Authors: M.J. Trow
‘All right,’ Jacquie said. ‘Let me make it easy for you. The young couple you spoke to in the Gardens a week last Wednesday – that would make it July 2
. Why did you invite them to a party?’
‘I am not in the habit of inviting strangers to parties,’ Harris insisted.
‘Are you in the habit of spying on strangers from bushes while masturbating?’ Jacquie asked, as if she was asking the price of a bus fare to the town centre.
Both men exploded, the needle on the tape dial rocketing into the red. In the event it was the brief who was coherent first. ‘Are you actually accusing my client of committing an act of indecency?’ he asked.
‘Is he admitting to one?’ Palister countered.
Then Harris was on his feet. ‘That’s it. That’s enough. I’m out of here.’
The brief spun back to the police persons. ‘You
be hearing from me,’ he said.
Jacquie nodded to Palister who spoke into the machine. ‘Interview terminated at the request of Mr Harris’s solicitor at…three-eighteen.’
‘Can’t wait,’ muttered Jacquie.
‘London, Max? Why?’ Jacquie was back in the Incident Room, reading for the umpteenth time depositions from witnesses at all three murder sites, yards apart though they were.
‘I can hear the bloody tannoy,’ Maxwell told her from his end of the phone. ‘Oh, it’s coming and going, of course, but a) I don’t want to know who’s won the one hundred metres and b) it’s that joke Cole making the announcements. It’s all a bit raw at the moment, petal. I need a change of air. Somewhere where I won’t hear the name Leighford High School.’
‘All right, sweetheart,’ Jacquie said. ‘But
? Doesn’t it seem a bit extreme?’
‘Humour me. Can you pick up Nole?’
‘I’ll sort that,’ she said. And he was gone.
The great thing about travelling by train in term time is that there aren’t many kids. There are some, of course, whose parents haven’t realised it’s been compulsory to send kids to school since 1886, or whose parents are too stupid to realise they’re being lied to, by said kids who could bunk for England. Of course, if you time it badly you end up in the same carriage as hordes of them, on their way home from said school.
As it happened, Maxwell struck lucky. There was only one, very well-behaved nine-year-old (clearly the product of a private school) who added to the levity of the day by looking out at the Westminster skyline as the train rattled into Waterloo and shouting, ‘Look, Mummy. Big Dong!’ Maxwell had checked his clothing, just in case.
He had forgotten just how hot London was in July. The sun
burned off the pavements and reflected off the plate glass. You could probably have fried an egg on the MI5 building on the Embankment, and the old Scotland Yard, where the ghosts of Greeno and Cherill and Fabian and Charlie Artful still wandered, positively wilted in its red-brick heat. Happy holiday makers chattered and laughed on the bright pleasure boats slicing through the sparkling brown of the river and the queue for the Eye seemed to stretch forever into the hinterland that was Southwark.
By the time he’d got to the Strand, Maxwell just wanted to lie down with the winos on the Embankment, drinking whatever they were drinking. His bow tie had gone. He’d left his jacket at home and cycle clips seemed odd on a train, so they hung with Surrey in his conservatory. As a concession to the demonic afternoon sun, he’d even left his famous hat behind. So no one at all would have recognised the glowing figure shambling into the Levington Agency, just off Villiers Street. Damn, was his first thought – no air conditioning.
‘Can I help you?’ A rather elegant, brassy woman sat poised at a computer. There was something of old-world charm about these offices, Maxwell thought – all wall-to-wall oak and leather and marble. He’d have preferred that the computer was an upright Remington or at a pinch an Olivetti, but he couldn’t afford to be choosy.
‘I hope you can,’ he beamed. ‘I’m in need of a girl.’
The brassy blonde smiled. ‘Could you be a little more specific?’
‘Well, I had one from you before – Spanish girl, Juanita Reyes.’
‘Could I have your name, please?’ the secretary asked.
‘Maxwell,’ he told her. ‘Peter Maxwell.’
