Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Twenty

Case for Sergeant Beef

CHAPTER TWENTY
   
BOY SCOUTS AT WORK

And what must Beef do next day but organize and lead his ridiculous Boy Scouts’ treasure hunt.  It was a Saturday, I remember, and having a holiday the boys turned up in great numbers.  Beef sat under a tree with the patrol-leaders about him and intricate plans seemed to be drawn up during the discussion in the course of which there was a good deal of repetition of that “every inch” phrase of Beef’s which had already been used a number of times.  Personally, I sat apart and smoked a pipe, regretting once again that I had relented in my decision to throw up the chronicling of Beef’s exploits and turn to the less eccentric profession of insurance.  Boy Scouts searching “every inch” of a wood, I said.  Ridiculous.  A good detective should know exactly what to look for and exactly where it was likely to be found, not sit discussing plans of action with patrol-leaders or whatever these sniffing and coughing youngsters might be.
Last night’s episode, I admitted, had been curious.  If Beef was right in supposing that the footmarks of Miss Shoulter found near the corpse had been made by someone wearing her shoes, what in the world had little Mr. Chickle been doing with them at eleven o’clock at night on the very footpath of the crime?  Why had he tried to drop them out of sight?  Why had he said he had found them on the footpath when Beef had seen him disappear into the thickness of the wood and return with them?  I flatter myself on being a pretty shrewd judge of a man’s truthfulness, and I was convinced that his story of a little stroll for the sake of sleeping well was a fabrication.  Moreover, Beef had actually been expecting him to do something of the sort that he did.
And yet I could not bring myself to suspect Mr. Chickle.  Apart from the fact that he had no motive, had never even met Shoulter so far as we knew, he was obviously incapable of murder.  Or even if one’s imagination could be stretched to a point of believing that he might have poisoned someone, the mere association of a violent crime with the kindly little retired watchmaker was absurd.
Mrs. Pluck, now, was a different matter.  She had proved herself a liar in the most incriminating matter of her alibi on the night of the crime, and also in the scarcely less interesting one of her ability to fire a gun.  She was a big masculine woman who could easily be capable of murder, I thought, when I remembered her big, horny hands and dour face.  Then I had a brilliant inspiration.  There was some mystery about her husband.  I remembered her indignation when Beef had asked his name and her flat refusal to discuss that part of her life.  There was also a story that Shoulter himself had been married and had deserted his wife.  What if these two stories were one?  What if Shoulter had been the absconding husband of Mr. Chickle’s strange housekeeper?  Then with her false story of her movements on the night of the crime, the whole thing fitted.  True the last shot noticed by the inhabitants of Deadman’s Wood had been at half-past six.  But what of that?  With shooting so common in the vicinity, a report could easily have been unnoticed.  Or perhaps Chickle knew the truth and to save his housekeeper was deliberately lying to us.  That would account, too, for his evasions and odd behaviour.  He knew, perhaps, that it was Mrs. Pluck who had worn the outsize shoes and had concealed them in some place afterwards.  When he had heard that the Scouts were to search the wood, he had decided to retrieve them in order to save the woman.  It was all far more in conformity with the character of Chickle as I knew him than any suspicion that he himself was implicated.
But there were other suspects.  My investigations into crime have taught me to avoid fixed ideas and to keep an absolutely open mind.  There was Bridge, for instance.  All very well to accept his story because he was the kind of man whom Beef liked—hard-drinking, hard-living, and over-masculine.  Look at it how you like, he was a man who well might have committed a violent crime.  And it was surely something of a coincidence that he had been near the scene of the crime within a few moments of the firing of the first double shot, and that by his own admission.  I was by no means prepared to accept his story blindly, and what was more, I did not believe that Beef had done so.
Of course, I could name others who might be involved, and I had to admit that the case looked pretty black against Flipp, the police suspect.  There was Miss Shoulter, who might also have had a motive for all we knew, and Mr. Aston was a “possible” since he lived in Copling, and could have been in Deadman’s Wood that day, especially since it was red tape (of a kind which Beef had now found to be identical with that in his office) which had been used for faking the suicide.
“Going over your suspects?” enquired Beef suddenly.
I started.  I had not noticed him approaching.
“Certainly not,” I said, rather huffed.  “I know who did it.”
Beef gave his coarse laugh.
“You know, do you?”
I decided to brazen it out.
“I do.  And I shall be interested to see how long it takes you to work it out.”
“The police know, too,” reflected Beef.
“Oh, the police,” I said, rather contemptuously, I’m afraid.
“You don’t want to underrate them.  Chatto’s a very shrewd chap.”
“Yes,” I said.  “But it will take more than shrewdness to solve this crime.” Once having taken up this rather confident line I had decided to go on speaking with authority.  “It will take a quality which I don’t think that either of you have in sufficient strength—that is, imagination.”
Beef laughed again.
“Well, all I can say is if you know who did it you’ve got a wonderful imagination.  Wonderful.”
“How are your search parties doing?” I asked in order to change the subject.
“They’re on the job now.  They’ll cover every inch . . .”
