‘No. But she thinks it’s connected to the video, and no one knew about it except her and David and a few of the other students – and their tutor who watched it, who died.’
‘That’s what she says. But she really is a most indiscreet person. We’d be hard-pressed to find someone in this building who didn’t know about the video. You and I and Morgana know. And Seema and Graham.’
‘And Dizzy – and Mr. Barrymore. I think he was listening at the door when she mentioned it. But most of them only heard about it today.’
‘Indeed. The question is, who knew
those letters started arriving. And why send them in the first place? If it was David, what would he hope to achieve? We need to take a look at that video, Emily.’
‘It’s gone missing. And so has Dizzy.’
‘Well, David is looking for Dizzy, so let’s you and I hunt the video together. Where should we look?’
‘There’s a cupboard somewhere with a video cart with a TV and video player on it. Seema mentioned it. We could try there. I’m not quite sure where it is…’
‘Perfect! Can’t be hard to find.’
Dr. Muriel opened the door to the office, and they set off. They tried the handles of the doors as they passed. Most opened onto classrooms. One opened onto a staffroom. One opened onto a small kitchen with a fridge, a kettle and a microwave. Eventually they found a door that looked promising. It was marked ‘AV Cupboard’, and it was locked or blocked from the inside. As Emily and Dr. Muriel pressed their weight against it, they heard the sound of David’s mellifluous voice behind them. ‘Maybe the door opens outwards, ladies. Have you tried it?’
He reached through their arms and tried it, but the door did not open outwards. It opened inwards like the others, and it was stuck. David laughed. He said, ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to be a patronising git.’
‘Any luck with finding Dizzy, David?’ Dr. Muriel asked him. ‘Did you see him?’
‘Didn’t see anyone except the landlord at the sink at his kitchen window – at least I suppose it was the landlord. Wearing an England shirt? Thuggish-looking bloke. But he gave me a big smile.’
‘That sounds like a very practical and comfortable solution to the question of how best to avoid Victoria’s end-of-term show,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Warm and cosy in his kitchen, out of sight and sound of a hundred-odd children, no doubt putting the kettle on. No wonder he was smiling.’ She turned back to the door. ‘Let’s try this, then. On my count: one, two, three.’
The three of them pushed, and the door opened a little way and then opened further. It was blocked by a man’s body lying on the floor. The man was wearing dark blue overalls. It was Dizzy.
David went over to him and put his fingers on Dizzy’s neck to check if he was alive. Dizzy groaned, looked up, and said, ‘Great admirer of your work, man.’
‘You’ve been knocked unconscious,’ said David. ‘Looks like a blow to the back of your head.’
‘Have I? Woah! How long have I been out? I was having this really nice dream.’
‘Did you bring the video up here, Dizzy?’ asked Dr. Muriel.
‘I’ve got aspirations,’ said Dizzy, sitting up and touching the back of his head delicately with his fingers. ‘Acting – I’m drawn to the profession. That’s why I work at this place. David Devereux: household name. Thought if I watched a vid from his early days, I might learn something.’
Emily stepped over him and pressed the narrow letterbox opening on the video player with her fingers. It flapped inwards, gently. She pressed the eject button anyway, just in case, but there was nothing in the machine. ‘There’s nothing here now,’ she said.
‘Perhaps we should get you to a hospital,’ Dr. Muriel said to Dizzy. She leaned in to him and waggled her hand in his face. ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’
‘Three. No, two. No, three.’
‘Sounds OK to me,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Of course, I’m not a medical doctor.’
‘Someone knocked you on the head and stole the video?’ asked Emily.
‘Could be,’ said Dizzy. ‘Could be. They might of misunderstood the nature of the content of it. There’s some unsavoury people about.’
‘You didn’t see who it was?’ Emily asked.
‘I didn’t, Emily. Must of been a fella, though. Gave me a pretty good whack.’
Emily turned to David. ‘You didn’t see anything suspicious?’ she asked.
When you were wandering around unaccompanied, supposedly looking for the man we’ve just found unconscious?
