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© 2019 Keith Wright. All rights reserved. Privacy NoticeWebsite by Sentient Ink. All original cover art by Terry Pastor.

One Oblique One

For the first time, the critically-acclaimed crime thriller is available on Kindle and paperback!

Originally published in 1991, former serving policeman Keith Wright's debut novel offers a gritty and realistic look at front-line policing in the late eighties. To celebrate the novel's release on Kindle and paperback, we are previewing the first three chapters here.

1

‘One murder makes a villain, millions a hero…’

                                     Beilby Porteus (1731 -1808)

 

Death can be something of a surprise when you are scratching your sweaty balls at the driver’s wheel of a police car on a hot summer’s day.  News of its arrival messes up your plans; forces its priority upon you and darkens your day.   Death is both rude and terribly inconvenient.

 

  The police radio crackled out its final instruction to the young uniformed officer, breaking the monotony, delivering the news as he sat watching the crowds of people hurrying to and fro.  The fledgling cop repeated the radio message to himself under his breath as if in disbelief. ‘One oblique one at 43 Maple Terrace.’  The police code word had only one meaning – ‘sudden death’.    

 

  The policeman’s heartbeat quickened as he acknowledged the message; telling Control he would attend – estimated time of arrival; ten minutes.  He shifted in his seat as the full significance of the message dawned on him.  With no lights and sirens to turn on, his immediate response was stymied in the heavy morning traffic.  Someone thought it a good idea for Panda cars to merely have a single blue beacon on the roof, operable only when stationary.  Still, he could make progress by driving like an idiot, flashing his lights and holding the heel of his hand on the horn. This created some sort of a pathway at least, with drivers angrily sticking two fingers up at him, until they realised the maniac blaring his horn was a police officer.  They then hastily retracted the sign or tried to style it into something else, such as the pushing up of glasses on to nose or scratching at a mystery mark on their window.

 

  On the way to Maple Close the young cop wound down the window a few inches, allowing the breeze to blow through his blond hair, cooling his now flushed face. He had one focus; to get to the scene.  The policeman was only twenty years old, new to the job, still a kid really, and although he knew that one day soon, he would get this type of call, he certainly hadn’t expected it to be today.  He attempted to concentrate on his driving, despite his mind racing with possible scenarios that might be awaiting him.  Hanging? Old age? Accident? Murder?  Whatever it was, everyone would be looking to him to take control within a second of his arrival at the scene.  This both thrilled and terrified him all at once.   His newly given responsibility was hanging around his shoulders like a lead weight, which he couldn’t shake off.  He wracked his brains to remember the shortest route to Maple Close. 

 

  His mirror showed the shops and office buildings give way to urban housing and within minutes he turned into the tree-lined Maple Close, the subdued quiet of a middle-class suburban estate.  He turned left, slowly manoeuvring the Ford Escort panda car, on to the gravel drive, which led to the large four-bedroomed detached house.  The house was a 1950’s design with a garage and a beautifully mown lawn sheltered by conifers and shrubs.  As promised by his colleague in the control room, he could see a window-cleaner, arms limp by his side, mop still in hand, standing outside the wooden front door.  He had a strange look on his face.  As the officer drew up, the window-cleaner came forward to greet him.  He looked relieved.  The window-cleaner, one Norman Price, was a short, stocky man of about thirty, with curly hair that nestled on the collar of his leather tabard.  The probationary PC  wrestled with his emotions, in a vain attempt to give off a more confidant air.  The strange look on Norman’s face remained; it was a mixture of bewilderment and surprise, although the officer was unclear whether this was his normal expression, or as a result of the death he had apparently witnessed. It didn’t seem to be going away.  Maybe he always had that look about him? 

 

  The diminutive Norman had to arch his neck as he addressed the six-foot tall policeman.  He pointed, with dripping rag, toward the house; ‘It’s in there, mate. The door was open a bit, so I just put my head around and there it was.  Pretty gruesome, I’m afraid.’

 

  ‘OK.  Wait here, will you? Leave it with me.’   

 

  ‘So, shall I wait here, or leave it with you?’

 

  ‘Um. Both.’

 

  Norman shook his head and watched the PC set off toward the house, swallowing hard, his shiny boots landing heavily on the gravel drive, which led to the oak front door. ‘Was it safe?’ he wondered.  ‘Did he need back-up?’

 

 His heart rate quickened, his mouth uncomfortably dry, as he tentatively approached the darkened space evident by the open door.  Norman did as he was told and did not follow.  He had seen enough in any case, settling instead to lean on the police car, arms folded, watching the officer from afar with a big incongruous grin on his face. All he needed was a tub of popcorn.

 

  The PC peeked hesitantly through the open door as outlines of images started to draw into his focus.  The bright summer sun, whilst illuminating the outside, made the interior darker and troubled the eyes to adjust.  He could just about see into the hallway, his feet rooted to the spot.  He was aware of his own breathing and could see nothing in the blackness.  The PC loitered at the doorway, reticent to take another step.  He reached towards his radio.  Should he shout up for assistance?  Shout up about what?  He needed to know what the score was first.  

 

  Norman shouted over to him, ‘It’s inside, mate.’

 

  The PC turned and replied.  ‘I know, it’s, erm, it’s just police procedure, I’m going in now.’

 

  He took a deep breath before stepping in.  He initially felt the sticky wetness claw at the soles of his boots and then he trod on something.  ‘What the hell is that?’

 

  It was soft tissue; he looked down: a human hand.  ‘Jesus H Christ!’

*

Detective Inspector David Stark was the CID boss covering the area of Maple Close.  The CID covered all serious and major crime, including murder, armed robbery and rape, and all that good stuff.  There were no specialist homicide squads or robbery squads outside of London, the CID dealt with it all.  He appeared troubled.  DI Stark, in his early forties, normally cut quite a dash, but right now as he sat in the side office, he was as white as a sheet.  His hair was wet through with sweat, his chest was tight, and his breathing shallow.  Stark always grabbed a side room when these episodes came on.  He didn’t want it advertised that he suffered from this ‘thing’.  Whatever the hell it was.  It always came on when he had to talk to a crowd of people.  It didn’t affect his day-to-day work, thank God, this wasn’t too regular an aspect of his work, but enough to annoy him, that he should be burdened like this.  He would much sooner put some toe-rag with a knife on his backside than face a crowded room.  Stark had just spoken to a large group of new detectives and whilst he had somehow maintained his composure to mask the attack, he couldn’t sustain it once he had left the room.  He breathed slowly and tried to focus on reducing the number of breaths he took per minute.  He was fairly accomplished at this by now, but it took him about ten or fifteen minutes to calm down.  Stark eventually got back to his normal self and was able to head towards the CID offices on the other side of the campus as if nothing had happened.

 

  ‘Dishy Dave’ as some of the policewomen called him, headed back to familiar surroundings.  His large, muscular frame moved easily in his well-pressed grey suit as he strode boldly down the dimly lit corridor.  He was back to his normal confidant self; just a little drained.  He passed the main CID office to his left, pausing only to shout to his Detective Sergeant: ‘Nobby, my office. Now, please!’

 

  ‘Coming, boss,’ came the gruff reply.

 

  Stark was generally an approachable man, despite the scars of twenty years as a police officer.  ‘You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,’ was one of his sayings.  He was nobody’s prat, however, and he was getting fed-up with Nobby Clarke seemingly taking advantage.  It was time to stamp it out.  He puffed sneakily on his cigar; which spewed out a cloud of disdain, heralding his visibly angry countenance.

 

  Detective Sergeant John ‘Nobby’ Clarke rose tentatively from his plastic chair in the main office.  How the hell did Stark know?  He was supposed to be giving a welcome talk to sprog detectives first thing.  Had somebody grassed him up?  His well-worn, rugged face contorted as he anticipated the worst. Nobby started his excuse immediately upon entering Stark’s bright, roomy, modern office.

 

  ‘Hey, boss, nice suit, I know I’m out of order being late, but I can explain. . .’

 

  Stark cut him short. ‘Nobby, I am not going to argue with you.  It’s not up for debate.  It’s not today’s chosen topic on Question Time.  You are a grown man.  I’ve got a department to run, and this is the second time this week!  Now if you, my best DS, can’t get here for eight o’clock, how the hell can I expect my DC’s to?’

 

  ‘Fair comment, boss, it won’t happen again…’

 

  ‘You’re fucking right, it won’t. You’re taking the piss, Nobby, you’re undermining me, and worse, you are undermining your bloody self!  Next time, you’re going to get formal notices, because if there is one thing I cannot allow, it is a lack of discipline and a lack of trust.’

 

  The Detective Sergeant sighed.  ‘I get it, boss, I assure you it won’t happen. . .’

 

  The apology was cut short by the ringing of Stark’s desk phone.  Stark dropped his cigar into the ashtray as he answered it.  He looked at Nobby as he spoke, who was trying to decipher the ones-sided conversation. 

 

  ‘Stark. . .You’re joking? . . .and we’re sure the PC has checked all three are dead? . . .Yes. . .I know.  Marriott. Yes, of course . . . We’re coming down. Maple Close, yes?  Tell the copper who is at the scene to double check that there isn’t an offender on the premises, and then seal it off, touching nothing until we get there.  OK?  Cheers, Pat.’

 

  Stark tapped the handset, before replacing it slowly onto the cradle of the phone, the coiled wire now hanging loosely. 

 

  ‘What is it boss?  A murder?’

 

  Stark looked grim.  His mind already whirling with a thousand questions requiring answers. ‘It’s murder all right, Nobby – three of them, in their own bloody home!’

 

  ‘Three bodies!  That’s a first.  Shit!’

 

  ‘It’s a Mr and Mrs Marriott, apparently, and their daughter, Faye.  You’d better get your coat.’

*

Stark and Nobby were in Stark’s black Cavalier car. Stark still enjoyed driving it, even with the grimmest of destinations awaiting him.

 

  ‘Number 43 Maple Close, Dave.’  Nobby felt that he could call him ‘Dave’ now that the tenseness of Starks’ reprimand had apparently dissipated.

 

  ‘It’s there, look.’  Stark pointed at the house.  He parked on the drive behind the police car and the two detectives got out.

 

  The young red-faced policeman stood outside the door. Three of his colleagues had also arrived and were busying themselves putting tape up as a perimeter and generally tramping about the gardens.  This was why Stark did not like taking a whole posse up to a scene before it had been forensically examined.  ‘I hope all this lot haven’t been inside.’  Stark said to the young cop as a greeting.

 

  ‘No, only me, sir.  I didn’t let them in.’

 

  ‘OK, that’s good.  Well done.  What’s the story, then?’

 

  The PC’s reply was excited, but nervy, a little falsetto.  ‘There’s three of them, sir, the whole family by the looks of it!’ 

 

  ‘How did we get to know about it?’ Stark asked.

 

  ‘The window-cleaner knocked on the door for his money.  He didn’t get a reply, so he looked through the gap in the door and saw the man, croaked in the hallway.’

 

  ‘Have you got the window-cleaner’s details?’ Stark asked.

 

  ‘Yes, but he’s buggered off now, he said he’d be late finishing his round.  I asked him to stay…’

 

  ‘It’s fine.  Has he been inside the house?’

 

  ‘No, sir, only just stepped in the hallway, nowhere else.  Or so he says.’

 

  Stark was glancing around the front of the building.  ‘Did he see anyone, or anything of note?  Did he say?’

 

  ‘No, just what I’ve told you, sir.’ The PC looked at the ground racking his brain to make sure he had not missed anything.  ‘Oh, I’ve been inside, of course, sir.’

 

  Stark nodded, ‘Of course.  Scenes of Crime will need your boots when you’ve done.’

 

  ‘No problem sir.’  That was his next problem, he didn’t have another pair.

 

  ‘Was the door ajar when you arrived?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘Yes, sir.’

 

  ‘How long have you been here, son?’ Nobby chirped up from behind Stark’s shoulder.

 

  ‘About thirty or forty minutes I would think, Sarge. Nobody has been in apart from me, and I’ve only touched the doors.  I had my gloves on.’

 

  ‘Scenes of Crime will want those too.’  Nobby grinned.

 

  ‘OK.  There is something else, which I think I should probably mention, sir.’

 

  ‘What’s that?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘When I went inside, I couldn’t see that well and so I trod in the blood, the whole carpet was soaked through.’

 

  ‘That’s to be expected, it can’t be helped.’  Nobby said benevolently on Stark’s behalf.

 

  ‘Yes, but I couldn’t see his outstretched arm and I think I trod on his hand, so. . . ‘

 

  ‘There will be blood on the deceased’s hand that perhaps wasn’t there before you trod on it?’  Stark finished.

 

  ‘Yes, sir, sorry sir.’

 

  ‘As the Sergeant says, these things happen.  Don’t worry about it.  Good job you mentioned it.  Anything else?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘No, apart from the rear window’s been forced.’

 

  ‘Which one?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘The dining room, transom window, at the far side of the house, at the back.’  He indicated generally toward the house behind him, with his thumb, as if that might somehow help.

 

 ‘Good lad.  Did you see anyone hanging around in the area on the way in?  Anyone taking an interest?’  Nobby asked.

 

  The young cop diverted his stare to the gnarled detective.  ‘No, nobody at all, Sarge.  It was like…’ the boy hesitated but said it anyway… ‘a morgue.’

 

  Stark gave his instructions.  ‘I want you to start a log of every person who enters this house and the time they arrive and leave, understand?’

 

  ‘Yes, sir.  Does that include you and DS Clarke?’

 

  ‘Yes, it does.’ Stark glanced at his watch. ‘Right it’s 8.52 a.m. and we’re going in.’

 

  First responding detectives did not wrap themselves in white coveralls, some had plastic slip-on covers for their shoes, but Nobby didn’t have any in the car.  ‘Sorry, boss.’ As for gloves; instead they would use a pen or a curled knuckle, to open doors or move items, and so avoid ruining evidence or leaving their own fingerprints.

 

  The front door of the premises would not fully open.  The legs of the dead man lying in the hallway were the cause of the obstruction.  Stark stepped rather gingerly into the hall, carefully avoiding the considerable area of carpet that was soaked in blood.  He could never decide whether it was a smell or an atmosphere or a mixture of both, but almost every ‘death house’ had that air about – an indiscernible, unnatural feeling as if one were a trespasser, an uninvited guest to something intimate and private.  A quiet.  A stillness; as if all the clocks had stopped and everything had powered down. His face formed into a tight-lipped grimace as he uncomfortably took in the disturbing scene, leaning closer in towards the body to examine every intricate detail of the terror frozen in time.

 

  The dead man in the hall was not young, probably in his mid-forties, and slightly greying around the sideburns.  Stark was unsure about the colour of the hair as the blood had matted it into a dark claret.  There was a large hole in the back of his head with some bone chips situated around the crater edge with some misshapen clumps of brain matter stuck on his hair and a blob on his cheek.  It looked like a blunt instrument injury at first glance, Stark mused.  The man was face down, with his head to one side and the face silhouetted against the beige carpet. A globule of blood wobbled from the nostril and threatened to drop to the floor.  His expression was one of apparent surprise which had dissipated with the relaxation of expulsion of life.  The dead man was dressed for the occasion, wearing a suit and tie, and next to him lay a Yale door key on a metal ring; the open door seemed to indicate he had not had time to close it.

 

  ‘Keep an eye out for a weapon, Nobby.’

 

  ‘I already am, boss.’

