A Body on the Beach; and Second and Third!
This story was published in the Dark and Stormy Book Club on-line newsletter last summer. I entitled it 'The Man in the Suit'.
I hope you enjoy it.
After the story is a short update about Chairman Fox's races on August 13 and August 26.
The Man in the Suit
Waves unfurled their fury and crashed down onto the sand and pebbles, moving the body a little further out of the angry sea and onto the beach. Rain and salty spray stung my face and strands of wet hair caught in my mouth. I stooped over the man whose blue-tinged skin and distorted suit were decorated with pieces of seaweed and grains of sand. He’d been dead for some time—the sea was cold and he wouldn’t have floated for a couple of weeks.
While I waited for the sirens to reach the pier, I checked things out. It didn’t need an expert to see that his head had been bludgeoned. I took some quick photos and entered a few hasty notes. The suit would suggest he’d either been on business or at a function—perhaps held in the facilities on the pier. It’d be less likely that he’d been on a ship or pushed off the sea wall, but I didn’t rule anything out at this point.
But the police were quick to draw conclusions. I’ll get to that later.
Meanwhile, I had to return to my mother’s cottage. It had been out of a sense of duty that I’d made the trip from my home in Canada to Devon, England. The way I felt then was that I should’ve had my head tested and stayed where I was.
“What took you so long? I thought you were just going to have a peek at the sea,” she asked as I unpeeled my soaking-wet, un-waterproof jacket, and grabbed the nearest towel to rub my dripping hair. Shivers set in, reminding me of how cold I’d often felt in this damp county.
“I found a body on the beach.”
“A dead fish. They often get washed up these days.”
“No, a person.”
“Well, none of our business. It wouldn’t be anyone from around here.”
“I’d like to know what happened to him.”
“What on earth for?”
“Instead of wasting time on that, you could make us a cup of coffee.”
“I thought that man from the hearing-aid place was coming this morning and you’d have coffee later.”
“He was supposed to come at nine, but I thought he might not make it. Take your boots into the conservatory. I don’t want those wet, sandy things in here.”
“I don’t think there’s much wrong with your hearing.”
“How would you know?”
“I don’t have to shout.”
“But you’ve always had a voice that carries.”
And so it went on until I made lunch.
My mother always had a nap after the meal, and I would go for a walk or read. I went back to the beach. The rain had stopped, but the wind blew on-shore, bringing debris with it, mostly plastic bottles. The police had left. I’d expected to see yellow tape, or someone standing guard, or both. You wouldn’t have guessed that a body had been found just a few hours earlier.
The thunderous waves reached further up the beach, and any evidence of tracks or footprints had been obliterated by churning, frothy seawater.
I don’t know what I’d hoped to find, but pessimism soon set in.
“Have you lost your dog?” an older, thick-set woman, perhaps about sixty, shouted at me as the wind made her black plastic rain-hat crackle and shudder.
“No, but thanks for asking.”
“Are you one of the detectives? I heard there was a body washed up this morning. This sort of thing never happens here.”
“No, but I found the body.”
“Ah, you want to do some sleuthing?” A huge black lab, on a thick leather leash, sat at her side.
“It could be suspicious.”
“The police believe it was an accident.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have connections. Long story. Let’s walk along the beach. My name’s Kit, by the way, and this is Sergeant.” She patted the large, square head of her wet dog.
She said we should be a team, but I was reluctant. I wasn’t sure how much effort I wanted to put into an amateur investigation in a place that had grown unfamiliar to me, and where I was constrained by my mother’s demands.
“Do you think it was an accident?” she asked, as we struggled over a particularly pebbly spot.
“It looked like he’d been bludgeoned. The injury on the side of his head was severe.”
“The police said he fell off the pier into the sea and hit his head on a rock.”
“Are there many rocks around the pier?”
“It’s built on rocks, and there are plenty that could cause serious injury.”
“He died at least two weeks ago.”
“Not according to the police. They contend he was at the wedding on Saturday and climbed the rail at the edge of the pier, and fell off, which is certainly possible, especially if drunk.” She snorted, as if she’d told a joke.
“I’m not sure.” The more I thought about what I’d seen, the less I believed it could have been an accident. I hoped that they’d do a thorough autopsy.
My mother was furious by the time I returned.
“I made tea, and it’s cold,” she said. “I’m going to watch the local news. You can make a fresh pot.”
The noise of the kettle almost drowned out my mother’s gasp. I trotted into the living room.
“That picture.” She held her lacy handkerchief to her mouth, muffling her voice. “It’s him.”
“Of the man found on the beach. He came here three weeks ago and was to deliver my hearing-aids this morning. I told you about him.”
“What’s his name?”
“I wrote his information down in my notebook. We had a long chat. I liked him, even though he was a salesman.”
“And obviously a good one, because there’s nothing wrong with your hearing.”
She handed me her notebook. “Take the book. The name of the company’s there too.”
“I met someone called Kit on the beach this morning and she seems to think it was an accident.”
“That’s what they said on the news, but I don’t believe it was.”
“I don’t think it was, either.”
“Well then, you’d better find out who killed him. And I’m going to help.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am. And that’s that. I want to go to the beach where you found him.”
“Right now. We’ve at least an hour before it gets dark.”
My mother was not an active person and somewhat overweight, being inclined to stay in her house. But I was in for a surprise. We walked up and down the beach, out on the pier, and along the path by the thick stone seawall, and she showed no signs of tiring. She was the one who found the small piece of fabric snagged by a rusty iron ring at the top of the seawall. We both thought it looked like suit material. I took several photographs and phoned Kit, as we’d agreed.
