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The Case of the Missing Pound Note: A Daniella Coulstoun Short Story

  06 Jun '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

The following short story plunges readers into the gritty crime and blazing sun of the Daniella Coulstoun series, and offers a taster of what to expect from Morgan Cry’s newest novel. Six Wounds is available now from your local bookshop or here on the Birlinn website.

The Case of the Missing Pound Note

A Daniella Coulstoun Short Story

Morgan Cry

I was supposed to have this Sunday off. Se Busca, the pub I run, was to be a no-go zone for me until late Monday morning, when I would open up. My apartment, a haven built in the attic space above the pub, was to be my sanctuary for the morning. Today, a day of rest, followed by a stroll and a late evening meal in the sort of restaurant that prefers high heels and a floaty summer dress to trainers, shorts and a Nirvana T-shirt. That was the plan. And, as plans go, it was a good one. Running a bar is not for the lightweights of this world. Operating a bar on the Costa Blanca, populated, in the main, by the British expatriate community, is for the masochists of this planet. And Se Busca brings me pain every day. It also delivers joy – in sporadic bursts. That there is more of the former than the latter is why I need days like today.

The bath was full to the brim, bubbles plentiful, and, given that today’s temperature was forecast to hit twenty-five degrees, I’d added a layer of indulgence by winding up the flat’s A/C to the max – making the warmth of the tub even more pleasurable to soak in. My battered CD player was perched on a shelf next to the tub, nineties grunge at the ready, and a deep-chilled bottle of Cava, a stack of aceitunas marinadas and a slab of Cadbury’s sat alongside it. My mobile was switched off and if it had been possible to disconnect the doorbell, I would’ve.

All in all, I was ready to relax like I meant it.

The knock at my front door was preceded by a ruckus in the pub below. Given the sheer quantity of sound insulation I had inserted into the floors when the flat was constructed, the fact that I heard the noise at all suggested it was more than a minor skirmish, which I can usually ignore; this one had sounded like a doozy.

I tightened my dressing gown and padded to the door. When I opened it, Clyde was standing there. Clyde is a student at the University of Valencia and our best bar person.

‘Clyde?’ I said.

‘I know it’s your day off, Daniella, but you need to come down to the pub . . .’

‘Why?’

‘There’s been a theft.’

‘What’s been stolen?’

‘A pound note.’

I’m standing in the middle of Se Busca, a breeze-block box that sits between the port and the pueblo of the coastal town of El Descaro. A windowless building that last saw a decorator’s paint brush two decades past, it’s furnished in early junkyard style and is populated by a group that my mum christened the Ex-Patriots. George Laidlaw, a disbarred lawyer, is perched on a stool at the bar. Arthur ‘Saucy’ Heinz, an alcoholic accountant, is nursing a drink at a table beneath the dartboard. The Twins, Jordan and Sheryl Norman, once child models, are sitting near the outsized TV. Zia MacFarlane, an ex-popstar from the eighties – and my partner – is leaning on the bar top next to George. Clyde is behind the bar. And finally, there’s Peter ‘Skid’ Solo, a failed racing driver, loitering beside the cigarette machine. Skid had been on the point of leaving when I’d arrived and I’d had to push him back inside the pub. Everyone around me has a share in this place and all of them, to varying degrees, embody the word dysfunctional.

‘Where’s your brother, Zia?’ I ask.

‘He’s gone to fetch the police.’

Zia’s brother, Mark, had arrived from the UK late last night, but I’d yet to see him. The lead singer of the US poodle-rock band The Oncers, Mark’s stage name is Blizzard White. In the eighties, Zia had scored a sole UK hit, ‘Look At Me’, while his brother had racked up ten consecutive top ten singles and three platinum albums in the US. But since then everything had been downhill for him and his band. Last I heard, The Oncers were playing the nostalgia circuit and were far from the main draw.

‘Why is he going for the police, Zia?’

‘Because someone stole his pound note.’

‘Let me get this correct,’ I say. ‘Your brother is bringing the local constabulary to Se Busca because a pound note has gone walkabout. Really?’

‘It’s worth a lot of money,’ slurs Saucy. It’s not yet midday and he’s already several sheets to the wind.

‘Is it?’ I ask.

‘Yes,’ says George, lifting a dripping wet newspaper from the bar. ‘Do yourself a favour and read this.’

He holds out the paper. I’m expected to walk over and fetch it. George holds the world in contempt and I’m in his top ten in the world. As the ex-lover of my recently deceased mother he feels that the pub, which I inherited from Mum, should be his. So, when he can, he likes to lord it over me.

I don’t move. ‘No games, George. Just tell me what it says.’

He shrugs. ‘Zia, you tell her.’

George is such a pain.

‘Zia?’ I say.

‘Okay . . . Daniella, do you remember the pub had a pound note with white writing?’

I look up at the ceiling. There are hundreds of notes up there, from all over the world. It all started back in the seventies when visitors would pin currency from their country to the ceiling. The plaster above is all but invisible. The tradition ceased long ago, when the visitors dried up. This is a locals-only bar these days.

