Read Cast For Death Online

Authors: Margaret Yorke

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Cast For Death (4 page)

‘What? Oh, very well.’ Patrick, who had briefly forgotten why he was here because he had been so surprised to find himself reading what seemed to be
The Merry Wives
of Windsor
couched in romantic Italian, put the book hastily back and sat down on the sofa, a loose-cushioned, comfortable one, but shabby. ‘Had he lived here long?’ he asked the sergeant.

‘Two years. Didn’t you know?’

‘No. The last time I saw him was in Oxford about a year ago – he was on tour with a play. I never knew his home address,’ said Patrick.

‘Your full name and address, sir, please,’ said the sergeant, becoming formal and Patrick supplied it.

‘St Mark’s College, Oxford? Then it was you who helped Detective Inspector Smithers with that Greek art job,’ said the sergeant.

‘You could put it that way,’ agreed Patrick wryly. ‘But how do you know about it? You’re not from Scotland Yard, are you?’

‘No, sir. I have my contacts,’ said the other impressively. ‘Bruce, my name is, sir. I suppose it was through Detective Inspector Smithers that you knew where to come today, as you didn’t know the home address of the deceased.’

‘Quite right,’ said Patrick, who was still taking in the details of Sam’s room.

‘Not very luxurious, is it, sir?’ remarked the sergeant. ‘But these actors – up one minute and down the next. I’d never heard of him – not by name, that is – but I’d seen him on telly. That pays well, I think.’

‘I imagine so. But unless you’re in a series, it’s not very steady,’ said Patrick. ‘He wasn’t well known – he just never quite made it. But he was a very good actor.’

‘Fond of music.’ The sergeant waved a hand at the equipment and pointed to a long row of records.

‘He was a cultivated man,’ said Patrick. It was dreadful to be talking about Sam in the past tense like this.

‘We’re having a problem finding out about friends,’ said Sergeant Bruce.

‘Can’t they help you at the theatre?’

‘Not really. No one saw him much away from there – he used to vanish after performances, it seems. But no one had any harsh words to say about him.’

‘I’m not surprised. He was far from harsh himself – he wouldn’t provoke a harsh reaction in others,’ said Patrick. ‘He was a quiet, self-contained man, not at all like one’s notion of an actor, performing both on and off the stage. What was he going to do when the season ended at the Fantasy? It has only a short time to run, I think.’

‘Oh—has it? I didn’t know about that,’ said Bruce, making a note. “The superintendent may, of course.’

So a superintendent was paying attention to this case: well, that was routine, no doubt.

‘What do you think happened?’ Patrick asked. He had better keep quiet about what he already knew, since perhaps Colin should not have told him.

‘Looks like suicide, on the face of things,’ said Bruce.

‘You’re taking a lot of trouble, then.’

‘There are some puzzling features,’ said Bruce. ‘Do you know if the deceased could swim?’

‘I’ve not the faintest idea, but I’d imagine so. Can’t most people, after a fashion?’

‘Not at all. You’d be surprised how many can’t,’ said Bruce. ‘Particularly older people. Most kids get a chance to learn these days.’

‘Hm.’ How old was an older person?

‘Perhaps you’d tell me how you met the deceased?’ prompted Bruce.

‘Oh, it was in Austria, about four years ago,’ said Patrick. ‘In a little place called Greutz. The village got cut off by avalanches from the rest of the world. We both happened to be staying there at the time.’

‘Ah yes. Not much you can do, cut off like that, is there?’ said Bruce.

‘Not a lot, no,’ agreed Patrick. But the experience had been far from uneventful. Sam, at the time, had shown unexpected resource by playing the piano for dancing when a power failure had put the discotheque out of action. ‘Why should he commit suicide?’ he asked now. ‘Were there bills all over the place? He seems to have been well ahead with the rent.’

‘No. There’s no sign of any serious debts,’ said the sergeant. ‘But this isn’t much of a place.’

‘Is there just this one room?’

‘Yes. He shared a bathroom on the landing below with two other tenants. No proper cooking facilities either – only that ring in the grate.’ The sergeant indicated a gas ring on the hearth. Then he got up and opened a cupboard. ‘He kept his stores here.’

Patrick saw sugar, a jar of instant coffee, a tin of soup, a packet of Earl Grey tea and one or two oddments. It was not unlike his own small store at St Mark’s.

‘I expect he ate out most of the time. He wouldn’t want to cook after the performance,’ he said. ‘And then he was away on tour quite often. Keeping a better place might have been uneconomical.’

