Chapter Eight

While Daniel visited Kendal, Miranda and Louise had gone to Grasmere, destination Dove Cottage. Returning home, he remembered that he hadn’t eaten anything since toast and marmalade for breakfast. Hunger pangs reminded him of Oxford, when he could spend a day delving into the Bodleian archives before thinking of his stomach. Talking to Hannah had made him forget about food but now he was ready for a little self-indulgence. Miranda was on a healthy-eating crusade, but her absence gave him a chance to sin with a chunky bacon and egg bap coated in brown sauce. After washing his lunch down with a can of lager, he went upstairs to continue his researches.

The makeshift study would become a spare bedroom once the renovations were completed, although if the builders didn’t get a move on, he might be ready for a stairlift by the time the project was finished. Even now most of his books were in crates. A handful of whodunits squatted on low shelves alongside a pile of CDs and a snap he’d taken of Miranda, showing off her long smooth legs as she lazed on a recliner by the tarn. There was nothing to remind him of Oxford, far less of Aimee. He’d wanted to leave his past behind. Though sometimes he wondered if it was madness to believe that might be possible.

A Google search didn’t add much to his stock of knowledge about the murder and soon he was navigating the Flint Howe Garden Design website, learning that Peter Flint was a Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show medal winner among various other accolades. A gallery of photographs showed ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of drab patches of lawn becoming mini-Sissinghursts. Encomiums abounded from clients whose herbaceous borders, rockeries and patios had been transformed into visions of light, water and colour. The website answered frequently asked questions about the sensitive use of decking in a suburban environment and offered tips on composting and establishing an organic garden. No suggestion that dumping a body in your back yard was recommended for fertilising the ground for years to come.

Daniel clicked on to the site contact details. In the corner of the page was a name in small type. Enquirers were invited to email the firm’s ‘Client Liaison Partner’. Her name was Tina Howe.

He swivelled in his chair, closing his eyes to let the news sink in. Presumably Tina had inherited her husband’s share in the business, but wouldn’t most widows take their money and run? Back at the home page, he studied the photo of Peter Flint. Curly, greying hair, spectacles, crooked front teeth. He looked vague and good-natured, not accustomed to getting his hands dirty. Perhaps Tina Howe had tired of her rugged husband and fancied offering his partner a spot of personal assistance? What if…?

Don’t go there. He slammed his fist on the desk. He should have learned, it was dangerous to get involved in a case of murder. Not so long ago, he’d looked death in the eye and hadn’t liked what he’d seen.

And yet, hunting the truth fired him; it became a obsession impossible to quell, whatever the cost. At last he’d come to understand why his father cared for police work. They shared the need to know.

The front door crashed. He imagined Miranda sniffing the air before calling out, ‘Who’s been having a fry-up, then?’

He wandered downstairs and they told him about their day. To listen to Miranda bad-mouthing selfish drivers in Grasmere and the unpredictability of the bus services, one might think she was a native. As she chatted, Daniel kept glancing at Louise. She was on her best behaviour, nodding agreement at suitable intervals and laughing at every witty remark. The perfect guest.

He nodded towards the garden. ‘We need help sorting this out. There’s a good firm Hawkshead way. I thought I’d give them a ring, ask them to take a look and give us their advice.’

‘Fine.’

Miranda resumed her account of what she would show Louise tomorrow. For her, the garden was a place to relax, nothing more. She wouldn’t have minded if he’d announced that he meant to dig it all up and replant every square inch. As long as she could sit by the water’s edge and soak up the sun, who cared if someone had long ago laid out the grounds according to an unfathomable design?

When she took the tea things back inside, Louise pulled her chair closer to Daniel’s. ‘So then, what did you get up to in Kendal?’

‘I spent an hour in the library. Nothing special.’

‘Is that all?’

He frowned at her. ‘Meaning?’

‘You’re wearing your faraway look. Suppressed excitement, something going on in your own little world while you nod your head at appropriate points in the conversation. You weren’t listening to Miranda, she doesn’t know you well enough yet to realise. I remember that look from when Mum was scolding you for not putting your bike in the garage and all the time you were thinking about that tarty girl from Manor Drive.’

He couldn’t help grinning. ‘You never liked Simone, did you? Just because she overdid the make-up.’

‘It wasn’t only the make-up. And don’t change the subject. What are you up to?’

He shifted under her steady gaze. ‘I’ve been doing some research.’

Her smile was sceptical. ‘It’s obviously turning you on.’

‘Just because I’ve escaped from Oxford, that doesn’t mean I want my brain to atrophy.’

