Monday, 9 November 2015

TEN - Multi-tasking

Thursday October 29

 Frederick’s disappearance had left Upper Grumpsfield’s parish church. St Peter’s, in disarray. The Bishop would be sure to send someone to preach on Sunday, but that did not solve the problem of the traditional Christmas entertainment, most of the responsibility for which fell on Dorothy Price’s shoulders.
A phone-call from the Bishop, who had in vain tried to talk sensibly with Edith about the forthcoming Sunday service, proved to be futile. Edith could not help him, but gave him Dorothy’s phone number. Dorothy would know more. At that point the Bishop had realized that Edith was totally overwhelmed by the whole situation, though he could not know that her emotions were driven by her smouldering desire for Robert rather than any sadness about the vicar’s disappearance.
Dorothy could only tell the Bishop that Frederick had not yet turned up, improvising that everyone hoped he would in a day or two. She explained in as few words as possible what had happened. The Bishop was shocked. Why had Mrs Parsnip not told him that the vicar had not caught the plane to Africa?
The newspapers had reported Mr Grisham’s murder, but there had been no mention of the vicar except as a passenger in the car, thanks to Gary’s diplomacy with the press, who were to believe that the vicar’s life depended on their discretion, a situation that actually reflected a realistic view of the event.
Until Gary had evidence that the vicar was not being held a prisoner, he had not choice but to think of him as one, or even as a corpse left to rot somewhere.
Dorothy made excuses for Edith. The real truth was that the vicar’s wife had been more than merely emotionally involved with Robert since the day before Frederick Parsnip’s departure, and had not given much thought to anything else, but until now it had only been one of her hunches. Seing Robert fussing around at the vicarage confirmed her suspicions. Dorothy’s opinion of Robert had done a U-turn. Her opinion of Frederick Parsnip had taken a plunge.
“Everyone believes that the vicar will come back soon,” Dorothy told the Bishop, although she herself did not believe that he would return to the vicarage.
“Why didn’t he go to Africa, Miss Price?”
“I have a theory, Bishop, but I can’t explain it now and we have no proof yet.”
“Who is we, Miss Price?”
“The Hartley Detective Agency and the homicide squad.”
“Goodness gracious. Can you keep me informed, Miss Price?”
“I’ll be glad to, Bishop. We are all worried about him. That man who was killed was driving the vicar to the airport. Mr Parsnip evidently got away from the assassin, but we don’t know where he went.”
“It’s a big tragedy, Miss Price. I’ll try to get someone to take the Sunday service.”
“There are two, Bishop. It will be the first Sunday of the month and All Saints.”
“Then I’ll come myself to the second one, the Bishop volunteered. What time does the evening service start?”
“At six.”
“I’ll be there.”
Dorothy sighed deeply. It was kind of the Bishop to help, but it did not solve the problem of the morning service or the Christmas entertainment, she mused, and it certainly did not solve the issue of Edith’s affair with Robert. You could be forgiven for thinking Edith’s actions were premature, but they were nonetheless disgraceful.
Then the idea for a Christmas show that Dorothy had had earlier and shelved as being unworkable came back into her mind. They would put on a revue with lots of Afro-American Spiritual Songs and some Christmas carols for everyone to sing along. She would call Robert that evening and invite him to a spiritual brain-storming.
Mr Morgan, St Peter’s  vain Welsh organist and self-styled man-of-the-moment was still lodging in Delilah’s bistro’s front upstairs guestroom. He could help her arrange things, she thought. It was at times like this that she missed her friend, Laura Finch, who had once only been too helpful with any kind of entertainment that included music in the hope of singing some of it herself, though she had been – to put it politely – past it.
Dorothy wondered if Gloria Hartley would help. Could she bring a group of line-dancers along to liven the event up? She could, she said, and would be delighted. It was an exciting project. Were the line-dancer to wear grass skirts? Dorothy thought not, even though it would attract more men to the event and Mr Morgan would no doubt be impressed and would hope to find a soul-mate among the wriggling females.
“How fat are they, Gloria?” Dorothy asked.
“Mixed,” said Gloria.
