It didn’t need Hilary to confirm the man to be dead. Having a bullet hole through his forehead was as big a clue as one could possibly get. He had been shot in the head at point blank range. There were burns around the entrance wound and a great deal of blood along with tissue had been blown out the other side. The man’s eyes were still open. He didn’t look the way so many do when shot through the head – surprised or even shocked - he looked relieved.
There was still the smell of gas even though Penny Farthing had turned the stove off. The plain clothes detective now stood watching Hilary as she worked. Hilary conducted the crime scene investigation with her normal professionalism and attention to detail. Oddly Lazarus didn’t ask any of the questions that he and other plain clothes policeman usually did. Hilary suspected he knew most of the answers already.
“Hard to tell how long he’s been dead but, since rigor mortis hasn’t set in, death can’t be more than three hours ago, The wound indicates that this was a professional killing and the look of the man suggests he was expecting it. He shows no signs of horror or surprise. There was a driving licence in his pocket. The deceased’s name was Francis Fisher.”
Lazarus just nodded. Penny Farthing, though, wanted more.
“Is that all we’ve got? We already knew his name. I mean, surely there is more detail you can give than that. Have we missed something?”
Hilary made to answer but Lazarus held up his hand.
“Talking about missing something, where is DS Highlot? Why isn’t she here?”
“She phoned in sick, sir.”
Lazarus looked unimpressed.
“Sick, what’s wrong with her?”
“Woman’s stuff sir.”
“She’s gone sick with period pains?” said a disbelieving Lazarus.
Hilary leapt in.
“Wait a minute, Adam, menstruation can be painful you know so don’t scoff until you’ve tried it.”
Slightly abashed, Lazarus toned down his disbelief.
“I’m not saying it isn’t, it’s just that I have never known Vesper Highlot to take a day off sick in her life. Her Royal Air Force record showed her absences as nil.”
“Maybe it was particularly bad this time,” said Hilary, pressing her point home.
Lazarus held both his hands up in mock surrender.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest period pains weren’t bad or that a woman is weak because she takes time of for feeling yucky, I was simply saying it is unusual for that officer to take any time off. Now then, back to business. DC Farthing, in DS Highlot’s absence you take over the investigation. I would have thought she’d be back by tomorrow so, until then, dig around a bit. Find out who this man was, not just his name but what he did and when Hilary confirms, as I am positive she will, that he too has the same tattoo as the other men, see if you can link them together. Right then, off we go.”
The crime scene investigation crew started the grisly business of cleaning away the corpse before sending it on to Hilary’s laboratory. All evidence would be clearly identified, placed into sterile plastic bags then marked accordingly. The body would also be bagged and marked.
“What if you are wrong and this has no connection whatsoever to the other two deaths?” asked Hilary.
“Then we still have the two to work with. It is highly unlikely that two men bearing the tattoo of a semi-secret group would both die, even of suicide and hit and run, within a day of each other. This man here was a part of that process of that I am convinced. If he does have the tattoo that is the mark of the Special Operations Executive then I think we have proof enough. The hard bit will be uncovering who did what and why and that will be highly risky. If they are capable of assassinating people with such impunity there will be nothing to stop them trying to kill me or anyone investigating their sordid affairs.”
Hilary studied the face of the man she was growing fond of. There was a look of sincerity that struck her as being almost childlike. It was as though, in spite of his career fighting crime, there were some things, some morally unacceptable corruptions that went that one stage too far. She sensed in Lazarus an acceptance of the atrocious acts committed by psychopaths, murderers and petty criminals as being part of the spectrum of humanity’s good to bad levels. He understood that but what he didn’t tolerate was having some giant corporation manipulating the way governments and nations acted. It seemed somehow beyond the pale to him; naïve perhaps but oddly honourable.
“And you are willing to risk that are you, having them attempt to kill you?”
Lazarus frowned, then ran his hand through his hair before answering.
“I understand theft, I understand murder, I even understand, as much as I loathe it, war. What I don’t understand is when a business gets so big it starts to shape and then break lives. Most businesses don’t, most businesses are moderately honest. Some are too powerful by far and they should be stopped.”
“Then let those two men you met and others like them fight that battle. You are a policeman and not some agent of the government. Your job is to chase and catch thieves and rapists and murderers so stick at what you are employed to do.”
