4 April 2017

14 - No smoke without fire?

Saturday cont.

To say that Gary was at a loss to know what to do about Dorothy would be an understatement. He had found it impossible to be really angry with her although the situation called for it. Chris, who was usually good-humoured and efficient, also seemed lost for words.
“I know what you want to say,” Dorothy had said when she realized just how serious her carelessness was.
“Well, you have to admit that it was a very silly thing to do,” said Chris.
“Considering how many time I have asked you to get rid of that gun…” said Gary.
“So you don’t make any mistakes ever, do you?” said Dorothy in self-defence. “You are crying over spilt milk, you know.”
“OK. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?” said Chris, giving Gary a warning look.
***
At home Cleo had enough to do without thinking about Dorothy. The cause was a phone-call she had received not long after Gary had gone to the scene of Dorothy’s crime.
“This is Middlethumpton General,” the caller announced. “I’ll put you through.”
***
“Cleo. It’s Frank,” said the caller. “Sorry to startle you, but I’m not allowed to use my mobile here.”
“How long have you been conscious, Frank?”
“Properly since yesterday. Can you do something for me?”
“Not until you’ve explained what’s been going on,” said Cleo.
“I can’t do that over the phone,” said Frank.
“I’m at home, Frank, and anyway, Gary has debugged the phones.”
“Oh,” said Frank.
“You knew about the phone-tapping, didn’t you, Frank?”
“I can’t answer that now, Cleo.”
“Why don’t you just tell me what game you are playing?”
“I can’t do that either. It’s too complicated.”
“I went to school, Frank. I understand plain English and I’m not going to hang around waiting for a confession, so spit it out, as Dorothy would say.”
“I’ve been framed,” said Frank.
“I hoped that was the case. Who framed you?”
“A friend.”
“Some friend! The one you said you were meeting in London?”
“Yes.”
“What’s his name?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Look Frank. Now you are conscious, you will be arrested for drug-dealing. Am I making myself clear?”
“Are you warning me?”
“No, just telling you what will happen. You will have to explain that banana box full of heroin, Frank.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Just hang on a moment. My cell phone is jumping up and down.”
In fact, Cleo had pressed the quick dial for Gary’s number.
***
“What is it Cleo? I’ll be home soon.”
“Don’t come home, Gary. Get to the hospital. Frank is conscious and asking for my help. I think he’ll abscond.”
“OK.”
***
“Sorry, Frank. That was a different case.”
The line was dead.
***
When Gary arrived at the hospital the patrol car he had ordered to be there at the double was parked opposite the main entrance. Reception told him a detective had already gone to Mr Wetherby’s ward. One patrol officer was standing in the corridor outside the ward while the other guarded the main exit.
Greg was remonstrating with Frank Wetherby. A patrol cop had phoned him and raised the alarm. He wasn’t sure if Gary was in some sort of danger. Greg had flown to the hospital and found Frank dressing. That was fortunate. Gary was sure that Frank would have left after phoning Cleo.
“What’s up, Gary,” said Frank. “How come you sent Greg here?”
“Don’t you know?”
“I was knocked out. I still have amnesia.”
“Who did it?” Gary asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Where were you?” he asked, and Greg signalled to Gary to hold back for a moment.
“You were at the cinema, weren’t you?” he said.
“No, I was ….”
“So much for the amnesia, Mr Wetherby,” said Greg.
Gary appreciated that old trick.
“OK, Frank. Stop play-acting and tell us what you were doing at Rita’s house.”
“I went there to meet a friend.”
“Rita said you were going to London when you left her.”
“I was,” said Frank.
“But you left something important behind in Rita’s storeroom, didn’t you?” said Gary.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Frank.
“Amnesia again?” said Greg.
“We’ll find out if you can leave the hospital, shall we?” said Gary. “Then we’ll take you to Headquarters and the drugs squad can deal with you.”
“Now wait a minute,” said Frank. “I don’t know anything about drugs.”
“You left a banana box full of heroin behand,” said Gary. “Did you go back to Rita’s to collect it, or were you meeting another dealer there?”
