Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Book 4 and a bit - Hand In Glove (Chapter 13)


“Harry, we are going around in bloody circles here. We know all about you. We know you were once butler to the Fatleafs. We know that you worked with Agatha Nosebag. It is common knowledge you didn’t like the woman. You have said as much yourself and now we have your fingerprints all over the murder weapon.”
Lazarus looked hard at the accused. Hertlasp was a tough nut but the detective thought he could see the first visible signs of the man’s well-honed inscrutability cracking. He continued with his line of enquiry.
“You admitted to me that you had argued with the deceased. I put it to you that the argument turned into a row, one that escalated beyond your control. Agatha Nosebag had a way of winding people up and that’s what she did to you. You saw her shears, you picked them up and, before you know it, plunged them into her mouth. Why don’t you just admit it?”
Harry Hertlasp was beginning to feel a little cornered but not so much that he didn’t have the ability to think. He ran his hand across the table in front of him as though smoothing out the grain.
“They were mine.”
Lazarus, surprised to finally hear the man speak, looked confused.
“What was yours?”
“The shears, they are mine, I lent them to Agatha.”
Not exactly the confession he wanted but at least Hertlasp said something.
“And you thrust them into her face.”
Hertlasp stopped moving his hands across the table, brushed them together, then looked directly at the police inspector.
“No, I didn’t. I often wanted to stop her infernal yapping but I had managed to live with it for thirty years so why would I kill her now?”
Lazarus leant in close to Hertlasp’s face. Their noses were practically touching.
“She had something on you, something from the past. I think she was blackmailing you with it and you decided to kill her to silence her.”
“With a pair of shears that just happen to be mine. It sounds a bit too easy, a bit too convenient. Surely I seem just a little more sophisticated than that?”
Lazarus sat back. Beside him, a grizzled plain clothes detective watched with arms folded across his chest. The police officer spoke.
“You may be sophisticated, sir, but in my experience we all do funny things in the heat of the moment, even sophisticated gentlemen like you.”
The sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed but Harry Hertlasp chose to ignore it. He retreated back into his shell again, back into the halls of silence. Lazarus sighed. He looked toward his colleague, went to say something to him but then stopped. He addressed Harry again.
“Were you and Agatha ever lovers?” Lazarus asked, knowing the question should arouse some form of reaction. The reaction it got was not the one he had hoped for. Hertlasp laughed out loud and continued laughing until tears ran down his face. When he did speak it was with a husky voice.
“Good Lord,” said Hertlasp, “you must be anxious to pin something on me. I would have needed a team of Sherpas to help me mount that old crone!” The laughter came again, bursting out with snorts and a string of vague obscenities.
“The woman hated me. She hated me from day one when I told her off for not wearing the proper uniform. She hated me as much as I hated her. The Fatleafs liked me but they couldn’t stand the sight of her. The only reason she kept her job is that Sir Clement had an eye for the ladies and Agatha caught him one afternoon with the grocer’s wife. She never blackmailed Sir Clement but she made it crystal clear she would expose his little indiscretion to Dame Fatleaf if she ever lost her job. Lovers? Me and her? Good Lord no.”
Harry wiped his hand across his eyes, finally regaining his composure. He drew his shoulders back,  then addressed the policemen in front of him.
“I did not kill Agatha Nosebag. My fingerprints are on the shears from when I lent them to her. I have done nothing wrong, nothing at all. Now, when will I be allowed to go home?”
Lazarus stood up. The plain clothes policeman followed suit.
“I am terminating this interview at twelve thirteen. We will continue this later Mister Hertlasp but for now you can return to your cell.”
Hertlasp looked darkly at the chief inspector.
“You cannot just keep me here. You will have to charge me with something. Where is my legal representation? I want a solicitor.”
Lazarus walked across to the interview door then turned back to face the accused man.
“There is more to this that meets the eye, Mister Hertlasp, something you are not telling me. Barry, take Mister Hertlasp back to his cell then contact a solicitor for him.”
Back at his desk Lazarus trawled through the paperwork again then, in frustration, screwed a handful into a tight ball which he threw across the room. Detective Sergeant Highlot had gone with Penny Farthing to speak with Hilary regarding the two dead men. The Birchtickle case was odd but Lazarus now had another murder on his plate. There was something distinctly weird about Vesper Highlot’s attitude to the case they had dubbed the ‘Tattooed Men.’ If not for Penny, there would be no focus, no drive. Lazarus was concerned but also puzzled. After Debbie Sundae had been seconded to the Isle of Wight Crime Investigation Team, he had feared that her replacement would not be half as good. If anything Vesper had proven better but now, over such a paltry case, she seemed to be losing the plot.
