Tying up Friday
Mr Crighton greeted Dorothy like a long lost relative when he met her at Oxford station.
“Nice of you to come, Miss Price,” he said. “I’m quite glad we don’t live in the city centre, but it’s quite a long drive to our house.”
“I never thought of that,” he said.
“He doesn’t do much thinking,” commented Mrs Crighton.
“Don’t say things like that, Muriel,” Paul Crighton replied.
Dorothy reflected that things were not going to well in the Crighton household and decided that she would prefer to be somewhere else.
Muriel Crighton was a sour-puss kind of person, usually in a bad mood with a sharp tongue and a deep-seated grudge against humanity, which included her husband, but not their son or adopted son depending on which story they were telling. The moment Betjeman Crighton had confessed to murder, Mrs Crighton had declared that the boy was adopted and they did not know he had such evil roots. Muriel forced Paul to tell this version of their son’s genesis.
Notwithstanding this devastating disownership of the boy, the Crightons had moved at Muriel’s bidding to be near him. Dorothy had no idea whether the Crightons actually believed in their son’s innocence. It didn’t really matter, Dorothy decided. This old married couple would continue their cat and dog existence until one of them bit the dust leaving the other to enjoy life again, wherever Betjeman ended up.
Muriel Crighton led Dorothy into the dining-room. The table was arrayed with the best china and some very tempting looking fairy cakes. The room was tidy but lacked any feeling of homeliness.
“We like it here,” said Mrs Crighton with heavy emphasis.
“Yes, we do,” said Mr Crighton, who would not have dared to contradict this battle-axe of a woman.
“I’ll show you the house while the kettle is boiling,” she said, leading Dorothy out of the dining room to show her the various other downstairs rooms. Then she went ahead up the stairs saying that she would now show Dorothy Betjeman’s room.
Dorothy was very surprised, knowing that Betjeman had been sent down for life.
“Does Betjeman visit you?” she asked.
“Not yet, but he will soon,” said Mrs Crighton. Mr Crighton had followed them up the stairs and was now heard to declare that Muriel should not tell stories as you never knew where they might land you. If Betjeman escaped, they would be under suspicion.
“He will come, Miss Price. He’s innocent,” said Muriel.
“But until then he has to stay where he is,” fabricated Paul Crighton who had been indoctrinated by Muriel.
Dorothy did not know what to say. Betjeman was a psychopath – or at least that’s what the medical report said, and that did not depend on him having committed murder. He was mentally deranged. Thanks to Gary, she and Cleo had been able to read the psychiatrist’s damning comments, but if she were going to get anywhere with her mission, she would have to keep that knowledge to herself. After all, she herself did not think that Betjeman had killed Laura, though she reserved judgement on the murder of Laura’s son Jason. The Crightons were plainly in denial.
“Can you visit your son?” Dorothy asked as she sat on her designated chair and eyed the table. She was relieved that the tea, brewed on command by Paul Crighton, was not bergamotte-perfumed and the milk was fresh. The cream cakes were bought but nice.
The whole scene was surreal. The empty chair that Betjeman would have occupied had he been there was apparently always there waiting for him together with his cup, saucer, plate and cutlery. The sweetness and light of this afternoon tea arrangement and sudden politeness of Mrs Crighton when she poured the tea were incongruous.
“Yes,” said Mrs Crighton. “But he’s adopted, you know. My husband couldn’t …well you know …”
“Don’t listen to her, Miss Price,” said Mr Crighton. Presumably strengthened by Dorothy’s presence, bawled “I’m sick of that lie, Muriel.”
“And I’m sick of you denying it, Paul,” said Muriel, quickly reverting to her normal tone of voice.
“Don’t worry,” said Dorothy. “Everyone has wicked ancestors, so a few wicked genes might have come down your line somewhere.”
“That’s what I say,” said Mr Crighton.
“Then they were all on your side,” said Mrs Crighton.
Considering that Muriel Crighton had just declared that poor Paul was not capable of fathering a child, she was merely adding insult to injury.
“Don’t talk like that, Muriel. Miss Price will think we are depraved.”
Dorothy felt the urgent need to change the subject.
“Do you think I could have another of these lovely little cakes?” she said. “Did you make them, Mrs Crighton?”
“Yes,” said Mrs Crighton.
“No you didn’t,” said Mr Crighton. “I got them from the little baker’s round the corner before I left for the station. They cost a pound each, but they are worth every penny for you, Miss Price.”
“But it was your idea,” said Mrs Crighton. “You are not taking any more of my household money for frivolities,”
“Don’t listen to her,” said Mr Crighton. She’ll eat any we leave over, so tuck in.”
Changing the subject was a stroke of genius, Dorothy decided. Mrs Crighton had immediately dropped the subject of Betjeman’s origins, though Mr Crighton was not going to let her off that lightly.
