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Smith

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427

 

 

 

 

 

 

SMITH

 

BY S.K. GILES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings

Hast thou established strength

Because of thine adversaries,

That thou mightest still the enemy

And the avenger.’

PSALMS 8.2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

REDEEMED

 

Thursday 24 December 2008. York.

 

 

“Where’s my pink shirt?” Martin Willow shouted to his wife.

“Washed and ironed and in the wardrobe where it usually is,” his wife Wendy replied, “You’re not wearing that one are you? The eighties are long gone.”

“Found it,” he said, “what was that about the eighties?”

“Nothing dear. What time did they say we had to be there?”

“Roxy said six and Frank said seven so I think six thirty should be acceptable.”

“Why can’t we take Penny?” Frank said, “she normally comes everywhere with us.”

“Roxy doesn’t like kids,” Wendy replied, “never has done. Penny likes Lauren anyway.”

Lauren was the Willow’s babysitter; she was one of Frank’s students at the University.

“Everybody likes Lauren,” Frank said with a smile that Wendy could not see.

“I don’t like that girl. She’s way too clever. Are you listening to me?”

“All finished,” Frank said, “yes I’m listening. I’m coming down. Why do you always have to talk to me from the other side of the house? She’s not too clever; she’s a very bright girl that’s all.”

“Well its five thirty now. Where is she?”

“She’ll be here. Do you want a drink before we go? I’m having one.”

“Of course you are. No, I think I’ll try and stay sober at least until the hor d’oevres have been served. Where is that bloody girl?”

“She’s in her room. She’s reading.”

“Not Penny you moron, the babysitter.”

“Charming,” Martin poured himself a drink.

“What’s that you’re drinking?” Wendy asked.

“Remy Martin VSOP. One of my students bought it for me. Very smooth.”

“I won’t ask you her name. You might as well pour me a drop while we’re waiting. Isn’t that your phone? It’s that eighties crap ring tone.”

“It’s the LoveCats by the Cure. It’s a classic. It must be Lauren.”

“She’d better not cancel on us now,” Wendy warned.

She finished her brandy in one large sip.

As Martin went to find his phone upstairs, Wendy poured herself a generous second glass.

“Lauren can’t make it,” Martin said from the top of the stairs, “she’s sick.”

“Marvellous,” Wendy scoffed, “I really do not like that girl. What are we going to do now?”

“We’ll take Penny with us. She’s very good. Roxy will just have to understand. Do you want to get her ready?”

“Sometimes, I think the only involvement you ever had in that child was to provide the sperm all those years ago.”

“What the hell do I know about dressing a seven year old girl? The taxi will be here soon.”

“Penny,” Wendy shouted up the stairs, “get yourself ready, you’re coming with us,”

In the middle of the room stood a small Christmas tree. It was sparsely decorated and only three gifts lay underneath. They were wrapped in brown paper and bound with twine. Before Penny was born, Christmas was not something that was celebrated in the Willow household but when she was born Martin and Wendy both agreed on a compromise; they would make a slight effort towards normality.

“Taxis here,” Martin shouted, “are you two ready?”

“Almost,” Wendy replied, “do you want to grab a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of whisky for after the meal? Frank will expect it.”

“Hurry up. The taxi guy is already charging us Christmas rates.”

The Taxi driver was Chinese and he was wearing a Santa Claus hat.

“Where to?” he asked. “Going somewhere nice?”

“Not really,” Wendy replied, “but it’s a Christmas Eve tradition.” She gave him the address.

A dreadful feeling came over Martin Willow during the taxi ride. Had he remembered to lock the front door? It was one of his few household duties and he could not remember if he had or not. He dismissed the feeling. We have ample insurance, he thought.

“Nice music,” Wendy said to the taxi driver.

He was playing a Beatles song. She did not know the name of the song but she had heard it before; it was something about getting older.

The evening with Frank and Roxy started off badly even before Martin and Wendy stepped out of the taxi. Martin had given the driver an unnecessarily generous tip and as they walked up the drive, Wendy was already furious.

“Why do you always have to throw money around after a few drinks?” she demanded.

“It’s Christmas Eve for Gods sake,” Martin said, “who the hell wants to work on Christmas Eve?”

“He was Chinese. I don’t think they even celebrate Christmas. And watch your language in front of the child.”

“The child has a name Wendy.” He emphasised her name and she knew it was time to back off.

Martin rang the doorbell. Roxy opened the door with a smile which quickly disappeared when she saw Penny standing there.

“Sorry Rox,” Wendy said, “the babysitter let us down.”

“Not to worry,” Martin interrupted, “let’s open some wine. I brought a nice single malt too for afterwards. I think Frank will like it.”

“You’d better come in then,” Roxy said, “it looks like it may rain.”

“Well hello, hello,” Frank Paxton bellowed as they entered the living room, “and hello to you little lady.”

He smiled at Penny. Frank did not share Roxy’s dislike of children. Penny smiled back. A rare smile.

“What’s that you’re reading Penny?” Frank asked.

Penny never went anywhere without a book in her hand; it was her version of a security blanket.

“Frank asked you a question Penny,” Wendy said sternly.

Penny showed him the book but would not let him take it.

“Ah,” Frank said, “the late great Mrs Blyton. One of her best too, I may add.”

Penny smiled again.

“Frank,” Roxy said, “you’d better check on the food. We wouldn’t want it to burn would we?”

“Okey Dokey,” he replied and danced into the kitchen.

Penny giggled. Roxy sighed. She hated his childish behaviour sometimes.

“Martin,” Roxy said, “would you mind opening a couple of bottles of wine? A couple of reds. I’ll stick the white in the fridge for dessert. Frank is cooking his Beef Wellington. Not exactly festive I know but it’s delicious nevertheless.”

They settled in the dining room while Frank added the finishing touches to the main course. Penny made herself comfortable on the couch in the living room.

“How’s work going Rox?” Wendy asked politely as she nibbled on a prawn cracker.

“Great, but terrible, if you know what I mean,” Roxy replied. “They’ve got kids coming in from god knows where who think they can just waltz up and take over. The computer industry is vicious sometimes.”

Martin emptied a glass of wine in one go.

“So Roxy”, he said, “when did this fear of young people start? Was it always there or did it happen when you reached forty?”

Wendy’s face reddened.

“Martin”, she gave him her warning look.

“Sorry Rox,” Wendy said, “Martin thinks that after a few drinks he can be as rude as he likes and no-one will care. It’s his job, I think. He spends too much time around young impressionable people.”

“It’s ok Wendy,” Roxy insisted, “sometimes I wish I could say exactly what’s on my mind too. Then maybe those kids at work wouldn’t walk all over me.”

In the living room, Penny was engrossed in the goings on in The Magic Faraway Tree. She was reading slowly as this was the third and final book in the series and she did not want to reach the end too soon.

“Do you eat steak pie?” Frank asked her.

She left the land of Secrets behind, looked up and nodded.

“Good.” He smiled. “We’d better lay another place for you at the table. It’s nearly ready.”

Penny put the book down on the coffee table and followed Frank to the dining room.

Frank put the Beef Wellington on the table.

“Wow Frank,” Wendy said, “this looks delicious.”

The five of them ate in virtual silence and after the meal when Penny returned to her book, Roxy remarked “It’s difficult to know what to talk about when there’s a seven year old in your company”.

“What are you talking about?” Martin said.

“Well, it’s hard to have an adult conversation isn’t it?”

Wendy had finished a bottle of wine to herself.

“I hate my name,” she exclaimed.

Everyone looked at her as if she were insane.

“I mean come on, Wendy Willow. I sound like one of those fairies in Penny’s stupid books. Wendy Willow, the nymph of the woods.”

“I’m happy with the nymph of the bedroom,” Martin joked.

“Seriously Martin. I think that’s why I haven’t been taken seriously for all these years.”

“Seriously Wendy,” Martin said, “I think you’ve just had a little too much to drink.”

“No, I mean it. I think if I hadn’t been so besotted with you when we decided to get married, I would have realised that taking your name would affect the rest of my life.”

“You’re rambling on now dear,” Martin tried to calm things down. “Besides, there are much worse names out there.”

He looked around for support.

“I once knew a guy called Victor Winner,” Frank quickly lied, “he was a real loser.” Everybody laughed. Even Wendy found it hard not to smile.

“More wine anybody?” Frank offered.

“Open the white in the fridge will you?” Roxy asked, “I just need to see to the Pavlova.”

“This is divine Rox,” Wendy remarked as she took a forkful of the Pavlova, “You must give me the recipe.”

“Marks and Spencer, Coppergate Centre,” Roxy chuckled.

“It’s to die for anyway.”

“Frank,” Martin said, “look at this beauty. Glenlivet 12 years old. I acquired this from one of my students.”

“I’ll get some glasses,” Frank said, “do you ladies want some too?”

“Wine is fine for me,” Wendy said, “I’m suddenly feeling a bit tipsy.”

She turned to face Martin.

“What is it you lecture in at University again?” She asked, “Alcohol appreciation 101. And let me guess, another of your female admirers gave you this one. You know what Rox, at this time of year, our drinks cabinet is overflowing with gifts from Martin’s Harem.”

“I’ll get the glasses,” Frank said as a diversion.

“What do you lecture in Martin?” Roxy asked.

“Oh some ology or another,” Wendy said sarcastically, “I’ve given up remembering.”

Martin tried to stay calm. “I have a PHD in Criminology,” he said, “but I also dabble in Psychology and Sociology when I feel the need for something lighter.”

“Very interesting,” Frank said in his best German Gestapo interrogation voice, “So you have ze means up here,” he pointed to his head, “to carry out ze perfect murder. What do you say to zat?”

Wendy laughed.

“Martin couldn’t kill a fly,” she said, “he puts spiders outside rather than kill them.”

“It’s those types you have to watch,” Roxy argued, “the meek and mild college professor types; the bookish ones. They’re the ones that usually turn into serial killers; I’ve read a book about it.”

“Oh Rox,” Wendy said with a smile, “you’ve got some imagination there. Anyway, I sometimes wished I’d married an accountant like you did.”

She regretted saying it immediately.

“Frank and I aren’t married.” Roxy assumed an air of defence.

“Sorry Rox,” Wendy said, “I sometimes forget. It’s just you’ve been together for so long you might as well be.”

“We never saw the need,” Frank said, “we don’t have any kids and we’re quite happy the way things are without some legal piece of paper to say so.”

“I need a pee,” Martin changed the subject, “I assume the toilet is still in the same place?”

“Martin,” Wendy said. She was blushing.

Roxy laughed. “I may be a tad obsessive with moving furniture around,” she said, “but even I can’t move a toilet. You know where it is.”

When Martin had finished, he checked on Penny. She still held her book but she was fast asleep. He carefully removed the book from her fingertips and placed it on the coffee table. She only had a few chapters left to read. He put a cushion under her head and gently kissed her on the forehead. She smiled a sleepy smile.

“Penny’s asleep,” Martin announced as he sat down again.

“What time is it?” Wendy asked.

“Half ten,” Martin replied, “What time is the taxi driver due back?”

“Midnight. There’s no rush.”

“Plenty of time for more whisky then.” Frank added. His face was flushed. “I’ve got something special that will compliment the single malt perfectly.”

He opened a cupboard and produced two fat cigars.

“Cuban,” he said proudly, “a client of mine gave them to me as a token of appreciation.”

“We won’t ask what you did for him,” Roxy said.

Frank handed a cigar to Martin.

“Do we have any ashtrays?” he asked Roxy, “you keep moving things and throwing things out. I don’t know what we own anymore.”

“There’s one in the kitchen,” Roxy replied, “You’re not going to smoke those things in here are you?”

“Oh come on Rox,” Wendy insisted, “It’s Christmas and besides, I quite like the smell of a good cigar.”

Frank put an ashtray and a box of matches on the table.

“Watch this,” Martin said, “I saw this in a movie once.”

He poured himself a large whisky, dipped one end of the cigar in the glass and lit the other end.

“Winston Churchill used to dip his in port,” Frank said, “I’ll smoke mine dry if you don’t mind though.”

“Let’s get a photo,” Roxy suggested. “You two.” She pointed to Frank and Martin, “sit closer together, whisky in one hand, cigar in the other.”

She went to fetch the camera. She took four photographs in quick succession.

“Just to be sure,” she said, “Digital’s great isn’t it?”

“Do you have a timer on that thing?” Martin asked.” Let’s get one of the four of us. For prosperity’s sake.”

Roxy placed the camera on the tripod; made sure everyone was in the frame, pressed the five second timer and quickly returned to the others. She counted to three.

“Everyone say ‘money’,” she said.

The flash went off. She repeated the procedure.

“I’ll e-mail them to you when I get a chance,” she said cheerfully.

“The taxi will be here in twenty minutes,” Martin said.

He eyed the bottle of whisky. There was enough for two double measures left in the bottle. He poured one for himself and emptied what was left into Frank’s glass.

“Whisky goes off,” he joked, “no sense in wasting it.”

Martin was a reasonably heavy drinker but it had been a while since he had felt this inebriated.

A cell phone was ringing in the hallway. A song from the eighties played. It was Martin’s. By the time he had stumbled through to retrieve it, the ringing had stopped. “Must be a wrong number,” he said, “or maybe it was the taxi company to say they’re on their way.”

It was five minutes to midnight. Martin drained what was left of the whisky and went to check on Penny. She was still asleep.

“Penny’s still asleep,” he said as he put his coat on and helped Wendy with hers.

“She can sleep here if she wants,” Roxy said.

Everyone looked at her in disbelief.

“What?” Roxy said, “She’s been no trouble”.

“Thanks Rox,” Wendy said, “but I know she’d prefer to sleep in her own bed. Especially as its Christmas. Martin can carry her to the taxi. Just don’t drop her.”

She looked at Martin.

“You’re a bit unsteady on your feet.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Whatever next?” Frank said, “a courteous taxi driver. In the old days they just used to honk the horn until the whole neighbourhood was awake.”

Martin picked up Penny, wrapped her coat around her and steadied himself. “Concentrate,” he said to himself under his breath, “not far now.”

“Thanks you two,” Wendy said, “we had a great time.”

“It’s been our pleasure,” Roxy replied, “and that child of your is welcome anytime. Do you hear me?”

Martin was taking deep breaths. He was determined not to drop his daughter. Frank opened the door. It was not cold but there were no stars and a blanket of drizzle had enveloped the sky. He managed to put Penny in the back of the taxi without incident. The taxi driver was playing the same Beatles song in the car. Penny woke when they were nearly home.

“My book,” she croaked.

“What was that Penny?” Wendy asked.

“My book,” she said again, this time much louder, “I left my book behind.”

“We’re nearly home baby,” Martin said, “We’ll get it next time we see uncle Frank and aunty Roxy ok?”

“But I’d nearly finished it,” Penny protested.

“I’ll fetch it tomorrow for you. It’s time for bed.”

The taxi stopped outside the house.

“Martin,” Wendy whispered as Martin was paying the driver.

It was the same Chinese man. He was without the Santa Claus hat this time.

“Martin, I think there’s someone in the house.”

Martin dropped a handful of coins onto the floor of the taxi. He was seeing double. The whisky had finally overtaken him. He picked up the coins one by one and paid the driver. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “why would there be someone in the house?”

“I’m sure I saw something move upstairs, behind the curtains.” She sounded terrified.

“Too much wine,” he tried to reassure her, “I can see two houses at the moment. You’re going to have to direct me to ours.”

They watched as the taxi drove off.

“You go in first,” Wendy ordered.

“Ok,” Martin said, “if it’ll make you feel better.”

Drunk as he was, Martin remembered the feeling of unease he had when they had left earlier that evening. Had he locked the front door? He put the key in the lock. It did not turn. The door was unlocked. He felt a burning in his stomach. Cautiously, he opened the door and looked inside. He sighed.

“Everything seems to be fine,” he said, “come inside, you’re getting soaked.”

“Bedtime Penny,” Martin said when they were inside “Christmas Day tomorrow.”

“Shouldn’t you check upstairs first?” Wendy suggested, “I’m sure I saw something up there.”

Martin shrugged.

“If you insist.” he said.

He stumbled up the stairs. He checked the rooms carefully, one by one.

“Nothing amiss,” he called down and started to walk back down.

He had to hold on to the rail tightly to stay upright.

“I’ll make us some coffee,” Wendy said, “Did you lock the door?”

He sat on the bottom step and fumbled in his pocket for his keys.

Wendy screamed.

“There was a face at the window!” she cried.

Her face was white. Martin Willow heard the scream and saw Wendy’s mouth move but could not decipher that words that came out.

