Thursday, 25 May 2017

5 - The tramp

Wednesday cont.

Wednesday cont.

Cleo decided to find out more about the Fargo family herself before regaling Gary with Dorothy’s advice. It was just possible that the tramp had genuinely been mistaken for the deceased relative. 
It was essential to find out who the tramp really was. Social services might know, but when Gary asked they professed to have nothing to do with wayfarers, old or young, after passing them along to another department, usually the police.
***
In contrast, the doss-house was relatively helpful. Yes, they had missed one of their old male regulars, but since it was August, he was probably sleeping rough and would return when it got chilly. When asked about the tramp’s identity, the doss-house ‘manager’ said he did not know. When asked if the man had left any possessions there, Cleo was informed that the missing guy had possessed an old school satchel that he kept locked. It was now on a high shelf in the office for safe-keeping and no, the doss-house manager had not looked inside. Tramps had treasures valuable only to themselves invariably with no material value. He was glad the old man had not seen fit to wheel a supermarket trolley around. The satchel probably contained junk, but the doss-house manager was prepared to respect the wishes of the ‘guests’ who had objects they regarded as precious, as long as he was getting money from the authorities for providing a bed, food and a hot shower when the homeless wanted it. Yes, Miss Hartley could look at the satchel if she wanted to.
“If it was so valuable to him, why didn’t the guy take it with him?” Cleo felt bound to ask.
“Now you’re asking,” replied the manager. “He probably thought he would be coming back.”
“You did not report him missing, did you?” said Cleo.
“They always come back if they’ve left something.”
Cleo decided she would not get any further by asking questions. Doss-house managers were presumably glad to get any responsibility taken from them, so being friendly and appearing to shoulder responsibility for some old tramp or other was the best way forward. She decided to take Gary along after lunch. She did not feel in the need of personal protection, but if Gary were there, he could confiscate the tramp’s satchel should the need arise. A photo of the guy would be available; even if he had not been photographed and passed along to some other office at some time in the past, he would have now since he had been found dead and identified, wrongly, as it had proved when someone saw the tramp’s photo in a special edition of the Gazette and declared that he was a regular at meetings of men living on the streets and sharing their plonk at venues including the station and the nearby park.
The Fargo beneficiaries were due to be interviewed again, but had so far been left to their own devices. Gary was worried that the exposure of their fake identification might cause them to make a run for it, but their stakes were high, so they would probably brazen out the situation. They were genuinely related to Dr Fargo. They had too much to lose by leaving. Gary’s musings were on a purely practical level despite the glaring possibility that the young Fargos were up to no good.
***
It was hard not to talk about the tramp to Gary, so in the end Cleo did, suggesting that Gary should take the case more seriously.
“I can’t send a team to dig up anyone’s garden if we don’t have evidence of misconduct, Cleo.”
“Scruples again, Gary? Isn’t a fake identification enough evidence?”
“Only if it was not a genuine mistake.”
 “Wait a minute! How respectable is it to identify a corpse to get at the inheritance?”
“I’d have to prove that they did that deliberately.”
“I can definitely smell a rat,” said Cleo.
“Find evidence of corruption and we’ll go on from there.”
“I will if there is any. Even that guy in charge of the doss-house sounded suspicious,” said Cleo. “What if he provided the tramp as a potential victim?”
“This is little quirky England, not big bad America, Cleo. People don’t hire doss-house managers to deliver potential or real live corpses.”
“It’s not funny, Gary. Are you sure?”
“I know that self-styled manager from dealing with the characters he sends to HQ. We can’t follow up all the crackpots who choose to live an outdoor life or even investigate the motives of a manager who has not actually committed a crime we could pin him down on.”
“Now I’m even more curious. Do you have a photo of the guy they said was Fargo?”
“Blast, Cleo. Do you have to get involved?”
“I think I do. You have a corpse who is not the person he was identified as.”
“OK. There is a digital image on file, of course. I’ll download it and then do me a favour: Get Nigel onto the case. He wants to be a detective.”
“Later. I’ll edit the photo first. It could be your great uncle.”
