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Ngaio Marsh

Enter A Murderer

FOREWORD

When I showed this manuscript to my friend, Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn, of the Criminal Investigation Department, he said:

“It’s a perfectly good account of the Unicorn case, but isn’t it usual in detective stories to conceal the identity of the criminal?”

I looked at him coldly.

“Hopelessly vieux jeu, my dear Alleyn. Nowadays the identity of the criminal is always revealed in the early chapters. ”

“In that case,” he said, “I congratulate you.”

I was not altogether delighted.

CHAPTER I

Prologue to a Play

On May 25th Arthur Surbonadier, whose real name was Arthur Simes, went to visit his uncle, Jacob Saint, whose real name was Jacob Simes. Jacob was an actor before he went into management and had chosen Saint as his stage name, and stuck to it for the rest of his life. He made bad jokes about it—“I’m no Saint”—and wouldn’t allow his nephew to adopt it when he in turn took to the boards. “Only one Saint in the profession,” he roared out. “Call yourself what you like, Arthur, but keep off my grass. I’ll start you off at the Unicorn and I’ll leave you the cash — or most of it. If you’re a bad actor you won’t get the parts — that’s business.”

As Arthur Surbonadier (“Surbonadier” had been suggested by Stephanie Vaughan) walked after the footman towards his uncle’s library, he remembered this conversation. He was not a bad actor. He was an adequate actor. He was, he told himself, a damn' good actor. He tried to stiffen himself for the encounter. A damn' good actor with personality. He would dominate Jacob Saint. He would, if necessary, use that final weapon — the weapon that Saint knew nothing about. The footman opened the library door.

“Mr. Surbonadier, sir.”

Arthur Surbonadier walked in.

Jacob Saint was sitting at his ultra-modern desk in his ultra-modern chair. A cubistic lamp lit up the tight rolls of fat at the back of his neck. His grey and white check jacket revealed the muscles of his back. His face was turned away from Surbonadier. Wreaths of cigar smoke rose above his pink head. The room smelt of cigar smoke and the scent he used — it was specially made for him, that scent, and none of his ladies — not even Janet Emerald — had ever been given a flask of it.

“Sit down, Arthur,” he rumbled. “Have a cigar; I’ll talk to you in a moment.”

Arthur Surbonadier sat down, refused the cigar, lit a cigarette, and fidgeted. Jacob Saint wrote, grunted, thumped a blotter and swung round in his steel chair.

He was like a cartoon of a theatre magnate. He was as if he played his own character, with his enormous red dewlaps, his coarse voice, his light blue eyes and his thick lips.

“What d’yer want, Arthur?” he said and waited.

“How are you, Uncle Jacob? Rheumatism better?”

“It isn’t rheumatism, it’s gout, and it’s bloody. What d’yer want?”

“It’s about the new show at the Unicorn. ” Surbonadier hesitated, and again Saint waited. “I–I don’t know if you’ve seen the change in the casting.”

“I have.”

“Oh!”

“Well?”

“Well,” said Surbonadier, with a desperate attempt at lightness, “do you approve of it, uncle?”

“I do.”

“I don’t.”

“What the hell does that matter?” asked Jacob Saint. Surbonadier’s heavy face whitened. He tried to act the part of himself dominant, himself in control of the stage. Mentally he fingered his weapon.

“Originally,” he said, “I was cast for Carruthers. I can play the part and play it well. Now it’s been given to Gardener — to Master Felix, whom everybody loves so much.”

“Whom Stephanie Vaughan loves so much.”

“That doesn’t arise,” said Surbonadier. His lips trembled. With a kind of miserable exultation he felt his anger welling up.

“Don’t be childish, Arthur,” rumbled Saint, “and don’t come whining to me. Felix Gardener plays Carruthers because he is a better actor than you are. He probably gets Stephanie Vaughan for the same reason. He’s got more sex appeal. You’re cast for the Beaver. It’s a very showy part and they’ve taken it away from old Barclay Crammer, who would have done it well enough.”

