The Tenant at Hannaford Cottage
Mark Bromley felt sure that he was the only one on the road that day that was setting out on a journey to murder. He turned his car onto the slip road and accelerated to the speed of the motorway traffic. The amount of vehicles on the M4 was surprisingly low for a Saturday morning and, with luck, he would have a straightforward trip into North Devon.
Once more he ran the plan through his mind as he had done a score of times already. Like a classic chess game, every move was prepared and each event linked into the others to form a failure-proof scheme. He knew that only something totally unforeseen could destroy his chances of success.
When the body was discovered, the police would be certain to investigate his movements; for, without doubt, he would be the prime suspect. His alibi however, would stand up to the closest scrutiny, then after the suspicions had abated, he would be free to do as he wanted for the rest of his life.
It was his father's fault really. When he had died, he had left all his money to Mark's sister, Ruth, with instructions that she should pay a monthly allowance to her brother. Mark knew that his father did not trust him with money, perhaps with good cause, for Mark was a gambler and a spendthrift. Now several years later, Ruth still kept a tight control on the family finances and resisted all attempts by her brother to cause her to release her hold on the inheritance.
A seething resentment at this arrangement had brought Mark to the point when he knew that the only way to obtain what he believed was rightfully his would be if Ruth were to die. Then, as she had never married, he as her only living relative would inherit all.
Shortly after transferring from the M4 to the M5 motorway he pulled in at the Gordano service station for a meal. Afterwards, ignoring the 50 litres of petrol stored in cans in his boot, he refuelled from the pump.
Leaving the M5 at Bridgwater, Bromley took the A39 coast road through North Somerset. There was no hurry, for as everything was planned throughout the weekend he had time to enjoy the scenery as he drove along. He stopped for a short time in Minehead to buy a postcard for Ruth. On it, he told her of his plans to go walking in Devon and Cornwall, but gave no indication as to where he would be staying. After mailing the card at the main post office, to ensure its early arrival, he returned to the car.
Shortly afterward, he was enjoying the thrill of negotiating the dramatic gradient of Porlock Hill; then he drove on into North Devon.
His destination was the tiny village of Trentishoe, where he had rented Hannaford Cottage for a week. It was ideally situated for his purpose. The village comprised a farm, an ancient church and a handful of cottages. Well off the beaten track, there was no through traffic only the residents, an occasional holidaymaker and visitors to the church.
On his arrival in the village, he made a point of calling at the farmhouse to ask directions to Hannaford Cottage. He introduced himself, telling the farmer that he was staying for a week and would spend much of the time walking along the coast and on the moors.
Hannaford cottage was a comfortable, two-bedroomed building constructed of local stone. Positioned next to both the church and the farm, it was only a few minutes walk from the North Devon coastal path in one direction and the expanse of Exmoor National Park in the other. The cottage had all the facilities that Mark Bromley required and he was pleased to note that there was no telephone installed. Even if anyone knew where he was, they would be unable to contact him. He was well and truly miles from anywhere.
On the Sunday, he took the car down to Okehampton and across Dartmoor, where he spent a couple of hours walking, then to Plymouth. He carried a camera with him during the day and photographed several well-known and easily recognisable landmarks. In fact it was Ruth's camera, as his, a model he had had since his teens, had been damaged when one of the batteries had leaked. On his way back to Trentishoe, he filled up with petrol at a garage in Barnstaple, once again ignoring the fuel that was packed into the car boot.
Returning to Hannaford Cottage, he bathed and changed his clothes before driving the mile or so to Hunters Inn, where he had a drink and a meal. After ensuring that enough people would remember him, he made his way back to the cottage.
That night before going to sleep, he ran through the plans again, checking the timer switches and ensuring that he knew the return route off by heart.
The following day Bromley took a leisurely breakfast while he watched the farmer going about his routine Monday morning work. It amused the visitor to see the sheepdog instinctively attempt to control the tractor as it moved around the farm.
