Read Liars All Online

Authors: Jo Bannister

Liars All (6 page)

BOOK: Liars All
Paul Sinclair looked down his nose at Daniel. This took more determination than you might think because he wasn't much taller. He was a man in his mid-thirties with thinning fair hair, a cut-glass accent, a fondness for cashmere sweaters in shades of peach and mint, and – according to Brodie, who was never wrong in these matters – a nineteen-year-old toy boy who worked at the marina. He looked at Daniel as if he'd come in on somebody's shoe.
‘You want what?'
Patiently, Daniel said it all again. That he was acting for a client. That he was trying to trace the star sapphire necklace that Sinclair had bought and then sold. That any information he might have that would assist in finding the purchaser would be helpful.
‘The police asked me the same thing. I wasn't able to help them. What makes you think I'll be able to help you?' The tone was barely the right side of objectionable.
‘Because nobody's going to jail, or getting leant on, or having their books looked at because of anything I hear. So people don't have to be quite so careful what they
say to me. The police are only interested in facts. I'll be grateful for anything that might put me on the right track. Any impression you gained about the man who bought it – where he was from, if he was living in the Dimmock area, what sort of business he was in, who the necklace was for. Anything. Probably it won't get me very far. But it might.'
‘And what are my other customers to make of the notion that I'd discuss private business with a third party?' demanded the antiques dealer.
‘Unless they've got something to hide,' murmured Daniel, ‘I don't see why they should be concerned. I'm trying to buy the thing, not repossess it. Wherever that necklace is now, it might be for sale again. You and I are just helping someone who's anxious to buy it make contact with someone who might want to sell.'
Sinclair had been leaning slightly back, to facilitate his sneer. Now he leant slightly forward. ‘No questions asked?'
It was a trick. But Daniel wasn't as green as he'd been a year ago. He pursed his lips. ‘It's not actually lawful to make that kind of offer. But I wasn't hired to find out who did what, only to locate the necklace and buy it back.'
Sinclair's eyes slipped out of focus as he considered his options, and how big a gulf stood between the safest, which was to say nothing, and the most profitable, which was to help put a deal together in return for a percentage. He said distantly, ‘Let me think about it. If anything occurs to me, I know where to find you.'
I know where to find you…
If Daniel had watched fewer science documentaries and more soap operas on the television, the words might have resonated with him in a way that in fact they did not. After all, Looking for Something? was a business – Daniel needed people to be able to find him.
But he doubted he'd hear from Paul Sinclair again. Too much time had passed. Even if the dealer knew more than he said about who bought the necklace, in the intervening months the thing could have travelled halfway round the world. The stone could have been reset in a ring, or a brooch, or the staff of office of an Eastern potentate. Deacon was right. If he'd been unable to pick up its trail a week after the crime, Daniel's chances nine months later hovered somewhere between microscopic and none.
He said as much to Brodie after he'd pondered the problem for twenty-four hours. ‘I think you were right. I'll have to call Mrs Carson and tell her I've drawn a blank.'
Brodie nodded absently. It said everything about her state of mind that she could hear talk of lost commission and not automatically rush to salvage it.
She didn't think of herself as mercenary. She'd refused numerous commissions in the last four years, and even returned a few as being less achievable than she'd first thought. But she didn't do it lightly. The clients for her curious little business were her only source of income, and thinking their odd requests weren't worth the trouble of following up would be a short cut to bankruptcy. Eighteen months ago she'd have thought Margaret Carson's quest was a runner. She'd have found out how much the star
sapphire was worth, and thus how much her commission should be, and after she'd picked herself off the floor she'd have locked the door, put the phone on voicemail and concentrated all her efforts on locating the missing stone. And she'd have expected to succeed. Even nine months after the event.
Now she had even more important matters to think of. And it wasn't Brodie looking for Jane Moss's sapphire but Daniel, which meant the hunt would be less fun and the prospect of success smaller. She would always be grateful to Daniel for keeping her business afloat when she'd thought she'd have to close it, but gratitude didn't blind her to the fact that he would never be her professional equal. The chances of him completing the commission were so slight that losing the fee cost her little grief. She'd never really expected to see it. ‘Maybe that would be best.'