‘It’s not your brain I’m wondering about.’

Miranda called from the open kitchen window, ‘Anyone fancy a glass of Chablis?’

Louise turned her head and waved her thanks. Softly, she said, ‘Miranda’s lovely, Daniel. Not your usual type of lady friend, though.’

‘Is there a type? Leaving Simone out of it?’

‘Well, yes. Pretty, intense, introspective.’

‘Christ.’ He was startled that she’d given his love life a moment’s thought. He’d assumed she was too wrapped up in her own affairs of the heart. ‘Actually, I’d say Miranda fits the bill.’

‘Mmmmm. Not sure about introspective. I’m not saying that it matters. I just want you to be happy, that’s all.’

‘We are.’

‘Long term, I mean.’

‘We will be.’

‘Glad to hear it,’ she whispered as Miranda approached, bearing a tray laden with wine cooler and glasses.

But he wasn’t sure that she believed him.

‘Your garden is gorgeous,’ Hannah Scarlett said.

Roz Gleave nodded. ‘I can see what you’re thinking. A lovely place to die.’

Hannah grimaced, not least because she seldom encountered strangers who could read her mind. Even in the heat of the afternoon, Roz was cool and composed in white blouse and jeans. She was a tall woman with decisive movements; it was impossible to imagine her giving a slinky wiggle of the bum. With her thick grey hair and lack of make-up, she made no concessions to vanity, yet there was something about her cast of features and strong jawline that was oddly attractive. Not glamorous, but striking. Handsome, even.

They were facing each other across a wrought-iron table on the patio at the back of Keepsake Cottage. Behind them was an extension to the original house, from where Roz ran her publishing business. Through the windows Hannah could see piles of shrink-wrapped books in cardboard boxes. On the slope above the cottage was the spot where Warren Howe’s slashed corpse had been dumped in a hole in the earth, but his only memorial was a rose bush with huge yellow blooms. Roz had served Earl Grey and Battenberg cake; de Quincey was snoozing at their feet in a wicker basket. Very civilised: a murder site transformed into a backdrop for a tea party.

‘Tell me about finding the body.’

‘You must have this in your files.’

‘Refresh my memory.’

Roz sighed. ‘I spent the day in Lancashire, with a firm of library suppliers. A nerve-shredding presentation of our latest titles. I left home at half seven, to make final preparations at our office before I set off. Warren’s van passed me in the lane; he used to say he liked an early start and an early dart. The weather was miserable, but he didn’t care.’

‘Did you stop for a word?’

‘No, I waved, he winked back, and we drove past each other. It was the last time I saw him alive, but I didn’t give him another thought until I got home. My main aim was to keep myself busy. Anything to avoid dwelling on what might have happened to Chris. What I dreaded might have happened…’

A frown flitted across Roz Gleave’s face as she adjusted her dark glasses. A woman unwilling to surrender to her emotions, or to the urge to colour her hair. If she’d been shaken by the request for a meeting, she’d given no sign of it, agreeing a convenient time with the brisk efficiency of a woman who had succeeded in keeping a small press afloat in an unforgiving business climate.

Hannah said gently, ‘You and Warren were friends?’

‘We went back a long way.’

‘Not the same thing.’

‘No.’ Roz smiled. ‘Come on, this sun is too harsh for a skin as fair as yours, let’s sit in the shade.’

She led the way up the sprawling terraced grounds, past lupins jostling with tall ornanmental grasses, towards a teak arbour seat. Hannah sat beside her on the plump cream cushion. Lawns across the county were parched, but this wild garden remained fresh. A stream gurgled down the slope, white butterflies circled a late-flowering mint with a soft lavender haze. Through the branches of an ash tree Hannah could see sunlit patterns on Esthwaite Water. A dark blue wisteria threaded through gaps in the trellis, and she inhaled its perfume.

As if reading her mind, Roz said, ‘Special, isn’t it? Thanks to Peter Flint — and Warren. You know, Warren used to have a phrase about wild gardens. No moss, no magic.’

‘Perhaps he was right.’

‘He was no saint, Chief Inspector, but he was no fool, either.’

Hannah was tempted to close her eyes. On the most humid day so far this year, she felt unbearably lethargic, as if she might be going down with flu in the midst of the heatwave. But she must stay focused to glean anything from the conversation. Murder had been committed on Roz’s doorstep; she must have ideas about what had led to it. Her original statement was brusque and uninformative. Charlie’s team hadn’t pressed the right buttons, but this was a second chance.

