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Authors: Clare Curzon

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BOOK: A Meeting of Minds
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This wasn't the impression he'd got from Z. He remembered well enough that she'd spoken of the older woman sometimes raiding her daughter's wardrobe, and how they
wore the same size, although Sheila's dresses were longer because she was three or four inches taller.
Fanshawe stared at her disagreeable face in the mirror. ‘If you
should
remember anything about that evening – what she ate or if she took away something to eat later; that sort of thing – we need to know. You do want to help us find out exactly what happened, don't you?'
She leaned back on her Italian-quilted stool and spoke to her own reflection, enunciating clearly so that they'd catch it right at the back of the stalls. ‘She – just – drove – off. That's all.'
There was something else she murmured, which he didn't quite get. But it sounded like, ‘Out of my life.'
He felt a little late sympathy for her grief. Despite her staginess, this was an ageing woman who had suddenly, and violently, lost her only daughter.
‘I'll not bother you further for now,' he said quietly. ‘I can see myself out.'
 
Back at the nick, he started in at once typing up his notes, putting in a carbon, since Beaumont had insisted the Boss should be notified at the same time as the DI, ‘just in case.' Whether that was because Salmon was suspected of holding out until he'd something big worth reporting, or because Superintendent Yeadings wanted to dog his every move, Fanshawe didn't know. Anyway he'd do as instructed and drop a copy in on the Boss before he left the building.
He found he'd enough there without irrelevant padding, because he included every detail of the conversation with Beattie and her builder beau. It came to three pages, double-spaced, and, leaving the top copy at the DI's empty office, he decided to look in at the Incident Room for an update.
There he found computers humming and keyboards rattling as four young constables transcribed info on to disk. Two printers stuttered, churning out reams of paperwork for the bulging files which computers were supposed to have
replaced. Hadn't there once been a move to save the endangered rain forests?
He watched unchallenged for a moment, but the office manager was too busy to welcome visitors and nodded towards the door. He went off to deliver the Super's copy, was diverted by meeting PC Jenny Daler in the corridor, and ended in the canteen buying her a Danish and orange juice.
He'd no serious intentions towards Jenny, being a monogamous sort of bloke, but she was the target of the moment, and it gave your canteen cred a boost to be seen with her
tête-à-tête.
To ensure she didn't wander off he put his own tea on the same tray to bear it off to a distant corner. Unfortunately Pip Torrence's table stood in their path and he managed to stretch out a cramped leg as Fanshawe passed.
By the time Fanshawe had picked up the broken china and gone for replacements Jenny had been sponged down of any imaginary splashes and was seated beside the broadly grinning Pip. Fanshawe joined them, seething and silently vowing an early revenge.
He flattened the copy of his report on the melamine tabletop and used his handkerchief to try and remove traces of the disaster. The tea had been strong and the stain had spread all the way through. It was just about legible, but would never do for the Boss as it was. He would need to retype the whole three pages again.
‘You owe me,' he muttered at Pip and ground a heel into the PC's toecap. Jenny was sweet about the upset, as expected, but already had made some arrangement with Pip to book a squash court when their relief went off duty.
You win some, Fanshawe reminded himself, and you lose … He stopped in mid-thought. His eyes rested on the ruined report. On the middle page, which recorded the meeting with Frank Perrin, builder, something new had sprung out at him. A tea stain on one side and a smear of orange juice on the other framed part of the word Jonathan. The first two letters were obscured, as were the final three.
He sat staring at NAT. That was the name, unusual enough, that Beaumont had found in a letter in Sheila Winter's laptop. There had been no address, and they hadn't been able to trace him at the prison. ‘Dozens of Bakers,' Beaumont had said gloomily, ‘but no Nat or Nathaniel.' And actually he was Jonathan, all this time driving around with his name clearly written across his van; Jonathan Baker, Plumber & Heating Engineer!
