CHAPTER FIVE: THE FOOTPRINTS
Sir Stanley Buckingham was a tall, bulky, well-tailored, well whiskered, and highly opinionated merchant banker, and former Guardsman, in his fifties. He looked critically at the two detectives as if he didn’t quite rate them as officer material.
’It was totally inexplicable, Inspector Moose. Quite out of the blue. It’s not the sort of thing you expect round here. In some violent, drug ridden, inner city estate, perhaps. But not on Bone Island. My word, no.’ He shook his head. ’It’s difficult to believe that he’s actually dead. He was such a towering figure. Such a dominant force in the world of commerce. One almost felt that he was immortal.’
’Yes,’ ruminated Moose; ’I’m sure that it must have come as a considerable shock to all his friends and associates.’
’A shock! It’s as if the heavens had fallen.’
Moose rubbed his chin as he scrutinized Sir Stanley. ’Is it true, Sir Stanley, the speculation we’ve heard in the popular press, which suggested that Sir Richard was a rather prickly, distrustful, and unpleasant personality? That he had a habit of making enemies and putting peoples backs up?’
A brief smile flickered on Sir Stanley’s face. ’You shouldn’t believe all that you read in the papers, Inspector Moose.’
‘Isn’t there often a kernel of truth to persistent stories, sir?’ enquired Clayton.
‘You obviously have a far higher opinion of the fourth estate than I have, Sergeant Clayton. From what I’ve seen, particularly of the tabloid end of the press, it seems to be all scandals, tittle-tattle, and celebrity drivel. Dumbed down rubbish that appeals to the lowest common denominator.’
‘Yes, I suppose the press does vary in quality,’ added Moose.
‘Why he was driven to take legal action against some of those muck-raking reporters because of the inflammatory and misleading stuff they wrote about him.’
‘And he won a fair amount in damages.’
‘Of course, he could afford the best counsel,’ commented Clayton.
‘Is that a crime?’
‘No. I suppose I’d do the same in his position.’
’He wasn’t a saint. I’ll be the first to admit that. But he wasn’t as black as he’s been painted, in some quarters. Of course he could be rough and ready at times. He was tough, determined, hard headed; and he knew what he wanted. But show me a high powered businessman, of Sir Richard’s calibre, who isn’t?’
’Did you know Sir Richard for long, Sir Stanley?’ enquired Moose.
’Yes. We went to the same public school. Though our business relationship only goes back ten years.’
’So you got on with him all right?’ asked Clayton.
’We were two men with some common, commercial interests. We had a sound, solid, business relationship. Yes, I belief that we had a certain respect for each other.’
’And socially; how did you get on?’ said Moose.
’We weren’t the closest of friends, I have to say. I don’t believe Sir Richard had many intimate friends. He wasn’t that kind of person. Business always came first with him. It had the top priority in his life. Other matters were quite secondary.’
’But somebody clearly didn’t get on with him?’ commented Clayton.
’Indeed. That’s all too obvious. And I sincerely hope you find out who the culprit is.’
’Well that’s why we’re here, Sir Stanley,’ Clayton assured him.
’When was the last time you saw Sir Richard alive?’ asked Moose.
’We had an informal chat with each other, on business matters, and some other concerns, that morning. It was around eleven o’clock. Just a few hours before he died.’
’Did he seen anxious or fretful at all?’
’No. He was his usual self.’
’Did he express any worries or concerns to you, or his other business associates?’
Sir Stanley shook his head.
’No. At least none that I can recall, inspector. And none of my colleagues, or the servants for that matter, have said anything that would suggest that Sir Richard was worried or felt threatened.’ He paused, then grinned for a second. ’Though to be frank it wasn’t always easy to know what he thought about things.’
Moose nodded his head.
’He always played his cards close to his chest. He could be rather cagey and inscrutable. I guess that’s what helped to make him such a formidable businessman.’
’Did you notice anything suspicious at all, Sir Stanley; about the circumstances of Sir Richard’s death?’ enquired Moose.
’Yes, there was something that did strike a rather strange note, now that you mention it, Inspector Moose.’
’And what’s that?’
’I went for a stroll this morning, to try and clear my head; and noticed a set of footprints. They looked to me as though they’d been made some time ago.’
