I must finish this letter. I don’t know how much time I have. It might not be as much as I would want.
It’s so cold in this room. I can hardly hold the pen and my hand is trembling.
I want to light the fire, but I can’t possibly do that. I shouldn’t complain. This is the only reasonable refuge I have. If I am right about my suspicions, I should be safe here for a while; but how long? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
I don’t understand the significance of what I saw, but I feel sure they have sensed I know something. Whatever the facts, I must concentrate on recording my exact movements.
My name, for what it is worth – it may be of some value: Martin Turncliff – clerk with Carr, Lindhold and Barker: barristers.
I recall that I was filing the Langford papers when Dyer came in.
An ugly affair, the Langford case. George Langford, good family, charged with murder in the death of his younger wife. The body had not been found, but an anonymous tip to the police had sent them to Langford’s place where they found a pool of her blood on the living-room carpet, a bloodied poker with Langford’s prints on it and Mrs. Adelaide Langford’s purse nearby. As if that weren’t enough, a search of the purse had revealed a note in Mrs. Langford’s handwriting, written to her lawyer, which indicated that she was leaving her husband, as she was afraid of his increasingly violent moods.
Langford claimed he knew nothing of the whole affair. He protested, vociferously, that he had never lifted a hand to his wife nor had he ever even shown anger towards her. He had been called out of town at the time of the murder, he claimed, to a private business meeting; but there was no corroborating witness for his claim. Whomever he had been meant to meet, there was no trace of the man. There was also a large sum of money, in his name, missing from his joint bank account which he could not explain.
Had he paid someone to murder his wife?
I recall that Langford had looked confused and distracted when he came into the office. Mr. Carr, the senior, had looked after him. No matter. Langford, in spite of his money, had been convicted and there was an end to it. The case was closed and I was ready to put the file away. It was the simplest of duties.
I must keep to the facts; just the facts. God only knows what they might reveal.
It’s so cold in this room.
Ernie Dyer, a sometime investigator for the firm, had come in as I was putting the file away. He was not a personable man; more of a brute, with a rough complexion and thick meaty hands. I had never liked him, and he knew it. I had the feeling, too, that Mr. Carr, the senior, disliked him – no, was afraid of him. Yes, that was it! It made me wonder why the firm employed him from time to time.
Dyer had asked me what the file was and I had told him. He had laughed then; more of a sneering chuckle than a laugh.
I don’t recall if he had said anything further.
I must remember.
No, he had not spoken after that. He had just sauntered into Mr. Barker’s office.
Henry Barker was the newest member of the firm; a young man who had been gathered up by the firm, as it were, for his litigation experience; tremendous courtroom presence and record. He had lost few cases. I had often wondered why Barker hadn’t taken the Langford case; but he hadn’t.
I must keep to the events of the day.
Some time later, Dyer had come out of Barker’s office. I recall there had been a scowl on his face, as if he had made a proposal and been rejected. I remember too, that Barker had come to the door and had seen Dyer out with his eyes. Then he had looked at me, standing there with the Langford file in my hand. Had there been something in his face? I don’t know. But I sensed at the time that there had been.
For some reason, I had felt an urgent need, later that morning, to take the afternoon off. I recall speaking to Mr. Carr, telling him that I did not feel well and receiving his blessing in regard to my absence. I remember, too, that I had promised him I would be back in the office early the next morning. His response was diffident – no, I must be precise – he seemed strangely relieved at my news. Now there’s a peculiar thing! It is only on reflection that I remember it. Of course, I could be wrong as to his feelings. Emotions are rarely clearly defined in a person’s manner.
I drove that afternoon. I remember wanting to clear my head, for something did not sit well with me. Without purpose, I drove and found myself some twenty miles from the office near tea-time. The sign I had followed had indicated that the village of Peckham was just down the road. I decided to stop there for tea. I don’t know why, but it was not until I was well into the village that I realized that Peckham was the place where Mr. Barker lived. It was a curious coincidence.
