Case Without a Corpse (18 page)

BOOK: Case Without a Corpse
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“It's flawless!” I exclaimed, “you've got it. Every fact fits perfectly into place—even what we know of Fairfax.”

Stute lit a cigarette.

“I expect by now they'll have recovered the corpse,” he said. “Thank heaven we're just coming in, and this case is over.”

When Beef was collected and the three of us had gone down the gangway, I felt delighted. But all of us, I think, were surprised to see Galsworthy, rather too smartly dressed for a policeman, awaiting us in the Customs sheds.

“Constable!” snapped Stute, “what are you doing here?”

With his accustomed calm, Galsworthy faced the detective.

“It was my free day, sir,” he said, “So I thought I would come down on my motor-bike, and tell you the news. I thought it might save you an unnecessary journey to Braxham, sir.”

“Well?”

“They've found Smythe,” said Galsworthy.

For the first time I saw a smile of satisfaction on Stute's face, and he turned to me as much as to say, ‘I told you so.' Then he looked back to Galsworthy.

“Dead, of course,” he presumed.

“Oh no, sir. Alive, in London. I can give you her address.”

Stute brushed past him with a sound like a growl, and Galsworthy was left there alone while we made for the garage in which the detective had left his car.

He allowed himself one word, and it was scarcely kind to Miss Smythe.

“Damn!” was what he said angrily, as he stamped on the self-starter.

CHAPTER XXIII

B
ACK
in Braxham we found that the enthusiastic Galsworthy had been rather too definite in his report. The message from Scotland Yard had been to the effect that a girl called Estelle Smythe, who answered in all respects to the description given, had been found living in Delisle Street, Leicester Square, but that she had not been questioned, pending Suite's instructions.

“Probably an entirely different woman,” said Stute hopefully. “I don't know what that young fool Tennyson, or whatever his name is, wanted to come tearing down to the boat for.”

“What will you do?”

“Have to run up, of course. Trouble is how we're going to identify her. I suppose there's only one way.”

Beef groaned.

“Not … not that Walker woman?” he said.

“No help for it,” said Stute. “We'll have to go and get her this afternoon.”

“You won't 'ardly need me then, will you?” pleaded Beef.

“No, Sergeant,” said Stute, and proceeded to telephone instructions for checking Fairfax's alibi.

That afternoon I accompanied him to Chopley to call for Mrs. Walker. This time he was
undisguisedly glad to have me with him, if only as some protection from the torrents of her words. Once again as we entered the village, young Constable Smith was awaiting us. He saluted and in his rather priggishly efficient manner told Stute that he had seen Mrs. Walker, as instructed, and that she was getting ready to accompany us.

Irritated by Suite's satisfaction with Smith's efforts, as contrasted with his snubbing attitude towards Galsworthy, I spoke to the constable myself.

“You look an athletic sort of chap,” I said. “You've entered for the Boxing Championship, I suppose?”

“Oh yes,” he replied, “I'm in the finals. I have to meet your Braxham man, I believe.”

“Galsworthy?” I asked.

“If that can really be his name,” returned Smith, with something like a sneer.

I noticed that Stute was smiling to himself as we drove on to Rose Cottage.

Mrs. Walker was ready for us. Clad in an untidy coat and skirt, with a shapeless mauve felt hat on her head, she hurried down the garden path fingering a moulting squirrel boa.

“Did you send that policeman round to my house?” was her greeting to Stute as she took her place in the car. “I wish you'd be more considerate. People will begin to think that the murder took place in my front-sitting-room instead of out on the Common, as I've a hundred times told you. And why you should want me to come trapesing up to London to see some girl who
can't possibly be that poor young woman who was murdered weeks ago, I can't think. But I suppose the police have got to do something to pretend to earn a living.”

She was obviously enjoying the whole thing, including the car-drive, and the licence to grumble and talk to her heart's content.

