Authors: Neil Richards
“Nice work Riley,” he said. “We sure had him beat – didn’t we?”
He knew that in just a few minutes his whole body would hurt like hell.
But for now he was thankful he was still alive. And aware that he’d been a real fool. He was way too old to be brawling on a kitchen floor …
“You should have seen the other guy.”
“Not funny, Jack,” said Sarah, dabbing his cut eye with cotton wool. “You’re too old to be rolling around on the floor fighting.”
“Funny you should say that …”
Sarah dabbed again and Jack winced. She decided to ignore it. She had come over as soon as Jack had called and told her what had happened, and now she was tending to his wounds as he sat in a deckchair on the top deck of the Grey Goose.
She stretched across the little table and pulled the bowl of antiseptic closer.
“I think Riley and I put up quite a show,” he said.
“Some show,” Sarah snorted. “From the sound of it, the guy beat you up then left when he was ahead on points.”
She saw Riley give her a baleful look from where he lay in his basket in the morning sunshine. Then he looked away, as if embarrassed.
“You were lucky I got here so quickly,” she said, carefully sticking a plaster on Jack’s cut. “I had a run in with the cricket committee up at the ground. Daniel and I turned up for his game and he was given the third degree because he and his mates had opened up the drinks store in the pavilion on Monday.”
“Was that the day he was up there practising?” said Jack. “Doesn’t sound like Daniel.”
,” said Sarah. “Apparently some booze went missing and the committee didn’t know who to blame. Eventually they saw the light and let the kids off. Anyway – he’s going to be batting soon so I’ll need to get back up there. Don’t want to miss his star turn.”
“Of course,” said Jack. “You can’t get these years back.”
“Now – lean forwards,” said Sarah, inspecting the back of Jack’s head where blood was still matted. “I guess you’ll live. But I wish you’d taken me more seriously when I warned you yesterday.”
“Aw come on Sarah,” said Jack, getting up from his deckchair. “Short of staying up all night, that guy was going to get in.”
Sarah shrugged, then gathered the used bandages and ointments and went below to dispose of them. Though Jack had swept up down below she could still see signs of the fight everywhere. She looked at the big basket of puppets – at least the intruder hadn’t taken them.
“So what do you think now, detective?” she called up the steps. “Case still over?”
“No,” came Jack’s voice. “Case definitely not over.”
Sarah knelt down by the basket and undid the buckles, raising the heavy lid and folding it back. From inside the basket, Otto’s puppets stared at her. Punch, Judy, the Policeman, the Devil …
Although they grinned, she felt they were accusing her.
She reached in and picked up Judy and Punch, then went back up the steps, through the damaged wheelhouse and out onto the deck.
“Grab a coffee,” said Jack, pointing to the big cafetière that stood on the table.
She laid the two puppets down on the table and poured herself a drink, then sat back in one of the deckchairs.
She took a sip and watched Jack.
“So,” she said. “Can you figure this out? Because I can’t.”
“I know,” said Jack, putting his coffee down. “We’re missing something here – aren’t we? Something really major. There’s Otto’s secret life, his puppets, the break-ins, the guy attacking me.”
“You say he went straight for the basket?”
“So he knew what was in it. And he knew you had it. He must have been following you. Maybe this is all about the puppets. The Punch and Judy …”
“You thinking – what if there’s something valuable inside them?” said Jack.
“Romanian Crown Jewels?” said Sarah, smiling.
She picked up the Judy. Slipping her hand inside the puppet, she pushed her fingers and thumbs deep into the arms and head. She turned Judy’s head to look at Jack and waved the little arms.
“Well, that’s not the way to do it,” she said. “Nothing in this one.”
She slipped the Judy off her hand and put it back on the table.
“I’ve also been thinking about this whole Securitate thing,” she said. “What you said yesterday about the KGB. You know their reputation …”
“Jack – do you think that possibly … Otto’s death wasn’t a heart attack?”
“Whoa. You mean poison? That’s quite a leap. I mean, no real evidence. Though there was that frothing at the mouth …”
“Yeah, I saw that too,” she said. “I’d almost forgotten. That was strange.”
