Monday 2 – Thursday 5 June 2014
The day was beautiful. It was the height of spring, the flowers were out in full force, and the village green was resplendent and alive with people. It was the perfect day for the village fair, and many of the locals were in attendance. Stalls were scattered over the green, people milled around them, and at least some of those people were doing their utmost to avoid the vicar and his incessant questioning regarding their absence at church.
The tea and scandal group went with the divide and conquer tactic that had served them so well in the past. Each member of the group was working their way through the crowd, subtly interviewing the village folk, trying to discover new insights into the disappearance of Poppy Sumner. Previous experience had taught the group that the more relaxed people felt, the more information they gave without realising that they were spilling the beans. Earlier, they had decided that Emily would be the one to find and speak with Teddy Sumner. She had a relaxed manner that would put him at ease, and as they had a friendly relationship prior to Poppy disappearing, Teddy wouldn’t find it suspicious if Emily spoke to him.
It was an hour after she arrived that Emily managed to track down Teddy. He’d found a back table at the refreshment tent and was sitting alone looking into his half consumed cup of tea. She bought herself a cup and made her way to Teddy’s table.
‘Do you mind if I join you?’
He looked up at Emily, quickly scanned the empty tables in the tent, and returned to staring into his cup.
‘Plenty of other tables around,’ Teddy mumbled in reply.
‘Oh, I know, it’s just that I don’t want to sit by myself . . . avoiding any conversation with the vicar. You know how he gets when you haven’t been to church as often as he’d like.’
‘Please yourself,’ he mumbled.
Emily placed her cup of tea on the table, pulled out the chair and sat opposite Teddy.
‘You’re obviously not concerned about sitting with a murderer.’
Emily was grateful hat Teddy had provided her with an in to discuss Poppy’s disappearance.
‘What do you mean?’ She feigned ignorance.
‘You must have heard the rumours.’ His eyes remained firmly on his cup of tea.
‘I try to avoid village gossip where I can,’ she replied.
‘You’d be the only one then . . . the whole village thinks that I killed my Poppy.’
‘I’m sure that’s not true, Teddy,’ she lied.
‘Oh, it’s true alright.’
Finally, Teddy raised his eyes to meet Emily’s.
‘Do you need to talk about this, Teddy?’
‘I swear to you, Emily, that I did not kill Poppy. I’ll freely admit that I was a bastard to her on occasions, and I beat her more than I should, but I did not kill my wife.’
‘Teddy, I think we might be able to figure this out together if you tell me everything that you remember, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
‘Did you see anyone out of the ordinary hanging around in the lead up to Poppy disappearing? Did you hear anything? Did something happen that wasn’t in the normal scheme of things? Anything at all that made you stop and think?’
‘You actually believe me? That I didn’t kill her?’
Emily nodded. ‘Yes, Teddy, I do believe you.’
He hesitated to smile in case she changed her mind about his innocence, but a faint uplifting of the corners of Teddy’s mouth gave away the overwhelming joy he felt at having someone believe him.
‘Unusual things, you say?’
‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘anything at all. Could be big, could be small.’
Teddy carefully considered the events leading up to Poppy’s disappearance. He recalled a few things that felt off to Emily, but only one really grabbed her attention.
‘The cat? Really? And it happened two days prior? Now that is interesting.’
* * * * *
Expecting a long night of discussing what they’d discovered, the tea and scandal group assembled at Emily’s house, food and beverages in hand. The day itself had been long, and for some of the group, arduous as their attempts to weasel information out of the villagers took some meandering paths. However, it was Tom Hardy who’d suffered the most.
‘I insist that the next case we examine, I am exempt from speaking with Vicar Tallow. That man has the ability to talk underwater and then some. Do you know that he had me bailed up for over an hour and a half while he discussed the history of the Sumners in the village, headed on to the history of the bleeding church bell, and finished off with a tour around the cemetery as he pointed out every person he’d ever married and buried.’
His four female companions broke into fits of laughter, more at the fact that they hadn’t been burdened with the vicar than at the hilarity of Tom’s description.
‘It’s not funny. That happens to be over ninety minutes of my life that I’ll never be able to retrieve. Emily, do you have any aspirin? I’ve a headache just from thinking about that man.’
‘Yes. I’ll get some for you, Tom,’ she said, rising from the dining table and retreating to the bathroom to get the medication.
‘Thank you, Emily. I sometimes feel that you’re the only one here who cares about my wellbeing.’
Emily handed the bottle of pills to Tom, and he emptied out two and swallowed them, chasing the aspirin with what he had left of his Damson gin.
‘Dear boy, take yourself into the sitting room while we clear away. I’ll make us all a pot of tea, and Bunny’s brought her divine tea cake so you’d best have some room for something sweet.’
Tom wandered through to the sitting room, perched himself in a chair, and closed his eyes as he waited for the return of the women. Although they were only a few minutes clearing the dishes away, Tom had heavily dozed off, and was surprised by Emily’s entrance into the sitting room.
‘I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t realise you’d nodded off,’ she said.
‘Apparently, neither did I,’ Tom replied.
Emily poured the tea, Bunny passed around the slices of cake, and another lull fell over the group as they indulged in their after-dinner selection.
When the tea and cake were consumed, each woman recounted their interviews. Lizzie jotted what they considered to be the important and pertinent points on the chalkboard, and at the end of their discussion, they were overwhelmingly faced with a board full of words.
‘Alice, I think we’re going to need another pot,’ Lizzie said. Without a word, Alice took the teapot from the table, and wandered into the kitchen.
‘I’m puzzled by something that you said, Bunny,’ said Emily, her furrowed brow making her seem older than her thirty years of age.
‘What’s that, dear?’ replied Bunny.
‘Tell me the last part of Fanny Wallace’s story again, please.’
‘She said she was in the kitchen making a chicken pie for Robert – it’s his favourite, she said – and she heard Poppy’s mongrel cat – her words – screeching like a banshee.’
‘And when did she say this happened, Bunny?’ Emily asked.
‘Oh, I believe she said it was the day Poppy disappeared.’ Bunny was pleased with herself for remembering what was apparently such an important piece of information. ‘Why do you ask?’
The weight of the information was apparent to Tom, and nodded as Emily replied.
‘Because, Bunny,’ Emily said, ‘dead cats don’t wail.’
. . . To be continued . . .