Authors: Elizabeth Flynn
Angela resisted the lure. She thought back over her interview with Brendan and his explanation of the conversation in the alley; manning-up, taking responsibility.
I knew you were spinning me a yarn
, she thought.
I shall be visiting you again, Mr Phelan.
“Tell us about Oliver Joplin,” said Angela.
A shadow crossed Jack’s features and he looked at her with a mirthless smile. “What is there to say? You get all sorts in a crew.”
This non-answer intrigued Angela. “What was he like?” she persisted.
Jack grimaced as he thought. “All right, I suppose. Not the best techie I’ve ever had. He was usually a bit late when there was any lifting and carrying to be done. In the concerts he worked the lighting console and was there when he needed to be, so I can’t complain.”
Yet I think you’d like to
, thought Angela. “How did he get on with the other crew members?”
Another grimace. “I’m not sure that he did, really. I think
he thought himself a cut above the others, being a bit closer to Brendan, so he kept a bit apart.”
Angela nodded, thinking of Doug Travers’s perception of the dead man as being “on the edge”.
“I believe he’d been with you for a long time, but if he wasn’t the best techie you’d ever employed, why –?”
“– did I keep him on? Good question. I wouldn’t mind knowing the answer to that myself.” Angela’s eyebrows went up into her forehead. “See, it’s like this,” continued Jack. “Crew members, they’re not on a retainer, so at the end of a tour they get laid off, right?”
“Yes, I get it.”
“Well, they can’t hang around waiting for the next tour. They need to live. So when we’re getting another tour together, we cast about for a crew. The ones we like working with, we call them up, see if they’re available. A lot of them will have got other jobs by then.”
“By the same token, if there’s one we don’t particularly want on the road with us again, it’s the easiest thing in the world to not call him.”
“And?” Angela sensed there was more to come.
“Every bloomin’ tour we’ve done for the past nine years, he’s been there. I haven’t put his name down. I haven’t called him. But I hand a list over to Doug and when I get it back, whose name has been added every time?”
“Why do you suppose that is?”
Jack shrugged. “Beats me,” he said. “But at the end of the day, our little outfit is not different from any multinational corporation.”
“You know where the decisions come from?”
“From the top?” ventured Angela.
“Exactly,” said the production manager.
“That was useful, wasn’t it?” opined Angela, as they headed towards home a short while later.
“I’ll say,” agreed Gary. “There’s definitely something in the relationship between Brendan and Oliver that needs another look.”
“Absolutely. OK, let’s qualify that. There’s no reason on earth why a rock star can’t be friends with someone on his road crew; but…” She looked across at him. “What’s the ‘but’?”
“It wouldn’t be a hole-in-the-corner sort of thing that everybody knows about but nobody mentions.”
“Got it in one, young Houseman; you may have a merit mark.”
“Cor! Does this make me teacher’s pet?”
“Steady on, let’s not go mad!”
Gary laughed. “So it’s another trip up to Hampstead for us, isn’t it? Brendan Phelan said he’d be chilling around the house for a few days.”
“Yes, he did, but I don’t want to go straight back to him. I’d like to see what else we can find out about this first. We’ll gather the troops and see what they’ve managed to come up with today. Rick and Jim and Derek and Leanne have already spoken to the two crews, and –”
“Yes, the road crew that travel with Brendan and the permanent theatre crew.”
“Oh yes, of course. And the band and backing singers, don’t forget.”
“No, I wasn’t forgetting. They’ve covered everyone, including the front-of-house staff but that was just the normal,
routine. Now we can focus.”
It was clear to Angela, when she got back to the incident room, that a heavy day coming on top of a short night was taking its toll on her team. She noted the stifled yawns and sluggish movements, and had to admit she felt almost too weary to think as well. But they still had a job to do, so she crossed the room and stood in front of the whiteboard. “OK, everybody, what have we got?”
“Nothing much,” said Rick, on behalf of them all.
“Nobody saw anything,” added Leanne.
“Not even the cameras,” Jim put in with a grin.
“What, did you question the cameras?”
A tired laugh burst out from everybody present. “We spoke to the front-of-house manager, Barry Grieves,” explained Rick. “By the way, we saw Georgia Pensay when we were there.”
“Georgia Pensay! No way! I love her,” gasped Derek, all tiredness forgotten. “Did you know her name is a –”
“– play on words; yes, we did know that,” said Jim. “Mind you, the manager didn’t,” he added, as if he thought that meant he had one over on Barry Grieves.
“OK, everybody, let’s concentrate,” admonished Angela. “What’s this about the cameras, Rick?”
“Mr Grieves thought they’d been nobbled, Angie.”
“Nobbled? You mean…?”
“Yes, they were out of action at the relevant time. As far as he could tell, there was nothing wrong with the cameras themselves. He thought the computer system had been hacked and he was waiting for his IT man to turn up and take a look. We’ve asked him to send us a report.”
“OK, good. Well, just before we all knock off for the day, Gary and I have picked up on some information that looks interesting and will mean you going back to the band, the singers and the crew.”
