Authors: Piers Marlowe
KILLER IN THE SHADE
Complete and Unabridged
who has responsibility
of a sort
John Cadman opened the front door of 27 Olive Drive and took his tiredness and his bag of tools into the darkness of an early winter morning with no moon and no street lights.
It was two-thirty by the luminous hands of his watch and the streets were empty save for patches of cold mist which coiled the glow from his hand torch into an opaque rope of luminosity that unwound itself as he moved. His black case containing drugs and a G.P.'s normal portable equipment â or his bag of tools, as he preferred to think of it with a touch of inverted snobbery â felt heavier than usual and emphasized an ache in his shoulders that he had been trying to ignore for the past hour.
His left foot stumbled on an uneven flagstone halfway along the pavement to his parked car, and he almost dropped his bag.
âDamn those striking power workers,' he growled aloud as he recovered his balance.
He reached his car, tossed his bag on the rear seat, and climbed behind the wheel. He tried consciously to relax and to ease the ache in his shoulders. The latest Boon had come into the world fighting every inch of the way, as though thoroughly distrustful of what an ordained arrival would have to offer.
John Cadman lit a cigarette and for some moments sat smoking and glancing sideways at the irregular line of light showing between the curtains of the room he had just left. Peggy Boon had had a tricky and painful time giving birth to her first child, a lusty eight and a quarter pounds of kicking and squealing male.
He squeezed his eyes half shut, seeing again the sweat beading the stringy tangles of her blonde hair and the wetness of her labouring flesh. At first he thought he had a breach birth on his hands and only an oil lamp to work by, but he had been spared that.
He thought, âThank God for Thea,'
who was Dorothea Brimmer, S.R.N., with whom he had worked for years on confinements when his patients insisted on having them at home because that was what their mothers advised. Brimmer, he knew, could cope. Not only with Peggy Boon and her new son, but also with the fresh arrival's father, a long-haired intellectual type with a leftwing perspective who had been christened Julian and whom he suspected of being lacking in what he thought of, in his dated fashion, as manliness.
Julian Boon had certainly seemed more concerned about the name he should bestow on his son of thirty minutes than he had been about the health of his drained wife of five years.
The doctor smiled cynically in the darkness of the car's interior and glanced away from the thin light between the curtains.
âGood luck, Thea,' he muttered around his cigarette, knowing very well that, without the deterrent of his presence, Brimmer could not only look like a battleaxe, but behave like one. If that
damned fool of a husband didn't do as she told him she'd chop him into small pieces out of the hearing of his wife. The middle-aged and greying State Registered nurse and midwife had less than no use for hovering husbands during and after confinements. In her lowland Scot's Presbyterian way, she tended to look on them as a necessary evil the Creator had inflicted on women in a less-inspired moment.
He threw the glowing butt of his cigarette into the road and switched on the car's engine. He drove slowly through the unlit streets and their patches of mist that condensed on the windscreen and caused him to turn on the wipers.
âBloody power shirkers,' he growled.
As though to mock him, at that moment the street lights came on as someone in a local power station threw a few switches. The effect was to illuminate the mist more than the surface of the road. He continued to drive slowly in the wake of his headlights' beam, left into Barling Crescent, and right at the far end into Croft Avenue, where the
street light on the corner was out. Twenty yards down the road light from an open front door poured into a front garden, touching a stone path bordered with shrubs and reaching a white-painted gate. As Cadman drew level with this glare of light he braked. He sat watching the open door and the light pouring from the hall. Someone might have gone to bed leaving the hall light switched on, but no one would go to bed while the front door was wide open. He had Croft Avenue to himself. Probably because of the mist and the strike. The radio had advised motorists not to go out unless their journey was essential. The mist would be slow to clear the next day, according to the weather forecaster.
The longer he sat staring at the light coming through the open front door the more uneasy he felt, though he couldn't tell why. He told himself he should drive home and get to bed, but couldn't evade the problem posed by that open door. It was like being offered an unexplained challenge. If he drove on he'd be thinking about that door, and
if there was someone in the house who needed help and he found out later he wouldn't like the person staring back from his shaving mirror.
