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Authors: Nancy Buckingham

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BOOK: Cold Coffin
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“Did Dr. Trent tell you why he didn’t think Sir Noah would be returning?” Kate queried. “Had Sir Noah said something to him?”

“No, I’m sure he hadn’t told him anything, but Dr. Trent just seemed to take it for granted he wouldn’t be coming back. That’s what annoyed me, his whole attitude.” McEvoy drew himself up and went on with an air of prim satisfaction, “I told him that unless we all adhered to the correct procedures we might as well hand in our resignations. Sir Noah had entrusted me to conduct things in a proper manner and I intended to go on doing so. In fact, Sir Noah would be most upset were he to return and find that we had deliberately flouted his ruling. So until I received further instructions from Sir Noah himself or some authorized person acting for him, there would be no question of ordering a new centrifuge or anything else.”

“So Dr. Trent retired defeated?”

“Oh, yes! Oh, yes, indeed!” His eyes glinted behind the half lenses.

“Do you have any ideas about who might have killed Dr. Trent?”

McEvoy came down to earth again from his flight of virtuous triumph. “No, of course not. How could I?”

“Think about it, will you? And let me know immediately if anything occurs to you.”

“Oh, yes, I most certainly will.” He half rose, assuming the interview was at an end.

“Would you mind telling me what you were doing last evening?” Kate said.

McEvoy slumped back into the chair, his pale face whitening. “Why ... why? You can’t possibly suspect me of killing him.”

“My question implies no suspicion,” she explained. “It would merely be helpful for me to know your movements last night for elimination purposes. I shall be asking everybody the same question.”

“Oh ... oh, yes, I see.” McEvoy struggled to regain his composure. “I’m sorry, you just took me by surprise, and I thought it meant ... Of course I don’t mind telling you. Not a very interesting programme, I’m afraid. My wife and I lead a quiet life and go out very rarely. So last night I went home as usual, had my tea, and spent the evening quietly with my family. Oh no, I was forgetting. It was my younger daughter’s night for guides and I went to the church hall to collect her afterwards. I don’t like her to walk home alone, not these days. You can’t be too careful, can you? That was at seven forty-five.”

“Thank you. And now, Mr. McEvoy, there’s the question of Sir Noah’s disappearance. Have you any theory to explain that?”

He shook his head. “None at all. It’s most disturbing.”

“You must have come to know Sir Noah well in the course of your work here. He’d have relied on you, I imagine, to keep him
au fait
with the week-by-week financial state of the company.”

“Well, yes. I
am
the chief clerical officer here.”

“That’s what I meant. So you would know better than anybody if he had any business worries. Was he at all concerned about how things were going?”

“Absolutely not! Croptech is in a very healthy state—as it has been for a number of years.” He spoke with stiff pride, as if he alone were responsible.

“Can you think of anything else that might have so preyed on Sir Noah’s mind as to make him behave irrationally? Was he at all preoccupied or visibly upset just lately?”

“On the contrary. He was very pleased with the way things were going. Though I must admit he was a trifle short-tempered on Friday afternoon. As a matter of fact the question of the centrifuge came up then, and he told me that Trent would have to wait for a decision on that. He just wasn’t prepared to authorize such expenditure on the laboratory at the moment without being convinced that the need was justified.”

“Is Sir Noah usually cautious about expenditure?”

“Not at all, when he can be shown the justification for it. Last year, for instance, when I put up a plan to computerize our whole accounts system, he was perfectly ready to agree, and that involved a very large sum indeed.”

“So how do you explain his different attitude about laboratory equipment?”

The prim mouth pursed. “He would know that he could rely on me not to suggest any expenditure that wasn’t totally justified.”

“But not on Dr. Trent?”

“I didn’t say that, Chief Inspector,” he said, flustered.

“You implied it, though.”

McEvoy shrugged. “I suppose scientists live in a different world. They can easily get carried away by their enthusiasms.”

“Sir Noah himself is a scientist.”

“Oh yes, of course. But he’s a practical businessman, too, and Trent would never have been that.”

“You don’t think so? I rather understood that Dr. Trent was seen as Sir Noah’s ultimate successor.”

McEvoy took a while to answer. “If Sir Noah ever regarded that as a possibility, I’m sure he has long abandoned the idea.”

Kate leaned back in her chair. “That’s all for now, Mr. McEvoy. I may need to have a further talk with you tomorrow.”

