Useful quote:

Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place
if no birds sang except the best. - Henry van Dyke, poet (1852-1933)

2 Aug 2016

18 - Past, present and future (continuous)

The squad car Gary ordered arrived within minutes and Jessie was bundled onto the rear seat to be taken to HQ.
Cleo got away from Mrs Coppins’s questions as fast as she could. She would be able to see Jessie next day, but Cleo could not promise that Jessie would remember what she had done, or, if she remembered, that she had murdered Mrs Oldfield.
Gary congratulated Cleo on that incredible scene he had just witnessed.

17 - Boil and bubble

At the school the atmosphere was far from jovial. Cleo wished Gary had arrived.
Mrs Cagney was bashing around cleaning up the mess in the kitchen. She was not amused. Jessie was acting like a qualified cook while she was unable to boil an egg without precise instructions.   Ali was a good cook, but he didn’t care how many utensils he used and never stayed to tidy up after himself. Mrs Baines thought that was fairly normal. Mrs Cagney hated having to clean up after Jessie’s feeble efforts at doing things on her own and disliked Mrs Baines because she also had to clean bathrooms every day and those girls were pigs. Mrs Baines told Mrs Cagney that she was being paid to do what she was told. There was no love lost between the two and Mrs Cagney would have lost her job had there been anyone else to do it.

1 Aug 2016

16 - Polly

Thursday May  11th

Thanks to Gary Hurley’s newly-found attitude to Cleo’s way of doing things, Jack’s confession at HQ was dealt with quickly.  Jack would be charged for leaving the scene of what was now being referred to as an ‘accident’. That was not enough to keep him in custody. Cleo took Jack to the garage and sorted things out with Jack’s boss.

31 Jul 2016

15 - Owning up

Wednesday cont.

Cleo spent several hours with Gary at Romano’s. Eventually she remembered that she had made an appointment with Dr Mitchell. Gary would have liked to accompany her, but Cleo had to point out that it was a trivial Hartley Agency case and certainly not homicide. If he could get a report of the Coppins interview that would be more constructive than listening in on a case concerning a doctor’s wife who was planning something but had not told anyone. More investigation was needed, she admitted, but Colin could cope.

26 Jul 2016

14 - Nailing Coppins

Cleo was forced to admit to herself that the Tom Crowe case was now too big for the Hartley Agency. Not only did she have no chance of locating Jack Coppins if he had gone to ground, but even if she found him she could not persuade him to give himself up if he had decided not to. If he turned up she would have to hand him over to Gary and lose the little trust Jack had placed in her. Tuesday evening was extremely difficult, not least because Cleo was tormented by the idea that Jack might think suicide was the only way out.

13 - Disclosures

Tuesday May 9th

Cleo left early for HQ. She had made a list of questions she wanted to ask Coppins. Her feeling was that she was on the verge of a breakthrough with Jessie, but only Coppins would know the whole truth about that relationship.

12 - Catch as catch can

Monday cont.

While Cleo was making notes to gain more clarity in her thinking, Dorothy had left the crime world for an hour or two and was at St Peter’s waiting for Mr Morgan to arrive. Eventually his little black old-timer chugged up the drive and he hurried into the church.
“Nice to see you again, Miss Price.”
“Thank you for coming Mr Morgan. Have you considered our offer?”

29 Nov 2015

11 - Gary

Monday cont.

Gary recovered enough to get back to his office and call Cleo.
“Have you got a minute?” he started.
“Sure, Gary.”
Dorothy went into the utility room to make more coffee. She did not want Gary to know she was there, but listened in to the phone-call with increasing irritation.

10 - Kismet

Monday May 8th

Gary was woken at six. Sybil had registered his home number on her phone. They had found it. Did Gary remember a woman named Sybil Garnet? Gary confirmed that he did. Then they asked him to come to the Grand Hotel because a woman with that name had been found strangled in a store cupboard on the third floor. No, she had not signed in at the hotel. She was probably someone’s guest. Emergency services and the police had already been informed.

9 - Sybil

Sunday May 7th

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest even in Upper Grumpsfield. Robert made toast and tea to tide them over till lunch, which invariably involved something extremely tasty. Cleo had barely finished remarking that it was a change nice to have a free day when she got a phone-call that put an end to the peace and quiet.

8 - Cleo takes the stage

Saturday cont.

