Sunday, 12 November 2017

17 - Fish 'n chips

Monday cont.

Gary rang the cottage doorbell and stood behind his rose bouquet waiting. Cleo was already home and came to the door without delay.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to upset Dorothy.”
“Then you’d better take her the roses,” said Cleo.
“I’ve been there. These are for you, my love.”
“Wow! You are an attentive bridegroom.”
“I’m a chastened man,” said Gary.
“Did Dorothy accept the flowers?” said Cleo. “I would probably have thrown them at you.”
“She told me she still loves me even if she was disgusted with me.”
“That’s about how I feel,” said Cleo. “Let’s have some breakfast, shall we?”
“Where are the kids?”
“Flown the nest, Sweetheart. Now is the best time for a heart to heart.”
“You mean a pre-lunch siesta, don’t you?”
“I mean a heart to heart,” said Cleo. “I’ve made coffee. How come you are already here.”
“Keys was operated on this morning. I couldn’t get to see her.”
“At least she’s rid of her appendix problem. I’ll phone her later and you can talk to her tomorrow probably.”
***
School was back in business so Charlie and Lottie had raced for the early bus. They needed time to catch up on the past school-free week before starting on this one. Grit had been glad to see Cleo home, and took PeggySue to the nursery. Toni would take Tommy and Teddy there later that morning after going for a walk to use up some of the energy the little boys seemed to have in abundance. It was to be their first day there and they would take time to settle in and more so if they had not toddled about first. Toni said she would stay at the nursery while Tommy and Teddy got acclimatized. Grit would take over Max and Mathilda if Cleo needed to work. Toni would bring the three children home from the nursery so that Grit could concentrate on getting lunch for them all. You could call it organized chaos, for that’s what it was.
***
“I’d rather plan the whole week ahead,” said Gary.
“We need to base the coming days on what we have already achieved,” said Cleo.
“Would you like to tell me what we have achieved, Cleo? I can’t think of anything.”
“Come on, Sweetheart. Snap out of it. I’ve never known you so pessimistic.”
“Let’s face it, Cleo. It’s all a mess.”
“Now listen to me, Gary Hurley. I went to HQ at the crack of dawn and had a heart to heart talk with Sally Fargo. I now know that Tony Bates did attempt to murder his wife. She escaped. He was wrongly acquitted. He did not keep the newspaper cuttings for any other reason than to rejoice that he had beaten the law.”
“So what? He’s dead.”
“So what? For thirty odd years his wife, who he had wanted to kill because she had another man and wanted to leave him, was so terrified that she hid.”
“Successfully, it transpires.”
“Sure. But no thanks to the police. Her new man rescued her and hid her in Dublin.”
“What do you expect me to do with that old case? Reopen it?”
“Not for the moment. We need to know if Sally Fargo is Bates’s daughter. If so, she also had motive for killing him.”
“Patricide needs a strong motive, Cleo.”
“Revenge. Is that strong enough?”
“Sounds like Shakespeare.”
“Eve Bates is coming to HQ later this afternoon. I’m going to ask her straight out if Sally Fargo could be Bates’s child. If she doesn’t know, we’ll have to resort to DNA.”
“But where does that all get us, Cleo?”
“Back to the Fargos, Gary. Was Sally Fargo an accomplice? She says she wasn’t. Was the murder on Bates planned between the two of them? It’s possible. Sally Fargo admitted to me that she gave Bates the wine. She says she was instructed by Fargo. I don’t want her to have aided and abetted Ed Fargo, but we can’t rule that out.”
“There is one consolation, Cleo, and that is that we now have a corpse for Mr Bates.”
Gary was now looking a lot more cheerful. He wished he could be as enthusiastic as Cleo.
“Of course, Fargo may not be guilty of just one murder,” she said- “Sally Fargo admitted that her husband was fascinated by that book on mushrooms and herbs.”
“I suppose you mean the book you wanted to collect from the villa.”
“Yes. I think Fargo may have poisoned his uncle. If he hasn’t, where is the guy?”
“We need some deus ex machina. That’s always helped before.”
“We need some more confessions, Gary, and one of them has to be from Barbarella Knowles.”
