Some people should never play poker

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The who, the how, the why?

CHAPTER FOUR: The who, the how, the why

Amanda screamed. At which point people seemed to appear from everywhere. The house that had seemed almost deserted before was suddenly spewing people.

The first on the scene was, of course, Alice. Alice was only one floor down, was permanently in touch with the sights and sounds of the house. She was the permanent ‘go to’ person in a crisis. A crisis of any kind. She was as good a plumber (for everyday purposes) as she was a bandager or wall-paperer. She could turn her hand to bread making as well as she could lend a hand as a bricklayer! Alice was 5ft 5 ins, with not a spare ounce of fat on her well-toned body. Her lack of height belied her strength and stamina. She ran ten kilometres three times a week and swam 15 lengths of the swimming pool on the intervening days when she also spent 45 minutes (exactly!) in the gym. If people mistook her for ‘just a housewife’ they would completely underestimate her. In addition, when she was not running, swimming or in the gym, she was at home. Though it would be a mistake to imagine that all that home time was spent doing the ironing or baking cakes. There was nothing wrong with Alice’s brain either, and she was more likely to be flexing her chess muscles against the best that her computer could throw at her or tackling the Guardian cryptic crossword. So her home was pristine, despite the efforts of her sons and her husband to prove that feet impossible, but that was accomplished without appearing to interrupt her day. Her marriage to Gio outwardly was perfect and even if a person was a fly on the wall it would be difficult to really see the cracks – but, in reality, those cracks were chasms. The chasms were papered over with a kind of Stepford Wife pretence from Alice, and a grateful ignorance on the part of Gio. Unlike the situation within some marriages, there was no ‘abused wife’, nor an ‘abused husband’ for that matter … because Gio knew he would risk maybe even literally his life by speaking out of turn, and Alice’s ‘perfect wife’ act was well honed. Her veil of perfection hid a steely, almost mechanical, pretence. So Alice was not to be underestimated either physically nor mentally.

Alice did, though, play a very convincing game as far as the other people in the house were concerned. She was simply ‘the good little wife’: the ship’s mate, never the captain. She found that more beneficial because people told her things, or asked for her advice, or help – which was tantamount to the same thing. Though she could quite easily have taken the lead when she arrived and only the three women were in the flat, it suited her not to be too forward. So, she was happy when James arrived, puffing a bit having made his way up from the basement. Geoffrey, being younger and fitter, had arrived sooner, but stood aside at James’s command.

It was James who went over and picked up the landline and dialled 999. He very clearly told the operator that he wanted the ambulance and the police. After a brief pause, he told somebody else that a young woman had been attacked and that it was very serious. He was asked whether the patient was breathing, and he said that he did not know for sure but he thought maybe not. He said he really thought it was necessary to send both police and ambulance. However, when the call handler tried to get him to do CPR, he had to admit that, more likely than not, the victim was deceased.

He knew perfectly well that Francesca was dead. He had pushed his way – whether by virtue of his age, his sex, or his proprietorial privilege – through the mellé and had felt for a pulse … because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It seemed to Alice that he was not even trying in the right place. But she said nothing. She knew also that it was pointless. Alice had decided for the time being to be merely an observer. She did though worry that this could be a very unwelcome event in the house. Of course the death of anybody in the house was ‘unwelcome’ – even that was a very inadequate word – but Francesca’s death in particular was problematic. For a lot of people. Including herself.

Francesca was patently dead, and the wet patch on the floor that Amanda had thought was urine, was in fact very clearly in the light now identifiable as blood.

James continued to take charge. He ‘ordered’ the rest of them back to their respective flats – and strangely seemed annoyed when Amanda said ‘I am already in my flat!’. He looked at her as though she was being deliberately vexatious.

