School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 4

The full moon lit the way back up the cliff for Anna and Barry and they chatted quietly as they made their way up the steep path. They were close to the house when Anna stopped. “That makes me so cross,” she hissed.

“What’s that?”

“Can you give me one of those poo bags that are always threatening to clog up the washing machine?” Barry sighed, he had to accept that his failure to remember to empty his pockets before his clothes went into the wash was one of Anna’s pet hates.

“Useful sometimes though” he smiled, handing her a small black plastic bag. Anna wrapped it over her hand and dived under a very prickly gorse bush, picking up the offending mess and securing it tightly before placing it in her jacket pocket. “Totally yuk!” Barry exclaimed, “please don’t ask me to hold that hand again tonight.”

“Are we spending the day on the beach tomorrow?” Anna asked brightly. “I’d like to do some rock pooling.”

“As long as you’ve got decent picnic supplies.” Barry laughed.

 

Blandford arrived early the following morning and had decided it was Barry’s turn to answer some of his questions. The blue skies promised another stunning day so he agreed to meet Anna on the beach when he was finished and she started down the cliff. “May I join you?” Robert, carrying a towel, was on his way for a swim.

“Of course.” It was difficult not to like Robert. He was, as Rebecca had observed, very handsome and aging extremely well. He had a relaxed ‘trust-me’ air about him and Anna guessed that this was what made him such a good estate agent. “If I may join you for a swim?” Anna smiled.

Anna was competent but she wasn’t a strong swimmer and she was nervous about swimming in the sea alone. “Everyone should be able to swim well.” Robert said forcefully “You never know when it might save your life.”

“Is that what happened to Jeremy?” Anna enquired cautiously. “Only if you want to talk about it.”

“It was a long time ago. I still find it difficult to talk about.” Robert stumbled slightly on the path and Anna put out a hand to steady him. “Thank you. I’m sure Janice would have happily told you all about it, she would never let me forget, and she was full of ideas about what had happened, even though it was ruled an accident at the time”

“How was Janice involved?” Anna was astounded that there were further connections that she hadn’t yet discovered. “She wasn’t involved, she had a complete crush on Jeremy, wouldn’t leave him alone. He couldn’t wait to go off to university and escape. She’s never forgiven me.”

The water was cold and Anna was annoyed to find the warm gentle lapping of the shallows had deceived her. By the time she’d waded up to her thighs she realised she was either going to have to dive in or head back to the shore. “You OK?” Robert was beside her in the water. Anna nodded and launched herself under the water.

“Next time, I’m bringing a surf suit.” She gasped on surfacing, trying to block out the cold and keep moving, they started to swim. Robert maintained an even pace alongside her, matching her crawl stroke with very little effort and slicing efficiently through the water with long tan arms. As they swam farther out, Anna slowly became aware that Robert seemed to be swimming closer to her, every time her face turned towards him he met her eyes and Anna could feel herself becoming anxious at his proximity. His body’s rhythm appeared to be locked in synchronisation with hers as if watching and waiting for an opportune moment to strike her. His eyes bored intensely into hers, he looked desperate, almost wild. Panic started to rise in her chest and the tightness gripped inside her, interrupting her own rhythm and making breathing difficult. In an effort to keep calm, Anna concentrated on swimming off to one side, trying to put at least an arms length of distance between herself and this man.

As if to compensate, Robert manoeuvred even closer to her. At every arm stroke Anna’s fear grew, aware that if he locked his arm over hers he could pull her under the surface without any difficulty. She had nothing with which to defend herself and started to contemplate whether stopping dead in the water and turning back to the shore would give Robert the opportunity he was looking for. Anna looked behind her, the shore wasn’t so far away, she turned in an arc away from Robert who continued to keep pace. “I’m going back.” Anna knew that her terror was causing her to flail ineffectively in the water and she was splashing like a frightened child. Seawater was going up her nose causing her to splutter the acrid salt taste as it went down her throat. Her arms and legs burned in protest at the demands she was making on them and her brain seemed to disconnect from her limbs. She could feel herself sinking in the water.

