At last, I hear you cry! It’s not my fault. Honestly. All I could find on my computers was half the novel. I looked everywhere: Dropbox, external hard drives, flash drives. Nothing.
I find it hard to understand why I should save only half a novel. But it appears I did. Anybody got a screwdriver?
I was contemplating the awful prospect of having to type the second half of the novel again. With only my left hand operational, that was no joke.
Anyway, this is just to say, that thanks to the efforts of Linda, one of my lovely VIP Street Team, I finally got the complete novel on to my system. I was then able to use the wonderful Calibre to change the epub to doc format so I could make changes. Yes, I realise I could edit in Calibre, but I’m used to editing in document format, so there we are.
I’m now up to Chapter Thirteen in making my edits so it won’t be long before I’m in a position to publish. Should be by the end of the weekend.
To keep you going, I’m including the first two chapters below:
‘Poisoned? Are you sure?’ Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty regretted his rash query as soon as it left his mouth. He barely had time to remove the phone from his ear, before Dr Sam Dally let him have it with both barrels.
‘Of course, I’m sure. Would I be telling you the man was poisoned if I wasn’t? I never question your professional judgment’ – which was an out and out lie – ‘so I’d thank you not to question mine. Conium Maculatum was what killed him. Or to your uneducated ear, hemlock.’
‘That’s right. A very old-fashioned poison. Goes back to the classical Greeks, so I believe. Maybe even further back. Now, is there anything else you’d like to question while you’re at it?’
‘All right, Sam. Keep your hair on,’ said Rafferty. Which – given Sam’s rapidly balding pate, was another unfortunate slip of the tongue. But this time it brought nothing more than the testy:
‘Well? Is there anything else you’d like to question my judgment about?
Rafferty felt – given his mounting foot-in-mouth episode – that a simple ‘no’ would suffice.
‘Hmph.’ Dally sounded disappointed as if he was just in the right frame of mind to have another go. ‘Ainsley had been dead between fourteen and sixteen hours before he was discovered. The first symptoms would have started after around half an hour. He’d have experienced a gradual weakening of muscles, then extreme pain and paralysis from the coniine in hemlock, the effects of which are much like curare. It’s probable he went blind, but his mind would have remained clear till the end.’
‘Christ. What a horrible death.’
‘Yes. Death would be several hours later from paralysis of the heart.’
‘Is he likely to have self-inflicted it?’
’Well, it wouldn’t be my choice.’
Nor mine, thought Rafferty. He couldn’t believe that a sportsman like Adam Ainsley would choose such a way to go.
‘But figuring that out’s your job, Rafferty. I suggest you get on with it.’
Bang went the phone. Or it would have done but for the frustrations caused by modern technology, which didn’t allow anything so satisfying.
‘Sam and Mary must have had a domestic this morning,’ Rafferty said to Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn as he leaned back in the now shabby executive chair that Superintendent Bradley had decreed was the appropriate seating for his detectives. ‘He just bawled me out something chronic.’
Llewellyn, who had never been known to make an ill-advised remark, gave a gentle sigh. ‘Dr. Dally has never appreciated having his professional conclusions questioned.’ It was a gentle reproof, but a reproof nonetheless. ‘You were talking about the body found in the woods, I presume?’
Rafferty nodded. Adam Ainsley had been found in Elmhurst’s Dedman Wood around eight in the morning two days ago by a local woman walking her dog. There had been no visible signs of injury, and it had been assumed the man had had a heart attack while out for a too energetic run; the tracksuit and trainers had suggested the possibility.
Ainsworth had been attending a reunion at Griffin School, an exclusive, fee-paying establishment for eleven to eighteen-year-olds, situated two miles outside the Essex market town of Elmhurst, where Rafferty’s station was located.
‘Did I hear you mention Hemlock?
Rafferty nodded. ‘I thought that would make you prick up your ears. That’s what Sam reckons killed him. Said it goes back to your pals, the ancient Greeks.’
‘Yes. According to Plato, it’s what Socrates used to kill himself after he was sentenced to death. He drained the cup containing the poison and walked about until his legs felt heavy. Then he lay down and, after a while, the drug had numbed his whole body, creeping up until it had reached his heart.’
