Day of rest (?) then Monday August 11
Sunday turned out to be quite a success after all, at least for some. Cleo could not predict how Sonia and Joe would view it with regard to themselves.
“Swimming, Daddy,” said Charlie.
“What shall I call you?” Lottie said to Gary. “You look like my Daddy.”
“Call me Gary, Lottie. Charlie calls your father Joe and that works OK. Are you coming, Cleo?”
“I’ll stay here. The twins are bit crotchety and Grit is busy with Roger. You could take PeggySue.”
“What a good idea. Put the twins into our bed and get in there with them. Take a nap.”
Lottie and Charlie went to sort out swimming things.
“What about you? Tell me about your corpse,” said Cleo.
“The only interesting thing about Pooth is that he was everyone’s contact to the underworld, including Wetherby. Death was from a shoulder shot of that nerve drug again. Chris has to finish his autopsy and we’ll have to find out about Frank’s connection to Pooth.”
“We never found out where that supply of curare came from that was used in the last murders,” said Cleo.
”It’s too late to bother with that now, but I should think the internet can provide anything you can pay for.”
“Or any hospital, surely. If not curare, then something equally lethal.”
“I’d hate to think that kind of drug was distributed on a help-yourself basis,” said Gary.
“We can ask Chris what he thinks,” said Cleo. “Get going for that swim while the guys next door are still busy.”
“The happy couple was gone all morning, I take it.”
“Roger and Grit wanted to take in a movie so maybe they have left. Either the happy couple is having fun or is beyond redemption. No need to worry either way.”
“I can see that you are in control, my love. Come on girls. Let’s get moving.”
“You‘d better take your swimming things, Daddy,” said Charlie.
“I’ll get them,” said Cleo. “And PeggySue needs hers, too.”
Gary collected up his youngest daughter from the playpen.
“Daddy’s gone out with Sonia and Dog,” said Lottie.
“Do you like Sonia?” Gary asked.
“Not much. She can be quite mean sometimes,” said Lottie. “Not lovey-dovey like Cleo. Cleo’s going to be my real mother soon.”
“Does she know?”
“Of course I do,” said Cleo. “I’m delighted! Where’s your birth Mummy, Lottie?”
“She left,” said Lottie sadly. “Daddy sent me to that school where Sonia teaches and he met her there. She doesn’t like children.”
“I won’t leave you, Lottie. I love children,” said Cleo. “Come and get a hug!”
“I’d just like to know how many teachers do actually like children apart from the regular income they get for teaching them,” said Gary.
The swimmers left. Gary felt emotional about his family and that already included Lottie, he realized.
Roger and Grit came to say goodbye before they went into Middlethumpton.
“We took a siesta,” said Grit.
“Gary has gone swimming with the girls,” said Cleo.
“Did Joe and Sonia come here again?” Grit asked.
“Should I see if everything is all right?” Grit asked.
“Leave them to it, Grit,” said Cleo. “They may still be chewing things over.”
“I feel guilty about that phone call. Maybe I’ll just check that they are OK.”
“Don’t do that, Grit. The last thing Joe needs is his mother fussing over him. Those two guys are all mixed up. It’s time they straightened their lives out,” said Cleo. “Joe owes that to Lottie. That little girl does not want Sonia in her life.”
“But she wants us,” said Grit. “We should make sure that Lottie stays here.”
“She’ll stay,” said Cleo. “She’s happy here.”
“But will she decide to go back?”
“If necessary, I’ll step in, Grit. That little girl needs a proper home and human warmth.”
After about two hours the swimmers returned smelling of chlorine and the three girls were sent to shower it off with rose scented gel. Gary treated himself and his arguably sensitive skin with a one minute sing-along shower when the girls had finished soaping themselves and PeggySue. Gary fortunately left off the roses and the singing. Cleo had wrapped the girls in warm bath-towels now they all sat on the sofa in front of a log fire to dry off, the plaid on their knees. They were happy and squeaky clean.
