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Deep Waters Chapter 4 by Lydia Penn
Bradley Noakes was young, but he was bright, hard-working and ambitious. He had been only a short time with the Melbourne newspaper when news broke of the tragic fire at Harold Cummings’ country property, but he had taken a special interest in the news coverage because his grandmother had been a close personal friend of Harold Cummings’ late parents. As a teenager, he had often heard her discussing the family.
She had always insisted that Harold Jnr was, “a bad lot – thoroughly spoilt.” And when Harold Snr had been killed in a car accident only a few months after his wife’s premature death from cancer, her suspicions had been strong and vocal! “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that no good son of his had something to do with it,” she stated vehemently over a cup of tea at her daughter’s house.
“Hush, Mother,” her daughter had admonished her. “Or you’ll be had up for slander. You know the police did a thorough investigation and said the brakes were faulty, and there was no evidence of tampering.”
“There you are; it just shows how cunning that young rascal is,” the old lady had insisted. “His father knew he was no good too, though he wouldn’t admit it. Otherwise, why did he set up a trust fund for that poor daughter of theirs with Cerebral Palsy? He knew when he went, the money would go too!”
Old people surely got very suspicious, Bradley had thought at the time. But when the fire had occurred a few years later, he began to think; two tragedies, both of which were of great financial benefit to Harold Jnr, well known for his gambling, wild living and reckless spending!
Perhaps Grandma was right after all!
Bradley determined to maintain an interest in Harold Cummings. He and Sarah had been married about two years when the fire took place. Neither had any close relatives. Sarah’s parents, he knew, were both dead, and her only relative was an uncle who lived in New York. Harold’s handicapped sister lived permanently in a nursing home.
So it was Bradley Noakes who had written the article about the engagement of the widowed Harold Cummings to former Sydney model, Sandra Purcell, which had so interested the Inspector. But there was more to it than just the article. In his desire to increase reader interest in the story, Bradley had searched the archives and found a photograph of Sara Cummings, taken shortly before her tragic death. As he placed that photo side by side with the photo of the newly engaged couple, what he saw startled him.
He knew that people in a second marriage often chose a partner similar to the first, but the strong likeness between these two women, was, in his eyes, extremely remarkable. Who was Sandra Purcell? The article and accompanying photos went to press, where it was seen by Chief Detective Inspector Russell Digby. Bradley, like the Inspector after him, had reached for the phone and rang a journalist he knew slightly on the Sydney Morning Herald.
It was now almost a year since Justin and Ben had arrived in Sydney, and Justin had long ago returned to London to start his new job. Ben was also preparing to leave after travelling extensively throughout Australia and was now spending a few days with his relatives before he left. It was shortly before dinner one evening when Avril, who was curled up in a chair reading the newspaper, gave a loud exclamation.
“Harold Cummings!” she said excitedly. “Isn’t that the guy we were talking about, who lost his wife in the fire. Remember, Justin had her book. Well, now he’s getting married again. Isn’t that just too romantic? There’s a photo of her in the paper too, as well as one of his new fiancee. Do look, Been. I think they look so much alike too.”
Ben took the paper from her. “Why that’s Skippy,” he said in astonishment.
“Skippy? You mean the girl Justin met on the ship?” said Avril excitedly. “But they look so alike – which is Skippy?”
Ben was studying the paper closely. “The hair is different, of course. Sarah had a short bob, and their noses are different. But the likeness – yes it’s quite extraordinary.”
Avril sensed a mystery. This was better than Agatha Christie. “Where can we find out more about her?” she asked. “I mean, why did she not come back to Sydney? Why stay in Melbourne, and why did she drug Justin? And why did she have a book belonging to Sarah Cummings? Sandra Purcell — do you think she knew Harold Cumming before?”
Did she know Harold Cummings before? That was the question in Russell Digby’s mind as he read and reread the article and studied the photos closely under a magnifying glass.
“Cherchez la femme!” Had he found her? Other current work claimed his immediate attention, but when he went home that evening, he put a proposition to his wife. “How would you like a few days in Sydney?” he asked her, as he sat drinking his evening beer. “I’m sure your sister could put us up, and the shopping is good there.”
“Nonsense,” she retorted, eyeing him suspiciously. “Both David Jones and Myers are the same everywhere, and you know it. What are you up to now?”
“All right,” he said. “I’ll come clean. It’s that Cummings case and the fire about three years ago. Nothing I can do officially, but I’d like to check a few records, and make some enquiries.” And he filled her in on the case, as he often did. “Sooner or later these guys trip themselves up,” he concluded. “Though often it’s too late to make charges. But I’m mighty curious.”
He easily located the Modelling Agency where Sandra Purcell had been employed and obtained an interview with the manager, a tall thin woman with dyed blond hair and heavy makeup, who looked as if she had once been a model herself.
“Let me see,” she said peering at the records through large black framed tinted glasses. “Oh yes. Here we are. Sandra Kathleen Iris Purcell. She left about three years ago, but I remember her well. One of our best models, with a good future ahead. Very lively, and popular with the other girls and clients. Then suddenly disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” repeated the Inspector. “Was she abducted, was there foul play? What happened?”
“Oh nothing like that,” said Martha Coutts with a smile, obviously relishing her role as an informant. “She just didn’t turn up for work one day, She wasn’t answering her phone, and we began to be concerned, so we contacted the police, who went round to her Bondi flat, but found nothing suspicious. Her rent had been paid up, all her things were gone; it seemed like a normal departure. Then later we learnt she had taken a plane to London, which she’d booked a week previously. It was all very mysterious.”
“Mysterious indeed,” agreed the Inspector, shifting his bulk in the hard wooden chair, as he felt a twinge of lumbago. “Are you sure it was three years ago?” he asked.
“Oh yes,” said Martha Coutts brightly.” We had to cope with a very angry client where she was supposed to be that day. “It was definitely about this time of year, three years ago. I can even give you the date.”
As the Inspector got up to leave, she added,” oh, by the way, the police learnt from a neighbour that her flat had been broken into a short while before. But she never reported it, said nothing was missing. I see she’s now back in Australia and getting married. But I don’t think the photo in the paper is very much like her — still newspaper photos, you know…..” She flapped her arms significantly. The Inspector declined a cup of coffee, thanked her for her time, and went in search of a pharmacy to buy some pain killers. The lumbago was becoming very painful.
Further enquiries elicited the facts that Sandra Purcell had no known living relatives, had been brought up in an orphanage and had paid her own way through modelling school by working long hours at casual jobs. But he drew a blank at the Bondi flat, as he had expected — such tenancies change hands frequently, and three years was a fair while. But Russell Digby was well satisfied with what he had managed to find out. It had been a good few days; he thought — until he was faced with the bills his wife had incurred at Myers and David Jones!