My first stop of the day is Maria Banks’ house. She looks nervously behind her, the door ajar.
“Look, give me two minutes. We can talk at a cafe,” she whispers.
She returns shortly, having left the twins with her husband, and accompanies me to a small Portuguese cafe nearby, ordering a large gin and tonic on arrival. It’s Saturday morning. I try not to raise an eyebrow. I’ve lived in Britain long enough now to understand the drinking habits here. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to daytime drinking, a glass of wine is acceptable at lunchtime followed by an aperitivo later in the day, early evening usually. 11 am is a little classless. She has reason to calm her nerves, though, so I try to be sympathetic.
“So you sussed out the affair did you?” Her drink arrives on the table and she takes a big gulp.
“I wondered if you were the new woman in Billy’s life, yes. His mother mentioned she thought he’d met someone. A few other clues fell into place after that. Other people’s comments. And you seem a little out of place in the gaming group.”
“Look, it got out of hand. We met at a bar one night while Adrian was flying to Morocco. I didn’t even find Billy that attractive. He’s reckless and all over the place. I don’t even know how I ended up back at his… he just, he knew what to say, I suppose. I needed to feel wanted and he knew how to do it. I suppose that’s why I let it continue, despite my suspicions about what kind of man he really was. Those questions I suppressed like why has he moved around so much? Why is he pumping ideas out of these people and they don’t even realize? He does it to everybody. He even liked to snoop around The Indigo Bar when no one was around. He told me these board game nights would be fun, but really I was befuddled most of the time. This card means I can take that artefact, that artefact means I can take this card… it’s too confusing. I guess you probably realized how little I knew about these games and wondered why I was there, then? If you want to know why I lied about it, well of course I lied, I don’t want news of this breaking and I’m asking you, please, do not let it.”
I almost laugh out loud, she’s asking me – ordering me, even, to keep this quiet when she’s committed perjury here. I feel the sympathy I mustered up earlier ebb away.
“The other gamers assured me they wouldn’t mention it. It was sort of unspoken universal knowledge that something was going on between Billy and me, and the rest of the group knew how incriminating it would look after his death. Dora told me she’d keep everyone quiet.”
Even better, group perjury.
She laughs bitterly. “I couldn’t contribute anything to that silly board game so I contributed to his life in other ways. And no, it does not give me more reason to kill him. Why would I want to get rid of one of the only things making me happy? Having an affair didn’t make me any wiser about tarot cards, anyway… I’m clueless either way. I honestly have no idea what the three of knives or whatever card was stuck in his hand means at all. Adrian said you checked in with him as an alibi anyway. He told you I was at home, and that’s the truth. He’s definitely suspicious of an affair happening, though.”
She stops talking and finishes the rest of her drink while I suddenly feel grateful to be living a romance-free life. Adrian did confirm yesterday that Maria was at home, but how reliable is the testimony of a loved one? The same could be said for the other alibis, too. All the family and friends I contacted certainly sounded sincere, though, and I’m inclined to trust their words. If they were sure of what they were saying then it’s possible these alibis have been hoodwinked themselves, somehow. Only Dora has no alibi. She was alone before Phoebe arrived at her cottage to pick her up.
“It was horrible seeing his body like that,” Maria says. “What was interesting, mind you, was seeing Phoebe, Dora and Albert shocked, but not sad. None of them were! The gamers anyway. Jon looked upset. Bet he regrets letting us all in every week now, eh?”
She sighs heavily. “Look, I know what Billy was like. He didn’t involve me in that board game because he knew I wouldn’t be able to help much, I was there for him, not the games, but I think he also wanted to keep me somewhat separate from his ulterior motives. I’m not stupid, though. Anyone could see what he was doing. Dora was furious when he presented that tarot game to everyone. You could see it in her eyes. She’s an old spinster, but she would have been quite happy quietly plotting her revenge as she calmly claimed a monastery in a game of Carcassonne. Oh, that’s one of the few games I did understand. It was shoved down my throat so much I had no choice! But tarot? No, I knew nothing about that. This was some sort of symbolic death involving the meaning of tarot. I couldn’t tell you anything about it, except for the fact it’s a load of rubbish.”
Following Maria’s admission, it’s time to get one out of Albert. I digest Maria’s info dump and debate her innocence before Albert arrives at the same cafe thirty minutes later. I’m fed up with all the back and forth over the last few days. I told him he can come to me, his lie about his involvement is the reason we’re speaking, after all.
Albert looks nervous when I place his CV in front of him.
