It was a completely unexplained killing. There was absolutely no reason why Sarah Parks should have been so brutally battered. The police were baffled.
At first it had been assumed that she had wandered on to the tracks and then been struck by an oncoming train, but the coroner’s report had already ruled that out. When I visited the station to collect the CCTV footage, I asked to see the platform where Sarah was last seen. As soon as I saw the safety barrier at the end of the platform, I was convinced that she’d been pushed. I kept my thoughts to myself for a couple of days, but Boyle brought a few pictures to show me over dinner at my flat.
“She had cotton fibre under her fingernails that didn’t match anything she was wearing. Where would that have come from?”
“You could be breaking a hundred different rules by just asking me that question; in fact, I’m sure of it. I can’t interfere or even offer an opinion on a case unless requested to do so by a senior officer.”
Boyle pretended to be indignant. “I am a senior officer,” he said. “Besides, we gather our facts from several different sources as a matter of routine.”
“But you now have to report all your sources to your reporting officer before engaging them in your investigation. Failure to do so could result in severe disciplinary action. And you know what that means.”
“Yeah, she’s going to roast my meatballs on a spit and have them with spaghetti.” Boyle drained the last of his wine. “Remember when I said we were like two sides of the same coin? We look at a situation from different sides, but we invariably see the same thing. What are you seeing here?”
I stared into my glass and swirled the remaining rioja slowly. “I see Sarah being pushed over the barrier by someone wearing clothing of cotton fibre who then followed her on to the tracks to finish her off.”
“Then we agree. But by whom?”
I had no answer. I could only confirm what the station staff had told me. Sarah was alive and visible on the security screens at 10.35 on that Monday night. She turned around and appeared to speak to someone out of view of the camera. The next train to stop at that station was the 10.50 to Hertford and that was when the alarm was raised.
“That’s a pretty tight window,” I commented. “Fifteen minutes to kill someone; it’s pretty brief.”
“But still perfectly possible.” Boyle gathered the notes scattered across my dining table. “The coroner suggested that the killer felt extreme rage; at least half a dozen of the blows were inflicted post mortem.”
I held up my hand and averted my gaze from the sheath of photographs. “Please don’t give me any further details. I’ll go back to the train company in the morning and check the footage again. What about her husband? Aren’t they usually first suspect?”
“Not this guy,” said Boyle. “His alibi is solid. I spoke to him myself yesterday. The poor man’s in bits.”
I gathered together the dirty dishes and wine glasses. “Coffee?”
“Please.” Boyle looked thoughtful for a moment. “Liz, when would you leave your handbag unattended?” He held up a picture.
I ignored it on my way to the kitchen. “Well, these days, I’d like to say never, but there must be times when I do.” I had already noticed what had caught his eye. When Sarah had turned to talk to the invisible fellow passenger, she had left her handbag on the platform bench. I scooped coffee into a cafetiere and closed my eyes as I inhaled the aroma. It failed to calm my nerves.
“You know what this suggests, don’t you?” Boyle came in holding the photograph and leaned against my counter top to look at me.
I nodded reluctantly. “We’re looking for someone she knew and trusted.”
Boyle’s phone jangled and he pulled a face as he looked at the display. I knew it was his boss and couldn’t resist a smile.
“Does your mother know you’re here?” Even having dinner together was now a reportable event.
“I’m going to speak to Sarah’s employer tomorrow,” said Boyle, when he ended the call. “And my boss was wondering if you’d like to join us?”
“Good God! As assistance or a suspect?”
Boyle laughed. “I think she just wants to see you for herself. She wants to know what you think.”
“I’d better iron a blouse, then.”
The following morning I took a copy of one of Boyle’s photographs back to the train station and spoke to the bored young man behind the glass whose shirt tag said his name was Justin. He wasn’t on duty at the time of the incident and was relieved about that.
“They didn’t let old Jim go until nearly midnight,” he said. “I’d have buggered off regardless. Would have been on my sixth pint by eleven.”
I showed him the photograph of Sarah moving back towards the entrance of the platform with her handbag behind her on the bench. “Who else would have been here at 10.35?” I asked.
“Well, Pat does the earlier shift,” he said scratching at the stubble under his chin. “Jim gets in before the 18.12. There would only have been a handful of passengers about at that time of night, plus a few stragglers from 22.11.”
I pointed to the time stamp on the picture. “It says 10.35, here. But the next train was at 10.50, not twenty to eleven.”
Justin laughed and handed over a timetable. He tapped the surface of his digital watch and then pointed to my traditional looking timepiece. “Things have moved on a bit since then,” he chuckled. It’s 22.11.” he separated the two numbers between his hands as if weighing grapefruit. “As in twenty-two hours and eleven minutes. Any passengers hanging around at the time you’re talking about had probably missed their train. There’s a phone number on there, too.”
I thanked Justin and called Boyle as I left.
“Gloria and I questioned the staff. They all say that Sarah was popular and hard working. Everyone was shocked when they heard the news.”
“What time do you want me there?”
“We’re questioning her closer colleagues after lunch. You better get here by 1 o’clock. “
I loved the way he said that.
“Ms Philips, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” DCI Gloria Hancock extended her hand and shook mine in grip that was assertive and kind in equal measure. Gloria was dressed like a business woman for whom the eighties had ended too soon. Her formal, padded jacket and tailored skirt gave her a stern and authoritative air. “We now know that Sarah Parks worked for Ray Seymour as a junior secretary for the last six months having been promoted from another department. Mr Seymour’s wife confirms he was at home with her from 9.30 onwards; he often works a later shift.”
“Here he comes now,” said Boyle. “And he has company.”
Ray Seymour walked into his office with a young lady of about Sarah’s age. “This is Kate; she’s my PA. I thought you might like to start with her.”
“Actually, Mr Seymour,” I interrupted, “I’d like to start with you.” Ray was in his early forties and carried with him an arrogance that he seemed to assume as part of his job description. “Your wife says you were at home with her by 9.30 on the night Sarah died.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“So what time did you leave here? I’m told you often work late.”
Ray glanced at his PA. “Well I guess it was probably between 8.45 and 9pm. It usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes to get home from here.”
“Probably? You can’t be more sure than that?”
Ray frowned impatiently. “No, the traffic on the main road out of town often gets blocked even at night. The time can vary.”
“Of course it can,” I agreed, trying to sound reassuring. “But if you are claiming alternative or extra hours at work, you’d need to know what time you left to be sure you got paid the shift rate. Even senior managers have to report their hours. Don’t they?”
“It was 9pm,” stated Kate, confidently. “We were both working on the same project and left about the same time.”
“What project is that?” asked Boyle.
Ray reached over to his desk and handed Boyle a file. “This one; the whole team is involved. It’s for the American market so we’re keeping to US time.”
“And what was your opinion of Sarah?” asked Gloria.
“I liked her,” responded Kate. “She was smart, too. Really nice.”
I turned to Gloria as soon as they had left. “Apart from the fact that they’re hiding an affair, do you believe what they’re saying?”
Gloria hooked a finger over her chin as she stared after them. “Not a single word of it.”
I turned to Boyle. “What’s in the file?”
“It looks like a protective IT back up system. Hmm, that’s interesting. The original notes were compiled by Mrs Seymour.”
“Ray’s wife? Did she work here?”
Gloria answered my question. “Yes, she was Ray’s PA a few years ago. He divorced his first wife to marry her.”
“Is she your next port of call?” I asked hopefully.
“Boyle, you go. We better make it official. The team and I can continue here.”
I smiled my thanks at Gloria as we left.
“I like your boss,” I said to Boyle on our way out.
“She likes you too,” he replied. “Look, I’m still breathing.”
Kathy Seymour was a lot younger than I expected. She was pretty, in her early thirties, I guessed.
“I really don’t have the time for this,” she complained. “I have a nail appointment in less than an hour.”
“I understand that you used to work with your husband before you were married.” I said. “When did you leave?”
“I gave up working after we married two years ago. Ray was doing well and I wanted to start a family.”
“But you compiled the notes for the new system they’re working on.”
Kathy shrugged. “Many projects can take years to get made. And I had previous experience in IT systems. I’m sure that most of the secretaries there now think that IT was what their grandmas used to have at four o’clock.”
“Ray was working late again that night,” said Boyle. “What time did he get back home?”
“By nine thirty. We’ve been over this before and I’ve already made my statement.”
“But that’s not right, is it? End of business in the US would be about 10pm here. Something else happened that night. What was it, Kathy?”
Kathy pressed her lips together and looked at her shoes. “He called me Kate,” she said. “He tried to cover up, but it was just something that slipped out. And that’s when I knew. It was happening again.”
“Ray cheated on his first wife with you,” I prompted. “Is that how it started?”
Kathy nodded, but couldn’t meet my eyes. “I knew another secretary had been promoted and figured that must be her.”
“What did you do?” asked Boyle.
“I knew she took the train home, so when Ray called and told me he was staying late again, I drove to the station.”
“What time was this?”
“And then nothing. She wasn’t there. I asked the guy behind the desk what time the train was due and I’d missed it.”
“Which train was that?”
“Eleven after ten. The next train was at ten to eleven.”
Boyle and I sat in my car, just a few doors away from Kathy Seymour’s house. I closed my eyes and let out a breath. “All of this time comparison is making my head spin.”
Boyle frowned as a thought seemed to come to him. “Do you have a timetable?” I handed it over.
“Look; all the times listed are in 24 hour clock. I’m willing to bet that if you call the helpline number, the voice tells you the time of the next train in 24 hour clock too. Gloria had Sarah’s phone inspected. She called the helpline at 9.40 that evening. That means that she must have left the office between 9.40 and 10pm. She must have thought that she had plenty of time to get to the station, not realising that she’d missed her train.”
“But even in 24 hour clock, Kathy’s timeline doesn’t match with Sarah’s. Sarah would have had to walk to the train station and Kathy took her car. She had probably already been and gone by the time Sarah got there and we know Sarah must have arrived after 10.15.”
Boyle nodded. “Kathy spoke to a member of the station staff. They’ll verify what time she was there. So we know she didn’t do it.”
“What about Kate? She says that she and Ray left the office about the same time; 9pm. She would have been too early to meet Sarah at the station.”
“Unless she didn’t leave,” suggested Boyle. “She may have stayed until 10pm with Ray and no one would have thought that was unusual or strange. And if Sarah made her call when we think she did, she was probably still at the office.”
I looked up to see Kathy hurrying down her driveway to her sporty looking car. “That looks new,” I commented. “This lady really does like the good things in life, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, none of which come cheap. Where do you think she’s going?”
I started the engine and got ready to follow. “I don’t know, but it won’t be the nail salon.”
I kept a safe distance from Kathy and obeyed Boyle’s instructions. She led us back to the office, but this time parked in a residential road nearby.
“She’s going back to straighten out her story with her husband.”
Boyle pointed to another car on the opposite side of the road. “You’re not the only person who thinks so.”
DCI Hancock waited for Kathy to turn towards the office building before getting out of her car. If she was surprised to see us there, she didn’t show it.
Boyle marched towards Ray’s office and demanded he remain seated, but Gloria and I met outside the ladies room. Kathy and Kate’s voices screamed from within.
Gloria pushed the door and jerked her head back towards the office. “I think it’s time we had another little chat.”
Back in Ray’s office I saw the colour drain from his face as soon as Kathy walked in.
“Oh, man up, Ray,” she sneered. “You’re a lousy liar. I was there the first time, remember?”
Gloria fixed Kathy with a stern stare. “You lied yourself when you said Ray had come home at 9.30.”
Kathy glared at her husband. “It was 10.30. Why did you follow Sarah to the station, Ray? Were you sleeping with her too?”
“I wasn’t sleeping with her.” Ray nodded towards Kate. “She said Sarah knew something. I had to find out what. I only wanted to talk to her.”
Boyle snorted. “I’ve heard that one before.”
“But I didn’t!” Kate’s voice was shaking and so were her hands.
“You did. You said she knew all about us and what we did here. I overheard you talking to the others in the office.”
Kate pointed a trembling finger towards Kathy. “I was talking about her. She was the one who had initiated the current project.”
Kathy suddenly threw her head back and laughed. “So she’s the one you’ve been screwing behind my back.”
“But you’d always said you’d divorce me if I had an affair.”
“I was going to divorce you anyway, you twat! Do I look like a stay at home mother to you? You pushed Sarah over for nothing!”
Ray rose from his seat and marched towards his wife, his face in a contorted snarl. “Don’t you get it? I pushed her over for us. You spend money like running water. Sarah went over the spreadsheets and found your overspending in the new software. I couldn’t afford the Americans finding out and I can’t afford another divorce! Why do you think I had to take the American contracts in the first place?”
Gloria stepped in between the two and held up a hand. She pinched the bridge of her nose and looked like she was getting a headache. “All three of you were at the train station that night and all three of you played a part in Sarah’s death.”
“That’s ridiculous,” retorted Kathy. “I didn’t even see her.”
