Authors: Jordan Gray
Molly looked from Krebs's solemn face back to Michael. “There's one woman not trying to get away from Blackpool, not until she's made her mark, anyway.”
“How soon before we see her footprints on Paddington's forehead?” Michael asked.
“Not long. I just hope she doesn't decide to make her reputation on Dylan's or Naomi's heads.”
“Ah,” was all Michael said, but Molly could tell that her remark had hit home.
Krebs led the way to the police station, a converted Victorian house on Walnut Grove Street a block from Dockside Avenue, and ushered Michael and Molly through the sturdy door and past the vestibule. “Wait here,” she instructed, and strode on past the front counter.
Dylan, Naomi and Rohan occupied a row of plastic chairs to one side. Rohan's rich mahogany complexion looked as if it had been dusted with ash and Dylan was pasty. With heavy makeup smeared over her stark white face, Naomi could have passed for a zombie risen from its grave.
They looked up as the Grahams walked in. Molly shook her head and Naomi began to cry into Dylan's shoulder. “Thanks for going to the hospital,” he said to them. “They told us to come here and not to leave.”
Michael nodded and they perched in the nearby bay window. After a long moment in which the only sounds were the bleeps of electronic equipment, low voices and shuffling footsteps from the rear of the building, Michael asked Dylan, “Where were you this morning when I phoned?”
“At home. Asleep. I'd been up all night searching for Naomi. I stirred up some teenagers at the train stationâBlackpool Council needs to either clean the place out or tear it downâand I poked about in the tunnels a bit, then I went back to Willie's flat. After that I gave up and went home. If I'd known Willie had bought himself a boat, I'd have looked there.”
Naomi peered down at her hands, which she was twisting like a hangman's noose in her lap.
Michael rephrased his question. “Where were you between half past ten and eleven this morning? That's when the doctor thought Willie was stabbed and the boat was set adrift.”
Dylan's crest of red hair drooped and his massive shoulders slouched. “Michael, we're mates. You're not implyingâ It wasn't me Daisy heard arguing with Willie yesterday. I was sleeping off that pint at your houseâ¦”
“I know. The killer had to be out and about around ten-thirty this morning, that's all.”
“I wasn't, not then. I was asleep in the apartment. I switched my phone back on at eleven, and Naomi called within five minutes. I called you and Rohan, and here we are.”
“I was walkin' around then,” Rohan said. “So were a lot of other people. The vendors were workin', Hopewell's sailors were on and off the yacht, the band was tunin' up. Mon, whoever stabbed Willie and set the boat adrift could have walked right past me, and I wouldn't have noticed a thing.”
“Surely heâ¦” Molly stopped. “He or she” would be more correct, but less diplomatic. “Surely the attacker got blood on his hands.”
“So he tucked his hands into his pockets,” said Michael, his brow furrowed. He loved working through scenariosâthat's why he wrote games. “He'd washed them long since and checked himself for bloodstains. Likely he's either cleaned the knife or hidden it, as wellâunless that pocket knife's the murder weapon. Paddington's chances of catching the attacker with any evidence still on him are well and trulyâ¦” The word
hung in the stale air as Paddington
slammed through the outside door, with Fotherby at his heels, and Krebs emerged from the back.
All three faces reflected a dour self-importance, but it was Paddington who spoke. “Dylan Stewart, I arrest you in connection with the murder of Willie Myners. You do not have to say anything, but it may, it mayâah, damn, what's the wordingâ¦”
Krebs picked up the script. “It may harm your defense if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. I'll lock him up, guv'nor.” She grabbed one of Dylan's arms.
“Inspector Paddington,” Michael protested, “you've got the wrong person!”
“He didn't do it!” cried Naomi.
“That's just not fair!” Molly said indignantly. “You're jumping to conclusions!”
And Rohan finished the chorus with, “Trust the police to get everything wrong.”
Shaking his head, Dylan looked pleadingly at each face in turn, and then shambled behind Krebs toward the station's small holding cell.
ICHAEL STOOD OUTSIDE
the police station, shoulders braced, chin thrust out, anger simmering. Paddington and Krebs, with Fotherby making flanking movements, had interviewed him, Rohan and Naomiâseparately, so as to winkle out any discrepancies in testimonyâwhile Molly paced back and forth in the waiting room.
