“Detective Usher, nice to meet you again,“ Carter said when he had sat down in Paul’s car and lowered all the windows again. He was wearing dark jeans, not torn this time but rather well-cut, soft boots, and a white shirt under the leather jacket.
“Your Lordship,“ Paul gave a mock bow.
Carter blinked at that, but didn’t react. Paul was trying hard to stay polite. “Can you tell me what you were doing just now? And don’t take too much time about it, because there is a whole list of questions I want answered. Starting with your name!” Better get that settled right now.
The other man gave him a calculating look. “Lord Marcus Arthur James Bredon Trevelyan-Carter, I thought you had already started investigating me.”
“Ah. And your real name?” Deeply ironic.
“I don’t have another one, this one will have to do, I’m afraid.” He stopped Paul’s retort by continuing to talk. “You seem to be a man of many questions, we had better start then. There’s a bad weather front moving our way and it will be dashed uncomfortable to get rained upon.”
Paul rolled his eyes impatiently. His opposite ignored the gesture.
“So I think I’ll start: Late this afternoon two gentlemen paid a visit on Ms. Downey, which – I’m sad to say – she didn’t seem entirely comfortable with. They identified themselves as New Scotland Yard detectives by the way. However, when they did not let up questioning her after almost two hours and also left her no time to telephone her solicitor, I decided to step in and relieve her of their presence by the simple expedient of removing Naomi. They didn’t stop her. We went for a walk. In the park. We had some coffee by the Serpentine, and there was no danger involved at all.” He seemed rather smug about something at this point. His eyes however belied the lightness of his tone, their expression had become more intense, even pained at the mention of the walk and the context of danger.
Paul decided to let the name issue go and start with the more important bit of new information. “Whoever they were, they were not Yard, my partner and I are not yet too busy to notice who’s working on our case or what they are doing. Can you describe those two clowns?”
Now that Paul sounded ready to concentrate on the case, his companion became more relaxed. “I can do even better”, he said animatedly, “I have recently acquired a mobile phone, which includes a device for taking photographs. I used this ingenious machine on them through a window, if that’s any help to you.” He pulled the latest photo mobile out of his pocket. “Unfortunately I have not yet mastered the art of transferring these photos to another telephone, but maybe you could help me with that…?”
“Don’t let that worry you,” Paul said, sending the picture to his own with a satisfied smirk. The photograph was good: A slight, gangly black-haired man with a moustache and a tall light-blond one, both in their mid-thirties, definitely not police. Whoever had been impersonating Scotland Yard would have a nasty surprise coming as soon as they’d identified them. “Can you tell me the general line of their questioning as well?” He would have been very surprised if the stalker hadn’t been listening as well as taking pictures.
Carter seemed unfazed by the turn the conversation was taking and started talking rapidly. “Well, it seems like they are preparing to – as the Americans call it – frame Ms. Downey for the murder of Jeffrey Lynd. They were putting her under pressure making up all kinds of evidence for that hypothesis, fabricating it, as it were, all based on Naomi having no alibi for the evening in question (which is wrong, I can assure you, she was working all evening), and on that unfortunate hysteric neighbour’s complaint about a loud altercation between Naomi and Lynd that night, which certainly cannot have taken place as she so clearly was in a different part of town, that is, here.”
Paul tried to get a word in. “But…”
Not a chance. “Actually the quarrel happened a week earlier. He annoyed her with some unqualified remarks about her work, and she”, he snickered, “threw an onion at him.”
Paul’s look must have been very surprised.
“Only a small one”, Carter specified. “What they were really after though seem to be those damn papers Lynd hid.” He seemed frustrated.
The papers again. Apparently whoever was involved here was not satisfied that the exchange with Sutton-Barr would end the affair. Maybe they suspected Lynd had made copies. However, there was a more pressing question here for this most forthcoming witness: “And you know all this…?”
“Because I was there watching her.” He seemed satisfied with that explanation.
The man looked rational enough and came across as absolutely charming, but Paul frowned. “Do you have any idea how creepy you sound? What can you tell me to convince me that you were not watching Naomi at Lynd’s place, or that you didn’t kill Lynd yourself in a fit of ‘jealous pique’ as you would probably put it, because you didn’t like someone else near the object of your sick obsession?”
Carter took another long look at Paul after this tirade, then he made a decision and answered in a voice quite different from the off-hand tone he’d been using before. “Because I’m telling the truth. Naomi was here all evening, working. And it wasn’t me this time.”
Paul raised his eyebrows at the last two words. The other man nodded slowly, and Paul understood or thought he did. “You’ve been watching her for a long time.” Nod.
“The two students at Oxford in ‘92?”
“…had raped Naomi’s neighbour two weeks earlier and were now planning to set her up. Nasty public school brats, you know the type.”
