Death on Romney Marsh
So Mrs. Flipp was not so simple. Her note under the windscreen wiper had been one of biggest surprises for Carolus so far. In order to know her address, however, he had to call on Mrs. Chinlock and pay his tithe of information. They waited until two young girls had left the post office and they were alone then exchanged expectant looks.
“Do you happen to know where a Mrs. Flipp who works at Shirley Cross lives? I know it’s Appledore but I want the exact address.”
“Yes, I do,” said Mrs. Chinlock. “I hear you were there yesterday?”
“Just having a look around.”
“With another gentleman.”
Fair’s fair, thought Carolus.
“Yes. Mowlett’s nephew Gaston.”
This made a big impression but Mrs. Chinlock thought the address might be worth more.
“Has he seen Mowlett?” she tried.
“I know Mrs. Flipp lives in Appledore. It’s just the street and number,” said Carolus firmly.
Mrs. Chinlock knew she had met her master.
“Number Three, Passover Cottages,” she snapped.
“Thank you very much. I’ll come and see you again,” promised Carolus.
“Passover Cottages were so beautifully of the best period of cottage architecture, the Jacobean, that they must almost certainly be marked for demolition by one Authority or another, Carolus thought. But when he knocked at Number Three heads popped out of other windows like figures in cuckoo clocks.”
“The door slightly opened and he saw Mrs. Flipp’s long pale face. She seemed to communicate entirely by gesture and spoke no word as she waved him in. When she did speak it was with a low wheezy voice.
“Found my note then,” she said, and stood contemplating Carolus.
He decided to wait.
“I knew you were after something,” said Mrs. Flipp thoughtfully.
“It’s Mowlett, isn’t it?” she wheezed.
“No. Withers,” retorted Carolus.
She did not change her expression but continued to stare. Then she nodded towards a chair.
“Oh. That’s different,” she said.
“I thought perhaps you might . . .”
“Ush!” interrupted Mrs. Flipp, setting her finger to her lips. “Thin walls!” she whispered, pointing.
There was a long pause.
“I could tell you about Mowlett,” she offered at last. “I thought it was that.”
“No, Withers,” said Carolus again.
“You don’t want to know how he Went? Mowlett I mean.”
“I want something for telling you.”
“That’s all right, but it’s not what I want to know.”
“I might know where Withers was supposed to have gone.”
“That would be more interesting.”
“You don’t want to hear about Mowlett at all?” She sounded like a disappointed sales woman.
“You can throw it in with the rest.”
“It’s worth something to Cuchran for me not to say anything about it.”
“Yes. No doubt you’ve had what it’s worth to him already.”
“Something like a greedy smile appeared on Mrs. Flipp’s pale equine features.
“Do you want to know or don’t you? Come on because my husband will be home and it would never do for him to find you here.”
“I might,” said Carolus.
Mrs. Flipp spread out the fingers of both hands.
“Ten,” she said unnecessarily.
Carolus nodded. He was distinctly amused.
Another gesture told him that the money should be placed on the table. With this he complied.
“There was no sign of him going before he did,” breathed Mrs. Flipp. “That’s the funny part. Everything just as usual one day and the next he was gone.”
“You mean he did no packing?”
“Must of. Only I never saw any. It must have been done all the same night.”
“Were you in the habit of going into his rooms?”
“Not towards the end I wasn’t.”
“Then he may have been packing for several days?”
“I’m not saying he wasn’t. Only it’s funny he never said anything to me. Or to anyone else that I know of. You think he would of, wouldn’t you? Then all of the sudden, one evening it must have been after I’d gone home for the day, there it was. After all those years.”
“How did you know?”
“Cuchran told me next morning. ‘Mowlett’s decided to leave us, Mrs. Flipp,’ he said. I’m not one to ask questions so I let it be.”
“Did you go into Mowlett’s rooms, then?”
“No. They were locked. So that was the last I heard of it from anyone.”
“You didn’t inform the police?”
