14 April 2017

!9 - Finding's keeping

Thursday August 14

“I did not get the impression last night that your business partner is on the point of retiring,” said Gary, as he watched PeggySue making inroads into her breakfast müsli.
“Semi-retiring, whatever that means,” said Cleo. “She’s putting a lot of thought into the Edith affair.”
“Talk about Jekyll and Hyde! Not Dorothy. Edith Parsnip is leading a formidable double life.”
“Not any more. Her wings have been clipped, Gary.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that, but at least she is leaving Robert alone.”
“I hope she is. Robert was at the end of his tether with her and he is not out of the woods yet. We don’t know if he had a hand in Kelly’s killing.”
“Talk to Rita. She may have names of men she amused. I think I’d like to send Barbara Fielding on that mission. Mia Curlew could accompany her and together they could deal with a wife who seemed suspicious or tried to blame others.”
Cleo phoned Rita and arranged to meet her at the office. She did not say why.
“Rather you than me, Cleo. Embarrassing talks with profligate ‘ladies’ is not my thing at all.  I’ll trace Sophia.”
“Another profligate, Gary.”
“I won’t do much talking. I’ll pass her on to you!”
“Thanks a bunch!”
 “I think I might call in at Robert’s shop,” said Gary. “If Sophia worked there he probably has her full name and address. In fact, I’ll do that after breakfast. We mustn’t leave any stone unturned at risk of Dorothy taking umbrage at our slackness.”
“If Dorothy had not left that gun where it could be found, Kelly would still be alive. I don’t think Dorothy can afford to be offended,” said Cleo.
“Sad, but true,” said Gary.
***
The family butcher's shop was fortunately almost devoid of customers when Gary went in.
“Good morning, Robert. Can you tell me what happened to your sales girl named Sophia?” said Gary, wasting no time on niceties.
“Sophia Benvenuto,” Robert said. “A totally hopeless assistant.”
“That’s a very Italian name. I thought she was Russian.”
“A Russian mother apparently. That’s where she lives, too. Not in Russia. With her mother. Mr Benvenuto left home years ago. Sophia supports half a dozen brothers and sisters. That’s the only reason she lasted more than a week here.”
“She found somewhere else to work for more money, Robert.”
“At Kelly’s, despite her bun in the oven. Gossip gets round here fast, Gary.”
“Do you have her address?”
Robert looked in the B list of his phone book.
“Middlethumpton. 24, St Michael’s Street. Just past the Catholic Church, she said.”
“I wonder where she will work now Kelly is dead?”
“Not here. She came in only yesterday wanting her job back. But my favourite assistant told her she was too late.”
“As if she had heard her name, Gloria appeared from the back room. She had been making sausage rolls again. They sold like hot cakes. Gloria was sure she had invented them. She had almost. She rolled the sausages in very thinly sliced Parma ham before they went into their pastry wrapping. Parma ham was luxury pure.”
“Just out of the oven,” Gloria said now, “Take half a dozen,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll find people to eat them.”
Gary wanted to pay for them, but Gloria said it was her treat.
“Let me know about the flat, Gloria!”
“I sure will.”
“Thanks for the information, Robert.”
“Why did you need it?”
“It’s a long story. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m hoping to surprise the girl into being cooperative.”
“She’s far too cooperative in my view,” said Robert.
***
Sophia’s mother opened the door and Gary was rushed into the living-room when he identified himself with his ID card. Mrs Benvenuto was one of those people who preferred not to be seen talking to a cop.
“You’ve come about the murder, haven’t you?” she said.
 “Not directly, Mrs Benvenuto. Is your daughter here?”
“She’s been out looking for a job.”
“And did she find one?”
“She can start work at the slot machine palace, but I’m not happy about it. Really strange people go there, but we need the money. I don’t know if she’s had any other offers.”
Mrs Benvenuto spoke with a slight lilt. She had a lot of hair dyed yellowish and stacked untidily. The house was poorly furnished and a bit messy, but she seemed respectable. Gary thought she would have disapproved of her daughter’s job at Kelly’s.
Boys of various ages were kicking a ball about on the neighbouring churchyard. A little girl was sitting at a table trying to sew on a button.
“My children, said Mrs Benvenuto pointing to them. “Sophia is the eldest. She’s good girl really, Mr Hurley.”
“I’m sure she is,” said Gary.
“It’s the men who are bad. Girls would not do prostitution if men did not pay for it.”
“I’m sure you are right, Mrs Benvenuto. But she’s out of it now, isn’t she?”