“Go down with Alice then. Keep out of the way - don’t go anywhere. The police will need to talk to you, I dare say.” He looked at the other two young women. He would have loved to have told them to clear off home – but supposed that was not the right thing to do since they had also been witnesses to finding the body. He was in a prudish way uncomfortable about the police finding a gaggle of young woman on ‘his premises’. What would people think? It seemed to make no impression on his scruples that one of those ‘young woman’ was the tenant, and she was presumably entitled to have brought her friends home with her. He just would have been more comfortable if they had not been so … attractive. He really meant ‘tarty’ … though that description was purely in his own head. They were merely young, attractive, and dressed in a modern style. His 50 year old gay psyche registered disapproval – not per se – (generally he had nothing against Amanda and Francesca, God Rest Her) – but he just could not get over his instinctive preference to be a slave to what people thought. He had two completely different persona. There was the James behind closed doors, and the James who cared over much what people thought, saw, and said. It was a battle that sometimes sullied his otherwise perfect relationship with Geoffrey.

Sasha glared at him – and her normal reaction would have been to ask him who he thought he was talking to! But she was also aware that the situation was far from ‘normal’ and she was a little bit intimidated by this old bloke who seemed to be determined to throw his weight around. She, of course, had no idea who he was. She did not know – nor frankly would she have cared – that he owned the building – as well as being the oldest resident, and the ‘father of the house’ … so to speak. She merely sucked her teeth, tossed her hair back and turned on her heel, hoping that her body language would say it all for her. Naturally, James neither registered it, nor would he have cared. It was most definitely a situation where old (!) … or at least older .. met youth, modern met ancient, carefree met uptight, and man with money and position met girl with no money, but too much ‘chutzpah’ and unfulfilled ambition!

Within twenty minutes the first of the police cars arrived, though the ambulance did not arrive for another 25 minutes which seemed far too slow for James who was aware that he had not said that the victim was for certain dead …. And he had done that purposely because he wanted as fast as possible to get Francesca’s body removed … somewhere, anywhere. Off the floor of his property. He thought, but did not say, “Well for goodness sake she would most certainly have been if they took that long to respond. It was a scandal, in his eyes, that the police had arrived first. It was, of course, perfectly in keeping with the situation (as it happened!) but James was livid just the same. The ‘What if’ factor being uppermost in his mind. He made a mental note to complain. If he had said that the person was dead, then quite rightly there would have been no need for them to rush, and they would know that the police were likely going to be on the scene and they would be a ‘secondary’ service. Other people would certainly be better candidates for their more speedy help. BUT … In James’s pedantic mind, he kept reverting to the fact that he had not said that the person was finally DEAD!

A thirty-something, good looking, suited (but despite the occasion James still had time to register ‘perhaps high street rather than Saville Row?’) detective seemed to be in charge. He introduced himself as D.I. Dillon and flipped a hand in the general direction of his colleague - introducing her in an off-hand fashion – D.S. Lucy Arnold … but gave no time or opportunity for James to really meet, or greet, ‘Detective Sergeant Lucy Arnold’. This was obviously a man after his own heart, thought James. A man who got down to business and was not caught up in what other people thought were the niceties of politeness. It had to be said here that his reaction had absolutely nothing to do with Lucy Arnold’s sex – though her age might have been a slight factor – but it had more to do with the fact that in James’s world the organ grinder liaised with the organ grinder – and not the monkey! James was a stickler for ‘rank’ and ‘status’. In any case he was subconsciously concerned that Geoffrey was there, and this Dillon chap was possibly – probably – maybe … just Geoff’s type … well formerly his type anyway, until they had met. Or at least James earnestly hoped! No, certainly, Geoffrey was safer with ‘Lucy Arnold’.

Dillon got brief information from James, but much to the latter’s annoyance, obviously felt it more fruitful to hear directly from those that had found the body. He was grateful to James ‘for his background information’ but ‘he could now return to his own premises’ and leave them to it.

James was only just stopped from telling Dillon sharply that ‘it was all his own premises’ by Geoffrey stepping smartly over and joining what was likely to be a ‘sharp exchange of words’. An exchange that would not go well! Therefore, the proximity of Geoffrey with Dillon, rather than any inappropriateness of sabre rattling under the circumstances, was the catalyst for James to decide that perhaps he (they) should be gone. Away from this handsome – but unpleasant – public servant! … But he was not pleased. His good impression of Detective Inspector Sebastian Dillon was swiftly and permanently eroded.

