Case without a Corpse
Days passsed again without further revelations. At this point I really began to wonder whether it ever would be discovered whom Rogers had murdered. If Beef’s story of Sawyer’s brother was to be taken seriously there were now four possibilities. The whole thing was nightmarish, and I was reminded of the time when, a frightened preparatory schoolboy, I used to wake up and find myself trying to work out on my pillow the mathematical problems set in class.
The worst of the case was that nothing seemed absolutely certain. There were probabilities, possibilities, theories, but nothing that one could get hold of.
And then one morning came an event which eliminated one of the possibilities, and at the same time gave new hope of a solution. It was a windy clear day in March, and there were snow-drops in the Braxham gardens, and the first indications of Spring, I remember. And Beef, instead of looking dull and liverish, seemed jovial that morning, and gave a twirl to his moustache instead of sucking it peevishly.
“They’ve found ’im,” he said excitedly. “This ere Fairfax.”
“You mean . . . his body? It was Fairfax?”
“No!” Beef’s negative was drawn through a series of vowels. “Alive an’ kicking. Very much alive, I should think. ’E’s in Paris.”
Stute, less emotionally, confirmed the news.
“He went to our consulate in Paris,” he said. “It appears that he wanted to move on to Switzerland. We have his address in Paris, and the French police are watching him in the meanwhile. His wife is with him.”
“What will you do next?”
“Run across,” said Stute. “I’m taking Beef with me.”
“Taking me?” gasped Beef. “Wotever for?”
“You know the man. I never trust a photo for identification. I want someone with me who knows him by sight.”
“Gor! ’N’ve I gotter goter France?”
“You’d better be ready in half an hour. We must catch the mid-day boat.”
Beef didn’t seem able to take it in. “I don’t know wot my wife’ll say. Me going to Paris. I ’aven’t been over since the War.”
“Well, you’re going now. Hurry up and change.”
Beef blundered out of the room as though he were dazed.
“Only way,” explained Stute sharply, as though he were trying to convince himself as well as me. “Must have someone who knows the fellow.”
I was, let me confess, wondering whether I should join them. I had been in Braxham just three weeks now, and had seen this case from the beginning. There were no claims on my time, and it really seemed that having stayed through all these preliminary routine enquiries I ought to follow the thing through to its climax. Besides, there was an element of the grotesque about this proposed expedition which appealed to me: Beef in Paris! The idea was enticing. And Fairfax, after all, was the person whose information would be most likely to be both surprising and useful.
“Would you mind if I came?” I asked Stute.
“Funny chap you are. You weren’t anxious to come to Long Highbury because you didn’t think it would produce anything. Yet for this, which is far more likely to be a wild goose chase, you’re keen. Come if you like, by all means. Only don’t be disappointed if it turns out not to be our Fairfax at all. Or if he won’t speak. Or if his information, after all, is valueless. I shouldn’t be surprised, you know.”
“I won’t be disappointed,” I promised.
“But how can you spare the time to follow us round? Don’t you ever do anything?”
“I write detective novels,” I admitted.
Stute made a curious and I thought rather hostile sound with his lips.
But soon we were tearing across country to catch the mid-day boat. There was a pale blue sky and sunlight which, at least after the winter months, seemed quite warm. And at last we were going somewhere, doing something. I felt really happy.
Beef seemed to feel the same. “This ain’t ’arf a lark,” he said, “is it? I mean, ’ere we are off to Paris. It don’t seem possible.”
Stute made no reply, apparently concentrating on the road.
“You think, then, Sergeant, that the information we shall get from Fairfax’ll clear things up, do you?”
“I never said nothink about that,” returned Beef guardedly, “that’s for Inspector Stute to say. But I mean, it’s an outing, i’n’t it?”
It certainly was. With Beef in the most police-like clothes I have ever seen, with even a pair of large boots to conform to precedent, and Stute as ever, quietly dressed and inconspicuously refined, we made a queer trio.
“Good sailor, Sergeant?” I asked Beef presently, since Stute seemed disinclined to talk.
“Well, I’ve only done it during the War,” said Beef, “and then—well, you know what it was.”
I could well imagine, and said no more. But as soon as we were on the usual Cross-Channel steamer and out at sea, it was quite obvious that Beef was not a good sailor. His crimson face turned a curious mauvish tint, and he made no further attempt to be talkative.
“I don’t ’arf feel queer,” he admitted later, and quite suddenly left us.
Stute had not time to notice the contretemps. His mind was busy with our chances. He told me, frowning, that he believed the fellow Fairfax would talk, at any rate on the drug issue. But what he, Stute, had to do was to find out by carefully-framed questions whether Fairfax had any hand in the murder.
