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Woman On The Bridge

"Young investigator seeks truth after death of entrepreneur"
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At 3.23 a.m. on the 27th of November 1998, the body of 64 years old Norton L. Broadbent was found on the quayside beneath the old Cosborough Bridge. Given the extensive injuries there was little doubt that he had fallen the twenty feet from the bridge.

Broadbent, a widower, managing director and owner of Broadbent Industries, and a member of a family whose business skills could be traced back into the 17th century, had no reason to commit suicide. As his distraught eldest son, Mark, told the investigating police inspector, “Suicide would never be on my father’s agenda. He was too full of life.”

Other members of the family wholeheartedly agreed with that, even though they were all puzzled that he should be near that bridge at night. It was not the most salubrious district in the city of Cosborough.

The medieval bridge had been the subject for demolition twice. The arching metal structure of the new road bridge, constructed nearly twenty years earlier, had meant that traffic was banned on the old bridge.

Demolition was prevented when the original bridge was declared a listed building of historical importance. To their credit the council had spent a fair amount on refurbishment and structural strengthening.

During daylight hours, tourists and many locals enjoyed strolling the medieval avenue where ancient shops sold a range of standard and more exotic goods. But when darkness fell, for many it became a ‘no-go’ area. Shaven headed youths roamed around, looking threatening, even if they weren’t, but, strangely, they rarely ventured under the single bar that blocked the bridge in the evening.

Two nightclubs, unsavoury judging by their lowlife clientele, lay sixty yards apart on either side of the bridge entrance. At least, with their red and blue flashing insignias they gave brightness to the gloom.

And, naturally, there were always the minimally dressed ladies setting out their own commercial enterprises. The family was certain that, in general, the quayside area and the bridge at night did not provide the kind of social life that Broadbent would be attracted to.

Over the months, Mark was given the limited police information available. No dependable witnesses, in fact, as Inspector Dodds, in charge of the case said, “The night ladies wouldn’t give us the skin of a grape when it comes to providing information.”

“Why is that?” Mark enquired.

“They see us as the enemy. We’re either moving them on or running them in. So, they close down when we start asking questions.”

There was only one witness, the inspector admitted, “ We’re placing no store by what he had to say. He’s a real wino. Dwells in any alcove around the quayside vicinity. Always pie-eyed. Name of Joey Morgan. He told an officer that he saw a grey-haired man, walking with a young red-haired woman beyond the bridge barrier. But couldn’t remember which night it was. Very unreliable.”

Unreliable evidence continued to be the only leads as the months went by and Mark Broadbent became so frustrated by the lack of progress that he decided to hire a private investigator. He advertised in the local press specifying that the successful candidate should have some knowledge of the quayside area around Cosborough Bridge.

Of the few responses he received there was only one came anywhere near Mark’s requirements. The youngish man wasn’t exactly vastly experienced  and had only been operating for three years. His cases had been for wives wanting to prove the infidelity of their husbands. Not exactly ideal but at least this Dan Winter’s experience had provided him with contacts  with women night workers.

