The Body On The Beach: 38

Simmonds decided to call Mortimer Catchpole in for questioning. Patently he had no evidence implicating him with any crime, so he hoped for gentlemanly cooperation. After making arrangements over the telephone, a car was duly dispatched to bring Catchpole to Headquarters.

The interview was to be semi-formal with only the two men present. Wherever possible Simmonds preferred a non-confrontational style, and he had the impression (without having yet even met the man), that Catchpole wouldn’t respond well to an overly authoritarian approach. Nevertheless the allotted interview room was windowless, not particularly well lit, and would have placed anyone who was guilty within oppressive surroundings, as was it’s intent. But as Catchpole sat within he showed no such discomfort – after all he said he had ‘nothing to hide’ and was ‘happy to help the police with their enquiries’.

The men sat across the table from each other, their demeanour calm and considered. Simmonds began, routinely and by-the-book, stating that Catchpole was not under arrest and that he could leave at any time. Catchpole confirmed some personal details for the record. The Inspector explained why he had been called in: the gift of the book to Miss Margaret; the various rumours – Simmonds realised the latter was shaky ground but he wanted Catchpole to know that he’d done his research and had the measure of his cloth. It disturbed him that this by-all-accounts dubious character had spent time alone with Piccolo, but he dared not make the issue a personal one, that would be both unprofessional and unproductive. Simmonds had in front of him Catchpole’s newly created file. Catchpole could clearly see his name on the cover label but appeared unconcerned. The questioning began:

‘How did you know Miss Margaret Howard?’ Simmonds asked.

‘Lord Bessingham has an extensive library. Last Summer I was engaged by him to ascertain if it contained anything of value’, Catchpole replied in a measured tone.

‘Is that a normal part of your job?’.

‘Well I don’t have anything quite as vulgar as a job, Inspector’ said Catchpole with a hint of sarcasm. ‘I’m an Antiquarian Book dealer, so it’s more part of a range of expert services that I offer’.

‘But you’ve undertaken that sort of work before?’.

‘Of course’.

‘And was there anything of value?’.

‘Absolutely. A great number of fine and rare volumes. An outstanding collection’.

‘Were you engaged to sell any of them?’.

‘Sadly, no. That would have been some commission. But Lord Bessingham hardly needs the money. I simply made an inventory of them for insurance purposes. I have a copy at the shop if you’d care to see it’.

‘That won’t be necessary. And was it during the course of that work that you became acquainted with Miss Margaret?’.

‘Yes, along with the rest of the family. I was there, on and off, for a good few weeks’.

‘And what was your relationship with Miss Margaret?’.

‘There was no relationship, Inspector. She merely liked to talk and I am, I like to think, a good listener’.

‘What did she like to talk about?’.

‘Nothing in particular. She was quite a generalist. Very bright. Well read. It was a pleasure to spend time in her company. Such gloriously warm evenings’.

‘Why did you give her the book …’ The Inspector referred to his notes, out of habit, although he clearly remembered the title: ‘… More’s Utopia?’.

‘She mentioned having been read from it by her Mother when she was a child. I happened to have a copy in my shop so I gave it to her. It was an act of friendship’.

‘So you’d say you were friends?’.

‘Yes. I’d say we were’.

‘Lovers?’.

‘No’.

‘Did you ever see her take drugs?’.

‘No. She didn’t take drugs. I’ve known people who did, she wasn’t the type’.

‘Do you have any idea who might have killed her?’.

‘No’.

‘Did you kill her?’.

‘No’.

The last few questions had been rapid fire. Catchpole had simply batted them away. A lesser man would have become rattled. Simmonds sat back and stared directly at Catchpole who returned the stare impassively.

‘Do you know a Mr Henry Dalling?’.

‘No, I don’t think so. Wait … Henry Dalling? Yes, I do. He’s a customer … Amateur Egyptologist. Lord Carnarvon and all that jazz. If I recall he lives over in Welby … You live in Welby, don’t you Inspector? Do you know him?’.

How the devil do you know where I live?’ Simmonds responded angrily. (Damn, he thought, instantly shocked by his retort, why let him get to you like that?).

‘I haven’t been prying. Your dear wife told me … Just a minute … something’s happened to him, hasn’t it? … Dalling is dead! … But I’ve not heard anything so there is some strange circumstance … He’s been murdered too and you are trying to link both killings and implicate me! Touché Inspector, except I haven’t killed anyone and you have no evidence, otherwise you’d arrest me’.

Catchpole had summed it up well. Either he was a very clever and calculating criminal, or Simmonds was on completely the wrong track. But why had he said Dalling was dead?. Was it clumsy of Simmonds to mention Dalling?. Could he do other than try to smoke Catchpole out?. After all, the truth wasn’t going to uncover itself.

‘I have to say I am deeply disappointed, Inspector. I expected better. You suspect me of murder on nothing more than hearsay and the gift of a book, and you insult the memory of a poor dead girl by suspecting her of being a drug addict. And now another murder when you can’t solve the first? Oh dear. What a mess you find yourself in. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to leave’. Catchpole rose. ‘If you do think of anything else, perhaps not so far-fetched, you know where I am. My regards to your wife’. He left believing he had the upper hand. Conversely Simmonds was now completely convinced that Catchpole was the killer.

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