“Exactly.  Every inch of the wood.  In the meantime what do we do?”
“Take it easy,” said Beef, “and await developments.”
At that moment a dishevelled youth who needed a haircut and a pocket handkerchief sidled up.  He was flushed with excitement, but he did not seem anxious to say anything in front of me.
“Well, Lionel?” asked Beef, for he had already learnt all the boys’ names.  “Lionel’s the leader of the Porcupine Patrol,” he explained to me.
“’Ippopotamus,” corrected Lionel.
“Well, what is it?”
He glanced uneasily in my direction.
That’s all right,” said Beef grandly.  “This gentleman is in my confidence up to a point.  You may speak in front of him.”
I ignored this ridiculous mummery.
“Found something,” said the boy called Lionel.
“What have you found?”
When at last he spoke it came out with a rush.
“You know you said we was to look at the barks of all them trees round that bungalow where that old toff lives with that old housekeeper down the bottom end of the path towards Barnford, don’t you?  Well, we done it.”
“What?”
“Looked.  And just as you go into the wood, well about as far as a cricket pitch only perhaps a bit shorter, there’s a tree where the bark’s been ripped as you might say to ribbons just below a bough which runs out straight towards the bungalow, and Albert Stoke, whose father’s a keeper over at Whitton, though he’s laid up now, says a gun’s been fired straight at the tree from quite near and you better come and have a look.”
Beef nodded.
“Yes, I did.”
“Did what?” I asked disgustedly.
“Did better go and have a look.  Come on.”
We found the tree in question surrounded by eager youngsters.  I wondered what Mr. Chickle might think if he chanced to look from the window of his study, which directly overlooked us.  I felt extremely foolish and Beef went through a lot of hocus-pocus with a tape measure while the Boy Scouts watched in breathless silence.  The bough, as the boy had said, stretched out almost precisely at right angles to the tree and pointed straight towards Mr. Chickle’s home, as though the tree were a natural fingerpost.  And there was a narrow, but unbroken, space from the tree to Mr. Chickle’s lawn.
Beef had examined the bark of the tree just below the junction with the bough, and had found it scarred and charred as Lionel had described.  If it was the result of a gunshot the weapon must have been quite close to it, indeed one would have said along the under side of the bough itself.  The same idea seemed to have occurred to Beef, for he was scanning the bough closely.  Suddenly, to my disgust, he actually pulled a magnifying glass from his pocket, on which a chorus of “Coo!” went up from the boys.
“Beef!” I expostulated.
“Come and look at this,” was his only reply, and he indicated some indentations and scratches on the bough.  “See?” And turning to the members of the Hippopotamus Patrol he declaimed, “Boys, you’ve done it.  This will be a great help.  I’m proud of you.  Now go on to your square of the wood.  That’s from the wire fence to where Nelson Grover found the jay’s nest, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” they chorused and sped away with their eyes on the ground.
We ourselves, I am thankful to say, returned to the village, but not before Beef had reminded his assistants that they were to meet in the hall that evening and that they were to bring all they had found.
We spent the afternoon quietly; at least I was quiet, but Beef had a sleep, which in the daytime and after his noon glass of beer is usually a thunderous process.  At tea-time Miss Shoulter looked in to see how we were getting on.  She seemed to have a childlike confidence in Beef and urged him not to spare time and expense in his investigations.
When it was time to go round to the Lady Flitch Hall I accompanied Beef, not without misgivings.  To tell a score or more of vigorous youngsters to bring in everything they found in a wood seemed to me an incautious proceeding, and as we entered the place my worst fears were realized.  I’m bound to admit that Beef did not delay in giving orders for the disposal of a dead and half-decomposed cat which was the most offensive of the articles collected, but it was long before its aftermath had left us, in spite of hastily opened windows.  Four snares attributed to the possession of Old Fletcher who was known not to be above a bit of poaching were not, as they should have been, handed over to the police, and the whitened skull of a sheep was presented to the Mongoose Patrol as a souvenir.  Three boots which might have been discarded by tramps in Queen Victoria’s reign were consigned to the dustbin, and the remains of an umbrella likewise.  A number of pieces of rusty metal were promised rather optimistically to salvage; and broken china was thrown out.  An empty bottle was also said by Beef to be of no account, which led to some argument among the Water Buffaloes.
“Might of had poison in it, mightn’t it?” one of them suggested, to be snubbed promptly by a Rattlesnake who reminded him that Shoulter had been shot.
At last Beef came to the scraps of paper which had been collected into one heap.  After a moment he seized the freshest of these and calling me to the light shewed it to me.  I must say I was impressed, and I could see that Beef was as excited as one of the Boy Scouts.  For it was an envelope addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Flipp and containing a Christmas card.  Absently I examined its still vivid design—a steaming football of Christmas pudding with a sprig of holly in it.  Inside were the printed words “Good Cheer!”  And under them were scrawled the names of the curate and his sister.
“Who found this?” asked Beef.
A bespectacled boy with thin legs was pushed forward.
“Where was it?”
“I’ve marked the spot, Sarge,” he returned cheekily.  “I’ll take you there tomorrow.  It was ten paces into the wood itself from the clearing where the body was found.”
Beef silently handed him his reward.

Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Nineteen

Case for Sergeant Beef

CHAPTER NINETEEN
   
NIGHT IN DEADMAN’S WOOD

“Got a torch?” asked Beef after our meal that evening.
“Yes.”
“And some nice warm clothes?”
“I’ve got a greatcoat.  Why?”
“We may be out all night.”
“What on earth for?”
“You wanted action, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to fool about all night for nothing.”
“I don’t think it will be for nothing.  Now look here—this case is more interesting than you think.  It’s a nasty business and we’re going to find out the truth.  It’s all very well for you to think of it as nothing but a story—I tell you that there has been some clever and some dirty thinking done and, after all, a pretty violent crime.  What we see tonight, if it happens as I think it will, is going to bring us a lot nearer the truth.  And I’m serious about it.”
“That’s fine.  By the way you’ve been clowning about with Boy Scouts—”
“Those kids are going to be useful—even if they find nothing, as I think you’ll see presently.”
“Well, since you won’t even tell me whom you suspect I can only take your word for that.”
“It’s not as easy as just suspecting someone.  There are several people involved in this business—some of them innocent, perhaps.  And as to suspecting, you know everything I know, so your suspicions are as good as mine.  Well, I’ve never let you down yet, have I?  You come along with me tonight and you may see something.”
“Very well.  Where are we going?”
“To call on Mr. Chickle, of course.”
I let the “of course” pass, and prepared to follow Beef, accepting his suggestion of warm clothes and a torch.  He himself had a woollen scarf round his neck when we set out.  It was a dark night with a thin chilly drizzle from low clouds.  We needed our torches to find the footpath across to Mr. Chickle’s house.  I trudged along, taking care not to slip on the sticky ground and not attempting to get more information from Beef, since I know from experience that it is useless to catechize him.
We found “Labour’s End” to be well lighted, and I was glad of its cheerful aspect as we approached.  But I thought there was something sinister about the gaunt figure of Mrs. Pluck when she opened the door to us.  She stared at us without speaking, and I’m sure there was fear in her big, hollow eyes.  I had the impression that she found our visit unwelcome, though half-expected, and that she was relieved when Beef asked to see Mr. Chickle.
The old gentleman was sitting beside a large fire when we entered his cosy book-lined room, and rose to greet us.  In his manner, too, I sensed something strange, though with him it certainly was not fear.
Beef spoke as respectfully and politely as I could wish.  He called Mr. Chickle “Sir”, and said that he had come to warn him that his peace would probably be disturbed on the following day by an invasion from Boy Scouts.
Mr. Chickle beamed and assured Beef that so far from disturbing him it would be a pleasure.  As he grew older, he said, he liked more and more to see young people enjoying themselves, and it would not be the first time that the Scouts had played Cowboys and Indians in the wood.
“They won’t be playing Cowboys and Indians this time,” said Beef rather harshly.  “They’ll be doing a little job for me.”
Mr. Chickle seemed amused and mildly interested, and wondered if “detectives and criminals” was a new variation of the game.
“In a way you might say so,” said Beef.  “What they’re going to do is to search every inch of Deadman’s Wood in parties.  Every inch of it.  And bring me whatever they find.”
“And what will they find?” asked Mr. Chickle blandly.
“I shouldn’t be surprised but what they might find something that will help to clear up this murder case.”
“Yes.  I see.  A clue, in fact?”
“Perhaps a clue.”
“It’s very good of you to have come up to tell me,” smiled Mr. Chickle.
“Well, we were on our way back from Copling, sir.  I thought we would just call in.”
And Beef almost literally licked his chops just as a village policeman might when he has brought back a straying dog to his owner and expects to be offered a drink.  Mr. Chickle was not slow to perceive what Beef expected of him.
“A drink, Sergeant?” he suggested.  “I have a little reserve of Scotch, I’m glad to say.”
“I don’t mind if I do, sir,” said Beef inevitably, and before long we were wishing good health to our host.  But we did not linger for more than a few moments over the drink.  Beef remembered that we had a darts match at our inn, and after cordial good nights we started towards Barnford.
But we had not gone more than fifteen yards when Beef stopped round the bend of a curve.
“Now,” he said, “we go back and wait.  If anyone comes out of the door of that house we follow him or her.  But we don’t get ourselves seen or heard until I speak out.  Got it?”
It is at moments like this that Beef is at his best.  In spite of his age and bulk—for he is close on fifty now and a heavy and powerful man at that—he can move as swiftly and silently as some great feline.  He ceases to be the ungainly overgrown boy that I sometimes think him, and becomes genuinely a man of action.  I am the first to criticize Beef, but I always admit that in an emergency his nerve and quickness of action are remarkable.
