Carruthers rejected the idea of calling Adrian’s home number, of late it had gone unanswered, and phoning his mobile instead, he was greeted by an unusually breathless voice.
‘I take it this isn’t a convenient time?’ Carruthers enquired, perplexed.
‘Not particularly.’ He heard Adrian take a deep breath. ‘Been doing a spot of jogging, have you any news?’
‘Something you’re not going to like,’ Carruthers said grimly.
‘I trust you’re not bearing bad news about Chelsey?’ Adrian asked, his voice on a downward curve.
‘No, there’s no word.’ Carruthers bit his lip. ‘But they’re not ruling out Chelsey’s involvement in Goldhawk’s death – or mine either for that matter.’
‘What the hell have you said to make them suspect her?’ Adrian demanded angrily.
‘Nothing – nothing at all.’ Carruthers stiffened; he’d been expecting an accusation of some kind from the arrogant son of a bitch.
‘Well you must have said something. They should be concerned for her safety, not treating her as if…’
‘Look just let me finish…’ Carruthers shouted over him, finally losing his cool with Chelsey’s brother. ‘They’ve got grounds for suspicion – that’s what the Inspector says – I don’t know what they are, they won’t tell me.’
‘To be brutally honest, I can imagine them suspecting you, Carruthers, but Chelsey? The thought of that makes my blood boil.’
Carruthers swallowed his resentment, took a deep breath; the spectre of Noades raised its head, he thought about revealing his own suspicions to Adrian but the atmosphere was sour enough already, and besides, Adrian’s superior voice began to grind into his ears once more.
‘Well, if there’s nothing else I need a shower, it’s jolly hot and I’m sweating like a pig – but don’t you go running down Chelsey – I’ll hold it against you if you do.’
Carruthers ignored the warning but took pleasure in his final remark: ‘Oh – and by the way, you can expect a visit from the police, too. I’ve been asked to compile a list of family friends and acquaintances.’
Carruthers slammed down the phone, how good it felt to be having the last word. It didn’t feel good to be home though, particularly without Chelsey to share it with, but he’d been strongly advised to remain in the area – thus he’d adhere to it, at least for the night. In the longer term though, he had unfinished business in the New Forest.
Rather than sit around anxiously clicking his fingers, Carruthers elected to pay Casey a visit – her Ealing Common home being just a few miles from his. If he couldn’t run his thoughts through Adrian – and that wouldn’t have been wise anyway – Casey would listen, he was sure of that.
Listening to his car radio on the journey across to Casey’s house, the hourly news report carried an account of Goldhawk’s murder – ‘the police are conducting urgent enquiries,’ the report said, though there was no mention of any suspects and Carruthers was thankful for that; for the moment at least, he and Chelsey went unmentioned by the press.
It took Carruthers only fifteen minutes to reach Casey’s house on the northern fringe of the Common; the white-washed three storey town house stood neat and bright in the evening sunlight.
Carruthers pulled into Casey’s driveway and parked behind her car, upon alighting becoming aware of her rich voice which sounded as if it came from the rear garden. He wasn’t of the mind to engage with anyone other than her, but having completed the journey his choice was in a sense, made.
The gate providing access to her rear garden being unlocked, he trod the alleyway towards it – and stopped.
‘Jacqueline it was purely a courtesy call – I merely wondered…’
‘Look, I’m sorry to hear of Alexander’s demise and I sympathize – but I really resent being referred to as a…’ silence followed…
Carruthers faltered, then pressed ahead, rounding the corner just in time to catch Casey utter the word ‘bitch,’ and fling the phone onto the garden table.
She looked up, startled as Carruthers’ silhouette caught her eye – ‘Why Marty,’ she put a hand to her face, drawing it away with an awkward smile. ‘Not one of my better moments I’m afraid – a friend of mine let me down on a night out – would you believe that? Not that I get a lot of free time as you know and…’
‘Oh, do I know him?’ Carruthers cut in, assuming a casual air.
‘Her – Jackie,’ Casey uttered with a brisk headshake, not that it matters now you’re here. You should have told me you were coming Marty, I would have cooked us a nice meal.’
‘I don’t feel hungry as it happens.’ Carruthers sniffed. ‘When were you seeing this – Jackie?’
Casey rifled a hand through her hair, furrowed her brow. ‘What is this, twenty questions?’
‘No, of course not.’ If ever a name had been conjured out of the air it was that adaptation from Jacqueline to Jackie. Why was Casey concealing the fact that she’d been in a heated
conversation with Goldhawk’s wife? But he felt that posing the question would get him nowhere – and right now he needed solace, not an argument.
‘I could do with a drink though,’ he said mustering a little cheeriness.
‘Fine.’ His reply seemed to have settled Casey, she gave him a smile. ‘What can I fix you?’
‘Oh, nothing major – a small can of beer would do me fine, I’m driving don’t forget…’
Casey raised her brows. ‘You could always spend the night…’
‘Don’t tempt me.’ Carruthers returned her smile, selected a garden chair. ‘No – I need a shoulder,’ he called as she headed into the kitchen.
