POLICEMAN IN ARMOUR
by Rupert Penny
“The whole room was full of knives,” said Chief-Inspector Edward Beale afterwards to his friend Anthony Purdon, who is tall and ugly, and helps to edit The Stockbroker. Beale also is tall, but less noticeable; fewer rude remarks are made about his face, which is so ordinary as to be most difficult to remember.
“It looked like part of a war museum,” he went on: “all the wars since the Hundred Years’, without forgetting what you might call the private side of the business.”
“Did he show you the original dagger that Charlotte Corday used?” asked Tony.
“No, I don’t think so—why?”
“Oh, nothing—only I thought people who collected knives always did. Why does he do it?”
“Collect knives? Heaven knows—why does anybody collect anything? It’s a kind of gesture towards eternity, I suppose: one has a little something to show for one’s share of time.”
“All collectors are abnormal,” said Tony, who had been reading Ernest Jones.
“Hush!” reproved Beale. “You mustn’t go saying rude things about one of His Majesty’s judges.”
“Oh, all the harm was done long before he grew into a judge. Jones says—”
But Beale intervened. “You’ve lent me the book,” he reminded his friend.
This was in November 1934, and the person whose characteristics they were discussing was Mr. Justice Everett of the King’s Bench Division. He had telephoned Scotland Yard on the morning of Tuesday, the 20th, to report the receipt at his private address of an anonymous letter threatening him. Beale, slightly to his disgust, had been deputed to look into the matter.
He found the judge at his home in Hampstead, and it was in the library, where their interview took place, that he had seen the knives of which he now spoke.
“He seemed a very decent chap for a judge,” he told Tony. “About sixty-five, I should say, and one of the active sort: rather like Baden-Powell to look at. It appears that a month ago, on October 18th, he had the job of sentencing a man named Albert Carew to five years’ penal servitude for forgery. It was a tricky business, to do with insurance, but apparently there was no reasonable doubt of Carew’s guilt. He wouldn’t admit it, however, and kicked up no end of a fuss when the verdict was brought in. Everett says he was a red-headed Irishman, and not calculated to take things calmly.”
“What, an Irishman with a name like that?” queried Tony. “Don’t believe it.”
“Why not? He mayn’t always have been Irish—I mean, his people mayn’t—but he is now all right. Anyway, perhaps that isn’t his real name—you don’t have to produce your birth certificate before you can be tried.
“As I was saying, he let fly, especially after the sentence, ‘ ’Tis a damned shame, so it is, and I’ll not be letting any pasty-faced little etcetera be giving me five years for something I never did and never would do, not if I lived to be twice as old as he is, and twice as dissolute.’ It was more or less after that fashion, and it took four gaolers to remove him.
“At all events, yesterday morning Everett had this letter. I’ve got a copy of it here.
“Mr. Justice Everett, Heath Approach, West Hampstead.
Hell is the only place for people who take five years off a man’s life for what he didn’t do, and the sooner they go there the better. It’s as big a felony as any crime on the calendar, and because done by a High Court Judge will it go unpunished itself? Not with the least bit of luck it shan’t. You could be dead in five years, curse you, but if you aren’t you will be. Have a care of yourself, Mr. ‘Justice’ Everett. Five years is a long time, a weary desolation of a time, but it won’t last for ever, and it’s all you’ve got. Maybe you will not have so long, but you certainly won’t have more. I wish you every bad thing in the world, and a big disappointment in the next.”
“There’s nothing particularly striking about the language used,” Beale went on, in comment, “except perhaps not quite the usual floweriness. I’ve got the probably thankless task of finding out who wrote it.”
“Where was it posted?”
“In London—W.2 district, last Monday evening: the day before yesterday.”
“No—printed in bad capitals on cheap notepaper with red ink and a thick nib. There’s no distinguishable fingerprint on letter or envelope.”
“And where is this Carew bird doing his five years?”
“At the moment he’s in Wandsworth, en route for Parkhurst.”
“Then it wasn’t him that posted it.”
“And he probably didn’t write it, either—wield the pen, I mean.”
“Probably not, though there’s room for doubt there.”
“But I thought they were rather strict about such things: access to paper and so on.”
“They are: only, you see, Carew actually got away for an hour while they were transferring him from the Old Bailey.”
“Lord! He must be a tough customer.”
“But did he escape just in order to write that letter? You’d have expected him to go the whole hog, and post it then and there—or even do the old boy in.”
“Maybe; but if he contemplated murder on the spot, why write the letter? As for posting the thing, it would be too clear who’d sent it. He couldn’t count on being free for long, and for all he knew that might mean a fresh charge and a few more years added on. It still isn’t definite what he did during his hour, but it’s suspected that he went to friends. He was caught coming out of a pub near Charing Cross, and he didn’t resist. He probably scribbled a rough draft of the letter while he was free, and asked somebody to post it later, after finding out Everett’s private address.
