Morning in Fekenham, thought Lazarus as he drove his car into the village, had a certain quality that mornings in Winchester somehow didn’t. The light was crisper; the air sweeter; the pace of life slower and there was a feeling of working to live rather than living to work. It was a far gentler way and as far removed from town or city life as could be imagined.
He had seen again, when on the outskirts, Ethel Blowvalve driving her pig drawn carriage. Both pig and driver looked to have put on weight. The gig had been re-built and looked far sturdier than the last model. It had also been painted in garish colours so that now it resembled a gypsy caravan or a canal narrow boat. He had waved at Ethel as he passed her but she obviously had either not seen or hadn’t recognised him. She had not returned his greeting. Ethel’s failure to respond didn’t bother Lazarus. All the villagers, as welcoming as they were once they knew you, were suspicious of anyone they were unfamiliar with.
Adam now pulled up outside the first of two communal meeting places: Molly Sharptack’s Tea Rooms. It was a shop much loved by the locals but also by visitors. During the summer season the old shop was to be found bursting at the edges with tourists. The other place was Arthur Bentwhistle’s ‘Frog and Radiator,’ a public house that was the embodiment of Fekenham. Adam did not feel inclined to visit the pub first hoping that a cake and a coffee might negate the need for a pie and a pint of which he had no appetite for at this hour. And besides, the pub wouldn’t open for another two. With luck he would find the person he needed to talk to before then, the one person who might be able to shed some light on Martin Tickpants extra marital affairs.
As Lazarus left and locked his car so an off duty Cyril Updike, along with wife Cybil came along pushing a baby perambulator. Cybil had her arm hooked through Cyril’s. Cyril was pushing the carriage. For such a tall man he looked a little incongruous. The couple smiled when they saw Adam Lazarus.
“Mornin’ Sir,” said Cyril.
“Hello Inspector Lazarus,” said Cybil.
“What a picture,” laughed the policeman, “The perfect image of family life. It suits you both. You Cybil, if I may be so bold, look ravishing but you Cyril don’t!”
All three of them chuckled.
“It must be all the attention your sergeant keeps giving me. I know it won’t last!”
Lazarus smiled. “Grab it while you can then is my motto.”
Cyril looked down at his son who was sleeping soundly. Then he turned his eyes to Lazarus.
“What are you doing here sir? It’s a bit out of your way.”
“The ‘Hand In Glove’ case has been solved but there are still one or two loose ends to tie up. I’m here to speak with, or if memory serves me well, listen to. Millie Meade. You haven’t seen her have you”
“You’re in luck,” said Cybil pointing at the tea room window. “She’s just taken a seat in Molly’s”
Lazarus grinned. “I’ll be damned, so she has. Best be on my way then. You three take care.”
They said their goodbye’s before going their separate ways. Cybil, Cyril and baby Jonah back to the post office and Adam into the tea rooms.
Although not as busy as when in high season the team rooms still bustled with activity. Many of the people Lazarus saw were those he had briefly met months ago. Their names he had forgotten but their faces remained firmly fixed within his mind. At a table in the corner sitting with two other women was Millie Meade. She had the appearance of a cotton bud. Her ball of frizzy hair sat privet like upon her thin, long face which flowed down her thin, long neck and into her thin, long body.
Upon seeing the police detective’s approach she let out a loud exclamation of surprise.
“What’s he done, my Bert that is?”
The two women with her turned to stare at Lazarus who smiled at them.
“As far as I know, nothing, it’s you I wanted to speak to. Do you have a minute?”
Millie’s face blanched. The tea cup rattled upon the saucer as she held it in her trembling hand.
“I suppose so.”
Seeing that the situation seemed serious, Millie’s two friends got up and walked to another table saying they would leave Millie and the policeman alone to discuss whatever it was they had to talk about.
Millie looked slightly abashed by the thought of having to talk to Lazarus. She, much like many people, had an overriding sense of guilt even though in this case she was guiltless. She desperately tried to remain calm.
“Would you like some tea?” she asked flashing her yellowing teeth.
“That would be nice,” responded Lazarus. “I tell you what, let me pay for this. What about a slice of cake. I fancy a Bakewell Tart. How about you?”
Still flustered Millie said “Angel Cake if’n you please, sir,” She instantly regretted sounding subservient but licked her lips at the thought of some cake.
Lazarus motioned to a waitress who smartly crossed over and took their order. Millie looked at Lazarus expectantly. Her face was flushed. She looked like a naughty school girl. Lazarus thought it best to allay any fears she might have.
“I wanted to speak with you as you are probably the only person I know who can help.”
“But I don’t know nothing.”
Lazarus smiled. “You Millie are the sort of person the police force could do with. You are vigilant, inquisitive, intelligent and with a mind like a computer.”
Millie did a sort of shuffle in her seat in the way a chicken or a pigeon might when they plump themselves up.
“How can I help?” Millie asked as the waitress returned carrying a tray with two portions of cake upon it. She seemed to have become suddenly coquettish. Her eyelids fluttered their pale, gingery hairs.
