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by Rupert Penny
AT THE TIME when Bernard Pommery died—April 1936—Edward Beale was just forty-one years old, and had been a Chief In-spector in the C.I.D. for three. During the whole of 1935 he was engaged on a series of irritating cases which were important enough in themselves, but gave him little scope for his own peculiar brand of imaginative deduction. By March he was clearly in need of a rest: I, knowing him pretty well, could discern that from the frequency with which his patience gave out when confronted with dullness or stupidity of any kind. By the end of April he had decided, partly under my persuasion, to put in for a month’s leave of absence; but just when his ap plication had gone through, and been granted, affairs in the Pommery case reached the point when a certain amount of investigation by Scotland Yard was desirable.
As far as looks go there isn’t much to waste time on in de scribing Beale. He is tall, sparely built, and has a pleasant but not distinguished face; the sort, perhaps, that you wouldn’t really begin to see until you had been looking at it for some minutes. As a person he is an excellent companion: quiet, humorous, intelligent, and generally even-tempered. As a detective he is considered to be a success. He finally estab lished his reputation over the Sussex Strangler affair, which I only heard about at second hand, and strengthened it with his solving of the Wyre murders.
Perhaps his one claim to be termed a “character” among detectives is his habit of thinking aloud at times. There is simply no getting away from the fact that he can talk, and frequently does. I don’t mean just for the sake of saying some thing—he doesn’t chatter; but when his mind is active about a particular subject his tongue isn’t long at rest. Personally I find it ex traordinarily interesting to listen to him tackling things from every possible angle, deducing a bit of information here and fitting it in there, speculating about this point and interpreting that, until under his guidance isolated facts begin to form a pattern.
As for myself, my name is Anthony Purdon, I am thirty-six years old, still—and probably always—a bachelor, and a member of the Stock Exchange. I am also the assistant editor of a paper called The Stockbroker, but I don’t let that bother me when there are more exciting things to do.
Although I was on the scene during the whole of Beale’s inquiry into Bernard Pommery’s death, seeing what he saw and noting what he did, I failed to solve the mystery for myself. As far as detection goes, in fact, I played the part of a pretty in efficient Watson, without even a practice to help make me perfect.
We had agreed to clear off together for Beale’s month—a little walking, a little riding, a lot of golf; we were due to set out on Tuesday, May 19th; but on the evening before, while I was packing, a telegram arrived.
“Cancel reservations pack tails hope you like Dorset letter following await patiently why is policeman like woman be cause work never done Beale.”
Rather puzzled, I did as he said about our rooms—we had been going to Carnoustie—and prepared for enlightenment about the sudden change of plans. I did not have long to wait, for the next morning I found a large envelope on the breakfast table. It contained a letter, four newspaper cuttings and the summary of a police report. I will give the letter first.
“New Scotland Yard, May 18th, 1936.
The enclosed will partly explain why Carnoustie is off. I hope you don’t mind—we can save it for another time, and I have wangled an invitation for you. Briefly, a man called Pommery has apparently hanged himself in a Dorset wood, but nobody can find even the faintest reason why he should have done it. The local bluebottles have been buzzing for a month, but ineffectually. Would I be kind enough to look into the matter? Quite unofficially, but every facility given; a sort of holiday task, free board and lodging—you too—and take my own time. I said I supposed I would. It’s probably all nonsense—why shouldn’t a man hang himself without ex plaining why beforehand? I can’t get away tomorrow, but will expect you about noon the day after. Bring your clubs and swot up enclosures—then I shan’t have to keep answering questions.
Yours as ever,
Next, the meatiest of the cuttings, which gives all the nec essary facts in average local journalese. It is taken from the Ilbury Chronicle for Wednesday, April 22nd.
J.P. FOUND DEAD
HANGING IN WOOD
Local Benefactor’s Tragic Demise
It is with great regret that we have to report the death of Mr. Bernard Pommery, J.P., of Littlebanks, Mannering Sto bell. About 11.30. a.m. on Tuesday of this week, the 21st, his body was found depending from a tree in Dillow’s Wood, which lies on the Danworth Dallas—Minster road
The sad discovery was made by Captain Hugo Collier, of Stobell Grange, a friend of the deceased, who happened to notice Mr. Pommery’s car just inside the wood as he passed by in his own. A short search led him to the body, which it is believed had then been defunct for close on fifteen hours. Captain Collier immediately telephoned the police, and In spector Finch took charge.
Mr. Bernard Pommery leaves a widow and one daughter by his first wife, who died in 1922. To both we extend our deepest sympathy. He was fifty-eight years of age.
Mr. Pommery will long be remembered in Ilbury and dis trict for his kindly personality and his great generosity. It was he who, only a few weeks ago, presented the prizes at the Ilbury Spring Flower Show, including the Pommery Cup for the best bowl of single hyacinths grown by an amateur. He, too, was the donor of an exceptionally fine stained-glass window to the Church of St. Matthias, Mannering Stobell, where he worshipped, and a valued member of the local Bench.
He will be remembered also for his keen interest in word puzzles of all kinds, but especially acrostics. For the past two years he has contributed one weekly to this paper. The latest and last example of his art will be found on page 3. His un timely decease will leave a noticeable gap in our popular Puzzle Corner . . .
~ ~ ~
I won’t bother to give the rest verbatim. It merely records that Pommery was not a native of Dorset, settling there in 1931 after a strenuous and varied business career in London. It also refers to the inquest to be opened the following day.
By the side of the column Beale had pencilled a query in his small firm hand. “Can you get details of business career? Seem to remember something fishy about 1930.” I too remembered; but that will come later.
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