Venom house b 16, p.1

Venom House b-16, page 1

 part  #16 of  Bony Series

 

Venom House b-16
 


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Venom House b-16


  Venom House

  ( Bony - 16 )

  Arthur W. Upfield

  Arthur W. Upfield

  Venom House

  Introduction to Drowning

  LIKETHEHOTELS, Australian trains are not what they ought to be, and Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte was glad to leave the bone-shaker at the four-pub town called Manton where he was to take the service car to Edison-Edison being a one-pub town on the coast south of Brisbane.

  The youth guarding the station exit accepted his ticket with native indifference, and languidly informed him that the service car would be parked outside the Post Office.

  The one point in favour of the service car was that it did have four wheels. It must have come from somewhere, and could be expected to go, if only for a yard or two. The driver was tall and lanky and young. He wore an English cloth cap back to front, hung a burnt-out fag to the corner of his mouth, and evidently preferred his shirt tails outside his drill trousers. The single redeeming feature was a pair of grey eyes which actually laughed.

  “She’s all right,” he assured the prospective passenger. “Get you anywhere any time.”

  “I want to go to Edison.”

  “Then yougets to Edison when she gets there. You Inspector Bonaparte?”

  “I am Inspector Bonaparte.”

  The grey eyes took in the carefully-groomed passenger: his smart grey suit, light grey felt, brilliantly polished shoes. They also noted the dark complexion, the straight nose, the firm mouth, the eyes which recalled the blue of the sea.

  “Well, we’re all set,” the driver asserted, tossing Bony’s suit-case upon the back seat already crowded with parcels, spare tubes and tools. “Hop in the front gallery, Inspector. No other passengers this trip. Old Mawson said to look out for you. Sorta busy, and couldn’t come himself.”

  Bony almost committed Mr Pickwick’s injudicious error of asking the age of the cab horse. The alleged automobile complained when accepting hisweight, and it shuddered when the driver started the engine by tickling something under the rusty bonnet and then leaping to the steering-wheel before the effect of the tickling could die in a convulsion. The gate-change gears were slammed into first and the journey begun with flying-saucer acceleration.

  Twenty-one miles to Edison, isn’t it?” questioned Bony.

  “And a bit,” replied the driver. “Could do it in thirty minutes, but the road’s crook and we gotta coupler places to call. You gonna go into them drownings at Answerth’s Folly?”

  “Yes. What is your name?”

  “Mike Falla. Me old man’s got a farm two miles outa Edison, but I couldn’t stick the cows and feedin’ pigs. Carsis more in my line.”

  “You have other cars?”

  “One more. Not as good, though. Can’t beat the old stagers, y’know. Cars we’re getting now falls to bits as soon as you take ’em on the road. They’re all spit and polish and no guts.”

  The town road became a track, and abruptly the track dipped to take a narrow bridge spanning a chasm of a gully. The driver changed down to first andbraked the contraption with the engine. Beyond the bridge Bony asked:

  “Saving your brake linings?”

  “Ain’t gotnone. They turned it up beginning of last winter.”

  “You manage all right without brakes?”

  “Yair. Nothing wrong with the ruddy engine to ease her up.”The cigarette butt danced a jig across the wide mouth. “Funny about them drownings, isn’t it? Beats me. Ed Carlow wasn’t exactly a siddy, y’know. Six feetsomething, and sixteen stone if an ounce. Fight sooner than spit. Don’t get it at all. And old Mrs Answerth was harmless enough, and she had nothing to be killed for. Sorta reminds me of Ginger, them drownings do.”

  “Ginger!” murmured Bony.

  “Yair.”

  The track was like a snake on the rampage, twisting to avoid the larger trees of the scrub hemming both sides. Being mid-September in Southern Queensland, there were teeth in the air meeting Bony’s face. The yellow track, the grey-green tree-trunk and the dark green foliage of massed shrubs were painted with the vivid veneer of spring. The service car fought its way to a rise, gasped at the top and sang with relief when nosing down the opposite slope. Speed increased. Each successive bend was taken by the complaining tyres, and at each bend Bony anticipated disaster.

  “One day you will meet an oncoming vehicle,” he remarked.