After a short visit to the little church, the temporary resident of Hannaford Cottage drove out past Hunters Inn along the 'B' roads toward Lynton. Two or three times during the journey he had to apply the brakes when rabbits and squirrels darted across the normally deserted road. He passed Woody Bay on his left, then took the private toll road at Lee Abbey to the Valley of the Rocks.
He was fascinated by the dramatic formation of the rocks, particularly Rugged Jack and Castle Rock. Then, leaving his vehicle in the car park, he strolled along the coastal path and down to Woody Bay.
That Monday evening was spent in Combe Martin at a well-known inn, The Pack of Cards. The landlord told him that the inn, built by a card playing fanatic, had 52 windows and on each of its four floors, 13 doors. Once more he made certain that plenty of people would recall his visit. Then, returning to Hannaford Cottage, he went to bed early, aware that the following 48 hours were the most critical of the week.
The first bleep of the alarm clock jarred him awake. For a few minutes he lay there contemplating the enormity of what he was intending to do. For an instant he came close to aborting the plan; but then after thinking about the frustrations of the past and the freedom of the future, he jumped out of bed and set about the tasks before him.
He ate breakfast and prepared a pile of sandwiches, which he tightly wrapped in foil, then commenced laying out the equipment that would support his alibi for that night. First, he isolated the electric power at the mains, then taking out some of the light switches from the walls, he replaced them with timer switches for the lounge, kitchen and main bedroom. After adjusting the settings to switch on and off the lights at various times during the night, he fitted a timer for the television into the wall socket. Finally, he placed his large tape player on a table in the second bedroom and, after opening the window slightly, he put the remote loudspeaker on the ledge in such a position that when the recording was played, it would be heard clearly outside. The tape player too was connected to a timer switch.
After double-checking that all was prepared and in working order, he securely locked the outside door, then drove off through the country lanes to Combe Martin.
It was about 8 a.m. when he left the car in Kiln car park near the harbour. He spent the morning walking quickly along the coastal path; climbing high above the sea, he made steady progress until he was on top of the sheer cliff at Little Hangman Point. He stood staring across the Bristol Channel; it was a bright clear day and the South Wales coast was visible in the distance. Down to his left was Wild Pear Beach and away to the right were Rawn's Rocks. There were so many interesting things to see he rarely returned the camera to its case. He was midly surprised that the film held so many pictures on it, but then he never had been much of a photographer.
He continued walking along to Great Hangman Cairn and then worked his way back across Knap Down to Combe Martin. During his walk he stopped to talk to almost everyone he met and made certain that plenty of people saw him.
Just before 11 a.m. he began the journey of 60 miles or so into Cornwall and on to Bodmin Moor. Forsaking his lunch, he drove as quickly as he could without attracting undue attention.
Once on the moor, he continued on to the broad expanse of Colliford Dam. He watched the seabirds swooping down to the surface of the water, before reclining the seat in his car and taking a nap for 45 minutes. There would not be much sleep for some time to come and he needed all his senses alert.
Before starting on the return journey to Devon, he stopped at the famous Jamaica Inn and bought another postcard for his sister. This time however, he did not post it. Neither did he go out of his way to cause people to notice him, for if the police investigated his movements, he would say that he had visited Bodmin moor on Wednesday; and anyone on Bodmin moor could not be hundreds of miles away committing a murder.
Just before Bideford he turned off the main route and filled up with petrol at an out of the way garage. Then, returning to the A39, he headed for Combe Martin.
Bromley's wristwatch showed 7 p.m. as he entered The London Inn in Combe Martin. He ordered a meal and a drink then sat in the bar area waiting for the food to be served. He chatted to the couple at the next table, describing his walking holiday and telling them of his plans to visit Bodmin Moor the next day. He ate a substantial meal to last him through the night.