Dillon was oblivious of this adverse reaction – and would have been completely unaffected had he been aware. His only wish was to get rid of all these people and turn his mind to the business at hand.

He spent some time contemplating the dead form of Francesca. It was a bit of careful choreography with the forensic investigators trying to do their job, with Dillon tip-toeing around them – or trying to - asking questions, getting at least basic information. How? When? … being the most useful. The Why would have to come in due course. When even he realised that he was being a nuisance, and he had got as much from them as he was going to get without them being allowed to work in peace – and ultimately take the body away to be more intimately examined and documented, he left them in peace.

The shorthand was that Dr. George Lane considered (as a rough guess – ‘but nothing is definite until we know more – until we have had time to get her back to the ranch’) that the young woman – middle twenties, good health … well had been. Obviously, somebody had put paid to that! She had a lot of visible bruising – took something of a beating. Deep cut on the hand was strange? Across the palm. Defence wound? Then another stab wound to the abdomen – would have done damage, but she would/could have survived …. then jackpot shot – either accidentally accurate, or somebody really wasn’t taking any chances – straight, deep and directly into the heart. Not a chance. She would have been dead within seconds.”

Lane had worked with Dillon before with mixed outcomes. They were too similar. Neither mixed work with play, so unlike some of the other colleagues around them, they did not meet up with colleagues out of working hours. They were 100% professional when working and both were adamant that they would not be drawn, not be bullied, not be underestimated.

Lane had to decide whether to proffer an ‘opinion’. Not his usual policy, but this time he was tempted – and decided to take the chance.

“Tom, if I had to hazard a guess, I would say, that probably …. Only probably, and I may never be able to say for sure depending upon the time scale and any very obvious gap between the two deliberate wounds, but …. I would say that the beating, the hand wound – probably a defence wound – and the stomach wound were done somewhere else – and she was brought here. There is blood, but not as much as there would be from that stomach wound – and the palm cut would bleed profusely. She may have been – forgive the bluntness – finished off here. But I don’t think the attack started here. I think that she was alive when she got here – not in a good way, but alive. I think they might have panicked. They had to either risk her identifying them or they had to finish her off. They may not even have set out to kill her – just a warning, or a pay back. So, either a ‘warning’ to her, or to somebody that knew and cared for her – or else a really ham-fisted killer.”

Though Dillon’s name – as he had introduced himself to James – was Sebastian, he was uncomfortable with this, and tended to use ‘Tom’, an abbreviation of his second name, Thomas, amongst colleagues and friends. His family still usually called him Sebastian, or Seb. (When he irritated or got up the noses of lower ranks – which was not uncommon – they referred to him as syphilis. Some wag had said, when they saw his initials and had experienced their first run in with him, that he was like the other STD’s – unpleasant, unwelcome and best avoided!)

“Thanks, George. That will be useful as a hypothesis. Thanks.”

So far, so good, thought George Lane and was relieved.

“When?”

“At a rough guess, say, four or five hours – probably, say, six or seven o’clock.”

Dillon knew that there was no science in murder, but, in his experience, that was a relatively rare time for a anything but a domestic killing, given that it was inside premises and people could be expected to be around somewhere. Not so likely the result of a drunken rage or somebody walking home late at night and subjected to a provoked or unprovoked attack for robbery or rape. No, that time in the evening, was more likely the province of the husband who came in from work, didn’t like the fact that he had eggs and chips instead of steak and chips, and unleashed the violence that he had bottled up for years. Problem was …. No husband. But was there ‘a significant other’?

The location was unlikely too for a ‘stranger’ killer. They were up on the fourth floor. The risk of being seen would have been too great. Particularly, if George was right and the body was additionally moved. But moved from where? How would you move her? All right she was relatively slight.