  “Yair.”

  The cigarette butt continued its dance. Like a lion springing from its lair, the car spun on to the floor of a wide valley, and followed a rule-straight yellow ribbon edged with wire fences. Beyond the fences flat paddocks were tiled with ploughed chocolate clods. Here and there were small neat farmsteads about which waved fast-growing maize. The time now being favourable to ask the driver for attention, Bony reminded him of Ginger.

  “Dog,” replied Mike. “Greatest fightin’ dog I ever had. Red Irish terrier. Tackle anything from rats to the old man’s prize bull. Any stray dogs come around our place, Ginger got going. Usta tremble all over with a sorta joy. Always the same tactics, too. He’d kid the stray down towards the dam, sooling him to fight by pretendin’ he was scared. Then down by the dam he’d hop into him, and when the stray had had enough, Ginger would drag him into the water and drown him. Always drowned ’em, he did. D’youknow what?”

  “Well?”

  “The bloke what done our drownings musta seen Ginger doing his stuff, and got the idea off Ginger. Ed Carlow had been in a fight and the bloke held him under Answerth’s Folly till he drowned. And old Ma Answerth was held under, too. Same way as Ginger held his strays under.”

  “There may be something in what you infer,” agreed Bony. “Many people know of Ginger’s methods?”

  “Hundreds. I usta breed kelpies. Good many town dogs would come out to visit, and Ginger would attend to ’em. Then the owners would arrive and start an argument, but not before I’d buried the bodies. The old man’s no sap, and I can always pull my weight, but one day Mary Answerth came out looking for her heeler, and it so happens that Ginger was just getting her heeler into the dam. She outs with a shot-gun and shoots Ginger cold, and she called us plenty. We sorta objected, and she slaps the old man down and passed me a coupler jolts what snapped me off at the knees. Nothin’ worse, Inspector, than a woman with the wrong sorta punch.”

  “Mary Answerth… she is the daughter of the late Mrs Answerth?”

  “One. T’other is Janet. All lolly stick and lisp. Not bad-lookin’, though. There’s a son, too, but I’ve never seen him. A bit wonky, y’know. They keep him chained up. See this gate ahead? You hop out and open her while I circles.”

  Having acceded to similar requests in the far outback, Bony knew what was expected of him. The driver changed to low gear and braked with the engine, and as they passed a gate in the right-hand fence, the passenger jumped from the vehicle and ran to open it. Meanwhile, the car proceeded past the gateway, circled and so came to it again, to pass through. Then, having slammed the gate shut, the passenger ran after the still moving car and boarded it. The driver’s judgement was excellent. So was that of the passenger.

  A mile off the main track, they came to a farmhouse where the car was finally stopped by being run mid-way up a steep bank. There it was held by a block of wood thrust behind a rear wheel by a small girl. A woman appeared from the house, and Mike Falla gave her several parcels and a sheaf of mail. She regarded Bony with undisguised curiosity, and the driver said:

  “Inspector Bonaparte. Gonna find out all about the drownings.”

  Silently groaning at the publicity, Bony acknowledged the introduction. The woman raised her brows, and the little girl stared up at him whilst chewing the end of her beribboned pig-tail.

  “Terrible,
those murders,” exclaimed the woman. “We hope you stop them, Inspector. Always knew something awful would come out of Venom House.”

  “Venom House?” encouraged Bony.

  That’s whatus locals call the Answerth place. You’ll be seeing it, Inspector. And Answerth’s Folly what’s all round it. Unnatural place, and queer people, the Answerths. And don’t you go and say anything about what I said. That Mary Answerth’s a real terror, and we don’t want her over here abusing us.”

  “I wouldn’t mention it,” Bony assured her. “As you say, I shall be calling on the Misses Answerth.”

  Mike Falla dropped the cigarette butt into the dust and retrieved it as though a treasure. He chuckled dryly, saying they would have to be going, and motioned the passenger to take his seat. He climbed in behind the enormous wheel, and then leaned far out to supervise the little girl who juggled with the chock. Expertly she dragged it free without being run over when the car slid down the bank. There was a violent jerk when the engine crashed into power. Bony waved good-bye to the woman and child, and prepared for his act when the car reached the road gate. They said nothing, prior to the performance, and afterwards, when Bony, winded by exertion, settled again, he asked:

  “How long have you had this run?”

