Tuesday October 27
Gary had asked Roger Stone, his superior at HQ, for advice on the Parsnip case and was meeting him early on Tuesday morning.
Domestic bliss is all very well, but it doesn’t get crimes solved.
Stone had had a hard time recently. Even Gary had for a time thought he had been leading a double life that included supporting and covering up for his wife, who was now serving a life sentence for murder. For a time Gary had thought Stone was corrupt, but he had continued to support him through the crisis because he was a friend. Fortunately, Stone’s complete innocence had been proved and he was reinstated in his position as co-administrator of Middlethumpton police HQ. Gary still had moments of shame when he remembered that he had also distrusted his friend. Stone had always supported him and had been responsible for Gary getting his job as head of the homicide department. Gary had not wanted to believe his frined and colleague was guilty of anything underhand, but there had for a time been evidence to support that – evidence that had subsequently been declared fake. Roger Stone had been the object of sriminal mobbing.
Now that awful time was over, Gary could go back to valuing his boss’s astuteness. Gary achieved detective status and solved many difficult crimes. He was to be reckoned with. Gary carried out many of the successful actions that stemmed from Roger Stone’s suggestions and advice. Gary also knew of the rumour that Roger was working for M15 and M16, but Rogr had never offered to talk about his role as a sercret agein and Gary never asked him about it.
“So what do you think we should do about Parsnip,” Gary asked him after he had gone through what he already knew about the case.
Chris had delivered an interim autopsy on the corpse of Mr Grisham, who had been killed with a neuromuscular blocking drug through a syringe. It had that lamed his nerves and killed him outright within minutes of its application. So he had probably just had enough time to drive the car off the road. Or had the killer done the driving later, Roger wondered. H was also anxious to know if a third person had been in the car, and that was also Gary’s biggest worry. Chris’s interim forensic reportreported fingerprint evidence that someone had been sitting behind Parsnip and Grisham. That could confirm the suspicion that someone else had steered the car into that clearing.
“We could go to the national dailies,” said Gary. “Give them a photo of the vicar and get them to ask if anyone recognizes him. That’s the kind of story they like. We’d just say that the car in which he was travelling was found abandoned and anyone who has seen him should get in touch with us.
“You’d have to say that the vicar was not wearing a dog- collar and may have amnesia or be in shock,” said Roger. “You could say that the car has been removed for investigation. On the other hand, the are good reasons for not going to the press at all.”
“I can’t explain now, but I will in a few days’ time.”
“OK. No media.”
“It’s M15., Gary,” said Roger. “I can’t make decisions withut consultation there.”
Gary wisely thought better of asking Roger about M15, but at least Roger’s statement had confirmed the rumours about Roger’s involvement therewith.
“Another problem is not knowing if the vicar is really a harmless victim of circumstances because he may not be,” said Gary.
“Exactly,” said Roger. “That’s another reason for not going to the media.”
“We don’t know if he killed Grisham. Where would he get a drug like curare and why would he kill someone he thought was taking him to a bright future?”
“There’s also the risk factor.”
“If he is guilty he might take umbrage to being spotted and turn violent.”
“I’d better scrap the missing persons action altogether then,” Gary decided. “He might turn up in Upper Grumpsfield after all if we give him time.”
Gary wondered whether Roger was playing down the drama of Grisham’s murder for any particular reason.
“Who was Grisham?” said Gary, not really expecting an immediate answer.
Roger did not even hint at an explanation..
“It is a murder case and you are short-staffed,” Roger said. “Would you like extra support in your department?”
“It might be a good idea to get someone completely new to the area. I’m starting to be recognized.”
“That’s because you work with that gorgeous woman of yours, Gary. How is she, by the way?”
“We are in seventh heaven, to be honest,” said Gary. “I don’t mind telling you that from having one pretty daughter I now have two and we’re expecting a third baby, though we don’t know the gender, or Cleo is just being cagey.”
“Goodness. How did you manage that?”
