“There is one link in the chain missing,” said Rolfe, who was discussing with Inspector Chippenfield, in the latter’s room at Scotland Yard, the strength of the case against Birchill.
“And what is that?” asked his superior.
“The piece of woman’s handkerchief that I found in the dead man’s hand. You remember we agreed that it showed there was a woman in the case.”
“Well, what do you call this girl Fanning? Isn’t she in the case? Surely, you don’t want any better explanation of the murder than a quarrel between her and Sir Horace over this man Birchill?”
“Yes, I see that plain enough,” replied Rolfe. “There is ample motive for the crime, but how that piece of handkerchief got into the dead man’s hand is still a mystery to me. It would be easily explained if this girl was present in the room or the house when the murder was committed. But she wasn’t. Hill’s story is that she was at the flat with him.”
“When you have had as much experience in investigating crime as I have, you won’t worry over little points that at first don’t seem to fit in with what we know to be facts,” responded the inspector in a patronising tone. “I noticed from the first, Rolfe, that you were inclined to make too much of this handkerchief business, but I said nothing. Of course, it was your own discovery, and I have found during my career that young detectives are always inclined to make too much of their own discoveries. Perhaps I was myself, when I was young and inexperienced. Now, as to this handkerchief: what is more likely than that Birchill had it in his pocket when he went out to Riversbrook on that fatal night? He was living in the flat with this girl Fanning: what was more natural than that he should pick up a handkerchief off the floor that the girl had dropped and put it in his pocket with the intention of giving it to her when she returned to the room? Instead of doing so he forgot all about it. When he shot Sir Horace Fewbanks he put his hand into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his forehead or his hands—it was a hot night, and I take it that a man who has killed another doesn’t feel as cool as a cucumber. While stooping over his victim with the handkerchief still in his hand, the dying man made a convulsive movement and caught hold of a corner of the handkerchief, which was torn off.” Inspector Chippenfield looked across at his subordinate with a smile of triumphant superiority.
“Yes,” said Rolfe meditatively. “There is nothing wrong about that as far as I can see. But I would like to know for certain how it got there.”
Inspector Chippenfield was satisfied with his subordinate’s testimony to his perspicacity.
“That is all right, Rolfe,” he said in a tone of kindly banter. “But don’t make the mistake of regarding your idle curiosity as a virtue. After the trial, if you are still curious on the point, I have no doubt Birchill will tell you. He is sure to make a confession before he is hanged.”