“I’ve been framed,” said Frank. “I told you that.”
“If you want me to believe that, you had better tell me the whole story,” said Gary. “We’ll secure your release from hospital here and take you to HQ. I’d rather talk there.”
Realizing that he was now cornered whatever he said, Frank acquiesced. Gary was sure he did not have enough concrete evidence to charge Frank Wetherby with a particular felony, and neither would the drugs squad, as far as he could judge.
Chris would have to come up fast with the forensic evidence he had gathered at Rita’s place. Was that banana box really full of drugs, or was most of it only cornflour? Were there any of Frank’s fingerprints on it? Was Rita perhaps less innocent than she appeared? Did she have the wrong friends? There were many questions to be answered and the hospital was not the place to ask them.
***
Frank was discharged from hospital and taken in the patrol car to HQ. He would be detained at least until he had talked plausibly about the fire, the drugs and the mysterious ‘friend’, which probably meant detaining him for a long time even if he could not be charged.
In Gary’s office the first round of questions was asked with Greg as an active partner and Nigel sitting at the back taking his usual copious notes. The patrol officers sat on each side of Frank. A tape recorder whirred as the interview was recorded and a digital camera filmed the procedure.
“How long have you known Rita?” Gary asked.
If Frank was surprised at the question, he did not show it.
“Not long.”
“But you moved in with her.”
“I had to leave my lodgings and it was convenient,” said Frank.
“Did you have a normal relationship with her?” said Gary.
“What’s normal?”
“Sex, sharing the household, paying towards living expenses. That sort of thing.”
“I was not married to her,” said Frank. “She was not really my type.”
“But good enough to doss down with,” said Greg. “Or had you gone to ground?”
There was a moment’s silence before Frank asked Greg what he meant.
“Were you hiding from that friend of yours, the one who knocked you out?”
“No. I was not hiding out. I just needed somewhere to go while I made plans and I don’t know who knocked me out.”
“But you were meeting someone in that back room. You still had a key of the salon,” said Gary.
“I had made a copy in case I lost mine.”
“And forgotten to hand it in, I suppose,” said Greg, who already had a very low opinion of Frank Wetherby.
“So Rita was only a convenience, was she?” said Gary. “Why didn’t you go back to Frint-on-Sea if you did not want to work for Cleo?”
“Frint-on-Sea has nothing to offer,” said Frank.
“But London has, I assume,” said Greg.
“Why did you arrange to meet someone in Upper Grumpsfield when you could have been in London, Frank?” Gary asked.
“I had business to see to.”
“Were those deals with the heroin? Where did you get it from?” Gary asked.
“What heroin?”
It was obvious that Frank Wetherby was going to block off any mention of that cache of drugs unless it really was the unlikely case that he had known what was in the box. Gary was starting to think that the stuff really had been planted there or left there instead of what Frank was storing without Frank’s knowledge and decided to wait until Monday before asking any more questions. By then Chris would have made a full report. The young patrol cops were rather overawed by the situation, but it was Saturday, so they had not been surprised to find themselves accompanying Frank to Gary’s second floor office and witnessing what proved to be very short and inconclusive interrogation.
“We’ll have to detain you over the weekend, Mr Wetherby,” said Gary. “On Monday I will want to know the name and address of your friend in London, who you were meeting at Rita’s house if it was not the same person, and all about the heroin. I need the names of all your contacts and I will need an explanation of the contents of your pages on Cleo’s office computer.”
“That’s private,” said Frank.
“Not all of it,” said Gary. “I’d also like to know if you bugged Cleo’s phone.”
“I didn’t do that,” said Frank.
“Somebody did and I want to know who. Perhaps you have an idea,” said Gary, before telling the patrol cops that they could take Frank to the arrest cells for a quiet, meditative weekend stay. Greg accompanied them.
***
“I want the Norton brothers investigated,” Gary told Greg later. “You are on duty tomorrow so can you sort that out? I’d like to know if they have been seen with Frank or if Frank has been seen on the courtyard belonging to the garages behind Cleo’s office. The Norton brothers have at least 3 garages there. You can get a mugshot of Frank from Cleo. I’ll get her to send you one today.”