Tom Dillon considered this further. It would still be almost a dead weight. Even if she had not been actually dead, then either she would be wounded enough to be unresponsive, i.e. a deadweight, or she would surely have been protesting violently! Up that many stairs? Without somebody hearing? That would not have been an easy feet. Could one person even have done it? That was if George was right. Perhaps after all she had been stabbed where she was – or at least in this flat. Somehow cleared up? Or covered up before hand? Not the latter, because according to George the initial attack was fists, not a weapon. They surely would not have put covers on the place to beat the hell out of her. No it made sense that the initial purpose of the attack had somehow been lost and it had all escalated out of control. The rest was trying to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted. So he was no closer to understanding the logistics of the murder. But early days.

Lucy had been getting a rough idea of where people were at the time, and where they were now, so that she kept out of Dillon’s way and was able to give him such information when he appeared. Which he now did.

Apparently, earlier on, Geoffrey had been at work – at the hospital. Lots of witnesses.

James had been out – some tenants over in Edgware are moving out and he was checking the inventory to see if they can have their deposit back. (I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of that one, commented Lucy).

Alice was out taking her boys to football practice.

Neil – on the ground floor – odd one that one – was out – for a walk he says.

Dillon shrugged. Early days.

She took him into Alice’s flat to talk to the three girls who had regaled Alice with every detail of their ‘horrible ordeal’.

Alice asked if Dillon would prefer to speak to them alone … she could make herself scarce. She could get her boys up and take them to MacDonalds or somewhere – they would be eternally grateful to him. Tom Dillon took an immediate shine to this down to earth woman.

Dillon saw nothing wrong in her staying put, since they had all had plenty time to hear one another’s stories before now. In any case, it was good that this practical and motherly woman had taken them under her wing and had looked after them. It would have been quite a nasty shock to find the dead woman – especially since somebody had removed the bulb, so there would have been no immediate warning that she was lying there. (Dillon had to trust that forensics would check for fingerprints or more particularly if there was a bulb sitting around the flat. It was impossible to remove a bulb without leaving prints – unless you had gloves – gloves would give some indication as to whether the crime was spontaneous or planned. It was still a moot point with Dillon).

Amanda – for once – showed no sign of retreating into her ‘actress’ mode. The understandable shock had jolted her into reality and she fully realised the seriousness of it all. She was not a stupid girl and despite what James might think she could be as grounded as anybody else. He was right. She much preferred the alternative universe when she could at least escape in her head from the mundane, the reality that she was as likely to make her name as an actress as she was to be chosen to be the next woman in a rocket to the moon! She was well aware this was not the time to be ‘auditioning’ for some kind of ‘grieving friend’ part. She and Fran had had a rocky past – and sometimes a rocky present – but to lose anybody that close – somebody she saw every day, slept each night (mostly!) with only a wall between them – was very distressing. To lose somebody in that manner – and to find her like that – was almost more than she could cope with. Genuinely! Not just a rehearsal for her audition for the part of Tara Fitzgerald in Gone with the Wind!

So, though Amanda tried her best, every question, every time she took herself back to their gruesome find, she broke down again and had to be consoled by Alice. If Sasha was honest, she would have to say that they were driving her mad. If Alice would stop giving Amanda a sympathetic audience, she might stop the histrionics. It was not that Sasha did not understand that it had been an ordeal, but this poor bloody detective was trying to make head or tail of it all, and this melodrama from the queen of tragedy was not helping.

Sasha decided to put an end to it all. She cut in, and said

“Maybe I can remember better – after all l am not so close to it all.”

Dillon did not know whether to be annoyed at the intrusion or grateful that somebody was getting a grip. He had longed to say ‘Dry your eyes and blow your nose and let’s get somewhere’ … but he had not, at that point, decided that the time was right. Obviously Sasha had!

Sasha decided that she was the most detached – and she in any case had the best memory, unclouded by ‘what should have been’ rather than ‘what really was’. Jinty was absolutely the wrong person to take back over the horrors. Sasha accepted her role. She knew she had become conditioned to whatever life threw at her. Her mother had died when she was three, and she had been brought up first of all by her father’s mother – but was orphaned once again when she too died two years later. She and her brother, Michael, had then been put into care.

