Small Town Suspicions (Some Very English Murders Book 3) (4 page)

“Do they even have courtroom
artists anymore? Don’t they just take photos?”

Cath laughed. “You can’t
take a camera into a UK court. And, actually, you can’t draw while the court is
in session, either. All the courtroom sketches you see in newspapers were done
afterwards, by the artist, from their memory.”

“That is impressive.”

“Yeah. You’d think he’d be
better at drawing, wouldn’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

Cath pointed at the work in
front of them. “It’s a bit … I don’t know. Scrappy. I wouldn’t have it on
my
wall. Perhaps the guest bedroom. For when people I didn’t like came to visit.”

Penny sighed. “You don’t
appreciate art.”

“I guess I don’t have a
degree in it. Why can’t things just look nice? I like flowers.”

The work in progress was a
mixed-media piece, with collage and paint and pastels, all jumbled up together,
and the dark searing lines of angry charcoal showing through the paint in
places. There were some headlines torn from newspapers, and a recurring theme
of a woman’s face. She had a long nose and dark bobbed hair, and stared through
slitted eyes directly at the viewer.

“But you’re right,” Penny
conceded. “I don’t like it, either, and I don’t think it’s very good. It’s a
bit overcooked. Like a first-year art student trying too hard to be intense and
emotional and dangerous.”

“Oh, so you’re allowed to
say it’s rubbish because you’re trained?”

Penny grinned. “Yeah, that’s
about it.”

Cath moved away to stare at
the clay models on the table, but Penny stayed transfixed by the art. It made
her shiver. She definitely didn’t like it. Perhaps, she argued with herself,
this meant it was successful because it had created an emotion in her. That’s
what artists wanted, after all – a reaction.

Something about the emerging
image bugged her. She felt as if she had seen it before. She tried to read the
newspaper headlines on the torn scraps that were glued to the canvas, but they
were a mundane mix of local news and celebrity gossip, with no apparent hidden
meaning, as far as she could tell.

The woman, her image repeated
a few times across the canvas in varying sizes, still glared out at Penny.
Penny rubbed her upper arms with her hands, and stepped across to join Cath.
“It’s getting cold,” she said, as if that would explain her sudden goose-bumps.

 “I don’t think this place
even has central heating,” Cath said. “We’re still going through the rest of
the house so I can’t let you in there. Shall we go back outside?”

“Please.”

They stepped out onto the
patio, but the night air was now clouded with midges and irritating biting
insects. Penny swiped at her face. “You will want to know the general chatter
around town, won’t you?”

“Yes please, just in case
this turns out to be unusual. You’re
not
investigating, okay? But
I
think the fact that he was about to take on
the Sculpture Trail makes me suspicious.”

“He was a recluse, anyway.
Why would he agree to it?” Penny said. “Had he done anything like that before?”

“Not that we know of, but
see if you can find out. I suppose he needed the money, but we’re going to get
access to his private affairs over the next few days.”

Penny looked down at where
the weeds were pushing up through the cracks in the patio. “It looks to me like
he certainly needed the cash.”

“Oh, he’ll probably turn out
to be one of those who lives in poverty but who has a stack of millions under
the bed. Honestly, it really happens.”

“Let me know if that’s the
case,” Penny said, as she turned to go. “You can discretely shuffle half a
million or so in my direction. No one would miss it, would they?”

“If that happens,” Cath
said, “you can be assured that suddenly this apparently friendless and
family-free man would be crawling with long-lost relatives. Hey, are you free
tomorrow night?”

“Sure. Do you want to meet
up? You can come around if you like.”

“I will. I should have news
for you by then.”

“Me too.”

Penny raised her hand in
farewell and went to rescue PC Patel from Kali. He surrendered the dog to her
with a grateful smile.

“Did you make friends?” she
asked the policeman.

“She’s covered my trousers
in drool,” he said morosely. “Does it wash off?”

“Eventually.”

