SERIAL A New Case For Harrison by Val Bonsall
There was one player in the case that Harrison still needed to talk to . . .
The Story So Far
JOHN HARRISON runs the Ladysmile Detective Agency, employing ex police officer PHILIPPA (Pip) TAYLOR, and EWAN, his apprentice.
Solicitor RUTH has asked Harrison to look into a case she is working for architect DUNCAN, who has prepared plans for property developer RODERICK BAXTER. The owner of the development site pulls out, and Roderick refuses to pay Duncan, claiming he knew what would happen.
Ewan hasn’t turned up at work. He’s helping BECCA, a friend from his time in care. She’s been accused of stealing in her job. Ewan starts work for the same hotel, and is given the key to the wine cellar, as Becca was.
Ewan finds the son of supervisor Mr GRIMP and fellow worker, DAMIAN, suspicious and follows him to a restaurant and discovers the missing wine. Before Ewan can tell Mr Grimp, he is accused of stealing it.
Meanwhile, harbouring feelings for Ruth, Harrison wonders if her urgency about the investigation is due to some ulterior motive . . .
I’M hoping to have more to report later today . . .” Pip, just arrived at the office, smiled as she heard Harrison finishing what had become a regular morning frantic phone call from Ruth.
Why was Ruth making such a fuss? Pip didn’t get it, and she told Harrison so when he put the phone down.
“This case she’s passed on to us, it’s a commercial dispute, the type of thing that solicitors like her handle all the time. Two parties to a contract have fallen out, each says the other is lying, but which one is it?”
“Which is exactly what Ruth wants us to find out,” Harrison responded rather too curtly.
He took a sip of the coffee he’d taken to buying from the café round the corner on his way in.
Was the reason that Ruth was so very keen to know whether it was Duncan, the good-looking architect, who was lying because he was more than just a client to her?
Pip frowned. It was bad news for Harrison if that was so, since he was clearly in love with Ruth. But what could you say?
It was clear to everyone they were made for each
other, but neither would do anything about it.
“You made a valid point yesterday, Pip,” he said now, “when you pointed out there are actually three parties involved in this matter, not just two.”
“Yes, there’s the landowners, too,” Pip replied. “We haven’t spoken to them, but it’s they who caused this by pulling out of selling the land at the last minute.”
“If you can hold the fort here, I’ll try to see them now,” Harrison said, reaching for his leather jerkin.
“No further word from our young apprentice?”
“Just another text apologising for rushing away, saying not to worry, and he’ll explain later.” Pip frowned.
“It’s hard not to worry. Who else is there for him to turn to? Where on earth is he?”
In the seaside hotel where Ewan had been working for a few days, he scowled at Mr Grimp.
“I’m calling the police,” Ewan repeated his threat.
Grimpy scowled back at him.
“Now why would you do that?”
“Yes, why?” another voice said.
Turning, Ewan saw that the manager – Jonathan – had come into the room.
Ewan mentally sighed. His first impressions of Jonathan had not been positive.
It didn’t matter, he reminded himself. He was on firm ground, he had evidence, and he wasn’t backing off.
“I work for a private detective,” he told Jonathan, “and I recently received several distressed messages from a friend.”
Ewan proceeded to explain how Becca, who had been given some part-time work at the hotel, had been accused by Grimpy of stealing bottles of expensive wine.
“She swore she hadn’t done it, so I came down and got myself some work here to investigate.”
“Mr Grimp gave you the job?” Jonathan asked.
“He did. And almost immediately he widened my duties to include having the key for the wine cellar.”
Ewan paused a moment, thinking of the way Harrison presented reports. The order you gave the information was everything, Harrison had told him.
“He gave me the key,” Ewan resumed, “just as he had a few weeks earlier promoted Becca to the job of bringing up the wine and given her the key.”
“I suspect he –” Ewan pointed at Grimpy “– set her up because he knew she didn’t have a family and was less likely to make trouble. Same with me – he asked me if I had any family locally when he interviewed me.”
Ewan explained that when the wine went missing and Grimpy accused Becca, he’d told her that if she left right away, without collecting her wages, he would forget she’d ever worked there.
“He said the same thing to me this morning after more wine had gone missing and he accused me. Just to help us, of course.” Ewan’s voice was the one with the sarcasm now. “He was lying.”
