Another visit to Malcolm Forbes was indicated, but Rafferty said as Bazza’s front door shut behind them, ‘I think we’ll leave it till tomorrow. If he thinks he’s got away with lying to us he might just become over-confident in the interim and let something slip.’
‘You know he’s likely to deny being in that alley,’ Llewellyn put in. ‘We’ve only got young Bazza’s word that he was there at all. Even Tony Moran didn’t mention his presence.’
‘That’s why it’ll be interesting to see what he says when we question him. Hopefully, his car will show up on CCTV as he passed through the town. In the meantime, we need to see if anyone other than Bazza Lomond saw him. The four youths, for instance. As you say, it’s strange that Tony Moran never mentioned him. Though I suppose he was more concerned with saving his skin if he mentioned Forbes than he was with bringing Harrison’s killer to justice. Get the house-to-house team on to questioning around the neighbourhood again, will you, Daff? Someone else in Bazza’s street might have seen him drive up.’
Rafferty, conscious that they might have found the breakthrough that would provide the answers they sought, did his best to quell the burgeoning excitement.
‘I hear you’re looking for a cheap florist,’ Constable Bill Beard said to Rafferty as he and Llewellyn entered the station reception.
‘Not a cheap florist, no,’ Rafferty corrected him. ‘I’m looking for a professional florist who’ll do a good job cheaply for my wedding. Why? Know any?’
‘My auntie used to be a florist. She’s long since retired, of course. But she likes to keep her hand in. How much were you thinking of paying?’
Rafferty called to mind the quotes he’d had and halved the cheapest.
‘I’ll give her a bell. You want the usual, I take it? Flowers for the church and reception hall and bouquets and buttonholes?’
Rafferty nodded. ‘I can let you know how many nearer the time.’
‘Numbers aren’t a problem. My auntie can always call in the help of a few of her old muckers in the trade. Of course I’ll expect an agent’s fee.’
‘Not the usual fifteen per cent. Not even ten. To you it’s five per cent. Can’t say fairer than that. Does a lovely job. You’ll be pleased with the result. It’s in her blood.’
Rafferty couldn’t believe that strangling a bunch of innocent flowers with wire could be in anyone’s blood. ‘It’s my fiancée who needs to be pleased. One bouquet looks much the same as another to me.’
‘Leave it with me. I’ll get it sorted for you.’ Beard prised his bulk off the reception counter and picked up the phone, looking far more willing and enthusiastic about tackling this little side-line than he ever did about his real job.
Rafferty nodded his thanks and followed Llewellyn upstairs to his office.
Malcolm Forbes said very little at first when they questioned him again at the police station. He waited while Rafferty placed the two tapes in the recorder, sitting silently while Rafferty spoke their names into the tape.
But once Rafferty began questioning him he was quick to deny being in Primrose Avenue at the time Bazza Lomond claimed to have seen him enter the alley.
‘What would I need to go there for?’ he not unreasonably asked as he leant back in his chair. He seemed enclosed in an aura of confidence as if he couldn’t envisage anyone being foolhardy enough to place him in the vicinity of a murder. And if someone had, his manner implied, that someone could easily be persuaded to change their mind. ‘I don’t do the collections. That’s what I hire staff for. I’ve got more important things to do with my time.’
‘OK, Mr Forbes. So if you weren’t in the alley or its vicinity around the time of Mr Harrison’s murder, which occurred roughly between two-thirty and three-thirty, where were you?’
‘I was in my office, Inspector. Where I’m normally to be found on a weekday. And where I should be now if you hadn’t called me into the station to question me on this unfortunate business. You can’t trust the staff to provide a decent valuation on people’s more valuable little trinkets. I see to most of that side of things.’
Decent for whom? Rafferty wondered, though he doubted the decent valuations went to benefit Forbes’s customers. He challenged Forbes’s claim. ‘You were seen, you know, going into that alley.’
Forbes’s mean grey eyes swivelled between them for a second before his gaze turned even meaner and he fixed it intimidatingly on Rafferty. It was clear he wasn’t used to being contradicted. It was also clear that he meant someone to pay for the necessity of extracting himself from the mire.