 

  Stark gently pushed at the white painted internal door off the hall-way with his knuckles, and entered the living-room.  He looked straight into the unseeing eyes of a young girl in her late teens.  She lay on the floor, on her back.  Her head was tilted and resting against the black television stand.  Stark noticed she had a peculiar lop-sided grin on her face, but he failed to see the joke.  He could not fail, however, to see the large hole in the crown of her head, not dissimilar to that of the man in the hallway.  Her face was clean though, with notably no blood visible seeping from the orifices of the ear, nostrils or mouth.  The girls breasts were exposed, her dress pulled down to the waist and folded up to her stomach, her white knickers twisted around her left ankle.  No bra was evident. Her legs were wide apart, displaying a thinly shaved triangle of pubic hair to the two detectives who leaned in to scrutinise her vagina, which appeared excessively reddened.  It looked as if the girl had had sexual intercourse before she died. Necrophilia, however, could not be ruled out.  Stark felt that her being in this position naturally implied that she had been killed immediately after, or during the act itself. Unless she had been positioned in this manner after her death.  That would be a bit strange, but knocking ten bells out of a young girl is somewhat out of the norm also. ‘More likely to be rape.’  He muttered.

 

  ‘Sorry, boss?’ Nobby queried.

 

  ‘Oh nothing.  I’m just talking to myself.’

 

  ‘It’s the first sign of madness.’

 

  ‘Is it?  Well if I’m only at the first sign after twenty years in this job, I’m doing well.’

Stark’s mind was whirling.  Male offender. Hurried or inexperienced attacker perhaps? Was that the motive here?  Sex? Stark peered at her polished fingernails but could see nothing of note.  No fibres, skin or blood. They could still be there, just not visible.  It was a much cleaner scene than the blood-stained cadaver in the hall.  She had a hole in her head, but not as deep, and there was scarcely any blood.

 

  ‘Not so much blood in here, boss,’ Nobby observed, his voice seeming like a shout in the hushed atmosphere.

 

  ‘No, I was just thinking that.  It’s interesting that she’s lying on her back, and there appears to be no sign of a struggle at all.  I suppose she could have been asleep or drunk when the attacker struck.’ Stark observed.

 

  ‘True. At least it would have been over quickly for her,’ said Nobby.

 

  Stark shook his head.  ‘I’m not so sure.’

 

  ‘Why not?’ asked Nobby.  ‘You’ve seen the wound on her head- the first blow would have killed her, well, rendered her unconscious at least.’

 

  ‘What about her eyes?’ asked Stark, slowly removing his little tin of cigars from his suit jacket- pocket.

 

  ‘What about them?’ asked Nobby, as he leaned closer towards her face, which would have been freaky had she still been alive.

 

  ‘Petechial haemorrhaging, caused by lack of oxygen,’ Stark commented.

 

  Nobby stepped back.  ‘Yes, but, unless I am very much mistaken, we all die of lack of oxygen!’

 

  ‘Very funny, Nobby.  I’m talking about asphyxiation.  When a body has been asphyxiated, there are often tiny red spots in the whites of the eyes, where the miniscule blood vessels have burst because of… lack of oxygen.’

 

  ‘Of course, I can see it now,’ Nobby uttered somewhat unconvincingly.

 

  The two men surveyed the antique-filled living room.  Stark felt as if they had walked into a freeze-frame of a reel of film, were that possible, with inanimate objects surrounding them, the only movement emanating from themselves.  It was as if real life had been suspended and they were ghosts, privy to a scene that required hushed tones.

 

  Nobby’s powerful voice again seared through the silence, making Stark wince.  ‘I see the hi-fi is still on.’

 

  ‘I noticed that.  It’s on tape rather than radio. Does that mean it’s more likely to have been turned on last night rather than this morning, I wonder?  Would you put a tape on, rather than the radio in the morning, or is that stretching it?’

 

  Nobby shrugged.  ‘We’re just guessing, aren’t we?’

 

  ‘Possibly.  Anything else jump out at you?’  Stark enquired.

 

  Nobby’s eyes lit up. ‘Ah, the video machine.’

 

  Stark nodded.  ‘There’s a square of “clean” surrounded by dust under the telly stand.  Something has been removed.’  Stark rubbed at his chin. ‘That doesn’t ring right, now does it.  A poxy video machine?’

 

  ‘People are killed for a fiver, boss.’  Nobby observed.

 

  ‘Yes, but not when you can have the pick of a place like this, surely?’  Stark wasn’t going with it.  ‘Well, whoever did this must have taken the video machine, after the murder.  The blood splatters from the girl’s head are on the carpet and telly and around the clean bit, but there’s none where the video would have been.  The video machine will have blood splattered on it.’

 

  The two men ventured into the open-plan dining room, which was decorated in pastel shades.  There were no signs of violence in this room.  The focus of attention lay at the wooden transom window which was swinging loosely on its hinges, letting in the morning birdsong and the faraway sound of a lawnmower.  Closer examination of the window by Stark revealed that it had been forced with a blunt instrument, approximately half an inch wide, near the handle.  It appeared that the window had been the point of entry for the sinister visitor.

 

  With nothing else of note, Stark and his associate returned to the living room.  ‘Oh, Fuck me, Nobby, quick!  Shut that bloody door! A fucking great meat fly’s come in – oh shit it’s feeding on her head wound, look!  Now it’s gone on her…just shut the fucking door!’

 

  Nobby hurriedly shut the front door, and they went upstairs, leaving the fly seemingly rubbing its front legs with glee at the welcome sight of the slowly festering flesh.

 

  Out of the corner of his eye, as shoe touched fourth stair, and his eye line drew level with the landing floor, Stark caught sight of the third body.  ‘Here’s the third.’

 

  Even Stark had never had three bodies in one house. It was a woman in her forties, in a blue dress and cream cardigan.  The two men stood, looking down at the pathetic sight.  Her skin was grey and sallow; her lips stretched and blue.  A closer look showed her glazed and vacant eyes were bulging, and her tongue was grotesquely distended. Filling the mouth cavity and overflowing out, in a silent raspberry that made Stark’s skin crawl.  A foul smell invaded the insides of Stark’s nostrils – the smell of human excrement, some of which was visible on the carpet in a sticky liquid mess.  Stark put his hand quickly to his nose.  It looked as though the woman had been on her knees and knocked over to one side.  Yet again there was a gaping hole in her head but also the item they had been looking for – the weapon.

 

  ‘She’s still got her shoes on.’  Stark observed.

 

  ‘That looks like the murder weapon at the side of her.’ Nobby said, his voice muffled through his cotton handkerchief.’

 

  ‘It sure does,’ said Stark.  ‘She must have been last?  Otherwise why leave the bloody thing up here?  Christ!  That stench of shit is foul!’

 

  The two men stared at the brass ornamental clown, lying on the plain light-blue carpet.  It was about fourteen inches long and smeared in blood and tissue.  Stark noticed that the upper half of the clown was very clean with a definite line, a cut-off point where the blood started.

 

  ‘It looks as though the killer has wiped it,’ he said.  He noticed a small patch of blood smeared at the woman’s dress, alien to the rest. ‘Yes, the bottom of her dress - look, Nobby, that’s where he’s wiped it, by the look of things.’

 

  The men checked the other rooms, which appeared undisturbed.  Stark made a mental note of a blue diary in a room lined with posters of, he presumed, the latest rock stars, then they trooped downstairs.  Stark pressed the button at the side of his hand held radio.

 

  ‘DI Stark to Control.’

 

  A lilting Scottish accent was quick to reply.  ‘Go ahead, sir.’

 

  ‘Yes, start a log please, please.’  He paused and let out an audible sigh, ‘It’s a triple murder, repeat triple murder, three deceased.  I’d like the Detective Superintendent here, please, and two DC’s, Crime Scene Investigators with full kit, the police surgeon and the undertakers.  Nobody else, for now – it’ll be enough of a circus as it is.’

 

  ‘Ten-Four, sir.  Superintendent Wagstaff is already on his way.’

 

  Stark and Nobby went back outside to the front driveway for a smoke and to gather their thoughts before the others arrived.  Stark asked his friend, ‘What do you make of it then, Nobby?’

 

  ‘I don’t like it.  It stinks, doesn’t it?’

 

  ‘Yep.  Literally.’  Stark smiled.

Stark loved this.  Not the fact of the horrendous deaths, of course, but the challenge that lay ahead of them.  The puzzle.  Minute one and no-one had a clue who the hell, or even what the hell, had happened at 43 Maple Close last night.  But they would.  He hoped.

 

    The two detectives had meandered around to the back garden, looking around for other items of interest.  None were seen.  A neat, mown lawn with a flowery boarder was all there was.  No footprints, nothing.  They returned to the front of the house just in time to see the portly figure of Detective Superintendent Wagstaff struggle out of his Rover Vitesse car at the second attempt.

Stark had always considered that Wagstaff looked like an outraged, retired Wing Commander, and Wagstaff did little to change the image as he marched rigidly up the drive in his dark blue three-piece suit, twitching his well-groomed white moustache.  Stark nudged Nobby, who was leaning against the wall.  Nobby straightened himself up and held his cigarette behind his back.  The Detective Inspector greeted his senior officer.  ‘Morning, sir.’

 

  ‘Is it, David?  Is it a good morning, really?’  Tell me what the position is, then.’

 

  Stark related the grisly details and then the enquiry began in earnest.  The two DC’s arrived next, young Paul Fisher, and his older and uglier colleague, Jim McIntyre, later followed by Scenes of Crime.  The two detectives presented themselves to Stark.  Paul was fresh-faced with blond curly hair.  He regretted being paired up with Jim McIntyre, whose pock-marked face did nothing but moan and complain from dawn till dusk.  Everything was an effort for Jim.  Paul was keen to start.  This was only his second murder and he wanted to throw himself into action.  Jim, on the other hand, wanted to finish his cup of tea before leaving the station.  Paul had stood impatiently at the door, waiting for Jim to drag his shiny-seated backside off the chair.  ‘Let them wait,’ he had said.  ‘They’re dead, aren’t they?  What’s the rush?’  Jim’s logic had been lost on Paul. 

 

   Stark issued his instructions.  ‘Start house-house-to-house, gents, please, just in the immediate vicinity for now, to make sure that there is nothing staring us in the face that we’ve missed.’

 

  ‘OK, sir.’  Paul said.

 

  Jim, who had paid little attention to Stark’s orders, was true to form.  ‘Are we going to be wasting our time with this all day or what?’ he asked.

 

  Stark replied ‘Well, that depends.  Are you a bloody detective, or aren’t you?’

 

  ‘All right keep your hair on, boss.  I was only asking.’  Jim’s voice croaked.  He cleared his gullet and spat out a ball of phlegm on to the drive, where it glistened in the morning sun.

 

  ‘We’ll have a bit of a briefing at half-past three, back at the nick.’

 

  ‘Right, see you later sir,’ said Paul.  He and Jim turned and made their way down the drive.  Neither spoke to the other.

 

  ‘Come on, Nobby, let’s have another look around the back,’ said Stark.

 

  43 Maple Close backed on to Yew tree Gardens, the main road for the estate.  A small gate led into the road.

 

  ‘Careful where you tread, Nobby.’ The men’s eyes scoured the ground.

 

  ‘I still can’t see any footprints, can you, Dave?’ Nobby asked.

 

 

  ‘No, nothing; just small fragments of wood where the window’s been forced.’

 

  Stark looked through the glass pane into the house.  He could see Wagstaff and the police surgeon deep in conversation.  ‘Come on, let’s go and join Tweedledee and Tweedledum!’

 

  The police surgeon was not a surgeon at all, he was a GP who was paid extra to respond to police call-outs, usually for deaths, sexual offences and taking blood from drink driving suspects.

 

  As Stark and Nobby entered the living room, the police surgeon left, with a nod, having performed the perfunctory task of pronouncing life extinct in the three bodies and completing the all-important task of getting Wagstaff to sign his attendance sheet for his expenses.  He seemed quite jolly.  Wagstaff addressed Stark.  ‘Right then, David, once Scenes of Crime have finished, we’ll get the bodies shipped off for the post-mortems. Sergeant Clarke can be Exhibits Officer.’

 

  ‘But, sir, that’s usually a DC’s job!’ exclaimed Nobby.

 

  ‘Well, now it’s your job.  It’s going to be a complex one, so I want it doing right from the word go.’

Wagstaff turned to Stark.  ‘David, keep me posted as to how things develop.  I’ll be in my office for the rest of the day.  I’ll sort the Coroner out and send the tele-printer message.  He’ll be all over this one, as will the press, when they get wind.’

 

  ‘Very good, sir,’ said Stark, nodding his head in a semi-bow, as if Wagstaff was the bloody Queen Mother and not a Detective Superintendent counting the days to retirement.  Stark peered through the bay window to watch Wagstaff puff and pant into his car before driving away.

 

  The space his car left was quickly filled by the arrival of a plain white Scenes of Crime van.

 

   ‘Well, it looks like you have drawn the short straw, Nobby, so make sure you do a good job with these exhibits at the P.M.  Remember, every teeny-weeny fibre, every solitary loose hair, every miniscule item has to be packaged and labelled correctly.’  Stark was smiling as he spoke.

 

  ‘Don’t I bloody know it?’ He said.

 

  ‘I’ll take young Paul Fisher to the post-mortem with me.’  Stark said, ‘It’ll be good experience for him.  He’ll help out with the exhibits for you.  Just give him the right guidance.’

 

  Nobby raised his eyeballs to the ceiling and shook his head.  Stark tried to reassure him.  ‘Don’t worry there’ll only be a couple of hundred items!’ he laughed.  Nobby didn’t.  ‘Cheers boss.’

 

  Stark watched as the Scenes of Crime officer put on his white boiler-suit and began to walk towards Inspector Stark.  The SOCO was holding a silver coloured metal case.  As he got close, Stark spoke to him.  ‘Hello there, I am DI Stark.  Do you mind doing me a favour?’

 

  ‘I know who you are, sir.  What’s the favour?’

 

  ‘Well, I’ve seen a diary upstairs that I’d like possession of, as soon as I can.  Will you dust and examine around there first so that I can take it?’

 

  The officer looked thoughtful, and slightly put out.  Already someone wanted to disrupt his routine before he’d even started.

 

  ‘Oh, OK, if you’re running the show, and you think it’s that important, fine.  Show me the way.’

 

  Stark patted him on the back and smiled.  ‘Good man.’  He led the balding officer up the stairs into the second bedroom and indicated the dark-blue diary resting on a white dresser.

 

  ‘We’ll have to wait for the SOCO Sergeant to come up with the video camera before we touch anything.  He’s on his way up and should be here in a minute.  I’ll start with my magnifying glass,’ He opened his case and went straight for the large glass, which he used to examine the area where the diary lay.  This part of the scene examination would have been the same a hundred years ago.  He could see only undisturbed dust, and a tiny spider which struggled over the obstacle course of cosmetics that adorned the dresser.  It looked as if the diary hadn’t been moved for at least a couple of days.

 

  Stark noticed another white boiler-suited figure progressing up the stairs with a video camera, recording the grim scene for posterity, evidence, and spotty-faced trainees, who in years to come would have nightmares about its contents.

 

  Once the bedroom scene had been video-recorded, the magic SOCO box was again opened.  It held an array of brushes and plastic tubs containing white, silver and black powder, and various solutions and vials.  An apothecary of mystery.  There were small plastic squares, cellophane, sticky tape, scissors, a small knife, a magnifying glass, several well-worn brushes and a plastic pot of aluminium powder which he painted over the diary.  Its shiny surface was a good one.  ‘Smooth surface good, grainy surface bad.’  The SOCO said.  There were three clear fingerprints.  The men were confident that these would be those of the dead girl.  After lifting the prints, the Scenes of Crime officer threw the diary at Stark.  ‘It’s all yours.’

