10 April 2017

17 - All's well that ends

Tuesday August 12

After devoting the rest of Monday to his family, Gary had to admit to himself on Tuesday that it was an ideal tool for escapism, but at least Cleo had an excuse for concentrating on the children and letting the agency drift until things picked up after the holiday period, with the option of closing down altogether if that did not happen. It was not possible to let HQ drift. Cases had to be solved to make having a police force feasible. People could not be allowed to get away with their law-breaking. The archives were already full of unsolved crimes, and heaven only knew how many had not even been detected let alone solved.
It was the six spoons of sugar that Gary absentmindedly dropped into his coffee mug that made Cleo decide she would have to intervene.
“OK. What’s bothering you?” she said.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Sure. Just pretend I have my psychological cap on.”
“It’s just that the cases I’m on now are all unsolvable.”
“Is that all?” said Cleo, not because she wanted to belittle his worry, but because Gary was a congenital pessimist most of the time.
“It’s enough.
“I was hoping Chris would send us a report on his forensic work, but I can see that we need to talk more generally, though Chris’s research would shed some light on things,” said Cleo.
“I don’t think we are in for many surprises.”
“I’m listening.”
“Take the fire, for instance. We have no idea how many were involved. Rita was not at home, but Frank turned up and was promptly put of action. By whom? Why wasn’t he killed? It would have been easy enough. Who is he a risk factor for?”
“I hope that was a rhetorical question, Gary.,”
We’ll have to find out if Rita has been telling the truth.”
“The truth about what? Drugs? Who she visits over night?”
“I mean that banana box. Didn’t Rita say that it belonged to Frank? In that case, the person who knocked the guy out did not deposit it and we know it was not taken, either. Did whoever was there know that the contents are almost worthless?”
“Someone may have snuck in with it when no one was looking,” said Cleo.
“If someone sneaked in, she wouldn’t know, would she?”
“I’ve no idea. Don’t ask me to speculate.”
“And there’s Pooth, found dead on the HQ parking lot. How ironic is that? He was poisoned, Cleo. Why? Who did it? He was the biggest friend a gangster could have. He had contacts at HQ who kept him informed and he ran a place you could hold a gangster meeting or illegal card table or heaven knows what else. The drugs and vice squads have given up trying to catch them out because they always knew when a razzia was planned.”
“Find those involved,” said Cleo. “Or better still, find the informers. They are probably paid by the state and the gangsters.”
“No go. Corruption starts at home and stays there. Those involved keep their mouths shut if they don’t want to have their throats slit.”
“On the other hand, does it matter who killed Pooth?”
“Of course, if it leads us to other gangsters.”
“It won’t, Gary. You’ve just said as much.”
“Pooth was a good bet in the hair salon case, and now he’s dead. How convenient. The whole business stinks, Cleo.”
“There’s no proof that he or one of his buddies went to Rita’s salon on a mission of death, did not carry it out and set fire to the salon instead.”
“But knowing Pooth, it could have been like that, couldn’t it?” said Gary.
“So Pooth was killed because he did not or instructed his buddy not to kill Frank, and Frank was an innocent party.”
“Frank Wetherby is not innocent.”
“But you don’t know what he’s guilty of, Gary.”
“He was on the drugs scene, but says he’s clean. He was persecuted in Frint-on-Sea and came to these parts to get away from his past.”
“That sounds genuine enough,” said Cleo. “I came to the UK to get away from my past.”
“But you came to get away from a husband who beat you and mother who supported him,” said Gary.
“Sure, but it was the right decision, wasn’t it?”
“You are implying that Frank did the right thing, Cleo.”
“Am I?”
“How genuine does someone have to be who misuses his employer’s office and gets involved with criminals?”
“Can you prove any of that, Gary?”
“Not yet. His private pages on your office computer did not connect with the agency.”
“That proves that he did not want to involve me.”
“But he could have, couldn’t he? You trusted him, after all.”
“He’s learnt his lesson, I should think. He has no job in Upper Grumpsfield, nowhere to live having jilted Rita, and is on the death list of whatever gangsters he took up with in Middlethumpton of London. His five minutes of fame have been and gone, Gary. It’s a pity. He was a good sleuth.”
“I hope you are not thinking of offering him his job back.”
“Would you?”
“I’m not sure, Cleo.”