“Listen, Cleo. I can’t go to that doss-house with a cock-and-bull story. For a start, they’ll recognize me there, and they definitely won’t believe a great uncle story.”
“OK. I’ll send Dorothy. It’s her long lost brother. That manager guy will probably hand over the bag and be glad to be rid of it. And if that doesn’t work out, Nigel can take over as the grandson.”
Cleo put a filter over the face on the photo Gary sent and printed it out on matt photo paper to make it look like something old ladies carried around in handbags, after which she treated the surface and the back to a quick wipe with a ‘sepia’ teabag. Gary was impressed, but obliged to remind Cleo that if the photo was old the face on it was probably young.
Another photo was edited: the face of a young guy chosen at random on the internet and treated to the same photographic aging process. The photo would not arouse suspicion in Dorothy’s handbag, Gary thought. Photos carried around in handbags tended to be the worse for wear, and the face of the young ‘brother’ would make Dorothy’s story even more convincing and it could be ‘aged’ to match Dorothy’s generation. Even Gary thought that the doss-house manager would fall for the trick.
“But I’d still like to know why all the fuss?” Gary asked. “We can sort out the identity at HQ.”
“When?”
“Sometime soon. It’s all a wild goose chase, anyway, hunting down someone on the basis is of a faked photo based on police shots taken of Dr Fargo’s male relative.”
“I don’t think that investigating fraudulent misappropriation of a family fortune is something to be put on the back burner, Gary. Have you asked yourself why the old guy was wrongly identified? In novels he would be about to leave his money to a charity and be murdered so that the relatives could get the dough before he had time to change the will.”
“Come on, Cleo. Up till recently it was considered to be a genuine identification.”
“OK. Now we know better, but where is the genuine old man?”
“He seems to have disappeared,” said Gary, wondering just how right Cleo was with her suspicions.
“The whole business stinks,” she said.
“OK, my love. You are starting to make me think differently about those relatives, but we’ll have to tread carefully. We police can’t act on tenuous theories or go on wild goose chases. You know that.”
“You don’t have a suspicious enough mind either, Gary.”
“I don’t suspect crime wherever I look.”
“You should. So the Hartley Agency will do the careful treading and Nigel can help even if it does turn out to be a wild goose chase. In that case he can practise chasing geese.”
That idea made them both laugh.
“I’ll tell him,” said Gary.
“And I’m going to phone Dorothy about another case that seems to be escaping HQ notice.”
“I love it when you get into sleuthing, Cleo. It’s just like old times.”
“Some of those old times were agonizing!”
“But memorable… And I know I’m better cut out to be a houseman than a detective.”
“I could not use you here all the time, Gary. You are far too strenuous.”
“I’ve never heard you complain before.”
“I’m not complaining. I’m simply stating fact.”
“And I’m going to wrap myself in our duvet while the going’s good.”
“I’ll join you.”
“Not too strenuous?”
“For whom, Sweetheart?”
***
Dorothy was at home because the animal sanctuary was closed until later in the day, so she could go to the doss-house first. Cleo said that the animal sanctuary was important, but the tramp case took priority. Gary would take her and the photo of the tramp to the doss-house, but he needed a siesta first. Dorothy thought that was a good idea since it calmed the nerves and refreshed the soul. She tactfully avoided any allusion to what she suspected was the purpose of siestas taken by Gary and Cleo in the early afternoon while the kiddies were resting.
***
“What’s all that about the animal sanctuary?” Gary asked, having overheard the phone call.
“I thought Dorothy needed another pet, but now we might,” said Cleo.
“I thought we were going to adopt Dog.”
“Joe’s adopting Dog.”
“So the last of Mr Barker is to go to the former lodger,” said Gary. “Which bit of me or mine would you keep the longest?”
“I’ll have to think about that. Dog upsets Mrs Barker’s budgies,” said Cleo.
“If the Barker’s house were for sale, I’d make an offer.”
 “Ask Dorothy if there’s any chance of that, but do you really want to live next door to Dorothy?”
“I quite like Beethoven. Nice tunes to sing along to,” said Gary.
“Your caterwauling could awaken the neighbourhood, Gary. Can we just build more bits onto the cottage, please?”
