Case without a Corpse
Stute said, very quietly, “And now your proofs, Sergeant?”
“I’ll soon tell you them,” he said, “an’ I’ll tell you ’ow I got on to the idea. It was that poison. See, I didn’t know much about it, either. Ignorance was bliss, as you might say, for I went round to the Public Library like old Rogers ’ad very likely done, and read up about it. And when I saw it was used for electroplating it ’itched up in my mind with wot ’ad been puzzling me all along—them overalls. It came over me all of a sudden, like you said things never did come, Inspector, that the ole man ’ad bought them overalls not for ’is nephew but for ’isself, to get that poison with, and that give me the ’ole idea.
“But of course I shouldn’t never ’ave been able to get the details in without you ’adn’t followed up all those people the masterly way you did. Finding that Fairfax, for instance, through them moving-van people an’ wot that parson told you—that was clever if you like. And ’ow would I ever ’ave known wot motive ’e could ’ave ’ad if you ’adn’t got on to them foreign police and found out about the game ’e was up to with drugs an’ that? And then you ’aving all the resources of Scotland Yard to set on the finding of that Smythe—it all ’elped. No, I couldn’t ’ave got nowhere without the scientific side of it all.
“But you was wanting proof. As soon as you came back to London, sir, I thought I’d give my idea a chance. So I slipped over to Claydon and ’ad a look at the chemists’ shops. And sure enough the one nearest that metal workshop remembered ’is going there in ’is overalls arfter the poison. So there and then I rings up the metal works, and just as I thought they’d never so much as thought of sending out for anythink of that. They got it in big quantities from an ’olesale firm. It would ’ave been out of the question for one of their men to go round. Of course, the chemist’s in a fine old state. Well, I suppose ’e will get into trouble. I mean ’e ought never to ’ave served ’im without knowing ’oo ’e was. Still, you can understand it, with those overalls and that.
“Besides, I shewed the chemist a photograph ’of old Rogers wot my h’excellent young constable, Galsworthy, ’ad taken. One of ’is ’obbies is photography, and ’e likes to ’ave a snap of anyone in the place wot we’ve got our eyes on. And ole Rogers being a teetotaller and a ’eavy church goer, we’d kept ’im under observation for a long time. So I ’ad his picture ’andy, and the chemist recognized it at once.
“Then I ’unted up the shop where he’d bought the overalls, and they remembered ’im, too. It was a dingy little place, and I should think they’d remember any customer as came in. They certainly remembered ’im, an’ I’ve got a note of their name in my book.
“Course, there’s a lot more proof we shall get. There’s ’is ’andwriting where ’e signed the poison book which I suppose some of your experts’ll be able to swear was ’is, ’owever much ’e disguised it. And there’ll be the Fairfaxes’ word that the old man was in the drugs game, wot we’ll be able to get out of them, easy enough, once they know we’ve got ’im. And there’ll be Mrs. Fairfax’s evidence that she was told to keep the old lady in London that night. And you’ll soon ’ave all the details of ’is drug-selling.
“Then there’s ’is running off. While I was waiting to see you just now, sir, I took the liberty of ringing up Galsworthy to see if ’e ’ad anythink to report. It appears that that chemist ’as been on the ’phone this afternoon. ’E says that about two o’clock someone rung ’im up at ’is’ chemist’s shop and pretended to be talking from Braxham Police Station. Asked if Sergeant Beef was there, or ’ad been in. The chemist, not thinking, said yes, this morning. Then afterwards when ’e’d gone over it in ’is mind, ’e thought it was funny anyone ringing ’im up like that, so ’e got on to Galsworthy to tell ’im. It was ole Rogers, of course. ’E’d ’eard I’d gone over to Claydon. . . .”
“I’m afraid that was my fault,” I admitted. To tell the truth, I had been dreading the moment in which I should have to own to my indiscretion. “I mentioned to him where you had gone.”