“It seems extraordinary to me that you shouldn't be able to find an ordinary corpse,” she went on. “It isn't as though it was something anyone might drop out of their pockets. And here we are, weeks afterwards, and nothing done. I've told you from the first he did it, the young rotter, and it's a wonder he didn't turn on me as well.”

Stute sighed. “It is,” he murmured rudely.

But Mrs. Walker fortunately missed the application of his remark, for adjusting a tremulous hat-pin she continued unmoved.

“It's my belief,” she said, “though I didn't intend to say anything about it, that there was more than what we think between her and young Rogers. I shouldn't be surprised if she hadn't had a baby some time or another, or else she had seen him since those days and was expecting. You can't tell. But she must have had something up her sleeve, coming all this way after him. And she must have known that there wasn't much chance of her getting anything out of his having promised to marry her.”

“The possibility had occured to me,” said Stute dryly.

“Mind you, I'm only saying what I think. She never said anything to me about it, as you
can well imagine. But where there's smoke there's fire, and he was an artful fellow if ever there was one. Why I've caught him looking at
me
in a funny way before now, and thought to myself, No, you don't. I wasn't born yesterday, and it's a good thing I wasn't as things turned out, for I'm sure I've no fancy for having my throat cut and left out somewhere for weeks without the police finding me to give me a decent burial as that poor girl was. And according to what you said when you came over before, she wasn't the only one, but four or five more he did for, the same day. Regular Bluebeard as you might say, like that fellow they got hold of just before the War who'd drowned all those poor girls in his bath without anyone ever knowing any different till he'd done for half a dozen. What were the police doing
then,
I should like to know? And as for that Constable Smith pestering the life out of me every day with his questions, well, I scarcely know where I am.”

“Has Smith been troubling you?” Stute asked.

“It seems,” I put in quickly, “that Galsworthy isn't the only over-enthusiastic policeman in the neighbourhood.”

That seemed to reverse Mrs. Walker's attitude. “Not exactly troubling me, I can't say,” she returned, “for I suppose he was only doing his duty. And he's as decent a young chap as you could find in the Force, take him all round.” A curious giggling sound came from her. “If they was all like him I shouldn't mind so much,
and him training so hard for his Boxing Match which didn't ought to be allowed, spoiling their features and that, all for nothing. But what I don't like is the uniform forever popping in and out of my cottage. People talk so, and if they don't think the murder was there they'll start saying worse of me, and then where's my business gone?”

Stute seemed to think it time to draw her gently towards the matter in hand.

“You realize, don't you, Mrs. Walker, that Scotland Yard believes that the young woman we are going to see is the one who stayed in your house, and met Rogers?”

“They can think what they like, but I know different. That poor girl's been murdered and very likely chopped up and buried weeks ago. Still, I suppose you were right to come to me, since I'm the only one to tell you for certain that this one's different. Only I hope my time's taken into consideration, for I can't go careering all over the country in motor cars with people very likely thinking I've been arrested, for nothing, as you well know. I'd be only too glad to think it
was
poor Stella Smythe, alive and well again, but what's the good when I know it isn't and so do you, if you think about it for two minutes.”

We were already on the outskirts of London, but even the noise of traffic did not deter Mrs. Walker from her monologue.

“I suppose it will mean now that every time you get hold of a girl you think may be this Smythe you'll be pestering me to come and tell
you it isn't. I wish to goodness you'd get the whole business settled up. I mean, it seems so ridiculous when you know who's done it not to be able to make up your minds what he's done. If I had your job for a couple of days I'm sure I shouldn't be philandering about coming to see heaven knows who, when there's a corpse to be cleared up somewhere. Besides, it will probably give this girl a nasty turn to have detectives bobbing up just when she's going to have a cup of tea. Well, this looks like Delisle Street, so I suppose we're there at last, and have got to face it out. Is this the house? I can't say I much care for the whole business. You must do the talking, of course.”

“I'll try,” sighed Stute, as we got out of the car.

The number given him proved to be that on a narrow doorway between two shops. A piece of paper was stuck on the woodwork beside the bells on which was written, “Please Walk Up,” so that we obeyed.