In the drizzle and darkness of that night he led the way to a point from which, while remaining concealed ourselves, we could watch both the front door and back door of “Labour’s End”.  And there we stood, sheltered a little from the cold moisture of the night, but still wet, chilled, and uncomfortable for the best part of an hour.  Beef discouraged me even from whispering, and when I signed to him that I would like to smoke a cigarette, he shook his head vigorously.  I had begun to think that he had miscalculated and that our wet vigil was to be in vain, when some lights were switched out in the house, and a few moments later we saw the small figure of Mr. Chickle in the open doorway outlined against the only light left burning within.  He had opened the front door noiselessly and was engaged in closing it in silence.
“Ready?” whispered Beef.
When the little man started up the path which led to Miss Shoulter’s home, we were behind him.  I followed Beef as he dodged behind trees in his advance, keeping us out of sight and hearing, but never losing sight of Chickle.  It was exhausting and difficult, but at least it was what I had demanded of Beef—it was action.
Presently Beef, who was ahead of me and could see our quarry, stopped.  For some minutes I had been unable to catch more than a glimpse of Mr. Chickle and had been satisfied to leave observation to Beef while I concentrated on moving in silence and remaining unseen.  It appeared now that Beef was annoyed by something that had happened on the path ahead.
“He’s dived into the wood,” he whispered to me.  “Can’t follow him there.  Just have to wait here and chance it.”
“Chance what?”
“You’ll see.”
Again there was a long uncomfortable wait.  My feet felt as though they had been pushed into a ‘Frigidaire’ for several hours, and I was longing for a smoke.  Beef, however, seemed to strain his eyes in watching the path ahead, never moving from beside me and never turning away.  Ten or fifteen minutes must have passed.
Suddenly, Beef began to walk forward, no longer dodging among the trees, and at the same time flashed his powerful torch far down the path ahead.  In its beam I could see Mr. Chickle coming towards us.  Beef was talking loudly to me.
“We shall have to hurry,” I heard him say.  “Ah, here’s Mr. Chickle.  Why, you’ve dropped your parcel, sir.  There it is just in the grass behind you.”
“So I have,” said Mr. Chickle.
Beef stooped to pick up the little bundle which had been dropped.  It consisted of something wrapped in a piece of mackintosh.  Beef handed it politely to Mr. Chickle.
“Thanks, thanks.  It really doesn’t matter.  Very much obliged to you.”
I had never seen the little man in such a state of confusion.
No one moved for a few moments.  Then Mr. Chickle seemed to pull himself together.
“Darts match cancelled?” he asked.  There was nothing openly sarcastic in his tone, but I felt that it was not quite natural.
“Yes.  The other side never turned up.”
It was funny, I thought, that it was Beef who did the explaining of our presence there, and Chickle who said nothing to justify his.
“To tell you the truth, sir,” Beef went on.  “We have just heard a bit more from the police.  We were on our way to call on Mr. Bridge.”
Mr. Chickle became animated.
“Mr. Bridge, eh?  I told you he was a violent young man.”
“Ah,” said Beef.  “You’ve been having a stroll yourself, sir?”
Mr. Chickle seemed to be deciding whether or not he should speak.
“Yes, Sergeant.  And to tell the truth, I’ve made a very curious discovery.  I was going to keep it for the police, but since you’ve come along so opportunely, I may as well tell you first.”
“Very much obliged to you.”
Mr. Chickle began to unroll the mackintosh of his parcel and revealed the largest pair of woman’s shoes I have ever seen.
“Well, I never!” said Beef.  “Miss Shoulter’s, I take it?”
“They were Miss Shoulter’s,” said Mr. Chickle, who seemed now to have recovered himself.  “They were made especially for her.  Outsize, you know.  But they have been in my possession since then.  I had to purchase them in a lot at one of our worthy curate’s auctions.  What I cannot understand is this.  Two months ago I myself put these shoes in my own dustbin, expecting, I might say hoping, never to set eyes on them again.  And tonight while I’m taking the little stroll I have for the sake of sound sleep, I find them wrapped in this piece of old mackintosh beside the footpath.  How do you account for that?”
“Funny,” was Beef’s comment.
“Do you think it has any connection with the crime?”
“Hard to say,” said Beef.  “Very hard to say.”
A few minutes later we left him, this time to go home and sleep, I hoped.  I know that when at last we reached our inn, having waited another half-hour in the cold and rain to make sure that we should not have another encounter with Chickle, I was pleased to get between the sheets.  But Beef had been chuckling to himself with pleasure all the way home.

Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Eighteen

Case for Sergeant Beef

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
   
A LAWYER AND SOME BOY SCOUTS

At breakfast next morning I told Beef that I thought things were going very slowly.  He seemed to take pleasure in stumping steadily through a case, instead of shewing flashes of brilliance like his more famous confreres.  I wanted action.
“You’re going to have it today,” he said.  “We’re going on the bus to Ashley.”
“I mean real action.”
“What, another murder?  Or a chase across the country of someone who turns out to have nothing to do with the case?”
“Well, action,” I returned.
“All in good time,” chuckled Beef.  “You wait till we get these Boy Scouts on the job.  You’ll have action all right then.”
We waited outside the post office for the green single-decker bus which would take us into Ashley, and Beef seemed to enjoy being stared at by the small boys who knew him to be a detective.  When the bus drew up he took an awkward little seat beside the driver who also sold the tickets.  I could see that he meant to get into conversation with him.  But he might have used a little more originality in his approach.
“Nice day,” he commented gruffly.
“Cold,” said the driver.
“How long does it take into Ashley?”
“About half an hour.”
“How many of you are there on this run?”
The driver did not seem to resent this clumsy catechism.
“Only the two.  Me and George Rivers.”
“Did you take her in on Christmas Eve?”
“Yes.”
“Happen to notice who was on her on the seven o’clock run?”
“Not many.  They’d finished their shopping by then.  Three or four, I think.”
Beef leaned very close to the man and tried to make his voice inaudible to the rest of us.
“See.  I’m on this murder case,” he said.
“I know you are.”
“And there’s a bit of information I’d like from you.”
“You’re welcome.”
“Do you happen to remember whether Mrs. Pluck, the housekeeper of the old gentleman who lives by the wood, was on that bus?”
The driver whistled.
“So that’s it, is it?  It was her done him in, eh?  Well, she looks as though she could of.”
“Now don’t be running away with any silly ideas,” said Beef severely.  “I never said nothing about her doing anyone in.  I just wanted to know if she was on the bus on Christmas Eve.”
“Well, she wasn’t.”
“Quite sure?”
“Quite.  I’d of noticed.  Well, you couldn’t miss her, could you?”
Beef laughed.
“Bit of a fright, isn’t she?  But don’t you go talking to people as though I suspected her, see?  Never do.  I should have a case for slander on my hands before you could say knife.”
“That’s all right,” said the driver, and they began to talk of other matters.
When we arrived in Ashley, Beef inquired the way to the office of Mr. Aston, the solicitor, and we found it near the market place.  Mr. Aston had not come in yet, his clerk said, and without being invited to do so Beef sat down in the outer office to wait.  The clerk, a dim and pinched-looking man of middle age, busied himself with the morning’s mail.  Again Beef started with elephantine awkwardness to try making conversation.  But he got only a brief nod to his comments on the weather, the food shortage, and the price of liquor.
Presently, however, he got his chance.  The clerk was tying up a bundle of papers.
“Is that what you call red tape?” Beef asked.
The clerk looked up as though for the first time Beef had touched on something which could interest him.
“It is.”
“But it’s not red at all.  It’s pink.”
A faint smile crossed the clerk’s face.
“That was precisely the comment of a gentleman sitting here a few weeks ago.  ‘It’s not red,’ he said, ‘it’s pink’.”
“Ah,” said Beef.  “Great minds think alike.  Who was the other one to remark on it?”
“One of our clients.  A Mr. Chickle, from Barnford.  He seemed most interested in the subject.  He even asked, if I remember rightly, how it was sold, and I told him in spools.”
“Well now,” cried Beef.  “That is funny!  Because I was just going to ask you myself.  What do they look like?”
The clerk pulled open a drawer in which we could see a number of spools of the pink tape and handed one to Beef, who solemnly examined it.
“Mind if I keep this?” he asked.  “I want it for a bit of a lark.  Red tape, you know!”
“It’s not easy to get,” said the clerk dubiously.
“You got plenty.”
“Oh, very well,” said the clerk rather sulkily, and turned with marked concentration to his work.
Soon after that a buzzer sounded and we were shewn in to Mr. Aston.
The solicitor was a grey and portly man with horn-rimmed glasses and a very smart suit.  He affected, I thought, to be busier than he was, and quickly asked what he could do for us.
“It’s about this murder,” said Beef.
“Shoulter?”
“Ah.”
“I know nothing about it.”
“You have a client called Wellington Chickle, I believe?” said Beef solemnly.
“I have.  At least I have undertaken one matter for Mr. Chickle.”
“And the nature of that matter?” asked Beef.
The solicitor stared at him.
“On what possible grounds do you put such a question?”
“Investigating.  Representing the dead man’s sister.”
“Am I expected to see some connection between that and my client?”
“Just wanted to know what he came to see you about,” said Beef, rather abashed.
“Then I’m afraid your curiosity—I can scarcely call it anything else—will remain unsatisfied.  Mr. Chickle’s business was confidential.”
“I see.  And where were you that afternoon?”
The solicitor looked up sharply.
“I don’t think I can have heard you correctly,” he said.
“You heard.  I asked where you was on the afternoon when Shoulter was murdered.  You live out that way, I believe.”