At that moment, Anna felt Robert grab her roughly. His long arm stretched around her chest under both arms and he flipped her onto her back. Anna gasped, a mouthful of seawater flooded in and knew she was helpless. In the next movement, Robert’s strength lifted her upright onto her feet and she realised she was standing in three feet of water. Coughing and choking, Robert half dragged and half lifted her back onto the beach and dumped her in the sand.

“What on earth was that?” Robert asked crossly. “Can’t you swim?”

“Of course I can swim.” Anna’s terror had turned to indignation and anger. “Just not when someone is practically swimming on top of me.”

Robert’s face softened “Oh God I’m so sorry was I doing that?” Anna finished coughing and turned to look at him, realising she wasn’t in any danger. “I haven’t swum with anyone in open water since that day with Jeremy.” Robert slumped beside her on the sand, he suddenly looked older and more worn out than his years. “It was so awful, we did it for a dare, to race across the lake at the golf club. I’d got right over the other side before I realised Jeremy wasn’t with me. I shouted and searched but I couldn’t find him. It took Police divers two hours to recover his body. He was such a good swimmer, I still don’t know what happened, he should have beaten me easily.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes it was, it was my idea and I should have stayed with him.” Robert’s raised voice indicated just how much rage was still within him.

“You couldn’t have known what was going to happen.”

“I’m so sorry Anna, the water in the lake was freezing too, I just didn’t want the same thing to happen again. I needed to be close to you, protect you.” Robert was beginning to compose himself.

“Well, thank you for rescuing me before I swallowed the whole English Channel.“ Anna smiled. “No harm done.”

 

Barry waved from the top of the cliff and started down the slope, Anna couldn’t help but be relieved to see him and started to dig the picnic out from the bottom of her rucksack. “How did it go?”

“It was OK, I think Blandford wants to talk to you next but he said it would have to be later this afternoon. He’s gone now.” Barry bit enthusiastically into his cheese roll. “How’s the water?”

“Freezing.” Robert replied, accepting a proffered roll. “I’d stick to paddling if I were you.”

“Anna wants to go rock pooling, I’ll be carrying the bucket.” Barry laughed, proudly holding aloft the child’s red plastic container, he held out his other hand to his wife. “Ready?”

 

Anna and Barry strolled back up to the house after a happy afternoon picking their way over the rock pools, turning boulders and watching the tide recede down the beach, uncovering new shoreline plants and wildlife as it went.

Blandford was waiting for Anna and directed her into the small family room behind the kitchen that had been set up as an incident room. Anna sat in a comfortable chair and looked at Blandford as he patted his jacket pocket and opened a small notebook. “I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get to you.” Blandford started. “Your husband was very helpful this morning and suggested it might save a lot of time if I talked to you next.”

“No problem.” Anna had decided to wait and see in which direction Blandford took his questioning of her. He seemed to be struggling in that decision himself.

“I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to try something.” Blandford started. “Your husband thinks that you know who did it and that you could prove it, but he tells me that I will have to ask the right questions.” He looked directly at Anna who remained impassive. “Do you know who killed Janice?”

“Yes.” Anna replied.

“Do you know why she was killed?”

“Yes” Anna replied.

“Do you know how she was killed?”

“Yes” Anna replied

“Do you have any evidence?”

“Yes” Anna replied.

Blandford considered his next question carefully. “Do you think there is any likelihood that he or she will kill again?”

“No” Anna replied.

Blandford smiled. “Normally I would just now sit here and wait for you to crack under the pressure of my stare and tell me everything, but I have a feeling that won’t work with you.”

“No and before we go into any detail, I’ll need you to do something for me” Anna reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out the small black poo bag and passed it to Blandford.

“What’s this?” Blandford held it cautiously.

“I think that should give you all the evidence you need. It’s a golfing glove. You should get it tested because it is likely that you will find Janice’s blood on the outside and the murderer’s DNA on the inside.”

School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 3

The meal that evening was the first time they were all together again since the barbeque on the beach, and it felt like a world away. Blandford had, once again, left for the night leaving a colleague guarding the door. The day had been a long one but as Anna had bought the makings of a massive lasagne with her she’d got on with cooking, especially as it was clear that Blandford wasn’t going to get to her statement today.

