All falls apart
‘Me the mastermind? I’m flattered.’ She was amused. ‘Then subsequent events will bear that out … or not. I wouldn’t want to be in your position, as you have some decisions to make.’
‘How much does Jenny B know about all this and how far would she be willing to help nail sis?’
‘She knows most. As for helping, who knows how deep sisterhood runs?’
Laura stood up, he stood, she stumbled a little, half collapsed, he grabbed her as she fell, they stood in each other’s arms and Young realized where this was. Trouble was, she was a damned fine woman. She leant her head on his shoulder, he held her closer and could feel her heart, this was bad.
He moved her back to the bed and her bottom went onto the bed but he tripped – whether she’d caused that by her awkward leg position was beside the point, he had now collapsed onto her on the bed and his first thought was cameras.
He should have immediately pulled away, got off the bed but he didn’t. One leg of hers was still off the bed, but unfortunately one of his was between that and the bed and his face was close to hers. She did not force anything, she was neutral – he would have to make any move now … he could not bring himself to climb off her. They looked into each other’s eyes and she put the lightest of kisses on his lips.
Suddenly she said, ‘Get off,’ he did and they went back to where they’d been, there was a skipping down the three steps, someone knocked on the door and was bidden to enter.
‘You be needing anything, Miss Laura?’ asked Tom.
‘No Tom, we’ll be going back soon. Thanks.’ She looked at Leyton Young, he looked at her, she said, ‘Probably best we go up there now.’
There were already eight in the room when Tim Madders finally brought in Mandy Sobel and her shock was more than palpable, her jaw dropped – there were two places left.
Clockwise around the U-shaped seating plan in the room were Laura, a constable, Jenny B, a constable, a spare chair, another spare chair, a very angry and aggressive Jenny A, a constable to whom she was handcuffed and over near the door were two policewomen.
Centre front was DI Young and he began.
‘The aim of this gathering now is to finish this case once and for all. We’ve spoken to each person here in turn and have gathered much. Every person not of the police here has at least two charges against them which can be brought, so here is the deal – we’re not interested in charging anyone except the killer of Miles Forrester. Detective Sergeant Madders told one person here that much already and he will stick to his word. The only reason any of you have been brought in is to cooperate and discuss this, to answer questions and as long as you do that – cooperate – then we’ll play fair and keep up our end of the bargain.
Should any of the four here become uncooperative, that of course is her right, and it’s also our right, should she demand to be allowed to go, that when she goes through that door, she is then taken to the station to be charged for those historic offences.
Ladies, I think you understand exactly.
All right, let’s start with Mandy Sobel. DS Madders met her in a McDonald’s and asked her various questions, she was free to go at any time. What came out of it was:
1. There is a conduit between Amsterdam and our area of concern for underage girls … but only just underage, brought by various routes but mainly via canals, road vehicles and some boats in Miles’s fleet.
‘There’s no way she could know that,’ interrupted Jenny A, ‘she has no contact with Amsterdam.’
‘No contact with Jan de Vries, no she doesn’t.’
2. Her contact is Ralph Stammers and we suspect it is he who asked her to fire the shots at Ms Laura.
‘That’s rubbish,’ Laura angrily put in. ‘He would not be remotely interested in getting that tramp to kill me, he doesn’t care enough.’
‘We thought that too until we recovered two letters. In one of them, Stammers makes such a threat and I agree, that does not convict him.’ Laura relaxed, vindicated. ‘That was recovered from Ms Sobel’s apartment -’
‘You bastards, you promised,’ Ms Sobel pointed at DS Madders. Young looked to him to respond.
‘I did not search your apartment, nor did I say anything about it. You were concerned you’d be arrested, you haven’t been. I told you we want the murderer of Miles Forrester, and I still tell you that.’
Young continued. ‘In the other letter though, one a prison officer intercepted, not for lawful reasons but to blackmail Stammers, Ms Sobel agrees to the terms. We’ve had copies made, one for Ms Sobel and one for Ms Laura.’
They were distributed – the look on Mandy Sobel’s face was one of total shock. The look on Laura’s face was utter chagrin. A copy of the warrant was also given to Ms Sobel.
‘If it ever got to court, naturally the defence could appoint an expert to examine the writing on the originals. You can take it or leave it but we have much to reveal today, so let’s press on.’
