Fandom: Life on Mars/Miss Marple
Word Count: This section, 8,700 words. In total, just over 15,500 words.
Notes: Life on Mars/Miss Marple. Gen. For neuralclone, who is absolutely wonderful. More notes just after the cut (s2 spoilers.)
Summary: Sam Tyler. Gene Hunt. Miss Marple. Murder.
A/N: Since ‘1973’ is apparently all in Sam’s head, and his last second lasts for an eternity, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that he might start concocting amusing narratives to keep himself entertained. So – any and all discrepancies are explained away by, “lah lah lah – it’s all fantasy.”
If Gene had had any plans, they were conducted in an entirely discreet and possibly invisible manner, because Sam didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. He was beginning to feel as restless as Gene, expecting progress and finding none. For professional detectives, they succeeded in finding out very little and by the time they were expected back with the very reason they were there, both men were inclined to be short-tempered.
Some of this dissipated by the time they travelled through St Mary Mead. The door to the quaint cottage was wide open. Sam rushed forward, concern hurrying his actions. Very shortly, he realised he needn’t have worried. Instead of rack and ruin, he found Miss Marple sitting placidly across from a man who stared up at Sam with curiosity.
“Inspector, these are the two kind gentlemen I told you about who are working for me,” Miss Marple said, waving a hand towards Gene.
For a minute, Sam thought that Inspector Idle would spot them for what they were and be annoyed at the intrusion. Gene had an effortless cop posture that he never seemed to shake; arms crossed, head tilted back, eyes intent, mouth slightly open. But Idle either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
“We’ve just been discussing the inquest,” Miss Marple said. “The ruling was murder by person or persons unknown.”
“I’m sure they’re not at all interested,” Inspector Idle said brusquely. “They’re not local, are they?”
Sam wanted to tug on Idle’s ridiculous moustache and yell, “no, we’re not local, we’re real-life city cops!” But he didn’t, for obvious reasons. He followed Gene and groaned as he looked at sandpaper and nails.
“Even though the funeral’s set for next week, they’ll be reading out the will this afternoon,” Idle said, his short, clipped tones carrying easily through into the hallway.
“It should be a straightforward affair, shouldn’t it, Inspector? I believe that Harold said last year that he intended on leaving everything to Henry, given that he had no children.”
“It should be straightforward, Miss Marple, but I went and spoke with Mr Harold Worthington’s lawyers this morning and they might have hinted that things won’t be quite as cut and dried as we’d like to assume.”
“Now, that is fascinating,” Miss Marple said. Sam had a mental picture of her blue eyes glowing bright and her curls bouncing as she tilted her head to the side.
“We also spoke with his life insurance people and it turns out the full amount will get paid. I’d’ve thought the fact it was murder would have deterred them, but apparently Harold had a special clause in his contract. Whoever it is will get nearing on a million pounds from that and that alone.”
Gene rubbed his fingers together, using the international sign for ‘moolah’, and stared goggle-eyed at Sam. Sam bit his lower lip and shrugged. He knew that a million pounds in 1973 currency was a lot of money, he had a keen idea of the value of 1973 pence, but somehow, this revelation did not have the impact on him that it clearly had on Gene, Inspector Idle, and an almost breathless Miss Marple.
“That is most extraordinary,” Miss Marple exclaimed. “Really quite, quite unexpected. And I expect Harold’s collection would be worth a significant amount too.”
There was silence and then the soft sound of springs uncoiling.
“Well, I best be getting off, Miss Marple. Thank you for your tea and consideration.”
“Thank you, Inspector.” Miss Marple showed the Inspector to the door and closed it. When she rounded back, her eyes were narrowed and she was finally walking with a stoop. Sam didn’t think it was an indication of weariness. “Did you hear that?” she asked, although she didn’t look at them.
“Yeah,” Gene answered, “significant you think?”
They were not summoned to Great Hall on their third morning in St Mary Mead. Sam would not admit to himself that he was disappointed. Fervour was abuzz around the village. Apparently Mrs Foster told Mrs Lawrence, who in turn told Mrs Templeton, who came over at eight in the morning and whispered to Miss Marple, sounding close to ecstatic.
It transpired that the reading of the will brought the news that Henry Worthington had been left the house and nothing else. The collection and the furniture were to be sold, the proceeds of which to be combined with the payout from the insurance policy and given in total to the Sandford Foundation for the Homeless.
“How has Henry reacted?”
“He’s livid, naturally. Mrs Foster said that he was blustering around, his face virtually crimson.” Mrs Templeton’s countenance took on a wistful look. “To have been witness…”
“Thank you, Mrs Templeton. I find this most interesting,” Miss Marple said firmly, opening the door.
“What? Oh! Yes. You’re welcome, Miss Marple. Have a good day!”
Sam watched as Mrs Templeton bustled down the street, dipping her head forward like a hen. She stopped another elderly woman bustling the other way, her face in rapture.
“I’m going to call the station,” Gene said, “see if they can’t track down information about this charity.”
“Wait, you can do that?”
Gene’s pointed, quizzical expression made Sam feel profoundly stupid. He set his mouth into a tight, thin line. Why wouldn’t Gene be able to call the station? It wasn’t a whole world away, was it? Except --- well, Sam felt that it was. Sam didn’t ask anything else. He watched and listened as Gene had a short conversation with who he presumed was Chris, given the number of, ‘no, the other one’s and ‘don’t be a div’s.
“One of the first things I ever said to Eugene was ‘trust no one!’,” Miss Marple said, pulling Sam off to the side and speaking quietly. Sam smiled and she continued. “But he trusts you.” She smoothed her hand over her puce skirt and delicately snapped off a loose thread. “Even though you’re quite mad.”