A sip of coffee followed. Gary looked at his cup in disgust.
“Moving on, what about Kelly?” he said. “Where’s that pistol? Who broke into Dorothy’s garden shed if it wasn’t kids? Am I really relying on a teenager to find out?”
“Probably. Why don’t you just go with the flow?”
“Oscar is coming into HQ with Albert later this morning. That means that either he’s going to refuse to let the boy go to the coffee bar, or he’s going to let him go despite the risk, or even go with him to keep an eye on things.”
“That’s not a bad idea if he does not let on that they are together,” said Cleo.
“OK. I’ll suggest it. No one knows Albert and he’ll only hang out like all the others, but he’ll notice anything suspicious.”
Gary tried his coffee again.
“Why don’t you let me pour that coffee away and get you some fresh?”
“Have I complained about the coffee, Cleo?”
“You pulled a face when you tried to drink it - twice.”
“You put too much sugar in, Cleo.”
“Correction, YOU put too much sugar in.”
“I do love you even if you are cruel to me sometimes,” said Gary.
“If cruelty includes too much sugar in coffee, I’m actually innocent,” said Cleo.
“What would I do without you?” he mused.
“I could ask the same question. I just hope you realize that you can’t solve every crime every time.”
“I wish I was a landscape gardener.”
“You wouldn’t get every weed out, either.”
Grit arrived on the scene, ready to take PeggySue to the nursery.
“Sonia is going back to Cape Town tonight,” she announced.
“So she really is going,” Cleo and Gary exclaimed.
“She’s taking that cancellation. Joe did not stop her.”
“Let’s talk straight, Mother,” said Gary. “She was on that list of reserve passengers because she wanted to be and Joe will be glad to see the back of her.”
“I know Sonia was uncertain, but they were making great strides towards one another,” said Grit.
“No Grit, I have to disagree,” said Cleo. “Joe has probably hated every minute of Sonia being here. He asked for a consultation. That says it all. He’s probably looking for faults in himself, but we call all see that Sonia a misfit. He just needs confirmation that he is not being unjust.”
“It was plain to that Sonia was playing up to Joe, but he’s no fool. We all now know why she came,” said Gary.
“Are you going to tell me?” said Grit.
“In Cape Town, Joe decided it was a no-go situation with Sonia because she not only did not want children, but she does not even like them, including Lottie,” said Gary. “I’d certainly turn my back on anyone who does not like my kids.”
“She’s a teacher at Lottie’s boarding school, which is where they met,” said Cleo. “I suppose that’s where she learnt not to let on that she disliked Joe’s child or any other kids for that matter.”
“She’s changed, though, hasn’t she?” Grit said. “She’s coming back. That means that she has come to think differently about things.”
“I don’t think that Joe believes her, Mother, and to be honest, neither do I,” said Cleo. “She is not coming back.”
“Joe will tell her to stay in S.A. but not until they are at the airport,” said Gary. “That’s what he intimated to me when he thought the flight was next weekend.”
“You seem to know all about it, Gary. What you are really saying is that it’s a good thing she’s leaving today,” said Grit.
“Yes,” said Gary.
“It does solve one problem, of course,” said Grit.
“I wanted to give Joe my room and sleep in the little bedroom, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Now I know why. He did not want to share a bed with Sonia.”
“I also think he has spotted someone he rather likes at HQ,” said Gary.
“Ah! That explains quite a lot,” said Grit.
“He’s been away from S.A. for a few weeks and he had finished the episode with Sonia, so he now feels free to look around,” said Cleo. “That’s really a step forward.”
“It took me five seconds to decide that you were the woman I’d been looking for all my adult life, Cleo.”
“That long?”
“And three years until you felt the same.”
“Wrong, Gary. I always felt the same.”
“I need a hug,” said Gary, getting up. “Join us, Mother!”
“You are the limit, Gary,” said Grit.
“I’ll second that,” said Cleo. “But a communal hug is a good way of starting the day.”
“Sonia will come in to say goodbye presently,” said Grit. “Be nice to her. She does not know that she is not coming here again.”
“Don’t tempt fate, Mother,” said Gary.
“I’ll take PeggySue to the nursery and do some shopping. Sausages OK tonight?”
“That’s a great idea. I count sausages as soul food,” said Gary.