“Martin, there’s someone behind the door!” Wendy called out, louder this time.

Martin Willow’s vision began to blur. He was vaguely aware of more screams but he was drifting between greyness and blackness. He saw the front door open, tried to get up but his limbs were paralysed. That was when the blackness prevailed.

“Martin!” Wendy screamed but Martin could no longer hear her.

She turned to face the man in the doorway. He had a dark green balaclava over his head and face but he seemed familiar. In his hand he held a hammer, a claw type hammer. Wendy tried to speak but the words did not come out. She suddenly felt dizzy. The man in the doorway did not move. She looked at his eyes through the slits in the balaclava. They were staring straight ahead and they did not blink. That was when she realised who it was. Behind her, Penny had crawled under the coffee table and Wendy could hear her soft whimpering as though it was being played over a loudspeaker. Her vision was coming in waves of colour and black and white. The man approached her with the hammer held over his head. As he brought it down on the top of her head, Wendy did not even have the strength to lift up her arms to defend herself. She saw a flash of white and felt the force of the blow spread from the crown of her head, down her cheeks and into her teeth. She was aware of herself falling to the ground, felt another blow, this time to the front of the face and then she felt nothing more.

Penny tried to crawl further under the coffee table but there was nowhere left to go. She had covered her ears with her hands and now she slowly took them away. The horrible noises had stopped. She looked over to where her mother had been and saw a man leaning over her on the floor. He was shaking. She watched as he took off his balaclava and placed it in his pocket. She gasped as she saw his face. He walked over to where she hid and bent down so his face was almost level with the top of the table.

“Come out princess,” he said in an almost friendly tone, “I’m afraid your Daddy took something from me, something very precious and I’m just taking the same from him.”

Penny did not move. She looked over to where her father was slumped at the bottom of the stairs.

“Don’t worry about him sweetheart,” the man said, “It looks like this is going to be easier than I thought and I’m not going to hurt him. Not physically anyway.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO

 

TAKEN

 

 

Sunday 29 November 1998 Fremantle Australia

 

 

“Another beautiful day in Paradise,” Jason Smith sang as he barged into his sister’s room.

“It’s the middle of the night, you Loon,” she mumbled, “what time is it anyway?”

“Almost dawn,” Smith said, “if you want to catch the good ones you’ve got to make a few sacrifices. The early dude catches the surf and all that. Come on, you’ve got five minutes, I’ll get the boards.”

While he waited for his sister, Jason quietly poured himself a glass of milk in the kitchen. He did not want to wake his mother and her new ‘friend’. He sighed as he scanned the mess around him. There were four empty wine bottles on the counter and another one on the floor. The ashtray was full of cigarette butts and some that were obviously not normal cigarettes. His mother would not be getting up any time soon. This new friend of hers seemed slightly better than the previous string of gold-diggers who were after the money his father had left when he died, but not that much better. Jason decided that this was going to stop, he had had enough. After the surfing lesson. That was when he and Laura were going to sit down with their mother and tell her this kind of behaviour was not acceptable. Both he and Laura were humiliated at school because of their mother’s tendencies.

“What’s it like to have two mothers?” was the latest one.

Laura had cried herself to sleep after that one.

Jason Smith’s eight year old sister Laura, sighed, rubbed her eyes and got ready for their early morning adventure. Jason had promised to show her the fine art of surfing. She had swum in the ocean many times but this was going to be her first time trying to catch a wave.

Seven minutes later, Jason had packed the boards into the back of the Pickup, climbed in the driver’s side and, with his little sister sitting nervously beside him he pushed down the handbrake, knocked the Pickup out of gear and coasted down the driveway. Jason was sixteen and not legally allowed to drive in Western Australia.

“Why don’t you switch the engine on?” Laura asked.

“I will,” he replied, “I just don’t want to wake the neighbours. This thing makes a bit of a din. I’ll wait until we get around Keeling and on to the South Beach Promenade.”

As they left Hollis Park behind them, Jason turned the key in the ignition, put the Pickup into second and cruised down the Promenade. He had been driving since he was fourteen and considered himself a reasonable driver. He turned left onto Ocean Road and scanned the Ocean ahead of them.

“Look at that Sis!” he bellowed, “A perfect day to learn to surf.”

Laura smiled apprehensively.

Jason parked the Pickup as close to the beach as possible. He looked down over the Indian Ocean; there were a couple of likeminded early birds already in the water but apart from them, they had the place pretty much to themselves. He did not see the white van arrive at the car park and stop beside his father’s pick up.

“Grab your board,” he said to his sister, “I learned everything I know on that baby.”

Although she was tall for her age, Laura struggled with the heavy board.

“If you have to drop it,” Jason warned her, “just don’t drop it on the fin ok?”

Determined, Laura gripped the board tightly and walked ahead on the path to the beach. That’s my sis, Jason thought as he quickly caught her up.

As they reached the sand, Jason quickly realised the conditions were perfect to teach Laura how to surf; the swells were relatively low and long enough so Laura could get the feel of them quite easily. With the cumbersome board under her arm, Laura broke into a trot towards the ocean.

“Hey!” Jason called after her, “where do you think you’re going?”

“I thought we were going surfing,” she cried back.

“You don’t just stick a board in the water, get on it and turn into Barton Lynch,” he laughed, “we need to practice a bit on the beach first ok?”

“Ok,” she sighed, “what do we do first?”

“Lie on the board on the sand. I doubt you’ll be standing up much on your first day, but if the need does arise, I’ll show you exactly how to get up quickly and where to stand to keep your centre of gravity right.”

“It can’t be that technical,” she argued, “most of the surfers I’ve seen are real numbskulls.”

Jason ignored her. “Watch me,” he said.

He lay on the board and adroitly sprang to his feet in one swift movement.

“Now you try it,” he said.

Laura copied her brother almost perfectly.

“Not bad,” he admitted, “but move your feet further apart and you need to be further forward. Otherwise the board will flip up.”

Laura tried again.

“Good,” Jason smiled. His sister was a natural. “Now stand there and I’m going to turn the board slowly from side to side. You need to be able to balance properly.”

“Piece of cake,” she cried.

He sat behind her and tilted the board slightly. Laura moved her weight accordingly.

“Your balance is good,” he said with pride.

After a few minutes of doing this, he yanked the board up and Laura flew off and rolled onto the beach. She screamed.

“Grab the board,” Jason said, “you need to wash the sand off yourself. Let’s go surfing.”

He picked up his board and waited until Laura had brushed herself down. Together they ran towards the ocean.

“Ok,” he said, “put the leash round your ankle and see if you can paddle out.”

Laura attached the Velcro around her ankle, dropped the board and began to paddle out.

“Right,” Jason said, “we’ll paddle out to where the waves are forming. Push the nose down into the breakers otherwise they’ll flip you over.”

Jason suddenly recognised one of the other surfers in the water. Her name was Lucy McLean and she was a year older than him. He had had a crush on Lucy McLean since his early teens. She was a very good surfer. Jason pretended not to have noticed her.

“Go out further to the left,” he told his sister.

He wanted to put a bit of distance between himself and Lucy. They reached a good spot where the surf was forming.

“Ok,” he said, “ready? When I say so, turn the board round and paddle with the wave. For the first few times I reckon you just lie on the board to get the feel of it.”

He was talking to himself.

“Here comes a nice one.”

Laura smiled. “You’re the boss,” she said.

She turned as the wave nudged her and paddled with all her strength. As she felt she was at full speed, she tried to spring up on the board but landed too far to the left and merely pushed the board out from under her. She fell backwards into the surf and for a moment was deafened by the waves crashing over her. She surfaced, reclaimed her board and smiled at her brother.

“Wipe out!” she cried with delight.

Jason paddled over to her.

“Technically,” he said, “that doesn’t qualify as a wipe out as you never really got up in the first place did you? Are you ready to quit yet?”

“Never,” she replied defiantly, “I think I know what to do now.”

After a dozen or more ‘wipe outs’, a resounding cry could be heard all over the beach.

“I did it,” she said.

Laura was up, she was staying up and she was surfing. Nothing could wipe the smile from her brother’s face. He surfed the wave behind Laura’s, ran up to her on the beach and put his arms around her.

“I’m proud of you sis,” he said. Her eyes were sparkling.

“I’m going to try that again,” she said, “that was awesome.”

The moment was cut short by a familiar voice from across the beach.

“Surfing the baby waves now are you loser?”

Jason sighed. He knew that voice. David White or Whitey as he was known was two years older than Jason and a really nasty piece of work.

“I’m talking to you Smith Shit,” Whitey sneered.

Jason looked around. Whitey was walking towards him with a boy he did not know and, of all people, Lucy McLean. He panicked. What did they want?

“Real waves scare you do they Smith Shit?” Whitey carried on, “and who’s that?”

He pointed to Laura.

“New girlfriend? She looks a bit on the young side if you ask me.”

“That’s his sister you moron,” Lucy McLean interrupted, “can’t you see he’s teaching her how to surf?”

Lucy smiled at Jason.

“Is this your first lesson?” she asked Laura.

“First time,” Laura said, “and I’m going back out there again in a minute.”

“Good for you sweetie,” Lucy smiled. “You carry on practicing.”

“I hate to break up this happy family stuff,” Whitey said, “but I’m here to surf some proper waves round by the point. These waves are for little girls.”

He laughed at his own joke. No-one else did.

“Do you think you can surf a man’s wave Smith Shit? Or has that Lesbo mother of yours made you soft?” Whitey asked.

Jason wanted to hit him as hard as he could.

“Of course I can,” he replied, “and stop calling me Smith Shit.”

“Ok Smith Shit,” Whitey laughed, “if you can surf the proper waves round the point, I won’t call you Smith Shit again. Deal?”

“Deal,” Smith said, “but what about my sister?”

“She can watch. She can see how a real man surfs.”

The breakers around the point were no super-tubes but they were challenging waves nevertheless. Jason had surfed them before but he was still wary.

“You stay on the beach Laura,” he said as he got ready to paddle out.

“I’m not a baby Jason,” she protested, “I can surf now; I’ll just paddle around by the shore.”

“Ok. Not too far out though.”

Laura smiled. “You show that idiot how it’s done,” she said.

“Come on Smith Shit,” Whitey said, “or do we have to call you Smith Chicken Shit from now on?”

He beamed as if he had made a huge joke.

They paddled and paddled. Smith had forgotten how far you had to go to catch a wave here. Lucy McLean and the other boy stopped half way for a rest but Smith was determined to carry on. When they were almost there, he turned round to see where Laura was. He smiled as he saw her bobbing up and down by the shore. She’s a good kid, he thought.

“Are you ready for this Smith Shit?” Whitey asked.

“I was born ready,” Smith replied, “and after this no more Smith Shit ok?”

“Deal. You go first.”

Jason turned and started to paddle. As he was about to spring up he caught a glimpse of Laura. She seemed to be a bit further out now. There was a man on the beach who had not been there earlier. He jumped up on the board, steadied himself and concentrated on the wave. He looked towards the shore. About a hundred metres offshore from Laura Smith thought he could see something. It looked like the dorsal fin of a shark. He gasped. He lost his balance and before he could scream out a warning to his sister, he was screaming under water. The momentum of the wave had spun him round and around. He felt a smack on the head as his board hit him. He blacked out for a second or two and when he surfaced he heard the words, “Ha, so it is Smith Chicken Shit now.”

Again, Smith looked over to where his sister had been. There was no sign of the shark. Nevertheless, he screamed to Laura to get out of the water. Lucy and the other boy had decided to head back to the shore. At that moment, Smith heard the words that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Shark!” somebody shouted, “Shark! The bloody thing has attacked the kid.”

Lucy and the boy were running towards Laura, or where Laura had been. Jason looked for his sister in the water as he frantically paddled towards the shore. He saw nothing. As he reached the shallower water, he ran over to where Laura was last seen. Her board bobbed about in the surf but Laura was gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THREE

 

COMA.

 

 

 

Saturday 7 February 2009. York.

 

 

“The sun’s trying to come out,” Nurse Sarah Marshall cried, “look out of the window.”

It had been the gloomiest winter in York since many people could remember; not cold, just grey with a permanent tedious drizzle in the air.

“They’ve decided on a date,” Sister Jo Bennett sighed as she looked outside, “they’re going to switch the machine off in six days. The poor kid hasn’t so much as twitched her nose since they brought her in over a month ago.”

In twenty years, Jo Bennett had seen it all; shootings, stabbings, even a beheading but this child had really shaken her.

“Such a pretty little thing too,” Nurse Marshall added, “looks just like her mother from the pictures in the paper.”

“They’ll be meeting up soon enough,” a husky voice announced the arrival of Doctor Pete Simmons. “Unless that little heart of hers decides otherwise,” he added.

Pete Simmons was a seasoned doctor on the verge of retirement whose bedside manner was reserved strictly for the unconscious and the deceased.

“Don’t be so blunt Pete,” Sister Bennett protested, “maybe she can hear you.”

“She doesn’t even know she’s alive my dear,” Simmons said, “That father of her did a really good job on her.”

“We’ve still got four days and he still claims he didn’t do it.”

“Of course he does,” Simmons snorted, “they all do don’t they? Well, that’s me finished for the day; I’m off to practice for my retirement. That’s if this bloody weather lets me.”

“What did he mean by that?” Nurse Marshall asked.

“Golf,” Sister Bennett said, “silly game if you ask me.”

“No, the bit about the father.”

“He still insists he can’t remember anything about that night.”

“Do you think he did it?”

“That’s not my job dear. I’m here to make sure this little girl is as comfortable as possible.”

“She looks so peaceful. Not a scratch on her. She was in a right state when they brought her in.”

“You’ve got a day off tomorrow haven’t you?”

“First Sunday off in a month. I think I’ll come in anyway. I want to be here in case she wakes up.”

“Don’t make that mistake,” Sister Bennett warned, “you’re young, you should be out having fun.”

“I’d rather be here. I’d hate for anything to happen when I’m not here.”

 

 

FOUR

 

DREAM

 

 

Friday 25 December 2008

 

 

Detective Sergeant Jason Smith was having the dream again; it was always the same dream. He was under the water and the waves were crashing violently above his head. He could see Laura, his sister, far away under the water. She held out her hand. She had the same look on her face as always. Her eyes were pleading him to help her. Then she drifted down, further down and she was gone. Smith swam down after her as he always did in the dream. He swam so far down that he felt his ears were about to burst. His ears started to ring, an incessant ring that got louder and louder. He woke with a start.

“Holy Shit,” he said.

He was drenched in sweat. His cell phone was ringing. He cursed himself for agreeing to be on call on Christmas Day. Nobody would be calling to wish him ‘Happy Christmas’. He picked up the phone.

“Smith,” he said gruffly.

It was DC Palmer. Another loser with no family or friends, Smith thought.

“We’ve got a body sir,” Palmer said.

“On Christmas Day?” Smith replied, “Where are you?”

“I’m at the scene sir. It looks like a suicide.”

“Address?”

Smith grabbed a pen and the latest issue of Guitar Monthly that lay by the side of his bed.

“Seven Hull Road,” Palmer said, “it’s a shared student house. The dead girl was a student at the University.”

“Give me twenty minutes,” Smith said and hung up.

Hull road was only a couple of miles away. Smith checked the clock on his bedside table. 07.30.

“Bloody Hell,” he said out loud.

He had had approximately three hours sleep. He had been at The Deep Blues Club until three and could not sleep when he came home.

He went to the bathroom and dared to look in the mirror. He looked like he had had approximately three hours sleep; his eyes were more bloodshot than usual and he desperately needed a shave. He quickly threw some water on his face, brushed his teeth and took two aspirins from the bathroom cabinet. Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads Blues’ was playing in his head. I must have made a deal with the devil while I was drunk, he thought. He quickly made some coffee, poured it in a flask, picked up his ID and car keys and left the house.

It was raining heavily outside. Smith raced to his car. The roads were deserted. He drove quickly up Fulford road, past the cemetery and took a right onto Lawrence which soon became Hull Road. There were two police cars outside number seven. As he opened the car door, DC Palmer walked up.

“Morning Sir,” he said, “Merry Christmas. You look like shit.”

“Where’s the body?” Smith said.

“Upstairs. We’ve got uniform manning the door.”

Smith entered the house with Palmer close behind him.

“I thought you said this was a student pad,” Smith said.

The place was immaculate.

“It’s shared by four women sir,” Palmer replied, “they’re obviously house proud.”