‘Sorry,' said Daniel.
Brodie smiled at his disheartened expression. ‘Don't be. You do pretty well. Not everything
be found – not by you, not even by me. That sapphire is long gone. It's in a numbered bank vault somewhere, waiting for someone to put together a fake provenance before it can be sold again. Someone paid peanuts for it, and they don't care if they have to sit on it for twenty years. It's an investment. They were never going to sell it to Margaret Carson.'
‘I shouldn't have taken the brief, should I? I should have known that.'
Brodie topped up their glasses from the bottle on the table. They were eating in her kitchen though Daniel did the cooking. He'd had everything on by the time she'd got
the children to bed. ‘It was worth making some enquiries. If the necklace had never reached an end-user it might still have been in Dimmock – stashed under a squeaky floorboard by a small-time local dealer who was now terrified he was never going to get rid of it, who'd have been glad of a chance to get back his stake. Sometimes you have to try. You just have to recognise when you've tried hard enough.'
Daniel was thinking outside the box. He said slowly, ‘I keep wondering if there isn't another different way to approach this. If I can't help Mrs Carson without finding the necklace.'
Brodie was puzzled. ‘I don't see how. I mean, she could have the thing copied, but it would never be the one Tom Sanger gave to Jane Moss. It was a gift from the man who was going to be her husband, its value to her is personal. Even a perfect copy would be just eye candy. If Bobby Carson's mother bought
a replica and thought that made things OK between us, I'd slap her face.'
Daniel winced. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt anyone's feelings. He wanted to help Margaret Carson, but not by turning a knife in Jane Moss's side. ‘You're right, of course. It would seem like blood money. She'd be deeply offended.'
The prospect of offending people didn't much trouble Brodie. And Jane Moss wasn't the one footing the bill. ‘Jane wouldn't be offended if she thought it was the real thing.'
Daniel looked up with a start like a shying horse, eyes flaring behind the thick glasses. ‘You're saying we should
about it? Pass it off as something it isn't?'
Brodie rocked a non-committal hand. ‘I'm not saying to lie. I'm not saying we should make any claims for it. But Jane Moss only had that stone in her possession for a couple of hours, and most of that time she was looking at Tom Sanger. And she's not a jeweller. Would she recognise it if she saw it again? If it was taken out of the setting and put on a table in front of her, with two or three others of generally similar appearance, would she be able to pick it out? Because if she couldn't, she might get as much comfort from a stone that we couldn't vouch for but which just might have come from her necklace as she would from the real thing.'
‘You are,' said Daniel flatly, accusingly. ‘You're suggesting we lie to her. And that would mean lying to Margaret Carson too – telling her we've found the stone when all we've actually done is find one that looks a bit like it.'
‘Everything's black and white with you, isn't it?' Brodie grumbled into her wine. ‘Either it's the stone Jane was given, though she wouldn't know it from a bauble on a Christmas tree, or it's one just like it and she's being cheated. But what if it's not actually about the stone? What if it's about her feelings? She lost the man she was going to marry, and also the last thing he gave her. If she got it back, she wouldn't cherish it because of what it was worth, she'd cherish it as a memento of Tom.'
Daniel was unable to follow her reasoning. ‘But if it wasn't the stone from his mother's necklace, there would be no connection to Tom.'
‘But if she
it was the same stone she'd get the
same comfort from the lookalike as she would from the original. Nobody's cheating anybody. Jane gets a stone identical to her fiancé's last gift to her, and she puts it away among her treasures, and maybe she takes it out sometimes to look at it and maybe she doesn't, but she knows it's there and while it's there she feels he's not entirely gone.
‘And maybe, years down the line, when she's fallen in love with someone else and had five kids, and she's wondering how to get them through university, she takes the stone out and thinks this is something Tom would have liked to do for her. And she sells the stone. Well, as long as it's worth as much as the original, she still hasn't been cheated.'
‘And what do we tell Margaret Carson?' Daniel's eyes were appalled.