Sonia was not sad about taking the cancellation and getting a flight back that evening, not least because she had a guilty conscience about her school. She told Cleo about the plans she had for when she returned to Upper Grumpsfield. Cleo listened without commenting.
“Maybe I should have just one baby after all,” said Sonia, “but only if Joe insists. It can join all yours. You seem to cope marvellously with your family.”
“I’m not the baby-sitter, Sonia. Babies want to be with their mother at first.”
“I’d share the work, of course,” said Sonia.
There seemed to be nothing Cleo could add to that. What a cold fish Sonia was. Since it was time to give the twins their cereal, Cleo offered to let Sonia practice on one, but Sonia thought she should go back to Grit’s cottage and finish packing.
“OK, Sonia. So if this is goodbye, have a great flight home! I expect Gary and I will be having our siesta when you leave. It’s our special hour, you see. We make love in the afternoon.”
“But it isn’t dark,” said Sonia, who was shocked at Cleo’s blunt statement.
“We don’t mind looking,” said Cleo. “We aren’t in the dark ages.”
“No wonder Charlie talked like she did. She probably saw something.”
“I doubt it, but she knows, of course. Kids of that age are well informed these days. Anyway, Gary and I make no secret of our physical attraction to one another.”
“You would where I come from.”
“Don’t be so sure. Lottie was quite curious about you and Joe.”
“She needn’t have been.”
“It doesn’t matter now you are leaving,” said Cleo.
“Upper Grumpsfield will soon be my home,” said Sonia. “It’s nice here.”
“We like it, too,” said Cleo, accompanying Sonia to the front door.
At least Sonia will not have a baby she doesn’t want, thought Cleo as she watched Sonia marching back to Grit’s cottager. Poor Joe, leaving the country after breaking off with her only to be confronted by her, and that was her idea, not his. Having met her, Cleo was glad that Sonia’s expectations had not been fulfilled and sure that she did not want her as a sister-in-law. A phone-call to Gary made her feel even better since he was highly amused at the way she had ‘dealt’ with the woman’s plans for motherhood.
Grit arrived back with a shopping-bag full of goodies from Robert Jones the butcher’s shop. She looked excited.
“Sit down, Cleo. I can’t wait to tell you this.”
“Wow. You are motivated, Grit.”
“You would be too if you’d done the shopping.”
“Get it over with. The tension is unbearable.”
“Gloria was serving,” said Grit.
“But she left months ago.”
“She’s back.”
“Probably just helping out with the sausages, Grit. The girl Robert hired to replace her was useless.”
“No. Robert introduced her to customers as his new-old assistant from Chicago.”
“Why didn’t my mother tell me?”
“She might not have been ready to face your questions. I wonder if it’s all over with that Italian.”
“They were planning to get married, Grit. “Are you implying that she walked out on the restaurant, but not on the boyfriend?”
“Or she walked out on both, Cleo.”
“I’ll have to send Gary to Romano’s to find out.”
“Do that. I’m just as curious. She has nowhere to live. I didn’t ask questions but she was asking someone to find her an apartment. She must be bunking down on Mr Jones’s sofa.”
“No, that isn’t Gloria. She could be at Delilah’s bistro. There are a couple of guest rooms there, but she could take Gary’s apartment now you live permanently at the cottage, Grit, couldn’t she.”
“Of course she can. It fits in like a jigsaw puzzle.”
“It’s done that before, Grit. That apartment is worth its weight in gold and there’s always the one Roger will be vacating if she’d prefer that.”
“Do you think Roger will want to live with me?”
“I should think he’s dying for you to invite him, Grit.”
“Then I’ll do it – now!”
“Be my guest. Make the call in our bedroom. I’m going to give the twins some cereal here. It might get noisy.”
Less than five minutes later Grit came back into the living-room beaming.
“He’s coming tonight, Cleo. I hope I’m doing the right thing.”
“I’m sure you are,” said Cleo. “I’ll make us an espresso to celebrate!”
Gary was amazed that Gloria had been serving at the shop. He would definitely find out what had happened. Romano was devoted to Gloria. Surely she hadn’t walked out on him.
“It was a good pad,” said Gary.
“Not good enough,” said Cleo. “Maybe my mother could not get her own way all the time.”
“I’ll let you know what I find out,” said Gary.
“Ask them to dinner for tomorrow, Gary. That will test whether the affair is over.”
“You could ask your mother, of course.”