Interviewing the Coppins girl was not going to be an enjoyable task. Gary reluctantly tore himself away from Cleo in time not to encounter Robert, thinking there was at least one thing he would have preferred to making room for a person Cleo only tolerated, whatever kind of an act she put on in public and self-delusion she relied on in private.

7 - Jupiter

Saturday May 6th

To Cleo's surprise, Mrs Coppins rang her very early.
“Jessie didn’t come home last night,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Her bed wasn’t slept in.”
“Have you told the police?”
“Not yet. I thought you might do that for me.”

28 Nov 2015

6 - Complications

Friday cont.

Cleo wondered if Gary had confided in Colin. She was still digesting the information that Moira alias Sybil had gone back to being a hooker. The idea that Gary was seeing a woman with two names and probably one and the same profession had shocked her. She had to find out if Gary knew what was going on. A phone-call might get her the answers, though she wondered how much Gary actually knew.
“Gary, who is Moira?”
“I’m glad you didn’t ask that last night, Cleo. I don’t really know. We don’t live together. When I called for her, she was talking to some guy who called her Moira.”
“What?”
“She said he was a former neighbour of her parents and knew her as Moira.”
“And you believed him, Gary?”
“Why not? Little girls always have pretend worlds, don’t they? Sybil’s was Moira, her identical twin, and she still plays the game now.”
“And you let her?”
“Why not? It’s amusing to see people puzzling about her identity. You did last night.”
“Does she know when she is not Sybil?”
“I think so. It was the first time I had seen her playing out the Moira identity yesterday and I’d probably have asked her what the game was  if the guy had not had an explanation.”
“And that guy was believable, I assume.”
“I did wonder.”
“So when she’s a hooker she calls herself Moira. Am I right?” said Cleo.
“It looks like it.”
“But you don’t know for certain.”
“No, Cleo, and I don’t think I want to.”
“What if she’s performing as a hooker under both names, Gary?”
“I honestly don’t know, Cleo.”
“You’d better stop that game immediately,” said Cleo. “For someone who does not believe in spooks you are into a very spooky thing.”
“I’ll stop when you leave Robert.”
“Then carry on seeing your schizophrenic lady friend.”
“No one else knows about her dual existence. You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Are you sure?  Colin knows, I’m sure, and that means that he will tell Julie. I won’t reveal your murky secret life, Gary.”
“Have you got time for me, Cleo? I really need to talk this through.”
“That’s rich! You want to talk to me about the hooker you a dating? No, Gary. You’ll get yourself out of this mess.”
***
Colin Peck took time off documenting cases at police HQ in Middlethumpton to concentrate on the case of Dr Mitchell’s wife, leaving Cleo to concentrate on the two murders in which she found herself involved. She decided to stay at home on Friday afternoon, not least since Jessie was still asleep in the guest room and would surely wake soon. Cleo had left her in the cottage while she dealt with Dr Mitchell’s problem in the office, and had been surprised and relieved to find that Jessie had not absconded in the meanwhile, though she did not think that the girl would want to fulfil her threat to kill her mother now she had had time to recover. Dorothy had told her that Jessie had not turned up for work and Cleo had explained that the girl was still knocked out from the sedative Dr Mitchell had given her.
A phone call to Robert at the shop warned him that they had a guest.
***
“Another murderess, Cleo? You seem to be making a habit of harbouring felons. Remember that other Jessica?”
“This is a totally different situation. Jessie Coppins has probably not murdered anyone, but she’s here because she threatened to kill her mother.”
"Only probably?”
“Tom Crowe, the guy she was unintentionally sharing with her mother.”
 For heaven’s sake, Cleo, she won’t kill her mother. That brood is as thick as thieves.”
“That’s the operative word.”
“Use plain English on me, remember? I’m not your intellectual cop.”
“I’ll ignore that stupid remark. I might be tempted to murder Gloria if I caught her in bed with you, Robert.”
Robert hooted with laughter.
“What the hell are you talking about?” he said. “I wouldn’t touch her with a barge pole.”
“You might if she was paying you.”
“Now we are in cloud cuckoo land.”
“I’m just explaining the situation, Robert.”
“Which is?"
“Jessie claims that her mother stole her boyfriend."
“But you can’t compare that situation with yours. Your mother was never a rival – and we don’t…well...”
It did not take much imagination to realize that Robert was about as erotically poled as a codfish.
“My mother was quite sweet on Jay Salerno.”
Gloria snatched the phone from Robert.
“What’s going on? Me a rival?” Gloria squealed at Cleo.
“It was all hypothetical, Mother. I was just explaining to Robert why we have someone staying with us.”
“Well, you’ve confused Robert and I wish I’d heard what you said.”
“Let him explain. I can hear movement somewhere. I’ll have to ring off.”
***
The movement, Cleo soon discovered, was Jessie slipping out of the back door of the cottage.
For crying out loud! I’d better go after her, Cleo decided. She did not know what the girl had heard.
But there was no sign of Jessie anywhere. She must have run straight into the thickets behind the cottage. It would be impossible to find her there. Cleo got into her car and drove to Huddlecourt Minor. She would get to the Coppins’ house before Jessie and prepare her mother for her daughter’s murderous intention.
