The Strange Dimunition of Georgie Marsh (2010)

A Ghostly Tale of Murder, Theft and Ballroom Dancing

Matt Ambrose listened to the carriage wheels grinding along the tracks and concentrated on ignoring his fellow commuters. This was proving to be more difficult than usual, because expanding into his territory from the left loomed an enormous, vanilla-scented, black woman. She was swathed in yards of brilliant orange material, some of which had been moulded into an impossibly high turban. Her arms were stacked with snake bangles that rattled whenever she moved. Although he found himself strangely disposed to the vanilla, the woman’s formidable mass was forcing Matt to lean to the right, which was unfortunate because to his right sat an unkempt, little man, wearing a filthy, once-green anorak that smelled of stale beer and men’s places. He was clutching a leather briefcase close to his chest and, through the corner of his eye, Matt could see him drumming his fingers against its battered surface. Matt considered reading his Evening Standard but opening it would have brought him into closer contact with his neighbours, so he resigned himself to studying the underground map opposite.

Matt sighed at the aromatic conflicts around him. At his day in general. Indeed, this journey was proving to be an appropriate end to a notably disgusting Friday. That morning he had missed his train into the city and arrived at the office an hour late. Upon opening his email he had learned that his article, “Strange Energy and Coincidence”, had been rejected and, to make matters worse, he had tipped a latte macchiato down his trousers. This final disaster, above any other, had deterred him from asking Jenny Butler, the new Layout Artist, to accompany him to Georgie’s dinner party. Jenny Butler wore Versace glasses and, last Thursday in the lift, seemed to have been genuinely interested in Matt’s theories regarding extrasensory communication. But what fool would proposition a girl when he had so recently wet his trousers?

So, as the train rattled towards suburbia, Matt prepared himself for the humiliation of announcing that, yet again, he would be unaccompanied tomorrow evening. Gracie, Georgie’s fiancée, would undoubtedly invite some last-minute girlfriend to make up numbers, and he’d be stuck all evening attempting polite, non-committal conversation with some enthusiatic thirty-something, when all he actually wanted to do was talk to Gracie. It wasn’t easy being hopelessly attracted to your best friend’s fiancée. However, Georgie had a penthouse in Primrose Hill, a dining room with a panoramic view of the city, and an unlimited supply of good Burgundy. After dulling his frustrations with Chambertin, Matt was accustomed to just sitting back and watching Gracie be a perfect hostess.

The train jolted and stopped. People started to crowd in, when all at once Matt’s mobile pinged in his pocket. He knitted his brow. Mobiles don’t work on the tube! He considered investigating but he was wedged in. The woman in orange turned a sympathetic eye towards him and obligingly leaned away. Matt burrowed into the space provided and retrieved his phone, but, as the woman jangled back, his phone slithered out of his hand and came to rest between the shiny, mud-splattered shoes of the man beside him. Matt prepared to wrench himself forward, but, with a sudden waft of body odour, the skinny man swooped down and retrieved it. He handed the phone to Matt and gave him a decayed grin.  Matt thanked him and opened his text message.

Matt, change of plans. Cum 2 flat asap. Georgie

Plans? Wasn’t it tonight that Georgie and Gracie were competing in that stupid, bloody ballroom dancing contest? Yes. He’d run into Gracie last week and she’d mentioned it. It was the Semi-Finals and she and Georgie were favourites. She’d been making her dress for weeks. She’d said that if they got through to the Finals he should come and support them. He had joked about being unable to resist the temptation of leaping up and joining in. On his own. Partnerless. And Gracie had patted his hand and assured him that soon he would find his perfect partner. Matt exhaled adoration, snapped himself from his reverie and rechecked the message: 5.10. It was now 6.15. Why had it taken so long to get through? He hadn’t even left the office by 5.10. He’d stayed behind to make up missed time.

‘Sometime, dey be hangin’ roun’ foh days.’

Matt gaped at the woman beside him. Had she spoken to him? ‘Sorry?’

‘Sometime, dese trains be hangin’ roun’ foh days.’

Matt rallied: ‘Yes!’ The carriage doors were still open. People were shuffling to allow a continuing ingress of commuters. Irritation was brimming just below the surface. Here and there the no-eye-contact rule was being broken. Matt noticed the face of the woman opposite pale as she leapt up and pushed her way to the doors, dropping her umbrella but not pausing to pick it up. He glanced past the person taking her seat and tried to read the station name:

OTTAGE

Swiss Cottage! He could walk to Georgie’s from here. Check out the asap. He manoeuvred himself up into the crush, but as he squeezed between overcoats, he turned to look at the orange-clad woman. She was watching him. To his immense surprise, he paused and wished her goodbye.

