A cloak of trepidation engulfed Carruthers as he made his way along the hallway towards reception, strangling any attempt at rational thought.
A tall man, seemingly in his mid-thirties had been sitting in a lounge chair by the window, elegantly attired in a beige suit, and with short receding brown hair. The man rose on his approach and Carruthers followed the line of the receptionist’s eye for confirmation, if he needed it, that this was the inspector.
‘Mr. Carruthers? Inspector Manners of Hounslow Borough Police,’ the newcomer announced in a formal, and Carruthers thought, surprisingly polished accent. ‘I’m told there is somewhere we can talk in private.’ Manners walked briskly to the desk, and the receptionist, unlocking the catch, led them through to an inner office which seemed to have been vacated for the purpose.
Carruthers waited impatiently for the woman to close the door behind her. ‘Is it Chelsey, Inspector, what’s happened?’
Manners shook his head, took a seat behind the empty desk, stretched out and invited Carruthers to take a chair opposite.
‘I’m afraid I know nothing of the whereabouts of your wife, Mr. Carruthers. Suffice to say that at the present time her activities aren’t my primary concern.’
‘Not your primary concern?’ Carruthers met the steady gaze of the lean inspector. ‘Then why are you here?’
Manners chewed his lip, seemed to consider an instant before answering. ‘You are, I gather, at the very least an acquaintance of an Alexander Goldhawk?’
‘Through working practices, yes…’ Carruthers edged forward in his seat. ‘Why do you ask?’
Manners produced a gold pen, held the top against his bottom lip. ‘Would you describe your relationship with Mr. Goldhawk to be in any way strained?’
‘He’s not my favourite person on earth right now, I gave an account to the police here…’
‘If you’re referring to the statement you gave Sergeant Higginbotham, yes – I am aware.’ Manners reached down for his case and drew out a document, placing it before him and slipping on his reading spectacles. ‘You see, Mrs Goldhawk tells of a serious altercation, during which you are alleged to have punched her husband in the face causing serious injury.’
Carruthers clamped a hand to his cheeks, held it there for a second before slapping it on the desk. ‘Serious injury? I hardly think so. I may have hit him, yes – look Inspector, what are you getting at, why are you here – surely that doesn’t make it a major incident?’
Manners leaned back in his chair, fixed Carruthers with a remorseless, grey-eyed gaze. ‘I am here, Mr. Carruthers because Mr. Goldhawk was found dead yesterday afternoon. We do have reason to suspect foul play, and the way I see it, you have a motive.’
‘I suggest you speak to Sergeant Higginbotham again, Inspector,’ Carruthers said, his shock rapidly followed by bitterness that rose like bile. ‘That matter is cleared up. I may have acted impulsively – and yes recklessly, but I now firmly believe that my wife was not having an affair with him. Therefore my motive, were I to have one, has gone.’
‘Nonetheless, you punched him in the face; you do not deny this and less than twenty four hours later the man is found dead. These are the facts Mr. Carruthers.’
Carruthers pounded a fist on the table. ‘I know nothing of this Inspector; I had nothing to do with it.’
Manners stared, unmoved. ‘Shows of aggression, Mr. Carruthers, are hardly likely to help your case. Neither is your apparent unconcern at Mr Goldhawk’s demise.’
.Now look – what do you inspect from me?’ Carruthers crouched in his chair, thrust out a
hand. ‘My wife is missing. I’ve been worried out of my mind, and now this.’ He gave a heavy nasal exhalation. ‘Are you charging me?’
For the first time there was a ghost of a smile from Manners. ‘I am not some hatchet man; grant me more intelligence than that. I am simply following a line of inquiry. Do you intend remaining here?’
‘I was going to see the week out,’ Carruthers answered, head bowed. ‘Chelsey wouldn’t have left me high and dry.’
Manners produced a handkerchief and sneezed. ‘Excuse me, Mr. Carruthers, hay fever.’ He fell silent for a moment and Carruthers had no doubt he was being assessed. ‘Which brings me to the question of Mrs Carruthers; she is a well-known novelist, is she not?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘And you act as her agent?’
Carruthers nodded, mincing his lips.
‘And Mr. Goldhawk, the publisher of her books, is dead, and your wife is missing.’
‘Mr. Carruthers I merely state the facts.’ Manners raised a hand silencing Carruthers. ‘If you’re thinking of leaving the locality please advise me of your whereabouts.’ Manners delved into his suit pocket and produced a card. ‘You will be hearing from me shortly; in the meantime should you recall anything you might have forgotten, please advise me of such. Naturally the local constabulary is aware of the situation; they are also likely to be in touch with you.’
Manners got up, headed for the door, stopped and turned. ‘I’m surprised about one thing, Mr. Carruthers…’
‘What’s that?’ Carruthers said tiredly, rifling a hand through his hair.
