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The howling, frigid, nor'easter raced across the bay, whipping the water into a frenzy. Waves exploded, angrily lashing out at the rugged embankmentsof a narrow, rocky, jutting peninsula. On the surface of the receding water, trapped in the eddies along the rock, phosphorous silver froth swirled and shimmered eerily in the bright moonlight. Anchored firmly at the end of this neck-of-land stood a picturesque, weather-beaten building, the Tides Inn. The scene was one of beauty, but this was definitely not a night to be outside. - - - But inside a nice, cozy, warm pub, ah, now that was a different story.
The dart was straight and true.“Bulls-eye!”
“Yeah, but you need a black one.”
“It's in the black.”
“It’s in the red.”
“Nope, look and weep.”
This lively banter flowed from a spirited dart game at the Tides Inn, a one-of-a-kind, popular inn, pleasingly positioned on the scenic English North Sea coast of Yorkshire, in the quaint little fishing village of Hopkins Bay.
The dart throwing group were the “regulars” that were “tide killing”. Their interest at the moment was in both the dart game and in the football match on the telly between Manchester United and Arsenal. Those participating in both activities were vocal and split in loyalties.
With the completion of the dart game, the four players moved to a table adjacent to the dartboard area with their pints.
“Arthur, another round,” said the bull's eye thrower, Derek Finnegan. He then turned and looked at Ian Finch. “Losers are buying.”
“That was just plain luck,” said Bunny Chase, Ian’s partner.
“Oh, come, on give me a break. We whomped you,” responded Carole Coxton, “Quit your crying.”
Arthur Roche, the owner of the Inn, nodded his head, walked over behind the bar, drew the four pints and carried them over to the competitors' table. Then moving over to the fireplace, he drove a poker several times into a bright red bed of coals. Roaring flames immediately exploded into action. After placing three more logs on the fire, he returned behind the bar and started drawing a pint for Ali Ahmed, standing at the bar.
“I haven’t seen you in here before,” commented the man standing next to Ali.
“I’m staying at the Inn here for a couple of days.”
Arthur, who had checked Ali in a short time before, arrived with the pint and said, “Hamish, this is Mr. Ali Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed, Dr. Brindley here is our retired village doctor. Just about every person in this village under 40 was delivered by Dr, Brindley.”
"That's quite a record, Dr. Brindley. Was it tough to retire?"
"Oh, he still gets called in to help his replacement Dr. King," said Arthur.
"Yeah, more times than I would like." Then Dr. Brindley asked, “What brings you to Hopkins Bay?”
“Selling drugs.” Then while looking smug at the reaction his statement roused, he added, “I’m a pharmaceutical salesman.”
“Well, glad you explained that,” grinned Dr. Brindley.
“This is a fascinating place,” said Ali, looking around.
“Well, we're proud of it. Feel it is unique,” said Arthur. "The building was once a lighthouse. The light tower was removed long ago, but the building is still considered a landmark. I'm slightly biased, but I think it provides the perfect ambiance."
“I certainly agree. I like it. But isn't it a problem to be cutoff from the outside world like we are right now.”
“Yeah, we're only a hundred feet away from the homeland, but at high tide it could be a hundred miles,” said Arthur.
“Amazing,” said Ali.
“When the tide comes in, the sea covers the pathway, and I have a captive audience. But very few of my customers complain. I keep the drinks coming, even past closing hours."
“Don’t the authorities have a problem with that?” asked Ali.
“Nope. The authorities have never enforced closing hours. They make an exception in our case,” said Arthur.
“And,” said Dr. Brindley with a chuckle, “our local Police Sergeant, Reggie Duke, is usually one of us trapped, and believe me, he is not one to go thirsty.”
“The inaccessible times are predictable,” added Arthur. “The times for high and low tide are posted, so everyone knows when they can and can’t get out, and can plan for it.”
“Even with this time schedule, the depth of the water must still vary. How do people know when the water level is low enough to be safe or not?” asked Ali.
“When the water approaches the top of the walkway, an alarm sounds, and ten minutes later a barrier gate closes at both ends of the path,” explained Arthur. “The action works in reverse as the tide goes out.”
Dr. Brindley added, “And what's amazing is that the whole automatic system of warnings and barriers is so simple. The whole setup is activated by a float, one that you will find in any toilet tank.” Then pointing over at a medium height, slim and dark-haired, dart player. “The whole imaginative system was engineered and installed by our resident entrepreneur genius and inventor, Derek Finnegan.,”
Dr. Brindley continued, “You should have been here a couple of years ago. Access was really tricky. There was no established walkway, so to go back and forth when the tide was out, everyone had to tip-toe around tide pools. Now, let me tell you, that was a challenge. But last year, Arthur built up the rocks and improved the footpath so that now you don’t have to take your life in your hands to imbibe one of his libations.”