***
“Let me in, Mrs Coppins. It’s urgent.”
Joe was seated at the all-purpose table eating a bowl of cornflakes. He looked hopefully at Cleo, who said hello and flopped down on the seat next to him, indicating secretly that she had no news. Joe was disappointed. He did so want to have his father back and thought Cleo had come to tell him she had found him.
“We won’t talk here, Miss Hartley. Come into the kitchen with me. I’ve got to get the fish fingers arranged on the baking tray.”
“So what’s the matter?” she said once they were out of Joe’s earshot.
“Your daughter wants to kill you.”
“She wouldn’t do that.”
“She says she caught you in bed with her boyfriend.”
“I suppose you mean Tom Crowe. He wasn’t her boyfriend. He’d smiled at her once or twice. That’s all.”
“That wasn’t the impression she gave me.”
“But that’s how it was.”
“She caught you with him in flagrante, Mrs Coppins.”
“In what?”
“In bed. She said you were ‘at it’.”
Mrs Coppins laughed.
“She doesn’t even know how she got pregnant, Miss Hartley. She has no idea about these things.”
“So you don’t deny that you were ‘at it’ with Tom Crowe.”
“It’s part of my job to show the young lads how to do it, Miss Hartley.”
“So he paid you for it, did he?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Maybe not, but it’s a motive for murder.”
Mrs Coppins gasped.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean Tom Crowe. You know he was killed, don’t you? Don’t you read the paper?”
“No I don’t. You say he’s dead?”
“Identified by Molly.”
“By Molly Moss? That bitch would say anything to save her skin.”
“I’ll show you the photo, Mrs Coppins, then you’ll know she wasn’t mistaken.”
Cleo took the photo out of her handbag and handed it to Mrs Coppins who looked at it for a long time.
“It’s him, that’s for sure. Who did it?” she said. “How was he killed?”
“Stabbed in the stomach. As to who did it, your guess is as good as mine, Mrs Coppins. Could it have been Jessie?”
“Never. She’s a weak little thing and she cared about Tom.”
“That didn’t stop you from jumping into bed with him,” said Cleo.
“I didn’t know she was coming home, did I? She usually works all day.”
Cleo realised that Mrs Coppins really had been ‘at it’ with Tom Crowe. She was unscrupulous and untruthful.
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, Mrs Coppins?”
“Why should I be ashamed? I keep what I do from the kids and I need the money so that I can feed and clothe them.”
“That’s as may be. The tragedy of Tom Crowe was possibly waiting to happen for other reasons, but if Jessie carries out her threat, it will be because she believes you stole the love of her life.”
At that moment the front door slammed and Jessie came running into the kitchen brandishing the bread knife that had been on the living-room table and screaming “Where is she? I’ll bloody kill her.”
“I’ll handle this,” said Cleo, catching the hysterical Jessie in her arms and confiscating the knife.
“Come on, Jessie. Your mother’s sorry about Tom. She didn’t mean any harm and she didn’t kill him.”
“How do I know that? She stole him from me. Now he’s dead, she can die, too.”
“No she can’t, Jessie. What would happen to your brothers and sisters?”
“I don’t bloody care.”
“Yes, you do. You’d be in prison and they’d starve.”
That put a sudden stop to Jessie’s desperate struggling. She started to weep and Cleo took her back into the living-room and sat her down.
Joe looked on wordlessly. Cleo mused that he had probably been forced to witness many such scenes.
“It’s tough, Jessie, but you’ll have to be brave.”
“Yes,” said Joe, “and you’ve still got me.”
It was a touching scene, but short-lived.
“I’ll go for a walk. After that I’ll come back and be brave,” said Jessie, getting up so fast that the chair fell over.
“I’ll come with you,” said Joe.
“No, Joe. I want to be alone.”
Jessie left.
“Aren’t you going after her?” cried Mrs Coppins.
“No,” said Cleo. “She’ll be OK now.”
But even as she reassured Mrs Coppins, she had a feeling of foreboding that stayed with her for the rest of the day.
***
Even though Cleo was not as confident about Jessie intentions has she had made out, there was no way she could stop the girl from leaving. It would have been better if Joe had gone with her, but Jessie hadn’t wanted that. Cleo drove home to her cottage feeling she had failed in her mission to get Jessie back onto an even keel. Would Jessie go back home and behave herself? At least Mrs Coppins was forewarned and the two oldest brothers, who worked somewhere in Middlethumpton and apparently still lived at home, would probably be in for a meal soon and piece together what had happened. How would they react? There was nothing Cleo could do. If the Coppins clan was as thick as thieves, they would find a solution without her.
***
Robert and Gloria were in the cottage kitchen cooking supper. There was a light-hearted cooperativeness about them that got on Cleo’s nerves after her stressful day. She left them to it and lay on the sofa. It didn’t take more than a minute for her to fall asleep. Robert, who wanted to lay the table, saw that his wife was what she called 'stressed out' and covered her with the plaid they often put over their knees to stop a blazing log fire from scorching them. The fire in the hearth was now just a glow after eating up its first log of the evening. Robert threw another one onto the embers, trying not to make a noise in the process.
“I can hear you, Robert. I’m sorry I’m such a bore.”
