Case without a Corpse
“Buenos Aires?” I suggested.
“Ahh—that’s it,” said Beef. “Well, when old Rogers got that letter ’e made up ’is mind to retire, as I’ve told you. Only ’is difficulty was seeing as young Rogers didn’t go back on that boat. If that was to ’appen all ’is work would go for nothink. Young Rogers ’ud be arrested out there and say ’oo it was ’e was bringing them packets in for. So ’ole Rogers made up ’is mind that ’is adopted nephew shouldn’t never go back to that country, wotever ’appened. ’E was going to persuade ’im friendly if ’e could, and if ’e couldn’t, well, ’e’d do ’im in, that’s all!”
“Do you mean to suggest, Sergeant, that the elder Rogers actually proposed to murder the younger?”
“That was ’is idea, sir.”
“This is becoming fantastic. I’m afraid it’s largely your fault, Townsend, that Beef is indulging in this sort of romance.”
“Well let anyone finish,” begged Beef. “I’m telling you wot ’appened first, and I’ll give you my proof afterwards. Now I’ve told you that ole Rogers was clever. Clever as a waggon-load of monkeys, ’e was. ’E wasn’t the one to go an’ get ’isself into trouble for murder, when ’e’d got all that money to think of. So ’e works it out ingenious. First of all, being a mean little bloke, ’e decides on poisoning as the best way. Then ’e schemes out ’ow ’e’ll do it. ’E ’as to get ’old of the poison. And it’s not so easy nowadays, not a poison like this ’ere cyanide of potassium. ’E reads up in a dictionary . . .”
“You know. Encyclopaedia. Very likely ’e went round to the public library. ’E reads up about this ’ere cyanide of potassium, and ’e finds it’s used for electro-plating. Ah, ’e thinks, that’s the tip. And ’e remembers that there’s a metal workshop over at Claydon where they does electro-plating. So one fine day over ’e ’ops to Claydon, and goes into the nearest outfitters ’e can find to buy ’isself a suit of metal-worker’s overalls. Easy that is. And there ’e is.”
“Where?” asked Stute sceptically.
“Standing in the street in Claydon with a suit of overalls wrapped up in a parcel under ’is arm. Well, ’e puts ’em on. Goes in a public lavatory, I daresay, an’ comes out with ’is overcoat an’ jacket wrapped up instead. Then ’e walks off towards those metal works.”
It seemed to me that it was about here that Stute began to show a real interest in the Sergeant’s narrative.
“’E looks for a chemist round about there and finds one in the street round the corner. So ’e pops in and asks casual for some cyanide of potassium for the works. The chemist doesn’t know ’im, but ’e knows that they use the stuff round there and supposes it’ll be all right. ’E’s never been asked from there before. If ’e’d known a bit more about it ’e’d ’ave found out that the works got it ’olesale from London, an kept it under lock an’ key. But there you are. ’E saw this experienced-looking ole man come in in his overalls as calm as you please an’ say ’e’d come from the works. And ’e lets ’im ’ave it, just as ’ole Rogers thort ’e would, and that’s that.
“Then the ole chap as the problem of the overalls. ’E can’t just leave ’em somewhere. Wouldn’t do. Might give rise to all sorts of enquiries. So ’e takes them ’ome with ’im. Per’aps ’e means to burn ’em. But when ’is wife sees a parcel she’s all for knowing wot’s in it. Well you know what they are? Are you married, sir?”
“You know all about it then. ’Wotever ’ave you got there?’ she asks. ’Oh nothing, only a suit of overalls I bought as a present for young Alan,’ says ole Rogers. And she keeps them put away for the chap when ’e comes ’ome. Meanwhile the ’ole man’s ready for ’im. If ’e can persuade young Rogers to chuck up ’is job, marry that nice young lady, and settle down, it’s all right. If ’e can’t, well, ’e’s got the means to see ’e never goes back to where’ they’d arrest ’im. And ’e waits for ’im to come on leave. ’Ave you got the right time, Mr. Townsend?”
