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Death by Demonstration

Death by Demonstration

by Patricia Carlon

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An anti-Vietnam War demonstration by angry Australian college students in the sixties results in the death of a young woman marcher. No one seems to know how she came to be struck down. But as the police seek to charge one of the leaders of the protest, Jefferson Shields, a private detective, eliminates the most likely suspects and, a la G. K. Chesterton,


An anti-Vietnam War demonstration by angry Australian college students in the sixties results in the death of a young woman marcher. No one seems to know how she came to be struck down. But as the police seek to charge one of the leaders of the protest, Jefferson Shields, a private detective, eliminates the most likely suspects and, a la G. K. Chesterton, identifies the only possible culprit.

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Soho Press, Incorporated
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4.60(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.60(d)

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Chapter One

The letters that came to him were all shapes and sizes and colours, but all were an appeal for help. Only one thing made the one he held stand out from the others that Tuesday morning—it was unsigned.

    The black type demanded curtly, "WHY DID ROBYN CALDER DIE, AND HOW?" It stated, beneath the typed capitals of the question, "She was hit by something the doctors describe as heavy and thin, and probably iron or steel, as no wood particles were found in the wound—something resembling a thin iron bar ... so they say. No one had anything like that. They would have been crazy to have bad something like that. No one else was hit in that way. No one else died. Robyn Calder did. Why? What killed her? Who struck the blow? The police say the case is closed. Why? They took plenty of action, asked plenty of questions, when it was suggested one of them killed her. They say that's impossible. Policemen don't carry iron bars. It wasn't a truncheon—a police truncheon—that killed her. They've made that clear from medical evidence. Clear to all the world, to their own satisfaction. So now the case is closed except for the inquest, unless someone comes forward and says, 'I struck the blow. I struck the blow that killed young Robyn', and there's somewhere they can lay the blame.

    "They're doing just that, now. All the world points a finger and says, 'You killed young Robyn. All of you who were involved'. Do you think that's fair? None of them carried an iron bar. That's ridiculous. It was a peaceful demonstration. No one was armed—except the police. So —how did Robyn die? Who struck the blow?"

    Jefferson Shields shook his grey head. One thin hand removed the spectacles from his long nose. He leaned back in the grey chair and his grey eyes surveyed the grey-washed walls of the small room. All the greyness, the insipid water-colour that broke the monotony of one grey wall, were part of an illusion that had been carefully planned not to distract the eye or the thoughts of anyone sitting in the grey high-backed chair opposite the desk. Seated there, with only the greyness and the colourless personality he had deliberately created for himself, they betrayed themselves—their thoughts turned inwards, and their expressions revealed far more than the words spoken across the desk.

    This time, though, there was no one to question, or speak out, no one to consider with thoughtful eyes—just a sheet of white paper, with black typing, and a cutting pinned to one corner of it—the whole of it unsigned.

    He wondered if the writer had ever considered that they had wasted time and effort; had ever thought that no one had any use for a client who was merely a ghost, an unsigned letter, a black-typed question. Ghosts didn't pay the rent or the telephone bill, or the cost of his office or secretary ...

    A wry little smile touched his mouth. He slipped the spectacles into place on his thin nose. He could see the cutting clearly then without lifting it from the desk. He continued to lean back in the grey comfortable chair, reading it, though it told him nothing more than he remembered himself from news items in the press.

    Condensed, there had been a march of students through the city. They had carried hand-lettered, home-made placards of the usual type. These particular placards had demanded the release of a conscientious objector named Oliver Harrap.

    No one had paid more than the briefest attention to them, according to the press. Jefferson Shields amended that, from his own experience. He could clearly picture the frowns, the irritated comments, the half-taunts, and the occasional jostling of the marchers, but none of that, the ordinary resentment of ordinary people, would have been noticed by the marchers, Shields was sure. Armoured in the righteousness of their cause, they had marched through the city to one of the government offices, and there spread themselves out over footpaths and roadways, on stairways and in the building's foyer, holding the placards high, as shields of defiance and righteousness, for all to view.