“He’s making it up,” Grimpy said to Jonathan. “He’s no proof –”
“Oh, but I have,” Ewan interrupted.
Jonathan indicated Ewan should continue and he explained how a couple of evenings previously he’d seen Grimpy’s son, Damian, who also worked at the hotel, going into a very upmarket restaurant along the promenade.
“The type of place that sells top wines. I was outside, but I saw enough to have no doubt that Damian knows the proprietor there very well.”
Jonathan now asked Ewan to stop, then he picked up the phone.
Ewan thought at first it was to call the police. It was over. But it turned out it was to summon Damian to join them.
This Damian did – looking, Ewan noted, every bit as edgy as his father.
“OK, your proof?” Jonathan said to Ewan.
Ewan explained how the morning after he’d seen Damian in the restaurant, when bringing up bottles from the wine cellar, he’d marked the labels of several bottles of the most expensive wines.
That evening, he’d returned to the restaurant.
“This time I sneaked inside, and the bottles with the marked labels were stacked up in their store room!” he finished triumphantly, holding up his phone to show Jonathan the photos of the stolen wine he’d taken.
“I had noticed,” Jonathan said after a moment’s silence, “that wine, and other items, were going missing and was concerned about the sudden rapid turnover of staff.
“I intended to look into both matters as soon as this big antiques event we’re holding was over – Hey!”
Damian was making a dash for the door.
In a flash, Ewan was after him, whipping Damian’s arm behind his back.
As he watched Jonathan dialling the police, he reflected that he really had learned some useful moves from Harrison and Pip!
“So the police came?” Becca asked as she accompanied him to the station later to get his train.
“Yes,” Ewan answered for what seemed to him like the hundredth time. “And I gave a statement. You can relax now, Becca.”
He looked into her eyes and decided that this time his words had properly sunk in. She was reassured that there would be no future repercussions for her from the episode.
She could get back to the successful life that she was building for herself.
“I should have gone to the police, or at least to the manager, at the time,” she admitted. “But I panicked, I suppose.” “Yeah.”
They walked on in silence. With what he’d come to do now done, Ewan could at last enjoy just being by the sea. He watched some soaring gulls and smelled the air.
An advertising board caught his attention for some reason, and they found a little shop selling jewellery made from shells, driftwood and other seashore debris.
Ewan could just see Amy wearing one of the necklaces there, so he bought it.
“Amy your girlfriend?” Becca asked.
“Yes.” Ewan felt happy just saying her name.
Soon they were at the station.
With a goodbye hug and some tears from Becca, Ewan got on the train and found a seat among some holidaymakers also going home.
At last he had somewhere he did think of as home. He had a job he loved, wonderful workmates, and a wonderful girlfriend, too.
He was even looking forward to seeing the weird guy in the flat above his who was for ever pestering Ewan to play computer games with him!
With another smile, he felt in his pocket for his phone to text Amy that he was on his way.
It wasn’t there. He rummaged in his bag. It wasn’t there, either.
He thought back to when he’d last seen it. His last memory of his phone was at Becca’s flat.
Yes, he had clear recall of plugging it in to charge up – but not of unplugging it.
Never mind. He’d be seeing Amy soon enough.
It was clear to everyone they were made for each other
“Not too dissimilar to our place at Ladysmile Lane.”
Harrison did one of his lightning assessments as he drove towards the offices of the landowners whose change of heart about selling the land had created the present problem.
Pip, doing all the internet research while Ewan was away, had found the address and the name of the managing director.
“Samantha Smith. Sounds very dynamic.”
He’d been ready to leave the office, so hadn’t established on what basis Pip was arriving at this conclusion.
He’d form his own opinion anyway, if and when he met her, he decided as he continued weighing up the building ahead of him.
As much as its architectural style pleased him, its age presented problems. Constructed before the advent of the car, there was a severe shortage of places to park.
But his luck was in; he’d spotted one.
He was preparing to manoeuvre into it when another car beat him to it.
It was a powerful-looking sports car, though newer than the one Pip had.
Halting his own considerably older vehicle, he muttered under his breath. The other driver was a woman, he noted, and she must have known he’d had his eye on it. He’d been signalling his intention.
Yes, she had purposely pipped him to the post, he confirmed to himself moments later, for as the woman got out, she turned and gave him a smile which he couldn’t quite decipher. Triumph?
And she, he was certain, was the woman he had come to see.
