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

Trace And Eliminate

Following the re-release of the critically-acclaimed One Oblique One, book two of the Inspector Stark series, Trace and Eliminate is available for the first time on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon Paperback, remastered twenty-seven years after it was first released. To celebrate the new release, read the first three chapters for free here. 

Trace and Eliminate

1

‘But bacon’s not the only thing,

That’s cured by hanging from a string.’

                                     Hugh Kingsmill

James was smiling as he leaned out of the car window to wave to his wife and child. Sarah stood on the porch, clutching their little girl’s hand, and waving back enthusiastically. ‘Bye, James.  Love you!’

  ‘Love you too.’ He began to close the electric window, diminishing the sound of Sarah’s request: ‘Bring some milk back if you can.’  He gave a thumbs up sign, indicating he had heard, although it was a pain in the arse.

  He wasn’t to know this was the last goodbye. That he would never again feel the softness of her cheek against his, or the squeeze of little Katy’s all-giving hug. Maybe he should have known.  If he had been more aware, and had his wits about him, he might have seen, but he wasn’t. 

  He glanced over towards the door, as he reversed the car, and saw them troop back inside, into the warmth.

  Sarah’s good-bye, although distant, had alerted the hidden figure into a state of taut expectation, stomach churning, and mouth dry. There was no going back now.

  The route was a familiar one to James, or Jim, as he was sometimes called, or if you were his parent’s; Jack. His Mum and Dad had been the only ones who ever called him Jack. When Sarah first heard of this anomaly, she used her skewed logic: ‘If they wanted to call you Jack, they should have called you John’.  That was why he loved her.

  James drove the same roads every weekday, from home to the office. Despite the bitter chill, and depressingly overcast sky of an Autumn morning, the inside of the car was beginning to cosy-up, and his tape of Pavarotti warmed the cockles of his heart.  He liked a good old blast of a tenor or two, to get the blood pumping.  His blood would be pumping soon enough, but he did not know that, because he didn’t pay attention.

  Although it was eight o’clock, the roads were not as bad as they could be; and James felt he was making good progress. He lowered his foot on the accelerator and let the music flood over him, his deep, slightly off-key voice endeavouring to match the great singer’s. Things were looking up. He considered himself to be one of the ‘new breed’ of solicitors.  At Johnson & Brown he was the blue-eyed boy, and at twenty-five the future was looking distinctly rosy.

  He slowed down, as a solitary cyclist pushed his bike across the road, who waved and smiled in acknowledgement, and James reciprocated. All the efforts he had made, and the years of College then University, and the law exam; all that drudgery were paying off. James had it all. A nice house, a decent car, and a beautiful family. Katy was three, the best age, and that innocence, and dependency was what he thrived on. What else was there? Maybe two holidays a year instead of the one, but he was working on that. He needed a decent case; maybe a high-profile murder case to get his teeth into. He just needed to bide his time and one would come his way. 

  He slowed down as he approached the rail-track junction, sensing danger, there was something of a commotion. Some guy was farting around in the road, surely, he can’t be drunk at this time of the bloody morning.  He indicated to turn left, once he had figured out what this idiot was going to do. Was he waving him down?  No.  All was well.  The crazy guy had decided to stagger off back onto the pavement and away down the side street. Maybe it was drugs, or something? His car was almost at a stand-still. James reached to turn the music down a little.

 His head smashed into the side-window with the force of the blow to his neck. The large carving-knife slid easily through his carotid artery, severing both his trachea and oesophagus and chipping the glass of the window as it exited the other side. The killer held the force of the blow and twisted the knife savagely, grunting with the exertion. Steel could be heard grinding on bone and gristle. The bastard withdrew the knife in preparation for a second blow, but it quickly became apparent that another would not be necessary. James slumped in his seat and instinctively raised his hand to his throat, but it hovered in mid-air, his dying brain not really fathoming what was happening.  His body worked hard to pump blood and adrenaline to the source of the trouble, but this was a bad move, as it pumped out of his artery at an alarming rate, like a geyser in Yellowstone park. With each heartbeat, the spray of blood diminished until it became a mere trickle. The killer had waited, and watched, with growing excitement, as James’ demise played out, before opening the rear nearside door and fleeing, only a second before the car, still rolling, slewed into a telegraph pole. The impact caused little Katy’s daddy, to flop around like her favourite ragdoll. A whistling sound was emitted from the gaping hole in his neck, which was making his mouth redundant, desperately trying to suck in air, on its behalf, and failing. The whistling subsided like a boiled kettle, and the trickle of blood halted as Pavarotti’s final tremulous diminuendo top C faded.  ‘Vincero!’

 

*

 

For several minutes the car remained undiscovered, the cassette player, having moved on to the next track, delivering a strident operatic melody.

  Outside the vehicle, and a full thirty yards away, a repetitive squeaking could be heard. A young newspaper delivery boy cycled towards death. His heavily laden bag tilted him slightly, and his front wheel was weaving as he puffed and panted up the slight incline and over the brow towards the static vehicle. He was still half asleep, as he faced the challenge of delivering the morning newspapers to the neighbourhood to get his two pounds and twenty pence. He cycled past the car, his mind miles away, until it slowly dawned on him. He applied the brake. ‘That’s weird.’ He got off the cycle and looked back towards the vehicle. It was at an angle and appeared to have hit the telegraph pole, it wasn’t on fire or anything, so it was probably okay. He could see someone inside, though; the bloke had a funny look on his face, but he couldn’t see properly, with the light shearing across the windscreen. Instinctively he felt that something wasn’t right. The paper boy was a boy scout and he had sworn an oath to ‘do his best’ and ‘to help others.’ In his innocent mind, he felt he should investigate, and started to tentatively walk towards the car, wheeling his bicycle. As he reached the driver’s side window, his eyes met those of James Deely, grotesquely frozen in death.  Unseeing eyes, glazed and soulless seared into the memory of the young boy, imprinting the image onto his brain as surely as a branding iron on a cow’s backside. He stared at the face trying to comprehend what the image was. He took in the sightless eyes, the copious amounts of blood, the displaced swollen tongue, and the gaping hole in the side of his neck. The boy-scout made an assessment. ‘Fuck me!’

 

*

 

Detective Inspector David Stark sat in the heavy traffic. His dark hair had slivers of grey at the temple, and his handsome tanned face frowned at the delay. The frustrating thing was that he could see the side road ahead of him, which he knew to be a short-cut, to avoid whatever the hell was holding them up miles ahead. ‘I bet it’s an accident.’ He muttered to himself. 

David was currently second in command at Nottingham Divisional CID. It was only a temporary role: ‘Acting Detective Chief Inspector’, whilst Bill Rawson was away on yet another course at Bramshill Police Training College.  Bill was only passing through the CID on his route to higher things, Stark was there to stay. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted promotion anyway, as it would take him further away from doing the job he loved.

  Still, the constant flow of traffic coming the other way blocked his opportunity to break away from the queue. He wanted a quiet day today, he had a ton of paperwork to do, which he had been putting off for far too long.

  ‘Finally!’

  He swung the black Cavalier to the left and travelled along for fifty yards on the wrong side of the road, before he turned up the side road towards freedom and Nottingham Police Station.

  Nobby Clarke greeted him at the nick. ‘Morning, boss.’ Nobby had been Stark’s Detective Sergeant for several years. He was a tough, unyielding character, if not the brightest star in the sky.

  ‘Morning Nobby, all quiet?’

  Nobby followed Stark into his office, trying to contain the cumbersome array of lever-arch files and prevent them falling from his arms. It was Nobby’s job to prepare the briefing for Stark each morning. ‘Yes, I’ve got the briefing pads.’ They included, the night crime report, missing from homes of note, newly reported crime, teleprinter messages from other forces; that sort of thing. Nobby placed them on the floor in a heap.  ‘Oh, I nearly forgot, there’s a report of a fatal RTA, car v lamppost, some kid found it on Papplewick Lane, it’s only just come in. Traffic are attending apparently.’

  ‘That’s nothing to do with us, let Traffic deal with it. That’s probably what held me up this morning.  Inconsiderate bastard, having the gall to die on my route in to work. What’s wrong with people, Nobby?’

  ‘I don’t know boss, it’s all self, self, self.’ He laughed.  ‘I thought you were a bit later than normal.’

  ‘Is that why I can’t see a cup of coffee on my desk?’

  ‘Sir, with respect, bollocks!’ 

Nobby got up to put the kettle on, chuntering to himself.

 

*

 

Police Constable Paul Wood was the traffic officer attending the report of a fatal ‘RTA’; Road Traffic Accident. He was experienced, and well qualified to deal with ‘fatal’s. Not all traffic officers were.  He had seen plenty of them in his time; the horror, the gore, and the never ending, and usually, avoidable deaths of men, women and, the worst of all abominations, children.

  His eyes were wide and alert as he skilfully raced through the peak-hour traffic; sirens blazing and lights flashing. On hearing the siren, some drivers would immediately slam on their brakes, instead of easing into the side. ‘Get out of the fucking way, you stupid old fart!’ Paul cursed, as the umpteenth well-intentioned driver, stopped in the middle of the bleeding road as he appeared behind them at great speed. It was with relief that he hit the country roads leading towards Papplewick, and the scene of the reported accident. As he approached the junction, he saw an elderly man waving both arms in the air to attract his attention. He was relieved to see that an ambulance was already at the scene, but the relative inactivity of the paramedics had daunting implications. Paul quickly took stock of the situation and parked his car in the most suitable spot to warn oncoming vehicles. Safety first. He had to make do with a ‘Police Accident’ sign on the other side of the road.

  ‘Morning.’ Paul greeted the paramedic.

  ‘Morning, Paul, all right?’

  ‘I’m good, thanks, you?’

   ‘All right, thanks, there’s nothing for us on this one, Paul, I’m afraid, he’s been dead a while, by the looks of it – blood loss.’

  ‘Okay,’

  ‘We’ve got another shout, Paul, are we okay to shoot off?’

  ‘Erm, okay, sure, I suppose you better had, just send me the report through the post, will you?’

  ‘Will do – enjoy.’ He slapped the officer on the back.

  ‘Thanks.’

  This meant that the ambulance wouldn’t remove the body, and it was another thing Paul needed to arrange. Dead bodies can begat dead bodies, because of drivers passing by, ‘rubber necking’, and veering into the vehicle in front, or worse one that is oncoming. Paul walked up to the blue Volvo and looked through the window of the driver’s door. The sight briefly took him aback. Pavarotti singing ‘funiculi funicula, funiculi funiculaaa!’ was something of a distraction. He noticed the seatbelt holding the body in place as he turned off the engine, which was still running, and it thankfully silenced the din.  Despite Paul’s lack of medical qualifications, it was fair to say the driver was dead. He checked to make sure there was no-one else in the vehicle, in the foot-well, at the back, and as he could see the rear nearside door was wide open, that no passengers had been thrown out into undergrowth. Nothing.  ‘Looks like he was on his tod’. He assumed the door was ajar because the Paramedics had done a similar check. Paul opened the front passenger door, to clamber on the seat and have a proper close-up look at the body. He had to settle for leaning in as the blood was all over the seat. The vast amount of the substance was obvious, but there were no easily recognisable trauma injuries to his head, chest or lower legs that he could see. These were the usual points of injury. Paul could see the huge wound to the side of the neck, but what had caused it? He looked at the front of the vehicle and the telegraph pole. Hardly a scratch was evident. He started to get a strange feeling rise in his belly. He returned to look back inside the vehicle. This didn’t make sense. The old man tapped Paul on the shoulder.

  ‘I can see you’re busy, officer, but do you need me to wait, or can I go home?’

  ‘Did you find them, or did you witness the accident?’

  ‘Neither, I rang in to report it. I reckon the young paperboy might have seen it. He was the one who told us, like. I only live across the road, and he ran over and knocked on our door. He was worried about finishing his round, so he’s buggered off.’