Returning with a beer can Casey thrust it before him, taking a seat opposite, her expression serious. ‘Is it Chelsey, Marty?’
Carruthers nodded, bit his lip, snapped the ring-pull from the can. ‘Yes but not in the way you might think – the police have got some kind of evidence that links her to Goldhawk’s death, only they’re not saying what it is.’
‘Rubbish.’ Casey scoffed. ‘Chelsey had nothing to do with Alexander’s murder. They’re either idiots or trying to pressurize you into…’
Carruthers frowned, took a gulp from his can. ‘What makes you so sure?’
Casey threw her head back, fixed him with an amused smile, far removed now from when he’d walked in on her. ‘It’s blatantly obvious – I’ve already tried telling you there’s another guy involved. I know I’m telling you what you don’t want to hear, but you’ve been taken for a sucker. When are you going to listen to me?’
If Casey had been expecting an outburst from Carruthers he didn’t deliver. He gave a heavy nasal exhalation and then proceeded to outline the events preceding his arrival back in London. He dwelt on Noades’ behaviour that he thought justified his suspicions, and therefore provided backing for Casey’s views.
‘At last he sees the point. Very cleverly contrived I guess, but he sounds like your man.’ Casey leaned forward for the glass of burgundy she’d brought into the garden; she took a sip,
letting it swill around her mouth before swallowing it slowly. ‘So what do you say, you spend the night here, with your best pal?’
‘No…’ Carruthers shook his head, gave her a long look. ‘Best pal’ wasn’t the form of
expression Casey normally used but he supposed it might fit the bill right now. He was sorely tempted to stay and might have done, but Casey’s earlier lie lingered in his head like a hangover. Why hadn’t she revealed her call to Jacqueline Goldhawk, why had she turned it into an outright fabrication?
Carruthers didn’t know; it was an unpleasant prospect, but he had to find out.
Chapter Twenty One
Carruthers returned to Chiswick with his mind swimming in a whirlpool, not relishing the prospect of paying Jacqueline Goldhawk a call but determined nonetheless to do it. Casey’s bizarre and heated conversation needed following up.
He drew up outside his mews house not bothering to garage his car and set to work on the list of Chelsey’s known contacts requested by Manners. It took his fuzzy head perhaps thirty minutes to complete the task, and then, on a muggy evening with dusk setting in he decided on a walk to the towpath. That, and a bit of air, he thought, might help him sleep.
Surprised to find the red and white tape removed and the towpath void of police activity he strolled in the direction of Kew, a course frequently taken with Chelsey at his side, her hand in his, although as he reflected sadly, of late she’d chosen to walk alone. Why, he hadn’t determined, but then Chelsey had a writer’s mind and who knew what plots were bubbling inside her head.
Except of late her writing had suffered –
He sighed, looked up as a rowing crew passed swiftly along the Thames, their cox letting blast through a megaphone. After they’d gone he heard the sound of steel-tipped heels behind him, footwear not normally associated with the towpath at this time of night. Carruthers turned quickly out of curiosity and stopped, his stomach beginning to churn.
‘Nice evening, if not a trifle close don’t you think?’ Jack Manners breathed in air, slapped his chest. ‘Out for an evening walk I see.’
Carruthers shot a glance at the grey-suited inspector. ‘Aren’t you somewhat overdressed for these parts?’ he said, aware of the sarcasm in his voice. ‘I take it I’m being followed.’
‘Not necessarily.’ Manners stopped, placed his hands on some railings, the implication being that Carruthers did likewise. He fixed him with his cool, grey stare. ‘But the murderer has a habit of returning to the scene of his crime, some kind of warped conscience, you know.’
‘I see.’ Carruthers chewed his lip, laid his gaze on Manners. ‘And I take it from your heavy emphasis on ‘his’ you’re implying it’s me.’
‘My position remains unchanged,’ Manners said smoothly. ‘But if you think the cap fits…’ he broke off, looking away.
‘Why aren’t you telling me what you’re holding on my wife?’ Carruthers snapped, irritated by the inspector’s sudden appearance and his vague insinuations.
‘Because it’s not appropriate to do so.’ Manners turned slowly back to him. ‘At least not at the current time. I take it you’ve compiled a list of all known…’
‘Yes – and if I’d have known you’d be following me I’d have brought it along. I’ll drop it in tomorrow.’
‘Nine o’clock would be acceptable, any later would not.’
Carruthers let out a sharp breath. ‘Inspector, if you’ve nothing specific to ask me, I take it I’m allowed to walk home unhindered.’
‘Naturally.’ Manners eyes undertook a slow sweep of Carruthers’ face. ‘Unless you know of any reason why I should detain you?
‘No? Then please continue Mr Carruthers – and sleep well.’ Manners sneezed and walked away. ‘And I should get something for that cold,’ Carruthers called petulantly after him.
Sleep well! He fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes. Manners certainly knew how to get under a person’s skin. If only he’d be equally adept at apprehending Goldhawk’s real killer.
