Case without a Corpse
I was frankly disappointed. I remembered how Sergeant Beef had loftily dismissed the suggestion that he should call in “the Yard” in the Thurston mystery, and it seemed like pusillanimity on his part now. And it was surely premature. The murder, it appeared, had been committed only a few hours ago, and the fact that his telephone calls had failed to reveal anyone as missing, or to give him information of a discovered corpse, meant nothing at all.
“Well,” I said, “you know your business best, but I really can’t understand you giving up already.”
Sergeant Beef eyed me somewhat beerily. “I ’aven’t give up,” he said, “I don’t say I shan’t get to the bottom of this, like I ’ave of other myst’ries. Only last week there was a bit of a ’ow-d’ye-do at the Church ’ere. Someone ’ad been after the alms-boxes. I got ’er, though. It turned out to be the woman wot swep’ up on Mondays, ’oo ’ad said she’d seen a tall man walking mysterious down the aisle. I got ’er already. And I don’t say I shan’t get at the truf of this. But I know my duty. When there’s feachers in a case wot seems extraordinary, it’s my job to inform Scotland Yard. Well? Aren’t there ’ere? ’Ave you ever ’eard of a murder where you know ’oo the murderer is and can’t find out ’oo ’e’s murdered? Corse you ’aven’t. I don’t believe it’s ever ’appened before. And if that’s not extraordinary feachers I don’t know wot is. So I shall ring ’em up first thing.”
But there was one more interruption that night before we could go to bed. While Sergeant Beef was fumbling with the buttons of his overcoat there was a knock at the door, not very loud, but distinctly audible in the back room where we stood.
Simmons turned to the Sergeant. He was angry now. “I don’t see why this house should be turned into a police-station. I want to get to bed.”
“Can’t be ’elped,” said Beef lethargically. “I didn’t choose where ’e was to do ’isself in. Will you go and see ’oo it is, or shall I?”
Mr. Simmons left us, and we could hear the sound of the bolts withdrawn.
“Is Sergeant Beef here?” came an anxious male voice.
“Yes, Mr. Rogers. Come inside.” Simmons’s voice had lost its roughness. “Put your umbrella down there. Still raining I see.”
“Where is the Sergeant?” The voice was querulously impatient.
We heard the two men approaching, and I turned to examine “old Mr. Rogers.” He wasn’t really so old—in his late fifties, I judged. He was a small man, with a little straggling and dishevelled grey hair on the sides of his head, and watery weak eyes. His clothes were baggy, and his appearance rather that of a worried, fussy, elderly rabbit. I wondered if he already knew about his nephew, and disliked the thought of his hearing the story now. In spite of my interest in human nature, I always find an emotional climax embarrassing. But with his first words he put my mind at rest on this point.
“The constable has been round to tell me. Sergeant,” he said.
“Yes. We’re very sorry about it, Mr. Rogers.”
He seemed scarcely to know that Beef had spoken. There was evidently something else on his mind. He looked up at us a minute, then down to the thick green table-cloth. I saw that he was trembling.
“My wife . . .” he whispered at last.
Beef jumped up. He moved more quickly than I thought possible for him.
“Your wife? Not . . .”
Mr. Rogers shrugged. Then he pulled a telegram from his pocket, and handed it to Sergeant Beef.
“This came to-day,” he said, “I’ve never known her to do such a thing before. If you knew my wife you would understand that it . . . that I can’t believe. . . .” His eyes dropped again. “Sergeant,” he—said suddenly, “Do you think it could have anything to do with . . . ?” He was quite incoherent, yet we could understand well enough what he was suggesting.
Sergeant Beef was still staring at the telegram.
“Sent off from ——” he said, naming the London station from which the main line ran to Braxham, “at 12.15. Did you know she was going to London?”
“Oh yes, Sergeant. She went up on a Day Return. I’ve been down to the station and asked. She took a day return as she always did. She was going to get a little present for . . .” His voice broke.
“I see. The telegram says Staying night with friends, returning 11.15 a.m. tomorrow. Wot friends would that be?”
“I’ve no idea. That’s the extraordinary part. We had a few friends in Bromley where we used to live. But we haven’t seen them for years. And I’ve never known her to stay away for a night. And with young Alan home. . . .”
“’E didn’t go up with ’er yesterday, I suppose?”
“He was away all day. He had his motor-bike. I don’t know where he was till he came and . . .”
“’E told you wot ’e’d done?”
Mr. Rogers nodded. “It was about eight o’clock,” he said, “when he came back. He was muddy up to the eyes. All his motor-biking things was wet and dirty. I could see as soon as he came into the room that there was something wrong. ‘Wot is it, Alan?’ I asked him. He looked at me stupidly for a minute, then he said, ‘Uncle . . . I’ve committed a murder.’”
“And you believed him at once?”
“Well, yes. It was the way he looked, and that. He was half crazy. I just said ‘Who?’ like that. But he shook his head, and wouldn’t answer. Then I thought that p’raps he had not really killed anyone, only believed he had. So I said, ‘Best thing you can do is to go and give yourself up.’ I somehow thought that he couldn’t have done anything in cold blood. There would be provocation, or something. I was already thinking how we should go about getting him off. You see, he’d often been in scrapes before. He’d been to me many times to own up to something he had done. And we’d always managed to get him out of it. It never occurred to me that we shouldn’t have a try this time. Only if . . . if it could be anything to do with his auntie. . . .”
“Can you think of any reason why ’e might have gone for ’er?”
“Reason? There could be no reason, unless he was out of his mind. She’s done everything for him.”
“Well, Mr. Rogers, I don’t see that there’s any cause for you to go connecting the two. We’ll trace both of their movements tomorrow. I expect you’ll find Mrs. Rogers coming ’ome as right as rain in the morning. No reason why she shouldn’t stay in London if she wanted. . . .”
“But she’s never thought of such a thing before. . . .”
“No. Well, Don’t you get anythink into your ’ead too soon. Mustn’t go jumping to conclusions. Doesn’t do in a turn-out like this. I shall ’ave to come along and arsk you all sorts of questions in the morning, about your nephew, and that. And by then I expect your wife’ll be ’ome as right as a trivet. Now the best thing you can do is to go along and get some sleep. . . .”
“Sleep?” Mr. Rogers groaned as though he did not understand what sleep was. “With all this?”
“I know it’s a narsty shock for you. Your nephew and one thing and another.” The Sergeant was trying to be soothing. “Still—there you are. And worrying your ’ead off won’t ’elp you.”
Suddenly a new idea seemed to come to the little man. “But—haven’t you found out? Isn’t anyone missing? You haven’t found anything to tell you who it was that Alan . . . ?”
Beef shook his head. “Nothink ’asn’t come to light as yet,” he said. “But it will, in due course.”
“It’s terrible for me,” moaned Mr. Rogers.
“Now come along,” said the Sergeant, and clumsily took his arm. “You’ve got to get some rest.”
Obediently, but with a sort of vague looseness, Mr. Rogers walked towards the door.
“Good night, Mr. Rogers,” someone called. But he went out without answering.
Mr. Simmons yawned. But this new development had awakened my curiosity.
“Do you really think it could be the old lady?” I asked Beef.
“I never jump to conclusions,” said the Sergeant sternly. “Nor vencher an opinion when there’s not sufficient evidence. And now, gentlemen. . . .”