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Authors: Margaret Yorke

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Cast For Death (5 page)

‘Well, what a surprise,’ she said. ‘Have you had lunch?’

What with one thing and another, Patrick had forgotten about it. At this reminder, he realised that he was hungry. He said so.

‘There’s bread and cheese, and the remains of some ham,’ said Jane. ‘Come and tell me your news.’

Patrick followed her into the house. She had been ironing in the kitchen, and he found a pleasant domestic scene there, with his nephew Andrew, now aged six, colouring in a drawing book at the table, and Miranda, almost two, playing with some wooden bricks. The children welcomed him with flattering joy. Andrew then resumed his task, but Miranda stood staring at Patrick with unblinking concentration.

‘She remembers me,’ he said, with fatuous delight.

‘Of course she does, idiot. She’s seen you a good few times before, though not lately, it’s true,’ said Jane. ‘Sit down and talk to her while I find you something to eat.’

Patrick sat down at the table, facing Andrew, and Miranda at once stood leaning against his knee, still staring. Her unwavering gaze was solemn.

‘What does a child of this age want to discuss?’ he wondered aloud, staring back at her. She was fascinated, though he did not realise it, by her own twin reflections in his spectacles.

‘Show her this book,’ said Andrew helpfully, as one man to another, pushing one across to him. Patrick opened it at a page illustrated with ducks marching in line past some cows, but Miranda shut it firmly. Patrick approved her judgement. Holding her breath, she began to scramble on to his knee and reached out to seize his glasses.

‘Hey, Miranda, don’t do that,’ he protested.

‘Looking windows,’ said Miranda.

‘Yes, they are, but they won’t be if you bash them,’ said Patrick, pleased at this evidence of a possible philologist in the family. ‘Jane, have you got Monday’s
Telegraph?
You do take it, don’t you?’

‘Yes, we do – we may have it still. I’ll look,’ said Jane. ‘Why do you want it?’ She put the loaf, butter, cheese, ham and some tomatoes in front of him. ‘Help yourself,’ she instructed, removing Miranda and setting her back in front of her bricks.

‘To see if it reports a particular news item,’ said Patrick.

‘Keep an eye on this mob, then. The papers are in the shed. An old boy in the village has started collecting them for re-pulping. It’ll be there unless I’ve used it to wrap up rubbish,’ said Jane. She unplugged the iron and put it on top of a cupboard above her head, where Miranda could not reach it, and departed into the garden.

Patrick cut a slice of bread and spread it with butter. It was warm in the kitchen; there was a pile of freshly ironed garments on the dresser beside a vase of cherry blossom, and a smell of baking hung in the air.

‘Watch her!’ warned Andrew, as Miranda set off across the room. ‘She grabs things.’

On Patrick’s last visit, his niece had been imprisoned in a play-pen when Jane was busy; now she seemed perilously free to roam at will.

‘What’s happened to her cage?’ he asked.

‘She grew out of it,’ Andrew said. ‘She screamed if she was put in it. You have to watch her all the time.’

It was true. Patrick snatched her back just as she caught hold of the ironing-board which would have collapsed on top of her, and held her securely until Jane returned with the newspaper.

‘This child’s not safe, left loose,’ he said.

‘Andrew’s a good watchdog,’ said Jane.

‘But you can’t let her out of your sight for a minute,’ said Patrick.

‘You can when she’s asleep,’ Jane said.

‘You must get exhausted,’ said Patrick, for the first time dimly comprehending the demands made by a young family.

‘Oh, she plays for hours,’ Jane said. ‘She’s very good. Here, Miranda, let Patrick eat his lunch. You go back to your bricks.’

Reluctantly, muttering to herself on a crooning note, Miranda obeyed, and Jane handed Patrick the paper.

‘Here it is. This is Monday’s,’ she said.

‘Ah, good. Bless you. I thought this would be the easiest way to get hold of it,’ said Patrick artlessly.

‘So that’s why you graced us with this visit. I had wondered,’ said Jane, lifting down the iron and plugging it in once more. ‘What’s this newsworthy item that isn’t in
The
Times,
then?’

‘I’ll show you, if I can find it,’ said Patrick, and looked at the columns on the front page while he continued to eat. ‘I should think it will be somewhere inside.’

