Mrs. Jeffries and the Best Laid Plans (9 page)

BOOK: Mrs. Jeffries and the Best Laid Plans
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“You weren’t aware that Mr. Glover was in the house.” Witherspoon looked at her curiously. “Isn’t that a bit odd?”
“I suppose it must seem so.” She smiled hesitantly and shrugged. “I did ask him about it. He said he’d come by at Mr. Boyd’s request to bring him some files and that he’d been invited to stay to luncheon.”
“Where was he waiting?” Witherspoon asked.
“In the drawing room,” she replied. “He said he was waiting for everyone to arrive. Then he heard me cry out and came running down the hall, when I saw smoke. He said that’s when he knew something was wrong.”
Witherspoon looked doubtful. “So that means you hadn’t let him into the house earlier and that you had no idea he was in the house at all?”
“That’s correct.” She frowned. “That is very curious, isn’t it? I guess this is the first time I’ve thought about it with any clarity. If Mr. Glover had come to the front door and knocked, I’d have had to have been the one to let him into the house. The servants were all gone and I was there alone.” Her brow furrowed as she looked at the inspector. “I wonder how he got in.”
That was precisely what Witherspoon intended to find out.
 
Wiggins surveyed his surroundings with care as he walked down Laurel Road. There was a very good chance the inspector might be about the area. Wiggins had overheard him telling Mrs. Jeffries they still had to interview the servants, and the house-to-house task of looking for witnesses wasn’t finished as yet either, so he kept a sharp eye out.
The street was quite lively. Farther up the road, he could see a woman wearing a brown housekeeper’s dress sweeping the front steps of a huge, elegant house, and coming around the corner was a lad pushing a grocer’s delivery cart. On the far side of the street was a laundry wagon making the morning stops. He came abreast of number fourteen and stopped, dropped to his knees, and pretended to tie his shoes. Cor blimey, this was going to be his lucky day: the woman was sweeping the steps of the Boyd house.
He cast a quick glance in her direction, trying to decide how best to approach her. She was a middle-aged woman with brown hair tucked under a black cap, a pale complexion, and a thin, disapproving mouth. Wiggins could see her quite clearly as she had turned and was staring straight at him. She didn’t appear to like what she saw. “What do you want, boy?” she said harshly.
“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am,” he said, “but I was just tyin’ my shoe.”
“Then move along and tie it elsewhere.” She glared at him. “Go on, get off with you, boy, before I set the law on you.”
As this was precisely the sort of reception Wiggins hadn’t been expecting and certainly didn’t want, all he could think to do was stumble to his feet. “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to cause any offense.” He wondered why on earth the woman was in such a foul temper. But before he could say another word, she’d turned her back on him and resumed her sweeping. He watched her covertly as he walked away, noting that she appeared to be moving the broom back and forth in the same spot over and over. He reckoned if she kept that up much longer, she’d be taking the paint off the steps.
Wiggins went up the road and around the corner. He spotted a café and decided to have a cup of tea. He went inside. It was a very small room with a counter and three tiny tables, all of which were empty. The only person in the place was a young girl standing behind the counter with her back to him. She turned as he stepped through the door. “Good morning,” she said. “What can I get you?”
“Tea, please,” he replied.
“Would you like a bun as well?” she asked. She was about his age, with dark hair, thick eyebrows, blue eyes, and a tiny rosebud of a mouth.
“No thanks, just the tea. You’re not very busy, are you?”
“Not now.” She grinned and picked up a huge brown teapot. “We were earlier, of course. We’re always busy early in the morning, but then it dies down until midmorning when people start drifting in for a cuppa.” She poured his tea into a tall gray mug and added milk. “Sugar?”
“Yes, please,” he replied. He decided to try his luck here; at least she seemed like a talker. “I hear there was a murder around here yesterday.” That was always good to get a conversation started.
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Really?”
“You mean you haven’t ’eard?” he said. “There was a fellow that was bashed in the ’ead just up the road.” He gestured in the direction of the Boyd house. “He died. Surely you’ve ’eard about it.”
She stared at him blankly. “Was it in the newspapers?”
Wiggin’s heart sank to his toes. His day just kept getting worse and worse.
 
Lawrence Boyd had worked at Boyd, Stanford, and Sawyer on Blakely Street near Chancery Lane. The bank took up the street floor of an old, two-story redbrick building.