‘Nonsense,’ he barked. ‘Seen? How could I have been seen? I told you. I wasn’t there. Seen by whom, anyway?’
Rafferty smiled. ‘You know I can’t tell you that, Sir.’ No chance of that and give him the opportunity to put the frighteners on the bombastic Bazza Lomond. Though Bazza had been far from discreet in confiding his news and it must have been overheard by Jake Sterling and his friends. If they thought there was money in it they might repeat Bazza’a words to Forbes. For all they knew, the four youths were already in Forbes’s pay; certainly, not one of them had mentioned the loan shark being in the vicinity of the alley on the afternoon of the murder. ‘Which of your staff was on duty that afternoon?’
‘You’re surely not going to question my staff?’ Forbes put on a good show of outrage, though, given young Bazza’s evidence, it must have been an act. ‘I’m a respectable businessman. I would have thought my word good enough.’
‘In a murder investigation it’s of no more value than that of any other witness. Or suspect,’ Rafferty was quick to tell him. ‘We like to be even handed. And questioning your staff is the general idea. Was it that thin gentleman we saw last time we were at your shop?’
Forbes’s heavy face gave a tight nod. It made him look meaner than ever.
The thin gentleman must have been pursuing other business because he had been replaced by a woman when they had visited the pawnbroker’s to pick up Forbes for questioning. Though Rafferty suspected the thin gentleman would be no more use to him than Nigel had been. As soon as Forbes walked free from the interview room, he’d be on his mobile and all the staff would doubtless be suitably primed with the right answers as to Forbes’s whereabouts at the time of Harrison’s death. Or if they hadn’t already, they soon would be.
Surprisingly, Forbes gave way. ‘Very well,’ he snapped. ‘Question him if you must. But next time you question either myself or any of my staff I must insist on having my solicitor present.’
‘That’s your prerogative, Sir. Now, if I can have the name of the thin gentleman and his address?’
With a barely concealed ill-grace, Forbes provided the information. ‘Though he’ll tell you exactly the same as I’ve told you,’ he said.
Rafferty smiled again. ‘I’m sure you’re right, Sir. But it doesn’t hurt to be thorough. I’m sure you’d want us to be the same if it was one of your relatives lying on a slab in the mortuary.’
Forbes said nothing more except to bid them a good afternoon.
Once Forbes had left to be ferried back to his shop in a police car, Rafferty said, ‘Let’s have a scout around the neighbourhood of Forbes’s shop. See where Forbes keeps his car and question the people in the neighbouring businesses. They might be more forthcoming about our loan shark’s whereabouts than one of his minions.’
Forbes, it turned out, kept his car, a sleek silver Mercedes, in the yard at the back of the pawn shop. High brick walls separated Forbes’s yard from those of his next-door-neighbours on either side, so unless one of them had seen him driving off in his car, they would still have no more than young Bazza Lomond’s word that he had left the shop at all. Unless, that was, Tony Moran decided to expand on his story or the car showed up clearly on CCTV.
However, this time they struck lucky at the first of Forbes’s neighbours that they questioned and wouldn’t have to rely on either the easily intimidated Moran who, it seemed, had already lied to them once, or the often grainy CCTV footage. The town’s one remaining independent butcher whose shop was next door to Forbes’s pawnbrokers had had a delivery expected and had been keeping an eye out. He had seen Forbes drive out of the alley beside the row of shops. The butcher, a Mr Fred Fortescue, a big, burly man who looked as if he was over fond of his own wares, was adamant about what he’d seen.
‘And what time was this, Mr Fortescue?’ Rafferty questioned.
‘Time? It’d have been gone three o’clock. I’d just served Mrs Palmer – nice sirloin and some of my own sausages – and I was out on the pavement looking for the delivery chap, when I saw Forbes. I don’t like the man. Fancies himself. Blamed me when his car had some of the paint scraped off it the other week. I told him. I said, “Maybe if you didn’t drive so fast, your car wouldn’t get damaged”. You could see he didn’t like it. But I’m not frightened of him. I’m one for plain speaking. I don’t beat around the bush with anyone, me, as I told him.’
