“I’ll take care of things since I’m home this morning,” he had told Cleo.
Gary’s day included letting Ed Fargo stew in his arrest cell, probably trying to convince a defence lawyer that he had not done anything wrong. Staying at home was a luxury Gary appreciated. Monday mornings did not really allow for it, but Chief Inspector Gary Hurley was the boss of his department, after all, and there was the admin to see to.
“There’s only the babies, Gary.
“I’ll take them for a walk,” he said.
“Are you sure you can manage two babies at once, Gary?”
“Sure as houses.”
Gary’s stroll was not quite without an ulterior motive. As soon as Cleo had left for the chip shop, he made straight for Robert’s shop where he wanted to buy rump steaks for supper and tear a strip off Gloria, Cleo’s mother, who seemed to be too busy to spend quality time with her grandchildren.
Gloria was not there. Instead, an old acquaintance and former assistant at the shop was serving the customers.
“Why Phillis, what brings you here?” said Gary. “Where’s Gloria?”
“We share the job,” said Phillis. “Now I have a son, I can only do mornings and that is nice for Gloria, since she prefers to get up late.”
“Are you married to that guy with the sports car now?” Gary asked, knowing that Cleo would have.
“No. He fathered the kid and then skedaddled,” Phillis explained. “I had a girlfriend now. Much nicer, but she was for the high jump, too. ”
“Oh,” said Gary. “Why?”
“She used me cruelly, Sergeant. She used my accommodation for evil purposes.”
Gary thought that was a bit rich coming from a person who was arguably on the edge of criminality.
“Actually it’s Chief Inspector,” he said. “Do I know her?”
“How should I know? You’re not a Finch Lady, are you,” Phillis said, eying Gary in what he thought was a very lascivious way.
Phillis commented briefly that she actually preferred women because they couldn’t get you pregnant, though she was now giving Gary what he thought was a ‘come-and-get-me’ look. He was not flattered. Her earlier suitors had to his knowledge included a nervously sweating organist who had ditched her for his Welsh mother after Phillis’s Mr Muscle had left her pregnant and roared off in his tuned-up sports machine. Gary was not flattered to be included in her list of potential conquests.
“Who’s paying for the kid, Phillis?” he said.
“That would be telling,” said Phillis, who was cashing in support from more than one ‘father’, which did not include the organist for fear of his Welsh mother, but an array of lovers from the local disco. Phillis was not young, but she was willing.
Gary was amused at her ostensible coyness. If the men were that careless, it was their problem. This kid needed all the financing it could get.
“Forget that question, Phillis. Kids cost money.”
Phillis smiled and came round the counter to admire Max and Mathilda.
“Those are your kids, aren’t they?” she said. “From that dark-skinned woman, I expect. They are very cute.”
“Right in one and there are more than just two.”
“I know three, I think. They are with my son in the nursery. Nice-looking kids, Mr Hurley. You’re not so bad yourself for your age.”
“Thanks,” said Gary. “Let me return the compliment.”
Since Phillis was more tatty than trendy, Gary was forced to cross his fingers behind his back to excuse than little white lie.
Back to your girlfriend, Phillis. Is she one of the Finch Ladies? You are, aren’t you?”
“I was, but not anymore.”
Gary was not sure if he’d been expecting Phillis to say that, but now she had, the soup case had possibly turned the corner, to coin a phrase, If Phillis knew something about the incident it was time to get her to reveal it.
“Oh, that was only food-poisoning,” he explained.
“It bloody killed two, didn’t it?”
“One died of a heart attack and the other was smothered, Phillis. They did not die of mushroom soup.”
“Smothered? In the hospital? And me at home waiting.”
“Waiting for what?
“My girlfriend that was. I don’t like sleeping alone.”
“I know what you mean,” said Gary, wondering about the girlfriend’s absence. If Knowles was the girlfriend, it meant that she had no alibi for the whole of that night. He would get Cleo to ask her some questions that might reveal inconsistencies and be the break they had been hoping for.