Elden was the first to speak. “I haven’t told the children yet but I can’t imagine they will be very upset.” He clearly viewed this sentence as self-explanatory, but, of course, Barry didn’t understand.

“Not upset?”

“Oh, yes, sorry, Janice and I have only been married for five years and to say she wasn’t a maternal type is the understatement of the century. The children live most of the time with their mother and we were seeing less and less of them. This week they are with my parents and next week I had planned to take them to our house in France on my own, just to spend some time with them.”

Everyone continued eating quietly, respecting Elden’s need to talk for as long as he wanted. “I realise that it was a mistake to marry Janice but I wouldn’t have wished this on her. Have the police said anything about what they think happened?” He looked around the table in anticipation.

“What? You mean apart from that you did it?” the laughter broke the tense atmosphere and Anthony’s witty retort earned him a slap on the back from Colin. Anna looked at Anthony. He was much younger than his partner and clearly spent much of his time working at the fitness club showing clients how to use the equipment. He was fit and lean with strong features and a broad smile. Probably very photogenic, Anna thought, marvelling that he was such an accepted member of the group, considering the age difference. On a roll now, Anthony continued, “Are we still going to get some golf in this week?”

“I don’t think it is appropriate for me to join you, but don’t let me stop you.” Elden was pragmatic. “I guess you’d better clear it with Blandford though.”

The men moved into the lounge after dinner. Anna hung back, not liking the assumption that the women would clear away, but wanting to be part of the conversation. Indra was subdued and Anna got the distinct impression that there was a complex history between her and Rebecca. In contrast, Rebecca chatted about her work, her exhibition and her frustration with Robert. It was clear that Janice and Elden’s wasn’t the only marriage that was difficult.

“What shall we do while the men are playing golf?” Anna tried to change the subject. “As they are going out that way, we could go to St Ives?”

Indra’s enthusiasm for the idea brightened her demeanour considerably. “Oh yes, I would like that” she declared. “Let’s go to the Tate Gallery, their coffee shop does amazing cake.” It wasn’t quite what Anna had in mind but she knew someone at work who would be thrilled with some Tate Art postcards. “That’s arranged then.”

 

Persuading Blandford to let them have a day “off” was surprisingly easy, especially as Elden was remaining behind and would be available for further questions. Following last night’s conversation in the lounge, Barry was of the opinion that, in concentrating heavily on Elden, Blandford didn’t seem to be making much headway. In contrast, Anna’s ability to listen, notice the detail and ask the right questions meant that she was, he thought, probably close to wrapping it up. As they travelled alone together in the car, it was a good opportunity to catch up.

“Most of the conversation in the lounge last night centred around the Fitness Club. They all seem to be involved in it but they can’t work out what’s going wrong” Barry began. “They are talking about bringing in a forensic accountant to go through all the books.”

“Elden, Robert and Neville have all put a lot of money into the business,” Anna replied. Barry had learned not to be surprised at what she knew, or ask how she knew it. “I would think analysing the accounts is going to give them answers they don’t want to hear. Did they talk about Janice’s involvement?”

“Briefly.” Barry replied. “From what they were saying, Janice and Colin worked together to set it up, drawing up the Business Plan, securing investors and purchasing equipment. I also think Janice was involved in appointing the first staff.”

“Now that is interesting,” Anna responded, “So it is likely that she bought Anthony in? I wonder if Colin knew him before he started working there?”

Barry wasn’t sure how that was relevant. “I’ll see if I can find out today.”

“Also see if you can find out if Janice was still involved in the payroll. It seems to me that Janice was intent on bringing the Fitness Club down,” Anna said thoughtfully. “It is strange after all the work she put in but I think she was manipulating everyone to try to make that happen.”

“Really?” Barry looked even more confused. “Why?”

“I’m not sure, maybe to punish Elden for the failure of their marriage and his siding with his children. She was clearly planning to discredit everyone in the group, one way or another.”

“Clearly,” Barry smiled, knowing that most people would join him in thinking that it wasn’t clear at all.

“I need you to do something for me today Barry, while you are playing golf. It is important but you have to be subtle.” Subtlety had never been Barry’s strong suit. “You are going to have to be observant. Look out for anything that isn’t quite right.”

