Monday, April 6, 2015

3. Explanations and Lies



I

Miles saw that this was going to require the definitive statement.

'They've assured me of there's no naughtiness, on pain of being expelled from the island.  They pay for their stay and no one has an issue - not them, not me.  We like to keep things simple.  I have a farming business and what they pay for their stay is an extra.'   He went over and took out the tax forms for 2015.  'You'll see it's all been declared.'

The senior man flicked through it but it was clear he'd lost interest.  He handed them back.  'You have a lady friend, Mr. Forrester, a fiancee.  Where is she?'

'Hidden from marauders and other dangerous species. If there's a specific charge against her, I'll ensure she's here within an hour now for you to question.  My land manager has our helicopter.'

The man just stared at Miles. 'There are World War 2 tunnels under this island.  We need to see them.'

'By all means.  Bring in the equipment and if you have the correct warrants, explore all you like.  I have no equipment to dig with.'

What followed was a series of dire warnings about what would happen if he obstructed justice and so on, they rose and took their leave.  He called after them, 'What about the broken door?'

The senior officer turned. 'You told us they were none of your business down there.  They can contact us if they wish reparation.  I wrote the number.  It's on your table.'

With that, they trudged down the gravel path, avoiding sheep and made it to their helicopter.

II

It was well after dark when Johanssen arrived on their doorstep, they quickly let him in, Chloe went to make coffee, Miles poured three brandies.  

They sat and went through all of it, from woe to go, Johanssen stopping him at intervals and asking a question, at times nodding.

'Mmmm, you shouldn't have told them to bring their equipment because they just might.  Never mind - we can take care of that side of it.  They wouldn't have seen any evidence from above, that was the whole idea.  However, they get an idee fixe and nothing moves it.  I think it's not the last we see of them.   We're quite well defended but we can't show our hand, that's the annoying part.

Right, Miles, thank you for that.  Next move is ours - you just do what you do and I'm sorry about them today.  At this point, we've done nothing which could be remotely seen as illegal and they know there's zero evidence that we have.  That's why they want to see those tunnels but they can't, as we've sealed them from above and built over again.

Now listen - there's nothing super-explosive down there.  We're not going to threaten the vein, are we?  So sleep tight.'

Chloe came through with the coffee but Johanssen stood and apologized, then left rapidly.   She set the tray down and sank into the armchair.  'How much trouble are we in?'

'Depends what those silly buggers are really up to, who they have down there.  Are they shielding hot people?  Not our business.'

'It's as if we're living on a powder keg.'

'We're not, unless it's arms.  Johanssen said there were no super-explosives.  Meaning he has what's needed for the tunnels and perhaps if it comes to it under attack. We're armed up here.   Can't do anything else so let's leave it, Chloe.'

'I'm tired.  Let's go to bed.'

III

Miles woke, climbed out of bed and took one look at the steady drizzle which had set in.  Well into December, it was really setting in, some of it sleet and the light would be low all day. 

Realizing they had no commitments, he went back to bed just as she was waking.  She opened one eye, then the other, looked over at him anxiously, climbed out and went to take care of things.

When she returned, he was still in bed, most unusual for him but she wanted this all the same, wanted to talk.  She sat down and swung herself under the bedclothes he was holding up for her, a bit concerned about this burst of caring.

'You're sure about Chloette?' he asked.

'Why do you think she's a girl?'

'Just had a feeling.  OK, tell me the things you're going to need, how I should act, go through the whole thing as far as you see it.'

She did.  She covered the nine months but as she went on, she was less and less happy, in fact more agitated.  She saw his look, said she'd get them a light breakfast and then maybe they could go to the living room to have that.

...

'It's many things, Miles.   Men are ... so black and white about things.  No one's innocent, everyone has skeletons and you do too.  I want to talk to you about my skeletons and yours but I'm frightened you'll get on your high horse.  Men are so categorical, so final about some things which we're not necessarily final about.'

'So we're talking lovers, yes?'

'There you go.  I'm frightened to talk to you - you're so abrupt.  I need understanding, I need you soft right now.'

He thought about that.  'There are things I could never forgive, there are things that with time, I can.  Let's have an amnesty, a time now when we can say anything and it's not brought up against us later.  But it has to work both ways, Chloe.  And we have to stick to it.   You want?'