Their father, a heavy drinker, an ex-army squaddie, was not a bad person, but he never really got over the loss of his wife. She had died just eight months after he had left the army to be more home with her and the children. He was destroyed by her death, and what had been a bit of a slight problem on his discharge from the forces because he missed the comradery, became a total dependence on alcohol. It was not helpful either that he hardly knew his children at all – having spent almost all of their early months/years away, only coming home for brief periods. It had never been a possibility that he would take on the children and provide a home for them. So, instead, he just stepped entirely out of their lives, and Sasha had not seen him since she was four, and even that was hazy, and just as a ‘kind’ visitor to her grandmother’s house.

Sasha (then Sarah) had grown up with a hard shell. A protective skin that prevented her from being hurt further. She had never been a ‘sweet’, ‘pretty’ or even manipulative child, so she was looked after, but not really loved – except perhaps by her absent father – who probably maybe loved her somewhere through the bottom of a glass. She had also become watchful and detached, protecting herself from getting fond of anybody because they always left you, and it hurt very badly. She was not, then, ‘adoption’ material. Not the kind of child, at four, who tugged at the heart strings of prospective adopters looking for their princess – even those that had got over the disappointment that they could not immediately be granted custodianship of their own new born, bundle of joy, with so few small babies in the queue. Foster placements had not fared well either. She had grown up realising that she was her own mother, father and family … and she had better get used to it. So she had been shocked – as can be imagined – by the drama, but really only from the unexpectedness and, yes, intrusiveness, of it. She was fully capable, however, of being incensed that anybody should mete that kind of treatment out to another person. She felt completely sure that nobody – nobody – would ever be in a position to do something like that to her. Amanda – and maybe that poor dead cow upstairs - had been over sheltered by families. It had not prepared them for what was out there in the dangerous, cold, hard world. Not like her. She had almost convinced herself that her ‘father’ had done her a favour by leaving her from such a young age to fight her own battles. Almost.

So, between them the three friends had given Dillon a fairly good idea of their part in the tragedy. And he was prepared to accept that they really had just found Francesca. He had entered Alice’s flat with an open mind. But part of his brain was mulling over the possibility that this was the result of a fight – jealousy, over a man, over a bloody pot of nail varnish … who knew … people had got into disastrous fights over less. He had witnessed it! There were three of them. There had been multiple ‘attacks’?

Speaking to them, however, he was more or less (though Dillon was not one to dismiss any possibility entirely from his mind – it had come back to bite him more than once) persuaded to accept their story.

He thanked them courteously and explained that it would be necessary for them – well really only Amanda – to not return to the attic flat for the time being until forensics had completed their work, the body had been removed, and she was given the all clear. Alice immediately stepped in to say that Amanda would stay with her. She would look after her. She also looked at the other two and said – deciding for them and giving them no real choice – “Amanda’s friends have homes to go to. Everybody has had enough emotional upheaval to last them a lifetime!”

Dillon, nodded. He motioned to Lucy to indicate that he would welcome an opportunity for them to have a conflab outside before he moved on to talk to the others in the house.

Nobody had asked Alice anything. Alice was, as always, like the furniture. Her function was understood – but completely underestimated.

Dillon and Lucy Arnold left the house, but only to compare notes outside. Dillon was aware that windows were open both in the house itself, and its neighbouring properties. It was a still night. Now the rain had stopped, it was comparatively mild, and Cavendish Avenue seemed deathly quiet (apart from the upheaval in the house – which was likely being observed behind curtains – by neighbours also). It was by now well into the early hours. Eyes and ears were likely to be listening and observing – unseen – so Dillon thought it was more prudent to sit in the car to talk. Dillon was aware that Lucy had had a better opportunity to observe the rest of the people. He knew she was excellent at picking up nuances and atmospheres and though they had not been working together for long – just five months – he was beginning to trust her powers of observation – and to a flattering extent her intuition. He rarely gave that plaudit to anybody. He thought it would have been a useful talent too when she witnessed them behind their own front doors – something he had not done so far. People were more likely to relax and say more, give more away, in familiar surroundings.

“So, Luce, what’s your take on it all? Anything hit you as interesting?”