‘The same as we tell Jane Moss. That we've found a stone that matches the description of the stolen sapphire. That we can't establish a provenance for it, but that could mean it came onto the market via the back door. That it's up to her whether to proceed or not. She'd know there was a chance the stone wasn't right, but she wouldn't be paying any more than it was worth. If she decided to go ahead, she too would get what she needs – the feeling of having done all she could to make amends. If Jane Moss flung the thing back in her face, it could be sold again and all the exercise would have cost her would be our fee.'
They regarded one another over the kitchen table. Sometimes Brodie worried Daniel quite a lot. Even after all they'd been through, sometimes he couldn't be sure if she was being absolutely serious or enjoying a joke at his
expense. She made a good case. Daniel could only see one thing wrong with it. ‘
know it was a lie!'
Brodie shook her head. ‘It's not a lie unless we claim the stone is the original.'
‘It's a lie if we know it isn't and don't say so!'
‘No, that's just a tactical omission. As long as Mrs Carson knows there's a chance it's not the same sapphire, it's her call. She has to decide whether the stone we've found can do what she needs it to do, for her and for Jane.'
Daniel's pale brows lowered in a censorious frown. ‘Plus, we get paid.'
Brodie grinned. ‘Well, yes. That's kind of the point, Daniel. That's what keeps us in business. Not the warm fuzzy glow of helping people.'
‘The warm fuzzy glow is important too.'
‘Of course it is. And you would be helping them – both of them. If the real thing can't be recovered, this is probably the only help we or anyone else can offer.'
He was horribly afraid she was serious. Outrage bubbled in his chest. ‘Brodie, you're not making a liar of me!'
She gave a negligent shrug. ‘Suit yourself. Let them go away disappointed.'
They continued their meal almost in silence. But a couple of times when Daniel glanced up he caught Brodie secretly smiling.
Four years ago Daniel had come home, to this same odd little shack in the shadow of Dimmock's ruined pier, and found men waiting who almost killed him. It had been months before he could climb the iron steps to the front door, let himself in and check the four small rooms for intruders without feeling physically sick. It was a year before he stopped checking for intruders.
Tonight as he went through the door, before he even got the key out of the lock, someone grabbed him, swung him round and slammed him into the wall hard enough to break the glasses on the bridge of his nose and set off a volley of fireworks in his head.
He didn't pass out, not quite. He slumped in a boneless heap, and though he saw the living room light come on, all it did was brighten the red mist in front of his eyes. He felt the silken touch of blood on his face and heard a plaintive mewling protest that he supposed was his.
He had no idea what had happened, who had ambushed him or why. He didn't know how many of them there were, and whether that made much difference to a man still struggling with the concept of
. The only thing he
knew for sure was that he was in a lot of trouble.
He heard the rings rattle as someone drew the curtains so that the netting shed would look the way it looked every evening when he was home. Anyone who had seen him walk down the beach wouldn't be puzzled that, minutes later, he still hadn't switched the lights on. None of the casual acquaintances he'd made along the seafront, in the shops and cafés and B&Bs, who wouldn't have called him a friend but still took an amiable interest in his activities, would come to check that he was all right.
Strong hands fastened on him. Instinctively, he cringed. But they only straightened him out, and carefully picked the remains of his glasses out of the bloody flesh of his cheek, then lifted him bodily and put him down in his own armchair. ‘Better?'
He didn't recognise the voice. It was a man, but he'd known that from the force with which he'd hit the wall.
The scattered starlings of his wits were beginning to settle back on the telegraph wires. He mumbled, ‘Better than just now. Not so good as ten minutes ago.'
The man chuckled, genuinely amused. ‘OK. Well, that's fair enough. I needed a quick chat with you. I wanted to get your attention. Have I got it?'
Daniel said nothing. But as the big figure loomed closer the urge for self-preservation grabbed the wheel and he nodded quickly.
‘Good. You seem a reasonable sort. We're not going to fall out over this, are we?'
Again the interrogative pause. Again, Daniel's desire not to get beaten up shook its head and hoped the rest of
him would join in. Round a thick lip he mumbled, ‘I was afraid we already had.'
‘No.' The man sounded surprised and concerned that he'd been misunderstood. ‘Not at all. If we'd fallen out you'd be picking your teeth out of the carpet. No, this is just friendly advice. I know you were just doing your job, and I know you didn't mean any harm, but you've managed to wander in where angels fear to tread and you need to back out again before anyone gets hurt.'
