Sunday, 13 December 2020

Crime Writers by J.G. Harlond - a story inspired by a song

Read the Story
Guess the Song

here's a clue 


“I had no idea,” she said. “He didn’t tell me anything. He didn’t tell me anything about anything, that was our problem.”
    DS Brown looked her in the eye. Josephine turned from his appropriately brown-eyed gaze.
    “Secretive, was he?” the detective asked.
   Josephine thought for a moment. “Private. We both are. We’re writers, you see.” 
    DS Brown didn’t see, nor did the detective constable at his side: a young woman with white eyelashes, black nail polish and a name like Kalashnikov. 
   “I mean,” Josephine continued, “we rarely discuss what we’re writing until it’s with the editor. I never tell anyone what I’m working on until I have a release date.”
     “You didn’t know Mr Haroldson was going to be in London?”
   “He was at the planning stage so he was doing background research I expect.” Josephine gave a deep sigh. Annoyed at the situation; annoyed that the straightforward, non-confrontational separation she had planned had gone awry. 
    DS Brown placed his elbows on the table between them. Folding his podgy fingers together, he said quietly, “We’ve got the tape running, Ms Tate. You know that, don’t you?”
    Josephine nodded. It was making her nervous.
  “Now, can you tell us where you have been and why, Ms Tate?” Brown continued. “Start from the beginning.”
   “Of last week, you mean? Where I went?”
   “That’s it, tell us what’s been happening until this moment, here today.”
    Brown’s tone was gentle and Josephine nodded again, genuinely grateful. She had never been in a police station before, never had any contact with the police whatsoever, despite her murder stories. “I’ll do my best,” she said, as if speaking to a concerned school teacher. “Well, we’d been tiptoeing around each other for weeks. Months. It had become awkward. You know, when you cross in the hall or on the stairs – it was like passing a stranger on a narrow pavement, neither of you wants to say anything so you sort of smile politely and carry on.” She looked up, “Is this what you want to know?”
    “If you think it’s important.” 
    Josephine pushed back her greying hair and straightened the collar of her white blouse. Focusing on a scratch in the plain table, she started again. 
    “Clive waited until I was asleep before he came to bed. Sometimes I was only pretending. Most times lately because I was getting very nervous. I knew he was wrapped up in a story involving art theft, doing online research for hours on end. Sometimes, in the evenings, I could hear him on the phone. I didn’t take much notice because I was too busy planning a murder... Oh, dear, that sounds awful now. It’s only fiction.” She bit her lip, and gave a girlish shrug of the shoulders. “Clive works – worked – in his study and I have my little office in the spare bedroom and we only came together for meals really. Even then he would put on the news to avoid conversation.”

She paused, gathering her thoughts. “It got so I couldn’t bear it, so I decided to leave, but without causing a fuss. I started by putting clothes and important possession in a big case and hiding it behind other cases in the box room. Clive never did any cleaning or anything like that – although he’s very neat and tidy – so he wasn’t likely to notice it. Then, a few days ago – Thursday, I think – I put my passport and my favourite jewellery in my biggest handbag and I told Clive I was going out. But instead of staying in his study, which I was expecting, he said he would come with me, so I adapted my plan, said I was going shopping and we walked down to the Riverside Centre. When we got there, we agreed to separate to do our personal shopping and meet at eleven outside the supermarket to buy something for supper.”
        “You didn’t take your suitcase?” Brown asked.
    “No, of course not. But that was all right, I knew I could ask my neighbour to pick it up then I would get it from her one evening after dark.”
        “And the neighbour knew about your planned departure?”
       “Not until I called her yesterday. Was it yesterday? I’ve lost track of my days.” Josephine flushed. “Sorry,” she whispered.
     “No need to apologise.” Brown smiled. “Go on, what happened next? From when you were at the shopping mall.”
      “We separated at the main door. But as I walked towards Boothby’s, the department store, Clive came running after me. He grabbed my hand and pulled me behind a service door into an empty corridor. And he kissed me. Hard. Then he said ‘You taste of orange marmalade,’ which made me laugh.” Josephine flushed again. “I did love him, you see. I just couldn’t go on the way we were. And I was surprised because, well, we’re both past middle-age and Clive is a quiet person. It wasn’t like him to be so expressive and certainly not in a public place. Anyway, he went off to do what he wanted to do and I went into Boothby’s, bought some odds and ends then went to the supermarket to meet him at eleven as we’d agreed. I’d decided to stay, you see. But he wasn’t there. So I thought ‘this is a sign’, and I walked away slowly – in case he arrived late and...” she waved her hands in the air and swallowed hard. “But he didn’t. I was sort of on auto-pilot. I walked to the taxi rank, got a taxi to the railway station and bought a single ticket for London.”
     “Which station?”
     “Paddington.”
 

