Friday, 25 October 2013

Catching Up With Murder - Chapter 7


“The autopsy on Ruth Temple suggested nothing more than she lost consciousness in the bath,” Arthur Bailey informed his old friend, “after consuming a significant quantity of alcohol.  Surprise, surprise, eh…?”
“And James Morrissey…?” Winter asked although he thought he knew the answer.
“Nothing untoward there either. He was identified by dental records, by the way.”
“What about Cotter?”
“Ah, yes, our murderer… He was driving on a full tank so, as you can imagine, he was pretty well incinerated.  His bits weren’t exactly identifiable. They found enough personal effects to be damn sure it was Cotter though. The car had been reported stolen. Hardly surprising since he was on the run.”
“At least his widow had ‘bits’ to grieve over,” commented Winter, “which is more than can be said for Carol Brady.”
“You don’t honestly believe Liam Brady is alive and well and living in Herne Bay?” Bailey did not even try to suppress frank incredulity.
Winter shrugged. “Stranger things have happened. Can you get me all you can about all four deaths...copies of the autopsy reports, inquest proceedings etc.?”
“You’ll get me shot.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then, shall I?” Winter smiled appreciatively.
“Why bother with Cotter?  As it is, I think you’re getting your knickers in a twist for the hell of it.”
“Liam Brady became obsessed with the place where his father’s killer died.”
“Understandably, I suppose.”
“Yes, well…if you ask me, there’s been a sight too much supposing going on.”
“Meaning what?”
Winter shrugged. “I’ll let you know when I find out,” he promised, a dry chuckle tickling his throat. The two men shook hands. Winter climbed into the Volvo and headed for Herne Bay.  Arthur Bailey would be back on duty by the time he had finished with Harry so the plan was to drive directly to Carol’s flat in Camden Town. After all, he’d promised her to return as soon as possible. He had also attempted to call her several times but her mobile was switched off.  It worried him, given her state of mind.  Yet, who was he to judge her state of mind?  But he was pleased to hear her voice just as he was pulling into the car park at The Green Man.
“Of course it’s been switched off, I wanted some peace and quiet didn’t I?”
“And that includes me?”
“Especially you,” she retorted, “I was just about getting by until you turned up. Now I’m all over the place again. Have you talked to our friend with the earring yet?”
“I’m just about to.”
“Well, go easy on him. Just remember, Freddy, we’re not all of us made of elephant hide.”  Content, for now, to let that cutting remark stew in his gut for several minutes, she hung up.
Sadie Chapman’s face said it all. Winter guessed immediately that his bird had flown.  “He’s gone!” she exploded, “Thanks to you, you interfering old bugger, he’s upped and done a runner. Damn you, damn you…!” She burst into tears. Winter led her gently through the bar to a back room, sat her down and poured them both a stiff drink. “You go easy on that stuff if you’re driving,” she warned by force of habit while continuing to sob.
“I intend to. You go easy too.”
“Why? I’m not going anywhere.” She helped herself to another before visibly collecting herself. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. Someone was bound to come along and spoil things sooner or later, it just happened to be you.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
She hesitated, grabbed a tissue and blew her nose. “If I’m frank with you, will you be the same with me? I’ll tell you what I know about Harry if you tell me what you know about the boy in the photograph.”
“His name’s Liam and he’s hardly a boy.”
Sadie managed a weak smile. “Any man under thirty seems like a boy to me,” she laughed then, “I suppose that makes me a cradle snatcher?”
“Age only becomes a problem when it’s a problem for someone else. And that’s their problem,” he added gruffly. “But you have a deal. Now, tell me about Harry.”
She shook her head. “Not until you’ve told me about this Liam character.”
Winter shrugged and gave her some basic facts but saw no reason to reveal that, as a toddler, Liam Brady had witnessed his father’s murder. “So you see,” he ended, “whether or not Harry is Liam Brady, Liam’s mother needs to know one way or the other. She knows it’s unlikely, if not impossible, but...” He shrugged and spread his hands by way of explanation.
“Maybe not as unlikely as you think,” said Sadie Chapman tersely. Winter waited. She gave him a potted history of their time together from the time they first met in Canterbury that leafy, sunny afternoon. “We haven’t been sleeping together all that time, that’s a fairly recent development.  But we’re good together, Harry and me,” she added without apology.
