TWO SIMON GRANT MYSTERIES
HIDING THE ELEPHANT – Chapter 36
‘This time at least we know what we’re looking for.’ Grant was driving as if there was no time to be lost. He could feel Tully’s reproving stare boring into the small of his skull from the back seat. ‘If it was Hale, and it easily might have been, you know, it easily might have been, he’s mad enough, obsessive enough, anyway if it was him he first went to Masters’ place hoping to secure the rent for his precious theatre but drew a blank. So he drove off to the Old Mill to make sure Frances Swan was still up for it. Something happened there… Bloody hell!’ Grant interrupted himself, banged his hand on the steering wheel and hit the horn in the process. ‘It’s all very well, it all makes sense, it’s plausible or would be if it wasn’t for the bloody room. That doesn’t make sense at all. The last thing he’d want would be to point a finger at himself.’
Then, without a warning or apparent reason, he jammed the brake to a screeching halt. He was out of the car before Tully finished swearing, and was running up the wide, concrete drive. The person moving hastily in front of him wore a long black coat and dark coloured wellies that made a squeegy sound on the tarmac. The long strides could have been those of a strong, medium sized man, but Grant knew better.
‘Mrs. Rickman. Wait. Elaine.’
The woman slowed down, but it was a few moments before she actually stopped.
‘Elaine.’ She was still half turned away, ready to disappear through the double door of the building. ‘I’m long overdue for a chat with you.’ Grant felt the urge to grab her by the arm to keep her in place.
‘Not now, Mr. Grant. I’m running late.’ Elaine Rickman vaguely pointed behind her, her eyes avoiding his. ‘The ladies from the Literary Circleare due for their lunch shortly.’
‘In the Freemasons Hall?’ Grant looked up at the unmistakable sign carved in stone above the entrance.
‘It’s been converted into a Women’s Centre more than six months ago.’
Grant hadn’t seen Elaine since before Pippa left. Even then while she still used to clean for them once or twice a week, he wasn’t sure, Pippa looked after that side of things, they hardly ever actually bumped into each other. She seemed changed from what he remembered. In just a few weeks what used to be sturdy and agile turned heavy and uncertain. Elaine works too much, Emma had said. Elaine is killing herself working every hour God gives her, Emma had said.
‘When have you cleaned theRiversidelast, Elaine?’
‘I didn’t.’ The woman stood with her side to him, edging away in small steps. ‘I mean, not after Fran was killed. On your orders the place was sealed until further notice.’
‘Oh, right. Yes. Yes, of course.’ It was Debs probably, bless her. ‘The forensics will finish with it by tomorrow. Do you happen to have a key?’
‘To the Riverside?’
Grant didn’t remember her that slow-witted either. ‘Yes. Yes, please. I’d rather not break the lock if I don’t have to.’
She unzipped her bag, a shiny rectangle of brown plastic with two rigid handles, and brought out a collection of keys, all with tags on them, all mounted onto a large chrome ring. It took her a while to detach a Yale and a three tooth fancy brass affair that opened the doors to Hale’s empire.
‘Thanks. I’ll still need to talk to you. There’re things you may be able to help me with.’ Grant was talking to the back of the black woollen coat. It was scrupulously brushed but baggy at the elbows and the backside, a testimony to numerous journeys on country busses, irregular, cold and reportedly very expensive. Not that Grant knew much about that first hand.
LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS – Chapter 36
Oxford, 1982 – 1983
Eleven years ago everybody who’d known Marcus Smithers also knew that he was madly in love with Bella. She had just the kind of unassuming beauty and directness of speech that would appeal to a young man of twenty-six with little self-confidence and even fewer expectations.
After four years of “finding himself”, first by teaching English to teenagers in a Tanzanian village, then working for some World Wildlife Programme in Brunei, Marcus, aka Stinky Smithers had returned to Oxford as a research student into charitable trusts. The idea was to work on his PhD thesis once he knew what it should be about. Mr. Smithers senior, just recently wed to his fifth temporary consort, supplied the readies and Dr. Bennett, to his enormous surprise, became the young man’s unofficial mentor, providing pastoral care and professional guidance.
‘Just like the son you’ve never had,’ teased Angel, and he’d protest mildly, pointing out perfectly truthfully that he’d never asked for the position and what’s more that Marcus had never asked for his consent, not in so many words. But, in his heart of hearts, Dr. Bennett enjoyed this unsought status. By 1982 he’d already built himself a complex little empire of influence and connections, all of them spinning money and professional consequence on a pleasingly incremental curve. The only fly in that ever-spreading pool of heart-warming ointment was the absence of a confidante and heir. Angel wasn’t of the profession or the disposition, nor were any of the many offspring of the Lostao Crespo clan. Bennetts there were none, none to speak of, even though there were one or two he’d never spoken of. Occasional gifts of money to the second cousin with four troublesome children and no employment, and enhanced level residential care for an uncle by marriage saw to that side of the family.
Young Marcus was a gift, and the one Dr. Bennett wasn’t going to look in the teeth. Not a natural born fighter, not young Marcus. Not by a long shot. One would have preferred a more proactively acquisitive partner, someone with a keen sense of self-interest and well developed predatory instincts. A lapsed eco-warrior and aspiring do-gooder left a lot to be desired. But, beggars can’t be choosers, and Dr. Bennett threw himself into his role with all the zest of a novice. Marcus was bright, quick-witted and analytical. The rest might come in time.
Falling in love with beautiful Isabella was a very public process. Marcus first enquired about her current emotional commitments – he actually called them that, emotional commitments, – of Bella herself, then sought confirmation that she indeed was foot loose and fancy free from Angel and Dr. Bennett.
‘Why ask us,’ Angel teased him. ‘Don’t you trust her to tell you as it is?’
‘She may have said there was no one else to spare my feelings.’
‘Not Bella,’ Angel laughed heartily. ‘Bella isn’t in the business of sparing people’s feelings.’
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