Copyright © 2014 Hannah Howe
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The moral right of Hannah Howe to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Goylake Publishing, Iscoed, 16A Meadow Street, North Cornelly, Bridgend, Glamorgan. CF33 4LL
These stories are a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is purely coincidental.
This eBook contains three short stories featuring my private detective Samantha Smith. The stories are: Over the Edge, A Bad Break and Of Cats and Men. Also included is an extract from the first Sam Smith mystery novel, Sam’s Song. I hope you enjoy the stories and if you do please check out the novels in the series.
I feared for my client’s chair whenever Manny Fry walked into my office. As usual, Manny was sweating profusely, as usual his corpulent face glowed like a beacon and as usual the buttons on his tweed waistcoat threatened to pop as they strained against his plump belly. Manny was a solicitor, the principal partner in Fry, Gouldman and Fletcher, and although he threatened to demolish my client’s chair every time he entered my office, Manny made me smile because his presence usually meant business.
“Ah, Samantha, my dear, I do believe that these chairs of yours are becoming smaller with my every visit.”
Carefully, with his arms outstretched to maintain his balance, Manny eased himself on to the chair. Warily, while pushing myself forward on to my toes, I peered over my desk at the slender legs of the chair. They creaked and they groaned, but they held, sound and secure. Manny had landed and we could begin.
“Ah, my dear, you are looking lovelier than ever…long, auburn hair that shimmers like the finest gossamer, dark brown eyes that hint at a private melancholy, yet dance with life and vitality when amused, a rash of freckles that speak of mischief and a figure that would compel a monk to renounce his vows. Ah, if only I was twenty years younger and, I will say it before you do, twenty stone lighter!”
I smiled and tried not to blush, no easy task when you have an aversion to receiving compliments, a character flaw that went back to my childhood and my upbringing with my alcoholic mother.
“I think I have something for you.” Manny wrestled with his briefcase, eventually removing a manila folder. “Amanda Forbes, aged forty-two, separated from her husband, Anthony Forbes. The couple have a daughter, Emma, nineteen. Amanda is now living with her paramour, Gethin, an ex-commando who, by all accounts is as tough as nails in masculine company, but is as soft as a marshmallow when with the ladies. It is alleged that one week ago Amanda sought a permanent separation from her estranged husband, Anthony, and murdered him.”
“She pushed him into a lagoon at Marston Quarry; you know the disused limestone quarry just north of the city.”
“None. It was dark, around midnight. Anthony was meandering home from the golf club, drunk, when the alleged crime took place.”
I picked up a pen and a notebook and scribbled some notes. “Maybe he fell into the lagoon, under the influence,” I suggested while tapping my pen against my bottom lip.
“That might serve as our defence, although evidence at the scene of the alleged crime – fibres, a broken button, soil disturbance – hint at violence and a struggle.”
“And the finger points at Anthony’s ex, Amanda?”
Manny nodded, flapping his flabby jowls. “The couple are well known to the police and have often been overheard, arguing.”
“And that’s enough to arrest her?”
“Their arguments usually ended in violence.” Manny dropped the manila folder on to my desk, scattering papers from my current case, an investigation into the theft of fur coats from an upmarket department store. As I tidied the papers, Manny arched a questioning eyebrow. “Will you take the case?”
The mystery of the disappearing fur coats had been solved – the deputy-manager did it – so I was available. “Usual rate,” I smiled, “plus a bonus if I uncover the truth?”
“My dear Samantha,” Manny groaned, “you will have me impoverished and out on the street.” He chuckled, his hands supporting his sides, as though fearful that his belly would land at his feet. Through his mirth, he added, “But I’m sure we could release a few pennies from the tea trolley fund, should you uncover the truth.”
I read Manny’s file, detailing the case against Amanda Forbes, then I made tracks to the local prison, to interview the lady herself.
I found Amanda sitting in an austere room beside an austere Formica table. A female warder accompanied us. Needless to say, her expression bordered on the austere.
The room was drab and plain, but Amanda was smart and attractive. Her dark hair was cut short and neatly brushed, her hazel eyes hinted at intelligence while her calm demeanour spoke of someone possessing an even temperament. Instantly, I liked her, though I was mindful of the fact that in nine out of ten cases while working for Manny Fry the accused had done the dirty deed.
“I’m Sam.” I smiled as I smoothed my skirt and sat opposite Amanda at the Formica table. “I’m a private detective, working for Manny Fry.”
Amanda glanced up at me. She nodded, acknowledging my presence, then she cast her eyes down to her hands, which were resting together on the scarred surface of the table.
I continued, “The charge sheet says you murdered your husband.”
“Tony, my ex-husband,” Amanda corrected. “We separated.”
“You were overheard, arguing.”
“Tony and I always argued.” Her tone was flat, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
“Why did you argue?”
“Because Tony was violent; he used to beat me. He used to look at me, black and blue, and say ‘what happened to you?’ And I’d say, ‘you beat me again’ and he’d deny it. Then he’d fly into a rage and accuse me of trying to blacken his name, of having affairs and then he’d beat me again and the whole cycle would continue.” Amanda closed her eyes and a silent tear trickled down her right cheek. “Of course, this usually happened when he was drunk.”
“How long did this go on for?”
“Nearly twenty years. Then I left him.”
“Why did you stay so long?”
“Pride; I didn’t want to show my friends and family that I was a failure. And I guess I reckoned that I deserved the beatings, that the bad feeling in our marriage was all my fault. And when he wasn’t being a bastard Tony could be so charming…”
Amanda opened her tearful eyes and stared at me. I was in the room, but my mind had wandered to Dan, my ex, and four years of relentless beatings. Like Amanda, I’d suffered at the hands of a violent husband, though fortunately I managed to get out of the marriage after those four painful years.
Despite a censorious frown from the female warder, I reached across the table and placed a hand over Amanda’s fingers. “Don’t worry,” I smiled encouragingly, “I’ll get to the truth. I’ll get you out of here.”
Manny’s file revealed that Anthony Forbes had a mistress, Julia Lyall. Her address was supplied so I called on Julia and found her sitting in her garden, under a parasol, drinking from a tall, iced glass. Like Amanda, Julia was a smart, attractive woman, though with blue eyes and dyed blonde hair. Anthony obviously liked women of a certain type because Amanda and Julia were of a similar build; slim, yet curvaceous.
