Sargeant Murdale leaned over, pinched a dried blossom from the geranium, and pitched it into the roadway. He’d hadn’t nabbed anything else, let alone touched something deceased, in months. Indeed, Port Tranquil, the lazy resort village to which he’d transferred, was very relaxed; the most heinous events involved folks complaining about the odour of corrupting fish. His eyes swept the tiny bay and beach, observing boats, a stray dog, sunbathers.
“Tea, sir?” Constable Briggs stuck his head out the door.
Briggs needn’t have asked, but it was custom: offering afternoon tea and serving it with two lumps and three digestive biscuits.
Murdale’s tea finished, complete with crumbs sprinkling his uniform, he slipped into the sweet moment between consciousness and calm nothingness.
“Help, police!” A frantic voice awakened him.
Murdale scrambled upright. “Yes?” He didn’t recognize the man; he was weasel-faced and thin and nervously picking and fussing at his shirt.
“My wife is missing!” the man cried.
“How long has she been gone?”
“Uh . . . she went shopping this morning.”
“That’s not enough time, Mr. . .?”
“Benton, Raymond Benton.” His hand was limp and cold. Fishy. “We’re from the city, visiting Port Tranquil for some rest, time away with the wife, you see.” He squinted.
“Yes, I see. How about a little walk, Mr. Benton? Constable, come along.”
“Where to?” Benton inquired, panic twisting his features.
“To your accommodations. Lead the way, please.”
Murdale sighed. It was too early to begin an investigation, but it would be a welcome diversion from tending the geranium.
The cottage on the beach was charming: railed verandah, flagstone walk bordered by summer blooms, a variety of nautical items decorating the exterior wall. Inside, old prints of sailing ships hung on the sea-green walls, and a vase of overblown peonies sat on the table. The lavatory sink was surrounded by a tumble of toiletries.
Murdale lifted a hairbrush. “She’s blond?”
“Yes, sir. Alas, from a bottle, though. An indulgence I allow her. Cheers her up, you know?”
Murdale perused the room. “Quaint place.”
“Ah, well, yes. She seemed pleased. Sunset suppers and all.”
“Had she seemed sad lately?”
“No, except for her unhappiness with lipstick shades and whatnot.” He chuckled wryly.
“Have you been fishing? Hiking?”
“Oh, no, we’re not the sporty sort.”
“We’ll do what we can, Mr. Benton. Rest, now, and we’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thank you, sir.” Benton pressed the door shut.
Briggs blurted out, “Aren’t you going to arrest him? He’s guilty as sin, wouldn’t look us in the eye, and did you see the towel under the bed?”
“Patience, Constable. Everything in its time.”
Murdale strode purposefully through the refreshing morning air to the cottage, forcing Constable Briggs to jog along behind. Benton greeted them affably enough, shaking hands and smiling thinly. The wilted peonies had disappeared, along with the clutter in the lavatory and the towel crammed under the bed.
“Any sign of my wife?”
Benton paled, but quickly recovered. “I’m so relieved. Well, if you’ll take me to her, we can be on our way. I’m grateful to you.”
“Not so quick, Mr. Benton. You’re under arrest for the murder of your wife.”
Briggs and Benton dropped their jaws, and then Briggs remembered his duty and briskly snapped handcuffs on Benton.
Benton gave a piteous sob. “I’m innocent. You’ve no proof. Oh, my precious angel . . .”
“Come along now, Mr. Benton, and no more nonsense.”
“Sargeant, how’d you know he done for her?
Murdale sipped his tea before responding. “There was a faded outline of a small anchor amidst the bric-a-brac on the verandah, not to mention a rusty mark on that towel you mentioned. He likely wrapped the anchor in the towel before clobbering her.”
“There was sand and seaweed on his wingtips. Didn’t he mention neither of them were the outdoorsy type?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Thus he was unaware that an extra low tide would reveal his misdeed, and indeed it did, at precisely 4:13 this morning. Our lady sleeps just beyond the point, with an anchor clasped to her bosom. Likewise, the skiff he “borrowed” from the dock was obvious, because of the shoddy knot he used.”
“Brilliant, Sargeant, absolutely brilliant.”
“No, Briggs, absolutely science. Time waits for no man, and neither does the outgoing tide.”
Satisfied, Murdale leaned back in his chair, but not before plucking a withered flower from the potted geranium.
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
William Shakespeare -- Julius Caesar IV.ii.269–276
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