Carruthers bought some cigarettes and a copy of the local evening paper from a newsagent on the high street. The headline stood out bold and stark. ‘Missing Novelist – Link to Dead Man.’ Carruthers read on as he hurried back to the hotel.
‘Reports linking novelist Chelsey Carruthers, who disappeared from a Forest area two days ago, to the editor Alexander Goldhawk, whose body was found on the banks of the Thames at Chiswick, have been substantiated by local police. While refusing to comment further they do confirm that Mrs Carruthers’ resides within the vicinity of the incident, along with her husband and agent, Martin. He is said to be remaining in the area for the time being.’
Carruthers sighed, so the police were linking Chelsey’s disappearance to Goldhawk’s death. That seemed the reason he was being summoned back to West London.
He hurriedly changed and showered, ran down to his Range Rover and set off for the police station at Chiswick. A glance at his fuel gauge told him he was running low, and about two miles out of Lyndhurst he spotted a garage and pulled in.
Fuelling up, a smart red sports car in an adjacent bay caught his eye; he’d seen the vehicle before and didn’t need telling where. He glanced across to the garage main which included a small shop, but couldn’t make out the interior for the darkened glass.
It was Noades vehicle though, no doubt about it. He needed to speak to him – the man he was sure, despite his sudden departure from the hotel, would want to know of his plight – he’d been that helpful in the first instance –
Slamming the nozzle back on its catch he entered the shop, joining the queue two places behind Noades. ‘Robin,’ Carruthers called on entry, but Noades appeared not to have heard as he engaged the cashier.
‘Robin,’ he repeated, excusing himself as he stretched past a customer and tapped Noades on the shoulder, receiving no response as the former hotel worker made hurriedly for the door.
Carruthers was dumbfounded; Noades must have felt his touch, heard his voice – after all, he’d called him twice. It was so out of keeping with the man he’d come to know, albeit temporarily. Impulsively Carruthers skipped past the ageing man ahead of him and slapped forty pounds on the counter. ‘Forget the change, love. I’m in a hurry.’
There was some kind of murmur in response but Carruthers wasn’t concentrating on that. Ahead of him Noades had slipped quickly into his sports car and a sharp glance in the agent’s direction suggested that this time he surely must have seen him.
But Noades roared off, and Carruthers, disturbed to the point of being upset by the man’s behaviour, rushed to his Range Rover, pulling out onto the road behind him.
He slammed his hand on the horn, slammed it again, becoming increasingly frustrated as Noades, his car canopy down, gave no response at all.
Carruthers fumed. Noades knew he was behind him – damn him, he knew – what was going on here? The closeness of Chelsey and Noades on that first day, when it seemed that he and his wife had a natural affinity smacked him hard now – had he been tricked? Okay, so Noades had volunteered his services in helping to find Chelsey, had recovered her phone – but she could have dropped that when Noades had driven her away. It could all have been arranged –
So Noades was hot-footing it now, because somewhere, Chelsey was waiting for him-
Well, he wasn’t going to be hot-footing anywhere – because although Noades had the speed, on the narrow winding road he was restricted from using it – and Carruthers’ four by four had greater maneuverability over the uneven terrain.
Carruthers honked again. He was travelling away from his intended direction, back towards the heart of the Forest, the steadily encroaching firs told him as much, but he didn’t care – in his own mind he was becoming convinced that Robin Noades, after all, held the key to Chelsey’s whereabouts. He’d overlooked the significance of how the pair had interacted that lunchtime, or perhaps until now he’d not wanted to consider it.
The road was becoming more uneven and rose at an ever increasing gradient – something in the Range Rover’s favour, and moreover Noades’ speed was restricted by a slow moving vehicle in front.
Carruthers was experiencing increasingly deep hues of red and with his anger heightening to new peaks he made the decision to ram Noades, and to hell with the consequences.
Carruthers braced himself, pressed sharply on the accelerator and powered forward, too late now to change his mind. He bore down on Noades, only to find him gather speed and swing sharp left into a narrow lane that his anger had blinded him from seeing. Carruthers could do nothing to adjust, his Range Rover ploughed on, making immediate impact with the caravanette in front of him.
