Saturday, 7 November 2015

SEVEN - The coffee bar

Wednesday October 28

Cleo and Dorothy agreed that the walk down the hill to Lower Grumpsfield would do them good. It was quite a long way. Plenty of time to discuss the Grishams and the continued absence of Frederick Parsnip.
“Do you think we should have invited Edith to join us this morning, Cleo?”
“No, Dorothy. I would no know how to approach her. Anyway, she’s probably sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring,” said Cleo.
“Do you think Frederick will get in touch?” Dorothy asked. “I’m not so sure. He might be humiliated about missing the plane and have sought refuge somewhere.”
“Or he might be dead, Dorothy.”
“Oh dear. That had not occurred to me. But he could have missed the plane deliberately , con’t he? If only I could think of a reason he would do that.”
“Where could he have gone? His luggage was still in the car boot, so I don’t think he had planned to disappear.”
“Maybe he has been kidnapped,” said Dorothy. “But I can’t think why. He hasn’t got two pennies to rub together.”
“If that was the case, surely the kidnapper would have been in touch by now,” said Cleo. “It was clever timing, possibly.”
“You mean that they wait until hysteria has stepped in before stepping in themselves with some horrendous conditions for releasing him,” said Dorothy.
“Exactly.”
“To be honest, I don’t think Edith is that bothered about him not coming back. After all, she is carrying on with Robert,” said Dorothy.
“We don’t know that for certain, Dorothy. It might just be malicious gossip. I only heard about it in a short phone-call and I’ve no idea who was at the other end of the phone except that it was a female voice.”
“I suspect that someone wanted to upset you with that news,” said Dorothy.
“I’m not upset. I’m relieved if Robert finally found someone else, especially as PeggySue is not his child.”
"Since when have you known that, Cleo? You didn’t tell me," said Dorothy.
"I'm sorry Dorothy. I didn't tell you about the DNA in case it did not prove that Robert was not PeggySue's father."
"So Gary has gained a new wife and a new daughter?"
"Yes and he is ecstatic."
"Are you? I thought you were having words last night."
"We were. I think Gary baits me so that we can kiss and make up."
"Spare me the details, Cleo. I'm happy for you both and for PeggySue. I never guessed that you were having an affair with Gary in those days. All those times I told you Gary was in love with you and you denied it. And all the time you were seeing him secretly. I’m quite shocked about that.”
“I denied it for a while, but despite everything I started to love him back.”
Dorothy tried not to be shocked and puzzled though she was both.
“But isn’t it better to be truthful to one’s friends and not marry men you don't love,  Cleo?”
“I did love Robert in a way, and I did not want to let him down. In the end Robert caught me unawares by arranging the Registry Office with only 9 days preparation and Gloria is blame for that, because Robert decided she had to be there and she didn’t say no.”
“Why should she say no? I’d heard your mother saying what a wonderful marriage you were going to have.”
“Well, forgive me for being secretive about my affair. I often thought of telling you, but I did not want to listen to your disapproval.”
“I don't have to forgive you,” said Dorothy. “You should forgive me for being a fuddy-duddy. Anyway, I don’t hold confessionals. Being part of your agency has improved my life so much and given me such a lot of real life excitement that I don’t even watch as many late night movies as I used to.”
“You still get inspiration from those movies, don’t you?”
“In those movies I meet some of the nasty characters there are in real life, but from the safety of my armchair. Take the Norton brothers, for instance, or that dreadful Betjeman. He was as mad as a hatter.”
“Fortunately, he has been put away for life,” said Cleo.
“But no one seems to be able to do that with the Nortons.”
“Gary says it’s not for want of trying, Dorothy.”
“Many potential eveil-doers are hidden away from view and thus prevented from being a burden on society or a danger to it. Country folk are often very conservative and many people think having someone crazy in the family is a reflection on the others,” said Dorothy.
“Or on themselves. You’ve been reading popular psychology books, Dorothy. That’s not such a good idea.”
“But informative.”
***
Meanwhile they were walking down the main street in Lower Grumpsfield.
“This is definitely the back of beyond. A regular one-horse town,” said Cleo.
“I don’t think there’s even one horse round here, though some smart city folk like the quietness. They come for weekends and bring their groceries with them – and sometimes their butlers, too.”
“I know for certain that they are pricing locals out of their cottages who have been tempted by the high prices offered for their homes. I was offere a lot of money for my cottage once, but I refused very forcibly. The locals end up in high rise buildings like those opposite the Wellness Centre.”