Now, on the front steps beside him, she tucked her iPhone into her pocket. “There. Your sister Robin suggested I call the solicitor she introduced us to at the Fund for Children's Christmas party in London. So I did. He's going to do whatever it takes to get Dylan out on bail. Paddington doesn't have a real case, just circumstantial evidence.”
Michael watched Rohan and Naomi disappear down the street toward the bicycle shop, Rohan having promised Dylan to help her run the business in his absence. Hopefully a very short absence. “A murder case,” he said. “We should leave well enough alone, let Paddington and Krebs and even Fotherby deal with it.”
“No kidding.” A flash of memory of the theatre murdersâand fearâglanced across Molly's eyes.
Michael felt that same memory and fear ooze through his own mind. He drew Molly close against his side and for a moment she clung to him. Then she drew herself up stubbornly. “But it's all going wrong. If Paddington thinks Dylan's the killer, he won't investigate any further.”
“No. He won't.”
“Did you see the way Dylan looked at us? He knows we've had some experience in detective work, whether we wanted to or not. He knows we don't like leaving well enough alone. He needs our help.”
“Yes.” Again Michael squared his shoulders and raised his chin, using his anger to tamp down that ever-recurring fear, a fear less for himself than for Molly. “Let's have a meal and talk it over.”
“Good idea. It's too late for lunch, and too early for tea, but with this crowd in town, Emily's shop will be open.”
Walking shoulder-to-shoulder, they took off toward Dockside Avenue.
Tim Jenkins and his expanding crew crossed their path, hurrying in the direction of the marina. Two police cars now blocked the end of the pier, and several overall-clad figures climbed in and out of a panel van like invading aliens. The activity was orchestrated by a man with a suit, a tie and a beak of a nose. His sandy red hair glinting in the sunlight, he intercepted Jenkins and designated a spot for him at one side of the gawping crowd. The Scene of Crimes team from Ripon had arrived.
The Grahams lingered a moment, but when the technicians disappeared behind the screens erected around Willie's boat, Molly and Michael pressed on around the corner into Bell Street. They walked up the steep, narrow lane below overhanging eaves and dangling baskets of flowers and opened the door of the Delightful Tea Shop.
“Michael! Molly!” Every gray hair straying from Emily Crowder's bun stood on end with static electricity and curiosity. “What's this I hear about Willie Myners?
He's found Charles Crowe's lost treasure and someone's murdered him for it?”
The Internet didn't move as quickly as news in Blackpool, Michael thought. Molly filled Emily in while she seated them at the only vacant table, a small one near the elegant stone fireplace.
“You don't say!” Emily exclaimed.
“I'm afraid I do say,” Molly replied, and placed their usual order. “Tea, toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, chips and Peggy's apple tarts with cream, please.”
“Right you are,” said Emily, and walked off toward the kitchen.
As Michael sat down, he caught a movement beyond the open door of a small private room.
“What are you looking at?” Molly asked.
A waitress exited the room and shut the door behind her. Michael leaned back in his chair. “Aleister Crowe's in there, with Lydia and Aubrey. They appear to be having a serious conference.”
“About Willie's gold, what do you want to bet? They're planning what to tell both Ophelia and the media. Damage control.”
“Spin doctoring,” said Michael. “We've seen Aleister at work. The paintings his family helped steal, his father's activities during the war, the lot. We learned his MO during the murder investigation last spring.”
“What's the collective noun for a gathering of crows, like a parliament of owls or an unkindness of ravens? A murder? A murder of Crowes-with-an-
Not that I think Aleister killed Willie to keep him from spilling the beans on the location of Charles Crowe's treasure. He's more subtle than that, as we know from experience.” Her face puckered with yet more memory.
Don't dwell on it,
Michael told himself. “I can't see
either Lydia or Aubrey having a go with a knifeâthey're the lightweights in the family.”
“Lydia's a tunnel rat, isn't she?” Molly asked. “Maybe she knows something about Willie's coinsâ¦ Oh, thanks, Emily.”
