Read A Meeting of Minds Online

Authors: Clare Curzon

A Meeting of Minds (10 page)

BOOK: A Meeting of Minds
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
‘It wasn't so bad for a while, but I – I had health problems and was in hospital for a while. School gave up on me. I drifted
around at home, thought I might try for Uni, messed that up, and that's when Marty happened along.'
Z nodded. He could be two or three years older than she'd supposed. There was something Peter Pan about him.
The boy's mouth screwed in a sort of twisted pleasure. ‘He took me on as a remittance man – you know how the no-good son was proverbially pensioned off as a family embarrassment. Well, Marty is entrusted to hold my reins and purse-strings,
in loco parentis.'
His voice had become bitter. Whatever their normal relationship, it seemed that Marty, as guardian-gaoler, was presently out of favour. Z decided to divert the boy's spleen. ‘That makes your father sound a pretty lonely man.'
Neil made a grimace of distaste. ‘That's how he wants it. He doesn't need people. He has money, and the family paper mill that I wouldn't go into if they first chewed me to pulp.
‘We can't talk; never could' He was silent a moment searching for the measure of their apartness. ‘You see, all his big things are little things. He doesn't
do anything;
only ever rhubarbed on and on. With nobody listening.'
Z nodded sympathetically. She could imagine the set-up: inherited wealth and the successful family firm into which the son was to be automatically fed. And after the man's shock at his wife's death, his son's later breakdown; a pitiful inability to express whatever feelings he had.
She wondered what sort of illness Neil had suffered. That might be significant if she needed to follow up the boy's background. But there'd hardly be any connection between him and the dead Sheila Winter. Their paths had barely crossed.
When he seemed to have talked himself out they sat silent for a few minutes. He looked uneasy, as if already regretting his willingness to open up.
Smiling, she stood up and held out her hand. ‘You know, I'm so glad there's someone else young in this building. That's cheered me up. I was feeling a bit forlorn. Especially now the
damned boiler's gone dud on me. That's what I was hoping you could advise me on.'
He didn't take the proffered hand but he uncurled from his chair and stood staring, half-puzzled. Then the ends of his mobile mouth twitched upwards. She read his expression as one of relief. ‘Sure,' he said. ‘I get the feeling we're going to be buddies.'
He followed her down the back stairs, through the utility room and into the main hall. The wire basket affixed to the front door was crammed with letters. Z lifted them out and dumped them, unsorted, on Beattie's antique table. Then they took the grand staircase to the gallery. Z's apartment door stood wide open and she led him straight into the kitchen, waving an arm to offer the freedom of the wall-hung boiler. ‘Gone dead on me,' she said.
‘Um,' said the boy, inspecting its outside. ‘This looks the same kind as ours.'
‘Does that mean you're familiar with its workings?'
He looked doubtful. ‘Well, I got the thing going when we first arrived, and it hasn't gone duff on us yet. OK if I take off the casing?'
‘Help yourself,' She perched on the kitchen table as audience, while he knelt on the working surface to wrestle with the thing. It took him a few minutes of inspecting and tapping, then he gave a little cluck of satisfaction. ‘It's the electrickery. See?'
There followed a series of clicks and on one of them the gas jet briefly fired. He removed a small, squarish unit which he waved in her direction.
She looked bemused. ‘Is it serious? I can't stand any more expense! This flat has about finished me.'
‘The thing must still be under guarantee. Anyway, I can fix it. Just a bent pin in the relay. It hasn't burnt through, or anything drastic.'
It took him less time to have the pin straightened than she had spent twisting it. It didn't occur to him to speculate how
the damage had come about. He replaced the casing and got down, grinning.
‘That was so kind. I don't know how I'd have managed without you.' She grinned back, relishing the irony that Bob-the-Builder Perrin was in the house, calling on Beattie.
Neil sketched an extravagant, cavalier bow and slapped the wall beside them. ‘Our kitchen must be just on the other side. Let's knock a hole through and cut out the journey by two stairways. What do you say?'
She was saved from answering by the warbling of her mobile in the next room. She went through hoping that if it was a work call she'd give nothing away, with the boy still in earshot.
She recognised Dr Fenner's dry voice. He was hoping to call and look through his daughter's papers. While he was in the area he'd need to contact Sheila's solicitor. Would it be a great imposition to ask her to let him in and stay throughout? ‘A third person present could avoid – or minimise – any unpleasantness with my ex-wife.'