Sam affected a casual air. “Noticed that, have you?”
“It’s hard to miss, my dear.”
“There’s method in my madness,” Sam retorted, winking.
“No. No, I think there’s method and there’s madness, which isn’t entirely the same.”
Gene interrupted their conversation by stepping close and gazing from one face to the next.
“They’re looking into it,” he said simply, starting to light his fourth cigarette of the morning.
Miss Marple absentmindedly passed him an ashtray.
“There’s something about this that’s all wrong,” she said.
“I’d say there’s several things that are wrong,” Sam replied. “Murder being one of them.”
“Apart from the way the body was found, this one’s completely different,” Gene interjected. Sam was temporarily confused.
“Oh yes, but I always thought it would be. St Mary Mead has a long memory. People talk about the Jefferson murder at every annual festival, along with McDonald’s, Stanton’s, Celia Thompson’s and the dreadful kidnapping business surrounding little Emily Burchett.”
“She disappeared after school.”
“No, sorry, I mean, what happened with the case you both worked on together?” Sam asked, looking from Miss Marple to Gene and back again.
“You haven’t told him, Eugene?” Miss Marple brushed an errant curl back from her forehead. “Peter Jefferson was a man who made a lot of enemies, including his cousin, Brian, a well-respected doctor in London, and the girl he was supposed to marry. He broke her heart. Crushed it, apparently. Justine always said she would have her revenge. And she did. She convinced Brian to become her accomplice. They planned everything to the finest detail. It was ingenious.”
“He drugged Jefferson and she shoved his head into the fire,” Gene supplied, deadening the mythic quality of the crime with his tone and attitude. “They each had false alibis and even when they were brought up pretended they were having an affair.”
“I always suspected they began a real love affair.”
“The thrill of killing. Twisted perverts.”
“It’s not Henry,” Miss Marple stated, snapping back to the current murder. She sounded wistfully disappointed. “It would have made everything that much easier. But it’s quite clear that the poor man is innocent and distraught.”
“Couldn’t he have done it not knowing the change in the will? Maybe Harold knew his brother was trying to bump him off and planned accordingly?”
“No, if that was the case, Henry wouldn’t have allowed anyone to see how angry he was. He would lie and make everyone think he knew about the change all along. His being furious only implicates him further, and if he were clever enough to stage this murder, he’d hardly be stupid enough to reveal it all now.”
Sam shrugged, thinking that murderers had to make mistakes at some point, or they’d never get caught, but he finished applying lacquer to the balustrade instead.
Several hours later, they were eating an afternoon tea of salmon and cucumber sandwiches when another unexpected visitor called. It was Henry Worthington and he seemed het up, disturbed, and desperate.
“Miss Marple, I’d appreciate it if you would come to Great Hall,” Henry Worthington said, clutching his hands in a writhing action. He lowered his voice. “Only, you have such a reputation, and I have to confess, I-I-I need someone to make sense of this. Harold was a foolish man, stupid. He let himself get sucked in and spat out. Last year he was very nearly conned out of a lot of money by an impudent young woman, before I managed to make him see sense.”
“I’d be only too happy to come,” Miss Marple replied. She lowered her voice also. “I’m afraid I’ve got something quite terrible to tell you. Sam and Eugene aren’t just handymen. They’re friends of mine, from Manchester.”
“Oh?” Henry gazed at Sam and Gene as they stood by the ladder. “I noticed the accents of course, but… Oh! I see. You are terribly devious sometimes, aren’t you Miss Marple?”
Sam had expected more anger, but concluded that Henry really must be as innocent as Miss Marple seemed to think him. Miss Marple smiled at Henry’s assertion.
“You’re both invited too,” Henry said. The next part came in a murmur, “I’m sure Chloe will be pleased.”
It appeared that they were not the only guests at Great Hall. There were others that Sam had seen around the village, some people he had never laid eyes on before, even Inspector Idle wandering around. Sam stood in the corner and catalogued them all, dividing them into appropriate groups.
He was assessing the attire of a woman dressed in what looked like a black shower curtain, about to turn to Gene to discuss the monstrosity, when Chloe Norman veered into sight.
“Sam! Do you play bridge? Only, we need a fourth.”
“No,” Sam said, unable to come up with anything more suitable. “No, I don’t.”
“I do,” Gene said casually. Sam looked at him and knew the careless demeanour was put on.
“Well…” Chloe said doubtfully. “We are desperate.”
Sam inwardly mused that being desperate enough about a card game that you’d allow any person in the house to play warranted a good kick and reflected that he had definitely spent too much time around Gene.
He followed them into the next room anyway, where three tables were set up. Miss Marple was sitting at one of the tables, playing with others her age and chatting in an animated fashion.
“I don’t understand bridge,” Sam said unhelpfully, as Gene and Chloe sat down across an old married couple called Vera and Roger.
“Watch and learn, Sammy-boy.”
Sam watched, but the learning escaped him. He tried to sort his head around trumps and the role of the host, but most of the time it just made him want to go cross-eyed. He eventually became monumentally bored and decided to go for a private tour of Great Hall. No one noticed his departure.
His journey took Sam to parts of the building he hadn’t known existed, until he was climbing a winding staircase and looking in on what he presumed was Harold Worthington’s bedroom. Sam was impressed once more by just how mismatched everything was. There was little sense of order, of style. The curtains were a different colour from the carpet, the bedclothes were Indian looking whilst the bed was of a distinctly French appearance.
