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Authors: Peter Robinson

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Eager to find out if there had been any progress on the record and the scrap of wrapping paper, he phoned the forensic lab and asked for Vic Manson.

Manson was slightly breathless when he came on the line. ‘What is it? I’d just this minute put my overcoat on. I was on my way out.’

Banks smiled to himself and lit a cigarette. Manson was always on his way somewhere. ‘Sorry, Vic. I won’t keep you long. Just wanted to know if you’ve got anything for us on the Hartley murder.’

Manson sighed. ‘Not a lot. No dabs we can’t account for. The knife was washed, but we found traces of blood and crumbs where the blade meets the handle.’

‘What about the record?’

‘Nothing. Besides, people usually hold records by the edge. No room for prints there. The cover and inside sleeve were clean, too.’

‘Anything else?’

‘It looked new, the record. As far as we can tell it was in mint condition, only been played a few times.’

‘How many?’

‘Can’t tell for sure – two or three at the most – but take our word, it was new.’

‘The paper?’

‘Common or garden Christmas wrapping paper. Could have come from anywhere. It does look like it had been wrapped around the record, though. It fits to a tee. But there’s no gift tag with the murderer’s name on, unfortunately.’

‘Well, at least we’ve got something. Thanks, Vic. Look, can you send the record over to me when you’ve done with it?’

‘Of course. Tomorrow okay?’

‘Fine. Don’t let me keep you any longer. And have a good Christmas.’

‘You too.’

Banks hung up, walked back to the window and lit a cigarette. What the hell was it about the music that bothered him? Why did it have to mean something? He would find out as much as he could about Vivaldi’s
Laudate pueri,
all four versions. Claude Ivers admitted he knew them, but that didn’t mean anything. He must have known that if he’d feigned ignorance, given his musical reputation, Banks would have immediately become even more suspicious. But Ivers knew more than he let on, that was for certain. And so did Patsy Janowski, she of the wandering eyes. Well, give them time, he thought, as he smoked and looked down on the Brueghel scene, they’re not going anywhere. Let them think they’re safe, then . . .

4
ONE

.James Conran
lived in a small terrace house on the northwest edge of town, where Cardigan Drive met North Market Street and turned into the main Swainsdale road. At the far end of his living room, a manual typewriter sat on a table by the window. The view to the west along snow-shrouded Swainsdale was superb. Bookcases flanked the table on both sides with books on all subjects. Banks took a quick glance: history, theatre, music, but hardly any fiction. A small sofa and two matching armchairs formed a semicircle around the hearth, where a coal fire smouldered. On the wall above the mantelpiece hung a poster advertising a performance of
The Duchess of Malfi
at Stratford. There was no television set, but a music centre with a compact-disc player stood opposite the fireplace. Banks ran his eyes over the records and discs, most of them the works of classical composers: Beethoven, Zelenka, Bax, Stanford, Mozart, Elgar. There was some Vivaldi, including the
Stabat Mater,
but not the
Laudate pueri.

Conran, having explained to Banks how Susan had once been one of his pupils, was now fussing over her and offering to make tea. Both she and Banks accepted.

‘Nice collection of discs,’ Banks observed. ‘Are you a musician?’

‘Merely a dabbler,’ Conran said. ‘I sang with the church choir when I was a boy, then with an amateur outfit in York. I also directed the choir at Eastvale Comprehensive for a few years – mostly, I might add, because no one else would take on the job. But that’s just about the limit of my musical abilities. I
am
a good listener, however.’

As Conran made tea in the kitchen, Banks continued reading book and record titles. It helped get a sense of people, he always thought, to discover their tastes in literature and music. Conran definitely read to learn, not for pleasure, which hinted at a certain amount of intellectual and artistic ambition. His record collection, while fairly eclectic, favoured choral works, perhaps an unconscious left-over from his choir days. The fact that he owned a compact-disc player showed he was serious about his listening. Though she said she liked classical music, Veronica Shildon only had an old stereo system, a turntable complete with arm and spindle for stacking records. No one who genuinely loved music would play it on such antiquated equipment, especially if they could afford better. No, Veronica Shildon’s priorities lay elsewhere than music – in decor, perhaps, in creating the sense of a cosy and comfortable home. But Conran clearly valued his artistic pleasures over material ones.

