Detective Chief Inspector Iain Scott pulled into the long driveway leading up to the manor. It was so long he could not even see the house yet, but he expected to see it after every new twist or turn in the road. This was an impressive estate. Its upkeep had to be very costly, even though a good deal of the property consisted of woodland and shrubbery. He had been told the owner was extremely wealthy, though. Or rather, he had been wealthy, for he was now dead.
He had been called onto this case last night and had made it over here first thing in the morning. The body would already be gone, but presumably local police had done their jobs and photographed the scene of the crime in such a way that it was useful to him. There had not been any point in going there at night.
He remembered what he had been told the night before. Nigel Hargreaves, millionaire, had been found dead in his bath when he failed to show up for dinner. Someone had pushed an electrical appliance into the bath -- Jacuzzi, Scott corrected himself -- probably not by accident.
Hargreaves was too notorious for accidents to happen to him. When a rich and famous man died under unusual circumstances one always had to be suspicious. Greed, jealousy and power were strong motives. Besides, accidents like this rarely happened. Adults knew it was dangerous to have electrical appliances close to the bath.
The man had a daughter, if he recalled correctly. Occasionally the pair made it into the tabloids, but he read those even less occasionally. He had even forgotten the daughter's name. She was probably at the house as well, because apparently there were several guests staying there. He wondered if the daughter inherited the fortune. That would be someone with a motive then, depending on her current financial situation. It would be something he had to look into for certain. Nevertheless, even if she had money of her own she would never have quite as much as her father and some people always wanted more.
Next to him, Detective Sergeant Lisa Randall whistled when the manor came into view. "Quite spectacular, sir. Don't you agree? Staying there must be as good as at a hotel." She looked at the impressive building in admiration, pleased they were going to sleep there rather than at the old village inn, an arrangement made by the local constabulary. This was certainly going to be more luxurious.
"And it possibly houses a murderer," Scott said pleasantly, to remind his assistant of the fact that she was on a job and not on a paid holiday. "The murderer is very likely going to be a guest, because he or she was aware of when dinner is served and when is the best time to murder people in their baths without being disturbed. An outsider would have chosen another place."
DS Randall shifted comfortably in her seat as she thought of other matters. "I'm in no danger. I haven't done anything. Do you think every room will have a Jacuzzi?" She dreamt away thinking of bubble baths and comfortable beds.
"You won't have time to sit in one, Randall. We have work to do," Scott said in a stern voice. In fact, he had only agreed to the sleeping arrangements because it reduced the chances of any particulars of the investigation leaking out to the locals and worse, to the press. It was to be as low-key as possible. He would not have opted to stay among the suspects had another option been available. There was something to be said for keeping some distance between them.
She groaned when she was forced to return to reality. "You're such a slave driver, sir. Half an hour in the tub is not going to harm the case. In fact, it might refresh me so much that I'll do a much better job." It was worth a try, not that the DCI was stupid enough to fall for it. He was not often stupid.
Scott said nothing. He never did, though he did not mind that his partner more than made up for his silence with her cheerful chattering. It helped to pass the time during long drives and during investigations they had even established a pleasant and well-working routine in which she gave her opinion first and he would respond if he did not agree. He did not consider it speaking before her turn, contrary to the police officer she had first partnered.
The local lad was not too happy to hand over the investigation, the biggest thing that had ever happened on his turf, but he realised he had very little choice because of his rank and he was therefore fairly co-operative. DCI Scott thanked him for his efforts so far. The local police would be needed later for the smaller tasks. They had been told to assist him, he was informed, so it was imperative to keep them motivated. As this location was a bit out of the way, only he and Randall had been dispatched.
So far the locals had done good work and could even tell him that none of the guests had any clue as to who had done it. A brief look at the scene of the crime showed them that there would be very few clues. The murder weapon, if one could call it that, was clear. Someone had come in and pushed it into the bath. Either the murderer had known it was there, or he had used it on impulse.
At any rate, the fact that Hargreaves had been found in his bath pointed to someone who was familiar with the house. The murderer could not have found the right room by accident, what with all the guests staying here. There was nothing that distinguished one door from another, although the interiors were presumably different. Hargreaves' room would be a bit more luxurious than his guestrooms. Scott did not think all rooms would look like this.
The murderer would have had to come through the door, but then there were two stairways he could have used. The outside doors would be open during the day with so many guests walking in and out. He could have taken many different routes.
Anyone could have walked in, but why would they take that risk? Anyone could tell from the number of cars parked beside the house that it had to be full of people. The house was not large enough to make the risk of running into them negligible, unless one knew precisely where they were and when they were likely to move. A guest, on the other hand, would have an easier time moving through the house unseen and, what was more important, unsuspected.
The guests had been told to stay on the premises and to assemble in the sitting room, so that the police might call them for questioning. Their names and some details had already been taken down on a list and Scott glanced over it. Seven guests. Three members of staff living in. Two members of staff living in the village. He ignored the staff for the time being. Two girls had already gone home when the murder had taken place and the three others had been busy in the kitchen. In all likeliness they had been too busy cooking for all those guests to venture out. Besides, why would they settle a dispute in the bathroom of their employer?
"We'll take the guests first," he said to Randall after taking a quick look at the crime scene. It seemed a fairly straightforward murder, certainly no accident. "And do the staff later."
An added consideration for using this order was that the staff might have acquaintances among the village population to whom they might reveal particulars, after which the villagers might sell their story to the press and the entire investigation would be ruined by media attention. Assuming that interrogating the guests would give him a better idea of what had happened, he would instruct the staff accordingly later on. He could not yet foresee which possible complications lay beneath the surface. What if one or more of the well-known guests had been involved in some feud with the deceased? It would be a feast for the sensation-loving media if that leaked out.
Randall ran her finger along the list. "Yes, sir. Looking at these names, I can imagine that such guests would become impatient to leave if we didn't hurry and their goodwill might disappear, assuming they have any in the first place. Don't you recognise a few of these names?" She knew a few of them by name. Some regularly appeared on television and equally regularly in the tabloids. She held out the list to him.