Her fingers flew over the keyboard and a series of reflections flashed across her face as the screen jumped with images. She frowned. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have that name on our books, sir. Good afternoon.’
‘Oh, how stupid of me,’ Maxwell said. ‘Henderson. Try Gerald Henderson.’
The secretary’s eyes narrowed. Didn’t this man know his own name? Or was he just wandering through the phone book trying to strike lucky? She pressed an intercom button near her left knee. There was a click. ‘Mrs Pedersen, could you come out here, please?’
Mrs Pedersen was probably the wrong side of fifty, but she carried it well. A tall brunette with a statuesque figure, she filled the doorway at the end of the marbled hall. ‘Can I help?’ she asked. Her accent was unplaceable – Uppsala meets Roedean, possibly – but Maxwell couldn’t be sure.
‘Peter Maxwell,’ he crossed to her and extended his hand. ‘I’m sorry. I should have rung ahead for an appointment.’
‘Yes,’ Mrs Pedersen agreed. ‘Yes, you should. But since you’re here, Mr Maxwell, why not pop into my office? Can Ingrid get you anything? Iced tea? Perrier?’
‘Thank you, no,’ Maxwell smiled.
Mrs Pedersen and Ingrid were alone for the briefest of moments while Maxwell settled himself into a huge leather sofa; but it was long enough.
‘Ingrid tells me there is some complication, Mr Maxwell,’ the boss-lady said, ‘in that you do not appear to be on our books.’
‘No, indeed,’ he said, ‘and I apologise for that. I think I’m guilty of an irregularity.’
‘Oh?’ She sat down behind her desk and, like Ingrid, went to work on her computer’s keyboard.
‘You see, I had one of your girls, Juanita Reyes.’
‘Yes. The reason I am not on your books is that I found her via your actual client, Gerald Henderson.’
There was a flurry of keyboard activity. ‘Could you give me Mr Henderson’s address, Mr Maxwell?’ she asked.
‘Tottingleigh,’ he said. ‘Near Leighford.’
‘And Mr Henderson’s occupation?’
‘And the girl’s name again?’
‘Juanita. Juanita Reyes. Lovely girl, from Menorca.’
‘I don’t understand, Mr Maxwell.’ Mrs Pedersen leaned back from her machine. ‘The girls of the Levington Agency are hand-picked and of top quality. It is understood that if contracts are terminated, either by the client or by the girl, we are to be informed immediately.’
‘Quite.’ Maxwell’s feigned embarrassment was legendary. ‘Hence my little irregularity. Innocent, I assure you, but Gerald was looking to downsize. I needed a girl. He advertised in the local paper…’
‘The local paper?’ Mrs Pedersen was aghast. ‘More than a little irregular, if I may say so, Mr Maxwell. Where is Juanita now?’
‘As I understand it, back home with her parents, in Menorca.’
‘I see.’ Mrs Pedersen looked less than pleased. ‘Well, I can
appreciate that your involvement may have been innocent, as you say, Mr Maxwell. But the same cannot be said, I’m afraid, of Mr Henderson. He knew exactly what the rules were. He signed papers. He shall be hearing from us.’
‘Of course,’ Maxwell frowned, shaking his head. ‘I wouldn’t expect anything less. Now…er…’
‘You require a replacement. Quite. Could I have a few preliminary details, please? You may have enjoyed the services of one of our girls, but, I fear, by default. As far as we are concerned, you are a new client. Very welcome, of course, but new, nevertheless. Name and address, please.’
‘Peter Maxwell, 38 Columbine Avenue, Leighford, West Sussex. Postcode…’
‘Niceties like that we can leave ’til later. Telephone?’
‘May I ask your age?’
‘Fifty-something,’ Maxwell smiled.
Mrs Pedersen laughed and leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘Join the club,’ she said. ‘Mother’s maiden name?’
‘Now. To more pertinent questions. Is there a Mrs Maxwell?’
‘I have a partner,’ Maxwell admitted.
