Case with Ropes and Rings
Beef sat bolt upright.
“We’d better call and see Stute first, at Scotland Yard. The paper said he was on the case, didn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said. “And do you think he’ll be particularly glad to see you? The last time you were in touch with him was over the Sydenham business, and, of course, you came a nasty cropper on that, didn’t you?”
“We’ll go and see, anyway,” said Beef. Accordingly I drove straight to the Yard.
Rather to my surprise we were shewn straight up to Stute’s room, and found him examining some typewritten reports.
“Well, Beef,” he said, “what are you up to now?”
Without being invited the Sergeant sat down.
“Just having a look round that little murder at Penshurst School.”
“Oh, you mean Lord Alan Foulkes’ suicide,” nodded Stute.
“Call it what you like,” agreed Beef. “Whatever it is, I’m acting for Lord Edenbridge.”
“Well, what can I do for you?” said Stute.
“I understood you were handling this Camden Town business.”
“Oh, you mean this murder in the gymnasium? Yes, I’m handling that.”
“Well, I should like to take my bearings in this case, too,” said Beef.
“Why? Do you connect it with Penshurst?”
Beef spoke quickly.
“I haven’t said so, have I?”
“Well, all right,” said Stute, with a slightly cynical smile. “I don’t suppose I can keep you away, so I may as well let you in. What do you want to know?”
“If you’ve got the time,” said Beef, “I’d very much like to hear your summary of the case, always agreed that if I should come on anything you might have overlooked I’ll give you word before any of the papers snatch it up.”
Stute rather waved this aside, but all the same, I was extremely impressed by the businesslike way in which he treated Beef, when I remembered that not long ago Beef had been no more than the village sergeant in a town to which Inspector Stute had been sent to investigate a murder. He remained a little doubtful of Beef, as everybody probably would be till the end of time, but he had dropped the impatient manner of one who has to suffer a fool, and the fact that he was about to give him an outline of the case shewed how his opinion of the Sergeant had changed in the last year or two. Inspector Stute lit a cigarette and began.
“The murdered boy was nineteen,” he said, “and he had done a couple of years at a Borstal Institution. I should not describe him as a born criminal, but he was one of a pretty tough crowd, and his associates are, nearly all of them, of the kind we have to watch now and again for the good of the community. He started boxing through having a great reputation as a street fighter, which his friends persuaded him to turn to account. I find he had several convictions for assault in the Camden Town area, where he lived and trained. He calls himself Beecher, but his real name is Martinez, his father having been a Spaniard, who kept a Spanish eating-house in Soho for some years, and deserted his mother rather mysteriously at the beginning of the Civil War. There is reason to suppose that Beecher, as we will continue to call him, was associated with some very undesirable Spanish elements in London. For you know,” went of Stute earnestly, “we of the Yard have had our hands full. Without discussing politics, you can see for yourself that it makes all sorts of difficulties when you have Spanish reds, Italian subversives, White Russians, Croat Nationalists, and all sorts of other foreigners, each working their own little rackets under our eyes. Well, this lot, so far as we know, were Spanish who came over after the fall of Barcelona, and are still hoping to work up something against Franco.”
Stute paused and drew from his pocket-case an envelope, which he held between his fingers as he continued:
“Now, without wishing to lead you up this one particular avenue of enquiry, I’ll shew you something very interesting. We’ve had this under the microscope, and there’s no doubt as to what it is.”
“Microscope?” said Beef. “I never go much on that sort of thing.”
Stute opened his envelope, and from it extracted a folded piece of paper. He proceeded to unfold this, and laid it out on the desk before him. On it were two tiny strands of thin silk thread.
“Red and yellow, you’ll notice,” said Stute. “The Spanish Nationalist colours.”
“Ah, yes,” he said.
“I’ll tell you what more I know about the boy’s background. His mother is a drunkard—not a habitual or hopeless drunkard, but one who enjoys periods of complete oblivion. She didn’t strike me as being a dangerous type of a woman or a criminal, just rather difficult and fond of alcohol. There is also a daughter, a very handsome young woman called Rosa, who may well be mixed up with the same crowd of Spaniards. The home life appears to have been pretty irregular, but neither mother nor daughter can suggest any reason why the boy might have wanted to commit suicide, nor, indeed, any person who could have had any motive in murdering him. Rosa was working at a tobacconist’s shop, her employer being a man called Jevons, who was a most conventional and unpromising type.