“When you’ve substantiated your theories about the Fargo family and dabbled in animal welfare to your satisfaction, I’ll agree to that.”
“I’ll go to the library,” said Cleo. “Your mother will be happy to baby-sit and those library shelves are packed with old local publications.”
“Records are best found at HQ. I can help you if you would reveal what you are really looking for.”
“I’ll try the library first.”
“Siesta first before Grit collects PeggySue and one of those babies stirs.”
“Aren’t you needed at HQ?”
“I need a snooze more urgently these days.”
“Put like that, old man...You used to say you needed me, Mr Hurley.”
“That still applies…”
***
After that siesta in which sleep did not figure as much as it might have done had not Cleo and Gary been lovers as well as parents and colleagues, Gary parted reluctantly from his family and collected Dorothy in the family hatchback, intending to drop her off wherever she wanted to go. Cleo and Grit drank coffee before Grit took over the lively Hurley brood and Cleo drove the red cabriole to Middlethumpton library.
“The au pair is coming tomorrow, Grit. Things won’t be so hectic then.”
“I’m not complaining, Cleo, but a little assistance would not come amiss if you are going to work at your office. One set of twins was delightful. Two sets means feeding hungry mouths and changing used nappies in a rhythm akin to painting the Tower of London!”
You’re right and I can’t thank you enough, Grit.”
“I love them, Cleo. It isn’t a problem really, and the little boys can go to nursery soon.“
“That’s a very good idea. I’ll get them registered immediately, Grit. I did not think I would go back to being Miss Hartley, but strange cases need special attention and I’m sure that Gary needs private investigators he can trust. Delving into family histories is not something the cops do terribly well or even willingly.”
***
It would be an exaggeration to claim that the Hartley Agency was back in business, but that’s what it seemed like to Cleo, who could not help being glad to do her own thing. She hoped that Dorothy could cope.
***
The doss-house looked seedy and Gary wondered if he should let Dorothy go there, but she was out of the car in a flash and marching to the door, so he moved the car to round the corner and waited. Cleo would have wanted him to.
The doss-house door was opened cautiously.
 “I’m looking for my brother,” Dorothy announced.
“Who are you?” the man wanted to know. Was he nervous, or did he always have that little twitch? He seemed unsteady on his feet and his manner was unwelcoming.
“Price,” said Dorothy.
“There’s no one named Price here.”
“He may be using a different name, Mr….”
“Granger.”
“Mr Granger. I can show you a photo if you like.”
“You’d better come in, Mrs Price.”
“It’s Miss.”
Granger checked that no one had accompanied Dorothy before leading the way into a small cubbyhole he evidently used as an office. It was strewn with piles of paper and was generally speaking a mess. The desk was piled high with takeaway meal packaging, cigarette ends, an overflowing ashtray and banana skins. There was no filing system, no computer, and no sign of anything else remotely connected with management. An array of hard liquor bottles perched on a small camping table revealed that Mr Granger enjoyed his drink and had probably been imbibing extensively from getting up time judging from his gait and untidy speech. He grabbed a pile of papers and started sifting through them for no apparent reason.
“Recent events,” he explained.
“Haven’t you got a secretary, Mr Granger?”
“No need. It’s all in my head, you see.”
“Then I’m sure you can recognize the person in this photo,” said Dorothy, handing Granger the photo of the dead tramp.
Granger dropped all the papers he was holding onto the floor and studied the photo.
“It was in the Gazette,” Granger said. “Ask Bertie Browne where he got it?”
“I told you. It’s my brother.”
“Well, he’s dead. Don’t you read the Gazette, Mrs Price?”
“Miss. “
“Wait a minute. That isn’t the same photo.”
“This is one I carry around with me.”
“I thought your brother was missing.”
“We met once a couple of years ago and took photos.”
“The police got him. Why don’t you ask them where he is?”
“Who told you the police got him?”
“I took him there weeks ago, Mrs Price.”
“Miss,” Dorothy corrected again. “What had he done?”
“How should I know? They’re all criminals, those vagabonds. Are you sure he’s your cousin?”
“Brother, Mr Granger. What name did he give himself here?”
“If you want information about him, why don’t you go to the police?”