They all made a passable attempt at looking lively. “What’s that, then?” asked Rick.
“We’ve been talking to the manager, Doug Travers and the production manager, Jack Waring.”
“Roadie,” muttered Jim.
“If you like,” acknowledged Angela. “But head honcho roadie, in that case. Both these men talked about the relationship between Brendan Phelan and Oliver Joplin as something they found puzzling. Every now and then they’d notice some sort of conversation going on which nobody else was party to. Oliver didn’t mix that much with the other crew members, apparently, and didn’t seem to be that good a technician. And yet, it seems the dead man was receiving preferential treatment from Brendan.”
“So is Brendan gay?” asked Jim.
“Oh, no!” They all turned towards Leanne and the horrified look on her face drew a laugh from them all. She hesitated before adding, “He’s got a girlfriend.”
“That’s no guarantee of anything,” said Jim.
“Well, he’s not,” protested Leanne, putting her hands on her hips.
“OK,” said Angela in a soothing voice. “I think we’d have picked up on it before now if Brendan was gay, Jim.”
“So we need to check this out,” said Rick.
“Absolutely; your first task for tomorrow, team. Nail down this the situation between Brendan Phelan and Oliver Joplin. All his crew seem to have noticed it so they must have opinions about it.”
“It could even be something everyone else was in on but
not discussed in front of the management,” Rick suggested.
“It’s just possible,” replied Angela, “but I’d be surprised. “I think they’re a tightly knit bunch.”
“We’ll dig it out whatever’s there,” said Rick.
“Good,” Angela answered. “Gary and I’ll take the support act’s manager, Terry Dexter, and the runner, Carla Paterson, because we’ve already spoken to them. I’d also like to see the next of kin. Doug Travers seemed to think Oliver supported his sister. He said Brendan was mindful of this and kept him in employment for that reason. Leanne, will you text me the address before we leave here tonight, please?” She cast a sympathetic glance around her sagging team. “OK; let’s wrap it up for today, then.”
Within five minutes the room was deserted.
Since Gary’s status as the boyfriend of Angela’s stepdaughter, Madeleine, had become established over the past couple of months, he was very relaxed about visiting the home of his boss. About half an hour later he sank into the cushions of the sofa in Angela and Patrick’s living room with no sign of a blush or the awkwardness that had been present at the beginning of the courtship. He cheerfully accepted the invitation to stay for dinner, even though he didn’t actually have a date with Madeleine that evening.
“What’s Maddie got on tonight that you’re not a part of?” asked Patrick, as he poured a tot of whisky into a couple of glasses, handed one to Gary and the other to Angela.
“Her class reunion,” said Gary. “It’s the first time they’ve met up in about five or six years, I think.”
“Oh, I expect you’re glad not to be invited, then. It’ll be a very intense trip down memory lane, won’t it? ‘Do you remember this, do you remember that?’ Who had a crush on whom and the tricks they played on the French mistress.”
“Oh yes, I expect it’ll be a nostalgia-filled evening,” agreed
Gary. “I’ve said I’ll drop her off, then go home and get an early night.”
“Exactly what I’d do in the same circumstances,” replied Patrick.
“I bet she’s quite cross that the reunion’s tonight,” said Angela. “I know she’s been looking forward to it but she must feel quite torn.” She grinned as her husband and colleague turned puzzled faces towards her.
“Why?” asked Patrick.
“I think she’ll be itching to corner Gary and wring out of him every little detail he knows about Brendan Phelan.”
“She can ask you the same things as me,” objected Gary.
“Yes, but she wouldn’t have nearly so much fun pinning me into a corner,” explained Angela.
They all laughed at this and were still chuckling when they heard Madeleine’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Evening, peeps,” she said, standing in the doorway. She looked round at them and burst into laughter at the astonished silence she had produced. “You should see your faces,” she added, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Where on earth did you get that?” asked Gary, when he found his voice.
Madeleine came fully into the room and gave a twirl. “It’s my old school uniform,” she said, fingering the two pigtails she’d made of her hair. “I’m rather chuffed it still fits.”
“White socks, even,” remarked Gary. He looked a little horrified. “You’re not going like that, are you?”
“Good grief, no,” Madeleine reassured him. “It’s just that we’ve agreed to bring something from our schooldays, if we have anything – you know, photographs, exercise books, that sort of thing. When I was searching I came across this uniform. I had no idea I still had it, to be honest.” She smiled at him. “You don’t like me in this, do you, Gary?”
“Not really. You look about twelve and, I dunno, I prefer you as you are now.”
“Don’t worry; it’s all going in the recycling tomorrow. Now, what were you all laughing about just before I came downstairs?”
“You pumping me for information about Brendan Phelan,” explained Gary.
Madeleine smiled. “I haven’t… yet. But I’m going to. You’d better be forthcoming or I’ll get the thumbscrews out.”
“Told you,” said Angela.
