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Authors: Jo Bannister

Liars All (5 page)

BOOK: Liars All
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‘It's all right,' said Paddy, gazing up at her. ‘I know it's important. I don't mind.' She thought for a moment. ‘Auntie Julia does proper cooking.'
Brodie didn't know whether to laugh or cry. ‘Well, take notes, then you can teach me.'
They walked back across the park. ‘I called Julia, she knows you're coming home with me. If you want to. If you don't mind eating out of the freezer,' she added ironically.
Paddy grinned and nodded. After a moment the grin faded. ‘How's Jonfon?' It wasn't a lisp, she just thought Jonathan was too big a name for a baby.
‘Not great,' admitted Brodie. ‘But there are things we haven't tried yet…'
The words dried in her mouth as she became aware that Paddy was giving her Daniel's look. She hadn't told Paddy how serious Jonathan's condition was, not wanting to share her burden with a child. But it was like an elephant in the drawing room: Paddy didn't need it pointing out to know it was there. The atmosphere at home, and the way her mother and Uncle Jack stopped talking sometimes when she came into the room, had kept her abreast of developments.
Now she asked, quietly, matter-of-factly, ‘Is Jonfon going to die?'
It was a nexus moment. Maybe Brodie hadn't been entirely candid with the little girl – she was, after all, only eight – but she hadn't lied to her and she didn't want to start doing so now. Which meant being honest with herself. However much she might wish otherwise, however hard she was prepared to fight for him, the only honest answer was Probably.
She sighed. They were nearly at the car but this wouldn't wait. She stepped aside from the path to a handy bench and Paddy sat down beside her.
‘I think so,' she said, and her womb bled to say it. ‘We're doing all we can. All of us – me, Uncle Jack, Daddy and Auntie Julia, Daniel… And you – being so helpful, so undemanding. We could none of us have got this far without your contribution. And we're not finished yet. Anything we can think of, we'll try. But a point comes where you have to face up to what's probably coming. We're probably going to lose him.'
They sat in silence, side by side, for a couple of minutes. Then Paddy slipped her small hand into Brodie's and her small voice mumbled, ‘I'm sorry.'
Brodie squeezed her fingers. ‘Me too.'
Looking back, Brodie was aware that Paddy never again called her brother Jonfon. As if the fact that he was unlikely to grow into his proper name made it important to use it now, while there was still time.
As soon as she decently could, Brodie dropped in on Daniel at work. She wanted to monitor his success as her locum. She picked up a bit of shopping first and tried to look as if she was passing. It was barely ten o'clock the next morning, which was a Friday. ‘Just wondering how you were.'
He gave her that cool, calculating, sceptical look that Paddy had learnt from him. ‘You saw me yesterday.'
Brodie gave a negligent shrug. ‘Jet lag. So, how's things?'
‘You mean, have I ruined your business yet?'
She demurred, unconvincingly. ‘I trust you, Daniel, you know that.' But her eye was touring the tiny office, looking for the desk diary. Even Brodie would be embarrassed to ask for the accounts, but she could get a good idea of how much work he was getting from a casual glance at the diary.
She'd always kept it on top of the desk. He'd moved it. She thought he'd done it to annoy her. He took it calmly out of the top left-hand drawer and opened it without a word.
The only cool thing for Brodie to have done at that point was laugh lightly and turn away, leaving the pages unread. But for Brodie, cool always took second place to profit. She was a businesswoman to the tips of her well-manicured fingernails. Looking for Something? wasn't just a way to pay the bills: it had provided her with a life worth having after John left. It had made her who she was. And she liked who she was, even if the cricket on her shoulder was embarrassed sometimes.
She was grateful to Daniel for babysitting it. And it was true that she trusted him. But they both knew it wasn't a business he had much talent for, and she trusted his instincts much less than she trusted her own. So she inspected the diary carefully, ignoring his unwavering gaze.
‘Who's Margaret Carson?'
‘Someone who's trying to buy back the past.' Daniel told her about the murderous thief and the guilt of the woman who spawned him.
Brodie frowned. ‘What does she want us to find?'
