Friday, 19 July 2013

Naked Grief chapter fifteen


Chapter Fifteen

 

 

I found a public call box and telephoned Simone de Valieur to see what she had found out about Viola. God bless her, she was at the hotel and she’d done her bit well.

I could imagine the prim and efficient way she would have gone about the task. Searching out the right people in her best two-piece suit, using careful and precise diction like an Edwardian English governess. And her ploy would not have stopped at good diction, she would have turned up on the doorstep of her targets and interviewed them like a politician on top form. In fact, a damn sight better.

And all the time she would be wearing no panties.

“How’s the investigation going?” she asked.

“I’ll never make it as a detective. What have you managed to unearth?”

“Quite a lot, as it happens. Are you ready to take this down?”

“Don’t talk about taking things down, Sweetheart. It gives me palpitations and memories of the night we spent together. Just tell me what you’ve managed to find out.”

I heard a quaint little giggle down the line. “You sound like you’re missing me.”

“I am.”

“Badly?” Was that single word followed by a wishful sigh?

“Bed-ly,” I said firmly. No point in beating about the bush.

“Well, it’ll have to wait. Just you get a load of this, Henry.” Her prim manner suddenly slipped out of gear for a few seconds. She sounded anxious to down-load her discoveries. “Your young friend was Lady Viola Amelia Bracewell, the daughter of Lord Randolph Bracewell. He’s the Chief Executive of Atlantic European Bank and quite an influential chap in the world of high finance.”

“A good background, eh?”

“Absolutely top class.” Her English was back on form. “As for Ali Hassim, he’s in the world of banking also. It seems he lives in France and operates from London, a regular little commuter. He was on the board of Palmer and Reid Securities in London and the Dragon Commerce Bank in Hong Kong, but things have gone rather sour of late. He made some big mistakes on the futures market. The fraud squad in London are anxious to talk to him and he’s wanted for questioning in the Far East. I heard from one source that they want to cut off his goolies in Hong Kong.”

“Can’t they cut them off in London?”

“Maybe they will if they need a soprano in the Wormwood Scrubs prison choir.”

“So he’s in big trouble?”

“It’s all very messy and no one is too sure about exactly what went wrong, except that Hassim was the main culprit.” Simone had this cute way of speaking, as if every word had been rehearsed beforehand. “The thing is, Hassim had real power at the Dragon Commerce Bank and he authorized the buying of futures like there was no tomorrow. Then the market collapsed under his feet and the bank went bust. He tried to stop the rot by misusing his position at Palmer and Reid, but that sent them to the wall as well. The administrators went in a few days ago to try to clear up the mess he created.”

“Sounds like Hassim ain’t gonna be very popular.”

“He had the power to authorize transactions and policies, but he made some really serious mistakes. From what I’ve been told, he acted like an incompetent idiot rather than a criminal.”

“But he’s still a wanted man?”

“Certainly the receivers want to talk to him. And the police over here want words in his ear. I saw in the London Times today there’s talk of the possibility of extraditing him from France. They haven’t actually arrested him yet. On the face of itat least, until they get all the evidence they needhe hasn’t technically done anything illegal. But police over there in France are watching him in case he makes a run for it. It goes without saying that he’s a broken man. He’s on the verge of being penniless in Europe and impotent in the Far East. With or without his goolies. The Times leader is questioning why he hasn’t had his collar felt already.”

The London Times wasn’t exactly my scene, but Simone was more up-market in her reading tastes. I wondered how much of it was image and how much the real thing.

“So he hasn’t been arrested yet,” I said.

“It could be only a matter of time. A lot depends upon what the receivers find when they go through the books. Whether or not there’s been any actual fraud behind Hassim’s incompetence.”

“Puts a whole new edge on the matter, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t exactly make him a good match for Viola.”

“No, he never was a good match for that girl. But her father has money. By our standards, an awful lot of it.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Desperate measures for desperate needs, Henry. Hassim must have seen this coming for a while now. It could be that he wanted to marry Viola because he thought her father could help him out of a fix. Hassim is part Iraqi and they tend to put a great deal of faith in the extended family helping one another. It’s a distinct possibility, don’t you think?”

“She’s far too young!”

“A gullible child. Easily taken in by Hassim.”

“Damn the man! Did he really think he could get away with something as blatant as that?” I breathed loud and long through my teeth. This new light on the matter put a few more spanners in the works, and Simone was right about Viola. It made her look no better than a brainless bimbo.

“Seems like Hassim has been trying anything to bring in some cash.”