Stepping onto the platform, Matt collided with an elderly lady wearing black glasses. Her harnessed dog was pulling her away from the train. She turned her blind eyes towards Matt and apologised. He touched her arm to steady her: ‘My fault. It’s crowded in there. The next train will be right behind.’ The doors closed behind him and as the carriage moved away he noticed the faces of the black woman and the skinny man turn towards one another. There was nobody between them.

Matt strode out into the damp early-evening air and paused to use his mobile. His call went straight through to Georgie’s answering service, so he set off towards Primrose Hill, quickening his pace as his thoughts turned to Gracie. He rounded a corner and came to an abrupt halt as Georgie’s apartment block came into view. Two police cars and an ambulance were parked outside. Policemen were guarding the marbled entrance. Matt approached with trepidation.

‘Matt Ambrose. Mr Marsh is expecting me. Top floor.’

The officers regarded one other; one of them stepped away and spoke into a handset. Eventually Matt was invited to step inside, although his requests for information were met with stony silence. An officer escorted him to the sixth floor where he was met in Georgie’s reception hall by a slim, middle-aged man, elegantly turned out in blazer, cricket jumper and grey flannels. He introduced himself as Detective Inspector Durrant and quizzed Matt regarding the nature of his visit. Matt fought against growing anxiety. He showed the Inspector Georgie’s text:

Mat change plans. Cum 2 flat asp. G

He demanded an explanation. Braced for bad news, Matt was nevertheless shocked to his soul by the Inspector’s response:

‘I must inform you that Mr Marsh was discovered some forty minutes ago, having committed suicide by hanging. His fiancée, Miss Newton, is expecting you.’ He indicated the dining room.

The panelled doors opened as Matt approached but, as the scene inside revealed itself, his legs froze. The large dining table had been pushed to one side and several chairs had been tipped over in the process. On one of the upright chairs sat Gracie, sobbing quietly, her head buried in an armful of green taffeta. A lady officer was comforting her. It was dusk and across the vast, panoramic window the imposing, early-evening skyline displayed the towers and spires of one of the world’s most powerful cities. This magnificent view was disrupted by Georgie’s hanging body. Matt observed his friend. He was wearing evening dress, with one bright, polished shoe in place and one lying beside the overturned chair beneath him. The thousands of lights illuminating the distant city streets complemented the lights of the chandelier blossoming just above Georgie’s head. From Georgie’s sagging neck, stretching upwards, a thick rope completed the bisection of the magnificent blood-red sunset.

Gracie glanced up and Matt’s ability to move returned sufficiently for him to barge past the support officers and hurry towards her. She jumped up and threw herself into his arms. Amidst his fluctuating sensibilities, Matt learned that poor Gracie had hurried to the apartment because Georgie was not answering his phone. She had discovered him hanging. Inspector Durrant believed there were no suspicious circumstances. Neighbours had been questioned. There would be forensic investigations but, as far as he was concerned, there was a simple explanation: Mr Marsh had been stressed about the dancing contest.

Following Gracie’s refusal to receive medical attention, the Inspector allowed Matt take her home to her Hampstead flat. Officers would call round tomorrow for her statement. Matt escorted Gracie into her flat, poured her a large chardonnay and waited for her friends to come over. It would have been inappropriate for him to stay and, besides, he needed to go home and disintegrate into catatonic stupor. He promised to return tomorrow morning and left. Slowly, almost senseless, he paced the deserted streets, arriving home at around two in the morning, wandered into his lounge and collapsed into his lone armchair. He revisited Georgie’s text:

Mat chnge plns Cum 2flt

‘Why’s the sodding message disappearing?’ he demanded.

‘I’m finding it difficult to maintain.’

Matt looked up. Georgie was sitting directly opposite him on the coffee table, his left shoe missing, his neck at an awkward angle.

‘Matt, this has got to be the most uncomfortable room I’ve ever seen. You could at least buy another chair, just in case somebody’s stupid enough to visit you.’

Matt considered running out into the street screaming. Perhaps just staying where he was and screaming. He rallied: ‘Georgie, this is the second time I’ve seen you this evening. The first time you were hanging from your chandelier. And you were dead.’

