Authors: S. T. Haymon
Jane Coryton pointed out: âNot my carpets any more.'
âHer Imperial Majesty Elena's, then. She'd 'a' done her nut.'
Jurnet interposed, on a note of cold inquiry: âThe earrings.'
âHanging about waiting for the old cack-arse, had to do something, di'n't I? Thought he must've fallen down the hole, but no such luck. Anyway, I wandered into the bedroom where the women had put their coats an' things. Combed my hair in front of the glass, poked about a bit â'
Jane Coryton said succinctly: âAll the drawers had been cleared out days before.'
âYou got a suspicious mind, ducky! All I did, someone had dumped a Spanish shawl on the bed. I draped it round me shoulders, took a flower out of a vase and did a bit of ole in front of the mirror, just for laughs. Christ, was I fed to the teeth with Charlie boy!'
âThe earrings,' Jurnet said again.
âThe earrings!' the other echoed mockingly. âThere was this one bag someone had left behind. Well, it had to be Anna March's, di'n't it? Ethnic. A pair of earrings and 47 bloody p! I bet she doles out 10p to Danny for a sherbet sucker if he behaves himself and don't answer back.'
Jurnet said, in the same even tone: âYou stole them.'
â47p? I wouldn't demean myself. I borrowed the earrings, that's all. Anna weren't using them, was she? We're all mates here in the Coachyard â right? â so what's wrong with borrowing a pair of earrings from a pal just for the fun of it?'
âYou were on your way home. Planning to wear them in bed?'
âJust an idea I had,' the young man said airily. His tone changed, he jerked a shoulder irritably in the direction of Winter. âThen
came blundering out of the lav, stinking like a drain, an' I was the one had to get him home.
going on like a nagging wife about what did I mean by making eyes at Mr Shelden. I don't mind telling you, if he'd fallen off that bridge into the moat â and he could have, easy, if I hadn't seen him over like he was a baby â I'd've left the bloody eels to get on with it and good luck to 'em! Go on? I thought he'd never give over!'
Jurnet observed: âIf he was that drunk, he must have gone out like a light once you got him back home.'
Botley surveyed the detective with a fresh, almost childlike, interest.
âKnow what, rozzer? You're bright. But then, I suppose you're trained to it. Got his shoes off, that's all, and there he was, sprawled out on the bed snoring fit to blow the roof off.'
âLeaving you free, for the rest of the night at least, to put on Anna's earrings and go your own sweet way.'
The young man giggled. Jurnet, despite himself, felt his face stiffen with distaste.
âNot just the earrings, Inspector! You
a one! I had a dress I'd been keeping for a special occasion. Crimson velvet with lovely sleeves â'
âOne of the dresses from the pageant. Where are they kept stored?'
âThere you go again!' declared the other. âYou'll cut yourself, you're so sharp. They're kept in one of the empty coach houses â'
âSomething else you borrowed â'
âSaved from certain death, more like. They got rats in there.'
âNever mind that. You put on the dress, and the earrings â'
âAnd my wig. That's my own property. Charlie give it me for Christmas â didn't you, Charlie boy?'
The man said, out of the depths of some private hell: âI was only pretending to be asleep. I waited until he'd changed into that dress and was tiptoeing towards the door, and then I got up. I'd guessed all along he'd made some private arrangement with Shelden, to go to him after the party was over. That's why I dragged the earrings out of his ears, why I beat him up. He never got through the door.'
Mrs Coryton sprang forward, ready to protest, when Mike Botley forestalled her with a weary contempt beneath which the potter bowed his head silently.
âYou don't want to pay no heed to him! Won't be happy till he's sacrificed his good name to save me from a murder rap. He'd been Jesus, he couldn't wait to be crucified. Pity I didn't leave those earrings alone, though. Didn't even care for 'em, particularly. Not my style. You'd have never found out, otherwise.'
âWe'd have found out.' Jurnet spoke with a conviction he did not entirely feel. âHad you, in fact, made a date with Shelden?'
âNot in so many words. But I knew, he knew â what more do you want?'