3. Ms Sobel was involved in a scheme with Ms Laura many years ago which Ms Laura has explained. This would not be brought up today, it would not see the light of day, had it been the truth.
I need to pause here and stress to all that if you’ve been truthful and cooperative, we’re not interested in bringing up any past naughtiness, we’re after the murderer of Miles Forrest, as we keep on saying.
However, in this case, there were anomalies. You see, Ms Laura says Ms Sobel went down for five years for theft and that she, Ms Laura, tried to get her cut out of it and couldn’t, so she shopped Ms Sobel. However, the record does not show that.’ Mandy Sobel had been just about to explode but now waited. ‘In fact it was the reverse – Ms Laura was the one convicted and Ms Sobel tried to get her cut out of Ms Laura for setting up the victims.
This was a very silly thing to do – telling a policeman things like that, as he can and will check records. Now, as it does not directly relate to the murder, there’s no need to go further on that, except that Ms Laura had early release, due to an anomaly, Ms Sobel told one lie and that was sufficient.
Enter Ralph Stammers who was sweet on Ms Laura but was also seeing Ms Sobel who thought he was for her. I see Ms Laura understands this in Mr. Stammers. It was Mr. Stammers who gave Ms Laura the snippet which led to the release. Ms Sobel never understood who gave Ms Laura the information, she always understood that Ms Laura had got off for some reason or other and now she, Ms Sobel, was charged. She did one year inside and swore to get Ms Laura -’
‘You have no proof I swore that.’
‘You stupid cow,’ exploded Laura. ‘Of course they don’t but you’ve now admitted the thing happened that way. Say nothing you don’t have to, you stupid woman.’
‘Continuing,’ said DI Young, ‘let’s go back to Ms Sobel’s talk with DS Madders who did not record the talk,’ Sobel nodded to Madders, ‘but he does remember part of it. First thing he remembers is Ms Sobel saying, ‘I’m not naming names.’ And she didn’t. She also said, ‘I never knew this Miles, so don’t know what he knew.’ Any comments from anyone?’
Laura was about to but didn’t, Jenny A was quiet and interested now, Jenny B had been intrigued from the start.
‘No? Then let’s press on. Ms Sobel also said something else curious, ‘There’s a Dutchman whose girl is connected with someone involved with the boats this side.’
‘She has no way of knowing that!’ literally screamed Jenny A. ‘This is a set up and I wish to go.’
‘PC Robins, please hand Ms Jenny this.’ He passed a sheet of paper and it was given. Jenny A shut up. ‘That, Ms Jenny, is what you will be charged with should you go through that door now. You would last less than a day without our protection for the rest of your life. If you stay where you are and be quiet, none of this need come out. You will note we have not made this public in this talk now, this is the carrot.’ Jenny A subsided.
‘Moving on, Ms Sobel also said, ‘I’m not interested in that, all I know is it wasn’t me.’ She’s referring to the hit on Miles -’
This time, Jenny B exploded. ‘Of course she’s going to say that, isn’t she? Is she going to admit a murder?’
‘No, Jenny, she’s not. But nor is she going to say she knew if she didn’t. So we had to find out, didn’t we. We have Ralph Stammers’s own admission that Mandy was in Edinburgh, visiting that day, corroborated by the prison record. We could not have hoped for a more satisfactory confirmation.’
Laura was quite out of sorts now, quite distressed. She was asked if she needed a few minutes with the two constables outside, they would wait. ‘No, go on, let’s get this over with.’
‘Ms Laura did make threats, according to Ralph Stammers, towards Ms Sobel but at that time, Ms Laura was Mr. Stammers’s muse. Later, that changed to Ms Sobel and loyalties changed too. Ralph Stammers told Ms Sobel what Ms Laura had said.
One moment – Ms Laura, this is only what Mr. Stammers said people said, it’s not necessarily the truth. So, did he tell you that, Ms Sobel?’
‘I’m not going to say.’ Laura looked at her. Ms Sobel went on. ‘If I say, you can tie me to that murder.’
‘Who’s to say it was a murder?’
‘I don’t know. You said, it, everyone just accepted it was.’
‘Let’s summarize. We can be pretty certain Ms Sobel was there for N3, we can be sure she was not there for N1. We haven’t looked at N2 today yet. Now we have Ms Laura and her conversation with me, far ranging but it did not advance us far, we were discussing personal things more.’