‘Seriously?’ I say, waving my hand at the celling.

‘Not amongst that lot,’ Zia replies. ‘It sat on its own right above the till.’

Now I think about it that does ring a small bell.

‘Maybe.’

‘Well, it was put there by my brother twenty years back. I’d just arrived in El Descaro and Mark came to visit.’

‘Generous of him – a whole pound.’

‘It wasn’t any old pound. It was signed by Sticks Hotrod.’

‘The Oncers’ drummer?’ I exclaim.

‘The very man.’

‘He’s dead, right?’

‘He died not long before Mark came here the first time.’

‘Isn’t he the one who drove his car off a bridge?’

‘The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, in New York,’ says Jordan. ‘He was out of his head on coke and the story goes he rammed the barrier six times before it broke. It took two days to salvage the car and his body.’

‘And he was playing The Oncers’ biggest hit, “Killing Your Time”, on the car’s CD player when he went over,’ adds Sheryl. ‘So rock ’n’ roll.’

So rock ’n’ roll,’ says Jordan. The twins have a bad habit of repeating each other’s words.

‘Anyway, back in the late eighties,’ explains Zia, ‘The Oncers were flying high but couldn’t crack the UK. Mark wanted that badly, despite how well they were doing in the US. He hated that I’d had a hit in his home country and he hadn’t. So he came up with a stunt for their next single. Each band member would sign a pound note and let all four notes loose in the UK. After a few days they released a PR statement, telling the British public that if they found one of the signed notes they would win one of four limited edition seven-inch singles made out of solid gold.’

‘And the note above our till was one of those notes?’

‘The only one that was ever found,’ says Zia. ‘The others never surfaced. When the winner claimed their gold single, Mark nabbed the note. He had it with him when he came out here twenty years ago and pinned it above the till.’

‘And?’ I say.

‘A quarter-of-a-mill . . .’ says Saucy.

‘A quarter of a what?’ I say, shaking my head. A conversation with the Ex-Patriots can be as frustrating as cutting your own hair in a pitch-black coal cellar with nail scissors.

Zia cracks his knuckles. ‘Some rock ’n’ roll nutter heard that the pound note signed by Sticks might still exist and has offered two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand pounds to whoever has it. Anything with Sticks’ signature on it is worth a mint. He’s a legend, hardly signed a thing and died young.’

‘That’s what the article in this paper says,’ George adds, flapping the soaking pages.

‘And this pound note has gone missing?’

‘Stolen,’ says Saucy.

‘When?’

‘It was here when we opened at eleven this morning,’ says Clyde.

‘And now it’s gone?’

‘Yip.’

I look at the clock over the bar. It’s just past eleven fifty.

‘And who’s been in here since we opened up?’

George opens his arms wide. ‘At some point, everyone you see here plus that idiot rock star brother of Zia’s.’

‘No one else?’ I ask.

‘Nope.’

‘Okay, so let me get this straight,’ I say. ‘At eleven o’clock there was a pound note above our till that might be worth a quarter-of-a-million pounds.’

Zia nods.

‘And when was it last seen?’

‘Mark came in at eleven-thirty and it was gone. And he was, to put it mildly,’ adds Zia, ‘raging.’

‘Why would he want the note back?’

George laughs. ‘Why else? Because he’s skint.’

‘Blizzard White is broke?’ I whistle.

‘Spends it quicker than a kid in a sweetie shop,’ says Saucy. ‘So I’ve heard from Zia.’

I look at my partner.

‘It’s true. Mark owes money left, right and centre and back to left again. And . . .’

‘And what?’ I say.

‘And,’ says George, ‘rumour goes he owes Eyeball Madson a serious wedge.’

I sigh, a deep and familiar sigh. ‘Eyeball who?’

‘Meanest loan shark in south London. Pat Ratte knows him well,’ says George.

Pat is a ‘retired’ gangster living in El Descaro who knew my mum. Retired being the wrong word.

‘And this note can dig Mark out of that hole?’

‘You don’t get a second chance to pay up with Eyeball.’

I sigh again. ‘I know I shouldn’t ask but why is this guy called Eyeball?’

‘If you don’t pay up it’ll cost you an eyeball.’

I should be surprised at that. But I’m not. Not around here.

‘And now the note is missing and Mark thinks one of you took it?’

There’s some nodding and grunting.

‘And let me take a wild guess . . .  none of you know anything about the missing note?’

More nodding and grunting.

‘And the note was definitely here when you opened up, Clyde?’

‘Yes.’

‘And now it’s vanished?’

‘Yes.’

‘And Mark has gone to fetch the police?’

George nods.

‘Bloody hell, the last thing we need is the local police in here, and if Capitán Lozano catches wind of a missing quarter-of-a-million pound note he’ll be here before Saucy can finish his drink.’

