Tuesday cont. then Wednesday 3rd October
Edith Parsnip had allowed Robert to leave and was getting was ready for a lonely night when Brass banged the vicarage gargoyle against the solid oak front door, so she answered the door in her negligée, a flimsy garment that revealed more than it hid.
“It’s Edith and come in,” she said, dragging the surprised sergeant inside. “We don’t want to wake Miss Baker, do we?”
“I don’t want to wake anyone,” said Brass as he found himself being propelled into Edith’s bedroom. It was a makeover of her late husband’s study and devoid of anything ornamental. It was one of the two rooms she occupied as vicarage lodger, sharing the kitchen and upstairs bathroom. Mary Baker, the first and possibly the last female curate in Upper Grumpsfield if church attendance was anything to go by, was still single, but had a boyfriend. They slept in the main bedroom.
“Now you’re here and I’m lonely, you could be nice to me. I like people to keep me company,” Edith said I a low voice.
Edith helped Brass to take off his jacket, but she didn’t stop there. To his blank astonishment Brass soon found himself lying on the bed in nothing but his socks, which were hastily removed by Edith before she slipped out of her negligée and sprang on him.
“Hey, wait a minute! I did not come here for this,” said Brass, sitting bolt upright on the bed and pushing her away. He was trying to be dignified in his far from dignified birthday suit.
“I can see that you want it. Just lie still and let me,” she explained, pushing him down.
Half an hour later, Brass was a little the worse for wear, but pleased with his overall performance. He had never thought much of himself as a lover, but Edith Parsnip had turned him into a good one. He had not come for sex, but on reflection it had been quite a good idea of Edith to jump the guns. She was an attractive woman and he was flattered.
“I should not have come here,” he said. “People will talk.”
“No one,” Edith said. “No one can see what we are doing and no one cares.”
Whispering obscenities that Brass thought only debauched women could utter, Edith repeated her sex routine with an energy and passion that had been missing in Brass’s life. Brass could not have repelled her even if he had wanted to.
After about another hour, Brass managed to get out of the love nest for long enough to get dressed though Edith did her best to dissuade him. Brass was quivering from the shock of Edith’s antics and his own eager response.
“You put Robert in the shade,” said Edith.
“Do I?” said Brass, bemused by what he decided must be a compliment.
“But you are too thin. I didn’t know how best to hold you.”
“I can’t say I noticed,” said Brass, recovering somewhat from Edith’s physical onslaughts.
“Let’s do some more,” she said.
“Better not,” said Brass. “I’ve got to get back to my children.”
“Will you come again soon?” she asked.
“Yes,” he stuttered. “Tonight?”
“That would be nice,” said Edith as if they were arranging afternoon tea. “We can try one or two new things out of my book.”
One of my late husband’s. It’s an original in Sanskrit and has lots of lovely coloured pictures. Can you read Sanskrit?”
“No,” said Brass.
“Neither can I, but we can look at those pictures and I recognize some of the words. You’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you?” said Edith.
“Pictures of what?”
“Wait and see,” said Edith. “I’m good at it, aren’t I?”
“Sex,” said Edith.
“I suppose you are,” said Brass, making for the door before Edith had time to change his mind for him about leaving.
Brass staggered home, forgetting that his car was parked at the church hall and not quite sure if he had been dreaming what had happened. He had had nothing to do with the fuss made about the private and illegal brothel run by the Paddy Kelly at his farmhouse in Lower Grumpsfield, where Edith had apparently gone in and out and rumour had it that she only said she was doing the housework because a vicar’s widow did not get paid for doing charity work.
Brass was not into the sort of thing that went on at such an establishment, but now he wondered if he had been missing out. He had seen himself as a grieving, lonely widower. It had taken a woman of Edith’s erotic calibre to break the ice. He should stop it now, whatever was driving him to such excesses, but he knew that he couldn’t and did not even want to. Whatever prowess Robert had had, the widower Brass did it better. Edith said so.