'Yes.'  She looked at him hard.  She so needed this, to get things off her chest, to know he understood and it was all OK.  But how - how was she going to tell him the half of it?

He began. 'You're so tense.  Let me start.  Is the child mine?'

'Yes.  But there were times before we - we came to an agreement, you and I, times before you were mine.'

'Ralph. Up here or down there?'

'Down there.'  She gulped.  'Plus Costa, just the once.  I didn't like his attitude though.  With Ralph, yes - when you went to the mainland.  We weren't lovers then, you and me - that came later.  When it did, I stopped it with Ralph.  You need to watch that one because he's vindictive.  When I realized you were going to Melissa that day, I went down to the gite as a sort of revenge, then got Tel to take me to the mainland.  I didn't go through with it with him though ... I realized I had feelings for you then and he didn't like that.'

'Just those two, yes?'

'Yes.  No relapses.  I had precautions, as now.'

'Well, what's the issue?'

'It felt bad.  Now I have the child inside.  I would have preferred it different.'  She was silent for some seconds.  'There was one other.  Frank.'

'WHAT!   With Melissa lying dead in the hallway?'

'Laura stayed with me overnight.  You were still with the police.  Frank appeared - I think to check on where she was - this was about 1 a.m., he climbed in and began on Laura, she pushed him off, he turned to me and was in before I knew -'

'So it was rape.'

'I could claim that but it wouldn't be true.  I escaped in the middle of it, ran down to reception and asked if you were back.  You weren't.  I heard steps on the stairs, ran in behind reception, they came down and asked about me, the man said I'd gone out.  They ran out after me.  He told me there was a spare room and if they came back, he'd not tell them.  That's when I was determined to make you mine.'

There was dead silence.  He made moves to speak, formed words, they dissipated, he formed new ones.  She watched it all, chagrined.

'Y-you did right.  That was brave.  Is there any more?'

'Ralph tried it on again a week after that day, not at the gite but when I went for a walk on the west side of the island.  He followed me down the walkway.  I told him I was with you now and he said, 'So?'  I threatened to tell you.'

There was another silence.  'And Tel's never tried it on?'

'Why are you worried about him?  Don't be.  He tried once or twice before we were together, not after he saw the lie of the land.  Miles?'

'What?'

'I think Melissa was going to kill you.  She was standing at the door, facing the door and she had that pistol in her hand.  She was going to kill you.  Go on, ask it.'

'Don't need to, do I?  You were there.  Did you kill her?' 

'Laura did.   She went into the little hidden area and came out with the gun.  As you might know or might not, the small upper window in the stables is low on the outside there because the ground is higher - it's the weakest point, apart from the door.  It was easy for her to lean through and shoot.  I was still some distance from her -'

'How?  If you knew Melissa had a gun trained -'

'I could see through the gap between the planks, through the stall - there was no horse in that stall.   I couldn't see Laura fire but I saw the effect on the back of Melissa's head and saw her fall, the pistol fell away.   You then pushed the door and got in, then turned her over.   Why you didn't see the gun, I don't know.'

'I did see it.  I expected it was the murder weapon.  Frank saw it too and I told him not to touch it.  Did you see me turn her over?'

'Yes but I wasn't there to see you go back with Frank.'

IV

Miles had to see some clients in Lytton, he knew it was only a formality once they'd seen the samples so that gave him two and a half hours free to meet Detective-Inspector Collins who'd conducted the investigation into Melissa's murder.

Soon they were seated over a beer in the Fox and Grapes, the DI off duty, it was made clear that unless something new had turned up, they were scarcely going to reopen the case.  The man wasn't defensive but he did take the attitude 'this needed to be good'. 

Miles explained he wanted to run some details past him, he didn't want anything reopened and he wasn't angling for anything.  He just suspected some anomalies in the stories. He needed to ask some questions.

Collins nodded and he began.  'You might say I'm carrying out my own investigation of people I know in the case.  There is property and commerce riding on this so I need to be sure.   I'll not step outside that brief.' 

The DI nodded to continue.

'There's been talk of the gun held by Melissa, my wife.  There was a gun near her body.  We know it was the same gun for both shots.  How far did police investigate the area behind the stables or the gully or the storm drain in the gravel?  I heard the report of the inquiry but how deeply did you go?'

