Beef now began to behave like a hero returning in triumph. He led the way downstairs, and before even going to examine the body lying on the terrace he announced that he needed a drink.
“First today?” I asked mischievously.
“Not so far from it,” he replied with good-humour, “though I had to have enough to make me look as though I’d had too much. I’m not so good an actor that I could have come in and convinced even you, Townsend, that I was drunk if I hadn’t been a little bit. See, I know just how much I can take. Not like some people. What I needed was the right amount to make me look a bit lit, but not so much that I couldn’t do my part. Yes, I’ll have a nice drop of Scotch for a change. Well, here’s to all the suspects who aren’t guilty.”
I noticed that Inspector Liphook seemed to treat Beef with a new respect, while even Constable Spender-Hennessy made no more sarcastic remarks. We waited until Beef had finished his drink then allowed ourselves to be led through the french windows on to the stone-flagged terrace.
Here a very loathsome sight awaited us. The suicide had fallen on his back and lay now with blood around his head and eyes staring glassily up to the night sky. It was the man whose voice I had heard speaking to Beef on the roof. It was Theo Gray.
I make no apology for my first reaction to this sight. I felt no pity for the dead man and only a queasy horror at the gruesome appearance of his corpse. I turned at once to Beef and said: “But this means you’ve cheated. You specifically stated that Theo Gray did not kill Cosmo Ducrow.”
“No more he didn’t,” said Beef.
“Then I give up,” I said. “It’s too difficult.”
Beef grinned and without touching the corpse, which Liphook had examined, led the way back into the house.
“I asked them all to stay in the dining-room,” said Beef. “It would never have done to have them hopping about while I was arranging things. You can let ’em out now,” he added grandly.
Liphook went off to telephone to Stute and to arrange for Gray’s corpse to be removed, while I went to the dining-room and said as politely as possible that Sergeant Beef would be glad if they would care to come through to the library as he had some news for them.
“Another murder?” asked Gulley.
“Very nearly,” I replied. “Fortunately only a suicide this time, though.”
“Where is Theo?” demanded Rudolf Ducrow.
I was not sure whether Beef wished me to give any details of events so I said simply. “He’s gone out, I think,” which, in a way, was true.
When we filed into the library Beef rose from his chair and said to Rudolf: “I should like the staff to come in for this.”
“For what I’m going to tell you.”
“And what is that?” asked Rudolf with a suggestion of scorn in his voice.
Beef looked rather menacing.
“I’m going to tell you who killed Cosmo Ducrow.”
“At last,” said Rudolf. “Very well, we’ll gather them all here.”
When the Duntons and Gabriels came in it was obvious that their reconciliation was no pretence for the two women sat down side by side. The men also appeared to be on the best of terms. Mills sat on a hard chair away from the rest of them.
“I must apologize for being a bit umpty earlier in the evening,” said Beef. “It was necessary to make someone believe I was drunk, and so that I shouldn’t have to take any chances, I got drunk. I mean, that’s the way to be convincing, isn’t it? You will nearly all be glad to hear that this piece of acting was highly successful and that a murderous attack was made on me not half an hour ago.
“Well, now, about this case. Most of you are longing to know the whole truth, just as I was when I started on it. And very soon I realized that I was up against something particularly difficult and someone fiendishly clever. I was pretty sure that nothing had been planned before the night of the twelfth because on that night something led to Cosmo Ducrow’s death which could not have been anticipated unless there was a fairly wide conspiracy amongst you. That something was his learning of his wife’s infidelity with his nephew.”
Ernest Wickham broke in.
“Is there any need to refer to intimate matters of that kind? De mortuis, you know.”
“We can’t mince matters now, Mr. Wickham. As I was saying, I did not think that Cosmo’s death had been planned, yet there was a perfection about the scheme which I could scarcely believe had come from what you might call improvising. This perfection continued to be evident throughout the whole case. Even after the death of Mrs. Ducrow I knew that the question I had to answer, the key to the whole puzzle, remained the same. Who killed Cosmo Ducrow? ”
Just then a prolonged ringing of the front-door bell interrupted him. He guessed, I suppose, that it was someone who had come in response to Liphook’s ’phone calls, and decided to break the news of Gray’s death to all his listeners. This he did in a characteristically crude manner.
“Oh, by the way,” he said. “Theo Gray’s dead.”
Since he had not first explained that Gray was guilty this was a most shocking way to make his announcement.
Rudolf jumped to his feet.
“Murdered?” he said in a loud rising voice.
Beef did not turn a hair.
“No. Suicide,” he said.
Gulley was excited now.
“That I will not believe. You may be able to convince me that Mrs. Ducrow took her own life, but not Theo. He was far too . . . too sane. Too cool a man.”
