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Authors: Margaret Duffy

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BOOK: Rat Poison
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Finding the choice of words fascinating I put my tea and cake on a window ledge and followed her through the throng to where a woman was ferreting around with others on one end of the bric-a-brac stall. A certain amount of elbowing and dirty looks exchanging seemed to be taking place.

‘Mrs Trelonic, I'd like you to meet my daughter-in-law, Ingrid,' Elspeth said quite loudly on account of the hubbub. ‘As you probably know she and my son bought the rectory when the diocese was going to sell it.'

‘Scuttles' suddenly made sense when the woman turned towards me. Her tongue flickered across thin lips nervously and she gave me a brief and wary smile. She was younger than I had for some reason imagined and I could not picture her partnered with the unshaven and taciturn individual who had delivered our logs.

‘I'm very sorry about your husband,' I said.

Her face became expressionless and, woodenly, she thanked me.

‘Ghastly to be caught in crossfire like that,' I went on. ‘Just an innocent passer-by.'

‘He was always a loser,' she snapped and turned away from us.

‘Well, that was a waste of time,' Elspeth said when we had returned to the bookstall.

‘You told James that she set your teeth on edge. Why?'

‘There was a time  . . .'

I waited.

‘When I thought she'd set her sights on John.'

‘Surely not!
'

‘All smiles and volunteering to do things. Staying behind after the services, sort of  . . . hovering.' Determinedly, she added, ‘Yes, I know the man's in his early seventies but he doesn't look it since he had his heart op; he's quite charismatic really.'

Like his son.

I sold a couple of books and then said, ‘Look, you don't have anything to worry about. John loves you to bits.'

‘I suppose she's quite attractive in a funny sort of way and there
have
been rumours that she's had affairs with several men in the village. But  . . .'

‘Is this still going on as far as John's concerned?'

‘I thought not, but now I come to think of it  . . .' She shook her head. ‘I must go and help with the teas. See you later.'

Patrick appeared carrying Vicky and with Justin, and the trio went over to the toys where the latter immediately pounced on a large plastic water pistol. No, I willed his father to tell him, you already have a large water pistol. They bought it. Then parental control had immediately to be exercised when Justin wanted it filled right there and then. He was safely diverted by a rather flabby football that I knew would go straight in the bin that night by which time it would have fully deflated.

‘Busy?' Patrick asked when they arrived, Justin with his armful, and I had presented Vicky with a couple of little picture books I had chosen for her. ‘Any of yours here?' he went on to ask before I could reply, peering at the titles.

‘No,' I replied evenly.

‘Just trying to wind you up.'

‘I know. That woman over there in the queue for teas wearing the red jacket is Mrs Trelonic. I tried to talk to her but she was having none of it.'

‘What did you make of her, though?'

‘Furtive.'

‘She could have been involved if he was.'

‘All she said was that her husband had always been a loser.'

‘I wonder if he took up the offer of that recruiting officer. I really need to find out who that was.'

‘Then question her. You have the authority.'

‘She's refused to talk to the police any more.'

‘You could try charm.'

My advice has never actually been catastrophic before.

He went later that afternoon on his own, as I knew my presence would not be remotely useful. When he returned I was in the garden carrying Mark, who seems to love looking at trees waving in the breeze. I walked over to where Patrick was parking the car.

‘I take it you didn't hoist in the fact that she was a grade one troublemaker,' was Patrick's opening remark as he slammed the driver's door with more force than was necessary.

‘I only spoke to her for a matter of seconds,' I said.

‘Pity.'

‘Why? What happened?'

‘She said she'd already put in a formal complaint to the police about what she called “continuous harassment” – Carrick didn't quite mention that, did he? – and then told me that she'd sort me out by telling the village that she and Dad are having an affair.'

I swore under my breath. Then I said, ‘Sorry, Elspeth did say that she thought the woman had been giving him sheep's eyes.'

