Deidre the receptionist was buzzing Hugh.
Oh God what does she want now?
She was supposed to keep him free of unnecessary calls this morning but so far she’d put through a firm selling franking machines, a woman who it turned out was having a defamation action threatened against her (not the firm’s field of expertise at all) and a company that produced information brochures for the employees of police forces and was trying to sell advertising space. They really did need an office manager.
“Gareth Jones wants to speak to you.”
“Oh. Oh well I suppose you’d better put him through then.”
“No he wants to see you. He’s here in reception.”
“Oh Christ not now. I’m busy! You haven’t told him I’m in have you?”
“Well it’s a bit obvious isn’t it. I’m talking to you!” Deirdre giggled.
Hugh wilted at her terminology. Any client with a smattering of intelligence sitting in reception could work out the other side of the conversation.
“Bugger! I could have got Orielle to see him.” Orielle was the new soon-to-be trainee solicitor, currently serving a probationary period. “I think we have discussed this before Deirdre, what to say in these circumstances when people turn up without an appointment. You know what the appointments are. Look I’ll talk to you later. Go on. You’d better send him in.”
Hugh got up to welcome his client and rearranged his features into neutral. It was the best he could do.
Gareth put his head round the door smiling and looking around the room then the rest of him came in.
“This is very grand. ‘Sutherland Chambers’ too. I’m impressed.”
“Yes I was lucky. So how are you getting on? Any developments?”
“Well yes and no. Can I sit down?”
“Yes of course. Sorry. Anyway, what’s up?”
“Well I’ve gone back to work now. I’m feeling a bit better. Trudie’s not too bad considering, and my mother’s liking having us there for the time being. I’m hoping to let the house out.”
“Right,” said Hugh, trying not to frown. This was all very nice but he had a mountain of work to do. “Good,” he said, “what about the case?”
“They, the police, don’t seem to have got very far. They’ve been tracking down all these boyfriends of Lisa’s but it hasn’t come to anything yet. On the other hand they’ve been, not exactly harassing me, but they’ve been engaging in some pretty low tactics. They went and interviewed people at Sullivan Wells. They made a big thing of it with that girl I saw when I went up there. For God’s sake I was there with her for half an hour or so. She copied my ID. She compared me with my passport and driving licence photos. It’s just completely unnecessary. Do you know they even took a forensics bloke up there to dust for fingerprints and check for fibres and hairs and things.”
“Did they find anything?”
“Not that I’m aware of. I mean there would have been sod all to find. It’s a very busy office. There’s loads of people coming and going. Typists, clients, fee earners, etc. It’d be awash with finger prints and DNA. Except I expect everything got cleaned regularly.”
Gareth glanced at Hugh’s shiny desk. At least, thought Hugh, I managed to employ a decent cleaner even if the receptionist leaves something to be desired.
“They couldn’t have hoped to find anything. Anyway I just sat opposite this girl while I was there and gave her a few extra details. I didn’t even sign anything while I was there. I’d already downloaded their forms and filled them in and signed them before I went there. I just handed them over. And they were pretty comprehensive. It’s ridiculous. And then, would you believe this! They formally interviewed her. Obviously about me. She’s got significant bloody witness status. I mean it….”
“How do you know? You haven’t been in contact with the Manchester firm have you? That wouldn’t be….”
It was Gareth’s turn to butt in. “Give me a break! Of course not. You’re not the only one with mates in the police force you know. What it means is they think I might have done it.”
“Well of course they think you might have done it. You said so yourself the last time we met. Just cool down. It’ll all stop when they don’t get anywhere.”
“But the point is they’re harassing me. I feel as though they’re using tactics to try to undermine my confidence so that if I were to be guilty, maybe I’d go and do something silly and give myself away. It’s just dirty tricks and completely below the belt.”
“But you’re not guilty so these tactics, if that’s what they are, won’t work will they. Just try and stay calm. You’ve got to face it. You’re the husband of the deceased victim. You had several motives. Her infidelity, not seeing Trudie again much, possibly a financial motive. They’re absolutely bound to do some digging. Talking to Sullivan Wells and making a forensic examination would just be reasonable precautions. Interviewing that girl is to be expected. It’s all mainly for elimination. You’re not exactly without experience in this field. You must realise all this was going to happen.”
“It’s all very well for you to say that. It’s completely different when it’s not some lay client in the frame. If it was you in this situation I bet you wouldn’t be so calm.”
If it was me in this situation, I’d be wretched still from the death of my poor estranged wife. The police procedures would be secondary.
“Anyhow,” Gareth moaned on, “now they want me to go for another interview. They were vague as to why. But I suppose I’d better co-operate. I was off work today. I’m going to something that’s on at Trudie’s school soon. You know, now that her mother….well. So I thought I’d just pop in to see if you can come with me.”
Hugh agreed that he would go to the interview, wondering why this couldn’t have been addressed over the `phone. The probable reason however was about to be aired.
“Also, now that I’m single again and I believe you are too, I was wondering if you’d be interested in going out for a jar sometime. Or even pursuing some of our earlier activities, though obviously a bit more restrained these days, more suited to our stations in life.”
“Yeah, `course, I’d be delighted to raise a pint with you sometime. But as to being single. That’s actually not the case now. I’m living with someone. So….er….I don’t doubt there are venues more in keeping with our advanced years but for me it’d just have to be a quiet drink.”
Gareth nodded. “Hmm. Right. Well we’ll have to sort something out.” He didn’t ask for any information about Hugh’s domestic set up.
They agreed to liaise over the date and time of the police interview and Gareth departed.
So, thought Hugh, he did know I was divorced from Ali. Hugh felt fairly sure he didn’t in fact want to spend an evening drinking with Gareth. He’d have to look out and dust off his book of excuses in case the topic was raised again.
After Gareth had left, Hugh went on Sullivan Wells’s website and saw that they had photos of all their fee earners of all grades with their names including the first level of matrimonial clerical staff. Photos and names for anyone to see and become familiar with their faces without ever meeting them in the flesh. The police would no doubt know this, therefore if they were after tripping Gareth up by trying to get him to pick out her photo, if Gareth did recognise the girl that probably wouldn’t count for much with them anyway.
Extract from Reasonable Doubts, by Gill Mather, the fourth novel in the Colchester Law World series