THE MYSTERY AT THE BEAUREGARD
A Crampton of the Chronicle Story
By Peter Bartram
Mrs Gribble, my landlady, said: “There’s been a double murder at the Beauregard Hotel.”
“You mean the one star doss house near Brighton seafront?” I asked.
Mrs Gribble sniffed. “The AA has just awarded it a second knife and fork.”
“So now two guests can eat breakfast at the same time without sharing the cutlery.”
“I wish you would take this seriously, Mr Crampton. Most crime reporters would bite my hand off for this story.”
It was a grey Sunday morning early in November. I was sitting in Mrs Gribble’s back kitchen staring at the bowl of porridge she’d just served me. It looked like the kind of stuff wallpaperers wash down the drain at the end of a long day. The prospect of biting off any part of Mrs Gribble was even more repulsive than the porridge.
The idea that there’d been a double murder at the Beauregard was some crazy fantasy that Mrs Gribble and her close friend Mrs Blagg, who ran the place, had cooked up between them during one of their late-night gossips.
But it was raining and I was hungover from a session the previous night in Prinny’s Pleasure, so I said: “You better tell me what’s happened.”
Mrs Gribble pulled up a chair and said: “Apparently, it all started yesterday afternoon when two couples checked into the hotel. First, there was Mr and Mrs Brown. I ask you! If you’re an unmarried couple checking into a hotel for a dirty weekend, you might as well choose an original name.”
“How did Mrs Blagg know they were unmarried?”
“The wedding ring gives them away. Mrs Brown was wearing a cheap one from Woolworth’s. Bought specially for the weekend. Anyway, half an hour later Mr and Mrs Green arrived. She was already married – expensive ring – but not to him.”
“He had the Woolworth’s ring?”
“No ring at all. But he had that kind of insufferable smirk on his face men get when they’re up to no good.”
I tried some of the porridge. It tasted like plaster of Paris. “What were the couples like?” I asked.
“Both about thirty. Old enough to know better. Anyway, both couples decided to take tea in the lounge. Separate tables, of course.”
“Of course,” I croaked. The porridge had lodged in my throat.
“Anyway, Mrs Green started making eyes at Mr Brown over the crumpets. They were openly winking at one another by the time they got to the scones and jam. And, at one point, Maudie – Mrs Blagg to you – swore she spotted Mrs Green making an obscene suggestion to Mr Brown with a chocolate éclair.”
“What were their respective partners doing during this farrago?” I gave up on the porridge and put down my spoon.
“Apparently, just eating their tea. Quite unconcerned.”
“That must mean something,” I said.
“Probably too embarrassed to make a scene. Anyway, it was the same at dinner. Mr Brown and Mrs Green continued with their outrageous flirting even though Maudie seated them at opposite ends of the dining room. But it all came to a head this morning. Mr Brown and Mrs Green sat down to breakfast together. Bold as you like. And there was no sign of their original partners.
“And when Maudie checked the rooms, Mr Green’s hadn’t been slept in – and there was blood on the carpet. This kind of behaviour really sticks in the gullet, Mr Crampton.”
“It certainly sticks in the gullet, Mrs Gribble.”
I was, of course, talking about the porridge.
* * *
Mrs Blagg, proprietor of the Beauregard Hotel, turned out to be a blowsy woman with a big bust and a busy manner. She seemed remarkably cheerful for a woman who thought a double murder had just been committed in her hotel.
“Good of you to take an interest in this, Mr Crampton. When I called the police they just laughed and said I’d been playing too much Cluedo.”
It was still raining. Nothing much was happening in Brighton, certainly not the serious crime I wrote about for the Evening Chronicle. I’d have staked my byline that there’d been no violence at the Beauregard. I’d normally leave dirty weekend stories to the grubby journos from the News of the World. Their investigative reporting peeks at peering through keyholes. But I had no story for Monday’s paper. So to get Mrs Gribble off my back I’d agreed to call at the Beauregard.
“You say Mrs Brown and Mr Green didn’t seem bothered by their partners’ blatant canoodling?” I asked.