Sam walked over to the side table by the bed and convinced himself there was no such thing as a nosy copper. In a small mug, next to the lamp, was something that made Sam furrow his brow. It was odd, he thought - already planning on telling Gene and Miss Marple.
There was a loud, piercing scream from below. Sam turned to run and collided with one of the maids in the hallway. He muttered a quick apology and was pounding down the stairs within a second.
He was on the last flight of stairs when he saw the cause of the crowd and the steady, hushed chatter. Tobias was sprawled on the parquet floor, his legs at odd angles and blood pooling from a crack in his skull. His eyes were staring lifelessly at the ceiling, his mouth contorted in a silent cry.
Inspector Idle exclaimed an oath and then asked to use the telephone. Gene stared up at Sam and they shared an unspoken agreement.
Questioning seemed to go on forever. No one had seen anything of use, or so they claimed. The loud scream that Sam had heard was that of Tobias as he fell, although, with the angle of the body, they were assuming he was pushed. Apparently, the foyer had been empty and the people Sam had seen as he came down the stairs had all heard the sound and moved in from the next room. The whereabouts and witness statements had been collected from all participants of the party, stray comments and observations noted down.
When the crowd had been ushered back to their own homes and forensics were on the scene, Sam found himself standing between Gene and Inspector Idle. Miss Marple was sitting not far from them, rubbing and working her hands together as if they were frozen solid – but it was actually rather warm and Sam felt sure it was a reaction to emotion as opposed to the weather.
Gene had come out and told Idle his position and rather than be angry at the intrusion, Idle seemed glad of extra assistance.
“Bloody awful business,” Idle said, flicking open his lighter and offering Gene a cigarette.
“Do you have any leads?” Gene asked forthrightly.
“Oh sure, plenty of leads, but no facts.”
“Isn’t that always the way?” Sam chimed in. He felt almost as if he were a child playing at cops and robbers. It unnerved him.
“I’m afraid you’ve hit the nail on the head there.” For the first time, Miss Marple’s voice sounded old and frail. “Yes, I’m very much afraid that solving the case and proving the case are two wildly different propositions. We may do one and not the other.”
Sam took another look at Tobias. He confessed to himself that despite Miss Marple’s proclamations, he had cast Tobias in the murderer’s role. He was such an odious man – a poncey git, as Gene would say. But why kill him? He had to know something the killer didn’t want him to know. He had been at Great Hall the day before. What had he seen?
Sam looked again at Miss Marple. She blinked - the action smooth and slow. The shock must be getting to her. Sam was for once mindful of another’s needs and retreated to the servant’s area of Great Hall in order to make Miss Marple a strong, reviving tea.
“Excuse me,” Sam said to the short brown-haired maid who was standing by the kettle. “I’d like to make some tea. You don’t mind do you?”
“No, Sir, of course not,” the maid said deferentially.
“Must be strange,” Sam said, “being a maid in this day and age.”
“I don’t see why,” the girl returned. Sam looked at her once more. She was prettier than he expected maids to be – not that he’d come into contact with one before. He vaguely recalled his mother saying that his grandmother had been a parlourmaid. “If people are willing to pay for services and others are willing to provide them, I don’t see what’s strange about that.”
Sam thought about it. It still occurred in 2007, so he supposed she must be right. It didn’t sit well with him. He preferred being his own boss. At that contemplation, Gene stepped through the door and Sam checked himself. No, he’d never been his own boss, had he? And he’d chosen to come back and be Gene’s inferior – at least in rank. Sometimes he wondered why, but most of the time it just felt right.
“Just making Miss Marple tea,” Sam said to Gene.
“No need, we’re leaving. Miss Marple’s already gone back to her cottage.”
“We’re off. Get your arse into gear and follow me.”
Sam huffed out a sigh and soon they were on the trail of Inspector Idle and the other officers he had brought in.
“We’re going to conduct follow-up interviews at the station,” Idle explained to Sam’s querying. “Make it more formal. That’s two deaths. Two deaths too many.”
Sam offered his organisational skills and Idle took them gladly. To Sam’s surprise, Gene was similarly co-operative, standing by Sam and casting his gaze over written notes.
“Worthington can’t even remember if he invited Tobias. He says he thinks he may have, but that he asked so many people over, he just can’t be sure.”
“Why do that?” Gene asked. “What was with the party anyway?”
“I suggested it,” Idle answered. “So he should have invited him. I told Mr Worthington to invite everyone he could think of.”
“I fail to understand the logic behind your method,” Sam said, adopting a supercilious tone that made Gene roll his eyes.
“Don’t worry about him,” Gene interjected. “He’s one of those new age types. All logic and reason on the surface, ball of goo underneath.”
Idle smirked at Sam’s expense. Sam consciously willed his face into an emotionless mask.
“I was hoping to see the murderer returning to the crime scene. I thought a get together was the best way to go about it. Get them in. Create an atmosphere where any old person could slip off. Keep watch.”
“I’m sensing there’s a ‘but’ there. If there wasn’t, we’d already know who killed Tobias. If you were really keeping watch, no offence could have been committed.”
“There was a commotion outside. The officers in the foyer went to investigate.”
“Look, this may not be a big city like Manchester, but we’re not totally useless here, you know.”
“It’s not like Manchester’s on the cutting edge,” Sam said caustically, his brow furrowed. “But you have to admit, this has been a right balls up.”
Gene crossed his arms. “It’s not like you’ve never made a mistake, Sammy-boy.”
Sam acceded the point just as the telephone rang with a shrill chirp.
“It’s for you,” Idle said, handing the receiver over to Gene. Gene listened to the person on the other side of the line and his expression became impassive.
