“Whatever’s the matter with you?” I asked Beef. “I was just getting details of Gulley’s movements last night.”
“Yes, but there’s something urgent. Drive back to that car park as quick as you can. I can’t think how I can have been so careless.”
I obeyed, but when we approached the line of cars along the promenade Beef gave a grunt of disappointment for the small boy was no longer there. An ancient attendant with a bright and bulbous nose said that he had often seen the youngster but had no idea of his name or address. Sometimes, he added, the boy did not come for days on end, at other times you could not get rid of him.
“His name is Leonard Parks,” said Beef hopefully, “and his mother’s got a goitre.”
“Got a goitre, has she?” said the car-park attendant, as though this might shew him the light. “No. Can’t say I know anyone with a goitre.” An old man as crimson of face as he was now approached. “Know anyone with a goitre?” he asked.
“Can’t say I do. Not with a goitre. There used to be a woman lived up Dell Hill way had a goitre but I haven’t seen her lately.”
“Name of Parks?” asked Beef eagerly.
“I couldn’t say what her name was,” said the old man severely, as though there was something improper in the suggestion that he might knew her name. “But she had a goitre as big as an ostrich egg.”
“Thanks,” said Beef and gave him a coin. “I suppose we’d better try it,” he added to me.
We found Dell Hill to be an area of rows of uniform houses, and stopped at a small general store in which we asked for news of Mrs. Parks. A number of women with shopping bags immediately went into conference, but it seemed in the end that none of them had heard the name.
“Got a goitre,” put in Beef, but no light broke.
At last a woman who had remained silent said that there used to be a Mrs. Parks living in Lily Road at the other end of the town, but whether she had a goitre or not she wouldn’t like to say.
In Lily Road everyone seemed just as anxious to help and just as unable to do so. No one knew anyone else with a goitre, and the name Parks meant nothing.
Beef tried mentioning the small boy with pimples and glasses who collected car numbers.
“There was a boy lived in Garden Avenue before I moved here used to do that,” said an elderly lady, eager to help, “but I don’t know if he wore glasses.”
Garden Avenue turned out to be a short cul-de-sac not very far from the car park in which we had first seen the boy. There was no general shop here, but we were lucky, for a woman hurrying home with her basket knew Mrs. Parks and young Len and said they lived at number 17. When the door of this house was opened by a woman with a fierce and hostile stare and a magnificent goitre, we felt we were nearly home.
“Mrs. Parks?” asked Beef cheerfully.
“What is it?”
“It’s about your little boy. I saw him this morning . . .”
“No you didn’t because he’s never been out of the house. Must of been some other little boy you saw, so it’s no good your accusing my little boy because he’s a good little boy and I haven’t got the money to pay for any damage so you’re only wasting your time and mine.”
“He didn’t do any damage,” said Beef.
This piece of information seemed to flummox Mrs. Parks completely, and she stood gaping at Beef as though she couldn’t believe her ears.
“What has he done, then?” she asked at last.
“Nothing wrong. It’s some information we wanted. You see, he writes down all the numbers of cars in certain places . . .”
“I know he does. What do you want them for?”
Beef leaned forward and looked conspiratorial.
“I’m investigating a murder,” he said in a hollow voice.
“And you mean to say something Len’s written down will help you find out who’s done it?”
“Very likely,” said Beef.
“Then you don’t get it not without he has his picture in the paper with his mother with him,” said Mrs. Parks in a breath.
“I should have to see whether he’s got the information I want first,” said Beef.
Mrs. Parks raised her voice into a scream so sudden and shrill that it hurt my ear-drums.
“Len!” she called.
The boy came forward blinking.
“Is that the only car-park you do?” asked Beef.
“Course it’s not. I do them all round there.”
“Let’s have a look at your notebook, then.”
“No you don’t. You’re not to shew it him, Len, till he puts your photo in the paper with your mother beside you. Now then.”
The detestable little boy grinned at Beef.
“How much?” he asked.
“Ten bob,” Beef told him.
“A quid,” said the boy.
“You’re not to do it, Len,” said his mother.
“All right, a quid,” said Beef. “Now come on!”
The notebook was produced and examined while Mrs. Parks raged unnoticed.
“Thank yon,” said Beef handing it back. “I’ve seen all I want.”
“You little silly, you,” said Mrs. Parks to her son. “You might have been on the television for all you know. Or in the newsreel, with your mum. Fancy shewing it him like that. Now very likely someone’ll be arrested.”
This time I was not to be taken in by any of Beef’s mystification. I knew what he wanted to see and had seen.