“What’s this about?” he asks, confused.
“I found this behind Indigo’s bar and I’m curious to know about your work history. In particular, your time spent at Room Xcape West End last summer.”
Albert opens his mouth to challenge me but then changes his mind and closes it. He nods slowly before responding, having rethought his answer.
“Look, I guess I’m guilty of something, but I don’t know what, exactly. I love board games. That’s true. But, uh… I didn’t join this group because of my personal interest. There was another reason, but truly, honestly, I don’t know the full extent of it. I was in the dark a little. I was told to join the gamers by my former manager at Xcape. I wouldn’t have participated otherwise. Why would I? I mean, I have my good friends to play board games with. I’d rather play an intense session of Eldritch Horror with Coral than have Maria asking questions over Takenoko every two minutes. I don’t really need that dysfunctional group. And now… what have I gotten myself into?” He’s beginning to look distressed. “Pablo asked me to keep an eye on Billy and report back to him. We were planning to meet and discuss what Billy was up to a few days ago, in fact. But my news ended up being that Billy had died. Pablo wanted me to note down anything shady, and, well, I had a list. Especially after the game reveal last week. But that’s all that happened, I swear.” He breaks eye contact and starts looking out the window.
I nod and tell him I’ll be in touch. It could be that he was simply asked to keep an eye on Billy and didn’t see why not, especially as it allowed him to network with fellow board gamers. He must have had some idea what was going on, though. Then again, this is a young man with his head in the clouds, wrapped up in his geek life. After he leaves, I give Pablo a call and tell him to meet me at the cafe also. It’s not just laziness. They make the best cappuccinos I’ve had all week.
“I didn’t think it was worth mentioning,” Pablo says a little while later, sat down in the seat occupied by his partner in crime Albert earlier. I just nod. It’s a shame, really. I was toying with the idea of getting to know Pablo better, on a personal level. But now he just looks nervous, stressed and caught out. Most off-putting.
“Honestly, though, it was just building up information to strengthen our case. That would have been great for us in court – proof that Billy was continuing to steal other people’s ideas – this time at a poky bar in Nutbourne. Or an admission of what he’d done to us, perhaps. A long shot, I know. I tracked Billy’s whereabouts on social media and when I found out he was back in his hometown, where Albert also lived, I got in touch with Albert and asked if he would be interested. It was perfect for him to join up as a board game fan. Well, I hadn’t spoken to Albert in a while, not since he worked for us, but Albert’s a yes man so he agreed. And we learned a lot from that. I came down on Tuesday, as I already told you. Albert met me at the train station – I wasn’t expecting that – and told me Billy was dead. Poor kid was nervous as hell. Thought he’d become caught up in some murder plot. I assured him that it wasn’t anything to do with me or the court case. As I said, looks like someone else Billy ticked off decided to take a more dramatic revenge.”
Possibly, unless there’s more to Albert and Pablo’s story. They’ve omitted information already, so maybe there’s more to be revealed. I take some notes after Pablo leaves. It’s probably time to get going. Three cappuccinos is certainly enough.
Before leaving, I decide to call Jon Montgomery to check the details of Phoebe’s left behind shopping bag containing her steampunk tarot set.
“So you placed the bag behind the bar and it remained there for a couple of days before Phoebe picked it up?” I ask Jon over the phone.
“Right. I suppose anyone could have come in and looked through it as we always have the front door open. I don’t really expect anyone to be walking in when I’m in the back. Especially not anyone suspicious. Not in Nutbourne, anyway. I mean, most people walk past Indigo without even realizing it’s there.”
Because you’ve done nothing to make it stand out, that’s why. It’s an interesting pattern I’ve noticed with Jon. He seems aware that problems exist but he doesn’t have any idea why. Issues so glaring but he just can’t spot them. It should be so obvious that the front display needs a makeover. It’s almost infuriating to see his business failing when it could so easily be fixed.
“And you never saw anyone snoop around the bar? One of the gamers, perhaps?”
“No. Not that I can think of. According to Craig, Billy himself liked to snoop, although I never noticed. But I’m guessing that doesn’t help you. I was very focused on testing a new cocktail idea that week. A bacon flavoured vodka served in a quail’s egg.”
“Oh, right. Interesting.” How do you respond to that? It doesn’t even sound practical. It’s certainly novel. “Thank you, Jon.”
I hang up and tap my thumb on the side of the table as I think. The loose threads are coming together, and I’m almost certain I have all the information I need. I just need to go home and dissect it all to be sure.