Knowing that he wouldn’t be told anything until Gene was ready and willing, Sam found comfort in routine. Categorising the statements and figuring out where who had been was the kind of mindless task he had years of training and experience in.
When he came off the phone, Gene put it in its cradle wordlessly. The look on Gene's face suggested he might have a passing interest in eating brains and Sam fervently hoped his wasn't on the menu. Gene was staring off into the middle-distance simultaneously vacant and yearning. It was slightly terrifying and just a tad entrancing.
“That was Chris,” Gene said, his cheeks starting to flush as he clapped his hands together.
“Chris is our Detective Constable,” Sam explained to Idle.
The corners of Idle’s lips twitched. “Your Detective Constable?”
“On our team, yeah.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you a DI, Tyler?”
Sam bit his lip and refrained from turning abusive. “When I say ‘our’, I mean all of ours, obviously.” Sam waved his hand dismissively. He hadn’t been willing to condemn Idle at first, thought that he might be capable, but now he found him ignorant and irritating.
“Ah, I see,” Idle replied, in a manner that suggested he didn’t see at all.
Gene didn’t pay any attention to Sam and Idle’s discussion. He was too busy scribbling on a piece of paper – one that Sam hoped wasn’t actually a witness statement – and passed it to Idle now with a sharp thrust.
“Sam, let’s go.”
Out in the thick, damp air, Sam lengthened his strides to fit Gene’s.
“Just one of these days, Gene - just once - I wanna be the one ordering you around.”
“If you’d really wanted that, you’d’ve taken your opportunity when I was unfairly locked in a cell. But instead you struggled and strived to set me free. Admit it to yourself, if not to anyone else – you like it.”
Sam closed his eyes for a moment, telling himself it was to quench frustration at Gene’s egomaniacal ravings. But a little voice at the back of his brain insisted that Gene might just have a very good point.
Miss Marple was crocheting, her hands working methodically.
“You have some news?” she enquired innocuously.
Sam leaned his shoulder against the doorframe and waited for Gene to begin his grand exposition, but Gene grabbed a sausage roll from the little plate on the coffee table and took a bite.
“This manufactured suspense is getting a little old,” Sam muttered. He grabbed the rest of the food in Gene’s hand and shoved it into his mouth, speaking around pastry, “Now, spit it out.”
Gene squared his shoulders and looped his fingers around his belt. “Alright then, sulky bollocks, they’ve done some research into that charity and it’s come up with something interesting.” Gene paused for a few seconds and Sam made a threatening gesture. “Okay. It’s like this. That charity is a load of shite. Doesn’t exist. There’s a lot of paperwork that suggests it does, but, having learned from Your Royal Moodiness, Chris came to the end of the trail. I suspected it were smoke and mirrors, but now we’ve got proof.”
Sam smiled. “That’s really great. It gives us something, at least.”
“I’d say it gives us a very definite something,” Miss Marple agreed. “I’m sure Inspector Idle has also tracked down this information.”
“If he had, he didn’t say anything about it.”
“He wouldn’t, would he? He’d wanna keep his cards close to his chest.”
“True. He said he had plenty of leads, but he didn’t tell us who they were. Miss Marple, do you have any ideas?”
Miss Marple set her handiwork down in her lap. “Well, there’s the doctor, of course. Where did the digitalin come from? It had to come from somewhere and he was very vague about how well he keeps his stores.”
“Have we met him?”
“No, I don’t believe so. Not unless he’s been at the Blue Boar, but he doesn’t often drink.”
“Maybe we should do that, then. Although I doubt it’s him.”
“Why?” Gene asked, taking the second sausage roll from the plate and waving it in front of Sam before consuming it whole.
Sam addressed his answer to their benevolent host. “If you suspected him, Miss Marple, you would have had us talking to him straight away. Fixing the drawers of his desk or giving him a new set of shelves.”
“You think it’s someone at Great Hall,” Gene added, a tone of something Sam couldn’t quite distinguish in the words.
“Not necessarily, no. But I do think Great Hall is the most likely place we’ll discover the truth. I need time to think.”
“Who else is there?”
“Roger Harding. You played bridge against him, Gene.”
“I shouldn’t have thought he’d done it.”
“Perhaps not, but he is a fellow collector and that does appear to be the angle we need to attack this from.”
“And what about Henry’s secretary. The pretty and inconspicuous Miss Norman?”
“She’s too pretty and too inconspicuous,” Sam dismissed.
“She gives him a hard-on,” Gene supplied. Miss Marple had the decency to disregard his comment.
After further, quick discussion, Sam lead the way to the doctor’s surgery, working on Miss Marple’s directions. The building was a contemporary 1973 design, looking very much like it had been beamed into position by a UFO, it was so out of keeping with its surroundings. A nameplate on the door stated ‘Doctor Fitzgerald’ and Sam briefly wondered why this was familiar, until he concluded he must have arrested someone with the same surname.
The young woman behind the front desk was very polite and after asking Sam and Gene to sit in the waiting area, called Dr Fitzgerald. He strode into the room and examined them with a wary eye. Sam belatedly took into consideration the occasion he and Gene had dressed for in the morning and lamented that they looked far from professional – or at least within the profession they belonged to.
“You’re working with Inspector Idle?” Fitzgerald asked, cracking his fingers in a manner that gave Sam a sudden mental flash to the snapping of a rubber glove.
“Yes,” Gene replied, with what was not entirely a lie.
“I’ve told him everything of use.”