That’s where I nearly ended up, Cleo.” said Dorothy. “Laura’s family came from here, of course. She had a big house with a lot of rooms, but I only ever saw the glass winter-garden she used as a rehearsal room. I even accompanied that awful chorus for a time, but the noise was excruciating when it rained on the glass roof or even just from the tuneless singing, and in the winter Laura never heated the place properly. The choristers used to exhale steam when they sang and I had to wear gloves without fingertips so that my hands would not freeze up.”
“Awful,” said Cleo.
“Did I tell you about Laura's sisters, Cleo?”
“You told me about Miss Snow in connection with that dog she lost, Dorothy. At least she paid on the nail for our services.”
“Apparently Laura was the only legitimate child in that family, except for a brother Laura once mentioned, but I don’t know what happened to him.”
“You could ask Miss Snow.”
“I suppose I could, but I suspect that my little dog Minor had run away from her when I found him in Monkton Woods. She wanted to see a photo of him. She would have recognized him, Cleo, so I’ve kept her at a distance.”
“We can get a photo of a different dog, mount it on a photo of you, and then you can frame it and tell her it was Minor.”
“That would be dishonest.”
“Not if it shut her up. Have you tried photo montages on your computer?”
“Goodness no. I don’t think I can do that.”
“We’ll find a photo of a dog that could be Minor. Gary will help. I’m sure he’ll show you how to mount the photo into a photo of you and the problem is solved if you want to use her services as a purveyor of gossip again.”
“That’s a brilliant idea.”
“When you come to dinner this evening we can talk some more about it,” said Cleo.
“Am I invited to dinner?”
“I thought I’d done that. Will you come?”
“Of course.”
“I’m going to invite Chris Marlow, that nice forensic scientist. He cancelled last night. I’m curious who he has in toe this time. He’s had a string of girlfriends, but I think he has finally seen the light,” said Cleo.
“What light?”
“I think he prefers men, Dorothy.”
 “I do, too,” said Dorothy. “If only I were 30 years younger.”
***
The two sleuths were now standing in front of the new coffee bar. Like many others, it had a huge glass display window and a highly polished counter with chrome trimmings. There were machines for various types of drink, bar stools to sit at the counterand a few tables and chairs for customers with staying power. It also had rather overpowering lighting, so that everyone looked as pale as death. Pop-music blared out of loudspeakers in each corner. It was not the sort of place Dorothy would want to visit twice.
Cleo was interested in the person behind the counter. She was a small middle-aged woman, in Cleo’s view an entirely incongruous female for those surroundings, but when the woman asked them what they wanted, Cleo recognized the voice immediately.
“Why, Mrs Grisham, fancy seeing you here,” she said.
Dorothy was surprised that Cleo seemed to know her.
“It’s my coffee bar, Miss…”
“Hartley. We spoke on the phone.”
“I remember. Harley. That’s it. What brings you here, Miss Harley?”
“Hartley with a “t”, Mrs Grisham.”
“Oh sorry. What would you like to drink, Miss Harlet - and your friend, of course?”
Dorothy laughed out loud at the curious interpretation of Cleo’s attempt at spelling her name.
“Like the jam,” said Cleo.
“We don’t do jam,” said Mrs Grisham.
“I mean the name. Hartley like the Jam not Harlet like a harlot,” said Cleo, wondering if this woman was as stupid as Dorothy’s neighbour, Jane Barker.
“I hope you’re not here about my husband,” said Mrs Grisham.
“No. I’m sorry he had such a tragic accident,” said Cleo.
“Accident? They told me that he had been murdered, Miss Harlet.”
Mrs Grisham was raising her voice. Everyone was looking at her.
“Don’t say that,” said Cleo calmly. “And it’s Harltey like the jam.”
“Why not, if it’s true?”
“Because you might be the next,” said Cleo.
“Are you threatening me?”
“Of course not, but I know how Mr Grisham probably died, Mrs Grisham. You should not shout about him being killed. That is really dangerous.”
“In this little place?”
“Certainly. If Mrs Grisham’s killer knows where he lived, he knows all about you, too.”
Mrs Grisham looked frightened. Her little brown eyes darted from Cleo to Dorothy and back again. Did the woman knew more than she was likely to tell them? Dorothy wondered if Mrs Grisham was pulling a fast one on them. She seemed too naïve for words.
“It’s that vicar,” Mrs Grisham said out of the blue. “He is the cause of all the problems including mine.”
“Can we talk later about that. This is not really the place for it,” said Cleo.