‘Maybe he toured to get away from it.’

‘He toured because he took what work was offered, you’ll find,’ said Patrick. ‘It’s all clean and well kept.’

The walls were painted grey, and the curtains were a faded jade colour; an elephant-coloured haircord covered the floor, with a worn rug on it in front of the fireplace. The decor seemed more likely to be Sam’s choice than that of his gaudy landlady.

‘It’s drab,’ said the sergeant. ‘Not artistic.’

‘You’re disappointed because he was an actor and didn’t live in a Habitat setting, Sergeant Bruce,’ said Patrick. ‘It’s anonymous, certainly, but Sam was like that; he was quiet, fading into the background. He took colour from the parts he played and then came to life.’ Was that the only time? Had Sam lived only vicariously through his acting? ‘Have you found any photographs?’ Patrick asked.

‘No, not one. There’s no sign of a girlfriend – or a boyfriend, come to that,’ said Bruce.

‘If there is anyone they’ll show up soon, won’t they?’ Patrick suggested. ‘Weeping, and what-not?’

‘I would expect so. If you think of anyone – or of anything else that might be helpful – will you get in touch with me at the station?’ said Bruce. ‘I’ll give you the number to ring.’

‘Of course I will, sergeant.’

Sergeant Bruce opened a drawer in a small cabinet and took from it a bottle of capsules, blue bullets, instantly recognisable.

‘You know what these are, don’t you, sir?’

‘Indeed yes. Sodium amytal.’

‘Right. If I’d these, and wanted to commit suicide, I’d take the lot, not jump in the river. Wouldn’t you?’

‘Er—yes. Yes, I suppose I would.’ The question was a difficult one for Patrick to answer; though he often found life disappointing, he had never seriously thought of denying its challenge. ‘Perhaps he didn’t intend to commit suicide,’ he said.

‘Exactly, sir.’

Patrick had better not mention the marks on Sam’s wrists, or the fibres under his nails.

‘An accident, you mean?’ he said.

‘A gesture – a cry for help,’ said Sergeant Bruce reflectively.

If he thought that, then he was ignoring the marks and the fibres too.

‘Not just before a performance,’ said Patrick. ‘He was too professional. I know what you mean – I’ve seen it in Oxford, more than once. But Irwin would have waited until the play’s run ended.’ And he would not succumb to an attack of nerves at the end of a run, surely: the start, when he was perhaps unsure of his own ability, would be a more likely time. Besides, he would never have contrived the binding of his own wrists and ankles in a bid for help and sympathy. No, he’d snap completely, or not at all. ‘Well, I’ll let you get on,’ Patrick added. ‘I’m sure you’ll soon get to the bottom of it, sergeant. We’ll meet again, I hope.’

‘I hope so, sir, I’m sure,’ said Bruce.

‘Oh—and give my regards to Inspector Smithers, if you’re in contact with him again,’ Patrick said blithely. Let Colin sweat, wondering what he had revealed of his privileged knowledge. Sergeant Bruce had been very forthcoming, on account, no doubt, of the fact that he had heard of Patrick before. But why did Colin know so much about the case himself when it was not a Yard matter?

 

2

 

Because he was already so close to the M4 motorway, Patrick left London by that route instead of joining the M40, up which he and Manolakis had come that morning. As he drove towards the turning for Marlow he remembered the poodle. By now, the owner might have been traced; it would be civil to stop, find out, and call to apologise for causing the death of the dog. Accordingly, he turned off the main road and went to the police station where he had reported the incident.

The constable who had been on duty then was behind the desk, and remembered the event.

‘We’ve discovered the owner, sir,’ he told Patrick. ‘A Mrs Tina Willoughby. She lived on the common near where the accident happened.’

‘Lived? Has she gone away? Did she move and abandon the dog?’

‘Not exactly, sir. She’s dead.’

‘Dead? She died recently, you mean?’

‘She was found yesterday, dead in bed,’ said the policeman. ‘We think the dog had been roaming wild.’

‘Oh dear,’ said Patrick. ‘How sad. Was she an old lady?’

‘No, sir. Not much above forty,’ said the policeman. ‘She’d been dead some time when she was found,’ he volunteered. ‘The dog must have got shut out of the house when she was taken ill.’

‘She lived alone?’ She must have, if she had lain dead for several days before being found.

‘Yes, sir,’ said the policeman, who was young and sometimes too enthusiastic to be wholly discreet. ‘The inquest’s tomorrow,’ he added.

