TWO SIMON GRANT MYSTERIES
HIDING THE ELEPHANT – Chapter 35
‘What do you expect to find? Should I phone my solicitor?’ Hale, still in his dressing gown, something blue in keeping with the innocent, wide open eyes, was less troublesome than Grant had expected.
‘Do you feel you need one?’
Hale stopped protesting.
Emma had been right. Except for colours, for the Hale bedroom was somewhat better co-ordinated if you like that sort of thing, decked out largely in a range of reds and pinks, and except for the bed of course, Anne Hale’s bed was a real one, not a sofa, but otherwise the two rooms looked virtually the same. No XY drawn in fake blood on the large mirror opposite the bed either. But the smaller mirrors reflecting a cerise satin bedspread, the silky scarves and eastern rugs, the entire stagelike quality of the space oversaturated with scent and texture were anything but a coincidence.
Emma had explained the presence of small mirrors. ‘When one has no feeling in the lower body, it helps to see what’s happening. What’s where, if you see what I mean. It also stimulates the imagination. If we can’t feel the touch, we can imagine it, imagine what it would feel like… It’s all in the mind… much of it, anyhow…’
That was after the Thursday night dinner. Emma was talking as she was dialling Phil’s mobile phone number because Phil had mislaid it and she hoped to find it by the ring. ‘Unless you’ve left it switched off,’ she warned her husband ominously. ‘It won’t ring out if you left it switched off.’
Grant left them to it and went to the gym. It helped a little.
Dominic Hale wasn’t explaining anything on Friday morning. He inspected the warrant deliberately slowly and meticulously, smoothed his hair with his fingers and fastened his dressing gown firmly around his waist as he positioned himself by the bedroom window. ‘All yours,’ he murmured, rising above it, detaching himself from the brute force that could hurt him but not touch him.
Grant wondered how long the show of dignified indifference was going to last. He was going through the contents of the bedside table when the first noises from down below reached them through the open bedroom door. Debbie’s and Tully’s orders were simple. ‘Rattle him. Rattle the bastard. I don’t care if you find anything or not. Just scare the shit out of him.’
‘What are they doing down there?’ Hale was frowning.
Grant lifted the lid off an incense jar with infinite care and delicacy. ‘Just looking around. Nothing to worry about.’ He wrinkled his nose above the jar in silent disapproval, then replaced the lid. ‘This is Mrs. Hale’s bedroom, I take it?’
‘Yes. My wife needs privacy from time to time.’
‘Oh, I quite understand.’ What were those two doing down there? Rolling pots and pans along the kitchen floor? Grant shook a magazine for anything that might have been hidden inside it and a cardboard order card for a selective hearing aid fell out. ‘So, you lied to me and signed a false statement.’
Hale was nearly at the door. ‘I’ve got to see what they’re doing. You…. you’ve got to stop them.’
Grant turned to the chest of drawers, a red lacquered, six drawer tower in the corner, behind the drapes of the four-poster. ‘About your statement. Where were you last Friday night? Not wife-sitting, that’s for sure.’
‘What’s Emma been saying? You’ve sent her to snoop for you.’ Hale was craning his neck over the banister. The sudden silence on the ground floor seemed to upset him even more than the noise had done. ‘Anne takes sleeping pills. Not always. Just some nights. She had a sleeping pill or two very early last Friday. Said she was tired and depressed and wanted a good night’s rest.’
‘So, you left the house.’ Anne Hale had varied taste in underwear. Embarrassed, Grant quickly shut the drawer.
‘There was no point hanging around on my own. I didn’t watch Death by Agreement like the rest of the world. God knows what’s everyone going to do on Friday nights when it finishes tonight.’
Grant joined Hale on the landing. ‘Show me to your own bedroom, please.’
‘I didn’t say anything when you came to see me because it seemed simpler that way, and I couldn’t say that to the woman officer when she took the written statement in front of Anne. She thought I was home, looking after her.’ Hale opened the door to the adjoining room, but remained outside, listening. ‘Besides, I could see she didn’t like me. I bottled out.’ Hale bent over the rail again, frowning.
Hale was right about Debbie, Grant had to admit that much. Hale had failed to impress her.
‘Where did you go?’ he asked. Anne Hale knew the truth anyhow. She knew that her husband had left the house at any rate. But maybe Hale really didn’t know that. Why is it so difficult to believe a man with fake blond curls and fake tan?
LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS – Chapter 35
Little Manor, Spratton
Wednesday 21. 7. 1993
The sleeping arrangements had been finalised, the order to the caterers reinforced with a substantial advance, the flowers chosen, the CDs stacked by the music centre.
