18 April 2017

20 - Passing the buck

Thursday cont.

Gary and Cleo had plenty to talk about when they finally had time, but with a report in person delivered by Mia and Barbara due shortly, most of their talking was done in the kitchen preparing enough food for the five thousand. Robert had delivered a tray of lamb chops that would no doubt be gnawed to their bare bones that evening. Gary was assigned the potato peeling and chopping for the overworked chip pan, all the while arguing that frozen chips did the job and required no work at all. Cleo made vinaigrette for the salad – Gary had long since stopped arguing the case for salad cream as a standard British condiment. As usual the meal would be a buffet served from the kitchen worktop. It was ostensibly a working dinner, so getting the guests to help themselves was a speedier way of doing things.
Grit had been looking after things while Cleo was away longer than expected and was glad she could get home before Roger came. The union was still in its infancy and she was looking forward to time with her new partner, but dinner and the meeting had to be attended, of course. Roger assured Grit that he really was staying forever, even if Gloria had thought it strange. They could not base their romance on Gloria’s way of doing things.
Joe changed into jogging gear and went for a run with Dog. The animal was starting to lose weight and Joe enjoyed the exercise. Working at HQ all day left him little time to get some fresh air. When they arrived at Cleo’s cottage after their run all the way round Monkton Priory, Dog stretched out on the hearth rug and went to sleep exhausted. Cleo remarked that Joe was in better condition than Dog.
“I’ll lend him out if you want to run around with him,” Joe offered.
“Too busy,” said Cleo. “Ask Gary. He’s put weight on. I’ve taken it off thanks to all the hard work.”
“I heard that,” said Gary. “What about all my hard work?”
“Truly spectacular, Sweetheart.”
Gary did not explain the innuendo.
Cleo told Joe what was on the schedule. He was very glad that Barbara would be coming to dinner even if it was to talk shop. He had thought she was on late duty. He should change back into something respectable and ask her for a date. Did Gary think asking her out now good timing?
“Come off it, brother mine,” said Gary. “You slept with her last time she was here.”
“I want her to know it was not a one-night stand,” said Joe.
“I’m sure she knows that already,” said Cleo.
“How?”
“Women often know things like that,” said Cleo.
“Especially if they are witches, Joe,” said Gary.
Gary organized the little Hurleys with Charlie’s help while Joe took time to talk with his daughter. Lottie was happy. She had integrated well into the family and with Charlie’s friends. Did she want to go back to that school in South Africa? It was important to ask Lottie that without Sonia being there.
Lottie was adamant. Never, but what was Sonia going to do? Joe explained that he and Sonia had different ideas about life and would not be seeing each other again. And no, he was not sad. Could Lottie take a good look at Barbara? He liked her a lot.
“Is she going to be your next lover?” said the girl.
Joe was getting used to being asked startlingly astute questions in the Hurley family, but the word lover had never been used between Joe and Lottie. She had probably learnt it from Charlie, but the girls were growing up and the truth was always a good idea as it saved questions and explanations later.
“Would it bother you if I got to know her better?”
“Lovers love one another,” said Lottie, “in bed and sometimes in cars. Charlie says so.”
“We’ll wait and see about that, shall we?” said Joe, and in true Hurley manner added “I’ll keep you posted.” He was not a Hurley by name, but in spirit he had already joined the pack.
“What about the new bungalow, Daddy. Are we going to live there?” Lottie wanted to know.
“As soon as the plumbing is done and the wiring made safe we’ll paint it all in pretty colours and you can choose them,” said Joe, glad to be off the topic of lovers. He would leave Cleo to take care of the details of that topic.
“Come on Lottie!” Charlie called. “You take Teddy and I’ll take Tommy. They need their supper.”
“Those girls are brilliant,” said Gary, reappearing with PeggySue on his arm. “I wonder how they’ll get on when there are two more babies to carry around.”
“We’ll have to join forces, Gary,” said Joe. “I’m willing to help where I can.”
“Perhaps you’ll have kids of your own to rear before long,” said Gary.
“Is that a prophesy?”
“No. Just wishful thinking.”
“Lottie has grown up a lot since getting to know Charlie,” said Joe.
“Did she ask you about your sex life, Joe?”
“I think that’s what she was getting at.”
“Just be truthful. I was. The kids know everything these days. I think the girls talk in one corner and the boys in another. Very soon some of them will be pairing off. That’s when the fun really starts, but you can ask Cleo if something’s bothering you. She’s an expert.”
