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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.”