The Body On The Beach: 73

In Paris a diamond was found inside an apple. In Japan people mourned for the passing of their Emperor. But none of that mattered here, nor had what occurred here mattered there. Distance was still, for the moment, the defining factor in assigning the importance of events. The calendar turned and 1926 transformed into 1927. The big old world continued to spin. Flying machines would soon make it appear much smaller.

Cedric Smith was sent to prison for a good many years. He had made some ludicrous defence in court, denying any involvement in a blackmail plot, instead saying he had confronted Lady Bessingham over an embezzlement of monies he had uncovered at The Lynn Hotel (where, coincidentally, on the opening day of the trial, a small fire destroyed the office). He gave no explanation as to his possession of the knife or of his assault on Piccolo except saying that his mind was blank in that respect. Lady B’s testimony however was sufficiently clear and coherent to gain a conviction. It was accepted that Smith had indeed been blackmailing Lady B over the illegitimacy of Miss Margaret (dismissed by the Judge in his summing up as ‘pure fantasy’), and had threatened her that evening with menaces after being lured into believing he was being paid off, only to discover a trap.

Miss Margaret’s cause of death was revisited by the coroner (in private) and another verdict given to replace ‘murder’ (viz ‘accidental death’ rather than ‘suicide’, so as to spare public anguish for such an important local family). The question of her parentage was never mentioned again.

Simmonds pleaded George Whittle’s case and he escaped with a reprimand. He resigned his partnership putting an end to his legal career. But all was not lost for his redemption – he had after all only acted with good intent. George and Edith set sail for Australia in a matter of weeks where they married soon afterwards and lived out a long and successful life together, George demonstrating his worth in his Father-in-Law’s business. Whether the truth of what had passed was told on the other side of the world we do not know, one of the many beauties of that place being that so much of what longs to be forgotten can be discarded in transit.

Whatever happened to Henry Dalling was never established (his being the burned body was never proved beyond doubt), and Eric and Agnes were never traced. Mortimer Catchpole was not charged with anything – indeed the contents of the letters between him and Miss Margaret indicated that he was nothing but a confidant. Undoubtedly he could have helped matters by disclosing what he knew, but there was little point in pursuing that point. The secrets Miss Edith thought she had overheard remained unexplained.

The maid Mary returned to Ireland, putting to rest her fear that she would never see the place again. Some months later she gave birth to a baby girl, who she named Margaret. Much shame was relieved shortly thereafter, when she married a kindly but hopeless man, she having little prospects otherwise. Like so many of their kind they gambled on a new life across the Atlantic, not realising how hard it would be in the crowded tenements and brutal sweatshops of New York. There Mary would dream of her days back at Bessingham Hall.

So much, perhaps inevitably, remained unresolved — as was often the outcome of a case. Simmonds knew that well, but the writer that was Piccolo abhorred the incomplete ending. Some things would become clear in the fullness of time, but those were stories for another day.

Piccolo was just glad to see an end to it, vowing to confine herself to crime fiction in the future. Of course she did no such thing.

###

Simmonds Investigates will return in early 2016.

The Body On The Beach: 72

The confession of George Whittle came as a massive surprise to all concerned. No one had even the slightest doubt that Margaret Howard had been other than murdered, and although some of what turned out to be crucial factors – such as the behaviour of Eric and Agnes – were revealed along the way, they were never constructed into a whole. Even at the very end when one of the incidences of blackmail was uncovered (there were, after all, four), its significance to the demise of that poor girl had not been understood. As Simmonds had often thought beforehand, the entire affair and subsequent investigation had been a mess, though at least now he was beginning to understand why. Stepping off with the wrong foot on Day One had been a colossal mistake.

Fortunately George’s story could be corroborated (the letters between Miss Margaret and Mortimer Catchpole; Miss Margaret’s suicide note; and the fact that Whittle was a witness of good standing who had nothing to gain by lying — indeed he had a great deal to lose by telling the truth). Finally there was some resolution. But it was far from being a done tale.

The Body On The Beach: 71

‘ … and there she was, quite dead’. George’s words reverberated around Simmonds’ mind. He continued in a further startling manner: ‘Rather ironically she was in the very room that you and your wife occupied, how strange is that? She left a note explaining it all, I still have it, guess you’ll need to see that as well. She’d killed herself. Got the drugs from somewhere – not exactly difficult to obtain. So I covered it up – removed the syringe and stuff. I think she would have wanted that. Some dignity in death. I used a laundry trolley to move her body and took one of the hotel vans. I drove her to Welby, can’t remember why I chose the place, just driving around. I was trying to avoid a scandal. Making it look like murder seemed a good idea at the time, stupid though of course. But you see she wasn’t murdered. Your murder case never had a victim! Goodness knows what trouble I’ve caused. Now I suppose you’ll require a statement. I’m happy to be charged with whatever. I did it all for Midge. You see I loved her, I had done so for years’.