'I can tell you off the cuff that we found evidence of someone climbing through the window in the top corner of the stables, one shot came from just inside the window in our view, meaning the person could have been in or outside and the second, as you know, was point blank.  There's evidence, also corroborated by the boot marks, that that person came up to the victim from the window.  There were traces of you two men.  We don't think the man went to the window but can't be sure.'

'The main one, the first one, was female, yes?'

'We surmised so - there were suggestions of wellies on the floor but no defined prints. My personal guess is female, for a few reasons but that really was surmise on my part and didn't go in the report.'

'Who else did you investigate?  Obviously, Frank, Laura, me but was there anyone else?  I don't mean as witnesses, I mean as possible suspects.'

He smiled.  'You were on the list of suspects at the beginning - I think you'd expect that.  We saw no sign of others in the stables.'

'This is off the record, no one is recording anything - would you like to check me now?'  It was waved away. 'This is also only surmise and yet it's important to me because of anomalies I've heard.  Let's run with the killer being female.  Seems to me that it could only have been one person.'

'Seems that way to me too.   We have no motive, we have opportunity for either of the residents although your testimony was that the father was in the house when you went down the driveway.   Athletically, it seems to fit, particularly the footprints in the gully.'

'How closely did you look at those?  Please don't take offence.  Did they go past the level of the hard earth bridge is what I mean, did they go further down than that?'

'They went all the way in both directions to and from the edge of the property.  The person seems to have climbed over the property perimeter fence at the end - that would take some athleticism.'

'So they didn't just start near the earth bridge?'

'Not as far as we could see.  Why are you focussing on that earth bridge, as you put it?'

'Because the footsteps broke there and you would have seen that too.'

'Yes we did but I'd like to hear you first.' 

'Detective-Inspector, I'll play fair with you, whoever it points to, even my own mother, I'll tell you.  But first I need to be sure.  I'm not a professional and I'm going to ask you a favour.  I need to know two things - were those prints in the gully quite well defined when your boys examined them and has there been any subsequent attempt to blot out those footprints?'

'Good questions.  They were deep in one or two places - outside the little window and then there was that eight foot earth bridge you speak of, where there were none.  Then they started again and went down to the fence.  Puzzled us.  I'd like to know your ideas.'

'My ideas depend on these questions.  Was there any sign the prints were coming out of the side of and returning to the gully?  Sideways, I mean.'

'No, they were virtually dead centre all the way down - a person moving quickly it seemed.  They were deepest on the way back down, for the first ten yards but then became lighter.   As far as we could see, they were light on the way up.'

'Could they have been a man's, say with a size 9 shoe?'

'If the was wearing galoshes or wellies, then I'd say no, they were more likely a woman's.'

'I don't want to try your patience too much longer but what about inside the house?  We heard different stories about intercoms etc. and they might have been altered before you came.  One tale is that there was no connecting intercom from the foyer, which would have meant that to hear a conversation in the foyer, you'd have needed to be close, say in the next room, the kitchen.'

'There was one installed, it worked and it connected to the kitchen.   There was another connecting the stables to the living room.  It could be heard from the main bedroom too although it wasn't wired into the bedroom.  We could hear the horses on it.'

'Was there any horse in the top, middle or lower stall?'

'When we got there - one in the top stall, one in the middle - but that could have changed in the time between the event and when we arrived.  The lower stall was unoccupied.'

'Moving a horse would be heard in the living room.'

DI Collins grinned.  'You'd make a good investigating officer.  I'll give you one for free - you couldn't hear that from the kitchen - there were two walls before it.  Anything else before I go?'

'Was the laundry door, the outer door, locked or unlocked?'

'Locked when we were there but I concede it might have been on the latch earlier.  It was that type.  Now I have one - do you trust any or all of your guests?'

'Not as far as I could kick them.'

'Word is that they're ... well ...'

'Hot boys?'

'For want of a better term.'

'What's between you and them is your affair. They do nothing illegal on the island.  You can always come onto the island as it's part of England and Wales.'

'Word is also that there is something beneath that island, something worth big money.'

'There is and there are quite a few provisions in place to protect Chloe and me.'  He outlined the arrangements with the island, with his will, all of it in fact.

'You've played most fair,' Collins commented at the end of it. 'I'll play fair with you as far as I can.  Would you give me your mobile number and I'll give you mine?' 

They exchanged.

'Well, you be careful now, I've enjoyed this chat.  We're no further along on who committed the murder though, are we?'