"I'm not into pop culture as much as you are, Sergeant." DCI Scott did not care if the guests were famous and he refused to look at the sheet. Someone had been killed, possibly murdered, and that rendered anyone in the house a suspect. Whatever they did for a living did not matter. He would never be able to talk about them with such reverence as Randall.
"So you do," she concluded. And he had already read those names. "Otherwise you wouldn't have know they were pop culture names. They could have been politicians or athletes. Which one shall we take on first?" She wished for one of the well-known ones first. That might satisfy her curiosity about them temporarily. Naturally she was interested in seeing what those people were like. They were probably going to be very normal. They could never do right anyway, being blamed for not being ordinary and disappointing people if they were.
Scott sighed, hoping Randall would not listen to everyone in admiration, thereby abandoning the usual critical attitude he encouraged. She might even forget to take notes while she was listening in rapt attention to a celebrity. "The daughter, of course. And Randall...do you think you could view them as murder suspects and not as celebrities?"
Randall looked offended. Of course she could. She knew when to be professional. She was not a groupie.
"They're not my cup of tea, Randall," he said in response to her look. He knew he was probably harder on them than he ought to be.
"I'm aware of your principled objections to celebrities, sir." The man did not even watch television! He was very, very strict.
"Principled," he scoffed. "That is not the right word." He did not have any objections to what he called well-adjusted celebrities, but it was a fact that most of them had lost sight of what it was to be well-adjusted. Some had their priorities all mixed up. That was their own business, of course, but he could not respect or admire someone just because he happened to be famous.
He would much rather have Randall remain objective and critical as well. One of these people might be a murderer.
Nigel Hargreaves had had one child from a brief marriage to an actress. The child, by the name of Poppy, had always lived abroad with her mother until a place at a classy boarding school had been purchased for her. She had finished her education at the school and taken a liking to the life her father was leading. She had never returned to her mother.
Nigel had settled down somewhat over time and having a pretty daughter to show off and to accompany him to parties and gatherings had been more attractive to him in middle age than when he had been younger. Perhaps he also derived some satisfaction from the role of magnanimous benefactor. Consequently he had taken Poppy under his wings. Patiently he sponsored everything she embarked on, but her only talents were her beauty and her ability to find famous boyfriends, and more than one venture failed.
With a little training Nigel had thought she might do well on television. He had connections in that business. Poppy was in for anything that would allow her to continue her present lifestyle without any effort, so she had embraced the idea eagerly, thinking that appearing on television could never be hard work -- she conveniently forgot that her mother had to learn lines. In the past year she had had to take various useful courses, with varying degrees of success, for Poppy did not like studying and practising, even if it was practising how to walk. The more effort it cost her, the more likely she was to give it up.
Some of the courses had rubbed off anyhow, because she walked into the room quite elegantly and sat down looking studiously bored, but her pink mini skirt was hardly an appropriate outfit for a girl who had just lost her father under unforeseen circumstances. It was probably very stylish, but one would have expected something longer and something black.
"My condolences, Miss Hargreaves," said Scott, even if he did not think for a second that the girl was grieving. There was not a trace of sadness in her face, not even of shock, only a calculatingly appraising look, one that he had seen before. He was male, after all, and had to be checked out. A look at Randall showed him that she had the same impression of Poppy as he did -- a selfish, spoilt and flirtatious girl, not a splendid first impression to make for a person. Randall was more radical in her impressions of other women than he was, of course, because she was female, but nevertheless they were on the same track here. She could be pretty, but personally he did not like spoilt and heartless girls.
Poppy unsuccessfully faked a sob. "Thank you. I'm so very sad that I'm not sure I'm very capable of answering any questions." She rubbed at her dry eyes.
If she was hoping this act would let her off the hook, she was wrong. DCI Scott was not impressed. This was not the first time he was interviewing a suspect. A lot of them had things in common and perhaps they did not realise that when they tried to fool him. She was not the first to act and it was too bad for her that she had not inherited her mother's acting talent. He was not buying any of this and he wondered if he could muster up enough politeness. "Just try, if you please. Could you tell us what happened last night from ... let's say tea time when you were all still together until your father was found at dinner time? What did you do?"
Poppy screwed up her face, as if thinking cost her a great and unnecessary effort that she really was unwilling to make, but that she made nonetheless to do him a favour. "Oh, I think we all had tea. Dad told Maggie to put me through some more horrific diction stuff, so Maggie and I went to the library and I had to recite the same poem over and over again. I hate Maggie. She's a real witch."
"Maggie?" Scott checked the list of guests that he had been given. There had not been a Maggie on it if he remembered correctly. There was a Margaret, however. "Would that be Margaret Maxwell?" He knew her name and reputation, despite not following what he called pop culture, and despite the fact that there might be more than one Margaret Maxwell in this world. Outspoken and sharp, she had risen to fame when those characteristics had become popular on television and shows had acquired an edge, but he had never actually seen her in action. Randall would have. He would ask her. All he knew about Margaret Maxwell was that she presented programmes and that she was some sort of acidly cynical critic. He had no idea what she looked like or how old she was. Interestingly her profession was not listed.
"Yes, that's her. She's awful. In real life she's even worse than on TV," Poppy complained, evidently assuming he knew what Margaret Maxwell was like on television.
Given the lady's critical reputation, he could very well imagine that Margaret Maxwell would not be Poppy Hargreaves' best friend. There was plenty to criticise about the girl. Why then had Hargreaves put them together? "Why does she make you recite poems?" What was she? Was reciting poems one of her skills? And was she known as Maggie or Margaret? The abbreviation hinted either at more familiarity, or it was meant sarcastically.
"Because she loves to make other people's life hell, you know? I don't see the point, so there isn't any point. I wonder why Dad pays her." Poppy managed to convey her feelings of dissatisfaction very well. She also managed to convey her feelings of utter dislike.
"He pays her?" He wondered why she used the present tense. The man was dead. He could no longer pay anyone. It made some sense, though, that someone would not take pains to instruct Poppy if there was not a sizeable financial compensation attached. It could not be fun. But why would Hargreaves have paid Margaret Maxwell to tutor Poppy? And why was she doing it? He thought she was a presenter or maybe an actress, not a teacher of sorts. No profession was listed.
