Sunday 8 – Thursday 12 June 2014
The trip to the neighbouring village was picturesque, and despite the bus seats being hard and uncomfortable, Emily found the journey pleasing. The tea and scandal group was joined primarily by elderly women heading into the next village in search of goods that were unavailable in their own village, and a small contingent of school kids bunking off for the day. The children giggled the entire way, and the elderly women alternated between throwing stern looks at the children, gossiping about neighbours, and lightly dozing. Emily, however, pondered the gravity of the case – if more women were missing, and their disappearances were linked, the mysterious disappearance of Poppy Sumner would take on a greater significance than any of them had anticipated.
When the bus arrived, Tom, Emily, Bunny, Alice and Lizzie found a quiet teashop on the main street, and took refuge inside from the increasingly inclement weather. Shortly after finding a table large enough for the five of them, Tom covertly pointed to two men about to enter the shop.
‘Should we say hello do you think?’ he asked the women.
‘We’ll wait and see if he acknowledges us. It may be that Constable Orr wants to keep this as secret as possible,’ Emily answered.
Making their way to the counter, the two officers brushed off their coats and shook their hands, flicking water on to the floor.
‘Sorry about the water, Maisy,’ Orr said to the woman behind the counter. ‘Absolutely bucketing down out there now.’
‘You don’t say, Brian?’ Maisy replied. ‘What can I get for you two lovely gentlemen? Lunch orders?’
It was the other constable who placed the order, leaving Brian casually gazing around at the patrons. He caught sight of the table of five and wandered over to them.
‘Hello, Brian.’ Tom broke the ice.
‘Tom. Ladies. You’re early,’ he replied.
‘Yes, Constable Orr. We decided to take the bus, and of course, it only makes a morning run and afternoon return. So, we thought a spot of tea and a bite to eat might consume some time,’ said Emily. He nodded, and then pointed out of the window with his hat.
‘If you’re not opposed to it, I’d like to suggest a change of venue for our lunchtime meeting.’
‘Please do, constable,’ Emily said. ‘I’m sure we’d all prefer somewhere dry and warmer than outside your station today.’
‘Then why don’t we stay here?’
‘Perfect.’ Tom reached back to the table behind him, and pulled an extra chair over to their table.
‘I’ll just let Harry know he’s on his own with the lunch.’ Orr trotted back to his companion and had a whispered discussion. Harry looked over to the table once or twice, and offered a wave.
Constable Orr returned to the table and sat down.
‘I’ve ordered more tea, and some of Maisy’s beef pie. She’s famous for it around these parts. You’ll never have a meat pie like hers anywhere else. And I’ve been a bit extravagant and ordered some cake for sweets. I hope that’s okay with everyone.’
‘Thank you, Constable Orr. That sounds delightful.’
‘Oh, yes, it certainly does.’ Bunny agreed with Emily.
Before the constable could begin filling the group in on the other cases of missing women, the bell above the teashop door jingled, and Lizzie glanced over Tom’s shoulder to see who was racing in out of the rain.
‘Well I’ll be.’
‘What is it, Lizzie?’ Alice asked, looking towards the door. ‘Oh, now that is very interesting.’
The rest of them turned to look at the man entering.
‘Very interesting,’ added Emily.
‘Hello, Vicar Tallow,’ Tom called. The vicar, startled, almost leapt out of his skin at the mention of his name. He swung around, hand on his chest, and gasped.
‘Oh. Oh. Oh, Tom. What a surprise.’
‘I can’t imagine that you’re as surprised as we are, vicar,’ replied Tom. ‘Fancy seeing you here.’
‘Oh. Yes. I suspect t-t-that that you w-w-would be,’ he stumbled over his words. ‘Vicar Coffey has b-b-been under the the the w-w-weather of late, and I’m f-filling in f-for him. Just s-s-st-stopping in for a sp-sp-spot of lunch.’
‘Then, by all means, vicar, please don’t let us detain you any longer,’ said Emily.
Tallow’s insipid smile gave Emily the shivers. She watched as he turned and shuffled up to the counter.
‘You know him?’ Orr asked.
‘Yes. He’s the vicar of our village,’ Tom replied.
‘It’s funny that you should find it interesting that Tallow is here.’ Orr’s comment drew their attention back to the table. ‘Did you also happen to know that he’s currently the vicar in two other villages where women have suddenly disappeared? And then there’s the shoe that my governor found in the cemetery. Doesn’t seem to fit any of the missing women that we’ve been investigating. Maybe it’s your Mrs. Sumner’s?’
‘Alice, get out your notebook. I think we’re going to find this a very helpful meeting,’ Emily instructed her friend, and turned once more to look at Vicar Tallow as he stood at the counter waiting for Maisy to prepare his order.
* * * * *
With the collar of his overcoat turned up against the slight chill in the air, Archie Milton trudged along the roadside between the Sumner home and the village-proper. It was a route he’d walked many times since Poppy Sumner had been reported missing. He knew every rock, every pothole, every crack in the dirt, and every weed that was making its way through the ground. But there was nothing to find, nothing that would lead him to wherever Poppy was now.
The case was baffling him. Thoughts, the same ones that had made their way through Milton’s mind every time he’d done the walk demanded his attention. Realistically, how could someone completely disappear leaving no trace what so ever? Surely somebody had to have seen her, or heard her. Unless, of course, Teddy killed her in the house and then disposed of her body. But the house was searched and there was no evidence that Poppy had been murdered in there. There was no sign of blood, or a clean up. Maybe the husband was telling the truth, and she walked out of the house never to return.
He allowed his mind to wander as he made his way into the village, the chill biting at his face and bringing tears to eyes. As he crossed the village green towards the police station, the clouds that had stalked him from Sumner’s home finally released the rain they’d been holding. Milton zipped from shopfront to shopfront in an attempt to avoid the worst of the downpour, but by the time he made it into the station, his coat and the bottom of his pants were soaked and muddy. He grumbled hello to the desk sergeant as he stormed through the station to his office. Before he could dip into his reserve of spare clothes that he hid in the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet, his constable, Jack Dawes belted on the door.
‘What do you want, Dawes?’
The constable opened the office door. He hesitated before taking a single step into the office, quickly gauging that his boss was currently an unhappy man.
‘Sir, I thought you’d like to know –’
‘What is it, Dawes?’ snapped Milton.
‘A mate of mine just got in touch with me. He says that one of his mates at work spent his lunch break with Tom Hardy and Emily Bainbridge, and their little group of cronies.’
‘Well, sir, my mate . . . he thought that they were discussing the Sumner case. Apparently, my mate’s governor has some sort of theory about the case, and some other cases of missing women across the area.’
‘There are more? Why haven’t we been informed of this?’
‘I need to know the name of your mate’s governor, Dawes. And get him on the phone. NOW!’
. . . To be continued . . .