A Case of Two Clerks
copyright (c) 2017 L. A. Nisula
That morning, I was on my way to Mr. Holt’s office, a good-but-irregular typing client of mine. He was a solicitor who specialized in small matters for comfortably well-off clients, and employed two clerks with absolutely terribly handwriting unless they were putting forth a calligraphic amount of effort, which was where my typing came in. When he needed multiple copies of a not-terribly-confidential document, it was much easier to hire me to type them up than to trust it to the pair of them to copy anything in a readable manner. It meant the work was irregular and boring, but Mr. Holt made up for it by settling his account quickly, and always including money for a hansom cab to his office with his documents to make it easy for me to return them. That was where I was that morning, delivering three dull but simple files of typing: a Mr. Canson planning to buy a building in town, a Mr. Adams taking on a new partner in his firm, and a Mr. Pearson leasing office space in the City. It seemed to be a perfectly normal day when I descended from the cab; there was a nanny bringing her charges to the park, a pair of clerks on their way to the pub, a constable who nodded to me as I passed. In short, everything as it should be until I reached Mr. Holt’s office.
The first thing I noticed was that front office was deserted, which seemed quite unusual. I was used to seeing at least one of the clerks at his desk when I entered, keeping an eye out for new clients. The door to Mr. Holt’s office was open just enough to let me see that there was some movement there though, and a good bit of tension in the air. Perhaps they were having some sort of a meeting, I speculated. I hadn’t thought Mr. Holt seemed to be the sort of employer to call the staff together to yell at them, but then I didn’t know him very well. Perhaps he would if the error were serious enough. Would that mean going in to see him would be a good thing or not? I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t stand there in the office with my papers indefinitely, so I crossed his office, tapped on the door, and walked into a scene of what I could only describe as very polite chaos.
The two clerks, Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly, were indeed in the office, speaking to each other in rapid, whispering voices, both clearly trying not to panic. Mr. Holt was there as well, slumped over his desk and unnaturally still. Mr. Welch was standing over Mr. Holt, gasping and trying to form a complete sentence without sobbing. Mr. Connolly was standing across from them, asking, “How did you find him? How exactly?” over and over until I suspected the words had ceased to mean anything to him.
Chaos, no matter how polite, never helped anything, particularly in what I was beginning to see was an emergency. I rattled the doorknob and shoved the door towards its hinges as I pushed it further open to encourage it to squeak, which made enough noise to attract the attention of the two clerks. They both turned towards me, attempting to gather themselves.
“Miss Pengear,” Mr. Connolly said when my presence had registered. “I’m afraid you can see we’re a bit occupied at the moment.”
“I found him like this,” Mr. Welch moaned then started biting at his nails.
Someone had to be practical, and it seemed that was going to be me. “Is there a pulse?”
“I didn’t check,” Mr. Welch said. “Should I?” He moved from biting his nails to nibbling on the knuckle of his index finger.
Mr. Connolly sighed then tried to cover it with a yawn, which made no sense at all under the circumstances. “I’ll do it.” But he made no move towards the body.
Someone had to do it, so I pushed around the pair of them and briefly touched my fingers to Mr. Holt’s neck, although I had the feeling I knew what the result would be from the stillness of the body. “Has help been summoned?” When no one answered, I took it as my answer and said, “Then I saw a constable on my way in. I’ll get him.” No one objected, so I hurried out of the office, dropping my typing folders on the edge of the desk as I did.
The constable had not gotten very far from where I’d seen him, so I was able to find him easily.
“Good morning again, miss. Did you need some help?”
There didn’t seem to be much point to being euphemistic with a policeman. “There’s been a death.”
The constable immediately started walking in the direction I’d come from. “Where?”
I fell into step beside him. “Holt and Associates. It’s Mr. Holt.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“No, I’d just gotten there. I’d was delivering some typing I’d done for him.”
As we approached the office, the group of messenger boys that were hovering around the street corner all turned in our direction. One of them asked, “Did you need anything, Constable Clarke?”
“I might.” Constable Clarke looked the group over. “Molly, it’s your turn, I think. Wait here until I see what’s going on inside.”
The only girl in the group took up a position by the door and watched us go in.
“He’s in his office,” I said as we entered.
Constable Clarke nodded and crossed to the door. Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly were still in the office, both standing by the wall looking at Mr. Holt but not approaching him, clearly uncertain what to do. Both looked up when we entered but said nothing.
Constable Clarke went to the desk. He looked at Mr. Holt’s position then pressed his fingers to Mr. Holt’s neck and nodded. “Which of you found him?”
