* * *
CHAPTER FIVE - Too Easy
Monday morning arrived and I was up early. I left Anthea sleeping in bed and went down to breakfast on my own. By half past eight I was out of the hotel and heading across London. I wanted to be at the jewellers for when it opened at nine o’clock.
Now you must understand the decision to go to the jewellers was made on the spur of the moment and I had no receipts with me. Any proof of ownership was back in a my cottage somewhere. So what I did was to take out my two cufflinks from their box and replace them with the one I’d found on the pathway outside Hendry’s. I should mention here too that I’d noticed a slight difference between my cufflinks and the one I’d found and did not want to get them mixed up. When I looked at the stones I could see that the diamond on the one I’d found was slightly larger than mine; not a lot, but noticeably bigger. I knew these items to be individually priced, so I guess whoever bought these had more money to spend than I did.
When I purchased my own pair of cufflinks I was staying at a hotel close to Euston Station, and the jewellers was just around the corner. I actually walked there taking in the morning traffic fumes.
It was just a few minutes after nine o’clock when I arrived outside the shop. I think they were just opening up and I could see one man inside sorting out some trays of rings. I entered, an old fashioned mechanical doorbell rang behind me, and I walked up to the counter. The man finished putting his trays away and turned to serve me.
Now I recognise faces, and this was not the same person that had served me when I first came here. I thought that a pity and realised that I had to explain everything right from the start.
“Good morning sir, and what can I do for you?” asked the man.
He was in his late fifties, rotund, balding hair and wore a waistcoat with one of those gold fob-chains across his chest.
I showed him the box, opened it up to reveal only one cufflink, and began to explain:
“I bought these from you a few months ago and I seem to have lost one. I was wondering if it could be replaced?” I said.
The man took the box from me and extracted the cufflink, he then put one of those funny little magnifying glasses to his eye and began to examine the diamond.
“Sir would like a matching diamond?” he asked after giving the cufflink a thorough going over.
I wasn’t sure what I was after, but I was prepared to go along with his suggestion for a while.
I nodded my head.
“Yes,” I agreed, then asked: “What happened to the gentleman that served me the last time I was here?”
The man looked at me and smiled.
“You mean Mr. Pettigrew?” he replied.
To be quite honest I had no idea what the man’s name was, but I went along with him.
“I believe it was,” I told him.
The man continued to smile.
“Mr. Pettigrew is enjoying his holidays. I’m from our branch in Kensington and serving here until he gets back,” the man explained.
Well I was glad that cleared up that little mystery. But where it was leading me I had no idea. I returned to the subject of the missing cufflink.
“Well, what can you do for me?” I asked. “I’m sorry but I haven’t got the receipt with me. I was just hoping I’d be recognised by Mr. Pettigrew.”
The man fingered the cufflink and turned it over on its back.
“That won’t be necessary sir,” the man told me, “we have a record of all purchases made with our company.”
I was wondering what the man was talking about. But I didn’t interrupt. He was too busy studying the back of the cufflink. He then moved to below the counter and retrieved a massive ledger. He dumped it heavily on the glass top counter and began to search through the pages.
“Ah! here we are!” he announced and holding a finger to a certain line.
I could see that everything was hand written and in almost perfect copperplate writing.
I let him get on with it.
“You’re Mr. Duval, and you purchased a pair of twenty-two carat diamond set gold cufflinks from us in February this year,” he said proudly and showing off his talents.
I don’t have to tell you that wasn’t my name, and I think it was either March or April when I came here on my shopping trip. But it did bring certain memories back to me. I remember giving a name and address when I filled in the guarantee for the items. I’m not sure it was mine though.
I tried to look amazed.
“That’s fantastic,” I told him, “how on Earth do you know all that?”
I could see the man was itching to tell me.
He turned the cufflink over and showed me the back. I could just about make out the hallmarks, but what I think he was pointing at was an even smaller indentation a little further away.
I shook my head.
“I can’t see,” I told him and being quite honest.
The man was grinning like the Mona Lisa now. It was a look that suggested he knew something I didn’t. He pointed again to the little mark on the back of the cufflink.
“That sir is our own identification mark. It’s a unique number that traces all our most expensive jewellery,” he explained.
