Summary: It’s just a simple divorce case, until it isn’t. As usual for Randall and Hopkirk.
Notes: For dbskyler
Marty gazed around the restaurant, trying to decide who to have dinner with tonight. There were two businessmen by the potted plant doing more talking than eating. Not them. The couple in one corner were busy playing footsie, which reminded him of the times when he and Jeannie had done the same. But never would again. Definitely not them.
The pair by the window were promising. It was only a small table and they were on dessert already, but both women were young and attractive. One of them had blonde, bobbed hair and was wearing a pink dress with matching jacket that was too pink for Marty’s tastes. Her companion was a redhead in a blue and white checked dress with a white collar.
On his way to the table a waiter put an arm of plates through Marty. “Watch where you’re going,” Marty shouted after him. Not that anyone in the restaurant took any notice. Except the redhead at the table. Marty frowned, but as he reached them, the blonde put a hand on the redhead’s arm.
“Oh, do pay attention, Katherine.”
The redhead – Katherine – turned back to her companion and her fruit cocktail. “I’m sorry Sylvia, I was miles away.”
“The man on the table over there?” Sylvia motioned behind Marty, where four men laughed uproariously.
Katherine smiled and shook her head. “But we were talking about your husband.” She leaned forward across the table and lowered her voice. “Do you have any evidence or is it just a suspicion?”
Marty had been wondering if he’d chosen the right table after all, but this sounded more interesting. He stepped closer and leaned on the back of Katherine’s chair so he could listen in.
Sylvia wiped her mouth daintily with a napkin and set her fork down on the empty plate in front of her. “I know he works away a lot. I knew that when I married him.” She shook her head. “But when he’s been away for the week, he comes back smelling of perfume. And it’s not the one I use.”
“Easily explainable.” When Sylvia raised her eyebrows, Katherine continued, “Perhaps he was on a crowded train.”
“That’s what he said.” Sylvia sighed and begun toying with her fork. “But it’s not just that. I unpacked his suitcase and there were some frilly knickers in there.” She put a hand to her mouth, which didn’t quite prevent a sob. “They’re not mine. Who’s are they?”
Katherine reached out to rub Sylvia’s arm.
“I packed a pair of my knickers to put her off, but what if that’s not enough? What if one day he leaves and doesn’t come home at all?” She raised her teary eyes to meet Katherine’s.
“Get a private detective.” Katherine sounded very matter-of-fact.
Sylvia bit her lip. “I don’t know. What if he finds out?”
“He’s already got some explaining to do.” She shrugged. “Maybe it’ll force him to tell the truth. At least you’d know, either way.”
Sylvia dropped the fork with a clatter and sat back in her chair. “Do you know any private detectives?”
Marty answered for Katherine. “Randall and Hopkirk.”
“Well, there was an agency a friend of mine used a while ago. They were called… now what was it?” She snapped her fingers. “Randall and Hopkirk, that was it.”
Marty stared at her, eyes wide. “Well, that was easy.”
“They’re not the sort of people your husband is likely to mix with, so he won’t find out that way.”
“Well, all right.” Sylvia sighed. “If you think it’s for the best.”
Marty smiled. “You go along to Jeff Randall and he’ll find out what your husband’s up to, don’t you worry.”
In the morning Marty popped into the office to find Jeff was talking to someone whom Marty hoped was a potential client. She sat in the chair opposite Jeff’s desk, fur coat held in her lap. Marty bent to get a better view of it. “Fake,” he declared, straightening up.
Jeff gave him a look, then turned back to the woman.
“I’m sure there’s something going on,” she was saying. “There were a pair of lacy knickers in his suitcase when I unpacked it last night.”
Marty came around the desk to stand by Jeff. “Those knickers are getting around a bit.”
Jeff didn’t even glance in his direction.
“I can’t think of an innocent explanation for that. Can you, Mr Randall?” She sounded a little desperate, which was no guarantee Jeff would take the case. Or that he’d get paid at the end of it. Something that was increasingly more common these days
“I’m afraid I can’t, Mrs Smyth.” Jeff stubbed out the end of his cigarette.
“Then you’ll take the case?” She sat up a little straighter, expression hopeful.
“Of course we will,” Marty said, although Jeff hid his grimace behind his hand. “I know you don’t like divorce cases, but what else have you got on?”
