6 Durham again

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I

DI Collins opened up.

‘Frank O’Brien had blown his money from Melissa’s trust fund, his business was doing well but he couldn’t adapt, writing was on the wall, he was deceitful and held back wages, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of hearsay in this but he was allegedly having it away with his daughter, according to her diary – why on earth she would …’

‘Later blackmail. I’ll confirm the sex, again from hearsay.’

‘He vehemently denies it of course. Daughter found something out about her father, maybe about the trust fund and either he had the mistress shoot her and you were to be framed or else, Mr. Forrester …’

‘Yes, I know that. I think it’s all been overtaken by current events. The murder was one thing and certainly I’d like to get it clear in my head who fired each round but I’ve no obsession about the murder per se now, not as it was when we first met in Lytton. You perhaps do. Things have moved on, Detective Inspector, I’m in danger on my own island, I’m going to have to activate the owners to get the tenants off but that will accelerate the MoD showing itself and that raises new issues.’

‘And your Laura?’

‘She’s not mine. We’re still sparring but soon she’ll either have to join me, perhaps just as partners in survival … or else we part. There’s no halfway house. There’s always the law – you – but with due respect, you don’t know all of it because people are keeping things from you. If you were acting as yourself, I’d tell you all but as you carry the weight of law – that can get in the way of progress – and no, I’m not ‘withholding evidence’, I haven’t so far.

The only thing I can say is that we have a plan for a short, sharp shock to our tenants, no one is going to do anything that the law need concern itself with, Laura’s a first class brain but she can’t do it alone, I can’t either. With the law onside, it might be enough. I’ve said to a few people that the law is the best muscle you can have but one has to be careful to stay clean.’

Collins was grinning. ‘Quid pro quo, eh?’ Then he became quite serious. ‘There’s still the murder, Mr. Forrester.’

‘There’s still the murder. Yes.’  Miles felt a statement was necessary. ‘If it was clearly Chloe who did it, yes, I’d let her take the rap. If it was Laura, I’m not so sure. If both – yes, they could both take the rap. If anyone else, not my issue. I’d like to ask how thorough you were up near that little window and alcove, could there have been another party up there … or even inside the stable, say up with the hay?’

‘We were far more thorough than we gave the appearance of. There seemed two women there, we know one went inside, the other went behind the stable. Now, about the island – I could help the process along. We know one of those in the gite has something planned in Edinburgh, don’t ask how we know or what it is. Where are you staying?’

‘Local hotel.’

‘Here’s an address which is safer.’

‘Thank you. I have to tell you though I’m going back to Durham first.’

‘Be careful.’

‘I shall. If it comes to it and she agrees, may she also stay with me at this address? I’d prefer her to be safe.’

‘Mr. Forrester, your signals are loud and clear, they’re what are partly behind the offer. Of course it’s fine and you can make a duplicate set of keys too if you like. I’ll give you this set now, best you don’t visit me again in the short term. We’ll stay in touch by mobile. However …’

Miles waited and the DI was clearly cogitating about this. ‘It’s my brother. Frankly, I don’t do this hacking and exploring thing they do online but much of my intel comes from him, he’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, as you are and he’s good on computers. He’s actually the reason I know about Edinburgh. You’d appreciate I have to keep him the right side of the line but he does drop hints and I don’t ask too much about other aspects of his work.’

‘Other aspects?’

‘He drives a Ford Transit. White.’

‘Ah.’

‘Reason I mention him is that you and I are both working on this, though from different angles, and I’d like to get this thing sorted and signed off. I think he and you might hit it off, maybe not. He’s opinionated,’ Collins was watching Miles, albeit casually, ‘and that can be good to a point, not so good if he doesn’t listen, as many of that type don’t. Dave listens. He can also go to ground and just become your regular type of guy, as they say. Plus everyone’s always wanting technical help and he gets invited in, sometimes by creating a glitch or two.’

‘Sounds exactly the sort we need on board. What’s his thing, his shtick? What’s he about?’