“My assistant will be here at twelve. We can talk then in the back room, if that’s all right with you. I should stay somewhere near. Sophia has not yet quite got the hang of the coffee machine.”
“Perfect. We’ll have two milk coffees and two of those lovely-looking blueberry muffins while we wait, Mrs Grisham.”
“All right,” she said, busying herself with the coffee machine. The flamboyant gestures as she controlled with difficulty the steam puffing unpredictably out of the coffee machine made Cleo wonder if that was why Sophia could not deal with it.
“Espresso with hot milk, did you say?”
“That will be perfect, Mrs Grisham.”
The two sleuths found an empty table and sat down.
“What do you suppose the woman meant, blaming Frederick,” Dorothy pondered.
Mrs Grisham served them, but did not wait around. She had tables to clear and wipe, she announced before toddling behind the counter to start stacking the used crockery in the table-top dishwasher.
***
This coffee’s good. I don’t think that the Crumb enterprise will offer better,” said Cleo.
“Will Gary believe our reason for coming here, Cleo?”
“No. It isn’t the truth, either.”
***
The back room of the coffee bar was also the stockroom. It was furnished with a sink, small table, a couple of chairs and  wall shelves stacked with coffee and other supplies. A narrow  door announced the loo for staff only. There was a back exit. Cleo wondered if it was kept locked. Dorothy and Mrs Grisham sat oin the available seating and Cleo propped herself up against the window ledge.
“Tell us about Mr Grisham’s activities a few days before he gave the vicar a lift, Mrs Grisham,” said Cleo.
“I understand that you are separated from him, Mrs Grisham, but you live in the same house,” said Dorothy, thinking that Cleo was starting at the wrong end of questioning the woman.
Cleo nodded encouragement decdieing that Dorothy must have a hunch. Cleo knew Dorothy’s hunches from the way she would start to question someone regardless of what had gone before. The hunches were not always quite accurate, but they stimulated solutions.
“What happened to your marriage, Mrs Grisham?” said Dorothy.
“I’m sure you don’t want to hear my story,” said Mrs Grisham, hesitating since she had been told never to tell anyone.
“But we do,” insisted Dorothy. “We won’t tell anyone and it might help you to talk things through.”
That was enough to convince Mrs Grisham that she could trust these too women.
“Well, my husband was a lawyer in the old days,” she started. “He had all sorts of problems and finally got caught up in some sort of illegal ring.”
“But you don’t think he knew what was happening, do you?” said Dorothy.
“I’m not sure. He was imprisoned for working for the other side, Mrs…”
“…Miss Price.”
“But they let him out before his time and we were given new identities and sent to this area. I asked him why and he said it was politics and I was to keep my mouth shut.”
“Has there been any trouble, Mrs Grisham?” Cleo wanted to know.
“That’s just it,” the woman said “A few weeks ago someone Malcom knew when he was working as a lawyer turned up and after that my husband said we were separating our house into two for safety reasons. I was to live upstairs.”
“Did he tell you why?” Dorothy asked.
“Not in so many words, but then he started to go to church. He’s never believed in any religion, Miss Price. I started to get worried.”
Mrs Grisham hesitated and Cleo urged her to carry on.
“I was really angry that my husband wanted to live a separate life from me. I thought he was having an affair. Strange cars drew up in front of the house, and one of the visitors was a woman.”
“So that’s why you were so irate on the phone, Mrs Grisham,” said Cleo.
“Wouldn’t you be?”
“Of course. So your husband made friends with Mr Parsnip at church, did he?”
“Yes, and he told me he had volunteered to take the vicar to the airport. He actually insisted on it, Miss Price.”
Cleo decided that was suspicious.
There was a pause while Mrs Grisham fetched more coffee and another round of muffins. Cleo and Dorothy were definitely in her good books.
***
“Do you know Edith Parsnip?” Dorothy asked out of the blue.
The question did not startle Mrs Grisham. On the contrary.
“Oh yes. She does lovely coffee mornings and other nice events for retired people,” said Mrs Grisham.
“But you aren’t old enough to retire, Mrs Grosham,” said Dorothy.
“I’ve retired from being a legal secretary, Miss Price.  I go to all of the meeting and I’ve had nice chats with Edith. She’s a friend of mine now.”
In the background they could hear the young assistant cursing and swearing. She was dropping things that crashed as she battled with the espresso machine. A scream confirmed that she had tried her hand at making hot milk with the steam contraption.