I introduced myself to Julia and asked forgiveness for the intrusion, then I stated my business. “I’d like to ask you some questions about Anthony Forbes’ murder. I believe the two of you were close?”
Julia gave me a frosty stare from behind her iced glass of orange juice. If looks could kill, I’d be pushing up the daisies. “I’ve already talked to the police.”
I nodded and smiled patiently. As much as I liked Amanda, I disliked Julia. I’d being doing this job for five years and when I interviewed people they tended to give off a certain vibe. Quite often, it wasn’t what they said, but what they didn’t say, or their body language, or the evasive looks that invited you to read between the lines.
I asked, “Do you have an alibi for last Saturday night?”
Julia scowled. She placed her glass on a low garden table. Then she adjusted her parasol, casting her face in shadow. “Why would I need an alibi, I didn’t kill Anthony, that bitch of an ex-wife murdered him.”
“You don’t like Amanda,” I concluded.
Julia picked up a straw sunhat from the garden table. She placed the hat on her head, shielding her eyes. “I’m not saying anything. Now get out of my garden; leave my house.”
I stood my ground. I took no pleasure from annoying people, but over the years I’d learned how to gauge their hostility and level of threat. I wasn’t going to make it on to Julia’s Christmas card list; equally I judged that she wouldn’t chase me off her premises with her garden rake, just yet. Before that happened, I reckoned that I had time for at least three more questions. I asked question one, “Did you love Tony?”
“Anthony, you mean. Sort of.” Julia shrugged, a gesture of feigned indifference. “We got on well, most of the time.”
“And at other times?”
Julia’s scowl intensified. She narrowed her eyes, then leaned forward and glanced towards her garden rake. “You’re a right snoop, aren’t you?”
“I’m only looking for the truth,” I replied defensively.
Julia stared at the rake. At first, her features were hard and ugly, but then they softened as she eased herself back into her garden chair. Her straw sunhat shielded her face and eyes, so it was difficult to judge what she was thinking. However, when she spoke a few moments later, her tone was more reflective. “Anthony used me. He said he loved me, then I discovered that he had another woman in Grangetown. He was two-timing me, and I resented that.”
“You were jealous?”
She nodded slowly, her gaze lost among the flowerbeds. “I guess so.”
“And in a fit of jealousy you killed him?”
Julia turned to face me. She reached for a pair of sunglasses, but not even the sunglasses, her straw hat or the parasol could hide the tears as they trickled down her cheeks. “I loved Anthony. I didn’t kill him. Even though I admitted to the police that I haven’t got an alibi, you won’t pin the blame on me.”
I read through Manny’s notes again and discovered that Anthony Forbes was a non-swimmer, that he had enough alcohol in him to intoxicate an elephant and that he was dragged from the lagoon amidst a tangle of flotsam and jetsam. With those facts in mind, I decided that it was time to visit the scene of the crime.
When I arrived at the disused quarry I discovered that the murder scene had been secured and cordoned off with police tape. I wandered around the perimeter of the scene, to no great effect. The sun was hot, the ground was hard and my feet ached. I sat on a large limestone bolder and removed my trainers. As I shook fragments of stone from my trainers a man approached. He was in the autumn of his years, white-whiskered, dishevelled and dirty. Despite the heat, he wore a dusty raincoat, which clashed somewhat with the flip-flops on his feet.
“Hello,” I smiled pleasantly, “I’m Sam.”
“Mr Caruthers, at your service, ma’am,” the old man replied, bowing and removing an imaginary hat. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“You got a first name, Mr Caruthers?”
“Charles.” He offered me a toothless grin. “But you can call me Charlie.”
I eased my feet into my trainers then followed Charlie as he wandered between the limestone boulders, his rheumy eyes fixed on the ground. “Do you come here often, Charlie?”
He stooped, picked a stone from the ground, studied it, decided it was of no value, then tossed it carelessly over his shoulder. “I nose around, looking for bits of scrap.”
“Do you find much scrap?”
He nodded. “People are always throwing things into the lagoon.”
“Including other people?”
Charlie gave me a toothless, mischievous grin. “Like I told the police, I wouldn’t know about that.”
I followed Charlie through the quarry and discovered that he had an interest in fossils, which he found embedded in the limestone. He offered to show me his collection, so I kept pace with him, until we arrived at a tin shack, a foreman’s office that had once served the quarry, and now acted as Charlie’s humble abode.
“Would ma’am like a cup of tea?” Charlie asked as we entered the shack.
I smiled and shook my head, “Sorry, Charlie, I drink coffee.”
“Oh, shame.” He frowned, clearly mortified, and I felt as though I’d stepped on a child’s favourite toy. “Still,” he brightened, reaching for a kettle, “more for Charles.”
Charlie brewed himself a cup of tea on a fire made from kindling. He poured the hot water on to an emancipated teabag that had obviously done yeomen service over many infusions. He supped from his metal cup and sighed with contentment.
“Did you see a man fall into the lagoon on Saturday night?” I asked while studying Charlie’s fossil collection. The collection was varied and impressive with an impression of a dinosaur tooth from a Zanclodon Cambrensis being the outstanding example.
Charlie hid his face behind his metal mug. He shook his head and scowled. “Charles doesn’t want to get involved.”
I thought on my feet. Despite the grime and the fact that I didn’t like tea, I would have to ingratiate myself to him. I smiled, “Maybe I would like a cup of tea after all.”
Charlie danced around like a child on Christmas morning. From a wooden shelf, he found a second metal mug, washed it with boiled water then made a weak, insipid brew. He handed the mug to me and I sipped cautiously, as though anticipating hemlock. “What happened on Saturday night?” I asked, my lips hovering over the steaming mug.
“She pushed him into the lagoon, didn’t she.”
“Who? Describe her.”
Charlie offered a description of a smart, attractive woman, a description specific in some details, yet vague enough to match Amanda and Julia.
“Did you see her face?” I asked.
“Nah.” He shook his head. “It was too dark.”
“What happened before she pushed him into the lagoon?”
“There was a bit of a kerfuffle, pushing and shoving, an argument.”
“Did the man or woman say anything specific?”
