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Wagstaff & MacClean

By

D. G. Richards

Copyright © D. G. Richards 2001


Janet Wagstaff could only be described as diminuitive. Slim, tiny, and with elpfin features, she was a perfect woman built to a much smaller scale. But her perfection in miniture appearance was not matched by her elligance in movement. She came out of the lift on the ground floor carrying far too many files and papers. That, coupled with her inappropriate choice of footware and the fact that she was late again, was the usual recipe of disaster that always seemed to follow her. She tottered across reception, made it as far as the main desk, her heel slipped on the polished floor, and she fell in an explosion of papers.

Joan Heally, the receptionist, had seen it all before. She was on the telephone when Wagstaff came out of the lift and tottered into view. By the time Joan had put the phone down, Wagstaff had disappeared from view behind the reception desk and only her exploding papers were visible as they flew upwards and then slowly descended. That was followed by the usual cry of irritation.

"Oh, rats!" Wagstaff exclaimed as she crawled about on all fours trying to recover her papers.

Joan ran around the desk and started to help her. "Oh, Janet! Why don't you wear lower shoes?"

Wagstaff sat back on her extremely high-heels and put her hands on her hips. "That's alright for you to say, you five-foot-ten-inch stick insect! I'm four-foot-eleven! If I don't wear heels everyone will think I'm a munchkin!"

"Well, don't rush everything, then!"

"I have to rush!" Wagstaff muttered as she resumed gathering up her papers. "I'm late for my meeting with that Detective!"

The telephone began to ring. Joan went to answer it while Wagstaff shuffled the last of her papers together and got to her feet. She immediately ran for the meeting room, as unstable as ever.

Joan put her hand over the telephone receiver and called out to her. "Take it easy! Beth is-"

Just as Wagstaff reached the door, it opened and a tall elegant woman in her early forties carrying a tray of cups stepped out. Her expression of calm control turned to one of horror as Wagstaff slithered towards her trying to put the brakes on.

Joan winced and closed her eyes at the point of collision. When she opened her eyes again, both women were sat on the floor and there was coffee all over them. As before, Wagstaff's papers lay scattered.

Wagstaff smiled apologetically. "Sorry, Beth! I'm late again."

Beth Armstrong looked at the mess she was now in and reacted as she always did.

"Ooooohhhhh!!! Janet Wagstaff, you are a menace!" she shouted, climbing to her feet.

"It won't stain! I'm sure!" Wagstaff replied, trying to brush the coffee stains from Beth's blouse and skirt.

Beth smacked aside her hands. "Stain? I'm ruined! You are a disaster! An assassin sent by the devil himself! Get out of the way!"

Beth stormed off. As she crossed the reception heading for the lifts, she passed a large and scruffy looking man wearing a battered raincoat. He was in his fifties, had receding hair and seemed tired. He had obviously just come through the main entrance. She gave him a sour look. He raised his eyebrows.

"Don't look at me, lady! I'm not covered in coffee!"

Beth turned her nose up at him, entered the lift, and smacked one of the buttons. The doors slid shut on her aloof expression.

The man shook his head and walked to the reception desk. He had hardly reached it when his attention was drawn to the two women standing by an open door just beyond it.

Joan was helping Wagstaff to rearrange her coffee soaked skirt while Wagstaff herself was bending over trying to retrieve her papers and files. Both of them had their backs to him, particularly Wagstaff, and his only view of her was her rear end.

"This is all wet!" Joan said.

"I know! I'm the one who sat in the puddle of coffee!" Wagstaff complained.

"You'll have to change it!"

"Change it? What do you think I am? Made of skirts?"

"I've got a spare under the desk!"

Wagstaff looked up in surprise. "You keep skirts under your desk?"

"You forget, it's usually me you bump into and not Beth!"

Wagstaff smiled. "Oh, I don't know! I'm sure it must be sixty-forty!"

"Get it off!"

Wagstaff reached down and undid her skirt, letting it drop before resuming her pursuit of her papers. Joan snatched up the skirt, turned, and then stopped suddenly.

Leaning on the desk with his head cradled in his hands was the man wearing the raincoat. He was smiling.

"Morning!" he said. "I see I shall have to come here more often!"

"Do you mind?" Joan said.

"Not at all!" he replied.

Wagstaff had by now straightened up, seen the man by the desk, tried to hide her exposed legs by pulling down on her blouse, and had shot into the meeting room. There she peeped out from behind the door.