“That’s just the point,” I said. “What would you have done if you did? Push her over yourself? You could have gone looking for your husband.”
“But I was here,” said Ray, panicking. “Ask Kate.”
We all turned our attention to the quietest person in the room who was also the closest to the door.
“He asked where Sarah was,” she said. “I told him that she had already left to catch her train.”
“You made the same mistake as Sarah.” Gloria walked towards Ray forcing him to move backwards towards his chair. “You heard that the train was at 22:11 and assumed that meant twenty minutes before eleven o’clock.”
Ray bounced into his seat. “But she was alive when I left her, I swear it.” He swallowed, looking from Gloria to Boyle and back again. “You have to believe me.”
“I do believe you,” said Boyle. “That’s what makes this so inexcusable. Sarah had a sprained ankle. She couldn’t get up. If you had helped her and made good on your actions, she’d still be alive.”
I looked back at Kate, who was pulling on a pair of soft gloves. “But someone else was there, someone who realised what the mistake with the time really was. Someone who saw what happened and then climbed down onto the track. Who told you that the next train was at 22:11, Ray?”
The office was suddenly very quiet. Kate stared at Ray with hateful eyes. “We all know how you can’t resist a new face.”
“But I wasn’t sleeping with her!”
“That’s what she said.”
Gloria put a hand to her chest. “Oh dear God. She must have thought you were going to rescue her. And instead you gripped her coat and smashed her head against the rail again and again and again.”
Kate simply moved her eyes from Ray to Gloria. “I want a solicitor.”
When I shook Gloria’s hand later, I knew I had made a new friend. “You’re very perceptive, Ms Philips,” she said. “You’d have made a good police officer.”
“Nah,” I shook my head. “You’d have me suspended in a week.” Gloria smiled but didn’t disagree.
“Do you think she’s forgiven me yet for almost turning you to the dark side?” I asked as I drove back.
Boyle laughed. “Sure. It’s me she’s watching like a hawk.” He looked at his watch. “Do you fancy getting a takeaway tonight? Chinese?”
“Absolutely,” I agreed. “Guess my two favourite numbers.”
In the beginning, there was Catholic school and apart from the incident at the dinner party, Father Ben could remember very little about his early life. This was a blessing for which he remembered to thank God every morning. Each day the padded kneeler in front of Ben’s window seemed to shrink further away and on especially cold days, its distance seemed obvious enough to mock him. Ben gripped the window sill with both hands and tried to brace himself for the pain and embarrassment of his creaking knees. This morning’s ritual had a new dedication.
He was twelve when he experienced the classroom incident and that was how Ben had come to view the majority of his life; as a series of incidents. At St. Ignatius boarding school, Easter was the biggest of all festivals and in the preceding weeks, Lent was the most strictly observed of penitent periods.
It was during the last week of Lent that Simon Dorsey taught Ben to smoke. He and a few other second year lifers, as they called themselves, had gathered in the caretaker’s garage at the back of the sports field to sample the delights of the confiscated stock locker. The locker was kept closely guarded in the headmaster’s study, but at the end of first term, the caretaker was awarded special permission to enter the headmaster’s rooms for Spring Cleaning. This was a wonderful event in the school calendar because it meant the clearing of the confiscated items. All the sins of the outside world were waiting to be discovered, like a Pandora’s Box of Catholic misdemeanours.
Beer, unfortunately, was dispatched to the kitchen to be poured immediately down the sink. Cake, sweets and other edible treats were only permitted weekly after tea on Saturdays and any tardy parent whose dispatch had missed that deadline had their gift immediately confiscated. The boy they were meant for might get his toffees eventually, but the cake and chocolate were invariably never to be seen again.
But it was the forbidden contraband that the boys lusted after most; cassettes of rock music, creased and suspiciously sticky copies of Playboy and cigarettes. This was the evil stock that Mr Hammond was instructed to dispose of forthwith. Apparently, he only kept these items in his garage so that the boys wouldn’t be able to steal them back from the rubbish, but nobody dared to question why the headmaster would keep such things locked in his study in the first place.
Clarke and Adams bagged the porn as soon as it was found. It didn’t really matter how old the copies were or if they’d already been seen. It was the social standing that came with ownership that was important. In the land of the permanently penitent, the boy with porn was king.
“I’ve already seen that lot,” said Dorsey. “That was the bunch of mags that was confiscated from Harris before Christmas.”
“It’s only Playboys here,” said Adams. “Harris had Penthouse and Hustler, too. His older brother smuggles them in.”
“Don’t matter anyway,” said Clarke, shoving one copy up inside his jumper and one down the front of his trousers. “They’re mine now.”
“I’m having this one,” said Adams, loosening his belt. “This copy’s got that actress in it. I don’t mind removing a few staples.”
Clarke glanced over his shoulder. “Best get a move on. Hammond will be back soon.” He and Adams jogged back towards the main building to stash their hoard safely.
Dorsey and Ben were still rummaging in the box, but in Ben’s opinion, all the good rock music seemed to have been taken. “Why bother confiscating this lot? There’s nothing here worth listening to anyway. It’s all Abba and love song duets.”
“Got ‘em.” Dorsey held up his prize triumphantly. “B and H. Good ones. I can’t stand those cheap ones my mum has.” He pulled one from the pack and handed the rest to Ben. “There are matches in here somewhere.”
Ben held the pack back out to Dorsey. “Don’t smoke,” he said. “Never learned.”
Dorsey laughed, his cigarette jiggling between his teeth. “Time you tried, then sonny. Here, I’ll show you.” He shook a match box and lit his cigarette. He squinted a little, as if the strength of the smoke was almost too much, but he kept his cool and handed the cigarette to Ben.
Ben wasn’t too sure about this. He knew he wasn’t as cool or smart as Dorsey, but he’d give it his best shot. The pain of the cough, though, was enough to wind him and Dorsey bent over double as he laughed. Ben was just bent over double.
“Oi! Wot you kids up to now?”
Dorsey shot Ben a startled glance. “Leg it! Hammond’s back.”
They both ran for the door but Hammond was waiting for them outside. “Wot you thieving little tykes got this time. More of my stuff have ya?” He had Ben by the arm, but only managed to grab at Dorsey’s collar. His straggly moustache whistled like reeds in the wind as he puffed his red cheeks out to catch his breath.
“Nah, Mr Hammond,” said Ben, desperate for an excuse to present itself. “We were only looking for stuff for a school project.”
“Oh, yeah? And does that school project require a wank and a fag?”
Dorsey looked like he could wriggle free, but he didn’t bother trying. He and Ben were mates, after all.
Hammond frogmarched the boys back through the school yard and directly past the teacher’s common room. It was just their luck that old Evans saw them. He stood in the doorway to the school hall, waiting, with his hands behind his back, gently tipping backwards and forwards on his heels.
“Thank you, Mr Hammond,” he said, as the boys were presented back to him. “And what is the excuse this time?”
“Looking for stuff for a school project, Mr Evans.”
Evans eyed the boys before him and Ben was sure he could see the faint beginnings of a smile on his smug face. This was going to result in punishment and it was going to be painful.
“Looking for stuff for a school project.” Evans pronounced each word carefully and individually.
“Thank you Mr Hammond. I think I can take things from here.”
Yes. Very painful.
“Well, come on then. Let’s see what discoveries you’ve made that would result in a school project.”
Dorsey and Ben looked at each other. The jig was up. They were going to have to empty their pockets.
“Cassette tapes and cigarettes.” Evans pretended to look confused. “Forgive me,” he said as if the clarity of the situation escaped him. “But this looks a lot like the confiscated items from Mr
“Are you sure it’s not yours, sir?” Dorsey dared to stare straight back. “You can have it back if you want. There were some mags in there ‘an all.”
Evans’ cheeks shone pink and Ben had to bite the inside of his mouth to prevent a smirk.
Evans’ eyes were cold and when he spoke his voice was barely a whisper. “I shall join you in class momentarily.”
Ben and Dorsey walked back to their form room in silence. Of all the form masters they could have had, Evans had to be the meanest, most miserable and downright wacky son of a bitch there ever was. Most of the masters told the boys that they were dirty, un-saveable souls, destined for hell. Most of the masters would indeed have punished the raiding of the confiscated locker items and most of the masters would have sent the boys to the headmasters study for an ear-bashing and a stiffly-worded letter sent home in that afternoon’s post. It was only Evans, the boys learned, who seemed to take a perverse kind of pleasure in ensuring that the boys knew they were un-saveable and destined for hell, in seeing them punished for almost any misdemeanour and in posting the letters home himself.
Ben and Dorsey had only just taken their seats when Evans quietly entered the room. He closed the door gently behind him and stood in front of his desk at the top of the class as he waited for the boys to stop their chattering and stand to attention. No boy in the room could have failed to notice what Evans had brought in with him. It was the longer of the two canes that hung above the mantle in the staff room. Ben also noticed that the punishments book, in which all crimes deserving of a caning were written, was conspicuous by its absence. Usual house rules stated that a caning could only be administered by a teacher if the headmaster was unavoidably absent. Ben wondered where Father Graves was now. He had only had cause to stand in front of Graves once before and had been surprised at the leniency shown to him. Vomiting over a classmate’s shoes at evensong was surely worthy of a stern admonishment, as was the drinking that had preceded it, but Graves had clearly known, correctly as it turned out, that the ensuing hangover would be sufficient.
“Be seated,” said Evans. “Dorsey and Jones, stand here.”
Ben and Dorsey made their way to the front of the class to stand by their teacher. “These two,” said Evans, flicking a wavering finger towards the boys, “broke into the garage at the back of the lower school sports field with the intent to steal the confiscated items held there, presumably for personal use, but also perhaps for redistribution. This action was a deliberate attempt to flout school rules. Their theft and willingness to share the spoils have not only demonstrated their own guilty desires, but also a blatant disregard for you.”
“It wasn’t an attempt,” said Dorsey, moving only his eyes to glance up at Evans. “It was a successful mission.”
“Shut it, Dorsey,” hissed Ben. “You’re making it worse.”
“Ain’t gonna get no worse, mate,” he replied. “Put the kettle on, Grandma. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Evans beckoned his finger at Dorsey. “You first. Assume the position.”
Dorsey stepped forward and the class started to snigger as he undid his trousers and let them fall to his knees. He stood with his back to the class and leaned forward with both hands on the front of the teacher’s desk. His dark blue pants stared back at the class and Adams softly wolf whistled.
“And the underpants.”
The class stopped sniggering. Dorsey had been on the receiving end of his fair share of punishments, some legitimate, some not, but this was a first. “Sir?”
“The underpants,” repeated Evans. “Those, too.”
“But Sir,” protested Ben. “That’s not right.”
“Silence!” commanded Evans. “Underpants. Down.”
Dorsey looked nervous, and seemingly unsure of this new instruction, his hands began to shake. With a red face and deepening embarrassment, he did as he was told. Cowering low, and with his lily-white arse for all the class to see he gripped the desk with renewed fear to await the impending assault.
Evans assumed a stance of his own. He stood by the side of Dorsey, facing the class with his feet squarely apart and tilted from one foot to the other to align his balance. Raising the cane in his right hand high above his head, he arched his left arm up to pinch the tip between thumb and forefinger.
The cane bowed in a tight arch before Evans released the tip and sent it whizzing down to connect with Dorsey’s quivering rear.
Dorsey screamed in pain and collapsed to his knees, his hands still clinging to the desk.
“Sir,” he gasped, “please, sir. No. No more.”
“On your feet, boy,” demanded Evans. “You have four more.”
“No, he ain’t,” whispered Ben. He’d seen enough.
Evans resumed his stance and readied the cane for another swing.
Almost unaware of what he was doing, Ben stepped forward, reached up and gripped Evans’ wrist.
“What on earth are you doing, boy?” shouted Evans. “Let go at once.” But Ben couldn’t hear. Already he had started chanting. His Latin master said he had a gift.
“I beg the Lord to forgive you your sins and cleanse your soul. Obsecro ut obliviscaris sceleres peccata et emundet animam tuam Dominos. I beg the Lord forgive the harm inflicted on the innocent. Ignosce quaeso Domine innocerti nocumenti.”
“Jones,” hissed Clarke. “You’re going to give him a heart attack.”
Evans’ face had already developed an unhealthy purple hue, his anger gathering in tiny droplets of barely contained spittle at the corners of his mouth.
“How dare you! How dare you! Let go this instant.”
Dorsey took a deep breath and turned his face, blotchy and wet, towards his unlikely hero. Evans’ left hand still gripped the tip of the curved cane. Ben lifted his other hand to his chest and felt his heart beating. He gripped Evans’ wrist even tighter as he begged for the forgiveness of sins with all the fervour of a sideshow preacher casting out a demon.
Evans released the tip of the cane and delivered a sudden backhanded swipe to Ben’s cheek, sending him into a spin and crashing into a chair. Ben hit the floor with a dull thud and then there was a second of shocked silence. No one saw Clarke slip from the room.
