Confusion reigned for a moment. Sir Archibald Wakely was typically cryptic about the whole affair, muttering something about “They’re covering their tracks now.” Mrs Merriweather got all hysterical and started going on about zombies and body snatchers and all sorts of nonsense. Inspector Morris, in dire need of the toilet as he was, had no patience for such idiocy.
“For God’s sake man! What are you talking about?”
“The body." the young constable stammered. "It’s gone from the morgue.”
“Well of course it bloody is. We buried it two weeks ago!”
Everyone looked embarrassed at this, except for Lal Singh, who looked as impassive as ever. Wakely recovered quickly and tried to look as if he hadn’t been taken in by the Constable’s news. Mrs Merriweather busied herself collecting the dirty breakfast dishes and hurried out of the room. The poor young Constable had nowhere to go and just stood there looking at his shoes. Morris spotted a look on Wakely’s face like he was about to try to take over again, but Morris was sick of it and wanted to keep the momentum going in his direction.
“Right, Constable, I’ll be having a chat with you about that later. First though, what’s this about a shooting on the sea front?”
At that moment Taylor walked into the dining room, looking much the better for his bathroom trip.
“Ah, Sergeant, perfect timing. Let the Constable here take you out to the sea front and talk you through what happened last night. I’ll join you just as soon as I’ve finished... my ablutions.”
Taylor smirked, just a little. “Yes sir.”
“So Taylor, what’s the word? Who’s this eye witness you’ve found?” Morris took a sip of his beer. It was much later that same day and they were sat in his favourite booth in the Eastern Breeze, far, he hoped, from the listening ears of the Ministry. In the end Morris had decided not to join Taylor out at the crime scene. He had some thinking to do. He was so furious that there’d been a gun fight while he was sat having that bloody meal with Sir Archibald and nobody had told him about it that he was worried he would take it out on the local Constabulary whom he was sure were just pawns in the larger game.
Taylor had been out to the site and done the initial work, talking to the local constabulary taking notes, inspecting the crime scene. Morris had spent the morning hidden in his booth thinking about the future of the investigation. The Ministry’s shenanigans had gone too far, it was time to get this whole mess back onto a police footing. Ministry or no ministry, crimes were being committed here and that meant it was his bailiwick.
“A local fisherman sir. Was just coming back in from sea when he heard shouting. Stayed around to listen but scarpered pretty sharpish when he heard shots being fired. I tracked him down myself when I saw the boat lying on the beach.”
“Good work Taylor. Have you mentioned this to the Ministry or the local boys yet?”
“No sir I thought I should report to you first. Although I’m sure they’ll figure it out for themselves like I did.”
“Good lad. So, who do you reckon for stealing the boat?”
“Kenton sir. Our eyewitness we’ve got recognised the photo, plus he heard the man we’re referring to as The Frenchman call him Monsieur Kenton. So that seems pretty conclusive.”
“Mmm.” Morris muttered into his beer.
“What was that sir?”
“Oh nothing Taylor. I just get the feeling, the further we get into this, that nothing that has happened here is exactly what it seems. But you’re right, he ID’d the photo so for now we’ll take it on faith that it was Kenton in the boat. What else?”
“He had Charlotte with him.”
“Yes sir. This is even more certain as the fisherman who saw it all actually knows Charlotte. So that’s a definite identification.”
“And the Frenchman. Did we get a good description?”
“Not really sir. He had his back to our witness for the encounter. But he did hear the Frenchman shout something about the pendant.”
“And we’re pretty sure it’s the Frenchman’s blood on the pier.”
“What’s your impression of what went on last night?”
“Well sir, I’d want to write up a time sheet to be certain of everything but as far as I can work it right now I’d say Kenton left the boarding house shortly after we all went to the restaurant. Charlotte followed him, for reasons that aren’t clear at the moment. Either he or she took the pendant with them and my money’s on Kenton for that one. Kenton steals the boat but Charlotte catches up with him before he can make a clean getaway. It’s around here that our fisherman came up to shore on the other side of the pier and heard Kenton and Charlotte shouting.”
“What makes you think they didn’t arrive together?”
“I suppose nothing sir. Although from what our man has reported they were fighting on the beach and Kenton didn’t sound very pleased to have her there.”
“Fair enough. Continue.”