“…was a most deranged person. She has a rather unfortunate liking for those types. It’s quite difficult trying to protect her.”
“No, he managed to wrap himself round the tree all by himself. But he would not have come close to her again anyway.”
Paul blinked. The stranger had sounded as if he would have ripped the man apart if he had tried that. That left “Her husband?”
“My biggest regret so far. It…looked so right in the beginning, they seemed truly happy together, and when they decided to get married, I took myself off. I just couldn’t bear it.” He looked away. “When I became weak and returned some years later, just for a glimpse, you know, I found her a wreck and”, his fists were clenched and his eyes dark, “him cheating on her, his firm going down, and then I overheard him making arrangements for that life-insurance policy.” His voice had become rough, and he wasn’t looking at Paul.
“But,“ Paul said his mind refusing to believe the tale he had just been told, “The insurance worked both ways.”
“Yes, after a visit with the agent it did. I can be quite persuasive.” Stated coldly.
“But he was killed in an accident, wasn’t he?”
“It had to be an accident to convince the insurance to pay and make her financially independent. Let me assure you,“ a vicious light came into his eyes, “the crane was the least of that bastard’s problems.”
“No, sorry. He was far too old for her but essentially well-meaning. Just a bore.”
“Where is Lynd’s son?”
Carter shrugged. “Not the foggiest, probably killing himself somewhere with drugs.” When Paul looked sceptic he added. “I haven’t touched him since he left her alone. He’s just had the luck of having a bad father, that’s all.”
Paul shook his head trying to clear it. “What makes you think that you can confess to a bunch of murders to a Scotland Yard detective and walk away?”
Grin. “What makes you think, you’ll walk away?”
Ok, Paul thought, becoming suddenly aware of the well-muscled frame of his opposite, that was another way of seeing it. No one knew where he was, and apparently there was a reason for the young man’s confidence. Furthermore, if he had got into his car voluntarily, he had probably also considered a way out. He tensed, ready to defend himself.
The other man had noticed that, shook his head at him and said, “Apart from that you might have some trouble getting a warrant for me, as it has been public knowledge for the last eighty years – I’m sure you know this too by now – that I’m quite dead.”
“You’ve certainly been active for a ghost”, Paul said and continued thoughtfully more to himself, “But I’m reasonably sure I’ll be walking, because I’ve not done anything to Naomi and don’t intend to do so.” He took a long look at his strange neighbour. “Does she know at all how you feel about her?”
“She didn’t even know I was there, and I’d prefer it to remain that way. Can we postpone discussion about that to a later date?” Marcus had already left the car. “I don’t like that kind of flickering light from her bedroom window.”
He was across the road in no time, ringing Naomi’s bell and pounding on the door, which almost gave in. He cursed in frustration and simply took the door off its hinges, security locks and all, Paul noticed, who had by now started across the road too.
When he skidded to a stop at the foot of the stairs he saw Marcus at the top, carrying Naomi in his arms and pleading through gritted teeth: “Help me!” He held out Naomi as if she was only the weight of a feather. His eyes were panic-stricken.
Paul almost screamed: “Is she...”
“No, just passed out, her bed’s on fire. For God’s sake, take her! Now!” Taking over the unconscious woman on a narrow staircase was no small feat, but Paul thought it best not to contradict Marcus right now.
Once he got Naomi safely downstairs and out of the house, he put her down on the pavement with his jacket for a cushion, his heart beating in his throat.
“Do something!” Marcus panicked next to him. He hadn’t heard him come closer.
“We should try mouth to mouth, at least until the fire brigade gets here”, Paul said sceptically, revving up his memory on how to do that.
Marcus stepped back quickly, a look of complete panic on his face, his jaws clamped shut tightly. “Ye-es. You can do that.”
“Why not you?” Paul asked, bent down already. The look Marcus threw him at that question silenced all further attempts. “Ok”, he said. “Naomi?” She was still unconscious.
Paul took a deep breath and locked his lips on Naomi’s, breathing into her mouth softly. After three attempts, she moaned and threw up onto the pavement.
“Oh god, now what? Where are those fire people?” Naomi had slumped back into his arms and lost consciousness again. “What the hell is taking them so long?”
“Did you call them?” Marcus asked warily, from across the road.
Paul didn’t believe his ears. “I thought you had. You can’t just let the whole neighbourhood…” He shook his head and tried to call the fire-brigade but found his phone snatched out of his hands no sooner than he’d dialled the number. He blinked. How had Marcus gotten to him so quickly?
“No, not yet. The flames are out, and I’d rather check the surroundings without lots of people around. Get her to a hospital quickly, have her checked, and then bring her to my place.” He was about to hand over a card, but when he saw Paul’s sceptical face, he amended to “Alright, your flat then. I’ll see you there.”
He disappeared back into the house the door of which he fixed apropos.