Authors: Alan Hunter
‘I’d offer you some, but it’s a tiny pot, it’s the way you live when you’re alone. At least, it’s the way I live, not being able to run to French maids. What do we chat about?’
‘About your sister.’
Gently also drew up a chair. In spite of himself he was feeling let down by the disparity between this woman and Mrs Fazakerly. She was blonde, but of a darker colouring, she was not so tall or robust; the quality of the face was simply missing: in Brenda Merryn it was tired sophistication. She had rather the gaunt, shadowful features of contemporary magazine trend. Even her manner of speaking was weary, as though arising from a deep fatigue.
‘First, you will kindly understand we are speaking of my half-sister. That’s as close a relationship as most people would want to admit to.’
‘You are a little the elder, naturally.’
‘Don’t bother to guess. I’m thirty-nine. Clytie was thirty-six in June. She didn’t look it, I probably do.’
‘You weren’t very intimate, I take it.’
‘Not very intimate, no. That doesn’t mean to say I steamed with righteousness and cut her dead in the street. After all, I was her only relative, not counting Daddy; and he doesn’t count. I’d give her the time of day when I saw her, and pay her a visit once in so often.’
‘When was the last time you visited her?’
Brenda Merryn paused to chew.
‘Recently,’ she said. ‘One day last week. On the Friday, I imagine.’
‘Was her husband there?’
‘No, he’d gone. Down to Rochester, to his woman.’
‘You know about her, don’t you? Sarah someone. His latest woman.’
Gently nodded. ‘But how did you know about her?’
‘Oh, there’s no mystery about Siggy’s women. I had a chat with him last time I was there. The poor fool is really sent by this one.’
‘And Mrs Fazakerly would know too?’
Brenda Merryn paused over her tea-cup. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I should think it likely. Siggy wouldn’t bother to cover much. You must understand there was nothing between them, they hadn’t slept together for a century. Clytie was carrying on with La Bannister, and Siggy was free to do what he liked. I don’t suppose he actually discussed his amours with her, but there was no point in him being secretive.’
‘They wouldn’t have quarrelled over such a thing.’
‘On the surface, it seems unlikely.’
‘Well . . . Clytie had a bitch of a temper. If she was in the mood she might have picked on it.’
‘In other words, if she wanted to hurt her husband, she could have picked on this as an instrument?’
‘Yes, that’s possible. It’d be like Clytie. But his having a woman would be nothing to do with it.’
‘So what would have something to do with it?’
Brenda Merryn slanted a shoulder. I’ve told you I wasn’t intimate with them,’ she said. ‘You’d better ask elsewhere. You could try La Bannister.’
‘You had no hint of it on your last visit?’
‘No. It was all talk about fashion.’
‘Mrs Fazakerly was her usual self?’
‘Oh, quite. Queen Clytie.’
She poured herself a second cup, then buttered some crisp-bread and spread it with honey. She had a little colour on either cheek-bone and she avoided Gently’s eye as she ate. The embroidered dressing-gown was parted hospitably, but to this she paid no attention; or it may have been a deliberate gesture to show she was still a force, though thirty-nine. Her tawny hair, neatly arranged, had the brushed sheen of devoted attention.
‘You don’t think highly of Mrs Bannister.’
Brenda Merryn bit off crisp-bread. ‘She made Clytie worse than she was,’ she said. ‘She’s full of clap-trap about Lesbianism.’
‘You’d say she influenced Mrs Fazakerly that way.’
‘Of course. Not that Clytie wanted pushing. But La Bannister stuffed her head with nonsense and made a fool of her in general. Then she made trouble with Clytie’s friends. She wanted Clytie on her own. And Clytie was too besotted with her to raise a finger in protest.’
‘Who were these friends?’
Brenda Merryn munched. ‘I’m not so certain I remember. This was all several years ago, when Clytie moved in at Carlyle Court.’
‘People with money?’
‘Oh, I daresay. But that wasn’t the first qualification.’
‘And you remember none of them?’
‘Why should I?’
She followed the crisp-bread with a sip of tea.
‘Please,’ she said, ‘don’t think I’m prudish. I lead a reasonably chequered life, and I’m used to a medical view of things. There’s a dormant slant that way in all women and a lot of us give it a try. It has an advantage men rarely think of, namely it doesn’t get you into trouble. There are also a few emotional bonuses which go with the shedding inhibitions, a feeling of biological emancipation, of being on a footing with the male. Oh, there’s plenty to be said for it. Only with me it doesn’t work.’
