The Hadmere Players – Part 7

“So, let me get this clear,” Detective Superintendent Mick said as he prepared himself a coffee with his dusty drip coffee machine, “You want to arrest two people?”

“That’s correct,” Francesca replied, sitting opposite Mick in his office. She could see snow falling lightly outside the window.

“Two people working together. Two players. Interesting…” Mick said.

“No, wrong on both counts there, Mick.”

“Two people working independently?”

“Yes. And that’s what really confused me at first with this case. When I realised I was dealing with two separate culprits who had two separate motives, it began to make sense. To add to the confusion, one of our culprits did try to kill both victims. But they were beaten to the second murder by culprit number two.”

Mick nodded slowly and took a gulp of coffee from a chipped mug. “Dan Argenta? Two people tried to kill him?”

“Exactly. Which explains the strychnine in the bread roll and the cyanide in the wine.”

“I see. And whoever used the strychnine also used it to poison Catherine. Spit it out, Fran. I need to send the call out to make the arrests.”

Francesca was expecting him to add ‘if your theory is correct’ at the end of his sentence. The fact that he didn’t made her smile. He was clearly confident that she had the case solved. She did have her history in Nutbourne and Lornbridge Hills to back her up, after all.

“Well, once I explain their motives you can arrest Zave Wilson and Darren Wilcross.”

Mick looked at her curiously. “Darren Wilcross? Wait a second, wasn’t he one of the witnesses? In Melinda’s, if I remember correctly? He was the one who-”

“The one who told Zave Wilson that he saw Dan put the sweetener in Catherine’s coffee.”

“So he incriminated Dan and then murdered him? What’s going on here?”

“I made an interesting discovery yesterday during my visit to Dan’s house in Richmond. Dan Argenta was gay. And very secretive about it, in order to protect his public persona. He used a string of very short relationships with women to cover up his sexuality. I met a man by the name of Michael Lemac at his house who claimed to be a friend. But it was clear he was more than a friend. I think he had recently become involved with Dan. It wasn’t hard to figure out the truth Dan had been hiding. And it made sense in the context of Dan’s relationship with Gareth Lawler. I was told by more than one person that after Gareth came out publicly, his friendship with Dan weakened. I believe that Gareth was upset that Dan was able to continue his successful life and career with his sexuality a secret but he couldn’t. Certainly some resentment there.”

“But who cares if they’re gay? What does it matter? Why keep it a secret these days?”

“Very progressive of you, Mick. Well, as sad as it is, it apparently still counts for something in showbiz. I bet you there are plenty of male celebrities in the closet because the truth would affect a casting director’s decision.”

And what does this all have to do with Darren Wilcross?”

“Well, Darren is also gay. I know that from my short meeting with him after Dan’s death. Now, how does that simple connection make him a murderer you’re wondering? Well it goes a lot deeper than that. Until very recently, Darren was in a relationship with Dan.”

“What? How do you know that?”

“It was a hunch. Darren, by his admission, could not keep his eyes of Dan Argenta in the cafe. This was not solely due to Dan’s looks. Darren and Dan had recently split up, so naturally Darren could not help but watch Dan closely when he entered the cafe, hurt and upset by the break up. Yesterday I just wondered if there was some sort of friendly connection, or infatuation, however I confirmed that Darren had recently ended a relationship by checking in at his work place, Hadmere Events, this morning. A colleague of his, Miriam Baker, told me how badly Darren had taken this. The break up happened the day before Catherine Ratcliffe died. Miriam Baker told me that Darren’s boyfreind lived in London, so Darren made frequent trips there. And he kept the relationship very secretive. No one had met his boyfriend, or even knew his name. Now, Hadmere is a small town. It’s not quite a ‘the only gay in the village’ situation, but it’s close. Darren and Dan meeting in Hadmere would not be far fetched. The day Catherine died, Dan ignored Darren in the cafe, or he didn’t even notice him – which is probably worse. Seething, Darren already had a desire for revenge before Catherine collapsed. Who wouldn’t feel upset? Dan was lapping up the attention from the locals and enjoying the reunion of a famous play, and Darren was sitting at the back of the cafe, ordinary and heart-broken. Dan had beeen two-timing him with Michael Lemac, and in the end had decided to go with Michael. After watching Dan pour sweetener into Catherine’s coffee, his revenge plan was clear – he could incriminate Dan by passing on this piece of information, whether Dan was guilty or not. I thought it was strange how he went to Zave Wilson rather than us, so I was always suspicious. I think that he was concerned the police would see through what he was trying to do – get Dan into trouble. So he played on the emotions of the shocked players, not realising that Zave had in fact killed Catherine.”

