Small Town Suspicions (Some Very English Murders Book 3) (8 page)

“I’ve come to ask you about Alec Goodwin,” she said,
wanting him to know straight away what her intentions were.

He stilled, and raised one grey eyebrow. “Me? Are you still
meddling in things you ought not meddle in?”

“Yes, I am. Again.”

He barked out a short laugh. “Honest, aren’t you? Mr
Goodwin was a recluse. No one knows anything about the poor man. It is the
definition, one might say, of a recluse. And now he’s gone, and what a
tragedy.” But even Reg couldn’t keep the curiosity wholly at bay. “So was he
murdered, then?”

“It’s not been established yet,” she said. “But I’ve been
to his house, and there was something odd about it.”

“He’s an artist,” Reg said scornfully. No doubt he wouldn’t
be surprised to learn that Alec had had a cellar kitted out with strange and
dubious furniture, stuffed crocodiles and shrunken heads.

“Well, yes, but he also seemed to be really,
really
into fine coffee.”

Reg relaxed and brushed his hands together. He nodded. “Come
and help me carry the last few laptops out, if you will.”

She followed him into the pleasantly cool interior.
“Laptops.”

“That’s what I said.”

“So you teach people to get online?”

“I do.” He smiled very proudly. “And yes, Alec sought me
out for some help. He didn’t come to these sessions, though. He had no patience
for being near other people. He would come to my house from time to time, and I
set him up with some online accounts and showed him how to buy things. I know
he liked ordering fancy foods and drink. And you are quite correct. He did love
his coffee.”

Reg passed her two laptops and a case full of leads and
power cables, and she followed him back out to his car, where she stood while
he arranged things in the boot.

“When was the last time you saw him?” she asked.

“I knew that was your next question. And it did stick in my
mind as being a little strange. He turned up at my house last Friday, just out
of the blue. He never usually does that. And he asked me to do some research.”

Reg slammed the boot shut, and made his way back into the
hall. She followed. Reg had a way of moving around that made you feel as if you
had to obey him. He held the door open for her, and she passed by him with a
dignified nod, reserving her feminist rant for another, more appropriate time.

“Research about what?” Penny asked. She perched on a table
while he went around the hall, tidying up the chairs and picking up stray pens
and paper.

“I have been interested in local history for many years,”
Reg told her. “I am, if I may say, something of an expert. I often give talks
at the Women’s Institute. I had thought that interest in our heritage was sadly
dying, and I must confess I’d been quite sad about the whole thing.”

She nodded.

“However!” he continued with a flourish. “However! The
internet has revitalised it. I learned a little about computers, and started
getting online, and realised that what this town really needed was a local
history website! You may have seen it…?”

She had not, and she hadn’t realised one existed. “No, I’m
afraid I haven’t, but I shall be sure to look it up.”

“One moment.” He grabbed a scrap of paper and wrote a long
and clumsy website address on it for her. She saw immediately why she hadn’t
heard of it. It wasn’t something simple and useful like “Glenfield.co.uk” or
whatever, although that was probably already taken by a company with a similar
name. She pocketed the slip of paper with her thanks.

“And as word has spread of my researching prowess,” Reg
said, “it was to me that Alec came when he wanted to find out about two people
from his past.”

“Old friends?”

“I’m not entirely sure. I don’t recollect the reason, and I
am certainly not the sort of man who’d pry.”

“Can you remember the names of them?”

He frowned, as if asking him to recall them was in itself
an act of prying, but eventually he said, “Yes, because I had to have him spell
out Carl with a c not a k. Carl and Amanda Fredericks.”

“Mr Bailey, this might be really important,” Penny said. “I
think the police will want to know.”

“I really don’t think I ought to bother them.”

She guessed he was also the sort of person who wouldn’t
bother their doctor with anything less than actual bubonic plague. “Please do
tell them. I’m going to be honest with you – I’m going to mention it to Cath
Pritchard.”

“I know. Nothing I say to you is sacred.” He smiled a
little so that she understood he wasn’t being nasty.

“Thank you. If you remember anything else, such as
why
he wanted to find out about them, will you let me – or Cath – know?”

“Of course. I know some people consider you to be a
dreadful interferer, and I did think that myself, when we met under those …
difficult … circumstances. But on reflection I think that you’re acting out of
a fine civic nature and more people ought to be involved in their community.
There are some real locals who don’t get as involved as you do!”

So she wasn’t a “real” local. She shook her head and
smiled. “I’m also really nosey,” she pointed out.

He took her elbow proprietorially and steered her back out
into the sunlight. “I do remember something about that Carl Fredericks chap. He
runs a bulb business out east, out on the Fens. It was lovely chatting with
you, Miss May. Take care.”

“And you. Thank you again!” She really meant it. She could
put up with his well-meaning chivalry because now she had some information to
follow up.

And he was a charming man, she acknowledged. She stood on
the pavement and watched the elegant car cruise away.
Some
men, she
thought pointedly, could do well to learn from him.

She turned for home, but went via the town centre. She had
one more appointment to make.

Chapter Seven

 

 

 

“I was pleased you could fit
me in this afternoon,” Penny told Agatha later that day as she settled into the
chair.

The hairdresser stood behind
Penny, but they talked by looking in the mirror. Agatha ran her fingers through
Penny’s short hair. “I was surprised to see you back so soon. Don’t you like
the blue streaks?”

“I love them,” Penny said,
and in truth there was little reason for her to be back at the salon. However,
she wanted gossip. “But I’m a bit alarmed by the greenish tint. And I just felt
it needed shortening at the back and the sides need more shape. It’s grown so
quickly.”

Agatha pulled the strands at
the back. “I warned you about the green,” she said ruefully.

“I know. It’s fine. But the
shape …?”

