This is the second and final part of a fictional short story, in 1520 words.
Please read Part One first.
It was inspired by this photo, from Sue Judd’s blog. https://suejudd.com/
Murray pushed the door hard, easily dislodging the stool that Violet had propped against it, in the absence of a lock. He walked into the room carrying a large tarpaulin, and a pair of dressmaker’s scissors. She was soundly asleep in the bed, as he knew she would be. There had been enough of the sleeping draught in the bottle of Claret for one glass to have done the job, and she had drunk it all.
After switching on the bedside lamp, he spread the tarpaulin out on the floor at the side of the bed, and pulled the blanket and sheet away from the young woman. Taking the scissors, he cut length-ways up the nightdress, and parted the material, exposing her naked body underneath. Walking into the bathroom, he removed her toiletries and cosmetics from the shelf, and picked up the underthings dropped on the floor too. He took the small suitcase down from the top of the wardrobe, and placed everything in there, making sure to take a blouse and skirt that he found hanging inside, adding her shoes and jacket before closing it.
Lord De Vere was impatient. Tired of waiting outside, he entered the room. He was wearing a silk robe, and on his feet were some embroidered Turkish slippers. Surveying the scene before him on the large bed, he waved a hand at Murray, dismissing him. The Butler didn’t go far, and stood along the landing, checking his pocket watch. He knew from past experience that his employer rarely took long to satisfy his urge. A few minutes later, his employer walked out. With not so much as a glance, he headed downstairs. Murray sighed, and went back into Violet’s bedroom. He dragged her lifeless body onto the tarpaulin, added the suitcase, and began to wrap her up like a parcel. When the job was done, he hauled the package down the servants’ stairs to the Boot Room.
O’Neill had already dug the hole, in between some trees at the back of the apple orchard. He would take her there early tomorrow morning, in the wheelbarrow. She would be in good company at least.
When Violet didn’t come home on Friday evening, Dorothy Hardacre started to worry. And when there was no sign of her by late Saturday morning, she made the effort to get dressed, and make the short walk to Mrs Allenby’s cottage. But her friend didn’t seem at all concerned. “I’m sure she got held up, Dotty. Probably something with the trains, or she bumped into some old friend in London. I’m sure she will have telephoned Mrs Thompson at the Post Office, and left a message”. Dorothy made the longer walk to Mrs Thompson’s, but there was no message. When they had still heard nothing by Tuesday, Mrs Allenby went with her to the police house, to see Sergeant Graham. He was a serious man, and took a full report, including a description. Dorothy added, “Oh and you should find her bicycle at Uppham Station. She would have left it there before catching the train. It’s my old one”. The policeman nodded. “Don’t you worry, Mrs Hardacre. I shall send this report to London, to Scotland Yard. They can contact the War Office”.
Following almost three weeks of investigations, the Metropolitan Police could find no trace of her at the War Office, or at any London hospital or hotel. After many visits and phone calls, all they could ascertain was that she had worked there until early in 1946, then left to return to look after her mother. There was no trace of any recent job offer, and nobody had seen her during the week in question. The case was passed to Inspector Allison, to sign it off. But he was intrigued. Why would this woman go back to a quiet village to care for her mother, then just disappear for no reason? He decided to drive down there, and ask some more questions. He took Detective Sergeant Cohen along, as his driver.
The first stop was to see Sergeant Graham. No, the bicycle wasn’t at Uppham Station, and no staff had seen it, or anyone who looked like Violet. Yes, there had been a search for her, in case she was lying injured, or worse. As well as nine officers sent from the main police station at Uppham, almost thirty local people had helped to look too. Allison lit his pipe, and squinted at the smoke. “How about the Hardacre home, did you search there? Graham smiled. “She wasn’t there, Inspector. It only has four rooms”. Allison removed his pipe, and looked at the bowl. “Come on Cohen, let’s go and talk to the mother”.
Dorothy was suitably impressed. “Scotland Yard, really? I hope you can do more than our local police”. Allison sucked on the empty pipe. It wouldn’t do to light it in this tiny cottage, and it would probably choke the old lady. “Would you mind if I looked at Violet’s room?” She seemed surprised. “Of course, you can if you want, but she didn’t leave a note or anything”. The room was small and very tidy. The room of a grown up woman, not a girl. Everything in its place, bed made, and no fripperies. It seemed her mother was right. No clues shouted at the experienced Inspector as he flicked through books, and opened and closed drawers. No obvious love letters, or concealed photos of smiling boyfriends. As he made to leave the bedroom, he spotted a raffia waste-basket tucked away under the dressing table. Pulling it into view, he saw it contained just two things. The wrapper from a bar of soap, and a newspaper, folded in four. Unfolding the newspaper, he checked the date, then noticed something small low down the page. It was circled in a heavy dark pencil, perhaps an eyebrow pencil, the sort used as make-up.
He left the house, putting on his trilby as he cleared the door. The newspaper was in his left hand. Turning to Dorothy, he touched the brim of his hat. “Our enquiries continue, dear lady, never fear”. In the car, he turned to Cohen. “Check the map. We are going to De Vere Hall, Upper Hedley”. The man who answered the door was unimpressed by their credentials. “His lordship is busy, and will have no time to see policemen, I assure you”. Allison was unfazed. “Tell him we are from Scotland Yard, and it’s not a request. We will wait in here”. They went into the library, through impressive doors leading off the hallway. Fifteen minutes later, Lord De Vere entered the library. He had an air of irritation about him. “What’s this about, Inspector? I do have a large estate to run you know”. Allison unfolded the newspaper, and pointed to the advertisement circled in black. “You paid for this I presume, your lordship?” De Vere feigned boredom. “Yes, I needed a new secretary, but we received no applications, unfortunately. Now if that’s all, I am busy, as I told you. Murray will show you out”.
Allison and Cohen didn’t budge. “You have never heard of, nor met, a woman named Violet Hardacre? She is twenty-seven years old, light brown hair, and around five feet six tall. A trained secretary who lives in Lower Hedley, and was looking for work as a secretary. Strikes me she would have jumped at the chance of a job like that”. De Vere shook his head. “I have never met the woman you describe. As I said, there were no applicants. If she did circle my advertisement, she obviously decided not to apply”. Allison picked up his hat. “Would you mind if we looked around, your lordship? It’s a big house”. De Vere’s face coloured, and he spoke sharply. “Yes I would Inspector. I can see no point in it, and I am busy this afternoon. I know the Chief Constable of this county, and he wouldn’t be happy to hear that you are bothering me”. Allison smiled. “Very well, Sir. We will bid you good day. Thank you for seeing us”.
Outside, he winked at Sergeant Cohen. “He didn’t say anything about not looking around outside”. Fifteen minutes later, they found the bicycle, still propped up at the back, where Violet had left it. Not wanting them to think she was too poor to afford a taxi, she hadn’t mentioned it, and Murray had no idea it was there, so no reason to wander around looking for it. Allison turned to his sergeant, and tapped the newspaper. “This alone proved nothing. But the cycle as well is good enough for me. Take the car, and drive to Uppham. Tell them to bring some men to search, and a van for prisoners. Ask the officer in charge to apply for a search warrant for the house and grounds. I will stay here, and give his lordship the bad news”.
When Murray answered the door the second time, he was surprised to see the policeman again. The Inspector gave him a broad smile, pointing to the bicycle that they had wheeled round from the back.