“You were jumping into bed with that postman at the time, weren’t you, Muriel? Or was it the milkman?”
Mrs Crighton scowled.
“Thought I didn’t notice, did you? Well, I did.”
Dorothy wondered if there was any point in continuing with her visit. These people were at each other’s throats. She could imagine that Betjeman’s upbringing had been fraught with emotional conflicts he could do nothing about. A sensitive little boy, he had probably become the loopy guy he was through emotional neglect. For Dorothy, the only way forward was to get back to where she wanted to be with her investigation and then make a dignified exit.
“All that is no concern of mine,” Dorothy said. “You really should try to get on a bit better. I have some news for you and I can’t tell it if you go on being nasty to one another.”
“It’s the stress, Miss Price. I’m sorry,” said Mr Crighton.
“Paul is sorry, but I’m not, Miss Price. Get to the point please.”
“Shut up, Muriel,” said Mr Crighton in a continuation of his new braveness.
“Thank you. I’ve always thought that Betjeman was on some sort of high when he confessed to murdering Laura Finch,” said Dorothy.
“My son never took drugs, Miss Price,” said Mrs Crighton.
“Not from drugs, but possibly from films he had watched or comics he had read.”
“He never read anything. He was not quite literate enough,” said Mrs Crighton.
“He wasn’t literate at all. I would say he was illiterate,” said Mr Crighton.
“Don’t start that again,” shouted Mrs Crighton.
“I know what your husband meant,” said Dorothy. “Anyway, I always had my doubts and now someone has turned up who might be the murderer. She had a motive. Betjeman can’t have had one.”
“Don’t you believe it,” said Mr Crighton. “The boy was infatuated with Laura Finch. She’d been a prostitute and he fancied her. Then she asked him to do up her garden. Dealing with the garden beds rather than hopping into hers was not what he had in mind.”
“Don’t be coarse, Paul,” said Muriel.
“Anyway, that upset him.”
“I didn’t know that about that Finch woman,” said Mrs Crighton.
“You don’t know everything, Muriel.”
“That is not a very strong motive,” said Dorothy. “He might have been working on changing her mind. She was no good to him dead. I have a stronger suspect.”
“Who?” the Crightons said together, harmony retrieved for a moment.
“Someone from Mrs Finch’s chorus,” said Dorothy.
“Funny you should say that,” said Mrs Crighton. “We’ve had one of those women here a few times. She wanted to see Betjeman, but he can’t have visitors except us.”
“When was she here last?”
“Not long ago.”
“I had the feeling she was checking up,” said Mr Crighton. “She always seemed relieved when I told her that Betjeman had no chance of release.”
“Even though it was lie,” said Mrs Crighton.
“That’s very interesting. Can I show you some photos?”
Dorothy produced photos of the two dead women that she had received on her mobile when she was in the train to Oxford. ‘Just in case’, Cleo had written.
“Was it one of these two women?” Dorothy asked.
“No. Definitely not. I don’t know who those women are,” said Mrs Crighton, “and they look dead.”
“So would you come to an identity parade and picked out the one who did come here?” Dorothy asked.
“The penny’s dropped, Miss Price,” said Mrs Crighton. “You’re from that black woman’s agency, aren’t you?”
“Cleo Hartley is coloured, but she has great wisdom and integrity, Mrs Crighton. If you want us to prove your son’s innocence, you’ll have to stop talking like that.”
“She will,” said Mr Crighton, for once seeming to be stronger-willed than his spouse, “and we will attend any meeting you want us to. I want to see my son outside those prison walls and in his nice bedroom upstairs even if he is too mentally challenged to live with us all the time.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Dorothy. “I don’t think I need to say any more.”
Mrs Crighton seemed pacified, so much so that she offered Dorothy the rest of the fairy cakes.
“You can share them with Miss Hartley,” she said. “No hard feelings and thank you for coming. “I’ll get a box for them.”
Mr Crighton looked flabbergasted. What had come over Muriel? Had she come to her senses at last? Or was it more likely that the promise of freedom for her son had gone to her head.
By the time Dorothy got home it was too late to phone the Hurley cottage, so she sent Cleo a text message and was in return invited to breakfast. Gary would want hear about her mission.
It should be mentioned that although getting everyone organized and fed had been left to Cleo, Gary had been an active agent in getting all the kids to bed and was currently having second thoughts about actually becoming a domestic animal with home-keeping a priority.
Thankful that he had more than enough to do at HQ now he was obliged to head investigations the drugs squad used to cope with, he had to admit to himself that although he wanted to tell Cleo about the Fargo questioning and hear her comments on it, he was not sorry to postpone that until next morning.
“Not too tired, I hope,” said Cleo as she served their nightcap of milk coffee.
“That depends on something making me tired,” said Gary, swinging himself up from a horizontal position on the sofa. “How about you?”