âMore of a code, is it, then â like the Masons? What made you so sure he was gay?'
Botley's fists clenched. His face darkened.
âI knew. I knew all right!'
âOK. You knew. Calm down and tell us what happened.'
âI rang the bell and he opened the door so fast I think he must've been waiting on the other side of it. Either that, or he come down the stairs four at a time. I don't think he recognised me at first â you'd be surprised, that black wig makes me look a different person altogether â and then I said, “I've come to read the meter.” Laugh? You could've heard him all the way to Angleby, if you'd been listening.'
Mike Botley looked at Jurnet, and said with a confiding air in which there seemed no artifice: âI don't mind telling you I really fell for him in a big way. He was so lively, so full of get up and go â not like Old Constipation here, brooding over his clay and counting his senna pods. I felt like I was coming alive again after being left in suspended animation like those blokes in
. We went up the stairs laughing, his arm round my waist, and it was laughs all the way from then on. He took me into the kitchen and I made some sandwiches out of the leftovers while he put the kettle on and made us some coffee; and then we took it into a nice room with a desk in it, and we sat on the edge of the desk, eating and drinking, and chatting away as if we'd known each other all our lives. It was really great!' The young man's face brightened at the recollection. âNo sex, believe it or not. Just friendliness. It wasn't till we were doing the washing up together that he suddenly made a grab for me and kissed me â put his tongue in like he was looking for my tonsils. By the time he whispered in me shell-like ear, “Let's take the mattress out on to the roof, what do you say?” I was as hot as he was.
âI don't mind admitting, I was real gone on him. I waited while he went and slipped into something comfortable. He said it like Mae West, wriggling his hips â and laugh! I thought I'd die. At last I managed to get out, “We'll never be able to do it, if you don't take it a bit more serious.” And do you know what he did then?' Botley's face had become white and intent, the damaged area round the eyes standing out purple by comparison. âHe took my face between his two hands, very gentle, and he said, “You silly little goose, this
serious. This is for life.”'
âNot all that long, as it turned out.' Jurnet had to find some way of venting his discomfort.
âToo long by half!' The bitterness, the brutal change, was all the more shocking. âWhen he came back â gold pyjamas he had on, and his velvet jacket â we went into the party room, and then up the stairs to the roof. The mattress was propped up against the wall, just inside the door. It was one of those inflatable ones, partly blown up, but not as far as it would go. There was a foot pump to pump it up higher, and once we got outside Chad started pumping away as if his life depended on it. Me, I thought it was OK the way it was. I mean, when you're boiling for a screw you don't usually stop to check how many pounds pressure there is in the blooming bedding.'
Mike Botley paused, and considered a moment. Then he said, quite softly, possessed of a rancour that imploded within, devastation invisible to the naked eye: âI told you he was gay, di'n't I? I told you the way he kissed me. On'y thing I didn't tell you, because I had to find it out for myself the hard way, it turned out Mr fucking Shelden didn't really feel it right to be natural an' enjoy the nature the good Lord seen fit to give him. Felt he ought by rights to be laying some flabby cow, all breasts and buttocks you could bounce off like a trampoline. Not that he didn't still want me â he was looking like he'd got a prize marrow stuffed down his pyjamas â only all of a sudden lover boy has what I understand are called qualms. Bloody fool! Not that I made a scene, or anything, you understand. Disappointed, but then, that's nothing new, living with good old Charlie. Only â' and now the young man's voice took on a note of harsh complaint â âwhy the hell I got to be the one to suffer, all on account some bloody weirdo's got problems of identity?' He petered out to a sulky silence.
âWhat happened next?'
âHere's what happened next! Here and here and here and here â' Mike Botley pointed to his face, his gashed head, his mutilated ear lobes. âAll of a sudden the geezer went berserk â goes for me like a raving lunatic, punching, kicking, I donât know what. When he wrenched the earrings out of my ears â' the young man shuddered â âI think I passed out â'
Jurnet asked with scant sympathy: âYou didn't think to fight back?'