Two women in their early twenties were sitting in the lounge downstairs, drinking coffee. One of them had obviously been crying and was being consoled by the other one. The two detectives walked past them and up the stairs.

“Second door on the right,” Palmer directed.

Smith took out his badge and showed it to the uniformed officer guarding the door. He did not recognise her. She must be new, he thought.

The dead girl was lying on the bed. Her eyes were closed and she merely looked asleep.

“Pretty girl Sarge?” Palmer said.

“Where’s the note?” Smith asked.

“Bedside table. It was apparently in her hand but the girl that found her moved it after she had read it.”

Smith took out his pen and opened the folded piece of paper with it. The suicide note consisted of just five words: ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN’.

“What’s the girl’s name?” Smith asked.

“According to the house mate, it’s Lauren Cowley, second year sociology student at the University. Straight A student all the way as far as I can tell.”

“Who found her?”

“The girl who was downstairs crying.”

“Name?”

“What Sarge?”

“What’s the name of the girl who found her?” Smith’s headache was returning.

He rubbed his temples gently.

“Jane Brown, also a Sociology student.”

“Let’s go and have a chat with Miss Brown then.”

Palmer looked at his watch.

“That is unless you have something better to do.”

“No sir,” Palmer said quickly.

“Miss Brown,” Smith said to the woman.

She still looked distraught.

“My name is DS Smith and you already know my colleague DC Palmer. I know it’s been a bit rough but we need to ask you a few questions. It won’t take long. I’m sure you could use a cup of coffee. I certainly could.”

He addressed the other woman on the couch.

“Two sugars, no milk.”

She stood up, smiled at Smith and went to the kitchen.

“Miss Brown,” Smith continued, “you found Lauren lying on the bed. Is that right?”

“Yes.” She started to cry again.

“Take your time,” Palmer said, “it’s going to be alright.”

Smith glared at him.

“What time did you find her?”

“We’d agreed to get up at six to open presents, we all love Christmas. When Lauren didn’t get up I went upstairs to wake her. I thought she was asleep so I shook her.”

“You shook her?”

“She didn’t wake up. That’s when I found the note.”

“Ah yes,” Smith mused, “the note. ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN’. Who is this Martin, a boyfriend?”

“No. Lauren didn’t have a boyfriend. She was too busy with her studies. The only Martin I know of is Mr Willow. He lectures in Sociology occasionally at the University. He prefers it if we call him Martin.”

Smith rubbed his temples again.

“Does he now?” he said.

“Lauren did some babysitting for Martin and his wife sometimes. She was supposed to be there last night but she wasn’t feeling well. She felt really bad about letting them down.”

“That’s still no reason for killing herself.” Smith recalled the note – ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN’.

“Was there anything going on between Lauren and this Martin Willow character?” he asked.

“No, no way,” Jane Brown said, “Lauren wasn’t like that.”

Smith’s phone rang.

“Sorry Miss Brown.” He said.

It was forensics.

“That was quick for you guys,” he said, “Number seven. You can’t miss it.”

He hung up.

“You’re not from around here are you,” Jane Brown asked.

“I live a few miles from here,” Smith replied.

“I mean originally. That accent, its Australian isn’t it. I’m quite good at spotting accents. You play guitar don’t you; I saw you last night. You were very good.”

“We may need to ask you a few more questions Miss Brown.” He ignored her questions. “And if you think of anything else please give me a call.”

He handed her his card.

“Palmer,” Smith said, “you’re finally free to go. Forensics can have a poke around but, to me it looks like a standard suicide, if there is such a thing. Young woman gets the Christmas blues and takes a few pills. We’ll see what the slimy bastards in forensics have to say and then hopefully sign off on the whole thing. I’m off to buy myself a Christmas present.”

It was still raining as Smith drove away from the house. Why did I end up here? He thought as the rain came down harder. The clock on the dashboard said 10.00. He drove back the way he had come, turned left and followed the road round until he reached the bridge that spanned the River Ouse. The river was grey and it seemed to be flowing more quickly than usual today. He crossed the bridge and carried on for a further two miles. He turned into a small side street and stopped the car outside a small house with a green roof. He took out the piece of paper with the address on it from his jacket pocket but when he heard dogs barking he put the paper back.

Smith knocked on the door of the house. The door was opened by an elderly woman and immediately Smith was overwhelmed by four or five puppies. He smiled. He had always loved dogs. There was nothing sinister about them.

“You lot,” the elderly lady said, “get off him. I’m sorry about that. Mr Smith isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Smith said, “I phoned you yesterday. Mrs Coates?”

“That’s me dear. Would you like some tea?”

“That would be great.”

Old people were also on his favourites list.

“Come through to the lounge,” Mrs Coates said, “and please excuse the mess. These little buggers will chew anything you leave around.”

In the lounge was a small basket. The puppies had indeed made a bit of a mess. Chewed socks were strewn all over the room.

“Take your pick,” Mrs Coates said, “apart from that white one there. She’s been promised to my daughter. I’ll go and pour the tea.”

Smith knew immediately which dog he wanted. It was a black male; all black with a white ring around its neck and one white paw. It sat and looked Smith directly in the eye. The puppy approached him. Mrs Coates returned with the tea.

“I see you’ve been chosen,” she chuckled, “I’ve had Bull Terriers for forty years and they’re all different, I can tell you that. That one there is quite a character.”

Smith took a sip of his tea.

“I’ve wanted a dog for quite some time,” he said, “This one is definitely the one.”

The puppy was resting its nose on Smith’s feet.

“Two hundred pounds you advertised?” he said.

“That’s right,” Mrs Coates replied, “and worth every penny.”

Smith paid her, finished his tea and got up to leave.

“Thank you Mrs Coates,” he said.

The puppy followed him Mrs Coates smiled. The dog had found a good home.

Smith put the puppy on the passenger seat of the car and drove home. His Christmas Day plans were simple: he would go back to bed, wake up around 4 pm, have something to eat and spend the rest of the day with his puppy, watching the usual rubbish they show on television at Christmas. The puppy had other ideas however. It just wanted to play. Smith was prepared. He had bought a small dog bed and placed a warm blanket inside. He had put a box down and filled it with newspaper. He fed the puppy, gave it some water, placed it in the dog bed and went upstairs for a much needed sleep.

After only two minutes Smith heard a mournful cry from downstairs. The puppy was sobbing. He covered his ears with a pillow but he could still hear it. Finally, Smith gave in, went downstairs and picked the puppy up. Immediately it stopped crying. He carried it upstairs and placed it on the bed. Smith climbed back into bed.

“No more crying,” he said to the puppy.

It began to explore the bed. The clock on the bedside table said 12.00. Smith closed his eyes and within a minute he was asleep. The puppy moved closer to Smith and curled up on his stomach. It too, was soon sound asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

FIVE

 

EXILED

 

 

Friday 25 December 1998.

 

 

Jason woke early. The sun was barely up and only thin slivers shone through the gap in the curtains. He quietly put on shorts and a T Shirt, washed his face and brushed his teeth. He listened carefully for any sounds in the house. There were none. He tiptoed down the hall, across the kitchen and opened the back door slowly. The weather forecast had promised a very hot day. He closed the door behind him, unlocked his bicycle and wheeled it to the back gate. As he closed the back gate behind him he checked to see if he still had the envelope in his back pocket. It was still there; it had not been a dream. He got on the bicycle, made a sharp right turn and free-wheeled down the hill. Lucy McLean’s house was not far from his. Since the morning when his sister had disappeared, Jason and Lucy had become quite close friends. He locked the bicycle in front of Lucy’s house, went round the back and tapped lightly on the window. There was no response. He tapped again, harder this time. There was a noise from inside. The curtains opened and Lucy peered out. She looked tired.

“Jason,” she said, “what are you doing here? It’s six in the morning and its Christmas Day. My folks will kill me.”

“I need to talk to you,” Jason said.

He handed her the envelope.

“I’ve come to say goodbye.”

Lucy rubbed her eyes.

“What are you talking about?” she said, “You’re not making any sense.”

“Open it,” Jason ordered. He pointed to the envelope.

She opened the envelope.

“It’s a ticket,” she said, “I don’t understand.”

He told her what had happened the previous night.

“Because of the incident with Laura,” he began, “the atmosphere at home has been unbearable. My mother blamed me at first because it was me who took Laura to the beach but after a while the whole vibe at home got worse. The woman barely acknowledged me. She just drank more and more and her free-loading friends treated me like shit. Anyway, last night when I got back from your place my mother was waiting for me at the kitchen table.”

“What does want you to do?” Lucy was quite concerned.

“She started with that Jason, sit down, I want to talk to you thing. She then moaned about my behaviour since the thing with Laura and my grades at school. I mean, what sort of example does she set? She said I had become rude and there was only one thing for it.”

“But this is a ticket to London,” Lucy said.

“And it leaves tonight. Can you believe it? My loving mother has decided I need to spend a year in England to work on my attitude. I have a Grandmother there.”

“What about school?” Lucy asked, “And your friends? What about what you want?”

“She doesn’t care. She said I can go to school there for a year. Or longer if I have to. That way, she might get rid of me forever.”

“I can’t believe it. After what you’ve been through. What time is the flight?”

“I need to be in Perth by seven thirty tonight, and then it’s a whole day to London with a long wait in Dubai of all places.”

“Isn’t it cold in London at this time of the year?”

“Bloody freezing and worse still, my Grandmother lives in York which is another couple of hours away.”

“We haven’t got much time have we?” Lucy said.

“What time do your folks get up?” Jason asked.

“Around nine but maybe later today as its Christmas.”

“Let’s get out of here. Lets go somewhere for a couple of hours.”

“What about the beach?”

Jason glared at her. He had not been near the beach since the day Laura disappeared. “That’s a dumb stupid idea,” he snarled.

“It was only a suggestion.”

“Well, it was a dumb one. I’ll send you a postcard when I get there, maybe.”

He walked away, unlocked his bicycle and rode off.

“Jason!” Lucy called after him.

That was clever, he thought as he struggled back up the hill. He had possibly estranged himself from the only friend he had left in the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIX

 

THEAKSTON

 

 

Friday 25 December 2008

 

 

Smith woke with a start. He looked at the clock: 17.30. He had slept for over five hours and he felt refreshed. The puppy was still by his side. Smith smiled. He could not figure out what had woken him. He had not had the dream. This little fella is good for me, he thought. He was incredibly hungry and what he felt like more than anything in the world was one of Marge’s Steak and Ale pies with mash and gravy from the Hog’s Head pub down the road. He reached for his phone. He had the number of the Hog’s Head on speed dial.

“Marge,” he said, “it’s Jason, Merry Christmas. Are you still serving food?”

“Steak and Ale pie is it?” she replied, “I’m sure I can whip one up for a good looking police detective.”

Marge was over seventy.

The puppy began to stir.

“Oh and Marge,” Smith said, “I’ve got myself a cute puppy. I don’t want to leave him at home by himself.”

“If you take care of him, make sure he’s no nuisance then he’s welcome.”

“Thanks Marge. You’re a darling.”

He hung up.

“Come on you,” he said to the puppy, “we’re off to the pub. I’m sure you’re also hungry.”

The Hog’s Head was one of the few traditionally English pubs left in York. It was a free-standing building with a rustic air about it. Smith opened one of the wooden doors and went inside. He shook the rain off his coat. There was a log fire burning on one side of the bar. Apart from an old man reading a newspaper at one of the tables, the place was empty. Smith smiled. He did not feel like bumping into anyone he knew. He approached the bar. Marge was sitting behind it knitting what looked like a very intricate pattern. “Hello handsome,” she said with a smile.

She reminded Smith very much of his Grandmother.

“Steak and Ale Pie and a Pint of Theakstons?” she asked.

“Perfect Marge,” Smith replied, “and could you please get me a saucer of water for this little bugger?”

The puppy was poking his nose out of Smith’s jacket.

“What a little darling,” Marge said, “naughty little tyke too, I can see. What’s his name?”

“I don’t know yet Marge, I’m waiting for something to come to me.”

Marge poured the beer.

“It’s very quiet in here today Marge,” Smith said.

“Nobody seems to want this kind of thing any more,” Marge sighed, “apart from the tourists of course but they won’t come this time of the year. Breweries are killing us too. People would rather buy from the supermarkets and drink at home. Times are hard. I don’t know how much longer we can survive. Look at old Stan over there.”

She pointed to the old man reading the paper.

“God bless him, he comes in every day but I’m not going to get rich from old buggers who nurse half a pint for three hours.”

She placed Smiths beer on the counter.

“I’ll just go and see to your pie,” she said, “mash and gravy too?”

“Thanks Marge,” Smith replied, “we’ll be sitting by the fire.”

“I think I’ll find you,” she said and went through to the kitchen.

Smith picked up his beer and walked over to the table. He removed his coat and put it on the back of his chair to dry off. The fire warmed him immediately.

The puppy started to investigate. It approached the fire wearily. It could discern that the orange thing with its snaky flames was inviting but it did not dare to get too close. Smith took a large swig of his beer. It had taken him quite a while to get used to the taste of English beer but in the cold it made sense. Marge approached the table with a saucer of water and a side plate.

“Pie will be about twenty minutes,” she said.

“Thanks Marge,” he said.

He put the saucer on the floor for the puppy, walked over to where it was trying to climb up the old mans chair and picked it up. He placed it in front of the saucer. The puppy was not interested. Smith sighed and took a swig of his beer. He bent down and picked the puppy up. Its nose twitched and it looked up at Smith’s face. Smith gave it a kiss on the nose. That was when it went bezerk. Its tongue licked Smith’s face with gusto. It lingered over his lips and Smith had to pull it away. He had an idea. He emptied the saucer of water into a plant pot in the corner and poured a tiny drop of beer in it. He put the saucer in front of the puppy and within seconds it was empty. Smith poured some more. He could not pour it quickly enough. Smith was amazed. Marge walked over with a place mat and some cutlery. Smith picked up the puppy.

“Marge,” he said, “meet Theakston.”

At that moment, the puppy let out such a resounding belch that both Smith and Marge could not believe it could have come from such a small creature.

“You watch your manners in here,” Marge said and patted him on the head.

“Could I get another pint please Marge,” Smith asked, “this guy has just knocked back the best part of half a pint.”

“Coming up, but no more for the dog. He’s still a baby remember.”

Smith laughed. This was a dog after his own heart.

Marge returned with another beer and the steak and ale pie.

“Thanks Marge,” Smith said, “looks great.”

Smith cut off a small piece for Theakston and let it cool on the side of the table. He tucked in with gusto. Marge’s steak and ale pies were the closest thing Smith had come to his Gran’s cooking. His phone rang in his pocket. He sighed; when his phone rang it was never good news. He considered ignoring it but that thought lasted precisely two rings. He took out the phone and answered it before the answering service kicked in.

“Smith,” he said.

“Sorry to bother you sir.” It was DC Palmer. “Something unusual has come up in the Lauren Cowley case.”

“Unusual?” Smith asked. “Would you care to elaborate?”

He took another mouthful of the pie. This phone call would almost certainly mean his Christmas Day plans were shot.

“If it’s ok with you sir,” Palmer said, “I’d rather not discuss it over the phone.”

Theakston was trying to reach the pie on the table. Smith put the plate on the floor.

“Palmer,” Smith said with a mouth full of pie, “where are you?”

“I’m at the mortuary sir. I think it would be best if you got over here.”

“Perfect,” Smith moaned, “who the hell doesn’t want to spend what’s left of Christmas Day in the morgue?”

“Sir?”

“Give me an hour,” Smith said, “I’m just finishing one of Marge’s world famous steak and ale pies. The girl will still be dead when I get there.”

He hung up. He regretted saying that immediately. Theakston was begging for more pie.

“Jeez boy,” Smith said to the puppy, “I’ve never met such a pig.”

Smith and Theakston finished the pie between them. Smith could not help wondering what was waiting for him at the morgue. He still had a full pint of beer in front of him. He picked it up and put it in front of the old man who was still reading his paper.

“Thanks Pal,” the old man said, “That’s quite a dog you’ve got there; although I wouldn’t want to be you when the flatulence kicks in later.”

He took a big swig of his free beer. Smith put on his coat, put Theakston inside it and went to pay.

“Thanks Marge,” he said, “I’ve been called away.”

He paid the bill.

“Merry Christmas young man,” Marge said.

“You too Marge. I hope things get a bit busier.”

It was still raining as Smith left the warmth of the Hog’s Head and walked outside. Theakston had overindulged in the pub and could barely keep his eyes open so Smith put him on the passenger seat and covered him with his coat. The mortuary was roughly a fifteen minute drive from the Hog’s Head. As he drove, Smith recollected his first impressions of the scene where Lauren Cowley had been found dead. University student found dead. Straight A student. Apparent suicide. Suicide letter: ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN.’ No sign of a struggle. What could Palmer possibly have found out?

