The Body On The Beach: 19

Simmonds was summoned to Headquarters to give a briefing. The atrocity at Bessingham Hall was so removed from ordinary experience that an eye-witness account was required to dispel disbelief. Piccolo was therefore left to her own devices. She had seen a leaflet about the local History Society in the hotel lobby, and by chance they were meeting that very afternoon, so she decided to attend. A writer’s curiously was always alert to a potential avenue of inspiration. She’d actually long considered penning an historical novel.

A small community hall was the location and the subject was the Roman ruins that were situated just outside the town. They were a minor tourist attraction, but apparently of major academic archaeological importance. Unfortunately it was a dull presentation as such enthusiast events are prone to be – preaching to the converted seldom requiring great oratory. There was some socialising amongst the dozen or so attendees at the end, and Piccolo was quickly identified as a newcomer. Eyebrows were raised when they discovered she was the police Inspector’s wife, the murder and subsequent investigation being the talk of the town. Luckily the horror at the Hall had not yet been made public. Some of the members asked probing questions about the case but Piccolo deftly batted them aside saying she knew nothing and was simply keeping her husband company.

‘Are you particularly interested in the ruins?’ asked Arthur Morgan, the group’s Treasurer.

‘I have to admit that I had not heard of them until today’ said Piccolo adding: ‘Fascinating lecture’.

‘Well if you’d care to visit I’d be happy to facilitate’ offered Arthur ‘although you’d need to wait until we have cleaned up the site’.

‘Oh’ said Piccolo ‘are you in the middle of an excavation?’

‘Not quite dear lady. We have been vandalised. Some miscreants have daubed the walls with strange graphics’.

‘Did you tell her that they are satanic symbols?’ said a small voice that had ambled up behind them. ‘Veronica Bainbridge’ she introduced herself ‘Town Librarian’.

Now Piccolo was genuinely intrigued.

‘And Society stalwart’ added Arthur ‘and no I haven’t as I’ve not yet examined them closely enough to draw any such conclusion’.

‘Well I have’ said Veronica ‘and they are clearly satanic, I cross-checked with an encyclopaedia. Freshly painted too. Someone has been up there recently conducting some diabolic ceremony’. She was very earnest.

‘You can’t be sure of that’ said Arthur ‘and none of that devil worship stuff is real anyway’.

‘Sure as can be with what I can see with my own eyes. That Mortimer has a whole Occult section in his shop, I bet he’s involved, probably at the heart of it’ Veronica expounded.

‘Mortimer?’ asked Piccolo.

‘Mortimer Catchpole’ said Veronica ‘second-hand and antiquarian book dealer, has a shop in Market Street. Lives up at the Old Mill. Family has been here forever but he’s the last of his line. The most dangerous man in Bessingham!’

‘Please, Veronica’ said Arthur ‘such slander’.

‘Well he’s a strange one mind’ she continued ‘keeps himself to himself. There have been rumours’.

‘Rumours?’ asked Piccolo.

‘Rumours linking him to virtually everything bad that’s ever happened’ interjected Arthur ‘even the murder of poor Margaret Howard. Load of nonsense if you ask me. Places like this tend not to like people who don’t fit in. They become easy prey for all sorts of malicious gossip’.

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