It occurs to me as I write this now that what Beef said was true—I had as much information as he had at that point, but I was completely bewildered, and all I could do was to make guesses at the identity of the murderer or murderers. What is more, I have scrupulously told the reader all Beef knew. As it afterwards transpired that Beef had now reached his solution, it seems to me that the reader may like to try his hand at finding the answers to the puzzle, and I am pretty confident that without cheating, without reading or looking into the remaining chapters, he will be no more successful than I was. I should therefore like to wager any reader a cigar that he cannot correctly fill in the spaces below:
Who killed Cosmo Ducrow? Was Freda Ducrow murdered, or did she commit suicide? If she was murdered, by whom? Who was “the person under the umbrella” when seen (a) by Mills, (b) by Townsend, (c) by George? (a)
I own that I was baffled, but as we drove back I did not mean to give Beef the satisfaction of knowing this, and silently watched the road ahead.
It depressed me to be returning to that grey house and to the atmosphere of menace which I had sensed in it. Now, I thought, the murderer, whoever he or she may be, must be growing desperate, and desperate people are dangerous. Even Beef seemed to take this seriously, and warned me to keep my eyes open and look after myself for the next day or two. I asked him rather bitterly how I could do that when he did not even tell me from which quarter danger might come, but all he would say was, “From where you least expect.”
There was no sign of life in either of the lodges as we passed through the gates, and in the last light of evening the little croquet pavilion was no more than a black outline by the drive. Gabriel, opening the front door, looked surly and scarcely greeted us. “Mr. Gray wants you in the library. He said, as soon as you come in.”
As I anticipated, this meant an unpleasant interview with Theo Gray.
“Sit down,” he said when we entered the library. “I think it is time we had a little talk. It seems to me, Sergeant Beef, that you should be feeling deeply concerned about the death of Mrs. Ducrow. Whatever its immediate cause, it would not have happened if you had done what you were employed to do and discovered Cosmo Ducrow’s murderer.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gray, but my methods can’t be hurried.”
“Your methods! I begin to doubt whether you have any. You surely must have known enough to see that the lady needed protection, either from herself or someone else? Yet on the day on which she met her death you had gone to London on some wild-goose chase to interview a girl friend of Gulley’s.”
“I wouldn’t call it a wild-goose chase, Mr. Gray. And after all, you went to London, too.”
“I went because your dilly-dallying had made Rudolf’s arrest seem imminent. I had to get him the best Counsel.”
“I know. But I don’t think you should blame me for not watching over the lady when you didn’t think it necessary.”
“The fact remains that the case is unsolved. Or do you yet know who killed Cosmo Ducrow?”
“I think I do.”
“And Mrs. Ducrow?”
“Ah, that’s another matter. But you wanted me to find out who killed her husband. Barring a few loose ends to be tied up, I think I have done so.”
“Then why not charge him or her?”
“I’ve told you I can’t be rushed. Now I want you to do something to help me get this over. Could you ask everyone concerned to be here tomorrow night?”
“What do you mean by everyone concerned?”
“Well, everyone who has any connection with this house or this case. Yourself and Gulley, Miss Esmeralda Tobyn.”
“Well, she was in the grounds that night. Then Mr. Rudolf Ducrow and his wife . . .”
“His wife, I understand, is no longer at the lodge.”
“Still, she could be sent for, surely. Then Mr. Ernest Wickham—that would complete the party above
“I suppose it could be arranged. What is the idea?”
“There are a few little questions I would like to ask them. Then outside, there’s Mills and the Duntons as well as the Gabriels.”
“You know, of course, that there has been a good deal of trouble between Mrs. Dunton and the Gabriels?”
“Yes. But I think it might be patched up for the occasion. I’ll see to that if I have your permission.”
“Very well. It all sounds rather as though you were making a play of it, I fear.”
“Not really. I just need a little more information.”
“I’ll telephone Rudolf now,” said Gray and left us.
Beef sat for a while in an arm-chair looking fixedly into the fire. When I tried to speak to him he made a shshsh-ing noise and said he was thinking. Then suddenly he jumped to his feet. His eyes were shining and he looked eager and boyish.
“Come on, T!” he almost shouted. Whenever he uses that abbreviated form of my surname I know that he is in one of his more mischievous moods, but I was glad to see that at last he intended some activity. “Come on! We must get to work!”
Infected by his wave of enthusiasm, I jumped up too.
“Right!” I said. “What do we do now?”
But I might have known. “Run down to the local for a pint,” he grinned.
I was furious at having been caught.
“You can go on foot,” I said. “I’m not going to hang round a public house again while you guzzle beer.”
