Authors: Alan Hunter
Gently shrugged. ‘So they weren’t murderesses.’
‘No. Bitches, that’s all.’
‘Mrs Bannister and Miss Johnson you eliminate.’
‘Sarah you can put right out of your mind.’
‘Which brings us back to where we came in.’
Fazakerly nodded. ‘It has to be that. If there’s any sense in this mess at all, it must be Brenda who’s at the bottom of it.’
‘A planned killing.’
He went on nodding. ‘Yes. Pinching the necklace would be a blind. What she’s after is the money. She set me up: it’s the only answer.’
‘Unless of course . . .’
Fazakerly’s hand twitched. ‘Unless it was me all along?’
‘That isn’t what I was going to say.’
He paused. The waiter had returned and was smiling towards them.
HE WAITER STOPPED
by Fazakerly and made his slight inclination.
‘A Miss Junot would like to see you, sir,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know if you were at liberty.’
Fazakerly looked at him wonderingly. ‘I don’t know a Miss Junot,’ he said. ‘What does she look like?’
‘Very pretty sir. Young. I believe the lady is French.’
‘Ah,’ Fazakerly said. ‘That explains it. It’s Albertine. Send her in.’
The waiter went and Fazakerly grinned at Gently.
‘Is she a friend of yours?’ Gently asked.
‘Depends on the emphasis,’ Fazakerly said. ‘I don’t know the colour of her pyjamas. But yes, we’re hail-bedfellow-well-met. I’m rather sorry for Albertine. And I’ll tell you something: I think she was a disappointment to the ladies.’
‘How does she know where you are?’
‘Put it down to Gallic cunning. Though you could usually run me to earth here when I had any ready.’
Albertine entered. She beamed at Fazakerly, but gave Gently some concerned little glances. She was wearing a black knitted dress which deftly moulded her curves and declivities. Her poppy-odour came before her and her blonde hair bobbed as she walked and her rouge was taken so high that her face appeared mostly cheeks. She was a strong, solid girl. One could easily imagine her among the milk-pails.
The waiter quickly set a chair for her and she sat down blushing and smiling.
‘Well, Albertine,’ Fazakerly said. ‘What gives me the pleasure of a visit from you?’
Albertine didn’t seem to find it easy to tell him. Her blue eyes rolled and smiled at him imploringly. At last she gave a charming pout and said:
‘They do not tell me Monsieur is with you.’
‘Oh,’ Fazakerly said. ‘Don’t let that inhibit you. Monsieur is a friend. He’s a sort of relative.’
‘He is relative . . . ?’
‘A cousin. You know about them?’
‘Oh yes. A cousin. I know about cousins.’
‘I thought you would do,’ Fazakerly said. ‘They’re such a useful variety of relative. So what’s it about?’
She looked languishingly at Gently. ‘Oh well,’ she shrugged, ‘perhaps it does not matter. Perhaps it is good I am talking to Monsieur. Monsieur must know what I am going to tell you.’
‘Yes, don’t hide anything from Monsieur,’ Fazakerly said. ‘He has his methods, you take it from me.’
‘His methods . . . ?’
‘His way of breaking eggs.’
‘Oh yes, I see. To make the omelet.’
She gave a gurgling little laugh, but didn’t yet seem quite at her ease. She hugged a large handbag on her knees and moved her shoulders about awkwardly.
‘It is my day off,’ she said. ‘You are told this. On every Monday is my day off.’
‘That’s why Monday is so dull,’ Fazakerly said. ‘I never run into her on a Monday.’
Gently said: ‘What were you doing on Monday, Miss Junot?’
‘I am doing – it is a friend I have, you understand?’
‘Oh, we understand,’ Fazakerly said. ‘Don’t write it out big for men like us.’
She threw him an indignant look. ‘It is a friend – Giselle Lamereaux – she is from Chartres. She is in this country to learn your language. She is “au pair with Mr Jones”.’
‘With Mr Jones?’ Gently said.
‘No, not Mr Jones. That is a joke! There is no Mr Jones, he is not anyone, it is what one says. Is a joke.’
‘Still, one rather envies him,’ Fazakerly said.
‘His real name is Meeson,’ Albertine said. ‘He is a big man, lots of money. Giselle is very happy. She likes your country.’
‘And you spent the day with her?’ Gently said.
‘Oh yes. That is what I am going to tell you. And it is true, you may ask Giselle. Everything I tell you is true.’
‘And they look you straight in the eye,’ Fazakerly said.
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘But it is you I am helping. Monsieur, pay no attention to this funny man. It is his way. He is a comical.’
‘Where does your friend live, Miss Junot?’