There was silence for some minutes while he glanced through the pages, pausing to read the reports on the Midlands art robbery; a photograph showed the owner lamenting his loss and police investigations were continuing.

‘Ah, here we are,’ Patrick said at last. ‘There, Jane. Didn’t you notice it?’ And he pointed to a few lines at the foot of the centre page.

Jane came over to read it.

 

A body found in the Thames on Friday night has been identified as being that of the actor Sam Irwin. Mr Irwin, 44, was currently appearing in Macbeth at the Fantasy Theatre

 

ran the item.

‘Oh! But that’s your friend! The man you met in Greutz!’ she exclaimed.

‘What is it? Can I see?’ demanded Andrew, coming round the table to have a look.

‘It’s nothing you’d be interested in,’ said Patrick hastily.

‘A friend of Patrick’s has had an accident,’ Jane told him.

‘Oh! Is he dead?’

Andrew’s bluntness disconcerted Patrick.

‘Er—yes, he is,’ he replied.

‘Car?’

‘No. He fell in the river.’

‘I can swim,’ said Andrew. ‘A bit, that is,’ he qualified.

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Patrick.

‘Out, now. Into the garden with you both,’ said Jane briskly.

‘Let me just finish this bit,’ said Andrew, carefully filling in the ear of a tiger in the book before him.

‘Come on, Miranda, let’s get your boots on,’ said Jane. ‘You can go out and rake the grass for Daddy.’

Patrick watched while the children were bundled into anoraks and rubber boots and turned out into the garden. Jane closed the gate to the road.

‘It’s comparatively safe now,’ she said. ‘Andrew is very sensible. He keeps an eye on her. Luckily she loves dragging that toy rake up and down. I’ll make some coffee. Have you had enough to eat?’

‘Yes, thanks,’ said Patrick.

‘What is all this about Sam Irwin?’ Jane asked. ‘I never noticed that piece in the paper. But it might not have meant anything to me, even if I had. They don’t say much about him, do they?’

‘Perhaps there will be more after the final inquest,’ Patrick said. ‘But Sam wasn’t very well-known. I was there when he was fished out of the river, although I didn’t realise at the time who it was.’

‘Oh, Patrick, no! Not again! Not another mystery death!’

‘I don’t know. But I’m curious,’ Patrick said. He told her what had happened, and about the owner of the poodle.

‘The
Telegraph
for Monday was beside her. That’s why I wanted to read it,’ he said.

‘You think there’s some connection?’

‘I don’t know. It could have been something else in the paper that upset her. Another death, one in the ordinary columns. Or it could have been just chance that the paper was there in her room,’ said Patrick. ‘But no one seems to know what really happened to Sam, so I’m going to find out if he knew this woman, if I can. She was interested in the theatre, the neighbour said. Neither of them left notes, which is odd. People tend to, when they intentionally kill themselves. It’s a coincidence that needs to be investigated.’

‘Why don’t you just ask the police?’

‘I don’t want to make a fuss without cause. This woman’s death is bad enough without stirring things up unnecessarily. She was going to move, any day now. It seems a funny time to commit suicide.’

‘It does, rather,’ said Jane. ‘Maybe she couldn’t face the thought of moving.’

‘It was her own choice, Mrs Barry said. That’s the neighbour.’

‘I see.’

Jane never liked it when her brother embarked on ferreting out the answers to what puzzled him, but he had an uncanny instinct for recognising when intervention was justified. He seemed to attract crime as others attracted runs of good or bad luck. It would be typical of him to run over not just any harmless poodle, but one connected with some sort of mystery.

‘How can I find out what happens at the inquest on Tina Willoughby?’ he asked now.

‘By going to it, I should think,’ said Jane.

‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ Patrick did not want to show too much interest. ‘I suppose you couldn’t pop over?’

‘I certainly could not,’ said Jane.

Patrick thought of the talkative neighbour. She would be sure to attend; she might have to give evidence of finding the body. He could call on her again. By the time he returned from Stratford-upon-Avon he would have decided on a plan. He said so to Jane.

‘Are you going to the theatre already? Has the season begun?’ she asked. ‘Oh, it must have, I suppose. It’s Miranda’s birthday soon. Don’t forget it, will you?’

