29 March 2017

12 - Precautions and Cautions

Friday August 8

Cleo and Gary’s reactions to Dorothy’s account of her talks to Rita’s neighbours were predictable. Gary pointed out that if the witnesses had seen something suspicious and had not already come forward, they were unlikely to. Only one of the dwellers at number 7 had been questioned so the information was too scanty. Frank had indeed used a key to get into Rita’s salon although he was supposed to have moved out. The only other useful information was that Rita had received frequent visits from men.
“She probably supplemented her income that way,” Dorothy said.
“I hope not,” said Gary. “Using a hairdressing salon as a brothel would be undesirable, to say the least, and illegal to boot.”
Cleo decided that her first task would be to talk to Rita, especially about the key and the true reason that Frank had moved out. Before that could happen, the police hacker would call in the office and dismount anything Frank had built into the technical works and transfer all the data and any relevant emails from Frank’s designated sphere to a directory created for the purpose. That would not take long, he assured Cleo.
It didn’t, quite apart from the password being written on a piece of tape and stuck on under Frank’s desk. That was a common practice, apparently, surprising in someone who had enough criminal energy to stash away a fortune in heroin at a harmless hairdressing salon. Frank had kept his agency business open for Cleo to consult so she automatically had a copy of cases he had been asked to investigate. His other business was under figurative lock and key.
“I should have guessed,” said Cleo.
“It’s normal human behaviour,” said the hacker, adding that there were inevitably private, undetectable pages on public computers if the users knew what they were doing and could do. The hacker guy was a slick type named Mack who turned out to have joined the team at HQ after being caught by a different hacker who wanted to profit from telling on his ‘colleague’. If that explanation sounds like something out of a Pooh Bear story in which one honey-stealer accuses another, they would not be far wrong. One hacker had been ‘set’ on another by MI5 and nobody told on anyone there – or did they? 
Suffice it to say that Mack survived whatever was going on while the other hacker absconded and was never heard of again. Mack was in an even better position of trust after revealing a lot of gunge on the central processing units at HQ. He had subsequently cleaned it all up and now did regular checks – so he said.
To Cleo’s horror, one of the checks on the community office computer included detecting that Frank had organized full access to the drugs squad database at HQ and also full access to anything private that Cleo had entered.
“Another nail in his coffin,” remarked Cleo.
“You’ll be lucky. I know Wetherby. He’s as slippery as an eel,” said Mack.
“How do you know him?”
“Trade secret. He calls himself Froth, Miss Hartley. He’s a regular on dealer pages.”
Cleo refrained from asking Mack why he consulted drug sites, hoping that it was only in his line of duty. She also refrained from pressing Mack to tell her how he knew that Froth was Frank since she was sure that he would not say.
“You seem to know a lot,” said Cleo.
“Too much for one person,” said Mack. “The problem is that all good hackers can get into any ID and wreck havoc. I work for the bosses at HQ these days. Others make a better use of what they find out.”
“I should have thought a good job and a position of trust were preferable to a prison cell, Mr Mack. I expect someone is keeping a watch on you as well.”
“They’d have to prove something, Miss Hartley. And BTW I’m just Mack,” said Mack. “My parents had the bright idea of giving me a first name to match the second, so I’m Mackintosh Mcintosh spelt like on my card,” he said, handing one to her.
“My mother named me Cleopatra, Mack. I won’t bore you with a list of names I was called as a kid.”
Mack smiled and Cleo was sure he was too good to be true.
“Do you think Froth could have hacked into anything else?” said Cleo.
“It’s like an addiction,” said Mack. “Once you have the knack, you can really go to town. He may have used a private laptop for other excursions.”
Cleo vowed to warn Gary and through Gary, find out why Roger and his colleagues had decided to trust Mack.
***
Grit happily looked after the children on mornings Cleo had to be out. Charlie had invited Helen and Brass’s daughter Lilac to play at the cottage. Cecilia was packing to go on holiday and had no time. Cleo would leave Grit with the children and  meet Mrs Colby at her office as arranged. She also planned to ask Rita to come to her office later that morning. Mack had finished his work before Mrs Colby arrived. She had taken the wrong bus.
“Don’t you have a car, Mrs Colby?” Cleo asked.
“No point. Mrs Hurley. I live within walking distance of my job at the town hall and can go everywhere else by train or bus.”
