Neck and Neck
Next morning when I told Beef of my discovery of the receipt, he was quite excited. “Here, let me have a look at it,” he said, and taking the paper he spread it on the table. “CHURCH MISSIONS SOCIETY” it ran:
Received from Miss A. Fielding the sum of one guinea (£1 1s. 0d.).Dated 10th Sept. 19—Signed(on behalf of the Church Missions Society)
“Yes,” Beef said, “that’s obviously the one the lady gave your aunt that morning. I can’t make out the signature. Well, we can soon check up on that. I suppose we may as well let Inspector Arnold do that for us. He ought to see it, anyhow. I’ll drop it in at dinner-time. Better take a copy of it first.”
I was just copying the paper out when Ellen came to tell me that Mr. Moneypenny was on the telephone and wished to speak to me. Moneypenny, I remembered, was Aunt Aurora’s solicitor, who had read the Will after her funeral. When I answered the phone he asked if Beef was still in Hastings and, if so, whether we could spare him a few minutes at his office in Lewes. He had something he thought we ought to know. Beef readily agreed, and I arranged to call about eleven-thirty that morning.
“Tell you what,” Beef said, when I had put down the receiver, “that fits in nice. Lewes Races are on today. We’ll have a look in there this afternoon. Chap in the pub I’m staying at gave me two horses last night. . . .”
“Beef,” I remonstrated, “I hardly think this is the time to go betting on horses. I thought you were down here to try and find out about my aunt’s death.”
Beef waited. “Remember a fellow who didn’t turn up at a certain pub, a bookie’s clerk called Tom Raikes. Well, I understand he’ll be there in the five-bob ring. I shouldn’t mind a word with him.”
“Oh well, of course,” I replied. “That’s different.” Now that I knew it was part of the job, I was quite keen to go to the races. The last few days had not been much fun. Though I did not follow horses in the papers and only had a bet on the Derby and the National, I loved to attend an actual meeting. I had not been to many, but I loved going down to the paddock, watching the horses parade, making my choice and betting and then watching them canter off to the starting-post. It was the colour and the crowd that got me. Well, if Beef thought it was part of our job, that was good enough for me.
It was now half-past ten and, as Lewes was nearly thirty miles away, it was time to set off to see Moneypenny, especially as we had to look in and leave the receipt form for Inspector Arnold.
It was one of those days that you get in September, settled and calm with an unbroken blue sky and faint golden haze over the countryside. Our route lay behind the downs and, as the road was good, I kept the accelerator well pressed down. We passed Ringmer and pulled up in front of Messrs. Moneypenny and Moneypenny in High Street, Lewes, just as the clock in the street showed half-past eleven.
Moneypenny did not keep us waiting long, and having seated us in his private office he began:
“I’m sorry to have dragged you over, but I feel I should inform someone and I did not wish at this stage to approach the police. You see, Sergeant Beef,” he went on, turning to Beef, “I had an extraordinary visit yesterday. Quite upset me. The two Misses Graves turned up here without any appointment and demanded to see me. I managed to fit in time to see them, but it was most inconvenient. When they came into my office they were quite overwrought. They wanted me to advance them five hundred pounds there and then out of the money ‘due to them’ as they put it. I pointed out politely that the Will had not been proved yet, and, until police investigations were over, nothing could be done. I had an awful scene with them then.”
The old solicitor took out his handkerchief and mopped his brow. Even the memory of it seemed to upset him. “They wept and ranted and then almost threatened me. They practically accused me of keeping Miss Fielding’s money for my own use. Of course I didn’t take legal notice of that. They were obviously not in their right mind. However, at last I managed to calm them down a little and learn that they were and had been for some time, living above their income. Well, that’s a little harsh, perhaps. Their income had always been small, but before the war it had been, with care, just enough. During the war, with prices rising, in order to live as they had always done, they had spent what little savings they had just to keep up appearances. It was a sad tale. During these last few years they had been getting into debt with all the local tradesmen. At first it had been all right. They had always paid their bills promptly for thirty years and their name was good. Now, I suppose, businesses had changed hands, new managers had come back from the war, and they had been pressed. They produced one court order, two county-court summonses and, to crown it all, two bailiffs had taken up residence that very morning. Oh, it was pitiable, but you see, Beef, what was I to do? I could not advance them a penny.”
“I know that, Mr. Moneypenny. You mean, if they had a hand in the poisoning business they weren’t entitled to a farthing.”
“Exactly. I should have liked to have helped them out of respect to Miss Fielding, but there you are.”
Beef then told Moneypenny of our visit to them and of the painters already at work. “With those old girls keeping up appearances means everything. They ’d rather go without food than sack their maid,” he said, and brought out his large pipe. There was a pause while Beef and Moneypenny filled their pipes and I lit a cigarette.
