Case for Three Detectives
So at last we knew who was guilty. As Sergeant Beef said, the evidence of the pillow and pillow-slip was not circumstantial, but was hard and certain proof. I cannot pretend that I had suspected Dr. Thurston, because it had seemed to me impossible that he, who had been with us from the time that Mrs. Thurston went to bed until we had found her apparently murdered, could have had anything to do with it. Who could even have suspected that his accomplice, his unfortunate and unconscious accomplice, had been none other than the murdered woman. It seemed very horrible, but even as I realized it, it seemed diabolically clever.
But there was one man who had evidently decided to remain loyal to Thurston. The Doctor was about to speak in answer to Sergeant Beef, when Williams placed a hand on his arm. “Doctor, as your lawyer I forbid you to say anything in answer to this at present. The whole thing is outrageous, and we shall be able to prove that this blundering fool of a policeman has made some fantastic mistake.”
Lord Simon leaned back easily. “Not this time, Williams,” he said, “I am not one to get excited about the jolly old police, but I’m climbin’ down a peg.” Then he added, “Lord, what a relief it is to have been wrong for once! You don’t know the monotony of infallibility!”
“I also, the great Amer Picon, shall rest contented. At last I have made the faux pas. Hooray, as you say in English, it is a great change for me!”
And Mgr. Smith murmured softly, “I am so pleased. So pleased.”
“At all events,” said Williams fiercely, “say nothing, Doctor, till we have conferred.” Then he turned to Beef. “I take it that there is no objection to Dr. Thurston coming with me to the study for a while before you . . . take any more steps?”
“None at all, sir. There are police in the grounds and no one can leave. I will give you ten minutes.”
The two went out of the room and Sergeant Beef made an unpleasant noise as though he were sucking his teeth, as indeed he probably was doing. Then suddenly he rose heavily to his feet.
“I don’t know whether I ought to leave them . . .” he began.
But his words were rudely interrupted. There was the sound of a revolver shot which seemed to shake the house, and sang deafeningly in my ears for some seconds. We jumped up, and ran out into the hall. The study door was open, and full length on the ground lay the weighty bulk of Dr. Thurston, while in his right hand was still elapsed his revolver. Williams stooped over him, and Beef followed.
“I’m afraid there can be no doubt about death in this case,” Williams said. “It must have been instantaneous.”
“How did it happen?” I asked.
“He led me in here, then asked if I would leave him alone for a moment. He said he wanted to collect himself before conferring with me. And foolishly I agreed. For some reason it never occurred to me that this was his intention. I had scarcely opened the door when I heard the shot behind me.”
“Let’s go back to the other room,” I said, for the body of the dead man was gruesome. There was an expression of startled horror on Thurston’s dead face which was unendurable. Before we left him, however, a rug was laid over the corpse, and Beef took care to lock the door when we were all out of the room.
“Well, that seems pretty well to prove your theory, Sergeant,” said Williams, when we had got back to the more natural atmosphere of the lounge.
And indeed if further proof was necessary I felt that her it was. What could be more conclusive than the suicide of the protagonist? But it appeared that Beef was modest.
“Wot theory?” he said. “I ’adn’t got no theory.”
“Oh yes, you had,” said Williams, “and a very brilliant one, and as it now turns out amazingly true. Poor Mary! I wonder what Thurston’s motive was? I expect we shall see when we come to go through her papers. It was a fiendishly clever idea, though, for Thurston to persuade her into that pretence, and then, with his alibi established, for him to go back and murder her.”
Sergeant Beef was standing between us and the door.
’“Oo said anythink about Dr. Thurston going back and murdering ’er?” he asked suddenly.
For a moment I did not understand the implications of this extraordinary question, then I was horrified to see that the Sergeant had pulled out a pair of handcuffs and drawn himself up to his full height.
“Samuel James Williams,” he said, “it is my duty to arrest you. You are charged with the murder of Mary Thurston. You will be further charged with the murder of Dr. Alexander Thurston. It is also my duty to warn you that anythink you say may be used in evidence against you.”
Before I had recovered from my surprise I saw that he had slipped his handcuffs over the lawyer’s wrists.
“But . . . but . . .” I said. “You’ve just been proving it was Dr. Thurston . . .”
“I beg your pardon, sir, I ’aven’t been proving nothink of the sort. I knowed it was ’im all through.”
Sergeant Beef then did a very common place thing. He blew loudly on a whistle.