‘What did you say her address was?’ Patrick asked.

‘I don’t think I mentioned it, sir,’ said the policeman. ‘But the house was called Strangeways.’

‘I see,’ said Patrick. ‘Well, I hope the death of the dog had nothing to do with her death. People get very attached to their pets.’

‘I think you can set your mind at rest about that, sir. She died first.’

He seemed certain. Patrick thanked him again and left. Simple curiosity made him seek out the house, Strangeways, and a few minutes later he stopped the MGB outside it, a long, low, white-painted house at the end of a cul-de-sac on the edge of the common. There was no sign of anyone about, but he got out of the car, walked up to the door, and rang the bell. Some relative might be there, clearing things up, and Patrick still felt he owed someone an apology about the dog.

There was no response, so he turned away and was just lowering himself back into the car when a short woman in her mid-forties, with jet black hair, wearing white trousers and a black suede fringed waistcoat, appeared from the house next door.

‘There’s no one in,’ she said.

‘So I see,’ said Patrick.

‘You’re not a relative, are you? Of Tina’s I mean.’

‘No, I’m not,’ said Patrick.

‘I thought not – just a friend. Well, you’re in for a shock, then. Won’t you come in for a minute, and I’ll tell you about it?’

She was clearly bursting to talk; Patrick wondered if she made a habit of inviting unknown males into the house. He entered warily, lest she pounce on him.

But all she did was to sink down on an elegant, high- backed chair and indicate that he should sit on a brocade- covered settee facing her.

‘Tina is dead,’ said the woman. ‘Suicide. She took sleeping pills – a whole bottle, I believe. She was found yesterday – she’d been dead several days. And her dog’s disappeared. Funny how animals know, isn’t it.’

‘Disappeared?’ said Patrick, bowled over by this torrent of speech.

‘Quite vanished. She had a poodle – a black one. Quite a nice little beast. It was nowhere to be found when they took her away.’

This theory of suicide explained the policeman’s reticence.

‘Why would she want to commit suicide?’ Patrick asked.

‘I can’t imagine. She seemed to have enough money – men friends, for ever changing. Everything she could want.’

‘Lonely, perhaps? But you say she had friends—’ Patrick let the question trail off.

‘She was divorced. Well—you knew that, didn’t you? She still had her looks. Men came here from time to time.’ She looked at Patrick consideringly as she said this. He was a man, and he was here. ‘Of course you knew she was moving – she’s sold Strangeways, and she was due to move soon – next week, I think.’

‘I—er—oh yes,’ said Patrick, studying the deep carpet on which his feet rested.

‘I can’t think why she wanted to leave here. But she’s crazy about the theatre – must have got an actor boyfriend, I suppose.’

‘The theatre?’

‘She’s moving to Stratford-on-Avon. Or was, I should say. You knew, surely? Or hadn’t she told you?’

‘Well—er—no – she hadn’t, as a matter of fact.’ Patrick had got himself thoroughly enmeshed now. He hurried on. ‘Did she leave a note? Who found her?’

‘The milkman. Found Tuesday’s bottle still on the doorstep. No, there wasn’t a note. At least, I didn’t see one.’

So this interested neighbour had been in the house hot on the heels of the milkman. How had they entered? Patrick waited, and sure enough his curiosity was soon satisfied.

‘I knew where she kept a key, you see, outside. In the shed. She’d locked herself out once or twice by mistake. She hadn’t put up the chain on the door – we got in easily. It was rather surprising, that. She usually bolted it, too.’

‘And she’d taken sleeping pills?’

‘Yes. There she lay – quite tidy – just the newspaper thrown down on the floor beside her.’

‘The newspaper?’

‘The
Telegraph,
it was. I noticed particularly. She always took it.’

Patrick’s glance, when he entered the room, had taken in two papers, neatly folded, on a coffee table. He focused on them now:
The Times
and the
Daily Mail,
his and hers, he supposed.

‘For which day?’

‘Monday, of course. It was on Monday night that she did it. I suppose she read the paper in bed while she waited for the pills to work. It seems funny, though. I don’t think I’d want to read the paper at a time like that.’

It did seem funny. What would one do under such circumstances? Read poetry or the Bible? Or listen to the radio? Patrick could not imagine himself in such a situation.

 

Part IV
1

 

Jane Conway recognised the sound of her brother’s car as it turned in at the gate and drew up in front of the house. She had not seen Patrick for some weeks, so she went out to meet him as he unfolded himself out of the MGB.

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