Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nanopost 027

Everybody was looking at everybody else with deep suspicion in their eyes. And rightly so - one of them was a killer.

“From what Chastity told me, Norm Lillywhite went from being in rude health, to bedridden, to passing away in a matter of weeks. I’m no doctor, but that screams ‘poisoning’ to me. Not ‘one big dose of something fatal’, but a gradual dose of something that presumably was difficult to detect by the doctors treating him, and would eventually result in his death. Probably through food or drink.”

Everybody turned to look at Mrs Sanderson. She shrieked and started sobbing.

“Please,” she cried. “It wasn’t me, I had nothing to do with it, you have to believe me.”

“Relax, Mrs Sanderson. I don’t think you had anything to do with it at all. Or your husband either.” I added, as some people switched their gaze to the old man.

“Question is, what had Barclay got to use as persuasion? Money? Hardly. He was almost broke - he certainly couldn’t bribe someone into committing murder.”

I paused for a moment.

“But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. A little earlier this evening, I mentioned that Mrs Lillywhite had been warned last week at the funeral that she’d be in the gutter by tonight. And who did that warning come from?”

Kennedy looked so on edge I thought he needed to pee. Hayden was looking grey. Barclay was looking resigned.

“She was warned by Lily and Jezebel.”

Not for the first time tonight, there were gasps. Hayden looked horrified and Kennedy was looking at Jezebel in amazement.

“Jez!” he said.

“Lily? What on earth is this all about?” demanded Hayden.

“Not so fast, not so fast.” I said. “Barclay couldn’t risk getting too many people involved. The more people who knew, the greater the potential for trouble. Now I sat and thought about this for a while. Who would be the likely choice? Lily or Jezebel?”

I got up from my chair and walked across to stand in front of the two women.

“Lily’s engaged to the Senator here. Now being a Senator’s gotta be a pretty expensive business, am I right, sir?”

“Look,” said Hayden “I don’t know what you’re implying here, but...”

“If Lily suddenly inherited half of her father’s fortune, instead of a good chunk going to Chastity here, that’s gotta be good for you, right? Next time there’s an election campaign, you’d have pretty deep pockets to dig into.”

“Now wait a minute.” said Hayden. “I assure you that I had absolutely nothing to do with this.”

“You sure you can live up to your whiter than white image, Senator? You absolutely sure that you haven’t engaged in anything underhand on your way to the top?”

“I, I...” he stammered.

“Because quite frankly sir, if you hadn’t, then it would be a first in American politics.”

He kept stammering.

“But on this occasion,” I continued, “I believe your hands are clean.” I turned to the woman sitting next to him. “Barclay didn’t approach you about this, did he Miss Lily?”

Lily shook her head and stared at the floor, saying nothing.

“Miss Jezebel, on the other hand...”

Everybody in the room turned to stare.

“Must have taken quite something to get you to kill your own father, Miss Lillywhite. I can hazard a guess at what Barclay said to you, but perhaps you’d like to tell us yourself?”

I went and sat down again.

“Jez?” said Kennedy. “What the... what the hell’s going on? You killed your old man? I mean, why?”

Jezebel turned to face him. Her face was streaked with tears of rage by this point. She jabbed a finger at Barclay.

“Because he lied to me.” she hissed. “He came to see me one day a couple of months ago and he told me the most horrendous things. He told me that Father had killed Mother, just so that he could, he could...”

She glared at Chastity.

“So he could marry her!

“And in one fell swoop,” I said, standing again, ‘he arranged the death of Norm Lillywhite, and also guaranteed that Jezebel would hate her step mother. Certainly hate her enough to go along with a plan to cut her out of the will. And presumably, for his part in all this, Jezebel would see that the estate gave Mr Barclay a very generous bonus, thus getting him out of his predicament. Which almost gets us to tonight.”

“Almost?” said Hayden.

“Almost.” I said. “There’s still a few points to cover. One. Lily was clearly in on the scheme, and yet from what I’ve seen of her, I find it difficult to believe she would go along with it. Miss Jezebel here has, I think it’s fair to say, a fairly fiery temper, and has mixed with some pretty unsavoury types over the years. Miss Lily on the other hand... on the face of it she seems... Can I use the term ‘goody-goody’ Miss Lily? However, looks can sometimes be decieving, can’t they?”