Joan stuck the wet skirt under her desk and developed a more professional air.

"Can I help you?"

"I think she needs your help more than I do. You get to it. I'll wait."

Joan gave him a funny look. "You do have an appointment?"

"I do."

Joan thought about it for a moment. Behind her, Wagstaff called to her in an impatient whisper.

"Joan! Skirt!"

"I'll be back," Joan told the man, grabbed the spare skirt from under the desk and darted into the meeting room. Wagstaff immediately snatched it from her and began to put it on.

"Typical!" she complained. "I lose my skirt and an aging voyuer turns up!"

Joan peeped around the door to see the man now leaning his back against the desk. He was looking through the glass doors of the main entrance at the people passing by. He seemed totally at home.

"I wonder who he is?" Joan remarked.

"Probably some pervert who needs a lawyer!"

"He did say he had an appointment."

"Oh, Joan!" Wagstaff suddenly exclaimed.

Joan turned to look at her. "What...? Oh, dear!"

Wagstaff was now wearing Joan's spare skirt. It was long, very long. It reached the floor and some. Joan stated the obvious.

"It's too long."

"Of course it's too long! I'm four-foot-eleven, you're five-foot-ten!"

"Hoist it up a bit."

"Hoist it up where? I'll be wearing it round my neck in a minute!"

"Well, it'll have to do!"

"Have to do? I've got that Detective coming! He was due here ages ago...."

Wagstaff's voice trailed off as she stared at Joan. The same thought that had entered her head now made itself known in Joan's mind. The two of them now peeped around the door at the man leaning on the desk.

Wagstaff's shoulders dropped. "Oh, rats," she muttered. "I'm dead."

"It might not be him," Joan suggested hopefully.

"Oh, it'll be him alright. It goes with my luck. Go on, show him in while I gather what wits I've got left."

As Joan went out the door, Wagstaff recovered her pile of papers and files from the floor and went to take her seat at the large and impressive desk. On her way there she had to hoist up the skirt as it began to slip down over her hips.

Joan cleared her throat when she reached the reception desk.

"Ahem! You are?"

The man turned and smiled. "Detective McClean. Homicide." He produced his badge and flashed it quickly in front of Joan's eyes. "I have an appointment with a J. Wagstaff. I think one of us is late."

"We are expecting you, Detective. We've had a slight accident. I do apologise. Would you like to follow me?"

Joan ushered him into the meeting room, pausing briefly at the door. "Mind the wet floor!"

McClean made his way into the room and took his seat on the other side of the desk. He looked at Wagstaff and smiled.

"We meet again!"

"Yes, er, would you like some coffee?"

"Yes. Black, no sugar. Shall I wring out your skirt or dip my tie in the puddle by the door?"

Wagstaff developed a glassy expression. "Joan?" she called out in a wavering voice.

-o-

The meeting had hardly progressed beyond the introduction stage when Wagstaff realised that McClean wasn't going to take her seriously. He never stopped smiling at her and never let the chance pass to poke fun at her about something, mainly coffee, puddles and skirts. But his latest, almost casual remark was the catalyst.

"Bit small for a criminal lawyer, aren't you?"

Wagstaff almost bristled with irritation.

"Look, you big bully! I've had enough of your snide remarks if you don't mind! I'm a lawyer! I've got a job to do! And my client's future is important to me!"

"Bozo doesn't have any future!" McClean replied.

"Of course he does!"

"You really think you can win this appeal?"

"I do! Bozo is innocent!"

"He ate his victims!"

"He did not!" Wagstaff exclaimed, and banged the table.

McClean leaned forward across the desk. "Prescott's head was in his freezer!" he said, prodding the table top with his fore-finger.

Wagstaff also leaned forward. "There you are, then! He couldn't have eaten it, could he?"

"And what about Leila Hemmings?"

"Circumstantial!"

McClean looked amazed. "Circumstantial! Her leg was found in his trash-can!"

"Anybody could have put it there!"

McClean did a double take. "What! I suppose a passerby just lobbed it in?"

"It could have happened!"

McClean leaned further forward. "And what about the head in the freezer?"

Wagstaff climbed onto the desk. "It could have been his flat-mate!"

"Prescott was his flat-mate!"

"I ment his other flat-mate! He could have done the murders and put the head there!"