Josephine paused and looked at the dark-eyed detective sergeant in front of her. Was he old enough, experienced enough to know about the depth to older people’s love affairs, and their difficulties? Or still too young to understand someone wanting to avoid fuss or an unseemly row. “Clive hasn’t worn sports clothes, a track suit, since he left school,” she said, trying to explain. “He’s always well dressed, even in the house.” The detective frowned, failing to understand as she feared he would. “It’s our age and upbringing, you see.”
     A policewoman entered with a sheet of paper and left without a word. DS Brown studied the note then passed it to the woman at his side. 
    “Tell me what you did next, Ms Tate,” Brown said.
   “I got to London and booked into the Pen and Ink Club in Bloomsbury – published authors get a special discount. Then I called Betty, my neighbour, and asked her to pick up my case. Betty’s never liked Clive. She said he was too secretive and too tidy for a man. She told me once she thought he was sinister.” Josephine closed her eyes for a second. “I learned to see why, eventually. It was Betty who called me and told me you or some other policeman had been at Clive’s house yesterday. She said...” Josephine gulped, put a hand to her mouth, “that he’d been killed in a road accident. But she didn’t know where or how. That’s why I came back. But I don’t understand why you wanted me to come here to answer questions.”
     The detective sergeant studied her in silence. The young woman at his side scribbled something on the note. Josephine thought it was a pound sign and straightened her shoulders. Her hands balled into fists on her grey-skirted lap.
    “Mr Haroldson was writing about an art theft?” DS Brown asked, his voice calm and even. “You didn’t know he was planning one?”
    Josephine’s heart raced. “Good heavens, no. And frankly I can’t believe it.”
    “I see. Let’s talk about Mr Haroldson’s income, Ms Tate. You live in a very nice house. Expensive tastes, too, from what I’ve seen. Fine wine in the cellar, regular gardener and cleaning woman.”
     “That hardly means he – we – had an exceptional income.”
     “No, but I know authors make a small fortune these days.”
     “Clive does. Myrtle barely brings in a minimum wage.” Josephine bit her tongue.
     “Who’s Myrtle?” The white-lashed detective constable spoke for the first time.
  “My amateur detective, Myrtle Featherstone. She solves her clients’ marital problems in Victorian London. Paternalistic abuse in a hypocritical society, nasty family secrets, a strangled lady’s maid, that sort of thing. Myrtle is a milliner.”
     The detectives’ faces went blank. They didn’t know what a milliner was. It was a revelation: did this explain her poor sales? Why hadn’t her editor mentioned it?
    “Mr Haroldson is the successful one, is he?” DS Brown asked, getting to his feet.
     “If by success you mean financial reward, yes.” 
   “Some lovely paintings on the walls. Worth a few quid, I’d say. Do an author’s royalties stop when they die?” 
    “No, they go to the author’s estate. I think,” Josephine added hastily.  Clive did have expensive tastes: cashmere sweaters, handmade shoes. The pink pearls he’d given her for Christmas must have cost a fortune. 
    “And the house...” Brown started to pace alongside the wall with an interior window. “It was in his name, or is it jointly owned?”
      “Clive owned it,” Josephine put a hand to her throat then pulled it away immediately. Clive had named her as the sole beneficiary in his will only a month ago. She had made her move too soon. “Is that why you have brought me here?” she demanded, furious that her quiet solution hadn’t worked as she had planned. “Damn it!” she said out loud then gave an embarrassed smile and changed tactics. “Can you tell me where you found him, please?” 
     “Near Paddington station.”
     Josephine’s eyes widened. “Why was he there?”
   “Indeed. And why was he carrying three stolen miniatures once belonging to Queen Victoria in his jacket pockets?”
    Josephine shook her head. “I don’t know. They weren’t for me I can tell you that.”
   Or were they? Josephine remembered the pearls. He had been writing about a jewel heist then. She swallowed a smile: what a shame he’d never told her, it would have changed everything. She looked up, DS Brown was speaking again.
    “Are you certain about that, Ms Tate? You’ve had valuable gifts in the past according to Mrs Turner.”
     “Betty told you that?”
     “And about the Burmese cat you were abandoning.”
   “I wasn’t abandoning Diva!” Josephine retorted. “She would have been cared for after I left – by Clive, obviously.”
    “So, you had no idea he was going to be at Goodwin’s Auction House in Paddington on Friday afternoon?” Brown’s tone was sharper. He turned to her and folded his arms.
     “It was for his research, I’m sure. I told you, he was writing about an art theft. Attending an auction would be a convenient opportunity for background.”
    “And you were waiting outside and saw a convenient opportunity to push him in front of an oncoming taxi rushing to get a passenger to the station.”
    “But I wasn’t ... I didn’t... I...”
    “Tell me about your writing, Ms Tate,” Brown said. “Crime fiction. People love it these days, on the tele every night, can’t get away from it, can we?” He leaned forward, “What’s the key to a good crime story?”
   Josephine blinked, “It depends on the plot. Complex characters with unexpected motives. A sound timeline. The devil’s in getting the details right. An older character might have years of pent up resentment and recriminations or... No, not recriminations, that’s not the right word.”
    “But the culprit, the ‘perp’ as the Yanks say, might have suffered or put up with something for years and then bang!” Brown’s hand came together like plump cymbals, “A crime of passion.”
      “That happens.” 
      “Has it happened to you?”
     “To me? Passion?” Josephine caught the irony in her voice just in time. “Only in my stories.”
     “Stories. It’s all about making up lies, isn’t it? How do you set up your crimes and make them seem real?”
     Josephine considered the question. Taking it at its face value only, she replied, “Careful planning. Then, when I start writing, I live it in my head. If I’m lucky my reader will live it too.”
      “And you are good at planning?”
   Josephine refused to answer. “I think I need my lawyer, Detective Sergeant, please.”
     “Interview concluded at 14:35,” DS Brown said into the machine.
    As he left the small, stuffy room Josephine said, “It could have been an accident – Clive falling in front of the taxi.”
     “It could have been, yes.”
     “Are there no street cams, traffic cameras, or whatever they are called?”
     “Not at that spot, no.” 
    The detective closed the door and Josephine took a long deep breath. How was she going to get out of this with the minimum of confrontation? And who was going to look after Diva if they wouldn’t let her go home for a while?
     Home to their lovely house. Her lovely house now. If her careful planning worked out as it should.