‘Still am, matey.’

Matt took a moment to consider this statement. ‘Why did you do it, Georgie?’

‘I didn’t. I’m a rich bastard. Engaged to Gracie. A cert for the ballroom championship. Why would I top myself?

‘Are you saying someone else strung you up?’

‘Yeh. First they knocked me out. I walked into my study and someone held something in front of my face. Then they must have strangled me and hung me up.’

‘Who?’

‘Didn’t see. Someone who wanted it to look like suicide.’

‘Why?’

‘So nobody would realise I was murdered.’

‘Murdered?’ exclaimed Matt. ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me!’

‘Happening to you? Look at me, you selfish bastard. I’m a fucking ghost. I don’t even believe in ghosts!’

Matt hurried over and poured himself a whiskey. He turned to Georgie: ‘Do you?’

‘No thanks.’

Matt returned to his chair. ‘You going to haunt me forever?’

Georgie demonstrated his fingerless left hand. ‘Don’t think so. I’m disappearing. Like that text. I think I’m granted a deferment, to help you avenge me. It’s why I got to save you.’

Matt lowered his glass: ‘Save me?’

‘Turn on the news. I’m switching off for a minute, or there’ll be none of me left.’

Suddenly, Matt was staring at the empty coffee table. He grabbed the TV remote and found a News Channel. The screen filled with wreckage. Railway lines. People in yellow high-vis jackets. He read the words at the bottom of the screen:

TRAIN DISASTER … WILLESDEN GREEN … CARRIAGES ON FIRE … 107 DEAD

He watched the footage repeating. Then he saw it. Amongst the rubble some resourceful cameraman had located belongings that no longer belonged: handbags, a scorched umbrella, a battered leather briefcase, a charred length of orange cloth.

Matt slugged back another whiskey, staggered into his bedroom and collapsed into sleep. He was dragged back to consciousness by the Sugar Plum Fairy. He grabbed his phone. Inspector Durrant would be calling round in half an hour. Further inquiries.

Matt called Gracie. Her friend answered. Gracie was in the shower. Matt said he’d ring back. By the time Inspector Durrant arrived, he was braced for interrogation. He showed the Inspector and two accompanying officers into his lounge and offered them his chair, which they politely refused. Inspector Durrant straightened his blazer:

‘Mr Ambrose, would you confirm the time at which you received the message from Mr Marsh.’

‘I received it at 6.15, but it was sent earlier than that.’

‘At what time was it sent?’

‘5.10.’ Matt lowered his head. When he looked up Georgie was standing between the accompanying officers. His left arm was missing to the shoulder. He waved his remaining hand in front of the officers:

‘Don’t worry, they can’t see me.’

Inspector Durrant cleared his throat. ‘Forensic investigation has revealed that Mr Marsh died between fourteen and fifteen hundred hours yesterday.’

Matt glanced at the space between the two officers. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that?’

‘I’ve been a bit overwhelmed,’ explained Georgie, ‘what with this being dead and all!’

‘I was only recently informed,’ explained the Inspector. ‘Clearly, Mr Marsh could not have sent the message at the time indicated. We are unable to explain this discrepancy other than to conclude that someone else sent the message.’

Matt glanced at Georgie then addressed the floor: ‘Anything else worth mentioning?’

‘I did send it! It took ages. You should try pressing a keypad when you’re just a pile of ectoplasm.’

The Inspector stiffened: ‘Indeed, Mr Ambrose, I should mention that I noticed the message was signed ‘G’. Could this not have been Miss Newton, the ‘G’ indicating Gracie?’

‘But it originally said …’ Matt looked at Georgie but Georgie shrugged his shoulder.

The Inspector frowned. ‘How long were Mr Marsh and his fiancée acquainted? Had there been any bad feeling?’

Georgie pointed a half finger at the Inspector. ‘He’s incriminating Gracie!’

‘About a year,’ replied Matt, ignoring his diminishing friend.

Georgie folded his arm: ‘Actually we got together after your birthday party two years ago. We both made a play for her and I won.’

‘And how well are you yourself acquainted with Miss Newton?’

‘Now he thinks you did it. You didn’t, did you?’

‘Since before she met Georgie,’ replied Matt, controlling himself.

‘Yeh, like ten minutes before she met me. Tell me you didn’t kill me!’

‘I was at work!’ exclaimed Matt.

