Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The stakes are higher than you think

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“The stakes are higher than you think. It’s the death penalty for murder, Miss Brown,” the detective said. He loomed over her threateningly and it upset me.
The woman he was questioning sobbed dramatically into her handkerchief.
“But it wasn’t her!” I interrupted.
“Excuse me?” He eyed me up and down. His gaze had weight. I felt a sudden need to confess that I had stolen something as a child. I bit my lips to stop the words escaping.
The uniformed constable behind him rolled his eyes. “Just ignore her, sir. She’s full of her own theories.”
“Is she?” His eyes looked intrigued now. “So who is this theoretical woman?”
I was irritated that he asked the constable. “Oh, I’m real.”
“Real annoying,” I head the constable mutter.
I stood and reached out to shake the detective’s hand. “Miss Cook.” I presented myself, rather than wait for an introduction.
“Detective Anderson.” He actually took my hand. For a moment I was concerned he may not. “Why do you think it wasn’t Miss Brown?”
“Oh.” I was astonished that he actually asked me. “The footprints in the garden under the window? They’re not her shoes.”
He leaned down and looked at the woman’s feet. She helpfully held one up for him. “I see,” he said and he sounded as if he did.
“You believe me?”
“These particular shoes don’t match but she could have others,” he hinted.
“No - look at her, she’s very well presented. She would never be seen wearing a pair of flats unless they were tennis shoes and even then her foot is the wrong size. It’s clearly a male.” I folded my arms, sure of myself.
The woman we were discussing looked back and forth between us.
“Constable, please go and make sure no-one damages those footprints.” He glanced at me. “Miss Cook, would you walk with me?”
I took the opportunity to study him as we made our way outside and onto the pebbled drive. He limped a little. His hair was cut very short; military style and his shirt was well pressed with creases down the front. So I guessed the leg was a war wound. No wedding ring, so he wasn’t married or chose not to wear one. But I got the impression that he didn’t have a woman in his life. He didn’t smell of smoke, so a non-smoker. The bulge in his trenchcoat pocket looked book shaped and had no spiral back. So it was a novel, not a police notebook.
He noticed my scrutiny. “Your thoughts on me?”
I didn’t try to dissemble; pretend that I wasn’t analysing him. “Ex military... wounded and discharged. You were an officer (it was an easy guess from his speech patterns). You are not married, you don’t smoke and you like reading paperbacks... probably those orange Penguins.” The last part was a guess. He didn’t strike me as the type to read pulp.
He actually applauded. “Well done, Miss Cook. Ten out of ten.”
“Surely it was only eight,” I corrected.
He laughed and his whole face changed; he looked very handsome and less tired. He looped his arm through mine. “Now, tell me your thoughts on this murder.” I had clearly passed his test.
I thought for a minute, as we walked. “The victim was a horrible man. I honestly think that they all wanted him dead.”
“His wife is having an affair with his business partner. His son is a drunken sot and a wastrel. Last night he threatened to write him out of the will-”
“-Now there’s a motive for murder. I assume you overheard that?”
“No, the maid did and she told me in confidence.”
“I see. That’s good, she might not have told police that.” He stopped and shook his leg. A rueful look. It obviously still pained him. “Does his mother get the estate first? If she remarried, he could lose it all unless the will dealt with that?”
“That I don’t know. Miss Brown is the widow’s companion but she is hiding something. Thus the tears. She’s too well dressed for a mere lady’s companion.”
“I did notice that. Those shoes were very expensive.”
“She had good references,” I hinted.
“We should check those are real.”
I noticed the plural. “I think they may be. It’s why she’s here that is the mystery.”
“All right, I’ll ask. Why?”
“A woman who used to work for a Duchess doesn’t come to work in a house like this.” I waved a hand back at the house. It was an impressive residence but it wasn’t upper class by English standards.
“True.” He sighed. “So tell me why you think she’s here.”
“She searches things all the time.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean I’ve walked in a room to see her hurriedly shutting a drawer. Places that she has no right to be looking in.”
“So I lean on her... find out what she is looking for.”
“She’ll crack. She’s not a murderer. So who is your money on?” I asked him.
“The son is useless. The wife would have been more subtle about it. The business partner needed him for the success of the business.”
“That just leaves the butler,” I joked.
“It is never the butler.” He sounded disappointed.
I laughed, now. “Ah... you’ve forgotten about the man that Miss Brown phones all the time.”
“Have I indeed?” He smiled at me.
“Whatever she is looking for, he is waiting for it.”
“Where is he waiting?”
“I should think the local hotel.”
He nodded. “Something to do with the company, I assume.”
“They have taken out some new patents recently, perhaps they weren’t theirs?”
“Miss Cook, you may have solved my whole case for me, but there is one person we haven’t dealt with.” He raised an eyebrow.
“My mother was at boarding school with the wife, Mrs Miller. I have always called her Aunt, even though she isn’t.”
“I see.” He shuffled his feet on the gravel. “One last question, Miss Cook.”
“Detective Anderson.”
“Will you be staying on? In case I need answers to more questions.”
“Of course. Once Miss Brown leaves, I think Auntie will need me.”
“Good.” He nodded. He held my hand for a fraction too long to be a simple gesture. “Thank you for your observations and your intelligence.”
“My pleasure. You are the first policeman who had faith in my ideas.”
“But perhaps, not the last.” The smile he gave me promised more than a passing interest in just my theories, and I was completely happy about that.
© AM Gray 2014

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