Deep Waters Chapter 3 by Lydia Penn
The excitement of arriving in a new country after over a month at sea kept Ben and Justin fully occupied for their first week in Sydney. They had been warmly welcomed by Ben’s relatives who lived on the North Shore and initiated into the Australian way of life. Ben’s uncle, who had been working for the Sydney branch of his company, was due to return to England in two years time, so the family had many questions about changes in the country while they had been away.
With so much to talk about, and so much to see, during that first week, it was not until the following Saturday, when they were picnicking in the Blue Mountains, that Justin suddenly remembered Skippy and her book. He was still angry, and embarrassed, to think he had been so fooled, that he didn’t relate the whole story, but simply asked his hosts if he could make a phone call with reference to a book he wanted to return.
The phone number was a Melbourne one, and the receiver was quickly picked up at the other end. “Yes,” barked a loud, Australian male voice.
Justin was a little taken aback. “Oh, eh, eh, could I speak to Miss Sarah Cummings, ” he said hesitantly.
“No Sarah Cummings here, ” said the voice, and down went the phone.
Justin was uncertain about what to do next. Maybe I got the number wrong, he thought and decided to try again after carefully checking in Skippy’s book.
“Yes,” the same voice barked again.
Justin tried another approach. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he began, “but I’m trying to locate Miss Sarah Cummings.”
The voice, obviously angry, waxed eloquent. “My wife’s dead. Now I don’t know how you got this number, or what your game is young man, but if you bother me any more I’ll have the police onto you.” Again the phone was slammed down.
Justin returned to the family in the living room, extremely perplexed. What now, he thought?
“Is everything all right, dear?” enquired Alice Clements, a cheerful Yorkshire woman in her early fifties, as she noticed his puzzled expression.
Justin hesitated, then decided to pour out the whole story. “It was supposed to be just a shipboard romance,” he ended. “Now it’s become a real mystery, and somehow I’ve got involved. “What do I do now?”
The family was fascinated, especially twenty-year-old Avril, who was an avid Agatha Christie reader. “Ooh, perhaps she’s a thief and stole the book, or maybe she’s wanted by the police. She might even be a murderer, ” she suggested brightly.
“For goodness sake, Avril,” said her father. ” Just stop letting your imagination run wild. There’s probably a very simple explanation of the whole thing. “
“Such as……?” said eighteen-year-old Tom. “What’s your theory, Dad?”
But Trevor Clements sat lost in thought, studying the book. It was not until the next evening as the family sat around the dinner table, enjoying the roast which Alice had cooked to perfection, that he raised the subject again. “Cummings, ” he said. “The name has been bugging me all day. I’ve been trying to think where I’ve heard it before. ‘Sarah Cummings. Melbourne.’ It must be the same person.” He turned to his wife. “Remember, dear, when I was in Melbourne two years ago on business. It was a big insurance investigation, and the company tried to prove fraud. But in the end, they had to pay up.”
He had everyone’s attention now, as he went on. “As far as I can remember, it was to do with this playboy Harold Cummings. His father was a well-known racehorse owner — even had a Melbourne Cup winner, I believe, and he was a wealthy man. He died in a car accident, and son Harold inherited the lot, but gambled it all away.”
“Go on, Dad, ” urged Avril, as her father paused to take a mouthful.
“Well it was only local news at that time, but it seems that playboy Harold got into serious financial difficulties. Then there was the fire at the country property. Everything was lost, and his wife, Sarah, was there at the time — burned beyond recognition. But Sarah and house and contents were heavily insured, so naturally, arson was suspected. It was all too convenient, but they could prove nothing. Harold had a cast iron alibi. He was in New Zealand at the time.”
“Go on, Dad, what happened next?” asked Avril, as he paused again.
“I have no idea,” replied Trevor. “I only recall the case because it was a hot topic of conversation in the office while I was there. It was not great news in Sydney.”
The family ate in silence for a few moments. Then Avril spoke again. “Gee Justin, you certainly got yourself involved in something! Who was that girl anyway? Why you don’t even know her real name, and what was she doing with a dead woman’s book? How can we find out more?”
“I don’t suppose you can,” said her father. “It was a while ago, and I imagine the insurance company just had to pay up as they could find no sign of any accomplice or deliberate arson. They would have had a lot of cases since, and it just attracted attention locally as Harold Cummings was so well known.”
“I do remember one thing,” said Ben, as he passed his plate to Alice for a second helping of apple pie. “Didn’t you tell me, Justin, that she asked you if you were a journalist. Wasn’t it a rather odd question really?”
“Yes”, said Justin slowly. ” I remember now that she did. But I thought it was just her way of getting to know me, though I do remember that she seemed more relaxed when I told her that I wasn’t. But she was still cool and distant, a sort of ice-maiden! “
“There you are,” insisted Avril. “She must have had something to hide, and she was afraid you would find out.”
“In retrospect, all her behaviour was a bit weird, ” agreed Justin. “But I didn’t query it at the time.”
“Anyway its past history now, and we’ll probably never know the whole story,” Alice summoned up, as the conversation turned in other directions.
* * * * * * *
Past history it may have become to the general public, but to Detective Chief Inspector Russell Digby, who had been in charge of the case, it was far from that. Nearing retirement age, he had hoped to go out in a blaze of glory, and although the case had been officially closed, he still gnawed at it like a terrier with a bone. He was not satisfied! In his many years of experience, coincidences just didn’t exist! And this one had been far too convenient. The guy had been in desperate financial straits. Could even have ended up in prison — and yet he had a strong alibi. Too strong! The thorough investigation had revealed no accomplice and no domestic strife which may have caused him to get rid of his wife. “Cherchez la femme” was always a possible factor in such cases. But again, no one had been able to find details of any extra marital liaison.
As he pottered about in his beloved garden in his off duty time, Detective Russell Digby still found himself chewing over the case. A grief stricken Harold Cummings had kept on his East Malvern town house, where he apparently lived very quietly on the income from money invested from the sale of the surviving race horses. He never returned to New Zealand, but it was noted that he made several trips to London over the next two years. Although he wondered about these trips, the Inspector, to his intense frustration, had never been able to discover what he did there. So Chief Detective Inspector Russell Digby went on enjoying his garden, pottering in his orchid house, and delighting his wife with all the home grown vegetables he produced; retirement was getting very close and it promised a tranquil, bucolic existence ahead.
As he glanced through the local paper one sunny morning, less than a year after Skippy had disembarked in Melbourne, a short article on page two caught his attention, and changed him from a terrier toying with a bone, to a bloodhound hot on the trail! He rang the newspaper office.