Case with Ropes and Rings
I was glad to be quit of that atmosphere, and hurried down the road, with an occasional backward glance to make sure that none of the customers from the Café Cadiz had followed us out.
“Pretty dangerous-looking lot,” I observed to Beef.
“I like foreigners,” was Beef’s unexpected retort.
“I said I like foreigners.”
“And have you discovered anything?” I pressed him.
“You’d be surprised,” returned Beef.
We came out into the lights of Tottenham Court Road, and were soon standing over the counter of a neighbouring public-house which Beef insisted on visiting in order, as he said, to see what the beer was like. Presently he spoke with some determination.
“Now for it,” he announced. “It’s no use putting it off any longer. We’ll pop round and interview that manager, Abe Greenbough.”
Mr. Greenbough lived in Islington, in a little grey-plastered house, with bay windows and lace curtains. He came to the door himself, and Beef explained his business, asking to see him as though the interview would be considered a favour. Greenbough asked us in, and I noticed as he led the way into his front room that what I had heard about his artificial leg was in no way exaggerated. It must have been a clumsily made affair, for even now, after twenty years of practice, he seemed to have difficulty in manipulating it at all efficiently.
There was little light in the passage, and as we came into the room it was possible to examine him closely. A tall, dour man, his face had a certain colourless opaqueness which made his protuberant brown eyes even more noticeable.
Before either Beef or I had a chance to think he led the conversation himself.
“Now let’s come straight to the point,” he said. “What do you want with me?”
Beef seemed a little taken aback by this, and nearly thirty seconds passed before he was able to ask his first question.
“You didn’t happen to murder young Beecher, did you?” he suggested casually.
Greenbough smiled without embarrassment.
“I don’t remember doing so,” he answered. “Why, do you suspect me?”
“Suspicion’s a word I don’t use during my investigations,” returned Beef. “But I should like to know who done it.”
“Yes, it would be interesting,” said Mr. Greenbough, offering a cigarette from a packet of ten which lay on the mantelpiece. “He was a promising lad, too. I expected him to do well.”
“He was finishing up with you, though, wasn’t he?” said Beef.
“I don’t really expect so, when it came to it,” said Abe Greenbough. “You know what these lads are, always talking about changing. He might have gone to someone else for a bit, but he would have come back. You see, I get my lads the fights, that’s where I score. Other managers may squeeze them a pound or two more, but what’s the good of that if they get only one fight in three months? My lads are on every week, and sometimes twice a week, and young Beecher knew that. He wouldn’t have left me for long.”
“How many years have you been at this game?” asked Beef.
“Oh, about five years now,” said Greenbough.
I thought I knew what Beef would ask next. He would try to get with brute curiosity an answer which the police had failed to secure, using the gant glad. In other words he would ask Greenbough what he had been doing before he took to managership. However, it was a slightly different question that came from behind the Sergeant’s ginger moustache.
“What was your name before you changed it to Greenbough?” he asked.
It was evident that he had scored a strong point. I was watching Greenbough narrowly, and I saw him first start violently, then, making a great effort, lean forward in his chair to conceal the shock from which he was suffering.
“Changed my name?” he repeated in a puzzled voice.
“You heard what I said,” replied Beef mercilessly.
“My dear fellow, my name’s Greenbough, and my father during all that I know of his lifetime considered it good enough for him. Whether he or my grandfather was ever called by the German equivalent Grünbaum I really can’t tell you. But speaking for myself I find your question ridiculous.”
“You’ve never been bankrupt?” went on Beef.
“Nor in any sort of trouble?”
Beef made a few slowly pencilled notes in his notebook.
“All that will have to be gone into,” he said. “And I hope for your sake we shall find that what you have said is true.”
There was a considerable silence, and I felt that Greenbough was in a state of very high tension.
“Did you know,” he asked us presently, “that Beecher was really a Spanish boy and his name was Martinez?”
“Yes,” said Beef.
“And did you know he had some very undesirable associates—plotters against the present Government of Spain?”
“I knew he was in with a few Spaniards,” said Beef.
“Don’t you think you’d better investigate that side of his life instead of bothering with mine?” said the manager.
“Shouldn’t hardly think so,” said Beef. “Those Spaniards struck me as a nice little lot, excitable and that, I dare say, but not the ones to do a young fellow in, the way someone did Beecher.”
I was surprised at the way this conversation was going. Except during the one moment of embarrassment when Beef mentioned his former name, Greenbough himself had led the talking, almost, as it seemed, where he liked, while Beef had been content to listen and to watch. It was Greenbough again who asked the next question.
“How do you come into this case?” he said.
“Acting for Lord Edenbridge,” returned Beef grandly.
“Oh, yes, the business down at Penshurst. You think they were both done by the same man?”
“It’s hard to say,” muttered Beef. “But there are some extraordinary similarities, aren’t there? Both young boxers, both found dead the morning after a big fight, both in gymnasiums, both having a mysterious stranger hanging about. Both,” he added solemnly, “hanged.”
“Yes, yes,” said Greenbough. “I know all that. But look at the dissimilarities, too. Blue blood, education, background . . .”