    Perhaps there had been laughter, ironic comments, fairly good-natured banter thrown at them; perhaps even a few congratulatory words, and then, when they had doggedly sat on, disrupting traffic and ordinary life, the laughter would have gone, and the banter and the jests, too. A bald press cutting told so little, he thought ruefully. It couldn't spare words to describe the slow gathering of crowds, and the growing resentment, the first demand of, "Why don't the police shift them?" and then the voices growing louder and louder, and then the first blow, the first thing thrown, the first yells and the first anxious press forward of police.

    All that had happened that summer morning when Robyn Calder had died. The demonstration had erupted, like so many others, into real violence. When the building and streets were cleared again of students, everyone had time to see the flotsam left behind—the torn placards, torn clothing, a litter of discarded pamphlets of one sort and another—and a dead girl; and who had killed young Robyn?

    The only fact known was that she had been struck violently over the head, and the blow had killed her. The students had howled of police brutality, a howl that had died to bitter mutters when medical evidence made it plain no police truncheon had struck the blow. Shields, staring at the cutting, knew it was unlikely that the mutters would ever completely die, so long as Robyn Calder was remembered anywhere. He wondered if by now the girl had taken on the gloss, in some quarters, of a martyr. He sat still, wondering many other things.

    Finally he pressed the bell at his side. He still went on gazing at the cutting, even when the door had opened and closed behind the girl and she had come to stand the other side of the desk, waiting for him to acknowledge she was there.

    He was uncomfortable with Ann Aveyard. Sometimes he suspected she knew it quite well. It remained a puzzle to him, the fact that Mrs. Gold, his usual secretary, had presented him with Ann on her departure on holidays. He had left it to her common sense to find him a substitute. His first sight of Ann, with her long swinging blonde hair, and the brief skim of dark skirt round her thighs, had been a shock. Not that there was anything wrong with her work. He could admit that without grudging. Her first week had been a success. The office had run almost as smoothly as when Mrs. Gold had presided, till now.

    That was the point that rankled, as he continued gazing down at the cutting and letter on the desk. He was annoyed, and a little alarmed. He wondered if the brief skim of skirt would flounce out of the room and out through the office beyond and through the main door, once he spoke.

    Finally he lifted his gaze. Her face was expressionless, the perfect picture of an attentive private secretary. The square-framed, dark-rimmed spectacles added to the air of efficient perfection. Not even the brief skirt and the long fall of blonde, swinging hair detracted from the picture.

    He asked, "Why didn't you sign your name?"

    Two lines creased in the smooth white forehead. When she didn't answer, his hand touched the letter and cutting. He asked again, "Why didn't you sign your name to this? What was the point of sending me an unsigned letter? I don't solve puzzles for fun. I solve them for bread and butter. Why did you imagine this would impress me?" His finger flicked the cutting again. "Did you really expect I would thrust aside all my other letters and concentrate on this one? When it offered me no profit, no client, and no signature?" Impatiently he added, "You typed it on the machine in this office, and on my paper. Also," one grey eyebrow rose in pained enquiry, "in my time?"

    Abruptly she laughed. He hadn't expected that. He had shrunk from her possible walking out on him, or her anger, or even tears. With her blonde head thrown back and her round face laughing, she looked much younger, much less efficient and much more human.

    She said, "Mrs. Gold warned me you noticed everything. I've made a proper hash of it, haven't I?" The fact didn't seem to disconcert her at all. "I suppose I was a bit of a nut to do it that way, but ... I couldn't bring myself to face you, you see, and say outright, 'Look, I've a frightful problem and I quite desperately want you to give me an answer to it, because it's terribly important—to a whole lot of people, but to be completely frank no one involved has any money and I haven't, either, so will you do it for nothing?'" She leaned forward, the laughter gone in tight, hard anxiety that made even her voice more strident when she asked, "Is bread and butter so terribly important to you that you could never, never solve something for someone who can't pay you?"

    The knowledge that she had neatly forced him into a corner angered him. He said coldly, "You knew very well I would recognise the type and the paper and know who had sent that letter. What possible purpose ..."