“Martin Tickpant had an affair some years back, didn’t he? Do you know who with? Do you know when?”
Suddenly filled with a sense of her own self-importance Millie’s ego sent a message to her brain triggering the release of high octane fuel to her tongue. It was a rich infusion. She started speaking rapidly, her mouth motoring down hearsay highway.
“Martin Tickpant started comin’ t’ the village as a teenager, He used t’ cycle over here on the lookout for girls. He was a nice enough lad, or so I’m told as I was only young meself back then. He’s a tad older than me, see? When I was about thirteen I used to see him making eyes at Hilda Hemlock, mind you she were older than him by three year. He also took a fancy to Ivy, Ivy Rankwortle that is but she was already going steady. Then, just as he turned eighteen, this would have been about 1968, he started courting that simple soul Alice. I can’t rightly remember her surname now.
“Most folks, my parents for sure, thought it all a bit suspect but then again there ain’t naught as queer as folk. I mean take the Merryfeather Sister’s, they not related at all.”
Seeing the diatribe was heading down a cul-de-sac, Lazarus interrupted.
“Fascinating Millie, really fascinating but tell me more about Martin Tickpant. You said on the local TV news that he had an affair with Dame Fatleaf and they had an illegitimate son.”
Millie looked furious. She always did when someone misquoted the gossip she had so generously supplied.
“No I never said that. That silly beggar ‘snipped and stuck,’ or whatever the expression is, what I said to fit neatly into his broadcast. I never said Martin and Dame Fatleaf had an affair, if they did I didn’t know about it. What I did say was this: Jean Grimstain and Martin Tickpant had a fling. It was Jean’s boy that Martin fathered.”
Lazarus stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“Is there anyone else you know who might be able to verify this?”
Millie Meade laughed revealing a crooked set of teeth.
“Try Arthur Bentwhistle. He used t’ spend time with the pair of them.”
The information given by Millie Meade had been of enormous value. The Fekenham gossip had confirmed that Martin Tickpant had fathered Sam Grimstain. This now proved a motive, or at least the possibility of one. If Agatha Nosebag had known this fact and Lazarus suspected she did and if she had been blackmailing Martin Tickpant to prevent her revealing the truth then the motive to kill the hamlet’s nosey neighbour was obvious.
The same motive could also be applied to Jean Grimstain who for years had kept her sons fathers name secret but who had then, finding herself in desperate needs of money, threatened to reveal all if Martin Tickpant didn’t increase the money he gave her.
Martin Tickpant was now the prime suspect. He had motive, means and ability to perform the gruesome deed of thrusting garden shears through the victim’s mouths. He was certainly strong enough.
At this stage Millie Meade’s evidence needed corroboration. To this end there was another Fekenham villager Lazarus needed to interview; Arthur Bentwhistle. Lazarus had met the man before and although suspected he was a bit of a rogue he liked him.
Parking his car outside the Frog and Radiator he walked to see Arthur and his wife Lupini working behind the bar.
At this time of day the pub was quiet. As the day progressed so business would pick up. Adam strode up to where Lupini, an attractive woman with dark hair, streaked with grey greeted him.
“Inspector, what can I get you?”
“I’ll have a larger-shandy please.”
.“Pint or half?”
“Half please Mrs Bentwhistle.”
“Lupini it is.”
Lupini poured the drink with expertise then passed it over to Lazarus.
“What do I owe you Lupini?”
“It’s on the house.”
Lazarus grinned from ear to ear.
“Why thank, that’s very kind of you.”
Turning to Arthur he asked if he would join him as he was investigating a murder at Birchtickle.
“I thought you’d nicked old Harry?” said the trombone-voiced publican.
“I have but that was a different case. I have another and I think you might be able to help me. Can you spare a minute or two?”
“Course I can. You’ll be okay if’n me ‘n the inspector have a chat won’t you Lupini.”
Lupini nodded smiling at Lazarus as she did.
“Go on then. I’ll shout if I need you.”
The two men crossed into the snug where they say down opposite each other. Lazarus began the conversation.
“What do you know about Martin Tickpant’s relationship with Jean Grimstain. I’ve been reliably told they had an affair and that Jean bore Martin a son.”
Arthur let out a huge sigh then shook his head.
“I’ve lived in this village all me born days and I still marvel at that woman’s tongue. Millie never did know how t’ keep a secret. Yes, I knew Martin, if only briefly. I couldn’t tell you if young Sam is Martin’s bastard though.”
Lazarus took a swig at his drink.
“How did you get to meet? It seems strange that you should socialise with a couple?”
Arthur made a curious noise with his mouth, a sort of cross between clucking and sucking then he lowered his voice.
“I ‘aven’t always been the pillar of good virtue you now see seated afore you. I once had an affair, many years ago now, with a girl called Candice Barr. She and I used to meet up with Martin and Jean and go out together.”
Lazarus ran his fingers through his hair then looked at the table as he traced a circle on its surface.
“Just the two of you, no others?”