“I hope so, though it pays better than other jobs.”
Gary wondered about the ethics of not wanting the girl to be a hooker but enjoying the proceeds.
Sophia came down the stairs and greeted Gary as if he were a friend or a prospective client. She did not look pregnant. Where was the baby?
“I only want to ask you for the names of the men you met at Kelly’s,” said Gary tactfully, noticing that Sophia was not behaving much like the good girl her mother had said she was.
Surprisingly, because Sophia was provocatively dressed and heavily made up, she looked ashamed.
“I know all about what went on, Sophia. I’m not here to judge you, but we think that the wife of one of those men might have killed Kelly.”
Sophia now added shock to embarrassment.
“I don’t know their names Sir. Some are regulars at that pub in Huddlecourt Minor. One was called John.”
“Are they indeed? Then I’ll start there,” said Gary. “And don’t worry, Sophia. I won’t say who told me about them, but let me know if you think of any other names.”
“Thank you. I don’t want any trouble.”
Gary handed her a business card.
“If you want to avoid trouble, don’t work at that slot machine palace, Sophia.”
“I’ve got to work somewhere,” said Sophia.
“Why don’t you ask in the canteen at Police Headquarters, Sophia? They are often looking for waitresses and cashiers and may have a job for you.”
“Work for the police?”
“Do it today, Sophia, if you can. Are you still nursing your baby?”
“Upstairs. My mum’s looking after it.”
“Do you need social services, Sophia? They are helpful.”
“No.”
“Is the father going to support you financially?”
“It was forced on me,” Sophia said, “but I would have kept it.”
“Tell me who raped you and I’ll get him for it,” said Gary.
“Kelly before I went to work for him. The men there did not force me.”
Gary wondered how informed about health and safety Sophia had been, quite apart from going to work for a man who had forced sex on her. Presumably Kelly had not bothered about that and neither had she. Another nail in the coffin of the vice squad was that they had not managed to find and close down the illegal brothel. It was time he took over and combined vice with homicide until a more efficient organization could be formed.
“You’ve been through a bad patch, Sophia, haven’t you? Would you like to talk to my wife about it? She can help you get over it.”
Sophia nodded. Mrs Benvenuto said that would be a good idea if it didn’t cost anything.
“And tell them at HQ that Chief Inspector Hurley sent you to find a job.”
“Yes Sir.”
Gary left soon after. He found such scenes upsetting. At HQ, he phoned down to the canteen and told them to look kindly on a girl called Sophia who needed a job.
***
Gary mused on the idea that Sophia had a motive. Supposing that Kelly had denied the rape and fatherhood, she might have taken revenge after finding the laundry-basket dumped somewhere and discovering the gun. He phoned Cleo and suggest it. She would talk to the girl and get her to confess if she had anything to confess to.
Gary told Cleo that would go straight to Molly Moss’s pub in Huddlecourt Minor. Sophia had told him that some of the pub regulars were also regulars at Kelly’s place. It was a pity that Kelly had been killed before they could put him behind bars for rape and get him to support Sophia’s child, which was the result of that rape. There was no reason to disbelieve the young woman. DNA would verify the fatherhood if necessary.”
“Then the child could inherit part if not all the estate,” said Cleo.
“I think a whole family would benefit from that,” said Gary.
***
Molly’s Huddle Inn had been low on Gary’s list of priorities for quite some time. Once the crimes connect with Molly’s murdered chef cum bedfellow and the unknown corpse had been solved and she had found a new chef for her kitchen and incidentally for her bed, she was back in her old form. For a time she had even planned to hang on to the new lover because he was a very good cook whose innovative ideas had brought in lots of new customers.
But Molly was no longer sure that hanging on to Sean was a good idea, and that may have had something to do with Robert Jones the butcher taking more interest in her than ever before, delivering fresh meat cuts every day and being a good catch for a not-so-young publican. He came daily after work for a beer or a cup of tea, and sat at a table near the bar so that they could talk. Molly liked that. There was something nice about Robert that she missed in the men who jumped into bed with her and jumped out again as often as not to find other beds to occupy.
Robert was a shy admirer, but persistent. He was not sure what was going on between Molly and the new cook, but it did not seem to be going very smoothly. In view of Robert’s attentions, Molly wanted to end the private relationship she had without frightening Sean, a fearsomely choleric Irish guy with a hot temper, into leaving his job. Sean's cooking was superb nouveau cuisine learnt in Paris while his temperament remained volatile. One evening, an unholy row in the kitchen led to the break. Sean dropped tools, packed his things and left Robert to help out in the kitchen, there being no one else to do so.