'On the contrary, Detective-Inspector, I think I now know who it is and I think, as you said, that you do too.  Trouble for you is proving it and I'm not sure I actually wish to now.'

'You do know of Mr. O'Brien's circumstances, the trust fund for his daughter?'

'I do, if Laura told me the truth.  Let me write now on this napkin who killed my wife and then I'm going to flush it down the loo on the way out.'   He took a napkin and a pen from his inside pocket, scribbled on it and turned it to face the Detective-Inspector.  The latter was surprised.  'That's some admission.'

Thing is, I'm not sure.  I have a case against three people.  I'm not sure it's as simple as you say.  I grant you that name - yes, for sure, it was quite possible.  But so were the other two.  I could make out a case.  There seem to have been agreements between people but I'm not au fait with those yet.  I've heard conflicting details and need to find out myself who's lying.

'It could be concluded that there are two murderers.'

'Very much so, though only one pulled the trigger in each case.'

Collins took his leave, Miles waited a while - he still had thirty minutes - then also left, looking about in his usual way, before making straight for a tea shop in a side lane he had a hunch over.  Standing back from the window at this end, he took the chance and had a quick look, uh-huh, interesting.  He strode back in the direction of the carpark and the helicopter.

V

'Come in, Miles, your call surprised me.' 

He stepped inside and hung his rain jacket on the peg.  A lady a bit older than Laura came through and they were introduced.  Amelie.  Interesting name.

The things were brought for a snack lunch, they all settled back and Laura asked if Amelie could be present.  If not, she could wait out in the hallway, pretending to go to another room but actually listening at the door.

Straight to the heart of it - he'd forgotten Laura's penchant for directness and he'd forgotten how much he liked it.

'Are you here to pump me,' she smiled 'or are you absenting yourself from the island to see what that lot do and where Chloe goes?'

'Clever girl - do you mind me referring to you as a girl?'

'Girl, woman, whatever floats your boat.  I could put on a maid's costume if you like.'

'Away, temptress.'  The two women smiled - so the man did have a sense of humour after all. 'If I ask you a series of 'did you knows', would you answer honestly?'

Laura was serious. 'I'd really try, because I wish to.  I like you.  If it was going to harm someone close to me - no, of course not.'

'That's fair.  All right, will this get back to Chloe?'

'She'd be the last one, nor Frank, nor Ralph but it might get back to -'  she thought for a moment '- no, it wouldn't get back to anyone.  Not now.'

'I was with DI Collins.'

'I know.  I was there too.'

'Watching me?  I never saw you.'

'No, watching the next two you're going to ask me about.'  She grinned.  'I saw you two only from a distance.'

'Were you hiding?'

'Only in plain sight.  I was part of the milling crowd at all times. Don't draw conclusions about them you don't definitely know you can.  There could be a few reasons.  It could have been to discuss you and the threat you pose, it could have been dalliance, it could have been Chloe letting him down at last.

I bet she's told you it's ended with Ralph.  Point is, I know what she does because he's my eyes and ears on the island.  It didn't come without a price.'  She let that sink in.  'I think if she's told you it's over, it might not have been so, strictly speaking, when she told you it was over but it sure seems to be now, according to Ralph, who does not bear you good will.'

'That's not altogether a concern of mine now.'

'I know.  You wouldn't have come here.  All right, Miles, we've been fencing and I have some serious things to put to you.  I think you do too.  Sis will stay, if you don't mind, for the next part but when it gets to the personal matters, she's the soul of discretion and will suddenly have to go shopping or to bed.  You OK with that?'

'Why do I feel I'm being drawn into a maelstrom?'

'Because you are, because that's the way you do things.  So, are you ready for the serious stuff?  Sis will get tea.'  He nodded.

'I've known Ralph a long time.  I recommended him to some people for work.  I didn't know anyone else at the gite, Ralph was employing me to find out about the vein on the island - that's what I was doing when I visited.  Frank wanted to know too - in fact, many people wanted to know and would pay for it.  I had a list of people and I've made some good money from it. It took some identifying under your nose but they did it and it's worth mining.'

'How does Chloe come into it?'

'They compromised her of course.  Her past.'

'You mean her lovers?'

'Lovers?   Let it be so - her lovers.'

'She told me about them.'

'Oh did she just?  She told you about Ralph?'

'Yes.   In the gite.'

