Case without a Corpse
With Detective-Inspector Stute out of his territory, for the moment, anyway, Beef became suddenly conspiratorial.
“Now’s the time,” he croaked to me, unconsciously assuming the manner of the villain in a melodrama.
“The time for what?” I asked sceptically.
“Why—for seeing if I’m right,” he said. “I told you I was on to somethink.”
I sighed. “Well, why don’t you go ahead, if you think you can succeed where Stute failed.”
“I don’t say that,” said Sergeant Beef, “I don’t say that at all. ’E was ’ot stuff, Stute was. I daresay in a really complicated case ’is methods would be wonderful. But this ’ere’s not so complicated, if wot I think turns out right. It’s as simple as ABC. The big mistake I made was ever to’ve thought it was tricky, and ’ad ’im down here at all. I could ’ave settled it on me own weeks ago. Still, there you are. I must get to work.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going over to Claydon.”
“To Claydon? That’s where Sawyer’s brother lives, isn’t it?”
“But surely . . .”
“Now look ’ere, Mr. Townsend. Up to now there ’asn’t been nothink I’ve knowed wot I ’aven’t told you. And I’ve got it all worked out. All I’m going for now is confirmation, see?”
“Oh, very well. Do you want me to come?”
“I don’t ’ardly see ’ow you can, seeing as I’m going on the back of Galsworthy’s motor bike.”
“Still,” continued Beef, as though he hated to disappoint me, “if it all turns out like I think it will, you shall be in on it. Are you going to be in the Mitre this afternoon?”
“I rather thought of returning to town,” I said.
“Now don’t do that, Mr. Townsend. Don’t go and do that just when I’m going to move decisive. You ’ang on in the hotel, and I’ll ring you up soon as ever I know where I am. ’Ow’s that?”
Rather unwillingly I agreed, and saw Beef seated awkwardly on the pillion of his constable’s motor-cycle. I watched Galsworthy kick the starter, and they banged off down the High Street.
On my way back to the hotel it occurred to me that I should like to call in and see the old Rogers couple. Now that they had had some weeks in which to get over the first strain there was not the embarrassment one had felt at first. And I liked them, and found the warmth of their regard for the wastrel who was dead a moving thing.
The old man came forward from his workroom.
“Good morning. I’ve really come more or less to say good-bye,” I told him.
“Are you going back to town then? I’ll call my wife.” And he disappeared for a moment, and returned with Mrs. Rogers.
“So you’re leaving us?” she said with a smile almost as radiant as the one I had seen on her face on that first day when she had leaned out of the carriage window to greet her husband.
“Yes” I said. “Detective-Inspector Stute went back to London yesterday. He seems quite baffled.”
Mrs. Rogers looked serious. So I suppose we shall never know what Alan did? And he’ll be branded as a murderer without it ever being found out whether he struck in self-defence, or what it was. It seems a wicked thing.”
“Oh, I don’t think Stute has given up,” I said. “He’s not the man to do that. And Sergeant Beef is still on the case.”
“Yes . . . but . . . of course, he’s a good policeman and all that. But I don’t see how it’s to be expected that he’ll get to the bottom of this when the London detective has failed.”
I smiled, and a little tardy loyalty to my old friend prompted me to say, “I don’t know. He’s not a fool. He has a way of plodding on and coming out with something quite unexpected. As a matter of fact he thinks he understands this case now. He’s gone over to Claydon to-day for what he calls confirmation of his theory.”
“Oh well. We can only hope for the best. I should like our boy’s name to be cleared as much as possible.”
“I don’t think you should set your hopes on that, Mrs. Rogers. The Sergeant admits that there doesn’t seem to be much doubt of that part of the case. And now I must say goodbye. I’m off to-morrow.”
They shook hands with me, and, feeling warmed by my visit, I returned to the Mitre for lunch.
Frankly I did not expect much of a phone call from Beef. I comforted myself with the reflection that whether it came through or not I should be acting according to the best precedents. Even if he rang through to say that he had unearthed the weeks-old corpse of young Rogers’s victim, I should only be in the convention if I had long given up hope of his solving the riddle.
At about three-thirty, however, I was called to the phone.
“’Ere, Mr. Townsend,” came his voice, so loud that it hurt my ear-drum and I had to hold the instrument an inch from my head, “I’m on to it all right. Got everythink mapped out. Just wot I thought.”
“Well, who did he murder?” I asked, rather irritably.
“You wait till I tell you the ’ole story. It’ll raise the ’air off your ’ead. I’ll be with you as soon as I can. We’re just starting off now. I’ll pick you up at the Mitre.”
“Why? Where are we going?”