“I did,” Mr. Welch said in a strained but steady voice which he ruined with a small sob.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“I was bringing him some papers he’d requested, and I found him slumped over the desk. I thought he’d been taken ill, so I went forward to see what I could do and… And next I knew, Mr. Connolly was in the room.”
Constable Clarke turned to Mr. Connolly.
Mr. Connolly took the hint and continued with the story. “I heard a… an exclamation from the office.”
I took that to mean Mr. Welch had screamed. From the small smile on Constable Clarke’s lips, I could tell he’d reached the same conclusion.
“So I hurried in to see if I could help. We were considering the best course of action when Miss Pengear came in.”
Constable Clarke turned to me.
“Mr. Holt had hired me to do some typing. I was bringing him the finished product, and when I arrived, everyone seemed to be in here, so I came to see what was happening.”
“Very well. I should contact his physician. Do either of you know who it would be?”
There was a scramble to locate address books and other records, giving me the chance to look at the desk. Mr. Holt had been having his morning tea when he’d been taken ill; there was still a cup of it near his arm. He had three folders spread out on his desk, but they were all still closed with their name labels showing: Bristol, Canson, Sloane. It seemed Mr. Holt was just starting his day when he became ill. Mr. Connolly grabbed for a stack of papers weighted down by the teapot, nearly upsetting the pot and spilling tea across the desk. I picked up the teapot before it could spill.
I still had the feeling that there was some tension in the air, something off about the whole scene. Almost without thinking about it, I brought the teapot up to my nose and sniffed. Under the scent of a rather cheap Assam, there was the distinct smell of bitter almonds. At least now I knew what was off about the scene. I caught Constable Clarke’s eye and tried to show him what I’d found without alerting the other two.
I wasn’t certain if Constable Clarke understood or not, but he cleared his throat and, when he had the clerks’ attention, he said, “Best not to disturb too much before my superior arrives. They like to see things as they were. I’m sure his landlady or someone will know the doctor. When did you last see him well?”
Mr. Welch answered first. “When I brought him his morning tea.”
“And that was something you did every day?”
“That’s right, and heard if he needed anything else.”
“And you, Mr. Connolly?”
“He asked us to pull some files for him when he came in, and I brought them through to him.”
“Before or after the tea?”
Constable Clarke nodded. “And that was normal as well?”
“It wasn’t unusual,” Mr. Connolly said. “Not something he asked us to do every day, only when he had something he wanted to work on at once.”
“So you both arrived before him, he came in and requested the files, and you went to collect them, all before preparing the morning tea?”
They both nodded.
“Did he seem well when he arrived? In good spirits?”
“I thought so,” Mr. Welch replied.
“A bit distracted, perhaps, as if he had something on his mind, but that isn’t unusual here,” Mr. Connolly said. “We deal with large sums of money for some of our clients, and the files he requested are about some of our bigger clients.”
Constable Clarke went on as if none of this was of particular interest, but I did notice that he’d put the teapot on the bookshelf behind him, where none of us could get to it without physically moving him out of the way. “And when was the tea made?”
If it seemed an odd question, neither man reacted. Perhaps it only seemed significant to me as I’d smelled the cyanide in it.
“I prepared it after I’d delivered the files,” Mr. Connolly answered.
“And was that normal?”
“Yes, one or the other of us made it every morning once he arrived.”
Mr. Welch nodded.
“And was there a reason you did it this morning?”
Mr. Connolly shrugged. “He asked for it when I dropped off the files, and Mr. Welch was putting away some of the files we’d disturbed when we were getting the ones we wanted, so I made it.”
“But didn’t deliver it?”
Mr. Welch spoke up. “By the time it was ready, I’d finished with the files, and as he’d made it, I thought it only fair I bring it.”
“And when you brought it in?”
Mr. Welch shrugged. “He seemed perfectly healthy. A bit preoccupied, as Mr. Connolly noted, but nothing out of the ordinary way. He asked me to bring him a few more papers, and I went to get them. It was when I was bringing those to him that I…that he…” Mr. Welch pressed back against the wall.
Constable Clarke nodded. “I’ll need to send for a superior officer to handle having him taken away. I’m sure you would all be more comfortable in the outer office. If you wouldn’t mind?” He gestured for us all to leave the room. Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly seemed more than ready to be away from the body. I followed them out and sat in one of the chairs by the window where I could see the street outside. Constable Clarke went out to send the messenger girl for assistance then came back inside and took up a position by the door to Mr. Holt’s office, leaning rather casually against the nearby desk, so that I doubted either Mr. Connolly or Mr. Welch realized that was what he was doing.