 Mark was prepared to use any source to trace his father’s killer. He gave the young man the minimal information available and agreed on a fee (a) if unsuccessful and (b) if the killer was apprehended. Mark Broadbent remained uncertain of his choice.

~~~~

A murder investigation! Unbelievable. Just when Dan Winter thought he was stuck in the rut of marital discords. Already at thirty years of age, he was sure that going self-employed as a private investigator had been a viable choice. Too many years after university, stumbling from dull office job to duller office job had given him little option.

Searching out wayward husbands could involve much hanging around, but hanging around was preferable to sitting, desk bound. The income was uncertain but sitting there inside his car outside the noble Broadbent residence he was able to rub the driving wheel with glee as he considered the generous offer Mark had made, win, or lose. Oh, if only he could—

Starting his tinny old Ford, he reckoned, with the afternoon lying bright before him, he may as well make a start. Given the meagre information he had been given he knew exactly where that start would be.

It took him thirty minutes to get through the traffic and reach the quayside. Parking the car, he walked between the few shops and boarded up buildings, past the entrance to the unlit Visa Club, towards the beginning of the ancient Cosborough Bridge. And there he was, exactly where Dan had last approached him for information, Joey Morgan, rheumy eyes watched Dan’s approach blearily.

As Dan came up to him, Joey’s eyes widened and he gargled, “Do I know you?”

Promising, Dan thought, at least he was talking coherently. “We have talked before. About six weeks ago, about this husband—”

“I know nothing,” Joey declared, firmly for him. He picked up the bottle and took a long swig. “Waters of life,” he mumbled.

There followed almost ten minutes of Dan trying to get Joey to recall what he’d told the police about seeing a grey-haired man with a red-haired woman.

Joey’s face crumpled as though deep in thought. At last, he said, “Never did trust the bloody police. Always moochin’ around. When did this happen, anyway?”

“Nine months ago.”

Joey stared at Dan from red eyes, before he chuckled, “Nine months? Christ, I can’t remember what happened yesterday.” And he threw his head back in a phlegmy laugh, before taking another swig at his bottle.

Dan was on the verge of giving up but gave it one more attempt, stressing the fact that Joey was the reason that ‘red-hair’ had been mentioned. More blankness from Joey.

But, suddenly, as though light had passed through his fuddled mind, Joey burst out, “Red hair! Yes, a bonny lass. Passed right close to me, going on to the bridge. Long, lovely hair. Yes, and funny clothes.”

“Why funny?”

“Well, not like other women wear. Kind of baggy, like.”

Delighted that he had recalled something, Dan pressed, “Police said you told them that there was a grey-haired man with her.”

Joey shrugged, “Don’t know.”

That was all Dan could get. When he asked what time the women began plying their trade, Joey cursed, “How do I know? I haven’t got a bloody watch.”

When he was back in his small flat, Dan made a couple of notes. Joey had seemed positive about the woman having red hair. But the funny clothes? That seemed strange.

As darkness fell, he hoped to make another positive contact. A recent case had been unusual. A husband wanting to prove that his wife, Sophie Lender was, as he said. “On the game,” so he could file for a cost-free divorce.

When was collecting a promised close-up picture of the lady, Dan was met by the husband at the front door, picture in his hand. More telling, for Dan, was the view into the sitting room where a mature woman dressed in a revealing robe, was stretched on the sofa.

The picture showed a good-looking woman, and Dan, knowing he should be neutral, was on her side already.

Finding her on the quayside had been easy, although, at first, she was suspicious of him when he called her Mrs Lender, and she learned why he was there. But he told her what he’d seen at the house and that she had his sympathies especially when she told him that he had physically abused her. She lived with a friend now, and Dan did not pursue her present business. Soon he was recommending that she strike first, and file for divorce.

She had thanked him and Dan, although losing out on his fee for finding her, felt a wave of satisfaction in righting a wrong.

Now, as he approached the bridge with the evening darkening, he was hoping she might be around, having recommended that she get out of the business. To his relief Sophie was standing in the same area as when they’d first met, she looked happy to see him, and couldn’t wait to inform him, on his suggestion, she’d taken legal advice.

“That’s great to hear,”  Dan said, enjoying her enthusiasm. “Now. I need your help.” And he produced three pictures of Norton Broadbent. “It was before your time here, but would you ask your –er—companions if they recall seeing this man.”

Already one or two of the women were moving closer, puzzled by Sophie’s action. Within ten minutes, to Dan’s delight, three women identified the photographs, as a well-heeled elderly guy who had been a regular ‘crawler’ along this road, usually in a car with shaded windows.

One woman with a hard face admitted to getting into his car. “Easy money,” she laughed. “I was in and out of the car in five minutes.”

But no one had noticed anything on the night of the death.

Still, Dan was pleased with himself. Only one day in and he had information that had been denied to the police. He wrote up the facts that night. Three positive identifications. Obviously, he knew Mark Broadbent would dislike this news, but Dan hoped he’d appreciate the progress.

Mark Broadbent was furious. When, on the following day, Dan reported his extra findings, expecting some degree of praise, he was stunned by Mark’s reaction.

His face aflame with unsuppressed anger, the young Broadbent stormed, “You think this is positive? Testament from a wine-ridden old coot and a handful of hookers, only too happy to damage the reputation of a well-heeled gentleman.”

Saying little, but slightly annoyed at Mark’s ingratitude, Dan mooched around for a couple of days. But it all seemed aimless, with little to go on.

After a couple of days, he wandered one evening down the quayside, passed the old bridge entrance. Ladies were beginning to take up their posts and some even recognised him and waved. Then he saw Sophie,  beckoning to him eagerly. He could see her face alight with anticipation.

First came her excitement about her solicitor having filed her case, and her request  if Dan would be a witness, if needed. Dan told her he’d be glad to help. Sophie went on, to tell him that one of the women had mentioned a Linny Lykewake and asked if he’d talked to her.

Dan discovered that Linny Lykewake, well-known in the quayside area, called herself a local historian.  Gipsy connections were mentioned.

 Linny had a flat in River Row, which was only two streets from the bridge. When she opened the door, she viewed Dan with suspicion, which made him uneasy. He estimated that given her wrinkled face and deep dark eyes,  she was in her late fifties. Put a scarf around her head and she could be a fortune-teller. Quietly he told her what he was doing.

“You police?” she asked, in a low, crackling voice.

“They've been to see you?”

Linny Lykewake sniggered, a sound like the bubbling of a boiling pan, before she said, “How would they find me? The women down riverside told you but will never say anything to the cops. Anyway, they’d never believe what I’ve got to say.”

”What would you have to say?”

Without another word, she stepped to one side and ushered Dan through to a shaded, dimly lit room where the walls were cluttered with weird images of goblins, dragons, and various mythical beasts. Two black cats sat at each end of the table as he sat down. Real cats eyeing him as though waiting for him to make a false move.

Linny Lykewake sat across the table from him and went into her tale in that same crackling voice

Dubious at first, Dan slowly began to recognise logical connections with events. But when she mentioned the woman, who was, as she said,  ‘the watcher on the bridge’, having flaming, red hair, his hands clenched. When she finished talking Dan believed her, but sadly, would Mark Broadbent? He would deride the very idea.

So, to cover himself from ridicule, he asked her if she would give a private interview at the home of a rich gentleman. He deliberately did not tell her the name.

 Mark was at first unwilling to listen to, as he called it, “Another doubtful source.” But Dan was able to convince him that he might hear something that could interest him.

Linny had some pungent comments to make about privileged people as the butler led her and Dan into a cosy lounge where Mark was sipping a brandy. To Dan’s relief, after giving Linny’s black-clad figure a cool once-over, Mark was at least courteous as he waved them to easy chairs.

As they settled, Mark said, “May I call you Linny?”

Linny shrugged, “That is my name.”

“And mine is Mark—Mark Broadbent.”

Dan saw Linny’s eyes widen as she glanced at him, “Pleased to meet you, Mr Broadbent. Unfortunate name.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“To explain all is the reason I’m here. Do you know the legend of the woman on the bridge?”

Mark shook his head, his eyes showing disbelief,  “Legend?”

“I’ll go on,” Linny said firmly. 