“Are you telling me that you sent Brass to interview Edith at dead of night?” Cleo remarked later as she fell into bed, all the babies having been attended to.
“Yep,” said Gary. “I was only doing what you instructed.”
“But that’s sending him into a lion’s den,” said Cleo. “I don’t think that was a very good idea and I did not instruct you.”
“Inspired then, and believe me, it was a brilliant idea,” said Gary. “Firstly, it gets Robert off the hook, and secondly, Brass is single and lonely. A bit of sex appeal will do him good.”
“It won’t stop at sex appeal,” said Cleo.
“It depends on how good Brass is at self-defence.”
“Or he’ll enjoy himself. He might be a dark horse.”
“I expect that Edith likes dark horses,” said Gary. “I’d quite like to be a fly on the wall.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“I was only thinking aloud.”
“As long as you don’t see yourself as one of Edith’s dark horses, Gary Hurley.”
“You mean take up with a scraggy little widow instead of the luscious half Afro-American mother of my children? No go, Cleo.”
“And fortunately the night is still relatively young, I expect you are thinking,” said Cleo.
“Did you know that they colour green olives black because black olives cost more?” said Gary.
“I don’t really care, Gary. I’m just waiting for that quarter Indian guy to warm his cold feet on his own bit of duvet.”
“I wonder if Edith says things like that.”
“I doubt it. She probably just drags the men in however cold their feet are. Want me to show you?”
Next morning, still almost in a trance from Edith’s attentions and his own passionate response, Brass fetched his car from the village hall and drove his children to the station to catch the early train to North Wales, where they were going to visit their grandparents. Under normal circumstances Brass would have been sorry to see them go, but overnight his attitude had changed. He envisaged torrid nights spent at his bungalow with Edith. There would be no teenage children to bother about. He could devote himself entirely to the task of being a willing slave to Edith’s erotic desires and would surely feel free to contribute some his own. He could hardly wait.
By nine, Brass was in his little office. At nine-fifteen the first cat had been reported missing and the case would be passed on to the Hartley Agency for investigation. Brass had no time for missing pets now he had discovered a new level of existence. At nine thirty Cleo entered Brass’s office on her way to her own office. The offices were on opposite corners of a small side-road.
Brass looked the worse for wear.
“I expect you had a short night, Brass,” said Cleo meaningfully.
“I took my children to the station early this morning, Cleo. They’ve gone to visit my parents-in-law. Here’s the report of the latest missing cat.”
“Do you want me to find it, Brass?”
“You could try.”
“Did you see Edith last night?” said Cleo.
Brass blushed and Cleo knew for certain that his visit had not stopped at questions about a corpse.
“I did, for a minute or two,” he said.
“I know all about it,” said Cleo, “and I’m happy for you.”
“How … I mean what do you know?”
“She’s quite a femme fatale, isn’t she?”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“Did you arrest her for indecency?”
“No. Should I have?”
“Not if you were a consenting adult.”
Brass was astonished at the legal jargon delivered in such a provocative tone of voice.
“I won’t tell anyone,” said Cleo. “I think Edith is good for you. She’ll break the ice and then you can find some nice woman to live with.”
“Edith is nice, Cleo,” said Brass. “She’s lovable and … lonely.”
Cleo only grinned.
“I’ll bring you a coffee, Brass.”
“Thanks for being so understanding.”
“No one understands better than me, Brass.”
Cleo was satisfied with her visit. Whatever Edith had done to Brass, it had opened the floodgates. She had hardly opened her own office and got the coffee machine going when her red car, which Gary used instead of the family van whenever she did not need to drive anywhere, drew up in front of Brass’s office and Gary went inside. Cleo had a pretty good idea of the dialogue that would follow and would only interrupt with the coffee when it was ready.
“Well, Brass, did you sleep with her?” Gary asked.
“What makes you think that?” said Brass indignantly.
“That was the general idea.”
“Do you mean that you sent me to the vicarage knowing what could happen?”