It was a very silent wait for me. Constable Clarke spent most of the time looking at his notebook, although I suspected he was really watching our reactions. Mr. Connolly and Mr. Welch sat at one of the desks, Mr. Connolly’s I thought, and whispered to each other. I caught bits of conversation: Mr. Connolly saying, “Mr. Holt said Mr. Bristol has an appointment at two. We ought to send word to him not to come,” and Mr. Welch adding, “What about tomorrow? I know Mr. Canson was going to come and discuss contracts,” followed by, “No, he canceled.” In short, exactly what one would expect to hear two clerks who weren’t particularly close to their employer considering while they waited for the police.
A good twenty minutes had passed before we heard a cab stop outside of the office and someone come to the door. No one had thought to lock it, so there was no need for any of us to get up and let anyone in. I looked over with the rest to see who was coming to take our case. Unlike the others, I knew to be disappointed when I saw Inspector Fulson enter. He was someone I tried to avoid whenever I was at Scotland Yard, not difficult as he did not like the idea of civilians doing any work for them, even typing. He barely tolerated the constables he had to work with. Constable Jackson was with him now. Apparently, the poor man hadn’t managed to get himself transferred somewhere better yet.
Inspector Fulson glanced around the room then asked, “Who found the body?”
When no one else spoke up, Constable Clarke answered, “Mr. Welch.” He nodded in Mr. Welch’s direction.
“You have his statement?”
“Right here, sir.” Constable Clarke held up his notebook.
“And you allowed the witnesses to speak with each other while they waited?”
“I didn’t think it mattered, as they had already spent a good bit of time alone together, both after the body was found and when Miss Pengear came to find me.”
Inspector Fulson turned to me. “And you just happened to turn up here today?”
So he did remember me. “I was delivering some typing.”
Inspector Fulson made a sound that suggested he didn’t believe me, but wouldn’t press just yet. “Where is it?”
Constable Clarke guessed, correctly I assumed, that Inspector Fulson wasn’t interested in my typing. “In here, sir. This was his office. He’s at his desk.”
“Then let’s go through and you lot can show me exactly what you did when you found him.” Inspector Fulson marched back into the office, followed by Constable Jackson. Mr. Connolly and Mr. Welch did not look pleased to be going back, but Constable Clarke turned and gestured for them to hurry, so they followed. I wanted to know what would happen, so I followed them.
Inspector Fulson walked around the room, glanced at the teapot without touching it, then touched Mr. Holt’s neck, pressing to be certain there was no pulse. Apparently, he thought we would leave Mr. Holt slumped over his desk without being certain that he was actually dead, and while Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly nearly had, he had to know Constable Clarke and I would be more thorough. Then he turned to Mr. Welch. “Show me what you did when you found him.”
I would have thought the arrival of the tea was the place to start, but perhaps Inspector Fulson didn’t want too much attention to be paid to that. Mr. Welch went to the door and stepped into the office again. “I had some papers he’d asked for, so I brought them in, and I realized he’d been taken ill. I was shocked. I think I cried out. In any case, Mr. Connolly came in to see what had happened.”
“And I found Mr. Welch standing in front of the desk and Mr. Holt slumped over it, just as you see here.”
“And which of you checked for a pulse?”
Both men looked at each other. I had suspected, neither of them had thought of it before I’d mentioned it.
“We were wondering what to do,” Mr. Connolly said, “and then Miss Pengear came in and… assisted.”
I had the feeling he had nearly said something along the lines of took over, but someone had needed to do something constructive.
Inspector Fulson turned to Constable Clarke. “Did you take notes on her interrogation?”
“I have her statement here, sir.”
Inspector Fulson looked it over. “So you arrived after Mr. Holt was discovered, you went to get a constable, and then stayed to what? Collect gossip?”
I tried to stay calm as I answered, “To see if you wanted me to expand on anything in my statement.”
“It seems we have it. As you were not involved in anything of actual relevance, you may go. Now I think there was some talk about locating Mr. Holt’s physician. That’s the next item on the list. Do either of you know where to find the name?”
Both clerks started to look through the desk again. Inspector Fulson seemed completely uninterested in the tea or in preserving the crime scene, although he did manage to notice me by the door and say, “I thought you were told you weren’t needed.”
I was prepared to object, to point out that I had been there almost from the beginning and he might need to ask me something else, when Mr. Connolly picked up my folders of typing from the middle of the desk and handed them to me. “You’re not needed here this morning, Miss Pengear. You can send the projects on to the executor, and he’ll see that you are paid. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” And he all but pushed me bodily through the door to the outer office then stood there, waiting for me to leave. I didn’t seem to have much of a choice.