“I’d better go back in,” said Mrs Grisham. “If I don~t, Sophia will break everything in sight including the machine.”
“That’s fine, Mrs Grisham,” said Cleo. ”Here’s my card again in case you think of anything to add to your story.”
She opened the back exit for them to leave.
“Do you always keep that door unlocked, Mrs Grisham?” Dorothy asked.
“For the deliveries. More convenient,” said Mrs Grisham.
“Even when you are alone in thecoffee bar?”
“Of course, Miss Harley. We are quite safe here.”
“I hope you’re tight.” Said Cleo. “And it’s Hartley with a t.”
***
Cleo and Dorothy wondered what to make of Mrs Grisham’s trusting nature.
“Is she naïve or just plain stupid?” Cleo wondered.
“I need to think about the implications,” said Dorothy, “but at least Mrs Grisham was forthcoming. We do now have something to go on.”
“Her frigid reaction to my phone call to her at home cound be explained by the fact that she thought her husband was going astray,” said Cleo.
“I wonder where she got the money to do up the bar and start the business,” said Dorothy.
“Compensation for the change of identity, I should think.”
“It did not take long for Mrs Grisham to start trusting us,” said Dorothy, “I wonder if she has told her story to Edith?”
“I hope she hasn’t,” said Cleo. “Edith tends to treat people’s confidences like trophies. We can ask her in a roundabout way. Would you like to phone her now?”
“No. It can wait, Cleo. She hysterical enough already. We should at least go through the motions and inspect that new Crumbs café before we approach Mrs Grisham again, even if we do have to wait until the weekend, unless we go to their trial run.
“As a tradesperson I’ve been invited, Dorothy. Then we have a legitimate reason to approach Mrs Grisham again. We can tell her that she makes better coffee. She’s obviously proud of her spaceship coffee machine.”
“Especially with that girl flying UFOs all over the place. I wonder if Mrs Grisham is insured for china breakages,” said Dorothy.
“Wouldn’t the girl have to be insured? I’m sure she isn’t. It’s just as well she isn’t Robert’s assistant wielding an axe or one of those sharp knives.”
“It doen’t bear thinking about,” said Dorothy.
“On a serious note:  We should talk to Mrs G. about her husband’s visitors,” said Cleo. “She didn’t have time to tell us everything, thanks to that inept assistant!”
***
After their outing to Lower Grumpsfield, Cleo and Dorothy caught a bus back up the hill to near Cleo’s cottage for a bite of lunch. They had cheated about walking home after their visit to the coffee bar because the bus going round the houses from Lower Grumpsfield via Upper Grumpsfield to Middlethumpton just happened to be due and it did save the feet, or o they said.
Gloria had already arrived at the cottage with PeggySue and even prepared soup and some sandwiches, so they all ate a quick snack together, except that PeggySue was fed a warmed up baby-food vegetable mix out of a jar and was glad to get a change of nappy and be put into her bed for a siesta. Play is hard work for a small child.
“So what have you two been doing?” Gloria wanted to know. “You can’t have gone far because your car was parked outside, Cleo.”
“We walked to Lower Grumpsfield to try out the new coffee bar.”
“You walked? Are you crazy? You have a car!”
“Walking is good for your health, Gloria,” said Dorothy.
“Show me someone who is better off for it,” challenged Gloria, “Or even survived.”
That was a non sequitur.
“No detecting then?”
“Not so you’d notice,” replied Dorothy.
Cleo hoped that Dorothy would not tell Gloria about the coincidence of finding Mrs Grisham there and taking the opportunity of interviewing her. Gary would not approve, though meeting the wife of the murder victim had been entirely coincidental. Cleo hoped Gloria would not ask any more questions, but of course she did.
“So you did do some,” said Gloria.
“Some what?”
“Sleuthing. Snooping, detecting or whatever you like to call it.”
“Not intentionally,” said Cleo.
“I’ve never heard of unintentional detecting and neither has Gary.”
Cleo rightly interpreted that as a bit of psychological blackmail.
“Promise you won’t tell Gary, Mother?”
“Why should I do that?”
“Promise first!”
“OK, I promise.”
“The wife of the guy who was murdered taking the vicar to the airport runs the new coffee bar,“ said Cleo, “but we did not know that before we went there.”
“Wow! So you had a chat with her,” said Gloria.
“Only a little one,” said Dorothy.
“But revealing,” said Gloria.
“You could say that,” said Cleo. “But you won’t, will you?”
“Of course not. What do you think of your old mother?”