Fanshawe swore at the soggy report. He'd almost met the man, no more than two hours back. Would have done so if Frank Perrin hadn't halted the plumber on the doorstep. Was Perrin the builder in it with them – the old lags, Childe and Baker? If so, he'd warned Baker off, that ‘the filth' was present in the kitchen.
It certainly suggested taking a closer look at Beattie Weyman's trusted visitor.
Martin Chisholm grinned as he threw the bag of clothes on Neil's hospital bed. ‘Right then, you're free to go;' but the younger man knew him too well. The switch from deadpan as he came through the ward door had been too swift.
‘So what's wrong? 'he demanded.
Chisholm hesitated. ‘Marching orders,' he said quietly, and held the other with a steely glance that meant
don't make a fuss, particularly here.
Sullenly Neil ignored the pulled curtains, grabbed his clothes and went off to change in the bathroom. Chisholm granted him a minor sulk and decided to wait in the corridor. Neil eventually joined him, ‘What about the nurses?'
‘I've seen to them. A bottle of bubbly and carnations.'
‘I'm not going without seeing Rosemary.'
‘That's OK. I can spare twenty minutes. Anyway she'll be discharged at noon tomorrow. You can manage until then without a Svengali.'
‘She's not … Hell, I'll just run up and tell her I've gone.'
‘Take the lift.'
‘I meant to in any case. 'Very much on his dignity.
Touchy, Chisholm reflected, but then he always was as he adjusted to being on his own. This time it was too sudden, though, and it was catching him in a vulnerable state. That had been an unnecessary dig, implying that Rosemary was his stand-in Svengali. Maybe Neil wouldn't need one. He could activate himself satisfactorily when he gritted his teeth and gave it all he'd got. Nevertheless, Chisholm congratulated himself, it was just as well he'd seen the girl first and warned her. It would do no harm that she knew of Neil's condition. He trusted her discretion, not to let on to the boy how much he'd told her. She was a policewoman, after all; a sergeant in CID, as he'd confirmed from his own sources. No
dozer. She'd understand what a difference having the transplant had made. A lifesaver, but at a price. You never knew when the boy might need a sympathetic ear from that direction.
Neil returned quickly. ‘She's just going off for physio.' He glared at Chisholm. ‘How did you know she was being discharged tomorrow before lunch?'
‘Consulted the ins-and-outs list at reception,' Chisholm lied easily.
The boy accepted it at face value. ‘Car keys?' he demanded. ‘I'll drive us back.'
As he casually handed them over, Chisholm just hoped the sulk wouldn't last long enough to land them in a ditch. But he recognized the gesture of independence, a defiant refusal to be bugged by the nightmare recurrence of panic that still sometimes attacked him behind the wheel. If Neil was starting to take himself in hand, all well and good. His face showed nothing. It was only in his driving, too fast and a little savage on the clutch, that he displayed the state of his nerves.
‘When? 'he demanded, pulling up at the rear of Ashbourne House
.
He had already observed that the indicator showed a full fuel tank.
Chisholm glanced at his watch. ‘Forty minutes.' He had no intention of apologizing for the lack of notice. It had been unavoidable. ‘I've left a note with Lombard.'
Neil nodded grimly.
To be handed to Neil Raynes in the event of my death or disappearance.
And the time scale for waiting would be the usual eight weeks. Everything would be covered up until then and he'd be able to draw on the joint account up to the limit of ten thousand pounds.
‘You've time for coffee, then,' Neil ground out. ‘I'll get some going while you bring your bags down.'
‘I'm packed. Everything's in the boot,' Chisholm said casually. ‘Yes, coffee'd be fine. Thanks.'
 
Fanshawe, returned to catch the other residents at the end of
their working day, had already spoken with Miss Barnes, who appeared torn between her conscience's need to offer more support to Mrs Winter and cowering at the thought of further involvement.
She had little to offer on the dead woman, having rarely seen her. There appeared to be a zonal, but not class, division between these upstairs and downstairs people. It was comic, really. They spoke of each other rather as some natives to either side of Watford referred to the other lot as ‘northerners' or ‘southerners'.
