Penny Dreadful

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Penny Simmons is missing. The police can't find her, so her parents call in a private investigator to help. Maybe they'll wish they hadn't when he finds evidence she was hanged for murder.

Submitted: June 05, 2017

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Submitted: June 05, 2017



The Reverend John West, rector of St Bartholomew's church in the village of Neithwold, had little time to look at the young woman in the long red dress.  He’d spent too much of the fine June morning tutting over the state of his garden, and now found himself ten minutes late for his appointment with the formidable Mrs Tovell.  Head bowed, the woman was wearily pushing a brightly coloured bicycle up the path to the church.  As the rector hurried past, he gave her a jovial nod and a bright, "Good morning," but didn't stop.  Passing through the low churchyard gates, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the woman standing by the old church porch.  A feeling that something wasn't quite right made him hesitate for a moment, but the thought of Mrs Tovell's stern disapproval at his lateness spurred him on.

The rector's unease would have been greatly inflamed if he'd stayed and watched the young woman.  She stood with her back to the church, gazing silently over the ancient graves in the small, untidy, churchyard.  A light wind hissed gently through the leaves of a massive ash, as birds chattered in its crown.  A jet rumbled overhead and a bee buzzed by.  The warm morning air was filled with the heady scent of lilac and rose.  A cloud, passing across the sun, sent a shadow that scuttled between the mildewed headstones and broke the woman's stupor.  Letting the costly bicycle clatter onto the ravaged flagstones, she began walking across the unmown grass.  Picking her way carefully between the graves, she came to a crumbling stone column encrusted with grey and orange lichen.  Pressing her slender body tight against its old, weathered surface, she flung her arms around it like a lover.  As hot, salty tears trickled down her unblemished face, she began to intone a barely audible incantation.

June turned into July.  As the noise of traffic leaked into the cramped, dingy office through the open window, David Jankowski sighed.  Writing the report for Mrs Gardener was proving to be much harder than he’d expected.  Her husband had been adept at concealing his philandering ways.  With no opportunity presenting itself to catch him in flagrante delicto with the buxom Greek waitress from the Cafe Diogenes, Jankowski lacked evidence.  He was certain the pair were carnally involved, but he couldn’t prove it.  The muffled sound of voices in the outer office made him look up.  With a feeling bordering on relief, he watched as Doris, his wife and secretary, opened the office door and usher in a well dressed, middle aged, couple.

“Mr and Mrs Simmons were wondering if you could spare a minute, dear.”  Without waiting for a reply, Doris stepped back into the outer office and shut the door.

Jankowski stood up and gestured to the two hard, wooden chairs in front of his desk.  “Please,” he said genially, “take a seat.”  He waited for the Simmons to lower themselves awkwardly onto the narrow seats before settling back into his shabby, but comfortable, office chair.  “How may I help,” he asked, smiling.

“We’d like you to find our daughter,” Mr Simmons said without preamble.  “She’s been missing for over a month, and the police have been bloody useless at finding her.”  He spoke with the assurance of a man used to wielding authority.  Dressed in a dark, expensive suit and a navy blue tie, with gold cufflinks and a pocket handkerchief, he looked more at home round a boardroom table than visiting a seedy private investigator.  Jankowski glanced at his wife.  She was a small, slender, fine boned woman, with hair the colour of straw.  Wearing a tailored black outfit and black gloves, she had the poise of an aristocrat.

Jankowski shifted his gaze back to the husband.  “You say the police are involved?  Perhaps you should give them a little more time,” he said mildly.

Mr Simmons huffed.  “They’ve had long enough,” he snarled, shaking his large head vigorously.  “I want answers, and I want them now.”  His slate grey eyes burned into Jankowski.  “Do you think you’re up to the job, or should I go elsewhere?”

Jankowski pursed his lips.  “I usually don’t intrude on police cases,” he said, choosing his words with care.

“So, you admit you’re not up to the job?”  Mr Simmons heaved himself upright and brushed non existent dust off his trouser legs.  “Let’s go, Silvia,” he said contemptuously, “I said this would be a waste of time.”  He turned to his wife and held out a broad, tanned hand.  Mrs Simmons ignored him.  Remaining seated, she opened her stylish black handbag and deftly withdrew a photograph.  Rising, she placed it on the desk in front of Jankowski and sat down again.  With a loud sigh, Mr Simmons shook his head and resumed his seat.

