âMr Williams seems to think you were on bad terms with Mrs Davis. She objected to your previous mountaineering practice with her hedge,' Brandon shot at me.
âThat's true,' I admitted. âThen I met her again â with witnesses â and apologized. So I was on good terms with her, and I decided to bring her some business.'
âNames of these witnesses?'
I thought of Zoe and Len â only my word for it. Rob might oblige. Then I remembered Dan Burgess. He'd seen me chatting with her at least, so I offered Brandon his name. Good old Guy had obviously given the police every last lurid detail of that first meeting, including a few additions of his own, such as how he'd thrown me bodily back over the hedge while I was effing and blinding about vengeance. Luckily, he had come over as the blusterer he was, but even so Brandon could hardly have ignored the clear implication that I had returned for exactly that purpose.
âQuick change on Mrs Davis's part, wasn't it?' Bulldog Brandon asked. He sounded merely politely interested, but I could see a hammer patiently knocking nails in one by one.
âYes. I got the impression it wasn't
she had objected to so much as being reminded of the car.'
That went down like a lead balloon. Brandon didn't pick up on the car angle, and I wasn't sure whether I was glad or sorry about that. I didn't want the police examining it before I could. âShe might have been holding back what she
thought of you because there were others present. Used to that, I'm sure. TV presenter once, wasn't she?'
âYes. But Polly wouldn't have invited me to her home if she hadn't meant it.'
âHome? You said it was business. Picture framing.'
âTrue again,' I said patiently. âI thought if I took her some work it would help my apology ring true. Her office is next to the farmhouse.'
âKeen to see her again, eh?' The words âcover story' were written all over his face. âYou left this painting in the car, arranged to meet her at the barn to discuss the Lagonda and killed her. Let's consider that, just for the sake of argument.'
âLet's not,' I said, trying to stay cool and failing. âWhy the hell should I kill her?' My brain decided it had better take a more active part in the proceedings. âI'd only just met her. If I wanted to steal the car, it would be a pretty stupid move to have killed her.'
âHeat of the moment, Mr Colby. All sorts of things can happen.' He was now watching me more like a hawk his prey than a bulldog.
âWith a gun I just happened to have with me and must have buried with a spade that I also happened to bring along?'
Brandon managed a nod, as if to cede victory on this one.
there a gun at the scene?' I still had no idea.
âSo Polly didn't kill herself.' That at least was a relief. I remembered that heartbroken look she had given the Lagonda on that first occasion we'd met. Something inside me tied itself in aching knots. That look hadn't been for me, and now it never would.
âYou're not off the hook yet, Colby. Move anything, did you? Such as a gun?'
âThen it's unlikely to be suicide unless you're lying. Anyway, the blood spatters don't tie in. Sorry about that.'
That did it. I exploded. âSorry? You think I'd want Polly to have been so unhappy that she killed herself?'
He gave me an odd look. âThat's one way of looking at it. Right. You can go now, Mr Colby, but don't leave town, eh?'
So much for a friendly chat. DNA results take time to come through, however. Brandon had probably been winding me up in preparation for the next time, hoping they'd find a gun with some nice DNA on it â like mine â or trace evidence on Polly's clothes. I suppose I should be grateful that I'd been left with my own. Brandon kindly refrained from pointing out that for a lady I had only just met, I seemed very concerned for her welfare, and I was taken by surprise at my quick release. Dave Jennings might have put in a good word for my overall credibility, but that wouldn't exclude me from a murder charge. I was only temporarily off the hook.
It was gone six o'clock by the time I reached Frogs Hill, and never had I been so glad to see it. I'd even been allowed to pick up my car and, thankfully, my Giovanni painting. Pasta would be flying if he heard one of his precious creations was in police custody for the foreseeable future. Normally both Len and Zoe would have departed by then, but although there were no signs of Len, Zoe was still there. For once she was not in the Pits, however, but in the farmhouse itself, to which she and Len had house keys. She came to the door to meet me as I drew up, looking anxious â which was unusual for her.
âBea's here,' she said without preamble.
Both of them must therefore have heard the news, and I suppose it was a sign of confidence that I was clearly expected to be able to cope with this situation. I wasn't sure I was up to it. Apart from anything else, the etiquette books don't cover what a suspect says to the bereaved family of his alleged victim. Putting that aside, I didn't know Bea well enough even to guess what she was going through. In the event it proved easy.
Bea was sitting in Dad's old armchair, clutching the arms as though it was giving her his moral support. The poor girl was hardly the rosy-cheeked lass I'd met at the art show, although she was doing well. That's a stupid word to use in such circumstances, I realized. Her exterior self was coping, that was all. She was dry-eyed, though her voice was wobbly, but her comparative composure put me on the right track.
âWhat can I do?' I asked gently and, remembering my situation, added, âYou heard it was me who found her.'
âYes. The police told me. They fetched me from Canterbury. That's where I work. Guy told me about you too.'
He would. âI just barged in at the wrong time. I had nothing to do with thisâ' I stopped. No words could sum up Polly's death for me.
âI wouldn't be here if I believed you did.'
âThen back to my first question. What can I do?'
She looked so young, with her white T-shirt and skirt, and her hands clasped round her knees. Younger than Cara, and I felt as fatherly towards her as if Polly and I had created her. Stupid though it might seem, I felt I had a duty of care.
She and Cara were both robust and normally able to cope, but when the unexpected strikes, hand in hand with tragedy, it could be a different matter.
Bea's words shot out like bullets: âFind out who did it.'
I'd half expected this, as why else would she have come to see me? The word âdetective' was obviously a rock for her to cling to, no matter that a car detective like me might not have the same powers in a situation such as this. Half forewarned and half prepared, I switched gears as smoothly as an automatic.