“The thing is,” answered Gary, “whenever I think about this case, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t Brendan at all.”
Madeleine turned a disbelieving expression towards him. “How can it not be?” she said, accepting a glass of whisky from her father.
“Not everyone’s a mad keen fan like you, remember,” said Patrick.
Madeleine smiled and waggled her finger at Gary. “You’re just not normal, that’s your trouble.” He made a face at her. “So, come on,” she continued. “Let me pretend I’m not obsessed for a minute. What
the first thing that comes to your mind, then?”
“Well, the whole thing has expanded since yesterday,” began Gary. “At first, it was this memory of me watching telly with my dad when I was about nine. We were watching some magician. Since then, I realized that it was, in a small way, one of those rite-of-passage sort of things.”
“Ooh, is this going to get heavy?” asked Angela. “Shall I cue some meaningful music?”
Da, da, da, daaaa
,” voiced Patrick in what was recognizable as something dramatic from Beethoven.
“They make a good double act, don’t they,” remarked
Madeleine. “Never mind them. You just carry on.”
“It was these flight cases they use in theatre to transport equipment around that reminded me in the first place. And today we went and spoke to the production manager. When we were talking he said he started off in show business as a magician’s assistant and that brought even more of it back. I remember sitting in our living room and the magician brought this young girl on and had her get into a box. I’d seen that sort of thing before, and knew he would let us think he was sawing her in half. I was old enough to know it was just a trick, but I hadn’t figured out how it was done. In this particular act, the magician sawed the girl in half lengthways, then separated the two halves as if he now had two boxes; you with me?”
“Yes,” said Angela. “There was now, apparently, half a girl in each box.”
“That’s it, and I’m sitting there saying, ‘That’s really brilliant, Dad. I’d love to know how they do that.’ And then, just to show how clever he was, the magician told the audience he was going to prove there was half a girl in each box and he knocked on one of them and told the girl to put a hand through a hole in the side of it. A hand came out and he shook it. Then, obviously, to prove his point, he went to the other box and said, ‘OK, darling, put out your other hand now.’ And blow me down, the same hand came out and shook his.”
A silence greeted the end of Gary’s tale. “I’m not quite sure I get that,” said Patrick.
“Oh, hang on,” said Angela. “The first girl put out her, say, left hand, and the, supposedly other half of the same girl, also put out a left hand.”
“Exactly,” said Gary. “I got so excited to have seen through the trick I was bouncing up and down on our sofa, saying,
‘Look, Dad! Look! She’s got two left hands!’ or it might have been the right, but you get the point.”
“Of course,” said Patrick. “I see what you mean. He hadn’t coordinated his assistants well enough.”
“And you noticed!” said Angela with admiration. “You see, you were a budding policeman, even at the age of nine.”
“I must have been,” agreed Gary.
Madeleine took an anglepoise lamp from a shelf and pointed it at Gary. “OK, buster, that’s enough tripping down memory lane. Talk time; gimme the lowdown about Brendan Phelan.”
Angela and Patrick exchanged smiles and headed for the door. “Yes, definitely, she’s going to have much more fun getting the information out of you than me, Gary,” said Angela as they disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.
They worked in pleasant harmony for a while. They said little as Angela prepared a salad and Patrick cooked some vegetables to go with a casserole already in the oven. The silence allowed them to hear occasional questions from Madeleine, mostly on the lines of, “So what’s the room like?” and a more frustrated, “Oh, Gary, didn’t you take
notice?” They both stopped what they were doing and grinned when they heard Madeleine say, “I hef vays of mekking you talk,” followed by a burst of laughter from Gary. Patrick had lifted the dish onto the work surface, taken the lid off and filled the kitchen with a delicious aroma of rich gravy before he spoke.
“Just out of curiosity –” he began.
“He reminds me of you, Pads,” answered Angela. “The same sort of Irishness, and his eyes crinkle like yours do when he smiles, or they will when he’s a bit older.” She stopped and thought for a moment, remembering Brendan in his room and noting the similarity. She realized now, there was more to it than that. “His expression is more guarded, though.”
“What can you expect? He’s a major celebrity. Pulling up the drawbridge, so to speak, is probably one of the first lessons he learned on becoming famous.”
“I expect you’re right, but there was something strange about his relationship with the dead man.”
“Really, in what way?”
“Too early to say at the moment, but it seems they had private conversations here and there which everybody else around them had learned to ignore. And he, Oliver Joplin, was still employed even though he wasn’t the first choice of the one who does the hiring and firing.”
“Ah, got preferential treatment from the star, did he?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“Perhaps Brendan Phelan liked working with him.”
“That would be the simplest answer to that question, but if so, he’s the only one who did, from the sound of things. Everybody else we’ve spoken to seems to regard him as a bit of an outsider. Actually, it could be as simple as that. They were outside the stage door having one of these conversations when he was shot. Brendan reckons he was telling him to pull his socks up. Perhaps they got on well and Brendan tried to help him out, you know, workwise, but also wanted to be discreet.”