.Joe and Sonia finally turned up. They had been gone for most of the day, but did not comment. Joe kissed all the little girls and declared that they smelt nice. Cleo mused that Joe did have shades of Gary’s ability to rise to the emotional occasion. A delivery from Delilah’s bistro ensured that they all had great food on their plates for supper. Sonia announced that she could stay for a few more days. Cleo wondered how emotional her day had been.
“I’m staying for ever,” announced Lottie. “I’m going to school with Charlie tomorrow to play hockey.”
“That’s great, Sweetheart,” said Joe. “I’ll phone and register you first thing.”
“It’s holidays, Joe. I should think the office is closed and the headmistress is bound to be elsewhere,” said Cleo.
“No she isn’t, Mummy,” said Charlie. “She’s taking hockey practice while Miss Plimsoll is away.”
“I stand corrected,” said Gary. “I expect it’s more fun without Miss Plimsoll.”
“Yes,” said Charlie.
“Will you mind flying back alone, Sonia?” said Cleo.
“I’ll manage,” said Sonia, giving Joe a strange look.
“Are you coming back?” said Lottie.
“I could come back when I’ve sorted things out and told the school that I won’t be teaching there next term, but only if you father wants me to.”
Lottie mused for some time. They all waited for her to ask Sonia if she wanted her. Joe did not comment.
Lottie was determined to find out what was going on, saving Cleo the trouble of asking the questions.
“You were gone all day. Did you make a baby?” said Lottie. “Cleo and Gary are always making babies. Charlie told me.”
There was a general silence as the drift of the conversation was appreciated. Cleo had not reckoned with the talkativeness of little girls.
“Would you want a sister or a brother?” Sonia asked.
Joe wondered what had got into her. Sonia wasn’t interested in offspring.
“Either would be nice,” said Lottie. “Or both like Charlie’s Mummy and Daddy. I’ll help with the babies here while I’m waiting,” said Lottie.
“So much for the facts of life,” said Gary in what he thought was an aside to Cleo.
“You mean the birds and the bees,” said Charlie, who had extremely acute hearing. “We’ve had them at school. They don’t share beds. They don’t even have any. The bees choose one bee to be the Queen and she is fattened up by all the men called drones. The birds build nests and when the babies hatch they get food that’s been pre-digested by a parent.”
“Very educational,” said Gary.
“We don’t get people till next year,” said Charlie.
“That’s soon enough,” said Grit, imagining how those facts of life would be formulated. “But you already know what grownups do, don’t you?”
“Sort of,” said Charlie. “My parents think it’s fun so it can’t be all that difficult – not like laying an egg.”
“It isn’t difficult at all,” said Cleo, amused at how disconcerted Joe, Gary and Sonia were.
Sonia was the most embarrassed of them. She was glad that her cell phone rang her before Lottie could ask her a question she could not answer truthfully. She went into the kitchen to answer it.. When she came back she looked relieved, Cleo noted.
“I have an option for a flight to Cape Town on Tuesday,” said Sonia. “It just came through. Shall I take it, Joe?”
“That’s a very good idea, Sonia,” he said. Then realizing that he would have to qualify that statement he added “I expect the school is missing you.”
“The school is not actually missing us and I’m definitely not missing the school,” said Lottie. “Anyway, we’ve only been gone two days.”
“I would not like Miss Plimsoll to be living with my Daddy,” said Charlie, and Gary marvelled at his daughter’s perspicacity.
“Grownups do funny things,” said Cleo. “You’ll find out, Charlie. Being a grownup has its own challenges.”
The big girls took PeggySue to the kids’ room to play. Cleo noted that they had the little girl between them, holding hands. They were her family, Lottie too. Gary also saw that and whipped out his mobile to take a photo, calling to the girls to stand still for a moment.