‘Disabled in some way?’ Mrs Pedersen was still poised at the keyboard.
‘Not noticeably,’ Maxwell told her.
‘Doesn’t understand you, though?’
‘Sometimes not,’ Maxwell chuckled.
‘In her profession, she has to be,’ Maxwell conceded.
‘Oh, what is that?’
‘Um…teacher. Even in infant schools, the playground language these days…’
‘Shocking. Yes, I know. And your profession, Mr Maxwell?’
A warm smile spread across Mrs Pedersen’s face. ‘And your
Mrs Pedersen looked closely at the man. Perhaps his French wasn’t up to much. ‘Your reason…for wanting a girl. On paper, of course.’
‘Huh, uh.’ The keyboard was in action again. ‘It hardly matters, but do you have children?’
‘One,’ Maxwell said proudly. ‘A boy.’
‘Oh, really? How old?’
‘Nearly a year.’
‘Well,’ Mrs Pedersen’s eyebrows appeared above the rim of her spectacles. ‘Congratulations. Now, what sort of girl had you in mind?’
‘Well,’ Maxwell chuckled. ‘It sounds corny, but I’d like Juanita back. We were very fond.’
‘My partner and I.’
‘Ah, I see.’ Another knowing smile broke over Mrs Pedersen’s lips. ‘You
liked her. Well, I think we can accommodate. Obviously, all joking apart, Juanita is out of the question. I don’t know what made her leave the country, but, like Mr Henderson, I fear she’ll have some explaining to
do. Do you particularly go for Hispanics? Eastern Europeans are cheaper, of course, but there’s often a language barrier – not that that presents an immediate problem, if you know what I mean. I could show you some photographs.’
‘Lovely,’ Maxwell said. ‘Tell me, are these girls available at once?’
‘Some are already in England,’ she told him. ‘Others will need to be sent for.’
‘So, immigration? Visas? Work permits? I don’t know much about it, really.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Mrs Pedersen said. ‘We do. Now, Mr Maxwell, I hate to raise it and I don’t know what sort of arrangement you and Mr Henderson came to, but…well, not to put too fine a point on it – money. Would a deposit of, say, £5000 be in order? We take Visa, American Express,’ she wrinkled her nose. ‘Whatever you find most convenient.’
‘So you don’t want to know about the Levington Agency, then?’
‘I told you, Max, we’re not speaking.’
‘Not even the merest hintette?’
‘If I can’t trust you,’ she turned to him, all nobler than thou and hackles raised, ‘when you tell me you’re going somewhere and then you go somewhere else entirely, then I can’t see any future in our relationship. We’ve got a son now, for God’s sake.’
‘It’s a knocking shop.’
‘No!’ Jacquie was suddenly all ears, squeezing in next to Maxwell on the sofa. ‘You are having a laugh!’
‘Not at five grand a pop I’m not.’
‘That’s what the late Gerald Henderson shelled out for Juanita.’
‘You mean he bought her?’ Jacquie checked. ‘That’s positively Dickensian.’
‘Well, W T Steadian, certainly. Dickens wasn’t allowed to write about such things. William Stead bought a girl for a fiver just to prove he could and that such things went on in Mr Gladstone’s England. ’Course, he did time for it.’
‘Nobody believed him?’
‘No,’ Maxwell said, ruefully. ‘They believed the girl’s mother – she who’d taken the fiver gleefully in the first place. As soon as Stead, who was a journalist, went to press with the story, the mother screamed Merry Hamlet, claiming she’d been duped.’
‘But she hadn’t?’
‘Did Disraeli have bad breath?’
Jacquie didn’t know, but around Maxwell you didn’t challenge that sort of thing.
‘So, let’s get this straight. Juanita Reyes, the girl who was living with Mrs Troubridge, Puritan of this parish, that sweet, charming Catholic girl to whom we entrusted our son, is a whore.’
‘It’s an old-fashioned name for it,’ Maxwell said, getting outside his double Southern Comfort, ‘but yes.’