***
Gary was anxious to get to HQ but first he had to drop Joe off at the car salesroom. He had decided to borrow a car until the one he had ordered was delivered. Grit needed her mini more often since she had paired up with Roger.
“So much for sluggish business at the agency,” Gary had said at breakfast. “You’ll be inundated with witnesses of that bonfire once people realize that their homes could also be in danger. We let them believe that if it helps us to get nearer to catching the arsonist.”
“I’m glad I have a job for Dorothy. She was getting quite suspicious of there being nothing to do. I wonder how Hilda is getting on.”
“As long as she just spies through the nets she’s harmless, Cleo. We’ll have to wait for more information about Kelly’s life and death and Hilda will not be able to supply it even by guesswork.”
“We can be sure that she will get in touch if anything happens.”
“Assuming she sees it. I wonder who that car driver was,” said Gary.
“Someone who did not know that the stone cutter had met his maker, Gary.”
“That suggests that he was not from the trade. If Burton was an artisan skilled enough to attract the custom of an international gem trader, the news of his death would have been circulated.”
“That won’t make it any easier to find the guy,” said Cleo. “I might not even be worth the trouble.”
“I’m actually more interested in Frank Wetherby’s activities,” said Gary. “Kelly probably led a more or less blameless life except for his activities as a pimp, so his killer could be from his personal contacts rather than a business rival.”
“Couldn’t we make a determined effort to find his relatives?” said Cleo.
“We can wait and see what’s in those files,” said Gary. “We don’t know how many lies Kelly told about his origins. I doubt whether contacts were followed up once it was clear that Kelly had not actually committed a crime. We certainly let him go in the Magda case.”
“He was innocent Gary.”
“Was he?”
“What could have been his motive?”
“It sounds a bit ludicrous, but I’d tip on jealousy.”
***
Mrs Colby was friendly, but nervous. Cleo showed her photos of the twins and served coffee before asking the registrar what the problem was.
“I know I should not have waited this long,” said Mrs Colby. “But you were so busy with the wedding arrangements and impending birth that I felt it would be wrong timing.”
“I would have been in touch myself, Mrs Colby, but the twins came a month sooner than expected and I have been kind of busy ever since.”
“My problem can wait if it’s too much, Mrs Hurley.”
“It’s waited long enough,” said Cleo. “The babies are almost weaned and my mother-in-law loves being in charge, so tell me what’s bothering you.”
“I have a teenage daughter, Mrs Hurley, and she has left home,” Mrs Colby started.
“That’s not unusual unless ….”
Cleo hesitated and decided not to put any ideas forward. She thought that Mrs Colby would have had time to do anything she could do herself, but would not know about the effect lover-boys can have on vulnerable teenagers.
“Do you have her address, Mrs Colby?”
“No. I got a letter from Jo shortly before your marriage telling me to leave her alone.”
“So she’s been gone for up to five months, hasn’t she?”
“Yes.”
“How old is she?”
“Eighteen.”
“Then she is by definition an adult. I can’t look for people who don’t want to be found and have not committed a crime. Do you know where she went after she left home?”
“I think she went to London. I got a postcard of Tower Bridge that said she was fine and that’s the last I’ve heard from her.”
“What about relatives, Mrs Colby?”
“I have a brother but no contact with him. I’ve been divorced for about a decade. Jo’s father went to work on an oilrig somewhere. He’s an engineer. Earns a lot of money I see nothing of. He was never interested in his daughter, Mrs Hurley.”
“Do you think he might know where the girl is, Mrs Colby?”
“I don’t know where he is.”
“Then we should locate him and ask him.”
“Do we have to?”
“He may know something about your daughter. What is her full name?”
“Joanna Colby”
“So you still go by your married name, Mrs Colby.”
“Yes.”
“I’ll look for Joanna, but if I find her I’ll have to ask her if she wants you to know where she is.”
“I understand that.”
“Do you have a photo of her?”
Mrs Colby gave Cleo a couple of snapshots. Cleo scanned them into her computer and said she would start right away.
“It’s such a pity that you did not tell me sooner,” said Cleo. “The longer she is away, the harder it will be to find her.”
“I thought she might come home of her own accord, Mrs Hurley.”
“Parents never give up hope, Mrs Colby.”
“I never reported her as missing. Was that a mistake?”
