Cleo's phone call from the new au pair was a surprise.
"It's Toni. I can't be in Middlethumpton till five oh four, Mrs Hurley. Is that all right?"
"Sure," said Cleo. "I'll let my husband know. He'll be there."
"I'm sorry about arriving late," said the girl.
"That's OK, Toni, but don't be surprised if my husband is expecting a guy. I'm not going to tell him."
"Yes. We've been speculating about your name. See you later."
Gary's phone-call to Cleo from Romano's was entirely unexpected and would have crossed hers to him if she hadn't looked in on PeggySue and the babies.
"Meet me at the villa," he said.
"But we are not going there today."
"We have to, Cleo. I'm at stand-still here until I know if Dr Fargo is lying dead on his premises."
"It's lucky for you that the au pair is not arriving until five oh four."
"How you know that?"
"I got a phone-call."
Cleo was careful not to reveal that Toni was female.
"I was about to phone you to tell you."
"So you will come to the villa?"
"Yes, now, if your mother can postpone her engagement-ring till tomorrow."
The speakers were on, so Grit had heard the whole conversation.
“You’d better tell Roger,” said Cleo. “Explain that is is an emergency.”
“We talked about it, Cleo. Roger thought any delay was pointless and I had to agree,”
“Awesome. Did you have nice big lunch?
"Delicious. I’m sorry to wreck your mysterious plan," said Gary.
"Not mysterious at all. I'll leave here in five minutes."
Gary was propping up the low wall surrounding the Fargo garden when Cleo drove up.
“There’s no one in,” he said, hugging her intensively.
“That’s not really surprising,” said Cleo. “What about the garden?”
“Chris had time, so he’s has gone round the back. Nothing seems to have been disturbed recently and judging from the beautifully trimmed lawn edges and tidiness I should think they employ a gardener, so it’s hardly likely that they would dig a large hole somewhere.”
“But not impossible, Gary. The gardener might be in league with the Fargo kids.””
“I’ll have to get them in for questioning, as I originally planned, and go on from there. There’s no name on the buzzer, by the way.”
“Perhaps they gave a fake address as well! Did you check?”
“It isn’t fake. Dr Fargo lives here.”
“Along with those guys?”
“Respectable people don’t give a fake address.”
“Gary, you don’t know if these people are respectable.”
“Now you mention it, I’m starting to wonder.”
“The truth is that you accepted what the guys said about that tramp and did not check on anything.”
“It all seemed authentic at the time,” said Gary.
“Snooping round the garden is not such a good idea either,” said Cleo. “We don’t actually know who the garden belongs to if there's no name on the doorbell.”
Gary looked distraught.
“Of course, there’s always a chance that the guy who was supposed to be dead isn’t dead after all,” Cleo mused. “He might still be upstairs and not answering the door.”
“The Fargos gave this villa as their address,” said Gary, “and they identified a corpse. Why would they do that if the person they identified was still alive?”
“Assuming this is legally their house, let’s try a little logic! If they moved in, it doesn’t mean that the genuine owner moved out,” Cleo reasoned.
“So why did they identify him as a corpse? What sort of an act was that? What’s going on, Cleo?”
“Maybe it was just a ruse. Maybe they had plans for the old doctor guy and the tramp turned up in Jo’s newsy magazine as a one-liner. Cop’s Corner can be obtained by the general public so the Fargos may have picked one up. That gave them the idea of identifying the as yet unidentified tramp as a relative. They could get rid of the relative as soon as they found a way of doing so. Presuming they had already taken illegal possession of the villa, or at least moved in knowing that they were the only relatives and going to inherit when the doctor passed away.”
”That is so convoluted that only you could think of it. It’s much too complicated for me, Cleo. What sort of person would do that anyway?”
“Relatives, Gary. All sorts of nasty things go on in connection with possessions and bequests. I don’t want to know how many old people have been ejected from life by their greedy nearest and dearest.”
“Is that what you’ll do with me?” said Gary.
“I need you for the kids,” said Cleo.
“That’s a relief. So what are we going to do about the Fargos?”
“Haul them in for questioning and meanwhile get a look inside that villa,” said Cleo. “We should also take a look at the will the old guy wrote, if there is one. Don’t wills have to be registered somewhere?”
