Authors: Adele Abbott
The last time we’d been in that interview room, Jack Maxwell and I had fought like cat and dog. I wondered how long the current uneasy peace between us would last.
“Jill,” Jack said, as he entered the room.
“Jack. Thanks for seeing me.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have long.” He took the seat opposite me.
“That’s okay. I wondered if we might clear the air.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“The other night. On our—”
“Date?” He smiled. “Did you set the gerbils on your sister?”
“Apparently, there’s a world shortage of rabid gerbils—who knew? Anyway, the other night, you mentioned Camberley.”
Suddenly more serious, he said, “What about it?”
“I know what happened with the family’s private investigator.”
“Look, I’d rather not get into that.”
“I can understand why you have such a down on P.I.s after Camberley, but we aren’t all the same.”
“Are you sure about that? It seems to me you do pretty much what you want, and to hell with the law.”
So much for the peace accord.
“I admit I can be a little headstrong at times.”
“Okay, a lot. But I’d never do anything that would jeopardise someone’s life in the way that happened in the Camberley case.”
“Does that mean you’ll stay out of police business?”
“I can’t promise that.”
It was a good question—what exactly did I have to offer?
“I want to work
you,” I said. “If I have any information that I think will help your investigations, I promise to pass it on.”
“You should do that anyway.”
“Look, I’m trying to make the peace. If you’d rather we carry on as before then—”
“No. I don’t want that. I’m prepared to give it a try, but if you get in my way or if I think you are putting anyone in danger, then all deals are off.”
“That’s fair. Which brings me to the reason for my visit.”
“Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this?”
“I’m doing what I said I’d do. I’m trying to work with you.”
“Do you know about the hit and run? Mrs Vicars?”
He nodded. “We’re trying to trace the driver, but we don’t have much to go on. The only information we do have came from the next door neighbour, but she didn’t actually see the incident.”
“I’ve been hired by Colonel Briggs to look into it.”
“What’s his interest?”
“He’s president of Washbridge Dog Rescue. Edna Vicars had promised to leave some money to them in her Will.”
“No. It went to the kids.”
“He thinks they had something to do with her death?”
“Something like that.”
I shook my head.
“Sounds like a wild goose chase.”
“Knock yourself out, but let me know if you find anything.”
“There is one condition though,” he said.
“There’s a bowling competition tonight. It’s a police thing. Someone has dropped out, and we need a substitute. How about it?”
“Me? I’ve only bowled once in my life, and I ended up in A&E with my finger stuck in the hole.”
“Don’t worry. It’s only a bit of fun. No one takes it seriously.”
I hated bowling, but I didn’t want to jeopardise our new working relationship. “Okay, but don’t blame me if I’m useless.”
Mrs Vicars’ neighbour obviously didn’t share her passion for gardening. Mrs Vicars’ lawn had been recently cut. The flower borders were a kaleidoscope of colours—not a weed to be seen. Next door, by contrast, was a wilderness. The garden had long since succumbed to weeds. An old fridge stood next to the broken fence.
I pressed the doorbell, but didn’t hear it ring. It was probably broken. I waited—just in case, but nothing. I knocked quietly at first, and then progressively louder until I became convinced there was no one in. I was halfway down the path when the door opened.
“Mrs Draycott?” I said.
“What?” The old lady had her cardigan on inside out. Her long grey hair was so thin I could see her scalp.
I walked back to the door. “Are you Mrs Draycott?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Jill Gooder. Detective Jack Maxwell gave me your name.”
“Jack and Jill. I loved that nursery rhyme when I was a child.”
You and everyone else apparently.
“Could I speak to you about the hit and run?”
“No, not—could we go inside?” I pointed.
“Why don’t you come inside? I’ll make us a nice cup of tea.”
To my surprise and relief, the interior of the house was spotless. I studied the row of family photographs on the mantelpiece while I waited for her to make the tea.
“Andrew and Amelia. They’ve got grown-up kids of their own now,” she said, with pride. “I’ll soon be a great-grandma.”
“Did you know the Vicars’ kids?”
“They used to play with mine. They were nice kids, but that Hector—turned into a bad ‘un. Biscuit?”
“I’ve got all kinds: custard creams, ginger nuts, chocolate digestives—”
All mixed together on the same plate.
“No, thanks. I’m watching my weight.”
“You young women. Always on a diet.”
“You were telling me about Hector.”
“Hardly ever came around to see his mum, and when he did there’d always be an argument.”
“What about his sister?”
“Hilary was okay. She used to come around regular like, although I hadn’t seen her for a while before—you know.”
“Would you mind telling me what happened that day?”
I took a sip of tea while I waited until Mrs Draycott had composed herself.
“I was around the back—taking out the rubbish. There was a horrible noise. Scared me to death it did.”
“You didn’t actually see it happen then?”
“No, thank goodness. When I got around the front, poor Edna was lying on the road. It was a good job Doctor Mills was there. Not sure what I’d have done otherwise. I was shaking like a leaf.”
“The police told me you saw the car.”
“There was only one car on the road. Don’t know what kind, but it was blue, and it was driving away towards the centre of town.”
“Is there anything else you remember? Anything at all?”