“Is he all right?”
“Of course he ain’t. Look at him.”
“What’s happening? I can’t see.”
Dorsey hurriedly hoisted his trousers over his hips and limped over to kneel beside his friend. “Jones? Say something, mate.”
Dorsey rolled Ben over and an already ugly looking lump, the size of a duck egg, was forming over Ben’s left eye.
Evans staggered backwards and almost collapsed against his desk. The cane clattered onto the wood and Evans seemed surprised at the sound; too loud in a silent classroom. He pointed a finger at Ben.
“He was being disobedient and unreasonable,” he stated. Dorsey said nothing, but his face was wishing a curse. Evans swung his finger out over the rest of the class. “You all saw it. You saw what he did. He behaved possessed!”
No one said anything. No one dared, but they didn’t look away.
All eyes then swung to the door as Graves entered, followed by Brooks, the Latin master and Clarke.
“You’re a dirty grass, Clarke,” whispered Adams.
“Shut yer face,” spat back Clarke. “This ain’t happening again.”
The boys stood as they were expected to, but Graves waved them back down to their seats. “I shall be taking your class today, boys. Mr Evans, please accompany Mr Brooks back to my study.”
Brooks bent down and heaved Ben up into a fireman’s lift. Ben groaned. “I feel sick.”
“Do me a favour and wait till you’re in Matron’s room, ok? Dorsey, you’re coming, too.”
The unhappy little procession made its way back down the corridor, and in the classes where the door had been left open, curious faces peeped out at what was to be Evans’ last parade.
The boys were dropped at Matron’s office without explanation and Dorsey faced embarrassment for a second time that day as ointment and dressings were applied to his broken skin.
Not too many boys came forward to speak to Graves, despite his assurances that that there would be no further punishments, but times were changing. It was 1975 and Graves’ promise came a little too late. In the end it was Matron’s log book that provided all the shocking details. The words ‘delivered from Mr Evans’ class’ appeared too frequently to be ignored.
Ben and Dorsey remained friends until Dorsey moved to Australia. He became a paramedic there and remembered to send the occasional Christmas card. Ben turned over the letter in his hands and read again the kind and gentle words that told him his dear friend had died. He succumbed to a stroke last week. His wife said that he’d been swimming in the sea with the grandkids only the day before.
Clarke became a lawyer and Adams became a politician. Ben never saw Clarke again, but Adams brings an expensive bottle of something over at New Year.
Ben lifted his head and spoke his “amen” to the sky. “I’ll see you again someday, mate.”
He lifted his hands onto the window sill and assumed the position. It wasn’t just his knees that dictated how he said his prayers, but the memory of a schoolboy hero.
There’s an alien in my fridge. I saw him there in the wee hours of yesterday morning.
I came downstairs for some water, opened the fridge door for a bottle, and there he was. He was sitting on the second shelf, using an ice cream spoon to work his way through my crème caramels. He was small, like a child’s toy, with smooth green skin and huge bat ears. He was so engrossed in his task, he didn’t look up. I closed the fridge door, shocked at what I’d seen. I paused for a moment, and then quickly opened the door again and the alien had disappeared. Only the debris of his feast remained.
I was the first awake as usual and was washing up the alien’s pots and spoon when my husband and Davey came down to breakfast. Simon reached into the fridge for the milk and his face changed. He didn’t say anything, but I caught his expression and could guess what he was thinking.
“OK,” he said, perhaps a little too brightly. “Who’s for cornflakes?”
“It’s Becky,” he said to the voice console. “I’m going to have to take a personal day. Yes, I know. And I’m sorry about that, but I’ll make it up with overtime when she’s better.”
“No,” I said. “Definitely not. You tricked me into going the last time, and that won’t happen again. I’m not going.” Hum-bug.
“Becks,” he stroked my shoulder. That’s what he does when he wants me to be reasonable. I shook him off. I didn’t think it was very reasonable to be told I was going shopping. I didn’t think it was very reasonable to be confronted with a teenager telling me that I needed a new prescription.
“He had spots and was wearing jeans,” I complained.
“He was bearded, in his fifties and wearing the same slacks my dad wears,” said Simon. “What are you seeing?”
“I’m not seeing anything.” Hum-bug.
Simon ran his hand through his hair. “Becks, I know what’s happening. What are you seeing?”
“You keep saying ‘humbug’.”
“Oh, that’s not me, that’s the spacecraft. What you can hear is the motor; it whirrs and pops, like hummm bug.”
He’d tricked me. Simon’s clever like that. “So the aliens are back?” He sighed as if all the cares of the world were on his shoulders.
“It’s not like they’re expecting anything of you,” I pointed out. “They’re only curious about us and after the journey they’ve had, it’s only natural that they’d be hungry.”
“So, where are they?”
“One is standing right behind you,” I said, pointing.
This one was a lot larger than the one in the fridge. He was completely naked apart from a brightly coloured headdress, and he must have eaten the majority of our food, because he was carrying an empty food bowl.
Simon reached out and took the bowl and yanked the headdress away. “That’s not where underwear goes,” he said. “Go and put them on properly, Davey. That’s not nice.”
Simon thinks I’m mad. He thinks that sometimes I’ll raid the fridge at night. He thinks I’ll leave windows open and doors unlocked and set fire to the kitchen, but that only happened once and it wasn’t my fault; Davey’s evil teddy bear did that.
“Where’s the spacecraft?”
I pointed to the top of the fridge.
“That’s the rice cooker I bought you last year. That’s what this is,” he said, lifting it down. “Stress is always the trigger. Now that the run up to Christmas has begun, you’ve stressed yourself again.” He shook the spacecraft. “See, it’s only a rice cooker.”
“You mustn’t do that!” I took the craft from him carefully and put it back. “You’ll hurt the occupants.”
“It’s a rice cooker! Look, there’s the plug.”
“That’s their recharging unit.”
“Ugh! God, I hate this time of year! I hate the expense, I hate the stress, and I hate what it does to people. I hate the pressure. I hate seeing you like this.”
Simon took my hand. “Come with me.” He led me back upstairs and sat me on the side of the bed. He picked up the aliens control box and slid out the motherboard. “One, two, three... God, Becks! You’re five pills up!”
“They don’t like me touching their control box,” I whispered. “It makes them nervous.”
“Why are you whispering?”
The big naked alien had followed us upstairs and was standing in the doorway of our bedroom, this time with his headdress somewhere around his middle.
“Go back downstairs, Davey,” said Simon. “It’s ok. Here, Becks. I want you to take this.” He broke a piece off the motherboard and gave it to me.
“Take it where?”
“You need to swallow it, Becks.”
“But you’ve damaged their control system and if I swallow that, they’ll track me. I don’t want them to track me.”
“They won’t track you. You have to swallow it.” Simon’s voice was becoming impatient.
“But I don’t want to.”
Just then the big alien came into the room and picked up the water bottle that was still sitting on the bedside table. He picked up the component and put it in my mouth, and then handed me the bottle.
I looked at my husband. “He wants me to swallow it,” I said with a component in my mouth.
“Yes, Becks. He wants you to swallow it.”
So I did. When I woke up the aliens had gone and my son and I were curled up on the bed like spoons in a tray.
On Simon’s bedside table was an early Christmas present from his colleagues; a jar of black and white sweets cuddled by a small green toy, with giant ears. Davey saw me looking at it.
“Humbug,” he said.
It was purely coincidence that the knives were still in my car. I think that was one of the things that Boyle didn’t quite believe. I watched him write as I talked and wondered if he’d ever had to do this before; taking notes from someone he cared about. It happened to me all the time. I was always taking details from friends and relatives, trying to piece together their events and situations to show them a way through. But this was different. This was formal and I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t even be in the room if his colleagues knew about us.
I shifted a little in the hard chair. I guessed that they were intentionally uncomfortable; an encouragement to talk and then, perhaps everyone can go home.
“Am I going to be kept here a while? It’s not that I’ve got anywhere else to go, but it would be nice to know.” I kept my tone light, casual. It wasn’t a big deal. The police had to do their thing and I would just have to be patient.
Boyle continued to write and didn’t look up. “I don’t know yet. We’ll have to confirm your statement of events with that of Miss Willows. Do you need to contact someone?”
“I did contact someone. I contacted you.” Boyle paused with his notes but still didn’t look at me.
“Will I need a solicitor?”
“You’re only here so that we can take your statement,” he reminded me.
“I know. But will I need one?”
Boyle took a deep breath and put down his pen. Finally, he looked up. His expression was calm and steady, but his eyes were sad. I’d disappointed him. He should have known I would. It was only a matter of time. “We would always recommend that anyone who feels they need legal advice should seek it.”
We’d spoken on the phone only earlier that day. I was out shopping for a wedding present. He had slept in, was working a later shift. “What are you doing? You should have woken me before you left. I slept like a log.”
I laughed. “I should think so, too,” I said. “But I had to go shopping; it’s the hen night tonight.”
“Oh, yes. Well, call me when you get back. I’ll still be awake.”
I promised I would.
I chose the steak knives because they were practical and looked nice, and after two hours of looking, I still couldn’t think of anything else. Paula and I were like chalk and cheese, but we had always got on well together. I was thrilled that she was finally getting married. It must have been terrible for her that the hen night had ended as it did. She’d probably cancel the wedding.
As giggling ladies in pink headdresses bustled out of the club that Friday night, Paula and I hugged at the exit with promises to call each other the next day. Then this guy came up to us.
“Need a minicab, love?”
I was immediately suspicious. “Ask to see some ID and ask where his base is,” I said. Paula laughed.
“I’m going to the taxi rank, anyway,” she said. “The illegals won’t go there; all the regular drivers know each other.”
“I did offer her a lift,” I said to Boyle, “but she and I live on opposite sides of the town. It made more sense that she should get a taxi back home. It’s what she had planned to do.”
“Perhaps you could have insisted.”
“Perhaps I could,” I agreed. “Perhaps she could have car-pooled. Perhaps she could have pre-booked her taxi back home. There are many things that could have happened, perhaps.”
After I’d driven my car from the multi-storey, I took the longer route through the town. I looked out for Paula, but couldn’t see her and the taxi rank was deserted. I drove on in the direction of the bus terminus and saw the same young man who had approached us earlier walk around the side of a car and get in the driver’s side.
“At the end of the terminus, there’s a petrol station. I drove in one end and out the other, just as the car went past.”
“And that’s when you decided to follow him?” asked Boyle.
“A silver BMW with that registration?” he said, pointing to his pad. “That’s when you should have called.”
“Yes, but there’s a fine for using your mobile while driving.” I smiled, but Boyle kept his expression neutral. “Besides, they turned off fairly quickly.”
“Ah, yes. Belmont Road. You recognised that as a red flag?”
“I recognised that as a through road to the industrial area.”
“Another opportune moment to call the police. But there is another road at the other end of the industrial units that leads into the housing estate.”
“Yes. Jefferson Street.”
That’s when I realised it wasn’t Paula in the car. That’s when I tried to recall who lived near Jefferson Street and when I remembered the steak knives in the boot.
“Where was the car at this point?”
“It stopped just before a set of garages. I stopped across the car park.”
“The garages are on the other side of the car park?”
“Yes that’s right.”
“Could the other car see you?”
“I’ve no idea, but I could see it. I’m sure that if he had bothered to look up, he would have seen me.”
“Then what happened?”
“He got out the car and opened up one of the garages.”
“Could you see anyone else? Anyone in the car?”
“No, I never actually saw anyone else in the car. We’ve already been over this.”
“So, up until this point, you had been observing this man based solely on your own suspicion?”
Boyle sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked wrung out and I guessed I probably didn’t look too great either. I glanced at the wall clock behind him. It had been a long night.
“And then?” he said, lifting only his eyes to look at me. “That’s when you decided to approach?”
“But you armed yourself first.”
“Look, I know you don’t believe me, but what I told you is true.” I ran my fingers through my hair and felt the sticky tangles of dried-in hairspray. I needed a shower and a change of clothes. I needed to get out of here and make a few phone calls. “Until then, I’d forgotten the knives were there.”
“But you went to the boot of your car to retrieve one.”
“They’re steak knives! I picked up a steak knife, not an axe!”
“You approached the car?”
“Yes, but there was nobody inside. He’d pulled her out.”
“You saw that?”
“No, but the car doors had been left open.”
“But you didn’t see anyone pulled from the car?”
I was starting to lose my temper again and felt my cheeks get hot. “No, I didn’t see that.”
“Tell me about the garage.”
“The door was up. It was pretty dim inside; I couldn’t see much. I stood in the doorway. That’s when I saw them. I was too late to stop it.” My voice started to crack and I knew I was going to cry. “I saw him, what he was doing to my friend, and I was too late.”
“The garage,” repeated Boyle. “Tell me about that.”
I rubbed my fists against my eyes and shrugged a little. “Fit for purpose, I suppose. One overhead light, an old mattress on the floor, a packet of condoms nearby.”
