About ten miles from Upper Grumpsfield Gary followed the instructions given to him by the patrol officer. He was to turn off the main road and drive down a very bumpy lane for about a hundred yards to an open space. There they would find the car and the police officer in charge would be waiting for them. The area had been cordoned off and an ambulance was standing by.
Gary had a digital camera in the glove pocket of his car. He took photos from where they had parked. Cleo took photos on her mobile.
“Let’s get closes,” said Garyr.
As they got nearer Cleo declared that the guy sitting in the passenger seat could not be Frederick because Frederick had a shock of brown hair and this guy seemed to have a bald pate.
On closer inspection it was clear why the police had thought it was a churchman. He was wearing a dog-collar, but it was definitely not Mr Parsnip.
Gary walked round the car and said there wasn’t a flat tyre so it can’t have been a puncture that had forced the car off the main road.
The paramedics were standing around waiting for instructions.
“Can you get him out, boys?” said Gary, taking more snapshots of the scene.
“We’ll try, Sir, but he’s been dead for hours and may be too stiff.”
Cleo shuddered. Gary turned to the patrol officer.
“How did you know about this car, Officer?” Gary asked.
“An anonymous phone-call from a public box, Sir.”
“In other words, you did not trace it.”
“Was it a woman’s voice?” Cleo asked.
“I had an anonymous phone call from a woman this morning,” said Cleo. But wasn’t about this incident.”
“Do you link the two, Cleo?” Gary said.
“I’ve no idea, Gary. But it does make you think, doesn’t it?”
“Did you find any identity documents, Officer?” said Gary.
“Nothing, Sir. Nothing at all.”
Gary decided that Parsnip must have taken his passport and ticket with him and Grisham might have been travelling without any documents since he was planning to return home that day.
Gary got beyond showing his police badge and explained who he was. The patrol officer was overawed. Why would a Chief Inspector be bothering about a tin-pot little traffic incident?
“I’ll explain some more,” said Cleo, showing her own business card.
“The vicar is a friend. He was on his way to Africa and being given a lift to Heathrow by this dead guy here,” she said.
“Have you combed the area for the other person in this car, Sergeant?” Gary asked.
“No Sir, but I’ve ordered a second squad team. They should be here soon.”
”I thought there must be a second person because the driver’s seat is empty.”
“This guy was actually the driver,” said Cleo.
“So he must have been moved,” said the officer.
“The question is who moved him over and why?” said Cleo.
“And how,” said Gary. “I doubt whether Frederick Parsnip would have had the strength.”
“Don’t you believe it, Gary. Women can lift cars if their child is trapped underneath. The vicar was desperate. That lends strength.”
“But what about the dog-collar? Whoever left Grisham dead must have changed his shirt.”
“No deal there, either, Gary. Dog-collars are on a sort of long frill. To put one on you simply open the back, clip it round your neck and tuck the frill into whatever pullover you are wearing. I think some dog-collars are made with a shirt front so that they can be worn without a pullover.”
“How do you know all that, Cleo?”
“Curiosity mainly, which is one reason I’d like to know more about why all this junk happened.”
“We need to find Parsnip, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile the paramedics had managed to strap the dead Mr Grisham on a stretcher. Gary looked through the man’s pockets and found nothing, not even a wallet. Parsnip must have had enough presence of mind to search though Grisham’s pockets and take anything with him that he thought might be come in handy, including a wallet. Cleo dictated Grisham’s name for the paramedics to attach a label to him. Then they wheeled him to the ambulance and pushed the trolley in.
“Where shall we take him?” they wanted to know.
“HQ in Middlethumpton, please,” said Gary. “Pathology will deal with him there. The entrance is in the side street before you get to the main entrance if HQ is on your right.”
“OK. We’ll find it,” said one of the paramedics.
“Is there a death certificate?” Cleo asked.
“No doctor,” said the paramedic. “We phoned him, but he said I could write an interum death certificate myself.”
“That’s not legal,” said Gary.
“I am a medical student,” said the paramedic. “I know when a person is beyond redemption.”
Gary phoned Dr Chris Marlow, forensic pathologist at HQ, and told him a corpse named Grisham would be arriving shortly. Chris said he would send a forensic team to look at the car and surrounding area. Gary said they would wait till forensics arrived.
"Where did you say you are, Gary?" Chris asked.
"Not far from Upper Grumpsfiel. I'll hand you over to someone who knows, Chris. And thanks!"