    "Lots. If I'd come to you and started my question, and admitted there was no money in it for you, you wouldn't have listened, in all probability. Would you have?" She brushed that aside without waiting for an answer. "But now you've read the question and you're remembering about Robyn Calder and you know what it's all about, so I've got facts through to you that I mightn't even have managed to say otherwise, because you might not only have closed your ears, quite finally, but you might have handed me my wages and told me the door was over that-away and would I please go through and not come back. This way, you might still do it, but you've read those facts and you won't stop thinking about it—even if I go, because you're angered, and the anger will stay and needle at you and ..."

    He laughed. He hadn't meant to, and beneath the laughter was a decided respect. Shrewdness, he reflected approvingly, and smartness and a decided degree of courage. That added up to a certain measure of desperation. So Robyn Calder's death meant a whole measure of things to her.

    He put the question aloud, demanding, "Why is it so important the police continue enquiring into the Calder case?"

    The taut lines of her body relaxed. A quite audible sigh of relief escaped her lips and unconsciously she leaned back in the grey chair. He thought dispassionately that she was telling herself that she had him hooked, even if that hook might later pull free, so that she would have to try other measures to keep his interest, and help.

    She said slowly, "I know a lot of the students involved."

    "A lot? Or one in particular?"

    Her shoulders lifted again. "That, too."

    "And?" He waited patiently while she hesitated.

    At last she said, "Robyn Calder died six weeks ago. It doesn't seem that long because of all that's been happening. First there were the police enquiries. That took up a lot of everyone's time, and there's been dodging reporters and silly fools who seem to think that if they express sympathy they'll get Nigel and the others to start another row about police methods and all that sort of thing. Then there's been a University enquiry. That was worst of all really, and it hasn't finished yet and no one yet knows what's going to happen. And there's the inquest. The University is waiting for that. So's the public. And the police. The press, too. It's all going to be rehashed again and what's going to be everyone's verdict?

    "No one can settle to work and lectures. They're all wondering what's going to happen. There's been ... well, pressure, that's the best word I can think of to describe it ... but someone's head is going to roll. That's what Nigel says. Someone has to be made a scapegoat. There was too much bad publicity, you see, and the only way to stop the pressure, the anger, the bitterness, is for the University to punish someone—to point a finger and say, 'Well, we don't know who struck the blow, but we know who started that demonstration and that's you, so out you go.' Are you following me?" she demanded anxiously.

    "Oh yes. Some action has to be taken to appease public outrage, even if the action, to those close to events, is hardly going to appear justice. It's the public who must feel that justice is being done."

    "That's it exactly, and you see ..."

    "Who is this Nigel you mention?" he broke in.

    The question seemed to fluster her. Then she said, "Nigel Detrick."

    The name meant nothing to him, but he asked, "He is studying ... what?"

    "Arts. He wants to go on to Law," the answer was given impatiently. "You see ..."

    "Is he a particular friend of this ..." he glanced down at the cutting, "this Oliver Harrap?"

    "Yes. They were at school together. They planned on doing University together, but Oliver failed his first exams. He'd been paying too much attention to outside things, I think, because actually he's quite brilliant. He was in the national service ballot and his name was drawn and when he failed the exams they wouldn't give him another deferment of course. He was called up and he wouldn't go, so they jailed him. You must have read about it?"

    "Yes. Was Nigel Derrick, then, the ringleader in this demonstration?"

    "I suppose so." Hastily she added, "I know that sounds crazy, but actually it had no real leader, according to Nigel. There were discussions and talks and a plan was evolved and others were drawn in, and it was really a round circle of people who were interested in the problem and sorry for Oliver, who took action together, but of course everyone knows Nigel and Oliver were the closest of friends, so it's natural they've all jumped to the conclusion that Nigel planned the whole thing."

    "That being so, Detrick is in the position where his head may well be the one to roll in sacrifice?"

    "Yes." Her hands were twisting at each other. "It's ridiculous, outrageous rather, that just because the public wants a scapegoat to salve everyone's conscience about Robyn Calder, that someone like Nigel should be tossed on the scrap-heap. He's clever, and he's done marvellously well in exams, but that's going to count for nothing, unless ... look," her hands were spread out to him now in appeal, "none of them—not a single one—had any sort of weapon that morning. Nigel's sworn to me by everything under the sun that that's the truth. He says that because there's been violence in the past they were terribly careful to make sure that this demonstration would be peaceful. They actually searched everyone of the students who were going to march. Not one of them had any sort of weapon. They didn't," her voice shook with a laughter that was close to tears, "even have so much as a rotten tomato on them. Nigel's told me all that, and told it to others, over and over again, and the other students back him up, but no one outside of myself is willing to believe it."