  ‘What is your name please?’

  ‘Jenkins, Derek. We live at twenty-five, it’s the one with the red door and azaleas.’

  Paul had no idea what azalea’s looked like, but he could cope with a red door. ‘I’ll come over later and get a statement from you. What shop does the boy work at? Did he say?’

  ‘It’s the one at the top of Victoria Street.’

  ‘Excellent. Sorry you had to see all this.’

  ‘Don’t worry about that, lad, I worked down the pit for thirty years, I’ve seen worse.’

  Paul smiled. ‘Thanks again, I will see you shortly.’

 Two other cars had stopped, either out of curiosity or public-spiritedness but none of the occupants had witnessed anything.  There had simply been no-one about when it happened.

Paul again returned to the car and leaned inside to see what the dead man could have possibly snagged his neck on. Nothing.

  There was no way that the ‘accident’ could have caused the death of the man. So, what had? Could it be some sort of an embolism?  Surely not.  He wished the paramedic was still there.  He shouldn’t have let them rush off like that. He pushed his traffic officers peaked cap on to the back of his head and scratched his head. He yet again peered at the wound.  It looked as though he had been stabbed. He wanted to be as certain as he could, because he did not want to call the cavalry and end up looking like a chump.

Paul returned to his traffic car and displaced the black radio phone. He radioed through to the control room at Nottingham Headquarters, known on the radio as ‘NH’.

  ‘Alpha Quebec Two Five to NH.’

  ‘Go ahead, NH over.’

  ‘I am ten-twelve at the scene of the RTA on Papplewick Lane.  I can confirm it is a one oblique one, but can you request CID to attend as it looks suspicious.’

There was a pause. ‘Confirm request CID to attend?’

  ‘Confirmed.’

  ‘Ten Four, stand-by.’

His radio message would send shock waves throughout the force both now and for the weeks ahead.

 

*

 

Stark tapped his fingers irritably on the steering wheel. The stitching, abrasive to his fingertips. The queue of traffic spanned a good 400 yards in front of him, as the road curved to the left, and out of sight. DC Ashley Stevens sat in the front passenger seat, his black hair quaffed back, his solid gold watch and bracelet an indication of the private income that he was party to.

  Ashley’s father had used his redundancy money all those years ago, to invest in a little video shop, hoping that it would give him an interest and enough money to live on. Within five years he had twelve similar shops throughout the Midlands and was a millionaire. Today he had over two hundred stores. His only son, however, refused to join his business, and remained a detective, albeit a financially secure one. It was an odd quirk that at twenty-eight, Ashley had a better house and car than the Head of CID.

  Ash turned in his seat and strained to see through the rear window of Stark’s car. He could see the red CID vehicle several places back in the queue. He smiled at the ruddy face, seemingly hewn out of granite, of Detective Sergeant John ‘Nobby’ Clarke, who had his head poking out of the driver’s side window. Nobby was agitatedly pointing forwards, in thrusting motions. He looked annoyed and was shouting something incomprehensible.

  Ashley, however got the message.

  ‘I think Nobby wants us to make progress, sir,’

  Stark turned and saw Nobby gesticulating wildly. He wound down the window and gave him the thumbs up. Stark’s foot became heavy on the accelerator pedal, the rev counter straying into the red. He pulled out onto the wrong side of the road, switched his lights on and pressed his horn.  A glimpse in the mirror saw Nobby follow suit. The sudden increase in speed jolted Ashley, and he clung to the dashboard. A few seconds later several cars appeared, heading straight for them, but they moved over just in time, and motioned their discontent with various movements of their fingers and fists.

  ‘Piss off! We’re the Queens’ men!’ Stark reciprocated.

  After a hair-raising drive, the two cars arrived at the scene of the reported ‘accident’. By this time there were three traffic patrol vehicles present. The young patrolman had done everything: Scenes of Crime officers had just attended, and a uniformed Inspector was strutting around, barking orders to his underlings.  Stark hated this initial stage, with everyone running around like headless chickens. He knew the importance of haste, since any suspects could be in the vicinity, but he was not prepared to sacrifice evidence by poking around too early, before Scenes of Crime had finished. Stark’s first job was to extinguish the infectious mania the uniformed Inspector was creating amongst the troops, by his excited behaviour, and he approached him with a smile.

  ‘Morning, Mark. What are we looking at?’

  The red-faced Inspector was young in service and scarcely hid the relief he felt on seeing Stark arrive. He used his long black stick with its glistening silver top to point at the car.

  ‘I think the Traffic officer has done the right thing, Dave, by asking you to attend, it looks a funny one. The one oblique one is the driver, no passengers are in the vehicle, but the rear nearside door was wide open when the Traffic officer arrived. Obviously, you will see for yourself, but it looks to me, like the driver has been stabbed in the neck.’

  ‘Okay.  What have you done so far?’

    The Inspector swallowed. ‘Well, erm, we’ve preserved the scene. As you can see, Scenes of Crime are here, and now you are. I’ve started a couple of my lads doing some house-to-house enquiries up the road. I’ve asked for CID support. That’s as far as we have got.’

  ‘So basically, you have waited until we got here. I’m kidding.’

  Mark grinned nervously. ‘There is nothing else we could do, David, there are no witnesses and hence no descriptions to circulate of possible offenders.’

‘Can you get traffic to erect a tarpaulin to prevent a view of the body, please, Mark?’

  ‘Of course.’

  Nobby had been party to the conversation, hands in pockets, head bowed. He had little time for the new-style ‘college inspectors. Nobby, as an ex paratrooper hated the ‘hairy-fairy’ way the Inspector conducted his business. Nobby could be a belligerent detective.  He didn’t understand, nor did he want to understand, the modern management techniques, which he felt were much too cautious and naïve. They were okay in their place, if you like that sort of thing, but he felt the police service was not that place.

  ‘Do you want me to do the biz then, sir?’ he asked Stark.

  ‘Please, Nobby. You’ve heard the set-up, haven’t you?’

  Nobby returned to his vehicle, grabbing the radio handset.

    ‘Juliet Quebec two nine to NH.’

  The female voice answered promptly. ‘Juliet Quebec two nine, go ahead, NH over.’

  ‘Yes, we are at the scene at Papplewick, Juliet Quebec zero two is with me. Still no update on descriptions, no witnesses are evident yet. Compliments of DCI Stark; request mounted section, Dog Patrol, and gain authority for police helicopter to search surrounding fields and woodland, plus a unit of SOU for searching.  Also set up a snatch plan immediately. Over.’

   ‘Ten four, NH out.’  The young lady had a lot to organise.

  Stark joined him at the car. ‘Did I hear you ask for a snatch-plan to be put in place?’

  ‘Yes, boss, all the major junctions will have a traffic car on them within minutes.’

  ‘I know what a snatch-plan is, mate, but there is no description or vehicle, what are they looking for?’

  ‘Anything suspicious?’  Nobby said with his confidence waning a little.

  ‘I wouldn’t have bothered with that just yet, Nobby, but leave it for now, the Control room Inspector might query it, though.’  Just as he spoke the radio sounded.

  ‘NH to Juliet Quebec two nine.’

  ‘There you go!’ Stark said. ‘Just ignore it, let’s have a look at the motor.’

  Stark peered through the open driver’s door. ‘I think we can safely say he’s dead!’ He walked around the vehicle, careful not to collide with SOCO who were putting on their white overalls.  He looked through the window, focussing on the severe neck wound, glancing at the minimal damage to the front of the vehicle.  Mark, the uniformed Inspector hovered around behind him. Stark spoke to Nobby. ‘Any observations, Sergeant?’

  ‘It’s a suspicious death all right; someone’s bleeding throated him!’

  Stark turned to the uniformed Inspector: ‘There you have the voice of an expert!’

2

 

‘It’s such a secret place – the land of tears.’

                                                           Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

 

 

Within half an hour, the circus was in full swing. All heads arched backwards, as the police helicopter roared deafeningly overhead and away into the surrounding countryside, momentarily killing all conversation. Some officers instinctively ducked their heads.

  Detective Superintendent Wagstaff had arrived. He looked more like a Wing Commander in the RAF than a Police Superintendent; with a neat handlebar moustache and dated suit.  He was known to be a decent enough man, but he had the capacity to turn, if he took umbrage, or felt that someone was taking advantage, and it had been known for a detective to be ‘wearing a big hat’ by the Monday morning. This was the ‘Sword of Damocles’ threat that hung over all CID officers:  the big hat!

  Stark informed Wagstaff of the state of play.  The dog man had picked up a couple of tracks but was complaining that it was ‘bloody impossible!’ with the amount of police who had been milling around the scene.  Two mounted officers had been sent out into the fields and nearby forestry, to follow up any potential sightings from the helicopter. They were careful to keep away from any potential tracks for the dog man, taking a circuitous route.

  Scenes of Crime had taken their photographs, and the dark-suited undertakers had ‘bagged the stiff’ with a deftness born of experience. This allowed the forensic experts full access, blood samples were swabbed, fingerprint marks taken from inside and outside the car, fibres and human hair removed from the upholstery with strips of Cellophane, and soil and debris removed from the floor with a dustpan and brush. All items were logged, and times noted and then labelled.  Eventually the appointed Exhibits Officer could search the vehicle, take out all personal possessions and similarly bag them up and label them.  The car would be taken apart later in a sealed garage at the Forensics Bay and the tow lorry was on its way. The Exhibits officer recorded the following items:

  • One red and blue woollen blanket – taken from rear floor of car.

 

  • Seven miscellaneous cassette tapes – taken from centre console of car.

 

  • One ‘Pavarotti’ cassette tape taken from car radio/cassette machine.

 

  • One opened bag of Fox’s glacier mints – taken from driver’s door pocket.

 

  • One Volvo owner’s manual – taken from glove compartment.

 

  • Eleven ‘Johnson & Brown Solicitor’s’ business cards entitled ‘James Deely’- taken from glove compartment.

 

  • Two ‘Bic’ Biro pens – taken from glove compartment.

 

  • One windscreen scraper – taken from glove compartment.

 

  • One de-icer spray taken from glove compartment.

 

  • Two photographs, one of woman, holding small girl; one of red-brick house, ranch style, with SOLITUDE written on back – taken from glove compartment.

 

  • One ornate teardrop clasp earring – taken from underneath front passenger seat.

 

  • One car jack and tool bag – taken from boot of car.

 

  • One briefcase containing miscellaneous legal documents and a note pad – taken from boot of car.

 

 

Other CID officers – Starks officers – had arrived at the scene.  Detective Policewoman Stephanie Dawson; ‘moaning’ Jim McIntyre, his pock-marked face as miserable as sin; ginger haired Steve Aston, and the new young ‘Aide to CID’, Cynthia Walker. Cynthia was a mixed-race young woman, tall, thin and elegant with long painted nails.

Stark had not requested they come to the scene, there was little they could do. This was what Mark, the uniformed Inspector had meant, when he said he had summoned CID support. This irritated Stark. He sent Ashley and Steph to trace the newspaper boy. Nobby was to return and start setting up the Incident Room, along with the others, so that they could get organised and sort out the priority actions. Just as they were breaking free, the radio in Nobby’s car resounded.

  ‘Juliet Quebec zero two from NH.  Quebec zero two, over.’

There was a sense of urgency in the Control Room operator’s voice. Nobby turned towards Stark who was in heavy conversation with Wagstaff.  ‘Sir, they are shouting you on VHF.’  Stark walked quickly over, and picked up the handset, through the open car window, its curled wire stretched tight as he leaned against the roof of the car, the coolness of the metal penetrating his suit jacket.

  ‘Quebec zero two, go ahead.’

  ‘Sir, the helicopter crew have a sighting: a white male, approximately twenty years, walking close to a copse, two miles south-west of your location.’

  Stark quickly despatched the Mounted Section as the distant whirring of the helicopter carried hope of an early conclusion.