I was beginning to get the picture now. I was also seeing great prospects for myself.
“I bet you’ve even got my name and address there,” I suggested, “so that if anything ever gets lost or stolen you’ll be able to recognised it immediately and notify the owner.”
The man was all aglow by now.
“That is what we pride ourselves on sir,” he explained. “Every item that is sold through this most reputable company is recorded against the owner’s name.”
I tried to look even more amazed than I actually was.
“Why, that’s just fantastic!” I said with mouth agape, then added; “by the way I’ve just recently changed my address… what have you got there against me?”
The man turned the ledger round and pointed to the line in question.
I read what was written down. It said; ‘Mr. Duval, 43 Oberon Avenue, Wimbledon.’
Now you’re probably thinking how elated I must have felt at this point in time. Well perhaps I was. But something at the back of my mind was telling me this was too easy - far too easy. I was wondering whether I’d just taken the bait and got caught; hook, line and sinker?
I recalled that Oberon was King of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was wondering whether anyone was making a fairy out of me? Suddenly I had a strange felling that I’d just fallen off the top of a Christmas Tree, and from a great height too.
Deep in thought I turned the ledger back round.
“No, that’s fine… that’s my latest address,” I told him.
The man, still smiling returned to the question of what to do about the missing cufflink.
“Would sir like a replacement cufflink made then?” he asked.
I collected the cufflink and placed it back in the box. I then closed up the lid.
“I’ll tell you what I’d like,” I told him. “I would like a quote for a replacement sent to my address. I need it for insurance purposes. As soon as they say they’ll pay up, I’ll give you the go ahead to do it.”
The man continued to smile. I guess the excuse I’d just invented made a whole lot of sense. I amaze myself sometimes!
“Then sir, we’ll do just that for you. Our records will show us the diamond size and carats so that we can get an exact match. I’ll then get a quote organised and post it to your address,” he said politely.
I smiled back.
“Then I thank you for your help and assistance and I hope to receive your quote in the very near future,” I told him.
The man was still grinning from ear to ear.
“Then goodbye sir, and have a pleasant journey,” he said as I turned and walked to the door with the box and one cufflink in my hand.
I didn’t look back, but I called; “I will.”
Hopefully that pleasant journey was going to take me straight to Wimbledon. I just hoped that it wasn’t going to turn out to be something of a wild goose chase.
* * *
For those of you that don’t know London, Wimbledon is south of the Thames and famous for a Tennis Club. To give you its full title it is known as the ‘Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis Club’. When not running something that is called a ‘Grand Slam’ tournament once a year, it is open to members; and to be a member you have to be very rich indeed. So even though the highly desirable address coupled with the diamond cufflink had a certain ring of truth to it, I remained sceptical. The words; ‘far too easy’ and ‘fairy’, still kept springing to mind.
I didn’t walk this time, I took a taxi. I’d breathed in too much carbon monoxide for one day. I didn’t give the name of the street I wanted either, I just asked to be taken to the tennis ground. The taxi stopped right outside. I paid him and added a sizeable tip. I think the man went away grateful and thinking I was a member.
I’d come prepared. As I left the hotel that morning I’d taken a copy of a London A to Z with me. It helped me negotiate my way to the jewellers, and now hopefully it was going to lead me to Oberon Avenue. I found the page; I found the road; turned the book around several times in order to establish north; then, as soon as I’d found my bearings, I set off.
Wimbledon was bigger than I imagined - and if there aren’t any houses there’s a sizeable common - so I had a fair walk in front of me. Once more I breathed in more carbon monoxide than was good for me. I think living out in the countryside killed off my immune system. I could never remember complaining about exhaust fumes when I used to walk the streets of Birmingham.
When I finally arrived in Oberon Avenue I found myself overawed by the sheer opulence spread out before me. The entire area declared wealth. To live here you needed a million pounds just in loose change. The avenue was tree-lined, and every house was huge and surrounded by extensive gardens.
I walked the pavement on the left because that was where the odd numbers were until I finally came to number forty-three. I looked down the drive. It was a big house with lots of windows and a large double garage on the side. The design and architecture of the house suggested pre-war thirties, but I was no expert, it could have been a lot older, even Victorian.