“Yes, there was another couple: Mavis Mufftickle and Harry Hertlasp. They were an item at the time. Harry broke it off and Mavis’s heart with it. Now if’n you want confirmation ‘n not gossip that Sam Grimstain is indeed Martin’s son then the man who surely could tell you is old Harry himself.”
Lazarus poured the remains of the shandy down his throat, stood up, shook Arthur’s hand and thanked him.
“Our conversation was in strictest confidence right?” asked Arthur with a wink.
Lazarus smiled. “You have my word.”
Lazarus didn’t like visiting prisons, sometimes though it was inevitable especially when cases involving previously convicted criminals came to light. Such was the situation with Harry Hertlasp.
Lazarus needed confirmation that Martin Tickpant had indeed fathered Jean’s son Sam. Lazarus had put a call into the prison requesting he be allowed to interview one of the inmates who he knew could help with a murder investigation.
Harry sat waiting as Adam entered the room.
“How’s prison life treating you?”
“The mundane day to day existence is tolerable even if many of my fellow inmates aren’t.”
“If you are having trouble with anyone in here let the warden know.”
Harry shook his head vigorously.
“I’m not. I just find some of them unpleasant people to be around.”
“That, sadly, is the nature of prisons.”
Harry tapped his fingers on the table. Then he sat back and blew heavily. Lazarus thought he had suddenly gone very pale.
“Harry, are you alright?”
“Yes, got a bit of indigestion.”
Lazarus frowned then continued with his questions.
“You and Mavis Mufftickle used to socialise with Arthur Bentwhistle, Candice Barr but also martin Tickpant and Jean Grimstain.”
“That’s right," said Hertlasp now sweating profusely.
“So you would know if Jean’s son Sam is Martin’s?”
Hertlasp seemed to be having trouble concentrating.
“I have no idea. I heard the rumours but I really don’t know.”
Harry clutched at his arm and moaned. Lazarus thought he knew what was happening.
“Harry, are you okay, do you need a doctor?”
“Feel odd, pains in my arm and chest. It’s like bad indigestion.”
Lazarus watched the rapid decline of what had seemed a perfectly healthy man into one sweating profusely and complaining of pains. Recognising, or thinking he did, the symptoms of a heart attack, Lazarus sprang to his feet calling for the guard.
“Call an ambulance, quick. This man is having a coronary.”
Within minutes the prison doctor was beside Harry Hertlasp.
“Ambulance is on its way. I have administered a drug that should help until the boys get him into hospital.”
“A drug?” said Lazarus.
“I have ‘Thrombolysised’ him. That is to say injected him with a thrombolytic drug used for myocardial infarction. It reduces any clotting there might be.”
“It was all so sudden. One minute he was talking to and the next gripping his arm in pain. May I speak with him?”
“Make it brief. He’s in no fit state for lengthy conversations.”
Lazarus moved to where Harry lay. Looking down at the man Lazarus saw he had the aspect of a grey corpse. His face was drawn, his skin colour ashen and his eyes sunken. He looked like a man close to death. Lazarus leant in close.
“Harry, I’m sorry to have to ask you at a time like this but it is imperative I find out who killed Agatha and Jean. Who else could confirm if Sam is Martin’s son?”
Hertlasp looked as though whatever drug he had been given had made him woozy. When the name arrived it came from a voice that struggled to speak.
“Mavis knows, Mavis Mufftickle.”
Mavis had not been expecting a call from a policeman. She of course knew of Adam Lazarus having met him when Sally and Billy had been kidnapped. He was just an inspector then but that of course was before his promotion. Chief Inspector Adam Lazarus stood in front of her now hands in pockets, his blonde hair flapping in the breeze. He was a good looking man thought Mavis chastising herself almost as soon as the notion arrived. He’s far too young for you.
“Chief Inspector, how nice to see you again, what can I do for you?”
She had no idea why he had knocked but she was glad he had. He took one hand out of his pocket then ran it through his hair. He had the look of someone going about official business.
“I wondered if I might come in, there are some questions I need answering and you might be able to help me?”
Mavis frowned. She did not like the sound of having to answer questions for it immediately made her feel guilty even though she had nothing to be guilty about. She gave a hesitant smile but beckoned Lazarus in.
He followed her to her living room where a fire had burnt low.
“I feel the cold,” she said amiably. “I always, no matter what time of year, have a fire on. It’s not too hot for you in here is it?”
Lazarus removed his raincoat, folded it then placed it on his lap as he sat down.
“Not at all,” he replied. “My mother is just the same.”
Mavis didn’t like to be thought of as being of a similar age to the policeman’s mother but smiled indulgently.
“You said you had some questions for me. It all sounds rather ominous.”
Lazarus smiled taking in the greying hairs of the woman, her neck that had the signs of sagging, her face, square with thinning lips, lined but not unpleasant. He could easily see why Harry Hertlasp had fallen for her. She must have been quite pretty in her day.
“I understand you were friends with Martin Tickpant and Jean Grimstain?”
The change in Mavis was instant. Her gracious smile went replaced by a tight mouthed line that forced words to gemmy themselves out in clipped fashion.
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Could you tell me about that relationship?”