“I’m sure you’ve told him everything that you think is relevant,” Sam began, immediate in exaggerated courtesy and deference. “But there may be some details that you left out, or glossed over, or-”
“Fine. Harold Worthington did not have a heart condition. I never gave him any form of digitoxin. I have no idea how he came to have digitalin in his system. I was his general practitioner and I last went to see him last month. We had little more than a professional relationship, although I sometimes dined at Great Hall, when invited. Even without patient confidentiality, there is nothing of remote interest that I could tell you regarding Harold Worthington’s medical history that could have any bearing on the case.”
Sam tilted his head to the side and gave a slight smile. “Okay, thank you.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “And there hasn’t been a burglary of the surgery or any cupboards accidentally left open?”
These last words garnered a reaction. Fitzgerald’s jaw quivered and his eyes became cold and hard. “No,” he said flatly, unconvincingly.
Sam allowed his lips to curve into a brilliant grin. “Thank you for your time, Dr Fitzgerald, you’ve been most illuminating.”
Fitzgerald stared, open-mouthed and did nothing to stop them from leaving.
The next stop was Roger and Vera Harding’s house. The facade was rather pretty and immaculately kept. Sam admired a hanging basket as he rang the doorbell. Vera answered and as soon as her eyes alighted on Gene, her smile grew warm and welcoming.
“Vera, love, we’re here to ask you and Roger some questions, like.”
“Oh, I’ve just made some tea.”
Sam stared at the back of Gene’s head and wondered if Gene was doing this partly for his benefit, or whether he genuinely became a different person as soon as a cardigan came into view. He wasn’t sure which he’d prefer.
Vera led them into a sitting room that was bright oranges and greens. Sam had become so used to more muted, serene tones, that the glaring garishness of it jolted him. It was a room that would be the height of fashion and came across as vile, hideous and various other negative adjectives.
“We did tell the other policemen all about what we saw,” Vera said, sounding a little concerned.
“I know you did. I just want to ask your opinion, as someone who knew the deceased.”
This was a surprise. Sam cast a quick glance at Gene and sat down, waiting.
“Harold was a nerk,” Roger replied.
“This is your informed opinion as a friend?” Sam asked, restraining himself from grinning.
“Everyone knew it,” Vera answered for Roger. “And I wouldn’t say we were friends. We were friendly, but never close. We’d show him our collection, he’d show us his, that sort of thing.”
Gene nodded sympathetically. “Stupid people who don’t know they’re thick are a total pain.” He looked at Sam. “Believe me, I know.”
Sam showed his appreciation with a covert two-finger salute.
“You know, just the other week he asked this poor man to do some work for him and gave him ridiculous instructions. He could go into this part of the attic, but not the other. When I made him a nice slice of cake, the sweet old thing was terribly open in his frustration. He hadn’t realised he wasn’t allowed to move some of the boxes, but he felt he had to in order to get to the ones he was told to move. Harold would do that, you see – expect others to simply know what it was he wanted.”
“He was like that with some of the research work I’d do for him,” Roger added. “I mean, he’d ask me to look into that, or look into this, but when I’d do it, he’d then ask me why I didn’t also look into something-or-other and he’d never take my logic as an excuse. Not that I needed an excuse.”
“Did Tobias Sheppard ever come to you for research purposes?”
“Yes, fairly often.”
“And what did you think of him?”
“He could be a miserable little prick. Not a genius, but you’d be forgiven for thinking he was, the way he posed and carried on.”
“It doesn’t seem like any love was lost between you and either of the men who were murdered,” Sam observed.
Roger’s jaw tightened. He switched his gaze from Sam to Gene and back again. In contrast, Vera laughed.
“We wore all black clothing and flattened ourselves against the walls, camouflaging ourselves as shadows.”
Sam sucked in his cheeks, locking his eyes with Vera’s. “Or you hired someone.”
“Sadly we’re not that inventive. Roger’s too old for murder. And I’m too busy. I have to make two hundred biscuits for the Girl Guides every week. If I ever hired anyone, it would be for the washing up – Mabel is a terrible maid.”
Sam returned his concentration to Roger, but Roger was now regarding him less with animosity and more with humour.
“Well, thank you, both of you. Inspector Idle has your statements at the station and if we have anything else, we’ll be in further contact.”
“If you so wish, DI Tyler.”
Sam stood to leave and was escorted out of the house, but Vera held Gene back at the door.
“Is he always like this?”
“Almost always. He’s like a little terrier sometimes,” Gene said, by way of explanation. “Yipping and nipping at the ankles of crime. But his heart’s in the right place.”
“I’ll be nipping at your ankles if you don’t move it,” Sam called, crossing his arms.
Padding down the tarmac, Gene shook his head gently. “You get a perverse pleasure out of interrogation, you do.”
“Not really, it’s just part of the job.”
“Yeah, but it’s one of the best. You get to analyse the smallest expression, gauge the pitch of a phrase.”
“Watch the worm squirm on the ‘ook.”
Sam inattentively crossed the street and spoke with a dry chuckle. “Mmm. Tasty, tasty worms.”
Gene ignored the remark. “What was that before, with the whole ‘you can call the station?’ gibberish?”
Sam was glad that Gene had given him time to formulate a suitable answer. He shrugged and raised his fist to knock on Miss Marple’s door.
“I wasn’t sure how deep undercover we were,” he said, almost as an aside.
The door opened and Miss Marple hurried them in with a wave and uttered four terror-inducing words.
“I have a plan.”
“I have to confess, th-th-this surprises me,” Henry’s voice echoed.
“The death of two people?” Miss Marple’s voice returned.
“Relating to the collection, yes. It’s always been a silly hobby. Nothing more.”
“Hobbies are never silly, Henry. All of those things that one devotes time and effort to can and should be viewed with a level of serious regard. Even if you would never dream of doing them yourself. As someone much brighter than me once said, ‘The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.’”
