The Indigo Bar – Day 3

I battle blustery winds outside, rendering my umbrella useless. The natural curls in my hair that I hate so much are being flung in every direction and the bottom of my black trench coat is flapping away. I can’t wait to step inside Dora Murphy’s seaside cottage and escape this weather. While Florence was no Bora Bora in December, I don’t remember it ever being as consistently bad as the south of England.

“They promised sunshine today,” Dora tuts as she lets me in. “Then again, that’s living by the Great British seaside for you.” Her bracelets and necklaces clacker about as she leads me into her small home. She’s a thin, bony woman who seems to hover as she walks.  Spiritual and mystic paraphernalia is apparent from the start – large crystals and incense burners, dreamcatchers and astrological charts adorn every nook and cranny.

“This isn’t just a set of four walls that will serve as a welcome break from the elements, detective. You’ll likely feel a sense of calm and serenity – a chance for your mind to heal after the cogs spinning during your investigation. You probably feel calmer already?”

I actually feel a little claustrophobic from the small rooms and their clutter of objects, and the incense is suffocating, but best to bite my tongue, unlike my mother last night who accused me of not having children just to spite her. I responded by drinking half a bottle of Chianti and I’m feeling the effects now. This house isn’t helping.

“Human to human, I’m naturally very sad about the death of a troubled man, on a spiritual level. But speaking truthfully, I never did warm to Billy. The man was a fraud, and it didn’t take a reading to figure that out. If I’d known he would start using the endless information I provided on the complex subject of tarot reading for his own personal glory, I’d have been less inclined to share. I just thought it important to help someone who appeared a little lost in life. When he mentioned he was keen to incorporate tarot into a board game prototype, I thought it was wonderful – tarot reaching a new audience through board gamers, if it takes off. Need more youngsters getting involved. Although lovely Phoebe Moore is a start.”

“Did he take any ideas of yours, then?”

“When he showed us all the game last week, I picked up a few of the game cards he had written and noticed the descriptions were practically verbatim to the emails I sent him. But is that a good enough reason to murder someone? I think not, detective!” She pauses for a minute to ensure I understand this point. “But using tarot cards for his own gain with such blatant disregard for their true purpose – self-growth and empowerment, well, says a lot about a person doesn’t it! Unfortunately, it was Phoebe and I who found the body. She met me at around 7:00 here and we walked down together, chatting about general misinterpretations of the Lovers card – she loves a good student-mentor chat – and we walk in and oh, what a sight! His body bent over like that, so unnaturally!” She shudders. “His lack of respect for anything and anyone finally caught up with him. I understood he went to visit Psychic Mist. That’s a specialist shop here in Nutbourne. The owner sells so many lovely tarot sets. But he didn’t have good things to say about Billy the last time I popped in there. Well, Seven of Swords in his hands when they checked Billy’s body. That says it all really, doesn’t it?”

“What does that card mean? And could you explain how the game worked a little?” I had intended to do my homework on tarot last night. How naive of me to think I’d be returning from a family dinner fresh and ready to learn. I note the name of the specialist shop. It’s a good idea to head there next.

“Well, the mechanics of the gameplay came mostly from Albert. I just spoon-fed Billy all the tarot information he required. It’s always been my problem… I give and I give and people take advantage. The gameplay revolved around trying to form a Celtic Cross spread in accordance with your objective cards. Very simple objectives. Not much to it, actually. Needed more depth. I mean, when you think about how complex each individual tarot card is, reducing all of that to a few broad objectives…” She shakes her head. “Deception. That’s the Seven of Swords. Trying to get away with something unnoticed. Well, he was trying to get away with something, and it has certainly been noticed now.” She raises her eyebrows and purses her lips.

*

En route to Psychic Mist, I receive an email from Pablo Whitten, owner of Room Xcape West End, writing to let me know he’ll be in Nutbourne this Friday if I want to meet. I confirm that I do. As I make my way, I start flicking through images on a tarot website. It’s pretty easy to pick up basic interpretations of various cards and it’s surprisingly more interesting than I expected. Twenty minutes later, now with a rudimentary understanding of the Major Arcana, I climb a rickety wooden staircase and find myself in a cramped space full of mystic knick knacks. I thought Dora’s cottage was bad, but this takes it to another level. There are books and fancy figurines everywhere, and a large shelf dedicated to all sorts of tarot decks. I spot a cosmic, Egyptian and even a Dante themed pack – a fellow Florentine. From behind a dusty corner, I see an elderly man stocking books, obscured by a large crystal ball in front of me. I feel like I’ve entered the beginning of an 80’s adventure movie.

“Hello, sir…”

“Ah hello, there. What are you looking for today? Or just browsing?”

“I’m actually a detective, investigating the death of-”

“Oh, Billy Grahame?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Yes, yes… I heard all about the tarot card in his hand and the game he was making. Dora Murphy likes to think she’s a bit of recluse, but actually, she’s quite the gossip. You’ll have interviewed Dora, I expect, and now you’ve come to ask me what I know.”

He carries a few large folio books over to the counter and puts them down. “He came in here, you know. Billy. A few weeks back.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Asking me various questions. Which tarot cards would appeal to a large audience, my favourite artwork style, this kind of thing. Questions about how to best package a tarot-themed game and have it look most interesting to the public.”

