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."