“So, what kind of place is the Indigo Bar?”
I check my watch, it’s nearly nine. I have an episode of Planet Earth ready on Netflix and a glass of wine waiting on the kitchen counter. A call from Mick is the last thing I want right now, yet midway through his inspection of the crime scene he decides to hand this one over to me.
“Hipster type on Haden Road, Nutbourne. Old rubbish hanging on the walls that no one wants any more, you know. Weird drink names.”
“Not sure you’re the target audience, to be honest.” I shake my head as I speak.
“Probably not,” Mick sighs. He was fond of turning his nose up at anything that fell outside his idea of normal. Even a gastropub was a little too much for Mick to handle.
“Deceased is Billy Grahame, found at 19:15 this evening by a Ms. Dora Murphy and Miss. Phoebe Moore at the bar.”
“The bar was open for business?”
“Usually closed on Mondays. But the owner allows a local board game group to use the bar for their weekly get-togethers. The group is run by Grahame. The two women were the first regular members to arrive. They found him alone, slumped over a board game. One of his own creations, I believe. The back of his head was beaten repeatedly with a heavy marble ashtray found on the floor near the body.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Pleasant. Anything else at the scene?”
“His backpack. He was also found with a tarot card in one hand.”
“A tarot card?”
“The game was based on tarot…” There’s a slight note of disdain in his voice.
“Alright, and the women called the police?”
“Police were called by Dora Murphy at 19:16 and minutes later other members of the gaming group arrived, Maria Grant, followed by Albert Liu who arrived just after 19:30 when the session was meant to begin. Emergency services were already on the scene at this time.”
“And the bar owner?”
“Jon Montgomery. He was contacted while on his way to the bar. He got here at 19:45. Just before 20:00 his employee Craig Hughes also arrived on the scene.”
I jot down a few details as I realize David Attenborough and his dulcet tones would have to wait for a while. “I’ll head down there now.”
“Please. Look, Fran, the local press will love this one. Board games and bohemian bars, plus this tarot aspect. It’s quirky. Let’s try and wrap it up quickly. The tarot card in his hand suggests someone in that circle, but sniff around and do what you do best.”
“Once I’m done here I’m taking Helen out for a late dinner. I’ve already liaised with CSI but there’ll be some evidence left for you to get an idea. You’ll catch up. Then we’re off to that new Mediterranean place on the seafront. I hope it’s not all strange seafood and foreign dishes.”
Detective Superintendent Mick Thomson is a worldly man.
Twenty minutes later, I’m in my Volvo approaching Nutbourne town centre. A quick social media search to get an impression of the deceased brings up Grahame’s profile. I scan through pictures of a man who I guess was in his early forties, but it’s better to delve into this properly off the road, especially as it’s starting to rain – fat droplets that came from nowhere. Grahame looked like he used to be somewhat attractive before time took its toll. Piercing blue eyes and a strong jawline stood in his pictures out despite heavy, wrinkled bags under his eyes and patchy receding hair.
I pass by white regency architecture along the seafront and turn right into Haden Road, nearly driving past the Indigo Bar – It’s ridiculously nondescript. There is a small, barely legible name sign above the bar’s door, the bar itself nestled in between offices to let and a grubby looking corner shop, all illuminated by a consistent row of streetlights. I find a tight parking space a little further along and after squeezing in I step out into the drizzle and wind, tightening the buttons on my brown trench coat.
A young officer rocking back and forth on his feet stands outside the bar’s front door, a yellow folder in his right hand.
“Are you waiting for me?” I ask, walking up.
“DCI Francesca Palandri?”
“Just call me Fran,” I answer, holding out her hand.
He shakes it vigorously, introducing himself as Officer Samuel Bates, and welcomes me warmly inside as if I had just arrived at his housewarming party.
“You don’t really have an accent,” Bates says as we enter. “They told me an Italian detective was on her way.”
It sounds like he had been caught up in his fantasies and imagined an exaggerated stereotype, a sultry Monica Bellucci-esque figure with a thick, sensual accent. He must be severely disappointed.
“Oh, I left Florence a very long time ago,” I reply. I’m becoming more and more like a dour Brit every day, I almost add.
The bar is small, dark and cluttered. It’s not a complete hole, but it certainly needs a good spring clean. I walk past a purple (or should that be indigo?) bike wheel hanging on the wall and some sort of South Pacific tribal ornament on a shelf. It’s a hodgepodge of everything tucked into a space that should really only hold a handful of tables. I can only imagine Mick’s face when he was here earlier. A dark wooden bar in need of a good scrub at the rear is positioned next to a narrow corridor leading to toilets and a small office. The old wooden tables in the bar look like they are ready to serve a medieval feast. It’s all a bit unnecessary.. Along the left side of the room there is a large, long table, I realise that it was here that Billy Grahame was murdered as I spot an unplayed board game setup in the middle of the table. It’s been labelled by the CSI team with a box of disposable plastic gloves next to it, for my benefit I assume.