“Well, nothing concrete. Some oddities – well in my view oddities, anyway.

“When I went downstairs, I naturally started on the ground floor – I had already realised that the basement we’d already met – James Longstaff and Geoffrey Klein; and the first floor … we’d met the all-omnipotent Alice, … but I was intrigued as to whether there was a ‘Mr. Alice’. Well, there is, apparently, but nowhere visible – around, but not here. That is, he has lived here, or does live here - but is not here - not sure whether ever, or just not at the moment. Alice – who is a fount of good sense and lucidity is ‘reticent’ … well I found her reticent … on that topic. Might be the embarrassment of the left wife, or he’s off with a mistress, or he’s in the nick …anything ..but she is willing to be forthcoming about everything apart from the whereabouts of Mr. Alice – I gather, from making enquiries, that he is really called Giovani Scarletti – accountant. Is it odd for a family man to be gadding off still – in the early hours? But we had met the wife .. Alice Scarletti. So they were ‘accounted for’ so to speak. The screaming gap, then, was the ground floor.

“However, when I knocked on the ground floor, expecting to not get a reply because they did not seem to have reacted to the scream, or the obvious commotion upstairs, I was surprised to have the door opened by a Neil Bamford. He did not seem handicapped, disabled … or deaf (at least he heard the knock and he did not have any visible hearing aids!) and I wondered why he had not bolted up the stairs when Amanda screamed the same as everybody else.

“Anyway, when he opened the door, he was obviously expecting somebody else. He looked startled, but I think he is a bit of an arrogant sod and pulled himself together quite quickly. But it was an odd reaction – given the goings on in the house, his apparent lack of interest at the time, and his agitation now.

“Well, to add to the great big question mark. It turns out that Amanda is his niece … one of the reasons she is living upstairs. The dead girl, so he tells me seemingly without any kind of feeling for the current events, is a relative of his partner – I am told she is Georgia Taddei – so same name - Oh and incidentally, also our victim is a niece of the other bloke that is ‘unaccounted for’ …Gio Scarletti, husband of Alice Scarletti. Francesca is his sister’s child.

“Anyway, this Georgia Taddei works. I gather she is a writer, but also works part-time in some kind of law office. Quite a successful writer, apparently. He, Neil, seemed a bit mealy mouthed about it – and about her, if I am going to be honest. ….. Put it this way, if my bloke seemed as unenthusiastic about me as he did about this Georgia, then I’d be packing my bags!”

“So, apart from him not hot footing it upstairs, and the fact that he is luke-warm about his girlfriend, was there anything else?”

Lucy did not take it amiss that Dillon seemed to be playing down her ‘instincts’ about Bamford. She was used to him, and he was, from her experience, one of the better men in the force. He would have been just as dismissive if she had been a man. It was nothing personal. He would just register it. Bear it in mind. He did not go into raptures and pat her on the back and throw her a bone as though she was a clever poodle!

“Well, he could have been about to go out – which might explain why he didn’t join the throng aloft, but he seemed to have just stepped out of the shower. He also seemed to be in pain … winced as he sat down … tried to cover this, said he sometimes got jolts from arthritis … he could have been telling the truth, but I couldn’t say for sure because he stayed as far away from me as he could and certainly did not ask me to sit, or show any kind of … well … no real sign that he was interested in why I was there. In no way did he give any sign that the dead woman was almost a relative … lived in the same house! According to the fellows in the basement (incidentally, the hoity toity one with all the chat upstairs – owns the whole place. Lives in the basement but is the rest of their landlord!) … any way, according to them, they had not seen Neil Bamford – he didn’t join them when Amanda Bamford (his niece … did you know?) … found the body. Not any sign of sound from him. Yet he didn’t ask me why I was there. What was going on. Nothing.