Jankowski picked up the photograph.  Staring back at him was the finely wrought face of a young woman, eighteen or maybe nineteen years of age.  She had long, straight, straw coloured hair, large lustrous green eyes, a small dimpled chin and rosebud lips.  “That’s our daughter, Penny,” Mrs Simmons said in a well modulated voice.  “She went out cycling early one morning and never came home.”

Something about Penny’s face seemed familiar.  Yes, Jankowski thought, he remembered.  The girl who’d gone cycling, and had never come back.  Her picture had been in the papers, and on the news.  There’d been an extensive search after her bicycle had been found in a local village, but nothing had come of it.  She’d vanished off the face of the earth.

Frowning, Jankowski put the photograph back on the desk and looked at the Simmons‘s.  “Why do you think I can find your daughter if the police can’t?” he asked.  Without speaking, Mrs Simmons pulled out a newspaper clipping from her bag.  Putting it on Jankowski’s desk, she pushed the clipping towards him.  He picked it up and saw that it was an article about himself.  It had appeared in the local paper about a fortnight ago.  He shook his head.  “That was a very different sort of case, Mrs Simmons,” he said calmly.

“You found the little girl,”  Mrs Simmons snapped.

“Yes,“ he agreed, “I did find the Paget child, but the circumstances were very different.  She'd been abducted by her father after an acrimonious divorce.  Most people, including the police, thought they’d gone abroad, but I had a hunch and tracked them to Manchester.  It was luck, Mrs Simmons.  Luck and my gut, that's all."

"There's no harm in looking, surely?"

Jankowski twiddled his thumbs and twisted his lip.  "OK," he said finally, stroking his round chin, "I'll see what I can turn up, but no promises."

Mrs Simmons nodded.  "Thank you, Mr Jankowski," she said curtly.

Jankowski cast a glance at her husband.  Sitting hunched up, Mr Simmons was scowling viciously at his wife.  There'll be hell to pay when they're outside, Jankowski thought to himself.  He sighed.  Opening a desk drawer he took out a printed leaflet.  "These are my rates," he said, reaching across the desk and handing the leaflet to Mrs Simmons.  "I'm sorry, but I insist on a deposit up front."

Mrs Simmons glanced at the leaflet.  "Will five hundred be enough?" she asked.  Jankowski nodded.  She rummaged in her bag and pulled out a cheque book and pen.  "You'll start right away?" she asked, pen poised.

"Yes, Mrs Simmons," Jankowski replied.  He looked at her husband and saw that his face had turned a deep purple.

Who do I make the cheque out to?

“Jankowski Investigations.”

Mrs Simmons filled out the cheque and pushed it towards him.  "Is that right?"

Jankowski picked it up and nodded.  "Yes, Mrs Simmons, that'll be fine," he said.  "Now I'll need a few details."

“Of course.“  Mrs Simmons smiled briefly.  “My daughter’s name is Penny Simmons,” she began, talking as if she‘d long rehearsed what she was going to say.  “She moved with us from London, three years ago, when my husband became Corporate Director of Resources with the council, here in Abton.  She’s nineteen, and has just finished college.  In the autumn she’ll be going to university to study art.  One morning, a month ago, she said she was going to visit a friend, Jennifer Galt.  She cycled off, and that’s the last time I saw her.  In the evening, when she hadn’t returned, I rang the Galt’s and found out she’d lied.  Her friend was working that day and hadn’t arranged to see Penny at all.  Fortunately, someone found her bicycle at Neithwold and reported the fact to the police.  The police conducted a thorough search of the village, and the surrounding countryside, but they didn’t find a trace of Penny.”

“Tell him the rest while you’re at it,” Mr Simmons growled.

Jankowski looked at Mrs Simmons.  “There’s more?” he asked sternly.

Mrs Simmons shot her husband a resentful look, and continued.  “Penny didn’t take any money with her.  Nor her house keys or phone.”

“Dearest,” Mr Simmons said sarcastically, “don’t forget to tell him about your jewellery.”

“Mrs Simmons,” Jankowski said, a note of irritation creeping into his voice, “you have to tell me everything.”

Mrs Simmons breathed deeply.  “Penny took some of my jewellery with her.  Nothing of sentimental value.  Just expensive stuff George bought me.”  Jankowski saw Mr Simmons wince at his wife’s words.  Definitely not a happy couple, he thought.  

“There’s still one thing you haven‘t told me, Mrs Simmons,” Jankowski said. “Whether Penny has any siblings?”

