Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Sixteen

Case for Sergeant Beef


“We haven’t been idle,” said Chatto.  “But as I told you, we’ve been working from another angle.  Motive is what we looked for and we’ve found it.  Or more precisely, we’ve found someone here in the district who seems to have had a very strong motive for killing Shoulter.  And that’s something to start on.
“I need not go into all the inquiries we’ve made, or tell you how we’ve made them.  The picture is fairly complete now, and what you’ve told me this afternoon goes a long way towards finishing it.  A long way, but not right to the end.  We’ve still got to get more direct evidence.  But I don’t think that will be difficult.  My experience is that once you know your man the evidence piles up pretty quickly.  All right.  Here’s the story.
“Shoulter, as you already know, has never been much good.  As a boy at school the only subject in which he shewed any interest was chemistry, and his parents, who seem to have indulged him in anything he took a fancy to, encouraged him to make a career of analytical chemistry.  He played about with it for a bit, but never took his degree.  Then he seems to have been at a loose end for a few years with an allowance from his father and mother.  We’ve got a list of his associates at this time, and although none of them seem to have any connexion with Barnford, they were a pretty bad lot.  Several of them have done terms of imprisonment since then.
“Shoulter gave himself out to be a bachelor.  But one man who knew him at this time maintains that he had been married and had left his wife.  We haven’t any evidence of that yet, though I dare say it will be forthcoming in time.  It’s surprising how much you can find out of a man’s life when you begin to dig into it.
“What we do know is that not long before the death of Shoulter’s father the old man, in an effort to make Shoulter settle down, bought him a small chemist’s shop in Gordon Street, Paddington.  It wasn’t much of a business and Shoulter did not improve the status of it, though he increased the takings.  He added rather dubious books and goods to his stock and kept open at night.  But he had not a good name in the neighbourhood.  From the study of analytical chemistry to keeping a retail shop in Paddington was a bit of a drop, of course, but he had been right down in the meantime, and was lucky to get that chance, and he did not make much of it, as you shall hear.
“Next door to his shop was a bookmaker’s called Monequick, Ltd.  And here, I hope, is a surprise for you.  The managing director’s name was Philipson, and we have established that he was none other than our Mr. Flipp of ‘Woodlands’, Barnford.  But it’s more interesting than that.
“Philipson lived in Maida Vale and was unhappily married to an invalid wife.  He was also known to be associating with a Miss Murdoch.  This latter, we learned, had been the only daughter of a florist who had made a fortune and died leaving her three shops and a considerable sum of money, well invested.  I say ‘considerable’ since, although we have no exact figures, it is a fairly safe bet that Philipson would not have been interested in her unless her fortune was worth while.  She was a pale mousy creature with little character and no personal attraction.  Philipson seems to have dominated her without difficulty until she was prepared to follow him without question.  But one thing she could not do —that was hand over her money to him in a lump.  Her father had been a shrewd old man who had tied it up about as securely as money could be tied, and all she could lay hands on was the income.  So if Philipson was to enjoy the florist’s careful savings and investments he could only do so by marrying her.
“The set-up is clear, I hope, and not unfamiliar.  And the story proceeds according to precedent.  Mrs. Philipson died suddenly from an overdose of morphine.
“Yes, there was an inquest, and quite a deal of scandal in the newspapers.  It was never of course suggested that Philipson had murdered his wife—the law of libel is still an almighty thing.  But newspapers went as near the mark as they dared and people who knew the couple did not hesitate to say it outright.
“I have read the whole inquest proceedings, and found them most interesting.  The post-mortem had revealed the poison all right—the quantity in about five doses.  But the doctor who had been attending Mrs. Philipson was quite positive about the number of tablets he had prescribed for her, the number he had given Philipson to give her, and the number remaining.  It was impossible, he said, for her to have had more than the normal dose from the quantity held by her husband.  He had given her one tablet on the evening before she died and three remained.  This was as it should be.
“Philipson, too, was positive.  The doctor had told him when and how to give his wife the morphine, and he had carried out these instructions to the letter.  On the night of her death he had given her one tablet and that was all.  He seemed very distressed by her sudden death, but he was able to tell the coroner quite a lot about Mrs. Philipson’s state of mind which was more or less corroborated by servants and relatives.  It appeared that for many years the lady had been suffering from fits of melancholia and it was suggested that she had been in the habit of taking drugs before her illness.  A servant spoke of some ‘tablets’ she had seen in her possession, and although there was nothing to shew that they, had been anything more noxious than aspirin the impression was given that she might have kept concealed her own supply of morphine.  At any rate there was an open verdict and Philipson found himself a widower and free to marry the pale and uninteresting Miss Murdoch.  This he did about six months later, and has lived comfortably since then on her adequate income.  She is, you will have realized, the present Mrs. Flipp.
“Meanwhile Shoulter, who had been a keen if not a very regular client of Monequick’s, the bookmaking business of which Philipson had been managing director, spent more and more time racing and less in his shop until the chemist’s business was in a bad way, and he began to look round for a purchaser.  He never found one.  He had probably allowed it to sink so far that it was worth no one’s while to start building it up again.  Eventually he sold the remnants of his stock and left the premises, which were taken over by a tobacconist-newsagent who is still there.