“Hell, yes. But not in the Fargo case.”
“What if Knowles knew Fargo and got poison from him?”
“How could she possibly know him?”
“You’ll have to ask.”
“I get all the hard jobs. I’m out of my depth when it comes to those chorus witches. You’ll have to interview Knowles first.”
“Why me?” said Cleo.
“She’d flatten me if she tried to seduce me to get me to drop the case,” said Gary.
Cleo laughed at that very idea and Gary finally saw the funny side of that idea.
“You’ll have to haul her in, Gary. I can’t do that. Anyway, the Crightons are coming to HQ this afternoon to identify her.”
“Hell, yes. What are you going to do this morning?”
“I’m going to have a talk with Mary Busby before lunch. That’s the sister of the woman Miss Knowles pushed into the marigolds.”
“I suppose you need the red car.”
“I suppose I do, Sweetheart.”
“You’d better get moving then.”
“I’d need to be at that identity parade this afternoon,” said Cleo. I want to hear what the Crightons have to say. I’ll chat with them about their profligate son if there’s time.”
“We can drive in together if you come home for lunch with a portion of chips for me. No time for a siesta, unfortunately.”
“You’ll survive and I’ll bring fish and chips for us all,” said Cleo. “I’m sure they’ll lend me one of their thermos boxes if I buy enough. Tell Grit not to cook.”
“You are my favourite wife, after all,” said Gary.
***
The chip-shop was at the far end of Middlethumpton. At 11 a.m. the early birds were already queuing outside and the row of fryers was being got ready for the onslaught. You could already smell the fat from quite far off. Something for the health and safety controllers to look into, Cleo mused. Burnt oil can cause cancer. Cleo did not like being in the midst of the hungry and wondered if it was always like that. She could phone Mary Busby instead. She was about to make her escape when she was tapped on the shoulder.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” a woman said.
“I haven’t been here before,” said Cleo. “It’s quite awesome!”
“Touring, are you? Canadian?”
“American born but now British,” said Cleo. “Not touring. Working when I’m not taking a break.”
“Oh. What do you do then?”
“I’m a private investigator,” said Cleo.
“Oh,” said the woman. “Can you be hired?”
“Sure. What’s the problem?”
“A fella.”
“Are you married to him?”
“Sort of.”
“Is that yes or no?”
“Yes.”
“He’s gone, has he? Deserted you?”
“Sort of. He went off with my daughter, Miss…”
“Is the girl his daughter too?”
“No, Miss. April was born before I got married. She could have any number of fathers.”
“No incest then.”
“No, but …” said the woman.
“How old is she?” Cleo asked, ignoring the woman’s insidious reply.
“My April is fifteen,” said the woman. “I caught them at it in our bed.”
“That’s bad, Mrs …”
“Liz Cope.”
“How long have they been gone, Liz? The girl is legally still a child. He has kidnapped her.”
“I don’t think he needed to do that, Miss…”
“Hartley.”
“Want to see a photo?” Mrs Cope offered.
“Sure.”
The photo showed a mature teenager dressed provocatively with a fake diamond pierced in her navel that was very visible thanks to the extremely short top. April wore thick makeup and her hair was dyed blond. She did not look fifteen. She had left her childhood far behind.
“Does she always run around in those clothes, Mrs Cope?”
“Not for school.”
“She’s missing school now. Haven’t the authorities been on to you?”
“She’s only been gone a week. I was hoping she’d come back of her own accord.”
“You should go to the police, Mrs Cope.”
“I don’t like the police.”
“They don’t like finding the bodies of young girls who have mistakenly thought they were going on an adventure.”
“Don’t say that, Miss Hartley.”
“We have to face things, Mrs Cope. Where do you think they’ve gone?”
“Not abroad. Somewhere local I suppose. His passport is still in the drawer and my daughter hasn’t got one.”
“That narrows the search considerably.”
“Are you going to look for them, Miss?”
“I need a lot more information, Mrs Cope. We can talk inside and I’ll take notes.”
“Inside. That’s prison, isn’t it?”
“Inside the chip-shop, Mrs Cope. They have tables and chairs at the window. See?”