‘With Miss Newton?’ asked the Inspector.

‘Pardon? Oh no, I mean I was at work when Georgie … died.’

The Inspector paused: ‘Mr Ambrose, we have confirmed your whereabouts. You are not a suspect.’

Matt nodded. He looked at Georgie. ‘So, what was with the dancing suit at two in the afternoon?’

‘I was practicing!’

The Inspector glanced at the space between the two officers: ‘We are trying to determine the sequence of events …’

‘What, all by yourself?’ grinned Matt.

The Inspector looked confused: ‘I do receive significant help from my colleagues.’

Matt realised he appeared to have lost his mind: ‘Inspector, I’m sorry. I’m a little distracted. But, does this conversation indicate that you believe Georgie was murdered?’

‘Too right, Sherlock!’ snapped Georgie.

The Inspector gave a grim nod and elaborated: muddy footprints in the study; neck vertebrae not dislocated consistent with a severe fall; possibility of prior strangulation. Foul play could no longer be ruled out. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday.

‘Autopsy!’ Georgie uttered a ghostly scream. Then he smiled: ‘Did you hear that? I’m definitely doing that again before the throat disappears.’

The policemen left. Matt stormed back into his lounge intent upon giving Georgie a piece of his mind. ‘Georgie … God, your left foot’s disappeared! Are you going to start falling over?’

‘No. I’m not actually standing. I’m wafting.’

‘Well, I suppose it’s no longer obvious that one of your best shoes is missing.’

Georgie frowned at his remaining foot. ‘Hang on! These aren’t my best shoes … shoe.’ He stared at Matt. ‘I was breaking in my new patents. Last heats they’d been killing me.’He drifted over to the window and raised his foot. ‘The murderer must have swapped them!’

Matt walked over to investigate but as he touched Georgie’s instep his hand passed through his ankle and came out the other side. He leapt back: ‘Fuck!’

‘What did you expect, idiot?’ Georgie lowered his foot. ‘Look, Matt, if we work out who stole my shoes, we’ll know who murdered me.’

‘Murdered you for your shoes?’

‘They were Prada’ Georgie spun round, coming to a standstill devoid of his lower left leg: ‘Martie Smee!’

‘Who’s Martie Smee?’

‘One of the other semi-finalists. Him and his partner were second favourites. I bet he’s through to the Finals. Bastard! Last heats he couldn’t stop ogling my feet!’

With that Georgie disappeared and Matt was left staring through his window at a world full of people who were not currently witnessing the slow dissolution of their oldest friend. He phoned Gracie. She seemed calm. She asked Matt if he would meet her at Georgie’s apartment that afternoon: she had to collect some things and she couldn’t bear to be there alone. Matt mentioned that the police were now considering foul play. She refused to believe it. Matt chose not to mention Georgie’s wrongly compromised vertebrae. Instead he asked if she had Martie Smee’s address. So he could contact him about Georgie’s obituary.

Fifty minutes later Matt hovered outside Martie Smee’s apartment. He rang the bell and a tall, slim man opened the door. Matt fought hard to suppress his desire to stereotype. It was not so much the diamante earrings, but somehow the fluffy turquoise slippers struck deep at the heart of Matt’s sexual bigotry. ‘Martie Smee?’ he asked, hoping this was the wrong apartment.

‘No. Is Martie expecting you?’

‘No. But it’s important I speak to him. About last night.’

‘It’s OK, Rupie. I’m decent,’ called a voice from inside.

Rupie swept Matt through into the spacious lounge where Martie Smee sat resplendent in emerald housecoat and matching mules. Matt introduced himself, but not the purpose of his visit, sat down on a low chair and braced himself: ‘I gather you’re both through to the Final.’ He glanced towards Rupie, hoping that his face was demonstrating the politically-correct expression.

Martie tittered. ‘Rupie’s not my dancing partner!’ He turned his head. ‘Charlotte, darling, come and meet Mr Ambrose from the local press. Matt, let me introduce my daughter and dancing companion.’

Matt’s attempt to address the misunderstanding over his identity was thwarted by the entrance of a young redhead. She who hurried over and offered her hand: ‘Hello, Mr Ambrose. Daddy is so excited.’

Matt shook hands then dithered. Eventually, he managed to stammer out words to the effect that, although he was delighted for their success, he was in fact not from the local press. He was actually Georgie Marsh’s oldest friend and he was here to explain Georgie’s and Gracie’s absence yesterday evening, and to confirm that, although Gracie was relatively well, Georgie was dead. There was a dreadful silence during which Matt bore the weight of six startled eyeballs.