‘Yeah, Sam said it was paralysis of the heart muscle that would have killed him. Sounds like hanging would have been quicker, even without an Albert Pierrepoint to work out the drop required. Anyway, enough of this classical Greek morbidity. We’d better get over to the school,’ said Rafferty. ‘Can you get some uniforms organised, Dafyd? I’ll go and tell Long-Pockets what Sam said and meet you downstairs.’
‘Long-Pockets’, otherwise known as Superintendent Bradley, was obsessed with the budget, in Rafferty’s opinion, hence the nickname. As far as he was concerned, crimes took what they took, in time, money and manpower.
The uniforms were quickly mobilized by the simple expedient of roistering those on refreshment breaks out of the canteen. After Rafferty had gone to see Bradley, he returned to his office and rang the school to let Jeremy Paxton, the Head Teacher, know the results of the toxicology tests and that they were on their way. That done, he went down to reception to meet up with Llewellyn and the woodentops and headed out to the car park.
The August day was gloriously fresh and bright, just as a summer day should be, with a light breeze, to stop it getting too hot, and a deep blue sky without a cloud in sight. Rafferty, Llewellyn and two of the constables, Timothy Smales and Lizzie Green, piled reluctantly into the car, which was as hot as Lucifer’s crotch as it had been standing in the sun. Rafferty, not a lover of air-conditioning, which, anyway, would barely have started to work by the time they got to the school, wound his window right down and stuck his head out to catch the breeze.
The run out to Griffin School was a pretty one, past lush farmland, via roads overhung with trees whose leaves formed a soft green bower over the tarmac. On days like this, it felt good to be alive, though this latest suspicious death lowered his spirits a little. Winter was a more fitting season for death.
Adam Ainsworth had been staying at Griffin for a school reunion. Optimistically, the reunees had opted to get back together for an entire week rather than the more usual one evening and, conveniently for Rafferty, were still put up in the school’s dormitories. He bet they were regretting it now. Being cooped up beyond one’s desire with old enemies, as well as old friends, was a recipe for rising antagonisms that could be helpful to their investigation. There was nothing like spite for encouraging gossipy revelations.
Griffin House was an imposing building, dating back to the late 1500s. It had been recently featured in the local paper, the Elmhurst Echo, as part of a series on Essex’s Historic Houses, and Rafferty, keen on history and old buildings, had kept a cutting. The school was approached by a long, straight drive with mature trees and shrubberies either side of the road. It was built of red brick that had mellowed over the years to a deep rose and it had the tall, twisted chimneys so typical of the Elizabethan age. Like a lot of the houses of the period, it was constructed in the form of a letter E, in tribute to the virgin queen. It had once been the main home of the mad Carews, a family of aristocrats who had gambled and fought and wenched their fortune away. It had gone through various changes of use over the years, including being a bawdy house and the county lunatic asylum, but had been a private school since the 1880s.
They found the headmaster, Jeremy Paxton, waiting for them outside the huge grey oak door of the school’s main entrance. Paxton was a tall, gangly man who seemed to be all elbows and knees. The headmaster was a surprise to Rafferty. He’d expected an older, donnish type, with a gown and mortarboard in keeping with the school’s venerable status. But Paxton could be barely forty and seemed to have adopted an eccentric mode of dress comprised of a cream silk cravat and a scarlet waistcoat reminiscent of some regency rake. To Rafferty, it seemed as if he was trying to mitigate for his youth by adopting the fashion popular during the Carew family’s last dying days.
Paxton led them to his study. Considering the school was a prestigious establishment with fees to match, the headmaster’s study was not even shabby-chic. Yes, he had the obligatory computer and other high-tech gadgetry on his desk, but the oak-panelled walls with their scabby varnish looked as if they had some unfortunate disease, and the furniture appeared to have stood here since the school was founded in the late nineteenth century. And while the mahogany desk was large and inlaid, its leather surface was scuffed and stained with ink blotches. There were several ill-assorted heavy Victorian chairs in front of the desk and Paxton invited them to sit down.
Paxton had a foppish manner to go with his dandy clothing. But despite the clothing and mannerisms, he must have been considered suitably qualified for the post. Perhaps the parents expected an eccentric character given some of the post’s past incumbents, one of whom had been a scientist in the mould of Dr Jekyll, who, instead of using himself, had used his pupils as guinea pigs for his outlandish experiments. If Rafferty remembered his local history correctly a couple of the pupils had died, and the headmaster had been removed from his post and just escaped a murder charge.