“Now that’s the story as we’ve put it together from a number of reports, and there is only one thing to add to it—the most significant thing of all, perhaps, though it is still not conclusive.  We find that Philipson, who by the way changed his name to Flipp when he came to live at ‘Woodlands’, has been drawing from his bank over the last few years a series of those sums in small denominations which nearly always mean blackmail.  You know—fifty or a hundred pounds at a time in one-pound notes every few months.  They cannot very well mean anything else.
“But during the war years, since Flipp came to live at ‘Woodlands’, these have increased alarmingly, on one occasion being as much as five hundred pounds.  And as far as we can check up we find that these withdrawals coincided with the visits of Shoulter to his sister, during which visits, you will remember, he called on Flipp.
“The analogy is only too plain, and the instrument of blackmail is almost certainly the poison book which Shoulter must have kept when he had his little pharmacy.  If we could lay hands on that I feel sure we should find an entry dated not long before the death of the first Mrs. Philipson, which shewed that Philipson had purchased and signed for a quantity of morphine.  That, of course, is a broad outline.  We have yet to interview the doctor who attended Mrs. Philipson, since unfortunately he sold his practice and became a doctor on a big liner, then during the war joined the I.A.M.C., and is at present in India.  We don’t even know whether, if Philipson did sign for morphine, he did so in his own name, or whether Shoulter managed to sell it to him without a signature.  But all this we shall clear up in time.  So far as this end of the case is concerned, we’ve found a man with a motive, which is more than we had before, in spite of all your eccentric old watchmakers and quarrelsome farmers.
“There are some other interesting aspects to the story.  Miss Shoulter was friendly with the Flipps.  Did she know what her brother was doing?  Did she take any part in it?  Or was she to some extent and in some way another of Shoulter’s victims?  We know that she used to give him, money.
“Then, where was Flipp that afternoon?  He had got rid of his servants for the two days rather peremptorily, and there were no witnesses to his movements.  The postman saw him at about three and Miss Shoulter states that he was not at home at four o'clock, so he has a very crucial period of time to account for.  We know he has a gun which has been recently cleaned.  It all begins to hang together nicely.
“Now then, Beef, let’s hear what you think of it all.  Are you going to admit that the case is getting strong against Flipp, or are you going to do what you private fellows are always supposed to do—pick someone quite different to the police suspect, and shew the police where they're making a bloomer?”
Beef was sucking his moustache.
“No,” he said at last.  “I’m not going to do that, because I can’t.  Not at present, anyway.  I can’t see that you are making a bloomer.  Things look very black against Flipp.  Very black indeed.  And if you find that poison book they will be more so.  No, I’ve no holes to pick at all.”
“Thanks,” said Chatto cheerfully.  “And I admit that we’ve got nothing final yet.  There’s a good deal more spadework to be done both at the other end and this.  We’ve got to prove that Shoulter was blackmailing Flipp.  That ought not to be too hard.  Then we’ve got to prove that Shoulter was killed by Flipp, and that may be very, very difficult.  And in the meantime we shall not, of course, refuse to consider other possibilities even if they take us in quite new directions.”
Personally I thought that Beef was giving in far too easily.  I believed that his line of research had given him quite different suspicions and I did not like the way he had conceded the probability of Chatto’s case, which seemed to me a bit too plausible.
“One thing I’d like to mention,” I said defiantly, “is the place of the murder.  If Flipp shot Shoulter as you say, isn’t it rather a coincidence that it should have happened at the very clearing in the woods where Mr. Chickle was known to lurk?”
Beef gave this idea a noisy laugh.
“Lurk!” he shouted.  “You’ve been writing too many detective stories!”
I kept my temper.
“But isn’t it?” I insisted.
It was Beef who silenced me, though it was his theory, I believed, that I was defending.
“No coincidence at all.  We know from young Jack that Flipp had remarked on the old gentleman’s hanging about round there.  What more likely than that Flipp should have chosen the spot for that very reason?  He knew that Mr. Chickle might be out with a gun at that time.  It would have been an easy way to divert suspicion to him.”
“Possibly,” I conceded.
“Any question you’d like to ask us?” Chatto asked Beef in an expansive way, as though he wished to recall the fact that he had all the resources of Scotland Yard behind him.
“Yes, there is one thing,” said Beef.  “You said it was believed that at some time Shoulter had been married and had left his wife.  What evidence is there of this?  Do you know the date or the woman’s name?”
Chatto shook his head.
“I’m afraid not,” he said.  “It’s only some second-hand information we picked up.  But if you're seriously interested I’ve no doubt I could find out.”
“I am.  Seriously interested.”
Chatto glanced at him.
“I wonder what you’re up to now.  Still, you’ve given me some useful stuff today, and I told you I’d repay your information with mine.  I’ll find out for you.”
“Thanks,” said Beef shortly, and the conference broke up.