School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 5

There was a momentary pause while Blandford took in the enormity of this small bag. He stood up stiffly and moved towards the door. “Perhaps we could break for a moment?” He signalled another police officer into the room and ushered Anna out and into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

“Right.” Blandford continued, with his hands wrapped around a mug of hot sweet tea and with one of Barry’s Hobnobs in his lap. “That was a surprise. I have sent it away, as you suggested.”

“I haven’t kept it from you. I only found it late last night.” Anna wasn’t sure if, or why, Blandford was cross.

“No, it’s not that.” Blandford’s face relaxed. “We’ve been looking for something, anything, to make some headway into this case and we have been unsuccessful, no one seems to know anything useful, but now it’s clear I began at the wrong end of the group.” He smiled. “Where shall we start?”

“Perhaps we’d better start with the victim.” Anna proposed. Blandford nodded, settled back into his chair and munched his biscuit. “I didn’t know Janice before we came here and I obviously didn’t know her for very long, but I think I have pieced together the sort of person she was which helps me understand why she was killed.”

“Go on.” Blandford reached for another biscuit.

“Janice played the ‘fragile-little-girl-lost’ character but she was, in actual fact, a very shrewd operator, manipulative and controlling. She has been entwined with this group since she was a teenager and her crush on Jeremy meant that the boys, as they were then, tolerated her but didn’t pay her much attention” Anna stopped, realising that Blandford wouldn’t know about Jeremy.

“That’s OK, the Jeremy incident is in Robert’s police file, there was quite a detailed investigation at the time.” Blandford reassured her that she could continue.

“After Jeremy died the boys went off to university and you’d think that would be the end of it, but Janice found her way back into the group when they all returned to work in their home town by attaching herself to Colin, Jeremy’s younger brother. At that time, Colin was involved with Rebecca and began playing golf with Robert, Neville and Elden, as his brother had done, I think they all wanted to help Colin, so they invested in his Fitness Club idea.”

Blandford tried to get it clear in his head. “Rebecca and Colin?”

“Yes but Colin left her for Janice when they started working together on setting up the Club and Robert was there as a shoulder for Rebecca to cry on.”

“I see.”

“So with the Club proving to be a success, Colin became more settled and, finally admitting he was gay, fell in love with Anthony. Janice then moved, perhaps rather too swiftly, on to Elden and his money.”

“Nobody else has talked about any of this.” Blandford was astounded at all this detail.

“It is just a case of listening to them all when they talk, and also what they don’t say.” Anna replied. “I spend a lot of time in my job listening to others.”

“So, what is going on?” Blandford was keen to hear more.

“It’s clear that Janice and Elden’s marriage has been struggling. I think he has grown tired of her ‘china doll’ persona, he wants someone who can be a Stepmother to his children and I don’t think they get along very well as a family. Elden might be very wealthy but he is unhappy that the Club is failing and he is worried about losing his investment.” Anna took a breath and a sip of her tea. “Indra and Neville seem pretty solid, I think Indra was good friends with Elden’s first wife, so her relationship with Janice was strained. Robert is still wracked with guilt over Jeremy which affects his marriage but I think they’ll be OK, they’ve got a major event on the horizon.”

“And Colin and Anthony?”

“I think they are a very strong couple. They have similar interests but their age gap puts them at different stages in their career.”

Blandford looked over the notes he had been making. “So, on the face of it, this is a happy group of friends in Cornwall for a golf tour holiday, what makes you so sure it was one of them?”

“There were a few initial clues that made me want to look a bit deeper. In my line of work we say that trust is not a control, everything has got to be evidenced.” Anna looked thoughtful. “I guess I’ve just got used to listening to my instincts and then looking for answers.”

“What were the first clues?” Blandford’s team hadn’t yet been able to put any of it together.

“For me, the sand in the Boot Room was the first clue.” Anna replied. “I’ve had an advantage over your team in that I was here earlier in the day and also at the time of the murder. As usual with holiday lets, the house was spotless when we arrived. The building and contents are a little dated but the cleanliness was impressive. No one walked from the beach through the Boot Room but the following morning, the floor was covered in sand. We had all arrived at midday, then Barry and I went down to the beach, and everyone had joined us by four o’clock.”

“Yes, everybody has agreed that you were all on the beach by four and stayed until Janice was the first to return to the house at nine thirty.” Blandford continued to write in his notebook and absent-mindedly nibble biscuits.

