Case with Ropes and Rings
It was nearly three months since Beef had had a case. The Sergeant, who has his pension and his savings, did not seem to worry much about this, but I have to make my living as an investigator’s chronicler, and I was beginning to get anxious.
I had made several attempts to get him a job, but these had been frustrated by a number of circumstances. In the first, a nice little murder up in Shropshire, the wife of the murdered man had explained tartly that even if she did employ an investigator, she would not have the killing of her husband with a meat-chopper made the subject of a novel. Another, a parson in Norfolk, who was having all sorts of trouble in his parish on account of a deluge of anonymous letters, had shaken his head sadly. “The publicity, my dear Sir, the publicity!” And Beef had said that he quite understood his objection. So that it had begun to look as though, in spite of his success in the Circus case, Beef was back to where he began; that was, in the old position in which no one would take him seriously.
He did not fail to complain of this to me.
“It’s the way you write them up,” he said. “If you make a joke of me, how do you expect people to take me on?”
I tried to explain to Beef that it was my interpretation of his performances, an interpretation which I always considered rather witty, which gave our books even the mild success they had achieved.
“So it may of,” said Beef, with such disdain for grammar that my teeth were set on edge. “But it doesn’t get us cases.” And it seemed for the moment that Beef was right.
One morning, however, the familiar voice, rattling my telephone receiver, implored me to come round to Lilac Crescent immediately. “We’re on to something,” said Beef, “as sure as eggs is eggs.”
Not very confidently, but with the hopefulness that is part of my trade, I got into my car and drove round to the dingy row of houses, defiantly near Baker Street, in which Beef had made his home. In the small front room he pulled out a copy of the Daily Dose without waiting to greet me, and stuck his large forefinger on a column of it.
“There you are,” he announced triumphantly.
I glanced sceptically at the headlines. They announced, with that gleeful emphasis which the popular Press reserves for the misfortunes of the aristocracy, that young Lord Alan Foulkes, second son of the Marquess of Edenbridge, who was being educated at Penshurst School, had been found hanging from a beam in the gymnasium on the morning after he had won the School Heavyweight Boxing Championship.
“What about it?” I asked.
“That’s just the case for me,” said Beef.
“Case? But the poor boy committed suicide,” I pointed out.
“How do you know?” asked Beef.
“Well, I don’t know,” I admitted. “But it seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it?”
“Not to me, it doesn’t,” retorted Beef, and then added, “Penshurst? Isn’t that where your brother is a teacher?”
I was startled. It was quite true that my brother Vincent has been Senior Science Master at Penshurst for some years, but we had never been the best of friends. His description of me, to a girl in whom we were both interested, as “pompous” had not helped to endear him to me, and when he had further written to my mother that “Lionel had better give up writing and return to insurance, since no one without a sense of humour could hope to make a living by the pen,” I was little short of furious. I know that it is often necessary for me in writing the stories of Beef’s exploits to be a humourless prig, infinitely credulous and stupid, but actually I like to think that behind that facade there is a quick and effective brain which will some day surprise Beef by finding the solution to a problem before he has done more than fill his giant notebook.
My brother, at any rate, grossly underestimated me, and there was no love lost between us. The mere thought of Beef’s getting mixed up in a case with which he was in any way associated alarmed me. I could imagine his cold jeer at my old friend the ex-policeman, and at what would appear to Vincent’s scientific mind as Beef’s fumbling amateurism. I could imagine him saying of me that, even with what he regarded as my mental inadequacy, I deserved better fare than to spend my life chronicling the clumsy buffoonery of the Sergeant, however successful Beef might have happened to be in the cases which he had undertaken. I could imagine, too, Vincent’s distaste for a situation in which his quiet life at Penshurst was disturbed by our arrival.
However, I answered: “Yes, that is the school where my brother is a master, and that makes any suggestion of your going there quite inadmissible.”
“How’s that?” asked Beef with his usual tactlessness. “Couldn’t he get us the job?”
I sighed as patiently as I could.
“In the first place,” I pointed out, “I can’t see that there is a job. In the second place, if there were, I can scarcely think of an investigator less suitable than yourself to undertake it. In the third place, I very much doubt if my brother could do anything. And in the fourth place, I shouldn’t dream of asking him. So that settles the matter.”
“I don’t know,” said Beef. “I don’t know. I’ve always had a fancy for one of these hanging cases. You’re often reading in the papers of young fellows tying themselves up in all sorts of ways and then getting hanged from the banisters. I’d be interested to look into it.”
“Possibly,” I said. “But I very much doubt if the Marquess of Edenbridge would see it quite that way. He, perhaps you’re forgetting, has just lost his son in most tragic circumstances.”
Beef took his pipe out of his mouth.
“Tragic circumstances,” he began sententiously, “have never been sufficient to put off an investigator. They love tragic circumstances, the whole lot of them. Haven’t you ever noticed in detective novels what a good time everybody has with a few tragic circumstances?”
“But you don’t seem to realize, Beef, that this boy came from one of our greatest families. Penshurst is among the oldest and finest of the public schools. You’d be completely out of place in such surroundings.”
“I don’t agree with you at all,” said Beef huffily. “I’ve nothing against a man being a lord. He can’t help it. And as for schools, well, I was educated at Purley Board School. We were always sorry for the young fellows from the Whitgift, who had to wear those silly little coloured caps on their heads. We didn’t half knock them off, either,” he added, grinning.
“I don’t know whether you’re trying to be funny, or you’re more obtuse than usual,” I replied. “Perhaps I should speak plainly. If there’s a case here at all—which I doubt—it’s a case for an investigator who is at the same time a man of the world, a gentleman, and one used to decent society. Lord Simon Plimsoll could probably handle it, but not you, Beef, not you.”
“Now look here,” said Beef truculently. “I’ve had about enough of this. Either you write up my cases or you don’t. This is the chance of a lifetime for me, and I don’t mean to miss it. We’re going to hop in that little car of yours and we’re going straight down to see your brother, and I hope he's got more sense than what you have.”
“We’re going to do nothing of the sort,” I said angrily.
“You may not be,” rejoined Beef. “But I am, and that’s flat.”
This bludgeoning method of Beef’s always put me in a quandary. Obviously I could not have him arriving at Penshurst School and announcing to my brother that he was a friend of mine who wanted to investigate the suicide of Lord Alan Foulkes. So I tried another line of defence.
“But, Beef,” I said, “what we want is a case which you’re commissioned to handle. There’s no money in solution for solution’s sake. It was all very well with the Circus, because we had to get you back on the map after your failure in the Sydenham case. But this time you want something with fees to it.”
“Exactly,” said Beef. “Exactly. And there should be a nice little fee with this. Lord Edenbridge is one of the richest men in England, and if I was to prove that his son hadn’t committed suicide, wouldn’t he want to show his generosity?”
“It’s a little too far-fetched,” I retorted.
“And talking about fees,” put in Beef impressively, “there’s a thing I’ve been meaning to say for some time. When we do a case like that Circus one, when there’s nothing direct for me in it, I really don’t see why I should not have a cut at the book rights.”
I was taken aback.
“The book rights?” I repeated.
“Yes,” said Beef. “And the American rights, and the serial rights, if there are any, and the film rights, if your agents are ever clever enough to sell them. (I should be all right on the films, and why Gordon Harker hasn’t discovered me years ago as a character for him to play I can’t think.) Anyway, I don’t see why I shouldn’t have my share. I do all the work, don’t I? It’s me as lays my hand on the murderer’s shoulder in the last chapter, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t I be in on the pickings?”
I stared at him aghast.
“Beef,” I said solemnly, “you’re getting beyond yourself.”
“Mind you,” said Beef, “I’m not saying anything about the cases where I do get paid, like in the Sydenham case. But it’s those we do just for the story’s sake. I mean, fair’s fair, isn’t it?”
I did not wish to discuss this monstrous suggestion.
“I shall have to think about it,” I said curtly.
“I should very much like to know what the other investigators would advise,” went on Beef expansively. “You never hardly find them discussing money. How do you suppose Dr. Thorndyke and Amer Picon and them got on? I know Lord Simon Plimsoll has a private income. Do you suppose the rest of them do it for love?”
“I refuse to discuss it any further,” I said, and picked up my hat.
“Well, it doesn’t matter so much in this case,” admitted Beef, “because if I do what I think I can, Lord Edenbridge will look after me.”
“There isn’t going to be a case,” I said hurriedly. “I shouldn’t consider approaching my brother.” Privately I was regretting that I had ever informed Beef of his existence.
“You ought to be glad of it,” the Sergeant persisted. “It’s just what we need, lords and Old Schools and all that. Our cases have been getting quite sordid lately. People like to read about those with money and the goings on of the aristocracy. I’m really only thinking of your book when I suggest it.” I felt myself beginning to weaken.
“If I were to consent to our calling on my brother,” I suggested nervously, “would you promise to abide by what he said? I mean, if he tells you that it’s impossible, you’ll come back straight to town with me?” Beef considered for a moment.
“All right,” he said. “If he says it’s orf, I’ll give in.” I stood up.
“Very well,” I conceded, “I suppose there’s nothing for it. I shall have to take you down to see him.” Beef grinned.
“That’s right,” he said. “I knew you would be sensible in the end. And just to encourage you, let me tell you this. I’ve got an idea about this case. I may be wrong, mind you, but I believe we’re going to make history. If we’re lucky enough to have the police call this suicide, we’re home. It all depends on the inquest, but you mark my words, Townsend, we’re on to something good.”
“I consider that rather vulgar,” I said, remembering that he was speaking of a tragedy. But I did eventually lead him round to the car.