Authors: Geraldine Evans
‘It was generous of her.’
‘She could afford it. Had millions when you take that business into account. Did well for herself did Sophia. Married that rich Thomas Egerton and managed to hang on to him. There's not many can say the same.’
‘You never married?’
‘No, young man. That's what ‘Miss’ means. Or it did when I was a girl. Who knows what it means now? Who knows what anything means, any more?’
Rafferty had some sympathy with this point of view. It made him warm towards her. However, this warming eased off somewhat when she said, ‘I suppose with Sophia murdered, it will take ages to get my money?’
‘It will take some time, yes. There'll be probate to be gone through and then we need to find out who murdered your sister. We don't want a murderer to profit from his crime, you see? It's against the law.’
‘You'd better catch him then, young man and quickly. I need some summer sun on my old bones. Suffer from arthritis and need the warmth of a hot climate during the dreary winter months. Shame Sophia and Thomas didn't buy themselves a villa somewhere warm with all their money. I could have retired there instead of being forced to endure this miserable climate till I die.’
‘Have you no money of your own?’
‘Don't be impertinent, young man. What I have or don't have, is my business and shall remain so.’
Put in his place, Rafferty merely asked, ‘And when did you last see your sister?’
At her brisk reply, ‘When she retired to bed, prompt at ten o'clock as usual,’ he let her go.
‘What do you think of our Miss Pickford as a murderer?’ Rafferty asked Llewellyn. ‘Maybe she couldn't wait to get her hands on that eighty grand?’
‘But she is going to have to wait. As she pointed out. If that was a motive for killing her sister, she's rather cramped her own style. Now she'll have to wait, not only for probate, but also for us to solve her sister's murder. Somewhat risky at such a great age.’
‘There you go, being right again. Though those beefy arms of our Miss Pickford look capable of smothering two at once. Who are we having next? The granddaughter, the daughter, the other grandson?’
‘I thought you might like to see Mr Eric Chambers next, sir’
‘Not the ‘sirring’ again. Oh, go on then, Mr Right and Never Wrong. Why do I want to see Eric next?’
‘Because I presume you're anxious to find out what he thinks about his brother inheriting the family business.’
‘You're right about that. Rather puts his nose out of joint. Show him in, then, Dafyd and let's see what we make of him.’
although identical to his twin, seemed like a paler shadow of his more flamboyant brother. And soon, Rafferty wondered how it was that he hadn't been able to tell them apart. Eric was more quietly spoken and was clothed in so many shades of grey – from his three-piece suit to his shoes, to his prematurely grey hair - that he seemed to be trying to render himself invisible.
‘Sorry for your loss, sir. I'll try not to keep you too long. I just have a few preliminary questions to ask.’
‘Please go ahead, Inspector. I want whoever killed grandmother to get their just reward as much as anyone. She was a feisty lady. She had it in her to live to a hundred.’
Did that please this particular grandson? Or not? ‘I understand your family threw a 90
birthday party for your late grandmother yesterday evening?’
‘Yes. Adam and I thought it a suitable milestone for a small party, though grandmother didn't agree.’
‘Perhaps you're not much into parties when you're ninety. They can take a lot out of you at that age.’
‘Oh, that wasn't the reason grandmother didn't want a party. She was never one for fuss. In the end we compromised and just had the immediate family.’ He paused, then asked,’ I was wondering when we could go home?’
‘You don't live here?’
‘Good God, no, Inspector. I am thirty, after all. I have my own place.’
‘And where is that?’
‘In town here. I have a flat just off the High Street. I gave the details to one of your officers.’
‘Just so. But with regards to going home, I'd appreciate it if you could stay around for a while yet, sir. For today and tomorrow, at least. If there are things you need to do at your home, you can always come and go as you please between here and there.’
‘Does that mean I must be available here for the duration?’