*

  You would think that house-to-house enquiries consisted of well organised questions being answered succinctly by the occupants of the house; to rule in or out, any unusual or significant incidents or behaviours which may be of use to the enquiry.  The reality is that each household is different.  The whole of humanity is represented; a demographic game of Bingo, the next one out the pot unveiled only by the opening of the door.  Things can get weird.

 

   Paul Fisher could not take his eyes off the unfettered breasts of the woman standing on the doorstep of 41 Maple Close.  She was in her thirties; Paul was in his twenties and her breasts were in the forties.  She wore tight fitting pyjamas, bizarrely patterned with small unicorns.

 Jim McIntyre was perfectly aware of the elephant in the room as he jotted down notes on his clipboard, but his mojo had long since departed.

 

  Things did not start well when Paul produced his warrant card with his photo on and said ‘CID.’

 

  ‘Oh hello.  No, I’ve never seen him around here.’

 

  ‘No, that’s not why we’re here, that photo is of me, it’s my warrant card.’  Paul laughed.

 

  ‘What are you showing me a picture of you for?’

 

  ‘It’s my ID…my identification, to show you that we are really the police.’

 

  ‘Well, you didn’t say that.  I thought that was the bloke you were looking for.’

 

  Paul chuckled and Jim looked skywards.  ‘Shall we start again?’

 

  Mrs Lewis had a shapely figure but was on the turn, where hygiene was losing the ongoing battle with laziness, and there was a slight whiff of fustiness emanating from her. Paul suspected that the pyjamas had not been removed for at least three or four days, morning, noon and night.  Her hair was squashed flat at the back of her head, revealing her scalp and the white roots to her dyed brown hair.  She wore slippers that had spots of tea stains evident, indicating a recklessness bordering on the ‘given-up trying.’  She had been waiting for a man to knock on her door and sweep her away for the last six years.  It wasn’t going to happen.  It certainly wasn’t going to happen today.  But hope springs eternal.

Paul continued with the questions, albeit a little clumsily… ‘There was an incident next door, last night, Mrs...?’

 

  ‘Mrs Lewis – divorced.’

 

  ‘Mrs Lewis, and we wanted to ask the locals if they saw or heard anything unusual.’

 

  ‘Oh, I see, what’s happened then?’

 

  ‘I’m afraid we aren’t at liberty to say just now.  Can I ask, what time did you go to bed last night?’

 

  ‘Not late.  I’m on my own you know.  I like to get all snug under the covers.’ She smiled.

 

  ‘I’ll bet you do.’  Muttered Jim.

 

  ‘Sorry?’ She asked.

 

  ‘Sorry, nothing, love, carry on, please.  I’m just making some notes.’ Jim said.

 

  She continued.  ‘Well, if I’m not in bed for ten o’clock something’s wrong, so it would be around then.’

 

  ‘Did you see anything unusual?’  Paul asked.

 

  ‘No, not at all.  I don’t look outside I just lock up.  I have a routine.  It can be frightening on your own.’  She smiled at Paul and began to scratch herself under her left bosom causing a certain amount of displacement.  Paul was transfixed, then the smell hit him again.

 

  ‘Did you hear anything?  Any strange noises?’

 

  ‘Nah, just the normal.’

 

  ‘What do you class as normal?’  Paul asked.

 

  ‘I don’t get off straight away…’  Jim coughed. ‘I lie there for a while, and you hear the odd car and cats and foxes, it’s classed as semi-rural round here, you know.’

 

  ‘Really?  Do you get many foxes on Maple Close?’ 

 

  ‘Yes, they kind of screech. Same with cats.’  She scratched her breast yet again.  Paul was again drawn to the place of pleasure and subsequent complications and acrimony, and then the smell again.

 

  ‘So, are you saying you heard a scratch, I mean a screech?’ He asked.

 

  ‘Kind of a screech. Why, what is it that’s happened?  You say it’s next door?  They’re a lovely family.  He’s a bit off, but she’s lovely.  She made me ever so welcome when I first came…’

   Jim interrupted. ‘Could it have been a human being making the noise?’

 

  ‘No, it was a screech not a scream.’

 

  ‘Humans can screech, can’t they?’  Paul asked.

 

  ‘I suppose so.  What’s the difference between a screech and a scream?’ She asked.

 

  ‘Well, you tell me, you heard it.’  Paul said, a little more tersely than he intended.

 

  She looked over the two men’s heads as if to gain inspiration.  ‘I think a screech is like ‘eeeeeeeee’, but a scream is like ‘Heeeeelp!’

 

  Paul shook his head.  ‘No, that is just the word “help” dragged out a bit. A scream is a noise not a word.’

 

  ‘I know, but I was trying to show you the difference.’

 

  ‘The difference. . .’ Paul began, Jim interrupted again, as the conversation was starting to descend into farce.  ‘We get the point; we know what you are saying.’

 

  She shrugged. ‘I thought it was a fox, though.’

 

  Paul asked.  ‘What time was this?’

 

  ‘Like I say, some-time after ten o’clock.  Maybe half past, but don’t quote me on it. I’m pretty sure it was a fox.’  She wouldn’t let it go; she glanced at Jim.

 

  ‘Was anyone else at the house last night?’  Paul smiled.

 

  Scratch time again.  ‘No, didn’t I tell you?  I live here on my own?’  She smiled at the young detective.

Jim shook his head slightly.  ‘Yes, I think you have mentioned that.  Okay, thanks for your help, Mrs Lewis.  Someone will be back to take a statement from you, no doubt.’

 

  ‘Statement, why what’s happened?  It must be serious if you want a statement.  Will I have to go to Court?’

 

  The two men turned away.  ‘As I said, someone will be in touch.’  Jim scowled.

 

  ‘Thanks for your help.’  Paul shouted over his shoulder.  ‘Jesus!’  He muttered under his breath.

 

  ‘Keep walking, son, and don’t bloody look back.’

 

*

 

Stark clutched on to the diary as he left the girl’s bedroom.  He had blown away most of the aluminium dust residue.  Three clean squares were evident on the grey dusty cover, where the Scenes of Crime Officer had fingerprinted it.  The aluminium fine powder had been dusted on to the diary and then dusted off with only so much sticking, illuminating the fingerprint mark itself.  The clear plastic square is then placed over the aluminium fingerprint mark and smoothed flat.  When peeled off the fingerprint sticks to the plastic square and can be preserved for further examination by the fingerprint bureau.  It was a messy business and usually it left a silver sheen to everything that was dusted, print or no print, which of course stuck to any fingers subsequently handling the item.  Fingers such as David Stark’s.

 

   Stark was itching to open the diary but resisted the temptation.  As he negotiated his way past the dead woman on the landing, he paused to have another look.  She lay grotesque in death, her eyes and skin already starting to gain a marbled hue.  In Stark’s mind, this was a case that was likely to be solved through forensics.  Many murders are.  This was a good scene, numerous ‘mini-scenes’ within a scene.  Lots of sticky stuff and contact, and hairs and fibres and bone and blood and even excrement.  Plenty to go at.  ‘Locard’s principle’ was often the key.  The Victorian scientist; Edmund Locard and his ground-breaking ingenuity, had helped Stark and his ilk detect so many crimes over the years, albeit vicariously.  The Frenchman was the father of forensic science around the turn of the 20th Century, not only developing fingerprint analysis, but all elements of forensic science until his death aged 89 in 1966.  Stark had learned Locard’s principle in full as a trainee detective, but couldn’t rattle it off now, just the basic element which had given the police the edge for the last hundred years – ‘Every human being leaves a trace.  He leaves a trace at the scene.  He takes something from the scene away.’  Simple but true, and no matter how hard anyone tried, it was damned near impossible to beat the principle at a microscopic level. 

 

  He stared into the eyes of Mother Marriott.  Death was never the problem for Stark, it was always apparent that the soul had long since departed and so it was just a cadaver, no problem.  It was when the mind started to consider the person before death, and the immediate circumstances leading up to it, and the fear and the pain, but mainly the fear. That was the most disturbing element, but Stark had got beyond that at his level of experience.  This was not his first Rodeo.  There were so many times he had to put himself in the mind of the dead person to try to establish various hypotheses, that nowadays he was pretty much able to operate in a scientific manner with regard to the whole grisly business.

 

  Still grasping Faye’s diary, he carried on down the stairs.  ‘See you later, Nobby.  Sort a lift out, I’m heading back.’ He shouted, as he passed the kitchen.

  ‘OK.  See you later, boss.’  Came the croaky reply from the back garden, where Nobby was chuffing on a cigarette.  Stark paused to peer one last time into the crater on the dead man’s head and noticed that the droplet of blood on the deceased’s nose had finally succumbed to gravity and had now dropped onto the carpet.

  Stark walked out to his car and opened the diary, his curiosity getting the better of him.  He leaned against the side window of the car and leafed through the pages.  It wasn’t a ‘dear diary’ type but more an address book, albeit with some scribbling of random notations scattered through the pages.  The writing was neat and large looped, a female’s writing, he surmised.  It was in Faye’s’ bedroom, it had to be hers.  He scanned the list of names and telephone numbers.    He estimated twenty or so male names, but there was only one female name, written in capital letters in red ink and underlined – ‘CHANTELLE NAYLOR’.

2

‘I’d rather have a free bottle in front of me

than a pre-frontal lobotomy’

                                                              Unknown

Stark negotiated a left-hand bend in the busy afternoon traffic a little too quickly on his journey to the mortuary.  He glanced at young DC Paul Fisher who was biting his fingernails.  Only the ticking of the indicator broke the uncomfortable silence, until Stark said, ‘You are very quiet, Paul, what’s the matter?’

 

  ‘Nothing, sir.  Well, to tell the truth, I’ve never been to a post-mortem before.’  Paul tapped nervously on the dashboard as he spoke.

 

  Stark reassured him.  ‘You’ll be fine.  I’ll give you a tip, if you feel you must look but daren’t, focus on something beyond the body and break the image in gradually.  That’ll help you get used to it first.’

 

  Paul sought a justification for the visit.  ‘What’s the point in us going, sir?  Why don’t we just wait for the report?’

 

  ‘Because,’ said Stark, ‘we get instant answers to questions and if we have anything in particular, we want to ask we can do so there and then with the pathologist at our mercy.’

 

  ‘I suppose.’

 

  ‘Plus, we have to produce the exhibits in good order to the court, so we have to make sure they are preserved and the chain of evidence is sound and all that sort of stuff.  It’ll be good experience for you anyway; these things can be quite interesting.’  Stark nodded at the pedestrian who waved his thanks at him as he walked across the pelican-crossing.

 

  ‘Is it like an operation or what?’ asked DC Fisher.

 

  Stark gave a wry smile.  ‘It kind of is, but it can be a lot more brutal, as they know they can’t damage the …. erm, “Patient”, for want of a better word.’  The silence between the two men returned momentarily. 

 

  Stark laughed out loud as the memory struck him.  ‘It’s not so bad nowadays, though Paul.  You want to think yourself lucky.’

 

  ‘How do you mean, sir?’

 

  ‘When I first joined the job, the old-timers would play all sorts of tricks on us youngsters.  They weren’t sympathetic in the slightest.  I remember, they locked my mate in the mortuary all night, on one occasion.’

 

  Paul winced. ‘Christ.’

 

  ‘The poor bloke could be heard across the hospital campus, banging and screaming.  He was quiet at first, but then when his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could make out the silhouettes of the bodies.’

 

  ‘Bloody hell.’

 

  ‘He was still all right, but, as you know, dead bodies let their gases out gradually, and when the first one farted that’s when the screaming started.’

 

  ‘The bastards!  Fancy doing that to him’

 

  ‘He went sick for a week after that.’

 

  ‘I’m not surprised,’ Paul said.

 

  ‘This is it here on the left.’  Stark’s black Cavalier pulled into the parking bay marked ‘Morticians’.  ‘This’ll do here – we are the Queens men, after all…are you all right, Paul?’

 

  Paul’s face was as white as a sheet as he stared vacantly at the plastic fascia.  He answered honestly, ‘I don’t fancy doing this, boss.’

 

  ‘You’re not going to let this beat you, are you?  Come on, mate, you’re a bloody policeman.  Once it’s over you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.’

 

  Paul’s stomach churned; he made a decision.  ‘Oh, bollocks to it – in for a penny, in for a pound!’

 

  Paul and Stark strolled over to the drab brick building.  The cold chilled Stark’s bones as he walked into the white interior.  The thick strips of hanging plastic, designed as a barrier of sorts, ruffled his hair as he entered.

 

  ‘It’s colder in here than it is outside,’ said Paul, his senses now alive to every little thing.  ‘Why is there that constant trickling of water, sir?’

 

  ‘They’re the post-mortem tables.  It keeps the blood washed away.’  Stark grew even more concerned about Paul’s nervousness.  The two detectives allowed themselves a cursory glance around the room.  The main area was quite large, with whitewashed walls and concrete floor.  There were three slabs; only one of them was vacant.  The first was occupied by the naked body of a man of around seventy, the purple staining of his skin; lividity hypostasis, where blood had collected, showing along the length of the base of the body, as it lay on its back.  The middle slab was vacant.  On the third slab was a girl of about nine, whose mangled legs gave reason for the look of abject terror etched on her little face.  Paul didn’t dwell on the sight; he took a deep breath.  He felt a bit giddy.

 

  Off the main room were what appeared to be an office and two smaller annexed rooms; in them stood white ceramic tables with a curved rim around the edges and a slight tilt towards a hole at the top end.  A loud booming voice made Paul jump.  ‘Hello, the audience has arrived early, tickets please.  Stalls or balcony?’  His raucous laughter was enough to wake the dead – well, almost.

 

  Stark couldn’t help rolling his eyes.  ‘Paul, this is Tony the mortician.’

 

  Stark wondered what Paul would make of the thirty-year-old mortician?  His off-white coat and black, matted, unkempt hair advertised his obvious lack of hygiene, and Stark noticed Paul’s reticence to shake hands with him.  Why were morticians so damned weird?  A coping mechanism maybe?

 

  ‘You look a bit pale, my friend.  It’s not your first time is it?’  A gleam appeared in Tony’s eye.

 

  Stark interrupted hastily.  ‘No, he’s been here a few times, actually.  He was out on the town last night; you know how it is.’

 

  Tony smacked Paul on the back.  ‘Good man!  The butcher won’t be here for about ten minutes, Mr Stark.  Do you fancy a cuppa?’

 

  After what seemed like an age, the pathologist, Mr Hargreaves, and his assistant arrived.  When the formal introductions were over Hargreaves ordered the first ‘contestant’ to be brought forward.  Hargreaves was a man of around fifty, with gold-rimmed spectacles.  He was ex-public school and spoke with a plum in his mouth.  His assistant, a young registrar, hung on his every word.

 

  Tony walked towards one of the metal doors, there were twenty in total, which covered the whole wall, a giant bunk-bed community of dead strangers.  ‘We’ll get the young bird out first,’ declared Tony in his best bedside manner.  ‘It’s drawer eight.’

 

  Stark looked at his watch.  Right on cue, Nobby came running in, puffing and panting.  ‘Sorry, boss, I got caught in traffic.’  He was weighed down with paper and plastic bags and tape and labels and tubs, everything needed for the exhibits.