They both laughed at that rather leading question.
“Cleo had a DNA test done by Chrisand it turns out that Cleo’s daughter is also mine.”
“I told Cleo to do that,” said Roger. “It’s on the house, by the way.”
“I’m glad she’s on our side, Roger.”
“You should be. And if my maths is right, you have been…”
“… together since I set eyes on her that time with the Rosso case.”
“But you had other girlfriends, didn’t you?”
“Sort of, but. I could not live without Cleo then and I don’t want to now. I know that sounds childish in a grown man but…”
“Not at all, Gary, but I should think that those private conflicts caused the burnout problem.”
“They did. I hated myself for two-timing. I tried to love those other women, but I couldn’t. One even told me I needed a baby-sitter, not a wife. The doctors at that sanatorium said I had to get my private life sorted out and preferably find another way of earning money.”
“I’m glad you didn’t leave, Gary.”
“So am I and you can thank Cleo for that.”
“I can believe that. I’m relieved that Cleo finally made up her mind about you and saved me the drama of finding someone to replace you as a colleague…and a friend.”
“In the end Robert walked out on her, Roger. We suspect that he was already carrying a torch for Edith Parsnip, the vicar’s wife. Cleo described her own marriage as bordering on geriatric.”
“A thought just occurred to me, Gary. Could that vicar have been two-timing his wife? Could he have fled the vicarage in order to have a new life?”
“It’s certainly a possibility. I’ll have to ask Cleo what she thinks. Cleo will ask Dorothy Price, and Dorothy will have a hunch. That’s how the Hartley Agency gets quick results.”
“The police can’t often compete with private sleuths once they get going.”
“Cleo’s support certainly helped in North Wales,” said Gary. “And Cleo' agency has taken on a local private sleuth who seems to know a lot.”
“I know him, Gary. First rate, I’d say. He used to be Secret Service but left to do his own thing. Tell Cleo to watch him, however. He’s mercuria, volatile and ambitious.All his jobs up to now have been stepping-stones.”
“How do you know that, Roger?”
“Let’s just say I do.”
“What about Shirley?" Gary could not resist asking. "Would you have had a future with her if your wife had not shot her?”
“It took a jealous wife with high criminal energy to destroy that affair, Gary, though Elinor was only protecting her property, me being part of it.”
“That was a terrible tragedy,” said Gary.
“It hit me hard, Gary.”
“Shirley made no secret of your affair.” said Gary, refraining from saying that Shirley had more or less chosen for Roger for what it could get her.
“She would be alive today if she had not been so insistent that I was the man she had been looking for, Gary. I can say that now, but I was stupid enough to fall for that flattery. She had probably had a string of men who believed that, one after another up the career ladder.”
Gary also refrained from telling Roger that Shirley had said exactly the same things to him. He thought that Roger probably knew..
“Your wife was a jealous woman,” Gary said instead. “It takes a lot of hate and jealousy for a wife to kill her rival.“
“Our marriage was only on paper. A deal, I suppose you’d say. I needed someone good-looking to take to events and Elinor needed the status and financial freedom my position gave her. She did not need me. She had her toy-boys for her bed and I was financing her, them, the hotel rooms she frequented, in fact all her escapades.”
“So murder was preferable to losing all the perks that went with the marriage to you, Roger.”
“As time want by, I realized that Elinor is congenitally evil,” said Roger. “Sometimes I think revenge was on her mind when she killed Shirley. She got at me by killing that poor woman with the gun I used to keep in my bedside cupboard. I suppose she wanted me to be accused of the murder, but in the end she tipped the scales against herself.”
“I think she has a streak of madness, but she is clever enough to hide it. She has been heard to say that she prefers prison to a mental home, said Gary. “I expect she considers that less humiliating than being locked away as a mental case.”
“I can second that, but I think she belongs in a mental care home,” said Roger.
“I had an unhappy marriage, but nothing as drastic,” said Gary.
