A web of lives, p.18
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       A Web of Lives, p.18

           David Medlycott
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Tobin closed the folder and looked around the table. It was nearly Monday lunchtime and he could see Russell Foy getting fidgety, they had been over all this detail so many times since returning from France. Teri, on the other hand, was listening intently as she was hearing a lot of the story for the first time, as was Detective Sergeant McColl, across the table.

  He had been a bit suspicious when Tobin turned up with Russell Foy QC (retired). McColl had grudgingly agreed to a meeting in a phonecall the previous Friday. He had been all set to hit Tobin with everything he could over the Harper affair, but then found himself outnumbered and outgunned around the table. The fourth member of the party was Roland Shaw, the late Rosemary Harper’s ex-husband.

  Russell’s voice rumbled from the corner. ‘Mr McColl, can you definitely charge Brian Dale with the murder of Julie Lambert?’

  ‘Yes. Definitely. That’s if he ever survives, its touch and go, I understand. He’s lucky to be alive. Bernard Mitchell couldn’t use his full strength or swing properly and caught him slightly on the shoulder, which is very badly bruised, before hitting his head, and that took some of the force out of the blow.

  ‘The simple evidence of his blood stained clothing found in his garage with the murder weapon wrapped up in it is pretty conclusive. There was also a jacket with blood stains on the inside showing where it had been worn over the blood stained clothing. Also, stains in the inside pocket look pretty much as though that was where he carried away the kitchen knife he used on her. All the blood is Julie Lambert’s and the knife is one of a set from her kitchen. Its discovery also caused Mrs Dale to change sides pretty quickly, too. She’s been telling us a lot.’

  ‘What about Rosemary Harper’s death?’ asked Russell Foy.

  ‘That’s not quite so clear. We can place Dale there, but we can also place Alan Harper, or James Mitchell, there at some time. We can also place Bernard Mitchell there over that weekend. Our guess is that Dale was there, for whatever reason, at or very near the time of her fall, and it might just have been a fall, we cannot be certain. Sometime afterwards Bernie Mitchell enters the house, for whatever reason. He starts searching, for whatever reason, and discovers Rosemary’s body. He then wipes all the areas where he has been, to hide his presence, which are pretty much the same places as Dale has been. So, at the same time he wipes out all of Dale’s traces as well. But, he misses the glass in the dishwasher, which he couldn’t possibly have known about. This is all a hypothesis because the only two people that we have so far found who saw anything that went on around that house that weekend aren’t too reliable. One’s a part-time gardener, who is also on the dole, and therefore not too happy admitting just how much time he spends there. But, we know it’s a lot, so with time we should find out a lot more detail. The other is the next door neighbour, Mrs Mayhew. However, she is the sister-in-law of Brian Dale and all she does is keep on accusing Harper and saying she saw him several times over that weekend. What was interesting was a comment of her husband’s, no love lost there I think! It was his confirmation of all the extra milk they had that week. The milkman who delivers there commented that for the first time ever when he delivered to the Harper’s there were two sparklingly clean empty bottles waiting for him every morning. Whereas, the norm would be a dozen or two unwashed empties every so often. So, she obviously knew something was going on and, presumably, thought she was doing her bit covering for her brother-in-law. And then, she leant him her car, in which he drove to France.

  ‘However, back to Harper. With the timing of his car hire, as Alain Martin, which now explains how he could come and go across the Channel, and other sightings around the town near his office, and then his trip south, we also know now where he stayed on that Sunday night, in his French guise, would seem to rule him out altogether on the Sunday. We’re certain that Rosemary Harper went shopping on Saturday night; we have credit card details from the off licence being confirmed. So out of that we think we’ve got the timing pretty well sorted and can rule Harper out of his wife’s death.

