Case without a Corpse
“Well now,” said Beef, when we were sitting in Inspector Stute’s office at Scotland Yard, “I’d like to get this job done with. I’m not much of an ’and at telling ’ow I come to get on to anythink, but I’ll do my best, and be as quick as I can.” He consulted a large silver watch. “There was a chap come through Braxham the other day wot said ’e always ’ad a game of darts at night in the Bricklayers’ Arms, off the Gray’s Inn Road, and I should like to get round and see him before they close.”
“Am I to understand Beef,” put in Stute impatiently, “that you really believe you’ve got to the bottom of this case?”
“That’s it, sir.”
“You know who was murdered?”
“Yes. I know ’oo was murdered.”
“Then where’s the corpse?”
“Good heavens. Are you . . . ?”
“Suppose you let me start at the beginning. We shan’t never get done this way. I’ll try to tell it as it came to me.”
“Very well,” snapped Stute, interested, in spite of himself.
“Of course, sir, with all the advantages you gentlemen up ’ere ’ave over us nowadays—and Gawd knows you ’ave got them, with all these new methods and that—there’s one way we come out strong in a case like this. That’s knowing the people in our own districts. I mean, you understands their sick . . . sick . . .”
“Psychology?” I whispered.
“That’s it. You understands all that—but we knows their natures. It ’elps, as you’ll see. The very first thing I thought to myself about this case was—what was young Rogers doing committing suicide like that?”
“A very profound reflection, Beef.”
“Thank you, sir. What I mean is, he wasn’t the one to think it out a long way a’ead. I know ’im well. ’E was a crazy young bounder always up to somethink. But ’e wasn’t one to ’ave no morbid thorts about doing ’isself in. Very well then, ’ow ’ad ’e got ’old of that poison?”
“It didn’t occur to you, I suppose, that a man who had for years been smuggling large quantities of cocaine into the country would have facilities for obtaining a few grains of cyanide of potassium?”
“Oh yes it did,” returned Beef. “’E’d ’ave ’ad the facilities all right. But wot would ’e ’ave wanted it for? ’E couldn’t ’ave made no money out of bringing it in, because it’s cheap enough over ’ere without that. And if e’d never ’ad no idea of suicide, why should ’e ’ave bothered to buy it abroad?”
“Since the murder was committed with a knife I don’t quite see what you’re driving at, said Stute.
“You will in a minute,” returned Beef calmly. “The next thing that made me think was that suit of overalls I told you about, wot was ’anging in young Rogers’s room. ’Is Aunt said ’is uncle ’ad bought them for ’im, but they’d all ’ad a larf, because they was too small. I couldn’t understand that. They was careful ole people, the Rogers, not skinflint, but careful ’ow they spent their money. ’Ow ’ad ’is uncle come to make that mistake in buying them overalls? ’E must ’ave known that young Rogers would want the big size. Whatever ’ad possessed ’im to do that?”
“I could give you half a dozen explanations. The assistant in the shop where he bought them could have wrapped up the wrong suit.”
“Admitted,” said Beef grandiosely. “Admitted. I’m not giving you evidence yet, sir. I’m just telling you wot put me on to it.
“See, I’ve always been told that when there’s something you can’t understand in a case, you’ve got to go on figgering it out and figgering it out, till you do understand. And that’s wot I did with those overalls as you shall ’ear when I get to it. Then there was another thing.” Beef leaned forward. “Wasn’t it a bit funny that Mrs. Rogers should ’ave stayed the night with Mrs. Fairfax? I mean we know what those Fairfaxes’ game was. It struck me as funny at the time.”
Stute sighed, but said nothing.
“And then there was that bit about young Rogers’s coming in while ’is uncle was out for is walk, and going out again. I didn’t much like the sound of that. It was a funny sort of a night for the old man to go for a walk on anyway. And then we know from that lady with them children that young Rogers come in on ’is bike between ’arf past six and seven. Old Rogers says ’e came in again in ’is mackintoshes about eight. Wot was ’e doing all that time with them ’eavy oilskins on? ’E wasn’t in no pub or we should ’ave ’eard of it. Where was ’e and wot was ’e up to?
“Last of all there was that nice young lady. Why didn’t ’e meet ’er like ’e’d promised? ’E could ’ave. ’E got to ’is ’ome before seven, and it’s not five minutes from the Cinema where ’e was meeting ’er. Wot made ’im not pop round?”
Still Stute said nothing.
“Those were the things that made me think,” confessed Beef. “An’ I thort and thort.”
“Excellent,” Stute said, “and your conclusions?”
“You must excuse me, sir,” said Beef. “I don’t ’ardly know ’ow to present the matter. I think I’ll ’ave to start at the other end of the story. Now don’t get impatient. I’ll get on as fast as I can.”