There was one other thing I couldn’t help but notice, and this had nothing to do with the house. All down the street there were ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ signs. Now, when you’re standing outside a big house like this and loitering as I was, then you generally tend to look a wee bit suspicious. I therefore decided that it was in my own interests to do something positive. After all I’d not come all this way just to stand around and stare down someone’s driveway.
I straightened my tie and set off down the drive. There were no cars about, but the garage doors were closed so there were no indications as to whether anyone was at home. I walked straight up to the front door and rang the bell. I’d thought up an excuse. I was looking for someone by the name of Mr. Pettigrew and was wondering if this was the right house. It was the first name that came to mind, probably because I’d just heard it. But I was thinking, with a name like Pettigrew, you had to be rich.
I waited and no one answered, so I rang the doorbell a second time. Again no one came. The next thing I did was step back and look for a burglar alarm. There was box on the side of the house just beneath the eaves. I was not surprised to find one. All these big old houses had one.
I gave the doorbell one more ring, and when no one came I set off round the back of the building. The gardens were extensive. There were big lawns and fruit trees to the side and rear of the house, and everything was well maintained. There was even a water sprinkler going on one of the lawns.
When out of sight of the road I started to peer in through the various windows. The rooms were well furnished, with a lot were antiques and everything looked expensive. There were also Persian carpets on the floor. Whoever lived here had a lot of money, that was for sure.
I’d started my circumnavigation of the house on the side farthest away from the double garage. As I approached the garage from the rear I stopped to look through a window. I found myself looking into a room that was part of the garage extension and not the house. Inside I could see a desk, chairs, filing cabinets and everything else that made up a modern office. What was more interesting was the fact that someone had left a window slightly open.
I’d not dared to break into the house. There was too much risk that I’d set off the burglar alarm. But suddenly I was tempted to try the window. I pondered for a while, then thought sod it! Somehow I’d get Fernando, or MI5 - or was it MI6? - to bail me out. After all, I was doing this for the Government and not for my own personal gain. Well that was my excuse anyway!
The window opened easily. I picked myself up onto the sill and slipped inside. For a few seconds I waited and listened for any sounds of a burglar alarm going off. All remained quiet. However I still wasn’t totally convinced - you get those alarms that telephone the police first, then wait ten minutes before going off.
Anyway, I was inside now, so I decided to use the ten minutes having a good look round.
The first thing that caught my eye was a calendar on the wall. It had a gorgeous model in a state of undress bathing beneath a waterfall in some exotic jungle location. I guess there was nothing unusual about that, but what was odd was the word at the top. It was the beginning of August now, but the calendar was still open at July, and what I was reading was the word Juillet. This I found most interesting. Juillet is French for July and what I was looking at was French calendar.
Immediately the name Pierre Renard sprang to mind coupled with the name Mr. Duval. I was thinking possibly there was some sort of a French connection here? But then on further contemplation I was thinking there was no connection at all. It certainly wasn’t Pierre who’d run off with Fatima. At least I didn’t think so. Hulk had seen someone drive off with her and then soon afterwards spoken to Pierre on the phone. Pierre had a rock solid alibi: He was down in the Gents Changing Room when it happened. However, I didn’t drop the idea completely. If you remember, there were, according to Fernando, at least two people involved. Pierre could have assisted in the abduction and then returned to the changing room.
Deep in thought, and still contemplating a possible French connection, I noticed something else about the calendar. July 15th had a ring round it and the word ‘RORO’ written alongside.
For a moment or two I stood staring at the calendar and wondering who ‘RORO’ was? The name didn’t sound either French or English, but I guessed it to be foreign, and there was always the possibility that it was a company name.
I made a mental note of the date and name, then moved on to investigate the desk. This was a neat and tidy office and the only thing on the desk was a notepad. The top sheet had been ripped off hastily and a small portion remained. I looked closely and found the first five digits of a telephone number. I could see the numbers 01382. I made a mental note of the number in the hope it may prove useful in the future.
I looked around the office for more clues. To be quite honest there wasn’t a lot more to see. I tried the draws of the desk and the filing cabinets and they were all locked. I also kept a close ear on that burglar alarm. All remained quiet, so I guess I was getting a bit more confident by this time.
