Anyone driving past ‘Lakeview’ could have been forgiven for thinking that this was just another bungalow. However, appearances can be deceiving because if you were to stop your car, get out and walk to the rear of the property, it would be immediately apparent that this is, in fact, a three-storey house built into the side of a hill. Should you then be invited inside you would undoubtedly be shown the wide, open riser, wooden staircase that afforded access upwards to the attic bedrooms [their picture windows designed to take full advantage of the spectacular view across the mere] and downwards to a large, two-car garage, a wine cellar, and what the current owner, Robert Royle, chose to call his ‘office’.
It was at the bottom of this staircase that he now lay dead.
Dr Tom Barnet, dressed in the full SOCO garb of white plastic coverall and overshoes, was kneeling beside the body. His was a familiar face in the village, for as well as being the police surgeon he was also a local GP.
Sensing that someone was standing behind him, he paused in his examination and looked up. Instantly recognising the newcomer, he couldn’t resist indulging in a little friendly banter. “What on earth are you doing here, Fred?” he said with a chuckle, “I thought they’d retired you.”
“You know very well that I don’t go until next week,” Detective Inspector Fred Marsh replied huffily. “You’re coming to my leaving do at the Plough on Friday night aren’t you? Now then, what have we got?”
The doctor was still smiling. “Nothing to justify the attendance of someone of your rank, I wouldn’t have thought,” he said. “At a guess I’d say chummy here fell down the stairs and broke his neck, as simple as that. Knocked himself out on the way down I wouldn’t wonder, judging by that nasty abrasion on the side of his face... With the amount of booze Bob Royle could get through in one session at the Plough I’m surprised that this sort of thing hadn’t happened to him long since.” He shut his bag with a decisive snap of the clasp, and proceeded to stand up. “But, as you would be the first to remind me, Frederick old pal, I’m not paid to guess, so I’ll confirm the precise cause of death when I get him back to the lab. Okay?”
Marsh stood aside to allow the doctor to go about organising the removal of the body. His long-term friend had been partially right, he was ‘winding down’ and the last thing he needed right now was a new case with all the paperwork that went with it plus an appearance at the coroner’s court. He had been about to leave his office in Police HQ for home when the report of the fatal accident had come in. The only other person in CID at the time was young Perkins and he had his hands full with that nasty robbery with violence and, as Marsh’s house was in the same village as ‘Lakeview’, the Inspector had reluctantly agreed to look in on it on his way home.
When he arrived at the property, a uniformed constable was waiting to take him to where Tom Barnett was examining the body. On the way they passed the kitchen where he noted that a young WPC was sitting with Mrs Royle who was comforting, William, her three-year-old son on her lap. William was quietly sobbing. He guessed that Chloe, the boy’s older sister, would, mercifully, be at school.
The doctor was right, of course. There was nothing to suggest that this was anything more than a habitual drunkard falling down the stairs, but Fred had been a policeman for over thirty years and something the doctor had said set alarm bells ringing.
Anyway, no one in the village would mourn Bob Royle, he was sure of that. The men of the village had had enough of that young man’s bigheaded, ‘I’m always right’ attitude. They would move away from him when he walked up to the bar in the Plough, leaving only the odd newcomer or a few visitors to be his unwitting audience for the evening. And as for the village women, they would never forgive him for the way he continuously belittled his wife in public, and in private, abused her physically. Although Susan did her best to cover them up, the bruises were only too noticeable.
Susan Royle had met Bob on a holiday cruise and, like anyone meeting him for the first time, was completely taken in by his good looks and charming manners. At the time, she was a rising tennis star, famous for her strong backhand volley and he, according to Robert Royle, was an entrepreneur ‘in property’. Theirs was a whirlwind romance and in a matter of months they were married and had moved into ‘Lakeside’, which Bob had acquired using a large chunk of Susan’s sponsorship money as a down payment, and which he immediately re-mortgaged to finance another ‘business venture’.
This was a very satisfying tale, and I enjoyed the bit of history about the Police "Force." Nice ending.
I enjoyed the story thinking another "whodunit" but the ending was a blockbuster ending. Very well done.