The House

I was just about to drag my arse back to the Archive to get on with the scanning when I got a text on my yPhone. It was from Detective Jayne. She told me that the dead woman’s flat had been cleared by the SOCO* team and I might want to go have a look and maybe meet the lodger, now that she was being let back in. I looked at the address in the text and I just had to call her back.

She picked up immediately. “Is this address right?” I said.

“Apparently so.” She said.

“Then there’s a whole avenue we haven’t looked at.” I said.

“I know. Cui bono and all that. I’m looking into the will as we speak.” She said.

“I’ll let you get back to it.” I said.

“I’ll call when I know more.” She said and hung up.

Cui bono is Latin and it’s the oldest advice about criminal investigation that anyone has been able to trace. It means “To whose benefit?” and it’s always the second question in any murder investigation**. Of course we had been looking for the people who stood to gain by her death – work rivals, enraged parents, crazy people – but we hadn’t been looking at financial gain because Social Workers don’t earn a big wage. One look at her address and I knew we’d been wrong to discount money as a motive.

She had lived in a granite built house on a tree lined street in one of those areas that keeps the ‘Deen winning “Britain in Bloom”. It wasn’t one of those areas where neighbours fight about whose pit bull has been crapping on whose drying green. It was one of those areas where neighbours fight about whose Lelandii is shading whose garden and who poisoned whose pampas grass.

Fortunately it was also on a bus route so it didn’t’ take me long to get there. Yes of course I took the bus. The Department is serious about fighting climate change.

As I walked up I spotted the lodger pacing outside the house. I’d been reading about her on my yPhone on the bus. She was a Librarian and worked at the new University Library. She’d been lodging with the victim for nearly four years. She had no criminal record and she’d passed a security check in order to work with the University’s collection of rare books. The new mini parked in drive was hers.

She was a tall thin woman and smartly, if plainly dressed. She seemed the opposite of our victim who, according to some of the letters of complaint I’d read, usually dressed like a student or a tramp. As I got closer I realised that the thing she was carrying wasn’t a brief case but a cat box. She kept lifting it up to face height and talking through the grill at the front.

I introduced myself to her and passed on my contact card. She seemed relieved to see me. “I’m sorry but I just couldn’t bare to go in alone.” She said.

Could it be that here was someone who actually liked our victim? “I know what it’s like to loose someone suddenly.” I said. “It can be hard to believe that they’re really gone.”

“Yes. That’s exactly it. I can’t help expecting her to jump out at me and shout surprise.” She said. She fumbled in her pocket for the keys.

“Was she fond of practical jokes?”

“Not exactly but… Look I don’t have much of a sense of humour myself but I know what one looks like and hers was pretty odd. It was like she’d read about a sense of humour and was trying to put one together out of spare parts. We got on much better once she realised that I don’t really care about it.” She found the keys and led the way to the front door.

“So who’s in the box?” I said as she opened the door.

“Oh this is Cat.” She said.

“Not the most imaginative name.”

“She wasn’t a very imaginative woman.” She said.

She led the way to the kitchen. There was a cat flap in the back door and a cat bed and a litter tray in the corner. Otherwise the room was bare and almost clinically clean. The worktops were empty except for the kettle and toaster. There was nothing in the sink or on the draining board. The floor was immaculate. The only sign of life were the post cards on the fridge. I picked one off and looked at the back. It was addressed to the cat. “Dear Cat, went to the V&A. You would have licked [sic] the oriental collection. So graceful. Such fine detail. The building is great too. See you soon [REDACTED]” The dead woman had sent her cat a postcard from her holiday.

The lodger let Cat out of his travel box. I expected him to flee through the cat flap and not come back till he was hungry. Cats are very rarely happy about being kept in a box. Instead he stared at me and then at the lodger. Then he stretched gracefully and wondered round the room sniffing at things. Once he’d had a good sniff he left the kitchen for the rest of the house.