“My husband, George, has a son from a previous marriage, but Penny is my only child.”

Jankowski nodded.  “I think that’s enough to get started,” he said.  “If you could leave a contact number, I’ll get to work straight away.”

Sylvia Simmons looked at her husband.  Pouting, he put a hand in a jacket pocket and pulled out a shiny business card.  Standing up stiffly, he flung the card on the desk, and held out a hand to his wife.  Mrs Simmons rose smoothly, and nodded at Jankowski.  “I’ll expect to hear from you soon, Mr Jankowski,” she said quietly.  She took her husband’s hand, and together they walked to the office door.  Mr Simmons opened it and they stepped into the outer office.  Jankowski heard Mrs Simmons bid Doris a curt, “Good morning,” and then the outer door shut with a bang.

A few seconds later, Doris poked her head round the office door and grimaced.  "What do you make of that pair then?" she asked  "Miserable bastards."

Jankowski gave her a measured nod.  "Yes," he said slowly, "not a happy couple at all."

"You've taken them on?"


"I hope you know what you're doing."  Not waiting for a reply, Doris disappeared into the outer office and shut the door with a crash.

So do I, Jankowski thought, so do I.  He looked down at the unfinished Gardener report and sighed.  It could wait.  Picking up the telephone, he dialled a familiar number, and asked for Steve.  It was time to get to work.

Steve, still a serving officer, could be relied upon to help a former colleague.  Quickly, he confirmed the facts of the case.  He also revealed something Mr and Mrs Simmons had chosen not to mention.  Penny Simmons's disturbed past.  "She's one fucked up kid," he said.  "When she was fifteen, and living in London, she started claiming some married guy was her lover.  Put the poor bastard through hell.  Destroyed his marriage, and nearly landed him in clink.  There were restraining orders and psychiatric visits, but nothing seemed to work.  They were about to bang the kid up in the nuthouse when the family quit London.  It seems to have done the trick.  She's off to university in the autumn."

Thanking Steve, and promising to meet up for a jar, Jankowski put the phone down.  Clearly, there was more to Penny Simmons than her parents had wanted him to know.  Swivelling his chair round, he peered at the sky through the grimy office window.  The sun was shining and the heavens were blue.  Just the weather for a drive into the countryside, he thought.  Picking the phone up again, he rang the rectory at Neithwold.  He wanted to speak to the priest who’d found Penny’s bicycle.

When Jankowski pulled up in his oyster grey Ford Fiesta, the Reverend John West was waiting for him at the churchyard gates.  A tall gangling man, dressed in sober black, he was, Jankowski judged, in his mid forties.  As Jankowski approached, Reverend West beamed and held out a hand.  "A pleasure to meet you, Mr Jankowski,” he purred.  “I must say," he continued, "you have an unusual name for these parts."

"It's Polish," Jankowski informed him.  "My dad came over in the war and married a local girl."

Reverend West nodded sagely.  "You say you're a private investigator?"

"Yes, that‘s right," Jankowski replied.  "I was in the police until I retired."

"Ah, right.  And now you're looking into the disappearance of that poor girl?"

"Yes, Penny Simmons.  I believe you saw her on the day she disappeared?"

"Yes," Reverend West said, "I did indeed."  He waved his arm in the direction of the church.  "We crossed on the path.  She was pushing her bike up to the church as I was setting off to see a parishioner.  Ships that pass in the night, and all that."

"Did she speak at all?" Jankowski asked.

Reverend West shook his head sadly.  "No, she seemed preoccupied with her thoughts.  I said 'Good morning' but she walked on by as if I wasn't there."  He pursed his lips reflectively.  "Perhaps I was a little remiss.  I had a feeling that something wasn't right, but I was in a hurry.  Perhaps she was in need of spiritual guidance and I failed her."

Jankowski shook his head.  "I wouldn't take it to heart, Reverend,” he said.  “I doubt she cycled six miles to find spiritual guidance here.  There are enough churches in Abton for anybody looking for that."

The priest nodded, and smiled.  "Yes, you’re probably right," he said.

"Did she go into the church?"

