Case with Ropes and Rings
My thoughts were very bitter as I returned to my apartments that night. I have never supposed that I am a man who could be called attractive to women, for I have noticed that they seem to be interested in more barbaric and uncouth young men, and except in rare cases to have little or no appreciation for qualities of mind and literary achievement. But I didn’t think that I should meet with such ingratitude and failure to understand my wish to sympathise. I was willing to make all the allowance I could for Rosa Martinez. She had lost a brother who was very dear to her, and her home life was made distressing by the dipsomania of her mother. But I could see no justification for the violence with which she had acted. Was I, I asked myself, such a repugnant person? No, for more than one woman of kindlier disposition than Rosa’s had shewn themselves susceptible to my approaches. It must, I realised, be the more ambiguous association with Sergeant Beef, and the unfortunate business of investigation, which had set her against me. She probably thought of me as a sort of nosy-parker who was prying into her misfortune for the sake of writing a story.
There was only one thing for it, I must give up this thankless task of recording Beef’s cases. I had just wasted three weeks, and a good deal of time and money which I could ill afford, in following his peregrinations, with no result that could lend itself to the writing of a satisfactory book. Arrests there had been, but of people so obviously guilty that to make an exciting novel out of it all had become impossible. No, I said to myself, I will have no more to do with it. Insurance provided me with a living once, and it should do so again. Why should I waste the best years of my life touting in public-houses for information to help the most plebeian of literary investigators? Beef might be clever, might even be brilliant, or he might be just lucky. There was one thing quite certain about him, he was not a gentleman, and I could scarcely blame people for tarring me with the same brush.
Full of these reproachful thoughts I drove to his house, having only the loyal intention of giving him the information I had just discovered. I was sufficiently embroiled to feel that this at least I would do for him before saying good-bye for ever. I would tell him the most important thing of all about the identity of the man in the Spanish cafe, then I would say farewell. The Sergeant could find someone else to write up his cases for him. I would be satisfied with selling Life Insurance.
When I arrived in Lilac Terrace I found him at home, and, perhaps a little too eagerly, I gave him my news.
“Beef,” I said, “I’ve discovered the identity of the man who spoke to us in the Spanish café. It was Beecher’s father!”
Beef deliberately yawned.
“Yes,” he said, “I knew that. Didn’t you see a photo on the wall in their house? It was shewing his wedding. Mind you, it was a good many years old, but I recognised him.”
Not unnaturally, I was annoyed.
“If you wouldn’t be so secretive,” I said, “you would save a great deal of time and trouble. I went to great lengths to discover who that man was, and you could have told me beforehand that you knew already.”
“Nobody asked you to go careering round to that house,” he observed. “I suppose you wanted to have another look at Rosa.”
“I never want to see Rosa again,” I returned.
“What happened?” asked Beef clumsily. “Did she take a sock at you?”
I felt that it was wiser to ignore this question, and asked Beef how his own investigations had proceeded.
“Very nicely,” said Beef, “very nicely indeed. I’ve took the two young ladies to Brixton as I said I should, and I’ve examined Jones’ things, and this is what I’ve found in one of his pockets.”
Triumphantly Beef held up a large rusty key.
“What’s it the key of?” I enquired.
“The gymnasium,” said Beef. “And now I’m ready to make my report to Inspector Stute. I’ve rung him up and he is coming round here in about half-an-hour’s time. I suppose we’d better hop down to the Angel and get a couple of quarts.”
“I don’t think,” I said, “that you will find Inspector Stute very eager for anything of that kind. He is not, you must remember, an ordinary policeman, but a very responsible officer from Scotland Yard.”
“Must be hospitable,” said Beef.
“You might perhaps offer him a whisky and soda.”
Beef shook his head.
“I’ll have no fancy drinks here,” he said, and there was nothing for it but to follow his plan.
Stute arrived, looking spruce and confident, about forty minutes later, and when Mrs. Beef had left the three of us alone both the Inspector and I asked Beef to come straight to the point.
Stute seemed prepared to believe that Beef would have some little pieces of evidence which he himself might have missed, and although this was small consolation to me, since I had hoped that this case would make a good detective novel, I was interested to hear what the Sergeant would have to say. We sat round the table, while Beef solemnly produced his large black notebook, lit his pipe, beamed around on us, and began:
“Now you’ve arrested Jones,” he said, “and you’ve arrested Greenbough, and you know you haven’t enough evidence against them. What you want from me is something strong enough to hang them with. And what Townsend here wants is a good story. All right, I’ll do my best for both of you. We’ll take that murder down at the school first.