“Don’t think they will do anything silly, do you?” Beef asked.
“Suicide, you mean?” Moneypenny replied. “I trust not. I gave them all the advice I could. I told them to go to each of their creditors and explain the position fully. I even gave them a letter, saying that if Miss Fielding’s will was proved in its present state they would inherit a thousand pounds. I also undertook to deal with the summonses and the court order. I told them I thought I could have the bailiffs dispensed with. . . .”
“Yes.” Beef smiled. “It was those bums that put the lid on it and sent them scuttling over here. Poor old things. I didn’t like them much, but you can’t help feeling sorry for them. Well, Mr. Moneypenny, you did quite right in asking us to come over here, and I must thank you for your information. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
“Good-bye, Beef. By the way, how’s the investigation going? I do hope we can get the Will cleared up soon. There’s so much to settle.”
“I hope so too, Mr. Moneypenny,” Beef replied. “Don’t you worry, I’ll have it all sorted out for you, but it takes time. By the way, what made Miss Fielding cut her nephew, Gupp, right out of her will? He told Mr. Townsend here that it was because he had tried to touch her for a loan, but I feel there must have been more than that behind it.”
Moneypenny’s face almost lightened into a thin smile. “Well, I shouldn’t really betray confidences. The facts are that he did try to borrow a large sum from Miss Fielding. This was bad enough, but he then broke into her private desk with a skeleton key where she kept her Will, just to make certain he was included. He didn’t know, but she saw him through the glass door. She’d heard a noise in the night and came down to see what it was. That’s why he was so dumbfounded when I read the clauses of the Will. As he said, he’d seen that he was one of the legatees. What he didn’t know was that Miss Fielding called me next day and told me about it and made a codicil excluding Hilton Gupp altogether. Most upset about it she was, but quite adamant.
“Thank you again, Mr. Moneypenny,” Beef said, rising and taking his hat. “That was it, was it? I thought it must have been something like that.”
“I hope we shall soon be able to settle up everything with you and your brother, Mr. Townsend,” Moneypenny said, as he was seeing us out.
After leaving Moneypenny’s office, we drove straight up onto the downs to the racecourse. We parked the car, paid our entrance fee and entered the five-shilling ring. Beef, as soon as we were inside, made straight for the bar. While we were drinking our beer and eating a sandwich I heard a little group of people next to us discussing the latest murder, which was splashed across the evening papers that they were studying. An elderly woman had been battered to death in her shop for the sake of five pounds.
“They haven’t caught the one who poisoned that poor old lady in Hastings yet, have they?” one was saying.
“Oh, it was one of those nephews. Clear as daylight. The police know what they are doing. They’ll catch up with them.”
“Never could abide murderers who go in for poison. Remember Armstrong . . .”
“That’s your town, Edie, Hastings, isn’t it?” I heard a voice saying.
“Oh yes. I went to the inquest too. I saw them all. The one I didn’t like the look of was the younger nephew, the one they never called. Nasty quiet sly-looking fellow, I thought. Shouldn’t be surprised if he was the one.”
I looked at Beef to see if he had heard and saw his red face almost apoplectic with laughter. “Got you nicely weighed up,” he said as we moved away.
“That’s why I asked you to come to Hastings in the first place, Beef,” I replied. “I knew the sort of beastly gossip that would go on till the case was solved. It’s about time you produced some results.”
“Well, we’re trying, aren’t we?” he answered, in a grieved voice. “What else have we come all this way for? Oh, I mustn’t forget those two horses.” He dug a dirty piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket and showed it to me.
“There you are, see? Silver Fox three o’clock and Maid of the Mountains for the three-thirty.”
Beef spoke with an air of finality as if they were both already past the post, which annoyed me.
“I always watch the horses and pick my own,” I answered. Beef laughed. “What do you know about horses? I don’t believe you can even ride.”
The horses were just going up to the starting-post for the first race as we came out.
“We’ll pass this one up,” Beef said, “and see if we can find that chap Raikes. He must be working for one of the bookies along the front here. You know him by sight. Don’t let him see you if you can help it. Just walk along the line and come back and tell me which bookie it is and what’s he dressed in.”
It was easy to locate Raikes without being noticed, as the bookies were busy with the last-minute rush. People were hurrying to and fro, watching the prices quickly changing on each bookie’s board, and hastening to place their bets before the off.
I moved back to higher ground and watched the race and then walked to the place where I had left Beef. He was nowhere to be seen. I was looking vaguely round when I suddenly saw him outside the fencing of the ring, making weird signs that I gathered meant he wanted me to follow.
