Margate was drab. A mean wind blew in from the North Sea, spinning the off-shore turbines but otherwise doing little good, or so it seemed to Janice. She hunched into her coat as she walked quickly from the station, past the Turner Gallery and towards the Old Town.
The hotel was still there, albeit it was part of a chain and called itself the Bay Hotel. That morning Janice had printed off the artist’s impression of Christopher from the public appeal using the only photo she’d found of him when he was twenty. She thought it unlikely Christopher would have been the one to ask her to pose – Roger would have recognised him and surely Roger couldn’t be in on some conspiracy. But he might have had a colleague or someone he’d paid trick her, so he may have been in the hotel. It had been a few years before and the chances of anyone still being there were small but…
Two hours later she left, downcast because her assumptions were right but still she held a glimmer of hope. The woman on reception had wanted to know why Janice wanted to speak to long serving staff members so she’d explained about the trickery and the typewriter, even if she’d avoided her own suspected role in any unlawful killing. When Janice finished talking to a member of the kitchen staff and returned to the reception to thank the woman she’d pushed forward a sheet of paper, a printed page off the internet.
“It may be nothing but there’s a specialist second hand typewriter shop in the Old Town. If you had time you might ask there.”
Thomas Typewriters was the sort of shop that modern High Streets had pushed out. Dusty windows cluttered with more machines than there was room to display properly, it didn’t seem welcoming. As Janice pushed open the door a bell sounded somewhere deep in the back. She stood at an old scuffed wooden counter admiring a rather beautiful typewriter that stood proudly on the shelf in front of her.
“Lovely isn’t it? Real pieces of workmanship, not like the plastic rubbish of today.” The speaker was a man in his sixties, Janice guessed, dressed in saggy non-descript brown cords and a beige asymmetric cardigan over an oddly vibrant pink polo shirt. If his words suggested ‘curmudgeon’ the eyes twinkled mischievously. “How can I help?”
Janice swallowed and pulled out two pictures. The first was the artist’s view of Christopher, the second an old picture of her father in law sat at his ancient Corona. “This might seem odd but a few years ago I was tricked into sitting at a typewriter like this one. The self-same model.”
The old man held the picture of the typewriter towards the light. “A Smith Corona 14/72, 23 inch.”
“I wondered if you might have sold one to this man about that time.” She pushed a picture of Christopher across the table.
The old man peered at it and turned on his heels. “Twenty-seven pounds, no bartering.” He disappeared through a beaded curtain for a few moments before returning carrying the ledger.
He thumped it down and began hefting pages going backwards, hunting something. “The man was rather brusque. He knew what he wanted and wasn’t interested in any other machine. That is quite rare especially for a machine like this one.”
Janice was fascinated despite herself. “Why?”
“It’s pretty crap, frankly. They tried a different way of fixing the letters- the aim was to try and avoid the keys jamming if someone typed really fast and it didn’t work very well. The extremes – p’s, o’s, q’s and w’s – were all prone to damage.”
“And you sold one to this man?”
The old man looked up, a rueful smile on his thin lips. “I love these machines – many is the time they’ve been called my babies – and I tend to recall each one. But the buyers and sellers not so much. I recall the buyer’s manner more than his face. Ah, here we are. Yes, he paid the price I’d proposed – most try a little bartering.”
“He didn’t leave any details, did he? A name, address?”
The man put a liver-spotted hand over the entry. “Should I be telling you? You may be a stalker?”
She looked up and saw the twinkle again. “It would be really helpful.”
He took a moment and then spun the ledger round. It said Christopher Parsons. No address but a long number. She pointed at it.
“Back then I didn’t have one of the card machines. If a customer wanted to pay by a card – and frankly I discouraged it – I used a swipe machine. Before I sent the carbon to receive my credit I wrote down the card details.”
“Can I?” She rummaged for a pen and a notebook.
“Don’t tell him I let you.”
Back outside she shook. Christopher was common enough but Parsons – his mother’s maiden name. It had to be him. She knew she should phone Thorne but instead she headed for a café and pulled out her Macbook, logging onto the café’s wifi. Typing in his new name and Margate she decided to check the electoral roll.
It didn’t take long. There were three Christopher Parsons in the Margate area. One was Christopher Alan and one Christopher Thomas. Roger’s brother’s middle name was Thomas. The third was just Christopher. She wrote down the addresses and decided to pay a visit, starting with Christopher Thomas.
It didn’t take long. His address was opposite another café where she sat in the window and had a sandwich. She hunted for public profiles on Facebook and other social media. One Christopher Thomas Parsons appeared to live in Margate still and his picture counted him out. He was black. As she pondered this fact a man strolled past the window. It was the same man as she’d just seen on line. She’d found Christopher Thomas.
Facebook wasn’t much help. There were hundreds of Christopher or Chris Parsons and none of the others referenced Margate. Feeling like she should hand over her new knowledge to the police she thought she’d have a quick look at the address she had for Christopher Parsons.
This turned out to be an entirely residential area on the road towards Broadstairs, a small bungalow with a neat front garden and a battered looking Ford on the drive. She hesitated and checked the address. Yes this was it.
She felt very exposed so, glancing to either side she moved away from the windows. They looked shut up, like the occupants might be away.
“Hi, can I help?”
Janice jumped. A woman had emerged from the next door house and stood, drying her hands on a dishcloth.
“I wyou looking. No one’s home.”
Janice moved towards the woman, beginning to dig in her bag for the picture while she stepped forward too.
“Are you his sister?”
“I… sorry?” Janice felt wrong-footed. She realised that, if this was Roger’s brother than it was also her half-brother. “Do we look that similar?”
“My God, yes! Your eyes are his, especially with that frown.” She laughed a deep belly laugh. The woman held out a hand. “Marjory Oldsmith. Chris mentioned a brother but not a sister.”
“Half-sister. We… we’re estranged. I’ve been trying to track him down.”
“Family trait then?”
“Is it? I’m not sure I…” She opened her arms in a gesture of confusion.
“Chris has spent a lot of time tracking down your family, he said. Maybe you know this?”
She shook her head.
“He’s not here, I’m afraid. Upped and left a while ago, not that that’s unusual.”
“Oh. Oh well.” Janice wasn’t sure where to go with the conversation. The woman, Marjory seemed happy to talk. “Could I maybe ask you about Chris? As I said, I’ve been looking for him for so long and I know so little.”
For the first time Marjory looked unsure. “I suppose. Come on, come in and have a coffee.” She half-turned and then looked back. “Have you seen a recent picture?”
Janice’s heart went to her mouth. “No, I’ve no pictures.”
Marjory smiled. “Come on then.”