She sounds curt, aggressive, but her concerns for him came from her growing respect and admiration for him. He smiled that lovely smile of his.
“Hilary thanks for your concern but I am doing exactly what you suggest I should. I am investigating suspicious circumstances which may prove to be murders. It is in the public’s interest that I find the truth.”
“Even if by so doing you get yourself killed?”
“It is my job.”
Hilary nodded then pulled the latex gloves from her hands.
“I’d better get back so that when the body arrives I can conduct the autopsy. If during my examination I find the same design of tattoo on this corpse, then I’ll let you know.”
Lazarus watched as she walked away then he called out to her.
“I’ll be round later and don’t forget our dinner date!”
Hilary smiled at him as she waved a hand goodbye.
Harry Hertlasp, having been interviewed, and with no reason or just cause found to detain him, was released from police custody. He was offered a lift home but had declined the police offer: he felt he had had enough of their company so instead caught a train from Winchester to Muckleford then got a cab to take him home.
When he arrived home he went directly to the cupboard where he kept his wellington boots along with a large drum of kerosene. He put his boots on, picked up the drum of fuel, then made his way round Martin Tickpant’s farmland, heading north all the while, until he arrived at a remote, broken-down shed. Inside the shed were two large freezer cabinets. Both were old, both were rusty. Harry stared at them for a while then proceeded to sprinkle the kerosene over the floor of the barn.
He moved outside and looked south to where Martin Tickpant’s boundary lay. He could see Martin’s house and the tiny figure he assumed to be Alice moving about near the washing line. Harry then took out a box of matches, the exceptionally long sort, lit one, watched as the flame ate its way up the wood of the match then threw it into the collapsing barn.
Within seconds flames were rising like a fever. A few minutes later the whole barn was engulfed in a blazing inferno that was so fierce Harry had to step back and away from the heat. As the beams started to crack, snap, then fall, so Harry turned away and walked slowly back to his cottage. It was a distance of just over a mile so wouldn’t take too long.
The afternoon was rapidly moving toward evening. The clock on Hilary’s lab wall had the time as five forty five. She was dressed in a surgical gown and was wearing latex gloves. She pulled the large eye glass over the corpse again.
“It is the same tattoo, identical in fact. There are no defining words, nothing in Latin to suggest a motto or give any form of group identity but this tattoo is the same as that of the bodies of Kevin Migham and Cooper Kloot.”
Hilary stood back from the corpse and removed her surgical mask.
“I should also say,” she added as she threw both mask and gloves away, “that perhaps you should check Harry Hertlasp’s home for any of the lotion I told you about.”
“Clara du Loon as I recall,” said Lazarus.
“That’s the one. It strikes me if Harry does have a bottle of the stuff some twenty years on then it might be worth confronting him with it.”
Lazarus still found the way Hilary’s mind worked remarkable. Even though not a police detective she had all the same instincts.
“You have a point. I had to let Harry go as you know but I think another visit may now be in order. Back to the tattoo case though, if you don’t mind; the tattoo you have now seen three times on three different men is the self-same one a great many special operatives have. There is no instruction that just because you are a member of the S.O.E that you have to get that tattoo and there is no Latin as such. The image though is very much of them. They normally work either in teams of two or four or six, always even numbers and never odd. You never find a single member comprising a team. The S.O.E never acts in the way romantic fiction casts spies. They never act alone. They always go in packs.”
“That doesn’t explain why Kevin Migham was killed especially if it was by Cooper Kloot.”
“No, it doesn’t but then again we have no real evidence to suggest that Kloot killed Migham.”
“What about the iron bar that Penny found in the boot of Kloot’s car?”
“No blood stains, therefore, circumstantial.”
“Even though it fits the bruises found on Migham perfectly?”
“I agree but that tenuous link is all we have to go on.”
Hilary slipped out of her surgical gown then threw that into the laundry basket.
“If we assume that Kloot did kill Migham, the question is why?”
Lazarus nodded in agreement.
“And if he did then why was he run over?”
“This doesn’t sound much like the way you would think an S.O.E cell would operate, does it? I mean why kill each other off?”
Lazarus shrugged then changed the tone of the conversation.