Kit showed up about five minutes later. She yanked the material out of my hand and said she would take it to the police immediately. She strode off with Sergeant in tow. It was as if she was dragging him. He was probably disappointed—no run on the beach.
“You shouldn’t have let her take it,” my mother said. She stopped and faced me with penetrating brown eyes. “You took photos?”
“Yes, you saw me.”
“We need to go to the police. She doesn’t intend to hand that material in.”
“What makes you say that? And what about something to eat?”
“Never mind about food. We have a murderer to catch.”
My mother was right. Kit had not entered the police station.
We failed to garner much interest in the photos. They provided insufficient evidence of foul play, and it was obvious the police firmly believed it had been an accident.
We were both exhausted by the time we got back to the cold, damp cottage. I put the electric fire on and got no complaints. And, for once, I didn’t have to cook. We ate fish and chips and resolved to check out the beach below the seawall the next day.
Nothing showed up as I searched for information on Kit after a quick breakfast.
The hearing-aid company’s website was basic. It showed four staff, all males in suits, but no Dan. I suppose they’d deleted any reference to him as soon as they’d heard of his fate. I told my mother I was going to the hearing-aid place, but she insisted that she should be the one to go. She had a reason. No hearing-aids were delivered as promised. She’d paid a pretty sum for them. She told me I should dig deeper to find out something about Kit. All I could think of doing was to go back to the beach where we’d met. Maybe she took Sergeant there for a walk every morning.
The dog was there, but Kit was nowhere to be seen. I spent nearly an hour walking up and down the beach, past the pier, and along the path by the seawall. Sergeant followed me everywhere.
I gave up.
Finally, we negotiated the steep stone steps down to the beach below the spot where my mother had found the scrap of fabric. Despite the low tide, we were greeted by two feet of water, albeit calm for once. There were no rocks, just coarse sand and a scattering of pebbles. I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my stretchy jeans. I waded in the frigid water, trying not to stir up the sand and stones. Sergeant scrambled in circles around me, puffing and spluttering. He wouldn’t go back to the steps. I was just about to admit defeat when I saw it: a piece of fabric, larger than the first, partly buried, but moving a little with the motion of the sea. After taking several photos, I stuffed the soggy piece of evidence into my pocket as if it might disappear of its own accord given half a chance.
“Okay, Sergeant, we have to go to the police station, give them this, and then find out where you live.” He wagged his tail, but he had sad eyes.
As we left the police station, having stirred them into action, Sergeant and I walked towards the cottage. My brain conjured up pictures of the staff at the hearing-aid place that I’d scrolled through on my laptop. The President and CEO’s face jumped into my mind’s eye and stuck there, glued to me just like Sergeant was. I nearly missed the gate to the cottage because I was so obsessed with the images in my head.
My mother had beaten me back.
“What’s that dog doing here?” Her tone of voice was not as cutting as I’d expected. I explained that I’d found him on the beach and that Kit was nowhere to be seen.
“I have to check something,” I said. “Could you give Sergeant some water and maybe a cookie or something?”
“I’ll give him a sausage.” Sergeant must have known what that meant, because he followed her into the kitchen wagging his tail.
Checking the hearing-aid company’s website again, I knew I was right.
“They wouldn’t talk to me,” my mother shouted from the kitchen. “The door was open, but when I mentioned Dan’s name, they said they were closed. I thought the receptionist looked flustered. Can you hear me?”
“Sergeant makes a mess when he drinks. Don’t slip on the wet floor when you come in.”
“There’s something else I should tell you.”
I stood in the doorway to the kitchen, and Sergeant flopped down onto the mat by the back door.
She told me she’d had a chat with Dan when he visited. She could tell he was stressed. He was jittery and dropped his mobile. She gave him a cup of tea and he spilled the beans about the scam that his boss ran—he preyed on older women who had some level of dementia and lived alone and didn’t have someone looking after their financial affairs. It’s not that hard to find these things out. He had his representatives convince the women that they needed hearing-aids and must pay up front. It worked in more cases than you’d imagine, Dan told her. But there were no hearing-aids delivered and the elderly, confused women were none the wiser. His boss moved around a lot to avoid being caught.
My mother told Dan he should resign and find something better to do with his life before it was too late. She gave him a couple of names of people who might help him. She paid for the hearing-aids because she liked Dan, and he’d told her he got commission. (So, I was right, there was nothing wrong with her hearing).
“And then he washed up dead,” my mother said. “Dan must have resigned and had been about to talk to the police”. She blows her nose.
And she’d known there was something odd about Kit when she met her, but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. It had been a quick meeting since Kit grabbed the fabric and left, dragging Sergeant behind her.
When I showed her the photos on the website, she agreed with me that Kit was the male President and CEO of the hearing-aid place (in disguise) and he was the most likely suspect in the murder of Dan.
She doesn’t feel responsible. And I don’t think she should. At least we found Dan’s murderer, who’ll be put away for a long time, or so we’re led to believe.
And my mother has a dog as a companion, who loves to run on the beach. She’s lost weight, and is a ton happier.
And I don’t mind travelling across the Atlantic to see her and Sergeant—I’m going again next week.
Copyright Vicky Earle 2022
As most of you know, Martin (my husband) and I are minority partners in a racehorse called Chairman Fox. He is by the same sire as I'm Dashing: Society's Chairman.
After many challenges along the way, Chairman Fox came second on August 13 and third on August 26 at Woodbine Racetrack.
He always tries and does his best.
Once he'd cooled down we fed him a few carrots and told him how pleased we are! We also visited with I'm Dashing and It's a Fluke.
Here are the links to the two races:
PS Blue Heron Books continues to offer my books in their store in Uxbridge, for which I'm grateful. Please support them when you can!