Gary told the patrol officer what he had arranged and handed over his mobile phone so that the officer could tell Chris how to get to the scene. A second patrol car drew up and the team were sent to look for signs of the vicar in the vicinity. Cleo gave them a description of him. They didn’t hold out much hope. There was a wood to comb through and on the other side there was a country road. Anyone trying to get away might have hitched a lift or even caught a bus. There was a regular bus service down that road and he had been gone for hours.
“So Parsnip had a choice of transport, didn’t he?” said Gary.
“If he was alive to tell the tale,” said Cleo. “If he got that far, a bus driver might have noticed that he was in a strange mental state.”
“Don’t you bet on it. Bus drivers are paid to drive the passengers, not look out for mental defects. Unless a passenger is obviously drunk or a rowdy, he has to be let on.”
“Poor Frederick. What sort of plight has befallen him?” said Cleo.
“Until we know that he hasn’t killed Grisham we should be economical with our pity,” said Gary.
“I’m sure that Parsnip is more of a victim than an activist. I really feel anxious about him, ”said Cleo.
“Don’t be anxious. Whatever has happened, it is either out of his control by now or he has planned the whole stunt.”
“He wouldn’t do that. Gary.”
“He’s a vicar who pinned his dog collar on a dead or dying man who was doing him a favour, cleared off with Grisham’s wallet and is either roaming around or has an accomplice.”
“You make him sound like a criminal, Gary. There may have been a third person involved.”
“That makes it even worse, Cleo. It might mean there is a killer out there whom we cannot identify. Parsnip may have been drugged, too. Grisham managed to drive off the road, so whatever killed him must have had some sort of delayed action. Until we know that Parsnip is not a killer, he is!”
Chris arrived with his team.
“I didn’t know you’d come yourself,” said Gary.
“The corpse is already on the way to HQ,” Gary told him. “The paramedics were anxious to get going.”
“That’s OK. I couldn’t have done anything for him. I don’t suppose there were any signs of an attack, were there?”
“No. Mr Grisham looked as if he was asleep.”
“Sounds like some kind of drug or maybe heart failure. Do you have photos of how the corpse looked when you arrived?”
Gary showed Chris the photos then mailed them to Chris’s phone. That way they would also be at HQ and in his own mailbox.
“Grisham was the driver, Chris. We have to assume that the vicar dragged him onto the passenger seat before running off. He may have done that to get at the dead man’s wallet.”
“It does not sound like the vicar I’ve met. A bumbler if ever there was one.”
“Did you give this case a name, Sergeant?” Gary asked.
“I’m Benton, Sir, and yes. It’s B420 slash 256.”
Chris and Cleo made a note of the number.
“B is for Benton and the 420 is the bus route behind the wood,” Sergeant Benton explained. “This little path has no ordinance survey number.”
“What happens if more than one policeman’s surname starts with a B?” Cleo asked.
“I was the first on this system, Miss Hartley, so all the others have to use more than one initial”
“And the 256?”
The numbers on the car registration plates, Sir.”
“That sounds logical,” said Gary. “We’ve had case numbers with birth dates on them before now.”
“Well, to be honest, it’s my mum’s birth month and year, too.”
“Oh,” said Gary. “A nice coincidence.”
“There’s no point in your staying, Gary,” said Chris. “There’s nothing you can do here.”
“OK. Phone me from HQ. I’m going back to the cottage now. See to the kids. Help to make dinner. That sort of thing.”
“I didn’t know you were a houseman, Gary,” said Chris.
“I am now,” said Gary. “I have a working wife.”
“I’ll be in my office, Chris,” Cleo said pointedly. She had managed to get DNA from PeggySue and Gary to Chris when she was supposed to be in Middlethumpton looking for a new blazer.”
“Ciao,” said Chris, winking at Cleo.
“What did he wink for?” said Gary.
“Just a joke,” said Cleo.
“Can I share it?”
“Nope,” said Cleo.
Gloria was already at the cottage, having collected PeggySue from the nursery. There was a delicious smell of baking.
“I hope you don’t mind, Gary, but I’ve put a cake or two in the oven,” said Gloria. “Where’s my daughter?”
“In her office. Why should I mind about you making cake, Gloria? It was a brilliant idea. I can’t wait to eat some.”
“Wait about ten minutes, Gary. Why did Cleo have to go to the office?”
“She didn’t have to. She wanted to,” said Gary.
"It must have been important."
“It would be, Gloria. The vicar has disappeared.”
“Your daughter’s up to something, Gloria, but she wouldn’t say what.”
