The DI and Miles sized each other up, both felt this was worth continuing with for now.
Said Collins: ‘I’ve a few more minutes. I’m all ears.’
‘Could the prints have been a man’s, say, with a size 9 shoe?’
‘If he was wearing galoshes or wellies, then I’d say no, they were more likely a woman’s – possible but not likely a man, not from any we knew were there.’
‘I don’t want to try your patience too much longer but what about inside the house? We heard different stories about intercoms etc. and they might have been altered before you came. One tale is that there was no connecting intercom from the conservatory, which would have meant that to hear a conversation in the conservatory, you’d have needed to be close, say in the next room, the kitchen.’
‘There was one installed, it worked and it connected to the kitchen, we don’t know if it was on. There was another connecting the stables to the living room, it could be heard from the main bedroom too although it wasn’t actually wired into the bedroom. We could hear the horses on it.’
‘Were there any horses in the top, middle or lower stall? My memory was that they were in the top and middle.’
‘Correct – but that could have changed in the time between the event and when we arrived. The lower stall was unoccupied when we got there, you’ve now confirmed that there seemed no movement of the horses from stall to stall.’
‘Moving a horse could also be heard in the living room.’
DI Collins grinned. ‘You couldn’t hear that though from the kitchen – there were two walls before it. Anything else before I go?’
‘Was the laundry door in the house, meaning the back door, locked or unlocked?’
‘Locked when we were there but I concede it might have been on the latch earlier – it was that type. Now I have one – do you trust any or all of your guests?’
‘Not as far as I could kick them.’
‘Word is that they’re … well …’
‘For want of a better term.’
‘That’s between you and them, Detective-Inspector, that’s your affair. They do nothing illegal on the island. You can always come onto the island of course, as it’s part of England and Wales.’
‘Word is that there’s something beneath that island, something worth big money.’
‘There is and there are quite a few provisions in place to protect Chloe and me.’ He outlined the arrangements with the island, mentioned his will, all of it in fact.
‘You’ve played most fair,’ Collins commented at the end of it. ‘I’ll play fair with you as far as I can. Would you give me your mobile number and I’ll give you mine?’
‘Well, you be careful now, I’ve enjoyed this chat. We’re no further along on who committed the murder though, are we?’
‘On the contrary, Detective-Inspector, I think we’re both fairly sure. But pinning it on one or the other would be the task.’
‘Which is why we could take it no further at that time.’
‘Come in, Miles, your call surprised me.’
He stepped inside and hung his rain jacket on the peg in the narrow hallway, daintily appointed hallway. A short-haired lady quite similar to Laura came through and he was introduced to Amelie.
Things were brought for a late snack lunch, they all settled back and Laura asked if Amelie could be present. If not, she could wait out in the hallway, pretending to go to another room but actually listening at the door. Straight to the heart of it – he’d forgotten Laura’s penchant for directness and he’d forgotten how much he liked it.
‘Are you here to pump me?’ she smiled.
‘Clever girl – do you mind me referring to you as a girl?’
‘Girl, woman, whatever floats your boat, I could put on a maid’s costume if you like.’
‘Away, temptress.’ The two women smiled. ‘If I ask you a series of ‘did you knows’, would you answer honestly?’
Laura was serious. ‘I’d try, because I wish to, I like you. If it was going to harm someone close to me – no, of course not.’
‘That’s fair. All right, will this get back to Chloe?’
‘She’d be the last one, Miles and you very well know that now. Neither Frank nor Ralph either but it might get back to -’ she thought for a moment ‘- no, it wouldn’t get back to anyone. Not now.’
‘I was with DI Collins.’
‘I know, I was there too.’
‘Watching me? I never saw you.’
‘No, I was watching the next two you’re going to ask me about. After you left the Inspector, you went to a certain tearoom and stood at the corner of the window, looking in, and what you saw you didn’t like. And you know what – I didn’t like it either.’
‘You were hiding?’
‘Only in plain sight, I was part of the milling crowd at all times. Don’t draw conclusions about those two which you don’t definitely know you can, it might not be as you think, there could well be a few reasons.’
