Case without a Corpse
We must have covered about eight miles at a very fair speed before either of us spoke. The evening had darkened and one could see little more than the shining surface of wet tar ahead of us. I had momentarily forgotten our problems as I thought of the dingy little Rector and his wife.
“Do you still think our visit to Long Highbury wasted?” Stute asked suddenly.
“Well, we don’t seem much forrader,” I returned. “All we know now is that the Freemans went from there to France.”
“You are really a splendid foil, Mr. Townsend. I wish you had taken it into your head to describe one of my cases, instead of Beef’s.”
I thought this rather rude. “Do you know so much more?” I asked.
“I certainly don’t know that the Freemans went from Long Highbury. to France. But I do know why they went to Long Highbury. And I’ve a pretty good idea of how to get hold of them, or of her, now.”
“Remarkable, I’m sure,” I snapped with sarcastic incredulity. “If you’ve learnt all that from our interview in that very unventilated room, I congratulate you.”
“My dear Townsend, surely you must see for yourself? Here we have a known criminal, a man engaged in an extremely remunerative traffic which may bring him at any moment under arrest. He suddenly, under a new name, goes down to the country and takes a cottage, explaining rather vaguely that he is a retired accountant of sorts. He takes care to make friends with the Rector, and to support him rather lavishly in any appeal he may make. Then he casually decides to go abroad, and gets the Rector to sign his application for a passport. What is the inference?”
“Well, he was arranging what the Americans call a hideout. He was planning for a rainy day. When trouble arose he, Ferris or Fairfax, whom nobody had reason to associate with a Mr. Freeman who once lived at Long Highbury, would have a perfectly authentic passport ready for him. And it was the only way he could get that passport. The office does not, except in certain cases, confirm details of birth, etc., given to them. Provided the application is signed by a responsible person, they issue the passport. So that our friend spent six months of his life in preparing for the dangerous moment when he would want to vanish. And vanish he could, completely. I have often wondered why more criminals don’t take this simple precaution. It may be the church-work which puts them off.”
“Good Lord! You really think. . . .”
“I am certain of it. Why else did Ferris-Fairfax-Freeman spend that time in a village with that sort of parson? Why else? And we Know that he got his passport, and having got it, disappeared leaving no address which quite distressed the Rector and his wife who thought him ‘charming.’ ”
“Clever idea. He must have been a pretty deep sort of blackguard.”
“Yes. Or working for one. I’m inclined to agree with our friend in Buenos Aires about a ‘big power’ behind this somewhere. Our record of Ferris was of a fairly ordinary type of criminal.”
“But you said that you had an idea as to where he is now, if he’s still alive. What is that?”
“His passport was made out for France, and France only. I imagine his reason for having that was an idea of his, possibly mistaken, that an application for a passport for France only would not be scrutinized as carefully as one for all countries in Europe. Remember that if the Passport Office had taken it into their heads to ask for a birth certificate, he was sunk. Anyway, presuming that he used that passport he has gone to France, and to get any further he would have to apply to a British Consul.”
“So that if we apply to the French police, and at the same time notify our consulates in France, there is a good chance of coming up with him. Always, of course, providing that he’s still alive.”
“You’re quite right, of course. How you people cover the loop-holes.”
“Just a matter of being a little bit methodical, and not neglecting any chance of gathering information. You see? That was why I went to Long Highbury. It was a chance—and it has come off. Meanwhile, Ferris-Fairfax-Freeman if he is alive, can have no idea that we have linked him with Long Highbury. Why should he? It was a hundred to one against that woman in the basement noticing what firm had moved him. Only the invincible curiosity of people who live in houses that are divided into flats about the inhabitants of other strata, happened to come to our rescue. A little luck, and a lot of care! That’s detection.”
After that we drove on in silence for a time. My conscience was pricking me a little in the matter of Sergeant Beef. After all, it had been as his friend that I had first been introduced to the case, and I had neglected him disgracefully. But Stute was more interesting to watch. His keen, forceful mind, his habit of pigeonholing all his information with infinite care, his unhurried but resolute progress, his swift trained senses, were so obviously superior to the ponderous calculations of Beef that I was beginning to doubt the Sergeant.