“I don’t know about that but Penny is working hard on that case and Vesper is due back tomorrow so let them worry over that. My problem is still proving that the first hand is that of the long missing presumed dead Sir Clement Fatleaf.”
Hilary nodded in the general direction of her kitchen.
“I need something to drink. Is there anything I can get you?”
“No thanks, I’m okay. Where’s Mrs MacCrumpet?”
“Out hunting for food at that Voxco Supermarket.”
“I hate the bloody place,” said Lazarus vehemently.
Hilary ran the cold faucet, keeping her fingers beneath the water until it felt to be the right temperature then she slid a glass under it. She drained the glass in a few swift mouthfuls.
“Hmmm, I needed that.”
“Are you, busy tomorrow?” asked Lazarus.
“I’m afraid I am. It’s not just police work that pays my mortgage you know.”
“You’re not moonlighting, are you?”
“It’s a fair cop guv, you have me bang to rights. Winchester Hospital is my other paymaster.”
“Are they now? I might just have to send the boys round if we get too much of this. What, if I may ask, are you doing for them?”
“Examining one elderly gent who appears to have had a stroke but as he was found having left the gas on overnight I have to establish whether or not he killed himself or died from natural causes. Then there is the other man, a young one this time, who crashed his motor bike into oncoming traffic. He appears to have had a heart attack but since he was only nineteen I need to examine him. There is then a set of less interesting cases concerning various elderly people who may or may not have died naturally but for whom the insurance companies are refusing to pay out as they are disputing the causes of death. Oh, the life I lead is such an exciting one.”
Adam joined in her laughter.
“I can see now why you are so keen to help us with our investigations. You need a break from all that mundane nonsense”
“And the reams of paper work that goes with it,” said Hilary.
Hilary ran the tap water again filling the glass only half way this time. She drank it as before, in a series of large gulps.
“You are thirsty.”
“Tomorrow night?” said Hilary unexpectedly.
“What about it?”
“Where are we eating?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Fine, I like surprises but a girl needs to know what to wear, so then, is it casual or formal? If it is casual then I can wear something accordingly but if it’s formal then I need to know how formal.”
Lazarus made a sound of air rushing through his teeth.
“Good lord, well, let me see, I guess it is formal, quite swanky as it goes. Does that help?”
“How swanky, not black tie surely?”
“No, of course, no, posh but not too stiff.”
“Fine, I will wear my black dress then.”
“It’s a restaurant, not a funeral.”
“And you’ll be going to the restaurant alone if I hear anymore cracks like that, buster.”
They both laughed. There was a sense of intimacy building in their relationship, one that not only allowed a liberal attitude but a degree of latitude in the way each of them felt suited the mood. It was this flexibility that Hilary found most charming about Adam Lazarus. He wasn’t the sort of man keen to impress. He was smart enough and confident enough to take on the chin the teasing that Hilary liked to give.
“I will bear that in mind the next time we do a recce of restaurants. I wouldn’t want you turning up wearing the wrong clothes now would I?”
He stood up as if to go.
“And what would be the wrong clothes?” asked Hilary.
Lazarus gazed directly at her drawing her eyes into his.
“I am jealous of all the clothes you wear. I wish I could be them so that I could be forever touching your skin.”
Hilary took him in her arms and kissed him. The kiss went on too long and in the end, as her hands were starting to undress him, he pulled away.
“Whoa, I think we’d better stop now. Not that I don’t want to ‘cos I do but I have to get over to Harry Hertlasp’s before nightfall. Sorry.”
Hilary was running her hand across her mouth as though making sure his lips had been there but seconds before.
“No need to apologise, I understand. Hopefully, tomorrow’s meal will allow us longer together.”
Lazarus left then feeling horny as a longhorn ox. There was something very special about Hilary Leatherbarrow and the longer he knew her the more he wanted to know.
Jean Grimstain was shouting. She held the telephone receiver in her hand as she bellowed down the line. It was not attractive sight to witness so her son, who had just returned home to get a drink and something to eat, grabbed a bottle of lemonade from the fridge and a box of chocolate biscuits from the cupboard then left.
Jean Grimstain was shouting. Her voice had changed in the effort and was shrill and unpleasant. She sounded as though her voice was stretched tight across her vocal chords as she forced the words out with as much venom as she could muster. For a woman of limited creativity her abusive foul-mouthed vocabulary was the epitome of invention.