“You’ll see. There’s one or two jobs to be done in Braxham. Then we’ll pop up to the Yard, see?”
And before I could enquire any further, he had put down his receiver. He had evidently been in a state of tremendous excitement for I had heard his breath wheezing as though he were exhausted from running to the telephone. I decided to keep an open mind on the subject, and sat down to an early cup of tea to pass the time until he arrived.
When the motor-bike pulled up outside, I found myself quite unthrilled. I can see now that this was the surest proof that I had never really believed in Beef. Here he was, arriving at the Mitre with what he claimed was a proven explanation of the whole thing, and I didn’t even feel inclined to go out and meet him.
He burst into the room where I still sat over the tea-things. He had, it seemed, been a bit shaken and chilled by his ride on Galsworthy’s pillion, for his nose and gills were positively purple, and the fringes of his moustache were damp.
“Come on!” he almost shouted. But I was calm.
“Have a cup of tea?” I suggested.
“No time for tea. I tell you I’m right on to it. I’ve only got to get a bit more evidence. . . . Are you coming?”
I rose slowly. “I suppose so,” I said, and followed him out.
He dismissed Galsworthy with a hurried gesture, and strode off down the High Street.
“Where are we going?” I asked wearily.
“To Rogers’s shop.”
“Look here, Sergeant, if you’re going to start all that going round questioning people again, you can count me out. I’ve had enough of it with Stute.”
“You can please yourself,” said Beef as he hurried on.
Somehow I found myself following. I didn’t believe he had solved the riddle, I was thoroughly fed up with the whole thing. But I kept with him.
As soon as I entered the bootmaker’s shop for the second time that day, I knew that at least something unusual was happening, for Mrs. Rogers, looking worried, came forward excitedly.
“Oh, Sergeant,” she said, “I’m so glad you’ve come. I was wondering whether I ought to send for you. It’s my husband.”
“Wot about ’im?”
“He’s gone. I’ve never known him to act so strangely before. It must have been half an hour ago. He suddenly came downstairs dressed in his best suit, with his bag packed. I’d heard him moving about overhead, but I’d never thought anything of it. I asked him whatever he was about and he said he had to go away for a few days. I couldn’t make it out. Of course he’s been acting a bit strange ever since we knew about Alan. Well, it was a big blow to both of us. But to pack up and leave . . .”
“Ever know ’im to clear off like this before?’
“No. Never. Not since we’ve been married. I can’t understand it. Of course I’ve sometimes had a fancy that Alan may have told him that evening who it was he murdered. And perhaps my husband can’t bear the thought of it. It may have played on his nerves like. I don’t know. It’s frightened me. Suppose he loses his memory or something? What ought I to do?”
“But didn’t ’e tell you where ’e was off to?”
“Not a word. I must have asked him a dozen times. He wouldn’t say a word. That’s what makes it so strange. And there’s another thing . . . only I don’t know whether I ought to tell you this. . . .”
“Come on, Mrs. Rogers . . .” was all Beef needed to say.
“Well, it’s this. There’s a drawer in his writing-desk that he always kept locked. I used to pull his leg about it. And he’d laugh, but he’d never say what was in it. Then one day, some time before Alan came home, he was alone at his desk when the postman called, and he went out to get the letters, and left the drawer open. He had some business letters he was reading and somehow or other forgot to lock the drawer. And when he went out that evening I couldn’t help having a peep. And what do you think? There was a bundle of notes there that thick—pound notes they were—and a bit of paper under the elastic band with £100 written on it. I was surprised. Then I guessed what it was—he’d been saving up for something for me that I wasn’t to know about. I remember he once talked of our having a baby motor car one day, and perhaps that was it. Anyway, I knew it would disappoint him if he thought I’d seen, so I said nothing about it.”
“Well?” asked Beef.
“Oh yes. I was going to tell you. Just before you came I went to the drawer. I don’t know what made me. But anyway I did, and the bundle was gone. I don’t know what to make of it, though I daresay you do. Perhaps someone’s stolen them and he’s gone after him. Perhaps . . . perhaps it’s something to do with Alan. Anyway, they’ve gone.”
“All £1 notes you say?” asked Beef.
“No. Not extra. Just ordinary, as though they’d been put there from time to time.”
“Well now, Mrs. Rogers, don’t you worry your ’ead off,” said Beef. “I daresay every-think’ll turn out for the best. Wot’s the time? Quarter to six? We shall ’ave to ’urry. I wonder if you’d do me a favour now?”
“Certainly I will. What is it?”
“You ’op round to my ’ouse and tell my missus I more than likely shan’t be back to-night. And if you don’t like staying on your own, you get ’er to make you up a bed there, see? Now then, Mr. Townsend, we must go.”