"I don't know.  I saw her standing by the porch when I was going through the gates.  That’s the last I saw of her.  When I came to lock the church up, about seven, I found her bike lying on the path.  I confess, I was a little annoyed.  It seemed rather inconsiderate, just leaving it there, blocking the way.  Anyway, I went into the church to see if she was in there."  He shook his head.  "Sadly, the answer was no, so I locked up.  I was going to leave the bike by the porch, in case she came back for it, but then I thought better of it.  There isn't much crime in Neithwold, but it was a good looking bike, and might well have proven too much of a temptation to a weak willed soul.  So I wheeled it to the rectory.  When I told my lady wife, she suggested I ring the police."

"It was a good job you did," Jankowski said.  "It stopped a lot of time wasting."

"Yes," Reverend West said, "but it didn't help find the girl, did it?"

Jankowski shrugged.  "It's the way it goes," he said.  "Is there anything else you can tell me?"

Reverend West shook his head and sighed.  "No, I'm sorry, but that's about it."

"Thank you Reverend," Jankowski said, holding out his hand.  He wanted to get home.  All of a sudden he was feeling rather tired.

The next morning, before driving to the office, Jankowski phoned the Galt's.  Explaining who he was, he asked to speak to Jennifer, Penny's friend.  There was a short wait, then Jennifer came on the line to ask what he wanted.  He explained that he would like to ask her a few questions, so could they meet.  Reluctantly, she agreed.  She would see him at one o'clock at the Wendover Tearooms.

Jennifer Galt had none of Penny's fine features.  She was short and squat, with lank dark hair and thin lips.  Jankowski remembered how she'd described herself over the phone.  "I'll be the fat cow in the black skirt and white top," she'd said.  Bitter words spoken without humour.  On seeing her enter the tearooms, Jankowski stood up and waved his arm.  She stomped over to the table by the window where Jankowski was and squinted at him through large, dark-framed, glasses.  "Are you Jankowski?" she asked.  He nodded, and gestured to the seat opposite.  As soon as they were seated a sharp eyed waitress came and took Jennifer's order.  "Tea, scones, and plenty of jam."

"It's nice of you to talk to me, Miss Galt," Jankowski began.  "All I want is to ask you a few questions about your friend, Penny Simmons."

Jennifer glared at him moodily.  "I suppose I don't have much choice, do I?" she said in a sullen voice.

"It won't take long," Jankowski said, forcing himself to smile.  "I just need to know what Penny was like as a person.  Did she seem troubled?"

"No more than the rest of us," Jennifer said, shrugging.  "I didn't know her that well.  We were just college friends."

"She didn't make a habit of coming round to your house?"

"No, never.  And I never went to her's either.  We weren't that sort of friend."

"OK," Jankowski said, "so it was a surprise when her mother rang?"

Just then the waitress returned.  With a clatter she placed a cup, saucer, teapot, milk jug, a plate piled high with scones, and a dish of strawberry jam, on the table.  Jennifer waited until the waitress had gone before answering.  In a voice muffled by a scone, coated with a thick layer of jam, she told Jankowski what he already knew.  That she was working over the summer to save up money for university so naturally, she hadn't agreed to Penny coming over.

Jankowski nodded as Jennifer slurped her tea.  "Did she have many friends at college, besides yourself?

Jennifer shrugged.  "She was OK with people, but not close.  She lived in her own world, if you know what I mean?"

"In what way?"

"She was into history.  That was the only thing that really interested her.  Even her art was old fashioned."

Jankowski looked at her with surprise.  "What do you mean, her art was old fashioned?"

"You know.  It looked like something out of the past.  The lecturers gave her hell for it, but she wouldn't change.  She was going to do illustration at uni."

"And boys?  Did she have any boyfriends?"

"Jennifer shook her head vigorously.  "No!  She wasn't into boys.  She was OK with them, but she didn't get involved.  I had a feeling she had someone in London."  She lifted her eyes momentarily from the rapidly disappearing scones.  "You do know she came from London?"

Jankowski nodded.  "Did she ever talk about him?  Say his name, for instance?"

Jennifer finished the last scone and looked up.  "No.  Whoever it was, he was a long way away.  I got the feeling she hadn't seen him in a while."  She looked at her watch.  "It's time I was getting back," she said.

"Of course, Miss Galt," Jankowski said, "it was good of you to talk to me."  He rose and held out his hand.  

Jennifer stood up and smiled, hesitantly.  "Thank's for the tea," she said, shaking his hand.  

Jankowski watched her leave before calling the waitress for the bill.

Back in his office Jankowski dialled a London number.  It had been a long time since he'd been to the Smoke.  When a man's voice answered, he went through his usual routine of explaining who he was, and what he wanted.  A chat, maybe tomorrow, about Penny Simmons?  Getting a grudging agreement, Jankowski thanked the man and hung up.