Jean Grimstain was shouting. The cords in her neck muscle rose in thick knots. Her face contorted into a savage mask of sheer hatred. Spittle flew from her mouth in flecks of saliva that spun across the kitchen, landing on the table. Her eyes were large and red from the tears that coursed down her checks.
“But I haven’t got the money! What am I meant to do, rob a bank? Why is that I always have to beg you for help? This situation isn’t my problem alone. It takes two you know to tango and we had our dance and now the piper needs paying. I know my responsibilities; isn’t it about time you faced up to yours? You never ever have been forthcoming have you? You liked your bit of fun and then off you go as if it didn’t go quite as you planned. Well, listen, it wasn’t just Agatha that knew you know, it wasn’t just her that could reveal all the secrets you like to keep hidden. There’s me too isn’t there? Just because I never have doesn’t mean to say I never will. A lot of folk would like to learn of your dark secret wouldn’t they? I bet the police would give their eye teeth to know,” Jean paused for breath and then continued.
“What do you mean ‘be reasonable,’ I am being reasonable. I cannot afford to go on like this. I need more money and I need it now. How am I meant to cope? How do I fund all the things that he needs? I know what you’ve done in the past but that has gone; it’s been done. My needs are still here and they won’t go away. You know that I spoke with Agatha don’t you? You know she told me all there was to know about you? Well if I don’t get what I need, and soon, I will tell everyone too. I will share my dirty little secret and I will expose yours too. As I said, the police would have a field day and then what would you do?” Jean stopped to listen to the response she got.
“Don’t give me that. You must have some money somewhere and besides, why should I care? WE had a deal and it is you that broke it, not me. I kept my end of the bargain. I have stayed quiet all these years. Maybe the Trimeots and the Goslings should know what Agatha had on you. That Inspector Lazarus was here again you know. He even left me a little card with his number on to contact him if I needed to. Well, you know what, I think I need to contact him now. Let’s hear what he has to say shall we?” Again she stopped to listen before responding.
“I am not hysterical! I am not bluffing; I mean every word I say. I want more money. I need more money. I can’t get by without more money. If there aren’t sufficient funds here with me by this time tomorrow I swear I will open the largest can of worms you have ever seen and you know what they say don’t you? Once you open a can of worms you need a bigger can to fit them all back in again”
Shaking with rage, Jean slammed the receiver back into the cradle. A part of the phone broke and flew off. Jean slammed the phone down again breaking parts of the device which fell to the floor.
Then she started weeping. She cried so much that she had to sit down. Her knees felt like jelly. Her head hurt with the tension caused by the conversation. She blubbed like a baby. She couldn’t understand his attitude. Why was he being so unhelpful? She had the measure of him though. Everything she had said she had meant. Life for her now was beyond difficult; it was becoming impossible. How was she meant to raise a son without sufficient funds to do it? All she had ever wanted was just enough to get by on.
She sobbed and sobbed until tiredness stole over her. The sun was fading now, dusk was drawing on. She would have to pull herself together before Sam came home for his tea. She just needed to close her eyes for five minutes or so. Just a little nap was all she needed.
She awoke with a start some twenty minutes later. There had been a sound, she wasn’t sure what it was but some sort of noise had woken her. It had been a click she was sure, like the click you hear when the door latch is lifted.
She heard a shuffle of feet from behind her so she turned to see who it was.
“What are you doing here?” she rasped, her throat dry and sore from the shouting she had done earlier.
“How dare you just walk in here out of the blue like this, uninvited?”
She rubbed her hands over her eyes to clear the stinging she felt from the crying, to clear the blurred vision that made everything seem indistinct.
“Can’t you see I am busy? I don’t want to see you and I don’t want to talk to you right now and I don’t want you here in my home.”
She stretched then yawned still fighting the effects of her fatigue.
“Come back tomorrow when I am not so tired and irritable. We’ll discuss things then.”
Then Jean Grimstain stopped talking. The large pair of shears forced through her mouth and out of the back of her neck prevented conversation.
Rain had started to fall and so Lazarus turned the Austin 27’s windscreen wipers on. The drive from Winchester to Birchtickle was no more than twenty five minutes, half an hour at the most. He expected to arrive at Harry Hertlasp’s cottage within ten minutes. The urgent buzz of his comwand interrupted his concentration. He hadn’t expected the call but then again it went with the job.