“That isn’t much to go on,” Barry grumbled.

“I know, but if I tell you what I’m looking for you’ll be too obvious.”

Barry had to concede that his wife knew him well. “OK, I’ll do my best.”

Anna, Rebecca and Indra arrived in St Ives and headed straight for the coffee shop where they discovered that Indra had been right, they did sell amazing cake. Indra chose a huge slab of coffee cake. “I’m having a holiday from being a dentist,” she laughed. It was the first time Anna had really seen her smile and, as Rebecca went off in search of facilities, it seemed an appropriate time to ask Indra. “You are such a close knit group, how did you all meet?”

Indra was pleased to talk about her friends. “Well, Neville and I met at university and the practice opportunity came up in his home town after we graduated so we went for it. Neville, Robert and Elden were all thick as thieves at school along with Colin’s older brother, Jeremy, and that is how they got into golf, they played together as often as they could during the sixth form. How they all managed to get decent A Level results as well, I don’t know.” Anna laughed, pleased that Indra was opening up.

“Elden’s first wife was a local girl, she was lovely but she moved away when Elden’s head was turned by Janice, around the time she first started working with Colin on the Fitness Club.” Indra looked thoughtful, her love of gossip getting the better of her. “I think Colin is driven by the memory of his brother, Neville says it was always Jeremy’s dream to get into sports psychology, he’d accepted a place at Loughborough University.”

“Talking about me?” Rebecca bounded up to the table. “The ladies is miles away,” she laughed “what did I miss?”

Anna interrupted Indra’s denial that she had been the topic of conversation, “How did you meet Robert?”

“Oh, err, how dull, OK, well…” Rebecca seemed completely flummoxed by the question and took a sip of her coffee. “A boyfriend liked to play golf so I hung around in the club house on cold days and met Robert. He was so handsome and wise, a lot older than me of course, and when my boyfriend dumped me for someone else,” she shot a swift cautionary glance at Indra, “Robert was there for me and swept me off my feet.”

“Come on, lets get moving, I want to visit that fudge shop on the front after we’ve been round the gallery.” Indra bustled them all along on their afternoon exploration of St Ives.

“They are good golfers, that is for certain.” Later that night, after an evening meal of Chinese takeaway, courtesy of Neville and Indra, Anna and Barry took a walk down to the beach. Hand in hand, and with the light fading, they reached the sand and paddled in the lapping water. “I must get some more practice in if I want to keep up, Neville’s a left-hander like me but he’s got a much lower handicap.” Anna wasn’t really interested in their golf skills. “There are some things, to report,” he continued, smiling at her obvious impatience. “Firstly, Robert had to buy a new glove, which was odd because I was with him last weekend when he bought one at the club. He looked all through his bag but eventually just went back to the golf shop.” Anna looked thoughtful. “The second thing was that Neville couldn’t find his putter, can’t play without that, but we found it in Robert’s golf bag.”

“In Robert’s bag? Could it have fallen out in the boot room?” Anna asked.

“You tell me, you’re the only klutz when it comes to golf bags, everyone else manages to navigate around them.” Barry chuckled.

“The one and only time I’ve knocked them over, none of the clubs fell out and I didn’t see a glove, no” Anna replied indignantly, although she had to concede that golf bags did seem to throw themselves about when she was near.

“Things are becoming a lot more organised in my head now.” Anna waded a little deeper into the surf. “Janice had such a lot to be angry about, I just wonder who she pushed the hardest.”

“Are we in any danger?” It was the first time the thought had crossed Barry’s mind.

“I don’t think so,” Anna replied. “Of course I wouldn’t want to let the murderer know that they are about to be rumbled, so you might want to be careful what you say but I think this has been in the planning for a while, very clever it is too. We just need a few more strands of evidence to take to Blandford, he has got to be the one that concludes the case.”

“OK,” Barry pulled her away from a larger wave, “I don’t want to lose you, and I think our children would be quite upset,” he joked.

“Who would make your cheese rolls?”

“Quite.” Barry laughed “Disaster.”

