Case without a Corpse
I was determined not to be left out of the case now, even if Detective-Inspector Stute was going to take it up. So that next morning I went round to the police station, asked for the Sergeant, and was shewn in to the office in which he and Stute were already in conference.
There was, of course, no reason why I should be admitted, but my reading of detective novels, which had been considerable, had taught me that an outsider, with no particular excuse, was often welcomed on these occasions, especially if he had the gift of native fatuity, and could ask ludicrous questions at the right moment, so I hoped for the best. Beef introduced me without explanation, Stute nodded amicably—and indicated a chair, and I was at home. That, I thought, is one good thing that writers of detective novels have done—taught Scotland Yard to admit miscellaneous strangers to their most secret conclaves.
Stute was a well-dressed man in his fifties, with thick grey hair, a young man’s complexion, and a neat military moustache. He might have been, and probably was, an ex-officer. He might have been, but probably wasn’t, a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge. He was listening to Beef with close attention, and the Sergeant was evidently finishing his recital.
“So that’s as far’s I’ve got, sir,” he said. “I’m very glad you’ve come. Course, you’ll soon clear it all up, but I could see from the beginning it was too much for me.”
“It didn’t sound too much, Sergeant,” said Stute. “We thought the body would turn up at once. But there you are. We must get down to it.”
He leant back in his chair, offered us cigarettes, drew slowly at one himself, then said, “It seems pretty certain that the murder was committed between 2.15 when Fairfax and Young Rogers left the Mitre and 8.0 when he reached his home.”
Beef said nothing. He evidently thought his best policy was to leave all speculation and summary to Stute.
“Then again, so far as the information you have brought to light goes, there are three possibilities in the matter of who has been murdered—Fairfax, the girl Smythe, and the foreigner who came into the Mitre, unless, of course, this foreigner is to be identified with the one Mr. Townsend saw later. Probably as soon as we start making enquiries, we shall find two of them alive and well, and have a pretty good idea that it was the third. Get me the Yard on the ’phone, and I’ll have the Fairfaxes traced right away. We shall have to get a little more information about the other two first.”
Beef went to the door. “Galsworthy . . .” he began.
“What did you say?” asked Stute.
“I was speaking to the constable, sir.”
“You don’t mean to say you have a constable called Galsworthy, Sergeant?”
“My God! All right. Go on.”
“Galsworthy,” said the Sergeant again, as though there had been no interruption, “get Scotland Yard on the ’phone.”
“What we want here,” said Stute, when Beef was sitting before him again, “is system. First the dead man. Had the bloodstains examined?”
“Contents of the bottle analysed?”
“Really, Sergeant. Those should have been your first steps.”
The buzzer warned him to lift up the receiver beside him, and in a few moments he was reading out the address of Mr. and Mrs. Fairfax in Hammersmith, and enjoining whoever attended to it to ring him up as soon as the information was through. I liked his brisk and businesslike method of attack.
“Now that coat,” he said, “and the shirt.”
Beef pulled them out of a cupboard, and handed them to him. Stute examined them carefully.
“Yes,” he said, “I should say that was blood. Send them off to the research department. And the bottle to the analyst.”
“Galsworthy!” I could see Stute shudder. “Pack these up. Send the coat and shirt for research, and the bottle for analysis. See?”
Galsworthy repressed a smile, I thought, as he said, “Very well, Sergeant.”
“What about his boots? Examined those?”
“I did ’ave a look at ’em.”
“Let me see them,” sighed Stute. “What’s the soil round here?”
“Very poor, sir. My scarlet runners last year. . . .”
“Never mind your scarlet runners, Beef. What is it? Loam? Clay? What?”
“Nasty chalky sort of soil, sir.”
“Same everywhere about?”
Stute had turned the boots over carefully, scraped a little at the sole, and put them down. He picked up each piece of the dead man’s clothing in turn and examined it carefully but without remark. Next he demanded to see the black motor-cycling oilskins that Rogers had worn earlier in the day, and Beef had to send for them, swiftly and surreptitiously, from Rogers’s shop.
“What we’ve got to do,” he said, “is first of all to follow as much as we can of young Rogers’s movements on the day of the murder. And by that time we may be able to eliminate one or more of the candidates for the role of murderee. We know he left his home at 10.30. Where did he go?”
“That I can’t say, sir.”
“Well then, come along, we’ll take the car, and see what we can find. Soon straighten this up, Beef. Only you need System, Method, Efficiency. Off we go.” And he jumped to his feet and led the way to his police car at the door.
Poor old Beef! I couldn’t help considering once again that his solution of the Thurston mystery must have been the merest luck. He looked such a floundering old fellow beside this brisk detective. But I did not like to hear him reprimanded quite so brusquely. After all, he had never pretended to be anything but a country policeman, and he had done his best.
