No indication was given at breakfast of whether or not Beef was to retain his authority to investigate, but after the meal was finished Gray called us aside.
“I have been thinking over this matter,” he said, “and I’ve reached the conclusion that you would not be acting as you are unless you felt pretty certain that you can clear up the case against Rudolf. I don’t ask you to give me any assurances about that. I simply remind you that it is the concern of everyone that he should not be tried for this murder.”
“I understand what you mean,” said Beef. “I’ll go so far as to say that it may well be avoided, but I’m afraid he will be charged and brought before a magistrate. That is, if the jacket proves to have been bloodstained. If you’ll continue to give me your co-operation, Mr. Gray, I believe I can get at the truth.”
“Very well. But I hope you won’t discover any more evidence which seems to be against Rudolf.”
We were interrupted just then by the arrival of the young man in question, who came in breathless and eager to tell us some strange news.
“Extraordinary thing,” he said. “My car was stolen last night.”
“Yes. I left it outside my house as I always do. This morning it was gone.”
Beef pulled out his notebook. “Was it locked?” he asked.
“The doors, you mean? No. The ignition key was out, but that doesn’t mean much, as you know. I’ve lost several of them since I had the car. One yesterday, as a matter of fact, through dropping it carelessly in one of my big overcoat pockets.”
“Didn’t you hear anything in the night?”
“No. But then I always leave the old bus at the top of the slope so that I can start it in the morning. All the thief had to do was to jump in, take off the handbrake and away. He could start the engine at the bottom of the slope a quarter of a mile from my house. I should never hear him.”
It was evident from Beef’s expression that whatever else he had or had not anticipated this was a development as unexpected to him as to the rest of us. But was it a development?
Rudolf himself asked that very question. “Think it has anything to do with the murder?”
I was amused to see that by this blunt enquiry Beef was hoist with his own petard. “Hard to say. Very hard to say,” he intoned and sucked his pencil stump. “Might have, and then again might not. You better report it to the police in any case. I shall be calling on Inspector Stute this morning and will mention it to him, but it should be reported in the ordinary way to the local police officer.”
When we were alone I enjoyed a minor triumph over Beef.
“You see? What I saw in the night was not so unimportant after all.”
“What was that?”
I reminded him of the mysterious figure under the umbrella.
“It’s clear,” I said, “that some one from this house had an interest in removing Rudolf’s car last night. Perhaps he wished to immobilize him.”
Beef said nothing, and when I offered to drive him to see Inspector Stute he replied sulkily that he would just as soon walk. In the circumstances and because it was such a lovely morning for November I agreed with him and we set out, Beef carrying a brown-paper parcel.
When we came to the little pavilion Beef elected to look around it again. I was sure that he was doing this with the sole purpose of annoying me because I was anxious to get over our interview with Stute. I could see a little smile on his face and knew it of old.
“Oh, come on, Beef,” I said. “Don’t let’s waste any more time.”
He seemed to be looking for something which would justify the delay, and was relieved to see an old overcoat and hat hanging there. He began with painful deliberation to examine these.
“More bloodstains?” I asked sarcastically.
“No,” said Beef. “No bloodstains on this, I think.”
He peered into the hat, a greasy and battered relic, then hung it up again.
“I’m going on,” I said angrily.
He thereupon began a silly piece of playacting.
“Could we have been seen from the house?” he asked. “Coming in here, I mean?”
I looked round.
“No. Of course not.”
“Then we’ll go back to the drive the same way. Don’t cut across to the drive farther down.” He assumed an absurd air of secrecy. “That is, if you value your life.”
More childishness, I thought. But I followed his route to humour him.
I noticed several things before we reached the park gates, things which might have some bearing on the case, but with Beef in his present mood I decided to keep my observations to myself. I saw, for instance, that although until now there had been no sign of cattle grazing in the park, this morning there were some Jersey cows there. And I noticed that Dunton, though he pretended to be busy behind some rhododendron bushes, was watching us closely.
At the lodge gates we were assailed by two Boxer dogs and heard Mrs. Rudolf Ducrow shouting “Malik! Vishinsky!” from somewhere in the rear of the house, while the Duntons had evidently resolved against any further attempt at secrecy in the matter of Mrs. Dunton’s return for she was vigorously shaking a mat at her front door.
As we approached the village Beef was hailed by a tubby little man lounging at a shop door. His dull red cheeks and slightly glazed eyes suggested to my trained observation that he was an habitual if not an excessive beer-drinker. He greeted Beef as “Sarge“ and was in turn called “Fred”, so that I guessed him to have been one of the locals with whom Beef had been hobnobbing and playing darts on the previous evening. And when we reached a house with a notice COUNTY POLICE on it, I was not surprised to find that the local sergeant was already an acquaintance of his.
“Lovely morning,” said this character rubbing his hands.
“Lovely,” agreed Beef. “This is Mr. Townsend, who writes my cases up for me,” he added in his grand manner.
“Wish I had someone to do that for me,” said Sergeant Eels as he shook hands with me. “This young constable I’ve got is too busy making reports on his own.”
Sergeant Eels was a thickset vigorous-looking man whose sharp waxed moustache jumped about on his lip when he talked as though it had a life of its own. He had a loud voice and cheerful manner.