Daniel noted that
us
without commenting. ‘The jewellery. The engagement ring, and a necklace belonging to the boy's mother. They were the last things Tom Sanger gave to Jane Moss, and Mrs Carson wants to give them back.'
‘Were they valuable?'
Daniel regarded her levelly. ‘Yes. They cost a life.'
Brodie had learnt not to rise when he took the moral high ground. ‘Financially. What were they worth in hard cash? What do we base our percentage on?'
Daniel shrugged. ‘I've no idea. The necklace was in the family for a generation. I suppose there's a receipt somewhere for the engagement ring, but Mrs Carson wouldn't know where to find it. Anyway, is that what we base our fees on? When Carson fenced the things, he'd get a fraction of their actual value.'
With world travel and still the hope of expensive medical procedures to fund, Brodie couldn't afford to be sentimental. ‘We base our cut on what the jewels are worth, not what a fence would give for them. Apart from anything else, it'll be a costly business tracking them down. If Mrs Carson wants to return the jewels, how's she planning on paying us? Or their new owner?'
‘She says she'll sell her house if she has to. And maybe, if someone bought them in good faith, he won't want paying.'
‘Yeah, right,' said Brodie, heavily ironic. ‘I keep telling you, Daniel, most people don't share your delicate scruples. Nobody is going to return valuable jewellery for nothing but the satisfaction of doing a good thing. They're going to want at least what they paid.' She shook her head. ‘I don't think this is one for us. If the police couldn't find the jewellery, I don't see how we can.'
‘But that's always the case,' Daniel pointed out. ‘People only ever come to us after the usual paths have petered out. What we can do, that Jack or an insurance investigator can't, is spend time looking. With a big organisation behind them, they have to cost their time at hundreds of pounds an hour. Even good jewellery wouldn't be worth a week's searching. We can do it for
a lot less than that. You know that's so. If it wasn't, this business couldn't exist.'
Brodie was watching him with her head tilted to one side like a bird's. ‘You want to do this, don't you?'
‘I felt sorry for her,' he nodded. ‘She feels terrible about what her son did. She wants to try to make amends. She can't bring the boy back, or undo the damage to the girl. This is all she can think of – to restore the jewellery to its owner. It's the only kind of peace she's going to find. I'd like to help her, if I can.'
‘They're not lost property, though, are they?' Brodie reminded him. ‘They were stolen in the course of a pretty horrendous crime. Whoever has them now probably knows that. Even if he doesn't, the people who laundered them certainly do. These are bad people, Daniel. Some of them aren't much better than Bobby Carson. Asking them what they did with Jane Moss's necklace could get you hurt.'
‘I thought of that.' Daniel flicked her a slightly nervous smile. ‘Then I thought, I'm not the police. Nobody needs to talk to me. If I get too close for someone's comfort, they'll just shut the door on me. They don't need to hurt me, they just need to clam up. What can I do about it? They're safe. If Jack could have nailed them he'd have done it by now.'
Brodie was puzzled. ‘Then what do you expect to achieve? These aren't, on the whole, people with a conscience. They won't give the things back because you tell them a sob story.'
‘I don't expect them to. I'm hoping they'll find a way
to sell Mrs Carson the jewellery. As stolen goods, it'll have been changing hands at a fraction of market value – she may be the only person around who's willing to pay more. If I can put the word out, maybe someone will want to do business with her.'
‘Or rip her off,' warned Brodie.
‘Or rip her off,' agreed Daniel. ‘That's part of my job, isn't it? To stop anyone ripping her off. To make sure that, if she parts with her money, at least she gets what she wants in return.'
Brodie's whole demeanour was doubtful. ‘There are more ways this can go wrong than right. The chances are you'll put in weeks of work and have nothing to show for it.'
‘She knows that. She's willing to pay for time and expenses if I can't finish the job.'
That satisfied at least some of Brodie's concerns. But there was a part of her that wasn't just businesswoman. ‘There has to be some prospect of success before we take someone's money. Even if they're up for a gamble, we shouldn't let them throw their money away. I just can't see how you're going to find some stolen jewellery nine months on. It'll have been turned into something completely different by now. I doubt if even an expert could say that the diamonds in one ring originated in another.'