Lily looked like she was going to burst into tears again. I wasn’t surprised.

“It was a complete coincidence that put me on to it.” I said. “Last night, when you were all in the bar, a particularly obnoxious man that had started talking to me recognised one of you as a film star. I’d assumed he was talking about you, Mr Kennedy. But then he said he was going to try and get ‘her autograph’.”

I looked at Lily.

“It was your autograph he wanted, wasn’t it?”

“What was that about, Lily?” said Hayden. “You said he’d mistaken you for someone else.”

Lily looked at me.

“You know, don’t you?”

I nodded.

“A friend of mine is very good at digging up things that people would rather stayed buried.”

I went and sat down again.

“Oh God, Rex, I’m so sorry. I should have told you.” said Lily, taking Hayden’s hands. “I should have known that it would come out one day.”

“What?” he said “Should have known that what would come out?”

She wept.

“I was young, I was stupid and I was fed up of seeing Jezebel have all the fun and excitement while I was the plain, prissy one.”

“What did you do?” said Hayden, gravely.

“Porn.” she said, in a tiny voice. “It wasn’t many, just a couple, but they were quite... strong...”

She broke down.

“They told me there were very few copies made, and that after a couple of months it would be old hat, and they’d be forgotten. I should have known that they’d come back to haunt me.”

Hayden had let Lily’s hands drop.

“I stupidly told Jezebel at the time. Just trying to show off I guess, trying to be more outrageous than her. And then a few weeks ago, she came and told me what was going on. With Father, and the will and everything. She’s managed to get hold of the films, and she threatened to go to you with them if I didn’t agree to help.”

She disolved into floods of tears while Hayden looked at her with a mixture of sympathy and disgust.

Barclay laughed. It sounded hollow and cold.

“You don’t win though, Able.” he said. “You or that bitch. The fact remains that what I read is the last will and testament of Norman Lillywhite Snr. She can try and go through the courts to claim something, but how can she afford it? She’s broke.”

“Ah yes, the will.” I said. “It did exist you know.” I said, turning back to the throng. Why on Friday night it was in your hotel room safe, right Mr Barclay?”

Barclay started up with a jolt.

“But you weren’t happy that it was secure enough there, so you took it down to Mr Smith here to look after.”

I gave Smith a kick to emphasise the point, but he was still in no position to argue. Colwell must have caught him a good one.

“And then Mr Smith had it with him tonight, yes? Until about half an hour ago, at which point you became very nervous that something was going to go wrong. Mr Smith disappeared briefly - gone to destroy the will, am I right?

“Ha.” Snorted Barclay. “And now it’s gone. The only copy destroyed, and nothing to say it ever existed.”

Chastity snuffled.

“You’re more right than you think,” I said with a smile. “It was the only copy. Copy being the operative word.”

Barclay frowned, while Chastity suddenly looked up with hope in her eyes.

“Unfortunately for you, Mr Smith doesn’t go to work without a hearty breakfast. And while he was chowing down, I paid a visit to his room, and a visit to the local copyshop.”

Barclay’s eyes bulged.

“If your Mr Smith had been a bit more observant, he would have noticed that he’d been carrying around a very good colour copy of the will. Which is what, presumably, he slipped off and destroyed just now.”

“Then, then the original...?” said Chastity.

I produced it from my pocket with a flourish.

Kennedy grinned. He was imagining his final, triumphant scene in the movie.

A few moments later, he piped up. “You said there was a couple of things, dude? Sounds like you’ve pretty much wrapped it all up. What else is there?”

“The other thing? Well the other other matter is something separate, actually. Still concerns Mr Barclay though.”

I turned round and looked Barclay in the eye.

“Do you remember the first time we met?” I asked.

He stared at me. “The first time we met? It was about 45 minutes ago.”

“Not quite. You bumped into me earlier in the week. New York. Eighteenth Precinct. You were coming out of the archive. Remember, Mr Barclay? Or should I say, Officer Scofield?”