There was a door from the office that led directly into the garage. There was also a door on the other side that led to a utility room and a passageway to the house. I didn’t want to push my luck any further, just in case there was an alarm system in the house that was working, so I tried the door to the garage. It was unlocked so I moved on through.
The garage was full of large boxes. They were stacked everywhere and up to the roof. I looked for writing on the sides, but apart from; ‘This Way Up’, and ‘Fragile’, there was no indication of their origin or contents. I tried to look inside, but they were all sealed by brown tape. There were several rolls of the tape lying about suggesting the packing had been done here, and these boxes were due to go somewhere else.
I began to walk around the boxes. They’d all been stacked in rows two deep and several cases high, but there were small aisles to walk between. In places the gaps were so small I had to squeeze past.
As I neared the far end of the garage, and contemplating whether I should break open one of the boxes, I turned the last corner, and I must say, I had the shock of my life.
For there, chained to the wall, was Fatima.
I regained my breath and tried to focus on the fresh circumstances that now confronted me. For starters I recognised that someone had done a good job of concealing her. There was about a three feet gap between the wall and the boxes, so there was no way she could be seen without turning that last corner.
Another job well done was the way Fatima was restrained. She was naked and chained spreadeagled to the end wall of the garage. She was also blindfolded and gagged. Layer upon layer of brown packing tape had been wound about her eyes and head, and a bright red ball gag had been thrust into her mouth. I gave ten out of ten for both concealment and restraint. Whoever was responsible for this deed was a true professional and knew what he was doing. There is one more thing I should mention here. That brass-studded leather collar that Fernando mentioned was still about her neck.
Having waited a while for my heart rate to settle down, my immediate reactions were to rush up and speak to her. She’d obviously heard me coming, because her head had turned in my direction as, in all the excitement, I collided with a box. But that was all I’d done to give myself away. As I stood there staring down the narrow gap between boxes and wall, my basic instincts were to run up to her and tell her she was safe; to tell her she’d been found and not to panic; and to tell her that I was a good guy and about to set her free.
But I didn’t do anything like that. I kept my cool. I told myself not to act too hastily. So far I’d not disclosed my identity, and I was thinking perhaps I ought to keep it that way, at least for the time being anyway.
Having stopped myself from rushing like a lemming over the cliff, I tried to remain calm and told myself to assess the situation rationally. Basically I could see two options open to me. My first option was to set her free. But even from several boxes distance I could foresee problems in releasing her without a bolt cutter.
My second option was to leave her just where she was, activate the collar about her neck, and inform Fernando of her whereabouts. The question I kept asking myself was: Is freedom the thing she really wanted? Nagging at the back of my mind was the notion that she’d voluntarily put herself up as bait knowing that something like this would happen. She was probably thinking everything was going to plan, and as soon as she got an arm free she would activate the transmitter in her collar. She would then be thinking that it was only a matter of time before someone from the agency picked up the signal and started to track her movements.
Having concluded that there were two possible solutions to all this. I checked out the freedom option first. I moved along the narrow gap to Fatima and tried to figure out exactly what I was dealing with here.
I looked upwards to the chains that held her wrists. Running along the wall, just above head height, was a steel girder. Large holes had been drilled into the flanges and chains passed through them. The holes were at least ten feet apart, maybe more. Heavy chrome-steel chains had been threaded through the holes, then dropped down and wrapped about her wrists. The ends of the chains were then secured by two giant sized padlocks. The chains were pulled tight, and there was an obvious visible tension tugging on Fatima’s arms: That stress created in the main by the sheer distance apart of the chains padlocked to her wrists.
I shook my head in despair. I think my original assessment had been right. The only way I was going to set her loose was by either finding the key or using bolt cutters, and since I had neither I was rapidly losing faith in option one.
Still wondering what best to do, I rubbed my chin thoughtfully and dropped my gaze to Fatima’s feet. A similar method of restraint had been used here. More heavy chrome-steel chains had been used to hold her legs apart. There were eyebolts fixed low down to the wall and set even further apart than the chains that held her wrists. Fatima’s legs were stretched to the limit by chains attached to the eyebolts and wrapped about her ankles, and the two chains were locked there by the same giant sized padlocks that held her arms.