Rafferty had explained about the situation with Ainsley over the phone, and now Jeremy Paxton displayed an efficiency entirely at odds with the foppish appearance, He gave Rafferty a list of the school’s old boys and girls who were currently staying at the school, as well as a detailed map showing the school’s sprawling buildings, which dated over several centuries.
‘You said over the phone that Mr Ainsworth would have died within two or three hours of ingesting the poison. That being the case, I’ve taken the liberty of inviting those who shared his table at lunch that day to wait for you in the Senior Common Room.’ Paxton paused, then added, ‘You’ll need somewhere to interview the reunees, I imagine. There’s a room opposite the Senior Common Room which is empty, and which has a desk, chairs and a phone. I hope it suits you.’
Rafferty thanked him. ‘You’ve been very thorough. If you could show us to the Senior Common Room, we’ll get started.’
‘Of course.’ Paxton stood up. ‘Please come with me.’
Rafferty and Llewellyn followed him along several dark, art-strewn corridors and up a flight of massive stairs to the first floor. Paxton opened the door of the Senior Common Room. It was large and surprisingly airy with an array of well-worn mismatched settees, a large plasma TV, and the usual technological gizmos deemed essential by today’s youth.
The occupants of the room were as ill-assorted as the settees; all seven looked to be in their early thirties, but that was where any similarity ended. They wore anything from ripped jeans to City suits and everything in between.
Paxton introduced them to the group and vice versa, then left them to it, saying he’d have coffee sent up to their new office across the way. The group comprised four men and three women, and while their hairstyles and clothing might be widely dissimilar, they all had a wary look in their eyes. Jeremy Paxton had told them that he had explained the situation to the reunees, who had all received the best education money and the county could provide. They would be under no illusion that – if, as seemed likely, given the dreadful symptoms the poison produced, the dead man had been murdered – they were all suspects.
That being the case, Rafferty had expected the group to call up their briefs, pronto. But there was no sign of any legal types in the room, protesting their clients’ innocence, and demanding they be allowed to leave immediately. One man seemed to have appointed himself the spokesman of the group. He was one of the City ‘suits’ and, happily for Rafferty’s memory, repeated his name. Giles Harmsworth.
Everything about the man was just so, from his well-groomed brown hair to his well-polished black shoes. He had an extremely self-confident manner which Rafferty put down to a mix of an excellent education, plenty of money and possibly the cocaine that was endemic in the City. Sharp intelligence flashed in his eyes as soon as he spoke.
‘You’ll want to interview us all individually, Inspector. Has Jeremy suggested that the room across the corridor should meet your needs perfectly?’
Rafferty nodded. Clearly, Harmsworth was the organising type.
The man with the torn jeans, who sported a shock of fair hair a la Boris Johnson, London’s ex-mayor, that looked, to Rafferty to have had assistance from the peroxide bottle, drawled from one of the settees from where he lay sprawled. ‘Still doing your Head Boy routine Harmsworth? Can’t you lay off and let the police organise themselves?’ Sebastian Kennedy cast a sneering glance in their direction and added, ‘I’m sure even the pigs are capable of doing that.’
‘Shut up, Kennedy. And if we’re all suspects as I assume, it might be a good idea to dispense with the rebellious teen routine for the duration. It’s about time you acted your age. I’d have thought the ripped jeans could have been left behind with the student demos when you reached thirty.’
Sebastian Kennedy’s only response to this was another sneer.
Harmsworth turned to Rafferty, who was pleased to note that, as he’d hoped, the reunion seemed to be fraying at the edges. It might just help his investigation. ‘You must excuse Kennedy, Inspector. He’s the resident ‘bad boy’ and has always liked to cock a snook at authority. He doesn’t have the brains to realise that at his age, the rebellious youth act is extremely tiresome and had worn thin some years ago.’
‘Authority?’ Kennedy drawled. ‘Who deputed you to be boss man, I’d like to know?’
‘Oh, put a sock in it, you two. You seem to have forgotten that poor Adam is dead, probably murdered. Can’t you stop your bickering for a moment?’ This was from a bespectacled young woman in a baggy grey jumper and faded jeans. Victoria Something, Rafferty thought.
‘Brains is right, Kennedy,’ said Harmsworth. ‘Can’t you behave yourself for once, and lay off being the naughty boy? I don’t imagine the Inspector’s impressed.’
