To Arnold in Nottingham yesterday (Saturday) for the New Writers UK Festival. Nice venue but somewhat secluded. Not many people just there to buy so not the most lucrative days. Nevertheless, met the organisers and some other people and went to a couple of talks. The first revealed that I still have a lot to learn about marketing. The second by Steve Dunne, a crime writer from Derby made me envious. He started, like me, by self-publishing his first crime novel through Troubador back in 2008, but then got publishing deals, first with Harper-Collins then with Hodder-Headline. Not big, life-changing deals but enough to encourage him and take him out of the self-publishing money pit.
Any way the result is that I will redouble my efforts, promote Painted Ladies more – anyone fancy a reading or talk title ‘Jasmine and me: transgenderism in fiction and reality.’ Also I will press on with Bodies by Design and hope to get that out one way or another by next summer, and there are more Jasmine Frame stories to come. For now here is the next epsiode of Blueprint.
Blueprint, part 5
‘Peter Thwaite. I see,’ James said, playing for time. How many P.Thwaites could there be in Kintbridge? Not many he thought. ‘Do you have a recent photo?’
The woman stopped sobbing and looked up at him with a question in her eyes.
‘Why do you need a photo?’
‘Oh, just for records.’ How should he treat this? Did Linda Thwaite have any idea about her husband’s double life, if indeed it was him?
‘There’s one there, on the mantelpiece,’ she said before dissolving into snuffles and sobs again.
James took the two steps to the fireplace and immediately saw the photo she referred to. It was of the two of them, husband and wife, beside a car, an old Rover. The car was old but the photograph seemed recent. The woman looked like a smiling, cheerful version of the woman sobbing in the arms of the policewoman. Would women sob in his arms if he became Jasmine full-time, he wondered. He picked up the photo and looked at it closely. If the man had long curly brown hair instead of the greying short cut, and thick make up and red lips would it be Petula. He rather thought it could be.
‘When was this taken?’ James asked.
‘A couple months ago, early summer. I went with Peter on one of his runs with his car club. I don’t usually go, but it was a nice day out.’
‘The car club?’
‘For those old Rovers. Peter was always in the garage polishing it. He kept it spotless. Twice a month they met up, on a Saturday evening. I didn’t go usually. It was just men talking about engines and gearboxes and miles to the gallon.’
‘Twice a month?’
‘That’s right. He went last Saturday so the next one will be not tomorrow but next Saturday.’
Her voice broke up as another fit of sobbing commenced. Only once a month actually, James thought, but a good cover for his evenings at Butterflies.
‘He loved that car,’ Mrs Thwaite croaked, ‘but now it’s killed him.’
‘Why do you say that, Mrs Thwaite?’
‘I found him in it, with the pipe from the exhaust and the engine running.’ Her shoulders shook and she buried her face in PC Barnett’s shoulder. The policewoman looked up at James with a resigned expression.
‘I’m sorry Mrs Thwaite, Linda, but I do need to ask these questions. Was there a note or anything…?’
She waved an arm in the direction of the coffee table in the middle of the floor without moving her head. There was a folded piece of white paper and a small, white, open envelope sitting on the glass-topped table. James reached into the pockets of his suit and pulled out a pair of rubber gloves. He pulled them onto his hands and then reached for the paper and envelope. The envelope had a single word written on it, ‘Linda’. He unfolded the paper. It was a sheet torn from a pad of quality letter paper. James wondered how many people bought paper like this these days, not many he thought. The days of formal letter writing were past. There wasn’t much written on the sheet. Just two brief sentences – ‘I’m sorry darling. I can’t go on any longer.’ For suicide notes it wasn’t very helpful; no explanation of the suicide’s reasons for ending their existence. James refolded the letter and replaced it in the envelope. He placed it back on the table.
‘We’ll bag it up soon,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry Mrs Thwaite, but I have to ask this. Do you know of any reason why Mr Thwaite should take his own life?’
The woman pushed herself away from the policewoman, turned on the sofa to face him and sat upright.