The lodger watched him go. “Do you think he’s looking for her?” She said.

“I don’t know. I’m not much of a cat person.” I said.

“If you hang around with Cat for long enough he might change your mind. I wasn’t a cat person till I moved here but he’s such a sweetheart I couldn’t resist. Would you like a cup of tea?” She said.

“Ooh thanks, I’d love a cup of coffee if there is any.” I said.

“Sure.” She said. “Don’t mind me if you need to have a look around. I’ll call when the coffee is ready. There might even be biscuits.”

“Thanks.” I did need to have a look round. I was confused by the kitchen. It was so completely different from her desk. I wondered if she just never used it. However the rest of the house was exactly the same. It looked like a show home. The only thing that spoiled the look was a layer of dust marking the passage of time since her death.

I climbed the stairs as quietly as I could while the lodger was looking for biscuits in the kitchen. I checked her room first. I wasn’t there to search it just to get an impression. Her room was neat and tidy, bed made carpet hovered dressing table organised. There was one difference from the rest of the house. The lodger was a reader and there were books everywhere. They filled every shelf and the window sill and there was a neat pile on both of the bedside tables. The Bed was an old metal frame one with a valence sheet hiding the space beneath. On a hunch I bent down and flicked the corner of the sheet up with my walking stick. Yep. There were neat stacks of books filling the under bed space.

I checked the dead woman’s room. There was a desk in the corner of the room but it looked nothing like the desk at her office. Everything was neatly filed and the she was up to date with all her bills. There were statements from her current account and a Savings account with a very healthy balance. Really very very healthy. Like way too healthy for someone with her wages. I swiped the statements.

The Lodger called me back downstairs. “Just a minute. I just need the loo.” I called back.

I had a quick look in the dead woman’s bedside drawers and then headed for the bathroom. Not to use the toilet but to look in the bathroom cabinet.

The bathroom was just as spotless as every other room. Like a lot of houses of this age there was a large bathroom upstairs that had been carved out of one of the bedrooms. This is the one most people keep their toiletries and medicines in. I was able to deduce that both women were on the pill, the Lodger got migraines, the dead woman had allergies and at least one of them was taking high dose vitamin C and evening primrose oil. I could tell you about their sanitary protection choices but I’m sure that would bore you. What I didn’t find was any sign of psychiatric medication. So if the dead woman did have any sort of mental illness she wasn’t treating it.

Back downstairs the Lodger had taken a tray with a Caffetiere, milk, sugar and shortbread into the living room. She was sitting on the sofa and as I approached Cat jumped up next to her and curled up against her like a purring cushion. I took the arm chair. The Lodger poured my coffee and her own and passed me the plate of shortbread all one handed. The other hand didn’t move from Cat. His purring seemed to be getting louder and deeper the more she stroked him. I could feel the gentle vibration of his purr though my feet.

“I see what you mean about Cat. He must be a great comfort at the end of a hard day.” I said.

“Oh yes. And I owe him so much.” She said.

That seemed an odd thing to say. “Owe him?” I said.

“Oh I thought you knew about the will. She left the house and all her savings to Cat. Well, she left a trust to look after him. I get to stay here rent free as long as I agree to look after him. I’m even allowed to sublet in order to pay the bills as long as the person I sublet to agrees to look after Cat when I’m not there.” She said.

“How… thoughtful.” I said. My yPhone rang. I had a feeling that I knew who it was. “Please excuse me. I have to take this.” I said.

I hurried back outside answering the call as I did so. “Hello Detective.”

“You’ll never guess.” Said Detective Jayne

“You’ve found the will. She left everything to the cat.” I said.

“The Lodger told you?” She said.

“Yes.”

“Should we bring him in for questioning.” She said.

I was fairly sure she was joking. “Nah. You know what cats are like. You never get a straight answer out of them.

*Scene Of Crime Officer

**The First is: Who exactly was the victim? We were still working on that one too.

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