‘No, of course not, sir. As I said, it's just for a day or two. It's easier with the family all under one roof. If you could stay it would be very helpful. Just as a courtesy to ourselves’ Rafferty paused, then added tellingly, ‘And to your late grandmother, of course.’
Eric shot him a glance at this. Not altogether the grey man, then. ‘Very well. As you say, I suppose I can remain here during the day so your officers can question me when they need to and return home in the evening.’
‘That's the spirit, sir. Thank you for your co-operation. Now, what can you tell me about the birthday evening?’
‘There's not much to tell, really. As I said, it was just the immediate family, though the few of my grandmother's friends that are still alive popped in briefly to wish her well.’
‘If I can have their names and addresses, sir?’
Eric gave the names. ‘Though I don't know where they live. I think two are in care homes here in Elmhurst and one still has a flat in London. Mother will know their addresses, I imagine.’
‘Did the party go with a swing?
Eric essayed a tight smile. ‘I think you might say that. Insofar as my brother took a swing at me.’
‘Really? What brought that about?’
‘I may have said something disparaging about one of his gay friends.’
Here was confirmation of what Rafferty had already concluded for himself. But he asked, innocently, ‘Oh. Gay is he then, your brother?’
‘Gay as a scarlet sash, though of course, he's always put on the straight guy routine for grandmother. She didn't know. She wouldn't have approved. It was the family secret that dare not speak its name.’
‘Oh, Adam wants to whiz off home and fetch his ‘Gay Pride’ badge and all the trimmings. He's ‘Come Out’ with a vengeance. Rather a shock to my poor mother.’
‘Why? Doesn't your mother know your brother is gay?’
‘Oh, she knows all right. She just prefers to draw a veil over it.’
‘No more fights or arguments at the party?’
‘No. Just the usual ones about when we – that is me, Adam and Caroline are going to get married and produce grandmother's great-grandchildren. She had rather an obsession about it.’
‘Really?’ That was a direct contradiction to what Adam had said. Rafferty, remembering his own mother's frequent exhortations on the same subject, was sympathetic. ‘You can't live your life according to someone else's script.’
‘No. Especially not my brother.’
‘It must have been hard for him, hiding who he really is. Nice for him that he no longer has to pretend. Nice, too, that he's inherited your grandmother's share of the business so he can indulge any preference for frills and furbelows all he likes.’ Rafferty dropped the latter in suddenly, keen to see Eric's reaction.
Eric didn't react as he had expected. Rafferty had thought the casual reference might shock him into …something. But it didn't turn out like that for Eric merely said, ‘Yes. Grandmother told me that was what she was going to do. I told her at the time that I thought the decision was unwise. But grandmother was always very firm once she'd made a decision and seldom changed her mind. But how do you know?’
‘I've spoken to your grandmother's solicitor, as I believe I said earlier. Tell me, did your brother know of this provision in your grandmother's will?’
I-I don't know. Probably not.’
‘You don't seem very sure, sir.’
‘No. I'm sure he didn't know. Surely Grandmother, for all she doted on him wouldn't have been so foolish as to tell him he was to inherit so much.’
‘Foolish? Rafferty repeated. ‘Why would you think it foolish of her to do so?’
Eric floundered for a moment, then he said, ‘Just that I imagine she wouldn't have approved of Adam crowing about it.’
That hadn't been what he had been going to say, Rafferty was certain. He'd thought it more a case of him being about to say that his grannie wouldn't be so foolish as to put temptation in Adam's path.
If Eric felt hard-done-by at the terms of his grandmother's will, he managed to keep the feeling to himself. ‘Adam will turn the business in another direction,’ he said now. ‘Grandmother was all for simplicity, excellent cut and classic lines. Adam has always been far more flamboyant in his real persona. I can see
going in a completely new direction.’
‘You're not happy about that?’
Eric essayed a brief smile. ‘I suppose I'll have to be, won't I? Now my brother's the boss.’