I was a long time since he had had a heart to heart with Roger and he wasn’t sure what had triggered it, but it was helping both of them to return to what had been a solid friendship at one time.
“And now you have the right constellation in your life, Gary. I envy you.”
“You will turn the corner eventually, Roger. I did after I had almost given up. I was having affairs with women for the sake of it. I thought I was waiting in vain for Cleo to say she would have me after all. It took her nearly three years, despite our affair.”
“Or because of it. Thanks for listening to my tale of woe, Gary.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
“Changing the subject, is there anything I can do for the vicar’s family?”
“Edith Parsnip has taken up with Robert Jones, Cleo’s ex-husband. How about that for a happy end?”
“So you think things will turn out right for him, too.”
“I hope so. At least Robert has stopped being jealous of me. That makes Cleo happy and more at ease with the situation we are in, but not from the moral angle. She thinks she behaved badly towards Robert. Her mother calls our life-style living in sin.”
“It’s the generation gap,” said Roger.
“Cleo was born of a love affair, Roger. You’d think her mother would bear that in mind.”
“Stop thinking about women’s motives, Gary. Look where it landed me!”
Roger’s desk phone rang.
“Chris Marlow is looking for you, Gary.”
“That will be about Grisham.”
Roger Stone looked worried.
“Do you know more than you are telling me, Roger?”
“It’s possible, but my hands are tied at the moment. Keep me informed. I’ll get you an assistant. I know one who goes undercover. He’s experienced and shrewd. You’ll need both if what Chris said about injected poison proves accurate. That is spy stuff. I’ll get him to phone you.”
“Frank Cook. He’s Swiss by birth and polyglot, but has anglicized his surname. Communicates mainly by phone. Likes to be anonymous, untraceable.”
“Phones can be tapped, Roger.”
“He’s careful. Knows the ropes…”
Roger Stone hesitated before his next piece of advice.
“Keep the Hartley Agency out of this case, Gary.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Just remember that the case is not really about Frederick Parsnip.”
“So the agency could look for him.”
“As we speculated earlier, finding him might be dangerous. He might have seen more than he should, for instance who was in the back of that car.”
“Do you know who was in the back of that car, Roger?”
“I wish I could be specific, Gary. I’ll look into it. There's always the chance that it is a domestic crime and has nothing to do with spying or anything else in that direction. ”
“I’ll talk to Cleo about keeping out of the case.”
“Good. I don’t want you to lose her, Gary.”
Gary phoned Cleo immediately after the talk with Roger Stone.
“Hands off Parsnip,” he told her. “Instructions from Roger.”
“He can’t tell me what to investigate,” said Cleo.
“He can and I can, Cleo. He’s serious. I don’t know why yet because he refused to be more specific, but he’s getting an undercover colleague to help me with the case, and Cleo…”
“Chris found evidence that a third guy was in that car.”
“It stinks, Gary. We will keep off it at the agency.”
Cleo had already asked Dorothy to investigate Grisham. She was sure he was the key to this mess and too dead to say why. She rang Dorothy and told her to cancel her mission.
“But I’m ready to go out,” she said.
“Instructions from Roger Stone have to be taken seriously,” said Cleo. “Gary sounded anxious.”
“But there’s nothing to stop me walking past the house, is there, Cleo?”
“Can I stop you?”
“No. I was going there anyway. There’s a new coffee shop in the main street.”
“We can go there together for the coffee, can’t we?” said Dorothy. “That isn’t going against Mr Stone’s wishes.”
Knowing that Dorothy was going to do that anyway, Cleo decided to go with her.
“OK, but only to try their coffee and cake, Dorothy. Not to ask questions. Be at the office at 11. We’ll have a talk about other cases in the books and go together.”