“It’s nearly ten,” I said.
Beef sighed. “Ah well,” he said, “duty first. I’ll tell you the rest of it now I’ve begun. Young Rogers comes ’ome. But that foreign-looking chap’s been a shaddering of ’im day and night. . . .”
“Day and night?” said Stute.
“You know wot I mean, sir. They meant to find out wot ’e was up to. They’re artful those foreign police. They wanted all the credit for the job. They weren’t going to let on to us that they knew about young Rogers. Not them. They sends a man ’ome on his boat to see wot ’e gets up to in England. And I for one aren’t sorry that the man nearly got froze to death. ’Owever, young Rogers ’ad noticed ’im, and mentions it to ’is young lady.
“Then there’s another thing. This ’ere Smythe’s letter’s waiting for ’im. One way and another it don’t look like being much of a leave for ’im. But wot does ’e care? ’E’s got a young lady and that’s all ’e worries about. ’E tells ’er about this Smythe and decides to go over there on the Wednesday to settle ’er.
“Meanwhile Fairfax, ’oo young Rogers only knows as a gent wot comes down for the fishing, asks ’im to lunch at that private ’otel, and ’e can’t do nothing but accept. So ’e sets out early for Chopley to see this ’ere Smythe, and when ’e gets there ’e’s told she’s not up yet. So ’e says ’e’ll come back in the afternoon, after ’e’s ’ad lunch with Fairfax and before ’e sees ’is young lady at seven o’clock. So far so good.”
“Then this Fairfax gets on to ’im to leave ’is job. Old Rogers ’as already done all ’e can, but it won’t work. Young Rogers is an independent sort of chap, and wants to get married. So ’e won’t take no notice of either of ’em. ’E’s earning good money, and ’e’ll save enough to be able to tell ’is young lady’s mother where she gets off. And ’e won’t fall for no persuasion.
“After lunch ’e and Fairfax walk round to the Mitre for a drink, the ole person wot keeps the Riverside not even ’aving applied for a licence. While they’re in there ’oo should come in but that foreign detective snooping about after Rogers. But when Fairfax sees ’im ’e knows the game’s up. ’E clears off on the 2.50 train, and decides to ’op it for abroad with ’is wife next morning.
“Meanwhile, as we know, young Rogers ’as gone over to Chopley and seen Smythe. ’E pays ’er over what they arrange and she gives ’im ’is letters back. ’E wants ’er out of the districk as soon as possible, and offers to take ’er over for the six o’clock, to which she agrees. On the way he thinks ’e better not come ’ome with those letters, and ’e stops to burn ’em, which ’e does so careful that only that little bit of one was found by that Smith, of Chopley. But ’e doesn’t want to be seen careering about Braxham with Smythe on the back of ’is bike, nor yet to ’ave to pass twenty minutes with her while they’re waiting for the tram. So ’e stops just outside, an’ when ’e sees Meadows coming along ’e asks the exact time of the train. Then when it’s just on time ’e runs ’er up to the station an off she goes.
“Well, there’s nearly an hour before ’e ’as to meet his young lady, so ’e stops at the Dragon for a drink, leaving ’is bike in the alley at the side. Then when ’e sees it’s time for ’im to go ’ome and get ready, ’e’s off again, and gets back to the shop between ’arf past six and ten to seven.
“Meanwhile ’is benevolent ole uncle ’as got everythink ready. ’E’s seen it’s no good trying to persuade young Rogers not to go back, so ’e’s decided wot ’e’ll do. In the first place ’e’s arranged for ’is wife to be out of the way. And ’ere we come to somethink on which I can’t see the truth for certain. Did those Fairfaxes know ’e had plotted to do in young Rogers or didn’t they? I don’t know. P’raps it’ll come out later. Anyway, Mrs. Fairfax ’ad ’ad ’er instructions to keep ole Mrs. Rogers out of the way. She may not ’ave known why she ’ad to do it—or she may ’ave. But she succeeded. The poor lady never ’ad much fun, and when this Mrs. Fairfax suggested they should go to a music-’all she was on. So she was out of the way all right.