“Do you want me to tell you, Mother?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
***
Unfortunately for the two sleuths, Gary had also decided to have a midday snack at the cottage.
“So what have you been doing this morning, Ladies?” he started after a round of kisses and a huge hug for Cleo.
“I’ve been working at the shop,” said Gloria.
“What have we been doing, Dorothy?” said Cleo.
“Nothing special.”
Gary did not believe her, but knew that he would find out in due course.
“Why are you here, Gary? Are you checking up on us?” said Dorothy.
“No, not this time, Dorothy. I’m doing something special in about an hour,” said Gary.
Cleo and Dorothy exchanges glances charged with foreboding.
“You’ll never guess, but the new coffee bar in Lower Grumpsfield is run by Mrs Grisham, the wife of that murdered driver, Ladies!”
“You don’t say,” said Dorothy.
“Awesome!” said Cleo.
Gary was not stupid. He knew prevarication when he came across it.
“You knew, didn’t you?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because…” Dorothy did not want to launch out on an explanation. There was a chance that someone had seen them in Lower Grumpsfield. Could they risk telling an outright lie about their whereabouts?
Meanwhile, Cleo had decided that the truth would find its way to the surface so she would tell it now.
“Yes, but it was a coincidence, Gary. We didn’t know until we got there.”
“Go on. As you know, I love grim fairy tales.”
“We decided to compare that coffee bar with the cake shop opening on Sunday here in Upper Grumpsfield since I am invited to it and we might even get to the trial run on Friday..”
“Trial run?”
“We local traders all have invitations, Gary.”
“I can almost hear the birds singing,” said Gary. “You probably wanted to take a look at Grisham’s widow, didn’t you?”
“We didn’t,” Dorothy said. “It is absolutely true that we didn’t know she was there.”
Dorothy did not mention that it had said nothing about their avowed intention to look up Mrs Grisham after the coffee bar visit.
“I was totally astonished to see Mrs Grisham there,” said Cleo.
“How do you know it was her?”
“I recognized the voice from…from phoning her,” said Cleo, sticking to the truth.
“Didn’t I tell you two not to meddle?” said Gary.
“We weren’t meddling,” said Dorothy “Cleo’s phone call was before Roger’s warning.”
“So you drank your coffee and left, I take it.”
“More or less,” said Dorothy.
“More or less?” said Gary. “Which one?”
“We did have a little chat with her.”
Gary could feel his hackles rising.
“What did you chat about?” he asked with feigned patience. “No. Don’t tell me. I’d rather you didn’t tell any more lies.”
“We have only told the truth, Gary,” said Cleo. “Do you want that in writing?”
“You’re being too hard on Cleo and Dorothy,” said Gloria. “I have to go now. Don’t take your own problems out on two people who love you,” said Gloria, gathering up her coat from the sofa and swinging her handbag onto her shoulder After telling Cleo she would be round to collect PeggySue early next morning Gloria made a grand exit towards the front door.
“Thanks, Mother. You are a great grandmother.”
“I’m only a grandmother, Cleo. Don’t make me older than I am.”
“I mean that you are a great space grandmother.”
“Can we discuss that some other time, Misses Marple? Bye now!”
***
Left alone with Gary, Cleo and Dorothy looked guilty. It wasn’t difficult. They both felt guilty.
“What did I say about not getting mixed up in the Grisham case?” said Gary.
“We are not mixed up in it,” said Cleo, almost wishing that were the case. She did not enjoy scrapping with Gary even if making the peace with him was worth an argument.
“Promise?”
“Promise,” said Dorothy, her fingers firmly crossed behind her back.
“I’d better go now,” Gary said. “ We can talk later. Frank Cook will be waiting for me - at Mrs Grisham’s coffee bar.”
“OK. See you later,” said Cleo. “Robert’s bringing T-bone steaks for this evening. Yes, T-bone! Don’t forget that Chris will be here for dinner and bringing someone for us to approve of.”
I’ll be home for my siesta long before then,” replied Gary. “And I’ll need it.”
Cleo did not find it difficult to understand what he meant.
“Not angry with us any more?” said Cleo.
“I love you both, unfortunately,” he said.
***
Dorothy and Gary left at the same time. Dorothy marched resolutely up the road after refusing to be driven the 100 or so yards to her cottage. Gary roared off to Lower Grumpsfield. He was uneasy about his two favourite sleuths, and yes, he did love Dorothy, too.
“A few minutes later Dorothy phoned Cleo.”
“Has Gary definitely gone?” she wanted to know.