“I had talked to Robert about him being Edith’s partner. He had problems, you know, and he did not want to be Edith’s paramour.”
“Lover, Brass. Lover.”
“I didn’t have a problem – I mean I don’t have problems even if I can’t read Sanskrit.”
“Do you mean she got you onto that?”
“Some old book of the vicar’s, she said. But it has pictures.”
“I’ll bet it does. Saucy ones, Brass.”
“I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it yet. It must be some kind of religious literature. After all, Mr Parsnip was a vicar.”
“You could describe the book that way, Brass, but it has nothing to do with being what the vicar liked to call himself: a man of God, unless you are thinking in terms of procreation.“
“It’s an oriental culture thing,” Gary mused. “In the old days western men used to take their sons to a hooker so that they could find out how to make love to a woman. Men did not have inhibitions about women as sex objects then and even the most respectable women took it all in their stride as long as they had their pin money and women friends to discuss things with. It was a career, Brass. I think it explains why marriages lasted in the old days. The wife knew exactly what was going on and men just went on paying the bills and enjoying a sex life that had nothing to do with their marriage partners. As long as they were solvent the couple both had a carte blanche.”
“Are you preaching at me, Gary?” said Brass. “All that historical junk is totally irrelevant. What men and women used their kids for is punishable by law and indecent. And what does Mr Parsnip’s old book have to do with the abuse of children?”
“Nothing expressly except that it has historical value because in the east the topic was considered relevant enough to write about. Remember, I those days what we now class as pornography was generally considered to be an art form.”
“I’m not into pornography, Gary,” Brass protested.
“I’m sure you aren’t, Brass. I expect you will soon be wondering why a village vicar had such a book in his library. I’ll explain in more detail, shall I?”
Not waiting for Brass to protest since he felt he had heard enough details already, Gary spun his theory further.
“Parsnip was a celibate and would have been a priest if he had not been Church of England and was expected to have a respectable marriage and procreate. He probably got all his thrills by looking at the pictures in that illuminated book and kidding himself that they were artistic,” said Gary, wondering but not saying that he thought Edith might have been the guiding light earlier in her marriage, if the five children were evidence. Presumably Mr Parsnip had enjoyed reading his naughty book more than twosomeness with Edith. He had already heard somewhere that the vicar had gone off Edith after she gave birth to kids four and five.
“It all sounds like psychological twaddle,” said Brass.
“What kind of twaddle?” interrupted Cleo as she brought in two mugs of steaming hot coffee.
“Man to man talk, Cleo,” said Gary.
“Then I’ll leave you to it,” said Cleo, grinning broadly. To Brass’s relief she did leave, but the smirk on her face haunted him forever after.
“Between you, me and the gatepost, Edith is quite a woman,” said Brass, deciding that he would have to take Gary into his confidence if he were to be left in peace to enjoy the long forgotten Fred Bradley that Edith had helped him to release.
“If the fire’s burning, don’t put it out, Brass,” said Gary. “Edith frightens Robert, but she obviously does not scare you.”
“I felt alive for the first time in years.”
“So you are going to see her again, are you?”
“Tonight, Gary. She’s really hungry and … so am I.”
If Gary was surprised at Brass’s admission, he would not spoil things by commenting. He felt a bit like Jupiter or was it Zeus and was starting to understand the satisfaction women had from playing Cupid.
“You can reach me at HQ if anything comes up – related to crime, I mean.”
“I’m leaving the latest missing cat to Cleo,” said Brass.
“Good idea. Health and Safety are combing through every restaurant fridge. I expect we have all eaten cat at some time or other.”
Cleo had phoned Dorothy earlier and asked her to come to the office bringing with her any information she still had about Laura’s Finch’s chorus ladies.
“Does that mean business, Cleo?”
“It sure does, Dorothy. On Gary’s request, it’s business as usual.”
“Very sensible,” said Dorothy.
Cleo thought she would not tell Dorothy that Gary had sent Brass to be seduced by Edith.
Before Dorothy arrived, Cleo phoned Gary and asked him if Brass had said any more about Edith.