“You were taking a big chance on him, all the same,” Winter observed.
“Sometimes taking a chance seems the right thing to do. Besides, Harry may not know who he is but I know a good apple from a bad one. Harry’s okay, believe me. I just hope he won’t do anything stupid.”
“Like what?”
She neither ducked nor answered the question. “He remembers hitching a lift and, as far as I can tell, jumped into the first thing on four wheels that stopped for him. Some trucker on his way to Dover dropped him off safe and sound just outside Canterbury. But Harry’s vulnerable, Mr Winter. He may not be so lucky next time.”
“He’ll be back.” Winter sounded disappointed but confident.
“I wish I could be so sure,” Sadie murmured pensively.
“He’s got you.  He may be vulnerable but he’s no fool. He’ll be back.” Winter’s tone was briskly reassuring. He rose to go and she flung him a grateful, tearful look. “When he does, you’ll get in touch?” She nodded. “Better still, try and get him to contact me himself.  It sounds like Harry needs to get his act together, for everybody’s sake. If Liam Brady proves to be a red herring, so be it. Finding that much out will be a start.”
“I’ll do my best,” she promised.
“That’s all any of us can do,” he told her and they shook hands. Her grip was firm and sure. Winter found himself hoping that things would work out for Harry Smith and Sadie Chapman.
The drive back to Camden involved the usual traffic snarl-ups and roadwork diversions.  By the time he finally arrived at Carol Brady’s flat in North Street, Winter was feeling weary and in need of a pee.  He rang the doorbell and was surprised when Julie Simpson opened the door to him. “Miss Simpson, what a surprise!”
“Thank heavens you’re here, Mr Winter...err, Fred. I’ve been meaning to call you but everything’s been so chaotic.”
“You have?  So where’s Carol?”
“I’m afraid she’s In hospital.” He followed her through to the kitchen but couldn’t put off more urgent matters any longer. She indicated the toilet with a smile and went to put the kettle on.  Later, she explained how she had called on Carol the previous evening and found her nervy and agitated.  Once Carol finished relating how she had almost been killed earlier, Julie had insisted on staying the night.
“So has she had some kind of relapse or what?”  Winter was concerned.
“No. There’s been another incident.”
“What!” Winter felt a tingling down his spine.
“She left to do the weekend shopping but insisted I stay and have a good breakfast. Barely ten minutes after she’d left, a neighbour came banging on the door to tell me there had been an accident. Carol had been run over in the Mews just across the way. It’s a shortcut to the High Street. An ambulance arrived just as I got there so, naturally, I went with her to the hospital. They seem to think the damage is only superficial but they want to keep her in for observation. She was very distressed, as you can imagine. I’m taking her a few things. You know...a nightie, slippers, toilet bag etcetera.”  She indicated a black holdall on the kitchen table. Winter had noticed it immediately but only vaguely wondered what it was doing there.
“You should have called me,” he said angrily.
“I meant to, honestly. I would have, but...” her voice breaking. Winter was instantly contrite.  Impulsively, he put an arm around her. She fell gratefully into his paternal embrace and sobbed quietly. “I’m sorry,” she said, breaking away and accepting the handkerchief he offered to dry her eyes. “It’s just that with poor Auntie Ruth and the wedding and now this...”
“I understand. You’ve been through a lot. But I remember you told me how well your aunt always coped no matter what. You’re made of the same stuff, I can tell. You’ll be fine.” He tried to sound reassuring and the pretty face lit up.
“I try to be like Auntie Ruth. We were quite close, you know, although never in each other’s pockets or anything like that.” She paused then, “Carol thinks someone is trying to kill her,” she said suddenly. “There couldn’t be any connection, I suppose?”
“With your aunt’s death, do you mean? I doubt that very much. As for someone trying to kill her, I think Carol is over-reacting. It’s understandable, she’s...”
“…been through a lot too,” Julie agreed. “I suppose you think I’m over-reacting as well?”
“I said I would look into things for you, Miss Simpson, and that is what I am doing. Now, suppose we stop speculating and I give you a lift to the hospital?”
