Neck and Neck, Chapter Twenty-Three

Neck and Neck

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
   
A few weeks later Vincent, my brother, and I gave a small dinner-party at Camber Lodge.  It was half-term at Vincent’s public school, Penshurst, and, as he was able to get away for a few days, we decided to meet at Hastings and settle up finally the rest of Aunt Aurora’s estate.
Reluctantly we agreed that Camber Lodge must be sold.  We let Mary Raikes, the cook, and Ellen choose some things they treasured from among my aunt’s possessions and then, after we had picked out what we both wanted, we arranged for the rest to be auctioned.
As soon as my aunt’s Will had been settled, I had bought a brand new Norton motor-cycle for Charlie Raikes.  He was happily dividing his time between racing on his bike and planning his new life in Canada.  Their passages, his mother’s and his, had been booked, and they were due to sail in a fortnight.  Tom Raikes, the husband, had gone off again, with, I suspected, some portion of the money my aunt had left Mary his wife.  Nothing more could be done for him.
Vincent and I were both a little worried about Ellen when we decided to close down Camber Lodge.  Her whole life had been spent there with my aunt, and, though we agreed to give her a substantial cheque, we knew that money would be no real consolation.  She had decided, however, where her duty lay.  “I must go and look after those poor Misses Graves,” she told us.  “They’re all right for money now, thanks to Miss Fielding.  That’s one thing.  But they’ve aged terribly since your aunt’s death.  They were such friends, you know, all those years.  I’m sure Miss Fielding would want me to do it.  I shall find the difference in that house, I know.  They won’t be considerate, like your aunt, to work for.  One of them can hardly move by herself now, and the other’s a bit queer in her head ever since they had the bailiffs in.  But I must do it.  I shouldn’t be easy in my conscience if I didn’t carry on Miss Fielding’s good work, now she’s not here to do it herself.”
Christian charity I felt could go no further.  Of the vicar, too, we heard better news.  The restoration of the murals in his church had been completed.  He had been taken from the private mental home to see the work.  And this had brought about a wonderful improvement.  It was hoped that he would be allowed to leave the home very soon.  All this Vincent and I had found out on our arrival in Hastings, and we were now sitting comfortably in front of a fire, drinking some of my aunt’s excellent sherry, waiting for our guests.  Beef, of course, was to be there.  He and the Reverend Alfred Ridley were due any time from the station.  Inspector Arnold was coming, and Beef had insisted on our asking Amelia Pinhole.  “A good feed and some drinks will do the old girl a pile of good,” he had said.  “It’ll mean a lot to her, and, after all, she did help us clear it up.  I can just hear her telling her friends about the party afterwards.”
Alfred Ridley, the vicar, had really behaved very well in settling up his murdered brother’s estate.  He had gone carefully into the whole publishing racket which his brother had carried on as Thomas Thayer, Publisher, and made restitution where he could.  He had changed the name of the firm to the Church of England Theological Publishing Company.  I had a feeling, remembering the man, that it would prosper.  Greenleaf, too, he had helped; and, as Michael Thorogood had prophesied, Greenleaf already promised to make a name for himself.  He had, as Inspector Arnold foretold, been released almost at once after the meeting in my flat.
When all the guests had arrived and sherry had been served, we went in to dinner.  Mary, given carte blanche, excelled herself.
It was genius on her part.  The whole dinner was period, an early Edwardian dinner.  It was exactly like the illustrations to an early copy of Mrs. Beeton.  Soup, fish, loin of veal, pheasants, a medley of sweets and cheese, cooked in her inimitable way and served in almost forgotten profusion.  Wines, that would have even won George Saintsbury’s approval, were served with every course, sherry, hock, claret, champagne and a really excellent brandy that Mary must have found in some far corner of my aunt’s cellar.  How Aunt Aurora would have enjoyed it all, I could not help thinking.  Her dining-room with its solid comfortable furniture and glass chandeliers was the setting.  For this atmosphere Amelia Pinhole seemed just right.  Her large bust and old-fashioned coiffure blended with the scene and the dim light of the candles softened her heavily rouged features.  She and Beef were the life of the party.  We all drank a lot of very good wine, and the last scene I remember of the party, after Ridley’s clergyman brother had gone to bed, was Beef thumping away accompaniments on the piano and Amelia Pinhole singing.  When she was too hoarse to continue, with an exaggerated old-world leave-taking she left us, and with her went Inspector Arnold who had offered to drive her home.
“I’m going home in the arms of the law,” were her final words as the front door closed behind them.
Vincent and Edith claimed they were tired and also departed to bed.  Edith had slightly improved with marriage, but I still could not understand my brother’s choice and, from the few words I had had with her, nor could the matron or the boys in his House.
Beef and I were at last left alone.
“Just a nightcap,” he said, pouring out two large liqueur brandies.  There was no sign that he had drunk the best part of a bottle of champagne in addition to a number of glasses of sherry, hock and claret.
“I suppose now you’ve got all this money you won’t want to bother with writing up my cases any more?” he said, and for the first time I thought, though it may have been the drink, I detected a note of regret in Beef’s voice.
“Oh, there’s not as much money as all that,” I said.  “The death duties were heavier than we thought, and most of my aunt’s shares are well down.  No, I shall carry on.”
“Well, in that case,” he said, “we’ll get back to London tomorrow.  You can then lock yourself up in that flat of yours and write up this case.  Should make a good story, if you tell it right.  I’m getting tired of people not having heard of me and having to play second fiddle to all these other clever detectives.”
“All right, Beef,” I replied.  “I’ll do my best.”
As I turned to go upstairs and looked round the house I could not help thinking of Estelle Pinkerton in some lonely cell, but then I caught sight of a portrait of my Aunt Aurora and the momentary feeling of compassion passed.
— THE END

