Henry Martin was sitting at his office desk when Rycroft entered. He had a cup of coffee on the go and a pile of paperwork in front of him – he was taking advantage of being asked to wait to get through all the minutiae and invoices he’d left for another day.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr Martin,” he began.
“No, no, not at all,” the manager rose from his desk, “have you caught the man who killed Steve?”
“Not just yet, but I wanted to update you on where we are. We’ve had a team of officers pouring over every inch of the shopping centre, and we haven’t found the murder weapon, or any gun at all. DCI Monroe is just briefing the team now, but it looks like that’s that here.”
“Well, I don’t suppose you would find a gun, Professor – the murderer probably took it with him.”
“Yeah,” Rycroft put his hand on his head, “I suppose that makes sense.”
“But you don’t sound convinced, it seems?”
Rycroft sat in the chair opposite Martin and winced as if in deep thought.
“In all honesty, Mr Martin, it’s just the sequence of events – it doesn’t really add up. Steve Denholm was dead about an hour before you found him – just after he left you, as it happens – so why was the intruder still in the store? Why would you hang around for so long?”
“Maybe he was waiting for the store to close, just to make sure nobody would be around? Maybe he was a robber, something like that?” Martin suggested, a little annoyed at the vacant questioning. “It was just his bad luck that Jen and I happened to be passing and we saw him and stopped him in the act.”
“You know, Mr Martin, we had a stroke of luck – we have a witness.”
“A witness to what?”
“You know how you said you chased the person you saw through the shopping centre, and out the backdoor – well, we found someone who saw you leave the building at the end of the chase.”
Martin raised an eyebrow, curious.
“It’s all good, Mr Martin – they confirmed that you left the building, looked about, and then you went back inside.”
“Perfect,” Martin clapped his hands together. “So that proves what I told you – great.”
“Well, it sort of proves it. You see, they saw you, yeah, but they saw only you. I would’ve thought that, if you were in hot pursuit, you’d have been somewhere near the guy, but he must have been miles ahead by the time you left the building.”
“And your point is?”
“Oh, I’m not making a point,” Rycroft put his hand on his head. “No, I was just thinking that it seemed a little odd, the intruder opening up such a lead on you over such little distance. You say you didn’t make the man out at all?”
Martin folded his arms now, his suspicions growing: “No, I didn’t. Maybe your witness was the man – did you ever think about that?”
Rycroft seemed to not hear the comment.
“You know, as it happens, Ms Graham told us the same thing – in fact, she didn’t even know that she’d seen anyone.”
“Okay, what are you implying, Rycroft?”
He seemed confused by the question: “What do you mean, Mr Martin?”
“The way you’re talking, you’re making it sound like you think I’m guilty. Despite the fact I’ve told you the truth. Despite the fact I’ve an alibi for the night, and that you haven’t found the murder weapon, and that I don’t have a motive to kill Steve.”
Rycroft shrugged his shoulders.
“I heard about the row at the Christmas party. Steve Denholm accusing you of taking a lot extra for yourself out of the company purse – that might give you a motive.”
“If it were true,” Martin sounded annoyed, “but it’s not. Steve was drunk, and he didn’t know what he was talking about. Now, I think I’ve had about enough of this, Rycroft – I’ve given you all the assistance I can, and I don’t appreciate this kind of unsubstantiated allegation. I’m going home now, and if you want to speak to me again, you can do so through my lawyer. You understand?”
Rycroft nodded and didn’t push his luck. He got up from his chair and, after wishing Martin a pleasant night, he left the office. He wandered out of the shopping centre and found Lucy Monroe standing in the cold.
“How are we looking, Lucy?”
She nodded, and a slight smile crept onto the Professor’s face.
The game was nearly over.