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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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BOOK: Kith and Kill
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‘Deceit by omission rather tha commission, I believe you mean.’

‘That's it. Always the
mot juste
.’

Llewellyn's eyebrows rose a fraction at this.

‘Got that one off a Christmas cracker.’ He eyed Llewellyn's plate. You finished?’

Llewellyn nodded and replaced his cutlery precisely centred on the plate with nary a sound.

‘Better get on, then. Let's have the twins’ mother in next. Penelope Chambers. But take these plates into the kitchen before you do that.’

Llewellyn was back in a minute, with Mrs Penelope Chambers. She was a fluttery woman for all her size and seemed to find the need, once she sat down in front of the intimidating desk that separated her and Rafferty, to finger various parts of her anatomy as if afraid they'd melted away under the full beam of interrogation. Rafferty sighed. He hadn't even started yet. This was going to be one of those trying interviews where every question is answered with a question and then another one. He could feel it in his water. Or perhaps it was just the weather? ‘Are you quite comfortable, Mrs Chambers? Only you seem fidgety.’

‘It's this chair, Inspector. It's nothing like as comfortable as yours. My father, I'm afraid, thought boys, especially, should learn some discipline and sitting on these hard chairs without wriggling, was one of his particular requirements. Take no notice. I'll get settled in a minute.’

Rafferty gave her the minute, then asked, ‘did you witness your son Adam hitting your other son during your mother's birthday party?’

‘Oh dear – you know about that, then? I'd hoped…’ She didn't give voice to her hope. ‘You shouldn't read anything into it, Inspector. It was just a little boyish tiff. My Adam's not usually violent.’ She smiled anxiously. ‘He's too lazy. God knows how he'll find the discipline to run the business.’

‘You knew then, that your mother had left her share in the business to Adam?’

‘Yes. Mother told me. Oh. Wasn't I supposed to know? Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned it? Only I'm so anxious about it. It's rather unfair to Eric, though he's been remarkably gracious about it. I'm upset about my mother, too, of course. To go so suddenly like that, after such a long life. I'd got to the stage of thinking she'd live forever.’

Translated, that probably means ‘would the old woman never die?’ was Rafferty's thought. And she got the house. Did she know about that, too? Could be another motive to add to the growing tally. He asked her about it.

‘Oh, no. It's come as a complete surprise. Mother never told me.’

‘But I suppose you might have expected it as I understand you have lived with your mother for some years? Your mother, I would have thought, would scarcely disinherit you and leave you homeless.’

Apart from pulling her cardigan over her rounded stomach, Penelope Chambers made no response, so Rafferty went on with the same question he had asked the others. ‘‘When did you last see your mother, Mrs Chambers? When you put her to bed?’

‘Goodness. I didn't put my mother to bed, Inspector. The very idea. If I'd suggested it, she'd have thought I'd lost my wits. And so would I. No. Mother put herself to bed. Always. I might pop in to check she had everything she needed, but that's all. Once she retired, my mother expected her privacy to be respected.’

‘I see. There's probably no need to ask this question as I'm sure you'd have told me once it was suspected that your mother was murdered. But you didn't happen to hear or see any members of the family entering or leaving your mother's room last night?’

‘Oh. Em. I don't think so. I'm sure I can't remember. Do you mean, me, Inspector? Only I did go along to mother's room just after ten-thirty last night. But she was asleep, so I crept out again.’

‘And apart from yourself?

‘No I saw no one. At least, I'm pretty sure I saw no one. My mind's all over the place today. I don't know what I remember and what I don't, I'm sure. Do you think it's the shock? I'm sure it's the shock. I never expected my mother to go so suddenly. I thought she'd live to be a hundred. She was always so particular in her habits. Always expected meals on the table sharp on the hour. Never too much and plenty of steamed vegetables. She seldom took a sweet and exercised regularly, long walks mostly, but a bit of gardening, too, and she liked to dust her own room.’

