by Captain W. E. Johns



X.                    THE CASE OF THE PHONE BOX MURDER  (Pages 145 – 159)


This story was originally published in THE BOY’S OWN PAPER – Volume 76, issue 5, dated February 1954 published by the Lutterworth Press.  This was a month before the printing of the previous story above.


“Biggles was walking home from Air Police Headquarters, at Scotland Yard, for a breath of air after a trying spell of office work, which he detested but could not avoid.  Air-Constable ‘Ginger’ Hebblethwaite had volunteered to keep him company.  They were walking up Davies Street when an ambulance standing against the curb, and a little crowd of people, brought from Ginger the observation: “Looks like an accident”.  “It’s not ordinary accident, anyway,” returned Biggles as they drew nearer.  That’s Inspector Gaskin of “C” Division telling the crowd to push off”.   Biggles speaks to Gaskin who informs him an “old lag” has been stabbed in the heart and the blade has gone in up to the hilt.  The victim is Hans Muller, “The neatest safe-blower in the business”.  Found in the phone box is a piece of torn card.  “Looks like a piece torn off a menu card” says Biggles looking at the words “Die Blau …”  That must have been the name of the place – a restaurant or café, I imagine.  In Germany or Austria, judging from the language”.  He turned to card over.  “Here’s the maker’s trade mark.  Vienna.  With yesterday’s date on the top.  Biggles can see the first three and last three letters of the top dish.  IKR and SCH.  As soup usually comes first, Biggles concludes it is Ukranean Borsch.  Biggles wants to know if Muller made his telephone call and he presses button B to see if he had put his money in before he was connected.  A small thin square of white metal drops out.  Biggles says it isn’t silver, tin or zinc.  Biggles wonders if it could be crystalium, a new alloy that has just been lifted out of a safe at the United Nations Research Station in Austria.  “They claim it’s a one-way conductor metal which will replace radio valves.  Some people would pay a fortune for a sample of it”.  Gaskin takes the metal and Biggles and Ginger resume their walk home.  “What have we walked into this time, I wonder? murmured Ginger.  (A new paragraph starts after a break).  “The question was answered the following day when they were all called into the office of their Chief, Air Commodore Raymond.  Raymond confirms the metal was crystalium and did bear Muller’s fingerprints as did the piece of card.  For Muller to come and go as he pleases, suggests that someone is running an unofficial air shuttle service to the Continent.  Raymond sends Biggles and his comrades to Vienna to see if he can follow up the lead of the torn menu card.  (A new paragraph starts after a break).  The following morning, they were in Vienna, assembled in a private sitting-room of the West Bahn Hotel where they had booked four single rooms.  “Die Blau” means “The Blue” so they start by looking for cafes and restaurants that begin with those words.  Biggles tells his colleagues to ask to see the menu and check “the imprint of the printer supplying the card, the style of the printing of the word blue, and perhaps the handwriting of the letters UKR and SCH.  I don’t think they can mean anything other than Ukranean Borsch”.  Biggles says if anyone finds a clue, they are to come back to him at the hotel and let him know.  Bertie, Algy and Ginger all return in due course with negative reports.  They try again the following day.  It is not until the third day that Ginger hits the trail.  He comes in and says “I believe I’ve got it.  Struck it by accident, too, in a back street”.  (“I struck it by accident,” Ginger announced excitedly” is the illustration opposite page 156).  “It wasn’t on the list.  Too small, perhaps, or maybe they didn’t want their name in the phone book”.  “It’s a filthy place behind the station, called Die Blau Gans – The Blue Goose”.  Ginger went in and asked to see the dinner menu, but the menus weren’t ready.  Ginger then caused a stir when he asked if they served Ukranean Borsch.  Ginger is told they serve it twice a week – Wednesday and Saturday.  The waiter asked Ginger if he had been followed and offered to show him another way out for a hundred schillings (Austrian currency), an offer that Ginger accepts.  Biggles says Muller must have come over last Wednesday night.  Biggles sets out his plan.  “To-morrow I shall drift into The Blue Goose and ask if they know of an easy way of getting to England.  Ginger, you’ll loaf about that bolt-hole exit and watch for me to come out.  Algy will be near you in a fast car.  Your job is to watch where they take me – if you can.  If you lose me, as you may, don’t worry.  Make for the airport, where Bertie will be standing by with the Proctor, and fly straight home.  Tell Gaskin what’s happened and ask him to contact the Security Police in Vienna.  They’ll deal with The Blue Goose.  I want him, also, to watch our rooms in Mount Street.  You’ll see why later on – I hope”.  At seven o’clock the next evening, Biggles goes to The Blue Goose and sits near two men speaking in English.  Biggles took them to be Americans, possibly deserters from the United States Forces of Occupation.  Biggles tells the waiter it’s the night for Ukranean Borsch and he could do with some right away.  Biggles is asked for the ticket and thinking quickly, he tears the top off the menu card and says “Is this the one your mean?”  He is told to wait.  He is then served a meal starting with Ukranean Borsch and then called into a back room where he is asked by one of the Americans “Who told you about our Borsch?”  Biggles admits it was Hans Muller and he is informed that Muller is now dead.  Biggles is asked about the crystalium and accepts he knows about it.  The American says he paid for Muller to do the job and Muller gave him a piece of ordinary nickel instead.  Biggles is told the price for a lift to England is three thousand dollars but Biggles only has fifteen hundred on him.  Biggles says he can pay the rest on the other side.  Having paid, he is told to wait in the bar “while I get things organized”.  Biggles lingers over a coffee for nearly an hour before he is told to go.  They go out via the bolt-hole described by Ginger.  A twenty-minute drive takes Biggles to a farm where in a large barn is an elderly Puss Moth aircraft.  They fly to East Anglia without refuelling, which tells Biggles the plane is especially adapted for the job.  They land at another farm on the outskirts of Newmarket Heath, in Cambridgeshire.  “The pilot landed with a confidence which Biggles had to admire”.  After Biggles gets out, the plane is refuelled and the pilot takes off again, presumably on the return journey.  Biggles is asked for the other “fifteen hundred bucks” and he says it is in his lodgings in London.  In the early hours of the morning, a car pulls up outside of Biggles’s apartment in Mount Street.  Biggles goes into the sitting room closely followed by two men.  “Anyone at home?” he calls.  Inspector Gaskin and two plain clothes men come out of the bedroom.  The two men with Biggles try to bolt but find Biggles standing with his back to the door, gun in hand.  “Take it easy,” he said evenly.  “There’s no hurry now”.  (A new paragraph starts after a break).  “The rest is soon told.  The fingerprints of one of the two men were those on the handle of the phone box door, and the handle of the knife that had killed Muller.  Convicted of murder he paid the extreme penalty.  (Murderers were hanged in the UK up until 1965).  His accomplice received a long prison sentence.  At the other end of the crooks’ escape route a police raid cleaned up The Blue Goose just about the time Biggles was landing in England.  Five ‘wanted’ men, deserters from the military forces in Austria, were found there.  Security police, guided by Algy and Ginger, who had followed Biggles’s car out of Vienna, were waiting for the Puss Moth when it landed at the end of its return trip.  So the case of the phone box murder was, as Bertie put it, all very neatly buttoned up, with a gang of unpleasant birds in the bag”.