Boyle sighed again, but this time closed his eyes when he asked his question.
“What did you do?”
“I pulled him off and rolled him over.”
“How did you do that?”
“I grabbed his hair. He was shocked. I think he was too busy to notice I was there. He begged me not to hurt him. That was funny, really. He looked stronger than I am.”
“I knelt down beside him and lifted one foot onto his stomach. He stopped squirming then. I held the knife in my fist and pointed it at his groin.”
“But you didn’t stab him.”
“Did you at any point threaten to stab him?”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Boyle,” I shouted, finally giving in to my temper. “You’ve got the guy. He did it. My friend told you everything. So have I. What the hell is your problem?”
Boyle slammed down the pen and shoved the notepad towards me. “My problem,” he shouted back, “is you.” He jabbed a finger onto the page. “We both know this is all rubbish. You were the only independent witness to an awful crime; you ignored at least two chances to call the police and almost committed grievous bodily harm yourself. That’s the second time you’ve been on the brink of taking the law into your own hands. What kind of an epic do you think a defence lawyer is going to make of that?” He only briefly paused for breath. “And how do you explain the minor cuts and abrasions the accused has on his palms or his amazing willingness to confess?”
“He had no choice but to confess. I caught him red handed.”
“Even those caught red handed can think of an excuse,” said Boyle. “Believe me, I’ve heard them all.”
I took a deep breath and rubbed my hands over my face again. I was tired and uncomfortable and just wanted to go home. “What do you want me to tell you?” I asked. “I don’t know what else I can say.”
Boyle lent forward in his chair again. “You can tell me where the other knife is,” he said.
“What other knife?”
“Steak knives tend to come in sets of eight. There were six in the box in the boot of your car and the one you were holding when we arrived. That’s seven. Where’s the other one?”
“Well, the lady in the shop must have made a mistake, and charged me for eight when there were only seven.”
“The cuts and abrasions on the hands of the accused were fresh, suggesting that he was attempting to defend himself while being threatened with a knife. If that can be proved, his defence will claim that his confession was coerced.”
“Can it be proved?” I asked innocently.
Boyle ignored that question. “Surprisingly, your knife was spotlessly clean.”
“Can I go home now?”
I didn’t get to see Lisa Willows until the following day. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I just sat on the edge of her hospital bed and held her hand.
“Thanks for not asking me how I feel,” she said. The bruises on her arms were showing from beneath her hospital gown; marks I didn’t see yesterday.
“Oh, Lisa. I’m so sorry...”
She shook her head. “No, you mustn’t say that. You saved me.”
“If I had been sooner...”
“But you got him to confess.”
I sighed. “Boyle doesn’t believe me.”
“He came to see me this morning. He asked me about the knife. I didn’t say anything.”
I nodded. “I’ll be surprised if he wants to see me again.”
“He will. You’re a lot alike.” Lisa licked dry lips and I reached for a cup of water which she sipped gratefully. “Have you spoken to Paula today? She’s going ahead with the wedding.”
“I insisted. But there’s something else you’ll have to do for us.”
“Anything. What is it?”
“Attend the final fitting on Monday instead of me.”
I squeezed her hand and smiled. “You’re sure?”
Lisa nodded and smiled back at me. “I wouldn’t trust anyone else. Just bring me back some wedding cake on Saturday.”
Something then occurred to me. “Ugh! I’ll have to wear magenta!”
I left the wedding reception before eleven. The party was still in full swing and although the wedding had been lovely, partying with friends minus a date has always been a bit of an embarrassment for me.
I’d only just closed my door and removed a shoe, when my doorbell rang. Boyle was standing on the other side of my peephole.
“Were you already here waiting for me to get back?” I asked as I opened the door.
Boyle ignored the question and stared at my dress instead. “Lovely colour,” he commented.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t pick it. I just have a friend who’s worth wearing it for.”
“Would that be Miss Willows or the newly married Mrs Reid?”
I stepped aside and let him in. “Is this an official line of questioning?”
“Just tying up a few loose ends. I had spoken briefly to Mrs Reid and she confirmed the image of the young man who approached you outside the night club and also confirmed that she was lucky enough to take the last taxi at the rank that night.”
“Well, that’s good isn’t it? That verifies all we’ve said.”
“Except for two minor points.”
I tried to sound casual. “Oh yes?”
“Mrs Reid seemed to think that when the young man offered the cab ride, he was speaking to you. Perhaps as you were saying goodbye, he may have had the impression that you would be less likely to be travelling home with friends.”
“Well, I have no idea. You’d have to ask him about that.” I had absolutely no doubt that Boyle already had.
“Also, Mrs Reid was under the impression that you and Miss Willows had not met prior to that evening.”
I abandoned the shoes in the middle of the floor and flopped into a chair.
“So? What exactly are you trying to ask me now?”
Boyle strode purposefully over to my chair and leaned forward with his hands spread against the arm. “I’d suggest that on that night you decided to drive back to the taxi rank to confirm that Mrs Reid had taken a taxi and seeing that she had, you proceeded to drive home. On the way out, you saw the young man and did make the conscience decision to follow him, regardless of who might be in the back of the car. When the car stopped, you guessed at his intent and armed yourself to give the perpetrator what you believed he deserved.”
“Why,” I said, staring back at him, “would I go to such trouble for someone I only just met?”
“You wouldn’t,” said Boyle. “You’d do it for you. You nearly did once before; to make yourself judge, jury and executioner.”
“I didn’t attempt to injure him.”
“But you did force him to confess.”
“Ah, yes,” I nodded. “Have you found the mystery missing steak knife yet?”
“It occurred to me on Saturday that there was one place that we forgot to look.”
I made a deliberate effort not to glance at my kitchen drawer.
“We checked your handbag, the boot of your car and the garage and the car of the accused. But there was one place we couldn’t check; Miss Willow’s handbag. It wasn’t there. So how could a young woman take a cab without the means to pay for her journey home?”
I stared back at him but didn’t answer.
“I realised that we didn’t look under the seats in your car.”
“If you like I’ll get my keys for you now,” I said.
Boyle smiled, grimly. “Too late now, isn’t it?”
I smiled too, and then realised something. “You just said Saturday. You thought of a place to check the next day? Why would you wait a whole week before mentioning that?”
“To give you enough time to dispose of the evidence.” He held his face close to mine and lifted his hand to touch the side of my face. “That’s what disturbs me so much about you, do you know that?” he asked. “You’ve made up your mind about what you think the difference is between law and justice and intend to redress the balance. And you know what’s really scary?” He swallowed as he brushed the surface of my lips with his thumb. “I’d let you.”
I looked into his eyes and tried to read what he was thinking. “You’re too honest. You’re logical, practical. You wouldn’t compromise like that.”
He nodded. “I used to think so too,” he said. “So, explain to me, why is it, I only feel that way when I’m with you?”
“Maybe you’ve just discovered you like living dangerously.”
“Maybe you’re just trying to get me fired.”
“Maybe we’re very different.”
“Or more likely, we’re two sides of the same coin.”
I lifted my hand to touch him just above his heart. “Your bosses - they know about us, don’t they? I’m sorry for getting you in trouble.”
“I’m on a warning,” he said. “I won’t escape another brush like that. I don’t suppose there’s much use in asking you to promise not to do anything like that ever again?”
I laughed. “I think the best I can promise,” I said, slipping my arms around his neck, “is to keep you fully informed of all my movements.”
“Well, I like the sound of that,” he smiled. “Maybe I should keep you under closer observation from now on.”
“From now on? Is that a continuation of your current investigation?”
“Perhaps,” he said. “Perhaps.”
A Liz Philips Mystery
A lot of things led to the robbery and murder of Christopher Johnson, but even I was surprised when I discovered a connection to my ex husband.
After five years of awful marriage and five of blissful divorce, I didn’t think he had the ability to surprise me anymore. It’s amazing how one little thing, just a throwaway remark, could have created such destruction.
Chris had stopped off at the cash machine in the town centre at 10.25 last Thursday night, when he was attacked by a hooded youth, who stabbed him with a short bladed knife and took his wallet. He died in hospital the following day.
Even as I read the newspaper reports, I realised that there was something amiss. Most of the attack had been captured on CCTV, but the images were poor. Yes, the attacker had been dressed in a hoodie and jeans, but the face was obscured. It would be a mistake to assume that was a teenager. And 10.25 on a Thursday? Most random attacks were typically fuelled by alcohol and although the pubs would have been open on Thursday night, the more hardened drinkers wouldn’t have left before closing time at eleven. Those who did would be searching for a kebab on a Friday, not lying in wait by a cash machine on a Thursday.
My phone had rung in the middle of “The professionals”.
“Someone had better be dying,” I grumbled. “I’m missing my program.”
“Hey, Looby-Lou. Remember me?”
“Whoa!” I shouted, nearly dropping the phone. “There’s a bit of bad news I never expected to hear again.”
Once upon a time, hearing that expression on the phone turned my spine to jelly. Now it sent me cold and I was suddenly filled with dread.
“What do you want, Graham? Did your pretty young associate finally get tired of you?”
“Kerry’s fine, thank you for asking. I need your help.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Graham! No, I am not going to give you any money. Don’t even think about it.”
“I don’t need your money,” he said indignantly. “I only borrowed from you when I was desperate.”
“You stole from my purse when the Kings Cross ladies insisted on cash up front.”
“They always insist on cash up front, but that’s not the point. I’ve been arrested. My business is going under. I need you to find the proof that I didn’t steal from the company.”
“Goodbye Graham,” I said ready to hang up.
“Wait! Look,” he said, trying to be reasonable. “I’ve got a bit in personal savings. I’ll pay you your going rate, but this is serious, Liz. I’ve got to find a buyer by the end of next month or the lawyers move in.” He sounded genuinely upset.
“Bloody hell, Graham. How much do you owe?”
“Trust me; you really don’t want to know.”
I closed my eyes and sighed. “I should have been a vet.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have a ridiculous sympathy for wounded dumb animals.”
“Thanks, Looby-Lou. I owe you big time.”
“Yeah, along with everybody else, apparently. Graham,” I said thoughtfully, “the murdered young man in the newspapers, Chris Johnson, didn’t you know him?”
“Yeah, a few years ago now, dated Becky Cartwright for a while. Terrible shock, nice kid.”
I didn’t ask him anymore about it. I was sure Graham wouldn’t have been involved in a stabbing and he did sound as if he genuinely liked Chris.
The following afternoon I was sitting at a meeting table in Graham’s office building with a laptop and a dozen empty coffee cups. Kerry kept popping her head round the door with fake smiles and false compliments to ask if I wanted anything.
Her blue eyes now shone at me from the doorway and her smile made the lighting look dark.
“How’s it going?” she asked cheerily.
I picked up one of the empty cups and shook it upside down over the pale carpet, and a couple of dark drops splashed onto the fawn coloured weave.
“I’m out of coffee again,” I smiled apologetically. Kerry’s smile immediately faded. She gave me a disgusted look and withdrew, closing the door behind her.
Graham and his best friend, Pete Martin, used to make a bit of money buying and selling used car parts. Ten years later Philips & Martin moved from the back of Pete’s dad’s garage to a proper office and Graham and I were married. After five years of lies and a dose of Chlamydia, I filed for divorce.
I called Boyle and asked him what he knew.
“It’s really not my area,” he said, “but as far as I understand, your husband has been arrested and will be charged with fraud. It’s very serious; about two million pounds worth from company accounts.”
Boyle was trying to be kind, but I could tell he really didn’t have much sympathy for people he knew were liars and thieves.
“Ex husband,” I corrected him. I knew Graham was a liar, but I didn’t want to believe he was a thief as well; at least not on this scale.
“How can two million pounds just disappear? Graham had professional financial staff.”
“I can refer you to a colleague of mine who can explain it better; my only interest is in Mr Philips’ connection to Mr Johnson.”
“Well, your best guess, then,” I persisted impatiently.
“Apparently, a Mr Malcolm Wilson was in charge of the company’s finances and we can prove that the money did get paid into the company accounts. Now, both Mr Wilson and Mr Philips claim that funds have been fraudulently withdrawn and don’t know by whom.”
“Is Wilson also helping you with your enquiries?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to reveal that information,” Boyle responded coldly.
I hung up thoughtfully. It seemed logical to assume that the only people who could have made the withdrawals and cooked the books to make the money disappear were Graham and Wilson. If Graham didn’t do it, then I’d have to follow Wilson’s activity through the books.
I scanned Wilson’s outgoings spreadsheet again. All costs, payments and profit were logged in their respective columns and all balanced as they should. I clicked back to Graham's copy. Again, there were separate columns for costs, payments and profit and they balanced correctly. It was only when I had both spreadsheets up on the screen together that I realised what the true nature of the problem was.
Graham’s spreadsheet recorded figures that were just a little less than what Wilson had recorded. This explained why Graham had been arrested, but if he hadn’t changed the values himself, he wouldn’t have known there was a misreporting of the figures.