Laura was grateful he hadn’t told … yet.
‘Right, Ms Sobel, there’s something I have to tell you. Ms Laura, far from being down on you, was supportive of you during that talk. However, then it came up about Jenny A shooting Miles and Ms Laura said she knew Jenny A had not.’ Both Jennys now looked at Laura. ‘Ms Laura then went on to me, ‘Because I know who did. It was Mandy Sobel. She took all the shots at me.’
‘That’s an utter lie! Tell her, Inspector, you know where I was.’
‘Yes, we know you were not there for Miles, Ms Laura is mistaken on that.’
‘Mistaken! She lied through her teeth – she’s protecting someone.’
‘That point had not escaped us either. So, just who was Ms Laura protecting? Was it Jenny A, for Jenny B’s sake? Or was she protecting Ralph Stammers, because she told me Jenny A had seen Mandy Sobel.’
‘Prove it,’ said Jenny A.
‘We can’t, so we drop the idea immediately. And on that basis, I am going to ask the constable to uncuff you.’
It was done.
‘We are, by the way, getting close to the end now, have just a bit more patience everyone. In a detective novel, there’s much play about the reader being treated fairly, about being able to work out who the killer was from the available clues, sprinkled about for any who can see. Unfortunately in this case now, we have had to rely on a late clue from a member of the public to wrap this up. We’ve made a slide from this clue and if the constable will now switch on the machine …
You’ll see in a few minutes what this slide reveals. Anyone wish to leave at this point?’
Naturally, no one did and the machine was ready. Laura noticed three slides in the carousel, not one, they were advanced one by one and then suddenly, there it was.
‘Observe please,’ said DI Young, ‘that this was an opportunistic photo. The photographer has been stalking our subject who shall be revealed in the third version of the slide, without the blacking out you see on this one. That bus station has an electronic date and time of buses and you’ll notice which buses were coming up next. Constable, please.’
The next slide was clicked through. ‘This is a blow-up of a wider shot of that bus station and it’s pretty clear which it is. It’s also the bay which has the bus going to the dock. So it’s a fair surmise that whoever it is in this shot was going to the dock. Not final by any means, I grant you, not on its own, but a fair surmise. Constable, please.’
The last slide now showed up on the screen behind DI Young’s head.
‘And as you can see, it is one of the Jennys -’
‘It’s me going to the dock of course, to join Laura. I thought you actually had something.’
‘It could well be you … or Jenny A. Point is, none of us could tell from that shot but let’s accept for now that it is, in fact, Jenny B. Why is she going to the dock at that time? Look at the time on that board again. It says when the next bus is coming but Ms Laura and Miles were already out to sea at that time that day. An anomaly, yes?’
‘This is a trap, you’ve doctored that.’
‘Patience, Jenny B. That led us to examine the shot which came to us as a digital through an email sent from a library and even here the person was clever. The person whose turn on that computer it was, left it for a few minutes and our miscreant used that person’s email to send the shot you’ve seen. The people we can track who were at the computers at that time generally saw nothing but two of them did describe the person who’d sent the email. At least, let’s be precise – these two members of the public saw this person touch the keyboard and work, standing, at that computer. We’ll keep that to ourselves for now.
We examined that photo and the times in two places had been altered – we have an IT professional to confirm that in court if need be. We believe that cross strokes had been put in, so that the time should have read 11 instead of 14. A stamp of 11 would have given the miscreant plenty of time to be there, as the boat left about 12:25 p.m.’
The DI paused, took a sip of water, gathered himself and went on. ‘All that was interesting but I don’t see either Jenny screaming blue murder here now. Perhaps that’s because they know it was not the main issue here.
The main issue came in the post two days later and these were prints on paper. We’ve blown one of them up into A2. The shot itself only shows the person in a runabout, there’s no time frame nor location reference – it could be anywhere. However, there’s a small registration number which is not clear enough even for our experts to determine accurately. We did trace where it came from, when it went out, with whom and when it returned. That took twenty men over as many miles, up and down the coast. This is one advantage of being of the police.
