“Archer Plants Stuff”

Willis’s chief at the Yard was not a little impressed by his subordinate’s story. He congratulated the inspector on his discovery, commended him for his restraint in withholding action against Archer until he had identified his accomplices, and approved his proposals for the further conduct of the case. Fortified by this somewhat unexpected approbation, Willis betook himself forthwith to the headquarters of the Customs Department and asked to see Hilliard.

The two men were already acquainted. As has been stated, the inspector had early called at Hilliard’s rooms and learned all that the other could tell him of the case. But for prudential reasons they had not met since.

Hilliard was tremendously excited by the inspector’s news, and eagerly arranged the interview with his chief which Willis sought. The great man was not engaged, and in a few minutes the others were shown into his presence.

“We are here, sir,” Willis began, when the necessary introductions had been made, “to tell you jointly a very remarkable story. Mr. Hilliard would doubtless have told you his part long before this, had I not specially asked him not to. Now, sir, the time has come to put the facts before you. Perhaps as Mr. Hilliard’s story comes before mine in point of time, he should begin.”

Hilliard thereupon began. He told of Merriman’s story in the Rovers’ Club, his own idea of smuggling based on the absence of return cargoes, his proposition to Merriman, their trip to France and what they learned at the clearing. Then he described their visit to Hull, their observations at the Ferriby wharf, the experiment carried out with the help of Leatham, and, finally, what Merriman had told him of his second visit to Bordeaux.

Willis next took up the tale and described the murder of Coburn, his inquiries thereinto and the identification of the assassin, and his subsequent discoveries at Ferriby, ending up by stating the problem which still confronted him, and expressing the hope that the chief in dealing with the smuggling conspiracy would cooperate with him in connection with the murder.

The latter had listened with an expression of amazement, which towards the end of the inspector’s statement changed to one of the liveliest satisfaction. He gracefully congratulated both men on their achievements, and expressed his gratification at what had been discovered and his desire to cooperate to the full with the inspector in the settling up of the case.

The three men then turned to details. To Hilliard’s bitter disappointment it was ruled that, owing to his being known to at least three members of the gang, he could take no part in the final scenes, and he had to be content with the honour of, as it were, a seat on the council of war. For nearly an hour they deliberated, at the end of which time it had been decided that Stopford Hunt, one of the Customs Department’s most skillful investigators, should proceed to Hull and tackle the question of the distribution of the brandy. Willis was to go to Paris, interest the French authorities in the Bordeaux end of the affair, and then join Hunt in Hull.

Stopford Hunt was an insignificant-looking man of about forty. All his characteristics might be described as being of medium quality. He was five feet nine in height, his brown hair was neither fair nor dark, his dress suggested neither poverty nor opulence, and his features were of the type known as ordinary. In a word, he was not one whose appearance would provoke a second glance or who would be credited with taking an important part in anything that might be in progress.

But for his job these very peculiarities were among his chief assets. When he hung about in an aimless, loafing way, as he very often did, he was overlooked by those whose actions he was so discreetly watching, and where mere loafing would look suspicious, he had the inestimable gift of being able to waste time in an affairé and preoccupied manner.

That night Willis crossed to Paris, and next day he told his story to the polite chief of the French Excise. M. Max was almost as interested as his English confrère, and readily promised to have the French end of the affair investigated. That same evening the inspector left for London, going on in the morning to Hull.

He found Hunt a shrewd and capable man of the world, as well as a pleasant and interesting companion.

They had engaged a private sitting-room at their hotel, and after dinner they retired thither to discuss their plan of campaign.

“I wish,” said Willis, when they had talked for some moments, “that you would tell me something about how this liquor distribution business is worked. It’s outside my job, and I’m not clear on the details. If I understood I could perhaps help you better.”

Hunt nodded and drew slowly at his pipe.

“The principle of the thing,” he answered, “is simple enough, though in detail it becomes a bit complicated. The first thing we have to remember is that in this case we’re dealing, not with distillers, but with rectifiers. Though in loose popular phraseology both businesses are classed under the term ‘distilling,’ in reality there is a considerable difference between them. Distillers actually produce the spirit in their buildings, rectifiers do not. Rectifiers import the spirit produced by distillers, and refine or prepare it for various specified purposes. The check required by the Excise authorities is therefore different in each case. With rectifiers it is only necessary to measure the stuff that goes into and comes out of the works. Making due allowance for variation during treatment, these two figures will balance if all is right.”

Willis nodded, and Hunt resumed.

