Prose Header

Always, Anna

by Noel Denvir

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

London Airport postcard:

Dearest Joe, Bob has decided to take early retirement from the bank due to the leg injury. He’d been offered it last year but now the feeling is, why not? So he’ll be at home all day soon — help!

As always, Anna.

Holmes pondered the fifth card on the pinboard.

“So what do we know now, Watson?”

“Bob is a husband or partner and he works, or worked, in a bank. Probably manager or assistant manager.”

“Excellent, Watson. The jig is almost up.”


“It’s not enough to trace him. We need one more clue.”

Joanna intervened anxiously,”Yes, but then what?”

Holmes turned to look at her, “Send the cards back, of course.”

“To the bank?”

“Oh dear no, young lady,” said Watson. “That would be a little indiscreet.”

“Indeed, Watson. An anonymous package to the good manager’s wife at her home address. That’s the ticket. A respectable man like Bob would never open his wife’s mail.”

Joanna frowned at them both. “Doesn’t that seem a little... brutal? You know... Final?”

“Closure, Ms Barron.”

The two men knew what was going on in her mind. She wanted to meet Anna and simply ask her why she kept writing to someone who never replied. Maybe even help her at this difficult moment.

Anna would have to find out that Joe Barnes was no good. He had abandoned her, took other people’s money and didn’t pay it back. Joe was a fraud. It was time for Anna to wake up.

Joanna left the two detectives to their thoughts and descended the stairs, glad to get away from the growing web of possibilities.

Just outside the front door she met the postman still on his rounds.


The postman smiled back. “Yes?”

“Ah... good morning.”

He replied the same and watched, puzzled, as she hurried away, pulling her overcoat closed against the cold January breeze.

Dearest Joe, The retirement party was really nice. Bob received a gold watch with D&D engraved on it — and a set of skis, ha ha!

They even remembered me, the long-suffering wife. You’ll never believe what I got — some Abstracts! Do you remember?

Hope you are well. Always, Anna.

The two detectives, saucers in hand and sipping tea, looked solemnly at the card.

Joanna threw up her hands. “Can you believe it? An Oxfam card and the postmark is smudged beyond recognition!”

Watson wrinkled his brow in sympathy. “Yes, we were almost there.”

“It’s from Darlington,” said Holmes with the tiniest of smiles.

The other two stared at him.

“D&D — Darlington and District Savings Bank, the last independent savings bank left in the country, affectionately known as D&D.”

“Holmes, you amaze me!”

“Not really, old fellow. In this ever-changing world I find I have special affection for the ‘last’ of anything: manned level-crossings, trolley buses, coin-operated scales, and so on.”

“What does she mean by ‘abstracts’?” asked Joanna, running her finger along this part of the text. “She likes abstract art? Maybe Joe was a painter!”

“No,” said Holmes. “Capital ‘A’. It’s the name of a product — something special between Joe and Anna.” He raised his eyebrows expectantly at Joanna. “Well, Ms Barron?”

Joanna smiled. He was letting her have this one. “Perfume!”

Holmes smiled back.

A quick check on Joanna’s laptop confirmed this: “Abstracts,” the classic fragrance for the lady of... bla, bla, bla. Pricey!

“That thing’s going to put you out of a job, Holmes!”

Holmes just looked disapprovingly at the device. “So, Ms Barron, all you have to do is phone.”


“Well I can hardly do it, can I?” Holmes smiled.

“Oh, yeah. Suppose you’re right.”

* * *

“Darlington and District Savings Bank. Can I help you?”

“Oh, hello. My name is Joanna... erm Barnes. I was wondering if I could speak to Bob.”


Joanna felt her face flush. “Y-yes, I heard he was retiring and... em...”

“Oh, you mean Robert Pritchard, the manager?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“He isn’t here at the moment. He has back holidays. He’ll be here next Monday for his last week. Can I help you, or would you like to leave a message?”

“Oh, it’s okay. I just wanted to wish him all the best. I’ll call again... next week.”

“Okay, bye.”


Robert Pritchard
“The Gables”
54 York street
Tel: 0848 22471

Well, that wasn’t too difficult, thought Joanna. She also had a few days back holidays. Just clear it with Marge and then — her heart began to thud. Closure.

She booked her journey to Darlington for Monday morning, returning that evening. The postcards were neatly wrapped in flowery paper. It seemed gentler. She placed them safely into her handbag.