At this point I’d still not given up the freedom theory completely and I looked around. A little further down the narrow gap, the pile of boxes lowered to just two boxes high, and I could see something resting on the top. I squeezed past Fatima, I think our bodies touched slightly, and moved on down the narrow aisle.
What I found was most interesting. There was a navy blue suit jacket lying there, and on further investigation I found that it had a ripped sleeve. I asked myself: Could this have been done in a struggle? And could a cufflink have become dislodged at the same time? I thought these to be strong possibilities.
I checked the jacket pockets for keys. I didn’t find any keys, I didn’t expect to. That was too easy, but what I did find was most interesting. Inside one of the side pockets I found a half empty bottle of chloroform. I checked the label. It was identical to the one I’d found in the locker back at Hendry’s. I guessed this particular brand to be a standard issue at the club and used by members that were into this sort of thing. I considered what to do with it. The trouble was, I’d already handled the bottle and it would have my fingerprints. But instinct and training got the better of me and I wrapped it up in my handkerchief and put it away in my pocket.
I put the jacket down on the box where I found it and looked around for more clues. I was very near to the corner of the garage now, and on the floor there was a pile of used brown packing tape. It was all crumpled and screwed up into several loose bundles. It was my guess that this little lot had been tossed here from a position somewhere about where Fatima now stood.
I bent down and picked up some of the tape. From the various curves and shapes, and the way several portions had been cut, it seemed obvious for what purpose the tape had been used. This, without doubt, was how Fatima had been restrained on her way here. I could see stuck together pieces that must have once been wrapped around arms and legs, and even strips of tape that held them together.
Looking at the evidence I reckoned that Fatima had been hogtied at some point in her abduction, then brought here afterwards. That in itself posed a question? There was plenty of the brown tape here; but why should someone want to keep a roll with them? With the word only being put out no more than an hour before Fatima’s abduction, whoever did this must have had some tape with him; possibly in the back of a car?
I dropped the tape back in the corner and returned to Fatima. I think I was even more confused than ever at this point in the investigation. The trouble was; what I’d discovered in the corner was of interest; at least it put the record straight; but it still didn’t get me any nearer to setting her free.
On my return I brushed past Fatima with a little more contact. Somehow I just couldn’t resist doing it. Those large round tits of hers were so alluring I just had to rub my own chest across them. I recalled my initial thoughts when I first set eyes on those whoppers back at Henry’s. I would have put money on them being stuffed full of silicon. I decided to do a little bit of private investigation of my own. This, I admit, had nothing to do with the case, and was for my own personal gratification, but I think you must understand my motives here.
If not, try and consider the situation from Fatima’s point of view. There you are, naked, chained spreadeagled to a wall, blindfolded and ball-gagged, and you hear somebody coming. You’ve just got to think that it’s your captor arriving to do something despicable to you; well haven’t you? And seeing that I had no intentions of revealing myself to her, I thought it best not to disillusion her. I considered it to be in everyone’s interests that I act the part of the bad guy and make her think I was her real captor. Well, that’s my theory anyway, and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, I put my hands to those enormous tits and tried to size them up. They were big and firm and just like handling melons. I gave them a squeeze and manipulated the flesh with my fingertips. What I was trying to do was feel for the bags of silicon implanted beneath the skin, but to be quite honest, everything was so firm and plump it was impossible to tell. I then looked for any tell tale scars. I was informed that implants were usually inserted from beneath and that small incisions were made across the skin and close to the chest. I lifted up each breast and took a good look, but could see nothing. I then ran my hands underneath feeling for scars or marks on the tissues, but her skin was silky smooth. I felt disappointed. There were no scars, no marks, nothing to suggest that she’d had any form of plastic surgery.
I know I’d only made the bet with myself, but I was still angry at losing. So I grabbed each nipple between thumb and forefinger and gave a vicious tweak. The sharp intake of breath around the edges of the bright red ball-gag suggested that I’d got my own back. That was her punishment for having natural breasts and making me think otherwise. Anyway, you can’t win everything can you? And besides I felt better for doing it!