“Now, the essence of all fraud is that more stuff goes out of the works than is shown on the returns. That is, of course, another way of saying that stuff is sold upon which duty has not been paid. In the case of a rectifying house, where there is no illicit still, more also comes in than is shown. In the present instance you yourself have shown how the extra brandy enters. Our job is to find out how it leaves.”

“That part of it is clear enough anyway,” Willis said with a smile. “But brandy smuggling is not new. There must surely be recognised ways of evading the law?”

“Quite. There are. But to follow them you must understand how the output is measured. For every consignment of stuff that leaves the works a permit or certificate is issued and handed to the carrier who removes it. This is a kind of waybill, and of course a block is kept for the inspection of the surveying officer. It contains a note of the quantity of stuff, date and hour of starting, consignee’s name and other information, and it is the authority for the carrier to have the liquor in his possession. An Excise officer may stop and examine any dray or lorry carrying liquor, or railway wagon, and the driver or other official must produce his certificate so that his load may be checked by it. All such what I may call surprise examinations, together with the signature of the officer making them, are recorded on the back of the certificate. When the stuff is delivered, the certificate is handed over with it to the consignee. He signs it on receipt. It then becomes his authority for having the stuff on his premises, and he must keep it for the Excise officer’s inspection. Do you follow me so far?”


“The fraud, then, consists in getting more liquor away from the works than is shown on the certificates, and I must confess it is not easy. The commonest method, I should think, is to fill the kegs or receptacles slightly fuller than the certificate shows. This is sometimes done simply by putting extra stuff in the ordinary kegs. It is argued that an Excise officer cannot by his eye tell a difference of five or six percent; that, for example, twenty-six gallons might be supplied on a twenty-five gallon certificate without anyone being much the wiser. Variants of this method are to use slightly larger kegs, or, more subtly, to use the normal sized kegs of which the wood at the ends has been thinned down, and which therefore when filled to the same level hold more, while showing the same measure with a dipping rod. But all these methods are risky. On the suspicion the contents of the kegs are measured and the fraud becomes revealed.”

Willis, much interested, bent forward eagerly as the other, after a pause to relight his pipe, continued:

“Another common method is to send out liquor secretly, without a permit at all. This may be done at night, or the stuff may go through an underground pipe, or be hidden in innocent looking articles such as suitcases or petrol tins. The pipe is the best scheme from the operator’s point of view, and one may remain undiscovered for months, but the difficulty usually is to lay it in the first instance.

“A third method can be used only in the case of rectifiers and it illustrates one of the differences between rectifiers and distillers. Every permit for the removal of liquor from a distillery must be issued by the excise surveyor of the district, whereas rectifiers can issue their own certificates. Therefore in the case of rectifiers there is the possibility of the issuing of forged or fraudulent certificates. Of course this is not so easy as it sounds. The certificates are supplied in books of two hundred by the Excise authorities, and the blocks must be kept available for the supervisor’s scrutiny. Any certificates can be obtained from the receivers of the spirit and compared with the blocks. Forged permits are very risky things to work with, as all genuine ones bear the government watermark, which is not easy to reproduce. In fact, I may say about this whole question of liquor distribution generally, that fraud has been made so difficult that the only hope of those committing it is to avoid arousing suspicion. Once suspicion is aroused, discovery follows almost as a matter of course.”

“That’s hopeful for us,” Willis smiled.

“Yes,” the other answered, “though I fancy this case will be more difficult than most. There is another point to be taken into consideration which I have not mentioned, and that is, how the perpetrators of the frauds are going to get their money. In the last resort it can only come in from the public over the counters of the licensed premises which sell the smuggled spirits. But just as the smuggled liquor cannot be put through the books of the house selling it, so the money received for it cannot be entered either. This means that someone in authority in each licensed house must be involved. It also carries with it a suggestion, though only a suggestion, that the houses in question are tied houses. The director of a distillery company would have more hold on the manager of their own tied houses than over an outsider.”

Again Willis nodded without replying, and Hunt went on:

“Now it happens that these Ackroyd & Holt people own some very large licensed houses in Hull, and it is to them, I imagine, that we should first direct our attention.”

“How do you propose to begin?”

“I think we must first find out how the Ferriby liquor is sent to these houses. By the way, you probably know that already. You watched the distillery during working hours, didn’t you?”

The inspector admitted it.

“Did you see any lorries?”

“Any number; large blue machines. I noticed them going and coming in the Hull direction loaded up with barrels.”

Hunt seemed pleased.