“Yeah.” Charlie’s hirsute face brightened, his skin shining red, contrasting with the thorny white of his whiskers. “She said, ‘goodbye, Tony’.”
I frowned while my stomach did a backward flip, a reaction that had nothing to do with Charlie’s tea. “Those were her exact words?”
“Exact words.” Charlie placed three fingers to his forehead then gave me a sharp salute. “Scouts honour.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“Nah, that’s all. Just ‘goodbye, Tony’.”
I stared down to the ground, my thoughts lost in the dust that covered the floorboards.
Inching forward, Charlie sensed my distress. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Don’t you like my tea?”
“Nothing wrong with your tea, Charlie.” I glanced up and gave him a wan smile. “It’s your words I’m finding hard to swallow.”
After chatting with Charlie, I knew who had pushed Anthony Forbes into the lagoon. That knowledge did little to lighten my mood and the motive still troubled me. I knew from my own experience that victims of domestic violence are just that, victims, they are not aggressors, though of course some women reach the edge and do fight back. I sensed that Amanda had reached the edge a long time ago and she had decided not to fight back. Instead, she had removed herself from the abusive relationship and created a new life with a loving partner. She had no reason to resort to violence, no motive to push Anthony into the lagoon. Then I read through Manny’s notes again, before calling on Emma, Amanda’s daughter, and with Emma, I found the answer.
Back at the austere interview room with the austere female warder and a pensive Amanda Forbes, I asked, “Why did you do it?”
Amanda stared at the Formica table, the stark, bare, overhead light bulb creating a halo on her gleaming dark hair. “I told you,” she mumbled, “he used to beat me.”
“Why didn’t you report him to the police?”
“I did, but nothing happened. The police, social services, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, no one wanted to get involved. After all, it was ‘only’ domestic violence, something we had to sort out between us. It was just me and him, me and his fists.”
“What happened, the night you pushed him into the lagoon?”
Amanda stared at the table. Gently, her shoulders started to shake and, silently, she began to cry.
“He phoned from the golf club, drunk and abusive. He wanted to see me alone, but I’m with Gethin now, so I told him that that would not be possible. Then he said he’d go and visit Emma instead…”
Amanda glanced over to me. Her eyes shone with recognition and understanding; instinctively, she knew that I’d been to visit her daughter; she knew that I’d seen the bruises on her face.
“Because he couldn’t get at me, he’d taken to beating my daughter. I guess I just snapped; I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter enduring what I’d endured. I knew he’d take the short-cut through the quarry, so I relented and said that I would meet him after all. I didn’t go there with murder in my mind; I went there to confront him, to tell him to leave Emma alone. We argued, of course, I said ‘goodbye, Tony’, there was some pushing and shoving and in he went.” Amanda sniffed in a vain attempt to hold back her tears. Then she continued, “I’m sorry if I disappoint you. I’m sorry I’m not the saint you thought I was. But what can you do when someone starts beating your daughter? What can you do when no one will listen, when no one cares? I’m not proud of myself, in fact I feel downright guilty, but I was desperate. Surely you can understand that.”
I’d been there myself, so I was not a disinterested party. In fact, I was biased, firmly on Amanda’s side. Was she guilty or innocent, a villain or a victim? I guess that’s for you to decide.
Detective Inspector ‘Sweets’ MacArthur had broken his ankle. I’d known Sweets for four years and during that time he’d helped me with my detective agency, so it only seemed right to repay a debt and take him for an amble around a local park in his wheelchair. Besides, Sweets was always good for a laugh and with my agency enduring a ‘slow’ period I needed to exercise my chuckle muscles.
It was a clear spring day; the sun was warm, the grass was green and the trees were swaying gently in the light westerly breeze. Children played in tee-shirts while parents sat on the grass. Dogs barked and ran around after Frisbees, while other canines sniffed at the grass and followed their noses. In the distance, a lake shimmered and rippled as oarsmen skimmed across the water. In short, it was a beautiful day for a walk, a beautiful day to be out in the country.
We followed a meandering path through the trees until we came to rest at the top of a large grassy bank. I glanced at the bank and at Sweets’ wheelchair and allowed myself a wicked thought, the sort of thought I’d had on a regular basis as a troublesome teenager. Now if I just release the brake, give the chair a gentle push…
“You do it and you’re looking at ten years, without remission,” Sweets mumbled without looking around.
“Do what, Sweets?” I asked in all innocence.
“I’ve put up with you for four years; I know how you think.”
“What do you mean ‘put up with me’; you make me sound like a blister.”
“Good description.” He pushed his trilby to the crown of his balding head, turned and sighed, “And guess what part of the anatomy you’re on.”
I wagged a finger in mock admonishment. Then I unwrapped a boiled sweet and popped it into his mouth. “Here, suck on this and enjoy the view.”
While Sweets admired the view, watching the rowers on the lake, I reflected that I was lucky to know him. I had no idea who my father was and I guess Sweets had become my mentor, a father-figure to me, in many respects.
“Tell me,” I prompted, “how did you break your ankle?”
“Chasing after Lloyd Price; I fell and twisted it on some waste ground.”
I glanced down to Sweets’ ample paunch and the phrase ‘built for comfort and not for speed’ sprang to mind. “It is wise for someone in your, er, physical condition to go chasing after teenage tearaways?”
“I’ll ignore that barb about my relaxed figure,” Sweets replied sanctimoniously, “and remind you that I was in hot pursuit of a jewel thief. We’d been tipped off that Lloyd and his gang were going to pull a fast one at Benny the Bracelets’ and so we staked out the place. Sure enough at the appointed time Lloyd and his gang appeared, held Benny up at gunpoint and ran off with the jewels.”
“Which haven’t been recovered?”
“True,” Sweets conceded dolefully. “When I went over on my ankle there was a bit of confusion, Lloyd stashed the jewels and by the time Detective Sergeant Hopkins caught up with him the swag had disappeared.”
“But you definitely saw the swag in Lloyd’s hand when he ran from the jeweller’s shop?”
“Definitely.” Sweets nodded in affirmation. Then he turned, looked up at me and smiled. “I saw the jewels in his hand. They were as plain as the freckles on your pretty face.”
I blushed. I tend to blush whenever someone offers me a compliment. I try to control it but, along with politicians repeatedly telling self-serving lies, I guess it’s something I have to put up with.