‘Max, we must have been blind,’ Jacquie was shaking her head.
‘Ah, no,’ so did he. ‘You have to hand it to the Levington Agency, they’ve got a pretty smooth operation going. It was only because I had the buzz words of Juanita Reyes and Gerald Henderson that I got across the threshold. As it was, I had to give my inside leg…’
‘And five grand!’ Jacquie went cold. ‘Max, you didn’t give them five grand?’
‘The kids think I’m mad, dear heart, but it’s only a cover for being the most boring man in the universe. No, I asked for a cooling off period. Marashkova starts week Thursday.’
‘You…You lying bastard!’ and she hit him with a cushion.
‘Actually,’ he chuckled, defending himself as best he could,
‘Poles, Czechs, and Russians are on special offer this week. They’ll be in touch.’
‘So…let me see if I understand this. Gerald Henderson lashed out five thousand pounds for his own personal hooker.’
‘Fronting as an au pair for his daughter.’
‘And when little…whatserface…Katie…goes to boarding school, the cover won’t work any more.’
‘Something like that,’ Maxwell said. ‘Although a little drive out to Tottingleigh wouldn’t come amiss to confront the widow Henderson with what we know.’
‘Indeed,’ Jacquie’s mind was racing. ‘So Henderson gets rid of her.’
‘Yes, but not via the usual channels. He was supposed to contact the Agency to terminate the transaction, as it were, but instead he chose to advertise locally.’
‘We can ask Mrs Henderson that when we visit.’
‘What’s this “we”, white man?’ Jacquie came out with the old Lone Ranger joke, though it was long before her time. ‘Henderson could hardly put an ad in the
“Slapper for Sale, One Careful Owner. Goes Like a Train”.’
‘Exactly,’ Maxwell agreed. ‘Her alias was as an au pair, so that’s how he advertised her.’
‘But he couldn’t have gained anything…Do you think it was Juanita’s idea? To hang up her fol-de-rols for good? Turn over a new leaf? Had she seen the light?’
‘Whoa, whoa, Dobbin,’ Maxwell laughed. ‘I’ve no idea. Why don’t we – oops, there I go again – ask her?’
‘Hmm,’ Jacquie was deep in thought. ‘She’s a nice kid, Max. Used her real name, notice. No doubt her parents
thought she was going away to
an au pair; they’ll be devastated.’
‘So will Rodrigo Mendoza.’
‘The boyfriend – if that’s what he is.’
‘But he thinks she’s a tea leaf.’
‘Ah, but does he?’ Maxwell extricated himself from his
policewoman, and reached for the bottle of liquid gold posing as Southern Comfort. ‘What if he found out that Juanita was on the game and, with an attack of the goody two-shoes, helped her get away? What’s more shaming to a good Catholic family – that their daughter’s a thief or that their daughter’s a prostitute?’
‘Could go either way,’ Jacquie shrugged.
‘Bearing in mind Juanita’s parents presumably weren’t given either option. She’ll have a perfectly good story for them. Katie Henderson went to boarding school. Nolan Maxwell…I don’t know; she’ll have thought of something.’
Jacquie looked at him in the twilit lamplight of their lounge. ‘I’m still not speaking to you, Peter Maxwell. You’re still a lying shit. By the way,’ she leapt at him, pinning him to the sofa again, stealing a snifter of his drink, ‘what do you know about golf?’
Jacquie was right. The revelations about the Levington agency did shed a new light on the Henderson murder. And new light was something DCI Henry Hall could do with about now. Astley and the lab had run out of forensic information. House-to-house was picking up tiddly squat on Benji Lemon’s movements. Gangland Brighton was being, as usual,
about the elimination of Wide Boy Taylor. And, as always, the Press were buzzing around the enquiry like the irritating flies of summer. No news was bad news for a paper, be it national or local, so most of them went for the ‘Are Our Policemen Really So Wonderful?’ line, commenting on the lack of progress, the blandness of press releases, digging up old cases of corruption from Meiklejohn and Druscovitch back in 1877 up to the Stephen Lawrence debacle.