Joe was delighted that Lottie was already part of the family, but puzzled about the apparent change in Sonia’s attitude. She had not wanted children. That was one of the reasons he had left her in South Africa although she would have fitted into the socialite life she wanted for them. He looked at Cleo and she winked. No wonder Gary was besotted. He looked at Gary. Gary was amused. Joe was emotionally torn, not between himself and Sonia, however. He was glad that she was leaving, though he should have been sorry, if only for the sake of good manners. But he could not risk asking her to stay, though she expected that of him. The risk was too high that she would say yes and he on no account wanted Sonia in his life.
“I always thought Cleo was a witch,” said Gary to Joe. “I see that she has bewitched you as well.”
“A white witch, despite my skin,” said Cleo. “I don’t cast spells. I only give advice and only if I’m asked.”
“When are you open for business?” Joe said, and Cleo knew immediately that he wanted Sonia out of the way.
“When is your flight, Sonia?” she asked.
“On Tuesday,” said Sonia.
“Wednesday then, Joe,” said Cleo. “I’m usually in a witching mood on a Wednesday.
“I think your ancestors were all witches,” said Gary, “You don’t just cast spells on Wednesdays.”
“I can’t rule out my ancestral heritage completely. Look what my mother has done to Romano!”
PeggySue wandered into the living-room and onto her father’s knee, where she curled up contentedly. Charlie and Lottie followed into the living-room, mainly out of curiosity.
A little later Gary decided it was bed-time for PeggySue, gathered the little girl up and carried her off to her cot.
“Can I sleep here again, Cleo?” Lottie asked, going up to Cleo and hugging her. Charlie wanted a hug too. Cleo opened her arms so that the three of them could enjoy the warmth their embrace engendered.
“Of course you can, Lottie. You are part of us now.”
“I’ll take you girls to hockey practice tomorrow morning,” said Gary over his shoulder.
“That’s settled then,” said Joe.
Cleo was sure that Joe approved of Lottie staying in Upper Grumpsfield with the other children even if he was in an emotionally vulnerable state thanks to Sonia. He had written her out of his biography and she was trying to force herself back in. While Cleo’s own inner dialogue was still consuming her, her outer self was keeping up some sort of communication. Sonia could not be reached, but the others could.
“Of course, I may have powers I did not know I had, folks,” said Cleo.
“Like reading between lines, Cleo?” said Joe.
“Sometimes messages are not otherwise decipherable, Joe.”
“Maybe you just uncovered more powers, Cleo,” said Gary, returning to the table to collect PeggySue’s cup of fruit juice. “I hope you are in top form tomorrow. We are going to need some witchcraft.”
“I’ve never heard you complain!” said Cleo.
“I’m not sure that Frank can even be there for you to try out your charms,” said Gary. “We’ll have to wait and see. He was out of his coma and did not seem to have any health problems, they said on Friday. So he was well enough to be discharged and I’m holding him at HQ over the weekend, but he didn’t really look well enough to leave the hospital, so he may not be well enough to cope with questioning.”
“Let’s all get an early night,” said Grit, aware that the scenario was on two levels..
“Don’t you have a date, Mother?” said Gary.
Grit looked stricken.
Roger went home for a while. He wants to collect me at nine. Do I look all right as I am?”
“Perfect, Grit,” said Joe.
Again Sonia looked perplexed. Was Joe already under the Hurley spell?
The doorbell rang.
“Just in time not to be taken completely by surprise, Grit,” said Gary as he went to let Roger in.
Grit blew kisses at her sons. Another nail in Sonia’s casket, thought Cleo. No way was he going to return to S.A., but Sonia had to go. Cleo thought everyone was agreed on that.
“Have you decided, Grit?” said Roger going straight to embrace Grit without greeting anyone else.
“Yes, Roger. I will.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?” said Gary.
Joe smiled. Sonia looked puzzled.
“Meet Roger again, Sonia,” said Cleo, coming to the rescue. “He happens to be Gary’s boss and he’s going to marry my mother-in-law.”