“Well here’s where the Frenchman turns up. Starts shouting at Kenton. Our man can’t make out much of what he says because of the accent but reckoned he was after the pendant. And I think that’s reliable sir because it confused the heck out of the man. He couldn’t work out why they would be fighting about a pendant but he heard the word and remembered it. Shots are fired and our man hides realising this isn’t some three way lovers quarrel he’s listening into which he thought it was at first because of all the talk about the pendant.”
“A fair assumption.”
“Yes sir. There was one other thing he reported. I’m not sure how reliable it is sir but he says he heard a splash before the shots were fired. Like something had been thrown into the sea.”
“Really? What time does our man reckon the Frenchie turned up?”
“Maybe nine, nine-thirty. He’s not willing to swear on the time, says he can’t be sure.”
“Hmm.” Morris took a long, thoughtful drink of his pint. “That’s very interesting. So, let’s see Sergeant how much you’ve learnt of what I’ve been trying to teach you. What can you tell me of the other guests in the Bengal Lancer last night?”
“Last night sir?”
“Yes Taylor. Come on, I’ve been teaching you to always observe your surroundings let’s see whether you’ve been putting it into practice.”
“Well, there was us lot, obviously, once Wilson had turned up. Wonder why he didn’t travel with us sir?”
“Indeed.” Inspector Morris was muttering into his beer again.
“Most of the guests looked to me like locals. Married couples, the fella of whom has acquired a taste for the food while stationed in India and is dragging his wife out.”
“Don’t romanticise it Taylor. Just state the facts.”
“Well sir, the women tended to be picking at their food or just eating the crackers and breads.”
“That’s better. Who else?”
Taylor thought for a bit. Clearly trying to reconstruct the evening in his head. “The couple by the window!” he exclaimed.
“What about them?”
“Well they were much younger than all the rest for a start. And looked too well dressed to be local. And none of the other guests seemed to know them.”
“Good.” Morris said approvingly. “Keep this up and the next round’s on me.”
Taylor was pleased with the compliment and tried to dredge up more details from the night before. Although he sometimes moaned to his mates about his boss’ pedantic ways, he wasn’t without ambition and he’d heard that Morris was one of the best in his heyday and so he was trying to learn from the Inspector.
“Well sir, I’m sure you’ll tell me off for romanticising again, but they didn’t look like a couple to me. They didn’t seem, well, comfortable with each other I suppose.”
“No, you’re right. I thought so too. Who else was there?”
“There was a few chaps eating alone. A couple of them looked like local men. Again I figured them for ex-services. Probably couldn’t talk their wives in to coming out with them, or maybe didn’t have wives to eat with. And there was that guy who left not long after we sat down. He didn’t look local either sir.”
“Did you notice anything else about him?”
“No sir. Sorry. That’s all I can remember.”
“No matter Sergeant, you did well. You’ve earned your pint. Get me one as well and see if they can rustle us up some lunch. A ploughman's or something. I don’t know about you but I’m sticking to food I can recognise from now on. Ask them to start an account for us would you? I think we’re going to be staying in this town for a while and I like this pub, it’s private”
Taylor knew what that meant. No Ministry men.
Taylor returned to the table with the drinks. “So, what did I forget sir? What was it about the other diner?”
“He was French.”
Taylor almost spluttered his beer over the table. “Really sir. Do you think...?”
“I think I want to have a chat with our eye witness, see if I can’t get a better description out of him. Is he still hereabouts?”
“Yes sir. I told him not to put out to sea again today, not ‘til we’d finished with him. I’ve got his home address.”
“Good work Taylor. I think I might stop by for a little chat after we’ve finished our lunches. I want you to pop into the local constabulary and find out a few things for me.
“One, whether they’ve heard anything from the Admiralty. Two, whether any Frenchmen had registered with them or if they knew of any new foreigners visiting the town. Three, who reported to that poor young constable that the body of Kenton Jnr was missing from the morgue. That would have been a nice bit of mis-direction if I hadn’t put a stop to it pretty sharpish.
“When you’ve done that, pop into the B&Bs along the sea front see if any of them have had any foreign guests staying recently, I wouldn’t expect them to know French from German necessarily but they’ll remember a foreigner. I want you doing all the legwork on this one Taylor. Keep the local Bobbies and the Ministry men out of this, keep it just between us Met boys for now eh?”