The door opened and Joan came in with two cups of coffee on a tray. She found McClean leaning far forward over the desk, and almost nose to nose with him was Wagstaff. She was kneeling on her chair and propping herself up on her elbows on the desk to reach him. Joan cleared her throat.

"Ahem. Coffee. One, black, no sugar, one white, sugar."

McClean and Wagstaff retreated back to their seats while Joan put the coffee on the table before rapidly leaving.

As soon as she was gone, McClean pointed at his coffee and said, "Are we going to keep the coffee in the cups or would you like to throw it around?"

Wagstaff stood up on her knees on her chair and put her hands on her hips. She just glared at him. McClean gave in.

"Alright! I apologise! I don't like Monday mornings, and I don't like the idea of Bozo getting off just because we lifted the lid of his trash-can before we got the court-order." He stared at her for a moment. "Truce?"

Wagstaff settled herself back down on her chair. "I'm having a bad day too. Truce."

McClean took a gulp of his coffee and made himself more comfortable on his chair. "How come you got the Bozo appeal? I thought Billingsgate was his lawyer."

Wagstaff shrugged. "John didn't like the adverse publicity the case brought him."

"I'm not surprised. The media have made a fortune out of this case. And the politicians have made it a vote winner. No-one is taking prisoners, and defending Bozo is a one-way ticket to obsurity and hate mail."

"I think it was the hate mail and that television special they did after the verdict. John said that if he ever even heard the name Bozo again he was going to leave, so they gave the appeal to me."

He looked over the rim of his cup at her. "Don't they like you here?"

Wagstaff sighed and shook her head. "I over-complicate things. That's what all the partners say. And I'm accident prone. You can't make friends and influence people if you keep knocking them over or spilling coffee on them." She pointed to the door. "You name a partner or an associate on that big list out there and I've knocked them over or spilt something on them. I am, as they say, on my last case."

"And that's why you've got the Bozo appeal?"

"That and the fact that I asked for it."

McClean looked stunned. "You asked for it?"

Wagstaff toyed with her cup. "It's my last chance. Win the appeal or I'm out."

McClean now sat back in his chair and smiled. He pointed at her. "You're after the pay out!"

She nodded. "Yes, I am. To be honest, I don't think I have much of a future here even if I win. Too many of the partners don't like me, and those that do just think I'm cute until I spill something on their expensive suits. And when they finally give me the push, I don't think I'll be getting much of a reference. It's a shame really, because I was so happy when I got here, it was my first job after qualifying and I was on a high. It didn't last though, and if I'm going to get anything out of my short time here, this is the only way."

"You actually think you can win that million dollars?"

"It's not much of a chance, but it's all I've got. That newspaper was too cocky. Like you, they all think Bozo has no chance. They condemned him long before the jury did, and they've written off his appeal before it's even started. I need that money, and I'm going to get it."

McClean shook his head. "Bozo is as guilty as sin. He was practically caught with a knife and fork in his hands and someone's splean on his plate. I'm sorry, Miss Wagstaff, but you're going to lose."

Wagstaff pointed at him with her pen. "You're forgetting about the trash-can and the court-order."

McClean winced. "So we were a bit premature. We put the lid back and got the court-order and came back to carry out the search. What's wrong with that?"

Wagstaff opened her mouth in shock. "It's inadmissable, that's what!"

McClean dismissed it. "Fine! Throw out the leg! I've still got the head in the freezer! And various neatly tied bags of unmentionables to go with it."

Wagstaff crawled back onto the desk. "But you only got the court-order because you told the judge there was a human leg in Bozo's trash-can!"

McClean leaned over the desk. "I'm not going to argue with you, but Bozo is guilty! And that's that!"

"He is not guilty!"

"He is!"

"Not of all the murders he's not!"

McClean sat back again and folded his arms. "Is this where you over-complicate things?"

Wagstaff smiled. "I might be little, accident prone and nearly out of a job, but I'm smart."

"Oh, yes?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Alright then, out with it, I'm game."

Wagstaff sat back on her chair again. "Okay. Where would you hide a murder?"

"Is this twenty questions or are you going to get on with it? I would like to collect my pension, you know."

Wagstaff threw down her pen. "That's your problem! Bozo's guilty, nobody cares, get it over with quick!"

"Get it over with quick? The case took eight months to get to trial and eleven weeks to hear! Where was quick?"