‘In Brewster Square, number twenty-nine. It is convenient. I can see her often. In the evening too, when I am not required.’
‘And you were there all day?’
‘Yes, since the morning. That is, we go out, but I am still with Giselle. That is, except for a little time in the afternoon. Giselle will tell you all this.’
‘Go on, Miss Junot.’
‘Then it is after lunch and we are going out to buy a skirt for Giselle. It is her birthday, this understand, and always we give each other presents. So I look in my bag and – no purse. I have left my purse in my room. I have two hand-bags, please notice, and it is in the other one I leave my purse. So I say to Giselle, Never mind, this will not take me one minute, and I go very fast back to the flat and fetch my purse from the other handbag. Then I return to Giselle, and we buy her a nice skirt at Peter Robinson.’
‘What time did you go back?’ Gently asked.
Albertine spread her hands. It is after lunch a little time. Perhaps it is nearly three o’clock.’
‘Was your mistress there?’
‘I did not see her, but yes, she will be lying down. I do not make any noise, this understand, in case I am detained by Madame. Madame is not an easy woman. There is perhaps some washing-up.’
‘But you are sure she was there.’
‘I think she is.’
‘You heard her stirring, making sounds.’
Albertine pulled a face. ‘No, no sounds. But I think she is, that is usual.’
‘Did you hear any sounds from the flat above?’
‘Oh no. One cannot hear from up there.’
‘Is not possible. No, I did not hear anything.’
‘Did you see my car out front,’ Fazakerly said. ‘You know my car – the old Aston?’
She shook her head. ‘I do not come in that way. It is not convenient, too far.’
‘And this is all you have to tell me?’
‘But no. It is only to tell you I was there. That is important, very important. You see Monsieur is very interested.’
She made an expressive movement with her shoulders and gave Monsieur a bright smile. Fazakerly was staring intently at her. His initial sparkle was fading.
‘It is not anything I hear,’ Albertine said. ‘It is someone I see going up the stairs. Past the landing, up the stairs. And you know who? It is the sister.’
Gently said: ‘Why haven’t you come forward with this before, Miss Junot? You have a fairly shrewd idea that it’s an important piece of evidence.’
Albertine twisted her shoulders and pouted. ‘So?’ she said. ‘Do I know that? When Madame tells me it is certainly him, and you are everywhere looking for him? No, no, Monsieur, I do not think of it, the sister is often going up there. She will tell you herself if it is important. I do not think of it again.’
‘You’ve thought of it now.’
‘Ah, yes. Since you did not lock Mr Johnny up. Is not so certain then, is it? Perhaps he is not the one after everything.’
‘’So you go to him with this information.’
‘Yes, Monsieur. To Mr Johnny. He is still in trouble, the funny man, and I like to help him. That is right.’
Fazakerly said: ‘Thanks, Albertine. You’re my only friend in London.’
Albertine made her face again and gestured with hand and shoulder.
‘I see,’ Gently said. ‘So you saw Miss Merryn. Well, it comes in rather pat. You’re sure it was her?’
‘But certainly, Monsieur. I know the sister very well.’
‘What was she wearing?’
Albertine hesitated. ‘It is through the doors, this understand. One does not see it very clearly. Is not much light behind the doors.’
‘Dress or costume?’
‘I will not say! It is a dark colour, that is true. Yes, a dark colour . . . perhaps a costume. Perhaps the costume she wears to business.’
‘Had she a hat?’
‘Well . . . yes, a hat.’
‘You saw her hat?’
‘Yes. I think.’
‘You think you saw it?’
‘I will not be certain! I simply see her, a figure. So!’
‘But you are certain that figure was Brenda Merryn.’
She spread both hands and yawed her shoulders. ‘A thousand times – I know that woman! I look, I see her, I say: Aha! Her clothes, her hat I don’t notice. How do I know I should notice them? It may be Madame, that is what I am thinking, but is not Madame, is the sister. This is all that matters to me.’
‘Don’t bully the poor soul,’ Fazakerly said. ‘She’s doing her best to give it to us straight. You’ve had nothing serious on Brenda till now. This is a breakthrough. It’s the proof.’
Gently gave him a long stare. ‘Yes,’ he said. It’s a break-through. But what it’s proof of is another matter. I wouldn’t take an oath on that.’
‘You believe her, don’t you?’
Gently said nothing.
‘But for heaven’s sake!’ Fazakerly said. ‘Why should Albertine come out with this unless she’s telling us the truth? She can’t be guessing about seeing Brenda. Brenda hasn’t been mentioned up till now.’
