Vine Manor

Chapter 9

"It was my colleague Jonathon Gordon who acted as solicitor for the Morgans. He was Simon Morgan's solicitor and he acted for his widow when she had to sell her house and move into that little cottage. She had to manage on very little money after her husband died. She had a young son to bring up and no living relatives to help her. She did her best but her son was always getting into trouble; truanting from school, vandalism, that kind of thing. When he grew up he moved on to burglary and ended by getting caught in the act of committing armed robbery. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. At first he was in a local prison and his mother could visit him, but then for some reason they transferred him to a prison in London. His mother died while he was still in prison. I was in court for his trial as I was assisting Jonathon with another case on the same day. That was the only time I saw Jim Morgan, but I'm sure he is the man now living at Vine Manor, calling himself Paul Grayling!"

"That must be how he knew about Vine Manor! He grew up in this area, so he would have heard about it when Paul disappeared!"

"Yes, and that's why he doesn't spend time in the village pub, he's afraid somebody will recognise him! I expect that's why he never went to see Paul's old teacher, Miss Forsythe. She might have remembered him from his schooldays!"

The teacher had retired two years after Helena had started at the school but had left her with vivid memories. "No, he'd know he couldn't hope to fool Miss Forsythe," she agreed.

"I'll phone Jonathon now, see if he knows anything more about this man." Reaching for the black telephone on his desk, George Sanderson dialled the number. "Hello, Jonathon, George here. Do you remember that young man who was sent down for armed robbery, Jim Morgan? He was sent to a prison in London, wasn't he? What happened to him after that, do you know? There's a question of stolen identity with a large inheritance at stake. Yes please, if you could get back to me, I have a young woman here in my office who's very anxious to find out...yes, thank you, Jonathon. I'll hear from you soon then." He turned to Helena. "Jonathon's going to look in his file right away and then call me back. He said he thinks Morgan's out of prison, but we'd already guessed that. While we're waiting, shall we get the formalities over with?"

Helena was amazed that George still wanted proof that she was who she claimed to be, but thought that she could hardly complain after urging Paul to submit to testing, before she had any reason to think he was not really Paul! She managed to answer all George's questions without difficulty. The herb she had taken seemed to have had no effect on her memory.

They were interrupted by the phone. It was Jonathon Gordon calling back with the information he had got from the file on Jim Morgan. George listened in silence for a while, making a few notes on some legal paper, thanked Jonathon and then hung up the phone before relaying the news to Helena.

"That was Jonathon. Jim Morgan was at Brixton prison in South London for the last three years of his sentence. He was denied permission to visit his mother when she was dying. Apparently he had previously made attempts to escape. He was finally released six months ago. There was an address in the file for a charitable organisation which helps released prisoners find homes and jobs. Morgan was referred to them and Jonathon thought they would give us the best starting point if we want to find out what he's been doing since. I'm reasonably sure the man at Vine Manor is Morgan but we need some solid evidence; at the very least, someone who knew Morgan well enough to identify him. To put it beyond doubt we need someone who was in touch with him after he came out of prison. I will have to go to London and try to track down some one who can give us a definite answer. I have appointments for the rest of this week, but I'll try to go sometime next week. I expect you are anxious to get to the truth of the matter."

"I could go!" Helena was much too impatient to wait for next week. "I can't stay at Vine Manor while he's there. I'm convinced he tried to poison me, even if you and Maria don't believe it."

"Oh, I'm quite prepared to believe it, now I'm satisfied you really are Helena Colville. No, you certainly should not go back to Vine Manor until we can get Morgan out of there, but you're not well enough for the journey to London. I'd like you to stay at my house for a few days, at least long enough to lose that thin, tired look. Helena, you only have to look in a mirror and you'll see why I wasn't sure it was you. Please come and stay with us, Tessa would love that. She likes to have some female company."

Helena was anxious to start for London as soon as she could, not wanting to leave Maria with the murderous Jim Morgan for a moment longer than was necessary. A compromise was agreed upon; she would rest at the Sanderson's for a day and on the following day set off for London. George gave her the address he had jotted down. He phoned Tessa to tell her the good news of Helena's return to the land of the living and warn her to expect a house guest. Tessa was overjoyed and offered to drive to town in the car right away and take Helena to their home.

Tessa was a generous hostess and an excellent cook. By the time she took the train to London Helena was rested and well fed. Arriving at Paddington station, familiar from her journey to Paris, she felt like a seasoned traveller. She changed to the tube for the next part of her journey. Descending into the tunnels that had seemed so strange and intimidating when she was making her way to Paris now held no fears after her nightmare journey from the vault to Vine Manor. The address that George had given her for the released prisoner's organisation was in Brixton, in South London, not far from the notorious prison. After asking directions from two local people, she finally found it above a shop in a run-down building in a litter strewn street.

In the office she found a middle aged man surrounded by piles of papers. Papers were visible in open filing cabinets, on top of the filing cabinets, on the man's desk, under the desk and on the floor surrounding the desk. The man got up and politely moved a stack of papers off a chair so that Helena could sit down.

"I'm trying to find out what happened to Jim Morgan," she told him. "I was a friend of his mother who passed away last year. His solicitor told me he was referred to your office after he was released from prison and he gave me your address. Do you happen to know where he is now?"

"Jim Morgan? The name is familiar, but I can't quite remember... I'll just see if I can find his file."

