At the beginning of 1939, the English south coastal resort of Bournemouth proudly proclaimed a population of one hundred thirty thousand. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne River—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. The ideal vacation destination, it attracted all types of tourists searching for a place of respite.
Vacationers wanted something different, exciting and unique that contrasted sharply with the commonality of their usual daily existence. That’s what drew the Stoddards to Bournemouth in 1934; they had a service that fitted the bill. And they had no qualms about relieving their clients from the burden of carrying too much coin.
When they found a house suitable for their business and had it suitably furnished, Mary Elizabeth proudly hung out her shingle displaying her shtick: a psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psychic-analyst, and folklorist. While her husband, Lawrence, advertised his prowess in the local newspaper, The Echo, as a “powerful deep-trance medium.” They did not have to wait long before the clients flooded in. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.
Mary Elizabeth had been known only as ‘Elizabeth’ in the many towns she had visited. Though rarely her choice, she had never stayed long in any town she visited. More often, than not, she had been unceremoniously ushered out of town by the local constabulary.
The line between law and outlaw in her business was razor thin. But, as in any business, experience finally paid dividends. The key to her success was learning how to stay out of reach of those who would have preferred her jailed.
As her business flourished, overtime a comfortable coexistence developed between the Stoddards and the local community of Bournemouth. As far as the community was concerned if she stayed within the letter of the law, the occasional grey areas could be ignored. The Stoddards attracted commerce to Bournemouth during the high season. And, when all was said and done, that, by itself, made everything tickety-boo.
On December 11, 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite. He was reluctantly succeeded by his brother, Albert, who became King George VI. His wife, Elizabeth, became the queen consort.
Mary Elizabeth and her husband, Lawrence, were gregarious, convivial individuals. People easily succumbed to their charming, warm and inviting ways. So, it was, though not without reservation, that they eventually became an integral part of the landscape that defined Bournemouth. And, Mary Elizabeth became fondly known in the community by the nickname, ‘Queenie,’ after the queen consort.
Mary Elizabeth’s ‘special gifts’ unexpectedly expanded in 1937. Haste was a virtue to her way of thinking. The very thought that haste made waste was outside her immediate experience. And, when Lawrence encouraged her to slow down and had pointed out that she had become more accident prone, she dismissed it as a ridiculous observation. That is, until she fell down the flight of stairs in her two-story home. Rushed to hospital, she remained unconscious for two months.
During her convalescence, her usual dream-scape changed. She discovered that within days of her dreams, the events she dreamt about showed up in the news. The frequency of occurrence convinced her that this was no lucky coincidence. Turning this newly found gift into a monetary venture was never in question for Mary Elizabeth or Lawrence. What was in question was how to safe-guard it since they had no idea how long lasting her ability would be.
When Inspector Collier phoned her shortly after Kristallnacht, she was genuinely taken by surprise. Not an ardent fan of hers, she was suspicious of his request for an early morning visit. Still, it could not have been timelier. Her most recent nightmare necessitated that they meet. Witness to the horrific murder of a young child and experiencing it through the eyes and mind of her killer had left her discombobulated and chilled to the bone. So, she easily acquiesced to their rendezvous.
Lawrence poured two glasses of Port and handed one to Mary Elizabeth. They sat opposite each other in silence in front of the unlit fireplace.
“So…What are you going to tell him?” He crossed one leg over the other.
“The Inspector?” He nodded. “The truth. There’s no need to be concerned, Lawrence. So, wipe that look off your face. I have to tell him about what I dreamt.”
“I guess I understand…But…don’t you think he’ll think you’ve gone crackers? He’s well respected in the community. I’d hate to lose what we worked so hard to create.” He got up and poured himself another glass of Port. She refused when he proffered to refill her glass.
She let out a long sigh. “It’s a chance I must take,” she continued. “You didn’t experience the horror I lived through the other night. It was a child…The son-of-bitch murdered a child.” She pulled a hanky from her sleeve and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I may be the only one who’s got the goods on that bastard.”
“Maybe so…I’ve learned on too many occasions never to cross you when your mind is made up, Mary Elizabeth.” There were playful undertones in his comment. He took a sip from his glass and scrutinized her long and hard. “And his son?” He asked raising an eyebrow. “What are you going to tell him about his son?”
She bit down hard on her lower lip and, with a slight shrug, replied: “I’ll have that worked out before the mornin’. But, I can assure you that whatever’s said about his son the Inspector will leave with lots of hope and promise.”
Lawrence returned to the side table and poured another Port.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Lawrence?”
“I feel I’m on the verge of quicksand,” he replied, ignoring her question. “Is playing him a good idea?”
“I would never do that.” Joining him, she wrapped her arms around him. “I will never forget that for such a brief time, we, too, were parents. I can feel what he feels. No, I only want to allay his pain until I can learn more, nothing else. I’ll be careful about how tell him.” She took his hand and led him back to sit down.
“Are you alright, Mary Elizabeth? Since the night our wee Robbie passed, I’ve never seen such a forlorn expression.”
“These new powers or abilities, whatever you call them…they’re growing. And, the murderer of that little girl has them too.”