Smith parked the car in the hospital car park. Theakston was still sleeping so he wrapped him up warmly and left him in the car. DC Palmer was waiting for him outside the mortuary.

“What’s the situation?” Smith asked.

“Its not a suicide sir,” Palmer began, “looks like we’re looking at a double murder.”

Smith was confused.

“What do you mean double murder?” he said.

“A heavy sedative was found in her bloodstream sir,” Palmer took out his notebook. “It’s a Benzodiazepine.”

Smith shrugged his shoulders.

“What the hell’s that?” he asked

“Like Rohypnol,” Palmer said.

“The date rape drug?”

“That’s right sir, but that’s not how she died; she was suffocated. Probably smothered with a pillow while she was out of it. The sedative numbed her muscles so there was no obvious sign of a struggle but there were traces of fibre that could have come from the pillow in her mouth, nose and throat.”

“You said it was a double murder,” Smith said.

“She was pregnant,” Palmer replied, “six to eight weeks. I know that legally, a foetus in that stage of development does not have the same legal rights but in my book it’s still two deaths.”

“Palmer,” Smith said, “we have one murder. Let’s concentrate on the one we can nail the bastard for.”

“Ok sir,” Palmer agreed.

“What about the note,” Smith asked, “Who wrote that?”

“The only prints we found on it were Lauren Cowley’s.”

“Where is the note?”

“It’s still down at the station.”

“How long have you been at it today Palmer?”

“Since six this morning sir.”

Smith checked his watch: 19.30. “I still need to talk to the pathologist,” Smith said, “and then I want to check in at the station but you can get going. I’m sure you have someone who’s missing you at home.”

“Just Lady Whiskers sir,” Palmer replied.

“Who?”

“My cat sir.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow. Eight sharp.”

“Thanks sir,”

“Lady Whiskers,” Smith said out loud when Palmer had left, “for Pete’s sake. Shit. Theakston.”

The puppy was still in his car.

The rain had decided to give up for the night as Smith went back to his car. A thin mist now cloaked the car park in an eerie haze. He opened the passenger side and looked in. Theakston peered up at him. Smith moved the puppy off his coat and put it on. Something was vibrating in the pocket of the coat; his cell phone. Theakston had somehow managed to switch the ring tone to vibrate only as he slept on it. Smith took the phone out of the pocket. He had missed three calls.

“Smith,” he answered the phone.

“Where are you?” It was Detective Sergeant Alan Thompson, a fossil of a man whom Smith was not particularly fond of.

“I’m at the hospital,” Smith replied curtly, “at the morgue. Remember the dead girl found this morning while you were probably still asleep?”

“We’ve got a body,” Thompson said gravely, “three actually; one dead, one just about dead and one gibbering wreck we can’t get any sense out of.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEVEN

 

ABANDONED

 

Friday 25 December 1998.

 

“I’m glad you came,” Jason Smith said, “after what I said earlier, I wouldn’t blame you if you never wanted to see me again.”

Lucy McLean smiled.

“You’ve been through such a lot Jason,” she said, “and you’re about to go through so much more. Where’s your mother?”

“She got one of her friends to drop me off,” he said, “she was so drunk, she could hardly stand up when she said goodbye. This is pretty much all that’s left of my father’s money.”

He took out the four hundred pounds he had changed at the foreign exchange.

“This is it; I’m a sixteen year old abandoned child,” He laughed nervously.

“I want you to have this.” Lucy gave him an envelope.

Jason started to open it.

“Not now, “she said, “wait at least until you’re on the plane.”

“Laura would have been nine tomorrow,” Jason said, “I’m going to be on a stupid aeroplane for pretty much all of her birthday. Maybe it’s for the best.”

“How long is the flight?”

“It’s bloody confusing,” he said, “but I think I’ve figured it out. The UK is eight hours behind so even though the flying time is set, I need to take eight hours off. One good thing though, Laura’s birthday will be eight hours longer this year. Am I babbling a bit?”

Lucy smiled, “you’re talking perfect sense,” she lied.

“I’m just a bit apprehensive, that’s all.”

He looked at the monitor above his head.

“I have to go through. Boarding will be starting soon.”

“Have you got any warm clothes with you?” Lucy asked, “You’re dressed like a surfer bum.”

Jason was wearing his favourite board shorts and a light T-Shirt.

“Dubai is still warm,” he reassured her, “I have a change of clothes in my hand luggage. I’ll change in Dubai.”

“You look after yourself Jason Smith.” Lucy looked away.

She wiped away a tear from her eye.

“Write to me, you promise?”

“Ok.” He kissed her on the cheek and walked through to where the X rays were being taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EIGHT

 

BODY BAG

 

Friday 25 December 2008

 

“I’ve got to warn you,” DS Thompson said as Smith got out of his car, “it’s a bit of a mess in there; the mothers dead, the daughter is pretty badly banged up and the father is just sitting in the corner of the room not making any sense at all.”

Smith walked straight past him, took a deep breath and opened the front door. His first impression when he went inside was that the scene did not seem real. There was blood on the walls, a lot of blood. Smith thought that if Picasso and Dali were to have a competition to see who could come up with the most macabre art, this would be the winner. There was a body bag on the floor. The paramedics had just zipped it up and were about to carry it out to the ambulance. Must be the mother, Smith thought. More paramedics were attending to a smaller figure on the other side of the room. The child could not have been more than eight years old. Smith walked over. She had bruises on her face and neck and her hair was matted with blood. One of her arms stuck out at an unnatural angle and an IV drip was attached to the other arm.

In the corner of the room sat two men. One of them was covered in blood but there were no real signs of injury. He rocked back and forth on his haunches. He had the look of a wild animal in his eyes; a wild animal that needed to be put out of its misery. The other man was obviously trying to calm him down.

“Not a pretty sight,” DS Thompson interrupted Smith’s thoughts.

“Who are they?” Smith asked.

“The Willow family,” Thompson replied, “sounds like a reality TV family doesn’t it?”

“No it doesn’t Thompson. Names?”

“The mother is Wendy, Pennys the daughter and that quivering piece of jelly in the corner over there is the father, Martin. Looks like he killed his wife and just about did in his daughter too.”

Smith looked him in the eye.

“I can see why you’ve been a DS for fifteen years,” he said, “Martin Willow. He’s a lecturer at the University.”

“How do you know that?” Thompson asked.

“Try to keep up Thompson. The dead student on Hull Road. Found this morning. She was their babysitter. Who’s the other guy?”

“Frank Paxton,” Thompson said, “friend of theirs and I know nothing about a dead girl on Hull Road.”

“Has anybody spoken to him? The father, I mean.”

“Not much point,” Thompson said, “he seems to have retreated into his own world and he’s not coming out any time soon. He keeps mumbling Penny, Penny.”

Wendy Willow was being taken out the door on a stretcher. Martin Willow did not even look over.

Smith walked over to him and crouched down.

“Mr Willow,” he began, “do you know what happened here?”

There was no response. Martin Willow continued to rock back and forth. Smith found the look in his eyes quite disturbing.

“Excuse me,” Smith said to the other man, “my name is Detective Sergeant Jason Smith. Are you the man who found them?”

“Frank Paxton,” the man answered, “yes, I came here about seven this evening. Penny, Martin’s daughter left a book at our house last night. I knew she would want it back; she only had a few pages left to read.”

“I know this is unpleasant Mr Paxton,” Smith said, “but could you tell us exactly how you found the place when you walked in.”

“How I found the place?”

“Yes, our friends in the paramedics do a bloody good job but their main priority is to save lives, not preserve crime scenes. What did the place look like when you walked in? First impressions.”

Smith took out his note book.

“I parked the car outside,” Paxton said.

“Were the lights on or off?” Smith asked.

“They were on. As they are now. All of them; the upstairs ones too. Martin and Wendy weren’t short of a few bob; they didn’t exactly worry about the electricity bill.”

“What then Mr Paxton?” Smith urged.

“I knocked on the front door and waited. There was no answer. I knocked again but still nothing.”

“Then what?”

“I took out my phone and dialled Martin’s number. He always had his phone nearby; he takes calls at all hours from his students. That’s why he’s so popular I suppose. Anyway, I heard the phone ringing inside the house. He has this cheesy 80’s ring tone. When I heard the phone, I tried the door handle. The door was open. That’s when I found…” Frank Paxton’s lower lip started to quiver.

“That’s when I found this.” He gestured with his hands to show the whole room.

“Nearly finished,” Smith assured him.

“It took me a moment to take it all in. I saw Wendy lying on the floor. There was blood everywhere. I was still holding the book but I dropped it when I saw Penny on the other side of the room.”

He was about to say something further but hesitated.

“Go on,” Smith said.

“That’s when I heard the noise.”

“What sort of noise?”

“At first I thought it was a wild animal and I became scared. I thought maybe a lion or a tiger had escaped and was still here. I thought that Wendy and Penny had been attacked by an animal. There was a low growling noise. That’s when I saw Martin in the corner, as he is now; rocking backwards and forwards. He had a look in his eyes. It was like he was.”

Paxton hesitated again.

“Like he was what Mr Paxton?”

“Like he wasn’t Martin anymore; he was almost feral.”

Smith heard sirens outside. A second ambulance had arrived to take the daughter away.

“Where’s the book?” he asked.

“Where I dropped it,” Paxton replied.

He pointed to a brightly coloured paperback on the carpet. Smith put on a pair of rubber gloves and picked the book up.

“The Folk of the Faraway Tree,” Smith said, “I remember it well. Thank you Mr Paxton. That will be all for now. We’ll need to ask you a few more questions but that can wait.”

“I understand,” Paxton said.

He handed Smith his business card.

“We must find out what happened here,” he added.

Smith took the card. It read ‘Frank Paxton. Chartered Accountant’ Smith thought for a moment. Chartered Accountant. Methodical, thorough. Paxton seemed a bit too calm in this situation.

“Mr Paxton,” Smith said, “One more thing. How did you know that Penny only had a few more pages to read?”

Paxton’s face reddened.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“You said earlier that you brought the book back because Penny only had a few more pages to read. How did you know? I don’t see a book marker in the book.”

“Oh,” Paxton’s face reddened further, “I just thought she must have nearly finished; she was reading for most of the night at our place.”

“Thank you Mr Paxton. We will be in touch.”

Martin Willow was being wheeled out on a stretcher. He was strapped down and the paramedics had sedated him.

“Where are you taking him?” Smith asked.

“Same place as his wife and daughter,” the paramedic replied, “he needs to be checked over.”

“I need to talk to him.”

“He’ll be at the hospital but I doubt he’ll be saying much for a while. I’ve never seen such a reaction to shock.”

“Shock?” Smith said.

“He’s in deep shock. His body has shut down for a while to adapt. If you don’t mind, I have to go.”

Smith was left in the house with DS Thompson.

“What do you think happened here Thompson?” Smith asked.

He was not expecting anything much from Thompson.

“Simple case,” Thompson said, “Husband gets drunk and kills his wife and daughter. I could smell booze on him.”

Smith was not disappointed.

“First thing Thompson,” Smith was becoming angry, “the daughter is not dead. Secondly, and I want you to pay particular attention to this one ok? We don’t yet know how the mother and daughter were attacked do we? Did you find the murder weapon?”

“No, but…”

“Listen Thompson, let me put it in a way that your dumb Yorkshire brain may be able to understand: If you had killed your wife and almost killed your daughter; would you dispose of the murder weapon and then wait to be found with the door unlocked?”

“I don’t like the way you talk to me Smith. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a DS for a lot longer than you. Have a bit of respect or don’t they teach that down under?”

Smith wanted to punch him squarely in the face but he was tired. He quickly regained his composure.

“Thompson,” he said, “it’s late and we’re in for a very long day tomorrow. I assume you’ll be showing your face at the station?”

Thompson did not reply; he snorted and left.

Smith was left alone in the house. Something was not quite right. The babysitter is murdered and it is made to look like suicide. A note is left. ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN’. The babysitter is pregnant. Now he had another murder, almost a double murder. He looked at his watch: 22.30.

“Shit,” he said out loud.

He went outside.

“Make sure the place is secure for the night,” he said to a uniformed officer, “forensics will only be here tomorrow.”

He took out his phone and pressed one of his speed dial numbers.

“Marge,” he said “I’m so sorry; I’ll be there in twenty minutes. I hope he’s been no trouble.”

He had left Theakston with Marge at the Hog’s Head. Why does this sort of thing have to happen when I should be enjoying my new puppy? He thought as he drove. He stopped at an all night garage where he bought a box of chocolates. It had started raining again when he parked outside the pub. There were no other cars in the car park. He ran in. Marge was by the fire with her knitting and a cup of tea. Theakston was curled up on a blanket by her feet.

“Thanks so much Marge,” he said, “the DI would spew if I took a dog to a crime scene.” He gave her the box of chocolates.

“You shouldn’t have dear,” she said, “this little bloke has been very good company. I had to throw a couple of drunks out earlier and Theakston wouldn’t leave my side until they had gone; he barked at them the whole time. Will you stay for a cup of tea and a few chocolates?”

“I’d love to Marge, but I’ve got a feeling I’m in for a very long day tomorrow. Thanks again.”

He picked Theakston up and put him inside his jacket.

“Any time for you.” She kissed him on the cheek.

Smith was exhausted. As he drove home, he tried to process what had happened in the past twenty four hours. He put the car radio on and turned it off immediately as some offensive Boom Boom Boom music blasted out of the speakers and Theakston became agitated. He pushed a tape into the machine. Joe Bonamassa was playing India Mountain Time live. Theakston became calmer. Smith decided that when this case was over, he would buy himself a Gibson Les Paul guitar; a Black Beauty Custom with the three pick-ups. He had a feeling that that would not be any time soon.

 

 

 

 

NINE

 

ANOTHER PLANET

 

Saturday 26 December 1998

 

Jason Smith felt like he had been hit in the face with a wave of ice. The doors of the aeroplane had opened and the passengers were fumbling with their belongings. He had changed into warmer clothes in Dubai but he was not prepared for what hit him as the first door opened. He shivered. What have I come to? He thought. He checked his watch: 13.00. He had changed it to British time as soon as the wheels of the plane had left the tarmac of Perth behind. After clearing customs and collecting his baggage, he walked through Arrivals and into another world. The people looked different, they were dressed differently; they were different. He looked around for a pay phone. He found a row of them just in front of the exit doors. He took out the envelope that Lucy McLean had given him. He had opened it already on the plane; as soon as it had taken off in fact. There was a passport size photograph of Lucy which he had put in his wallet next to the one of Laura. There was also a letter. He read it again.

‘Jason,

Sorry this is short but you didn’t exactly give me much warning. After what has happened over the past month or so, I’m surprised you’re not a nervous wreck but you’re not; you’re a strong guy, Jason Smith and I know you’ll do just fine. You will always be very special and I will never forget you.

My brother is in London, as you know. He is backpacking around Europe but now he has a job in London for a while. He said he would be more than happy to put you up for a few days when you get there. I’ve put his number on the back.

Take care Jason Smith.

Your good friend,

Lucy.’

 

Jason rang the number.

“Matt McLean,” a voice said in a familiar accent.

“Matt,” Jason said, “my name’s Jason. Jason Smith, I’m a friend of Lucy’s.”

“Jason. Where are you?”

“I’ve just landed at Heathrow. Lucy said that maybe I could stay with you for a few days.”

“Course you can mate. You’re lucky; I’m off today and tomorrow. I stay in Earls Court. Get on the Underground there at the airport. It’s about half an hour on the Piccadilly line. I’ll wait for you at the station. I’m just down the road.”

He hung up.

Jason took a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and rang the number on it.

“Hello,” an old lady answered.

“Gran,” Jason said, “I’ve landed in London.”

“My dear,” she said, “its going to be so nice to see you again. Is everything alright?”

“Apart from the freezing cold you mean? Everything’s fine. I’m only going to come to you on Monday though; some friends have offered to show me around London for the weekend.”

“What friends? You didn’t meet any strange people on the plane did you?”

Jason laughed.

“No Gran,” he said, “it’s the brother of a friend of mine back in Fremantle. I’ll be quite safe. I’ll be in York around lunchtime on Monday.”

“Ok dear, you take care now.”

This isn’t too bad, Jason thought as he put down the phone. He found the tube station, bought a ticket and waited for the train. Thirty minutes later he was in Earls Court.

