As Gary stood waiting for the London Intercity, which was late and had in retrospect made the dash to the car and back rather superfluous, it also occurred to him that he had no idea whether the person he was meeting was male or female.
“I’m glad you’re a female,” he said.
Toni looked at him and remembered Cleo’s cryptic words.
“I’m Toni, I mean Antonia,” she said.
“I’m Gary, I mean Chief Inspector Gareth Hurley.”
“Wow! Were you waiting for a guy?” said Toni, playing along with what she decided was a game being played by Cleo.
Don’t get me wrong,” Gary stuttered. “It just might have been difficult with the sleeping arrangements otherwise.”
Toni now looked at him in horror.
“Oh blast, I didn’t mean it like that,” said Gary.
“How did you mean it, Mr Chief Inspector? I’ll get the train back to London seeing as I don’t seem to be your type,” Toni said. “I came to help with your children. I did not come as a concubine.”
“Where did you get that word?”
“I read a lot of historical novels in Denmark. Even some royal people have no morals and you said something about sleeping arrangements.”
“Well, we aren’t royalty. We don’t go in for concubines in our family, and even if we did, I would not be looking for one. I share my bed with my wife.”
“That’s a relief,” said the girl.
“And let’s be quite clear on this. I’m not looking for a type at all. We seem to have got off to a bad start.”
“We certainly have,” said Toni, and they both realized that it was Gary’s fault.
“But your English is perfect, so let’s get on the same wavelength, shall we?” he said.
Gary stretched out his hand for a cautious greeting, managed a fatherly little smile and introduced himself again solemnly, again using his full title and emphasizing that everyone called him Gary so she should. The name Toni could have been male or female, he said, justifying his odd reaction to her. Toni shook Gary’s hand firmly and announced that she was Antonia Hansen, 19 and a student, and was he a cop like in the movies?
“Sort of, but in real life, like Barnaby in Midsummer Murders, not in an action film. Is that all your luggage, Toni?”
“Not all. I sent a big case on, but it won’t arrive till tomorrow.”
“OK. Let’s move then, shall we? My wife is at home looking after the babies. My mother has gone to choose a wedding ring with Roger, who is my boss. They live next door. My brother Joe and his girlfriend Barbara are probably still at work and live on the other side of our cottage. Joe’s daughter Lottie and my daughter Charlie are probably at their friend’s house. Oh, and PeggySue is home with a fever, but she normally goes to the nursery in the mornings.”
Talking about his family gave Gary’s mood a positive boost.
“I’m sorry I was rude, Toni,” he said. “Someone said something to me a while back that got me worried.”
“Never mind, Gary.. I’ve forgotten already. What a big family you have!”
“We do spread across three cottages, Toni. I think you’ll be sleeping at my mother’s. We already have a full house.”
Toni was relieved that the sleeping arrangements had been settled, though she wondered about his mother’s wedding ring. How old would she be? He was already quite old, she thought. In the meanwhile they arrived in Upper Grumpsfield, clambered out of the Hurley family van and transported themselves and Toni’s luggage into Cleo’s cottage.
“Welcome!” said Cleo, who had a baby on each arm.
Toni was astonished. Cleo was dark skinned and quite stunning, she thought. Gary kissed his wife demonstratively and helped himself to Mathilda, whom he introduced to Toni. Now he was in the bosom of his family, Gary was happy again and it showed.
“Do you have experience of babies, Toni?” Cleo asked.
“I helped out at a nursery last summer,” she replied.
“Let me introduce you to Max then. He’s a very placid baby so he’s good to practice on. He loves to be cuddled and carried round. You have him for a bit.”
Toni found herself cradling Max, who was look at her curiously through round brown eyes fringed with long lashes.
“He’s beautiful,” she said.
“All our children are,” said Gary
“How many are there altogether? I lost count.”
Cleo answered swiftly.
“In order of age, there’s Charlie going on 14 who was from Gary’s first marriage and I adopted her, PeggieSue is 3, Tommy and Teddy are 16 months old, Max and Mathilda are just over 5 months old, and I’m expecting another in about seven months. Those are all ours. Charlie’s cousin Lottie is mostly with us. I think of her as mine too,” said Cleo. ”The big girls are marvellous with the little ones.”