Rafferty gave Fred Fortescue a delighted smile. ‘And it was definitely Mr Forbes. You’re quite sure?’
‘As sure as I’m standing here, behind this counter. ‘Couldn’t mistake him. He was only a couple of yards away from me across the pavement. You should have seen the dirty look he gave me since we had words. Thinks he’s someone, that man. He’s nowt to me. I don’t have to kowtow to him and I’m damned if I will,’ the forthright Northern butcher told him.
‘Which way did he drive?’
‘He turned right out of the alley. Went past my shop. Heading out to The George Inn for a business meeting, I shouldn’t wonder. Got his fingers in more pies than I have, that man. None of them savoury.’
Rafferty gave the butcher a smile of acknowledgement at this witticism. A right turn would certainly have taken him in the direction of The George. It would also have led him to Primrose Avenue. Even if he still denied being there, Forbes had been caught out in a lie, which was interesting in itself.
Rafferty shook Fred Fortescue’s hand. ‘You’ll come down to the station and make a statement?’
‘Glad to if it means you get him for something. Time he was put in his place. I hear tell it were one of his collectors that got clobbered. Can’t blame people if they take the law into their own hands when they’ve got nowt and they’ve got someone like him on their backs. Man’s an out and out bully. That Forbes is as nasty a bit of work as you’ll see in many a long day. Mark my words. I’ve met a few in me time.’
Fred Fortescue promised to come along to the station to make a statement that evening after he’d shut up his butcher’s shop.
Rafferty grinned all the way to their car which they’d had to park down a side street. ‘That’s what I call a result,’ he said. ‘Wonder what Forbes will have to say for himself now?’
‘Very little, I imagine,’ said Llewellyn. ‘He did say he’d have his solicitor with him next time we question him, remember?’
‘Sure sign of guilt when they reach for their brief with so little reason.’
‘Or of someone who knows his rights and insists on having them. We may get nothing at all from him.’
‘True. But that’s two witnesses who say he wasn’t in his shop that afternoon.’ They had already retrieved the CCTV footage and now they’d checked out the car that Forbes drove they should get a third witness from that. ‘Ring through with the details of Forbes’s vehicle registration, will you, Dafyd, so the team can make a start checking the CCTV evidence? I reckon, with our questioning in the neighbourhood extended, we might unearth one or two more witnesses. It’d be nice to have a quiversful when we tackle Forbes again.’
But although they weren’t destined to obtain Rafferty’s hoped for quiversful of witnesses, the two witnesses they had were firm enough in what they said they had seen, particularly Fred Fortescue, who seemed a very strong witness. Rafferty thought it was enough to tackle Forbes again, be he with a brief or without.
Rather than behaving with hostility, as Rafferty had expected, when questioned again, Forbes said very little as Llewellyn had prophesised. Instead, he fielded his brief, who was small but deadly and stonewalled Rafferty at every turn.
The brief, Anthony Frobisher, was well known in the nick. He fronted several of the local criminal fraternity and was generally hated by the police for protecting his clients so efficiently. Today was no different.
Deciding to go on the attack rather than keep to the quiet polite manner that had availed him nothing, Rafferty said, ‘You realise your client is obstructing a police investigation by his denials? We have more than one witness who places him out of his office at the relevant time. More than one witness who places him at the scene.’ The last wasn’t strictly true – they only had young Bazza Lomond – but Rafferty thought a little exaggeration worth it. ‘Yet all you and your client do is deny he was there.’
‘That’s because he wasn’t there, Inspector,’ the brief replied coolly. ‘As I and Mr Forbes have repeatedly told you.’
Rafferty managed – just – to stop the scowl forming. ‘I must warn you and your client that every inch of that alley and every piece of CCTV film between here and there will be thoroughly examined. If Mr Forbes left the office, as I believe, we’ll find out and then we’ll be back.’