“Anyway … it might be my imagination, but I could have sworn that his face was puffy. Something around the eyes. He could have been crying. Or taken a smack in the face … Something …. Something there not right. He looked somehow as though someone had punched him – maybe the kind of damage that would look more obvious in time. Just looked … well kind of sunburnt – and I mean burned …! The kind of high colour that you get if you’ve been running very fast, or … that shower he had was way, way, way too hot and scalded his face! He was well covered with a shoulders to ankles silk – kind of paisley - dressing gown – not a towelling robe – a dressing gown. I don’t know how people live, but if I was getting out of a shower wrapping a towel around my still wet hair, I would likely reach for a bathrobe, not a silk dressing gown. He kept having trouble with the dressing gown because it kept sticking to him and he was getting more and more agitated. He kept the towel around his head and seemed to be trying to cover as much of his face as he could. So … yes.

“If you want my honest opinion … I do think there is something more in it that he did not go up and see what was going on. I think he may well have been clobbered by the same person that hit our body. He must know something more, but he is acting like the three wise monkeys!”

“Well that’s easily remedied. If he is unwilling to talk here, and if he really has damage to his face and body, then under the circumstances, I feel we have every reason to take him to the station and see if he can remember anything there! …. Let’s go see him.”

Dillon and Lucy returned into the house. They were sure that nobody had left the premises whilst they talked in the car, but by the time they were back at Neil’s door, there was no answer to their knocking. It had to be assumed that between Lucy talking to him - whilst they were in the Scarletti’s flat - he must have quickly got dressed and left the house. That in itself was not suspicious, since he had been showering and getting ready when Lucy had called earlier, so his absence may well have been a planned departure.

As they stood at the door, Georgia arrived home.

“Hello – are you Miss Taddei?”

“Georgia Taddei, yes. Is something wrong?”

“Can we come in please, it is better that we have a word inside, rather than out here in the hallway.”

“Of course. … Is Neil not in? Have you knocked?”

“Yes, several times. He seems to have gone out.”

Georgia did not seem put out by this. Under other circumstances she would have been relieved. Neil was a proper pain at the moment, and she was not in the mood for his petulance. He had been invited to the ‘do’ at the publishers – as usual – but had scornfully declined, saying that he couldn’t think of anything worse, and she was welcome to those ‘tired, boring, gob-shites’ … he had ‘other plans’.

She used her key to unlock the door, and as predicted, there was no sign of Neil.

The dressing gown described by Lucy Arnold was tossed on the settee, with two very discoloured damp towels. There was also one of a pair of trainers beside them, with another on the floor not too far away. Dillon and Arnold – who had witnessed the scene upstairs – were quick to spot some very dubious blotches on one of them, which looked suspiciously like blood.

Georgia was not exactly used to having detectives at her door, and it seemed OTT for parking or speeding fines, but Neil was only too well known for maligning people, or even throwing punches when drunk, so she was not expecting anything more this time. She was embarrassed though at the mess. The state of the trainers did not register on her at all. She was just fed up clearing up after him. Her face registered annoyance, and then her shoulders sagged in acceptance.

“Bloody man” was all she said. Reminding herself she was not alone, she realised that now was not the time for any form of protest – she would, though, definitely tell Neil when he resurfaced how embarrassed she had been. Perhaps now was the time to call the whole deteriorating chapter in their life to a halt.

Readjusting her thought processes, she realised that they were obviously not just uniformed officers. It must be something else. Something more serious this time? Obviously Neil was not ‘harmed’ himself. Otherwise they would not be there looking for him. She had a very brief moment where she almost wished that something had happened to him. But as a basically kind, forgiving person, she soon pulled herself together and regretted her unkind thoughts.

Georgia Taddei was permanently mild natured, but even she was less than happy to face an interrogation by the police at two o’clock in the morning, when all she wanted and needed was her bed, and to sleep. Nevertheless, she was asked nicely, but given no room for obstruction, where she had been, with whom and since when. So her warm bed had to wait while she listed her movements during the evening

She was not happy, but since she had no idea what was going on, and since she was Georgia (and not Neil who would have told them, under other circumstances perhaps, to mind their own business) she bit her tongue and told them.