“This is serious stuff, Gary, but it should be the drugs squad investigating.”
“Not if the attack on Frank was attempted murder, Greg. They might get it right next time.”
“OK.”
“I’m out this evening. My brother’s daughter is arriving at Heathrow, but Cleo will be at home. I’ll come in tomorrow if I can be of any assistance.”
“I’ll cope, said Greg. “It’s your free Sunday. Enjoy it! I’ll leave our private eye to his own devices.”
“Thanks, Greg. I really appreciate having you here.”
***
“I’m on the way home, Cleo,” Gary reported in the car over his cell phone. “Frank is staying here over the weekend.”
“Where’s here, Gary?”
“HQ arrest cell.”
“Good. I have some bones to pick with that guy.”
“You can do that to your satisfaction on Monday, Cleo. He may even need your professional advice.”
“I’d prefer to give him a piece of my mind,” said Cleo.
“That too, my love. Get the coffee on. I’m approaching Upper Grumpsfield now.”
***
After due thought, Cleo phoned Rita when she had finished talking to Gary and asked her to call in her cottage for a brief chat. The fact that Gary would be there was just as well. On the contrary, it might be a good idea to ask Rita some questions in Gary’s presence before a further interrogation of Frank was made.
As luck would have it, Rita and Gary arrived at the same time.
“I asked Rita over for a chat, Gary.”
 “Cream or milk, Miss Bailey?” Gary asked as he served the coffee..
“Neither, Mr Hurley. I need a cool head if Miss Hartley wants to ask me questions.”
“Try first names, kids. All that Mr and Miss is 19th century.”
“Did Frank phone you, Rita?” Gary asked.
“Yes. Last night.”
“Did he tell you not to say anything?”
“Yes.”
“But he called me this morning,” said Cleo.
“I told him to,” said Rita. “He owed me that much, but he did not say he would.”
“Did he give you any explanation at all?” Cleo asked.
“No. I thought he cared about me, but he was not very friendly.”
“I think you’ll find that he only cares for himself, Rita,” said Gary.
“Where is he now? Has he run away again?”
“No. He’s in an arrest cell at HQ. He can’t run away and we’ll question him closely on Monday.”
“I’m really afraid,” said Rita.
“He hasn’t told me much, Rita, but I don’t think the attack on him had anything to do with you,” said Gary.
“And the fire?”
“It might be the work of someone quite separate from Frank.”
“But …”
“Arsonists like to behave that way. The fire had only been burning for about five minutes when the fire brigade got a call. It could have been from that arsonist himself wanting the satisfaction of watching ‘his’ fire being put out.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Rita.
“It’s the best thing that could happen next to not starting the fire,” said Gary. “We’ll catch whoever started it and his insurance will have to step in.”
“The best thing would have been not to have my salon burnt down,” said Rita, “except that my insurance was not for a business.”
“What?”
“But not burning the salon down would not haven putting an end to my hairdressing.”
“I know that, but we can’t turn the clock back.”
“We’ll have to wait for forensic findings and then go on from there,” said Cleo. Perhaps you can start a business going from house to house.”
“I’ll think about that. Of course, it isn’t the first fire that has been set off here,” said Rita.
“Do you mean arson, Rita?”
“Someone tried to burn down Kelly’s old barn,” said Rita.
“That was years ago and the person who did it is dead,” said Cleo. “Did you know Kelly?”
“Not intimately,” said Rita with an unfortunate turn of phrase. “Can I see Frank?”
“Not until after we’ve talked to him on Monday, Rita,” said Gary, “but he’ll be in custody for some time to come and you can visit him. We’ll tell you when.”
“But that also depends on whether he wants to see you, Rita,” said Cleo.
“Of course,” said Rita. “I’ll have to go to a client now.”
“So you are hanging on to some of your customers,” said Cleo.
“Yes. I put a notice in the freebie Gazette yesterday and some phoned.”
“Wow. So you are going do private hairdressing.”
“Yes. When you suggested it, it was like a confirmation of my idea.”