It was all guaranteed to get right up Henry Hall’s nose and he drove out to Tottingleigh that bright, burning morning with Sheila Kindling at his side. It didn’t help, of course, that Jacquie Carpenter had come upon the Levington information by that eternally annoying source Peter Maxwell. Every time Henry Hall called on Maxwell for help – and he had to admit, he’d done it a few times now – there was always Hell to pay. And every time, Hall promised himself he wouldn’t do it again; until the next time. On the other hand, Peter Maxwell was a member of the public. He had every right to go up to London whenever he liked, visit any outwardly respectable institution he chose. He comforted himself with that thought, with the thinly held belief that the interfering old bastard wasn’t really running his own, but parallel, murder enquiry.
‘Mrs Henderson,’ Hall stood in the woman’s doorway, warrant card at the ready. ‘DCI Hall, Leighford CID. This is DC Kindling.’
‘Is there any news?’ Fiona Henderson had been a widow now for fourteen days. She was attending counselling sessions at the Elms in Leighford, but it all seemed pretty pointless, really. Others sitting around in their sad circle had lost husbands, wives, children, but most through illness
or old age. One woman’s son had died in a car crash. But no one’s nearest and dearest had been murdered, except hers. Only Fiona Henderson’s husband had had a kitchen knife rammed repeatedly into his chest and had his body dumped unceremoniously under a rhododendron bush. Fiona Henderson was having difficulty coming to terms with that.
‘Pretty girl.’ Hall was handling a photograph of a kid covered in ice cream in the spacious living room. ‘Katie?’
‘Yes,’ Fiona said. ‘Taken with her father some time ago.’
‘How is she coping with all this?’ Sheila Kindling asked.
‘Well.’ Fiona was straightening cushions, busying herself, finding things to do. Sitting face to face with anyone she found difficult; like the sound of silence, it was hard to bear. ‘She was away at school when…it happened. She’s broken up now, of course, staying in the Midlands with my sister. They’ve got a farm, lots of ground, horses. Katie’s happy there.’
‘Was she happy here?’ Sheila asked her.
Fiona looked at her, frowning, puzzled. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Why shouldn’t she be?’
‘But you weren’t, Mrs Henderson, were you?’ Hall was looking straight at her. He slowly and carefully took the cushion out of her hand. ‘Why did you send Katie away? To boarding school, I mean?’
‘We…Gerald and I…we thought she was ready.’
‘Did you go, when you were a girl? To boarding school?’
‘Me?’ Fiona’s laugh was brittle. ‘No, no, my parents couldn’t afford it.’
‘Gerald?’ Hall persisted. ‘Was he a boarder?’
‘No,’ she flickered. ‘No. It sounds snobby now, but Gerald’s family were working class and proud of it. No snobby school for him.’
‘But you sent your daughter to one?’ Hall checked.
‘I told you,’ Fiona was being as patient as she knew how. ‘We thought it was best.’
‘No, Fiona.’ Hall’s voice was soft, seductive even. And who told him he could call her by her Christian name? ‘No,
thought it was best. And it had nothing to do with Katie’s education, did it? You did it because of Juanita Reyes.’
The widow broke away from his stare, those difficult-
eyes behind the blank lenses that she
must be burning into her soul. She hadn’t met this man before. In all the days of the enquiry, Henry Hall had not come her way once. She’d read his bland words in the papers, seen him giving nothing away in the press conference on the telly. And now he was here, in her house, like some sort of avenging angel. Wasn’t he supposed to be on her side? Just who was the victim here?
‘All right.’ She was looking out of the window across the carefully manicured lawns that stretched to the little orchard. ‘All right. I had to let Juanita go because she…wasn’t very good.’
‘Did she steal anything from you, Mrs Henderson?’ Sheila Kindling asked.