“Okay, sweetheart. You’ve done a really good job finding all this out. Now here’s what I want you to do next…”

I kept turning over in my mind what Simone had told me as I made my way back to the Breton Belle. If she was right I needed to see Hassim soon, before the French police picked him up.

But it just wasn’t set to be my day.

A police car of the Garde Mobile was parked right alongside the pontoon where the boat was moored and a whole bunch of uniformed gendarmes were hanging out nearby, standing upright and expectant like spare grooms at a wedding celebration. They were obviously waiting for me, like I was the virgin bride, late for the event. As I came closer, one of them pointed at me and another began to walk towards me. This one was in plain clothes and he had the bearing of someone well above the baser ranks.

M’sieur Bodine?”

“That’s me.” I came to a halt facing him. He was a tall, lean man with piercing eyes and a face wrinkled by too much sun. His whole manner immediately set him out as far more adroit than Le Fevre, the small-town hick policeman in Rennes. Only his thick accent let this officer down.

“You are the person who reported a girl missing in Rennes?” The words came out technically correct, but twisted, like Peter Sellars giving his best interpretation of Inspector Cleauseau.

“Yes.” I bit my lip and waited. In situations like this it pays to never give an inch until you know what you’re up against.

“You said she was killed?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmmh.” He sniffed and stuffed his hands into his jacket pocket. “I would like to talk to you.”

“Really? Who are you?”

He gave me a searching look, as if I had asked for a French presidential kiss on the cheek. His shoulders drew back as he mentally composed himself. “I am Chief Inspector Le Clerc of the Police Judicaire.”

“Well, isn’t that nice? You’re a Chief Inspector, eh?” I gestured to the boat. “Do you want to come aboard and have a chat?”

He shook his head. “Non. I would like you to come with me to the Redon Gendarmerie.”

That stumped me. “You want me to come to your police station for questioning? Is this some sort of bust? I mean, am I under arrest?”

“Certainly not.” That was about the only time I saw him half concede a smile. But it didn’t last long. “I would like you to tell me your story about the missing girl. The story you told my colleague in Rennes.”

It was action at last and I brightened up. Someone important wanted to hear my story and that was a big step forward. “Tell you all about it? You bet I will, Chief Inspector. Just you lead the way.”

They drove me to the Redon Gendarmerie in the police car, wedged into the back seat between two garlic-smelling heavyweights. I winced a few times, partly because of the garlic but mostly because the driver was as dangerous as all the rest of the French drivers I’d come across, and that’s no mean feat. It’s a basic rule in Continental Europe that the farther south you go, the worse the driving gets. We weren’t that far south of the English Channel, but the effect was already quite marked.

There was no waiting about when we arrived. I was led straight into an office, a surprisingly cheerful office at that, and then Le Clerc launched straight into the interview.

I suppose I’d already decided by now to tell him the lot. The lot? Like hell I did. Tell this bunch that I had been shot at while prowling round the L’Orly’s farm? Or that I’d gone on to have sex with a teenage nympho? One hint of that and I figured I’d probably be locked up in the blink of an eye. But I gave out most of it: why I was on the boat, what I’d seen before Viola was killed and much of what I’d done afterwards.

There were a couple of other things I didn’t talk about. One was the news Simone had just passed on to me. I decided they’d be able to dredge that up by themselves. In all probability, they already had. The other was the fact that I still had Viola’s cheque in my pocket. It occurred to me that having Viola’s money on my person might just make them more than a touch suspicious.

After half an hour of talking, Le Clerc suddenly stood up and reached a hand across the table. There was no winding down, just a final sentence to indicate the interview was abruptly over.

“Thank you for being so forthright, M’sieur Bodine.” He shook my hand warmly. Surprisingly warmly.

“What do you intend to do about it?” I asked. I wasn’t quite ready to break off the discussion.

He spread his hands with just the hint of a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. As far as he was concerned there was no more to be said. “For the moment there is nothing I can do. There is no dead body, nor even physical evidence of a dead body. But I will ensure that the matter is not overlooked.”

Nothing he could do? Damn! All that information and they were going to sit on it.

“Thanks a lot. You do believe me, don’t you?”

“I have no reason to disbelieve you.” It was not exactly a firm statement of conviction, but it was more than the police in Rennes had given me.

“Your pal, Le Fevre, didn’t believe me.”

“I will deal with Le Fevre. It was an error of judgment, no more.” Nice words, but the look on his face told me he judged it far more harshly than that. One thing was clear to me now, Le Fevre had blotted his copy book and Chief Inspector Le Clerc wanted the matter all neat and tidy in his duty book. Even if he did no more about it for the present.