Sebastian Kennedy’s full upper lip curled, but he said nothing more, and simply resumed gulping the lager that he had been drinking since Rafferty and Llewellyn had entered the room. Rafferty took the intermission in skirmishes to get the ball rolling.
‘As you said, Mr Harmsworth, we’d like to interview you all individually. Perhaps we can start with you? If you’d like to accompany us across the way?’
Harmsworth nodded. He cast one last, admonitory, ‘Behave yourself’, look at the thirty-something naughty boy, before he followed the two policemen out of the room.
Rafferty paused long enough to station Lizzie Green just inside the door. Lizzie was one of his more intelligent officers. She knew what was required and would report on any unwise disclosures the reunees happened to make. He paused to inhale the scent of the old-fashioned lily of the valley talcum powder she favoured, briefly closing his eyes before shutting the door.
Sebastian Kennedy’s final riposte floated after them through the cracks in the warped oak door. ‘You’d better not go grassing anyone up, Harmsworth. We’ll all know it was you if you do. Old habits die hard.’
Harmsworth acted as if he hadn’t heard and merely opened the door across the landing and gestured them inside, with a smile as if he was a host encouraging guests of the shy and retiring sort.
Rafferty, playing up to his allotted role in the hope it would loosen any guard Harmsworth had on his tongue, hesitated for a few seconds, like a wallflower who couldn’t believe her luck at finally being chosen, before he, too, crossed the threshold.
‘Now, Mr Harmsworth,’ Rafferty began once they were settled in the small office that Jeremy Paxton had let them use. He was glad to see that the headmaster had already organised a pot of coffee. By the time he’d finished questioning the seven reunees who’d lunched with Adam Ainsley before he’d gone off on the run from which he had never returned, he’d be parched. ‘Perhaps you can begin by describing what happened on the day Mr Ainsley went missing? Start at your arrival at the school and go on till after lunch, when I believer Mr Ainsley set off alone for a run.’
Harmsworth nodded. ‘It was a day much like the reunions have been in previous years. I come every year,’ he added. ‘I noticed Adam was quiet at lunch, as though he had something on his mind. But he’s always tended to be a bit moody, so I didn’t take any notice. He set off on his run within half-an-hour of lunch. The rest of us just lounged around the common room getting reacquainted until lunch had been digested. I’d brought my laptop with me, so I was able to get on with some work. I think Victoria and Alice had a game of tennis around three and Gary – Asgar – Sadiq went swimming in the school’s pool. Kennedy seemed to be happy to just lounge around, listening to music and drinking that never-ending supply of lager he brought with him.’
‘Was there a lot of milling around during lunch?’
‘Not during lunch, no.’ He smiled, showing perfect American teeth. ‘It was the rule, when we were at school, that once we were seated, we stayed put, apart from the servers. And we all seemed to continue the tradition even though there’s no Mr Barmforth any more to glower and yell out ‘You, boy’!’ The gleaming smile faded. ‘I imagine that means that the only suspects for this crime are the seven of us that were seated at Adam’s table.’
Rafferty made no comment about that. Instead, he asked, ‘And nothing out of the ordinary happened? No arguments, for instance?’
Harmsworth smiled again. ‘I don’t know as I’d call arguments unusual, Inspector. I’ve had spats with Kennedy off and on since we got here. He always did like winding people up. But other than that, no, I can’t think of anything.’
‘Can you tell me who used to be particular friends with the dead man and whether they’re still friends?’
‘Adam had his own clique—the other sporty types. And they all attracted the girls. None of them have attended this year, though usually two or three come to the reunion.’ With a deprecatory smile that didn’t quite come off, Harmsworth added, ‘I suppose I could be called the school swot, along with Victoria, and Alice. I always thought Adam was lamentably obvious, with his muscles and his fake tan, but it seemed to appeal to the girls. I recall that both Sophie and Alice had a crush on him at one time.’
‘Tell me, how often did Mr Ainsley come to these reunions?’
‘He didn’t. This is the first that he’s ever attended.’
Anticipating a different answer, Rafferty said, ‘Oh?’
‘I suppose, since he retired from the game, he must have missed the celebrity of being a professional rugby player. He is – was – a sports master, did you know?’
Rafferty nodded. Quite a comedown from the glory days. ‘And what about enemies? Did Mr Ainsley have any that you know of?’