“Do I have too?”
“No, you don’t but you should be aware that I am conducting a murder enquiry and your knowledge of the couple is germane to my investigations.”
A flicker of hidden thoughts flashed across Mavis’s face. She obviously was uncomfortable with being asked these questions but at the same time did not want to be perceived as being awkward or of holding something back. She took a deep breath then answered Lazarus in a staccato voice.
“I had a relationship with Harry Hertlasp who I know you have recently arrested,” at this point, she looked up at Lazarus to see if her point had registered. It had.
“News travels fast in Fekenham inspector especially when aided by Millie Meade.”
Lazarus indicated that he understood.
“During this time both he and I saw a lot of Jean and Martin. They became friends of ours. We shared many good times together.”
“How or why did the friendship end?” asked Lazarus.
“It didn’t really. What ended was my relationship with Harry. Once we stopped seeing each other there was no longer any reason for seeing Jean or Martin.”
“I see,” said Lazarus, sensing Mavis’s desire to say little or nothing about her affair with Harry. “I really don’t need to talk about you and Harry. It is none of my business nor is it relevant to this enquiry. What I do need to know and what is of vital importance is this: is Martin Tickpant Sam Grimstain’s father?”
For a moment Lazarus thought Mavis Mufftickle had either not heard him or was refusing to answer him. He was about to ask the question again when she, if not a little reluctantly, responded.
“Yes, Martin is Sam’s father.”
Having concluded his interviews Lazarus made his way back to the office. A catch-up meeting with Superintendent Pearight was long overdue. The fact his senior office had called him twice already only for Lazarus to decline using workload as an excuse no longer held water. It was rare for his boss to sound anything but calm and relaxed but the last call had been edgy. Pearight wanted to know what was going on; to be kept abreast of events. Lazarus had neglected to do that and the old man was fuming.
“Come in Inspector,” said Pearight in a clipped tone.
Lazarus strode in trying to look unconcerned. He knew by the way he was not invited to sit that this was to be a formal exchange.
“The last time we spoke during the only de-briefing we had, things seemed to be under some sort of control. Since then bodies are mounting, murders increasing and my superiors are, not to put too fine a point on it, kicking my arse. I need results Lazarus and I need them now but more importantly I must be kept up-to-date. I now understand we have had a colleague murdered. What are you doing about it and why was I not informed?”
Lazarus had no excuses to offer so apologised. He then explained why he had been so uncommunicative and what had been occurring. By the time he finished Pearight was wiping his brow with a handkerchief.
“What a god awful mess. Two dead from this Hertlasp chap, old news, of course, cold case stuff really, then the two women in Birchtickle horrendously murdered, all these other assassinations. What makes you think they are connected? I am damned if I can see any link.”
Lazarus shuffled on his feet. Pearight indicated he should sit. The ticking-off was obviously over.
“I don’t know sir. I have no proof of course but something, some gut instinct tells me they are related somehow.”
The Superintendent smoothed his moustache frowning all the while.
“I am not one for gut feelings. I prefer to have facts, something substantial to work with. You will need to interview the remaining families of course, the couples that seem to enjoy such perverse pleasure seeking pastimes. If I were a man of instinct then they would be right in the frame.”
“I agree sir. I’ll get right onto it.”
Pearight coughed. It sounded contrived as though he were somehow embarrassed by what he had to say.
“I said before Adam, you are a fine detective. You may work in a different way to me but you get results. I understand that you and that doctor we hire, that forensic pathologist, are somewhat of an item. None of my business of course but be careful there won’t you? I also heard from a little bird that Sergeant Sundae is back. Did you know she has requested returning to Winchester CID? Anyway, in future keep me in the picture. Now off you go and have a good evening”
Miles greeted Adam as he walked into the house. Debbie’s brother noticed a certain self-satisfied about the detective’s manner. It was as though he had either a very good day or discovered something, some vital clue to a case, that made him seem alert, assured and confident.
Lazarus smiled at the man he considered not only his best friend but also his confidante. Miles smiled back.
“You look like the cat who found not only the cream but also a fresh fish on a golden platter.” quipped Miles.
“I don’t think cats care for gold plates.” replied Adam grinning.
Miles nodded his head knowingly. “I take it you have had a rewarding day?”
“Very. I had a bit of a bollocking from the old man but he soon forgave me. I think I might have found the link I have been looking for. I am sure I know who did what and why.”
“I detect a ‘but’,” queried the crippled athlete.
Lazarus knew he was unable to hide anything from his friend. The only other person who knew him as well was Debbie, Miles sister. Even though Lazarus was falling in love with Hilary they, as a partnership, hadn’t yet forged the link that only time could make.
“Where’s Hilary?” asked Adam ignoring Miles question.
“In the basement painting.”
“Painting?” asked an astonished Lazarus.
“Yes, not decorating but painting. You know, slapping oil onto a canvas.”
Adam stared back blankly at the former Olympic athlete. “I had no idea she painted.”
