“That sounds like a reproach,” said Cleo.
“How are you this afternoon?” was Cleo’s way into the phone call with Dorothy.
“Fine, Cleo. How are you? Why the formality?”
“Are you serious about not retiring?”
“Yes. I’ll keep going for a bit. It seems like the sensible thing to do with you in the family way again.”
“It isn’t. I’m happy for you, but where are you going to put them all?”
“Gary’s having an extension built at the back like a sort of winter-garden. We’ll sleep there and turn our bedroom over to the kiddies.”
“If you are not retired I have a job for you.”
“Not if it’s with Hilda Bone, Cleo. I don’t want to work with that woman. She phoned me this morning, told me about Kelly and said you had asked her to help you to find the murderer.”
“She was jumping to conclusions and lying, Dorothy. I did not tell her that Kelly was murdered and I was very specific about what she was to do behind those net drapes of hers.”
“It’s a mistake to let Hilda Bone work for the agency, Cleo.”
“I thought you were retiring, Dorothy. You know I can’t run around asking questions here. I’m too conspicuous and what’s more, I’m married to a cop.”
“That’s why I thought you would close down the agency. After all, rearing five children is a full-time job,” said Dorothy. “You have Frank Wetherby to help you in the agency. “Wasn’t he running things for months?”
“It worries me that Frank said he was bored and would go to London for a bit. He has a friend there who is a store detective. I think that’s what Frank is aiming for.”
“I’d be suspicious about that, Cleo. Rita will be sad, won’t she?”
“Rumour has it that Frank moved into her apartment above the shop, Cleo, and Rita did not move out.”
“Is that just gossip?”
“And hairpins, Cleo. I had to get some. I keep losing them. Frank was cleaning the windows. It didn’t take much deduction to see what was going on.”
“I never had a close personal relationship with Frank,” said Cleo. “We communicated by cell phone and at the office, but to be honest, I got out of circulation when the twins arrived. I’ve no clear idea what he got up to.”
“But you are back now and I managing the agency as well as your family.”
“Grit is marvellous. Since she moved into that cottage next door I really have appreciated her help. And now we have an extra guy on board.”
“Now it’s my turn to say it’s awesome, Cleo.”
“Gary and Joe are great together and Grit can’t take her eyes off them when she sees them together. I can’t believe all that has happened since yesterday.”
“Just imagine finding your child alive and well 40 years later. It’s a miracle,” said Dorothy.
“Your new job will be a solo for Dorothy with Hilda stuck behind her net drapes counting visitors, and sheep no doubt. Gary approves of you getting to work and to be honest it was his suggestion.”
“Does that mean you hadn’t thought of it?”
“I had, but I thought it might be too much to ask of you,” said Cleo.
“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than don my cloche again.”
“Even if it involves Edith Parsnip?”
“Especially if it involves Edith Parsnip!” said Dorothy, whose reasons to dislike Edith were many and various.
“OK. I heard that she visited Kelly on several occasion, Dorothy. I want to know why and when and if she was around there yesterday afternoon.”
“And you are quite sure that is not a job for Hilda?” said Dorothy, who was quite bruised at the idea that Hilda Bone could be included in agency work.
“Quite sure. Hilda is fine spying behind her drapes, but I don’t want her trooping around in our name.”
“OK. When do I start?”
“Soon,” said Cleo.
“Then I’ll be on my way.”
“Just hold your horses for a moment, Dorothy. You don’t know everything yet.”
“I think I can guess the rest.”
“If Edith has been messing around with Kelly, Robert would have a motive to kill him, wouldn’t he?” said Dorothy.
“But that would mean that Robert was carrying on with Edith again.”
“I heard a rumour that he is.”
“You did not tell me that, Dorothy.”
“It’s only gossip and not fresh.”
“My verbose neighbour’s: Jane Barker.”
“I thought she was busy trying to find a lodger.”
“At that time she was. The gossip came up incidentally.”
“That’s the way all gossip evolves,” said Cleo. “It’s a bit like postman’s knock.”
“The trick is to filter the truth,” said Dorothy.
“That’s why I’m putting you on this investigation,” said Cleo. “You seem to have a knack of sorting out the truth from the lies.”
“Goodness. That is a compliment.”
“It’s meant to be. Let me know how you get on.”
“Now you hold your horses, Cleo.”