“No, I did not,” said Mrs. Flipp emphatically. “Whatever for? It was no business of theirs if he wanted to go off. What have they ever done for anyone?”
“You’ve told no one?”
“I’m not one to run around talking about things.”
“Not even your husband?”
“Who? Him? He’s the last one I should tell. That would be spreading it about. He’d be down at the Green Man in next to no time. No. I waited until someone came to enquire. I thought they would sooner or later. Like what you’ve done. Besides, what was there to tell, when it came to it? For the police, I mean. It’s different when anyone wants to know where he’s gone and that. They say he’s abroad.”
“You don’t think so?”
“It’s not for me to say.”
“Have his rooms remained locked up ever since?”
“For a long time they did. Then one day Mrs. Cuchran asked me to clean them out. I found all his things gone, of course, otherwise they were just as they had been. The telly was still there.”
Carolus marvelled how communicative Mrs. Flipp had become. He also marvelled at anyone supposing she was ‘simple’. If anyone were complex, she was.
“Did Mowlett seem quite settled before this happened?”
“That’s what I’m telling you. Right up to the last he did. Well, at his age you’d expect it, wouldn’t you? I never thought for a minute he’d fly off like that. But then you can never tell with people.”
“He didn’t talk to you much, then?”
“Not to say talk. We passed the time of day and that, but he wasn’t one for a lot of gossip and no more was I. Very civil, I must say. He couldn’t forget what he had been, I suppose, when the house was what it was.”
“You didn’t know it then?”
“Oh no. I’ve only been there five years.”
“So you weren’t there when Withers left?”
“No. I’ve only heard of him. He’d gone some years when I went there. All I’ve had is foreigners and I must say I was glad to see the back of them, jibbering away.”
Carolus saw the danger of a diversion here.
“You were going to tell me about Withers,” he said.
“I said I might be able to tell you where he was supposed to have gone. I couldn’t be sure of that. What it comes to is I have seen an address written down.”
“Never mind that. I don’t keep my eyes shut when I’m working. I can read, you know. But I don’t know anything for certain.”
“It was a pub,” said Mrs. Flipp, slowly. “I might be able to remember the name if I was to think hard enough.”
Carolus knew the symptoms and pulled out another fiver. Mrs. Flipp said nothing as she stuffed it into her purse.
“Ramsgate way, I think it was.”
“You’re not certain?”
“Well I know the name. I wrote it down at the time because it sounded funny to me. The Laughing Cavalier, that’s what it was. At a place called Little Goble. How does that suit you? I don’t suppose there’s anyone else could tell you that, whatever you was to pay them. Mind you, I’m not saying that would find him now.”
“No, but his name was attached to that address?”
“Certainly. When I saw it. Now you ought to be running along because my husband will be home.”
“You didn’t know Mowlett had a nephew?”
“No. I never heard anything of that. He may have done for all I know.”
“Or that he’d made a Will?”
“No. That I didn’t. But I can tell you one thing, there’ll be a tidy lot for someone. He’d got it put away. More than ever you’d think.”
“However do you come to know that?”
“Never you mind. It doesn’t do to keep your eyes shut does it? Yes, in one bank alone there was more than ever you and I will have between the two of us.”
Carolus felt he would not like to answer that for Mrs. Flipp after today’s interview.
“I wonder what will happen to it if they can’t find where he is? I suppose that Cuchran will get hold of it if he hasn’t already. Now, you must be going because I wouldn’t have my husband think I’d be talking to anyone.”
It was too late. There were heavy movements at the back of the cottage.
“There he is now,” said Mrs. Flipp, not greatly perturbed.
“Any rumours to the effect that Flipp ill-treated his wife clearly had no better ground then Flipp’s size and brawny aspect. He was a big man with a tawny moustache and the complexion of a heavy beer-drinker, but there was nothing of the bully about him, indeed if anything he was the oppressed party.
“You take those dirty boots off before you come in here,” said Mrs. Flipp, pointing accusingly. “This gentleman’s come to ask about Shirley Cross. He’s just going.”