Miranda had been born on Shakespeare’s birthday, and Patrick approved of her name, though at the time he had said that if she were a boy he hoped he would have been called, if not William, then George, after the saint whose day it was also, rather than, for example, Orlando.

‘I’m not planning to go to the theatre,’ he said.

 

2

 

The third estate agent whom Patrick consulted in Stratford- upon-Avon was the one who had sold a house to Tina Willoughby. It was too late, after he left Jane, for him to get there before their offices closed, but he left Oxford early the next morning and arrived soon after nine-thirty. As he drove out of Oxford through the incoming traffic he gave hearty thanks that living in college saved him from this daily grind; what with the bus lanes, the long one-way detours and the new shopping precincts, Oxford was sadly changed.

He was hoping to bluff the relevant estate agent into providing the information he sought, since he had no authority to ask for it; the news of Tina’s death might not have reached them yet, house-buying being, as he knew, a protracted procedure. He had thought of posing as an interior decorator with an appointment to view the place but who had lost the address; however, he decided that he did not look the part. Instead, he said that he was passing through the town on his way home after a week’s absence, and had arranged to meet Tina there, but could not remember where it was, adding that he had been unable to contact her on the telephone. In this way he was covered if the agent knew of her death; he would be told, and in the ensuing lamentations the address would certainly be divulged.

How very much simpler things were for the police, he reflected; they had only to ask. But they could not carry out searches and so forth without warrants, when sometimes a lay person could nose his way in and just look about in an innocent manner.

A thin, pale girl gave him the address without demur; she made no mention of the tragedy.

The house was about four miles from Stratford-upon- Avon, in a village that bordered the river. It was thatched, with a lawn running down to the water’s edge, and apple trees almost in bud in the garden. He had wondered if the former owner would still be there, but it was empty. If the sale had not been completed there might now be some legal wrangle; it would be tough on the vendor if he were to lose the sale through Tina’s death. Patrick prowled around, peering in at the windows. The rooms were low and beamed, the windows leaded. It had been well restored but looked in need of paint; the various plants climbing the walls were overgrown and wanted trimming. The main structure was very old; standing as it did near the bridge over the river it could well have been a pub once, and Patrick allowed himself to imagine that Shakespeare might have called there for some ale.

He pondered how to proceed.

There was a pub in the village, but it was not yet open; however, there was a shop selling groceries two or three hundred yards further on. He entered it, found it to be of the old-fashioned sort with human service behind a counter, and waited patiently for his turn; then he bought a jar of instant coffee and some biscuits, which would always come in handy. As he paid, he said casually: ‘I noticed an empty cottage down by the river. It’s very pretty. Do you know if it’s for sale? I’ve got a friend who’s looking for a place just like that.’

There was instant reaction from everyone in the shop.

‘That’ll be Pear Tree Cottage, Joss Ruxton’s place,’ came the first answer.

‘Sold, it is. You’re too late.’

‘A lady from down London way’s bought it.’

The answers came from all sides, but the one name registered with Patrick. Joss Ruxton, an actor who had played at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with notable success for several seasons, was at present in the company at the Fantasy in London and Patrick had seen his performance as Macbeth on the night when Sam’s body was found.

‘Well, do you know of any other houses round about?’ Patrick stuck to his cover.

He was told of one.

‘Not in such good order, it isn’t,’ said someone. ‘He was keen on the garden.’

‘It’s rather overgrown,’ Patrick remarked.

‘Bound to be. Left without clearing it up, they did.’

‘Used to have rare old parties down on the river,’ said a stout woman.

‘Is his wife an actress too?’ asked Patrick.

‘She wasn’t his wife, dear,’ said the woman. ‘But ever so sweet.’

Patrick departed at last, having learned that Joss’s mistress had left before the end of the season to film in Spain, after which things had not seemed quite the same at Pear Tree Cottage. Joss had gone before the season finished completely with a play in which he had no part. It seemed he owned a house in London too.

Patrick went back to have a more thorough look at the cottage; his interest in it had now been explained and he was unlikely to be challenged if anyone saw him prowling around. Peering through the kitchen window he saw an electric kettle on the drainer, beside a clean, empty milk bottle, and a garden chair, unfolded, in the centre of the room. Someone had been picnicking here: was it Tina? He went into the garage, which seemed to have no lock. There were tyre marks on the dusty floor and a pile of old sacks in a corner.

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