‘What?’ whispered Charlotte.

‘He was found hanged,’ said Matt. ‘The police suspected murder.’

Charlotte clutched her throat. Martie uttered a scream almost as penetrating as Georgie’s ghostly howl. Matt felt inclined to join him in a brief episode of keening but as he watched Martie’s paroxysms, Georgie’s face rose above the sofa:

‘He so did not kill me! And I’m running out of appendages.’ He dematerialised.

 

As Matt strode towards Primrose Hill, what remained of Georgie wafted alongside.

‘Sorry I abandoned like that, matey. I couldn’t take any more chiffon and wretchedness. Did you discover anything?’

Matt gripped his umbrella and stared straight ahead to avoid the spectacle of the driving rain and the occasional shopper passing clean through Georgie’s diminished morph.

‘Apparently, if Charlotte and Martie win the Final, they’re donating the prize money to charity. Oh yes, and they’re going to do a foxtrot around your coffin.’ Matt glanced round: ‘There was talk of you and Gracie quarrelling over a Pasodoble.’

‘That was weeks ago! Gracie wanted to factor one into our routine and I said her giant frock wasn’t appropriate to Latin sensuality. Anyway, what difference does it make now? Look at the state of me!’

‘I’d rather not. And waft faster! Gracie will be at your place in twenty minutes.’

Matt negotiated his way into Georgie’s apartment and Georgie floated in behind him; Georgie’s actual body had been removed to the morgue and, as Matt checked the study Georgie hovered over his Chesterfield looking truculent. ‘Were there signs of forced entry?’

‘Apparently, none of your doors were locked.’

Georgie looked contrite. ‘What kind of people lock their doors in broad daylight?’

‘Sensible people. They think the assailant accessed the fire escape from the back garden.’

‘What! It’s like a mud bath out there!’

Matt indicated Georgie’s desk. ‘What’s with the gift wrap?’

‘It was a present for Gracie.’ Georgie worked his way round the perimeter of his desktop. ‘It’s gone! Do you think the bastard stole Gracie’s present as well as my shoes?’

‘What was it?’

‘A figurine. A woman with a snake’s head with one green eye and one red one. I thought Gracie might like it. After I’d upset her over the Pasadoble. But she hated it..’

‘Where’d it come from?’

‘Jamaica.’

‘I mean where did you get it from?’

‘From a website: mysssticalartifacts.com.’

‘Was it a secure site?’

‘How the Hell should I know?’

‘Well, was it delivered to this address?’

‘Yes. Why?’

‘Because it’s stupid to type your details into an insecure site. I never do it.’

‘That’s why you live in an empty flat.’

‘And probably why you’re dead! Was it expensive?’

‘Sixty-two thousand.’

‘Are you mad?’

Their exchange was interrupted by a jangle of metal. Matt spun round and discovered the top half of an orange-clad woman nestled in the Chesterfield. She pointed at Georgie: ‘Dis  ting  mus’ be sorted!’

Georgie bristled. ‘Who are you and why are you in my apartment?’

‘T’aint yoh ‘partment no moh. An’ I’z Jezebel but dis jus be de half o’ me!’

‘You were on the train,’ said Matt.

‘Al’ of us been held up by yoh friend gettin tings tidy.’ She indicated an agglomeration of heads and torsos over by the window.

Just then Gracie called from the hallway. Matt frowned: ‘She can’t see, right?’ He ran into the hall and pulled Gracie into the study.

‘Sit down, Gracie. I’ll make tea.’

Georgie floated over. ‘She’s been crying, Matt.’

Gracie wandered over to sit beside Jezebel: ‘Matt, do you think Georgie killed himself because of me?’

‘What?’ asked Georgie.

‘What?’ asked Matt.

‘Because argued about Pasodobles. And because he couldn’t tell me he’d stopped loving me?’

‘I didn’t stop loving you. Tell her, Matt!’

Matt knelt in front of her. ‘Gracie, he loved you. And wherever he is now, he still loves you. And I know he didn’t kill himself.’

‘You know?’

‘Yes, when people are intimate, they can communicate.’

‘Were you and Georgie intimate? Is that why he killed himself?’

‘What? No, Gracie! Me and Georgie are … were old friends. That’s why I know.’