“There’s just one other chance,” said Stute. “This fellow we’re going to see may not be Fairfax. We know he’s got the passport that was issued in the name of Freeman. But a Foreign Office stamp over the photograph can be faked easily enough. Suppose that Fairfax is dead. . . .”
Just then Beef joined us again, looking much better.
“Wonderful wot a drop of brandy’ll do for you,” he said.
But after that Stute kept his speculations to himself.
I was delighted when our train steamed into Paris at last, and felt quite important when two very stern and preoccupied men came up to Stute. There were introductions and enquiries about the smoothness or otherwise of the passage, but no smiles.
All five of us got into a smart police car which fought its way out of the station traffic most admirably. Beef was staring about him with wonder in his round eyes. He was sitting next to me, and made little remarks in my ear continually. He hadn’t heard this language since the War, he said. It made you feel “funny” to hear it again. He wouldn’t like to live in a country where darts was not played. And it would be awkward to be a policeman if you had to wear the uniform used here. He didn’t know what they’d say in Braxham if he turned out like that.
I tried to discourage his commentary for I was anxious to hear the more serious matters under discussion between his superiors.
“What seems most odd,” one of the French detectives was saying in excellent English, “is his complete confidence. He does not seem to consider the possibility of his being followed.”
Stute smiled. “He is a clever man, or has a clever man behind him. But for a piece of luck he never would have been followed.” And Stute told them in outline of Fairfax’s scheme and how he had gone to the trouble and expense of building up a new identity in the village of Long Highbury for the sole object of getting a passport under another name ready for an emergency.
The Frenchmen were impressed. “Neat,” they admitted, “but you were thorough. That is how you get your men over there—thoroughness.”
“Method. Order,” murmured Stute mechanically.
“Well, we are having him watched, your friend. Already you have helped us not a little. He has been to a lady’s beauty parlour which we have long suspected of selling drugs. But we are making no investigation there until you have seen your man. We did not wish to scare him away.”
“Good. Very considerate of you. Looks as though this case is going to mean quite a roundup of the drugs crowd.”
“What can we want better? Their arrest is always a credit to the police.”
’“Ere!” said Sergeant Beef with a sudden explosiveness across me, “’ave you got any ideas as to ’oo they mean by the big shot in this drugs game. I see those South American chaps thought there was someone behind it all.
“No,” said the French detective rather coldly, “we have not.”
Stute seemed to think that he was called upon to explain away Beef’s outburst.
“The Sergeant,” he said in his passionless voice, “is coming with me to identify Fairfax. He knew the man by sight, and I didn’t. The Sergeant is not at Scotland Yard.”
“Understood,” said one of the Frenchmen.
“Perfectly,” nodded the other.
“All the same,” said Beef pensively, “it wouldn’t ’arf be a good thing to find out.”
We had passed the statue of Balzac, and seemed to be making for Passy.
“Now, I hope you understand the position so far as we’re concerned,” said one of the Frenchmen to Stute. “We have found your man, and we have watched him for you. But we have no reason at present to make an arrest, and there is, of course, no question of extradition for the moment. He is staying with his wife in a highly respectable hotel. We have seen the proprietor, and promised him that there will be no scene or scandal. He will be helpful so far as he can, but he is naturally anxious to protect his other guests from any annoyance. So that all you can do is to interview the man and his wife.”
“That’s all I want to do.”
“Good. And if in your interview you fail to get what you want then we will proceed with our investigation at the beauty parlour, and should we get evidence there against this man Fairfax, or Freeman, or Ferris, as he variously calls himself, we will arrest him, and hope that you complete your case in England while we hold him. Right?”
“Splendid,” said Stute.
“I have read the whole case,” put in the other detective, “I think it was the girl that he murdered. I think that this drug business is interesting, but irrelevant to the main crime.”
“Indeed?” snapped Stute, “you are no doubt better able to follow it from this distance.”
The French detective explained quickly that he had wished to imply nothing of the sort. He was merely theorizing.
“I have never,” said Stute, “known a case which gave such scope for theorizing. It is facts that I want. And if I can’t get some out of Fairfax I shall begin to be annoyed. This investigation has gone on long enough.”
“We are nearly there. The proprietor will be expecting us.”
“Good,” said Stute. “Are their rooms in the front of the house?”
“No. At the back. I asked particularly, having regard to our arrival.”
We drew up at a quiet-looking house in the rue Vineuse, with only a small plate to indicate that it was a hotel. Everything about it was neat, discreet, smart. It was the sort of place, I judged, which charged high prices, but gave value for them. No one was in sight as our taxi stopped, and we three got out. One of the two Frenchmen turned quickly to Stute.
“We will await you at the corner,” he said,
The car moved quietly away and our incongruous trio advanced towards the front door.