Copyright: Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen
– My husband seems to have gone missing somehow. The tweed-clad woman ran a hand through her hair. – At least he´s not where he should be.
– Good morning, Madam. And whereabouts is it he should be? Constable Penrose rubbed gummy sleep from his eyes, hoping he looked more vigilant than he felt. It was very early Sunday morning, and he had struggled to stop a pub brawl a few hours ago.
– In the shop, of course.
– Pardon me, but what shop?
– The antique shop, of course. Don´t tell me you´ve been in Aldburgh for four days without noticing our chic shop because then you won´t be very useful when it comes to spotting a missing antique dealer either. She shook the untidy mass of hair energetically.
– Ah, you mean the second-hand shop on the village green. The charity shop. Penrose felt he was doing extremely well on an empty stomach and no coffee in sight, but her clouded face told him he couldn´t have been further from the truth.
– We prefer to call it an antique shop, you know. We wouldn´t want all sorts of riff-raff on our premises so to pique the interest of the right sort of clientele…
– Quite, Ma´am. But your husband has gone missing, you said. In his stupor, he wondered what difference the haystacky woman could make for the shop´s reputation, but he was too wise to say so.
– Come. Come along with me, and I´ll show you. She curled her chubby fingers invitingly in front of his eyes.
She looked like someone who would brook no argument so he rose and followed her, ordering his stomach to stop grumbling. Why was it all these Aldburghers believed the whole world knew all about them and their affairs?
– See? There´s our shop. Chesterfield´s Antique Furniture. Proudly, she pointed towards the wooden sign which said ´Second-hand furniture´. And underneath it ´In aid of St. Bartholomew´s roof´.
– And your husband was supposed to be in the shop? On a Sunday morning? Penrose wondered if she had checked under the duvet where any sensible creature would be hiding out at this time of the day.
– Oh, yes, definitely. Sunday is the best day for American tourists so he´s always behind the counter himself in the weekends. As any retailer would know. She sent him another crushing glance.
He nodded, cowardly choosing the path of least resistance. He opened the shop door, noticing the tell-tale bell above his head, the general impression of clutter and a ghastly smell. He clasped a hand in front of his nose. – When did you last see your husband? He gasped.
– Let me see. I went to bed a little after ten o´clock, and Earl stayed up, fiddling with that silly stamp collection of his… Oh, you´re thinking of the smell?
Penrose nodded, trying his best not to gag.
– That´s just one of their experiments. You´ll get used to it in a week or two.
– Their experiments?
– Well, some of the furniture we get is not exactly up to par. So the volunteers have to mend some of the pieces before they can sell them. And then Sheraton came up with the idea of tanning their own hides out back. Much cheaper, he said. Just didn´t think to warn us about the smell. And I don´t think he had any idea how long time…
Incredulous, Penrose tried to get back to the missing Mr Chesterfield. Were they all nuts in this place? – But he went to sleep, and when you got up in the morning, you expected him to be down in the shop?
– I certainly did. If he´s not in his study upstairs, bent over those silly bits of paper, he is always down here, checking the stock and such. He told me yesterday he was worried someone was stealing from us.
– And who has access to the shop? Apart from the two of you?
– Anyone in the village. The door is never locked.
Oh no. An unlocked-room mystery. Constable Penrose felt an acute urge to run away, brew a pot of strong coffee and forget he´d ever heard the name of Chesterfield. – You don´t lock the door?
– No. That´s one of the vicar´s principles. ´Trust your neighbour´, he said, and seeing that so many people would need a key he might even have a point. Half the village are on the list of volunteers anyway so… She shrugged and ran her hand through her hair.
– Well. Penrose ran his sleeve across his smarting eyes and looked around him. All he could see was clutter, clutter, clutter. He was no expert on old furniture, but there weren´t many items here he´d want to see in his own home. – Where have you looked for him?
– Each and every room of the house. Automatically the hand darted through her hair again, and now it dawned on him that she was trying to rid it of cobwebs.
– And what about all that furniture?
– Eh, no, you see… Well, it´s not as if I´m actually afraid of rodents, but since a mouse jumped right out of a dresser and landed on my bosom…
Penrose snorted helplessly. Mice didn´t scare him, and the idea of a tiny, defenceless creature clinging on to one of the buttons down Mrs Chesterfield´s bulging front was too much for him. He turned towards the nearest wardrobe, doing his best to pretend it was the foul stench that had made him cough.
The door stuck, and he pulled at the brass handle. Mrs Chesterfield huffed, and he pulled with all his might. Slowly, the door swung open, and a plump body toppled out of the confined space.
To be continued tomorrow