Case with Ropes and Rings
Beef went home that night, and I returned to my flat feeling very depressed. Not only did it seem doubtful to me whether we should ever find a solution in this case—a doubt which it is my professional duty to maintain during all Beef’s investigations —but also this time the thing seemed to be taking such an unfortunate form. We had practically done nothing as yet but have interview after interview, none of which led us much farther.
Suppose, too, I thought, that these two murders had been the work of some maniac with a real or imaginary grudge against boxers. Would that not mean that before very long yet another gymnasium would be opened at dawn to reveal yet another young body suspended grotesquely above an overturned chair? If this were so, Beef would never be swift enough in his calculations to catch up with the murderer, and I foresaw a series of crimes and outcry in the newspapers, and complete disgrace for Beef.
Tomorrow, I knew, we had yet more interviews, yet further cross-examinations. Even if Beef had got some idea in his head it was useless to me, who could not follow the slow and tortuous workings of his mind. I went off to sleep with heavy forebodings, and not much hope that a good story would emerge from all this.
However, there was one pleasant surprise in store for me. I picked Beef up at eleven next morning, having overslept after hours of insomnia. His bright, confident, almost eager manner reassured me a little, and when Mrs. Beef whispered to me that he had been “working things out in his notebook all the evening,” I really cheered up a little.
“Do you begin to see it at all?” I asked Beef.
“Just the first inklings,” he said.
I decided to ask no more.
“We’ll go to the Martinez’ house first,” he went on, “and see what that’s all about.” So I obediently drove down to Camden Town.
Grimshaw Road was extremely unprepossessing. At one time it probably had a certain atmosphere of dull respectability, but as we saw it that morning it was grim and sooty. The two rows of houses were identically the same, and all the windows looked as if they were never opened. There was scarcely a sign of life, save for a hawker with a fish-barrow, followed by two unhappy-looking cats.
We pulled up at Number 17, and Beef knocked in a businesslike way on the door. It was opened by one of the handsomest young women I have ever seen. When I look back to Molly Cutler, who, after all, had been so concerned at the fate of young Rogers that there had been little scope for me, to Sheila, who was in love with one man while married to the villainous Dr. Benson, and most of all Juanita, who had been so rude to me towards the end of the Case with Four Clowns, I realized now that at last I might receive the proverbial recompense of the investigator’s chronicler, and provide the love interest during one of Beef’s cases.
It was Rosa Martinez, of course, and young Beecher’s sister, who was facing us. She was a girl of about twenty or twenty-two, with one of those perfect oval faces which are so rarely found except in women with Latin blood. Her dark hair was parted down the centre and stretched back tightly over her head, to be knotted in an abundant mass at the nape of her neck. The skin was dark, and there was a rich natural flush in the cheeks, and the eyebrows, unpencilled and unplucked, formed two gentle Byzantine arches over the dark liquid eyes. The modelling of the face was quite perfect. There was no ugly sharpness of nose or chin to spoil the gentle outline.
“Ah,” said Beef, more in admiration than greeting.
I half expected the girl to speak with a pretty touch of broken English, but her voice was quite normal, with a faint Cockney intonation which I found rather pleasant than otherwise.
“Did you want to see someone?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Beef. “Mrs. Martinez, if she’s in.”
This seemed to distress the girl.
“You . . . you can’t see her,” she said quickly.
“How’s that?” asked Beef.
“She’s not well this morning,” answered Rosa. “Are you Miss Martinez?” Beef queried.
The girl nodded.
“Well, perhaps you can tell us a thing or two.”
“What about?” asked Rosa.
Beef became suddenly apologetic.
“Well, it’s about your brother,” he admitted.
“The police have already been,” Rosa said, almost in a whisper.
“I know. We’re not the police. I’m acting private in this matter. I think I may help to bring it home to the man who did your brother in.”
Rosa seemed dubious.
“Name of Beef,” went on the Sergeant. “Never started on a case I haven’t cleared up yet, and if you help me I’ll clear this one up, too.”
“Come in,” said Rosa quickly, and led us into a chilly front room, the windows of which had not been opened for a very long time.
Beef got out his notebook.
“I know it’s not nice for you,” said the Sergeant, “but I have to ask a lot more questions about this, and there you are. There are things I can’t find out for myself.”
Rosa’s chin lifted a little. I thought how plucky she was.
“Go on,” she said, “and I’ll tell you all I can.”
“Have you any suspicions?” asked Beef right away, when we were sitting down.
“Yes, his manager. But I’ve got no reason for saying it except that he hated Stan, and somehow seemed the sort of man who might do that sort of thing.”
Beef proceeded to put Rosa through the now familiar series of questions. When had she seen her brother last? Had she been to the fight? Who were his friends? and so on. To all of these she answered quite frankly and simply, but gave us no information which we had not already got. She knew Beecher’s two friends, and did not suspect either of them. She talked very bitterly about professional boxing as a career for a young fellow in London.
“It’s a dirty game,” she said. “The managers do the boys down as often as not, and people connected with it are frightened of them. Everybody’s out for what he can get, and the one who pays for it in the end is the young boxer. All he gets is a broken nose and a few pound notes, if anyone decides to give them to him, and punch-drunkenness before he’s thirty. I was always trying to persuade Stan to give it up, but he was the pluckiest fellow you ever saw, and he enjoyed fighting for its own sake.”
“I’m sure he was,” I said earnestly, wishing to shew my sympathy with the girl. Beef, who dislikes my interrupting during his cross-examinations, turned on me rudely.
“How can you be sure? You never saw him.”
I ignored this, and smiled across to Rosa in a friendly way, but she seemed too distressed to notice my concern for her.