The Body On The Beach: 70

For those touched by yet another shocking event at Bessingham Hall, Christmas Day came and went almost unnoticed. Simmonds was left to unpick what had occurred. Although the murder of Miss Margaret remained his number one priority, circumstances dictated that he shelved that enquiry to concentrate on the Smith case. But he need not have worried about solving the capital crime, for the most unexpected was about to happen.

*

A few days later, out of the blue, George Whittle asked to see Inspector Simmonds. He knew he was in a lot of trouble, and could put off the reckoning no longer. Hearing of the latest incident at the Hall he realised he had to set the record straight. And so finally the truth came out. And this is how it was told by him to Inspector Simmonds:

‘Where to start? … Eric and Agnes? Yes. That’s where I came in. They worked at The Lynn. They were blackmailing Midge – that is Miss Margaret. Agnes had seen a letter to Mortimer Catchpole, which Midge had left out one time when she had stayed overnight at the hotel. It discussed the fact that she, Midge, was being blackmailed. Someone, and it didn’t say who, claimed to have evidence that she was illegitimate. They wanted a great deal of money to keep their mouth shut. Well guess what? Agnes told Eric about it and they decided to join in! So one blackmail attempt led to another, as it were, and they demanded money too. They had some idea of using the cash to open a teashop and live happily ever after. I think Brighton was mentioned. As if Brighton needed another teashop! Well Midge didn’t pay, but after her death – that’s when I learned of all this – they targeted her brother Charles by peddling some vile allegation of incest. Of course he didn’t want his sister’s name sullied but he didn’t have the money so he came to me and I paid them off. But that was later. You’ll want to know how Midge died. Well it’s all connected and quite simple. She patently couldn’t take the stress of the blackmail any further – there is a pile of letters to Catchpole proving it. I took them from her room after she was dead — I had some legal business at the Hall and sneaked upstairs. I didn’t want the story coming out, you see. Midge hated the thought of anything putting her Father’s name in a bad light … She was devoted to him, did you know that? Anyway, I found her body – at the hotel. We were due to have dinner but she didn’t show so I went up to her room, the one she always used, and there she was, quite dead …’.

The Body On The Beach: 69

Simmonds levelled the revolver at the target. He trembled momentarily as he saw Piccolo loom large down the barrel. Had their eyes ever engaged so deeply? She silently mouthed ‘I love you’. He exhaled and squeezed the trigger.

Piccolo fell to the ground.

Smith slumped back against the wall, the impact of the bullet hitting his shoulder forcing him to release Piccolo and drop the knife. Simmonds rushed over, picked her up and carried her onto the bed. She was understandably shocked but physically unharmed. By now Smith had been restrained by two footmen who ran in after hearing the shot. Lord B went back to his study and phoned through directly to Chief Inspector Dawson.

The Body On The Beach: 68

Time seemed to stand still, and it was only gradually, as though through a fog, that Simmonds recognised the man holding Piccolo. It was the Hotel Manager! How could this be? How had he overlooked this character? He’d always been there, in the background, but was so ordinary that Simmonds could hardly remember his name, let alone think him capable of this. A feeling of abject stupidity washed across the Inspector. What else had he missed?

Rarely is the solution to a dangerous situation handed to you, but in this case it literally was as Lord B passed his revolver to Simmonds. Of course his military service meant he was well versed in the use of firearms, but this was the first time he had need of one on police duty. There was no protocol to follow, it was a decisive moment.

‘Don’t do anything stupid man!’ Lord B unexpectedly shouted out to Smith (for that was the Hotel Manager’s name — Cedric Smith; even the name was unremarkable). ‘It doesn’t have to end like this’ Lord B concluded, alluding to some tragic outcome — for whom remained moot. Simmonds said nothing, he was too focused to speak. This wasn’t about blackmail any more, neither was it about the Howard family, it was about his wife. His course of action now became clear.

The Body On The Beach: 67

The ensuing racket had echoed down the corridor, and soon Simmonds and Lord B were also on the scene. His Lordship was carrying his revolver. Had Simmonds taken a moment to consider this he may have wondered what exactly Lord B was anticipating, but no such thought passed across his mind.

How exactly it had happened was unclear, but the man now had Piccolo in a strong hold, resting the knife against her throat. This was the frightful sight that greeted Simmonds. He had never been more afraid. Piccolo’s life was more valuable than his own, and now it was under immediate and brutal threat. He was lost. No training had prepared him for this. Piccolo’s very existence depended upon the action he would take. Get it wrong and she would surely die.