  “Nine monse. Started the first of January. No one else put in for the contract, so I got it. She paysgood, too.”

  “It should do… on the capital outlay.”

  “Aw! Fair go, Inspector. Bloke gotta start sometime, some’ow. The old man went crook ’cos I left the farm, but he camegood when I got the contract. Gimme his car.”

  “Did it have any brakes?”

  “Too right, she did. But a front wheel came off her and she ended up against a tree and caught fire. Had to buy this one, and it put me back, but I’m coming good slow-like. One day I’ll have enough dough to buy a bus. Y’see, once the electric power comes to Edison the town’s bound to grow. People will want to come to our beach. What with the electric power and a good road, well, I’ll be on the up and up and able to run a fleet of buses.”

  The cigarette which had accompanied the wide mouth all the way from Manton danced again. Bony watched it with interest, and this time he studied Falla’s face and found character.

  “Edward Carlow,” he prompted. “Been long in the district?”

  “Yair, born there… near Edison. His old man had a farm. Never didno good. When he died, the farm wastook off the Carlows. Mrs Carlow had nothing but what she stood up in, and Ed was sick of working for his old man what usta booze all they made. There’s young Alf, too. Him and me went to school same time.

  “When old Carlow pegged out, Ed started a butcherin’ business in Edison. Got helped, they say, by Miss Janet Answerth. As there wasn’tno butcher’s shop before, Ed came good. Some say he come good too fast for proper tradin’. Might be something to it. In no time Ed bought a new delivery van. Used it to bring the carcases from the slaughter yard they built out of town. Got more’n a bit flash as time went on. Bought a nice house in Edison and give it to his mother. Me old man said he wasn’t surprised when Ed ended up in Answerth’s Folly.”

  Abruptly the track turned away from the valley and snaked upward among the hills. The service car roared along the defile created by the jealous forest, and Mike concentrated on his work. Presently he said:

  “Me old man usta tell me: if ever yourobs a bank, Mike, be sure to plant the dough and don’t spend none of it for five years. People is terrible suspicious these days. If youbuys a new shirt, they wonders where you got the money. You keep your eyes on our stock, Mike. A butcher who don’t have to pay for a carcase of meat makes a hell of a good profit in his shop.”

  “Did Edward Carlow ever fall into trouble?” asked Bony.

  “Not him. Ed was too wise to slip up on anything.”

  “And yet he was found drowned in Answerth’s Folly.”

  “That’s where he ended up. Still, old Mrs Answerth wasn’t flash. She ended up the same way. Anyhow, it seems that Ed ending up like that was a good thing for his mother and young Alfie. Mrs Carlow now manages the shop, and Alfie helps her. A farmer close by does the slaughterin’ for ’em.”

  The track became steep, rounding bend after sharp bend, beyond ten yards each bend a blind one. Rounding a bend, they found a horse standing squarely on the track. The animal made to leap into the forest, slipped and sat down. Mike yelled and barely managed to steer his vehicle past the horse’s tail. And then when rounding the hundred and first bend they saw standing squarely on the track a giant of a man wearing skin-tight moleskin trousers tucked into short leggings and a blue shirt. Just off the track was his saddled horse.

  So steep was the rise that the engine was not overstrained to brake the car to a stop. Mike clambered out, and the big man joined him.

  “Gud-dee, Henery!” shouted the driver.

  “Gud-dee!” responded the giant. “You bring out that cross-cut, Mike?”

  “Yair. Roberts said they had them wedges you ordered, so I fetched ’em, too. Meet Inspector Bonaparte, come down from Bris to find who done the drownings.”

  “Gud-dee, Inspector!” rumbled the giant. “Hope youhas more luck than the d-s what come down on the Carlow murder.”

  “Thanks,” Bony returned, now thinking that on arrival at Edison he would surely be given a public reception.