School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 1

roseland-beach-and-cliff-1600x900

The house stood high above Porth Temple beach with its secluded golden sands, surrounded on three sides by cliffs made up of a steep grassy incline that was climbable with care. The warm blue waters lapped against the sand, washing up small shells and pebbles, wet and shining with seawater in the bright sunlight. The end of July was the very best time of the year thought Anna as she lay on the beach looking up at the cloudless sky, deep turquoise in the afternoon light. Her hands caressed the warm sand, gently and naturally sloughing off a whole year of school work and making her hands feel cleaner and smoother than they had felt since last September.

“Aren’t you glad we came?” murmured Barry lying beside her. Anna had taken some persuading to come to Cornwall with Barry’s golf club friends, who had cooked up this idea one night in the Members Bar. To them it had seemed like a fabulous idea, renting a large house where they could all unwind, the men could disappear to the local courses and their partners could enjoy the beach and the local amenities. Anna was all for a relaxing break but having spent a year leading the business functions of a large Academy Trust, she wasn’t feeling the most sociable or over keen on a bunch of golf chums dictating her precious holiday!

“It’ll do” she replied with a smile.

The first day of the holiday had been one of unpacking, exploring the house, meeting her holiday-mates and then scrambling down to the beach for an afternoon swim and sunbathe. Anna reflected that she had the kind of skin that didn’t burn easily, but Barry needed lots of protection (and sun cream, she smiled) so she set herself as an example and lathered on the sun cream before settling down on the sand, and to the promise of a wonderful week ahead that was forecast to be unusually warm and sunny, even for Cornwall.

“What do you think of the gang?” Barry asked. He had a tendency to talk and liked to fill any silence, unless of course, the golf, or the rugby, or the cycling, or the snooker, or the darts, or any sport for that matter, was on!

“They seem nice, I haven’t really had chance to get to know them yet. Give me some background.” Anna knew full well that Barry didn’t know them very well either. He wasn’t a committed golfer, just liked the occasional round when the sun was shining, and, in Anna’s view, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time when they all decided to embark on this adventure together.

Barry started absent-mindedly looking through the picnic rucksack searching for anything that might involve cheese. “OK, well Robert is an estate agent, he’s got that popular independent agency in town, you know the one that puts banners on all the traffic light railings. He is married to Rebecca, who also works in the agency. I hear she is a good photographer and takes all the house shots as well as selling more arty images at the craft market.”

“No children?” Anna asked.

“No, don’t think so” Barry almost triumphantly exclaimed as he discovered the cheese rolls at the bottom of the bag. Taking a huge bite he continued. “Then there’s Elden and Janice, I don’t think either of them work. Elden was something in the city and retired early. He told me that they like to spend a week away while the grandparents have their three children. Colin and Anthony both work at the Fitness Club. I think Colin owns it.” Anna gave a wry smile, knowing that Barry hadn’t been near a fitness club since his rugby playing days ended abruptly when his tibia was pushed through his knee cap by a deep depression in the surface of the pitch.

Barry continued to munch on the cheese roll. “Neville and Indra are both dentists.” Barry was pleased to have been able to describe the whole group and looked for approval from his wife. “Anything else you want to know?”

“No I’m sure we’ll get to know them this week”, Anna murmured, beginning to doze, “as long as we don’t have to spend every waking moment with them.”
“I’d like to spend every waking moment with this cheese.” sighed Barry as he polished off the roll and brushed the crumbs onto the sand.

As the afternoon rolled on, the others in the group joined them on the beach to chat and the sun began to sink down towards the horizon. Rebecca had bought the makings of a barbeque with her and the men bravely went off in search of something that might sustain a flame for long enough to char a sausage.

“What do you do Anna?” asked Indra, who Anna had already decided was just a little too nosey for her liking. “I’m the Business Manager in a school.” Anna replied, anticipating the blank looks. “I don’t teach, I support the teaching with finance, personnel, premises management, that sort of thing. The vague looks of her female companions cleared but they went back to gossiping about goings-on in their hometown. Anna was used to this. Just because she loved her job, didn’t mean anyone else would be the least bit interested and they usually weren’t, probably because they didn’t understand. Anna didn’t care, she quite liked being enigmatic.