© Intrigue Inn
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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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
© Intrigue Inn
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At around midday, I walk into the county court building on Christchurch Road – an ugly square brick of a place – and greet the receptionist warmly with my most cheery smile. Let’s see how much I can get out of her. On the way here I made a call to Jon Montgomery. He’ll meet me this afternoon back at Indigo.
“Let’s see…” a mousy receptionist says, flicking through information on her system. “Yes, I can confirm Billy Grahame was due to appear in court following a dispute with a London based company, Room Xcape West End. I’m unable to provide you with further details, detective, but I’d be happy to pass on their contact info. I have a number – let me email that across to you. The company will have to be informed,” she sighed, apparently not looking forward to drafting a letter to let them know the dispute won’t be settled due to death. Although that’s about as settled as it could possibly get, I suppose.
I email Room Xcape West End in between bites of a prawn mayo sandwich and a glance at today’s new stories online – a famous singer dyeing their hair above details of the latest nuclear testing threats. Seems balanced. Hopefully, Xcape will get back to me soon. Chatting with the board gamers is important, but there’s a chance that Grahame’s angered many others as he hopped from one industry to the next.
One unsatisfying supermarket meal deal finished, I drive back to The Indigo Bar to meet Montgomery.
Jon Montgomery looks weary as we sit down at one of his bar tables opposite the one Grahame was slumped over. The board game and backpack have been taken away now. Montgomery looks to be in his late thirties with messy brown hair to match his faded, torn jumper. He’s also sporting a severe handlebar moustache that makes me want to trust him less.
He shakes his head. “Of course,” he sighs. “Why wouldn’t there be a murder here?”
“Oh. Business not good, Mr. Montgomery?” I adopt the casual concerned tone I always take with suspects. A few prompts and a sympathetic look can go a long way.
“Just the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that’s started to melt… If things weren’t going well for the bar before… Sorry, detective, don’t think I’m heartless. I’ve already gone through the shock of Billy being murdered. What I didn’t contemplate until coming back now and seeing the police presence is how badly this affects me. It’s not been a good year.”
“When did you open this bar?”
“Just over ten months ago. I had all these ideas. Ideas I’m still playing around with. Interesting decor, specialized drinks and quirky food that matches the theme I have in mind.”
Looking around, I have no idea what possible theme that could be.
“I’ve been working on a couple of new beverage trends I could really see taking off. These drinks are the big thing right now to push ourselves. Equipment and ingredients for those aren’t cheap, though. I guess I just don’t know how to market this place properly. Business is slow. An unpredictable rush here and there, nothing amazing.”
Has he seen this place from the outside? I have a few ideas about marketing straight off the bat.
“People appreciated what we were trying to do but the word of mouth tactic just wasn’t paying off. So, when Billy asked if he could use the venue on Monday nights for a small fee, I didn’t hesitate. Every little helps. We’re still closed to the public on Mondays, I just come in to open up for the group. But I mostly left them to it. We’ve been doing a bit of brainstorming lately, that’s myself and Craig, my one, one employee – it’s not busy enough here for more than one,” he laughs while shaking his head, deep wrinkles around his eyes. “So we’ve been around a bit more on the Monday evenings lately.”
“What impression did you get from Billy?” I ask. “And the rest of the gamers?”
“Well, they’re an interesting collection, really. Different backgrounds all coming together over an interest in throwing dice. Not really my thing, but to be honest it fits in with the quirkiness of the bar. Well, board games aren’t quirky in themselves… but board game bars are a little different around here, I suppose. I was contemplating a chat with Billy about making it more than just an exclusive Monday night thing. Why not bring it to a wider audience? And more paying customers? Unlikely now though, eh? As for Billy, bit of an odd character. All over the place. Full of ideas with fingers in many pies, I suspect. Told me he’d been through many jobs. He came here for a drink one night and that’s when we got chatting. I will say, he did have a way with words. He told me this would be the perfect venue for a gaming group he wanted to start. Before I knew it, I was offering him the opportunity to host board game nights here. Board games are a hot trend now, he told me. He presented himself as being a man of many talents, malleable to any vocation you could think of, but now I think he was just restless. His latest project just happened to be this board game he’d ‘created’.”
“And why do you say it like that?”
“Oh, there was very little of Billy in that game from what I heard. I wonder if he even cared about tarot. Well, you’d have to ask the other gamers about that. I’m just going off what I observed. As you probably know now, he was planning to play that game last night. I gave him a spare key so he could come in early. He said he wanted to prepare the game. A bit trusting of me, perhaps, but my office requires a separate key so I thought there’s no harm in having Billy let himself in. Either myself or Craig, or both of us, would usually open up at around 7:15 for their 7:30 session. Seeing as Billy was opening up yesterday I decided to arrive a bit later, and I told Craig to as well.”
