The golden emblem (at first, of course, Gauche had not known that it was an emblem; he had thought it was a bracelet charm or a monogrammed hairpin) could only have belonged to the murderer. Naturally, just to be sure, the commissioner had shown the whale to the junior manservant (what a lucky ladthe fifteenth of March was his day off, and that had saved his life!), but the manservant had never seen his lordship with the trinket before.
After that the entire ponderous mechanism of the police system had whirred into action, flywheels twirling and pinions spinning, as the minister and the prefect threw their very finest forces into solving "the crime of the century." By the evening of the following day Gauche already knew that the three letters on the golden whale were not the initials of some prodigal hopelessly mired in debt, but the insignia of a newly established Franco-British shipping consortium. The whale proved to be the emblem of the miracle ship Leviathan, newly off the slipway at Bristol and currently being readied for its maiden voyage to India.
The newspapers had been trumpeting the praises of the gigantic steamship for more than a month. Now it transpired that on the eve of the Leviathans first sailing the London Mint had produced gold and silver commemorative badges: gold for the first-class passengers and senior officers of the ship, silver for second-class passengers and subalterns. Aboard this luxurious vessel, where the achievements of modern science were combined with an unprecedented degree of comfort, no provision at all was made for third class. The company guaranteed travelers a comprehensive service, making it unnecessary to take servants along on the voyage. "The shipping lines attentive valets and tactful maids are on hand to ensure that you feel entirely at home on the Leviathan," promised the advertisement printed in newspapers right across Europe. Those fortunate individuals who had booked a cabin for the first cruise from Southampton to Calcutta received a gold or silver whale with their ticket, according to their classand a ticket could be booked in any major European port, from London to Constantinople.
Very well, then, having the emblem of the Leviathan was less useful than having the initials of its owner, but this only complicated matters slightly, the commissioner had reasoned. There was a strictly limited number of gold badges. All he had to do was to wait until the nineteenth of March (that was the day appointed for the triumphant first sailing), go to Southampton, board the steamer, and see which of the first-class passengers was missing a golden whale. Or else (this was more likely), which of the passengers who had laid out the money for a ticket failed to turn up for boarding. That would be papa Gauches client. Simple as potato soup.
Gauche thoroughly disliked traveling, but this time he couldnt resist. He badly wanted to solve the Crime of the Century himself. Who could tell, they might just make him a superintendent at long last. He had only three years left to retirement. A third-class pension was one thing; a second-class pension was different altogether. The difference was one and a half thousand francs a year, and that kind of money didnt grow on trees.
So he had taken the job on. He thought he would just nip across to Southampton and then, at worst, sail as far as Le Havre (the first stop), where there would be gendarmes and reporters lined up on the quayside. A big headline in the Revue Parisienne: "Crime of the Century Solved: Our Police Rise to the Occasion." Or better yet: "Old Sleuth Gauche Pulls It Off!"
But ha! The first unpleasant surprise had been waiting for the commissioner at the shipping line office in Southampton, where he discovered that the infernally huge steamship had a hundred first-class cabins and ten senior officers. All the tickets had been sold: all hundred and thirty-two of them. And a gold badge had been issued with each one. Yesa total of a hundred and forty-two suspects. But then, only one of them would have no badge, Gauche had reassured himself.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...