Pieces of Time
Inspector Badeaux stood in the centre of the plush living room in the St Austin hotel which overlooked a beautiful Cornish bay. Five guests stood staring at him. Some were seated, others stood. There was a mixture of tension and impatience amongst the guests. The more anxious held their hands tightly on their laps, or gripped their tea cups till their knuckles shone white.
Damien Thoroughgood stood near the dark panelled door that led to the entrance hall, casually swinging his tennis racket. He was dressed in his sports clothes and was clearly eager to get this little meeting over with. He was good-looking in a spoilt-brat way, and at that moment a rather unpleasant smirk lingered round one side of his mouth.
Miss Arabella Misenthrop was seated on the sofa, trying and failing to perch on the edge of the plump cushioned seats in a fashion that suggested she too would rather not settle for a long encounter. She had very good legs. One beautifully manicured hand reached back towards Damien but he did not seemed to notice the gesture, or had decided to ignore it.
Mrs Dorothea Eggerton was also seated but on a single high-backed chair. Her gamine little face looked more agitated than frustrated. Her eyes kept glancing from the inspector to the other guests, but at one in particular; Damien. Her rose-decorated tea cup was still full of what must now be very cold tea.
Norman Bateson stood near the red Persian rug where the inspector stood, slightly invading his stage. He was nephew to Dorothea, but the two had barely spoken since they had arrived two days before. His upright stance and close proximity to the inspector seemed to suggest a challenge to his authority, or to what he might be about to say.
The vicar, Edmond Runcible, wore a perpetual frown at all times but the puckered furrows between his brows were more evident today. The expression and the wire-framed glasses on the end of his thin beak-like nose spoke of a cold-hearted fussiness. This meeting was not scheduled and he liked order in his life. He was down to play croquette at 10.00.
“I say, inspector,” he snapped. “Is this really necessary? I have things to do.”
“Do you, indeed?” replied the little detective. “And what might they be? You are on holiday at this lovely hotel, are you not?”
The vicar fell silent but flared his nostrils in displeasure.
“Listen, I’m not standing around hear all day.” Norman Bateson sounded like a man accustomed to being listened to, whose time was important, and whose manner suggested he had a rather nasty temper.
The inspector jabbed a bony forefinger at him with a certain glee, as though the other man had given something away with his outburst. Bateson stepped back despite himself. The inspector smiled, clasped his hands behind his back, and nodded knowing. “A murder was committed last night.”
A perfectly synchronised gasp came from the guests.
Slowly the inspector withdrew something from his left pocket and with a quick flourish presented it to his audience between finger and thumb.
“What the devil’s that? What are we supposed to be looking at?” demanded Bateson.
“This, mon ami, is a piece of time.”
“That’s my watch!” exclaimed Dorothea. “Why… it’s broken! What have you done to it?”
“Not me, madam,” replied the inspector gently. “This is…. the innards shall we say, of your watch. It is when we strip the outer shell of our clues that we find the true meaning behind things, so I have found. I discovered it last night beneath the bedroom window of …” He look from one to the other of the guests. “Mrs Dorothea.”
Dorothea went very pale.
“Ahh!” continued the inspector. “But that is not so much of a teller of the tale as you say. Dorothea may have had a clandestine meeting, leaving her room by the window and dropping her watch as she either exited or entered. While I examined the area, however, I saw several footprints. And also…” He eyed them in turn insinuatingly. “A broken rose trellis leading to the first floor bedroom of our friend… the vicar.”
There was another gasp. All eyes darted from side to side. “What is more, there were further footprints outside the window of Miss Arabella.” Both Bateson and Thoroughgood glared at one another. “Both seemed to lead to….”
At that moment there was a clatter as the housekeeper entered with a tray to collect used cups and saucers.
“Madam, I must ask you to leave!” exclaimed the inspector. “A very serious crime has been committed.”
“And what crime might that be dear?” said the pleasantly bustling lady as she put the tray down and then gently but firmly took the inspector’s arm.
“I am inspector Badeaux. I am about to reveal the guilty parties. Or party….” he add mysteriously to his culprits while also trying to shake off the seemingly over-familiar member of the hotel staff.
“Yes, I’m sure you are dear, but you haven’t been an inspector for a long time now, have you dear?” She maintained her firm grip on his arm and began walking him out of the room. “So sorry everyone.” She winced. “This has happened before but we won’t let it happened again, will we inspector?” She smiled at the guests and shook her head to indicate this was a hopeless case and, well… what can one do? It would have been indelicate to put into words.
The elderly retired police officer seemed to give in and meekly allowed himself to be steered from the room. The guests however remained in the positions as if transfixed. Each looked from one to the other and back again, mouths open in stunned silence.