And so I found myself standing on the pavement outside, staring at the office door. Mr. Connolly must have been more disturbed by finding a body than I’d thought. His reaction wasn’t even logical. Whoever took over Mr. Holt’s firm and clients would still need the papers I’d typed up. And why on earth would the executor want them? An invoice would be sufficient to see that I was paid properly, and a clerk in a law firm like Mr. Holt’s should know that. But I certainly wasn’t about to go back inside, not after being more or less thrown out. When they realized they needed the papers, they could send me a note, and I’d tell them I’d have to charge a rush fee. With that decided, I further decided that a cup of tea was in order and went to find the nearest shop.
I found a nice tea shop not far from the office and ordered a cream tea and settled in. Really, it was rather obvious what had happened. Someone had introduced cyanide into Mr. Holt’s morning tea, which he drank, and it killed him. The only questions were who and why, not that Inspector Fulson seemed to be asking them.
Once my tea and scones had arrived and been properly smothered in butter and jam, I looked at the folders from Mr. Holt’s. Perhaps I wouldn’t be quite so cranky as to charge them extra. It had been a traumatic morning all around, after all. I opened first the folder to remind myself how much work the project had been, and realized I had more than three folders, a fact I hadn’t noticed as I’d been rushed out the door. I wondered if I ought to go back and return the extra one straight away or if I could wait until I’d finished my tea. The only way to know that was to look at it.
The file was one of those I’d seen on Mr. Holt’s desk when I’d gone in, one of the ones he’d requested before his tea that morning, I assumed. It concerned a Mr. Bristol who was a landlord renting out several office spaces around town. He seemed to be using Mr. Holt to check the contracts. There were several contracts, all neatly in chronological order starting with the earliest, and a set of newer, seemingly random, pages on top. The first unusual page was a copy of a letter from Mr. Holt to the Hallerson Bank dated a month before, asking for a complete copy of the account for Mr. Bristol. So what did that tell me? Perhaps the client wanted the accounting, which suggested he thought something was wrong. So did that mean someone at the firm was embezzling money from clients? But wouldn’t that have been noticed? And there was no letter from the client asking for an audit. Had Mr. Holt stumbled upon something suspicious and decided to audit some of the accounts himself? The next pages were listings from an account book starting with the current month. Two lists for the current month, I realized. One in Mr. Holt’s handwriting and a second on letterhead from the same Hallerson Bank as the letter.
A quick glance at the papers showed me that the final totals for the month were the same, but the list of transactions from the bank was much longer than the one from Mr. Holt’s records. That didn’t seem to make any sense. I couldn’t think of a single good reason for him not to mark things in his copies of the accounts, not when it was a client record. I pulled a piece of paper out of one of my files and put it face down between the two account pages so I could write on the blank area between them without damaging the originals and began to compare the two, putting a tick beside any numbers that lined up correctly on both. When I’d finished, all of the transactions that were on the Holt account record were also on the Hallerson Bank record, but there were six transactions on the Hallerson Bank list that didn’t seem to have a counterpart on the Holt one. Three deposits and three withdrawals, the amounts all pairing up neatly, all done on the same day as another transaction. I turned to the next page, which showed the accounts for the month before. Again, all of the transactions on the Holt account were also on the Hallerson account, but the Hallerson account had ten extra transactions, five deposits and five withdrawals, again with matching amounts and all done on days with another transaction.
The file narrowed my list of suspects considerably. Mr. Holt must have found out one of his clerks was using client accounts to pass funds through, most likely for some criminal group. But which one? Clerk, I meant; the criminal group was best left to the police. I smiled a bit at that. Apparently, murder was fine for me to poke at.
So what was there to poke at? It seemed Mr. Holt had been doing an audit of this file, why? There was no record of a request from the client. Something must have caused him to audit the file. I poured myself another cup of tea and considered the matter.
There had been three files on Mr. Holt’s desk. Perhaps all three of them had been affected by the scam. And one of the names had been familiar. Canson. I flipped through my files until I found the one I was thinking of. It was thinner than the others. Mr. Holt had sent word the week before for me to cancel it, which was why I remembered it, and he had told me to bring him whatever I had already done when I dropped off the others so I could be paid for the work. I flipped through the papers to remind myself of what it had been about. Mr. Holt had been writing up a contract for the sale of a building Mr. Canson had planned to purchase. The contract had been written, but he’d canceled it before the sale could go through. I had assumed Mr. Canson had changed his mind about the purchase, but what if he’d changed his mind about Mr. Holt? A purchase of that size would have meant he’d go to the bank to arrange the transfer of funds. It was quite possible he’d seen a similar accounting to what was in the folder in front of me and had confronted Mr. Holt about it, causing Mr. Holt to look into the other files and scare whomever had been involved in the transfers badly enough to make him think he had to act before he was found out. And if that were the case, Mr. Canson was probably still buying the building, but planning to use a different solicitor. I wondered if it were possible to find out if the sale was still going through. It was something to check at least, and the building wasn’t that far away; I wouldn’t even need to take the Underground to go there.