Neck and Neck, Chapter Twenty-Two

Neck and Neck

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
   
They all in their different ways seemed anxious for Beef to get on with his story, and it was not long before we were all seated again and Beef continued.
“It was, then, with all this rather jumbled in my mind that I came back to the Cotswolds.  We went back to the pub I had stayed at before.  Nice little place.  Good grub, decent beer, and some of the chaps were pretty hot on the board.  I’d like to go back there some time.”
He saw me looking at him meaningly and went on with his story.
“Here again I followed the normal routine I had learnt in the Force and interviewed all the possible suspects and went into every point that came up.  Although the dead man was most unpopular in the district, after I had met the neighbouring Master of the Hunt I was convinced that it wasn’t just a local crime.  I was sure that if there was any chance of that, you’d have known or heard something, Superintendent, and not handed the case over at once to Scotland Yard.  Lovelace, the secretary, I didn’t care for much, but if he did a murder it wouldn’t be by strangling anyone and then tying them up to a beam when they’re dead.  That was a man’s job.  There was all that business about those books.  I suppose he’d been pinching ’em, hadn’t he?”  Beef said, turning to the Superintendent.
“Oh yes, we’ve traced all that, but it may not come to a prosecution.  He’s confessed everything and we’ve got some of them back.”
“I thought that was about it, but I felt it hadn’t anything to do with the murder.  As you know, I was more interested in that other little pile.  They may not have been first editions, and that Oxford bookseller sniffed at them, but they were certainly more valuable to me.  Especially the packing, as I said.
“Then of course there was Greenleaf.  Well, I must say he was a red herring to me for a long time.  He could so easily have been the type to have murdered Ridley in a fit of temper.  After I’d met him, I could see he was unbalanced about Ridley and, I must say, he caused me a lot of thought.  Fortunately, Superintendent, you traced that car that I was lucky enough to hear had been seen after midnight parked in a lane near Ridley’s house on the night of the murder.  We were lucky, too, that that young fellow, Bob Chapman, noticed the star-shaped crack in the rear window.  He confirmed that it was the same car, I suppose,” Beef said, addressing the Superintendent.
“He couldn’t swear to it absolutely,” the Superintendent replied.  “But, as he said, it wasn’t likely that there were two cars like that.”
“It seemed to me that, like the rope that was used to string Ridley up, that car was part of a premeditated murder.  That was more or less confirmed when we found that the man who hired the car had given a false name and address.  If the car was used for the murder, and I was convinced it was, Greenleaf was cleared.  The same man who hired the car, if you remember, did not return it until the next evening, the evening of the eleventh of September.  Greenleaf was dining with his literary agent, Mr. Thorogood, in London at that time.  I may as well just finish with Greenleaf while on the subject.  The Chief Inspector here talked of my behaving like a Boy Scout.  I admit it.  Young Bob Chapman had done us two good turns and I thought he’d like me to act up to his picture of a detective.  I also wanted to know what game Greenleaf was up to.  I never thought he’d be armed or I’d have tipped you the wink, Superintendent.  I still think he was only putting the wind up that rascal Fagg.  As it was, no harm was done and it won’t do Greenleaf any harm to kick his heels in jail for a few days.”
I looked across quickly at the Chief Inspector and saw him frown and lean forward as if to say something, but he evidently thought better of it and sat back again.
“Anyway,” Beef said, rather defiantly, “I enjoyed myself that night.  There’s not much adventure about these days and the papers certainly made a good story out of it.  It was about this time that I went to see Miss Estelle Pinkerton.  Apart from the fact that she inherited nearly all Ridley’s money, I had nothing against her up till then.  One or two things, however, did come out in our talk.  It seemed curious that, like Gupp, she should have an absolutely cast-iron alibi for the time of the actual murder of the person from whom she was the chief legatee.  Like Gupp, too, she seemed eager to tell her story about staying with the dean of Fulham at that time.  Another thing, this visit of hers was not in accordance with her usual custom.  It was an extra visit to London and she was the one who had fixed to be away at that time.  In other words, it was by her choice that she happened to be spending a few days with the dean of Fulham just at the time when her uncle was murdered.  Again nothing much in itself.  Another small thing, she purposely stayed out all day alone while she was there.  Not usual, I thought.  I left with the impression that she was a foolish vain creature and crazy for a man.
“One person I’ve missed out so far is Ridley’s stepson, Major Howard.  Hard up though he was for money, he certainly did not strike me as a type that would go in for premeditated murder, but there was the chance that whoever had murdered Ridley had done it almost accidentally.  Ridley seemed to have been the sort of cold snake-like creature that anyone might have lost their temper with.
“I was glad, therefore, to learn, when I went to see Major Howard, that he was back in his mess for dinner at Aldershot at the time when the car, which I was sure the murderer had used, was returned to the garage.
“There was one point that attracted my attention in Major Howard’s story.  He said that it was a letter from Estelle Pinkerton that had first put into his mind the idea of appealing for financial help to his stepfather, Edwin Ridley.  Miss Pinkerton appeared anxious that Major Howard should re-establish friendly relations with Ridley after all those years.  There might be nothing in it, but it seemed strange that her letter should arrive at that particular time.  Fortunately for him, though he intended to visit Ridley, he never went.
“It looked, then, very much as if Gupp was the man who hired the car in Oxford.  He was there at the time, he answered more or less to the description, the car was seen outside the hotel at which he was staying, and he had no alibi for the period when Ridley was strangled.  But it was all circumstantial evidence.
“Meantime another train of thought had started at the back of my mind.  It must have begun after my visit to Estelle Pinkerton, but I can’t remember when I really became fully aware of it.  It was the word Cheltenham, I think, that first rang a bell.  I couldn’t at first trace any connection with the town until I suddenly remembered that Amelia Pinhole, Miss Fielding’s dressmaker, had said she had once lived in Cheltenham.  Straight away another thing she told us came back to me.  It was that she remembered the day Miss Fielding was poisoned, because as she was going up to the gate she saw someone she thought she recognised.  Estelle Pinkerton lived in Cheltenham.  Could they have known one another in the old days?  Was it Estelle Pinkerton that Amelia Pinhole recognised?
“I believe it was then that I began to have a glimmering of a new idea.  A pact.  A pact between Hilton Gupp and Estelle Pinkerton.  Supposing, I thought, they each had murdered the person from whom the other was going to inherit money?  That would do away with the one great bugbear of every murderer—palpable motive.  It’s agreed that any of us, the Superintendent here or the Chief Inspector, could go out of this room and commit one murder and get away with it, provided the murder was of someone unknown, and completely without motive.  Well, perhaps this was how they planned to get away with it.  There was only one big snag.  How did a spinster in Cheltenham come to meet a ne’er-do-well like Gupp, just back from the East?  Then I remembered what she said about her holidays, and how she loved to meet strangers in trains.  Had they met at some foreign hotel?  That seemed impossible.  Then it came to me.  Her holiday this summer at Estoril!  I remembered seeing an advertisement about Estoril and I knew from that that it was in Portugal, somewhere near Lisbon.  They’d met not at an hotel, of course, but on a boat.  They must have travelled back on the same boat.
“This idea came to me about the same time as the arrest of Greenleaf.  If I’m right, I thought, things’ll move quickly.  Gupp will think that he’s clear for the moment and that now is the time for him to act.
