Death of Cold
That evening Carolus went out to the old Coastguard station to report progress to Jack and Greta Fyrth.
“Not that there is much progress,” he thought rather fretfully as he drove out through a shower of rain. But he liked being with the young couple, and agreed with Greta that she had one of the quietest babies on record.
“The creature simply sleeps,” she said with her English self-conscious concealment of gosh. “Hours on end. A sort of Rip Van Winkle. But Jack says it’s quite natural.”
When Carolus arrived that day the two were in their little brick-floored sitting-room. Jack had just opened a bottle of Amontillado.
“Getting anywhere?” Greta asked.
“Not really. Stirring up the mud, as I was afraid.”
“Did Daddy lead a double life, then?” asked Greta.
“Not more than we all do, I imagine,” said Carolus. “Have you seen the Will?”
“Yes. Who is Violette Bonner?” asked Jack.
“That I have yet to find out. In fact it seems that I have everything to find out. I haven’t a notion yet how your father died. But I’ve talked to a number of rather curious people and gathered a certain amount of heterogeneous information.”
He told them first about Grool.
Greta smiled. “He was quite capable of murdering Daddy for winning the Angling Competition,” she said.
He went on to the Original Gypsy Lee.
“A nice cosy woman who sees to it that no one who comes to her is ‘upset’, as she calls it. But she put in a bit about water when your father consulted her which seems to have been rather uncomfortably apt. Why do you think he went to her at all?”
“To pass the time, I imagine. He wasn’t superstitious or anything, and if he was he couldn’t surely have taken her seriously.”
“You may be right,” said Carolus. He decided not to repeat Mrs. Hammock’s story about the warning she was to give to the ‘large party with auburn hair and two gold teeth’, but he felt that in this was a more feasible explanation of the Mayor’s sudden impulse to visit the fortune-teller.
He went on to Rowlands. “One of those people for whom the Universal Scheme is too elementary,” he explained. “He ‘always says’ he has his own God, described as the wind on the downs.”
“What tedious people atheists are!” agreed Jack. “I know the man you mean.”
“He had nothing of much interest to tell me. So I went to see Mrs. Thump.”
“Did you?” said Greta, and Carolus thought there was a touch of annoyance in her manner, “I can’t see how she could help.”
“She could have. Perhaps considerably. But she wouldn’t. She was on the pier that afternoon.”
“On the pier? Old Thump? Whatever for?” asked Greta.
“She told me she went to ask your father for news of you. She says you’re like one of her own.”
“Could be,” admitted Greta. “I suppose she is devoted in her way.”
“She’s open enough up to a point, but she refuses to say when she left the pier or saw your father for the last time.”
“I’ll have a word with her,” promised Greta. “I daresay I can get it out of her. She was betting madly, I suppose?”
“I rather gathered so.”
“She always seems to lose. I’ve never known her out of debt. Like all punters, she dreams of a run of luck which will put her in the clear.”
Carolus went on to the Wirrals in their home.
“It is rather awful, isn’t it? Lily thinks it’s smart. They never stop looking at television except to drink.”
“Your sister-in-law went swimming that evening around six o’clock.”
“Swims like a fish,” said Jack. “The only thing she does really well. She ought to have a go at the Channel.”
“As good as that?”
“Right above our class.”
“That’s interesting,” said Carolus thoughtfully.
“A rather curious thing. She told me a quite unnecessary lie. It seems she met a man called Bridger that evening who was once Mr. Wirral’s chauffeur.”
“Oh yes,” said Greta. “It’s an affair. Even Paul knows about it now, I should think.”
“Yes, but she distinctly told me she went swimming from her beach hut. Number 17 at the Far End. I’ve since found out, almost by chance, that she hired a bathing hut from the attendant, Swipely, quite near to pier that evening.”
“Do you know why?”
“She told Swipely some story about having lost the key of her own hut.”
“She certainly had not lost it two nights before the Mayor disappeared,” said Jack. “I went to their flat for cocktails, and while I was with Paul she came in from the beach. She was twirling the thing—a rather large heavy key—in her hand.”
“Seen anyone else?” asked Greta rather sharply.
“A character called Tiplock who blamed your father because he was prosecuted for selling pornography. He was on the pier that day, too. And the pier manager, Alec Slicker.”
“Nasty piece of work,” commented Jack.
“I’ve nearly finished now chasing up these odd things. I must talk to ‘Glad’, Rowlands’ daughter, who is a barmaid on the pier.”
“And in the Will, remember.”
“Yes. I must see Old Hammond. And I must try to trace Violette Bonner.”
“You don’t sound very hopeful.”
“Frankly, I’m not. I’m beginning to think the police were right in leaving this alone.”
“We’re a bit down about it, too. We’ve decided not to take this cottage again next year. It’s really too small, now there are three of us.”
“There are only two bedrooms,” explained Jack. “It’s all right in fine weather, when you can get out. But on an evening like this you feel you’re in a box.”
“You see, we really only came to Oldhaven because of Daddy. Now he’s gone it will always be rather depressing. Especially if we never know the how or why.”
“I’ll do my best,” promised Carolus.
“I know you will. Now, I’m going to make you an omelette tonight because it’s the crone’s day off.”
“Oh, you’ve still got your crone?” said Carolus.
