That Miss Beatrice Wansdyke had died is not particularly surprising. A chemistry mistress at the Girls’ Grammar School in Berebury, she was a longtime sufferer of diabetes who managed to live her modest life to a ripe old age. But one thing is odd—Beatrice Wansdyke died a very wealthy woman. What was an old schoolteacher doing with a small fortune?
Meanwhile, Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan, Calleshire’s finest investigator, learns he is about to become a father. But with ominous players hell-bent on pursuing Miss Wansdyke’s money, will Sloan live to see his child’s first birthday?
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Some Die Eloquent
A C. D. Sloan Mystery
By Catherine Aird
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1979 Catherine Aird
All rights reserved.
For I imagine I have said enough To raise the devil, be he never so rough.
It was a very long time indeed since Detective-Inspector C.D. Sloan of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Berebury Division of the Calleshire County Police Force had felt such a fish out of water.
It was an unusual experience for him.
There are very few situations in daily and professional life which find your fully-fledged police inspector at a real disadvantage. In the nature of things, by the time a man has reached that particular rank, working experience alone has made him ready and confident for the holding of rule, and life itself has taught him not only his own place in the world, but that such niches come in all sizes.
Actually it was his place in the world at this particular moment that was the whole trouble with Detective-Inspector Sloan. Whatever his rightful position in the cosmos was on a normal Tuesday afternoon (on duty, probably, and very much for preference), he didn't really want to be where he happened to be now. Moreover, for a man whose collar had given up feeling tight in tricky situations a long time ago, who knew what to do with his hands, and who wasn't conspicuously large for a policeman, he was feeling very uncomfortable.
He had known beforehand that he would and had said as much.
It had done him no good at all.
'It's not a lot to ask, is it?' his wife, Margaret, had said to that.
'I could make a start on the decorating,' he had offered, 'instead.'
The corners of his wife's mouth had twitched at the very idea.
'The back bedroom's got to be done,' he had said.
'It'll get done,' Margaret Sloan had replied serenely.
He had tried another tack.
'There's a villain ...'
'I've been keeping him under observation.'
'All the week.'
'He might try something on Tuesday.'
'In the middle of the afternoon?'
'He doesn't like night work.'
'But –' her mouth twitched again – 'he does like Tuesdays?'
'You never know.'
'And now,' his wife had pronounced sweetly, 'you never will know, will you?'
He had given in meekly enough after that at the time but now that he was here he didn't feel any better about it. Accidents and incidents, charge room and court room, cottage and castle, had found the man unperturbed, his savoir faire unshaken: But this was different.
'Of course,' said Margaret Sloan, leading the way, 'if you're afraid of hospitals ...'
Sloan wasn't afraid of hospitals. He was even familiar with this one – the Berebury District General Hospital. Well, with certain parts of it, that is. All policemen got to know specialized corners of their local hospital over the years: the Casualty Department for a start, though they called that something else now. As they'd changed the name of so many other things these days, they'd changed the name of that lately too.
Accident and Emergency Department they called it now: not that that fooled anyone. It was still where they took you if you smashed your car up or tried to cut your throat. And where you took the small children who stuffed beads up their noses or who had swallowed Mummy's pills. Or Pills. Or detergents. Safe as houses was an expression that never misled an ambulanceman.
Variety was the essence, of course. That was why casualty sisters stayed so long on the job. Like station sergeants, they had some of the action, all of the interest and very little of the routine which stultified lesser mortals. They took on all comers, in fact.
And when Sister Casualty – Sloan didn't suppose for a single moment that she thought of herself by any other name – had trouble-makers in her patch she would ring down to the police station. There her soul-mate in office so to speak – the Berebury station sergeant – very soon had someone round to sort out the drunk and the drugged. She had her own ways of dealing with the merely belligerent.
Detective-Inspector Sloan knew her department well enough. It was this part of the hospital – where he was now – that he had never been in before today.
'Other husbands come,' his wife had told him by way of encouragement.
That fact had not been a great deal of consolation at the time when she had said it and was absolutely none at all now. This was because as far as he could see there was only one other husband in sight.
'There,' said Mrs Sloan triumphantly, 'I said you wouldn't be the only one.'
'That,' muttered Sloan, 'is not the point.'
'Isn't one other man enough?' asked his wife, settling down on a regulation hospital chair.
'Well, then ...'
It wasn't that only one other husband wasn't enough either: policemen weren't shy.
'It's Larky Nolson,' said Sloan distantly.
Being bracketed even in the same category-group of husband with Larky Nolson was no cause for gratification in a self-respecting policeman. The kindest thing you could say about Larky was that he was an ethical cripple: and they didn't have a department which dealt with that sort of deformity at the Berebury District General Hospital.
It would come, of course. In time. In a Brave New World. Born out of Science by Experiment or realized by Accidental Observation sired by Man Leaning on a Gate. Either way it would be called progress. And they didn't have it yet.
