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Rycroft – A Christmas Slaying, Part II

Monroe and Rycroft left the scene of the crime and were directed by an officer to Henry Martin’s office. After the police arrived on the premises, the manager and Jennifer Graham had opted to wait there until they were needed. It was organised but semi-luxurious – it didn’t look like it cost a fortune, but it certainly wasn’t cheap.

They both looked at the detectives as they entered, and Monroe made the introductions.

“May we speak with you both separately?” Monroe asked.

“Of course,” Martin smiled a friendly smile. “Jen, would you mind?”

“I’ll wait outside at my desk, Mr Martin, officers,” Jennifer said as she left the room.

After she’d departed, Monroe and Rycroft took a seat opposite the shopping centre manager.

“Right,” Monroe began, “you knew the victim, Mr Martin?”

“Yes, that’s right,” he confirmed. “Steve was a handyman around here, and for the past few years, he doubled up as the department store Santa. The kids loved him – he was really good at it. You know how some people have that vibe?”

Rycroft nodded – he couldn’t help but picture Arthur Pocket.

“Was he working today?”

“He was, and then he remained in his Santa suit for the staff Christmas party earlier this evening. We shut at four today, to give us a little time to celebrate together, before everyone heads off for the holidays and we shut down for a few days. The plan was that he’d distribute the presents to everyone – every year, I buy a little token for the staff and their families to say thank you, you see – and that would largely wrap things up.”

“That was the plan?” Monroe asked. “So what happened?”

“We all met in the conference room, and then Steve turns up, slurring his works and causing trouble. I wasn’t having that, so I sent him away – I told him to go home, and sober himself up.”

“Where did he go after that?”

“I don’t know – until Jen and I found him in the grotto, I’d assumed he’d gone home like I ordered.”

“How about you, Mr Martin? Where were you this evening?” He raised an eyebrow. “It’s just a routine inquiry – we’ll be asking everyone who was at the party.”

“Of course,” he flashed an easy smile again, “but my whereabouts aren’t that interesting. After Steve let me down, I gave out the gifts myself – we wrapped up the party at six, and then Jen and I cleaned up. We went to leave together, and then I saw someone in the grotto.”

“You saw a person?” Rycroft asked.

“No, not exactly. I saw a light – like a torchlight – and it seemed suspicious. Nobody should have been there but us, so we went to investigate. I turned on the lights, and we saw Steve, slumped in his chair, and I could see the blood on his head. I told Jen to call the police, and then I heard a noise – like someone was running away. So I chased them, out the back of the shop and through the service area, and eventually out of the loading bay at the back of the building. I couldn’t catch them, so I thought it was best to return to the grotto and wait for you.”

Monroe asked the next question: “Did you see the person at all? Can you give us a description?”

“I can’t, I’m sorry – they were too quick. I could barely make out a figure – I couldn’t even say if it was a man or a woman, I’m afraid.”

“How did you follow them, if you couldn’t see them?”

“I heard footsteps, so I followed them. And then the alarm went off – I knew he’d gone through a security door.”

Monroe nodded, and Rycroft stepped in:

“Did Steve Denholm have any enemies?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“How about you? What was your relationship with him like?”

“Cordial enough,” he said. “He knew I was his boss, of course, but we got on well, so I thought. I told you about this bust-up, but I’d have forgiven it for the New Year, I’m sure. But then, I get on well with all my employees, you’ll find. You don’t get to run a place like this unless you’re a people person.”

He smiled his manager smile at them both.

Somehow, that just confirmed Rycroft’s suspicions.

He knew that Henry Martin was the guy.

***

“I always thought that Steve Denholm was a sketchy character,” Jennifer Graham said, “but I never imagined someone would want to kill him.”

Monroe nodded in understanding.

“Did he have any enemies?”

“I really didn’t know him well enough to say, Inspector. He seemed nice enough.”