“He was cool all right,” said Beef, “and as you’ll see later he was guilty.”
“You mean, you’re going to try and make us believe that Theo murdered Cosmo Ducrow?”
“No. I’m not going to try to make you believe anything.”
“Then what was he guilty of?”
“Murdering me,” said Beef calmly.
“For God’s sake stop this clowning!”
“No clowning about it. He pushed me off the roof with three witnesses. I mean, witnessed by three people.”
Gulley spoke as though he were clinching an argument with a lunatic.
“Then would you kindly explain how you come to be standing here, alive and well?”
It would be impossible to describe all the peasant cunning, the grinning mysteriousness, the sheer boyish artfulness that Beef managed to shew in his face and voice as he made his triumphant reply.
“Ah!” he said.
Gabriel meanwhile had been out to open the front door. He returned now with Stute and two stretcher bearers. The gathering broke up into smaller conferences and on all sides I heard expressions of incredulity about Gray’s guilt.
“It makes you think, though, doesn’t it?” said Mrs. Gabriel, “I mean that’s three gone. You wonder who the next will be. It’s all very well to talk about suicide, but it’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“You’re right,” replied Mrs. Dunton. “It’s more like a madman at work. If what he says is true and Mr. Gray pushed him off the roof he wouldn’t be alive now to tell the tale, so what’s the good of talking? It’s more likely he murdered Mr. Gray, if you ask me.”
“And such a nice gentleman,” said Mrs. Gabriel. “In all the years he’s lived here and I’ve been here we’ve never had a bit of trouble. He was a real gentleman, I will say that. Not like some.”
“No. That’s a fact.”
I left them nodding at one another with tight lips and meaning eyes.
The stretcher party had done its work, taking the remains of Theo Gray out by the back way. But Stute remained. He sounded annoyed with Beef.
“If you had told me what you were up to I certainly shouldn’t have agreed to the Inspector coming here. We can’t have Special Branch men watching suicide.”
“It was murder I wanted them to watch,” argued Beef. “And they watched it. I had my reasons, Inspector, as you’ll hear if you like to stay on a little while. I’m just going over the case to them all.”
“Oh, you are? You’ve got it all taped?”
“I think so.”
“You know who killed Cosmo Ducrow?”
“Yes, I know that.”
“You are going to name him or her?”
“Then I’ll stay. I like to have my job done for me. Do you think there will be any more violence tonight?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“We don’t want another suicide.”
“There won’t be any more.”
“Very well. We can go ahead with your exposition.”
“Will you all take your seats again, please? The cadaver has been removed. I am about to clear up the whole of this mystery for you.”
A silence fell on the room. I looked round once more at those tense and anxious faces, wondering which member of Beef’s audience would be named. Gray was “guilty”. Beef said. But of what? Not of murdering Cosmo. Perhaps he had killed Freda Ducrow? Yet Beef himself had spoken of one murder and one suicide and of the suicide note which Gray said had been left. Did his guilt lie only in his actions after someone else had committed the greater crime of murder? Had he but taken advantage of the violence of others? If so, there was a murderer yet to be named, and again I found myself looking round the room in desperation, trying to pick out the guilty one before Beef did so. Gulley? He looked distraught and guilty enough. Rudolf? I did not want to believe it of him for I had always admired and liked his frank open disposition. Mills? I had to admit that he was my choice, if any. Gabriel? A dark horse this, and he had had ever opportunity. Dunton? The big heavy fellow looked like a killer to me. Ernest Wickham? Why not? He could have been here that night for all we knew, and it was curious that Beef had insisted on his presence this evening. Or was it one of the women? The bit muscular Zena? The fierce-looking Mrs. Dunton? Little bitter Mrs. Gabriel? Attractive Esmeralda Tobyn? It could be anyone, I supposed.
But Beef knew. However foolish he might have been, he knew now and would tell us the truth. I, no less than the others, was agog to hear his story.
“Yes,” he said. “I have never doubted that the key to this whole mystery lay in the answer to that question—who killed Cosmo Ducrow? Even now when we have had this violence tonight and I have been thrown over the parapet of the roof I know that the riddle could never be solved unless I can answer that. And I can. The funny thing is that I got it first as you’re trying to get it now—by guesswork. A little thing made me think, and I saw the whole secret. It was guesswork which suggested it, but I’m going to produce a lot more than guesswork to prove it to you all tonight.
“Still, I’ll start off with what I guessed. Very early in the case I guessed that the answer to the question which we were all asking ourselves, the answer to the question, Who Killed Cosmo Ducrow? was . . . Cosmo Ducrow.”