‘That you didn’t ask where the body was found.’
Carruthers shook his head. ‘I’m just too overwhelmed by the whole thing to really care. Well go on, tell me, where was it found?’
‘We found it washed up on the banks of the Thames in Chiswick, not far from your abode by all accounts. You might also be interested to know that there were indentations around the victim’s neck, although it’s premature at this stage to determine them as the cause of death. Goodbye for now.’
Manners’ final remarks echoed in Carruthers’ head with the repetition of a tolling bell.
It wasn’t enough that Carruthers had to contend with Chelsey’s disappearance, the shock of Goldhawk’s death and Inspector Manners’ suspicion that he might be implicated in it – on top of it all the man’s body had been found by the Thames, in Chiswick, within walking distance of his own home.
Was that pure coincidence or something more worrying and ominous? And had Chelsey’s disappearance something to do with it? The possibility of that was too painful to contemplate right now. His stomach felt knotted and contracted as he wound his way through the hotel to the rear garden, where he selected a bench and had a smoke. The taste was acrid, lingered unpleasantly and did nothing to settle his belly. He’d give up the habit if he had the willpower to do it, just now though, he couldn’t even consider doing so.
Perhaps he should go home, what was there to do with his day apart from worry? In light of recent developments that might prove the best course of action. But his gut instinct held him in the New Forest; he couldn’t bring himself to leave the area where he’d last seen Chelsey. He still believed that left to her own devices she wouldn’t simply have up and left him.
He needed to do something constructive with his time, to engage in something that might count towards finding her. He wondered whether Casey had got wind of Goldhawk’s demise, and checked his watch. She should have arrived back by now, at the neat town house bordering Ealing Common where she lived alone.
No boyfriend for Casey, not for some time now, which was surprising because with her looks she certainly wouldn’t be short of suitors. Perhaps some of the reason might lie in the fact that whereas Chelsey undeniably thrived at social functions, Casey for the most part had a tendency to stay away from them. Sometimes that baffled him; it didn’t seem to fit her
Carruthers called Casey’s home and found the line switched to automatic answering. He supposed the traffic was heavy and that she was still driving back. Opting not to call her mobile for fear of distracting her concentration he decided to try Adrian; obnoxious as the man was, he needed to be kept in touch with developments, and moreover, as a journalist, it was highly probable he already knew about Goldhawk. He’d been surprised by Adrian’s hasty departure the previous morning, and more so, though hardly offended, that he hadn’t been in contact since.
As in Casey’s instance, Adrian’s phone went straight to recorded message, but a call to his mobile was met at the first bleep.
‘Adrian Frampton-Williams,’ the supercilious voice announced with an enhanced formality, even though, as Carruthers knew, Adrian was fully aware that he was the caller.
‘Adrian,’ Carruthers began with thinly-disguised irritation, ‘I take it you’ve heard?’
‘Heard what? Are you talking about Chelsey? What in God’s name’s happened?’
‘No – it’s Goldhawk, he’s been found dead.’ Carruthers masked his face with his hand. ‘I thought you might have heard…’
‘Goldhawk found dead?’ Adrian sounded bemused, muttering the words slowly. ‘No, I’ve been out of touch, taking a day or two off – how – where did it happen?’
Carruthers gave a sharp nasal inhalation. ‘His body was found washed up on the banks of the Thames at Chiswick.’
‘Well, I’ll be damned. That’s your back yard.’
Carruthers grimaced, as if he didn’t know. ‘I’ve already had a police inspector from London question me – they’re not saying much but they’re treating it as suspicious.’
‘Well be careful what you say to them – you know how they can twist things. You’re on a
sticky enough wicket as it is.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Simply that you had…’ Adrian broke off, shouted something as in the background a dog barked, deep and loudly.
‘Simply that you have a motive to want him harmed – his attempted affair with Chelsey, his subsequent rejection of her new book – and from where you say they found his body, things hardly look good for you, Martin.’
‘I’ve been in Lyndhurst all the time…’
‘All the time? Not from what you told me.’
‘Apart from that incident, I mean.’
‘Well there you go, so be careful.’
Carruthers snorted, he was getting hotter by the minute. ‘Things won’t look good for Chelsey either; I wish I knew where the hell she was.’
‘Whatever happened to Chelsey, Martin, don’t you go implicating her.’ A touch of anger crept into Adrian’s haughty voice. ‘I won’t stand for it.’
‘I’m not trying to implicate her,’ Carruthers retorted his voice rising. ‘I’m trying to fathom out what’s happened here – and you don’t seem to be offering much help.’
‘What help do you expect me to be? Good God man, I’m as worried as you are; I lay awake wondering. I came up as soon as I heard.’
Yes, and just as quickly went back, Carruthers thought. But there was little point in putting that fact to him, the conversation had become heated enough.