 

  ‘Late again, Nob.’  Stark seemed unimpressed.

 

  ‘Sorry, boss.’  He threw the exhibit bags onto the floor at the side of the porcelain table.

 

  ‘You’re just in time as it happens.  We are going to start with Faye.  Drawer eight, apparently.’  Stark told him.

 

  They watched as Tony pulled the drawer open and the cold air streamed out, clearing to reveal the naked body of nineteen-year-old Faye.  Paul was shocked to see there were see-through plastic bags on her head, feet and hands, secured to make sure that evidence falling off would not be lost.

 

  ‘Shame about the hole in the head: she’s quite tasty,’ said Tony, crassly.

 

  Stark shook his head at the disdainful comment.  ‘You’re sick, you know that, don’t you?’  Tony grinned broadly at him.  ‘Just appreciating the female form.’ 

He and the assistant slid the body that had once been the beautiful, and innocent, Faye Marriott, off the gurney and on to the white ceramic slab in the annexe room. The men assembled around the body. 

 

  The pathologist’s assistant took up a large pad and pencil and Hargreaves began the well-rehearsed spiel.  ‘I am commencing the post-mortem of Faye Marriott, nineteen years, of 43 Maple Close, Nottingham.  The time is now 10.32am on Thursday, 16th July 1987.’

 

  ‘Here we go.  Keep taking the deep breaths, Paul,’ thought Stark, whilst reminding himself at the same time.  The annexe was not particularly large and there was no hiding place for the young DC; however, he stood furthest away, close to the doorway.  The pathologist’s assistant took off the head bag and handed it to Nobby, who in-turn put the bag in a bag, and began scribbling on an exhibit label and then a log-sheet.  Paul was overly attentive of Nobby’s, activities as it distracted him from having to view the unnatural events taking place. 

  Hargreaves voice was cold and calculated.  ‘External examination reveals a large wound at the crown of the deceased’s skull, revealing part of the brain.’ Hargreaves placed a ruler at the side of the head wound, while photographs were taken of the wound showing its dimensions.

 

  ‘The wound is 4.2 centimetres in diameter and does not appear to have clotted too well…I will take the scrapings off each hand and from underneath the finger-nails once we have removed the bags.’  Hargreaves turned to the assistant on his left, who hurriedly removed the left-hand bag and passed it to Nobby to preserve and log.  The pathologist then took the relevant scrapings and gave the implement and cotton wool directly to Nobby to package.  Nobby was already feeling a bead of sweat forming on his forehead.  He needed an extra pair of hands.  ‘Paul, you’re going have to get involved, mate.  Give us a hand, will you?’

Paul began to busy himself, helping to package the exhibits, as Nobby jotted down the time and date and what the item was and who handed it to him.  The labels would have to all be signed at the end. 

 

  ‘I also note that there appears to be blood and fluid deep inside the left ear, petechial haemorrhaging to both choroid and pupils of the eyes.  There is a bruise to the left forearm.’  Each item of interest on the cadaver was photographed when identified by Dr Hargreaves.  ‘Now, turning the body over, there is a 2.3-centimetre graze at the base of the spine in the coccyx region.’

 

  ‘Looks like she’s been screwed.’  Nobby grunted to Paul as they continued to work feverishly on the exhibits.

 

  ‘Quite right, Sergeant Clarke,’ commented Hargreaves, ‘and so beautifully put …which leads me to the vaginal area.’

 

  The pathologist took a smear from the entrance of the vaginal walls and then inserted a large swab, which was sealed and packaged up.  He then proceeded to do this with each body orifice.  Stark’s mind wrestled with the sudden mental image of Hargreaves telephoning his wife: ‘I’m sorry I’ll be late at the orifice.’ 

 

  All the hair, including pubic, was combed for lose hair samples; then single hairs were plucked with tweezers, and each comb and hair was packaged separately.  It was time for the blood and gore.  Stark focussed on the scalpel as it sliced easily through the skin.  The pathologist cut in the shape of a large Y, starting at one side of the neck and moving down the front of the young woman’s chest.  He then cut down the other side of the neck and joined it into the cut on the chest, in a Y shape.  Stark couldn’t help flinching even though the girl was beyond pain.

 

  Hargreaves peeled back the layers of skin and about half an inch of yellow sub-cutaneous fat insulating it.  The girl’s breasts lay sagging down by the side of her body, her sternum and rib cage exposed.  With great physical exertion the top flap of skin was ripped up over the girl’s neck and chin, revealing the bone and muscle in its red-and-white glory.  Paul’s eyes screwed up as he watched the assistant do the labouring job of sawing through the rib cage with a hand saw, available at all good hardware stores.  The noise of the sawing was a new one to the young officer’s ears.  Small chippings of bone flew on to the slab and floor, and the Detective Inspector noticed Paul take a step back so that none would land on him.  It was like some perverted horror story, only this was real, this was necessary, and this could help catch the monster that had caused this young girl to lose her life prematurely.  Paul didn’t know what he had expected, but it certainly was not this.

 

  ‘If you can suggest any other way of getting to the cardio-vascular organs, I’ll gladly try it,’ said Hargreaves, who must have seen the look on Paul’s face.

 

  Paul stumbled over his reply: ‘No, sir, of course not.’ 

 

  Once the small hacksaw had finished, a chisel and mallet were used to prise open the rib cage, which was then fully opened manually by the assistant using brute force.  A vast dormant pool of blood was revealed, which was ladled away, as if serving up dinner from a massive pot of stew, some of it was sucked up by a tube like one a dentist might use to remove saliva.  There followed a thorough dissection of every individual organ.  Each organ was removed from the body on to a trestle table, then sliced into linear pieces, and the pathologist commented on its condition.  Each organ was then thrown into a dustbin liner placed where the stomach had once been.  Part of the spleen was dissected and stored in a container; it would have to be frozen so that it could be used for any later DNA profiling.  Other samples of blood would be sent away to be given a grouping; these needed only to be refrigerated.

 

  Although the proceedings were gruesome beyond compare, Stark could see that Paul had become more interested.  He had begun to crane his neck to observe each organ: the miracle of life was suddenly brought home to him, paradoxically in the examination of its demise.  Once the disgusting smell had subsided slightly, he found it interesting to see that some of the food the girl had eaten was visible in identifiable form, once the gut was opened.  The contents of the stomach were emptied into a plastic bucket for the toxicology lab to examine later.

 

  The last part of the butchery was the worst, as Paul was introduced to another new implement – the trepan.  Like an electric drill but with a circular ‘bit’ four centimetres in diameter.  Once the skin had been pulled over and down to the nose area to expose the bare skull, the shrill sound of sharpened steel cutting into bone screeched into the ears of those watching.  Hargreaves progressed the trepan around the forehead to the back of the head, completing a circular cut.  Mercifully, the drilling stopped, to be replaced by a dull thud as the chisel and mallet prised off the top part of the skull to reveal the brain.  This was quickly snipped out at the brain stem, sliced and dissected with a large knife and thrown unceremoniously into the mix of gore and other organs in the bin bag in her stomach area.  The empty shell of a skull was filled with a large piece of cotton-wool wadding and the top of the head crudely sewn back on, Frankenstein style.

 

  ‘One down, two to go!’  Stark observed.

 

*

 

Hargreaves and Stark strolled through the carpark in the summer sun, discussing the results of the post-mortems.  Stark had his hands in his pockets; the pathologist carried his large briefcase.

 

  ‘Well, sir, now that you’ve finished all three PM’s, can you offer me a view, please?’

 

  The cultured voice was unhurried in its reply.  ‘Obviously, the official results aren’t ready yet, and they won’t be until I file the actual report for the Coroner.’

 

  ‘Of course.’

 

  ‘The toxicology will take some time to come back, so take it in mind, this is a provisional view.  I’m happy to give you a steer though, David, and tell you whatever I can.’  The two men stopped and faced each other, ‘Faye Marriott was asphyxiated to death -’

 

  ‘How?’

 

  ‘She wasn’t strangled. Probably a hand or some article held over her mouth and nose for a long enough period.  She’d had sexual intercourse prior to her death, although I didn’t find any apparent semen traces.  She hadn’t been forcibly raped, in my view, although that doesn’t discount that she may have been threatened.  I wouldn’t speculate.’

 

  ‘What about the gaping holes in her head?’

 

  ‘The blow that caused such a wound would undoubtedly have killed her outright.  That wound was definitely inflicted after her death, however, there is no question about it.  It was made with a heavy blunt instrument.’

 

  ‘Why hit her after she had died? It doesn’t make sense.’

 

  ‘Are you asking me, or yourself, David?’  The Pathologist smiled.

 

  ‘Myself, I guess. Maybe to cover up the asphyxiation.  Who knows?’

 

  Hargreaves laughed.  ‘That’s for you to find out, fortunately.  It is possible that the killer went into a frenzy and didn’t realise that she was already dead.  I’m just surmising, I shouldn’t, I know.’

 

  ‘What about her Mother?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘She, like her daughter, died from asphyxiation, but this was due to actual manual strangulation.’

 

  ‘Can you be certain?’

 

  ‘Absolutely, David.  The bruising and striation marks showed quite clearly around the neck, also the hyoid bone is fractured, and the larynx is damaged.  I would say your killer is right-handed if that helps you.’

 

  ‘Well, that narrows it down…thanks.’

 

  Hargreaves laughed.  ‘The head wound was also curiously caused after death had taken place.’

 

  ‘What?  It seems to imply a cover-up, but what is the point?  Hammer or hand, they’re dead, it’s still murder.  Why?  What is the point?’

 

  ‘The mother would have had it the worst, being strangled so viciously.  Not a good way to die.’ 

 

  ‘Awful.’

 

  ‘I suppose the only consolation is that she was not the subject of a sexual assault before she died.’

 

  ‘Anything else?’

 

  ‘Not really.  I would say the killer is pretty strong.’

 

    ‘Why?’

 

  ‘Well, he almost put his thumb through her trachea.  There’s substantial damage in that area.’

 

  ‘What about, father?’ Stark asked.  He had produced a piece of paper and was scribbling some notes on it.

 

  ‘He is slightly more straightforward.  He was killed by a single blow to the top of the head, apparently with the same blunt instrument.’

 

  ‘Lucky him.  Anything else?’

 

  ‘A few scratches on his back – you probably saw them in the mortuary.  I don’t think they were caused by the killer, however!’

 

  Stark shrugged out a laugh.  ‘Yes, I get what you mean.  Mrs Marriott didn’t look like the passionate type.’

 

  ‘I didn’t say it was Mrs Marriott, now did I?’ the pathologist offered sagely.

 

  ‘True.’

 

  ‘I’ll get the full report to you and Waggers as soon as I can,’ said Hargreaves.  ‘It depends how long forensic and the toxicology department are.  I’ll try to hurry them up for you.’

 

  ‘Thank you, you’ve been most helpful, sir.’ The two men shook hands and parted company.  Stark returned to his car, met half-way by Paul Fisher.  ‘Nobby said to come back with you, sir, if it’s okay?’

 

  ‘Of course, it is, let’s get back to the nick and see what’s what.’

 

  Paul seemed in high spirits, pleased at having survived the ordeal.  ‘What did the doc say?’ he asked.

 

  ‘It’s a long story, Paul.  I’ll tell you on the way back, in the car.’

 

    Stark explained the complicated details as he drove through the city centre traffic.  His account drew to a close as the Cavalier’s tyres struggled to grip the loose gravel on the police station carpark, kicking up dust in the summer heat.

 

  ‘Did the pathologist give a time of death?’ asked Paul, somewhat naively as they got out of the car and walked towards the station.

 

  ‘Oh, come on, Paul, that’s for Hercule Poirot!  Pathologists can’t give an exact time of death; all they can give is a rough estimate, based on a table, drawn up after a series of thermometers have been rammed up the deceased’s backside on an hourly basis.  All we know is that it was some time last night.’

 

  ‘Can I ask just one more question?’

 

  ‘Sure, what’s that?’ 

 

  ‘Who’s Hercule Poirot?’  Fortunately, Paul’s nimbler legs evaded the swift kick aimed loosely towards him by Stark.

 

  The two men used their master keys to gain entry to the large sub-divisional headquarters.  They passed along the corridor into the spacious canteen.  The canteen staff, two girls, busied themselves chopping vegetables and a pall of smoke rose from the area of the deep fat fryer.  They had a radio playing a song from a few years back, ‘Are Friends Electric’ by Gary Numan.  Paul and Stark walked up to the serving hatch and studied the small menu stuck to the wall with a drawing pin. 

 

  ‘Ah, liver and onions!’ said Stark.

 

  Paul winced.  ‘You’re joking aren’t you sir?  I’ve seen enough liver for today.  What else have you got cooking, Margaret?’  Paul directed his question to the brunette in the light-blue apron.

 

  ‘You can have anything you want, me duck, so long as it’s liver and onions or steak-and-kidney pie.’

 

  Paul winced a second time.  ‘I think I’ve just been sick in my mouth.’

 

  ‘Spare us the detail, Paul.’  Stark grinned.

 

  ‘Can I have egg and chips, please, Margaret?’  She tutted at the special request.  ‘Seeing as it’s you, duck, but I wouldn’t do it for everyone, that’s why we have a menu.’

 

  ‘I’m grateful, Margaret, I’ll remember you in my will.’

 

  Paul looked drained as he shuffled to the nearest vacant table.  There was a smell of food and smoke permeating the canteen, but curiously the smell was neither that of liver, nor steak and kidney pie. 

 

  Margaret spoke to Stark, still at the counter: ‘What’s up with him today?  He seems a bit down.’

 

  ‘He’s just been to a postmortem.’

 

  ‘A post what?’

 

  ‘It doesn’t matter, Margaret, blood and gore and all that sort of stuff.’

 

  ‘Oh.’

 

  Stark handed Paul his egg and chips before sitting down next to him and devouring his liver with relish.  The feast was interrupted.

 

  ‘Scenes of Crime, sir, can I join you.’

 

  Stark turned around, some potato still on his fork.  ‘Yes, of course you can.  Stuart Bradshaw, isn’t it?’

 

  ‘Yes, sir,’ answered the gangly, freckle-faced officer, drawing up a chair.

 

  ‘This is Paul Fisher, one of my DC’s.’

 

  ‘Hello, Stuart.’  He nodded an acknowledgement.

 

  Stark continued with his lunch as he asked, ‘So what’s happening down at the scene?’ before swallowing a particularly tricky and sinewy piece of liver.

 

  ‘I’ll give you the full report later, but I can tell you what I know so far.  It looks as though the house, as you no doubt saw, was entered via the rear kitchen window.  We’ve taken a plaster cast of the marks left by the tool, so if you find any burglary tools about half an inch wide during the course of the investigation, they can be compared forensically to the striation marks and indentations left on the windowsill.  The instrument used to gain access doesn’t appear to be in the house.’

 

  Stark addressed Paul, ‘Is Nobby coming in for lunch?’  Paul shrugged.  ‘I’ll get Special Ops to do a fingertip search anyway, so let’s see what they turn up.’ Stark said.

 

  Stuart nodded.  ‘Did you notice that the video machine was taken after the killings were committed?’

 

  ‘Yes, we noticed that.’  Stark concentrated on spearing more potatoes on his fork.

 

 ‘The girl was actually struck as she lay on her back – you can tell by the direction of the blood spattering.  It looks as if she did not move at all to defend herself.  I think she must have been dead or unconscious when the blow was struck.’