“Good,” he commented. “That’s a beginning anyway. Our next step must be to make sure that all these lorries carry certificates. We had better begin tomorrow.”

Willis did not quite see how the business was to be done, but he forbore to ask questions, agreeing to fall in with his companion’s arrangements.

These arrangements involved the departure from their hotel by taxi at six o’clock the next morning. It was not fully light as they whirled out along the Ferriby road, but the sky was clear and all the indications pointed to a fine day.

They dismounted at the end of the lane leading to the works, and struck off across the fields, finally taking up their position behind the same thick hedge from which Willis had previously kept watch.

They spent the whole of that day, as well as of the next two, in their hiding-place, and at the end of that time they had a complete list of all lorries that entered or left the establishment during that period. No vehicles other than blue lorries appeared, and Hunt expressed himself as satisfied that if the smuggled brandy was not carried by them it must go either by rail or at night.

“We can go into those other contingencies later if necessary,” he said, “but on the face of it I am inclined to back the lorries. They supply the tied houses in Hull, which would seem the obvious places for the brandy to go, and, besides, railway transit is too well looked after to attract the gang. I think we’ll follow this lorry business through first on spec.”

“I suppose you’ll compare the certificate blocks with the list I made?” Willis asked.

“Of course. That will show if all carry certificates. But I don’t want to do that yet. Before alarming them I want to examine the contents of a few of the lorries. I think we might do that tomorrow.”

The next morning, therefore, the two detectives again engaged a taxi and ran out along the Ferriby road until they met a large blue lorry loaded with barrels and bearing on its side the legend “Ackroyd & Holt Ltd., Licensed Rectifiers.” When it had lumbered past on its way to the city, Hunt called to the driver and ordered him to follow it.

The chase led to the heart of the town, ending in a street which ran parallel to the Humber Dock. There the big machine turned in to an entry.

“The Anchor Bar,” Hunt said, in satisfied tones. “We’re in luck. It’s one of the largest licensed houses in Hull.”

He jumped out and disappeared after the lorry, Willis following. The vehicle had stopped in a yard at the back of the great public house, where were more barrels than the inspector ever remembered having seen together, while the smell of various liquors hung heavy in the air. Hunt, having shown his credentials, demanded the certificate for the consignment. This was immediately produced by the driver, scrutinised, and found in order. Hunt then proceeded to examine the consignment itself, and Willis was lost in admiration at the rapidity as well as the thoroughness of his inspection. He tested the nature of the various liquids, measured their receptacles, took drippings in each cask, and otherwise satisfied himself as to the quality and quantity. Finally he had a look over the lorry, then expressing himself satisfied, he endorsed the certificate, and with a few civil words to the men in charge, the two detectives took their leave.

“That’s all square anyway,” Hunt remarked, as they reentered their taxi. “I suppose we may go and do the same thing again.”

They did. Three times more on that day, and four times on the next day they followed Messrs. Ackroyd & Holt’s lorries, in every instance with the same result. All eight consignments were examined with the utmost care, and all were found to be accurately described on the accompanying certificate. The certificates themselves were obviously genuine, and everything about them, so far as Hunt could see, was in order.

“Doesn’t look as if we are going to get it that way,” he commented, as late that second evening they sat once more discussing matters in their private sitting-room.

“Don’t you think you have frightened them into honesty by our persistence?” Willis queried.

“No doubt,” the other returned. “But that couldn’t apply to the first few trips. They couldn’t possibly have foretold that we should examine those consignments yesterday, and today I expect they thought their visitation was over. But we have worked it as far as it will go. We shall have to change our methods.”

The inspector looked his question and Hunt continued:

“I think tomorrow I had better go out to the works and have a look over these certificate blocks. But I wonder if it would be well for you to come? Archer has seen you in that hotel lounge, and at all events he has your description.”

“I shall not go,” Willis decided. “See you when you get back.”

Hunt, after showing his credentials, was received with civility at Messrs. Ackroyd & Holt’s. When he had completed the usual examination of their various apparatus he asked for certain books. He took them to a desk, and sitting down, began to study the certificate blocks.

His first care was to compare the list of outward lorries which he and Willis had made with the blocks for the same period. A short investigation convinced him that here also everything was in order. There was a certificate for every lorry which had passed out, and not only so, but the number of the lorry, the day and hour at which it left and the load were all correct so far as his observations had enabled him to check them. It was clear that here also he had drawn blank, and for the fiftieth time he wondered with a sort of rueful admiration how the fraud was being worked.

