Case without a Corpse
But a few nights later, Stute was much more cheerful. He sat down at the small table we shared, and before Mrs. Simmons had had time to bring the soup he tossed a few sheets of typescript on the table.
“Well, Townsend,” he said, “what do you think of that? It is a translation of the report I received to-day by air mail from Comisario Julio Mareno Mendez of Buenos Aires. I met him some years ago at the International Police Conference of New York.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
“He’s the officer in charge of the Sección Identificaciones of the Argentine Police. All the fingerprint archives are in his care. A most intelligent fellow.”
I began to read the document which Stute had handed to me.
Sección Identificaciones,Division Investigaciones,Policia de la Capital Federal.Buenos Aires,Rep. ARGENTINA.ESTEEMED COLLEAGUE,
It gives me the greatest pleasure to recall our acquaintance in New York, and to be able to shew you by the sincerity of my present greetings, that even our work, surrounded by sordid circumstances as so often it is, gives scope now and again for a friendly salutation across the ocean, and a means of co-operating one with another in the object which we both faithfully serve—the combating of crime. It will be my endeavour and pleasure to answer your queries as fully as the means in my power and the considerable bulk of information collected by the department which I have the honour to direct, enable me to do.You ask me whether we know anything of a compatriot of yours, Alan Rogers, a steward employed on the Line of steamers running between Britain and Buenos Aires. I have had pleasure in making the most detailed and assiduous enquiries in our Section of Robberies and Damages, in our Section of Frauds and Swindles, in our Section of Personal Security, in that of Special Laws, and in that of Social Order. From these enquiries I am able to tell you that the subject Alan Rogers was under direct suspicion of being involved in drug smuggling and that a warrant had actually been issued for his arrest, and would have been put into action during his next visit to our country. Our Immigration Section had received orders to go aboard the ship to work, and arrest him, immediately this ship came into port. We had reason to know mat the subject Alan Rogers was acting as a go-between for powerful miscreants engaged in this traffic, though we have so far been unable to discover the identity either of the perpetrators of this crime over here, or the malefactors with whom they were in communication in your country. We believe, however, that cocaine was being carried by Rogers from the dastardly gang for whom he worked in Buenos Aires, to equally unscrupulous but no less powerful persons in your territory.In this connection I am instructed to say that the Police of the Federal Capital will be profoundly grateful to His Britannic Majesty’s Police for any information which the latter may be able to give them about the associates of the subject Alan Rogers in England, in the hope that from this information may arise the evidence they need in their indefatigable pursuit of the corresponding criminals in Buenos Aires.Now with regard to the two sets of fingerprints which you have sent us, one of the right and one of the left, of a male person, I am pleased to be able to tell you that we have identified these. I should like to remind you, esteemed colleague, of the conversation which we had on the subject of finger-prints on the pleasant occasion of our meeting in New York. I explained to you then our unique system of classification (embracing practically the whole population, not only persons under arrest, as in your country), and assured you, somewhat to your amusement, I remember, that here in Buenos Aires, by the Vucetich System, we were, on occasion, able to make the dead speak, or at any rate pronounce in unmistakable and infallible terms, their own identities. This seemed to you at the time, I recall, too large a claim for me to make for our archives, and for our principle of cataloguing finger-prints according to their own characteristics, so that the man might be identified from his finger-prints, and not only the finger-prints of a given man sought in the police library, as in your no doubt estimable system. I cannot resist the temptation to point out that this is actually a case in point, and that from our archives we have been able, with no information but the finger-prints themselves, to identify the possessor. And I would like to have the temerity to express the hope that at some time in the future your excellent, efficient, modern and brilliant directors at Scotland Yard may perceive the fact that a system which is able to perform this is unsurpassable.The man whose finger-prints you send me is Charles Riley, born in 1900 at Bristol, who was arrested in Buenos Aires seven years and three months ago on a charge of assault and battery and resistance to the police. It was on the occasion of this arrest that his finger-prints were taken and filed. The subject Charles Riley was employed at this time in a similar capacity to that of the subject Alan Rogers, but on the —— Line of steam ships which run from Buenos Aires to New York. He received a sentence of two months’ imprisonment, at the end of which he was deported to his native country of England, and forbidden re-entry to this country. We have no reason for supposing that Riley and Rogers are in fact the same person, but we have no reason for supposing the contrary, as we have no finger-prints as yet of Rogers.May I express the ardent hope that the information I have fortunately been able to have the honour of conveying to you may be of direct assistance to you in whatever investigation may be occupying you at this moment.
I salute you attentively,
Your colleague and friend,JULIO MARENO MENDEZ.
“Phew!” I said, overcome by this exuberance.
“You must remember,” Stute said at once, “that it is translated literally from Spanish, the most courtly language in the world. And the point is that his information is accurate and to the point, and clears up a number of our mysteries.”
“What does Beef think of it?” I asked.
Stute smiled. “The Sergeant, in his own words, is ‘took aback.’ He ‘wouldn’t never have believed it possible.’ I’m afraid that to Beef anything that is really and thoroughly methodical must always seem more or less miraculous. I left him trying to pronounce the name Julio Mareno Mendez in a sort of ecstasy of admiration.”
“Well, I don’t altogether wonder. It is pretty marvellous. So now you know young Rogers’s real name.”
“Yes. And we know how he came to be down-and-out when he went to beg from old Rogers in Bromley that day. And we know what his envelope of ‘lottery tickets’ really contained. And we can form a pretty good guess at his business with Fairfax.”
“And the foreigner?”
Stute considered, “I think,” he said, “if we find out just who Mr. Fairfax was, whether he’s alive or dead, we shall have some more ideas about that foreigner.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but for all that this report tells you about young Rogers, it doesn’t tell you anything directly indicative of the identity of the person he murdered.”
“Directly, no. You mustn’t expect things to come directly. I tell you that detection is nothing but the collection and co-ordination of relevant facts. And my ‘esteemed colleague’ in Buenos Aires has given me some valuable ones.”
I thought what admirable patience and coolness the man had. He had got a completely fresh line of research. Drug-smuggling, a wholly new and sinister element, had been brought into what had seemed a sordid tragedy in a small country town, but he saw nothing to get excited about. His keen mind was busy with the jig-saw as it now appeared.
“Of course,” he said presently, “I’ve been in touch with the Yard. They are looking up to see if Charles Riley has any sort of record, for strange as it would seem to Señor Julio Mareno Mendez, we also have our archives, even if our finger-prints are not catalogued on the Vucetich system.”
“Of course,” I said. “And I’ve got an entirely new line of research on Fairfax. I’ve asked them to see if they can link him up with any known drug-pedlar. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if enquiries in that direction brought results.”
“No. It looks promising.”
“All the same, we mustn’t let all this drug theory blind us to the possibility that it may, after all, have been the girl he murdered, and this turn out to be a mere side-line in crime of the fellow’s. It’s strange what you stir up when you begin to look into people’s lives.”