Case with Ropes and Rings
“We’ll follow the same procedure,” said Beef pompously.
“Well, we’ll go and have a look at the gym. You drive round there straight away.”
We found that the place was called the Olympia Gymnasium, but this grand name seemed a little inappropriate for the subterranean and dingy room we saw through dirty windows as we went down the steps. We knocked at the door, which was opened by a man who, I assumed (rightly, as it turned out), was Seedy himself. “Afternoon,” said Beef, and instead of following up this greeting he waited silently to see what Seedy would say.
The other looked at him suspiciously.
“What was it?” he asked.
“It’s about the murder,” said Beef.
“Reporter?” queried Seedy.
“No, detective,” said Beef.
“Scotland Yard?” Seedy said.
“No, private. Acting for a gentleman as might have ten shillings to spend on information, if information was forthcoming.”
“Come in,” said Seedy, and he allowed us to pass before he bolted the door.
I stared about me inquisitively. We were standing in a room eighteen feet long by about twelve wide, lit by electric bulbs round which wire protectors had been fitted. A little ring had been fixed up in the middle of the room, and there were the usual mats, skipping-ropes, boxing-gloves, and the etceteras of a practical place for professionals. Everything was dirty and dark. In one corner a rough wooden screen-work had been fitted up round a shower-bath, and near this some dirty towels were lying on the floor. In another was the semblance of a bath, on which stood a large teapot and a number of dirty cups.
Seedy himself bore out Stute’s description of him. If he ever looked like the sort of man who might be contemplating renting a furnished flat it must have been some time ago. He certainly would not deceive the most gullible landlord to-day. He wore a pair of grey flannel trousers, which had been made for a stouter man, and were hoisted high on his waist by braces. These, a flannel shirt, a reef of socks round his ankles, and a pair of dirty gym. shoes made up his attire, while out of it stretched a veined neck and a little, keen, white ferret face.
“Now then,” said Beef aggressively. “What can you tell us?”
“Nothing,” said Seedy, almost before Beef’s question was finished.
“Come on,” said Beef.
Seedy shook his head.
“Come on,” Beef cajoled him.
“I’ve got nothing to tell you,” said Seedy, in an ugly, high-pitched voice.
“Oh, yes, you have. You know all about this young fellow, and his manager, and his friends, and the Spaniards he was mixed up with.”
Seedy’s eyes darted round the room as though he were looking for an escape.
“What have you come to me for?”
“Must start somewhere,” explained Beef.
“Well, I had nothing to do with it,” said Seedy.
“I’m not saying you did. I want particulars from you, not a confession. How long had you known the boy?”
Seedy looked as though he begrudged even this information.
“Over a year,” he said eventually.
“And Jimmy Beane?”
“He started coming about the same time. I think they were friends before they came here.”
“What about the other one, Sandy Walpole?”
“He’s a man I’ve known longer.”
“Who else do you know that Beecher was mixed up with?”
“Well, there was his manager, Abe Greenbough.”
“What do you know about him?”
Seedy seemed startled at this question.
“Nothing,” he snapped quickly. “Nothing at all.”
“Did he manage any other of your boys?”
“Only young Beane.”
“Did you have any dealings with him?”
“Did he used to come round here often?”
“Once or twice, to see the lads about something.”
“Ever late at night?”
“No. I close up here every evening at ten.”
“Who had keys of the place?”
“Beecher had one. There was only his and mine.”
“Why did Beecher have a key?”
“He and Beane sometimes wanted to get in when I wasn’t here.”
“Walpole never had one?”
“What else was this place used for besides training?”
“How many boys used it?”
“About eighteen or twenty altogether, some of them not very often.”
“Bid Beecher have anything to do with the others?”
“He might spar with them now and again, but I’ve never known him leave the place with any.”
“Did he ever bring any outsiders down?”
Seedy paused; his little rat’s eyes went round the room again.
“Only once that I can remember.”
“Who was that?”
“He was a foreigner, a nasty-looking chap.”