Carol looked better than he had either expected or dared hope. She gave them both a welcome smile, albeit a tremulous one. Julie did not stay long. Carol thanked her and the two women embraced. “I’ll leave you two to chat,” she said in an airy tone that fooled no one, “Take care of yourselves,” she called out, tight lipped and tearful, before walking quickly down the ward and through the double exit doors.
“So, what happened?” Winter wasted no time putting the question.
“It was much the same as last time. Only, on this occasion I had to try and save myself as best I could.  I couldn’t tell the police much, I’m afraid.  One minute I was lost in thought and the next, there it was, coming right at me.”
“Was it the same car?”
She nodded. “I think so. In fact, I’m bloody sure it was. But I didn’t get the registration number, even part of it, and I’m not even sure of the colour. So I don’t think the police were too impressed. They were very kind, just...”
“Yes, noncommittal just about sums up the constable who came to see me in here earlier.” She paused. “What’s going on, Freddy? Something is going on, isn’t it? Look at me. I hurt all over and it’s damn well not in my imagination.”
“I don’t know, Carol,” Winter had to admit, “I honestly don’t know.” She asked about Harry-Liam.  He told her how the young man had done a bunk but saw no point in raising false hopes by relating all Sadie Chapman had said.
“But it must mean something that he didn’t want to face you?” Carol tried in vain to suppress her excitement. For his own part, Winter began to wish he’d never agreed to go to Canterbury.
“It means sod all,” he told her bluntly.
She shrugged, resigned but not undeterred. “So what’s next on the agenda?”
“We get you better,” he said with a grin.
“They will probably let me out tomorrow. They’re only keeping me in for observation, probably because I got so hysterical. With luck, I’ll be home tomorrow or the next day.”
“You’ll stay at my place.” It was not a question.
Carol shook her head. “Julie says I can stay at her place for a bit. She says I can help keep her from getting into such a paddy over the wedding plans.  Huh, fat chance! Mind you, I’m getting into a paddy enough for the both of us I suppose!”
“It’s understandable. But...” he hesitated then, “Do you keep an address book on you?”
“Not on me, no, it’s in a drawer at home along with a diary of sorts. I used to keep them in my bag but it was stolen once and, well, have you ever lost an address book or a diary?  It’s not so much a crisis as a bloody disaster.”
“So, anyone breaking in to your house could have found and read them...”
“Well, yes, I suppose so but why should they?” The penny dropped. “Oh, my God, if they took the diary whoever tried to run me down would have known I was leaving work early to visit the chiropodist yesterday afternoon. It’s not really a diary, just jottings really but I always write appointments in it.
“Do you always shop early on Saturdays?”
She nodded. “You think someone’s stalking me?”
Winter shook his head. “Not in the usual sense. Stalkers rarely want to kill their victims.”
“I’ll arrange with Julie to move in,” she said in a rush and he could almost hear her heart pounding. Winter shook his head.
“Am I in your address book?”
“Not yet,” she grinned than her face fell, “Oh, I see what you’re getting at. But isn’t that a bit far-fetched? Surely whoever broke in would have taken the bloody address book?” Her face, already pale, turned white and the violet eyes stared at him with a glazed expression, “I didn’t look. I didn’t bloody look. I only checked for cash, credit cards, passport and things. Suppose he took it, the diary too? He’ll...”
“Know an awful lot about you, yes,” Winter agreed, anticipating her, “so when you get out of here, we’ll pick up what you need at the flat and you’ll stay at my place for a while.”
“Now who’s over-reacting?”
      “You said yourself, something’s not right. Better safe than sorry, surely?”
“But it doesn’t make any sense, none of it does. Why should anyone want to hurt me?”
“You tell me.” He gave her time to think but a silence, like the tension between them, descended on them like an avenging angel as each, unavoidably, reflected on the past. “Get a grip, Fred,” he remonstrated with himself, “It’s the here and now that counts, not the past.” He forced himself to concentrate on the matter in hand. “Has anything out of the ordinary occurred recently? Have you been anywhere you wouldn’t normally go, met anyone who’s shown an unusual interest in you?”
Carol managed a laugh. “Been chatted up by any strange men, you mean? Huh, chance would be a fine thing!”
“Be serious.”
“I am, believe me.”  The violet eyes twinkled.
Winter found himself clicking his tongue with irritation, rather like Audrey Ellis. The comparison amused him and he broke into a reluctant smile. “Well?” he persisted.