Bile rose thickly in his throat as he returned to the mews in the bitter-sweet knowledge that it couldn’t have been Chelsey. He’d establish as much for a fact if he managed to track down
Foulkes and Noades.
Carruthers handed in Manners’ list shortly before nine the following morning and then set off for Jacqueline Goldhawk’s house at Hazlemere, arriving there some forty minutes later. Unlike the evening of his previous visit, the place was bereft of vehicles and depressingly silent. It took a while for his buzz to be answered and he began to suspect he’d been observed and declined. But eventually Jacqueline appeared, looking jaded and weary.
‘I’m surprised to find you here, Martin…’ she said, her tone giving him every indication that he shouldn’t be there. Carruthers hung his head then met her cold stare. ‘I was sorry to hear about Alexander’s death.’ He bit his bottom lip. ‘I know we had that confrontation, but please believe me, I had nothing to do with it; though some might think differently.’
Jacqueline’s lashes met fleetingly. She looked away but held the door open. ‘Come in, Martin.’ Leading him into the lounge, she asked, ‘Can I get you anything?’
‘No thanks, I won’t impose on you…’
Jacqueline fingered the collar of her dark frock, steadily appraising him. ‘Sit down Martin, you look exhausted – stay for a cup of tea at least.’
Carruthers nodded readily, he hadn’t expected the courtesy, locking his fingers tensely until she returned, placing a tray before him.
Sitting on the sofa opposite, she sighed. ‘Look Martin, for what it’s worth I’m not blaming you for what happened to my husband. I’ve discovered some things recently that have been
deliberately concealed from me – things that tell me Alexander wasn’t the man I thought he was. If I’d have known then my lips would have stayed sealed, I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to report your argument with Alexander to the police.’
Carruthers shook his head, took a sip of his tea. ‘I don’t hold that against you either. I
would have taken much the same course.’ He placed his cup on the saucer. ‘I need to ask you a question, Jacqueline.’
Jacqueline brushed her frock. ‘I thought there might be more than condolences…’
‘I walked in on a phone conversation last night,’ Carruthers said, jumping in with both feet.
‘I can guess, Casey Jennings.’ Jacqueline took a deep breath. ‘Alexander hasn’t even been laid to rest before she’s bombarding me with questions about whose succeeding him at…’ she paused, ‘I mean how should I know? Look I don’t want to be talking about her – that woman is as pushy as they come.’
Jacqueline stiffened. ‘Oh, very well. I can see by your expression, Martin, that I’ve surprised you. It might surprise you even more if I say I think there was more going on…’ she added, emotion overcoming her reluctance.
‘Casey?’ Carruthers frowned, narrowed his eyes. ‘Casey wouldn’t…’
‘Oh don’t get me wrong,’ Jacqueline raised her hand, wearily expelled air, looking back at him with eyes wide. ‘It’s only since this – business - that I’ve realised what a deceitfully licentious man he was. The things I’ve found hidden away – photos, notes, you name it. God knows what’s on his computer, I shudder to think.’ She nodded towards the window. ‘The police have just removed them.’
Carruthers leaned forward, took a drink from his cup and almost let it overflow. ‘Are you saying that Casey and Alexander were having an affair?’
‘Perhaps, perhaps not, but nothing would surprise me there. I do know there was far more contact between them than need be and I don’t think it was all my husband’s fault. I was
never struck on her writing to be blatantly honest – it wouldn’t surprise me if she allowed my
husband to take advantage of her for – well let’s just say career enhancement.’
She held up a hand. ‘Oh Martin, I’m sorry. I know you’re her agent and what I’m saying is shocking but there were times when she stuck to him like a leech, and Alexander being the sort of man I’ve discovered him to be – need I say more?’
Jacqueline slouched forward, some of the anguish having vented itself. ‘I could of course be wrong, but…’
Carruthers was rendered speechless. The idea of a strong association between the pair hadn’t entered his mind. Casey had given the impression of being the last person to engage in anything immoral. And he being her agent, representing her affairs and dealing with Goldhawk, hadn’t had a clue –
‘I take it no news on Chelsey?’ Jacqueline had been asking; she had to repeat her question before Carruthers’ mind honed in on it. ‘No.’ He breathed deeply. ‘Nothing I’m afraid.’ He gulped down the remainder of his tea, sighed. ‘I’d better be going, Jacqueline.’ He turned on the doorstep. ‘I hope they find Alexander’s murderer, and that he serves the full term.’
‘He?’ Jacqueline’s eyes widened. ‘He’s been stepping on plenty of toes,’ she remarked, ‘but there’s nobody more vicious than a woman scorned.’
‘You really think that’s a possibility?’
But Jacqueline Goldhawk merely raised her brows, shrugged, and closed the door behind him.
The clock is ticking, my dear – it might have reached its hour, but no – perhaps a moment too soon. Who knows what opportunities might spring forth if I exercise a little patience – allow a little more time for the perfect resolution. After all, my penultimate chapter is not yet complete. The ending remains to be written, and who knows what the final outcome will be?