While Bates keeps position at the entrance, I head over to the gaming table of choice. The game is bloodstained and in disarray. Repeated blows to the head would have certainly produced an ample stream of blood. The game consists mostly of cards; the game board itself quite small. I don’t know where to start; I’m no game expert. The last board game I played was a round of Scattergories during Easter weekend 2014, after which my sister Maria decided not to speak to anyone in the family for two days when we refused to accept her answer of Gibraltar for countries beginning with G. I don’t know why she took it so badly. She was wrong, after all.
After donning plastic gloves, I pick up one card from the untidy deck. There’s a picture of chains drawn roughly on it. It looks like an early draft but the artwork is decent. I pick up another, this one depicting a jug of water. I put them back and take a card marked ‘objective’ which reads
Present: Difficult Times
External Influences: Nurturing
This means little to me, having never explored the world of tarot. I put the card back. The tarot card Grahame was holding has been removed from his left hand and set aside, marked and bagged. It looks bigger and different – this is a professionally designed card, likely taken from a full set. Unlikely to be a part of this amateurish looking game. The card reads ‘Seven of Swords’ and depicts a man wearing a top hat with golden goggles around the rim. He’s swiftly sneaking away somewhere, the swords in his hands. Grahame was found with his head on the board, and this card in hand, so what was the importance of this self-designed game?
I spot the backpack nearby on the table and rummage through it. It contains Grahame’s wallet, keys and a few papers – mainly bills, and one eye-catching letter from Nutbourne Crown Court. A reminder to Billy about a court appearance set for next week. That’s a keeper. Billy’s head on his own game prototype seems symbolic. Did he steal something perhaps, sneaking off like the man on the tarot card?
I’m eager to meet the other members of this group. If one of them was responsible then they had to do a double loop – commit the crime and then come back as if they had just arrived for the night. Given the choice, what would I do to avoid suspicion? Arrive in the middle of the pack like Maria Grant? Be there right on time like Albert Liu? Or be the first to arrive, but with someone else as an alibi and then alert the police? I’m definitely keen to have a chat with Dora and Phoebe first.
“Bates,” I call out, “What have you been told? About Grahame?” He should have information for me. Mick would have seen to that.
“So sorry France- Fran! Here’s his bio I was meant to give to you.” Bates removes a document from his folder and passes it over.
The same balding man from Facebook smiles at me from the page. A few details underneath reveal Billy was 37 – he certainly looked older – and list an address for 12 Apostle Avenue, Nutbourne.
“Does he live alone, do you know? Partner? Family?”
“Single, I understand. Lives alone, but it’s a glorified closet. His mother lives in a semi-detached just a few streets away. Northmayer Crescent. According to the gaming group who were all interviewed earlier briefly, Grahame seems to be a man who jumped from job to job and place to place, but currently, he was out of work. His last place of employment was at an event planning studio in North West London, now closed down. He moved to Nutbourne earlier this year. This is his hometown. Looks like he hasn’t made many friends during his travels – a little digging shows he’s been accused of plagiarism at least once before.”
I nod. The man running away with the swords comes to mind.
“And everything inside here?”
“That’ll all be taken soon for analysis. Hopefully, something will come up. Montgomery confirmed the ashtray belongs to the bar. You haven’t seen these yet, hang on…” He flicks through his folder and pulls out photographs taken of Billy after he was found. “What do you think?” he asks, as he shows me the awkwardly positioned body.
“Well, I don’t think it looks natural, the way he’s slumped over. Looks like someone pushed his head on to the game after killing him. A little rearranging of the body, definitely.”
“The whole set-up implies we have a killer trying to make a statement here.”
“Quite possibly,” I reply. “Thanks, Bates.” He looks so young I feel like I should be giving him a packet of sweets for his information.
“Oh! Here’s a list of the gaming group. Ages, professions and contact details. I also have the contact details of two regular customers who live three doors down. They came by after noticing the police presence. Broken CCTV along this road, unfortunately, so maybe they saw something.” He bites his lip as if it’s his fault the CCTV was broken.
I study the key details of the gaming group.
Dora Murphy, 56. Tarot reader
Phoebe Moore, 23. Art student
Albert Liu, 30. Book shop employee
Maria Grant, 42. Housewife
“Thank you, Bates. I’ll be heading off now.” He says goodbye as I walk back to my car, wondering how long he’ll have to wait there, poor kid.
© Intrigue Inn