Kerry came back into the room and plonked a plastic cup in front of me and giving me a withering look, knelt down with a spray bottle and a cloth to clean the coffee splashes I’d dropped.
“Kerry,” I said, trying to sound pleasant. “How well do you know Malcolm Wilson?”
“Very well,” she said, scrubbing hard and not looking up.
“How long has he been with the company?”
“About three years.” She was answering my questions, but not offering anything.
“That guy in the newspapers, Chris Johnson, he dated Becky for a while didn’t he?”
“Becky worked in accounts with Malcolm.”
Kerry finally gave in and sat on her haunches to look at me.
“Look,” she said, annoyed. “Becky is a friend of mine and got that job because she was the best qualified. I recommended her but it was Graham who checked out her references and offered her the position. Same with Malcolm; both are honest as the day is long.”
“Graham checked out Malcolm’s references himself?” I asked.
“Actually, I checked them,” she said, giving me a self satisfied smile.
“And how were they?”
“Impeccable.” She rose to her feet, ready to leave.
She turned her head as she reached the door.
“Do you think Graham did this?”
I saw a tiny flicker of doubt cross her eyes.
“No, of course not,” she said.
I continued checking the differences in the spreadsheets and still hadn’t finished when the evening cleaning crew came in. I apologised and packed up to leave.
The cleaner, Betty, smiled at me as she started to polish the table, but her smile faded when she noticed the newspaper on the table with the picture of Chris Johnson on the front page. She simply picked the paper up, briskly wiped beneath it and replaced it as it was.
“Did you know that young man?” I asked conversationally.
“No, love. Never met him.”
“But you don’t have a high opinion of him?”
“Pilfering, weren’t he. Mr Martin said so.”
“We got the blame. Wallets and things. Mr Martin found out it was ‘im. Sacked ‘im,” she said, as if he’d got his just desserts.
“Would this have been about three years ago?” I asked.
Betty stopped to think for a moment.
“Yes, love. About that.”
The next day, Boyle, Kerry and I were back in the meeting room with the employee folders stacked on the table, waiting for Pete Martin to arrive.
“I really think that I should go and find him,” said Boyle.
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “He’ll be here. He needs to know what we know.”
“I don’t know why I’m here,” interrupted Kerry. “None of this has anything to do with me.”
Pete walked in and strode purposefully to Kerry’s side of the table.
“Liz!” he exclaimed. “So nice to see you again. You’re looking gorgeous as ever.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I responded, dismissing the unmeant compliment. Pete and I had never liked each other. I didn’t see the point in pretending otherwise.
“Liz, why don’t you explain your theory here,” said Boyle, quickly.
I reached for the personnel files on the table and laid them out in order with the people’s photographs on top, facing Kerry and Pete.
“The easiest way to trace a person or person’s activities,” I explained, “is to trace the money they use.”
I pointed to Graham’s photo. “Graham is the boss and in overall charge of everything to do with the company.”
Pete’s shoulders flexed slightly. I wondered if Boyle noticed it too.
“Pete,” I said pointing to his photo next, “You’re Graham’s partner and would have access to almost everything Graham does, including reviewing the accounts. You were also responsible for firing Chris Johnson three years ago.”
“He was stealing from other employees,” responded Pete, indignantly. “He had a flashy mobile phone, an expensive watch. It had to be him.”
I handed Boyle a CD. “If you ask your colleague to examine the files, I think you’ll find that the theft from the accounts started just before he left.”
Kerry’s eyes widened. “So Chris was stealing from us?”
I shook my head. “There was no way he’d still have access to the accounts after leaving the company and besides, his only connection was Becky. Did she say why they split up?”
“She said that he wasn’t the guy he pretended to be.”
I pointed to Kerry’s picture next. “Kerry, you and Graham share the responsibility for vetting employees before they join. What did you find out about Chris?”
Kerry shrugged. “Hard working, loyal, but perhaps a bit of a player.”
“He had a reputation of dating the female employees he worked with?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“But Becky said he wasn’t the guy he pretended to be. Did you ever date him?”
Kerry looked at her hands. If she admitted what I suspected, she’d be confessing to two-timing Graham.
“Yes,” she said reluctantly. “But nothing happened. He said he wasn’t that kind of guy.”
I glanced at Boyle. “Are you putting two and two together yet?”
“What?! You mean he was gay?”
I pointed to Malcolm Wilson’s file. “Malcolm was an experienced accounts clerk and all his references checked out. I believe that his accounts are honest.”
I continued to Becky Cartwright’s file. “Becky didn’t have the same level of responsibility that Malcolm did. However, if she did notice a discrepancy in the reporting of the figures she’d have a duty to report it to her manager. Malcolm was her senior colleague, but not her boss. If she suspected Malcolm of dishonesty, she’d report it to you, Pete.”
Pete folded his arms confidently. “Well, she didn’t. I didn’t know there was any discrepancy until Graham was arrested.”
“I’m not sure I believe you,” said Boyle calmly. “If you had the same or at least similar access to the company files as Graham, how could you not know about the missing money?”
Pete looked pale but didn’t answer.
“Which brings us to Chris,” I said, pointing. “Poor, dear Chris, busy cultivating an image because he wasn’t ready to come out yet. But suppose for one moment that one of his office liaisons was for real, and that person also turned out to be someone who wasn’t what they were pretending to be.”
“It’s that idea that made my colleague so suspicious of the office pilfering.” Boyle pocketed the CD and started flickering through Chris Johnson’s file. “A degree of that goes on in many businesses and we assumed that it was unconnected. But why would a minor pilfering problem from three years ago matter now?” I answered the question for them. “Because something happened then that matters now.”
Boyle read from Chris’ file. “Mr Johnson reported a theft from his desk on 3rd May shortly before he left the company. A wallet was taken from his desk drawer containing about twenty pounds in cash, two credit cards, and a book of stamps, a condom and a small size photograph. A mobile phone and car keys were also in the drawer, left untouched.”
Pete smirked. “He obviously reported his own wallet stolen to divert attention. So what?”
“That’s how we knew it wasn’t Chris,” Boyle explained. “The mobile was high spec and would have been worth more than the cash in his wallet and what self respecting thief would leave the car keys behind? This was personal, so we considered the photograph.”
“A photo booth usually gives you four or five copies of the same picture, like this,” I said, holding up a small size snap. “When Graham told me that Chris dated Becky, I assumed that had happened three years ago, but we now know that they started seeing each other only last month. There were no pictures of him and Becky together, just this.”
The photo showed Pete and Chris together, happy and smiling.
Pete swallowed but his voice was still strong and confident. “Apart from that one, silly little picture, you have absolutely nothing to link me to Chris.”
“You’re right,” Boyle nodded, “until we do this.” He lent across the table and lifted Pete’s file and photograph and repositioned it between Becky and Chris. “Now, it all makes perfect sense.”
I again pointed to each picture. “Graham never was too particular about dotting the I’s or crossing the T’s. As long as his figures added up, he wouldn’t know any better; the perfect fall guy.” I moved to Kerry’s picture. “You vetted Chris Johnson, but the only negative you found was his reputation and that he ‘wasn’t that kind of guy’.” I pointed to Malcolm. “It was on your recommendation that Malcolm was appointed as Senior Account Clerk. He reported his figures to you, Pete. Becky,” I pointed to her picture, “noticed an error. It wouldn’t be long before someone joined the dots.” I moved onto Pete’s picture. “You probably told her not to worry, you’d look into it, but Chris had already figured it out.” I pointed to the last file. “You went out on the town together, bought him gifts; the watch and the phone were just two. Where was all this money coming from? If the staff were already getting suspicious of Chris, they’d soon look at you. You had to get that picture back and then you fired him.”
“But then,” said Boyle, finishing for me, “when you heard that Chris had started dating Becky, you had to take action before they worked it out together.”
“I only wanted the picture,” blurted Pete. “It wasn’t in the first wallet.”
“Chris had probably forgotten that he’d removed it,” suggested Boyle pushing the one we had towards him. “We found that one in his flat.”
“That’s the thing about photo booth pictures,” I reminded him. “There’s always more than one.”
“Well,” said Kerry, satisfied. “That’s sorted.” She moved as if to leave, but I held up a hand.
“Not so fast, sweetie. You dated Chris first, remember?”
Kerry shrugged. “So? Nothing happened and I’ve supported Graham ever since.”
“But you’re Graham’s PA and you’re supposed to be his girlfriend. Chris must have told you something; if you had passed that on to Graham, he could have cleared Chris’s reputation and put a stop to all this. He may never have been arrested. Anyone would think you wanted Chris to get fired, just because he ‘wasn’t that kind of guy’.”
“Don’t you dare accuse me of anything!” screamed Kerry, her face pink with rage. “I did nothing!”
“Yes,” said Boyle coldly. “You did nothing.”
After Pete had been arrested and Kerry had left, Boyle lingered to speak to me.
“Again, it looks like we owe you thanks for foiling another villain.”
I laughed. “You’re welcome. By the way, I’m afraid I’m going to need that CD back.”
Boyle reached into his jacket and took a look. “The Very Best of Cat Stevens?”
“What can I say? I’m a hippy at heart. You could,” I tried to suggest casually, “thank me by buying me that drink? Later, I might even let you walk me home.”
Boyle bit his top lip; that thing he did to suppress a smile.
“Sure, after all, it is a wild world.”
A Liz Philips Mystery
“They’re charging me with Manslaughter,” he said.
Harry blew into a plastic cup of machine coffee, and then changed his mind about drinking it.
“I honestly don’t know how it all happened, Liz, honestly I don’t.”
“All men lie,” my mother had once said. “It’s all about how much you’re willing to forgive.”
“You do have a criminal past, Harry. Look at it from their point of view.”
“I was still young then,” he snapped back. “Your mother changed me; I owe her my life. You know I’d never do anything to hurt her.”
“Have you called for a solicitor?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t want them thinking I need one.” He laughed nervously and his hands shook as he picked up the cup and put it down again.
This was a change in dynamics I wasn’t expecting, but I owed Harry a lot; he deserved to have his story heard.
“Dave died seven month ago,” I reminded him. “The police never mentioned anything suspicious then. What’s changed?”
Harry shrugged sadly.
“One of his sisters says that she found a syringe when she came back to get some of his furniture. Greg said that she could have a few of his things back; he’s thinking of moving into a small flat.”
“That would be Bev. I’m surprised she let Greg stay,” I said. “She must need the rent. She never really took to Greg.”
“She never really took to me,” said Harry. “I felt sorry for Dave, but I just couldn’t bring myself to forgive him for what he did to Greg.”
I felt the same. Dave gambled with his life and left my little brother with HIV. You can only gamble responsibly when all sides play fair. You can’t gamble with life; life never plays fair.
“I’ll go and talk to Bev in the morning,” I promised. “They’ll keep you here overnight. In the meantime listen and trust what Boyle tells you, he’s one of the good guys. This should all be over in 24 hours.”
“But your Mum!” he cried, his eyes wide with fear. Mum had been diagnosed with a stage one dementia a couple of years ago.
“Don’t worry. Greg’s with her. They’ll look after each other.”
He grabbed my hand as I rose to leave and kissed it.
“Thank you Liz. I’m…” he struggled to find the right words. “I am very proud of you, you know.”
Harry had never said anything like this before, but I wasn’t surprised. I smiled as I squeezed his shoulder.
“Yes. I know.”
“So, what’s this all about?” demanded Bev when she opened the door to me the next day. She shoved her hands deep into the oversized pockets of her oversized dressing gown and pushed her ample bosom forward defensively.
“You know bloody well what it’s about,” I answered. “I’m here on a strictly professional basis.”
Bev sniffed as she looked me up and down. “Well, you better come in, then.”
The cat took one terrified look at me and bolted for the cat flap as we entered the kitchen. Bev flipped the kettle on and yelled at the kids to shut up as one hit the other over the head with a metal tea tray. She looked a mess. Her hair hung down in untidy spaghetti strands and the worn out slippers on her feet were threatening to leave by themselves. But Bev had always kept a clean house and the kitchen was spotless. She coped with her grief by cleaning. I wasn’t without sympathy for Bev, but I hadn’t come here to listen to her, I’d come to talk.
“I’m going to tell you a story,” I said.
Dave had lived with his family in the house at the corner of our road. It was a lovely old place with a decent plot of land and a garden that his Mum loved.
Greg and I lived a conventional life in our cramped semi. Our Mum had a hard life bringing me up on her own, until she married Harry. And then Greg came along and we were the family Mum had always dreamed of. Harry could best be described as strict but fair. I often envied the relaxed and free spirited atmosphere that Dave enjoyed at home.
When Dave’s Mum died and ill health forced his Dad into a care home, Dave inherited the lovely old house. I was already established in my own business by that time and Greg due to go to university, when suddenly he had a change of heart. Harry was furious and I found out later they’d had the most awful rows. Dave came up with a reasonable solution. He was rattling around in a house that was too big but didn’t have the heart to sell. Why didn’t he rent rooms out to students? Greg could be his first tenant and while living there, perhaps could consider furthering his education locally.
