The next morning at Lornbridge Hills, I spot Eddie Cho watering plants and confront him.
He sighs heavily and then begins to breaks down. I mention Serafina Morton’s name and he explains the secret affair. He admits that they were meeting secretly on “walks” every morning and afternoon. It turns out that they met at a spot in the copse of trees less than ten metres from where Sian’s body was hidden. They would spend 30-45 minutes together, and leave separately. On the evening the body was found, they had arrived just before 4pm. The sun had not quite set, and they had seen the body. Serafina had been almost impossible to calm down, so Eddie sent her home. This doesn’t surprise me, given Serafina’s behaviour yesterday. Unfortunately, she was seen by Johanna on the way back, who later realised that the claim of Bagel finding the body at 4:30pm could not have been correct, especially as the sun would have set by then making Eddie’s claim of seeing a hand “as clear of day” impossible. Eddie had waited until Serafina was safely home before alerting the police, and wasted some time deliberating whether or not he should call the them at all. Hoping that no one knew just how well trained his dog Bagel is, he claimed that the dog ran into the forest and found the body.
“What bad timing for us!” He says emotionally. “We thought Ariel Kowlinski spotting us embrace last week was a big problem but nothing prepared us for Sunday!”
Yes, how inconvenient that a dead girl should ruin your secret rendezvous, I think, but I understand how keeping this all in must have made Eddie Cho feel – not just the lie, but the truth about his miserable home life. Best not to judge, I just let him know that Bates will be along shortly to take him down to the station to provide a full statement.
“One more thing, Eddie. Is limestone used anywhere on the golf course?”
“It is, yes,” he replies, confused by my question. “Unfortunately, it makes for terrible bunkers because the sand cakes up so I’d quite like to sort that out soon, if I get the chance.”
I decide it’s time to speak to Ariel Kowlinski again. I’d like to confirm with her that she was the one who saw Eddie and Serafina embrace, not Sian. I knock on the Kowlinski’s door. Aisling opens it and glares at me. She doesn’t look impressed. Joseph comes over to speak to me and Aisling walks off.
“Sorry, detective. My wife is getting frustrated. She doesn’t understand why you haven’t found the murderer yet.”
“Getting there, Mr Kowlinksi.” I realise that this cannot be the only reason for Aisling’s demeanour. I know through Bates that she’s been told about Sean/Sharon being found. Apparently she’s decided to not share this information with Joseph yet, but it can’t remain a secret forever. Soon, the truth will be revealed about Aisling’s knowledge of Sean’s disappearance and her blackmail. I wonder what Joseph will think of it all.
“I was actually wondering if Ariel was at home?” I ask. I see Zabina walk past with Roquefort gurgling in her arms.
“Ariel?” Joseph looks surprised. “Yes, she’s here. Come in, detective.”
A minute later I sit down with Ariel who is dressed ready for cricket practice.
“I did see them, yes,” she confirms, when I ask about Eddie and Serafina. “It wasn’t Sian. Not everything is about Sian, you know. And if you want to ask me about Sian, well Sian and I didn’t even speak much. She spoke to Peter Burbank and the Haverfords more than me. You’d be better off speaking with them to find out what Sian was like.”
Naturally, with Sian being the more attractive and more talked about Kowlinksi daughter, there was bound to be some jealousy. But I suspect there’s more to it, and I continue to ask questions.
“I expect all the attention Sian received bothered you, and I don’t blame you, Ariel. It’s okay. But you can’t have been happy about the attention she was getting from Court Neal?”
“Why do you say that?” She asks sharply. She looks tense.
“You liked him, didn’t you? In fact, I suspect you and Court became closer than anyone suspected. He liked Sian, it’s true. But that didn’t stop him.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Ariel says, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “I’m going to be in so much trouble!” She gets up and storms off. It’s not worth persuing this any further right now, so I thank Joseph Kowlinski and leave. He tries to keep a straight face. Everyone’s keeping up with appearances by maintaining a vibe that reminds me of the movie Pleasantville, or maybe The Truman Show. I really don’t think I could live here. I walk around the neighbourhood and consider how samey the houses are, everyone tending to their rhododendrons (even the flowers are the same for everyone!) Their daily routines full of Chianti galas and plant watering… no wonder Sian wanted to spend some time seeing the world.
I decide to pay Margaret Haverford another visit who greets me warmly at the door, gloves and shears in hand. Ariel is right, the Haverfords and Sian were close, so perhaps Margaret can help me.
“Ah, detective, nice to see you again. I was just doing some gardening. Come in, I’ll make you some of my tea. I was just about to phone my Mitchell, but that can wait.”
I walk towards the outdoor terrace with it’s now finished patio where we sat last time. I thank her for the offer of honey tea but decline.
“I noticed a construction van outside last time – the man says you finished the job off yourself?” I ask.
“Yes,” says Margaret, “It was a little untidy and I’m not keen on mess. So I finished off the irrigation ditches myself. Mitchell isn’t here so it’s up to me to complete these jobs.”
“He must miss out on so much, I imagine? The benefit, for example.”
“It really is a shame,” she says regretfully, “but work is work and Mitchell had to fly to the office on that Friday. He was still at home when I left for Marrington, just getting ready to travel by taxi to the airport. I came home ill that evening after the benefit, stomach ache and sickness, to an empty house – how sad!”
“What caused the sickness, do you think?”
