Saturday 8 June 2013
Simon Fairweather of the Home Office had followed Detective Chief Inspector Cranbourne’s instructions to the letter, and despite having a greater level of authority than the DCI, Fairweather was happy to play second fiddle in the investigation of the death of Edward ‘Battersea’ Wharburton. He had gathered everyone together and they were, rather impatiently, waiting in the ballroom for Cranbourne to fill in the blanks. Admiral Cuthbert Bennett IV sidled over to where Fairweather had perched himself, albeit uncomfortably, on the seat that Cranbourne had sat in earlier that day.
‘I say, Simon, I’m rather amazed that you’re just standing back and letting Cranbourne do his thing. You’ve never struck me as the sit-on-your-hands type,’ the Admiral whispered in less than hushed tones.
‘You’re quite correct, Admiral. I’m not at all fond of sitting on my hands, but this is a police matter not one for the Home Office. I’m happy to have been able to use my . . .’ he searched for the perfect word. ‘My influence to gather some information for the DCI, but I’m rather glad it’s him not me having to handle this. Turns out, it’s a tad messy.’
The Admiral’s attention was piqued.
‘Messy, you say? Can you shed any light on it before Cyril comes in?’
‘None at all, Admiral, none at all. I do not want to spoil the great reveal,’ Fairweather replied. He wore the smile of a man who knew the kind of secret that could bring down a nation.
Lord Finch joined the two men, leaving his wife, Margaret, alone with the other women and Battersea’s son.
‘What are you two up to over here? Telling secrets, are you?’
‘Good God, Kenneth, why do you have to be so bloody childish? I simply can’t believe that you’re a member of parliament,’ Bennett snapped. ‘Of course we’re not telling secrets, you fool.’
Lord Finch mumbled and snarled and returned to the women. Bennett waited for him to be out of earshot before lamenting the fact he’d ever befriended Lord Finch.
Before Fairweather could inquire as to how the Admiral and the Lord had met, DCI Cranbourne ambled in carrying the envelope that Fairweather had presented to him in the dining room during his questioning of Christine Jefferies.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being so kind as to follow Mr. Fairweather’s instructions to meet me here.’
‘What exactly is this all about, Cranbourne?’ George demanded. The DCI grinned in George’s direction and continued to walk towards the only empty chair in the room. He carefully sat himself down on the antique seat, unbuttoned his jacket and withdrew his notebook from an inside pocket. He flipped it open to the page where he first began jotting notes about the case; the others sat tensely, all waiting for an explanation.
Cranbourne cleared his throat and began.
‘A few things bothered me about this case from the very beginning. The first was that Mr. Wharburton had invited you all here, but none of you knew why. The second thing that seemed odd was that a scream was heard and that alerted and led you to the discovery of the body, and yet, there was no one in the room when Admiral Bennett, his driver, and then the rest of you arrived. So, who screamed and was it because they’d found the body first?’
They sat silently, anticipating Cranbourne’s next words.
‘To understand why Mr. Wharburton was killed, it’s important that we understand what was going on here prior to that incident. George, you’d been spending a lot of time with Miss Jefferies. Correct?’
‘Yes, that’s true,’ replied George. He reached out and clasped Christine’s hands with his own.
‘Please, tell us what you’d told your parents when you first arrived back home,’ Cranbourne instructed the young Wharburton.
‘Christine and I are getting married later this year,’ George obliged. The room began to hum with excitement and congratulations being bandied about. Cranbourne let the excitement abate naturally before dropping the bombshell.
‘And therein lies the problem. The reason why Edward Wharburton was murdered was because a wedding was announce, albeit only to Edward and Penelope, but announced none-the-less.’
‘Now come on, Cranbourne,’ Lord Finch demanded, ‘get to the point and stop jolly well prancing about. Who killed Battersea and why?’
‘Mr. Fairweather returned to London and dug up some information that, provided one knows where to look, is relatively easy to discover and it is my belief that Mr. Wharburton found the exact same piece of information prior to being informed of his son’s impending nuptials. He invited you all here to expose a secret about someone in this room, because you all have had contact with that person. I imagine that Mr. Wharburton decided that the only way he could ensure that all ties with this person were broken was to inform you all of this person’s true identity.’
Breaking the tension in the ballroom, Gertie and Anna, the Wharburton’s parlour maids entered the room with a service tray of refreshments for the guests.
‘Dear God, Penelope can’t you control your staff?’ Finch snapped.
‘Actually, Lord Finch,’ Cranbourne replied on Penelope’s behalf, ‘I think a spot of tea is what everyone needs at the moment. Seems to me that you, sir, need to calm down.’
. . . To be continued . . .