Greg jumped at the chance and settled into a course at the local technical college. Harry made it clear that this was very second best, but no one was going to change Greg’s mind, so he had to agree to compromise. I was secretly quite pleased. Greg was still close to Mum and Harry and frankly, they weren’t spring chickens anymore. He could get on with his life and still be close enough to notice if they needed anything. I was only a phone call away and would drive back if anything happened.
“Take care of him for me,” I joked to Dave during one phone conversation.
“Don’t worry,” said Dave. “It’s me who needs looking after. Have you tasted his cooking?”
Last Christmas I stayed with Mum and Harry and visited Greg and Dave the day after I arrived back. Greg looked fine; relaxed and happy. Dave seemed a little more on edge, uncomfortable, even. I couldn’t help noticing that he was fidgeting, as if he couldn’t wait for me to leave.
“What’s the matter, Dave?” I asked. “Would you two prefer to be alone?”
Only Greg laughed. Greg and I carried on chatting as if we hadn’t been apart for more than a day, but Dave and I only spoke to answer each other’s questions. The easy camaraderie we’d enjoyed as children was slipping away and it made me sad, but there was something else about Dave, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“Are you coming over for some tea on Boxing Day?” I asked him.
“I’d love to,” he said, “but I promised Bev I’d spend the day with her and the kids.”
Dave hadn’t refused an invitation to our house before, but Christmas was always meant to be a time for families, so I should have expected that he’d want to spend time with his sister.
Greg spent Christmas Day with Dave “and friends” and Boxing Day with Mum, Harry and me.
I did the cooking and everyone ate far too much. We sat around watching the afternoon film with our trouser buttons undone.
“I’ve got to go for a walk,” I announced. “I can’t stay here all afternoon; I’ll get a headache if I fall asleep in the chair.”
“You go ahead,” said Greg. “Headache be damned! I intend to fall asleep in the chair.”
A narrow path of the local river ran across the bottom of Mum and Harry’s garden. I crossed the little bridge that joined the footpath and followed it for about five minutes, when the pathway opened onto the entrance to the local recreation ground.
The disused running track was slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding fields while large steel barriers had been erected to prevent the public from using the spectator platforms. I walked past the barriers, heading towards the dog walking path when I heard the hushed whispers of lovers coming from beneath the benches.
“What about your boyfriend? Doesn’t he use this stuff?”
“Greg? No, he’s way too straight-laced.”
I nearly stumbled, but carried on walking a few more paces, until I was just beyond the edge of the barrier. I strained my ears to listen.
“So if you want to behave badly, you have to come here and visit me.”
“You know all my dirty habits, Mark. That’s why I like you.”
“Here, let me do that for you. There’s a knack to it if you don’t want to leave a visible puncture. Now remember, this is the good stuff, so only use the doses I’ve shown you.”
“Wow, that’s amazing.”
“Don’t forget to tidy the gear away before the fix kicks in, you won’t be in a fit state to do it later. You’ll have to make sure you’ve cleaned up properly if you don’t want your boyfriend to know what you’re up to. Dave?”
“How are you feeling now?”
They giggled softly and I walked slowly back home.
I watched Greg very closely over the next few days, but he seemed calm and happy. He was trying to organise a New Years Eve party at their house. I offered to go shopping with him.
“So, are you and Dave still happy and in love?” I asked, teasingly.
“Mind your own business,” he laughed, suggesting that he was happy.
“I’m glad for you, Greg. Really I am. But if anything bad happened to you...” I didn’t really know how to put this. “I mean if you became unhappy, I’d make sure that Dave was unhappy too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked suspiciously. “Dave isn’t going to make me unhappy, he really cares about me.”
I hesitated a moment.
“I think he might be using smack.” There. I’d said it.
“That’s in the past,” he snapped back. “The bad influence of an ex. Anyway, who told you? I promised Dave I wouldn’t tell anyone. Especially not Mum and Dad.”
The party felt very strange. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Mum and Harry didn’t go. Dave and Greg had their arms around each others shoulders, laughing and relaxed.
I watched them carefully and thought about how blissful ignorance really is. If I hadn’t gone for a walk in the park that day, I would never have guessed at the problems that lay beneath.
After New Year, when I had returned to work, I noticed that the phone calls Greg and I shared were becoming less and less frequent and by Easter, I realised it had been more than a month when we’d last spoke.
I called him to say that as soon as I had a free weekend I’d visit mum and Harry.
“Actually, sis, maybe it’s best if you didn’t come over. Dave’s not been very well.”
I knew a classic understatement when I heard it.
“Greg,” I said, thinking I already knew the answer to my next question “is Dave still using?”
Greg didn’t say anything for what felt like a long time and when he did speak, his voice was hoarse.
“No, but he’s in so much pain.”
All of a sudden I felt very cold, as if an icy wind had just engulfed me.
Greg took a deep breath.
“I’m fine,” he said. He’d never been able to lie to me. I’d learned to spot his lies when we were still children. Even as a child, he would always take a deep breath before a lie, almost as if he could prevent his voice from wavering.
“What about Mum and Harry?”
“They think Dave’s got a serious flu and I….” he couldn’t finish the sentence.
“I’m coming over as soon as I can,” I said and hung up. I didn’t want to hear his protestations. What I had feared most had happened and now it was time for action.
It took me a couple of days to arrange the necessary cover and to get the things I wanted, but before the end of April, I was surprising Greg on his doorstep. I could see immediately that he’d lost weight. We hugged and he smiled his usual smile.
“You shouldn’t have come,” he said, still smiling; I knew he was pleased to see me.
I’m nearly seven years older than Greg, and I’ve always believed that being the eldest sibling ingrains into you a sense of responsibility that never really goes away, however old you get.
We sat in the living room talking things over.
“Dad came over last night,” he said, conversationally. “I think he knows. Neither of us actually said anything, but when he said goodnight, he looked like he wanted to hug me, although couldn’t quite get there.”
We both knew how much Harry loved us, but he’d never been a huggy kissy kind of guy.
A rough and painful sounding cough rattled from the mantelpiece and the lights on top of a baby monitor flashed.
“It’s just in case he needs anything. Another chest infection is the latest complication.”
“How much longer?” I asked gently. I didn’t mean to be blunt, but I’ve never been able to ignore a situation.
“We don’t know and the doctors don’t know either, but maybe…” Greg trailed off as tears formed in his eyes. “No, not long.”
“What about you?” I asked, a little more brightly. “How have you been?”
“I’m ok. I’m on a monitored program and the doctors say they’re seeing positive things with this new cocktail they’ve given me. With the number of pills I’m taking, I’m surprised I don’t rattle when I walk.”
He laughed a little and I saw some of the old Greg there.
“You look tired,” I commented.
“I am. I’m sleeping in the larger spare room at the moment, so I don’t disturb Dave too much.” He looked at his watch. “Another hour and he’ll need his next dose.”
I turned my head away, disapproving.
“It’s not so bad. He’s taking clinically prescribed methadone and the nurses come every day. They’ll be back in the morning and it gives me a break.”
“Look, why don’t I sleep here tonight.” I suggested. “I can keep an eye on Dave while you get some sleep. I’ll sleep in the other spare room.”
I made Greg a milky drink and he turned in early, checking on Dave first, while I stayed up to watch the late film. I waited an hour before finally turning off the TV and the baby monitor.
I tiptoed upstairs barefoot with my toiletries bag and listened outside Greg’s door. I could hear nothing, so crept into the main bedroom.
Dave was half sitting, half lying, propped up with pillows, his eyes closed, and his face serene.
I put my toiletries bag on the bed an unzipped it. As I did so, I glanced up at Dave and suddenly noticed that whatever I had intended to do was unnecessary. The rough, rasping breaths I had heard on the monitor were now silent and his chest was still.
I re-zipped my toiletries bag and hid it in one of the drawers of the bedside cabinet. On top were all the usual necessities of a patient’s bedside table; a water glass, a methadone bottle and several disposable medical spoons. Everything looked very neat and tidy; too neat and tidy.
I made sure that I opened the door to the nurse the following morning.
She held my hands as I explained how I had made the awful discovery in the wee hours while my brother was asleep and how I’d had to break the news to him. Greg’s hands shook as he made the tea and I had to take over. I made him some breakfast but he simply stared into his teacup and left the toast on the plate to go cold.
“It’s easily done.” said the doctor later.
I looked at him, frowning at the strange choice of words, at the same time thinking of what I had considered doing.
“We found an obvious puncture. It’s clear he injected himself. But,” he continued, giving me a hard stare, “There’s no way he could have prepared the dose or cleared the things away afterwards. There was no needle in the bed. He hadn’t taken any more methadone and the supplies he had in his toiletries bag didn’t look like they’d been touched.”
I went back to Dave’s room later and found the syringe behind the chest of drawers. It was the only place he could have thrown it from the bed.
The day of the funeral was actually very nice. A fresh wind blew jagged clouds briskly across a bright blue sky. There weren’t very many people in the chapel; I recognised Bev, but had to be re-introduced to the younger one. Her baby couldn’t stop screaming and had to be taken outside. His father was too ill to attend. As the coffin finally pushed its way through the grey curtains, Greg started to cry again and I held his hand.
We emerged from the gloom, blinking in the bright sunshine, to view the flowers and read the cards.
Greg put his arm around my shoulder and planted a kiss at my temple.
“Thanks sis. For everything,” he said, before walking over to talk to Dave’s family.
I wasn’t sure what he meant until I saw the flowers that Harry had sent. In his unmistakable handwriting I read “I’ll always be looking out for you.” It was exactly the same message I’d put on my flowers.
Bev pulled a tissue from her pocket and blew her nose. I didn’t tell her about my night time visit to Dave’s room or the toiletries bag.
“I thought it was all Greg’s doing and Dave was just unlucky,” she admitted. “I never expected Harry to be arrested.”
“Where did you get the syringe?”
“I nicked it from Dave’s toiletries bag before it was taken away. I was convinced it was Greg’s. When he told me I could have the furniture, it felt like an opportunity.”
I couldn’t be angry with Bev. What I had planned was worse, after all.
I drove Harry back home and mum asked him if he’d enjoyed his little trip. Harry and I looked at Greg who shrugged.
I stayed late into the evening, just watching TV with my family and although we’re an odd bunch, it felt nice, normal.
My mobile rang at about 9pm. It was Boyle.
“I’m off duty now,” he said. “I thought you’d just like to know that we’ve closed the file and no further enquiries will be made.”
“Oh yes?” I said, trying to sound casual.
“Yes, apparently the syringe that Mrs Parker found in the toiletries bag contained a dose that was of insufficient strength or quality to take Mr Jones’ life. As it was unused and there was nothing else in the bag to compare it to, there’s nothing we can do.”
I put my hand over my mouth to ensure I didn’t laugh. “Weren’t you suspicious when it went missing?”
Boyle gave a discreet little cough, embarrassed. “We thought the hospital had taken it. They thought we had.” He coughed again. “Um, Liz, I know this is unconventional, but I’d really like to buy you a drink. I could pick you up?” he suggested, hopefully.
“No, sorry,” I said abruptly. “But I’m just not free.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Who was that then?” he asked.
I smiled at the only father I’d ever really known and wondered what kind of a life he’d had to owe it all to Mum.
“Oh, no one,” I said looking back at the TV. “No one important.”
A Liz Philips Mystery
I had never heard of the murdered man before and I couldn’t explain how one of my business cards had come to be in his jacket pocket.
The deceased had been found by the catering staff who came to open the café in the grounds of the local zoo that morning. He had been bludgeoned with a blunt instrument and the chimps had been let loose from their enclosure.
DI Boyle rolled his eyes skywards.
“Bad stuff just seems to happen to you, doesn’t it, Liz,”
I had no answer to that. I supposed it was true, but it’s not as if I went looking for it; well, not intentionally.
I met Boyle on the night of the mayor’s charity function. I had discovered that my friend and colleague was a scumbag who preyed on young girls and was about to happily behead him, when an innocent girlfriend, who owed him nothing, saved his life by tearfully begging me not to.
It was all over by the time the police arrived, and I guess I could have just disappeared into the night, but I decided to stay and brazen it out.
Boyle had gazed directly at me as I relayed my story and I guessed that this was a tactic he used to unnerve liars and sympathise with victims. He maintained a calm and dispassionate stare throughout and although he told me that I was reckless and foolhardy, I couldn’t help thinking that I saw something else there, almost like envy. Foolish private detectives were more likely to go where the sensible police feared to tread.
And now he was giving me that stern stare again over the top of one of my coffee cups. His calm blue eyes observed me carefully, taking everything in and giving nothing away.
“Did he have marital problems?” I asked. “Many of the people who hire me suspect an affair.”
“Mr Williams had been divorced for several years,” he replied.
“Hmm, Not someone I would have shaken hands with, then,” I said, thinking aloud.