‘Though it was a quite sunny afternoon, when Third was killed, at around dinner time, just a few hours before he was murdered, we had a sudden and quite violent downpour, which lasted about half an hour or so. And which of course made the ground soft and yielding enough for a person’s footprints to make such a marked impression. I guess it must have been about that time, probably just after the storm, when those footprints were made. And then the Sun came out and we haven’t had a drop of rain since. Which is why those footprints are still there and so intact.’
‘And did you happen to notice where those footprints led to, Sir Stanley?’ asked Moose.
’Yes. Out of curiosity I followed the tracks, and I noticed that they led from Crescent Cove, at the west of the island, right up to the house here. Indeed you can see some of the prints in the flowerbed, on the terrace, just outside the study where Third was killed. And then, inexplicably, they led right back to the cove again. You can still find them there, Inspector. No one’s tampered with them.’
’That was very observant of you, Sir Stanley.’
A self-satisfied smile came to Sir Stanley’s lips. ’Well I didn’t spend ten years in the Guards for nothing.’
Moose turned to his assistant. ’This could be just the break we’re looking for, Eddie. Let’s give ’em a gander.’
’Aye. But wait a minute. They could be his?’
’Third’s of course. The guy who was done in.’
’Well that would put the mockers on it.’
’Aye; Third could have made those tracks himself, seeing that they practically reach the door of his study. He might have felt at loose end and gone for a stroll down to the cove and back, say, an hour or so before his death. That could explain those footprints, Sir Stanley.’
Sir Stanley shook his head with lofty disdain. ’I dismissed that possibility straight away, Inspector Clayton.’
’Why?’ asked Clayton.
’He would never have dreamed of walking down to Crescent Cove.’
’What makes you say that?’
‘He almost drowned when his boat capsized, in some rough water, on Crescent Cove. He was swept right out to sea. If it wasn’t for a life jacket he was wearing, it would have been curtains for him. When the weather calmed a few hours later he was picked up by a rescue crew and returned back to the shore.’
‘It must have been quite a shock for him,’ reflected Clayton.
’Oh yes, he was really shook up about it. It must have been all of five years since that happened. Well the upshot is, since the time of that mishap he has, deliberately, never ventured anywhere near the cove. He had an irrational, almost superstitious fear of that place. That’d be the last place he’d go to on this island. So, they couldn’t be his foot prints.’
’Good,’ said Moose, with evident relief.
’There’s another factor as well.’
’Despite his size, he had rather small feet. And I could tell, even at a cursory glance, that those footprints were too big for Third to have made them.’
Moose turned to Clayton. ’Well then, Eddie, I reckon we could have our murderer here.’
’It looks that way, chief. In fact it all chimes in with what Lady Anne said when we interviewed her, about an outsider being responsible for the crime.’
’It does indeed. But if you ask me it was someone who was already on this island who made those footprints. Perhaps with the deliberate intention of fostering the illusion that it was some outsider who had landed on the island, killed Sir Richard, and then skedaddled away on the same boat that took him here.’
’Now there’s a thought,’ said Clayton.’
’Anyway, let’s have a look at ‘em.’
The two policemen got to their feet. Moose pointed a hand towards Sir Stanley. ’You can come too, Sir Stanley and point them out to us.’
’Of course. I’d be happy to oblige.’
A few minutes later Sir Stanley and the two detectives were stood on the terrace, near the French windows that led into Third’s study. Sir Stanley stooped down to scrutinize some clearly distinct footprints in a flowerbed adjacent to the French windows. The two policemen carefully looked at the same prints.
’There you are, inspector; just as I said.’
’Yes, they’re someone’s footprints all right.’
Sir Stanley straightened himself and pointed a hand towards a distant stretch of land. ’And if you’ll come this way, gentlemen, I’ll show you where the tracks lead.’
Ten yards or so from the manor Sir Stanley came to a stop and stooped down again to point at another set of identical prints.
’And these, as you can see, gentlemen, are an identical pair of tracks, which lead all the way back to Crescent Cove.’
Moose smiled triumphantly, rubbed his hands together - a sure sign of confidence, as all his colleagues knew - then turned to Clayton.
’Well then, Eddie, I reckon we might have our culprit. Let’s get a cast of those tracks and compare ’em to the footwear of our eight suspects. Where we have a match, we have our man.’
’It certainly looks that way, chief.’
’Right, let’s see some action round here. I want this case nailed before we have head office breathing down the back of my neck.’