Deep Waters Chapter 5 by Lydia Penn
Three people as yet unknown to each other.
Three parallel lines of investigation into the life of Harold Cummings
By definition, parallel lines do not meet.
Were two of these lines about to converge?
Bradley Noakes was forging ahead in his career, but his dedication and irregular hours left him with little time for an active social life. He knew several girls whom he could call on to partner him to functions in connection with his job, but he was not seriously involved with any of them. Work and pleasure seemed to overlap, and Bradley was a content, happy man. However, when he and two other friends received invitations to the wedding of another friend, who was marrying a Sydney girl, they all decided to fly to Sydney for a long weekend.
It was a pleasant evening in September 1962; the well decorated Pymble church was crowded and very warm so Bradley and his friends were glad to get out in the fresh air when the ceremony was over. The reception was held at the home of the bride’s uncle, where a large marquee had been erected in the grounds, and people were milling around, enjoying the balmy evening air before the chill of night set in. Bradley and his friends knew none of the other guests, but that didn’t stop Bradley from wandering around, chatting to complete strangers, as he often did in his job. One group, in particular, got his attention, and one particular girl in that group. He sauntered over to join them.
After a few opening remarks and pleasantries to the group in general, Bradley turned to the girl who had attracted him. “Can I get you a drink,” he offered.
“Thank you, but I already have one,” she replied, indicating the glass in her hand.
“I know,” said Bradley. “But that’s just my opening gambit.” They both laughed, and he held out his hand. “Bradley Noakes at your service.”
“Avril Clements,” she replied as they shook hands.
Two parallel lines of the investigation had just met!
Wearing a saxe blue outfit which matched her eyes, and with shoulder-length wavy chestnut hair, Avril Clements was a very attractive young lady. Bradley Noakes resolved to stay with her throughout the evening.
He had met the girl he intended to marry!
“Of course you’re English,” he said as they sauntered across the lawn together. “Did you emigrate?”
“Oh no,” said Avril. “Daddy has been out here on contract for his company, but we’re due to return home in a few months.”
“I can’t let you do that,” said Bradley quickly. “I’ve only just met you.”
“But you can’t stop me,” replied Avril spiritedly.
“Oh yes I can,” said Bradley, with equal fervour. “I’ll marry you”.
Avril looked taken aback. “As you said, we’ve only just met, and I don’t know you.”
“Well, we’ll start to rectify that right now,” said Bradley, taking her hand as they walked towards the marquee.
“Is this the Australian way?” asked Avril, now looking amused.
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Bradley. “But it’s the Bradley Noakes way.”
Avril matched his light mood. “So this is always what you’re like?” she asked with a smile..
“You’ll get used to it,” said Bradley. “And by the time we’ve had six children, you won’t even notice it.”
Avril now looked appalled. “That’s going a bit far. Aren’t you rather taking things for granted?”
Bradley merely smiled and steered her into the marquee which was rapidly filling up. They found the table where his two friends were already seated, and Avril invited two of her friends to join them. Conversation flowed with the drinks.
“What do you do for a living?” Jessica, one of Avril’s friends, asked Bradley, noting his athletic build. “Are you in the sports world?”
“Nothing like that,” he answered. “I’m a journalist — one of those nosey people who ask awkward questions, and brings the news to your breakfast table.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t call that nosey,” said Jessica quickly, not troubling to hide the fact that she found him attractive. “You can ask me anything you like.”
Bradley laughed and concentrated on his meal, but Avril had listened with interest. Later, when the speeches were over, and the conversation began again, she turned to Bradley, sitting beside her. “You were saying you’re a journalist. Do you by any chance know much about that tragic fire at the Cumming’s property about four years ago?”
She was surprised at his sharp reply. “Why do you ask? “he demanded, putting down his glass.
“I hope I haven’t said the wrong thing,” she answered, a little hesitantly. “I wouldn’t have known about it, but Daddy was in Melbourne on business at the time, and he told us about it.”
“But why are you so interested?” pursued Bradley. “It was, as you say, a few years ago, so what does it have to do with you now?”
“Well, it’s sort of complicated, but I’ll try to explain,” said Avril. “The subject came up at home because we had my cousin and his friend visiting us from England two years ago. My cousin’s friend, Justin, met this girl on the ship coming over. She was rather odd, and she left behind a book of Banjo Paterson poems, with Sarah Cummings name and phone number in it. Justin had only known her as ‘Skippy’, so he phoned that number to make arrangements to return it, and he was told that she was dead. That’s when Daddy remembered about the fire and told us. Then a year ago there was this article in the paper, with photos telling about this girl, Skippy’s engagement to Harold Cummings. And we noticed a likeness to Sarah. I was very intrigued, and I always wanted to learn more, as it all seemed a bit odd to me.”