“Welcome to sunny London,” a voice called out from behind him.

He looked around.

“Matt?” he said.

He had never met Lucy’s brother.

“That’s me,” Matt said, “You must be Jason.”

“How did you know?”

“Look at you. You’ve still got that Fremantle look; the surfer’s hair and the tan. Unmistakable. It’ll be gone after a few months here though.”

They shook hands.

“Give me one of those bags,” Matt said, “it’s only a short walk from here.”

As they walked, Jason was in awe. He felt like he was on another planet. London was not quite what he had expected. He felt like he was walking through a movie set.

“This is my place here,” Matt said, “we’re lucky; two of the guys I live with are in Austria getting ready for the skiing season so there’s a couple of spare rooms.”

He opened the door and went inside. The house was smaller than Jason was used to. In the living room there seemed to be some kind of war going on between the antipodeans. Various Australian and New Zealand souvenirs adorned the walls.

“Cool place,” Jason said, “how many people live here?”

“Right now it’s just me and Dylan; he’s from Sydney but he’s alright for an east coaster.”

A man walked through from the kitchen. “Dylan,” Matt said, “meet Jason. His folks have sent him to the UK for a while.”

“Pleased to meet you mate.” Dylan shook Jason’s hand. “Are you also from the West?”

“Fremantle,” Jason replied, “best place on earth.”

Dylan laughed.

“If you say so,” he said.

“How’s the fundraising going Dylan,” Matt asked, “Dylan’s trying to save up for New Year in Brazil.”

“Not good,” Dylan replied, “I’m about three hundred short and time’s running out. I think I’m going to have to sell the Strat; I need to go to Brazil.”

“You’ve got a Strat?” Jason said.

He was very keen on guitars.

“I’ll show you,” Matt said, “it’s in my room.” He left and returned with the guitar.

“Wow,” Jason said, “can I have a go?”

“You can have it if you’ve got three hundred quid,” Matt said.

Jason had the four hundred pounds from his parents. He needed money for the train ticket to York but that was all.

“Deal,” he said, “it’s a genuine American one I see.”

He took the money out of his wallet and gave it to Dylan.

“Enjoy Brazil,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEN

 

THE GHOUL

 

Saturday 26 December 2008.

 

“Where the hell do we begin with this mess?” Detective Inspector Bob Chalmers growled.

He was chewing on a stick of celery. It was one of his many attempts to eat more healthily; it never lasted and it always made him grumpy.

“Smith,” he said, “you seem to be in charge of this investigation; what have we got so far?”

Smith looked confused.

“Sir?” he said.

“Let me put it another way,” Chalmers said, “you are now in charge of this investigation. What have we got?”

Smith opened his notebook and closed it again; he was not a PC anymore.

“Dead student,” he began, “made to look like suicide but now it seems like murder. Straight A student. Pregnant.”

“Ok,” Chalmers said, “and the other one.”

“Blood bath sir. Worst one I’ve ever seen. Mother dead, daughter critical and the father seems ok physically but otherwise he’s a complete wreck.”

“Two murders in York in twenty four hours”, Chalmers said, “I don’t like it one little bit. Do you think they’re connected?”

“I’d stake Thompson’s career on it sir.”

The whole room erupted. Thompson glared at Smith.

“The dead student was the Willow’s babysitter,” Smith quickly said, “She was supposed to work for them on Christmas Eve but she called in sick. Also, she was a student of Martin Willow’s at the University. The most baffling part though is the note.”

“What note?” Chalmers asked.

“Suicide note sir. It read: ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN’. It doesn’t feel quite right somehow; I don’t think Lauren, the student, wrote it.”

“Enlighten us Smith.”

“Just a gut feeling sir.”

“I’m not basing a case on your hunch Smith. Get it checked out against anything else she may have written. Do students actually write stuff down anymore? So, where are we going to start then?”

DS Thompson stood up. He looked very tired.

“Sir,” he said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that the father,” he opened his notebook, “Martin Willow. I think it’s clear he killed his wife and tried to kill his daughter.”
“But why?” Smith interrupted, “and what about the babysitter?”

“That I don’t know yet.”

“Very helpful Thompson.” Smith cleared his throat. “As I’m in charge here, I want you and Bridge to go and have a chat to the man who found the carnage at the Willow’s place yesterday evening, Frank Paxton.”

He handed Thompson Paxton’s business card.

“Is he a suspect sir?” DC Bridge asked.

He was new to the team.

“At this moment,” Smith said, “you’re a bloody suspect. Watch and learn from DS Thompson; you’re in for a real treat. Whitton, you’re coming with me to the hospital.”

Detective Constable Erica Whitton stood up. Smith had worked with her for over a year and she had proven herself to be a very competent police officer.

“Thompson,” Smith said as Thompson was about to leave, “be very wary of this Paxton character; there’s something odd about him.”

“Your woman’s intuition again,” Thompson joked.

He looked around but nobody was laughing.

“Just be careful,” Smith said, “and get him to write something down; preferably something including the word ‘Martin’.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Thompson asked.

“You’ll think of something. Come on Whitton, we’ll go in my car.”

 

“Your car smells funny sir,” DC Whitton remarked as they drove to the hospital.

“Thanks Whitton,” Smith replied, “I’ve just got myself a puppy.”

“Where is it? You can’t just leave a puppy on its own. It’ll chew anything.”

“He’s staying at a pub at the moment. I got him just as this shit started.”

“What’s his name?”

“Theakston.”

Whitton laughed. “Like the beer?” she said.

“It’s a long story. We’re here. Now listen, let me do the talking. If you have anything to say, tell me in private ok?”

“Fair Dinkum sir.”

“Not funny Whitton.”

Smith hated this hospital. He had watched as it had drawn the last breath out of the only member of his family he had left that he cared about. It had been six years since his Gran had died here. She had broken a hip and developed pneumonia. Her lungs had just given up.

The woman in reception at the hospital was a dour, frump of a woman in her mid-forties. Smith had dealt with her before; this was not going to be easy. He approached her and flashed his warmest antipodean smile. It did not work. The woman glared at him.

“Could you please tell us where they took the Willow family,” he said.

“You can’t see them,” she scowled.

Smith took out his ID.

“I know who you are,” she said, “you still can’t see them; the daughter is still unconscious, the father is very heavily sedated and you know the mother is dead don’t you?”

Smith tried to keep his composure.

“I am well aware of that,” he said, “who’s the doctor in charge?”

“Doctor Simmons. He’s not due in for another two hours.”

“We’ll come back in two hours then,” Smith said.

The woman shrugged her shoulders and returned to her filing.

Whitton looked confused.

“Don’t worry,” Smith assured her, “we’re not going to wait around for two hours when there are a couple of murders to figure out. Have you ever been to the morgue?”

“We call it a mortuary sir,” she replied, “and no I haven’t. This is my first murder too.”

“It’s not that bad really, the pathologists are a bit weird at first but you soon get used to them.”

The mortuary was on the other side of the hospital. Smith showed his ID to the girl on the front desk.

“Is the ghoul in?” He asked her.

“The ghoul is always in,” she replied, “go through.”

“Whitton,” Smith said, “you’re about to meet a full blown creature of the night. Everybody knows him as The Ghoul. I’m sure even his mother calls him that. He’s a bit repulsive and he has a bit of a foul mouth but he’s a brilliant pathologist and he can drink more beer than anyone I’ve ever met.”

Smith led her down a corridor. He stopped and knocked on a door.

“If you’re alive, you’ve got no frigging business here!” a booming voice could be heard from within.

Whitton’s eyes widened.

“Morgue humour,” Smith said, “its DS Smith,” he said.

“Mr Smith”, The Ghoul said, “Come in. I’ve been expecting you.”

Smith opened the door and gestured for Whitton to go in first. She hesitated then slowly went inside. She could see the back of a man sitting at a desk. He was wearing a stained lab coat. There was a peculiar smell in the room; Whitton could not quite place it. The man in the lab coat was typing frantically on a computer keyboard. Whitton looked at Smith. He smiled at her.

“Just wait,” he whispered.

The man raised an abnormally long index finger in the air and, with as much theatrics as humanly possible, slammed it down onto the ‘Enter’ key.

“You frigging beauty!” he bellowed.

“How much this time?” Smith said.

The man swivelled round in his chair and faced them. Whitton gasped, not because the man was repulsive as Smith had warned but because what she saw was not what she had anticipated. The Ghoul could not have been more than thirty, he was quite chubby but he had the kind of photogenic good looks that could land him a role in any B-Grade movie. The Ghoul noticed Whitton’s surprise and smiled. He had perfect teeth. Nobody in York has perfect teeth, Whitton thought.

“Eight big ones,” the Ghoul replied in that booming voice of his.

“Our friend, the Ghoul here likes to play the stock exchange,” Smith said, “He’s getting to be quite good at it.”

The Ghoul picked up the telephone on his desk.

“Cindy,” he said. Cindy was the woman on the front desk. “I seem to have broken another keyboard, could you bring me another one please – the strongest one you can find.” He sighed, “They don’t make anything to last these days.”

He stood up; he was almost as tall as Smith’s six feet.

“Please tell us you have something interesting for us,” Smith said.

“That depends,” the Ghoul replied, “on what you consider interesting. For instance, I find the existence of certain fungal bacteria absolutely fascinating whereas the mere mention of our parasitical so-called frigging Royal family sends me into an instant semi-coma. If I were a detective such as you, the first thing out of the ordinary would be these.”

He picked up a pile of papers from the top of a filing cabinet, quickly leafed through them and passed two to Smith.

“What do you make of that?” he gestured dramatically as if he had pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

Smith looked confused.

“I completed two years of a law degree,” he said, “science was never my forte.”

The Ghoul paused for effect. He then produced his impressive index finger and pointed to something on one of the papers.

“Benzodiazepine,” Smith gasped.

“Give that man a fat frigging cigar,” the Ghoul said, “We found traces of it in both Wendy Willow and her daughter and, just for the hell of it and because I could, I tested some of Martin Willow’s blood. Guess what? He had traces in his system too. What were they doing? Sprinkling it on their frigging cornflakes in the mornings?”

“This complicates things,” Smith said.

“You bet it does. That poor man in the hospital had a very impressive blood alcohol count even by my very high standards. The combined effects of the alcohol and the benzodiazepine would have paralysed him. That man would have barely been able to move. There’s no way he could have attacked anyone. Your killer is still on the loose, as they say in the movies.”

“Can I say something,” Whitton said.

“It talks,” the Ghoul chuckled.

“Go ahead Whitton,” Smith urged.

“We had a case a few months back,” Whitton began, “a so-called date rape. The drug Rohypnol was used. Isn’t that the same thing?”

“Rohypnol is a commercial name for a derivative of Benzodiazepine,” the Ghoul replied, “I’m impressed but what’s your point?”

“Nothing could be proven because the woman who claimed she had been raped had no memory at all of the assault. Martin Willow could be the only witness we have to this murder, what if he can’t remember anything either?”

Smith checked his watch.

“That’s what we are going to find out,” he said. “Thanks doc, I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again soon.”

“Good luck Smith,” the Ghoul said, “and Miss Whitton, you’ll go far.”

“It’s DC Whitton,” she said and led Smith out the door.

“Why do they call him the Ghoul?” Whitton asked as they walked towards the main wing of the hospital, “He’s not that scary at all, a bit on the eccentric side but that must come with working with dead people all the time.”

“Another time,” Smith insisted, “we need to get moving on this one.”

The dour woman on reception at the hospital sighed as Smith and Whitton approached her.

“Doctor Simmons has just arrived,” she said, “He’s busy organising his appointments for the day, you can’t see him.”

“Could you phone him and tell him we’re here?” Smith asked.

“He’s too busy. I told you.”

Smith was becoming irritated.

“Listen, “he said calmly, “we all have our jobs to do. You have your particular, anally-retentive way of doing things and I am normally very patient when I carry out my duties. From time to time, however, especially when I am hindered in my work, another side of me emerges. You don’t want to see the Mr Hyde side of me.”

“The woman looked terrified.

“Are you threatening me?” she said. Her voice was trembling.

“Yes I am,” Smith said matter-of-factly, “technically, you are interfering with the course of justice. Now please get Doctor Simmons on the phone and tell him we need to speak to him. Do you understand?”

She picked up the phone and did as she was told.

“Doctor Simmons will be right out,” she said as she replaced the hand set.

“Thank you,” Smith said.

He smiled at her. She looked at him as if he were a serial-killer.

“Detectives, detectives,” a friendly voice announced the presence of Doctor Pete Simmons. “I’ve been expecting you. Come with me to the canteen, the coffee is very good; just stay away from the tea.”

“You must excuse Miss Lamb,” Doctor Simmons said in the hospital canteen, “she guards me like the hounds of hell protect the devil himself.”

The canteen was empty as they sat at a table next to a window. It was still raining outside.

“They reckon we’re in for the wettest winter on record,” Simmons said, “I can’t wait to retire to somewhere warmer.”

“Doctor Simmons,” Smith said. “My name is DS Smith and this is DC Whitton. Thank you for your time.”
“Terrible business all of this,” Simmons said, “in York of all places.”

“How’s the little girl doing?” Smith asked.

“Difficult to say, she’s still unconscious. She had a few very nasty blows to the head and there’s swelling on the brain. Her left arm is also broken; to me it looks like she tried to defend herself. Poor thing, she must have been terrified when her father attacked her.”

“We’re still not sure it was Martin Willow who did it, “Whitton said.

“Do you have any idea what they were attacked with?” Smith asked.

“Yes I do,” Simmons answered immediately, “a claw hammer, without doubt. “Both ends of the hammer were used. This was a very brutal attack. The same weapon was used on the mother too although the mother had no defensive wounds.”

“She was already unconscious when she was attacked?” Whitton suggested.

“Looks like it,” Simmons agreed, “whoever did do this acted with a fury. Some of the wounds were inflicted after the heart had stopped. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job but we’re looking at a complete maniac here.”

“And the father,” Smith said, “Martin Willow, was he hurt at all?”

“That’s the odd thing, with the amount of blood he had on him when he was brought in, we feared the worst but he didn’t have a scratch on him. The blood was not his.”

“We need to talk to him,” Smith said.

“I know, but not for a while. His mental state is quite disturbing, he’s still heavily sedated and he has that wild look in his eyes. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until his condition improves.”

“But you’ll let us know as soon as it does,” Smith said, “we have a maniac out there after all.”

“Of course, will that be all?”

“For now,” Smith replied, “we’ll be in touch. Thank you again for your time.”

“Not at all detective, and please be gentle with Miss Lamb next time.”

They stood up and shook hands.

“By the way,” Simmons added as Smith was about to leave, “where’s that accent from?”

“Same place as me,” Smith replied and walked out of the canteen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELEVEN

 

MONEY

 

Detective Sergeant Alan Thompson was not in the best of moods. Smith had ridiculed him again in front of the whole team. Even though Thompson and Smith held the same rank, Thompson believed his twenty year head start in the Police force should offer him some semblance of superiority over the Aussie upstart.

“Red light sir!” Bridge cried.

“What?” Thompson said.

He glared at Bridge and slammed on the brakes.

“Are you trying to tell me how to drive now?”

“No sir,” Bridge said, “I just didn’t think you’d seen it.”

“You just thought you’d piss me off even more did you?”

Bridge did not say another word until they had reached Frank Paxton’s house.

“Nice place,” Bridge said as Thompson parked the car badly outside. “Accountants obviously do very well for themselves.”

“They get paid well to defraud the government of taxes,” Thompson said bitterly. “You knock on the door and see it Paxton is home. This rain is really getting on my nerves.”

Bridge opened the door and ran up the driveway. He knocked on the door. It was opened by a woman in her thirties or forties, Bridge was not sure.

“Good Morning Ma’am,” he said, “my name is DC Bridge.”

He showed her his badge.

“And that’s DS Thompson in the car. His wife has just bought him a new suit and he doesn’t want to get it too wet.”

Thompson locked the car and rushed towards the house.

“DS Thompson,” he said, “can we come in please? We need to have a word with your husband.”

“Frank is not my husband,” the woman said. She rolled her eyes.

“Sorry Ma’am,” Thompson said, “I just assumed.”

“This is the twenty first century officer, things have changed. Come in, we wouldn’t want you to ruin that beautiful suit would we?”

Thompson beamed and followed her into the house.

“Would you like some coffee?” the woman said.

“Love some,” Thompson replied, “black, one sugar. The wife thinks I should lose a bit of weight.”

“You look fine to me. Anything for you?” She looked at Bridge.