We would stand up in court and swear that that boat left at 10 that morning, it was an almost calm day, with a favourable tide out and a favourable one back. The boat was returned around 3 p.m. So, there is only the person who was in that boat to mention. We’ll pass the enlarged shot around, first to Ms Laura please.’
It was passed to her, she blanched, thrust it out to be taken and clammed up completely, rocking back and forth. It went in turn to the other three.
‘I’m not sure why Ms Laura has taken this view just now, as it’s hardly conclusive. It’s a very blurred shot, the figure holding the rifle inside the runabout could be any man, it’s not going to stand up in court by any stretch.
Except of course for these.’
He handed the constable the next sheet – it was shown to Ms Laura and no one else. She was beyond any sort of reason now and there was considerable sympathy from all. ‘Would you like to break for now, Ms Laura?’
‘No, I want this to end.’
‘It will soon. On that sheet, for the benefit of the other three, were reports on the DNA found in that craft, fibres etc. but that still does not give us the culprit Ms Laura thinks it does. How could a man in prison have got down from Edinburgh and back in one day, how could he have gone out on a boat and that boat be close to where an unscheduled launch of Ms Laura’s was within that narrow time range?’
‘And there is an answer. It was possible because he took a car two miles to a field on day release at 7 a.m., there was a helicopter which had been used on Mr. Forrester’s island …’
Mandy Sobel now cut in, ‘The flight was around 1hr 45 m, he was dropped direct to the boat and collected later, he was back at that field at 6 p.m. and back inside by 7 p.m.’
There was silence. If anything, the Jennys breathed a sigh of relief but even they were expecting some new twist.
DI Young looked about the room and began again. ‘He had a lot of help along the way. Ms Sobel has said she had nothing to do with Miles and that was right – she wanted nothing to do with this. Someone though had told Mr. Stammers when Ms Laura’s launch would go out and where.’
‘Are you accusing me?’
‘No, Ms Laura, I’m saying he pieced it together from an earlier letter, which Ms Sobel collected from you, plus general talk between you two ladies, followed by further conversation in Edinburgh again. It was bold but not beyond Ralph Stammers. This is mere speculation now but I believe he knew he had only the one shot, it didn’t much matter whether it was Ms Laura or Miles, it happened to be Miles, which left Ms Laura for later.’
‘You still haven’t spoken of N2,’ Mandy Sobel reminded him.
‘Yes, N2. The enigma. What if someone knew of this hit and the way it was done – almost everyone did – and someone thought it a good chance to copycat it from the water. Not a runabout but one of the fishing boats, far more difficult to track down as there were so many of them, the gun then having weights attached and thrown overboard? That’s speculation again, although we know it had to be from a boat.
I can tell you though that it could not have been Ralph Stammers, nor Mandy Sobel who was in Edinburgh, nor three crew members we think might have been among the boat sinkers, nor from Jan de Vries. May I take you back to that photo again of Jenny at the bus station. I’ll not switch the projector back on, please just follow it on the whiteboard.
We’re pretty clear about the doctored time but what of the date? We looked at this and I think you know what I’m about to say. Look at one of these digital dates and times. There are leds behind each point in each number’s display, those that shine give the number of course. The photo shows the date to be the 10th.
What if it was not though – you need only fade a point or put one in on a photo to change a date. I’m going to cut to the chase – someone was trying to frame Jenny B.
Now, ladies, you all know there is a hell of a lot we’ve not said today about each of you, nor will we and we’ve kept our side of the deal. You have too by not leading us astray. However, there might be some loose ends you yourselves will tidy up but don’t forget we’re watching.
Ralph Stammers will be charged but no one else in this matter will be. The reason why is that his act was through malice aforethought – all you others had the wrong end of the stick about other people, you were working on wrong information, which we’ve hopefully cleared up today.
We now intend to release all of you and sorry it took so much of your time.’
It was apparently a prison fight over woodworking tools, the upshot was that Ralph Stammers was dead, just one week after that meeting, there was some suggestion that Mandy Sobel had been visiting another inmate and it had happened soon after but there was no way to sheet that home.
Tim Madders was seated in their dingy office, DI Young half sat on his desk, smiling. Tim Madders was not happy about the case.
‘Good,’ said Young, ‘good. Now tell me why.’
‘Jenny B was framed by that shot. Therefore, one of the Jennys framed her. If she framed herself, then she got someone to take the shot and did the rest.’