‘What’s going on?’ It was Victoria’s voice behind them. She was now dressed in a smart black trouser suit, ready to host the afternoon’s event. Emily was relieved to see that she was not wearing the shawl.
‘Don’t worry, Victoria,’ said Emily. ‘He’s not dead.’
Victoria said, ‘Everyone’s downstairs ready to watch the show – everyone except you, Dr. Muriel – and I can’t find that wretched dog. Fortunately Graham and I can improvise. I think I have an “invisible dog” lead in the cupboard in the office. Who’s not dead?’
‘I’m not,’ called Dizzy.
Victoria headed for the office, and they all went along with her – perhaps everyone was as curious as Emily to see what an ‘invisible dog lead’ might be. When they got there, they saw Seema and a police officer. Seema looked as though she had been crying.
‘I told him you’ve got a show to put on,’ Seema said to Victoria. ‘I asked if he could wait to question you till afterwards, and he said yes.’
‘Question me? What on earth about?
‘No!’ called Dizzy from the back of the group.
‘Yes,’ said the police officer. He was quite young, and he looked like a fitness instructor, which was a job he did in his spare time. ‘Mr. Barrymore, your landlord. They found him at his place.’
‘How long ago did he die?’ asked Emily.
‘I’m afraid I can’t divulge. They’re going through all that now. It looks as though he’s been dead for some hours.’
‘Was he watching a video?’ asked Victoria.
‘I can’t say, madam.’
‘Just tell me this.’ Victoria’s voice was slightly unsteady. She put her hands one on top of the other and placed them just under her clavicle as she drew a deep breath. She said, ‘Was he smiling when he died? Would you say he had a rictus grin on his face?’
‘I wouldn’t say something like that, madam. That’s not the sort of terminology we use in the reports.’
‘Was anyone with him?’ asked Emily.
‘Only a dog. A bulldog. I’m afraid the animal is also deceased.’
‘Who would kill a dog?’ asked Emily. Now she was upset.
The policeman looked sympathetic. He turned towards Emily and put his hand out as though he was considering touching her arm to comfort her. But he didn’t approach her. ‘The dog wasn’t killed, miss. It looked like natural causes.’
‘Of course it did,’ said Victoria. ‘Of course it did.’ She shook her head back and forth several times.
Seema said, ‘The show’s about to start. What do you want to do, Victoria? You want to call it off?’
‘I’ll go down,’ said Victoria, ‘and we’ll carry on as if nothing had happened. If the children only learn from me that we have to carry on
no matter what happens in our personal lives
, they’ll have learned the most important lesson about this profession… Officer, it’s very kind of you to be so understanding. I’ll talk to you when the show’s over. Say about half past five? Dizzy? If you’re well enough, I’ll need you to operate the sound and lights, please.’
Victoria left the office, followed by Dizzy.
The policeman said, ‘Does that lady think this is a murder enquiry?’
Seema said, ‘I didn’t do anything. I’m not responsible for what happened.’ She looked as though she might cry again. She also left the office.
David said, ‘I’d better go and find Dolly.’ He took his mobile phone out of his pocket and looked at it, then put it back again. ‘I’ll keep this on silent.’
Emily, Dr. Muriel and the policeman were left in the office. The policeman said, ‘Didn’t I see you two at that bonfire party in the big house down the end of Trinity Road?’
‘Wasn’t that fun!’ said Dr. Muriel, standing and making shovelling motions with her hands so he would see himself out.
Just before he closed the door to the office, the policeman said, ‘The video that might hypothetically be in the video player of the house of the gentleman who died. What sort of video was it, do you think?’
‘It was a video Victoria made when she was a student at drama school,’ said Emily.
‘Ah!’ he said. ‘I see.’
‘Not that kind of video,’ Emily said, closing the door.
When he had gone, she asked Dr. Muriel, ‘If you really liked someone but you thought they might have done something stupid, should you speak up about it even though they might get in trouble?’