"You said the media and the politicians were out for blood! Bozo didn't have a friend in the world and nobody listened to him!" She pointed out the window. "They're not listening now! They think Bozo's appeal is a joke! They've bet a million dollars on it!"

McClean leaned forward again. "That's because they all know Bozo is guilty!"

Wagstaff climbed back onto the desk. "Not of Leila Hemmings murder, he isn't!"

McClean's expression took on a sarcastic look. "Oh, her diet got out of hand, did it?"

Wagstaff banged the desk. "I'm serious!"

"Who killed her, then?"

"The other flat-mate!"

"Rowlands?" McClean repeated in disbelief. "He was her boyfriend!"

"He was also your main witness!"

McClean suddenly smiled. "Oh, I know where you're coming from. Rowlands kills his girlfriend, chops her up a bit, leaves her leg in the trash-can, then points his finger at Bozo. Okay." He leaned forward over the desk again. "Why?"

Wagstaff's smile was even bigger than his. "Hemmings was sleeping with Prescott."

McClean suddenly looked very serious. "That's a big jump for a little person."

Wagstaff hesitated to scowl at his little joke before she pressed on. "No it's not! It's true!"

"On what evidence?"

"Bozo's statement."

McClean laughed. "Oh, yeah! Sure! We'll all believe him!"

"Not just him! The custodian supports it in his statements." Wagstaff began to search through her papers. "Jones, his name was. He was in the flat on the ground floor."

"Never mind the statements!" McClean said impatiently, waving them aside. "Just tell me! Go on."

Wagstaff gave up searching. "Alright. Jones said that two days before she was killed, Hemmings visited the flat during the day, when Rowlands was at work. Jones saw her. He also said that it wasn't the first time she came during the day. Prescott wasn't working. He was in."

"So was Bozo. She could have been visiting him."

"Same result. Anyway, Bozo says in his statements that he didn't kill Hemmings."

"He said he didn't kill any of them."

"He also said he never ate a woman. And you have to admit that Hemmings is the only woman he was charged with killing."

McClean paused a while before answering. He looked closely at Wagstaff's eager expression. "Alright, nice idea, but it's all circumstantial."

Wagstaff pounced. "Element of doubt!" Climbing onto the desk again, she counted it off on her fingers. "Wrong evidence, wrong court-order, wrong murder, wrong murderer. Bozo wins his appeal and gets a re-trial and I win a million dollars and start my own practise!"

"Fine! And what do you want me to do, Miss Wagstaff? Why did you ask me to this meeting?"

"Because you were the Detective in charge of the investigation. I want you to investigate!"

"Bozo is guilty."

"So is Rowlands. The perfect place to hide a murder was in Bozo's freezer. Even you must see that!"

McClean got to his feet.

Wagstaff looked up at him in surprise as she leaned on the table. "Are you leaving?"

"I do have other criminals to catch."

"What about Rowlands?"

"I'll think about it."

He headed for the door. Wagstaff climbed off her chair and chased after him.

"You've got to investigate!"

"The case was closed months ago," McClean pointed out as he went out the door and crossed the reception.

"Re-open it!" Wagstaff called out as she chased him. "Even you have to be -Oof!"

McClean turned and saw Wagstaff lying full length on the floor. Her over-size skirt had slipped down and tripped her, but instead of getting up, she just lay there in resignation. Joan would have gone to her help, but McClean held up his hand. Walking back to Wagstaff, he bent down and picked her up bodily, a hand on each side of her waist, and stood her back on her feet.

"I think the hem needs lifting," he remarked, then he turned and left.

Wagstaff watched him go.

"I'll show him!" she said, and stamped her foot. Her skirt fell down.

-o-

Wagstaff stared up at the building, shielding her eyes against the bright sunlight.

The apartment block was in an upmarket part of town. It was a long way from Bozo's original apartment block both geographically and financially. Rowlands had made a lot of money from his fame. Everyone wanted his story after the trial, and he was happy to tell it. Well, he could tell it again, to her this time.

Wagstaff went inside. She had gone home to change and she felt comfortable and professional. Rowlands apartment was on the third floor. She reached it in no time and knocked on the door.

Dan Rowlands opened the door and looked out. Wagstaff coughed and he looked down.

"Oh, I didn't see you there!" he said with a charming smile.