Witherspoon and Barnes walked through the door and into a large room. Wooden shelves filled with ledgers lined three of the walls, and two doors, both of them open to reveal private offices, were on the fourth wall. A small wooden divider ran down the length of the room, behind which half a dozen men sat working at desks.
“We’d like to speak to Mr. James Glover,” Witherspoon told the clerk closest to them. He was a young man with ginger hair and freckles. He’d risen to his feet when they’d entered and was now staring at them with his mouth slightly open, as though he’d never seen a policeman before. “I’ll go get him,” he said as he turned and hurried toward one of the private offices. “He’s in Mr. Boyd’s office.”
“This doesn’t look like any bank I’ve ever seen,” Barnes muttered. “But then, it’s not for people, is it. It’s for businesses and that sort of thing. There’s nothing here but desks and clerks.”
Witherspoon wasn’t really sure, but he didn’t want to admit to his ignorance. “I believe you’re correct. I don’t think merchant banks cater to the general public.” He noticed that on each desk there were ledgers and files. Everyone had stopped working and the room was deadly quiet. Every clerk in the room was staring at them openly.
“I don’t see a typewriter anywhere, sir,” Barnes muttered.
The door to an office opened and the ginger-haired clerk stuck his head out. “Mr. Glover will see you now.” He waved the two policemen over.
James Glover was sitting behind a large desk. “You may go back to your post, Watkins,” he said to the ginger-haired clerk before turning his attention to the two men.
The clerk scurried out, taking care to close the door behind him.
Glover stared at them for a moment. “What do you want, Inspector? I’ve already made a statement.”
“We need to ask you some questions,” Witherspoon said politely. He was a bit irritated. There were two perfectly good chairs in front of the desk; the man could ask them to sit down.
“As I said, Inspector, I’ve already made a statement and I think that ought to suffice.” He started to get up.
“It won’t suffice, sir,” Barnes said harshly. “Your statement doesn’t quite match what we’ve heard from other witnesses, so we’ll either ask you a few questions here or we can do it down at the station. It’s your choice, sir.” The constable had taken the man’s measure and decided to take the upper hand. James Glover reminded the constable of a bully boy from his school days. He’d terrorized the other boys until Barnes had stood up to him.
Glover seemed to wilt before their very eyes. He slumped back in the chair, his mouth gaping for words that wouldn’t come. Finally, he said, “Well, er, one does want to cooperate with the law.”
“Yes, I expect one does.” Barnes pointed at the empty chairs. “If it’s all the same to you, we’ll sit down and take care of this properly.”
“Certainly, certainly.” Glover nodded eagerly. “Of course, do make yourselves comfortable. Sorry. All this horrible business with poor Mr. Boyd has made me forget my manners.”
They sat down, and Barnes whipped out his little brown notebook.
Witherspoon said, “Mr. Glover, what time did you leave the office yesterday?”
“What time did I leave?” Glover looked confused by the question. “You mean here?”
“That’s correct.”
He thought for a moment. “I’m not sure.”
“Perhaps one of the clerks would remember,” Barnes suggested as he started to rise to his feet. “Shall I . . .”
“No, no, that’s all right, I believe it was about half past ten,” he replied. “But it might have been closer to eleven. I’m not certain.”
“You took some files to Mr. Boyd’s residence, is that correct?” Witherspoon asked.
“That’s right,” Glover replied. “But I don’t see what that has to do with Mr. Boyd’s death. They were just files. He’d seen them dozens of times.”
“Mr. Boyd was working from his home, is that correct?” Barnes looked up from his writing.
“Yes, he’d been working from home all week,” Glover said. “He was a painter, you see. He’d have much rather been an artist than a banker, but his family owns a big portion of the bank and he was the only son, so he joined the firm. He had no choice, really. It was his duty.”
“Who let you into the Boyd house yesterday?” Witherspoon watched Glover’s face as he asked the question.
“No one,” Glover replied easily. “I went around the back to the studio. I never even knocked on the door.”
“You knew he’d be alone?” Barnes asked.
“No, I knew he was working in his studio. He’d instructed me to come directly there.”
“You came around the side of the house directly to the studio,” Witherspoon clarified. “Is that right?”
“That’s right. There’s a passageway between the kitchen and the house next door. It’s a service yard that opens onto the street, but the gate is behind a hedge so you’ve got to know where to look to find it.”
“Which files did you bring to Mr. Boyd?” Barnes asked.