“So Gulley’s car was there?” I smiled.
“Until what time?”
“I don’t know. The boy left for the cinema at seven. Now let’s drive up to Greynose Point.”
“Don’t you want to go to the police station? They’ll have reports about the body and the car by now.”
“No. I can see those from Stute for what they’re worth. I want to see where it happened.”
It was a gusty but clear afternoon as we took the downland road from the town, winding our way upwards round sharp bends. After the last houses on the hillside there was nothing between us and Greynose Point except the Greynose Hotel, a summer resort high on the headland. The whole distance from Folkover to the Point by road was about two and a half miles, but it was possible to cut across the downs, pass the hotel and reach the town on foot, and by this route the distance was under two miles.
The road, we found, did not go within five hundred yards of the Point, but we saw a policeman in uniform ahead of us, and on Beef’s instructions I pulled up beside him.
“I’m a friend of Chief Inspector Stute,” announced Beef. “I want to have a look round.”
“The Chief Inspector will be up very soon,” said the constable, “so you can ask him then.”
It was clear that the policeman was on duty at the point where Freda’s car had left the road, for there were tyre marks still visible in the soft earth by the roadside. We drove on a few yards and left my car while we went on foot across the short sweet downland grass towards the cliff. We soon saw a post recently stuck in the earth, and gathered that this marked the point at which the car had been driven into space.
“Mm,” said Beef. “Not much to see, is there? If it did stop on the way you couldn’t tell now. This grass is like rubber. Let’s go over to the hotel.”
Here we found everything closed and desolate, and had to ring the bell for a long time before anyone came. A seedy looking man who said he was the resident manager explained that during the winter only he and his wife and one barman remained in the building, and that the full staff would not return before Easter.
“Were you here yesterday evening?” Beef asked when he had explained the purpose of his enquiries.
“No. As a matter of fact the wife and I went to the pictures. Got back about ten o’clock. Later than we meant to. But George was here if you want to see him.”
George was spruce and middle-aged and gave business-like answers. No, he had noticed no traffic passing last night. He had gone to bed early because there was nothing else to do and the manager had his key. Time? Oh, about nine or soon after. He had put the outside light on, the one over the front door, so that the manager and his wife could see their way round from the garage.
After that? Nothing really. One man had passed the hotel—at about quarter past nine. That wasn’t unusual. Even in winter people walked up here thinking one of the bars would be open. This man had come from the direction of the Point and had followed the track which led down to Folkover, passing right in front of the hotel. He had seen him from his bedroom window, which was in the front. He had just been opening his window before getting into bed when he had seen the man coming down towards the hotel.
What then, Beef asked, had made George notice the man?
“There was one rather funny thing about him,” George said. “It was quite a fine night, not a drop of rain falling, but as the man came near the light of the hotel he stopped and put up his umbrella. Funny, wasn’t it?”
“Very funny,” said Beef gloomily.
“Then he walked past the windows of the hotel with it up. I couldn’t see whether he put it down again.”
“So you really did not see much of the man himself?”
“Nothing at all. Only his dark figure before he put his umbrella up.”
“You don’t think it could have been a woman?”
George considered this.
“Well, it had never occurred to me. I suppose it is possible if she was wearing trousers.”
“Thank you very much,” said Beef. “You’ve been most helpful.”
That closed the interview.
I took a glance at Beef’s face to see how he was taking this clear contradiction of his earlier pronouncement to Wickham.
“So Freda Ducrow was murdered,” I said, “and by the same person as Cosmo.”
“It’s becoming pretty obvious, isn’t it? I know you don’t want to think that this hiding under an umbrella is significant because it was I who first reported a case of it. But I don’t see how you ignore it. On the night of Cosmo’s murder Mills saw someone with an umbrella up trying to burn a croquet mallet. On the night when Rudolf’s car was stolen I saw him or her again. And now a person with the same trick is seen coming away from the cliff over which Freda Ducrow’s car has crashed.”
“I still say that if Freda Ducrow was murdered it was not by Cosmo’s killer. But there is one little piece of information I have kept back. I wasn’t going to tell you because you thought you knew why I wanted to see that kid’s list of cars. But fair’s fair and you may as well have the same chance as I have of solving the case. Gulley’s car was on his list—for the car park on the sea—front near the Marina Palace. But he covered another parking place, in a square near Wickham’s office. And at four-twenty that afternoon Rudolf’s car was parked there.”
“You heard. Now you know as much as I do—though you may not have drawn the same conclusions from it. Let’s get back to Hokestones.”