Rafferty stood up. ‘Thank you, sir. That'll be all for now. Might I suggest you join your brother, your great-aunt and Mrs Sullivan in the drawing room? Just until I've finished the interviews. Perhaps, with your housekeeper confined to the drawing room you'd like to order in a takeaway? I saw there were some menus in the kitchen.’
‘I–I ‘m not sure I could eat anything. I suppose it's the shock. But, I believe the others will be grateful for your suggestion. Apart from my great-aunt, they all like Chinese food. I believe most Chinese takeaways do some English food, too. I'll order a selection of dishes.’
Rafferty nodded and said, Sergeant, if you could escort Mr Chambers to the kitchen so he can place the order and then back to the drawing room.’
After they'd gone, Rafferty took a slow meander around the room, something he hadn't so far had much time to do. The study was quite spacious, with room for a leather settee and two armchairs around the fireplace and the large mahogany desk behind which he had conducted the interviews. Somebody in the family was a keen reader – perhaps it was the late family patriarch, Thomas Egerton? Most of the books were volumes on business techniques and practices, including a complete sub-genre on marketing, PR and the like. Most of the rest was given over to dress design, with a shelf-full of dress designer biographies and autobiographies, though there was also one entire bookshelf given over to crime and thrillers. Old Thomas had had catholic tastes; everyone from Margaret Yorke to Freddie Forsythe were there and looked well-thumbed.
He'd already had a poke through the desk drawers, but had found nothing of interest. He sat down again and stretched. He'd take a break while the family ate their dinner. He was feeling a bit peckish himself. He hoped Eric ordered enough for him and his officers to have a bite, too. He could just go for some sweet and sour chicken.
His stomach rumblings and musings on the case were interrupted half-an-hour later by Timothy Smales shouting, ‘Can you open the door, sir? Only my hands are full.’
That sounded promising… Rafferty darted up from his seat and hurried across to open the door. Smales stood there, two steaming plates full of the most delicious smells, in his hands. ‘Good lad. Put them on the desk. Put yours in the oven to keep warm. I'll get someone to relieve you from door duties in thirty minutes. Where's Sergeant Llewellyn?
‘He's on door duty, sir. Just while I dished up.’
‘Okay. You can tell him his food's getting cold.’ Rafferty sat down and got started. He had half the plate cleared before Llewellyn returned. ‘Come on, man. What have you been doing?’
‘I wanted to make sure the family had everything they needed.’
‘And did they?’
‘Not quite. Smales had forgotten the cutlery.’
‘Well, he remembered ours, so get your snout in the trough as my dear old nan used to say.’
Silence reigned for five minutes, while they ate. Then Rafferty finished his meal, put his cutlery back on the plate with a clatter and sat back, replete. ‘That was good. Better class of Chinky at this end of town. Sorry. Forgot. Can't say Chinky any more either.’
Although Llewellyn made no comment, he wiped his lips in a reproving manner before going steadily on with his meal.
‘So, have you come to any theories yourself yet?’ Rafferty asked, bored and wanting some action.
‘No. Though I would suggest we check out which of the two brothers had a debt problem with a bookmaker.’
‘Mmm. Could well be reason enough to plug grannie. It's one decent motive, anyway. But we already know the answer to that one. The solicitor let it slip, remember? It's Adam, the qwair feller. It gives him a double motive if grannie found out he's gay and threatened to disinherit him unless he changed his ways. I wonder would he have inherited the business if his gran found out about his sexual preferences? Maybe someone threatened to tell her? Perhaps they already had and our Adam killed her before she could change her will? Not bad. That's another brace of decent theories and it's only the first day.’ Rafferty opened one of the Chinese Crackers that had come with the meal. ‘Says here that I'm about to go on a journey of the mind and to beware deceitful people. Hah! Hope my travels aren't of the circular variety. I'm always wary of deceitful people, though. Goes with the job. People tell such awful lies to coppers, most of them needless. You notice Adam made no attempt to ‘Come Out’ to us? Deception in essence if not in substance. Or something like that.’