Alice Masterson sat in an armchair near to the window overlooking the main street. She was bright and alert but appeared to have limited mobility, a fact highlighted by her husband flitting about her like some bee around a jam pot. He was attentive to her every need but whether this show was for their benefit only, Spencer could not say. They settled into their respective seats, and Marks outlined what had happened to Miles Thomas. The Mastersons seemed deeply concerned at the death of the young man, and it appeared that the thought of a murderer lurking somewhere amongst the tenants clearly worried them. Jeremy Masterson edged forwards on his seat and put down his cup and saucer.
“What do you need from us, inspector?” he asked Marks.
“Apart from Mr Preston, you are Miles Thomas’ nearest neighbours. If there were any disturbance in his flat, you may have heard it. I understand that he had a regular stream of visitors and any one of them may have something to do with his death. Is there anything that you can think of which may have seemed out of the ordinary over the past week or so?”
The Mastersons both seemed to have been unnerved both by the question and also Marks’ businesslike manner. This was a knack which he had developed quite deliberately over the years, and his habit of coming straight to the point without pulling any punches had caught many a suspect on the wrong foot in the past. Amid the slightly awkward silence, Marks had been consulting his notebook whilst Peter Spencer had left his seat and wandered around the room – actions which both served to increase the tenants’ state of anxiety. Sitting down again, the D.S. looked at Jeremy Masterson with a puzzled frown on his face.
“That’s a very interesting fragrance wouldn’t you say boss? Mr Masterson, if I am not mistaken it’s the smell of Cannabis. Now, why would an odour like that be present in your flat?”
Alice Masterson flushed noticeably and became quite agitated. Her husband sat in his chair clasping his hands and staring at his feet. Spencer had touched a nerve and it appeared to be quite a raw one. He pursued the question with a raised eyebrow as the husband’s gaze met his own.
“My wife, sergeant, suffers from Multiplesclerosis and used to go through quite severe bouts of pain from time to time. The Cannabis has had a dramatic effect on reducing the effects of the condition, and in the absence of a suitable alternative treatment with the same results, we make no apologies for breaking the law. His voice had gained in firmness and confidence during his ‘confession’ and he now met the inquiring looks of the detectives with renewed determination.
“Mr Masterson” said Marks “It is not our intention to pursue or prosecute either you or your wife on the subject of the use of a Class ‘C’ drug. We would however, in exchange for immunity, like to know the name of the source of your supply. You have very little to lose because if, as we suspect, it was Miles Thomas your dealer is no longer able to fulfil your needs. In any case your anonymity is assured, as we will be questioning all tenants in the block.”
Alice and Jeremy exchanges glances and she shrugged her shoulders. Miles Thomas had been supplying them for almost a year with enough Cannabis for Mrs Masterson’s use, and when Marks was told the price they had been paying he had to admit that the dealer hadn’t done himself any favours – it was half that of the current street value. It would appear that the man had an altruistic streak in him which the detectives had not anticipated. These two had no motive for killing him; indeed it was in their interest to keep him alive and well. They were not the killers and would not have been involved in any plan to dispose of him.
With the assurances given to them, the Mastersons’ conversation widened to include what details they knew of Thomas’ private life. There had indeed been a procession of young women in and out of his flat as Roger Preston had said, but what caught the interest of Dennis Marks was the mention of a regular male visitor two days before, seemingly intent on concealing his identity. The man was about six feet tall, of slim build, with a swarthy, Mediterranean complexion and he always wore sunglasses, even in the semi-darkness of the stairwell and landing. The description approximated to that of Giorgio Gasparini, a small time dealer with whom he had crossed paths early in his CID career. That had been ten years ago, and by the description of his designer clothing it was clear that he was now considerably further up the criminal ladder than before. It shouldn’t be too difficult to track him down, but it was a job that Peter Spencer would be better suited to than himself. Finishing their drinks both thanked the couple for their time and left the apartment.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Marks
“They remind me of a couple of church mice. Huddled together, scared to death of their own shadows and just wanting to be left alone to themselves. They could be key witnesses to Thomas’ abduction, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on them on their own.”
“Peter, I want you to track down a guy called Giorgio Gasparini. He was a dealer when I knew him, and the Mastersons may just have placed him at the scene when Miles disappeared. It’s important that you don’t mention my name at this stage; he got off a drugs charge on a technicality when I was a DC and you might scare him off. Send for DC Wallace and I’ll carry on with the rest of the tenants with her for now”
Back inside the Masterson apartment, Jeremy was on the telephone in a hushed and troubled conversation with George Carlton-Smythe, the occupier of Flat 2 on the ground floor. His manner had reverted to one of nervousness and hesitancy, and his wife Alice was sitting at his side in tears.
“No, I told them just what we agreed – we were playing cards at the time you said, and you left our flat just before midnight. The Italian will get the blame and they’ll think it’s all drugs-related. I’m sure the Inspector knew him from the description I gave. Look, George, I can’t get involved any more, this is having a terrible effect on Alice and she’s got enough on her plate as it is. You’re going to have to see this one through on your own.”
He put down the receiver and sat with his head in his hands as his wife placed her arm around his shoulder. They were in deeper than they expected to be at the outset and things were becoming decidedly dangerous. Giorgio Gasparini was not a man to be trifled with. At the other end, George Carlton-Smythe sat drumming his fingers on the desk where he had been composing an anonymous letter to the police concerning the activities of Miles Thomas and Giorgio Gasparini. He had ‘persuaded’ the Mastersons into co-operating after discovering Alice’s dependency on Thomas for her supplies. The boy had become too big for his own good and needed taking down a peg or two. Gasparini was a thug but Carlton-Smythe hadn’t anticipated that he would take the matter so far.
© Copyright 2016 Phil Neale 1952. All rights reserved.