***
At that moment Cleo was spared from having to say any more as everyone surged through the shop door that had been opened by someone who looked uncannily like the dead Margie except for her plumpness, and was surely the person Cleo was there to talk to. The hungry pushed past her unceremoniously and now stood three deep at the bar.
Mary Busby waved to Cleo in recognition, which did not please Cleo one bit, but she was there now so she would go through with her questioning. Mrs Cope put her arm through Cleo’s and propelled her forwards. Cleo could not help noticing that Mrs Cope had temporarily forgotten her missing daughter and was efficiently edging her way to the front of the queue. She turned round and said “My April was always a good girl” to Cleo.
“Good in bed and cheap,” commented a young guy standing next to Mrs Cope. “A real sunshine.”
That, mused Cleo, at least cleared the decks.
***
Mrs Cope was on first name terms with Mary Busby, which indicated that she was a regular customer.
“Cod, chips, mushy peas and two slices of white, Mary,” she ordered.
“Plate?”
“Yes please.”
“Tea?”
“Yes please, Mary. How’s things now?”
“Body released,” announced Mary, wiping a tear on the corner of her pinny. “Whacked on the head, Glad.”
Mrs Cope took her meal, cutlery and paper serviette to the table in the draughtiest spot when the door was open, which it was, permanently, now the customers were streaming in. Since it was Cleo’s turn to order, she did not have much time to ponder on Mary Busby’s curious statement of gladness.
“A few chips, no peas and cod without the batter,” Cleo ordered. “And an order for seven people if I can borrow a box to take it home.”
“With bread?”
“Yes,” said Cleo.
“With or without?”
“What?”
“Butter or margerine,” said Mary.
“Butter please.”
“There’s only marge,” said Mary.
“That’ll do,” said Cleo. “But brown bread, please.”
“There’s only white,” said Mary.
It was quite obvious that Mary actually dictated what could be ordered at that chip shop.
“We only do fish with batter, Miss Hartley,” Mary Busby intoned. “Batter protects the fish in the hot oil,” she explained with what seemed to Cleo like a flash of genius in an otherwise rather dullard soul.
Mary leant over the bar to speak quietly.
“The funeral’s next week. Are you coming?”
“I can if you want me to. I’m so sorry about your sister. But to be honest I did not think you would be glad about it.”
Mary Busby laughed as she stirred the alarmingly green mushy peas that were full of a metal container that was floating in hot water to keep the peas more or less edible. Cleo wondered about the artificial colouring. Wasn’t that kind of tampering with food illegal?
“Oh, not glad, I was talking to Gladys. Mrs Cope’s part Welsh. What must you have thought of me?”
Not such a nasty person after all, mused Cleo.
“I did find it rather strange,” Cleo admitted.
“I know it sounds heartless,” Mary continued, “but Margie had it coming to her. You don’t play around with figures like Babsi Knowles.”
“Play around?” Cleo asked, hardly trusting her luck that Mary Busby was discussing Margie without being begged to do so.
“Come on, Scrumptious!” shouted the man who had dropped the broad hint about April Cope. “I need my dinner. I’ve got to start work at two.”
Mary Busby was flattered.
“The usual?”
“Yes, but double chips.”
“You always get double chips, Handsome. Taking it with you?”
“Don’t I usually, Sweetheart? Free tonight? More to get hold of than Aprii,” he told everyone who was listening.
The customers cheered and Mary bustled around with Cleo’s and the man’s orders. The customers were clamouring. Mary was red-faced, whether from the heat of the fish-fryer or her embarrassment was hard to tell..
“One at a time, loves,” said Mary facing the chip fryer.
“The coloured woman jumped the queue,” said one woman.
“She’s a friend,” retorted Mary, turning round. “She didn’t push. She’s in a hurry.”
“We all are,” several of the hungry said in unison.
Mary ignored the chorus and again bent over the bar to talk privately to Cleo.
“Have you got a minute when my colleague gets here, Miss Hartley,” Mary whispered.
“If it’s before 12, yes. I’ll have to go then.”
“I’ll put your food on a plate, shall I? Sit down somewhere and I’ll serve you with it.”