Lozano is an officer of note with whom I’ve had more than a few run-ins. At the mention of his name, Saucy’s eyes open wide and he downs his vodka at speed. Saucy always drinks as if someone is planning to steal it.

‘Okay,’ I say. ‘If this pound note went missing this morning and you lot were the only ones here, and assuming Zia’s brother isn’t stupid enough to call the police if he stole it himself – then one of you has it.’

Everyone tries to talk at once and I hold my hand high. ‘All of you – be quiet. There’s no time for this. No time at all. I’ll make this simple. Do you want the police to solve this or me? I’m more than happy to go back to my bath and let things run their course.’

That’s not true. The last thing I want is the authorities in here. I need to solve this, and quick. I spent years working as a claims assistant in an insurance firm back in the UK, helping the genuine through their problems and spotting the scammers. I thought that aspect of my life had been left behind – but I’d been wrong. Out here, spotting the deceitful is a full-time job.

‘Clyde, when did anyone first notice the note was gone?’

‘When Mark came in twenty minutes ago.’

I look at my watch. ‘So Mark was here at eleven-thirty?’

‘Yes.’

That must have been the ruckus I heard.

‘So, to be clear,’ I say, ‘the note went missing between eleven and eleven-thirty.’

‘Yes,’ says Clyde.

I shrug. ‘Well, is anyone going to own up to taking it?’

No one says a word.

‘And the first anyone knew of its worth was when Mark came in?’ I add. ‘Is that right?’

‘Or if they read the article in the newspaper this morning,’ points out George.

‘Saucy read the paper first,’ blurts out Skid. ‘He would have known its value before any of us.’

‘I didn’t know the value,’ Saucy fires back.

‘Did too,’ Skid says. ‘You grabbed the paper when it was delivered.’

‘When was that?’ I ask.

‘Not long before Mark and Zia appeared,’ says George. ‘Jenny Lomond’s lad always drops it off on his way to football practice.’

‘Aye,’ says Saucy. ‘And Skid grabbed it. I don’t know why, he never reads the newspapers. I had to wrestle it from him – and, for your information, all I read was the horoscope. All I ever read is the horoscope. That was it. Full stop. I never saw anything about any sodding pound note.’

Skid sniffs. ‘So you say.’

‘George,’ I say, ‘you’re the one who reads the Sunday paper every week.’

George stirs his coffee. ‘I read the papers every day, Daniella, but I knew nothing about the note. Mark rolled in here and when he found out it was missing, he went all Radio Rental on us and pointed out the article.’

‘Was it a big story?’

‘Page three.’

‘Mark knew the paper was running a story?’ I ask.

Zia chips in: ‘He said it was a newspaper reporter who put him onto the value of thing.’

‘When?’

‘He was in London and got a call yesterday morning. Obviously the reporter must have been asking if he knew where the note might be.’

‘And that was why he flew in?’

‘I guess.’

‘And he told you he was here for the note?’

‘No. Not a word until we got to the pub this morning. Although when he phoned from the UK yesterday, to tell me he was coming out, he did ask if the note was still in the bar. But I didn’t think anything about it. I told him it was and, on the drive back from the airport, I heard him also ask Skid if the note was still above the till. Skid told him it was.’

‘What was Mark’s excuse for suddenly arriving in Spain, if he didn’t mention the note?’

‘Said he needed a break,’ replies Zia.

‘He got here quickly?’

‘He blagged a private jet from a rock star friend to get him here.’

‘Nice way to fly. But, Zia,’ I add, ‘you never made it back to the pub last night and we were open gone two in the morning?’

Zia and I live together upstairs but last night he had texted late to say he was going to stay up at my mum’s old flat in the pueblo with Mark.

‘I picked Mark up from the airport at Valencia at eleven last night. Skid came with me,’ Zia says. ‘But we had a puncture, and by the time we got back I knew the pub would be shut. I dropped Skid off and took Mark to your mum’s flat in the old town – but when Mark realised we weren’t going to the pub he kicked off. Wanted me to drive right down here and open up. I told him there was drink in the flat but he kept asking to go to the pub. I was knackered, what with driving to Valencia and the puncture, so I lied and told him I didn’t have a key. He changed tack and wanted me to fetch your key. I said you weren’t feeling well and I wasn’t going to wake you up. We argued for an hour before he gave in, crashed on the bed and I fell asleep on the sofa.’

‘And why did Skid go to the airport with you?’

‘Mark and him have history,’ Zia says.

‘History?’

‘Mark was going to back a racing team, with Skid as a driver, at one point. It never happened but they’ve been internet buddies ever since, watching stuff like the F1 together online. They were thick as thieves on the way back from the airport. Skid is starstruck when it comes to my brother.’

Skid grins. A dumb grin.

‘Zia,’ I say, ‘if I knew there was a note worth a quarter-of-a-million pounds sitting in this pub, and I couldn’t get at it last night, I’d have been here at cock crow. Why did everyone else get here before Mark?’

‘I lied and told Mark we didn’t open until twelve. I know we open at eleven but I was pissed off at him last night and wanted a lie in.’

