This is the fifth chapter in the pending musical thread. I am omitting a partially-written chapter in which Phil continues to search Rosegate and stumbles on photographs of Aubrey. This is a chapter I still need to work on before I post it. In the following chapter, we are back at the police station as Detective Redmond shares some information about the victim with Phil.
“What have we’ve found out about the victim, Detective?”
“She didn’t have a big circle of friends,” the detective replied. “But the friends she did have were close ones. They describe her as being intellectual, very well read indeed, but you weren’t to let that fool you because when it came to her sense of humour, it was as crude as they come. According to one friend, and I’m quoting here, ‘with Brey, no body orifice was off-limits, and she’d light up like Las Vegas as she went into great detail as to what went in it and what came out of it.’ He said she had a wicked streak because she’d disgust you at the very moment you were tucking into a long-awaited favourite food.”
“So, she was funny?”
“Well she was impeccable with her timing. I’ll give her that much. But her friends didn’t say she was or wasn’t funny, Owens. They said she had a crude sense of humour and liked a bit of mischief. That doesn’t necessarily translate into being funny. I believe her friends – all three of them that is – said that she was boorishly witty and laughed more at her own observations than anyone else did, often having trouble articulating them because she was – and I’m quoting again – ‘already pissing herself laughing’ to the degree she could no longer speak.”
“Doesn’t sound like someone bent on dying to me.”
“Let me ask you, Owens,” Redmond said sternly, “how many comedians have eaten, drunk or drugged themselves to death, if not killed themselves by more violent means? Some of the world’s funniest people are more than well acquainted with the dark side. They can’t make us laugh about it if they don’t see it, know it, understand it. Take a walk on the wild side, Owens, and go on-line. Look it up. Some of history’s most effective ambassadors for humour have killed themselves one way or another.”
Christ, no. Was he hearing correctly?
Did Detective Redmond just tell him to ‘take a walk on the wild side’?
“I mean it, Owens,” Owens reiterated. “Hustle over to your desktop and take a walk on the wild side and research how many funny people have ended their own lives.”
She had said that – twice now. With the word ‘hustle’ thrown in.
And, just like that, enter Lou Reed, singing his 1972 hit ‘Take a Walk on the Wild Side’ in that uber-cool, talk-singery voice of his, transporting Phil on a ten-second mental trip to the superstars in Warhol’s studio in New York City in the long-lost seventies.
And for those ten seconds, Phil felt a pang. The seventies made him sad, they did, but bittersweetly, because that had been the decade when he’d lost the first of many innocences. And yes, for him, innocence had never been a singular thing; it came in so many varieties, it deserved to have the plural option available to it. So, out of respect for its overlooked nuances, Phil awarded innocence the letter ‘s’ so ‘it’ could become ‘them’ whenever it/they saw fit.
The ten-second pang faded, but that didn’t mean that, to the rhythmic thump of Reed’s song, Phil didn’t find himself in the precarious position of imagining someone called Candy giving head to someone else, but without losing her own head. And if trying to swat that image from his own head wasn’t enough, he was also making sure he didn’t slip up by saying ‘hey, babe’ to Redmond by accident.
“What else did you discover?” Phil asked, desperate to get himself out of this mental mess.
“Doot, di-doot, di-doot,” muttered Redmond, completely unaware she was proving the universe had it out for Phil. “What else did I discover? What else did I discover?”
“Yes,” said Phil. “You said the victim’s friends described her as being intellectual and well-read with a mischievous edge. What else did they say?”
“They said she loved to play the piano, but then, you already knew that.”
“Yes, I did,” replied Phil, remembering the sheet music which had filled the piano bench. “And judging from that, she was an actively creative person, not the sort of person to be ending her life.”
“You are naïve, Owens,” Redmond responded, again in a stern tone of voice. “Creative people are quite often sensitive; and as such, they feel pain more deeply than people like you and me.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re more likely to commit suicide than anybody else.”
“I beg to differ, Owens.”
Phil could feel himself getting angry, but not wanting to prolong what was turning out to be an uncomfortable conversation for him, he opted to refrain from contesting Redmond’s claim, although he was aware he could give her a gazillion examples of all kinds of people who’d decided to take leave of this life for all sorts of different reasons and in all sorts of contexts.
“You already know this from what Viv Musgrave said, but when we spoke to the parents,” Redmond continued, “they described their daughter as having been extremely distraught over the fact that they’d decided to go against both the original ancestor and her deceased grandmother’s wishes by putting the house up for sale. It was a deep area of contention between the victim and her parents. With many misgivings, they’d conceded to their daughter’s request to spend time in the house while it was on the market. Mind you, with the market the way it is, it wasn’t getting much traction, so the victim’s presence at the place wasn’t much of an inconvenience for the estate agents – until, of course, Viv Musgrave found her. Poor Viv’s going to be dealing with that trauma for quite some time.”
‘I’m going to be dealing with that for quite some time too,’ Phil thought, conjuring up the image of the dead young woman, slumped over the desk in the top-room study, her lamplit hair fanned gently on her upturned cheek, the silver letter knife gleaming in the pool of blood it had unleashed.