“That may be so, but there’s nothing really valuable here, is there? Ninety percent of it has always been rather rubbish. There are a few pieces that are worth more, but…”
“But motive is everything, Henry. And now that I’ve figured out the motive, I’m extraordinarily close to solving the case. I think I could tell you the culprit by breakfast.”
Sam sat stock still in the darkness. He had a habit of fidgeting when nervous. He tried to curb it, most of the time, but occasionally he played with objects in his hands without noticing, so he had to be on alert. Every muscle in his body was tense. He was using all of his acting skills to appear unruffled. Sam wasn’t a very good actor. Gene laid his hand on his arm and Sam could just see the glint of light on his eyes as he stared at him, willing him to calm down. Gene removed his hand after two seconds, the sound of movement from the room outside arresting his attention.
Two sets of retreating footsteps battered against the floor and a door creaked open and closed.
“I don't like this,” Sam said with a low murmur.
“It’ll only be another two minutes,” Gene grunted. Sam soon discovered that Gene had vastly underestimated. He let out a long sigh.
“I don’t just mean us being trapped in a closet together, although that’s in the top ten on the list of things I never wanted to happen in my lifetime. I’m talking about the danger factor.”
“Yeah, it's risky. We might have a serial killer on the loose.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Sam chastised, his voice an insistent whisper. “Multiple deaths do not equal serial killing. There's no sense of ritual.”
“There could be,” Gene whispered back. “We just don't know it yet. Serial killing's one of those surreptitious things. Anyone could do it. You could be a serial killer.”
Sam threw his chin forward. It connected with Gene’s shoulder. “I am not a serial killer.”
“Might wanna convince Chris of that.”
“Why? What's he been saying about me?”
Gene took a deep breath that sounded suspiciously like it concealed laughter. “You are so easy to wind up. Just twist your key and away you go.”
Sam scowled, glad that Gene couldn’t see the expression, for he would surely give Sam a new nickname – crinkle-face or prickly-arse. Actually, Sam was fairly sure the latter had already been used.
"When you're done with the mocking, maybe you could-"
Sam didn't get to finish his sentence. There was a howl from two rooms over. He reared up and knocked into Gene, bruising his forehead with an angled elbow.
Flinging open the door, he ran out. “Whose supremely stupid idea was this?”
Sam increased speed. “Makes a nice change, eh?”
Miss Marple was lying on the ground, a trickle of blood oozing from a cut and her normally controlled expression screwed up in pain. Henry Worthington was nowhere in sight.
“She’s run out the door, I’m afraid,” Miss Marple said, pointing a long, delicate finger.
Sam’s forehead creased. “She?”
Gene grabbed hold of Sam’s arm. “You’re quicker than me, Sam, get bloody moving.”
Sam whirled around and started. “How will I know?” he asked at the exit of the room, ahead of Gene by several paces.
“The uniform’s a dead giveaway.”
Sam held back the further questioning bubbling at the back of his throat. He sped up and sailed out, hearing the thump of Gene behind him. He caught sight of their target - a small female figure clad in black.
“Stop right where you are,” Sam called authoritatively.
“Oh, genius, Sammy-boy,” Gene’s voice panted. “Yell at her and maybe she’ll give it all up. Not like she’s decked a little old lady or committed unspeakable crimes, is it?”
Sam swivelled his head. “Do I heckle you when you’re going after a suspect? No I do not.”
At that moment, Sam collided with something solid, the world temporarily turning black. He reached out, his head pounding. He heard some muffled shouting and what sounded suspiciously like Gene yelling, “and stay down.” Sam opened his eyes and saw Gene - red face, hair mussed, struggling with a young woman on the ground. Sam was on his feet in a flash, reaching into his pocket for a pair of handcuffs. He grabbed hold of furiously kicking legs and tossed Gene the handcuffs. Gene hauled her up, cuffed her and puffed his cheeks out at Sam.
Standing before them was the maid Sam had spoken to in the kitchen shortly after Tobias’ death. She glared at him, eyes burning. Her once sweet features now took on an aspect of hard cruelty. To put not too fine a point on it, Sam was confused.
Getting back inside Great Hall was not a simple endeavour with an unwilling participant, but they managed it with brute force and no small amount of cursing. Once in the room they had left Miss Marple, Sam let Gene take care of placing the woman in a situation she couldn’t easily escape from. Gene handcuffed her a solid piece of furniture. She tried to hit him and failed repeatedly.
Henry Worthington was with Miss Marple, speaking in a gently reassuring voice, but Miss Marple looked to be back to her old self, because she waved him away with a complacent smile.
“No need to worry, Henry, I’m tougher than I look.”
Sam didn’t doubt it. She looked resistant to fuss of all kinds. But she smiled at Gene, pink spots in her cheeks giving her the appearance of delight. Gene showed Miss Marple the deference a son might show his mother, saying he was off to fetch something that would ease away any pain she was feeling – and for the briefest second -
“You’re a good partnership.” Jane Marple interrupted Sam’s internal musings as he watched Gene leave the room. “You complete each other. You’re the thought, Eugene’s the action. But you’re both the brains and the brawn – important, I think. It reminds me of Robert Roker and Jeremy Castle, who lived here in St Mary Mead a decade ago, though, naturally, without the scandal of how closely they were attached.”
Sam chose to ignore Miss Marple’s final observation as Henry gave a dry chuckle. Gene thundered back into the room, the bottom of his overalls dragging along the ground with a thick rustle. He had a washcloth and a bottle of whisky.