The idea of Robert actually cooking professionally was new to him and the novelty had not worn off after just a few days. He fondly believed that no one knew. His joy at having Gloria back in the shop complemented his newly found occupation and nursed his desire to shed some of the load of running the shop. For the time being he could only help out at Molly’s during the evening, he told her, but being near this very feminine woman who nevertheless - unlike Edith, who had undressed and seduced him whenever the opportunity arose - behaved respectably and modestly was having an effect on Robert. Molly herself was surprised that she had not invited Robert to take the place of Sean upstairs as well as in the kitchen, but she sensed that he needed time to come up with the suggestion himself. A woman in her forties has learnt to wait for the right moment.
***
The regulars congregated twice a day at Molly’s. At lunch-time Robert was not there, so Gary did not get to see him in the guise of cook and platonic helpmate, but five of the regulars were sitting at their table with the bell overhead to ring for more of whatever was needed. Gary was not sure which approach would get him the best response. In the end he decided on the gentle art of small-talk by donating a round of beer and sitting at their table.
“I smell a cop,” said Fred, who had not been part of the round table for long, but had had enough contact with the police to be aware of them and to beware of strangers.
“Right in one, Fred ….”
“Benson. And you?”
“Hurley,” said Gary, making a mental note of the man’s name.
“Chief Detective Inspector,” said Ron, the oldest of the group.
“Tell me about Kelly,” said Gary, throwing caution to the winds.
“Dead,” said quite a young man named John.
“Didn’t he run some sort of a hotel?” said Gary.
“Rooms-to-go,” sneered John. The women came free and boy did they go.”
“Well, Mr Smith, it’s all over now,” said Gary.
“Armstrong to you, Mr. That’s Smith over there,” he said pointing to a rather red-faced individual across the table.
“Sorry, I’m sure,” said Gary. “Want a round of shorts, friends?”
It seemed as if the regulars would do anything not to have to pay for their drinks. Gary prised himself away after several rounds of the regulars’ favourite shorts without having drunk anything alcoholic himself. Molly had obliged by putting water in his glass and serving his coke without rum. He was not at the pub for the first time and Molly knew the ropes.
***
Back in his car Gary made a note of the names he had heard. It was a good start. His next job would be to talk to his policewomen and send them on a mission to find out more about the spouses who could have killed Kelly They could gradually introduce the topic of a lost laundry-basket that had belonged to a gentle old lady. Not all the Huddle Inn regulars had been clients at Kelly’s establishment, but one or two of those round that table were, judging from their reactions, including John Armstrong, who was quite bold and probably told questionable stories about his visits there. It amazed him how unemployed types at a loose end could afford cigarettes, regular trips to the pub, football matches and even erotic adventures. He could well imagine that any wife forced to budget on a shoestring would not be in agreement with her spouse’s self-indulgence. It remained to be seen whether such indignation was enough motivation for murder. He had not mentioned the hookers who ‘entertained’ Kelly’s clients. On reflection he should have, but it did leave him with an excuse to go there again.
***
Barbara Fielding, who was shrewd and experienced at getting people to talk, thought that getting to know even one of those wives could be helpful. Women often confided on other women and it was even possible that the murderer, if it was one of them, would be known to others. Mia Curlew agreed that getting those women to own up or at least show their guilt would not be difficult. Having experienced Mia‘s skill at interviews, Gary was prepared to go along with any ideas she had. The two sleuths were a good pair.
“Come along to the cottage and tell us both what you experienced,” Gary invited. I’ll be home all evening and I think you should start investigating this afternoon. We need results in the Kelly case and this is the first lead we’ve had.”
“I was coming anyway,” said Barbara.
***
Mia was now working in the vice squad, but Kelly was an unknown quantity there.
“He shouldn’t have been,” said Gary.
“Those guys in the Vice Squad are all at retiring age or wish they were, Gary.”
“I’m going to do something about that,” said Gary. “They could be assigned some other task and younger detectives would get results.”
“Their top boss has been off sick for a year,” said Mia, “and they are constantly giving one another orders and getting nothing done. The only one who does anything there is me, and I have not got the rank to get on with things.”
“I know. You need promotion and that manager should have been replaced. It’s a case of the cat being away. Mia. I’ve put it to Roger that we can merge the squads, at least for the time being, and we will do something about your rank.”