“Didn’t you see him?” Beef asked impatiently, as I joined him on the open down outside the rings. “Gupp. Mr. Hilton Gupp, your cousin, as large as life. There in the five-bob ring. I don’t think he spotted us. I watched him come in, and then he went away to the back and spoke to someone. No, I don’t think he knows we’re here and I particularly don’t want him to. What’s that big stand over there? We can watch fine from there.”
“That’s the Members’ Stand. Tattersalls. Cost us thirty-bob each,” I said.
“Well, it will all come out of my expenses,” Beef replied with a laugh. “You and your brother will have to cough up. I haven’t had much fun out of this case yet. Besides, I’ve got those two horses. They’ll pay for everything and more besides.”
Beef, I thought, for all his experience of crime, still retained some of the ingenuous qualities of the country bobby. He had a childlike faith in the tip that had been given him in his pub. I could imagine the scene—Beef buying some tout drinks and the tout telling Beef about stables and jockeys and probably tapping him for a dollar at the end.
When we entered the Members’ Stand, Beef proudly attached the round disc to his buttonhole. He then climbed high up in the stand. “This will do nicely,” he said. “Now I want you to keep those glasses”—I had brought a pair of binoculars—“trained on the five-bob ring. See if you can see Raikes from here.”
It was an interval between the first race at two o’clock and the two-thirty, consequently the view of the lines of bookies was more or less unimpeded. I soon picked up the sign “Alf Silverman”, which was the name of the bookie Raikes was clerking for, and could see Raikes with his big ledger quite clearly.
“Beef,” I said excitedly, “Gupp’s with them, too. The bookie, Raikes and Gupp are all standing together.”
“Good,” replied Beef. “Now we can concentrate on this racing business and have a drink or two in peace and quiet. Nice little set-up they have here,” he added, looking round the ring appreciatively. A group of county people were next to us, quiet check caps, regimental ties and enormous binoculars in heavy leather cases. They looked amused at Beef clad in his blue suit, a bit shiny and covered with pipe ash and his bowler hat slightly askew, but Beef returned their curious glances with a smile. I left him for a moment to put a small bet on the two-thirty, and when I returned I found Beef deep in conversation with the whole party.
“Silver Fox, eh?” I heard a man say who was wearing an old Etonian tie and a somewhat different kind of bowler from Beef’s. “Well, I must say I hadn’t thought of that horse. Let’s have a look at his form.”
He got out his form book and muttered to himself. “Yes, might have a chance. Amanda, we’d better have a saver on Silver Fox. This gentleman has the tip from a very good source.”
Once again I was astonished at Beef. If anyone had been able to converse on friendly terms with this crowd, I should have thought, being an old public school fellow myself, it would have been I, but they seemed to ignore my few words of warning about the reliability of Beef’s tips, and listened attentively to every word the Sergeant said.
“I don’t often come racing, madam,” Beef was saying to the horsy lady in grey who had been addressed as Amanda, “but, when I do, I like to do the thing properly. Come in the best seats. Find one or two good horses and put a real bet on. No street-corner two bobs for me. Just a waste of money.”
The horses of the two-thirty flashed by in a colourful stampede, but the one which I had backed was not in the first three.
“Well, sir,” Beef was saying, “we’ll just go and put on our bets. See you in the bar when Silver Fox is home.”
“Oh, rather,” the Old Etonian replied affably. “We’ll owe you a drink if he pulls it off.”
As soon as we were out of earshot on our way to the paddock I began to remonstrate with Beef.
“Beef, you shouldn’t mislead those people with your tuppenny-ha’penny tips. They’ll probably put a tenner or so on.”
“What do you mean ‘mislead’?” Beef answered, quite angrily. “I very much fancy Silver Fox, and the fellow told me . . .”
I could bear no more. “Let’s have a look at them. All the papers give Dolabella. Betting forecast six to four.”
“There he is,” Beef shouted. “See. No. 4. That little grey one. I like him. Come on. We’ll go and get our money on.”
Beef almost ran to where the bookies were standing. “What are you giving for Silver Fox?” he asked one bookie fiercely.
“Seven to one,” the bookie replied, without looking up.
“Well, here’s five pounds,” Beef said, producing five rather dirty notes from his pocket.
“To win or each way?” the bookie asked wearily.
“Win, of course,” Beef answered, as if the man was a fool not to know. So carried away was I by Beef’s confidence that I put a pound each way myself, as well as two pounds to win on Dolabella. I managed to get two to one on Dolabella, which was lucky as it closed at five to four.
Beef’s behaviour during the race was conspicuous, to say the least of it. He kept standing up in his seat, shouting encouragement, and every now and then putting my binoculars to his eyes. It was a mile race. Dolabella took up the running from the start in front of a field of about twelve. Silver Fox was running third—very nicely I had to admit. As they came into the last furlong, Silver Fox moved forward without effort and came home by two lengths.
