Fateful Choices: Part Two
Inspector Alexander Collier Mysteries will often provide a choice for the reader. If you want to obtain a deeper understanding or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted blue and underlined) found in the text of the story.
A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright
Anger and disappointment blinded Joseph to the tranquil beauty of the parkland and public gardens alongside the Bourne River. It was 8:15 and he needed a drink but the few pence he had in his pocket were barely enough to buy him cigarettes. Seeing a bench ahead, he picked up his pace. When he was opposite the bench, he stopped, sat down and pulled out the packet containing his last two cigarettes from his shirt pocket. With a well rehearsed jerk of the hand, he popped up one of the cigarettes and placed it between his lips and lit up. He drew the smoke in deeply and exhaled donut swirls into the gentle evening breeze before he placed the last cigarette into his shirt pocket. Tossing the empty packet into the bushes, he hunched over, forearms across his knees, and pondered that evening’s misfortunes between the bursts of welcomed nicotine in his bloodstream.
He had only wanted ‘Queenie’ to tell him his future but from the moment she had laid down the tarot cards her demeanor changed; she became withdrawn—trance-like—and solemn and abruptly ended their session.
He had tried to elicit from her the vision she had seen but the commotion outside their door had taken precedence. The towering and booming voice of Arthur Brodley, a person for whom Joseph had worked for on several occasions over many year doing odd jobs, was mixed in heated discussion with ‘Queenie’s’ husband, Lawrence.
But, as quickly as the ruckus in the hall had arisen it just as quickly dissipated and its tempo dropped to a whisper. Their receding footsteps along the hallway, the unlocking and locking of a door returned silence to the Stoddard household.
‘Queenie’ stood at the open door to the room that they had shared and had insisted that he leave immediately and he had promptly complied.
She’s no focken goude, he thought. I coulda had me a drink if I hadna gone and seen her. She’s just plain no focken goude.
He looked at the cigarette between his fingers that was about to burn him and used it to light up his last smoke before grinding the butt out with his boot.
“Hmm…Brodley,” he mumbled.
Joseph was not a man to believe in coincidence especially when he was in ‘Queenie’s’ company and whatever part of his future lay in those unread cards he was convinced the answer somehow resided with Brodley. Emboldened by the thought, he decided to drop by Brodley’s house by weekend’s end.
He glanced at his watch.
The Friday night crowd at the pub should be just about ripe by now, he thought, for me to nick a snort or two.
On Saturday morning, a frazzled and clearly upset Mary Elizabeth ‘Queenie’ Stoddard appeared at the police station. Sergeant Billie Snowden who was manning the desk rolled his eyes the moment she came through the door. His shift had just started at 9 o’clock and her untimely appearance interfered with his ritual of a tea and scone and a read of the Saturday Echo.
“Good mornin’, Mrs Stoddard. What brings ya out so early on tis beautiful mornin’?” He asked as he spread the clotted crème from a small butter cup beside him on one half of the scone.
“It’s a matter of life and death.”
Scooping a dollop of strawberry preserve from its jar with his teaspoon, he placed it on his half of scone. “What’s ‘a matter of life and death?’”
“Is the Chief Inspector here?”
“No he isn’t, Mrs Stoddard. He’s not expected for at least another hour. Maybe I can…”
“Help? No,” she interjected, “I’ll wait right here for the Inspector.” And she sat on the bench against the wall opposite Snowden and crossed her arms and stared at him.
As it turned out, her wait was almost two hours.
Chief Inspector Alexander Collier, a lean, broad shouldered man of average height, had barely stepped through the door when a surreptitious nod from Sergeant Snowden directed his attention to Mrs Stoddard. Without breaking his step, he pretended not to notice her and continued down the hall. Opening the door to his office, he turned to close it and was met by Mary Elizabeth looking up at him.
“Mrs Stoddard…how stealthy of you. You must have been on me heels all the way and I hadn’t even noticed it.”
She poked at the pipe in his jacket pocket. “You know smoking isn’t good for your health, Chief Inspector. And nor is lying.”
“Hmm…Here, sit down,’ he said with a smile and directed her to one of two chairs in front of his desk. “Can I get you a tea?”
“I’d love one. At least you’re better than that big oaf out there who offered me nothing.”
“I’ll talk to the Sergeant so it won’t happen again.”
He walked to the tea trolley behind his desk and checked to ensure that the kettle had enough water in it before he plugged it in. His tea cup and saucer were on his desk from the day before. “Well there! That won’t be long.” Clearing off the crumbled napkin and crumbs from his desk and returning his tea cup and saucer to the trolley, he shuffled a few papers and folders to one side before sitting down. “Now, Mrs Stoddard, what can I do for you?”
“As you have heard, I can see into the future.”
“I’ve heard,” he replied matter of factly.
She ignored the tone in his reply. “In some cases I cannot measure time. I can just see ahead. I am a telephone myself—to use a simple expression. It allows me to predict the future.”
“Telephone?! Ah…yes…a connection to the spiritual world. Still…you’ve been convicted three times for fortune-telling.”
“I am an honest spiritualist. I am not a swindler!”
“The law thinks otherwise.”
The high pitch whistle from the kettle interrupted their conversation. Swiveling his chair around, he poured the boiled water into the teapot, swirled it around and placed its lid back on before he returned to face her. “We’ll let it steep for a few minutes.” He reached for his pipe but thought better of it remembering her comment earlier. “Mrs Stoddard…why are you here?”
“To report a murder.”
“Yes. Arthur Brodley’s murder.”
“Arth…Maybe you should have some tea now, Mrs Stoddard.”
He prepared her tea to her liking with two sugar and one cream and handed it to her then sat back in his chair to listen.
She took a sip and sat in silence for several moments before continuing. “It hasn’t happened yet.”
“I know it hasn’t. I saw him not more than a half hour ago.” He gave her a long hard stare. “Mrs Stoddard…I really have a busy day ahead of me.”
Tightly clutching her purse on her lap, she replied: “You don’t believe me, then?”
“I don’t believe in your psychic powers, Mrs Stoddard. I’m pleased you haven’t crossed the law here in Bournemouth but to me what you have just said is no more than voodoo, hokum, psychic trash. I can’t act on the whim of a…”
“Spiritualist?” she interrupted. She placed her cup and saucer on his desk. “Then, its best I take my leave since I can see it would be a waste of my time trying to convince you. No need to stand.”
As she opened the office door to leave she stopped and turned back to him.
“Is he a friend, Chief Inspector?” she asked.
“Arthur Brodley? I guess in a way. Yes.”
“Then I would find a way to protect your friend before it’s too late.”
Leaving the office, she quietly closed the door behind her.
For a brief moment, he stared at the closed door, tapping his fingers on his desk, before he returned her cup and saucer to the trolley behind him. Swiveling his chair snugly back into position behind his desk, he let out a long sigh and pushed the button on the intercom and called Sergeant Snowden in to review the day’s roster..