Barry returned with a smile and a yet another mug of coffee.
“Good news, guv,” he said, placing the brew in front of Lazarus.
“You’ve found coffee with taste?”
“Nope, better than that.”
“Hertlasp has confessed?”
“Sadly, no.”
“What then?”
“Another severed hand has been found. This one was in a dustbin in Winchester.”
Lazarus leapt up, knocking the coffee over.
“Have we spoken with the owners of the property?”
Lazarus pulled his raincoat from the clothes rack. Barry followed.
“An old widow, she went to throw some refuse out and saw the hand lying on top of the rubbish. She has no idea how it got there and, judging by the shock she seems to be in, I’d say I believe her.”
Lazarus turned abruptly, wagging his finger as thoughts raced through his mind.
“Do me a favour and get over there now. Have the hand sent directly to Hilary Leatherbarrow. I need her to give me her expert opinion on this ASAP. I am on my way there now.”
Penny Farthing was feeling let down. Having left Winchester Police Station along with DS Vesper Highlot she had thought the plan was to go to Doctor Leatherbarrow’s to collect any further evidence along with any material evidence collected from the cadaver’s pockets. She was horrified when Vesper had said she was feeling unwell.
“I don’t feel too good Penny. I am sorry but I think it better if I were to go home. Will you be alright on your own?”
Penny felt wrong-footed but, being the positive-natured girl she was, replied breezily.
“Yeah sure. What’s up with you then?”
Vesper’s response had seemed lame.
“Oh you know, women’s stuff, as Dad used to say. I have just started my period and I feel a little rough.”
“Oh, okay. Guess I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
“Of course. I think having a bit of time off won’t hurt. You don’t have any new evidence do you so we are not missing out on anything?”
For some reason, even though Penny understood period pains all too well, she felt that her senior officer was just using that as an excuse. They had worked together for some years now and Vesper had never had time off sick before. This was now the second time in as many days that Vesper had pulled this stroke. Penny could have let the question go but felt she should set her colleague straight.
“As it happens I do have fresh clues. When I last spoke with Doctor Leatherbarrow she told me about a business card she found in one of the corpse’s pockets. My intention was to collect it today with any other evidence there may be. Fortunately, Hilary gave me the detail. The chap on the card is one Francis Fischer. I have his address so when I have finished at the forensic lab I’ll shoot over there.”
There as a fleeting look of disapproval on Vesper Highlot’s face.
“I see. You didn’t think of telling me earlier?”
“Sorry, Vesper, I thought it could wait until now.”
“In future keep me up to date. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
When Penny arrived at the forensic laboratory, she was first greeted by Mrs MacCrumpet. The woman was as dour as ever. Her greeting was like being sandblasted by rough cement.
Inside the lab, behind the drawn curtains, Hilary Leatherbarrow was hard at work examining a small object.
“Penny! Hi! How are you?”
“Still trying to make sense of the ‘Tattooed Men.’”
“Have you tried that name I gave you?”
“Not yet no. I thought I would collect any material evidence you have.”
“It’s all over there in the plastic bag. Everything has been clearly identified then tagged. Where’s Sergeant Highlot?”
“Off sick with period pains.”
“Hmmm, I sympathize.”
Penny moved cautiously closer. She was still accustomising herself to being around dissected bodies with bits of bowel lying in kidney-shaped dishes.
“What are you doing?” she asked, fearing the answer.
Hilary rubbed the tip of her nose with the back of her gloved wrist before answering.
“They found another severed hand.”
“So you now have a pair. This is the missing one is it?”
“Yes. This one is also a right hand but it belonged to a female. It too has been kept refrigerated even though it has been left out longer than the first one we discovered. I think it is of a similar vintage though. I need to check to see if it too has had the same hand lotion applied to it.”
She sounded as though she were talking to herself as much as Penny.
“Does the boss know?”
“Inspector Lazarus? Yes, he knows about the new hand being discovered   as he had it sent to me. It only arrived here about half an hour ago. He doesn’t yet know more than that.”
Not that Penny would say anything but she had been hoping to have more of Doctor Leatherbarrow’s attention. She still felt, especially with Vesper’s negativity, that the ‘Tattooed Men’ case was a mystery worthy of investigation. The severed hand seemed to be taking up everyones time. It was probably due to budgets. Policing nowadays was becoming increasingly like that.
“Doctor Leatherbarrow...”
“Hilary, please.”
“Hilary, do you have anything else that might help me with the ‘Tattoo’ investigation? I am convinced those men were killed but there is no firm evidence to prove that belief.”