“Guv, it’s me, Penny.”
“Hello, Penny. More news on the tattoo murders? I take it you have spoken with Hilary?”
“I have but it’s not about them why I called. There has been another murder at Birchtickle.”
For a moment, Lazarus was silent. He was, if the truth be told, a little taken aback.
“I see, who?”
“Tim Trimeot found Jean Grimstain with a set of shears through her mouth.”
“Same ‘M.O’as before?”
“I’m on my way there now. I’ll be there in ten. Are uniform on their way?”
He flung the comwand back onto the side seat, slowed the car down to a crawl as a large puddle appeared in front of him that covered half the road then, once through it, accelerated again. He had been thinking about Hilary. He knew his feelings for her were growing but with that admission came a little guilt. He and Debbie had never officially split up. They had parted on the understanding that they would put some space between them and a little time. Time had elapsed and with its passing so the sense of loss at Debbie not being there had begun to lessen: diminish maybe but by no means disappear. The very thought of that little nymphomaniac made Adam’s pulse race. There had been something rather special about their relationship even if they had been like petrol and flame.
The car’s headlights set upon Harry Hertlasp’s cottage, casting it in a phosphorescent glow. Then, as the car swung round, moving beyond Harry’s cottage and down toward where Jean Grimstain’s body lay, so the headlights fell upon the trees that ran a circle around the pond. A marked police car had arrived just before Lazarus; its emergency lights were still illuminating the area with flashes of blue and red. Lazarus left his car, pulling his raincoat up around his face to shield him from the rain that continued to fall, In front of him a uniformed policeman stood.
“Where’s her son?”
“PC James is with him. We thought it best to keep him away from the scene. They are over at the home of the man who found the dead victim.”
“Well done. Have forensic been alerted.”
“On their way now, sir.”
Lazarus nodded then entered the cottage of Jean Grimstain. The smell of paint was all-pervading. A recently begun artwork stood in the kitchen, its image still fresh with drying oils. Next to the painting was the kitchen table set for two places. Beside the table and a little behind it was the body of Jean Grimstain. From her mouth a pair of garden shears protruded. As with Agatha Nosebag, the shears had been pushed with force through the victim’s mouth and out the other side. This time though they hadn’t been pinned into the wall. Jean Grinstain’s head was thrust back and her sightless eyes gazed blindly at the ceiling. From behind Lazarus, the voice of the male uniformed patrolman spoke.
“Grisly business, sir.”
“You can say that again. Is this how the body was when you arrived?”
“Yes sir, nothing’s been moved. We only arrived minutes before you.”
“Has anyone had the chance to speak with Tim Trimeot?”
“The fella that found the body. He’s a neighbour, a local.”
“No, sir, sorry but we thought it best to sort the son out first.”
“That’s fine. I’ll have words with him once Doctor Leatherbarrow arrives. How long ago did you put a call in?”
“It was Penny Farthing, sir, who called both you and the doctor so I reckon it were about fifteen minutes or so ago. She should be here shortly.”
Lazarus looked again the corpse and wondered what it had been to cause such a violent death? Whatever could Jean Grimstain have done to have warranted such a fate? As with the murder of Agatha Nosebag the killer had to be strong. The force with which the garden shears had been thrust through mouth and then the spine before penetrating the neck would have taken some power. You would need to exert a great deal of strength to achieve such an act. Of course someone, anyone in fact, if so enraged may have found the very emotion of their rage to have given them momentary and unusual power. It had happened previously when a killer discovers a preternatural strength. Lazarus dismissed that notion.
A car door banging closed brought him out of his reverie. The sound of Hilary’s voice greeting the uniformed officer made him turn toward the kitchen door.
“Hi,” she said, her blonde hair darkened by the rain.
“Hi. We have another murder, another shears through the mouth job.”
“So I see. Someone has some pretty savage tendencies don’t they?”
“Someone strong I imagine?”
“They would have to be to do this, either that or they possess a berserker rage.”
Hilary took surgical gown, mask and finally latex gloves out of her medical bag then pulled them on. She moved over to look at the victim.