  As soon as he heard the message, the mounted officer, clad in black gear, cracked his crop against the muscular backside of Garth, the thumping of his heart coinciding with the accelerating pounding of hoof beats. Terrance Sheridan had won many prizes for show jumping and was the most experienced horseman in the Nottinghamshire Constabulary stables. The motion of his body was graceful; at one with the galloping horse. as he jumped the field boundary walls and moved with great speed, negotiating obstacles with ease.  Before long Terry could see the copse ahead. He slowed Garth to a trot as he approached the glade.  He could see the figure of a man within the shade of the trees and wondered if he should call for back up. An officer on a horse is less vulnerable to a knife attack so long as he keeps his distance, but if Garth got cut. . .  His decision was made for him when Mounted Officer Samantha Hackett arrived alongside him on her horse. Terry signalled the location of the man, who appeared to be lying flat. He whispered to Sam.

  ‘I think he’s seen us.’

  The two walked their horses up to the edge of the wood increasing the gap between them as they did. Steam billowed from the beasts’ nostrils, matched to a lesser extent by their riders.  A male voice shouted out to the officers from the trees.

  ‘What d’you want?’

  Terry shouted a reply.  ‘Police!  We want a word, please, show yourself.  Come on out from the treeline. Do it now!’

  The repeater radio crackled confirmation that the copse had been sealed off from the far roadside by traffic officers, who had drawn their truncheons and fanned out in a line. Whoever was in there wasn’t escaping. A young man of around twenty, with long hair appeared from the shadows. He wore only his shirt. He held a pair of denim jeans in his hand covering his private parts. He shouted to the officer:

  ‘Leave it out, mate, I’ve got a bird in here, what’s going off?’

  Terry muttered to Sam, ‘He’s got a bird, Sam.  I bet it’s a blue tit in this weather.’ Terry glanced at Sam who smirked back at him. Terry shouted beyond the youth to the trees. ‘Show yourself then love, don’t be shy.’

  A woman of about thirty-five appeared. She negotiated the bracken and fallen twigs, carefully clutching a pile of clothes in front of her naked breasts. A short white skirt, still unzipped, hung loosely on her hips. Two unlikely lovers, who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terry stated the obvious.  ‘You must be bloody freezing, you soft buggers. I suggest you get your clothes on.’

  PW Samantha Hackett’s eyes widened as the youth brazenly put his jeans back on. As the denim reached his nether regions, his semi-erect penis flopped into display before he tucked it into his trousers.  She was not unimpressed and shifted in her saddle as the young youth cheekily winked at her.

  Terry reported back to Stark that all was in order and the Traffic Officers could put their truncheons back in their trousers.

*

The owners of the newspaper shop on the corner of Victoria Street in Hucknall had broadened their horizons in recent times.  To stave off competition from the new, multi-branch giants, they had started to sell a variety of foodstuffs to supplement their moribund trade, attempting to hold on to the ‘corner shop’ image of personal, friendly service.  Most customers were known by their first names and had been going there for years, mainly because they couldn’t be bothered to walk that bit further to the bigger shops.

  Close to the shop doorway, at the corner of the building, an elderly man sat on the wooden slatted bench, watching the world go by. He wore a cloth cap, grey decaying sports jacket and a red piece of cloth tied loosely around his neck in the style of a cravat. His left hand rested on the gnarled handle of a walking-stick, which he affectionately referred to as his ‘bike’.  At eighty-two years of age, George had lived a hard life; his dingy skin and calloused hands bore witness to thirty-seven years down the pit. He passed many an hour sitting on ‘his’ bench and over the years had attracted the attention from school children who passed by. Children and the very old, share an affinity in their thinking, an honesty of expression born of innocence or the acceptance of forthcoming demise. No self-image to portray, no games to play, only forthright observation of life. 

  George had quickly sensed young Jason’s terror as he had run into the shop, recklessly abandoning his beloved bicycle in the gutter. He had been alarmed by the helpless expression on the paper-boy’s face. It was obviously no trivial matter, but much as he wanted to enquire, his instincts told him to bide his time.  He had been trying to support the lad recently with all his troubles. Just using words of encouragement and a bit of accumulated wisdom about how to deal with life’s problems.  Adults were too stupid to listen to the older folks’, but children had a bit more about them and took it all in.

  As the white Ford Escort pulled up in front of him, George pretended to toy with a piece of rubbish on the pavement with his stick. His peripheral vision took in the shapely stockinged leg of Detective Constable Stephanie Dawson as it preceded the statuesque blonde out of the car. Her beige raincoat, tied tightly at the middle, accentuated her slim waist. Stephanie caught sight of the elderly gent, whilst Ashley increased his step to catch up with her. She remembered the man from her days on the beat and smiled warmly in recognition.  George tapped the peak of his flat cap and nodded in reply. It was serious. They were detectives. His trembling hand fished in his jacket pocket for nicotine relief from the nub-end he had saved for later. He lit it and struggled to his feet, pivoting on his stick, successful at the second attempt. His deformed, bow-legs, shuffled into reluctant movement. His back was slightly more hunched than usual, and he retched into a coughing bout as he struggled towards the solitude of his nearby flat. He realised that whatever had happened was too great for a curious old man to interfere with. He could only hope young Jason would tell him in his own good time. The poor lad had enough troubles at home.

  Steph could hear the distant sound of a boy crying as the chiming of the shop bell faded and the door slowly closed behind the two detectives. The shop was small and drab and had a smell of stale tobacco about it. The crying was coming from a room behind the counter. The doorway to the adjoining living-room was filled by the portly newsagent, a balding middle-aged man with black-rimmed glasses. He wore a dark-red, round-necked pullover that highlighted small flecks of dandruff on his shoulders. He spoke with a slight West Country accent.

  ‘Morning.’

  ‘Good morning. We’re from the local CID. I understand you have a young paper-boy who works here, who may have seen an incident earlier. ‘ Steph said.

  ‘He’s in the back. You’d better come through.’

  The three walked into the undersized living-room. There were two large, somewhat bedraggled settees, cardboard boxes spilled over with various brands of cigarettes, cluttering the dusty old carpet.  A small boy with ginger hair and freckles and wearing school uniform was hunched at the far end of one of the settees. His head was buried in the crook of his elbow, which rested on the arm of the furniture. He had cried enough; now he was aware of strangers present in the room and embarrassment encroached upon his misery. He glanced briefly at the newcomers. Steph sat down next to him. She put her hand on his knee and the smell of her perfume and the warmth of her gesture comforted him a little. He struggled to catch his breath; he gulped, and took longer, more deliberate inhalations. Stephanie was sympathetic as she patted his leg.

  ‘Eh, come on, it’s all right, there’s nothing to fear, darling. Try and calm down, there’s a good lad.’

  The boy gulped again. He took his head away from his arm and stared ahead vacantly; he did not acknowledge the others.  Steph continued.

  ‘What’s your name?’

  The boy continued to stare straight ahead, his eyes red, his bottom lip trembling uncontrollably.  ‘Jason.’

  ‘Listen Jason, we’re detectives. There’s nothing to worry about at all, we’re going to help. Where’s your mum and dad?’

  Jason whimpered. ‘They’re both at work, don’t tell me mam about it, will you?’

  Stephanie would do the talking.  The two men looked on.

  ‘Why don’t you want us to tell your mum?’

  ‘She’ll kill me.’

  ‘No, she won’t – don’t be daft. You’ve not done anything wrong. You’ve done everything right. We’ve come to thank you for doing so well.’

  ‘She won’t think that; you don’t know her.’

  ‘Jason.’

  ‘What?’

The shop doorbell rang, and the newsagent rose in response, somewhat pleased that the charged atmosphere was broken by the arrival of a customer. Ashley asked the man to close the living-room door, afraid that more distractions would impair the boy’s concentration. This the man did. Stephanie continued.

  ‘Are you feeling a bit better now?’

  ‘A bit, yeah.’  Jason wiped his nose on his sleeve.

  ‘Is your Mum at work?’

  ‘Yes, but don’t tell her, please.’ he whimpered, his voice trembling.

  ‘Whereabouts does she work, Jason?’

  The boy reluctantly told Steph that she worked at the local hosiery factory.  Ashley did not need any prompting.  He left the room and went in search of her.  Steph continued talking to the boy, aware that he might have information needing an urgent response. Somewhere there was a murderer walking loose.  Eventually Steph broached the subject.

  ‘Did you see anybody near the car, Jason?’

  ‘No, I didn’t. Is the man all right? I didn’t know what to do, I’ve never seen a car crash before.’

  ‘Did you see the car go into the telegraph pole, then?’

  ‘No, it was already there when I saw it. He’s dead, isn’t he?’

  ‘I don’t know yet, they have taken him to hospital,’ Steph lied.  ‘It doesn’t look good, though. He wouldn’t have felt anything, if he has passed away.’ Steph lied again. ‘Did you see anybody at all, Jason?’

  ‘Don’t lie!  I’ve seen him, he’s fucking dead!’

  ‘Woah! Okay.’

  The boy sobbed through the rest of his reply. ‘I didn’t see anything, and it wasn’t me that caused the accident!’

  ‘Is that what you think, Jason?  That we reckon you caused it?’

  ‘Me mam says not to trust you coppers. You will set me up, she says.  She’s always on about it.’

  ‘Jason, whatever your Mum says, let me assure you that we know you did not cause any accident. I’ve already told you how well you did, running across the road to get help. That was a great idea.’

  Steph talked Jason through the entire scenario, trying to understand everything he did, everything he touched. He eventually calmed down and explained that he hadn’t done much but look through the window and run for help.

  ‘Just close your eyes and think back to when you were cycling towards the car. Listen for all the sounds you heard and what you were thinking.’

  Steph waited patiently.

  ‘Thinking about it, I do remember hearing a car starting up a couple of minutes before I reached the man, my gears are bust on me bike so it’s not very quick apart from downhill.’

  ‘Where was the car that you heard, do you remember?’

  ‘It was somewhere up the top hill, near Selby’s Farm. That’s what it sounded like anyway.’

  ‘I know it. Did you see this car, Jason?’

  ‘No, I didn’t see it, but I definitely heard it start up.’

  ‘Brilliant work! Well done Jason, I think you could be a detective one day!’

  The boy stifled a smile which turned to horror when the door burst open.

  ‘Come on, get up you little bastard! How many times have I told you? You don’t talk to these lot. Wait till I get you home, you little twat!’

  The woman was small, heavily made-up with bleached blonde hair, and a star tattoo on her cheek, she looked what she was – a hag.

   Steph stood up quickly. ‘There’s no need for that! The lad’s done nothing wrong. He’s trying to help us. He’s upset.’

  ‘There’s no wonder he’s upset with you interrogating him, is there? I should be here before you speak to him. I know my rights. Anyway, he’ll get over it, whatever the fuck it is.  Dragging me out of work for nowt. This is costing me money, you know, you little shit – and it is coming out of your paper-round money!  Every bloody penny!  Come on.  Home!  Now!’

  Jason began to cry again as his mother forcibly ushered him out. The detectives looked on, feeling helpless. There was nothing they could do, in truth. Steph wanted to follow the woman, to take the child away from her, but for what?

  ‘I tried to calm her down in the car, Steph, but she wasn’t having any of it.’  Ashley said almost apologetically.

  Steph shook her head. ‘What a cow. What chance has that poor little sod got in life? Come on, let’s get out of here.’

 

*

 

The identity of the dead man had been traced by the Police National Computer: by the DVLA details of the owner of the car.  There were also the business cards in the glove compartment and the driving licence and credit cards in the dead man’s wallet, retrieved at the mortuary.  A surreptitious telephone call to Johnson & Brown solicitors had revealed that James had not yet arrived to work and was late for an appointment.

