The Body On The Beach: 51

Simmonds and Piccolo were in the kitchen for breakfast. She asked how many eggs he wanted. He answered ‘two’. He continued: ‘I need to follow up on your idea that Miss Margaret needed money. I’ll try the bank first. Almost certain she’ll have had an account with The Southern. They’re always keen to help. Could be a big step if you are right’. Simmonds was always happy to give credit, and Piccolo was always happy to receive it.

‘All we need to do then is figure out what precisely she needed the money for’ said Piccolo, carefully placing the eggs in the pan of boiling water. She added ‘So we have love, and we have money. Trouble is usually not that far behind’.

*

Inspector Simmonds sat in the office of The Southern and Provincial Bank in Welby. He’d been there a few months earlier investigating a fraud case. Following the money was becoming ever more prevalent in police work. It was a Capitalist age.

‘Well she had an annual allowance, quite a generous one, paid in a lump sum each year on her birthday’ said the Chief Cashier. Simmonds had correctly guessed that Margaret had banked with The Southern. Having been given a few hours notice, they had been able to retrieve the details from the branch in Bessingham. The banker elaborated: ‘She spend quite freely, but never let the account run out, until a few weeks ago when she withdrew all the funds – quite a substantial sum – in cash’. He passed the paper statement across the desk so that Simmonds could see the numbers involved. They were large. Simmonds thought: So all this to hand and she still needed to sell her jewellery to raise further? (Presuming Piccolo was correct in her supposition, of course). Was that plausible? What enterprise would have demanded that amount of money?

‘Do you handle any accounts for a Mr Mortimer Catchpole?’ Simmonds asked.

‘No. We had a request from you chaps the other day asking the same question and I checked then. So he’s a person of interest too?’.

‘Oh yes’ said Simmonds. ‘Very much so’.

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The Body On The Beach: 50

The couple passed the Lord’s Day in a comparatively leisurely fashion. Piccolo had the house to herself for some hours and laboured joyfully in the solitude of her writing. Simmonds went to play darts at The King’s Head where he competed in a monthly league partnered by Sergeant McPherson — they weren’t particularly good, but it was convivial; they never discussed work on such occasions. All was right with the world as if murder and blackmail and goodness knows what other nefarious activities didn’t exist. This was England on a typical Sunday in the late 1920’s.

The Body On The Beach: 49

Simmonds and Piccolo sat together that evening after enjoying their first home-made meal for quite a while. No matter how top notch hotel fare was it never completely satisfied. Too fancy, Simmonds called it. They were discussing the bracelet. It had been an exceptional find. ‘She must have just dropped it, or it fell from her wrist. No one would have been stupid enough to merely discard it’ Piccolo said.

‘Either way tells us nothing, of course’ said Simmonds. ‘We already have her placed in the area. Connects to no one else. Simply a piece of recovered property at this stage’.

‘But there is the tantalising question of who gave it to her, and why their name isn’t disclosed’.

‘An unwanted admirer?’ Simmonds asked.

‘Unlikely. She appears to have been wearing it, otherwise how would it have found it’s way to Welby? Implies some attachment, surely?’.

‘Then what?’.

‘Then we are left with only one conclusion’ offered Piccolo. ‘That it was a token of a love that neither party wanted made public. After all, there has been no mention of a boyfriend’.

Simmonds pondered on that insight as they sat for a while reading magazines and newspapers.

‘I still don’t quite understand how or why George Whittle is Catchpole’s lawyer’ said Simmonds after a while and on another tack. ‘They live a couple of villages apart and there’s no shortage of solicitors in these parts’.

‘Perhaps they have another connection’ said Piccolo. Simmonds pondered on that too.

‘I wonder if Miss Edith will be at the Hall for Christmas’ said Piccolo. ‘She did take herself off to The Lynn so as not to be a distraction. But I’d find it hard to believe the family would just let her stay there all alone over the holiday’.

‘Perhaps she’ll spend Christmas with George’ added Simmonds. ‘I’m sure he’d be up for that’.