Hilary stopped what she was doing, pulled off her latex gloves, threw them into a bin then walked out of the lab, guiding Penny by her elbow.
“Five minutes is all I can spare. I agree with you. Those men were killed. I think they may have been victims of a professional ‘hit.’ You see, it strikes me that those tattoos not only link them together; they bind them as tightly as though they were joined at the hip. I found small drops of blood on the shoes of victim two.”
“The hit and run?” 
“Yes, the hit and run. The blood type was the common or garden A. Oddly the hit and run’s blood type is O whereas the suicide jumper is A.”
“It’s a shame we can’t easily identify bodies when they are dead by something other than blood or fingerprints,” said Penny, with feeling.
“Funnily enough there are two men now, two scientists, who think they have discovered what they refer to as DNA which is short for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a molecule that sort of encodes genetic instructions. In other words it is a link that connects all living organisms and viruses but more importantly it identifies us individually. To cut through all the heavy stuff, they believe that this DNA is unique to each individual so we are getting there; it just takes time.”
Whenever Penny found something interesting she had the habit of putting her head to one side. She did this now.
“So are you saying that victim two may have killed victim one?”
“I believe it’s a possibility. For now though all we have to go on is two corpses - Trevor Higham and Cooper Kloot. It is now over to you chaps in the police to find a link.”
“You think there is one?”
“Yes, yes I do.”
Penny Farthing thanked the doctor then made ready to leave.
“I have some things to do. I think the governor, Inspector Lazarus, is coming over shortly. He’ll want to know all you have on that latest severed hand.”
Hilary smiled.
“I’d better put the kettle on then hadn’t I?”
“This one is different from the last,” said Hilary as she examined the latest piece of evidence.    
 “Firstly it is female but also it has a ring on the third finger, a wedding ring. There is also another ring just above the first. It is an engagement ring and it looks to be an expensive item.”
Lazarus shuffled excitedly beside the forensic expert.
“It should be easy to trace. Can I have photographs of it and possibly the rings themselves?”
“Yes, of course. I can also confirm that this woman, whoever she was, used the same hand lotion. I know this proves little but it does suggest that she too was murdered some twenty years ago.”
Lazarus edged a little nearer to see what Hilary was looking at; seeing a hand not connected to a wrist and an arm struck the detective as being almost surreal. He could clearly see where the cut had been made. There was just the smallest remnant of a wrist. It was clearly female as it seemed smaller than he remembered the other one and much smaller than his own hand. The nails were also much longer than a man’s having been manicured then shaped. They also had the remains of a pale pink varnish on them.
“Can you tell how old this individual was?”
Hilary shrugged but continued her examination.
“Not really no; I can make an educated guess but that’s all it will be.”
“Go on then.”
“Perhaps fifty, maybe a little older. The trouble with this hand, even though it too has been stored in deep freeze, is that, unlike the other hand, it has started to decompose, not much but significantly for it to have started to change. Having said that, the skin looks to be less tight than that of a younger person, the elasticity has reduced: when I pinch the skin it retains that fixed position far longer than say someone of twenty.”
Lazarus moved away. He paced the floor with his head bowed deep in thought.
“You remember my mentioning Sir Clement and Dame Fatleaf?” he asked.
“The people Harry Hertlasp worked for as a butler? Yes, I remember.”
“I know this is a pretty wild guess to make but is it possible these hands could belong to them?”
Hilary finally looked up from examining the hand. She pulled off her gloves then threw them in the bin. She walked over to the detective, placed a kiss on his cheek then beckoned for him to follow her. They walked down a short corridor until they reached a door which Hilary flung open.
“This is the engine room of my little operation.”
Before then lay a small kitchen which contained an oven, a sink and table big enough to seat four people. Mrs MacCrumpet was sitting at the table, drinking tea.
“I see we have guests,” announced the observant Scot in the plural as though Hilary were a guest in her own laboratory.
“This is Detective Chief Inspector Lazarus.”
“Aye, I know that, I’ve met him before. Is there something yous two would like to eat? Mebbe, some stew. The pot is still half-filled wi’  what I made the other day.”
Hilary looked toward for Lazarus for a decision
“I would love some but only a small bowl mind, I have to look after my stomach,” replied the policeman with a smile on his face.
“Watch your stomach indeed but there’s not even the picking from a chicken on your wee bones!”
Hilary and Lazarus sat down as the cleaner-come-kitchen-maid warmed up the stew which she then ladled into two bowls. She then scurried away to a drawer only to hurry back moments later with two spoons.
“I’m off away now to the shops. You’ve run out of Jif and I need some to do my proper job. I am after all a cleaner not a wee cook.”
