Saturday 1 June 2013
It was after six thirty the night of Edward ‘Battersea’ Wharburton’s death when Simon Fairweather of the Home Office arrived at Chidlington Hall with Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Cranbourne of Scotland Yard. The cold had set in, as had the wind, and the two men were more than happy to have been settled in front of the roaring fire in Wharburton’s study.
‘His body hasn’t been moved, gentlemen. I thought it prudent to leave everything in situ until the plods caught a look at it. No offence intended, Detective Chief Inspector,’ Admiral Cuthbert Bennett IV announced.
The DCI nodded. ‘None taken, Bertie.’
The informal reply caught Fairweather by surprise.
‘You two know each other?’
The Admiral shuffled closer to the DCI. ‘Yes, Simon. Cranbourne’s father and I served together at the beginning and the end of our respective careers. I’ve known Cyril since he was a wee lad.’ He clapped the policeman on the shoulder in a friendly gesture.
‘Surely that’s got to be a conflict of interest then?’ Fairweather asked.
‘What are you implying, Simon?’ the Admiral replied.
‘Well, it could be said that if the evidence points to you as being a suspect, Cranbourne here might not be entirely above reproach in the, aaahhhh, in the revelation of such evidence.’
The Admiral bellowed with laughter to the point of having tears roll down his ruddy cheeks.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me, Simon. Cranbourne would see his own father hanged if need be,’ Bennett said amidst gasping for air between fits of laughter.
‘Never the less, old man, I’ll be staying on to oversee the investigation,’ replied Fairweather, ‘If, of course, Detective Chief Inspector, you have no objections?’
‘None at all, Mr. Fairweather,’ the DCI quietly replied. His mind, however, was not invested in the current conversation, but rather already considering the facts of the case as they had been presented to him upon arrival at Chidlington Hall.
‘Bertie, when you arrived in the ballroom after hearing the scream,’ Cranbourne spoke slowly as if processing all possible variations of the answer before her received it, ‘what was your first impression?’
The Admiral’s brow furrowed as he remembered back to that moment. What exactly did he remember?
‘Well,’ he started, ‘I stepped into the ballroom from the foyer and immediately saw Battersea’s body –’
Cranbourne interrupted, wanting to clarify the first piece of information. ‘Battersea?’
‘Yes, that’s what we called him. Battersea. Not sure who first named him that, but it stuck and just about everyone who knows him, knew him, we knew him as Battersea. Old boy used to donate to the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home every year, without fail, and you know military types, we love to give each other appropriate nicknames. For Eddie it was Battersea. Some of us think he loved those dogs and cats more than he loved people. Anyway, he never seemed to mind the title, actually think he took pride in it, to be honest.’
‘Right, do carry on,’ Cranbourne said.
‘Where was I?’ Bennett paused to regain his thoughts. ‘Oh, right . . . stepped into the ballroom and saw his body on the floor underneath that hideous portrait of his grandmother. Old battle axe she was. At first it looked like he’d just keeled over, but upon closer inspection when Finch arrived, I noticed that he’d been cracked on the head. Sort of a pool of blood around his head, that’s what gave it away. Well, that and the great big dent in his scone.’
Despite also having seen action during wartime, Simon Fairweather was looking decidedly peaky as Bennett described the scene. The DCI was quick to notice.
‘I think you should take a seat, Mr. Fairweather, and I’ll pour you a brandy,’ said Cranbourne, and he walked to the sideboard near the only window in the study. He lined up three brandy balloons but before he could pour, Fairweather recovered enough to change the order.
‘Actually, Cranbourne, a scotch would sit better, thank you.’
Cranbourne returned the brandy balloons behind the decanters and replaced them with three crystal tumblers. Still holding both his police issue notebook and pencil, he deftly poured them each a drink.
‘Actually,’ Fairweather said, ‘make mine a double, please.’
‘Make ‘em all doubles, Cyril,’ added the Admiral.
The DCI obliged and doubled the amount of amber liquid in each tumbler.
After handing Bennett and Fairweather their drinks, Cranbourne returned to the sideboard to retrieve his own, then promptly joined the other two by the fire.
‘Was there anyone else in the room when you and your driver arrived, Bertie?’ The DCI sipped at the scotch then held the tumbler up to catch the light from the fire. He admired the colour of the alcohol as he revelled in its flavour.
‘No, I don’t believe there was anyone, Cyril, which strikes me as odd.’
‘Why so, Bertie?’
‘If there was no one else in the room, then who the bloody hell screamed and brought our attention to Battersea’s body?’
‘That, Bertie,’ replied the DCI, ‘is a jolly good question, and one that I intend to find the answer to.’
Outside the study door, two parlour maids listened in to the conversation taking place. From his perch on the staircase, Digby Arden, long-time butler to Battersea and Mrs. Wharburton, surveyed the women below and made a mental note to dock their pays for the wasted time. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the balustrades tighter and tighter with each passing minute. There was work to be done in Chidlington Hall and no one other than he seemed to understand the importance of it.
. . . To be continued . . .