The Strange Case Of The Buckled Swash – Episode 09

The public bar of the village pub was virtually deserted. The only customer was Ted Guilford. “Hello, DI Barclay!” Arabella Campbell trilled from behind the array of beer pumps. “Pint of bitter, is it?” “I’m afraid not, Mrs Campbell. I’m here on official business.” “Oh, I don’t like the sound of that,” she said, laughing nervously. “You’d better come through to the snug. Ted, keep an eye on the bar for me, there’s a love.” They sat at a small table in the cramped snug bar. “So, what can I do for you?” Arabella said. “You could start by telling me the truth.” “What do you mean?” “You told me you had repaid the loan to Major General Tompkins. I have seen evidence letters from you to him, asking to defer payment which make it clear that is not true. Why did you lie?” Under the detective’s unblinking eye, Arabella Campbell crumpled. “You’ve no idea what it was like! He seemed such a good friend at first, but when I began to struggle to keep up the repayments his attitude changed. He started hounding me. He said I would lose the pub! I couldn’t bear the thought of that, after all I’d done to rebuild the business on my own.” She wept. “I don’t have eleven thousand pounds! I went to see him, to beg for more time. I showed him the books, to demonstrate how well we were doing since the Bricklayer’s Arms closed, but he was having none of it. I was at my wits’ end.” DI Barclay nodded.“Let’s talk about that fire. You’ve admitted it was a godsend to you. Was it accidental? You were desperate, you say. How desperate? Had the major general guessed what you did and threatened to expose you? Maybe he pressured you into doing it! Were you responsible for the fire, Mrs Campbell?” Arabella shook her head. “I benefited from it, but it wasn’t me, I swear it.” “Give me one good reason why I should believe you.” “Because she had nothing to do with it. It was me.” A grim-faced Ted Guilford stood in the doorway of the snug. “I’m sorry, Arabella. I did it for you. Look, I admit burning down the Bricklayer’s Arms, but I made absolutely sure no-one was inside at the time. Arabella and I well, we had become involved, you see.” He glanced over at her tenderly. “I couldn’t bear to see her struggling, and when that creep Tompkins started badgering her I could see the toll it was taking on her. So I decided to give her a helping hand, so to speak. But Arabella knew nothing about it till just now, as God’s my judge.” “Did you also decide to ‘give her a helping hand’ by disposing of the man who was threatening to ruin her? Was that done on your own initiative, too, or was it a joint venture?” “Ted wouldn’t harm a fly!” Arabella wailed. “His only crime was to love me.” “Well, that and arson,” DI Barclay said acerbically, “which will be dealt with. For the moment let’s return to the matter in hand. You both had a powerful motive for wanting Tompkins silenced for good, and you both also had the means and the opportunity to tamper with the sword between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.” “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong,” Ted Guilford said triumphantly. “Arabella was really nervous about the first night, so I treated her to a night away dinner, bed and breakfast. We left straight after the dress rehearsal.” “I have a friend who has a pub in the Cotswolds,” Arabella explained. “Ted arranged for us to stay with her. We stayed and had lunch the next day before driving straight back here for the opening night. You’re welcome to check.” “I intend to. It is not, however, inconceivable that you could have driven back in the middle of the night and then returned to the Cotswolds.” “It’s a gastro-pub, DI Barclay,” Ted said. “The car park is full of expensive vehicles so it has a CCTV system. I’m sure that will confirm we did not leave the premises.” “So you see, we’ve got a cast-iron alibi. I admit I lied to you about the money, Detective Inspector,” Arabella continued eagerly, “and Ted has admitted the fire business, which I’m sure he regrets. Neither of us deny ill will towards Tim, but I promise you we did not kill him. Someone out there has a more compelling motive than us, and that’s the person you need to find.” DI Barclay left with a sinking feeling. He was beginning to think that nothing about this case, or this village, was what it seemed. Arabella Campbell’s words were still echoing round his head as he drove back to the station. The shrill ring of his mobile phone interrupted his musings. Pulling over to take the call, he listened with rising spirits. “Thanks very much, Prof!” he said, ending the call. “I’m on my way.”


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