Mr. Aston pressed his buzzer and his clerk appeared.
“Shew these men out and don’t admit them again,” he snapped.
I wondered whether to attempt some kind of explanation or apology for Beef’s gross blunder.  But he was signing to me from the door and I followed him from the room in confusion.  To my annoyance Beef had no sooner reached the street than he started laughing.
“What on earth made you put that idiotic question?” I demanded.
“I thought you’d like another suspect,” grinned Beef.  I did not reply.
Back in Barnford we went at about four o’clock to the house of Mr. and Miss Packham.  They received us in a friendly manner, which did not seem to chill even when Beef began by saying that he had come to ask a favour.
“We’re used to that,” said the curate.  “What is it this time?”
“I understand you run a troop of Boy Scouts?”
“I do.”
“I was wondering if they could do a little job for me.  Sort of good deed, you know.”
“What sort of job?”
“Well.  I want them to search a certain area.”
“Footprints?”
“No.  Not footprints.  If you would not mind I would explain to them myself what I want.  How would that be?”
Mr. Packham considered.
“Nothing against the Law, I take it?”
“Oh, no.  They would be helping the Law.”
“No danger?  None of your murderers about?”
“No danger,” promised Beef.
“Then I don’t see why not.  It’s a Scout Night tonight.  You could come along to the Lady Flitch Hall and explain just what you want.”
Suddenly both brother and sister assumed an attitude of attentive listening.  They were quite motionless, staring before them.  I tried to speak, but received a vicious “Sshh!” from Miss Packham.
“What is it?” Beef inquired.
“Tea!” shouted the curate’s sister.  “I heard the rattle of cups!”
“Stay and have some?” said the curate very tentatively.
“I think we’ll go back to our own place,” said Beef with unusual tact.  “They’ll be expecting us.  See you at the Hall at—what time?”
“Six.  Six.” Mr. Packham’s manner had become absent.
At six o’clock, therefore, I accompanied Beef to the hall, and we found ourselves surrounded as we entered by countless small boys, some of them wearing the uniform of Scouts.  I felt very self-conscious, for I knew that on such occasions Beef was apt to pose a good deal, and to talk to the boys as benevolent schoolmasters or cheerful uncles talked in the boys’ stories of half a century ago.  This is not well received by modern boys who expect a man-to-man form of address.
As we entered we found that Mr. Packham was deeply engaged with a few youngsters who seemed to know the way to his heart.  One had brought him half a dozen eggs and another a pair of stored apples with skins wrinkled from a stay in some straw-covered loft.  There were two other packages the precise contents of which were not apparent though guessable.
“Splendid.  Splendid,” he was saying.  “Good chaps.  Most grateful.  My sister will appreciate these.  Hullo, here’s Sergeant Beef.”
There was a good deal of fuss and movement in the hall before the boys could be got into the chairs facing the platform, but it was achieved eventually, and Mr. Packham rose to lecture them.  He explained that they were going to be addressed by a real London detective, a description at which I shivered.  Indeed, the whole proceedings seemed to me silly in the extreme.  Whatever Beef wanted, I could not see that a lot of little boys running about thinking that they were sleuths would help much, and I was frankly nervous when I thought how Beef would address them.  My worst fears were realized.  When Mr. Packham had finished he stood up and sticking his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat turned to the troop.
“Boys,” he said.  “Would you like to help me catch a murderer?”
He pronounced the word as though he were a comedian giving an imitation of an old-fashioned melodrama, dragging out the first syllable through a series of vowels.  To my surprise there was a murmur of eager assent.
“If you’ll do what I ask you,” he went on, “you may be the means of bringing him to the gallows.  All I need now is a little more evidence and you can help me get it.”
This clumsy approach seemed to appeal to the boys, who looked keen and eager.
“I want you to comb Deadman’s Wood,” said Beef.  “Every inch of it.”
He paused for effect.
“Split up into parties,” he said.  “Organize yourselves.  See that not a little piece of ground escapes you.  And pick up anything you find.  It’s no good looking for footprints.  They’ve all gone by now.  But anything else.  Anything else at all you may find you bring to this hall to-morrow night.  Got the idea?”
They had.  There was a rustle and chatter of expectation.
“And there’s something else,” Beef continued.  “I want you to look at the barks of the trees all round that bungalow where Mr. Chickle lives.  Say up to twenty yards from there.  See if you can find one that’s split about a bit.  You might.  I don’t say you will.  But you might.  The boy who finds that gets a reward.  And one for any boy who finds anything in the wood that’ll help me with my investigations.  Now are there any questions you would like to ask?”
One boy wanted to know what they were to look for in particular.
“Ah,” said Beef.  “I can’t tell you that for the very good reason that I don’t know myself.  You just keep your eyes skinned.”
“Who did it?” asked a thin boy with glasses.
That’s what you’re going to help to find out,” returned Beef.  “Now off you go and divide it all up into squares.  And plan out how you set about it.  We’ll meet here tomorrow night.  All right?”
There was a shout of excitement as the meeting broke up.

Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Seventeen

Case for Sergeant Beef

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
   
JOE BRIDGE AT LAST

Beef’s day has some curious landmarks.  Where you and I speak of “morning”, “afternoon”, “lunch-time”, “sunset”, and so on, for Beef there are four points in the clock-round—morning and evening “opening time” and “closing time”.  I have sometimes spoken to him about this.  Even when we have been among the more respectable people with whom our cases have brought us in touch, Beef will glance at the clock and say:  “Well.  It’ll soon be ‘opening time’.  We must be running along.”  Or, “Well, if we don’t hurry it’ll be ‘closing time’.”  I try to explain to him that not everyone counts the hours by the licensing laws, and that these continual references to public-houses are not in good taste.  But he is, of course, incorrigible.
At what he would have called “closing time” that evening we had retired to the back room when Mr. Bristling put his head in.  He had just been bolting the outside doors.
“Young Bridge is waiting,” he said.  “Wants a word with you.  He’s had a few but he’s all right.  Bring him in, shall I?”
“There you are,” said Beef to me, not concealing his triumph.  “What did I tell you?  I knew he’d be along.”
Young Bridge was six feet four and, I judged, would have been a handsome fellow if it had not been for the effect of too much beer-drinking during his years of manhood.  His cheeks were of a coarse crimson texture, though there were remnants of good features noticeable.  He pushed into the room with his hands in the pockets of his mackintosh, and I could see at once that Mr. Bristling was not exaggerating when he said that Bridge had “had a few”.
“Evening,” he blurted out in a gruff voice.  “You Sergeant Beef?”
“That’s my name,” said Beef pompously.
“Well, I’m going to tell you something.”
“Wouldn’t it be wiser for you to inform the police?”
“No.  I don’t want anything to do with the police.”
Beef coughed.
“Had some trouble perhaps?”
“Me?  With that fellow Dunton?  I shouldn’t have trouble with his sort, I can tell you.  No, what I’ve got to say I’ll say to you and get it over with.”
He slumped into a chair.
“Why haven’t any of you been to me?”
“Why should we?” asked Beef quickly.
Bridge did not like that.
“There’s been a lot of talk,” he said lamely.  Tm supposed to have been out for that ——’s blood.”
“Which . . . ?”
“Shoulter.”
“Are you?”
“You know very well I am.”
“And were you ‘out for his blood’?”
“Well, I didn’t like the fellow.  But I didn’t murder him.”
“That’s what a good many say.”
Bridge hesitated.
“You knew I went down that path that afternoon, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”
“Someone see me?”
Beef nodded.
“Well, as a matter of fact I go down that path almost every Saturday.  I go to see my uncle and aunt in Barnford.  But this time I had my gun.”
“Yes.”
“Then why haven’t I been questioned?”
“I can’t answer for the police.  I haven’t got round to you yet, myself.”
“Do you think I did it?”
“I don’t know who did it.”
There was another pause.
“I decided to walk down to Barnford that afternoon,” Bridge said at last, rather sulkily.  “And I took my gun.”
“What for?”
“Why not?  I had to cross several of my own fields.  Might have got a dinner.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No.”
“You never fired the gun?”
“No.”
“Is that what you’ve come to tell me?”
“No.  There’s more to it than that.  I passed the Shoulter woman’s kennels and took the footpath which enters the wood at her place and comes out by Chickle’s.  I did not meet anyone till I reached that little clearing where the body was found.”
“Go on.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly meet anyone there.  But just as I came into the place I heard some movement to my right, looked over and saw a man disappearing among the trees.”
“A man?  Who was it?”
There was a breathless silence, then Bridge said that he didn’t know.
“He was off pretty quickly and he didn’t turn round.  He seemed to be walking like a cat—half as though he didn’t want to be seen, and half as though he didn’t want to be heard, but most important of all to get out of the way.  All I saw was that he was a biggish man wearing a raincoat.”
“Ah.”
A slow grin crossed Bridge’s face.
“Interest you?” he asked.
“Yes.”
Then something in Beef’s manner seemed to anger Bridge.
“It happens to be true!” he said shortly. 
“I never said it wasn’t.”
Bridge looked sulky for a few moments, then continued his story.
“I went on down the path,” he said, “and about fifty or a hundred yards on I met Shoulter.”
“Did you speak to him?”
“No.”
“You’d had a bit of a row?”
“I had, and I didn’t want to start it again, else I’d have knocked him to hell.  I decided just to walk past.  And he didn’t seem to want any trouble because he made way for me on the path.”
“Was he carrying a gun?”