‘So these were not friends of yours.’
‘I’m trying to make that plain.’
‘There was never, say, trouble, with any of them?’
‘No. They just got the push.’
Now she began on the apple, peeling it with deft, practised movements, pausing once to tilt her wrist for a check with the watch. It was a natural-enough action, yet somehow it just missed of being natural, and she chopped the apple in quarters roughly, making the knife ring on the plate.
‘Well, perhaps there is one woman I remember.’
Gently watched her, saying nothing.
‘Her name was Beryl, Beryl Rogers, she used to be very strong with Clytie. She was in with La Bannister too, they were both thick with Beryl. But it only lasted a short time. She blotted her copybook somehow.’
‘Do you know how?’
‘It was several years back, and I never did know the details. Ask Siggy or La Bannister. It’s just that her name came to mind.’
‘Where did she live?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘What was her job?’
‘I don’t know that she had one. Honestly, I wouldn’t have remembered her now if you hadn’t got me thinking with your questions. Does it matter?’
Gently shrugged. ‘We’d like a reason for a row the Fazakerlys had. You say it couldn’t have been just his playing around with a woman, so naturally I’m looking for something else.’
‘It was during this row that Siggy killed her?’
‘She was killed at about that time.’
‘And it was over the Sarah woman?’
‘In substance, yes.’
She shook her head slowly. ‘No, it doesn’t make sense,’ she said. ‘Clytie just wouldn’t have cared about that, there must have been something else behind it. But I’m beginning to understand why he did it. He was quite infatuated with this woman at Rochester. If Clytie provoked him about her and threatened to ditch him then she was asking for what she got.’
Gently said: ‘He didn’t know it, but his wife had willed her money away from him.’
Brenda Merryn fumbled a section of apple. ‘Of course, you’ll have seen the will,’ she said.
‘It’s very much what you might expect. The housekeeper gets a small legacy.’
‘And – the rest?’
‘To Mrs Bannister. They made their wills in each other’s favour.’
The section of apple fell to the plate. ‘The bitch!’ Brenda Merryn exclaimed. ‘The dirty bitch! And not a penny to her own sister – oh my God, can you credit it?’
Gently permitted his brows to rise. ‘But you weren’t very intimate, were you?’ he asked.
‘Not very intimate – she’s my sister! Oh! I’m glad now what Siggy did to her!’
‘It doesn’t make so much difference, Miss Merryn.’
‘I’ll fight that tramp. She shan’t have it.’
‘Neither of those wills is in existence.’
‘Mrs Bannister has destroyed them.’
Brenda Merryn stared at him, her eyes narrowed, her mouth drooped at the corners. She snatched a cigarette from a packet on the table.
‘Just what are you trying to tell me?’ she demanded.
‘The will is destroyed,’ Gently said. ‘Mrs Bannister burned it in my presence. Which means that the money will go to your brother-in-law, unless he’s found guilty of killing his wife.’
he’s found guilty!’
Gently hunched his shoulders. ‘In that case, it will follow the rule of succession.’
‘Your father or you.’
‘He won’t touch it. It’ll come to me.’
She snapped a lighter, lit the cigarette, rose and began pacing up and down. She seemed for the present to have forgotten Gently: her eyes were fixed and seeing nothing. The dressing-gown, its skirt swinging, showed belted thighs pressing past each other. As she paced she smoked fiercely, expelling the smoke through her teeth.
‘But why did she do it – what’s her game?’
‘Mrs Bannister . . . ?’
‘Of course! Don’t tell me she’d throw away money like that without some dirty trick behind it. So what is it?’
Gently said nothing.
‘Listen – what was that bitch doing on Monday?’
‘She was in her flat.’
‘Yes – and I’ll tell you something: the maid has every Monday off! Don’t you see? She was alone in there. She could have done it as well as Siggy. And they weren’t so sweet together, those two, they had their rows like everyone else.’
‘And you’re suggesting . . . ?’
‘She destroyed the will – that was an act put on to impress you. She could see you weren’t quite swallowing Siggy, so she had to duck out from under the will. Because Siggy might not have done it, might he? That’s why you’re still asking questions!’
