فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER NINE

The Suspects

Inspector Ainsworth looked very determined when he arrived at Mowbray Hall the next morning.

‘Good morning, Sergeant,’ he said briskly. ‘It’s going to be a busy day. I want you to ask all the directors to come into the dining room. We’re going to have a meeting. Make sure that they’re all there in five minutes.’

‘Yes, sir,’ the Sergeant said. ‘I’ll tell them now.’

‘One other thing, Sergeant,’ the Inspector told him. ‘When everybody’s here, I want you to do something for me.’ He handed the Sergeant a piece of paper. ‘Get on the phone to my office in London, and ask them to check this for me, will you? Tell them it’s urgent.’

The Sergeant took the piece of paper, and glanced hurriedly at it. He looked very surprised.

‘Are you sure about this, sir?’ he asked.

‘Just do it, Sergeant,’ the Inspector ordered. ‘And bring me the answer as soon as you get it.’

The Inspector went into the dining room and sat down at the head of the table. He watched in silence as the directors came into the room. They looked nervous and uncomfortable.

The Inspector stood up, and began to speak.

‘We all know what happened in this room on Monday morning,’ he said very seriously. ‘Somebody came in here and shot Arthur Mowbray. The murderer is sitting here now.’

The tension in the room increased. The directors looked at each other suspiciously.

‘You’ve been playing a very dangerous game, Mr Pryce,’ the Inspector announced. ‘That game is now over.’

‘Me!’ Mr Pryce cried. ‘You can’t mean me, Inspector. I didn’t kill anyone - it’s ridiculous!’ He looked around the table at the faces of his colleagues. Everyone looked away from him. ‘It’s a mistake!’ he cried. ‘You’re making a mistake, Inspector.’

‘You lied to the police from the beginning,’ the Inspector told him coldly. ‘Let’s go over what you said about events on Monday morning, shall we?’

He looked at his notebook.

‘You said you left your office to go to the dining room at ten to nine. When you arrived there, you saw the body. Then you went straight back to your office, and rang the police at nine o’clock.’

‘That’s right, that’s what happened,’ Mr Pryce said. ‘I was telling the truth.’

‘But it only takes two minutes to walk from your office to the dining room,’ the Inspector said quietly. ‘I know because I made a note of it. If you left your office at ten to nine, you should have telephoned the police at six minutes to nine, not at nine o’clock. What were you doing for those extra six minutes, I wonder?’

Suddenly Mr Pryce went very white.

‘I… I was… I can explain…’ he said desperately.

The Inspector interrupted him.

‘Then there’s the question of your disagreement with Mr Mowbray,’ he went on. ‘You knew the company was losing money, and you wanted to close the workshops. But Mr Mowbray was against the idea, wasn’t he? He didn’t want the people in the workshops to lose their jobs. Isn’t that right?’

‘That’s right,’ Mr Johnson said quickly. ‘You did want to close the workshops. Everybody knows that.’

‘So you began the dangerous game you’ve been playing,’ the Inspector continued. ‘The game that ended with Mr Mowbray’s death.’

‘It’s not true!’ Mr Pryce cried. ‘You don’t understand…’

‘You persuaded Miss Markham to do something for you, didn’t you? You asked her to commission some market research on the company’s products. You hoped that would make Mr Mowbray do what you wanted. But it didn’t work, did it? You had a serious argument with Mr Mowbray. Everybody heard that.’

Mr Pryce was very excited, and his voice trembled as he spoke.

‘Wait!’ he cried. ‘Let me explain. Inspector. I did lie to the police about what happened on Monday morning, I admit it. But I didn’t kill Arthur Mowbray. I didn’t kill him, I tell you! Just let me tell you what really happened.’

‘Very well,’ the Inspector agreed. ‘Tell us what really happened, Mr Pryce.’

‘Arthur Mowbray and I disagreed about the workshops, that part’s true. I knew they would have to be closed. I knew that six months ago, when Lord Sheffield died. But Arthur Mowbray didn’t want to close them. He didn’t want people to lose their jobs. He was very unhappy about it. Then one day he came to me, and said that he had invented a new game.’

‘What kind of game was it?’ the Inspector asked curiously.

‘It was a stock market game,’ Mr Pryce explained. ‘All the players were stock market investors - they had to buy and sell shares in different companies. The winner was the player who made the most money. Mowbray thought the new game would be very popular. He thought it would save the company. But I…’

‘You didn’t agree with him,’ the Inspector suggested. ‘You thought board games were out of date, didn’t you?’

The Managing Director nodded.

Inspector Ainsworth gave a little smile.

‘Now we’re getting somewhere at last, Mr Pryce,’ he said. ‘Tell us what you decided to do. Tell us everything, Mr Pryce.’

‘The game was a brilliant one,’ Mr Pryce said, ‘but it was old-fashioned. I knew no one would buy it. Then I realised how we could still make the game and save the company. The answer was simple!’

‘A computer game,’ the Inspector interrupted him. ‘You wanted to bring Arthur Mowbray’s game into “the world of the future”, didn’t you?’

‘You’re right, Inspector,’ Mr Pryce replied. ‘But how did you find out? No one else knew!’

‘Never mind, Mr Pryce,’ the Inspector told him. ‘Let’s just say that the idea came to me over a beer.’

‘I went to see him about a week ago,’ said Mr Pryce. ‘I showed him the market reports that Miss Markham had prepared, and I told him my idea. I offered him a deal, Inspector. I said we could keep the workshops open if we made a computer version of his game.’

‘That was clever of you,’ the Inspector commented with a little smile. ‘How did he react to your deal, Mr Pryce?’

‘He didn’t like the idea at first. We had a fierce argument about it, but in the end he agreed.’

‘I see,’ the Inspector said. ‘One other thing. What did you do in the dining room after you found the body, Mr Pryce? During those missing six minutes?’

‘I can explain that, too,’ the Managing Director said quickly.

‘When I saw Arthur Mowbray lying on the floor, I knew immediately that he was dead. But there was something else in the room, Inspector. I saw the cards for the new game on the floor beside the body. I picked them up and took them away with me, Inspector.’

For a moment Mr Pryce looked ashamed. Then he went on.

‘I’m a businessman, Inspector. The cards are a valuable company asset, and I wanted to keep them safe.’

‘Did it take you six minutes to collect the cards, Mr Pryce?’ the Inspector asked sharply.

‘I couldn’t find all the cards, Inspector,’ Mr Pryce explained. ‘You see, all the cards had a number on them. But card 57 was missing. I looked everywhere for it, but I couldn’t find it.’

‘Good,’ said the Inspector. He seemed pleased. ‘At last you’ve told me the truth; but you should have told me earlier, Mr Pryce.’

‘Then you know I didn’t kill him… You believe me?’ Mr Pryce asked.

The Inspector smiled cheerfully at the Managing Director.

‘Oh, yes, I believe you. I didn’t think you were the murderer.’

‘You knew that it wasn’t me! Then why all these accusations, Inspector?’

‘I wanted to hear what really happened,’ the Inspector told him. ‘I knew you wouldn’t tell me unless you had to, so I decided to frighten you. I said you were playing a dangerous game, Mr Pryce, and that’s true. I told you the game you were playing ended in the murder of Arthur Mowbray, and that’s true as well. But you weren’t the murderer. I know that.’

Mr Pryce looked very relieved.

‘I suppose I should be glad you believe me,’ he said quietly.

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