Francesca had cleared her day to allow for interviews with the Hadmere Players. She still felt none the wiser when it come to Catherine and Dan’s deaths, and she knew that Gareth and Hana were itching to get out of the small town and return home. She was also personally itching to begin her Christmas celebrations with Jeremy. It would be her first Christmas in along time where she had a great excuse to not spend it with her family. She would be able to eat and drink whatever she liked, and play some quality board games rather than an argumentative round of Scattergories in her parent’s house. Bates was busy compiling a report on the movements of all suspects at both Melinda’s and Farfalle. Francesca walked up the High Street, past the 12-foot tall Christmas tree in the town square, and turned right into Knoll Street. She knocked on the door of Helen Burbank’s town house, who let her in to a well-maintained home, just like the woman herself.
“I’ve been keeping to myself since the reunion,” she explained. “Tidying the house to busy myself. Staying away from all the festive activities – it just doesn’t feel right.”
Francesca asked Helen to tell her a little more about herself, and Helen recounted her comedy roots and aspirations, and how the accident had changed everything forever.
“Losing John left me completely useless. Everything had been going so well for us. And then a hit in run in Notting Hill. Wrong place, wrong time. John and I were staying with friends in Ladbroke Grove at the time. I was performing a string of small shows in Notting Hill and John was on business. The culprit was never found. We had been celebrating that night. John had pulled in a few lucrative deals and my shows had been met with excellent reviews. I tell you, the feeling of numbness I have now very much reminds of my mental state then. And that was only a year ago, so it’s not been a great 2018, to say the least.”
“I heard you managed to find solace in your music?”
“Yes, I have. And I’ve recently put on a few performances. The feedback has been marvellous, but I’m still struggling to move on from everything. I’m building myself back up again.”
“Were you looking forward to the reunion?”
“I’m not sure. I was wondering what we would all talk about. A decade is a long time. I haven’t seen some of them since I ended up in this chair. So, I was apprehensive, I suppose. It was surreal in a way, when I saw Dan and Catherine. They’re famous now. They seemed like different people to when I knew them during the play.”
“You obviously know now that a poisoned sweetener packet killed Catherine.”
“Yes, and the rumours that Dan emptied the contents into Catherine’s coffee. I wasn’t watching to be honest. I just came back from the loo and then we were making a toast, and all of a sudden Catherine started reacting to her coffee. It all happened so quickly.”
Bill Gregson’s flat above his shop was fairly spartan. He clearly was a man who didn’t enjoy small talk, which was fine by Francesca, but made her wonder why he opened up a shop in the first place – a business which one would think required a healthy dose of small talk with customers every day.
“If you’re looking for answers, I have nothing for you. Didn’t care for Dan much. Wouldn’t want him dead though. Didn’t know too much about him. Catherine, well, read what you want in the press about that.”
“You did hold an affection for her, though?”
“I liked her. Same age. Knew her the longest,” Bill said, not giving anything away. “Felt protective of her.”
“You must have been very worried during the press scandal due the affair, then.”
“Obviously. Don’t know what got into her head. She was a mess around that time. Had been for several weeks.”
“I heard she’d been keeping a low profile before the affair.”
“Something had spooked her. Don’t know what. She was upset. I know Dan was there to support her. I reckon he knew what was going on. Got a call from her once, you know. After I spoke to the paparazzi and defended her.”
“Oh? What did she say?”
“Just said thanks. She was in tears. She said she should never have done it. With Benjy Mantle. But she told me something horrible had happened, so she was all over the place. Never told me what, but I think she wanted to. She hesitated quite a bit. Well, I mentioned this to Zave and Helen when they visited the shop. Zave doesn’t come in often at all, Helen is in quite frequently however, picking up one thing or another. I was concerned that something bad had happened to Catherine. Didn’t dwell on it too much with Helen, her accident was still quite fresh at that time. Well, Cath was back on her feet soon enough. Was in a big TV hit recently.”
“Dance, Mary, Dance.”