“It was extraordinary to me how your local people ever came to think that it was suicide. Of course, if you’d been put on the case yourself, Inspector, you’d have seen straight away, same as I did, that it was nothing of the sort. As soon as ever I read the case in the paper I had my doubts, and when I got down there I was quite sure of it. The way I found that out was the simplest thing in the world, and anyone in their senses ought to have seen it. Stringer found the door of the gymnasium locked in the morning, didn’t he? The boy had the key to the gymnasium, didn’t he? He went into the gymnasium at night, didn’t he? And he was found hanging there in the morning, wasn’t he? The door hadn’t been forced, and there was no other way into the gymnasium. What your men ought to have asked themselves was the first thing I asked myself. If he committed suicide, where was the key? It might have been in his pocket, it might have been hidden in the gymnasium or it might have been thrown out of the window. Well, it wasn’t in his pocket because he hadn’t got one. He was wearing his boxing shorts. It wasn’t in the gymnasium, because I searched every square inch of it, while Townsend got more and more impatient and the Coroner’s Officer thought I was simple. And it wasn’t thrown out of the window, because the gymnasium stood with twelve yards of asphalt round it in every direction, and Stringer, who swept that up next morning, never found it. As a matter of fact, one could have been pretty sure that he wouldn’t find it, with those windows high up on the walls and opening by ropes. It would have been almost impossible to have thrown the key out at all without cracking one of the panes, and in any case, if he was going to commit suicide, why would he bother to throw the key out? He had nothing to hide. So I knew, as soon as I had searched the gym. and asked if anything had been found in his pockets, that he had been murdered.
“The doctor who examined him said that his death probably took place around midnight. What were his movements? He won his championship, he arranged to be let into the school as usual when he was going off somewhere, and he went off down to the pub. Now, we know why he went to that pub. He was having a harmless little love affair with young Freda behind the bar. And yet that evening he scarcely spoke to her. For why? Because of the ‘mysterious stranger.’ There was a man who had been waiting there for him and started to talk to him as soon as he got in. Whatever he talked about must have been important, for him to have hurt the feelings of the girl he had come to see. That man was with him in the pub till closing time. Then he just says good-night to Freda and leaves the place with him. All we know about their conversation during that time was that it touched on boxing, and yet, ten minutes or a quarter of an hour after he had left the pub, he was ’phoning to his brother in London to say that he could raise the money that Lord Hadlow wanted by the end of that week. It would be all right to assume, then, that this stranger, one way or another, meant money to him.
“What happened then? Just before eleven he reaches the school, and the porter hears him go by his lodge, making a dragging noise as he walks. He then goes over to the gym., and an hour later he’s dead. Well, it seemed to me that what was really important was to find out who that stranger might be. It wasn’t Jones, because although, as Freda said, she didn’t know Jones by sight, Vickers was in the bar all the time, and it’s quite certain that he would have. What I had to find out was who it was. Well, I’ve found out, and I won’t hold you in suspense any longer. The ‘mysterious stranger’ was Abe Greenbough.”
“Great God!” I couldn’t help exclaiming. “Greenbough! How did you discover that?”
Beef was evidently pleased with the sensation he had caused.
“I used my loaf,” he said. “What motive could there have been for murdering this young schoolboy? It wasn’t money, because he hadn’t got any. It wasn’t jealousy, because no one in his senses would have been jealous enough of a boy of that age to murder him, and Alf Vickers, who was the only jealous one, certainly had his wits about him. The motive was revenge.
“I wonder you didn’t jump to that, Townsend. Couldn’t you see that Lord Edenbridge was the kind of man that someone would be wanting to get his own back on? He seemed the sort you couldn’t shake if you went for him himself. But by bumping off his favourite son—well, there you have it. Now, who did we know of that might have a grudge against him?”
I shook my head.
“We knew nothing about him,” I said.
“Oh, yes, we did,” said Beef. “We knew that five years ago he had found that his eldest son, Lord Hadlow, was borrowing money from a money-lender named Steinberg at exorbitant rates of interest, and we knew, too, that he had caused this man to lose his licence and ruined him so far as that profession was concerned. A man who had been making a fortune out of the most profitable racket in the world wasn’t likely to forgive someone who had caused him to lose his position and made it impossible for him to practise as a money-lender again. I told you that I had to go to the bureau at which money-lenders’ names are registered, and it was no surprise to me to find that Steinberg and Greenbough were one and the same man. Don’t you remember, when we were interviewing him, how he nearly jumped out of his chair when I asked him what his name had been before he changed it?
“If there had been any doubt about it being a murder for the sake of revenge, you might have seen that it was nothing else when Lord Edenbridge told us about that ’phone call he had received. Don’t you remember what he said the fellow had asked him? ‘How do you like having your son murdered?’ the man had said. What was that but a murderer getting the full satisfaction from having achieved his object? He may have called himself a reporter on the telephone, but that was what he was after, don’t you make any mistake about it.