Now that he was free to leave, he seemed oddly reluctant. “Er ... if Sir Noah doesn’t return soon, Chief Inspector ...” He dithered to a halt, and Kate prompted him. “What is it you want to say?”

He gestured around in a vague sort of way. “I’ve been wondering. Suppose Sir Noah doesn’t ever come back, what will become of Croptech? He’s been away before, of course, on holiday, but he’s always left me my instructions. But now, with Dr. Trent gone too, I don’t quite know what I should do. Do you think the firm might be sold?”

“Would Croptech readily find a buyer, Mr. McEvoy?”

“Well, I imagine so. Not at its true value, though, not without Sir Noah at the helm.”

“Perhaps Mr. Aidan Kimberley will step in and run things here,” Kate suggested, watching his face.

McEvoy shook his head from side to side, looking dismayed and at a loss. Clearly he was a man who liked routine, and any kind of change disturbed him.

Boulter said as the door closed behind him, “He obviously hated Trent’s guts. Could he be our chummy, guv?”

“He certainly took fright when I asked him about last night.” Kate was thoughtful as she glanced down at her list. “Let’s have Dr. Miller in now, and see what we make of her.”

 

Chapter Four

 

Cheryl Miller made quite an impression the moment she walked into the room. A professional woman of Kate’s age and Kate’s height—but there the resemblance ended. Cheryl Miller positively exuded sexuality. Richard Gower had commented that she was the sort of woman whom once seen was never forgotten. She had dramatic green eyes, full sensual lips, and a voluptuous figure that was clearly evident even beneath her starched laboratory coat. Her mass of hair, a subtle shade of auburn (an expensive tint job?), was drawn back into a tortoiseshell clip. Kate guessed that a single practised flip would send it tumbling sexily about her shoulders. Boulter, on his feet in a flash, seemed to be steaming slightly.

Cheryl Miller spared the sergeant one direct glance, then totally ignored him. Her green eyes, sparking with hostility, were fixed challengingly on Kate as she dropped into the chair provided and crossed her legs ... long, shapely legs that terminated in a pair of high-heeled black court shoes.

“About bloody time, too. At least you’re a woman,” she added with grudging approval. “That makes a pleasant change.”

Amused, Kate asked, “This isn’t the first time you’ve been interrogated by the police?”

The green eyes narrowed in anger. “I just meant it makes a change to see a woman in any position of authority. Not that you’ll climb much higher, I hope you realize. Detective Chief Inspector is about as far as they’ll ever let a woman get, the bastards.”

“You seem to have a low opinion of men, Dr. Miller.”

“Oh, they have their limited uses. Though even in bed they seem to imagine they’re God’s gift to us women. You must have found that.”

“Since you’ve been kept waiting,” said Kate dryly, “perhaps we’d better get on with the business in hand.”

She let Boulter handle the routine details and his voice sounded definitely husky. Cheryl Miller’s arrogance could be forgiven, Kate thought, if this was the instant effect she had on a man.

Kate took over with a foursquare question. “Who might have wanted Gavin Trent out of the way, do you think?”

“Me, for one.”

Smothering her surprise at this blunt answer, Kate asked mildly, “Because you resented his having been appointed to the job you wanted?”

“Aha! Someone’s been talking, I perceive. Yes, I resented Gavin, damn right I did. Wouldn’t you resent a man who was less qualified than you getting promoted over your head?”

“Did you kill him, Dr. Miller?” It could have been a woman who’d held Trent beneath the water till he drowned. It wasn’t so much strength that had been needed, but cool cunning and ruthless determination. And Cheryl Miller was probably capable of both.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” she snapped. “Of course I didn’t kill him.”

“Maybe you know who did? Or can guess?”

Kate received a hard stare. “I’m beginning to wonder about you, if this is the best line of approach you can think of.”

“Please answer the Chief Inspector’s question,” intervened Boulter automatically.

“It’s all right, Sergeant,” said Kate. “Dr. Miller has already answered me, in her own way. But we’ll need to have an account of your movements at the relevant times, Dr. Miller, just so you can be formally eliminated.”

“What are the relevant times?”

“From when Dr. Trent left the laboratory on Wednesday evening until say 3
A
.
M
.,” Boulter told her.