“He’s my brother, Mr Granger. You can tell me.”
Granger was anxious to see the back of Dorothy, which explains why he divulged the name.
“Bates, called himself Toby.”
“Typical,” said Dorothy. All she needed to do now was get out of that dreadful place. “Tobias always was an odd bod.”
“You can say that again,” said Granger.
“I don’t suppose he left anything here, did he?” said Dorothy, aiming at the satchel, of course.
Since Granger wanted nothing to do with any of the tramps who had passed through and certainly not with one who had made it to Bertie Browne’s Gazette, he decided to hand over the satchel. He pulled it down from a shelf above his head and swung by its shoulder strap in Dorothy’s direction. The woman was now becoming an irritation, Granger muttered to himself. Dorothy caught the satchel deftly.
“Good riddance,” said Granger. “I expect Toby would have wanted his relatives to have his possessions. That’s all he had.”
“Why didn’t he take it with him?”
“He usually came back. But that day he didn’t. I kept it in case.”
“In case what?”
Granger shrugged his shoulders.
“What’s in it?” asked Dorothy.
“How should I know? It’s locked.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t look inside,” Dorothy risked commenting.
“Too busy,” retorted the man.
Too drunk, thought Dorothy.
“Thank you anyway,” said Dorothy, wiping away a crocodile tear as she hugged the satchel to her breast.
“Good riddance,” said Granger as he escorted Dorothy out of the building.
To Dorothy’s surprise she spotted Gary’s car waiting for her from where the car could not be seen from the doss-house.
“Everything OK, Dorothy?” he asked, getting out.
“I did not ask you to wait for me.”
“But I did. I can’t have you wandering off into disreputable places without at least thinking about your safety, Dorothy.”
“I’ve been to worse places.”
Gary opened the passenger door for Dorothy to climb in, then went round the car, got in and started the engine.
“So did you find out anything worth knowing?”
“Yes.”
“Are you going to tell me?”
“I’m not sure Cleo would want me to do that before I tell her.”
“Don’t be secretive, Dorothy. Tell me anyway.”
It occurred to Dorothy that she could not very well keep the information a secret when Gary and was anxious about her welfare.
“The dead tramp was named Toby Bates according to Mr Granger, and this is the only possession he seems to have had,” she said, patting the satchel she was still nursing.
“Good work. What’s in it?”
“It’s padlocked.”
“I’ll drive you to HQ, shall I? We can get it open there and take a look at the contents.”
It was clear to Dorothy that Gary was now determined to get involved, so she acquiesced. Within a few minutes, Nigel had been given the task of getting the satchel open and Gary had put his espresso machine into action.
Nigel commented that Toby Bates had given his name as Roy Rogers when he was brought alive to HQ. There was no guarantee that his name actually was Toby Bates.
“The Rogers name was followed up at the time,” said Gary. “Toby Bates sounds less like a Hollywood alias. He made fools of us.”
“That manager did not even offer me a drink,” said Dorothy.
“I expect he wanted to get rid of you.”
“I would have refused, anyway. He was half drunk and stank. In fact, the whole place stank.”
“It would. It’s hardly a 5 star hotel,” said Nigel. ”You wouldn’t catch me there.”
“That manager is a drunkard and I’m sure he’s a crook,” said Dorothy.
“He probably is, but we can’t pin anything on him,” said Gary. “Sugar?”
“Two please. Have you tried?”
“Now and again,” said Gary. “To be truthful, we are glad the tramps went there first. They’ve usually had a wash before coming here.”
Mr Granger could try washing himself,” said Dorothy.
“You are a card, Miss Price,” said Nigel, laughing at Dorothy’s sharp repartee. “You remind me of my Auntie Blod.”
“Auntie Blood?”
“You could put it like that. Full name Blodwen. On the Welsh side,” said Nigel. ”She’s a bit of a sleuth, too. But she only spies on the neighbours over the garden fence. They know she does it. She pretends to be weeding. I think they make things up to scandalize her.”
Nigel handed Dorothy the now open satchel for closer inspection. Dorothy spread the contents onto Gary’s desk. It consisted mostly of old newspapers.
“We can throw them out for a start,” said Gary.