“What kind of a foreigner? German or what?”
“No. More a Greek or Italian look about him.”
“Might have been a Spaniard?” suggested Beef.
“That’s right. Brown face, black hair.”
“How do you know he was foreign?”
“He and Beecher were speaking a foreign language.”
“Did you catch any words?”
“I could have heard everything, only when you don’t understand you don’t take the words in. I do remember something like Gooster.”
This strange word was inscribed in black capitals in Beef’s notebook.
“What age man would he have been?” went on the Sergeant.
“Round about forty-five.”
“How long ago was it?”
“Might have been a couple of months.”
“Did you ever see the boy’s mother, or his home?”
Seedy shook his head.
“Or his sister?”
There was a pause, and I thought that the Sergeant had finished, but after clearing his throat he said rather harshly: “You’ve been ‘in,’ haven’t you?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“It may mean a lot. What was it for?”
“Only for two little things, nothing you could call serious,” said Seedy.
“Have you ever put these boys on to anything?”
“No, certainly not.”
“How was young Beecher off for money?”
“Like the rest of them. Sometimes he had some, sometimes he hadn’t.”
“Now we come to the evening,” said Beef.
“That I know nothing about,” Seedy retorted.
“Where was he fighting?”
“At Paddington Baths.”
“Who was his opponent?”
“Oh, a Leeds boy. It was his first fight in London.”
“What was his name?”
“I forget for the moment, but you can find out from Greenbough.”
“Did you see the fight?”
“Me? No. I never go to see fights.”
“And did young Beecher win?”
“No. He lost on points. They say it was a dull fight. Beecher was out of training.”
“Did you see him after the fight?”
“No. He didn’t come back while I was here.”
“What time did you lock up?”
“About ten, same as usual.”
“So you never saw him again?”
“Not alive, I didn’t.”
“Oh, it was you that found him, was it?”
“Yes, I found him here in the gym. In the morning. It gave me a nasty shock to find the poor lad hanging there as stiff as a poker.”
“What was he wearing?”
“Just his ordinary clothes.”
“Both his boots on?”
“Boots on? Yes. Of course he had.”
“The place was locked up as usual when you got in, was it?”
“Yes. I never saw anything wrong till I found it. I thought he’d done it himself.”
“Where was he?” asked Beef.
“Well, the rope was slung from the hook which has got the punching-bag on it, and the chair”—he pointed to an ordinary wooden chair—“had been kicked away just beside him.”
“Have you swept up since the police finished?”
“Well, they wouldn’t have anything touched till to-day, and then I swept it over.”
“Did you find anything on the floor?”
Seedy looked thoroughly furtive.
“If I had found something which the police hadn’t seen, do you think the gentleman you’re acting for would be generous about it?”
“Depends what it was.”
Seedy pushed his face very close to Beef’s.
“Supposing it was a little bit of paper with foreign writing on it?” he asked.
“He might think it worth a ten-shilling note,” said Beef. “Then again, he might think he ought to report to the police that the finder had not given his information, making him an accessory after the fact.”
“Would he think it worth ten shillings besides the ten shillings already promised?”, persisted Seedy.
Beef seemed to admit himself beaten.
“I dare say,” he said.
Seedy pulled out a pocket-case and carefully extracted a number of papers. From among these he drew a small piece, about two inches by three-quarters of an inch. It was white paper with faint green lines on it, and scrawled along one of the lines in an illiterate and boyish handwriting were the words: “La vita ei sueño.”
What I thought was particularly sinister about it was that the word “vita,” which I took to mean “life,” was underlined in red ink. We both stood gazing at this for a few minutes, after which Beef solemnly pressed it between the pages of his notebook, and drawing out a pound note, pushed it across to Seedy.
“I may want to see you again, Seedy,” he said sternly. “And I should be glad if you would keep your eyes open, and your ears, too. And none of that means that you are out of suspicion yourself.”
Seedy looked at me, then at Beef, and finally once more round the room.
“I’ll tell you anything I can,” he said, and we left him.