“I’ll give you a trim,” Agatha
said. “How’s that sound, eh?”

“Brilliant, thank you.”

Agatha mentioned the
weather, remarked upon Penny’s shoes, and asked after her dog. Those
formalities concluded within a matter of minutes and she was able to launch
into the meaty stuff: talking about Alec Goodwin.

“You’re all hand in nest
with the police,” she said. “So how did he die, eh? I won’t tell a soul! I
promise.”

Penny smiled at the mixed up
phrase, thinking she had to remember that to tell to Francine. She said, “He
was poisoned but it
could
have been an accident. Unless you’ve heard
anything definitely different…”

“Everyone says he was
murdered!”

“By whom, though? Who would
want to kill him?”

“I don’t know. But I can
tell you this: that Steve has some questions to answer now, doesn’t he?”

“What about?”

“Well now!” Agatha said
explosively. “He’s agreed to take over the Sculpture Trail!”

“I bet his aunt Ginni is
pleased.”

“That’s just the thing,”
Agatha said. She flashed the scissors close to Penny’s ear. “She won’t talk to
anyone about it. She’s gone into a proper munk, she has.”

“A what?”

“A strop, a mood. You know.
She’s right mardy.”

“I see. I think. But why?”

“She still seems to be angry
that they hadn’t given it to Steve in the first place. Though why she is so set
on helping that good-for-nothing, I don’t know.”

“He’s fresh out of
university,” Penny protested. “I loafed about and did nothing for months when I
graduated. I think I thought that the world would come knocking on my door to
offer me my dream job.”

“Did it, eh?”

“No, of course not. But the
point is, that someone in their early twenties, well, most of them, look like
good-for-nothings.” Steve hadn’t made a great impression on her when she’d seen
him, but she could still forgive a little youthful lackadaisical attitude.

Agatha sniffed. “That length
all right for you, there?”

“Yes, thanks.” Penny nodded
and Agatha frowned.

“Stay still!”

“Sorry. Anyway, can you tell
me why Steve is staying with Ginni and not his actual parents? Who are they?
Where do they live?”

Agatha shook her head sadly,
as if everyone else knew. “Oh, it’s nothing sinister. Let me see. His mum and
dad live up on that council estate a mile north of here. Do you know where I
mean? On the road to Lincoln, there’s that bunch of houses on the left, all
grey and blocky. I think it used to be linked to an RAF base because they look
like forces houses. Anyway, it’s social housing now.”

“What’s the relationship?”

“Ginni’s sister Kate married
a chap called Andy. They’re good people, you know. I like them. But Andy’s
always in and out of work. I don’t know what it is. He is just one of them as
cannot hold down a job. Some folks call him rough but he’s a decent man.”

“What about Ginni? She lives
alone, right? I mean, apart from Steve, now.”

“Oh! Ginni’s had her share.”

“Of …?”

“Men,” Agatha said darkly.
“She’s divorced now. Her daughter lives in Manchester and her husband is
probably hiding in Borneo or something.”

“Is she really someone who
holds a grudge that much? I’m surprised.”

“Oh, eh! Is she ever? She’s
so beholden to what she thinks is right – and by that I mean, she always thinks
she’s
right – that she doesn’t change her mind very well.”

“But I still don’t understand
why Steve is living with her and not his parents.”

Agatha shrugged and picked
up a misting spray from the wheeled trolley next to her. “I think most kids out
of college don’t want to go live with their mum and dad again, do they, eh?”

It was probably that simple.
The problem with looking for clues and hints
, Penny thought,
is that
you get to thinking that everything is a clue
.
Perception, remember.
She took a step back, mentally. “Yeah, you’re right,” she said.

“How’s the hair?”

“It’s great,” Penny said
with a grin.

“I hardly touched it. You
only came in for the gossip.”

“No, no, no!”

But their eyes met in the
mirror, and Penny realised she was pinking just a little around her cheeks.

“Yes,” she said,
crestfallen.

Chapter Eight

 

 

 

Francine disappeared off on Friday morning for a walk with
Kali before Penny had even got out of bed. She left a note on the kitchen
table: “It’s so hot and I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d be useful and take
Kali out.”

She means well
, Penny thought. But Penny was feeling
increasingly excluded from her relationship with her dog. She’d always
dismissed pet lovers’ talk of “bonding” as sentimental nonsense. Now, she found
it to be a strange and true feeling. She had even looked it up, worried that
she was one step away from becoming a “mad dog lady” and found a reassuringly
scientific article which claimed that dogs and their owners produced certain
feel-good hormones when they looked at one another.

If it was science, it was easier to accept. She didn’t
follow the links in case it turned out to be cleverly disguised bunkum. She
wanted
to believe.

Like Francine and her “manifesting her destiny.”

Penny pushed it out of her mind. She had a job to do, she
reminded herself. She sat at the kitchen table and put the radio on low as
background company. The house felt curiously empty. She flipped open her laptop
and started to search online for Carl Fredericks, using the information Reg had
given her to narrow it down.

And there he was.
Fredericks’ Bulb Growers
was a
horticultural business some twenty miles east, out on the flat fenlands. They
had a small and basic website, all square edges and misaligned boxes, and the
company seemed to cater to the wholesale trade. She scrolled through pages of
daffodils and tulips and irises. There was a bare “About Us” page with a blurred
photo of the owner, Carl Fredericks. He looked to be in his fifties, but she
couldn’t be sure how old the photograph was.

She couldn’t find much else about him. If he was on social
media, he was pretty private: no one with the same name had a similar profile
picture. She had a quick check of some professional networks but nothing came
up.

She didn’t see much point in digging further, but she
called Cath to fill her in on what she had learned so far.

“Hey there!” Cath said, answering on the second ring. “I
was just going to call you.”

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