"It was his idea that she train me or something. He thinks she's a grand presenter and she'd be good at teaching me the ropes. But all she does is say that I'm bad at everything. I swear she had a nose job. And she's Scottish."
"What has that got to do with anything?" Scott inquired rather bluntly. He supposed Poppy would think there was a connection, even if he did not see one and very certainly never would.
Poppy seemed indignant at his blunt dismissal of her remark. She should be believed. "She's not naturally pretty. She's an evil witch." It was not clear whether that was supposed to be connected to her previous comments.
He would like to decide that for himself, although he always kept other opinions in mind when he made a decision. Poppy's, however, was one he would not rely on. The magazines were things he did not believe in either. He would go by his own impression and let her remarks about Margaret rest for a second. "I see. What did you do after reciting the poem?" He did not suppose they had stayed for a cosy chat. It was a miracle that Margaret Maxwell had not been the victim here, for all the hostility that Poppy Hargreaves exuded.
"I went upstairs to dress. Maggie probably went to kill Dad because she was sick of me. She mentioned that." Poppy failed at looking innocent. She was very aware of what she was saying and whom she was accusing.
Scott raised his eyebrows. "She mentioned wanting to kill him?" That was something he could not imagine. If she was a normal woman she should have expressed the desire to kill Poppy first, if she had felt any desire to kill anyone at all.
"No, being sick of me, but that's the same thing, isn't it?"
It was better to ask Margaret Maxwell herself about that, so he let the accusation pass. It was more significant that Poppy had tried to frame Margaret, than that Margaret might have said she was sick of Poppy. Anyone would have felt the latter and some would even have voiced it. "Where did she go?"
Poppy's face expressed utter boredom again. "No idea. Do you think we're friends or anything? I ran away from her as soon as I could and I didn't see her till I went down for dinner. She was whispering to Arthur then, probably to complain about me. They're both not too nice to me, you know."
It figured that the world revolved around her. Scott checked his guest list again. That had to be Arthur Moss, TV executive. He wondered if Arthur was also being paid to launch Poppy's television career. Hargreaves had the money to buy his daughter a job. Somehow it would not surprise him. And if Arthur Moss was not too nice to Poppy it might even be understandable if he was under pressure. "What time was that?"
She shrugged her shoulders elegantly. "Oh, just before dinner. We dine at a quarter past seven."
"What time did you go upstairs?" He had not got a definite time for that yet. The instruction might have been fairly short. She might have had plenty of time to do her own thing.
She began to be annoyed with questions that asked too much of her memory. That was quite visible. "I don't know. Is that important?"
"Yes, Miss Hargreaves."
"I don't remember. If we have tea at three-thirty, we'd finish at four, wouldn't you say? And then I stayed with Margaret for as short as possible, so I would have gone up between a quarter past four and five o'clock. I really can't tell. A minute with her seems like an hour. Ask her. I didn't do anything in the meantime. Maybe she did," she said suggestively.
He thought it interesting that she did not care to limit the period of time for which she had no alibi. Margaret Maxwell was her alibi for some of the time, yet Poppy Hargreaves stressed that she had left Margaret as soon as possible. Why? Was this another attempt to frame Margaret? She did not want to be Margaret's alibi, but why did she not want Margaret to be hers?
He would ask Ms Maxwell about the precise time. Presumably she had taken notice of it. For the time being he would assume Miss Hargreaves had had far too much time to herself, from about half past four onwards.
He continued. "Did your father have any enemies?" The man had been wealthy. It was not unthinkable.
She had to think about that, which was visibly not to her liking. "Oh, I don't know. I'm sure people were jealous of him because of what he had."
"Who?" If there were any names he wanted to hear them. Perhaps she had not even tried to think very hard.
She could not name any. "I'm sure there are some. Just about anyone who had less?" She shrugged indifferently. "They might have come to kill him for it."
"Would outsiders know the way to his bathroom?" Scott raised his eyebrows. Unless Hargreaves had wronged someone as he acquired his wealth, it was no use looking into whether anyone envied him his fortune. Envy alone was not enough. "What about the guests here?"
"Yes, they could find his bathroom."
He remained patient, although he wondered if she was deliberately obtuse. "Would they have any reason to want him dead?"
"Probably." She was not unwilling to point at anyone; she simply did not know what reasons to give them yet.
Scott was none the wiser with these answers. "What about Margaret Maxwell? Did she hate your father?" He asked, testing her willingness to incriminate Ms Maxwell.
"Sure. She hates everyone."
"But she doesn't appear to have made a habit of murdering everyone she hates," he remarked. Contrary to what Poppy had obviously intended, her accusations were ridiculous.
"Well," said Randall, even before the door had closed behind Poppy. "Could it be that she dislikes Margaret Maxwell just a little, sir?" She had rarely met anyone more eager in her attempts to frame someone else.
"Nah." Not just a little, quite a lot. She had been trying to influence their impression of Margaret. It was a pity that he did not like to be influenced. Why would she need to convince them of something obvious? That would not be necessary. He could only assume that Ms Maxwell was not as bad as she was made out to be and that in all likeliness she had not wanted to murder Hargreaves at all.
Randall continued. "Most of the guests were not mentioned at all, yet she kept going on about Ms Maxwell. We have three men and three women staying here with her. A person who didn't know that would get the impression that she was forced to spend the entire day with Ms Maxwell and that no one else was here." The other guests were hardly all unmentionable or unknown people. Why were they here if their hostess only focused on the one she disliked?
Scott agreed with her. Poppy had not spent that much time with Ms Maxwell, but she put a lot of emphasis on it. "I think we may say the tutoring scheme was not to her liking and this influenced her opinion somewhat." He wondered what she had done during the rest of the day.
"Didn't she get a say in who was to tutor her?" Randall wondered. The girl was old enough for that. "Surely a father would know his child wouldn't learn a thing if she hated the tutor. And isn't she an adult? Perhaps not in manners, but in age certainly. Why is she taking lessons from someone she hates and she doesn't even respect? If she's not afraid to tell us during out first meeting, surely her father must have known?"