‘I'd be glad to help in any way,' she offered. It was a slice of luck. If the chance presented itself she would also go with him to the solicitor's. Any hint of what the dead woman's will contained could prove important for the investigation.
‘Ring my bell and I'll let you in,' she offered. ‘It's the one marked R. Weyman: a mistake of the builder's, which I've never corrected.'
‘In twenty minutes? Would that be convenient?'
‘Perfectly. I'm free all day.'
As she cut the phone Neil sidled through the archway from the kitchen. ‘Some lousy guy's stolen a march on me.'
‘It looks that way. But it's Sheila Winter's father. I must do what I can.'
‘A right little pair of do-gooders today, aren't we?'
‘Afraid so, but I must let you see yourself home. I'll have to change into something less comfortable.'
Again she was treated to the elastic grin. ‘I'll take my
payment now, though.' He wrapped her in a bear hug and kissed her on both cheeks, then stayed there nuzzling her hair. ‘I always had a taste for older women,' he said wickedly, winked and was gone.
When Z went down to let Dr Fenner in she saw that the mail had been neatly sorted into five piles, but Martin Chisholm's had not been removed.
Bear-like today in his heavy overcoat, Superintendent Mike Yeadings sat slumped in a corner of the briefing room as jabbering voices died away on DI Salmon's entrance. His head thumped and he was reconciled to the first real stinker of a cold for the season. It had been Nan's intention that Sally's half-term week spent in Madeira's sunshine should set them all up for the rigours of an English winter. In his case it seemed to have had the reverse effect, softening him up for the dank discomforts of their return.
Today the fog promised to lift by midday, thinning only to reveal a widespread silvering of frost on ground and rooftops. Cars left exposed outside had needed chipping out: which was another first for the season.
Some austere authority had decreed a turning down of the nick's thermostats at night, and the indoor atmosphere had yet to recover. DI Salmon looked more unprepossessing than ever in layers of dun-coloured sweaters and scarf, the downturned corners of his mouth aptly fishlike. He slammed a file down on the desk and growled for attention.
His day had started badly when he found the Mondeo's battery flat. It hadn't helped that he'd left the sidelights on overnight. Then someone had moved the starter connections needed for him to power up off Cecily's Toyota. He'd wasted another seven minutes searching for the bloody things.
When eventually he arrived at the nick everyone's chatter had suddenly ceased as suspiciously blank faces were turned on him. He didn't cut an impressive figure, and today his insistence on punctuality had rebounded; but let them show by the flicker of an eyelash that they would make capital out of it and he'd hand out some ball-breaker tasking.
He glared at the whiteboard where a blown-up studio photograph of Sheila Winter was displayed. Underneath he had a
trainee PC thumb-tack a dozen eight-by-ten shots of the pub car park at Henley; the Vauxhall Vectra; the dead body slumped in the driving seat; and close-ups of the main injuries. He reeled off a description of Sheila Winter's background, including the London address, the more recent one at Ashbourne House and her interest in the Greenvale Garden Centre. He followed this with a summary of post mortem findings simplified for the non-technical.
‘What we must concentrate on now are her movements on Saturday night. We need witnesses to confirm the swapping of her car with Barry Childe's, and any sightings of either car later. And yes, that name should ring a bell. I want anything further you can get on him, which hasn't already come up in court or on a charge sheet. It's no help that the only clear dabs found in the car were hers and his. He's bright enough to have engineered the exchange. We need to find out if her Alfa Romeo's defect was one he might have had a hand in.
‘As you should all know by now, he was recently taken on as Ms Winter's general manager at the centre, given the post only three weeks after being released. He claims she knew of his criminal record. Especially we need to follow up his gardening chums in the slammer, especially any recently let out who could be continuing drugs-related interests. It seems he fancies becoming a local cannabis supplier. DS Beaumont will wise you up on details later. Find out who's likely to be supplying seed and covering distribution.'
‘Couldn't both be the dead woman?' said a voice from the back. ‘She'd have had the right contacts, and it looks suss, taking on an old lag.'
‘Who's that?' Salmon demanded. ‘Stick a hand up. Right, what's your name?'
‘DC Silver, sir.'