But that wouldn’t tell me who the killer was. The problem was, I had figured out the motive, means, and opportunity, but it all applied to both my suspects equally well. Both had handled the tea that morning, and I could easily see ways either one of them could have manipulated events so that they would have access to it. Mr. Connolly could have volunteered to make it, and Mr. Welch offering to bring it in seemed perfectly logical. Unless there was something else I could learn from the files.
The handwriting should have helped. I should have been able to compare the writing on the account sheets to something in my files of notes and see who had written the unpaired ones, but, when they were trying to write clearly, both Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly wrote their numbers in the exact same hand. It would have confused me except I had been dropping off files one afternoon and overheard Mr. Holt all but yelling that if they did not complete the course on neatly writing numbers he’d found for them, he would sack them both despite the number of clients their families brought in. It was during the same conversation that I learned they were both third sons of quite well-off families, which was why Mr. Holt had thought it worth keeping them on and going to the expense of hiring me. It was also why I had to be very certain before I accused either of them of murdering him.
Of course, the simplest means of proving which of them it was would be to pull both of their bank records and see which of them had made unusual deposits in their own accounts, payments for whatever the scheme was, but that was not something I could do. It was something Inspector Fulson could do easily enough, if he started to look at this as a case of murder. And that meant the folder had to be there for him to look at. So the first thing to be done was return the folder. And perhaps while I was at Mr. Holt’s office, I could see how the investigation was progressing and perhaps even drop a hint or two about where they might want to look for answers. It couldn’t hurt. Provided there was, in fact, an investigation.
When I got back to Mr. Holt’s office, the door was still unlocked and the front office was empty except for Constable Jackson standing near the door. That seemed odd. I had a hard time believing Inspector Fulson had already finished questioning both Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly.
“Did you forget something, Miss Pengear?” At least Constable Jackson sounded friendly.
“No, I need to see Mr. Welch or Mr. Connolly. Have they left already?”
“No, they’re in the back, going through Mr. Holt’s office to find his address book.”
That was certainly wrong. “Inspector Fulson is letting them go through a crime scene to find something that could be gotten from his landlady or someone else who knew him?”
“As far as Inspector Fulson is concerned, it’s not a crime scene.”
“Didn’t Constable Clarke mention the teapot?”
“Constable Clarke attempted to mention a great many things. Inspector Fulson had no interest in listening. Was there something in the teapot?”
“The tea smelled of bitter almonds.”
“Ah, that explains why Constable Clarke locked it in the safe before he left. I wondered.”
“The safe?” It seemed both logical and curious.
“Yes, Mr. Connolly had just mentioned how good it was that the safe was still open, as neither of them knew the combination, and then Constable Clarke bumped into the door a few minutes later and the thing locked itself, so they have to get a locksmith in. But you see, I could have sworn I saw Constable Clarke put a teapot in there earlier before he ran into it. But if he suspected something was wrong with the tea, that does explain it. I’ll see that they get the folder.”
It wasn’t Constable Jackson’s fault Inspector Fulson was an idiot. “Thank you. You know where to find me if he changes his mind.”
So there would be no investigation as far as Inspector Fulson was concerned. That meant that the murderer would go free and be free to continue whatever his scheme was that involved shifting money through the banks. Unless I could bring something to Inspector Fulson that he couldn’t ignore. I glanced down at the notes I’d made. The building Mr. Canson had been buying was not far from where I was. It would be easy enough to walk over and see if the building was still for sale.
* ~ * ~ *
I found the address easily enough. It was for a small office building very like all the others on the same block. The sign in the window said for sale, which seemed to support the idea that Mr. Canson had changed his mind, but I could see someone moving around inside, so I tapped on the door and waited.
The man who opened the door seemed surprised to find anyone on the other side. Clearly, he had been expecting to spend the afternoon alone with his work. But he quite politely asked, “Were you looking for an address, miss?”
He was wearing the dull and slightly cheap suit of a poorly paid clerk, so I took a guess at his purpose there and asked, “Are you with the estate agent?”
“Yes, but if you were inquiring about this building, I’m afraid it’s as good as sold. I’m sure they would have something else suitable if you wanted to call in at our main office.”
So Mr. Canson was probably still closing the deal on the property. “No, no, but you might be able to assist me. I’m supposed to be typing up some paperwork about the sale, but I can’t read the handwriting. Would you mind if I asked you just to clarify a few things?”
“I don’t know….” He was hesitant about sharing information with a stranger, but he didn’t say no outright.
