by Trevor Hopkins

After I had finished my breakfast - or whatever meal that convention declared it to be - I sat motionless for a solid twenty minutes in a catatonic haze. It was not really sleep, more some kind of waking-dream state where my mind wandered and drew random illogical connections between events in the recent past, a topsy-turvy nonsense which went around and around in my head seemingly without end.

Eventually, David stirred me from my funk by the simple act of placing a large cup of poisonously strong black coffee on the table in front of me. The aroma jerked me back to what passes for reality, an effect enhanced by actually drinking the stuff. Revitalised and ready for action, I stood up and nodded my thanks to the Patron, who returned my salute with a gravely polite bow.

The trip to visit Judge Kirkton was swift and uneventful, at least until I got to the court building itself. Nobody seemed to be trying to follow me. It was almost as if I was suddenly irrelevant, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Or maybe I had just shaken them off. I couldn’t tell.

The tussle with the receptionist at the Court of Probate was something that I should have anticipated. After a certain amount of discussion - pleading, really - I finally managed to convince her that I had something important to communicate to the Judge. This involved a generous measure of pursed lips and disapproving glances on her part, and a good deal of fast talking on mine.

This lengthy debate was followed by another tedious twenty minute delay while the receptionist attempted to phone through. She operated the telephone as if the use of such a brute mechanical device was a function below her pay grade. Finally she got through to someone - presumably one of the clerks in the Judge's offices - and started a whispered conversation.

Throughout this process, I hung around with as much patience as I could manage, pacing the floor of the grand foyer trailing clouds of smoke from innumerable cigarettes. Eventually, I was waved over and pointed in the direction of the staircase, so that I could once again traverse the long stone-floored corridor which led to Kirkton's chambers.

I arrived outside the finely-polish wooden door. Before I could knock, the door was opened by one of the aforementioned clerks, one I recognised from my previous visit. From the other side of the table, Kirkton himself looked up and beckoned me inside, bade me be seated. I explained why I was there to the Judge, who listened carefully throughout interrupting only to ask a couple of extremely pertinent questions. When I had finished, he sat thoughtfully for a long moment, then nodded to his clerk.

As directed, I handed over everything I had taken from Garrick, accompanied by a further brief commentary on my part, opinions I had inevitably formed at high speed and using a great deal of impressionistic licence from my review of the mass of material. I checked off the items on my fingers as I spoke.

There was the last will and testament itself, supported by typewritten drafting notes which looked as if they had been professionally transcribed, then carefully annotated in a neat hand which I took to be Merton Vale's. My previous reading had made it clear that Clunie would be due a modest bequest: not a fortune, but a decent sum which would make her life a good more comfortable - or maybe allow her to explore the world as a tourist for a while. But it was not the bulk of Vale's legacy. Most of his money would go to his wife, as would be demanded by the laws of the Lower Realm in any case. She would be a rich widow, only slightly less so because of the bequest to Clunie. Maybe she would regard it as a pay-off.

The second bundle represented the affairs of the accountancy partnership itself. As that idiot Logan had finally begun to realise, the partnership as a business was on the verge of failure. It had only been kept solvent by sums of money circulating around, money which had little or nothing to do with the operations of the firm. This was not a legal problem in itself, but it wasn't something that lined up with any business model I had heard of. Was Vale behind the scam? Or was the presence of these papers in his briefcase because he too was concerned? Finally there were a set of accounts, a thick ream of paper with careful columns of numbers, which I took to be Monzie Hosh's records, his - mostly legitimate - accounts for the Starfield Club. They were the items the blackmailer - whoever he was - had been trying to chisel out of Vale. Presumably they would make their way back to the remaining partners for safe-keeping.

The one thing I did not hand over was a scribbled note on a torn scrap of paper. It was one that did not fit well with the neatly typed correspondence and the professionally drawn up legal documents. It was the kind of note that looked like a memo to self: created in a hurry, and written in an untidy version of Vale's own hand. It read: "Who's in control? C and D together? M under threat!"

I passed over the last of the papers and sat quietly while Kirkton digested. Finally, the Judge turned to me, his expression as stern as ever over the top of his half-moon spectacles.

"I don't suppose I want to ask how you came by these documents," he said, handing one of the piles to the clerk on his left.

I shook my head slowly.

"No, I didn't think so. Still, I think justice will best be done if I ignore any such queries," Kirkton went on, "I'll arrange a little interview with young Mister Millearme from Pane and Pickles, and get him to confirm the authenticity of these documents."

He tapped a second pile of paper still on the polished wooden table in front of him.

"Then, I suspect, there will be an opportunity to re-convene that little group of relatives and business associates, and read Mister Vale's will," adding with some satisfaction, "This time, properly."

He didn't add, and with a nastier bunch of self-serving money-grabbers it would be hard to find in the same room. I just thought that.

Part 61 Part 63