Case without a Corpse
Beef had asked me back to his house for what he modestly called a “bit of dinner,” and we found his wife waiting for us in the kitchen living room. She was a chirpy little woman with sharp but pleasant features, hair tightly screwed, and gold-rimmed glasses.
“It’s all ready,” she said when introductions were over, and we sat down round a scrupulously clean table-cloth.
“And do you share your husband’s interest in crime?” I asked.
“Gracious no. I leave all that to Beef. I never like hearing about such things. I won’t even read about them in the papers. Help yourself to Brussels, won’t you?”
“But surely . . .” I began.
“No, it’s no good. Nasty creepy murders. Not but what they tell me Beef’s clever at putting his hand on the one who’s done it. But I always say leave that to those that like it. It’s not for me to poke my nose in. Oh, and while I think of it, Beef, that Mr. Sawyer was round this morning.”
“Wot Mr. Sawyer?” asked Beef, his mouth too full.
“Why from the Dragon. He said he wanted to see you urgent.”
“That means ’e’s fixed another darts match,” said Beef, evidently delighted.
“No. It was something to do with young Rogers, he said.”
Beef turned to me. “Orways get a lot of that,” he said, “people as wants to think they knows somethink. Still, I suppose we shall ’ave to see ’im. Why did ’e come ’ere instead of the station?”
“Now how am I to know?” said Mrs. Beef. “Hand this gentleman some more parsnips and help yourself.”
“It’s funny, that,” said Beef. “The Dragon’s that pub down by the station. I don’t use it a great deal. I’d sooner ’ave the Mitre. The beer’s better, and the darts board’s lit prop’ly. ’Owever, we can pop in there later on.”
“And don’t stay all night,” said Mrs. Beef. “There’s a good wireless programme coming on at ten o’clock, and it would be a pity to miss it.”
“You ought to know by now,” said Beef quite amiably, “that when I’ve got an important case on, there’s no telling what time I shall be ’ome.”
“Well, there never is, as far as I can see. Case or no case. But still. Have some treacle roll, will you, Mr. Townsend?”
There was plainly an excellent understanding between them—Mrs. Beef being tolerant of her husband’s weaknesses, while having a certain respect for his success, and Beef appreciating his wife’s good humour and cooking. When I had bade good-bye and thanked her and been told to come again “whenever I was passing,” we set out for the station again, feeling warmed and filled.
Stute was waiting impatiently. “Good heavens, Beef,” he said, “does it take you all day to eat? I had a sandwich and was back here half an hour ago. I’d like to see how some of you fellows would get on in London, with a really big case keeping everyone on his toes.”
“Sorry, sir,” grumbled Beef.
“There’s some important news here. My man has been round to the flat occupied by Fairfax and his wife. The wife left yesterday morning, and Fairfax, apparently, has never returned there. No one was in the flat at all last night, and when Mrs. Fairfax left she took two suit-cases. What do you think of that?”
“That’s funny,” said Beef.
“Funny? I wish I shared your sense of the comic. It complicates things immensely.”
Beef cleared his throat. “I ’ave something to report also,” he said.
“That is—I shall ’ave. Mr. Sawyer, ’oo keeps the Dragon ’Otel near the station, ’as some information for me connected with this ’ere turn-out wot ’e says is urgent.”
“Indeed? Perhaps he has discovered the corpse in one of his beer barrels.”
“Well, for all you could taste the difference in ’is beer ’e might of,” said Beef. “It’s the most poisonous. . . .”
“If you would give a little less attention to beer, and a little more to the matter we are investigating, Beef, we should get on more quickly. I’ve sent your men round the town to see whether they can pick up any information from the local gossips. Though how you expect people to respect a policeman with a name like Galsworthy, I don’t know. Now come along. We’ll call in at this pub and see your man then go out to Chopley and see what we can find out about this other girl. We’ve got to get our information tabulated.”
The Dragon proved to be a dreary looking public house in a rather grimy street which ran parallel to the river and towards the station. It stood among the warehouses we had noticed yesterday, and its back premises must have gone down to the water’s edge. It was narrow and tall, its boards painted green and its paintwork dirty. The lace curtains across its upper windows were limp and grey and its aspect was altogether uninviting. It was the sort of house which, built in a working class area, sold immense quantities of liquor, and troubled little about its amenities.
We had arrived after hours, so that Beef had to hammer for a long time on the side-door before it was opened. But at last an immensely stout man appeared. His face was bloated and crimson, and the grotesque enormity of his stomach was accentuated by the fact that he wore no jacket.
“Nice time to come,” he said. “I was just going to have my dinner.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sawyer,” said Beef. “I only just got your message.”
Stute was impatient, and when the publican stood aside he hurried in by the small space left between abdomen and wall.
“Now then,” he said brusquely, “what have you to tell us?”
“This gent’s from Scotland Yard,” said Beef aside to Sawyer.
The publican was disgruntled. He had pictured the giving of his information as a leisurely and enjoyable affair over a glass of bitter. It was unpleasant to have his importance as one possessing special knowledge exploded by this curt stranger.
“It’s not much,” he said sulkily. “Only he came in here that evening.”
“What time?” snapped Stute.
“Well,” said the publican sarcastically, “not knowing that he had just done someone in, or was just going to do someone in, I never made a special note of the time. But I can tell you it wasn’t many minutes after I’d opened at six o’clock.”
“Say 6.10?” Stute asked.
“Round about then.”
“And? What did he say?”
“What did he say? He said a double Scotch and a splash, if you want to know.”
“Nothing much. He mentioned he’d just seen someone off on the six o’clock train.”
“Oh, he mentioned that. Did he say who it was?”
“Did he look normal?”
“Did he look himself, I mean? Anything unusual about him?”
“He was quiet. Very quiet.”
“Do you know if he came on his motor-bike?”
“Yes. I heard him start it up afterwards.”
“Where did he leave it?”
“Well, I haven’t got a proper parking place. And rather than leave it in the road, I suppose, he put it down the alley beside the house.”
“Where does that lead to?”
“Down to the river.”
“I see. What was he wearing?”
“He had on all his motor-biking kit. Black oilskin stuff and a cap over his ears.”
“Thanks Mr. Sawyer. Come along, Sergeant. We haven’t time to waste.”
And with a curt nod to the publican Detective Stute made for the door at his businesslike pace. I could just hear some mumbled swearing from Mr. Sawyer, or Beef, or both, behind me.
Out in the open air, Stute was already examining the alley. It was narrow, and its ground was of darkish muddy cinders. One side of it was formed by the public house, the other by an empty warehouse, which rose to a considerable height of blank wall. We picked our way among the puddles to the water’s edge.
Stute was looking up at the wall of the Dragon, in which there was only one window, and that on the first floor. But when he turned his attention to the warehouse, he gave a sudden sound which came as near to excitement as Stute would allow himself to go. For along the front of the warehouse, above the river itself, was a long wooden platform, built out over the water, to enable boats to be unloaded. And down to the alley from this were some rough steps.
We were soon on the platform, and Stute was going over the floor of it like a fox-hound. He looked down into the water, he looked along under the walls, he tried the two doors of the warehouse, so absorbed that he seemed to have forgotten Beef and me who stood rather sheepishly by.
“It’s a possibility,” he said at last. “Beef!”
“Tell your men to search every inch of this building, will you?”
“Very well. Now we’ll make for Chopley.”