22 April 2017

21 - Final countdown

Friday August 15 into Saturday

After an acrid discussion the two patrol cops transporting Mrs Bryce to HQ decided that finding Mrs Bryce had priority so they set off in different directions. It would be challenge to come across the woman on a moonless night, but it was the least they could do in the circumstances.

Those two cops were in trouble and they knew it. That was not just because the entire back window of their police car had been shot to smithereens and the front was rather battered from the confrontation with the dustbins, but also because they had let the prisoner escape having not kept to the rule of securing the rear doors of their car, not to mention going on a clandestine shopping trip with the vehicle.

The shooting drama had taken place on Thumpton Hill, so Mrs Bryce was able to escape into the thickets of Thumpton Wood. It did not take many minutes for the patrol cops to realize that a) they were out of their depth and b) they would have to get help. One of them phoned HQ and reported the predicament. Help was promised and a message sent to CDI Hurley, who had just arrived.
“What the hell…” was Gary’s reaction. “I thought they were held up by traffic.”
***
The blasted woman must have carried that gun in the shopping bag, Gary realized. Dorothy had carried her father’s gun in a handbag smaller that Mrs Bryce’s shopping bag, so it must have had plenty of room. He should have known better. And where had Mrs Bryce found the bullets? Hadn’t Dorothy said they were safe in her cutlery drawer? And hadn’t Dorothy asked him if he ever made mistakes? Would he have the courage to admit this one?
Gary wished he was back in the clinic being treated for burnout. What could he tell Cleo and Dorothy that would not arouse derision?
***
Olly sat in Gary’s office waiting for something to happen. It was likely that his parents would be kept in arrest cells overnight, so Gary asked Olly where he could stay the night if he did not go home.
“I can go to Alec’s,” the boy said. “I’ve stayed there before.”
“Have you got your mobile phone with you, Olly?”
“Yes Sir.”
“Then phone Alec and find out if you can go there. It’s ten o’clock now. You could be there in a good hour if you are straight with me about your statement.”
“Yes Sir.”
Olly’s statement should have been brief and to the point, but it wasn’t because the boy skirted round anything approaching a confession or a denial. One thing was clear. He could not have shot Kelly. His description of the situation was too vague and inaccurate. On being asked what he had done with the gun, he replied that he had thrown it into the pond.
At that moment the phone rang. It was Greg. Mrs Bryce was indeed missing. She had held the patrol cops to ransom and escaping armed into Thumpton Wood.
Mrs Bryce had disappeared into thin air. The patrol cops were now being treated for shock by paramedics. Greg, who had actually washed his hands of the patrol squad organization, had been obliged to break off a very promising date and drive to Thumpton Hill, where the incident had occurred.
“The car’s almost a write-off,” he said. “Mrs Bryce put a bullet through the back window. Big and Little were so shocked by the shooting that Little drove into dustbins waiting for tomorrow’s collection.”
“Don’t blind me with science, Greg. Just tell me who Big and Little are.”
“Fairly new to the business, Gary, and I did not get them to join. Big is a tall, muscular guy who’s into extreme sports and Little just about scraped through the height test. What he lacks in height he makes up for in girth.”
“It sounds to me that those clowns are as much of a write-off as their car,” said Gary.
“The insurance will pay for the car, Gary. I’m more worried about Mrs Bryce being on the loose with what we can assume to be the gun that killed Kelly.”
Gary moved into the corridor so that he could speak more freely.
“We’ll have to find her. The armed cops – assuming you have sent some - will have shoot first to put her out of action but please not kill her. The woman is dangerous.”
“Her actions are as good as a confession,” said Greg.
“I keep thinking about Cleo saying that once someone has killed, he or she will do it again if necessary. We can’t have that in Upper Grumpsfield – or anywhere else for that matter.”
“So how many suspects have you captured, Gary?”
“Captured is rich. I have a little guy named Olly Bryce here. He’s going home after making a statement that is unusable, in other words a pack of lies. He claims that he sank the gun in the Commons pond, but that is plainly untrue. Mr Bryce must be somewhere at HQ. It was in the patrol car directly behind me. I’ll interview him another time. He can stew overnight.”