“There you are, you see. What did I tell you? You never seem to think I know anything. Gosh, how much is that? Seven fives is thirty-five. Thirty-five pounds, eh?”
“And your stake money back,” I said.
Beef was as excited as a schoolboy. “Coo, it’s like shelling peas. Don’t know why I worry with detecting. Come on, we’ll go and celebrate.”
I myself had won, even with the two I lost on Dolabella, six or seven pounds. I followed Beef to the bar, where he was at once surrounded by our county friends who insisted on champagne. Beef was definitely the hero of the moment, as they all seemed to have cleaned up nicely on Silver Fox.
Beef produced his other tip, Maid of the Mountains, but fortunately, as it turned out (for Maid of the Mountains came in nowhere), someone else ordered another bottle of champagne and racing was forgotten for the moment.
“Better collect our winnings and get back to business,” Beef said in an aside to me, and we left them to what seemed to me might well develop into quite a party.
Beef explained that having established the fact that Raikes and Gupp seemed to be on close terms—though he realised, of course, that Hilton Gupp, like ourselves, had known Tom Raikes since early days—he only wanted to have a few words with Raikes alone. He thought the best way to effect this was for us to go back to the five-bob ring, and while he kept Gupp out of the way, if necessary, I should approach Raikes, feign surprise at seeing him, ask him where he would be that evening—it must be somewhere near, he said, since there was another day’s racing at Lewes still to come—and try and fix to meet him in some pub.
Tom Raikes seemed pleased enough to see me, and, finding that he was staying in Lewes, I arranged to meet him for a drink at the Black Lion at seven o’clock. I did not mention that Beef was with me, but knowing Tom Raikes I felt that he probably guessed the reason I wanted to see him. However, he seemed quite eager to meet me and I left it at that.
Beef was pleased at the arrangement and insisted at six o’clock on our going to the Black Lion “so as to be in plenty of time and not to miss him”. He filled in the time of waiting by roping me in to make a four at darts against two racegoers who were, even with Beef handicapped by my inaccurate throws, what he termed “easy meat”. Having won several pints off them, we were just finishing the last game when Tom Raikes walked in. I bought him a pint and, as I had left Beef his favourite double top to finish, it was only a matter of seconds before he joined us. I introduced them and we all sat down at a small table.
I did not know what Beef wanted so I began by telling Raikes of our luck over Silver Fox.
In the pause that followed this Beef broke in, “Look here, Raikes, you know who I am and what I’m doing here. I just want to ask you a few questions. I know you needn’t answer them, but I think, somehow, you will.”
He paused in a heavy dramatic way and then went on.
“You took the odd twenty quid from Miss Fielding’s bag the very day she was poisoned, didn’t you? When you were fixing the curtain rod.”
“Well, I’m not saying I did or I didn’t,” Raikes replied, looking a bit hangdog but not really worried, I felt. “How was I to know she was going to die that day?”
“That’s as may be,” Beef answered.
“Stop that,” Raikes said, in a voice I had never heard him use before. “You’re not going to try and get me mixed up in that.”
“I should just like to know,” Beef went on evenly, “what game you and Mr. Hilton Gupp are up to. That’s what I’d like to know.”
This time there was no doubt that the bolt had gone home.
Raikes, in spite of all his faults and weaknesses, had often shown shame but never before had I seen fear in his eyes.
“What do you mean?” Raikes asked, more to gain time, it seemed, than information. “I suppose you saw him with me today. Well, why shouldn’t he be at the races the same as Mr. Lionel here.”
“There’s more in it than that,” Beef replied. “Why did you tell him about the key of the medicine cupboard being found on the top of Mr. Vincent Townsend’s wardrobe?”
Raikes looked pale and shaken. He mumbled something about running into Gupp and casually mentioning what his wife Mary had told him. “Anyway, I must be getting along now, Mr. Lionel,” he said to me, and without a word or a glance at Beef he strode out of the pub.
As soon as we were in the car on our way back to Hastings I couldn’t help asking Beef the question that was puzzling me.
“The money was stolen, then, after all?” I asked. “I never quite understood about it being overlooked and then turning up again.”
“’Course it was,” Beef replied. “Why do you think young Charlie sold his motor-bike? He knew his dad too well. He knew where the money had gone and he and his mum weren’t happy till it was put back.”
“By jove,” I said. “Why of course. I’ll get the boy the best bike that money can buy as soon as our legacies come through. That depends on you, Beef. It seems to me that we’ve had a lovely afternoon racing, but we’ve not got much forrader with the clearing up of the case.”
“I call it a very satisfactory day,” Beef replied. “In every respect.” And he patted his wallet affectionately.