“And where were you between seven and ten pm yesterday evening,” he asked routinely.
“I was here. I watched reruns of The Professionals on TV, then had a hot bath and went to bed about eleven thirty.”
“Can anyone else verify that?”
“No. I’ve always believed that guilty pleasures are best enjoyed alone.”
Detective Boyle raised only his eyes to look at me.
“I was divorced several years ago, too.”
“I see. And where is your ex-husband now?”
“Well, I’d like to think that he was burning in hell, piece by piece and very slowly. But, truthfully, I don’t know or care where he is.”
“Is there anyone else?”
“You mean apart from Lewis Collins?”
Boyle discreetly bit his top lip to suppress a smile.
“No, there’s no one else.”
“Well,” he said, draining his cup, “that’s all I need for now. I may need to speak to you again.”
“Well, you know where to find me.” I reached up to the top shelf of my bookcase. “Here,” I said handing him a red edged business card. “Have one of your own. I really must get round to changing that design.”
He didn’t laugh but again fixed me with a cool stare.
“Thanks,” he said with the merest hint of sarcasm, slipping it into his shirt pocket. “I’ll keep it close to my heart.”
The following morning, I donned a pair of strong walking boots and paid a visit to the zoo.
I paid a couple of extra quid for a visitors hand book and flipped through the pages. I scanned the names and faces of staff “happy to help”, but didn’t recognise anybody.
I strolled over to the ape enclosure, taking a good look at the surrounding areas along the way. The pedestrian walkways were clean and looked well kept. Beyond the pathways, artificial hills had been built, some grassed, and some planted, no doubt so that the noise of the visitors wouldn’t upset the residents.
The ape enclosure was roughly halfway between the petting zoo and the café. One part of the enclosure was sealed off and the locks on the remaining part looked conspicuously new.
I stood on the pathway and looked directly at the enclosure. Just in front of me was a yard of grass and then a waist high wooden fence, which served no particular purpose other than to mark a boundary. Beyond the wooden fence was another yard of grass and then the concrete and glass ape house.
A chimp cocked his head to one side and looked back at me.
“Have you got something you wish to say to me?” I asked sternly.
The retired gentleman on my left gave me an interested look, but his wife, who stood the other side of him holding his arm, looked across her husband to give me a horrified and disgusted stare.
“We are allowed out in the daytime, every now and then,” I said, smiling sweetly at her.
Mrs Retired lifted her head, drew back her shoulders and with her nose in the air, pulled Mr Retired away in the direction of the petting zoo. Mr Retired gave me a boyish smile over his shoulder as he let himself be led like an innocent child away from the dangerous harlot.
I turned back to the chimp, which this time puckered up for a kiss.
“Not a chance, sunshine,” I said and continued towards the café.
A sign on the door told visitors that “due to unforeseen circumstances, no food would be served today, however the coffee bar would be open.” The café appeared to be a long rectangle with the furthest half cordoned off. A harassed pair of workers were doing their best to supply cappuccinos and blueberry muffins to equally harassed parents as the children raced against each other from the door to the blue and white police tape.
“It’s disgusting,” I heard one mother complain. “You pay all that money to get in and they can’t even provide any lunch today.”
I looked over the top of the tape into the area beyond. Chairs were still on top of the tables and the lights had been left off. Just the other side of the tape was a rubbish bin for public use. I leaned over slightly to take a look inside and noticed a couple of empty cans of extra strong lager.
I patiently waited my turn at the counter and smiled at the student-aged youth as he thanked me for waiting. I glanced at his colleague, but she kept her head down and busied herself stacking dirty cups.
“Do you sell extra strength lager, here,” I asked politely and the youth raised his eyebrows and grinned with a good-for-you expression.
The mother next to me wrinkled her nose as if she could already smell it on me and ushered her children away.
“I’m sorry, miss,” he replied, still grinning, “but the off licence in the next parade of shops is the nearest place for that.”
“In that case I’ll just have a snack bar to go.”
As I left the café, I walked back through the picnic area and passed a pair of smooching teenagers on one of the benches.
Seeing them reminded me of something else. In my day, if a bus shelter was unavailable, we looked for other suitable quiet corners.
I made my way back to the ape enclosure and took another look at the area of ground that surrounded it.
The earth by the right hand side of the house was flat and well trodden down, showing an obvious pathway through the neglected shrubs.
I glanced over my shoulder and not seeing anybody looking, I hoisted myself onto the wooden fence and swung my legs over the top. I followed the well trod pathway and passed a door on the side of the ape house, with what looked like a brand new padlock securely fitted. The pathway did continue beyond the door, but here looked slightly less well defined, as if fewer feet took this path. It led to the back of the ape house where there were fewer shrubs, slowly dying in a two yard patch against the zoos boundary wall. Cigarette butts littered the ground around a large stone that looked like it had been pulled from a rockery somewhere.
I stood on the top of the stone and tried to look over the wall, but it was too high; about seven feet. I tried to position my feet a little more securely on the stone and stretched up my arms towards the top of the wall. Taking a deep breath I jumped and caught hold of the top edge of the wall. I kicked with my feet searching for any kind of purchase against the brick, until I could bend my elbows to gain me sufficient height to look over the top.
I saw the main road sweeping away to the left. On the other side of the road, quite close by was a small parade of shops, in the middle of which was an off licence. I smiled, thinking I had learnt at least half of what I needed to know.
I dropped down and made my way back to the public area.
Before heading back home, I stopped at the parade of shops along the road. Walking into the off licence, I searched the fridges for extra strong lager and found the brand I was looking for. I bought a large single can and gossiped with the guy behind the counter about how awful it was; what had happened at the zoo.
“Bin ‘ere twenty years,” he boasted, “and never seen the like.”
“Did you know him, then?”
“Nah, only them kids what work there. They’re always hangin’ around, going large.”
I pulled the visitors hand book from my bag and showed him the page with the staff photographs. I pointed to the youth from the coffee bar; Ryan Smith.
“Yeah, ‘im and ‘is girlfriend; same lager as you. That’s her,” he said, pointing.
I took another look and saw a picture of the blond girl who was working with him, Sally Jackson.
Boyle phoned me the next day.
“We’ve had some serious reports of a woman acting strangely on the zoo premises,” he declared. “I don’t suppose you’d care to comment, would you?”
I closed my eyes but didn’t bother with an excuse.
“What are you doing, Liz?” he demanded, his patience running thin. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I think we need to talk to the young couple who work in the coffee bar again.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’? I’ll talk to the couple in the coffee bar again. About what?”
I tried not to smile.
“About what they were doing in the grounds of the zoo after closing on the night of the murder. At the back of the ape house is a patch of ground where the employees go to have a smoke. I think that those two are dating and climb over the boundary wall after dark for some alone time. The CCTV cameras face the front of the ape house, right?”
“Right,” confirmed Boyle. “But we’ve already reviewed the tapes and no one went towards the back of the ape house after six thirty. We still don’t know how the chimps got out.”
“I have theory,” I said, taking a long shot. “Williams was already dead at closing time. The zoo is closed to visitors at five o’clock. Romeo and Juliet smuggled out the weapon, came back later and jumped the wall where the CCTV wouldn’t capture them. They released the chimps by breaking the lock and left the zoo the same way they got in.”
“But why? That seems a lot of extra trouble to go to.”
“They must have known that the chimps would be attracted to the café. They sell plenty of sweet stuff there. Maybe they hoped that the chimps would cause sufficient damage to be blamed for everything.”
“Some chimps have been trained to use primitive tools,” said Boyle, “But most don’t wield blunt instruments.”
“And they don’t put their larger cans in the rubbish bin or turn the lights off when they leave,” I added. Those things must have occurred to Boyle, too.
“So, who killed Williams?”
“I think that’s a question for them,” I replied, thinking some more. “It just seems really convenient that he was found so easily the following morning. Did Williams have family?”
“Yes, his ex-wife is a local woman. He came from Newcastle.”
“Newcastle! Of course, now I remember.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Boyle was starting to get irritated again.
“We need to talk to that girl and I do mean ‘we’. I’m coming with you.”
We went back to the zoo that afternoon and found both the staff together. Their smiles faded when they realised that the stern police officer and the friendly nosy parker were working together. Noisy static interrupted the calm as police officers talked outside the door.
“According to the visitor handbook,” I said to the girl, “your name is Sally Jackson. Ten years ago I helped a woman and her nine year old daughter, disappear from an abusive husband. Did you know I suggested that name?”
“I had to change my name too,” she shrugged. “It’s as good a name as any.”
“Ah,” said Boyle, understanding. “That’s how your father found you. He followed the name, looking for your mother.”
“I couldn’t risk him finding mum or following me home.”
“So you struck him, several times, with a hammer that just happened to be at hand?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” responded the girl cheekily. “I never leave home without one.”
Now I knew Sally didn’t do it.
“There must be a site maintenance locker around here somewhere,” I said. “I don’t suppose you’d know where it is, would you.”
The pair glanced at each other. They both knew where it was located.
“Your mother had travelled all night to get to London and found me in the morning. She had the business card originally.”
“She gave it to me. She said it was lucky, would keep me safe. I kept it in my purse.”
“So, when all your nightmares came true and your father walked in through those doors, close to closing time, you gave him the card to placate him?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t enough. He said he’d find her with or without you.”
“There was a little tussle, and he struck you didn’t he?”
Sally didn’t answer, but I walked around the counter not waiting for permission. She resisted a little when I tugged at her sweater, but the red marks of a fist against her ribs were unmistakable. I nodded to Boyle.
“Where did you get the hammer from, Sally?” asked Boyle sternly.
Sally said nothing. I glanced over my shoulder into the staff room behind the counter.
“It’s not in there,” said Ryan calmly, reading my thoughts.
“But the maintenance locker is, isn’t it? I know where it is,” I said to Boyle. “C’mon.”
I took Boyle back to the ape house and led the way to the back where the large stone sat. It took both of us to lift it up onto its side, but underneath was everything we needed to find.
The hammer was there with a clear bloody thumb print, along with the smashed padlocks from the enclosure.
“Ryan must have been in the back room when Williams found Sally,” said Boyle.
“You won’t be too hard on him, will you?” I asked Boyle, nervously. “He was defending his girlfriend.”
Boyle was non-committal.
“We’ll get him an experienced brief.”
A constable called to me from the pathway.
“Excuse me, miss. We’ve just arrested a man who says he knows you; Harry Baker.”
“Oh my god!” I said, turning back to Boyle. “That’s my stepdad!”
A Liz Philips Mystery
In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it. In fact, it’s really an admission of guilt. They’re saying, “Yes, I did it, but I didn’t want to get caught. How do I get out of this?”
The answer is up to you. I personally found this shift in power hugely satisfying. You now have the option to choose. Do you let them go, or do you give them what you know they deserve?
I’d never held a ceremonial sword before. It was a lot heavier than I expected, but I managed to balance it by letting it rest against the hollow at the base of his throat. As he lay there on his back with anxious eyes pleading, I couldn’t help thinking that he looked like a desperate starfish; caught out of water with his arms and legs askew. I chuckled at the image in my mind and he started to beg again.
When my colleague, Danny came into my office that morning and dropped that buff coloured file onto my desk, like he had hundreds of others, I only glanced at it and pretended not to be excited. “It’s another missing girl, Liz,” he said with all the pent up adrenaline of a small boy looking forward to a promised treat.
“Uh hu.” I carried on typing.
“That makes four.”
Danny sat on the edge of my desk and creased the edges of my unfiled reports. I gave him a stern but typical‐of‐you look and he obligingly lifted a buttock to let me retrieve them.
“Aww, c’mon Liz,” he cajoled. “Don’t tell me this isn’t getting you going. I know you too well. You always get steamed over a new mystery. I know I do.”
I squinted at the computer screen and deleted a line of text.
“Well, go shake hands with yourself in the loos, then. I’m busy.”
Danny sighed and slid of the desk. I couldn’t help but watch him go as he made his way to the outer office. God, he was hot. Too bad he had a philanderer’s reputation. He’d flirt with the office pot plant if he thought he’d get a reaction. I knew that within ten minutes he’d be on the internet, looking up the other cases and trying to make a connection. That was what I liked about Danny, apart from the dark hair and grey green eyes, of course. Under that flirtatious, ego protective shell was a determined and intelligent personality, capable of making quick connections. If he ever met with any resistance, he just flirted you into submission, and I’d noticed, his charm worked just as well with men.
I was always very particular about writing my reports correctly. If the police did want to cut us any slack, they might discover that we could be useful and proper reports would go a long way in presenting a professional image. I rubbed my hands over my face and tried to remember when I last took a break. The file winked at me just at the peripheral edge of my vision and beckoned me like a forbidden chocolate bar.
It had always been my golden rule to finish one job before moving on to another, but that was now more of a bronze hue; I’d broken that rule more times than I could remember. A brief flick through couldn’t hurt.
