Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Six

Case for Sergeant Beef


Eighteenth Entry
Today is Christmas Eve—the greatest day of my life, if all goes well.  I intend to commit my murder at about four o’clock, or as soon after four o’clock as my victim comes walking down the footpath.  Of course no one may come.  That will be a pity, but it only means a postponement, for everything is ready.  It is half-past two now, and I have a clear hour in which to make this, the most important entry in my Journal.
But first I must tell you about the cartridge.  I remembered a few days ago that for the suicide a cartridge case (or two if the tape has pulled both barrels) must be found actually in the gun.  You see how careful you have to be? A less intelligent murderer would have made a slip there and perhaps used a type of cartridge which was not found locally.  So I asked Miss Shoulter where I could buy some cartridges.
“Don’t think you’ll get any now,” she said, “unless you can persuade Warlock’s to let you have some.  They used to supply me and Flipp before the war.”
“What kind do they sell?” I asked.
“Potter’s Fesantsure,” she said.  “At least that’s what I always got, and Flipp the same.”
My own brand.  Lucky again.  So if I use these to fake the suicide, and the police decide that it wasn’t suicide, there’s still nothing to direct suspicion from Miss Shoulter or even Flipp.
Then fingerprints.  Yesterday I went into the wood and polished every inch of Miss Shoulter’s gun.  today, of course, I shall wear gloves.  No sense in taking any chances, even though I’m pretty sure it will pass as suicide.  Whoever it turns out to be is sure to have something about him which will provide reason enough for him to take his own life.  Who hasn’t?
Also yesterday I went to my bedroom and took out the pair of Miss Shoulter’s shoes which I have kept locked up there.  I put them into the little haversack which I always take with me when I take my evening stroll.  I took them to the place where the gun is hidden and put them beside it, wrapped in a piece of old sacking.  They’ll be ready today.  And that was all before I went to bed last night, and slept like a top.  Everything, I felt, was in complete readiness.  Not a chance taken or a mistake made.  I had nothing whatever to worry about.
And now I will tell you how I have spent today, and you will have a unique opportunity of seeing into the mind of a murderer on the day of his crime.  And a very unusual murderer, too.  One who not only will not be caught, but will not even be suspected.
I had my early morning tea, then went to the window to look at the weather.  Excellent.  It had rained in the night, so that the ground will be nice and sticky today for footprints—of Miss Shoulter’s shoes!— yet there is scarcely a cloud visible now and everything promises a cold clear day.
I came down to breakfast and found that Mrs. Pluck had managed to inveigle a kidney from the butcher.  Delicious.  I have missed such things during the war.  Kidneys, sheep’s hearts, liver, sweetbreads, brains—all the little etceteras of meat which are so pleasing.  I drank my coffee thoughtfully, wondering what I should do first.
I decided that the most urgent matter was that of loading my own gun and fixing it in the tree.  I sent Mrs. Pluck on her bicycle to the village and while she was gone carried out that simple operation.  I found a branch about breast high pointing away from the house, loaded the gun and tied it firmly to the branch.  Then I passed my long string round the trigger and brought the double line back to my lawn, seeing that from the foot of the tree to the edge of the lawn it was hidden in the undergrowth.  So now the ends were ready for tying to the single thicker line I use for measuring out and marking flower-beds.  All that was ready.
Then I went into the room where I keep my books, looked through my Journal from the beginning and went over in my mind exactly what I shall do this afternoon.  After lunch I should work in the garden for a while, I decided, then at about half-past three I shall go for my stroll.  Mrs. Pluck usually has what she calls “half an hour to herself” in the afternoon, disappearing into her little room on the east side of the house.  From her window the front entrance is not visible so she will not be able to see that I go out without my gun.  I shan’t call her attention to the fact in case I am seen later with a gun under my arm.  I will just walk slowly out as though it were an ordinary day.