“He had his golf clubs with him.  They were in one of those lone mackintosh bags with a top to them.  It could have been in there, I suppose.  He wasn’t carrying it otherwise.”
“And he passed straight on?”
“Yes.”
“That would have been about three-fifteen?”
“Roughly.  Soon after he passed there was a shot from the wood.  I knew that little Chickle had what he called the ‘shooting rights’ there and thought it was him potting at a stray pheasant.  But it wasn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because a few minutes later I came to his bungalow and saw him in the garden.”
“The devil you did.  Sure it was him?”
“Certain.  I saw his face.”
“Did he see you?”
“No.  I took good care he shouldn’t.  I’d come down the path quietly and looked into his garden from behind cover.”
“Why?”
“Well, I caught him poaching once, and I didn’t want him to accuse me of the same thing.”
“Just because you were carrying a gun on a public footpath?”
“Yes.  I’d just come through the wood, after all, and there had been a shot a few minutes before.”
“Ah.  And did you see him?”
“Yes.  He was in his garden.  I watched him for a few minutes.  And I saw something very odd.”
“Mm?”
“At least,” said Bridge in a rather more friendly and confidential tone than he had been using, “it may not seem odd to you, and it may not have any meaning, as it were.  But it seemed funny to me.  He had a line in his hand like a gardener uses for laying out paths and beds.  He had one end of it pegged by the window and was walking round with the other end as though he couldn’t decide where to put it.  Then I saw him go across his little piece of lawn to where it goes up close to the wood.  He stood there for a moment, then looked all round him, over to the windows of the house and towards where I was standing in a furtive sort of way.  Then he stooped down and tied the end of his line to what looked like a thinner line already lying there.”
“He did, did he?” said Beef, staring, rather vacantly I thought, at Bridge.
“Yes.  What was the idea?”
Beef was silent.
“I don’t know for certain,” he said at last.
“But you’ve got some sort of a theory?”
“Might have,” said Beef. 
“And it fits in?”
“Yes.  It fits very nicely.  Almost too nicely.  And now I’m going to give you a bit of advice.  You go and tell your story, exactly as you’ve told it to me, to Inspector Chatto, who’s investigating.”
“Why should I?”
“I could give you a lot of reasons.  In the first place it’s your duty,”
“Hell.  I told you I don’t like the —— police.”
“All right then.  If that means nothing to you, let me tell you something else.  How do you know you’re not suspected of this murder?”
“Me? Why should I shoot that rat?”
“Why should anybody?  You’re known to have had a row with him, but no one knows how serious that row was.  You admit you met him and a few minutes later you heard a shot.  You had your gun with you.  Altogether a nice little case could be made against you, Mr. Bridge.”
The farmer was silent.
“Do you think I did it?” he asked suddenly, rather ingenuously.
I’m not saying whether I do or whether I don’t.  But I do say that you’ve given me some evidence which the police may think important.  There’s no doubt at all you should see them.”
“I suppose I shall have to.”
“And tell them the truth,” added Beef, nodding significantly.
I was surprised to see that the aggressive Mr. Bridge took this quite calmly.  He stood up and after the briefest good night lurched out.
“What do you think of that?” I asked Beef.
I might have known that he would grow mysterious.
“Interesting,” was all he said.
“Do you think he was speaking the truth?”
“Some of it, anyway.  If not all.”
“Then who was the man in the raincoat?” I asked sceptically.
Beef looked at me almost as though he presumed to think me foolish.
“Flipp, of course,” he said.
“I’m glad you know who it was,” I rejoined.  “Perhaps you know the murderer as well?”
“Got a pretty good idea,” admitted Beef.  Then raising his voice he called to Mr. Bristling, who was still wiping glasses in the bar, having a distaste, as he often said, for going to bed before he’d “got straight”.
“Is there a Boy Scout troop here?” was Beef’s surprising question to the publican.
There certainly is.  Very keen they are.  Mr. Packham runs it.
“What on earth?” I asked Beef.  Privately I sometimes think he is little more than an overgrown Boy Scout himself.
“Handy sometimes, Scouts,” he said.  “I think I can give them a little job that will please them and be useful.  I must see that curate tomorrow.  Then, of course, we must call on Aston, the solicitor.” “I don’t see why.”
“Red tape,” explained Beef, and with a huge ill-mannered yawn took himself off to bed.

Case for Sergeant Beef, Chapter Sixteen

Case for Sergeant Beef

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
   
INSPECTOR CHATTO’S THEORY

“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.