“Well, they don’t need to wear grass skirts for a Christmas show, do they? We can decide later what they are to wear.”
The first rehearsal would take place in the church hall the following Wednesday. Since it would also be a casting evening, anyone who could sing properly or had something to offer a revue of Afro-American Spirituals could come along. Dorothy hoped against hope that Frederick Parsnip would have turned up by then. She would secure Robert Jones’s participation as soon as possible. She hoped Cleo would consent to do the paperwork despite her preoccupation with her new family constellation, unsolved mysteriesa and her pregnancy, which was fortunately going well.
***
Gary was stressed out, to put his condition in Cleo’s words. He had been a family man for only five days, but he could feel the pull of weekend by Thursday and tried to clear his desk early so that he did not have to return to the office after going home for lunch. He could work from home and leave Nigel to cope with the everyday business at the office.
The happier Gary was at home, the more desolate did his office at HQ seem. Nigel had stuck photos of the Caribbean on the office walls, but that only emphasized the drabness of the room and the hopelessness of trying to turn the profligates of the world into responsible citizens.
***
Gary often reflected that he was destined to arrest felons who saw their spells behind bars as welcome rest periods; someone cooked their meals so that they ate regularly; their lives were organized; there was a minimum of work and exercise; drugs and drink were easily accessible thanks to the corrupt but no doubt lucrative delivery services of a few the warders that enabled the prisoners to enjoy most of the fruits of their illegal labours; if the prisoners were lucky, they met like-minded prisoners and could plot the next punishable offence together even before they were paroled.
“Prison is a crook’s paradice,” Gary had been heard to say on many an occasion.
He dreamt of clearing up the mess behind the prison walls, but the week he took up residence in Cleo’s cottage was also the week he was forced to focus on the murders of the Grishams and the disappearance of the vicar. He found himself facing the fact that he was not an efficient multi-tasker. The more he thought about it, the more reliant he became on the multifarious talents of the Hartley Agency, and the more willing he was to let the Ladies do what they thought best.
***
Chris had sent up a pathology report that confirmed how Grisham had died. The theory of a neurological drug applied through a syringe was confirmed unequivocally. The fingerprints on the back seat of Grisham’s car did not correspond with any on record. Chris would drive to the vicarage to collect a toothbrush or other object that would bear traces of the vicar’s DNA so that he could also be excluded – or included since he was still missing. There were thousands of prints in the storeroom at the coffee bar where Mrs Grisham had met her death.
Chris did not hold out any hope of tracing the assassin on forensic evidence. There was no conclusive evidence. The murder must have been premeditated, he thought. How else would the murderer have known where Grisham was? And did the repeat of the use of a drug-filled syringe indicate that it was the same killer as in the MI5 case Middlethumpton had been called upon to solve?
***
Speculation was bound to dominate every mealtime conversation at the Cottage. Breakfast was no exception.
“Mrs Grisham was extremely foolish to enter into any kind of business venture that involved her being in the public eye, Chris,” Gary said. “She was in a witness protection scheme and had been given a new existence. Why did she defy instructions to remain inconspicuous and open a coffee bar?”
“She probably thought enough water had gone under the bridge, Gary.”
“But strangers were visiting her husband and he had demanded a change in their living quarters. She was worried about that. Life was fraying at the edges and she was carrying on regardless.””
“She was very foolish, I agree,” said Cleo.
***
At HQ the pondering continued, this time in discussion with Chris.
“Have you found out more details about the Grishams’ former lives, Gary?”
“The Ladies are onto it and so am I, Chris. The whole damn business is top secret although or is it because the main protagonists are dead?”
“It makes me think the two murders are linked,” Chris commented. “I fear they might not be the last if Mrs Grisham was not the only witness who could have identified Grisham’s mysterious callers.”
“If I asked the neighbours they might have noticed something.”
“Get the Hartley Agency onto thatm too.”
“I’ll have to think about that, Chris. It could be dangerous.”
“But there must be more witnesses,” said Chris. “Someone always happens to be looking out of a window or weeding the garden. The same goes for Mrs Grisham in her coffee bar. Someone will have seen someone watching her.”