‘His most exasperating trait is that he really doesn’t care about things we get our knickers in a twist over, he does it for the thrill of the chase. I observe you, Mr. Forrester and while you seem a decent enough sort, you can get a bit intense about things, anxious about outcomes. David is a bit too much the other way but when he sees the need for something to be done, you’d not have anyone better on the end of the line.’

‘Does anyone see him as a right bastard?’

Collins grinned. ‘They’re his middle names. He enjoys a wind-up and can take it in return. Most times. Don’t take anything to heart he might say and you’ll be fine. He’s testing you. Testing is what he does in his day job – he tests things to see how they tick, if they’ll work. He also gets bored. It’s just my hunch but this might work. Why don’t I set up a meeting anyway, best way is you come to stay at this address and if your good lady is part of it by then, they might get along.’

‘Not sure I want him anywhere near her. Is he married?’

Collins grinned again. ‘No, divorced but he does have a … friend. He likes redheads with big … er …’

‘You’re angling for this, aren’t you?’

‘It’s my hunch, I told you. Doesn’t work out, we forget it. Oh and he’s about your height, with the goatee stubble. Thicker set than you – he likes his food but is still brawny. He’s a bit younger than you, not by much.’

II

Paul Glendinning was on the line to Haas’s PA, Jenny, and a hard little madam she was too, dark-haired, petite but you’d not want to mess with her. Haas maintained a staff of three, there was an itinerant he sometimes spoke of, a woman, there was his glorified valet and then N1, the gatekeeper, was Jenny – there’d been much speculation about her full role in Haas’s life but that was by-the-by.

‘Yes, Paul.’

‘Sir Gerald there?’

‘Is it urgent?’

‘Is he there, Jenny?’

‘No as a matter of fact. You don’t know he’s in Stockholm today? We all do.’

‘Then why aren’t you?’

‘I’m minding the shop – James and Edwina are with him. On the basis that you do know this, Paul, what do you need?’

‘To speak, Ms Daniels, to speak.’

‘Well, you’ll have to wait, Paul, until he returns. You can call him direct …’

‘No, it’s you I need to see, about recent developments.’

‘Oh really?’ There was silence for a few moments. ‘All right, Paul, say at close of play today, Maggie’s in Lewisham, I’ll be hungry, go into the second room.’

‘I’ll be there.’

III

There was a knock at the door of the cottage in Durham, Amelie answered and was both surprised and not surprised.

‘Come in. You’re certainly getting about the country, Mr. Forrester.’

Laura was coming down the stairs in her robe – a smile spread across her face. ‘Miles, what brings you here at 9 p.m.?’

‘We need to talk, not in generalities anymore but to plan and I need to let you in on some things. I’ve been with DI Collins.’

‘Intriguing.’

A late supper was hurriedly prepared, they went through to the living room and sat down. He got straight down to it. ‘Is your phone tapped, do these walls have ears? Do you have your own recording system for interesting visitors?  Obviously a question I should have asked the first time but … well, I didn’t.’

‘Not sure, yes and yes. I’ll switch it off if it’s in my interests to.’

‘I think it is. Before we get down to any of it, I want to say that the murder is still important to the Inspector but he can’t get any closer.  Or in other words, he can’t decide between the two of you.’  Her turn to slightly blanch. ‘For me, it’s now less important in the scheme of things – my island is paramount now. So are you – you’re part of my plans but I might not be part of yours.’

‘Just one moment.’

‘I’ve done it,’ said Amelie. ‘I’m going upstairs.’

She did so. Laura added, ‘That does mean she won’t listen – she’s in the room on the end. We have our code. Fire away.’

‘Things are about to hit the fan and I can’t do it alone, Laura. You think you can and I hear you’re pretty good but even this one is too big for one person. We’re not dealing just with the Man here but with serious nutters – even your charm won’t save this situation.’

‘What are you proposing?’

‘That you and I throw in our lot together, at least on this, for now – combine, work out some strategies.  I’m also looking to the future, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it.’

‘Why would our interests coincide?’

‘They wouldn’t have earlier, that’s true but things have moved on. I know you have your sources. I’m using the law for my muscle because they have better surveillance, a longer reach and as I’m no criminal – well at least not currently wanted as one – it makes sense.’

‘For you maybe. I have much to lose.’