“We will also need to know where Robert was on Monday afternoon. If your ex is not to be a suspect, we’ll have to prove that he was somewhere else at the time.”
“Kelly was shot on the Common, Dorothy. I shouldn’t think Robert would go there on a Monday afternoon. He has a shop to run.”
“Maybe he took time off. He has an assistant.”
“Robert does not take time off, Dorothy.”
“I beg to differ, but we’ll also need to know what took Kelly to the Common, assuming he wasn’t carried there dead.”
“Chris Winter does not think he was moved after being shot.”
“OK. Then we need the calibre of the gun and who it belongs to.”
“Assuming it’s licenced.”
“You could ask around, Cleo. There’s a gun-shop in Middlethumpton. It’s mainly for sport weapons, but I got my new pistol there.”
“Where did you get your licence?”
“Greg arranged it, but I already had a Home Office licence from my father’s old pistol. I had to apply for that long ago, after he bequeathed me the gun.”
“Awesome, Dorothy. I must confess that I don’t know the regulations here.”
“Just believe me that it’s difficult to get a licence. It helps if you belong to a shooting club or have a helpful cop to get you organized.”
“But not every gun is licenced, is it?”
“Guns are only licenced as belonging to the person who owns them who has to have a licence,” said Dorothy. “We may be looking for a needle in a haystack if someone has stolen a gun or carries it illegally. That person will surely have disposed of a weapon used to kill. I know I would.”
“It may be a good reason not to be armed, Dorothy.”
“No one knows I have a small lady’s pistol in my handbag, Cleo, and I feel safer.”
“I can’t argue with that. Good luck with your research, Dorothy.”
“Have you talked to Edith or Robert? That could be a better way forward.”
“I certainly don’t want to talk to Robert,” said Cleo.”He was acting strangely when he delivered the steaks yesterday.”
“Is that why you suspect him?”
“I’ll have to think about that.”
“But you could talk to Edith. Shall I talk to Robert?”
“No Dorothy. We’ll leave that to Gary, but I’ll walk over to the vicarage now and see if Edith’s at home.”
“Let me know what happens. I won’t start my job until tomorrow.”
“Dinner tonight, Dorothy?”
“Are you inviting me?”
“I’m sure you’d like to meet Joe, wouldn’t you?”
“I can’t wait!”
All the children were home before Cleo got going to the vicarage. As usual, Grit was amicable about baby-sitting and Joe said he would help Charlie with her maths homework, which really meant that she would explain it all to him. He could not help her with her French, but was a talented cartoonist and soon had her laughing over characters he had met that day at HQ.
“I’ve made one of Gloria’s casseroles for tonight, Cleo,” Grit announced.
“Did my mother give you one of her sacred recipes, Grit?”
“She’s never given me one.”
“This one is new, she says. It contains pasta instead of potatoes.”
“It must be one of Romano’s recipes then and it probably looks and tastes like cannelloni or even lasagne, Grit, but we’ll enjoy it, whatever it is! I’ll be back in about an hour.”
“I’ll cater for the children. What about my big boys?”
“Now you’re asking!”
Cleo walked to the vicarage. She needed more thinking time than three minutes in the car would have given her and anyway, Gary had driven to HQ in the red sports car and she did not like driving the heavy family bus, though it was really only a large car with a hatchback and room for three car seats for the children when the twins were big enough to use them. Even so, Gary was now thinking about changing that car for a mini-bus. He could carry up to eight passengers without a carrier licence, he said. They would have to limit the family to six or at the most seven children, regrettably.
“I think even I’ll have had enough by then,” Cleo had remarked.
“Famous last words,” Gary had said.
Edith was making tea for herself and Mary Baker, the young curate. Mary had to go to a whist drive for OAPs and anyone else who could deal with being beaten by superior card sharpers. She could not play whist, she said. Edith was trying to explain the game.
“Why don’t you go, Edith?” said Mary.
“Because you are in charge now, Mary,” she said.
“But you know everyone. Let’s go together.”
“I think that’s a good idea, Edith,” said Cleo, who had found her way round to the kitchen door and entered. “You should not forget all those nice people who depended on you so much in the past.”
“But they don’t approve of me now,” said Edith.
“Why not?” said Mary Baker, who seemed to be in the dark about Edith’s promiscuity.
“I need to talk with Cleo now she’s here, Mary,” said Edith. “I’ll join you later, shall I?”