“I thought the stuff we bought from Babsi was vitamins and minerals, Inspector,” sniffed Phillis. “Then next morning the grapevine said some of the ladies were in hospital.”
Gary could hardly believe his ears. Was he really being treated to some sort of a confession? Cleo should find out more about the grapevine.
“So you added it to the soup, did you?”
Phillis looked conscience-stricken, which was in Gary’s view an achievement since her conscience had in the old days switched off whenever she packed unpaid-for meat and sausages into her capacious handbag. Robert had laughed and said it was OK, but it was theft on no small scale from an assistant who was earning quite a good wage. Robert had surmised that she had to feed all her lovers, assuring Gary that he was not likely to become one of them.
“Who told you to do that, Phillis?”
“Babe,” she answered enigmatically. “It was to help the singing. But I didn’t eat any of the soup. It smelt funny, Inspector.”
It dawned on Gary who the girlfriend was. Had a quiet stroll with his babies led to a crime or two being solved?
“I expect your girlfriend got the liquid from someone without knowing what it was,” said Gary, provoking Phillis to say more.
“She knew. She made it up herself. Said she always made her own medicine. Stewed herbs and things, but guaranteed without rats. Her grandmother was a white witch. Babe always says it’s a pity you can’t brew anabolics, whatever they are.”
“That makes sense,” said Gary, noting that Phillis had again called the woman by one of her several nicknames. He wondered if he should take further steps now. He decided not to since he needed Cleo at his side if it was going to get really dramatic, and a police colleague if he wanted to haul her in. He bought some nice steaks and let Phillis keep the change. The less he commented, the less forewarned Phillis would be. Now it really was high time to take Miss Knowles to task.
“You’re not going to arrest me, are you, Inspector?”
“Do you want me to?”
”I haven’t done anything.”
“Of course you haven’t. I’d better get the babies home. They need a feed.”
“Pumping off, is she?”
“Not any more,” said Gary. “Banana cereal and fennel tea for lunch. I’ll let you into a little secret, Phillis.”
There is nothing like winning over someone or lulling them into security by telling them a secret.
“My wife’s having another,” he said, thinking with satisfying schadenfreude that Robert would get to know as soon as he put in an appearance.
“Isn’t she too old?” said Phillis.
“Obviously not,” said Gary.
“Well, enjoy it while you can,” said Phillis, and Gary pushed his twins home with those parting words ringing in his ears. Whatever had driven him to that shop, he had come away a wiser man.
Cleo’s account of her visit to the chip-shop had tears of laughter pouring down Gary’s cheeks. The very idea of Cleo queuing up in a backstreet chip-shop bordered on satire as much as the impromptu hiring of her investigative services to trace the profligate daughter of a woman who had stood by and let her new husband molest the girl and groom her for prostitution though the girl thought they were on their way to Hollywood. Gary shelved his intention of telling Cleo that the soup case was solved for the moment. He would surprise Cleo with Phillis’s damning revelation at the Knowles questioning.
“I’d like to send Nigel to find the girl. Will that be possible?” Cleo wanted to know.
“Good experience for him and he’s in no danger among hookers,” said Gary. “I don’t think feminine charms – except yours and Dorothy’s on a spiritual level – mean anything to him. Very frustrating for those reception girls at HQ, but far better than a Casanova dying to get out of the office to pursue his current quarry.”
“That’s settled then,” said Cleo.
“I assume you are not sending him to darkest Africa,” said Gary. “I’d hate to think of him ending up in a cauldron.”
“No. The best place to learn the job round here is at the station, so I’ll send him there. The hookers line up in dark corners waiting for their prey. Look at the photo Mrs Cope gave me. It leaves little to the imagination.”
“the girl looks promiscuous so I expect she is,” said Gary.
“She’s 15. That makes abducting her illegal. He is not taking her out on a jaunt, whatever he has promised her.”
“Better get onto it right away, Cleo. Give Nigel a copy of the photo and instructions and I’ll get a stand-in for him, maybe Mia Curlew.”