“It was that son of hers who did it.”
“Hector? What makes you say that? Did you see him?”
“No, but Edna said his name.”
“Mrs Vicars was still alive?”
“Only for a few seconds. I told her not to try to speak, but she said, ‘Hector, Hector’.”
“That’s when Doctor Mills turned up. I was real glad to see him.”
“How did he get there so quickly? Had he been driving past?”
“No. He was Edna’s doctor. She had angina you know.”
“Is that all she said? Hector?”
“Yeah. Seconds later she was gone.”
“Did you tell the police what she said?”
“I think so. I’m not sure. I was a bit upset. I told ‘em about the car.”
On my way back to the office, I passed Grandma’s new shop again.
Grandma tapped on the window, and beckoned me inside.
“What do you think?”
The shelves were now all full to bursting with yarn. Behind Grandma, the two young assistants smiled nervously. Poor things—imagine working for Grandma—there wasn’t a salary high enough.
“It’s fantastic. How did you do it so quickly?”
“I have my methods.” She turned to her assistants. “Don’t just stand there looking gormless. There’s plenty of work to do in the back.”
The two young women didn’t need telling twice. They were probably pleased to get away from her—who could blame them?
“Good staff are so hard to come by,” Grandma said.
“They told me it’s the grand opening tomorrow.”
“That’s right. Everyone is coming. Don’t be late.”
“Me? I might not be—err—I’m—err—really busy.”
She glared at me.
“But I’m sure I can make time.”
“Be here at ten. On the dot.”
“Ten. On the dot. Got it.” This was my chance. “I imagine you’ll want to postpone our lesson this week. What with the grand opening?”
The moment the words had left my mouth, I knew I’d said the wrong thing.
“I do not postpone lessons, young lady.”
“No, I just thought—”
“Did I ask you to think?”
“Leave the thinking to me. Just make sure you turn up on time. This is your first level two lesson. I’m expecting great things of you.”
“Anything less won’t do.”
What was I supposed to wear to go bowling? It had to be trousers because there was a strong possibility that I’d end up sailing down the lane, which would be embarrassing enough without giving everyone a view of my undies. In the end, I settled for jeans. My bum looked pretty damn good in them, even if I did say so myself. I added a blue blouse, and I was good to go. First though, I couldn’t resist one more trial of the ‘listen’ spell. This time it worked first time. I quickly filtered through the chatter until I heard a familiar voice. “Ooh, Ivy. Do that again.”
I reversed the spell, and hurried out of the flat as quickly as I could. The less I knew about Mr Ivers’ love life, the better for all concerned.
“What are you wearing?” I laughed.
Maxwell looked affronted. “What’s wrong with it? It’s a bona fide bowling shirt.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“I like it.”
“Sure, me too.” I laughed again. “You don’t think the words: ‘Strike Baby!’ are a little too much?”
He ignored the snipe.
Maxwell’s group had essentially taken over the whole bowling alley. Twelve of the eighteen lanes were occupied by the police bowling club. Burglars would have had free rein in Washbridge that night.
“This is Adam,” Maxwell said, as he introduced me to a young man who was fighting a losing battle with acne. “He’ll be your partner.”
“I thought you wanted me to partner you?” I said.
Maxwell grinned. “No. Bill, over there, is my partner. We’re playing against you and Adam.”
“You and Bill are wearing matching shirts. How nice.”
“We’re the dream team.”
“I bet you are.” I walked over and took a seat next to Adam.
“Are you any good?” he asked, picking at a scab.
“Useless. What about you?”
“The same. Maxwell told me he’d sorted out an experienced player to partner me.”
“Did he?” I glared at Maxwell who smirked and gave me a thumbs up.
“It’s the last game of the season,” Adam said. “If Jack and Bill win tonight, they’ll win the league.”
“What happened to your regular partner?”
“Joe? He has piles.”
Nice image. “Was he any good?”
“Not bad. Until his piles started playing up.”
I was beginning to get the picture. Maxwell was one win away from the cup. His opposition had lost a man, so he’d put me forward knowing full well that I couldn’t play to save my life. He would win the cup and humiliate me all in one. Okay—if that was the way he wanted to play it—game on!
Adam was the first to bowl. I was no expert, but his style—and I use the term loosely—left much to be desired. He took a huge run at the lane, but then skidded to a halt, and delivered the ball using both hands. The ball meandered at a snail’s pace down the lane, ending up in the gutter two feet short of the pins. Maxwell and his partner in crime guffawed with laughter. Adam’s second attempt was a little better—taking out three pins.
Bill was next up. He had the air of a pro, and his technique was smooth and aggressive. The ball spun down the lane making contact with the kingpin. The pins flew in all directions leaving a solitary pin on the far left side. Moments later, he mopped up the remaining pin to whoops of ‘Spare’ from Jack Maxwell.
“What’s a spare?” I whispered to Adam.
“It’s when you take out all the pins in the two attempts.”
It was my turn. I tried to copy what I’d seen Bill do, but my legs got in a twist, and I was lucky to keep my balance. The ball went straight from my hand into the gutter. My second attempt was a repeat performance—in the opposite gutter. Again I could hear Maxwell laughing, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of making eye contact.