***
After talking to Greg, Gary instructed the police officer on general night duty to put Mr Bryce in an arrest cell for the night if he had not already done so. Then he told Olly that he would drive him to his friend Alec’s home. The two policewomen would drive with them.
“Stay at Alec’s for a day or two, Olly, but keep in touch,” he said, giving the boy a business card. “I think your father will get home soon. Since we don’t know where your mother is, I can’t tell you when she will be home.”
“Don’t bother looking, Sir. She was having it off with Kelly while he was having it off with anyone he could get near enough to. My parents are disgusting.”
“You’d better talk to my wife, Olly. She’s a good listener and she will help you to understand what has been going on in your family.”
“I understand already,” said Olly. “They hate each other.”
Gary was glad he had Mr Bryce under lock and key. It was a wonder that Mrs Bryce had not already taken a pot shot at her husband or otherwise caused his demise if there was so much hatred and duplicity in play. She was obviously the more aggressive of the two.
Gary drove to Alec’s parents’ house in Lower Grumpsfield. All the lights in the house were on and Alec was standing at the open front door waiting. He was probably expecting a police car so would be disappointed.
“Good night, Olly, and don’t forget that we want to help you.”
“Thank you Sir,” said the boy as he rushed inside the house.
“He’ll be all right, Ladies,” said Gary. “How about a goodnight coffee before you go home? Where’s Joe, Barbara?”
“He wanted to sketch Bryces for his Cops Corner.”
“I’ll phone him,” said Gary.
“He should still be in his the office. I’ll go and collect him when I’ve dripped Mia off,” said Barbara.
“I’ll tell him that, Barbara. You both have a free morning tomorrow, by the way. Thanks for supporting me.”
***
Gary related the sorry tale of his capture to Cleo. An hour later Joe and Barbara arrived and helped to empty the coffee pot. They were now an item, Gary decided.
“We’ll go next door,” Joe said. “I expect that Grit and Roger will have hit the hay by now.”
“They got that sorted out fast,” he remarked.
“I think it was sorted out before you left for Lower Grumpsfield,“ said Cleo. “Am I to believe that garbled story you told me?”
“It’s true, unfortunately,” said Gary.
“Who’s looking for the woman, then?”
“Mrs Bryce is probably being hunted down by half the constabulary by now. The situation is volatile but Greg is on hand and will deal with it. He will have called in some armed cops.”
“I’m honest when I say that I’m glad you are back.”
“I’m equally honest when I say that I’ll be glad to be under our duvet,” said Gary. “I don’t suppose we’ll see Barbara and Joe again before breakfast.”
“And I thought you were a fast worker,” said Cleo.
“TouchĂ©, my love.”
“Just one question,” said Cleo.
“Yes, I will marry you.”
“I thought we’d agreed on that in front of Mrs Colby,” said Cleo. “But we have not actually solved the Kelly murder, have we?”
“It must have been Mrs Bryce. She had the gun.”
“And was clearly prepared to use it again,” said Cleo.
“They all made out that they had shot Kelly, said Gary. “They must have planned that. They would probably have got away with it, but Mrs Bryce has put a spanner in the works.”
“I’m going to take a very hot shower. Will you join me,” said Cleo.
“Will we both fit? You aren’t exactly sylph-like these days.”
“I wonder why,” said Cleo.
***
The phone rang. It usually did when the Hurleys had other plans.
“Don’t answer it, Gary.”
“To quote you, I’ll have to. It might be important.”
It was Greg and he was not as laid back as usual.
“The worst has happened,” he reported.
“I was afraid it might. Where is she?”
“On the way to pathology.”
“I don’t suppose she could see any other way out, Greg. Don’t blame those cops and don’t blame yourself. If anyone is at fault it was me. I did not look inside her shopping bag although it reminded me of Dorothy Price’s and she carried that old pistol around in it.”
“She didn’t shoot herself, Gary.”
“She didn’t?”
“The A & E doctor said she died of a heart attack. Fright, he called it. Running away like she did was simply too much for her.”