‘Yes, well – I’m going to see the week out. I won’t be returning before then – I’ve got a gut feeling Chelsey’s still in the area…’
‘You have? Why?’
The sudden elevation in Adrian’s tone caused Carruthers to throw up his free hand. ‘I don’t know. I just feel it – but listen, there’s one way you can help – pay home a visit for me if you can find time, see if there’s any trace of Chelsey having been back.’
‘No point, I already did.’
‘What?’ Carruthers was taken aback. ‘Why didn’t you say – is there any…’
‘No there isn’t,’ Adrian said tersely. ‘From the outside the place is clearly empty. I just thought I’d check, she’s my sister after all.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Carruthers muttered, didn’t he know it. ‘When was that?’
‘Oh, I don’t recall…’ the sound of the barking dog filled the background once more. ‘Yes – yesterday afternoon, it was all quiet.’
‘Okay,’ Carruthers said tiredly, ‘well if you hear anything, call me.’
‘Of course I will,’ Adrian answered, his manner still offhand, but there wasn’t anything unusual in that. ‘I’ll check with the news agency, see what I can find on the Goldhawk case. Anything crops up, I’ll let you know.’ The phone went down.
As abrupt as ever. Carruthers blew smoke into the air, how he abhorred the man.
He spent a few minutes in deep contemplation before taking himself out to the high street – the bustle, comparative to the solitude of the garden, might do him some good.
His mobile rang and wrenching it from his pocket he dropped the appliance on the street, his fingers were so clammy, but that wasn’t caused by the heat of the day as much as his own internal temperature. If the concept of spontaneous human combustion were to be a reality then he would be in real danger of exploding into flames.
He retrieved it from the pavement, his mind linking back to the moment Noades had found Chelsey’s phone at the picnic spot. Any faint hope that it might be her was blown to smithereens as the flashing screen brought up Casey’s number.
‘Sorry Marty, missed your call. I got caught up in the traffic I’m afraid – you wouldn’t believe the lane closures.’ There was a pause. ‘Isn’t it horrible? You wouldn’t believe the commotion it’s caused around your locality, either.’
‘You’ve been there? You’ve heard?’
‘Right on one count, Marty – I’ve heard, but I haven’t been near the place, I didn’t need to – the radio stations are full of it, and the press too, I wouldn’t be surprised.’
‘Are you sure?’ Carruthers scratched his head, caught a blister on his scalp and instantly regretted it.
‘Of course I’m sure.’
‘It’s just that Adrian was remarking on how quiet it had been – apparently he’d checked for any sign of Chelsey having been back.’
He heard Casey’s slow intake of breath. ‘Don’t you think it’s strange, Marty?’
‘What’s strange?’ Carruthers asked, although he was aware of where Casey was leading.
‘That Alexander’s body was found so close to …’ she broke off… ‘it’s all so horrible – so very horrible.’
Carruthers temperature climbed another degree. ‘Adrian seems to be laying the blame at my door.’
‘What – Chelsey’s disappearance, you mean?’
Carruthers sighed, turned a corner where the pavement was so narrow he was forced to step onto the road to avoid a pedestrian, nearly getting run down by a car in the process. ‘No, of course not, silly,’ he said struggling to regain his composure. ‘I mean Alexander.’
‘Well that would be just typical of Adrian,’ Casey said with venom. ‘Pay him no heed. Everybody knows you don’t have murder in your veins.’
‘What do you mean, everybody? If the police take the same line as Adrian, they’ll have
made their minds up.’
‘Nonsense,’ Casey said sternly, ‘the guy’s a creep; look, you’ve got to snap out of it, Marty – bring yourself back to civilization – closer to the ones who care about you.’
But the one who cares about me the most isn’t there…though Carruthers refrained from making his thoughts audible, because despite it all there were seeds of doubt, and Casey had been their cultivator.
But he knew the truth – he couldn’t go back home without his wife being there.
‘I’ll hang it out for the week, Casey – as I’ve told you.’
‘I wish you’d reconsider…’
‘We’ve been through that – I’ll contact you when I’m back – bye Casey.’
But any ideas Carruthers had of spending his time away from home were soon to be curtailed. He’d reached the entrance to the Country Park when his mobile rang again, the words, ‘number withheld,’ concealing any identity until the caller announced himself.
‘Mr. Carruthers? Inspector Manners here – I require your presence down here in Chiswick, forthwith I’m afraid.’
Carruthers heartbeat skipped then raced. ‘What is it Inspector? What’s happened?’
‘We need to consider a new angle in the case, Mr. Carruthers, and I’d like you here sooner rather than later if you wouldn’t mind.’
‘That’s all I’m prepared to say at the moment,’ came the firm reply.
Carruthers bit his lip, turned and headed back to the hotel. Just what was Manners up to?