‘Frankly I’m surprised any of them are in the mood for Christmas’ said Piccolo. ‘But I suppose that’s what these families do – they carry on. Stoicism and tradition are their backbone’. She turned a few pages of her magazine. ‘I am very curious as to who the other guests might be – I had the impression from Lady B’s nurse that there would be a few. Hope they aren’t all frightful bores’.

‘You’ll find plenty to amuse yourself I’m sure’ said Simmonds. ‘I know how you like to analyse people as research for your stories’.

‘Always working, darling. Always working’.

They turned to their reading again. Piccolo subscribed to a great many popular publications. There was never a shortage of printed material in the house.

‘That bracelet is a rum do’ said Simmonds.

‘Quite. Someone had good taste though. I suspect it wasn’t cheap’.

‘Strangest thing in the big picture is that when I searched through Margaret’s room there was no jewellery there at all’.

Piccolo looked up and peered over her glasses. ‘Really?’ she said.

‘Really’.

‘Now that is odd for a wealthy and stylish young lady’ said Piccolo. ‘Look how much jewellery I have … She was found wearing a string of pearls of course, but they were paste’.

‘Were they?.

‘Oh yes. Women can tell. Nothing wrong with paste mind, I have a few pieces myself, Coco Chanel has re-invented the style, but then you wouldn’t know that, being a man, unless you’ve been leafing through my copies of Vogue’. She grinned. He grinned back. She continued ‘So she appears to have only possessed one item of value – the bracelet …’. Simmonds could almost hear Piccolo’s brain engaging top gear. ‘… and she kept hold of that because it had sentimental value … I’ll bet she had many other nice pieces and she sold them. I think we’re looking at someone who had the need to raise cash for whatever reason. And I’m pretty sure that’s connected to her death’. Piccolo paused briefly before adding: ‘Well that’s how I would have written it’.

The Body On The Beach: 48

St Peter’s was situated in the centre of Welby. It was the town’s solitary place of worship. Simmonds walked slowly through the yard. The graves were sixteen hundred and this, seventeen hundred and that (the grounds were full by then and a new cemetery put in place on the outskirts), lots of deaths at a young age, many with newborns who did not survive — this place told of the endless struggle of life.

Simmonds had never entered the church before, its heavy door creaked as he pushed it open. It seemed colder inside than out. There was a strong smell of brass polish. The stone floor amplified his footsteps. He stopped – now there was quietness beyond quiet which it seemed wrong to disturb. ‘Good afternoon’ said a voice. Steps were heard before the man became visible. ‘Reverend Harrington’ he introduced himself. ‘Can I help you?’. The visitor obviously didn’t have the look of one of faith. ‘Inspector Simmonds’, came the reply, he showed his identification. ‘Forgive me Inspector’ said the Reverend. ‘I should really have come to see you. I have been meaning to, just been rather busy, no excuse of course. Tell me, how did you know?’.

Now Simmonds was somewhat bemused. ‘Know about what, sir?’.

‘Why Henry Dalling. Isn’t that why you are here?’ explained the Reverend. ‘He came to see me the day after that wretched girl was found’. He motioned towards the pews and the two men sat. ‘I remember it was raining hard and he just came into the church – I recall he slammed the door shut and dripped water all up the aisle, he was soaked but it didn’t seem to bother him. I’d never met him before and he wasn’t a church goer, not even sure he was a Christian, but he was obviously very troubled. Strange that he made the effort to find me out but didn’t explain what was bothering him. I don’t think I helped a great deal if at all, but then I’m not certain he knew what he was looking for’. All of this came out of the blue for Simmonds. ‘He being missing is the talk of my parishioners’ added the Reverend. ‘Is there any news?’.

‘We have no precise idea what has happened to him’ Simmonds replied. It wasn’t a lie but it omitted supposition. Simmonds had no religious belief but nevertheless he had no intention, for whatever reason, of telling an untruth to a man of the cloth. Withholding suspicion was another matter entirely and one that came with the territory.