©J.G. Harlond

We Don’t Talk Anymore by Cliff Richard




Web page: www.jgharlond.com 

About Jane (One of our reviewers!)

I grew up in North Devon, England, spending each summer either on the beach or wandering around Cornwall and Exmoor. Like most of my family I’m an outdoors sort of person; I can get very edgy if bad weather keeps me in all day. Before settling down to be a full-time writer, I spent many years as a teacher in international senior schools in Europe. This brought me into contact with some splendid people from all over the world. It also heightened my awareness of how young people, and not so young people, have to adapt to new environments: how one almost has to develop a new persona to be successful in a culture very different to where your parents were born and raised. How people adjust to new environments is a theme running through my linked novels The Empress Emerald and The Chosen Man.
Nowadays, I work by a window with wide views of the Sierra de las Nieves, in the Province of Málaga, southern Spain. Apart from fiction I also write school text book material so I am always busy. At present though, I have published a crime story set in a Cornish village during World War II and planning another novel about the wicked rogue Ludovico da Portovenere for next year.
Doing research, and constantly get side-tracked by fascinating details. Truth is stranger than fiction they say: I often think if I wrote that, no one would believe it.


The house is Helen Hollick's
North Devon 17th century farmhouse


8 comments:

  1. Great story, Jane! No, I didn't get the song but I have an earworm for the day now!!

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    1. It sounds like Discovering Diamonds has started an earworm business!

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  2. Earworms are good, earthworms are more useful, but dear old Cliff is a national treasure. Thanks for the 'shares', Richard.

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  3. Such a fun story Jane! And although I didn't guess the song, I am now a member of the DDRevs earworm club! And, you put me totally in the mood for a mystery, so I've treated myself to Private Lives. Looking forward to curling up in front of the fire with the cat later today.

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    1. I hope you enjoy Private Lives, Liz, you will recognise the North Devon setting for sure.

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  4. Ha ha! Good story, Jane. And all within the one interview.
    And no, I'm rubbish at guessing songs, but it was good to hear Cliff again.

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  5. Great story, Jane. Perfect way to relax on a Sunday evening!

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  6. Curious the ways we discover the attraction of cosy crime - even when it's really quite nasty.

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