Harmsworth frowned, then shrugged. ‘No one that I can recall. Certainly nothing serious. There were the usual spats at school and Adam had his share, but that’s all.’
And so it went on. The other six reunees said much the same as the late afternoon wore into evening and the remaining coffee went cold.
The call from Sam Dally had been the second unwelcome phone call of the afternoon for Rafferty. His Ma had been on earlier and had told him to get one of his spare bedrooms ready.
Rafferty had been half-expected the call. It had only been a matter of time, he told himself. His Ma still liked to poke her nose into his life, and since his June marriage to Abra, she must be consumed with curiosity to see for herself how wedded bliss was going. Staying with them over several days was the only way to indulge this curiosity that would fully satisfy Ma. Rafferty, facing what couldn’t be avoided, had given a tiny sigh and said, ‘That’s all right Ma. When do you want to come and stay?’
But it seemed he’d misjudged his woman. His Ma wasn’t requisitioning one of his bedrooms for her own use, as she was quick to tell him.
‘Don’t be stupid, Joseph. Sure and why would I want to come and stay with you when I’ve got a perfectly good house of my own, not half-a-mile away from you?’
‘What do you want it for then, Ma?’ he had asked in his innocence. ‘Do you want to store a pile of Bring and Buy stuff for Father Kelly?’ Just so long as it wasn’t his Ma’s illicit ‘bargains’ she wanted him to give houseroom to. He’d draw the line at that.
‘No.’ She paused.
For once, Ma seemed a trifle diffident. It was unlike her. His Ma was nothing if not forthright. Rafferty wondered what was coming.
‘The thing is son – you know I’ve got some long-lost cousins coming to stay?’
‘Yes.’ His Ma had first mentioned this a month ago. But he couldn’t see that it would affect him. Beyond a courtesy meal out with these cousins, it was unlikely, between his new wife and this new case, that he’d see much of them.
But now, as his Ma explained, he learned that this family reunion had snowballed. His Ma had been on the internet – not so much a ‘silver surfer’ as a dyed brown one – and it turned out that she’d unearthed not only the known about Irish and American cousins and their wives and husbands but also Canadian, Antipodean and South African ones. The Aussies, no doubt, being Raffertys’, would have descended from family who had got there via an ‘assisted’ passage courtesy of the crown.
Rafferty was dismayed as he guessed, rightly, what was coming. He hated having people to stay. He never felt his home was his own with others in the house. And the couple his Ma wanted to foist on him – for all that they were family – were total strangers to him. The thought of sharing a bathroom with people whose habits were an unknown quantity was unnerving. ‘Can’t they stay at hotels?’
‘Sure and most of them are pensioners like meself,’ she told him in wheedling tones. ‘They can’t afford fancy hotels.’
‘They don’t have to be fancy, do they? Bed and breakfast would do, surely? Or the YMCA these days has nice rooms as cheap as you’ll find anywhere.’
‘And haven’t I told you,’ a faintly cross tone entered her voice, ‘they haven’t the money for hotels of any description. The air fare’s enough for most of them. And then, they’ll need spending money. And they’re family, Joseph. Family I’ve not seen for a long time.’
‘Can’t one of the girls put them up?’ This was a rear-guard action and not one he expected to hold the tide. But he had a plentiful supply of siblings and he thought that, between them, his two brothers and three sisters should be able to accommodate several cousins, especially if they farmed their kids out at their friends’ houses.
‘The girls have no room, you know that. Besides, even if they were able to foist the kids on someone for the duration, Maggie and Neeve are in the middle of decorating.’
His sisters could be as crafty as all their sex. Rafferty wished he was up to his eyelashes in magnolia emulsion. It would give him the excuse he needed. But once back from their honeymoon after their move to the semi from Rafferty’s flat, he’d delayed making a start on doing the place up and had made excuse after excuse to Abra when she’d suggested he pulled his finger out and got on with it. But he’d never suspected that his Ma’s invitation to her American cousins would snowball to the extent of the fifty guests that she casually mentioned she was now expecting over for the family reunion that had been born out of the small get together originally planned. How could he have anticipated that the casually stated and half-heard idea that Ma was expecting four guests would expand to fit his two spare rooms and more?
Because he doubted she would stop at liberating just one of his spare bedrooms, even though there was only a bed in one of them. She’d find a bed for the other from somewhere and would then expect him and Mickey and Patrick Sean to lug it around to his house and up the stairs.
