Case without a Corpse
I used to have breakfast about an hour later than Stute and next morning, as I was finishing my toast and home-made marmalade, Constable Galsworthy was shewn in by Mrs. Simmons. He looked almost offensively healthy and full of beans, and I remarked on it.
“I’m in training for the Police Boxing Championship,” he explained. “I got into the final last year.”
So that was it. I had always thought that he looked like a boxer. “Did you want to see me?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. Detective-Inspector Stute told me to call in on my way by. He’s had a report in from Scotland Yard, and says that if you want to see the next move in this case, you had better go round there.”
“The next move?” I repeated.
“That’s what he said, sir.”
“Well, thank you, Constable. I’ll go straight round.”
I hadn’t had a chance to speak to Beef for some days, and was glad to see his red face, with a smile on it, when I entered his little office.
“Morning, Townsend,” said Stute. “I thought you would like to hear the latest. We’ve had two reports about Fairfax.”
He picked up a photograph of a heavy-faced, solemn, not very amiable-looking man, and handed it to me.
“His real name is, or was, Ferris, he said, “and he was convicted ten years ago of selling cocaine. So far as our people can make out, he scarcely bothered to allow a decent lapse to go by after he had come out of gaol before he was engaged in the same traffic.”
“Makes you think, doesn’t it,” said Beef, growing philosophical. “I mean you never know what you’re going to find out about anyone. ’Ere we are, investigating a suicide and confession of murder, and we come on this bloke selling drugs. I sometimes wonder whether if we was to look into anyone’s doings, as close as we do when they been up to somethink like murder, we shouldn’t find they’d all got skelingtons in their cupboards.”
“Seems as though your ‘esteemed colleague’ in Buenos Aires was right about Rogers, anyway.”
“Yes. I don’t think we should be jumping to conclusions if we presumed that young Rogers was bringing drugs in for Fairfax. Unfortunately that doesn’t tell us whether it was Fairfax whom he murdered, and if it wasn’t, who was the victim. Which brings me to the second report.”
We waited while Stute turned over his papers.
“It isn’t very much, but it might help us. The woman tenant of the basement in the house where Fairfax, or Ferris, lived in Hammersmith suddenly took it into her head to remember the firm which had moved their furniture there. They had been in the flat about two years, so this was lucky. But the firm was Pickertons which was not so lucky, as with a large firm like that it is hard to trace a specified move. But the manager was most helpful. He went through his books very carefully, and discovered that the furniture had been collected from a London depository, and moved to Hammersmith for a Mr. Freeman. And he was able to give our man the name of the depository.”
“See ’ow they do it?” said Beef gleefully. “Wonderful ’ow they follow ’em up, isn’t it?”
“The depository took longer to find the record, but eventually told us that they had moved Mr. Freeman’s things from the village of Long Highbury in Oxfordshire.”
Beef rubbed his hands. I was rather peeved by his ingenuous enthusiasm. It seemed that he was revealing his inexperience too much to his superior, who already had a good idea of it. I decided to make a different tone.
“I don’t quite see how all this is going to help you,” I said. “You know Fairfax’s real name. And you know where he went from to Hammersmith over two years ago. But you don’t know where he is now. Or, in fact,” I added ironically, “if he is now.”
“That’s true,” said Stute, quite unruffled, “but you expect too much at a time, Townsend. As I’m always telling you, detection is not done by leaps and bounds. Now we want to trace this Fairfax, or Ferris, or Freeman, and his wife. If he is alive, he will certainly be able to tell us a good deal and perhaps everything we want to know. And if he’s dead, then his wife will. Either way, it is worth our while to find out all we can of him in his pre-Hammersmith days, and by that means we may be able to find out where to look for him, or his wife, or his widow, now.
“So you’re going to Long Highbury?”
“I am. Would you like to come?” I hesitated. Really, to drive all the way to Oxfordshire on the chance that someone in a certain village remembered a man who had been there, perhaps for only a short time, over two years ago, seemed a little over-optimistic to me. Besides, even if they did remember him, what could they say that would help Stute now? Surely this Fairfax was not the man to spread the story of his life among his casual acquaintances in the village, and even less his plans for the future. Still, it was kind of Stute to suggest my going with him, and it would have been churlish to refuse. So I accepted with as much enthusiasm as I could manage.