“Yet in the end he decided to go one step further than incrimate Dan and actually murder him instead – going for the ultimate revenge.”

“Right. I expect he realised that with one player dead and another reunion lined up at Farfalle – which he would have known all about from being with Dan, he could murder Dan and the suspicion would fall on whoever killed Catherine. Most people would surely think that Catherine and Dan’s were murdered by the same person! I did, at first. So he entered Farfalle the following day, was able to sneak upstairs and lace Dan’s favourite wine with poison. I knew only someone very close to Dan would have this knowledge about the Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Darren would have spent more than enough time in Dan’s Richmond townhouse to know this.”

“And Zave killed Catherine and Dan? Why?”

“Well, as coincidental as it sounded at first, the evidence began pointing to Dan and Catherine covering up a seriously incriminating incident. A hit and run, specifically, after a night out at one of their boozed up social events. Dan would drive Catherine home, often inebriated. Around the same time as their incident, Helen Burbank and her husband were knocked down in a hit and run in Notting Hill. I studied possible driving routes from the West End to Shepherd’s Bush, where Catherine lived. Dan and Catherine would have passed through Notting Hill every time. I realised that Catherine and Dan were responsible! Against the odds, they hit one of their fellow Hadmere players while driving under the influence! And what did they do about it? Nothing. They kept it to themselves, Catherine struggling with guilt far more than Dan. She was a mess, and it culminated in her affair with Benjy Mantle. Michael Lemac revealed that Catherine and Dan could often be found discussing Helen’s accident in angry or upset tones. Clearly, they were trying to protect each other and their careers, but it was tough going for them emotionally and mentally for a while. ”

“Incredible! It’s like some horrific sequel to that plays of theirs. What a bizarre turn of events. But Zave killed them? Not Helen? How does that make sense?”

“Well, Helen and Zave were the principal organisers of this reunion. I was already suspicious of them both at the very beginning. In the cafe, Zave made the drinks order at the bar and Helen used the toilets before the drinks arrived at the table. Both had the opportunity to quickly place a packet of poisoned sweetener on the player’s drinks tray at the bar as they walked through the restaurant. After figuring out Dan and Catherine were the ones who ran over Helen, Helen was of course my prime suspect. Could anyone else know what had happened, though? Who could piece it together? Bill Gregson mentioned to both Helen and Zave that Catherine had done something horrible. One of them could potentially connect the dots – look at the timelines and Catherine and Dan’s whereabouts on the evening Helen was hit. I wasn’t convinced Helen would consider this. Bill certainly wouldn’t. Zave, therefore seemed more likely. But why? Why would he kill them like this if he knew this awful piece of information? Why not approach them? Tell the police? And then it hit me. The Water Ghost Beckons. In this situation, Zave was the water ghost. He took on the role gladly. He knew a terrible secret about these two people and wanted to draw them close and punish them, just like the spirit through the fog. He lured them back down to Hadmere. I suspect he suggested the reunion in the first place. Then he killed them for the sins they had committed, still wrapped up in the success of his play a decade later. A recovering alcoholic, Zave’s glory days are behind him. That play was his peak and if there’s anyone out of those players who hasn’t moved on from it, it’s him. Bill and Helen still live in Hadmere, but Helen has had quite enough on her plate to deal with and Bill left that play behind the second he walked off the stage.”

“It went to his head a bit, to say the least?”

“Oh, I’m sure jealousy was involved also. Only Hana and Bill harboured no jealousy towards Catherine and Dan. As for killing Dan, it would have been easy for him to switch bread rolls just before everyone arrived, sneak back out and come back after a few of the others had arrived. He knew which table had been booked by Helen so he was able to swap over the correct gluten free roll. Dave hadn’t seen much of Dan lately but his gluten intolerance was common knowledge.”

“Pfft. Gluten intolerance… Well, Fran, let’s bring them down to the station, but it sounds like a well done needs to be said in advance here.”

“Thank you, Mick. It’s a hat trick, I suppose? But I think that will be all for the time being. No more small-town murder investigations just yet. I need some time away, a chance to focus on my personal life. Once this is all over I think I’m going to take Jeremy to Italy.”

“For a holiday?”

“Maybe, maybe not. He could find work in the furnishing industry easily over there. If he likes it, of course. Watch this space. For the short term, however, I have a holiday in medieval Japan lined up – all with cards, tokens and a game board in hand.”

“Enjoy it. Wrapping this case up before Christmas suits me also, so I’m not going to complain. Not sure how I feel about you leaving, Fran, but we can discuss that more in the new year. Now… it’s time to pay Zave Wilson and Darren Wilcross a visit.”

 

© Intrigue Inn

 

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Liam

Creator of Intrigue Inn - A home for murder mysteries, board games and more .

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