Wagstaff held out her hand. "My name's Janet Wagstaff. I'm from Grace, Hill and Partners. I'm representing Mark Bozo during his appeal. Can I talk to you?"

Did his charming smile waver? She thought so.

"Of course," he said, shaking her hand. "Come inside."

The apartment was large and well furnished. Wagstaff soon found herself sitting comfortably on a deep sofa. Rowlands sat opposite to her. He seemed friendly and relaxed.

"What can I do for you?" he asked her.

"I'd like to ask you a few questions about the murder of your girlfriend, Leila Hemmings."

Rowlands looked appropriately sad. "Yes, that was my fault, really. If she hadn't been going out with me she would have never been killed. What a shame."

Wagstaff produced her notepad and pen. "Were she and Bozo on friendly terms?"

He shrugged. "I don't think she spoke to him that much. She never said to me that she disliked him."

"Was there anything more than that?"

He looked surprised. "More? In what way?"

"During the trial it was never determined why Bozo killed her. Could you think of a reason?"

"Mark killed Bill because he didn't like his finger-nails, so he could have had any kind of reason to kill Leila."

Wagstaff held up her pen. "Ah, but the psychiatric reports were quite detailed on his reasons for killing his other victims, from finger-nails in Bill Prescott's case, to bushy eyebrows in the case of Gregg Johnson, but nothing for Leila."

Rowlands hesitated as if he was unsure of his answer. "I think he was ashamed."

"Ashamed?"

"He mainly killed men, but he never killed me. I would have been the easiest of victims. Like Bill I was living with him. But he killed Leila instead."

"Are you suggesting that he was homosexual? That he had some kind of fixation on you?"

"Yes, I think so. And I think he was ashamed of his feelings."

"None of that came out in the psychiatric reports."

"Maybe they missed it."

Wagstaff thought for a moment. "Did Leila and Bill Prestcott get on well together?"

Rowlands relaxed mood left him. "No!" It was a quick and firm response.

"You're very sure."

His answer was abrupt with a hint of irritation. "She didn't like him. She told me so."

"Didn't that cause a little friction?"

"Sometimes."

Wagstaff tried a different tack. "Did you ever suspect that Bozo was committing these murders?"

Rowlands smiled charmingly again. "He didn't do it in the flat, you know. He did all his killing and butchering in his lock-up."

"Yes, it was across the ally behind the apartment block. But did you ever have the tiniest bit of suspician that Mark wasn't all that he seemed?"

"Mark was a strange sort of person. Very quiet and introverted. That was probably what made him a good flat-mate. No, I had no idea what was going on. If I had, I would have left, wouldn't I?"

Wagstaff nodded. "Yes...It was you that told the police about the leg. How did you know it was Leila's?"

Irritation crept into his voice. "I knew Leila rather well."

"That well?"

"She had a small tatoo above her ankle. I recognised it."

"Ah, yes. That was in your statements." She looked up at him intently. "Were you shocked?"

"Of course I was shocked. I was physically sick. I went straight to the police. How does this help you with Mark's appeal?"

His last question caught her a bit by surprise. But it allowed her to get to the point. "The finding of the leg was what sparked off the investigation. Until that point Mark was never under any suspician. How did you find it? You said Mark committed all his murders in his lock-up. The trash-can was outside his lock-up. What were you doing there?"

At this point, Rowlands began to look most uncomfortable. "What are you infering, Miss Wagstaff?"

Wagstaff put on her most innocent expression. "Nothing at all, Mr Rowlands! It's just that the timing of the court-order used by the police in their search of Mark Bozo's lock-up is crucial to his appeal. I feel that the police acted incorrectly. You were the catalyst, Mr Rowlands. It was your phone call that brought the police to that trash-can. You even led them there. That's why I need to know why you went there in the first place. Why were you looking for Leila? And why look for her at Mark's lock-up?"

Rowlands had looked extremely uncomfortable during Wagstaff's explanation. But her final questions brought a sudden smile to his lips.

"Does anyone know you're here, Miss Wagstaff?"

-o-

Joan Heally looked up in surprise at the familiar figure in the battered raincoat. "I didn't know you were coming back today, Detective."

McClean sighed and leaned on the reception desk. "Neither did I. But it seems that I need to eat some humble pie with Miss Wagstaff."

Joan smiled. "Oh, she will be pleased to hear that."

"Can I see her?"

"Actually, no."