‘I’ll pray for him’ said the Reverend.

‘I’m sure that won’t hurt’ said Simmonds.

‘We don’t see you at church, Inspector’.

‘No’. Simmonds didn’t need to explain further. These men had both encountered the horrors of war – a look of brotherhood passed between them.

‘I understand’ said the Reverend. ‘Find what peace you can where you can’.

There was a moment of silence. ‘I actually came to ask you about this’ said Simmonds producing the bracelet from his pocket.

‘I don’t understand’ said Harrington.

‘Jeweller in town said he bought it in a job lot of jumble from this church’.

‘Is it stolen? We get all sorts of donations, it’s impossible to ascertain the provenance of each one’.

‘That’s quite understandable, sir. We’re not accusing the church of anything. This piece though has a special significance – I believe it belonged to Miss Margaret Howard, the body on the beach’.

Reverend Harrington was visibly shaken.  ‘Oh my. How terrible’ he said. ‘So you wondered how it ended up here?’.

‘That’s the idea’.

‘I wish I could help, Inspector, but I can’t. If it came in for the last jumble sale I don’t remember seeing it, and I sorted through all those items myself as Mrs Walker – she’s the committee member who usually handles these things – was ill that day. Come to think of it that was the same day Henry Dalling called in. That’s what I was doing when he arrived, I was sorting through the jumble. How odd it was the same day’ said the Reverend.

‘Well I won’t take up any more of your time’ said Simmonds. ‘It was a long shot, but as it’s only just come to light I thought I’d pursue pronto’. He returned the bracelet to his pocket. He stretched back his head in an attempt to relieve the tension. ‘I don’t mind telling you this affair is not an easy one, and it seems to become more complex each day’ Simmonds said, being uncharacteristically candid with a total stranger.

‘Well if you ever need someone to talk to Inspector, to put things in perspective, I am always available’.

‘Thank you Reverend. Much appreciated’.

‘My pleasure, Inspector. In our different ways the community depends upon us both. We should be there for each other in time of need’.

Simmonds stored away Harrington’s offer for future use. He had a feeling he might need it.

The Body On The Beach: 47

Simmonds was now roped into a round of window shopping. At the jewellers Piccolo espied a bracelet on display. They went in to enquire. The piece was duly presented. Piccolo examined. Turning it over she was taken aback. ‘My goodness’ she said ‘this can’t be’. Simmonds paid attention. On the underside of the bracelet was engraved: ‘TO MIDGE. MY DEAREST SWEETHEART’. ‘There could be no coincidence, surely?’ said Piccolo.

‘Most unlikely’ replied Simmonds.

The jeweller was now concerned. ‘Is there anything wrong?’ he asked.

‘Where did you acquire this?’ asked Simmonds.

‘Let me just check’. He returned momentarily with a large ledger. He turned the pages. ‘Ah ha. Here we are. Came in as a job lot from St. Peter’s just a couple of days ago. Assorted trinkets not sold at their last jumble. That was the only decent piece. It’s very nice, isn’t it? Surprised it wasn’t snapped up, but there’s no accounting for taste. I see we gave them a good price. Always happy to do our bit for the community. Are you interested in purchasing it?’.

‘I’m afraid I’ll need to take it away as evidence in a murder case’ said Simmonds, showing his warrant card. ‘I’ll give you a receipt’.

*

‘I’d better follow this up with the church straight away’ said Simmonds.

‘Now? Damn. I have a hair appointment!’ said Piccolo in frustration. ‘Go be a good little detective on your own then. You can recount all later’.

‘If there’s anything to tell’.

‘There’s always something to tell darling. Haven’t you been paying attention?. It’s all in the detail, and you can find detail anywhere’.