“Milk, three sugars please, “Bridge said.

“Frank is in his study,” she said, “I’ll tell him you’re here. We’re still in shock, Wendy was my best friend. I can’t believe Martin could do such a thing.”

She left the room.

Everything in the house literally reeked of money.

“Doesn’t look like they have any kids,” Bridge remarked as he scanned the living room, “everything seems to be in its place. Look at that lounge suite. That alone would cost me a year’s salary; genuine leather, variable reclining settings, movable foot rests.”

Thompson glared at him.

“Would you stop with the furniture salesman shit,” he said, “and try and act like a police detective.”

Thompson’s mood had not improved.

Frank Paxton appeared in the doorway.

“Try it out,” he said to Bridge who was still admiring the lounge seat. “Have a seat.”

“Mr Paxton,” Thompson said, “we need to ask you a few questions about the Willow family.”

“Terrible state of affairs,” Paxton said.

Bridge could not help but think what a peculiar way this was to describe it.

“We’d had them round for supper, “Paxton continued, “It’s a Christmas Eve tradition. Penny was there too, their babysitter couldn’t make it. I believe she killed herself that same night.”

Paxton’s bottom lip began to quiver.

“It now seems…” Bridge said. Thompson glared at him. That murder was not yet public knowledge.

“Yes,” Thompson said, “but that’s not what we want to talk about. “Were Martin and Wendy fighting that night?”

“No more than usual,” Paxton replied.

“What do you mean by that?” Thompson said. “Did they often fight?”

He wrote something in his notebook.

“It was more like playful banter,” Paxton said, “they didn’t seem to like each other most of the time. Martin was a college professor and he didn’t really consider Wendy his intellectual equal.”

“You said was,” Bridge said, “you said he was a college professor. He still is as far as I can see.”

Paxton was clearly annoyed.

“What I’m trying to say is Martin and Wendy were just worlds apart intellectually and sometimes that made them fight.”

The woman put the coffee on the table.

“Thanks Rox,” Paxton said.

“Rox?” Thompson asked.

“Yes,” she said, “Rox. Roxy Jones, you didn’t seem interested in my name when I answered the door to you.”

“Sorry Miss Jones,”

Thompson wrote her name in his notebook, he was on his last page.

Roxy Jones sat on one of the single seaters facing the window. Bridge had made himself comfortable in her usual seat.

“You had supper with the Willows,” Thompson said, “was there anything unusual about Martin that evening?”

“He was his usual self,” Paxton replied, “We talked, ate supper, drank rather too much and smoked a couple of good cigars. All in all it was a most pleasant evening.”

“What time did they leave?”

“The taxi arrived dead on midnight. I remember because the driver actually bothered to knock on the door instead of hooting. I think he even phoned a couple of minutes before that too.”

“The taxi driver phoned you,” Bridge said, “that’s unusual.”

“Not me,” Paxton said, “he phoned Martin. His phone has this annoying ring tone. Martin missed the call. He thought it must have been the driver.”

Bridge suddenly remembered something.

“Do you have Martin Willow’s number?” he asked Paxton.

“Of course I do,” Paxton said. He took out his phone. “Its 0799…”

“Hold on,” Bridge said.

He took out a piece of paper from his coat pocket.

“Could you please write it down for me? My handwriting is terrible.”

Paxton wrote down the number and handed the paper back to Bridge.

“Sorry,” Bridge said, “one more thing, could you write Martin Willow on the top? I’ll only forget whose number it is.”

Paxton, Roxy and Thompson all looked at Bridge as if he had lost his mind. Nevertheless, Paxton did as he was asked and handed the paper back to Bridge.

“Thank you,” Bridge said, “we just need to double check it was the taxi company that phoned. It just seems strange to get a phone call so late.”

“Can we please carry on Bridge?” Thompson said. “We still have a lot of ground to cover.”

He was clearly annoyed.

“Mr Paxton,” Thompson continued, “Can you remember anything unusual about Martin that night? Think carefully.”

“There is one thing, “Roxy Jones interrupted, “it was meant as a joke but after what has happened it may have some relevance.”

She looked agitated.

“Go on.” Thompson urged.

“We were talking about what Martin does, what he lectures in. He has degrees in Psychology and Criminology or something and Frank joked about it. He put on this stupid phoney German accent and said that Martin had the qualifications to commit the perfect murder.”

“That was a joke,” Paxton insisted, “Wendy still defended him. She said he couldn’t harm a fly.”

Thompson had filled up the last page of his notebook. He sighed, it was a public holiday and there would be no shops open.

“I think we have enough for now,” he said, “but we may need to talk to you again. Thanks for the coffee; it’s much better than the swill we get at the station. Bridge, get up off that fancy couch, we have a lot to do.”

The rain had died down when they stepped outside. Thompson was not happy.

“What the hell was that all about?” he said to Bridge as they drove off.

“What was what about sir?” Bridge asked.

“That nonsense about you not being able to write, the force has a bad enough name as it is without you painting us as illiterate imbeciles.”

“It was something DS Smith said sir.”

“That Australian know it all, he still thinks Martin Willow is innocent. It’s pretty bloody obvious that he did it, lock him up and throw away the key. Case closed.”

He looked at the clock on the dashboard. They had half an hour to get back to the station for a scheduled case meeting.

 

 

TWELVE

 

LIES.

 

“So, what you’re telling me is we’re no closer to cracking this thing,” DI Chalmers announced gruffly.

“It’s obviously the father,” Thompson insisted, “Martin Willow.”

“No note book Thompson?” Smith said sarcastically.

“It’s full,” Thompson replied, “I don’t need it for everything.”

“You two, enough,” Chalmers said. “Let’s go over what we do have. Thompson, you first.”

“It’s quite clear that Martin Willow did it,” Thompson began. “He was there at the scene, covered in blood. Not a scratch on him and he has a degree in criminals.”

“Criminology,” Bridge corrected him.

“Criminology, whatever. Even his best friend said he could commit the perfect murder, its him, we need to arrest him and put him away.”

“I’m afraid I have a bit of disappointing news for you Thompson,” Smith interrupted, “Martin Willow was incapable of moving, let alone killing his family. We’re looking at the wrong man and the sooner we realise that, the sooner we may get somewhere.”

“Do we have anything else?” Chalmers was becoming frustrated.

“Did you get Paxton to write Martin’s name down?” Smith asked Thompson.

“I did sir,” Bridge said, “I pretended I needed his phone number to trace a call from a taxi company. I said I had trouble reading my own writing sometimes so I asked Paxton to write it down for me.”

He handed Smith the piece of paper.

“Brilliant,” Smith said, “nice work. We need to get this compared to the suicide note as soon as possible. What has the taxi company got to do with this?”

“Willow had a call sir,” Bridge said, “just before midnight. Paxton assumed it was from the taxi firm.”

“And did you check this out?”

“No, we came straight here from Paxton’s house.”

“Which taxi firm was it?”

“We don’t know sir.”

“Thompson,” Smith said, “did you get your sergeant stripes out of a Christmas cracker?”

Thompson’s face reddened.

“What does it matter who phoned him?” he said.

“Thompson,” Chalmers said, “someone phoned our current number one murder suspect just before the murder was committed. Find out who it was.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Thompson asked.

“Willow’s phone is in evidence, isn’t it?” Smith said. “Go and get it. Now Thompson, stop me if I am going to fast for your slightly retarded brain. Look through the received calls history and find the one that corresponds with the time Paxton says Willow missed a call on Christmas Eve.”

“Do as he says,” Chalmers ordered.

Thompson left the room in disgust.

“Martin Willow is still too drugged up to question,” Smith said as Thompson was retrieving the phone, “The doctor said it will be a few days at least before we can talk to him. In the meantime, we need to concentrate all our efforts elsewhere.”

“You’re still convinced he didn’t do it aren’t you?” Chalmers said.

“Almost certain sir. Something just doesn’t add up.”

“Do we know the exact time of death of Wendy Willow?”

“Somewhere between midnight and two in the morning.”

“And the babysitter?”

“Also in the same time frame. What are you thinking sir?”

“I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out.”

Thompson brought in the phone.

“They’re getting worse down there in evidence,” he moaned, “I had to fill in three forms to get this released. What do I do now?”

“Look back in the call history,” Smith said. “Just give it here.”

He snatched the phone from Thompson and switched it on. He looked back through the call log. There was a missed call at 23.45 on the 24th and a received call at 17.34 on the same day. The calls were from the same number.

“This is interesting,” Smith said, “why would the taxi firm have phoned earlier?”

He took out his own phone and dialled the number. The phone rang for a while then a voice mail recording could be heard. Smith gasped and his eyes grew wide. He hung up and rang the number again, this time with his phone on speaker phone mode.

“Everybody quiet,” he said, “listen to this.”

The phone rang three times and then a woman’s voice could be heard.

‘Hi, this is Lauren. I’m not available at the moment; please leave a message after the tone.’

“The dead babysitter?” Chalmers asked.

“That’s her,” Smith said.

“Sir,” Whitton added, “you said Martin Willow had missed a call. Did she leave a message?”

“Good thinking Whitton,” Smith said, “there’s no message icon flashing but he may have already listened to it. How do you check? This phone is a lot more complicated than mine.”

Whitton took the phone and dialled the voice mail number. She put the phone on speaker mode again. There were no un-read voice messages so she selected the ‘listen to all messages’ option. The last message left on Martin Willow’s phone was haunting.

‘Martin,” it began; it was clearly the same voice as on Lauren Cowley’s voice mail recording. ‘I need to talk to you urgently. I’m pregnant and I’m sure she knows. Please Martin; you’re the only one I can talk to. Phone me when you get this.’ She rang off.

The room was in silence. Thompson broke that silence.

“My version is looking pretty decent now isn’t it?” he said smugly, “college professor knocks one of his students up, wife finds out so he shuts her up. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he killed the babysitter too. I’m not looking so stupid anymore am I?”

The last question was directed at Smith.

Smith was thinking about something else.

“Thompson,” he said, “can you remember yesterday at the Willow’s house; we spoke to Frank Paxton, the one who discovered the attack?”

“What about him?” Thompson was tiring of Smith.

“I think we need to have a chat with him.”

“Me and Bridge were there earlier. He doesn’t know anything.”

“He said yesterday that he went to the Willow’s house to return a book. He claimed he knocked on the door and when he got no answer, he phoned Martin Willow.”

“What about it?”

“The last two numbers on Willow’s phone were the babysitter’s, both on Christmas Eve. There was no call from Frank Paxton, he lied to us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTEEN

 

MUGGED.

 

Tuesday 29 July 2003.

 

“Top ten percent Gran,” Jason Smith shouted as he opened the letter at the breakfast table. “Top ten percent, that means I can pretty much take my pick of the top firms.”

He had just finished the second year of a law degree at York University.

“A lawyer in the family,” his Gran said, “who would have ever thought it? I’m so proud of you my boy.”

“I still have a long way to go before then Gran,” he said, “I’m not even half way there yet.”

“I know you’ll do it though; you’ve come a long way from that arrogant teenager who stepped off the plane nearly five years ago.”

“We need to celebrate,” he said, “I’m taking you out for lunch. Get yourself ready, we can have fish and chips at that new place on Gillygate.”

“That’s a bit fancy isn’t it?”

“No arguments. We can have a walk round the Minster afterwards.”

The weather report had promised glorious sunshine and temperatures in the mid twenties so Jason decided to get off the bus on the other side of the river Ouse at Coppergate and walk the rest of the way. He had always enjoyed walking around York; there was a piece of history around every corner. From Coppergate they took a left and walked along the quaint cobblestones of the Shambles. Old buildings hung above them trying to close off the sky. Jason was sure they were closer together than they were when he first took this walk. He always thought that one day the buildings would meet in the middle and there would be no sky left overhead.

“I’m not going too fast for you Gran, am I?” he joked.

“I’m not quite over the hill yet,” she replied, “I’ve walked along these streets since I was a young girl. Things have certainly changed since then though; look at all these people.” Hoards of tourists shuffled along the cobbled pavement, stopping now and then to take photos of the buildings and to buy souvenirs to take back home. They passed the old Minster, one of the most striking Gothic cathedrals in the world. Masses of tourists queued outside, waiting in anticipation. They continued on past the theatre and on to Gilly Gate. As they were about to enter the restaurant they were approached by two youths. They were in their late teens and had an air of malice about them. Jason especially did not like the look of one of them.

“Spare some change mister?” the taller of the two asked Jason.

He ignored the question and urged his Gran to get inside.

“Tight Arsed Git,” the other youth called after them.

“We never had anything like that in my day,” Jason’s Gran said as they sat down at their table.

“Don’t worry Gran,” Jason said,” forget about them, we’re celebrating. You can have anything you want; the skies the limit as long as its fish and chips.”

They both laughed.

“You know your mother phoned me the other day?” Gran said.

“What did she want?” Jason said curtly.

“She said he would quite happily pay for a ticket for you to go back home this summer. She’s very proud of you.”

“This is my home Gran,” He said, “I like it here and Anyway, I have plans for the summer. Its freezing in Fremantle this time of year anyway.”

“What plans? Are you off travelling somewhere?”

“No Gran, I’ve found a job with one of the smaller law firms here in York. The job found me actually; it’ll give me some good experience and a head start for next term.”

“You work too hard Jason; you need to take a break sometimes.”

“I enjoy it, I like helping people.”

The fish and chips were delicious. The batter was made out of beer.

“Shall we have a walk around the Minster now Gran?” Jason said as he settled the bill.

“That would be nice dear,” his Gran replied, “as long as it’s not too crowded, there’s tourists everywhere at this time of year.”

As they made their way to the Minster, Jason noticed the two youths who had bothered them. They were pestering a group of American tourists. One of them fixed Jason with a malicious stare as he walked past. Then, Jason Smith’s life changed forever. The other youth ran into Jason’s Gran and knocked her to the floor. He bent down, picked up her handbag and ran off in the direction of the River Foss. Jason ran after him, he was a very good runner. After a hundred metres he could see he was gaining on the thief. The youth looked over his shoulder, saw Jason quickly approaching and dropped the handbag on the floor in despair. Jason picked it up, thought about whether to carry on the chase but decided instead to go back to his Gran.

A crowd of people had gathered around Jason’s Gran, including a Police constable. Jason had always been impressed with the police force in this country. His Gran was still in the same position on the ground.

“Gran,” he said, “are you alright? I got your bag back.”

“I landed quite badly,” she replied, “I think I may have broken something. It’s very sore.”

“I’ve called an ambulance,” the policeman said.

“This is my Gran,” Jason said, “that guy just came out of nowhere.”

“We’ll catch him,” the policeman said, “I know who he is. We’ll have him within the hour. You really shouldn’t have tried to catch him, he’s a nasty piece of work that one.”

The sirens of the ambulance were getting nearer. The policeman introduced himself as PC Brownhill.

“I will need you to make a statement,” he said, “but we can do that at the hospital. That scumbag is going down for this.”

The ambulance arrived and two paramedics got out.

“Where does it hurt Ma’am?” one of them asked.”

“It’s sore here on my side,” Jason’s Gran replied, “and call me Edith please.”

“Ok Edith,” the paramedic said, “We’re going to roll you onto a stretcher and take you to the hospital. We can put the lights and sirens on too if you like.”

“Can we run a couple of red lights too?”

“Of course, which side does it hurt?”

“Right here.” She pointed to her left hip. They rolled her onto a stretcher from her right side and carried her to the ambulance.

 

FOURTEEN

 

CALENDAR.

 

Saturday 26 December 2008

 

Smith checked his watch: 15.00.

“Can you do me a favour Whitton,” he said, “I wouldn’t normally ask this but I don’t know what else to do.”

“Of course sir,” she replied, “what can I do?”

“We need to talk to Frank Paxton again,” he said, “Thompson is about as incompetent as they come, Theakston would have done a better job of questioning Paxton. When we get to Paxton’s house, I need you to drive to the Hog’s Head and pick up my puppy. I think I’ve abused Marge’s hospitality a bit too much.”

“What about the rules sir? There should be two of us at all times.”

“I know Whitton but that’s exactly why I want you to disappear for a bit. I’m going to try something quite unorthodox with our friend Paxton. He’s not telling us everything, I can feel it. I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

“What if the DI finds out? He’ll stick me behind a desk forever.”

“Trust me Whitton. This Frank Paxton is more involved than we think and he won’t want to make a fuss, I can promise you.”

“Ok sir,” Whitton conceded, “you owe me one.”

Smith parked his car outside Frank Paxton’s house.