Hilary, her mouth filled with hot stew waved her hand in goodbye then waited until she heard the front door go before speaking to Adam.
“She’s a godsend but boy is she irascible. ‘I’ have not run out of Jif as ‘I’ don’t use the damn stuff but she does!”
Lazarus laughed, blowing on a heaped spoonful of the stew.
“This is delicious,” he said. “Did she make it?”
“I did indeed,” came a voice from down the way, “I may be irascible but I am a damn fine cook too!”
The front door slammed again. Hilary had turned scarlet.
“Oh God, she heard me.”
Lazarus laughed that odd laugh of his.
“I think that dour Scot persona is nothing more than an act. She is obviously devoted to you,” said Lazarus.
Hilary took another mouthful of food, waved her hand in front of her mouth trying to cool the heat, and then spoke again.
“To come back to your earlier question of whether the severed hands could be those of the missing Sir Clement and Dame Fatleaf; yes, they could be. Of course you now have evidence that could prove that, although I don’t think you will need to do much research.”
“What do you mean?”
“The wedding ring is inscribed,” said Hilary who then let a silence descend like a shroud.
Lazarus put his spoon down and looked at Hilary.
“Are you deliberately teasing me?  What does the inscription say?”
Hilary giggled through a mouthful of food putting her hand up to hide her mouth.
“It says ‘To my one love, M.”
Lazarus looked at Hilary in disbelief.”
Really, you’re not teasing me again are you?”
Hilary lifted three fingers to her forehead.”
“Girl Guides honour,” she sweetly intoned.
“Wow! M is short for Matilda. That was Dame Fatleaf’s forename. That is fantastic, well done, but hey, were you ever in the Girl Guides?”
“I was, even if only briefly. Have you finished your stew?”
Lazarus nodded that he had.  Then his comwand warbled.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Hello? Yes. “Yes. Hell’s bells, where? “Okay, I’m on my way.”
He stood up, taking the half-empty bowl with him which he placed in the sink.
“I have to go; there’s been another murder. I have another corpse for you to look at. I need you to take a look at the crime scene. Sorry but I need this doing as a priority. As soon as we have established cause of death, and forgive me telling you what to do, it would be good if you can get as much info from that hand as possible, then turn your attention to this latest murder. I have a funny feeling that this is somehow connected to the other two tattoo murders. I take it we are still on for tomorrow night?”
Hilary gave him her most seductive of smiles.
“Don’t be so presumptuous about tomorrow night, let’s have the meal first.”
Lazarus laughed as he handed Hilary her leather jacket.
“Silly goose. Here, take this, it is still a bit nippy outside.”
And with that, detective and doctor hurried to his parked car. As they drove away Hilary mulled over an earlier conversation.
“When one of your constables suggested the tattooed men might be part of a right wing group called the Brethren you dismissed that notion out of hand. You then went very mysterious and suggested that whoever these people were they probably belonged to something far more sinister than a local bunch of racists. What did you mean and who were you alluding to?”
The way Adam’s face went from jocular to deadly serious gave weight to what he said.
“Not being mysterious at all. You must have seen the papers? The Wynkyngate affair? They were full of the story. A big corporation, one of, if not the, biggest in the world, East India Trading, has, or rather had, a semi-secret group working for them. This group was formed of ex-military men and women, all hand-picked for their unique abilities. The group acts on the surface as sales people for this conglomerate but in fact are industrial espionage agents. I met a man, two men in fact, a year ago who are to all intents and purposes members of that secret organisation; except they are not. In reality they work for the government. They are both S.I.S men. Have you heard of the S.I.S?”
“Secret Intelligence Service.”
“Precisely, they had been undercover for a good many years, digging around in East India’s affairs.”
In one sense Hilary felt pleased that he had told her for it indicated he already had more than a passing liking for her but, on the other hand, such information is dangerous and Hilary did not want to be exposed to any risk whatsoever.
“You think these men are part of that semi-secret group?” she asked.
“I do.”
She considered his succinct response while thinking of how she should reply.
“How is it that such men are still free. Surely either the police of the S.I.S would have arrested them?”
Lazarus sighed deeply. The look upon his face was grave. He licked his lips anxiously.
“It isn’t as easy as it sounds. You need proof first and finding that has been difficult to obtain. We haven’t really been involved as the whole business is really down to internal affairs.”
Hilary snorted.
“Politics eh?”
Lazarus nodded his agreement.
“Absolutely. However, this linked killing gives us the opportunity to investigate things further than we have before. People being beaten to death then pushed from tower blocks or deliberately run over is our remit and not the S.I.S’s”
Hilary smiled.
“And now?”
“Now we uncover all we can.”

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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