Stark had felt it appropriate to collect young Detective Constable Steve Aston from the station and take him to James Deely’s house to break the news to his family.  Steve might learn from the experience.  Steve, was a junior CID officer with only a year’s experience as a detective. He was not the stereo-typical DC, but a seemingly sensitive man, and a vegetarian. He had a sickly white pallor to his face which contrasted with his ginger hair. Nevertheless, he was, whether by luck or judgement, a successful ‘thief–taker’: even with the most hardened of criminals, his polite nature would disarm them and enable him to be successful where others were not. Now he stood at the door of Deely’s home, next to the solid, taller figure of David Stark. ‘Solitude’ was the house name according to the plaque adorning the wall at the side of the door – a bizarre name for a house.

The door was answered by a little girl with auburn hair, who peered at them suspiciously as she swung on the door handle.

  ‘My mum says that if you are selling something, we don’t want any, but thank you.’

  Deely’s wife, Sarah, appeared at the door, flustered. ‘I’m sorry about that. What can I do for you?’ She smiled warmly. She looked quite chic, spoke well and was dressed in casual but expensive clothes.

  Stark produced his warrant card. ‘We’re from the CID, love.  Can we come in and have a word with you please?’

  ‘Yes, of course. Is there something wrong?’

Stark didn’t answer but smiled at her. The living-room was elegant. The furniture was expensive, and everywhere was spotlessly clean. Stark sat in an armchair. Sarah sat next to the Inspector, her slim figure leaning forward slightly, and she brushed her auburn hair back from her face.  She was alert and interested.

  ‘I suppose you are used to people asking you if there is something wrong every time you knock on their door. People always look on the dark side, don’t they? I guess you know that more than anybody. Would you like a cup of tea?’

Stark was the spokesman. ‘Perhaps in a minute. . .’

  The little girl ran full force at Stark, she was clutching a train.  Katy caught his stomach causing him to expel air rapidly.  Sarah interjected.

  ‘Katy, now stop that. Go into the playroom, there’s a good girl.’

  ‘Aw! Mummy!’

  ‘Go on, there’s a good girl, do as you are told please. We want to talk; you’re not missing anything. Off you go.’

  Katy left the room reluctantly. Sarah closed the door behind her. She sensed something was wrong; her heart started thumping. ‘Do you know she’s like that all day. She never stops. She’s forever playing with boy’s toys. Give her a doll and she doesn’t want to know. A right little tom-boy she is. Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to know all this. Did you say you would like a cup of tea?’

  Stark sat on the edge of the armchair, with Steve looking on from the settee with a concerned expression. ‘Perhaps in a minute, Mrs Deely-’

  ‘Please, call me Sarah, so what is it I can do for you, Mr . . .?

  ‘I’m David Stark, Detective Inspector, and this is Steve Aston, from Nottingham CID.’ He paused. ‘Listen, Sarah, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.’

  Sarah stood up sharply. ‘I think we will have a cup of tea. Do you take milk and sugar?’

  She didn’t wait for an answer but went into the spacious, wood-panelled kitchen and began filling the kettle. She was humming a tune to herself. Stark had no option but to follow her in there. ‘Mrs Deely, there is a reason we are-‘

  ‘I’ve told you, call me Sarah.’ Her voice had irritation in it as she plugged in the kettle. Stark took her arm. ‘Just stop a minute, Sarah. Look at me, love.’

  Sarah stared down at the work top. ‘This is silly – I’m very busy you know. I’m just making a drink, there’s nothing wrong with that is there? It’s not against the law in my own home is it?’

  Stark’s face was solemn. ‘Sarah, its James. Something terrible has happened. Its bad news, I’m afraid.’

  Sarah wrenched her arm free and opened a cupboard. She began taking out cups and saucers.

  ‘Would you prefer mugs; I know most men do. You don’t have to stand on ceremony here you know.’

  ‘Sarah, listen to me. It’s James, he’s been involved in something terrible, it’s very bad news. I’m sorry.’

  Sarah’s eyes began filling with tears. ‘My husband has not been involved in anything, I’ll have you know, and so don’t start making accusations you can’t back up, Inspector. I have been more than civil with you- ‘

  ‘Sarah, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your husband has been killed. I’m so sorry, come and sit down.’ He put his hand on her shoulder which she immediately shrugged off, responding aggressively. 

  ‘If this is someone’s idea of a juvenile prank, then I don’t think it’s funny. My husband has not been killed, which I know for a fact because I waved him off only a couple of hours ago, for God’s sake!  So, if you are going to be silly you can leave, now, please, thank you very much. I have some shopping to do.’  Sarah rested her hands on her hips and stared at him challengingly. Stark’s heart sank.

  ‘Sarah, it’s the truth, I’m afraid. No-one would joke about something as awful as this.’ She turned and leaned on the kitchen top. She screwed her eyelids shut, forcing a tear to trickle down her cheek.

  ‘I am so sorry, but it is the truth, Sarah. James has sadly been killed. It’s a lot to take in. Come and sit down.’

  ‘Has he? Has he really? So, who has identified him, then?’

  ‘Nobody has, but it’s his car, his identity documents, his business cards in the car. He hasn’t arrived at work.’

  Sarah flounced to the far side of the kitchen and dialled a number on the wall-phone.  ‘Kath? It’s Sarah.  Can you nip round and have Katy for an hour? I’ve got to go out, only it’s important. No.  Nothing to worry about, it’s a misunderstanding that’s all. Sorry? Yes, that would be great. Thanks.’

  She walked past Stark and got hold of her coat. ‘Come on then, let’s go and see who this man is. Let me go and do the “identification”, because I’ll tell you what, mister, you are in deep trouble. James is not without connections, and when he hears about this-’

  Her neighbour, Kath, arrived at the back door and let herself in. Sarah shouted to her, ‘Thanks Kath,’ then turned and went to open the front door. She placed her hand on the Yale lock and her head rested on her hand. She froze. Stark could hear nothing, but suddenly a loud wail rose from within her. Sobs racked her body. ‘I can’t do it. Tell me it’s all a mistake. Please!’

  Her pent-up emotions erupted, and she fell into the arms of Stark, who held her against his shoulder, helplessly. No words were enough to relieve the enormity of her grief.

  Kath ran over. ‘Come on, love. Whatever’s happened? Come and sit down.’  The two helped Sarah into the living-room.  Stark noticed little Katy in the doorway of the playroom, sullen, wide-eyed, a finger in her mouth.

  ‘Steve, can you get the little girl, please?’

  Steve went and grabbed Sarah’s daughter who also began to cry in her confusion. Steve tried to comfort her, but Sarah opened her arms and little Katy ran into them, and they hugged and sobbed together. 

  Twenty minutes passed; Steve Aston made a pot of tea. The two men looked on awkwardly as Kath held the distraught Sarah and rocked her on the settee. Kath was crying too. Sarah instinctively held on to Katy, who was frightened. A heart-wrenching scene.

  Stark went into the hallway and surreptitiously radioed for a policewoman to attend and there was a brief debate with the uniformed Inspector, who was reluctant to grant the policewoman overtime for the task, as it would undoubtedly take her beyond the end of her shift. Stark was succinct. ‘You aren’t paying for it out your own pocket, Mark, are you? Get her down here. Pronto!’

  Once the policewoman arrived, Stark met her at the door and explained the situation. She was to console Sarah, and when the time was right, try to get as much information out of her, about James, and try to discover any motive a killer might have. Stark would arrange for a Detective Policewoman to come and assist if he had the capacity to supply one.

  As Stark left with Steve Aston, he waved to the policewoman to come over to the hallway. He took the policewoman’s arm and whispered to her, ‘Just check her alibi, and make sure all the carving knives are here. Do you understand what I mean?’

  ‘Of course, sir.’

  ‘Stranger things have happened.’

  ‘Also, when you get chance ask her if she owns a tear drop gold earring. Be careful in case it isn’t hers.  Maybe say it was found at the side of the car on the road or something like that, rather than it being in the car itself. She’s got enough on her plate right now.’

  ‘Yes, of course, sir, leave it with me.’

  Steve Aston sneezed as they stepped out on to the drive. He fished out a handkerchief and blew hard on his nose. ‘Bloody hell, Steve, are you, all right?’

  ‘No, sir, I’ve got a bloody cold. I can’t seem to shake it off.’

  ‘You want to get some meat down you. All this rabbit food is weakening your resistance.’

  ‘There’s more vitamin C in vegetables than there is in meat, actually. Anyway, I refuse to be drawn. I know you’re only taking the mickey, sir.’

  The two men got into the CID car.  Stark paused.

  ‘What’s the matter, sir?’

  ‘Nothing, I’m just wondering who is going to do the formal identification of the body?’

  ‘Could Sarah do it once she’s calmed down a bit?’

  ‘Maybe, but I want it doing now, if possible. I want the post-mortem doing as quick as we can.’

  There was a silence.

  ‘Fuck it. It will have to be one of James’ work colleagues. I haven’t got time to mess about.’

  Steve sniffed. ‘I bloody hate mortuaries. It’s the stench I hate, the smell that sticks in the back of your throat and to your clothes and those weird buggers that work in there.’

  ‘You’ll be all right, Steve, you can’t smell anything with your cold. Are you on about the morticians, those fucking weirdo’s?’

  ‘Who wants to work in a room with thirty bodies all around you?  That is seriously weird.’ Steve said.

  ‘Somebody has got to do it, I suppose.’ Stark said pragmatically. ‘You know, there’s a woman who works in there, one of the morticians, and I kid you not, I went in on a Sunday afternoon, with a body, and she had got her fucking motorbike stripped down in there, doing some sort of repair. She said it was ideal on a Sunday, while it was quiet.’

  ‘Jeez.’

  ‘They are a special breed.’ Stark pulled out of the drive. ‘She wouldn’t have it, would she? Mrs Deely, I mean.’

  ‘No, it was heart breaking listening to it, poor soul.’

  ‘When they are in denial like that, you’ve just got to tell them straight, Steve.’

  ‘I guess so.  What’s next on the agenda then, sir?’

  ‘We need to get sorted, young Steve. We will have a briefing back at the nick, now we’ve done the death message, it took a bit longer than I had hoped.  It didn’t quite go to plan, did it?’

  Steve laughed. ‘No, not really.’

  ‘You never know, they might have arrested the offender by the time we get back there.’ Stark said his optimism flying in the face of likelihood.

  ‘That would be good.’

  ‘Wouldn’t it just?’

 

*

 

Nobby Clarke parked the CID car in the space marked ‘Police’ at the front of the Queens Medical Centre; Accident and Emergency Department. He muttered to himself as he approached the electronic entrance doors. ‘First, he wants me to set up the Incident Room, then he says just nip to the QMC to do the ID. I wish he’d make his bloody mind up!’

He joined the queue of three people in front of him, waiting for them to describe their ailments, and be given a ticket. He glanced at his watch and was fidgeting, peering over shoulders.

  After one severe headache, a stubbed toe and a suspected fractured wrist, the middle-aged woman at the reception smiled at him. ‘Name and address please.’

  ‘No, you’re all right, love, I’m not a patient. I’m from the CID.  I’m trying to arrange an identification of a James Deely.’

  ‘Identification? Is he a patient?’

  He leaned closer and spoke quietly. ‘Sort of. He was found dead this morning.’

  ‘Oh, I see.  So, who do you need to speak to?’

  ‘I was hoping you might tell me. The mortuary might be a good place to start. I don’t know if he has been taken down yet, but usually the undertakers take them straight there.’

  The woman dialled a number. ‘It’s ringing.’

  ‘Pass it here, I’ll speak to them.’

  ‘Hello, mortuary.’ It was the voice of a young woman.

  ‘Hello, love, I’m Detective Sergeant Clarke. I’m in Casualty reception at the moment, and I’m meeting a man here shortly, to do a formal identification of James Deely. Is he down there?’

  ‘Yes, he’s the throat guy, yes, he’s here.’

  ‘What condition is he in for an ID?’