The Body On The Beach: 46

The Simmonds’ paid a visit to the police house, where Sergeant McPherson courteously addressed Piccolo, as was his manner, as ‘Ma’am’ as though she had some rank. A telegram awaited the Inspector – it was from Lady Bessingham formally inviting them to spend Christmas at the Hall. They were to arrive on the 24th (a week hence) and depart on the 26th. Not long, but obviously regarded as long enough for their task. At least it wouldn’t be an interminable stay Simmonds thought, immediately telephoning through an acceptance in response to the RSVP. He wondered what they were letting themselves in for.

*

Simmonds had no idea how many pairs of shoes Piccolo possessed, but apparently it was not sufficient. They entered the shop and soon Piccolo was trying on various styles. ‘Edith was of a mind that the conversations she overheard all related to separate secrets’ Piccolo said, continuing a discussion they had begun enroute.

‘So there are three secrets’ Simmonds proffered.

‘Or one or two. Logically you can’t rule those combinations out … I do like the buckle on these. What do you think?.

‘So one or two or three secrets are the subject of Lady B’s blackmail?’ asked Simmonds, omitting to comment on the shoes as he had no real opinion on ladies footwear (and if he did he would probably keep it to himself unless he knew it accorded with that of his dear wife).

Piccolo tried on another. ‘Are we going back to The Lynn after this weekend?’ she asked.

‘I thought not. No point really. Let’s stay on here until we have to leave for the Hall’.

‘Splendid’ said Piccolo. ‘Then I can get on with some work … Such a cute little heel, don’t you think so darling? … Should we be taking presents for the Howards? It is Christmas after all and we are their guests’.

‘Good question’ said Simmonds. ‘It never crossed my mind. Perhaps some wine?. Champagne?. Bet they have a cellar full of the good stuff though. I’ll telephone the vintners and ask their advice; they know I’m a philistine on these matters’. Piccolo smiled in agreement.

‘This could be a bit of an adventure’ said Piccolo. Simmonds worried it could be a dangerous one. Piccolo beckoned to the assistant ‘Thank you’ she said. ‘I’ll take both pairs’.

The Body On The Beach: 45

Simmonds and Piccolo headed into Welby that Saturday morning. It was cold, but not too cold, and it was bright and dry so they walked the quarter mile into town. They reached the clock tower, kissed, and went their separate ways. They had arranged to meet at The Pavilion at eleven. Piccolo would shop in peace – groceries could be delivered that afternoon – whilst Simmonds caught up with the locals – all part of the eyes and ears of maintaining a visible police presence. His first port of call was at Welby’s one and only newsagents, where Mr Craske happily discussed the state of the world. This was pretty much a daily ritual for Simmonds, who had missed the current affairs conversation whilst he had been away in Bessingham. The present interest in this small town was inevitably Henry Dalling. Although he wasn’t that well known (excepting by those elders who recalled the poisoning), a missing person was big news, the local weekly paper giving it front page coverage, making a play of the connection to the body on the beach. Of course they knew nothing of the link to the terrible events at the Hall, otherwise it would have made the nationals. In fact that whole affair was being kept very much under wraps. Simmonds merely explained that Dalling was an active case and they were pursuing various leads. The only other topic of discussion was the lifting of coal restrictions after the end of the General Strike. Such it was in Welby.

*

The Seaview Pavilion was the height of modernity. Large bowed glass windows offered a panorama that was pleasing even in winter – looking out to layers of brilliant gold, grey, white, and blue, being in turn the sand, sea, clouds, and sky. The vista calmed the mind and lifted the spirits like a great framed work of art. Simmonds and Piccolo sat and drank tea. For a couple whose professional existence was filled with the unusual, this was a moment of normality to savour.

‘I see Miss Christie turned up’ said Simmonds, folding away his broadsheet.

‘She did indeed’ said Piccolo. ‘That has to be the ultimate story — the strange disappearance of a mystery writer. I wish I’d thought of it!’. She sliced through a scone.

Had the couple considered matters they may well have reflected on how lucky they were. Along with the rest of their generation they had lost their innocence in the cruelist of ways, but they endured so that wretched experience did not define them. What presently preoccupied these two people was not the horrors of the past, but finding solutions to the wicked crimes that lay before them.