A Short Story by B. B. Wright
An Inspector Alexander Collier Mystery
Inspector Alexander Collier Mysteries will often provide a choice for the reader. If you want to obtain a greater understanding and/or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted and underlined) sometimes found in the text of the story. From time to time, I may return to a part of the story to add the link(s).
The Lady Vanishes
The phone book smacked against the wall beside him. “Bloody hell!” Closing the door, he picked up the phone book and hesitantly approached the inspector. “Bad day, Gov?” He placed it on his desk.
“You might say that, Sergeant,” replied Collier, feeling embarrassed by his outburst. “I’m sorry about my…little show of frustration. Don’t take it personal.”
“None taken.” Snowden bit down on his lower lip. “Perhaps Gov… we should wait for a better time to do this?”
“I wish there was a better time, Sergeant.” Collier stood up and walked to the electoral map of Bournemouth on the side wall. “Pressure’s mounting again to solve this little girl’s murder and Christmas holidays are fast approaching.” Massaging his chin, he perused the districts. “My thoughts are we begin the fingerprinting here…before Christmas.”
“Oy. I don’t think the men are going to like this.”
“If this doesn’t go well, Sergeant, I’m likely to find several pieces of coal in my stocking this Christmas and next,” Collier chortled. “So I depend upon you to smooth things out as best you can.”
Snowden sighed deeply. “I’ll do my best, gov.”
“I know you will, Sergeant.” He replied reassuringly before redirecting his attention to the map. “To help you in that endeavor I chose to begin, here, in the northern districts. Not highly populated, it’s composed of residents unlikely to be traveling this time of year. It should easily be completed before the holidays. More importantly, it would allow an opportunity to work out any kinks in the process without undue stress to staff.” He glanced over at Snowden. “Did you mark off the names from the electoral register of those fingerprinted at the hospital?” The Sergeant nodded. “Were there any from these districts?”
Snowden opened the register and thumbed through the pages. A few moments later he shook his head. “No, sir, none.”
“I see…Well, Sergeant, time’s a wasting, so we’d better get at it.”
They located a table and two chairs in front of the electoral map. Collier gathered pencils, pens, and both lined and unlined paper from his desk and placed them on the table. “Now, Sergeant, let’s see what we can come up with.”
The next four hours passed by quickly. The two of them assigned responsibilities within all of the electoral districts and completed the framework of the how, when, where, who and why of the full operation. They estimated it would take five months to complete. Since the pool of people they had to draw on was small, scheduling of personnel had become the main stumbling block. The thorn in their side would be that all staff would have to do double duty to ensure completion within the time frame. Collier knew that this would draw the ire of many of them. January to May, generally a lax period before the onslaught of tourists, was when most of his staff booked their vacation. Now, all leaves would have to be cancelled until this operation was completed. It was decided that the staff would be informed during this Friday’s meeting.
Collier glanced at the wall clock. “You up for a late niter Sergeant? We daren’t go into Friday’s meeting without that schedule completed.”
“I’ll have to let my old lady know. She’d box my ears if I didn’t show up for dinner without telling her.”
“Can’t have that now, can we?”
“Any idea how late, gov?”
“No later than when it’s finished and we’re both satisfied.”
There was an earnest knock at the door. Sergeant Snowden was about to answer it when Corporal Dubin barged into the office waving a sheet of sketch pad paper high in the air. Arriving in excited, overzealous mid-spiel, his talk charged ahead of him making it less than intelligible.
“Hold on Corporal! Stop and get your breath!” implored Snowden.
Dubin took in a deep breath and thrust the sketch in Collier’s direction.
Collier recognized the face of the man in the sketch immediately. “I’ll be damned. Are you a Margaret Lockwood fan or a Michael Redgrave fan, Corporal?” he asked ecstatically.
Nodding his understanding, the corporal smiled at him. “I’ll get the car, sir.”Heading out the door he yelled, “Redgrave fan, sir.”
“You’re going to a movie? What about this schedule?” Snowden asked unable to hide his feelings of indignation.
“Can’t be helped, Sergeant. I can only hope The Lady Vanishes doesn’t mean our suspect has vanished too. I’ll explain later.”
Gathering his hat and jacket from the coat-tree, he exited.
After phoning his wife, Sergeant Snowden settled in for what he expected would be a very long night.