‘She wanted us to uncover the clumsy framing and arrest sis. Why would she do that?’
‘With sis arrested, she could not be out doing what others wanted. Hang on … because sis was under control and had no free will in what she did. When I went to Holland, she had to play sis and somehow, she knew I didn’t know that you had arrested sis. Now I have one – why did neither kick up a fuss about this lengthy arrest? Ah … they requested it. Was Jenny A free during those hits?’
‘You tell me.’
‘No – you had her arrested but we can’t hold people that long without charging them. Therefore, someone else was holding Jenny A. Hmmmm, and that person was Laura, on her launch. And you went to that launch to interview Laura.’
‘But then it became known I was going to Holland and you wanted to see if that would send Jenny A back … or Jenny B. But it could never be Jenny A as she was controlled, therefore B had to go and she answered many of my questions but not all. So she’d been primed but not well enough. She didn’t care but Jan de Vries did, as Jenny A had knowledge and so they had to get to her.’
‘You’ve done well. Some you can never get. That PC shot by Jenny B was not kosher, he failed to depart with the others. It was a genuine mix-up of boats, caused by our superior here but one man among that team knew there was no bomb threat. Jenny B sussed that out quickly.’
‘He was looking for Jenny A.’
‘I’d say so. The shot at Laura and Jenny B was actually a shot at the Jenny who could be seen through the telephoto, who deliberately wore her sis’s hat – we know this – and drew fire.’
‘The girl is amazing.’
‘Yes she is but so would you be, were it people you felt needed your protection. You’d have worked out, of course, that the Jennys did not roam freely after they were released from the meeting, Laura took them to our home, back lane, later to return to the launch, which the powers who want her know we’re guarding.’
‘What’s the long term plan for Jenny A?’
‘To get her out of her control, which is happening, slowly, then she can release details about them. Hence she’s wanted. She fears she’ll be held accountable for her crimes.’
‘Like shooting Miles?’
‘Let’s back this up a bit. Miles was either naive or devious, he either was not aware or he turned a blind eye to the use of the boats. As we know so many skippers were on the take, in order to earn from the powers who once ran the EU and have countless wealth and want our fishing waters – they want many other things as well but in Miles’s case, the fishing waters were the thing – as all this was happening beneath Miles’s nose, there seems no one but Laura with any major motive for his death. She could easily have got Jenny B to do it, were it not that Jenny B was in love with Miles. Jenny A was simply not out there, she was not allowed to show her face.
I’ve eaten with these people, Tim, I’ve supped with them, I liked them, I’m finding this very difficult. It doesn’t suit the narrative – the narrative says Stammers, who’s now dead, would be a great villain to have shot Miles, we can close this off and everyone’s satisfied.’
‘Except it would be wrong.’
‘Except it would be wrong. Now Laura – she’s either naive herself or doesn’t care or whatever, I don’t know but there are clear pointers to her, she has a motive a mile high, she had and still has the opportunity and she has the means in not only the Jennys but in this Mandy who may well be onside, not offside. Jan is another, the conduit. Who’s to say someone is not running Laura from the continent? You heard me mention her dissatisfaction in life, as she saw it, under Miles’s yoke, subject to him.
Tim, we have to be bloody careful not to play favourites and I think we have been doing this. I was suspicious of Miles from the start because of his closeness to me, to the police but Laura came onto me the other day and I have not been willing to look at her as a suspect, except in that room of course when I had to. Something in me wants her to be innocent – poor start to life, all those things.’
‘I don’t like the way my mind is running just now. Tim, I need you to go over to Holland again and explore, take however many days you need, enjoy yourself a bit too, that’s allowed, my fear there is that they’ll compromise you too – this is an obscene amount of money they offer people.’
‘How do you feel towards the Jennys, sir?’
‘I like Jenny B too much, I can’t keep emotions out of it.’
‘Ditto. The pointers all seem away from her. These people are diabolically clever, sir, they leave trails which mislead.’
‘Yes, it’s a minefield. They even have you doubting me and me doubting you. I don’t doubt you at this moment, don’t worry about that, not at this time but take nothing on spec. Anything looking suspect that I do should be explored.’
‘Could Ms Laura be a mastermind or just someone who got caught up?’