“As a matter of fact, I saw the man this morning.”
“Really? What had he got to say?”
“Nothing—he wouldn’t talk at all, except to say once that he was innocent of the forgery.”
“So what will you do?”
“I don’t know, quite, beyond the usual inquiries. The thing’ll probably hang on for a bit, I expect, and then be dropped. After all, the poor devil’s got a long spell ahead of him, especially if he’s the wrong one, and I hate helping people to kick a man when he’s down.”
“What was Everett’s attitude over that?”
“Oh, not at all vindictive. He naturally wanted to know where the letter came from, but he asked—if it were Carew—that nothing should be done in the way of extra punishment. Carew, by the way, is the only man to have been sentenced by Everett to exactly five years since 1932: but I doubt if I shall find out much.”
Nor did he. Albert Carew went eventually to Parkhurst Prison without incident, and began there the deadening drudgery which a modern age supposes to be the best method of turning the crooked into the straight. In his case it must have been a particularly galling experience, since he was in fact wholly innocent of the crime for which he had been convicted, and consequently needed no such correction.
One other point deserves mention. Just a week after receiving the anonymous letter Mr. Justice Everett had a severe heart attack, and was found on examination to be in so poor a state of health that it rendered necessary his immediate retirement. He might live for a considerable time, said the doctors—even as long as five years: but not unless he exercised the utmost care, and refrained from all physical exertion.
Beale, though not unused to interviewing prisoners in cells, found himself at odd times remembering Albert Carew with surprising clarity. Perhaps it was the man’s red hair, he thought; or, again, the consciously proud bearing of a body moved by a still-untamed spirit. But it might also be, he realised, that Carew had in some way infected him with a belief in his self-declared innocence.
‘He didn’t look like a guilty man’ mused Beale—‘I’m hanged if he did. Of course, it’s very unlikely that he isn’t, but it’s not impossible. I’m sorry in a way that I didn’t have the handling of his case myself: then I’d have known whether he was the right man or not.’
And this was no more than the truth; for one thing that Beale always insisted upon was a fool-proof case against any one he was instrumental in putting into the dock. This trait of his—not, unfortunately, shared by all policemen—was beginning to be well known, both to his superiors at Scotland Yard and also—more appreciatively, on the whole—among the professionally criminal classes: those who constitute what is called the underworld. An innocent man wrongly suspected was glad to have Beale after him, but a guilty one would rather have had dealings with any other two people in the same line of business.
One result of his reputation for fairness—from the police side—was that when Beale expressed himself as being dissatisfied with a case he was usually given a freer hand than would normally have been granted. Superintendent Vinney, from whom he took most of his orders, was not remarkable for patience; that, at least, was the general opinion; but his supply lasted longer with Beale than with others, and there were times when Beale was very glad of this.
He was glad also, he found with faint astonishment, when in February 1936, nearly sixteen months after Carew’s conviction, unmistakable proof of his innocence was brought to light. One of his former fellow clerks, run down in a fog by a lorry on the Great North Road and about to die, had demanded two reputable witnesses for a confession he wished to make. Any doubt that it might have been done out of pity or kindness—the near dead redeeming the buried alive—was set aside by certain circumstantial details capable, once they were known, of being independently verified.
In view of this the time came—March 23rd—when Albert Carew found himself once more a free man: a little less jaunty, thought the prison governor as he shook hands with his departing charge and apologized (though the miscarriage of justice was certainly not his fault); not quite the former fire in those unwavering eyes; but nevertheless by no means a broken man.
Albert Carew received a lot of apologies in the days that followed, but not much satisfaction. He was formally pardoned, it is true—for what it was admitted that he had not done; and true also that he was graciously given ‘compensation’: not in the form of time, but of money, which is said to be much the same thing. It would be invidious to mention exactly how much: rather more than a lavatory-attendant’s wage over a period of sixteen months, in all probability, and rather less than a dustman’s. Little or no attempt was made, however, to erase the memory of those months by persons with whom he now came into contact. Six Sunday newspapers clamoured—unsuccessfully—for the privilege of printing his experiences—as taken down in shorthand outline and amplified by a ‘ghost’ into a welter of sensation and bad grammar; and he had to decline or ignore dozens of invitations to dinnerparties from total strangers because he learnt by degrees that for the price of his meal and a few drinks he was expected to tell everybody ‘all about it.’
The English are a kindly race (some say), but not always apt with that side of their kindliness which could more truthfully be termed curiosity. It is not surprising, therefore, that after successfully demanding the destruction under a Home Office order of all his criminal records, Albert Carew decided to go abroad under another name. Certain officials breathed a little more freely at this; and there, for the time being, the matter seemed to end.