‘So that's your line to follow, Silver. Poke around at the centre, make friends in the canteen there. Tea ladies are never short of gossip.'
He scowled around at the others. ‘Any more bright ideas?
No? Then it's back to the hard slog. Sergeant Byng as allocator will draw up the teams and task them. Sergeant Maybury is office manager for the incident room. I'll be in charge of analysis.
‘I don't want to catch anyone slacking on this, and I'll be close on your heels. Any information, however slight, is to be reported to me personally, instanter. I'll decide what goes on to NPC. Understand?'
He hadn't checked with Yeadings whether there was any other matter to raise, but the omission didn't trouble the superintendent unduly. He was there mainly to get the measure of the new man. From his corner he watched Salmon gather up the pages he'd spread from his file and prepare to leave, still studiously ignoring his presence. Clearly he regarded a Senior Investigating Officer as a drag or a numbskull. Possibly both.
A more sinister aspect was that Salmon might clamp down on the extended team's initiative. Yeadings rose to his feet. ‘There are some promising lads there,' he said comfortably, moving towards the door. ‘You'll get to appreciate them before you're through.'
Salmon gave him an offended stare. ‘I hope I'll not be here that long. It doesn't look a complicated case.'
So it seemed he'd already picked his suspect, and would be going all out to slap Barry Childe back in the slammer.
‘The family angle,' Yeadings murmured, ‘is being tackled at present by DS Zyczynski; which is why she didn't attend.'
‘Who?' Salmon seemed genuinely not to remember the name. Then light dawned. ‘Oh, the foreign girl made up to DS. She's dealing with the parents? Good. That should keep her from under our feet.'
She would have enjoyed hearing that, Yeadings thought; but it wouldn't do to pass on all his DI's idiocies to the underlings. Team loyalty, and so on. He sighed. ‘She's British. Her grandfather was a wartime pilot with the Free Polish. Won a DFC, so I heard. Rosemary's inherited a lot of his gusto.'
Salmon's lip curled. The old boy was clearly soft on her.
‘We don't call her that.' Yeadings instantly regretted letting it slip. ‘In the job she's simply “Z”. Nobody can manage the rest of her name without accessing Spell Check.'
He nodded casually and made to leave. It would be a day or two before he'd be sharing his good mocha with the man. Nobody could just slide into Angus Mott's vacated space. Even allowing for that, he felt he hadn't deserved a replacement with tunnel vision.
In the corridor, he turned back. ‘Team Rule One:' he said mildly, but fixing Salmon with a hard stare. ‘Of everything that comes your way, a copy will immediately be passed to me. With the time of receipt noted. And that is
For a moment Salmon looked taken aback, opened his mouth to speak, then closed it and grunted. ‘Right, Boss.'
Yeadings bowled off towards his office. And he needn't imagine I won't be checking, he promised himself. He peeled off his overcoat, refilled the percolator, sniffed twice at a decongestant inhaler.
On his desk-pad was a note: ‘Please ring path lab.' He picked up a phone and asked to be connected to Littlejohn, who answered in person.
‘Ah, Mike, I managed to retrieve the elusive fur coat belonging to your stabbed lady. An expensive item once, mink, female skins. It's not so valuable now, of course, with all those rips. Rewarding, though, to the suspicious eye.'
‘You found something?'
‘Had it put back on the body. No prizes for guessing why I like it so much.'
‘The holes don't match up with the injuries?' Yeadings hazarded.
‘Holed in one, as you might say. And the bloodstains in the lining told tales under the microscope. They were from her, but not present through natural seepage. More like
applications, smeared on after the act. Your lady was almost certainly stabbed in the buff, then her coat slashed, daubed, and used to cover her in transit.
‘You'll be getting the full report, with precise measurements, in due course, but I thought you'd like this direct from the horse's mouth.'
Yeadings thanked him, agreed that he sounded to be starting a cold, declined a luncheon invitation for Sunday owing to family commitments, and rang off. As he enjoyed his coffee he considered the new information.
As yet, no underclothes had been found, so it still seemed likely that Sheila Winter had either been with a lover or a would-be rapist, although no sexual activity had occurred. The separate slashing of the coat, and its replacing after her killing, might be a clumsy attempt to cast suspicion in a totally different direction – on a mugger, or even animal rights activists.