Banks warmed his hands by the fire. ‘I should imagine you got to know Caroline Hartley pretty well during rehearsals for
Twelfth Night,
’ he said. ‘Can you tell us anything about her?’

‘Such as what?’

‘Anything at all. Her habits, moods, your impression of her. Believe me, every little bit helps.’

‘It’s very difficult,’ Conran said. ‘I mean, I didn’t know her that well. None of us did really.’

‘What was your relationship with her?’

Conran frowned. ‘Relationship? I’d hardly say we had a relationship. What are you implying?’

‘You were directing her in a theatrical production, isn’t that so?’

‘Well, yes . . . but—’

‘That’s a relationship.’

‘I see . . . I . . . I thought. Anyway, yes, I directed her on stage. It was a purely working relationship. You don’t really find out much about people when you’re busy telling them where to stand and how to speak, you know.’

‘What did you think of her?’

‘She was a very talented and attractive girl, a natural. It’s a real tragedy. She’d have gone far had she lived.’

‘Yet you only gave her a small part.’

‘It was her first performance. She needed more experience. But she was quick. It wouldn’t have taken her long to get to the top if she’d put her mind to it.
Mercurial.
I think that’s the best word to describe her talent.’

‘How did she get on with the rest of the cast?’

Conran shrugged. ‘All right, I suppose.’

‘Did she form any special relationships? Was she close to anyone in particular?’

‘Not that I know of. We’re all pretty chummy, really, when it comes down to it. After all, this isn’t the West End. It’s meant to be fun. That’s the reason I’m involved.’

‘She did join you for drinks after rehearsals sometimes, didn’t she?’

‘Yes, usually. But you can hardly get to know somebody in a group situation like that.’

‘Who did she talk to?’

‘Everyone, really.’

‘How did she behave?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Was she comfortable with the group?’

‘As far as I could tell.’

‘Did you know she was a lesbian?’ Banks asked.

‘Caroline?’ He shook his head. ‘I don’t believe it.’

‘Do you have evidence to the contrary?’

‘Of course not,’ Conran snapped. ‘Stop twisting everything I say. What I mean is I’m surprised. She . . .’

‘She what?’

‘Well, you don’t expect things like that, do you? She seemed quite normal to me.’

‘Heterosexual?’

Conran looked at Susan as if pleading for support. ‘You’re doing it again. I’ve no knowledge of her sex life at all. All I’m saying is she
seemed
normal to me.’

‘So she didn’t tell you anything about her private life?’

‘No. She kept herself to herself. I knew nothing at all about what she did when she left the hall or the pub.’

‘Oh, come on! Surely some of the men in the cast must have tried it on with her. Maybe you even tried yourself Who wouldn’t? How did she respond?’

‘I’m not sure what you mean.’

‘It’s obvious enough. Was she cold, polite, friendly, rude . . .?’

‘Oh, I see. Well, no, she certainly wasn’t cold. She’d joke and flirt like the rest, I suppose. It’s not something I actually thought about. She was always friendly and cheerful, or so it seemed to me.’

‘Terrible waste, don’t you think? A beautiful woman like that, and no man stood a chance with her.’

Conran glanced down into his mug and muttered, ‘It takes all sorts, Chief Inspector.’

‘Who did she usually sit next to?’

‘It varied.’

‘Did you notice anything at all that hinted at a more than superficial relationship with anyone in the cast, male or female?’

‘No.’

Banks sipped some tea and leaned back in his chair. ‘In a close group like that, you must get all sorts of pressures. I’ve heard that actors sometimes have very fragile egos. Did you get many tantrums or rows? Any professional jealousies?’

‘Only over petty matters,’ Conran said, ‘like you’d get in any team situation. As I said, we’re in it for pleasure, not ambition or fame.’

‘”Petty matters”? Can you be a bit more specific?’

‘I honestly can’t remember any examples.’

‘Anything involving Caroline Hartley?’

He shook his head.

‘Was there any special reason why Caroline didn’t join you all for a drink after rehearsal on December twenty-second?’

‘Nobody went to the pub that evening. We didn’t always go, you know. It was a very casual thing.’

‘But you went?’

‘Yes. Alone. I wanted to mull over the rehearsal. I seem to be able to think better about things like that when there’s a bit of noise and festive activity around me.’

‘Drink much?’

‘A bit. I wasn’t drunk, if that’s what you mean?’