“I went that morning and looked back through all the passenger lists of boats from the East which had arrived about the beginning of August.  At last I ran him to earth.  He had come on a slow Dutch boat, the S.S. Appeldorn, which had put in, among other places, at Lisbon.  I could hardly control myself as I looked eagerly for the name of Estelle Pinkerton among the other passengers.  It was there.  That meant I was right.  Townsend here was fidgeting and impatient while I made the discovery, thinking that having found the name Gupp we had done enough.  He little knew that this was the piece of evidence that would, so far as we knew then, put both their necks in nooses! Just to make doubly sure I took a train straight to Hastings and went to see Amelia Pinhole, the dressmaker, and asked her who she thought she’d seen that morning near Miss Fielding’s house.  She replied that she had at first thought it was someone she had known years before in Cheltenham, a Miss Pinkerton.  It could not have been her, she added, because when she addressed Estelle, the lady, Miss Pinhole said, had said there must be some mistake and hurried away.  This was only further confirmation.
“My next call was on Raikes.  He was staying at Camber Lodge with his wife.  I soon got his secret by pretending to know everything.  I guessed he had seen something through the window that morning and told Gupp, who had somehow frightened him out of informing the police.  What he’d seen did not amount to evidence, but to me it was another bit of proof of my theory.  He had seen a woman whom he took to be Miss Payne—her back was towards him—doing something with a glass in the goldfish bowl.  I thought for a moment and then asked him if the woman was wearing a hat.  I knew neither Miss Fielding nor Miss Payne would be wearing one in the house and the Misses Graves, he had told me, hadn’t arrived.  When he said yes, I knew it was Estelle Pinkerton.  There were no other visitors that morning.  She was washing out the sherry glass that Miss Fielding had used and which would have had traces of morphia.  It killed the goldfish, anyhow.  I expect she did that when Miss Fielding went to fetch a book on Chinese missionary work, the one Mr. Townsend found the receipt in.
“As I travelled back to London by train I could see the whole picture.  I could imagine Estelle Pinkerton getting into conversation with the good-looking tall young man who was travelling by himself.  She was always crazy for a man and he probably thought she had money.  They began to exchange confidences over the boat rail.  Among these confidences it came out that they would both be rich when their elderly relations died.  Unfortunately, they had to admit, there seemed little likelihood of either of those rich relatives dying for a very long time.  By now Estelle Pinkerton had, I imagine, become infatuated with this attentive, very masculine, young man.  Who made the first suggestion of hastening the death of their rich relatives, no one can say.  It was probably tried out as a joke.  Personally, I think the woman was behind it, but it can never be proved.  So desperate for him had she become that no risk was too great.  Anything rather than lose this personable young man who had so providentially appeared in answer to her prayers.  Gradually the plot was hatched.  Gupp probably got hold of the morphia for her in some foreign port.  It was agreed that they should do the two murders on the same day.  In the meantime they thought it best not to be seen together or even to meet.  The date had been fixed, and we know what happened.  Both murders were successful.”
Beef paused and I took advantage of this to refill all their glasses.
“There were still difficulties,” he continued, “I knew now all I wanted, but, though I could almost prove the Hastings murder, I only had the barest circumstantial evidence about Gupp’s part in the Cotswold case.  The police were sick of Gupp’s name.  They had tried to break his alibi and failed.  Unless I could prove my case, it was no good trying Scotland Yard again.  That’s why I was glad when Greenleaf was arrested.  I thought, and rightly, it would drive them into the open, lull them into a sense of false security.  They had no reason to think that anyone even remotely suspected their reversed parts in the two murders.  Gupp had gone down to Estelle Pinkerton’s for the weekend probably to extract further money out of her.  She, he probably pointed out, had had her benefit from the crime, she had inherited her lot.  But he, by an ironic stroke of ill luck, though honourably executing his part of the bargain, had earnt nothing at all, because Miss Fielding had cut him out of her Will.  Mr. Townsend had seen him splashing money about in London and I guessed where that had come from.  When I heard he was away, I suspected we should find him with Estelle Pinkerton.  On the Monday morning Gupp saw in the papers that Greenleaf had been arrested and, as my name appeared, he imagined that the police and I were agreed that Greenleaf was the murderer.  He phoned the bank that morning, I suspect, and arranged to be away on some pretext or other.  That’s why the manager was a bit short with you, I expect,” Beef said, looking over at me.
“The last part of this story we can only guess.  Whether Estelle Pinkerton found out that Gupp didn’t care tuppence for her and was only after her money, whether she realised that as long as he was alive he would bleed her of her fortune by blackmail, I don’t know.  Nobody except Estelle knows, and she’s not likely to tell.  It may be that Gupp was planning to murder her, knowing that while she lived to tell the tale he could never be free from fear.  She might, he felt, break down and confess sometime.  Perhaps she found out his intentions and got in first.  Anyway, the cottage that she had planned as a love nest turned out to be the scene of his death.  Her plan was simple enough.  There was nothing to connect a charming old lady, a Mrs. Welldon from London, who rented a cottage at Downland, in which subsequently the corpse of a man called Hilton Gupp would be found, with the harmless spinster Estelle Pinkerton from Cheltenham.  So she thought.
“I am going to repeat how I found out about her plans.  That telephone call of hers was her only slip, but how could she imagine she was being followed and the number traced?  Even then it was only to an hotel in Eastbourne.  If it hadn’t been for the curiosity of that colonel’s wife, Mrs. Fordyce, we might not have found her so quickly.
“All she had to do after murdering Gupp was to disappear from the bungalow and reappear as Estelle Pinkerton on her way to her grandfather in France to spend a holiday.  She would say in her letters that she felt she needed a rest after all the vulgar publicity about her uncle’s death.  She could then come back to Cheltenham and enjoy the fortune that had been left her.  With that money she hoped to find a better man than Hilton Gupp had proved to be.  Well, Inspector Arnold and I caught her just in time on the boat.  We’ve got ample evidence against her for Gupp’s murder and, if necessary, for poisoning Miss Fielding.  First, her fingerprints were on the fountain-pen of Miss Fielding’s which she borrowed to write that fatal receipt.  They’ve been compared, the Inspector tells me, and there’s no doubt.  Second, Miss Amelia Pinhole will testify that she saw a woman she now knows to be Estelle Pinkerton coming from Miss Fielding’s house on the morning of the murder.  Lastly, I think you’ve traced the receipt itself, haven’t you, Inspector?  Bath, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Inspector Arnold said.  “The receipt for the Church Missions Society was a fake, of course.  Beef suggested it was probably printed for Miss Pinkerton down in some town near her home.  Well, we found the printers, a firm in Bath.  She had given the name Mrs. Welldon, the same as she used to take the cottage in Sussex.  Very careless.”
“It’s perhaps a good thing that Gupp is dead.  We might have got the garage in Oxford to identify him, but that would have been the only bit of evidence that wasn’t circumstantial.  What do you think, Chief Inspector?”
I was glad Beef had taken the bull by the horns.  “Very interesting story,” he replied.  “Thank you very much.  I congratulate you on the Hastings part.  How far your theories will stand any real test about our case in the Cotswolds remains to be seen.  We will naturally go into the whole matter carefully.  I presume you will make a written report?”
“Oh yes,” Beef replied.  There returned to his voice a little of the old pomposity, and he spoke as though he were endowing an orphanage.  “I’m giving the whole story in writing to Inspector Arnold.  That will go to Scotland Yard and you will no doubt get a copy from your headquarters.”
“That’ll be fine,” said the Chief Inspector, but his looks did not support his words.  “Come on, Superintendent.  Enjoyable as the evening’s been, we must get back to hard work and hard facts.”
I thought I saw the fat Superintendent wink at Beef as he said good-bye.  There was certainly a twinkle in his eye.
“Had to save his face,” Inspector Arnold said to Beef when they had left the flat.  “Greenleaf will be out in a day or two, you see.”
“I thought he took it all pretty well in the end,” Beef replied.  “Come on, Inspector, we can have a real drink now.” And they did.