‘You arrived back here that afternoon shortly before five, according to your statement.’

‘The first surprise was that I couldn’t park in the garage because Warren’s van was parked in the drive, blocking the way. I expected him to have gone home by that time. I assumed he was engrossed and didn’t want to finish halfway through a particular job. I went inside, changed out of my business suit and poured myself a glass of plonk. A tiny celebration. Without Chris, I hadn’t had much cause to cheer myself up, but I was in better heart because the people in Lytham had been so positive about our titles. I took a couple of sips and then wandered outside to have a word with Warren. See if he fancied a drink himself.’

‘So you were on good terms?’

‘If you’re wondering whether Warren reckoned his luck was in, working for an old flame whose husband had left her, think again. I’m not exactly a sex goddess these days. I’m not sure I ever was, even in my teens, but he wasn’t above trying it on, just for the hell of it. Actually, he was a satyr, but he knew the score. Chris was the only man for me.’

‘But you were afraid Chris was dead.’

‘Even so.’ Roz stared down towards the cottage, and Hannah guessed she was picturing the scene that had greeted her that afternoon. ‘I came through that door from the kitchen, made my way up the slope. At first I couldn’t see anything untoward. I called his name, but there was no reply. Odd, but no alarm bells rang.’

‘Warren wasn’t someone you could imagine suffering an accident?’

‘That’s right. Nothing ever knocked him off stride, stopped him from doing what he wanted to do. I could see where he’d been digging. He’d piled up the turves he’d dug and his wheelbarrow was full of weeds and pebbles. As I moved closer, I saw the ground was streaked with red. When I looked into the trench, for a split second, I didn’t realise the bloody lump was Warren. To tell you the truth, there are still times when I can’t quite believe it. For him to be killed like that…’

‘How well did you know him?’

‘Old Sawrey is a small place. He wasn’t easy to avoid.’

‘And in your teens you went out with him?’

‘For a few weeks. That wasn’t easy to avoid, either. I was fourteen, an age when a little flattery goes a long way. One thing about Warren, he was persistent. It was scarcely a remake of Brief Encounter. His claim to fame in my life was that he was the first boy to put his hand inside my knickers.’

Roz’s wry grin was infectious and Hannah couldn’t help smiling. ‘Very romantic. And that was why you split up?’

‘No, he lost interest. Just as he had done with Bel before me. Thank God, it didn’t ruin our friendship. If anything, it brought us closer together. We cried on each other’s shoulders.’

‘He was a charmer?’

‘Oh yes, he could blarney like an Irishman when he was in the mood. Bel and I were young enough and naive enough to fall for it.’

‘You didn’t have any qualms about becoming his client?’

‘He and Peter were very good at what they did, so it was a no-brainer. Chris and I would have been crazy to look elsewhere, simply because he’d given me the heave-ho all those years earlier. There was no animosity, not that we were close after we broke up, let alone after each of us got married. He and Tina were very different from Chris and me. But so what?’

‘Do you ever see Tina?’

‘Every now and then we bump into her at The Heights. Chris and I are regulars and since Kirsty started working for Bel, Tina and Peter often go there for a meal.’

‘Peter?’

‘Peter Flint.’ A mischievous grin. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t know?’

This was the moment that Hannah longed for in any investigation, the rush of excitement when a case took a fresh turn. For all her fatigue, it reminded her why she couldn’t conceive of taking any other job. The only comparison was waiting for a lover’s touch. With this difference: she had to conceal what she felt inside.

Clearing her throat, she took refuge in the formal jargon of officialdom. ‘I’m simply gathering information at present. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to in connection with this crime.’

‘Should I feel honoured — or alarmed?’

‘No need for alarm, Mrs Gleave.’

‘Please, call me Roz.’

OK, Roz, let’s hear it. ‘Are you telling me that Tina Howe married her husband’s old business colleague?’

‘Oh no. Peter only got round to divorcing poor old Gail the other week, though they separated ages ago. He and Tina have been a couple in the meantime.’

‘They live together?’

‘Not permanently. She still keeps the house she used to share with Warren. Sam and Kirsty haven’t left home yet. Sam works with Peter.’

‘Small world.’

‘Village life, Chief Inspector.’

‘Any gossip about Tina and Peter getting together?’

‘Loads.’ Roz giggled. ‘What else is juicy enough to natter about during long winter evenings in Old Sawrey? But you must understand, the locals take Gail Flint’s side. Not that there are many locals left in the village. Every other house for miles around is a holiday let or a second home for an accountant from Manchester.’

‘Gail was born here?’