“Yes,” she went on, “he loved the game, though he never seemed to get much out of it. I used to go and watch him fight sometimes, but it upset me too much, and lately I’ve given it up. He could have been a fine boxer, too, if he had trained.”
“Didn’t he train?” asked Beef with some surprise.
“Not as he ought to have done.”
“Whose fault was that?”
“Well, he was in with a very rough crowd,” she said. “He was all right on his own, but when you come to see those boys he went about with you’ll guess what their influence was. Oh, I hated all of them—Greenbough, Seedy, Sandy Walpole, Jimmy Beane—all the lot.”
Beef finished his slow inscription in the big black notebook.
“’Now we come to something else. What’s all this Spanish business?”
Rosa was standing in the fireplace, and when she heard this question she turned to me with a sort of appeal in her eyes. There was nothing I could do to help her, for I knew that it would be of no use for me to interrupt Beef again. So I drew out my cigarette case and offered her a cigarette. This she accepted quickly with only the briefest smile of acknowledgment. I watched her as she drew several deep breaths of smoke, her long, graceful fingers holding the cigarette as though it were in a holder.
“I don’t know much about that,” she said at last.
“Now come on, Miss Martinez,” cajoled Beef. “Don’t hold anything back from me.”
“The police asked me about it,” said Rosa. “And I told them there was nothing I could say.”
Beef spoke slowly.
“I have certain evidence,” he said, “which makes it highly probable that these Spaniards are mixed up in the business. Now you tell us what you know.”
“Well, my father was Spanish,” said Rosa. “He left mother a few years ago.”
“And you’ve never seen him since?”
“No. I’ve never heard of him. I don’t know whether Stan did. I’ve often wondered.”
“What makes you think he may have done?”
“Well, I know he used to go to a little cafe which was full of Spanish refugees. It was just off Tottenham Court Road. I don’t know the exact address, but it was called the Cadiz. Whether he ever met my father there or not, or whether my father is still in London, I can’t tell you.”
Looking at her, I was sure that she was speaking the truth and I think that Beef was sure, too.
“Well, at least you’ve given me the name of the cafe. I may be able to find out something from that.”
Rosa looked, and said, as if unwillingly: “You be careful.”
“Why?” asked Beef.
“Well, I haven’t told the police about that cafe at all. Stan always begged me not to say a word about it. I only happened to find out that there was such a place through something I overheard. When I asked him to take me there he got terribly angry, and said that the kind of men he met there wasn’t for me to meet. I asked him why he went there at all and he said it was none of my business. I always knew he was up to no good, or he would have told me more about it. After all, I speak Spanish as well as he does.”
At this point there was a strange and rather horrifying interruption. A high-pitched, irregular singing noise began to come from the room next door. There would be a jumble of words and tune shouted, pause, then another jerk of indistinct singing. The sound was quite unmistakable, and I had heard it before. It was the rowdy, meaningless, brazen singing of a completely drunken person.
I glanced covertly at Rosa to see how this sound would affect her, but she was apparently oblivious of it. She continued to talk to Beef, not as though she wanted to cover the sound by her own speech, but with genuine indifference.
“Anything else you want to know?” she said.
I felt a great admiration for her courage, and Beef grinned in a kindly sort of way.
“It all depends,” he said. “I’ve got to leave it to you to tell me what you know. Surely there must be something else?”
Rosa seemed to be honestly considering the point.
“I can’t think of anything,” she said.
“I see you’ve got a notice saying ‘Apartments to Let’ in the window. Do you get many people staying here?”
“Now and again,” Rosa said.
“No one who ever had much to do with your brother?”
“Not for some time,” the girl said.
“Well, I can trace all his associates,” Beef pointed out.
“The only man we had here who Stan had anything to do with was a horrible fellow who called himself Wilson.”
“Tell us about him,” said Beef.
“Oh, mother had to turn him out in the end because he behaved so disgracefully. He used to bring women home; and more than once he rolled up to the front door incapably drunk.”
“What did he look like?” asked Beef.
“Tall, thin, narrow lips, and a greasy sort of face,” Rosa told him immediately.
“How long ago was that?”
“It must be two years or more.”
“You’ve never seen him since?”
“Well, yes. That’s the funny part of it. I did see him about six weeks ago. With Stan, he was, and they were just going into a public-house.”
“Did you say anything to your brother?”
“Not a word. How could I?”
Just then, our conversation was once again interrupted by the hideous drunken sounds which had disturbed us before. Once again Rosa took no notice, though I was longing to express my sympathy and understanding.
“No,” she went on, “I never knew why my brother saw him again, but I do know that he wouldn’t dare put his nose in this house. While he was staying here he got us quite a bad name. Once, and only once, he tried to get fresh with me. I never dared tell my brother of that. It would have led to terrible scenes. So there you are.”
“He sounds a nasty customer,” said Beef. “You can’t give me any more information about him, where he came from or what he did for a living?”
“No. But I don’t think that he was a Londoner. I had the impression that he came from some other place.”
“How often did he stay here?”
“Three times altogether. The third time was the worst. If we hadn’t been so hard up we would never have taken him after the first time. Mother always regretted it.”
“I’m sorry I can’t see your mother,” said Beef. “When do you think I could do so?”
Rosa looked him straight in the face, but I was convinced that there were tears in her eyes.
“If you come early tomorrow morning, before ten o’clock, say, I expect she’ll be better.”
“All right,” said Beef. “That’s what I’ll do. In the meantime you keep your pecker up.”
She gave him a faint, wistful smile, and then turned to say good-bye to me. I took her hand for a moment in emotional silence.
“Miss Martinez,” I began, scarcely knowing what I could say to shew how deeply I was feeling with her, but she relieved my embarrassment.
“Good-bye,” she said.
If she was curt, I am sure that it was because her heart was too full for words.