Saturday 31 May – Sunday 1 June 2014
The distraught man lowered his head, trying to hide from the Inspector that he was on the verge of hysterical tears. His wife had disappeared, and he was the only suspect that an overly enthusiastic constable was interested in bringing in.
‘I know that you’ve explained this to the constable, Mr. Sumner, but I need to hear it from you, in your words not the constable’s words. Between you and me, I think the boy is too eager to slap this on you so he can bag himself a big one as a first case. Please, Mr. Sumner, help me to find your wife.’
Having just shamed the constable, Inspector Milton shooed him from the room, believing that his presence was inhibiting Teddy Sumner from speaking.
‘Start from the beginning, Teddy, and tell me what happened.’
‘We fought,’ Teddy whispered. ‘We fought, she left the house, and she never came back. When it became dark and she still hadn’t returned, that’s when I came here to report her missing. Nobody took me seriously though. Told me to go home and wait for her there. Four days it was . . . four days until your lousy constable thought that Poppy’s disappearance was something worth following up. What good are you lot? Eh? What good are you? She’s probably laying dead in a ditch somewhere because your constable wouldn’t put together a search party to look for her.’
Milton, taken aback by the sternness of Sumner’s attack, was left searching for something to say in reply. If he apologised on behalf of the constable and the woman turned up dead, he’d be admitting responsibility for her demise.
‘Mr. Sumner, is there anywhere that you can think of that your wife might have gone off to? Any friends or family that she may have intended to visit?’
‘You don’t think that I’ve tried them all? She’s not with any of them,’ Teddy replied. He looked down at his hands; hands that had been strong enough to beat his wife, but that were now utterly useless in helping her.
‘I need to know so that I can get some boys out to those areas, along those roads to look for her, Mr. Sumner. Please, write down the names and addresses of everyone you can think of who might have been a refuge for her.’ Milton slid his pencil and police notebook across the table to Teddy.
* * * * *
‘That’s what I heard from someone at the police station,’ Lizzie Smith said almost embarrassed to be passing on the gossip, her cheeks flushed scarlet.
‘What do you think, Emily? You’ve been awfully quiet during all of this.’
‘I think, Tom, that we should put our minds together and see if we can’t identify where Poppy Sumner has ended up,’ she replied.
‘It is somewhat of a mystery.’
‘Everything’s a mystery to you, Bunny Mortimer. Absolutely everything,’ Tom said playfully.
Lizzie reached down to her unusually large handbag. Always at the height of fashion, Emily had noted when Lizzie arrived, that she was carrying a particularly ugly, large handbag instead of her usual stylish and petite variety.
‘I suspected when you arrived that you had brought some documentation, Lizzie,’ Emily said as she watched her friend remove a handful of files from the bag.
‘And do tell us, Emily, what gave it away?’ Alice asked.
‘That hideous handbag. Lizzie normally has such wonderful taste in accessories, so I simply deduced that she must have had a dire need to bring something to us, but hide it from the rest of the village.’
‘You really are a marvel,’ said Lizzie.
‘Oh, I wish I could accept that compliment without mentioning the fact that I also saw you come out of the police station today on the arm of that young constable. What’s his name?’
‘Jack Dawes,’ replied Lizzie blushing even more as the rest of the group joined Emily in laughter.
* * * * *
Cramped as the sitting room was with only the regular tea and scandal group, it became even more so when Emily instructed Tom to retrieve and set up the new chalkboard that she had purchased earlier that week.
‘That was a stroke of brilliance, Emily.’
‘Thank you, Bunny,’ Emily replied. ‘I just thought that there had to be an easier way to present the facts of our cases than scribbling everything down on pieces of paper.’
All eyes were on the chalkboard, which was now covered with what the group believed to be the pertinent facts in the disappearance of Poppy Sumner. There was a tense silence in the sitting room as Emily, Lizzie, Alice, Bunny, and Tom considered the information.
‘If Teddy isn’t involved, then who are our suspects?’ Bunny was the first to pose the question that they’d all been considering.
‘Edward Jones. By all accounts around the village, he and Poppy had been stepping out behind Teddy’s back. Maybe he wanted more than what Poppy was offering?’ said Alice.
‘Graham Jones, Edward’s brother. I’ve seen the way he lasciviously ogled Poppy when she stopped by the store.’
‘Tom, Graham looks at all women that way. He’s not a gentleman like you,’ Emily laughed.
‘I’d like to offer Robert Wallace up as a suspect.’
‘Why, Lizzie?’ asked Alice.
‘No reason in particular, I simply don’t like the man. I find him to be very . . . creepy.’
‘And there’s always Jack Dawes,’ Tom added.
‘What?’ Lizzie snapped.
‘His parents’ divorce, Lizzie. It was the biggest scandal to rock the village in years,’ he continued. ‘His father moved away, but his mother stayed here and there was a lot of disdain for her because of the divorce. Well, you know how this village is where things that are a little unconventional are concerned. Jack’s very close to his mother. Maybe he wanted to make Poppy pay for the shame she’d brought upon his mother?’
‘I don’t think he has anything to do with it.’
‘Lizzie, we can’t discount young Dawes. At least not yet,’ Emily said.
‘It’s nothing personal,’ said Tom. ‘It’s just a possibility.’
His words did little to comfort Lizzie. She sat pouting as the others added to their growing list of suspects.
‘Go through the file one last time please, Tom.’
‘Oh Bunny, really? I’ve read it out three times already.’
‘Please,’ Bunny said. Tom looked to Emily for guidance, and she nodded. It was a minute action, but Tom understood. She was unofficial leader of their small group of sleuths, and if Emily deemed it necessary, then everyone else agreed. He sighed, flipped the file back to the first page and read through the information. Everything from Teddy’s account of what happened through to the reports of the fruitless searches that had been undertaken to find Poppy was contained in the files.
Fifteen minutes later, and Tom had made it to the final page in the files that Lizzie had acquired from the police station. Relieved, he slowly read from the page as though it was the most important document known to humanity.
‘Last page, Inspector Milton’s summarisation of everything else in these files . . . Teddy Sumner says at about six p.m., he and Poppy fought over some idle village gossip about the two of them. He says he slapped her face, she took her handbag from the kitchen table, and stormed out of the house. He has no idea which direction she went as he remained in the house. She didn’t return, he contacted the police but Dawes either didn’t take his concern seriously or didn’t pass the information on to his superiors. Either way, no search party was put together until four days after she left the house.’ Tom closed the file one last time.
‘It’s all a little clean, don’t you think?’ Bunny asked.
‘What are you talking about this time, Bunny?’ snapped Lizzie, still angry that her young constable had been put forward as a suspect.
‘Teddy and Poppy fight, he hits her, she leaves without a trace.’
‘Yes, that’s how it apparently happened, Bunny,’ said Tom. ‘I’ve read it aloud enough times that we should all understand that.’
‘You’re not listening to me. Poppy Sumner has disappeared without a trace. There’s absolutely no evidence what so ever to indicate what has happened to her. It’s impossible to disappear without leaving something behind.’
‘Bunny’s right,’ Emily looked around the group as she spoke. ‘From the moment Poppy stepped outside of her home, nobody in any part of the village or surrounding areas saw or heard anything. The lady, and any evidence, has vanished into thin air. Tomorrow, we should chat with our suspects, but right now, we need to narrow down our list.’
. . . To be continued . . .