“Interesting,” I mused, my hand rocking Sweets’ chair back and forth. The grass was so green, the slope on the hill so inviting. “Maybe I should visit the crime scene; give it the once over.”
“You do that,” Sweets suggested. “But first get me away from this hill before you turn me into a crime scene.”
I’m a good girl really and I returned Sweets safely to his loving wife. Then I drove my Mini to Castle Street, the scene of the crime.
Benny the Bracelets’ jewellery shop was on the corner of Castle Street and when you turned that corner you were confronted with an area of wasteland, an expanse of land earmarked for redevelopment. I picked my way over the ruts in the ground, the discarded masonry, the foundations of demolished buildings, paused then looked around. Searching for a handful of jewellery would be like searching for a needle in a haystack – a fruitless exercise. So instead I went in search of Lloyd Price.
After asking a range of questions at a graffiti-strewn tower block I found Lloyd sitting on a stone step, his hands in his pockets, his youthful face morose as he watched his friends play football.
“Remember me?” I asked optimistically.
Lloyd glanced in my direction. He squinted, then shielded his eyes from the sun. “You’re the private eye. You were around here a month ago, asking questions.”
“About a missing person.”
“Did you find her?”
“Huh-huh. She’s home now, safe and sound.”
One of Lloyd’s friends scored a goal and the football rolled in our direction. As the football came to a halt, Lloyd eased himself away from the stone step and in one supple movement, he put his foot through the football and sent it over the heads of his friends into the field. There was plenty of pent-up emotion in the kick and I sensed that he was annoyed.
“So who are you looking for this time?” he asked, his long face and dejected tone displaying his indifference.
“Not who, but what.” I adjusted my shoulder bag and explained, “I’m looking for some jewels.”
“Don’t tell me,” he sighed wearily, “you’re another one who thinks I turned over Benny the Bracelets’.”
He shook his head, a sad yet decisive gesture. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Robbie Deans told me to be there. We were going to meet up and go on to a pub. I was standing outside Benny’s and the next thing I know the alarm goes off and these masked men come running out of the shop. One of the men dropped this bag, see, about the size of my hand. I picked it up, then the next thing I know these coppers are chasing me, so I legged it. I ran around the corner, on to the wasteland and scarpered. ‘Course, I dropped the bag somewhere on the wasteland and when the fuzz caught up with me they didn’t believe me and nabbed me for the raid.” He shook his head and moaned. “No one believes me, but I’m innocent.”
“Any idea where you dropped the jewels?”
He shook his head, then thrust his hands deep into his jeans pockets. “Nah. It all happened so fast; it’s hard to recall who was there and what really happened.”
“Did you recognise any of the jewel thieves?”
“Nah. Like I said, they had masks on.”
“Why did you pick up the bag?”
Again, Lloyd shrugged his lanky shoulders. “I dunno. Reflex, I guess.”
The football rolled towards us and Lloyd trapped it under his right foot. He picked the ball up, bounced it then offered me a curious frown. “Why all the questions?”
“I’d like to find the jewels; maybe I’ll get a reward.”
“Blood money,” he groaned, “while I rot in gaol.”
“You’re not in gaol at the moment; you haven’t been formally charged.”
“That’s ‘cause the fuzz need to find the jewels. All they got now is me running away from the shop, and even the fuzz can’t fit me up on that.” With his friends chiding him, Lloyd threw the football into the field. Then he returned to the stone step and put his head in his hands. “I know I’ve been in trouble before, but my probation officer was putting me straight. He got me a steady job in the TV factory, I got back together with my girlfriend, Chantal, and everything was going great. Now I look like losing my job, Chantal’s taken up with Robbie again and my life’s going down the pan.” He looked up at me, his eyes bright and pleading. “Can you help me?”
I placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and smiled. “Maybe I can.”
I felt sorry for Lloyd. Maybe he reminded me of my troubled teenage years, of dubious paths I might have followed had chance or good fortune not intervened. Or maybe I sensed that he was trying to create a better life for himself and so was telling the truth. My instincts told me that Robbie Deans was holding the truth and that my task was to find him.
After asking more questions at the tower block, I found Robbie in a beer garden at the rear of a local pub, sipping a glass of lager. He was dressed in black, tee-shirt and jeans, and he’d combed his black hair back in a quiff. At his side sat a peroxide-blonde teenager. She was chewing gum while drinking a Bacardi and coke.
I walked up to their table and smiled, “You must be Robbie.”
Robbie eyed me, with suspicion, over the rim of his lager glass. “Who are you?”
“I’m Sam.” I smiled at his girlfriend. “And you must be Chantal.”
Chantal chewed her gum then blew a pink bubble. The bubble popped as she registered her surprise. “How do you know that?”
“I’m a trained private investigator; I know how to look for clues. And, unless I’m very much mistaken, that identity bracelet around your wrist holds a rather telling clue.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot about that.” Chantal offered me a smile laced with embarrassment while fingering her identity bracelet. Meanwhile I admired the numerous gold rings on her fingers and the gold earrings in her ears. Obviously, she had an eye for precious metals and for items that sparkled. Indeed, she was a one-woman advertisement for diamonds and gold, albeit diamonds and gold from the lower end of the scale.
“I’ve been talking with your friend, Lloyd,” I added, suddenly conscious of my own ringless fingers.
“What about him?” Robbie asked, his dark eyes still suspicious.
“You were due to meet him the other day, outside Benny the Bracelets’.” I paused and Robbie hid his face behind his lager glass. “You didn’t turn up. Or rather, you did, didn’t you?” Again, I paused and this time Robbie took a much needed gulp of lager. “Would you like me to offer my version of events?” He lowered his head and I took that as a sign of guilt, an indication that I should continue. “Chantal has been ping-ponging between you and Lloyd for some time and so you decided to put Lloyd in his place once and for all. You heard about the plan to raid Benny’s, and you sent Lloyd along, hoping that he’d get caught up in the raid. Of course, he did, but even better for you was the fact that he ran off with some of the jewels. Unseen by him or the police, you followed. When Lloyd dropped the jewels you picked them up, a rich bonus to your initial plan – you knew that Chantal would ditch Lloyd again when she heard about the jewel robbery, but now you had something even better, Chantal and the jewels.” I glanced at Robbie and Chantal. He was staring into the depths of his lager while she was blowing a bubble, one that threatened to obscure her face. “How am I doing so far?” Chantal’s bubble popped, but their continued silence told me that I was doing well. “My guess is you’ve fenced the jewels. However, Chantal is a lady of taste and not easily won and so you decided to risk that diamond ring to win her affections. Am I right, Chantal?”
