Despite the bounteous breakfast consumed not an hour or so since, Captain Hastings felt the beginnings of a small rumble in his stomach. It was another fine day in the Norfolk coastal town of Tunkle-on-Wyme and a salty breeze chased about the streets, gently ruffling his immaculate golden thatch. The sea air is said to be good for the appetite and Hastings was content to attribute to this his unseemly greed. It had been quite an eventful morning thus far, with the discovery of another body; poor Maggie the maid now joining the ill-fated Clara in the list of victims of a unknown rapscallion. Whilst Clara was clearly bludgeoned in the most despicable manner, Hastings and Japp had immediately taken Maggie’s hanging to be suicide. But the great Hercule Poirot had other ideas.
As he continued along steep, narrow streets made all the more treacherous by flint and cobble underfoot, Hastings began to see how obvious it was that Poirot had come to the conclusion he did. Firstly, there was no stool or chair anywhere beneath the body that would have been kicked aside in a suicide. Secondly, the keen eye of the famous detective had spied an unusual wearing of the rope along its length, suggesting that it had been dragged across the beam whilst bearing weight. Maggie was already dead when the noose was placed around her neck and then hoisted into position. Poirot was confident that on examination of the body, another cause of death would be discovered.
The rope was one thing but it gave Hastings the pip to think he hadn’t noticed the absence of a stool beneath the body. Perhaps this was why he had been despatched into town to find a mechanic, rather than assist with the investigation, which had now taken a much more urgent turn. In truth, Hastings did not mind too much. Questioning suspects had never been his strong point and it was true to say that he was slightly more concerned about the state of the car than he was the murders. Murders happened all the time in London and were usually for some good reason or other, but the vandalism of a motor vehicle was a mindless crime against common decency. Also, Derbyshire had mentioned that the mechanic was next to the bakery and Hastings was very much in the mood for a pastry.
Hastings soon found the mechanic’s workshop at the bottom of an unusually severe incline, which struck him as a most inconvenient location to be reached by vehicles of any kind, let alone ones needing the attention of a mechanic. In fact, it struck Hastings that Tunkle-on-Wyme was not at all an ideal place for motor cars. The streets, although pretty in their own way, were crowded on either side by quaint buildings fashioned from the local flint, their painted wooden doors and window frames resplendent in cheerful pastel shades. The cobbles on the roads would make any journey a bone-rattling experience, that is if one could make it more than a few feet before being stopped in one’s tracks by a marauding flock of geese, or old women carrying unfeasibly large baskets of fish or some such thing. Charming, but hardly practical.
Tempting aromas of fresh bread and sweet treats mingled with the briny breeze and Captain Hastings would have followed them directly through the door of the bakery, had the quirky rolling Norfolk lilt of the mechanic not drawn his attention.
“Mornin’, sir, its thar summit thass ah kin help yew with?”
Hastings turned to address the beaming, oil-smeared face of a man who appeared entirely comprised of grime and overalls. He stood beneath a painted sign declaring the premises to be ‘Took’s Automative Centre’ and was wiping his hands on a cloth that was filthier than he was.
“Good morning,” replied Hastings, fervently hoping the fellow didn’t offer him his hand. “My name is Hastings, I’m staying at Somersby Hall and I’m having a problem with my vehicle. You are Mr Took, I take it?”
“Yis. Everrone calls me Tooky,” replied the mechanic. “Somersby Hall, eh? Yew’re a furriner, then?”
Hastings returned a blank stare, wondering if the chap was speaking English.
“A vister to these parts?” Tooky continued. “Nivvermind. Wassisit the matter with your car?”
“All four tyres have been damaged, I’m afraid,” Hastings replied, hoping he was answering the question he thought he was. “It’s a Delage D6-11, do you think you can find me the correct tyres?”
“Thass a hoolly rare ‘un of a car, sir, yew know.”
“Ah dint have the right tyres here but ah can ax about and bring them acrorst to the Hall afore too long,” Tooky pulled a grubby roll-up from his top pocket and rummaged around for a box of matches. Hastings held his breath as oil stained hands fumbled to get the roll-up lit. “Lady Bottomclutch is a primmicky maw, ent she sir? I had the vicar in here yisty axing about the wedding car and he had a raw mouth on him over her Ladyship.”
Tooky sucked the roll-up into life as Hastings tried to make sense of what he was saying.
“Wedding car? Is someone getting married?” asked Hastings.
“Yis! Ent that why yew’re visting? Yew know, it whar the vicar’s son that were putting up parts with their new maid and now they’s havvin to get spliced. Ah allus thought James Philpott ent the marrying kind, if you get my drift, all that velvet an’ lace. Still, tha mardle of the town says they done the dutty and bein’as the maw had a fat pot on ‘er it muss be true.”
“Sorry – are you saying that James Philpott is the father of Maggie’s baby?”
“Yis! Ah’d have said it was squit ’til I seen the girl meeself.”
“And you say that Mr Philpott was complaining about Lady Bottomclutch?” Hastings continued.
“Hold yew hard, ah’m not saying no one said nowt,” replied Tooky, dragging hard on the limp stub of his roll-up. “With all yews furriners about I dussent gev over to mardling!”
“There are other… furry… types… about?” said Hastings, getting a feel for the local lingo.
“Ah seen one ah em lassnight on the way back from The Cat & Compass,” replied Tooky, nodding. “But ah’s full ‘o tha sluss and ah dint see the face. It were late. He was in the telephone box on the high street. Bloody furriners. Howsomever, ah’ll bring tha tyres acrorst tha Hall, arright?”
Tooky threw the tattered remains of the roll-up to the floor, tugged at his cap and sauntered back into the gloom of his garage. Hastings felt that he had garnered some very important information here this morning, if only he knew what the devil the fellow was talking about.