Cold Blood, Chapter Twenty-One

Cold Blood


One might have thought, next day, that Beef was a General organizing a major offensive.  He walked about with such an air of his own importance that I found him unendurable and left him as much as possible to himself.  I noticed, however, that when Gulley and Grey left the house together, as they did during the morning apparently for a stroll, he hurried out to see young Mills.  I did not think I should miss their interview, and followed him.  To my surprise he did not seem pleased by this and turned on me rather tactlessly to explain that he had finished his investigations and that his plan of action was no concern of mine.  He added ungraciously that if I wanted to know, he was going to get a length of steel cable, used for towing cars.
At lunch Gray informed us that he had been able to arrange for the presence this evening of all the persons mentioned by Beef, though Rudolf’s wife, who was staying with her father, found it most inconvenient to come over.  Gray hoped that these elaborate arrangements would be justified.
“I hope so, too,” put in Gulley savagely.  “I think it’s disgraceful that Esme should be dragged here.  You know perfectly well that she had nothing to do with this affair.”
Beef looked important and said that he could make no exceptions, and the subject was dropped.
After lunch he dragged me again to the kitchen, where the Gabriels were sitting over the remains of their lunch.  There was no cheery greetings to Beef this time, however, and it was with resentful stares that they watched us enter.
“What have I done wrong?” asked Beef.
“There was no need to let them kill her like that,” said Mrs. Gabriel, while her husband sat picking his teeth.  “Either you didn’t know better or else you could have stopped it and didn’t.  Whichever way it was, you don’t know your job.”
Uninvited Beef sat down.  “It wasn’t my fault, as you’ll see when you know everything.”
“When will that be?  When the cows come home?”
“No.  Tonight, if you’ll help me.”
“Help you?  And you asking Gabriel where he was that afternoon as though he might have had something to do with it!”
“Come now,” said Beef.  “I’ve done nothing to hurt either of you.  And you do want to find out the truth about all this, don’t you?”
“Well, what is it you want?”
“I want you to have the Duntons up here this evening.”
“What, ’er? ” shouted Mrs. Gabriel as though she were speaking of the Chaldean city.  “You must be off your rocker.  I wouldn’t have her in this kitchen, not if you was to offer me a thousand pounds.”
“I’m offering you rather more than that,” said Beef.  “You want your share of what’s left, don’t you?  Well, they can’t do anything about the will till all this is cleared up.”
“I’m not going to have her in my kitchen,” said Mrs. Gabriel obstinately.  “Besides, what do you want her here for?”
“I want all the suspects up here tonight.”
“You mean to say she’s a suspect?” Mrs. Gabriel was evidently delighted.
“Yes; so is Dunton.”
“Well, if you want them here because you suspect them, that’s different.”
“Only no trouble, mind,” said Beef, following up his advantage.  “I don’t want them to think there is any unfriendliness between you.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Beef sighed with relief, and soon we were on our way to see the Duntons.  Here we were met at first with much the same decision.  Wild horses, Mrs. Dunton said, would not drag her into the house again while “certain people” were still in the kitchen, still less persuade her to visit them.  After all the mischief that “some” had made and the tales they had borne and the lies they had told she was surprised that Beef should even suggest such a thing.
Beef, undaunted, used tactics rather like those he had employed with the Gabriels.  Things were coming to a head tonight, he said, and he wanted all suspects to be under observation.  He could not, he pointed out, be in two places at once and while he was upstairs with the family he wanted someone to be with the Gabriels.  Wouldn’t Mr. and Mrs. Dunton undertake it for him?
Mrs. Dunton was persuaded.  She would bring Dunton up at about eight o’clock.
“Though mind you,” she added wistfully, “I wouldn’t have my old job back not whatever they was to pay me.”
From the lodge we went to look for Inspector Liphook as Beef said pompously that he wanted to “brief” him.  We found him at the police station with Sergeant Eels and Constable Spender-Hennessy.
“Yes,” said Liphook indifferently.  “I’ll come if there is going to be anything worth seeing.”
Beef chuckled.
“You’ll see all you want and a bit more,” he promised.
Constable Spender-Hennessy lit a cigarette.  “Are you really going to stage one of these old-fashioned melodramas in which the detective demonstrates the guilty man before everyone else?  It sounds about the last word in corn, but I should rather like to be there.”
“Never mind what I’m going to do.  Haven’t you got your duties to attend to?  What about turning-out time?”
“I can look after that if you want him,” said Sergeant Eels.
“I don’t want him!” shouted Beef angrily.
“Temper!  Temper!” grinned Constable Spender-Hennessy.  “What about when the guilty man pulls out a pistol and makes a last bold bid for freedom?  That always happens, you know.  ‘Stay where you are, all of you!’ he cries, edging towards the door.  Wouldn’t I be useful then?”