Chantal glanced at the ring finger of her left hand, at a white gold band and large diamond, jewellery clearly superior to anything else she wore.
“You can’t prove any of this.” Robbie set his glass down with a determined thud.
I merely smiled and shrugged. “I’m sure Benny will have a record of that ring in his inventory.”
Robbie glanced at Chantal. Chantal stared at me. I looked at Robbie. A scowl of defeat creased his youthful face; he knew that there was no point in arguing; he knew that the game was up. “I wasn’t mixed up in the raid,” Robbie mumbled; “I had nothing to do with that.”
“But you know that Lloyd is innocent and you know who planned and executed the raid.” I glanced towards the exit and my Mini, parked in the car park. “I think we should have a chat with Detective Inspector MacArthur.”
“Do I have a choice?”
I held my tongue, but my expression obviously spoke volumes because, meekly, Robbie followed me to my car.
“Bloody women,” he moaned as he slipped on to my passenger’s seat, “they always get you in trouble.”
“Bloody men,” Chantal whined as she removed the gold ring and dropped it into my evidence bag, “you never can trust them.”
Once again, I glanced at my ringless fingers. I’d known the pain of a disastrous marriage, so could only reflect that sometimes there were advantages to being single. I guess it’s a simple truth of life that the grass is always greener, no matter what side of the fence you’re on.
A Cautionary Tale of Internet Dating
I was on a date, me, Samantha Smith, enquiry agent, thirty-two, petite, good looking – so I’ve been told – a woman who spent four years in an abusive marriage and who now wouldn’t touch a man with a bargepole. I was on a date, with a man I’d been chatting with on the Internet; was I mad, or what?
The man, Damien Davenport, an antique dealer, thirty-six, divorced, no dependants, had suggested the date. To judge from his profile picture, he was a hunk. His banter was courteous, sometimes amusing and he reckoned that I was the most interesting woman in the world. Yeah, pull the other one, it’s got bells on. On the whole, I’d told him the truth about myself, though I hadn’t let on that I was an enquiry agent. Instead I’d suggested that I was a typist, a job I’d done in the past.
I stood looking at the waterfront, outside Donadoni’s, a swish Italian restaurant; this was our rendezvous point. I wore a red rose in the lapel of my trench coat – tongue in cheek, we’d agreed that this would be the best form of identification. I wore my hair up – I’ve got very long auburn hair, which I’m loathed to have cut – and my skirt long – I’m not a prude, but I do believe that modesty goes a long way. It was September, the air was clear, the sky was blue and the sun was warm on my face. The perfect afternoon for romance?
I checked my watch. Five past three. He was late. Maybe he wouldn’t show and I’d be left with the mystery of who he really was and another disappointment. Maybe I’d got the time and location wrong. Or maybe he caught a glimpse of me and decided to run for the hills. I studied a gleaming white yacht as it sailed majestically into the bay. Maybe one day I’d have enough money to buy a yacht, instead of scrimping and saving to buy a yoghurt. There’s not much money in the private detective game, there’s not much glamour either. But I enjoyed the independence and, when it clicked, the job satisfaction.
Ten past three. Maybe he was stuck in traffic. Tough. That might sound harsh, but the beatings I’d taken throughout my marriage had left me with a jaundiced view of men. Mr Right might be out there somewhere, but I sensed that Damien Davenport wasn’t the one. It was time to get back to my office, feed Marlowe, a battered alley cat who seemed to have adopted me, and type a few reports for my fee-paying clients.
Back at my office, I unlocked the door and removed my trench coat.
“Don’t move,” a dark voice said, “this gun is loaded.”
I didn’t move. Not one muscle.
“Throw your coat on your desk.”
Obligingly, I threw my coat over my battered, second-hand, oak desk.
“Now turn around, slowly.”
I turned around, slowly, and gazed into the barrel of a Smith and Wesson .38 Police Special, the type with the dark blue burnish on the metal and walnut on the handle. Stylish. For a gun.
“Suppose you explain this.” The man with the gun – tall, dark, and despite a bent nose, rather handsome – waved at a package on my desk.
I gazed at the package. It was shoebox-size, wrapped in brown paper with a slight tear in the bottom right-hand corner. Curious. Uncomprehendingly, I blinked; I’d never seen it before in my life. “What is it?” I asked. “How did it get there?”
The man with the gun sucked his thumb then gave me a twisted grin. “Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”
Hey, that’s my line. And why are you sucking your thumb, like a baby?
Ignoring my puzzled look, he continued, “Suppose you open the package and bring it here.”
Two spots of red burned on my cheeks. I tapped my foot on my bare floorboards. Despite the gun, I was getting annoyed. “Suppose you get out of my office. After telling me how you broke in and why you planted that package.”
“I planted the package…” His eyes were wide, his tone incredulous.
I continued to glare at him, while remaining mindful of the gun. “Of course; how else did it get there?”
The man with the gun glanced at the package, then he stared at me. “I’d been warned about you,” he growled. “I was told you could be lippy, that you lack respect.”
“Who are you?” I frowned.
“Detective Sergeant Carver of the Drugs Squad. And that,” he added, waving his gun at the package, “is a kilo of cocaine. And you, Samantha Smith, are nicked.”
I was let out on bail. I had a solicitor friend, Manny, who was very good to me at times like this. He seemed to take pity on me for some reason – maybe it was my wistful looks and waifish appearance – and he found the money from somewhere. Well, have you ever seen an impoverished solicitor?
I’m below average height, but my IQ tests tell me that I’m above average intelligence, so I poured myself a black, decaf coffee and tried to get my mind into gear.
I’m invited on a date by someone I know only from the Internet and while I’m out waiting for him, a package and the drugs squad appear in my office. Coincidence? I think not.
I sat at my desk and noticed a few grains of white powder. They must have fallen from the package, probably escaping from the tear. I scooped the white powder and placed it in a small plastic bag. I had enemies in the police force, but I had friends too. This bag would go to one of my friends. Then I switched on my computer and wondered, where are you, Mr Damien Davenport. More to the point, who are you?
