Deep Waters Chapter 7 by Lydia Penn
Ex-Detective Inspector Russell Digby was bored! He had now been retired for about a year and had found that retirement was not all he had been led to expect. His lumbago was hampering his activities in the garden, and arthritis in his right knee also plagued him; life was no longer the horticultural bliss he had anticipated
“This retirement business is not what it is made out to be,” he grumbled to his long-suffering wife as he sat morosely drinking tea at the breakfast table. “You have all the time in the world, but not the energy to do what you want with it, even if you have the money. I’m now just a ‘has-been’. Even when I wander down to the station, they all seem pleased to see me, but they’re too busy to stop and talk, and I’m just in the way.” He sighed deeply as he reached for another piece of toast. “What am I suppose to do for the next twenty or so years?” he demanded.
“I know, dear,” said Joan Digby sympathetically, even as she wondered what she was going to do with this disconsolate husband under her feet in the kitchen all day! “My father felt the same,” she said as she poured herself a second cup of tea. “He took up bowls. You might like that,” she suggested brightly.
“Stuff and nonsense,” snorted her husband. “If I can’t work in the garden, how do you think I can play bowls? My outings now seem to be all doctor’s visits,” he went on. “A waste of time too, while they tell me to go on a diet, cut down on alcohol and give up smoking. What sort of life is that, if a man can’t do what he wants. Now when I was working, I never had time to see a doctor, and I was perfectly fit.”
Joan refrained from commenting — she had heard all this before, and she had been warned that after a busy fulfilling life, her husband would find it hard to adjust to a new, slower pace. She began to clear the table as he picked up the morning paper and lit a cigarette.
Two hours later he was wandering aimlessly around the garden when the phone rang, and Joan called him in.
The voice at the other end of the phone was unfamiliar, but Bradley Noakes quickly introduced himself as the journalist who was responsible for the article and photos about Harold Cummings’ engagement to Sandra Purcell, which had so interested the Inspector. Since talking to Mona Thompson. Bradley’s interest in the case had been rekindled, and he was now going ahead with bulldog tenacity to uncover more in what he thought had the makings of an intriguing story. He felt that the retired Inspector could be a source of small details about the night of the fire which might be revealing. After his brief explanation, Bradley was delighted to obtain an appointment with the Inspector for 11:00am the following day.
Two more parallel lines of investigation were about to converge!
Bradley would have been amazed could he have witnessed the Inspector’s reaction to his phone call. Forgetting his lumbago and arthritic knee, ex Detective Chief Inspector Russell Digby headed straight upstairs to the small bedroom he had converted into a study, and Joan could hear him opening and closing drawers and cupboards, as he muttered to himself. Presently he emerged with a pile of papers and files which he dumped on to the dining room table with a grunt of satisfaction. Russell Digby was now in his element!
“What’s happening?” asked Joan, who had just started to make some morning tea. It was obvious that her husband had at last found something to relieve his boredom.
Russell Digby sat down at the kitchen table and took the tea she offered him. As he added milk and sugar, he enlightened her. “That young man on the phone is coming over in the morning to discuss the Cummings fire investigation. It seems he has some new details of interest. Good thing I kept a lot of my personal notes on the case. Now I must refresh my memory before he comes.”
He gulped down his tea, grabbed a slice of cake and repaired to the dining room, where he proceeded to cover the table with files and documents. Joan was only too happy to accommodate his new interest, even though he worked late into the night and would barely stop for meals. “I might even write my memoirs,” he informed her over a hasty dinner. Joan merely smiled, and tactfully refrained from reminding him that this was something she had suggested many months ago, but he had flatly pooh-poohed the idea.
He was up early the next morning, freshly shaved and smartly dressed, all relevant documents placed in order on a small table in the sunroom which led off the kitchen, where he impatiently awaited Bradley’s arrival. “What is your special interest in this case,” was his expected first question. The two men had taken an instant liking to each other, and after initial greetings had sat down to enjoy the fresh homemade scones and tea which Joan provided.
“Well, sir, I guess it started with my grandmother, “ Bradley began, and as the Inspector raised a quizzical eyebrow, he went on to explain his grandmother’s assessment of the character of Harold Cummings, which had triggered his interest in the fire, and then the engagement of Harold Cummings to Sandra Purcell.
The Inspector listened carefully, made a few notes and then asked, “what else have you since found out, and what is the book you mentioned on the phone?”
Bradley explained his meeting with Avril and his activities since. He produced the book of poems, and the Inspector stopped in the act of lighting a cigarette and began to peruse it closely. He was back in his old familiar role and began to question Bradley more closely.