“That accounts for it then. ’E’d rung up, see, to find out whether I was on to ’im or not. If I wasn’t — well, the chemist wouldn’t think nothink of being asked polite whether I’d ’appened to’ve been in there. If I was on to ’im — well, ’e knew where ’e stood. So when the chemist said I ’ad been in, ’e pockets ’is ’undred quid, wot ’e always kept ’andy for an emergency, and ’eads off for the continent. But that’s where we was too quick for ’im — Mr. Townsend and me. And ’e’s safely in charge, and a good thing too.”
The Sergeant stopped, and passed a large handkerchief over his forehead. He was beaming with pride and pleasure.
Stute was silent for thirty seconds or more.
“Well, Beef,” he said at last, “I think you’ve hit it. In fact, in view of your chemist’s evidence, I don’t see that there can be much doubt. It’s been a topsy-turvy case all through. It seems a bit absurd that your ignorance about cyanide of potassium should have put you on to something which I, with all the facts of the case at my disposal, missed. But I won’t deny you followed it up well, and you’re to be congratulated.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“The only thing is— I doubt if we could ever get a conviction for murder against old Rogers on the strength of this evidence, and I don’t see how it can be improved in the necessary respect. We can prove that old Rogers bought the poison. But how are we to prove that he ever gave it to his nephew, or if he did so, that he made him think it wasn’t poison? I’m afraid that if we were to bring such a charge the Judge would direct the Prosecution to reduce it to one of Being an Accessory Before the Fact of Felo de Se and for Aiding and Abetting Felo de Se.”
“Oh no ’e wouldn’t,” said Beef, growing quite excited again, “I knew I was forgetting somethink! I’ve got a bit of evidence as ’ud put a stop to any of that wot you said, and shew it was right down murder.”
“Really? What is that?” The scepticism had quite gone out of Stute’s voice, and he treated the Sergeant almost with respect.
“Why, when I went over to Claydon I ’ad another object in view. I was going to see Mr. Sawyer’s brother, wot ’ad disappeared an’ turned up again, and wot you laughed about when I told you. Well, I did see ’im, poor chap. ’E couldn’t even come out an ’ave one with me, in case ’is wife got to know of it. But ’e told me what she’d forbidden ’im to tell anyone, for fear of ’im getting mixed up in a case of murder an’ that. Wot you didn’t seem to take much notice of, sir, was that ’e was in Braxham on that Wednesday evening. Anyone else in the town as ’ad seen or ’eard anythink would ’ave come forward, but ’e couldn’t very well, because ’e was ’iding out of the way of ’is wife. And ’e did know somethink, too. He ’ad run into young Rogers a few minutes past eight, as young Rogers was coming round to the Mitre. They knew each other well through ’aving met time and again at the Dragon. So Sawyer’s brother asks him where ’e s oft to and ’e says to the Mitre, to see if Beef’s there. So Sawyer’s brother asks wot he wants Beef for, and ’e says ’e’s going to get ’is own back at last. ’Ow’s ’e going to do it? asks Sawyers brother. So ’e grins an’ says, come and see, ’e’ll do it all right, the way ’is uncle’s shewn ’im. But Sawyer’s brother can’t wait to see wot ’appens because ’e’s got that wife be’ind ’im wot might start out in pursuit any minute, and then where’d ’e be? So ’e says good night, and off ’e goes, and young Rogers goes on to the Mitre. An’ if that’s not proof, I don’t know wot is.”
“Hm,” said Stute, “that’s better. Well, frankly, Sergeant, you’ve surprised me.”
“I’ve surprised myself, sir. These things seem to come to me. I think I must ’ave been born for this business. You take that affair of when Mr. Larkin was finding discs in his cigarette machine every morning. . . .?”
“Well, I don’t think we’ll go into that now, Beef. The point is that subject to confirmation of your facts you’ve succeeded where I . . . hadn’t yet reached any conclusion. I don’t think there will be much difficulty about charging Rogers. A very interesting scoundrel, and a very clever plot for murder. I shall give you full credit in my report, Beef. You may be lucky, but at any rate you are successful, and that’s the important thing to us here. Anything more? Oh yes. Your notes. I see. Chemist’s name and address. And so on. Good night then, Beef. Good night, Mr. Townsend. I suppose you’ll be writing this up? I thought so. There’s no crime nowadays without a novel, and very few novels without a crime. Good night to you both.”