Jeff sighed, but quietly so only Marty would hear.
“I’ll take the case.” He sounded resigned to it.
“Great,” Marty said at the same time as Mrs Smyth thanked Jeff.
Marty tried not to look too pleased with himself as Jeff showed her out. He failed, because as she left, Sylvia entered. “Oh, Jeff, I found you a new client. Another divorce case.”
Jeff couldn’t react, not with the woman right in front of him, but he did give Marty a sidelong glance.
“She’s rich. I saw her at dinner last night. Charge her twice what you’re charging Mrs Smyth and we can take one husband each. It’ll be easy money.” How could Jeff say no to that?
Sylvia introduced herself as Mrs Huntingdon-Smyth and Jeff returned to his desk to hear her story. Although not before giving Marty a look. Marty knew he’d hear all about it later, but Jeff would still take both cases and that was what counted.
“Here is a recent photo of Peter. He goes by Smyth.”
Jeff raised his eyebrows when he took it, then angled it so Marty could see it too. Jeff had left Mrs Smyth’s husband’s photo on the desk and it was clear it was the same man.
“What are the chances?” Marty said, once Mrs Huntingdon-Smyth had gone. “A bigamist and both wives coming to us.”
Jeff shook his head. “With you involved? Very high.” He leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette. “Or one of them is his mistress and wants us to think he’s her husband.”
Marty frowned. “Thank goodness you took both cases.”
“And you can follow him. Since you’re so keen.” Jeff smiled.
“Oh, hold on, Jeff. You know how boring surveillance is.”
“You can hardly go searching for marriage certificates, can you?”
Marty opened his mouth to refute that, but then Jeff added, “And not make a mess.”
He had been thinking of blowing everything around, but he could see how that would end up with Jeff getting thrown out before he’d found the evidence. He folded his arms. “Oh, all right.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Jeff gestured towards the door, not that Marty used it.
“I thought you were with a client. I didn’t want to interrupt.” It was Jeannie, coming through the door, confused to find only Jeff there.
Marty gave Jeff a wave, then him to come up with an explanation for Jeannie.
Following someone now he was a ghost wasn’t much more interesting than it had been when he was alive. Even though he could now stick close to Smyth, all Smyth did all day was to pore over sheets of numbers at the office. Marty had peered over his shoulder to help on a couple of occasions, but it didn’t break up the monotony much.
Since Smyth seemed likely to be staying there all day, Marty popped back to the office. Jeannie was on her own, typing. Marty stuck around for a while, since he much preferred watching her than Smyth. But even the one-sided conversation with her lost its appeal after a while.
While he’d been gone, Smyth had barely moved. Marty blew some of the papers on his desk around a little, but there was nothing personal there. He didn’t even keep any photographs on his desk.
After what felt like an eternity, the end of the working day rolled around. Not that it meant anything to a private detective who had to work at all hours. Even a dead private detective who no longer needed sleep.
On the dot of five, Smyth neatly stacked his papers and placed his pen next to them. Then he reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a ring box. He removed his wedding ring and replaced it with the identical, but slightly less shiny one in the box.
“So you are married twice.” Even if Jeff didn’t find the marriage certificates, they now had something else to prove it.
Smyth locked the drawer and gathered his briefcase.
“How do you do it?” Marty followed him out of the office. “Keeping one wife happy was enough work.” Of course Smyth couldn’t answer, but Marty never let that stop him from asking the questions.
Smyth travelled home on the underground, which felt at odds with the way he and his wives dressed. It was when they exited the station that the solution occurred to Marty. “No car for the other wife to recognise.” He wondered how far apart the wives lived.
This one, whichever one he was on the way to, lived in a Georgian terrace in Islington. Marty was in the wrong job, if Smyth could afford this house and another. He couldn’t tell much from the hallway, but Marty was definitely going to scout around later.
As Smyth hung his jacket on a peg by the door he called out. He’d only just left his briefcase by the telephone table when Mrs Smyth emerged from a door at the back of the house. She greeted her husband with a kiss on the cheek. Following some way behind her was Katherine – the woman Sylvia Huntingdon-Smyth had been having dinner with last night. Marty gaped.
“This is Kitty Williamson.”
At Mrs Smyth’s introduction, Miss Williamson came forward to shake Smyth’s hand.