“Okay,” she changed tack, “was Denholm at the Christmas party?”

Her demeanour hardened.

“Briefly.” Monroe and Rycroft remained silent, encouraging her to speak. “Steve had clearly had a bit to drink, and for some reason, he’d decided to have it out with Mr Martin. He turned up in his Santa suit, causing trouble, so Mr Martin took him outside the conference room and sent him home. Well, I suppose, not home, as it turned out, but we didn’t know that.”

“Did you hear what the argument was about, Ms Graham?” Rycroft asked.

“A little,” she seemed embarrassed by the admission, “but there was nothing in it. He was accusing Mr Martin of dipping into company funds and siphoning all our money for himself. Now, that’s not right – there’s never been a shortfall here, and Mr Martin is one of the kindest and most generous men I know.”

Monroe asked the next question as delicately as she could: “Was Mr Martin at the party all evening?”

“Yes.”

“Was he in the conference room all night?” Rycroft asked.

“No, he wasn’t,” she answered uneasily. “He left for a few minutes, but that was only to grab the employee and family Christmas presents. That’s a tradition, though – that happens every year. Steve should have done it.”

“Do you know when that was?”

“Before we wrapped up – half-five, maybe? Steve’s intrusion had rather killed the festive mood, so Mr Martin offered us all gifts and everyone went on their way.”

“Everyone except you, right?” Monroe asked.

“That’s correct,” she said. “I helped Mr Martin clean up the conference room after everyone left, and then we were leaving together when we happened upon Steve’s body.”

“You saw a light in the grotto, is that right?”

“Not exactly. Mr Martin saw a light – in all frankness, I didn’t see anything at all. There must have been someone, though – Mr Martin pursued the intruder while I called the police, and then he came back when the man escaped.”

There was little more to ask, so the two detectives thanked the secretary for her time.

***

“I don’t really know what else to tell you – I didn’t see anything.”

Monroe and Rycroft stood in the cold, the Professor with hands in his pockets, as they spoke with Mel Adkins. She was an older woman with a red face – a combination of the temperature and the fact she’d clearly been jogging – and her hands were cradling a coffee.

A uniform officer had informed Monroe that a witness had come forward shortly after the interview with Jennifer Graham – they’d swiftly headed outside.

“You said that you saw a person leaving the backdoor of the shopping centre about an hour ago – roughly 18:45?”

“Yes, that’s right,” she said, “an older man, handsome. I’d taken a seat,” she indicated a stretch of low wall, “and a man burst out of the door, an alarm went off, and then he swore loudly. It all made me jump a little.”

Rycroft sat where she’d pointed out – from there, he had a perfect view of the door that Henry Martin claimed he’d found open as he pursued a mystery assailant.

“After the man swore,” Monroe asked, “what did he do? Where did he run to?”

“Oh, he didn’t run off anywhere – he went back into the building.”

Monroe and Rycroft shared a brief glance.

“How long were you sitting here before the man appeared, Ms Adkins?”

“I don’t know – a couple of minutes, maybe?”

“And did you see another person, before or after the man you’ve described?”

“No,” she shook her head, “just him.”

“Could anyone have come by you without you noticing?”

“No,” she was firm. “While I was there, there was only one other person, and that was the man I saw.”

“Just to clarify,” Rycroft asked, “he burst through the door?”

“Yes, that’s right. It slammed – dear, it startled me.”

Rycroft nodded.

“I don’t know that know, I’m afraid. But I thought, when I heard about what happened in there tonight, that I should get back and let you know what I saw, in case it’s important. What do you think,” she asked, a little giddy thrill in her voice, “do you think it might be important?”

“It may be,” Monroe said, “thank you for your time, Ms Adkins.”

Mel looked to Rycroft, who was still sitting on the wall. He smiled at her, and tapped his nose a little – she received the message, and returned the smile.

But in his mind, questions were raging. If there was no intruder, why did Martin bother inventing one?

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