“But I’d rather not hear a tale of woe. Gloria passed the buck rather too easily,” said Cleo.
“But isn’t Romano needed at the restaurant in the evening?”
“He had assistants, Gary. He’s been to dinner her before. Oh, and Roger is moving in with Grit tonight.”
“About time, too!” said Gary. “I’m having a quick lunch with Joe at Romano’s and then he’s going to collect Sonia and drive to Heathrow.”
“Great. We’ll have to find him a more suitable partner,” said Cleo.
“He may have found one already.”
“What about Barbara Fielding?”
“Hey, Witch of Endor. How did you know that?”
“I didn’t, but you like her so Joe probably will, too.”
“That’s pretty shaky reasoning, Cleo.“
“Ask her to dinner for tomorrow, Gary. We’ll celebrate Sonia’s going and Roger’s coming.”
“Good idea, but let’s leave Gloria and Romano out,” said Gary. “Things are complicated enough and she might put on one of her theatricals if she came at all. I couldn’t stand that and I could stand Pagliacci having a fit and singing.”
“You’re right. I’m just curious. Maybe my Mother will phone me now she’s seen Grit.”
“I’ll mail you a copy of Chris’s report, Cleo. It’s just arrived and so have Albert and Oscar, so I’ll have to hang up. Je t’aime.”
“Moi aussi.”
“That was French, Sir,” said Albert.
“So it was, Albert.”
“It means ‘I love you’,” said the boy.
“I tell my wife that all the time, Albert,” said Gary.
“My father never said anything like that to anyone,” said Albert.
“It makes people happy if you tell them you like them or love them, Albert. Thanks for coming today. How do you do, Dr Pope?”
“We’ve talked it through and Albert will try to find out something about the pistol, Mr Hurley.”
“Can you go with him?”
“If you think that’s a good idea.”
“Just don’t let it look like you are together. I can’t send a policeman. A neutral person is a better choice.”
“That’s settled them. We’ll go today and see what happens.”
“You know the drill, Albert, don’t you?”
“Yes Sir. I’ll be very careful what I say. I hope no one knows me.”
“If someone recognizes you, just act normally and leave quickly.”
Albert shook hands with Gary solemnly before leaving with Oscar. Gary no longer felt uneasy about getting Albert onto the case. Cleo was right. He seemed sensible and was quite grown up for his age.
Gary rang Chris and told him that Nigel would be bringing the tumbler out of which Albert had drunk some water. He was not a suspect. His prints should be used to check on those found in Dorothy Price’s shed, however, and presumably counted out.
Chris’s report was, as Gary had predicted, short on surprises and even shorter on useful evidence:
Pooth had been killed with a nerve drug shot into his shoulder with a syringe. There were no other injuries except elderly evidence of fights. The chances of finding out who was responsible were nil given the record for solving such cases. Pooth had had no form of identification on him, no papers, no money, nothing. It could have been a robbery except that the choice of weapon was hardly spontaneous.
Dorothy’s shed had been taped, but only her prints could be identified. There were others, but they were not on record.
Kelly’s corpse had revealed six bullets. Whoever had shot him at a fair distance had a good aim and a steady hand. The gun had not been found. It might be in the pond and that could be dragged if he could get permission. Killers usually disposed of their weapons as soon as possible, so it might still be found given the resources. Was it a schoolboy dare? Perish the thought, but the perpetrator might have hung on the weapon as a souvenir in that case.
There was no record of Joanna Colby anywhere. She had not been registered as a missing person. If Mrs Colby had claimed that, she was lying.
Rita’s fire had been started by someone setting fire to the lace net drapes, possibly from the outside since one of the windows had been forced open. No other signs of a break-in were found so the person who entered and clobbered Frank Wetherby must have had a key unless he had been let in, possibly by Frank himself, or Wetherby had left the salon door open so that the person he was expecting could get in. The salon itself was damaged extensively but apparently the building structure had not been affected. The fire brigade had arrived very quickly and done a good job of containing the fire.
And that was all.
For a change, Chris had not done much speculating, but the question of whether Frank had known and let in his attacker would have to be answered, Cleo mused. She made one or two notes on a copy of the report that she had printed.