However, I said to myself, as we eventually approached Braxham, perhaps my old friend may have unearthed some useful information for Stute during our absence. He would at least have plodded on with his search.
At the police station Constable Galsworthy was waiting for us.
“Sergeant Beef asked me to go and fetch him when you arrived, sir,” he told Stute. “I understand he has something to report.”
“Where is he?” the Inspector asked, with the asperity he always shewed to this constable.
“He told me to tell you, if you should ask sir, that he would be prosecuting some of the enquiries you had suggested.”
“Oh yes,” said Stute, unable to repress his grim smile. “All right. I’ll wait here.”
We sat down and smoked in silence, both of us very tired. It must have been a quarter of an hour later that Beef hurried in, perspiring slightly, but quite pleased with himself.
“Well, Beef?” said Stute at once.
“You’re a marvel, sir!” said the Sergeant loudly. “’Ow you can ’ave known I can’t make out.”
“Known what?” asked Stute rather coldly.
“Why, that I should get that information from Sawyer wot you told me to go for.”
Stute nodded. “What is it?”
“Well, ’e didn’t want to say nothink at first. But seeing that you’d told me to go an’ cross-examine ’im again, I knew there must be some-think ’e could tell. Besides, I could see in ’is eye ’e was ’iding it. So I kep’ on at ’im. And after a lot of questioning ’e outs with it.”
“What?” asked Stute impatiently.
“Why about ’is brother, sir.”
“His brother? Sawyer’s brother? What about him?”
“Don’t you know, sir? I thought you must ’ave to ’ave sent me down there. Why, ’e’s disappeared. Clean vanished.”
Stute groaned. “Not another murderee!” he begged.
“I’ll tell you wot ’e told me. This ’ere brother of ’is is married. And when I say married-well she’s a reg’lar Tartar. You know, takes ’is wages orf ’im an’ all that. If ’e so much as goes near a pub she’s arfter ’im. I’ve seen ’er myself when she’s been over ere with im at the Dragon. Really narsty she gets.”
Stute sighed. “They didn’t live here?” he asked wearily.
“No, sir. Ower at Claydon.
“How far away is that?”
“It’d be about fifteen miles. It’s the best shopping centre round here. Sawyer’s brother was a painter and decorator with a little business of ’is own. ’E’d of got on nicely if it ’adn’t been for that wife of ’is.”
Stute’s eyes were closed, but Beef wasn’t to be hurried.
“On that Wednesday ’e came in to the Dragon. . . .”
“Time?” said Stute.
“I was coming to that. Round about seven o’clock. Not long after young Rogers ’ad gone out. And he calls ’is brother aside. ‘Fred,’ ’e says, ’I’ve run away.’ ‘Run away?’ says Sawyer. ‘Yes,’ ’e says, ‘from ’er.’ ‘Good Lord!’ says Sawyer, not ’ardly blaming ’im, you understand, but took aback all the same. ‘What you going ter do?’ ’e asks. ‘Well,’ says ’is brother, she’s got the business. She’ll keep the two men on and do just as well as if I was there.’ Sawyer said ’e could quite believe that. But what is brother wanted was for ’im to lend ’im some money. See, she wrote all the cheques an’ that. ’E couldn’t draw nothink without ’er. See?”
“And did he?” sighed Stute.
“Yes. Ten quid ’e lent ’im. And ’is brother promised to write to ’im. ’E’d left a note for ’is wife, saying ’e couldn’t stick the sight of ’er no more.”
“That wasn’t very polite,” remarked Stute.
“Well, if you’d of seen ’er, sir! Anyway, off ’e goes.”
“Sawyer couldn’t say for certain, but it must of been about an hour after ’e come in.”
“I see. Well, what do you expect me to do about it?”
Beef seemed taken aback. “You arst me to find out from Sawyer. . . .”
Stute stood up. “All right, Sergeant. I’m sure you did your best. But I really don’t see why you should expect me to be interested in Mr. Sawyer’s lost brother. I don’t suppose he even knew young Rogers?”
“A certain amount, ’e did, anyway.”
“Still, even knowing him scarcely seems a reason to be murdered, does, it?”
Beef looked sulky. “Well, there you are. I done what you said. And I told you the result.”
“Thank you, Beef,” said Stute, icily. And the meeting was adjourned.