“I did not come to see you, Miss Knowles,” said Cleo. ”Have you cleared up that business of Margie Busby with my husband?”
Gary’s little chat with Knowles was delayed until Cleo arrived. He was relieved when she turned up in his office after an uncomfortable few minutes alone with someone he could not fathom at all. Knowles was not pleased to see Cleo, but at least she had not made a pass at the Chief Inspector.
“What the hell is she doing here?” she sniped.
Knowles looked astonished. Were those two married to one another?
“Hell, I did not touch her. She went for me and tripped over a rock and fell over. Isn’t that what that forensic guy wrote?”
“You sound as if you have read the report, Miss Knowles,” said Gary.
“This place is as leaky as a colander and your internet security is nil,” said Knowles.
Gary was surprised that a woman like Knowles would be into IT and shocked that the HQ data was seemingly in the public domain.
“Did you hack the password yourself?” he asked. Something would have to happen if women like Knowles could help themselves to police data.
“Not this time. Mack was on the Mac. He just wanted to show me what’s possible. I did not let on that I understood.”
“So Mack gave you the link data, did he, Miss Knowles?”
“Not knowingly, so don’t get at the poor guy. It’s common knowledge in the….”
“…underworld?” completed Gary.
“… that HQ is an open book.”
“Not much longer,” said Gary. He realized that Miss Knowles was not the kind of criminal who took kindly to being questioned. Why had she given Mack away?
Cleo was having the same thoughts.
“Are you friendly with the Nortons, Miss Knowles?” she asked.
“Only superficially,” said Knowles.
Gary thought they might be in for a much more intricate questioning if Barbarella Knowles she was not working solo, but he would not complicate matters by delving now. He was quite sure that Miss Knowles knew how to save her own skin even if it meant trading knowledge of her criminally minded associates with the cops.
“To get back to the matter in hand: Was Margie Busby drunk?” said Cleo, and Gary reflected that Cleo’s technique of frontal attack was probably better in this situation than the soft-shoeing he had tried.
“Yes. She drank Russian vodka disguised as Scottish Highland water at every rehearsal. By the break she had usually all but drained the bottle. That was also in Chris Marlow’s report. Haven’t you read it?”
Gary ignored the dig.
“Vodka combined with the pills you sold her would make her unsteady on her feet, wouldn’t it?” he said.
“I never sold her any pills.”
“That does not mean she had not swallowed some that evening, Miss Knowles,” said Cleo.
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Was she blackmailing you?” Cleo asked.
Knowles looked surprised but Cleo had not unnerved her.
“What if she was?”
“That would be a motive to kill her, Miss Knowles. What did she want from you? Cleo asked.”
“Do you really want to know?”
Neither Cleo nor Gary was expecting the answer they got.
“Sex for secrets – or rather, keeping them.”
”What secrets?” said Gary, wondering whatever next. “It seems a strange sort of deal.”
“You know what sex is, surely,” said Knowles, looking at Gary as if sizing him up as a candidate for her attentions.
“I’ve had my moments,” said Gary, looking appreciatively at Cleo.
“Sex with whom, Miss Knowles?” Cleo asked.
“Anyone I could get for her. Margie was not choosy.”
“I don’t believe all this junk,” said Gary.
“It’s the truth.”
“So you deal in call-boys, too, do you, Miss Knowles?” said Cleo.
“I’m shocked,” said Gary, who was irritated by the turn the questioning had taken. Knowles noticed that he seemed perplexed.
“Come on, Mister, you weren’t born yesterday. I just bring people together. Gender is usually not specified.”
“OK. I can’t think of anything I want to ask you for the moment,” said Gary.
“Then I’ll go now,” said Knowles getting up. “I have things to do.”
“Can you come back tomorrow round 11 a.m.? I’d like to know more about the computer hacking, Miss Knowles. It’s quite alarming, don’t you think?”
“But useful,” said Knowles.
“Unfortunately,” said Gary.
“I must get going now. I have a client waiting,” said Knowles, walking out of the door.
So that’s what she calls them, Gary mused.
Cleo was not happy about Knowles leaving.
“Aren’t you going to stop her, Gary? She is obviously much better informed than I would have thought possible.”
“No. Barbarella is not going anywhere. She’s the kind who brazens it out. I should get her and Ed Fargo together and see what happens.”
“Maybe she knows him already,” said Cleo. “Maybe they are in business. I’d like to know what sort of business she does with the Norton brothers.”