  Cross-cut and wedges, parcels of bread and meat, one letter and several newspapers were placed on the road. Mike accepted payment, having to raise the hem of his shirt to thrust it into a hip pocket. There were further “gud-dees”, and the horseman was left standing by his horse and cutting tobacco from a black plug with a knife like a cutlass.

  “Bit of a character, Henery Foster,” Mike remarked.“Got his camp in the bush a mile and a bit off the track. Terrible good axeman. Cuts fence posts and sleepers for the railway. Does pretty well.”

  The track began to fall away round the bends until it came to flat country where grew bigger trees and the scrub was thick and verdant.

  “A bit further on is where they found Ed Carlow’s van,” Mike said. “It’s where three tracks junction at an old logging stage.”

  Bony recalled the details of the sketch map attached to the Official Summary of the Carlow Murder Investigation, but to pursue the subject taken up by this nonchalant young man, he asked:

  “About a mile from Answerth’s Folly, isn’t it?”

  “Yair. Three mile to Edison. Seventeen and a bit to Manton. Can’t get what Ed Carlow was doing with his van at the logging stage. There was nothing on it when old Mawson found it.”

  “You have been to Answerth’s Folly, I suppose?”

  “Usta sneak a bit of fishin’ in it with the other kids,” replied Mike. After a prolonged chuckle, he added: “Had to keep wide of Miss Mary Answerth, though. She wouldn’t haveno one inside their fences.”

  “Ever go to the house?”

  “No, never. Water all round it. Leastways, water all round the sorta island it’s built on. There’s a causeway to the island, but the water covers it now. You can wade over the causeway if you know where the holes in it are.”

  “The Answerths use a boat, of course?”

  “Yair. But they keeps it locked to a tree stump this side, and don’t never use it unless specially. Theywades over the causeway. Funny lot, them Answerths.”

  Shortly after giving that information, Mike Falla drove his service car into a large clearing. On the far sidewas a car and a station wagon. Beside the car stood a man and a woman. Compared with the woman, the man was puny.

  Chapter Two

  The Misses Answerth

  THEMANWASof average height, raw-boned, of sandy colouring. His mouth was large, his nose prominently bridged. The steady eyes were granite-grey. The manner of his walk, as he advanced, and not the clothes he wore, betrayed the policeman. The woman was not noticeably tall, due to her cubic proportions. She was watchful, suspicious, her pose having something of the explosiveness of the rhinoceros and
something of the ponderability of the elephant. With her fists punched against the belt about her cord breeches, she epitomized leashed force. Bony’s gaze merely flickered about the policeman: it was held by this woman with the brick-red complexion, the light grey eyes, the Roman nose, the great mop of black hair.

  “Inspector Bonaparte?” the advancing manqueried, and Bony’s attention reverted to him. “I’m First Constable Mawson. Hope you understand, sir, not being able to meet you.”

  Bony acknowledged the salute and nodded. Mike Falla called from his car:

  “You comingon to Edison with me, Inspector? Can’t wait… long.”

  Mawson accepted Bony’s cue and told Mike to go on. He moved stiffly, and the tint of his face wasn’t wholly due to wind and sun. Then the woman was confronting Bony, and her greeting reminded him of the horseman who had met the service car.

  “Gud-dee, Mister…”

  “Bonaparte… Inspector Bonaparte,” Bony returned suavely.

  “I’m Mary Answerth,” she said, and would have edged Mawson behind her had he not stood his ground. Again the hands were clenched hard to the leather belt. The feet encased by riding boots were planted wide apart and like century-old trees, giving the impression that nothing human could topple her over. “I take it you’ve come from Brisbane to investigate my mother’s death?”

  “That is why I am here, Miss Answerth,” Bony agreed, still suavely.

  “Then I hope you do better than those fools who came down to find Carlow’s murderer,” she said challengingly. “No one here expects anything from Mawson. As he says himself, he’s a policeman, not a detective. I shall expect better from you. These killings must be stopped.”

  The dark brows were met above the eyes no larger than farthings. The constable intervened:

  “Now, Miss Answerth…”

  “I tell you…”

  What she intended to add was blanketed by the roar of Mike’s engine, and when speech was again possible, Mawson was ready to employ furtherplacation.

 
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