The Elderly Brothers - Chapter 27
One down, one to go. I was up before the sparrows on Friday, catching Toshack and Clark unawares. Toshack was sitting on the kitchen table in that classic back-leg-in-the-air bathing pose, beloved by cats everywhere, while Clark was busy investigating the contents of my unwashed hot chocolate mug on the draining board of the sink.
Jim had said he was going to be outside Ponsonby’s at seven so as not to miss anything, but given the amount of beer he’d put away the previous night, I was feeling less than chipper in that direction. We’d advised him to take along some sustenance as it could be a long day, but he'd just laughed and snagged a giant pack of kettle crisps and a box of cup cakes from Gareth’s kitchen before leaving.
“I’ll bum some silver top off the milkman,” he'd replied in answer to my enquiry about a drink.
By zero hour, I was breakfasted and shaved. The daily newspaper plopped onto the front doormat shortly after, and I was interested to read on page five that the police were questioning two men about the recent city park thefts.
Two vans, loaded with shrubs of all sorts, had been making their way towards the M4 at Cardiff Gate in the early hours of Thursday morning when a drunk driver in an old Peugeot 504, being pursued by a police car, came shooting out of a side road and right across their path. The lead van hit the Peugeot and the other van rear-ended his mate. When the police arrived, the occupants of the vans tried to leg it, but two of them were apprehended. The downside was that two others got away, as did the drunk driver, who was nowhere to be seen after the dust had settled.
I spent the rest of the morning refurbishing my garden with the plants bought from my ill-gotten gains of the day before, and by twelve o’clock I was quite tired. There’d been no word from Jim, so I phoned Gareth.
“Surely he can’t take all this time just to get one photo.”
“You don’t know Jim.”
“Perhaps he overslept and didn’t go?
“I don't think so. I’ve rung his place several times this morning. Nobody home. He’s probably fallen asleep in the bloody van.”
“Or been captured by aliens.”
“God help them. More likely dreaming of himself on Kirren Island, having it away with that Ann.”
“Tell you what. If he doesn’t show by one, let’s get down there and check out what’s going on.
“You’re on. I’ll give you a bell.”
The next hour stretched out interminably. I just wanted to get on, and here was a stupid delay. At one o’clock, Gareth phoned. I said I’d swing round in about ten minutes to pick him up.
We reached Roath Park just before half past one. The fine weather had brought out quite a few people. There were mothers and toddlers, students lying around in the warm sun, one or two brave souls out in rowing boats and a few lingering office and shop workers feeding the last of their packed lunches to the ducks. I deliberately parked the car a couple of hundred yards down the road from Ponsonby’s place, giving us the opportunity to stroll up unnoticed, which we did on the lake side, enjoying the sun and occasional light breeze as we went.
“There’s his bloody Dormobile,” Gareth said, pointing with a nod of his head to the roof towering over the shorter cars parked either side.
“At least he’s here.”
We quickly drew up alongside and looked in the front windows. Apart from the half-eaten bag of crisps, an empty orange carton and some cake wrappers, there was nothing else. Gareth tried the door handle. It was locked. Then he went round the back and to the passenger side and surreptitiously tried those. We looked at each other.
“Where the bloody hell has he got to?
I shrugged my shoulders. “Must be those little green men.”
“Come on. There’s nothing to be gained standing around here, except maybe a ticket for loitering. Besides, Ponsonby might turn up, not to mention the housekeeper, and I’d rather I wasn’t here.”
“You’re right. Let’s go.”
We turned and walked back towards my BMW.
“Over there,” I said, pointing to an old, white Mini, “Ponsonby’s wheels.”
Gareth laughed. “Never! Are you sure?”
“If the registration’s numbers are 524, it is.”
“What about the rest of it?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
“Then how do you know the numbers?”
“That time I came down here and ended up checking his place out, I saw him drive off in a white Mini and I repeated the registration to myself. And when I looked at my watch, guess what the time was?”
