فصل 15

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فصل 15

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Something odd

Out at Chittleham Farm the sun was shining on the yellow daffodils and other spring flowers that lined the lanes and fields. In the distance Jane could hear the familiar sound of sheep bleating, and nearby birds were singing with enthusiasm. Spring. She had never really seen spring so close up. You could almost feel everything growing, see the grass moving up towards the light, watch as the sticky brown buds on trees and hedges opened out into fresh green leaves. This astonishing sense of bursting out was quite unknown in the city. No wonder it was called ‘spring’ - it was such a sudden and large movement into life. It was breathtaking.

Inside Mervin Peck’s farmhouse, nothing had changed since the last time Jane had been in there. She didn’t know precisely what she was looking for, just that she would know it when she found it. She wandered from room to room, noticing yet again the faded fabrics, the mess and dirt. Upstairs it felt strange looking into Mervin’s bedroom. The bed was unmade, the sheets piled in an untidy heap. It was almost as if he had only just got out of it.

In another room upstairs Jane spotted a large desk covered in papers. Mervin did not seem to have been a person who was organised about his personal affairs. There were bills, paid and unpaid, mixed up with letters on the open desk.

She had plenty of time. She went to the window and found that the room overlooked the lane where her driver, PC di@k Plumb, had parked the car.

‘di@k,’ she called out, opening the window. ‘I’m going to be a while.’

‘Right you are, ma’am,’ he shouted back and settled down with his newspaper.

She closed the window again and set to work. After about half an hour, she had sorted the papers into categories. For no particular reason, she examined the letters first. There was nothing of any obvious interest: offers from insurance companies and building societies to take out savings plans. Next she looked through the bills, which were mainly for animal food, fence materials, car tyres, oil and petrol. No vets’ bills, she noticed, surprising herself. She was beginning to think like a real countrywoman. If the man had sick animals, why didn’t he call a vet in?

Finally, Jane looked at the bank statements. At first she noticed nothing. It was only on checking through a second time that she saw it: Mervin appeared to have $30,200 in his current account, which these days was a little odd. Most people put amounts of that size into savings accounts.

She studied the sheets carefully. They went back only two months but during that period there had been two payments of $6,000 into Mervin Peck’s account. Perhaps there were more statements somewhere else? She tried a rusty old filing cabinet and was rewarded by a large brown envelope containing what looked like all Mervin’s bank statements for the last five years.

She took the sheets of paper from the envelope and began to sort them into the correct order. It didn’t take long to find out that during the previous October, November and December, Mervin had received three more payments of $6,000, making a total of $30,000. These were large payments for a struggling hill farmer. She would have to ask Mervin’s bank for the source of these payments.

Suddenly Jane became aware of a loud, insistent buzzing sound, the kind made by a large flying insect. Looking around anxiously, she saw that a bee had somehow found its way into the room and was now trying to get out. In its desperation it threw itself against the glass of the closed window and then, turning, came flying towards her like a military jet on a bombing mission. Shivers went up and down her spine and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Where on earth had the monstrous thing come from? She jumped sideways as the bee buzzed angrily past her head and turned to fly at her again. She gathered up the bank statements and ran from the room, shutting the door behind her with a bang. As she did so, she wondered why such small creatures always made her panic. Then she remembered Mervin’s recent words about his brother’s bees - ‘Those bloody bees of his are dangerous!’ - and felt less ashamed of herself.

Then it came to her in a flash. Why hadn’t she seen it before? Bee stings. Both of the murder victims had been stung. Of course, it could just be a coincidence. But, equally, perhaps not.

‘Seen a ghost, ma’am?’ di@k Plumb cheerily remarked as she arrived breathless at the car. This was the second time today that someone had said this to her. She must look more tired than she realised.

‘Yes, I think I just did,’ she replied. ‘Let’s go. I’ve got what I came for. I think.’

Back at the office, Jane rang Mervin’s bank and requested the source of the large payments. The woman at the bank said they would get back later in the day with the information. She put down the receiver and drummed her fingers on the desk. Why, in these hi-tech days of computers and electronics, couldn’t they find the answer to a simple question quickly?

There was a knock at the door and Pete came in. Jane had by now given up trying to get him to wait for her permission to enter.

‘We’ve been busy here, ma’am,’ he announced grandly.

‘I’m glad to hear it. Let’s have it, then.’

‘Right, well, the first thing is that when Mervin’s lawyer saw him on Friday, Mervin asked the solicitor to give Jack a letter. He posted it through Jack’s letter box on Friday night on his way home. He doesn’t know what the letter said.

‘The second thing is that we’ve got a few alibis confirmed. Elisa Scott stayed with a friend on Saturday night, and the friend confirmed, so she’s off the suspect list. Jack and Susan Peck say they were both at home all the time, so either they were in it together, or neither of them was. Jack admits going to the hospital at about five o’clock on Saturday, however. Jo Keane says she was at a restaurant with friends on Saturday evening and got home around midnight. The restaurant has confirmed she was there.’

‘Interesting,’ Jane said thoughtfully. ‘Listen, if you were a farmer and you had a lot of very sick sheep, would you call in a vet?’

‘Of course. You would have to. You can only treat relatively minor problems yourself. Most farmers have large vet’s bills anyway. Animals get sick all the time. Why?’ Pete looked puzzled.

‘Hm…’

‘What are you thinking about?’ Pete asked again, just as the phone started to ring.

‘Detective Chief Inspector Honeywell,’ Jane said into the receiver. ‘Yes? Oh… Really . . . Oh, I see. Right. Thanks very much. You’ve been very helpful. I wonder if you could put that in writing for me? Thanks a lot. Goodbye.’

Jane smiled with satisfaction. ‘That was Mervin’s bank,’ she informed Pete. ‘They have just confirmed that he received five payments of $6,000 from a company called Hunter Products Ltd. Not only that, but the arrangements were made by a Mr Jack Peck.’

‘Wow!’ Pete looked impressed, then frowned slightly. ‘Yes, but so what?’

Jane laughed. ‘I’m not sure exactly. But I think there’s something very odd going on.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know,’ Jane answered. ‘But it’s something so important that people are being killed because of it.’

Pete’s eyes widened. ‘You mean it’s not a simple case of a dark family secret, or a lover seeking revenge, that kind of thing?’

‘No… I don’t buy the revenge idea,’ Jane found herself saying. She hadn’t realised she was so sure about that. ‘No. I’m sure there’s something else, much bigger, more serious…’

‘You mean round here? In sleepy old Pilton?’

‘Maybe,’ Jane said. ‘Anyway, we’d better pay another visit to Hunter Products, don’t you think? Oh, by the way, who’s looking after Mervin’s sheep at the moment?’

‘Old Mr Millman and the boy, as far as I know.’

“Well, could you ask the RSPCA to go up there? I can’t imagine how the old man and his simple grandson can possibly manage to deal with all Mr Peck’s animals on their own. I also think it might be safer for them if they didn’t.’

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