“Darling, we have a ghost in the house and she’s here to catch it.”
“A ghost?” Smyth frowned.
“You know how I was telling you about my collector plates moving in the cabinet when I’m alone in the house.”
“It’s the tube line running below the house.” Smyth sounded long-suffering, but relented at his wife’s worried expression. “If it’ll make you happy.”
She smiled and took his arm. “We have to wait in the kitchen. The ghost won’t show itself when someone else is around her when she’s working.”
“I bet it doesn’t,” he muttered, but allowed himself to be led away.
Marty watched them go, then turned a searching gaze into the dark corners, wondering if there was a ghost in the house. He could go back to Jeff, since he wasn’t likely to find out anything else this evening. Except, when his gaze alighted on Miss Williamson he found she was looking straight at him, a small smile on her face.
“You can see me?” he asked slowly.
“Of course.” Her smile broadened. “You aren’t the first ghost I’ve met.”
She turned to head into the front room and Marty had to follow her. “But dinner last night. You didn’t say anything.”
She peered back over her shoulder. “And have everyone think I’m mad by talking to someone who isn’t there?”
“I was there,” he pointed out, but was distracted by the incongruity of the large glass box on the coffee table. The rest of the small room held two armchairs and a cabinet – items expected to see in the front room. He went closer to inspect the box. Aside from the hammer-like object stood up in the centre of it, it was empty.
Miss Williamson came up beside him. “Allow me to demonstrate.”
Before he had to chance to discover what she was up to she’d pressed a button on the side of the box.
Marty closed his eyes and fell to his knees, clutching at his chest. He’d have said he was having a heart attack, except his heart didn’t beat. He struggled for a breath he didn’t need to take. This was worse than dying – at least that had been quick.
And then it was over. He panted and rubbed his eyes to fix his fuzzy vision. Miss Williamson was a giant, distorted by a dirty window. Or a glass box. Marty slowly turned to see the hammer-like-object towering over him. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, yes.” Miss Williamson smiled. “Now I have you I just have to wait for your partner to arrive and I’ll have both of you.”
Marty frowned but stood, heading to the front of the box. “Why are you doing this?”
She bent down and Marty took a step backwards. Human faces weren’t supposed to be that big. “You don’t remember me do you?”
He shook his head. “Should I?”
“You will.” She straightened up and walked away.
He was quite happy at her leaving, but less so at her switching off the light and leaving him in the dark. But it wouldn’t be for long – Jeff must have found something by now. Except when Marty tried to go back to the office, nothing happened. He put a hand out and found the walls of the box were solid to the touch. When he tried to walk through one he banged his nose.
“Great.” He rubbed his nose. All he could do was to wait for Jeff to find him and end up in whatever trap Miss Williamson had planned for him. And there was nothing Marty could do to warn him.
Mrs Smyth was right – there was something moving in the house. Marty didn’t know what was in the cabinet behind him, but whatever it was rattled from time to time. He was convinced he could hear an unearthly moaning. He sat in the corner of the box, curled into a ball and hoped that if he closed his eyes, the ghost wouldn’t see him.
Marty sat up, his eyes opening at the sound of Jeff’s voice. Jeff was standing silhouetted in the doorway. He breathed a sigh of relief. “The breaststroke, what does it look like I’m doing?”
When Jeff switched the light back on Marty was glad to see that neither Miss Williamson nor the other ghost were in sight. And there was nothing in the room moving besides him and Jeff. Marty stood up. “A ghost hunter called Kitty Williamson trapped me in here. I can’t get out.” To prove it, he knocked on the nearest wall. “And she’s waiting for you.”
Jeff’s eyes widened. “The phony ghost hunter, distracting the residents in the house so her accomplice can steal their money? That Kitty Williamson?”
Now he remembered. It had been Jeff’s investigation, Marty having refused to go anywhere there might be ghosts. Although Jeff had kept him informed, trying to spook him with his stories. It hadn’t worked of course. But Kitty Williamson had pretended to hunt ghosts and entice rich women into paying for her services. While she was trapping the ghost, her accomplice would sneak in and steal the valuables.
“The same one,” he concluded gloomily. If only he’d known what she looked like, he could have avoided her trap. “But she’s not a phony now, if she ever was.” His eyes widened as over Jeff’s shoulder he saw her creeping up, croquet mallet held high. “Duck!”