Cleo thought she had better not tell Gary she was going to Lower Grumpsfield. He would definitely smell a rat. Cleo was just as curious as Dorothy. When old Mrs Garnet’s cake shop opposite Verdi’s emporium on Upper Grumpsfield main street closed after the old lady’s death there was nowhere to go for a sit-down chat except Delilah’s Bistro and that did not open until midday and did not serve cakes. Cleo had often wondered why no one had reopened Mrs Garnet’s café, but someone called Crumb was doing just that on the coming Sunday.
As it was now only Tuesday, she and Dorothy could actually compare the two enterprises. That is what she would tell Gary. Her conscience appeased, Cleo got to work on a new case, the reopening of the Manor School in Huddlecourt Minor. She wondered what Dorothy would have to say about that, given that it had been closed down by the authorities.
Chris summarized the autopsy results he could already verify in an email to Gary and sent a copy to Cleo. Most importantly, he wanted to show the small bruise on Grisham’s right shoulder where the nerve poison had been injected into the man’s body.
Gary went to the pathology lab to find out more. Examining corpses with smell of formaldyhide floating around his nostrils was something Gary hated, but it had to be done.
“No front-seat passenger could have done that,” said Chris. “Shall I show you why?”
“You‘ve already established that there was a third set of prints in the car,” said Gary.
“But we don’t know if they were already in the car before Grisham was killed, Gary.”
“Can you identify them?”
“Not on our normal database,” said Chris. “They could a woman’s prints. Roger told me to look at the Interpol records, but I need an ID code for that.”
“I can give you that, Chris.”
“Write it down, Gary. I’ll look after we’ve finished my experiment.”
Chris dragged two normal chairs together and sat Gary on the left-hand one. He then fetched an empty syringe with a needle and sat on the other chair.
“I’m Grisham,” he said. “We could carry out this experiment in a car, but I think our imaginations will do.”
Chris handed Gary a syringe containing water. The needle was fixed on top.
“You are Parsnip, so you are sitting on the passerseet. Hold the syringe the way you would to give yourself a jab, then push the needle into my right shoulder,” said Chris.
“This is assuming that Parsnip was right-handed. It’s hardly liklely that he would use the weaker hand for such an important action.”
“Give me moment to check that, Chris. Dorothy will know.”
Dorothy did know. She had visions of the vicar sharpening his pencels with the scalpel in his right hand. She told Chris as much and they agreed that the vicar must be righ-handed.
“Remember that Parsnip would be safety-belted. A man like him would definitely use the safety belt, so he could not move freely.”
Gary was unable to reach Chris’s right shoulder with his right hand. Even using the left hand he would have had to twist round, and such an attempt would have led to the safety-belt jamming and Grisham certainly taking evasive action. Since that action would have to be extremely fast, it was virtually impossible for an agile person to execute such a movement let alone someone inclined to move slowly and ponderously. Parsnip’s record for running into things on his mountain bike had shown many a time that his reactions were not exactly fast.Cleo and Gary had often laughed about Frederick Parsnip’s predicaments. His only skill seems to have been at sharpening pencils to a frazzle.
“I see what you mean,” said Gary.
“So that poison must have been injected from the back seat. Another argument would be that nerve poison could be jabbed in anywhere, so it would be more natural for a front-seat passenger to aim for a leg. Those African natives blowing curare arrows probably had a good aim, but they were aiming at a moving target and the main object was not to miss it.”
“You’ve convinced me,” said Gary. "We’ll rule Parsnip out.I wonder where this third person could have come from? He can’t have been in the car when the vicar got in because they would have seen him.”
“I’ve no idea, Gary.”
“Let me have any more details right away, will you, Chris?”
“I don’t think there’ll be much more, Gary. There were no marks on the corpse to indicate a fight and I expect the blood analysis to tell me more about the poison. It must have been fast-acting and I think it was inflicted when the car was stationary because he could probably not have driven anywhere once it was in his body.”
“That leaves a lot of open questions,” said Gary. “For instance, was he forced to drive off the main road?”
“Cleo has invited me to dinner tonight.”
“Good, but let’s not talk about this case, Chris. Roger wants the Agency kept out of it for safety reasons. He could not tell me the exact reason, but Roger does not issue idle warnings.”