‘Hope to God neither but obviously the latter. I can see her being good, innocent, up to Miles’s death and then succumbing, not having that influence any more. Jenny B is the key, she’s seen everything. I can’t send you, as you’ll be in Holland but I’m going to get Jenny B in, not here, at some neutral place and have a long talk about everything, what she wants and so on.’
‘Best bedside manner.’
‘I put her onto you, I want to be sure.’
The police launch was not the same thing as Laura’s, not by any stretch, but it did have a table inside and they could eat and converse, Jenny B and Leyton Young.
He looked at her – the way she held her head perfectly still, the penetrating look in her eyes, her dark hair tied back, her air of expectation.
‘I don’t know what I expect, Jenny,’ he leaned his arms forward on the table, ‘you’re here to spar with me, find out what you can, I want to break through the barrier that being a police officer is. I know that barrier and it stops me solving things. Perhaps if I tell you how we’re thinking, that might help. Also, I want to know what you think about it all, how you see things working. I’m going to give you this in writing now – that anything you say at this lunch now will NOT be used, it is legal, this paper,’ he handed it over, she looked down it. ‘In fact, nothing is recorded, nothing is written at this meeting, no officers are anywhere near – do you want to explore that now and satisfy yourself?’ She shook her head.
‘The person with the greatest motive is Ms Laura. The agents she has at hand are the Jennys. I do not believe you have done wrong in this, I think you are holding a situation together and trying to keep both Laura and Jenny A afloat … and it’s not easy. Tim and I both feel you are the key to it all, that you know everything. I know you are fiercely loyal and would never betray anyone you are loyal to.
We believe you deliberately did that photo business at the bus stop in order to have Jenny A arrested and by arresting her and then releasing her to Laura, she was kept away from them. She can then recover from her control.’ Jenny’s breath escaped. ‘That might be innocent or not. If it was not innocent, then you are trying to get sis and you close to Laura and of course, that is your livelihood, just as Miles was. I can’t blame you – two girls must have a life somehow. Laura needs the company.
If you’re a monster, then you plan to bump Laura off and look how you’re placed to do that. After a year, Laura can alter her will. You could be angling for this and still be innocent, you’re just looking after your future. I can’t see that you’re blackmailing Laura but she might be blackmailing you. All these are thoughts, just thoughts. I’ve done all the talking – why don’t you talk to me. Another tea? No?’
She kept staring at him for some moments but then leant back and relaxed. Still she thought what to say, he sipped on his now cold tea.’
‘They got sis early, she accepted the invitation of a flatterer.’
‘Not van Agt?’
‘How did you know? Well, of course you know these things.’ She leant forward and sighed. ‘I want to open up but I am caught in the middle. Yes I know most of it but naturally I can’t tell you a lot, not just because you must act on it but because there are those above you who would hear and would act.’
‘You know of him already. OK, that makes it easier. Him and others. The people in Europe who no longer have their sinecure must have other revenue sources, they want the fleet, they worked on Laura, through Jan, via my sister, through others too. There were people on this boat and that, their agents – it was riddled with them. Now I’m going to tell you something and not to protect Laura – Ralph Stammers did not kill Miles. He was the fall guy. Yes, he flew down, yes he thought he was going to, they weren’t going to risk him shooting. Laura had been threatened by Jan to work on Miles to get out of the business, other ventures of Miles’s were doing really well – he never understood why they were doing so well. There was a lot of money involved, my sister was the courier.
Those who wanted that fleet, for reasons you’re now aware of – they got nowhere and the sinkings started. I was given the job of finding out and I found out all right. That’s why there was such a cry about a woman on their boats – they knew I knew. My buzz is your buzz, Inspector – finding out, nailing a case, sorting it. I always think I’ll find work, though Laura’s was the only offer at this moment. I like Laura but she’s been naughty in the past and old habits die hard. What she fails to understand is that I have the mind of a policewoman, I am nemesis if you want to get theatrical. Sis is susceptible to money. I think Laura woke up to my mind and confided less, I think she would not tell sis much either because it would get back, therefore she really has no one to confide in now.
I know she came onto you, to see what happened, to make you more onside. What am I about? The here and now, I don’t think of the future, I don’t dwell on the past. I want to make things work.’
‘You want love?’