I opened the Canson folder. “The buyer is a Mr. Carson…” I squinted at the page as if I were trying to make out the handwriting, and as it had been scrawled by one of Mr. Holt’s clerks, that was quite a realistic reaction.
“Canson, it’s Mr. Canson.” Now that he realized I really did have a file on the sale, which made my story seem much more plausible, he was more willing to be helpful.
“Canson, I suppose that does say Canson, doesn’t it? And the negotiations are being handled on his side by a Mr. Holt…”
“They were. He’s changed over to Mr. Addison.”
“Really? Now when did that happen?”
“A couple of days ago.”
“I wish they would keep me informed of these changes. Did he say why he was changing firms?”
“No, I’m afraid not. He simply sent us a letter saying Mr. Addison was who we would be dealing with from now on.”
It certainly fit the theory I was developing. “Do you know the name of the clerks that were helping out? At Mr. Holt’s, I mean. They might be able to help me read this.” And it would certainly help to know if one or the other of them had been directly involved.
“I’m afraid not. Everything was handled by messenger.”
“I see. I wonder if it was the same service we use.”
“I doubt it. It was normally a boy. I assume they found someone waiting around on the street outside the office.”
That was odd. Everything that had been sent to me had come through one of the larger courier services that promised confidentiality or through the normal post, but saying so might make the clerk question my story, so I said, “Yes, I think they’ve done the same thing with us. Well, thank you for all your help. I suppose I should go and ask if they want me to continue with this.”
The clerk went back inside, and I started back towards Mr. Holt’s office. So now I knew Mr. Canson had canceled whatever dealings he’d had with Mr. Holt but not the sale of the building, and had done so a few days before, roughly the same time Mr. Holt had canceled the typing order. But that didn’t prove anything. He might have had any number of reasons for changing solicitors. And more importantly, it didn’t do anything to narrow down which of the clerks had put the cyanide in his tea.
But it did give me another place to look for witnesses. There had been several messenger boys waiting near the office, hoping for a delivery. Perhaps they had seen something. It was worth at least asking.
* ~ * ~ *
When I got back to Mr. Holt’s office, I saw what seemed to be the same gaggle of messenger boys still clustered nearby, which now struck me as odd considering Mr. Holt didn’t use their services.
I spotted the girl Constable Clarke had trusted to take his note to Scotland Yard. He seemed to know the lot of them, so if he trusted her, she was most likely trustworthy. “Molly?” I called.
The girl hurried over. “Did you need something delivered? Oh, you were with Constable Clarke this morning. Was everything all right?”
“Not really. Did you hear about Mr. Holt?”
“That’s why I wanted to ask you a few questions.”
Molly looked around. “I’m not sure…”
“Just about general sort of things here. Nothing you’ve done wrong or need to be concerned about.”
“It’s not that. Just I have enough trouble getting jobs as it is. If they start rumors that I’m ratting out people….”
I saw the problem and its solution at once. “Take this,” I handed her a random page out of one of my files, “and pretend I’ve told you to deliver it somewhere, then meet me around the corner, all right?”
“Excellent. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” I went around the corner and waited halfway down the block.
In a few minutes, Molly was there, holding out my paper. “I don’t know much, so I don’t know how I can help.”
“I was just wondering if anyone from Mr. Holt’s office hires you lot for making deliveries on a regular basis.”
I was expecting it to be a dead end and for her to say no, so I was a bit surprised when she said, “Only Mr. Welch. It’s odd, though. He pays really well, far more than he ought to. That’s why everyone is hanging around outside that office. They’re all hoping he’ll have something and don’t want to miss the chance.”
“Does Mr. Holt know he does it?”
“I doubt it. Mr. Welch always waits until he’s halfway down the block to give the note. Not sure why, though. He does the actual errand himself then anyway.”
That seemed interesting. “What do you mean?”
“Like I said, he pays well, and it’s hard for me to get jobs, so I sometimes follow him in case he comes up with something else. Sometimes these solicitors do, you see. They go see a client and need something sent back to the office while they go see another one. But he wasn’t ever doing that, just nipping down to the bank to deposit whatever he was supposed to, then back he goes.”
That seemed promising and unusual. “Does Mr. Connolly also go to the bank?”
“Not that I’ve seen, but I don’t follow him. He never hires us, and he doesn’t seem to go in that direction very often. Just down to Naler’s office on the corner.”
That would be the delivery service Mr. Holt’s used to send me work. “Where did Mr. Welch send the messages?”
“Did you see any of them? The messages, I mean.”
She shrugged. “He didn’t have them sealed or anything, so we all got glimpses, but they were just receipts.”
“You mean like for services rendered?” I saw she didn’t know what I meant, so I added, “The sort of thing you’d get from the doctor or the tailor.”