Neck and Neck, Chapter Twenty-One

Neck and Neck

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
   
My flat was was chosen as the place in which Beef would make his long-awaited statement, and unfold the history of Estelle Pinkerton and Hilton Gupp.  Two days only had gone by since Estelle Pinkerton’s arrest at Seahaven, and so far she had only been charged with the murder of Hilton Gupp.
London was chosen because Inspector Arnold had to come up from Hastings, and the jovial Superintendent and the Scotland Yard detective who was in charge of the Cotswold murder case had to make the journey from Gloucestershire.  Inspector Arnold was chiefly responsible for their being present.  He had become quite a Beef enthusiast after we had spent the evening with him on the night of the arrest.  Curiously, neither Beef nor I had met the man who had been sent down from Scotland Yard to take over the inquiry into Ridley’s murder when the Chief Constable had applied for help, and, as I looked at the tall spare figure whom the Superintendent introduced to us as Chief Inspector Foster, I could see that he was not altogether pleased at the turn of events.
“I hope this is not all a mare’s nest, Sergeant,” he said to Beef, his thin hatchet face showing no expression except perhaps a slight distaste for everything.  “If it hadn’t been for Inspector Arnold’s pressure I should never have come.  We’ve got a lot of work to get through to complete the prosecution’s case against Greenleaf.  It’s mostly routine stuff, I know, but it takes time.  All that Boy Scout business of yours, Mr. Beef, trailing after Greenleaf in the dark and letting him fire a revolver that night by the Druids’ Stones didn’t help.  We had him taped all right.  It was only a matter of time.  Our methods have to be slightly less spectacular than yours, but we have to be more sure.  Well, let’s get this over as quickly as possible.  I want to be away early.  I can’t imagine what help we can possibly hope to get from a meeting of this sort.”
He glanced round my room rather superciliously.  I had taken quite a lot of trouble over their reception and I disliked the way his eyes rested disapprovingly on a side table where I had arranged a number of bottles and glasses and some very pleasant sandwiches.  His disapproving glance seemed to embrace the rest of us.  The rotund Superintendent, looking even more benign than usual, was sprawled comfortably in one of my big armchairs, a pint tankard in one hand and a large sandwich in the other.  Beef and Arnold were equally at ease and obviously enjoying themselves standing in front of the fire and chatting happily.
“Well, Beef,” said Arnold, who seemed a little embarrassed by the Chief Inspector’s rudeness, for it was he, after all, who had called the meeting.  “Would you like to begin now?  I’m sure we’re all eager to hear your theory of these murders.  I know I am, even after the little that you told me the other night.”
Theory! ” the Chief Inspector echoed.  “Do you mean to say you’ve called me up all this way, Inspector, to listen to Beef’s theories?  I don’t wish to be rude, but really the whole thing seems to me most extraordinary.  I don’t know who this gentleman is”—he indicated me—“or why he is at this meeting, apart from the fact that this seems to be his flat and we’re apparently enjoying his hospitality.  Beef, I’m sure, was an excellent sergeant in the Force, before he resigned, and I dare say he does a useful business as a private detective, when he’s not playing darts.  I’m surprised at you, really, Inspector.  I’m a busy man, you know.  If Beef has any fresh facts, I’m sure he knows what he ought to do.  It’s his duty as a citizen to report them to the police.  Scotland Yard, if he prefers.  But this. . . .”
He looked round the room as if unable to express what he felt.
The Inspector began to look disappointed and a little peeved at the Scotland Yard man’s behaviour.  Beef came at once to his rescue.  He was at his best, good-humoured with just a hint of conciliation in his voice, that probably only I could tell was assumed with an inward chuckle.
“I know how you feel, sir,” Beef began, “but I think it might be worth your while to wait and hear what I have to say.  It won’t take long.  What about a nice bit of cold chicken and a drink?  Then we can all settle down comfortably and I’ll tell you my story.”
“Well, I suppose now I’m here, I’d better wait and listen to what it is you have to say,” he replied rather ungraciously, though he accepted a leg of chicken and a glass of wine.  “Any new facts that you’ve discovered I must, of course, be informed of.  Be as brief as possible, please.  The Superintendent and I are eager to get back on our case.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t had the education of some of you,” Beef began, “so I’ll have to tell the story my own way.
“It all began when I was called in by the Rev. Alfred Ridley to look into his brother’s death.  His brother, of course, was Edwin Ridley, who had been found hanging from a beam in his house in Gloucestershire.  The only thing the vicar was really worried about was whether Edwin Ridley had committed suicide, as in that case his kids would lose the very large life insurance which was due to them on their uncle’s death.  As you know, there was really no need for this because within twenty-four hours of his body being found the doctors all agreed that he had been strangled manually first and then strung up in an attempt to pass the murder off as suicide.  I should probably have been satisfied with having done what I had been asked to do, accepted a small fee from the vicar and left the police to find the murderers.  It looked a fairly ordinary sort of crime, and not particularly interesting.  However, just two days after I went down to Gold Slaughter I received your letter.”  He looked across at me.  “This was a letter written by Mr. Townsend here from Hastings to me in London, and forwarded on, saying that there was strong suspicion that his aunt had been poisoned the day before and asking me to come down and act for him and his brother as they both benefited under their aunt’s Will.  Two things struck me as curious after I’d read this letter, so much so that after a playful telegram to Mr. Townsend I decided to go down to Hastings.
“I noticed that both murders had taken place on the same day, the tenth of September.  Nothing in itself, of course, but, taken in conjunction with the other fact which I’ll tell you about later, there seemed to be some odd coincidence at work, and one thing I’ve learnt is to distrust coincidences.  You can forget one sometimes but never two.
“However, when I got to Camber Lodge—that was Miss Fielding’s house, the lady who was poisoned—I didn’t for a time think much more about Ridley’s murder.  The whole atmosphere was so different.  Ridley, by all accounts, was a mean, unpleasant, quarrelsome character, who might have been bumped off by anyone.  Blackmail, theft, revenge, there could have been a dozen good reasons and no one was really sorry to see him go.  Mr. Townsend’s aunt, Miss Aurora Fielding, on the other hand, must have been a really good lady of the old school.  You could tell that from her house, her servants and all her friends.  It was difficult to think of anyone wanting to harm her, but the evidence was quite clear.  Someone had poisoned her.  Inspector Arnold here was quite right, of course, when he advised me to concentrate on motive.  In nearly every murder the motive is either money or love.  There are, of course, a hundred variations of each, but it usually boils down in the end to one or the other.  In this case it clearly wasn’t love and everything pointed to money.  She was a wealthy old girl.  Most of her money had been originally left—and this was common knowledge—in equal shares to Mr. Townsend, his brother Vincent and to a cousin, Hilton Gupp.  There were other bequests I’ll come to later, but the bulk went to them.  At first sight these three would be the most likely suspects.  Mr. Lionel Townsend, whose flat this is, I dismissed pretty well right away.  I knew him too well.  For one thing he hasn’t the right temperament, and for another he’d have made a muck of it somewhere, I felt sure, if he’d tried.  His brother Vincent was a possibility, but the most obvious suspect was their cousin Hilton Gupp.  He was almost the perfect suspect.  He was badly in debt and his whole future was threatened if he didn’t get hold of some cash quick.  His appearance was against him, too, with his dissipated good looks.  Anyone could see he was a bad lot.  One thing, however, seemed to clear him completely, and that was that he was nearly a hundred miles away when the murder was committed.  His alibi was put to every test by the police, but they couldn’t break it.
“He had recently returned with a bad record from the East Indies and had tried to borrow some money from his aunt.  He had on that visit broken into her desk and had a look at her Will to make sure he was still included.  She happened to see him doing it and cut him right out the next day.  He didn’t know that.  If she’d have told him, she’d be alive today.”