Driving away three hours later, he was sure that several people including the landlord would remember his conversation. His heart was thumping as he set out on that fateful 220 mile journey.
Keeping to the main 'A' roads and motorways, he drove within the speed limit and without drawing attention to himself. A smile crossed his lips when he saw the car clock showing a quarter to midnight. Back at Hannaford Cottage, the first of the timer switches would be operating the tape player and the farmer and his family would hear the sound of Bromley's car arriving, followed by the slamming of the driver's door. In a minute or two, the other timers would switch on the lights and the television for half an hour or so until the cottage visitor, seemingly, went to bed. Mark Bromley did not stop at any of the service stations but completed the journey in one leg. It was almost 3 a.m. when he arrived in Marlow.
He parked the car in a side street and walked the short distance to his sister's house. Inserting his key carefully in the lock, he cautiously opened the front door. He had no fears that Ruth would wake up for she had always slept deeply; sometimes in the past not even waking through the most violent of thunder storms. All the same, Bromley moved as quietly as he could in case there might be a visitor staying.
After climbing the stairs, he first went into the spare room that he used when staying with his sister. From the bed he selected the firmest of the pillows and took it to Ruth's bedroom.
The struggle was surprisingly brief.
Afterward, he put on a pair of gloves and went round the house emptying draws and cupboards. He knew that his finger prints would be found all over the place and that did not matter, for he was a frequent visitor; now however, he wanted to make robbery look like the motive and did not want his prints to appear on Ruth's jewel box and handbag. He worked as quietly as he could for about an hour then, after opening the kitchen window, left through the back door without locking it after him.
As he slipped the car into gear and drove away his watch showed 4.25 a.m. The first glow of dawn was showing; he crossed the river and started the long journey back to Devon.
His return trip had been memorised for many weeks; it would take him clear of most of the major routes to the SouthWest and avoided all motorways. After a couple of hours driving, he pulled into a lay-by where he ate some sandwiches and opened a can of drink he had bought a few days earlier. Then, after reclining the seat, he went to sleep for a while.
The sounds of the morning traffic awoke him. He lay back in his seat double-checking in his mind that he had not forgotten anything. There was a temptation to congratulate himself on bringing off the perfect crime, but he pushed the thought away; there was still much to be done.
Later in the day, in another lay-by set back from the road, Bromley filled the petrol tank from the cans he had been carrying for so many days. After which he restowed the cans in the boot and continued the journey.
Passing some miles south of Bristol he stopped at Chew Valley Lake and, when no eyes were upon him, hurled Ruth's jewellery into the water. It seemed a shame to throw it away, for he was sure that some of it was quite valuable, but it was part of the robbery motive and he could not afford to keep it. Besides, he would inherit all her money would he not! The only other pieces of evidence to be disposed of were the empty fuel cans and the timers, but that would have to wait until the next day. By-passing Taunton, he soon crossed into Devon, then found a quiet spot, finished his sandwiches and went to sleep.
It was after 5 p.m. when he awoke. He consumed his last can of drink then took his re-chargeable shaver from the glove box and removed the stubble that had accumulated on his face; after which he started on the last leg of the journey.
He arrived in Combe Martin some fourteen hours after leaving Marlow, having followed a devious route that he was sure would not have endangered his alibi. At the main post office, he mailed the card that he had bought for Ruth the day before at Jamaica Inn. Then, after taking the coast road toward Ilfracombe, he turned off into Berrynarbor where he spent the evening at Ye Olde Globe, a picturesque inn that had been a pub for more than 300 years. When he had finished his meal he asked the landlord about the history of the building, and was shown a large variety of antiques and curios.
Finally, he returned to Trentishoe and Hannaford Cottage. The first task was to disconnect the timer switches and return the cottage to normal. Later, he soaked himself in the bath before retiring to bed. Satisfied with his accomplishments, Mark Bromley slept the night through.