Daniel nodded. ‘The stones from the engagement ring may be in a dozen different pieces by now. But the necklace is something else.'
‘Why? Because it's older? These are not sentimental
people. They won't give a second thought to destroying a period piece if they can make themselves richer, or safer, by making it unrecognisable.'
‘I don't think they
can
make this unrecognisable.' He put a photograph on the desk in front of her.
It had been taken for insurance purposes. The lighting was carefully angled, the background a plain white card, the focus close. A small ruler had been included in the picture. There was nothing glamorous, nothing alluring, about it. But it did show very clearly a necklace comprising a gold chain, a gold filigree setting, some seed pearls, and an oval stone the like of which Brodie had never seen before. ‘What
is
that?'
‘It's a star sapphire.'
‘Sapphires are blue.'
‘Not always. That's a black sapphire.' It wasn't, however, black but an indeterminate shade of translucent grey, as if someone had dipped a pen in water and the ink had run.
‘And that…' She pointed. ‘That isn't a trick of the camera?'
Daniel shook his head. ‘That's what makes it a star sapphire. It's called asterism – it's caused by light refracting off inclusions of tiny rutile needles.' He'd done his homework. ‘That's a twelve-ray star, which is pretty rare. It's the one thing about that stone that will always be recognisable. You couldn't alter it without making it worthless. So the stone at least still looks today the way it looked when that picture was taken. It can be found.'
Brodie didn't know how to put this politely so she just came out and said it. ‘By you?'
He smiled at her lack of confidence. His smile lit up his whole rather ordinary face, and Brodie's heart as well. ‘We won't know that till I've tried.'
Brodie suggested he talk to Deacon first; then she told Deacon to talk to Daniel. Deacon had a regrettable habit of dividing the world into those who could help him and those who weren't worth his time.
‘Of course we tried to recover the stolen goods,' growled Deacon. It was lunchtime on Monday and they were in The Belted Galloway, the nearest hostelry to Battle Alley and Deacon's second office. It wasn't that he was much of a drinker – he was too conscious of the danger of being outsmarted even when sober, not just by old lags but also by young policemen. But he liked the atmosphere here. It was dark going on gloomy, which both suited his demeanour and encouraged the trading of confidences in a way that the well-lit interview rooms around the corner did not. And the publican didn't believe in canned music. Deacon hated canned music with a passion.
He took a moody bite out of his weak shandy. ‘We were too slow. By the time we caught up with Carson he'd fenced them. They probably went through three or four different handlers in the first seventy-two hours. The only one I found was Paul Sinclair at Top of the Hill Antiques'
– his sour-lemon expression attested to his dislike of clever names – ‘and he said he bought the necklace in good faith from someone who claimed to be clearing out his late mother's house. He sold it on the same day. Cash, both times.
‘Which is enough to make you wonder,' he added dourly, ‘but not proof of anything. It's a cash trade. People dealing in antiques really do wander round with a few thousand pounds in their back pockets in case they spot something that's worth a little bit more. I might have my suspicions about Sinclair's honesty, but I can't prove he did anything wrong.'
‘Did the insurers conduct their own investigation?'
‘Of a kind. That necklace was a valuable piece. The ring was worth a bit too, so was the boy's watch – but they were modern, there'll be others like them around, they were always going to be easier to disappear. But the star sapphire was distinctive, much harder to cash in. The insurers offered a reward for information leading to its return but no one took the bait. Of course, Sanger was dead – it was a murder inquiry, and no one wants to be associated with that. The insurers paid out when it started to look like the cheaper option.'
Already Daniel was starting to feel he was boxing above his weight. He frowned earnestly into his glass. It contained even less alcohol than Deacon's shandy. ‘So how do I go about finding them?'
Deacon barked an incredulous laugh at him. Even after four years Daniel Hood retained the ability to surprise him. ‘Daniel, you don't. They're gone.