“You mean that after all this you’re going to tell us that Hilton Gupp murdered Aurora Fielding?” gasped Chief Inspector Foster.  “We know that he was nowhere near Hastings.”
Beef held up his huge hand.
“Hold on a minute,” he said.  “I’ll come to everything in time.  I was just going to say that I settled down to routine enquiries as prescribed, questioning the witnesses and examining what evidence there was.  Just at this time I could not help wondering what was behind the behaviour of Mr. Townsend’s brother Vincent and a distant relation Miss Payne, who was Miss Fielding’s companion.  They were obviously afraid of some discovery connected with a medicine chest, the key of which had been lost and was found on the top of Mr. Vincent Townsend’s wardrobe.  However, I soon got to the bottom of that.  Miss Payne was an addict to sleeping tablets.  The maid mentioned that Miss Fielding occasionally took a sleeping tablet, but that the last lot had disappeared unexpectedly quickly.  I found an old bottle and had a word with the chemist.  There was no morphia in these tablets, but he was surprised at the number which Miss Fielding’s companion used to order.  Mr. Vincent Townsend had discovered her weakness.  They were in love with one another before the murder but didn’t realize it—and he’d tried to stop Miss Payne taking them by purposely losing the key.  When, just about this time, Miss Fielding was found to have been poisoned, each one feared for the other and they even began to suspect one another of the crime.  That was when they hardly exchanged a word and tried to avoid each other’s company.  Gupp heard about the key of the medicine chest being found on Vincent Townsend’s wardrobe from the cook’s husband, Raikes, and when he failed one night to get a fairly large sum of money out of the Townsend brothers by threats, he went and put the wind up Miss Payne properly.  He led her to believe that Vincent Townsend was about to be arrested and she, too, probably.  That was when she tried to drown herself.
“I then examined the possibility that it was someone outside who had done the poisoning.  The most likely opportunity for this was for someone to put the morphia in the sherry which Miss Fielding and her visitors had drunk on the morning of her death.  Inspector Arnold told me that no trace of poison could be found either in the used glasses or in the decanter, but I discovered that there had been a goldfish bowl in the room—but more about that later.  I then tried to question all the people who had visited Miss Fielding on the morning of her death.  Three of them had fairly strong motives, one had every reason to keep Miss Fielding alive, and one could not be traced.  Those who had a motive were the vicar and Miss Fielding’s two great friends, the Misses Graves.  Miss Fielding had left five hundred pounds to the church’s restoration fund, and the vicar was crazy about restoring some old pictures on the wall.  In fact later he overworked himself on this job and is still in a mental home.  The Misses Graves were as poor as church mice, and very slowly coming to the time when they would be ‘talked about’.  There would be rumours of them ‘owing tradesmen money’.  For people like them this was probably the worst tragedy that could happen.  Worse than death.  They’d even had a summons or two which must have seemed like the end of the world.  Even so I didn’t really consider either them or the vicar as likely to have done a murder, but I had to keep them still in mind.  Of the other two visitors, as I said before, one had every reason to keep Miss Fielding alive.  Rich ladies who still employed a dressmaker like Amelia Pinhole were quickly dying out, and I bet Miss Fielding was worth quite a lot to her every year.  The visitor, the lady who came collecting for missionaries, was never traced, though Townsend here found the receipt which was given that morning to Miss Fielding.
“Somehow, as I looked over my lists of suspects, I always came back to Hilton Gupp.  It was you, Inspector, who first put the idea of an accomplice into my head.  You remember when we were chatting after the inquest.  I said something about the person who’d done it, and you put in a remark that started me on the right track.  ‘Person or persons,’ you said.  I always in my bones felt that Gupp was at the back of the murder, somehow.  His story was so pat and his alibi so well-founded.  He seemed almost anxious to tell us where he was when the murder was committed, didn’t he?  Well, I thought, he still could be involved if he had an accomplice, and there, ready-made, was one for him.  I mean Raikes, of course, the cook’s husband.  I hadn’t met him, but from all accounts he seemed to have sailed pretty close to the wind all his life.  Also he was cleaning windows that morning at Camber Lodge.
“I had already guessed from that business of young Charlie, the cook’s son, selling his motor-bike and the money reappearing, that Raikes had stolen the twenty quid from Miss Fielding’s purse.  It was only when I met him at Lewes races that I realized that he wasn’t the type for murder.  Too weak a character altogether.  A cheap crook, a petty thief, lazy, idle, good-for-nothing, yes, but not a chap to get mixed up in murder.  Even the small threat I bluffed him with sent him off in a blue funk.  Afterwards I guessed a bit more why he was so frightened, but that comes in my story later.  I must tell you about my win at those races sometime.
“I began then to think back about other murders, and it struck me that you don’t often find a murderer with an accomplice.  A murderer daren’t trust another human soul with his secret.  It only occurs when the two of them are involved together, when both their necks are in danger of the noose.  You, Inspector Arnold, had another pair in mind, I think—Mr. Vincent Townsend and the companion, Miss Payne.  I shouldn’t be surprised if their getting married didn’t encourage you in that theory.”
Inspector Arnold nodded, and Beef went on.
“I think it was about this time that I began to realize there was a curious similarity about the crimes, apart from their being committed on the same day.  Both victims were rich and all likely suspects had unimpeachable alibis.  I also noted in my mind that Miss Fielding was poisoned, which was more often a woman’s crime, whereas Ridley was strangled and then strung up, which could only have been done by a man.  These ideas of mine were only floating about in the back of my mind then.
“I said earlier that there was another curious fact I discovered in the Cotswolds that sent me hurrying down to Hastings when I got Mr. Townsend’s letter.  In the room where Ridley was murdered were shelves and shelves of books.  On a table was a small parcel of books still wrapped loosely in newspaper, with brown paper outside.  The books didn’t mean much to me and the brown paper was blank, but the newspaper was the Sussex Gazette, dated the sixteenth of August.  But the really interesting thing that really struck me after I had received Mr. Townsend’s letter was the pencil mark that newsagents so often make on the top right-hand corner for the delivery boy.  It was roughly scribbled but I could still make out ‘Camber Highfield’.  Now Miss Fielding’s notepaper, which Mr. Townsend had used for his letter, was headed ‘Camber Lodge, Highfield Road, Hastings’.  The date worried me a little.  It seemed a long way back till I remembered that Gupp had paid a visit to Camber Lodge on the twentieth of August.  He had left in a hurry and might easily have used the Sussex Gazette to pack with.  Could the books have come from him?  I remembered he was staying in Oxford at the time, as his alibi proved.  I recalled then how, when I questioned him about anything to do with his alibi for Miss Fielding’s murder, he was full of bounce, but when I touched on where he was on the night of Miss Fielding’s murder, he seemed nervous.  That was, of course, the night when Ridley was strangled.
“Naturally, at that time it was all vague suspicion, but my theory was forming.  It seemed far-fetched, almost fantastic.  What connection could there possibly be between Hilton Gupp and Edwin Ridley?  Gupp had been abroad for two or three years and had no link with Gloucestershire, and Ridley hadn’t been away from the Cots wolds for several months.  I couldn’t find anything in common between the two of them.  Yet there was the Sussex Gazette with Miss Fielding’s address on it in Ridley’s house, and both these two rich elderly persons were murdered on the same day.  It certainly was a problem.  You, gentlemen, must be getting tired of listening to my voice, and I could do with a drink.”
I quickly suggested a break while we had a drink and snack.  I had looked across nervously at Chief Inspector Foster once or twice while Beef had been talking, half expecting an interruption, but I was amused, though not surprised, to see that he was as taken up by Beef’s account as the rest of us.  His eyes never left Beef throughout this long speech.
“Beef certainly seems to have stolen a march on you, Inspector,” the Chief Inspector was saying to Arnold.
Arnold smiled.  “He certainly did,” he replied.  “He’s not finished his story yet, though, not by a long chalk.”