Grumbling, because that was the only form of compensation he could provide, he switched off his car's engine and the main beam of his headlights and climbed out on to the pavement. The white gate squeaked when he opened it, and he winced. He hated squeaking gates. He had to open too many.
He walked up the path and climbed the steps to the open front door. Beyond was a square hall with tendrils of mist swirling under the central ceiling lamp.
âAnyone at home?' he called, wondering what thanks his curiosity would earn if he awoke a sleeping house-holder. He was on the point of closing the door and returning to his car when he saw that light was coming from an open door at the top of the staircase.
So another light switch was turned on and a second door was open.
This seemed distinctly odd. It was as though someone had left that room in a
hurry and come down the stairs and out of the house without bothering to shut the front door. But who in his right mind would leave a house in that way in the middle of the night?
Someone in a panic?
But panic about what?
John Cadman was a man with a rational mind, as he liked to think of himself. He liked answers to questions just as he preferred salt in his soup to suit his own taste. He stood on the top step frowning because there was too much about the tableau presented to his gaze that left him feeling more uneasy than he had been while seated in the car.
âDamn,' he muttered.
He entered the house, leaving the front door open, crossed the hall, and stared up the carpeted stairs. Halfway up the stairs he called, âHallo there. Anyone about?'
No one replied.
He reached the top of the stairs and turned to the room from which light shone from an open door. He took five paces and brought up short just
outside the room. He could see inside and what held his troubled gaze was the sight of the clothed figure lying on its side at the foot of a bed. The figure was that of a man dressed in a brown suit. He had brown casuals on his feet. The light shone on the leather, which, Cadman noticed almost absent-mindedly, had been polished. But what held his attention was the handle of the knife that had been plunged into the man's back between the shoulder-blades.
One thing was very certain. The man on the floor had not stabbed himself in the back.
Whoever had thrust the knife into the man's back had rushed away in a panic afterwards â or so it seemed.
With that much registered in his mind, John Cadman stepped into the room, careful to avoid the pool of blood beside the still figure. He stooped and made sure the man was dead, then walked backwards to the door, careful to touch nothing. He went down the stairs and crossed the hall to the telephone table. On the point of picking up the instrument
he paused and removed his handkerchief from a pocket. He wrapped it around the handset, and using one corner to cover the tip of his right forefinger he dialled 999.
âPolice,' he told the operator who inquired which service he required.
First a panda car arrived and two constables in uniform with peaked caps came in and asked him questions to which he had no acceptable answers. One of them went down to the police car and radio-telephoned his station. He came back, nodded to his colleague and said to Cadman, âYou'll have to wait till Superintendent Drury arrives.'
The tired doctor reacted. âLook here,' he said, âI've been out on a case and I've had enough for one night. I've told you what I know. I can't tell you anything else, and I'd like to go home. This Superintendent Drury can ring me when he arrives.'
The constable who had gone out to
the car said, âI'm sorry, sir, but I was told to ask you to remain here.'
âWell, how about letting me phone my wife?'
âShe knows you're out on a case, sir?'
âThen perhaps it would be as well to wait till the Superintendent arrives before waking her up. She won't be expecting you, will she?'
Cadman swore silently. He cursed himself for meddling in something without being asked.
âHow long will the Superintendent be in getting here?' he asked.
âI can't say, sir. He's being contacted at home.'
âYes, sir, this is his division. He won't be long. I suggest you wait in this room until he gets here.'
The constable pointed to a room opening from the hall, where his colleague had drawn the curtains and turned on the light after making sure there was no one else in the house. The front door had been closed.
âVery well,' grunted the doctor.
He walked into the room and sat down and lit a cigarette. He was smoking his third, watched most of the time by a young constable with dark auburn hair and freckles who tried to act as though he had no interest in the man who had reported the murder, and was staring at his watch, reckoning that he had been an hour and twenty minutes in the damned house, when he heard a car draw up outside.