‘Ingrid, you should have told me that before I went!'

He strode away towards the house and I hurried to catch up.

Patrick rounded on me. ‘For God's sake don't run with him!'

‘Look, I'm sorry. I've apologized, haven't I? I can't always get everything right!'

But he went off without another word.

If oracles had boxes I had definitely been shoved back in mine. For when you do something, wittingly or not, to threaten the stability of a man's family, in his eyes it is unforgivable. I could hardly tell Elspeth and John what the problem was although I knew the former, although upset, would probably inform her son that he deserved to be shaken until his teeth rattled for blaming me.

On Sunday Patrick helped his father with the morning communion service, singing in the choir and acting as server, and then retired to the dining room in the afternoon to catch up on household accounts and more work-related brainstorming. I never write on Sundays unless I have a rapidly approaching publisher's deadline so I carried on devoting my time to the children, having given Carrie the day off. Early on Monday Patrick left, in the car and presumably for London, without telling me what he intended to do. This was against our working rules but hardly surprising as we had barely spoken for twenty-four hours.

Would this wretched Trelonic woman carry out her threat? In my view the fact that she had made it proved not only that she was a complete bitch but had something to hide. I borrowed Elspeth's car and drove into Bath.

‘I'm not sure who I'm working for this morning,' I said, putting my head around James Carrick's office door.

‘For me until tomorrow unless you've pressing SOCA stuff,' he answered. ‘I'm getting one DS Keen. I just hope he is.' A file he had been reading was tossed into a wire tray on his desk. ‘We can go and talk to Derek Jessop. Coming?'

‘Of course.'

We were making our way across the car park when Carrick said, ‘I was expecting to be given the full treatment by that man of yours to make me change my mind about the best way to carry the case forward.'

‘He would have tried,' I said.

‘Is he not around?'

‘No. He went off to London this morning. I don't know why. We had words over the weekend.' As I felt it affected the case with which we were all involved I related what had happened.

‘She's done nothing of the kind!' the DCI said, referring to the complaint. ‘Or, at least, hadn't done at the end of last week. And nobody's been harassing the woman. You know, all she's succeeded in doing is making me suspicious that she was involved in some kind of scam her husband was in, mobsters or whatever.'

‘Patrick's livid with me for not warning him about her apparent attraction to his father.'

‘Och, why would you normally bother him with it? It's exactly the kind of thing that men dismiss as women's gossip.'

Coming from a man, I reckoned this to be a noble remark.

‘But Mrs Trelonic could do damage if she put a rumour about,' he added. ‘This is nothing to do with me really but you might have to warn your in-laws.'

When we moved to Somerset I really thought everything would settle down into an interesting but fairly quiet routine.

Billy Jessop was still very ill, although improving. His elder brother was due to be discharged the following day, freeing him from his police ‘minders' and into the care of a remand centre.

‘I don't know how you have the brass neck to come here,' he shouted at me when he saw me.

‘You're disturbing the peace again,' I admonished, not in a mood to take any nonsense from him. ‘And I would like to remind you that but for me you might be on a murder, rather than attempted murder, charge right now.'

We drew up chairs around where he was sitting, his shoulder bandaged, arm in a sling, in a patients' lounge. A television in one corner was being gloomily watched by three elderly men, the programme some kind of shopping channel.

‘You're not being interviewed under caution as the docs don't think you're well enough,' Carrick began by saying in conversational tones. ‘We're just here for a chat.'

Jessop grunted.

‘You don't normally carry firearms,' the DCI continued. ‘How did that come about?'

‘I found it,' Jessop replied, picking up a newspaper and pretending to read it.

‘Was that before or after it was used in the shoot-out in Bath?'

‘I don't know what you're talking about.'

‘You deny you were wounded during the night when rival gangs clashed in the city centre?'

‘Billy and I were just coming back from a bar and we got caught up in it. We're victims.'