“Janice returning alone to the house was the first thing that I thought was odd,” Anna explained. “Elden had a sweater with him but he didn’t offer it to Janice when she complained of being cold. She had probably hoped her husband would come back with her to the house, a natural expectation, but he didn’t and no one else offered. She will have arrived at the house at nine forty, we watched her go in the front door and turn on every light in the house.”

“Is that unusual?”

“Every light seemed a little over the top to me, I wondered at first if she was signalling something, but now I think she was terrified of being on her own, she must have known her life was in danger and if she knew that, it must be someone in the group that she was afraid of. When we all arrived at the house at ten past ten, we also went through the front door, and left a lot of sand in the hall too, I noticed.”

“So, just to go back and clarify what I think you are saying, Janice was not afraid of Elden?” Blandford looked as though he’d had a revelation.

“That’s right, Elden didn’t kill his wife.”

Blandford looked over to the window and saw that it was nearly dark. “Let’s stop there for now. I need to take this back to the office and look at it with my team. We’ve been working hard to find evidence that Elden killed his wife, you’ve just blown a big hole in that.”

“The thing you must remember Blandford,” Anna pointed out, “Is that while the killer thinks your main suspect is Elden, they feel safe to carry on at the house.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t be sharing this with anyone other than my immediate team and I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning. If you are at all concerned, just let my officer know.” Blandford indicated towards the young uniformed man at the door.

“YOU DID WHAT?” Barry’s rage was evident. “How could you do that Anna?” In a big dramatic flurry, Barry turned on his side, with his back to his wife and inched right over to the edge of the bed to demonstrate just how cross he was. Anna reached out her hand; she was very tempted to give him a firm shove to send him flying onto the floor, but relented.

“I’m sorry, that is all there was available.” She smiled to herself in the dark. “I promise to go to the shop tomorrow and get you some more Hobnobs.”

“Unforgivable.” Barry humphed, but then turned back into the middle to give her a hug. “I’ll let you off this once as you’ve had such a difficult day.”

The following morning, and back from her walk to the shop; Anna sipped coffee and felt rather sad to be spending such a beautiful day in a room with Blandford. “First of all, can we go over what you think happened? I’ll then talk to my team and we’ll resume again this afternoon.” Anna had noticed that there were a considerable number of officers in the house.

“Of course.” Anna was keen to get going and be outside. “We all arrived back at the house at ten past ten and found that the front door was locked, everyone spent time looking to see if they had a key, I eventually found one in the bottom of my rucksack and we opened the door and talked in the hall before Barry and I went up to bed. It was just after twenty to eleven that Elden found Janice.”

“OK, The forensics report says that Janice had been dead for about half an hour. But that would mean she would have been killed before you all got back.” Blandford looked confused.

“I believe the killer was extremely opportunistic. On approaching the front door, they saw Janice through the kitchen window, went through the Boot Room picked up a golf club and glove on their way and struck her over the head with it before she knew what had happened. They then picked up a kitchen knife and thrust it into her back before wiping the golf club with the glove and putting it back in a bag, before tossing the glove into the bushes and rejoining the group as we all went in through the front door. It would probably have taken less than a minute and in the darkness of the porch, no one noticed that they were gone.”

“So it was possible then.” Blandford couldn’t help but be impressed.

“Yes, all the killer needed to do was stall the discovery of the body for as long as possible. It is fortunate that Elden went for a glass of water in the kitchen after their round of whiskey in the lounge, otherwise she may have lain undiscovered for a lot longer.”

“So, whose is the glove?” Blandford was still struggling to put it together. “Wouldn’t they need two?”

“The glove is Robert’s. He is right handed so the glove would be worn on the left hand. Barry is left-handed.” Anna added by way of explanation. ”The putter that was used to strike Janice was Neville’s. He is also a left-handed player. I think that is why the blow to the head caused so much internal damage, it was wielded by a right-handed person.“

“The autopsy did say there was unusual damage to the base of the skull, it is likely she was rendered instantly unconscious.” Blandford flicked back through his notebook to verify and then nodded. “The strike alone may have been enough to kill her without medical attention. Why drive the knife in as well?”

“Dramatic effect?” Anna paused. “A ‘knife in the back’ is an expression used to describe someone who has betrayed you.”

“Who had Janice betrayed?” Blandford’s notebook wasn’t any further help.

Anna looked straight at Blandford. “To some degree…over the years…everyone in the group.”

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