“I’ve brought a temporary ring, Grit. That’s really why I went home. It was my mother’s and I want you to have it, but I’ll get you a new one, of course. Do you still want to go to a late movie?” he said and slipped the ring over Grit’s ring finger.
”Only if you want to, Roger.”
“Let’s go then. Thanks for letting me marry you mother, boys.”
“Don’t mention it, Roger. Welcome in the family! I couldn’t wish for a better step-father.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” said Roger.
“I’ll second that,” said Joe, going up to Roger and hugging him. The other Hurleys followed suit. Sonia stood by and watched stony-faced. Cleo noticed that and mused that Joe’s ex was a complete misfit in their lives.
“Don’t wait up,” said Grit. “I’ll sleep at Roger’s and be back early for the children.”
Early on Monday morning Cleo phoned Dorothy and asked her if she had time to join her at HQ in case they could see Frank. She would keep her prior appointment with the young cops as brief as possible if Dorothy would like wait for her in the canteen. Cleo had a guilty conscience about not being in touch sooner, but family life had become rather hectic at the cottage.
Dorothy had refrained from asking why she was left out of cases so often these days. Cleo assured her that it only a feeling, while wondering if Dorothy had hit on something of which Cleo had not really been conscious.
By 8:15 on Monday morning Gary had left for Middlethumpton Comprehensive with the two girls, driving the big family car and leaving Cleo the sleek red car – the only object Gary had ever polished. PeggySue was on the way to the nursery, taken there by Grit, who was as punctual as ever. Cleo made sure that the twins were fed and changed before Grit returned to take over.
There would be time to talk shop in the car with Dorothy and they did. Cleo wanted to know how much Dorothy now knew about Kelly’s activities. He was her centre of interest, after all. It was time Dorothy reported her findings since she had not yet volunteered any. It was unfortunately true that the loss of the loaded pistol had brought Cleo around to Gary’s way of thinking that Dorothy was getting past the age for detection, but she did not say anything about that.
Dorothy apologised for her suspicious mind. She would have phoned anyway, but had not wanted to interrupt the family weekend. Kelly had been up to his old tricks, but one woman had gone in and out regularly and Dorothy thought that Cleo might already know that it was Edith Parsnip, who was now little more than a hussy in Dorothy’s view.
“I did know. She’s sick, Dorothy,” Cleo explained.
“She’s precocious, Cleo!”
“That’s part of it.”
“I wonder if she drinks.”
“You could ask her, Dorothy, and come to think of it, you might be the best person to help her. She has led Robert to be suspected of Kelly’s death. That’s reason enough to step in and she trusts you.”
“I feel terrible about that pistol getting lost,” said Dorothy, “but I have a theory.”
“Stolen, Dorothy. Go on.”
“I think that making off with the washing-basket was a prank. The kids who took it discovered the gun because it probably made itself noticeable by moving from side to side as they carried the basket. So they looked what was inside and found it.”
“That sounds logical,” said Cleo. “It would clear Robert, wouldn’t it?”
“Does that really matter? He’s bound to be cleared once his whereabouts at the time of the shooting are verified.”
“Of course it matters, Dorothy, and there’s a wide time slot when Kelly could have been killed.”
“The problem is that I don’t know when the laundry-basket was stolen. If the thieves went straight back to Lower Grumpsfield across the common and hid the basket after removing the gun, they might have decided to try it out. That might mean that they stole it on the morning Kelly was shot.”
“So Kelly could have been the first target they came across,” Cleo said. “We’d be looking for youths who were bragging about what they’d done.”
“They might not have bragged at all; just talked in whispers because they had done a really terrible thing. I have a hunch about where we might find them – assuming there were at least two since the basket was too cumbersome for one to carry, but had a handle on each side.”
“Where would we look for those guys, Dorothy, assuming you are on the right track?”
