Case for Three Detectives
It was at this difficult moment that Dr. Thurston came into the room.
“I hope,” he said quietly, “that you have finished your deliberations. You haven’t yet made your arrest, Sergeant?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“The truth is, Thurston,” said Sam Williams, “that there is a little difference of opinion among these gentlemen.”
Thurston looked puzzled. He evidently found this hard to understand or credit. “But . . . but haven’t you discovered who is guilty?” he asked wearily.
“Yes, Well, that is . . .” Williams was in an uncomfortable predicament. At last he turned to Sergeant Beef. “Look here, Sergeant, you, after all, represent the police, and it is your duty to make an arrest. You have heard all these gentlemen. What do you think about it?”
Sergeant Beef looked from one to the other of the three investigators with evident appreciation. “Wot do I think about it? I think wot these gentlemen ’ave told us is remarkable. Remarkable! I shouldn’t never ’ave believed it possible that anyone could ’ave been so ingeenyus. And the details they thought of! It was wonderful, sir, and a treat to ’ear them. I shan’t never forget to-day. It will be something to tell my grandchildren. To think that I’ve been privileged to ’ear all that!” His eyes, usually a trifle glazed, glowed now with honest admiration.
“That’s scarcely the point,” said Williams coldly. “What we have to do is to decide who is guilty, and arrest him.”
“Oh yes,” admitted Sergeant Beef, “I was forgetting that. I know ’oo done it, of course. But that ain’t nothink—not finding out ’oo done it isn’t. Why, I could never ’ave made up them stories if you’d paid me, sir. Wonderful, they was.”
“Well, Sergeant, you’ve been saying for a long time that you know who was guilty. Suppose you tell us your theory?”
“I ’aven’t got no theory, sir. I wouldn’t presume to ’ave, not in front of these gentlemen. I couldn’t express myself like that, wotever you was to give me.”
“You have no theory? But I thought you said you knew who had done it?”
“So I do. But that’s nothink, sir. Not after ’earing wot I ’ave to-night.”
“Well, for heaven’s sake, man, tell us what you know.”
“Well, it’s really too simple, sir. I don’t ’ardly like to disappoint you now.”
“Come along. Did the murderer have an accomplice?”
“Yus. ’E did. He ’ad two.”
“Two? Are you going to arrest these accomplices?”
“Can’t do that, sir.”
“Because one of ’em’s dead and the other didn’t know wot would come of it.”
“Yus. See, it began really when you wos talking about murder stories, before you ’ad your supper.” Lord Simon shivered at the word. “And I wouldn’t ’arf like to know ’oo started that conversation.”
Suddenly I remembered. It had been opened by Thurston. “As a matter of fact,” I said, “though of course it’s of no importance, I remember now.” I turned to Dr. Thurston. “You probably remember, Doctor? You turned to me and asked me whether I had read any good murder stories lately. Of course the whole thing is ridiculous, but I just happen to remember that.”
Dr. Thurston smiled patiently. “Did I? Very likely. I can’t remember.”
“Anyway, what has that to do with it?” asked Williams.
“You’ll see in a minute. Well, Dr. Thurston starts you talking about murderers, and whether they gets copped. And Mr. Norris says ’e doesn’t ’old wiv crime stories and that, because they aren’t true to life. And so on. It was just ’ow anyone might go on.”
“Well. When Mrs. Thurston goes upstairs, Dr. Thurston goes to ’is own room and gets dressed. Then, after Mr. Strickland ’ad come out of ’er room, ’e slips in. ‘’Ere,’ ’e says, ’I ’aven’t ’arf got a good idea for a lark,’ ’e says. ‘Wot say we bamboozle ’em to-night wiv a murder, and see whether they can find out ’ow it’s done?’ ‘Wot you mean, dear?’ she asks. She was always a bit silly like and ready to be persuaded into anything.”
At this point Williams stood up. “This is preposterous,” he said. “Beef, we’ll have no more of this nonsense. It is too painful for Dr. Thurston. Now . . .”
“Mais non! ” said M. Picon. “Let the good Bœuf continue! He begins to become interesting!”
Beef went on. “The long and short of it was, ’e persuaded ’er. “Now I’ll tell you wot to do,’ ’e said. ‘When you go up to bed, don’t undress, but lock your door, and shut your window. Then take this ’ere bottle of red ink, and pour it on your pillow. Get ’old of your lipstick, and paint a ’ell of a great scar across your froat. Then scream like blazes as ’ard as you can, see? We’ll come and break down the door, and then we’ll see whether the people wot says you can’ commit a murder without being found out can see ’ow the murderer escaped! Got it?’ ’e says, and she says it’s O.K. Then ’e says, ‘Tell you wot,’ ’e says, ‘I better take this bulb out of the light, otherwise they’ll be able to see you ’avn’t really been murdered.’ And ’e does so, and chucks it out of the window.”
“Then why weren’t there any finger-prints on the glass?” I asked. I thought that would squash him, since obviously Thurston could not have put on a glove to do it.
“Why not? Because the light ’ad just been burning, of course. It was still ’ot. So naturally he pulls out ’is ’andker-chief to ’andle it with. See?”
I saw. I began to feel a little nervous. Suppose this blundering policeman had got together enough nonsense to look like evidence? It would be uncomfortable for Thurston to have the inconvenience of defending himself.