“Well, she does and is rather good at it too, or so I am told. She’s been at it all day. Debbie didn’t like to intrude but when she heard Hilary was down there went and spoke with her. Apparently she has taken the arson attack rather badly; especially how her housekeeper has been injured and in an attempt to come to terms went out early, bought what she needed then headed down stairs to paint. Debbie is really impressed.”
Adam felt bemused by the whole thing and told Miles so.
“They’ve met then?”
“You didn’t think they wouldn’t did you? You can’t invite someone, your lover in this case, into a home you share with your ex and her brother and not expect them to bump into each other.”
“I suppose not. I had rather hoped I could have introduced them.”
“That would have been both clumsy and embarrassing. Far better this way. As far as I gather they got on like a house on fire.”
Lazarus laughed loudly.
“In view of recent events that is possibly not a good metaphor.”
Miles blanched then apologised.
“Where are they now?” asked Lazarus.
“Debbie’s went out to visit an old friend and Hilary’s still downstairs. I have put the oven on and dinner will be ready in about thirty minutes. Debbie should be back by then. There is plenty enough for all four of us. It might be a good thing to invite Hilary to dine with us. We don’t want her mopping about do we? It won’t do either her or us any good at all.”
Lazarus left Miles to his culinary chores then made his way down stairs to the basement. It was a large room converted into a workspace that was lit by a series of fluorescent lights. The walls were painted cream. It was utilitarian but perfect for Hilary’s purposes.
Hilary stood, dressed in an old pair of jeans with a paint-splattered T-shirt. Her feet were bare and, much to his surprise and delight she patently wasn’t wearing a bra.
“Hi, Hilary, how’s your day been?”
Hearing his voice she stopped what she had been doing which seemed to Lazarus nothing more than throwing drops of paint from the end of a brush onto an already painted canvas. The effect was good. Lazarus knew little of art but this reminded him of Jackson Pollock.
Hilary smiled at him, wrapped the brush into a cloth then walked over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“I’m okay now. Painting helps. It allows me to clear my mind. I’d like to visit Mrs MacCrumpet tonight if that’s alright with you. Will you come with me?”
“Of course I will. I like what you’ve done. I had no idea you painted.”
“It’s a release. When you spend your days cutting up dead bodies you need somewhere else to go to refresh spirit and soul. Painting does that for me.”
Together they walked over to the large canvas that Hilary had been working on. Lazarus looked at it taking in the detail, the way larger spots of paint and formed little tails that criss-crossed with other similar blobs and splashes of different colours and shapes.
“It’s all a bit abstract isn’t it?” he said. “Does it mean anything to you?”
“Perhaps. I’m not sure. I think the feelings I have when I paint somehow transfer to the shapes and colours. Maybe it reflects my moods. I don’t know.”
“I like it, I like it very much but then again I am all at sea when it comes to art,” said Lazarus his hand upon Hilary’s shoulder. Feeling the warmth of his hand she shifted her weight so that her body leant into his his.
“I don’t think you need to think about art. You should just feel it. If it appeals to you, if it connects at some level then it has done its job.”
Lazarus laughed softly/ “Oh it appeals to me but not half so much as you appeal to me right now.”
Hilary half turned smiling up at Adam. “Is that so?” she sighed.
She felt him touch her, his hand brushing her face, his thumb tracing the circled O of her mouth before it silently slipped away from her parted lips and onto her throat, caressing her neck with his firm fingers so that she felt a sudden thrill of electricity spark through her.
His kisses were soft as she parted her lips as he would later part her legs. It was a tender passion that made her shudder with delight. Their mouths met and she felt him nibble then gently suck upon her lips before he pushed his tongue against hers.
He ran his hand up her T-shirt cupping her breast with his strong hand. The same thumb that had brushed against her mouth now massaged her nipple making it rise firm and erect. A sigh escaped her mouth as he continued to run his fingertips down and across her stomach. He stopped at her navel then drew phantom circles around it with the slowest, softest of touches. She felt herself grow wet from desire for him.
She tried kissing him but could only manage clumsy efforts as she faced away from him. He put a finger to her mouth to silence and calm her as his other hand unzipped her jeans. Undone the denim slid down her legs as she kicked them away.
His hands were on her knees as he slowly parted her thighs. She opened herself to him like a summer flower opens to the bee. Adam stroked the inner softness of her thighs and she trembled in anticipation.
Hilary felt his mouth fall upon her sex, felt the electric shock of wanting him envelope her as his tongue lapped at her, felt the dizzying explosion of her first orgasm. Then they made love as though they were about to die, as though this was their last time together and their last moment on this earth was this one.
He was the moon and she the tide that dragged and pulled each thrust into her. With each movement she lifted her hips to greet him. Their teeth clashed as though they were feral beasts caught in a carnal embrace. She climaxed again. This time it felt as though the sun had fallen from the sky to burn its glory within her loins.
They fell apart panting. Both of them were covered in a soft sheen of sweat. Miles’ voice calling them for dinner broke the spell. Rising up quickly at the sound of footsteps, pulling her jeans back on as she did Hilary turned to Adam.
“I’d better go and have a quick shower. I can’t sit down to eat looking like this.”