After waiting for my computer to grind its way through the gears – you guessed, most of the items in my life are second-hand or refurbished – I checked Mr Davenport’s profile. On closer inspection I discovered that the profile was light on comments with few photographs. He only had a handful of friends too. But he’d been sending me messages every day for a month, always polite, always saying complimentary things about me, never being rude or suggestive in any way. To him I was a thirty-two-year-old divorcee and typist – he didn’t know about my detective agency, unless…
That’s the thing with the Internet, your name pops up everywhere and your picture can appear in some strange places. I’d been involved in some high-profile cases that had made the local newspapers and the Internet so it would be fairly easy for him to piece together who I really was and where I worked. And from there he could sweet-talk me out of my office and plant the drugs. But why? I scratched my head with the blunt end of my pen. I was puzzled. Was this personal, or was I being used as some sort of dupe? Time for more coffee…
I was on my third cup of coffee, and that’s my limit, any more and I tend to get the shakes, when the idea hit me…whoever had planted the drugs had tipped off D.S. Carver of the drugs squad. Or what if I was right with my first assumption and I’d wandered into my office early only to catch D.S. Carver planting the drugs? What if D.S. Carver was Damien Davenport? There were a lot of ‘what ifs’ in there and a lot of guesswork, but the idea held a sort of twisted logic for me. If Carver was Davenport then why was he trying to set me up or discredit me? What had I done to annoy the police? Rather a lot, actually, I tend to be good at annoying people, especially people in authority. Or was this personal? What had I done to annoy Detective Sergeant Carver? I returned to my computer and Damien Davenport’s profile.
I scanned Davenport’s limited list of contacts for a name I might recognize, without success. Then I went a step further and scanned the contacts of Davenport’s contacts. Again, no success. Then I set myself the odious task of tracing the contacts of the contacts of the contacts. By the end of the evening my mind was turning to blancmange and my fingers were suffering from repetitive strain injury, but I had a name…Councillor Rebecca Redwood.
Councillor Redwood was in her mid-forties. She had long, red hair, large, intimidating eyes, made larger by her huge gold-framed spectacles, a good figure and plenty of powerful friends. And I was standing in front of her, in her plush City Hall office.
“I’m very busy,” Councillor Redwood frowned while moving papers around her desk and generally looking very busy, “get to the point, then get out.”
“Talk like that won’t get you re-elected.”
She looked up sharply.
“I understand that you are up for re-election next month and that you intent to remain as leader of our esteemed council?”
Councillor Redwood removed her glasses. She folded them before placing them carefully on her desk. “Is this a political matter?” she asked cautiously.
“It is a matter concerning the abuse of political power.” I adjusted my shoulder bag and, without being invited to, I sat down. Councillor Redwood’s frown intensified. She glared at me. Her nostrils flared with indignation. Like I said, I’m very good at annoying people in authority. I continued in a soft, calm voice, “A month ago I was hired by a Mrs Franklyn; does the name mean anything to you?”
Councillor Redwood stared straight through me, gazing at some unspecified point on the far wall.
“Mrs Franklyn hired me to find out if her husband is having an affair. I have yet to conclude my investigations, but my initial report will state that her husband is having an affair – with you.”
Councillor Redwood’s face turned as crimson as her hair, a mixture of anger and embarrassment, no doubt, because I spoke the truth. Councillor Redwood and Mr Freddie Franklyn were having an affair. So what, you may say, people are having affairs all over the city. True, but when you are leader of the city council you have to be whiter than white, and the trouble with Mr Freddie Franklyn was he was blacker than black, a man with so many criminal connections he made Al Capone look like a choirboy.
“I will deny all talk of an affair, of course,” she smiled tightly. “Especially talk of an affair with Mr Franklyn.”
“Deny it all you like, the rumour and gossip will ruin you. Of course, you couldn’t let that happen, so to discredit me, you and Freddie Franklyn, set me up on a drugs charge. I’m not sure where D.S. Carver fits in; presumably you and Freddie have got him wrapped around your little fingers, and between you, you set up the false profile of Damien Davenport to sweet-talk me out of my office so you could plant the drugs. The plan might have worked, except I’m so distrustful of men I tend to suspect their motives from move one. That’s what surviving an abusive relationship does for you.”
“We will make the drugs charge stick.” Councillor Redwood appeared unmoved. She placed her glasses on the bridge of her nose, adjusted them and returned to her paperwork. “You have a man with powerful criminal connections, the police and the city authorities lined up against you.” Her voice rose in a note of triumph. “You can’t win.”
“But on this occasion,” I smiled, “I can.” Warming to my theme, I explained, “When Carver planted the drugs, my cat, Marlowe, became curious. He scratched at the package, releasing some powder. He scratched at Carver too, probably when your pet detective was trying to chase my cat away. I scooped up the powder and gave it to a friend for analysis. And guess what? The package contained sodium hydrogencarbonate, baking powder. It seems that when it came to the crunch Freddie Franklyn decided that he’d rather sacrifice you than a packet of cocaine.”
Councillor Rebecca Redwood removed her spectacles. Once again, she folded them and placed them neatly on her desk. She was calm, composed, aloof. She was also disgraced and out of a job.
I glared at her; she had tried to ruin me, so I felt no sympathy for her. I didn’t blame her for the affair, I didn’t really blame her for associating with Freddie Franklyn, but I did blame her for abusing her position and for trying to discredit me.
Later that evening I was in a local store looking at the yoghurts. I’d never have enough money to buy a yacht. Scratching around in my purse, I realised that I barely had enough money to buy a yoghurt. But I did find enough money to buy some premium cat food for Marlowe. After all, he’d earned it.
Chapter Six of Thirty
That afternoon I drove west to Cyncoed in the heart of Cardiff. At 4 p.m., I arrived at Dr Storey’s office. Dr Storey ran his practice from a Victorian villa overlooking Roath Park. The villa was a splendid example of Victorian architecture, reflecting an age of pride and confidence.
I climbed a short flight of steps and entered the building. A tall, lean receptionist with a mass of greying hair, piled high on her head, asked me to wait. As I stood in the reception room, I could hear her heels clip across a parquet floor and then the creak of a hundred and fifty year old woodwork as she climbed the stairs to the first floor. A few minutes later, she was back in the reception room and I was climbing the creaky staircase; permission had been granted and I was on my way to see Dr Storey.