“Oh, I’m not sure – stress from organising the benefit I expect.”
I nod again and ask her where she thinks Sian might have gone on the evening of the benefit.
“I don’t know. The problem is, as I mentioned, we haven’t been as close recently. And I was so wrapped up in preparations for the benefit. I did fear she was reverting to some of her old ways, but I suspect she was just with friends from college. A male friend, even. I’m surprised you haven’t spent much time investigating her college friends.”
“I’m not sure she had too many,” I reply. And she seemed to prefer older men rather then college students, anyway. “I have been in contact with Emily, though,” I tell Margaret.
“Emily Beal? Oh, I know her. Nice girl, a little immature. More of Sian’s follower, really. They enjoyed a trip together in Europe last year. Around 8 months ago, I believe. I wish I could spend more time travelling. But I do enjoy the peace and quiet of the estate. Mitchell does his thing and I do mine.”
I thank Margaret for her time. As I leave I notice the pictures of Mitchell Haverford with Margaret on the mantelpiece and I wonder if he prefers Switzerland to Lornbridge Hills. I decide to call his phone again after I leave Margaret’s, but there’s still no answer. It might be worth phoning his office in Interlaken instead. As well as finding out whether he has any helpful information about the day of Sian’s disappearance, it would be useful to know what Mitchell thought of Sian.
Clarissa Neal greets me at her front door. After what Court told me yesterday, she knows that the truth has been partially revealed, and that she might as well finish the story. She shakes her head, bites her lip and sits down in the white armchair Court was occupying the day before.
“He’s told you about his little story sharing with Sian, has he? Well. What else could I do when he told me? I had to find some way to keep her quiet.”
I don’t say a word.
“Yes, we bribed her,” she sighed. “Is it really the worst thing in the world? I didn’t kill her, if that’s what you’re wondering. I just fixed my son’s mess while he was busy working out which Kowlinski daughter he wanted to kiss. Or worse.”
Bribery… of course. I remember what Johanna Howell said, about Clarissa trying to butter her up, and Clarissa’s internet history. Gifts for teenage girls and young Women.
“Jewellery, money, that kind of thing,” Clarissa tells me. “Most recently a wad of cash. 3,000 pounds I believe. Pocket money to her really, but I had to do something.”
I nod, thinking of the cash I found in Sian’s bedroom. And meanwhile, poor Court Neal hearing about Sian’s death had probably thought his mother had decided that jewellery and wads of cash were not going to be enough, and that Clarissa would silence Sian in a different way. No wonder he’s been having nightmares. The poor boy needs to have a word with Ariel Kowlinksi also, because they have an unplanned teenage pregnancy to deal with. After talking with Ariel today, I realise she’s the one who is pregnant. She must have thrown her pregnancy test into Sian’s room, probably as a way to get her own back on the true object of Court’s affections. I predict difficult times ahead for the Neal’s, not just for Chase and Clarissa with the shady business dealings being exposed, but for Court as well.
At first I think I need to spend the evening alone, putting all the pieces together. But right now it feels like so much information and I need a diversion, something to take my mind off it all. I call Jeremy and ask him to meet me at a nearby bar.
Half an hour later, Jeremy is ordering two gin and tonics as we relax on shiny bar stools.
“How’s it going in the land of the other half?” He asks. I haven’t told him too much about the case, but he knows enough from the news stories. “You look tired, Fran.”
“I am. And I’m just about ready to be done with cream leather armchairs and all-white marble kitchens,” I reply. “Tell me, Jeremy, your company isn’t fond of such characterless furnishings, is it? Please tell me that’s not the case.”
Jeremy laughs, his green eyes sparkling and dimples forming. It takes away from the deep wrinkles around his eyes, although he is nearly 50.
“No, not really. We prefer a bit of a variety.”
“Good. It all feels so… empty. Bland. Too much space, almost. But my flat is tiny, maybe that’s why.”
“I wouldn’t know,” says Jeremy, possibly hinting that he’d like to. He drinks his gin and tonic.
“This is good gin,” he remarks.
“How do you know? What makes a good gin, anyway?” I ask. I enjoy a Negroni every now and then but don’t know much about the spirit.
“Dry, a balanced bouquet. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not a gin snob. I’ve just drunk enough if it to differentiate the wheat from the chaff,” he grins. “With gin, it’s all about the botanicals. It’s amazing what substances you can extract from plants, don’t you think? These natural flavours have been distilled and balanced perfectly here. I must check the brand.”
‘Maybe it’s just good tonic water,” I suggest, smiling. “But yes, that is quite interesting.”
“It’s interesting how someone once decided that a certain mix of botanicals would create a drink that’s now been enjoyed for several centuries. I mean, there must have been trial and error with different plant substances. Dangerous at times, I expect. For example, some seemingly innocuous flowers can in fact contain poisonous nectar.”
I pause mid sip and stare at Jeremy.
“What’s wrong?” He asks, noticing my expression. “Something I said?”
“Yes, actually. Yes… Sorry, Jeremy, I think I’ll have to leave after this drink. Don’t take it the wrong way. You’ve just helped me massively. I’ll explain tomorrow.”
We finish up and I reassure Jeremy that this abrupt end to our impromptu fourth date has nothing to do with him, or us. On the contrary, if all goes as I think it will tomorrow I may just reward him with an invite to my flat.
© Intrigue Inn
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