Case with Ropes and Rings
I did not see Beef again that day. Apparently he was in a condition which I can only describe as “sulky.” But after breakfast next morning he seemed to have recovered himself a little.
“This case,” he said, “is nothing but running about. After what you’ve done here the only thing we can do is to pop up to London again.”
“After what I’ve done!” I said indignantly. “I don’t see what I’ve done that alters matters at all.”
“You will when it’s all wound up,” Beef assured me. “Now get your car out and we’ll hop off.”
I knew that it was no good to argue, and once again we set off from Penshurst. I was interested to see just how Beef would behave now. The murderer in one case was already under arrest, and for all I knew he might get the murderer in the second case as well. I had a feeling that the Sergeant still had something up his sleeve, and I could only hope that it would be of a nature to pull the chestnuts of my narrative out of the fire. My hopes were raised when he asked me to drive to the home of Greenbough.
When we reached that murky house in which the boxing manager lived it was once again Greenbough himself who opened the door, and to my surprise Beef greeted him quite amicably.
“Sorry to have to trouble you again, Mr. Greenbough,” he said, “but matters have taken an awkward turn, and I would like to have a word with you.”
Greenbough had no collar or tie, but wore an ordinary shirt clasped at the neck with a bone stud. He had not shaved that morning, and his narrow face looked almost cadaverous as he showed us into his front room.
“It seems,” said Beef, “that I shall have to clear up the Beecher case before I’m quit of the other one.”
This seemed to startle the manager.
“Well, I thought you’d arrested someone at Penshurst.”
“Oh, no,” said Beef. “Oh, no.”
“I read it in the paper.”
“No. Mr. Townsend had someone arrested. He thought he knew better than I did about that, and rang up Scotland Yard just when I had things going nicely.”
“You don’t think that Jones . . .”
Beef interrupted him.
“No,” he said, and added impressively: “I know who killed Alan Foulkes.”
Greenbough sat silent for a moment, and then said with a grin: “But you don’t know who killed Beecher.”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” said Beef.
“You’d better go round to the Spanish café for that. That’s where you’ll find all the evidence you want.”
“Yes, I dare say I shall have to call there, too,” Beef told him. “But in the meantime I should like to see the two lads who were so friendly with Beecher. I’ve come to you for their addresses.”
Greenbough hesitated for a moment, and said: “Well, I can give you those all right.”
He crossed to a heavy Victorian bureau and began to look through some papers in it.
“Wouldn’t it be better, though,” he suggested, half turning to speak over his shoulder, “if you were to meet them casually in the pub they go to? I can tell you where that is, without you fagging round to find them in their houses.”
“That would be far handier,” agreed Beef, and on Greenbough’s instructions he wrote down slowly the address of the Mitre, Green Street, N.W.
“Thank you,” said Beef. “And I hope we may meet again in different circumstances. Different circumstances,” he repeated.
“That’s what I said.”
When we were outside in the street I turned to the Sergeant.
“Well, now you’ve found an excuse for yourself to visit yet another public-house to try and find those boys.”
“That’s just where you make your mistake,” he said. “We’ve got to hang about round here.”
After looking up and down the street, he led the way to an archway, through which we approached a dingy little mews. In this archway he took up a position from which he could see the small iron gate of Greenbough’s house.
“It may be fifteen minutes,” he said, “it may be an hour, but here we wait till he comes out.” And pulling out his tobacco-pouch he started to fill his pipe.
It can well be imagined that I soon got tired of this and expressed my impatience to Beef. He told me that if I didn’t want to stay I needn’t, but that he could not leave his post. I asked him whether he imagined himself to be a Roman centurion in the last moments of Pompeii, but the irony was lost on him. He replied only that he didn’t know about that, and puffed with apparent content at his briar. After half an hour of draughty inactivity I asked him how he knew that Greenbough would come out at all. He told me that I should see.
