Fateful Choices: Part Four of Five
Under Lock and Key
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
Entering the summer of 1939, the people of Bournemouth endured a time of suspension greater than the contemplation of the worst as Nazi Germany’s army went on menacing maneuvers. Bournemouth was too busy having a good time to worry about Hitler and said so on signs strapped to the boots of vehicles: Half A Mo’ Hitler Let’s Have Our Holidays First.
Two weeks had passed since Arthur Brodley’s murder on May 21as Chief Inspector Collier poured his tea and sat behind his desk to review his notes on the case.
The autopsy report: assailant had attempted to strangle Brodley first before bludgeoning him with a torrent of hammer blows to the head.
The lab results on the cigarette butts: outstanding.
Brodley’s granddaughter, Valerie: grandfather’s safe contained a large stash of money and a copy of his will. Grandfather had a fondness for entertaining prostitutes; hair curler may have been used during such an occasion.
He lingered here for a moment before writing: Will??? Who benefits??? Then he continued reviewing his notes.
Interviews with local prostitutes, including Brodley’s regulars: dismissed idea of hair curler as part of their routine.
He placed a large question mark beside hair curler.
‘Philly’ Morris, one of their regulars, had suddenly come into money. And, lots of it.
He circled Morris’s name several times.
Mrs Stoddard (aka ‘Queenie’) provided no additional information on day of the murder. Suggested I might learn more by attending one of her séances.
In the margin, he scribbled:??? Possibility??? Then, he crossed it out.
Placing the opened side of his notebook face down on his desk and sitting back in his chair, Collier began to mull over the events since the murder when the buzzer on his intercom intruded.
“…Jock Mahoney…owner of Hollies Pub…and Quentin Hogg…mortgages at the bank are here, sir.”
“About?” There was a momentary silence. “Did they say what it was about, Sergeant?”
“The Arthur Brodley murder, sir.”
“Hmm…Send the gentlemen along. And, you come along too, Sergeant.”
Mahoney and Hogg reiterated what had already been learned from the local prostitutes, namely that Joseph ‘Philly’ Morris, a person normally strapped for money, had suddenly come into a lot of it and had been spending it freely. According to Quentin Hogg, two days after the murder Morris had waltzed into the bank and had paid off the considerable arrears on his mortgage. Mahoney referred to Morris as a loser and chronic liar and that neither he nor his pub regulars who played the horses believed that ‘Philly’s’ recent affluence had come about from a win on the horses.
Twenty minutes later Sergeant Snowden and Chief Inspector Collier were on their way to the residence of Joseph Phillip Morris.
While the Sergeant remained with the vehicle, Collier went to the front door and knocked. Unkempt, toothless and in a vile mood, Joseph Morris opened the door but refused entry to the Chief Inspector. During questioning, it wasn’t long before Morris launched into a diatribe against Brodley because he had turned him down for a small loan. As his bilious onslaught continued there were several references to Brodley’s safe. When Collier asked Morris if he minded providing samples of his fingerprints, Morris ordered him off his property and slammed the door in his face.
Collier crossed his arms on the roof of the Wolseley and looked across at Snowden. “Well Sergeant…I’m sure he’s our man…Now to prove it.”
Upon his return to the station, Collier was greeted with good news. The lab results on the cigarette butts had arrived from the London Home Office and their smoker had been a secretor. The analyst, Sidney Greenstreet, had identified the smoker’s blood group as AB, the rarest type, found in less than 3% of the population.
Collier placed the report on his desk and sat back in his chair and let out a long sigh while Snowden looked on.
“Is it what you were hoping for, sir?”
“It’s even better than expected, Sergeant.”
“But…then…why that troubled look?”
“Because, Sergeant, I need a specimen from Joseph Morris and, given his attitude, it may be next to impossible to get.” Picking up the lab report, he began to flip through it in a cursory manner then stopped. “…Unless…Hmm…that just may work. Sergeant, ask Constable Dubin to come in.”
During his interview of Jock Mahoney, Collier had not only learned that Joseph Morris was a regular at Hollies Pub and an alcoholic but that he was also a chain-smoker. So, when Constable Dubin entered his office he wasted no time laying out his plan to ensnare Morris. He instructed the constable to drop into the pub—out of uniform—shortly after eight that evening and befriend Morris by plying him with drinks, cigarettes and talk of horse racing. He reassured Dubin that there was enough money in petty cash to cover his expenses. When the pub closed at ten and the patrons had gone, the constable was then to gather up the cigarette butts in the ashtray left by Morris, place them in a bag and return to the station where he would be waiting to drive the package directly to the London Home Office that evening.
Once the Sergeant and the Constable had left his office, Collier began to initiate the next step in his plan. Picking up the phone receiver, he dialed the number of his long time friend, Sidney Greenstreet, to convince him to remain well after hours at the Home Office to analyze the contents of the package.
The next day Collier returned with the answer he hoped for: Morris was indeed a secretor with blood group AB.
Now, it was time to turn the screws on Morris.
Sergeant Snowden and Chief Inspector Collier returned to Morris’s residence mid afternoon that same day to confront him. Morris angrily insisted that he had nothing to hide and opened his house to a search. During their search they found a set of curlers similar to the one found at the crime scene and a bundle of brown paper bags, the kind that had been wrapped around the murder weapon. When Morris was asked about the items he shrugged and told them that he kept the curlers for his lady friends who stayed over from time to time and that the bags were leftovers from when he had been a grocer. When Morris boldly proffered his hands for finger-printing to demonstrate confidence in his innocence, Collier gladly accommodated him.
When Collier entered the station later with samples of Morris’s fingerprints, sitting on the bench opposite the duty desk was ‘Queenie.’
“Inspector…” she called out.
Collier hadn’t seen her when he entered but he immediately recognized her modulated and fruity voice. He turned and smiled: “Mrs Stoddard, please, just one moment and I’ll be with you.” He turned to Sergeant Snowden and instructed him to bring the fingerprints to Leonard Scoffield for comparison in the Brodley Case. Once Snowden went through the set of doors leading to Scoffield’s office, he turned his full attention to Mrs Stoddard. “Now, Mrs Stoddard, what can I do for you?”
“Nothing…Inspector…It’s what I can do for you…I see you’ve found your murderer. The thumb print will clinch ‘Philly’ Morris’s arrest.”
Collier’s forehead furrowed.
She held up her hand to stop him from going further as she stood up. “It doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t believe anyway. Just remember, you don’t always get what you want, Inspector. Life is full of surprises with all its twists and turns. Your life will be full and successful but not before much sadness. You know where I live, Inspector, if you care to learn more.”
Dumbfounded by what had just transpired, Collier was watching her leave the station when Leonard Scoffield came excitedly through the set of doors that led down the hallway to his office.
“We’ve got him, Alex! The right thumbprint matches the print on the beer glass.”
And, they embraced each other in jubilation.
Forty minutes later, Collier had the pleasure of locking the vitriolic ‘Philly’ Morris behind bars.
I hope you are enjoying Fateful Choices? So, do you think you know how it will end? I am willing to bet that the finale in September will surprise you. Until then, thank you for following me and I look forward to our time together again soon.
B. B. Wright