“Poor woman. She was guilty or she would not have run away. In running away she signed her own death warrant.”
“I’ve pocketed the gun. It does look like Dorothy’s old one. I’ve no idea where Mrs Bryce got the ammunition.”
“That’s the least of our worries. Dorothy may even have left some ammunition in the laundry-basket and forgotten. See you tomorrow morning, Greg. We’ll have to break the news to Mr Bryce, though from what his son said, I don’t think he’ll be upset. He probably had a narrow escape once his wife had found the gun.”
“What about the boy?”
“I’ll leave that to Cleo. Good night, Greg.”
***
“What will you leave to me?” Cleo asked as she handed him a large mug of steaming cocoa.”
“His mother was found dead. Heart attack. And hey this is cocoa. That’s a kid’s nightcap,” said Gary.
“Why don’t you try it first? I don’t put rum in the kids’ drinks.”
“I love you, Mrs Hurley.”
“I love you, Mr Hurley.”
“But we still haven’t solved the Rita case,” said Gary, “even if Mrs Bryce seems to have solved the Kelly mystery for us.”
“I don’t care a damn if we never solve it,” said Cleo.
“Neither do I if I’m honest. Let’s procrastinate and go to bed first,” said Gary. “This bedtime drink has an aphrodisiacal if not soporific effect.”
“I thought you’d never notice” said Cleo.

Saturday

 “I thought Barbara would make a good candidate for Robert,” Cleo announced from the depth of her duvet as Gary jumped out of bed to gather up PeggySue and give her breakfast.
“But you don’t need to play cupid for Robert. I dreamt last night that you had.”
“I feel sorry for him but you do not need to dream about him. I’m starting to wonder…”
“He’s not my type,” said Gary. “Anyway, he has a new flame.”
“How do you know?”
“A guy has a sixth sense about such things,” said Gary.
Cleo threw her pillow at him.
“The hell you do, Gareth,” she said. “You are as thick as a brush when it comes to romance.”
“PeggySue is still asleep. Move over. I’m coming back to bed and call me Gareth only on pain of death. As for romance…”
The twosomeness did not last long. Within a couple of minutes there were seven of them in that bed.
“I just don’t believe this,” said Gary.
“They are nearly all yours, Sweetheart,” said Cleo.
“Yes Daddy. We are giving you some love back then you can give it to Mummy.”
“I suppose love is like murder in the end,” said Gary. “It’s all a question of interpretation and whose side you are on. Get the breakfast going, girls. I’m on my way.”
With those words Gary leapt out of bed, slipped into his jogging gear and made for the kitchen. Before doing so her risked a pillow fight by declaring “Sorry, Mistress Cleopatra. Our lovin’ will have to wait, as Gloria would say.”
“I’ll get the twins ready for their day instead,” said Cleo. “Grit should be over soon.”
“And my brother. I wonder if Barbara is still there. I gave her and Mia the morning off.”
“Very perspicacious. I’m quite sure she is.”
“I hope he doesn’t make such a mess of courting as I did.”
“I thought you did rather well considering that you were still married,” said Cleo.
“Only on paper. I was hoping you’d say that.”
***
Breakfast was lively with a houseful of munchers and crunchers. Lottie was wide-eyed with surprise when her father appeared with Barbara.
“Did you sleep together?” she asked.
Roger and Grit, who had joined the party, wondered if the question was directed at them.
“I mean Daddy and Barbara,” said Lottie.
“Yes we did,” said Joe.
“Thank goodness for that,” said Lottie.
“Why?” said Grit.
“Now I can be sure that Sonia won’t be coming back,” said Lottie.
“Who is Sonia,” Barbara asked.
Lottie did not let her father reply.
“She was my class teacher in South Africa. She came here with me, but Daddy sent her home again and he did not sleep with her.”
“That’s enough, Lottie,” said Joe. “You can’t go telling everyone private things like that.”
“Sorry, Daddy. I didn’t like her, either.”
Charlie and Lottie left the table. They would play with the little ones for a while.
Joe wanted to apologize for his daughter, but they all thought it was rather amusing.
“Just carry on regardless, Joe,” said Gary. “Charlie is just as forward.”