‘Seemed pally to me.’
‘Miles, it’s more complicated than that, my answer. I bet she told you it ended with Ralph. Point is, I know what she does because Ralph is my eyes and ears on the island and it didn’t come without a price.’ She let that sink in. ‘I think if she’s told you it’s over, it might not have been exactly when she told you it was … but it sure seems to be now, at least according to Ralph, who does not bear you good will, by the way.’
‘That last bit is not a concern of mine.’
‘I know, otherwise you wouldn’t have come here. All right, Miles, we’ve been fencing and I have some serious things to put to you, I think you do too in return. Sis will stay if you don’t mind for the first bit but when it gets to personal matters, she’s the soul of discretion and will suddenly have to go shopping or to bed. You OK with that?’
‘Why do I feel I’m being drawn into a maelstrom?’
‘Because you are, because that’s the way you do things, so are you ready for the serious stuff? He nodded. ‘Sis, I think, is so tired …’
‘I’ll say goodnight now, Mr. Forrester.’ And off she went.
‘I’ve known Ralph a long time, I recommended him to some people for work, I didn’t know anyone else at the gite and Ralph was employing me to find out about the vein on the island – that’s what I was doing when I visited. And yes. Other things too with him. Frank wanted to know too – in fact, many people wanted to know and would pay for it. I had a list of people and I’ve made some good money, it took some identifying under your nose but they did it and it’s worth mining.’
‘How does Chloe come into it?’
‘They compromised her of course, her past. She was the source – that’s just logical.’
‘Compromised? You mean her lovers?’
‘Lovers? Let it be so – her lovers.’
‘She told me about them.’
‘Oh did she just? She told you about Ralph?’
‘Yes. In the gite.’
‘And in your bed when you weren’t on the island? I only have Ralph’s word for this of course.’
‘It never stopped, Miles, even after you’d both decided. Even after she became pregnant. So paternity does become an issue.’
‘You have no proof, only hearsay from an unreliable man.’
‘That’s fair – he’s unreliable but when the baby is born – then it will become clearer. Of course it might still be yours.’
‘This is wicked what you’re doing, goodbye, Laura.’ He rose to leave but she didn’t move, then she suggested, ‘Sit down and hear this to the end, then walk out.’
He dutifully sat down.
‘I’m going to write a name on a piece of paper.’ She did and pushed it over to him, he looked. ‘That’s the name of the escort agency we both worked for before you took her on as your PA. Many of us danced, we took secretarial jobs if we had a brain, we did many things. I don’t know many girls who gratuitously went for as many men as possible – most did what it took and that was enough. Chloe couldn’t get enough.’
‘That’s it. I’m …’
‘Stay where you are. I’m opening up to you today, at great danger to myself, and you know deep down I’m not lying. You haven’t a clue what’s been going on behind your back, Miles – the least you can do is hear me out.’
‘What, listen to this venom?’
‘Stop this faux outrage, Miles, stop it now – it cuts no ice, you’re not stupid, you’ve suspected since that day at Frank’s, and that’s one of the reasons you’re here. This venom, as you put it, checks out. You check it out after you’ve gone. Check out that agency too – they’re in the book – check out their former staff, better still, get your Inspector to do it. I’m not lying here, I have no reason to, although I know it cuts you to the quick and I’m sorry for that.’
He was dismayed. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Miles, please wake up. Chloe is trying to get you off the island, in fact, you might think she and I are conniving. You’d be too disgusted to go back and would probably just leave them to it on the island and cut your losses, especially with me as an intriguing alternative now. I’m a thinker just as you are.’
His eyes opened wide.
‘You came here to get the truth, that was your plan but you also wanted to see me in my natural habitat – come on, look into my eyes and tell me that’s not so. I’m certainly spilling the beans on her – why do you think that might be?’
He was tongue-tied.
‘You understand so little. What do you think Frank is? A dutiful father? He was having sex with Melissa and had been doing for a long time but even though he was guilty in the eyes of the law and society, she was the active agent, she was blackmailing him. That’s why she would come to our bed and do it with him while I was there.’