‘Had anything odd happened between four and six? Any fights, threats, arguments?’

‘There was nothing unusual, no. Everybody was tired, that’s all. Or they had shopping to do. Surely you can’t think one of the cast—’

‘Right now, I’m keeping an open mind.’ Banks put down his mug. ‘Why did you give up teaching, Mr Conran?’

If Conran was surprised by the abrupt change in questioning, he didn’t show it. ‘I’d always wanted to write. As soon as I had a little success I decided to burn my bridges. Much as I enjoyed it, teaching made too many demands on my time and energy.’

‘How do you make your living now? Surely not from the Eastvale Amateur Dramatic Society?’

‘Good Lord, no! That’s just a hobby, really. I work as a freelance writer. I’ve also had a few plays produced on television, some radio work.’

Banks looked around the room again. ‘Don’t you even watch your own work?’

Conran laughed. ‘I
do
have a television, as a matter of fact. I don’t watch it very often so I keep it upstairs in the spare room. One of the advantages of being a bachelor. Plenty of space.’

‘Are you working on anything right now?’

Conran beamed and sat forward, hands clasped in his lap. ‘As a matter of fact, I am. I’ve just got this wonderful commission from the BBC to dramatize John Cowper Powys’s novel,
Weymouth Sands.
It’ll be a hard task, very hard, but it pays well, and it’s an honour to be involved. I’m not the only writer in the project, of course, but still . . .’

‘You’re a long way from Weymouth,’ Banks remarked ‘Come from down there?’

‘Little Cheney, actually. You won’t have heard of it. It’s a small village in Dorset.’

‘I thought I could spot a trace of that Hardy country burr. Well, Mr Conran, sorry to have bothered you on Christmas Eve. Hope we haven’t kept you from your family.’

‘I have no family,’ Conran said, ‘and you haven’t kept me from anything, no.’ He stood up and shook hands, then helped Susan on with her coat.

Back outside at the car, Banks turned to Susan and said, ‘Do you know, I think he fancies you.’

Susan blushed. ‘He probably fancies anything in a skirt.’

‘You could be right. He seemed a bit edgy, didn’t he? I wonder if there’s more to this dramatic society than meets the eye? You know the kind of thing, fiery passions lurking beneath the surface of dull suburban life.’

Susan laughed. ‘Could be,’ she said. ‘Or perhaps he’s just shaken up.’

‘And did I miss something,’ Banks said, ‘or did he tell us nothing at all?’

‘He told us nothing,’ Susan agreed. ‘But I certainly got the impression he knew much more than he let on.’

Banks opened the car door. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Yes, I think he did, didn’t he. That’s the trouble with cases like this. Everybody’s got something to hide.’

TWO

On Christmas Eve at four o’clock the Queen’s Arms was packed. Businessmen, off work early for the holidays, loosened their ties, smoked cigars and laughed themselves red in the face at dirty jokes; friends met for a last few drinks before parting to spend the holidays with their families; groups of female office workers drank brightly coloured concoctions and laughed about the way the mail-room boy’s hands had roamed during the office party. A large proportion of the Eastvale police force, denied their favourite spot by the fire, had pulled together two round tables with dimpled copper tops and cast-iron legs for their own party. It was a movable feast; men nipped over from the station for a quick one, then returned to cover for others. Even Fred Rowe managed to drop by for a couple of pints while young Tolliver took over the front desk. The only real continuity was provided by the CID – Gristhorpe, Banks, Richmond and Susan Gay – who had managed to hang on to their chairs amidst the chaos around them.

Everyone seemed to be having a good time. The atmosphere was cheery with its blazing fire and green and red decorations. The only thing Banks found objectionable, especially after a couple of pints, was the music that Cyril, the landlord, had piped in for the occasion. It sounded like airport-music versions of Christmas carols Gristhorpe didn’t seem to mind, but he was tone-deaf.

After the visit to Conran’s, they had achieved very little that day, and nothing more would be achieved by working longer. By mid-afternoon it had been almost impossible to reach anyone on the phone. If you did happen to be lucky enough, all you got for your trouble was a drunken babble in the earpiece. Police work may never stop completely, but it does slow down at times. The only coppers working harder than ever now would be the road patrols chasing after drunken drivers.

BOOK: Past Reason Hated
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