~~~~

The tale that Linny outlined involved the love of a young couple, Beth, and Tom in the year of our Lord 1767.

Beth was heiress to a large fortune, her father being one of the major landowners in the area. His wealth came from renting land, several coal mines, where men worked for a pittance to keep their families alive and there was also a large wine importing business being developed.

Beth, legend says, was a lovely girl, with ruby lips, and hair as black as the coal her father mined. Unlike her father, she showed a kindness and regard for all folk.

Tom Naylor was a handsome, fun-loving lad of much charm, full of generous acts and truths. He was strong of arm and will, but alas, penniless. Tom worked the gardens of the large family home of Beth’s father.

Consequently, from casual encounters about the garden, ignoring any notions of social standing, Beth and Tom found their mutual attraction blossoming. Their meetings became more open, despite the initial warning from her father, in whose eyes Tom was a worthless underling from a questionable family. A young man whose mother had the reputation of practicing witchcraft. An association to be avoided at all costs.

Eventually, realising that his requests for his daughter to ignore Tom were falling on deaf ears, and determined that she would only marry within her own class, Beth’s father sacked him. He was prepared to accept his daughter’s weeping protests which lasted for weeks.

Then came the St Agnes feast on 20th January. This was the day when young ladies could dream of their future husbands. An eve when ladies would pair off, meet and abstain from eating, drinking or even speaking. But together they would make ‘dumb cake’ (flour, salt, and water) plus any ingredients supplied, with good intent, by any friends.

Paired with her friend, Milly Coates, Beth took it in turns to bake and turn the cake. Tradition was that when baked, the cake was split into two halves between the pair, and each had to walk backwards to their respective bedrooms, where the cake was consumed, always keeping in mind her ideal husband. They would then jump into bed. Perchance to dream of a loving future.