“This place is truly impressive,” said Ali, taking a sip and panning the room. The interior was fashioned in rock and warm, dark- polished wood paneling. Around the perimeter of the room, stuffed chairs, welcoming and restful, helped the occupants pass the tide-wait in complete comfort. Dominating the far side of the room was a large fireplace with a heavy wood mantle. And as usual, after Arthur's attention, the fireplace now housed a roaring monstrous fire with a big mound of black fur stretched out in front. This was Roscoe, the house dog, a hairy Newfoundland.
Because of tonight’s rough weather, it looked like a long time before any exit was going to be possible. But judging by the mood of those present, this entrapment was more that welcomed.
“By the way, you may want to talk to Carole Coxton," said Dr. Brindley pointing to a short, heavy-set woman, with dark brown roots peeking out from her stringy, bleached-blonde hair. Carole was just letting loose a practice dart. “She owns her own chemist shop in town, 'Care-For-You Chemists'.”
“Yes, I recognize the name. It‘s one of the shops I have on my list. I will be sure to talk with her.”
“Hey, old man,” Ian called from across the room to Giles Chase, who was seated in a cozy corner across from the bar reading a book. Giles, a heavy-set, 65, was an import/exporter and married to one of the much younger dart players, Bunny. This difference in age was the subject of many snide comments. Giles was scowling. Of course. Giles always scowled. The surrounding coziness was completely wasted on him. On a table next to him rested his pint of ale and a flower vase. A picture and a small window were situated on the wall behind him.
“Hey, old man,” Ian repeated after not getting a response the first time. “Want to join Bunny and take on the lucky whiners, I mean winners?” This comment earned a jab to the back of the ribs from Carole.
A barely audible grunt stemmed from Giles as he continued absorbed in his book.
“I take that as a no,” said Ian, adding under his breath, “You old goat. You don’t deserve Bunny.”
Giles verified his answer with another low grunt.
Bunny carried her very shapely ex-show girl body over to her husband, leaned over, displaying a little more than should have been displayed, and gave him a buss on the cheek. “Oh, don’t be such a grump, Giles,”
He looked up at her. “I’m perfectly happy here, thank you. Go do your thing.".
Bunny glided back to the bar.
“Okay, what say we do it again?” said Ian addressing Bunny. “I think it's time we put these losers in their place. What do you think old girl?”
“Hold on a minute. Got to pet my good luck charm,” said Derek as he strolled over and gave Roscoe a pat on the head. This triggered a barely cracked open eyelid and an ever so slight movement of one stretched-out paw.
“Boy, I have never seen him that excited about your dart game before, Derek,” said Carole.
The four players regathered; the banter and the game began again. Giles drained his pint and went to the bar next to Brindley to get a refill. “Arthur, my usual. And make sure you get it right this time.
“That one,” said Giles pointing to the returned glass, “wasn’t my usual.”
“What're you talking about, Giles." Then motioning to the glass he was presently drawing, he said, "That last one was the same as this one. It was your usual. Did it taste bad? Did it taste like it had gone off?"
"Nope. I just know from the taste it was not my beer."
"If you didn’t like it, why didn’t you bring it back?”
"I know what my beer tastes like. And this," again pointing at the glass, "was not my beer."
Giles watched the pouring operation intently, grabbed the newly filled glass, and returned to his chair, with no more conversation, completely ignoring Arthur.
Brindley, who observed the whole operation, just shook his head, then looked at Arthur. "The way he was watching you. Boy, that jerk has some big trust issues."
Several minutes later, the room erupted as Arsenal scored a goal. Everyone moved to the bar for a closer look.
“Bloody hell! Did you see that? What a kick,” exclaimed Ian.
“What do you mean, ‘what a kick’? Did you see the way it ricocheted off Barstone’s foot? Pure, blind luck. Blind luck, dammit!” grumbled Derek.
“Talk about a fluke,” agreed Carole. “Watch the replay.”
Giles got up and took a trip to the WC. As he returned, Ian called out to him, “Giles, did you see that goal?”
“Nope, don’t really care.”
Ian shrugged his shoulders and returned his attention to the telly. Roscoe struggled to his feet, and as Giles sat down, Roscoe promptly plopped on the floor next to his feet.
“Hey, what have you got going with Roscoe there, Giles? Never saw him show any interest in you before,” said Derek.
This again received a low grunt from Giles. “It may surprise you, but dogs like me.”
“Well, this is certainly a new found relationship,” answered Derek. Then added under his breath, "Roscoe is about the only one around here that likes the old bugger."
The dart game began again, and the players returned to splitting their attention between the dart game and the football match.
H—o—w—l ! H—o—w—l !! A commotion from Roscoe in the corner.
“Roscoe, what on earth has gotten into you?" asked Arthur.
Then suddenly, Giles stood up, “Arthur, you really screwed up again. That beer tastes terrible! That is not mine. This tastes even worse than the one before.”