I shrugged. “Okay, I’ll leave it to you.”

“Thank you.” He led me to the door. “And what do you intend to do now?”

I thought for a moment. There was no reason to change my plans. “Deliver the boat to Mr Hassim, I guess, and then go home.”

“Home to America?”

“Maybe. Might pop over to England first. There’s someone I want to see over there. Then I’ll hop on a flight back to the States.”

“I think that would be wise, M’sieur Bodine. Very wise.”

That just about summed up what these people thought of me. They drove me back to the marina and it was only when I’d been dropped off that I realized I hadn’t learned anything more that would help me sort out for myself what had happened. They had taken much from me and given virtually nothing in return. Poor Viola, there were still no clues about where I’d find her body.

I jumped aboard the Breton Belle and then stopped dead. The saloon door was ajar. Someone had come calling in my absence. My immediate thoughts centred on the young gorilla or the swarthy watcher and I stepped into the saloon prepared to do battle with either.

But I was wrong.

Aimee D’Albret was sitting at the saloon table reading a paperback novel. Her head was bent forward so that my first impression was of her mass of fuzzy black Afro-style hair atop a dark-skinned body. The second impression came almost immediately after when she looked up, fluttered her long black eyelashes at me and rose to her feet. She was wearing white cotton panties which stood out starkly against her silky-smooth mahogany skin. And that was it. Nothing else, just white cotton panties.

I shook my head sadly. “What the hell is this all about?”

She grinned at me, setting down the book on the table. Her teeth flashed brilliant white and I caught the impression she was sizing me up for a hearty meal. “Mr Bodine. I am…”

“I know who you are, Miss D’Albret” That knocked her off her perch for a few seconds. “Just what do you want here?”

“I came to have words with you.” There was no way of overlooking the taste of her fruity French accent. It was a bit like biting into a Golden Delicious apple for the first time. When she spoke, her teeth gleamed like sharpened blades glinting in the sunlight. She moved around the table and stood directly in front of me. “You have been wanting words with me, non?”

“Who told you that? Colette?”

“It is not important who told me.” The petulance in her voice was somewhat overdone and I began to get impatient.

“Maybe not. But I sure do want words with you,” I snapped. “Too damn right I want words with you, young lady. Hell, I want to know what you did with Viola Bracewell’s body.”

“What makes you think I have had anything to do with what happened to Viola Bracewell?” She put a slender finger to her glistening lips.

“Are you kidding? You turn up stark naked in this boat after Viola was killed. Right after Viola was killed! Then you make a fool of me in front of the police. Of course you had something to do with it. Now you’re back again looking like a whore in a bordello. So, what’s it all about? Are you ready to spill the beans?”

“Spill the beans?”

“Tell me what happened to Viola.”

She moved closer, put the tip of her slender finger to my chest and ran it gently down my anatomy. “Never mind that now. You sound angry. It is not good to be angry. You would like to relax? Non?”

“What are you getting at?”

“I can give you a good time if you wish.”

“Hell and damnation! Who put you up to this?” If ever there was a blatant act of criminal seduction this was it. “It was Brigitte, wasn’t it? Brigitte L’Orly put you up to this. Or was it all Colette’s doing?”

Non! I want you to…”

“Yes, I know what you want. You want to cause trouble for me again. But you’re not going to get away with it, young lady. Not with me you, you’re not.” I reached out and grabbed at her shoulders. That was when I spotted a small camera lying where the girl had been sitting. So, that was her plan! A crude attempt to discredit me with compromising photographs.

The last remaining trace of patience had just about gone completely from my body. From here on it was pure annoyance. “You just get this into your tiny little brain and you get it straight. I came over here on vacation to recover from something emotionally very painful. I didn’t come here to get messed about by girls like you. You want to know what was so painful? I lost my wife. Someone I loved very dearly. You got that? So you just keep your panties right where they are, and get the rest of your clothes on right now.”

I released my grip on her shoulders and pushed her away from me. She fell back against the table. Damn! I could feel my blood pressure winding up to a full head of steam.

Non!” Aimee stood up and pouted, just like Brigitte. She crossed her arms over her shapely chest and set her lips firmly together. The message just hadn’t sunk in. “You do not like me? You do not want to have a good time with me?”

“No, I do not!” As if I hadn’t had enough such trouble with Brigitte. “Look, Miss D’Albret if you don’t stop this nonsense I’ll have to call the police.”