Gracie’s eyes brimmed with tears: ‘I wish I could tell him I loved him. Just once more.’

Matt glanced at Georgie. ‘You can. I’m sure he’ll hear you.’

Gracie wiped her eyes, and, unaware of Georgie’s hovering proximity, she addressed the empty air. ‘I love you, Georgie.’

‘Love you too, poppet.’

Matt rallied. ‘Gracie, do you remember the statue Georgie bought you? A snakewoman with green and red eyes?’

‘Did Georgie show you it?’

‘Er, yes. It seems to have disappeared.’

‘Good. It was disgusting. It was supposed to bring luck.’

‘Dat it do, sweet girl. I know dat evil snakewoman. She bring de worse luck of all.’

Gracie was dismayed: ‘Do you think someone killed Georgie and stole it?’

‘It was quite valuable,’ explained Matt.

‘I told him not to leave it lying around.’

Georgie gasped: ‘I remember! I put it in my old briefcase. Under my desk.’

Matt threw himself down and crawled under Georgie’s desk. Gracie peered in after him: ‘Matt?’

He scrabbled for an explanation: ‘Do you remember Georgie’s old briefcase. Perhaps he hid it in there.’

‘Is it under there?’

‘No. But it ought to be. What was it like?’

I don’t know,’ said Gracie.

‘Brown leather,’ said Georgie.

Matt jumped up and banged his head on the desk. ‘Coincidence: the man sitting next to me on the train had an old leather briefcase. I think it was Georgie’s briefcase. Coincidence: I stayed behind at work to catch up and caught a later train. Coincidence: I was sitting next to the person who murdered my oldest friend. It’s why all  this is possible, because coincidences create Strange Energy, and that allows things to happen.’ Matt glanced at Georgie. ‘He was wearing your shoes!’

‘Wearing my shoes?’ whimpered Gracie.

‘I mean Georgie’s shoes. They were covered in mud.’

Jezebel swayed above the Chesterfield. ‘E were an wikit man, but it was too late foh mah sight ta see cos snakewoman was shielin’ him. Dat ting mus be destroyed!’

‘What strange things are happening?’ asked Gracie.

‘Don’t worry, Gracie. ‘I need to phone Inspector Durrant. You go and make tea.’ Matt watched her leave the room. ‘Georgie, I saw that briefcase in the news footage. We have to stop its contents falling into the wrong hands. Jezebel, did anybody survived from our carriage?’

‘Ah don’t tink so.’

Matt called Inspector Durrant and explained his theory regarding the murder and the stolen snakewoman. He put down the receiver and turned to Georgie. There was not much of him left. ‘He thought I was nuts but he listened. He said he’d check the list of personal effects recovered from the wreckage. Where are the others?’

‘Gone.’

‘Oh! I’d better check Gracie’s OK. Will you be here when I get back?’

Georgie just about nodded. Matt hurried to the kitchen and returned moments later but Georgie had disappeared.

‘Georgie?’

‘I’m in the fruit bowl.’

Matt hurried over and discovered Georgie’s disembodied mouth smiling up from between two mangoes.

‘Georgie!’

‘Is Gracie OK?’

‘Yeh, Do you have to go?’

‘Looks like it. Thanks for solving things.’ The mouth twitched downwards. ‘You’ve been a great mate.Have a good life, Matt.’

‘I’ll live it for you, matey!’

‘And, take care of Gracie.’

‘OK. I’ll miss you, Georgie. You were …’

But Georgie was gone.

In the months that followed Matt and Gracie came to terms with losing Georgie and then with finding each other. Gracie gave her gowns to charity and never danced ballroom again and Matt’s rewritten article on Strange Energy was published and brought him significant acclaim. Meanwhile, the Official Report on the Willesden Green train crash was inconclusive. The body of the skinny commuter was never identified, so that Georgie’s death was officially recorded as robbery with murder by an unknown assailant. The briefcase which featured in the news footage was located and recorded as containing nothing but a wine catalogue. Gracie was not able to identify it with any certainty. The only other detail relevant to this tale concerns the tragic fate of a senior police officer who, whilst batting for his local team was struck on the forehead by a cricket ball and died instantly of a shattered skull. Being a bachelor, his possessions were parcelled up by his elderly mother and disposed of. A box of the most saleable items, including a strange statue having the body of a woman and the head of a snake, found its way into a local charity shop.

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