‘I can see you are going to ransack our lives to find a reason, but no, I cannot think of a reason. Peter was moody. Some days, most days, he was pleasant, considerate, happy. Other days he seemed irritable, silent, brooding, but I suppose we all go through ups and downs.’
‘He didn’t give a reason for those down days?’
‘No, he wouldn’t discuss them. Said it was nothing to be concerned about.’
‘Had they become more frequent?’
Mrs Thwaite paused as if a sudden awareness had dawned.
‘Well, yes, I suppose they had. This last month he has seemed to have had them more often.’
‘But you can’t think of any reason. No financial worries?’
‘No, Peter has a good salary from the bank. And I contribute a bit – I have a job in a store in town – so we don’t have any need to be concerned about money. Peter works hard, that’s why I was surprised.’
‘What surprised you?’
‘Well, that he was home. He usually works later than me on a Friday. But I got home and I could hear the engine running in the garage. The outside door was closed so I came in and went through the kitchen to the garage and when I opened the door…Well!’
‘The smell of smoke from the engine. It filled the garage. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to close the door and get away so I could breathe, but I realised that the engine should be turned off. I didn’t understand it. I covered my face with my hanky and ran to the car and that was when I saw Peter.’
‘How was he?’
‘He was lying back in the front seat with the hose poking through the window.’
‘I see. It must have been a great shock.’
Mrs Thwaite bit her lip to stop it trembling and James could see more tears forming in her eyes. She nodded slowly.
‘You think that Mr Thwaite, Peter, arranged it himself. That he intended to kill himself.’
She looked up James, with a look of incomprehension.
‘How else could it have happened? It wasn’t an accident that the hose was attached to the exhaust pipe.’
‘No, it wasn’t an accident,’ James said.
PC Barnett frowned at him. She thinks I’m handling this badly, James thought. Perhaps I am but how can I let on that I know something that the wife, who’s known him years and years, doesn’t. He tried again.
‘Was there anything that happened today that could have put Mr Thwaite into a bad mood?’ Bad enough to kill himself, James nearly added.
Mrs Thwaite shook her head.
‘It was a fairly normal morning. We had breakfast. Peter went into his study then off to work – he walks. I had to take my car to the garage for a service. I should have gone to pick it up by now. Then I walked into town to work too.’
‘He didn’t get any post, email, telephone call that might have disturbed him?’
‘I don’t think so. He didn’t mention anything.’
‘Hmm. Thank you Mrs Thwaite. I’ll leave you with PC Barnett for now. I’ll see what my partner is up to. You say I can get into the garage through the kitchen?’
‘That’s right.’ The woman remained sitting upright on the sofa, a glazed expression on her face.
James stepped towards the open door but paused.
‘Oh, if you think of anything we should know, tell PC Barnett. I’ll speak to you again soon.’
James walked along the hall, into the bright, modern kitchen and through an open door into the garage. It had a window onto the back garden but the lights were on and members of the SOC team were setting up more powerful spotlights. It was a long garage, but narrow. Most of the space was taken up by the brown Rover 2000. A G reg., James noted. The bodywork of the car gleamed in the lights, reflecting the work put in by Peter Thwaite. A white-overalled figure was leaning in through the open driver’s door. James recognised the portly figure of Dr Patel, the pathologist. Tom Shepherd was standing at the back of the car watching.
‘What does the Doc say then?’ James said as he looked around.
‘Straightforward case. Used to get more of these before the days of catalytic converters on cars. They’ve cleaned up the exhaust so it takes longer to knock yourself out.’
‘But these old Rovers don’t have them.’
‘Nope. Would have finished him off in a few minutes. Mind you he would have been coughing his guts up before he went out.’
‘No chance that someone else could have set it up to look like suicide?’
Tom stared at James, wide-eyed.
‘Why on earth do you suggest that?’
‘Well, you know. Checking all the possibilities.’
‘I suppose the SOCOs will dust the hose and the car for fingerprints but I don’t imagine they’ll find any other than his, the poor sod.’
‘So that’s it then. A simple suicide.’
‘Yeah. Guy had enough and the car provided a handy method. Straightforward.’
James wasn’t so sure.