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‘Queenie’ to tell him his future but from the moment she had laid down the tarot cards her demeanor changed; she became withdrawn—trance-like—and solemn and abruptly ended their session.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.