God, would she go on forever, listing her mother's boring bloody regimes. She sounded like Llewellyn, with his early-morning jogging routine and sober habits. Give him a person with plenty of vices any day. So much more human. ‘You've given me a good picture of your mother and her routines,’ he told her, borrowing from Llewellyn's diplomacy instead of gripping the arms of the chair in frustration. ‘So you don't think you saw anyone entering your mother's room?’

‘No. that is, well I wouldn't, would I? I went to bed myself straight after I'd checked on mother. Slept for eight hours and lay there waiting for my morning tea. But it never arrived, so I got up and went to see what was happening. I had just made my tea and was drinking it at the kitchen table and wondering when Dahlia would appear to make our breakfast, when she came into the kitchen and dropped her bombshell.’ Penelope sat forward, worried at her chunky necklace and asked, ‘Was my mother really murdered, Inspector? I find it hard to believe. Are you sure she didn't just die in her sleep? Old people do, don't they? Especially when as advanced in years as my mother.’

‘The doctor examined your mother this morning, Mrs Chambers. He said that Mrs Egerton had definitely been murdered. I can give no further information than that at this stage. I have no reason to believe his findings won't be borne out by the post mortem and–’

‘Oh no. Surely not? A post mortem? On my mother? She really wouldn't have liked it. Can't you manage without?’

‘I'm afraid not. It's the law, Mrs Chambers, required after a suspicious death.’

‘Oh dear. How upsetting. I'm really quite distressed.’

Rafferty waited for the tears. It was fortunate that they didn't come, because, when he put his hand in his pocket, he found he'd forgotten the obligatory clean white hanky that morning. Mrs Chambers seemed to manage her distress well. Couldn't even manage crocodile tears. Significant? Or not? He could hardly blame her if she'd found her mother, at ninety, rather tiresome. Most old people were. Getting cantankerous was one of the perks of old age. He was rather looking forward to his own. He intended to live long enough to be a burden to his kids. If he ever had any, that was.

‘Thank you, Madam. That will be all for now. You may join your family in the drawing room. I'll be speaking to your daughter next and then that will be all the family interviewed. But until forensics are finished, I must ask you to confine yourselves to the downstairs of the house.’ There was another bathroom on this floor, so they had no need to ask the constable on duty to escort them upstairs.

Mrs Chambers went out and Llewellyn brought Caroline Templeton in. Mrs Templeton took after her mother rather than her grandmother, at least in her outward appearance, being plump and homely. But at least she didn't share her mother's twittery habits, but sat, composed, with her hands in her lap.

‘Thank you for your patience, Mrs Templeton. Murder investigations often get off to a slow start as there are usually so many avenues to be checked, so many people to speak to. Anyway, you're here now. What can you tell me about yesterday evening?’

‘I don't know. It was a perfectly normal evening in my grandmother's house. Quiet.’

‘What? Even though there was a party on?’ They didn't have quiet parties in his family. They were often raucous enough to have the neighbours calling his colleagues out, which was pretty embarrassing, though he usually managed to sneak out the back way as soon as he heard the late night long ring on the doorbell…

‘My grandmother didn't like a lot of noise. We had some light music playing, of course. Strauss, I think, for most of the evening.’

Blimey, thought Rafferty. And a jolly time was had by all. ‘You don't live here?’

Caroline echoed her brother, in a manner than suggested the idea horrified her. ‘Good God, no. I like to play rock good and loud. Grannie wouldn't have approved. I have my own flat in town here. I only stayed over because grannie wouldn't hear of me driving all of five minutes to town in the dark on my own.’

‘I understand your brothers have their own places, too?’

She nodded.

‘Was your grandmother not worried about them driving back in the dark?’

She gave a short laugh. ‘No. She had always believed, from their youth, that boys should be toughened up, whether or not they're suited to the toughening process. No, she was happy enough for them to drive home, but then, once grannie had gone to bed, the party started to turn into more of a proper one. Muted, of course, out of respect for grannie, but there was a lot more booze, lively music and dancing and Adam telling jokes. My brothers decided they'd had too much to drink to risk driving anywhere. Luckily, there's plenty of room here.’