  ‘Similarly with Julie Lambert. Once you cut your way through the gossip, we have Alan Harper calling at lunchtime, wearing a crash helmet of all things, although he may have done himself a favour there by making himself more conspicuous. We then have Dale sneaking in the back way; not the first time either, it would appear. He left the same way about forty five minutes later, and in a big hurry. Then Bernie Mitchell turns up that evening. We have a witness that saw him apparently let himself in through the front door, which led them to presume it was Alan Harper, whereas the door may well have just not been locked. He enters the house and must wonder what on earth’s happening when he finds the second dead woman. He frantically wipes down everything that he’s touched again and hurriedly leaves, witnessed again. Fortunately for us he never went for a pee and so never cleaned up in the toilet, leaving Dale’s best print on the loo seat. Subsequently, we also found prints in the cutlery drawer. There were prints on the outside of the kitchen window, too, where he climbed out, the body and pool of blood was obstructing the door, and then shut the window behind him.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Russell, in his best bar manner.

  ‘Of course,’ continued McColl, ‘this could all be theory if Dale doesn’t survive. Bernard Mitchell, who is badly injured, but can talk, is saying nothing, I understand. The French want Mitchell for the attempted murder of one of their policemen. So getting him back might be a problem, fit or not. I’m glad to say that I don’t have to make any of those decisions. I just tie up the paper work and pass it up the line to the Crown Prosecution Service.’

  ‘There’s one thing which might help,’ Tobin dropped in, casually, ‘and you can add into the Rosemary Harper case if you want. She was blackmailing Dale. And had been for twenty five years!’

  ‘For what?’ Asked McColl, suspiciously. Teri looked incredulous.

  ‘Well,’ said Tobin, enjoying the moment, ‘we think Dale searched the house for Rosemary’s bank statements and found them; Teri couldn’t find any of her mother’s accounts when she cleared up the house. Somebody had removed them, probably Dale. However, he wasn’t to know that Rosemary had maintained an account in her previous name of Shaw.’ At this point he drew in Roland Shaw sitting next to him and Teri.

  ‘You are Miss Shaw’s father,’ stated the detective.

  Shaw said nothing.

  From the bottom of the folder in front of him, Tobin pulled a second one and opened it. It contained photocopied bank statements.

  ‘This is up to the time Alan left Dales Transport. There are years of bank statements in here and all they show are payments made by Dale to R. Shaw. Five hundred pounds every month for all that time! Alan stumbled onto this when he was at Dale’s. He didn’t know what the payments were for or who to at first, but, followed it up out of sheer nosiness, because he wasn’t meant to know about it. The cheques came from a private account that Dale kept as a slush fund; he found that out later. Alan thought the cheques were going to either Roland Shaw or Rebecca Shaw.’ Teri sat up shaking her head. ‘But, after a bit of digging, mainly asking Roland, he discovered the truth. So, he and Roland met up again and between them worked out that it had to be blackmail.’

  ‘Why?’ Asked Teri and McColl together.

  ‘Well, …,’ began Tobin, awkwardly.

  ‘It’s OK,’ butted in Roland. ‘I’ll tell it.’ He turned to Teri. ‘The final straw that caused me to split with your mother when you were only little was when I found out that … I was sterile.’ A little embarrassed, he stopped and waited for the full meaning to sink in.

  Teri stared at him for a moment and then said, slowly. ‘So you are not my father.’

  ‘That’s right.’

  ‘So who is?’ But, she knew already what the answer would be.

  ‘Brian Dale.’

  ‘How can you be so sure?’

  ‘Well’. Russell took out an envelope and spilled the conten
ts onto the table. There were a large number of photos of Dale from varying angles that Tobin had asked Heather Millin to sort out from the newspaper office. There was also a picture of Teri. By shuffling them around he surrounded Teri’s photo with a selection of Dale’s and there to see was what should have been obvious from the beginning. The paternal resemblance was quite striking.

  Teri looked for a moment as if she was about to burst into tears, but instead burst out laughing. There was a puzzled and embarrassed silence around the table.

  ‘I’m sorry. But, that’s three of us who aren’t who we thought!’

  There was a pause, broken by McColl. ‘Yes, that’s something I want to have a word about, Mr Foy. Nicholas John Tobin Foy.’ Russell looked enquiringly, and a little threateningly, at him over his half-moon specs. ‘But, it can wait.’

  ‘So what now, then?’ asked Russell.