“Really!” said Lord Simon, whose sensibilities were touched by the sound.
Two policemen entered.
“Take ’im along,” said Sergeant Beef. “’E won’t say nothink, being a lawyer. But ’e’s for it, oright. ’Anged by the neck till ’e’s dead, ’e’ll be.”
The Sergeant thereupon helped himself to a glass of beer, and after thoroughly sucking the ends of his straggling ginger moustache, he said, “You see, gents, I ’adn’t got no theories, not like yours. I still think they was remarkable. But I did ’appen to know ’oo done it. It was simple enough. What I told you about the lark was true. That was Dr. Thurston’s idea—for a joke like. He never ’ad no intention but a joke, if you get my meaning. ’E took that bulb out to ’elp the joke, not wanting anyone to see she was still alive and spoil it, and he snipped the telephone wire in case anyone should ring up the p’lice and ’im get into trouble for giving us unnecessary trouble. Then it all ’appened just as I said it did. Only when Williams was searching the room ’e notices out of the corner of ’is eye that Mrs. Thurston’s no more dead than ’e is. Or p’raps he ’ears ’er chuckling. And ’is brain’s quick. ’E thinks, ‘Ullo, ’ere’s a chance to do ’er in.’ ’E gets rid of you all out of the way like. Dr. Thurston ’as to act as though ’e’s cut up, for the sake of the joke, see? So the Doctor stays downstairs. Then this ’ere Williams who’d said ’e was going to ’ave another try at telephoning, slips up—and cuts ’er froat while you’re going out to search the grounds. He throws the knife out of the window, like I said. It couldn’t of been there many seconds when you found it, Mr. Townsend. No wonder the blood was still wet.
“You see, this ’ere Williams was the cleverest kind of a murderer, the one ’oo knows ’ow to take advantage of an opportunity. That’s ’arf the game. I’m of the opinion that anyone could be murdered, and no one found out, if every murderer did it just at the right moment. That’s wot this Williams was thinking when ’e was pretending to search the room. ’E knew that Dr. Thurston was in the game with ’er, but he knew very well that when the Doctor found she was really dead, ’e’d never dare let on to that, because ’e’d of been ’anged himself—for certain. All ’e ’ad to be sure of was that the Doctor went upstairs alone, and made the discovery on ’is own, too.
“I don’t suppose that was difficult. ’E knew the Doctor was downstairs alone in the lounge. All ’e ’ad to do was to suggest to ’im something that would send ’im upstairs again. P’raps ’e pretended to ’ear a sound from the room. P’raps ’e didn’t ’ave to suggest nothing, because the Doctor would want to go and ’ave a smile with ’is wife over the joke, when you was all out of the way. We shan’t never know. But at all events, Williams comes back into the lounge, says it’s no good, ’e can’t get an answer on the telephone, as though ’e’d never left the receiver.
“Then Dr. Thurston goes up to ’is wife. But when ’e gets into the room, ’e finds she really ’as been murdered. ’E’s just going to shout out, when ’e sees that it’s going to look bad for ’im. He’s innocent, but after all ’e suggested that dam’ silly game. He made ’er pretend. And when anyone sees ’ow it was done ’e’ll be suspected. Especially with ’im up ’ere alone now. So ’e says nothink, and comes downstairs, just as Williams ’opes ’e will.
“At the bottom of the stairs ’e meets Mr. Townsend, Mr. Strickland and Mr. Norris, corning in from their search of the grounds. ’E knows someone’s done it, since you all left the room upstairs, and ’e doesn’t know ’oo to suspect. So ’e asks you chaps where you’ve been. Then ’e sees that it ’ud look funny for ’im to be asking questions now, so ’e drops it. From that moment, though, ’e’s ’oping that the murderer’ll be discovered. ’E doesn’t like keeping the secret, but ’e ’as the sense to see ’e might ’ang if ’e was to tell then ’ole story of the joke.”
The Sergeant paused to drink again. “There’s not much more to tell, except that I didn’t ought never to’ve let them go in the other room together. See, Dr. Thurston was just going to come out with it that ’e ’ad planned that lark with ’is wife, but never ’ad nothink to do with the murder, when Williams, as you know, stopped ’im. Dr. Thurston didn’t know ’oo to suspect, but ’e’d never suspected Williams. ’E was led off like a lamb to the other room. Tell you the truth, I wouldn’t never ’ave let him, only I was hoping that we might get a bit more evidence if Williams was to tell ’im not to say anything, and ’e got suspicious of Williams. But that’s wot comes of trying to make your case too cast-iron. As soon as ’e got ’im out there Williams shot ’im, stuck the revolver in ’is ’and and opened the door, with a story ready of ’ow ’e’d just turned ’is back and Dr. Thurston shot himself. If that ’ad of come orf ’e’d ’ave been clear, see?