‘Did Mark happen to ask you if the pub had any newspapers delivered on a Sunday?’

Zia’s face screws up a little. ‘Funnily enough he did. I was making coffee for both of us, not long after eleven this morning, when his phone started to ping and he asked about the newspapers. He also asked when the pub really opened on a Sunday. I told him twelve and he called me a liar. When I finally told him the truth about the opening time and that we got the Sunday paper delivered first thing, he got all agitated. Then his phone lit up again and next thing I know he’s sprinting out to my car telling me to get a move on. He was fizzing when he got here.’

‘And that’s when he discovered the pound wasn’t behind the till?’ I ask.

‘Only because Skid had moved the note before he got here,’ George says. ‘He stuck it on the ceiling.’

‘Skid moved the note to the ceiling? When? Why?’ I ask, looking at Skid.

Skid’s phone makes a noise like a submarine’s sonar. ‘Bloody WhatsApp,’ he curses.

‘WhatsApp, Skid – when did you get that?’ asks Sheryl. ‘I thought you hated the idea. Only yesterday morning you blew a fuse at me for being on it.’

‘His buddy Mark got him to put it on his phone on the way back from the airport last night,’ says Zia.

‘Aye,’ says George. ‘That bloody submarine noise has been going off all morning.’

‘I can’t figure how to turn the sound off,’ Skid moans.

‘Forget that, Skid,’ I say. ‘Tell me why you moved the note.’

Clyde leans on the bar and answers for Skid: ‘Because when I was setting up the bar this morning the stupid note fell off the wall.’

‘After twenty years it chooses this morning to fall?’ I say.

‘Yes,’ Clyde says.

‘So why did Skid put it on the ceiling?’

‘Because I wanted Skid out from behind the bar,’ Clyde says. ‘I’d been getting ready for the day, and about fifteen minutes after we opened Skid suddenly offered to help. Before I knew it, he was in the fridges sorting out the bottles. Skid never helps because he’s useless. In no time at all he was making a mess. So,’ Clyde says, turning to Skid, ‘I needed you gone. I was supposed to nip down to the panaderia for some bread but fixing your mess kept me behind the bar until Mark came in.’

I turn to Skid. ‘And where exactly did you put the note?’

‘Up there,’ he says, pointing to a spot near the front door. ‘In amongst the other ones.’

I look up at the clutch of green that marks out the UK section of the ceiling. There is no note with white writing on it.

‘And when exactly was this?’

‘Not sure, but I know it was after I read my horoscope in the paper,’ says Saucy. ‘Those notes are above my chair.’

‘So roughly when?’ I say.

‘I’m not sure, but it was when Sheryl yelped,’ Saucy says.

‘Yelped?’

‘I heard the ping of a text and Sheryl cried out. Skid was mucking around up on the ceiling about then.’

‘The text was from Jordan,’ explains Sheryl.

‘Jordan texted you from inside the pub?’ I say.

‘No,’ says Jordan. ‘I wasn’t here first thing. I left my phone at the Safety Deposit + yesterday. Sheryl and I were working all day and I forgot it. I went back this morning to pick it up.’

‘And the text was to tell your sister you had the phone?’

He nods.

‘Rubbish,’ says Skid.

I sigh. ‘What now?’

‘Jordan was telling Sheryl about the note’s value.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I saw Sheryl put her phone down on the table. She left the texts open and I could read the message. It was Jordan letting her know how much the note was worth.’

‘When was this?’ I ask.

‘Just as Mark came in,’ replies Skid.

‘Sheryl?’ I say.

‘Okay, it’s true,’ she says. ‘Jordan texted me about the note. But he also texted earlier to tell me he had his phone back.’

‘Let me see?’

She hands me the phone, unlocked, and I scroll down. I read and hand it back.

I look at the twins and then turn to everyone else. ‘And no one knew the note had vanished until after Mark arrived?

‘When Skid showed Mark where he had put it on the ceiling – that’s the first I knew that it was missing,’ says George.

‘Did anyone see someone take the note down from the ceiling between Skid putting it up and Mark arriving?’ I ask.

‘George was over there,’ says Skid.

‘I was not,’ George spits back.

‘You were.’

George thinks on that. ‘Sorry, I did go over, briefly. I wanted the newspaper. Saucy had gone to the toilet and Skid had lifted it from the table. I took it from him and went back to my seat.’

‘Sheryl,’ I say, ‘you were near the notes. Did you see George take the pound from the ceiling when he was getting the paper off Skid?’

‘What the f—’ George shouts. ‘I never took the bloody thing.’

Sheryl shrugs. ‘I don’t know. I was on the phone.’

‘Clyde?’

‘I was in and out of the cellar. I never saw anything.’

‘Skid, did you see George take the note down?’

‘I didn’t take the damn thing,’ snaps George as he pushes his coffee to one side. ‘Don’t you dare try to pin this on me.’

Skid winces as his phone makes the submarine noise again.