It was too soon to be able to discuss Poppy well, without having spoken to any of the others. "We'll talk to her again -- later. Let's first see what the others have to tell us." He preferred to hold short interviews that were to the point over one long and chaotic interview from which he would have a hard time distilling information. He questioned suspects numerous times if that was necessary. "She may still be in shock."
Randall was even more doubtful of that than her superior had sounded. He should readjust his social antenna, because hers had not picked up any shock at all.
Detective Chief Inspector Scott never had a fixed order in which he interrogated suspects and he let it be decided by whom people mentioned most often and who therefore might be important, so he sent Poppy away, asking her to send him Margaret Maxwell next. As he waited, he wondered what she would be like and he braced himself for some sharp comments, though from what Poppy had told him he had taken quite a liking to her already for some reason without ever having seen her. She had to be everything Poppy was not, to inspire such hatred in the girl. That would make her an interesting person.
He had expected her to look more like a TV personality, whatever they looked like. The jeans did not really correspond to the image he had of her. Perhaps he had expected her to wear a frumpy two-piece suit, like a sort of strict schoolmistress out to inspire fear in her pupils. Instead she looked fairly young -- younger than he had expected -- and not at all witchy or evil, but her eyes did not seem to miss much and there was a cynical twist around her mouth. Contrary to Poppy she had not entered the room with reluctance, but she looked expectant and interested.
"Have a seat, Ms Maxwell. Is it Miss or Mrs.?" He realised he had no idea, but as he was speaking he also realised it did not matter with regard to the interview, so why was he asking the question?
"Miss." Margaret Maxwell's brown eyes regarded him with curious attention as she sat down. "Does that have any bearing on the case, Detective Chief Inspector?" She ostensibly observed a few details about him that had no bearing on the case either and then gave him a quirky half-grin.
He had to watch his step indeed. Not only was she quick to spot irrelevant questions, but she also knew his precise rank. That did not often happen and when it did, people used it reverently, not with faintly mocking undertones. "Not necessarily, but I might sound more polite if I knew."
"I am all for good manners and polite conversation," she agreed with a poker face.
He looked back at her with an equally noncommittal expression. She had to be aware that polite conversation was not exactly her trademark, but it was too early to know for certain if she was poking fun at herself -- and to be amused by it. "Could you tell me what you did between tea and dinner?"
She shifted in her chair, apparently glad they were getting down to business. "Considering that you spoke to Poppy first, you probably already know that Nigel was paying me to make something good out of Poppy, so in fact he could dictate my movements for as long as I stayed under his roof. He told me to do some work on her after tea time. He wanted to launch Poppy into the TV business, but she lacks a personality as well as a brain. I didn't know it was quite so bad when I started," Margaret said with a deep sigh. "Or else I never would have gone along. But it doesn't help much either that Nigel promised to fund a programme I'd really like to do." This sounded a bit self-deprecating, as if she felt she ought to not be susceptible to such things.
"He was bribing you, Miss Maxwell?" Bribery could be a motive. It would depend on how much she wanted and needed to do that programme and how much she hated training Poppy. Or it could be a power issue.
"I'm not selling my body, Inspector, only some of my time," she said with a charming shrug. "I have to be creative now and then. I don't have a regular income, nor a large bank account. It gets an occasional boost, but not much more than that. The shocking truth is that not everyone on TV is rich. We need to do less amusing projects now and then."
That mollified him somewhat towards celebrities. "What if you suddenly decided Poppy was getting on your nerves too much?" That would happen to him in less than a day. He wondered how long ago Miss Maxwell had been hired. If this was beyond her second week on the job, she was a saint and yet it was difficult to imagine Miss Maxwell as a saint, what with the reputation she had.
"Breach of contract. Not wise." She shook her head and became more serious. "It would cost me more money than I have if I suddenly quit. Listen. My contract didn't involve getting Poppy on TV at any cost and by any means available. I didn't have to sleep my way up on her behalf -- she's doing a rather good job of that herself. All I had to do was to give her some useful tips and training as well as some much-needed criticism. I'm good at that, as you may know, and the girl is spoilt rotten and so very deserving." There was a grimace that did not quite qualify as a smile.
Scott wondered if she liked criticising people or if it was merely something she did well. Other people might perpetuate that image by hiring her for such jobs. He would not hold it against her until he knew more. "How does Mr. Hargreaves' death affect your contract?" He noticed she had used the past tense, as if the contract was no longer valid now that the man was dead. And why was there a contract for simple lessons? Or was that for Margaret's taxes?
"I have no idea officially," Margaret said amiably. "But unofficially I was supposing it has now come to an end, just like my death would have ended the arrangement. One cannot expect my next of kin to take over the responsibility of activating Poppy's single brain cell, now can one?"
The DCI tried not to smile. He should not be allowed to let his personal preferences and opinions influence the case. "So his death was actually convenient for you, assuming you do not really like educating Poppy." He thought he could safely conclude that from what she had said.
He got a quick reply. "And it puts an end to those nice payments. I got paid after the week or whatever I was hired for and not in advance. I wouldn't go down that track if I were you, Inspector, though I suppose you must establish for yourself that it's a dead-end street and you cannot take the word of a mere suspect for anything." She looked at him challengingly.
He supposed that was a point to consider. No Hargreaves, no income. She must not have received her payments if the man had been murdered before her tutoring period was over, but she had not mentioned that directly. She might not know who was to pay her now. Perhaps the daughter was? He could easily see that turn into a legal battle. "Thank you for alerting me, Miss Maxwell. How much would you earn in such a week?"
She named a sum. "Or thereabouts." It depended on how many extra hours she put in.
Scott's eyes widened. Hargreaves had been a generous man -- or a desperate one, if this was the only way he could instill some knowledge into that girl. "That takes me a month."
She gave him a smile. "You don't think I'd do four weeks of this, do you?" She earned no more than this in a month either. Not at the moment, at any rate.