  ‘He doesn’t look very well, I mean-’

  Nobby laughed. ‘Very funny.  You know what I mean.  Does he look good enough to do an ID with a member of the public?’

  ‘Sure. If you give me ten minutes, I’ll put him a bit of make-up on and something round his neck to cover up the wound, and he’ll look like a million dollars.’

  ‘I’m okay with you putting a bandage round the neck, but no make-up. There will be a P.M. and the Pathologist will hit the roof if it has been touched.’

  ‘Oh, OK, Of course, they don’t tell us anything in here. I’ll get him to the C.O.R. and see you there.’

  ‘The what?’

  ‘The Chapel of Rest. Not that I’m going to get any by the looks of it.’

  Nobby shook his head and laughed. ‘Okay, see you in a bit.’

  Nobby handed the phone back to the receptionist. ‘I’ll be outside if a bloke called Alan Johnson comes to reception. I’ll keep an eye out for him outside while I’m waiting.’

  C.O.R. he thought. Why not call it the bloody Chapel of Rest, for Christ’s sake? Nobby, sat on the wooden bench beside the main door of the massive hospital complex. He lit up a cigarette, glancing at the people arriving, seeing if he could spot someone looking like a partner at Johnson & Brown solicitors. After a few minutes a serious-looking man, in his mid-fifties walked past him. His hair was receding, and he wore a dark suit and tie. He was painfully thin and gaunt. Nobby looked through the glass doors and saw the receptionist indicating to the man that Nobby was outside. He stood up and went to meet him. They shook hands at the entrance. Nobby led the morose gentleman through the maze of corridors towards the Chapel of Rest. Alan Johnson said very little.

  The two met the green-smocked figure of Jenny Smith, the happy-go-lucky mortician to whom Nobby had spoken on the phone. She behaved more demurely for Alan Johnson’s benefit. Nobby explained the procedure to Mr Johnson and they all stepped inside the small room. Only the sign outside the door made it a ‘chapel of rest’. The body lay on its back, covered by a purple silk blanket with a cross embroidered on it. The deceased’s face was exposed, and a bandage was wrapped round his neck. The dead man’s eyes were shut, but, as often happens, they were not fully closed, and as they stepped into the room his unseeing eyeballs glistened a welcome. Alan Johnson let out a sigh and bravely marched towards the exposed face of the man. Nobby was quick to ask: ‘Is this James Deely, your employee?’

  Alan croaked out a reply, ‘Yes, that is James Deely, God love him.’

  ‘Thank you, Mr Johnson.’ Nobby ushered the dazed man outside the room and went back inside, just in time to see the mortician throw back the blanket and reveal the naked corpse.

  ‘Thanks a lot, love. I’ll be down in a minute, put the kettle on, will you?’

  ‘Seeing as it’s you.’

  ‘Oh, and one other thing.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘Wash your hands first, will you!’

She walked towards Nobby with her hands in front of her as if she was going to touch him.  ‘Oooh’ she said, laughing.

  ‘Piss off, you weirdo!’

3

‘Two social workers walk past a man bleeding in

a ditch.  One says to the other, “We must find

The man who did this, he needs help!”’

                                                      Anon.

 

 

Stark sat in his office, alone. It was happening again. He was in a flop-sweat. The pain in his chest was muscular, caused by the tightness of his anxiety. He stood and paced around his office trying to shake it off. This was not the way to do it, his breathing was too quick; the answer lay in the breathing. He sat back down at his desk, and started to slow his breathing down, but his heart grew thunderous. He persisted, his eyes closed, his head spinning.  He kept hearing shouts and noises from outside and would occasionally open one eye to check no-one was coming in the door. The prospect of addressing a crowd of people was the only time he was triggered like this. He would much sooner face a knife wielding thug, than go in front of a crowd of people.

  This had only started in the last eighteen months or so, and he couldn’t shake it off.  It was his little secret for now. His strategy was to hope that it would eventually go away. Not much of a strategy but he was wary of discussing it with anyone, in case he was thought to be ‘flaky’.

  If he could just get his breathing right and lose the sweat, he would go for it. He put the fan on in his office. Bliss. After a few minutes he was ready, or at least as ready as he was going to be.

  A mixture of detectives and uniformed personnel were gathered in the Briefing Room of Nottingham Police Station, seated round an array of tables, each crowned by a large tin ashtray sporting individual brewer’s names.

  The detectives spoke between themselves, as did the uniformed officers drafted in from the Special Operations Unit – experts trained to cope with diverse situations; from firearms sieges, to searching premises, to policing football matches. The detectives sat closest to the whiteboard at the far end of the room, smoke wafting from their cigars and cigarettes. There was a high level of chatter, as each group speculated on how long the enquiry would run, and various weird and wonderful theories on the case were expounded upon.

Jim McIntyre interspersed his brash, throaty comments with the occasional passing of wind, which he synchronised with the raising of buttocks to emphasise the action. It was all posturing and a bit pathetic.

  The nattering hushed as Stark and Detective Superintendent Wagstaff, entered the room. Stark’s black hair looked a little unkempt, which was unusual. Stark remained on his feet as Wagstaff sat down on a chair placed at the front, facing towards the crowd.

Stark wiped his forehead and waited. Eventually a silence fell before he spoke. ‘James Deely is dead. Murdered. Anybody know who killed him?’

The silence continued with a couple of glances at each other.  Stark would sometimes throw in a wild card like this to keep them on their toes.

  ‘Well, in that case, we’ve got a long way to go. Here’s what we know, and it ain’t a lot. James Deely is a solicitor for Johnson & Brown solicitors in the High Street. He was driving to work at about twenty past eight, or thereabouts, this morning, happy as Larry, when someone decided to stick a knife through his neck.’

  There was a buzz of excited mutterings. Stark’s chest was growing tight again and he rubbed his hand up his forehead as if to style his hair. ‘I’m going to keep it simple for you, I know you are all chomping at the bit to get out there. The Post-mortem revealed no great surprises. The man was stabbed in the left side of his neck. The thrust severed his carotid artery, his trachea and oesophagus, causing him to die from blood loss and clinical shock. The thrust of the knife was done with such force that it exited the other side and chipped the glass of the side window. One blow was sufficient to kill him outright.’  There were various intakes of breath at the news.  ‘So, it’s a big bloody knife, around eight inches long and two inches wide.’  He took a deep breath and then another.  ‘OK, from the direction of the blow, it seems highly likely that the killer was secreted in the well of the car, behind the front passenger, or more likely the driver’s seat. The car was not forced to gain access. It is, of course, possible that someone ran to the car whilst stationary and opened the door and attacked him, and whilst we are not ruling that out, it seems random, albeit definitely still on the table as a hypothesis. Maybe a local looney tune.’

  Stark took a sip from the mug of tea left thoughtfully on the desk, by Steve Aston. ‘There was a gold tear-drop earring found in the car underneath the seat, so we are trying to understand whether this is his wife’s or somebody else’s.’ There were various ‘ooh’s’ and ‘naughty boy’ type comments at the news.  Stark continued. ‘Also, for what it is worth, Deely was due to visit an old friend today, a social worker called Roy Prentice. He will have to be traced and eliminated from the enquiry. The murder took place near the junction with Papplewick Lane and Station Road. The body was found by a paper-boy on his round and the alarm was raised. The vehicle is a light blue Volvo C453 FDP. That is the crux of the enquiry, as it is at the moment. All the forensics have been done. The knife was taken away from the scene by the offender and so it is outstanding. I am expecting some fibres from the foot well where the offender lay in wait, but let’s see. There will need to be some house-to-house in the vicinity of the scene, but also importantly around Deely’s home address. Could the offender have got into the vehicle and laid in wait? When did they get in the vehicle?  How did they get there? Any sightings of suspicious behaviour?  The normal stuff. We have absolutely no description of the perpetrator, so keep an open mind, please.’ Stark wanted to wind it up, his shirt was wet through with sweat, underneath his suit jacket, and the faces of those staring at him were becoming blurry. He fought his way through it, trying not to think about dropping to the floor in a dead faint, as he knew this just accelerated his anxiety and could mean he indeed may drop to the floor in a dead faint. ‘If the uniformed lads and lasses liaise with their sergeants and get your actions, remember we are looking for witnesses, not just the offender. DS Clarke and I will have a word with the CID lads and give them their actions. Please be vigilant, people, we are as strong as our weakest link.’

  Jim McIntyre muttered. ‘Don’t let it be you.’

  ‘Don’t let it be you.’ Stark said. ‘Thank you for your time, and good luck!’

  A low hum returned to the room, interspersed with laughter; several officers stood up and stretched, looking for their sergeants.

  Stark went to sit with the CID group. He dabbed at his forehead and neck. ‘I think I’ve caught your bloody cold, Steve, thanks for that.’

  ‘Sorry, sir.’  Steve said.

  ‘Charlie, if you and Nobby work together and follow-up on the house-to-house leads when they surface. Steph, will you carry on with Ashley and see where you get at Selby’s Farm? Your paper-boy heard a car start up there just after the killing, didn’t he?’

  ‘He sure did, sir.’ Steph confirmed.

  The new aide to CID, Cynthia Walker’s face dropped when Stark instructed her to partner up with ‘miserable’ Jim McIntyre and do some background at Deely’s work-place. She had the feeling that Jim did not take too kindly to ‘ethnics’ as he called them.

  Steve Aston felt a bit out of it, while Stark arranged an office manager. He hadn’t been allocated anything yet, and he felt a something of a spare part. Wagstaff, had already told Stark he would monitor events from the Incident Room, and Stark should be out and about marshalling the team and keeping his ‘finger on the pulse’.  This suited Stark down to the ground. He was already feeling much better, as his tenseness, caused by the briefing was subsiding. Steve did not have to wait too long.  ‘You and I will go and see Deely’s mate, Roy Prentice, young Steve.  Get your coat, kiddo.’

  Suddenly the room grew cold as Detective Inspector Lee Mole walked in with his side-kick DS Carl Davidson.

   ‘Goodness me, if the devil should cast his net!’

  Wagstaff smiled. ‘Hey, Lee. How are you my friend?’

  ‘All the better for seeing you, sir.’ Mole said. ‘How is the murder going?’

  ‘Early days, Lee, early days.’ Wagstaff said.

  ‘You’re quiet David?’

  ‘Am I?’

  ‘Are you all right?  You look a bit tired, a bit clammy, in fact.’

  ‘He’s busy, Lee, he’s the main man now.’  Wagstaff said.

  Mole grimaced. ‘Is he really?’

  ‘The top guy.’

  ‘I thought that was me, sir.’ Mole seemed genuinely hurt by the comment.

  ‘Really, sir, you flatter me.’ Stark said.

  Wagstaff left the office, smiling. ‘See you gentleman later.’

  ‘Cheers, boss.’

  ‘Is the murder all a bit much for you, David?’ Mole jibed.

  ‘You feel brave enough to start sniping now Wagstaff is out the office, do you?’ Stark said.

  DS Davidson found his voice. ‘Mr Mole and Mr Wagstaff go back many years, sir. They’re old friends.’

  ‘True, Carl, true.’  Lee nodded, seemingly pleased with himself.

  ‘To what do we owe this pleasure?’  Stark asked.

  ‘Just in the area, and we wondered if we could assist in anything.  What’s the story with the murder, then, David?’

  ‘There will be a comms going out later, and a press release.’

  ‘Well, you can share the info, now can’t you.  We might be able to turn something up for you.’

  ‘Lee, we are keeping it tight, I’m sure you will get the news soon enough. Anyway, I do not want people doing activities that are not directed from the Incident room, its poor investigative protocol. I want to know who is doing what, and when.  You should know this, Lee.’

  ‘OK, just trying to be helpful, David.’

  ‘Lee, everyone in the room, knows what you are trying to do, so back off, there is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, for you. I’m leading the hunt, and I don’t want any rogue elements traipsing through it unmonitored, thanks anyway.’