“He’s smitten, Cleo.”
“I would never have thought it. She’s going to go through the Kamasutra with him tonight.”
“Does he know what that is, Gary?”
“I shouldn’t think so. It will be an eye-opener.”
“Good for him. I hope he’s up to it. Robert wasn’t.”
“I didn’t know …”
“I didn’t, Gary. I’m not into porno even if it’s considered artistic by some.”
“Well, I don’t think we need worry about Brass and that Sanskrit user manual. He has a date with Edith for tonight and I doubt if he would have let himself in for that if he did not want to. He always has the excuse of being on duty.”
“Did you tell him to be careful, Gary? Edith is not much older than me and you know what that means.”
“I should think that would be closing the stable door, Cleo.”
“Wow. I never thought of Brass as a fast worker. I don’t suppose he expected such intimate attention.”
“I don’t think he had any choice,” said Gary.
“I don’t suppose he wanted one once Edith had shown him the way,” said Cleo. “Those dry old sticks can go through a metamorphosis if the right partner comes along.”
“You don’t think of me in that light do you, Cleo?”
“No, Gary. I don’t think you’d know how to be a dry old stick.”
“Don’t tell Dorothy too much.”
“I’m not sure she’d be able to cope with too many details about the newest village romance.”
“You have the details, Gary.”
“So do you. Much the same as in Robert’s case, except that Robert got injured because he fought against the wild animal in Edith.”
“Then it’s just as well that Brass can cope,” said Cleo. “Here’s Dorothy now. We’ll get onto the chousl business before there’s another victim behind the church hall.”
“Are we really going to dig up all those chorus ladies again?” Dorothy wanted to know.
“Not all of them, but we need to know who the woman named Margie could have been quarrelling with the night she died or was killed, Dorothy. Someone must be responsible or at least know something about her fatal fall.”
“Have you checked with Chris about the cause of death?”
“It’s too soon, but I can call forensics now,” said Cleo. “If we can’t make progress, I expect we’ll be metaphorically digging up a few missing cats instead, Dorothy.”
“Oh dear. Not another.”
“And more to come, I’m sure, but you can’t identify them unless they are tattooed or otherwise marked. I expect the restauranteurs know that and avoid them, though they are among the best fed cats in the country.”
“I’ll take Mimi to the vet today.”
“Do you know where she is now?”
“No. She goes for walks, but she doesn’t tell me where she is going.”
“That’s the problem. Once they have disappeared, hardly any are found again.”
“Supposing that stray animal place can tell us something? What if they are doing a trade in stray cats?”
“Wow, Dorothy. Gary may not like that idea after the tip-offs we gave him in the stolen baby case.”
“Then we’ll investigate ourselves,” said Dorothy. “Never mind Margie. I’m going to save the cats first.”
With those words, Dorothy stormed out of Cleo’s office ready to take on a case that was right up her street.
Left to her own devices, Cleo rang Gary, who was now in his office pondering on a case in which the beneficiaries had identified a tramp as their benefactor, a Dr Fargo. The tramp was dirty and unkempt. Gary did not believe the identification, but since the corpse had no form of identification on him, he could not argue the point.
“Dr Fargo might not be dead, but alive and locked up somewhere,” Cleo suggested. “The business is fishy, Gary. You don’t normally identify the first available corpse as a relative unless you have an axe to grind.”
“Supposing the tramp is standing in for the genuine Dr Fargo,” said Gary. “Do you know how many ways there are to dispose of someone?”
“Assuming the old guy is dead, relatives have a wide choice of ways to rid themselves of an elderly relative sitting on a fortune,” said Cleo.
“But they need a corpse as evidence of that person’s demise, don’t they?”
“So he could be alive and the relatives want the inheritance prematurely,” said Cleo.
“He has to be found, dead or alive,” said Gary, “unless it really is that tramp.”
“As far as the agency is concerned, it’s cats first; pensioners and corpses later,” said Cleo.