Neck and Neck, Chapter Twenty

Neck and Neck

CHAPTER TWENTY
   
The next morning Beef left me to clear up the breakfast—we had raided Miss Pinker ton’s larder—while he went into the town.  He had some enquiries to make, but I noticed that he had a good look at the garden in daylight before he left.
“Looking for traces of newly disturbed earth,” I said, laughing at him, as he pounded round the minute lawn and flowerbeds.
It was nearly ten before Beef returned, and I could tell by his brisk walk as he strode in that he had been successful.
“Quick,” he began breathlessly, “we’re off back to Sussex as fast as that car of yours can go.  I’ll tell you more as we go along.  You put our stuff in the car while I just have a word with Mrs. Fordyce.  I don’t want her gossiping round the place at this time.  It might ruin everything.”
It was a perfect day for a drive, I thought, as I got the car ready.  There had been a mist early in the morning but now pale September sunlight was streaming down from a cloudless sky.  I could feel a pleasant autumn nip in the air as I carried our bags and put them in the back.  Down the road came scurrying noisily a wave of dry brown leaves, caught in a sudden gust, and I realised that autumn was fully upon us.
When Beef joined me, I lost no time in getting out of Cheltenham.  As soon as we were clear of the town, Beef told me what he had discovered that morning.  With the aid of the local police, which he had managed to enlist after a call had been put through to the Superintendent in charge of the Cotswold murder case, as it was called, he had traced the long-distance call that Estelle Pinkerton had made on the Sunday.  It was to an hotel in Eastbourne.  Fortunately Mrs. Fordyce had overheard the name of Mrs. White, to whom Miss Pinkerton had been phoning.  Beef at once got through to the hotel and found there was a Mrs. White staying there.
“When at last they got this Mrs. White to the phone I had a devil of a job.  To begin with she said she’d never heard of anyone called Pinkerton and she had not had any dealings with anyone at Cheltenham for many years.  I was afraid she would ring off.  I asked her if she’d let her house to the lady who’d phoned on Sunday afternoon.  ‘Oh, you mean Mrs. Welldon.  Yes, I’m afraid it’s gone.  Mrs. Welldon, a charming old lady, called yesterday for the keys and settled everything.  Only it’s not a house, you know.  It’s only a bungalow.  I said so in the advertisement.’  After that it was easy.  I soon got the name and address of the bungalow.  It was clear that our friend Estelle Pinkerton was calling herself Mrs. Welldon.  I’ve got the address here in my notebook.  Chalk Cottage, Downland, Sussex.  Do you know this place, Downland?”
“Gracious, yes,” I replied with a smile.  “It’s only a small village.  Quite near Hastings.”
With the very mention of the village of Downland, I was back nearly twenty years.  I could almost smell the yellow gorse and hear again the plaintive cry of the seagulls as they wheeled around those high white cliffs.  How often had Vincent and I set out from Aunt Aurora’s house, our lunch and bathing costumes tied to our saddles, and cycled over the hills till we came to that remote gap where then a few coastguard cottages were the only sign of human life?  I could still see the wreck of a small coaster that for years rusted away against the cliffs.  What dreams we had had about her in those far-off sunlit days.  It was under those very cliffs, I remembered, that at the age of twelve I had smoked my first cigarette.
“We’d better stop for a bite of lunch soon,” Beef said, abruptly interrupting my thoughts of the past.  “We’ll be in Lewes in a few minutes.”
I had kept the needle of the speedometer well up as we had sped across southern England.  Through Lechlade and Faringdon, past Wantage and along by the Thames to Pangbourne and Reading we had come without a pause.  Guildford and Horsham were now behind us.  I, too, was ready to stop for a drink and a sandwich.  Neither of us, I could tell, were in any mood to linger long.  Beef appeared restless and anxious, and was also feeling an excited curiosity about what would come at the end of this long quest.
At last we turned down the narrow lane that led to the village of Downland, and I was agreeably surprised to find that the place had not changed as much as I had feared.  It was, of course, late in the year, but although a number of new buildings had sprung up since I was here, the village still preserved its air of lonely isolation.
“Miss Pinkerton told Mrs. White that her doctor had ordered her a month’s complete rest away from everyone.  It looks as if she’d get it here,” Beef said, as he looked down the deserted street.
There was the usual village shop that appeared to sell everything, and Beef led the way towards it.
“We’ll find out where Chalk Cottage is, anyhow,” he said.  “I bet it’s the centre of village gossip here.  We may hear something.”
A middle-aged woman was alone behind the counter, and when we enquired for Chalk Cottage she came to the shop door and pointed out a small white bungalow some quarter of a mile away up the downs.
“That’s Chalk Cottage,” she said, seeming eager to chatter.  “A lady and gentleman came there yesterday.  You’d be friends of theirs, I dare say.”
Beef agreed that we were on our way to visit them, and took some time over the purchase of two ounces of tobacco.
“Been empty long?” he asked.
“Ever since the end of August,” she replied.  “I was quite surprised when I saw the taxi go up yesterday afternoon.  I mean, it’s not the time of year you expect visitors, is it?”
Beef muttered some reply and then asked her if she had seen the newcomers yet.
“No, not yet,” she replied.  “I haven’t seen them about today at all, though it’s been a lovely day.  They’ll have to come here sometime, though, unless they want to take a bus to Hastings for every little thing.”
We walked out and began to drive up the hill towards Chalk Cottage.  We had only gone a hundred yards or so when the track ended and there was only a footpath with the sign “Chalk Cottage” on the gate.  Leaving the car we climbed on up through the small garden that surrounded the bungalow.
There was no sign of life as we approached, and I began to fear we were going to find another empty house.  Beef rang the bell and knocked loudly on the front door, but there was no answer.  There was no need this time to climb in through a window, as the front door proved to be unlocked.  We passed through the tiny entrance into a living-room, but here there was no sign that anyone had recently been in occupation.  Beyond lay a kitchen which looked equally deserted.
“The bedrooms must be the other side of the hall,” Beef said.  “There are none here.”
“This must be the way to them,” I said, as I pushed open a door on the further side of the hall.
I walked in and then suddenly stopped.  A large double bed filled most of the room and in the centre was a strange swelling.  Something or somebody was in that bed.  I could not move.  Beef, by this time, had also entered the room.
He stood looking down at the bed for a moment and then bent down and slowly pulled back the bedclothes.
There, clad only in pyjamas, lay the body of Hilton Gupp.
Beef leaned forward and put out his hand.  “Cold as mutton,” he said.  He made a quick examination of the body and then covered the unpleasant sight up again.
“Must have been poisoned,” he said.  “There are no marks on the body that I can find.  And a chap like Gupp doesn’t just die.  Not at a time like this.”
I was glad when Beef left the bedroom and closed and locked the door, putting the key in his pocket.  He returned to the sitting-room, sat down and began to fill his pipe.
“Beef,” I said irritably, “surely there are a hundred things we ought to be doing.  What about informing the police and getting a doctor?”
He lit a match and puffed slowly at his pipe.  Then he began to examine a small green booklet.  “Local bus timetable this,” he said.  “It had fallen down beside the bed.
