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The Museum Mystery: Thirtyone

Inspector Hartley receives shocking information from a pathologist.

John Waddington-Feather continues his murder mystery story set in moorland Yorkshire.

He’d agreed to dine with Dr. Dunwell for lunch at The Railway Tavern. When he arrived, the pathologist was already there, and looked mightily pleased with himself. As soon as Blake Hartley came through the door, Gus Dunwell ordered him a nip of his favourite malt.

The inspector picked up his glass. “Slainte,” he said and took a healthy sip, then sighed. He felt better already.

Dr. Dunwell raised his own glass, then smiled broadly. “I’ve got some news for you, my boy. Some good news. Something you’ll enjoy.”

“Oh?”

“That last sample of dog hairs you sent us.”

The inspector paused in the middle of another sip. “Don’t tell me they match the hairs you found on Manasas’ body?”

Dr. Dunwell took off his glasses and wiped them thoroughly, keeping the inspector in suspense. “Right first time,” he said when he’d put them back on.

“Which means he must have been at Whitcliff’s place on the moors, when that hell hound got at him.”

“Correct,” said Dunwell. “Which accounts for the bite marks on his leg. And we found something more. Traces of black candle-wax on the uppers of his shoes.”

“And I know where he picked that up. But how? Unless…unless…” stammered Hartley, whose face had changed. Horror registered on it.

“What’s up, Blake?” asked the other.

“He could only have picked up that candle-wax in the Mausoleum or from the altar in that sacrificial room upstairs…”

“Where he was sacrificed to the gods,” said Dunwell, coming on net. “Ceremonially garrotted, as he lay on the altar with his hands and feet bound. Then taken to the museum to the mummy. My God, Blake! You’re into something deep here. Too deep for me. Religion ain’t my scene at the best of times. But this…”

“It’s obscene! Human sacrifice! Hardly believable in this day and age!” said the inspector, then fell quiet.

They started their bar lunch in silence, while the truth of what Dunwell had said sank in. At length, Inspector Hartley mentioned the missing girl.

“You think she’s a goner?” asked Gus Dunwell bluntly.

The inspector nodded grimly. “Girls in her game don’t just disappear - unless they’ve been murdered. And even then they turn up somewhere.”

“Occupational hazard, I suppose,” said the pathologist.

“Not in this case,” said Hartley. Dr. Dunwell waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t. Inspector seemed lost in thought and Dunwell didn’t disturb him, tucking in to the last of his bar-lunch.

“I wonder if the hall and its Mausoleum are connected?” he said at length, more to himself than his friend. “The whole area round there is riddled with tunnels from the quarries. When Blackwell and that guard surprised us, they popped up from nowhere. I’d like to bet they took a short cut. Blackwell said he’d spotted us from the hall, but he didn’t come from there. We’d have seen him the minute he and the other guy left it.”

“You’ll never prove it unless you get in there. And you heard what Donaldson said. It’s a no-go unless Whitcliff lets you in,” said Dr. Dunwell.

Blake Hartley smiled. “I know a man who can help us,” said the inspector. Something clicked that Tom Driscoll, the tramp, had said. “He’d seen that bunch of weirdos coming from the Mausoleum into the altar room when he’d been dossing. Said he thought they’d come up from the cellars, but I’d like to bet they’d come through a connecting tunnel. Tom knows the lay-out of the place. Kipped there for years before they started renovating the place. And that’s another thing. Why would they suddenly want to begin tarting it up?”

Gus Dunwell shrugged his shoulders. “It’ll cost Whitcliff a bomb doing up the old hall. Like you said, it’s strange. Especially has he’s living at High Royd House now. Can’t believe he’s going into bed and breakfasting.”

They finished their lunch and went their separate ways: Dunwell to the path lab, Hartley to The Squeaking Rat. He knew where he’d find the dosser. His day went like clockwork. Once he’d left the night-shelter, he’d start his rounds of the town. Feeding the pigeons in the Town Hall Square, standing in the bus station till mid-day when he’d cadge a meal in the market hall. Then at two o’clock sharp into The Squeaking Rat, where Hartley spoke to him.