 

  ‘That’s what the pathologist said, interesting about the blood spattering.  If I’m right, it’s all low level and same direction of tails on the spattering, yes?’

 

  ‘That’s right, sir.  Did you notice the petechial haemorrhaging, on the girl?’

 

  Stark placed his knife and fork together on the plate and wiped his mouth with the paper serviette.  ‘Yes, I did, Stuart, for Christ sake, I’m not a fucking imbecile, I was there you know!’

 

  ‘Sorry, sir, I…’

 

  ‘No, woah, hang on, I’m sorry, Stuart, it’s been a long day, I’ve got a lot on my plate, but it’s no excuse, of course I want you to tell me everything. I shouldn’t be so bloody tetchy. Ignore me.’ 

 

  ‘No problem, sir.’

 

  ‘Wrong time of the month.’  Paul said.

 

  ‘Oi!’

 

  Stuart continued.  ‘It looks as though the offender was standing on the bottom of the stairs when he attacked the man.  The Yale key which was at the side of the dead man fits the front door, and a Yale lock has a catch on the inside and the key is only needed when entering the house, not exiting.’  Stark glanced at Stuart and nodded.  ‘This tends to confirm, sir, that he was returning home, and possibly disturbed the offender.  I have a theory about the older woman.’

 

  ‘Okay, go for it.’  Stark lit his cigar up. 

 

  ‘I think she walked in first, and then realising her husband had been attacked from behind, ran into the kitchen.  She then must have doubled back, when she found the back door locked, and tried to get out through the front door, but couldn’t.  So she quickly ran upstairs, and was caught by the killer on the landing.  It looks like she went down on her hands and knees to beg for mercy, shit herself, and then was attacked by the killer.  How does that sound to you, sir?’

 

  Stark blew out a puff of smoke.  ‘It sounds about right to me.  She still had her shoes on.’

 

  Paul asked, ‘What about the girl; Faye?’

 

  Stark answered.  ‘Dead by then.  That’s what they disturbed when the mother and father returned.  The killer and Faye.  It’s early days yet.  It’s a hypothesis, that’s all.’

 

  ‘What about the screams, though?  Surely, both mother and daughter screamed?’  Paul asked.

 

  Stark shrugged.  ‘Let’s see what house-to-house, throws up.’

 

  Paul looked like he had eaten something rotten.  ‘Mrs Lewis.’

 

  ‘Who?’ Stark looked puzzled.

 

  Paul explained.  ‘I started house-to-house with Jim earlier on and we spoke to a Mrs Lewis at the house next door.  She heard a noise but thought it was a fox screeching. It may have been a scream.’

 

  ‘What’s the difference between a screech and a scream?’  Stuart asked.

 

  Paul put his head in his hands.  ‘Jesus Christ!  Don’t you start!’

 

  ‘What?’ 

 

  ‘Never mind, she thought it was a fox screeching about quarter to eleven last night.’

 

  ‘It’s something to work to in the absence of anything else, for now.’  Stark observed.

 

  Paul ate his last chip.  ‘We got no reply at all the other houses; probably at work.’ 

 

    The SOCO leaned forward.  ‘Now, the only other thing we’ve got so far, is that we’ve found some red fibres on the carpet next to the dead girl and on the older woman upstairs, her cardigan.’

 

  ‘Nothing else?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘Not yet.  It is early days, as you say.’ 

 

  ‘I guess so.’ 

 

  Stark rose from the table.  ‘Right, I’m going to ring the missus and explain I’m not going to see her for the next. . . God knows how many days.’  He walked back down the length of the canteen.  ‘See you later, Margaret,’ he shouted to the canteen lady, the swinging double doors carrying the farewell further into the room as they rebounded into place.

 

*

 

Stark leaned into the black swivel chair and gazed out through the venetian blinds that hung over the window, partially masking the sunlight.  He held the telephone to his ear and fiddled with the curly cord which connected it to the dial phone on his desk.  Still it rang.

 

  ‘Come on, Carol…’ he muttered to himself.  He did not want the unspoken requirement to have to ring his wife, hanging over him, not with all this to concentrate on.  He wanted it out of the way.

 

  ‘Hello?’  Her voice had a cheeriness, a vulnerability to it that Dave still loved after all this time.

 

  ‘It’s me.’

 

  ‘Hello, love.  I’ve just put the dinner on.  It’s your favourite, lamb.’

 

  ‘It sounds great, but I’m afraid there’s a slight problem with that…’

 

  ‘You’re not going to be late again are you?  You know your Mother’s coming tonight, Dave.  You haven’t seen her for weeks.’

 

  ‘I’m sorry, Carol, but there’s been a murder – three in fact – so I’m going to be late for the next few days at least.’

 

  ‘So, I won’t be seeing you in daylight for the next two or three weeks.’  Her cheeriness had dissipated somewhat.

 

  ‘What can I do?  It’s a triple murder for Christ sake!’

 

  ‘Are you saying catching a multiple murderer is more important than my lamb dinner?’ She giggled.  That was more like Carol, resilient and understanding.

 

  ‘I’m afraid so, Carol, but not in my eyes, darling.  Lamb dinner trumps catching a killer every single time, and you know that.’ 

 

  ‘It sounds horrific.  It’s not going to be dangerous is it?  Where was it?’

 

  ‘No danger, Carol.  Don’t worry about me.’

 

She sighed.  ‘It’s a shame about you not seeing your Mother, Dave, she’s coming up to see you, not me.’

 

  ‘Don’t be silly.  You know she thinks a lot of you.’

 

  Carol laughed.  ‘Great!  We’ll sit looking at each other all night then.’ 

 

  ‘Ring her up, then and tell her to cancel.’  Stark could do without the family politics.

 

  ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Dave.  I was just so looking forward to seeing you.  I hate being on my own all day and then all night as well.

 

  ‘Don’t forget the kids, darling,’ he offered.

 

  Carol was feeling a little sorry for herself.  ‘It’s not the same, you know that.’

 

  Stark glanced at his watch. He tried to cheer her up a little, adopting a lively tone in his voice, belying his crowded and tired mind.  ‘Hey, listen I’ll make it up to you when I get home, honestly,’

 

  ‘Now, come on, David, you know damn well that when you get home you will be too knackered to do anything!’ 

 

  Stark laughed.  ‘We don’t know that for certain.’

 

  ‘I do.’

 

  ‘I can definitely promise a cuddle.  Will that do for tonight?’

 

  ‘Looks like it will have to.  I’m joking, I will look forward to it.’ 

 

  Stark leaned forward on his desk and began doodling with his pen on the white blotter that covered most of its surface.  ‘Don’t wait up, Carol, I’ll probably be very late back.  I’ve got a funny feeling about this one.’

 

  ‘And out early as well, no doubt.  I’m not surprised you’ve got a funny feeling; you don’t get three murders every day.’

 

  ‘Seven years since the last one.  It’s one of those where all is not what it seems, but it’s too early to say quite what is wrong.’

 

  ‘You’ll find out.  I’ve got every faith in you.’ 

 

  ‘Enough about me,’ Stark glanced at his watch again, ‘how are the kids?  How has your day been?’

 

  ‘OK.  Nothing fantastic has happened.  Laura and Christopher are sitting glued to the goggle-box.  It’s ‘Saved by the Bell’ –they’ve taped it.  Then Christopher want’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on.  Who invented school holidays?’

 

  ‘It sounds really exciting!’  Stark mocked.

 

  ‘All right, I know it’s not as exciting as you Super-cops, but I’m stuck with it here.’

 

  ‘I’m only kidding, you know I would much sooner be there with you guys,’ Carol didn’t respond, ‘listen, I’m going to have to hang up now, my love.’

 

  ‘Try not to be too late, Dave.  You know I don’t like going to bed on my own.’

 

  ‘I know, if I can’t make it, I will send someone round.’  He laughed.

 

  ‘Very funny.  Who have you got in mind?’

 

  ‘Eh, just you be careful, Mrs Stark!’

 

  ‘Or else what?  Mr Stark.’

 

  ‘You’ll see.’

 

  ‘Ooh, I’m going to be put in my place am I?’

 

  ‘You wish, look, I’ve got to go.’

 

  A concern tone came into her voice.  ‘Please be careful, Dave.’

 

  ‘I will, it’s probably some spotty faced teenager got out of his depth and panicked.’

 

  ‘Love you.’  She smiled.

 

   ‘Love you too, don’t worry, bye.’

 

  ‘Bye.’

 

*

 

The man lay sprawled out on the cheap settee.  The brown leather was worn where various sweaty heads had rested against it over the years it had been there.  A large ashtray, almost the size of a dinner plate, overladen with nub ends, mostly smeared in lip-stick, balanced precariously on the arm of the settee.  He couldn’t smell the funk in the room, he was immune.  He had been there too many times to be affected: it was a combination of a public bar the morning after a stag party, and the B.O. type haze that hung almost visibly in the air.  It was the same funk that seemed to emanate from many criminal-class houses, due to neglect.  The small television in the corner of the room was on, but with the sound off: ‘Blockbusters’ being the programme of choice.  Music was playing from an overly ambitious hi-fi with twin decks: ‘No Woman No Cry’ by Bob Marley.

 

   The room was a pigsty, and his mind was just as disorganised, with a melt of cannabis numbing his synapses and dulling the reality of the shitstorm that was his life, and the knowledge that everything he touched caused heartache to others, or indeed himself.  He was a criminal, and a low life.  This was not how it was supposed to be.  How had this happened?  It wasn’t his fault.  He had killed and would kill again, and he couldn’t give a monkey’s toss.  Why should he? It was his end game playing out now; the yellow brick road he had skipped down was leading to the emerald city of prison, or better still death.  The twelve minutes of pleasure he had just experienced was a sliver of relief in the quagmire of misery, he endured through the long days and longer nights.  His trousers were open and the naked prostitute kneeling in front of him had finished her unseemly task.  He knew her well.  He had known her for over 5 years.  She had self-written tattoos crudely emblazoned on her forearms, stick men and some fucking triangle or something, adjacent to these were the myriad scars from her incessant, and in his view, ridiculous self-harming.  Next to these were bruises and pin pricks from the needles she injected into any vein she could find, every day of her hellish life.  Many veins had collapsed, and she had to inject straight into the groin mostly nowadays, or between her toes.  Heroin addicts bruise easily, and they will do absolutely anything if there is a chance of some smack at the end of it.  He knew her all right.  Only four years ago, she wasn’t bad looking.  She had just left the children’s home when he came across her.  She was drug free, had not attended school, had no skills, other than her looks, and a willingness to please, coupled with the need to seek some sort of affection from anyone willing to give it her.  Prostitution beckoned when her ‘boyfriend’ of the time persuaded her to give it a try, ‘if she really loved him.’  Initially she kept most of the money she made; she was a good earner, but her boyfriend became her pimp, got her addicted and henceforth enslaved her into his dystopian world; obeying his orders and believing she could not survive without him.  Then the beatings started, and the addiction grew, and here she was fellating a man she both despised and feared.  He had helped her back then, but he too had descended from the man he once was to the killer of today.

 

  She smiled briefly through the peroxide blonde hair that was matted to her cheek.  Thankfully he had already paid her the twenty pounds which would enable her to get another fix of heroin before the night was out.  The primary aim of her existence was fulfilled.  When she awoke her first thought was to get a fix, and when she fell into a fitful sleep in the early hours, her final thought was how she was going to get a fix the next day.  Nothing else mattered, and if she had to suck the cock of this particularly unpleasant individual splayed out on the settee, then, that is what she would do.  She had done much, much worse, and selling herself in this way was nowhere near as bad as the agony she would endure if she could not make her daily fix.  It was a no brainer and she was well qualified.

 

   The man leaned forward and grabbed her by the back of her straw-like hair and made her yelp.  He was strong and he leaned his face into hers.  She tried a nervous smile.  He growled at her, spittle from his dry mouth landing on her face.  ‘Now, get your skinny white body out of my fucking sight!’  He pushed her head away and she fell sideways to the floor. She hastily gathered up her clothing and ran into her bedroom situated down the dingy hall, shouting ‘Thanks’ as she closed the door.

 

3

She has two complexions-a.m. and p.m….’

                                           Ring Lardner (1885-1993)

 

Stark had spent ten minutes in his office, trying to get ahead of the curve, by doing his breathing exercises ahead of talking to the troops.  It felt like it would help to keep a lid on his attack which was rising each time he was about to go and do the briefing.  ‘This is ridiculous!’ he said to himself angrily, glancing at the closed door as he heard footsteps approach, but they walked past. He was in a cleft stick as each time he got angry at getting agitated, he became agitated.  With some effort, he managed to partly block out the intrusions in his brain and his breathing began to even out.  Now was the time.

  He entered the CID general office and spoke loudly above the chatter of his fellow policemen.  ‘All right quieten down, please, folks!’  The noise subsided.  He focused on each of the ten or so detectives, scattered around the room, between the wooden desks and chairs.  A pall of stale smoke hung in layers throughout the room, emphasised by the rays of sunlight which shone in strips through the broken blinds, strobing those assembled.

 

   ‘Bloody hell, it’s a warm one today.’ Stark said to himself, such that others would hear the reference and mask his churning inner turmoil, betrayed by his sweaty complexion.  A fly buzzed around and was periodically flapped at by whomever it irritated.  It was always to no avail, and the fly continued to taunt them, pushing its luck. 

 

   Most detectives were sitting on chairs, others sought any available flat surface.  Some were smartly attired, with silk ties and handkerchiefs in top pocket, and would not look out of place at a wedding.  Others, such as Nobby Clarke, were less glamorous, with cuffs rolled back, top-button open and tie loosened.  The desks were covered with lever-arch files, papers, phones, ashtrays, cigarette packets, lighters, jackets, pens, betting slips and newspapers; there was no space for anything else to be accommodated, apart from random buttocks seeking a place to rest.  Some uniformed officers were stood at the back, pocketbooks and pens poised for the briefing.  The uniformed officers felt a little self-conscious at being in the CID office, they were out of their comfort zone.

 

  Stark knew he was in line for promotion and wondered if that was the reason Superintendent Wagstaff had given charge of the enquiry to him.  Wagstaff had twiddled his moustache as usual as he broke the news.  ‘David, this enquiry is down to you, now.  If you can sort this mess out, you can sort anything out.  I’ll be available as officer-in-the-case on paper, and to brief the Chief, and yes, to give you a guiding hand where necessary.  I’ve told those in the Ivory Towers that you are up to it, so don’t let me down.’

 

  Stark hadn’t really expected to be officially given charge, he just expected Wagstaff to hang around at the back like he usually did.  So, he was running the show, at least for now, and it was for that reason that he addressed the disparate group of officers in the room.  Steph was the only female present.  Women were still few on CID, which Stark found curious, as he had never met a bad Detective Policewoman.  They were always cute, not in the Biblical sense, but they seemed to have a wisdom to them, seeing things some men didn’t notice.  He would use them strategically to interview particular suspects, often the hard men who were expecting a clash in the interview room.  It disarmed them, and the women often knew instinctively which buttons to press.  In this sense, Stark, was ahead of his time although, perhaps letting himself down when he justified this by saying, ‘If there is one thing women can do, it’s talk!’