“She’s been teaching my daughter. I’m not sure I can live with that kind of directness from a thirteen year-old.”
“Never mind,” said Barbara. “I think I can say for us all that we found the repartee amusing. Farmers and growing offspring have to know the nitty-gritty about life. Joe is going with me to my parents then he’ll know what I mean.”
“I expect your parents will think we’d made a good start,” said Joe.
“Dorothy would declare that as a dress rehearsal, Joe,” said Cleo.
“Like the trial run of my Cops Corner next week,” said Joe. “I’m doing portraits of Bertie Browne, Mia and Barbara for my who’s who, and that was before Barbara and I got together. Oh, and I’ve started sketches of that awful trio we dealt with last night.”
 “This is all fascinating stuff, but I’ll have to get going,” said Gary. “You have a free weekend, Barbara.”
“Do I? I thought I was working this afternoon and tomorrow.”
“That was before you took pity on my brother, Barbara.”
“Correction: Fell in love,” said Barbara with the same directness as Cleo.
“I hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for, Joe. You can see where it got me.”
“I can’t wait,” said Joe.
“We could visit your parents, Barbara, of that’s OK with you? I need to find out if they approve of me.”
“Is that important?”
“It is if I’m going to marry you, Barbara.”
“You haven’t asked me?”
The audience waited with baited breath.
“Will you then?”
“I probably will, Joe.”
“That’s OK the, but first we have to take Dog out.”
“We can take him with us, Joe. Why is his name Dog?”
“Because he’s a dog, I suppose.”
“Tantalizing,” said Cleo. “But you’ll get used to it. I did.”
Joe and Barbara left. Roger announced that he was going food-shopping for the weekend since the coffers were empty. Cleo said she would stay with the children if Grit wanted to go with him. She did.
Gary was still amazed at the scene he had just witnessed. Joe was a step further up the ladder of truth and consequences than he was. The girls were dying to chew things over. After all, Barbara was going to be Lottie’s new mother. They announced that they were going to Helen’s again to colour drawings.
“Do you like Barbara, Lottie?” Gary asked.
“I’ll love her if she loves my Daddy,” said Lottie.
“And she loves you already, Lottie.,” said Cleo. “I could see that in her eyes.”
***
That left the three little ones, Cleo and Gary.
“I’ll have to go into HQ,” said Gary. “But not for an hour or so. Is there anything I can do for you before I go?”
“You could try a little TLC,” said Cleo. “I’ll put the little ones in the playpen.”
***
Later, the TLC on the living-room sofa out of sight of the playpen having been what Cleo described as ‘sensational but naughty’, Gary was dressing for the office when the phone rang.
It was Nigel.
“Frank is waiting for you here, Gary.”
“Hasn’t he been operated on?”
“Only tests done. He looks OK to me.”
“I’ll be at HQ in half an hour.”
***
“There’s a rumour going round about Barbara Fielding and Joe,” Nigel announced.
“Were you in bed with them, Nigel? They’ve only just found each other.”
“Old women and gays know how the world works, Gary.”
“I just hope Frank tells us about his world.”
“He told me he was innocent.”
“Innocent of what?”
“Everything.”
“Makes us an espresso, Nigel. I’m going to need it.”
“A hard night’s work, Gary?”
“You could put it like that. Cleo drugged me with rum-laced cocoa.”
“That sounds like happy families.”
“But before that we sewed up the Kelly murder.”
“Greg told me it is more of an open than shut case.”
“Don’t spoil my morning with too many truths, Nigel.”
***
“Good Morning, Frank,” said Gary. “Did you escape from the hospital or did they let you go?”
“I’m OK except for being a suspect,” said Frank. “I’ve had time to think about things.”
“Things like Kelly’s brothel, Frank?”
“So you know about that, do you?”
“That’s where you met Rita. You had sex with the lady who told me that.”
“Edith. I might have known.”
“Right in one.”
“Rita wanted more than she got, Gary.”
“But Edith had fun, Frank. Tell me about the drugs or rather the flour cache.”
“I did not know about any of that. I was knocked out as soon as I entered that back room.”