She admitted that, after the dinner party which Beattie had given for all the residents, curiosity had led her to call at the Greenvale Garden Centre. She had purchased a Bromeliad there, which was perhaps a mistake because now she had to leave the temperature of the flat at a higher, uneconomical level, and the humidifier full on during her absence at school.
Fanshawe looked round for an exotic animal, but there was no cage. Miss Barnes picked up on his confusion and pointed to a brilliant, poker-stiff stem topped by a brilliant, torch-like bloom and surrounded by glossy, strap-shaped leaves. ‘Right,' he said, vowing he'd never give such a dictatorial thing house-room, even if he found it attractive.
Thanking Miss Barnes for her patience, and silently congratulating himself on his own, he followed up that visit with one to the reputedly security-mad Wormsley, noting how he was inspected through the fish-eye lens on his fire door before being allowed in. A quick look through Criminal Records had satisfied Fanshawe that nothing was known of the man to make him paranoid in the police presence, so it had to be assumed that he was simply weird that way. Or hoarded objects of value in his home? But he wasn't a pawnbroker; just a photographer, according to information from other residents. Nothing about his furnishings or lack of ornaments suggested he had a fortune tucked away.
Wormsley listened, head tilted, to the DC's request for
information and seemed quite pleased to deny any personal link with the dead woman.
‘Or a professional one?'
‘Er, whose profession? She's a sort of glorified gardener, isn't she?'
‘You've never done any photography or advertising matter for her?'
‘No; we stick to portraiture. Mostly kiddies, family stuff. The occasional portfolio for wannabe models. Nothing commercial.'
‘So you never saw her?'
‘The Winters live upstairs and towards the front,' Wormsley pointed out, as though that guaranteed segregation. ‘So I only ever saw her from the window, when she fetched or put away her car. I see them all from here. See?' Wormsley waved towards the outer wall and Fanshawe walked across to look out.
Beyond the double glazing and an ornate wrought iron grille he saw the row of lock-up garages about fifty yards to the right and partly obscured by a screen of leafless trees. Only one car was visible, parked outside. As he watched, Martin Chisholm issued from the rear door of the house, went across to the Saab, unlocked it and climbed in.
Damn, Fanshawe thought: now I'll have to make another visit tomorrow. I'm not hanging about for him to get back from an evening out.
Wormsley was watching him with a waggish smile as though he knew, and enjoyed, what the DC had been thinking.
Really the man was a first-class shit. For that reason Fanshawe decided to take his time and rumble up some totally unnecessary questions. Not that it upset the other in the least. He even seemed amused and offered to turn off the oven where his supper was cooking. ‘I can finish it off in the microwave later,' he said. ‘Anything I can do for the forces of law and order.'
When Fanshawe finally ran out of ideas, he rose to leave.
‘A pity you missed Mr Chisholm,' Wormsley said slyly, at the door. ‘Especially as he seems to have gone away. Packed quite a bit of gear in the boot earlier. I should think he'll be absent for some considerable time.'
Bloody man! He knew all the time and enjoyed stringing me along. Well, I'll see we get the last laugh, Fanshawe vowed. It hardly seemed worthwhile tackling Neil Raynes on his own, especially since he was just out of hospital and known to have been in touch with DS Zyczynski there.
Still, he might give a lead on where Chisholm had gone. If it wasn't far they could still contact him for any necessary information. DI Salmon wouldn't be happy to hear he'd got out of reach. And an unhappy Salmon, Fanshawe guessed, could undoubtedly be a right barracuda.
Neil Raynes was plunged in gloom and a deep armchair, with the television on loud, showing a programme on volcanoes. The earth heaved and belched, spitting fire in a way he felt suitably in harmony with. He killed the volume with his remote, but dropped back in the same chair and continued staring at the hypnotic convulsions and hellfire flaming as Fanshawe settled in.