“Where else but at the coffee bar? That’s where teenagers congregate these days.”
“So we need to get there and find out,” said Cleo.
“We adults can’t ask question because no one would tell us anything, but I know someone who would get it right.”
“And that is?”
“Albert Parsnip. Doesn’t he want to be a detective?”
“He told me that, but his whole life has changed now.”
“Where does he live now?” Dorothy wanted to know.
“In Middlethumpton with Beatrice and Oscar, I should think, and he can use the home computer, I’m sure. He may have new interests now.”
“We’ll have talk to Gary first, of course, but couldn’t we get in touch with Albert and get him to help us?”
“We’ve nothing to lose, Dorothy, and Albert is a clever boy. He would not give anything away and I’m sure he’d love to be asked even if he has changed his mind about being a detective.”
“What do you think? Cleo asked Gary after Dorothy had explained the details.
“We must tell him that he is not to follow up anything he hears,” said Gary.
“That’s why you will brief him yourself,” said Cleo.
“What happens if he finds out what his mother has been doing?” Gary asked.
“I’ll tell him if you don’t want to,” said Cleo. “He needs to know that his mother was visiting Kelly, but he does not need to know what she did there, though I expect he will have guessed. Whatever the case is, Oscar will have tried to advise him.”
“I can’t wait to meet Oscar,” said Gary.
“I’ve never met him,” said Cleo. “He was always Beatrice’s willing slave, but very much in the shadows.”
“And now they have six children to bring up,” said Dorothy.
“Six?” Gary said.
“The five Parsnip boys and Anna, the girl from the bell tower.”
“Oscar – what’s his surname? - “
“Pope,” said Dorothy.
“Oscar Pope is not a slave. He’s a hero,” said Gary.
“Then you should get on well with him,” said Cleo.
“Of course, getting Albert to investigate might be too dangerous,” Gary said.
“He’d only be in the café,” said Dorothy.
“What if someone waited for him outside?”
“He must not behave in a suspicious way,” said Cleo.
“Easier said than done if he wants to find out something,” said Gary.
“You’re right. Forget it,” said Dorothy.
“Wait! He would not have to go there on his own,” said Cleo.
“But that would defeat the plan, Cleo,” said Dorothy. “We can’t expect Albert to go there with an adult.”
“Didn’t Chris say the killer had emptied the barrel in Kelly’s back?” said Cleo.
“The killer might have reloaded it,” said Gary.
“Not with ammunition out of my cutlery drawer,” said Dorothy.
“Anyway, if it was boys playing around, loading it again would be the last thing on their minds. They had already done something terrible and are probably still in shock,” said Cleo.
“If the plan is to be carried out, I’ll have to brief Albert on exactly what he can ask,” said Gary. “It’s not my way of going about gathering information, as you well know, but do we have an alternative?”
“He just has to listen. Kids boast about their pranks,” said Dorothy. “Albert does not have to say why he’s there.”
“To be blunt, we have nothing to lose,” said Gary.
“And Albert will be grateful forever,” said Cleo. “He already sees you as a role model, Gary. He told me that when he used my computer in the little office. It might be a way of getting some progress on the case. If Dorothy’s hunch is right, we are going get a useful assistant as well.”
“How old is he?” Gary asked.
“14, I should think, going on 15, but very tall for his age. All he’s going to do is buy a soft drink and try to get in with some of the youths. As a new face, he stands a good chance of hearing something.”
“I should point out one tiny thing,” said Gary.
The two sleuths looked at him expectantly.
“Albert had a motive, Ladies.”
“Oh no,” said Dorothy.
“If he knew what his mother was doing at Kelly’s, his motive was strong.”
“You‘ll have to find out if he has an alibi then,” said Dorothy.
“I’ll phone Oscar before we ask Albert,” said Gary. “Do you have his phone number, Dorothy?”
Gary tapped the number into his cell phone. Edith’s sister-in-law answered.