“Williams must ’ave thought I really suspected Dr. Thurston. But I didn’t. I knew it was Williams.”
“How?” I asked. “After all, it was Thurston who had arranged the so-called joke. It was Thurston who had said she was dead. How did you know it was Williams who went back in that room and killed Mrs. Thurston?”
“Simple, sir. I’ve told you I ’aven’t got no theories. I’m no good at anythink like that. I’m just an ordinary policeman, as you might say. I found out ’ow the murder was done by them bloodstains and inkstains. And I found out ’oo done the murder by bloodstains and inkstains, too. See, I ’ave to use these regulation methods. Never do for me to get up to any fanciful tricks like ’arf-mast flags, and spiders wiv’ flies, and Sidney Sewells, and that. You gentlemen understand all that. I jist ’ave to follow instructions for procedure in a case of crime. So when I’d found them stains, I ’ad a look at the clothes you’d all been wearing that night. And on the left breast of Williams’ shirt, off of the ’ard part and quite near the armpit, I found a very faint pink mark. And I knew it was red ink. See when ’e’d picked up the first pillow-slip wot the red ink ’ad been on, ’e’d stuffed it inside of ’is waistcoat to take away and burn later. And although it ’ad been almost dry then, it ’ad just made that faint smudge. Then again on the outside underneath part of ’is cuff what should I find but another little stain. This ’un was red, too, on’y it wasn’t ink, it was blood. Very likely there’d been some more on ’is jacket, but ’e’d seen that an’ washed it orf. Only no one couldn’t ’ardly ’ave seen this. It was only small, right on the edge of the cuff. That’s ’ow I knew it was ’im.
“But we’ll ’ave plenty more evidence. ’E never left a fingerprint anywhere, ’aving plenty of time. But when ’e came to shooting Dr. Thurston I should think it’s more than likely ’e left ’em on the revolver, gambling on being able to get back later and wipe ’em. So we’ll ’ave ’im there. Besides, when it comes to the inquest on Dr. Thurston, ten to one you’ll find that the shot wot killed ’im couldn’t of been self-inflicted. They can pretty well always tell nowadays, and you see if ’e wasn’t shot from three or four feet away instead of close to the head.
“But there’s one more important of evidence against ’im. In the grate of ’is room I found a bit of charred linen, wot I sent up to the Yard to be examined. It turns out to be the same stuff as wot the rest of the pillow-cases was made of. Well, that might not of been conclusive, if I ’adn’t found out from the girl about the fires. You remember ’ow ’e shut me up when I started to arst ’er about that? And, not wishing to rub it in, you gentlemen joined in wiv ’im? Well, I ’ad to see ’er later. She said Mr. Williams never liked a fire in ’is room. It was laid, same as fires ’ad to be laid everywhere, in case anyone wanted to light one. But Williams ’ad never lit ’is before. And when she come to do the grate it must ’ave been nine o’clock, because I’d examined it soon after I got ’ere that morning and found the bit of charred linen. I thought then the coals was still ’ot and she says when she come to do ’em she could feel ’em warm still. There was only a very small scuttle of coal there, and it wasn’t all burnt. So ’e couldn’t ’ave lighted ’is fire till the small hours, to burn that pillow-case. So no one else couldn’t of gone into ’is room to burn it there.”
“But what was his motive?” I asked. I wasn’t sceptical now, but curious.
“Motive? ’E ’ad more motive than anyone. First thing I did was to go froo Mrs. Thurston’s papers. ’E’d ’ad all ’er money. All ’er own money that is, to invest. ’Adn’t you thought it a bit odd as a lady with two or three thousand a year, ’oo’d never lived extravagant, should be overdrawn so far she couldn’t overdraw no farther, even if she was being blackmailed? Well, that’s the reason. All she ’adn’t spent of ’er income she’d been ’anding over to this ’ere Williams for years to invest for ’er. And ’e’d been living on it—’andsome. And now she was being pressed by Stall, and begged from by Strickland, she wanted a bit. And of course it wasn’t there. Only when ’e came down this week-end ’e never thought ’e’d get as good a chance as that to do ’er in without being copped!”