His seat belt prevented him from crashing through the windscreen but it couldn’t protect him from the backbreaking wrench that followed as his vehicle impacted with the camper van.
Shaken, Carruthers held his hands to his head, watching through his spread fingers as a ruddy-faced, angry man stomped towards him.
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing, eh? You been drinking?’
Carruthers shook his head, ‘No – I’m sorry, my foot slipped on the pedal,’ was all he could think of saying. He stepped out, surveyed the large indent in the rear of the caravanette. ‘My insurance company will make good the damage – I’ll give you my details.’
But as his senses began to recover, Carruthers’ eyes fell on the signpost indicating the road where Noades had swerved left. It read ‘Beaulieu and Lymington.’ What concerned him now was this – had Noades’ course been deliberate, or taken merely to shrug him off?
Carruthers was gripped by a desire to remain and to search out Noades – to get to the root of the new turmoil he was experiencing.
But he had to endure the drive to London, no matter how much he disliked the prospect. It wouldn’t do to antagonise Manners – Adrian was right about one thing, if Manners had a prime suspect right now it was sure to be him.
Carruthers watched the aggrieved driver pull away and sighed. Beaulieu three miles; Lymington nine. He’d keep the signpost and mileage locked in his mind, because he’d be back to scour the area, make no mistake about that. And now Foulkes’ shabby features loomed large and dark, bringing with them a new significance –
Goldhawk’s death and the appearance of Manners had pushed Foulkes to the back-burner of his quest to find Chelsey, but not any longer – if Foulkes could be found, and the description of what he’d seen did match that of Noades, then that was surely proof of their conniving – and what then?
Carruthers didn’t know; he didn’t have the answer to that, but he guessed he’d be one very bitter man.
But right now he’d an appointment with Manners, and his chase after Noades had taken him several miles out of his way.
Carruthers found a farm track further along the lane, reversed into it and headed back towards the motorway. The damage to his Range Rover could have been worse, there was frontal damage that needed workshop repair, but it didn’t appear to be affecting the performance of his motor. He’d agreed to call Manners immediately on arriving back in Chiswick, and the police inspector had indicated he’d be right over.
Despite the need to summon all his concentration on the drive back, Carruthers couldn’t get the association between Noades and Chelsey out of his mind –
But had all the worry and torment over Chelsey’s disappearance escalated to the point where imagination overruled logic? After all, he had no real evidence to support his blind belief, but that could change – once he’d returned to Lyndhurst and found Foulkes.
Carruthers arrived in Chiswick nearly three hours later, to find parts of the towpath near his mews house sealed off and a good deal of police activity in the surrounding streets.
He had expected as much having been forewarned by Casey, whose account had differed markedly from Adrian’s.
His first move was to unlock the door and then to hurry through the house checking that everything was as he’d left it; as far as his memory was concerned, that was the case. Her drawers showed no signs of being disturbed, there was no sign of anything untoward, and upstairs the utility room which she used as her study, and afforded views down to the river, was much as he’d remembered it.
He checked her desk drawers for her diary, even though he was certain she’d taken it with her. Her memo pad was there along with her notebook, but apart from a few jottings – Chelsey was a keen observer of human behaviour – there was nothing he could find that could link to her disappearance.
Carruthers was resigning himself to the fact that he had to call Manners, when his mobile phone rang. ‘Mr. Carruthers? Inspector Manners here, have you not arrived yet? It seems some time since we last spoke.’
Carruthers felt a surge of irritation, he’d only been back a few minutes for goodness sake and already the man was plaguing him. He consulted his watch. ‘Two hours fifty minutes,’ he said tersely. ‘I’m sorry I got held up, I’m back now.’
‘Just in time then, I’d say. I was beginning to think we might need a warrant. Expect me in fifteen minutes.’