‘Your mother and great aunt live here, I understand?’

Caroline said, ‘That's right. Mother moved in about seventeen, eighteen years ago, after the divorce, when she found she couldn't manage alone in that great barn of a house daddy decided was so perfect. And my great aunt has lived with my gran since my grandfather died.’

‘All one big, happy family.’

‘Hardly that, Inspector. I'd be foolish to try to pretend that when it's clearly not true. Grannie could be a bit controlling and there was many an argument about this. But then great-aunt Alice can be rather difficult and Adam likes to be provoking.’

‘Adam? I thought it was something your brother Eric said that brought on Adam's fisticuffs.’

‘It was. It's not like Eric at all. I don't know what came over him. He's usually the most self-controlled of men and not at all into making provocative homophobic remarks.’

‘What exactly did he say and who did he say it about?’

Caroline shrugged. ‘It was nothing very much. Eric just said that Sebastian – one of Adam's friends – was too butch looking for the ruffled pink shirts he favours. I think Adam was feeling a trifle sensitive.’

‘Oh, really? Why was that?’

‘Someone in town, a total stranger, had started a scuffle with him, punched him in the face and called him a queer.’

‘Rather upsetting.’

‘Yes.’ Caroline gave a faint smile. ‘Adam can be impetuous. I think he must have decided to get his retaliation in first, as it were, at the next homophobic remark. Lucky it was only Eric he punched rather than some burly builder.’

‘Yes.’ Rafferty was tiring now. It was past eight o'clock, and they'd had an early start, so he sped through the rest of the questions. The answers were as expected: No. She hadn't seen anyone creeping into or out of her grandmother's bedroom. No. She didn't know who would want to murder her. No, she hadn't known that Adam was to inherit the controlling shares in the family business. She had no idea if her grannie had told Adam. But yes, she did believe her grandmother had been murdered, if only because she found it hard to imagine there would be all this fuss and inconvenience without something of substance to spark it off.

Adrian
Appleby and his forensic team had long gone. What was there to find in such a bloodless death when the family's fingerprints and hairs and other leavings were naturally to be found all over the house, even in Sophia Egerton's bedroom?

The family were in the drawing room with the television turned low. Rafferty could hear, just, the theme tune for ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ It was a programme he liked; he enjoyed pitting his wits against the question setter. He might catch the last half-hour if he left now. ‘There's nothing else to be done tonight, Dafyd. What say we shoot off home?’

Llewellyn frowned. ‘I should type up the interviews this evening.’

‘Nah. What's the urgency? There's nothing there but a lot of negatives: “No I don't know who killed grannie”, “No, I didn't see anyone entering or leaving her bedroom”, etc. It's all a great big nothing so far. They'll wait till morning.’

‘Very well, If you insist.’

‘I do.’

‘I'll look into the bookmaker question in the morning and organize a couple of the team to speak to Mrs Egerton's old friends.’

‘Don't suppose you'll learn much. At their age they'll have a decent respect for the idea of not speaking ill of the dead, even if only for fear of what would be said about them in their, soon to be, turn. And I think any old friends we turn up in the theatre will be even worse, what with the Lovies having more than half a thought for their obituaries. But we'll worry about that in the morning. Must get you home to Maureen. As I'm sure your mother Gloria would say, about time you set about making some little Llewellyns. Poor you, being a one and only. At least in my case, my sisters have done the business and taken the heat off a bit.’

‘My mother has never pressured me about having children. Besides, I've always felt it to be more down to the woman in a relationship to decide when to have children as she's the one who will have to carry and give birth to the child.’

‘Can't imagine Maureen doing either.’ Llewellyn's wife and Rafferty's cousin, Maureen, was something of a blue-stocking. She was a lecturer at the local university and was very serious and high-minded. Much like Llewellyn. She didn't drink, either. Rafferty hoped that, between them, they managed to rustle up one or two other vices or Gloria would never be a grannie.

BOOK: Kith and Kill
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