by Trevor Hopkins

Having tidied up that which needed tidying up, I sat and watched Alva for a few moments, making sure she was breathing and, with more immediate concern, that she was securely shackled. She didn't move, and just lay slumped in the armchair, a livid bruise already beginning to appear on the side of her face.

Clunie re-appeared in the doorway to her bedroom a few moments later, the towel now completely unravelled and held in place with one had at her throat. I wasn't in the mood to appreciate her curvaceous assets just at the moment.

"I spoke to Inspector Luncardy," she reported in a matter-of-fact way. Of course she kept the phone by her bed. All the better for those intimate late-night chats with her gentleman callers.

"What did she say?" I asked gruffly.

"She sounded like she was trying not to swear," Clunie replied, looking like a demure schoolgirl despite the trailing towel, "Or maybe laugh. I wasn't sure."

"But what did she actually say?" I reiterated.

"She said she'll be here in ten minutes. And that you weren't to do anything stupid."

"Huh," I muttered, "I'm not planning on doing anything right now."

I sat heavily in the other armchair, the adrenalin rush wearing off rapidly. Clunie too seemed to be a mild state of shock, or at least distracted, and sat on the arm of my chair. I ignored her.

True to her word, Luncardy arrived - mob-handed, as always - on the doorstep. She strode in, head held high, in the arrogant manner that so irritated Clunie. But I thought I knew Luncardy better than that: it was the acquired mannerism of one who was basically insecure, but too proud and ambitious to admit it. Clunie sprang up, clutching the towel more tightly. She looked faintly guilty; I couldn't imagine why. I stood up more slowly.

Several members of Luncardy's squad followed her inside and fanned out, at least as far as they could in the tiny room. Two of them hustled over to where Alva sat. She seemed to have more-or-less recovered from the blow, although I doubted she would be smiling any time soon. The cops dragged her to her feet and turned to face the Inspector.

"Alva Vale," Luncardy said formally, "I am arresting you on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to murder your husband. You have the right to remain silent."

The rest of the statement of rights for the accused - a long and involved one in the Lower Realms - was drowned out by Alva complaining about my behaviour, that I had assaulted her without provocation. She went on and on.

"Take her outside," Luncardy said in a manner which brooked no disagreement, entirely ignoring her diatribe.

She then approached Clunie, apparently trying but ultimately failing to repress a sneer at her appearance.

"Miss Ford," she said formally, "I will need you to make a statement. Another one, I'm afraid. Down at the station house. When you're dressed, of course."

Clunie blushed and scurried into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Luncardy bent and picked something off the floor, handed it to me, pushing it into the pit of my stomach. It was my hat.

"And I'll need a statement from you, Gask," she said briskly, bending slightly forward and adding so softly that nobody else could have heard it, "Good work, though."

Luncardy straightened up, then turned to the taciturn Sergeant. She spoke equally softly to him, so that it was impossible for me to hear.

"Yes, Ma'am," he acknowledged with a salute, turned and walked briskly away, taking two of the juniors with him.

*

This little set piece worked as perfectly as Luncardy could have expected. I was just a bystander, part of the audience. I could have applauded.

Luncardy and Alva and I trailed downtown to the precinct house accompanied by most of her squad, leaving just one youngster to escort Clunie when she had dressed. As we arrived, Clathy was being escorted in handcuffs from an interview room at the far end of the building, a copper on either side. Her view down the corridor was limited by the blocky bulk of the Sergeant in front of her. At the same moment, the double doors from the front desk swung open and Alva was brought through, still handcuffed, also partially obscured by the bodies of the police squad. Luncardy walked alongside Alva and I trailed the group, not paying much attention, at least initially.

The two parties met mid-way along the corridor and were forced, naturally enough, to break ranks in order to get past. In the melee, the three ladies suddenly came into close proximity. Luncardy held up a hand and stopped Clathy and her escort.

"Thank you, Miss Dupplin," the Inspector said, apparently oblivious to Alva's presence, "We can discuss a plea-bargain later."

Alva spun around to face Clathy, eyes narrowed, fury etched on every feature.

"You stupid bitch!" she screamed, "You should've kept your mouth shut! Why couldn't you just keep to our deal?" The coppers either side of Alva grabbed her before she could inflict any physical harm on Clathy and hustled her away, shouting a most unladylike collection of epithets.

Clathy didn't know what had hit her. All she could see was her ticket out of here disappearing. Tears welled in her eyes, and she collapsed to the floor wailing. She tore at her face, clawed at her own eyes and ripped an earring from her ear, which fell to the floor nearby with a bloody flap of skin still wetly attached. It was a damn fine act. Or maybe she left genuine remorse. Who could be sure?

It was, I thought, all over.


Part 95 Part 97