“I saw it all,” said Beef, “but there was not a chance of getting a conviction. Even if I could prove that Cosmo had committed suicide and that Gray had made it look like murder it would not help much. I might have been able to prove that much, because the person who burnt the mallet could have been no one else. Everyone had an alibi for that time—except Zena Ducrow, perhaps. But it would not have given me much satisfaction to get him on a minor charge. As for the murder of Freda—I hadn’t a hope of proving it. I might produce evidence that Gray had left Rudolf’s car in London and taken it out that day. I might even shew that he had been in Folkover with it. But there would be no way of making a jury believe beyond doubt that he had deliberately stunned Freda and pushed her car over Greynose Point. My own evidence for that was highly circumstantial.
“But I was not going to let him get away with it altogether, and I worked out this little scheme by which he would at least do a few years in prison for attempted murder, even if we should achieve no more.
“I had to take someone into my confidence, so I went to Bomb Mills and between us we fixed up the little gadget which three of you saw used. We made a sort of rough waistcoat of sailcloth coming to a loop behind, then looped a steel cable round the chimney stack. The cable had a spring hank on it so that all I had to do when I was ready was to attach the hook to the loop in the small of my back and there we were.
“Then I had to shew Gray that I had got him taped. I got a little bit tiddly, pretended to be a good deal more, and brought out in my conversation that I knew about the burnt croquet mallet, about him and Cosmo going downstairs that night and about Rudolf’s car in the car-park at Folkover. Also I made it clear that I had not yet reported these things to the police. That was quite enough. He saw, as I wanted him to do, that his only chance of avoiding arrest was to kill me this evening.
“You may think I was underrating the intelligence of a man who had shewn himself a very clever murderer. I don’t think so. You see, with a man like that I can be sure of one thing—he will underrate me. Mr. Townsend always writes up my cases as though I was a half-wit who luckily tumbles on the solution, and though Gray did not think quite that, he didn’t suppose I was much of a match for him. And, as I say, I was a little drunk—he saw I wasn’t acting the part.
“With everything ready on the roof and witnesses hidden on the roof of the other wing, I did my stuff downstairs then furtively crept away . . .”
Beef’s expression as he said this resembled that of the demon barber of Fleet Street, and there was a little laughter in the room. He took that in good humour.
“Well, I did,” he said. “Bit staggery on my feet, but furtive as a fox at the same time. That got him, and he followed me upstairs as I hoped he would. When he saw me going out on the roof he must have been tickled to death and thought his luck was in again. I was a few minutes ahead of him, though, and had time to attach the spring hank to the loop before he appeared.”
“I thought you were buttoning your braces!“ I said.
Beef spoke with lofty reproof.
“There’s no need to be vulgar,” he said.
Coming from him this was doubly hard to bear, but before I could protest he continued.
“So there I was, ready for him. I had been practising this falling trick with Bomb in the morning, first in the garage and then up here on the roof. I’d got to the point where I could go over the edge without risk, though I’d taken some hard knocks at first. It is not as difficult as it looks. You might try it if you want to be murdered some time.
“One precaution we had taken while you were all in at dinner; we had gone and fired off all the rounds in Gray’s revolver. I had one nasty turn this evening when I thought at first the pistol he brought out was another one. I was pretty relieved when he said where he had got it.
“I had warned the Detective Inspector and the constable, of course, but not Mr. Townsend, because he describes things so much better when they come as a surprise to him, as they nearly always do. I’d had to tell Inspector Liphook to keep him quiet at all costs, though, and once he nearly had to sock him to do it. But as you have all noticed, Mr. Townsend is a gentleman with a keen sense of humour and was not offended.”
What could I do, after this heavy-handed compliment, but take it all in good part? I smiled and nodded, and Beef continued.
“Well, it all worked out a treat. Gray came for me as I stood in front of the parapet and, as far as he ever knew, murdered me. Then, when he saw Inspector Liphook and the constable, he gave us all a surprise and threw himself from the roof. This was unexpected, for as Major Gulley said just now he was too sane and cool a man for suicide.
“That completes the case, ladies and gentlemen, and I for one am not sorry. I’ve known a good many murderers, but this one gave me the willies. He was the patient kind, prepared to wait for years to get what he wanted. All the time he lived with you you never saw him as anything but a quiet, pleasant gentleman who would not hurt a fly. I don’t suppose he would unless it got in his way. But the moment he saw his chance—then it was a different matter. His timing was nothing less than brilliant. He could not have chosen a better moment for ridding himself of Freda Ducrow, and he nearly brought off the whole scheme.”
Stute was the first to congratulate Beef, but pointed out that as a free-lance investigator he had been able to use methods denied to the police, also that he had followed what was no more than a hunch in the first place, a thing that was usually to be deplored. Wickham added his congratulations, but with another reservation.
“If we had known your conclusions about Gray,” he pointed out, “we might have saved Freda Ducrow.”
I felt that I should reply to this. “Surely you are opening up a big question, are you not? And the Sergeant must be exhausted. After all he has practised his fall, got himself partially intoxicated, been thrown from a rooftop and given a long and lucid explanation of the case all in the space of twelve hours. I think he deserves a rest.”
This clinched the matter, and the strange gathering began to break up. For the first time since I had come to Hokestones I slept with an unlocked door and a sense of relief that the evil in the house had gone for ever.
There is little more to relate about the Ducrow Case. The Press and the crime-reading public had a Roman holiday with the sensational events of that night, which was some consolation to them, perhaps, for the loss of an intricate trial for murder. Rudolf, now a very rich man, shewed himself a generous one in respect of Beef’s fees, for when his cheque came he had doubled our charges. He and Zena had moved into Hokestones which, I am told, is now full of dogs. The Gabriels have remained with them and Mrs. Dunton has returned to her duties in the house.
There is another aspect of this remarkably happy ending which I record with pleasure. Gulley and his attractive girlfriend are to be married as soon as their respective divorces come through. Esmeralda has realized her dream, for the cottage she was to have seen on that night of the 12th is now surrounded with acres of flowers which she grows for “Esmé’s”, her little shop in Church Road.
So Beef is back in Lilac Road waiting, he says, for the next case. “I hope I shan’t have to be murdered again,” he says devoutly. His wife seems less decided on this point, for she has never approved of his work as a private detective and hankers after a little general shop somewhere so that he would not be called out to investigate these nasty messy murders.
“Will’s always been the same,” she says to me. “Play-acting half the time and thinking he’s a real detective. I tell him he’ll get into trouble one of these days. Murder’s a funny thing, isn’t it?”
I know what she means, so I look quite serious as I reply: “Very funny. Very funny indeed.”
Beef only winks.
— THE END —