‘I don't know what you're talking about,' whined Daniel. ‘What are you
The man gave a disappointed little sigh. ‘Come on, sonny, don't piss me around. The sapphire. Bobby Carson's retirement fund. You've been asking questions about it and you're making people uneasy. They asked me to pop over and tell you what you need to know. That the stone is gone. You'll never find it. No one will ever find it. Forget about it.'
The frantic, terrified part of Daniel's brain was semaphoring wildly:
He's right. There's nothing more you can do. You'd already decided that. Tell him. For pity's sake, tell him!
But the other bit, the bit that didn't like being pushed around, the bit that long ago recognised that being pushed around is a habit which is hard to break, said, ‘What people?'
The man gave an incredulous laugh that reminded Daniel of Jack Deacon. ‘Oh come on, Danny! I know you're not very good at this, but nobody's
bad! If I told you that I'd have to kill you. And that's not the worst of it.
have to kill me, then they'd have to kill one
another just to be sure. You don't need to know who they are. You don't need to know who
am. You just need to know that it's time to move on and find some lost dogs or something, because you can't find that stone but you could get hurt trying. Do you understand me?'
Daniel nodded slowly, his head bowed, blood from his nose dripping on his shirt. It was no lie; he understood perfectly. Someone was putting the frighteners on him. And it was working. Whoever sent this man would be gratified to know how scared he was. The thing about facing death is, it gives you a taste for life. Every day seems infinitely desirable after you've looked into the void.
The thing about human beings is, they're made of more than raw instinct. They can be very frightened and still not allow the fear to rule them. Despite the shock, despite the jackhammer pounding in his head and the squibs exploding behind his eyes, Daniel knew that his life was in no immediate danger. If someone had wanted him dead it would have been easier, quicker and safer to do it as he came through the door. Everything that had happened since had been unnecessary unless the object was that he live and learn. Unless he was stupid enough to tell this man that nothing he could say or do would deflect Daniel from his task, this was as bad as it was going to get. Any moment now he was going to leave.
Daniel could have made him stay. He could have explained carefully that, when he indicated that he understood, this wasn't to be taken as consent or compliance. He could probably ensure that he got himself beaten senseless, and there was always the possibility
that his visitor's instructions ran to shutting him up if he couldn't be scared off, and even Daniel didn't put that high a price on the truth. It could be argued by a purist that letting the man leave in the belief that his job was done was a kind of lie. But Daniel hadn't created the situation in which absolute honesty could get him killed.
, he observed wryly to himself in that quiet no-man's-land where the mind can stand aside and observe calmly the most alarming events,
makes liars of us all
. Anyone who insisted that, even in such circumstances, his probity was worth more than his life was probably going to lose his life, and probably deserved to.
And then, he'd learnt things from the encounter that he'd like time to think about. This man knew a lot about him. He hadn't just been given a name by someone who'd heard it from Paul Sinclair. He hadn't gone to the office in Shack Lane: he'd come here, to the shore. Lots of people knew where Daniel lived, but they were people who knew Daniel. There wasn't a sign up. And his assailant hadn't followed him – he'd got here first, he'd been waiting.
He'd known Daniel would be alone. He'd known that he wouldn't be armed – well, this was England, he might have guessed that – and that he wouldn't fight back, at least not very effectively. And he'd known that, to protect his own identity, he didn't need a stocking over his face or a silly plastic mask, he just needed to remove Daniel's glasses. Lots of people wear glasses, but most of them have some useful sight. To know that Daniel was sufficiently blind without his to render any disguise superfluous, you had to know him reasonably well.
His search for Jane Moss's necklace hadn't just alarmed someone. It hadn't just alarmed someone who was prepared to use violence to stop him. It had alarmed someone he knew.
‘Do you understand me?' the man said again.
Daniel spat out blood and the sharp chip of a tooth. ‘Of course I understand you.' It took no effort at all to let his voice quaver timorously.
Leave it at that
, urged the little internal Daniel who cared more for his skin than his image.
That covers it. Don't say another word.