Cheryl Miller considered unhurriedly, then announced in a casual tone, “In that case, you’ll have to
formally
retain me on your list of suspects. Actually, I knocked off yesterday about half-past four—much to dear Gavin’s annoyance. He was always so puritanical about sticking to proper hours, but I wanted to catch a boutique in Marlingford to pick up a skirt I’d bought which they were altering for me.”

Boulter noted the name of the shop and the times she’d have got there and left.

“And after that?” asked Kate.

“After that, nothing. I had a drink and a bar snack at the Dolphin, then I drove home and stayed home, curled up with a good book.” Home, they had already established, being one of the flats in the converted Old Rectory at Lower Aston.

“Do you live alone, Dr. Miller?”

“Yes, I do. From choice. How about you? Do
you
live alone?”

Kate ignored that. “Did you have any visitors during the evening? Any phone calls?”

A hesitation, slight but definite. “No, I didn’t, as it happens.”

Kate wondered about that hesitation. Was she shielding some man ... and if so, why? Or did she just hate having to admit that she’d been left to her own devices for the space of an entire evening?

“Tell me, Dr. Miller, was your resentment of Dr. Trent purely from a professional point of view? Or did you dislike him on a personal level?”

The green eyes half closed in speculation. “Tell me, Chief Inspector, what would your attitude be towards a senior officer, a superintendent say, who you knew bloody well was less competent than yourself, but who’d been given the job that should have been yours solely because he was male? Wouldn’t it make you hate his guts on a personal level?”

Kate wished that Boulter hadn’t been present, ears twitching. “I hardly think this is relevant, Dr. Miller.”

“Oh, yes it is, totally relevant. And you know it.”

No, let it pass, Kate.
This wasn’t the moment for trotting out her grudges against the male hierarchy.

“What did other people in the lab think of Trent?” she enquired.

“You’d better ask them that.”

“I intend to. Right now, I’m asking you.”

Cheryl Miller shrugged. “He treated Roger like a snotty-nosed kid. Well, he isn’t much more, I suppose, but he does have quite a good degree which deserves a modicum of respect.”

“Roger Barlow? He’s Sandra English’s boyfriend, I believe?”

“For the moment. Though what a good-looking stud like him sees in someone so insipid, I can’t imagine.”

Stud?
Was that said on the basis of personal experience? Cheryl Miller would probably consider anything male as a challenge, to be captured, used, then cast off. Had she ever tried it on with Trent?

“Was there a woman in Dr. Trent’s life?”

“You’ve got to be joking.”

Kate raised one eyebrow. “Are you saying there was a
man?
Or men?”

“The mind boggles.”

“Let me understand you, Dr. Miller. Are you suggesting that Dr. Trent lived a celibate life?”

She looked amused. “It’s an intriguing question, I must say. There’s a certain mutuality demanded by sex, isn’t there, and I can’t see dear Gavin sharing a bloody thing with anyone.”

Kate nodded and jotted down a note. “Thank you, Dr. Miller. I won’t keep you any longer just now.”

For the first time Cheryl Miller looked slightly thrown. “You haven’t said a word about old Kimberley.”

“Do you have something to tell me about him?”

“No, I was hoping you could tell me. I just want to know what the hell’s going on. It’s been chaos here these past few days with the boss missing, and now ... God knows what’s going to happen if he doesn’t turn up soon.”

“Believe me, Dr. Miller, I’m just as keen as you are to know what has happened to Sir Noah. So if anything occurs to you that might possibly throw some light on his disappearance, you can include it in the statement we’ll be requiring from you tomorrow. That’s all for now.”

Boulter sucked in a breath as the door closed. “Christ, what a woman!”

“She’d eat you for breakfast,” Kate observed dryly.

He rolled his eyes. “But what a way to die.”

“Cool it, Cuthbert. Let’s have the next one in.”

Roger Barlow, ranking number three in the laboratory, was a tall, well-built chap who only just missed being very good-looking by having a slightly overlong nose. He had the bloom of healthy youth and the arrogance of a young male about to conquer the world.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Barlow,” said Kate. “Please sit down.”

As he did so, he smiled deep into her eyes. Just to show how totally at ease he was. A cover, Kate realized, for considerable unease. What did Roger Barlow have to fear from her? What might he be hoping to keep hidden? She sat waiting quietly while Sergeant Boulter handled the preliminary formal questions, then she winged in with an uppercut designed to shake him.

BOOK: Cold Coffin
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