The police looked at private detectives like us as if we were a joke. I don’t mean that they looked at us with contempt, although some of them did. I mean they thought we were funny; silly kids playing at being grownups. But when they had exhausted all the leads they had and frantic relatives were one phone call away from a psychic hotline that was usually when our phone would ring.
It looked like the older sister had made the call this time. Danny had printed out the photograph that she had kindly emailed over and I identified the missing girl, Jenny, almost immediately. She stood in the middle, between two friends, with her arms around their shoulders, at what looked like a nightclub bar. She had been missing for three weeks. She was a pretty, dark haired girl, quite young looking, who, just like the other three, had failed to return home after a night out. We hadn’t had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the files of the other girls, so similarities could only be guessed at, but Danny had helpfully included relevant newspaper clippings.
I skimmed through Danny’s procedural form and as it turned out, all previous boyfriends had been contacted and excluded from enquires. All her friends had been questioned too, but this was where we usually dug a little deeper. We didn’t just question friends; we talked to anyone, enemies and toxic friends; those who were too scared to say too much for fear of suspicion.
There was a toxic friend in the photograph, I noticed; older, sexier and worldlier than Jenny and too cool to smile for the camera. Toxic friends usually hung out with their mates because the good friend had something that the bad friend wanted; a lover, intelligence, sometimes money.
I studied the photograph again. This toxic friendship was about love. Jenny was loved. She and her good friend smiled openly to the camera, excited to be there. Her toxic friend had obviously been to that venue too many times before to be excited. She leaned in towards Jenny slightly but didn’t show any particular emotion.
A quick call to the sister confirmed that she had taken the photograph herself at a local nightclub where Jenny had celebrated her nineteenth birthday. I was surprised to find out she wasn’t younger. Tickets had been made available by her friend, Emma, who worked there.
I rang Emma’s doorbell at a quarter to twelve. I half expected to be waking her. If she worked at the local nightclub, then I assumed she’d be sleeping.
An unshaven young man in his twenties opened the door in a tee shirt and boxers.
“Hi, I’m Liz Phillips; I’ve come to see Emma.”
He looked confused for a moment, and then opened the door. He said nothing as I followed him in to a cramped and untidy front room.
“’ad fren’s over,” he said, by way of explanation. He beckoned to a settee and walked out into the hallway to yell up the stairs. I pushed yesterday’s clothes out of the way and sat as close to the edge as I could without falling off.
“Bird down ‘ere for ya.”
It had been a few years since I’d been referred to as a bird. I tried not to smile as I heard him blow off as he padded into the kitchen.
Emma walked into the living room the way most beautiful women walked into an office. She was wearing a neat blouse and tailored trousers, and all her makeup was immaculately applied. She dropped herself elegantly into a nearby chair.
“This’ll have to be quick,” she said, removing an invisible hair. “Got stock taking to do this lunchtime. Cuppa tea?” she offered.
“Thanks, but no,” I smiled politely. If this was her living room, I didn’t want to know what her kitchen looked like. Clearly her looks were her first priority.
“You want to talk about Jenny,” she stated getting straight to the point.
“Um, yes,” I said unable to hide my surprise.
“Your shoes,” she said pointing to my sensible flats. “Dead giveaway.”
“So, how long…”
“Since senior school,” she cut in, pre‐empting again. “Best mates forever. No, I don’t know where she might be, or what other mates she has. We didn’t have a row the last time I saw her and no, I don’t know of anyone who hated her enough to bump her off.”
Her boyfriend came in just then and sat on top of the abandoned clothes next to me and released the ring pull on a can of beer. Emma gave him a look that could have frozen molten lava.
“Hair of the dog, innit?” he said indignantly.
“You could at least have put some clothes on,” scolded Emma.
I raised an eyebrow at the boyfriend and he obligingly filled in the details. I’ve found that if you give people enough space, the need to explain will overpower the need to conceal.
“My dad owns the nightclub and I help out. Met her there.” He nodded toward Emma. “Dad owns this place and we get cheap rent.”
“Did Jenny ever come here?” I asked.
Suddenly the boyfriend was lost for words, he was surprised, perhaps not so much by the question, but that it was directed at him.
“Don’t ‘fink so,” he replied, a little too quickly. He stared back at me with wide eyes, but didn’t look at Emma. I returned his gaze. “You slept with her, didn’t you?” I said in my head.
“No,” said Emma, answering the initial question. “I only moved in with Ben just a week before Jen disappeared. We hadn’t had time to send out house warming invites.”
“Daft idea,” sniffed Ben taking a gulp of beer. “Been ‘ere ages.”
I looked at Emma as she spoke. Her voice remained calm, but her eyes were cold. She knew he’d been unfaithful, but perhaps not with whom.
“Is there a security camera covering the outside gate of the nightclub?” I asked, getting an idea.
“You mean where the car park joins the road?” asked Ben. “No need. Cameras are all over the inside and over every door, plus a few in the car park. Once they’re on the road, they’re polices’ problem. Why?”
“Well, if we can review the security images we might be able to find out who Jenny partied with, but now might not get to see who she left with.”
“Police took ‘em all away a couple of weeks ago.”
I pulled Danny’s photograph from my bag.
“Who is the other girl here with you?” I asked Emma.
“That’s Maria, a friend of Jens sister.” Emma sniffed disapprovingly. She must have suspected her of being the girl Ben slept with.
I showed the picture to Ben. He looked a little sad when he saw it, but shrugged and shook his head when I pointed to Maria. He didn’t know her.
“Her dad is the local mayor, isn’t he?” pondered Emma, trying to remember. “She dated a bloke a little while back, but they split up soon after Jen went missing.
I could hear an alarm bell ring quietly in the back of my head. “Do you know where I can find her?” I asked as casually as I could.
“There’s a do on at the town hall tonight. She’ll be there.” The tone of Emma’s voice suggested that she wouldn’t go.
Danny wasn’t in the office when I returned but had left me a message saying he was going to talk to the sister again. He suspected that she had been having an affair with an ex boyfriend of Jenny’s.
That was an avenue to explore, but my senses were leading me in another direction and so I left him a message on his mobile to dress to impress this evening. We had an event to attend.
I arrived late as usual and a glance at my watch told me that it was far too late to be fashionable.
I wasn’t used to wearing high heeled shoes and a proper dress, and judging by the looks I got from the well‐to‐do ladies already present, it showed.
The local great and good were gathered together in elegant surroundings to be congratulated for giving away what they wouldn’t miss to the more popular charities.
The mayor was centre stage thanking everyone for being as wonderful as him and I immediately tuned out to scan the crowd.
Maria was standing towards the front of the crowd and gazing at her father as if he was a hero. She was wearing a pretty pale blue dress and looked as if she’d had her hair done for the occasion. I took a closer look at the people around her and it appeared that she was unescorted.
I made my way over to her and waited for her father to finish his speech and absorb the applause before I introduced myself to her.
Her polite smile faded a little as she shook my hand and I noticed her lips tremble slightly when I mentioned Jenny’s name. She led me to a side room and closed the door quietly.
We were surrounded by the ornaments of official office. The table pushed against the far wall was stacked with all the regalia removed to make room in the main hall.
A couple of plaques of coats of arms fought for space with banners and what looked like spears adorned with red ropes.
“Look,” she began, “It’s only going to be a few minutes before people notice I’m not there.”
“This will be really brief,” I promised. “I only have few questions and I know that they’re going to sound strange, but I’d really appreciate it if you could be honest with me, ok?”
“First of all, can you tell me how old you are?”
Maria looked a little surprised, but I’d rumbled her. There was no need to pretend.
“I’m fifteen,” she admitted.
I nodded, now understanding. An excellent education and an intelligent mind made peers her own age seem immature, but partying at the places her friends went to made a little subversion necessary. The right clothes and makeup, and a mature attitude would make her appear older than her years. At a nightclub she’d be more likely to meet an older, more appealing man, one she’d be reluctant to invite to an evening like this where her father would meet him.
“What was it that Jenny didn’t like about your ex boyfriend?”
Again Maria raised her eyebrows, but answered the question.
“She said he was a user. He only wanted to get me into bed and wouldn’t be able to stay faithful.”
“Did she say why she thought so?”
“It’s not Ben, is it?” I asked, needing confirmation.
Maria wrinkled her nose.
“God, no; I don’t know what Emma sees in him.”
With his own place and a rich daddy, it wasn’t too hard for me to see what Emma saw in him.
“Do you know what’s happened to Jenny?” she asked tentatively.
I nodded slowly.
“Yes, I think I do. I think that the guy you dated, dated her first and she thought that she should warn you. Did you ever stop to think about how alike the two of you looked; both pretty, petit and dark haired?”
Maria shook her head sadly.
“No, I never thought about it.”
“I think that her boyfriend was attracted to you when he found out who your father was. The other girls in the newspapers were pretty and dark haired, too. And, I think that Jenny got in the way when she told him to back off and leave you alone.”
Maria looked like she was going to cry and put a hand over her mouth to stifle a sob.
“Did your ex ever know your real age?”
She shook her head again.
“I never told him.”
This told me all I needed to know and I thanked her as I opened the door for her. I waited in the room a little longer. If my suspicions were correct, the ex boyfriend would have come here tonight not wanting to miss the opportunity to talk to her father. If he had seen her enter this room with me he would want to know what we had talked about. I leant against the table with my arms folded and waited for my visitor. Soon, the door opened slightly and a handsome, cheerful face peeked round to look at me.
“Hi,” he said. “Have you had a glass of champagne yet? You’d better be quick; the vultures are eating and drinking everything.”
“I can wait,” I said casually. “Come on in. We need to talk.”
He strolled into the middle of the room and let the door close behind him. He stood with his hands in his pockets and shrugged.
“So, what were you two girls gossiping about?” he asked jovially. “Which one of the men out there is the best looking?”
“We were talking about Jenny Pierce,” I said calmly, “and who dated her before Maria.”
His face paled slightly.
“I’ve heard that Maria has a jealous streak and a mean temper. You should talk to her friends if you think she dated the same man as Jenny.”
I couldn’t believe he was trying to slander an innocent girl. I raised a waggling finger as I pointed out the telling detail.
“Well, now it’s interesting that you just said ‘man’. You see, we’ve always referred to Jenny and her friends as girls, but Jenny wasn’t the youngest.”
“No. Maria is fifteen. So if he dated both girls,” I separated my hands and turned them towards the ceiling in an open shrug, “with Maria, he’d have been a bit of a bad boy now, wouldn’t he?”
I saw him swallow.
“And that would explain why Jenny intervened.”
“Well, if she was so concerned about her friend,” he responded, digging franticly, “why would she bring her to a nightclub where everyone is supposed to be over eighteen?”
I waggled my finger again.
“There you are with another interesting word,” I said. “Supposed; not everyone who goes to a nightclub is over the age eighteen. Just check out the young faces on the dance floor who look too nervous to approach the bar.”
I looked up into his face and met his eyes. He had the gall to stare straight back.
“Is that where you met the other girls, Danny; in the nightclubs? Because that seems to be the kind you go for; pretty, petit, dark haired and young. You’d have a dance with them, invite them out for a nightcap and meet later in the car park, where the security cameras can’t see.”
Danny simply smiled.
“All you have is a suspicion, a hunch.”
“Not if Maria tells us you slept with her.”
“A misdemeanour,” he said dismissively. “She never told me her real age and I believed she was over the age of consent.”
“Not if you slept with Jenny, too. That’s a direct connection. You see, if a man is smart enough to use a condom, he tends to stick with the brand he likes. Once we find Jenny,”
I immediately corrected myself, “when we find Jenny, we’ll be able to test for traces of spermicide to tell what that was, and compare with what Maria knows.”
I didn’t even know if such a test was possible. I was bluffing, but would it be enough?
Danny suddenly lunged forward and gripped both his hands around my throat. I squealed with shock, but couldn’t scream as he squeezed even tighter.
I fumbled behind me and lashed out, smashing a plaque over the top of his head.
The plaque flew across the room and Danny staggered backwards onto the floor. Without stopping to think, I reached behind for another weapon and didn’t realise I had hold of a ceremonial sword until I heard the blade chink on the floor as it bounced.
I staggered myself and had to use both hands to hold it up as I pointed the tip of the blade at Danny’s throat. He gave a nervous little laugh as he tried to shuffle backwards.
“Where is she, Danny?” I took a step forward and balanced the tip at the hollow of his throat.
“Where is Jenny?”
I was standing almost right over him now.
“Please, for God’s sake, Liz. Please don’t do this.”
“Tell me where she is.”
“Liz, please don’t. Please Liz.”
I tilted my right hand so that my wrist was pointing towards the ceiling and gently pressed the heel of my left hand against the butt of the decorative handle. I couldn’t help admiring how beautiful it was.
“You have until I count to five to tell me what you did with Jenny Pierce. One…”
“Oh dear God,”
“Liz, I swear to God, I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Please put down the sword, please Liz.”
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. It was Maria.
“Liz, are you alright in there?” she called.