‘You’re probably better at these things than I am, you’re intelligent. I’ve a cavalier streak and ruthlessness you haven’t seen yet because I’ve not shown it.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she smiled. ‘Doncaster?’

‘Ah, so you see the modus operandi. That helps. I’m going to divulge a lot this evening and if you play fair, we’ll survive. If you’re still playing a lone hand, I’d say we’re both dead people.’

‘Convince me then.’

‘All right. This evening, about now, Frank’s being arrested.’

‘What’s he being charged with?’ she demanded.

‘First degree. Officially, he was the one looking through the little window.’

‘But that’s rubbish,’ she was annoyed. ‘You know as well as I do that he was down near the house. No one’s ever said otherwise, not Chloe, not me, not you.’

‘He’s remanded, nothing more. Laura, look at me, I’ll give you where DI Collins is at, where he’s truly at I mean, inside his head.  He has two females at that little window.  One ran like fury up the gully, no one went diagonally to the gully across that path.  One female went inside the stable, one hid behind the stable.’  Her look was deadpan. ‘The third female was up that tree beside what I call the hard earth bridge, right?’

She was seriously in two minds, not just about the immediate question but about it all. She was either going to close this off now or she was about to jump into the abyss. Are you working for DI Collins?  Will my answers go to him?’

‘On my word, no. Not unless you yourself request it or agree to it. I have to play fair with him to a point but my main loyalty is to you now, for the foreseeable too, I think you know that, you’ve gathered that already. But there’s more.  I told him that if Chloe turned out to be the one, if it was certain, she could take the rap. Same with any one else. Not you.  If it was you, I’d not play ball. I did lie to him on one matter though … or at least I’ve thought about it some more.’

‘Oh?’

‘I also told him that if it was you and Chloe together, you could both take the rap.’ Involuntary gasp from her. ‘That’s not true though – I wouldn’t let you take any rap.  Not now.’

‘Goodness.  I mean … goodness.’

‘Yes.’

‘Her name is Penny,’ she said.

‘And she was wearing a grey jacket.’

‘How did you …?  Yes, she was.’

‘She’s MoD according to my sources, yet she keeps an eye out for a man called Cornell and there’s some sort of familiarity between the two.’

‘Familiarity,’ she snorted. ‘That’s a good word for it.’

‘Frank has a connection with all this. Now, we either pool our information and are ahead of the game or we don’t and get nowhere.’

‘Meaning that’s all you have on that.’

‘On that, yes. Fair comment. On Ralph, Chloe and the gite – much more.’

She sighed. ‘OK, Miles, I buy.  Penny’s out for the main chance, Dan Cornell thinks he has her under the thumb, his lackey, she squares things for him and has her antennae out, he’s in charge of the plan to buy and explore under the island. I don’t know her personally but know much about her. I find these things out. Ralph is Johanssen’s man dealing with MoD – they’re offering you on a plate. You’re to be compromised or threatened, you’ll get the owners to sell …’

‘They really are fools, aren’t they?’ She smiled and he explained further. ‘I’m using the DI at Lytton, just as he’s using me. He’ll not let me in on it if he’s planning an arrest and he knows I’ll not rat on you as I’ve said.  I’ll certainly rat on the others. You have loyalties to Ralph – I know it’s more than business – and it’s not in your nature to help the law. I’m in two minds about the law – they can be useful. The one who killed Melissa was either you or Chloe as I said. The DI’s been back there with a fine tooth comb …’

‘Really?’

‘Which means you and Frank aren’t in communication or else you’re playing a clever game.’

‘No, I’m not playing. All right, Miles, my job was to throw Melissa the gun and she was going to force you to sign away the island. But as you know and I know and almost everyone knows – but no one told Melissa – that was never going to happen at gunpoint. How she fell for it, I don’t know. As I say, I was meant to do that but something made me pause – I was being left out of the loop too much. Frank’s shrewd in business but he’s not a great thinker generally.

It seemed to me a classic set up. I throw the gun, he’s worked on Melissa about me stealing her money or getting him to, she lives for the money – lived – and I feared she was readying to kill me. I didn’t buy the island selling in the least. The gun was in the covered area, the secret cranny, behind the stables, up that end where the window was.’

