Later on that morning Sergeant McPherson sat at the kitchen table of the Police House in shirtsleeves and braces, without his uniform jacket, pouring tea. Mrs McPherson placed a large plate of hot buttered toast in front of him. He gave a ‘Thanks love’ and she departed. The Police House was her home but she knew her place when constabulary work was centre stage. Inspector Simmonds sat opposite the Sergeant politely refusing the toast but accepting a mug of the hot brew. He wore his ubiquitous grey suit, only highlighted by one of a collection of neckties that Piccolo had custom-made for him from William Morris print material purchased from Liberty of London. ‘Rum do’ said McPherson. The Inspector nodded. It was rare for a dead body in suspicious circumstances to be the focus of discussion in such a domesticated setting. Since Simmonds had been appointed Inspector for this part of the county five years ago there had only been one murder. ‘I take it the Surgeon collected the remains?’ Simmonds asked. This time the Sergeant nodded, his mouth full having started on the pile of toast. He chewed and swallowed. ‘Post mortem report promised for this afternoon’ he added. ‘Do you have the details of the dog walker?’ the Inspector asked rhetorically. McPherson may have been overly rotund with a fondness for toast but he was a fine veteran police officer who didn’t miss detail. The Sergeant opened his notebook, thumbed through the pages and passed it across indicating with a pointed finger. Simmonds made a mental note. That name and address sounded familiar for some reason he thought. He handed back the book. ‘I’ll follow up on that then. Let’s reconvene after lunch’. McPherson pondered lunch. It was Saturday, it would be cold sausages.
On his walk across town (Simmonds walked whenever he could), he stopped and called home from the telephone box outside of the baker’s shop. ‘Welby 418’ Piccolo answered.
‘Hi’ said Simmonds.
‘Hi Darling. How’s the case going?’ she asked, ever the inquisitive one.
‘Look, does the name Henry Dalling ring a bell?’
Short pause for thought. ‘Don’t think so. Should it?’
‘Mr Henry Dalling of Rose Cottage here in Welby. Name somehow sounds similar. Thought you might know’
‘No. Sorry Darling’ Piccolo responded, her mind now fully engaged in curiosity mode.
‘So much for having a mystery writer for a wife who knows everything and forgets nothing’ he joked.
‘Are you going to tell me then?’ she asked.
‘Tell you what? Simmonds was now getting cold and his chilled breath fogged the air.
‘Who this blasted chap is?’ Gentile frustration raised her voice.
‘Oh, sorry. He’s the dog walker that discovered the body this morning. Just off to see him now. Should really be going. See you later’ He ended the call.
‘Bye then’ she said. As Piccolo replaced the telephone receiver facts dredged from the depths of her subconscious moulded her face with a shocked countenance. ‘Henry Dalling’ she said out loud to no one in particular. ‘Good Lord. Him!’
Rose Cottage was situated on the edge of town, far enough and sheltered enough from the ravages of the sea to permit the cultivation of the eponymous flower, but now in winter the bushes were cut-back, dormant and frosted. Even still it was a delightful setting. A slightly bowed middle-aged man opened the door to the caller.
‘Mr Henry Dalling?’
‘Inspector Simmonds. Just following up on the incident from this morning’ Dalling stood silently; there was a long pause. ‘Could I come in?’ prompted Simmonds, expecting the invitation.
‘As you like’. They went inside.
The cottage was warm and cosy. It was uncluttered. The smell of pipe tobacco hung thickly in the air.
‘You live alone, Mr Dalling?’ said Simmonds.
‘For some twenty years now since my Mother passed. Is that important, Inspector?’
‘Just background, sir’ said Simmonds pausing momentarily, during which brief time he noticed how many Egyptian-style artefacts there were in the sitting room, giving an incongruous appearance. None of these objects were ostentatious or large, but they made their presence known in an almost mystical sense. But as such iconography had become widely publicised since the celebrated discovery of King Tut’s tomb a few years earlier, Simmonds paid them little regard. He continued: ‘You were up very early with your dog, Mr Dalling’
‘Yes. Couldn’t sleep’
‘Do you normally walk the dog that time of the morning?
‘Not always. But when you get older you sleep less and when I’m up he invariably wants to go out’
‘Now it was pitch black, no street lights nearby, so how did you spot the body?’ Simmonds enquired.
‘Something caught my eye. Like a sparkle. I was curious, so I went down to have a look. Knew something was wrong before I got close as dog started howling. Probably picked up scent, they are more sensitive than us after all’
‘Indeed they are’
‘Damn shame. Pretty girl. Know who she is yet?’
‘No. Not yet. Did you see anyone else around, Mr Dalling?’
‘At that time? No. Had more sense than to be out in that cold. Tucked up in a nice warm bed’ (As was I, thought Simmonds). ‘I did see a vehicle though’.
‘A vehicle? What type of vehicle?’
‘A small van. Like a delivery van’
‘I don’t suppose …’ Simmonds didn’t have chance to finish.
‘… I saw any detail? No’ interjected Dalling. ‘Just caught the shape of it heading back up the coast road’
That evening at home Piccolo had great delight in explaining about Dalling. ‘… so I realised where I’d heard the name. You remember when we first came to Welby and I was desperate to obtain some colour for a story with a local setting – which I still haven’t got around to writing – anyway, I spent days in the branch library – have you been? Of course not. Dingy place – and honestly nothing ever seemed to have happened here and I was getting quite desperate until I delved right back into the Welby Telegraph newspaper, and there it was, and that’s what I remembered’ She stopped and caught her breath having got quite excited. ‘Henry Dalling was the prime suspect in the apparent murder by poisoning of his Mother!’ This hit Simmonds from left field. Why didn’t he know this?
‘Blimey. Probably explains then why he was so defensive when I asked if he lived alone’
‘Big fat foot darling’ Piccolo pointed out helpfully, having now fully recovered from her earlier excess.
‘Prime suspect you say? Was he arrested?’
‘So the Telegraph reported. But there was no evidence. Case closed. Coroner ruled ‘Death by Misadventure’’
Later on that evening Simmonds took a telephone call. Piccolo was in her study proofing galleys of her latest novel. She swung around and removed her reading glasses as she heard Simmonds politely cough from the doorway to gain her attention. He’d learned that you disturbed a writer at your peril – the fact she was your wife gave you no special immunity. ‘They’ve identified the girl’ he said matter of factly ‘The Honorable Margaret Howard of Bessingham Hall’.
‘Goodness’ said Piccolo. ‘There’s going to be a fuss over this one. Any idea as to how she died?’
‘Laboratory tests are yet to be finalised, but Dr Bartlett is pretty sure it was a massive cocaine overdose. No indications of habitual drug use, so presumption is injection by person or persons unknown with the intention of causing death’.
‘So murder then’ said Piccolo. ‘Hang on. Bessingham Hall? That’s ten miles away. How did she end up in Welby?’
‘One of the many questions we’ll be expected to answer’ said Simmonds. He continued: ‘Apparently she’d been attending a party at The Lynn Hotel in Bessingham. We need to go there’.
The game was afoot.