“Drugs, I expect, but we’ve never had conclusive evidence of the Nortons being mixed up in that corner, thanks to the lack of hunting instinct in those old drugs guys,” said Gary. “Enquiries always collapse because the Norton confederates turn chicken at the thought that they too could be prosecuted. But they needn’t have worried. I’ve looked at the drug squad files, such as they are. They had very little evidence to go on. They were too afraid of risking their necks or at least damaging their pension prospects.”
“So you won’t pursue that link tomorrow,” said Cleo.
“I’d rather wait for the new drugs crew to practise their skills on the Nortons. Our main target now is to get Knowles on anything she has done that we can prove, don’t you think?”
“Sure, but she is a wily bird, Gary. Don’t underestimate her.”
“I won’t, but before tomorrow Chris will have to come up with some more forensic information and not enter it into the data base for all to read. I’ll invite Ed Fargo to Knowles’s interview. I’m sure you’d like to study the body language.”
“I sure would. You are really certain that she will come back, aren’t you?”
“Yes because if she doesn’t she thinks that I’ll think she’s guilty of something,” said Gary.
“Hey, that’s cool, Mister Hurley.”
“She’s a nasty piece of work – almost like a back street lawyer. I hope we’ll get off to a better start tomorrow from our point of view. We will also have combed through the Finch murder reports. She does not know that we are interested in her role in that killing, too, so she won’t have looked at those old reports. What a good job we do our brain-storming at home. I tip on her as the supplier of that toadstool poison if Phillis is anything to go by. Did I tell you about that?”
“No, but I can guess most of it,” said Cleo. “If she was in the Finch chorus she will have been aware of what was going on. I hope Phillis confirms her story.”
“So do I – on all counts.”
“Come to the canteen and meet Eve Fletcher. Her partner should be there by now. I’d like to know if Eve’s daughter is also Toby Bates’ daughter. Eve did not say she wasn’t. Bates was a sadistic brute up to his trial, Gary. He wanted to dispose of Eve rather than let her go to another man. Getting off free of her murder did something to his mind. I suppose he had a monster attack of guilty conscience. He never found out if Eve was still alive.”
“He won’t now either. That’s the only sure thing about this investigation.”
“This is my partner, Frank Ryan,” said Eve, introducing a wiry-looking fitness freak in his early sixties.
Cleo had been expecting a little man with grey hair dressed in a dapper business suit. Frank’s outfit was a jogging-jersey casual and his handshake was firm and enthusiastic, almost passionate. Quite a catch even at his age, thought Cleo. Eve was nice-looking but not a sports fiend. Cleo was always intrigued at what kept people together or pulled them apart as the case may be. It was not sport in this case.
“Nice to meet you,” said Gary, thinking he should restart his regular trips to the gym before he put on any more weight.
“Frank saved my life that day on the beach,” said Eve. “We’ve been together ever since.”
“That’s 30 years, isn’t it?” said Gary. “I hope my partnership lasts that long.”
“Or even a bit longer,” said Cleo.
“I’ll phone down and arrange for Sally to meet you in one of the offices,” said Gary to Eve and Frank.
A few minutes later he and Cleo were able to accompany the couple to an office where Sally was waiting and they all seemed overwhelmed to be together again.
“You can take her with you,” Gary said. “But please come back the day after tomorrow, Mrs Fargo.”
“I thought I was under arrest,” said Sally.
“You were being detained, but I think you should have time with your family,” said Gary. “We’re keeping your husband here, by the way. I have some paperwork to complete for your release, so please wait until my assistant brings it, otherwise you might have difficulty getting out of the building. You need a pass. Your parents still have them, I hope.”
“Thanks for everything,” said Frank Ryan. “We’ll drive Sally back on Wednesday morning if that’s OK.”
“That’s a good idea. The alternative is a police car and I’m sure you would rather not have to explain that to the neighbours.”
“If you’re ever in Bristol, come and visit me in my fitness gym, Mr Hurley.”
“I thought you ran a company,” said Cleo.
“I do,” said Frank, flexing a few muscles.
Gary took that as a pointed reference to his bordering on a less wiry frame.
“He’s always getting people to work-out, Mr Hurley,” said Eve. “Fortunately, he’s given up on me.”
“The middle-aged spread is not pretty,” said Frank. “Especially the paunch.”
“I’ll take you up on that invitation, Frank,” said Gary. “I’m getting to be a couch potato.”
“Most middle-aged men go that way,” said Frank. “Too many bottles of wine or beer and too much good food.”