We went to the little bootmaking establishment kept by the Rogers. Mrs. Rogers joined her husband behind the counter. She was calmer to-day, but still looked tired and unhappy. No. They were quite sure he hadn’t mentioned where he was going. No, they had no idea that he was lunching with Mr. Fairfax. Why wouldn’t he have told them?
“Well,” explained Mrs. Rogers, “father never cared much for the Fairfaxes, as I told you. And Alan may have thought he wouldn’t have liked it if he had known he was going to see Mr. Fairfax.”
“What had you against them?” Stute asked old Rogers.
“Nothing, really. There was a bit of swank with them, I always thought.”
“Did you know when he was meeting Miss Cutler?”
“Yes. He had told us that. Seven o’clock.”
“And you’ve no idea where he could have gone between the two?”
“No. None. I only wish we had.”
Beef drew Mrs. Rogers aside to tell her the date and time of the inquest, and this seemed to upset her again, for we left her on the verge of tears.
“They seemed to have been very fond of this fellow,” remarked Stute as we entered the car.
“But ’e was no good,” said Beef.
“He has succeeded in bewildering the police, anyway,” replied Stute rather uncharitably. “I think, before we go any further, I should like a little more information about his past.”
When we had returned to the station, Stute told Beef that if he would put the telephone through to the exchange, he would get Scotland Yard himself. It seemed that he had no wish to hear a repetition of the constable’s elaborate and literary name, pronounced by Sergeant Beef. I sat back and listened, greatly impressed, while he gave his curt but thorough instructions. Young Rogers’s fellow stewards were to be examined. His friends on board were to be identified and questioned. The Chief Steward was to be asked for information, and the Purser. Then, I heard, the Buenos Aires police were to be asked if they knew anything of young Rogers’s record while he had been in that country.
Stute put his hand over the mouthpiece, and turned to Beef. “Taken his fingerprints?” he asked.
“Oo’s?” said Beef.
“Good heavens, man. Young Rogers’s of course.”
“No, I ’aven’t.”
“Then do so at once.” He turned again to the telephone. “I’ll send you two sets of fingerprints to-morrow. Send one of them to Buenos Aires and get them to look them up.”
Sergeant Beef seemed to be pondering something, as Stute finished speaking.
“I was just wondering, sir, what use it was sending them fingerprints out to . . . whereever you said they was to go.”
“What use? What do you mean?”
“I mean, wot could they do wiv’ ’em? They don’t know wot to look ’im up under. They ’aven’t even got ’is right name!”
There was a suggestion of triumph in Beef’s voice. Indeed it did look as though he had caught the detective out in a blunder.
But Stute, instead of being annoyed, smiled. He leaned back, lit another cigarette, and turned to Beef.
“It’s just the sort of thing you have to know when you get to the Yard, Sergeant.” His quiet cultured voice sounded complacent. “Though of course none of us can know everything.”
“Wot is?” asked Beef, still evidently under the impression that the other had tripped up.
“This. The Argentine Police have a very efficient system of fingerprint cataloguing—quite different from any other. In fact, in the International Police Conference of New York a few years ago they surprised us all. It is called the Vucetich System, because it was invented by a man called Juan Vucetich thirty years ago.”
“Go on!” The exclamation was one of deep interest, rather than an invitation to proceed.
“Instead of classifying their fingerprints under names, nature of crimes, district, or by any of the methods used by other countries, they classify them according to certain fundamental types of fingerprint. This has obvious advantages. Given a complete and clear set of fingerprints they can trace, among their enormous archives, the man to whom they belong.”
“Well, I’m blowed!” exclaimed Beef, very much impressed.
“Everyone in the country, whether Argentine or not, has his prints taken when he needs an identification card, and they’ve got millions of ’em. Here, as you know, we only take them when a man is charged. Of course, it doesn’t always work. But in 1934 their records show that out of 513 sets of prints handed them for identification in criminal cases, they had been able to put their hand on the owners of 327 of them. Which is very good indeed.”
“I should think it was!” said Beef, rather agape. “But, ’ow can they classify ’em, sir?”
“There are four fundamental types of print,” pronounced the detective, “as you could see by sufficient study. These are distinguishable by the way in which the lines are formed in the fingerprint itself. But . . . we’re wasting time, Sergeant. I can’t stop to give you a lecture on fingerprints.”
“And you mean to say that by sending young Rogers’s prints out to . . . that place you was mentioning, we may be able to find out wot ’is real name was?”
“It’s more than likely.”
“Well, I dunno,” said Beef. “Seems to me it’s no good trying. You’ve got all these ’ere modern methods wot we knows nothin’ about.”
Stute smiled kindly. “Never mind, Beef. You can only keep at it. There’s a lot of luck in the game, remember.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Beef, and seemed delighted when the detective decided to knock off for an hour while we all had lunch.