“Woah!” said Kennedy. “Back up, man. So this guy’s really a cop? Not a lawyer?”

He looked at me eagerly.

“Oh man, please tell me you’re going to pull a rubber mask off him and he’s really been Old Man Smithers all along, just like in Scooby Doo!”

I tried not to chuckle.

“Sorry, Mr Kennedy. This really is Mr William Barclay, Lawyer. However, with his ever mounting debts his creditors started leaning on him. Am I right, Mr Barclay?”

Barclay wasn’t saying anything at the moment.

“So although he was promising to pay what he owed once he’d pulled this scam off, there was a certain amount of pressure on him. And I’m guessing that as Mr Barclay here was a regular visitor to the Eighteenth Precinct Police Station, it was suggested to him that he might ‘help out’ his friends by lifting certain pieces of information. Cases have crumbled, suspects have absconded, witnesses intimidated, all because Mr Barclay here managed to lift the pass of an officer on maternity leave. He’s been feeding information back for some months.”

My voice hardened.

“It’s only blind luck that nobody’s been killed as a result of your actions, Barclay. Then again, you’ve already got a body count. What’s a few more?”

“So what if I did?” snarled Barclay. “My life was in danger. If I copied a few files... they’re the damn police for Chrissake! If their security is that lax then they deserve everything they get!”

“Somehow I don’t think the court will see it like that.” I said.

“Well, you know what?” said Barclay, his voice suddenly silky smooth again. “I really don’t like the idea of a court appearance.”

With a turn of speed that caught me by surprise, he suddenly whipped out a pistol.

“Now, Mr Able. The gun in your pocket. Take it out nice and slowly... with your left hand please. That’s right. And place it on the desk. Thank you.”

For all I knew, Barclay was a lousy shot, but he was only a few feet away. My grandmother could have hit me from that distance, and she’d been dead for fifteen years.

“Hands up. All of you. Now. Sit down, hands on your heads.”

I started to grin.

“Something amusing you, Mr Able?” said Barclay.

“Oh, I love it when a plan comes together, that’s all?” I said.

“I think you’ll find I’m the one with the gun.” he replied.

“And I’ll be taking it, thank you, Mr Barclay.” said Captain Russo who emerged from the dark behind him, accompanied by a couple of LAPD officers and the unmistakable sound of a hammer being cocked.

“Gun on the desk, very carefully, and hands in the air.” he continued.

Barclay complied. I could see the fight go out of him, and his shoulders slumped as he laid down the gun. He raised his hands and one of the officers stepped forward to cuff him.

“I gotta say, Captain, you took your sweet time!” I grumbled. “I told O’Halloran that you needed to be here by 11.00pm at the latest!”

“And I was.” he said. “But you seemed to be doing just fine. Wanted to hear if Barclay here would ‘fess up about lifting the information. Don’t worry,” he grinned. “We would have called an ambulance if he’d shot you.”

I shook my head. “You do not pay me enough for this.”

o o o o o

At nine o’clock on Sunday evening, I walked back into my office. Lady Ella looked up from where she was curled up on the sofa, meowed a welcome and went straight back to sleep.

I poured myself a drink and sat down to reflect.

Barclay was going down for a long time - if he was lucky. If he was unlucky, then he’d get the death penalty, either courtesy of the state, or the people who now were not going to get their money back.

Jezebel and Lily had both been arrested. I really didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Lily may get off as she hadn’t taken part in the killing and was being blackmailed. Her engagement, however, was over. Hayden had broken it off before they got back to the hotel. I guess love only comes before power in the dictionary.

Jezebel was in pretty deep though. It was possible she might get away with accessory to murder. That was one for the court.

And Chastity?

It would take some sorting out, and a new lawyer to go over the details, but it looked like she’d get her inheritance. She’d thanked me profusely before I left the hotel for the airport this morning, but I’d been pretty disappointed to only get a handshake. I saved her life, for crying out loud! That’s gotta call for some lip-locking, right?

Maybe she just wanted to play it cool, not seem too keen. That must be it.

She’d be on the phone any minute now. I started imagining where we’d go on our first date - after she’d settled her bill of course.

The phone rang.