William Jameson, who's life Penny Simmons had wreaked, was a mild looking man in his early thirties.  Prematurely balding, and with day old stubble, he didn't look the sort that could sweep a teenage girl off her feet.  Jankowski had travelled down to London on the early morning train, and had taken a taxi to the quiet suburban street where Jameson lived.  Jameson's house was a small, unassuming, mid-terraced affair, with a minuscule front garden and no drive.  Banging the big brass doorknocker, Jankowski had heard two bolts being pulled back before the door swung open.

Jameson, insisting on being called Bill, offered Jankowski beer and apologised for his unkempt appearance.  He was working nights, and had only just got out of bed.  Leading the detective into a small, but clean, sitting room, Jameson gestured to a mean-looking armchair.

"So," Jameson asked, when they had both sat down, "what do you want to know?  

"Well, Mr Jameson ... err, Bill, I was wondering if you could tell me how you first met Penny Simmons?"

Jameson screwed up his face.  "I was out walking with the kids and the missus, when she came running over and wrapped her arms around me.  Started shouting: 'I've found you, Adam, I've found you.'  Christ, you can imagine the look the wife gave me."

"She called you Adam?  Have you ever used that name yourself?"

"No!  Never."

"Right.  And after that she started stalking you?"

"Yes," Jameson said, "off and on for about a year.  The cops thought I was a paedo at first.  Hauled me in and gave me a good grilling.  Then the missus upped and left with the kids.  She couldn't take it any more.  And then, well, I just sort of gave up.  I hit the bottle and lost my job."

"It must have been very trying for you,” Jankowski said.  “You'd never seen her before in your life?"

Jameson shook his head.  "No.  She came out the blue, fucked up my life, and disappeared."  He heaved a weary sigh.  "I've put things back together again, more or less.  The wife and the kids are back, and I've found a new job."  He shook his head.  "Then the cops come round and say she's disappeared.  Have I seen her?  I can tell you, I'd jump under a bus if that bitch turned up again."  He looked at Jankowski and frowned.  "Sorry," he said, "I know I shouldn't call her a bitch, but she put me through hell.  I suppose her parents are frantic with worry?"

Jankowski nodded.  "I wouldn't get suicidal, Bill.  If she hasn't been in contact with you by now, you're probably safe."

"You reckon?  I hope you're right."  Jameson looked relieved.

"Anyway, before I go, is there anything else you can tell me?

Jameson shook his head.  "No, I don't think so."  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  "Actually, there is one other thing.  She kept saying something stupid.  Something about completing the circle."

"Completing the circle?  Do you know what she meant by that?"

"No.  She was batty as hell, so it probably meant nothing."

"Mmm ... maybe you're right."  Jankowski stood up with an inward groan.  The chair hadn't been that comfortable.  He held his hand out and smiled.  "Anyway, thank's for your time, Bill.  I think I'd better be making tracks."

The day after his trip to London, Jankowski rang Mrs Simmons to ask if he could see Penny's room.  She sounded surprised by his request, but had no objection.  Wishing to enjoy the fine morning, Jankowski took his time in finding the Simmons's house.  It was a newly built, exclusive, executive home, overlooking open countryside.  He drove up the gravel drive and parked beside a yellow Mini Cooper.  Sighing, Jankowski got out of his car and walked the few steps to the ostentatious front door.  Ringing the bell, he waited patiently until Mrs Simmons appeared.  With a restrained smile she welcomed him into a white, coolly elegant, hall.  He followed her across the varnished wood floor, and climbed the wide wooden staircase to the landing.  On either side of the landing were shiny white doors.  He trotted behind her as she walked to the door at the end.  Opening it, she entered her daughter's bedroom and waited for Jankowski to join her.

Penny's room was large, airy, and wallpapered with a delicate floral pattern.  A hint of some sweet fragrance lingered in the air.  Dotted about the walls were a number of small, framed, eighteenth century style watercolours.  Sensing Jankowski's interest in the paintings, Mrs Simmons pointed at them.  "Penny did all of those herself," she said with evident pride.  "She's very talented."

Jankowski nodded.  "Yes," he said, "they're very good."  He understood now what Jennifer Galt had meant when she'd said Penny's art was old fashioned.  