“The only stipulation the Holloways had was that their daughter leave the house if Viv or any other agent was going to show it,” Redmond carried on. “And, according to them, she’d reluctantly agreed, ‘reluctantly’ being the operative word. And even ‘reluctantly’ is too soft an adjective, because the parents said their daughter had been fighting them at every turn when it came to the sale of the house.”
“Did they mention any history of mental illness in their daughter?”
“No, but they impressed upon me that in light of the distress she’d been under this past year, she could’ve well fallen into a depression. They described her as being utterly unable to see the logic of them not being able to sustain a house of that size from afar, that she wasn’t sympathetic to the economic demands it placed on them. They said that she hadn’t been acting like herself since her grandmother had died.”
“They said she was acting more rebellious, more strong-willed, very argumentative.”
“Well, she would be if she were anticipating the loss of the house while she was still grieving her grandmother’s death. That makes sense to me.”
“It makes sense to me too, Owens. But after talking to those who knew her, I’m convinced she was in a much worse state than she was letting on. When you look at the situation closely, the victim is a casebook study of suicide. She was in deep grief at having lost the person closest to her. She was about to lose the place in which she felt a connection to that person. She’d started to give things away to her friends. And she’d cut herself off from all social media, but not before she covered her tracks by telling everyone she’d be off-line for a while and not to bother her. The more I examine it, the more I believe this was a very premeditated act.”
“Was there a significant other?” Phil questioned, suddenly remembering that now would be as good a time as any to put one of his sons’ terms to use. “Anyone exclusive?”
“There had been,” Redmond replied. “A boy from university. Adrian Kettering. That ended several months ago, however, and he hadn’t been in the picture since. According to the victim’s friends, the break-up had left the victim shattered, particularly as he’d left her for a friend of hers – well, former friend, now. So, that was raw as well.”
“Yes, well, it would be.”
“Well, unfortunately, love certainly does bite sometimes,” Redmond said.
“And bleeds,” added Phil as Lou Reed ‘hey-babed’ off and Def Leppard surfaced for an impromptu brain performance of ‘Love Bites’, but just for a split-second, as Redmond continued to speak.
“Look, Owens,” she was saying, “I’ve been at this job for ages, and, like I’ve already said, this is a classic case. The victim’s gone through a lot of loss and couldn’t take anymore. At any rate, I have no doubt that Sully will come to the same conclusion once he’s examined the body and done his report.”
“When are the parents arriving?” Phil asked, thinking they should’ve already arrived. “Because if that was one of my sons in the mortuary, I would’ve been on the doorstep as of yesterday.”
“Yes, well if I’d had children, I would’ve been there too, but the Holloways are scheduled to arrive in two days’ time. And to play the devil’s advocate, we did say that we wouldn’t be releasing the body until that time. Roland Holloway is in his seventies and not in the best of health, so, they’re doing this with some measure for his sake.”
“For his sake?” Phil echoed, incredulously. What the fuck was wrong with people these days? I mean, seriously, at this point, in Phil’s books, nobody’s sake, but the victim’s counted. He didn’t care how ill parents were, they should bloody well get themselves on the first available aeroplane and be at their daughter’s side whether she was dead or alive. He’d meant what he’d just said. If James or Nico were lying dead in another country, and he was fresh off a triple bypass, come hell or high water, he’d be wheeled onto the plane, hospital-gowned up and IV blazing, if it meant he could be as close to them as the authorities would allow. Unconditional fucking love, people. That’s what that was called.
“That’s what they said,” Redmond confirmed.
“And your take on that?”
“Nice, cold, and practical,” the detective answered. “Just like my parents were. Weren’t yours, Owens? ‘Pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps’ sorts. The country was amok with them after the war.”
Phil thought about his parents, Beryl and Floyd. What Redmond said was true, at least in his case. His parents, particularly his late mother. had either joked or bullied emotion away. One glare from Beryl and your tear would dry up on the spot as a warning for the other.
“I’m not saying the Holloways are bad people, Owens,” Redmond said. “I’d imagine beneath their façade, they were shocked, harbouring deep grief. They’d been dealt a massive blow. Had the rug pulled out from under them. But they weren’t about to weep on the telephone with us, were they? If anything, I heard confusion, but then a girding up of gumption to tie loose ends up there to give themselves more time here once they arrived. Anyway,” Redmond added, cocking her head toward the glass door, indicating the discussion was over. “Once we hear back from Sully, I’ll be off for a day or two, taking a well needed break at the seaside.”
“Oh, really? Which bit of seaside?”
“Broadstairs, if you must know.”
“Oh,” said Phil. “You like it there, do you?”
“I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t like it, Owens. So, yes, I like it. And with the stress that comes with this job, I jolly well need to get away every so often and let the ocean air clear my head. Besides, I’m running out of rock. I always stock up when I’m in Broadstairs.”
And with that, Phil started thinking about the detective’s racing-green Triumph from 1975 – and the rock in her glove compartment – then the musical group Triumph – then the song ‘Magic Power’ – then the power of music – then the Chappell grand in the victim’s grandmother’s parlour.