‘Turn that off, Skid,’ I say.

‘I can’t,’ he whines. ‘I don’t know how to.’

‘Look,’ interrupts George. ‘I took the newspaper from Skid and sat straight down. So why would I take the note? As far as I was concerned it was just another piece of pub tat. I hadn’t read the article and never got the chance to read it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because Skid came jogging over and managed to tip his bloody drink all over the paper before I could open it. That’s why it’s soaking.’

‘I wasn’t paying attention,’ says Skid. ‘I wanted more ice for my drink and tripped.’

‘So I couldn’t have known about the note,’ George says. ‘Mark came in while I was cleaning up and I already told you he was the one who pointed out that the story was in the paper.’

I turn my attention to Sheryl. ‘Sheryl, after you got the second text from Jordan did you look for the note?’

She says nothing.

‘Sheryl.’

Everyone is looking at her.

‘Sheryl,’ I repeat.

‘Okay, okay, I admit I had a look, but it was gone,’ she says. ‘Mark rushed in just after Jordan’s text on the value arrived. After Skid showed Mark where the note had been, I checked the ceiling and it was definitely not there.’

‘You’re sure it was gone?’ I say. ‘There are a lot of notes up there.’

‘And I know every one of them. It’s my job to drag out that bleedin’ stepladder every few weeks, get up there and dust them all. If you don’t clean the things, clouds of crap start falling from the celling after a while. All that paper traps no end of filth. Leave it long enough and when someone slams the door it’s like standing under a shower of shit.’

Sure you didn’t take it. We all believe you.’ Skid’s sarcasm is blatant. ‘Daniella, she could have got it while we were all watching Mark.’ He slugs his drink. ‘Shit, this drink is too cold. Hurts my teeth.’

‘Skid, give it a rest,’ I say. ‘Sheryl, let’s be clear about this. You got that text from Jordan about the value but didn’t say anything to anyone?’

‘As I said,’ she points out, ‘the text came in just before Mark and Zia appeared. I didn’t need to tell anyone. Mark let everyone know as soon as he got here, double quick.’

I turn to Skid. ‘And how do we know you actually pinned it up there in the first place?

‘Ask Saucy,’ he says.

Saucy is crossing the bar for another drink. ‘Aye, he put it up there all right. You can’t miss the thing with all that white writing on it.’

‘See,’ says Skid.

‘And, Saucy, were you sitting at the table the whole time between Skid putting it up and Mark arriving?’

‘Apart from going to the bog, yes. Mark came in like a rocket with Zia in tow. Skid was near my table when Mark arrived and Mark shoved him out of the way.’

‘He hurt me,’ Skid says, rubbing a spot on his arm.

‘Then,’ continues Saucy, ‘Mark started waving the newspaper around before Skid pointed to the spot in the ceiling where he had pinned the note – and that’s when Mark really kicked off.’

‘Kicked off?’ I ask.

‘Accused us all of stealing the note,’ says George. ‘Told us all about the reporter calling him. That he had flown all this way to get his note and threatened to call in the police. Zia tried to calm him down but he wasn’t for having it.’

‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘Where was Jordan during all this?’

‘He came in right after Mark and Zia, all out of breath,’ says Saucy.

‘I’d just got back from picking up my phone,’ Jordan says.

‘Okay,’ I say. ‘I need a minute.’

I walk to the bar. ‘Clyde, a glass of wine, please. This is supposed to be my day off, after all.’

I drop onto the stool next to George and close my eyes. I visualise the time between eleven, when the pub opened, and eleven-thirty when Mark came in. I conjure up George, Sheryl, Skid, Clyde and Saucy – and then add Mark, Zia and Jordan a little later. I sip at the wine, my heart beating a little faster than it should. Not because there is a thief in the room. Around here there is always a thief in the room. I just don’t want the local police in here or, worse still, the Guardia Civil.

Stealing a note worth a quarter-of-million pounds is jail time in anyone’s books.

Whodunnit Time

Can you work out who stole the note?

Read on to find out.

Thoughts coalesce as the mists in my head clear. I let the alcohol chill my bones for a couple of minutes before I stand up. I walk back to the centre of the pub and survey my audience.

It’s showtime.

‘I’ll give the guilty party one chance to own up,’ I say.

I may as well have asked for someone to pull out their fingernails with a pair of pliers.

‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Have it your way.’ By this time, I feel like I’m in the final bloody scene from some Death in Paradise episode.

‘You know who did it?’ Clyde asks.

‘I do, and given what all of you have just told me, so should everyone else in here.’

Eyes search out eyes, and I search out one pair.

‘Right, my bath is waiting. Let’s rewind. And, in I’m a Celeb-style, I’ll rule you each out.’

This is actually a little more fun now the wine has kicked in.

I start. ‘Jordan and Sheryl, it might be you.’

‘What?’ exclaims Jordan. ‘How could it be me? I wasn’t even in the pub. I came in after Mark and Zia.’ He shuffles a paper coffee cup from hand to hand.