It was about the only department missing today, conceded Sloan. There were signposts within the hospital to all sorts of places – some as unfamiliar as Cotopaxi and Popocatepetl. In fact a truly bewildering maze of corridors confronted the new arrival. They led to an even more bewildering set of departments with strange-sounding names. He for one didn't care all that much for the sound of Haematology. If they meant 'blood' they should say so: and wild horses wouldn't get him near anything called Nuclear Medicine.
There was one man, though, who would have been quite at home in the main entrance. That was Inspector Harpe of Traffic Division. And he wouldn't have felt so strange because hospitals, like roads, had suddenly gone symbolic too in their direction signs. And international. Words were out. Logos were in.
You didn't move to numbers either these days. Not if you weren't in the Army. Cars and people in hospitals both now took direction from a series of stereotyped pictures.
They hadn't all been an unqualified success, not the road ones anyway. 'Uneven Surface Ahead' and 'Men Working' – an exclamation mark – brought out the ribaldry, not unconnected with Miss Mae West, down at the police station, while 'Stop Children' seemed to bring out the worst in everyone. Sloan had noticed that they had their counterpart in the hospital. Here, a tooth of prehistoric dimension pointed the way to the dental department, while an eye with Ancient Egyptian overtones indicated the general direction of the ophthalmic clinic.
Sloan fidgeted in his chair.
They did it all by symbols these days.
Not for those who couldn't read.
But for those who couldn't understand.
Neither thinking about something else nor the fidgeting saved him from having his own eye caught by Larky Nolson.
The last time he had seen Larky had been strictly in the line of duty. Detective-Inspector Sloan's duty. It had been in the Crown Court and that meeting was the natural consequence of an earlier confrontation over a little matter of safe-breaking at a greengrocer's shop.
Larky must be out again, then.
He took a quick glance at the woman sitting beside Larky and revised this. Larky must have been 'outside', for some time now. Or been on parole.
Larky saw him looking his way and jerked his head towards Sloan in open recognition.
Sloan scowled again.
At least, Sloan decided, one good thing was that it was Mrs Nolson, his wife, whom Larky was with. He hadn't gone and got some girl into trouble.
'Someone you know?' Margaret Sloan asked him cautiously.
'In a manner of speaking,' said Sloan.
'Ah ...' If you were married to a policeman you had to get used to the fact that there were some people your husband introduced to you and some he didn't.
'The greengrocer's job on the corner of Pig Lane,' he said.
'I remember.' Margaret Sloan nodded.
'Good,' said Sloan warmly. 'A good memory's important. You need it on both sides of the family.'
'It was the safe, wasn't it?' said Mrs Sloan, ignoring this.
'It was.' Sloan grinned. He hadn't forgotten the detail either. Larky Nolson, small-time burglar, and Detective-Inspector Sloan, policeman, had both been surprised at the amount of money in the greengrocer's safe. Mrs Sloan, housewife, hadn't. Nor presumably had Mrs Nolson.
'Laying up for his old age,' Superintendent Leeyes had remarked when they had told him about it. 'So my wife says.'
Larky Nolson was doing more than just nod to Detective-Inspector Sloan now. He was getting up from his seat beside Mrs Nolson and coming over. Sloan, too, rose to his feet and then carefully made his way to a square of open space behind the clinic waiting area. Choosing your own ground was something you learned to do early on when you went on the beat. It was half-way towards winning.
Larky Nolson, however, had not come to do battle.
'Long time no see, Inspector,' he began.
'That, Larky,' responded Sloan easily, 'is quite all right with me.'
'Too long,' said the little man meaningfully.
'I can bear it.'
'Don't be like that.'
'The longer the better,' said Sloan firmly. That, in essence, had been the sentiment prevailing in the Crown Court too.
'That man ...' Larky sucked his teeth.
'Called hisself a judge.'
'A good one.'
'Him a judge!' said Larky richly. 'He wouldn't even know which way was up.'
'Black from white,' declared Sloan. 'That's all he needs to know.'
Larky sniffed. 'And the lawyers were no better.'
'They're not in it for their health,' said Sloan obliquely.
'You can say that again,' said Larky indignantly. 'And there wasn't much to choose between them if you ask me – mine or theirs.'
'The legal profession's duty,' recited Sloan piously, 'is to the court.'
'You'd have thought, though,' grumbled Nolson, ignoring this, 'that mine could have got me less than he did.'
'With your record?'
'If he was half as clever as he thought he was I'd have been a free man.'
'I expect he knows a villain when he sees one.'
'The other brief didn't help either. Your man.'
'He isn't meant to,' Sloan reminded him. 'He's there to prosecute.'
'Persecute, more like. Real nasty, I thought he was. Where did you get him from? The Kremlin or somewhere?'
'Too many short sentences about,' said Sloan briskly.
'He made it all sound so much worse,' persisted the burglar.
'Safes don't fall open on their own,' observed the policeman.
The safe was a sore point with Larky. It had been difficult to open and that had been his undoing.
He changed his ground.
'That your wife you're with over there?'
'It isn't anyone else's,' said Sloan evenly.
'Your first?' enquired Nolson.
'Yes, as it happens it is.'