Bradley had been listening intently. He sat quietly after she had stopped talking. Then he told her, “I was responsible for that article in the paper. But can you tell me more about this girl, Skippy, what did he say was odd about her?”
Avril was quiet after her long explanation, but just when Bradley thought there was nothing more she could tell him, she started to talk again and told him about the apparent fear of journalists, the drugging and the aunt who didn’t exist.
“Hm,” said Bradley, making notes in the little book he always carried with him. They were both silent again for a while, each mulling over what Avril had said. The other couples had now got up to dance. He put an arm around Avril and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Let’s dance,” he said. “I want an excuse to feel you in my arms.”
In her job as a doctor’s receptionist, Avril had met many men, and been propositioned by a few, but she had never met anyone quite like Bradley. He was very attractive, she admitted to herself — tall, broad-shouldered, with curly brown hair and twinkling brown eyes. She enjoyed the feeling of his closeness on the dance floor, and as his arms tightened around her, and his lips met hers while they continued to dance. Avril found herself strangely drawn to this man she hardly knew. Must be the champaign, she told herself. I knew I shouldn’t have had that last glass. Reluctantly she had to decline his invitation to lunch the next day before he returned to Melbourne.
“Jessica’s parents are hosting a luncheon for the bridal party and close friends, “she explained. “They are here tonight and will be driving us girls home, in case we’ve had too much to drink!”
Bradley Noakes now had a double incentive to return to Sydney as soon as he could. But it was another three weeks before he was able to get away, during which time he had phoned Avril frequently. He arrived in Sydney late one evening and stayed in the cramped flat of his journalist colleague. Like the Inspector before him, Bradley had no difficulty in locating the model agency where Sandra Purcell had been employed, and he easily obtained an appointment with Matha Coults, who had been vastly intrigued since the Inspector’s visit. All good publicity for the agency, she thought.
Bradley accepted the offered cup of weak and cheap instant coffee, which he drank stoically — all part of the job, he reminded himself. He knew he was attractive to women and was soon aware of the interest and meaningful look in Martha’s eyes as she talked — he had seen it many times in females of a certain age! But she was unable to give him any further information than she had given the Inspector. Bradley took copious notes and made his escape as soon as he realised she had no more to tell him, and headed, not to the pharmacy like the Inspector, but to a nearby coffee shop where he hoped to get a decent cup of coffee while he mulled over all his notes.
When he took her to dinner that evening, he and Avril discussed what he had learnt about Sandra Purcell, and she handed him the book of poems. “Justin left it behind, and you may as well have it, as it’s no use to us,” she said. Bradley studied it, while Avril perused the notes he had taken from his conversation at the agency. “I can just about read your writing,” she muttered, screwing up her eyes. Then her sudden exclamation made him lookup. “Wow,” she exclaimed excitedly.” Look at this, Brad. Her names — Sandra Kathleen Iris Purcell. Those initials — S.K.I.P. Do you see; that’s why she was called ‘Skippy’. No mystery there after all. She spoke the truth then.”
Bradley stared at the notes Avril had handed back to him. “You’re right,” he agreed. “There, I knew you’d make a good journalist’s wife with that quick mind.”
“It’s probably all the Agatha Christie books I read, “confessed Avril, feeling a little foolish as she spoke.
“Great stuff,” said Bradley. “My two sisters devour them too. See, you’ll fit well into our family.”
He had two more days in Sydney but was unable to gather much further information, apart from the fact that Sandra Purcell had been brought up in an orphanage and had no known living relatives. However, he felt the trip was well spent, as he devoted as much time as possible to courting Avril. If she had any doubts about his sincerity and had started to wonder if the visit had been more for business than to see here, such concerns were soon dispelled.
It was their last evening together, and Bradley took her hand across the table as they sat sipping their after-dinner coffee. “I know this has been a business trip,” he began, “but it was also an excuse to see you again. I meant what I said on the first night I met you, Avril. I’m very much in love with you, and I want to marry you. I believe you feel the same about me, but you just don’t know it!”
Avril blushed as he went on, looking earnestly into her eyes. “I’m just not sure,” she admitted, “and Australia is so far from home.”
“I’ll give you time,” said Bradley. “But promise me you’ll write when you return to England. And remember, I can’t wait forever. I’m eager to put that ring on your finger.”
Avril kissed him warmly as they separated, and with that encouragement, Bradley Noakes had to be content, as he returned to Melbourne to attempt further investigations into the life of Mrs Sandra Cummings, nee Purcell.