“I think I know what you mean,” said Joe. “But someone else’s wife is not the person I would talk to about my love life.”
“I don’t see why not. Cleo was someone else’s wife when I started confiding in her.”
“That’s slightly different, don’t you think?”
Joe was still dressed in his jogging gear when the doorbell announced the arrival of Mia and Barbara.
“Now we’ll hear some lurid tales, I’m sure,” said Gary. “My favourite lady cops have been hunting down a laundry-basket.”
A phone-call later, Cleo knew that Grit and Roger preferred their own company and would not be coming. Could Gary brief Roger on the cases next morning?
***
Barbara was surprised to see Joe, but she went to him and hugged him. Joe was a little surprised, or made out to be, but he hugged her back and wondered if she would like Dog. Cleo did not miss the sparks flying. Those two will combust in a moment, she mused. Joe looked just like Gary did in those early days. She remembered him appearing at her hotel room door dressed for jogging and ending up in her bed. Barbara and Joe seemed to have a mutual fan club.
“OK,” said Mia without preamble. “The afternoon was a success.”
She glanced at Joe and Barbara who were still engaged in the aftermath of that hug.
“That’s settled then,” said Mia.
“What’s settled?” said Joe.
“You two,” said Mia. “Barbara kept mentioning her tall dark friend and now I know who it is. You’d pass for Gary any time, Joe. I’ve seen colleagues at HQ looking really disconcerted.”
“Oh, that’s what you mean,” said Joe. “So am I good for a date with Barbara, am I?” he continued jokingly.
“Are you inviting me, Joe?” said Barbara.
“I think I must be.”
“And I think I’d enjoy going out on a date with you,” said Barbara.
“That’s settled then,” said Gary, noting the emphasis on ‘out’. They were all playing the game of a new friendship being born. Barbara had presumably not had a girl talk with Mia.
***
While Barbara and Joe were involved with themselves, Mia helped feed the 3 little ones their supper and they were all put to bed with the girls’ help. The girls then feasted on the first pan of chips and gnawed enthusiastically at their lamb chops.
“You can baby-sit any day, Mia,” said Gary.
“Thanks, Gary. I just wish I had my own little boy here.”
“I promised your husband a job and I want him to join the homicide squad. He told me he was thinking about it last time I talked to him. Get him on the phone and I’ll get an answer now.”
Gary did not mention that he would probably take Roger’s place in management at some time in the future because it was not being talked about at HQ and he hoped it would not happen soon, but an experienced detective like Mike Curlew would be good for the homicide squad and as a newcomer he’d be able to liaise with those pensioner couch potatoes left over in the vice squad. He could eventually take over their work.
Lottie was going to stay the night at the cottage. Joe had hinted that her grandmother needed time with Roger without the children being present..
“Are they lovers?” Lottie wanted to know. “Aren’t they a bit old for that?”
“I can’t answer those questions,” said Joe. “Ask your grandmother.”
“Grandmothers don’t do love, do they?” said Lottie.
“Yes, they do,” said Charlie. “Grit loves us and Joe and my Daddy and Cleo and the twins and PeggySue and now I think she loves Roger, too.”
“But she can’t have any love left over for him,” said Lottie.
“No, Lottie, you’ve got it wrong,” said Cleo, who had been amused by the drift of the conversation and the undisguised discomposure of Gary and Joe. “The more love you give, the more you have to give because you get love back.”
Mia and Barbara looked on, each thinking her own thoughts. Gary could be excused for looking hard at Cleo and there is no doubt that Joe was looking expectantly at Barbara.
“Come on, Lottie,” said Charlie. “We can do some colouring before we go to sleep.”
After going all round to dispense hugs and kisses (and getting them back), the two girls went to the children’s room. Gary followed with PeggySue, who had returned to the living-room to look for the big girls. He dressed her in her sleeping sack and tucked her up in her cot. The child fell asleep the moment her head touched the pillow.
“You have to put loving to the test,” Cleo continued as Gary returned to the dining table.
“Not if it turns out like your mother’s, Cleo,” said Gary. “Do you know that she dropped hints all the time she lived here, Joe?”
”What kind of hints? Sure she wasn’t badgering you.”
“She assumed that Cleo and I spent all our free time in bed.”
“Well, didn’t you?” said Joe.
Now it was Mia and Barbara’s turn to look embarrassed. Cleo thought the conversation was getting rather too intimate, so she used her very successful approach.
“Do you want me to tell you what we did, Joe? Use your imagination. My mother did, constantly.”
“Oh dear,” said Joe. “I think we should close this topic.”