“As usual, you are an inspiration,” said Gary. “Keep me informed if you find any new evidence.”
***
Gary phoned Cleo without really wanting to hand over the thinking part to her, but he was sure she or Dorothy would have a new idea. He would ask Cleo what she thought of Chris’s suggestions before he discussed the cases with his boss.
***
“I’m sure the coffee bar has not been cleaned since the murder,” she said. “How about collecting cigarette ends?”
“Hold on a moment, Cleo, I’ll phone Chris about that.”
***
The forensic team had not finished searching the premises the previous day. They were sealed off and the team was planning to go there that morning. Rubbish containers were often a source of evidence and would of course be included in the evidence collection if there was any to collect.
***
“if someone smoked whole packets of cigarettes he must have been there for long stretches and possibly more than once,” said Cleo. “His prints might be on record. I think we are dealing with professionals, but I could be wrong. We have no idea what sort of a person Mrs Grisham was.”
***
“So you didn’t examine the trash, Chris yesterday?” Gary asked.
“No. That’s definitely  one of the Hartley Agency hunches,” said Chris.
“It is.”
“We would have done it anyway, but it could be important so I’ll get onto it now.”
***
“Chris says the forensic team did not search the trash, but will do so today,” Gary told Cleo.
“Did Chris say why they hadn’t already done that? ”
“No, but he didn’t sound too happy. He’s also having trouble with multi-tasking, like me preferring babies to burglars,” said Gary.
“I expect the forensic team thought it was a clear-cut killing of a totally insignificant person,” said Cleo.
“The Grishams’ past was top secret, my love, and Chris has half a dozen corpses in that mortuary of his. I dare say they all have to wait their turn.”
“Wouldn’t that girl Sophia have already got rid of the trash?” said Cleo.
“I don’t suppose she had a chance. She was hysterical and had to be given a sedative. Emptying ashtrays and rubbish was the last thing on her mind.”
“Ashtrays?”
“There’s still plenty of illegal smoking going on in cosy venues, my love.”
“What are you going to do next, Gary?”
“I wish I was somewhere else when you ask that kind of question, my love.”
“I’ll remember that.”

I’ll get the report on the Grisham’s secret past from  Roger and hope to be home for lunch, OK?”
“Sure.”
“Do you happen to know any of the people who lived near the Grishams, Cleo?”
“No. Can’t we talk a walk down there and look?”
“We could do that this afternoon, Cleo. I mean you and me.”
“I suppose we could, but what about PeggySue?”
”Can you get your mother to baby-sit?”
“I’ll arrange something.”
***
On reflection, Gary thought he had made a mistake arranging to go to Lower Grumpsfield with Cleo. It was too dangerous. He would go alone before going home for lunch. Cleo decided to send Dorothy, but not because it was dangerous. Dorothy was less recognizable. She phoned Dorothy to ask her if she would.
“I’ll go now, Cleo. The jaunt will do me good. What do you want me to do?”
“Just find out if the Grishams had contact with their neighbours. I don’t think you should talk to anyone at length.”
“I can’t find anything out by sign-language, Cleo. I’ll have to talk to them properly.”
“OK, but not so as they’ll know what you are on about. You could ask the neighbours if they thought the Grisham house would be for sale,” Cleo suggested. “I assume that the news of the Grishams’ deaths has got through to them by now.”
“That sounds logical. I’ll report back when I’ve done the job.”
Dorothy’s turn of phrase often amused Cleo.
***
Dorothy was excited. She dropped her loaded pistol into her handbag, having discarded her rucksack after the shattering experience of not being able to reach the weapon when she thought she needed it. No one would suspect her of being armed. Even HQ did not suspect her. This was Great Britain, after all, and she was a respectable pensioner, especially if she wore her ugly cloche hat.
Having set out to walk, Dorothy hopped on the bus that went in the right direction. It bowled down the main street of Lower Grumpsfield and stopped on the corner of Shakespeare Road. All the streets in Lower Grumpsfield went off the main street and most of the houses were built quite recently for people who liked living quietly and worked elsewhere. In Upper Grumpsfield, the side streets sported flower or tree names; in Lower Grumpsfield the great poets of the nation had been immortalized.