“Here’s what we’re going to do Whitton,” he said as he switched off the engine, “you’re going to come inside with me.”

“I thought you wanted me to fetch your puppy sir.”

“Just bear with me.”

He took out his phone.

“I’ve brought up your number,” he said, “I’m going to keep my phone in my pocket and when the time’s right I’m going to press dial. You’ll apologise, answer the phone and pretend that something has come up. You’ll look at Paxton, then at me and you’ll ask me if we can have a word in private. After that you can go and fetch Theakston. I’ll handle the rest; I want Paxton to be on edge. I’ve found that nervous people reveal a hell of a lot more than calm ones. Do you think you can manage it?”

“Piece of cake sir,” Whitton said, “I used to do amateur dramatics.”

“That I’d love to see.” Smith said.

“You still owe me one sir.”

As they knocked on the front door, Smith put his phone in his pocket within easy reach. There was no answer. Smith knocked again, harder this time. The door opened and Frank Paxton stood there. He looked like he had not slept; his hair was a mess and his eyes were very bloodshot. He smelled heavily of whisky. Even better, Smith thought, there was nothing better than a bit of alcohol to oil up the truth ducts.

“Mr Paxton,” Smith began, “DS Smith and this is DC Whitton, can we have a word?”

“I’ve just spoken to your lot,” Paxton said. He sounded quite drunk. “Where’s your ID?” he asked, “You don’t look like the police to me.”

“Mr Paxton,” Smith said, “you met me on Christmas Day at the Willow place.”

Smith and Whitton produced their IDs anyway.

“May we come in Mr Paxton?” Smith said, “There are just a few things we need to go over again.”

“Do I need a lawyer?” Paxton slurred.

“Not unless you think you need one,” Smith said, “there are just a few things I’m confused about and I hate that.”

“You’d better come in then. Do you want a drink? I’m having one.”

“No thanks,” Smith replied, “Is Miss Jones at home?”

“She’s visiting her sister; it’s a Boxing Day tradition with them. Roxy has to adhere to her traditions. Are you sure you don’t want a drink? It’s Christmas.”

“No thanks,” Smith repeated, “Mr Paxton, you said when you arrived at the Willow’s place, you phoned him when no one answered the door? And then you heard the phone ringing inside the house?”

“Did I?” Paxton took a large sip of whisky. “I can’t remember much now, these past few days have been a bit of a blur.”

Smith casually put his hand in his pocket and pressed the dial button on his phone. Whitton’s phone started to ring. She looked at the screen.

“Sorry,” she said, “it’s the station; I’ve got to take this. Whitton,” she said into the phone.

She pretended to listen. Her eyes widened and she looked at Frank Paxton with suspicion.

“Ok,” she said, “I’ll let him know.”

She ended the fake call.

“Sir,” she said to Smith, “can I have a word in private please?”

“Sorry, Mr Paxton,” Smith said, “this shouldn’t take long.”

Frank Paxton looked agitated as Smith and Whitton went into the hall way.

“That was bloody good Whitton,” Smith said, “You had me convinced. Take your time fetching Theakston. I’ll give you a call when I’m done here. Thanks again.”

He handed her his car keys.

“How about that drink now,” Smith said when Whitton had left, “do you have any beer?”

“I’ll get you one from the fridge,” Paxton said, “what was that about?”

“Just police business,” Smith lied, “they’ve found some new, interesting evidence in the Wendy Willow murder. It looks like Martin Willow is in deep trouble.”

“Really?” Paxton looked more at ease.

He handed Smith a Grolsch. Smith took a long swig.

“Did you know Lauren Cowley?” Smith asked, “The Willow’s babysitter.”

“Not really,” Paxton said.

His eyes shifted from side to side nervously.

“I think I met her once or twice in passing when I was out with Martin,” he said, “nothing special if I can remember.”

Smith had finished his beer.

“Another one?” Paxton asked.

“Why not,” Smith replied, “it is Christmas. I’m nearly finished for the day anyway.”

Paxton stumbled off to the kitchen to fetch the beer.

“Could I use your toilet?” Smith asked as Paxton came back with the beer, “the first beer always goes right through me.”

“Upstairs,” Paxton said, “first door on the right.”

Frank Paxton seemed much more relaxed now. Smith did not need the toilet, he had thought of something. In the bathroom he locked the door behind him. The room was unusually large for a bathroom. On the wall above the basin was a cupboard. Smith gasped as he opened it; there were pills, lozenges and medicines for every conceivable ailment. He donned a pair of rubber gloves and examined the contents carefully. There was aspirin, paracetamol, hay fever pills, anti sickness pills, anti inflammatory pills and pills to cure diseases Smith had never heard of. He spotted something at the back of the cabinet, a small clear bag with small capsules in it. There was a sticker on the front, the kind that doctors and pharmacists use. His heart quickened as he read the label. Benzodiazepine. He quickly took out his phone and took four photographs in quick succession of the label on the bag, and then he placed the pills back where he had found them. He flushed the toilet, unlocked the door and went back downstairs.

“That’s better,” Smith said as he reached the bottom of the stairs, “nice place you’ve got here Mr Paxton, that bathroom is huge.”

“We like it,” Paxton said. He was quickly becoming Jason Smith’s best friend.

Smith took a large swig of his beer.

“No kids?” he asked. “I can see you have no kids; this place is too neat and tidy.”

“Well spotted detective,” Paxton smiled, “you don’t miss a thing do you?”

He was becoming quite intoxicated.

“We don’t like to broadcast it but I’m starting to like you. You’re Australian aren’t you?”

“I was,” Smith replied.

“Roxy can’t have kids, we found out a couple of years ago. We were devastated but we’ve learned to live with it. That’s one of the reasons we never bothered to marry, seemed a bit pointless without kids. Do you have any kids detective?”

“Not yet,” Smith said.

“Probably for the best in your line of work.”

“I’d better leave you in peace Mr Paxton. Thank you for your time. We may need to ask you a few more questions later though.”

“Anytime,” Paxton said, “This has actually been quite painless; the whisky helps, I suppose.”

Smith took out his phone and called Whitton. He finished his beer.

“Ready when you are Whitton,” he said, “Where are you?”

“Still at the Hog’s Head,” Whitton replied, “Marge has made me a steak and ale pie. She’s lovely.”

“Put an order in for another,” Smith said. “I’ll catch a cab. See you in about half an hour.”

“I couldn’t help listening in to your conversation,” Paxton laughed, “I know a really good taxi company, very professional. I have their number here somewhere.”

He stood up and headed in the direction of the kitchen. Smith followed him.

“Here it is,” Paxton said, “it’s on the fridge.”

As Smith was dialling the number on the fridge, something caught his eye. On the wall next to the fridge was a calendar; it was a whole year on one page. Appointments, birthdays and anniversaries were written in bold black ink. Smith concentrated on June 28. There in the same bold black was written ‘MARTIN AND WENDY ANIV

“Roxy likes to keep up to date of birthdays and anniversaries,” Paxton said.

“So Roxy filled this in?” Smith asked.

“Of course, it’s a female thing isn’t it?”

The taxi firm said they would be there in ten minutes. Smith looked at the calendar again; something about June 28 was bugging him. Then he realised what it was. The suicide note, ‘I AM SO SORRY MARTIN.’ The word MARTIN was identical in both instances. Roxy Jones had written the suicide note. All Smith had to do now was figure out why.

“Taxi will be here in ten minutes,” he said.”

“Then you’ve got time for another beer,” Paxton said with gusto, “you Aussies certainly know how to drink beer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTEEN

 

MINSTER

 

Monday 25 August 2003.

 

Jason Smith looked around the room. He was sitting on the single armchair where many a scarf had been knitted by his Gran. He looked at the picture above the fireplace; a framed pencil drawing of York Minster, meticulously sketched by his Grandfather before Smith was even born. The Minster looked different now. The fire in 1984 destroyed much of the roof and with the new roof bosses; the Minster took on a completely different character. Smith wished he could have met his Grandfather; he was a kind man, not at all like Smith’s mother. He looked at the cordless phone in his hand and dialled the number. A familiar but weary voice could be heard.

“Mom,” he said nervously, “Its Jason.”

“Do you know what time it is here?” his mother said.

Smith knew exactly what time it was in Fremantle but he did not care.

“It’s the middle of the bloody night,” his mother said. She sounded drunk. “What do you want, money?”

Smith sighed. “I don’t know if you’ll be interested,” he said, “but Gran died this afternoon. Gran, your mother, remember her?”

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“What happened?” Smith’s mother asked.

“Both of her lungs collapsed. She broke her hip and developed pneumonia in hospital. Her funeral’s on Saturday if you’re interested.”

“I’m not sure we’ll be able to make it, it’s a long way to come.”

“She’s your mother, you have to be here.”

“What about the estate?”

“The what?”

“Her will, do you know if her affairs are in order?”

“Your mother has just died and you want to know if she left you any money? What kind of daughter are you?”

“I just want to make sure that what she had gets handed down to someone who deserves it.”

“I have to go now but there’s one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m dropping the law degree.”

“You’re what? I thought you were top of the class, you could earn big money.”

“I’m joining the Police Force.”

That was the last time Jason Smith ever spoke to his mother. He had no family left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTEEN

 

GREEN EYES

 

Saturday 26 December 2008

 

“Taxis here,” Frank Paxton announced, “it’s raining again. Do you need to borrow an umbrella?”

Smith’s feelings about umbrellas were similar to those about slippers; neither of them should ever be used by a man. Nevertheless, he accepted Paxton’s offer as it gave him an excuse to return and find more about Paxton and Roxy. He unfolded the cursed thing and walked to where the taxi was waiting.

“Hog’s Head pub,” he said to the driver.

Inside the taxi a song was playing. Smith recognised it, it was his least favourite Beatles number, something about Desmond and Molly Jones.

“I know where that is,” the driver said.

He was Chinese.

“This is the fourth time I’ve been to this house in the past couple of days.”

Smith was not usually fond of the small talk of taxi drivers but this one roused his curiosity.

“Four times?” Smith repeated. “You came here at midnight on Christmas Eve and you’re here now, what about the other two? Sorry, I’m a police detective, DS Smith.”

“After I dropped that couple and their kid off, I got a call to come back here almost immediately.”

“Who did you pick up?”

“It was a woman, she was waiting outside the house when I got here.”

“Where did you take her?”

“I had a lot of fares that night, it being Christmas Eve but I think I took her to Lawrence Road where it turns into Hull Road.”

“And the other fare?”

“It was a man this time. I forget where I took him but if you want you can check down at the taxi depot. We are one of the most hi-tech firms in the country. All of our fares are logged with those GPS things.”

As they drove into the car park of the Hog’s Head, Smith was astounded by the willingness to help shown by this taxi driver. Most people these days were wary of the Police.

“Thanks a lot for your help,” he said as he paid the fare, “what did you say your name was again?”

“My name’s Dave,” he replied

“I’m going to need to speak to you again Dave.”

Dave smiled.

“No problem,” he said, “Good evening Mr Smith.”

“Smells like a steak and ale pie is on the go,” Smith said as he entered the warmth of the Hog’s head.

Whitton was sitting by the fire eating. Theakston was on her lap.

“You’re spoiling him,” Smith said.

He laughed and picked up the puppy.

“Thanks Whitton,” he said, “can I get you a drink? It’s the least I can do, the pies on me too.”

“Marge has been looking after me,” Whitton said, “and that little fellow is adorable. I know why he’s called Theakston now.”

Marge came through from the kitchen with another pie.

“Perfect timing Marge,” Smith smiled, “and thanks for looking after the puppy.”

“He’s no trouble dear,” Marge said, “and he’s getting quite used to the place. Do you want a drink?”

“Pint of Theakstons please, and one for Whitton too.”

“She has a first name you know,” Marge grumbled and went to fetch the drinks.

Whitton laughed.

“She’s quite a character isn’t she?” she said.

Smith sat down.

“We’ve got a lot to do tomorrow,” he said.

He filled her in on what he had found at Frank Paxton’s house.

“We’ll need a search warrant if we want to do this properly,” he said. “I want every I dotted and every T crossed. Lawyers can be such snakes these days and I bet our friend Paxton can afford a good one.”

“Still talking police business?” Marge placed two pints on the table. “Why isn’t a pretty young girl like you out enjoying herself instead of stuck in here with her boss?”

Whitton blushed.

“Sorry Marge,” Smith said, “we’ll talk about something else in a minute. I just need to fill Whitton in while things are still fresh in my head.”

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Marge said, “and like I said, she has got a first name.”

“Do you think the drugs in Paxton’s bathroom cabinet are the same ones they found in the Willow’s systems?” Whitton asked when Marge was gone.

“That’s why we need a warrant,” Smith said.

He took a big drink of his beer.

“And we need to compare the calendar with the suicide note,” he added.

He took out his phone, brought up his photographs and handed the phone to Whitton. “Scroll down,” he said. “There’s a couple of the puppy but I took a few of the drugs. I think we’re going to need a couple of extra bodies working on this one, if you’ll excuse the pun. I can’t run the risk of that retard Thompson buggering up the entire case.”

“You and he don’t get on do you sir?” Whitton said.

“No we don’t,” Smith replied, “and seeing as you’re off duty you can call me Jason, just don’t tell anyone. Thompson is a dinosaur. Sergeant is as far as he’s going to get. I still remember him from when I joined up, nasty little man. He’s terrified he’ll have to call me sir one day.”

Theakston was begging from Whitton.

“I think you need to be a bit firmer with him,” she said, “These dogs need discipline. No!” she said to the puppy.

He looked confused but merely started begging from Smith instead.

“Another drink?” Smith asked as he emptied the contents of his glass.

“Just one more,” she replied, “and how am I going to get home? I came here in your car.”

“I’d give you a lift,” he said, “but I’d probably get done for drink driving, there are bloody cops everywhere at this time of year.”

Whitton laughed.

“We could share a taxi,” she suggested.

“In that case, we’re having more than one drink. I need a pee.”

He got up and headed off to the Gents.

“You like him don’t you?” Marge said. She placed two beers on the table.

“What?” Whitton was taken aback. “He’s a brilliant detective, I like working with him, he seems to have this extra sense.”

“You know what I mean,” Marge said with a wry smile, “I think he quite likes you too. I’ve never seen him this comfortable; he always seems so… what’s the word? Impregnable. That’s what he is, he’s built this huge moat around himself and nobody is allowed to swim across.”

“Very philosophical Marge,” Whitton smiled.

She was becoming quite tipsy.

“He’s coming back,” she warned.

“What are you two whispering about?” Smith said as he sat down.

“You, of course,” Whitton said.

She smiled at him. Smith smiled back. He had never noticed before what an unusual shade of green her eyes were.

“We’ll have one more beer after this,” Smith said, “and after that we’d better get moving.”

“You’re the boss,” Whitton replied

“Why don’t you stay at my place tonight?” Smith suggested.

Whitton smiled. “Like I said, you’re the boss.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I have a spare room and we do work at the same place, I’ll give you a lift in the morning.”

“Ok,” she said without thinking, “but no funny business though, I was a good Catholic girl once you know.”

Smith still had the number of the taxi firm on his phone. As he went to the bar to order more drinks he dialled the number.

“We’ve got twenty minutes,” he said when he came back, “start drinking up.”

“I think this little tyke is trying to tell you something,” Marge said. Theakston was licking Smith’s legs.

“He does that when he needs to do his business,” Marge said, “he’s quite a clever little bugger.”

Smith picked Theakston up and carried him out of the pub.

When Smith returned, Dave the taxi driver was waiting in the bar. He flashed Smith a toothy grin as he approached. Smith wondered if the taxi firm had only one driver.

“I’ve remembered something else,” Dave said as they drove to Smith’s house, “that man I drove from where I picked you up earlier.”

“Go on,” Smith said.

“I dropped him off just round the corner from where I dropped the two adults and the kid off on Christmas Eve. I read in the paper there was a murder there.”

Smith was feeling quite drunk.

“We’ll come and see you in the morning,” he said. “This is my house right here.”

“One thing more Mr Smith,” Dave said as Smith paid the fare.

“What now Dave?” Smith was getting tired.

“Please don’t tell my boss about the dog. We’re not allowed to take them.”

“Dog?” Smith asked.

Whitton laughed. Theakston had poked his head out of Smith’s coat.

“Ok Dave,” Smith said, “no dog. We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Do you want some coffee?” Smith asked Whitton as he closed the front door behind them.

He put Theakston down and the puppy immediately went to see if there was any food in his bowl.

“I’d love some,” she replied, “and that dog seriously needs to go on a diet.”