***
“Well, whatever love can be found in Lower Grumpsfield, it did not get to the women we talked to this afternoon,” said Mia, pinpointing the reason the two policewomen were there in the first place.
“This lamb is delicious,” said Barbara. “Do you mind if I gnaw the chops like a dog?”
“”I’ll join you,” said Joe. “Do you like dogs?”
“I’m a farmer’s daughter, Joe. We love our sheepdogs and they do a great job with the sheep. I’ll take you to visit them, if you like.”
“I would like – very much. I walk a dog named Dog every day. That’s him asleep on the hearth rug. Come for a run with us tomorrow. That’s why I’m dressed like this.”
“That’s settled then,” said Cleo. “I like it when people like the same things.”
***
“Did you find the laundry-basket?” Gary asked, deciding to put a brake on any details Cleo might want to add to that last statement.
. “We found it,” said Mia. “It’s in my car.”
“Where?”
“Not at one of the addresses you gave us. It was sitting on the pavement at a bus-stop. There was no sign of anyone.”
“But that means we won’t know where it went to or came from,” said Gary.
“We have witness to who left it.”
“First we should find out if it’s the basket we are looking for,” said Gary.
“I’ll get it,” said Mia.
“No. Leave it in the car. I’ll ask Dorothy to come and identify it,” said Cleo. “She should be here anyway. I thought I’d invited her.”
“And I’ll phone Oscar,” said Gary. “I’ll ask if Albert found out anything. They could at least have rung me by now.”
***
I’d have phoned you in the morning, Mr Hurley,” Oscar explained. “Albert did get talking about the laundry-basket and he advised the youths he talked to just to take the basket and leave it somewhere. A boy named Olly said it was a good idea. Albert volunteered to help, so he knows where the basket was before it was left on the pavement somewhere.
“Brilliant, Dr Pope. My colleagues came across the laundry-basket and have brought it in and we are waiting for confirmation that it is the one that was taken. Can you give me the address Albert gave you?”
“12 Shakespeare Avenue, Mr Hurley.”
“I’ll be in touch. Tell Albert I’m very pleased with his initiative, but he should keep away from Lower Grumpsfield for the time being while we sort things out.”
***
Mia was on her way to the car when Dorothy arrived. She was able to confirm the laundry-basket’s ownership, describing the lining so that Mia could double check that Dorothy was not making it up. Mia locked the car and the two women went back into the cottage.
“That is great,” said Gary. “I never knew that a laundry-basket could mean so much to me.”
“We’ll have to take it to forensics,” said Mia.
“That’s fine,” said Dorothy. “It was only in the garden shed until the next bring-and-buy sale.”
“We’ll call on 12 Shakespeare Avenue a.s.a.p.,” said Gary.
“Go now, Folks!” said Cleo. “No time like the present.”
“Isn’t it a bit late?” said Barbara, who was disappointed that her time with Joe was going to be cut short.
“The woman is more likely to be at home now than during a working day,” said Cleo. “Joe. Come with us. An extra witness is always a good thing.”
Was Cleo indulging in a little more matchmaking?
Barbara looked at Joe and they exchanged meaningful smiles.
“OK,” said Gary. “We’ll go in the family van and if we pick the woman up we’ll take her to HQ first and then come back here. OK, Ladies?”
Gary departed with Joe, Mia and Barbara in tow. None of them was in uniform. Mia sat in the front and Joe sat in the back with Barbara, holding hands, as Mia reported later.
Gary would go to the house first. Barbara would secure the back of the building. Joe would go with her. No one was to be allowed to leave until Gary was sure that there was nothing to answer for at that address.”
***
The houses in Shakespeare Avenue were terraced and small. They were built at a time when building sites including room for gardens, but most of the houses now had a car space instead and one or two had garages.
Oscar Pope had not known the name of the people who lived at number 12 except that the boy had told Albert that his name was Olly. The name Bryce was on the doorbell. A man came to the door. Gary asked him if he was Mr Bryce. He was.
“Can I speak to your wife, Mr Bryce?”
“Why do you want to speak to her, Mr ….”
“Hurley. This is Mrs Curlew. If we could just come in for a moment.”
A voice was heard calling out.
“Who is it, Joseph?”
“Someone wants to speak to you, Mavis.”
“Tell them to come back tomorrow,” shouted Mavis.
“Step in, will you?” said Bryce, a heavy-weight guy with extensive sideburns and a paunch.
Mavis Bryce appeared. She did not have sideburns, but she did have a paunch.