I
couldn't
find them, and I'm paid to. The insurers paid out because
they
couldn't find them. No one's talking. No one's
going
to talk – it's not in their interests to. All the people who had a hand in the deal took their cut and kept their mouths shut. When Carson went down without involving anyone else, they heaved a sigh of relief. They're not going to put their hands up now just because you ask nicely.'
Daniel looked disconsolate. ‘They wouldn't get greedy? My client's willing to pay…'
‘There's greedy,' said Deacon deliberately, ‘and there's downright bloody stupid. Most of the downright bloody stupid ones are behind bars already. The rest put their liberty first. Crime's like any other business: sometimes you walk away. And sometimes you run.'
‘What am I supposed to tell Mrs Carson?'
Deacon had no sympathy at all. ‘Tell her you can't do it. Tell her you underestimated the size of the task and overestimated your own ability. Tell her that when it comes to finding stolen goods the police are the experts – if we luck out she's probably better keeping her money in her purse.'
Daniel wasn't quite ready to concede. ‘Some of the things Brodie's found, everyone else had given up on. Including the police.'
Deacon gave him a slow sideways glance laced with dislike. People sitting each side of them instinctively shuffled up in case spilt pints and swinging fists should follow. But Daniel knew better than to take it personally. Dislike was Deacon's default position. In
fact, it had taken Daniel a couple of years to graduate to mere generalised dislike from a position of very specific disfavour.
‘That's Brodie,' growled the detective. ‘She's good at what she does. But right now she's doing something else, so this is going to be you. You asked my opinion and this is it. You can't do what this woman wants. Don't waste your time and her money trying.'
Daniel bit his lip. Another time he might coax a slightly more helpful response from Deacon, but right now he too was preoccupied. He said softly, ‘Jack, I'm sorry Brodie didn't bring back better news. You must be going through hell.'
Deacon looked again at him, almost furtively. He
was
going through a kind of hell, but only Daniel, Terry Walsh and maybe Charlie Voss had noticed. Everyone else was sorry his son was ill, but sorry in the same way as if his car was on its last legs or his house needed underpinning. Bad news – really bad news – people were genuinely sympathetic, and yet there was no acknowledgement of the scale of the loss he faced. He thought it was because he and Brodie weren't married. That people considered a love child somehow less precious. As if their reactions were unconsciously mitigated by a sense of
easy come, easy go
.
He said slowly, as if to the shandy, ‘I never wanted a child. I never expected to have one. You know he was a mistake?' Daniel nodded silently. ‘If Brodie had said she didn't want to proceed with the pregnancy, I wouldn't have argued. I think I'd have been relieved.
‘But that was
a
baby. And this is
this
baby. My son Jonathan. I had no idea what a difference it made. In here.' He thumped his chest hard enough that the glasses on the bar slopped. ‘Daniel, I'd rip my own arm off if I thought it would save him. But it wouldn't. And I feel cheated. It's like… It's like, you buy a lottery ticket. You don't expect to win the jackpot. You expect to throw the ticket away on Monday. But against all the odds your numbers come up. You've won five million quid. You didn't need it, you never expected it. But you won it and now it's yours.
‘And
now
someone steals the ticket. That's how it feels. Like this was something I'd been needing all my life, and I never even knew it. And now I understand that, I'm going to lose it.'
Jack Deacon was a famously inarticulate man, even among policemen. If a situation couldn't be resolved by a mixture of threats and clichés he floundered. It wasn't thinking that gave him trouble. He was a good thinker: clear, accurate, occasionally imaginative. His difficulty was translating those thoughts into words that resonated in other people's minds. It stemmed mainly from a lack of practice. Deacon's authority, even before he had the authority of rank, had always derived from substance. People tend not to argue with big men. Daniel was good with words because they were usually the only defence he had. Deacon was bad with them because nothing he said made as much impression as the shadow he cast.
So it was a rare privilege to hear him speak from the heart. Daniel knew how desperately Deacon must need to
talk to use him as a listener. He tried to be worthy of the policeman's trust.