‘I’m sure my client will be happy to make himself available.’ The brief, sleek, smooth and deadly, added softly, ‘As shall I. But my client and I are both busy men, so I suggest you give us more warning than you gave us today if you wish to question him again.’
Rafferty had little choice but to leave it there. He could, he supposed, have arrested Forbes on a charge of obstruction, but as it was likely his brief would have provided his own form of obstruction to any questions, there was little to be gained beyond the satisfaction of forcing Forbes to cool his heels in a cell for a while. They must hope that either the forensic boys found something in the vicinity of the alley that proved Forbes had been there or that the CCTV came up with irrefutable proof.
However, as it was likely that forensic would be some time providing any useful leads, Rafferty didn’t waste any of it waiting for answers to come to him from that quarter. Other answers were out there, somewhere and he was determined to find them. To this end, he and Llewellyn set off to question young Bazza again.
The roads were busy. The welcome bright sunshine had brought people out of their homes. Unfortunately, it meant their journey was stop/start nearly all the way. Rafferty restrained his impatience. But eventually they reached Bazza Lomond’s home. His mother opened the door and led them upstairs to her son’s bedroom.
Bazza was playing some violent game on his computer and showed a marked reluctance to be torn away from it to answer their questions. But eventually his mother persuaded him to abandon the game and help them, although at first he was inclined to be sulky.
‘Tell me, Bazza,’ Rafferty asked when he had got his attention, his mother making encouraging noises in the background. ‘How did Mr Forbes seem when you saw him on the day of the murder?’
‘Seem? How do you mean? I don’t know how fatso Forbes normally seems, apart from big and aggressive.’
‘What I meant was – was he furtive when he came out of the alley? Did he seem nervous? Did you see any blood on him?’
‘Blood? No.’ This got his interest and although he had turned halfway back to the screen, now he turned back to face them, though he seemed disappointed to have to make this admission. ‘He didn’t look anything in particular. Just big and red with that “get out of my way” look to him as if he owns the street.’
He certainly owned half of it in Rafferty’s estimation, judging from the number of the residents who were in debt to him.
‘You said before that he was carrying something when he came out of the alley,’ Llewellyn prompted. ‘What about when he entered the alley? Was he carrying something then?’
‘I dunno. I never noticed.’
‘Have you thought any more about what it might have been that he was carrying?’ Rafferty put in.
‘Yeah. I’ve thought and thought. But I didn’t see what it was. Do you reckon it might have been a knife?’ he asked eagerly.
‘It wasn’t a knife that killed our victim, Bazza,’ Rafferty told the boy.
‘No?’ He seemed disappointed. ‘What was it then?’
Rafferty didn’t see any reason not to gratify the boy’s curiosity seeing as he’d been so helpful and provided them with their first strong lead. ‘We believe it was a hammer, son.’
Bazza pulled a face. ‘That’s what old Lewis said. You know, the old bloke who found the body. Said Jaws’ head had been bashed in. I never believed him.’
‘Well, it’s true, so if you find a hammer anywhere on your travels, don’t touch it, but be sure to report it to me.’ Gravely, Rafferty took a card out of his pocket and handed it over. ‘If you find a hammer or learn anything else, you give me a bell, Bazza. Promise me?’
‘Cool.’ Enraptured, the boy gazed at the card as at a treasured possession, his desire to return to his computer game clearly forgotten.
It was nice, Rafferty thought as they turned away, that there were still kids about who didn’t think the police were the enemy.
Rafferty decided to go to see Father Kelly straight after work in order to get the wedding date booked. He found the priest in his study with papers, as usual, strewn over every surface. He had a new housekeeper, another young woman. She had a lush figure and a propensity to low-necked tops. Just the way the old reprobate liked them. He was in a playful mood. From the smell of his breath, he’d had a couple.
‘And isn’t it the wedding boy himself, young Lochinvar come out of the west,’ Father Kelly greeted him as he poured another glass from the bottle of Jameson’s whiskey standing at his elbow and took a hefty swig. ‘I wondered when you’d come calling. Your Mammy said you’re finally making a start on getting your wedding organised.’