“I’m trying to believe you, Frank. How did you get to know the Nortons?”
Nigel served the coffee before retiring to his corner to make notes.
“They phoned me.”
“Because you were working for the Hartley Agency?”
“They thought I would be useful,” said Frank.
“And were you?”
“Not useful enough. I assume that’s why they wanted me out of the way.”
“But whoever was sent to kill you slugged you instead.”
“And set fire to the house,” said Frank. “A perfect plan if the fire brigade had not turned up so fast.”
“But too elaborate for just getting rid of you, Frank. The Nortons don’t tick like that.”
“That’s a relief, I suppose.”
“The only thing that really bothers me is that you were either knocked out in the night and could not see who did it, or you know who it was because it happened shortly before the fire. Rita discovered that fire at about 7:30 in the morning, so it was daylight.”
“I don’t suppose the arsonist knew that some women like to have their hair crimped before breakfast.”
“Luckily for you, Frank, except that we have no idea who called the fire brigade and will probably never know.”
“I think there must have been two assassins at work, Gary. I should be flattered.”
“That’s what I think. The first one reported that you were unconscious but alive. The second one was sent to finish off the job and settled for arson.”
“Or it was the same gangster come back to finish the job.”
“That’s also possible, Frank. Who was it?”
“I swear I don’t know.”
“Find out. You are in acute danger if you don’t. Whoever it was might not be as circumspect next time.”
Frank was alarmed. The 24/7 guard on his ward might have saved him from being killed in the hospital, but he did not have anyone to protect him now.
“I’m getting out,” said Frank.
“You’d better. And fast.”
“Does that mean that you believe me?”
“I’m inclined to. Let me know where you are.”
“I will. And thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, Frank. Thank Cleo. She thinks you were framed.”
“You mean that the drugs were planted to implicate me?”
“Exactly. Escort Mr Wetherby to the exit, Nigel!”
***
“So it as was simple as falling off a log,” Gary reported to Cleo when he phoned shortly after.
“It hasn’t solved anything though,” she said. “Try Rita! She may have something relevant to say.”
“I’m coming home,” said Gary. “Frank could have implicated Rita, but he didn’t.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s innocent.”
“It probably means she isn’t, but I’m not ruining the weekend with dark thoughts.”
“I’ll make you another rum-laced cocoa. It worked beautifully last night.”
“Make it rum and coke, Cleo. I don’t need the soporific effect of cocoa.”
“Hurley. You are the limit!”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to know,” said Gary.
***
“I could get to like this,” said Gary, sipping the rum and cocoa Cleo had nonetheless made for him.
“You haven’t solved the Pooth crime or Rita’s, Gary. No need to be complacent.”
“Unsolvable,” said Gary. “Some crimes are destined to remain unsolved, and those are the ones we know about. Then we just let sleeping dogs lie. Like Dog here. Do we own him now?”
“I got a phone-call from my mother,” said Cleo.
“Aha! Has she decided where she’s going to live next?”
“At your apartment if the offer was serious.”
“It was.”
“Can you help her to move there at the weekend?”
“I suppose I’ll have to. Where is she now?”
“I’ve made up the bed in our tiny guestroom, Gary. She’ll sleep here until she can move.”
“What happened to Gabriel?”
“Mother says he’s a swine. She prefers Romano after all, but she is not sure how to go back to him.”
“Do I take it that I’m to pave the way for the grand reunion?”
“I think that’s what she wants.”
“Any more cocoa?”
“No more rum,” said Cleo.
“I don’t mind whisky. When does the cocoa run out?”
“So will you do it?”
“Anything to get her out of this house and get a smile back on Romano’s face,” said Gary.
“I knew I could count on you, Sweetheart.”
***
“Before we consign our unsolved cases to the archive, I should mention that Pooth might have been helped by the Nortons to the pearly gates, since they had the best motive and are past masters at getting rid of anyone they can’t use, whereas Frank is still running free and a found object for any assassin who might still be on the lookout,” said Gary.
“Is that a warning against hiring him again?”
“Emphatically, yes.”

“Then I won’t,” said Cleo.