“Is there a railway station anywhere near?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.  “Hastings would be the nearest.  And you won’t find there are many buses either.”
Beef began turning over the leaves of the book.
“ Ah, here we are,” he said.” Downland.  Good gracious, there’s no bus in the morning from here until eleven-ten.  She couldn’t have walked because of her suitcase.  Besides, there was no reason to.  She couldn’t have known we were coming here.”
“Miss Pinkerton?” I asked.
Beef nodded.
“I see there’s a bus that goes through to Seahaven.  That’s where the channel boats sail from.  Yes, and by Jove there’s a pencil mark against it.  I wonder if we’re going to be lucky.  Do you remember how she talked about her French grandfather when she was shewing you those sketches of Brittany?  France, that’s where she’s gone, I’ll bet.  As far as she knows there’s nothing in the world to connect Mrs. Welldon, the lady who took this bungalow, with Estelle Pinkerton of Cheltenham.  All she had to do, she thought, was to stay away for a bit and come back and enjoy her money.  It’s a good chance she’s gone abroad.  Sort of thing she’d have read about.  But we’ll find her, wherever she’s gone.” He rose briskly and led the way down the hill from Chalk Cottage towards the village of Downland.
“First I’m going to phone Inspector Arnold at Hastings.  He’ll be able to check up on the cross-channel boats.  If there’s a village policeman we’d better get him to guard Chalk Cottage, but Arnold can look after the rest—doctors and so on.  If she hasn’t tried to slip across the channel, it may take a little time to find her.”
There was a telephone booth in the village street which Beef at once entered.  He was some time, but at last came out looking pleased with himself.
“I managed to get hold of Arnold himself, fortunately.  He’s got a description of Estelle Pinkerton and is putting it out everywhere.  I told him I thought she couldn’t have left this place till the eleven-ten bus.  We know they didn’t arrive till late yesterday afternoon and there was no bus out of here after that.  We should have heard, I think, if there’d been a car around here last night.  Anyway, she wouldn’t want to draw attention to herself.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t put the poison in his early-morning cup of tea.  That would give her plenty of time to clear the place up and get away by that bus.  Arnold looked up the boats from Seahaven when I suggested that, and he found there’s one this evening at six o’clock.  The one before that sailed at ten this morning, so I don’t think she can have caught it.  I told him that I’d meet him at Seahaven police station.  We’ll just see the local bobby.  Arnold will do the rest.”
The local police constable, whom we found in his cottage, had already had a call from Hastings, and was preparing to go up and guard Chalk Cottage until the police doctor arrived.  There was nothing else for us to do in Downland and we were just preparing to drive off when the old woman came out of the village shop.
“You missed the lady at Chalk Cottage, then?” she said.  “I’ve just heard she was seen getting on the Hastings bus this morning at eleven, but I expect she’ll be back on the four o’clock.  That’s the last.  They all come back on that when they’ve been to Hastings from here.  If she’d got on at this stop I’d have seen her myself, but she walked along to Bylands Corner.  Nearly a mile.  Dragging two suitcases, too.”
We were in the car by this time, and, waving good-bye, we made our escape.
When we got to Seahaven police station Beef went in to find Inspector Arnold, but it was nearly twenty minutes later before he reappeared with the Inspector.
“No reports have come in about her yet,” Beef said to me, as they climbed into the car.  “But we’re going to watch the passengers on to the Seahaven boat.”
“It seems quite a likely chance,” the Inspector added, after greeting me.  “That marked bus time-table and her French grandfather.  All the other stations have been warned, so there’s nothing else we can do for the moment.”
“I’ve got a man watching everyone going on.  There’s a little spot just before they come to the customs.  A disused office with glass windows.  Everyone has to pass it.  We often use it in cases like this.”
The road came to an abrupt end at a stone wall and the Inspector jumped out and unlocked a door which led to the outer harbour.  Just before the customs shed, he stopped.
“Here we are,” he said, opening the door of one of the station offices.  “Any luck yet?” he said to a man who was standing at the window.
“A few have gone through,” the plain-clothes policeman replied, “but no one answering the description you gave me.  A family, father, mother and two young girls.  That couldn’t have been her.  An old woman about seventy, two or three business men, and a party of three clergymen.”
“Well, it’s early yet,” the Inspector said, and we settled down to wait.  As each passenger approached Beef and I looked eagerly for any sign of Estelle Pinkerton, but no one even remotely resembling her came by.  I could see Beef was getting restless.  He kept looking at his watch and then eagerly down the platform.
“She’ll have to hurry if she’s going to catch it now,” the Inspector was saying, when Beef suddenly jumped up.
“Inspector, you must get me on that boat,” he said excitedly, taking Arnold by the arm and dragging him out of the office.  “I’m sure I’m not wrong.  She’s on there all right.  Remember what Mrs. White said,” he went on, turning to me as we hurried forward.  “ ‘A charming old lady.’  I thought it was funny at the time, talking of a woman not forty.  ’Course she was dressed up as an old woman.  She’s the old lady your chap saw go by.  Naturally he wouldn’t think of her.  She told us she went in for amateur dramatics.”
Inspector Arnold was, it seemed, well known to the officials at Seahaven and we were soon all three aboard in the purser’s office.
“No,” he said, in reply to Beef’s eager query.  “We haven’t any old lady aboard this time, thank heavens.  Not one.  Have a look if you like, but I watched them all come aboard.”
Beef thought for a moment, and then produced a photograph.  “Seen anyone like her?” he asked anxiously.  “Oh yes,” the purser replied, putting down the photograph, which I recognised as one of Estelle Pinkerton that I had last seen in Fairy Glen.  “She’s taken a cabin.  No. 34.  I’ll shew you where it is.”
Beef and the Inspector jumped up and led the way, and after knocking opened the door of cabin 34.
I never want to see again the expression I saw on Estelle Pinkerton’s face as she recognised Beef.  Fury.  Fear.  Frustration.  A suffusion of blood and then a deathly pallor.  At first she hardly seemed to hear when the Inspector said that he wished to question her, and asked her to accompany him off the boat.  When he mentioned the name of Hilton Gupp, she swayed and I thought she would fall, but she allowed herself to be led down the gangway and into the police car that Inspector Arnold had ordered.
As we came towards my car a plain-clothes policeman came forward with a bundle in his arms.
“These have just been found in the ladies’ cloak-room,” he said, displaying a black bonnet and coat and a wig of silver hair.
“She had to be herself to pass the customs,” Beef said.  “Her passport and everything.  I’d forgotten that.  Besides, her whole plan depended on her going aboard as Miss Pinkerton, taking an ordinary holiday.”
“It very nearly came off.  If it hadn’t been for you, Beef, she’d have been on her way by now,” the Inspector added generously.  “All I hope is that you’ve got all the proof you say you have.  To look at her you wouldn’t think she’d hurt a fly, would you?  You can never tell with poisoners.  I shouldn’t have thought she’d had it in her to do one murder, let alone two.”
“Two?” I asked.
“So Beef tells me,” the Inspector replied.
Beef nodded.