“Yep. And then the reunion. Helen and Zave were the key organisers there, I just went along with it all. Wasn’t keen. Couldn’t really get out if thoough could I. Melinda’s and Farfalle both just around the corner. But I had no interest in catching up with the London lot. Not Dan’s biggest fan as I said, and I didn’t have a lot of time for Gareth and Hana either. All seemed a bit pointless to me. And of course now I wish it had never been organised.”
Zave Wilson made Francesca a strong Lavazza coffee and offered her some chicken gumbo leftovers which she appreciated but declined.
“You’ve been busying yourself cooking?” She asked.
“Yes. I’m not a huge cook, but it’s a been a good distraction these last few days.”
“I noticed a bottle of opened wine in the kitchen, but I heard you’re tee-total these days?”
“Well, I was, until Dan’s death… That was more for a guest, anyway. Bill came to visit me last night, you see. He’s concerned about how it all looks for him. You know, his feelings on Catherine and all.”
“He seemed quite put-together when I saw him earlier today,” Francesca remarked.
“Well, he puts on a stoic attitude. That’s his way. He’s rattled.”
“I heard he was quite rattled during Catherine’s affair also. She told him something horrible had happened.”
“Yes… he mentioned it to me in the shop back then. Cannot imagine what. I expect Dan knew, but you can’t ask him now…”
“Tell me a bit more about The Water Ghost Beckons. I remember the acclaim when it came out. What inspired you to write this story?”
“Oh, well, I suppose I’ve always been interested in small-town dynamics. And the fact that there’s always more going on under the surface than you would think! I always loved the idea of an atmospheric, foggy setting on stage too. Very ominous. Deepest-darkest Dorset. We got good use out of the smoke machine during the play, I can tell you. I had been doing some research around the time on Korean and Japanese mythology. That’s where my idea for the water ghost came from. A judge of sorts, I liked that – there to reveal and punish all the characters for the sins they had committed and kept to themselves.”
“Theft, violence, even rape if I remember rightly?”
“Yes…it was quite heavy stuff, wasn’t it? But I think that’s why it worked. Plus our brilliant cast, of course.”
Francesca interviewed Gareth and Hana together as they were both staying at the same bed and breakfast.
“After this interview, can we leave? I need to get out of this b&b,” said Gareth, exasperated. “What more use could we be to you?”
“He’s right,” Hana chimed in. “We’re victims too, in a way! Watching our friends die! Right in front of us. I was speaking with Catherine right when she collapsed, you know!”
“I’m afraid we will need you for just a bit longer. You do understand you’re suspects?’
“It’s ridiculous. How could we have done this. Poison in a sweetener packet and then in a bottle of wine… That’s all a bit too extravagant for me. I have nothing against Dan and Catherine,” Gareth said firmly.
“I did hear you and Dan were friends but had a falling out? After your coming out publicly?”
Gareth went a little red in the face. “You know how the media exaggerates. I was just a little annoyed he wasn’t there for me, that’s all. He was busy swanning around London, off to all the best social functions, often with Catherine in tow. He didn’t spare too much time to see how I was doing. And that was a very difficult time for me.”
“All their west end parties! Alright for some,” said Hana. “Enjoying his Richmond penthouse! He was in a world of his own most of the time, I think.”
“Would you say Dan was hedonistic, then?”
“He liked a drink. I know that,” answered Hana. “Catherine too. How they made it home some nights I do not know. And then ready to perform the day after! I like a cleaner lifestyle. I have to stay alert for my nature show. And keep my body in shape for any potential modelling bookings. Those parties are so pretentious, anyway.”
“The two of you have remained good friends, it seems. Since all the press coverage about your relationship?”
“I just felt stupid,”Hana said. “I was angry with Gareth for ignoring me when it came out that I liked him. Romantically. Then when Gareth told me he was gay it all made sense. No harm done. I felt so silly for my reaction. And now we just laugh about it! Don’t we, Gareth?”
“Oh, er, yes. Sure,” replied Gareth. “Look, detective, there’s not much more we can say. You should be up in London if you want to find out more, not down here in this miserable place.”
He was right, and Francesca had already prepared for a trip to London tomorrow. She was hoping for some useful information in either Catherine or Dan’s homes or their local haunts. She was starting to put a theory together, and just needed more concrete evidence.
© Intrigue Inn
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