Damn! I’m good.

I picked up the receiver.

“Hey!” I said. “Able here... Chuck Able...”

“It’s English.” barked the voice on the other end.


“I’ve just seen you walk back in. You’re not dead. Good!’

I rolled my eyes...

“Now,” he said.

“About my bill.”

The End.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nanopost 026

Lily screamed and Jezebel clapped her hands to her mouth. Barclay, meanwhile, was white with fury.

“This is outrageous!” he shouted. “A pack of lies. I refuse to listen to another word.”

“Just a second, Mr Barclay.” said Hayden, and then he turned to me. “Mr Able, these are some fairly serious allegations that you’re making. Have you got any evidence to back it up?”

“Not to hand,” I admitted, “but of late, Mr Barclay has been involved with some fairly unsavoury types, who make a point of getting, shall we say, leverage, with their clients. They dig, and they dig very deep indeed. I have an associate who has some... access to this information. I’m confident of my source, and I’m sure that if I do a similar amount of digging I’ll be able to prove what I say.”

“But,” said Chastity, who’d been quiet for a while, ‘what does that have to do with all this.”

“Let me try to explain.” I said. “As far as I can tell, on her return, Grace Lillywhite made it very clear to Mr Barclay here that their relationship was over. It was in both their best interests to keep quiet about the affair. Mrs Lillywhite for the sake of her marriage, Mr Barclay for his business interests with Norm Lillywhite, a business which was growing, and was presumably more and more profitable to Mr Barclay as time went by.”

“So, like, Barclay here wanted revenge on the woman who scorned him, right?” said Kennedy. I could see him writing the screenplay in his head.

“I believe that was a part of it,” I said “but on it’s own, it wasn’t enough to force Mr Barclay here to act."

“So what was, dude? What was the gnarly stuff that tipped him over the edge and made him go all Moriarty?”

“Well,” I said. “Clearly Mr Barclay is a man blessed with patience if nothing else. We now have to move forward about twenty five years.”

Barclay was sitting up straight now, and looking as worried as a dog on a trip to the vet.

“Seems our Mr Barclay got himself a taste for gambling a few years back. Like most people, he started of small, but gambling has a habit of snowballing.”

I looked at Barclay.

“Your debts get bigger and it gets more and more difficult to pay up on time, doesn’t it, Mr Barclay? And the sort of people you were dealing with by that point, not the kind of people who take no for answer are they?”

Barclay said nothing.

“You were getting to the point where you were just about making minimum payment, right? But you were never going to get them off your back like that were you? You needed something to pay them off. A serious chunk of cash. Trouble is, a ‘comfortable’ income wasn’t going to cut it. So you started thinking...”

I looked around the room. The two sisters were looking somwhere between amazed and horrified. From the look on his face, Hayden was starting to think that he didn’t want to be tied up with a potential scandal like this, and Kennedy seemed to be imagining he was already on set, as the young, hunky Private Eye, all set to save the day.

The three members of staff looked stunned at what they were hearing, and Chastity...

Wait a minute! Where was Chastity? And where was Smith?

I wheeled round on Barclay, who was looking more composed than he had for some time.

He applauded slowly.

“Very good, Mr Able. This has all been very entertaining, but I think it’s probably time for you to stop now, and admit that it was just a figment of your imagination. It is just a figment, correct? Because I’d hate for you to say anything that you might come to regret.”

He raised an eyebrow.

Damn! Clearly while I was holding court, Smith had crept up behind Chastity, stuck a gun in her back and retreated into the dark. They could be anywhere. Chances are Smith could see Barclay though, and with a word or a signal, Chastity would be dead. When you’ve arranged for the deaths of two people, I guess one more doesn’t make a lot of difference. They can only execute you once, right?

I had to play for time.

“Ok.” I said, putting my hands up. “I’ll admit it. I got no proof. I was just bluffing to see if you’d show your hand.”

“What?” shrieked Jezebel, leaping to her feet. “You mean that was all lies? All that about the affair, and mother having a son? You bastard! Putting us through that!”

Lily, meanwhile, was in tears, and Hayden had his arm around her. Kennedy was looking even more baffled.

