Case without a Corpse
The girl was quick to recover her self-possession.
“What’s this mean?” she snapped at Stute.
Mrs. Walker came forward. “My dear, I’m so thankful to see you. I never for a moment thought but what that young rotter had done you in. I knew. . . .”
“Oh it’s you, is it?” said the girl furiously. “You’ve brought them here have you? You dirty old swine, you! I might have known when I came to stay in your filthy house you’d do something like this. And who are these fellows? A couple of dicks, I suppose. Well, what d’you want, both of you?”
Stute stared coldly at her.
“Your name Smythe?” he asked.
“Well? If it is?”
“You were in Chopley and afterwards in Braxham on the day on which Alan Rogers committed suicide?”
“Then why haven’t you come forward with your information?”
“Perhaps I didn’t choose to.”
“You know what you can be charged with, don’t you?”
“I could trust you to fake something up, even if I didn’t.”
“No need to be cheeky. I’ve come to ask you a few questions, and I want civil answers.”
“Hurry up and ask them, then, and leave me alone. I’ve got to go out.”
Just for a moment I thought that Mrs. Walker was going to break in, but when she tried to talk Stute silenced her instantly. He was completely at homes and master of the situation. He took a chair placed in front of the door and turned to Smythe.
I looked round the room. It was an unpleasant example of the disadvantages of selling cheap lacquer paints. The wood-work had been done in a lavish scarlet, the walls distempered by an amateur with raspberry pink. The furniture was inexpensive, but there was an abundance of cushions in vivid colours. Behind the girl was the bed from which she had risen, presumably, to open the door.
She herself was florid and pink as her background, with bright yellow hair and too many rings. She yawned as Stute faced her.
’’What’s your name?”
“Why do you call yourself Estelle then?”
“Indeed. What profession?”
“Stage. Chorus lady.”
“How long had you known Rogers?”
“Oh, I dunno without a lot of thinking. And I’m too sleepy to think now. A few years, anyway.”
“Why did you want to see him?”
Miss Smythe yawned again. “Why do you think?” she asked. “Just for the pleasure of a chat?”
Mrs. Walker could control herself no longer.
“She was . . .”
But Stute was too quick for her.
“That’s quite enough from you,” he thundered.
“Oh very well. If a lady can’t . . .”
Stute wheeled from her to Smythe and his voice drowned her grumbling.
“You wanted money, I suppose?”
“Well, didn’t I have reason? After all . . .”
“And you got it?”
There was a pause, after which Miss Smythe seemed to think that it would be best to speak the truth.
“He did give me a little present,” she admitted.
“And you gave him back his letters?”
Smythe turned on Mrs. Walker. “That’s you again,” she said. “What business was it of yours?”
But Stute was not going to allow arguments.
“Did you?” he repeated.
“Before we left her house.”
“What did he do with the letters?”
“On that Common place. I made him stop. I was getting bumped to death on the back of that awful machine. I wasn’t used to that sort of thing. If any gentleman has wanted to take me anywhere . . .”
“That’ll do. So you stopped on the Common?”
“Just for a moment. There was nothing in it.”
“Oh, go on. You know what I mean. We only stopped for two ticks.”
“But long enough for him to burn the letters?”
“Yes. He put petrol over them. Well, he didn’t want to go home with them in his pocket. Then he walked back to the motor-bike.”
“And rode into Braxham?”
“Well, not quite. He would wait just outside for a time.”
“Why was that?”
“Cheek, it was. He said he wanted to slip me up to the train at the last moment. He was carrying on, as I very well knew, with that dreary little Cutler piece, and I suppose he was afraid that she or her mother would hear of it.”
“Anyone come by while you were waiting?”
“No. I don’t think so. Oh yes there was, though. A porter on a bicycle. Haven’t you asked enough questions yet?”
“Not nearly. What happened next?”
“Nothing. He took me up to the station, and I caught the train.”
“And you come right up to London?”
“Of course I did. And glad I was to get back. I never could stand the country. All slush and muck everywhere. Can’t keep your shoes decent two minutes.”