I guess by this time I’d already eliminated option one. Apart from knocking the garage wall down, I could see no other way of releasing poor old Fatima from her chains. So I looked to option two as a possible way out.
I twisted the studded collar about Fatima’s neck so that the buckle came to the front. Next I located the nearest stud and turned it one complete revolution to the left as instructed by Fernando. I then reached into my pocket and took out the tracking device. I switched it on and immediately I got a strong pulse beating right down the centre. I breathed a sigh of relief and gave a little nod of approval. Knowing that the transmitter was working, I resigned myself to the fact that option two it would have to be then. Fatima was to remain where she was and I was to pass the buck to Fernando, so to speak.
Quickly I put the tracking device away and turned the studded collar round so that the buckle was once more at the back. I gave a second and final tweak to those nipples, then hightailed it out of there. I took the same route out as I came in. I pushed the window shut to the position I’d found it, then scuttled off down the drive.
From a position of about a hundred yards down the road I tested the tracking device again. The pulse was still beating strongly and pointing back to the house. I then took out my mobile and gave Fernando a ring on his own mobile number that he’d given me.
Fernando answered after just a few rings.
“Hello Fernando, Woody here,” I told him.
Fernando did not sound surprised that I’d called him.
“Hi Woody, what can I do for you?” he asked.
“It’s what I can do for you,” I replied.
“What’s that then Woody?” he queried.
“I’ve found Fatima for you,” I told him.
“What!” he exclaimed.
I think I heard him fall off his chair.
I repeated: “I’ve found Fatima for you.”
“What!… Where is she?” he asked.
“You’ll find her chained to a garage wall at number Forty-three, Oberon Avenue, Wimbledon… and you’d better get someone there quickly with a tracking device, otherwise you might lose her again,” I explained.
“Right, just let me take that down… forty-three where,” he asked.
I told him the address again, then added: “And I think you’ll find the place is owned by a Mr. Duval. You could check whether he’s a member.”
I let him finish writing everything down then said: “So that’s it Fernando… I’m off back to Lower Clunley now… and if you want anymore assistance don’t call me… remember I’m living a life of retirement now… and I’ll leave all this Secret Agent stuff to you.”
I think Fernando was a little stunned.
“Well… err… Woody… err… thanks for what…”
I cut him off.
“Bye,” I said and switched off my phone.
With a gait to my step and a little whistle from my lips, I set off down the tree-lined avenue. My next step was to get a taxi back to the hotel, get Anthea out of bed, pack our suitcases once more, and then catch the next train back to Birmingham.
The only thing was, at the back of my mind there remained a nagging doubt. Somehow it was all too easy. Far too easy. As I passed the road sign at the end of the road I was wondering who the real fairy was, Oberon or me?
* * *
It took me about an hour and a half to get back. What with not managing to grab a taxi, and then attempting to find my way back via the underground network, it was something like two o’clock in the afternoon when I reached the hotel.
When I finally got to my room I entered to find Anthea missing. She’d left a note on the dressing table. It read simply; ‘Gone Shopping - Be back soon.’ The trouble was I didn’t know how long ago she’d left, and I knew all about Anthea’s shopping trips.
Feeling helpless and resigned to waiting a very long time, I sat down on the bed and switched on the television set to pass the time away. Then my mobile rang. I could see by the display that it was Fernando calling. I wondered what this was all about? I was thinking it was probably a thank you call.
“Hello, Woody here,” I said.
Fernando sounded distraught.
“Woody, how long before you phoned did you see Fatima?” he asked.
I tried to calculate. I’d left the garage, climbed out of the window, and hightailed it down the road.
“Oh!.. about five minutes, that’s all,” I told him, then added my own question: “Why?”
Fernando seemed to take time out to absorb what I’d just said before answering.
“Because when we got there she was gone,” he explained.
Now this I could not believe.
“Did you try the right address?” I asked. “It was forty-three, Oberon Avenue, Wimbledon.”
Fernando seemed positive with his answer.
“Yes we did… and we found the transmitter… and we found the chains against the garage wall… but we didn’t find Fatima… she’d gone… the collar had been tossed into the bushes at the front of the house… that’s why we went in… we knew she wasn’t in the garage,” he explained.
