This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 1429 words.
Alex answered the door expecting to be met by a crowd of reporters, and a barrage of questions. He was actually disappointed to find one fresh-faced girl, and a photographer dressed like a vagrant. As the man snapped away, the girl nervously asked a question. “Mr Conroy, what do you have to say about the allegations made in today’s Sunday Herald?” She held her pen close to the pad, ready to write down his answer. “Those allegations are completely unfounded, and I am sure that I have been the victim of a few local police officers who are clutching at straws to cover their own incompetence. I have nothing but respect for the police as a rule, and I will be going in to make a statement to them, later today. They have no need of a warrant to search my property, as I will gladly allow them to search for anything. I have nothing to hide.” As the girl searched her brain for a second question, a TV news crew van turned into the close, followed by three other cars. Alex drew up to his full height. That was more like it.
Sally didn’t bother to park carefully, and ran up to the incident room, arriving almost a full hour late. There was no sign of Inspector Mullins, Tom, or any of the team. But DCI Williamson was there, sitting at Mullins’ desk. He smirked as she tapped the glass door. “Hi Sally, you’re very late, not like you. Get your things together, and sort out your locker. You will be on my team from now on, based in the city”. Sally didn’t answer immediately, turning to look around the empty room outside the partitioned office. “No point looking for Mullins, he’s gone. New head of the Control Room, and promotion to Chief Inspector. Not bad, considering the balls-up he made of this. And your old pal Tom has put his papers in. High time he put himself out to grass”. When Sally didn’t reply, he raised his voice. “Did you not hear me, sergeant? Get your stuff, and take it over to headquarters”. Sally’s mind was suddenly back in the room. “Yes, thank you, sir”.
Alex repeated the same answer to all the questions from the TV crew, and the other three newspaper reporters. He refused to be drawn on any subsequent questions, and after a few minutes, he closed the door. Lucy was standing at the bottom of the stairs in her dressing gown, looking bewildered. “What was all that about, Alex?” He smiled at her before he answered. At one time, he would have had no hesitation about ignoring her, and fobbing her off with anything. But he had seen her other side now, so was careful. “One of the policemen thinks I killed Allan next door, and has said as much to the press and TV. I have a lawyer arriving from the city soon, and would appreciate it if you would stay in your room for now. But if you could make sure you are ready by twelve, I would like you to come into the city with me”. Lucy’s brain couldn’t take it all in, so she just nodded. “Yes, I will be ready by then”.
Returning to his laptop in the living room, Alex continued his research on Sergeant Sally Wilcox. She was out as a lesbian, that was for sure. A high-flyer, well-educated, and promoted very quickly. This was her first decent criminal case, as far as he could tell. The social media sites also proved to be a treasure trove. There she was marching on Gay Pride Day in the city, wearing full uniform. And there she was at the reception for her Civil Partnership some years back, alongside a fierce-looking older woman called Emily, who she had just tied the knot with. A few more clicks told him that this Emily was also a police officer, and a high-ranking one. She was a Commander, and the head of the Police Training School. Alex laughed out loud, before talking quietly into the empty room. “Oh dear, Sergeant Sally. You are not going to know what’s hit you”. He closed the laptop gently. No need to delete the history, as he would be needing all those links soon, and had good reason to have searched for them.
Karen looked surprised when Tom walked in. “Back so soon love? Was the briefing cancelled? I will make you some tea”. Tom sat on the sofa, waiting until his wife returned with the two hot drinks. “They transferred the case to the city. Seems they weren’t happy with the way we handled it. I told the Superintendent I wasn’t pleased about that. He offered me the chance to transfer to the new headquarters, but to be honest, I have had enough. So, I applied for my pension, and they agreed. With all the leave I am owed, I can go today, so I did”. Karen had been ill for a long time, but she hadn’t lost her sense of reason. And she had seen the TV news while Tom was out. But she wasn’t about to add to his worries by arguing. He was a good man, and deserved his story to be believed. “Well it’s their loss, Tom love. Without you on the case, I doubt they will ever solve it. Drink your tea”.
Tom sat quietly, holding his mug of tea. It wasn’t in his nature to fall on his sword, but if it got some justice for young Allan, it would have been worth it. He turned to Karen, pleased to see she was definitely looking better, and more positive. “Remember those Park Homes we saw? You know, the ones close to the beach when we were on holiday on the East Coast, years ago? You liked those, and we talked about maybe living there one day”. Karen nodded. “They were lovely. Bigger than this flat, and all the furniture included. They had that nice decking all round, and a private entrance through to the beach too”. Tom put his mug down on the side table. “Well, I was thinking. Why don’t we take a drive down there next week, and see if they have any for sale?” Karen squeezed his leg. “Why not?”
Julian Carpenter was one of the best young lawyers in the city. As far as he was concerned, he was THE best. He knew Alex Conroy from various social functions, and when he had got the call that morning, it had cheered up his Sunday. A high-profile case, and a solid client who could afford his exorbitant fees. Worth working on a Sunday, that was for sure. Sitting at his dining table, Alex went through everything with Julian. The newspaper allegations, the photos of Sally Wilcox and Lucy. His wife’s affair with Eduardo, and the lack of any evidence or motive that could have tied him to the crime. Alex confirmed he was happy to take on Alex as a client, then put on his serious courtroom face. “Just for my information, can you tell me what you were doing in the city when you saw your wife with the police officer?” Alex produced a receipt. “I had gone in to buy a new waterproof suit for golfing. And I thought I might find my wife in the department store, perhaps buy her a gift, an attempt at reconciliation after her affair”. Julian took the receipt, and made some notes in a leather-bound notebook. “And I have to ask you, Alex. Is there anything in these allegations at all, anything that might come out later? Did you harm that boy next door?”
Alex adopted a grim expression. “Absolutely not. I was watching a film on TV, and heard nothing, saw nothing. I hardly knew the boy, or his parents. We were not close”. Julian finished writing, and closed his book. He put Alex’s phone into his briefcase, and added the notebook. “Well, Alex, I think you have nothing to worry about. The police seem to have conspired to find something on you, even going so far as to instigate a romantic relationship with your wife, then leaking lies to the Sunday Herald. We are going to make them all sorry they ever heard your name, I assure you. As he checked the papers, he smiled. “I must say, you are remarkably calm, and exceedingly well-prepared”. Alex was still grim.
“I always am, Julian. Always.”
To be continued…