“Gary Hurley here, Beatrice,” said Gary. “I’d like to speak to your husband.”
“He’s at work, Gary.”
“Is Albert at home?”
“He’s gone swimming,” said Beatrice.
“Isn’t he at school?”
“Summer hols, Gary. I’ll put you through to Oscar, shall I?”
“Dr Pope’s assistant speaking. Who’s calling please.”
“Hold the line,” said the voice.
“Pope speaking,” followed after a few moments.
“Hurley here, Dr Pope. Sorry to bother you.”
“No bother. I’m between patients.”
“I’m a psychiatrist, Mr Hurley. Is something wrong?”
“No. I wanted to talk about Albert and Beatrice sent me here.”
“What about Albert? Aren’t you Cleo’s husband?” said Oscar.
“I’m not calling in that guise, Dr Pope. This is a police matter.”
“What has Albert done?”
“Nothing, I hope. Have you noticed anything different about him recently?”
“Does he get up to pranks, Mr Pope? Has he ever stolen anything, for instance?”
“If there’s one thing my brother-in-law instilled into his sons it was honesty, Mr Hurley,” said Oscar. “Why are you asking?”
“A laundry-basket was stolen from Dorothy Price’s garden shed. Hidden in the lining of that basket was a loaded pistol and we have reason to believe that it was used to shoot a guy named Paddy Kelly in Lower Grumpsfield.”
“Good God. You don’t think that Albert would do such a thing, do you?” said Oscar.
“I don’t think anything. I just want to check if Albert and a brother or a friend got to Upper Grumpsfield and took that basket.”
“Look, Mr Hurley. Albert did visit his mother and sometimes a brother went along, but I don’t think they went anywhere else and I can’t imagine that they would take a laundry-basket.”
“I know it sounds absurd, Dr Pope. But boys do things like that on the spur of the moment.”
“Did you know that Albert wants to be a detective?” said Gary. “He might have been looking around and come across the laundry-basket.”
“In a garden shed?”
“It wasn’t locked. I’m just exploring the possibility.”
“Was this Dorothy’s idea?”
“It was her laundry basket.”
“I hope she isn’t going off her rocker. A garden shed is not the usual place to keep a laundry basket.”
“She isn’t and the basket had been consigned there when it was replaced.”
“I think you will have to ask Albert about the theft. If he gives you a satisfactory answer, let him do a spot of sleuthing, Mr Hurley. But can you please explain why you suspect him?”
“His mother was visiting Kelly regularly, Dr Pope, and was seen in a compromising situation.”
“Was she now? I knew that her group therapy with a psychologist was useless, poor woman, since her problem had other causes, but that’s what the NHS offered her and she was bound to take it because that was part of her suspended sentence. She probably has schizophrenia, or a multiple personality, though that’s rarer. I don’t get many of them in my surgery and I’ve never tried to treat Edith. She’s family. That is not customary. I don’t publicize my profession, but I don’t abuse it either.”
“I don’t publicize my job either. You‘d be surprised how many people tell me that their nearest and dearest were murdered by other nearest and dearest, especially if there’s a big inheritance at stake.”
“My medical practice has taught me that murder is often not detected or even suspected if it’s done orally or through a syringe, Mr Hurley. I could tell you some stories …”
“Don’t. I’d have to follow them up. Maybe another time?”
“I’d like to hear your reactions, Mr Hurley.”
“All things considered, I believe that you should question Albert,” said Gary. “I don’t want him to think I’m accusing him, but I do need to know that he has nothing to do with the missing laundry-basket.”
“I agree, Mr Hurley. I’ll call you back. I think he’ll tell me the truth. I’m the best father he’s ever had. My brother-in-law was a hypocrite and an egoist.”
Gary gave Oscar his cell phone number and rang off.
Nigel arrived at the office rather late and apologetic because he had been at an extra rehearsal for his travesty show. Did Gary know that they were going to perform at the church hall in Upper Grumpsfield?
