On reflection, Cleo thought it might have been her mother's influence on a level of 'you can't have chosen the wrong man again' that was responsible for her attitude. Gloria had not known for certain about Cleo's affair with Gary. She thought that Cleo might have been trying to improve her marriage through PeggySue and that everything would turn out hunky-dory.
Robert had included porterhouse steaks in Cleo's order although she hadn’t asked for any. No T-bone, however. Was that symbolic of their estrangement? T-bone steaks had been frequently on the menu that she and Robert had grilled and eaten together when their appetite for them far exceeded the appetite they had for one another. In the end, their passion for good food had replaced any vestige of passion. If Cleo had not felt committed to keeping the partnbership going whatever it cost, she could have put an end to what was becoming a farce. Gary’s only explanation later was that she had been in denial.
Chris had to call off his date. He was terribly sorry, but another corpse had cropped up, this time from the drugs squad.
At seven, Gary arrived with his guest.
Frank Cook was tall. He walked with a slight stoop, as though he was always trying to avoid ceilings and door frames. He was taller than Gary, who was much taller than many of his colleagues and wondered about Frank’s chances of remaining unrecognized since he was an imposing figure. Frank was grateful for the invitation and had brought Cleo a bunch of mauve asters that he presented to her with a flourish and a bow. He spoke good English with a gutteral Swiss lilt.
“Nice to meet you, Mr Cook. I’m Cleo.”
Dorothy arrived a little later. Frank was devastated that he had not brought two bunches of asters. Dorothy was flattered, but not fooled.
“What do you actually do, Mr Cook?” she asked even before they had finished their aperitif, although Cleo had warned her to stay on safe ground.
“I spy on people, Miss Price.”
“I’m Frank. What do YOU do, Dorothy?”
Dorothy did not wait to be asked twice. She told Frank most of what had kept her busy up to her return to Upper Grumpsfield and most importantly, that she had found her metier here because it was here that she had started detective work.
“That is interesting, Dorothy,” Frank said. “Couldn’t we use her in our missing vicar case, Gary?”
Gary swallowed hard. Wasn’t that exactly what he didn’t want to happen?
“You should also ask Cleo,” said Dorothy. “She runs our detective agency and we do a roaring trade…”
“…. in missing dogs and marriage guidance,” Gary interrupted, furious with Dorothy for mentioning the agency at all. “Hired by the locals,” he added for good measure.
Cleo was horrified. Was this the same guy as the one she had slept with an few hours earlier? She would put the record straight immediately.
“I should point out, Frank, that we have been warned off the Grisham case and we don’t know why,” said Cleo. “My husband here is irate because he thinks Dorothy and I will go ahead anyway.”
Cleo gave Gary one of her daggers-drawn looks. He’d had to contend with them before and they had usually heralded an investigative triumph by her agency.
“And he’s right!” Cleo finished. “More gravy, Frank?”
The meal was turning into a battle of wits. Frank was not really aware of the extent of it, but he could tell that there was disarray on the subject of detective work.
“I’ll certainly find you plenty to do, Madamoiselles,” said Frank, earning himself a polite if crooked smile from Gary. The look Gary gave Dorothy was neither polite nor smiling. He could have throttled her.
“Don’t worry, Gary. I’ll make sure we don’t get into danger and I’ll bring my pistol along in case we do,” said Dorothy.
Frank looked at Dorothy with admiration and a good portion of respect. What a lady!
“It’s licensed, of course, and I’ve been getting shooting practise at the police shooting range,” she added.
Gary again looked disapproving. There was no stopping Dorothy once she got going.
Cleo was delighted. Dorothy had thwarted Gary and Roger’s stupid fears about the Hartley Agency getting involved. They had an ally in Frank and would make good use of him.
However, Gary was not resigned to the situation. He would take Frank aside at the first opportunity and tell him exactly what he thought of encouraging the two private detectives to get mixed up in the Grisham case. He also wanted to know if Frank had been told anything he should know.
Gary could not wait for that opportune moment. He told Frank in front of the two sleuths that they had been instructed by his boss to keep clear of the case.
“That definitely makes a difference,” said Frank.
“How?” said Dorothy.
“Well, if a Chief of Police said to keep off the case, that’s what you do, Mademoiselles.”
Gary was gratified. He hoped Frank would be good to work with. He had never had an assistant on his level before.
“Who is, or rather was Mr Grisham?” Dorothy nevertheless asked.
“Grisham was a lawyer involved in defending some of the guys exporting formulae from a UK chemical company to the Far East. All Grisham’s team have been liquidated. He was the last. He had been struck off the register when it transpired that he was a double agent. That did not please either side of the debate. Grisham, who had a different name when he was a double agent, retired with his wife to this area, naïve enough to think that he would be safe. But he wasn’t, as events have proved.”
Why hadn’t Roger Stone told him that, thought Gary.
“Is that all?” he asked Frank.
“Isn’t it enough?” retorted Frank.
Cleo and Dorothy had been listening carefully to Frank’s account. They both thought independently that it could not be the whole story. It was a rag to a bull to regale them with such an incomplete account.
“I don’t suppose you know what Grisham’s name was before he changed it, do you?” Cleo asked.
“You don’t need to know, Cleo,” said Gary.