“Yeah! What’s the matter?”
“I’ll have to come back. Something important has just occurred to me.”
“I’ll get the coffee on,” said Cleo.
Ten minutes later they were sitting at the dining table slicing a bara brith Dorothy just happened to have baked somethime between yesterday and today.
“Well?”
“Supposing Frederick did not get post from a society inviting him to Africa, but from old clients of our smart lawyer now calling himself Grisham?”
“That would mean…”
“…that whoever killed Grisham had followed him here and used Frederick without his knowledge to get at Grisham by instructing him to offer to take the vicar to Heathrow.”
“We’ll have to tell Gary that. I’m sure he hasn’t thought of it,” said Cleo, “and it is possible.”
***
She was about to get on the phone to do just that when a call came from Gary on her house phone.
“Cleo? Mrs Grisham is dead,” said Gary. “Did you already know that?”
“Of course not, Gary.”
“Can I believe you?”
“Of course you can. I’m telling the truth, I swear it. When Dorothy and I left the coffee bar, Mrs Grisham was trying to rescue her espresso machine from the destructive hands of a young assistant who did not know how to work it.”
The speaker was on, so Dorothy was able to ask who had found her. The assistant, who had apparently had the shock of her life.
“What are you doing back at the cottage?” Gary asked.
“I’ve had a hunch,” said Dorothy.
Cleo gestured to Dorothy not to say any more.
“What did the assistant look like, Gary?” she said.
”Italian looking. Dark hair, pretty, very young and wearing a checked apron to match the table cloths in the café part of the bar.”
“The same girl as we saw. Sophia,” said Cleo.
“She went into the storeroom at the back of the bar to get more coffee beans and Mrs Grisham was prostrate on the floor. The beans are all over the floor and the girl is being treated for shock,” said Gary.
“How long after we left, Gary?” Dorothy asked.
“When did you leave?”
“We caught the bus up the hill. It was about twelve thirty.”
“Mrs Grisham was found much later and I got there soon after,” said Gary. “She was still warm, so she had not been dead long.”
“You left at about three, Gary, and you were in a huff.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t bear the idea that you could be in danger, Cleo. That goes for Dorothy, too, of course. And you can see how justified I am, my love.”
“The coffee bar was full when we left, Gary, and there were people standing at the bar waiting to be served. Regulars, I should think,” said Dorothy. “I expect they are there every day for a lunch of coffee and a bun,” said Dorothy.
“If the killing took place in the back room, the loud music would cover any sound,” said Cleo.
“Could you identify any of the customers, Ladies?”
“Only one guy leaning across the bar counter. He looked like he was the assistant’s beau. He had a sleeveless shirt on and his arms were tattooed to the armpits with skulls and cross-bones.”
“He’s here now. Sneaked off work to get a free coffee from Sophia, he told me. He’s harmless. All the aggression goes into those tattoos, I should think.”
“Did he see anything, Gary?”
“He left just before two to go back to work, he said. Then he came back because Sophia was nervous. But Mrs Grisham was dead by the time he had talked his way out of work. He’s still here,” said Gary.
”He was hardly like to hang around if he was involved,” said Cleo.
“That’s what I think,” said Gary. “He phoned the police. Sophia is in shock and had to be given a sedative, but I’ll ask her some questions as soon as I can.”
“That’s a good idea, Gary,” said Cleo. “She might have been scared of some guys in the bar. Do you think that beau saw some? “
“I’ll ask him.”
“That might make him a witness and therefore in danger,” said Dorothy.
“I’m trying not to contemplate that,” said Gary. “But you two will tell me exactly what Mrs Grisham told you,” said Gary. “And Dorothy, I hope your hunch is useful. I have to hang up now. Chris has arrived.”
“OK and we both love you, Gary, whatever happens,” said Cleo.
“I’ll be home in time to hear about that hunch before Chris arrives for supper, Ladies,” said Gary. “Just make sure you are home and not on someone’s trail again.”
***
True to his word, Gary came early, hugged them both for saying they loved him, returned the sentiment, spent a few minutes with PeggySue, rang the vicarage to tell Charlie to come home before dark and finally allowed himself to be informed about the idea that Dorothy had had.
“I hate to admit it, but it’s brilliant,” said Gary. “Do you want to take it further with me?”
“It might be good to talk it through,” said Dorothy.
“Spit it out,” said Gary.
“It would amount to Frederick being a victim, Gary, and I’m all in favour of that,” said Dorothy.