“No strangers, apart from you turning up like a bad penny. My social life has been a dead duck for ages. As for going anywhere exciting, I should be so lucky.  I did pop down to Monk’s Tallow for the day a few weeks ago but that’s about it.”
“You went to Monk’s Tallow?” Winter’s spine began to tingle.
“It was only the second time I’ve been there and it will be the last, believe me. I just felt the need to be near Liam. I thought it would help but it didn’t, it made me feel a damn sight worse. Whenever I tried to think about Liam that bastard Cotter came into my head and wouldn’t budge. Then I had to put up with Sarah Manners with her tweeds and designer sunglasses, not to mention that smarmy, bald git she lives with. Honestly, he treats her like shit and she laps it up. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re into a spot of S&M on the quiet....”
Winter pricked up his ears at the mention of Sarah Manners. He hadn’t given Ruth Temple’s erstwhile flatmate much thought.  Yet she was a link with all of them; Ruth herself, of course; James Morrissey, the boyfriend she dumped years ago; Liam Brady too. True, there was no link to Cotter except, indirectly, through Liam. Cotter, though, he was pretty certain, was a red herring anyway. He sighed.  Some cases were all red herrings and wild geese, whichever way you looked. But you kept at it.  Sometimes you struck lucky, sometimes you didn’t. “What’s she like, Sarah Manners?” he asked absently.
“She’s alright, I suppose, the sort that means well but gets on your nerves. I’ve only met her twice. The first time was with Liam and she twittered on non-stop. This time her partner, Darren, did most of the talking, kept her on a tight leash you might say.  I can’t imagine what Liam saw in the woman.”
“He fancied her?”
“I wouldn’t go that far but there was definitely some sort of mutual fascination going on between them. In a sense, she was all over him. But not in the way people are sometimes. It was bad enough, mind.  He was taken with her too. But, no, I wouldn’t call it an attraction. I’m not sure they even liked each other much. It was all a bit weird really. Anyway, as a day out, it was a disaster. I caught the early train back to London with a splitting headache. Talking of which...” she put a hand to her forehead.
“You must be exhausted,” he sympathised. “I’ll love and leave you, okay?”  His unfortunate turn of phrase was lost on neither of them and each was careful to avoid the other’s eye.  Both were stinting with their goodbyes.  Winter, for his part, wasted no time beating a hasty retreat. He hated hospitals.
Carol lay back on the crisp hospital pillows and wondered what to make of it all. Could both incidents have been accidents, no more or less? True, she hadn’t exactly been concentrating on where she was going.  But why hadn’t the driver stopped on either occasion? It had been the same car on both occasions. She was damn certain of it...or was she?          
 It was all so surreal, her life turned upside down. Moreover, she could well have done without Freddy Winter’s turning up to give old memories a new perspective. Nor was it just memories she found herself raking over. Before they found Ralph Cotter’s burnt-out wreck of a car, she has been terrified he might come back for Liam. That terror had never quite left her, even though she knew it was irrational. Now, it was making panic waves in her stomach and all she wanted to do was run away and hide.  Eventually, though, the sedation took effect and she slept soundly, undisturbed by nightmares.
Winter drove home to Watford and gave himself a mental shake-up in the process. He must get the spare room looking presentable and have a general tidy-up before collecting Carol. Back at the house, he could not suppress a loud groan. He hadn’t realized just how much of a mess he had let the place get into. Helen, he reflected grimly, would be turning in her grave. As he set-to with a will, he tried to tidy the muddle in his head. 
While there were no conclusions to be reached, Winter could not ignore the tingling down his spine as he mulled over the indisputable fact that, one way or another, all roads led to Monk’s Tallow.  He must go down there soon, he told himself and his stomach gave a lurch. Only a few days after her tenth birthday, Helen’s father bought a house in nearby Monk’s Porter. She loved it there. Her mother, though, hated village life. As soon as Helen and a younger sister left school, the family moved back to Canterbury. But Helen had put her foot down and insisted they get married in Monk’s Tallow.
Within weeks of Helen’s death, her father died following a massive heart attack. Shortly afterwards, her mother went to live in Manchester to be near another daughter, Judith, and three grandchildren.
Winter sighed. This whole business was getting too personal by half.

To be continued on Monday