‘Yes, Peter’s a foreigner. That is, his family come from Penrith. Might as well be Paraguay as far as the natives of Old Sawrey are concerned.’

‘So what do the gossips say about him and Tina?’

‘You’ll have to ask someone else, Chief Inspector,’ Roz said with a smile. ‘Me, I never listen to tittle-tattle. Personally, I’m just glad they’ve found happiness.’

A likely story. Hannah decided against pressing. Roz would reveal exactly what she wanted to reveal, no more, no less. Time to open another front.

‘I gather Warren had a high opinion of himself.’

‘Part of a man’s genetic programming, isn’t it? Chris is an honourable exception; he’s unbelievably self-effacing. I’ve never once heard him boast, far less run anyone else down. Warren was the opposite. He never worried if he trod on people’s toes.’

‘Did he make enemies?’

‘Scores, probably. “Take me as you find me”, that was his mantra. Most people decided they were better off leaving him. Other than Tina, she stuck with him through thick and thin. Talk about long-suffering.’

‘Any hint she might have been looking for an exit route?’

‘Divorce? God, no.’ Roz raised her thick eyebrows. ‘She’s not stupid, she went into that marriage with her eyes open. She knew perfectly well what she was letting herself in for.’

‘Including infidelity?’

‘Part of the package, with Warren. Then again, who knows what really goes on inside someone else’s marriage?’ Roz glanced at Hannah’s ring finger. ‘You’re single?’

‘I have a partner. You’re right, it’s impossible to be sure what makes other people’s relationships tick — but you might hazard a guess. Why would Warren Howe want to tie himself down, if he wanted to keep playing the field? As for Tina, you say she’s no fool, so why did she stay married to a serial philanderer?’

Roz stood up and shrugged. ‘Sex, presumably. That’s the usual answer, isn’t it, to most questions?’

Was there a flicker of amused contempt in the words, scorn for those who were slaves to lust? Hannah wondered if the jealousy to which Roz had confessed had faded as quickly as she claimed. Maybe it lingered, maybe she’d still hankered after Warren despite knowing his faults.

She followed Roz along the path. ‘Your husband was away from home at the time of the murder. Must have been hard, coping on your own.’

‘It was never going to be easy, whatever the circumstances. Imagine, Chief Inspector. Your husband has vanished and you come home from work one day, to find that the bloke you hired to sort out your garden has been scythed to death and deposited in a trench he excavated himself. But that’s not all. He wasn’t some boring stranger, he was an ex. Someone you got over in your teens, someone you still pass the time of day with. There’s always the tug of nostalgia, if hardly romance. How do you think that made me feel, Chief Inspector?’

Hannah didn’t have an answer. They strolled on through the wild garden, moving down the terraces towards the house. The fragrance of the roses hung in the air.

Roz broke the silence. ‘What makes you think you can solve the case, after so many years?’

‘As I said, we’ve received new information.’

‘Which you’re not prepared to disclose.’

‘Sorry, Mrs Gleave. My job is to ask, not answer. Is your husband due back soon?’

Roz consulted her wristwatch. ‘Chris is a law unto himself. I told you on the phone, he’s been recording a show for hospital radio. Could be five minutes, could be five hours. But he was in London when Warren was murdered. He can’t help you.’

‘I’ll judge that, if you don’t mind.’

Everyone had a weak spot, every recalcitrant interviewee had a topic they hated talking about. Hannah suspected that with Roz Gleave, it was her husband.

De Quincey had roused himself from his slumbers and was barking enthusiastically, no doubt angling to be taken for a walk. At Roz’s invitation, Hannah stroked his rough fur while inspecting the terracotta thermometer hanging on the outside wall. Twenty-five degrees Celsius, even at this time of day. No wonder she felt exhausted.

‘Had he disappeared before?’

‘Not for so long. Once or twice he went away for twenty-four hours. But not that length of time.’

‘What did you think had happened?’

‘If you insist, I thought he was dead. Chris is very sensitive, nobody knows that better than me. I thought the man I loved had killed himself, that marriage to me hadn’t been enough to make his life worth living.’

‘And then he turned up safe and sound?’

‘As you say.’ Roz swallowed. ‘I was wrong to doubt him. I tell him, he’s like a Herdwick sheep, he has the same homing instinct. That’s why Herdwicks don’t have to be fenced in, isn’t it? Well, Chris doesn’t need to be fenced in, either. I’d trust him with my life.’

‘So you forgave him for causing you such distress?’

‘Of course. I swore that I’d never let anything come between us again. And I never have, Chief Inspector. Never will.’