“And you gave him a lot of information?”

      “Oh, on the contrary. I gave him very little. The man was clearly thinking about money and had no real interest in tarot whatsoever. It was painfully obvious. That’s the way the world works now, I’m afraid. It’s so very, very sad. So, no, I did not feel like being forthcoming with someone whose only interest in the subject was how to make the most profit. Dora, on the other hand, is probably kicking herself that she divulged so much. Maybe her little protégé is as well, Phoebe is it? Nice girl. Seems to have a genuine interest, quite probably she’s doing more research into it than Dora ever did. Quite the chatterbox when she came in here. I suppose anyone who discovers a new hobby is always keen to go on about it? She visited with Dora and purchased a rather lovely steampunk themed set. At least she’s a paying customer. Dora mainly just comes to chat these days. She enjoys the company of a like-minded enlightened being, you see.” He gives a self-satisfied smile.

“And do you?”

“Oh, sometimes. But solitude and keeping one’s passions to oneself is a nice thing too, don’t you think? I’d rather be doing this, busying myself in my quiet, little shop than being duped by the powers that be where nothing matters in life except money. Look where that got Billy Grahame.”

*

I’ve had a slow afternoon thanks to the hangover, but I need to crack on with suspects. Phoebe and Albert have confirmed they can meet tomorrow. Maria hasn’t got back to me, so I take a chance and rock up at her townhouse.

Maria Banks wipes her blonde fringe from her eyes as she opens the door, revealing a stressed look on her face. She’s a thin woman, a little hard faced and haggard, but still attractive. She’s ageing better than I am, anyway.

“Sorry, detective. It’s the nightly bedtime ritual for the twins. Fun and games every night. My husband can deal with the terrible twosome for a bit if you want to talk.”

I assure her that I won’t take up much of her time as we sit down at a cluttered wooden dining table in the middle of a large kitchen. Expensive looking Christmas decorations have been carefully placed around the room. All this clutter… Am I just a minimalist? To be fair, there’s no room in my flat for clutter, and I have to admit, it’s an attractive, well-designed house. Maria and her husband must be comfortable financially. She tells me he’s a pilot and often away, leaving her with twins Amy and Jolene a lot of the time.

“Billy’s death shook me. It shook us all.” She sighs and looks down at the kitchen table, biting her lip. “I don’t know if there’s much I can tell you, though. I certainly didn’t know anything about the game he was making, except that we were planning to play it that evening. He told us all that he’d be there an hour early to set it up and check it was ready to play.”

“So everyone was aware he’d be there?”

“Yes. I remember him clearly saying that because at the time I was thinking about how uninterested I was in playing it. I don’t know anything about tarot. I did think it a little strange that he wanted to come in earlier to set up. I mean, he sets a game up for us every week but just does it when we’re all there, so why did he need that extra time on Monday? Perhaps he was anxious, seeing as it was his own creation and wanted to make sure everything was perfect.”

“You didn’t contribute ideas towards the game, then?”

“No, I didn’t contribute. The others did, under the illusion it was all just brainstorming, excited that some of their ideas would be included in this game, which Billy promised would be published and successful. When you think about it, how can you guarantee the success of something like that? Everyone just got caught up in the moment there. Well, last Monday he showed everyone the prototype at the end of the night. “Look at the game that I’ve created… thanks for helping with a few of the ideas, guys,” he told them. You could see the emotion on their faces when they studied it. It’s like the wool had been pulled right over their eyes. Total disbelief. Phoebe and Dora, anyway. Albert’s a bit of a pushover. The girls were seething. They held it in, though. I wasn’t really impressed that he’d done that, either. But I didn’t say anything. So British of us, isn’t it?”

“So, you were just happy to enjoy the games every Monday evening?”

“Yes, yes.”

“May I ask, what’s your favourite board game?”

“Oh, um… well, I don’t know really. I enjoyed Pandemonium. No, Pandemic it was called. Yes. Pandemic. Fun,” she adds, as an afterthought.

She taps the table a few times with her nails, chipped red nail polish all over them, as the piercing scream of a child pauses conversation. She leans closer to me.

“Actually, between you and I, it started with a bit of online gambling. Card games especially. Just needed a thrill outside of this house. A weekly board game meetup sounded like a much healthier outlet. Saw the sign while walking Hobbes – that’s our retriever, and thought I’d give it a try. Quite a learning curve on some of the games to be honest, and Billy turned out to be a bit overbearing for a quiet Monday evening get-together, but still, got me out of the house. It was fun while it lasted. Well, it’s not going to continue now, is it? He was in charge of the whole thing.” She looks at me and I can tell she’s holding back the tears.

“Sorry, detective. I really must go and help Adrian with the twins now. Thank you for stopping by.”

It’s a brief visit, but informative, despite what certainly feels like Maria holding back, although that could just be her children distracting her. She seems to know so little about the hobby group she’s a participant of, and that makes me wonder what her role in all this might be.

 

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The Indigo Bar – Day 1

“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.”

“And you?”

“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

Hopes/Fears: Success

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.

 

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