“Do you think Craig may have made some observations also?”
“Hmm. He’s young, and I think the most he observed was Feebs – Phoebe. But he’s a good kid, and sure, he may be in the know more than me. I was just consumed with trying to keep things afloat around here. He lives just down the road on Morgan Avenue.”
I take Craig Hughes’ address and decide to stop there next.
“And Jon, what were you doing before you came here yesterday evening? What time did you leave your house?”
“Oh, around 7:30. It’s a 15-minute walk. I was just having dinner before that. You can ask my housemate, Phil. He was in, watching Netflix.”
I take Phil’s details. “And that ashtray – one of yours I understand?”
“It is, but we kept it out the back in the storeroom. Didn’t know what to do with it – too big. Gave it to Phoebe sometimes as she’s the smoker in the group. She’d take it outside with her. Even wash it in the bathroom and put it back in its drawer in the storeroom now and then. Another good kid, Phoebe – Don’t be getting suspicious of her over that.”
“I’ll be speaking to everyone in equal measure,” I assure him, though naturally, I’m of course suspicious of Phoebe, until proven otherwise.
As I leave, John Montgomery shuffles past the bar and into his office with a deep sigh. Hipster bar aside, he and Mick would probably get along.
It’s an easy five-minute walk to Craig Hughes’ house from Indigo. He lives in bog standard cul-de-sac housing with identical front gardens. Not my taste, but I shouldn’t be judgemental when I live in a fifty square foot flat. Mick thinks being judgemental is what gets the job done, but it’s listening to my gut rather than plain judgement. (Which right now is telling me that meal deal from earlier barely touched the sides.) I’d like to think of myself as more open-minded than Mick, anyway. As long as things meet Italian standards, that’s all. Judging books by their covers doesn’t solve murders, good instincts do, as well as the ability to spot the most relevant chapters behind those covers. I must remember that next time I’m staring at Jon Montgomery’s heinous moustache.
Craig, pale, blonde and in his early twenties, looks tentative and a little overwhelmed as he invites me into his home. It’s a small, messy house with a sink piled high with dishes and piles of unfolded laundry shoved into a corner of the living room, where I sit down in an armchair. Craig takes a seat on a leather bean bag.
“Sorry I didn’t answer the door straight away, I was just giving mum a cup of tea. She’s upstairs, where she always is these days.” He pauses before feeling the need to explain. I let him. I generally keep quiet when I first meet people. Most of them love to fill the silence with more chatter.
“She’s got fibromyalgia,” he carries on. “It’s rare and leaves her tired, aching all over, and for the last month she’s been bedridden. But yeah, you’re here because of Billy, right?”
“Yes. Just getting what info I can,” I say with the soft, comforting tones of a daytime TV presenter to make Craig feel relaxed.
“Well, I’m still in shock. I’m just glad I wasn’t one of the first to arrive. I got to Indigo after Jon, and he told me not to enter the building. He’s protective like that,” he shrugged. “But I’d already seen enough through the door… his body slumped like that…”
“You arrived at the bar at 8:00?”
“Yes, around then. I was making dinner for mum before I left. We chatted for a bit and then I got going.”
“Craig…” A curious voice calls out.
“It’s okay, mum,” Craig shouts upstairs. “It’s a detective, she’s here about Billy.”
“Yes, mum. It’s fine.” His face is pink.
Yes, she. I try not to roll my eyes, considering the poor woman is bedridden.
“Were you familiar with Billy and the other gamers?” I ask.
“A bit. Billy would try and get me to do things like I was on full work time and ready to serve them at the click of his fingers. That annoyed me, I will say. I was mainly there to help Jon with the business. Albert was a bit demanding also, but he’s on another planet.”
“What about the other gamers – Dora, Maria, Phoebe – Feebs for short right?
His face is now red at the mention of Phoebe.
“They were fine.” He pauses. “Yes, it is Feebs for short,” he adds.
“The women were nicer to you, then?”
“Yeah, I’d say so. But even then, besides Feebs, I didn’t speak to them much.”
“How long have you been working at the Indigo Bar?”