Peter Flint’s office was a brick-built extension to the house he had once shared with his wife. Kirsty presumed that the cost of buying out Gail’s share was the reason he’d never moved or separated his business premises from his home. Gail had insisted on having her pound of flesh in the divorce settlement — Tina liked to say Peter’s ex needed the money to pay for the booze she drank herself instead of selling to her customers. Just as well Flint Howe Garden Design was supposed to be thriving, though there were few obvious signs of affluence. Peter’s Renault needed a wash and a paint repair to a scrape on the bumper. In the past, Kirsty had found his lack of ostentation appealing, had been happy for her mother when she’d announced they were seeing each other. But that was before the letters had arrived.

Vertical blinds hung in the window and she could not see inside. A neat label read ‘Please ring for reception’, but the door wasn’t shut properly and Kirsty walked straight in. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with Tina’s photographs of gorgeous gardens. Brilliant orange Chilean firebushes, elaborate mosaic paths of silver and grey, marble water features with concealed lighting and exotic steel sculptures with unexpected peepholes that resembled deformed Polo mints.

Her mother was bending over Peter Flint’s desk, handing him a note torn from a telephone pad. The floral leggings were a mistake, Kirsty thought. Their heads were almost touching. Even though they were talking business, the intimacy between them was palpable. Kirsty cringed.

‘Here is the address and phone number,’ Tina said. ‘His name is Kind. The cottage is at the far end of Brackdale, he said. Beyond the Hall.’

‘You’ve booked me in for tomorrow?’

‘I told him you were busy, but he insisted that…’ Tina spun round. ‘Kirsty! Don’t you believe in knocking? What on earth are you doing here?’

‘I wanted a word.’

‘Couldn’t it wait till I got back home?’

‘I never know when you will be home these days.’

Tina’s features hardened. No matter how she tried, she was unable to resist an argument. Perhaps marriage had done that to her, Kirsty thought, perhaps her willingness to stand up for herself had kept Dad interested.

‘Sorry, I didn’t realise I had to keep to a timetable.’

Peter scrambled to his feet and grabbed a folder from his desk. ‘Look, if you two girls fancy a chat in private, I’ll make myself scarce.’

‘No,’ Tina said. ‘I don’t have secrets from you, darling.’

That darling seemed unnecessary. Typical Mum, marking out her territory. Making clear where her loyalties lay. Perhaps they’d lain there for a long, long time.

‘This concerns you as well, Peter,’ Kirsty said.

‘Me?’ He blinked behind his glasses. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’

Peter Flint’s expression suggested an amiable, absent-minded owl. Lately, Kirsty had begun to suspect that his good-natured vagueness about anything unconnected with his work was a facade. For all his bumbling demeanour, he had a priceless knack of getting whatever he wanted. He must possess hidden reserves of determination.

She turned to her mother. ‘Have you told him about the letters?’

Tina gave a long and theatrical sigh. ‘So that’s what this performance is all about?’

‘Have you told him?’ Kirsty said again through gritted teeth. Her mother had a flair for moving the goalposts. She’d had a lot of practice when Dad was alive; it was her technique for bringing their quarrels to an end. Sometimes it hadn’t worked, sometimes plates had been thrown.

‘If you mean the anonymous letters flying around,’ Peter Flint said, ‘Tina didn’t need to tell me about them. I told her as soon as one came to me.’

‘What did it say?’

‘It was offensive rubbish which deserved to be put through the shredder and that’s precisely what I did with it.’

‘Because it accused you of having it off with Mum while my father was still alive?’

He blinked again. ‘You don’t…’

Arms folded, she leaned back. ‘All I want you to tell me is whether it’s true.’

Tina took a couple of paces forward and seized hold of her wrist. ‘Do you want to know, Kirsty? Do you really want to know?’

Her grip hurt, almost as much as Sam’s drunken grasp had hurt. All of a sudden, Kirsty wasn’t sure any more what she did want to know. Yet could the truth be any more painful than the anguish of guesswork?

‘I can imagine,’ she said furiously and tugged herself free.

‘Kirsty,’ Peter said. ‘Please listen to me. This is upsetting your mother. You don’t understand.’

‘You know what, Peter? I’m beginning to understand a great deal about your…relationship.’

Tina folded her arms. ‘All right, then. I’ll satisfy your curiosity if you want. You’ve got it all wrong. So has whoever keeps sending these bloody letters. Peter and I never slept together before your father died.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Believe what you want, you stupid little cow. It’s the truth.’

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