He could imagine it would be unbearable. "Are you aware that Poppy hates you?" Poppy might not pay up and Miss Maxwell might need that money. Although she would not do four weeks of this, she might not have other jobs lined up for the other three weeks.
There was a ready grin in response. Yes, she was aware of that. "Oh, might I be the next corpse, do you think? Of course I know she hates me. I don't admire her, but hating her back would be a waste of valuable emotions. She doesn't deserve anything of the sort to be spent on her. I prefer to reserve my emotions for worthier causes."
"She swears you had a nose job. And that you're Scottish." He looked at her with interest. Normally he did not ask such irrelevant questions and he could almost see DS Randall prick up her ears. She was bound to ask him about this later. What did it matter that a suspect might be Scottish just because he was?
Randall would think that he considered it enough to clear Miss Maxwell, but he was not thinking anything of the sort. All he was thinking so far was that it would be a tough case to crack if Miss Maxwell had done it, since she was obviously very clever.
He studied her nose, but he saw nothing. Neither did anything Margaret had said so far make him inclined to believe Poppy's insinuations that Margaret had killed Hargreaves because she had been sick of her.
"Scottish?" She laughed merrily and gave him a wink. His accent was a trifle more pronounced than hers. "Scots are evil people, aren't they? And a nose job? If that is the worst thing about me that she can come up with, I'm sure you'd agree with me about that single brain cell, Detective Chief Inspector -- I'll abbreviate that to Inspector, I think. But no, no nose jobs for me. Looking plastic does not pay off if you want to exploit your wit. I'm sure you'd like to be taken seriously as well, Sergeant," she said to Randall. "It pays off more to be passably pretty like me than to arouse a passing passion in every man."
Before Randall could answer, Scott took over. "What did you do after Poppy left you?" He did not want to get caught in a discussion on whether Miss Maxwell was passably pretty or why passion she aroused should be passing. And least of all he wanted Randall to get caught up in some anti-man argument again. Randall on a feminist roll was something he had experienced before, so he knew he should prevent it. He did not have time for that today.
Margaret seemed amused at his interruption. "I was somehow thinking that you'd let that one pass, Inspector, and quite rightly so. It might get out of hand. By the way, if you have to express your surprise at my being Scottish, you have never seen me on television, have you? I have a marvellous accent when I work. And they always write about it as well. You don't read the tabloids." She seemed appreciative of that.
"I've not kept up with those things," he agreed. She did not have much of an accent when she was not working. It was certainly not enough to write about. He wondered why she put an emphasis on it when she worked. If that was fake about her television persona, what else was an exaggeration? She might be a better actress than Poppy, so could he trust the image she presented to him here?
It was as if she could read his mind. "The accent gives an extra edge to words. And it's a role. I can do other accents as well. But that's all beside the point. I'll answer your question. I went to my room, soaked in the bath, then typed away at my laptop until my hair was dry enough to be brushed."
That was in keeping with the image, for some reason. He did not know why it sounded plausible. "Did anyone see you in the meantime?" he asked the superfluous question. She had not mentioned anyone and she would have.
She shook her head with an amused twinkle in her eyes. "I was wearing nothing but a bathrobe, Inspector. Hardly the attire in which to receive visitors. I got dressed approximately five minutes before I went downstairs. You may, if you want, check my laptop -- not that you could really check how much I added to my files," she added reflectively. "You could only see when they were last saved. It wouldn't help you all that much, because I could have gone to kill him and then saved my files and not added anything in the meantime at all."
"Did anything unusual happen? Any sounds? Splashing, running..."
Something seemed to occur to her and her voice changed. It became more cautious. "Sounds, yes, but nothing unusual. You might want to ask my neighbour, Clarissa Edmondson, if she had company in her room."
Scott noted down the name. On his list it said Clarissa and Anna Edmondson were mother and daughter, as Anna's profession was listed as daughter of Clarissa. Their names meant nothing to him. "What did you hear?" From her all too innocent expression and her emphasis he had already got some idea. The company would not have been female. He could not help glancing down at the list of guests. There were three candidates: Arthur Moss, Edwin Symonds, Sebastian Hargreaves. None of the names meant anything to him either, but Randall would undoubtedly know them. She had sounded as if the entire house was full of celebrities.
Margaret looked angelic, but her disapproval was evident. "I gather she was enjoying herself. No idea who was with her. I only keep up with real relationships."
He let that judgemental qualification rest for the moment. Perhaps later there would be an occasion to ask her about it. After the visitor had been identified it was soon enough to determine what sort of relationship existed between him and Mrs. Edmondson, if anything existed at all. The couple would be the best judges of that themselves. "And when you went downstairs you spoke to Arthur Moss? Who was downstairs first?"
"He was. How do you know I spoke to him?"
"Miss Hargreaves was so kind as to tell us that she found you together. What time did you go downstairs?"
"I started getting dressed at precisely seven o'clock and then I left my room at five past seven, according to my alarm clock. I got to the drawing room at four past seven." She grinned at him. "What do you make of that? You might have a hard time with it if I wasn't kind enough to tell you that the clock there runs behind a little, I think."
"Thank you." Scott made a note to check both clocks, but he did not doubt that he would find exactly what she had told him. "That'll be all for the moment, Miss Maxwell. Please ask Mrs. Edmondson to see me next."
"Miss. She was never married. Her daughter is illegitimate." Margaret nodded curtly and left the room, wondering why on earth she had felt it necessary to supply this bit of information. Sometimes she was so irritating.
Randall let out a sigh. "She's not as witchy as on TV. She was quite co-operative."
But she was hardly the essence of sweetness. "I've never seen her." He had only read about the programme and that had been enough. He had not thought he would like it. Besides, when did he ever have time to watch television? He had better things to do. "Disappointed?"
"She can be scathing and blunt, but I thought she was all right now. She could have made mince meat of you, sir." In fact, Randall thought it had started out that way, but for some reason the lady had not carried it through. A police interrogation was not a time to score verbal points, she supposed.
Scott said nothing. Miss Maxwell had been rather blunt about Poppy, but as far as he could tell the bluntness had been justified. It remained to be seen whether she had also been correct about Clarissa Edmondson, about whom she had not been very complimentary. And she would not have been able to make mince meat of him, whatever Randall might think.