'And in your bed when you weren't on the island?   I only have Ralph's word on this of course.'

'Go on.'

'It never stopped, even after you'd decided.  Even while she's been pregnant.'

'You have no proof, only hearsay from an unreliable man.'

'You're half right - he's unreliable but when the baby is born - then it will become clearer.   Of course it might still be yours.'

'This is wicked what you're doing.  Goodbye, Laura.' 

He rose to leave but then hesitated.  She suggested, 'Sit down and hear this to the end, then walk out of here.'

He dutifully sat down.

'I'm going to write a name on a piece of paper.'  She did and pushed it over to him.  He looked.  'That's the name of the escort agency we all worked for.  Many of us danced, we worked for the agency, we took secretarial jobs if we had a brain, we did many things.   I don't know many girls who gratuitously went for as many men as possible - most did their job and that was enough.  Chloe couldn't get enough.'

'That's it.  I'm -'

'Stay where you are.   I'm opening up to you today, at great danger to myself, you know deep down I'm not lying.  You haven't a clue what's been going on behind your back, Miles - the least you can do is hear me out.'

'What, listen to this venom?'

'You're not stupid, Miles.  This faux outrage is your self-defence mechanism. This venom, as you put it, checks out.  You check it out once I've finished and after you've gone.  Check out that agency - they're in the book - check about their former staff.   Better still, get your Inspector to do it.   I'm not lying here, I have no reason to.  I know all this hurts you.'

He was dismayed.  'Why are you doing this?'

'Chloe is trying to get you off the island.  In fact, you might think she and I are conniving.  You'd be too disgusted to go back and would probably just leave them to it on the island and cut your losses.  Especially with me as an intriguing alternative now. I'm a thinker like you.  I also know someone who might be a prospect.' 

His eyes opened wide.

'You came here to get the truth, that was your plan but you also wanted to see me, in my natural habitat and there was more than just this case in this.  Look into my eyes and tell me it's not so.  I'm certainly telling on her and why do you think that might be?'

He was tongue-tied.

'Miles, you understand so little.  What do you think Frank is?  A dutiful father?  He was having sex with Melissa and had done for a long time but even though he was guilty in the eyes of the law and society, she was the active agent. She was blackmailing him.  That's why she would come to our bed and do it with him while I was there.'

'You allowed that?'

'Allowed?   I was the kept woman, wasn't I, the one from the escort agency, the one who could be discarded tomorrow?  And it was sex, wasn't it - very hard to walk away from when it's right there.  I'm no angel.'

'Are there no standards at all?   No sense of right or wrong?'

'You're quaint.   No, there were none.   People did what they did.  I like to flatter myself that I was the best of the bunch, that I'd only do so if it would produce a good outcome.'

'Ah.'

'Yes, I was there for a purpose. Men think we want their wealth, especially someone who's from our line of work.  We need enough to live and be comfortable, that's true.   We need a break from necessity and we give back in other ways. But unless it's a fortune and he's going to kick the bucket in a few years, most women will only go into marriage if all else is right too. 

I know my charm, I know whom I could seduce and whom I couldn't.  You're one I could and that gives me bargaining chips - so yes, it's calculated but not as much as you might think.  I put Ralph onto Chloe.'

'What!'

'I know it was immoral but I wanted him off my back, I wanted out from under Frank and remember two things.  Chloe was not yours at that time - that came later.  The other thing is - if Chloe was the wholesome girl you imagine, she'd have said no to him there and then and would have told you all of it, I'd have been the villain and that would have been that.'

There was silence, Amelie came through with replenishments but went out again.

Laura paused now and she was simply ... ravishing.  Those melancholy eyes which knew everything, that smile at the corner of her lips, that nose - she was wicked, you could believe all sorts of naughty things about her, she was Irene Adler, ethics-free and she was here, now.

He thought what to say and realized he didn't even want to be speaking of Chloe anymore.  'It's her disloyalty, that's the thing, Laura.  Not her infidelity, strangely not that, as she'd always been like that, I half knew it and she couldn't break habits.  It's the disloyalty.  Was Melissa going to kill me?'

'No - it wasn't her thing.   It wasn't even Chloe's thing really.  There's someone else behind this and has been from day one.'

'When was day one?'

'The day you met me,' she smiled.

'Did they strike the vein?'