Aimee grimaced at that, obviously not too keen on the idea. “If you call the police I will tell them that you attacked me and tried to rape me. You want that? Non?”

“What the hell!” I was getting nowhere fast. Maybe it was time to come to the point. I took a deep breath and tried to sound composed despite the provocation. “Tell me what happened to Viola Bracewell.”

“Why do you not want to have sex with me?”

“Maybe I’m concerned about previous customers. What happened to Viola?”

“Forget about her.” She seemed to be getting desperate. Any sense of sultry seduction was gone. Her lips fell at the ends giving her a despairing look. “You can have me if you want me.”

“Look here, Aimee, this is getting neither of us anywhere. Why did you come here? Just to compromise me? Or was there something else?”

Her eyes seemed to gloss over with unshed tears. She wiped at them hurriedly.  “We can talk if you want to. Maybe we can lie down together and then we can talk.”

I stood my ground. “No lying down, Aimee. We’ll talk and nothing else.”

She shrugged. “You said you want to talk about Viola Bracewell. Non?”

“Yes. We’ll talk about her. You’re after something. Something to do with Viola. What is it? What are you after?”

Aimee let out a long, exasperated breath. She took a few seconds to think about her next move. “What happened to her ring? What happened to the ring Viola Bracewell had?”

“So that’s it! That’s what you’re after.” I grabbed at her arms and roughly drew her closer. “You came here to seduce me and then blackmail me with photographs. All because you want to know what happened to the ring. Well, let me tell you this, you stupid little bitch, no amount of sex with you is going to get me to tell you what I know about Viola’s ring!”

“It isn’t hers!”

“So? Whose ring is it?”

She dragged her arms free and reached towards her flowery frock which lay in a heap on one of the saloon seats. “You are impossible.”

“Funny, I was just about to use the same words about you. Get dressed!”

“We can talk…”

“Get dressed!”

She got dressed. Her frock just fell over her head like gossamer falling on a summer afternoon. “You will not get away with this,” she grunted as she straightened the frock about her rounded hips. She jutted her breasts in my direction and added, with a somewhat Freudian twist, “You do not know what you are up against!”

“Next time you call, keep your clothes on.”

“Imbecile!” She grabbed up the camera and stormed off with heavy footsteps. It sounded like an elephant abandoning ship.

I was glad to see her go, but at least her visit gave me another clue as to what might have happened to Viola and it added to my conviction that I could not abandon the case just yet. In fact, in a funny way, it made me even more determined to find out what really happened.

Once I was sure Aimee was out of the way I went back down to Viola’s cabin where her letters were still bundled together in a drawer. The cheque was still hidden in my wallet which I now kept on me at all times. If the cigar-smoking watcher came aboard again he was not going to steal Viola’s money.

All the letters from Hassim were written on expensive headed notepaper and the embossed heading told me where he lived. It looked impressive. Le Chateau de la Riviere, la Gacilly. A quick search on the map showed me that Hassim’s chateau was about a mile outside la Gacilly, right alongside the small river which ran off from the Canal de Nantes a Brest. I checked my watch and figured I could be there shortly after mid-day. Good God! Mid-day, was it really so early still? So much had happened in one morning.

Deliver the boat is what I said I would do, and this seemed like a good time to set about it. There was no going back after coming this far. It took me a few minutes to return the rental car and walk back to the smart Sunseeker. On the way back I had to pass right by the young gorilla’s boat, but it seemed to be unoccupied, as if the three of them had taken off for the day. That was just as well because I certainly didn’t want to see that youth again this side of the fires of hell. If I did, I might be unable to stop myself doing something nasty to him. And I wasn’t exactly feeling friendly towards those two girls who shared the boat with him. They both deserved a damn good hiding across someone’s knee, even if they did enjoy the experience.

And I might actually enjoy doing it!

I filled up the Breton Belle’s water tanks, checked over the diesel and cast off. There were two exits from the marina basin. One led into the River Vilaine and the route to La Roche Bernard. I took the other route, through a lock at the far end of the basin leading onto the Canal de Nantes a Brest. The lock was electrically operated from a control tower and as I nosed down the basin, an unseen operator opened up the heavy gates. Once out the other side, I made a sharp left turn and then set off down a tranquil straight with overhanging trees on both banks.

