Monday, 18 June 2012

Predisposed To Murder - Chapter Twenty-Two


Pip Sparrow chuckled as she turned the corner of Waterfield Road, Whitstable. Whatever it is you’re up to Nina, you’ll get more than you bargained for this time, that’s for sure. She had spotted Nina’s Peugeot right away but made no sign. Once she arrived at the station, she found a seat on the concourse and waited. How would Nina react, she wondered, to the scene inside number 22? It amused her, imagining the shock, the terror. It crossed her mind that this would appeal to Nina’s predilection for histrionics.
At the same time, she couldn’t help wondering why she, Pip Sparrow, could feel nothing at
all for those two people lying injured, possibly fatally. Serve Max right, she thought, Serve the pair of them right. Who cares, anyway? Max might be handsome and brilliant in bed but that doesn’t make him any less of a good-for-nothing scumbag. Nor did the woman called ‘Gypsy’ have a better pedigree by all accounts. Even so, it disturbed her, fleetingly, that any fault should lie with her, Pip. How come I feel so bloody detached from it all?  The same thought had occurred to her as she’d watched the old house go up in flames and again when, leaning on the handlebars of her bicycle, she’d taken immeasurable pleasure in seeing Pat Fox crash into that van…
Pip had already let two London-bound trains go by before Nina arrived, looking around wildly. Spotting Pip, she walked briskly before breaking into a run and almost falling into the seat next to her. “I didn’t think I’d catch you,” she murmured breathlessly.
“I took a wrong turning and missed my train,” Pip lied easily.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” it slowly dawned on Nina.
“You didn’t really think I hadn’t spotted you, did you? Honestly, Nina, what do you take me for?”
“I wish I knew!” Nina retorted angrily. “You saw what has happened at number 22. How could you just walk away from it like that?”
“Why not…? You did, or you wouldn’t be here now. Or did you ease your conscience by calling the police on the way?”
“I have nothing to ease my conscience about, and that’s more than can be said for you, young lady,” Nina snapped, and then added, “I did think about calling 999, of course I did…for an ambulance.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t. I don’t know why, I just couldn’t. Whether or not it’s too late for that awful woman, your guess is as good as mine. But I think Max is dead, I couldn’t feel a pulse.”
“He was alive when I left.”
“So she must have killed him. Oh, poor Max! What are we going to do?”
Pip gave her a queer look. “You think that woman killed him?”
“Who else…? Poor Max,” she repeated.
“Poor Max, my foot, he’s a scumbag and we both know it. As for what we’re going to do…You can do what you like, but I’m staying well out of it, and if you’ll take my advice you’ll do the same.”
“How can you be so heartless?”
“How can you be so stupid even to think about getting involved? Oh, the police will probably question you about Max. I dare say they’ll ask me about him too. But as far as we’re concerned he’s gone missing, remember? Why should they connect either of us with what’s happened at number 22? All we need to do is give each other an alibi and no one can touch us.”
“Lie, you mean?” Nina was appalled.
“Yes, lie, damn it, and why not? Why complicate things? I imagine I walked into much the same bloody mess as you did. I’m just as shocked and disgusted as you are that Max had someone else on the side. But whether he or she is dead or alive, it has nothing to do with us. You know it and I know it so why give other people any cause to think differently?”
“It makes sense, I suppose.”
“Of course it does. I’ve got A-levels coming up soon, remember? And do you really want the press hounding you for a murder suspect? Somehow I don’t think so.”
“Murder…?” Nina gasped.
“If, as you say, Max is dead, what else would you call it? You don’t think that woman ‘Gypsy’ is going to hang around, do you?”
“You know her?”
“Not personally, no, only by reputation. She’s Max’s supplier. Yours too, I suppose, assuming you get the stuff from Max?”
“Supplier…?” Nina’s head was swimming.
“Cocaine doesn’t grow on trees, Nina,” Pip retorted, “Another reason for keeping a low profile if you ask me,” she added tight-lipped.