'Yes.  They want you off the island immediately now, which you are.  They wanted Chloe as their puppet up there, which she became - you're too suspicious, too devious.  They couldn't trust her not to spill the beans, that you'd get things out of her.  Either she went or you did.  I'm sure this visit is known and so you've just wrecked what I had going with a few people.' 

She paused, then pressed on.  'Now to finish this about Chloe.  Do you want to hear this or not?'

'I'm listening.'

'The truth is and it is the truth, Miles, that I know much but slowly, I got this feeling I was being kept out of the loop. When I was on your island, both Ralph and Chloe reported back to Frank.  I started to be treated as a mushroom and everything told me I was being set up.  

Frank didn't like my visit to your island and suspected I wanted out.  Sure he backed it and got me to promise to find out all I could but I was going to do that anyway for Ralph. 

Different people wanted different things.  Someone wanted Melissa dead, I think that was Frank, which is not hard to follow.  She was to confront you in the stables at gunpoint and demand the island, which suggests Frank was at least party to that bit.  She must have known she had no claim but might have thought the gun would work magic.

I heard her arguing with him in the kitchen and I'm not going to pretend I couldn't make out what they said.  I had my ear against the door.   She was confronting him and saying that unless he put it all back, the trust money, she would shop him for the sex which she herself had started, though of course he shouldn't have - and she'd caught him out on a few deals as well -'

'Drugs?'

'Perhaps.  Either way, she had him over a barrel.  Now Frank is not a nice guy but to kill his own daughter?  Yet I've got trouble with that second shot.  That one seems so coldblooded. I think Frank himself was being set up. Whether Melissa was in with someone, whether she was running Ralph, for favours, whether it was Ralph who was making his own decisions or whether it was all Johanssen - I've thought long and hard about it all.  We each know a certain amount but not all and we'll never meet and get all our stories together. And as I say, I was beginning to be kept out of the loop - a mushroom.'

'Chloe said you came back to the Travellers late and was in bed with her, that you're AC/DC, Frank arrived and he joined in.'

'I see.'

'Then she escaped and went downstairs, you two came down looking and she hid behind the desk.  The night receptionist gave her a room for the night where you wouldn't find her.'

'All right, Frank was ethics-free, as you say about people.  He did go there to make sure I was still there and onside and he knew Chloe would be there.  He did that with Chloe to hurt me for this perception he had that I wasn't being straight with him. 

Later, I saw Chloe hiding behind reception when we went downstairs but didn't tell Frank.'

'Why would you not tell him?  Seems he and Chloe planned that meeting, her running off was a ploy.'

'I didn't think so.  I thought something snapped and she didn't want that anymore.  I know, I know, with her record, it's hardly plausible but it seemed that way.  So I didn't tell him.'

'I know you've already told me much but tell me again - how bad was Chloe - you know, about sex.  How bad was Melissa?'

'Melissa gave the impression that she'd do things as a strategy, to gain herself something, to be able to blackmail, for example.  Chloe was just a skank. It was raw, carnal with her and nothing was offlimits.  I'm no angel and I did things but I'm not AC/DC.  I can cuddle a woman, I can do something at a pinch but I'm not that.  I've told you already - I'm straight.

But whenever Chloe entered the scene, it got really dirty, I can't describe it any other way. Quite carnal in a sloshing, spitting way.  Complete opposite to what she did with you.  Didn't you ever feel it was halfhearted with you?  Maybe not.'

'Of course I did but I put that down to her and I not being suited, to all the tension.  Did she ever badmouth me?'

'No, she didn't do that.  You never entered into conversation, except in relation to the island.  Don't know if that bursts your bubble but there it is.'

'Thanks.'

'For what?'

'For being honest.'

'How do you know I have been?'

'It sounds about right. Also, a person puts two and two together and remembers little snippets here, little snippets there, a strange off-chance remark, a look, a sudden feeling you've surprised her.  You know the way it is.'

VI

Detective Inspector Collins opened the door to his two up, two down, Miles was let in and directed to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

The inspector came through with notes. 'I checked the gully - the prints had been blurred, filled in.  Someone had done some work on it.  For some reason, the ones in the stables hadn't disappeared.  The pretext was that there were some things we hadn't checked before.

We found nothing more in the gully, truth be told but we did find this in the laundry, under the washing machine, what do you think?'

'Well I'll be.'

'Puts her at the scene more definitely, shall we say.'