Shakespeare Road was quite long and ended in Milton crescent. The Grisham house was one of a number of modern residences that had evidently been designed by the same architect since they all looked alike. The area was affluent. Dorothy got off the bus and walked towards Keats Crescent. The Grisham residence was quite central and the arc shape of the crescent meant that the neighbours could definitely see what was going on at house Number 9. Dorothy did not think visitors came on foot. She paused at the gate of Number 9. As she hoped, it wasn’t long before a woman saw her and came out of a neighbouring house to find out who she was.
“You know Mr Grisham is dead, don’t you?” said the woman.
“I had heard,” replied Dorothy.
“Murdered,” said the woman. “Mrs Grisham was also murdered.”
Dorothy wondered how much the woman actually knew about how the Grishams had met their death.
“He was shot in the back,” the woman said without being asked and Dorothy knew the woman was fantasizing.
“I hear that Mrs Grisham was killed in the back room of her coffee bar,” whispered the woman, getting quite close to Dorothy.
“Who could have done such a wicked thing?” said Dorothy moving back a step. The woman had already patronized her cocktail cabinet several times.
“Mr Grisham was either something in MI5 or a secret agent,” the woman said. “I’m Kate Bollinger-Smythe with a hyphen, by the way. I live next door at Number 7.”
“How do you do, Mrs Bollinger-Smythe,” said Dorothy. “And I’m Ruth van Bomgardner. No hyphen. Dutch origin, you know.”
“Oh,” said Mrs Bollinger-Smythe, most impressed and slightly subservient. “That’s almost royalty, isn’t it?”
“I prefer to be incognito here,” said Dorothy, hoping that the woman would be encouraged to talk by virtue of that very smart-sounding name she had just given herself.”
“There were funny goings-on at Number 9,” the woman volunteered, getting closer to Dorothy, who resisted the temptation to step back smartly.
“What kind of goings-on?” she whispered. “Did Mr Grisham have a – well you know?”
“A mistress? I’m sure he did, Why else would he want her to live upstairs and him down?”
“By her you mean Mrs Grisham, I suppose.”
“Yes, Mrs van Bomgardner.”
“So Mr Grisham lived downstairs, did he? That’s a very funny arrangement.”
“She said he’d got religion and his friends were part of a sect.”
“Really. What sect?”
“I wouldn’t know that,” said Mrs Bollinger-Smythe. “I don’t nosy around.”
“Of course not.”
“But then the vicar got quite pally with Mr Grisham. I think Mr Grisham was giving the vicar a lift to Africa when he was killed.”
“Really?”
Dorothy was just getting into her stride when Gary drew up in his car. That was unfortunate, but Dorothy had the presence of mind to be the first to speak to him. He had been astonished to see Dorothy there and knew immediately who had put her up to it.
“I’m Ruth van Bomgardner and I am going to buy that house,” Dorothy said very loudly to Gary, giving him a broad wink. “Do you want it, Mr…?
“Hurley. Not if you do, Mrs van Bom … what did you say?”
“Bomgardner and this is my friend Mrs Bollinger-Smythe, Mr Hurley,” said Dorothy. “We are the two Bs. She has just been telling me how sorry she was to hear about the Grishams.”
Gary was quick-witted enough to know that he was spoiling things by turning up, so he just told the Bs that he would not try to buy the house if Mrs van Bomgardner had set her heart on it, and left.
“Well, I never,” said Mrs Bollinger-Smythe. “At first it looked as if he knew you, but he can’t have. He didn’t even know your name.”
“I’d never seen him before,” lied Dorothy.
All in a good cause, she decided.
***
Gary drove home and let himself into the cottage. Gloria was cooking and Cleo was giving PeggySue something green out of a jar.
“What the hell is that,” Gary asked.
“Broccoli,” said Cleo.
“They hadn’t invented broccoli when I was a baby, but I survived without it,” said Gary, smelling the contents of the jar and thrusting it from him rather quickly.
“PeggySue likes it,” said Cleo.
“Or she’s so desperately hungry that she’ll eat anything,” said Gary, planting a kiss on his daughter’s forehead.