“Then it has to do with you, I expect.”
“I don’t suppose you know, do you, Gloria?”
“I have an idea, but I’m not telling,” she said.
“I won’t tell her you’ve told me.”
“Don’t turn your charm on, Gary. It’s wasted on me.”
“I wouldn’t have thought so. What about that guy you met at the Bistro the other evening?”
“That was business.”
“Oh. Do you want to tell me about it?”
Gary opened his laptop. He wondered if Chris had already put some results of his investigations into a mail. Of course, it was too soon to expect results, but Chris was a dab hand at making accurate forecasts. Having found no mail, Gary phoned him, but his line was engaged. Cleo was on the phone to Chris in her office, but not about the vicar.
“Did you find anything out?” she asked Chris.
“Were you hoping that PeggySue is Gary’s daughter?” said Chris.
“I think it’s possible.”
“I’m surprised at you, Cleo. Were you messing around with Gary nearly two years ago? PeggySue’s about a year old, isn’t she?”
“To be honest, I’ve been messing around with Gary from the day I met him,” said Cleo.
“Why didn’t you marry him?”
“No buts. I never considered it and then I decided Robert was the right man.”
“But he was married, too.”
“He didn’t know that.”
“And that Jay Salerno fellow was still alive so you were still married to him,” said Chris.
“I didn’t know that, either, did I?”
“But now you are living with Gary and that is just perfect,” said Chris, who was a romantic.
“Do you have the results, or are we just indulging in a little marriage guidance, Chris?”
“Gary is 99 comma 9 percent PeggySue’s father,” said Chris. “Are you happy about that?”
“Over the moon, though Robert is in for a nasty shock.”
“He won’t care. He didn’t want the baby, did he?” said Chris.
“No, but I made him the fathe,” said Cleo.
“Simply because he was not to find out about your affair with Gary?”
“More or less, Chris. I thought Robert could be the father.”
“Do you know. Robert doesn’t look like the type you would jump into bed with.”
“He wasn’t Chris. Do you want more details?”
“Poor Robert not noticing what a fine woman your are, Cleo. I think what you did on a grand scale was called cuckolding in the old days.”
“He’s over it now. He has a new girlfriend.”
“Edith,” said Chris. “I saw that coming.”
“Dorothy Price had that idea a while back,” said Cleo.
“A discerning lady if ever there was one, “ said Chris.
“But Edith has five kids and she might still be married if the vicar is not dead,” said Cleo.
“The vicar’s demise was good timing if it happened,” said Chris. “I hope Robert can cope with all those kids, given his basic aversion to offspring.”
“Robert plays football with the Parsnip boys. I think it’s girl children that are more of a problem for Robert, Chris. Remember Anna? The girl we found at the bell tower? I wanted to adopt her, but he didn’t want that. Can you send me a copy of the DNA test results? I’m not sure that Gary will believe me.”
“Black on white, Cleo. I’m going to look into Grisham now.”
“Literally, I expect.”
“So how’s your love life Chris? You knw all about mine.”
“I’ve been getting friendlier with Nigel recently.”
“Wow, Chris. Nigel’s a nice guy. I think that if Gary wasn’t stuck on me he’s go for a guy like Nigel.”
“He’d better not,” said Chris.
“I’m really happy about PeggySue and thanks a million, Chris. I’ve received your fax. It’s worth a pot of gold.”
“I’m really happy for PeggySue,” said Chris. “Gary will make her a good father.”
“He is already, Chris. It was love at first sight.”
“All my loving….” sang Chris.
“More appropriate than ‘Help’, Chris.”
“I went to Penny Lane once,” said Chris.
“Come for dinner and tell us about her.”
“Not her. It. I’ll be there, Cleo.”
“How about tomorrow?”
Cleo found it impossible to concentrate on her work knowing what that DNA test meant for her family. She was overjoyed. Robert would be a bit put out, more at the implications than his loss of fatherhood. He had made an effort to get used to having a second daughter and reconciled himself to PeggySue. He would be sad that Cleo had lied about having an affair with Gary since she had steadfastly denied it.
Cleo packed up for the day.She would go home and tell Gary first, then they could decide how to tell Robert. But before that she would phone Dorothy about the Grishams. Getting to know what made them tick was something Dorothy could do to perfection. She would not tell Dorothy about PeggySue’s parentage just yet.
“Gary, we need to talk,” Cleo called when she got home.
“Gloria’s in the kitchen helping out,” Gary almost sang out, more as a warning than anything else.