“Well, to go on with what ’e said to Mrs. Thurston. ‘When we’ve got ’em on a string,’ ’e says, ‘we’ll tell ’em it was only a joke, see? Only don’t you move,’ ’e says, ’till I give you the wink. We don’t want to let it out too soon.’ And she agrees. I knew the lady myself. She was always a bit childish, like. Anything like a bit of acting an’ that would ’ave got ’er easy. She was game for what she thought would be just a lark, poor lady.
“Then p’raps it was ’er ’oo thought of the next thing. ‘Suppose someone was to run downstairs and ’phone the p’lice,’ she says ‘that wouldn’t do, would it?’ And ’e says, ‘No more it wouldn’t. I’ll tell you wot,’ ’e says, ‘I’ll run down an’ cut the telephone wire, then no one can’t ’phone,’ ’e says, and off ’e goes to do it, like wot we know it was done.
“Then down you all comes to ’ave your grub, and Mrs. Thurston’s in ’igh spirits, because although she’s been blackmailed a bit by that Stall, ’oo I’m going to run in presently, she knows ’e’s got the sack, an’ll be gone in a couple of weeks, and besides, there’s this ’ere joke on, and she’s like a kid with a joke. She probably kep’ looking across knowing-like to ’er ’usband, and thinking of ’ow you was all going to be took in.
“Well, then, Mr. Strickland goes off to bed, and soon after ’im Mr. Norris, and then the Vicar. We’ll come to ’im later. And at eleven o’clock, as per usual, Mrs. Thurston gets up to go to bed. When she opens ’er door, she finds Stall standing there, leaning on ’er dressing-table, ’elping ’imself to snuff. ‘What are you doing ’ere?’ she asks, though she knows very well ’e’s come for ’is two ’undred quid. But she doesn’t waste a lot of time arguing, she gives ’im the notes to get rid of ’im, and when ’e’s gone she starts getting ready for ’er lark.
“Poor lady! She must ’ave been laughing to ’erself, little knowing what she was letting ’erself in for. She takes the bottle of red ink and pours it over ’er pillow (same as a schoolboy ’oo wants to get out of class pours some on ’is ’andkerchief and says ’is nose is bleeding). Then she paints ’erself ’orrid round the froat, and bolts the door top and bottom. Now she thinks everything’s ready, and she lays down on the bed, and lets out three screams, as bloodcurdling as she can make ’em. Then she shuts ’er eyes, and waits for wotever’s going to ’appen.
“You know wot did ’appen. The first on the scene is Mr. Norris, because ’e’s got nothink to delay ’im. Then up comes Dr. Thurston, calling out ’er name, and Mr. Williams and Mr. Townsend, and start breaking the door in. Wot’s ’appened to the others you may well ask. Two of them’s got something to ’ide before they puts their noses out of their doors. There’s Mr. Strickland, with the diamond pendant, wot Mrs. Thurston ’ad giv’ ’im before dinner, lying on his dressing-table as bold as brass. ’E ’as to conceal that before ’e dares open ’is door. And there’s Stall with two ’undred of the best in his room, ’e can’t come running down before they’re away. Then there was the chauffeur. Well, don’t forget ’e ’ad been sent for to Mrs. Thurston’s room that evening. I shouldn’t be surprised if e’d been on ’is way down the stairs when ’e ’eard those screams, and got a narsty turn, and run back to ’is own room for a minute. Somethink of that, anyway.
“Then you breaks the panels of the door, and look in. “Ullo,’ you say, ’murdered, is she?’ For there she lies in a pool of blood, you think. And Dr. Thurston, ’e walks across to ’er and examines ’er, and says she’s dead. And you start searching the room like mad, thinking that someone’s been in there a-murdering of ’er, just as you was meant to think. And all the while the poor lady’s smiling to ’erself, thinking she’s ’aving a rare joke on you. So she was, up to then.
“So you looks ’igh and low, up the chimney, out of the winder, and under the carpet, not knowing as you know now, that no one ’adn’t been in there since Stall was there, and ’im only for a couple of minutes. But at last you’ve finished, and leave the lady alone. Mr. Townsend and Mr. Strickland and Mr. Norris go out in the gardens, while the chauffeur comes for me.
“Then, with no one else there, and an alibi established, it ain’t no trouble to slip back in the room, murder the poor lady, and drop the knife out of the window in time for Mr. Townsend to find it on the ground. See? I told you it was simple. ’Ardly worth telling. But you seemed to want to know how it was done.”
“But good heavens, Beef,” I said, really appalled by the story which sounded uncomfortably true, “what proof have you got?”
“Proof?” repeated Beef. “I got plenty of proof. D’you know ’ow I got on to this? Why, examining those bloodstains you was all so sarcastic about. You see, in that sort of way I’ve got a bit of an advantage over these gentlemen. I mean, I can’t work out theories like what they can, I only wish I could. Only we’re taught things in the police, see? And one of the first jobs in a case like this is to ’ave a good look at the bloodstains. Well, I done that, and found something funny about ’em. It was a clean pillowslip, or ’ad been before the blood was on it. And the stains on the pillow-slip was blood, real blood. But when I came to look at the pillow itself inside, what d’you think I found? Not only blood, but red ink! That taught me a thing or two. Oh, I says, so that was it, was it. Acting dead, was she? And the pillow-slip with the inkstains on been took away after the real murder, was it? Only there wasn’t a chance to take the ’ole pillow, wasn’t there? I see. That’s ’ow I come to discover it. Of course, I got the pillow and the pillow-slip. Exhibits A and B, them. That’s proof enough, isn’t it? And not circumstantial, wot’s more.”