Gary was genuinely confused. The plot, devised by Cleo’s agency and not based on anything except speculation, was something he could not go along with as it stood. Dorothy Price had been viewing too many late night 1930s movies again. She aided and abetted Cleo wherever she could. He would have a serious talk with her – soon.
“Of course, a closer look at the people calling themselves Fargo might be helpful, but if there is a will, it might tell us something.”
“Why don’t you write a novel, Cleo?”
“Just one question, Gary. Do you know where the Fargo couple is now?”
“If they are not here, they are probably at home,” said Gary.
“So you have their home address, I expect.”
“Now you mention it…”
Chris and his colleague emerged from behind the villa.
“No sign of anything, Gary,” Chris said. “I need to get into that house and look around there. Hi Cleo! Nice to see you again.”
Cleo told Chris in brief what she and Gary had just been discussing.
Chris had the sense to look puzzled at the wild story that Cleo had put together.
“What do you think?” said Gary. "It all sounds bonkers to me."
“If we take it seriously, there are at least four possibilities in my view.”
“Go on. You sound like the Hartley Agency. I’m starting to get goose-bumps.”
“The old guy is dead and buried illegally somewhere else, or the guy is still alive and being kept imprisoned, or the guy has gone off for a holiday somewhere, or he never existed, or he has moved out.”
“That’s a lot to go on with,” said Cleo. “Dr Fargo did exist. Scrutiny of the whole Fargo clan might be on the menu right now.”
“Good luck then. We’re leaving,” said Chris. “I have to get all those women’s blood samples analysed.”
With those words he and his colleague got back into the forensics van and drove off leaving Gary deep in thought.
“How did you get here?” Cleo asked.
“I got a lift with Chris. Oh hell, they’ve left me behind!”
“I expect they think I’ll take you back to HQ,” said Cleo.
“Will you? I could always call a patrol car. The van is parked on my space at HQ.”
“No problem,” said Cleo. “The father of my children is always welcome to a lift. No need to hitch-hike.”
“You’re not angry with me, are you?” said Gary somewhat timidly as they got into the red car.
“Should I be angry? Maybe for being sceptical about looking around here? For not checking on the identities of the characters involved in this farce? I’m just sorry that old Fargo isn’t pushing up the daisies here. It would have saved us a lot of trouble,” said Cleo.
“You and me, Gary! I can’t have Dorothy poking around here and to be honest, this whole business could be dangerous if that false identification had a specific purpose.”
“You’re right about Dorothy, though I love her when she is not being a snoop. What do you suggest?”
“Chris is right. We know absolutely nothing,” said Cleo. “As a first step, let’s find out if the old guy is still alive somewhere. Get Nigel onto it! He gets around and might know someone who knows someone, especially in connection with that villa.”
“You’re right. Sorry I was a pain this morning.”
“You’re never really a pain, Gary, and I do have some good news for you.”
“You do? I can’t think what.”
“I’m just trying to get the Fargos straightened out.”
Cleo did not get out of the car at HQ. She gave Gary a piece of card with the words “Hi Toni – Welcome to Upper Grumpsfield” written on it.
“Don’t forget to go to the station, Gary. Hold that up where the passengers emerge from the train and you should have no problem meeting up with the new au pair.”
“Are you sure that’s a man’s name?”
“Not if it’s short for Antonia,” said Cleo. “See you later.”
Gary turned to go up the steps to the HQ entrance. Cleo had her car window wound down.
“Oh, Gary, in our anguish over the Fargos, I forgot!”
Several cars were now hooting for Cleo to drive off.
Gary turned and made a questioning gesture.
“We’re having another baby, Sweetheart,” said Cleo, accelerating before Gary had time to take in the news.
“What did you say?” Gary called after the departing car.
“You heard,” said a young cop as he passed Gary on the steps. “Your lady’s got another bun in the oven!”
“I’m having another baby, Nigel,” Gary announced, panting a little after leaping two steps at a time up to his office on the second floor of HQ.
“Anatomically miraculous,” retorted Nigel. “You’ll have to lose weight if you want to get fit and lose that shadow of a paunch before Cleo gets hers.”
“Never mind my weight. Cleo and I are really having another, Nigel. She said so.”
“Very nice, but haven’t you got enough already?”
“Cleo can’t get enough.”