“Did your Gazette advert include a story of the fire, Rita? I haven’t had time to look.”
“Yes. That way I got the notice for free, Cleo.“
“You would,” said Gary. “The editor has a nose for crime.”
“Does he? He sounded charming on the phone.”
“We can all sound charming when we want to, Rita,” said Gary.
Rita said thanks for the coffee and took her leave.
Cleo wondered if Rita would ponder on what Gary had just implied.
***
Cleo could not resist asking Gary what he meant by that last comment.
“I’m not sure if she just a little country hairdresser, Cleo. I can’t decide how many lies she told us.”
Gary had not even had time hang up his jacket before Chris rang.
“I expect you’d like to know a few facts before you concentrate on your weekend,” said Chris.
“It would be nice. I seem to be bouncing along on theories at the moment.”
“Keep bouncing, Gary. I’m bouncing too. I hear you have Frank Wetherby in a cell.”
“A temporary guest unless we can get something to hold him on. You can’t arrest a guy for getting knocked out.”
“That banana box was full of flour except for the top layer, Gary.”
“Somehow, that does not surprise me. I’d been wondering why anyone would leave such valuable contents to pot luck.”
“I found traces of heroin in one of the packages. It was probably enough to stop corns throbbing. You could make cakes with the rest and come out of eating them unscathed.”
“That would be funny if it wasn’t a sign of Frank actually being innocent of a number of felonies I’d like to have charged him with.”
“What about that hairdresser? Is she naïve enough to go for that sort of trick?”
“We are starting to think she isn’t.”
“There were prints on that box. I expect you can guess whose they were,” said Chris.
“One of the Norton brothers or their helpmates? I can’t think of anyone else who would find his way to Upper Grumpsfield on any pretext except harmless residents.”
“They are not all harmless, Gary.”
“I’m finding out the hard way.”
“Right in one about the Nortons themselves, but what game are they playing?”
“Cloak and dagger I should think. I’d just like to know what is really going on, Chris.”
“Someone may have got at Frank because he was working in Cleo’s office and that used to be their junk shop, didn’t it?”
“So it did, but how did the Nortons get the idea of planting sham drugs in that hairdressing salon?”
“I don’t suppose it escaped their notice that Frank had shacked up with that hairdresser.”
“More food for thought!”
“They may have needed to get into that office, Gary, and found in Frank a way that would not arouse suspicion. The stuff planted at the salon may just have been a decoy.”
“So Frank would be the fall guy,” said Gary. “Chris, you are brilliant.”
“Or they just wanted to put Frank on the line. Maybe he was too nosey, Gary.”
“We need Cleo in on this discussion, Chris, but she busy with the babies at the moment.”
“Ask her what she thinks about my ideas.”
“I certainly will.”
“I was never sure about Frank, Gary. He had a habit of picking my forensic brain.”
“Cleo seemed to be OK about him until this week, but I think that was because she had no choice given that the twins arrived on our wedding night, less than a week after Frank had arrived to manage the office. Cleo had planned to have the whole of April to get him tuned in, but she was obliged to let him get on with it. He’d had a hard time in Frint-on-Sea, Chris, but I never even considered that it might have been his own fault for getting too interested in what went on.”
“You’ll have to clarify that,” said Chris.
“I think he knew too much and was being blocked at every entrance.”
“OK. Go on.”
“Then he got suspicious of a fat sergeant and the fat sergeant wanted Frank out of the way since Frank’s suspicions were justified.”
“So…?”
“The sergeant realized that Frank’s interfering was dangerous for him and certainly for others who were paying for that sergeant’s cooperation and keeping him in a job. The sergeant decided to do something about Frank.”
“How?”
“I think they struck a bargain. Frank would take up an invitation he had from Cleo, and the sleaze could continue at the town hall and presumably elsewhere.”
“Nasty.”
“Very nasty for that fat sergeant because I got in the act.”
“I don’t suppose that Frint-on-Sea is an isolated incidence of coppers’ corruption.”
“No, Chris. We have it here on our doorstep.”
“For instance, I know about that hacker going to Cleo’s office,” said Chris.