“But I’m no forensics expert,” said Jack. “Could be a result of congestion, something normal. And also – how would you administer poison to a guy who’s sitting in a theatre made for one, surrounded by screaming kids?”
Sarah reached out and picked up Punch. The face grinned at her, somehow all-knowing.
“You know Grace did some research for me?” said Sarah. “She couldn’t find anything on the tattoo. But she did say that poisoning – often undetectable – was one of the favourite methods used by the Eastern bloc security services.”
Jack didn’t answer. She knew him well enough by now to know that this meant he was taking an idea seriously.
She lifted up the Punch and slid her hand inside the blue-and-white striped costume. Just as her fingers reached for the little hole inside the head, Jack suddenly leapt forward —
“Ow, Jack, that —”
He grabbed her arm tightly – then carefully pulled the puppet from her grasp. “What the —”
“Sorry Sarah,” he said, laying the puppet carefully down on the table. “I suddenly had a thought – what you were just saying – about the Securitate …”
She watched as he got up quickly and went over to a locker at the side of the wheelhouse. He pulled out a toolbox and brought it over to the table.
“You ever heard about that guy – Bulgarian I think he was – got murdered in London by the KGB using an umbrella?”
“An umbrella? No – I’m sure I would have remembered …”
“Probably before your time,” said Jack, taking out a pair of cutters. “Anyway they jabbed him with an adapted umbrella. It stuck a pellet in him – tiny pellet of poison … Ricin, I think it was. Killed him. Set me thinking …”
Sarah looked on as Jack started to cut the costume off the Punch. Chunks of blue, red-and-white fabric fell onto the table.
“What was in Otto’s hand when we found him?” he said.
“The Punch – I think.”
“Right. That was the last thing he touched before he died. So what if …”
He put down the clippers, grabbed a torch from the toolbox and handed it to her. Then he held up the remnants of the Punch – little more than a head and arms.
“You’ve got better eyesight than me,” he said. “Take a look. Go on.”
Sarah pointed the torch deep inside the puppet and peered in. She didn’t really know what she was looking for … But when she saw a sliver of shining metal in the wood and plaster on the head – she knew she’d found it.
She looked at Jack and slowly realised.
“Jack. I was just about to put my hand in here.”
“You seen something?”
Jack took the head from her, held it up to the light and reached in with a pair of pliers from the toolbox. It only took a second to pull out the little sliver of metal.
She watched as he held it up to the light.
“The murder weapon, if I’m not mistaken,” he said. “See the little reservoir – and the point?”
Sarah nodded. Jack continued:
“I guess Otto put his hand in, jabbed his finger on it – the poison was delivered straight into his blood – and then … His heart just failed.”
“That could have killed me,” said Sarah.
“Yep, could have,” said Jack with a grin. “If I hadn’t stopped you. Just think yourself lucky the poison wasn’t in the Judy, huh?”
Sarah felt queasy at the thought. But Jack’s almost jokey attitude towards her escape was contagious, and suddenly she felt light-headed at having cheated death on this beautiful summer’s morning.
“Okay. This is starting to fit together,” said Jack, clearly feeling much cheerier now he was back in the chase. “The Securitate guy breaks into Otto’s house, plants the poison dart. Otto dies. He breaks in again, hoping to remove the evidence. He steals all the puppets he can find, but —”
“We’ve got the evidence – or rather, Mrs Harper had it,”
“So he keeps watch on the house, spots us arriving and then leaving with the Punch and Judy …”
“So he breaks in here, hoping to remove it —”
“Not expecting the brave owner and his loyal dog to fight to the death to protect it. Or something like that.”
“So Jack – don’t you think we ought to tell Alan?”
“Yeah,” said Jack. “I guess so. If the killer’s that desperate to get the evidence back – I reckon he’s still somewhere in the neighbourhood. Not a nice thought.”
“Do you think you’d recognise him again?”
“Maybe,” said Jack. “I’d certainly recognise the smell. I don’t think he’s washed for days.”
