Part Seventeen of Angel Maker: The Trap is Set by B. B. Wright

math, puzzle, Betrayal of Trust, author, indie pub, writing tips, theory, story, novel, book
Dear Reader: If you are a puzzle solver you may enjoy deciphering the coded message sent to Werner in this chapter. The clues to its translation are found within this chapter and in one of the earlier chapters. If it’s not for you, carry on; all will unfold as Angel Maker moves to its finale.
Angel Maker

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).

Part Seventeen
The Trap is Set

There was an unexpected bite to the late January air. Overhead, the moon danced a hot hash do-si-do with dark cotton-ball clouds while from the tree-lined shadows boughs crackled in the wind.

He wished he had worn his jacket. Clothed in a thin woolen shirt, work pants and Wellingtons, he hastened his pace across the thinly snow-clad lawn toward the rendezvous point among the oak trees which lined the rear of Lambert Manor Estate. It had been a fruitless and unrewarding journey he had completed every evening at ten since he had become the Estate’s handyman and grounds keeper before Christmas.

Unbeknownst to him, Queenie circumspectly peered out through a slit in the curtains from her darkened top floor bedroom window. She has discretely kept tabs on him since his arrival.

His employment at Lambert Manor, largely inconsequential, boring and unchallenging, did not matter to him. Soon he would be leaving. He had learned all he needed to know. Bending down he rolled aside the large rock at the foot of the designated tree. A smile rippled upwards from the corner of his mouth. He grasped the envelope and with the tips of his frozen fingers pushed it deeply into his pant pocket. Rubbing his hands briskly and blowing into them to warm them up, he then carefully returned the stone to its original position.

As he began to return to the Manor he heard a vehicle approaching along the drive. Hugging the ground, he watched as the car rolled to a stop opposite the front entrance. Chilled to the bone, he barely breathed as he observed in stillness. Two people exited the car. Their chatter to each other indicated that one was a man, the other a woman. The man was about to knock on the door when it opened. After warm greetings and a brief exchange, he stepped across the threshold, followed by the woman who limped in after him.

Teeth chattering and now back in his bedroom, Werner found it difficult to remain still. He stripped two heavy woolen blankets from his bed and clutched them around his shoulders while he stoked the fireplace and added two more logs. Curling up in the only chair in his room, he waited for the warmth to sink in.

When his body finally stopped bucking and heaving from the cold, he threw off his cloistered wrap and stretched out his legs. A log fell forward on the crate capturing his attention. For a brief moment he tempted fate as he stared at the precariously hanging log and dared it to fall onto the floor.  He snickered. Standing up, he grabbed the poker and adjusted the log before retrieving a pencil and pad from his overcoat which hung on the wall hook. Throwing the blankets aside, he withdrew the envelope from his pocket and sat down.

As expected, the communiqué was in code. He smiled when he saw the encoded initials of Otto Imhoff at the end of the communication. To ensure its validity, he matched the count total in each line to the dot total at the end of the line. Then he summed the dots and calculated their digital root. The result matched Otto’s signature of nine dots. The exclamation in the code beside his signature carried another import, namely, April 18. The sabotage of the SS Paris at the docks of Le Havre, France was now confirmed. Werner and Otto would decide the rendezvous point and time and then inform their group.

The grandfather clock on the floor above his bedroom chimed the half hour. It was 10:30. He had already chopped wood and apportioned the household’s coal for the next morning. A chore that he had  completed earlier than usual.

Werner (a.k.a. Robert McTavish) was always last to go to bed. Anna the cook, a not uncomely Glaswegian spinster from Clydebank, had taken to the kindly habit of leaving him a bedtime snack each evening in the kitchen. The snack consisted of a pot of tea and an assortment of her home baked goods. In his role as McTavish, Werner was sure she had designs on him and, until this message arrived, he had hoped to taste more than just her home cooking.

Refocusing his attention, Werner quickly went about translating the message.

