Death in Appledore

I commented to a friend that I could always spot him from a distance because he had a distinctive way of walking. He suggested I write a short piece to describe it. This is my response. Two pieces of context: 1. My friend moved to Appledore in Devon a year or so ago. 2. We went to Appledore Book Festival with him last year and he really took against Gavin Esler, who talked about his new book.

The policeman looked up at his colleague and shook his head. ‘Nothing’, he said. ‘No pulse.’

His colleague, a WPC, put her hand to her mouth. She’d never seen a dead body before. They didn’t tend to get them in Appledore, at least not ones that had come about through unnatural courses. Plenty of people died of old age and there was the occasional accidental death at sea, but murder – that never happened here. Or at least it hadn’t until now.

It clearly was murder. She knew from her training that she shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but the pool of blood indicated that the life of the middle-aged man lying prostrate on the conservatory floor had been brought to a premature end. The long pole near the body looked as if it might be the weapon.

‘Lead piping’, explained the policeman. ‘The poor sod’s been struck on the back of the head with a piece of lead piping’.

There was a muffled scream from behind them. In their preoccupation with the corpse they had forgotten the lady of the house, who had raised the alarm. ‘He’s not been murdered has he?’

The policeman nodded, ‘I’m afraid it looks as if he might have been.’

‘But that’ll be terrible for business,’ the lady sobbed. ‘I thought having a celebrity stay would help put me on the map, but not after what he’s gone and done’

A bit harsh, he hardly hit himself over the head, thought the WPC, she’s obviously in shock.

‘Celebrity, you say?’ The policeman perked up. His colleague noticed the briefest of smiles cross his face. He tried to hide it, but she knew what he was thinking. It would put the Appledore Crime Prevention team on the map. Not that they’d prevented any crime. Appledore would hit the national news as the murder capital of Devon, a place where it was not safe to walk the streets at night. He would be interviewed on South West TV. ‘Who is he? Sorry, was.’

‘Gavin Esler. The BBC presenter. Lovely man. He was giving a talk at the book festival.’

She was interrupted by the WPC excitedly announcing, ‘I’ve got it. I know who did it.’

Her colleague looked at her sceptically.

‘It’s the colonel.’

‘What the guy with free-range chickens? The man from Kentucky?’

‘Yes, him. He did it.’ She replied, forgetting that she shouldn’t jump to conclusions. ‘I’m sure of it.’

The policeman shook his head slowly. ‘He wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a chicken. The man’s not capable of murder. What makes you think he did it?’

‘It seems obvious now, but lead piping in the conservatory… we don’t have a Reverend Green or a Professor Plum in the village. It has to be the colonel.’

The policeman looked at his colleague with a mix of incomprehension and pity. ‘This isn’t a game, you know. And anyway, isn’t it Colonel Mustard. Our colonel is Saunders.’

The assistant realised that maybe she hadn’t solved the case after all. Trying to recover, she dug further into her hole. ’What about Miss Scarlet? They all say that Betsy’s a scarlet woman.’

‘WPC Marple. Stop it.’ The policeman’s rebuke sounded sterner than he had intended.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have a Mrs White.’ As she said this, she stopped suddenly, hit by another insight. Her boss had the same thought. Both of them turned slowly to look at the lady of the house. A certain Mrs White.

‘Mrs White. Where were you between the hours of five and seven?’

Mrs White looked incredulous. ‘You don’t seriously think I did this?’

The policeman did indeed think was implausible, but he knew from his Agatha Christies that the murderer was often the last person anyone suspected. ‘The evidence suggests you might well have done it. You were at the scene of the crime.’

‘I was not. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner.’

‘Have you any witnesses that could corroborate that?’

‘My cat.’

‘And you’re called Mrs White.’ The WPC added. Rather unhelpfully, the policeman thought.

‘This is ridiculous,’ said Mrs White. ‘I’ve got a pretty good idea who did it.’


‘The man on the hill. I saw him through the kitchen window, lurking in the street. He looked highly suspicious.’

‘The man on the hill?’

‘Yes, you know. The Londoner. He’s been here for about a year. They say he’s writing an epic novel. I often see him in the evening standing in that big window of his, surveying the village like a feudal lord.’

‘I know who you mean,’ said WPC Marple, ‘he sometimes has a little terrier with him. A good looking man.’ Realising this disclosure might have been a little unprofessional, she added, ‘but too old for me.’ The policeman wondered if she believed that, such was her tone. It sounded to him as if she had a bit of a crush on the man from the hill.

Mrs White continued, ‘there’s something distinctive about the way he walks. Very upright.’

‘Yes,’ WPC Marple added, ‘and from behind his broad shoulders and narrow waist form a perfect triangle.’

‘It’s more his straight back I was thinking of.’

‘Why?’ The policeman was curious.

‘Well, he could easily conceal a long object against his back. He could walk down the street with it there and no-one would think anything of it because he always walks like that.’

‘The lead piping.’

‘Yes,’ Mrs White continued ‘and there’s something else.’

‘What’s that?’

‘He was at Mr Esler’s talk at the book festival. I couldn’t help noticing that he seemed very agitated. He was harrumphing away and saying it was all nonsense.’

‘What was nonsense?’

‘He seemed to think that Mr Esler’s talk was nonsense. It wasn’t though, I thought it was rather good.’ Mrs White turned to the corpse. ‘Poor man.’

‘Is that enough to kill him?’ The policeman looked sceptical.

‘I don’t know. All I know is that he seemed angry with Mr Esler, he was loitering suspiciously around here at the time of the murder and he walks in a way that could conceal the murder weapon.’

That was enough to persuade the policeman that the man on a hill was, at the very least, a suspect. It gave him the chance to speed through the streets of Appledore with siren blaring and lights flashing, imagining they were Starsky and Hutch. WPC Marple thought it was a bit over the top, but thrilling all the same.

‘You’ve missed him,’ a pedestrian on the pavement outside the house on the hill said. ‘He saw you coming and scarpered.’

‘Was he running in a very upright way?’

’No, but he ran like no-one I’ve ever seen. Extremely fast, I doubt you’ll ever catch him. Looked like he had a rocket up his arse.’

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