“So you think the vicar was drawn into something, do you?” said Gary, adding far too much sugar to his coffee. For Cleo that was a sign that he was going to concentrate and take them seriously.
“Maybe we could brain-storm a bit,” said Dorothy.
“I’ll make notes, shall I?” said Cleo.
“And suggestions, of course,” said Dorothy.
“OK. Let’s start with the gangsters tracking Grisham to Lower Grumpsfield,” says Gary. “Go on from there.”
“Of course, it’s all surmise,” said Dorothy., “I’m sure not all of it is even going to be coherent.”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Gary.
“So finding out where Grisham lived would be Point 1 of the plot,” said Cleo.
*
“Point 2 would be that, they discover that Grisham goes to church and decide to get at him there,” said Dorothy.
*
“Point 3,” said Cleo, “would bethat  the gangsters on Grisham’s trail make it to the church and hear the vicar telling the parishioners that he wants to go to Africa to convert the heathens. They make a plan to coerce Grisham into driving to Heathrow.”
“It’s worth remembering that they were not interested in Frederick,” said Dorothy. “They wanted to get at Grisham, if possible without suspicion falling on them.”
“I just don’t know why they did not kill the vicar and done with it,” said Cleo.
*
“Point 4,” said Dorothy. “The gangsters attend a church service to watch Grisham and hear Frederick going on about his intention to find a society that will send him to Africa and possibly help with the financing.”
“Did he do that, Dorothy?”
“Yes. Every Sunday for about three months.”
“How tiring,” said Gary.
“Remember that this is just one theory,” said Dorothy. “The gangsters would not have been the only people to hear Frederick going on about Africa.”
*
“Point 5, Dorothy?” said Cleo.
“The gangsters decide to send Frederick an invitation to go with a company they invent for the purpose. I don’t know if the letter still exists, or if ever did,” said Dorothy. “You’d have to search his office. It may be too late if the gangsters got there first.”
“That’s a good point, Dorothy. We should search through his office and hope to find something relevant, “ said Gary. “We can ask Chris to do that when he comes to dinner.”
*
“Point 6,” said Dorothy. “He falls for the plan.”
“This is so ingenious that it could have happened just like that,” said Gary, who seemed to have forgotten that the two amateur sleuths were supposed to be off the Grisham case.
“It’s getting critical now,” said Cleo.
*
“At Point 7, the gangsters make themselves known to Grisham, who probably recognizes them from past confrontations and knows they mean business,.” Said Dorothy. “They force him to offer his services to Frederick. He is to drive the vicar to the airport.”
“So they they sponsored Frederick’s air ticket to make sure they know when he is travelling, did they Dorothy?!
*
“Yes Cleo. That’s Point 8 and that’s how I explain the timing.”
“It all makes sense,” said Gary. “The vicar is so naïve that he believes some religious organization not only invites him to Africa, but also pays for the trip.”
*
”Point 9 would be that they threaten to kill Mrs Grisham if Grisham does not co-operate and that is probably not the first time Grisham has been threatened,” said Dorothy.
“Then they make out a location where Grisham is to stop the car for someone to get into the back,” said Gary. “Perfect, Ladies!”
“Grisham might suspect something, but if the gangsters have threatened to kill his wife, he might have decided to do what they want,” said Dorothy. “That’s what must have happened, Gary. If someone got in that car, ostensibly as a hitch-hiker, before it was directed off the main road and then Grisham was killed in that off road cutting, it would explain the third occupant of the car. They parked a car off the beaten track so that they could make a quick getaway, and they did.”
“So they could have kidnapped Parsnip, couldn’t they?” said Gary, getting into the swing of things. Come to think of it, more than one person might have got in the car. Gangsters like to check up on one another.”
“The plot thickens,” said Cleo.
“The idea about the extra getaway car is a good one, too,” said Gary.
“Frederick might have protested, but I suppose he was too scared, or he might have been threatened with a gun or reprisals against his family,” said Cleo. “On the other hand, he was so hell-bent on getting to Africa at last, that he thought anything was acceptable that got him there.”
“Assuming he had an inkling of what was going on,” said Dorothy.
“I doubt it,” said Gary.
“The killer used a syringe on Grisham because that is a clean way of killing. It doesn’t make a noise or leave any traces of a weapon, unless the killer drops the syringe somewhere. After such careful planning, I don’t think he would be that negligent,” said Cleo.
“Why do you think it was a man, Cleo?” Gary wanted to know.