“I didn’t know we were to have the honour,” he said.
The phone rang.
Nigel answered it.
“No go with Wetherby,” he said, repeating the gist of the call. “You can see him for five minutes, Gary, but alone and only if it’s unavoidable.”
“That means they got him back,” said Gary. “I expect you have the details, Nigel. Nobody informed me.”
“He complained of stomach pains and those on duty escorted him back to the hospital. They couldn’t have him dying in his cell.”
To Nigel’s surprise, Cleo and Dorothy phoned from reception and announced that they would get a second breakfast in the canteen and could he call them when they were needed.
“It would have been helpful to know earlier about Frank. The Ladies have come specially to be at the interview.”
“That never occurred to me. Sorry,” said Nigel.
“Never mind. I’m getting old too, and Dorothy really has lost her laundry basket.”
“You could have called in yesterday, of course,” said Nigel. “Question: How do you lose a laundry basket?”
“By putting it in a garden shed and forgetting all about it. It has gone, and with it a loaded old army pistol in the lining,” said Gary thinking how thoughtless of Dorothy that was.
“That will curb her shooting practice,” said Nigel.
“No it won’t. Greg helped her to buy a new ladies’ weapon.”
“I suppose you mean a hat pin,” said Nigel.
“I wish I did. Better not suggest that to her. What’s wrong with Wetherby?”
“At least he wasn’t play-acting.” said Gary. “Not this time.”
Gary phoned Cleo on his mobile and told her that Frank was out of reach back in hospital with appendicitis.
After consulting Dorothy, Cleo announcing that Dorothy would go shopping and she had an extra appointment and would talk about it later.
“What was all that, Gary?”
“Cleo is on some wild goose chase or other again. I could tell that from the tone of her voice. I was not given time to ask where she was going, but I’m going to take a look at Frank Wetherby. Hold the fort here, please.”
Frank was propped up in the hospital bed. He was attached to a drip and did not look well.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Frank,” said Gary. “I won’t stay long.”
“I’ve no idea if I can tell you anything.”
“You could tell me why you were in that room at the salon, for instance.”
“I was meeting someone.”
“OK. Where had you come from?”
“Golder’s Green. I’d cadged a bed there.”
“Carsten Drake,” said Frank.
“”What does he do for a living?”
“This and that.”
Gary decided to find out more about Drake through other sources.
“Were you followed to the salon, Frank?”
“I did not see anyone.”
“Who were you meeting there?”
“I got a message on my mobile. Anonymous. Something about Rita getting hurt.”
“If I had received a message to say a girlfriend of mine was in danger, I would have done something about it.”
“I did, didn’t I?”
“That’s not how I see it,” said Gary. “It was dangerous to go there not knowing who gave you the order.”
“Not going there would have been worse – at least for Rita.”
“Why didn’t you contact the police?”
“I did not want to involve anyone else.”
“I won’t argue that point. You know damn well that the police are not just anyone else.”
“I did not know I was in any danger, Gary.”
“How naïve is that?” said Gary. “Unless you think I’m such a fool as to believe you. You let yourself into the salon to meet someone you did not know. What did you do next?”
“There was no one there so I went through to the back room intending to get myself a drink.”
“Alone, so you thought.”
“Yes. But I wasn’t. Someone knocked me out.”
“And you’ve no idea who it was?”
“I got involved with some guys weeks before and they …”
“That doorman Pooth?”
“I was looking for a card-sharper.”
“That was not one of Cleo’s missions, Frank. Were you doing a bit of sleuthing on the side?”
“The agency had almost ground to a halt,” said Frank.
“That is no excuse for free-lancing without consulting your employer”
“I learnt that the hard way,” said Frank. “It was sort of lucrative.”
“Only sort of? Were drugs involved? Had someone found you out, Frank?”
Frank looked perplexed. Did Gary know more about him than he should?