“Yes and no. Being hunted down is not something anyone likes and the police can be heavy-handed when the y ask around, which could lead to someone else who is missing seeing that as a warning or even mean danger for the person being looked for. Joanna might have disappeared for ever if you had tried to find her through the police and she would recognize you and hide if that’s what she wanted to do. What is your ex-husband’s full name?
“Andrew, Mrs Hurley, but he liked to be called Andy so I don’t know which name he goes by now.”
“No middle name?”
“No.”
“My husband will look for him. There is just one thing, Mrs Colby,” said Cleo.” We will try not to make the search for your daughter public, but such enquiries go through many hands, so we cannot rule it out.”
“You’d better not try to find her then,” said Mrs Colby. “I need my job, Mrs Hurley.”
“Don’t you need your daughter more?” said Cleo. “They must both be located, your daughter because she has been missing for far too long and your ex because he might know where she is. You will have no peace of mind until you know the truth.”
“I’m not sure I can ever return to such a sublime state,” said Mrs Colby.
***
Cleo was not impressed with Mrs Colby’s attitude to looking for her daughter. The woman was steeped in selfishness and self-pity. Cleo decided to go ahead with the hunt, not least because she herself was worried about the girl. She would send Joanna Colby’s photo to Gary and ask him to put it through the missing persons’ database. A photo of Andrew Colby would have been a help, but men could change their looks very easily with beards, glasses and a new hairstyle or coloration. She would ask Mrs Colby for a photo of her ex only if it was not possible to trace him on the basis of his name and occupation.
Gary agreed that the girl must be found and thought likely that firms hiring out oilrig workers might have the engineer Colby on their books.
***
Cleo was just clearing up her desk before going home when the phone rang. It was Bertie Browne, someone Cleo certainly did not want to talk to.
“What’s all this?” said Browne. “Has the Colby girl  gone missing?”
“Who is the Colby girl, Mr Browne?”
“You know damn well who that is. You should not use your desk phone if you don’t want information to get into the wrong hands, Miss Hartley.”
“What are you talking about, Mr Browne.”
“That police hacker did not do a good job, Miss Hartley. Your phone is bugged. Didn’t you know that?”
“Would you care to tell me in words of one syllable what you are talking about?” said Cleo, wondering if the phone bugging had been organized by Mack.
“I got a tip-off ten minutes ago that the registrar woman is looking for her daughter. That can only be Colby.”
“I’m flabbergasted. I should thank you for phoning me,” said Cleo.
“Yes you should. So the girl has gone missing, hasn’t she? That’ll make good reading in the Monday edition of my Gazette, Miss Hartley.”
“Don’t do it, Mr Browne. There would be dire consequences for you.”
“Stuff it, Cleo. Your call to Hurley was like you made a public announcement.”
“I’m shattered, Mr Browne, and don’t address me by my first name. I’m polite with you.”
“OK, OK. So you didn’t know about the phone-tapping. It might only be a recent addition to your communications system. That hacker Mack is rather an unknown quantity. I’m surprise that he goes i9n and out of HQ.”
“Do you understand what’s at stake, Mr Browne? Would you like to be responsible for a suicide or murder even if it would make really good reading in your Gazette?”
“You don’t understand the workings of the free press, Miss Hartley.”
“I think I do, Mr Browne. Would you promise me to wait till the Thursday edition if I promise to give you details of progress?  It gives me a week and your Monday edition is always very popular anyhow.”
There was a long pause.
“I’ll do it, Miss Hartley. You are a decent person and your brother- in-law brought in a lot of business. I’m now waiting for more information about his reunion with his family.”
“Thank you Mr Browne. You’ll get it. What’s more, I’ll reward you for your discretion by telling you that Joe Butler is collecting his daughter from the airport some time tomorrow. That’s a nice story he won’t mind you telling, and I’m sure you will get more new readers by publishing a happy story rather than a sad one.”
“Wow, Miss Hartley. You are quite a girl,” said Bertie Browne despite himself.
“My husband thinks so, too,” said Cleo.
The air seemed to be cleared.
“Can I check back on Sunday morning,” said Bertie.
“Sure. You know my cell phone number. Better use it in case someone is listening in to one of my net phones. But don’t expect a clear photo of the girl. Maybe I can get one of the airport meeting, but the girl’s face must not be recognizable; you know that.”