Debbie entered the basement and overheard Hilary. She didn’t see Adam zipping up his flies or if she did she made no comment.
“Don’t be daft. You look fine. We don’t stand on ceremony here. Come on up, dinners ready.”
Adam took hold of Hilary’s hand. “Best do as we are told. Miles gets a bit precious about his cuisine.”
Later, when alone, they would make love again without the fear or thrill of discovery.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.
Mrs MacCrumpet lay in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. Her eyes were closed and she looked to be fast asleep. A cannula had been placed in her arm and connected to an intravenous line. A small plastic bag containing salts, amino acids, glucose and lipids hung from a thin cradle that drip fed her. A heart monitor flickered and blinked. A nurse was walking away as Hilary and Adam approached. They tried to catch her eye but she rustled by in a swish of cotton.
Hilary looked on at her housekeeper with a feeling of despair. Her eyes brimmed with tears. She made a concerted effort to control her emotions, feeling rather foolish. Adam put his hand in his hers but she pulled away as though scalded. She looked at him and shook her head.
A young doctor, all white coat and honest endeavour, approached them. He had a stethoscope hanging around his neck. He looked at them apprehensively then went over to where Mrs MacCrumpet lay. Looking at the heart monitoring machine, he seemed to make a mental note then turned to walk away. Hilary called out to him.
“Excuse me Doctor but might I have a word?”
He turned towards her, obviously nervous.
“Certainly, how may I help?”
Hilary looked at him, looked at how young he seemed; fresh-faced and pale with a fringe of dark hair that fell across his forehead. He still had freckles upon his nose.
“My name is Hilary Leatherbarrow. That lady there is my housekeeper. How is she? She looks to be in a bad way.”
The young medical man looked from Hilary to Adam then back again. He appeared to be caught between his conscience and his Hippocratic Oath.
“Are you family?” he asked.
Before Hilary could answer Adam interjected.
“I am DCI Adam Lazarus. This is my colleague Doctor Hilary Leatherbarrow. That woman lying there is a victim of an arson attack. Surely you can tell us something?”
The indecision was visible on the young man’s face. He clearly didn’t know what to do. Just then, as if out of nowhere, another doctor appeared. He was much older and came towards them with a flutter of his white coat which flapped as he walked. Behind him, a gaggle of junior doctors hurried with a starched, stern Matron following.
“Hello, I’m Adare Stuart Monson. I’m a consultant here at Winchester General. How may I help?”
Adam went through the same routine he had with the younger doctor.
“I see,” said Stuart-Monson. “Doctor Bolton, please give as detailed a report you can to these people.”
“But these people are not family or relatives, sir!” exclaimed the younger medic.
“I’ll take full responsibility,” Stuart-Monson assured his junior team member.
The younger man blinked once or twice then held his hand to Hilary and Adam to indicate that they should go toward the bed on which Mrs MacCrumpet lay. Hilary turned to Stuart Monson and thanked him. He smiled graciously then returned to his ward rounds followed by his small entourage.
“I’m James Bolton,” he announced through dry lips. “Mrs MacCrumpet is my patient.”
“How is she?” asked Hilary, not allowing the doctor to finish his sentence. “We were told she wasn’t badly burnt so why all the bandages?”
James Bolton shuffled uncomfortably. He was a nervous man, nervous and thin thought Adam and not really suited to the career he had chosen. He answered hesitantly and when he spoke it was in a very deliberate manner.
“The ambulance crew thought the burns on her arms were minor but her overall condition is far worse than that. Her left arm is okay but her right has suffered most. From what Mrs MacCrumpet said to me and the other members of staff the fire soon took hold of the lower floor where she was trapped. A wall of flame had sprung up preventing her from getting out of the building via the door. The only way out was to climb through the upper storey window, the one directly above the front door. She managed to do this so that she was standing on the ledge above the entrance. As she started to lower herself down, clinging onto the ledge as it were, a sheet of fire from the lower floor erupted and engulfed her right arm. Naturally, the shock and the pain made her let go. Fortunately, she didn’t hurt herself in the fall, apart from a grazed knee, but the outburst of flame had damaged her arm more than was first thought.”
Hilary stared into Doctor Bolton’s face, scrutinising it, looking for something but she didn’t know what, reassurance perhaps.
“She will be okay though won’t she?”
The youthful eyes looked into hers. There was no comfort to be had in them.
“The burns on her arm will leave scars, bad ones but that is not the major concern.”
Hilary felt exasperated by this man’s dithering. Why couldn’t he just spit out whatever it was he had to say? Adam could feel her annoyance and spoke sharply to the young doctor.
“Can we please stop skirting around the issue here? What is wrong with Mrs MacCrumpet? Is she in danger of losing her life?”
.Doctor Bolton’s cheeks flushed a bright red. The way Lazarus had spoken had both startled and angered him. He was after all doing his very best.
“She is in no immediate danger but smoke inhalation has almost certainly damaged her lungs. At this stage, I have no idea how badly ‘burnt’ they are. I won’t be able to assess her condition until further tests are carried out.”