He was watching every move of the lips, every facial gesture and that spiky, short-cropped hair and she was watching him watching her. Her throat was parched and she took a sip of tea.

‘The idea was for it to be split second,’ she continued. ‘I had no idea Chloe was coming up to the stables. Yes, I knew she was on with Frank, had been from well before that day – he wanted the island too of course but was a bit out of that loop and used any chance. He’d backgrounded her, found in her a person he could do business with and it went from there.’

‘You mean they were making love.’

‘Oh Miles, you poor dear, we’ve been through all that.’ She briefly rested a hand on his forearm and it was a significant moment. ‘Frank was well aware of the ownership of the island, as you’d let the information out to Chloe. I was to throw the gun, Melissa was to threaten you, but my feeling was the next part was Melissa shoots me – and you’re framed.  OK, let’s take this step by step. Did I go to Durham?’

‘That’s set in rock and yes it was you. But why?’

‘Frank. He wanted me out of it, which tells me that at that point, I was in the loop and he still cared. Call your DI because I want you to know the exact time I left to come back, then I can continue. Please call him. For me?’

He took out the mobile and called. There was to-ing and fro-ing, some long pauses, then he said thanks and hung up.

‘You left in the taxi at 9.35 a.m. from Durham.’

‘That’s important because either Chloe or I came up that gully, didn’t we?  Now think it through – that puts me in the area around midday, yes, a bit after that. You arrived around 2 p.m. Did I stay and talk with Chloe at the Travellers?’

‘Chloe says so.’

‘Yes, only Chloe. Did you check with the hotel staff? Did the Inspector?’

He called again, apologising, rang off, turned to her.

‘All right, Laura, continue.’

I was at the house well before you arrived – think about how I do things. I plan them. Where did the cabby drop me?  At the house of course and the Inspector knew that – didn’t he?’ He nodded. ‘This is the point which has been entirely missed – I never met Chloe at the hotel earlier. Yet someone ran up that gully, yes? The feet don’t matter – she and I have the same size.’ She took off and showed him her slip-ons, he got the picture. ‘The point is – yes, I was near that window, I was already in place.’

‘Did you know Chloe was arriving, staying at the hotel?’

‘I thought through all the possibilities on the taxi trip back. All I knew was that she was going to be there in some form, for some purpose, but what was worrying me was that, having been out of the loop, suddenly I’m called back into it and it’s all meant to be so rushed. Get to the property quickly and get into position, Frank told me. That smelt.’

‘How did Chloe get the gun for her second shot?’

‘Good question but Miles, think – there were two guns, right?  Something your DI is not making you think through because he knows the implications. There was the first from the alcove – yes, that shot her from behind as she ran – even that you have to think through. The second was a different gun – either there were two in the alcove or Chloe or I brought it or Frank gave it to one of us in racing to the window.  Now I’m going to put this carefully now, Miles, and it’s my article of trust in you … I’m not admitting to you I was carrying one.  I could easily lay that solely on Chloe, she’d gainsay that.  Put it this way – I felt I was getting left out of the loop.’

‘Ah.’

‘Yes, ah. Therefore, if I was not meeting Chloe at the Travellers that morning, her movements are not accounted for.  Now, where would you be, were you her?  Would you be twiddling your thumbs at the Travellers?’

‘Ah.’

‘I could leave it at that, Miles but I’m not going to. She may well have stayed there until about the time you arrived, there are good reasons.  One is my unpredictability – what if I’d arrived and instead of taking my position, I’d gone into the house? I’d have gone straight for the living room or bedroom.  Both knew that.  I can make out a case that she did stay at the Travellers but that’s easily checked.’

‘It was.  She left the Travellers just before 10 a.m., doesn’t mean she was at the house.’

‘Correct, it doesn’t, she could have been scouting about – don’t forget it was cold though and she was on foot.’

‘DI says the cabby took her to the entrance to the property.’

‘My turn to say ah, didn’t know that.  And yes, I do need to know, it helps. I also have ideas in your direction, but you knew that, as you said to me.’

He just gazed at her.

Island 5 hereIsland 7 here

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