 ‘I know, but let’s look at what you did. You texted Sheryl twice. The first time to say that you’d got your phone back. The second time to tell her about the value of the note. I’m guessing when you went to pick up your phone at the Safety Deposit +in the port,you saw the article about the pound note somewhere along the way.’

He shuffles the cup again.

‘But you saw the newspaper article after you got your phone back. Otherwise your first text would have been about the note. So where did you find out? At the wee café down behind the Safety Deposit +, maybe?’

‘How do you know that?’

‘You’re holding one of their coffee cups, and I know they leave English papers out for customers to read. Did you see the article there?’

More shuffling.

‘And when you found out the value you texted Sheryl, telling her to grab the note. Then you ran here – that’s why you were out of breath when you arrived. Let’s be honest, Jordan, if someone else hadn’t got to that note first, Sheryl and you would be on eBay right now flogging it.’

‘We would not,’ says Sheryl.

‘Not,’ repeats Jordan.

‘Don’t lie.’ I pause, playing on the moment. ‘But even if the note had been on the ceiling, Sheryl couldn’t have taken it.’

‘Because I’m a good person and would never do something like that,’ she says with a small smile.

‘No.’

Her smile vanishes.

‘Do me a favour, Sheryl. Stand up and put your hands in the air.’

‘Why?’

‘Just reach up.’

Sheryl stretches her hands high.

‘See?’

‘See what?’ says George.

‘Sheryl’s too short.’ Her hands are at least a foot short of the ceiling.

‘Sheryl, you told me that you need the stepladder to dust the ceiling, didn’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, it would have been tough to roll out the stepladder or stand on a chair without someone asking what you were doing. So it wasn’t you, Sheryl. But it still could have been you, Jordan.’

‘But I wasn’t here.’

De lo contrario, Señor Norman. You came through the door right after Mark, did you not?’

‘Yes.’

‘And all eyes were on Mark.’

‘More or less.’

‘You could have reached up and taken the note when everyone was looking at Mark. Unlike Sheryl, you are tall enough.’

‘I didn’t take it.’

I hold my palm up. ‘I know.’

‘You do?’

‘Yip. I checked Sheryl’s messages and that confirmed something for me.’

‘What?’

‘You certainly knew the value of the note but you didn’t know it had been moved from behind the till by Skid. How could you? Sheryl never texted to tell you.’

‘And,’ I say to the room, ‘that not only eliminates Jordan but Zia as well. Neither of them knew the note was on the ceiling.’

I cross to the bar, one eye on the pub entrance. I’m no longer expecting the police to walk in – but I am expecting Mark back any moment.

‘Clyde, another small one, please . . . Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t you.’

George leans over. ‘How do you know that?’

‘Because Skid mucked up the bottles in the fridge and Clyde had to sort it. He never got out from behind the bar. So how could he steal the note? Did you see him leave the bar area?’

George shakes his head.

‘And, George, it’s not you.’

‘Thank you,’ he says.

‘Why not?’ says Skid.

‘He never read the newspaper. You tipped a drink all over it, Skid. So how could he know about the note’s value?’

Skid says nothing.

‘Which leaves,’ I say, walking to the centre of the room again, ‘Saucy and Skid.’ I take a breath. ‘And, Saucy, it might be you.’

He downs half his vodka. ‘I didn’t take the thing. Search me if you want.’

‘Maybe I will. After all, you were at your table most of the time. Right under the note. When Skid put it up you could have grabbed it.’

He opens his mouth and I throw up both hands, ‘But it’s not you, Saucy.’

‘Why?’ asks George.

‘Because Saucy didn’t know what it was worth.’

‘He had the paper.’

‘But he reads his horoscope.’

That sends a small ripple of confusion around the room.

‘What does that mean?’ asks Sheryl.

‘Saucy reads his horoscope every day and that’s all he reads. Didn’t you say that earlier, Saucy?’

‘Damn right,’ he says. ‘The rest is a waste of time. Who needs news?’

‘And that clears him how?’ asks Jordan.

‘Because the horoscope is in the supplement on a Sunday, not the main paper. I like to read it as well. The story on the pound note was on page three of the paper, and since Saucy never reads anything but the horoscope how could he have known how much the note was worth?’

‘He could have seen it by accident,’ Jordan chips in.

‘Maybe, but, even if he had, Saucy is too small to reach the ceiling and, no offence, I’m guessing you’ve had a few breakfast vodkas this morning, Saucy?’

He huffs.

‘And if you tried to stand on a chair to get the pound note you’d probably fall off – never mind doing it without anyone seeing you.’

I sip the wine, conscious that if I keep drinking at this rate I’ll be half-cut by lunchtime.

‘And so, ladies and gentlemen, that brings us to our guilty party.’ I turn and point. ‘One Mr Peter “Skid” Solo.’

All eyes fall on him.

‘I did not!’ he shouts. ‘Everyone saw me put it up. Saucy saw it there.’

‘That’s true,’ Saucy says.

