Saturday 7 – Sunday 8 June 2014
‘Dr. Byron confirmed it?’ Bunny asked.
‘Yes, he did. Teddy called him in to tend to the cat. George said it had been poisoned, but he wasn’t sure what had been used. The cat was in agony, and George thought it best to put the animal out of its misery. Poppy was hysterical. She’d had the cat for many years. And that’s what she and Teddy fought about before she disappeared. She was grieving for the animal, and Teddy thought she should get over it.’ Emily shrugged. She was glad that the pieces of their latest puzzle were falling in to place, but she was frustrated that they were still so far from the answer.
‘Why did Fanny Wallace lie to Bunny?’
‘That’s what we need to find out, Lizzie,’ replied Emily.
‘She might have something to do with Poppy disappearing.’ Alice joined in, citing the most obvious reason for Fanny lying.
Tom, who had been at the bar, returned to the booth with a second round of drinks, and placed them in the middle of the table.
‘Two G and Ts,’ he said as he pushed the glasses towards the women who ordered them. ‘My ale, a sweet sherry for Bunny, and a barley water for Alice.’ He dropped into the seat next to Emily, and drank half of his ale in one gulp. ‘So, what are we discussing now?’
‘Why Fanny lied to me,’ replied Bunny. ‘And Alice posited that Fanny might have been involved in Poppy’s disappearance.’
‘Maybe she’s doing it for Robert. She wouldn’t be the first wife to lie to protect her husband,’ he said.
‘Or she’s protecting someone else, someone other than Robert,’ Emily added. ‘Like a friend, or a lover.’
As the only pub in the area, the Badger And Crow served not only as the local watering hole, but also as a meeting place for those who didn’t regularly imbibe. Famous for it’s hearty meals, and good service, the Badger And Crow was always full during opening hours. The village football team were currently propping up the bar having won their sixth game in a row – an unusual occurrence, as the team had never, in its entire history, won any more than two consecutive games. The rowdiness of the team was drawing negative attention from other patrons, but the tea and scandal group were scarcely bothered by the noise, as it gave them cover from the eavesdropping gossips of the village, two of whom had seated themselves rather close to the five friends.
Brian Orr, striker for the football team, casually sauntered over to the booth, pulled a chair from a neighbouring table, and dropped himself onto the seat. He swigged a large mouthful of ale from the glass in his hand, and slammed it on the table, forcing amber liquid to slop from the side.
‘Brian, please,’ Tom said. ‘We’re trying to have a private conversation here.’
‘Then you probably shouldn’t have come to the Badger And Crow, should you? Not very private in here at all at the moment,’ the muddied striker replied. ‘Ladies, I do apologise for my slightly dishevelled appearance, but I had a rather hard game this morning.’
Lizzie, Alice, Emily, and Bunny all half-heartedly smiled. None of them were impressed by Brian’s attempt at singling out his sporting prowess.
‘What do you want, Brian?’ asked Tom.
Brian, more deftly than Tom expected the apparently drunken man to do, scanned the room to ensure that nobody else was listening in.
‘Rumour has it that you five are looking into Poppy Sumner’s disappearance.’
‘Mr. Orr,’ Emily was the unofficial spokeswoman of the group, ‘rumour has a way of being false more often than not.’
‘That’s very true, Miss Bainbridge. And that’s exactly why I’ve come over here to speak to you, in an unofficial capacity, of course.’
‘Unofficial it is then, Mr. Orr,’ said Emily, and she leaned closer to hear what the police constable from the next village had to say.
‘There is some conjecture that the constabulary of this village haven’t given the Sumner disappearance the credence that it deserves. Seems the focus has been on the husband, but it’s thought, at least it is around my station, that he had nothing to do with it.’ He slurped from his glass again, and followed it up with a loud belch. Bunny looked horrified by Orr’s lack of manners.
‘I do apologise for my behaviour, but as I said, this is unofficial and I don’t want anyone else cottoning on to what I’m discussing with you. It could cost me my job.’
‘Of course, Mr. Orr. Whatever you need to do to maintain your cover . . . please, go on,’ Emily whispered.
‘She’s not the first to have disappeared without a trace from around these parts. There was a young woman from my village, who went missing about three months ago. Like Poppy Sumner, she’d had a fight with her husband, left the house and was never seen again. About four months prior to that disappearance, a schoolmistress went missing. She lived two villages over. Unmarried, and not seeing anyone. Just never turned up for work one day. None of them have been found. My sarge believes these poor women are deceased.’
The information was startling. How could so many young women disappear from around the region? How could these disappearances go apparently unnoticed by the greater population?
‘Does your sergeant believe that these disappearances are linked in any way, Mr. Orr?’ Emily asked.
‘Yes. Yes, he does, unlike the rest of the constabulary around these villages. It’s like no one else has put two and two together. In fact, your Inspector Milton’s theory on these is that all of the women had abusive husbands and must have decided together to leave them and establish new lives elsewhere. It’s completely illogical, especially given that the schoolmistress was not married, nor was she courting.’
‘Your sergeant, Brian, does he have any ideas that might set us on the right track?’ asked Tom.
‘As a matter of fact, he does, Tom. One thing links all of these disappearances, or rather, one person links them all –’
The boisterous team of footballers called Brian back to their fold, interrupting the discussion.
‘Brrrriiiiaaaaannn! Brian! Get yourself back over here, you lousy git. It’s your bloody round.’
‘What are you doing over there, Brian?’ another called.
‘Trying my luck with these four gorgeous girls,’ Brian shouted in reply. He swallowed the last of his ale, and clumsily got up from the table. ‘Meet me tomorrow at midday, out the front of my station. I’ll fill you in on the rest then.’ He staggered back across the room to join his teammates, leaving the tea and scandal group to process the information he’d just delivered.
‘What do you think, Emily?’ Lizzie asked.
‘I think we need to add this information to our board. I think this is going to be much bigger than we first anticipated. And I think we’re going on an outing tomorrow.’
. . . To be continued . . .