“Mrs Harper will have to know …” said Sarah. “It’s not going to be good for her. Otto’s story will come out – and everyone is going to have to deal with a murder taking place in the school grounds.”
“Hmm, not good,” said Jack. “But we don’t have much choice, Sarah. Not with a killer out there, somewhere.”
Sarah stood up.
“I’m going up to the cricket ground. Don’t want to miss Daniel. You going to be all right?”
“Sure, I’m fine. Right as rain. Listen – maybe keep this to yourself until I call you, huh? Don’t want to get people all worked up.”
“You’re right. In fact – perhaps we should wait until someone’s actually tested that bit of metal? We’ll look complete idiots if it’s just part of the puppet.”
Seeing him with a bandage on his head suddenly made Sarah think that maybe Jack shouldn’t be on his own.
The danger might be over. Or it might not.
“You ought to come and watch the match,” she said as she stepped off the gangway onto the riverbank.
“You kidding?” Jack said. “I’ve seen one of those cricket matches. And it’s all been explained to me a dozen times. I have no intention of watching another. Life is too short,” Then a grin. “Give Daniel my best!”
Sarah headed down the river path, excited at the thought that once again she and Jack had solved a case.
There was no reason to delay bringing the police into this, Jack thought. And with Sarah cheering Daniel on, it was something he could do alone.
If he got any heat from Alan because they delayed, well, he’d catch it, and hopefully be able to explain what they had been doing.
Alan was getting to be a friend – and Jack wanted to keep it that way.
So as he walked up the High Street towards the police station, he began mentally organising the steps that led to their discovery, making sure to include all the information about the mystery attacker, Otto’s past, the puppet and the pin … and then his phone rang.
Standing in the shadow of the Village Hall clock tower, he dug it out of his back pocket.
“Jack, Eddie. Look, I got some new information.”
Jack backed off the pavement into a small alleyway. No need for people bustling back and forth on the street to hear his half of the conversation.
“That tattoo – it was the mark of an inner group in the DSS – the Romanian Security Services.”
“The Securitate,” said Jack.
“Well these guys – gotta tell you – they were the baddest of the bad,” said Eddie. “Totally ruthless; they were the regime’s enforcers, completely above the law. The number of people they made disappear, no questions asked, must have been in the thousands.”
Wait a second,
That didn’t compute. Otto was on the run from the Securitate so —
“Eddie, hang on. You’re telling me that if my guy here had
tattoo, he was —”
“A monster, Jack. The world’s a better place with him gone, you can be sure of that.”
For a few moments nothing made sense, the whole carefully constructed tale he was about to tell Alan suddenly turned topsy-turvy.
But then, like the detective he used to be, he started rearranging all the elements.
And a new story – what had to be the
story – started to take shape.
‘Eddie, can you email the information about that?”
“Already did, buddy. Listen. Your guy with the tattoo might be dead, but those Vulture psychos are still out there, all around the world. So be careful …”
Careful. Hearing that a lot these days,
“You got it. And Eddie – thanks.”
“Not a problem, Jack. Stay safe.”
The call ended. And Jack began to think about what to do next, wishing that Sarah was here rather than at the cricket.
Two heads – with all these facts shuffling – would definitely be better than one. But he knew one place that he had to see right now.
Though getting in might not be easy.
The bell to Why Knot jingled as Jack entered, and he saw Jayne Reid unpacking a box of yarn.
She looked up, quickly putting a properly proprietorial smile on her face before that smile faded at seeing who it was.
. I thought we were done —”
Jack figured out the exact tactic he’d use with her. He pointed to the bandage on his face.
“Had a tumble, did we?”
“You might say that. Or maybe someone wanted something from me. And what they wanted … seemed to be Otto’s Punch and Judy puppets.”
Jayne’s face registered true shock. Least her role in this story seemed to be holding up.
“You were attacked?”
“Last night. And I'm thinking, maybe by the same people Otto worried about.”
?” She turned away, clearly both confused and stunned by that news. And maybe, Jack guessed, a little scared.
“Jayne, I got attacked last night.”
“I assume you’ve told the police. This —”