TWO SIMON GRANT MYSTERIES
Hiding the Elephant – Chapter 26
‘That’s a regular occurrence, Inspector. The Croatian port of Split is up and down all the time. The convoy was meant to leave forBosniain the early hours of yesterday morning. But there was heavy fighting on the way and they had to wait. Janet, a New Zealander, is the convoy leader. She’s very good. Very responsible. She’s run many a convoy for us. They moved on today. The fax was eventually dispatched by someone else.’ Saytee handed over a curled up sheet of greyish, limp paper.
Tuesday, 20 October, 1992
Leroy, my old mate,
I don’t know how to tell you this, but we’ve lost a volunteer. Helena Unsworth, a veterinary surgeon from Hallbrook, has been missing since this morning. Or, I should say last night because no one’s seen her since about ten p.m.
I saw her in the queue for the phones straight after dinner along with everyone else. The lines went down soon afterwards and I don’t know if she’d managed to get in touch with her folks back home or not. Somebody thinks they saw her talking. That will need checking out at the other end to see if she said anything that could provide a clue to what’s happened.
The camp was full, the whole world and her husband are here. There was no room at the inn so we slept in our vehicles. Unsworth was lucky to drive a camper and could use one of the beds if she cleared the boxes away a bit. I was on my way to the washroom this morning when I saw a neat looking man coming out of there. Disgraceful I know, especially under the circumstances, but I couldn’t help wondering where her stamina came from. I was also a bit envious. He was nicely blond and clean, designer clothes, nothing like our usual bearded sandal wearers with dirty fingernails. If he were taller I wouldn’t have minded a bit of that myself. What the hell, he didn’t even have to be taller. I know, I should be ashamed of myself. But, while I’m at it, tell Alex to make sure he’s there when I return.
Back to the mystery man. He asked if his sister, Helena Unsworth, was about, so I suppose I jumped to conclusions anyhow. I had no idea the woman was meant to meet up with her brother in Split, but then there’s a lot I don’t know about my fellow-travellers. There are at least three of them whose very gender is unclear to a casual observer and quite a few who could easily belong to entirely different species from an entirely different planet. The man had the same eyes and nose as our Helena, and a very similar jaw line, even though that was obscured by a short stubble, so I had no reason to doubt him. I told him to look in the canteen and that was that. Now, of course, I regret that I didn’t at least ask him his name, but it’s no use crying over spilt milk, is it.
I had my breakfast and coffee on the hoof because I had to see the UN captain. I got the “we admire your work but you put additional strain on our scarce resources” all over again from him. But he agreed to give us protection through western Herzegovina. After that we’ll be on our own.
By the time I returned to the camp it was official. The Unsworth woman was missing. The police was already there and the local commander of the British troops is involved. So, it’s all down to them now. We’ve all been interviewed but what can we tell them? We’ve been driving hard and sleeping by the roadside for the past three days. There was no time for chats and socialising. We hardly know each other’s names as yet.
One interesting thing, though. The police suspect foul play. (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase.) They found no fingerprints in the camper. NONE AT ALL! What do you make of that? They’re looking for the Englishman who’d said was her brother. They can just as well look for the proverbial needle in this beehive.
I haven’t typed this much in months. My two fingers are going stiff. As usual, you don’t need to do anything. It’ll all be handled through the official channels, but I wanted you and Alex to know.
Right, I’d better be off now. Somebody will send this through when the lines are back. Talk to you in two or three weeks, with luck.
Take care and get yourself some sleep on occasion.
Lock Up Your Daughters – Chapter 26
Grant put down the cutlery with exaggerated care and got up on his feet. ‘What can I do for you, Mr. Hale?’ he asked with an impeccable small bow.
Hale frowned a little, apparently not sure how to take the show of excessive politeness. ‘I’ve just returned from my holiday.’
Grant acknowledged the information with a nod. ‘Were you supposed to report to the police immediately on your return? If so, the desk sergeant across the road will be delighted to see you.’
The studied impudence had the desired effect. The man’s face turned puce and the veins in his neck swelled up. ‘Stop pissing me about, Grant! Just who do you think you are? You’ve been causing trouble at the Hut, just as you used to when we were still at theRiverside. And,’ Hale lifted his hand imperiously, ‘you found nothing then, and you’ll find nothing now. Back off, d’you hear me.’
‘I wouldn’t call a spot of blackmailing exactly nothing.’
Hale’s head jerked backward as if he was hit in the face. ‘You couldn’t prove anything.’
Grant bowed a little again. ‘No, we couldn’t, could we. The victims were conveniently dead. If you’d excuse me,’ he resumed his seat, ‘my lunch is getting cold.’
Uninvited and without even a nod of acknowledgement to Warner and Cunningham, Hale lowered himself into the remaining free chair. ‘Listen, Grant,’ his tone was quieter, conciliatory, ‘we’ve been through a lot. Us at the theatre. Fran’s legacy has given us a new start. The theatre has attracted some new talent and there are a lot of good things going on there. Come and see for yourself. The last thing we need now is another scandal. It’s undeserved, I assure you.’
‘And you’d know, would you? How well do you knowDee?’
‘Well enough to know that he was telling you the truth. I saw him at the Hut myself that night. Sunday, 4th July. He was there, working away. I saw him.’
‘And you’d able to tell us precisely who you saw and where each and every night for the past two weeks?’ Tully bent over the table and placed half a lager in front of Hale. ‘On the house.’
Whether Hale recognised the former detective sergeant or was just too keen to prove his point to care where the question came from, he nodded. ‘As a matter of fact I probably would. And I do remember that Sunday night perfectly well, as it happens. Anne and I were flying out toCyprusthe following morning. I wanted to make sure everything was on track for the next show.’
‘What time did you see Dee?’ asked Warner.
Hale hesitated. ‘Don’t know exactly. Does it matter? It’s quite a distance, you know, between Holdenby Wood and Wellingborough andDeehasn’t got a car. He can’t even drive. Whatever time it was, he couldn’t have been at two places at the same time. That’s all I’m saying.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Hale. You’ve been most helpful. Someone will come to see you in due course and take your statement.’ Grant wiped off his mouth with a small, single ply paper napkin and sipped at his almost cold coffee. ‘They’ll be bound to remind you that false evidence is an offence punishable by …’
‘Bloody hell, Grant,’ snapped Hale, ‘‘why would I want to make that up? You asked how well I knewDee. He’s been with the company longer than myself. Bird watching and working on the scenery is his entire life. Apart from that crummy job at the bank. He’s one of our most dedicated members. We are still using the props he made years ago. That’s quality, if you ask me.’
‘That’s a character reference, Mr. Hale, not a proof of innocence,’ said Warner unwisely.
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