In the hotel opposite the abbey, the Bell Tower Restoration Committee had reached the third point on their agenda when an unexpected item was brought to their attention. This particular unexpected item burst through the door unannounced, found a chair and sat down as cool as cucumber, showing no sign of its recent encounter with possible death. The onlie begetter of the trap couldn’t help speaking out in surprise but it was lost in the general uproar of half a dozen voices – all outraged that their meeting was being disturbed and that the Inspector hadn’t even knocked on the door.
“Mr Hargreaves,” Lady Bradbeer looked over her lorgnette, “I understood that you’d returned to London.” She remembered her manners. “Shall I ring for a coffee for you?”
“No thank you, ma’am.” Alex sighed wearily – adrenaline was keeping him going but his supply was not infinite and he was regretting how comfy the chair was proving to be. “I was indeed intending to return but I was offered some unexpected – and perhaps unwanted – hospitality. I hope to be able to return the compliment to my erstwhile host.” He eyed the company; five faces looked blank and the other was trying to do the same. “I’ve just been rescued from certain death – and incidentally your bell tower’s been rescued from a similar fate.”
“What?” Gerald Frobisher leapt to his feet. “Who’s been messing about with the bells? If I find that you’ve been up there blundering about, I’ll…”
“I assure you, Mr Frobisher, that I did not go there of my own volition. I was lured to the bell tower and like an idiot I took the bait hook, line and sinker. It was only because of the foresight of one friend and the bravery of another that I survived.”
“Survived?” Miss Palmerston’s birdlike face looked full of puzzlement, as though she had misplaced her cuttlefish or Trill.
“It was a trap that meant to take my life, ma’am. And no doubt make the whole thing look like it had been a dreadful accident caused by me poking my nose into dangerous places. Structurally dangerous, as well as the danger I presented to the person who murdered Harry Gregson and his wife. No doubt the culprit also would have been first on the scene to remove any incriminating evidence. Unfortunately for them, all of that’s being packed off to forensics as we speak – there’s something in your bell tower at present that’s not just dry rot. It’s a SOCO team…”
“How dare you…” Gordon Parker rose, shook his fist at Hargreaves and looked like he was about to take a swipe at him. Frobisher – surprisingly light on his feet for such a big man – was there in a moment to restrain him.
“I might ask you the same. How dare you be so brazen as to accuse me of something, when earlier this evening you were trussing me up like a chicken with duct tape and leaving me to cop it?”
“Our verger?” Lady Bradbeer’s eyebrows had disappeared into her blue rinse.
“I’m afraid so. He’d be in the best position, of course, to hide away any evidence – first on the scene and all that. It was timed to happen just after the end of this meeting, naturally.”
“Now that makes things clear,” Miss Palmerston was the only other person present who seemed to have grasped the truth. “It all makes sense – even that time I saw you coming out of the abbey, Gordon and you said you had an alibi for being miles away and I assumed I’d made a mistake. Now I see…”
“Oh do be quiet…” Parker looked as if he might take a swipe at her, too, but then crumpled into a chair.
Hargreaves nodded, went to the door and called for the constables outside to enter. “Take him to the local nick, lads. Mr Hart has some questions to ask him. I’ll be along tomorrow – now I need to get a meal and some sleep.”
While Parker went like a lamb, Hargreaves took his leave of a stunned Bell Tower Restoration Committee and found Miss Chan in the restaurant area, finishing off a turkey curry.
“That looks good.”
“It is, but it’s not what you’re having. The landlady says she’s got an excellent steak pie – full of Stilton and Guinness sauce – for you to get stuck into. As soon as the constables went in she started finishing it off. Should be here in a few minutes.”
“Miss Chan; were I that way inclined I’d ask you to marry me and black the eyes of your Andrew in the process.” Suddenly Alex felt a bit of zest for life again.
“I hope your Vincent hasn’t got you bugged for sound – he’d choke on his Pinot Grigio if he knew…”