“Why do they need a manager anyway?” Barbara asked.
“Like Roger, or me a step lower heading the homicide squad, he’s supposed to be a coordinator on various levels, but it can't work if the manager is permanently off sick and no one is in charge. Roger Stone gets it right. He delegates stuff to me and talks to top officials. He also uses his influence to get extra funds, but he still makes time for ground work and that’s a wise decision because he’s a cop first and a manager second. The problems are the same everywhere and too often guys are given managerial jobs without knowing what it’s like on the shop floor.”
“They also get enviable perks," said Mia. "We’ll get going now, shall we, Barbara?” 
“Nigel has just printed a list of names and addresses. We hope they are accurate. Tread carefully. If you are speaking to a wife, she could be a killer and might still have the weapon and be ready to use it again. You can access the relevant data on-line and annotate where necessary. I hope there’ll be more contacts when Cleo has talked to Edith, which I expect to happen.”
***
And happen it did.
Cleo was glad that Grit was looking after the little ones so that she could go to the vicarage and talk to Edith herself. Edith thought of Dorothy as a friend to be confided in, but she knew that Cleo would want to use any information if she was investigating a case and that was good because she did not want to tell Dorothy everything.
Edith was cooking and excited. Oscar was bringing all the boys to lunch. She could not really understand why they were not living with her. There was a lot that Edith could not understand, Cleo reflected.
“Talk to me for a minute,” said Cleo, sitting down at the kitchen table. She was surprised to see chairs all around it instead of the usual three-legged stools.
“Nice chairs, aren’t they?” said Edith. “Mary brought them with her. We grownups don’t have to sit on those wobbly stools any more. Coffee, Cleo?”
Cleo was a bit afraid that her visit would be interpreted as dropping in if she did not get to the point quickly.
“You were friendly with Mr Kelly, weren’t you?” she said.
“We had good sex, Cleo. I need good sex these days.”
“So what are you going to do now he’s dead, Edith?”
“Frank isn’t too bad at it and he’s quite young,” said Edith.
Cleo could understand why Dorothy thought Edith was shameless, though she herself thought that Edith talked without shame because she was not ashamed of herself.
“But isn’t he friendly with Rita?” Cleo said.
“Platonic,” said Edith. “He came to me for the nice stuff. Rita is not as good at it.”
Does he come here, Edith?”
“He hasn’t been yet, but he will now Kelly’s is closed,” said Edith.
“He can’t come today, Edith.”
“Is that why you came?”
“No I’m not delivering a message. I happen to know that he has appendicitis. He used to work for me, you know, Edith.”
“He liked you, Cleo. He told me he could imagine having sex with you, but he enjoyed himself with me.”
“I hope you did not tell him I would consent to being unfaithful to Gary,” said Cleo.
“Of course not. I don’t want him going anywhere else, Cleo.”
Even Cleo found it hard to ask Edith questions she did not misinterpret.
“Did anyone else come to you, Edith?”
“For fun and games? All of them, silly,” she said.
“Do you know their names? You might want to see them again.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. If I give you some names, can you find out where they live, Cleo?”
“I’ll certainly try,” said Cleo.
That request was a gift from heaven, even though it implicated continued reprehensible conduct by Edith.
“You won’t let them come here, will you, Edith?”
“No. I’ve thought of a place to go to. There’s a room behind the church hall with a nice sofa, and failing that there’s always the vestry.”
Cleo got out her notebook and Edith wrote down several names of the clients she would like to see again. There was no point in being shocked. Edith was taking care of her own needs. Whether Edith would receive any of the addresses was doubtful.
“How is Robert?” Edith asked. “I think he’s avoiding me.”
“I don’t know, Edith. I’m not married to him anymore.”
“Of course not. You are married to that lovely policeman, aren’t you? Is his brother nice?”
“How do you mean that?” said Cleo, guessing what would come next.
“I would sleep with both of them, too, if I were you, Cleo. Don’t you get confused?”
“No, Edith. I don’t sleep with Joe. I’m married to Gary and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Joe has a new girlfriend and she will not let him go anywhere with anyone else, so don’t get ideas.”
“That’s OK. There are plenty of others,” said Edith. “Now I know what men really like, I am a very desirable person, Cleo.”
Cleo was glad that Gary was not there to hear that kind of statement. Edith was debauched. How had she got into that state?
Edith had finished writing down the names of half a dozen men she said she knew intimately from Kelly’s place so there was no reason to prolong the visit. Cleo was glad she had been there and very glad she could now leave with a list of men whose wives might be implicated in Kelly’s death.