Randall mused on. "I don't think she did it, though. Poppy is the likeliest suspect so far. I mean, Miss Maxwell had a good point about this meaning the end of the payments, although we don't know how much money she's actually got in the bank and how much she needed this money."
"We can find out." But he agreed with her. Margaret Maxwell had stood very little to gain from Hargreaves' death, the way things looked so far. He knew well enough that a first impression might change and that she could have stressed all this on purpose while leaving other things out. He began to feel that she could have told him much more.
"Plus that she didn't get dressed until seven."
DCI Scott shrugged. "It's theoretically possible to murder someone while wearing only a bathrobe. We have only her word for that, too. She might not even have taken a bath or worn a bathrobe." And a man in a bath might never suspect a woman in a bathrobe. He did not know how good the relationship between the two was. Not everyone would protest if a female friend appeared in a bathrobe.
Randall grinned at this critical note from her superior. She had almost told him he was letting himself be blinded by Miss Maxwell after he had told her to view these people as suspects. He had not been very hard on Miss Maxwell, after all. He had not asked her whom she suspected of being Clarissa Edmondson's lover, for instance, while it was very clear that she either knew or suspected. Randall would have asked. It might be important -- as well as interesting. There were other questions he had neglected to ask as well. She could have asked them herself and she had not done so either. That meant she had to keep her mouth shut.
"Why did he call you next and not Sebastian?" Poppy asked suspiciously when Margaret returned to the sitting room. She was almost offended that another woman had spent longer in the interview room than she had, even if she was tempted to dislike the Inspector immensely for having questioned her so ruthlessly and for not having shown her any special consideration, not as a woman and not as the deceased's daughter.
"You probably made me look suspicious," Margaret said in a careless tone. If that had been the case she did not care a bit, but she relied on the police's common sense. "Didn't you know they ask the prime suspects first?"
They had appeared to be a thoughtful pair who did not instantly believe what they were told -- the man, at least, even if he did not always probe deeper. It was worse when they stared without asking further questions. She was always thinking the other person was then thinking thoughts she could not guess and that was unsettling. It was much better if they revealed their thought processes by asking questions. She could head them off much better in those cases.
She helped herself to a new cup of tea. There was nothing else to do here as she waited. People were not in for a cosy chat while they were waiting to be questioned. They would be nervous about being suspected of the crime. The DCI's stares would make anyone wonder if they had not committed the murder in a sudden lapse of consciousness.
She glanced around herself. One or more would have reasons to be nervous. Someone had to have done it. That was a rational realisation that she could not yet emotionally process. She had trouble linking any one of them to the murder, but once their less admirable character traits resurfaced she would undoubtedly be able to imagine that a little better. Until then she had to keep herself from becoming paranoid. Most people in here would not deserve to be suspected. Nigel could only have been murdered by one person. Murdered. She steadied her cup with her other hand so the tea would not spill over.
Once someone had murdered, he might do so again. Once they had crossed that moral threshold, they might find it easier. She wished that thought had not come up. It was hard to suppress now. She had to find out who and why, if only for that reason. She would never feel safe with any of them ever again.
"But why is Mum next then?" Anna Edmondson asked, her large blue eyes focused on Margaret uncomprehendingly. It was never clear whether her stupidity was an act or whether she was genuinely permanently confused by things others said. She was the stereotypical pretty, but not very clever girl who did what she was told -- a perfect companion for Poppy.
"Don't listen to Maggie. She just likes to be mean. They probably just took the eldest person first." There was a malicious smile on Poppy's face. She thought Margaret could be insulted by implying she was old.
"You need glasses," Margaret stated the obvious. She was visibly at least a decade younger than Clarissa, despite Clarissa's cosmetic manipulations. And perhaps two decades younger than Arthur, even. She did not care how old she was, or what anyone else guessed her to be.
"Girls," Edwin Symonds said helplessly. He never knew what to do with arguing women. The antipathy between Poppy and Margaret was unmistakable. Poppy bore her opponent some real grudges, while Margaret was merely disrespectful and amused. He could see her behaviour was having the wrong effect on Poppy, who only felt provoked. "Remember that someone died." Especially Poppy ought to present another image to the world, whatever she was feeling. She was the daughter of the deceased.
Margaret let out a chuckle. Did that mean they could not argue? She had had no special bond with Nigel. To feign one would be hypocritical. She was shocked by his death, to be sure, but not in such a way that she would sit in teary silence, pretending to grieve. She had never grieved, not even when her sister had died. She supposed it was not in her nature to be that emotional.
Poppy thought the same. "Nothing affects Maggie," she said accusingly. "Look at her. I bet she did it. She's heartless. Didn't you also love it when your sister died?"
Margaret grinned humourlessly in response to that stab. No one present was likely to be shocked at Poppy's behaviour and no one was going to come to her aid. She did not need anyone to. She did not care what anyone would at this moment think of her reaction to her sister's death. It had happened years ago. Poppy had been too young to know what had happened precisely. It was not necessary to say she had not loved the occasion. Would anyone here truly care to know what she had gone through? It was too late for sympathy and understanding. People who cared already knew.
Instead of continuing the argument, she sat down some distance from the rest with her notebook to get some sort of grip on the situation. There were characters to study, certainly, but first she had to get the facts straight. After that she could start interpreting people's behaviour -- and there was plenty to interpret.
The facts, as they were known to her, were the following. Nigel had told her to give Poppy another lesson in diction. That had been at four o'clock or a little after. She had taken Poppy to the library not to be disturbed and they had not seen anyone. Poppy had been a pain, of course, because she did not think diction and a Scottish accent were compatible.
After she had gone upstairs, she had been alone again. That would have been around half past four. She remembered being happy to have some time to herself before dinner and she had not been motivated to stretch the extra lesson for too long. Apart from the sounds coming from Clarissa's room, she had not known what the others were doing during that period, though she assumed some of them had been by the pool as usual. She had not had a reason to wonder at the time.