Staying where he was, he now did one of his appraisals of her.
She was obviously in a hurry, was well-dressed and had shiny dark hair like a shampoo advert.
She took out her phone and was now speaking into it. Giving orders – he’d put money on it.
He found another parking space further along and walked back to the ornate door, with carved pillars on either side, into which she’d disappeared.
“Do you have an appointment?” the young man at the reception desk asked when he said he’d like to see Samantha Smith.
On the way, Harrison had considered several possible stories he could use to get to see her, and now he selected one.
“No. But I’m a journalist working on something that should be of interest to your firm.”
The young man frowned and looked about to ask a load of questions.
But then a voice said, “I’ll deal with this.”
Harrison turned. It was her.
“Samantha Smith.” She took his hand in her own. “Or Sam to most people. I’m the managing director.”
He followed her to an alcove off the main reception area. “Coffee?”
She briefly departed, he supposed to give instructions for this to be provided, and when she returned she sat down beside him on the squashy leather sofa he’d chosen.
“A journalist?” she queried.
“Yes. I’m investigating a series of scams I’ve heard about, centring on land transactions. So you yourselves being substantial local landowners, I wondered if you’d had any, shall we say, suspicious approaches?”
She shook her head, tossing her hair back from face.
“No. But then we’re not looking to sell any of our land, Mr Long.”
Harrison hadn’t used his real name.
“Oh.” He frowned. “I thought I’d heard something about that piece of land down by the canal being on the market.”
“Then you heard wrong. That land is not for sale and never will be.”
“It must be very valuable. I mean, with all the urban regeneration work that’s going on there –”
“Perhaps, but of no relevance, Mr Long,” she interrupted. “As I’ve said, that land is not for sale and never will be.”
Her tone was perfectly even. Business-like.
He decided there was a definite irritability there, too.
Perhaps it was just at him, he wondered. Taking up her time.
But she’d seemed happy enough to talk to him, he reminded himself. She had actually intervened when the guy at reception would probably have tried to fob him off.
Moments later he was certain the impatience wasn’t directed at him when she smiled and moved closer to him.
So close that when she raised her hand to flick her hair back from her face, she nearly knocked his specs off.
“A journalist,” she began. “It’s always sounded to me to be an interesting life. I bet you have fascinating stories to tell!”
Another smile, very much suggesting she’d be most happy to hear those stories.
Harrison smiled, too. Suddenly he realised what it was, the look on her face that he hadn’t been quite able to pin down in their earlier encounter over the car-parking space.
She fancies me, Harrison thought, and he was still smiling as he hurried back out of the elaborate doorway.
It had become clear to him that he wasn’t going to get much more out of Samantha Smith – or, at least, not to do with Ruth’s case!
He shook his head. He’d never thought he was especially attractive to women, but maybe he was underestimating himself.
Maybe he would stand a chance with Ruth after all.
Assuming she wasn’t involved with Duncan.
He returned his mind to the talk with Samantha.
The visit to her, he decided, had been useful.
When Harrison had seen Roderick, he had speculated to Harrison that perhaps Samantha had received a better offer than his for the prime site.
And perhaps Duncan was involved in this – that had been another of Roderick’s theories. All of them in it together to swindle him out of money.
Harrison hadn’t been convinced by this argument at the time, and now even less so.
He could see no reason for Samantha to have told him that that strip of land would never be sold if it wasn’t the truth.
He sighed. It was certainly the case that Duncan didn’t seem to be economising. To say his business was at risk of going bust, then to go out to Marcel’s expensive restaurant for all those meals didn’t make sense.
What had Ruth said? Duncan was on the brink.
Getting into his car, Harrison set off back to Ladysmile Lane.
Though this case had been given priority, they had other matters to deal with, too, and having Ewan away was putting a lot of pressure on him and Pip.
How on earth he’d managed on his own, without either Ewan or Pip, he had no idea.
Sometimes you didn’t know what you could do until you had to – he’d seen that frequently in his life.
Nonetheless, he hoped Ewan would be back soon and he was sure Pip would agree with him.
Pip did agree with him. In the office, awaiting Harrison’s return, she put the phone down, having just accepted a new case: a surveillance job to start in a couple of days. They really needed Ewan.
“He should be doing this as well,” she said to herself as she finished printing off information she’d found on the internet about the three parties to Ruth’s case. “It’s his job to –”
She broke off at the sound of a tap on the office door.