“About eight months now. It’s not the busiest work, but it’s nice to be a part of the place and help Jon build things up, slowly. It’s just the two of us, and I like it that way. I suppose if things pick up we’ll need extra staff which will be weird, but it’ll be good for Jon to finally be busy. With all his new ideas I hope it will be! Although… I can’t imagine it will pick up now if this murder gets out. Unless people have a sort of morbid curiosity? Well, his new ideas will work in Indigo or somewhere new, it doesn’t matter. Our plans are unique enough to hold their own anywhere,” he says with a strong sense of pride.
“What were you coming into work to do yesterday?”
“To both help Jon with some cocktail ideas and to be ‘on call’ if the gamers needed anything, as usual. Jon didn’t like Billy much, as time went on anyway, so I think he liked me to be around to deal with him. He trusted me to handle Billy’s obnoxious attitude.”
“And besides annoying you with his demands, what did you observe of his personality?”
“I could just see how he wound people up. He was forceful. He basically forced that board game group into the Indigo Bar like he was trying to force that weird tarot game onto the gamers. They pretty much made it for him, anyway. They were all shocked when he showed everyone the prototype the Monday before. I can’t believe they were so surprised, to be honest, it was pretty clear to me what he was up to. As someone looking in from the outside, anyway. I think they all fell for his charms and persuasions in one way or another. Jon too, even.”
Leaving Craig’s, Mick phones to tell me he’s been speaking with Billy’s mother and that she’s expecting me over. Mick loves a little micromanaging now and then, but it’s a good call to head over there sooner rather than later. I’m still fairly new to detecting solo, having been promoted to DCI only last year. However, you would think seven years in the force with Mick would be enough for him to leave me to make my own calls to the victim’s mother.
Miriam Grahame is a fragile-looking woman with short grey hair. She looks like she spends her Sundays admiring pictures of pressed flowers. There’s that judgment again. Is this what entering middle age is like? Miriam, puffy eyed from all her tears, leads me to her living room and I take a seat on a dusty sofa. Does nobody look after their house in Nutbourne?
“Shall I put the kettle on? Do you want a tea? No? Well, I’m just going to put in on for myself…”
She busies herself with tea making before coming back, taking a seat and staring into space for a few seconds, breathing deeply. Clearly keeping busy has been her go-to since yesterday evening.
“Mrs. Grahame, I know this can’t be easy for you. I understand that your husband also passed away last year?” Thanks for that one, Mick.
“Yes.” She gives a little bitter laugh. “And then there was one…” She sips her tea, her hands shaking a little.
“How did your husband die?”
“Car crash. He lost control of his vehicle on the A27 and the car went right into an oak tree. Honestly, the weather was good, he wasn’t drunk, and he was a good driver… It was just the good old Grahame bad luck streak. And now Billy, just months after moving back here to be there for me, things going well for him, even found himself a lady – I’m sure of it… oh the irony of it all. Hosting a board game group of all things! Who would think that there would be a murderer in the midst of such a boring activity!”
The mention of a possible girlfriend is interesting, but I let her continue.
“I didn’t even know Billy was into board games. Goes to show. He always surprised me with his ability to try anything…”
“From what I understand Mrs. Grahame, he was always on the lookout for new business and financial opportunities. It looks like board game production was his latest.”
“Oh, Billy was always extremely talented in many areas. He was always so good at using his initiative and trying different things. Very entrepreneurial, he was.” She nods and sips from her teacup. “What wasted talent… all that he could have achieved still.”
“Ah, yes, I’m sure. Although, did you know much about any plagiarism claims made against him? I was wondering if you could help me with that.”
“What? Plagiarism? Isn’t that what happens when kids copy things off the internet for their school coursework? Billy was a 37-year-old man!”
“It’s just something I was informed of, Mrs. Grahame.”
“People slandering the dead by the sounds of it. It’s disgusting.” She finishes her tea and her eyes shine with fresh tears. “Billy was a bright spark. Always asking me for money to help him with his little projects, even more so since moving back to Nutbourne. Of course, I always supported him financially, I wouldn’t want to halt the progress of his exciting ideas, would I? What kind of mother would I be then?”
One who expects her son to be a self-dependant adult, I imagine. I thank Miriam and leave, it’s almost time for Palandri family dinner Tuesdays. Being late is not an option unless I want my mother knocking on my front door with a gun pointing at me. I’m 43 years old and she still likes to take charge of my eating habits. She’d die if she saw the state of the prawn sandwich I ate earlier. First stop tomorrow is definitely Dora, who according to Bates’ notes lives along the seafront. I look forward to waddling there after being forced to eat my own body weight in ribollita tonight.
© Intrigue Inn
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