‘That’s right, Father. Can you book us in for June next year?’
‘Sure and you’re already booked. Didn’t your Mammy book it months ago?’
Rafferty stared at him, stupefied. ‘How can she have booked it? We’ve only just decided on the date ourselves.’
‘Not a woman to hang about, Kitty Rafferty. She told me you and Abra would be dithering and she was right. Your Mammy’s a sensible woman and knew it was necessary to get it booked as soon as possible. I set aside a twelve o’clock on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. You can take your pick.’
Rafferty supposed, as he sipped the Jameson’s that the ever hospitable priest had poured for him, that he ought to be grateful that his Ma, at least, had shown some foresight. No wonder she’d pushed so keenly for June and had rubbished May. No doubt if they’d decided on June and she’d booked July, she’d have found something disparaging to say about that month as well. Oh well. It was done now. ‘Hold on a minute, Father and I’ll check with Abra which date she’d prefer.’ After a quick chat on his mobile, Abra confirmed they’d go for the second Saturday.
Father Kelly made a note in his diary. He beamed at Rafferty and insisted on pouring him another drink. ‘To celebrate your forthcoming nuptials,’ he said. ‘Never thought I’d live to see the day, not after your last lot.’
Rafferty and Angie, his late first wife, had had a shotgun wedding and the marriage had gone downhill from there. ‘It was just a matter of finding the right woman this time,’ he said. ‘And now I’ve found her.’
‘It’s glad for you, I am.’ Father Kelly raised his glass. ‘Here’s to your young lady. May you be blessed with many babies.’
Rafferty wasn’t sure the latter part of the toast was one he wanted to drink to, particularly given that Abra’s name meant “Mother of Multitudes”, but he didn’t say so to Father Kelly who, like the Pope, another bachelor, thought the world should be filled with Catholic babies and lots of them whatever the penury of the parents.
They clinked glasses and both took more than a sip.
‘Your Ma booked the church hall while she was at it,’ Father Kelly informed him. ‘She said you’d want the complete package.’ He gazed at Rafferty under his mad eyebrows. ‘You did, didn’t you?’
Rafferty, stymied by the manager of the Elmhurst Hotel on the reception venue front, gave a weak nod. ‘Of course, Father. Where else would we want to hold the reception?’ Especially since The Elmhurst Hotel and the other swanky places Abra had favoured for the reception were all booked up. It was Father Kelly’s church hall or nowhere.
He was feeling sorry for himself over his own ineptitude. But it got better as Father Kelly added, ‘Of course, Joseph, I insist on letting you and Abra have the use of the hall for free as a wedding present. After all, I baptised you, presided over your first communion and confirmation and those of the rest of your fine brood of siblings, so it’s only fitting that I set you off on the next of life’s cycles.’
‘That’s decent of you, Father. Thank you.’ It mightn’t be the glamorous reception location that Abra had set her heart on. But as he would tell her, it was the act of getting married, of making a commitment to one another in front of witnesses that was the important part, not all the frills and froth that too often surrounded and obscured the main event.
‘I’ll confirm it in my other diary.’ Father Kelly pulled another book, a red one this time, towards him and firmed up the booking. That done, he said, ‘Now that we’re all official, you must get your young feeancy along so I can give her some instruction.’
‘I wanted to talk to you about that, Father. Abra’s not very religious and—’
‘I wouldn’t worry about that my boy.’ Father Kelly beamed, showing his yellow tombstone teeth. ‘Such a lack of conviction leaves a vacuum. And doesn’t the saying go that nature abhors a vacuum? I’ll soon fill her head with the right stuff, don’t you worry about that.’
That was precisely what Rafferty had been worrying about. Abra had said she would be willing to get married in St Boniface only if she wasn’t forced to listen to a lot of religious mumbo jumbo before the big day. To have Father Kelly filling her head with the ‘right stuff’ was unlikely to go down too well. But again, unless they could get a cancellation to get married elsewhere, it was St Boniface or nowhere. Abra would just have to grin and bear the marriage classes and religious mumbo jumbo she would have to go through. It was that or find another, non-religious venue and possibly put their wedding back a year.