Emily set down a teapot and cups. Molly poured for Michael, then herself, the fragrant steam wavering upward. She pitched her voice to blend with the buzz of other conversation and the clatter of utensils against crockery, asking, “So are the old Blackpool legends of Charles Crowe stealing and hiding a gold treasure really true?”
“I doubt even the Crowes have an answer to that,” Michael said. “Unless they've got Charles Crowe's secret diaries or the like.”
“Charles doesn't strike me as the kind to write down his secrets. And even if he had, Ophelia would have burned them long ago.” Molly sipped warily at her steaming cup, then pulled out her iPhone and set it to take notes. “Okay. We need to list the prime suspects, the people with motive, means and opportunity.”
“You've paid close attention to working with your uncle at the Mystery Case Files agency, haven't you now?”
“Of course I have. If I wasn't so good at writing grants, I'd be a detective, like him.”
“All right then,” Michael replied with an indulgent if wry smile. “Aleister might have a motive, of a sort, but what about means?”
“The Crowes probably have everything from Cro-Magnon skinning flints to broadswords tucked away at the Crowe's Nest. All of these old country homes do. And rumor has it that cane of his is really a sword stick.”
“But what about the knives available to everyone in Blackpool?” Michael nodded toward the waitress,
advancing toward their table with two plates. “How many does Emily have in her kitchen? How many does Iris have at our own house, come to that?”
“Thank you,” Molly said again, as the girl set the plates on the table.
The delicious odor of golden-brown fried potatoes distracted them, and for a few moments he and Molly did nothing but eat.
At last she patted her lips with her napkin and said, “Yes, everyone in town has the means to have committed Willie's murder. As for opportunity, well, that's why the police ask around and establish who was where when.”
Trying to keep his objectivity, Michael replied, “Just because Dylan says he was home asleep at half past ten doesn't mean he actually was. If he was down by the pier just then, no matter how many people were coming and going, someone would have seen him. He's a hard chap to miss, with the hair and the tattoos and all.”
Brisk and businesslike, Molly patted out notes on her tiny screen with her fingertips. “Then there's Naomi. If she'd had blood on her hands, literal blood, wouldn't you have noticed?”
Suddenly, Michael was again bobbing in the harbor. “Her hands were cleanâI remember her purple nail enamel. But there was plenty of water to wash in.”
“What was her body language, her tone of voice on the boatâ¦?”
“She was upset.”
“Of course she was, but maybe it was because, say, she'd argued with Willie over Michelle, or she'd told him she no longer had any use for him and she was going back to Dylan. Either way, he turned violent and she stabbed him in self-defense.”
“She just happened to be carrying a knife about with
her? The doctor thought the blade was longer than the one we found.”
Molly nodded. “You're right. The murderer must have deliberately taken the knife on board with him. Her. The question is, would Naomi, well, not exactly
Dylan, but let him be accused, even convicted, in her place? Especially if that freed her from Blackpool?”
“I don't think so,” said Michael. “She doesn't seem nearly hard enough for that.”
The inner door opened and the three Crowes trooped through the crowded main room. Lydia brushed crumbs from her clothingâa saucy blouse, a tight skirt, high-heeled shoes. Aubrey adjusted the collar of his striped shirt. Aleister held his cane like a croquet mallet. Spotting the Grahams, he let his siblings go on ahead and detoured to their table.
“Well now,” he said, his deep, resonant voice lowered to a husky whisper, “are our local amateur sleuths back at work?”
“Define âwork',” Michael asked.
“Don't play the innocent with me.” Aleister's lips tightened in a thin smile. “I suggest you remember, the pair of you, what happens when you take it upon yourself to ask questions.”
Molly's cheeks flushed. “Are you trying to tell us you have a stake in Willie Myners's murder, Aleister? What are you trying to hide this time?”
His smile petrifying, Aleister bowed and strolled away after Aubrey and Lydia.
She muttered, “When he looks at me I feel like I've just walked into a giant spiderweb.”
“Quite.” A giant spiderweb. There was a hazard for his gameâ¦ Michael pushed down his irritation at Aleister and went on. “Michelle Crookshank and her father. She
was afraid he'd murdered Willie. And then they alibied each other.”
