Case with Ropes and Rings
“Look here, Beef,” I said next morning after breakfast, “can’t you do something?”
“Aren’t I doing something?” asked Beef. “We’re getting information together all the time.”
“Yes, but all these interviews,” I protested. “They’re awfully bad for the book. People get sick of reading how you cross-examine this or that person. They want some action.”
“I dare say,” said Beef. “But after all, we’ve got to find out who did it. I’ve nothing against you writing it up, but you mustn’t let it interfere with my investigations. However, I don’t mind telling you,” he added, when he saw the disappointment in my face, “that so far as I know we’ve only got one more person to see.”
“Who’s that?” I sighed.
“Well, who do you think? Lord Hadlow, of course. The young fellow’s elder brother, what came down to see the boxing that evening. I bet he’ll have something to tell us.”
“How are you going to see him?” I asked.
“I’ve written to him for an appointment for to-day, and if Danvers feels well enough to come and sit here and ring the bell we’ll slip up to London in your car. I’ve asked Lord Hadlow to ring me up here before ten o’clock this morning to say whether it’s convenient. Meanwhile, you hop over to Parvum Penshurst and see whether Danvers will take on.”
When I returned five minutes later with the Porter’s consent, I found Beef looking very cheerful.
“It’s all right,” he said. “We’re to have lunch with him at the Barbecue.”
“At the Barbecue?” I repeated aghast. “Why, that’s one of the smartest places in town!”
Beef squared his shoulders.
“Well, what about it? I’m one of the smartest detectives in town.”
I looked at his bowler hat and mauve tie, and said no more.
We reached London about eleven, and after a call at Lilac Crescent, Beef insisted on our visiting one of his most sordid public-houses.
“It’s not very suitable,” I said, “to drink a lot of beer before having lunch at the Barbecue.”
“It’s always suitable to drink a lot of beer,” returned Beef, to which I made no reply.
However, I was relieved to notice that he had had a hair-cut the day before, and even, I suspected, undergone a slight trimming of his Straggling ginger moustache. If we could get a table near the door, I felt, so that we should not have to walk right through the restaurant, I might not be quite so highly embarrassed as I had first imagined. I enquired how Beef hoped to recognise the young man we were meeting. He said that he would know him all right—leave it to him. In this case I did so with satisfactory results, for the first person he accosted in the foyer of the Barbecue turned out to be Lord Hadlow himself.
I formed a most unfavourable impression of the young man. He was tall, slim, faultlessly dressed, and carried no indication of mourning for his younger brother. He had a small, flaxen moustache, which was pulled back in a way which I suppose would be described as military. He seemed to be completely unembarrassed at the sight of Beef and barely greeted me.
“Let’s go right in and lunch,” he suggested, and when the head waiter hurried obsequiously up to him he allowed the three of us to be led on a winding route among the tables of the restaurant until we sank into merciful obscurity on the far side. I noticed a number of well-known faces upturned at the strange apparition of Beef. However, Lord Hadlow waited while the latter studied the menu.
Lot of fancy names,” commented Beef. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll have what you have. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
“Eminently fair,” said Lord Hadlow ironically, and proceeded to order.
“A sole bonne femme, followed by a chicken en casserole. What about you?”
I gave a modest order; I really forget now of what it consisted. (I dislike the modern obsession with food and drink.) But as soon as the waiter had left us Beef began to ply our host with questions.
“How did you and Lord Alan get on?” he asked.
“He adored me, of course,” said Lord Hadlow rather lightly. “You know what younger brothers are. I was very fond of the child, too,” he added.
“Well, you went down to see him box, didn’t you?” suggested Beef.
“Oh, yes. I wanted him to win the championship. It meant an awful lot to him.”
“Did you see him to speak to?”
“Good lord, yes. I had tea in his study that afternoon.”
“Anyone else there?”
“Yes, that fellow Caspar; he was always hanging round my brother, though I could never quite see why. A weedy sort of a fellow, I always thought.”
“How did your brother seem at the time?”
“Well,” drawled Lord Hadlow, “I dare say he was a bit nervous before his big fight, but he didn’t shew it, you know. He talked a lot.”
“What about?” asked Beef, after attacking his sole bonne femme, and swallowing at a gulp a whole glassful of white wine.
“Let’s think,” said Lord Hadlow. “He mentioned Barricharan, said he hoped to beat him because he was beginning to think too much of himself after winning the Fives last term.’’
“Yes,” said Beef. “What else?”
“Then he got on to Jones. He really couldn’t stand Jones. Well, the man’s behaviour has been insufferable lately. I feel more sorry for him than anything else, but if a fellow’s still in the school it’s different.”
“Ah,” said Beef.
“He looks such a terrible piece of work, doesn’t he, mooching about in those fearful old clothes with that relic of an M.C.C. tie round his neck. I mean, no one would suspect him of being a Housemaster, would they?”
“What did your brother say about him?” asked Beef.
“Oh, the usual stuff. He was glad he was going to have one term at the school after Jones had left.”