The hunter gatherers bustled back with their armloads of wood and kindling, all sporting some fabulous splinters, but pleased to have been able to provide for the meal. Rebecca set about lighting the fire and then finally allowed Anna to get it alight before the matches completely ran out. “Resourceful” said Barry proudly, jabbing his wife with a sandy thumb.

The evening sun sank beneath the sea as the barbeque flames licked at the meat. The sausages were edible but Anna was surprised to discover that the dentists were not cooks. The food arrived on her plate already in bite sized pieces as Neville and Indra had hacked it apart trying to ascertain whether it was cooked. As the warmth of the sun dissipated Anna was pleased she had bought her jumper. Living in the middle of UK, she was a practical clothes shopper, if the outfit didn’t go with a cardigan and wellies, it was unlikely she’d get much wear out of it. Even in Cornwall she’d come prepared for the mosquitoes, evening breeze and splinters, but Anna felt sorry as, eventually, the cold got too much for Janice. A small slim woman, like a mouse Anna marvelled, with a pretty but pointy face, short hair and wearing a light summer dress which was doing nothing to keep out the chill. “I’ll go back to the house” she eventually conceded.

“Are you coming back?” Anna didn’t think Elden sounded overly concerned. “No, I’m tired, all this sea air – you stay – I’ll have a bath.” Elden kissed her lightly on the forehead like she was eight years old and Anna grasped Barry’s big hand for reassurance, holding it tight as if to say, “please don’t ever treat me like a china doll.” Barry squeezed back, he knew what she was thinking.

They watched Janice clamber up the cliff and wave at the top, from the beach they could see her enter the house and turn on all the lights, upstairs and down. The building shone like a lighthouse and Anna wondered what the combined wattage was and how that effected the electricity bill, before reminding herself that it wasn’t her problem here.

An hour later, after much getting-to-know-each-other laughter, ably assisted by a couple of bottles of Cotes du Rhone that Anna had been given for helping to organise this years ‘French Exchange’, the evening ended and the group of friends doused the fire and headed back to the house. The lights were still ablaze, guiding them up the cliff towards the front door.

It was locked.

Anna had earlier tucked her key into the rucksack with the cheese rolls so opened the door to let everyone traipse in with sand falling off their clothes and shoes onto the hall carpet which, Anna observed, had been worn bare by the years of abrasion from inconsiderate beachcombers. The house was eerily still and everyone agreed the long day had taken its toll. “To bed!” declared Barry, lifting his wife into his arms and bounding up the stairs.”Goodnight all”, Anna caught the envious gaze of Colin and Anthony at this display of affection but they didn’t see Barry go into their room and dump her unceremoniously onto the bed. “Either I stop doing that or you cease with the school dinners already” Barry smirked, as he pretended to stretch out his back. “Now, where’s my toothbrush?”

Minutes later, the quiet night was shattered by a loud scream from downstairs, interrupting a fruitless search for his toilet bag, Barry and Anna raced downstairs. Elden stood in the kitchen over the body of his wife sprawled on the floor in a congealing pool of dark red blood. She had clearly been dead for quite sometime. Anna automatically went into first aid mode but the large kitchen knife sticking out from between her shoulder blades told Anna that there was little she was going to be able to do to help Janice. “Call 999” Anna hissed at Barry, as he reached for his mobile phone.

“I don’t understand, I came in here for a glass of water” Elden sobbed. “Can you help him? He’s going into shock” Anna looked pointedly at Neville who stood rooted to the spot. “Come on old chap, lets get you into the lounge” Robert took control and stiffly man-handled Elden away from the scene. Anna avoided Barry’s eyes. As a dentist, Anna had expected Neville to be more used to dealing with an emergency. Rebecca followed her husband out of the kitchen looking ashen-faced herself while Neville and Indra continued to make like statues, frozen in time. Colin and Anthony sat heavily onto the kitchen chairs as if their legs could no longer hold up their toned bodies, desperately wrapping their arms around each other, trying unsuccessfully to hold their world together.

In the distance, the wailing sirens drew closer, piercing the night with their harsh lights and sound, announcing the arrival of strangers to their holiday idyll. Anna sighed. This was going to take some explaining. Not just what she knew, but how she knew it.