Then he sat down without a demonstration of affection for Cleo.
“Oh dear,” she said. “It isn’t often that you ignore my need for a little love in my life.”
“I haven’t stopped loving you, but I do wish you would not let Dorothy go on curious errands for you.”
“Oh!”
“I met a Mrs Ruth van Bomgardner in Lower Grumpsfield. Do you know who that is?”
“It sounds very much like one of Dorothy’s nom-de-plumes,” said Cleo.
“You sent her there, didn’t you, Cleo?”
“You and I were going to go there together. Remember? I decided that was not a good idea and Dorothy went instead.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“Gary! You didn’t tell me you were going there alone, either.”
“We’d better have that hug, after all,” said Gary, now feeling guilty about accusing Cleo of doing her own thing.
Cleo stood up and the lovers embraced intensively.
Gloria came in and stopped short at the scene.
“Can I join in?” she said.
“Of course you can. Hugs are free-for-alls,” said Gary.
“I think your daughter wants another mouthful of that disgusting green stuff,” said Gloria. “Wouldn’t she do better on mashed potatoes and gravy?”
“Bring them on, Gloria,” said Gary.
“I’ll bring it all on if you folks can just stop the lovin’ stuff for a few minutes.”
“We’ll try,” said Gary, and presently they were tucking into that gravy and mashed potatoes Gloria had talked about, plus lamb cutlets and peas that were greener than any self-respecting pea should be.
“I think they colour the peas,” Gloria explained. “I bought them at Verdi’s emporium. He assured me that they are edible, but now I look at them...”
“We’ll try them on PeggySue,” Gary joked, and proceeded to mash some up on the small spoon reserved for mint sauce. PeggySue pulled a face. She preferred broccoli.
“So what was Dorothy’s mission?” said Gary, once the laughter had subsided.
“Let’s wait until she phones, then she can tell you herself.”
“Siesta first then?”
“Sure. PeggySue needs her sleep, too.”
“I only get half the sleep I need,” said Gary.
“You’ll have to stop all that lovin’, Gary,” said Gloria. “I’m going back to the shop now. That other village lover is waiting for me.”
So saying, Gloria left.
***
“Your mother is quite embarrassing with her innuendoes, Cleo.”
“Dorothy would say ‘if the cap fits, wear it’!”
“I’ll put PeggySue to bed and you clear the table, Cleo. Is that a deal?”
“Only if you stack the dishwasher later because you haven’t got the clean stuff out yet. It’s your job, remember?”
“You’re a hard taskmaster, Cleo!”
“I can’t top that, Gary, but I’m about ready for my siesta, too.”
“I only have an hour before I should get back to HQ.”
“Stay here, please!”
“I’ll phone Chris. Nigel’s holding the fort.”
“So you’d already planned to stay at home.”
“It’s been a hard week, Cleo.”
“And it isn’t over yet” said Cleo.
“Siesta first,” said Gary. “Plans later.”
***
I’ve decided to take some of tomorrow off, Cleo,” Gary announced when PeggySue had told them she was finished with her siesta and wanted her tea. “We need a home half-day.”
“We need a whole honeymoon,” said Cleo. “But we should get married first.”
“Is that a rule, a custom or a proposal?”
“Take your pick. We could have a tummy bug and be out of circulation,” Cleo suggested.
“What a brilliant idea,” said Gary. “Nobody will ask for proof.”
“But I’m not sure that taking time off iis such a good idea with so the Grishams murders and Parsnips disappearance to contend with,” said Cleo.
“Believe me, it is. We need to refresh ourselves.”
“But Charlie can’t take a day off school, Gary.”
“No, and we’ll let Gloria take PeggySue to the nursery. That way we can be alone all morning.”
“You really are the limit, Gary.”
“If you’d rather I went to HQ all day Friday, just say the word.”
“I’ll settle for the tummy bug.”
“We’ll just call Friday our day of rest, Cleo.”
“I must say that it’s tempting.”
Dorothy would say “Just do it,” said Gary.
“OK. Mais à vos risques et périls!
Bien sûr, mon amour!”


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