Gary did not know whether to be hurt by Frank Ryan’s parting words. He decided he had better not think anything negative. He needed encouragement to go down the fitness track. A trip to Bristol would be also a golden opportunity to visit an old colleague there, and Cleo would be impressed by Gary’s willingness to do something for his figure. Meanwhile he had to get the pass issued for Mrs Fargo. That done, he could drive home with Cleo and get the dinner going if nobody else had. He would go jogging early next morning, he thought, though jumping out of a warm bed would be a terrible wrench.
Meanwhile, the evening at home with Cleo and the children stretched blissfully before Gary. It was like the light at the end of the tunnel. Cleo had pointed out the dangers of letting people free on the spur of the moment, but Gary had insisted that it was the right thing to do. HQ was work. Any more of it could wait until next day.
But the evening took a different turning, as so often in the Hurleys’ life. Hardly had Gary changed into jogging pants and done a few press-ups to find out if he still could, now albeit with twin boys bouncing on his back while he grunted and groaned and reflected that Frank Ryan was going to make mincemeat of him, when the phone rang. Gary was grateful for the interruption. It was Greg.
“Whose back, Greg?”
“Not his back. HE IS BACK. Are you going deaf?”
“Sometimes I think I am.”
“Oops. I should not have said that. Sorry,” said Greg.
“”Don’t mention it. Who are you talking about?”
“Dr Fargo, of course. Lights were burning everywhere and our friendly detective, Stan Butterworth, went to investigate knowing that the young Fargos are behind bars.”
Gary switched the speaker on and Cleo came hurriedly out of the kitchen.
“So he isn’t dead after all. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad.”
“Well, Gary, it does mean that Ed Fargo has one less crime to his name.”
“True. I suppose we could get him on trespass for starters. I expect old Dr Fargo would like that.”
“Don’t call him old, Gary. He’s apparently very sprightly and his girlfriend is half his age.”
“Probably a gold-digger,” said Cleo.
“Hi Cleo! So what?” said Greg, “if it makes him happy.”
“Hi Greg! You’re right. That was a tactless remark.”
“He did not know his nephew had moved in, but he found clothes and cosmetics. Unfamiliar clothing was draped on the airer and decided who it must belong to. He is apparently hopping mad.”
“I was getting back into my comfort zone with Ed Fargo,” said Gary. “He was going to be passed on to the public prosecutor on the Toby Bates’ case.”
“You can still do that, Gary. He did kill Toby Bates, didn’t he?”
“If I can get proof, yes, but Sally Fargo’s evidence is not really enough. We don’t have the poisoned wine. We’ll have to assume that Ed Fargo really did not know where his uncle was, and we can’t prove that he was going to kill him when he reappeared.”
“If Mrs Fargo has revealed information, she’s in danger, Gary.”
“I know that. We’ll have to keep Ed Fargo behind bars. Sally Fargo has gone to Bristol to be with her parents until Wednesday. If the Knowles and Fargo interviews are fruitful tomorrow, I can tell her to stay there for the time being. I don’t think Ed Fargo knows where the parents are. If necessary she could go to Dublin. Then she’s really out of the way.”
“But didn’t Mrs Fargo give Bates’ the alcohol?”
“She did not know what the bottle really contained at the time, Greg. She thought it was an act of kindness,” said Cleo.
“Some kindness. I don’t know whether to believe Mrs Fargo’s story,” said Greg. “What about Knowles? What are you going to charge her with?”
“Drug trafficking, probably, but possibly murder. She was definitely involved in the soup case. In fact, according to her new girlfriend she brewed the poison herself.”
“Who is the girlfriend?”
“Robert Jones’s assistant, Phillis.”
““How did you find that out, Gary?”
“Coincidence. I had dealing with Phillis a while back. She had worked once for Robert and was back again. She was very chatty.”
“Is she reliable?”
“I think so. Perjury is not her thing these days. She has a kid to rear. I should not think she wants to get mixed up in any sleaze. She would rather tell on the girlfriend.”
“You seem to be relying on that evidence, Gary.”
“So would you, if I were to tell you that the girlfriend is none other than Barbarella Knowles.”
“Brilliant. I’ll be there tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to hear what Knowles has to say.”
“Neither can I. I sent her home today. She thinks all is hunky-dory, as my mother-in-law would say.”
“Should I be reserving a search party?” said Greg.
“She’ll turn up.”
“Faith is a fine thing,” said Greg.