It was explanation enough, Mrs. Flipp seemed to think.
“What did you want to know about Shirley Cross?” asked Flipp coming into the room in his socks.
“He used to work there once,” said Mrs. Flipp to Carolus. “That’s how I came to go there.”
“Yes. Before we came to live here. What did you want to know?”
“I hoped perhaps to learn where a man called Withers had gone when he left there.”
“Withers? Why I could have told you that, so could anyone else. There was no need to come traipsing over here to find that out.”
“Can’t you hold your tongue?” said his wife.
“He went to Little Goble. Or so we all heard at the time. I ought to know—I was working with him, wasn’t I? Yes he was to be found at the pub with a name like the Cavalry Arms, or something like that.”
“Has anyone seen him there?”
“Not that I know of. Well, they wouldn’t, would they? He wasn’t a man with a lot of friends though I must say Mowlett thought a lot of him. Very thick, they were.”
“I wish you wouldn’t keep this gentleman talking,” said Mrs. Flipp.
“Yes, fancy you coming all this way just to find that out. What brought you to this house, I wonder?”
“It was Mrs. Flipp’s connection with the place,” said Carolus.
“Mrs. Flipp? I knew Shirley Cross back in the old man’s time. Bit different then, it was. I worked up there as a lad.”
“That’s enough, now,” said Mrs. Flipp fiercely. “Else there won’t be anything for you to go up to the Green Man with. You had tonight’s the day before yesterday and tomorrow night’s yesterday, so what you’re going to do tonight I don’t know. The gentleman’s got all that way to go back so do for goodness’ sake stop talking and let him go.”
The threat seemed to work and Flipp disappeared sulkily into the back kitchen.
“If you should want to know anything more you know where to find me,” said Mrs. Flipp. “You never know, do you? Anything might happen with people like what they are.”
Flipp suddenly put his head in at the door. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “He wasn’t short of money, wasn’t Withers. Not before he left.”
“I know who will be, if you say another word,” said Mrs. Flipp. Then more directly to Carolus—“Good-bye, then.”
Carolus realised that there was to be no more delay and went out to the car.
Aunt Vicky had news for him.
“Though don’t ask me for details. It’s just that I hear from Pam Churcher (though I don’t know where she got it from exactly) that the front gates up at Shirley Cross were open today and a car was seen making for there with two men in it.”
“What sort of men?”
“Terrible, of course. What do you expect? Exactly like the kind of ruffians who used to come down and see Cuchran before the present wife appeared. Or what ever she is,” Aunt Vicky did not omit to add.
“I suppose it would be too much to ask if their car is still up there?”
“So far as I know. Those gates have not been open for years, I believe.”
“What make of car was it?”
“Unfortunately it wasn’t seen by any of the Churchers who are knowledgeable about such things. It was travelling very fast, I gather.”
“All cars always are, when pedestrians report on them. Particularly if they’ve had an accident.”
“I really can’t say. I give you the information for what it’s worth.”
“And for what it’s worth, Flipp doesn’t bully his wife, Aunt Vicky.”
“Oh. I’ve always heard he did.”
“I should say she bullies him, if anything.”
“Indeed? She’s not simple?”
“She is very far from simple.”
“Then why does she behave as if she were?”
“That is part of her anti-simplicity. How has Mrs. Stick been doing?”
“Splendidly, of course. She told me what she is giving us for dinner tonight but I couldn’t quite follow.”
“What did it sound like?”
“It sounded like pull it an extra gong, dear, but of course it couldn’t be that.”
“Poulet à L’estragon. Tarragon chicken,” elucidated Carolus.
“How very nice. And afterwards something quite odd. I took it for a crossword clue at first. Tartar! Oh, sir, rise! I thought it was. What could that be?”
Carolus was baffled for a moment.
“I have it. It’s a cherry tart. Tarte aux cerises.”
“No wonder you’re clever at finding out about crime,” said Aunt Vicki.