âYou could've soon fought back an earthquake. I did the only thing I could â rolled myself up like a Swiss roll, an' waited for the earthquake to stop.'
âYou didn't by any chance leap up, lock your strong young arms round your attacker and heave him over the parapet?' While Botley stared at him in silent contempt, the detective added: âIt could have been self-defence.'
âYou ain't been listening. There
no defence. Shelden beat me up like he'd been saving it up to take out on someone ever since he got potty-trained. Just my luck, that someone had to be me.'
Jurnet pursed his lips reflectively.
âIf he was acting as crazy as you make out, how come he knew enough to turn it in before he did for you for good?'
âYou'll have to ask him, won't you? All I know is, suddenly he stopped hitting, put his hands up to his face, and screams at me to get the hell out. I didn't have to be asked twice! An' you know what?' The damaged face twisted in a grimace. âRushing down all them stairs in that bloody dress, what do I do but trip and fall all the way down the last flight! Oh, it was my night all right!'
âWhat time was it when you left the flat?'
âHow the hell should I know? I weren't charging by the hour, you know!'
Charles Winter came to life again, and said, in a voice as grey as the clay that caked him: âHe got home just after three.'
âWith respect, sir,' said Jurnet, in a voice that indicated that he felt no respect, âyou were in no condition to know what time he got in.'
âYou're wrong, Inspector' â and now it was as if the blood had begun to circulate again, the voice growing deep and vigorous: âMike and I are on the same wavelength. Even in my drunken sleep it got through to me that he was in danger. The knowledge woke me up. I switched on the bedside light, and saw it was five minutes to three. I called “Mike!” and when he didn't answer, and I could see he wasn't anywhere in the place, I put on my shoes to go out and look for him.' The potter passed the back of his hand across his forehead, leaving a further smear of clay. âI knew where to look for him, of course â except that it didn't matter any more; only that my darling was hurt. He needed me. I'd just opened the flat door when he came stumbling up the stairs.' The man closed his eyes, then opened them. âIf you had only seen him! The pity of it!' In a voice vibrant with emotion: âIf Chad Shelden had put in an appearance at that moment I'd have torn him limb from limb!'
Jane Coryton cried: âNot you, Charles! Never!'
Jurnet had a suggestion to make.
âQuite sure, having got yourself dressed, you didn't go over to the curator's flat to do just that very thing?'
The other brushed aside the question impatiently.
âI had more important things to do. I bathed Mike's wounds. I bandaged them. I comforted him â'
â' Botley broke into a phrase from
Hearts and Flowers
. âYou'll have the Inspector weeping into his pinny. All you did, you silly old sod, was slosh disinfectant around like I was a bunged-up S-trap. It's a miracle I got any skin left.' The young man spoke with a calculated cruelty which plainly afforded him enjoyment. âYour bloody bandages either came undone in five minutes, or else they nearly strangled me â'
The potter bowed his head, moved his hands gently over the mound of clay.
âWe'll take a trip, darling. Anywhere you say. That Club MediterranÃ©e brochure you showed me â'
âMr Botley won't be travelling anywhere yet awhile,' Jurnet cut in. âNot for pleasure, at least.' To the young man: âI must ask you to accompany Detective-Sergeant Ellers here to our incident room in the west wing, so that you can make a full statement, which will be typed, which you can read through, and which you can then sign, once you are satisfied it's a faithful transcript of what you have just told us. There are a good many other questions which have to be asked, and Sergeant Ellers will then drive you to Headquarters at Angleby. You will, of course, be cautioned that anything you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence.'
âYou mean, you're charging me?'
âI mean exactly what I say,' Jurnet returned smoothly. âCall it helping the police with their inquiries. The duty of every citizen.'
Charles Winter put in anxiously: âWill you be keeping him there overnight?'
âI'll pack a few things.' The potter rubbed his hand against his slacks, trying, not very successfully, to dislodge the clay. He moved away from the wheel, towards Mike Botley, and put a loving arm round the young man's shoulders. âYour tooth brush. Socks. A shirt. There's that slab of chocolate in the fridge â'