“Oh, no, the sort of thing you get from a bank. They had a bank’s name on them. I never saw all the name, but it ended in son, like part of a word, not a kid.”
So he was sending clients receipts of bank transactions before he actually made the transaction, most likely labeling them with the Hallerson Bank name.
“That tells you something, doesn’t it?”
“It does, but I don’t know that anyone will listen.”
“That inspector I fetched from the Yard won’t, but Constable Clarke’s a good sort.”
“He is, but I don’t think Inspector Fulson will listen to him either. But I can try. Let me pay you for your time.” I paid her what I would have if she had actually been making a delivery for me then started back towards the office.
With Molly’s information, I thought I had the case sorted out. Mr. Welch had been running money through the accounts of clients for some sort of criminal group, thinking no one would notice, perhaps to allow them to record the money as having been paid by Mr. Bristol, and presumably Mr. Canson and Mr. Sloane, if he brought them checks drawn from those accounts which they could then deposit in their own accounts. He’d go out saying he was making deposits for a client, probably that he would handle it himself to give himself an excuse to be gone for a period of time, then arrange for the delivery of a forged copy of the transaction receipt by a messenger boy and go to the bank to deposit both sets of funds, using the actual paperwork from Mr. Holt’s office as a cover. Mr. Canson must have realized something was wrong when he went to the bank to look into buying the building and then canceled his work with Mr. Holt. Mr. Holt ran an audit of the accounts and figured out what had happened then went looking for more instances of the fraud. He must have been planning on telling the clerks that morning. Mr. Welch must have known that was what would happen from the files he was asked to pull, and then slipped the cyanide into Mr. Holt’s tea.
Unfortunately, none of what I’d found was proper proof. It was certainly possible that Mr. Welch was using the time he should have been delivering papers for perfectly mundane personal banking, but it was definitely suggestive enough for me to bring it to Inspector Fulson, and it was the sort of thing Scotland Yard could prove with a search of bank records. Now the only question was how to tell Inspector Fulson in a way that would make him listen to me. Well, I’d simply have to give him the information with someone around who wouldn’t let it be ignored.
By the time I reached Mr. Holt’s office, I still hadn’t thought of how I was going to approach telling anyone about my theory, or even how I was going to get into the office. The last proved to be easy enough at least, as the office appeared to be open for business. I glanced through the window and saw Mr. Connolly and Mr. Welch at one of the desks doing what appeared to be work. Constable Clarke was there as well, watching them, which seemed odd as he ought to be on his beat, but at least it meant the case still seemed to be a case. I went in without knocking.
Constable Clarke turned as soon as he heard the door open and relaxed when he saw it was me. “Miss Pengear, this is a pleasant surprise.”
“That’s nice to hear coming from a policeman.”
He smiled. “You’re saving me a journey across town to get your signature on your witness statement.”
A proper witness statement, then. “So Inspector Fulson is going to look into it?”
“There wasn’t much choice. The doctor was located just after the locksmith had finished with the safe. The doctor took one look at the teapot and asked when the inquest would be. Inspector Fulson couldn’t ignore that. Constable Jackson is there now, getting the details from the coroner. Then they’ll be back to look through the paperwork for suspects. That’s what we’re doing here. I’m supposed to wait and see if Mr. Welch or Mr. Connolly find anything that would point towards the as-of-now unknown heirs, and hope nothing else happens on my beat, I suppose. But I don’t think you came here to save me an Underground fare. Did you have some business with the gentlemen? They’re right over there.”
Mr. Welch and Mr. Connolly had what seemed to be half the files in the office spread out between them on the desk. I crossed to the desk and held up the files of typing I was still carrying around. “I was just bringing back the files I was working on. I realized you might need what was inside.”
Mr. Connolly looked up. “That was thoughtful of you. I think we did need one of them just a minute ago.”
That was a surprise, considering he’d been the one who’d told me to send them to the executors. How much did he suspect? I looked at the folders I was holding. It couldn’t hurt to see what their reaction would be. “I’m afraid there’s one there I haven’t finished, but I brought what progress I’d made. I can try to finish it quickly this evening…”
Mr. Connolly put the files I handed him on top of the emptier desk. “If it’s the Canson file, don’t bother. We won’t be needing that one completed.”
I paused. “Why not?”
Mr. Connolly started on the next stack. “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll still be paid for the work, but you don’t need to do any more on it. Mr. Canson canceled the request.”
“When did he do that?” Mr. Welch asked, trying a bit too hard to sound unconcerned, or did it only sound that way to me as I remembered Mr. Connolly mentioning just that morning that the appointment had been canceled while we waited for the police?