A brightly coloured carpet, with an intricate design of flowers and Arabesques, covered the floor.  Curtains, featuring huge sprays of peonies, flanked two large windows.  A bed, with a panelled mahogany headboard, dominated the far wall.  On either side of the bed were two tall mahogany bookcases, with moulded cornice tops and plinth bases.  Both were crammed with books.  Wandering between the bookcases, Jankowski saw that the books were all on history. A large two door mahogany wardrobe, and a five drawer chest on neatly turned legs, occupied the adjacent wall.  Between the windows was a delicate dressing table, and beneath it a stool, while near the door stood a heavy, mahogany, pedestal desk.  On the desk was a laptop computer, some ring binders and a small red book.  Between the pillars of the desk was a wooden chair, with a splat back, a chintz fabric upholstered seat, and straight legs.  

Moving to the desk, Jankowski picked up the little hardback book.  The red cloth of its covers was faded and cardboard was peeking through at the corners.  A piece of blue paper had been bent double and used as a bookmark.  Jankowski peered at the spine of the book.  With difficulty he read title: “A Treatise on Churchyard Curiosities.”  Intrigued to know what had so caught Penny's attention, he opened the book at the point where the bookmark rested.

"Have you found something, Mr Jankowski?"  Mrs Simmons had evidently seen his eyebrows rise as he'd read the open pages.

"Maybe, Mrs Simmons," he replied carefully.  He held the book out towards her.  "Your daughter bookmarked this book where it mentions the church at Neithwold," he said, pointing.  "It seems she may have had a reason to cycle there after all."

"What reason would that be?"

Jankowski shook his head.  "I don't know yet," he said, "but it might be a lead."  He put the book back on the desk and turned his attention to the stack of ring binders.  Leafing through them, he saw that they mostly contained course work, but one was different.  "Did your daughter study history at college?" he asked, looking at Mrs Simmons.

She shook her head.  "No.  She said they taught the wrong kind of history, whatever that meant."

"It would seem that Penny was particularly interested in eighteenth century English history," Jankowski replied  "Was it a new passion?"

Mrs Simmons averted her gaze.  "Err ... there's something we didn't tell you," she mumbled.

"That your daughter got into trouble in London?"

"Yes.  You found out?"

"It's my job to find these things out, Mrs Simmons."

"I'm sorry I didn't mention it," Mrs Simmons said, blushing.  "It's the reason we moved to Abton.  To give Penny, to give us all, a new start.  It was quite a sacrifice giving up London.  My husband's job, our friends, everything London had to offer.  It worked though, sort of.  Penny calmed down, but she was never the same girl."  She pointed at the binder in Jankowski's hands.  "It was when we came here that Penny's obsession with history began.  In London, before her illness, she was like any other teenage girl."

"I see."  Jankowski flicked through the binder's pages.  "Would it be all right if I borrowed this and the book?  I'll bring them back."

"Mrs Simmons shrugged.  "Go ahead if you think it's important."  She pointed to the black laptop computer.  "The police seemed more interested in that."

"From what I can gather, they didn't find anything useful on it," Jankowski said.  "Your daughter only ever visited history websites."  He shut the binder and picked up the little book.  "I think I'll stick with these for the moment."  He made a point of looking at his watch.  “It’s time I got back to the office,” he remarked.  

Mrs Simmons nodded and led the way back to the front door.  Stepping outside, Jankowski turned and thanked her for her patience.  She smiled, and watched as he walked to his car.

Back at the office, Jankowski rang Reverend West again.  "Reverend West," he said when the priest answered, “this is Jankowski.  There's something I need to know.  You said you saw Penny Simmons standing by the church porch.  Could she have been looking at the old Wishing Stone?"

"The Wishing Stone," the priest replied thoughtfully, "Yes, I suppose so."

"Do people still believe in its powers?"

"Believe in the Wishing Stone?"  Reverend West's voiced sounded puzzled.  "Not that I'm aware of.  Why, is it important?"

"It might be the reason Penny Simmons travelled to Neithwold," Jankowski replied.  "To see the Wishing Stone.  Anyway, that's all I wanted to ask, so I'll leave you in peace."  With the priest's cheery goodbye ringing in his ear, Jankowski put the phone down and opened the binder.  He needed to take a history lesson.  It was evening before he’d finished reading.  Stretching his arms, he leaned back in his chair and yawned.  He needed to do some checking, but that could wait until the morning.

The next day dawned grey and chilly.  Jankowski busied himself with his computer, checking various records held in public databases.  Then he made a phone call to a vicar in Kent.  Finally, he rang Mrs Simmons and asked if he could visit that evening.