Despite my determination, my mind was still a tangle of confused ideas. There was no hiding the fact that Colette and Aimee were in this all the way from their pert little asses right up to their pretty little eyebrows. Both of them. And so was that surly young gorilla, Jacques Hassim. Most of all, so was Jacques’s once-rich father who had beaten up Viola. But which, if any, of them had the motive to kill her? Or was I on the wrong tack entirely? Could it have been the work of the mysterious watcher? And who the hell was that huge man mountain who had searched the boat back there by the canal bank?

I came to a small road bridge running over the canal with a group of French teenagers gathered at one side. Probably the same bunch of mindless jerks I’d come across a couple of nights ago. I didn’t take that much notice of them until I came near the bridge and then they let loose at me. Their attack came so suddenly that it gave me one hell of a fright. A lighted firework cracker sailed through the air and landed on the bow of the Breton Belle. It exploded just as it hit the deck and sent a mighty thump right through the boat, as if the engine had blown a gasket. The stupid kids began to laugh and shout and one of the youths threw another cracker onto the Breton Belle’s saloon roof. The thump when this one exploded was even louder. This was too much. I swung the boat round and roared at the kids through the saloon side window. Then I hit the bank, cut the throttle and ran out on deck.

The angrier I got, the more those kids thought it was one huge joke. One laughing teenager in a day-glow vest threw yet another cracker onto the cruiser’s deck while the rest of the kids began stoning me. By this time I was hopping mad. I jumped ashore and went for the biggest one, but straightaway two of his mates joined him and together they tried to push me back into the canal. They might even have succeeded if the cavalry hadn’t arrived, just in the nick of time.

A single trooper, but one who knew what he was doing.

I didn’t see him approaching and neither did the louts, which added a nice element of surprise. He sprang onto the backs of two of the youths who were attacking me and banged their stupid heads together. One moment the gang had the upper hand and the next they were in disarray. You’d have thought those kids were being attacked by a full army platoon the way they took off. They had no staying power and the whole thing instantly knocked the spirit out of them. Seconds later you couldn’t see them except for their dust trail as they made off down a dirt track at a rate of knots.

“Thanks, that was…” I turned to face the man who had waded in to help me. Then I stopped dead in my tracks.

It was the swarthy-faced watcher.

He grinned self-consciously across the width of his dark face and reached into his pocket for a cigar. “Saw you had a bit of bother, old chap. Hope you didn’t mind me joining in?”

“I’m glad you did.” Recovering my senses, I jumped back aboard the Breton Belle which was rocking gently at the canal’s edge, the engine still bubbling over in neutral. I didn’t want it drifting away.

“Everything all right, old chap?” The man was standing at the side of the canal, uncomfortably dressed in a neat brown jacket and fawn coloured pants. A cravat showed at the neck of his shirt. As a mode of dress, it looked far too uncomfortable for the hot weather. He looked at me uneasily.

“Depends what you mean. Are you coming aboard?” I asked.

He thought for a moment. “I suppose I ought to. Make sure everything’s ship shape down below. No harm to the rest of the crew, what?”

Rest of the crew? What crew? But I figured he owed me a few explanations and this was as good a time as any to clear the decks with him. I went below to cut the engine and then came back up to throw a mooring line ashore. The swarthy man secured it and hopped nimbly onto the boat.

“Jolly neat little craft, what?” When he spoke it was pure, upper class English. “I hope I haven’t caused you any alarm, my dear fellow.”

“Caused me alarm?” What was it with this guy? “Frankly, you’ve been bugging me since the day I left St. Malo!”

“Oh! I’m most frightfully sorry. Should have been more careful. What?” When he grinned he showed a well-stained set of teeth. The calling card of a typical cigar smoker.

“Yes, you should have been more careful. Just who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Williamson.” He held out his hand and grinned. “Major Charles Williamson at your service. Late of the Household Cavalry and now a private investigator.”

“You don’t say. And what the hell are you investigating right now, Major Charles Williamson?”

Cryptically, he replied, “Rather blown my cover, haven’t I? How about we go below and have a little chinwag?”

A little chinwag! God, did people still talk like that? Maybe they did in the Household Cavalry.

“Good idea!”

I led the major down into the saloon and indicated a seat. He glanced about as if afraid of who he might meet. Eventually he asked, “Er… is the young lady not on board?”

“Which young lady?”

“Miss Bracewell.”

I suppose I must have frozen at that point. It seems like a natural reaction. Whatever I did, it lasted only a couple of seconds. Long enough for him to pick up my alarm.

“She is still with you, isn’t she?”

“No. She’s not here.” I sat opposite him and studied him hard. Up close, the swarthy skin looked more like a sun tan. Maybe he’d been abroad a lot.