“Mr. Holt mentioned it when I brought in his tea. I thought I…” Mr. Connolly looked up from his papers then changed what he’d been about to say to, “I thought that was why he wanted the file this morning.”
I turned to Constable Clarke. He was watching the pair of clerks very carefully. “There is something I would like to amend on this statement. Could we go into the other office and discuss it?”
“Of course.” Constable Clarke held the door to the inner office for me and gestured for me to sit in one of the visitors’ chairs. He glanced back outside. Before he followed me in, he said, “I do appreciate that you gentlemen need to tell your clients, well, Mr. Holt’s clients I suppose they are, or were, that they needn’t bothering coming for any meetings or appointments that were scheduled, but I do need to find those heirs. If one of you would like to go and inform what clients you need to…”
“I’ll go,” Mr. Connolly said before Mr. Welch could consider the question.
“Thank you. Mr. Welch, I do need to find those heirs. Motive, you know.” So they had both heard it too, at least something that had made Mr. Connolly and Constable Clarke nervous.
When he’d seen Mr. Connolly leave, Constable Clarke came around to the other chair and murmured, “Mr. Welch is at the other end of the office. I can see him from here, but I don’t think he can hear us. Now, do you have something that explains why Mr. Connolly doesn’t want to be alone with him and why he doesn’t remember being told that Mr. Canson had canceled his appointment when even I heard Mr. Connolly say it this morning? And more to the point, how does it relate to cyanide-flavored tea?”
I outlined my entire investigation for Constable Clarke, including my trip to the office building and what Molly had told me. When I’d finished, he looked down at his notes. “It will take me a little while to write all of this up.”
I knew how well Inspector Fulson would take my investigating. “You don’t need to. I mean, you’ll have to confirm all of it anyway, and you did hear Mr. Welch say that he knew nothing about Mr. Canson canceling his appointment when Mr. Connolly clearly mentioned it to him this morning. And even that isn’t conclusive, not in court. You could check his bank accounts, of course, and try to find the money. I would look for an account they don’t know about here, with deposits that match the dates of those odd ones.”
Constable Clarke looked up from his notes. “So you don’t want me to tell Inspector Fulson you’re the one who found all of this out?”
“Do you think it would change his opinion of me?”
He smiled, “I see. Then, thank you. I will try to have the typing work sent to you, but I don’t know how much influence I can manage.”
I thanked him for the effort and signed my original statement.
* ~ * ~ *
Constable Clarke wasn’t able to send any typing my way—Inspector Fulson wouldn’t allow it—so Scotland Yard never did pay me for all of my help in solving the Mr. Holt’s murder. However, two months after the events at Mr. Holt’s, I received two notes in Mr. Connolly’s handwriting, one on the letterhead of another firm of solicitors, the other on his personal notepaper. Once I’d deciphered his scratches, I found the first letter had been dictated by the head of the firm asking for my rates and availability for typing jobs, and the other was from Mr. Connolly himself.
“I hope I am not too forward in writing to you or in putting your name forward when Mr. Barrett asked for recommendations on a typist. I have worked for him for a little over a month now, and I think you will find him to be a good client. It seemed the least I could do after your assistance with the matter at Mr. Holt’s. I wasn’t sure if involving you was the correct thing to do, but Mr. Welch’s father has influence at Downing Street, and I did not want Mr. Holt’s death to go unsolved. When I saw your reaction to the teapot and the inspector’s reaction to you, I thought you would be someone who would not let him brush away the death if it was something other than natural.
“And I did suspect that it was. Mr. Holt was preoccupied that morning, as I tried to tell the inspector, and would stop talking abruptly whenever Mr. Welch came into the office. And as Mr. Welch never volunteered for any work that didn’t directly benefit him, the entire morning seemed off, and as the only unusual thing was the request for the files, I thought it had to be related.
“I attempted to tell the inspector, but he kept questioning us together, and once a man has murdered once to protect himself, what’s to stop him from doing it a second time to prevent discovery? So I made certain to give you one of the files in question when I handed you the ones you had brought in the hopes that you would understand the significance, and was so relieved when you did.
“If you haven’t heard, Mr. Welch’s bank records were pulled and they found evidence that he had been laundering money for a gambling house, to whom he owed a large debt himself, through several of our clients’ accounts, including the three which Mr. Holt had asked me to pull. The two of us knew those three accounts had been audited when we pulled the files, as we saw the audit sheets on top of the papers. That was what told Mr. Welch that his scheme had been discovered, and why he became desperate enough to put the poison in the tea. He is trying to say it happened by accident, as the cyanide was from the store we had on hand to deal with a rat problem several months ago, but since it was clearly labeled and not stored anywhere near the tea things, no one is believing him.
“Again, thank you for all of your help. If I can ever be of service, please let me know.