She had left the house about … probably five(ish). Then spent the evening at her publishers, where they were holding a drinks reception to celebrate the successful launch of her latest book. The reception had finished around ten, but Miriam and Jocelyn (her chief ‘minders’ who had been allocated by the publishing house to look after their prized possession!) had insisted that they went on to a club, and then back to Jocelyn’s for a final nightcap. She had just been dropped off in a cab …. Just now.

She said she was really tired so if they could quickly let her know what Neil was supposed to have done this time she would be grateful. She was not really a social animal, was glad to return to ‘normality’. She explained that she loved writing and the fact that her books were appreciated by so many, but she hated the razzmatazz that went with it all.

“So, please …. Can we just agree that he is not here – I really need to get to bed!”

However, there must have been some unspoken indicator on either Dillon or Lucy’s face that warned her that something was truly amiss, because she stopped and said …

“Has something happened?” What is going on?”

Dillon had to remember that the dead woman was, in fact, related to this Georgia Taddei, which made her both somebody who needed to be told carefully what had happened, but at the same time, could not be automatically excluded as a suspect. Who knew what angst existed between the women, or whether there was a money or property motive behind it all.

“Ms Taddei” …

“Georgia, please … I hate the Ms but I don’t like the Miss either, so ….” She shrugged, and they saw a tired, resigned, half smile.

“Georgia, unfortunately one of the tenants in the attic flat has been killed….”

Georgia immediately stared, eyes wide open, mouth agape.

“Which one … which one … Which of the tenants?”

“Unfortunately, it is your … cousin, is it? …. Francesca Taddei.”

Georgia slumped on the chair. The next question would be crucial from Dillon’s perspective ….

“But what happened? Was it an accident … not that bloody window!”

“No, unfortunately … there is no easy way to say this … she was murdered.”

Georgia jumped up and rushed off through a door which they could see was the bedroom. She threw open the wardrobe – and seemed to be both puzzled and upset when she returned. When she came out, she gave a slight shake of her head, and made a very odd gesture in the direction the police officers, shrugging her shoulders and lifting both arms from the elbow in a gesture of confusion. Then she walked in the direction of the bathroom…..

Dillon was instantly aware that he had intended to look in the bathroom before they got waylaid by Georgia. He wanted to see if anything left around moved them closer to understanding what had happened upstairs, or why Neil Bamford had seemed to act so differently to the others in the house.

Dillon had never been overly concerned with the niceties of any situation, and being fixated on the need to look in that bathroom, he was not going to be squeamish about protecting Georgia’s privacy, so, when she walked straight in to the bathroom, still shaking her head, he gestured to Lucy to follow her in and make sure that nothing was moved, nothing was hidden. It was important to get a first-hand view of the bathroom without it being ‘tidied’ by Georgia – either deliberately or just out of instinct. If the fact that the towels and trainers had been left visible, it seemed likely that Neil had not done much in the way of clearing away or hiding things. If he left things, they may well still be as he left them.

The bathroom was somewhat chaotic – Neil’s clothes had been discarded outside the shower cubicle; the sink was full of what seemed to be almost his whole head of hair; there was evidence that he had used Georgia’s hair dye – though it was debatable how much of it he managed to use, because so much of it had been spilled in the sink, and on the floor. There was bloody cotton wool and wadding in clumps in several places, both inside the shower cubicle and by the sink. Georgia was visibly shocked. Dillon could see the tears welling up in her eyes, but she was battling with herself to keep a grip on her emotions. Pulling herself together, she gave every sign of confusion and despair, throwing her hands in the air and shrugging her shoulders. She was close to tears but battled with herself to not give way to such a visible display of emotion.

As she walked back out – heading for a side table on which was a couple of bottles of wine, and a bottle of gin. She poured a large neat glass of gin, and then as if coming slightly to her senses, did not much more than show the glass to the soda syphon.

Dillon said ‘Georgia ….’ But she raised an arm to stop him and said

“Give me a minute …. Just give a minute ….”

Dillon thought about that, but just for a … second! “No, I don’t have a minute. Somebody is dead. I don’t have enough time to be patient or benevolent. Now come and sit down. We need to talk. You need to listen, and I need to know …. What is the situation in this house!”

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