“It’s starting to look like murder,” said Detective Inspector Williamson, tossing a copy of the City Gazette onto his desktop.
At the adjacent desk Detective Constable Ellen Page looked up from a case file. “What’s that, sir?”
“Geoffrey Dallow. Last year. You remember? The entrepreneur who vanished without trace after visiting Carson’s Gymnasium. His watch has turned up, advertised in the classifieds. Listen to this.” Williamson picked up the newspaper and read: “ ‘For sale. Genuine Altex timepiece. Gold. One careful owner.’ ”
D.C. Page was unconvinced. “Nothing in that advert suggests it’s Dallow’s Altex watch.”
Williamson threw the classified section of the newspaper across to the policewoman. “Have a look at the picture beneath the ad. Do you recall what Dallow’s wife, Melanie, told us about the watch face?”
“That there was a scratch mark across it. Something to do with Geoffrey showing her that the engagement ring he bought her was set with a genuine diamond.”
“And is the watch face in the photo scratched?”
Ellen Page scrutinised the black-and-white picture. In spite of its graininess she conceded there did seem to be a scratch mark.
“So much for ‘one careful owner,’ ” said D.I. Williamson. “I’m telling you, this new development points towards Geoffrey Dallow having been murdered.”
“Even if this is his watch, it doesn’t mean he’s a victim of foul play, sir. He could’ve disappeared of his own accord. Perhaps he wanted to start a new life with some floozy and now he’s running short of cash.”
Williamson was incredulous. “You met Mrs Dallow. She’s a lovely woman. Beautiful; intelligent; devoted. The perfect wife. No. someone’s murdered her husband.”
“Why don’t we lay a twenty-quid bet on it then, sir? You think he’s been killed, I reckon he’s done a bunk.”
After a short pause, the policeman said: “You’re on.” He took his mobile from his pocket. “What’s the contact number in the advertisement?”
He keyed in the digits to what he guessed would prove to be a disposable cell phone. Then, posing as a potential buyer and calling himself Mr Wallis, Williamson offered the male voice at the other end of the line a ridiculously high price for the Altex watch. Following a moment’s hesitation, the man agreed to a meeting the following lunchtime at the Blacksmith’s Arms. The anonymous seller was to wear a white carnation and ‘Mr Wallis’ a red carnation.
“I think this guy’s seen too many spy films,” said Williamson, ending the call.
“Was it Geoffrey Dallow, sir?” asked D.C. Page.
Williamson shrugged. “Impossible to tell. We’ll have to wait till tomorrow.”
At noon the next day Williamson entered the gloomy confines of the Blacksmith’s Arms public house. The walls of the hostelry were hung with ploughshares, hoes, harnesses and other agricultural equipment of a bygone era. Rather than creating a countrified aura however, the pub exuded the atmosphere of a dingy dungeon. Pulling himself onto a barstool, Williamson straightened the red carnation in the buttonhole of his jacket and ordered a pint of bitter. However, before he was halfway through his drink, a familiar figure from the Dallow case furtively pushed open the pub door.
“Well, well, well!” said Williamson. “What a surprise. If it isn’t Roger Carson.”
The manager of Carson’s Gymnasium hesitated on the hostelry’s threshold and turned to leave. He came face-to-face with D.C. Page though, who had been watching from an unmarked car outside the pub.
“Going somewhere, Mr Carson?” she asked, producing her warrant card.
The gym manager laughed nervously. He folded his fingers over the white carnation he was holding in an effort to conceal it. “I was just popping in for half a lager. There’s no law against that.”