  ‘As I said, sir, I just pass on the papers.’

  ‘And Alan Harper?’

  ‘You mean James Mitchell?’

  ‘Well, actually, I mean Monsieur Alain Martin.’

  McColl shut his eyes and shook his head at the thought of trying to sort out that tangle. He stood up to signal the end of the meeting. ‘As I said I just pass on the papers. And, as for his part in the robbery, well … .’ He shrugged. Then he remembered something. ‘One moment! There is one all important question here which everyone seems to have avoided. In all this talk there’s not been one mention of the money from that robbery. What did Mitchell, or whatever names you want to use, do with all that money? That could put a very different light on this whole thing!’

  Tobin and Russell shared a grin. ‘I thought no-one was going to ask that. It has been thought of, quite a lot,’ said Tobin. ‘When young Jimmy drove the getaway car round to the back of Bernie’s house to look for him he found he had gone. So, thoughtful young man that he was, he thought he would leave it for him. All this time Bernie and his family have been living beneath it! Jimmy spread it around the loft of Bernie’s house and, as far as we know, it’s still there!’

  ‘That’s five steak pies, then?’

  ‘Yes, please, Austin.’ The landlord passed the three plates he was holding along the table in the Northumberland Arms and took two more from Eric the barman standing behind. The cutlery came wrapped in white serviettes.

  Nothing broke the silence except the chink of cutlery on crockery. Hazel watched Teri pick at her meal. She had volunteered her services to watch over the younger woman after having been forewarned of the revelations of her parentage that were to come that morning, in case they proved too much for her. Teri had tried to accept that they could say nothing until they were one hundred per cent certain. And, they hadn’t been one hundred per cent till that morning, when Roland Shaw, after returning early from a business trip, had met them for the first time. But, it had obviously been a great shock to her. Perhaps, Tobin thought, as he watched her, he could have found a less dramatic way of making the revelation. But, they had all been so carried away with the excitement of the moment that such considerations were forgotten.

  Roland Shaw was the first to speak. ‘We’ve done one part of the urgent message you left me, what’s this investment opportunity you spoke about?’

  All eyes turned to Tobin. ‘Well, ...’ He began, in an uncharacteristically confident manner. ‘With Alan gone and two of the backers pulling out of the paper, I’ve agreed to put my money into ‘The Mid-Northumberland Reporter’. Russell and Hazel here have agreed to come into it with me and that very nearly covers the shortfall. Now, we could go to the bank and borrow or, what I think would be great, is if you would put in as well. You are local, after all, although you currently live away. And, of course if you brought another one or two with you that would give us enough to get the thing onto a solid footing again and maybe even expand.’

  Teri was quite taken aback at this development; she was seeing another side of Tobin that she hadn’t known existed. ‘How much money are you putting up?’ She demanded.

  He told her.

  ‘That’s a lot of money! When did you work this out?’

  ‘It’s everything, all I’ve got, including the flat. It’s been going around in my mind for a while now.’

  ‘That’s a terrible risk.’

  ‘So, I’ll just have to make it work.’ He turned back to the others. ‘I’m hoping that Sandra Hickman, the editor, will agree to stay on. But, if she doesn’t I’ll step in and I know a good young lady reporter who will come along as assistant.

  Teri’s head rose sharply, her mouth pouting, at the mention of Heather, for that was surely who he meant.

  Tobin saw the expression. ‘One other phonecall I managed to make on Friday was to Prentice Partnerships, a Mr Murphy, who said that if we couldn’t afford them as PR representatives he could recommend a very good young lady who is currently unemployed.’

  It looked as if Teri was going to get all emotional again. ‘But, before we get carried away, a lot depends on Roland here. We don’t expect an instant decision, Roland, but we haven’t got too long, either.’

  Roland Shaw sat back took a deep breath and exhaled. ‘No need for time. It’s a good idea. Yes!’

  Tobin thumped the table. ‘GREAT!’


  AUTHOR’S NOTE. Since Alain/Jimmy served in the Legion many things have changed, some for the better, some for the worse, opinions differ, but particularly the qualification for French nationality.

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