“I expect everyone does. HQ is as porous as a sieve and Cleo’s phone was bugged.”
“I’ll have to go over her office again,” said Chris. “Is there any part of it that wasn’t renovated?”
“You’ll have to ask Cleo about that.”
***
“Only the utility room sink fitting and the John, Chris,” Cleo told him.
“Was any drugs testing done?”
“No. The place was completely empty when we took over.”
“We might have to let our famous dog Spot sniff around,” said Chris, “There has to be a connection between Frank, a cache of fake drugs and your office.”
“Is that a new theory of yours?”
“I can’t help thinking that Frank could have been framed in a big way, Cleo. It would explain quite a lot of what is bothering Gary.”
“I’ll have to talk to him about that.”
“I’ll get Spot for Monday, shall I?”
“Afternoon, Chris. I want to be at Frank’s questioning in the morning.”
***
“Don’t you think this cops and robbers stuff is going too far, Gary?” said Cleo. “Now Chris seems to be hooked on it as well.”
“In the days of the adage we would have said there was no smoke without fire, Cleo. I think that Chris connects the mainly faked drugs cache to your office.”
“So Frank was to be framed and taken out of circulation, was he? Did those responsible think he know more than he did about the office?”
“Ask me another.”
“What was there to know?”
“Our famous sniffer dog Spot is going to sniff around on Monday.”
“That’s a good idea. Frank is lucky to be alive, isn’t he?”
“I think was meant to liquidate him, got scruples and knocked him out instead. It might have been a contract killer, but whoever it was and for whatever reason, he did not finish Frank off.”
“Lucky Jim! But the banana box stayed put.”
“An identifiable fingerprint on the box belongs to a Norton brother and they are not really into murder. Whoever was on that mission may have got cold feet. The Norton brothers may not be the main protagonists, Cleo. They don’t go in for contract killers.”
“What about the fire?”
“I can’t fit that in,” said Gary. “If Frank was to be burnt alive the fire should have started in that back room. We need to find out how deeply Frank had got himself into the morass and go on from there.”
***
During the latter part of that discussion Cleo had fetched Teddy from the playpen and handed him to Gary while she got Tommy out.
“Your sons need sustenance, Gary. No more time for crime.”
“Not like our Norton friends,” said Gary. “Sam and Jam always seem to have their fingers in some corrupt pie or other.”
“Can you take Tommy on your spare arm while I get their lunch?”
“Won’t I drop them?”
“Not if you are sitting on the sofa. You’re out of practice!”
“Where are the girls?”
“Next door with their grandmother for lunch,” said Cleo. “It’s all organized.”
“I can’t remember not having all these kids round me, Cleo.”
“It’s going to be more in a few months’ time.”
“It’s like organizing a battalion…. What do you mean ‘more’?”
“You know about one,” said Cleo.
“Go on!”
“It could be two.”
“You’re kidding.”
“You could put it that way. Two heartbeats, Gary, and three including mine.”
“Four, including mine.”
“I just don’t know where we’ll put them all,” said Cleo.
“You wanted a houseful, my love.”
“Sure.”
“Wait till everyone is around and I’ve had my siesta and I’ll tell you how.”
“Won’t you tell me now? You’re up to something!”
“We all have our moments, Cleo. I need mine too!”
Cleo had to make do with that explanation. She had been planning a moment of her own, after all.
***
When the twins had been tucked in for their siesta, Gary checked that his daughters were OK with Grit. Siesta time was a tradition and even Joe had come home for his. They were all to meet at Cleo’s for coffee at five before it was time to get to Heathrow.
“My duvet is calling,” said Gary as he stripped off. “I’m exhausted.”
“Your wife is calling,” said Cleo from the depths of her duvet.
“You don’t sound very tired,” said Gary.
“Do I have to be?”
***
By five everyone was assembled at Cleo’s dining table.
“I have an announcement to make,” said Gary.
“So do I,” said Cleo.
“Ladies first, my love,” said Gary, who thought he knew what was coming.
Cleo held a document aloft.