It must have been three-quarters of an hour after we had left Greenbough’s house that Beef gripped my arm and whispered to me to keep quiet. As I had been standing in silence I resented this, but I followed his example in peering round the corner and watching the gate of Greenbough’s house. We saw the manager come out on to the pavement, wearing a light overcoat and carrying a suitcase. He gave one glance about him and set off briskly in the opposite direction.
“What did I tell you?” asked Beef. “Come on, we mustn’t let him out of our sight.”
With that he sauntered down the road in Greenbough’s wake with an affectation of casualness which would have been sufficient to call anybody’s attention to our movements. Greenbough himself evidently did not know the precise address of the place he was seeking, for after leading us down a couple of quiet residential streets he stopped and spoke to a postman, who pointed in an easterly direction. We continued the pursuit, always taking care to remain unobserved by Greenbough himself.
Presently the manager came to a tall, narrow house at the end of a street and marched up the steps of it. Waiting until it was fairly sure that he had entered, Beef and I moved closer, and the Sergeant was immensely gratified to find the words “St. Biddulph’s Rectory” in faded white paint on a wooden board.
“There you are,” he chuckled to me. “A parson at last! I was hoping we would come to one before the end of this case.”
“But we’ve already met the Rev. Horatius Knox,” I pointed out.
“No. I don’t call that a real one,” said Beef. “It’s the Church kind I like, not the school ones. You’ll never go very far wrong writing up these cases so long as you have a parson in them,” he added patronisingly. “It always gives comic relief, and livens up the story.”
“I entirely disagree with you,” I said. “You know that after Case Without a Corpse, in which you insisted on interviewing two, I had a whole drawerful of letters from readers protesting against your disrespectful attitude towards the members of one of the most useful professions.”
“Can’t help that,” said Beef. “You have to take things as they come,” and he drew back into a shop entrance to wait for the emergence of Greenbough.
“Why has he gone in there?” I asked. “Did he murder Beecher, and feel he had to confess?”
“You’ll know everything in good time. Don’t ask so many questions.”
At this point Greenbough came hurrying out again.
Beef in pursuit was a revelation to me. I had never accompanied him on a goose-chase of this kind, and I liked to watch the eagerness of his red face as he followed his quarry across London. When Greenbough took a bus, we jumped into a taxi, and for the first time I had the thrill of hearing Beef give the traditional instructions to the driver to “follow that bus, and don’t lose sight of it.” For a moment it seemed to throw over my shoulders the mantle of my immortal predecessor, Dr. Watson.
It must have been almost an hour later that we discovered his destination. After leaving us on foot in Westminster he dived into the Passport Office.
“Good lord,” I said to Beef, feeling rather excited by the long pursuit. “Is he going abroad?”
“Oh, no,” said Beef. “He just wants a passport to show his little ’uns what it looks like.”
“That means he’s guilty, then.”
“I dare say it means that to you,” returned Beef caustically, and continued to stand with apparent aimlessness watching for Greenbough to reappear.
It was now about three-thirty in the afternoon, and I was surprised that Beef had got so far without food and drink; but there was more to come, for when Greenbough came out again, Beef told me that we must not on any account lose sight of him. This time he went to a small photographer’s nearby, and to our exasperation remained nearly forty minutes there, and then once again we started our long chase across London, until in fact our quarry went to earth at St. Biddulph’s Rectory.
“After this,” said Beef, “we shall be able to take it easy for a bit. He won’t be able to get his passport to-day. The office will be closed when he gets back.”
“You mean you’ll let him out of your sight in any case?” I said.
“Yes. Why not?” said Beef. “We know what he’s up to. He’ll have to come back to the Passport Office to-morrow morning, and we’ll pick him up there.”
However, he did not hurry away from where he stood, but waited until once more the manager came quickly down the steps of the house and rushed away in the direction of the main traffic. It was then that Beef, beaming happily, led the way up the steps of the Rectory and rang the bell.