”I thought she was taking time off this week to catch up on some family life now her husband and son are finally here.”
“She has caught up and is off the beat, Cleo. Six months gone. That came as a complete surprise to me. Any congenial office job is the best thing that can happen to her and it frees Nigel for other missions.”
“What’s she doing now?”
“Helping out with Roger and his colleague on the top floor from today.”
“That’s office work.”
“But apparently very boring, she tells me, having gone through a trial awhile back. It’s all about administration and hobnobbing with the town hall. There is desperate fund-raising going on in aid of financing a new drug squad.”
“That’s a good idea and she’s in on the negotiations now if she stays there.”
“She won’t get a say. All she can do is drop hints that new operatives are not of pensionable age. The last team was not street-wise enough. If you persuade them to work for you, ex junkies and dealers make the best snoops and can act as crown witnesses if called upon to do so. They’ve learnt their lessons the hard way and would prefer not to land in jug again. The old guys from the drug squad could not cope.”
“Talking of drugs, Knowles may be peddling more than just diuretics or aspirin.”
“I can’t arrest someone for peddling harmless pills, Cleo,” said Gary, thinking that he should tell her about Phillis after all. Cleo stole his thunder..
“You can if she’s charging snow and ecstasy prices for them and might even have some hard drugs on sale, too,” said Cleo. “Or she may even have concocted them herself.”
“Fraud would be another feather in Knowles’s cap, but I should pass her on to the guys on the first floor for that. They’dl be delighted.”
“I expect Miss Knowles has a catalogue of misdemeanours,” said Cleo. “She broke a guy’s arm throwing him out of that gay women’s club. They called it assault and battery and her defence was that she was only doing her job.”
“Wasn’t he dressed as a woman?”
“It takes one to know one, Gary.”
“Never. Knowles does not qualify as a cross-dresser Those individuals are often better looking than the genuine object.”
“Even if the guy was transgender, there was no need to beat him up.”
“I can’t wait to meet this dragon again,” said Gary. “Or is he a drag-queen?”
“What if? You’ll get to experience her charms in half an hour’s time if all the other showgirls have arrived.”
“I’ll phone and check,” said Gary. “Nigel’s in charge.”
“He’ll know what gender they all are,” said Cleo.
The time for telling on Phillis had passed.
A few minutes later Cleo and Gary greeted the Crightons and accompanied them to the observation room. From there they could see the ‘candidates’ through one-way glass. Cleo was sure they would choose Knowles, who was as modestly dressed and decently made up as she would have been to visit the Crightons. Nothing of the drag queen about her, thought Cleo. The Crightons were positive that Knowles had been their visitor.
Gary went round to thank the other ‘candidates’ and invited Knowles to his office for a chat, relieved that she looked what he called ‘normal’.
“I’m short of time,” she said.
“This shouldn’t take long, Miss Knowles, but I have to insist.”
Gary led the way to his office while Cleo had a chat with the Crightons in the canteen. They did not tell her anything they had not told Dorothy. Then she accompanied them to the main exit explaining that she had another client and would be in touch about the woman they had identified.
Cleo was just about pass reception to go up to Gary’s office when Eve Fletcher walked into HQ. She was easily recognizable as Sally Fargo’s mother. Cleo introduced herself and invited the woman to have coffee with her in the canteen, explaining that her office was not ready to move into yet and anyway, she needed a coffee, which wasn’t strictly true, since she had just drunk several with the Crightons.
“I’m glad you were able to come, Ms Fletcher.”
“I was curious. What’s it all about, Miss Hartley?” she replied, examining the business card Cleo had just handed to her. “What would interest a sociologist about me these days?”
“I combine social work with investigations. I told you about Toby Bates, didn’t I. Miss Fletcher? I need to ask you more about him.”
“He’s dead and he means nothing to me,” said Eve. “I don’t want to remember anything about him.”
“I wish you could overcome that barrier, Ms Fletcher. You would help your daughter if you did.”
“Shall we use first names?” said Eve.