 

  He paused and studied some of the detectives who he was to become reliant on, all of them different, but with one common goal: to find the killer before he struck again.  Steve Aston, the young aide to CID, fresh from the uniform branch, an unlikely candidate: ginger hair, suede sports jacket.  He was quite introverted, a vegetarian, who cycled to work most days.  In contrast was Ashley Stevens, a man of twenty-nine whose expensive suits and jewellery put Steve in the shade.  His hair was beautifully styled, and he drove a Porsche.  It was well-known that he received a private income from his wealthy father and this riled some of the others.  He was branded a poseur, and to some extent he was.

 

  DI Stark spoke.  ‘Go and get Special Operations Unit in here, will you, Steve?  They’re in the canteen.’  He scurried out.

 

  ‘And put the bloody kettle on!’ shouted rotund Charlie Carter, a man in his forties with greying hair, a twinkle in his eye and a paunch.  Stark smiled to himself; he had been a DC with Charlie in 1975.  Charlie had lived and worked on the patch for twenty-four years – everybody knew Charlie.  He looked like a village squire as he sat back in his chair with tweed jacket on and puffing on a tiny cigar.

 

  Stark’s attention was diverted by the sound of swearing from behind a wall of large, brown paper bags.  He knew that voice well.  ‘Haven’t you finished that bit of a job, yet, Nobby?’ he asked, laughing, whilst dabbing at the sweat on his forehead.

 

  The voice sounded desperate.  ‘I’ll tell you what, boss, I reckon I’ll still be here this time next week, at this bloody rate!’

 

  ‘Don’t worry,’ Stark replied, ‘a DC from headquarters is coming to relieve you shortly.’

 

  Nobby’s hard features emerged from behind the packages.  ‘Brilliant.  Praise the Lord! Someone to relieve me.  Couldn’t you let Stephanie relieve me instead, boss?’

 

  The inevitable whoops resounded.  Detective Policewoman Stephanie Dawson sat smirking on a side-table, her slim body leaning forward, causing her long blond hair to cascade downwards, and shielding her firm breasts which she loved to show-off and she didn’t care who knew it.  She was the queen of the CID scene.  A lot of these self-appointed studs wouldn’t last five minutes in the sack with her, but she knew that it was a huge benefit to her in the office politic that they would very much like to.  She used the situation to her advantage. ‘It will have to be somebody better equipped than you, Nobby!’ 

 

  Nobby hadn’t finished.  ‘Come on, give us a kiss!’  He walked towards her, arms outstretched, ready for the embrace.  The whoops rose in volume as Steph bent over and pointed to her ample backside.  ‘Kiss this!’ 

 

  A voice in the doorway halted proceedings.  ‘So, this is what the CID gets up to, is it?’  In walked the SOU, led by the inimitable Sergeant Tuckworth, every man in a blue boiler-suit and carrying, or wearing a navy-blue beret.  Some of them had kitbags, containing various paraphernalia.  The Sergeant was of obvious military bearing, a barrel-chested hard case.

 

  ‘Standing room only at the back, I’m afraid, lads,’ Stark said.  ‘Right, listen up please.’ All eyes were on him, and he felt a bead of sweat trickle its way down his spine. ‘This isn’t going to be a lengthy briefing.  I’ve prepared a rough copy of the parts of the enquiry which will be of use to you.  We’ll have a more detailed briefing tomorrow, when we have a fuller picture.  I just want to highlight the crux of the investigation as it stands now.  The Marriott family have been murdered.  Walter, the father, Audrey, the mother, and their teenage daughter – Faye.  The killer has forced a rear transom window with a half-inch blunt instrument to gain access to the house.  Faye Marriott has been asphyxiated, but, prior to this, she had sexual intercourse in the living room of the house.  This means either the killer knew her, or that she was raped, or that there is a third party who is unconnected and who has yet to be traced.  It looks as though Mum and Dad interrupted proceedings and paid dearly for it.  It also appears as though the sex act was interrupted as there are no traces of semen at the scene.  Necrophilia cannot be ruled out.  Walter Marriott was killed by a single blow to the back of the head by a brass clown ornament which is about fourteen inches long.  It appears that Audrey Marriott, in an obvious panic, ran to the back door to get out, but it was locked and then doubled-back and eventually ended up, on the landing upstairs.  The killer pursued her and then strangled her to death with his bare hands.  For some reason the killer then took great trouble to hit both mother and daughter over the head with the same brass clown.  Presumably this was done to disguise the mode of killing.  Who knows?  Our killer then unplugs the video recorder and makes good his escape through the front door, taking the video and the implement he used to gain access with him.  We’ve found the operating manual for the video: it’s a Matsui and we have the serial number should you require it.  The hi-fi was still switched on when we arrived at the scene this morning.  Anything you want to tell us about the initial house-to-house, Paul?’ 

 

  All eyes turned to Paul Fisher, who gulped.  Stark took the distraction as an opportunity to wipe at the accumulating sweat on his forehead.  Paul answered.  ‘No, sir, not too much, most addresses will need re-visiting by Special Ops, as the occupants were out when we tried earlier.  One woman thought she heard a noise about 10.45pm the night before but has put it down to be a fox screeching, but I would keep an open mind about it.’

 

  ‘Right, SOU can finish off the house-to-house – three streets in every direction for now - and a fingertip search of the gardens please, Sergeant Tuckworth.’  Tuckworth nodded, Stark continued.  ‘Some red fibres have been found at the scene, which we believe could well belong to the killer, so please bear that in mind, while you are on your travels.  Myself and Nobby, when his replacement arrives, will team up, and Stephanie and Ashley Stevens, if you pair up also.  We’ll investigate the background of Faye.  Ashley and Steph, can start on the actions that are coughed up from the HOLMES team, please?’

 

  HOLMES stood for the clumsy pneumonic: Home Office Large Major Enquiry System.  Until 1970 most provincial police forces had little experience in dealing with major enquiries and it would be a team of officers sent from Scotland Yard who would be called in to help.  This would usually be a Superintendent and a bag man, a Detective Sergeant or Detective Inspector.  The Superintendent would read all the documents and he directed the enquiry using something called a Book 40, which listed all the actions and outcomes.  Contrary to popular myth about Scotland Yard detectives, this was not always fool-proof, and it was not unheard of for the Superintendent to announce on day one who he thought the offender was, and the enquiry would essentially be focussed around proving this hypothesis.  Not the best way to approach an investigation. A couple of high-profile cases eventually highlighted the limitations that this process had, notably the Black Panther case, and the Yorkshire Ripper serial killer, a case which ran from 1974 to 1981, and which cost the lives of 13 women.  A commission was set up and a pre-cursor to HOLMES was born.  It enabled the vast amount of information collated during such enquiries, to be captured, and any comparisons or similarities surfacing later in the enquiry to be matched by computer and, in theory at least, not missed.  All major investigations were pretty much the same and had been for a hundred years; information received, an action relating to it is raised; an outcome of that action; an action arising from that outcome; and the cycle would be repeated.  HOLMES automated this process.

 

  Stark continued giving his directions.  ‘Charlie and Steve, you can look into Walter and Audrey Marriott.  Paul, can you contact Force Intelligence Bureau regarding the modus operandi, and any other comparisons with other features of other murders?  I’ll arrange a liaison man at the other end.  Jim, I want you as office manager for today until the HOLMES computer starts tomorrow, and all the menial thousand-to-one shot enquiries start.  We have a diary belonging to Faye Marriott, and everyone in it will have to eventually be seen and interviewed.  The officers in this room, will involve themselves with any enquiries of importance: the peripheral stuff can be done by a squad set up at headquarters.  That’s it for now, any questions?’

 

  The heads shook in unison.

 

  ‘Right, crack on.  Back here at 10 p.m. for a de-briefing.  Overtime’s been organised, so don’t worry Jim, you’ll get what’s due to you.  Let’s go and see who would want to kill a nice girl like Faye Marriott.’

Stark walked out the room and straight to the toilet.  He used the paper towels to try to quickly dampen his wet hair.  He breathed heavily, trying to control it, trying to master it.  He was told this would pass.  Just give it time.

 

*

 

Stark and Nobby stood on the pavement and stared up at the sign: ‘Squires Turf Accountants’.  Its large front window hadn’t been cleaned for weeks, but the black cardboard silhouette of horse and rider was still just about visible behind the glass façade.   As Stark opened the door a cloud of smoke billowed out, and the two detectives stepped from the comparative brightness of the bustling street into a seedy world.  The tinny voice of an announcer heralded their entrance: ‘The two thirty at Chepstow, three-to-one favourite; Misty Morning, and seven- to- two; L. A. Girl, ten to one bar six.’

 

  Smoke stung Stark’s eyes as he tried to focus on the images within the dingy den of iniquity.  A man of about sixty stood, hands in pockets, staring at the extracts from various racing papers which festooned the walls.  He had a stubble chin and a dirty cloth cap resting well back on his head.  A cigarette was smouldering its life away in a nearby aluminium ashtray.  To the left of the detectives were six television screens screwed to the wall, with lists of horses’ names displayed on them.  A fat middle-aged woman with a beehive hairstyle and a beauty spot stared disdainfully at the list of runners and riders.  Her short, tight-fitting black skirt revealed a glimpse of her varicose veins, and thankfully little else.

 

    At the far side of the betting office was the main counter, with a Perspex shield.  Two notices gave the simple instructions where to queue; ‘Bets’ and ‘Pay Out’, and an electrical cash-till was positioned under each sign.  The carpet beneath the ‘Bets’ counter was considerably more worn that that beneath the ‘Pay Out’ counter.  Stark focussed beyond the cash-tills to the woman sitting beyond them.  Her name, Stark would discover, was Sally Lawrenson; she was around twenty-five years old and stunningly beautiful, with long flowing, jet-black hair and full lips which pursed to form the question: ‘Police?’

 

  ‘Yes, love, Detective Inspector Stark, Nottingham CID. I’d like to see Faye Marriott’s boss, please.’

 

  Sally answered in a soft, slow voice, which Stark strained to hear. ‘You mean, Bernie, well Bernard Squires?  He is unavailable now, I’m afraid.  Can he call you on his return?’

 

  Stark allowed himself a glance at Nobby.  The phone at the side of Sally rang.  Stark was too quick and beat her to the draw.  He held the scoop to his ear.  ‘Sally, tell them cunts, I’m out, get rid.’ 

 

  Stark smiled and held the phone loosely, removing it from his ear.  He raised his voice above the clamour and excitement and overall din in the shop.  ‘Bernard Squires, eh?  Well, will you tell Mr Squires that unless he gets his backside out here sharpish, I’ll lay some odds:  Ten to one that he won’t keep his bookmaker’s permit beyond the next twenty-four bloody hours!’

 

  Stark heard the click of the phone hang up on the other end and he replaced the receiver.  Sally rolled her eyes.  The door to the rear office had been slightly ajar; now it was opened wider by the forty-something year old body of Bernie Squires.  His belly entered, followed by Bernie himself.  Gold-rimmed, light-sensitive spectacles adorned his balding head, setting off the white shirt and red bowtie of one of East London’s villainous sons.  Cockney charm oozed from the ex- boxer’s gnarled face.

 

  ‘Sally don’t be silly, treacle.  Course I’m here, ain’t I?  Hello, Mr Stark.  How are you?  Sorry about that little misunderstanding- you can’t get the staff, see?’  His large hand enveloped Stark’s as he warmly shook hands and then Nobby’s.  ‘And Mr Clarke too! My, my, we are honoured.  I didn’t know you were betting men?’ Bernie’s furrowed brow and raised eyebrows emphasised the question in his voice.  He was a big, powerful man, quite an imposing figure, a hard nut, but now knocking on a bit.  Stark remained unmoved by the purposeful pressure Squires applied during the hand-shaking ceremony.  Turning round to see that the shop was now empty, he nodded to his DS.  Nobby returned to the door, flicked the catch and turned the yellowing cardboard sign, ‘Closed’, to face the street.

 

  ‘It’s been a long time, Bernie,’ said Stark. ‘I’m afraid it’s not a social call.  Can we talk privately?’

 

  Squires adjusted his glasses.  ‘Yes, sure, but I have got a business to run, Mr Stark – let’s play fair.’

 

  Stark addressed Nobby. ‘If you’ll talk to the young girl, Nobby, please, and Bernie and I will use the back office.’

 

   Stark followed the by now sweating, Bernie, into the small office and closed the door behind him.  It was a very small office for such a big man.  A tatty old school desk supported a telephone and a flexible lamp.  The only other furniture consisted of two PVC-covered chairs and a black plastic swivel office chair, upon which Bernie sat down.  A pile of loose papers headed ‘Squires Turf Accountants’ was strewn messily around the desk.  Dusty, wooden-framed certificates hung on the wall next to a picture of Her Majesty the Queen, who looked down regally at her two contrasting subjects.  Stark, warm in his grey suit jacket, sat on one of the chairs, aware that Bernie was waiting for him to speak.  He took his time lighting his cigar, ignoring Bernie, who could stand it no longer.

 

  ‘Trouble is it, Mr Stark?’

 

  ‘You tell me, Bernie.’  A cloud of smoke escaped from the corner of Stark’s mouth.

 

  Bernie was getting impatient; he fidgeted in his chair.  ‘Let’s not play games with each other –what’s the SP, boss?’

 

  ‘Murder!  Bernie. That’s the SP.’

 

  ‘You what?  You’re joking, right? It’s a wind up?’

 

  ‘I’m afraid not, Bernie.  You see, it’s Faye Marriott.’

 

  ‘What about Faye?  Here – you don’t mean… What it’s her…what’s been done over?’

 

  Stark studied Bernie’s reaction.  ‘I’m afraid so Bernie.  At home – terrible business.’ 

 

  Bernie got up from his chair and paced the floor.  ‘Flaming Nora, I don’t believe it!  She was here only yesterday.  I thought she was ill when she didn’t turn up today.  I’ve been calling her from a pig to a dog!  Bloody hell, straight up?’

 

  Stark nodded and assumed the vernacular. ‘Straight up, Bernie, last night, apparently.’

 

  Bernie returned to his chair and buried his head in his hands.  He removed his glasses and wiped a shaking palm over his closed eyes.  Stark was surprised to see a tear trickle down his reddened cheeks before being wiped away.  ‘Poor, poor girl.  She didn’t deserve that.  No-one deserves that, but not Faye, Jesus Christ!  I can’t believe it.  Have you got him, the geezer what’s done it?  Has he been nicked?’

 

  Stark shook his head.  Bernie stood up again and pointed at Stark who sat impassively.

 

  ‘You better had, sharpish, cos if I find the geezer what’s done this, you’ll be coming for me, cos I will tear that piece of shit limb from fucking limb!  That’s a promise, not a threat!’

 

  Stark shrugged.  ‘I need to ask you a few questions, Bernie.  Sit down, a minute.’  He sat down.  Suddenly it dawned on Bernie.  ‘Here, hold up - you don’t think I . . . Nah, listen, just in case your mind is that warped, I can tell you I was with Tommy Slater in his boozer, the Red Lion, till way beyond closing time, we had a lock-in.  Then I was straight home to bed, Shanks’ pony.’

 

  ‘Nobody’s thinking anything at the moment, Bernie.  I just want to get some background, get to know what I can about the girl.  What was she like?’

 

  Bernie started welling up again.  ‘Fucking diamond, Inspector Stark, salt of the earth.  This is fucked up, don’t they know who they are dealing with here!’  He banged on the desk with his giant fist knocking several papers flying.  He stood up and wriggled his trousers up over his belly by the belt.  He was restless.  He didn’t know what to do with himself.

‘This’ll crack our Sally up.  I hope Sergeant Clarke breaks it to her gently!’