9 14 20   5 12 8   9 7 8   5 19 20   16 18 9   15 18 9   20 25 >> ………
7 12 5   9 23 9   20 26 3   15 14 6   9 18 13   5 4 >> ….
16 18 5   16 1 18   1 20 9   15 14 19   6 15 18   6’ 1’ 12’   12’ 23’ 5’   9’ 19’ 19’   3 15 14   3 12 21  4 5 4   (1*)(*10)(8!)> …..
(………) “R “Q “I !

Werner made his way down the labyrinth of hallways to the kitchen. When he entered, he was surprised to find a woman pouring herself a cup of tea and sampling one of his treats. He cleared his throat to herald his presence.

“Oops! What a shock this must be for you? It sure is for me” she said, turning to face him. “The owner told me that all the staff would be in bed and soundly asleep by now…and…that it would be okay to come down and help myself. I must admit I didn’t expect to find all these goodies waiting for me.”

“American?” Werner asked, scrutinizing her.

“Pardon?” she replied puzzled, glancing down at the pastry in one hand and the tea in the other.

“Your accent…it’s American?”

“Oh…yes. How silly of me. I thought…oh…never mind. ” She popped what was left of the tart into her mouth. “You should try these. They’re really yummy. I hope you don’t mine?” Not waiting for an answer she lifted the last tart from the plate. “Well…Ta ta.” Broadcasting a large smile, she limped passed him and out the door.

Werner smirked as he watched her disappear along the hallway. Too much money and not much upstairs, he surmised. I wonder why she and that other fella would be visiting so late in the evening? He shrugged. No matter. Lifting the teapot and the plate of remaining sweets, he headed off to his bedroom.

By the time all would awake next day in the Manor, he intended to be gone.

Angel Maker: Part One by B. B. Wright

Palladium Cinema

Angel Maker

A Short Story of Fiction 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 deeper understanding or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted blue and underlined) found in the text of the story.

Part One

All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

A heavy grey mist had settled over Bournemouth and since it was well past the ten o’clock closing for pubs and the last of the trolley buses had been docked for the night, very few people wandered about on its damp, cold streets. The doors to the 550 seat Palladium Cinema had been locked for at least an hour and the marquee which had highlighted that evening’s show of The Divorce of Lady X starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier had been plunged into darkness.

Fish and chips news wrappers and other detritus carelessly tossed aside from earlier that day blew about like tumbleweed. For an ephemeral moment the front page of the Guardian was pasted against a wall by the wind to expose once again what should have been a troublesome headline:

Germany’s Day of Wrecking and Looting
Gangs Unhampered by the Police
Synagogues Burned Down in Many Cities

A young man with a potato sack across his shoulders hurried along Fisherman’s Walk. Lamplight splashed his shadow across the Guardian headline like a stain as he turned into the alley beside the Cinema. He felt the limp, small body he carried in his sack stirring as the chloroform he had given her was beginning to wear off. Quickening his pace, he continued down the alley to the back of the building.

He laid the sack down in a sheltered area in the glow of the light from the lamp above the back door to the Cinema. Untying the sack he took out his knife and slit the sack open from top to bottom. Folding the blade in, he returned it to his pocket.

He liked his prey young, very young and their innocence made what he was about to do to her that much more pleasurable. She was more than just a receptacle to feed his needs; she was an unblemished treat of virgin purity. He sat down beside her and waited for her to wake; he stroked her hair and ran his hand along her white legs and up under her gown. He needed her conscious. He enjoyed their struggle and pain; it made him even more excited.

He had strangled his last victim but, tonight, he had planned a different thrill for himself.

Astride her and fully satisfied, he released his grip on her and stood up and fastened his pants. He watched her as she curled up into a fetal position, whimpering. And he smiled.

“Do you believe in angels?” he asked her softly.

Her nod was hesitant.

The sight of blood on her gown between her legs etched terror on her face as she looked up at him.

“Yes, I thought so,” he continued. “Now there, there, Rebecca. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He reached out to touch her but she pulled away. “I am an angel maker. That’s right. And, tonight is your lucky night.

He came closer and went down on one knee next to her.

“Have you ever played broken propeller before?” he whispered into her ear.

She shook her head and pulled herself in even closer.

“No, of course you wouldn’t’ve. I just invented it. Tonight you will be first to play it with me. But I must secure you to ensure the game is played correctly.”

