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.


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