“Thanks,” said Cleo turning to the table at which Liz Cope was sitting and then turning back to Mary. “Don’t forget my home order. The family will be waiting for it.”
“It’ll be ready for you, Miss Hartley,” said Mary.
Mrs Cope had all but finished her meal and was now manoeuvring chips onto her bread and butter.
“This is the best bit,” she commented. “Chip butties are the highlight of the meal.”
Cleo put her plate on the left and got out her notebook and pen. She was going to make short work of the interview.
“Can I take that photo with me, Mrs Cope?”
“Yes.”
“What’s the guy’s name who ran away with April, Mrs Cope?”
“Al Cope, but April’s a Jones,” said Mrs Cope. “My maiden name was Jones.”
Where does April’s father live, Mrs Cope?”
“I don’t have anything to do with that man if he was her father. I was living with him at the time but I had my flings because he had his. He left me when April came. Said he was too young to have children. Not too young to make them, though. He made a few, I can tell you.”
“April might have gone to him for help.”
“Never. She was Al Cope’s little girl from the start.”
“Adopted?”
“No, but he’d been fussing her for a long time, if you know what I mean.”
Cleo was appalled.
“I think I have enough information,” she said, and Liz Cope was glad to leave. She had a cleaning job at nearby offices and had to go back having sneaked out in her morning coffee break. There was still the stairs and conference room to do, she explained.
***
Left to her own thoughts and a plateful of fatty food, Cleo decided to get Nigel onto the Cope case. He would be rigorous about finding her and not susceptible to the girl’s dubious ‘charms’. Cleo did not think they would have gone far. They would start at the main station. Stations were often good places for soliciting on a temporary basis. Cleo assumed that Mr Cope had gone away with the girl to avoid further confrontations with Mrs Cope and was now acting as her protector, or pimp, to use the common term.
***
The first surge of customers passed. Mary’s colleague arrived panting. She was new to the job having replaced Margie at short notice. She would be as good a recommendation for the food served there as Mary Busby was, though how two of them were going to find room to move between the bar and the row of fryers and other cookery devices at the same time was not clear to either of them. Still, the job centre had sent her for a trial month and if it didn’t work out, Mary Busby planned to ask her friend Glad to take on the job. Gladys was thin and scrawny though she could eat them all under the table.
***
After Mary had told Cleo all about the problem of finding good people to work in a chip-shop and how much she missed Margie, Cleo was able to ask her about the role Babsi Knowles could have played in Margie’s death.
“She bloody murdered her,” said Mary.
“Why do you think that?”
“Because Margie was fed up of paying through the nose for fattening-up pills that did not work. She only took them because she thought it would help sales here if she were nice and curvy.”
“So Miss Knowles did not just sell throat lozenges.”
“Lozenges, my eye. Babsi’s pills were only aspirin or water tablets, but no one believed me,” said Mary.
“Aren’t you afraid that Miss Knowles will kill you as well?”
“No. I told her I’ve left all the details of her trading with my lawyer. She’ll leave me alone.”
“And have you?”
“No, but she doesn’t know that, does she?”
“That’s true, but it’s a risk, Miss Busby.”
“Call me Mary if we are going to work together.”
“Are we?”
“Babsi Knowles has to be brought to justice, Miss Hartley.”
“You can call me Cleo, but I can’t promise anything.”
“You could give it a try though. I can pay.”
“You won’t have to pay, Mary. My husband is in charge of the case. The cops will pay me for helping you.”
“That’s all right then. Here’s my phone number,” she said, scribbling it on a serviette with the pen from behind her ear. “Handy, the pen. I sometimes have to let customers off paying, but I always make a note of who it is.”
“And they pay later, I suppose,” said Cleo.
“Or not at all. Donating a potato or two doesn’t hurt trade, Cleo.”
***
The object of Cleo’s visit had been to talk to Mary Busby. She was now convinced that Barbarella Knowles had something to do with Margie’s death. Mission to the chip-shop over, Cleo packed the promised lunch onto the back seat, got into her car and drove home. The identity parade would have to be followed by questioning Knowles, probably  officially.
 . 

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