It was Amy.
Now, there were reasons why Amy might be in the offices, quite separate from Ewan. Her dad had rooms in the building and her stepmother owned it.
She knew everyone else in the place, too. You didn’t always go for the first thing that came into your head – Pip really believed that.
But one look at the girl’s face and she knew it was about Ewan, and from the swollen eyes and blotchy look, it was obvious she had been crying.
She pushed aside the paper that had finished leaping out of the printer and offered Amy a cup of tea, as much to give the girl time to compose herself as anything.
“It’s Ewan,” Amy said as she accepted one of the mugs Pip brought over. “Have you heard from him?”
“Not in any meaningful way,” Pip said. “He sent a few messages to Harrison saying he’s OK and that he’ll be back soon.”
“That’s all I’ve had from him, too.” Amy nodded. “I’ve tried to phone him but it always goes to voicemail.”
“Yes, we’ve found that, too. We assume it’s because he’s busy.” “But busy with what?” Pip replied with a shrug. “I sent him another text today,” Amy continued, “a saying that if he didn’t give me a proper explanation, we’re through. Finished.” She looked straight at Pip. “Do you think that was unreasonable?”
Pip thought a moment. It was best to be careful.
“No. I don’t think it’s unreasonable. With the proviso that there may be things we don’t know.”
Obviously there are things we don’t know, she added to herself.
“Surely that’s the point,” Amy said, starting to look more angry than upset. “We’re an item. He should be straight with me, shouldn’t he? Not just keep me hanging on and mess me about.”
“How did Ewan respond to your text?” Pip asked. “To your ultimatum?”
“He didn’t even reply. So as far as I’m concerned –” she moved her hands in a gesture of finality “– that’s it. I just came to see you in case it was maybe a job away that you’ve sent him on.”
“No, he isn’t on a job for us. We don’t know where he is, either.”
They talked a while longer, till Amy finished her tea.
“Thank you. I feel so much better for talking to you,” Amy said as she picked up her backpack ready to go. “You won’t tell Ewan, will you?”
“Of course I won’t. This is between us, Amy.” “Thank you, Pip.”
She flashed her sweet smile and then she was gone.
Thinking about the conversation when she was again alone, Pip decided Amy had meant it about Ewan.
When he turned up she had no doubt Amy would tell him they were finished.
Recalling Amy’s words of gratitude to her, she was pleased she’d apparently been of help.
Though she was surprised, because she didn’t consider herself to have much experience in the ups and downs of young love. She’d been in her middle years when she’d married her late husband.
She smiled. That she now had not one but two new possible suitors – Marcel and the more bohemian Linus, who lived on a barge – was still a source of wonder to her!
Linus wasn’t a problem – totally the sort just to take things as they came.
But Marcel? Whereas she saw their relationship as a friendship, it was becoming clear to her that he wanted something more.
She wasn’t sure she was ready for it. Maybe she’d never be.
She hadn’t spoken to Marcel about it. But what Amy had said was true. You should be straight with people. Not mess them about and keep them hanging on.
She picked up the phone and dialled the number of Marcel’s restaurant.
“It isn’t that I don’t enjoy your company,” she finished, “but I’m not looking for any greater involvement than –”
“Phil-ee-pa,” Marcel interrupted in his charming French accent, “I am not a detective, I am a restaurateur, but I am still knowing you are not seeking a romance and this is fine with me.”
She pictured him giving a Gallic shrug.
“Friends,” he continued, “that is all we will remain. Tonight, in any event, I have a date! I am going to the theatre with Carrie who works for the company I buy my wine from.”
He said a bit more. Pip thought it was something about the theatre or what play was on, but frankly she had stopped listening.
She felt quite gobsmacked, as Amy or Ewan might say.
She should be feeling pleased, she acknowledged as she replaced the telephone receiver. She’d feared it might be an awkward conversation with him, that Marcel might be a bit hurt and miffed.
But quite the contrary – he was looking forward to a date with this Carrie person he bought wine from!
A picture of them together popped into her head. She’d never seen Carrie, nor heard of her till today, but imagined her chic and elegant.
No, he wasn’t bothered at all. But in a world suddenly topsy-turvy, Pip wasn’t sure if she was.
She remained lost in thought until roused by footsteps outside the door.
Had Amy forgotten something? Or maybe it was Harrison – it was about the time she expected his return.