“I dare say,” said Beef, nodding encouragingly. “But I don’t go much on those.”
“Yes, but there were dissimilarities in the actual crimes as well as in the youngsters,” Greenbough pointed out.
“For instance?” said Beef, folding his hands over his stomach.
“Well, the ropes used, for one thing, the way they were hung up, for another.”
“Nothing in that,” Beef assured him.
“No. But there was another thing. Young Beecher had told his sister that he might not be in at all that night, whereas the other youngster had arranged to be let into the school. I mean, it showed Beecher was up to something, didn’t it?”
Beef was strangely silent. He sat in Greenbough’s worn-out chair without speaking for nearly five minutes, and then said: “Very good, Mr. Greenbough. I must be getting along now.”
The manager rose.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been able to help you more,” he said.
Beef looked at him seriously.
“That’s all right,” he said. “You’ve helped me quite a lot. Quite a lot,” he added.
And we left the manager to his own considerations.
“Well?” I asked.
“Yes. We’re all right,” said Beef. “I’m getting towards the end of it now. You’ll be pleased to hear that the other thing we’ve got to do this evening is to call on Rosa.”
I was pleased to hear this, and did not mind admitting it.
“Now?” I said.
“Yes. Why not?” said Beef. “As good as any other time. Though there’s just one thing, T., I must tell you beforehand. No larking about, see?”
“What on earth do you mean?” I said rather truculently.
“You know. This isn’t a love story,” went on Beef. “It’s a detective novel. I never like to see the two mixed up. None of the best of ’em ever did it. We’ll stick to crime.”
Ignoring this vulgarity, I drew up at the house in Camden Town, which we had visited once already.
I was delighted to find Rosa at the door.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, rather indifferently perhaps. “Come in. Mother will see you now.”
She showed us into the same room as we had sat in before, and we settled down to wait for Mrs. Martinez. I was expecting a big, florid woman, the type one usually finds the victim of alcoholism. It surprised me, therefore, when there entered a prim little body, like a village postmistress, with steel-rimmed spectacles and an old-fashioned dress. It needed very little encouragement to make her talk, and before long she was reeling off a long and complete story about that Mr. Wilson whom she had once had to expel from the house. When she came to tell us that, besides his other offences, he had tried to take advantage of Rosa, I could not control my indignation.
“The bounder!” I said.
Mrs. Martinez seemed to find this an enjoyable theme, for she was proceeding to enlarge on the iniquities of the man, when Beef interrupted.
“I think I’ve heard all that,” he said. “Would you mind if I had a look through the young lad’s things?”
“Well, I don’t see why not,” said Mrs. Martinez. “If you think it will help you to find out anything.”
I was still staring at her, ingenuously wondering how to reconcile the two identities. It was scarcely believable that the drunken singing we had heard had come from these pinched, uncharitable lips.
She called shrilly, and Beecher’s sister returned.
“Take them up to Stan’s room. They want to examine his clothes and that.”
I saw in Rosa’s face that tender tearfulness which once before she had shown when speaking of her brother.
“Must they?” she said quietly. “It seems horrible that Sam’s things should be pulled about.”
“Well, it will help get to the root of the matter,” said Mrs. Martinez, and without further ado Rosa led us from the room.
I preceded Beef up the narrow staircase, and as I approached the top I found Rosa waiting for us, with her hand on the corner of the balustrade. As though by accident I managed to let my hand fall over hers. She calmly but quickly withdrew, and opening a door beside her, said this was Stanley’s room.
Beef switched on the electric light and gazed about him. There was something truly pathetic about the scene. The bed had been made, but it looked as though it might have been slept in the night before, while a pair of bedroom slippers still lay under it. The decorations of the room were scanty but significant. A piece of Goss china from Brighton, a few signed photographs of boxers, and an Austrian long-stemmed pipe—a present from a travelling friend. Stuck in the frame of the mirror were snaps of the boy’s girl friends, signed with illiterate scrawl—“To Stan from Betty,” “Cynthia, with love,” and so on.
Beef stood quite still, taking in all this apparently without emotion, but presently he went to the chest of drawers and began examining their contents. He laid aside the paperbacked novels of Edgar Wallace, and began to go through copies of sporting and boxing papers, in which Stan himself figured occasionally. From these he moved to several numbers of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, in one of which was an illustrated article on Penshurst School, one of a series on similar institutions. I glanced at the photographs and was amused to find one of Herbert Jones, M.A., taken when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, with the caption underneath: “Penshurst’s Greatest Cricketer.” It was almost pathetic to compare this likeness of Jones with that in the Masters’ Group. It was easy to see that it was the same man, but what a degeneration! The article had apparently interested the original purchaser of the periodical, for it was well thumbed.
“Well, that’s the lot,” said Beef. “To-morrow we’ll get back to Penshurst.”
“Have you got a theory?” I asked.
“I don’t know about theory,” said Beef. “But I begin to see how it may have been done, and who may have done it.”
“Well, that’s more than I do,” and we parted for the evening.