 

  ‘He will, don’t worry.’

 

  Bernie lit a Park Drive cigarette with a slight tremble in his hands.  He blew out a lungful of smoke.  ‘This has knocked me sideways, this has.  What do you want to know?  I want this bastard caught.’

 

  ‘Did you say “our” Sally?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘Yes, she’s my niece.  A nice girl is Sally.  She’s a student working the holidays.  She’s stony broke mind, so I bung her a few notes up front, and I get the brains where it matters – behind the till.  She’ll be torn up by this, I tell you.  And all the punters love Sally, cos she’s a looker.’

 

  ‘So, were they close, Sally and Faye?’

 

  ‘Course they were, thick as thieves that pair.  Two young girls together.  Course they were close.  We all are here, it’s like a family.’

 

  ‘What can you tell me about Faye?’

 

  ‘Fifty-two-carat-diamond – straight up, mate, she wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Wouldn’t say boo to a goose, always polite, the punters loved her.  Pure gold, she was, straight up.’

 

  ‘So who might want her dead, Bernie?’ asked Stark, fiddling with the stubby cigar in his hand.

 

  ‘Nobody.  Honestly, there can’t be.  Listen, it must be somebody what don’t know her.  She was an angel, gospel truth, Mr Stark.’

 

  ‘Any boyfriends?’

 

  Bernie looked thoughtful, staring at the floor.  ‘No, I don’t think so, all the young lads were buzzing round her, like, but no actual boyfriends, I don’t think.  Sal will know more about that than me.’

 

  ‘What about aggro?  Do you know if she was in any kind of trouble?’

 

  ‘No, she wasn’t like that; I’ve told you- she was just a kid.’

 

  ‘How did you get on with her, Bernie?’

 

  ‘Fine.  We used to have a laugh together, me and Faye, a bit of a mess about, slap and tickle, bit of a cuddle…You know me, Mr Stark, no harm, no foul.  I love a bit of a giggle, that’s all.’

 

    ‘Have you had any problems with her, at work I mean?’

 

  ‘No, none.  Oh, I tell a lie – she had a go at me once, in the shop, packed with customers it was as well.  I think it was the wrong time, if you know what I mean.  She took exception to my bit of fun.  I got a knee in the knackers for my trouble too!’  Bernie laughed out loud.

 

  ‘How long has she worked here, Bernie?’

 

  ‘About eight or nine months, no more.  That was another thing, come to think about it.’

 

  ‘What’s that?’  Stark asked, interested.

 

  ‘Her mum and dad didn’t take to her working here.  I think they were a bit stuck up, but Faye, she used to love the job, she was a happy girl, everyone liked her.’

 

  ‘Did she enjoy the attention?  From the boys, I mean.’ asked Stark.

 

  ‘What woman doesn’t, if truth be told?’  Bernie offered.

 

  ‘How did she get the job here?’

 

  ‘She just turned up, out the blue.’  He laughed to himself as he reminisced.  ‘She asked for a job and got one.  She even brought a couple of references, but I told her I didn’t need any: if she worked hard and kept her hands out the till she stayed; if not, she went.’

 

  ‘Who were the references from, can you remember?’

 

  ‘Oh Gawd, now you’re asking.  Let me see.’  Bernie put his thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes to concentrate.  ‘One was from her bank manager, whoever he was, and let me see- yes, the other from Florence Hodge, one of her old teachers.  I’ll tell you how I know, because her old man comes in here for a flutter on the QT.’

 

  The telephone on Bernie’s desk rang.  Bernie quickly glanced at his watch and then scowled.  He looked at Stark ignoring the phone.  The phone rang twice more.  Bernie still didn’t move.  Stark, puzzled, looked at Bernie, who smiled back at him nervously.

 

  ‘Aren’t you going to answer it then, Bernie?’ asked Stark, intrigued by his reluctance to lift the receiver.

 

  ‘No, leave it, I’m busy.’  Bernie rubbed the flat of each palm over the tops of his thighs, rocking his upper body.  The phone still rang.

 

  ‘You can’t just let it ring,’ said Stark.

 

  Bernie’s voice was louder, annoyed.  ‘All right then.’  He picked up the receiver two inches, then dropped it back down on the cradle again.  ‘There, that’s solved that!  Now I hate to hurry you, but I have got a business to run, Mr Stark.  Are there any more questions, or is that it?’ 

 

  ‘No, I think that’s about it, for now, Bernie.  You could have answered the phone, you know.’

 

  ‘That’s me, Inspector, I’m reckless like that.  If I hear anything about Faye that might be of use to you, I’ll be straight on the dog and bone.’

 

  Right on cue the phone rang again.  This time the Inspector answered it and lowered his voice. ‘Yes?’

 

  ‘Yes, Bernie, it’s me, old son.  I’ve sorted that little problem out for you, as agreed.’  Silence.  The voice continued:  ‘Well, aren’t you pleased?  You’re clean now, Bernie?’  No reply.  The line went dead.

 

  ‘Interesting call, Bernie,’ Stark observed as he put the phone down.

 

  ‘That’s bang out of order, Inspector, you’ve got no right to do that.  Who was it?  A crank call?  I’ve been on the operator about them.  It’ll be some nutter – forget it.’  He toyed with his watch.

 

  ‘Oh, I shan’t forget it Bernie.  He seemed to know you.  Come to think of it the voice was familiar to me… I just can’t put a name to it – it’ll come to me.  You know, it’s always amazed me how you ever got a bookmaker’s permit,’ mused Stark with a wry smile.

 

  Bernie pulled his shoulders back exaggeratedly.  ‘Upright citizen, Mr Stark, not one conviction to my name.  You get problems in this game, of course.  I’ve been in - what shall I say? – some disagreements with a number of hard men, you probably know them, Johnny ‘Jack’ Dore and Gary Mulhearn to name but two.’

 

  ‘I know them, of course.’  Stark confirmed.

 

Bernie continued.  ‘Yet, never once have I been convicted of a criminal offence.  And I’ll tell you something else: I’m proud of it!’ 

 

  ‘What’s your secret, Bernie?’

 

  He smiled and winked at Stark. ‘Like all good businessmen - delegation!’

 

  Stark laughed and shook his head as the two men struggled up from the low seating and returned to the betting office proper.  Stark was met with the sight of Sally being comforted by Nobby.  He held her tight against his shoulder, patting her head as she drew another hesitant, gasping breath, crying incessantly.  Bernie eyed him suspiciously.

 

  Nobby spoke to the girl. ‘There, there, Sally – it’s all right.’  He stroked her hair, giving Stark a rueful glance.

 

  Stark slapped Bernie on the back.  ‘There you are – I told you he’d be gentle with her!  Have you finished here, Nobby?’

 

  ‘Yes, boss, all done.  Now listen, Sally, don’t forget to give me a call in three, or four days’ time and I’ll take you for a drink and we’ll talk some more, OK?’

 

  ‘Now, just a minute…’ started Bernie.

 

  Sally looked up at Nobby from beneath long eyelashes.  ‘OK,’ she sobbed.  ‘Thank you, Sergeant Clarke.’

 

  ‘My pleasure.’

A wall of sunlight hit the two detectives as they stepped out on to the hot pavement, and the noise of the traffic heightened their speech into shouts.

 

  ‘I might have bloody well guessed!’  Stark remonstrated.

 

  ‘What now?’ enquired Nobby incredulously.

 

  ‘You bloody well know what.  I leave you for five poxy minutes and you’ve all but got your cock out!’

 

  ‘Oh, come on, boss – I was only sympathising with the girl.’

 

  The two men found a gap in the traffic and half-walked, half-ran to Stark’s Cavalier across the street.

 

  ‘Sympathising!  That’s what you call it, is it?  That’s a new word for it.’ Stark said.

 

  ‘The girl was upset, for Christ’s sake!’ exclaimed Nobby.

 

  ‘Not as upset as she’ll be when you dump her in a month’s time for some other tart.’

 

  ‘Now don’t be like that, sir.  I’m just a caring policeman showing a little bit of empathy.’

 

  ‘Yes, whose brains are in his trousers.’

 

  Nobby put his arm around the wide shoulders of his Detective Inspector.  ‘Do I detect a little jealousy?’

 

  Stark shrugged off Nobby’s arm.  ‘Do you detect jealousy?  Of course, I’m jealous, she’s a cracker.’

 

  The two men leaned against the car in the summer sun.

 

  ‘Some of us have got it and some of us haven’t.’  Nobby grinned.

 

  Stark laughed.  ‘Yes, so make sure she doesn’t get it, when you give her one.’

 

  ‘Now, now, sir.’

 

  ‘I don’t suppose you happened to find out anything of use whilst you were snogging Miss World, did you?’

 

  Nobby lit up a cigarette, stepping back to avoid an old dear with a shopping trolley.  ‘As a matter of fact, I did.  Apparently, Faye had a boyfriend, somebody called Charles.  I take it we will pay him a visit next?’

 

  ‘You don’t think its Charlie Carter, do you?’  They laughed.  ‘We’ll go and see him once we find his address.’

 

  ‘That shouldn’t be too difficult: he should be in Faye’s diary so if we shout up happy Jim McIntyre, on the radio, he can give it to us.’  Nobby suggested.  The two men got into the Cavalier and hastily wound down the windows to get some air into the hot car.

 

  ‘DI Stark to Control.’ 

 

  ‘Go ahead, sir,’ came the reply.

 

  ‘Talk-through with DC McIntyre, please.’

 

  ‘You’ve got it, sir.’

 

  ‘DI Stark to DC McIntyre.’

 

  ‘Go ahead, David.’ The Scottish twang in his voice was evident.

 

  ‘Yes, Jim.  Get hold of Faye’s diary – it’s in amongst the exhibits.  Look for a Charles in it, or Charlie or a Chaz or whatever, and get back to me with his details.’

 

  ‘Ever heard of please and thank you?  Stand by.’

 

  ‘God, he’s a miserable bastard,’ said Stark, annoyed at the DC’s disrespect, particularly over the radio.  He started the car and waited for Jim to get his act together.  He passed another observation to Nobby.  ‘You’re a jammy bleeder with women, Nobby.’

 

  ‘Luck doesn’t enter into it.’

 

  ‘I bet she screws like a jack rabbit.’

 

  Nobby looked sideways at Stark.  ‘I’ll let you know.’

 

  The Inspector confided in his old mate and Detective Sergeant.  ‘It’d be nice to solve this one, Nobby.  It wouldn’t do my promotion prospects any -’ the crackling of the radio cut him short.

 

  ‘DC McIntyre to DI Stark.’

 

  ‘Go ahead.’

 

  ‘There was only a telephone number for this Charles, so I’ve had to mess about ringing Telecom.’

 

  ‘You poor baby,’ thought Stark, but he kept his own counsel.

 

  McIntyre continued.  ‘He lives at 14 Sunrise Cottages, Arnold – it’s quite a select area.  There’s no trace on the Police National Computer for this guy: looks like he’s been a good boy.  His full name is Charles Edward Lyon.’

 

  ‘Ten-Four, Jim.  Any other news?’

 

  ‘Negative.  Nobody’s got back to me yet, but I’ll keep you posted.’

 

  Stark nudged Nobby; he was smiling.

 

  ‘DI Stark to DC McIntyre.’

 

  ‘Go ahead.’

 

  ‘Yes – in future use “sir” when you address me!’

 

  There was a pause.  Stark could only imagine the cursing and defame issuing from Jim’s mouth back at the station. He and Nobby were giggling as would be anyone else in earshot, as they would know what Dave was doing.  He wasn’t a dick; he was just bringing Jim into line.

 

  ‘Did you receive, Jim?’  Stark wouldn’t leave it.

 

  ‘Yes…sir.’

 

  Stark’s smile stayed with him as he pulled away in the car.  ‘We are going to have to get Bernie looked at very closely.  What do you reckon, Nobby?’

 

  ‘I couldn’t agree more.  In the mean-time I’ll look at Sally in detail.’

 

  ‘Oh, piss off!’

 

*

 

The detached six-bedroomed house stood palatial in its landscape setting.  The imposing white door displayed a large brass horse’s head as a knocker.  It was too stiff for Stark to use properly, so he merely hammered on the door with his fist.  There was a pause.  As he reached out to knock again, the door opened.  A rather elegant middle-aged woman, wearing a flowery silk scarf and a long blue corduroy dress, greeted the two strangers.

 

  Stark introduced himself and asked to speak to Charles Lyon. 

 

  ‘I’m afraid he’s still out with friends, Inspector, but he is due home, imminently.  You are welcome to come in and wait.  I hope it isn’t anything too serious?’

 

  The men didn’t answer as they stepped into the hall.  The smell of polish on wood underscored the cleanliness of the place.  It had a serene ambience which matched that of the lady of the house.  The chime of a grandfather clock emphasised the quietness that embraced the cold living-room into which the two men had been ushered.

 

  ‘We can wait a short while.  You are expecting him home soon, you said?’  Stark asked.

 

  ‘Anytime now.’  The woman smiled warmly.

 

  The décor was lavish; a cluster of fine-china ornaments were shelved against the oak-panelled walls; a tiger-skin rug guarded the Adam-style fireplace and the furnishings were of the highest quality.

 

  She held out a hand which Stark shook.  ‘I’m Mrs Lyon, Charles’s mother, in case you hadn’t realised.  Will you take tea?’

 

  ‘Yes, please,’ Stark replied politely.

 

  ‘Cheers.’  Nobby grunted.

 

  ‘Please, do take a seat.’  She offered.

 

  Mrs Lyon hovered out of the room to prepare the Earl Grey.  The two men sat down, each in a high-backed leather chair that squeaked at the slightest movement.

 

  ‘What a miserable place this is,’ volunteered Nobby.

 

  ‘It’s colder in here than it is outside,’ whispered Stark. ‘I’m sure wealthy people don’t realise the heating can be turned up.  It’s always the same.’

 

  ‘That’s probably why they’re wealthy.  Tight buggers.’

 

  ‘Still, it’s a nice pad.’

 

  Nobby continued to take in the room.  ‘They haven’t got a television in here at all, just a piano – look.’

 

  Stark arched his neck and saw the writing desk over-shadowed by the baby grand piano, complete with silver candelabra.

 

  ‘I bet they have wow parties here, boss.’

 

  ‘Everybody isn’t such an ignoramus as you are; some people live a more sedate and sophisticated lifestyle,’ said Stark.

 

  ‘Boring you mean,’ said Nobby.

 

  Stark felt as if he were in the study of his headmaster, who had just left momentarily.  He felt compelled to talk in hushed tones.  Silence befell the living-room; a far-off chinking of pots indicated the imminent arrival of refreshment.  Mrs Lyon glided back into the room and set the silver tray down on the occasional table. 

 

  ‘It is all a little disconcerting.  What could Charles possibly do for you, Inspector?’ she asked.

 

  ‘It is to do with his girlfriend, Faye Marriott.’

 

  ‘I knew she would be trouble!  I warned him about her, dreadful girl.’  She sipped at her tea.  ‘I suppose I should be more charitable.  I don’t want to appear unfair, nor judgemental, but facts are facts, and she is definitely beneath Charles’s bracket, if you understand me, Inspector.’  She placed the cup and saucer down on the salver.

 

  ‘I take it you’ve met her, then?’ asked Stark, a little peeved at the pomposity.