“Straight away I can tell you that this person has been dead only a short time, no more than three to four hours. The cause of death is obvious – shears through mouth which have then disconnected the spinal cord, severed the head effectively whilst leaving it in situ. I will check for any materials under fingernails but I doubt we will find any as we didn’t on the previous victim. The crime is one of passion and by that I don’t mean necessarily it has been committed through unrequited love but it doesn’t appear premeditated. Whoever has done this didn’t plan it. They simply walked in here and propelled their weapon of choice through the intended’s mouth.”
Lazarus seemed a little uncertain of the assessment, a little displeased.
“Does that then preclude a potential killer from being motivated by a desire to silence someone, someone they fear may reveal something onerous about them?”
“Not at all, the reverse in fact; all I am saying is that little if any thought went in to this or the other murder. The Modus Operandi may be the same, the reason behind these murders may be the same but the act of violence in itself was not pre-planned, it was merely executed, spontaneously.”
Lazarus pulled out a kitchen chair which he then sat on.
“You know who my Prime Suspect is?” he queried.
“Does your assessment allow him to be the potential killer here?”
“I really can’t say but if he did kill and dismember Sir Clement and Dame Fatleaf then it is highly unlikely. They are very different murders aren’t they?”
“One methodically undertaken but the other spontaneous?”
“Okay. I am not convinced you are right. You do what you need to do and let me have your report ASAP. I am going to take Harry in for questioning. No; I am going to arrest him. That should excerpt sufficient pressure which may make him crack.”
“Perhaps. Good luck.”
“Harry, it’s getting late. We have been here half the night going over the same grounds again and again. Even your brief is getting tired.”
The ‘brief’, a solicitor from Muckleford, by the name of Forsyth Hampton, spoke up.
“It is apparent you have little evidence to charge my client with. This whole business is farcical. If you are going to charge him, then please do so, if not, then let him go.”
Lazarus wagged a finger dismissively in the face of Forsyth Hampton.
“Oh, but I do have something, Mister Hampton, something that links your client to the deaths of Sir Clement and Dame Fatleaf.”
From a plastic bag, Lazarus produced a bottle of hand lotion.
“Is this bottle yours Mister Hertlasp?”
Harry looked bewildered but remained silent. Lazarus reiterated his question.
“I ask again, is this bottle of Clara Du Loon hand lotion that was found in your bathroom yours?”
Harry bent his head, placing his hands over his face as he answered through his fingers.
“It belonged to my former employer.”
“And what happened to her?”
Harry took his hands away from his face as he gazed coldly at Lazarus.
“You have no idea do you what it’s like to give your life, your very existence, to looking after, caring for, people whom you loved and who you thought loved you.”
Mister Hampton interrupted.
“You don’t have to say anything Harry.”
“I want to; I want to get it off my chest.”
Harry Hertlasp drew in a deep breath then continued.
“I had given thirty years of my bloody life to those people, my loyalty, my commitment, my hard endeavour: thirty long years that was wiped away in a matter of a hand shake and an envelope. You see, no one tells you when you give your heart and soul, body and mind to the service of your employer that they really don’t care one whit about you, that you are nothing but another item on a bought ledger, a possession that, once used, can be disposed of just as easily as if it were an ornament.
“They made me redundant on my fiftieth birthday. Sir Clement shook my hand and wished me well. He even had the nerve to say what a joy it had been having me as a member of staff and how both he and Dame Fatleaf would miss me. Did he not consider my feelings? Did he not once think how I loved them, loved working for them?” Harry paused for effect, letting the words sink in then he continued.
“Not once during all the years there did I give anything but loyal service. Of course there were women in my life. I am a man after all but not one of them measured up or meant enough to me to give me cause to leave my position with the Fatleafs. Why would I? I was happy. I had security; my wages were more than enough as was my rent-free accommodation. It may not have suited everyone but it suited me.”
“I oversaw the day-to-day running of the Fatleaf’s home. I was in charge of the housemaid’s, the gardening staff and the chauffeur. Nothing functioned without my say so and, if I do say so myself, it ran well. The only thing I had no part in was Sir Clement’s business.” Harry looked around to make sure what he was saying was being digested.
“He had been friends with Urpington Crust II, a Lord and far wealthier than Sir Clement but Lord Crust was a bit of a rogue and not just with the ladies. Lord Crust persuaded Sir Clement to enter in to business manufacturing airships. It seemed a viable prospect and so Sir Clement poured his fortune into the enterprise, all of it, every last damn penny. Why? He didn’t want to appear less wealthy than Lord Crust.”