“I’ll be the judge of that, Gary.”
Frank felt a little embarrassed, but he knew he would have to tell Cleo because she was the kind of lady who would keep on asking or would go to unreliable sources to find out. He was not sure he wanted to be on the wrong side of her, either. Cleo was one of those women with both beauty and brains. He could understand why Gary was her willing slave and probably unable to stop her doing her own thing. Frank tried to avoid such women whenever possible.
“Jack Coster,” he said.
“Sounds more like someone out of a gangster movie,” said Dorothy.
“I think he modelled his career on prohibition lawyers,” said Frank.
“Thanks for telling us, Frank,” said Cleo “I was just being curious about the name,” the latter comment being for Gary, who looked warningly at Cleo before changing the subject.
“Do you play bridge, Frank?” he asked. “We have a perfect quartet here if you would be so good as to partner my wife.”
“I’m not so keen on Bridge,” Frank replied. “Would you like to learn Skat? That’s what we play where I come from.”
“And where is that, Frank?” Dorothy asked.
“Basle, or Basel depending on whether you are on the Swiss or German side,” he said.
“And which side are you on?” Dorothy asked.
“I’m Swiss born, but I have an office in Basel, that’s on the German side of the Rhine. I live in Swiss Cottage now. That sounds like a coincidence, and it is,” said Frank. “I don’t see much of my London base.”
“I’d like to learn Skat,” Dorothy announced.
“The food was marvellous, Cleo,” said Frank, hoping to score at least one point on her scale of pros and cons.
“I have my ex-husband to thank for any cooking skills I might have,” said Cleo, wanting to get her own back at Gary. “He was a brilliant cook and a good teacher.”
Frank was only too aware of the animosity that seemed to have sprung up. He would do his best to calm things down. In his opinion the situation was volatile, but that was because he did not realize that little tiffs were all part of the special relationship treasured by the trio – well, at least the ladies treasured it, not least because they usually got the upper hand.
“OK, folks, let me teach you Skat. I’ll ask you to sample my Swiss cooking when I’ve found somewhere to live. I just happen to have a pack of Skat cards in my pocket. Let’s get going, shall we?”
To Gary’s intense relief, Cleo and Dorothy did not mention either Grisham or Parsnip for the rest of the evening. It didn’t take them long to get the hang of Skat. Gary lagged behind for a bit, but eventually they were able to play a decent round or two and Frank was glad he had found someone willing to play his favourite card game.
At about eleven, Frank announced that he would go back to his hotel and get some sleep. He arranged to meet Gary next morning at HQ.
The children had gone to bed peacefully, but PeggySue got up again just as Frank was leaving.
“See to her, will you Gary? I’ll walk home with Dorothy. I need some fresh air,” said Cleo.
It would have been churlish of Gary to prevent that, though he knew perfectly well that the two sleuths wanted to discuss the Grisham case and decide how to move forward. He could not control them all the time and he was sure that Cleo and Dorothy were eager to get a few steps ahead of him. Now Frank was in on the case, they had two professionals to impress with their amateur, but nevertheless effective strategies.
“Let’s keep to the arrangement for tomorrow, Dorothy,” said Cleo, as soon as they were walking up the road. “I ve changed my mind about taking PeggySue anywhere that would enrage Gary should we meet any kind of risky situation. Gloria can take her to nursery school as usual.”
“You’re right, Cleo. It would also cramp our style.”
“I didn’t want to put it that way, but it would make it difficult to move fast.”
“You make it all sound very intriguing, Cleo.”
“It may be a wild goose chase, but at least we are doing something,” said Cleo.
By now they had reached Dorothy’s garden gate.
“Bring your pistol, however, Dorothy. Better safe than sorry.”
“OK. Spill the beans,” said Gary, when Cleo got back to the cottage.
“The ones you have been plotting with Dorothy.”
“We are walking to Lower Grumpsfield.”
“I wonder why. Isn’t that where Mrs Grisham lives?
“We are going to try coffee at the new coffee bar, that’s all.”
“Pull the other one.”
“On Sunday the Crumbs are reopening old Mrs Garner’s cake shop opposite the supermarket. We want to compare the two.”
Gary was a bit contrite.
“Sorry if I overstepped the mark earlier, Cleo.”
“Which mark, Gary? Frank got the impression we were on the point of separation, I’m sure.”
“I’ll sort him out tomorrow.”
“Do that. If we have to work with him we’d better make sure he knows how we really feel.”
“HQ and the agency, of course.”
I can’t stop you if you’ve made up your mind, can I Cleo?”
“No. That’s why I’m going to marry you. That’s why I love you to distraction. That’s why…”
“Point taken. The girls are back in bed and it’s time to turn in. Are we agreed on that?”
“I think we need one of those big hugs, Gary. I know you’re a specialist in them.”
“Don’t have any with Frank, Cleo, or I might get jealous.”
“Don’t YOU have any with Frank, Gary. Didn’t you notice that he was more interested in Dorothy than me? Gays like older women. They feel safer with them. They only pretend to want women in their beds.”
“What do you mean by that?”
I’m not telling, Cleo.”
“If you mean Chris, don’t bother. I know all about him.”
On that they went to bed. Explanations were left at the door.
Some actions don’t need words.s.