‘Now look Insp…’ but Carruthers heard the click of the phone and bit his lip. He really disliked Manners, even allowing for the fact that the man was doing his job there was something in his demeanour which grated and was in danger of becoming personal. Manners couldn’t have been less aptly named.
Carruthers went outside and lit a cigarette, glancing down the mews where it intersected a narrow street, beyond which, lay the towpath and river. The mews was quiet enough but he could make out through its continuation the shimmer of red and white tape along the towpath. Several police vehicles were parked in the street itself, while white clad figures scoured the river’s edge.
Shortly afterwards he saw a grey Jaguar saloon swing into the mews and head in his direction at speed, pulling to a halt with what Carruthers thought was an unnecessary squeal of tyres. Manners stepped briskly out, opened the unlocked side gate and joined him in the small patio garden, accompanied by a thick set colleague whom Carruthers adjudged to be in his mid thirties.
‘You know who I am, Mr. Carruthers, this is Sergeant Harman,’ Manners said with a slight inclination of his head. ‘I apologise for the necessity to bring you back here. However this is now a murder investigation and as such, your co-operation is required and appreciated.’
Manners stood still, fixed him with cold grey eyes that matched his suit. ‘Yes, that’s right Mr. Carruthers, I did say murder. Indentations around the throat if you’re interested; we’ve now confirmed strangulation as the cause of death. Shall we go inside? I have some questions you might be able to assist me with.’
Manners walked into the lounge, looked around him, placed his hands in his pockets and stared down the mews. ‘I’ve perceived that you have a temper, Mr. Carruthers, but it appears that your wife has one to match.’
‘I find that remark insulting and without foundation,’ Carruthers snapped, reddening.
‘Oh really? Not according to my records.’ Manners said, consulting his notes. ‘There have been altercations at this address, which due to complaints from the public we have been required to attend, and it appears from reports I’ve studied that on at least one occasion Mrs. Carruthers needed pacifying.’
‘Oh that.’ Carruthers swept a hand through his hair in frustration. ‘You’re referring to a single instance.’ Carruthers raised a finger as Manners turned to face him.
‘One instance perhaps.’ Manners gave a quick nod of his head, grudging acceptance of what was a fact, Carruthers thought. ‘However, one instance serious enough to take two officers to physically restrain her.’
Manners’ eyes travelled slowly around the room, resting on a framed photo of Carruthers and Chelsey, side by side, hands linked. It had been taken by a friend following a cycle rally three years previous, and took pride of place on their mantelpiece.
‘Quite a striking woman, your wife if I might say so; tall and athletically built. I can
imagine her being a considerable handful when enraged.’
‘Come to the point, Inspector,’ Carruthers muttered, lips twisted, face crimson, ‘what are you implying?’
Manners produced a handkerchief from his pocket and sneezed into it. ‘Very well.’ He straightened, locked eyes with Carruthers. ‘I’m suggesting that your wife is physically capable of applying sufficient force to inflict the injury which caused the fatality.’
‘That’s preposterous!’ Carruthers yelled. ‘Your own speculation; Chelsey could never
‘Maybe, maybe not.’ Manners raised his head in his infuriating fashion and strolled through the lounge. ‘What I’m looking for, you’ll understand, Mr. Carruthers, is anything which might point to a connection between Mrs. Carruthers and Mr. Goldhawk’s demise. As such, it might prove necessary to remove some of her belongings…’
‘No, I don’t understand, I don’t understand at all,’ Carruthers blurted out. ‘There is no way on earth that my wife is connected with Goldhawk’s death!’
‘I need to establish that as a fact,’ Manners said in polished, matter of fact tones. ‘If you co-operate with us, we can be out of here a lot quicker than we could if you prove a hindrance.’
‘Right, be my guest,’ Carruthers said in a voice that implied nothing of the kind. He led them upstairs to the bedroom and her study, flinging open wardrobes and drawers. ‘There’s nothing to hide here.’
‘I’ll need a listing of your wife’s relations and known contacts…’ Manners nodded to Sergeant Harman who began manhandling Chelsey’s clothing, ‘…comprehensive, if you wouldn’t mind.’