As if on cue, the two girls burst in and took centre stage for a moment.
“You don’t have to look after the little ones all the time, Toni,” said Cleo. “One of us grownups or the girls will always be on hand, but it will be nice to have you here if you can face such a big family.”
“Well, if you are sure…”
“Of course I’m sure,” said Cleo.
“Then so am I,” said Toni resolutely.
“That’s good news,” said Gary.” My mother should be back soon to show you your room.”
“Have you eaten, Toni?” Cleo asked.
“Yes thanks. I had something on the train.”
“I’m sorry if I confused you at the station, Toni.”
Cleo looked questioningly from one to the other.
“Are you going to tell me how?” she said. “Did Gary tell you that he was expecting a young man?”
“I think we cleared things up,” said Gary. “It was only the name that irritated me.”
Toni nodded. “No one ever calls me Antonia.”
“No one calls me Charlotte, either,” said Charlie. “And Lottie’s name is Charlotte, too. At school Miss Plimsoll, our class teacher, tried to call us both Charlotte because she doesn’t like nicknames, but she soon gave up because we both answered at the same time.”
“You see, Toni,” Gary explained, determined to make his point. ”My kids are fabulous and Cleo is the absolute love of my life. I would never look for a concubine.”
Cleo’s eyebrows rose. What sort of a tangle had the guy got himself into?
“A what?” Charlie asked.
“Someone like out of one of Toni’s historical novels,” said Gary.
“How do you spell it?” asked Lottie.
“I’ll tell you later,” said Gary.
“I’ll look it up on the internet then I can read what it means,” said Charlie.
“I’ll get my laptop,” said Lottie.
“I just hope you’ll explain that extraordinary statement in more detail,” said Cleo.
“I said it,” said Toni. “I didn’t just read the word in a book. I was warned about going to live in a strange house. Au pairs are sometimes hired for the wrong reason. They discover they are meant to entertain the husband, not the children.”
“Are you a concubine, Mummy?” Charlie was bound to ask.
“No. I’m just a wife and mother, Charlie.”
“Is a concubine like a geisha, Mummy?”
“I’m not sure, Charlie. Ask your Daddy or Wikipedia that one. Let’s put Max and Mathilda in the playpen while Daddy gets PeggySue up. She’s much better now.”
“Let’s go for a walk and show Toni where the nursery is. We can take the babies with us,” said Gary.
“OK if you can manage three. Tommy and Teddy will wake up any minute and want a drink so I’m staying here anyway.”
“We’ll take the pram and PeggySue can sit on the top if she does not want to walk. Or she can enjoy the luxury of a piggy-back.”
“What’s that?” Toni wanted to know.
Gary hoisted Charlie onto his shoulders to demonstrate, but soon put her down, explaining that he preferred smaller passengers.
“We’ll go with you, Daddy,” said Charlie. “Then we can ask you about geishas.”
“How do you know about geishas, Charlie?” said Gary, wondering how he was going to explain that fact of life to curious teenage girls.
Cleo laughed. She loved watching Gary’s consternation at some of Charlie’s questions and comments.
“Can I see the little boys first?” Toni asked, planting a kiss on Max’s forehead as she put him into the big pram to join his sister.
Cleo led Toni into the kiddies’ room, where the two little boys were taking their siesta very seriously.
“Which is which?” the girl asked, astonished to see how alike they were.
“Charlie will tell you exactly who is who, Toni. One of them smiles and one pouts.”
“I love them,” said Toni. “I’m going to love being here.”
“And forgive Gary if he’s sometimes a bit bad tempered. He’s a lovely man really.”
“I’ll try,” said Toni. “He was a bit funny with me to start with.”
“He can be a bit of a pain sometimes, Toni, but he’s the love of my life and he will think of you as one of his kids and certainly not as a concubine.”
“You remind me of my mother,” said Toni, spontaneously hugging Cleo.
“Thanks, Toni. I appreciate that. But don’t tell Gary he reminds you of your father. He’s getting an age complex and a grey hair or two.”