He was idly turning over the leaves of the blocks, gazing vacantly at the lines of writing while he pondered his problem when his attention was attracted to a slight difference of colour in the ink of an entry on one of the blocks. The consignment was a mixed one, containing different kinds of spirituous liquors. The lowest entry was for three twenty-five gallon kegs of French brandy. This entry was slightly paler than the remain order.

At first Hunt did not give the matter serious thought. The page had evidently been blotted while the ink was wet, and the lower items should therefore naturally be the fainter. But as he looked more closely he saw that this explanation would not quite meet the case. It was true that the lower two or three items above that of the brandy grew gradually paler in proportion to their position down the sheet, and to this rule Archer’s signature at the bottom was no exception. In these Hunt could trace the gradual fading of colour due to the use of blotting paper. But he now saw that this did not apply to the brandy entry. It was the palest of all⁠—paler even than Archer’s name, which was below it.

He sat staring at the sheet, whistling softly through his teeth and with his brow puckered into a frown, as he wondered whether the obvious suggestion that the brandy item had been added after the sheet had been completed, was a sound deduction. He could think of no other explanation, but he was loath to form a definite opinion on such slight evidence.

He turned back through the blocks to see if they contained other similar instances, and as he did so his interest grew. Quite a number of the pages referring to mixed consignment had for their last item kegs of French brandy. He scrutinised these entries with the utmost care. A few seemed normal enough, but others showed indications which strengthened his suspicions. In three more the ink was undoubtedly paler than the remainder of the sheet, in five it was darker, while in several others the handwriting appeared slightly different⁠—more upright, more sloping, more heavily or more lightly leaned on. When Hunt had examined all the instances he could find stretching over a period of three months, he was convinced that his deduction was correct. The brandy items had been written at a different time from the remainder, and this could only mean that they had been added after the certificate was complete.

His interest at last keenly aroused, he began to make an analysis of the blocks in question in the hope of finding some other peculiarity common to them which might indicate the direction in which the solution might lie.

And first as to the consignees. Ackroyd & Holt evidently supplied a very large number of licensed houses, but of these the names of only five appeared on the doubtful blocks. But these five were confined to houses in Hull, and each was a large and important concern.

“So far, so good,” thought Hunt, with satisfaction. “If they’re not planting their stuff in those five houses, I’m a Dutchman!”

He turned back to the blocks and once again went through them. This time he made an even more suggestive discovery. Only one lorry-man was concerned in the transport of the doubtful consignments. All the lorries in question had been in charge of a driver called Charles Fox.

Hunt remembered the man. He had driven three of the eight lorries Hunt himself had examined, and he had been most civil when stopped, giving the investigator all possible assistance in making his inspection. Nor had he at any time betrayed embarrassment. And now it seemed not improbable that this same man was one of those concerned in the fraud.

Hunt applied himself once again to a study of the blocks, and then he made a third discovery, which, though he could not at first see its drift, struck him nevertheless as being of importance. He found that the faked block was always one of a pair. Within a few pages either in front of or behind it was another block containing particulars of a similar consignment, identical, in fact, except that the brandy item was missing.

Hunt was puzzled. That he was on the track of the fraud he could not but believe, but he could form no idea as to how it was worked. If he were right so far, the blocks had been made out in facsimile in the first instance, and later the brandy item had been added to one of each pair. Why? He could not guess.

He continued his examination, and soon another interesting fact became apparent. Though consignments left the works at all hours of the day, those referred to by the first one of each between the hours of four and five. Further, the number of minutes past one and past four were always identical on each pair. That showed the brandy item was nearly always the later of the two, but occasionally the stuff had gone with the one o’clock trip.

Hunt sat in the small office, of which he had been given undisturbed possession, pondering over his problem and trying to marshal the facts that he had learned in such a way as to extract their inner meaning. As far as he could follow them they seemed to show that three times each day driver Charles Fox took a lorry of various liquors into Hull. The first trip was irregular, that is, he left at anything between seven-thirty and ten-thirty a.m., and his objective extended over the entire city. The remaining two trips were regular. Of these the first always left between one and two and the second the same number of minutes past four; both were invariably to the same one of the five large tied houses already mentioned; the load of each was always identical except that one⁠—generally the second⁠—had some kegs of brandy additional, and, lastly, the note of this extra brandy appeared always to have been added to the certificate after the latter had been made out.

Hunt could make nothing of it. In the evening he described his discoveries to Willis, and the two men discussed the affair exhaustively, though still without result.

That night Hunt could not sleep. He lay tossing from side to side and racking his brains to find a solution. He felt subconsciously that it was within his reach, and yet he could not grasp it.