“Dude,” he said. “You ever thought about being a scriptwriter?”

Barclay grabbed control of the situation.

“I’m very sorry for all this disruption, ladies and gentlemen. I can only apologise. I know this isn’t what Norm would have wanted. Now I think the best thing is for us head back to the hotel and get what sleep we can, and I’ll finish up the paperwork in the morning.”

“No, wait just a second.” I said.

“Mr Able, I think we’ve heard enough from you for this evening.” said Hayden. “Come on Lily.”

Lily turned to me with a look of pure hatred on her face, then turned back to Hayden who was putting a coat around her shoulders. If only someone else would notice that Chastity and Smith were gone, but they were all intent on leaving.

I was running out of time. Then suddenly, from the darkness, came a weird keening noise that I recognised from earlier.

‘Crazy Colwell?’ I thought. ‘Is she gonna save me again?’

“What’s that?” said Lily, still sobbing.

“Able? Is this your idea of a joke?” said Barclay. “I think we’ve had quite enough of that tonight.”

“Nothing to do with me.” I said.

Mrs Sanderson piped up in a very trembly voice. “They say this place is haunted.” She turned and clutched hold of her husband. He patted her hand, but didn’t look too sure himself.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts.” said Barclay, impatient to get everybody moving out. “Really, it’s probably just the wind.”

Right on cue, Ma Colwell let out a blood curdling cackle.

‘Thank you, Ma.’ I thought to myself.

That’s not the wind!” said Jezebel. “There’s somebody out there.”

“Really, I’m sure it’s nothing.” said Barclay. An air of slight desperation as creeping into his voice. “We should just head back.”

“If you think I’m heading into the dark with some... thing out there, you can think again.” snapped Jezebel. “Anyway, where are the flashlights?”

“Er, I believe Mr Smithers took them with him. He said he’d bring them back when we were finished. I really don’t know where he’s got to. I would have thought he would have come back by now.” said Barclay.

Jezebel sat down. “Well I don’t move from this spot until I’ve got a light in my hand.” she said.

The others all sat down too.

“I think we just wait for Mr Smithers to come back.” said Hayden.

Just then, a cackle that turned into a high pitched scream sounded out of the dark. All three women grabbed their men. Barclay started feeling his collar and looked distinctly pale. Even though I knew what the noise was, I was feeling a bit creeped. I peered out into the darkness in the direction of the noise, but I couldn’t see a thing.

Suddenly, without warning, something leapt at me out of the dark. I stumbled back and landed on the floor, heart hammering. With relief I realised that it was Chastity. She looked terrified.

“Oh God, Mr Able, what’s going on?” she cried. “Mr Smith just put a gun in my back and dragged me out there. He said if I made a sound he’d kill me.”

There were looks of horror from the rest of the group, and Barclay was starting to look a little sick.

“Then suddenly there was this awful noise. It got closer and closer, then suddenly Mr Smith collapsed and I just ran. What was it? What was it?”

She had hold of my jacket lapels and was shaking me.

“It’s ok.” I said, doing my best to pacify her. “I’ll explain tomorrow, but it’s nothing for you to worry about.”

I turned to Hayden.

“Senator, I think Smith’s gun is still out there. Stay here. Watch him,” I pointed to Barclay, “and I’ll be back shortly.”

I headed out into the dark, very slowly, still feeling my way with my feet. I didn’t want to give away the fact that I had a flashlight just yet.

I stumbled round in the dark for several minutes until I finally found Smith, lying on the ground, out for the count. Seems like Ma Colwell had hit him with a brick. I made a note to never get on the wrong side of her. Searching on the ground around him, I found the revolver and shoved it in my pocket. Then, getting hold of Smith under his arms, I started dragging him back towards the light.

After a few minutes, I finally heaved him onto the ground in front of Barclay’s desk and checked him over. He was out for the count, and didn’t look like he’d be coming round any time soon.

“Ok Mr Able.” said Hayden. “Now once and for all, can you explain exactly what’s going on?”

I wiped my forehead and sat down on one of the chairs.

“Right.” I said. “Now where were we?”