‘Aha!’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Now, we’ll be addressing all sorts of questions like this at the next conference in Eastbourne. Or is it Torquay? Anyhow, it would be wonderful to have you come along and listen to some of the finest minds in Europe debate such conundrums, both trivial and meaningful. It gets very heated. Most amusing. There is no right or wrong, of course. Only brilliant arguments from all sides.’
‘What I’m trying to say,’ said Emily, ‘is do you think David could have bashed Dizzy on the head? He was gone for ages before he suddenly “found” him with us.’
‘He doesn’t strike me as a basher. And what’s his motivation? No, it doesn’t follow.’
‘But then he said he waved and smiled at Mr. Barrymore in his kitchen window. But the policeman said that Mr. Barrymore had been dead for some time.’
‘Indeed, indeed – most suspicious. But, although that young policeman wasn’t prepared to say anything, I do think Mr. Barrymore might have been watching Vicky’s video, don’t you?’
‘So it follows that if Mr. Barrymore stole that video, then it was probably Mr. B who bashed Dizzy.’
‘Yes. But you don’t think the
killed Mr. Barrymore, surely?’
‘No, I don’t… Good Lord!’
‘What’s that frightful noise?’
Emily had also heard the noise coming from downstairs. It was a sawing sound. Last-minute repairs? Perhaps Dizzy’s head injury had been more serious than anyone realised and he was running amok with power tools. She listened carefully. ‘I think it might be the Flight of the Bumblebee.’
‘Good. Good. First song of the afternoon. It means we’ve got a long, long time till the prize-giving. Morgana will never forgive me if I don’t sit through the show and watch it with her, but I’ve put up with worse things than Morgana’s unforgiveness. Come on. We need to do a little sleuthing for ourselves. We know what we do not have: we do not have a video that is such bad luck or so horrendous to watch that it kills people, because that would be daft. We do not have an actor who is a murderer. We do have an injured man, a dead man and a dead dog.’
‘And we have poison pen letters,’ said Emily. ‘I have a theory about who might have sent those.’
‘Do you? Marvellous! Then we’ll do some confronting later on.’
‘Not on stage? Not in front of the children?’
‘No, my dear. That would be a denouncement. That wouldn’t do at all. A denouncement is public and upsetting. A confrontation is by invitation only and most satisfying. We’ll do the confronting shortly before the policeman comes back, perhaps. When all the parents and the children are gone.’
‘What if that policeman wasn’t a real policeman? What if he was an actor who’d been hired to pretend that Mr. Barrymore was dead, to frighten Victoria?’
‘He was rather young and handsome, wasn’t he? He recognised us, though, didn’t he? And he seemed rather sweet on you. He kept smiling and looking at your arm. No, I’m afraid there’s nothing else for it. We have to go and confront the thing we fear most.’
‘Only indirectly. No, I meant death.’
Emily and Dr. Muriel went back down the stairs, meaning to reach Mr. Barrymore’s home by cutting across the playground. Before they got to the door that led outside, they passed the assembly hall and peeked in through a small window set into the door at about head height. Around two dozen small children were on stage, dressed in black and yellow striped costumes. Dizzy was at the technician’s desk, operating the spotlights, sound effects and backing tapes.
The parents and siblings of the students were a warm and appreciative audience. At the front, positioned to half-face the stage, half-face the audience – like the Queen at a command performance of the Royal Variety Show – Morgana sat alone between an empty chair that had been meant for Midori, the Japanese DJ with the delicate constitution who had cancelled due to illness, and an empty chair that was meant for Dr. Muriel, the hearty British professor who would rather face death than sit through a musical theatre show by Victoria’s students.
They started to creep away from the assembly hall towards the door to the playground but hadn’t gone more than two or three steps before Victoria came up behind them and stopped them. She was back in her blue pinafore, though this time she was wearing red Wellington boots rather than sparkly shoes. ‘Funnier, don’t you think? And anyway I’m not going to do the tap routine. Graham’s an incompetent hoofer, though I can hardly blame him. It’s my fault for leaving it so late to rehearse.’