After they had shared and chuckled over, their respective visits to Martha Coutts at the modelling agency, and Bradley had demolished his second scone, the Inspector sat back, lit another cigarette and regarded him with a smile. Presently he spoke. “Cherchez la femme! I always knew there had to be an accomplice in that fire situation — most likely a woman. It all fitted together too neatly. But the problem has always been that every extensive investigation failed to turn up any connection between Harold Cummings and any other woman.”
“But ……,” began Bradley.
The Inspector held up his hand. “What you have told me is merely hearsay — what this girl Avril told you, that she had learnt from someone else. It would never stand up in a court of law —a clever barrister would tear the case to shreds in a moment.” He consulted his notes again, and Bradley waited impatiently for him to speak. “This is what we have.” he stated after a while. “Two sets of facts. One, a fire with loss of life at the Cummings property — to Harold Cummings’ advantage, as all was heavily insured and he was deeply in debt. Harold Cummings himself had a cast-iron alibi by being in New Zealand at the time. And two, which you have now brought to light. A Sydney model, with a strong likeness to Sarah Cummings, boards a pre-booked flight to London two days later, stays there for two years, then returns, not to Sydney but to Melbourne. Less than a year later she marries Harold Cummings. Coincidence? I don’t think so!”
“And the book?” prompted Bradley.
“Aha. Well, that was a mistake, of course. For some reason, it was picked up, and then carelessly lost. But though it provides a connection, it is not proof of anything. To sum up; there is no doubt that a heinous crime, planned by Harold Cummings, was committed that night. The big question is by whom!”
Bradley stared at him. “You mean Skippy?”
“The woman you know as ‘Skippy’. Yes,” said the Inspector. “But who is she?”
“You can’t mean ….,” began Bradley; he stopped with mouth wide open in horror.
“Why not,” said the Inspector matter of factly. “That has been done before. There were two women in that house that night. One was burned beyond recognition; the other flew to London, where we do know Harold Cummings made frequent visits over the next two years.”
Bradley sat stunned. In all his years of journalism, such a case had never come into his orbit before.
“There’s another alternative,” added the Inspector as Bradley prepared to leave. “The plan has all the marks of Harold Cummings unscrupulous character, but even so, maybe it went horribly wrong. Maybe the wrong woman died that night.” He smiled at Bradley who now looked even more appalled. “All this is strictly off the record of course, but keep me posted, and we will meet again.”
Bradley departed with his mind in a whirl, while the Inspector went happily back to the task of sorting out material for his memoirs.
Mona Thompson would have been very surprised to learn of the reactions to her now forgotten conversations, from both Bradley Noakes and Sandra Cummings nee Purcell.
Having initially disregarded Mona’s account of Bradley’s visit as unimportant, after a couple of days Skippy began to replay it over and over in her mind until she had convinced herself that the ‘nice young journalist’ Mona had mentioned, was most likely a detective. What had Mona actually told him? She began to toy with the idea of visiting Mona to find out what had actually been said.
“You’d better not,” said Harold firmly, when she began to discuss the matter with him.” She’s served her purpose, now drop her. She’s a terrible gossip and has probably gone on to something else now. If you show up again, you’ll only make her curious. You’ve messed up enough all ready.” He turned back to watch his favourite evening TV programme.
Skippy was near to tears; it’s all right for him, she thought. He made sure that he had a safe alibi; he has no idea what I went through. I know I goofed up a bit on the ship, but that worked out all right. He doesn’t understand.
But Harold did understand, and as Skippy fumbled for her handkerchief, he pulled her to him. The plan should have been perfect; they had rehearsed it over and over; she knew exactly what she had to do. But Skippy was the one weak link. If she broke, Harold understood only too well what the consequences could be. He switched off the TV and gave her his irresistible smile, as he began to caress her. “It will be all right, honey.” he whispered. “We’ve got each other, and I need you.” That was true! They were now bound together by the shared deep dark secret of what really happened that night, as much as by the mutual passion that now engulfed them.
But the dreams were recurring, and with greater intensity — the flames were now reaching higher, grabbing her, so that she couldn’t get away. In the distance she could hear Harold calling, then she saw his face in the flames laughing at her. Skippy woke in a cold sweat, sat up in bed, screaming and shaking with fear.
As Harold took her in his arms, calming and reassuring her until she again fell asleep, he began to make plans; the time had come to move out of Melbourne, as he had known it would. Money was no problem. He smiled wryly in the darkness as he thought of the Swiss bank account, and the highly insured valuables removed from the property before the fire. Beneath that charming playboy exterior, Harold Cummings had a mind so brilliant, so devious, so cunning, so unscrupulous that even the experienced cynical Inspector Russell Digby would have had difficulty in comprehending.
Harold looked at his wife, now sleeping peacefully beside him. They had struck a deal at that first meeting in London after the fire, and she had been a willing accomplice as he had outlined his further plans. She thrived or challenge and deception as much as he did, and the future still looked good for them both. He turned over and quickly fell into a deep sleep!