When he turned up, both of the Simmons's cars were in the drive.  Mr Simmons' big black Mercedes S-Class saloon, its bodywork polished to a furious shine, was pulled up rakishly alongside the house, whilst his wife's Mini was parked neatly in front of the large double garage.  Jankowski parked, picked up Penny’s things off the seat of his car, and got out.  Wishing he was home with Doris, watching television, he walked to the Simmons’s front door and rang the bell.  After a short wait, Mr Simmons opened the door and glared unsteadily at Jankowski.  The odour of Scotch whisky wafted about him like a miasma.  "Huh," he barked, "it's you."

"I've brought your daughter's things back," Jankowski said, "and I'd like a word with you and your wife."

"Would you now," Mr Simmons snarled.

"Who is it, George?"

"Just that bloody detective you hired."

"Then show him in!"

Scowling, George Simmons stood aside.  Jankowski stepped into the hall and saw Mrs Simmons, casually dressed, standing by an open doorway, a television burbling in the room behind her.  He flinched as the door slammed shut behind him.

"Good evening, Mr Jankowski?" Mrs Simmons said coolly, "have you news of our daughter?"

"I think I’ve unravelled what’s happened to her,” Jankowski replied.  He indicated the book and binder.  “These hold the key, I think.  The problem is, I'm not sure you'll believe me."

"Really?" Mrs Simmons retorted in a brittle voice.  "Maybe you should come into the kitchen and explain."  Swiftly, she led the way across the hall and down a passage lined with prints.  Jankowski followed, and Mr Simmons brought up the rear.  The Kitchen was large and spotless.  Light bounced off gleaming stainless steel.  White walls and ceiling contrasted starkly with charcoal-grey floor tiles.  In the centre was a large, white, rectangular table, surrounded by white chairs.  Mrs Simmons sat down and watched, expressionless, as Jankowski and her husband did likewise.  "You said you can explain Penny's disappearance, Mr Jankowski," she said, watching him put her daughter's belongings on the table.

Jankowski nodded.  Opening the little red book at the appropriate page, he stabbed at an engraving with his forefinger.  "This is the Wishing Stone in the churchyard at Neithwold," he began.  "According to legend, anybody who embraces this stone and wishes to be united in love, will be married within the year.  I think that’s what your daughter did after reading this book.  Cycle out to Neithwold and wish at this stone."


Jankowski faced Mr Simmons.  "Has anyone  provided a credible explanation as to why your daughter cycled six miles to Neithwold?"  He tapped the book.  "She bookmarked the page about the Wishing Stone.  Why would she do that unless she was interested in it?  And why would she be interested in it if she didn’t wanted to make a wish?"  He saw Mrs Simmons nod, and turned to her.  The vicar at St Bartholomew's said she could have been looking towards the stone when he last saw her."

"So what’s that prove?  That our daughter was away with the fairies?"  Tell us something we don’t already know, “Mr Simmons sneered.

“George!” snapped Mrs Simmons angrily, “how dare you say that about Penny.”

Jankowski opened Penny's binder and flipped through the pages.  "This," he said, pointing to a printout, "is an entry in a London parish register for the marriage of Penny Simmons and Adam Morelake."  He glanced up as Mrs Simmons let out a sharp gasp.  "It's dated November seventeen thirty nine.  The bride is listed as being nineteen and the groom twenty nine.  According to the register, the bride’s parents were George and Silvia Simmons, and both were deceased.  Now I spoke to William Jameson, the man who Penny tormented, and he said she always referred to him as Adam."

Mr Simmons held his head in his hands and groaned.  "This is balderdash, pure balderdash."

"George, be quiet!"  Mrs Simmons hissed.  "Mr Jankowski, please continue."

Jankowski nodded.  "The couple had a child, a girl."  He turned over a page.  "She was christened Sylvia Heritage Morelake."  He looked up.  "I believe your maiden name is Heritage, isn’t it, Mrs Simmons?"

Mrs Simmons stared at Jankowski.  "Yes," she whispered.

"I won't go into detail," Jankowski said, "but the fact is, Mr Jameson is a direct descendant of Sylvia Morelake.  It's all here," he said, pointing to the folder.  "Your daughter found all this out.  I've checked it thoroughly, and it stands up to scrutiny."  He paused for breath.  "Now for the bad part.  The Morelakes were hanged at Tyburn, in seventeen forty two, for murder."