On the first floor the doors seemed fairly well painted, and on several of them were visiting cards in little brass slots. But as we went higher the place grew dingier, and less cared-for.

“Nice sort of a house to bring anyone to,” said Mrs. Walker bitterly. “You never know who might walk out of one of those doors. It's like a film I saw, only worse.”

We reached a door on which there was a soiled piece of pink writing paper with the name “Miss Estelle Smythe” scribbled over it. Stute tapped.

Mrs. Walker beside me was breathing heavily, either from excitement or the effort of climbing the stairs. But at first no sound came from within, and Stute tapped harder.

“Wait a minute, can't you?” It was a shrill feminine voice, loud and irritable.

“Is it?” I whispered to Mrs. Walker.

“Shshsh!” she returned, her ear pressed forward, and her eyes blinking.

At last the door was opened, and I caught a glimpse of a girl with tousled hair, dressed in a kimono.

“What on earth …” she began, then, seeing Mrs. Walker, she gave a cry of indignation and horror, and tried to shut the door.

But Stute had pushed his foot forward. The girl shouted something. “Go away!” I think it was.

Then Mrs. Walker, nodding excitedly, exclaimed, “That's her!” with more emphasis than grammatical precision, and we all surged forward into the room.

CHAPTER XXIV

T
HE
girl was quick to recover her self-possession.

“What's this mean?” she snapped at Stute.

Mrs. Walker came forward. “My dear, I'm so thankful to see you. I never for a moment thought but what that young rotter had done you in. I knew….”

“Oh it's you, is it?” said the girl furiously. “You've brought them here have you? You dirty old swine, you! I might have known when I came to stay in your filthy house you'd do something like this. And who are these fellows? A couple of dicks, I suppose. Well, what d'you want, both of you?”

Stute stared coldly at her.

“Your name Smythe?” he asked.

“Well? If it is?”

“You were in Chopley and afterwards in Braxham on the day on which Alan Rogers committed suicide?”

“Well?”

“Then why haven't you come forward with your information?”

“Perhaps I didn't choose to.”

“You know what you can be charged with, don't you?”

“I could trust you to fake something up, even if I didn't.”

“No need to be cheeky. I've come to ask you a few questions, and I want civil answers.”

“Hurry up and ask them, then, and leave me alone. I've got to go out,”

Just for a moment I thought that Mrs. Walker was going to break in, but when she tried to talk Stute silenced her instantly. He was completely at homes and master of the situation. He took a chair placed in front of the door and turned to Smythe.

I looked round the room. It was an unpleasant example of the disadvantages of selling cheap lacquer paints. The wood-work had been done in a lavish scarlet, the walls distempered by an amateur with raspberry pink. The furniture was inexpensive, but there was an abundance of cushions in vivid colours. Behind the girl was the bed from which she had risen, presumably, to open the door.

She herself was florid and pink as her background, with bright yellow hair and too many rings. She yawned as Stute faced her.

“What's your name?”

“Smythe.”

“Christian name?”

“Stella.”

“Why do you call yourself Estelle then?”

“Professional name.”

“Indeed. What profession?”

“Stage. Chorus lady.”

“How long had you known Rogers?”

“Oh, I dunno without a lot of thinking. And I'm too sleepy to think now. A few years, anyway.”

“Why did you want to see him?”

Miss Smythe yawned again. “Why do you
think?” she asked. “Just for the pleasure of a chat?”

Mrs. Walker could control herself no longer.

“She was …”

But Stute was too quick for her.

“That's quite enough from you,” he thundered.

“Oh very well. If a lady can't …”

Stute wheeled from her to Smythe and his voice drowned her grumbling.

“You wanted money, I suppose?”

“Well, didn't I have reason? After all …”

“And you got it?”

There was a pause, after which Miss Smythe seemed to think that it would be best to speak the truth.

“He did give me a little present,” she admitted.

BOOK: Case Without a Corpse
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