It was not far from dawn when a sudden idea flashed into his mind, and he lay thrilled with excitement as he wondered if at last he held the clue to the mystery. He went over the details in his mind, and the more he thought over his theory the more likely it seemed to grow.

But how was he to test it? Daylight had come before he saw his way; but at last he was satisfied, and at breakfast he told Willis his idea and asked his help to carry out his plan.

“You’re not a photographer, by any chance?” he asked.

“I’m not A1, but I dabble a bit at it.”

“Good. That will save some trouble.”

They called at a photographic outfitter’s, and there, after making a deposit, succeeded in hiring two large-size Kodaks for the day. With these and a set of climbing irons they drove out along the Ferriby road, arriving at the end of the lane to the works shortly after midday. There they dismissed their taxi.

As soon as they were alone their actions became somewhat bewildering to the uninitiated. Along one side of the road ran a seven-foot wall bounding the plantation of a large villa. Over this Willis, with the help of his friend, clambered. With some loose stones he built himself a footing at the back, so that he could just look over the top. Then having focused his camera for the middle of the road, he retired into obscurity behind his defences.

His friend settled to his satisfaction, Hunt buckled on the climbing irons, and crossing the road, proceeded to climb a telegraph pole which stood opposite the lane. He fixed his camera to the lower wires⁠—carefully avoiding possible short-circuitings⁠—and having focused it for the center of the road, pulled a pair of pliers from his pocket and endeavored to simulate the actions of a lineman at work. By the time these preparations were complete it was close on one o’clock.

Some half-hour later a large blue lorry came in sight bearing down along the lane. Presently Hunt was able to see that the driver was Fox. He made a prearranged sign to his accomplice behind the wall, and the latter, camera in hand, stood up and peeped over. As the big vehicle swung slowly round into the main road both men from their respective positions photographed it. Hunt, indeed, rapidly changing the film, took a second view as the machine retreated down the road towards Hull.

When it was out of sight, Hunt descended and with some difficulty climbed the wall to his colleague. There in the shade of the thick belt of trees both men lay down and smoked peacefully until nearly four o’clock. Then once more they took up their respective positions, watched until about half an hour later the lorry again passed out and photographed it precisely as before. That done, they walked to Hassle station, and took the first train to Hull.

By dint of baksheesh they persuaded the photographer to develop their films there and then, and that same evening they had six prints.

As it happened they turned out exceedingly good photographs. Their definition was excellent, and each view included the whole of the lorry. The friends found, as Hunt had hoped and intended, that owing to the height from which the views had been taken, each several keg of the load showed out distinctly. They counted them. Each picture showed seventeen.

“You see?” cried Hunt triumphantly. “The same amount of stuff went out on each load! We shall have them now, Willis!”

Next day Hunt returned to Ferriby works ostensibly to continue his routine inspection. But in three minutes he had seen what he wanted. Taking the certificate book, he looked up the blocks of the two consignments they had photographed, and he could have laughed aloud in his exultation as he saw that what he had suspected was indeed the fact. The two certificates were identical except that to the second an item of four kegs of French brandy had been added! Hunt counted the barrels. The first certificate showed thirteen and the last seventeen.

“Four kegs of brandy smuggled out under our noses yesterday,” he thought delightedly. “By Jove! but it’s a clever trick. Now to test the next point.”

He made an excuse for leaving the works, and returning to Hull, called at the licensed house to which the previous afternoon’s consignment had been dispatched. There he asked to see the certificates of the two trips. On seeing his credentials these were handed up without demur, and he withdrew with them to his hotel.

“Come,” he cried to Willis, who was reading in the lounge, “and see the final act in the drama.”

They retired to their private room, and there Hunt spread the two certificates on the table. Both men stared at them, and Hunt gave vent to a grunt of satisfaction.

“I was right,” he cried delightedly. “Look here! Why I can see it with the naked eye!”

The two certificates were an accurate copy of their blocks. They were dated correctly, both bore Fox’s name as driver, and both showed consignments of liquor, identical except for the additional four kegs of brandy on the second. There was, furthermore, no sign that this had been added after the remainder. The slight lightening in the colour towards the bottom of the sheet, due to the use of blotting paper, was so progressive as almost to prove the whole had been written at the same time.

The first certificate was timed 1:15 p.m., the second 4:15 p.m., and it was to the 4 of this second hour that Hunt’s eager finger pointed. As Willis examined it he saw that the lower strokes were fainter than the remainder. Further, the beginning of the horizontal stroke did not quite join the first vertical stroke.