Chapter Four

 

 

 

By the time that Penny got home that night, Francine had already
taken herself off to bed in the spare room. Penny made a quiet cup of herbal
tea and sat up for a while, curled on her sofa with Kali snoring at the other
end in her nest of cushions. She pondered the events of the day but came to no
fixed conclusions, before deciding to turn in for the night.

She slept fitfully.

The next morning, Penny was up and out of the house,
walking Kali in the fresh early air while it was still cool. Hot weather and
thick black fur didn’t mix. She was also avoiding Francine. Now she’d made her
mind up to definitely have a heart to heart chat with her, she felt deeply
reluctant to take the next step and make her intentions into reality.

She had a chance when she returned from the walk. Francine
was sitting in the kitchen, a few glossy magazines spread open on the table.
She smiled and jumped to her feet.

“Penny! You’re back! I’ll get the kettle on,” she said.

“Ahh … maybe later,” Penny blurted out. She didn’t even
know she was going to refuse the offer until she heard herself speaking. “I’m popping
out to the market.”

“Oh, I’ll –”

Penny grabbed her purse and left.

It must be obvious to Francine, now
, she thought,
and had a pang of guilt, pausing in the hallway.
I could ask her to come
with me.

Then she heard Francine begin to talk to Kali. “Let’s do
some tricks!”

No, I won’t disturb her
, Penny thought, and
continued out the door.

 

* * * *

 

Anyway,
Penny said to herself as she tried to
justify her own unappealing behaviour,
I need to start finding out about
Alec Goodwin. What better place to start than the market?

The town of Upper Glenfield was a thriving one, and had a
permanent indoor market as well as a weekly outdoor event. She reached the end
of her street and crossed the road, and from there it was just a short walk
along the High Street to the market area. The indoor market had a wide variety
of stalls selling local produce as well as all the usual strange market goods
like nylon aprons and plastic buckets and gadgets for unblocking sinks that
would break after the first attempt. She waved and nodded at the familiar faces
she saw. Often, she knew the stallholders well enough to chat to, but she had
not ever established what their names were. Now she’d lived here for a few
months, it felt too awkwardly late to ask what they were called. In her head,
she started referring to them by what they sold. There was Mop Woman, Fish Man,
and of course, Book Man With The Pimples.

She headed for Book Man With The Pimples, but was waylaid
almost immediately by Mary who was coming away from the book stall clutching a
lurid romance with a fainting woman on the pink and purple cover. “Penny! Now
then.”

“Hi, Mary. How are the craft fairs going?”

“We miss you,” Mary said. She was dressed in many layers of
purple and each layer had an edging of lace. She was like a doily that had
exploded. “Well, I miss you, anyway.”

It sounded like the others didn’t miss her, and that was
probably correct. Penny had attended quite a few local craft fairs with her
textile art and watercolour paintings, but she’d been unprepared for the
resentment that a scant handful of established crafters had harboured for
newcomers. Now she was selling more of her work from her website, she had
scaled back how many craft fairs she attended, but Mary was still keen. She
hardly sold any of her terrible decoupage, but she kept going for the social
scene. Mary had never been perceived as a threat by the others, though.

Mary was bursting with gossip, as always. Before Penny
could say anything else about the craft fairs, she went on. “And have you heard
about Alec Goodwin? What a business, what a business! Dreadful shock.”

“I heard that he was found dead, yes,” Penny said, hoping
that Mary would fill in some of the gaps.

“Murdered, no doubt about it!”

“Do you know that for sure?”

“Well … no, but that’s what they’re all saying.”

Penny raised one eyebrow and Mary did look slightly
embarrassed. Gossip had got her into a lot of trouble when Penny had moved to
Upper Glenfield, and it had cost the older woman many friends, too. “Mary, do
you know anything about Alec Goodwin? Why had he been picked to do the
Sculpture Trail?”

“Oh, he was always being asked to do this and that. He was
almost a local celebrity. He never said yes to anything before, though.”

“So, why this one?”