  ‘Please yourself.’

  Lee and Carl left from their fishing expedition. There had long since been acrimony between the two teams; mainly because Mole and Davidson would undermine Stark and his crew at any given opportunity. He was a glory hunter, but dangerous, and Stark wanted him at arms-length.

 

*

 

Ashley grimaced as he drove his nice clean Porsche 924 on to the muddy wasteland, adjacent to the cottage at Selby’s Farm.  The farm buildings consisted of a cowshed, a large barn for hay, several oversized garages, a pigsty and two or three decrepit buildings, whose use was not easy to determine for city folks, such as Ashley. Past the buildings was a big old house, covered in Ivy, its plaster peeling. Both he and Steph approached the small wooden door. Despite repeated knocking there was no reply. Steph peered through the dirty windows and was alarmed by a deep male voice suddenly expressing concern at their presence.

  ‘What d’you want?’

  The two detectives turned sharply. Behind them stood a man in his thirties. He was wearing a scruffy green quilted gun jacket, wellington boots, and exuded an aroma of the finest pig shit.

  Ashley spoke. ‘Hello there, we’re from the CID. Can we have a word?’

  ‘What d’you want with me?’

  ‘It’s not you particularly, it’s anybody on the farm really. You see there’s been a murder, just across the field, at the bottom there. The young boy who found the body says that he-’    

  ‘Is this going to take long, ‘cos I’m a busy man and I got a stack of jobs to do.’

    ‘OK, it shouldn’t take too long. As I was saying, there was this lad who heard the noise of a car starting up from the direction of your farm. I wonder if you could enlighten us as to where it might have come from.’ Ashley intentionally withheld the time of day; he was referring to.

  ‘I’ve no idea. There are cars coming and going all the time here.  I’ve got two tractor vehicles, a van, and a flat-bed lorry on the farm. Cars starting up don’t mean nothing, does it? What does that prove? Now can I get some work done?’

  Steph had heard enough, what with the hag at the newsagents and now this idiot. ‘Look, can I just explain something to you, Mr . . .?’

  ‘Tennant.’

  ‘Mr Tennant. Some poor sod has been killed this morning. You may or may not know that a murder enquiry means that every tiny bit of potential evidence is followed up, and that is what we are doing right now. You see, this maniac may still be in the vicinity, for all we know, and when you and Mrs Tennant, and your kids are tucked up in bed, he may just decide to swing an axe through your skulls, do you understand? We’re not here for our health, or because we have a fascination for your bleeding tractor units, or to piss you off, we’re trying to solve a murder, so the sooner you co-operate, the sooner we can leave you in peace. That’s not being unreasonable now is it, Mr Tennant?’

  ‘No need to be like that. Anyway, I ain’t got no kids, and if he did come around here, he would be looking down the business end of a shotgun, make no mistake!’

  Steph sighed. Ashley took over. ‘Is your wife around?’

  ‘Yes, she is.’ He yelled. ‘Mary!’

    The front window opened, and a small insipid-looking woman poked her head out. Her voice was timid, and the detectives struggled to hear her. ‘What is it, dear?’

  ‘These people reckon they are detectives. They want to know if there was a car starting up round here this morning.’

  The woman looked through Steph, towards Ashley. ‘What time this morning?’

  ‘Some time around twenty past eight.’

  ‘Oh, that would be me with the tractor. Why what’s wrong?

  ‘Somebody’s been killed near Papplewick and we’re just checking out any activity in the area at the time of the crime.’

  ‘It wasn’t no car, I don’t reckon. It would be me, taking the pig feed out on the tractor, it’s too heavy to carry all that on my own, dear.’

  They had found their source of an engine starting, mission accomplished. Steph was curious as to why it was called Selby’s Farm. Mrs Tennant explained that it was the former owner, John Selby, who had since died. Mr Tennant did not wait to bid goodbye and the two detectives returned to Ashley’s Porsche and got inside. He paused before turning on the ignition.

  ‘What’s that smell?’ he asked.

  Steph screwed up her face. ‘I’m no expert but it smells like shit to me, origin unknown.’

  Ashley looked underneath his shoe within the confines of the vehicle. ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake!’

  Ash got out and used a stick to scrape at the soul of his shoe, his face red with embarrassment as he hopped on one leg. An Alsatian dog came up to him and started sniffing his leg, as he hopped and scraped, and Ash tried a swing at the unwelcome dog. ‘Piss off! You flea ridden, stinking, fucking, mangy, mutt! Go on, bugger off!’

  Steph struggled in vain to withhold her laughter, which she eventually stifled. Ash drove off in a huff; the smell still permeating through the inside of the car.

  ‘I don’t see what’s funny!’  He said.

  ‘Oh, Ash, you can be such a Prima Donna.’

  ‘It’s not that Steph, I’m wearing £200 aftershave and now all you can smell is ‘Eau de pig shit!’

 

*

 

Dave answered his phone promptly. ‘Stark.’

  ‘Sir, it’s Kelly Harper, the policewoman at Sarah Deely’s house.’

  ‘Hello, Kelly.’ He grabbed at the cord of the phone, which was pulling too tight, so he leaned in a bit towards the phone, to slacken it.

  ‘I thought I would give you a quick call, while Sarah is upstairs with her daughter. She said I could use the phone.’

  Stark laughed. ‘OK, fine. It would be tricky, if she’d said no, wouldn’t it?’

  ‘Just a bit. I’ve asked her about the earring.’

  ‘Oh, yes.  What did she say?’

  ‘It’s not hers.’

  ‘I thought as much. OK that’s helpful, Kelly. How is she doing?’

  ‘She’s just in a daze, which is normal. She’s on autopilot. To be honest, it’s good that she has a kiddy to look after, it keeps her distracted, and she hasn’t really had time to dwell on anything, I suppose.’

  ‘Has she said anything of note?’

  ‘Not really, I might have a chat with her when she has put the baby to bed. It’s not really the right environment at the moment.’

  ‘Good thinking, Kelly. It sounds like you are approaching it in the right way. If there is anything of any great significance, give me a call or shout me up on the radio. Yes?’

  ‘Yes, no problem, sir. Oh, there is one thing that is probably worth mentioning.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘She said she was always nagging James about leaving his car unlocked on the drive, so anyone could have snuck inside, by the sounds of it.’

  ‘Interesting. Thanks, Kelly, I’m grateful.’

 

*

 

The afternoon was ending. A thin layer of smog wrapped its arms around Nottingham city centre, heralding the encroaching dusk. In close-by Trinity Square, busy office workers darted from place to place, like bees returning to the hive, whilst others, tired from shopping, queued at a bus stop wearing the vacant stare of a battle-weary soldier. A policeman strolled through the square. There was sound all around, yet no sound, just background noise; the roaring of buses, the wind rustling through awnings, an audible canvas to the penetrative and repetitive intrusion of the newspaper seller shouting: ‘Heebin Po!’ Deciphered by those in the know as ‘Evening Post.’

  A beanpole of a man, prematurely balding, and wearing a shiny suit, turned from the news vendor and hurried away to escape the anticipated blare of his next cry. Jim McIntyre and Cynthia Walker looked on from the CID car, as the man disappeared down an alley, past a dry cleaner’s, to the side stairs. There was a sign on the wall with ‘Johnson & Brown Solicitors’ emblazoned on it.

  Cheryl’s suspicions of Jim’s attitude towards black people had been vindicated immediately, in her eyes, as he had raised the subject as soon as they had left the station. She really did not want to go there, she just wanted to be a detective, not a black detective, or a green one, or any other damned colour.  She was determined not to be distracted by this all too visible badge and just be good at her job. The problem was, it wasn’t her decision.

However, she really did not like Jim McIntyre, that was a given, but she would be professional. The two detectives walked up the handful of steps to the reception. The receptionist showed them through to the senior partner, Alan Johnson. As they entered the room, Alan was finishing a conversation with a younger man, with wavy hair and a spotty complexion. He seemed quite upset. It was Alan whom they had seen buy the newspaper; and the pages were now spread across the table.  The pages relating to the article about the suspicious death of a local solicitor were exposed. The young man rose and made towards the door.

  ‘Don’t go.’ Cynthia said. ‘We’re from the CID, we’re here about James. If you could spare a few minutes, it would be helpful.’

  ‘Of course.’ Alan shook their hands. ‘This is Phillip Bond, one of our rising stars here at the company.’ Phillip also greeted the two detectives.

  ‘Didn’t you identify James earlier, at the hospital, Alan? DS Clarke was there with you, wasn’t he?’ Jim asked.

  ‘I did. Not a nice thing to do, but at least it saved Sarah the trauma. I shall not forget the experience in a hurry, that’s for certain.’

  ‘It’s a pretty awful thing to go through, we are grateful.’  Cynthia said.

  ‘It is a necessary part of the procedure, so I guess it’s just part of life. Something you would never dream of, but there you are.  Phillip and James were quite close, weren’t you Phillip?’ He nodded. ‘I suppose as the senior partner, my relationship with him was a little bit more, at arms-length, shall we say, a different dynamic than perhaps, Phillip’s was.’

  ‘No doubt.’  The young solicitor agreed.

  ‘That’s why I thought it would be useful for you to stay.’  Cynthia said.

  They all took a seat around a coffee table, just as the tea and coffee were brought in by the receptionist. She appeared flustered and was puffing and panting like a St Bernard dog in an avalanche.

  Cynthia took the lead. ‘We would just like to understand a bit more about James if possible, just some general questions, if you don’t mind?’

  ‘Of course,’ Alan said, ‘In fact Phillip, if you would like to answer, and I can chip in where appropriate.’

  ‘Yes, no problem, Alan. It’s still a bit raw for me, so I am a little emotional, strangely.’

  ‘There’s nothing strange about that.’ Cynthia said. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t affect you.’

  ‘What sort of man was he?’ Jim asked.

  ‘That’s a hell of a question.’ Phillip scratched his head. ‘He’s a good friend, sorry, it still hasn’t sunk in properly yet, was a good friend. Oh dear, he was always jovial and ready to have a laugh with anyone. He was a bloody good solicitor. One of those guys who was good at everything, was friends with everyone; he had it all and for it to end like this is just, so…so unfair.’

  ‘I know it’s a cliché, but it is true, that he had his whole life in front of him, and a wonderful life it would have been, I’m sure.’  Alan said.

  ‘It has come as a shock to everyone, it really has.’ Phillip said.

  Jim sounded insincere. ‘Yes, I’m sure. Who did he associate with? In his spare time, I mean.’

  ‘Quite a few people really. I would have the odd game of squash with him. There were a few people he’d met along the way, as we all have, friends from school, college, that sort of thing.’

  Jim was blunt. ‘So, who would want to murder him?’

  ‘Nobody, that’s the whole point, it is so ridiculous, everybody loved the guy. Nobody can quite believe it. It’s Sarah and Katy who I feel for. How are they bearing up?’

  Cynthia tried to reassure him. ‘As well as can be expected, I think Sarah can’t quite take it all in, just yet. It’s understandable, of course.’

  ‘Poor thing.’

  ‘Do you know anything about his past?’

  ‘I know he was a local lad, went to Nottingham Polytechnic, took a law degree and ended up staying here. That’s as much as I know, really.’

  ‘He had top marks in his year for the region, on the law exam.  Very bright young man’ Alan said.

  ‘We all knew he was going places.’ Phillip added.

  ‘What about problems with clients?’ Cynthia asked.

  ‘Nothing extraordinary. We all get the odd one or two, who don’t like the end result, and blame us, but he never mentioned anything of note.’

  ‘Would he have mentioned it, or would he have kept it to himself?’

  ‘I think he would have mentioned it, yes, he was very open.’

  Alan nodded in agreement.

  ‘Do you keep any records of problem clients or concerns?’

  Alan answered. ‘No, we don’t. It doesn’t warrant it, to be honest. It’s quite a rarity.’

