Simmonds decided upon a bold step. He would go to Catchpole’s house and take a look around. As Catchpole was away it would probably be the only opportunity Simmonds would have this side of a search warrant, and he didn’t have enough cause for one of those. He was fully prepared to break in and invent some reason for entering the property. Sometimes rules had to broken — it was time to take that risk. The Old Mill was usefully remote for such duplicity.
Simmonds knew Piccolo would be keen as mustard to join him on such an enterprise, but he had no desire to place her in a potentially compromising position, so he kept his plan quiet. Besides he knew she’d be busy choosing what to wear for Christmas in a stately home, as she’d told him that was to be her main task-of-the-day. Of course, had she indeed been aware of the foray she would have cast aside all thoughts of fashion in an instant. There would, no doubt, be hell to pay when she learned of his selfish pursuit.
Sergeant McPherson drove the Inspector out to the west of Bessingham. It was a long enough drive for Simmonds to recount all that had occurred to date. For a traditional semi-rural officer like McPherson there was much strangeness in the telling.
Despite it’s name the present building had never actually been a mill. That had burned down decades before in a tragic fire that had cost the miller his life. Flour dust is extremely and readily combustible and the ferocious blaze had been visible for miles across the flat and unencumbered land. Thereafter Catchpole’s father purchased the land (he’d been trying to buy the mill without success for years), cleared it and built a modest domestic dwelling where Mortimer Catchpole now resided. It was an uninspiring location, the only remarkable aspect being the adjacent prehistoric stone circle.
Simmonds tried the front and back doors and examined the windows – they were fastened tight. Peering inside it was apparent no one was at home. All was as he expected. On his orders Sergeant McPherson took a crowbar from the boot of the car and with it Simmonds forced open the rear door of the house. (He would later file a report saying he had attended the property on a tip-off and found that it had been broken into). He told McPherson to stand guard and then entered.
Catchpole plainly only occupied those parts of the house that he absolutely needed to, with some rooms being left noticeably unkempt. There was no finery just functionality. The furnishings were of good quality but sparse. In a strange echo of Miss Margaret’s bedroom there seemed nothing here to define personality. Perhaps something in that observation pointed to a connection between them?. How Piccolo would enjoy analysing that, thought Simmonds. The Inspector spent an hour going through the house, as McPherson grew increasingly colder outside, but he discovered nothing of interest.
‘Was it a waste of time, sir?’ the Sergeant asked on the drive back to Welby. Perhaps it had been, Simmonds replied. But they both knew it had been necessary.