‘It’s only for two weeks, son,’ she said, wheedling. ‘You’ll hardly know they’re there.’
Two weeks! To Rafferty, it seemed like eternity stretching before him. He hadn’t inherited his Ma’s sociable gene and while he enjoyed a good craic as much as the rest of the family, he preferred to keep his home to himself. So he hadn’t said ‘yes’. But then, he hadn’t said ‘no’, either, and that was all the encouragement Ma needed.
Still, he had consoled himself, as he had prepared to set off for Griffin School, this murder would keep him busy and out of the way and these cousins that Ma had saddled him with were likely to be out doing the sights for most of the time. Between his work and their sightseeing, it was unlikely their paths would cross much. It was small consolation.
The Senior Common Room was at the front of the house and their borrowed office was at the back. From where he stood, Rafferty could see cricket and rugby pitches stretching to the middle distance. At the edge of his vision was what looked like tennis courts and Jeremy Paxton had mentioned they had a swimming pool in one of the outbuildings. All in all, they seemed to do very well for themselves.
They had interviewed all the reunees, and they had all said much the same. Even the ever-rebellious pig-hater, Sebastian Kennedy hadn’t strayed from the general line, which was that nothing out of the ordinary had happened on the day that Adam Ainsley had gone for a run and never come back.
When questioned as to why nobody had commented on his absence at dinner, they had all claimed they had assumed the dead man had either gone to his room or decided to eat in the town. According to Giles Harmsworth – and the others had said the same – Adam Ainsley had been in a funny mood all morning. And, considering this was a reunion, had been pretty unsociable towards most of the group. And when Rafferty had commented on this, Harmsworth had claimed the dead man had never been any different.
‘Always got in a humour on the slightest pretext’, had been Harmsworth’s take on this. ‘We thought nothing of it.’
‘So none of you went to see where he was when he didn’t show up for dinner that evening?’ Rafferty persisted.
‘No. We had no reason to.’
The school’s dormitories, for the older pupils at least, were made up of two-bed rooms. The dead man had been sharing with Sebastian Kennedy, but as Kennedy had been steadily depleting the school’s wine cellars during the evening, he had – or so he claimed – failed to notice that Ainsley was still not in their room at midnight, which was the time Kennedy had finally staggered off to bed.
‘What do you think, Dafyd?’ Rafferty asked once they were finally alone. ‘Do you reckon they’re colluding for some reason?’
Llewellyn shook his thinly handsome face. ‘No. They’re too disparate a group. I can’t see that Giles Harmsworth or Victoria Watson would agree to conceal a crime.’
‘Unless they did it,’ Rafferty chipped in.
‘There’s always that possibility, of course. But we have, as yet, no evidence that this was anything other than a suicide.’
‘Come on! How likely is it that anyone of sound mind would choose such a method?’
‘We don’t know that he was of sound mind – we found anti-depressants in his room. Perhaps he didn’t know what symptoms the poison would cause and thought he would just go to sleep. As I said, we’ve no evidence that he didn’t kill himself.’
‘Given that he’d attended Griffin School, he must have been a well-educated man. Surely, he would have taken the trouble to find out what the poison did to the body before he did the business?’
‘That aside for a minute. Even if he did kill himself, Hemlock seems a particularly peculiar method to choose, given that it paralyzes the limbs. I can’t see a professional sportsman, even a retired one, choosing such a method. Why not just use pills and whiskey?’
Llewellyn gave a tiny shrug. Rafferty was pleased to see that, for once, his educated sergeant had no arguments against his theories. They had been through the dead man’s things, and there had been nothing – apart from the anti-depressants – to indicate that suicide was a possibility. He had got Llewellyn to make a note to check with the dead man’s doctor. Not one of the reunees had said that Adam Ainsley seemed other than they remembered him from the days when they had been cooped up together for weeks at a time and got to know one another intimately. No suicide note, or suspicious substances had been found. Though, on the other hand, as Rafferty regretfully acknowledged, neither had there been anything to indicate that Ainsley felt he had reason to fear for his life from one of his fellow reunees. Anyway, why would he have attended the reunion if that was the case?
Suicide. Or murder. It must be one or the other as accidental death was surely out of the question.