Then, going down to dinner, she had seen the others again downstairs, but it was not likely that the murder had taken place after seven o'clock. The murderer's risk of running into someone was too great, given the chance of people going downstairs a little earlier than a quarter past seven. The past days had taught her no one stirred from their rooms before seven and then they all went down, a conclusion everyone could have reached, including the murderer. Between six and seven was the safest time to do things no one was allowed to know about.
Dressing for dinner was considered very important by Nigel and his guests obeyed. They all took some time to make themselves presentable. She had taken all of five minutes herself, but she had known what she was going to wear and she had taken a bath, which she should also count. Five minutes was the minimum. She did not know if people managed in less time.
As yet she had no official information about the time of death, but logically she would assume it had taken place between half past four and seven. She had seen Nigel take Arthur into his study at four o'clock. The meeting would have lasted more than fifteen minutes because it usually did, but more than an hour was not likely. Considering that Nigel had been found in his bath, he would have needed some time to prepare it, so that would narrow the time period down to between five and seven.
For a few moments she wondered whether someone would really take a bath two hours before dinner. Not many people would take it that early, she hazarded a guess, and no one would take it as late as a quarter to seven. Still, one should never assume too much in a murder case and it was best not to narrow the time period down even further before the medical investigation had yielded a more precise result. Trusting in common sense might not work.
She imagined there had to have been sounds of splashing and perhaps screaming, given that she had also heard what Clarissa had been up to. Who were next door to Nigel? Was there anyone at all who could have heard? Off the top of her head she would say there was a dressing room on one side and a linen cabinet and staircase on the other. How convenient. She sighed. There was no hope there. No one would have heard anything.
"Are you writing down what we are saying, Maggie? Are you the Inspector's spy?" Poppy cried all of a sudden. She must have run out of attention on the other side of the room and she was bent on tantalising Margaret, over whom she had no control anymore if she was not near her.
"Yes, I am," Margaret said curtly. She knew responding would only begin a new argument and she really did not feel like giving Poppy any attention at all, so she picked up her notebook and went into the hall. She needed some privacy. Damn the Inspector and his orders that they stay there. He could get stuffed. There was no way she was going to stay in this room, even if he considered her to be a suspect like all others.
There was a policeman in the hall. She had seen him earlier and she supposed he was there to guard them. "The Detective Chief Inspector has ordered everyone to stay in the room, Miss Maxwell," he said, stepping in her direction to block her way.
She had expected that and was unfazed. "I can't stand the stupidity in there. Please inform the Detective Chief Inspector that I'll be in my room if he needs me. I shan't leave the house." She walked away haughtily and gave him no time to protest. Bluffing usually worked with the lower ranks, especially if they knew her from TV. She wondered if the DCI was going to check on her instantly. He did not seem to be a person who approved of people who ignored his orders, but she did not really know why she thought that. He had not given her any so far. It was likely that the policeman did not dare to tell the Inspector, though. After all, he should have stopped her and no excuse was good enough.
Soon she was in her room and she saved all her notes on her computer. After this she was too caught up in expanding on them to notice how much time was passing without the Inspector coming for her.
Clarissa Edmondson was an attractive woman in her forties. She cast an intrigued eye at the Inspector's face and figure, then sat down and showed as much thigh as she could.
Randall held back a snort. Did the woman think the DCI was susceptible to such tactics? She had seen the DCI unfazed and unaffected in much worse situations, woman-wise. A little bit of middle-aged thigh was not going to impress him. She did wonder, though. So far all three women had given the DCI a thorough scrutiny and she would wager he had only done it himself once, something he would almost certainly deny.
"A few questions, Miss Edmondson," Scott began, wondering if she was going to react to that form of address and correct him, but she did not. There was no Mr. Edmondson then, or perhaps she preferred him to think there was not. "What did you do between tea and dinner yesterday?"
"I was in my room, changing clothes for dinner." She spoke calmly, as if it was perfectly normal to need several hours for that, but no one would need three hours for that alone. After all, this dinner had been one like many others.
"Alone?" She had been busy changing clothes for certain, but perhaps not only for dinner, if Miss Maxwell's hint had been correctly interpreted. He should have asked her what she meant precisely. It was more difficult to ask Miss Edmondson anything specific now.
"Yes, of course."
Scott did not mention Margaret's hint about male company yet. He gave Clarissa the chance to speak up herself and to prove she was not hiding anything. "Can anyone prove you were there?"
She did not appear to think she needed an alibi badly enough to mention her visitor, or perhaps he was someone she dared not mention. "I phoned Anna on her mobile to tell her she shouldn't wear yellow."
He would confront her with the visitor later, perhaps at a time when the question would take her by surprise and she might reveal more than she wanted -- and of course he had properly questioned Miss Maxwell. "Is that all? What time did you go downstairs?" Even if she had indeed phoned, it might have been from anywhere. A phone call was no proof that she had been in her room at that time.
"Just before dinner time. Maybe ten past seven. Right after Poppy. I saw her slip into the dining room just ahead of me."
That might be true. Poppy had gone downstairs around that time. "And so you were busy picking out clothes for three hours?" he asked sceptically.
Clarissa Edmondson frowned when she realised it was indeed a bit long. "Well, not for exactly three hours. I needed some time to apply my make-up as well."
"But you went upstairs at four o'clock and you came down after seven. That's three hours. You must have done other things. I cannot imagine that you spent three hours looking for clothes or putting your make-up on."
She gestured indifferently. "I suppose I didn't. I also did other small things that one does in one's room. Do you really want me to elaborate?"
"I cut my nails and put new nail polish on." She showed her hands as proof. "Things like that. It may take a woman quite long to do all those little things. I don't have to justify to anyone how I spend my time, Inspector."
"I'm sorry, Miss Edmondson, but you do. This is a murder case, after all." And it was suspicious that she did not want to elaborate. Showing him her nails was so very little use if he did not know what newly polished nails looked like. They might be fakes and if he was not mistaken, fakes were already polished.
As Randall was jotting things down, she could not help but remark to herself that the DCI was a lot tougher on this woman than on the previous one.