“This is a copy of the deeds of this cottage,” she announced. “If you look closely you’ll see that you are now on it, Gary. You’ll have to sign at the solicitors, but it’s legal. Do I get a hug?”
“We all get a hug,” said Gary.
***
“So what’s on your mind, Gary,” said Grit.
“Cleo was wondering what to do with all the new citizens she is bringing into the world.”
“Go on!” said Grit, who knew what Gary was going to say.
“All this happened weeks ago, Joe. It’s as if we knew you were going to turn up,” said Gary.
“Done what?”
“Bought that bungalow next door. Me and our mother.”
“But perfect, Joe,” said Grit “because you can have my cottage if you want it. I’ll make a bed-sitter in the bungalow and be on hand for all my grandchildren.”
“This is like something out of a movie,” said Cleo. “I’m lost for words.”
“I had to do something constructive, even though I did not know I was going to become a father of twins again.”
“Is that true, Cleo?” said Grit.
“Sure. Awesome, isn’t it?”
“I’m blown over,” said Joe.
“Alterations start next week,” said Gary.
“Not those Polish guys again,” said Cleo.
“They told me about the bungalow going up for sale and I got in before the agent could.”
“Awesome,” said Cleo.
Charlie ran to her mother and hugged her tightly before going to Grit and doing the same.
“Are you coming to meet Charlotte, Grannie?”
“Of course, Sweetheart. Your Mummy will stay with PeggySue and the twins.”
“I’ll be glad when you all reappear,” said Cleo. “But you should get going now. You know how awful the traffic can be.”
There was no denying that the Hurleys had got plotting and planning down to a fine art, as Joe was finding out.
***
Grit had been troubled that Joe was melancholy when left to his own devices.
“I think he’s homesick,” she had told Cleo only the previous day.
“He’s missing his daughter, Grit,” Cleo had said. “But she’ll be here soon.”
“She’s at school, Cleo. Maybe he had a partner there and hasn’t said anything.”
“How can we find out? We can’t search through his things.”
“We don’t need to, Cleo. I found a phone number when I emptied pockets in a pair of jeans destined for the washing machine. I want to ring that number. What do you think?”
“You should, I think. Or let me. I have a lot of practice at getting wrong numbers.”
***
The call was taken by a woman’s voice.
“Sonia here,” it said.
“Are you Sonia Butler?” Cleo asked.
“No. Not Butler.”
“I’m sorry. I thought ...”
“Don’t ring off,” said the voice. “If you are looking for Joe, he’s in the UK.”
“Do you know where?”
“I wish I did,” said Sonia.
“Are you his …”
“Not exactly his partner. He got this dumb idea of going to the UK to look for his brother.”
Cleo decided to approach Sonia with her usual directness.
“Are you in love with Mr Butler,” she asked.
“I don’t what business that is of yours, but I thought we were a pair before he upped and left. Who are you, anyway?”
“I’m Joe’s sister-in-law.”
“You have to be joking.”
“On my honour. Joe found his brother Gary and I’m Gary’s wife Cleo.”
“What about his mother, Cleo?”
“Sitting right next to me, Sonia.”
“Can I talk to her?”
“Sure.”
***
“Hello Sonia.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“It’s true.”
“Charlotte is flying over to be with her father, Mrs …”
“Hurley, but call me Grit. Even my sons do.”
“You must be a very happy woman, Grit.”
“I am. Why don’t you come over and see for yourself?”
“I’m coming, Grit. I did not want Charlotte flying over on her own so I’m accompanying her. Joe doesn’t know. The school arranged everything.”
“That’s wonderful, Sonia. I’m driving to Heathrow with my sons and Gary’s daughter. I can’t wait to meet you.”
***
“I know there is no such thing as a perfect world, Cleo, but the small world I live in is wonderful,” said Grit.
“That’s why we have to make our own world perfect, Grit. I just wish I had realized that sooner.”
“I think it’s because we make do with what we have,” said Grit. “And that’s probably a good thing.”
“Except that when we perceive that our world is not as round as it should be, we have to get out of it.”
“The next one might not be as good as the one we left, Cleo.”
“I’m all for taking a chance,” said Cleo.