“You see?” Hunt cried excitedly. “That figure is a forgery. It was originally a 1, and the two lower strokes have been added to make it a 4. The case is finished!”

Willis was less enthusiastic.

“I’m not so sure of that,” he returned cautiously. “I don’t see light all the way through. Just go over it again, will you?”

“Why to me it’s as clear as daylight,” the other asserted impatiently. “See here. Archer decides, let us suppose, that he will send out four kegs, or one hundred gallons, of the smuggled brandy to the Anchor Bar. What does he do? He fills out certificates for two consignments each of which contains an identical assortment of various liquors. The brandy he shows on one certificate only. The blocks are true copies of the certificates except that the brandy is not entered on either. The two blocks he times for a quarter past one and past four respectively, but both certificates he times for a quarter past one. He hands the two certificates to Fox. Then he sends out on the one o’clock lorry the amount of brandy shown on one of the certificates.”

Hunt paused and looked interrogatively at his friend, then, the latter not replying, he resumed:

“You follow now the position of affairs? In the office is Archer with his blocks, correctly filled out as to time but neither showing the brandy. On the one o’clock lorry is Fox, with one hundred gallons of brandy among his load. In his pocket are the two certificates, both timed for one o’clock, one showing the brandy and the other not.”

The inspector nodded as Hunt again looked at him.

“Now suppose,” the latter went on, “that the one o’clock lorry gets through to its destination unchallenged, and the stuff is unloaded. The manager arranges that the four kegs of brandy will disappear. He takes over the certificate which does not show brandy, signs it, and the transaction is complete. Everything is in order, and he has got four kegs smuggled in.”

“Good,” Willis interjected.

“On the other hand, suppose the one o’clock trip is held up by an exciseman. This time Fox produces the other certificate, the one which shows the brandy. Once again everything is in order, and the Excise officer satisfied. It is true that on this occasion Fox has been unable to smuggle out his brandy, and on that which he carries duty must be paid, but this rare contingency will not matter to him as long as his method of fraud remains concealed.”

“Seems very sound so far.”

“I think so. Let us now consider the four o’clock trip. Fox arrives back at the works with one of the two certificates still in his pocket, and the make up of his four o’clock load depends on which it is. He attempts no more smuggling that day. If his remaining certificate shows brandy he carries brandy, if not, he leaves it behind. In either case his certificate is in order if an Excise officer holds him up. That is, when he has attended to one little point. He has to add two strokes to the 1 of the hour to make it into a 4. The ease of doing this explains why these two hours were chosen. Is that all clear?”

“Clear, indeed, except for the one point of how the brandy item is added to the correct block.”

“Obviously Archer does that as soon as he learns how the first trip has got on. If the brandy was smuggled out on the first trip, it means that Fox is holding the brandy-bearing certificate for the second, and Archer enters brandy on his second block. If, on the contrary, Fox has had his first load examined, Archer will make his entry on the first block.”

“The scheme,” Willis declared, “really means this. If Archer wants to smuggle out one hundred gallons of brandy, he has to send out another hundred legitimately on the same day? If he can manage to send out two hundred altogether then one hundred will be duty clear, but in any case he must pay on one hundred?”

“That’s right. It works out like that.”

“It’s a great scheme. The only weak point that I can see is that an Excise officer who has held up one of the trips might visit the works and look at the certificate block before Archer gets it altered.”

Hunt nodded.

“I thought of that,” he said, “and it can be met quite easily. I bet the manager telephones Archer on receipt of the stuff. I am going into that now. I shall have a note kept at the Central of conversations to Ferriby. If Archer doesn’t get a message by a certain time, I bet he assumes the plan has miscarried for that day and fills in the brandy on the first block.”

During the next two days Hunt was able to establish the truth of his surmise. At the same time Willis decided that his cooperation in the work at Hull was no longer needed. For Hunt there was still plenty to be done. He had to get direct evidence against each severally of the managers of the five tied houses in question, as well as to ascertain how and to whom they were passing on the “stuff,” for that they were receiving more brandy than could be sold over their own counters was unquestionable. But he agreed with Willis that these five men were more than likely in ignorance of the main conspiracy, each having only a private understanding with Archer. But whether or not this was so, Willis did not believe he could get any evidence that they were implicated in the murder of Coburn.

The French end of the affair, he thought, the supply of the brandy in the first instance, was more promising from this point of view, and the next morning he took an early train to London as a preliminary to starting work in France.