Helena was amazed when in less than a minute he had the correct file in his hand. "Here it is," he said, "now let me see. Yes, we certainly had Jim Morgan on our list but he didn't need much help from us. We had a room in a hostel ready for him when he came out of prison but he moved out after a few days. The reason he gave was that he'd got an offer of a room in a flat belonging to an old friend, someone he'd known since his schooldays. We wrote to him a few months later about a driving job which we thought might suit him, but the friend phoned to say he had moved out suddenly without leaving a forwarding address. I can give you the friend's address if you like, it's not far from here, just in case he's been in touch since then."

"How long is it since he moved out?"

"According to the friend who is a Mr Bill Bones, he left on the thirteenth of April."

Just a few days before a man claiming to be Paul Grayling had turned up at Vine Manor! "Yes, please give me the address, I would definitely like to speak to Mr Bill Bones." He might be a suitable person to identify Jim Morgan.

She soon had the address and detailed directions to the flat where Jim Morgan had lived. As she closed the door behind her she saw that the man had already gone back to sorting through one of his heaps of papers.

Helena wandered into the maze of side streets around Brixton underground station, past the famous Electric Avenue, first road in London to have electric lights, and the fascinating market stalls where foodstuffs from all over the Empire were sold. She could not allow herself to be distracted from her search by exotic fruit or colourful silk goods. Following the charity worker's directions, she soon came to the road where Jim Morgan had lived, a street of large but dilapidated houses cut off at the end by the railway line. The houses looked as if they once had been the homes of prosperous families but were now divided into worker's flats. Most of the front doors had an array of doorbells with the tenant's names beside them. Checking the house number on the note she had made, she went up to the door and rang the bell marked Bones. There was no answer. She waited a minute and rang again; still nothing. An old woman put her head out of an open ground floor window.

"Who did you want, love?"

"I'm looking for Bill Bones. Do you know when he's likely to be in?"

"He'll be at work now, Miss. He usually gets in around five."

"Thank you, I'll try again then."

So now Helena had nothing to do for the next few hours and had plenty of time to explore the market. Tessa had told her she must be sure to eat; she found a pleasant looking tea room and enjoyed a pot of tea and some sandwiches and cake. Soon it was five o'clock and she made her way back to Bill Bones' address. She rang the bell but again there was no answer. Suddenly Helena felt exhausted. In spite of the tea and the food she had no energy left in her. She started to despair that she would ever find any evidence against Jim Morgan. Perhaps she should have left it up to George Sanderson to make this trip to London and saved her time and energy. Obviously she still had not fully recovered from her ordeal in the burial vault. She dreaded the long and tiring journey back to the Sanderson's without even anything to show for her efforts. Tears started from her eyes as she sank in despair to sit and wait on the doorstep.

She was startled when a voice said kindly, "What's the matter, Miss? Is it anything I can help with?" She blinked the tears from her eyes to see a tall young man in dirty trousers and shirtsleeves standing in front of her.

"I'm looking for Bill Bones," she said.

"Well, you've come to the right place," he answered, "I'm Bill Bones, what can I do for you?"

"If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you some questions about Jim Morgan. I was told he used to live here."

"Yes, that's right. You'd better come in and sit somewhere more comfortable than the doorstep. Have you come far?"

"Yes, from Cornwall."

"I should have known! That's where Jim came from. Are you a family connection?" he asked as he led the way up the stairs to his small flat.

"I used to know his mother. She died about a year ago." That was the reason she had given the charity worker for her interest in Jim Morgan.

"Yes, Jim told me. He was bitterly unhappy that he couldn't go to see her at the end of her life. I suppose you know he was in prison?"

"Yes, of course. I'm trying to trace what happened to him after he came out of prison."

"He stayed here with me for a few months. He seemed rather depressed; not surprising I suppose. He didn't make much effort to get a job or go out and meet new people. At least he didn't get involved in anything criminal!"

"Did you know him well?"

"Not particularly. I lived in the same part of the world when I was a child and we both went to the same local school. I never was very close to him and we didn't see each other for many years after I came to London. Then soon after his release from prison I happened to meet him quite by chance in a pub in Brixton. I felt sorry for him and I had a spare room so I said he could stay with me. We talked a great deal about old times, people we both knew, the haunts of our childhood, our mothers... I suppose in the end we got to know each other pretty well. He was always asking questions about my childhood, wanting to know all the details. Certainly he was much more curious about my family than I was about his. Then suddenly he vanished without a word about where he was going or how I could get in touch with him. A charity that helps prisoners find jobs was trying to trace him, I could give you their number if you want to phone them. I'm sorry I can't be of more help."

"I've already spoken to the charity. It was from them I got your address!"

"Well, I'm sorry. I really don't know any more."

He did indeed look as if he wished he could have been more helpful. Helena said, "Did you go to Miss Forsythe's school?"

"Yes, that was where I met Jim. He was a year ahead of me."

"I went there too, many years later. Did you know Paul Grayling?"

At once his friendly demeanour changed to a suspicious frown. "Why are you asking me about Paul Grayling? Who are you?"

"My name is Helena Colville. I..."

"You're Helena? Little Helena? That's incredible!"

"What do you mean?"

"Helena, my name isn't really Bill Bones. I am Paul Grayling!"

Read Chapter 10