“Because a woman might have been overwhelmed in some way by the victims. Maybe Grisham would fake a mechanical failure and stop on the road. Something like that,” said Cleo.
“I’m not convinced about that argument, Cleo.”
“Whatever pressure Grisham was under, he would have known the guys well enough to know that they would carry out their threats given the opportunity,” said Dorothy.
“We also know now that the Grishams did not live apart because they did not get on, but because Grisham was getting strange visitors and he wanted to protect his wife,” said Cleo.
“Did Mrs Grisham tell you that, Cleo?”
”She was quite vague, but what she said convinced me that Grisham was under pressure.”
“All we have to do now is prove that’s how it all happened,” said Gary.
“We, Gary?” Cleo remarked.
“Forget what Roger said. I need you on this case more than I need Cook because he will just stick to conventional rules and you have ideas,” said Gary. “Apert from that, he’s an unknown quantity and I don’t like working with unknown quantities.”
“I did not like him either,” said Cleo. “But Roger recommended him, didn’t he?”
“Correction; he was recommended to Roger,” said Gary.
“Meaning that he is above-board?” said Doirothy. “Isn’t that the impression a person might make if he is impersonating someone?”
“Uncanny, Dorothy. That thought went through my head, too, but sure….”
“No ‘surely’, Gary. That would make you naïve, too.”
“Our doubts about Cook make it even more important that you promise me you won’t go anywhere or do anything without my knowledge.”
“Yes, Gary. We promise.”
“You see ladies, I love you both and would hate to lose either of you.”
“Time for another hug,” said Dorothy.
“I hope you realize that the danger of getting ebroiled in something bigger than any of us and emerging dead is very present,” said Gary, moved by the emotions being raised in him by uniting with two amateur, but somehow ingenious sleuths.
“Someone killed Mrs Grisham and we can assume it was the same ‘acquaintances’ of Mr Grisham unless we have absolutely the wrong end of the story,” said Cleo.
“It’s still possible that it was a domestic feud,” said Gary. “Mrs Grisham’s murder might help us to decide what’s behind it all.”
“Whoever killed Mrs Grisham wanted her out of the way, so she must have known something,” said Cleo.
“I just don’t understand why they needed to kill her,” said Dorothy. “They had got rid of Grisham and were not caught. Gangsters usually clear off as fast as possible, so why did these hang around?” Dorothy said.
“There’s always a chance that more than one group wanted to get at Grisham once they knew where he was, said Gary. “He was dead before they got to him so they killed the next best person who might know something.”
“Gang warfare,” said Cleo.
“Poor Mrs Grisham,” said Dorothy. “There’s a chance that she knew enough to denounce the gangsters once she realized that Grisham had been killed by former clients or accomplices. That would be enough of a motive to get rid of her.”
“Accomplices doing what, Dorothy?” asked Cleo, who knew that 90% of that new theory about Grisham was born of intuitive logic.
“That’s what we need to find out, Ladies,” said Gary, aware that the dearth of information had been largely responsible for the kind of theory Cleo and Dorothy had expounded.
***
Gary realized that the chances of the Ladies having hit on how it happened should not be underestimated, but neatly tied up explanations of crimes very often fell apart as soon as a new fact emerged.
That said, Gary was in truth overcome by the shear cunningness of Dorothy’s hunch. He was glad they were not on the wrong side of the law.
“So what now, Ladies?”
“We need to know more about Grisham’s activities and whether Mrs Grisham was involved in any way,” said Dorothy. “Perhaps she took care of the correspondence, for instance.”
“There’s only one way of finding out and that through top secret records, since the family were given new identities,” said Gary. “I’ll consult Roger. I don’t think I will have access without his blessing, if at all, so there’s no point in speculating further. A copy of that alleged  A to Z of the crime would be helpful even if it does prove to be fantasy.”
“I’ll do it now,” said Cleo, switching on her laptop and printer. It didn’t take long to type the list and print a few copies.
“We still have the problem of what happened to Mr Parsnip,” Cleo said.
“The police combed the area without success, Cleo. The vicar must have run for his life,” said Gary.
“Wouldn’t a professional assassin wear gloves to avoid identification?” said Dorothy.
“I think I can say something on that,” said Gary, glad to say something based on his experience as a police detective. “I think it was probably easier to deal with a syringe without gloves on, and we don’t know if those fingerprints Chris found were left in the car on the day of Grisham’s murder.”
“We’ll never know, will we?” said Dorothy.
“Not unless we can identify them, Dorothy,” said Gary. “And even then…”


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