“You’re not a bore. Just snooze while we get the food on the table, then you can tell us all about what is bothering you. Are you warm enough?”
“OK, thanks,” said Cleo, and drifted off into the blessed state of Lethe that accompanies sleep until it is haunted by dreams or nightmares.
No one spoke much during the meal, but Cleo could tell that the waiting was almost too much for Gloria.
“So now you’ve rested and eaten a whole trout, you sure can tell us what’s bothering you,” she said finally. “What was all that nonsense on the phone?”
“It was about a simple-minded girl who caught her mother in bed with the guy she thought was her boyfriend.”
“And where do I come in?”
“You don’t come in. You were an example.”
“That’s a contradiction, Cleo.”
“It’s like this, Mother. The boyfriend was stabbed to death on Upper Grumpsfield Common. The girl thought her mother had done it or was at least responsible for it all since she had been give the boy lessons in sex. The daughter said she was going to kill her mother for stealing the boyfriend.”
“I still don’t know what I have to do with it all.”
“I wanted to explain that if a wife finds her mother in bed with her husband, she might want to kill him.”
“Her motive would have been betrayal, wouldn’t it?” said Gloria.
“That’s exactly what I meant. Betrayal. A mother misusing her child's trust,” said Cleo pointedly.
“I did not have sex with Jay Salerno, Cleo,” said Gloria, indignant that Cleo should say such a thing.
“I didn’t say you had,” said Cleo.
Since Gloria had taken sides with Jay Salerno, Cleo’s divorced husband, even after he had knocked her about until she been hospitalized and lost her baby, and refused to believe that Jay was anything but kindness itself, there was a strong element of accusation in Cleo’s voice.
Gloria was contrite. She had the feeling she was a survivor of a very nasty accident.
“I’ve said I’m sorry a thousand times, Cleo.”
“And I didn’t even consider killing you, Mother.”
 “Well, I’m relieved and I did not have sex with Jay or any other boyfriend of yours, Cleo.”
“Shall I leave the room, Ladies?” said Robert, totally out of his depth.
“Henry James couldn’t have found a better plot, Cleo,” said Gloria. “Did the girl carry out her threat?”
“No. I confiscated the breadknife and now she’s wandering about trying to come to terms with life.”
“I suppose you mean the girl is wandering about, not the mother,” said Gloria.
“I suppose you mean Jessie Coppins,” said Robert.
“That’s correct.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do for her?” Gloria wanted to know.
“Find the real killer,” said Cleo.
“Which killer?”
“All of them, Robert.”
“Isn’t that a job for the cops?” asked Gloria.
“Yes, but they seem slow on the uptake,” said Cleo, feeling she was betraying Gary by being irritated by the lethargy in the homicide squad.
“I suppose you mean Gary,” said Robert. “He seems to carry all his personal problems round like a sack of potatoes and leaves his work locked in a dark cellar somewhere where the potatoes should be. He’s in the wrong job.”
“I think the burnout is raising its ugly head again.”
“And I think he lets you do all the dirty work!”
“No, Robert. I do it for myself as well. I’m sort of anxious to beat the guy at solving the crimes I get to investigate.”
As she said those words, Cleo wondered if they were true. Was she only using Gary and enjoying the intimate hours he offered her?
“That isn’t a good idea, Cleo,” said Gloria. “You don’t have the resources or the protection that the cops have.”
“Nor does Jessie except me and I haven’t achieved much so far.”
“So who did kill Mrs Oldfield?” Robert wanted to know. He felt on safer ground with her murder, but not for long.
"She was poisoned, so it could have been Jessie, but I hope it wasn't."
"I thought Mrs Oldfield was stabbed," said Gloria.
"Stabbing was not the cause of death, Mother. The stabbing occurred when she was already dead."
"What kind of a brute stabs a corpse?"
“Good question. We need more clinical information from Chris Marlow.”
“Who’s Chris?” Gloria wanted to know.
“You remember, Mother. That’s the forensic expert. I think he does the work on time, but Gary is in no hurry to pass the results on.”
“That’s pretty mean.”
“It’s typical Gary. He’s ambitious and pathologically scared that the Hartley Agency will beat him to a solution again.”
“Despite his infatuation, Cleo?” said Robert.
“Because of it, I suspect,” said Cleo.
"He needs a shrink," said Gloria.
“Let’s have coffee,” said Robert, who was sick and tired of crime and Gary. Most of all Robert was fed up with Cleo’s involvement with either or both. Why couldn’t she have continued to run Middlethumpton’s public library? She was safe there.
Robert’s daughter Julie had even got involved with Gary, he argued, his mind in a turmoil, though he would never have admitted it. Julie had soon realized what a dead end the situation was, or at least, she had hinted as much. Robert would have preferred to see Julie getting on with Gary since that would have meant he was no longer interested in Cleo.
But now Julie was back with Colin Peck, her former boyfriend, and Robert would welcome him as a son-in-law in preference to Gary, if the truth be known. That was the brightest spot on Robert's horizon right now. The darkest was that he did not think that the woman named Sybil or Moira or both was a serious candidate for Gary, so the cop was to all intents and purposes a free man. Free to mess around with Cleo? Robert did not know that Julie knew exactly what Gary’s true intentions were. Her father was going to suffer enough without her rubbing salt into the wound.