But it was neither of them who came hesitantly through the door.
“Pip, I hope you’ll forgive me.”
“The wanderer returns.” Arriving a few minutes later, Harrison nodded at Ewan.
“Yes. I’ve just apologised to Pip for leaving you in the lurch. But I felt I had to help. What happened was –”
Sitting down, Harrison listened silently to Ewan’s account of his actions over the past few days.
Once or twice he glanced at Pip for her reaction, but she didn’t seem to be listening. Probably because she’d already heard it all from Ewan, Harrison decided.
“Well,” he said when Ewan had finished, “you did a great job sorting it out, no doubt about that. But we’ve been worried.
“Why couldn’t you have just told us where you were and what you were doing?”
Ewan didn’t answer immediately, his face thoughtful.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said eventually, “but when we were kids, Becca and me, neither of us were happy and it felt like each other was all we had in the world.
“I guess we both kind of slipped back into that, just relying on each other and no-one else. It’s crazy really, but –”
“No, it’s understandable,” Harrison interrupted.
Again he looked across at Pip.
This time she did respond, though he still wasn’t sure she wasn’t thinking about something else as well.
“Absolutely. Yes, and good work, Ewan.”
“Well, I’ve had two brilliant teachers,” Ewan replied, grinning.
Then he frowned. “Though, actually,” he added, “I didn’t get it absolutely right. I thought Grimpy and his son were in it together, particularly when Damian tried to make a run for it.”
“A fair conclusion to arrive at,” Harrison reasoned.
“Yes. But it turned out Damian was just scared that he’d be blamed. He wasn’t involved.
“The restaurant is owned by Grimpy’s brother, Damian’s uncle, and
Damian was just visiting his uncle when I saw him there.”
“So he knew nothing about the scams his dad was involved in?”
“No. It was all down to his dad needing money to pay off gambling debts he’d built up. It was him – his father – running the whole show.”
Time was by then ticking on.
Promising he would be in early tomorrow, Ewan was first to go.
“I can’t wait to see Amy,” he said as he heaved his bag on to his shoulder. “I should just about catch her coming out of college – she has a late class today.”
At last Pip seemed to Harrison to now be fully concentrating on what was being said. But she didn’t look happy, he thought.
Something to do with Ewan and Amy, he suspected. That was the remark that seemed to have caused the changed attitude.
“I must go, too,” she said, grabbing her things. “I’m glad Ewan’s back. I didn’t even get out for a sandwich today and I’m starving!”
“Stop by and see Marcel,” Harrison said, smiling. “He’ll rustle you up something tasty . . .”
He broke off at the look on her face.
“What have I said now?” he asked, aware that somehow he’d put his foot in it, which seemed to be a particular skill of his.
No reply. She, too, had gone.
Harrison didn’t follow his workmates. He stayed on to give more thought to Ruth’s matter.
Often you just needed to look at things differently. Just a slight shift in perspective and it all fell into place.
Normally he was good at that. But this time he just didn’t seem able to pull it off.
They had now interviewed all the players in the case. There should have been clues by this stage. Hints, at least, as to the reasons the deal had fallen through, and where, if anywhere, the fault for that lay.
But the hard truth was he had nothing. He was no further forward than when Ruth had first approached him.
Above him, he heard someone clattering about. Eloise probably, getting ready to take one of her relaxation classes, scheduled in the evenings for people with busy lives.
Maybe he should try one, he thought with a smile. But no, he reckoned it was more than a bit of yoga he needed.
He leaned back in his office chair, quite comfy, upholstered and with padded arm rests, and closed his eyes. Sometimes it helped him think better.
Out of the darkness would come a flash of light.
“It was all down to his dad needing money to pay off gambling debts he’d built up . . .”
Harrison heard Ewan explaining again the finale of his investigation on behalf of his childhood friend, Becca.
“It was him – the father – running the whole show.”
But how could it be Ewan speaking? Ewan had gone home.
Harrison blinked in the darkness of his office, for a moment wondering where he was, as sometimes you do when you jolt awake from a dream.
Clearly he’d fallen asleep, and for several hours, he realised as he put on his desk lamp and glanced at his watch.
But he was wide awake now, even though it was the middle of the night. He stood up.
He punched the air in a gesture of victory.
“That’s where we were going wrong. I’ve got it now!”
To be concluded.