âSo the police do think suicide is ruled out. They wouldn't come clean with me. I'm glad about that, Bea. How could she have been so unhappy, with you at her side?'
She winced. âI made them tell me the truth. They tried the usual stuff. Awaiting the path report, but â' she gulped â âthe blood and angle of theÂ .Â .Â .'
I jumped in to help her. âHad her body been moved?'
âThey don't think so. Not even by you.' Brave Bea managed to summon up a smile. âOr so I gathered.'
âYou really think I can help? It's cars I specialize in.'
âSame stuff needed,' Zoe said firmly with one of her looks which dared me to let Bea down.
Was it? I thought about the qualities that made me useful to Dave Jennings' crime unit. It's hard to be objective about one's own attributes, but I suppose mine might include obstinacy, devotion to the hunt, eye for detail, an ability to see the whole picture and instinct. The mere whiff of a recent paint job can set me off on the right (or sometimes the wrong) track. And last of all, though it should perhaps have been top of the list, comes knowledge. Knowledge of past, and present and possibly future cars, together with the experience of mankind's spectrum of attitudes to them and consequent behaviour. Nevertheless, knowledge of relationships between human beings was what was needed in this case, and much as I would be flooring the accelerator to put Polly's killer behind bars, I was a relative amateur in this field. For my car detective work, I have a link to the crime world through a chap called Brian Woollerton, who runs a team of informants, but for human relationships I've only myself and bruising experience.
âI don't know enough about Polly,' I said simply. âI'd need help.'
Bea understood. âNobody ever knows more than a part of someone else. I reckon that's true of mother and daughter as well as you and Mum.'
I was taken aback. âDid I make it that obvious?'
âWe're not babes and sucklings, Jack,' Zoe said gently for her.
âSuckers though,' Bea commented ruefully. âThe police are after Tomas, as suspect number one. They were asking me just what our relationship was, and when I told them the truth, I could hear their little brains clicking away: Tomas thought he was on to a good thing in me and decided to hurry along the day when he'd be married to the heiress of an English farm. Heiress! That's a joke.'
âOh Bea. But you don't think he's guilty, do you?' Zoe asked. And when Bea didn't answer, she sighed. âYou always were easy prey for romantic foreigners.'
âI don't know what to think. I
bloody think. Tomas wasn't on good terms with Mum and that's for sure.'
âDid Guy have a hand in this? After all, he's Tomas's employer â although I guess Brandon would favour me over Tomas for the high jump.'
âPreferably,' Bea answered flatly. âAfter all, you were there. But why on earth should you want to kill her?'
âMy thoughts exactly,' I said gratefully.
âTomas had been threatening Mum,' Bea said. âHe didn't mean anything by it, though.'
âThreatening her with what exactly?' I asked.
âThey had a major row. Tomas got stroppy when Mum told him to get off the gravy train, as she expressed it. I objected. I'm nearly twenty-three, for heaven's sake. But even Guy admits Tomas got drunk one night and shouted the odds in the pub, about marrying me and getting his own back on my mother.' Bea's face was twisted with pain. âI'm only telling you this because the police know it, Jack. Otherwise you wouldn't get a peep out of me about Tomas. I don't think he's a murderer, but I have a feeling the police have more on him than just threats. There was some kind of scene at Guy's place too, one day, when Mum came storming in to protest. I wasn't there, but I heard all about it from everyone concerned.'
âHas he been arrested?'
âHe's being questioned.' Bea burst into tears, and Zoe, not normally the most demonstrative of girls, put her arms round her.
âA drink,' I said hastily.
âI'm driving,' Bea hiccuped.
driving,' Zoe told her. âYou're staying with me tonight.'
âThat's cowardly.' Another hiccup.
âThat's sensible, not cowardly.'
âNo.' Bea was very white. âI must go back to Greensand Farm. I want to make sure the barn door is locked.'
The Lagonda. How could I have forgotten it? Easily, I thought, when its late owner was still stuffing every corner of my mind with the waste and horror of her death.
âIt's in the crime scene,' I explained to Bea. âThe police will keep a twenty-four-hour guard on it until they've finished their work there. And, indeed, the farmhouse too. What worries you about the car? That someone might steal it?'
âNo. Because it meant a lot to my mother.'
âYou said she'd never mentioned it to you.'
âThat's how I know it meant so much.'
I was humbled. It all came back to knowledge. For all Bea had said, I might not have sufficient about Polly to help her daughter. âYou're going to have enough to do without involving yourself in what is the police's job.'
She brushed this aside. âI have to feel I'm helping
. I know there'll be mountains of routine work, notifying people and dealing with everyone from the window cleaner to Great Aunt Maud, but I want to be sure. I don't mean I'm going to stalk the hunt, I just want to think it through and work out why it happened, to be sure that the police are on the right track. Do you see?'
âI do,' Zoe said promptly, and the laser beam from her eyes turned on me. âAnd so do you, don't you, Jack?'
The laser wasn't needed. âYes.'
Bea relaxed a little. âI want you to do it, Jack. I just couldn't bear to talk to people while wondering all the time: was it you? Or was it you?'
I was with her one hundred per cent. This was going to have to replace my lost future with Polly, even if that had never existed except in my mind.
But the mind is the most important place in the world. It can, as the poet said, make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell. I was going to do my best to make hell at least a little more bearable. The poet, I recalled, was John Milton, and the poem
. Never had a title seemed more fitting for what lay ahead of me.
Bea had taken compassionate leave from work, and I'd arranged to go up to Greensand Farm the next morning. Before I left, however, I went to the Pits â I needed to speak to Zoe. She had arranged to stay at the farm overnight with Bea, and when she reported to work she looked as if she'd had little sleep â and no wonder. âBea's OK,' she said, âbut don't come down heavy on her.'