In the early years Dr. Bennett had considered hiring live music.
‘Ostentatious,’ said Alex.
So, that was that. ‘Ostentatious’ equalled social death. Under no circumstances would have Dr. Bennett wanted to come across as ostentatious.
The drinks…. Ah, yes, the drinks. Unlike the flimsy brick structure on Headington Hill the stone built Little Manor had a cellar. In fact, it had three cellars. One was used for its original purpose and in winter it housed sacks of potatoes, onions and parsnips, not so much to satisfy the rather erratic eating habits of the household but because it warmed Dr. Bennett’s heart to see those fruits of the soil traditionally stored and honoured under his roof. The other underground section, the one directly under the living quarters that once must have been occupied by the lowliest of the domestics, was now full of unwanted furniture. The Carrolls seniors, very much like their ancestors, couldn’t bring themselves to throw anything away, and Dr. Bennett suffered from the same affliction. Both the attic and the middle section of the cellar sheltered such articles as wooden cribs, a couple of rocking horses, one in plain wood, the other brightly lacquered in white, blue and pink, countless chairs of different sizes and periods, mostly in perfectly good condition, and chests of drawers full of mysterious hardware, empty perfume bottles, buttons and household account books. Three wall-to-ceiling cupboards, lined up next to each other and filled with books of religious or legal nature, mostly bound in brown hessian and leather, served as a partition to the food cellar.
Then there was the wine cellar. It had a heavy, ornate padlock on the thick timbre door. The entire left half was lined with oak barrels, now empty and without a purpose, but giving the place a sense of dignity and tradition. Dr. Bennett had been in touch with people who knew about such things and was considering signing a maintenance contract with the recommended local expert. It would never do to let them fall apart from neglect.
The rows and rows of pigeonholes, containing rather fewer number of important vintages than Dr. Bennett would have liked, stretched to the right from the door. The three bottom rows were the home to the “untouchables”. When Alex had moved out he stopped short of moving the old family stock out with him. The basement at the Elms wasn’t equipped for such an onerous task.
‘When I run out of the readies completely I’ll put them in an auction,’ Alex said once when he was helping his father-in-law choose the wine for a very small and select dinner party. Two judges, one silk and their spouses. ‘They’d make me a fortune I suspect.’
Dr. Bennett’s heart quivered and sunk. One of the privileges he’d occasionally allow some of his more prominent guests was to accompany him downstairs to pick out another dusty bottle when the supply upstairs had ran out. The three bottom rows had never failed to impress.
Later, Alex had seemed to have forgotten about selling the wine, and Dr. Bennett had been very careful not to remind him.
Trinity anniversary dos did not call for a grand display. With the taste buds of the majority of the guests permanently ruined by large quantities of Morrells beer and anything else that came cheap and plentiful in their formative years, those legal and commercial brains and souls found deep and meaningful satisfaction in almost anything put in front of them, as long as it was cool. Dr. Bennett assumed that “cool” replaced what used to be called elegant. Or, fashionable. Or chic. There was one or two to consider, perhaps, like Prudence Ilk who was without a shadow of a doubt heading for the bench and knew her stuff inside the bottle, and James Ormerod who was a collector in his own right. But, young Andrew Retz, the heir apparent to Retz and Sunderland, the Wine Merchants by Appointment, who of all people should have known better, had been known to unashamedly flog Australian and Californian plonk to his former colleagues while sipping Dr. Bennett’s ages old Madeira.
Cool was not Dr. Bennett’s strong point. Neither were elegant or chic, to be honest, those were strictly Sara’s territory, but at least he had some idea what they meant. So, as on each previous occasion, he rang the Bootleggers. Humphrey, the old clerk who’d probably never been near a barrel in his life, took the burden off his shoulders within minutes.
‘How many in attendance this time, Doctor?’
Each time he addressed him as ‘Doctor’, Dr. Bennett expected to be consulted about the state of Humphrey’s piles. ‘Oh, about forty, give or take. But, they’ll be mostly staying for two and a half days. The entire weekend. Two nights, I make it. So, that’s two dinners and two lunches, and I suppose certain amount of in-between drinking.’
‘Quite so, Doctor, quite so. And the menus?’ The routine never varied. Very reassuring, the never changing routines.
Dr. Bennett promised to fax the menus through tout suite.
The usual little cough preceded the next question. ‘And…ahem… your budget this time around, Doctor?’ Life would be so much easier if finer things in life, and there was nothing finer in life than fine wines, if finer things in life didn’t have to go hand in hand with the vulgarity of money.
Dr. Bennett spelled out the figure. The silence that followed the amount on offer was deeply appreciative.
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