    "You prefer the theory of police brutality?" he suggested dryly, "and the idea that the doctors are covering up for them? I notice you've underlined the word 'say' when referring offered medical evidence for my inspection. Don't you accept that medical evidence?"

    She hesitated, began, "Oh, I ..." then she shook her head and admitted, "yes, I accept it. I've tried not to, because blaming the police is easiest, you see, but ... I don't believe in that idea at all. Nigel doesn't, either."

    "What do you imagine happened then?" When she didn't answer he suggested, "You think that someone from outside the University—a trouble-maker, came armed, to break up the demonstration, to cause the riot that happened, and that Robyn Calder got in his way?" When there was still no answer he objected, "It would be impossible to prove such an idea. Such a person would have come from obscurity, to return to obscurity till there was another chance of causing trouble. There is, of course, the type of person who revels in violence—who might see such a demonstration as a chance of letting off his violent feelings. Such people do exist, and probably they do cause part of the trouble in these types of disturbance, but ... where do you find such a person? Unless he was seen—unless his weapon was seen ..."

    He knew the sudden eagerness in her expression was going to be reflected in her voice and words when she spoke and he dampened it with a chilling, "And if any person had seen such a weapon, such a person, they would surely have come forward. Remember there has been great public indignation over this girl's unfortunate death. Anyone who has anything to give in the way of information about that morning has come forward—the press reports have spoken of that."

    The eagerness had drained away. She sat quite still, the blonde head bent, looking down at her hands. After a little he asked, quite gently, "What do you want me to do?"

    She looked up then. Her gaze seemed abstracted, faraway. She said slowly, "I don't think I honestly know—oh, except I had some idea you might perform a miracle. It was stupid, of course, but I've been so scared and Nigel ... he's altered, you see. He's thinner, but that's a small point really. It's ... it's inside him, is the big change. He seems to have given up already, and he's hard and bitter and ... it's not helping of course," she shook her head vehemently. "It's only making things worse when they question him, because he seems sullen and angry and bitter, where he should be humble and afraid perhaps—oh ..." she thrust her hands apart impatiently, "I can't explain, but he's changed and I hate it and all this ... this witch-hunting, this yearning for a victim because she's dead ... it's horrible.

    "If only they'd be willing to believe about the search—that none of them was armed ... that'd be something, but no one wants to believe anything at all that the students say. They're just closing their minds to it, as the police have apparently closed their enquiries. The police say they're leaving it now to the University, and the University is leaving it to the public to judge and ... the public's going to demand blood, after the inquest. If the police would only keep the enquiry open—make it seem they were doing something to find some outsider ..."

    He knew it was really a question, a pleading, for him to face the police. Her expression said that while they wouldn't listen to herself, or to Nigel Detrick, they might listen to Jefferson Shields.

    He sighed. He didn't want involvement. There was a bad taste in his mouth already from discussing it, he reflected wryly and the whole thing seemed pointless. He had given her blunt facts—a faceless outsider would be impossible to find, and the public indignation wasn't going to be appeased by the faceless, the unknown.

    She urged, "Would you speak to Nigel?"

    "Why?" he asked bluntly.

    "Mrs. Gold told me you pride yourself on knowing if a person is speaking truth or lies to your face. You'll know, if you question Nigel, if he's lying or not. About that search for one thing. About the other points, too. If you're sure he's telling the truth, couldn't you go to the police then and urge them to keep the case open, to ..."

    He knew amusement, and respect again, for the ground work she'd done—all the questions about him that she had asked of Mrs. Gold, all the planning and scheming.

    He said, simply out of that respect for her planning and courage, "Very well, I'll talk to them."

Excerpted from Death by Demonstration by Patricia Carlon. Copyright © 1970 by Patricia Carlon. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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