Father Kelly seemed cock a hoop, as if, with this wedding, he felt he’d got Rafferty into his religious clutches once again and knew exactly what he intended to do with him.
It was a pity, Rafferty mused later as he drove carefully home, mindful of the two large whiskeys he’d consumed and wary of the traffic cops, that neither of them had realised just how far ahead it was necessary to book a wedding; then they could have avoided this religious trap. But Ma, as usual, had got her way. Not only the month, but also the venues. Moreover, she’d managed to make them grateful while she was doing it. Rafferty shook his head in reluctant admiration. You had to hand it to her. Ma really was an adept at organising others’ lives to suit her own agenda. She should have taken up politics rather than marriage and repeated childbearing.
Abra would have to be told about the marriage classes, of course. But maybe not yet. She’d specified no religious mumbo jumbo if they were to marry in St Boniface, but surely even she must suspect that the Catholic Church wouldn’t marry anyone without religion entering the frame pretty strongly. He’d wait until the wedding arrangements were more settled. She might be in a calmer frame of mind then and more accepting of their necessity. Especially as the longer he left off telling her, the likelihood of finding an alternative venue became even more remote than it was now. He congratulated himself on his good sense as he parked up at the flats. A fait accompli was the way to go.
‘I’ve designed and printed out several possible templates for those invitations you asked me to do,’ Llewellyn said the next morning as soon as Rafferty got in. ‘See what you think.’
Llewellyn handed over three separate cards, each with a different design.
Rafferty studied them. Two were delicate in silver and blue. The third was in bold primary colours which straightaway attracted Rafferty’s eye. But a wedding day was somehow more the bride’s day than the groom’s, he acknowledged, so he’d leave it to Abra to choose. ‘Thanks Dafyd,’ he said as he pocketed the cards. ‘I’ll let you know which one Abra goes for. You must let me know how much the cards and inkjet cartridges will cost for the full two hundred print run and I’ll reimburse you.’
‘You’ll do nothing of the sort,’ Llewellyn told him. ‘Think of them as an early wedding present.’
Rafferty was touched. ‘Really? That’s good of you, Daff. Cheers.’ It made him feel bad about not asking Llewellyn to be his best man. Trouble was, he was in a bit of a quandary about it. Should he ask Llewellyn? Part of him wanted to. After all, not only had he been Llewellyn’s best man, but his sergeant had also played matchmaker between himself and Abra and had done a far better job than his Ma, for all her efforts, had ever done. He was also likely to make a better job of the best man role, too, being efficient and organised. But there again, he had two brothers and various friends who would all expect to be asked to do the honours. He couldn’t make up his mind. Whoever he chose, someone would be offended. Several someone’s. Now would be the ideal time to ask him, of course, and he felt awkward that he was unable to do so.
Still, he was more than pleased to be able to tick yet another wedding expense off on his mental check list. He was doing well. Surprisingly well. So far, he’d managed to organise a free hall for the reception – though, admittedly, that was more his Ma’s doing than his own – bargain priced bouquets and other flowers as well as a free wedding cake courtesy of Dafyd’s mother-in-law. Now he was getting the invitations done for nothing. He just hoped Abra didn’t find out what a cut price wedding she was getting.
It’s not that I’m mean, he mentally recorded his defence, just in case. It’s just that I don’t want us to start married life deeply in debt. And all for the sake of one day, when they hoped to have a lifetime of days together. ‘Just one thing, Daff. I’d be obliged if you didn’t mention to Abra or anyone else likely to let the cat out of the bag that you’re doing the invitations. I don’t want any of them getting the idea that I’m a cheapskate.’
Llewellyn’s lips turned up a fraction as he said, ‘Particularly not Abra.’
‘Got it in one.’
‘Don’t worry. She won’t hear about it from me.’
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