“There’s one interesting person, though, connected with this case whom I’m inclined to suspect on sight, but he’s so obviously a suspect that you, Sergeant, will dismiss him at once. He had been Beecher’s manager up to the fight, but the two had had a violent disagreement a few weeks before, and Beecher had secured a discharge from his contract. This manager, whose name is Abe Greenbough, was known to feel extremely resentful about the quarrel. He was the last person in whose company Beecher was seen that evening. I have interviewed him and formed my own impressions, and I have no doubt that you will do the same. He is not by any means the conventional type of manager such as one meets in novels and films; he has none of the fat, cigar-smoking, jewel-wearing appearance. He has none of the things which Mr. Townsend would perhaps have liked him to have in the circumstances. On the contrary, he is tall, thin-lipped, and rather aggressive in character. He lost a leg in the War, and has a very rough artificial fitment which makes his loss only too plain. He has been a manager for only five years, and I am unable to trace any of his life or movements before that time, though I suspect that he has been in trouble at some time. His only answer to me was that he had been ‘abroad.’
“With the boys he has managed he is extremely unpopular. Once they sign up with him he keeps them under lock and key, as it were, gives them a very poor share of the money they should have, and generally treats them meanly. I have no other evidence for connecting him with the crime. I give you the facts as I know them.
“Now this gymnasium where the body was found was in itself something of a thieves’ kitchen. It is kept by a man known as Seedy, whom we have had ‘in’ several times for odd thieving—nothing very elaborate or large—but an undesirable character for all that. He used at one time to have a racket which he worked successfully until his appearance began to give him away. He would go to estate agents or search the columns of newspapers for furnished flats to let, and while looking round and considering them he would manage to lay his hands on anything lying about that was worth taking. Lately, he has come down (as he would consider it) to running this dirty little gymnasium, where the lads learn things other than boxing. We have traced more than one criminal offence to his influence.
“Beecher’s associates there were chiefly two men, one considerably older than he was, and one about his own age.
The elder, known as Sandy Walpole, is a boxer who hasn’t had a fight for five years. He is an appalling specimen in my view, a great, heavy lout, punch-drunk, and useless to any community. The younger, Jimmy Beane, still fights occasionally, but he drinks more than a young lad should, and has some very undesirable associates—not always with men of his own class. I recommend him to your notice as a thoroughly vicious young wastrel, and I leave you to make what you can of him.
“The best of the bunch was undoubtedly Beecher himself. From everything that has been told me about him I gather that he’s a lad who, if he had a father to look after him, might have turned into something decent, both as a boxer and as a human being. His sister certainly thinks so, as you’ll find out when you meet her.”
Beef sat quite silent and still for a few minutes, as though there was great activity going on inside his head.
“Extraordinary,” he said, “how it ties up with the other one, isn’t it?”
I made my first contribution to this professional conversation.
“I really don’t see that,” I said. “In the one case we get a young nobleman dying in the gym. of one of England’s greatest schools, surrounded by his fellows, boys of distinguished families and good breeding. You find a number of people who, with one exception, are of spotless character, and who cannot be associated with anything criminal. In the other case, you have the murder of a young blackguard, who lived among blackguards—with a drunken mother and a father who had deserted them both. You have a crooked manager, criminal associates, and all the paraphernalia of low life. I can find no similarity whatever.”
“Ah,” said Beef. “But you don’t want to take much notice of that sort of thing. Breeding doesn’t count for much when it comes to crime, and you know what Shakespeare said.”
I exchanged smiles with Stute, and said: “Well, I don’t at the moment.”
“ ‘Kind hearts are more than coronets . . .’ ” began Beef.
“That was Tennyson,” I interrupted sharply.
“Same thing,” went on Beef in his thick-skinned way, oblivious of Stute’s amusement. “Anyhow, I don’t go much on titles and that. I can’t understand how it is, Inspector, that they put you on to this case and not on to the other.”
Stute shrugged his shoulders.
“The other one’s officially regarded as closed,” he said. “You’ve heard the Coroner’s verdict and everything. This one is certainly murder.”
“Shouldn’t be surprised,” said Beef. “Well, I’ll go ahead and find out what I can.”
“That’s right,” Stute told him, “and I wish you luck. I shall be the last man to underestimate you, Beef, after the Sydenham affair.”
“Sydenham affair?” Beef’s eyes twinkled. “Sydenham, eh?” he said. “I thought I failed in that.”
Stute looked very serious.
“No,” he said. “You didn’t fail, and you know it. However, the less said about that the better. All I want to point out to you now is that I shall be glad to hear how you get on, and pleased if you tell me anything exciting you may happen to find.”
“I will,” promised Beef.
The interview was over.