‘Her parents have retired to Malta,’ Carruthers said seething, ‘her father has heart disease – I haven’t bothered them…’
‘I’m afraid I may need to,’ Manners said stiffly, ‘any other family more local?’
‘Adrian Frampton-Williams,’ Carruthers answered with a large exhalation. ‘He lives in Denham, Buckinghamshire. Look, I’ll drop you a detailed list off tomorrow – I need to think straight.’
‘Manners considered, nodded. ‘The earlier the better.’ He turned his attention to items of
Chelsey’s clothing, took them from Harman and when he’d finished in the bedroom strode
through to her study, where he removed her notebooks and more alarmingly, her computer.
‘I take it you’ll issue a receipt for my wife’s possessions?’ Carruthers request was more of a demand, his voice tremulous with outrage –‘They’re all very valuable.’
‘Naturally, Mr. Carruthers, I’ll see to that.’
Carruthers suddenly lost his tenuous hold on his temper and marched across the floor, raising his arms towards Manners, forcing the inspector to take a step back and prompting the intervention of Harman. But Carruthers managed to restrain himself from laying hands on Manners. ‘Why are you taking this course of action?’ He pleaded.
Manners sighed, raised his head in aloof stance and slowly extended a hand towards a chair. ‘Sit down, Mr. Carruthers, please, you’re making me nervous. Now look,’ he began, waiting for Carruthers to seat himself, which was achieved with extreme reluctance, ‘we feel it is more than mere coincidence that your wife disappeared shortly before Mr. Goldhawk’s body was found…’
‘Then why didn’t you say so yesterday?’
Manners looked down, appeared to contemplate. ‘Because additional factors have become apparent.’
‘And they are?’
‘I’m not prepared to divulge at this stage Mr…’
‘Then I’ll get a solicitor.’
‘You might well be advised to.’ Manners turned his back on Carruthers, gazed through the study window with its view of the Thames in the background. ‘You see for all I know your wife and yourself could be in cohorts.’
‘That is the most outrageous assumption I have ever…’ Carruthers was on his feet, straight into the restraining arms of Sergeant Harman.
‘As I say,’ Manners said smoothly, ‘it’s quite some temper you have there…one to match your wife’s, I wonder?’
‘You can hardly blame me, this is preposterous!’ Carruthers exhaled heavily, and Harman removed his hands from the agent’s shoulders. ‘In any case, I don’t know what you’ve got on her, but it can’t be Chelsey.’
Manners raised his head, fixed Carruthers with his cold, grey eyes. ‘Oh – and why might that be?’
‘Because she’s run off with another man,’ Carruthers snapped bitterly. ‘It was arranged, I was tricked.’
There was a slight narrowing of the policeman’s eyes. ‘And you know that, do you?’
Carruthers swallowed, examined his fingers. ‘Not as a fact, no – but I’m as damned well sure as I can be…’
‘And the evidence?’
Carruthers dropped his head again, shook it, what evidence was there apart from Noades’ behaviour, and a guy like Manners wasn’t going to buy that.
‘Let’s get this straight, Mr. Carruthers,’ Manners said, his voice slackening a touch in severity, ‘I am not, at this stage accusing you of complicity concerning Mr. Goldhawk’s death, but I am regarding you as a possible suspect nonetheless. Your wife however, is somewhat higher up the tree.’
‘And you can’t tell me why?’ Carruthers pressed angrily.
‘It would be inappropriate at the current time. My investigations are at any early stage.’ Manners made for the door. ‘I am not demanding you stay in the locality, Mr. Carruthers, although you might find it advisable given the current situation.’ Manners ran a finger across his lip. ‘I will almost certainly find it necessary to conduct a formal interview and I don’t
want to be chasing the breadth of the country for you.’ He nodded to Harman, ‘Begin loading Mrs. Carruthers’ possessions, Sergeant – Good-day Mr. Carruthers.’
Carruthers didn’t answer. When Harman had finished loading Chelsey’s belongings and the pair had departed, he snatched up the phone and dialled Adrian’s number.