‘You allowed that?’
‘Allowed? I was the kept woman, wasn’t I, the one from the escort agency, the one who could be discarded tomorrow? And it was sex, wasn’t it – very hard to walk away from when it’s right there, I’m no angel.’
‘Are there no standards at all? No sense of right or wrong?’
‘Not in that company. I like to flatter myself that I was the best of the bunch, that I’d only do something if it would produce a good outcome.’
‘Yes, I was at Frank’s for a purpose. I was on a job. I know my charm, I know whom I can seduce and whom I can’t. You’re one I can and that gives me bargaining chips, so yes, it’s calculated. I put Ralph onto Chloe.’
‘I know it was immoral but I wanted him off my back, I wanted out from under Frank too and remember two things – first, Chloe was not yours at that time – that came later. The other thing is – if Chloe were the wholesome girl you imagine, she’d have said no to him there and then and would have told you all of it. I’d have been the villain and that would have been that.’
There was silence, Amelie came through with replenishments, then went out again.
Laura paused now. Those melancholy eyes which knew everything, that smile at the corner of her lips, that nose – she was wicked, you could believe all sorts of naughty things about her, she was Irene Adler, ethics-free and she was here, now.
He thought what to say and realised he didn’t even want to be speaking of Chloe anymore. ‘It’s her disloyalty, that’s the thing, Laura. Not so much her infidelity, strangely not that, as she’d always been like that, I half knew it and she couldn’t break habits. It’s the disloyalty. Was Melissa going to kill me?’
‘No – it wasn’t her thing. It wasn’t even Chloe’s thing really. There’s someone else behind this and has been from day one.’
‘When was day one?’
‘The day you met me,’ she smiled.
‘Did they strike the vein?’
‘Yes, they want you off the island immediately now, which you are. They want Chloe as their puppet up there instead, which she now is – you’re too suspicious, too devious. They couldn’t trust her not to spill the beans to you, that you’d get things out of her, so either she went or you did. I’m sure this visit now is known and so you’ve just wrecked what I had going with a few people.’
She paused, then pressed on. ‘Now to finish this about Chloe. Do you want to hear this or not?’
‘Truth is, Miles, that I know much but slowly, I got this feeling I was being kept out of the loop – or rather increasingly out of the loop. When I was on your island, both Ralph and Chloe reported back to Frank. I started to be treated as a mushroom and I sensed I was being set up. Frank didn’t like my visit to your island and suspected I wanted out. Sure he’d backed it and got me to promise to find out all I could but I was going to do that anyway, for Ralph – that’s where my main money is coming from. I don’t ask where he gets it from.
Different people wanted different things – someone wanted Melissa dead, I think that was Frank, which is not hard to follow – she was to confront you in the stables at gunpoint and demand the island, which suggests Frank was at least party to that bit. She must have known she had no claim but might have thought the gun would work magic. Don’t know why she did, she was not the sharpest knife.
I heard her arguing with him in the kitchen and I’m not going to pretend I couldn’t make out what they said, I had my ear against the door. There’s an intercom but they’d switched it off. She was confronting him and saying that unless he put it all back, the trust money, she would shop him for the sex which she herself had started, though of course he shouldn’t have taken it up, not any which way – and she’d caught him out on a few deals as well …’
‘Perhaps. Either way, she had him over a barrel. Now Frank is not a nice guy but to kill his own daughter? Frank? That seemed so coldblooded, so I think Frank himself was being set up. Whether Melissa was in with someone, whether it was Ralph who was making his own decisions or whether it was all Johanssen – I’ve thought long and hard about it all. We each know a certain amount but not all and we’ll never meet and get all our stories together. And as I say, I was beginning to be kept out of the loop, beginning to become a mushroom.’
‘Chloe said you came back to the Travellers late and was in bed with her, that you’re AC/DC, Frank arrived and he joined in.’
‘Then she escaped and went downstairs, you two came down looking and she hid behind the desk. The night receptionist gave her a room for the night where you wouldn’t find her.’