Carrick snatched the paper away from him. ‘I have a reliable witness who
saw
you and your brother, has identified the pair of you from mugshots and is prepared to swear on oath that he saw you firing weapons. At least one of these was removed by other people when you were injured. Who were the others, Derek?'

‘Sod off.'

‘Who was the person who recruited you? We know someone went round pubs hiring men like you.'

‘Like me?' Jessop said angrily. ‘You mean thick, I suppose.'

‘No, expendable,' I said before Carrick could reply. ‘You know, cannon fodder, people they regard as nobodies hired for no money to make the crime bosses look big – what law enforcement agencies refer to as disposable associates. But it all went wrong, didn't it? And two of those involved were literally gutted. That wasn't quite the plan, was it?'

‘Gutted?' Jessop repeated.

‘Yes, they were shot and then knifed around, mutilated.'

‘I don't know anything about that.'

‘We don't actually know yet whose side they were on. Eastern European sort of men; Romanians probably. They might have had quite thick accents or not spoken much English at all. Ring any bells with you?'

He shook his head. ‘No.'

‘Men like that weren't working with you?'

‘No.'

‘You know what that means, don't you? It was people from your lot who did it. That makes you some kind of accessory to disembowelling. I understand their guts were strewn all over the pavement.' Actually, I understood no such thing but as our American friends say, it figured.

‘I didn't do it!' Jessop bawled, making the old men in the corner almost jump out of their pyjamas.

‘If you were drunk you might have done. Was a man called Adam Trelonic hired as well?'

‘I don't know the name.'

‘Tell us who paid you rubbish money to spend most of the rest of your life in prison.'

Jessop, white-faced, carried on shaking his head.

‘How much?' I persevered. ‘Fifty quid? A hundred? How he must have laughed telling the boss man how cheaply idiots in the sticks could be hired. Yes, I've changed my mind now. The DCI's right: he was looking for the really stupid. He was there, you know, one of the chief mobsters. Sitting in his big car down near the station watching it all happen. Seeing you writhing around in agony with young Billy and—'

‘The bastard sent someone over to take our money off us!'

Jessop then looked as though he wished he could bite his tongue off.

‘Who? The man you were working for?'

After a long silence Jessop muttered, ‘Him.'

‘You've no proof, though.'

‘Billy's gun and both our wallets was grabbed.'

‘Yet you're protecting this man,' Carrick observed.

‘I'm not saying nothing more.'

‘You've no proof it was
him
!' I repeated.

‘Well, I saw who done it, didn't I!' Jessop yelled.

The ancients in the corner turned round to stare at him.

‘You recognized whoever it was? The boss man's right-hand honcho?'

‘I'm not saying nothing more.'

Turning to Carrick, I said, ‘It was almost certainly the one who did the hiring. He was safe and sound in the car no doubt or he couldn't have been given the nod to retrieve the weapons and get their money back. You know, the more I think about this the more I'm coming round to believing that—'

Well  . . . no.

To Jessop, I said, ‘Was it a woman who took your money and the gun? Who hired you promising riches unlimited? A hooked-on violence woman who's as rough as rats, behaves more like a man and scares the bejesus out of everyone?'

Jessop stared at me, his eyes like holes in his head, and I knew I was right.

‘
She
was safely in the car, possibly with others, helping direct what was going on,' I said to Carrick. ‘Then joined in and was probably the one who did a bit of fancy knife-work on two of the opposition. I'd put money on her gunning down the innocent people who just happened to get in her way too.'

The DCI nodded sagely, letting me have my head.

‘And you're the poor sap who's going to prison for a long time,' I said to Jessop. ‘Yes or no: was it a woman?'

‘Yes,' he whispered. ‘Some London bloke's loony minder. He fancies having a bigger manor.'

‘Didn't he have enough of his own heavies to call on?'

‘She said he believed in having local talent. Was all charm then.'

I almost felt sorry for him. ‘What did this woman look like?'

BOOK: Rat Poison
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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