norfolk

Hide & Seek – Part Twenty

The athletic Captain Hastings was the first to witness the aftermath of devastation in the driveway of Somersby Hall. Close on his heels was Chief Inspector Japp, somewhat hampered by his refusal to put out his pipe whilst giving chase. Hercule Poirot arrived shortly afterwards, the exertion of an urgent waddle evident upon his dampened brow. Lord Bottomclutch, his steps leadened by grief and resolve whittled by Poirot’s questioning, followed behind. He grimly wondered if life in Tunkle-on-Wyme would ever return to the peaceful mundanity he loved so much.

Poirot and Japp frowned at the thick stockinged legs, splayed at alarming angles and footed with severe, sensible shoes that lay lifeless before them. Hastings gasped in horror at the sight of the Delage D6-11, rear bumper hopelessly dented, that currently sat atop the crushed limbs. His stunned disgust was reflected in the greasy face of Tooky, who peered timidly from the driving seat,  bobbing head on a corkscrewed neck, gaze straining towards the rear of the vehicle.

“Ah nivver sin ‘er, thass ut truth!” wailed Tooky, his comment aimed at a remarkably calm Enid Bowley, who stood quietly mere feet from the stricken bumper.

“Is she dead?”

Enid, so unaccustomed to speaking in the presence of her sister Ethel, formed her words with remarkable conviction for one confronted with the mangled body of her sibling. One might even have said that there was hope in her voice.

Captain Hastings hitched his trousers at the knees and crouched down on the gravel beside the protruding legs. He took a cautious look beneath the vehicle and the colour drained at once from his dashing features. He took a couple of steadying breaths and leaned back on his heels.

“Well, if she isn’t dead, she will be furious about the mess, no doubt.”

Tooky clambered from the driver’s seat, oily hands shaking, and joined Hastings on the gravel driveway.

“Ah wuss jus’ orf to gev tha new tyres a testin’,” he stammered. “Bloody thing shot orf backways ent I hears the maw blarin’! Ah nivver sin ‘er!”

“Well, I must say, they really are splendid tyres,” remarked Hastings, gently caressing the fresh rubber. “Damn shame about the bumper, though. It will take more than a bit of spit and polish to get that out.”

Poirot and Japp exchanged puzzled glances. Unused to the gentle nuances of the Norfolk dialect, they were still none the wiser.

“What’s happened here, then?” asked Japp.

Hastings got to his feet and delicately dusted down his tweeds.

“This gentleman is from the garage in the village,” replied Hastings, now confident in his grasp of the local lingo. “He replaced the slashed tyres on the Delage and was just trying them out. Seems he slipped the car into reverse by mistake and has run over Ethel Bowley.”

“Oh, I see.” Japp sucked thoughtfully on his pipe.

Poirot turned to Enid, whose gaze hovered over the vehicle, a curious calm upon her face.

“Mademoiselle Enid, I am so very sorry…”

“Oh! Oh. Mister Poirot, please, save your sympathy,” Enid replied. “Everyone else will, I can assure you of that.”

“Even so, mademoiselle, she was your sister.”

“My sister by blood but my jailor by design,” the quiverings of rage tinged her voice. “She trapped me with her bitterness, her bile, her jealousy of others and her cruel thoughts. Never a kind word, never a good deed – and we were hated because of it!”

To the great surprise of all gathered, Enid tore the demure pearls from her neck and flung them to the ground. She kicked off her clumpy shoes and released her greying locks from the viciously tight bun that held them.

“No more!” cried Enid, as if overcome by a passionate insanity. “No more. I shall wear all the colours of the rainbow and sing songs about nonsense. I shall be as Clara was – sweet and carefree, playful and gay. I have never known love in my life, Mister Poirot, but now I shall seek it. Seek it and give it, wherever I go.”

Abandoning the vestiges of her sister’s identity on the gravel driveway, Enid skipped in her stockinged feet away from Somersby Hall and into the village. Quite likely she was mad, but most certainly she was, at last, happy.

“Job for the local rozzers this, I reckon, don’t you Poirot?” said Japp, returning his attentions to more pertinent matters. “I mean, we’ve got enough on our plate as it is and it’s really only an accident.”

Oui, Chief Inspector, it is but an accident,” replied Poirot. “Mais, the deaths of Clara and Maggie were not accidents, most certainement. And Poirot, now he knows who carried out such deeds and why. Gentlemen, it is time we speak to the household, n’est-ce pas?

