Monkhouses village hall
The Monkhouses village hall was packed with people waiting for the press conference. Television and radio reporters were there; so too were reporters and photographers from the regional and local press. Every CID officer from Sandleton had also turned up.
DI Hoggart was talking to a well-known, local TV reporter. Forward went over and, drawing Hoggart aside, asked if the search of the beach and cliffs had produced any results.
“Nothing significant,” said Hoggart. “But we haven’t covered half the ground yet.” His look became questioning. “Have you had any success over at Melthorpe?”
Forward provided a quick account of what he’d discovered.
At the press conference
“Isn’t it about time we got this press conference over with?” Hoggart demanded. Forward’s response was quietly barbed. “Yes. I think I’m ready to begin now.”
Amidst a barrage of photographers’ flashlights, Forward took up his position in front of the large map of the East Yorkshire coastline. He welcomed the press and media and expressed his deepest sympathy for Mark Coulson’s family. He then described the circumstances in which the Headteacher had died. He appealed to anyone who had been in the area of Monks Bay the previous day and had seen Coulson’s blue Astra, or anything at all out of the ordinary, to come forward. Photographs of the dead man were made available and the Chief Inspector appealed to anyone who had seen Coulson there to contact the police.
Forward concluded his remarks and invited questions. Immediately he was besieged by another fusillade of flashes and a deafening wall of noise as all the press and media people leapt to their feet and shouted questions at him.
Forward raised his hands and called for quiet. “I’m taking one question at a time or none at all!”
The mob fell silent and resumed their seats. Forward pointed to Jack Miller, crime reporter for the Sandleton Times. “OK Jack. You first. What’s your question?”
Jack stood up and said with a wry smile, “What was a respectable Headmaster doing out at Monks Bay so late at night? Was he up to no good?”
There was a low murmur of assent from the crowd.
“We’re still trying to establish Mr Coulson’s reasons for travelling to Monks Bay,” said Forward. He indicated a red-haired woman who was sitting at the back. She was the TV reporter who’d been speaking to Hoggart. “Right, I’ll take the next question from Monica.”
The questioning continued for a further twenty minutes. Each question was in essence the same and implied that Coulson had gone to Monks Bay for indecent sexual purposes. The most crudely suggestive of these questions came from those reporters who were stringers for the London based tabloids. Forward neatly side-stepped them all.
The press conference ended and in response to requests from local television news teams Forward left the incident room and went to the Monks Bay car park. There, with the North Sea behind him and in the presence of white suited officers conducting a fingertip search, he was interviewed on camera.
When the television crews had finished Hoggart and Wilmott came over to him.
“Congratulations, sir,” said Wilmott. “I thought you handled that very well.”
Forward, who was a vain man, was deeply gratified. “Thank you, Wilmott.”
“Yes. Well done,” muttered Hoggart unconvincingly.
At the drama group
Forward left the incident centre and drove back to his sea-front home in Sandleton. He fed the cat and after much deliberation changed into a pair of brown corduroy trousers, a green and white checked shirt and a stylish brown leather jacket. When he was officially on duty Forward’s choice of clothes presented no problem to him: he invariably wore a dark suit and a collar and tie. However, choosing the most appropriate off duty clothes always presented him with a dilemma: he had a terror of looking like mutton dressed as lamb.
He inspected himself in the bedroom mirror and was not too displeased with the image that confronted him. True, he had a slight paunch and his dark brown hair was greying progressively at the temples but his general appearance was still quite vigorous. Satisfied, he went and prepared himself a quick cheese sandwich and a cup of tea.
When he arrived at the High School he found the whole cast waiting for him in the hall; some were already in costume and make-up. Many of them seemed to be staring at him rather more intently than usual. It was as though he’d suddenly become an object of curiosity or fascination. Coulson’s murder had received extensive coverage in the media. Was that the reason?
“I’m surprised to see you here this evening, darling,” said Irene Babcock, “with all you’ve got on your plate.”
Forward laughed. “And miss so many great performances? Not a chance.”
Several people asked him about the progress of the investigation. He lightly deflected them. “Please, no more questions. I’m off duty,” he pleaded.