Mary Baker ate her beans on toast hastily and swallowed a few gulps of orange juice before she headed for the church hall, where the whist drive had been arranged. It was Tuesday, so the little group of Upper Grumpsfield Muslims would be at prayer until seven, after which some of them would join in at the card tables. Mary’s idea of promoting integration by lending the church for Muslim prayers was going well.
“So now we can talk, Edith,” said Cleo.
“If you want to talk about Robert and me, I’d rather not,” said Edith.
“That isn’t what’s bothering me right now,” said Cleo, “but if you want to tell me something, I’ll be glad to listen.”
“He came back, Cleo.”
“Were you kind and gentle with him?”
“I’ve been having therapy. I’m so ashamed of what I did to him.”
“So things are better between you now.”
“The therapist said I could get the sex thing out of my system by talking to Robert about it, but I had a better idea.”
Cleo did not really want to hear about Edith’s idea that was to transcend talking to Robert about her problem, but she had to.
“Do you want me to guess, Edith?”
“I don’t think you can.”
Cleo wondered if she really should go ahead with what she now suspected could explain Edith’s visits to Kelly.
“I think you found someone with whom you could … well, enjoy what you enjoyed with Robert that he did not want, but you did.”
“He paid me, Cleo.”
“Did you go to help him with the housework? Everyone gets paid for doing that kind of work.”
“I thought it would be like that and I needed the money, but he wanted more, and I needed more, so we combined the cleaning with ….sex games.”
Edith was lying. She knew all about Kelly’s past life and present management of his illegal brothel. Cleo was sure that Edith had had more on her mind than clearing up Kelly’s farm kitchen when she asked him for a job, and it was quite obvious that Kelly would jump at the chance of experiencing what had become a local scandal surrounding Edith. Not least, it was important to Cleo that Edith confirmed what had been on Dorothy’s mind and was now on hers.
“You are talking about Paddy Kelly, aren’t you Edith?”
“Yes, Cleo. Is that very bad?”
“I can’t judge that. When did you last go there?”
“Early yesterday morning, as usual. We had a nice time.”
It took Cleo quite a lot of self-control not to make an apt comment about Edith’s lewdness and Kelly’s shameless advantage-taking.
“He didn’t force you, did he?” Cleo had to ask.
“Oh no. Cleo. He was nice to me.”
Cleo decided not to ask Edith to describe what she meant by that.
“And then you went home to the vicarage, I suppose.”
“Yes. Robert said he would come in the afternoon because he had arranged for his assistant to be at the shop, but he never came, Cleo.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure,” said Edith. “I’ll have to go now. Can we talk again some time?”
“Sure. I expect you know what happened to Kelly, don’t you?”
Edith shook her head.
“You should know before you face those pensioners, Edith. Paddy Kelly was shot dead on the Common yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh, no!” said Edith. “What shall I do without his support?”
“We’ll have to figure that out another time.”
“I suppose so. Thank you for coming.”
Edith slipped into her winter coat. I was August, of course, but Edith was shivering and white with the shock of hearing about Kelly’s fate, thought evidently only as to how it would affect her life.
Cleo and Edith left the vicarage together.
Robert could not claim an alibi from Edith for Monday afternoon. Where did he go? He would have to produce a watertight alibi for the previous afternoon.
Cleo would write her report that evening so that Edith’s remarks would be documented before Robert’s alibi was investigated. Cleo did not think he could have shot Kelly, but it was certainly a possibility.
When Cleo got home she was amazed at the level of activity. The babies had been fed and changed in a joint effort by Gary and Joe; PeggySue had finished her supper and been bathed and dressed in her pyjamas; Charlie was laying the table for dinner. Only Grit was nowhere to be seen, but that mystery solved itself when Grit returned dressed for an evening out.
“Wow! When will Roger be here, Grit?” said Cleo.
“He can’t make dinner but he’ll be here at nine to collect me,” said Grit.
“I didn’t know that Middlethumpton had a night life on a Wednesday.”
“It doesn’t. We’re driving to Oxford. There’s a great jazz club there.”
“So you won’t be back until very late, will you?”
“I’ll stay over and come home in time for breakfast,” said Grit.
That statement invited curious glances.
“I don’t think I’m up to date,” said Gary. “Are you staying the night at Roger’s place, Mother?”