‘Skid,’ I say, ‘you might be as daft as a box of frogs at times but even you knew that if you just pocketed the note instead of putting it up on the ceiling, as per Clyde’s request, you’d be the prime suspect when the theft was discovered. So you put it up but,’ another pause for effect, ‘later you took it down again.’

‘Did I hell,’ he growls.

‘Proof is in the pudding,’ I say. ‘Because there are three things you did this morning that I’ve never known you do, Skid.’

‘Like what?’

‘Well, firstly, why were you behind the bar?’

‘I was helping set up.’

‘Skid, I’ve never known you to help set up in all the time I’ve been here. Never. And Clyde said the same earlier. Isn’t that right, Clyde?’

Clyde nods.

‘You’ve not been in town long enough to know what I have and haven’t done,’ Skid throws back.

‘Long enough to wonder why you’d bother mixing up all the bottles in the fridge. I was on the bar last night and I stocked all the fridges before we closed. The fridge didn’t need any more stock so you deliberately messed them for some reason.’

‘Why would I do that?’

‘To distract Clyde and steal the note.’

‘But I didn’t steal it. I put it up on the ceiling.’

‘Only because you must have dropped it trying to get it down from above the till. The note had been up there twenty years. The odds of it falling down today are slim to none. I’m guessing you mucked up getting it off the wall and it fell. But now you have a problem. Clyde has seen the note so you can’t just take it. He’d remember. When Clyde asked you to put it up amongst all the other ones you had no choice. And, from that moment, the clock starts to tick, because you know something the others don’t. You know the value of the note and you also know that the newspaper that’s about to arrive has an article about it.’

‘Rubbish,’ he says. ‘I never knew any of that. I never read the papers.’

‘I know you don’t,’ I say. ‘And that’s the second thing you never do. You never touch the newspapers, so why did you try so hard to get hold of one this morning?’

‘Who said I did?’

‘You grabbed the newspaper when it was delivered,’ I point out, ‘before Saucy took it from you. And George told us that he took it from you when Saucy went to the toilet. You must have lifted it from Saucy’s table. That’s how I know you wanted the newspaper.’

‘Crap.’

I ignore that. ‘And then there’s the third thing you never do.’

‘What?’

‘You never take ice in your drink.’

‘Eh?’

‘When you spilled your drink on George you said you were at the bar asking for more ice. You never ask for ice. It hurts your teeth. You always moan about it. So why would you ask for more ice?’

‘It doesn’t always hurt.’

I blank that.

‘Skid,’ I say, ‘the real reason you spilled your drink was to stop George reading the newspaper. You couldn’t risk him seeing the article. If he did then the game was up. You dropped your drink over it to give you some breathing space to steal the note.’

‘And when did I take it, then?’ he asks.

I turn to Sheryl. ‘Sheryl, give me your phone and unlock it so I can read out your texts.’

She hands it to me.

‘Okay, Skid, let’s get this done and you can hand back the note.’

I turn to Saucy.

‘Saucy, you say that Sheryl yelped when Skid was putting the note up.’

‘Yip, she got a text and cried out. Skid was standing right next to me when it happened.’

‘Under the note?’

‘Yes.’

I hold the phone up. ‘Sheryl got two texts from Jordan. One at eleven-fifteen and one at eleven-thirty.’

Skid jumps in. ‘She shouted out when I put it up, I remember. So someone else took it back down after that.’

‘Let’s see.’ I read the phone. ‘The first text says: Hi sis, got my phone, see you soon. And the second one says: Sis, you know that pound note with white writing that sits above the till – it’s worth £250k – honestly, no joke – no one else knows. Grab it. Now.

‘And?’ Skid says.

‘We know that the first text came in at quarter-past eleven and the second at half-past – and we also know you were fiddling with the note on the ceiling when Sheryl yelped.’

I let the moment sink in. Wondering who will catch on first. As a smile appears on George’s lips, I jump in before he can speak.

‘Right, Skid,’ I say. ‘Which of those two texts would you think Sheryl yelped at? The one from her brother saying he’d got his phone back. Or the one that tells her that a pound note worth two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand grand – that no one knows about – is sitting yards from her for the picking? Eh? Which one?’

George can’t help but speak. ‘The second one, of course, I remember the cry. Which means Skid was reaching for the celling at eleven-thirty.’

‘Bingo, George. Skid put the note up at quarter-past eleven but he also reached up again at half-past, just as Mark and Zia rushed in, and just as Sheryl got the text. Saucy told us that Mark had to barge Skid out of the way to get to the bar. So Skid was near the door and therefore near the note. When Mark ran by, Skid was reaching up, and no doubt pocketed the note before Sheryl came over to look.’

‘Eh?’ says Saucy.

‘Too much vodka, Saucy?’ I say. ‘Skid reached up twice, not once.’

‘Did he? I missed that.’

‘Tripe,’ says Skid.