She didn’t phone Anna, for two reasons. One: she hadn’t the nerves for it. And two: she could do it when she arrived in Darlington. If there was no reply, she could simply deposit the package at York Road with a short note.

As she was standing in the main concourse at Dunford station, she noticed a sign in a gift-shop window: Abstracts, the classic fragrance...

Why not? She’d give it a try, although she couldn’t help remembering that bitter old quotation: Loneliness is buying your own perfume.

The man in the gift shop handed her the perfume already gift-wrapped. Then she saw the decorative poster behind him: “Remember: Mothers Day on the 14th!”

“Thank you,” she said. “It’s beautifully wrapped.”

“Yes, your mother will love it!” the man replied.

Joanna took this as a supreme compliment. She’d try some a little bit later, maybe on the journey.

The two detectives watched the train depart. “Think she’ll do it, Holmes?”

Holmes drew on his pipe. “She’ll do what she needs to do.”

* * *

Jo preferred to use a callbox in Darlington to call Anna. She had trouble finding one that would accept coins. The voice answered with a number.

“Oh hello, my name is... Banks, Frieda Banks. I’m from Dunford.”

“Ah, Dunford.”

“I’m here for the day and I have something for you. I’m a... an acquaintance of Joe Barnes.”

There was a pause. “Where are you?”

“At the main station.”

“I’ll meet you at the cafeteria in half an hour — or would you prefer to come here?”

“No, the station is fine. I’m travelling back today anyway.”

They exchanged brief descriptions, and thirty-five minutes later Jo found herself sitting opposite a well-groomed sixty-year old woman.

They sipped on the weak tea and nibbled on the soft biscuits.

“So, you’re a friend of Joe’s?”

“Well, not really. I live in the same house.”

Anna smiled. “He still dreaming of being a millionaire?”

Joanna smiled frantically. How long could she keep this up? There was a train leaving in twenty minutes. That would be her escape route if things went really wrong.

“You said your name was Frieda. That’s German, isn’t it? I was there on holiday recently.”

“Yes, I know.”

“You know I was on holiday in Germany?”

“N-no, erm... I know that Frieda is... em... a German name.”

Anna smiled, amused. She wasn’t trying to catch Joanna out. She had no desire to. Frieda, or whatever her name was, had something Anna wanted.

Joanna countered, “So, you and Joe are old friends?”

“Yes. Well, we were a long time ago. I... we... keep in touch.”

“Oh, that’s nice. train will be leaving soon.” She looked artificially at her watch. Then the moment came.

“You said you had something for me.”

Jo’s heart was pounding. She rummaged in her handbag and brought out the package. She reached it towards Anna.

The older woman looked at it suspiciously. “What is it?” she asked gently.

Joanna smiled, “Perfume, I think.”

* * *

“So, what have you got for us, inspector?”

“A body, Mr Holmes. Dredged up from the river bed this morning. Looks like it’s been there quite a while.”

“A year or so,” said Watson, casting a professional look at the remains.

“Really?” said the inspector, visibly impressed.

“Suicide,” added Holmes.

The inspector could hardly contain his amazement. “How can you tell that?”

“The pockets and the trousers still show signs of having been weighed down — possibly with stones from the embankment.”

The inspector grimaced at the sight. “There’s what may be a driving license in the back pocket. That might tell us something.”

“I wouldn’t try opening that now, inspector. Leave it to the lab people. It’s amazing what they can do these days. You’ll have a positive identification by tomorrow. Meanwhile, it would be worth checking the missing persons from about a year ago. A man in his early sixties.”

“Remarkable, Mr Holmes.”

“Well, if that’s all, inspector...”

“Yes, for now, Mr Holmes — and you too, Dr Watson. Thank you both.”

Holmes looked at his partner. “ So, Watson, shall we... disappear?”

Watson smiled back and then they all said goodbye.

The approaching police sergeant looked quizzically at the inspector. “Sorry, sir, did you say something?”

“No, sergeant, just thinking out loud.”

Dearest Joanna,

Can’t believe that a year has gone by so quickly. Your cards helped me through. Think we both know what we want. I’ll be arriving on the 7.15 train from London on Friday evening.

Can you meet me at the station?

Tons of love, Fred.

Copyright © 2012 by Noel Denvir

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