“Does that bother you?”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Cleo chipped in. “Enjoy life, Grit.”
“I plan to,” said Grit.
“Dinner’s in ten minutes,” said Cleo.
The two youngest Hurleys were back in the permanently installed playpen since that was the most practical solution to keeping an eye on them. PeggySue was fast asleep. Charlie was now getting Joe to sketch her Daddy. The result was hilarious.
“If the cap fits…” said Gary, not really approving.
“Cartoons are going to be a standard feature of the new police gazette,” said Joe.
“That should be an eye-opener,” said Cleo.
“I’ll do court scenes as cartoons too, but the serious kind,” said Joe.
“How about coming to the table, you guys? Better not wait too long. Charlie is already helping herself to salad.”
“The pasta casserole was pronounced delicious by all.”
“I’ve eaten it before,” said Gary.
“Gloria gave me the recipe,” said Grit.
“Romano’s gourmet touch again,” said Gary. “We’ll have lunch there tomorrow, Joe, if you have time. We could share a vast pizza.”
“I’ll make time, Gary. I haven’t met Gloria yet.”
“You’re in for a surprise,” said Grit.
“My mother is not always on her best behaviour, Joe, and she’s as flamboyant as I am staid.”
“I don’t remember you ever being staid,” said Gary.
“I think Cleo means normal,” said Dorothy, who had been marvelling non-stop at the uncanny likeness of Joe and Gary.
“Bed-time, young lady,” said Gary, since Charlie was too tired even to ask what staid was. “Come on, Joe. We’ll get the boys to bed.”
“I was going anyway,” said Charlie. “What’s staid, Daddy?”
“I’ll take you,” said Grit. Charlie was already a big girl, but she appreciated having her grandmother to tuck her in.
“We’ll all take you all,” said Gary, and they trooped into the kiddies’ room. The chaotic bedtime proceedings had finished by Roger arrived to collect Grit for their date.
“By the way,” Joe announced when Grit was safely out of hearing distance, “I want it to be a surprise for Mother. Charlotte will be here at the weekend.”
“Wow! When did you arrange that?”
“Yesterday. I’m here to stay, Cleo, and I want my daughter to be part of this family.”
“We want that, too, Joe,” said Gary. “Charlie will be delighted.”
“She can go with me to the airport if you’ll allow it,” said Joe.
“What a brilliant idea, but not instead of her hockey match,” said Cleo
“Definitely not. I’ll go along too, if I may,” said Gary.
“You’ll probably hate the hockey, Joe. Those girls are vicious little amazons when you put a weapon in their hands.”
“I hope Charlotte plays, then. She could do with something more temperamental than croquet on the boarding school lawn.”
Joe decided to go home to Grit’s cottage and work on his ideas for the police gazette layout after he had jogged to Jane Barker’s house to collect Dog for his evening run. He had already decided to adopt Dog. Now he had to break the news to Mrs Barker. To his surprise, his offer was received with undisguised delight. Jane had not known what to do with the animal. It howled all night in its kennel and made naughty heaps in the vegetable patch, which was admittedly unkempt since Jane did not do gardening. She would pack Emanuel’s food and doggie bowls in a large shopping bag and he could take the dog now.
“Let’s have an early night,” said Gary about half an hour later.
“I was about to go, Gary. You won’t have to throw me out.”
“I’d never do that,” said Gary. “I think you must have more to tell me, Ladies, so fire away..”
“I’ll just tell you briefly about my visit to the vicarage, shall I?” said Cleo, and proceeded to leave her listeners in no doubt that Edith had behaved in a depraved manner and Robert had a problem.
Dorothy would have to ask around about both of them. Gary thought Robert would have to be questioned. He would have to see to that next morning. If Robert did not have a believable alibi, he was really in trouble. Cleo did not want to believe that Robert would go to such drastic length as to kill, but as Gary put it, she had spent her life preaching that you could not tell a killer from anyone else.
Gary escorted Dorothy home while Cleo gave the twins their last feed of the day. She was looking forward to having Gary to herself for a change and hoped they could get beyond the shop talk.
“We’ll take one of those communal showers, shall we?” he announced.
“We’ll wash the day right out of our hair,” said Cleo.
“And get in that shower cabin as long as we fit, bearing in mind that our family is still expanding.”
“Does that bother you after all, Gary?”
“Certainly not, my love. It’s all part of the package.”