“Rudolf Ducrow will be down presently,” said Beef. “His car’s been pinched in the night.”
“Not surprised,” said Eels, “He leaves it outside his house every night, right at the top of the slope. You want to see Inspector Stute, I suppose? You’ll find him along at the Buck and Arrow, where he’s staying. But have a cup of char before you go. It’s just being made.” He raised his voice to be heard by the constable whom I had seen through the door to an inner room. “Spender-Hennessy! Is that char ready?”
“Coming up, Sarge.”
“Decent young bloke,” said Eels. “But a bit too keen, if you know what I mean. Well, he’s not finished his training long and you know what they are when they’re young. I tell him to please himself. ’If you want to be up at all hours you can’, I say, ‘I like my sleep.’ Still, he’s had one or two nice little cases, if he has got a rather cheeky way of talking.”
“What did you say his name was?”
“I don’t know what’s happening to the Force, upon my soul, I don’t. Where do names like that come from, I should like to know?”
“Straight out of the New Statesman,” I put in drily, but nobody took any notice, of course.
The young constable appeared carrying two mugs, then went back for two more. Soon the room resounded to that curious mixture of gurgling and suction which suggests that policemen are enjoying hot tea.
“So you like a bit of a look-round at night, do you?” said Beef expansively to Constable Spender-Hennessy. “I was the same myself at one time. Couldn’t keep me off my bicycle after dark when I was a beginner, same as you.”
“Really?” said the young man in a bored voice. “You were in the Police Force, were you?”
“This is Sergeant Beef,” said Eels with shocked emphasis. “The Sergeant Beef. And this is Mr. Townsend, who works with him.”
“I’m afraid I don’t go to the pictures much. What is it? Cross-talk comedy?”
“You’ll get cross-talk if you’re not careful, young man.” Eels turned to Beef. “It’s only his inexperience,” he said apologetically. “They fill ’em up with so much theory nowadays they think it’s all in books and microscopes.”
“I know,” said Beef. He seemed to be in no way put out, and smiled to the constable. “I was going to ask you if you happened to be cycling anywhere near Hokestones on the night of the murder?”
“Not actually,” the young man said.
“What on earth do you mean by that?” asked Beef. “Were you or weren’t you?”
Constable Spender-Hennessy smiled loftily.
“I was and I wasn’t,” he said. “I did not go so far as the lodge gates, but I had a gander up the road towards them.”
“See anything out of the ordinary?”
Beef turned to Eels.
“Does he mean he did or he didn’t?”
“I think he means he did, don’t you?”
“Definitely. I saw Mrs. Dunton walking up the road.”
“That was round about eleven?”
“I suppose you’ve told Inspector Stute that?”
Constable Spender-Hennessy gave a bored sigh. “Do you suppose I might have failed to do so? I need scarcely say I was able to give him all the details he required.” He turned to me. “Do you really make a living out of books about this character? I should have thought he was too corny even for detective novels.”
I was secretly a little pleased.
“Of course, I have to do a good deal of manipulation,” I said. “Bring out the nuances. Touch up the denouement. Make him comme il faut.”
“Give him esprit de corps? ” suggested the constable. “And je ne sais quoi, perhaps?”
I saw that he was attempting to be funny at my expense, and spoke briskly to Beef. “Isn’t it time we went to see Inspector Stute?”
“No hurry,” said Beef maddeningly. “I haven’t finished my tea yet.” He turned again to Constable Spender-Hennessy. “So you were able to give the Inspector all the details he required, were you? Well, that’s very nice, I’m sure. And what else did you see that night?”
“You didn’t notice what lights were on in the two lodges?”
“I can see no reason why I should have. If I had been aware that a murder was proceeding I should doubtless have taken note of a number of things. Unfortunately we are not asked to the preview in a case of that sort.”
“So you had nothing else to tell Inspector Stute?”
“What time did you go to bed that morning?”
“In the region of six.”
“And where were you between five and six?”
“Does it matter? After all, the murder took place hours earlier than that.”
“I would just like to know.”
“I was on the London road most of the time.”
“See any cars coming towards the village?”
“What did you see?”
I felt it was a minor triumph for Beef when at this point Constable Spender-Hennessy produced a green morocco-bound notebook stamped in gold with the letters G.S.-H. He flicked back some pages.
“At about five-five,” he said, “an old Lagonda car, number EYN 985, was driven rather fast down the lane which runs from the London road to Hawden. It seemed to go through the village.”
“Could be,” said the constable airily.
“Yes. About eight or ten minutes later the same car, driven much faster now, returned. I saw it take the bend and disappear towards London.”
“Could you see how many were in it?”
“Certainly not. It had blinding headlights.”
“And you didn’t think that worth mentioning to the Inspector?”
“Actually, no. It happened several hours after the murder. I can’t see what possible connection it can have.”
“Oh, you can’t? Then let me tell you, young man, that you ought to have your head seen to.”
“Yes, really. Actually. Definitely. Absolutely. The car that passed you went up the drive at Hokestones and back.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“It was at the scene of the crime for several minutes. That car belongs to Major Gulley.”
“Interesting, but not conclusive,” said Constable Spender-Hennessy coolly.
“Oh, go and take a running jump at yourself,” said Beef, voicing a sentiment in which we all most heartily joined.