“Half past three.”
“Close enough. And because of the coincidence, I remembered them.”
“Let’s cross the road and check.”
The road was quite busy, which meant we had to dodge around a few moving vehicles. Some of the drivers no doubt thought we were a couple of escapees from one of the nearby rest homes.
“There you go,” I said. “G524 JXL.”
Gareth walked round it once. “It’s
taxed, so it’s probably insured as well, and you say you saw Ponsonby driving it.”
“Got something to write with?” Gareth asked.
“In the car. Why?”
“I thought I might sketch the ducks on the lake. To make a note of the licence plate, of course. Then I can get one of my mates to check it with Swansea. See who it’s registered to.”
“Good thinking. But can I afford it?”
“It's on the house. It’ll only take a few minutes as I know a couple of lads who work down that way. Mind you, if you did show your appreciation, it would be uh… appreciated, if you know what I mean.”
“OK.” I sighed. “What’s another tenner?”
We got back into my car, Gareth wrote down the number and we drove home. I dropped him off at his place and I went back to mine to wait for Jim. I could have dwelt at Gareth’s, but the sitting and waiting would have fruitcaked me. Instead, I got stuck in to a bit of early-season hedge trimming. I’d not long finished and was taking a well-earned juice break when the phone rang.
“His lordship’s turned up, and you’ll never guess where he’s been.”
“Get yourself round here and get it first hand.”
“Why not over the phone?”
“Because you’re not close enough to cause him any physical pain where you are.”
“I see. He’s been a naughty boy. Give me half an hour or so. I’ve just got to clean off the shears and have a quick shower. See you about five.”
For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what Jim had done, or where he’d been. My imagination had played the full ninety minutes and was well into the first period of extra time by the time I arrived at Gareth’s.
Gareth opened the door.
“I’ll be in the back garden if you want me.”
I looked questioningly.
“It’s just that I don’t think I could stand to hear all the sordid details again. He indicated the lounge with a jerk of his right hand. “He’s in there. Try not to get any of his blood on the furniture. It’s only recently been cleaned.”
Gareth disappeared through the kitchen and I went into the lounge. Jim was sitting in an armchair, looking quite pleased with himself, a copy of the Radio Times on his lap.
“Hi, Tony.” He got up and proffered a hand. “OK?”
I returned the gesture. “I’ll probably be a lot better once I’ve heard what happened to you today.”
Jim slumped back in his chair. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s not like I didn’t get any photos.”
“Great! Let’s have a look.”
He walked over to Gareth’s laptop, sitting on the coffee table, bent down, opened it up, pressed a couple of keys and waited for a few seconds. Then he pressed a few more keys, and when he was satisfied with what he saw, he said, “Come and have a look at these.”
I joined him, bending over the monitor. Sure enough, there was a full-length photo of Ponsonby. He was coming out of his front door. Jim pressed another key, and a more detailed close-up of the target appeared. He ran through several more shots, finishing with a close-up head and shoulders.
“What do you think?”
“They're good. Shouldn’t prevent anyone from making a positive ID. Was it a problem getting them?
“Piece of pie. I got down there at just after seven, stopped the milkman to buy some orange juice, and the target appeared at just gone eight. Then it was snipperdy-do-dah and in the can.”
“So, if you were finished by just after eight, what happened to you? We were waiting. And Gareth was very concerned,” I added as an afterthought, although I had no idea if it was true.
“Was he? You could have fooled me with some of the things he called me when I turned up.”
“You know Gareth. It’s just his way. Anyway, what did happen to you? I wouldn’t mind, but I’ve wasted a whole day waiting and worrying, and I’ve got things to get on with.”
