs. Hartnell. She hesitated, looked at her husband, then walked out, followed by Hardanger and Wylie. Hartnell made to follow but I swung across and blocked his way.
“Let me past.” His voice was low and ugly. “I’ve nothing to say to people like yo
“Have you a cellar in your house?” I asked.
“A cellar. Yes, we——” He broke off and his face was ugly again. “If you think you’re going to take me——”
I swung my left fist in imitation of his own cumbersome effort and when he lifted his right arm in defence I tapped him with the barrel of the Hanyatti, just enough to take the fight out of him, caught his left arm up behind his left shoulder and marched him down towards the rear of the house where a flight of steps led down to a cellar. I closed the door behind us and shoved him roughly on to a rough wooden bench. He sat there for some seconds, rubbing his head, then looked up at me.
“This is a put-up job,” he said hoarsely. “Hardanger and Wylie—they knew you were going to do this.”
“Hardanger and Wylie are hampered,” I said coldly. “They’re hampered by regulations concerning interrogation of suspects. They’re hampered by the thoughts of careers and pensions. I have no such thoughts. I’m a private individual.”
“And you think you’ll get away with this?” he said incredulously. “Do you seriously think I won’t talk about it?”
“By the time I have finished,” I said impersonally, “I doubt whether you will be able to talk. I’ll have the truth in fifteen minutes—and I won’t leave a mark. I’m an expert on torture, Hartnell— a group of Belgian quislings gave me a course of instruction over a period of three weeks. I was the subject. Try hard to believe I don’t care much if you are badly hurt.”
The Satan Bug by Alistair MacLean / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes