Case without a Corpse
“Gor,” said Beef, when we were at last in the car. “She didn’t ’arf run on, did she? I wonder you never stopped ’er, sir.”
“You’ve a lot to learn, Sergeant,” returned Stute. “There are times when it is better to let people talk than to make them talk. Mrs. Walker’s story had a certain amount of waste in it, but we got the information we wanted.”
I thought that the man’s description of Mrs. Walker’s irrelevances as “waste” was typical of him. There was no “waste” from Stute; he went from point to point with dour economy.
“She has enabled us at least to fill in a little more of the time-table. The only important gaps now are the times between 11 o’clock and 1, between 2.15 and 4, and between 6.30 and 8.15.”
“Yessir,” said Beef with resignation.
As we were leaving the village, the young constable who had told us the position of Rose Cottage put out his hand to indicate that he wished to speak to Stute. He hurried across to the car, and Stute dropped the window beside his seat.
“There’s something more I thought you ought to know. At about 5.10 on that day, this young Rogers, with the girl who had been staying at Rose Cottage, went into the village general store.”
“He left his motorbike outside, and the two of them entered together. He asked if they sold rope.”
“Rope?” asked Stute quickly, and I thought there was a flash of special interest in his glance.
“Yes, sir. Mrs. Davies said she’d only got the complete clothes-lines, which are done up in skeins of twelve yards, and the young lady asked if she couldn’t sell them a smaller quantity as they only wanted it to fasten an attaché case on the motor-bicycle. Mrs. Davies said she couldn’t cut them, and the man said he’d take the whole thing.”
“Did she watch them tie it on?”
“I asked her that, sir, and she said that the shop was full and she didn’t notice, but she thinks it was some minutes before the motor-bike started up outside. That was all she knew, sir.”
“Thank you, Smith. Very useful,” said Stute, and began driving on. “I wonder,” he said to Beef, “whether a man with a name like Thackeray, or whatever it was, would have got that information for me?”
Beef was piqued. “I wonder,” he said, and then was silent. I rather sympathised with him. There was something almost priggish about Smith.
We were speeding over the Common again, and I could not help thinking of Mrs. Walker’s gruesome conviction that Stella Smythe’s body was even now lying on this waste land. It seemed that the same thought had come to Stute, for he spoke to Beef without taking his eyes from the road ahead.
“We shall have to have this place searched,” he said.
“Very good, sir,” said Beef, still rather sulky.
The rest of the drive was passed with little conversation, and I sat at the back of the car wondering what conclusions were being reached in the minds of the two investigators.
At the police station Stute was told that a man was waiting to see him, and when we had sat down once again in Beef’s little office, he was ushered in. His name, it appears, was Charles Meadows, and he was a porter employed at the railway station.
“Evening, Sarge,” he said with somewhat too much familiarity.
Beef cleared his throat. “Good evening, Meadows,” he returned in his most solemn voice. “Wot can I do for you?”
Mr. Meadows, who was a pale and rather peaked little man in his forties, leaned forward with an air of having a secret to confide. “I’ve got something to tell you,” he said.
Stute broke in. “We’re very busy,” he said. “What is it you want to say?”
Mr. Meadows looked hurt. “I was trying to help,” he said.
“Well, well. What can you tell us?”
“I saw young Rogers that evening when I was coming off duty,” he said.
“What time was that?”
“About ten to six, it would have been.”
“Well, I live out on the Chopley Road. I was walking along, not thinking of anything in particular, till I got past the last house in the avenue, and was going along that bit where the road goes across to our cottages. . . .”
“That’s not very explicit,” Stute cut in. “Do you mean that there is a stretch of road without any houses on it between the last outskirts of this town and the place where you live?”
“That’s right, sir.” Poor Mr. Meadows was quite subdued by the brisk manner of Stute.
“And there in front of me, by the side of the road, I saw a motor-bike pulled up. As I got nearer the man who was sitting in the saddle said, “Hullo, Charlie,’ and I knew it was young Rogers.”
“You couldn’t see him though?”
“Enough to recognize him with his voice and all,” said Meadows guardedly. “There was a young lady on the pillion seat.”
“What sort of young lady?”
“I couldn’t say. She was wearing a white mackintosh, that’s all I know. The lights of the bike were in my eyes, so nothing was very clear.”
“Did Rogers say anything else?”
“Yes, I’m coming to that. He asked what time the fast train left for London. ‘This young lady,’ he said, ‘has to catch it.’ So I told him at six o’clock. And he said, ‘Thank you, Charlie. See you to-night.’ And I went on.”
“Oh. You did. What about him?”
“I didn’t really notice. I was just getting near my cottage and was soon inside. It was too cold to hang about.”
“And the girl never spoke?”
“Not while I was there.”
“I see. Thank you, Meadows. Much obliged to you.”
“That’s all right,” said Meadows, almost as disappointed as Mr. Sawyer had been at the laconic reception given to his tale. “Sorry I can’t tell you any more.”
When he had left us Stute drew paper and pen to him, and said, “Now then,” in a peremptory way.
We waited. He seemed to be thinking deeply for a moment, then he began speaking, and, almost at the same time, writing.
“We can draw up some sort of a programme of what young Rogers did that day. There are some gaps in it, and it is dependent on the words of witnesses who may be mistaken or who may be lying. But it’s some sort of plan to go on. And it’s not bad for one day’s work.”
I noticed that he ignored altogether the day that Beef had put in before he arrived. This was, as far as I can remember, what he wrote:—
|10.30.||Left old Rogers’s shop in Braxham.|
|11.0.||Arrived at Rose Cottage, Chopley, and asked for Smythe.|
|1.0.||Arrived at Riverside Private Hotel for lunch with Fairfax.|
|2.0.||Left Riverside Private Hotel with Fairfax.|
|2.10.||Reached the Mitre with Fairfax.|
|2.20.||On entrance of foreigner, left Mitre with Fairfax.|
|2.45.||Was starting up his motor-bike in the drive of Riverside Hotel.|
|4.0.||Arrived again at Rose Cottage.|
|4.0-5.0.||With Smythe at Rose Cottage.|
|5.10.||Bought rope in general store at Chopley.|
|5.50.||On road just outside Braxham speaking to Meadows.|
|6.10.||Entered Dragon public house near the station.|
|6.30.||Left the Dragon.|
|8.0.||Returned to Old Rogers’s shop.|
|8.20.||Reached Mitre where he confessed to murder, and took poison.|
“Do you see any flaws in that, Sergeant?” asked Stute.
“No, sir. Not so far as wot we’ve been told’s concerned I don’t. But of course there’s some narsty gaps.”
“Quite right. There are. Suppose we allow half an hour each time for his journey to Chopley. It couldn’t take him much more, unless he had engine trouble, or was delayed in some other way. That means that there’s an hour and twenty-five minutes unaccounted for between his leaving Chopley in the morning, and reaching Riverside. Then again if it takes ten minutes to walk from Riverside to the Mitre. . . .”
“No more, it wouldn’t,” put in Beef.
“Well, you should know, Sergeant,” said Stute.
“I always bicycles,” returned Beef.
“Anyway, say ten minutes. That leaves a quarter of an hour left blank between the time he walked out of the Mitre with Fairfax to the time he started up his motor-bike in the drive. And another three-quarters of an hour which we can’t explain between then and the time he reached Rose Cottage.”
“True enough,” said Beef after a long examination of the ’time-table.’
“But what is most unaccountable,” said Stute, “is the hour and a half between the time he left the Dragon, and his arrival at old Rogers’s shop.”
“Yes. That is funny,” agreed Beef, stifling a yawn.
“However,” said Stute, “patience and system. We’ll fill it all in with time.”
I rose to go, for it was getting near dinnertime, and I was tired and hungry. I turned to Stute.
“Thank you so much,” I said, “for letting me come round with you to-day.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” he returned with something approaching a smile, “We’re used to that, you know. A crime wouldn’t be a crime nowadays without half a dozen of you literary people hanging about after it. Why only the other day . . . But perhaps I’d better not tell you about her. She’d put me in her new book. Good night.”
The Sergeant followed me to the door. With a mysterious nod backwards in the direction of Stute, he began to whisper hoarsely.
“’E’s staying at the Mitre, where you are. So I shan’t go in there to-night. If you wants a game of darts after you’ve ’ad your supper, come on down to the Dragon, and I’ll see you three ’undred an’ one up. See?”