“Of course, Miss Hartley. It might surprise you that I have grown children of my own.”
“That does surprise me, Mr Browne. I thought you were …”
“Gay? No. It’s all an act. People seem to like it that way.”
***
Cleo had plenty to tell Gary when they met at the cottage for a very belated lunch and she would have to break the news to Joe that his reunion with his daughter was the price for discretion about the missing Colby girl.
But she need not have worried. Joe had fed the news of finding his mother through for a short note in the Gazette the day before with a solemn promise to get photos for the following week. Now Charlotte would also be on the photos. That was no big deal in his view. Her face would be blurred so that it was not unrecognizable. Bertie Browne would have to agree to that condition of publishing.
“He will,” said Cleo. “He has kids of his own.”
“How the hell do you know that?” said Gary.
“He told me,” said Cleo. “We are quite good friends now.”
The news that Cleo’s phone at the office was bugged was more dramatic. Gary wondered why Mack had not mentioned it. Did that prove that he or Frank Wetherby was a crook? The hacker had not suggested that, possibly because he thought that would be the first check Cleo would have made, or, Gary had to admit, because the hacker was himself going to make sure that Cleo’s business continued to be porous.
“We’ll have to thank Bertie Browne for that coded warning, Cleo.”
“It wasn’t coded. He rang to find out if the news about the Colby girl was true and told me how he had found out.”
Gary wondered if that hacker really had removed one weak link and installed another. Why would he do that? Criminal energy going to waste otherwise or was there a more sinister reason? He immediately drove to Cleo’s office and removed the bug. Gary also checked for other security gaps, but could find none. He phoned his office, but Nigel was not there and Roger had gone out for a round of golf He could not tell either what the calls were about without leaving a message, which he was not going to do since it would be doing a hacker a favour by warning him. He had not decided how to approach Mack McIntosh. He wrote Roger a text warning him of the ongoing hacker activities at HQ. Who had recommended Mack?
***
Cleo decided to go without a siesta, since she had not yet talked to Mr Tailor alias R.D. Day. Dorothy had told her that Tailor knew about the activities at Kelly’s farmhouse and would like to talk about them in more detail. Before going there she passed on Dorothy’s information about Tailor’s desire to purchase some or all of the Kelly property. Colin Peck was prepared to advise Mr Tailor. He was glad to have something legal to practise on. The files in the HQ archive were one scandal after another and riddled with faulty judgments. Things got better after Roger Stone joined the management, but Colin was planning to write about the subversive activities at HQ in earlier days. Were they typical of what went on in the police force? Was subversiveness a typical human trait? Cleo would give Mr Tailor Colin’s phone number. He could ask for a consultation if he so wished.
The interview with Tailor at the coffee bar in Lower Grumpsfield  did not go the way Cleo had meant it to. Tailor was grateful that Cleo had made the link between him and a young lawyer possible. Surveyors had already been seen on Kelly’s land. It would not be long before the property was put up for sale. He would have to move fast.
Tailor’s description of what went on at Kelly’s farmhouse was familiar to Cleo, but the confirmation was reassuring. Now it became essential to find out if Robert Jones had been on the Common on that fatal Monday afternoon. Kelly’s murder had taken place quite near. Where had Tailor been that afternoon?
“Am I a suspect, Miss Hartley? If so, it’s the police who should be asking me that question.”
“But I’m asking it, Mr Tailor. If you could tell me that you spend the afternoon at home with a female visitor, we could leave the police out.”
“That’s a quant idea,” said Tailor.
“For instance, if you were friendly with Rita Bailey…”
“Rita?”
“Didn’t she stay with you on Tuesday night?”
“How do you know that?
“Was she here all day Monday? Her salon is not open on Mondays, is it?”
“She’s just a friend.”
“Was she here at the weekend, too?”
“Why do you need to know all that?”
“Because you need alibis, Mr Tailor.”
“For what?”
“Murder. Arson,” said Cleo. “You see, Mr Tailor, I’ve read some of your books and the crimes you solve in them have a personal quality.”
“I’m leaving. This is ridiculous,
“I expect we’ll meet again soon,” said Cleo.

She felt gratified that Tailor had seemed very uncomfortable with the suggestion that he committed crimes so that he could write about them. She was less gratified that Tailor had left her to pick up the tab for their coffee.