Sunday 2 – Monday 3 June 2013
Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Cranbourne slept poorly at Chidlington Hall. The facts of the case as passed on to him by Admiral Cuthbert Bennett IV bounced around his head all night, as he tried to piece together what might have occurred prior to Edward ‘Battersea’ Wharburton’s death. The house was positively filled with potential suspects, including his father’s old friend, the Admiral. Experience had taught Cranbourne never to rule anyone out until he had definitive evidence to prove his or her innocence.
He had risen earlier than usual, and had taken his breakfast in the dining room. It provided him with an opportunity to observe the Wharburton’s staff in action. Unfortunately, though, he’d only come into contact with two parlour maids, Anna and Gertie, who seemed to be working a tandem operation. Cranbourne resolved to call all of Chidlington Hall’s staff, in and out of doors, to a meeting at eleven as he devoured the perfectly soft-boiled eggs, bacon, toast and tea that Anna had brought him.
When he had eaten, Cranbourne made his way through the mansion and out to the vast gardens. The grounds of Chidlington Hall overlooked the nearby village to the south and the woodlands in every other direction. He ambled through the manicured grounds to a garden setting a short distance from the Hall. It was close enough that if he was needed he could assist quickly, and far enough that the every day noise from the house was unheard. He sat himself down on a wicker chair, placed his police notebook in front of him and flipped to the page upon which he had started writing his notes regarding Wharburton’s death.
He had a perfect view of the tennis court from where he sat, and noted that he was not the first to rise. George Wharburton was prancing around the tennis court as if he was a professional player; his opponent, Cranbourne could make out even from the distance that he was from the court, was an attractive young woman who giggled gaily every time George missed a shot. The young Wharburton clearly did not mind being laughed at, and often joined her in the frivolity of the moment.
‘Is it entirely acceptable,’ Cranbourne wondered aloud to himself, ‘to wipe George Wharburton from the list of suspects? Must find out who he was playing tennis against before he entered the ballroom. Distance isn’t that far that he couldn’t have clocked his father on the head and then popped out for a spot of tennis. And if it was another pretty young thing that he was playing against, no doubt she’ll have a story that corroborates his alibi.’
Cranbourne drew his attention away from the couple running around the tennis court and looked back at Chidlington Hall just in time to see an elderly man raise his hand in a wave. The DCI reciprocated and that seemed to be an invitation to the man to begin his journey to sit with Cranbourne. When the elderly man arrived at the garden setting, he was visibly breathless, and dropped himself heavily into the wicker chair opposite the DCI.
In between gasps of air, he spoke, ‘I say, old chap, I take it that you’re either the fellow Bertie knows from the Home Office, or you’re a plod.’
‘Detective Chief Inspector Cranbourne,’ Cyril said and offered his hand to the breathless man. ‘And you are?’
‘Oh, right,’ he shook Cranbourne’s hand. ‘Lord Kenneth Finch, member of the Houses of Parliament.’
‘Ah, yes, I’ve been waiting to speak with you. Where exactly where you last night when Mr. Fairweather and I arrived?’
Finch raised an eyebrow. He was not used to being questioned about anything by someone inferior in status to himself.
‘I don’t see how that has anything to do with Battersea’s death. Rather impertinent of you, I might add.’
‘You may very well consider me impertinent, Lord Finch, but I am investigating a murder and my questions take precedent over your sensibilities. Your failure to answer them might lead me to think that you had something to do with Wharburton’s death.’
Finch shifted uncomfortably in his seat and considered demanding an apology from the DCI.
‘Well, Lord Finch, are you going to answer my questions? I don’t imagine that any of this is going to reflect positively on you when it reaches the newspapers, so I’m sure that obstructing a police investigation might add to your publicity whoas, not to mention how poorly it would reflect upon the other Lords in Parliament who mightn’t take too kindly to one of their own facing a charge of obstruction.’ Cranbourne had dealt with a few of the elite class in his time as a member of the constabulary and, as such, had picked up that none of them ever really appreciated the kind of publicity that was generated by their involvement in criminal activities, despite their innocence.
‘The wife was shaken by the events of the afternoon. She retired early and I joined her. You know, female nerves and such. Needed the support of a good, strong man.’ Finch was quick to reply.
Cranbourne jotted Finch’s excuse down in his notebook and then looked intently at the man sitting opposite him.
‘And what, Lord Finch, can you tell me about the moment Mr. Wharburton was discovered?’
Finch scratched his head.
‘Well, the thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me, was that none of the Battersea’s staff rushed into the ballroom when we heard the scream. Struck me as rather odd. All of the guests who were present made their way to the ballroom, but the staff . . . not one of them. Doesn’t that strike you as being odd, Detective Chief Inspector?’
‘Indeed it does, Lord Finch,’ Cranbourne replied.
‘Well then,’ Finch said, regaining his confidence, ‘what do you say to that?’
The DCI tapped his pencil on a blank page of his notebook and looked back over to the tennis court and George Wharburton.
‘What can you tell me about him?’ Cranbourne nodded in the direction of the tennis courts. Finch glanced over and shrugged.
‘Lived off his father’s wealth. Bit of a playboy; has a new floozy every few weeks. Not sure who that one is, but I doubt that she’s a woman of means. Doubt that he’d have the intestinal fortitude to kill his father though. Bit of a . . . well, doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. Hasn’t worked a day in his life, the little shit.’
Finch watched as Cranbourne scrawled notes in his notebook. He felt relieved that the DCI’s attention had been drawn away from him as a suspect, and was happy to shine the light of suspicion on to the arrogant offspring of his deceased friend.
‘And what about the staff, Lord Finch? Is there anything that you might be able to tell me about them? You know, considering that you were a good friend of the deceased and, from what I’ve been able to establish, a regular visitor to Chidlington Hall. Anyone strike you as suspicious?’ Cranbourne pandered to Finch’s ego with a softer tone of deference rather than accusation.
‘Now that,’ Finch said, ‘is a bloody good question, Cranbourne. I must say that I’ve never been comfortable with that parlour maid. Gertie, I think her name is. She and that other one, Anna, shifty indeed. Always sneaking around in places they shouldn’t be.’
‘What about the butler?’ Cranbourne inquired.
‘Arden? Good lord, that man has been in Battersea’s employ for years. I doubt that there’s anything off about him.’
‘Covering all bases, you understand, Lord Finch,’ Cranbourne replied.
‘Mind you, now that you ask, Arden has been a little, you know, off of late. Don’t know what that’s about.’
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Cranbourne enjoying the outdoor setting and Finch just itching to return to the safety of indoors. Finally, Cranbourne broke the silence.
‘And what was this weekend’s get together in aid of, Lord Finch? No one seems to have mentioned the reason behind it.’
‘Jolly good question again. It seems we were all called to Chidlington because Battersea wanted to discuss something. Thing is, none of us actually know what that thing was.’
Cranbourne’s brow furrowed, automatically in tune with things that sounded odd.
‘You mean, you were all called here but none of you know why?’
‘Yes, that’s correct, Detective Chief Inspector.’
‘Curious,’ Cranbourne stated and glanced again towards the tennis court and George Wharburton.
. . . To be continued . . .