‘Who doesn’t? I’m not sure I can, that I’ll get the chance. You put Tim Madders onto me and I like him but he’s on the other side right now – I know you’ve tried to assure me but I know the police mind, being one in a way – if you knew I was guilty, love would not come into it and that’s as it should be – not corrupt. I won’t shop someone who’s been kind.’
‘I said the same to Tim – that I’ve eaten and supped with Miles and Laura, I couldn’t take it if she’s the one who ordered the hit. I’m not fishing, I’m telling you how I feel. And if you feel the same, you can’t shop her either – that’s life. That’s actually OK, except that Tim said no – that’s actually wrong. You must have gathered by now that although you have to be careful, as I am police, you can see I don’t like this case, as feelings are involved – hell, I was executor for Miles’s estate.’
‘And we’ve been inside your homes.’
‘I let it get too close, number one error.’
‘No, wrong, number one right thing, because people might just open up. I’m thinking what I can tell you and not betray sis, not betray Laura.’
‘Not betray Miles?’ She nodded. ‘Did you really love him?’
She nodded, her mouth opened, it closed. It opened. ‘I did, he was straight. He did all this tricky stuff and thought he was being clever but he wasn’t good at it. Laura was far more cunning and while she used that for him, he was safe enough.’
‘If you want to stop, I’d rather we parted like this, in this mood. I want you to see I’m straight on this.’
‘Inspector, I’ve seen that all along, that’s why Miles went straight for you. That meeting in the room – you were far too easy on Sobel. I’ll give you this for free – she did the last hit.’
‘No you don’t, you were sent footage. That was no tourist, that was me. I could easily have taken that another day. She was watching one of Ralph’s targets, someone who owed money, she was to fire a warning, to hurry him up. Out came Laura, too good an opportunity to miss, she fired a warning but she’s a poor shot, she actually hit Laura.’
‘We have a theory that Laura and she are not enemies at all.’
She looked straight into his eyes. ‘I’m not commenting on that. Now, you read the right things from that because you’re on your own. ‘I’m not commenting on that’ is my official statement. Get onto something else.’
‘You are waiting for time to pass for sis to come out of this control but she’s very weak. That’s why she’s kept on board.’
‘Two things there. First was about waiting for sis – yes, very much. I want her out. she’s been silly but she is my sis.’ A tear did come to the eye. ‘The second, watch me, Inspector – ‘I’m not commenting on that, whether she’s being held hostage or not.’ I said nothing.’
‘But … ah.’
‘Two loyalties – don’t comment, don’t nod or shake the head, stay still. Jenny, this might be unprofessional of me but I can’t help liking you so much.’
She smiled, almost as a kid – she really did like that. Then the professional took over again. ‘I so wish that there was no barrier … but there is.’ She now dropped into this ‘arms by the side, hands on the seat cushion, head looking about, well there’s nothing more to say’ mode.
‘All right, I’ll take you back now. But Jenny, I’m going to bring Laura out on this boat for a chat, my approach will be the same, because I have feelings, I will not tell her anything you said and won’t tell you anything she said.’
‘That’s fair,’ she laughed. ‘We’re going to meet again, Inspector and next time I’ll tell you far more, things may well have changed by then.’
‘Is this where Jenny sat?’ Laura smiled. ‘Jenny said you’re soft on her … and on me too.’
‘Well what do you expect? Did she tell you how difficult I find it all?’
‘No, she doesn’t say much, Jenny.’
‘You’re telling me. I’ll say the same to you now and then get down to it. I told Tim, my offsider, that I’ve eaten and supped with Miles and Laura, I couldn’t take it if she’s the one who ordered the hit. I told Jenny I’m not fishing, but telling her how I feel. You know exactly how I feel.’
‘And are you arresting me today?’
‘No. What for, we haven’t the slightest thing on you. But you have every motive, you have the means and you have the opportunity – it still proves nothing. We believe you were approached long ago – we do have evidence of that, we know they want the fleet, we know the name in Holland, we know Jenny A was used,’ there was a flicker of her eyes, ‘we know the agents on board the various boats, we think you knew about it or rather came to know far more, we can’t be sure you ordered the hit on Miles or whether it was all them, we also think you and Mandy are not enemies but friends,’ her eyes flickered again, ‘we have evidence of that.’
‘Goodness, you have me bang to rights. Here are my hands.’ She put out her hands, as if for cuffs.