 

  ‘Oh no, I haven’t met her, but I told Charles from the beginning not to entertain the likes of her.  What is she?  Some betting-office lackey, or something.  How ghastly!  I knew she’d bring trouble.  And he has the cheek to call me a snob!  I’m right, though aren’t I?  Aren’t I, Inspector?’

 

  Stark didn’t offer an opinion but decided on a question of his own.  ‘What does Charles do for a living, Mrs Lyon?’

 

  She again reached for the bone china cup and saucer.  ‘He’s just started his own business – he can’t fail, he’s an absolute darling.  Sharp as a tack.  I just wish he would come out of himself a tiny bit more.’

 

  Stark couldn’t avoid the mental picture he had conjured up of Mummy Lyon wetting her handkerchief in her mouth and wiping some imaginary mark off the young Master Lyon’s face.

 

  ‘I think we ought to explain the purpose of our visit.  It’s about Faye Marriott, as I started to tell you – she’s dead.  Murdered.’  The Inspector’s face remained emotionless.

 

  Mrs Lyon raised a hand to her mouth.  ‘Oh, good gracious!  How terrible!  That poor girl!’

 

  Stark continued, ‘In fact, the whole family have been murdered.’

 

  ‘Oh, how shocking!’  Mrs Lyon stood up.  ‘Who could do such a thing?  When was this, Inspector?  Today?’

 

  ‘Last night, we think.  Obviously, we want to speak to Charles as a matter of routine.’

 

  ‘Of course, but last night he was playing bridge with myself and the Crawford twins – they will confirm that.’

 

  They heard the front door slamming.

 

  ‘Tis’ only I, Mother,’ came the theatrical, high-pitched greeting.

 

  Charles Lyon entered the room in a blaze of glory.  Had it been the eighteenth century he could only have been described as a fop.  Nobby would have said he was a bit ‘light on his feet’.  He wasn’t a tall man, and he had an immaculately clean look about him, as if he groomed his curly brown hair every hour on the hour.  His turquoise crushed velvet waistcoat and gold watch-chain went well with the pink shirt and Chino’s.  He appeared shocked and stopped in his tracks as he entered the room.  ‘Good heavens!  Company!’

 

  Nobby whispered to Stark, ‘Enter Fairy, tripping lightly.’

 

  ‘Shush!’ Stark whispered in return.

 

Stark rose from his chair with ease and offered his hand.  The hand of the former divisional boxing champion met a smooth, well-manicured hand that flapped limply.

 

  ‘Hello, Mr Lyon.  I’m Detective Inspector David Stark, and this is Detective Sergeant Clarke.’

 

  Stark broke the news as gently as he could and watched the devil-may-care cavalier turn into a gibbering wreck.  It transpired that Charles had grown to love the betting-shop girl.  He’d known her for three months; they had met in the Café Victoria and he had wined and dined her ever since.  Embarrassed, he accepted that they had a sexual relationship, although only on two occasions which ‘was a disaster!’  And which Faye had claimed ‘didn’t count’!’  They hadn’t talked about marriage or anything like that.  She was a demure girl – but carefree.  Charles had stayed in all last night playing bridge, as his mother had said previously.  He gave the address of Daisy and Jemima Crawford as alibis.  Charles said he saw Faye only two or three times a week, at most.  He had last seen her on Tuesday and was supposed to pick her up for a meal tonight at seven o’clock.  She had seemed in good spirits when he left her on Tuesday; she didn’t appear to have any problems at all.  Charles stated that ‘of course’ he was her only boyfriend as she didn’t mix particularly well; she certainly didn’t mention anybody else to him.    He occasionally burst into full blown tears, proper shoulder heaving stuff, when talking about Faye; he continually mopped his eyes with his white cotton handkerchief.  He said that they had discussed spending a couple of weeks in Bermuda next month, at Charles’s expense, of course.  Faye didn’t have many friends – in fact, Charles knew only of a Sally at her work, and another girl whom she mentioned a couple of times.  Stark prompted him as his mind fleeted back to Faye’s diary, and Charles agreed that Chantelle Naylor indeed sounded familiar.  Stark explained that they were trying to track Chantelle down, but Charles couldn’t quicken the process as he knew nothing about her, not that he could recall, at least.

  Assembled in the cold living-room, they spoke for over an hour.  Stark briefly contemplated arresting Charles, to give them something to work on, but Charles’s reactions seemed authentic; and more importantly he had a good alibi.  Stark wanted something more positive than diving in with both feet.  Was Charles capable of staging a burglary?  Maybe, but it was a stretch.  Stark wasn’t feeling it.  The fop looked concerned as the detectives got up to leave.  ‘Does this mean I am a suspect, Inspector?’ he asked red-faced.

 

  Stark lied. ‘Of course not, Charles.  You’ve been a great help.’

 

  They bade their farewells and the two men walked down the sheltered drive.  Nobby grunted out of the side of his mouth.  ‘Fucking mummy’s boy!’

 

  ‘Seems like a nice boy to me,’ Stark replied, ‘and nice boys don’t commit murder, do they?’

 

*

 

Stark and Nobby joined their colleagues and sat around the wooden desks in the CID general office.  Everybody had arrived back safe and sound and began to relate their experiences to each other in a loose de-brief.  It was strange that Stark was far less affected by a casual and open chat with a group, than when it was more formal and when all eyes were on him.  Why was that?  Steph and Ashley explained how they had visited Faye’s old school as a matter of course, and had in fact already spoken to Florence Hodge, the teacher who had given Faye the reference for the betting-shop job.  She agreed with everyone else that Faye was a quiet, intelligent, but quite selfish girl.  She often, surprisingly, appeared a trifle ‘stand-offish’.  A couple of her local school friends had been traced and had told the detectives, that she was a bit of a dark horse.  She wasn’t one for sharing personal information with others, but was often keen to illicit information about the personal lives of everybody else. One friend, Tracey, kept in touch with her occasionally but that consisted of a ‘stop and chat’ in the street, or if she saw her on her lunch break near the betting shop.  Sometimes they might have a coffee.  Apart from that very little information had been forthcoming from other members of staff who felt she was one of those children who melted into the crowd, pretty ‘non-descript’. 

  Charlie and Steve told the group that Walter Marriott was a senior bank clerk who had worked his way up through the ranks of banking the hard way.  Walter wasn’t a particularly interesting person; he had little or no social life and spent most evenings either reading or watching television, apparently.  The only incident of note was a recent, out-of-character argument he had with a colleague at the office.  He had a full-on rant and rave with one Edwin Cheeseman, but this was just a storm in a tea-cup according to Edwin.  It amounted to built-up frustration by Walter, over an accounting project which was way behind schedule, and Edwin had offered to help him and he just blew up at him.  Walter was yelling at Edwin and repeatedly asking him ‘Do you want to do it!’ and it was one of those where Edwin was answering in hushed tones to try to calm him down.  It was apparent that customers in the front could hear the altercation but no matter what he said to Walter he just kept shouting, in an increasingly louder tone; ‘Do you want to do it?’ and again ‘Do you want to do it? Do you want to do it?  Do you?  Do you want to do it?’  Eventually the Manager came in and broke the weird spell and ushered Walter into his office, but within a few seconds Walter came back out and took his coat and after slamming each door on his way out apparently went home.  The Manager could get nothing from Walter other than he was under a lot of pressure and was sick of the likes of young Edwin Cheeseman taking the piss.  This all happened about three or four months ago.  Something was bothering him, but whether it was just a bit of a mid-life crisis, no-one seemed sure.  Enquiries at the bank to see if there were any major customer vendettas had so far proved negative.  He did deal with high-value transactions, some mortgages, and business mortgages and so this should remain open until it was ‘bottomed out.’

 

  Audrey Marriott was a housewife who buried herself in her work for the Salvation Army, whenever she could, and who doted on her daughter.  There were no initial indications that either Walter or Audrey was being, or had been, unfaithful to each other, although it was very early days.  There was no apparent reason why anyone would want to kill them, as things stood.

 

  Paul Fisher had been in contact with the Force Intelligence Bureau and glumly informed everybody that within the last year there had been four-thousand-nine-hundred-and-sixty-eight house burglaries in the Nottingham area involving an attack to the rear window of the property; the favoured approach, of course.

 

  Usually the rear of the premises is where there is a garden or fence or hedge to offer some cover for the burglars.  The truth was that the last thing a burglar wanted, was to encounter a person on the premises, and that was why most dwelling house burglaries occurred during the day, when people were out at work.  A good class burglar would not choose an alarmed house, would not choose a house with no cover at the point of entry, and would always knock-on first to check that there was no-one inside.  The first act of a good burglar, once inside the house, is always to open a door and leave it ajar, not to get in, but to get out, should they be disturbed.  Nor would they take a bag to the scene, they would use a quilt cover from the house or a pillowcase to put their booty in.  They would either live very close to the attacked premises or they would have a vehicle secreted a short distance away.  Many burglaries were committed by near neighbours.  Stark was, of course fully aware of all of this and that is why he felt that the burglary at the Marriott’s was a potential cover-up job.  If this burglar was to be believed, then he had done none of the above, having entered a house that had an occupant, not opened a door for an easy escape and seemingly taken the video after deciding to rape young Faye.  This was not definitive of course; it could be a novice, or someone on drugs who was not thinking straight or was desperate, or it could have been someone breaking in, to rape Faye and it just went belly-up from there.  They just did not know yet.

 

  Paul had tried to identify any burglars who used the same MO and who also had convictions for sexual offences and/or violence.  This, however, was extremely time-consuming and nothing particularly constructive had been discovered.  He had issued a tele-printer message with the relevant details on it to all forces and had prepared the basis of a press-release, which Superintendent Wagstaff had then given on the lunch-time radio news.  Paul was able to report that there were twenty-eight similar murders in the country as a whole in the previous year, but none of those seemed related as yet.

 

  Jim complained that he was getting swamped with his action sheets and information returns.  There was nothing of any great importance from him that hadn’t already been said and he couldn’t ‘bloody wait’ for the HOLMES team to set up the computer tomorrow.

 

  Stark told the group about their little adventure at Bernie Squires Turf Accountant, then instructed Charlie and Steve to find out if there were any relations living in the area who could be seen, or any friends of Walter and Audrey.  Stephanie and Ashley were to go to see Faye’s bank manager and, once they’d done that, to visit as many as they could from those who remained unseen from the list of contacts in Faye’s diary.  Paul and Jim were to carry on as before, with Jim to type a list of all the names in the diary and make a photocopy of it.

 

  ‘Would you like me to stick a broom up my arse at the same time, sir?’  He emphasised the ‘sir’.

 

  ‘No need for that Jim, how would you be able to talk?’ Stark was lightning-quick with his response and caused a raucous wave of laughter from those in the room, much to Jim’s chagrin.

 

  They were to re-assemble at 10.30 p.m.

 

  Stark was itching to talk to Chantelle Naylor.  She was in the diary, and as the detectives got up from the tables Stark began to dial the digits on the phone in the office.

 

  A female voice answered.  ‘Hello?’

 

  ‘Is Chantelle there, please?’ asked Stark.

 

  The woman’s voice was coarse.  ‘Hold on a minute, duck… Chantelle!’ she screeched.

 

  A distant voice could be heard.  ‘What?  I’m watching telly?’

 

  ‘Telephone call - come on, it’s a man.’  There was something about a telephone call that demanded a response, as if it could not be ignored and must take priority over anything else. 

 

    ‘Yes, who is it?’  He could hear her chewing gum as she spoke and chewed at the same time which was no mean feat.

 

  ‘Hello, Chantelle.  It’s Detective Inspector David Stark from Nottingham CID.  How are you?’

 

  ‘All right, why?  What’s up?’

 

  ‘Nothing’s up, but I would like to come and have a word with you if I can.  It’s nothing to worry about.’

 

  ‘Yeah, I suppose.  When are you coming around?’

 

  ‘Now if I can.  It is rather important.’

 

  ‘Yeah, all right then.’

 

  Stark didn’t want her to know he did not have her address to hand.  ‘I’m just trying to read my mate’s handwriting, what’s the address?  Fifty something is it?’

 

  ‘Eh?  Twenty-eight.’

 

  ‘Oh yes, I can see it now, twenty-eight…?’

 

  ‘Twenty-eight, Calladine Court, Crabtree Farm Estate.  God, your mate’s handwriting must be crap.’

 

  ‘It is, you’re right.’  Stark smiled.  ‘See you in about twenty minutes, Chantelle.’

 

  ‘OK, Bye.’  She hung up.

 

  He turned to his colleague, sitting to his left.  ‘Come on, Nobby.  I want to introduce you to a nice young lady.’

 

  ‘Oh, goody, another one!’

 

  ‘She was very calm about a Detective Inspector ringing her up out of the blue.’

 

  ‘Maybe she was expecting it?’

 

*

 

The River Trent cuts through the county and when it reaches the south side of the City, it divides the two famous football clubs; Nottingham Forest and Notts County, which dwarf the occasional passing barge, riverboat and multitude of thin rowing boats. The River grew quiet after dark.  The moon was visible as dusk was making a play to ease in the night, and there was a shimmer tormenting the ripples as they swept across the surface of the expanse of water at pace.  Despite the lateness of the hour, the handful of faithful anglers were there on the bank, and even on the high concrete steps trying to catch one more fish.  As on they stared meditatively at the bobbing floats; they failed to see a shadowy figure creep down the worn track on the far side of the river amongst the trees and bushes offering modest cover for any murderers wanting to go about their business.

There was a slight hum of traffic further along from the road on Trent Bridge, and the headlights of cars would periodically offer brief illumination to parts of the bank. 

 

  The killer had had a nightmare of a day; wanting to speak about it, tell someone, anyone, but not daring to.  He had been up and down.  At one point he had shed a tear, but they were crocodile tears, tears for the predicament he found himself in, and not for the poor souls that he had taken at Maple Close.  After a lengthy period of malaise and feeling sorry for himself and smoking drugs and having his dick sucked by a heroin addict, he decided he must do something to get his act together.  He thought hard about what had happened, not soul searching, or contemplating whether he should hand himself in, but how he could try to evade capture.  He came up with this escapade.  His clothes had been burnt; the remnants were now in a large metal tin, which in turn had been placed in a dustbin-liner along with the video and the screwdriver; the bag had been sealed tight.  He was wary about burying it in the woods as he had seen on the news where dogs dig up all this sort of stuff and he wanted it gone forever.  He felt uncomfortable as he was unfamiliar in these surroundings.  He did not know the River too well and had been surprised to see fishermen on the banks.  He had not expected it.  He had toyed with going further along the bank to see if it was more secluded, but he was concerned that he would bump into other fishermen on his side of the River and once seen, you cannot be unseen.  He preferred to stay where he was, unseen, so far, at least.

 

  The splash it made as it hit the water was heard by several anglers.  A couple of them craned their necks to ascertain the cause; the rest didn’t bother, mesmerised by their floats or the tips of their rods.  None of them had seen the weighty tin and bag hit the water, nor the person scrambling, somewhat clumsily, up the banking behind the treeline.

 

   He stayed still for a few seconds, protected from view by the bushes, listening hard, trying to get a view.  He could feel his elevated heart rate galloping in his chest, and he felt his breathing must be so loud that they could hear him.  Was anyone coming to investigate?  He heard some distant conversation which was incoherent, emanating from the group of men following the splash he had caused.  Were they coming?  Nothing.  He glanced briefly above the bush.  They were stationary.  It was a relief.  Surely now he was safe?  Surely it could now all be forgotten.  Surely the police could never find out and never prove a damned thing!  Surely, he was in the clear?

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