“When will that be?”
Tomorrow, at 10.15.”
Hilary’s hand shot up to her mouth. She chewed upon her fist. Tears filled her eyes. She knew what damage smoke could do to lungs. She had seen the results often enough. The lab had contained a great deal of formaldehyde which is highly toxic when inhaled. Hilary’s mind raced as she delved into her knowledge of the effects of the chemical on the lungs. Short term there could be wheezing, coughing, watery eyes, skin irritation, even nausea and possibly chest pains but the symptoms would eventually subside but long term there could be the risk of cancer. There was also the additional problem of her heart.
“What ratio would you give that she may have to she may have to use breathing apparatus constantly for the rest of her life?”
“It is hard to say at this stage, fifty-fifty? She was inside the building far too long. She couldn’t see that well and the fire spread at an alarming rate. Her lungs have inhaled a lot of smoke but also a deal of toxic material too. I’m sorry.”
They thanked him. Lazarus shook his hand then he turned to Hilary who had started to walk away down the corridor. He could see how upset she was, how shaken and possibly feeling guilty for not having been there. All of which was utter nonsense but also perfectly understandable. He knew how he felt when one of his team was injured. He felt dreadful about Penny Farthing’s death. He took hold of Hilary’s elbow and started to lead her toward the hospital exit. She didn’t stop him. She just went along without a word.
As they got to double swing doors, Hilary turned toward him. For someone so utterly in command of her life, she suddenly looked very small and uncertain. The realisation of how mortal we all are had hit her like a bolt from the blue. She found that funny, ironic even paradoxical. She was, after all, a Forensic scientist, a doctor who regularly performed autopsies. She dealt with life and death and yet this near-death experience of her housekeeper, the woman’s possible physical impairment caused by an arsonist, somehow brought everything into sharp perspective.
“Hold me,” she whispered.
He did as asked holding her close to him, kissing the top of her head as though she were a child.
“I don’t think I can go home tonight. May I stay with you?”
He cupped her face in his hand then kissed her again this time on the forehead, then, taking her hand in his, he walked her toward his car.
Lazarus had put Hilary in a spare room. He had dismissed the idea of having her sleep with him, thinking it better that she had a full night of undisturbed rest. Not that he had any desires he couldn’t control but he knew that even in sleep you could detect another’s physical presence. What Hilary needed was time alone to gather her thoughts and collect her emotions.
Debbie had also taken to her bed still trying to catch up on the sleep she had lost whilst Miles was sitting in the living room watching athletics on TV. With the others either sleeping or occupied elsewhere, this gave Adam the opportunity to assess the facts he had managed to collect.
Harry Hertlasp had murdered, some twenty years ago, his employers Dame and Sir Clement Fatleaf. He had killed them in a moment of rage when they had announced they no longer needed his service. Having killed the pair he then dismembered their bodies, keeping their remains hidden in a freezer cabinet in an old shed he had acquired on what had been Martin Tickpant’s land. Hertlasp had worked with Agatha Nosebag who had learnt of his crime and, seemingly, had blackmailed him. Harry had, over the course of those twenty years, been disposing of the dismembered body parts. The first hand - that of Sir Clement Fatleaf, had been found by two twelve-year-old boys, Sam Grimstain and Todd Gosling, in a bush near Birchtickle pond. The second hand, that of Dame Fatleaf, had been found in a skip.
When Hilary had conducted her investigations, a hand lotion that had stopped being manufactured years ago was found on both hands. This much was obvious and easily proved. Then things had started to happen that seemed odd and unrelated to the ‘Hand In Glove’ case.
Kevin Migham took his own life by leaping from the top floor of a building. The cause of death remained suicide until Hilary proved otherwise. Migham had been beaten to death then dropped from a great height to cover up the murder. Migham had a tattoo on his shoulder, one that linked him to the covert operation of The East India Company’s Special Executive. This branch was known as the Brethren. It was a confusing fact that had been perpetuated by a similarly named organisation of white supremacists operating out of Fekenham Swarberry.
Cooper Kloot was a victim of a hit and run. He was driven over by a car. He too had a tattoo on his shoulder identifying him as one of the Brethren. Was he, as Lazarus believed, Migham’s killer?
There was also the man who had been shot through the head. Like Migham and Kloot, he shared the same tattoo.
Then Agatha Nosebag had been found dead with a pair of garden shears forced through her mouth and out the other side. Whoever had committed the murder had to be strong. Although Hertlasp had admitted to being blackmailed by Agatha he denied killing her. Lazarus believed him but he doubted a judge or jury would.
Jean Grimstain was found murdered in the exact same manner as Agatha Nosebag. A pair of garden shears had been thrust with considerable force through her open mouth and out the other side. Like Nosebag’s death, the killer had to be either very strong or somehow energised to the extreme.
Finally, Police Woman Penny farthing had been stabbed in her flat. Whoever the killer was they were experts at the art of murder. The murder had all the hallmarks of a professional assassination.