Unbeknown to Beth, her friend Milly had let Tom know the location of Beth’s room and knowing the house reasonably well he had managed to secret himself in a cupboard in her room. Waking from a very shallow sleep, Beth was enchanted by Tom’s bravado to be with her. As they cemented their love for each other, Tom suggested that they run off to Scotland together.

Without any hesitation, Beth was eager to do just that. They arranged to meet at the river bridge which was newly constructed at that time. Tom’s friend Jack was to supply horses for their elopement.

Somehow, someone had revealed their intentions to her father, and, enraged, he arrived at the bridge with a group of his toughest minions. He instructed his men to “take well care” of Tom. That meant only one thing, and Tom was savagely beaten to death.

His body was left hanging from the side of the bridge with orders that it remain there as a warning  to all those of “lower standing.” Mercifully, his daughter Beth was held in a coach while the deed was done and would eventually, as her father wished, marry money.

Tom’s mother was surprisingly quick on the scene, screaming her anguish at what she found. Right behind her was her eldest daughter, equally distraught at the sight. In the fading light her flaming red hair still showed brightly, as she helped her mother haul Tom’s body up. All the while mouthing a curse on all the male line of Beth’s family who ever ventured onto the bridge.

Within weeks of that sad evening news went round the peasant community of the passing of Tom’s mother. The cause was put down as “a broken heart,” and folks said  her eldest daughter Katy, known as Red, because of the colour of her hair, became the family leader.

Knowing of the curse, locals began referring to “the watchers of the crossing,” whenever someone died, by jumping off or hanging themselves or accidentally falling.

One fact that was mentioned was the family name of  Beth. It was Broadbent. Little attention was placed on the fact that of the many deaths on and around the bridge in the two hundred years since the infamous incident, only four have been Broadbent males.

 Before Norton Broadbent, the last one had been in 1927 when  a young man named Arthur Broadbent was seen to dive from the bridge into the river. A witness thought she had seen him arguing with a girlfriend with red hair. Arthur Broadbent’s body was quickly recovered from the river, but there was no sign of any girlfriend.

And that’s it.

~~~~

Dan felt sure that all the frequent mention of the woman with red hair was most convincing. But as Linny completed her account, he could see Mark tight lipped as he had been throughout her talk.

Now, he stood, nodded his dark head, and said, “Thank you, Ms Lykewake. That was most interesting.”

“You must believe and be careful,”  Linny said.

“Of course,” Mark said. “Now if you would wait out in Mr Winter’s car while I clear matters with Dan.”

Dan hoped this could be payment time, but as soon as they heard his car door slam, Mark was on his feet, striding to his desk, exclaiming, “What a load of utter bilge!”

As he began scribbling at something on his desk he looked up at Dan and said, “At least the police followed positive leads among business associates. You, it appears, have been fascinated with fantasy.”

He handed Dan what turned out to be a cheque, “That is a figure midway between the one we agreed. Too generous in truth.”

Dan, satisfied with the cheque amount, was reluctant to let the subject go, “But surely there’s enough evidence to take it further.”

“What? That old peasant wives’ tale?” Mark sneered, posing on the corner of his desk. “Thank you for trying. You’re excused any involvement, but tomorrow evening at about 9.00 pm I intend to walk that bridge to prove what a load of crap your story is.”

“Don’t do that!”

Mark laughed bitterly,  “Afraid of being made to look foolish?”  He made a mocking ghostly gesture, waving his fingers in the air, “Woooo.”

Back in his car, when he told Linny about Mark’s intention, she was shocked, but all she said was, “Oh, dear.” 

~~~~ 

Two days later, the morning paper headlines read:

DOUBLE FAMILY TRAGEDY

At approximately 9.10 pm last evening the body of Mr Mark Broadbent, recently appointed managing director of Broadbent Industries, was found dead under the ancient Cosborough Bridge. This is the exact spot that his father Norton Broadbent died over nine months ago.

Suicide is being ruled out and two witnesses have stated independently that they saw a woman lingering in the vicinity at that time. The only description they could give was that as she passed under a streetlight, they noted vivid red hair. Police are appealing for this woman to come forward.

As he folded his newspaper, Dan Winter sighed, “I fear they’ll have a long wait.”

  

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