“You’d just told us that everything you’d said was a pack of lies.” said Lily who was dabbing at her face with a handerchief.

“Ok, well that wasn’t true. I had to say that as I realised that Smith had grabbed Chastity. While she was in danger, I couldn’t carry on.”

“So, so... so all that stuff about Mother, and Mr Barclay, and their son...?” she said.

“All true.” I said.

She burst into tears again.

Kennedy suddenly perked up. “So it’s game on again? Cool!”

From the look that Jezebel gave him, the time until their relationship ended could be measured in minutes.

Hayden spoke. “I think you were just outlining Mr Barclay’s alleged gambling problems.”

“Yes,” I said. “And like I think I was saying, a few years ago, he was getting to the point where he was starting to find it difficult to keep up with his obligations. And at that point - and there is a certain amount of speculation here - I believe Mr Barclay started formulating a plan. I believe this is how it went.”

I turned to Barclay again. “Feel free to correct me if I’ve missed any of the details.”

I got things straight in my own mind, and started again.

“A little over five years ago, Mr Barclay here informed Mr Lillywhite that Grace had been having an affair at the point that they were married. Obviously he neglected to mention who she was having an affair with. And at the same time, he mentioned that Norm Jnr hadn’t been Norm’s son. Where he said he’d got this information from, I have no idea, but it must have been convincing, but it had exactly the effect that Mr Barclay wanted. Norm flew into a rage, and presumably in the heat of the moment, threatened to kill Grace.”

Lily screamed and Jezebel’s face turned white.

“I’m willing to bet that that was just a rash statement, and he had no intention of carrying it through. Now I’ve been able to look back at what happened on the weekend that Mrs Lillywhite died. She was on holiday with friends, and Mr Lillywhite was in Europe on business. While he was away, Mrs Lillywhite perished in a speedboat accident. However, I have it on good authority that the ‘accident’ was arranged by a professional hitman who passed away last year.

There was a grim silence in the room.

“Now I’m a bit sketchy on this point, Mr Barclay. Maybe you could clarify it for me? I’m guessing that you arranged the murder - by this point you were mixing with the sort of shady types that would know how to arrange a professional hit - and then informed Mr Lillywhite, once it was too late, that you’d carried out ‘his request’.”

I looked at Barclay, but he just shrugged.

“At that point, Norm couldn’t say anything without incriminating himself, and so he had to keep quiet. Mr Barclay had had his revenge on Grace Barclay for snubbing him, and at the same time, had removed one person who was likely to inherit the Lillywhite fortune in the event of Norm’s demise.”

Lily and Jezebel were weeping by this point. Mrs Sanderson had her face buried in her husband’s shoulder, and Hayden looked like he was having scandal worries all over again.

Kennedy, however, was lapping it up.

“Fast forward a few years, and suddenly Chastity Lewis, as she was then, arrives on the scene. A whirlwind romance, and suddenly there’s a new Mrs Lillywhite on the scene. This isn’t any good is it, Mr Barclay? Not only do you have to get rid of Norm, you have to stop the inheritance going to Chastity. And on top of that, even if he does pass away, it doesn’t mean your going to see a cent. What you need,” I said, “is an accomplice.”

Everybody started looking around the room at each other.

“But where are you going to find one of them? Who’d help you kill Norm Lillywhite?”

I looked around the people in front of me.

“We won’t have to look too far. Because they’re also sitting in this room."

Nanopost 025

Hayden spoke up first.

“Now just a minute here. Are you suggesting that there was a bunch of people in on this?”

“Not exactly, Senator,” I said. “Sure, some people were in on this. Someone was coerced, and Mrs Lillywhite obviously had nothing to do with the scam at all.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Barclay glaring at Smith. While the whole group were focused on me and the Senator, Smith very quietly got up and disappeared into the dark.

“So who exactly are you accusing?” said Hayden.

“He’s not accusing anybody.” interrupted Barclay. “He’s got nothing to back any of these ridiculous statements up, so if he doesn’t want to find himself charged with slander and possibly worse...”

He turned to me.

“...then you’d be advised - and I am a lawyer - to draw a halt to this nonsense.”