A glass of Old Peculiar made him very sociable. Yes, he knew the lay-out of the old hall like the back of his hand. He surprised Hartley by telling him he’d been in service there as a boy, but had been dismissed and joined the army. The place shut down just after the war and he’d never gone back. Only to kip.

He confirmed Hartley’s hunch about the tunnel. It was there all right. Linking the Mausoleum to the cellars of the hall. Sir Joshua had built it at the same time as the temple dedicated to Hathor. All sorts of goings-on had happened there in the past. The staff were never allowed near the Mausoleum nor the tunnel. All except Blackwell and other trusted servants including some Egyptians the old man had brought back with him. But they’d either gone back to Egypt or were buried in the family vaults, so he’d heard. He thought all that argy-bargy had stopped; but what he’d witnessed the night the procession came up from the cellars showed they were still at it.

Another pint of Old Peculiar loosened his tongue more. There’d been a girl, he said. A housemaid he’d fallen in love with. They’d wanted to marry but Whitcliff’s father had stepped in and forbidden it. She was into the Hathor business and they wouldn’t let her cop out. Once in, never out he said. That’s why Blackwell was still there. Into it up his neck, said Tom. The girl had left suddenly and he got the push and never saw her again. He tried hard to find where she’d gone but drew a blank. Then he’d joined the army but he never forgot her. Never would.

“How old was she when she disappeared?” asked Hartley.
“Let me see,” said the old man. “She were four years younger than meself. She’d be about twenty.” He took a deep pull at his pint. She obviously still meant much to him, and he said quietly, “I allus felt close to her whenever I kipped in the old hall. Now yer can’t get near it.”

The way things were turning out, Inspector Hartley suspected his girl-friend might have been a great deal closer to Tom than he thought when he’d kipped at Pithon Hall. He replenished Tom’s glass. The tramp was in the mood for talking.

“There’s another tunnel,” he said, when he’d topped his pint. “It connects wi’ that tunnel coming from t’ Mausoleum.”

“Oh?”

“It also connects direct wi’ that quarry on t’ main road. Before t’ hall were built they used to mine there for flagstones for roofing. Like what they’ve got here,” said Tom, raising his eyes to the ceiling. All the old buildings in Keighworth were roofed with flagstone.

“T’ old mineshaft’s still there. They used it for storage at t’ hall an’ had a wine cellar there, too, at one time. The butler used to get as pissed as a fart down there. So did me dad. Like I said, it connects wi’ that tunnel old Sir Joshua had built to t’ Mausoleum.”

It was the quarry Hartley had left his car in on that fateful visit. He’d noticed a locked door near the old quarry face and asked if they could access the tunnel through that.

“Aye,” said Tom. “It’s still in use.”

It surprised the inspector. He thought it had been sealed off permanently. Most of those disused tunnels were unsafe and he asked what they used it for.

“Don’t know,” Tom replied, “but I’ve seen a lorry back up to it reg’lar an’ they take stuff from it into t’ tunnel.”

The tramp didn’t know who they were; but the driver was foreign. He’d seen them from the top of the quarry one afternoon when he’d ben dozing there. The lorry had woken him up and he’d peered over the edge. No doubt at all they’d unloaded stuff from the back of the lorry in wooden crates, but he couldn’t see what. The driver spoke broken English and switched into a foreign lingo when he spoke to his mate.

“You didn’t notice any number plates?”

“No, boss. I kept me head down an’ t’ lorry were backed right up to t’ tunnel. It cleared off as soon as they’d unloaded. Moved like the clappers! As soon as it had gone they locked t’ door from t’ inside. I’ve no idea who they were or what they were up to.”

It was Colonel Waheeb who later explained who they were and what they’d unloaded into the tunnel.

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