  Jim jumped in with both feet. ‘What about women? Was he putting it about a bit, any mistresses?’ Cynthia cringed at the indiscreet way Jim was asking such sensitive questions.

  ‘Truthfully?’ Phillip glanced at Alan, who nodded. ‘Truthfully, possibly, he was quite a magnet for the ladies, and if he was made an offer, he was probably the sort who couldn’t refuse.  I don’t know of anyone, before you ask.’

   Cynthia spoke. ‘Normally we would ask to look at James’ personal record and his diary, that sort of thing. Is that a problem with his line of work, legal privilege and so on?’

  ‘That’s a good question,’ Alan said. ‘I suppose I had better seek advice on that one. It might be that we have to check there are no legal issues first.’

  Jim jumped in again. ‘This is a murder enquiry; I will remind you.’

  ‘I know officer, and believe you me, we want the killer caught just as much, if not more, than you do. But we still have a duty under the Solicitor regulations, and indeed the law, to protect our client’s confidentiality. Trust me, if we can help, we absolutely will.’

  ‘Will you find out and let us know, please?  We understand that there may be issues, but it could help.’ Cynthia said.

  ‘I should have an answer first thing in the morning.’ Alan smiled at her.

  ‘That’s most helpful, thank you. I think that is about it, for now. If you think of anything in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to call, even if you think it is insignificant.’

  ‘Yes, of course.  We want to help.’

 

*

 

The killer had not finished. Far from it. In fact, this was only just the beginning. It was a shock to see so much blood gush out from that pathetic bastard’s neck. It was a surprise how easy it had been. How smoothly the knife blade pierced through his neck, leaving a slow gurgling death, which the killer was determined to watch. It was enjoyable. He had it coming. There was no remorse. Why would there be? With every squirt of blood, a thrill. He had died in terror, doubt and confusion, which was just how it should be. It was pay-back time.

 Getting in the car had been easy, he never did lock it, the gullible fool. Hearing Sarah shout ‘I love you’, only fuelled the hatred, drove the desire to destroy James and everything he had done. He had done more than enough, caused too much suffering for one human being to endure, he had to pay. Justice had to be served, and there would be no clever lawyer to bail him out. The clever lawyer was dead. He was dead. That made sense. That gave balance.

  There was more work to do, but now with a renewed confidence; the next one was less of a risk. The next one would be easier. It was just a case of making sure that they were dead, squashed, eliminated from God’s green earth. All that was necessary was to trace his movements, track him down, and finish the job. Trace and eliminate; that felt good.

 

*

 

‘Trace and eliminate Roy Prentice – due to meet James Deely on the day of his demise,’ was the action allocated to Steve Aston by Stark. The DI wanted to do some work with Steve, he was due a final appraisal and the decision as to whether he stayed on CID would be Stark’s and he had not seen much of him in action.

Arnold Lodge Community Home was a large converted house which accommodated twelve boys between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. These boys were either in ‘voluntary care’ – put there by disinterested or incapable parents – or were the subject of care orders directed by the courts. The reason they were there, ranged from them being persistent criminal offenders, to being the victim of child abuse by a parent. It usually became a ‘Lord of the Flies’ existence, unfortunately.

  There were two living-rooms; one had a pool table in it, the other a row of chairs and a television. Next to the TV room was a compact office where staff could go to write their reports or to escape the kids.

  Roy Prentice was a small, podgy, white man, with a large bushy black beard. He wore ragged jeans and a baggy, plain white T shirt with Bob Marley’s face printed on it, along with an African National Congress badge. Roy Prentice was well known to the police: he was a militant. He would regularly attend gay rights and anti-poll tax marches, not in quiet protest to support his well-meaning beliefs, but as an agitator, whipping up the younger more vulnerable element to fever pitch, and then disappear into the background while they took all the flak. He was vehemently anti-police and was a member of a political group who employed him to make videos of police activities at marches and demonstrations, which could later be edited, or stills taken for propaganda material. Roy’s colleague at the home was a total contrast. Derek Brook was a quiet, caring man, more concerned to instil common sense and values into those in his care, than use his position to ram political doctrine down their throats. He spent long hours using his vast knowledge of psychology and child-care to get the most out of those entrusted to him. It was a thankless task, but none the less gave him much satisfaction. The kids in their care sought a sense of belonging. Some chose gangs, some chose Roy’s ‘family’. 

  Prentice sat in the office, reading a newspaper, his feet resting on a swivel desk chair. Derek was writing in the daily diary, reporting on the day’s events. One of the residents ran into the office excitedly. ‘Coppers are here, Roy.’

  Roy stood up, but Derek beat him to the door. ‘It’s all right, Roy, I’ll go.’

  Derek opened the front door and was met by Stark and Steve Aston. Derek smiled in recognition at Steve. ‘Hiya, Steve, how are you?’

  ‘I’m fine, thanks, Derek. Yourself?’

  ‘Steady. What’s happening?’

  Steve introduced Stark and explained they had come to see Roy Prentice. ‘Oh, right.’

  By this time four of the resident children had appeared at the foot of the stairs, and were hanging off the bannister, staring at the men as if they were from out of space.

  ‘Who have you lot come for?’ One of them asked.

  Derek ushered the kids away. ‘All right, anybody would think you’d never seen a policeman before. They’ve not come for anybody, as far as I know. Now get back upstairs, out of the way.  Come on.  Offski.’

  Derek led the detectives towards the office to distant cries of ‘Pigs’ and ‘Filth’ from the youngsters. Prentice met them at the office door. Stark put out a hand.

  ‘Hello there, I’m Detective Inspector Stark. I wonder if I could have a word with you, please.’

  Prentice ignored the outstretched hand and looked questioningly. ‘Yeah.’

  The boys from the stairs had re-joined the detectives and were smiling, arms folded.

  ‘Well, can we go into the office or what?’

  It was Prentices turn to fold his arms. ‘You can say anything you like in front of my boys. We don’t have secrets here, Inspector Bark.’

  The kids giggled at the juvenile comment. ‘Woof!’ One of them mocked.

  Stark corrected Prentice’s ‘mistake’. ‘Detective Inspector Stark, actually. I know it’s a lot to remember, but I’m sure you’ll manage.’  Stark had met his ilk before.

  Derek barged past Roy and opened the office door. ‘Come on in guys. I’ll make you a cuppa in a minute.’ Prentice leaned on the doorjamb. Stark invaded his private space and they stood nose-to-nose. ‘Excuse me, Roy.’ Stark smiled as Prentice removed his arm. ‘Thank you so much.’

  Derek switched on the kettle in the corner of the room and the three men sat down. Stark had had enough of Prentice already.  Steve tried to make conversation with Roy.

  ‘What time are you on till tonight then, Roy?’

  Roy put his feet on the desk and placed his hands behind his head.  ‘I don’t know if I should answer that, am I under caution?’

  Stark recoiled. ‘Have you got some sort of a problem, Roy, you know, because if you have, well, I’m all for getting it out into the open.’

  ‘Me? Problem? Nah, I’m fine me, I’ve got a roof over my head, a steady job, three square meals a day, my freedom, I’m not oppressed by fascists. I’m one of the lucky ones, me.’

  Stark shrugged a laugh. ‘Well, I’m glad to hear it. Do you know a James Deely?’

  ‘I might do, why do you ask?’

  Derek passed the round of coffees out, and there was a deathly silence in the room as Stark sipped at his cup. He was in no hurry; he could sense Prentices curiosity burning away. Still silence. Stark smiled at Derek.

  Prentice couldn’t control himself any longer. ‘I said, why do you ask?’

‘He’s dead.’

  ‘Yeah, right, not funny. Seriously why do you want to know?’

  ‘I’ve just told you, haven’t I? He’s dead, and somebody mentioned that James Deely, God rest his soul, was due to see you later today, so instead of him, you’ve got us, and he’s got the morgue.’

  Prentice rose from his seat, mouth open, his face aghast.

  ‘You’re joking.  What? How is this possible?’

  Stark sipped at his coffee. ‘It’s possible, all right. Do you know him, then? Sorry, did you know him?’

  ‘Don’t be clever, you bloody well know I do . . . did.’

  ‘Well, I wasn’t sure, you seemed to be being a bit cagey about your relationship, any reason for that, Roy?’

  ‘No, you’re just being typically arsey.’

  ‘Roy, the only person with a chip on his shoulder is you, my friend, now are we going to talk like grown-ups?’

  ‘We are, well I am, at least.’

  ‘How did you know James Deely?’

  ‘I’ve used him as a solicitor a couple of times and one of the kids here, told me yesterday he had stolen a car, and so I wanted to meet him today to bring the lad in to the station. As you know, we have to bring them in if they tell us stuff like that, but I always make sure they have proper representation, before I take them to the station.’

  ‘That’s very considerate of you, I take it that it wasn’t your car he stole?’

  ‘Er, no they wouldn’t steal my car.’

  ‘Why James, in particular? Any reason?’

  ‘I know him from college, we went to the same Poly at Nottingham.’

  ‘Did you socialise?’

  ‘Other than the odd pint after a shift or when I’d seen him at the police station, no. We would have had a pint tonight for example. Anyway, how did he die?’

  ‘Is there anything else, you can tell us about him, Roy?’

  ‘I don’t think it’s right to tell you anything else, that’s for his family, not me. So, how did he die?’

  ‘I don’t think I should divulge those details, Roy, do you? I mean, it wouldn’t be right now, would it?’

  ‘Oh, I see what you mean, I guess not.’

  ‘It’s only right, isn’t it?’

Talking to Roy was like pulling teeth, long and painful. Stark gleaned that he lived at Bulwell, and that he drove a blue Vauxhall Cavalier. As they left, Derek saw them out. 

  ‘Sorry about . . . you know.’

  ‘It’s not for you to apologise, Derek, there are lots of Roy’s in the world.  Did he get to work on time?’

  ‘Yes he did. Twenty minutes early in fact.’

  ‘Not agitated?’

  ‘No more than normal.’  They laughed.

  ‘And nothing unusual in his behaviours, or anything we should know about? It’s the sort of thing we would be interested in with anybody, it’s purely a routine question. We aren’t “oppressing” him.’

  ‘I know, you don’t need to tell me that, Inspector. No, nothing out of the ordinary; I would tell you if there was.’

One of the kids appeared in the hall. ‘Stop being a fucking grass, Derek.’

  ‘Thanks for the coffee, Derek. We’ll leave it with you.  Incidentally, I don’t know how you do it.’

  Derek sighed. ‘Because somebody’s got to.’

 

*

 

It was 9 p.m. before Stark got back to Nottingham Police Station. He spoke in private with Detective Superintendent Wagstaff, in his office.

  Wagstaff was reminiscing. ‘You know David, I had a case like this; I think it was 1971. A tramp had slept overnight in the victim’s car and panicked when she left early in the morning.  Something to bear in mind, there isn’t always some big motive behind a murder.’

  ‘True.’

Stark never underestimated Wagstaff, he was sometimes the subject of ridicule because of his upright bearing, moustache twiddling, and the idiosyncratic way he would speak over your head or look at the window when he spoke. Yes, he was old-school, but he had an amazing memory and could quote precise conversations you’d had a year ago and sometimes he would come out with a little gem. One thing David had learned in managing investigations, is that it is no good having a team who all think alike, that was a recipe for narrow thinking. You needed different mind-sets and an understanding that everyone had a voice.

  ‘What have you got in mind, David? I fear this could be a runner, with no obvious motive jumping out at us.’

  ‘Could be, but its early days yet, sir. We need to sort the press release out – ‘

  ‘I will sort that out, David.’

  ‘Okay, that’s good, thanks. Investigation wise, I want to expand the house-to-house out towards Linby village and search the victim’s home whilst the policewoman is still there.’

  ‘Tippy-toes, David.’