‘Oh, it is too bad!’ Albertine wailed. ‘I am telling the truth and he calls me a liar. And Madame will scold me all the same, because she wants it to be Mr Johnny. But you will see, Monsieur, oh you will see. It will come out. I am telling the truth. The sister was there, I cross my heart. May I fall down dead if it is a lie!’
‘Here, take it easy,’ Fazakerly said. ‘Monsieur’s trade is being suspicious.’
‘But Mr Johnny, it is too bad – and all I wanted to do is help you!’
‘You’re doing all right, Albertine.’
‘No – you see? He doesn’t believe me. And why? I am foreign, a poor foreign girl, and that is the same thing as being a liar. Oh, too bad! I won’t stop in this country. The money is nothing. I am going home.’
Gently said: ‘Has Madame spoken of the sister?’
She stared at him furiously, breathing fast. ‘I hate Madame,’ she said. ‘She is terrible. And I do not know that she was in the flat.’
‘But has she mentioned Brenda Merryn to you?’
‘She is a foul old woman, this understand. It cannot be spoken what things have gone on there, what she has done with Mrs Johnny and the others. I hate her. Tell her that! This is all too much, I will not stand it. I am a decent girl, I am brought up differently, I do not care how much she will pay me.’
‘She has offered you money?’
‘Always money. Money to let her play dirty tricks with me. At first, not money, I am to do it for nothing; but when I will not, then money. It is my name, you know that? Is the name of a girl in a stupid novel. Because I am named like this girl in a novel they think I will do dirty tricks like she did. Oh, oh. They were two pigs, if one killed the other it is no matter.’
‘Are you accusing your mistress, Miss Junot?’
‘Tell me this, Monsieur. Is it unlikely?’
‘Have you reason to think so?’
‘She is not in the flat. It is how you say, I would have heard sounds.’
‘But it was not her you saw on the stairs.’
Albertine halted and looked sulky. ‘No, it is true, that one is the sister.’
‘You are still certain of that?’
‘Oh yes. Certain.’
‘Miss Junot, your mistress is a very rich woman. If she wanted something said she could pay someone to say it.’
Albertine stared a moment, then shook her head.
‘She didn’t approach you in this way?’
‘Never. I would have spat on her money. I am not to be bought by such a woman.’
‘She may have paid you to abuse her to us.’
‘I do not need payment for that.’
‘While still asserting you saw Miss Merryn.’
‘If I had seen Madame, would I not tell you?’
‘She has a point there,’ Fazakerly said. ‘I don’t think she’s kidding about hating Sybil. I think she’d love to implicate Sybil if she could make it stand up.’
‘Oh!’ Albertine cried, turning on him. ‘You are as bad as he is, Mr Johnny. I am not lying. I have not taken money. It is true, all of it. So true.’
‘Shsh,’ Fazakerly said. ‘Enough is enough. We’re very grateful to you really, Albertine. You’re the missing link, if you know what that is. Which is why Monsieur is putting you through it.’
‘Monsieur is unfair. And it is you I come to.’
‘You should have gone to Monsieur in the first place.’
‘He does not like me. He is a great bear.’
‘He’s doing a job.’
‘He is not a gentleman.’
Fazakerly shrugged humorously and tried to catch Gently’s eye. Albertine pouted and stuck her chin out. But she too had a keen eye on Gently. Gently himself had no expression; he sat heavily, stooped in his chair; his eyes were directed at his glass but it was doubtful if he saw it.
At last he said: ‘Thank you, Miss Junot. You must go to the Police Station and make a statement.’
‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Then you do believe me. It is all this time you are playing the fox.’
‘We shall of course check your statement carefully.’
‘And you will find it true.’ She wriggled with fervour. ‘I wish you to check it in every little part. This understand, Monsieur, I am truthful and decent.’
‘Don’t protest too much, old girl,’ Fazakerly said.
‘Oh, Mr Johnny!’ she said, with a melting smile.
‘Run along now, beautiful. We’ll see more of each other.’
‘It is to help you, Mr Johnny.’
‘You’re an angel.’
Albertine was suddenly coy again and she giggled and blushed as she rose to go. Her sophistication was an ornament that sat upon her very precariously. At the door she turned again to give Fazakerly an awkward wave.
‘Well, well,’ Fazakerly said grinning. ‘I never knew Albertine cared. But of course, I’m a different character as of last night. This morning it’s me who’s wearing the cheque-book.’ Then his grin faded. ‘So that’s it,’ he said. ‘I knew I had to be right, but I didn’t think we would prove it. And I’m not sure now I wanted it proved. There was a time, once, when Brenda meant something to me.’