Sylvia Simmons's jaw dropped.  "Hanged?" she mouthed, her face growing pale.

"I'm afraid so," Jankowski said.  "It was a pretty open and shut case.  Adam Morelake was a wine merchant who fell on hard times.  He couldn't repay his debts.  Unfortunately, his biggest creditor, Mr Jonas Ridgeway, wanted his money back.  The situation was dire, so it seems the Morelakes concluded their only option was to murder Mr Ridgeway.  It was established that Penny Morelake bought a quantity of arsenic, and that Mr Ridgeway was invited round for dinner.  He went, but instead of eating anything, he demanded to be repaid.  The Morelakes remonstrated with him, but he refused to be swayed.  That's when things turned violent.  Ridgeway was considerably older than the Morelakes, but he was also stronger.  It took their combined efforts to subdue him."

Mr Simmons could contain himself no longer.  "Nonsense!" he roared, "our daughter would never kill anyone."

"Quiet, George!" Mrs Simmons snapped.  "Don't interrupt."

"Well," Jankowski continued, "the upshot was that Ridgeway died from his injuries.  In desperation, the Morelakes hid his body in their cellar.  They’d intended to poison him, and make out that he’d been taken ill and died.  But with his body covered in cuts and bruises that was out of the question.  When he failed to return home a servant was dispatched to find out what had happened to him.  The Morelakes claimed he’d already left, but the servant grew suspicious because they were both cut and bruised.  The servant reported all this back to the Ridgeway household, along with his suspicions, and the authorities were contacted.  When questioned, the Morelakes claimed they’d fallen to squabbling after Mr Ridgeway left.  Unfortunately, a search of the Morelakes' premises revealed the body of Ridgeway.  The Morelakes, in desperation, said they'd killed Ridgeway in self defence, but the purchase of the arsenic was a clincher.  The jury at their trial found them guilty, and they were sentenced to hang."

Sylvia Simmons dabbed her eyes with a paper handkerchief.  "You don't think there was a miscarriage of justice then, Mr Jankowski?"

"No," Jankowski replied.  "Before they died the Morelakes confessed everything.  I'm sorry to say it, but they were guilty as hell.  Desperation makes people do terrible things.  Fortunately, Morelake's family were able to give Adam and his wife a decent burial."  Jankowski retrieved a large envelope from the back of the binder.  Opening it, he drew out an inkjet print of a gravestone.  "They were buried together in Kent.  This is a picture of their gravestone the local vicar sent me via the internet.  The lettering is worn, but if you look closely you can still make out the names of Penny and Adam Morelake.  I've put the details of where it is on the back.  Their child, Sylvia, was raised by the Morelake family.

"But," Mrs Simmons said, "it could all be just a coincidence."

"Yes, Mrs Simmons," Jankowski replied, "it could be.  Some people, after all, win the lottery.  But when I saw Mr Jameson in London, he told me something curious.  He said that whenever your daughter accosted him, she never failed to say that the circle needed to be completed.  Now that on its own means nothing.  But according to the attending parson, just before Penny Morelake was hanged she cried out: 'The circle is about to be completed.'  It leaves me wondering how many similarities there need to be before one rules out coincidence."

"Well, anyway," George Simmons scoffed, "it was a nice story.  Write it down and you'll make a fortune.  You don't really expect us to believe that our daughter went back three centuries to get herself hanged?  Even if it were possible, she wouldn't be that stupid."

"Mr Simmons," Jankowski replied, "believe what you want.  I can't prove your daughter was hanged at Tyburn, but that's what I think happened.  How else can you explain why she left her keys, money, and phone behind?  They would have been useless in the eighteenth century.  But the jewellery she stole, that would have financed her stay in London.  As far as I'm concerned my investigations are over."  Reaching into his jacket pocket he produced Mrs Simmons's cheque.  "Given the nature of the case," he  said, handing the cheque to her, "I don't feel I can accept this."

Mrs Simmons shook her head.  "I insist you take it, Mr Jankowski," she replied, picking up the picture of the Morelake's gravestone.  "You did what I paid you to do."

Jankowski nodded and rose to his feet.  He pointed at the envelope.  "You'll find a full summary of my findings in there.  And now, if you don't mind, I'll let myself out."  Without waiting for a reply he made a rapid exit.  As he shut the front door he heard Mr Simmons curse as Mrs Simmons sobbed.


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