Adam Ainsley had, after a career as a professional rugby player, studied to become a sports coach, and had been now employed as a Physical Education teacher at another private school; this much he had learned from the other reunees. He had been twice divorced, and at the time of his death had been single, with no known romantic entanglements. From the various comments from his former schoolmates, the dead man had been a popular boy with the girls at the school and had cut a swathe through most of them. His moody, Byronesque looks, clearly finding favour with the fair sex. And given his sporting prowess, he had been equally popular with the boys; at least the other sporty boys.
To listen to the surviving reunees, the wonder was that anyone should have wanted to do away with such a popular young man. But someone had. Rafferty was convinced of that, despite Llewellyn’s mention of suicide. And he would find out which of them it was, no matter how many expensive legal types they conjured up between them.
Given that Dr Sam ‘Dilly’ Dally had performed the post-mortem late on Tuesday, and the toxicology reports hadn’t come through until the afternoon of the next day, it was eight in the evening by the time Rafferty and Llewellyn finished questioning the seven suspects amongst the reunees. They had also questioned the cook, Mrs Benton, who had become aggressively defensive when Rafferty had asked her if she had any idea how hemlock might have found its way into either Ainsley’s vichyssoise soup or his chicken salad.
‘That food was perfectly all right when it left my kitchen,’ she had insisted, bosom and grey curls bouncing indignantly. ‘Has anyone else died or been taken ill? No,’ she answered her own question. ‘Of course they haven’t. It’s that lot out there you need to interrogate. Who knows what they did to my food after it left my kitchen?’
She stabbed her right index finger in the direction of the dining hall where the seven suspects had been joined by the other reunees for their evening meal. To judge from the racket going on beyond the serving hatch, the news of the day was still being avidly discussed, but Rafferty noticed that the seven were being given a wide berth. As though conscious of their leper status, they huddled together for warmth. Even the oh-so-confident Giles Harmsworth, and the bad boy, Sebastian Kennedy, seemed subdued and kept their heads bent over their melon and Parma ham starter.
Mrs Benton reclaimed Rafferty’s attention. ‘Thirty years and more I’ve worked at this school, and some of that lot were vicious thugs when they were young, and it seems they haven’t improved with age. Yes, it’s them what you want to question, young man, not me.’
As he couldn’t see how she’d managed to poison Ainsley without taking out the rest of the table, too, Rafferty opened his mouth to placate her. But she was into her stride and swatted aside his attempted interruption.
‘I’ve always been a good, honest woman, never done anything wrong in my life. Not like that lot. That Giles—the one who’s now “something in the City”.’ Her expression told him what she thought of this Master of the Universe. ‘He’s not as holier-than-thou as he’d have you believe. Teacher’s pet and a snitch is what he always was. I don’t suppose he’s changed much and it won’t be long before he’s confiding something to you. It just better not be about me, that’s all, or I’ll fetch him a clout round the ear, big and self-important as he is.
‘And that Kennedy boy, he was always a troublemaker. Lives on a trust fund, or so I gather. The saying that the Devil finds mischief for idle hands is true enough. And another thing. You want to ask yourselves why it was that too handsome for his own good, Adam Ainsley, was the one who was poisoned. He always had the girls after him. You mark my words, this’ll be one of them crimes of passion that the Froggies go in for. I always thought he’d come to a sticky end.’
Rafferty had, despite her unhidden antagonism, questioned the cook thoroughly, though she’d inadvertently told them as much about several of the suspects as any snitch. He thought he could discount Mrs Benton and Tom Harrison, the grounds-man-cum-caretaker from the list of suspects. Although Mrs Benton had admitted little liking for the dead man or his fellow reunees and had prepared Ainsley’s last meal on this earth, he couldn’t get away from the facts. As she’d been at pains to explain to him, each table’s soup was served up in a tureen from which it was ladled out into the individual dishes at the table. The same applied to the salad main course and the lemon sponge sweet.
Harrison, the grounds-man, had been in the kitchen earlier in the day, for his elevenses, and could have added hemlock to the ingredients for the meal. But again, like Mrs Benton, he would have had to have no qualms about taking out whoever was unfortunate enough to share Ainsley’s table.
Mrs Benton had explained that one person at each of the dining hall’s eight-seater tables would come to her hatch and collect each course. For the suspects’ table, it had been the Senior Common Room peacemaker, Victoria ‘Brains’ Watson, who had collected the food and dished it out. This would then be passed along the row, first on one side and then on the other. Adam Ainsley had been sitting at the far end of the table on the opposite side from Victoria.