I found a tea-shop near the centre of the village and was just about to park the car when I had another surprise. A woman two cars away from me was leaving her automobile. I only had a glimpse of her, but I was sure it was Adelaide Langford! I didn’t feel there was any way I could be mistaken. I am good with faces; names, I might lose, but not the image of a face. I remember she had accompanied her husband on one occasion when Langford had come into the office to see Mr. Barker about some business venture. Now, she was about to enter the same tea-shop I had chosen!
I backed out of the parking space I had moved into and continued down the road. I don’t believe that – no – I am certain, she did not see me. I did not know what to think. I felt I had stumbled on some dark secret!
I recall driving home, parking the car and then trying to collect my thoughts. It was not long before I came to the uneasy conclusion that it would be unwise for me to stay at home. I was sure that I had, unwittingly, uncovered some kind of conspiracy. What bothered me was the fact that there was just the vaguest possibility that my part, as an observer, was known. I had no reason to believe it, but I couldn’t shake the thought.
As a precaution, I left my house on foot, taking with me a newspaper, one of two I had bought earlier, a few small articles I felt I might need and some writing paper; for I intended to set down what I knew and then consider what I might do with the information. I walked to the Carleton property in town.
The Carleton place was an old, terraced house that had been empty for some time. The property was free and clear, but no buyer had come forward to make an offer on the place since the estate had been settled. It was, for the time being, a safe haven.
I am not subject to paranoia. However, I had the distinct feeling that the knowledge I held was enough to make me a target for someone. As clerk of the office, I had keys to the Carleton place and felt, somehow, that it might provide me with some level of sanctuary. But then, that’s not really the whole story. It had to be the Carleton property. I had chosen it deliberately.
It is so cold here, but I cannot afford to light the fire.
I must get the second letter finished; just a few more lines.
I chose the Carleton house, as I have said, for a reason. If anything does happen to me, and I pray that I am wrong, Detective Sergeant Lawson will be able to find the evidence I have left. The house is in his jurisdiction. Sergeant Lawson is a very competent and thorough man. He has testified in a number of our court cases.
I had occasion to know him from the “Boardmaster’s Club” on Trent Street. It was a small club for gentlemen who enjoyed puzzles and games. I met Lawson there, on one of my weekly visits, and found that he too enjoyed an enthusiasm for cryptic crossword puzzles. Accordingly, we would often spend our time at the club working on a particularly difficult puzzle together.
If they find me, they will do everything they can to clear any trace of my presence, but I am confident that they will not discover the letter. Dyer is cunning, but he lacks imagination. He will never find the pages.
Was that the creak of a floorboard below?
No, I don’t think so.
The room has hardly any furnishings; just a table and a chair. They will search the room if they find me, I know, but I am sure they will discover nothing of value.
Another creak. This time, on the lower stairs.
I am certain, now.
I must hurry.
It’s very cold.
I wish Lawson had been at the station when I called. But he had not been there and I am sure that no other police officer would have credited my suspicions.
The fireplace is set with newspaper and kindling, and there are logs in the container on the hearth. The fireplace is always prepared, in case the house is shown. I wish I could have lit the fire to warm myself. But I couldn’t have lit it. No, that’s the one thing I just couldn’t have done!
Dyer will check the fireplace, wondering why I have not lit a fire. He will find my first letter there, amongst the kindling. He will also check the crumpled newspaper in the grate that I have marked with some notations and figures. He will find nothing there to serve him. How could he possibly interprete: “14D – 9L – a thin covering which takes a pasting?” I have left a copy of the same newspaper, with a duplicate inscription and some confusing scribbles, on the table in my rooms.
It is Sergeant Dawson who will discover my duplicate letter. He will find one of my newspapers and then check the room wallpaper thoroughly.
It shouldn’t take him long to notice that the wallpaper in one corner has been peeled back and re-pasted. I am confident he will find my second letter behind the wallpaper.