"Busy working on her million is she?"

Joan smiled again. "You could say that. She's out of the office at the moment. She isn't due back until later this afternoon."

McClean straightened up. "Oh, I see. When exactly will that be?"

"Maybe four o'clock?" Joan suggested.

McClean nodded and turned to leave, but then paused. He tapped his fingers on the desk top and turned back to face Joan.

"The remarkably small but infinitely annoying Miss Wagstaff wouldn't be going to visit anyone I should know about, would she?"

Joan winced. "I don't know if I should answer that."

"Dan Rowlands?"

Joan winced again.

McClean smacked the desk top with his hands. "I thought so! Accident prone as ever!" He turned away and walked quickly out the door.

McClean picked up the radio as soon as he got back into his car. "Despatch! McClean here. Have two units sent to Bozo's apartment block on Sycamore and Twelfth. Have them watch out for a blonde female lawyer by the name of Janet Wagstaff. She's very small. Have them pick her up."

As soon as he finished talking he drove quickly away.

-o-

Dan Rowlands was surprised to find his second visitor that day was Detective McClean.

"Why, Detective-" was as far as he got when he opened the door before McClean pushed his way passed him into the apartment.

"Where is she?" he demanded as he began to look around.

Rowlands stood by the door and looked at McClean in annoyance. "I think this is very improper, Detective!"

"So is with-holding evidence." McClean turned to face Rowlands. "Where is she?" he repeated.

Rowlands looked very unhappy. "She left here about an hour ago. She went to see Henry Jones."

McClean raised his arms and let them fall heavily against his sides. He sighed explosively. "Accident prone!" he exclaimed, then walked passed Rowlands and out of the apartment.

-o-

By the time McClean got to the apartment block on Sycamore and Twelfth, there were three black- and-whites parked outside with another unmarked police-car. All had their lights flashing. An officer in uniform hurried over to meet McClean as he got out of his car.

"We've found her, Sir!"

"Where is she?" McClean asked as he slammed the car door behind him and followed the officer.

"She's in one of units. The para-medic is on the way."

"Show me."

The officer nodded and took McClean to one of the black-and-whites. Inside McClean found Wagstaff with a female officer. Her appearance stunned him.

Wagstaff had been severely beaten about the face. Both her eyes were blacked, and one was so swollen it was completely closed. Her cheeks were bruised, her lips split, and her small nose had bled. It looked broken. Sitting in the arms of the female officer with a towel wrapped around her, her whole body trembled.

McClean reached out to stroke her head gently. "Who did this to you?"

"Jones," Wagstaff replied in a weak voice. She could hardly open her mouth. "He got angry when I was asking him about Leila. He started hitting me. I tried to make him stop, but he wouldn't. Then everything went dark and cold. I was so scared."

"Don't worry about it. You're safe now." McClean glanced at the female officer. She nodded and hugged Wagstaff a little tighter.

McClean straightened up and closed the door of the car. He turned back to the officer who had first met him.

"Where did you find her?"

"In the trunk of Jone's car."

"Where is Jones?"

"He's in the lock-up with Detectives Hiller and Smith."

McClean nodded and walked calmly into the lock-up. There was a pause, then shouts and the sounds of fighting came from inside. Finally, Detective Hiller and two uniformed officers came out dragging McClean with them. They threw him onto the hood of one of the black-and-whites.

"What the Hell do you think you're doing?" Hiller shouted at McClean. "Punching him out like that in front of witnesses! Are you mad?"

McClean stood up and began straightening out his coat. "Actually, I feel quite good," he said.

Hiller pointed at him. "Well, I hope you feel that good in the morning when the Captain asks for your badge! You're finished, McClean! Do you hear me? Finished! Go home!"

Hiller pulled at the lapels on his neat jacket and went back inside the lock-up.

-o-

McClean looked around at the reception area. It looked neat, tidy, empty. All it needed was a smiling receptionist and lots of visitors. Instead there was only him.

"Anybody home?" he called out.

"I'm in here!" a small voice answered him from one of the offices.

McClean went over to the office and stood at the door. Inside he saw Wagstaff up a ladder painting the wall. She was dressed in jeans and tee-shirt that were both covered in paint of various colours, most of which he recognised from the walls in here and in the reception.

"What's a millionaire doing painting her own offices?" he asked her.