“After I’d taken the photos, I decided to go down by the lake for a bit. It was a lovely morning. The air was fresh and the sun was out, so I lay down on the grass. But I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew was waking up. I looked at my watch and it was just after eleven. Feeling peckish, I went back to the van for some food. Then I thought it might be a good idea to check the photos in the camera. As I was doing that, this woman knocked on the window and asked me what I was doing. I said I wasn't doing anything, and she asked what the camera was for. I told her I was checking some photos of something I'd taken earlier. She asked what that was, and I told her it was none of her business. Then she said she was going to call the police because she worked as the housekeeper over the road, and indicated Ponsonby’s gaff.”
“You know her, do you?” Jim asked in surprise. “Middle-aged, bleached-blonde hair and puts on her make-up with a trowel, although she looks a bit of alright until you get in too close.”
“A bit unkind, Jim, but that’s Evelyn.” I thought back to that afternoon a couple of weeks ago when I’d been snooping and got caught. “And, yes, I have made her acquaintance.”
“Then you’ll know what she’s like.”
“A one-woman neighbourhood watch.”
“And the rest. Now where was I? Oh, yes. When she said she was the housekeeper, I said, 'So what?', and she told me she’d seen me pull up at just after seven and then leave the Dormobile at just after eight. She’d then gone out shopping, and when she came back the vehicle was still there, so she decided to keep an eye on it from the house, and when she saw me return, she decided to come over and find out what I was up to.”
“That sounds like her.”
“She went on to tell me that it was her duty to report strange goings-on to the police, so I told her I was working for a TV production company that'd been contracted by BBC Wales, and that I’d been sent down to make a recce of the park and surrounding streets for possible use in the filming of a new soap opera in Welsh, but it was all very hush-hush, and the reason I’d been taking photographs was so my bosses could look at them for possible location shots and so on. She softened a bit after that, but said she still wasn’t sure, although if I went over into the house with her, I could tell her more about it, and perhaps she might have one or two lifting jobs for me while I was about it. I told her she must be joking, but she said that if I didn’t, she’d know I was lying and she’d call the police, and as she had the registration of the Dormobile, they'd easily be able to find me. Now, as you know, there’s been a little bit of confusion regarding the MOT, and the last thing I want is for the police to come round poking their noses in…”
“Drives a hard bargain, does Evelyn.”
“… so after five or six seconds of mature reflection, I thought it best to go with her. She told me it’s a guest house for refined gentleman and they were all out at work. She’s there to do the cooking, shopping and cleaning, and generally keep the place in order. Big house, it is, but a bit on the cold side, and I’m not just talking about the temperature. There was definitely something weird about her. I just wanted to get out, so I asked her what things she wanted lifting, but she said there wasn’t any hurry and invited me through to the kitchen, where she said she was going to put the kettle on. I couldn’t see the harm in it as I was parched, but when she asked me to stay to lunch... that was the clincher. I quickly said I couldn’t as I had more work to do. Then the mystery tour began.
She took me all over the house, asking me to get something down there, put something up here, move this, move that and so on. It was easy enough, but I was becoming more than a little wary and was thinking about how I could get out, knowing that you and great-unc would be waiting.
Finally, she led me along the corridor from the kitchen to a room which I assumed was the dining room or something. She went in first and I followed. I couldn’t believe it. It was her bedroom. She pointed to an old chair near the window and asked me to pick it up. I went over, and when I turned round, she was sort of half-sitting and half-lying on the bed.”
“What happened next?”
“Luckily, the front door opened, and a man called out for her. It was some guy called Nash.”
“I understand he owns the house.”
“She got a bit flustered, and I made good my escape.”
“And that was where you were when we came to find you, I suppose.”
“Possibly, but I might have been down by the lake, as I went down to the kiosk to grab a bite to eat and get over the shock.”
“Looks like I had a narrow escape, too.”
“You mean she also tried it on with you?”
“Don’t sound so surprised! Us older men have a lot to offer a younger woman.”
Jim laughed. “If you ask me, as long as it’s got trousers on, any age'll do.”
“Any plans to see her again?”
“Not in this lifetime.”
“I just thought… untidy ends… a bit of unfinished business…”
The Radio Times caught me fair and square on the side of the head.