there at the moment, I think I might cherchez the family instead for a bit.â
âPeakyâs family. I think Iâll get in touch with his widow.â
COMIC: Do you know, Iâm going to marry a widow?
FEED: Are you? Ooh, I wouldnât fancy being the second husband of a widow.
COMIC: Iâd sooner be the second than the first.
Charles rang the phone number Walter Proud had given him the next morning. He asked to speak to Mrs. Peaky and was told he was speaking to Mrs. Pratt, who was Bill Peakyâs widow. He should have realized that Peaky was too good a name for a comedian to be genuine.
He had decided that when he spoke to her, he would not attempt any subterfuge. Since she had not been in Hunstanton at the time, she could not possibly have been implicated in her husbandâs death and she was likely to be interested to hear of any suspicious circumstances.
She spoke slowly, treading her accent with caution like a tight-rope walker, all right at her own pace, but at speed in danger of falling into the Cockney below. âWhatâs it about?â
âYou donât know me, Mrs. Pratt, and I hope you donât mind my calling you. My nameâs Charles Paris. I was present in Hunstanton when your husband died.â
âIâm sorry. I donât want to upset you, but Iâve since heard things that make me wonder whether his death was in fact an accident.â
âWhether it was . . . What, you mean that someone might have . . . that he might have been murdered?â
âI believe itâs possible.â
There was a long pause from the other end of the phone. When it came back, her voice was strained, less at pains to hide its origins. âDo you have any suspicions as to who might have murdered him?â
âSuspicions, vague thoughts, nothing concrete. I wanted to talk to you about it.â
âMe? But I ââ
âIâm sorry. Please donât misunderstand me. Of course Iâm not wishing to imply any suspicion of you. I just wanted to talk to you about your husband, ask if you know of anyone with a sufficiently strong grudge against him to . . . Iâm sorry, I thought you would be interested.â
âYes, of course I am. Itâs just a bit of a shock. I mean, it never occurred to me that . . . Youâre convinced that it was murder?â
âFairly convinced, yes.â
âAs I say, itâs a shock.â
âOf course. Can we meet?â
âI think we should.â
âJust say where and when.â
âDo you mind coming out here? Iâm sorry, itâs difficult to park the children at short notice. Can you come today?â
Charlesâ professional calendar was as empty as usual. âCertainly. Tell me how to get to you.â
There was no evidence of the children when he arrived at the house. Presumably Carla Pratt had managed to park them at short notice after all.
The house was in Chigwell, a nice area for an East End boy like Bill Peaky to aspire to when he started to make a bit of money. No doubt all the neighbours were company directors, professional footballers and minor racketeers. The building was a bungalow that seemed to have sprawled out of control, with a double garage and hacienda-style arch-ways that had been added to take the curse off its thirties redbrick lines. The frontage was all wrought iron, black wrought iron gates relieving black wrought iron railings.
This motif was continued inside the sitting room where black wrought iron supported glass shelves, plant pots, light fittings, marble-topped tables and a series of photographs of Bill Peakyâs triumphs. The curled black metal gave the room a coldness, a newness, as if the decor were for show, not for living in.
Carla Pratt was also dressed in black, but she had a higher cuddlability rating than the wrought iron. Her curves were less machined and warmer.