“Who are they?” said Mavis looking hatefully at Joseph. “What do you want, Mister and Miss?”
“If we could just come in a bit further,” Mia said.
Bryce made way for Gary and Mia to push through the narrow hallway and follow Mavis into the front room.
“Do you have a son, Mrs Bryce,” Gary asked.
“Oliver, but we call him Olly. Why?”
“We found a laundry-basket, Mrs Bryce,” said Mia. “Two boys carried it from this house to where it was found.  One of them was named Olly. We’d like to know if it is your basket.”
“I don’t know whose it is. Olly brought it home one day and said he’d found it, but I didn’t like it much.”
“Did you tell him to take it away, Mrs Bryce,” Gary asked.
“Wait a minute. Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Hurley and I am a detective. This is my assistant,” he said, nodding to Mia.
“Do you work for that agency in Upper Grumpsfield?” Bryce asked.
“Sometimes,” said Gary quite truthfully.
“So what’s all this about, Mr Hurley?”
“We think that your son Olly and a friend must have taken the laundry-basket from a shed in Upper Grumpsfield,” said Mia.
“Are you accusing my son of stealing?” Mrs Bryce asked.
“The former owner does not want the laundry-basket back, but we need to know if your son helped to carry the laundry-basket away, Mrs Bryce,” said Gary slowly. “It’s just for our records.”
“You can’t prove it,” said Bryce, entering with a bottle of beer that he proceeded to empty in gulps.
“Prove what?” asked Olly who had just come home.
“Did you remove a laundry-basket from a garden shed, Oliver?” Mia asked.
“Why would I do that, Miss?”
“Just to play a joke on the old lady who lives there. I’m sure you would have taken it back. Was it a dare, Oliver?” Mia asked.
Oliver realized that he was being given an easy ride.
“Why don’t you tell me about it,” said Mia.
“It’s a gang, Miss. To get in you have to do something daring. One of the gang went with me and I was looking for something to take in Upper Grumpsfield because no one would know who had done it. But the sheds were locked except for that one.”
“So now you are in the gang, are you?” said Gary as a terrible thought occurred to him.
“It wasn’t enough of a dare, Sir,” said Oliver. “I’ll have to do another, unless….”
“What would be enough of a dare, Oliver,” said Gary. “Finding a gun in the basket and shooting at someone with it on the Common.”
“I never did,” said Oliver. “Who told you that?”
“But you did find the gun, didn’t you?” said Mia.
“I found the gun,” said Mrs Bryce.
“You didn’t tell me, woman,” said Bryce.
“I couldn’t, could I?” she said.
“Is it because you thought Olly had put it there, Mrs Bryce,” Gary asked.
“Praps it is.”
“So what did you do with the gun, Mrs Bryce?”
“She went to the Common and threw it in the pond,” said Oliver.
“Didn’t you try it first, Mrs Bryce?” Gary asked.
Mrs Bryce had looked nervous. Now she looked terrified.
***
Gary turned to Mr Bryce.
“Did you go to Kelly’s farmhouse, Mr Bryce?” Gary asked.
Bryce looked uncomfortable.
“He did,” said Oliver. “I saw him go there and not just once, either.”
“Hold your tongue, Olly,” Bryce shouted.
“Why should I? Everyone else knows what you went there for.”
“Did you know, Mrs Bryce?” Mia asked.
“For a long time I was the only one who didn’t know,” she said. “Then Olly wanted to go for a walk. He said he wanted to show me something. He showed me his father coming out of that brothel,” said Mrs Bryce.
“Do you want to tell us what happened last Monday?” Gary asked. “Or would you like me to tell you?”
“I went for a walk,” said Mrs Bryce.
“So did I,” said Olly.
“I did, too,” said Bryce.
“To the Common? All of you? Separately?”
“Yes,” they all said.
“Had you decided to get rid of the gun? All of you or separately?”
“Yes,” they all said.
“Which?”
“Everyone,” said Bryce.
“And then you saw Kelly, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”
“And you had the gun in your hand, so you aimed and shot, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know it was loaded.”
“But he was shot six times.”
“Was he?”
“Where were you when your mother went to the Common, Oliver?” Mia asked. “And this time it has to be the truth.”
“Here.”
Gary thought the boy might still be lying. Mia was sure.
Olly wanted to say something but Bryce shouted “Shut up!” and Olly was silent.
“I’m telling the truth,” said Bryce. “I shot Kelly.”
The best of three? Very heroic of you, Mr Bryce?
Gary turned to the boy.