Neck and Neck, Chapter Nineteen

Neck and Neck

CHAPTER NINETEEN
   
Estelle Pinketon’s house showed no lights as we looked towards it from the garden gate.  The blinds were drawn, certainly, but not even a faint glow showed anywhere.  The chimney was smokeless, though it was late September.  The whole place had a cold and deserted look.
“Doesn’t look as if anyone was at home,” I said to Beef, as we looked across the little lawn whose ornaments were mercifully hidden by the dark.
“I’m not taking any chances from now on.  We’ll have a scout round after we’ve tried the bell,” Beef replied, and went forward to the front door.  I followed.  The house was still and silent and I had quite a shock when the silence was broken by the shrill tinkle of a bell until I realised that it was Beef who had rung.  Not a sound came from within.  Beef then beat a loud tattoo on the knocker, but this was equally without result, though the sounds echoed through the house.
“Enough to wake the dead,” I said, and then, suddenly realising the significance of what I had said, I felt a cold shiver run through me.
“We’ll go right round the house and see if we can find a way in.  Look out for an unlatched window,” Beef said.  The back of the house was as deserted as the front, but I did notice an open window on the floor above, which I pointed out to Beef.  As we came to the front again, we saw the light of a torch at the front gate.  I felt Beef’s hand on my arm.  It was impossible to see who it was, but a few seconds later the beam of the torch was focused on us as we stood by the porch.
“Were you looking for Miss Pinkerton?” we heard a woman’s voice saying.  Beef said that we were, and for a minute the light of the torch moved over us, up and down.
“You must excuse me,” the voice continued, “but I’m terrified of burglars.  I’m Miss Pinkerton’s next-door neighbour.  I heard someone knocking at her door so I thought I’d better come and see who it was.  I’m afraid you won’t find her in.  She’s gone away, I think.”
“Are you Mrs. Fordyce, madam?” Beef asked.
“Yes.  How did you know?” she replied.  Beef then told her of the vicar’s visit that morning.  She seemed amply reassured about us after that.
“You’d better come along to my house.  It’s only just a few yards,” she said leading the way.
We were introduced to a rather ancient representative of the Army, who sat motionless in a leather armchair.  The only contribution he made to the whole scene was to lower his Blackwood’s for a moment when Mrs. Fordyce said, “My husband, Colonel Fordyce.”
No encouragement was necessary, however, to make Mrs. Fordyce speak.  She was obviously dying to tell us her story.
“I’m really very worried about Estelle Pinkerton,” she began.  “It’s all so strange and so unlike her.  If I hadn’t known her all these years, I should be tempted to put the very worst construction on the whole thing.”
“Perhaps you’d tell us everything from the beginning, Mrs. Fordyce?” Beef said.
“Yes, that would be best,” she said, “or else I shall go running on and you won’t know what I’m talking about, will you?”
She beamed across at Beef.  “It all really began on Friday.  I’d just gone in to ask her about a recipe of hers.  We were having some people to dinner that night and Estelle was so clever with her souffles.  It was after lunch, I remember, and she was just seeing me off at the front gate when a telegraph boy came up and gave her a telegram.  ’Oh dear,’ she exclaimed when she’d read it, ’now I’ll have to go back to the town and do some more shopping.’ But all the same she seemed pleased and excited.  There was no answer to send so the boy cycled off, but I waited expecting that Estelle would tell me her news.  She had always confided in me.  Well, that is until recently, but that’s another story.  I asked if she’d had bad news, trying to win her confidence, but she wouldn’t say any more.”
“You say that recently, Mrs. Fordyce, you’ve noticed some change in Miss Pinkerton.  She didn’t confide in you as she used to.  Did she behave at all differently with other people?  Did you think there was anything on her mind?”
Mrs. Fordyce thought for a moment.
“Yes, I think there was a difference,” she replied slowly, weighing her words.  “I’ve noticed it for over a month now, ever since her holidays.  She seemed—oh, how shall I put it?  I know it sounds silly, but she seemed to have grown up.  Before she would be round here asking our advice on every tiny little thing.  Recently she seems to have taken her own decisions.  Why, when she heard she had inherited all that money by her uncle’s death, she took it so calmly.  Not a bit as I expected.  Well, I must get on with my story.  Friday evening a taxi drew up outside her house, but I was cooking dinner and only just had time to see someone going towards, her front door with a suitcase.  Believe it or not, I wouldn’t like to swear it in a court of law, but I’m convinced it was a man.  A youngish man at that.  Next morning I saw nothing of Estelle or her visitor, though I was in the garden for an hour or two.  After lunch I thought I’d just drop in and see her.”
I saw a look of understanding pass between Beef and Mrs. Fordyce.
“Yes,” she went on with a smile, “I just had to try and satisfy my curiosity, but, I’m sorry to say, I had no luck.
When I rang, Estelle came to the door, but for the first time since we’ve known each other she didn’t ask me in.  I knew something funny was going on then.  We chatted for a few minutes and then Estelle said she had something in the oven and asked me to excuse her.  Well, all that Saturday I kept my eyes open, but it wasn’t until the evening, just after the news, that I saw anything.  Even then I only managed just to catch a glimpse of Estelle going out of her gate.  She went hurriedly down the road the other way.  All I could see was that she wasn’t alone and her companion was a man.  You know about the telephone call on Sunday, and how her other uncle, the vicar, called me again.  Well, after he’d called I was so worried I thought I’d try and have a talk with Estelle.  I went round to the house, but, though I rang and knocked as you did just now, I couldn’t get any answer, and that’s the last I’ve heard or seen of Estelle Pinkerton.  I tried again this morning, but there was still no answer.  That’s why I ran out when I heard a noise at her door tonight.  It’s such a relief to confide in someone.  It hardly seemed a case for the police.  If she wants to go away and not tell us where she’s going, that’s her business, but I must say I felt hurt after being such friends all these years.”
Beef handled her beautifully, and assured her she could safely leave everything to him.
“I feel better already,” she said, and I could see that Beef had made another conquest.  “Mr. Beef, do let me get you something.  I’m afraid I can’t ask you to a meal.  We only picnic on Sunday night.  Perhaps a glass of sherry or a whisky?”
“Well, madam, it’s very kind of you,” Beef said, smiling and rising to his feet.  “Perhaps a whisky would go down nicely, but I mustn’t be long.  I’m going to have a look at that house next door, if I have to break in.  I don’t like the sound of your story.”
Whether it was Beef rising to his feet or the word whisky, I do not know, but the silent figure of Colonel Fordyce came suddenly to life.  With a swiftness and dexterity surprising for his years, he whipped out a decanter of whisky and some glasses.  I noticed, however, that it was Mrs. Fordyce who had unlocked the corner cupboard where the whisky was kept.
“Excuse me for a few minutes,” she said.  “Henry, look after them, but remember what the doctor told you.”
“Jolly glad you chaps came along tonight,” he said, looking carefully at the closed door.  “My wife, excellent woman, keeps me very short on rations.  I can’t get out on Sunday nights.  Come on, put that down and we’ll have another.”
When we had finished our drinks we said good night to the Colonel and his wife and made our way back to the house next door.  It was very dark now and we were glad of Beef’s torch.  There was no change.  No light had appeared anywhere in Miss Pinkerton’s house, and no sound could be heard.  Beef rang again.  The sound of the bell ringing in that empty house gave me the shivers.  There was something eerie about it.
“Well,” said Beef, “there’s only one thing for it.  You’ll have to climb in that open window.  I’m too big.  We’re breaking the law, I know, but I must get in that house somehow.  It’s a matter of life and death.”
Something about that empty house filled me with apprehension, and as I looked at the darkened windows I felt a strange reluctance to face the task of penetrating the inside alone in the darkness, but, as Beef had said, there was nothing else for it.  We found a small ladder in a toolshed and I climbed up slowly, rung by rung.  I came level with the window and peered in rather nervously, shining Beef’s torch around inside.  The window was only on a landing and I clambered in.  As I made my way to an electric-light switch, which I had located with the torch, I tried to overcome my nervousness by saying to myself that there could not be anyone inside, but I was glad when I turned the switch and the light came on.  I hurried down the stairs and quickly opened the front door and let Beef in.
Slowly and methodically Beef went from room to room, examining cupboards and even looking under the beds and in trunks.
“Well,” he said, as we finished investigating a small attic, “there doesn’t appear to be anything here.”
I had by this time fully expected to find a corpse, and I felt sure that Beef himself was slightly relieved that our search had revealed nothing so gruesome.
Everything in the house was in perfect order.  Every plate and dish was neatly arranged.  Saucepans hung from their hooks clean and polished and the beds were made and covered with coloured counterpanes.  The only sign of recent habitation was the ashes of the fire.  Beef bent down and felt the fire-bricks.
“That’s not been out many hours,” he said.  “It looks as if we’re just too late.  I must go through this place and see if I can find anything that’ll tell us where she’s gone.  Go and get that grub from the car.  We may as well make ourselves comfortable.  You can get a meal ready while I’m looking round.”
He went towards a rather nice-looking bureau, which was unlocked and full of papers.  “This may give some clue,” he said, as he began to go through the various pigeon-holes.  I left him to it and, after collecting the food and drink from the car, went into Estelle Pinkerton’s neat little kitchen.
When I brought the meal I had prepared into the living-room, Beef was still busy at the desk.  “Shan’t be long,” he said.  “She keeps everything nice and tidy.”
In a few minutes he closed the last drawer and came and sat down.
“Nothing much to go on here,” he said, as he helped himself to a sandwich.  “I can’t find her cheque book, but if she’s gone away that would explain it.  Her paying-in book’s there.  There’s an entry there I don’t much like.  She paid in a cheque today, Monday, for two thousand pounds.  An advance from the solicitor, I expect.  If she paid that in today, it looks as if she’s been to the bank and probably drawn something out.  After this I’m going through the house from top to bottom and then we’ll have another word with Mrs. Fordyce.  I bet she’d know, if she came over here, whether any of Miss Pinkerton’s clothes are gone, or whether any suit-cases are missing.  Women living as close as they did would be able to tell you down to the last nylon what the other had.  That would help.  Anyhow it’ll tell us for certain whether she’s gone away or not.”
When he had finished his meal and lit his pipe, Beef wandered out of the room.  Presently I heard his footsteps overhead.
When he finally came back, he had a copy of Dalton’s Advertiser in his hand, which he added to the few papers he had taken from the bureau.
“We’ll go and see Mrs. Fordyce again,” he announced, and led the way out of the house.
Mrs. Fordyce seemed pleased to see us again and agreed at once to coming across to the empty house and seeing if she could tell us what was missing.
“I expect she’s wearing her green tweeds,” Mrs. Fordyce said as we entered Fairy Glen.  “She would this cold weather.  Especially if she were going by train.”
We left her to examine Estelle Pinkerton’s bedroom and the small box-room, and I could tell from her manner the task was not altogether unwelcome.
“She’s taken the two big adjustable suitcases that she bought this summer for her trip,” Mrs. Fordyce said, as she rejoined us.
“I can tell you that for certain.  The little brown one she used to use for her London visits is not there, but she did talk of giving that away.  Her tweeds are not there either, as I suspected, and her new evening dress isn’t hanging in the wardrobe, but it might be at the cleaners.  There’s another coat and skirt I can’t find.  It looks as if she’s taken quite a bit.  There are practically no stockings or handkerchiefs left and all the brushes and things from her dressing-table are gone.”
Beef thanked her.
“Gone for quite a time, I should say,” Mrs. Fordyce went on.  “I do think it strange of her not to come and tell me.”
“Madam, you can’t think of anything that would help us to trace where she’s gone, can you?  Any little thing she’s said or done.”
Mrs. Fordyce looked across thoughtfully at Beef.
“Well, there is just one curious thing I forgot to mention.  While she was waiting on Sunday night for a call from her uncle—she always comes in and has coffee with us you know on Sunday evenings—she asked if she might put a call through herself.  Our phone, you know, is in the morning-room.  While she was there, I strolled through to the library.  Quite by chance, you know,” she added with an innocent smile.  Beef smiled too.  They knew.  “Well, there’s only a thin partition between the morning-room and the library, but you don’t notice it.  The morning-room has been papered over and the books cover the library wall.  I did just manage to hear her say.  ‘Thank you, Mrs. White, I’ll sign the agreement and pay a month in advance when I see you.’  I didn’t catch any more, because she seemed to be finishing her conversation and I thought I’d better hurry back.  I was quite surprised when she came in a few minutes later and opened her purse.  ‘I owe you this for a trunk call,’ she said, and handed me some silver.  ‘I checked with the exchange.  It’s quite correct.’  I had naturally thought she was just making a local call.  Apart from calling her uncles, I’ve hardly ever known Estelle make a long-distance call, especially on a Sunday.”  Beef listened patiently to this new episode.  “I’ll have that call traced in the morning,” he said.  “We can’t do much more tonight.  We’ll see you back to your house, madam, and thank you very much for your help.”
At her invitation, I ran my car into Mrs. Fordyce’s drive and Beef and I returned to spend a cheerless night at Fairy Glen.
Somehow I could not rid myself of the strange feeling I had had earlier in the evening when Beef asked me to climb into the house.
“I suppose she has gone away, Beef?” I asked uneasily.
“Well, she’s not here, is she?” he answered.
“I believe you half expected to find her corpse here, didn’t you?” I said.
“When people have done one premeditated murder,” Beef replied, “they seem to think nothing of doing another.  I don’t say I expected a body here necessarily, but I thought it was on the cards.  I must say, it does seem as if Miss Pinker-ton got away from here.” He looked around the room as if expecting to find some answer to her disappearance. 
“I’d give a lot to know what’s happening to her now,” he added.