He forced her to straighten out and took a rope from his pocket and wound it around her several times so as to fix her arms tightly to her sides. Then after several failed attempts, he finally stuffed her underpants into her mouth.

“That last bite hurt, Rebecca.” And, he slapped her hard across the face making her unconscious. “No!…No!…That won’t do! Damn! You must be awake to play this game!”

Several minutes passed before she regained consciousness.

“Good! Now we can play my game. But, first I must remove your ribbon so that your hair hangs loose.”

Removing it, he placed it in his pocket.

He grasped her slender ankles and began to swing her around and around, the speed increasing with each turn.

“Humpty Dumpty splat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great bawl. Broken propeller,” he yelled out and let go his grasp.

The lamplight over the door highlighted it all until the moment her small foot sliced through it sending everything into darkness as her head cracked against the brick wall.

He stepped closer to observe her lifeless body.

“All the King’s horses and all the King’s men, definitely can’t put poor little Rebecca together again. Now you are an angel.”

Pulling out his knife, he cut off a thick strand of her hair and placed it in a locket and returned both to his pocket.

His trophies of her hair and ribbon in hand, he returned to the loneliness of his flat to wait. He had no idea when the urge would erupt again or who would be his next prey. Yet, somehow in his socially inept mind, living on the edge of society, he understood it would not be long because he had already recognized that the time between killings was becoming shorter.

Fateful Choices: Part Three of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

policebaker

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…”

“Sir?”

“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?”

“Wednesday works.”

“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.”

Fateful Choices: Part Two of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

pierapproach1950 Bournemouth

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.

The Prediction
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.”

“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..

Fateful Choices: Part One of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

Bournemouth East Cliff from Pier

Fateful Choices: Part One

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 English south coastal resort of Bournemouth in 1939 had a population of 130,000. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne stream—fringed with parkland and public gardens—stretched into the heart of the coastal community. Bournemouth’s outstanding characteristic and attraction was its breadth of view and openness.

Perhaps that’s why psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psycho-analyst, folklorist, Mary Elizabeth Stoddard (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) and her husband, Lawrence Stoddard who was said to be a ‘powerful deep-trance medium,’ arrived there in 1934 to set up residence. But, then again, maybe that wasn’t the only reason they moved from Gloucester to this tourist location. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.

In April 1939 the local pub was abuzz with the mysterious fire and capsizing of the S.S. Paris (the largest liner under the French flag at that time) and the expected war with Hitler’s Germany.

The bartender, Jock Mahoney, reached under the bar and slapped March’s Bournemouth Echo with the banner headline face up on the bar’s surface and pointed his pudgy finger at it: Spiritualist Prophesies Sinking Of S. S. Paris. “Last month’s paper boys! Read and weep! Told you blokes she’s the real deal. Kept this to rub your faces in it.”

“Nothing more than a lucky guess Jock,” chortled Quentin Hogg from the far end of the bar.

“Then how she’d know it was goin’ to be a fire that sunk the Paris in the port of Le Havre? Tell me that ‘Hogg-face?’” retorted Mahoney. “And, unless the rest of you soused heads missed the obvious, how she’d know it would be the Paris?”

Joseph Phillip Morris, who was often called ‘Philly’ by pub regulars, had just purloined a whiskey chaser to accompany his pint of ale from the inebriated person beside him when he leaned in to the conversation: “Maybe tha’ focken bitch,” he hiccuped, “is a spy for tha’ Hitler fella.”

The conversation stopped dead as everyone turned to look at him.

“Hey, Philly?!” Quentin Hogg called out.

Joseph took a draw from his cigarette and purged the smoke through his nostrils before he straightened to a wavering position to focus his attention at the far end of the bar. “Wha’ canna I do fa’ ya Hogg?” Unsteadily, he used the cigarette in his mouth to light up another. For a moment he stared at his deeply stained nicotine fingers holding the used cigarette until Mahoney slid an ashtray under his nose and he quickly butted the cigarette out before it burnt him.