“Olly Bryce, I’m taking you into custody,” said Gary.
“Only the police can do that,” said Bryce.
Mia and Gary showed their ID badges.
“You said that you work for that detective agency,” said Bryce.
“So I do, sometimes,” said Gary. “But we are now acting as police officers, Mr Bryce, and I am pulling your son in for murder.”
“You can’t do that,” shouted Mrs Brice. ”He’s underage.”
“I can,” said Gary. “He’s old enough to aim a gun.”
“It’s a pity you didn’t do the shooting, Mrs Bryce,” said Mia, giving Mrs Bryce the chance to confirm her guilt and exonerate her son. “Your son wanted to save his family and he did not care how he did it.”
“Is that true, Olly?” said Mrs Bryce, looking sharply at her son. Mia reflected that exoneration was something else.
Mr Bryce said nothing.
“Lead the way, Mia,” said Gary.
“Not till he has the bracelets on,“ said Mia and proceeded to handcuff the boy.
“You said it would be all right,” whined Oliver to his mother. “You promised that everything would be all right.”
“I did it, Mr Hurley,” said Mavis Bryce. “You’d have to prove that I didn’t if you want to convict Olly.”
“So I can take my pick from three confessions, can I?” said Gary.
“Your son has more or less confessed, Mrs Bryce, and there are mitigating circumstances in his case. After all, his father was visiting whores. Blame him for the mess your son is in. We will not imprison him. After he has made an official statement he will be brought back here until further notice.”
“I am now officially confessing to the shooting of Mr Kelly,” said Bryce out of the blue.
Gary took out his mobile phone and ordered two patrol cars. They arrived within minutes.
“You will all be taken to HQ,” said Gary. “I can see that you will all have to give statements – separately, of course, and for that you will be escorted separately to my department.”
The Bryces looked at one another in horror. Only one of them had shot Kelly, but Gary thought they would all confess, making it a sticky wicket for the law.
“I recommend that the one who actually did shoot Kelly admits it, otherwise the whole family will be charged with complicity,” said Gary, who privately felt that the case was slipping out of his grip.
Eventually the three vehicles with their cargoes of culprits left for Middlethumpton in a cavalcade, with Gary’s car containing Olly first and Mrs Bryce’s patrol car at the end. Gary had phoned Cleo to tell her what had transpired. Her only comment was “What a mess, Gary. Did you find the gun?”
“It’s in the pond, Cleo. That’s the only believable information I have.”
“You cops will have to keep your wits about you. The Bryce family has obviously done that.”
***
On reflection, it was stupid not to have ordered a search of Mrs Bryce’s shopping bag, which she insisted on taking along as it held her hat and scarf against the cold. As luck would have it, Mrs Bryce’s car was held up at the lights. Some things are just waiting to happen, remarked Dorothy, when she heard the story later.
When Mrs Bryce held Dorothy’s pistol to the head of the passenger patrol officer and told him to stop the car, he only laughed. But then she aimed the gun at the back window and shot the pane to pieces. The patrol car swerved and came to a stop relatively gently when it crashed against some large dustbins waiting for collection. At least they had been spared a brick wall. The patrol officers had not remembered to put the safety catches on the car doors. Mrs Bryce jumped out and ran off into the darkness before the patrol cops realized what was happening.
“The bloody safety catch wasn’t on,” shouted the patrol car driver. How could he explain to anyone that he had been to the DIY in the patrol car and loaded some building materials to take home? The catches were off because he had collected his wife to help choose the items. The colleague had been with him at the time so she had had to sit in the back. HQ did not normally hear of these excursions. Since Greg Winter had moved to the homicide squad things were at sixes and sevens.
It would have been too much to ask for the incident to go unnoticed. There were eyes everywhere. A photo of the bruised patrol car found itself into a special edition of the Chronicle next morning. The photographer, an amateur who just happened to be at the scene, had delivered a blow by blow report to Bertie Brown, the editor of the freebie Gazette. Bertie was good at writing long articles padded liberally with anything that came to mind..
More to the point, Mrs Bryce had disappeared without trace.
Gary would be left carrying the can, whatever and whoever had been careless. At HQ the law of the jungle was standard. He had to admit that he should have waited, but hadn’t. He should have talked to Roger about it, but hadn’t.
***
CDI Hurley was demoralized, but Mia and Barbara defended him with arguments that finally got through to him. He thought of Cleo’s explanation of how love works and felt a wave of gratitude for the two lady cops. It wasn’t the first time that he had thought he was in the wrong job.