Nina hesitated then, “We have to go back to number 22.”
“What? Are you mad?”
“We can pretend we’ve just arrived. Don’t you want to know if poor Max is alive or dead? Don’t you care?”
“Do you?” countered Pip derisively, “He’s a gigolo, a womaniser. Men like that don’t have any feelings for the women they seduce, only for what’s in it for them. If he’s dead, he’s dead and there’s nothing we can do. If he’s alive, we’ll be hearing from him again soon enough, mark my words.”
“I couldn’t feel a pulse,” Nina wailed, “and it’s all my fault…”
“Whatever happens to men like Max, they only have themselves to blame. But if it makes you feel any better, you can fork out for the wake.”
“Sometimes, Pip, I wonder if I know you at all.”
“Sometimes, Nina, I wish that, just for once, you’d stop living in that woolly head of yours.”
“How dare you! Haven’t I faced up to the fact that your father is in prison and won’t even see me? Haven’t I got on with my life as best I can, given his daughter a home for crying out loud? What’s woolly headed about that, I’d like to know?”
“You’ve gone with the flow, Nina, that’s all. Daddy, me, Max, your precious career…you’re on a roll, you don’t even stop to think about the mess you’re creating.”
“That’s not fair. Why are you being so horrible to me? Just because people love me where no one in their right mind could love you…” She regretted the words as soon as they were spoken. “I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry. It’s all been too much, too much…” She burst into tears. Pip said nothing and gazed stonily at the ground. Nina began to get angry again, especially as Pip offered neither words of forgiveness for her outburst nor a comforting hug. “We have to go back,” she repeated.
“Go then. I have a train to catch.”
“Shouldn’t we stay together if we’re to give each other an alibi?” murmured Nina without thinking then realised how clever she was being and brightened considerably.
Pip took her time before replying sulkily, “Okay, let’s go. I’ll drive since you’re in no fit state.” Nina did not argue but followed the girl out of the station. Sometimes, she pondered grimly, it was hard to recollect that Pip was not yet eighteen.
Shortly afterwards, the Peugeot pulled into Waterfield Road just as a tall, shadowy figure emerged from the front door of number 22, walked steadily up the small drive, pushed open the gate without bothering to shut it properly, and climbed into the back seat of a Porsche with darkened windows. Seconds later, the vehicle sped off. Pip did not hesitate, but slammed her foot on the accelerator and shot past number 22, determined to follow at a safe distance.
“What are you doing?” Nina demanded.
“Whoever that bloke is, he’s no copper. Aren’t you curious?”
“How do you know…?”
“Since when did any copper drive a Porsche? No, whatever mess Max has got himself mixed in, this guy has more answers than we do. Or he wouldn’t be driving away from a potential murder scene as cool as you please.”
“We should call an ambulance. It’s the least we can do.” Nina reached for her mobile phone only to have Pip snatch it from her and fling it on the back seat.
“If Max is dead, he doesn’t need one, and if he isn’t he can damn well call for an ambulance himself,” Pip declared between clenched teeth, “Believe me, Nina,” she added gently, “It’s for the best we stay out of it.”
“I don’t know…” Nina wailed.
“Trust me, I do.”  She lost the Porsche briefly then caught up with it again.
“Won’t he notice we’re following? They always do in the movies.”
“Why should he? It’s not as if he’s expecting to be followed, not by us anyway. We didn’t know ourselves until a few minutes ago. If he notices, he notices, so what? He’ll just pull ahead and we’ll probably lose him, so be it. Who cares?”
“So why are we following him in the first place?” Nina wanted to know. But Pip merely shrugged, kept her eyes on the road and made no reply.
Nina sat back and attempted to digest this latest development. Pip was right about one thing. She, too, was curious. And look what curiosity did, she couldn’t help thinking? A shiver ran down her spine. Why me? I didn’t ask for any of this. But she took her cue from Pip and made no attempt to answer. Instead, she settled down to watch the hypnotic rise and fall, twists and turns of glowing cats eyes, and for a while at least succeeded in deleting the scene at 22 Waterfield Road from her mind completely.
