“So, what kind of place is the Indigo Bar?”
Francesca Palandri checked her watch, it was nearly nine. She had 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 she wanted right now, yet midway through his inspection of the crime scene he decided to hand this one over to her.
“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.” Francesca shook her head as she spoke,
“Probably not,” Mick sighed. 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.”
Francesca raised her 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 was 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.”
Francesca jotted down a few details as she realized that like 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 was a worldly man.
Twenty minutes later, Francesca was in her Volvo approaching Nutbourne town centre. A quick social media search to get an impression of the deceased brought up Grahame’s profile. She scanned through pictures of a man who she guessed was in his early forties, but she knew it was better to delve into this properly off the road, especially as it had started 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.
Francesca passed by white regency architecture along the seafront and turned right into Haden Road, nearly driving past the Indigo Bar – It was ridiculously nondescript. There was 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. She found a tight parking space a little further along and after squeezing in she stepped out into the drizzle and wind, tightening the buttons on her brown trench coat.
A young officer rocking back and forth on his feet stood outside the bar’s front door, a yellow folder in his right hand.
“Are you waiting for me?” Francesca asked, walking up.
“DCI Francesca Palandri?”
“Just call me Fran,” she answered, holding out her hand.
She shook it vigorously, introducing himself as Officer Samuel Bates, and welcomed herwarmly inside as if she had arrived at his housewarming party.
“You don’t really have an accent,” Bates said as they enter. “They told me an Italian detective was on her way.”
It sounded 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, Francesca thought.
“Oh, I left Florence a very long time ago,” she replied. I’m becoming more and more like a dour Brit every day, she almost added.
The bar was small, dark and cluttered. It wasn’t a complete hole, but it certainly needed a good spring clean. Francesca walked 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 was a hodgepodge of everything tucked into a space that should really only hold a handful of tables. Francesca could only imagine Mick’s face when he was here earlier. A dark wooden bar in need of a good scrub at the rear was positioned next to a narrow corridor leading to toilets and a small office. The old wooden tables in the bar looked like they were ready to serve a medieval feast. It was all a bit unnecessary in Francesca’s eyes. Along the left side of the room was a large, long table, and she realized that it was here that Billy Grahame was murdered as she spotted an unplayed board game setup in the middle of the table. It had been labelled by the CSI team with a box of disposable plastic gloves next to it, for her benefit she presumed.
While Bates kept position at the entrance, Francesca headed over to the gaming table of choice. The game was bloodstained and in disarray. Repeated blows to the head would have certainly produced an ample stream of blood. The game consisted of mostly cards; the game board itself quite small. Francesca didn’t know where to start; she was no game expert. The last board game she played was a round of Scattergories during Easter weekend 2014, after which her sister Maria decided not to speak to anyone in the family for two days when theyrefused to accept her answer of Gibraltar for countries beginning with G. Francesca didn’t know why she took it so badly. Her sister was wrong, after all.
After donning plastic gloves, she picked up one card from the untidy deck. There was a picture of chains drawn roughly on it. It looked like an early draft but the artwork was decent. She picked up another, this one depicting a jug of water. She put them back and took a card marked ‘objective’ which read
Present: Difficult Times
External Influences: Nurturing
This meant little to Francesca, having never explored the world of tarot. She put the card back. The tarot card Grahame was holding had been removed from his left hand and set aside, marked and bagged. It looked bigger and different – this was a professionally designed card, likely taken from a full set. Unlikely to be a part of this amateurish looking game. The card read ‘Seven of Swords’ and depicted a man wearing a top hat with golden goggles around the rim. He was 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?
Francesca spotted the backpack nearby on the table and rummaged through it. It contained 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, Francesca thought. Billy’s head on his own game prototype seemed symbolic. Did he steal something perhaps, sneaking off like the man on the tarot card?
Francesca was 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, she thought, 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? She was definitely keen to have a chat with Dora and Phoebe first.
“Bates,” Francesca called out, “What have you been told? About Grahame?” He should have information for me, she realised. Mick would have seen to that.
“So sorry France- Fran! Here’s his bio I was meant to give to you.” Bates removed a document from his folder and passed it over.
The same balding man from Facebook smiled at Francesca from the page. A few details underneath revealed Billy was 37 – he certainly looked older – and listed 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.”
Francesca nodded. The man running away with the swords came 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 asked, as he showed her 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,” she replied. “Thanks, Bates.” He looked so young she felt like she 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 bit his lip as if it were his fault the CCTV was broken.
Francesca studied 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 said goodbye as she walked back to my car, wondering how long he’ll have to wait there, poor kid.
© Intrigue Inn
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