”I’ll bet she can’t,” said Nigel, whose tone contained a great deal of innuendo. “It’s great news if it puts you in such a good mood, but Chris called to say that the blood samples all contain an amatoxin. He’s alarmed. Don’t keep me in the dark, Gary. I’m your assistant. You must keep me posted. I feel foolish if don’t know what you’re up to.”
“Sorry. I meant to get a forensic team to Dorothy Price’s next door neighbour earlier. Can you get one to go there now? If Greg’s available you could go with him. Dorothy has a key of the house and she’s expecting you. Mrs Barker has not been seen since yesterday morning unless Dorothy has called to say she has.”
“No one has called, unless you count Chris’s conundrum and Roger asking what you want on your pizza. I told him the usual: artichokes, chorizo and double cheese. Explain about Dorothy’s neighbour, please. What’s that about?”
“She made the poisoned soup. I’d better talk to Greg before you leave.”
A short phone call and five minutes later Greg was happy to be called away from his report writing and raring to go anywhere that was not connected with the seemingly unsolvable drugs case he was tussling with due to a number of incoherent witnesses coming clean with statements that hid more than they revealed. Gary explained his case as succinctly as possible.
“But soup?” Greg commented. “That is rather an unusual murder weapon.”
“Not more unusual than a frozen leg of lamb, Greg.”
“How does that work.”
“You kill your victim, defreeze the lamb and cook it in a slow oven. Haven’t you read any Roald Dahl stories?”
“I can’t say I have,” said Greg..
“You should. In or case it was probably an unfortunate misappropriation of toadstools, Greg. I’m worried that Mrs Barker may have eaten some of that soup and be in a coma or worse. She probably doesn’t know about the plight of those chorus ladies.”
“I’d better get moving then,” said Greg. “Did you say Nigel was going with me?”
“That would be good. I’d rather circumvent the patrol squads for the moment. I’ll have to pick up the new au pair at the station at about five otherwise I’d go myself.”
Half an hour later Greg phoned.
“Mrs Barker’s been a coma, Gary, probably since some time yesterday, but she’s a tough old boot and the local doctor thinks she’ll live.”
“I damn well hope she does. I’d really like to ask her some questions.”
Gary relayed the message to Roger.
“Do you really suspect Dorothy’s neighbour,” Roger said.
“No. I think poison was added to that soup later. There may have been some sort of toadstool in the soup too, but that does not account for the severity of the poisoning of several of the women.”
“We’ll have to wait for all the contents of that soup to be analysed then,” said Roger. “Poor Chris will have his work cut out and there may have been something in one of the liquids being offered alongside the soup.”
“I hadn’t even thought of that,” said Gary, “but I expect they’ve already disposed of any empty bottles.”
“Who told you about the soup?”
“Chris. When the hospital realized that it wasn’t a tropical disease, they asked the women who could talk what they had eaten,” said Gary. “Fortunately Chris likes his job.”
“But you don’t, do you?”
“I did not say that, Roger, but sometimes I wish I could just concentrate on being a father.”
“Understandable in the circumstances, but you’ll get over the novelty.”
“It isn’t a novelty, Roger. I’m passionately fond of them all. I’m a different me from the old one. I could never have said such a thing then.”
“But it’s the new Gary we need in the force,” said Roger. “There’s too little compassion in policing.”
“It drove me to burnout once,” said Gary.
“That was during those terrible days when Cleo was two-timing you. Don’t even think of taking time off for more burnout, Gary. We need you at HQ.”
Since they had got onto one of Roger’s hobbyhorses, Gary decided to cut short the drift of the conversation. It wasn’t long before he left the restaurant for Middlethumpton station. He was too early, but since he had forgotten the cardboard notice Cleo had made for him to hold up, he had to dash back to the car and get it. By the time he had jogged from the station to the HQ carpark and back in his car, found a parking space and was standing on the platform, he had had time to think about his job. Roger had again stirred inside him the doubts he felt about being a policeman when he thought he had overcome that feeling. His reaction to Cleo that morning was also troubling him. He was not in the mood for meeting girls from trains.
“At five, Roger phoned Grit from town. Cleo was at home. Grit could pop into Middlethumpton on the bus and there would still be time to boy that ring.”
“We’ll be here as soon as we can, Cleo,” said Grit. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not. Don’t keep Roger waiting,” said Cleo.
“No. You kept Gary waiting long enough,” said Grit. “I’ve learnt my lesson. There is no waiting time in life.”
The women embraced and Grit ran for the next bus.