“Well, we’ll go back to that evening. There was Greenbough in London, determined to get his own back on Lord Edenbridge, and watching for his chance. He reads in the papers that young Lord Alan Foulkes is to fight in the school heavyweight championship. He is a boxing manager himself now, so he has a means of approaching the lad. He goes down to Penshurst School in the morning and hangs about until he falls in with Stringer, who is sweeping up the yard. He gets into conversation with him, and discovers that young Foulkes has the habit of going down to the White Horse every evening. What does he do? He has got his plan ready, and he goes down to the White Horse to wait for him. Sure enough, after his championship fight, the lad comes in, and Greenbough goes up to him at once. What do you think he’s got to say to him that is of such interest to the boy? Well, it doesn’t take much guessing, does it? He’s a boxing manager, and young Foulkes wants money at once for his brother. ‘I could fix you up with a fight,’ he said, ‘if you’d fight professional.’ Young Foulkes, who knows no more of the world than any other of those lads down in that place, thinks this is a bit of all right, and goes into details. Greenbough says he would like to see the boy do a workout before he actually promises him anything. Young Foulkes, who is impatient to get the money in his hands, suggests that they should go up to the gymnasium right away, perhaps making the condition that if Greenbough is satisfied he pays him something in advance. This is exactly what Greenbough wants. He wouldn’t even mind paying over the money, seeing that he can always take it back again when he’s done what he means to do. So the two of them leave the pub together.
“Then young Foulkes, who is tickled to death with what he’s able to do for Hadlow, goes into a ’phone box and rings up his brother in London and says he can get the money right away. He little knows that Greenbough would never pay a lad more than four or five pounds if he could help it, and that the offer which the manager has made to him is completely bogus. He doesn’t tell his brother how he’s going to get the money, because he thinks Lord Hadlow wouldn’t like him to take on a professional fight. He is just as pleased as Punch that he has got it.
“The two of them go on up to the school. Young Foulkes has got a key of the gymnasium in his pocket, so that there was no difficulty about them getting in there. When they reach the porter’s lodge, he calls out as usual to Danvers, and you know what they said to one another.”
“But what about that dragging?” I said. “Danvers said he was dragging something heavy along the ground.”
Beef chuckled. “Don’t you remember one of the first things we heard about Greenbough?” he said. “He’d got a cheap artificial leg he couldn’t lift properly. That’s what Danvers heard as they walked under his window.”
All this time Inspector Stute had never taken his eyes from Beef’s face. He sat there listening intently, and I realised he was as keenly interested as I was.
“Well, the two of them go on over to the gymnasium. Young Foulkes unlocks the door and they walk in. He changes into his boxing clothes, puts on one of his boxing boots, and is sitting on a bench, stooping over to tie the other one up, when Greenbough conies up behind him with a scarf or a rope or anything that’s handy, and before the boy has warning, Greenbough got it round his neck and strangled him. It doesn’t take him long to get down one of the ropes which are used for the rings and make a noose in it. He gets this round the dead boy’s neck, hangs him up by it, overturns the chair and walks out into the quadrangle, locking the gymnasium door behind him. Then he goes back to London as simple as kiss your hand.”
I interrupted Beef’s narrative to say: “You didn’t think much of any of the other suspects, then?”
“Suspects?” said Beef. “They were never suspects to me. I knew young Caspar hadn’t done it, or why would he have admitted making the discovery that Foulkes hadn’t slept in his bed? He would never have let it come out that he used to open the door for Foulkes every night. And as for Barricharan—well, he was a nice fellow. I’ve never seen anyone take to darts as quick as he did. It makes you wonder what would happen if a team of Indians was to enter for the championship over here. They say darts is an English game, but I don’t hardly know where we’d be if they all played it like he did. Nor wasn’t there any reason to suspect Alfred Vickers either. Nobody couldn’t have been jealous of a schoolboy like that, who was just thinking himself grown-up, with a young lady.
“Of course, I got Greenbough on the run, as you might say. I knew he’d make a dive for the Continent. Didn’t you notice the way I let him know I was on to him? I told him straight I knew who’d murdered Foulkes, and a minute later I said, very pointed, that I hoped we should meet in different circumstances. He knew what that meant, and we didn’t have to wait long that afternoon before he came tearing out to go to the Passport Office. What I didn’t anticipate was that you’d be having him followed down to Dover because you thought he’d murdered Beecher, Inspector.”
Stute looked rather pained.
“I must own,” he said, “that when you rang me up I thought you were rather late in the day. I’d had a man watching Greenbough for some time, and when he’d been traced to the Passport Office, naturally we never let him out of our sight.”
“But I’ll tell you how he really gave himself away,” said Beef. “It was when I was talking to him that first afternoon, and he told me the difference between the two cases. He said that Beecher wasn’t expected back, but that Alan Foulkes had arranged to be let into the school. Now, how did he know that if Alan hadn’t told him so himself? It had never come out in the papers anywhere. Only all you did, Townsend, while I was getting him to give himself away nicely, was to shew that you were impatient because I was talking too much. It only shews how careful you have to be, doesn’t it?
“Of course,” said Beef, “what finally confirmed the whole thing was Freda recognising Greenbough as the ‘mysterious stranger’ who had come into her bar that night. I told you I was going to take her up to Brixton Gaol, and so I did. She says there’s no doubt at all about it.”
Beef leaned back in his chair.
“Well, there you are,” he said. “You wanted evidence and I’ve given you enough to hang anyone with. If it wasn’t quite the evidence you expected—well, that’s not my fault.”