“When young Rogers gets round to the shop ’e found ole Rogers waiting for ’im. ‘Your young lady’s just been in,’ ’e says, lying, as we very well know, ’to say she can’t meet you tonight. ’Er mother won’t let ’er out of the ’ouse.’ And perhaps ’e goes on to say she’ll meet ’im at a certain time to-morrow, or somethink of the sort. ’E doesn’t want his nephew to go out looking for ’er, see, so ’e ’as to make it nice an’ definite.
“Young Rogers is disappointed. More n that ’e’s bored. It’s a rainy evening, and ’ere ’e is stuck in with nothink to do. That’s just wot ole Rogers wants. ’E starts up on a subject wot’s ’e been ’ammering at for a long time. ‘’Ere,’ ’e says, ‘d’you want to get your own back on that Sergeant Beef?’ he asks. ‘I don’t mind if I do,’ says young Rogers, ’oo, as we know from others, ’as that very idea on ’is mind. ’I’ll tell you just ’ow you can do it,’ says ole Rogers, and they ’ave a drink together.
“’Is idea wasn’t harf a clever one. ‘Go an’ tell ’im you’ve committed a murder,’ ’e says. ‘Committed a murder?’ asks young Rogers. ‘That’s it. ’E thinks ’isself clever at murders ever since ’e found out about that last one. And ’e’ll be off after this like lightening. Before you know where you are ’e’ll ’ave Scotland Yard ’on it. Then see wot ’appens to ’im when they find ’e’s brought them down on a wild goose chase.’ Young Rogers likes the idea but doesn’t see ’ow ’e’s going to pull it off. ‘But suppose ’e asks ’oo I’ve murdered?’ ’e says to ’is uncle, an’ a natural enough question when you comes to think of it. ‘You won’t be there to answer,’ says ’is uncle, ’because when you’ve told ’im you’ve committed a murder you’re going to pretend to commit suicide.’ ‘’Ow’s that?’ asks young Rogers. ’Why,’ says the ole man, we’ll put some of my sleeping mixture in a bottle marked poison, and you’ll swaller it quick, and pretend to go out. Then you’ll go orf to sleep and they’ll think you’re drugged, with wot you’ve took, and Beef’ll be on the ’phone to Scotland Yard in no time.’
“Young Rogers liked the idea of making a fool of me. ’E never could get over my ’aving run ’im in last time ’e was ’ome. And it sounded easy enough. ’E knew I thought ’e was a bit of a wrong ’un, and ’e thort I’d fall for the idea of ’im ’aving done someone in as quick as any-think. So ’e agrees.”
There was no doubt about Stute’s interest now. He was leaning forward, listening to every word.
“I don’t know where the ole man got the idea from, but it was clever. See, it was safe as ’ouses. ’Oo was going to think young Rogers ’ad been murdered when ’arf a dozen people ’ad actually seen ’im committing suicide? It couldn’t ’ave been plainer. Then they rigs up ’is sleeve with a drop of blood which ole Rogers gets from cutting ’is finger or somethink, and sticks a knife in ’is pocket, and there you are. Only when they comes to fill the bottle marked poison, wot Rogers ’as probably washed out elaborate in front of ’is nephew, the ole chap pours in a solution of the cyanide of potassium instead.
“Round comes young Rogers to the Mitre where I ’appened to be for a few minutes, as you know. And ’e carries out ’is part of thet plot so convincing that both you an’ me, Inspector, spent a week or two looking for ’oo ’e’d murdered before I tumbled to it that ’e ’adn’t murdered no one, poor fellow, but ’e’d been done in ’isself by ’is wicked uncle. It was a good idea though, because anyone might easily never ’ave suspected nothink but plain suicide.”