As Gary, the girls and Toni were leaving, Grit and Roger returned. Grit was flashing an emerald on her ring finger.
“We had to get engaged before buy in the wedding rings,” she explained.
A round of introductions, hugs and congratulations followed.
Toni and Grit seemed to hit it off immediately.
“You will stay with us, won’t you?” Grit said to Toni, who nodded assent.
“That’s definitely settled,” said Cleo smiling. “I think Toni was little apprehensive about being hired as a concubine.”
“A what?” said Grit.
“There’s no hanky-panky here,” said Roger.
“What’s that?” Toni wanted to know.
“That’s when Daddy and Mummy get into bed together,” said Charlie and earned herself a very stern look from Gary and a hoot of laughter from Grit.
“A rose by any other name,” said Gary, quite embarrassed.
Toni wondered whether she had done the right thing coming there if she wanted to improve her English.
Since Tommy and Teddy were still asleep, Cleo had time to phone Karl von Klippen, who had a long memory for gossip and heard plenty at the Library. She needed to check if he knew anything about the Fargo family. He looked in his data base and their address was the same as the one they had given at HQ. Surely they would not have done that if they did not live there.
Cleo mused that it was easy to fool the authorities since there was no ID system. She decided to contact Fay Colby, the registrar at her marriage ceremony and later a client whose daughter she had managed to trace. Even if Fay Colby could not get access to the information Cleo needed, she would know how to get at it without asking why. Hoping she would find Mrs Colby in her office, Cleo called her.
“Everything’s just fine,” Mrs Colby said, thinking that Cleo was inquiring about the situation between mother and daughter now the drama of the girl’s disappearance had been resolved satisfactorily.
“I’m glad to hear that, but that’s not why I’m calling. I’m hoping you can help me.”
“If it’s a personal problem…”
“So how can I be of assistance?”
“I expect you read about that tramp being wrongly identified as Dr Fargo, didn’t you?”
“Oh yes Miss Hartley, I mean Mrs Hurley, but that’s all been sorted out now, hasn’t it?”
“Did you know the old man, Mrs Colby? Do you know anyone in the family?”
“They are not my style, Miss Hartley, though the doctor was a nice person and had breeding.”
“But the relatives live in that beautiful villa, don’t they?”
“I only once had to deal with the young pair. I thought they were rather common …. Oh dear, I should not be telling you this.”
“What did they want?”
“They asked about their great uncles will, if I remember rightly. Why?”
“It’s between us, Mrs Colby. I thought you did marriages. Did the young pair also want to get married?”
“They were married, as far as I could judge. I still do marriages, but we have to fill in for other colleagues in other offices if someone is off sick. I remember because I was so surprised to see that the old man was dead according to Cop’s Corner and the Gazette and then read in the following edition of Cop’s Corner that the body was not his after all.”
Cleo was curious to know more about the workings of the town hall. She ascertained that there was no record of Dr Fargo’s decease so he was probably still alive or had been killed and his death had been kept a secret.
“It might be a coincidence that such an unusual name cropped up twice in the same week,” said Mrs Colby. “I remember thinking there might be some funny business going on and looked again for the death certificate, but at the Town Hall you learn not to discuss anything.”
Cleo thought that Mrs Colby was confused about the Fargos and not to be relied on for accurate information.
“I can understand that, especially if it was not your department, Mrs Colby,” she said in a comforting voice.
Mrs Colby was getting agitated.
“They might have mislaid the document, you see, and I did not want to sneak on a colleague, but I was curious about what happened to Dr Fargo if his relatives identified him as dead before someone recognized the corpse as a tramp frequenting that dreadful doss-house. I’m quite sure that he was not in the death register anywhere.”
“Is that the reason the Fargos are not your style?”
“No. To be truthful, I dislike the nouveau riche, especially the young ones. The Fargo villa had been in the family for a long time before they crashed in. It was also a medical surgery for skin complaints, Mrs Hurley, until the doctor retired and the plaque on the house wall was taken down so that patients would stop coming. I went once a long time ago with an allergic rash. My daughter was not even born.”
“How old would he be now, Mrs Colby?”
“Not more than 70. Maybe younger. He used to cycle round that lake between Upper and Lower Grumpsfield on a racing bike. I used to see him now and again when I took my dog for a walk.”