“No one’s asking you to. I want you to come in. No, straight up, T. We’ve got to see Bomb Mills. He’ll be down there now. I need his help.”
“The local” was not the country hotel at which Stute was staying, but a beerhouse on the edge of the village. Unwillingly I followed Beef into the public bar, reflecting that at least in this case I had not been dragged into one of these places as often as in Beef’s previous investigations.
As usual, I found he had made himself known to landlord and customers alike and there were shouts of greeting as he entered. He acknowledged these with a wave of his hand, but when he had bought his pint and a glass of milk stout for me he made his way to the corner in which Mills was sitting alone, reading an evening paper.
“Hullo, Sarge. Got your man yet?”
“Not yet. I have hopes though. Couple of things I want you do to for me tomorrow.”
“First of all, do you think you could get the Duntons up to the house in the evening? Drinks on me if it’ll help.”
“That won’t be easy. You know what the two women are like.”
“Still, you could work it. Bit of a reconciliation, perhaps? Say I need it for my investigations.”
“I’ll try. What’s the other thing?”
“Have you got a steel cable for towing?”
“How long is it?”
“Fourteen or fifteen feet.”
“Good enough. I’ll tell you what I want it for tomorrow. I should like you to give me a hand then if we get the place to ourselves for a bit.”
“Right you are.”
“Now if you like to take the chalks while I get us another drink, we’ll see the winners.”
I knew that this offer presaged a long and dreary evening for me, spent in the smoky atmosphere of the bar, while Beef enjoyed himself playing darts. I was about to protest when I saw Rudolf Ducrow come in. He looked rather pale and tense, I thought, but this was not to be wondered at. There was no reason to doubt that he had been very fond of Freda Ducrow. He walked straight up to Beef.
“I was looking for yon,” he said. “I was told you were here. I scarcely expected it, though, within twenty-four hours’ of Freda’s murder.”
“So you’re another one who thinks she was murdered. Have you come to tell me that?”
“No. I came to tell you that I’ve got my car back. It was found outside Cinderhurst Station.”
“Apparently it was noticed at about midday today. The local police had been told to watch out for a car with that number, and one of them spotted it among the cars in the station yard which are left there every day.”
“What was its condition?”
“Perfectly all right, as far as I could see.”
“You don’t know how many miles it has done since you drove it last?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“All right, Mr. Ducrow. Thanks for telling me. Now, I’m on, I think.”
“You mean you’re on to the murderer?”
“No. No. On, I said. On the board. Waiting to play darts. Seeing the winners.”
With a grunt of justifiable disgust, Rudolf flung out of the pub.
Not until closing time would Beef leave his favourite pastime. It appeared that he and Mills in partnership were able to defeat all challengers and so, as he put it, “stay on the board”. He drank a great quantity of beer and grew noisy and pleased with himself. Then as closing time approached he became indiscreet enough to talk about the Ducrow case and boast that he had been too much for the murderer, as they would see in due course. I thought Mills looked rather uncomfortable then.
Nor would he go straight home, but insisted on calling at the Buck and Arrow to see Chief Inspector Stute. I tried to dissuade him because I thought it better that the Special Branch man should not see him in his present ebullient condition, but he maintained that the interview was essential.
Fortunately Stute had not gone to bed, and received Beef amicably. The two exchanged a certain amount of information, as usual making no comment on what each heard or said. Beef described his discovery of the young car-spotter and its results and also, rather generously I thought, told the story he had heard from George. Stute, it appeared, had not neglected the Greynose Point Hotel and had already been given the same information by the barman. However, he showed Beef reports on the examination of Mrs. Ducrow’s body and car. Beef’s comment was that there was nothing new in these.
“I wanted to ask you,” Beef said, “whether Inspector Liphook could come up to Hokestones tomorrow evening.”
“I’ve arranged for everyone to be there. I should like him to witness something.”
“Officially no, of course. I can’t have the Special Branch dragged into your histrionics. But unofficially, if he would like to do so, I see no reason why he should not happen to be up there for some enquiries tomorrow evening. What time?”
“After they have their grub. Round about nine. He’ll be with Townsend when the time comes.”
“The time for what?”
“The time for him to witness what I want him to witness.”
“Will there be any danger?”
“Not to him, there won’t.”
“Very well. I’ll ask Liphook. It will be up to him of course. What exactly do you want him to witness?”
“Indeed?” said Stute, evidently not taking this too seriously. “Who is going to be murdered this time?”
“I am,” said Beef. “Only I’m not, if you see what I mean.”
Stute smiled. “I see what you mean,” he said.