‘Yes…yes, she did. I didn’t want to make a fuss. I know I should have called the police. It’s silly, I know, but I didn’t want any sort of international incident…’
‘What did she steal?’ Hall asked.
‘What? Er…money. She stole money.’
‘Um…I don’t know exactly. A thousand, I think. It wasn’t the amount. It was the principle.’
There it was again; the sound of silence that she hated. Hall let it last. He was a connoisseur of the guarded moment, the pregnant pause.
‘Juanita didn’t steal any money, Fiona, did she? She stole your husband.’
‘What are you talking about?’ the woman blurted. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Yes, you do, Fiona,’ Hall said.
Sheila Kindling looked at her boss. He could be a heartless bastard at times. Even when it was in a good cause. She knew then she’d never make DCI, glass ceiling or not, because she couldn’t be that heartless.
‘All right,’ Fiona said quietly. ‘I thought perhaps Gerald and Juanita were having a bit of a fling.’
Hall looked at the widow and then at his DC. ‘You found out they were,’ he said. ‘And it didn’t just happen, with two people thrown together by circumstance. She, a lonely kid in a strange land; he, drawn irresistibly by some ill-thought-out middle-aged fling. She was a bought woman, Fiona, and you knew it. Gerald bought her from the London agency, pretending she was an au pair when all the time she was a prostitute.’
‘No!’ Tears were streaming down Fiona Henderson’s cheeks, dripping off her chin.
‘Face it!’ Hall snapped.
‘No.’ Her voice was barely audible now and she sank to the sofa, burying her face in her hands. Instinctively, Sheila Kindling moved forward. She was a woman too and she
couldn’t imagine what Fiona Henderson was going through. She’d been kicked around by men for long enough – first her husband, now the DCI. But Hall’s hand snaked out, palm down to signal her to stop. She looked at his face and he was shaking his head. In the years of her career that lay ahead, she would reflect that Henry Hall was right; this precise moment would never come again.
‘When did you find out, Fiona?’ he asked softly. ‘About Juanita, I mean?’
There was a long pause when no one moved. Then Fiona was sitting up, sniffing defiantly. There was no point any more. The man
. The details were irrelevant. ‘Three months,’ she said. ‘I caught them in bed together. In his den. Through there…’ She jerked her head towards it in contempt. ‘He laughed. I think…I think Juanita was terribly embarrassed. She kept apologising and said she would go away. Gerald was…Gerald was appalling, saying how useless I was in bed and that was why he had hired Juanita. I…just ran. I had to get out of that room. I could hear his mocking voice all the way down the corridor. “Come and join us,” he said. “Come and watch. She’s very good.”’
‘So you decided to kill him,’ Hall said. It was a simple statement. And the silence that followed was so loud it hurt. Sheila Kindling hadn’t even, in the raw emotion of the interview, got her notebook out, still less slipped the biro behind her ear. She just stood there, transfixed.
‘I wanted to,’ the widow said. ‘It hurt like hell. I wanted to kill them both. Except for two things, I would have. I didn’t know how and I didn’t have the bottle.’
‘So what did you do?’ Hall asked her.
Fiona sniffed again. She was calmer now, with that sense of aching relief you get when a pain suddenly stops. ‘I took Katie and went to my sister’s for a few days. She knew, of course, something was wrong and I told her. We worked out what had to be done. If there was anything Gerald loved more than himself, it was money. I knew that if I blew the whistle in the right quarters, told certain people about the Juanita thing, he could kiss vital contracts goodbye. His so-called friends would leave him in droves. Leighford is a small place, Chief Inspector, you know that. Oh, most people would stomach his having an affair with a girl young enough to be his daughter. But this was something altogether more sordid. He’d be bankrupt inside a year.’
‘You confronted him?’
‘Yes. I told him we were sending Katie away to boarding school. I hated doing it, but I knew that without her, he’d have no reason to keep Juanita on. Tongues would wag. And Gerald valued his precious reputation as much as I thought he did. He placed an ad on Juanita’s behalf in the local paper.’