Case with Ropes and Rings
When we got back to London, I announced my intention of returning to my flat. “It is obviously no good my wasting any more time with you,” I said to Beef. “I don’t say I haven’t enjoyed some parts of this case, and it was pleasant to be in the familiar atmosphere of a public school. But from the literary point of view the whole thing is hopeless.”
“How’s that?” asked Beef.
“Well, you must see for yourself,” I told him. “You can’t have a detective novel in which there are two murders, two of the most obvious suspects possible, and both of them guilty. It would practically be defrauding the public. They expect surprises for the twopence they have paid to their lending libraries.”
“How do you know there won’t be surprises?” asked Beef.
That made me impatient. “Well, the case is over,” I said.
“Except for my report to Inspector Stute.”
I snorted incredulously, and tried to make Beef see that I was impatient to get away. “What are you going to do?” I asked him.
“Just finish my investigations,” was his surprising reply.
“Oh,” I said ironically. “You haven’t finished yet, then?”
“No, not yet,” said Beef. “There’s another three or four days’ work to do before I throw my hand in.”
I grew rather angry. “Another three or four days’ spending of Lord Edenbridge’s money,” I pointed out.
“Well, yes,” admitted Beef, “there will be expenses.”
“And what are these further investigations of yours?”
“First of all,” he said, “I have got to nip down to Penshurst and fetch young Freda up to London.”
“Indeed!” I exclaimed ironically.
“Yes,” said Beef, “and take her round to Brixton Gaol. And I shall take Rosa there, too. After all, they are the only ones who can identify the strangers in each case.”
“Very ingenious, and I hope you have a pleasant drive with Freda. Only don’t expect me to waste my time on that sort of thing.”
“Then,” said Beef, quite unperturbed, “I want to make a thorough examination of Mr. Jones’ belongings.”
“Yes,” I said. “What else?”
“Then I am going to have a talk with someone who speaks Spanish.”
“I want to know what they meant in the Spanish café that night, when they said that what was written on that piece of paper wasn’t quite correct.”
“You’re deliberately being mysterious,” I accused him.
“No, I’m not,” said Beef. “And I’ll tell you what else I’m going to do. I’m going to find out the name of the moneylender that got into trouble for lending to Lord Hadlow.”
“How do you suppose that will help you?”
Beef held up his hand. “All in good time,” he said. “But when I have got this clear you can come along with me to Stute and hear me make my report.”
I admit that I did feel a certain wavering on that point, for it seemed to me that once again the Sergeant might have something up his sleeve. I grudged him the possibility, because his conduct of those things really had seemed inefficient to me, but I had to be prepared for anything. I told him to ’phone me if he got any farther, and left him to go about his business. I really could not see that there was much point in my following him round any longer when, except for the few touches of detail he might be able to put in, the case was virtually ended.
Besides, there was something else I wanted to do. I wanted to see Rosa again. It had been no momentary or superficial attraction which I had felt towards the beautiful Spanish girl. In no case which Beef had investigated had anything happened to me that I felt was quite so stirring as this. I could see her quiet face with its expression of reserve, melting as it had done into distress as she had thought of her brother. Besides, I didn’t feel that Beef had paid enough attention to this aspect of the second murder. With his airy statement that he liked foreigners, he had dismissed the whole of the Spanish question from his investigation. I therefore had something more than an excuse to take me to the Beechers’ home.
It was not without trepidation that, some evenings later, I rang the bell. I had to admit that Rosa had shewn very little encouragement towards my attempts to express my sympathy with her. Her manner had always been somewhat quiet and perhaps it was for this that I respected her most, especially when I remembered Sheila Benson in Case with No Conclusion, and Anita with Jacobi’s Circus.
She, herself, opened the door to me. At once I was dismayed to see a frown on her forehead.
“Why do you come here again?” were the words with which she greeted me, and she spoke sharply.
“Miss Martinez,” I began, “I would be grateful for yet a little more information, if I may presume on your patience.”
“Oh, don’t talk like a book.” she said. “What do you want?”
“Perhaps,” I ventured to suggest, “you might care to ask me in, when I will try to explain.”
With a very poor grace she led the way into the front room in which Beef and I had first been received.
“My colleague, Sergeant Beef,” I began, “doesn’t seem to attach so much importance as I do to the possibility of your brother having been murdered through his association with some of the disreputable Spaniards we met at that café.”
To my amazement, she seemed to grow extremely angry at this harmless remark. A flush was on her face and she stamped her foot in a way which reminded me of her fiery Latin blood.
“Impudence!” she said. “How dare you call my fellow-countrymen disreputable?”
I cleared my throat. “I have the greatest admiration,” I assured her, “for the Iberian people, and I should be the last to make any generalisation of a derogatory nature about them. I was referring only to those I met in the café to which you directed us.”
She seemed to be struggling with herself for a moment and then sighed, as though she had decided to treat me as harmless, if rather troublesome. I saw my hopes of becoming better acquainted with her rapidly disappearing.
“What do you want to know about the Spaniards?” she asked.
“Anything you care to tell me,” I assured her. “But I am certain that there is something which will help us.”
“You went to the café?” she asked. “You went there with your Sergeant Beef?”
“Did you speak to any of the people there?”
“I personally addressed no one. I thought they looked a most dangerous collection of men and women. But the Sergeant certainly had some conversation.”
“With whom?” asked Rosa, more calmly now.
“With the proprietor of the place and with another man.” And I briefly described the Spaniard who had come to our table and shewn such interest in the questions Beef asked.
Rosa nodded. “I think I know which one you mean,” she assured me. Without another word she crossed the room and opened a little Victorian bureau. I saw her turn over the papers that lay within it as if with feverish haste. But when she returned to me she had nothing in her hand but a rather faded photograph which she held out to me. I carefully scrutinised the face. It was of a man in his thirties, obviously of one of the Mediterranean races, very dark, his black hair greased back from his forehead, and with a thick moustache of the kind worn some years ago by Spaniards and Italians.
“Was that the man?” she asked.
Again I examined the photograph. Was it? The man who had spoken to us had been at least fifteen years older than this, and it was not easy at first to recognise in the hirsute Latin that same heavy person who had leant over us in the café. But gradually I saw that they were indeed identical. Something in the expression of the eyes and the shape of the forehead told me, without doubt, that I was looking at an early photo of our acquaintance.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s the man. He has changed a good bit since this was taken, but I am quite certain it is the same man.”
Rosa nodded, and there seemed to be something of triumph in her voice. “My father,” she said. “Stan’s father. I thought as much; I knew he had some reason for going down to that place. My father wouldn’t dare shew himself here. Either my mother or I would have been capable of killing him.”
I looked at those flashing dark eyes and I believed her statement in its most literal sense.
“But I suppose he wanted to see his son and that is why Stan has been meeting him surreptitiously.”
I was very proud of having secured this extremely important information. But I didn’t wish Rosa to think that my only reason for coming here was to further our investigations.
“Miss Martinez,” I said, “I want you to know that I admire you and your conduct through this matter more than I can say.” And as though involuntarily, I stretched out my hand and touched the brown skin of her arm where it fell at her side.
She might have been a tigress with a litter of cubs. As though my touch were leprous she snatched her hand away and before I had time to guard myself, I felt a stinging backhanded blow across my cheek.
“Miss Martinez!” I said reproachfully.
“Get out!” were the only two words I heard. Really it seemed that there was nothing to do but to obey.