On Thursday morning he waited in the cottage until the farmer had taken his tractor to the top field, then he backed the car up to the door and carefully filled the fuel cans with water. Ensuring the caps were on securely, he returned the cans to the car boot.
The remainder of the day was spent on Exmoor relaxing and taking a few photographs. Late in the afternoon he made his way to Wimblehall Reservoir just below Haddon Hill. There was quite a lot of sailing activity on the lake, but after waiting until a quiet moment, he dropped the petrol cans one by one into the lake. Filled as they were with water, they sank rapidly to the bottom of the reservoir. There was no record now of his trip to Marlow during the night.
He casually played 'ducks and drakes'; skimming flat stones across the surface of the water and counting how many times the stones would bounce before sinking. Every now and again, he used one of the timer switches instead of a stone. Soon they too disappeared without trace. Finally, before leaving, he dropped the tape, on which was recorded the sound of his car, into the lake. The tape player was innocent enough and he would take that home with him.
After a leisurely drive back across Exmoor, he returned to the cottage and freshened up prior to making his way to Hunter's Inn for a meal.
On Friday he spent some time tidying up Hannaford Cottage, then took one final walk along the coast path to Heddon's Mouth.
When buying petrol during the journey home on Saturday, Bromley was stunned to find Ruth's credit cards in his wallet. He must have put them in there when he emptied her handbag. He disposed of them by stuffing them into an empty drink can and dropping it into the service station litterbin.
It was mid-afternoon when he arrived home in Newbury. The police must have been watching his house, for within half an hour, two of them were at the door.
The shock of the news of the robbery and his sister's death was plain to see on Mark Bromley's face. It seemed that, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, a burglar had gained entrance through an open window at the back of the house. He had probably disturbed Miss Bromley during his search and suffocated her with a pillow. The police, a Detective Sergeant and Detective Constable, offered their most sincere sympathies to Mr. Bromley but just for the record would he be kind enough to account for his movements during the week?
Trying not to appear overconfident, Mark described what he had done and where he had been. The police were particularly interested in his activities on Tuesday and Wednesday but of course he had been far away at the time. The Detectives agreed, for they had seen a postcard from him, which he had mailed on Wednesday. Bromley smiled as he told them that he even had a photographic record of his week in the West Country, which he had been planning to show his sister. Of course, the film was still in the camera, but he would be pleased to show the prints to them when it was developed.
Detective Sergeant Williamson looked at the camera with some interest then suggested that if they were to take the film and have it developed over the weekend that it would save time and speedily eliminate Mr. Bromley from their enquiries. This, thought Mark, would be a good idea and would even save him a few Pounds. Then the sergeant drew Bromley's attention to some pictures they had taken at Ruth's house and while Mark was studying them, Williamson quietly passed the camera to his constable.
On the Monday evening the detectives returned. Was the camera Mr. Bromley had been using his own? No, in fact it had belonged to his sister Ruth. D.S. Williamson thought this was an interesting piece of information, although the question puzzled Mark. Quite incidentally, the police wanted to check that it really was Wednesday that Mr. Bromley had gone down to Cornwall to visit Colliford Dam? Of this fact Mark Bromley was positive, he could be quite sure about it.
The two detectives thought it would be a good idea if Mr. Bromley were to accompany them to the Police Station for further questioning.
Sergeant Williamson had about him the air of a chess player who has forced his opponent into a move that could only result in check mate. Was Mr. Bromley aware, he wondered, that Ruth's camera was a digital model and did not have a film inside it? The pictures were recorded on a disk and the camera automatically showed the time and date on every photograph it took. Perhaps Mr. Bromley would care to explain why the camera indicated that he had visited Bodmin Moor on Tuesday and not Wednesday?
If you enjoyed reading this story, you may be interested to know that Jack Windsor has published an anthology of 40 of his stories. It is called 'Secret of the Lake'. Published by Braiswick you can order it from your local bookstore or buy online from Amazon.com
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