"I didn't know it was going to be a murder case, did I?" Clarissa Edmondson shot back. "I do not time all my activities just because there's a remote possibility that someone in the house might get murdered. I don't remember what I did."
"I think there's a distinct possibility that you will remember in the coming days," said Scott. Once Clarissa realised her visitor might provide her with a much-needed alibi, she might reconsider. He assumed Margaret Maxwell had not lied about the visitor. Why should she, if it could easily be verified? "When that happens, I'll be willing to listen. What was your relationship with the deceased?"
"He was a friend. Our daughters are friends."
"Were you good friends?" Her visitor might have been Nigel Hargreaves in that case. She had to be here for a reason. Her daughter was too old to need a chaperone when she was staying with a friend.
Clarissa's face darkened. "Not that good."
"Do you know if he had any enemies?"
"Who would have wanted him dead, you mean? No. He liked to steer clear of trouble. He might have been self-centred, but he was charming and he knew what would harm him."
As it was neither too complimentary nor too critical, he thought he could stick with that for the time being. Some people did try to avoid making enemies. Some were very good at it, too. For some reason, however, Clarissa knew him well enough to say this, but she did not care enough to express her sadness. Nobody's enemy, nobody's friend? "Thank you for the moment, Miss Edmondson. Please ask your daughter to see me next."
He made a note that she was holding back information. After a moment of deliberation he added the other two names as well. All three of them were holding back.
"She didn't bring up her lover, sir." That was the most noteworthy point of the interview. It was the first obvious lie of the case, from either Ms Maxwell or Ms Edmondson. One of them had not spoken the truth.
"No, Randall...I wonder why she didn't," Scott mused. Who was the man? "There aren't that many men in the house." One was dead. That left only three men and they had not seen any of them so far. It was a bit early to cast any of them in the role of the mysterious lover.
"It could be a woman," Randall suggested.
"The only possible female candidate would be Poppy. I'm sure Miss Maxwell would have phrased things differently if she didn't want us to think of a man first. No, it has to be a man and she knows or suspects which man, but she doesn't want to tell us. We haven't spoken to any of them yet. It could have been Hargreaves himself for all we know." If Miss Maxwell was not certain of his identity, then it was admirable of her not to tell them, but somehow he felt she knew.
Perhaps one of the men would admit to having been with Clarissa. Her visitor would need an alibi too.
"Margaret Maxwell said Miss Edmondson was enjoying herself. Why would she use that term? How would enjoyment turn so quickly into hatred?" DS Randall bit on her pen. Enjoyment in one room, hatred in another? She supposed everything was possible, but it was not very logical, especially because Margaret did not seem to have heard any argument.
He suspected she had used that term as a euphemism for something else. "It could be that another lover of Hargreaves' caught them in the act and murdered him," Scott theorised. That was a weak plot, very weak. If they had been caught in the act in Clarissa's room by an angry woman, Margaret would have heard it. His first thought of an angry woman was that she had to be loud. They usually did not go straight for punches.
On the other hand, it might have been a controlled character who had not acted until Hargreaves had been in his bath. Would anyone suppress their anger for that long? Would someone wait until the cheating lover had filled his bath? It was a large bath. It might have taken well over half an hour to fill, just like it might have taken some time for the anger to build. So yes, it might have taken a while.
"I know it will go against everything you believe in, sir, but what if the cheated lover was Margaret Maxwell herself?" Randall almost ducked under the table, suspecting her superior was not going to like this suggestion one bit. "What if she heard them through the wall and later went to Hargreaves' room to confront him with it?"
Scott looked sour. "Randall, curb your imagination. Why would she tell us about the visitor in that case?"
"I am only brainstorming, sir. It might have happened that way. It would make more sense for her to murder Hargreaves in his own room where Clarissa wouldn't be able to see it."
"And why should she let us know she heard Clarissa? Why draw our attention to the fact that something went on if that might lead to something she would rather keep hidden?"
"Because she didn't know what Clarissa was going to say. If Clarissa revealed she had a visitor she loudly entertained, we would wonder why Margaret hadn't told us."
He shook his head in determination. "It doesn't hold. She could always have said she wanted to be discreet and that was why she hadn't told us."
"Nothing holds so far." Randall was secretly amused. DCI Scott should know better than to trust in first impressions. He might have to pay for his stubborn belief in Miss Maxwell's innocence, even if she tended to agree with him so far. It was fun to tease him a bit, nevertheless. She could go a bit further. "What if money was not the only reason she was tutoring his daughter?"
"In which case she could have told us. He was divorced from his wife and she is not married. There is no compelling reason to keep any relationship a secret and nowadays it wouldn't even matter if they had both been married, it seems," he said a little cynically. "She didn't seem to be feeling much grief either."
"People aren't always in a relationship because of feelings," Randall said tactfully.
"If they are not, it doesn't make sense that they should murder because of feelings, does it?" he countered. "Hatred? Betrayal?" If someone did not care much, would they care about that? Not in a strictly unemotional alliance, surely?
His sergeant let out a deep sigh. "Sir, I think someone might still be upset and antagonised at being betrayed, even if they don't genuinely love whomever they sleep with."
Scott tried to sound indifferent, even if what she said could make sense. He did not want to consider the idea at all. "You seem determined to cast her in the role of suspect, Randall."
Randall smiled in amusement. "Only because you seem determined to think she didn't do it, sir. I'm playing devil's advocate. Never judge too soon. She's a clever lady, no doubt about it, but she might also be clever enough to have covered her tracks so well that even we are fooled. Remember that she expressed her disapproval at Anna Edmondson's being illegitimate? There was no real need for that, was there? Unless she wanted to give us the impression that she's conservative when it comes to this sort of thing. Why would she want us to think that unless she wasn't? It has no bearing on the case. She told us herself that it had no bearing on the case whether she was Miss or Mrs." It was surprisingly easy to fantasise in this vein. The idea might have some potential after all.
"Thank you, Randall." He did not want to hear any more of it. "Write down your theory some time and I'll read it. But please wait until after we've seen all the suspects. You might think differently then."
And so might the DCI himself, Randall thought. He was never this quick to dismiss someone as a serious suspect.
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