“Do you know him personally?”
“Not really. I never had any skin problems worth mentioning after that.”
“So Dr Fargo is not an old guy depending on a rollator.”
“Indeed not. He was quite a ladies’ man in his younger days, I’m told. He lived alone after his wife died and a housekeeper looked after him. But she also comes to do relief cleaning at these offices and I remember that she talked rather disparagingly about Dr Fargo’s relatives. They had moved in out of the blue and were uninvited.”
“But it’s normal for the young generation to look after the old, Mrs Colby.”
“Not in this case. That housekeeper was fired. She told everyone who would listen about her plight and her worries about the doctor at the hands of the young people, though she hinted that he now had a lady friend.”
“Wow! I’m glad you could tell me all that, Mrs Colby. Can you tell me where I can find that housekeeper?”
“Would you like me to phone her?”
“No. I’d rather know where I can reach her myself.”
“Then I’ll give you her phone number. Mrs Beatty does a bit of cleaning for me privately these days. I try to support her where I can.”
“That’s brilliant, Mrs Colby. I’ll let you know how I get on, but in the meanwhile please don’t talk to anyone about this matter.”
“Of course not. I was troubled to hear about that tramp being identified as Dr Fargo. I should have done something about it, but here at the Town Hall it’s hard to tell one’s enemies from one’s friends.”
“Pretty much like any organization, Mrs Colby. Thanks for helping me.”
“Thank you for helping me, Mrs Hurley. My daughter and her daughter still live with me and my daughter is attending college.”
“That’s really good news. You must be very happy, Mrs Colby.”
“I would be happier if my daughter would tell me who the father of her child is. I think she was ravished, but she won’t say anything.”
“I’ll look into that as soon as I can, Mrs Colby. She should be getting maintenance for the child and the guy who molested her must be brought to justice.”
”She never said she was molested, Mrs Hurley.”
“But the guy will have to support his child, whoever he is and however that child came about, Mrs Colby.”
Cleo wondered whether there was any point in contacting Mrs Beatty, so she put that idea on the back burner. After all, the woman had been fired and might hold a grudge against the young people. She might tell lies. There might also be a murkier reason for the woman’s dismissal. There is nothing worse than a woman scorned, Cleo mused.
Once Tommy and Teddy were freshened up and had had a drink and some very crummy rusks, Cleo decided to put them in the playpen to exercise their limbs and call Brass. It was quite dark and Cleo wondered where Gary, Toni and the children had got to. Cleo felt guilty about suggesting to Gary that Brass and Edith should get together, though he had obviously survived that impromptu meeting. Edith had not been in touch, but Cleo had witnessed for Brass’s rather embarrassed admittance to having sex with her.
Brass had unwittingly done Robert a favour, though Cleo had never really understood Robert’s attitude to sexuality. She had not really cared either, she mused. Gary had occupied her thoughts before and during her marriage to Robert. Some things had been waiting to happen, and happen they did. And now Brass and Edith had found one another. That was the perfect answer to Robert’s prayers, she mused.
“Sergeant Bradley speaking. Can I help you?”
“Hi Brass,” said Cleo. “I just wanted to hear if you are OK.”
“Shouldn’t I be?”
“Well, you did have that experience at the vicarage. I’m sorry if I let you in for it through suggesting as much to Gary.”
“Does that mean it was all fixed up, Cleo?”
“Not fixed. I just thought …”
“I’m a bit shocked,” said Brass. “I know you have a great influence on Gary, but I don’t think that manipulating colleagues is a good idea.”
“No one manipulated anyone, Brass. It was just an idea.”
“And do you know what, Cleo?” said Brass, and Cleo thought she was about to hear a tirade from the otherwise reticent sergeant.
“I’ve said I’m truly sorry, Brass.”
“Well don’t be,” he said.
“You don’t want me to be sorry that I interfered in your private life, Brass?”
“To be truthful, it was time someone interfered.”
“I’m not sure I quite understand.”
“That interference helped me to start living again.”
“No buts. I should not be telling you this right now, but I’m going to marry Edith Parsnip.”