‘Where Frank wouldn’t find her. He was also there to check that I was still onside and he knew Chloe would be there – he did that with Chloe to hurt me. Later, I saw Chloe hiding behind reception when we went downstairs but I didn’t tell Frank.’
‘Why would you not tell him? Seems her running off was a ploy.’
‘I didn’t think so, I think something snapped in her, that she didn’t want to go that route anymore, that she had a new game about to occupy her. It did seem that way to me at that time. So I didn’t tell him.’
‘You’ve already told me so much but tell me again – how bad was Chloe – you know, about sex. How bad was Melissa?’
‘Melissa gave me the impression she’d do things as a strategy to gain herself something, to be able to blackmail, for example. She was pretty much OTT but she could switch it off too. Chloe was just a skank, through and through – sorry, Miles, it was raw with her and nothing was offlimits.
I’m no angel and I do things – or rather did – but I’m not AC/DC. I can cuddle a woman, I can do something with her at a pinch if the script calls for it but I’m not that. But whenever Chloe entered the scene, it got really, really biologically dirty, I can’t describe it any other way. Complete opposite to what she did with you – didn’t you ever feel it was halfhearted with her? Maybe not.’
‘Of course I did but I put that down to all the tension, that maybe I wasn’t much shakes as a lover. Did she ever badmouth me?’
‘No, she didn’t do that. You never entered the conversation, except in relation to the island – don’t know if that bursts your bubble but there it is.’
‘For being honest.’
‘How do you know I have been?’
‘It sounds about right. Also, a person puts two and two together and remembers little snippets here, little snippets there, a strange off-chance remark, a look, a sudden feeling. You know the way it is.’
Detective-Inspector Collins opened the door to his two up, two down, Miles was let in and directed to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
The inspector came through with notes. ‘’I checked the gully – the pretext was that there were some things we hadn’t checked before. The prints had been blurred, filled in. Someone had done some work on them. For some reason, the ones in the stables hadn’t disappeared. We found nothing more in the gully, truth be told, but we did find this in the laundry, under the washing machine, what do you think?’
‘Well I’ll be.’
‘Puts her at the scene more definitely, shall we say. It might do.’
Miles sighed. ‘All right, Chloe’s story is that she went up the gully from the house and peered through the crack in the boards at the driveway end of the stables.’
‘’There’s no crack.’
‘Suspected not. Repaired?’
‘Never was – the planks overlap.’
‘Dear, dear Chloe, what an incredibly simple lie. So simple, I’m wondering if there were not a reason … but that’s over-finessing. Still doesn’t make her the killer yet, Inspector. What does Frank claim, by the way?’
‘According to him, he and his mistress were near the door to the conservatory, they heard Melissa and you … not agreeing, Mr. O’Brien went back to the living room but Ms Laura went straight out of the front door and on an upwards diagonal into the gully.’
‘But you said that no one had gone into the gully at an angle.’
‘No one at all from the fence to the top and back. Ms Laura did not go into the gully that way. And we also have only your word, Mr. Forrester, about the crumpled body.’
‘Chloe said she saw Frank with Laura outside the house, Laura went up the path on an angle to the gully but she might have crossed the earth bridge and was inside the gully that way, Chloe followed, presumably on the path and looked through the crack which doesn’t exist. It makes no sense.’
‘Because it did not happen that way. Think that one through. Meanwhile, tell me about your trip to Durham, Mr. Forrester. This case never ceases to amaze me. Was it on spec?’
‘Yes, I phoned. She was intrigued of course.’
‘But why would you do it? To double-check on your fiancee?’
‘Yes. Chloe’s been plotting to get me off the island, Ralph …’
‘One of the five guests?’
‘Yes. She and he were lovers over a long period but not as long as Laura and he had been. I didn’t know this, I suspected something was going on but didn’t know what – my attitude was a bit cool towards Chloe, Laura clearly picked up on that, she welcomed my visit.’
‘Phew. All right, try these.’
Miles looked at him sharply.