The Monday just past Jason had invited the two budding amateur detectives to Paul’s detached house in Rainford. Although Jason left home five years ago he lived 10 minutes drive away, with a spare set of keys he often used. His dark hair tousled and dark eyes sunken, he looked paler than usual as he pulled items out of a bag onto the table. “Here are his things, everything he had on him that night the police have released to me” he says, down beat. He had been questioned extensively over the weekend and looked limp as a dishrag. The three of them examined the contents carefully. “In his pockets were his wallet, phone, keys – none to the library, half empty packet of tissues, a few business cards, a stubby pencil and a sweet wrapper. He had on a watch, two rings and his reading glasses in his shirt pocket. He was wearing casual clothes, shirt, jumper, trousers and boots. His overcoat was folded and placed on a chair near his – body.“ Jason trips over this word but carries on. “His laptop bag was under his coat. There was a notebook and some papers in it, but the police are keeping that for awhile. At least I still have his computer. That was at home.”
“None of these keys are for the library?” Kirstie quizzes, reaching out to examine them closer. “Do you know what each key is for?” The chunky key ring looked expensive, as did the watch and phone. The keyring was a thick silver band threaded with a braided steel rope that held six metal keys, one automobile key and a small gold medallion engraved with a figure in robes and a laurel headdress. Jason nodded and said “I checked them all, just to be sure. They are all for the house or the office. Nothing out of sorts.”
He brushed his fingers over the objects and frowns, “How did he even get in there in the middle of the night?”
Chewing the bottom of her lip Kirstie tentatively offers “The murder must have let him in. Someone who had keys to the library. An inside job?”
Shane’s eye shine brightly “I’ve been hounding that angle. Seeing if Paul rubbed anyone the wrong way there. Remember, there’s more than the library in the Gamble. Social Care & Health, Central Services, Contracts, Finance Services, Local History and Archives…I hear he could be a bit ruthless in his business dealings.” Jason looks pained but says nothing.
Shane eyes the wallet, opens it and flicks through the contents. A few notes, credit cards and family photos spill out. Jason reaches and snatches it back. “Look, he wasn’t there to stir up trouble. He wanted to find out more about our family history, is all. He only went to the Archives, as far as I know. He’s been looking into family tree stuff. He caught the genetics bug a few months ago.”
Kirstie puts her hands on Jason’s arm. “You mean genealogy.”
“Yeah, whatever. If you’re looking for enemies, you should know he had some tiff with someone a year ago. Scrappy May. Check him out.”
Shane jots a few lines in his notepad. “What was the relationship between Paul and this Scrappy?”
Jason looks at this hands. “Um, well Scraps is a dealer. My dad found out some of his trucks were being used, and they had some run ins. And I umm, he was going to go to the police but at that time I was using.”
Kirstie put a hand on Jason’s shoulder. She thought back to the tough time when she was dealing with a two year old and Jason was trying to clean up. She was so proud with how Jason had turned his life around but it was too late for them.
“I think you should leave now.” Jason crosses his arms and looks away. The air becomes heavier and Kirstie motions for Shane to comply with Jason’s request. She walks Shane to the door and whispers “I’m going to stick around and help Jason sort out the house. He needs to arrange things for the funeral. Help him go through Paul’s stuff. His mum would do all this usually. We’re trying to reach Carol but she’s on a three month tour of India, hard to get in touch. Listen, why don’t you look into Scrappy and I’ll meet you later.”
Shane is nonplussed about his treatment, and thinks splitting up is a good tactic. He’d heard of Scraps, a known local wheeler dealer whose been rumoured to not be on the up and up. He gives Kirstie a little salute and walks away humming whilst trying on different headlines in his head for his next article.
Thursday morning find Kirstie and Shane once more in the library. On the surface it seems like the library has found its rhythm again, although slightly off-kilter. Almost all the computers are occupied, the old men have settled back into their favoured reading positions, the books and DVD’s are slowly travelling from behind the counter to trolleys to bookshelves. And the Children’s room is once again bright and loud with the sounds of learning. Kirstie feels safe knowing Hilton is with other toddlers singing songs about hungry caterpillars and pink pigs.
Taking up a corner of a desk in the iHub once again, Kirstie and Shane pool the results of their investigations into the death of Paul Astly. The unlikely partnership has not progresses along a smooth road, but they find themselves together again at the same time and place as a week ago.
Shane sips a coffee dejectedly. “Jonathan ‘Scrappy’ Mays is a dead-end. There might have been some bad blood between him and Paul, but he has a air-tight alibi for the night of the murder. We can cross him off”.
Kirstie clenches her pencil tighter. She’s started creating sketches of all the people connected to the murder, and was shading a few more lines into Scrappy’s beard. “Are you sure? I’ve heard a bit about him from Jason, but I’m not really sure what happened…”
Shane sighs, “The gist of it is there was some arrangement with drugs and what with Paul running a haulage company…but seems it’s over, and has been over at least a year ago.”
Kirstie frowns and says “But he could hold a grudge, right?”
“Yes, but he’s not really the literary type if you catch my drift. Besides, the air-tight alibi is just that.”
“You always suspect the person with the unbreakable alibi in detective stories.”
Shane smirked “Or the butler? I saw the CCTV footage of him at the racetrack, plus tickets. It’s not him. What about you, did you find any clues at Paul’s home?”