They followed the Porsche to Canterbury where it eventually swung past the police station, cruised up the Old Dover Road and turned into the drive of a tall, detached house. Illuminated signs in the spacious drive as well as in a downstairs window indicated that Bed and Breakfast was available. Pip slowed down and was able to see a tall, balding man with a moustache emerge from the passenger seat and seemed about to enter the house even as the Porsche backed and was soon heading off in the direction from which it had come.
“What now?” Nina ventured to ask. She was wary, a little frightened by the tight expression on Pip’s face. They had turned into a side road and parked.
“I won’t be long,” was all Pip said. Minutes later, she was knocking at the front door of the B&B.
Nina could not stop thinking about Max. She saw his bloodied face every time she closed her eyes, and  was already entertaining second thoughts about not going to the police. There was, after all, a police station just down the road. The more she agonized over the best course of action, the less thought she gave to Pip. There was no denying that going to the police was the responsible thing to do, but was it really in her best interests? Pip had said Max was still alive when she left number 22? Had the big woman killed him? Or had she, Nina, been mistaken and was Max still alive? In that case, mightn’t she have left him to bleed to death? “Oh!” she wailed and shifted into the driving seat. Without giving much clear thought to what she was doing, she turned the key in the ignition.  But as she swung into the police station forecourt minutes later, she panicked and without quite knowing why, drove straight out again by another exit. Tears streaming down her face, she drove on, suddenly desperate to see Carol Brady.
Meanwhile, Pip had seen the Peugeot shoot past and was swearing under her breath. What does Nina think she’s up to for heaven’s sake? It will be such a pain if she goes to the police. Her expression lightened. It was unlikely Nina would voluntarily involve herself in what was, after all, a messy business. It would be more in character for her to go running to Carol Brady. But it was a nuisance that she, Pip, would have to catch a train back to London after all. Caught up in thoughts about Nina, she was momentarily unaware that someone had already answered her persistent ringing at the doorbell.
“Can I help you?” a woman was asking.
Pip hesitated, “A man came in here about five or ten minutes ago. I saw him as I was passing on the bus. I’m pretty sure it was my uncle. Do you think I could possibly have a word with him? Of course, if I’m wrong, I can’t apologize enough. But we’re very close, you see, and I haven’t seen him in ages, not since my auntie died. All the family are worried sick that he hasn’t been in touch. He won’t even answer the phone…” The lies came so easily and plausibly that Pip almost began to believe them herself It wasn’t difficult, therefore, to supply a few convincing tears for good measure.
“I don’t know...” the woman hedged.
A tall, balding man with a moustache appeared in the doorway beside her. “I couldn’t help overhearing. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Oh, well, it was worth a try. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” Pip studied the man carefully.
“Don’t you worry about that, my dear, and good luck with finding your uncle,” the woman said kindly, “He’s a lucky man to have a niece so concerned for his welfare.”
“I don’t suppose you happen to have a room?” Pip asked on impulse.
The woman shook her head. “I’m sorry, my dear, but this gentleman has just taken my last vacancy. Do you have far to go then? And here’s me thinking you were local…”
Pip winced, instinctively aware that she was practically being called a liar to her face. “I’m tired, that’s all. And, yes, I won’t get home until very late. Never mind, and thank you again.” It took some effort to remain composed, walk slowly down the drive and head for the Canterbury East train station. “Damn Nina,” she muttered but was at least relieved to see no sign of the Peugeot parked in the police station forecourt.
At the B&B, the same woman who had opened the door to Pip Sparrow was now showing the tall balding man with a moustache into a spacious kitchen. “I dare say you’re hungry?”
“Starving,” responded her companion with cockney enthusiasm, “I could eat a horse.”
“Yes, well, you’ll have to settle for cheese and pickle I’m afraid,” said the woman wearing a tweed suit and sensible shoes who opened and reached inside a very large refrigerator.

To be continued on Friday