Jeff did, without hesitation, and turned, grabbing Miss Williamson around the legs, bringing them both tumbling to the floor. Twisting her arm sent the croquet mallet out of her grip and rolling across the floor, until it hit the wall.
With his free hand, Jeff pulled off his tie and used it to bind her hands behind her. “Still up to your old tricks, I see.”
“I’m a ghost hunter.” She stood up straight , seemingly unencumbered by her tied hands and Jeff hanging on to her arm. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
She had caught Marty, after all. Maybe she wasn’t as phony as they’d thought. For all the good that did Marty at the moment.
“Now, how do I release him?” Jeff nodded over to where Marty was trapped
Miss Williamson smiled. “Why would I tell you?”
Jeff twisted her arm, but the door opened and Mrs Smyth walked in.
Miss Williamson wrenched herself away from Jeff.
“Oh, have you caught the ghost?” Mrs Smyth peered over at the glass case.
“No, she’s caught the wrong ghost.” Marty put his hands on his hips.
“The ghost?” Jeff asked, frowning.
Mrs Smyth nodded. “It’s been haunting the house, keeping me awake when my husband’s away.”
“Has it now.” Seeing Miss Williamson attempting to untie her bonds, Jeff side-stepped to grab her arm. But he was too late and she stumbled into him, stabbing one of her high-heels into his foot. Jeff gave a hiss of pain, but nevertheless lunched for the croquet mallet at the same time as she did. He won and brandished it at the case.
“No, Jeff!” Marty put his hands up, stepping backwards, until he hit the back of the case. “You don’t know what it will do.”
“It can’t kill you, you’re already dead.”
Before Marty could protest any more Jeff brought the croquet mallet down. The case smashed. Everything went black.
As the case shattered, a bright light came from within it. Jeff shielded his eyes from it. When he opened them again Marty was no longer inside it. He was relieved, until he glanced around the room to find that he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. “Marty?”
Miss Williamson had used the distraction to grab Mrs Smyth by the neck and was pulling her backwards into the hall. From somewhere towards the back of the house he could hear two male voices arguing. Outside there were police sirens getting louder. Finding Marty would have to wait.
Jeff went out into the hall in time to see Smyth emerge, holding a young, scruffy man by the collar.
“I caught him in the safe.” Smyth sounded triumphant.
Jeff turned to Miss Williamson. “Up to your old tricks again, Kitty?”
“At least I’m not a bigamist!” She let go of Mrs Smyth as the police barrelled in, flat-footed as usual.
“Bigamist?” Mrs Smyth stared at her husband, as the burglar was taken from him and handcuffed.
“I can explain everything.” Smyth put his hands out.
Not wanting to be in the middle of their inevitable argument, and reasoning he was not going to get paid tonight, if at all, Jeff decided discretion was called for. He whispered Marty’s name, then when there was no answer, tiptoed out. The police would know where to find him, if they needed a statement.
Once in the car he sat for a moment. He’d been sure that breaking the glass would set Marty free, but something that could trap a ghost wouldn’t be that simple. What if it meant he was free from being a ghost? No, he couldn’t think like that – Marty couldn’t be gone forever.
If he was still there, then there was one place he was most likely to have gone. Jeff set off for the graveyard, worrying all the way about finding nothing there.
When he found Marty lying on his grave, he sagged back against Marty’s neighbour’s stone, not caring that it was wet. Marty’s eyes were closed, as if he was asleep, the rain falling through him. “Marty?” When that got him no response he tried again, louder. “Marty!”
This time Marty’s eyes shot open, although he grimaced and put a hand to his head. “Ugh.” Then he noticed his surroundings. “How did I get here?”
“I was hoping you could answer that.” Jeff lit a cigarette, but Marty didn’t move. “Are you planning to stay there?”
“No.” He stood up. “Let’s go home.”
In step, on the way to Jeff’s car, Marty asked, “Did we get paid for that job?”
Jeff gave a short laugh.
Marty sighed. “You really need to stop taking divorce cases. They’re more trouble than they’re worth.”
Jeff stopped, mid-step and gave him a look.
“What?” Marty put on a particularly innocent expression. One that Jeff didn’t believe for a minute.
“Never mind.” Jeff shook his head and resumed walking. “Just try not to get killed again. Once in a lifetime is enough.”