'They're the worst,' said Larky patronisingly.
'Didn't think,' sniffed Nolson, gaining strength, 'that I'd ever see you here, Inspector.'
'Say that again, Larky, and I'll hit you.'
'Another little copper on the way.' He rolled his eyes. 'Give me strength.'
'Causing an affray,' said Sloan, moving forward irately. 'That's what I'll get you for, Nolson ...'
The little man backed away. 'It's as quiet as houses, Inspector. Honest ...'
It wasn't as quiet as anything.
Hospitals were never quiet. And never still. At that moment the turgid procedure of the out-patient clinic produced a movement. A Sister appeared and a woman disappeared through a door. Both men looked back towards their wives.
'I'm next,' muttered Larky inappropriately.
Sloan started to make his way back to his own wife's side. He was diverted by the sight of another face he knew.
Dr Dabbe was Consultant Pathologist to the Berebury District Hospital Management Committee. He was also Police Surgeon to the Berebury Division Police Force.
'Ah, Sloan, there you are.'
'Good afternoon, Doctor ...'
The pathologist looked past Sloan and along the rows of heavily-pregnant waiting patients, murmuring under his breath '"Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)"'. He picked out Mrs Sloan and waved to her.
'They said I'd find you here, Sloan.'
'Did they?' said Sloan impassively.
'You're wanted,' said Dr Dabbe.
'In the hospital?'
'Yes,' said the pathologist.
'Oh, I am, am I?' began Sloan.
'Come along; man ...'
'Who wants me?'
'I do, of course,' said Dabbe impatiently.
'In the mortuary. Really, Sloan, I haven't got all afternoon to waste.'
Neither had Sloan. He stood indecisively between his wife and the police surgeon. Margaret Sloan was giving him a look quite as enigmatic as that of the Mona Lisa ...
'There's no time to hang about,' said the doctor. 'Morton's are already on their way.'
Then Margaret Sloan raised her hand in an ironic gesture of absolution. Detective-Inspector Sloan, a free man now, turned to the pathologist and said with alacrity, 'Which way?'
The mortuary was on the ground floor of the hospital and admission from the outside world was by way of two sets of double doors. The outer set kept the curious at bay. The inner pair led to the mortuary itself.
By the time Dr Dabbe and Detective-Inspector Sloan reached the department a vehicle was already neatly sandwiched between the two sets of doors – looking for all the world like a barge trapped between lock gates on a canal.
A plump young man clambered out of the driver's seat as they approached. He nodded to the mortuary attendant and then gave the engine bonnet an affectionate slap.
'Nice, isn't it?' he said to the world at large.
'Very, Fred,' said Sloan.
And it was. As an undertaker's van it was a masterpiece both of strict convention and ambiguity.
'We've just taken delivery,' said Fred Morton proudly. 'It's the latest thing.'
It was white – like an ambulance – and indeed had two red crosses on the smoked, darkly opaque windows of the rear double doors, but there was also a precautionary black stripe running round the white walls, pointing a warning note. The neighbours would learn nothing from a visit of a van like this. Only the cognoscenti – the police, the fire people, real ambulancemen – would know what to make of it and its cargo.
'I said to Dad that we've got to move with the times ...'
'I remember,' remarked Dr Dabbe, 'your father saying that to his father.'
'We've still got that hearse,' said young Morton reverently. 'You can't touch Rolls-Royces.
Fitted into the stable a treat, of course, otherwise Grandad would never have had it.'
Morton and Son, Undertakers, Nethergate, Berebury, went back a long time.
Fred Morton moved round to open the rear doors. 'There's one thing Dad won't let go, though.'
'What's that?' asked Sloan curiously. Undertaking was a conservative trade and Morton and Son were more conservative than most.
'The sign above the shop.' He sighed. 'I just can't get Dad to change it for all that it doesn't make sense.'
'What does it say?'
'Superior Funerals!' He groaned. 'In black and gold lettering with scrolls – I ask you.' He opened both the van doors as he spoke. 'Here you are, Doctor. Beatrice Gwendoline Wansdyke.'
'And what, exactly,' enquired Sloan as he walked into the mortuary proper with the pathologist, 'did Beatrice Gwendoline Wansdyke die from?'
'Diabetes,' said Dr Dabbe. 'Or so I am told.'
'And nothing,' said Dr Dabbe blandly, 'unless I find something else as well.'
'So what's the problem?'
'The problem,' said Dr Dabbe, 'is not so much what she died from as what she died with, if you see what I mean.'
'No,' said Sloan uncompromisingly, 'I don't see what you mean. What did she die with?'
'A quarter of a million pounds', said the doctor.CHAPTER 2
Sharp was the hope and hard the supposition.
'A quarter of a million pounds,' said Superintendent Leeyes flatly. 'That's what I told the doctor.'
Sloan was in the mortuary office using the pathologist's secretary's telephone to ring the police station.
'Just sitting there,' said Leeyes. 'Doing nothing.'
Excerpted from Some Die Eloquent by Catherine Aird. Copyright © 1979 Catherine Aird. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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