She turned and smiled at him. Her face was also marked with paint, but at least the bruises had now gone and she looked bright and happy. "Saving money!" she replied and waved around with the paint-brush. "Do you like it?"

He nodded. "It looks fine. Pity you haven't got any clients."

"Ah!" she exclaimed. She dumped her brush on top of her paint tin and climbed quickly down the ladder. It wobbled precariously, and McClean almost stepped forward to steady it, but she got to the bottom without incident. From there she trotted quickly over to the door, took off her shoes, then padded across the reception bare-foot.

"Follow me!" she said.

McClean followed. And he soon found himself sitting opposite Wagstaff in another meeting room. On the table between them were a number of files and papers. Wagstaff opened one of the files and slid it towards him.

"I have a client whose daughter has been accused of murdering her boyfriend while they were out sailing their yacht. They left together and she came back in the yacht on her own. His body turned up on the beach two days later. He'd been stabbed. Her father thinks she's innocent and he'll pay anything to get her off."

"And you intend to defend her?"

"Of course. I think daddy is right."

"What makes you think you can win this one?"

"I won Bozo's appeal didn't I? And he ate his victims."

"You were lucky."

"Lucky?" she repeated. "You just don't like the idea that I was right and you were wrong!"

McClean put down the file and leaned forward. "Right? Ha! You thought it was Rowlands!"

Wagstaff climbed onto the desk. "Alright! So it was Jones and not Rowlands that killed Leila Hemmings! But I was right when I told you that Rowlands knew that she was sleeping with someone else!"

"Yes, but he thought it was Bozo! That was why he was hanging about near the lock-up! And anyone other than an idiot would have known that only Jones as the custodian would have had access to the lock-up! He was the only one with the keys apart from Bozo, and the only other person who could have planted Leila's bits in his larder and trash-can!"

Wagstaff crawled a bit further forward so that they were now nose to nose. "Yeah! So why didn't you work it out before then? Hey?"

McClean sat back and looked sheepish and ashamed. "Because you were right," he admitted in a much calmer voice. "We had Bozo and we didn't bother to look any further."

She stood up on the chair on her knees and held up her hands. "Thank-you, God! I win again!"

McClean's reply was more sarcastic. "Fine! You won the appeal and a million and I lost my job! I'm glad you're happy!"

Wagstaff dropped forward and propped herself up with her hands on the desk. "Work for me."

"What?"

"Look, it was my fault you lost your job. It wasn't because of the appeal, it was because of what you did to Jones after you saw what he did to me. I'll never forget that, and I want to make it up to you."

He shrugged. "Don't worry about it. It wasn't much of a pension anyway. There's no need to think that you owe me anything."

"Of course there is! You need a job, and I've got one!"

"What makes you think I would want to work for you?"

She stood up on her knees again. "Because we would be perfect together! I need someone like you. You know what I'm like! I'm liable to hand the murderer the knife and ask him to demonstrate how he committed the murder! I'm good at working things out in my head and in the office, but I need someone to handle the detective work in the field! I need you!" She held out her hands. "It's perfect! You're the detective, I'm the lawyer!"

"And what do I get out of this arrangement other than avoiding the unemployment queue?"

Wagstaff dropped forward onto the desk again. "I'll share what we make, fifty-fifty."

McClean tapped his fingers on the desk thoughtfully. "Fifty-fifty, eh?"

She nodded and smiled hopefully.

He reached out and pulled the file closer. "They were on the boat alone, you say?"

Wagstaff crawled forward over the desk, leaning on her elbows. "Yep!"

"She comes home alone and he washes up dead two days later?"

Wagstaff was now lying full length on the desk with her bare feet waving in the air behind her. "Yep!"

"So who stabbed him, then? The fishes?"

"The man who found him on the beach."

McClean looked up. "What? Where did you get that from? Why would a man kill a perfect stranger on a beach?"

"Because the police reports say he was a known drug addict. He had a rap-sheet for petty theft and violence that was as long as your arm! He's our perp!"

McClean pointed at the file. "Oh, yes? So he took the odd few dollars from this poor guy's pocket but left his Rolex watch on his wrist?"

Wagstaff held up her finger. "Ah! I can explain that!"

McClean rolled his eyes skyward, shook his head, and folded his arms. "Here we go again! Over-complicating things. Alright, out with it! I'm game!"
 

The End


Copyright © D. G. Richards 2001

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