From this, Rafferty had concluded that any one of four people would have had the best opportunity to slip something in Adam Ainsley’s food: There was Victoria ‘Brains’ Watson, who had served up each portion, Giles Harmsworth opposite Victoria, the serious Alice Douglas, and Simon Fairweather, the quiet young man who, beyond mentioning that he was a civil servant at the Home Office, had had little to say for himself, even at the interview. Adam Ainsley had sat next to Fairweather.
This left those who’d been seated on the opposite side of the table to Ainsley as less than prime suspects: Sebastian Kennedy, Sophie Diaz, and Asgar Sadiq. It was possible that Gary Sadiq, Ainsley’s neighbour across the table might also have had a chance to slip a foreign substance in his food. Anyway, they would all remain on the suspects’ list for the present.
Rafferty had brought in some more uniforms to help question the other hundred reunees. Although it didn’t seem they would have had the opportunity to poison Ainsley, they might well have other useful information. Rafferty had the feeling that the cause of this murder – if murder it was, as it might turn out that Llewellyn was right, and they could still be labouring over a suicide – lay deep in the past when they had all been teenagers together. The motive for murder was, he thought, going to take some digging out. But at least, for now, he was more than happy to simply burrow into the surface memories of each of them. Any deeper digging would have to wait until they’d separated those who’d been amongst Adam Ainsley’s intimates, whom Rafferty and Llewellyn would question more deeply, and the rest.
Paxton, beyond supplying them with their room, the map of the school, the list of the reunion’s attendees and their home addresses, had been able to provide them with little other information. Of course, he had been in post for less than a year, so hadn’t met any of them before.
Rafferty made a mental note to find out the current address of the school’s previous headmaster. Barmforth, according to Paxton, was in situ for several decades. He had certainly been in his post when the current reunees had attended the school.
He left Mrs Benton, and he and Llewellyn returned to the station. While Llewellyn typed up the interviews of the seven suspects, Rafferty sat and made a list of chores for the next day. If he was to find out about possible vendettas, soured love affairs and the like, he would need to go and see Adam Ainsley’s parents, who lived in Suffolk. And he would need to send somebody to question Adam Ainsley’s two ex-wives. For that, he thought a woman’s touch was called for and Mary Carmody, the motherly, thirty-something, sergeant sprang immediately to mind. People confided in her; even Superintendent Bradley tended to seek her out in the canteen and bend her ear over budgetary worries and insubordinate inferiors – not that Mary had betrayed his confidence – but Bradley’s earnest stance over the teacups and Mary’s motherly, head on one side air, had given it away. That, and the fact that, even when he was whispering, Long-Pockets Bradley had something of a booming voice. Quietness wasn’t in the man. Yes, he’d despatch Mary with Llewellyn, who was diffident with women, to one ex and he’d take the other himself.
As for the suspects, the number of these was thankfully short, as after speaking to the cook and the seven reunees, he couldn’t see that anyone else but those on the same table as Adam Ainsley would have been able to administer the hemlock. Coffee and biscuits had been served on the reunees’ arrival on that first morning, but that was all. Their first – and only, as it turned out – meal all together had been the lunch. And he thought it almost certain that the hemlock must have been administered that Tuesday lunchtime in Ainsley’s meal, as it was too far-fetched to imagine he would accept any part of the plant from anyone. What possible reason could be given for proffering such a thing? No. It was the not so magnificent seven who were in the frame.
Rafferty yawned and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was ten o’clock. It had been a long day and tomorrow would probably be longer. ‘You get off home,’ he told Llewellyn once he had typed up the statements from the seven suspects. ‘We’ll make an early start in the morning.’
After Llewellyn had said goodnight and left, Rafferty spent some time wondering how he was going to explain to Abra that they were about to have some unexpected houseguests. She wouldn’t be any more pleased than he was himself, especially as she still had hopes of persuading him to get started on the decorating, which the presence of guests would make impossible.
How to break it to her, though? Could he perhaps claim that Ma was celebrating a special birthday that required the attendance of the wider Rafferty and Kelly families? He shook his head. No. Abra was the one who remembered all the family birthdays; he hadn’t had to trouble since they’d started living together. She’d know that Ma wasn’t anywhere near a particularly special birthday.
No, there was nothing for it but to tell her straight and wait for the fallout.
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