Miles sighed.  'All right, Detective Inspector, Chloe's story is that she went up the gully from the house and peered through the crack at the driveway end of the stables.'

'There's no crack.'

'Suspected not.  Repaired?'

'No, never was - the planks overlap.'

'Dear, dear Chloe, what an incredibly simple lie.  So simple, I'm wondering if there were not a reason ... but that's over-finessing.  Still doesn't make her the killer, Inspector.  What does Frank claim, by the way?'

'According to him, he and his de facto were near the door to the foyer, they heard Melissa and you ... not agreeing, Mr. O'Brien went back to the living room but she went straight out of the front door and on an upwards diagonal into the gully.'

'And you found two sets of prints in that gully?'

'No, one, going both ways, from the fence to the top and back, as I said last time, with that gap near the house.  Same prints most likely as were inside the stables.'

'So Laura did not go into the gully?'

'The prints belong to one of the ladies, both have similar sized feet. We also have only your word, Mr. Forrester, about the crumpled body.'

'What of the galoshes in the gully?'  He ignored the last crack.  'Chloe said she saw Frank with Laura outside the house, Laura went up the gully swiftly, that is, inside the gully, Chloe followed, presumably on the path and looked through the crack which doesn't exist.'

'Tell me about your trip to Durham, Mr. Forrester. This case never ceases to amaze. Was it on spec?'

'Yes, I phoned.  She was intrigued of course.'

'But why did you?  to double-check on your fiancee?'

'Chloe's been plotting to get me off the island, Ralph -'

'One of the five guests?'

'Yes.  She and he were lovers over a long period but not as long as Laura and him.'

'All right, try these.  Frank O'Brien had blown his money from Melissa's trust fund, his business was doing well but he couldn't adapt, writing was on the wall, he was deceitful and held back wages, that sort of thing.  There's a lot of hearsay but he was having it away with his daughter, according to his de facto.'

'I'll confirm that, again from hearsay.'

'He vehemently denies it of course.  Daughter found out something on her father, maybe about the trust fund and either he had the de facto shoot her or else you were to be framed.'

'I think it's all been overtaken by current events.  The murder was one thing and I'd like to get it clear in my head who it really was and how but I've no obsession about it now, not as it was when we first met in Lytton.  Things have moved on, Detective Inspector, I'm in danger on my own island, I'm going to have to activate the owners to get the tenants off but that will bring in the MoD and that raises new issues.  Seems to me they have something to do with what's been happening, don't know why.  But any threat to remove the tenants removes the shackles from Johanssen.'

'And what of your Laura?'

'She's not mine.  We're still sparring but soon she'll either have to join me, perhaps just as partners in survival ... or else not.  There's always the law - you - but with all due respect, you don't know all of it because people are keeping some things from you.  If you were acting as yourself, I'd tell you all but as you carry the weight of law - that can get in the way.

The only thing I can say to you is that there is a plan for a short, sharp shock to our tenants, no one is going to do anything illegal, as distinct from the tenants in response but we do need for that shock to happen and also for Laura and me to work together, at least in the short term.  She's a first class brain but she can't do it alone.  I can't either.  Together, with the law also onside, it might be enough.  I've said to a few people that the law is the best muscle you can have but one has to be careful to stay clean or else you'll be tripped up.'

Collins was grinning. 'Quid pro quo, eh?'

'Inspector, do you know what that vein under the island is worth?'

'Millions?'

'Billions.  It's the big one - the MoD aren't going to allow that in private hands.  But the owners are now less inclined to sell back.  However, they know it must end up with the MoD, so they'll strike the best bargain they can.'

'There is still the murder.'

'There's still the murder.  Yes.'

'I could help the process along.  We know one of those in the gite has something planned in Edinburgh, don't ask how we know.  That would put the cat among the pigeons.  Where are you staying?'

'Local hotel.'

'There's a friend of my wife's - I'll just write the address.  Here you are.  It's safer.'

'Yes.  I have to tell you though I'm going back to Durham.'

'Be careful.'

'I shall.  If it comes to it and she agrees, may she also stay there?  I'd prefer her to be safe.'

'Mr. Forrester, your signals are loud and clear.  Of course it's fine and you can make a duplicate set of keys too if you like.  I'll give you this set now, better you don't visit me again in the short term.  We're in touch by mobile.'


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