“The single client the business had, which was its fatal flaw, was the East India Trading Company. The overheads were tight and production slow but Aviatronics, the name Lord Crust and Sir Clement chose, continued to build airships in the belief that East India would buy them. The stupid men didn’t even have a contract. Of course when it came time to sell the airships, East India turned the screw, extolling the virtues of other manufacturers’ cost competiveness. In an attempt to woo them over and to enable cash flow, Sir Clement mortgaged his home. The deal collapsed. Lord Crust lost millions but he had millions to lose but Sir Clement lost virtually everything.” Harry looked down at his hands. He appeared to be collecting his thoughts.
“After I had received my cheque and had my hand shaken I pondered the situation. I was fine for money, more than fine in fact but that wasn’t the point. Their home was my home. I had lived there for thirty years. I didn’t want to be told how good I was at my job, I didn’t want them to recommend me to other prospective employers, I wanted everything to remain as it was.
“I went to see them. I wanted to set things straight. I even was prepared to give back my redundancy payment if it meant we could stay as we had been. A row broke out between Sir Clement and me. I hadn’t meant to hit him but I felt so angry and the figurine was there. I don’t even recall how it came to be in my hand. The she walked in: Dame Fatleaf. She saw him lying on the carpet with his head caved in and she started screaming. I had no choice did I? I hit her too. I carried their bodies down to the basement and hid them there. When I went back upstairs to clean away the bloodstains, she was there.”
“Agatha Nosebag?” interjected Lazarus.
“Yes. Quite why she had come back I never found out. She seemed to know what had occurred and said she would clean up for me. Foolishly, I accepted her offer. I couldn’t have faced killing another so I went down stairs and removed the bodies to somewhere safe; somewhere miles from there. It was just a barn and, even then, one remote and seldom visited by anyone apart from me. Back then I had used it to store things like old books or memorabilia that I liked. Later that week I purchased two freezer units from two separate stores. I bought each one with cash, so they couldn’t be traced and collected, and delivered them myself. That night though, I left the bodies lying there and locked the barn then went back to where Agatha was cleaning away the evidence of the murders I had committed.
“It wasn’t until weeks later, long after I had bought my cottage, long after I had dismembered the corpses that she laid down the rules we were to stick to. It was then that I realised what an evil mind she had. The only reason she had said nothing at the time was so that I wouldn’t kill her. She made it seem that her assisting me was acting as a friend. Of course, she wasn’t, she was simply ensuring that her ‘investment’ would survive so that he could keep her in the manner she wanted.”
Lazarus nodded indicating for Harry to continue.
“As I say, I dismembered the bodies then I stored them in deep freeze. Over the years I have been disposing of the parts. I did this so that no one limb or body part could be easily identified on its own. Of late I grew careless. I should not have been so negligent with the hands.”
Lazarus looked toward the solicitor who sat back in his chair shaking his head. Beside Lazarus, Sergeant Honk sat as witness to the confession.
“And then you killed Agatha because she finally was about to reveal your crimes. You then discovered she had told Jean Grimstain and therefore you had another person to dispose of. Why the shears? It is not the way I would have thought you worked?”
Harry’s head had slumped forward after his confession. Having heard Lazarus’s statement followed by the question he now looked up.
“I did not kill Agatha nor did I kill Jean. I may have murdered two people but that does not mean I have a method. I simply did what logic dictated when I did what I did to the Fatleafs. I liked Jean, I like her boy. Why would I kill her? She knew nothing about my crimes. Why would Agatha have told her? And why for that matter would I have killed Agatha? Agatha would no more have revealed me to the police than fly to the moon. You know why I say that? Because if she had, her income from me would have dried up. Oh she milked me alright and she often threatened but those threats were just that – threats. I didn’t kill either Agatha or Jean. I had no need to.”
Lazarus rubbed his hands vigorously across his face as if trying to drive some energy into his brain.
“If not you then who?”
For the first time that night Harry Hertlasp smiled. It was neither a cocky smile nor a supercilious one; it was merely one raised by the humour of the situation.
“As the detective, I rather think that is for you to find out.”.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.