Case with Ropes and Rings
The Passport Office opened at ten in the morning, so that following Beef’s instructions I picked him up at half-past nine, and we drove the car down to Whitehall. There was a tobacconist’s across the road, and Beef explained to me that it would be “handy” as a point from which to watch for Greenbough. He marched in and put this to the young woman who stood behind the counter.
“Detectives,” he announced after he had leaned over towards her. “On a job, see?”
“Go on!” said the girl, who was evidently intrigued.
“Yes. Got to keep my eye on the Passport Office. No objection to our standing here, I suppose?”
“I don’t know what to say, I’m sure,” replied the young woman. “I mean, we don’t want a scene, do we? Not in the shop, as you might say.”
“That’s all right,” said Beef reassuringly. “I have no intention of arresting him at the moment. It’s just that we happen to know he’ll be down here later, and we want to pick up his trail again.”
“Oh, well,” said the girl, and turned to serve incoming customers.
“What would you say,” asked Beef, “if I was to tell you it was a case of murder?”
“Never? Is it really? Well!” were the girl’s three observations.
“Ah,” said Beef, “and drawing to its close, what’s more. We’ll have the man under lock and key before nightfall.”
“Is it him you’re waiting for now, then?” the girl asked.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” Beef reproved her, and she asked no more questions for twenty minutes, while she dealt with the demands of a number of people who required cigarettes.
Ten o’clock passed, and still there was no sign of Greenbough. We were taking it in turns to keep the entrance opposite under observation, and I heard Beef announcing from behind that we must not preclude the possibility of Greenbough turning up in disguise.
“If he was Raffles or any of them,” Beef assured me, “you would see nothing but an old gentleman with side-whiskers slipping in to get Mr. Greenbough’s passport for him.”
However, this possibility was soon removed by the appearance of Greenbough himself, carrying the same suitcase and marching into the Passport Office with a hurried step.
“That’s good,” said Beef, and we prepared to follow as soon as he emerged.
As we had anticipated, he led the way straight to Victoria Station and went at once to the booking-office. The Calais boat train was due to start in half-an-hour’s time, and it was a safe assumption that Greenbough intended to travel on it. I did not oppose Beef, therefore, when he suggested that we had time for a drink. He did not, however, dawdle over this, but swallowed it quickly, and confidently led the way to a telephone booth.
“Who are you going to ’phone?” I asked.
“Scotland Yard,” he explained. “We shall need someone at Dover, won’t we?” and he dived into the box.
When he emerged, I saw that he was crimson with anger or humiliation.
“Why, whatever’s the matter?” I asked.
“I spoke to Stute.”
“He laughed,” Beef told me.
I, too, was puzzled at that.
“I suppose he thinks we’re barking up the wrong tree,” I suggested.
“I don’t know,” admitted Beef. “But he certainly seemed to find it funny.”
In due course, we found ourselves on the train, with Greenbough safely settled in a third-class carriage down the corridor. Beef’s method of remaining unobserved by Greenbough was sufficiently conspicuous to have attracted anyone’s attention to ourselves. He turned up his collar, pulled his bowler hat downwards till it was balanced almost on the bridge of his nose, and buried himself in his overcoat with his hands in his pockets. We could not have been far out of London before we discovered the source of Stute’s amusement. Outside our carriage paced a middle-aged man in a light overcoat and a cloth cap.
“See him?” said Beef, jerking his head in the direction of the watcher in the corridor. “Of course I see him.”
“He’s a dick,” Beef explained, “from Scotland Yard. Funny how you can always pick ’em out, isn’t it?”
I glanced at Beef’s attire and features, and good-humouredly agreed.
“Very funny,” I said, and started to read my paper. “That means,” said Beef regretfully, “that there’s no chance of a run over to the Continent. I was hoping that we might have got as far as Paris.”
This remark rather disturbed me, for I had found during Beef’s previous investigations that if he followed anyone across the Channel (as on the slightest pretext he would), it usually meant that the person, so far from being guilty, was not even a material witness in the case. However, I said nothing.
We had a carriage to ourselves till the train was well into Kent, when the Scotland Yard man came in and sat down. I could not help thinking how much more efficient and businesslike he looked than Beef. His quick eyes took us both in at a glance, and there was nothing of the heavy-booted policeman about him.
“Nice day,” observed Beef. The man nodded civilly.
“You’re from the Yard, I see,” Beef continued. “If I had known you were coming I shouldn’t have bothered to go all the way down to Dover. He’s tucked in nicely a few carriages down. My name’s Beef.”
The detective heard these apparently disconnected sentences without surprise.
“I heard you was hanging around,” he remarked.
“Yes,” said Beef. “I am acting for Lord Edenbridge.”
I saw the detective examining Beef’s face when he made that remark as though he expected to see a wink or a twinkle there. But Beef remained quite solemn, if not pompous. After a few moments the detective rose and, explaining that he must keep an eye on “our friend,” marched off down the passage. Beef turned to me.
“So they think Greenbough’s done it, do they?” he said.
“Not necessarily,” I returned. “They may want him for a witness or they may want him for something else. At any rate they’re evidently not going to let him slip out of the country.”
Beef settled down into his corner and said very little more as the train rolled on towards Dover.
I had long since given up trying to unravel the tangled skein of events, and sat reading my newspaper without giving more than an occasional thought to this peculiar case. But after half an hour or so, a thought occurred to me.
“Why don’t they arrest him straight away?” I asked Beef. “Why do they waste this detective’s time by sending him all the way to Dover? They could have got him at Victoria Station.”
“Ah,” said Beef, assuming the patronising manner he was only too ready to adopt when he wanted to explain a technical detail to me, “that would never do, that wouldn’t. What proof would they have he meant to go abroad? No, the way they like to get them in a case like this is with one foot on the boat and one on shore, as you might say. Then they can bring up in evidence that he was arrested while attempting to escape abroad.”
“They’ll need to with this man,” chuckled Beef. “I don’t see what they can have against him except their suspicions. I mean, I know he is a funny character, but that is not enough for a murder charge.”
“Obviously,” I remarked coldly.
Just then the detective returned.
“How’s he getting on?” asked Beef, as though the man had been visiting an invalid.
“He’s doing nicely,” replied the detective. “Sitting in the corner of the carriage, looking at the landscape as though he thought he might be leaving England before long. Only he’s making a mistake there.”
The two men seemed to think there was something supremely funny about this, for they laughed together with a good deal of thigh slapping. I kept a very reserved manner and said nothing to encourage them in their noisy behaviour. But I felt greatly relieved when the train began to approach Dover.
“There will be a couple of our fellows waiting,” explained the detective. “I expect we shall take him into custody just as he is going through the barrier. You don’t really need to come,” he added to the Sergeant.
“I think I shall keep my eye on him to the last,” returned Beef. “I am not saying anything against your methods. But you never know, you know, do you?”
Arrived at Dover, I watched from the railway carriage window and saw Greenbough step quickly from the next coach. Beef had left me and I saw him stalking the boxing manager in his most melodramatic way. The more cool and practised Scotland Yard man walked calmly a little way behind Green-bough; and so the procession moved towards the barrier.
It was not long before I was on my way after them, and I was in time to see a pair of plain-clothes men standing near the passport officials. There was very little hesitation or fuss, as soon as Greenbough showed his passport one of them stepped forward, and a moment later the man was being led away.
I was not near enough to hear what charge was made against him or to see the expression on his face when he discovered that he had been followed. But it was with some satisfaction that I watched the arrest. At least, I thought, even if the most obvious suspect has turned out to be guilty, the murderer of Beecher will not have gone unpunished.