by Trevor Hopkins

The documents I had handed over had made it very clear - to me, at least - why Merton Vale had so very recently left instructions that his will was not to be read without his briefcase being opened in the presence of the lawyers. Given the explosive material concealed in the case, and with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, it was a very wise precaution.

But it had been unsuccessful, at the last. Vale had been outsmarted, or at least outmanoeuvred, by those who had poisoned him, stolen his briefcase from safekeeping - my very own safekeeping, natch - and lifted the contents from what was supposed to be an absolute protection.

It was less clear why the briefcase had been pilfered. Creagan Madderfy I had caught red-handed, receiving the goods from Professor Urquhart Garrick and his human henchman. Was the younger Madderfy acting on his own, following his own agenda? Or was he an agent for his father? Perhaps he was representing the remainder of the accounting partnership, trying to recover their perilous business position? Although right now he was probably nursing a thick head, engendered by the combination of a wicked hangover and the cranial percussion I had inflicted on him. He was probably nursing an unruly temper, too.

Which of the family members and business associates would benefit most from Vale's untimely demise? Too many, it seemed to me, for an analysis of motives to be a reliable guide to the guilty party. Garrick was almost certainly a paid accomplice. He probably didn't know the whole story; indeed I had probably told him more than I should when I visited him the first time.

I needed more information. There was some history here which I had not grasped, some situation or event in the past which had a direct and material bearing on recent affairs, but about which I knew nothing. The Madderfy's weren't likely to tell me. Logan probably didn't know the whole story, or even any significant part of it. The relationship with Monzie Hosh, not to mention Clathy Dupplin and her grandmother, was obscure in the extreme, or perhaps just non-existent: a coincidence, not a conspiracy.

There was only one possibility: I needed to talk to Alva Vale, alone.

*

After a further round of close questioning from the Judge, and the taking of copious notes on the part of his clerks, I was finally released. I stood up and nodded politely to the Judge, who glanced up and returned the salute with a half-nod of his own; the acknowledgement of one professional to another of a job well done.

I closed the heavy wooden door behind me and walked quickly down the echoing stone-flagged corridor to the equally noisy staircase. Half way down the first flight of stairs, I stopped abruptly, one foot poised over the next step. Apart from the sound of my own feet on the polished stonework, the building was quiet: just the earnest susurrations of legal judgements being determined. Or perhaps they were snores. But behind the soft noises of the building, as I walked, there had been the faint sounds of movement, sounds that might have been muffled footsteps.

Somebody was following me; an invisible somebody; somebody who knew how to move quietly and keep the sounds of the body movement almost - but not quite - below the level of detection; a somebody who had been waiting outside Judge Kirkton's chambers for me to emerge.

There are recognised techniques for dealing with such a situation, straight out of Private Detective school, Class 101. Right now, the simplest approach was just ducking into a crowd, such as the crowds that are almost always found in the transit tubes. In these enclosed spaces, somebody sporting an invisibility glamour will inevitably be jostled - even trampled - by travellers who fail to detect their presence, a situation both unpleasant for the follower and obvious to the individual being trailed.

A few quick hops through the tubes to a random destination is usually enough to deter even the most enthusiastic tail, followed by a walk, preferably through a quiet neighbourhood, to be reassured that you really have shaken off your unwanted appendage. After that, back to the transit tubes to continue to your intended destination. Total time lost: an hour and ten minutes. I really don't understand why anybody even tries to follow me about. Don't they know about the training?


Part 62 Part 64