“Did Rogers say what he was going to do that evening?”
“He was meeting his girl, I believe.”
“He didn’t say anything else?”
“Not that I can remember. Why? D’you think he told me who he was going to do in?”
“Did he say anything about his having been followed?”
“Followed. No. Not to me he didn’t.
“How much did he give you for the letters?”
“That’s my business.”
“How much?” Stute’s tone never changed.
“Really. I should like to know what business you’ve got coming here and questioning me like this.”
“Not much, really.”
“Where d’you suppose he got that from?”
“How should I know? Though he did say something about having sold some lottery tickets or something.”
“Did he say to whom he had sold them?”
“Did he mention a man called Fairfax?”
“No. Not that I can remember.”
Had you any idea that he was running drugs into the country.”
“No. Indeed I hadn’t. I shouldn’t have approved of that. Not drugs, I shouldn’t.
“Why did he stop and buy rope in Chopley?”
“To tie my attaché case on the carrier. It was slipping about all over the place. I told him it was dangerous.”
“When you read in the papers that Rogers had murdered someone, who did you think it would be?”
“Hadn’t the remotest. I know who I wish it had been,” she added with a glance at Mrs. Walker.
“You say you came up to town on the six o’clock train. What proof have you?”
“Proof? What do you mean? I did come up on that train.”
“What did you do when you got up here?”
“Went to see some friends of mine.”
“I don’t see why I should drag them into this.”
“When I remind you that a murder was committed in Braxham that evening I think you’ll understand that you had better explain your alibi—if you’ve got one.”
That seemed to startle the girl a little. “They were Miss Renée Adair, and Mrs. Wainwright.”
“Sixty-six Ararat Street, Covent Garden. Top flat. I was with Renée for the rest of the evening.”
“Have you been in this room long?”
“A few weeks.”
“Since that day, in fact. You found it advisable to change your address, instead of coming forward with what information you could.”
“I didn’t want to be mixed up in it.”
“No, I don’t suppose you did. And if everyone acted as you have our work would be twice as hard as it is now.
“Can’t help your troubles,” said Miss Smythe airily.
There was a pause, during which Stute seemed to be considering his future line of attack.
“Finished now?” asked Smythe. “I’ve got things to do, you know.”
“How did you get that £20 out of Rogers? Told him there was a baby, I suppose. All right. Don’t answer.”
Another long pause, during which Mrs. Walker fidgeted irritably.
“Look here, Miss Smythe,” said Stute suddenly, in a more civil tone of voice, “I believe you when you say that you knew nothing about the murder. Now you won’t hear any more of me after this if you’ll do your best to help me now. Just rack your brains and see if you can think of anything else that might help us. Rogers left you, and went straight off, so far as we can make out, and committed a murder. Now tell us if you can remember anything he said or did that would help us.”
“I’m trying to think,” the girl replied. “Honestly I am. No, I really can’t remember another thing. I was as surprised as everyone else when I read how he’d done for someone, and killed himself. He seemed full of beans that night.”
Stute rose. “Very well then,” he said, “we’ll leave it at that.” And he turned to go.
I thought for a moment that there was going to be some discordance between the two women but both seemed to prefer an attitude of exaggerated hauteur to one of violence. Mrs. Walker made her exit royally, and Miss Smythe pretended to yawn again.
Not until we were in the car, and at her mercy, did Mrs. Walker release her pent-up feelings.
“There you are!” she said. “That’s what comes of being good to anyone. And to think of that girl being alive the whole time! Deceitful, I call it. She might have told anyone and saved all that searching for her. And £20 too! If I’d have known she’d got all that, things would have been very different. But there you are. Well, now you know she’s alive, so I suppose you’ve got to find out who was murdered.”
“Yes,” said Stute, “I have. And if you would be good enough to remain silent for a moment I might have a chance of concentrating what wits I have left on the subject.”
“There. That’s a nice thing to say to anyone. And after I’ve come all this way to help you. Still, it’s what one must expect from the police I suppose. I shall be glad when we’re home.”