Part: four – closing in on the killer
Eleanor took another look around the Archer’s home, she visited the stateroom and the kitchen and talked to the servers and the Chef. They all confirmed what Maxwell had told her except the two servers Paula and Gerrard mentioned another piece of the puzzle. “He wasn’t happy at all was Mr Archer. I came in at the end of dinner to clear the plates and he and his son were finishing an argument, they never saw eye to eye”. Eleanor discovered the fractious relationship between father and son, something any of them had failed to tell the two investigators. He was happy and content last night, that’s what his wife had told them this morning. Lie. Why did all three cover up the argument at diner? More questions to ask as she searched the grounds to talk to Michael. Her explorations took her to the outdoor gardens to where the bunting fluttered in the peaceful wind, an area that should have been full of guests, instead an eerie silence engulfed the area as if holding its breath for the truth to come out.
There he is! “Michael, can I have a word?”
“I’m busy looking after my Mum, if you want to talk you’re going to have to walk and do it” he was blunt and sarcastic. She instantly disliked this young man, an arrogance he no doubt picked up from his father.
“I believe you and your father had a fight last night?” she enquired to him, he just rolled his eyes “Father? Yeah some Father. An alcoholic who didn’t care about anyone but himself.”
Eleanor was taken aback by his response, “So what was the argument about?”
“Of course it is…Eleanor look, when you have a Father who does nothing but resent you for not wanting to look after the estate and see’s you as his problems at the bottom of a bottle, every day is an argument and a struggle!”
Eleanor pulled out her trusty notebook. “So you don’t want to take care of the family estate?”
He stopped in his tracks, the blazer blowing in the wind over his shoulder “I love Art and I love University. There is so much more to life than heritage and family entitlement. I can’t stand this place and feeling of being privileged. He never understood that and he never will. He just steam rolled everyone, he didn’t care what you thought unless it’s what he wanted” he began to walk again back inside the house “Eleanor I hated him but not enough to kill him. I have nothing to gain, I don’t want to take on this place. God knows what my mother saw in him.”
She offered a warm smile to Michael as Mrs Archer could be seen sitting down in one of the rooms out of the corner of her eye. “You’re close to your mother then?”
He took a deep breath as he fought back tears that had caught in his eyes, Eleanor noted the first real true emotion from him. “She’s my world. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She is nothing like him. He’s not my father. No father hits their son when they’ve had too many drinks. He is dead to me. If you’ll excuse me, I have to attend to my mother.”
With that he disappeared into the room with his mother and wrapped her up in a blanket. Eleanor closed her notebook and continued her walk around the house. She went in and out of rooms until she was back up the grand staircase and found herself on the top of the long carpeted hallway again. Maxwell was in and out of one of the far rooms cleaning still, trying to keep himself busy. To her right was a large office and she slipped inside to have a look.
Besides the book cases, the view of the gardens and hills beyond and the stack of papers and envelopes on the mahogany desk, it was like any other home office. All that was missing was a computer but she suspected Mr Archer was not one for technology. Instead in place of a computer was an empty bottle of Whiskey and a tumbler. So this is where he was before her went into the bath? She asked herself. She looked around trying to find any sign of a murder weapon or any hint that the murder had taken place. There was nothing. She looked in the draws and under the desk, nothing. She was starting to get frustrated with herself, too many questions and not enough answers. While on her hands and knees on the thick carpet something odd caught her eye under the desk. A lone white petal of a flower sat nestled in the strands of the carpet, standing out against the blood red. The smell of the flower was strong and stuck in the back of her throat as she coughed, banging her head on the desk above. There was no sign of any vase or flowers in the office and she hadn’t seen flowers in the house at all. Where did this come from? She looked under the pile of envelopes and what she saw stopped her in her tracks.
Half a mile away Detective Locke was questioning Jim and Julie Bradshaw in their home. Their estate was full of wild flower beds and meadows, a marsh and a lake to which a variety of wild birds and animals darted in and out. It wasn’t hard to see how a windfarm would ruin this idyllic location.
“Look, I didn’t kill him Detective. It was a heated argument and I know I shouldn’t have said I’d kill him but he was a very frustrating man to deal with! This is our livelihood!” Jim sat opposite Detective Locke, an exasperated look on his white grizzly bearded face. Jim and Julie where not like the Archer’s. They were very much at one with nature and any money they did have went into caring for animals. They were passionate about wild flowers and birds, enough to kill for? Julie spoke up for the first time in a while “Why would we kill him Detective? We were about to make a substantial profit from Mr Archer.” Jim shot his wife a wide eyed look “It was going to come out eventually Jim, we might as well tell him.”
Alec sat forward in his chair “go on”. Jim elected to answer this time “Yes we were opposed to the windfarm and we were very against it but he offered us a substantial amount that we couldn’t refuse. It’s enough to build our new bird sanctuary we’ve always wanted. Look, we’re not proud to be bought off but we have to survive! We have to look after the animals!”
Julie chipped in at the end “you may think of us as bad people Detective but we wouldn’t kill him. We’ve already compromised our morals enough” she took a long sip of her herbal tea before continuing “we were going to sign a contract and pick up the cheque at the event this afternoon. We wouldn’t kill him at least not before we got the money!” she laughed, her misplaced humour was not well received by Detective Locke. His gut believed them. “His assistant…Sarah, she came around last night to give us the final contracts. We were going to sign them and pick up our money today. Look here…” Julie fetched the signed contract from the table. They were telling the truth.
“What time did you say Sarah came around?” the cogs starting to work in his brain.
“8.30 for about an hour, I always water the plants in the greenhouse at 8 and it takes me half an hour to do. She arrived just as I was finishing.”
Alec’s phone rang, he excused himself and left the room as he took the call, it was Eleanor “Alec, hidden under the envelopes are death threat letters. I think it’s the Bradshaw’s but I don’t know how they could have got in to kill him”
“It’s not them” he replied bluntly. His famous brain working in overdrive. He knew who had killed him just not the how. “He bought them off. There is no way they were going to kill him Eleanor.”
“Who did then? Who would send the death threats from inside the house?” she still had something to learn in the Detective world and how to connect the dots. Eleanor provided the final clue. “They had an argument you know? The son and the Dad that night…I don’t know why but something else I found and I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll send you a picture. I’ll send over pictures of my notebook too, I had a look around”
Alec eyed the scene in front of him of the office and took a closer look at the petal that was stuck on the carpet. He zoomed in on his smartphone but not on the petal but another objected buried deep in the carpet under the desk. Bingo! That’s the murder weapon!
He called Eleanor back on the phone, asked her to do something for her and hung up with “gather them in the stateroom. I have the killer!” the excitement evident in his voice.
- End of Part Four