It was the night before jogging and all through the house, my excitement was stirring – maybe soon I’d have a spouse. But then I awoke and with the toll of the alarm…my body was unwilling – getting fit, had lost it’s charm. I’ve always been full of half-good ideas…you know; spontaneous expensive trips abroad instead […]
The room was warm, almost too warm. The heightened adrenaline which had fed the Collier’s late night picnic had long since given way to a slumbering peacefulness. Through the split in the living room curtains Lynn’s bleary eyes deciphered a reddish hue scratched across the horizon as night’s deep blanket lifted. Partially cross legged on the floor, she reluctantly drifted off to a restless sleep.
Images of the explosion and Klaus’s death flooded her mind; she did not know how or why that should be since she had not been present. Then, there was nothing. It was as if one channel had been turned off and another turned on. A familiar voice rippled through her consciousness. “He who has concealed himself is about to be detected. Don’t go to the morgue? The explosion and fire took all of significance. Think. Think hard. Don’t you remember? When you last met. He gave you something: a handkerchief. You thought it strange at the time. You told him so. What was his reply? Think. “Truths are easy to understand… once discovered; the point is… to discover them.” This is the other half of your puzzle. Put the two halves together.”
Lynn awoke. “Queenie?”
Tick-tock, tick-tock, the clock on the mantel above the white coal fire marched off time. Her tea cup and saucer lay askew at the head of an unintended watery brown stain.
Inspector Collier’s head had fallen back against the couch, his mouth agape. A diabolical suction tone accompanied each of his inhalations. Lila, snuggled against his shoulder, emanated a low frequency fluttering or rumbling sound.
Lynn’s good leg, curled under the other, had given way to numbness. Glancing at the clock, she estimated that she had been asleep for at least half an hour. After setting the cup and saucer aside, she stretched out her leg and vigorously massaged it.
Outside the closed living room door she briefly listened to them sleeping. A soft smile curled up at the corner of her lips.
Ascending the stairs to her bedroom, she tried to imagine what would have filled their dreams. It was obvious to her that Lila and Sandy were deeply in love with each other. But they were also friends, best friends. At the top of the stairs she hesitated and thought about it. Yes, she thought, their love is a friendship set to music, Handel’s finest, Giulio Cesare. What would it be like to be in love like that?
Sadness swept over her as her reality seeped in. She had forgotten how to give love out. More importantly, she had to learn how to let love come in.
Tears blurred her vision as she rummaged through her luggage searching for the handkerchief. Inside the pocket of a blouse and layered between two sweaters she almost missed it. She dabbed her eyes free of tears with it before spreading out the square, white cambric hanky under the light on the night table. At one corner was a diamond shape filled with tiny embroidered leaves and scrolls. Reaching for her purse, she pulled out a small magnifying glass and scrupulously examined the embroidery. Several minutes passed until, frustrated, she concluded it was a fruitless search. Holding the handkerchief against the lampshade she inspected it through the light. It was then that she noticed the border along one side was thicker than the others. She became distracted by a light knock at her door.
“Yes? Who is it?” The interruption could not have been more untimely and her frustration flowed through in her voice.
The door opened slowly and Sandy Collier popped his head into the room. “Um…Is it safe to enter?” Receiving a nod, he tentatively stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him. “Sergeant Snowden should be here within the half hour.” Her unexpected puzzled appearance and his interest in what she was doing drew him further into the room. “The morgue? You wanted to go to the morgue?”
With a shrug and a smile she waved him over as she returned her attention to the hanky. “I’ve rethought that, Inspector. I think my answer may lie right here.” She began to pull on a piece of thread hanging out at the end of the border. A series of double overlapped knots and smaller single knots emerged. Assuming it to be Morse Code where the larger knots were dots and the smaller ones dashes, she ran her fingers along the fully exposed thread. Flummoxed, she shook her head and sighed. “Mumbo-jumbo. I would have sworn…”
Captivated by what he saw, Collier proffered his hand and asked: “May I?”
Engrossed, Lynn continued to study the taut thread between her hands. A large smile finally filled her face as she turned to Collier. “Silly me, I was reading it backwards.”
Collier had already deciphered the code and with a reassuring nod waited for her translation.
“The package is somewhere on Edgestone Road,” she said reflectively. “The problem is: Where on Edgestone Road?”
Collier continued to stare at the hanky. “Here, hold it up and let me step back a few paces.”
“I don’t know what you hope to find, Inspector, I’ve gone over every square inch of it.”
“Maybe nothing, maybe something,” he shrugged, “but…let me try to see if I can separate the trees from the forest.” He focused his attention on the contents of the diamond shaped area.
Perturbed by what she thought was a useless exercise, she was about to let her arms drop when Collier sternly commanded her to stay still.
Biting her lower lip, she held her position. “This is kind’a tough on the arms after awhile, you know.”
“Relax then, I’ve already found the trees in the forest I was looking for.”
She gave him a long cold stare before asking: “Well, are you going to keep me in the dark?”
“Klaus hid it well within the leaves and scrolls of the design. Here…notice.” He traced each digit with his forefinger. “Now, can you see it?”
“Why…yes…I can. It’s twenty-nine.”
“Twenty-nine Edgestone Road,” he said, absently.
Turning, he walked toward the door.
He stopped without turning round.
“Is there something I’m missing I should know about?” she queried, alarmed.
He sighed deeply and opened the door. “The past, Captain Hall, is like a hungry old lion. You can ride its back only so long before it may decide to eat you. Twenty-nine Edgestone Road may likely be my bellwether. Enough said.” He sniffed the air. “If I’m not mistaken, Lila has some freshly brewed coffee awaiting you in the kitchen. You still have some time before the Sergeant arrives but not a lot.”
Without looking back, he exited the room, softly closing the door behind him.
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.