“Hey!” I said. “Just trying to understand the situation. Now. Mrs Lillywhite.” I continued, turning to Chastity. “What makes you think that you should have had anything from Mr Lillywhite’s will? Apart, obviously, from the fact that you were his wife.”

She spoke in a small, quiet voice. It didn’t surprise me - the dame had really been through the wringer.

“I know that Norm made another will about a month after the wedding. He sat down and went through it with me. With us all.”

“Us all, Mrs Lillywhite?” I said. “Exactly who do you mean by ‘us all’?”

She sniffed.

“Me.” she said. “Lily. Jezebel. And Mr Barclay. He drew up the will.”

Everybody started talking at once. I waited til it had died down a little.

“Care to comment, Mr Barclay?” I asked.

Gotta hand it to the guy - he was calm.

“Clearly Mrs Lillywhite is upset at the outcome of the situation, that’s completely understandable. And while I can’t speak for the two ladies here, it may be possible for a small sum to be made avalaible from the estate. I’m sure nobody wants to see Mrs Lillywhite on the street. But as for there being another will I’m afraid she’s sadly mistaken. I’ve not drawn up another document for Norm since this one was created, and I’m sure Miss Lily and Miss Jezebel will agree that there was no meeting to discuss a new will, or the creation of one. Is that right?”

He looked at the sisters on the front row.

“Of course that’s right,” snapped Jezebel. “Daddy never said anything about changing it. Did he, Lily”

Lily shook her head but said nothing.

I noticed Smith sliding back into his seat on the back row. He gave a slight nod to Barclay.

“So I think I can confidently state that there is no later will, and that this matter is closed.” said Barclay, and sat down.

‘Seems strange though, don’t you think,” I said, “that Mrs Lillywhite would go to the trouble of hiring me to look for a will if she knew that there wasn’t a will to be found.”

“I think she was clutching at imaginary straws,” said Barclay. “some people find it very difficult to accept the truth.”

“Hmm.” I said, and paused for a moment.

Suddenly Kennedy spoke up. “That’s it?” he said. “That’s all you got? Man, I thought there was a movie in this. Crazy old place, hidden wills, double crosses, foxy heiress swindled...”

Jezebel scowled at him.

“But all you got is ‘We thought there was another will, but apparently there ain’t?’ That’s lame!

“I did think that it was a bit of a long shot,” I admitted. “But like I said. I did a little digging.”

I started doing the walking up and down talking to myself thing. I thought it looked pretty good, but I made a note to practice when I got back to the office.

“Let’s assume for the moment that Mrs Lillywhte here is telling the truth.”

“But you’ve just been told by three people that she’s not.” said Hayden.

“Humour me, Senator.” I said.

He shrugged and indicated that I should carry on. Barclay was sitting tight lipped, arms folded and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Thank you. As I say, let’s assume for the moment that Mrs Lillywhite was telling the truth. Now that would involve Mr Barclay here engaging in some fairly un-lawyerly practices. The sort of thing that would wind him up in jail.”

I turned and looked him in the eye.

“Or worse.”

“Mr Barclay. I don’t know how much lawyers take home these days, but I’m guessing it’s a fairly sizeable amount for a successful guy like you?”

“I live... comfortably.” he said.

“Comfortably. Right.” I turned back to the others. “Me? I ain’t so comfortable. Mr Kennedy, if you ever decide to give up acting, don’t become a Private Eye. Frankly, the pay’s lousy. But on the upside you do occasionally get to meet Hollywood stars and Senators.”

I got a chuckle from at least some of my audience. Not many though.

“So, what with Mr Barclay being so... comfortable and all, I was asking myself, what would make him risk...”

I looked back at him.

“...hypothetically, of course...”

And turned back to my audience, who, I noted, were all hanging on my words.

“...what would make him risk that nice lifestyle? You’d need some fairly compelling reasons. And you know what, Mr Barclay? I gotta feeling you had a couple of compelling reasons.”

“Really?” said Barclay. “I think you’re just clutching at straws like Mrs Lillywhite was.”

“So come on, dude!” urged Kennedy. “Dish the dirt! What’s the skeletons old Barclay’s got stashed in the closet?”