“No we can’t. Not before we know why he kept them under lock and key, Gary,” said Dorothy. “I’ll read them first, shall I?”
“I’ll help you,” said Nigel.
“OK you two. Get going. I’ll look at the other stuff and I won’t throw anything away.”
Nigel and Dorothy took the old papers to Nigel’s table at the back of the room. They sat down to browse through what Toby Bates had decided was too significant or valuable to throw away. Some of the newspapers were over thirty years old and had been read many times, judging from the condition of the paper. Some sections were marked with a pencil. The two readers exchanged glances many times. Gary opened up his computer, but was aware of the activity at the back of his office and curious. Dorothy was conferring with Nigel and they seemed to agree that they were onto something out of the ordinary.
The satchel had revealed a small tin box containing a few pieces of women’s jewellery, including a wedding ring, which was probably the most valuable object Bates had still possessed and too cherished to be pawned.
Gary mused that it was all a bit mysterious. Right up Cleo’s street, actually, but these days he was just as fascinated by what made people tick. When Dorothy asked if the tramp was wearing a wedding ring, he phoned down to Chris in the pathology lab to ask if that tramp, now labelled Toby Bates, was wearing or in possession of a wedding ring.
“I’ve removed it,” said Chris. “Normal procedure. The killer probably forgot it.”
“Killer?”
“He did not just die. His demise was assisted, Gary.”
“How?”
“Poison, but a deft blow on the skull might have helped him on his journey.”
“Poison? Never.”
“Have I ever made a mistake?”
“OK. Poison. But how, I wonder. And why?”
“Cheap plonk laced with something, judging from the contents of the stomach.”
“The sort of drink nice people might concoct to give to a tramp?” Gary asked intuitively. He had learnt a lot from his two favourite amateur sleuths.
“It’s thinkable. I have his prints, Gary. He seems to have been at HQ for a day or two saying he was Roy Rogers.”
“He hadn’t done anything. We let him go. He was wandering around harmlessly. Someone poisoned him for kicks and then plonked him on the head.”
“The blow might have been before the poison,” said Chris. “But it’s unlikely. I think we can assume that whoever gave him the laced alcohol waited until he started to get the effects of a strong dose of what I suspect is an amatoxin. He might then have been knocked over. The blow was a bruise, not a breakage.”
“What the hell is an amatoxin?”
“Toadstool poison. A good reason for not eating them.”
“Why would anyone kill a harmless old tramp, Chris?”
“Ask Cleo, Gary. You are too keen on facts. There is probably a neat story to his dismal end. Do you need the ring now?”
“Nigel can collect it, Chris. I’m on my way home now. I can’t leave my mother with all those kids all day. Cleo has gone out”
“Give her my love,” said Chris. “She’s the brightest spark around here.”
***
Gary phoned Cleo, who had drawn a blank at the library and was also on her way home. They had plenty to talk about.
***
“So the tramp was given a bottle of wine fortified with wild mushroom poison. Did he go back to the doss-house with it? What did Dorothy find out?”
“The doss-house guy was drunk rather than dead, which might have been if he’d had some of the poisoned plonk,” said Gary. “I think Bates must have been roaming around. That’s how tramps spend their days and they usually have old haunts. We found a pile of old paper cut-outs in the guy’s satchel. Nigel and Dorothy are looking through them at HQ.”
“Anything else in that bag, Gary?”
“A box of trinkets including a gold wedding-ring.”
“If he was wearing one it might have been his wife’s.”
“He was. I wondered why he kept the rings. Tramps usually sell everything to buy liquor.”
“Our tramp seems to have been a bit special, Gary. Phone the office and invite Nigel and Dorothy to supper. Ask Nigel to bring the cut-outs along.”
“He can photocopy them. I don’t think he should remove the evidence, if that’s what it is.”
“No doubt Dorothy will have interpreted them by she gets here,” said Cleo.
She’s doing my job, Cleo. I should be angry with myself about that, but I did not think they were important and she did.”
Just be glad of any help you can get, Sweetheart. Your five minutes of fame will come soon enough.”

“I was afraid of that,” said Gary. “What’s for dinner?”

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