“’Ave you ever thort, sir, where the cleverest criminals are found? They’re not found in criminal meeting-places, nor yet living in luxury wot no one can understand ’ow they can afford. They’re found, like Crippen and Seddon and them, living just ordinary and doing a everyday job as though nothink was going on. Well, that’s the kind of criminal old Rogers was.”
“Old Rogers?” I gasped.
“You ’eard,” said Beef. “I ain’t arf glad I got on to ’im. If ever there was a proper ole scoundrel it was ’im. ’E’d been bringing in drugs for years and years. When you come to go into it you’ll find ’e’s got a fortune tucked away somewhere. Even Fairfax, ’oo only worked for ’im, is rich enough to retire. But ole Rogers had the sense to keep on with ’is trade. Nice old bootmaker wot everyone thort the world of. But not me. Soon as ever I ’eard ’e was a teetotaller I ’ad my eye on ’im. I never trust ’em. Never.”
“I suppose that eventually we shall come to some evidence?” queried Stute.
“Proof, not evidence,” promised Beef, and continued.
“About seven years ago this respectable ole shopkeeper wot ’ated the very thort of beer, but didn’t mind selling people drugs, was working in ’is shop in Bromley when in walks a young chap down and out. When ’e tells the ole chap ’is story Rogers isn’t ’arf interested. ’E’s been a steward on a boat going to South America. ’E’s been in jug. And ’e ’asn’t got nothink. ’E just fits ole Rogers’s programme.
“And now I come to one of the bright spots of the ole thing wot you won’t ’ardly believe in. Rogers’s wife never knew nothink of wot ’er ’usband was up to. Not a word. She’s as nice an old lady as ever you can meet. I’m afraid all this is going to be a narsty shock for ’er. A narsty shock. But there you are. She really took to the young chap, and arfter a bit they decides to wot they call adopt ’im.”
“In the meantime ’e’s got a job again, just as ole Rogers meant ’im to, on boats going to South America. And every trip he makes ’e brings ole Rogers a packet or two of wot ’e thinks are lottery tickets. Clever, that was. Ole Rogers could tell the young chap that ’e must keep ’em out of sight of the Customs, without ’is knowing wot ’e really was carrying in. So it went on. A nice comfortable business wot brought in a couple of ’undred pounds a trip clear and easy. And it was Fairfax’s job to take the stuff from ole Rogers and get rid of it in London, or wherever he did get rid of it. That’s why they pretends to ’ate one another. They was ’and in glove—Fairfax coming down for the fishing, whenever young Rogers was on leave. Easy, wasn’t it?”
Stute looked bored.
“All of a sudden, after five or six years of this, ole Rogers gets a surprise. An air-mail letter turns up from Buenos Aires—I suppose from someone ’e’d got out there. You remember you sent Galsworthy round to enquire about it and ’e said it come from young Rogers ’isself. Wot does this letter say? Why, that the Argentine police are on to these ’ere drugs, and next trip out are going to arrest young Rogers for carrying ’em.
“That was a narsty turn for the ole man. It meant ’is smuggling days was done. ’E warns Fairfax, and they decides they’ll finish up arfter this lot for good. They’ve each made a nice little bit. Fairfax decides to ’op off abroad with ’is wife as soon as ever he’d got rid of the next lot and I don’t know what ole Rogers planned. I shouldn’t be surprised if it was ’arf miserliness with ’im. ’E may ’ave started meaning to use the toot one day, when ’e’d given up the game, but I imagine ’e’d got more and more fond of money till there you are. It was the money itself ’e was arfter. Still, you can’t tell.
“Wot was certain was that the game was up. Young Rogers would have to be persuaded to chuck ’is job, else they’d arrest ’im when ’e got back. And the two of them would retire.
“Meanwhile it so ’appened that that Smythe girl ’ad got the idea of writing to Mrs. Walker. She wanted to find out young Rogers’s address, and get something out of ’im. I daresay there was a baby in it somewhere, and it may ’ave been ’is or may not. But she ’ad ’is letters to go on, and she meant to make ’im cough up. So she writes to tell ’im she’s on the spot and wot’s ’e going to do about it, otherwise she’ll come over and see ’is uncle and aunt. ’E wasn’t too pleased when ’e got the letter, but ’e ’ad a bit of money, and decided ’e’d settle ’er.
“’E was in love with that nice-looking young lady with the ’orrible mother,” Beef went on to explain, “and if I knows anythink, she was in love with ’im. She knew all about this Smythe, but she didn’t want ’er mother to know nothink of that. Wouldn’t ’ave done at all. So they decided between ’em very likely that it should be ’ushed up. That was arfter ’e come ’ome— but I aven’t got to that yet. ’Ere, Mr. Townsend, you could tell this story for me. ’Tisn’t ’arf difficult when it’s got ’arf a dozen beginnings. ’Ow you can write ’em up I don’t know. Still I’ll do me best. We must go back to old Rogers when ’e got that letter saying they’d rumbled the drug game out in that place— wherever it was.”