This amounted to, not counting the ‘Hand In Glove’ pair, seven, unconnected deaths. But were they unconnected, thought Lazarus? Were the ‘shears murders’ somehow linked to the ‘tattoo killings’? Were they in turn, unfathomably, related to Penny’s death? If they were, what was that connection? What could possibly be the motivation behind such disparate killings?
There was now the arson attack to contend with. Was that too part of the same series of what seemed unrelated crimes? Lazarus recalled his meeting with Lord Urpington Crust and his colleague Tommy Tickleshaft some months ago. Both men were undercover S.I.S agents investigating the illegal and treasonable acts of The East India Trading Company, its Chief Executive Officer, Wynkin de Worde and the criminal activity of its Special Executive and the sinister covert branch, The Brethren.
Initially, The Brethren had seemed nothing more than a lunatic fringe of racists. This was not the case and that idea had been perpetuated so as to mislead anyone who might investigate their real unpleasant activities. Lazarus suspected a smoke screen.
Regus Nasaltwist? What was his part in all this?
Lazarus had been fascinated to learn of this. He had been sworn to secrecy as the whole business was of state security interest. Since then the whole façade of The East India Trading Company’s illicit undertakings had been exposed along with its leaders and the Special Executive. Was this the connection?
Of course, none of this might be connected. The two ‘shears murders’ could very well be the act of a single person. After all, who was Jean Grimstain shouting at prior to her death? Who was the father of her son? Had Jean and Agatha both been blackmailing the same person? If they had then who?
For now, Lazarus decided to work on one case at a time. It was pointless speculating when he had not a shred of evidence to substantiate his suspicions.
Lazarus reviewed the suspects again. Martin Tickpant: what was his connection to Jean Grimstain? Alice Tickpant, Martin’s wife: the woman was an heiress to a fortune. It was money which Martin desperately needed. Was that even relevant? Possibly not. Alice had learning difficulties. It seemed unlikely she would have the capacity to kill someone and besides what motivation could she have?
Doreen Gosling, who was married to Charlie: she was clever enough and he stupid enough but again, what possible motive could they have? The same went for Tracey and Tim Trimeot. Both were capable. Both were smart enough but why would they feel inclined to commit such brutal murders?
Lazarus could not see any link to either these ‘Hand In Glove’ homicides or anything connecting them to the deaths of Penny Farthing, Cooper Kloot or Kevin Migham and nothing whatsoever with the arson attack on Hilary’s lab. And yet there was something niggling in Adam’s mind, something on the periphery of his consciousness. He could feel that awful obsessive nature of his eating under his control.
Lazarus went back to the beginning. Harry Hertlasp killed his boss and wife twenty years ago. Martin Tickpant sold the land, in this order, to Hertlasp, then Agatha Nosebag then Jean Grimstain then to the Trimeots and the Goslings. Harry was now out of the picture but that didn’t bear any relevance. He had murdered two people then fled to Tickpant’s because he had purchased some land which he built a shed on to keep his dirty secrets in. Agatha Nosebag had followed Harry and bought the property from Martin Tickpant. She did this so she could be near to Harry who was a source of income. Had she been blackmailing Tickpant and, if she had, then with what? Jean Grimstain had moved there, having fallen pregnant with her son. What came first, the move or the baby?
The more he puzzled the more elusive the answer seemed. Then, as his brain began to ache, Miles Sundae wheeled himself in. Miles had not been just a great athlete, he also had a sound mind.
“How’s it going?” asked Miles.
“What, the murders?
“It strikes me you have your hands full. Not just one murder investigation but three and then the arson attack. How’s Hilary?”
Adam rubbed his eyes. He felt weary and really wanted to go to bed. He could feel a migraine coming on.
“Hilary is tougher than she looks. She naturally feels upset about Mrs MacCrumpet. Why she feels guilty is beyond me but Hilary is like that. She cares about people, especially those who work with, and for, her.”
“You really like her a lot don’t you?”
“Yes, yes I do. I never thought, not after Debbie, that I could feel this way again. Hilary is very special to me.”
Miles smoothed back his thinning hair.
“I was watching a report on that ‘Hand In Glove’ case of yours on the local news. The presenter was suggesting some form of impropriety between Hertlasp and Dame Fatleaf. Apparently, they used to be seen together in a local pub, The Frog and something or other; I can’t remember its name. He had been having an affair with someone in Fekenham but broke it off when he fell for Fatleaf’s wife. I don’t suppose any of that would be of any interest to you chaps?”
“It would if it had a bearing on the murders but I don’t think it does.”
“There was also mention of, speculation really, the fact that the one of the victims was killed by shears; Joan Grimstain I believe…”
Lazarus interjected, “Jean Grimstain.”
“Yes, sorry, that’s right, Jean Grimstain. She was seen with someone. It was the talk of the village apparently. It was rumoured she had an affair with Martin Tickpant the local farmer and landlord. There was a woman from Fekenham called Millie Meade who stated that the couple had a love child; a boy according to her.”
Lazarus looked as though a light bulb had suddenly been switched on.
“Really? Thanks, Miles. Thanks a lot.”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.