“He probably needed the money. Starving artists never have
any money. They spend it all on absinthe. I know they all say he was rich and
that, but me, I don’t think so.”

Alec’s poverty sounded plausible to Penny after having seen
the state of disrepair that his house was in. “I wonder what will happen to the
Sculpture Trail now,” she said, leaving it open and hoping Mary would fill in
more gaps.

She did. “This morning, that council man, Shaun, went to
see Ginni in the florists’, and asked her to take it on!” Mary announced,
beaming at the delight of imparting new knowledge. “And apparently … she said
no.”

“I’m not surprised she said no. I know Ginni runs the craft
group, but I’ve never seen her do any art or craft except her floral
creations,” Penny said. “Which are stunning, by the way, but I can’t imagine
her doing sculptures. Is that her background?”

“I don’t know. That’s not why she refused, though,” Mary
said. “She said no out of spite and resentment because the council didn’t
choose her nephew, either in the first place, or now, as a replacement. She’s
very bitter about it.”

“Hmm.” Ginni was an old-school dragon of a woman who could
still rock a pair of shoulder-pads like it was 1988, but Penny hadn’t pegged
her for someone who held a grudge. Then again, where family was concerned,
people were unpredictable. She asked, “Did Alec have any family?”

“I have no idea,” Mary said. “I never heard of any. But if
I find out, I’ll let you know. I imagine you’re going to snoop around for clues
now, aren’t you?”

“We don’t know for sure how he died, yet.”

“Well, no. But as I said …”

Penny smiled. “I know, I know. Everyone thinks it’s murder.
Thanks, Mary.”

She bid her farewell and continued to wander around the
market.

 

* * * *

 

Penny picked up some vegetables from Knobbly Potatoes Man and
decided she’d make a nice spicy vegetarian stew that evening. She was on her
way back to her cottage when Cath called her, so she stopped and rested in the
shade of the churchyard wall while she chatted on her mobile phone.

“Hey there,” Cath said. “I’m on a break and I thought I’d
let you know that we’ve been talking to Steve Llewellyn, Ginni’s nephew. Have
you met him properly at all?”

“I saw him last night when he burst into the meeting, and
I’ve seen him hanging around, but that’s it.”

“Right. So we were interested to find out why he had been
down at Alec’s place,” Cath said.

“Everyone wants to know that.”

“Apparently, he’d been there drinking with Barry Neville the
previous night.”

“Barry? The guy that rents the shack on Alec’s property? Are
they friends?”

“It seems … unlikely, but Steve reckons they are. Inspector
Travis is inclined to believe it, too. Barry’s in his thirties. He’s a farm
labourer, on casual contracts here and there. Sometimes, factory work, when the
farm work is low. And Steve is just out of university. So I dunno, there’s more
to it that Steve’s not saying. Anyway, Steve said that he had been there with
Barry on Saturday night, getting drunk and trying to teach Barry’s dogs some
tricks, and he left his phone there. So on Sunday he went back down to get it
back.”

“He didn’t go back for his phone until Sunday night?” Penny
shook her head even though Cath couldn’t see her. “I don’t buy that. Kids these
days are welded to their phones.”

“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think we can lump all ‘kids’
together. There’s another thing, as well,” Cath told her. “Steve said that he
walked there. Fair enough. It’s not too far. But – I remember you said that
Steve said there had been a van there that night? Well, we have another
witness, someone who was out for a jog along that road, who noticed a van pull
out of the gateway. He noticed it because of the erratic driving. He had had to
jump up onto the verge.”

“Was the van red or white?”

“Both. White, but filthy with dust, the jogger said. And it
was around the time the body was discovered, give or take.”

Penny pondered for a moment. “You say Steve had been
drinking,” she said. “That would explain the erratic driving.”

“It would also explain why he said he had walked there,”
Cath added. “So that he didn’t get looked at for drink-driving, although it
would be too late to charge him with that. There’d be no proof.”

“Does Steve have a van?” Penny asked.

“He has access to his aunt’s. She has a white van for her
floristry business.”

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