Just when I’d started to relax and put everything surrounding this case behind me, I suddenly found myself in the thick of it again. I didn’t really know what to say to poor old Fernando. I looked to my watch. I calculated that something like two hours had past, that was all, since I last laid eyes on Fatima, and now she was gone, disappeared without trace once more. I was thinking to lose her once was unfortunate, to do it twice was damn right clumsy.
I thought of a suggestion that might help, but as far as I was concerned I was heading back to Birmingham the moment Anthea stepped through that door, and nothing in the world was going to change my mind.
“Did you check the member’s list?” I asked.
It was about all I could think of that might help.
“We did,” Fernando confirmed, “and the address is not on the register… neither is a Mr. Duval… in fact we have no members living in the Wimbledon area… it seems the real owners are away on a world cruise and the house was being rented out on a short lease… and as far as we can tell at the moment, leased under an assumed name… I think whoever was using the place has flown the nest and we won’t ever see him again.”
I guess I wasn’t surprised. Nothing in this case surprised me anymore. I thought of another question that might help.
“What was in the boxes?” I asked. “Did you open any to find out?”
There was a pause.
“Nothing yet,” he replied.
I was curious and wanted to know what he meant.
“What do you mean?… Nothing yet?” I asked.
Again another pause.
“They’re all empty… just filled with packing material… we’re still going through them,” Fernando explained, “but I think we’ll find them all like that.”
I guessed he would too, and I was baffled. I considered paperwork. There may have been a few clues left there.
“Have you checked the office?” I asked as my next question. “Have you found any paperwork?”
Yet another pause.
“Empty,” came the reply.
This I could not believe. Someone had done a good job in covering up their steps.
“Empty!” I echoed.
Fernando seemed as baffled as me.
“Yes Woody, we found filing cabinets and a desk, but they were all empty,” he answered.
“Was there a calendar on the wall?” I asked.
I was thinking something must have got left behind.
“No… no calendar,” came the reply.
I was getting really desperate now.
“What about a notepad on the desk?” I queried.
I was thinking that maybe that 01382 phone number had got pressed through to the sheet underneath and forensics could do something about it.
“No… no notepad… nothing,” confirmed Fernando.
I shook my head in disbelief. That phone number could have been a good clue. There was always the itemised telephone bill to look at from the phone company I supposed, but I guessed they would be doing that as routine detective work anyway. There was also the possibility that the number was never dialled through the main telephone network, so that would then draw a another complete blank.
After that I couldn’t think what else to ask, I’d run out of ideas, but now I really was intrigued. One part of me was saying get back on the case, the other was saying forget it, it’s not my problem anymore, just get yourself back to Lower Clunley and lie yourself down on those sunbeds.
Just then the door opened and in burst Anthea with her arms full of shopping. I took this as my cue to bring this conversation to an end.
“Look Fernando, I’m sorry, but I just can’t help you anymore… I did what I could… I found Fatima for you… but now I’m off back home, and there’s nothing in this world that’s going to stop me,” I told him.
“Ten thousand pounds?” suggested Fernando.
I must admit I hesitated for a second or two, but I was adamant that I wanted nothing more to do with this case.
“No, not for all the money in the world,” I replied and switched off my mobile.
Anthea dumped everything on the bed and straightened her back.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing, just Fernando wanting me on another case,” I told her.
Anthea looked surprised.
“And you said no!” she exclaimed.
I grabbed her about the waist and pulled her down on the bed.
“I said no because I can think of much better things to do,” I told her.
“Things like what?” she asked with a glint in her eye.
“Things like finding out what you’ve just bought me?” I teased.
“You’ll just have to wait until we meet up with Bruce again,” she informed me.
I think a look of surprise came across my face. I was expecting her to say it was just clothes for herself, or a new hat, or something, and there was nothing in there for me. Suddenly I was intrigued, and this was the sort of intrigue I liked best. Anthea could be full of surprises.
“Couldn’t you let me have a little peep?” I asked.
Anthea kissed me on the lips then started to take off her clothes.
“Perhaps,… but you’d better earn it first,” she said.
* * *
End of Chapter Five