5 - Facts of life

Friday May 5th

Cleo was at the Huddle Inn early. Molly had just laid the tables for lunch and the espresso machine was making its first brew of the day.
“I didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” said Molly. “Espresso?”
“Yes, please. I need your help.”

4 - Ali et al

Thursday May 4th

Dorothy had been too busy to call on Cleo on Wednesday evening, though her curiosity nearly got the better of her. But she had been promising to go to the vicarage for supper for simply ages and thought Edith would be offended if she refused again. So on Thursday morning Cleo and Dorothy had plenty to tell one another.
“You’ll have to consult Gary about that cook at the pub in Huddlecourt Minor,” Dorothy advised.

3 - Mrs Coppins

Wednesday May 3rd

On Wednesday morning Chris Marlow delivered the initial forensic report to Gary Hurley. It stated categorically that the stab wounds had been delivered soon after death but were not the cause of death. Though they had made a lot of mess, they were relatively superficial and probably only meant to mislead. The police were to believe that Kitty Oldfield had been stabbed to death by an intruder.

2 - Jessie

Monday cont. then Tuesday May 2nd

On Monday evening Robert Jones delivered the usual order to the school. Cleo had phoned him and told him what had happened. He wondered how everyone would be fed that evening and in the near future. Mrs Oldfield's gormless  assistant would do nothing to ease the situation.
“I didn’t know I’d have to come in again today,” she explained when she arrived at the school having been summoned by the housekeeper.. “I had a little drink.”

1 - Prelude

Monday May 1st

She was lying on the kitchen floor; motionless because she was stone dead; face down because she had been attacked from behind; covered in blood because she had been stabbed. The murder weapon lay on the floor beside her. It was her own favourite kitchen knife, one of those smart Japanese knives chefs use in smart kitchens: long, sharp, lethal and glistening, except that this blade was now dulled by congealed blood.