Hide & Seek – Part Eighteen

Captain Hastings stood in the sweeping driveway of Somersby Hall, squinting in the bright afternoon sun and concentrating very hard indeed. He found that if he furrowed his brow and directed all of his attention towards Barton the gamekeeper and Tooky, the mechanic from the village, he could just about follow the conversation between the two. Barton had been perfectly coherent when speaking to Poirot previously, but in the company of a fellow local he had slipped into the jaunty but baffling Norfolk dialect. Hastings was fairly certain that Tooky believed the tyres of the stricken Delage D6-11 had been attacked deliberately, using a pocket knife. Finding replacement tyres at short notice had apparently necessitated calling in a favour from a most alarming-sounding gentleman and vast quantities of unspecified beverages had been proffered in recompense. There also followed some discussion about the physical attributes of ‘Daisy’, although it was impossible to tell if this was a lady, or farm animal of some description.

“I don’t suppose either of you fellows would know of any types round about that might be in the business of slashing car tyres?” asked Hastings, keen to keep the conversation in the realms of the investigation.

“Thar useter be a mob ah young-uns allus putting on parts, but they dussent get raw with people’s property and such,” replied Tooky, leaving Hastings none the wiser.

“About a year or so back there were a few problems with some boys from the next village,” explained Barton. “But that was more like stealin’ milk and playin’ knock-down-ginger and the like, nothing vicious like this. Perhaps it was Tooky’s friend with the tyres, drummin’ up a bit of business!”

“Har har – yew’re onta summit thar, hold yew hard!” Tooky laughed and slapped his thigh with a huge, greasy palm.

Barton joined the mechanic in a booming belly-laugh and Hastings felt obliged to follow suit, although he wasn’t sure if this was a joking matter or something which required a degree of concern. Once he had regained his self-control, Tooky picked up his tool bag and set to work replacing the tyres of the car, leaving Hastings and Barton in a polite but awkward silence. Hastings saw an opportunity.

“So then, old bean, from one man-of-the-world to another, is it true what they say about you and Maggie?”

Barton grumbled to himself.

“Well now, that all depends on what’s bein’ said and who’s doin’ the sayin’, don’t it.”

“Harold Bottomclutch mentioned it,” replied Hastings. “There’s some truth in it, then?”

Barton sighed.

“Aye, there’s some truth to it, that there is.” Barton seemed to consider his next words very carefully. “I thought that maybe she were a bit keen on me, like I was ‘er.”

“She wasn’t?”

“Oh, that she was. Trouble was, she were a bit keen on ‘alf the village, too.”

Hastings licked his lips, very aware that a certain degree of tact was required.

“Maggie’s baby… was it..?”

“I ‘oped it were mine,” Barton said, quickly. “But ‘appen as there won’t be no way of tellin’ now, will there?” Barton fixed Hastings with a hard stare, although the Captain could have sworn there was a dampness in the corners of his eyes. “Will that be all, sir? I’ve a great deal to be gettin’ along with.”

Hastings nodded and watched as the gamekeeper trudged away, hands in pockets and head bowed. He felt a great deal of sympathy for the chap, it had to be said. As Barton disappeared beyond the buttery walls, Hastings was joined by a perturbed Hercule Poirot.

“Ah! Hastings! But there goes Barton and I had a great many things to ask of him,” scolded the great detective. “Mais, perhaps it does not matter. The fixing of the car is going well, I hope?”

“Oh! Yes, it is,” replied Hastings. “The mechanic says the tyres were deliberately attacked, probably with a small knife.”

Zut alors! But who would do such a thing?”

“He couldn’t say. It seems there is no-one of vandal leanings in the village…” Hastings paused as he remembered something from his first conversation with the mechanic. “Mind you, he did mention seeing a stranger in the high street the other night.”

“A stranger?” Poirot’s moustache twitched and an immaculate eyebrow reached for his forehead. “You asked him about this stranger, oui?

“Indeed, but it was late in the evening and the blasted fellow was too drunk to take much notice,” sighed Hastings. “Besides, he was in the telephone box so he didn’t get a good look at him.”

“In the telephone box? On the night of the murder?” Poirot’s tone indicated that this was a matter of great importance, although Captain Hastings could not fathom why. “Ah, my dear Hastings, this changes everything. Poirot, he is finally seeing things more clearly. The little grey cells, at last they speak to him. And when Poirot has spoken to Lord Bottomclutch, things will be clearer still, non?

Hide & Seek – Part Thirteen

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.”

“I’m sorry..?”

“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.