Then I shall make my way to the place where the gun is hidden, unroll it from its mackintosh and load it.  Then I shall take off my shoes and put on Miss Shoulter’s.  (I’ve already tried them, by the way.  They are a little large, but I Can easily walk in them.)  Then I shall set off to the point, my point, where the fallen tree is.  If I should happen to meet anyone on the way I feel quite convinced that he or she will not notice my shoes.  But I shall keep my eye on him, watching his eyes.  If I see him look down and I know that he has observed them, well, it will be all off till another time.  But those are all ifs.
I suppose there is a slight danger, by the way, that I might meet someone who notices the shoes after the murder.  It is very unlikely.  And it is the only minute risk I am taking.  After all, I can probably avoid anyone approaching—if anyone should be about.
To continue with my plan.  I settle down behind my fallen tree trunk and wait.  I am prepared to stay there for a full hour.  And if a stranger comes it will be my great moment.  I shall call him over.  “I’m afraid I’ve sprained my ankle,” I shall say.  The gun will be beside me, leaning against the trunk in the most natural position.  He will cross to see what is wrong.  Then when he’s quite near me, not more than a yard or so, he shall have both barrels in his face.
I shall then get busy.  I shall first clean the outside of Miss Shoulter’s gun which I shall be carrying, for although I shall have been wearing gloves all the afternoon it would be a useful extra precaution.  Then I shall grip his fingers round it in a number of places.  Then I shall tie the red tape to the triggers and set him as though he had been leaning over the gun while it was upright and had pulled the triggers with his foot.  His foot will, in fact, be still in the loop which I shall tie in the tape.  Right.  He’s there.  An obvious suicide.
Slowly I shall walk away and back to the point where my own shoes are waiting.  A quick change into these and I shall be ready for “Labour’s End”.  “Dear me, Mrs. Pluck,” I shall say.  I’m out late this evening.”  “It’s only half-past five, sir,” she’ll tell me.  Then, I’ll remember my gardening things including the line, and go out to get them in.  It will be nice and dark by now so that I can tie my garden line to the double line round the trigger and let off the report in the woods without any trouble at all.  Then all I have to do is to draw in my line and come in to enjoy my tea by a bright fire.
And there it will be—the perfect murder.  Impossible of solution.  And the victim?  I do not know, and certainly do not care.  It will be someone I have never seen before, that’s all.
Later Mrs. Pluck will come in to say that she’s catching the Ashley bus and going to the pictures.  “Very well,” I shall say.  “You have your key?”  And I shall be once again absorbed in my book.  But when she has gone I shall go out quietly, untie my own gun, and bring it in.  Tomorrow, there will not be a single unusual thing about “Labour’s End”.
It leaves only one problem—Miss Shoulter’s shoes.  I don’t want to keep them in my possession, and it would be better not to leave them in the wood, for one doesn’t know how thoroughly the police will search it.  They had best be cleared very soon, I think.  If the body is found the same evening there will be no questioning or search for some hours.  I think my best plan would be to put them in my haversack that night and run up to London for a day tomorrow.  Then they could go out of the train window.  Or would it be better to leave them where they are?  The police would have to search twenty acres of woodland to find them.  I think they would be safe there.
Next day will come what is called, I think, the hue and cry, and I shall know the name of my victim.  It will not disturb me.  “Something attempted, something done”, will certainly earn me a night’s repose.
It is a quarter-past three now.  The great moment is rapidly approaching.  Mrs. Pluck has just been in and I’ve given her her Christmas present.  A touching scene—the benevolent old gentleman, the lonely housekeeper.  She seemed grateful.  And ironically enough there was the sound of a distant shot while we were speaking, so I needn’t have bothered with my gun-in-the-tree idea at all.  Still, I rather enjoyed that.  It was so ingenious.  I shall use it just the same.  And now I’m off.  My great triumph is at hand.  I only hope a suitable victim appears this afternoon.  I am so excited that my hand is trembling and I can’t write any more till afterwards.