Kirstie shook her head. “No, it’s just a bit messy. Needs a good hovering, that place. I’ve been there a few times before but never upstairs. Piles and piles of laundry. Looks like Paul has been buying new clothes instead of washing after Carol went on her trip. Typical man.”
Shane smiles “Not too unusual is it?”
Kirstie looks at her illustration of Paul. She’s not sure she has captured his likeness. He looked too happy. “No, I guess not…except I didn’t know Paul liked purple so much. All his new clothes were really bright and colourful.”
Shane chuckled “Yes, it’s a bit like Cluedo. Professor Plum in the Library with the Dagger! I thought about spinning that angle – story of the century!” He pulls himself back to reality and says
“Okay, now I think we should find out what Paul was doing in the library. Poke into the Archives. Maybe it’s not about Paul, the man but maybe what he was doing in the library.”
Shane rubs his hands excitedly. “There are two people to interview, Beth Birchall and George Mason. Beth is the ”
Kirstie jumps in “one of the librarians. I know her. I don’t think she likes children.”
Shane continues “Librarians generally don’t like people. She’s the Archives Manager. They hate people even more. Anyway, the other is George Mason, bald bloke who runs the family history group. Seems he’s been dealing with Paul for the past few months. He’s already been interviewed by the police of course, but wait till he gets the Greenall treatment! Tag along if you want to see how a professional works!”
Kirstie follows Shane out of the library and up the stair case to the first floor, trailing the wooden bannister up the steps. “I’ve gleaned his schedule, and he should be finishing up the meeting room for a group right about now.” The Archives and the meeting room are on the second floor. Signage directs them to take a left, along a narrow hall. Shane’s chunky frame obscures the view inside but Kirstie can hear scuffling sounds of chairs moving across the floor.
“Meeting’s over. Come back next week” said a rotund man with a shiny head said, walking around a table in the small room. He did not look up but his displeasure was communicated.
“Ah, not here for that. Are you George Mason? I’m Shane Greenall from the St Helens Express. Just wanted to ask you a few questions about one of your group members.”
George finally looks up with a tight smile. “What’s this all about then?” Shane steps inside the room. “Just following up on the tragic story of Paul Astley. I heard he was a regular member to your group.”
George looked down and started shuffling papers around.
“No, he never joined the group. Bit of a loner that one. Sorry, can’t help you. Now if you excuse me, I need to get this room clean.”
Kirstie pushes past Shane and enters the meeting room and starts to straighten the chairs.
“George – is it? I’m so sorry to bother you, but it’s really important to know what he was doing. He was my little boy’s grandfather, and it’s very hard for his son, Jason right now. If we only knew how he was spending his time here, it might help Jason come to terms.” She takes up a cloth lying on the side and starts to wipe the table.
“We knew he was researching something, just wanted to know what he was doing.”
George’s countenance softens slightly, and Shane backs away from his line of sight.
“Mostly looking through old local newspaper articles from the past 50 years. I volunteer to look after the public, so I have access to the room. Anyone can go but it’s not open every day as it use to be, just Mondays and Wednesdays. Budget cuts, you know. Nothing’s really like what it use to be.” George had sat down and let Kirstie take over tidying up.
She asks “Do you know what he was looking for in particular?”
George furrows his brows, “Anything with his name I suppose, but he was going about it with no method! Bothering poor Beth, what with everything she has to put up with. No, it’s not like it use to be. Open two days a week, no proper staff. Hardly no books in the library now, In a library! All computers and DVDs and screaming kids. Soon have rid of all the books soon, just get it beamed into your brain. What then!” Kirstie let the old man rant, while she finished tiding up. That’s what Miss Marple would do, she thought. Let them gossip.
“Pushy man, not to speak ill of the dead, mind. Wanted this and that and the other- all ASAP! Can’t say I was that helpful to him, but he did know how to rile one up! Just anything with a family connection to the name I suppose. I’m sorry for your loss, but I don’t know what he was looking for. You’re welcome to look through the archives of course, but not till next Monday I’m afraid.”
Kirstie thanks George and looks for Shane, but he’s not outside. She heads downstairs and back to the library where she sees him talking to Beth. Shane’s arms are wriggling around excited like puppies in a pen while the Archives Manager is shaking her head with her hands on her hips.
She catches the tail end of the conversation and watches sympathetically as Shane sighs, his disappointment shuddering down his whole body.
A few moments later back at the iHub, Shane recounts to Kirstie Beth’s denial of knowing Paul personally, or her speculation of what his activities might be.
Kirstie purses her mouth. “She knows who he is, I’m sure.”
Shane says “Maybe you should have a crack at her, you did well with old shiny back there.” Kirstie allows herself to be slightly pleased.
“But he doesn’t know anything! I suppose we could look through all the back issues of the St Helens Express looking for the name Astley?” Kirstie said. Shane slumps further into his chair and grunts.
“Could do I suppose. Online archives only go so far back as 2003 or so for my paper. Then there’s the papers that went under, or merged or renamed…”
Shane leans back, his back engulfing the seat. “Perhaps it has nothing to do with St Helens. Think about all the people who work here. Most of ‘em live in Liverpool or Manchester. Locals come to the library, but the people who work leave as soon as.” He’d returned to St Helens two years ago, and still found it difficult to get back into the slower rhythm of an over grown town.
Dishearten, he starts to idly play with the computer in front of him. He’s clicking randomly on a webpage when Kirstie, who was idly watching the monitor jumps and shouts “St Bona of Pisa!”