The Body On The Beach: 63

Piccolo took a nap. She insisted she would be fine on her own, and Simmonds never disagreed when Piccolo insisted. So he went downstairs and was duly called into Lord B’s office. The door was firmly closed. ‘How is she, your wife?. Quite an ordeal’ said Lord B.

‘Sprained wrist but otherwise in good order’ replied Simmonds.

‘I hear she was the one driving’.

‘Oh Yes. She likes to drive. She’s very proficient’.

‘Modern women’ said Lord B. ‘I don’t think I will ever understand them’. He took a deep breath. ‘Look, I need to share something with you but I have to be assured of absolute confidentiality’ he added.

‘I’ll do my best, sir. Though of course if a crime has been committed …’. Lord B interrupted before Simmonds could finish. ‘It hasn’t’ he said. ‘At least I don’t think so … I received a telephone call the other evening, the caller didn’t say who they were, but they relayed something that was deeply distressing …’ his voice tailed off. Simmonds said nothing giving Lord B space to continue when ready. He did shortly: ‘They said that Margaret wasn’t my daughter, and what’s more they could prove it’.

*

To say that Simmonds had been caught off-guard by this revelation would have been a monumental understatement. He gleaned whatever detail he could from Lord B (which was precious little) and considered how this bombshell might put events in a different light. He diplomatically asked Lord B if he had questioned Lady B over any supposed affair, but he said he had not and furthermore had no intention of doing so.

Simmonds suspected the caller would be in touch again, though they had given no such indication. That they had not made any demands surely indicated the necessity for future contact. The thought on Simmonds’ mind now was could this allegation be distinguished from the blackmail of Lady B?. Wouldn’t it be the ideal blackmail material?. Was it plausible that there was no connection?. And if they were indeed one and the same subject, why blackmail Lady B to (presumably) keep something secret which had been freely disclosed to Lord B (who would be the most injured party if the illegitimacy were true)? There could only be one explanation, Simmonds concluded: the blackmailer and the caller were not the same person, and they were operating independently of each other. It was clear that Lord B was unaware of his wife’s predicament (she had told Piccolo that she had not spoken of it), and Simmonds intentionally did not enlighten His Lordship. By partitioning knowledge the Inspector hoped to retain some control over events. The last thing he needed was further conflict between protagonists.

Simmonds briefed Piccolo as soon as he returned to their room. She now appeared well rested and had regained her sense of calm. ‘The solution to the puzzle seems to be revealing itself’ Piccolo said excitedly, after listening to the latest development. ‘We must push Lady B to reveal the secret for which she is being blackmailed’ she said, continuing: ‘If it is regarding the circumstances of Miss Margaret’s parentage then I believe we have the link to her murder’. Simmonds knew she was correct, but dared not entertain the thought of how damaging such a scandal could be if it were made public. The national newspapers would be in a frenzy – in this day and age the appetite of the ordinary readership for such a story was insatiable.

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