‘Are you aware,' he murmured, ‘that's one of the reasons Brodie's so determined to find an answer? She thinks she let you down. She gave you something, and it wasn't as perfect as it should have been. She blames herself. However much she wants Jonathan to get well – and of course she does, desperately – she wants it even more for you than for herself.'
Deacon's look came from the place where wonder meets disbelief. If he'd been talking to anyone else, disbelief would have won. But Daniel would walk through fire rather than lie. If he said it, he believed it to be true. ‘How…?' Emotion cracked his voice.
‘How do I know?' Daniel smiled gently. ‘Jack, you
know
how I know. It's driven you mad for the last four years. I know how she thinks, how she feels. I know what matters to her, and how much. Sometimes I know what matters to her before she does. But we haven't talked about this, if that's what you're wondering. We haven't been discussing you behind your back. I've hardly seen her since she first took Jonathan abroad.'
‘Then
how
?'
Daniel's mild grey eyes glinted with the tears that still formed a little too easily but seldom fell anymore. ‘You want me to say it? Again? I love her, Jack. That's how.'
‘And you think I don't?' said Jack Deacon fiercely. The fierceness was essential to getting it out. The words didn't come easily. ‘But I don't know her the way you know her.
I don't understand her the way you understand her. And she doesn't talk to me the way she talks to you. I would lay down my life for them both. For Brodie, and for Jonathan. You know me well enough to know that isn't just words – I would literally die for them. And it isn't enough. It isn't enough to keep them safe. We're going to lose him. And when we lose Jonathan, I'll lose Brodie too.
‘And the reason is – the bottom line, the can't-get-round-it reason is – he's all we have in common. A baby neither of us wanted, who's been nothing but a worry since we found out he was on his way, who in spite of that has managed to do what two healthy adults couldn't: cobble together some semblance of a family. But semblance is the word. We aren't a proper family. We don't behave like family. Because of Jonathan we've both made an effort – me to support her, Brodie to let me. But it shouldn't be this hard. If there was something there worth having, it wouldn't be. When Jonathan's gone there'll be nothing left between us.'
He looked up then, and in his craggy face Daniel read an odd mixture of humour and despair. ‘It isn't me she'll turn to for comfort then, Daniel, it's you. Hang on in there, stud. Your chance is coming.'
But Daniel shook his head. ‘My chance came a while back. I had the choice of settling for a friendship I could keep or spoiling everything by asking for more. I took what she was happy to give. Maybe it was a coward's choice – risk nothing, gain nothing. But realistically, it was the only part of her that was ever available to me. And it's so much
more than I ever had before. It's almost enough.'
‘Almost?'
Daniel shrugged. ‘Nothing's ever quite enough, Jack. The secret of happiness is knowing what's almost enough.'
Deacon gave a little snort and turned back to his drink. Then he changed the subject; or rather, reverted to the one they'd been discussing earlier. ‘You could talk to Sinclair, I suppose, though I don't think it'll do any good. When I interviewed him, he stuck like glue to his story because he knew I had nothing on him. Why would he talk to you now?'
‘Because I'm not the police? Because I'm no threat to him?' hazarded Daniel.
Deacon didn't think that way. ‘I don't think Sinclair bought the necklace directly from Bobby Carson. I think it had already been through other hands first. All the same, Sinclair knew it wasn't kosher. He knew he was one stop in the wash cycle.'
Daniel was looking confused, so he explained. ‘The goods go in dirty at one end. They change hands quickly, earning a little more legitimacy each time, until they come out at the other end clean enough for Joe Public. The system depends on people not asking questions. I think Paul Sinclair knew better than to question the man who was clearing out his mother's house, and the guy who spotted the necklace under Sinclair's counter later that day knew better than to question Sinclair. When he sold it on, at an antiques fair or to someone in a pub, it was a bit cleaner again. Today it's probably with someone who genuinely did buy it in good faith.
‘I don't think you'll get anything useful out of Sinclair,' he decided thoughtfully. ‘But I don't think he'll follow you into a dark alley for asking.'
Mention of dark alleys made Daniel nervous. ‘I don't expect I'll get anywhere with this,' he agreed hurriedly. ‘But at least I can go back to Mrs Carson and say I tried.'
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