To most of the people there, Joseph ‘Philly’ Morris was a loser. The clientele of this pub he frequented had come to know that and, as a result, could barely tolerate him. A chain smoker and alcoholic, he had an ego bigger than he should ever have dared to have.

With a Cheshire cat-like smile, Quentin winked mischievously at those who could see him at the bar and nudged the person beside him with his elbow. “What’s that secret formula you use… you know… the one for picking football winners?”

A quiet chuckle rippled among the patrons listening in.

“What’s that got to do with the sinking of the Paris?” bellowed Mahoney, perturbed by Quentin’s hijacking of the conversation.

“Be patient, Jock. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. There’s a point or two to be made here. When done, I expect a round for everyone from you except for that scoundrel at the other end of the bar.”

Regularly, Joseph had been tolerantly allowed to interject his slurred wisps of ‘erudite wisdom’ about the home team to this well-informed and loyal pool of men of the Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic Football Club but, at the moment, he silently sat in a drunken stupor shrouded in cigarette smoke trying to figure out which man on either side of him was the scoundrel that Quentin referred to.

“Philly?! “

“Huh?” Joseph blinked a few times before Quentin came into view.

“Isn’t your secret formula ‘Queenie?’” asked Quentin.

“How da know tha’?…She’s no focken goude! “

Everyone’s eyes were now fixed on Mahoney, who slowly slid the newspaper from the top of the bar to the shelf beneath.

“Now tell me somethin’ else, Joey. Who’d ya bet on when the home team played in March?”

Joseph drew in the smoke and blew it out as he looked up at the ceiling. “Tha’ be March you said?…Hmm…Notts Co. Stupid woman…she got it wrong again.”

The two men sitting beside him slipped off their stools and moved further down the bar.

“Well, what doya think there, Jock? Have I made my points? A free pint for everyone?”

Reluctantly, the burly figure of Jock Mahoney nodded and began to service the rush to the bar.

It had not mattered that the home team had won in March because Joseph had committed the unforgivable act of betting against the home team. For all present, his revelation was particularly heinous because the game was against their arch-rival, Notts Co.

By the middle of May, Joseph had been shunned by even among the slightest of few who might have given him a pardon. The week of May 15th had been an unusually difficult time for him to find odd jobs and by the Friday of that week he had already paid out his last shilling for cigarettes and beer.

Joseph’s wiry and unkempt figure sat alone in an uncontested far corner booth of the pub. Several empty mugs cluttered his table as he slung over his last pint of frothy dark ale. Lifting his mug he toasted his imaginary companion opposite him and took a large swallow. Licking off his beer mustache, he lit up another cigarette and drew in deeply before exhaling. “You know…I’ve got me a new strategy.” He removed a piece of tobacco from the end of his tongue and took another swig of beer. “Strategy for wha’ you ask?” Why for picking football winners! Wha’ else? Not a sausage! ‘Queenie’s’ no focken good! Here’s my secret.” Sliding his half pint to one side, he bent forward and whispered his strategy to his imaginary companion.

For the first time, Joseph was just sober enough to appreciate that his alcoholic haze had made him feel untouchable by the sneering glances of the men around him. Yet, the truths those men carried about him stung deeply and had already left its imperviously permanent mark that could not be ignored. Success! That’s all he wanted to feel! To no longer feel the failure that had dogged him most of his life!

He sat back and looked at the remnants of beer in his mug and made a decision. He didn’t care that Friday would be outside his usual routine to see her. He didn’t care that she was “no focken good.” He had made up his mind to see ‘Queenie’ that evening.

Perhaps, he thought, she would get it right this time.

At 7:00 that evening, Arthur Brodley placed the Bournemouth Echo he was reading on the table beside him and got up from his armchair to get ready for his eight o’clock appointment.

He was a stout man with thinning hair and a thick, white mustache. His appearance belied a man much older than his sixty-four years. A widower, he had attended a séance every Friday evening at 8:00 o’clock at the Stoddard residence since Mary Elizabeth (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) and her husband, Lawrence, arrived in Bournemouth five years ago.

Though Arthur Brodley had paid a hefty price on each occasion for the Stoddards’ services, he was convinced that it had been money well spent because it provided precious time with the spirit of his late wife, Nancy.