“I tell you I’m not satisfied. I want you to make the alteration. I want ‘Carruthers.’ ”

“You won’t get it. I told you before you’d ever faced the foots that our relationship was not going to be used to jack you up into star parts. I gave you your chance, and you wouldn’t have got that if I wasn’t your uncle. Now it’s up to you.” He stared dully at his nephew and then swung his chair towards the desk. “I’m busy,” he added. Surbonadier wetted his lips and crossed to him.

“You’ve bullied me,” he said, “all my life. You paid for my education because it suited your vanity to do it, and because you like power.”

“Spoken deliberately — comes down-stage slowly! Quite the little actor, aren’t you?”

“You’ve got to get rid of Felix Gardener!”

Jacob Saint for the first time gave his nephew his whole attention. His eyes protruded slightly. He thrust his head forward — it was a trick that was strangely disconcerting and it had served him well when dealing with harder men than Surbonadier.

“Try that line of talk again,” he said very quietly, “and you’re finished. Now get out.”

“Not yet.” Surbonadier gripped the top of the desk and cleared his throat “I know too much about you,” he said at last. “More than you realize. I know why you — why you paid Mortlake two thousand.” They stared at each other. A dribble of cigar smoke escaped through Saint’s half-open lips. When he spoke it was with venomous restraint

“So we thought we’d try an odd spot of blackmail, did we?” His voice had thickened. “What have you been doing, you—?”

“Did you never miss a letter you had from him last February— when — when I was—”

“When you were my guest. By God, my money’s been well spent on you, Arthur!”

“Here’s a copy.” Surbonadier’s shaking hand went to his pocket. He could not take his eyes off Saint. There was something automaton-like about him. Saint glanced at the paper and dropped it.

“If there’s any more of this” — his voice rose to a shocking, raucous yell— “I’ll have you up for blackmail. I’ll ruin you. You’ll never get another shop in London. You hear that?”

“I’ll do it.” Surbonadier backed away, actually as though he feared he would be attacked. “I’ll do it.” His hand was on the door. Jacob Saint stood up. He was six feet tall and enormous. He should have dominated the room — he was much the better animal of the two. Yet Surbonadier, unhealthy, too soft, and shaking visibly, had about him an air of sneaking mastery.

“I’m off,” he said.

“No,” said Saint. “No. Sit down again. I’ll talk.”

Surbonadier went back to his chair.

On the night of June 7th, after the first performance of The Rat and the Beaver, Felix Gardener gave a party in his flat in Sloane Street. He had invited all the other members of the cast, even old Susan Max, who got buccaneerish over the champagne, and talked about the parts she had played with Julius Knight in Australia. Janet Emerald, the “heavy” of the play, listened to her with an air of gloomy profundity. Stephanie Vaughan was very much the leading lady, very tranquil, very gracious, carelessly kind to everyone and obviously pliant to Felix Gardener himself. Nigel Bathgate, the only journalist at the party and an old Cambridge friend of Felix, wondered if he and Miss Vaughan were about to announce their engagement. Surely their mutual attentiveness meant something more than mere theatrical effusion. Arthur Surbonadier was there, rather too friendly with everybody, thought Nigel, who disliked him; and J. Barclay Crammer, who disliked him even more, glared at Surbonadier across the table. Dulcie Deamer, the jeune fille of the play, was also the jeune fille of the party. And Howard Melville ran her a good second in registering youthful charm, youthful bashfulness and something else that was genuinely youthful and rather pleasing. Jacob Saint was there, loudly jovial and jovially loud. “My company, my actors, my show,” he seemed to shout continually, and indeed did. To the playwright, who was present and submissive, Saint actually referred as “my author.” The playwright remained submissive. Even George Simpson, the stage manager, was present, and it was he who began the conversation that Nigel was to recall a few weeks later, and relate to his friend, Detective-Inspector Alleyn.

     

 

2011 - 2018