Gary sent Nigel to the station with a photo of Joanna Colby to find out if anyone had seen her and when. Nigel would also talk to junkies and tipplers in the parks. Nigel was not in police uniform and was such an unlikely candidate for the police force that he would not arouse suspicion. He could say he was a welfare officer. Gary told him it was essential for him to undertake such errands if he wanted to become a detective.
“Anything‘s better than traffic patrol,” Nigel commented.
“You can continue forever as my assistant,” said Gary. “But that is not much of a career is it?”
“I quite like the idea of a quiet life,” Nigel replied.
“I’m glad that’s how you see your job,” said Gary, wondering if he was pandering to Nigel. That would have to stop.
Joe called in at Gary’s office to collect his brother. They would walk to Romano’s restaurant together. They aroused a few astonished looks as they walked down Middlethumpton’s main street. They were very alike. Romano had to look hard to tell who was who. Sure enough, Gloria was nowhere to be seen.
“Would you like today’s special?” Romano asked. He looked upset, Gary thought.
Tagliatelle with salmon would be great, they agreed.
“She’s gone,” said Romano, without being asked.
“Why?” Gary asked. “You were the perfect pair, Romano.”
“She was unfaithful, Gary.”
Gary had been expecting any explanation but that one.
“Who with?” he asked.
“I’ll kill him,” Romano answered.
“You won’t. Who?”
“My brother,” said Romano.
“I did not know you had a brother,” said Gary.
“He came to visit and Gloria shone on him.”
 “You mean took a shine to him.”
“Is that how you say it? We were going to get hatched.”
“Hitched, Romano, remember?”
“Not any more, Gary.”
“So where is your brother now?”
“I threw him out.”
“Gloria was at Robert’s shop this morning, Romano.”
“Good rubbish to bad riddance,” said Romano.
“I think you mean …”
“I know what I mean. I’ll get your tagliatelle.”
Romano made off to the kitchen. He was usually friendly and jovial, but not today.
Joe looked on in astonishment. Gary explained that Romano got his adages and vocabulary mixed up even after living half his life in the UK. Joe decided to do a portrait of him in Cops’ Corner, since he fed half HQ with his pizzas and pasta-to-go.
In the short time they had known one another a close friendship had evolved between Gary and Joe, so that Joe now only had to intimate to his brother that Sonia would not be coming back if he could avoid it.
“She would never fit in with our family,” he said, “and I don’t love her.”
“Come to dinner tomorrow, Joe. It’s a family thing to celebrate Roger’s arrival.”
“…and Sonia’s departure? Can I bring someone?”
“I was going to invite her anyway.”
“So you know who it is,” said Joe.
“I have eyes, Joes. And she’s your type.”
“So Cleo is a witch, after all.”
“The nicest sort, and yes, she guessed.”
“Do you think Barbara will come?”
“I’m sure she will.”
Joe left Gary at the restaurant and sped home to collect Sonia. They had plenty of time to get to Heathrow unless there was a complete jam on the M25. The couple were almost wordless on the journey. They had not actually quarrelled, but the atmosphere was frigid and Joe did not encourage conversation. At Departures they embraced briefly, their bodies well apart and no sign of real friendship. Joe went to find his car as soon as Sonia joined the queue waiting to go through security. He reflected that he had not even thanked her for accompanying Charlotte. He would write her a brief note and correct that omission and discourage any idea Sonia might still have of returning to Upper Grumpsfield..
But Sonia knew that was the end of her association with Joe. She was almost relieved. Now she would not be forced to have the baby she did not want with a man she could live without. It would have bothered her to know that Joe felt the same, but that feeling would have left her in no time at all once she was back at what she loved most, which was teaching and being in authority. She would accept the head teacher post at that school. It had been offered to her and she had told the governors that she might not stay. But she would now and would not have to set up a home on her own. The boarding school address was enough and impressive and the colleagues were quite nice.
Joe greeted his mother briefly when he got back home. She was busy integrating Roger Stone into his new domicile and they quite obviously did not need any help or even his presence so he hugged them and said how delighted he was, but would love them and leave them and go next door.
Cleo and Gary welcomed him with open arms. The girls were back home and helping to get supper. The babies and PeggySue had been fed and bathed and were asleep. Joe flopped down on the sofa and sighed deeply.
“I’m glad she’s gone,” said Lottie, sitting down next to her father and linking her arm through his.
“So am I, Sweetheart,” said Joe, dropping a kiss on her forehead.
“We’re all glad,” said Gary.