Everyone stopped and looked at him with curiosity.
Giles's head flew back. He gasped, doubled over, and fell face first. Dr. Brindley dashed to the prostrate body. Kneeling next to Giles, he grabbed the man's wrist, felt around his neck. "No pulse," he muttered under his breath. He quickly leaned over to start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but immediately popped back up. He placed the palm of his hands on Giles chest, alternately pushing and releasing. Nothing. He remained there on his knees staring at Giles. Finally, he slowly stood up. Still staring at Giles he said in low voice, “He’s dead.”
“OH NO! OH NO!” screamed Bunny, throwing herself across the body, her long black, silky hair flowing over the floor.
“I knew it. I knew that the old bugger’s disposition was going to bring on a coronary,” said Ian.
“Nope,” said Dr. Brindley. “It wasn’t a heart attack.”
"What!" exclaimed Ian.
“Then what was it?” asked Arthur.
“He’s been poisoned.”
“Poisoned?” echoed from several lips in disbelief. “Poisoned?”
“I don’t believe it,” stated Derek.
“I’m afraid so.”
“GILES NO! NO!” Bunny continually screamed.
“What makes you think he's been poisoned?” asked Carole.
“From the smell.”
“The smell?” asked Arthur.
“Yes. When I knelt to perform mouth-to-mouth, there was a distinct smell of almond. And as quick as he died, I'm sure it was cyanide poisoning.”
The room was deathly quiet, the only sound, Bunny’s sobbing. A weeping Carole buried her face into Derek’s chest.
Dr. Brindly issued a big sigh. “Guess I better call Reggie.” He walked to the bar and grabbed the phone.
A female voice answered the phone. “Hopkin’s Bay Police Department.”
“Oh, hello, Constable Thompkin. This is Dr. Brindley. Is Reggie in?”
“No, he's off this evening. Can I help you?”
“Well, I really need to talk to Reggie.”
“I’m sorry, Police Sergeant Duke is off duty. If you need anything right now, you’re stuck with me.”
“Dammit! Can you call him? This is really of great urgency.”
A pause. Constable Thompkin firmly replied, “Nope, he gave specific orders not to be disturbed.”
“I think he would be of a different mind if he knew the situation.”
“And what is the situation?”
“We have had an incident here at the Tides.”
“Yes. What kind of an incident?”
“A man has been poisoned.”
There was another short pause. “Yes, Dr. Brindley, murder you say.”
“Poisoned is what I said, but you can call it murder if you want.” Brindley added under his breath, "This going to be one stupid process until we can get a hold of Reggie."
“One of the Inn’s patrons, Giles Chase, has gotten a hold of a poisoned drink.”
“Are you sure it was poison?”
“YES! I'm sure. You better get over here as soon as you can.”
“Be right there. Don’t touch anything.”
Dr. Brindley covered the mouthpiece of the phone and said to the others, “She said 'don’t touch anything'. How original. We know where she got her training."
"My first guess would be from Agatha Chrisie," said Derek.
Arthur had walked behind the bar and picked up the tide report. “Hamish, it’ll be another hour before the tide is out enough for the gates to open. And, there might be even more of a problem right now with the surf banging away out there.”
Dr. Brindley relayed this information to the Constable and recommend she wait an hour or so before attempting to cross the walkway.
“Well, for a while now the wind has died down. Maybe the sea has calmed down a little with it. You can override the automatic opening and closing of the gates, can’t you?”
“Yeah, but I’m looking out the window at the walkway. There is no way someone could cross over right now. The water's deep and the waves are heavy. Doesn’t look like the sea has settled much.”
“Do you think that hour estimate is accurate?” asked Thompkin.
Dr. Brindley conveyed the Constable’s question to Arthur.
“I would say that an hour sounds pretty reasonable.”
This was relayed back to the Constable.
She responded, “I’ll leave immediately. I’ll give you a call on your intercom when it's clear.”
“Okay, we’ll be looking for you. But be careful. Take a good look at the surf. A big wave could knock you off the walkway before you know what hit you.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“Oh, and can you alert the paramedics. There's no urgency. I'll give them a call when they can cross.”
He returned to the group. “Constable Thompkin will be here when the water is down enough. She wants everybody to leave the crime area. She refused to call Reggie. Looks like she wants to take charge. I’m afraid that Reggie was right about her. Oh well, guess we’d better do what she says.”
Everyone moved to the bar except Bunny who remained lying across the body sobbing and Carole who stayed to give comfort. Arthur filled everybody’s pint glass, and added a shot of whisky in front of each pint. The whisky, to a glass quickly disappeared.
Brindley looked around the room. “I can't believe it. Someone in this room is a murderer.”
Overhearing this, Ali looked at Brindley. “Yes Dr. Brindley, someone in this room is a murderer.”