“Which pretty much cancels out both alibis, especially since Geoffrey's got a great motiveâwhat Willie did to his daughter.”
“With his daughter.”
“Yeah, she's young and in love with love, and Willie played on her romantic fantasies, not that I can see him as the romantic lead.” Molly pulled a face. “Looking for love in all the wrong places. It's an old story, but that doesn't make it a good oneâespecially when there's a child involved. At least Geoffrey doesn't want to throw her and the baby out onto the street, although if he ends up in prison, things will be rough for her.”
“What if she ends up in prison?” asked Michael. “Perhaps she decided her child would be better off with no father, rather than the wrong one.”
“Or what if she heard about Willie and Naomi and killed him out of jealousyâif I can't have him, then no one can. I agree with Geoffrey, though. She can hardly walk. It wouldn't have been easy for her to climb onto the boat. And Willie could have outrun her.”
“She might have waited until he turned his back.”
Emily arrived with two slices of apple tart, each swimming in a pool of thick yellow cream. “Everything's all right for you, is it?” she asked them.
“Everything's great, as usual,” said Molly.
They dug into the sweet apple, golden pastry and rich, smooth cream.
When Molly picked up her phone again, Michael said, “Robbie Glennison. You mentioned you and Paddington saw him arguing with Willie?”
“Oh, yeah. He might have punched Willie out right there if Krebs hadn't intervened. Paddington said that
when Robbie works at all, he works for Callum at the Smokehouse, though he made some remark about him not being right in the head. Considering Paddington thinks you and I aren't exactly right in the head, I'd take that with a grain of salt, except Robbie really did seem, well, off.”
“Were they arguing over drugs, do you suppose?”
“I wouldn't be surprised. He could have wanted Willie to keep quiet about his habit, or he could have been asking Willie to give him a discount or forgive a debt. Maybe, in his own twisted fashion, he thought killing Willie would be the equivalent of entering detox.”
“Twisted. Oh, yes.” Michael set down his fork.
“Should we put Fotherby on our list?” Molly asked. “He's taken his own sweet time telling Paddington about the coins. And he was awfully quick to protect Willie's interests. You don't think Fotherby had any private deals going with Willie, do you? A profit-sharing plan?”
“Maybe so, but Willie can't have made much in the way of profit, not in such a small town. Those coins, though, they were another matter. Obliging of me to turn them up, wasn't it?”
“You didn't know Fotherby was lurking outside,” Molly said.
“Yes, but in an odd sort of way, I feel I owe Willie for sinking that ship he was expecting. If I hadn't found his coins, maybe he'd have been able to get away with Naomi, and there's no saying how that would have ended.”
“Not with him selling the coins to Trevor Hopewell, although maybe Willie was planning to catch up with him later, when Martin Dunhill wasn't around.”
“What about Dunhill as the killer, then? Or Hopewell, come to that? What if he killed Willie for the coins? He has an impressive display of cutlery on his yacht.”
“But Trevor only heard about the coins this morning, after Willie had already been attacked.”
“Or so he pretended.”
“Hmm, yes,” Molly said reluctantly.
Michael's lips tightenedâcould she be blinded by Hopewell's looks?
“Maybe he doesn't just have the face of a movie star,” she went on, “maybe he can act, too. But if he killed Willie, he cleaned up and got to the Customs House awfully fast.”
“Hopewell reminds me of Aleister. He'd find murder to be a bit messy.”
“So, like Aleister, he'd have his valet or butler do the dirty work for him. Or his first mate. Martin was no friend of Willie's. They knew each other from somewhere, and he saw the coinâ¦. Or maybe he didn't. Willie was holding it in his fist. In any case, I saw Martin at the festival this morning, before we saw Trevor.”
“Daisy Coffey? Is she telling the truth about hearing him argue with both Naomi and Michelle and the unidentified manâwho might have been Liam McKenna? He and Holly are certainly profiting from the whole gypsy gold story.” Molly pushed her plate away so briskly the knife and fork clanked together. “It's always possible Willie was killed by someone we don't know. Dealing drugs is risky business, even if it's just the penny-ante stuff Willie was in.”