Gary was a little piqued that the cat case was seemingly going to take priority over a suspicious tramp and the chorus corpse. He was even less amused by the idea of doing a razzia at an animal sanctuary, but if Cleo insisted, he would.
“I’ll send Dorothy in first,” Cleo offered. “In fact, I think she’s on her way there now.”
“What’s for lunch, Cleo?”
Chris reported to Cleo that he had X-rayed the head of the dead woman and discovered that she had a fractured skull that could have been the cause of death. Further examinations were necessary for a conclusive result, but Chris did not think anyone could have survived the head injury and that it could have been caused by her fall that in turn was caused by the chin hook.
“OK,” said Cleo. “So she was a case of accidental death or someone punched or pushed her. How we are to find out which is a mystery, isn’t it? No one is going to own up. Our best bet is that there was a witness, but I’m not hopeful.”
“Or the person accompanying the woman comes forward,” said Chris. “It has been known to happen.”
“Not if it was murder,” said Cleo. ”But thanks anyway, Chris.”
Cleo reported that phone call to Dorothy over their mobiles. Dorothy was sitting at the vet’s with Mimi, who had fortunately come home. They were now waiting to have an all-important identity chip implanted as suggested by the assistant. The visit to the animal sanctuary would have to wait.
“I told Gary about the cats.”
“I expect he told you that prioritizing cats was a crazy idea,” said Dorothy.
“More or less.”
“It isn’t crazy if it stops the poor creatures landing in a cooking pot,” said Dorothy. “And we should look at the trade in valuable animals, too. People make money out of defenceless creatures.”
“That goes for farmers, too, Dorothy. Better stay off that topic unless you want to make a whole lot of enemies.”
“I should be a vegetarian,” said Dorothy.
“There is a subtle difference between farming and the smuggling of exotic animals into the country every day to be sold at high prices.”
“How terrible,” wailed Dorothy.
“Those poor creatures often die on the journey and if they arrive at all they are passed on secretly to purchasers.”
“So our hands are tied, except possibly in the case of household pets. Anything else?”
“Do you know a guy called Fargo, Dorothy?”
“He had a doctor title. I think he was a dermatologist. He must be quite old now.”
“He’s probably dead.”
“I read that in the Bertie Browne’s Gazette. He had a field-day reporting it, but it didn’t strike me as sensationalism or even truthful. It was just that editor filling the pages with stories about a tramp being identified as a retired gentleman.”
“The guy identified as Dr Fargo by the relatives was indeed an old tramp.”
“You mean that the tramp was wrongly identified, don’t you,” said Dorothy. “So what has happened to the genuine Dr Fargo?”
“That’s what Gary is trying to figure out right now. He says that it was unlikely that the real Dr Fargo would be found.”
“Let’s just hope the old man did not go the way some of the cats went,” said Dorothy. “On second thoughts, he might even be buried in his garden.”
“I wonder if Gary has thought of that,” said Cleo. “Cops can’t go around digging up gardens in the hope of finding a corpse, but private sleuths can, of course.”
“I’m not digging up any gardens, Cleo. Why shouldn’t Gary get onto it? If relatives wrongly identified the old man, they are up to something. Why would they do that if they had no ulterior motive? Who identified him?”
“You’re right about the cops getting involved, Dorothy. It’s a sound argument I’ll put to Gary.”
“He might also want to find out who the old tramp really is if he doesn’t already know. I expect he was using a false identity anyway. Did the Fargo relatives admit to making a mistake? That might suggest that they got rid of Dr Fargo after the identification. They might have decided that it was a good opportunity to get at the inheritance.”
“But they didn’t have to identify the tramp at all, Dorothy.”
“I’m not sure about that if it helped their plan. I’ll have to put on my thinking cap.”
“Perhaps those relatives did choose the tramp deliberately,” said Dorothy.
“Isn’t that a bit far-fetched, Dorothy?”
“Is it? Think again, Dorothy. What better than producing his corpse to prove that someone is dead.”