“Yes, the old battle-axe,” smiled Greta. “She’s not really so bad, I suppose, and seems quite attached to the infant. But what a woman! She’s nearly sixty, with a face like the back of a tram, but when I was in the nursing-home she wouldn’t come near the cottage. Said she wouldn’t be alone in the house with Jack. It wouldn’t be Right! I’m not sorry to cook for us at night. I rather fancy myself at omelettes.”
A discussion then broke out on the making of omelettes. Strange, thought Carolus, that in England, where cooking is so mediocre, there should be so much talk about it. He was as bad as they were, and argued hotly about that spoonful of water which should or should not be added and the shape of the pan to be used.
“Come and see how it’s done,” challenged Greta. “If you can find room to stand.”
They left Jack in his armchair and went into the small kitchen, which, Carolus noticed, served as bathroom as well, the bath having a hinged lid that formed Greta’s table.
“It’s all terribly pokey,” she said she beat her eggs with a fork, spurning an egg-whisk, but we’ve always rather loved it before this happened. Carolus, how did my father die?”
“I don’t know. But I haven’t lost hope of finding out.”
“No. Don’t do that. I must know the truth.”
When they were sitting round the little rickety table in the only other room, Greta spoke more cheerfully.
“I met little Miss Pepys today,” she said.
“Talk to her?” asked Jack.
“Yes. I bought her a coffee. Poor old thing! She doesn’t mean to be, but she can’t help being rather thrilled by anything as exciting as Daddy’s mysterious death.”
“Who is Miss Pepys?” asked Carolus.
“She’s my old governess. For years and years it seems now she used to arrive at Glendower with an umbrella, winter or summer, and give me what were called lessons. I suppose I learnt something from her.”
“Very little,” said Jack. “You can only just read and write now.”
“But she meant well. She and old Thump used to hate one another. I can see them now when they met in the hall, positively bristling. Then after lessons I used to go for a walk with Miss Pepys.”
“I don’t see what she’s got to be thrilled about in your father dying.”
“He left her a hundred pounds, I think. But it’s not that. You know how she goes to the pier every afternoon? She must be their best customer. All seasons, all weathers you’ll see her marching on about three o’clock and off again at half-past four. Of course she only lives a few hundred yards away.”
“But what ‘thrilled’ her?” asked Jack.
“I couldn’t make out for a long time. Then, after a lot of tittering and playing with her gloves and touching her black hair, she said, ‘You know, Greta, I must be one of the last to have seen your poor father alive.’ I said yes, I expected she was. She wanted to go on about it, but I managed to shut her up. She doesn’t mean to be tactless, poor old thing, but I do find that sort of gloating attitude a bit hard to bear.”
“Of course you do.”
“What about her for your list?” Jack suggested to Carolus.
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never seen the remarkable Miss Pepys. She’s Greta’s friend. But since you seem to have a nice large crowd of suspects already, I thought you’d like another.”
“Could she have seen anything?”
“I don’t see how. She’s never home later than half-past four, and you’ve got all that.”
“True. I’ll keep that in mind if I get desperate and start clutching at straws.”
“You ought to add her to your collection, though,” said Greta. “Such a little oddity. Only about four feet nothing. Might be any age. Innocent, if you know what I mean; but misses nothing. I adore Miss Pepys.”
After that they talked of other things and, to the relief of Carolus, the painful subject of Greta’s father did not recur. He left them early to return to his hotel.
Here a surprise awaited him. Two men, so plainly detectives that they might as well have worn uniform, rose together from a settee in the hall on which they had been sitting silently side by side. Detective Sergeant Cotter, a stout little sergeant-major of a man, and Detective Constable Hawkins came forward together.
“Are you Mr. Deene?” asked Cotter.
“I should like a word with you,” said Cotter, and looked about him as though he expected to find a confessional there.
Carolus led them to a little writing-room off the main lounge.
“I understand you’ve been making enquiries about Mr. Wirral,” said Cotter. “I should like to point out that that is a police matter. ”
Carolus said nothing. This exasperated Cotter.
“The Chief Constable won’t have it, not in Oldhaven,” he said. “There may be places where they let amateur detectives play around, but not here. You’ll have to drop it.”
“What a very odd rigmarole!” commented Carolus affably. “Just what are you trying to tell me?”
“These detective larks. It won’t do. We don’t allow them here. Asking questions and that.”
Cotter looked hot.
“Perhaps you would just explain to me what law I am breaking?”
“Obstructing the police in the execution of their duties.”
“That could only be true if the police were performing the duties. But we won’t waste our time. Mine’s valuable, and I daresay you have to get back to your duties on the promenade. I am going to find out whether the late Mayor was murdered and if so by whom. It may take me quite a time, but I shall probably know in the end.”
“That’s very foolhardy, Mr. Deene. Very foolhardy. We can’t have interference, you know that.”
“Interference with what? What are you doing about Wirral’s death?”
“We’ve had instructions from the highest quarters that no further investigation is necessary or in the public interest.”
“That’s fine. But, you see, there are no highest quarters for me. I’m just an inquisitive schoolmaster enjoying a summer holiday. Highest quarters have always seemed to me rather silly.”
“The Chief Constable says . . .”
Carolus, to the surprise of both policeman, made a rude, monosyllabic reply and went up to bed.