Twenty minutes later, Henry had called for Chloe, Inspector Idle had arrived with a couple of Constables, and Miss Marple was sat with eight pairs of eyes focussed on her. Sam examined the scene and realised it could have been cribbed from any number of detective fiction novels or screen adaptations. Sam had watched a lot of science fiction in his teenage years – would he wake up one day wearing a spacesuit? The chorus of a familiar song started playing softly in his mind, but he was snapped out of his reverie by Miss Marple’s words.
“Meet Ethel,” Miss Marple said, “also known as Chantel. I am right, aren’t I dear?”
Chantel made a few unsubtle gestures that conveyed a less than agreeable state.
“Chantel’s a skilled confidence trickster.”
“My word,” Henry said, breaking his gaze from Miss Marple to Chantel. “You’re the girl from last year. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.” Henry turned to the crowd at large. “Sh-she looked so different last time, all make-up and expensive clothes.” He addressed Chantel again. “Harold was completely taken in by you, wasn’t he?”
“Completely. But they do say love is blind,” Chantel said with a brilliant smile. She was sickeningly calm now, perhaps resigned to her fate. “Of course, so’s stupidity and there’s plenty of that in this room. You’re all still thinking I’ve knocked Harold off. Do I look capable? No jury would believe it.”
Miss Marple shook her head. “You’re quite right. No jury would believe that you’re capable alone, but if you were working with an accomplice – one who was strong, rich and believed to be dead…”
“What does she mean?”
“Harold Worthington wasn’t the victim of Chantel Carmody’s crimes.”
“They faked it all, together,” Gene interjected. “The man who was sent down morgue was that poor bastard who’d been doing some work here. You spoke to him, didn’t you Chloe?”
Chloe Norman started. “Yes! I did.”
“Yeah, see – Chantel and Harold killed him and planted the corpse.”
“That’s what I came around to discuss,” Inspector Idle said. “The manner of death. It’s not what we first thought. Our pathologist just discovered it was a blow to the head that did it, not the digitoxin or the third degree burns. Those were done later.”
“To emulate the past crime, just as I suspected.” Miss Marple nodded her head sagely.
“But surely you identified the body?” Chloe asked, her brow creased with confusion. “You said it was him. Aren’t there ways of determining that? Teeth or some such?”
“Harold had false teeth,” Sam exclaimed suddenly. “Of course. I saw them when I went looking around. I was going to tell Gene and Miss Marple about them, but Tobias was killed and it went right out of my head.”
“The body was so badly damaged, and with no dental records, we just assumed it was Harold,” Idle said. He sounded an odd mixture of triumphant and annoyed.
“He could be anywhere by now. Mexico. India. Greece. Australia.”
“No. He’s still around,” Gene said. “You saw him with me that morning, Sam.”
“That was Harold?”
“Yes. Told you it was Worthington. You just didn’t think to ask which one. Harold, who had been so successful, made the fatal error of believing himself invincible. Not a smart thing to do. He never suspected that anyone might realise he was still alive – least of all some bloke working in his house. No, according to him, his plan had come off without a hitch. But there’s a hitch, alright, and it’s bloody massive.”
Gene said his final words with a small flourish and Sam stared at him. He had to admit, he was impressed. Gene was not the only one in their partnership with a flair for underestimation. Sam knew that he had a habit of seeing Gene in broad strokes, categorising him until he fulfilled an acceptable role, but Gene had the power to surprise that, explode it, make Sam question everything he thought he knew. It was a valuable asset.
“You knew?” Sam asked. He still hadn’t quite managed to shake stating the obvious.
Gene nodded. “I knew.”
“Oh, there’s no such thing as instinct,” Miss Marple said, putting her hand lightly on Gene’s arm. “What we often call instinct is a combination of logical reasoning and experience dictating to our subconscious mind. No, Eugene, you knew because you’re a clever police officer – you saw the facts and recognised misdirection.”
Gene smiled a Cheshire cat smile and raised his eyebrows at Sam. Sam couldn’t help but return the grin. Gene snapped back into insouciance.
“There was nothing I could do, though. I needed more information. I needed to know who he was working with. I didn’t think the stupid bastard would kill again.”
“But why did he do it all in the first place?” Henry shook his head, vexed.
“He loves me,” Chantel said. “He knew there would be uproar.”
Miss Marple smiled. “And then there was the little matter of insurance fraud.”
“If Harold’s nearby, where is he now?” Inspector Idle asked.
Sam looked at Gene, Gene looked at Sam. They both spoke the same words. “The attic.”
They rushed up the stairs. It took a lot of kicking to break in the attic door, but in a combined effort, they managed it with fierce grunts.
Harold was stood in the centre of the room, armed with makeshift weapons. “I’m not going down this easily. I’ve killed two men, I feel no reluctance towards killing any more.”
“Why did you kill Tobias, anyway?” Sam asked.
“He had no respect for his betters.”
Gene barked out a laugh. “You didn’t like him playing with your little collection, did you, Harold? You were gonna sell it back to yourself, but he wanted some of your best pieces.”
Harold thrashed about, wielding a golf club that he cracked into Gene’s skull. Gene reeled back and Sam threw himself at Harold, arms and legs working rapidly, but Harold managed to shake him off. Sam called for one of Idle’s men to assist, but instead, Miss Marple took hold of a hat stand and shoved it into Harold’s chest, pushing him to the wood flooring.
“Harold Worthington, you are the stench on the breath of humanity,” Miss Marple raged. “Weak, cruel and selfish, you’ve caused others untold pain simply for your own rank benefit. I hope you burn in the fires of hell for your misconduct.” Miss Marple stopped. Sam was staring at her, his mouth wide and his pupils dilated. Miss Marple looked at him with humour. “Sam, my dear, don’t look so shocked, you’ll find worse in the Bible.”