The Rev. Alec Grayson was a large, pale, weary man who almost lay in a commodious armchair, and scarcely rose to greet us. He gave the impression of a human being who had been forced under glass instead of raised by healthier means. His large pale face shone like an exaggerated mushroom.
“Yes?” he murmured when we were seated.
“Detective Beef,” said the Sergeant, as though he expected his words to act like an explosion on the flaccid person in front of us.
Mr. Grayson did not move.
“Oh, yes,” he repeated, and yawned.
“It’s about the man what’s just been in,” explained Beef.
“Most tiresome,” said the Rector. “He wanted me to sign things.”
“Did you do it?” asked Beef.
“Yes,” said Mr. Grayson.
“It was for a passport, wasn’t it?”
“I believe so,” returned the Rector, stretching out his pale hand for a cigarette from the box beside him.
I could not help feeling that it was many months since he had left his chair except for the brief purposes of eating or sleeping.
“Don’t you know? ” asked Beef. “It’s an important matter, a passport.”
Mr. Grayson raised his shoulders in a shrug, then let them fall back into position with a sigh, as though the effort had been too much for him.
“He said that he was a parishioner of mine,” he explained. “I am quite accustomed to people discovering that they are my parishioners only when they want to be married or buried or something.”
“Have you never seen him before?” asked Beef.
“I shouldn’t think so,” said Mr. Grayson. “But really, I can’t possibly tell.”
“And yet,” said Beef, rather ferociously, “you signed a paper stating that the man was to your certain knowledge Greenbough.”
“I always sign these things when I’m asked,” said Mr. Grayson. “Now if you don’t mind, I must have my evening nap.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised but what you’re in for it,” reflected Beef.
The Rector did not seem interested.
“It’s a serious offence, giving false information to the Passport Office.”
Mr. Grayson gave a weary smile.
“My dear fellow, when you’ve had as much experience of this sort of thing as I have, you’ll know it’s always easier to sign papers than not. I always make a point of giving people references when they ask for them. They usually seem to turn out all right. There was a little trouble once, when a man I had recommended as a butler to an elderly lady turned out to be a homicidal maniac. But these things are soon forgotten. Soon forgotten.”
“Perhaps you might be interested to know,” said Beef angrily, “that we are pursuing this matter in connection with a murder. We’ve been a-shaddering of him day and night.”
“Not really?” smiled the Rector indifferently. “How very troublesome for you. I suppose you must have lost quite a lot of sleep. Fatal, that, I always say. Whatever happens, one should never lose one’s sleep. It’s no help to anybody, and it disturbs the constitution.”
Beef seemed to see the futility of trying to arouse any sense of social conscience in Mr. Grayson, and turned to more practical matters.
“What name did he give you?” he asked.
“Now how on earth should I remember that? It was Grinborough, or something.”
“Greenbough?” asked Beef.
“Quite likely,” sighed Mr. Grayson.
“And the Christian names?”
“Something patriarchal, Isaac or whatnot.” And one of the Rector’s long white hands made a fluttering movement in the air.
“Would it be Abraham?” asked Beef patiently.
“I believe that it was, now you come to mention it,” replied the Rector.
“What age did he put down?”
“Dear, dear. This is all very troublesome, isn’t it? Like one of those fearful memory tests. One of my parishioners tried to start these at our socials, but I put my foot down at once.
“ ‘In this world,’ I said, ’men are condemned to penal servitude, but not necessarily to hard labour’.”
“You don’t remember, then, what age he had put down?” persisted Beef.
“No. No idea. And now really, my nap . . .”
Beef seemed to be extremely angry.
“You’ll hear more about this.”
“Dear me. I hope not,” said Mr. Grayson. “It’s a most fatiguing subject.”
With an effort that seemed almost superhuman he rose from his chair, and led us to the front door. As though by habit he held out his hand.
“Good-bye,” he said. “Good-bye. I don’t envy you your task. It sounds most exhausting. You should try not to miss your sleep, though. You’ll find that’s the main thing, in matters of health.”