“Under my brother,” I put in quickly.
“Yes. I don’t know that he was very enthusiastic about that,” said Hadlow,” but at least, as he pointed out, it couldn’t be worse than with Jones.”
Beef returned to the matter in hand.
“Were you alone with him at all?”
“Yes,” said Hadlow. “For almost an hour, as far as I remember.”
“What had he got to say?”
“Well, I was talking most of the time, I seem to remember, and I don’t see why I should not tell you what it was about, though I would ask you to keep this under your hat so far as my old man’s concerned.”
“If I possibly can,” said Beef, “I’ll do so.”
“All right. I suppose you know what to ask me, and whatever information I give you will help to clear this beastly thing up.”
“Well, it was money,” said Hadlow. “I had to find fifty quid in cash by the end of the week, and I wondered if young Alan could help.”
“Was he likely to have a sum of money like that?” asked Beef.
“Well, you never knew with Alan. I know he hoped to buy a car during the next holidays, and I thought he might easily have that amount towards it. I needed it only for a week or two. I had my allowance coming in at the end of the month.”
“What did he say?” asked Beef.
“He said he thought he might be able to raise it.”
“Did he mention how?”
“No, he wouldn’t tell me. He just said he thought he could lay hands on it.”
“Possibly some of it that day, and the whole lot within a week. He would let me know next day.”
“He didn’t seem worried about it?” asked Beef.
“Not a bit. Nothing like that ever worried Alan, or me, for that matter. I’m too used to ups and downs.”
“He was quite cheerful before the fight?”
“Perfectly,” said Hadlow.
“And did you see him afterwards?” asked Beef.
“Only just for a moment, to congratulate him. He seemed a bit disappointed at such an empty win.”
“What time did you get back to town?”
“Oh, it doesn’t take me long,” said Hadlow, smiling. “I was in my flat by ten. At about a quarter to eleven I had a ’phone call from Alan.”
“You did?” said Beef, forgetting himself. He laid down the chicken bone at which he had been gnawing, folded his hands, and gave his full attention to Hadlow. “What did he say?”
“He said he thought he could let me have some money. He said something very unexpected had happened, and he hoped to get twenty pounds that night. If so, he would post it off to me right away.”
“Where was he going to get it from?” asked Beef.
“He didn’t tell me anything beyond the fact that it was something unexpected. He seemed amused and pleased about it, whatever it was. I asked him. He said, ’You’ll hear about it all in good time ’.”
“Where did the call come from?” asked Beef.
“Why, Gorridge, of course.”
“No, I mean did he say where he was ’phoning from?”
“No, but it was a public box. I heard his money drop after I had answered.”
“And did you receive the money?” asked Beef.
“No. As a matter of fact I didn’t. Well, you know what ’happened after that. But you can take my word for it, Beef, that it wasn’t suicide.”
“Have I ever suggested it was?” asked the Sergeant rather truculently. “It’s the coroner’s inquest that knows all about that. I think he was murdered.”
“Have you any idea by whom?” enquired Hadlow in his most drawling tones.
“After what you’ve told me,” said Beef, “I’ve got to do a bit of thinking. I’m not at all sure where I am just now. Still, I shall work it all out nice in the end, you see if I don’t. Well, Mr. Townsend will tell you that I go along quiet and steady for a long time. Then, all of a sudden, click, and I’ve got my man. I don’t do a lot of skylarking with microscopes and that, and I have no opinion at all of what they call psychology. I just use my loaf.”
“Your . . . ?” enquired Lord Hadlow.
“My loaf. Loaf of bread. Head,” amplified Beef. “That’s what I use, and in the end it turns out surprising. You have patience and you’ll see someone with a rope round his neck, just like your brother had.”
I thought that Lord Hadlow turned a little paler as he quickly called the waiter and asked for his bill.
“Costs a decent bit, having your dinner in a place like this,” suggested Beef crudely.
“Lunch,” I whispered. “Lunch!”
Lord Hadlow pulled out a fountain-pen and proceeded to sign the bill. I was unable to catch a glimpse of the total, but I calculated that it must have been in the region of a couple of sovereigns. Beef had a final question to ask, however.
“And what about the money,” he suggested. “When you didn’t get it, I mean?”
“I had to sell the car,” said Lord Hadlow indolently. “Damn’ nuisance. I was very fond of the old Bentley, but I couldn’t possibly ask my governor for any more just then, and I had to raise the money that week. I shall buy another, I suppose,” he said.
I found myself reflecting that this conceited young man would probably be twice as rich as he had anticipated now that the paternal fortunes would not have to be divided between two of them. I looked at him curiously, but in that moment his face was as taut and expressionless as his father’s.
There was nothing for it but to start our march out of the restaurant. I let Lord Hadlow and Beef get well ahead in order that I might appear to be alone. I hope I succeeded in this.
“What now?” I asked Beef when we had parted from Hadlow.
“Back to Penshurst,” Beef told me. “I’ve got to think.”