I knocked on his office door and a confident voice said, “Enter.” I opened the door, entered the office and stood dead in my tracks. For some reason I expected Dr Storey to be in his early sixties, maybe a little fat, definitely bald. I envisaged someone wearing rimless glasses and a stern, censorious expression. But Dr Storey was in his early-forties with dark brown, wavy hair, dark brown eyes and handsome, even features. At a guess, he was over six foot tall and his body was built in proportion – athletic, muscular, trim. His skin had a light tan and combined with his build it suggested plenty of outdoor activity – maybe walking, climbing, that sort of thing. He was wearing a smart, dark, three-piece suit with a fine pinstripe. His shirt was white and crisp while his tie was neat and matched his suit. He looked up from his desk and offered me an engaging smile. I guess I smiled back but, in all honesty, I don’t remember. Dr Storey struck me as a double for James Garner, circa The Rockford Files, albeit a James Garner with a neatly trimmed goatee beard.
Dr Storey placed his gold fountain pen on a blotter. He inclined his head slightly to the left and asked, “Can I help you?”
“Sam Smith,” I muttered. I fished in my shoulder bag for a business card and placed it on his desk. My business card was plain with my name and business details upon it. In idle and light-hearted moments, I’d thought about adding an emblem, maybe crossed revolvers at the top and crossed lipsticks at the bottom, but rejected the idea as being too crass. “I’ve got an appointment,” I explained, “Milton Vaughan-Urquhart phoned your office…”
“Oh, yes.” Dr Storey studied my card then glanced down to his notes. He smiled at me when he looked up. “I was expecting someone else.”
“It’s the shortened version of my name,” I apologised, “it can cause confusion.”
Dr Storey stood. I was right – he was just over six foot tall. He offered his hand and I shook it. His handshake was firm, assured. Ever the nosy enquiry agent, I glanced at his desk and noted a picture of a smiling, attractive woman and a nine-year-old girl. The woman and girl had similar looks. Probably mother and daughter. Probably Dr Storey’s wife and daughter. Another picture was more recent. It showed Dr Storey with his daughter. She was around sixteen now, very pretty with large eyes and dark, curly hair. There was no picture of Dr Storey and his wife together. Why was that, I wondered. Maybe they’d divorced and he’d kept her picture because he still loved her. Or maybe he loved that photograph of his daughter. Or maybe…my mind was racing now, seeking possibilities and answers. Cool it, Sam, I heard the little voice in the back of my head say, Dr Storey’s pictures have nothing to do with you. I know that, I replied, but there’s a gap there that needs an explanation, there’s a detail missing and I need to find an answer. It was the kind of obsessive thinking that wore me out, the kind of detailed thinking that made me good at my job.
“Your coat is wet,” Dr Storey noted. “Here, let me take it for you.” I unbuttoned my coat and he placed it next to his, on a coat stand. Then he waved a hand towards his client’s chair. “Take a seat.”
I smoothed my skirt and sat. I crossed my legs. Little Miss Prim. From his chair, Dr Storey peered over the edge of his desk and looked at my legs, but not in a salacious or lecherous manner, more like someone admiring a work of art. Let him admire them, loosen up, after all, he’s not Jack the Ripper. Indeed, he had a kind, gentle face, a face you could trust. And his office – tastefully decorated in pale green with a range of indoor plants – had an air of calm and serenity, a quality that emanated from the man himself.
I delved into my shoulder bag for a pen and my notepad. “Do you mind if I take notes?”
He shrugged a broad shoulder. “Go ahead.”
I sat poised, my pen hovering over my notepad. “Milton explained why I want to talk with you?”
Dr Storey nodded. “Something to do with Derwena and a stalker.” He pursed his lips while his fingers toyed with his pen. “I’ll help you, if I can, but you appreciate that I am bound by client confidentiality; I can only say so much.”
“Same in my business,” I smiled. “Admittedly, I’ve only been with Derwena for a day, but I’ve seen no sign of a stalker and my instincts tell me that she might be making him up.”
“Are your instincts normally sound?”
I paused, searching for an honest answer. With my head bowed, I replied, “I’m learning to trust them.”
Dr Storey appeared satisfied with my answer. He leaned forward and spoke in a confident, assured manner. “Obviously I can’t say ye or nay in regards to the stalker, but I can offer you my personal insight. Derwena’s had many problems in the past and they have been published in the press, so I don’t mind discussing them with you. When she’s under stress, she does have a tendency to dramatize. These dramatics are a way of reaching out for love and support and given her situation who could blame her for that. I wouldn’t dismiss her stalker story out of hand because she’s had problems with such people in the past. But she’s also going through a very stressful time at the moment in terms of relationships and her career, and other issues which I am not at liberty to discuss.”
“So the stalker could be real or he could be a figment of her imagination.”
Dr Storey shrugged. He gave me an apologetic look. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”
“Thanks anyway.” I scribbled in my notebook – none the wiser, then I placed my notebook and pen in my shoulder bag and threw the latter over my shoulder.
“Before you go…,” Dr Storey hesitated, “tell me, how did you get into this line of work?”
I gave him a thin smile and glanced down to his thick, shag pile carpet. I shook my head. “You don’t want to hear my story.”
He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his desk. “I do,” he insisted. With an earnest look on his face, he brought his hands together and made a bridge with his fingers. Then he placed his chin on that bridge and gazed at me with his soft, brown eyes.
I fell under his spell, that’s the only explanation I can think of, because I allowed my shoulder bag to sink into his carpet, opened my mouth and started to ramble: I told him things that I’d never told anyone before. “Well…I was having problems with my ex.” I started to well up. Get a grip, you fool, he’s used to hearing sob stories – don’t embarrass yourself. “He used to hit me, you know.”
Maybe I imagined it, but I swear I saw pain in Dr Storey’s eyes. He nodded, slowly, “I understand.”
I swallowed. Hard. “Black eyes were a weekly occurrence. One time he broke my jaw, another time he fractured my skull.” I paused, then hurried on, “But don’t get me wrong, Dan is not a monster. In fact, if you met him you’d regard him as charming, charismatic, good-looking.”