‘You’re a perceptive woman, Miss Merryn.’
‘Oh, I’ve got La Bannister taped. And Siggy denies it?’
‘He denies it.’
‘I suppose he’d have to, the poor fool.’
She leaned her hip against the table and stared scathingly at Gently. Her body moulded in an elegant foundation garment, emerged through the separating dressing-gown.
‘Watch La Bannister,’ she said. ‘She’ll put one over you unless you’re careful. You’re only a man, understand me? She’ll know how to kid you along all right. A woman can always kid a man because he’s always ready to believe her: there’s always a bed just behind her, and saying Yes is the way towards it. Oh, I’m not saying that’s what you have in mind, but it’s the psychological attitude. The pattern. When you talk to a woman it’s always the first step up the stairs. So just watch out, that’s my advice, because I’m telling you – she’s a bitch.’
She pushed smoke through her teeth.
‘La B. was too much for Siggy,’ she said. ‘Clytie was still sleeping with him when dear Sybil arrived on the scene. She’s the one he ought to have bashed, because then he might have patched it up with Clytie. But he’s not the sort to work things out. He’s just impulsive and weak.’
She nodded. ‘There’s nothing solid in Siggy.’
‘You seem to know him pretty well.’
‘Pretty well.’ Her mouth twisted.
‘In fact . . . ?’
‘Nothing. I should think it’s obvious the poor fool had to talk to someone. That’s why he slept around so much. But I was different. I was always there.’
‘And you were his confidant.’
‘If you like. I understood him better than anyone. And I wasn’t surprised when I heard what happened. For him, I’d say it was the only way out.’
‘I suppose you didn’t see him on Monday, Miss Merryn?’
She hissed smoke down towards him.
‘No,’ she said. ‘Does he say I did?’
Gently shrugged without replying.
She made a gliding movement with her hips. ‘I’m a working girl, Superintendent,’ she said. ‘On Monday I had my two surgeries, facts which you can easily check.’
‘But in the afternoon?’
‘I was here resting. I like my bath in the afternoon. In fact, I was not long out of it when you came knocking at my door.’ She tilted the watch again, and sighed. ‘I’m afraid I must push you out, Superintendent. It’s time to dress and become formidable – that’s my profession as well as yours.’
Gently rose. She held out a hand with its perfect and finely-polished nails. When he ignored it she shrugged faintly and flickered a smile with her eyes.
‘I’m not dangerous,’ she said. ‘Fairly human, but not dangerous. And don’t be so damned impregnable, because it piques a girl in her undies. You weren’t having me on about that will?’
‘No, Miss Merryn.’
‘The name is Brenda. Then I’ll be rich . . . and I like the idea. Though of course, it’s a rotten shame about Siggy.’
HERE WAS A
phone-box near where Gently had parked, and when he came down he rang the office. This was insurance, because his rank relieved him of the stricter forms of supervision, but on the present occasion he was switched directly to the C.I.D. Assistant Commissioner.
‘Ah, Gently. What are you up to?’
Gently propped himself against the parcel-bin. It wasn’t worth while even trying to fool this thin-faced man with his big spectacles. He ran an inter-office espionage system which was second to none in Whitehall, and if he didn’t this moment know what Gently was up to, he could have the information one minute later. So Gently told him.
‘Yes . . . I see. There was a rumour of this going the rounds. But I’m not sure I like it, you sticking your oar in. How close a relative is he . . . a cousin?’
‘My brother-in-law’s cousin,’ Gently said.
‘Did you know him?’
‘So what’s the interest?’
‘It was me he came to in the first place.’
The A.C. made impatient noises. ‘See here, Gently,’ he said, ‘let’s get this straight. I want a perfectly honest answer – do you think he did it, or don’t you?’
‘I think he did it.’
‘Then what’s the beef? Why can’t the Chelsea lot handle it?’
‘Because he’ll probably get off,’ Gently said. ‘And I’d like to make that point before he’s charged.’
The Assistant Commissioner paused, and Gently smiled at the roof of the phone-box. He could see quite plainly the great man’s face, its eyes narrowed and suspicious. But he’d have to play along with that one: there had been too many failed prosecutions lately. Better give Gently his head for a bit than risk another expensive acquittal . . .