Fateful Choices: Part Three
21 Darlington Road
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
The call came through to his home at 4:00 A. M. Putting on his slippers he grabbed his robe from the foot of the bed and while struggling to put it on in the darkness he encouraged his wife, Lila, to go back to sleep. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs the phone was into its fifth ring. Turning on a small table lamp on the telephone table in the alcove under the steps he cleared his throat and picked up the receiver: “Chief Inspector Collier…”
The call was concise and disturbing to say the least. Arthur Brodley had been rushed to the hospital shortly after midnight as a result of a severe beating and had died within the past half hour. Sergeant Billie Snowden was quick to advise him that the crime scene had already been secured.
“Who called it in Sergeant?”
“His granddaughter, Valerie…She found him in the lounge.”
“Did you get her statement?”
“Constable Dubin did, sir.”
“Did she say if anything was missing?”
“In her statement she said that his rings, watch and gold chain were missing.”
“Did anyone check his pockets after his arrival at hospital, Sergeant?”
“I did, sir. They were empty.”
“Good work, Sergeant!”
“Should I await the preliminary autopsy report?”
“Let’s not worry about that for the moment. Give me time to shave and have a bite to eat…Say an hour? …Yes…pick me up in an hour.”
Collier had barely noticed that his wife had passed him in the hall as he slowly returned the receiver to its cradle. The rattling of pots and pans and clatter of dishes sent him along the hallway to the kitchen’s entrance.
“Lila…I’m sorry. Please…go back to bed.”
“Shush,” she replied crossing over to him. She reached up and put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “I need to be here; so that’s that. Now go get yourself ready while I make breakfast. We certainly don’t want to start your day off on the wrong foot, now do we?”
He wrapped his arms around her waist lifting her off the floor and twirled her around in a complete circle before putting her down. “I love you. What you ever saw in me I’ll never know. I’m just glad you saw it. I don’t deserve the likes of you.”
“You’re right, you don’t,” she sighed, eliciting a broad smile. “Nevertheless, you got me. Now, don’t you be too long or you’ll try my patience.” She playfully slapped him on the backside as he headed out of the kitchen and returned to the stove to prepare his usual breakfast of poached eggs, sausage, toast and homemade preserves.
Sergeant Snowden had barely parked the Wolseley in front of Chief Inspector Collier’s home when the front door of the house opened and he stepped out. The Sergeant quickly scrambled out of the driver’s seat to open the back passenger door for him.
“Good morning, sir,” greeted the Sergeant cheerily as the somber looking Chief Inspector walked toward him.
“I wish it was, Sergeant. I really wish it was. Thanks for being on time.”
The weather report forecasted a warm and sunny spring day. As the sun awoke from its nightly slumber, a gold hue spilled out from the horizon and was carried by the gentle rhythm of the waves toward the shore, while the sides of the coastal road broke free from its veil of grey and darkness to expose a plethora of colorful spring flowers nestled within a landscape of richly shaded green and chalk-like stone.
All of Nature’s dressing up went unnoticed by both Chief Inspector Collier and Sergeant Snowden. Collier’s mind was focused on capturing some thoughts in his notebook before he arrived at the Brodley residence while Snowden struggled to keep alert after a sleepless night on duty.
Fifteen minutes later, Snowden came to a stop in front of 21 Darlington Road and waited for the attending constables to usher a small group blocking the drive to one side. Once the entrance was cleared, he drove onto the crushed stone drive and parked the Wolseley in front of the two-storey house and exited the vehicle to open the door for the Chief Inspector.
Collier glanced back at the small crowd gathered at the entrance to the drive as he stepped out of the vehicle and his forward motion stopped abruptly. “Well I’ll be damned…”
“Murder always draws out a strange mix of onlookers, doesn’t it Sergeant? Get the names of the people in that group and any pertinent information you can. By the looks of their bedroom attire I’d say they’re neighbors and nosey ones at that to be out at such an early hour of the morning. My bet, Sergeant, is at least someone among them has seen or heard something. Once you’ve finished interviewing them, please encourage them to go home. I saw Mrs Stoddard, the one they call ‘Queenie,’ among them. Ask her to join me inside.”
The oak doors to the lounge were wide open as Collier stood at the threshold with fountain pen and notebook in hand, recording his initial, salient observations of the murder scene:
1) Safe opened and empty (contents???)
2) Brown paper bag, crumpled and twisted on floor (wrapped around murder weapon???)
3) Cigarette butts strewn across carpet and sofa ( murderer’s???)
4) Toppled beer glass on table (finger prints??? murderer’s???)
5) Hair curler????
He let out a long sigh as he watched the crime scene investigators, lead by Leonard Scoffield, go about the meticulous business of gathering and recording evidence. Closing his notebook, he returned his fountain pen to the inside pocket of his jacket. Before returning his attention back to the room, he looked out the glazed leaded square bay window at Sergeant Snowden speaking to the crowd and estimated that their numbers had increased markedly. “What are your thoughts on all of this, Leonard?”
Leonard was in his forties, medium height, with curly black hair, bushy moustache and an aura of stern faced dignity that easily melted away like a sunburst when in the company of a friend. “Hi, Alex! I didn’t notice you were there. Nasty business, this is. In my opinion, it smacks of robbery as the apparent motive. How’s that lovely wife of yours doing? Joyce and I were talking about you two the other day. We haven’t had supper and a game of cards together in awhile, old chum.”
“Be careful with the “old” there Leonard,” Collier replied, smiling. “Lila’s just fine. And, it’s our turn to provide supper. Wednesday work for you?”
“Good. Now that that’s done, have you found many finger prints?”
“Lots of them but no likely murder weapon yet. By the amount of blood, the murder weapon was wrapped in that paper bag to finish him off.”
“Any prints on that beer glass?”
“A thumb print but it’s a good one.”
“As you well know,” Collier said, pointing to the beer glass and cigarette butts, “Arthur was a teetotaler and non-smoker.”
Leonard agreed with a nod. “I see where you’re going, Alex. My thoughts too. Probably the murderer’s?”
“It’s a very good likelihood. Be sure to collect all those butts. I want whatever saliva is on them tested.”
“Tested? What do you hope to find?”
“The blood group of whoever smoked them. It’s a relatively new technique—developed 14 years ago—that uses a person’s secretions such as saliva and urine.”
“I think I’d better catch up on my scientific literature,” Leonard chortled with a broad smile. “To my way of thinking old…chum, blood group and saliva are disconnected. As for urine, I’ll hold off on that.”
“A hair curler on the scene strikes me as strange, unless it belonged to the grand–daughter. I understand she found him?”
“That’s right. I’ve already taken her finger prints as part of the elimination process. I’m sure, Alex, that it’s not her thumb print on the beer glass. Presently, she’s staying at the aunt’s. As for the hair curler, she denied that it was hers.”
“That’s something I’ll have to explore with her later. Any idea what was in that safe?” His eyes drifted to the front window to watch Sergeant Snowden coming up the drive to the house alone.
Leonard shrugged and scratched the back of his head. “Your guess is as good as mine on that one, Alex.
Collier excused himself in order to meet the Sergeant at the front door. “I thought you would have had Mrs Stoddard with you, Sergeant.”
“I would have if she had been there, sir. You must have been mistaken.”
“Mistaken?!” Tipping his head slightly downwards, he glared at the Sergeant. “Sergeant, I don’t…” He bit his lip. “Never mind…Please make a note to call her into the station before day’s end. Now…did you learn anything out there?”
“Yes sir, I think I may have several pieces of useful information,” Snowden replied.
“Good! Tell me on the way to the hospital. I think it’s time to learn what the autopsy report reveals.”