“Wow. Does she know?”
“Yes. We decided last night.”
“I don’t know what to say, Brass.”
“Just say you’re happy for us, Cleo. Edith and I are made for one another.”
“Then I am happy for you. Do you want me to tell Gary?”
“He’ll find out soon enough because I want him to be my best man.”
“I’m sure he’ll be honoured,” said Cleo. “But you’ll have to invite him yourself.”
“I will, but I must get on now. I got another missing dog case this afternoon. You don’t think that restaurant changed its menu, do you?”
“I hope not, but I’ll tell Joe to keep an eye on Dog.”
“That’s the name of his lovely white hybrid setter.”
“Can Dog sniff things out, Cleo?”
“I’ve no idea. Why?”
“They often need an extra hound to look for drugs or corpses.”
“I don’t think he’s that kind of dog, Brass. I just hope he isn’t the kind that ends up as a Sunday roast.”
On second thoughts, Cleo did phone Mrs Beatty. That good lady turned out to be a mine of information, most of it gossip, but with the odd snippet of information that might be useful.
Cleo asked Mrs Beatty very delicately why she had been fired.
“I asked that unholy pair when Dr Fargo would be back,” she said. “They told me it was none of my business. They also told me I was not to go into the cellar in future, so I asked them why because I was starting to the steps. They pulled me back and said that on second thoughts I would no longer be needed at all.”
“Wow. It’s a big house to keep clean.”
“If you were to ask me why they did not want me there, I’d say that it had something to do with Dr Fargo’s new lady friend unless they had done something terrible to Dr Fargo.”
“Do you think that’s possible, Mrs Beatty?”
“Who is the new lady friend, Mrs Beatty?” Cleo asked, wondering if Mrs Beatty had set her sights on the doctor.
“A bit of a hussy, in my opinion. What’s more, II don’t think Dr Fargo knows that those young relatives have taken up residence, Miss Hartley, and they would not want Dr Fargo’s new lady friend there.”
“Who told them about the lady friend, Mrs Beatty?”
“I’m afraid I told them, Miss.”
“Exactly what did you tell them?”
“They asked me where he was, and I told them that Dr Fargo was visiting his new lady friend. They asked me if she also came to the villa and I said he preferred to go to her place, but she also spent time at the villa,” said Mrs Beatty, and Cleo got the impression that the doctor having a lady friend was distasteful to Mrs Beatty, so she asked a rather searching question.
“Did Dr Fargo and the lady friend share a bed, Mrs Beatty?”
“I wouldn’t know that,” said Mrs Beatty, and Cleo thought she was fibbing. “I always got a phone call when they were coming, Miss. I told them that, too.”
“So you were not there when they came, were you, Mrs Beatty?”
“Not at night.”
“Do you think the young Fargos are playing for time?” said Cleo.
“I don’t quite understand, Miss.”
“Well, if Dr Fargo was alone they could probably find a way of getting him out of the villa, but if he brought a friend it would be more difficult.”
“He’s been away nearly three weeks, Miss.”
“So he should come back soon, shouldn’t he?”
“I thought he must be dead, but it was only a tramp.”
“Yes,” said Cleo. “Can you think of a reason why the young Fargos said it was their relative?”
“No, Miss, but what if he is dead?”
“That’s what we are trying to find out, Mrs Beatty.”
Mrs Beatty hesitated.
“Can I tell you something in confidence?” she said finally.
“Of course, Mrs Beatty.”
“Dr Fargo was keen on me, Miss. Until that lady friend turned up he was very kind to me, so I’d like to know if he is serious about the new lady.”
“It might hurt you to know more, Mrs Beatty.”
“He promised me a little something in his will, Miss. What if she changes his mind for him?”
Cleo decided that pursuing that angle was not a good idea. Mrs Beatty was clearly resentful of what had happened at the villa recently.
“I’ll phone you if there’s any news, Mrs Beatty,” Cleo said.
“I’d like my job back, Miss. Can you help me to get it?”
“I can’t promise anything right now.”
“But I’ll try,” said Cleo, who knew that she had no influence whatsoever. But her words seemed to calm down Mrs Beatty so the prevarication was justified.