“Mr Barclay seems to be something of a traditionalist.” I said. “When it comes to committing crimes, there’s usually only a handful of motives, and our friend here appears to have gone for a couple of the classics. Money...”

I went for the dramatic pause, and I like to think I pulled it off.

“...and revenge.”

“Mr Barclay, how long would you say you knew Mr Lillywhite?”

“Why?” he said. “I don’t have to answer any of your damn fool questions.”

“It’s just a simple question.” said Hayden. “If you’ve got nothing to hide...”

“Oh, alright.” grumbled Barclay. “We go way back. Must be nearly forty years. Met when I was starting out as a lawyer and he was building up his first business. I’ve been his lawyer for about thirty five years. Satisfied?”

Forty years, huh? The first time I’d seen him, I’d put his age at mid-fiftes. Clearly, being a rich lawyer is good for you.

“Just trying to get the facts, Mr Barclay, thank you. And when did you first meet Grace Lillywhite?”

“What? What’s Grace got to do with any of this? Listen, I’m not on trial here!”

“Nope, you’re not,” I said. “We’re just having a nice friendly chat. So... Grace?”

He scowled.

“Norm introduced me to Grace not long after he met her. About two years before they got married I guess.”

“Sadly I never got to meet the first Mrs Lillywhite.” I said. “What was she like?”

“She was a charming woman.” he said defiantly. “Don’t go trying to drag her into any of this.”

“I’ve warned you already, Mr Able.” said Jezebel. “My mother is dead. Leave her memory alone.”

“Sorry, Miss Lillywhite.” I said. “The truth is like a flashlight, and you can’t always say which corner it’s going shine into.”

I quite liked that. I made a note to write it down later.

“You’re rambling, man,” said Kennedy. “Get on with it.”

“Mrs Lillywhite came to see me earlier in the week, and after she’d gone, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something she’d said that didn’t make sense. It’s been bugging me all week. Then I realised what it was. A couple of times, she referred to her late husband as Norm Lillywhite Snr. Now Senior implies a junior. And as far as we know, Mr Lillywhite only ever had two daughters.”

The murmuring in the room went up a notch.

“Which is absolutely right. He did only have two daughters, didn’t he, Mr Barclay?”

“Well of course he did.” said Barclay, getting exasperated. “They’re sitting right here. Look I really don’t see where...”

“But Mrs Lillywhite.” I interrupted. “Grace, I mean. That was different, wasn’t it?”

The room went quiet.

She had two daughters who, as you say, are sitting here tonight. But she also had a son, didn’t she.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” said Barclay. “I’ve heard about as much nonsense as I’m going to put up with for one evening. It’s late and I’m going back to the hotel.”

He stood and started to pack his briefcase, but Hayden stood up.

“I don’t think any of us are going anywhere until we’ve got to the bottom of this.” he said. “Sit down please.”

I guess when you become a Senator, they teach you how to talk in a way that people listen to, because Barclay sat down again.

“What are you implying, Mr Able?” said Lily. I think it was the first time I’d heard her speak all night.

“I have to apologise for what I’m about to say, Miss Lillywhite. I suspect it may come as a shock. But before you were born, your mother had a son.”

“What!” she and Jezebel exclaimed at the same time?

“That’s not right.” said Lily. “Our parents would have told us. So where is he?”

“He died when he was few days old.” I said. “From what I’ve been able to piece together, Grace Lillwhite fell pregnant on or around her wedding. A few months later she became seriously ill, and Norm arranged for her to be flown to a specialist medical centre in Switzerland. She stayed there, but unfortuately the baby, a boy, was born prematurely. He only lived for a short time, but it was long enough for him to be named. They called him Norman Jnr.”

Lily and Jezebel were looking stunned.

“When they returned to the States, for whatever reason, they decided not to make the pregnancy public. There aren’t many people who know.”

I continued. “But the thing is, and the thing that Norm Snr didn’t know at the time... he wasn’t the father.”

There were gasps from around the room.

“It appears that Grace had been seeing someone else before her marriage, and that man was the father of her son.”

I turned round.

“That man was you wasn’t it, Mr Barclay?”