“Sure. Glad to. I’ll explain the situation, shall I?”
“I can understand that you would contact me since I am the nearest next of kin, at least on paper. But where does my daughter come in?”
“The police are dealing with cases that are probably linked, Eve.”
“Let me update my situation first then.”
“Go ahead Eve,”
Eve was actually quite glad to talk at last about a time in her life that she had remembered as part of a nightmare. Toby had been out of her life when her daughter came into the world. She had not known about Sally’s marriage until recently. What kind of a person had Sally married? She had never volunteered to introduce him.
“I don’t think you’ve missed much, Eve. He’s a nasty individual.”
“Tell me more.”
“Ed Fargo was married to a hooker and lived on her earnings. He met Sally and started an affair with her – at least, I think that’s the order of events.”
“He ran over his first wife driving backwards out of their drive and Sally just happened to be on the scene and swore that it was an accident. Thanks to Sally’s evidence he was acquitted of what was probably murder and soon after they married. I have no idea whether she thought Mr Fargo was committing murder or really had backed into his wife by accident, but that would not really make any difference now and I know the reason he was glad to be rid of her. I expect he was indebted to Sally.
“You mean for getting him off the hook,” said Eve, “Whether or not it was the truth.”
“Yes. I suspect that a dwindling cash flow was the reason Ed Fargo decided to groom Sally to take over the home business of soliciting. It’s possible that he married her for that reason rather than out of gratitude. It’s the lover-boy thing for adult women.”
“Explain that in more detail please, Cleo.”
“Young girls grow into prostitution when the guy they think of as theirs tells them a sob story about money shortage. They are willing make up the gap with prostitution. Sally was unaware of the first wife’s occupation, or so she said, and shocked at Ed Fargo’s plans for her that he only revealed after they were married, of course. ”
“She’s a decent person, Cleo.”
“Married to a crook and loyal to him until she realized what he is really like.”
“I was never into anything immoral,” said Eve. “My marriage was terrible. Toby Bates was cruel and sadistic. I more or less fell into the arms of a genuinely nice man. We started having an affair. We were made for one another, Cleo, and we are still together.”
“I know that feeling, Eve. I had two wrong marriages before I got into the right one.”
“Toby got wind of my affair and I learnt later that he had decided to kill me rather than letting me go.”
“How did you find that out?”
“I just thought back to the number of times he had done vile things. I found crushed razor-blade in my night cream, for instance. It didn’t just walk there. He wanted to see me suffer. The night cream was on my bedside table and I often smeared it on in the dark.”
“That is a mild example of his wickedness, Cleo. I knew him to be possessive and there had been many violent incidents, usually when he’d been drinking. I had confided in my new friend, but I tried to behave normally with Toby while I decided what to do about my marriage.”
“At the latest, you should have called the police when you discovered the razor blade in your face cream.”
“I was lucky that time because I had the light on and rubbed cream into my hands first, cutting the skin viciously.”
“That was evidence enough against Mr Bates.”
“I know that now, Cleo. On the day Toby invited me to go for a walk along the beach, my friend was actually on the beach with his dog. He recognized us, but I did not see him. My friend witnessed us digging a hole in the sand. I thought it was a game and joined in thinking that Toby had turned over a new leaf, but my friend interpreted what was going on as part of a horrible plot to dispose of me and set his dog on Toby. It chased him a long way down the beach. My friend dragged me away and I hid in his car. I can’t truthfully say that I had the feeling that I had been walking into a trap. Frank walked down the beach until he found his dog while I crouched in the back of his car under a blanket. Toby had fortunately not seen him because he had eventually turned back to that hole. He must have wondered what had happened to me and it is just possible that he thought I had gone into the sea and drowned.”
“You must have been scared, Eve. Did you really think he was going to kill you that day?”