“I’m not into that caper anymore. I got out relatively unscathed until now.”
“Is that why you took the job at the Hartley Agency?”
“You could have stayed there after Sergeant Llewellyn was taken out of circulation, surely. Did you pay for his silence by any chance?”
“No, but it was time to move on. Llewellyn knew too much and would have used it against me although it was no longer relevant.”
“And he’s back in favour, I understand. But he is not responsible for what happened to you here, is he?”
“Let’s go over it all again. Someone ordered you to Rita’s salon and you went there thinking she would be in danger otherwise. You were knocked out in that back room at the salon and don’t know who did it. What time did it happen?
“Do you have any idea who left you the phone message?”
“I have my suspicions.”
“Could it have been Pooth?”
“Would he have had the physical strength to knock you out, Frank?”
“If he was behind me I dare say he could.”
“But Pooth is dead, Wetherby. He was found dead yesterday so we can’t round him up and ask. The Norton family is at the hub of crime round here. I’m surprised that you are still alive, Frank. The Nortons employed professional killers to do their dirty work. The fate that befell you is typical of their tactics. It was the sort of job Pooth organized. But he had friends who might want to revenge his death. I would not stick around, Frank.”
“I did date Pamela Norton from the Wellness Centre once or twice.”
“Another Norton tactic. She vetted you, in other words.”
“She must have. But I did not tell her anything about my past, Gary.”
“She might have been set on you in full knowledge of your activities in Frint-on-Sea.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Pam Norton has all her wool on, Frank. Dating her is like dating Medusa.”
A nurse interrupted the interview by putting her head round the door.
“You’ll have to go now,” she told Gary.
“Just one or two more questions, Frank.”
“Did you know about the drugs in the storeroom?”
“No. what drugs?”
“Heroin. Could they have been planted there to frame you?”
“Why would anyone do that?” said Frank.
For a private eye Frank was astonishingly naïve, Gary mused.
“I keep asking myself that,” said Gary. “If someone wanted you out of circulation, you could have been killed instead of knocked out. That makes it more likely that Pooth was the unknown quantity.”
“So I’m out of danger,” said Frank. “He’s dead.”
“You are in deep water, Frank, and we can only help you if you are straight with us.”
“I can’t think what else I can tell you.”
“You might be interested to know that the drugs consignment was not very impressive. Most of it was flour. Just the top layer was homeopathically stretched heroin with a negligible street value. If you had struck a deal, you were being double-crossed, Frank.”
With those words, Gary left and drove back to HQ. He did not know what to make of Frank Wetherby.
“I’m going home, Nigel,” Gary told Nigel.
“Cleo left a message an hour ago to say that she was going straight home and Joe said he was going to interview someone or other for the police gazette.”
“Theoretically, you could go home early too, Nigel.”
“Where’s the catch?”
“I want you to try to trace a guy called Carsten Drake. He lives somewhere in Golder’s Green. Frank slept there while he was in London. Drake jobs around apparently. I’d like to know what he really does and if he has any convictions. I also need to know if Frank Wetherby has been picked up for drug dealing anywhere and if not, what sort of a past he has, apart from the harmless activities he mentioned to Cleo.”
“And what were those?”
“Art. Painting pictures.”
“You can’t live on that,” said Nigel.
“No, but you can set up an easel somewhere and have pockets full of pills to sell in the seclusion of the countryside.”
“But all that was in North Wales, wasn’t it?”
“He also did security officer duty at shops. That’s what he told Cleo he wanted to do in London.”
“A likely story,” said Nigel.
“Frank Wetherby’s biography is not squeaky clean, Nigel. When I think that Cleo trusted him …”
“She had no choice in the circumstances, Gary, and to be honest, I think Frank is the kind to be led on rather than having leadership qualities.”
“That makes him even more vulnerable, Nigel.”
“Then his days are numbered,” said Nigel.
“They probably are.”