  ‘Tippy-toes, it is, sir. We will be tactful, don’t worry. HOLMES will be set-up tomorrow so the database will start throwing out actions from there.’

HOLMES was the clumsy acronym for Home Office Large Major Enquiry System. All results of activities on the murder enquiry, or ‘actions’ were inputted, and it would throw out further enquiries, and you could search the database to find matches of all enquiries where, say a ‘red car’ is mentioned. The idea was that nothing was missed once the enquiry became unwieldy.  It saved a lot of time and cut down massively on errors, and key issues being missed by tired analysts.

  ‘That’s all well and good but don’t forget you are running the case, not that whirly-gig thingamajig.’ Wagstaff said.

  ‘I know, HOLMES is a big help, but if I prioritise the actions in the right order, then that tends to steer the investigation the right way.’

  Wagstaff was moustache twirling. ‘I think it would be an idea to get Force Support to widen their search parameters, David, it would be good to get the knife. Keep using the dog-section and mounted.’

  ‘You know sir, I always wanted to answer the phone in their department and say; “Inspector Stark, Dogs Mounted!”’

  ‘Why?  Oh, I see, a joke, yes very good, David.  Ahem!’

  Stark wished he’d never bothered. ‘Fingers crossed for the forensics; they should have something for us imminently.’ He said.

  ‘Yes, finger’s crossed.  Until we have something more solid, it’s family, friends and background. Yes?’ Wagstaff said.

  ‘That’s it, sir.’

  ‘I’ll update the Chief, shortly.’

  ‘Fine. Give him my regards.’ David had only seen him twice in the three years he had been Chief Constable, and one of those was for a bollocking.

  ‘Yes. We will do a press conference in the morning.  De-brief the lads for me, and I’ll probably see you later.’

  Stark caught sight of the gangly, Detective Sergeant Stuart Bradshaw at the far end of the corridor as he was returning to his office.

  ‘How’s it going, Stuart?’

  ‘All right, sir, I was just looking for you. We have pretty much done on the car, and so will await whatever Forensics come up with. I’ve done you a list of all the items recovered, and obviously we’ve got to work closely with Forensics to see where the information is going to take us. I’ve got a copy of the list here, if you want it?’

  ‘Of course, thanks.  Have you got time to go through it with me now?’

  ‘Sure.’

  Starks office was halfway down the corridor, a smallish room with just a desk, two chairs and a metal filing cabinet. On the wall was a photograph of Stark’s CID Initial Course, class of 1972: a group of apprehensive young men in kipper ties and flared trousers, smiling inanely. On his desk was a photograph of his wife, Carol, and their children, Laura and Christopher.  Someone had thrown a rubber plant in the corner of the room, but it looked a bit tired and lonely. Maybe that was why Stark liked it, so did he sometimes.

  Stark took a seat behind his desk and encouraged Stuart to draw up a chair next to him. He stared down at the list.

 

 

Thirty-six fibres recovered from rear seat of vehicle.

 

Nine hundred millilitres (two pints approx.) of (congealed) blood recovered from within car.

 

Thirty-one fingerprints found on or inside the vehicle.

 

One ounce of debris (believed soil) removed from floor of vehicle.

 

Forty-nine human hairs found inside the vehicle.

 

No footprints of any note found at scene.

 

Twenty-seven fibres on front offside seat of vehicle.

 

 

  ‘Thirty-six fibres from rear seat?’

  Stuart explained. ‘Yes, but they could be anybody’s; friends, family and of course they could be years old.’

  ‘Still, we can get a list of everyone who had lawful access to that car. If it is only a handful, we may be able to eliminate some of the fibres and get the list down to the suspect’s only.’

  Stuart grimaced. ‘I think the list is fine, but I also think you will find the scientists at Huntingdon lab would prefer the one suspect to compare with, it will be much easier.’

  ‘You’re right, I’m just thinking aloud, here. There is the potential, of course, that the authorised passenger also happened to be the killer.’

  ‘That is true.’

  ‘Now then, let’s see, 900 milli what? Oh, two pints of blood, right well, until it is analysed, we assume that is the deceased’s for now.  That is just the congealed blood, I take it. He will have lost a lot more.’

  ‘That’s it.’

  ‘Thirty-one fingerprints found on inside and outside of the vehicle. Okay, well, we will be taking elimination prints from everyone, where exactly were they?’

  ‘Normal places a passenger would leave them, windows, dashboard, glove compartment, mainly windows and outside of doors. In my opinion, they don’t look recent but who knows?  Maybe I’m wrong.  I hope so.’

  ‘Let’s see what comes of it on the database, but if the killer has no form, or has been in the armed services, we are buggered.’

  ‘That is even if any of the prints are the killers. There is no guarantee, it seems pre-meditated so surely they would have gloves on.’ Stuart observed.

  ‘You would think so, wouldn’t you? What else is on your list?  Soil, well, yes.’

  ‘We’ve taken a control from the garden of the dead man’s house to see if they can get a match.’

  ‘I can’t see that taking us anywhere. I don’t know; we’ll have to see. They could still have soil on their shoes or trousers, I suppose. It’s a bit of something, I guess. “Forty-nine human hairs found inside the vehicle” That’s great. That is more like it, if it is a stranger who’s done it; all we need to know is who the bloody hell they are!’

Nobby Clarke came into the office tapping on the open door with his knuckles, out of courtesy, as he did so. He sat down, nodding to Stuart who was in mid flow.

 ‘That is always the tricky part.’  Stuart laughed.

  ‘Just a bit.’ 

  ‘It’s not a bad trawl to go at, sir, there will be the post-mortem stuff to work on, fingernail scrapings and the like.’

  ‘You’ve done a cracking job, Stuart, well done, mate.’

  Nobby piped up. ‘Sorry, to interrupt, boss, but we are ready for the de-brief, whenever you are.’

  ‘No problem, we’ve done here. Thanks again, Stuart, keep me posted, won’t you?’

  ‘Of course.’

Stark and Nobby joined the others for an informal de-brief, it was pretty obvious that they had not got very far, and it quickly ran dry, as did Nobby.  ‘Can I suggest something, boss?’

  ‘What’s that Nobby?’

  ‘Can we adjourn to the bar?  I’m bleeding gagging for a drink.’

  Cries of ‘Great idea, Nobby,’ and ‘Best thing you’ve said all day,’ made the decision easy for Stark.

 

*

 

Nottingham Police station bar was on the top floor, away from the everyday goings-on, next to the administration offices. The bar area was not overly large, but it had concertina doors running the length of the room, which could be opened to reveal a dancefloor for bigger functions that were periodically held there. The bar committee had to keep it solvent after all.  It was quite tastefully decorated and despite its location felt very much like any other bar. The only difference was that there was nobody trying to listen to what was being said, apart from when the public were admitted for ‘do’s.

  Stark was surprised to see Wagstaff there, who immediately latched on to him, with Jim McIntyre hanging on. Stark would have preferred to have been stood with his team, but endured Wagstaff’s enforced separation, for now.

  ‘So, the chief said, “While ever Waggy’s got his spoke in, the wheel won’t come off!”’ Jim McIntyre broke into uproarious laughter at the unfunny anecdote. He really was a git at times. Stark smiled politely. 

  DI Lee Mole walked in and joined them at the bar.

  ‘Look at this, a murderer on the loose and the team are on the lash! Not bad is it?’

  Wagstaff laughed. No-one else did.

  ‘They’ve only just finished, Lee, be fair.’ Wagstaff said.

  ‘Crime doesn’t sleep, sir. I must be too old-school, too well-disciplined.’

  ‘Mind you, I’m old school myself.’  Wagstaff commented.

  ‘Are you, sir? A man after my own heart. We need to stick together.’ He winked at Stark.

  Stark was trying not to be drawn but couldn’t resist responding to the snipe. ‘Well, Lee, everyone needs some down-time. If they work through the night, they will be dead on their feet in three days and then what?’

  ‘I’m just saying, that’s all. Chill out, dude.’

  ‘It’s called management, there’s a book on it in the library.’  Stark said.

  ‘I don’t’ get time to go in the library Dave, I’m too busy cracking heads!’

  ‘You’ve got all on cracking a smile, Lee, never mind heads.’

  Lee ignored the comment. ‘Do you want a drink, sir?’ Lee asked Wagstaff.

  ‘That’s very kind, Lee, I’ll have a pint, please.’

  Jim wandered off towards the team, who were at the far end of the bar, deep in conversation.

  Charlie was quizzing Cynthia. ‘So, have you had any problems since being in the force, Cynthia? Being a person of colour, I mean?’

  ‘Let’s not go there, Charlie.’ Ash said.

  Jim jumped in with both feet, as usual. ‘I’m interested too, I know a lot of blacks who always seem to think they are bad done to.’

  Ashley interjected. ‘Do we have to? We are having a drink, it’s a bit heavy, after a long day.’

  Cynthia put her hand on his arm. ‘It’s OK, Ash, I think that a black officer changes people’s attitudes when he or she arrives at a station.’

  ‘D’you think?’ Jim waded in. ‘Or do you think he just makes people talk in hushed tones, and look around the room before they make comments?’

  ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ Cynthia said.

  ‘When in Rome...’   Jim said.

  Charlie joined in. ‘I worry that it is divisive. We all police ourselves, don’t we? If someone picks on the Aide too much, or bullies them, one of us old farts will tell them to cut it out.’

  ‘So, I’m reliant on your moral compass am I, and when you think I’ve had enough you will step in. Is that good enough, do you think?’  Cynthia said.

  ‘I take your point.’ Charlie was pragmatic.

  Ashley chimed in. ‘So, what do we think about James Deely, then?’

  It didn’t work. 

  Cynthia continued. ‘The problem is, you don’t know what it is like to walk into a police station for the first time and be welcomed by ‘here comes the nigger!’

Jim laughed.

  ‘Have you really had that?’ Charlie asked.

  ‘We all have.’

  ‘That’s not right, is it? That’s just bang out-of-order!’ Charlie shook his head.

  ‘It’s not right is it Jim?’ she asked.

  ‘People are so damned sensitive nowadays; Christ knows what it will be like in twenty years’ time. People call me Jock all the time, who gives a fuck?’

  ‘But Jock isn’t a derogatory term is it?’

  ‘Is that your view or mine? Put it this way, love, if I turned up at the Afro Caribbean Club, would I be welcome?’

  ‘Maybe.’

  ‘Och, come on, hen, you know I wouldn’t. What if I wanted to set up a White British Club on the tax-payers money, would I be allowed?’

Ashley tried to get some common ground. ‘It amazes me that the police and the black community clash so often.’

  ‘How do you mean, Ash?’ Cynthia asked.

  ‘Well, we’re a minority group within the community; we’re stereotyped by the media. Members of the public judge us as a group and not as individuals, they have pre-conceived ideas about us, special derogatory terms for us, ‘pigs’ and ‘filth’ and all that shit, do you know what I mean?’

  Cynthia smiled. ‘Interesting.’

Nobby had cornered Steph at the far end of the bar, as soon as they all started talking about race. The two were speaking in hushed tones.

  ‘Come off it, Steph, an attractive woman like you, must have scores of men after you.’

  ‘I do until they find out I’m a detective and it changes the dynamic. I want a man, not a wimp, and those that think they can take me on are all mouth and trousers. They’ve got nothing to back it up.’

  ‘Maybe you are talking to the wrong men.’

  She played her tongue across her white teeth, the fullness of her mouth accentuated by blood red lipstick. ‘Nobby, you’re so transparent, you really are.’

  ‘You can’t blame me for trying, now can you? I’m serious, though.’

  ‘I don’t go for cops, Nobby, and certainly not someone senior to me. Anyway, you shouldn’t flirt with officers who are underneath you on the greasy pole.’

  ‘But that’s the whole point.’

  ‘What is?’

  ‘To get you underneath me!’

They laughed.

  ‘And as for the greasy pole!’

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