“What’s his line of work?” Dr Storey asked.
“Journalist. Freelance. The job had many pressures and when Dan felt under pressure, he’d drink. Sometimes the alcohol would solve the problem, sometimes the tension would stay with him and then he’d erupt…”
“And hit you.”
“Yeah.” My throat felt tight, my voice sounded as if it were coming from somewhere else, from another room. I noticed a carafe of water with an upturned glass on the desk. Dr Storey reached for the carafe and poured me a glass of water. I accepted it with thanks.
“And how long did this go on for?” Dr Storey asked.
“Throughout our marriage. Four years.”
“Why didn’t you leave him?”
“I thought about it, many times. But he was always very apologetic, mortified when he’d seen what he’d done to me. He promised he’d change, and for a short time, he did. Then the pressures would build, he’d drink, he’d hit me. In the end I thought, it’s all my fault, I deserve this, so I stuck around. Also, I had my pride – I didn’t want to show the outside world what was happening. And Dan’s a nice guy, to the eyes of the outside world.”
“But you left him.”
“Yeah. But not because of the beatings. I suspected him of having an affair. So I went to a private detective. He was very busy at the time and asked me to do a bit of background work on the case, take some pictures, establish places, dates, times. To cut a long story short, I did the whole case and I used the evidence I’d gathered to get a divorce. Angus, the private eye, was very impressed and he offered me a job, a sort of secretary-assistant. It all went well for the best part of a year. Then, one day, Angus walks in with a bunch of flowers and tells me that he loves me. He’s a decent guy, good-looking, dedicated to his work, but he’s married with three kids and I’m thinking, I can’t be doing with any of this, so I quit. I went back to typing, agency work – I’d done a secretarial course at night school, but that’s another story – and gathered together some funds. But, to be honest, I missed the buzz of the detective agency work, I missed the sense of satisfaction I got from helping people straighten out their lives. So I set up as an enquiry agent. It was hard going for twelve months. I used up all my savings, I got into debt, but gradually I built a reputation for reliability and competence and I managed to make enough to survive.”
Hell, I thought, what am I doing talking to this man; I haven’t discussed this with anyone, no one at all. It was a taboo subject, something I kept to myself. Of course, at work people in the office would notice that I had bumps and bruises. It became a running joke, ‘clumsy Sam has walked into the door again’. The broken jaw and fractured skull took some explaining, but with the fractured skull I said that I’d taken a very hot bath, got out too quick, hyper-ventilated, stumbled and fell down the stairs. People seemed to believe me. Or maybe they wanted to believe me, to avoid any embarrassment and discussion of the truth. My past was a secret I kept to myself. I told no one about Dan and the violence. Yet, here I was, pouring my heart out to this man, a stranger I’d met barely a few minutes previously. I felt agitated, confused. I picked up my shoulder bag and stood. “You didn’t want to hear all that,” I mumbled, “I’ve got to go.” I reached for my coat and struggled into it.
“Thank you.” Dr Storey stood. He walked over to me and helped me with my coat.
I frowned. “What for?”
“For coming to see me today. For talking with me. For being so frank and open with me.”
I felt my face start to flush. My chest was tight and I was beginning to hyperventilate. I took a step towards the door. “I’ve got to go.”
Dr Storey opened the door. He stood calmly at my side. He was looking at me, maybe assessing me, I don’t know because I was looking the other way, avoiding eye contact.
“Stay in touch, I’d like to know if the stalker is for real, or not. And if I can be of any further assistance…” His voice trailed off. I glanced up and noticed a look of admiration – surely not – on his face. “You’re a remarkable lady. I admire your courage, I admire your determination. It can’t have been easy; I admire you for what you’ve done.”
His voice was sincere, genuine. This man was sincere, genuine, and that’s why I ran from his office. I ran out of the building and jumped into my car. In my car, I slumped on to the driver’s seat, exhausted. I felt drained, like I hadn’t slept for a week. I wound the car window down and placed my elbow on the ledge, my head resting against my open palm. The rain splashed on to my face. It cooled me – it was welcome. I looked up to Dr Storey’s office. He was standing in the window, his handsome features creased with concern. Maybe he was worried about the rain ruining his golf day. Did he play golf? Hell, how should I know? I was confused, agitated. I’ve already said that, I was repeating myself, that’s how upset I was. Calm down, I told myself, for once in your damned life be truthful and honest with yourself. Okay, I’d just told a stranger the most intimate aspects of my life, but I’d lived with them for five years, since the divorce. Those personal aspects were over-familiar to me and it was cathartic to share them with someone else. That was a truth. Another truth – it wasn’t the confession that really bothered me, the unburdening of my soul – after all, he must hear similar stories half-a-dozen times a day. No, what bothered me was that he was still looking at me through his office window; he didn’t want to break the connection. Moreover, I was looking at him and what bothered me was a part of me had no desire to put my car into gear and pull away. What really bothered me was – I felt an attraction. Love hurts, I told myself – put your foot on the pedal and get out of there. Fast. And with a sigh, I did put my car into gear and I did pull away. But I glanced over my shoulder, up to Dr Storey’s office window before I did so.
Love Hurts. For Derwena de Caro, songstress, female icon, teenage dream, success brought drugs, alcohol and a philandering boyfriend. It also brought wealth, fame and a stalker, or so she claimed. And that’s where I came in, to investigate the identity of the stalker, little realising that the trail would lead to murder and a scandal that would make the newspaper headlines for months on end.
Love Hurts. For me, Samantha Smith, Enquiry Agent, love arrived at the end of a fist. First, I had to contend with an alcoholic mother, who took her frustrations out on me throughout my childhood, then my husband, Dan, who regarded domestic violence as an integral part of marriage. But I survived. I obtained a divorce, kept my sense of humour and retained an air of optimism. I established my business and gained the respect of my peers. However, I was not prepared for Dan when he re-entered my life, or for the affection showered on me by Dr Alan Storey, a compassionate and rather handsome psychologist.
Sam’s Song. This is the story of a week that changed my life forever.
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This eBook contains three short stories featuring private detective Samantha Smith along with an extract from the first Sam Smith novel, Sam's Song. Stories featured: Over the Edge, A Bad Break, Of Cats and Men - A Cautionary Tale of Internet Dating.