‘Good.' The man leant forward again, and seemed satisfied when Daniel flinched. He patted the smaller man's shoulder much as you might pat a good dog. Then he reached out and tweaked his nose. ‘It's all right, that's not broken. Stick a tissue up it and try not to blow for a day. You'll be as good as new tomorrow.' Then he was gone.
Deacon peered judiciously at the damage. ‘I'm not sure he was right about the nose.'
‘The nose is fine,' whined Daniel adenoidally. ‘Forget about the nose.'
‘Suddenly you're an expert on noses?'
‘I'm an expert on
nose,' insisted Daniel. ‘It's fine. Now, can we talk about what's going on here?'
Deacon considered. Daniel had called him at work, and he'd dropped in on his way home. He hadn't thought it warranted blues and twos. ‘What do you think's going on?'
‘I think I've managed to rattle some cages. I didn't mean to. All I set out to do was find a missing necklace
and buy it back, but all at once I'm in the middle of a Hitchcock film. That wasn't Bobby Carson, reaching out from whichever of Her Majesty's secure establishments he's currently occupying. It
someone who heard I'd been talking to Paul Sinclair. Someone we know, Jack.'
Deacon looked singularly unsurprised. ‘Probably. Daniel – what were you expecting when you started asking questions about a robbery that put one person in the ground and another in a wheelchair? That all the bighearted old lags would gather round and try to help you? Got news for you, Danny. Old lags don't have big hearts. If they had they wouldn't mug people for a living.'
‘But we know who the thief was,' objected Daniel. ‘Bobby Carson. And he's in prison. Why would anyone else want to get involved?'
‘They're not
involved,' Deacon explained carefully, as if to a child, ‘they
involved. Carson's the one who ran those kids down and stole their valuables, he's the one we caught, but everyone needs contacts. Either he was taking orders from someone, or someone bankrolled him, or someone offered to move the gear on in return for a cut. Someone we never found. Someone who was relieved when Carson went down without talking, and doesn't want you raking over the coals again.'
‘He used an old car – why would he need bankrolling?' asked Daniel. ‘And you know who moved the necklace on – Paul Sinclair. Innocently, or more likely not, he had it through his shop and he sold it on where you couldn't trace it. He's also the only one I've talked to. It must have been him who sent Godzilla round.'
Deacon shook his head. ‘Not his style. He wouldn't mind being one step along the way towards legitimising stolen goods but he'd want credible deniability. He wouldn't have taken the necklace directly from the thief. He wouldn't know if Carson had a partner, or a boss. All he'd know was who offered him the jewellery.'
Daniel took that on board. ‘So it's someone further up the chain who's worried. Maybe the one who took the stuff directly from Carson's hands. Sinclair must have warned his contact, who warned
contact, who warned him.'
‘Probably,' agreed Deacon. ‘But Carson knew better than to implicate him. It wouldn't have saved him much time and it would have put him in a lot of danger. The guy who sent your visitor round would have no trouble getting at Carson, even inside. Instead of which, when he finally gets out, whoever he's protecting will remember that he's owed a favour.'
‘This is a local man,' said Daniel, trying to put it together. ‘He was in the area nine months ago when this was going down, and he's still here now. On top of that, he knows me. So I know him.' He rolled his eyes in frustration. ‘I just don't
that I know.'
‘Welcome to my world,' growled Deacon. Then, seeing Daniel wasn't going to let it lie, he sighed. ‘OK, let's go through it again. Your visitor – did
seem familiar?'
‘No,' said Daniel. ‘I'd have recognised the voice if it was someone I know.'
‘But he didn't want you seeing his face. And he knows you're as blind as a bat without your glasses.' Political correctness had largely passed Deacon by. ‘So he thinks he's
in the family album.' He meant the library of photographs CID maintained against this eventuality.
‘He called me Danny.'
call you Danny.'
‘Only when you're annoyed with me. Everyone else calls me Daniel. So he doesn't so much know me as know
me. Someone who knows me better – well enough to know I wouldn't recognise the queen of England without my glasses – gave him my name and address and sent him round with instructions to scare me off.'
‘Did it work?'
Daniel thought for a moment. He sounded a little surprised. ‘No.'
‘Well, it should have done. You're getting in deep here. The sensible thing now would be to give it up.'
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