“There was something else about last night sir.” Taylor said rather hesitantly after the barmaid had brought over their reassuringly recognisable ploughman’s lunches.
“What was that Taylor?”
“Well, leaving aside the general oddity around Sir Archibald inviting us out for dinner in the first place.”
“You thought that too eh? Go on.”
“Well, I know I pretended not to know anything about it last night but that was because Sir Archibald got my back up when he automatically assumed he’d have to order for everyone. But I’ve eaten curries before and none of them have ever made me that ill the next morning.”
“No sir. And it’s can’t just be a bad place because Sir Archibald says he eats there regularly and he’s not ill. And neither he nor that big Sikh were ill this morning. It just struck me as odd sir.”
“Rightly so, Sergeant, rightly so. Okay Sergeant, I wasn’t going to mention this today but since you’ve obviously been thinking it yourself, I also thought there was something odd about the whole evening. There’s something about that couple that I feel I should know but don’t. I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually, probably just as I’m dropping off to sleep. These things usually do. I couldn’t understand why Sir Archibald suddenly decided to invite us out either, until the news about the gun play on the pier and James Kenton running off while we were out.”
“You think we were kept out of the way sir?” Taylor’s eyes gleamed with excitement.
“I think it’s possible. Same as I’m dubious about the announcement that Kenton Jnr’s body was missing from the morgue. I think that was meant to keep us busy as well.
“The Ministry’s playing their own game. And that’s fine as far as it goes. They were up front about it, I’ll give them that. At least they never gave any pretence in being interested in anything but their own ends here. And I was willing to play along for a while but there’s a shooting on the pier at around ten o’clock last night and we’re not informed until breakfast the next day? That is taking it too far! They’re making a mockery of the Metropolitan police force and I for one have had enough!
“You’re going to have to make a decision Sergeant, one side or the other. Because I’m sick of this! They’re playing us for fools. Inviting us out for a bloody curry so James Kenton can get away easily. And making us damnably ill to boot. And then keeping the news of a gunfight from us so this Frenchie could get away. I don’t know what they’re up to and I don’t care. I’ve had enough. Oh, I’m sure they’ve got their reasons. Probably damned good ones too but I’m just a city copper. I don’t pretend to understand politics and statesmanship. I understand murder though and somebody murdered Kenton Jnr and just because we don’t know who he was doesn’t mean he wasn’t some woman’s son who deserves to know what happened to him. National security be damned. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I don’t care about the rest of it, they can play silly buggers all they like but I’m a policeman and I was called in to solve a murder case. And that’s what I’m going to do.
“However, I don’t expect you to do so as well. Going against them is almost certainly going to hurt your career. I’m close to retirement anyway so there’s not much they can do to me. Post me to a rural backwater to serve out my time is about the worst they can do and I wouldn’t mind that so much. My wife would be pleased if nothing else. She hates the city. But you, you’ve got your whole career ahead of you.”
“But sir.” Taylor protested.
“No, hear me out Sergeant. I won’t hold it against you if you decide to take the sensible course and play along but I’m determined to get to the bottom of this. I probably won’t be able to stop them covering it up, just like last time, but I’ll give it a damn good try. I don’t like their easy assumption that I’m just going to play along with their bloody games!”
Taylor didn’t even need to take a moment to think about it. “I’m a police man, sir, not a Ministry hack. If that hurts my career then so be it.”
“Good man Sergeant. But, please, if this all goes pear shaped, just tell ‘em you were following my orders all right? And remember, we need to tread carefully from now on. I don’t want the Ministry realising that we’re not playing their game any more. Make your enquiries seem casual, especially when you’re talking to that young constable from this morning”
“Will do sir.” Taylor looked at the Inspector while they ate. During the course of their conversation over their drinks and meal, he had not once played with his pipe or sneered at Taylor for some incompetence or other. When he was speaking he seemed more fired up than Taylor had seen him before. He was speaking faster and wasn’t whispering any more. Taylor thought that he might be seeing a glimpse of the old Morris: the man old timers in the Yard still spoke of with respect; the great policeman who would let nothing get between him and the solving of a crime; whose sharp mind and memory for detail had caught many a criminal up short. ‘The Whisperer’, a washed up policeman with past glories but no future, was no more. ‘Mighty’ Morris was back, he thought with an inward smile. Watch out, Sir Archibald.