“Don’t mind me,” Gloria said, emerging from the kitchen.
“I don’t think you can keep anything a secret, Mother,” said Cleo. “The whole world knows I’m pregnant.”
“At least we know who the father is this time,” said Gloria.
Gary left his laptop, which was sitting on the dining table, and moved to the sofa.
“Well,” said Gary. “Confess!”
“What would you say if I told you were going to have another daughter, Gary?” Cleo started.
“I’d like that,” said Gary. “Have you found out what you are brooding?”
“I mean would you like a ready-made daughter?”
“I mean a kid like PeggySue,” said Cleo.
“I’m going to adopt her. We talked about that.”
“You are not going to adopt her, Gary.”
His face clouded over.
“Are you leaving me?” he said. “You’re 4 months gone. You can’t leave me now.”
“I’ll never leave you, Gary. I’m just trying to break some news to you gently.”
“I can’t detect any gentleness and I’m a detective,” said Gary.
“Even I know what Cleo’s trying to tell you,” said Gloria.
“Go on then. You seem to know everything. Tell him!”
“PeggySue is your child, Gary.”
“I didn’t know you were sleeping with my daughter all that long time ago.”
“It’s all your fault, Gloria,” said Gary. “That case with your neighbour. Remember?”
“Sort of,” said Gloria.
“Cleo and I met over your extraordinary behaviour. Cleo was distraught and it was love at first sight for me.”
“Awesome,” said Gloria.
“It’s taken me till nearly now to convince her that she’s the only woman in my life.”
“I’d never have thought that, Gary,” said Gloria. “You’ve had a few women tagging along during that time.”
“They were a cover-up.”
“For Christ’s sake, what for?”
“For reasons best known to herself, your daughter decided that she would stick with Robert and I would be the side-kick.”
“Can I just get a word in edgeways?” said Cleo.
“No, Cleo,” said Gloria. “I know the truth now.”
“It’s not about you or the truth, Gloria.”
“I think it is.”
“It’s about Gary and me, and the daughter he has who came back from Spain, the one he has just found out about and the third one or maybe a son that he’ll have in a few months.”
“I’ll cook the dinner,” said Gloria, short of words for once.
“I hope that wasn’t a joke about PeggySue, Cleo.”
“Of course not.”
“I need time to get over the shock.”
Cleo handed him Chris’s report on the DNA analysis.
“So that’s what Chris was winking about:”
“And that’s why you went to the office.”
“Sure. We don’t have a fax machine here.”
“We just have old-fashioned emails,” said Gary.
“I wanted you to have the result on paper, my love.”
“That was a good idea.”
“Are you happy now, Gary?”
“I was before, but now I’m delirious, drunk and stunned. I need a hug.”
Gloria came in from the kitchen to say something, saw Cleo and Gary embracing with a passion she could not possibly have interrupted and tiptoed away.
“Should we tell Robert immediately about PeggySue?”
“We’ll have to. I can’t see your mother keeping it a secret.”
“I’ll phone him at the shop.”
“Do that," said Gary. He was glad not to have the chore of telling Robert anything.
"Robert probably has enough stress with Edith and that ridiculous vicar involved in a disappearing act. What the hell could have happened?” said Gary.
“Ask me another," said Cleo. "Do you think he killed Grisham?”
“I haven’t started thinking about it yet. I was rather hoping for a brain-storming, preferably with Dorothy present.”
“We can arrange that. I’ll ask her to supper. I think Gloria’s making a casserole.”
“She always makes casseroles, Cleo,” said Gary.
“Finished the lovin’, kids?”
“Not really,” said Gary.
“Casserole’s what I cook best, Gary,” said Gloria, carrying in a cake that was still steaming from the oven. “Have some cake to tide you over.”
“Have we had a big hug recently, Gloria?” said Gary.
“Just let me put the cake down first,” said Gloria.
“Not without us,” shouted Charlie, running in carrying PeggySue.
“Where’ve you come from, Charlie?”
“We got sent home. The heating at school broke down and were all shivering.”
“Charlie has a key,” said Cleo. “She must have come in and snuck into her room, Gary.”
“Did you hear us talking just now, Charlie?” said Cleo.
“Not really, Mummy,” said Charlie, looking a little guilty.
“We’ll have to tell her now,” said Cleo, watching the two little girls and thinking how sweet they were together and how much Charlie was enjoying being the big sister.
“Tell me what?”
“Your Daddy is PeggySue’s Daddy, too.”
“I knew that,” said Charlie.
“She has the same toes.”