“I don’t know. He kept asking me to try the hole for size. He was laughing, so l laughed too. There were a few dogs around but no owners. I did not see Frank until he appeared as from nowhere and we scrambled to his car. He left me to find his dog. We drove to Dublin next day. My daughter was born there and I knew I would be safe with his family. Days after getting to Dublin I heard on the news that Toby had been accused of murder and had said I drowned while trying to rescue a dog, which was of course a lie, but one he might even have believed. Was he going to bury me alive if my friend had not interfered?”
“It sounds far-fetched, but drowning while trying to rescue a dog was a reasonable explanation of your disappearance, Eve.”
“He was acquitted for lack of evidence. My body was never found, of course, because I had long since escaped. He did not know if I was dead or alive.”
“What about the wedding ring, Eve? He carried yours around in a trinket box.”
“I gave it to him to because he thought it might be damaged or lost in the sand. He took his off, too. I had no reason to wonder about that. No alarm bells or anything.”
“Something must have happened in Bates’s mind when you did not turn up again and he found he was on trial for murder.”
“Something – whether it was shock or just a guilty conscience - made him leave for destination unknown, I heard later,” said Eve. “While he was awaiting trial, I changed my appearance and came back to the house in Weston. I had come to clear his name, but being in the house reminded me of how evil he really was, so I left and never went back there. As I said, Sally was born in Dublin.”
“Was it Toby’s child, Eve?”
“I hope not.”
“Why didn’t you just leave him?”
“Because he said he would hunt me down and kill me if I did.”
“Did he know about the baby?”
“I did not tell him.”
“We’ll do a DNA test. We have DNA taken from Bates and can compare it with Sally’s. We don’t know all the facts yet, but Ed Fargo’s uncle owns a large villa on the outskirts of town, and we are sure that the guy was already planning to kill him, assuming he was still alive when the young Fargos arrived at the villa. At the moment we don’t know where he is.”
“Who is ‘we’, Cleo?”
That’s my husband, Eve. Chief Inspector Gary Hurley. He’s head of homicide here. Sorry. I should have explained that earlier.”
“Ed Fargo must be a villain.”
“He had got away with one murder, Eve. He was probably confident about his plan.”
“He’s in an arrest cell, Eve The uncle, a retired doctor, was nowhere to be seen when they arrived, Sally said, and she had never met him, so her confirmation of Ef Fargo’s identification of the tramp was actually a fabrication. Ed Fargo knew his uncle, of course. There are many unanswered questions, Eve.”
“Was Dr Fargo already dead and his body dumped somewhere? We don’t know. Ed Fargo had persuaded Sally to give Bates, who was living the life of a tramp, poisoned wine and it killed him alongside a blow on the head which may have been caused by his fall or inflicted to make him fall. If our theory is right, Ed Fargo planned all along to identify Bates as his uncle and legally inherit the house as the only family Dr Fargo had.”
“It’s a monstrous plan, Cleo. He must have looked for the right type of person to stand in for his uncle.”
“I’m not sure whether Sally realized that she was being used as an accomplice. Dr Fargo has disappeared, alive or dead. We assume that if Dr Fargo did turn up and if Ed Fargo was on the loose, he would be killed and disposed of then, a corpse already having been identified as the uncle, even if the identification proved false. It must have been the plan before Bates was accurately identified. But we don’t know if Dr Fargo reappeared, discovered that his villa had been taken over, and was killed then.”
“So Dr Fargo could still be alive. Are the police looking for him?”
“They don’t know where to start. My agency is looking for a woman with whom the uncle is supposed to have been friendly. We don’t know the woman’s name and that information came from the cleaner at the villa who had designs on ‘her’ doctor.”
“Could she have killed him, Cleo?”
“I doubt it. She was living in the hope of moving into the villa one day.”
“Where is my daughter now, Cleo?”
“She’s in an arrest cell, but separate from her husband.”
“She’s in danger, isn’t she?”
“That’s what we think.”
“Can I talk to her?”
“Sure. Can you wait here while I arrange something?”
“I may need half an hour. I promised to be at a questioning.”
“That’s fine. I can read my book. Take your time. Frank is coming to collect me. He’ll be interested in all the new information.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting him.”