“Oh.” He shifted uneasily in his seat, not too sure what to say next.

“The fact is, the young lady has disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” His back straightened and his eyes stabbed at me. “But I thought she was here with you.”

“No. She’s not on board. Take a look if you wish.”

“Disappeared,” he repeated. His mind was working hard behind his puzzled eyes. The lady had vanished and the intrepid investigator was taken by surprise.

“Yep.” I crossed my arms and leaned on the table. “I thought you might have known that. After all, you’ve been watching us close enough.”

“Heavens, no. I last saw her when you were moored just outside Rennes. I thought she was safe as long as she was with you. In fact I would never have left if I hadn’t been quite sure you were able to take care of her.”

I frowned. “Me? Take care of her?”

“Yes, old boy. Couldn’t leave her with just anyone, could I?”

I frowned at him, wondering where the hell this was taking us. “You checked me out?”

“Enough to know she would be safe with you.”

“That seems to be what she thought as well.” I kept a steady eye on Williamson. “But things didn’t exactly pan out that way.”

His face dropped alarmingly as the implications sank in. Not the behaviour of someone who had something critical to hide. In fact he seemed so genuine that I decided to risk his confidence. “The truth is, Major Charles Williamson, Viola Bracewell has been murdered. Shot. Killed stone cold dead.”

“Dead? Oh, my God!” He rose suddenly to his feet and his eyes popped wide as windows on a hot summer day. His swarthy face blanched visibly. His mouth gaped open when he sat down again. Breathing heavily, he pulled a white handkerchief from his jacket pocket and mopped his brow. “Killed? But… what happened? Who…?”

“I don’t know what or who.”

“You saw it? I mean, you know…” He sounded flustered while sweat glistened on his cheeks and brow.

“I found her body floating in the river. I got her ashore, but she had a bullet hole in her chest. She was murdered.”

“Oh, my God!” He wiped again at his face. “The police! You’ve told the police?”

“Yes. Of course I told the police. But someone stole the body in the meantime and the police in Rennes didn’t seem to believe me.” I let that sink in before I continued. “I’ve just spoken to the police in Redon and they were only a shade more helpful. There’s no body as evidence, you see.”

“No body?”

“I told you. She’s disappeared.”

“Oh, my God!”

By this time Williamson’s face had undergone another colour change and he was looking distinctly green about the gills, so I went to the galley and put the kettle on the stove. An English gentleman like him was sure to be revived by a strong cup of tea. I had enough certainty in his credentials by now to decide that Williamson was the only person I could confide in, so I went on to tell him all that had happened at the canal bank near Rennes. Throughout, he listened in awed silence.

“What I now want to know,” I said when I gave him his reviving cuppa, “is what part you played in all this.”

He sipped his tea and stared at me across the table. “This is really terrible, old chap. I’m a private investigator, you see. I was hired by Viola’s father to keep an eye on her.”

“Why?”

“Well, actually, her father was a touch worried about Viola. Afraid of the repercussions when she broke off her engagement to Mr Hassim. I take it you do know who her father is?”

“Yeah. Lord Bracewell.”

“That’s right. He didn’t like the engagement in the first place, didn’t like it at all. He had his finger on the pulse of the companies Mr Hassim controlled, and he knew they were heading for a fall. It was obvious to him what Mr Hassim was doing, and why. But His Lordship didn’t put his foot down until he felt he had to. Had a soft spot for his daughter despite everything, you see.”

“Doting father?”

“Should have had more control over her, old chap. That’s what I think. When Hassim’s financial troubles finally came to light in the City, he ordered Viola to break off her engagement. It was pretty clear by then that Mr Hassim was out to make use of not just Viola but her father as well. He needed to rake in a bit of cash, don’t you know, any way he could. That’s when His Lordship gave me a tinkle and asked me to keep an eye on Viola.”

“Gave you a tinkle?” Those cute old-fashioned expressions never ceased to crease me. “Did you know him personally?”

“We were at Eton together.”

“I see. The Old Boy network still works, does it?”

“Absolutely, old chap.” Williamson drew back his shoulders as if he was proud of the connection. “Like I said, that’s how I got this job as Viola Bracewell’s minder.”

“Jolly good,” I said with a heavy sarcasm which he didn’t seem to pick up. “But now you don’t have anyone to mind, do you? Not now that Viola Bracewell is dead.”

His face dropped again. “What am I going to tell his lordship?”

“That’s your problem, isn’t it?”

“Oh, dear God, yes.”

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