“MI5 or MI6 probably, Gary. I know Stone has contacts there, but I’m not sure how intensive they are. He may have been told to warn you.”
“It’s possible. Roger closes up like a clam when anything to do with espionage comes up.”
“Gary, I’m bringing someone. Cleo said I could.”
“Great, Chris. Do I know her?”
“OK. I didn’t realize…”
“I’ve stopped keeping up appearances.”
“Yes, Gary. If it offends you, I’ll find a reason to cry off.”
“It isn’t Nigel, is it, Chris?”
“No, but I quite like him, too.”
“Whoever you bring, It’s fine by me, Chris. You’re always welcome and love is great wherever you find it.”
“I didn’t tell Cleo who I’m bringing. “I thought it might be better to just bring Mike along and not actually admit anything straight off, especially as I told her I quite like Nigel.”
“Look Chris. We are a modern society. Cleo prefers men and so do you. I can’t see a problem there.”
“Thanks for that, Gary. Now I’m really looking forward to that dinner.”
Gary reflected on Chris’s situation for a long time. Chris was a victim of society because even in the twenty-first century there were people who feared anything they either did not understand or did not want to. Like others with the same inborn inclination, Chris had tried to hide behind a string of girlfriends he had liked but not desired. He had not been honest with himself let alone with the other people in his life.
Gary knew guys who had married for that reason. He had met guys at the sanatorium who were ostensibly there because they had burnout, but in fact they were just plain miserable because they could not admit, often even to themselves, that they were gay. Gary had even wondered if that was his problem, but it wasn’t. His love for Cleo, their love-making and mutual understanding had dispelled that idea.
“I just want to tell you something about myself, Chris.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I do. I had string of girlfriends while I was was waiting for Cleo to ditch that butcher. I slept with one or two of them, but I hated it. I thought that if I couldn’t have Cleo I’d settle for celebacy. It didn’t come to that, fortumately. Cleo was always tolerant. I kept on telling her I was looking for a replacement and she said it was a good idea.”
“Cleo is a wonderful woman, Gary. I love women but I don’t want sex with them.”
Bring Mike tonight, Chris. I’m looking forward to a great dinner. We’ll make you feel at home and glad to.”
Cleo was getting herself and the girls some lunch when Gary breezed into the cottage.
“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t out detecting something you shouldn’t,” he said.
“Would I do that?” said Cleo, faking amazement.
“Yes, you would, but Roger Stone was really anxious that the Grisham case be investigated by experts.”
“So it’s already stopped being the Parsnip case, has it? Did Roger say who Grisham really is? “
“That’s what bothers me, Cleo. Roger did not actually say anything, and certainly not what kind of guy Grisham was. Hiring an assistant for me who sounds like someone dropped off an espionage lorry is not very confidence-building.”
“Then we’ll have to find out, won’t we?”
“Not we, Cleo. Not even me, I shouldn’t think.”
“That new colleague works undercover.”
“Isn’t that someone who goes after top secret information or finds out who is leaking formulas and stuff?”
“It can be, or ha may be just to support the squad. But those guys don’t grow on trees, so why send one here if the case doesn’t merit it?”
“Isn’t it just possible that Roger thinks you could be recognized, Gary?”
“That’s one reason and that’s why you and Dorothy have to stop meddling immediately.“
“Gary, you know I love you, but I’m not going to labelled a meddler, even by you.”
“I was really thinking of Dorothy. She goes about her investigations with very conspicuous enthusiasm and a lot of dangerous gusto. She’s been lucky up to now that no one has wanted her out of the way.”
“Dorothy has had some splendid results. If she goes, I lose my Girl Friday.”
“Just stick to domestic issues or investigate things that won’t bite you!”
“That is not a reference to lost dogs, I take it,” said Cleo, smarting a bit from what could be described as a dressing-down.
“That’s not what I meant. Don’t take me so literally!”