“You won’t need me, sir,” questioned Beef. “No, I don’t think so, Sergeant.” Then, as though to conciliate him, Stute added, “We must keep someone on the spot.”
Beef nodded solemnly. “Just so, sir. Any partic’lar line of enquiry you’d wish me to follow?”
Stute gave his rather cynical smile. “Nothing I can think of,” he said, “but perhaps you’ll get some interesting information from. Mr. Simmons or Mr. Sawyer, while I’m away.”
Beef did not see that the detective was pulling his leg. “I’ll do my best, sir,” he said, and left us.
“You’d better pack a bag, Townsend,” Stute said to me. “It’s about sixty miles away, and if we don’t get our information straight away we may have to stay the night.”
“Oh, very well. But doesn’t it seem. . . .”
“A long shot? I don’t think so. After all, Fairfax is our favourite for the murder stakes at the moment, isn’t he? Anything we can find out will help. Our people are working in London to try to trace some associates of his there—but that’s a different proposition. They can go among the known drug people, and they’ll be met with blank faces. But in a village this size he must have talked to someone.”
“Yes,” I said, still dubious. “All right, I’ll go and pack a bag.”
“I’ll pick you up at the Mitre in half an hour, then.”
But before I reached the door, Constable Galsworthy entered.
“Well?” snapped Stute, who had never forgiven the athletic Galsworthy for his name, which Stute seemed to consider pretentious.
“Got something to report, sir.”
“The case, sir.”
“The case? What is it?”
“I’ve been making enquiries. . . .”
“You’ve been making enquiries! By whose orders?”
Galsworthy remained admirably calm, and my sympathies were wholly with him. Stute, I thought, was being altogether too discouraging. “On my own initiative, sir.”
“I see. Were you at a public school?”
“I knew it! The Force is full of you fellows. Every constable in England begins to think he’s a detective nowadays. Well, what have your enquiries told you?”
“I went to the railway station, sir,” said Galsworthy, apparently quite oblivious of Stute’s hostility, “and enquired there of the staff whether any of them had seen Fairfax leave for London on the Wednesday of the suicide, sir. It occurred to me that we had their statements with regard to Rogers and Smythe, but no enquiry had been made about Fairfax.”
“And you thought it your business to make it?”
“Yes, sir.” Still he was quite unimpassioned. “It appears that Fairfax travelled up to London that day on the 2.50.”
“I see. And from what does it appear that he travelled up to London?”
“He bought his ticket, sir, and mentioned to the booking-clerk that his little holiday was over. He then spoke to one of the porters on the platform, who saw him into the train. It was a slow train, and only one other passenger was travelling. The porter saw that he went.”
“I see. And in the innocence of your Old Etonian heart. . . .”
“Old Berkhampsteadian, sir.”
“Don’t interrupt. I don’t care if it’s Old Giggleswickian. In the innocence of your heart you suppose that the fact that a man buys a ticket and gets on a London-bound train, which stops at a dozen intermediate stations, constitutes proof that he travelled to London.”
“Not proof, sir.”
“No. Do I understand that you have entered for the Police Boxing Championship?”
“I hope you get knocked out. That will do.”
Still perfectly calm, Galsworthy said, “Thank you, sir,” and withdrew.
“Really!” said Stute.
“You seemed a bit hard on him,” I said. “He was doing his best.”
“I daresay. But one really can’t have that sort of thing. Beef’s bad enough, with his ‘theories.’ ”
“But after all,” I pointed out gently, “you say you want relevant facts. And he certainly gave you one.”
Stute turned to me with his rather pleasant if bitter smile. “All right, let’s leave it at that,” he said. “This case is beginning to fray my nerves. Ridiculous, when you come to think of it, that we can’t trace a simple murder. You go and pack your bag. We’ll get hold of Mrs. Fairfax, anyway.”
And so, half an hour later, I found myself speeding away from Braxham with a grim and serious Detective Stute, who seemed more rigidly concentrated than ever. Perhaps Constable Galsworthy had unconsciously keyed him up to the pursuit.