“I shouldn’t think so,” said Beef.  “But if Inspector Liphook wants you with him I’ve no objection.  Now Inspector, may I explain the layout?  Where I want you and Mr. Townsend and this young man, if you bring him, is on the roof.”
“Good gracious me,” said Liphook.  “Whatever for?”
“It’s going to be a clear moonlit night.  You’ll be able to see everything from there.  Now if you’ll just look at this plan you’ll see that the house has two sides to it, as it were, two wings, you might say, which are uniform in every respect.  I’ve been up there this morning.  I know.
“Each of these wings comes out a bit in front of the flat front of the house, and from each of them there is a way down into the house.  So if you want to get out on to the roof of that wing you would go to the landing outside the Gabriels’ room and go up by the little staircase there which leads to the attic floor.  There you would find a set of wooden steps fixed permanently for anyone wanting to get out on the roof.  Townsend knows where the Gabriels’ room is and must have seen the staircase.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed it.”
“If you wanted to get to the roof of the other wing you would go along to Cosmo’s old room at the other end of the passage and find an exactly similar staircase leading to the attic floor again where there is another set of steps leading to another door out on to the roof.  I want you to go with Mr. Townsend to the Gabriels’ end and get out on to the roof of that wing.  You ought to be out there at 20.50 hours precisely.”
“You’re not going to say ‘synchronize watches’, are you?  That would be too much.”  This was from Constable Spender-Hennessy, of course.
“Not a bad idea,” said Liphook tactfully, and we all did as suggested.
“Any questions?” asked Beef.
“Yes.  Is it possible to get from one wing to the other when you’re out on the roof?”
“I was coming to that.  Yes, it is possible.  Round those chimney stacks.  But I don’t want you to do so until it’s necessary.”
“How shall we know that?” I asked.
“Put it this way.  I only want you to cross from one wing to the other in order to arrest a murderer.”
“Oo-er!” said Constable Spender-Hennessy.
Beef ignored this.  “You’ll know the moment for yourselves, if it comes.  Any more questions?”
“Yes.  What are we supposed to be watching for?”
“Developments,” said Beef quickly.  “Particularly on the other wing.”
“I feel rather like a footballer,” said Constable Spender-Hennessy.
“It’s a pity you aren’t one,” said Beef.  “Now . . .”
“Where do you want me and the Constable to be until we go out on the roof?”
“I’ll leave that to Townsend.  He will let you in at the best time and get you unseen into his bedroom.  You can stay there till zero hour.  I’ll see if we can’t get you a drink in there, but don’t let anyone, staff or family, see you get in.  And, Townsend, one point for you.  Nothing cancels these arrangements.  You understand?  Nothing at all.  Never mind what happens downstairs, unless I actually tell you, this arrangement stands.  And for God’s sake don’t start using your own initiative or something.  You get the Inspector and Constable into your room and then out on the roof at the right time and without being seen and you’ll have done your part.  Oh, and when you’re up there don’t let yourselves be seen.  Get so that you can see across to the other wing without anyone seeing you.  That’s all.”
With an unnecessarily loud snap of his notebook.  Beef closed the conference and, clumsily playing for effect, made his exit.
I turned to the policemen.  “The best way for you to enter would be during dinner, I think.  I could leave the French windows in the library open.”
I then went into a detailed explanation of the geography of the house so that they could not make a mistake in finding my room.
“Your only danger during dinner is from Gabriel.  There is a serving hatch from the kitchen to the dining-room so he is at that most of the while.  But just be cautious as you cross the hall.”
“Really,” said Constable Spender-Hennessy, “this might be a detective novel.”
I left them at that and hurried after Beef, catching him up as he walked slowly across the park.  We decided to go in by the back way in order to tell the Gabriels the news about Duntons.  As we crossed the yard we met Mills, dressed in a rather showy grey suit.
“Hullo, where are you off to, Bomb?” asked Beef.
“Cinderhurst.  To meet my girl.  It’s my evening off.”
“But you can’t go today.  I need you here.”
“Sorry, Sarge.  All fixed to take my girl to a dance.  You seen her photo, haven’t you?  Well then . . .”
“Now listen.  Bomb.  You’ll have to let her know you can’t come tonight.  You’ve got to be here.  Everyone else is.”
“I know, but you said it was for suspects.  There’s no reason why I should stay.”
“I’m asking you as a favour.  Besides, it would look very bad, wouldn’t it?  As though you had something to hide.  You don’t want to be involved in a lot more enquiries, do you?”
Mills hesitated.  “All right.  I’ll stay,” he said at last.  “It’s a bind though.  I’d been looking forward to tonight.”
“There’ll be plenty more nights for you, I expect,” said Beef.  As we walked away he said to me:  “That’s everything, I think.  I hope there’s no hitch.  For your sake, and mine.”