Back at the cottage, Cleo faxed the list of names to Mia and Barbara at Gary’s request. The ball was now in their court.
***
A phone call from Nigel set Gary off on a different trail that morning. This time it was one he would follow up himself to the bitter end. A woman had identified Joanna Colby. Nigel was sure that it was a proper lead. The girl was sitting in a quiet corner of the station breastfeeding an infant and he was not 100% sure that it really was the girl on the photo. What should he do now?
“I’m on my way, Nigel. Can you buy that witness a drink or something to eat? Do anything to keep her busy until I can get there!”
“No problem, Gary. She was begging.”
“Don’t say anything about why we are looking for Joanna, Nigel. Just keep an eye on the woman with the baby.”
Gary wondered if it was Joanna. Mrs Colby had not mentioned a pregnancy, but she might not have known. That might be the reason the girl had run away. At least she had not murdered the infant and dumped it somewhere, As for Nigel not knowing her from the photo, there was a chance that she had changed her appearance or simply neglected it.
***
The station was crowded. It was holiday time so lots of people were dragging luggage around. No one took any notice of the young woman with the baby. Gary’s first thought was to phone social services. A woman sitting on the floor of a busy train station breastfeeding her baby needed help. On second thoughts he decided to approach the woman first.
“Joanna?” he said, and the woman looked at him, startled.
“This is a happy end,” he continued.
“Not for me, Mister,” Joanna replied. “What did you call me?”
“Your mother is looking for you,” said Gary.
“She threw me out, Mister. She said I had disgraced her.” Joanna thrust the infant at Gary. It looked well-fed and healthy.
“I don’t think she meant it, Joanna.”
“You don’t know her.”
“I do, actually. She officiated at my wedding.”
“So she’s still marrying people off, is she? She wouldn’t let me live with the father of my baby, Mister.”
“I think she knows that she has made a big mistake, Joanna, even if you are underage. It would also be better for your sweet little baby if you did not sit and beg here.”
There was not much money in the old beret she had laid out for donations. Gary was glad the young woman had confirmed her identity, though he was sure she had not intended to.
Joanna Colby got up.
“I’m going now,” she said.
“Where to?” Gary asked.
“That’s none of your business,” said Joanna.
“It is, Joanna,” he said, beckoning to Nigel.
As Nigel approached, so did Mrs Colby. He had had the presence of mind to phone her in case the woman with the baby was Joanna.
“Don’t let her come near me,” screamed Joanna, but Nigel was faster. He held the girl close until Mrs Colby got close enough to confirm that it was her daughter.
“You have such a beautiful baby,” she said.
“No thanks to you, Mother,” said Joanna. “You wanted me to have an abortion, remember?”
“I’m so sorry. I’ve been out of my mind with worry.”
“You only worry about keeping up appearances,” said Joanna.
“Not any more, Jo. Come home.”
“We can find you a mother and baby home, Joanna,” said Gary. “But that will take a day or two. Accept your mother’s offer while we arrange somewhere decent for you and the baby.”
“Can I believe you, Mister?”
“On my honour, Joanna. I’ll drive you, the baby and your mother home.”
 “What do I owe you, Mr Hurley?” said Mrs Colby.
“Thank my assistant. He spotted your daughter and he does not accept gratuities. It’s his job, Mrs Colby.”
Gary took the little family home. Joanna promised not to run away for the baby’s sake. Gary hoped she would not let him down. He was relieved that Joanna Colby’s escapade had had a happy end.
“I’m proud of you, Nigel,” he said on the way back to the office.
“I rang Cleo,” said Nigel. “She was delighted.”
“I’ll bet she was,” said Gary. “It’s reassuring to have you as my assistant, Nigel.”
“I knew somehow that Joanna would not be far away and you could see that she was glad she had been found.”
“But your task is not quite finished, Nigel,” said Gary. “We need to find the father of that child and get support from him for the baby. Do you want to take on that investigation?”
“That would be great, Gary.”
“You’ll be able to get the name from the girl or her mother, but wait until they are in sheltered accommodation, assuming that Mrs Colby cannot persuade her daughter to stay at home.”
“It would be better for her if she did, Gary.”
“You have the makings of a detective, Nigel. I don’t want to waste that talent, so you will be getting more investigations. I hope you can help Cleo now that Frank Wetherby has been such a disappointment.”
To say that Nigel was over the moon would be putting it mildly.