“He wouldn’t know that,” Gene said, dragging a hand over his forehead, smearing blood. “He’s only read the section on Sodom and Gomorrah, and even then-” Gene closed his mouth when he saw the white-hot glare Sam was directing his way.
Inspector Idle and his officers took over and both Chantel Carmody and Harold Worthington were taken into custody.
Miss Marple said her goodbyes with warmth and affection. She let Gene hold her in a gruff hug and patted him gently on the back. The same occurred with Sam.
“I know I don’t need to say it, but watch out for each other,” Miss Marple said with a sparkle in her eye. “There’s nothing quite like a friend you would trust with your life.” She said the next part in a whisper, “if it is a life we choose to lead.”
Sam and Gene decided to spend one final night at the Blue Boar and begin driving as soon as light sprinkled over St Mary Mead. No need for somnolence. They had been away from Manchester long enough.
“I'm proud of you,” Sam said. He took a sip of beer and flicked his gaze up to meet Gene's. Gene raised his eyebrows and didn't say anything. Sam gave a half-smile. “I know that sounds presumptuous.”
“That makes a nice change. Usually you'd have no idea.”
“Well, I have an idea this time. But it doesn't make it any less true.”
“If I said I was proud of you, Sammy-boy, how would you feel?”
“Depends on how you'd say it. If you meant it, I think I'd probably feel inordinately pleased.” Sam gave a grim smile. “But you’d never mean it.”
“Yes I would.” Gene sniffed, knocking back the last of his drink. He nodded and put the glass down with force. “Your round.”
The trip to the station was silent. Sam yawning, grazing his hand over unshaved stubble; Gene concentrating on the road. But seeing the station again brought the words flooding back, with quickly uttered exclamations of, “God, you never realise how brilliant concrete is,” and, “this is what returning home feels like.”
“You weren’t far off,” Sam said. He was still thinking about all of the aspects of the case and just how right Gene had been with most of them. They were in Gene’s office, a mountain of paperwork before them.
“What are you going on about?”
“The murder. You said the butler did it. If you’d just continued going through the hired help, you would have got there eventually.”
Gene gave Sam a clip around the ear, his expression soppy stern.
“Now, there’s a point I want cleared up. I’m going to say this and you’re going to take it to heart,” Gene said. He paused. “If you ever call me Eugene, I swear to God you won’t be able to speak or sit down for a month.”
Sam didn’t like to think what Gene might do to effect that, and looking at the serious set of Gene’s face, he didn’t doubt that there was real danger in the words.
“Okay, Guv,” Sam said, trying to make his tone as inoffensive as possible.
“Glad we’ve got that clear, dearest Samuel.”
“It’s not Samuel, you know. It’s just Sam.”
“And it’s just Gene,” Gene reiterated. “Got it?”
“Yes,” said Sam with an exasperated roll of his eyes. “I get it. That name shall never pass my lips.” Sam straightened his arms out in front of him. “Unless I’m speaking to Miss Marple.”
Gene raised his fist menacingly, but only shook it, as opposed to letting it connect with a vulnerable part of Sam’s body.
“She’s brilliant, isn’t she?” Sam continued. “How she just knew about Chantel Carmody.”
Gene gave a snort. “She’d done her research, alright. Should’ve guessed she’d had an idea of the answer the whole time. Of course she’d know all about fabricated identities.”
Sam frowned. “How d’you mean?”
“Don’t play the fool. You know what I mean.”
“No I don’t.”
“Sandra Clayborne changed her name by deed poll to Jane Marple just before her I met her – moved to this small village and petitioned for it to transform from Stumpy Waters to St Mary Mead. The place had had enough snickering from neighbouring towns, so it wasn’t difficult. Fancied herself a sleuth and styled herself accordingly. It’s a wonder she didn’t go for Holmes, or Dupin, having been an actress in her youth – and apparently a bloody good one at that. But, for whatever reasons, Marple it was.”
Sam’s mouth dropped open. “You mean she’s not the real Miss Marple?”
The look that Gene shot Sam’s way would have withered him to a puddle on the ground if he hadn’t been wearing rubber-soled boots.
“The real Miss Marple? You twerp. Miss Marple’s a character from a book-”
“Well, alright then, several books. Doesn’t make it any less true.” Gene dove into his pocket and extracted his lighter. He muttered to himself, echoing Sam’s previous action of rolling his eyes as he did so. “…the real Miss Marple… next you’ll be telling me you’ve a date with Helen of bloody Troy.”
“Well, you never know. I might.”
“Sam, you’re no Paris. Caligula, at a stretch…”
“You’re getting your Ancient Greek mythology and Roman histories mixed up there,” Sam corrected. “Hey!? What do you mean about Caligula? He was a total nutjob!”
“Well, then, you can be ---” Sam paused, wracking his brains for a mythological or historic figure as iconic as Gene, and settled on the easy way out. “Someone really terrible.”
“No, I’m Julius Caesar.”
“Oh, a dangerous thing to say, that,” Sam said. He lunged forward, pretending to attack Gene. To Sam’s surprise, Gene played along, clutching theatrically.
“Et tu, Tyler?”
“Should’ve been Tylerus,” Sam said, his voice thick with laughter.
“Give it a rest, will you?” Gene said, shaking his head swiftly, as if to purge himself of any good humour. He looked at Sam with an expression that still presented affection. He lit a cigarette and puffed on it thoughtfully.
It was clear that Chris was perplexed when his two superiors bursting out laughing as he came in and announced that there’d been a stabbing, but they followed him out of the office and set to work.