“Didn’t turn a hair.”
“But didn’t turn up for breakfast either?”
“And aren’t in the hotel?”
“You say they were murdered. But faced with their partners’ behaviour, couldn’t they just have chosen to leave?”
Mrs Blagg slapped her thigh. “So how do you account for the blood on the carpet?”
“How do you account for the absence of dead bodies?” I said.
“Smuggled out of the hotel and thrown off the end of the pier.”
I could see why the police thought the woman was living in the make-believe world of Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet. But something strange had happened here. “Show me the room with the blood,” I said.
We trooped upstairs and along a corridor lit by a dim bulb. There was a pervading smell of boiled cabbage.
Mrs Blagg unlocked a door. “This is one of our executive rooms,” she said.
There was a double bed which sagged in the middle, a wash basin with a dripping tap, and a square of worn carpet which barely covered the floorboards. Mrs Blagg pointed a fleshy finger at it.
A red blotch which could have been anything had spread across the centre of the carpet. I crouched down and leant until my nose was almost rubbing against it. I sniffed. Twice. And once more to make sure. I stood up.
“Red wine,” I said. “Probably non-vintage. Which is why they were careless enough to spill some on the carpet.”
“And I told them no food or drink in the room.”
“Who’s room is this?”
“Mr and Mrs Green’s.”
“The bed’s not been slept in.”
“Well, we all know where Mrs Green was sleeping.”
If Mr Brown and Mrs Green had been tucked up together, I wondered where Mrs Brown and Mr Green had spent the evening. Perhaps in this room together drinking red wine. Maybe waiting to leave the hotel in the early hours when nobody was about.
“Who paid for the rooms?” I asked.
“I always ask for full payment at the time of booking. I remember Mr Brown sent a personal cheque. I think Mr Green’s cheque was drawn on a company. I can’t remember what it was called, but I’ve got it in my office ready to pay into the bank tomorrow.”
An idea occurred to me. “Could I see the cheque?” I asked.
“No. Mr Green’s.”
* * *
“You romantic old thing. Who’d have known a passionate heart beat beneath that cynical exterior.”
“Don’t let on,” I said. “You could ruin my image for ever. Besides, although there was no crime, there was certainly a mystery.”
“How did you work it out?” Sally asked.
“It was clear from the way Mr Brown and Mrs Green were behaving that their partners must have been aware of what was going on. Yet they were prepared to put up with it and not create a scene.”
“You’re saying they knew in advance what would happen?”
“But it didn’t work out like that?”
“No. The Green’s bed hadn’t been slept in and there was wine on the carpet. That got me wondering whether both the Browns and the Greens were at the hotel for some other reason - indeed, whether they were who they claimed to be. When I discovered that Mr Green had paid for the booking with a cheque draw on a theatrical management company, I thought I knew what had been going on.
“Then it was just a question of tracking down the true lovers – Mr Brown and Mrs Green – to get them to fill in the details. I found them sheltering from the rain in the Aquarium. They cheerfully confessed everything. They are really Mr and Mrs Simkins.
“They’d originally met in the Beauregard ten years ago to the day. They’d both been with other partners in failing relationships at the time. During the weekend they’d been attracted to one another. They married a few months later. They wanted to mark the anniversary by recreating the full illicit excitement of that first meeting.
“So they hired actors – the ones we know as Mrs Brown and Mr Green – to play the parts of the partners they were with when they first met. That was why Mr Green’s cheque was paid by a theatrical management company. And why, after playing their parts as the cuckolded spouses at the tea and the dinner, Mrs Brown and Mr Green stayed chastely in their room drinking wine until they could leave without attracting attention.”
Sally grinned. “The story can’t have done much for the Beauregard’s reputation.”
Peter Bartram’s first Crampton of the Chronicle novel, HEADLINE MURDER (Roundfire Books, 2015), is available in paperback and e-book formats. Read more Crampton of the Chronicle stories free at www.colincrampton.com. Follow Peter Bartram on Facebook @peterbartramauthor.
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