Glover rubbed a fat finger against his cheek. “Let me see. He wanted the Simpson file, Bertram’s, and oh, yes, the Heddington file. I do hope they aren’t too badly damaged. Those are very important papers. When do you think we might have them back?”
“Are you in charge now that Mr. Boyd is dead?” Witherspoon asked.
Glover shrugged. “I’m the chief clerk, Inspector, so until the partners appoint another managing director, I’m the one who will be responsible for the office. Now, I ask you again, when can I get my files?” He’d regained some of his confidence.
“When we’re through with them,” Barnes replied. “Will you be a candidate for managing director?” he asked quickly.
“I expect so.” Glover’s chest expanded proudly. “None of the partners want the burden of the day-to-day running of the place, and none of the other clerks are up to the task. I’m the most experienced person here.”
“So Mr. Boyd’s death means you’ll get a nice chance to have a promotion,” Barnes said. “I imagine there’s a substantial salary increase with such a change in position.”
Glover gasped. “That’s absurd.”
“You mean there isn’t an increase in pay?” Barnes asked innocently.
“That’s not what I meant at all.” Glover wiped at a bead of sweat that had suddenly rolled down his forehead. “It was your implication that I find offensive.”
“Constable Barnes implied nothing,” Witherspoon said calmly. “He merely asked some legitimate questions. But let’s go back to the issue of you just walking into Mr. Boyd’s home unannounced.”
“I’ve told you, he instructed me to come directly to the studio,” Glover insisted. He pulled a white handkerchief out of his coat pocket and dabbed at his neck, mopping up the layer of sweat that had suddenly appeared. “If you don’t believe me, you can ask Bingley. He was here with me when the note from Mr. Boyd arrived yesterday morning.”
“Mr. Boyd sent you a note telling you to bring the files straight to the studio,” the inspector clarified. “What time was this?”
“At nine, just after we opened.”
“And Mr. Bingley saw the note?” Barnes pressed.
“Of course he did. I gave it to him so he could get the files Mr. Boyd had listed, the ones he wanted me to bring to him. Bingley can also verify I’d been invited to luncheon.” Glover sat up straighter. “So I took the files over to Mr. Boyd’s straightaway. I put them on the little table next to the door and went back to the house. It was quite warm and Mr. Boyd suggested I may want to tidy myself up before the luncheon. There were going to be some important guests and I wanted to look presentable.”
Witherspoon nodded. “Did you speak to Miss Clarke when you went back to the house?”
Glover hesitated. “No, I should have, but I didn’t. Mr. Boyd had asked me to check her work, but frankly, I . . . uh . . . well, I’m not used to dealing with young women in business circumstances. Really, I found it quite absurd that Mr. Boyd had engaged her services in the first place.”
“So you said nothing to her; you simply went into the drawing room and sat down?” Witherspoon pressed.
“That’s correct.”
“How is it she didn’t hear you walking down the hall?” Barnes smiled slightly as he asked the question. “You obviously heard her quite clearly when she raised the alarm about the fire. How is it she didn’t hear you?”
Glover looked down at the desk. “I walk very softly.”
“Were you deliberately staying quiet?” Barnes pressed.
“Certainly not,” Glover snapped. “That infernal machine makes such a racket a herd of goats could have been dancing in the hallway and she’d have not heard it.”
Witherspoon shifted in the chair. “What time was this?”
“I’ve already told you that,” Glover dabbed at his neck again. “It was close to eleven o’clock.”
“And the luncheon was scheduled for one o’clock,” Barnes said softly. He leaned closer to Glover. “Tell me, Mr. Glover, were you going to sit quietly in Mr. Boyd’s drawing room for two hours when your office is only a twenty-minute walk away. Why didn’t you go back to work?”
“Of course not,” Glover snapped. “After I tidied myself up, I fully intended to come back to the office.” His pale face flushed red. “But I was tired and my feet hurt so I went into the drawing room to have a bit of a rest. The latest edition of the
Illustrated London News
was on the table, so I picked it up and sat down to have a quick glance at it. Reading always makes me sleepy, Inspector, and the room was exceptionally warm. I must have dozed off because all of a sudden, I was awakened by Miss Clarke. She’d shouted something, made some sort of call of distress. I leapt to my feet and saw her in the hallway running for the back door. She yelled that the studio was on fire.” He paused and took a breath of air. “We both ran out to the back garden. We could see the flames through the front window of the studio, so I told Miss Clarke to fetch the fire brigade.”
BOOK: Mrs. Jeffries and the Best Laid Plans
4.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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