His answers were mainly monosyllabic. Yes, to whether Chisholm had gone away No, to whether the man had left an address. No, he couldn't be contacted by phone. No, he'd no idea how long this absence would be. Fanshawe stared at him po-faced and waited.
At this point Neil volunteered, almost pettishly, that there'd been no time for conversation when he was picked up from the hospital.
‘He must have given you some idea of where he'd be going.'
Impatiently Neil tore his gaze from the flame-spouting screen. ‘Something came up while I was in hospital. He doesn' t have to tell me where his work takes him.'
‘So he's not on holiday, then?'
The boy looked undecided, then adopted a pose of bored superiority. ‘I suppose he'll have as good a time as the situation permits. Club class, travel perks and all that, of course.'
‘Are you sure he's gone abroad?'
‘Well, he took his passport.' That had slipped out: the first thing Neil had checked on. The European Community one had certainly gone. He didn't know about the others, kept in the safe he hadn't a key to.
‘Ah.' Fanshawe considered how he could present this, back at the nick. Imply the man had set out before he himself had been allocated the job? But if Salmon was into nit-picking, he'd winkle out from someone exactly when Chisholm had picked the boy up today, and know that Fanshawe was on the job by then.
He sighed. ‘Can you tell me how well he, or you, knew Miss Winter?'
‘Sheila? We'd say
hi
when we happened to meet. Actually, something a bit more formal from Marty. He isn't into Americanisms. I don't think I ever said anything apart from that to her. She didn't seem all that interesting as a person.'
‘Interesting enough to get herself murdered.'
‘Yes. That's odd, isn't it?' The boy – Fanshawe supposed he really should call him ‘young man' because he was supposed to be twenty or so – seemed honestly puzzled.
‘Still, if there's a nutter about, looking for a victim, I suppose almost anyone will do.'
What an obituary for the poor woman, Fanshawe reflected: to be almost anyone, a nutter's fancy Only it hadn't been like that. There was no sexual attack, no mutilation. The stabbing had been violent and the body disposed of away from the scene of the killing. That made it personal, not random, according to CID wisdom.
There was only one more question that suggested itself to him as he closed his notebook and slipped the elastic band over it. ‘Have you ever been to Henley-on-Thames?'
Neil Raynes rose out of his seat. ‘Yes, of course. Often. I
used to row there for my school, and later for Thames Club. I suppose I know that part of the world as well as anywhere, really.'
So did that apparent innocence clear him? Or was it bravado? Taken all round, Fanshawe supposed Neil Raynes could be crossed off the list.
‘I'd like to know immediately you hear from your friend, or he returns. Is that understood?'
Neil shrugged. ‘I'm sure he couldn't help you anyway.'
Fanshawe considered himself dismissed. As he unlocked his car opposite the house's imposing portico, a taxi arrived and Z got out. He waited while she paid the cabbie off, then carried her bag upstairs for her. ‘Thanks,' she said, following him in. She looked washed out and there was a fresh dressing on the side of her head.
‘Bring me up to date,' she demanded.
‘I didn't think you were due out till tomorrow.'
‘What's the difference of a few hours? I acted awkward and they let me go. I've things to see to here.'
‘Such as?'
‘That's private.' She spoke sharply, then relented. ‘I can relax better at home. Besides I want to keep an eye on happenings.'
He stared at her. ‘The job? You sound as though you think the residents are involved.'
‘Aren't they? – either directly or as a result. Do you want coffee or tea?'
‘Tea, if that's all right.'
‘Suits me too. Actually I could murder a bacon sarny.'
‘You sit down. I can manage that.' He went through and surveyed the range of cupboards, pulled out the grill pan and fetched gammon rashers from the fridge.
She took a chair opposite the kitchen door and they conversed through it. ‘So who's DI Salmon got in the frame now for killing Sheila Winter? I heard he had to let Barry Childe go.'
BOOK: A Meeting of Minds
8.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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