‘Skid,’ I say, turning back to him, ‘you’re the one who admitted you heard Sheryl yelp when you were reaching for the ceiling. And I’m betting that pound note is sitting right inside your jeans’ pocket at this moment.’

‘That’s all nonsense,’ says Skid. ‘Why would I take it? How could I have known about the note’s value, eh? How?’

I shift my weight a little, ‘You knew all right, and you were about as subtle as an elephant farting in a phone box about it. After all, look at what you did . . . You went behind the bar to steal it. Why do that if it had no value? You knew the story was in the paper. Why else did you try to get the paper twice and why would you deliberately spill your drink on it, other than to stop George reading it? And you’ve been the one throwing out most of the accusations for the last ten minutes. Let’s be clear – you grabbed the note when Mark came in because, if I’m right, you were the only person in this pub who knew its value, knew where it was and could get to it.’

‘How could I possibly know what it was worth,’ he cries. ‘I told you I never read the bloody paper.’

‘I agree, because you didn’t need to. You were messaged the information.’

‘You can’t pr–’

‘What can’t I do, Skid? Prove it? Give me your phone.’

‘What?’

‘Give me your phone,’ I repeat.

‘Why?’

‘To show everyone that you knew what the note was worth.’

‘Will I hell.’

‘What’s on his phone?’ Saucy asks.

‘My guess is,’ I say, ‘that a certain rock star who, by the way, certainly isn’t on his way to the police, has been, and is, in communication with our Skid.’

‘Mark and Skid?’ says Clyde.

‘One Blizzard White and one Peter “Skid” Solo are in cahoots.’

‘How?’ George asks.

‘Through WhatsApp,’ I say. ‘After all, Skid signed up to the app last night at the behest of Mark when they were in Zia’s car on the way back from the airport. Who else could be messaging Skid this morning? His phone has pinged twice since I got here. And, George, you said it went off earlier.’

‘It did that.’

‘Well, that has to be Mark. Or, Skid, do you have other WhatsApp friends?’

Silence.

I continue: ‘Zia said Mark was on the phone up at Mum’s flat this morning, just before he started shouting the odds about getting down here. I think you messaged him, Skid, probably just to ask your rock star friend when he was coming down but that message panicked Mark because he now knew the pub was already open. That’s why he asked Zia when the pub really opened. And he panicked even more when Zia told him we get the Sunday papers delivered first thing. He knew someone might read the article and lift the note, so he messaged Skid to steal it. Didn’t he, Skid?’

Skid is now studying the floor.

‘Only you screwed up and dropped the note behind the bar in front of Clyde. When Clyde told you to pin it up you messaged Mark to tell him what had happened and that’s when he came racing down here.’

‘That’s all crap, Daniella,’ shouts Skid.

‘If it is, hand over your phone and turn out your pockets. If there are no messages from Mark and no pound note in your jeans then I’ll apologise and stand you free drinks for a year.’

Skid doesn’t move.

‘But when Mark arrived he had a problem. Skid had already messaged him what had happened – that the note was now on the ceiling – but Skid couldn’t get to it without raising suspicion. Mark’s appearance was a distraction to give Skid a chance to grab the note. And when Skid showed Mark the note was gone he must have tipped Mark the wink. And Mark stormed out pretending to go for the police. But he knew Skid had the note.’

‘Pretending to go to the police?’ says Clyde.

‘Of course he was pretending,’ I reply. ‘Mark knew Skid had the pound note so why would he call in the police? And, even if Skid didn’t have the note and someone else in here had stolen it, calling in the police would have been a waste of time.’

‘Why?’ asks Sheryl.

‘The pound isn’t Mark’s property any more. He gifted it to Mum twenty years ago when he pinned it on the wall. And now that we all own the pub, we all own the note. Mark knew that. Okay, he might have been able to argue in court that it was his property – but that would have been costly and taken time. And I don’t think he has the cash or the time to do that. I think he’s desperate. And if this guy Eyeball is half the swine you say, then it’s no surprise that Mark flew here at the drop of hat to steal the note. But his chance to get it last night vanished, because of the puncture, so when he discovered that the pub was already open this morning he messaged Skid to do his dirty work for him. No doubt in return for a share of the spoils. I’ll give you odds that the messages Skid has received since I got here is Mark checking he really has the pound note. He’ll also be wondering why Skid hasn’t left the pub to meet him.’

I swing back to look at Skid.

‘But you couldn’t leave, Skid, could you? Not right away, because even you knew that would have looked suspicious. So you planned to wait a short while and then slip out to meet Mark. Unfortunately for you, I arrived just as you were trying to leave.’

Skid doesn’t look up.

‘And, so,’ I say, as I finish off my wine, ‘if you all want rock-solid proof that Skid and Mark are in this together, I’ll bet you another pound note to a million that Mark MacFarlane walks back in here very, very soon – not a police officer in sight – because right at this moment he is scared shitless that Skid is turning him over.’

As I place my empty glass down on the bar, the pub door opens and we all turn around. In walks Mark MacFarlane.

And not a police officer in sight.

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