‘You’re killing me, Laura.’
‘And you’re not? Accusing me in so many words of bumping off Miles, my husband – don’t bother saying you didn’t, I know you didn’t but it’s still not nice.’
‘None of this is nice. I want your take on who did what, in the light of what I’ve told you today.’
‘Who did what eh? All right, I told you Mandy did all three hits but you say she was not present on the first. OK, then it had to have been Jenny A. Yes, I’m keeping Jenny A onboard because we’re hoping she comes out of her control. Jenny B does this and that but she’s not central to the case. Yes, I’m also watching both because when the year is up, I have to think who to leave what to in the will. You think I got Mandy to shoot me?’
‘No, but you might have got her to shoot at you.’
‘I see. You have a bad opinion of me, don’t you, Detective Inspector?’
‘I have a good opinion based on what I know, what we’ve done for so long. I have policeman type thoughts based on things we find. We know you were approached and we know by whom. We’re fairly certain Ralph Stammers did not kill Miles, that he was also used.’
This one dumbfounded her. ‘That one is … on the level?’
‘We think many people have been duped, we feared you were too. We fear people were told lies and some sort of documentation backed that up, they believed it, they acted. We know of a few masterminds, e.g. this van Agt,’ she was shocked again, ‘and we know they want the fleet, we know what for, it’s not our investigation here, ours is only Miles. We know there are bad eggs in our department, even close to me. We don’t know if you know their names but we do. Will that do for starters? Now how about you level with me, Laura.’
Her mind was working overtime. She decided. ‘It’s difficult to use the words friends and enemies for Mandy and me – we both did things to the other, yet she took my message from here. She also shot me on my instructions.’
‘She was meant to aim off and missed?’
‘No, she was meant to get me in the side. As she did. It’s true she’s a bad shot but when the rifle is resting on a parapet, like a tripod, it becomes far easier. I’d seen that place a few times and had thought about it. At that time, I needed to be under protection, so that they couldn’t really get to me to finish me off – that third shot confused them. Mandy did fire that first shot which you say she didn’t. I suggest you look again at who told you it wasn’t her – that should tell you a lot.’
‘Then she killed Miles.’
She took a long time over this, a very long time. She thought and thought and thought. She bit her lip. ‘I … I can’t answer. I wish I could but I can’t, I’m sorry … Leyton. I mean it. I simply can’t afford to.’
Her mobile started up, she took it out, it was a text, she swore, then said, ‘Get me back quickly, Jenny A has gone.’ Young went forward and the next they knew, the boat had started up, it took off and slewed over in the direction of Laura’s launch.
They hadn’t been all that far and it was the work of moments for Laura to leap onto what was essentially an overlapping gangplank and shimmy up onto her own deck – most athletic lady, thought Young.
She went below, searched everywhere, there was no sign of either Jenny, she swore, the one crew member on board said he’d heard nothing but he wouldn’t from the wheelhouse. ‘Well it’s not very good fucking security then, is it?’ she almost screamed.
‘Begging your pardon, ma’am but I was where I’d been put.’
‘Yes I know, I know, I’m sorry. I’ll kill those little bitches.’ She immediately phoned Jenny B.
‘What?’ wailed Jenny. ‘You’re sure? You’ve looked everywhere? Well of course I’m not on the boat, I had to get the supplies in this morning, you know that. All right, no need to apologize. Thing is where sis has got to – or who’s got her. Yes yes, I’ve finished, I’m on my way back.’
The police launch tied up, Leyton Young alighted, checked the note in his pocket and walked along the cobbled Ribble Wharf, past the decorative upturned coracles draped in nets, in the direction of the last warehouse.
He opened up, went inside, saw the person he needed and said: ‘We’ll pull up near here at 8 p.m. What guarantee you’ll be here?’
‘You can stake your life on it.’
‘Not sure I like the double meaning of that.’
He went out and walked back along the wharf road, a picturesque spot and when the atmospheric conditions were right, the boats bobbing about made a pretty picture. He thought of taking photos and making a bit of dosh from them but gave that one away quickly.
This evening was going to make or break the case as far as he could see, he greatly feared that old friends and new might be lost if his hunches were correct. On the other hand, he might snare a few of the naughty people and that was always welcome.
It really came down to these two.