In his brief tour of the garden centre with the dead woman's father he had noticed an arrow indicating an aquarium and pet shop. Staff there, or correspondence files, should give details of any threats, or accusations of cruelty to the animals.
This little tangent had a certain attraction for Yeadings, opening new possibilities. He determined to spread the enquiry as widely as resources permitted. His new DI might well be mistaken in expecting a straightforward case.
Another article missing was the dead woman's handbag, which should have contained some form of identification. Reports from the searchers at her flat had listed three, of different colours, all empty. So far, Sheila's mother had been unable to describe the one she would have taken with her. That meant that if and when it did turn up it might provide some clue leading directly to the killer.
He poured a second cup. The room was warming up, and he with it. The long radiator under the window gave a reassuring gurgle. As he sipped appreciatively it seemed that already his cold was clearing a little. Perhaps no more than a stuffy sinus after all.
At Ashbourne House Z had paved Dr Fenner's way, apologetically breaking in on Beattie's
with Frank Perrin and advising her of the state of play. Frank seized his cap to make a quick getaway.
Beattie was still in her pink, quilted dressing-gown and fluffy slippers. ‘Sat up late,' she excused herself. ‘Watching a late night film. Loada rubbish. Can't think why I did.'
‘Less bother than going to bed?' Z suggested.
‘Guess so. Not the only nightbird about, though. That Paul Wormsley wasn't back until after one, and another car came in long after that. Musta been Mr Chisholm's. Anyway, why aren't you off to work, then?'
‘I'm to look after Dr Fenner this morning. As he's coming here, I hoped you might persuade Vanessa to leave the flat free for him to go through his daughter's things.'
‘Didn't seem like he needed looking after. Bit of a cold fish, that one. Even made me feel a bit sorry for Vanessa.' She gave Z a straight look. ‘And that takes some doing.'
‘I'm sorry we dropped her on you; and now I'm having to ask again.'
‘Seems like there's nobody else, don't it? I'll just get me togs on.'
Beattie dressed quickly, dabbed on fresh lipstick and went up to hustle Vanessa off-scene with the promise of breakfast in her downstairs, cosy kitchen. Vanessa Winter, barely awake, was too muzzy to override the sudden rumbustious activity. She made little protest at being bundled into a kaftan and shepherded out, unaware of her front door being left unlocked behind them.
Z threw a coat over her shoulders and waited for the visitor outside, to prevent his driving round to the rear where he might be spotted from Beattie's kitchen windows. Dr Fenner arrived promptly. He looked tense, but his craggy features relaxed on learning that he would have the Winter apartment to himself. ‘Except, of course, for me,' Z warned.
He gave her a searching look. ‘As I requested. But today
you're wearing your other hat, so to speak. Representing the police. Of what am I a suspect, sergeant?'
‘Nothing,' she said promptly. ‘Consider my presence a part of the service.'
For the first time she saw him smile and recognised that he wouldn't have been totally awesome to his students. Perhaps in other circumstances he could be stimulating company. He had the courtesy to enquire after his ex-wife, and was not surprised that last night she had demanded tranquillisers and was allowing others to make all decisions for her.
‘In a little while,' he said, ‘she'll be making specific demands. You must take care that the service you mentioned doesn't get overloaded.' Again there was that strain of irony in his voice.
Z was sure he'd ample experience of Vanessa's need for attention. It was difficult to see how she would have fitted into academic Cambridge, distanced from her stage contacts and a captive audience. Perhaps the restrictions of being a don's wife had irritated her, or she felt herself a butt of his colleagues' waspish intellectualism. Had that been the reason for turning her back on him to throw herself into her acting? Or maybe it was simply that the sex wasn't right?
For whatever reason, the union hadn't lasted. Had one of them, or both, looked elsewhere for a more suitable partner?
There was something she'd said that Z couldn't account for: a mention of losing ‘both my darling children'. Up until then Sheila had seemed to be her only child.
As Fenner seated himself at the davenport to go through its contents she put the question to him. ‘No,' he said abruptly. ‘Sheila was our only child. There was a boy some years later, but he was nothing to do with me.'
BOOK: A Meeting of Minds
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Standoff in Santa Fe by J. R. Roberts
Traitor's Chase by Stuart Gibbs
Leopard Dreaming by A.A. Bell
Death Under Glass by Jennifer McAndrews
Chasing Cassidy by D. Kelly