Smith laughed.

“Do you take sugar?” he asked.

“Two sugars and milk. Can I use your bathroom?”

“Upstairs,” he replied, “you’re a detective, you’ll find it.”

Smith made the coffee and put the two cups on the table. He looked at the bottle of Jack Daniels he kept on the sideboard. What the hell, he thought and went to fetch two glasses from the kitchen. He put the bourbon next to the glasses.

“Jack Daniels?” Whitton said as she flopped on the couch, “don’t mind if I do. Can I pour one for you too?”

Smith could not control the smile that appeared on his face.

“Please,” he said, “you’d better make them large ones.”

Theakston was trying to jump on the couch but his little legs could not quite make it. Smith gave him a nudge and he quickly snuggled down between them.

“Very nice place you have here,” Whitton said. She took a large sip of her Jack Daniels. “It’s nothing like the bachelor pad I’d imagined, it’s very homely actually.”

“It was my Gran’s,” Smith said, “she died six years ago. I was the only family she had left who gave a damn so she left it to me.”

He told her about that day by the Minster when his Gran was mugged.

“And that’s why I joined the force,” he finished off, “I studied law because I thought I could help people, innocent people, but after that scumbag’s lawyer got him a three year sentence for killing my Gran, I realised that most of the time lawyers actually help criminals. That low life is walking the streets again. Anyway, I’ve got verbal diarrhoea. What about you? Why did you join up? I know there’s all this equal opportunity bullshit these days but it’s still pretty much a boy job if you ask me.”

Whitton nearly spat out her drink.

“A boy job?” she exclaimed. “I suppose you’re right in a way. I knew that when I applied. I just didn’t know what to do when I’d finished University. I could have found a job in an office for forty years but this seemed more interesting.”

“It’s utter crap for your personal life though,” Smith sighed.

“What personal life? I always seem to scare blokes away. Bloody hell,” she looked across the room, “is that what I think it is?”

She walked up to the guitar.

“It is,” she said rather too loud, “it’s a Fender Strat, an American one too. Can you play it?”

“When I’m sober,” he replied, “now I’ve seen everything, a girl who can hold her drink and spot a US Strat. I think I’m in love.”

He instantly regretted saying it. The room was silent. Only Theakston’s deep snoring could be heard.

Whitton blushed.

“My dad had one,” she said finally.

“I play at the Deep Blues Club every now and then,” he said, “they have jam nights there on Thursday nights.”

He looked at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“Shit!” he said, “it’s almost one, we’d better get some sleep. There’s two spare rooms upstairs, take your pick. They’ve both got clean bedding on them. I just want to make sure this little feller does his business and I’ll be up in a minute.”

Whitton finished the rest of her Jack Daniels and walked up the stairs. Smith watched her go. She seemed quite unsteady on her feet but considering the amount she had had to drink, she maintained very well.

He put Theakston in front of the litter tray but the puppy was not interested. Smith smiled. Stubborn little bugger, he thought. He picked him up, switched off the light and went upstairs. As he was getting undressed he heard deep breathing coming from one of the spare rooms. Whitton was already asleep. He put Theakston on the bed. Shit, she’s a work colleague, he thought to himself as he got under the covers, it would never work, but the last thing he thought about before he fell asleep were those unusual green eyes.

 

 

SEVENTEEN

 

DAVE

 

Sunday 27 December 2008

 

Smith was dreaming. He was in the water again but it was much colder this time. His sister was nowhere in sight and it was getting darker and darker. The cold was almost unbearable. Suddenly a hand was thrust into the water. It grabbed him by the shoulder and lifted him to the surface. He looked up to find the owner of the hand staring down at him. It was those unusual green eyes again. The water was still stinging his eyes and he could not seem to dry his face. He woke suddenly to find Theakston on top of him pressing down on his chest. The puppy was licking his face frantically. Out of nowhere, Smith had a sudden laughing fit. Theakston thought this was great and continued licking, with more gusto this time. Smith’s head started to pound and he lifted the puppy off and went through to the bathroom. He could hear noises from downstairs.

“How’s your head Whitton?” he asked as he reached the bottom of the stairs and saw her standing there with a cup of coffee in her hand, “mine feels like someone is learning to play the bongos in it.”

“I don’t get hangovers,” she replied, “drink this, it’ll help.” She handed him the cup of coffee.

“I need to fetch my car from the pub,” he said, “Do you have the keys?”

“Right here.” She handed him the keys.

He looked out the window; it had stopped raining.

“I think I’ll walk,” he said, “I need to clear my head. Do you want to stay here? It’s about a mile I think.”

“I reckon I can manage it,” she smiled.

She looked pale.

Smith picked up Theakston.

“Marge said she would look after him again,” he sighed, “but I think I’m going to have to make other arrangements for the little bugger in the future. Do you think the DI would deputise him? He’d make a bloody good police dog.”

“In your dreams,” Whitton laughed.

“Whitton,” Smith said as he opened the front door, “I had a good time last night.”
“Me too,” she agreed, “I’ll drive when we get there, it’ll be safer.”

 

The station was eerily quiet as they walked through reception. Smith was glad, he knew how tongues wagged in this place, it was worse than being back at school.

“Come through to my office,” he said to Whitton, “Its Sunday today, we’ve got no chance in hell of getting a search warrant for Paxton’s place and I doubt we’ll get anything on the drugs either.”

“So that leaves the taxi firm then,” she replied.

“Yes, we need photographs of Roxy Jones and Frank Paxton.”

“I reckon they’re on here somewhere,” Whitton tapped a few keys on Smith’s PC keyboard and within minutes had the photographs they needed.

“Let’s hope our friend Dave is on duty today,” Smith said, “Although, I’m pretty sure he will be.”
“Ready when you are sir,” Whitton said.

“Whitton, it doesn’t take two of us to check the taxi routes.”

“Am I being dumped?”

“No, you can go home and get some sleep if you want.”

“I’m not tired sir and something else is bothering me.”
“You’re beginning to sound like a detective. What is it?”

“The baby sitter sir.”

“Lauren Cowley?”

“Someone killed her in her room. We need to find out how she was drugged and how someone got in her room and smothered her.”

“What are you thinking Whitton?”

“That we can kill two birds with one stone. You check the taxi records and I’ll pay a visit to Lauren’s house mates. They must have heard something. As a woman I may be able to get a bit more out of them.”

“A woman in a boy job?” Smith smiled.

Whitton laughed.

“Exactly. Could you give me a lift home first though, I need a shower and a change of clothes. I smell a bit like dog.”

 

Dark clouds were gathering in the sky as Smith drove to the taxi depot. Smith sighed. Does it ever stop raining here? He thought. He longed for sunshine. In Fremantle the sun shone for most of the year. The taxi depot was quiet on a Sunday morning. He parked his car outside and went inside the office. The room was small and there was just one woman behind the counter.

“Can I help you sir?” she asked as she minimized the card game she was playing on the computer.

Smith was impressed; he could not fault this taxi firm.

“Good morning,” he said, “my name’s DC Jason Smith, I need to look through some of your records if that’s ok.”

Smith had learned a long time ago that a friendly approach always worked better than some of his colleagues’ bullying tactics.

“Date and time?” the woman asked.

She closed down her game of Solitaire and brought up the company route program.

“Let’s look at Christmas Eve first shall we.”

“Come round here so you can see better,” she said, “use that door on the left there.”

Smith sat beside her in front of the computer.

“Ok,” he began, “midnight, Christmas Eve, driver named Dave.”

The woman quickly tapped in the information and brought up the exact route from Paxton’s house to the Willow’s place

“12.01,” she said, “route 4.8 miles. It took eleven minutes and thirteen seconds. Dave dropped the fare off at 12.12.”

Smith was impressed.

“This is some system you have here,” he said.

“It cost a bit,” the woman said, “but it’s paid for itself ten times over; we probably have the most efficient taxi service in York.”

“Where did Dave go after this fare?” Smith asked.

“Hold on,” the woman said, “this is odd, he went straight back to the house he had come from.”

“Do you have any records of who booked the taxi?”

“Of course,” she replied, “we always take a name and a phone number, we get a lot of the rival taxi firms wasting our time by pretending to be customers. It says here the call came in at 12.10. Funny name, Wendy Willow.”

“Are you sure?” Smith asked.

“Look for yourself.” She pointed at the screen.

“And where did Dave take this woman?”

“Hold on,” the woman clicked on the route finder icon. “Hull Road,” she said, “Arrived at 12.35.”

Smith was becoming excited.

“Let me guess,” he said, “the next fare was back to the place where he picked up the woman on her own.”

“You’re dead right. How did you know?”

“And I bet Dave then went back to the house where he dropped off the two adults and the kid?”

“Right again. Do you need the name of the person who booked?”

“Was it Martin Willow by any chance?”

“It was. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know but I’m going to find out, can you give me a print out of these records please?”

“No problem,” she said.

“Where’s Dave now?” Smith asked.

“In the staff room. Things are always quiet on a Sunday morning.”

She handed him the print outs.

“The door is just through there.” She pointed to a door by the entrance.

“Thanks for all your help,” Smith said.

“It’s a pleasure,” she replied, “always nice to help the police. Do you have any ID by the way, I forgot to ask.”

“Of course.” He took out his ID.

“Sorry,” she said, “but I’d get into trouble if I showed this information to just anyone.”

Dave was sitting on a plastic chair watching television as Smith walked in. It was a broadcast of a church service.

“Mr Smith,” Dave said cheerily, “Hello again. Would you like some coffee? We have a kettle and its proper coffee.”

Smith’s head was starting to pound again.

“That would be perfect,” he said.

While Dave poured the coffee, Smith looked over the taxi records again.

“I’m sorry to bother you on your break,” he said, “I just need you to look at a few photographs.”

“No problem,” Dave replied, “I have a very good memory for faces. Some people get very surprised when I recognise them from driving them in my cab two or three years later.”

He smiled a proud smile.

“Great,” Smith said, “that will be a big help. The woman you took to Hull road on Christmas Eve.”

“The one who waited outside for me?”

“That’s the one, is this her?” He showed Dave the photograph of Roxy Jones.

“That’s not her,” Dave said immediately, “she’s too old. I mean, the woman I picked up was much younger and she had blonde hair.”

Smith tried to hide his disappointment.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“This has never failed me.” Dave tapped his head.

“And the man on his own?” Smith took out the photograph of Frank Paxton.

“Sorry, Mr Smith,” Dave said, “not him either. Also much younger.”

“That’s fine Dave. Give me a call if you remember anything else.”

He handed Dave his card.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” the woman behind the desk asked as Smith walked back through.

“Not quite,” he replied, “but thanks for your time anyway.”

It was threatening to rain as Smith got outside. He took out his cell phone.

“Whitton,” he said, “we’ve got a bit of a problem. It looks like Frank Paxton and Roxy Jones didn’t go anywhere in the early hours of Christmas Day.”

“So who were the two people the driver took to the babysitter’s and the Willow’s?” Whitton asked.

“I’ve got no idea. Where are you now?”

“The babysitter’s house. I’ve just got here.”

“Dave, the driver said the woman he dropped off had blonde hair. See if any of Lauren Cowley’s house mates match that description.”

“Ok sir. What next?”

“I’m going to take Theakston for a walk and try to clear my head a bit. Call me if you find anything.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EIGHTEEN

 

HAUNTED

 

Whitton Knocked on the door of number seven Hull Road. Almost immediately the door was opened by a short woman with red hair.

“Can I help you?” she said nervously.

“DC Whitton, police,” Whitton said, “I need to ask you a few questions. Can I come in?”

“Is this about Lauren?” the woman said.

“Yes it is, please can I come in; it looks like rain.”

“Of course, come through to the living room.”

Whitton took out her notebook.

“Could I have your name please?” she asked

“Jane Brown,” the woman replied, “I was the one who found Lauren in her room, I still can’t stop thinking about it.”

“How many of you live here?”

“Now that Laurens gone, it’s just the three of us, me Susan and Pauline.”

“Where are Susan and Pauline now?”

“Pauline is in her room and Susan flew to Tenerife yesterday morning.”

“Tenerife?”

“She said she needed to get away after what happened. She booked online.”

“Could you ask Pauline to come down please,” Whitton said, “I need to talk to both of you.”

While Jane was away, Whitton took a look around the room. On one wall was a large collage of photographs; most of the pictures were of student parties where, it seemed, huge amounts of alcohol were involved. Jane returned with another woman. She was quite plump and she looked very pale.

“My name is DC Whitton,” Whitton introduced herself.

“I’m Pauline Grimes,” the woman said, “we’re still in shock about Lauren.”

“I know it’s hard,” Whitton began, “but I need to ask you a few things about that night. Where were you on Christmas Eve?”

“Me and Jane went out,” Pauline said, “we went to that blues club just off the Foss Road, The Deep Blues Club.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Whitton said, “what time did you get home?”

“About two in the morning. We were planning an early night but they had this guy playing the guitar, he was amazing. Jane fancied the pants off him.”

“I did not,” Jane said.

She was blushing.

“I just liked the way he played, that’s all, it was like he was haunted or something. Anyway, he’s a Policeman.”

“And Susan,” Whitton said, “where was she?”

“Where she is most of the time,” Jane sneered, “with that low life boyfriend of hers.”

“So Lauren was here by herself?” Whitton asked.

“She wasn’t well,” Pauline said, “she said she wasn’t anyway; she still managed to drink two bottles of wine by herself.”

“It was Susan’s wine too,” Jane added.

“Do you still have the empty bottles?” Whitton asked.

“They’re in the bin I think.”

Jane looked confused.

“The rubbish hasn’t been collected yet,” she said, “because of the holidays.”

“Show me,” Whitton ordered.

The two women watched as Whitton donned a pair of strange yellow rubber gloves and rummaged in the dustbin.

“Are these the ones?” Whitton asked.

She held up two bottles. On the labels it read Chateau neuf du Pape.

“That’s them,” Jane said.

“Expensive wine for a student,” Whitton remarked, “in my day we used to drink wine from a box. Do you have a plastic bag?”

Pauline fetched one from the kitchen cupboard and held it open so Whitton could place the bottles inside.

“When is Susan due back from Tenerife?” Whitton asked.

“Two weeks,” Jane replied, “we didn’t even know she was going until that scum bag of hers came to fetch her.”

“So they went together,” Whitton said, “Susan and her boyfriend?”

“Yes,” Pauline said, “I don’t know where they got the money from. Susan was moaning that she wouldn’t be able to afford the rent for January.”

“Maybe her boyfriend paid?” Whitton suggested.

“That layabout. That’s why Susan is always broke, he doesn’t even work, just sits in the pub all day bumming drinks.”

“Do you have a photo of her?” Whitton asked.

“On the photo board,” Jane said, “there’s a couple of her on there.”

She turned round and pointed out a pretty, dark haired girl standing at a bar with a drink in her hand.

“And that’s the scumbag next to her,” she added.

“Do you mind if I borrow this for a while?” Whitton asked.

“Keep it,” Jane replied, “I’m sick of looking at his ugly mug anyway.”

“What’s the boyfriend’s name?”

“Mick something or other.”

“Hogg,” Pauline said, “pretty appropriate if you ask me. Mick Hogg.”

“And Susan, what’s her surname?”

“Jenkins,” Jane replied.

She paused for a second.

“And she has blonde hair now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NINETEEN

 

YORKSHIRE

 

Smith parked his car in the car park of the Danby Moors centre. He had planned on only going as far as Pickering but as the rain came down harder and harder he had just kept on driving. A rare patch of blue sky the size of a football field had appeared to his left so he had driven towards it and ended up in Danby in the northern section of the North York Moors National Park. He had been here once before with his Gran; she had always said that Yorkshire was the most beautiful place on earth and the moors around Danby were some of the bleakest. The car park was empty and the sign told Smith that the Moors Centre was closed. He opened the car door and before he could stop him, Theakston fell out onto the dirt and rolled on his back. Smith laughed, put the puppy on his feet and locked the car door. It was a strange habit he had developed the moment he came to England; nobody ever locked their car doors in Fremantle.

Theakston spotted a magpie on a fence about twenty metres away and set off to give chase. Smith watched as the puppy reached full speed and tried to jump at the indifferent bird. He walked up to the fence where the magpie still stood, climbed over a wooden stile and headed off towards the river. The air felt fresh in his lungs. Theakston quickly caught him up and decided it was time to explore his new surroundings, stopping every minute or two to make sure Smith was still in view. Smith reached the River Esk and sat on a dead tree stump overlooking the river bank. With the river slowly running, he could finally think. He thought about the case. Wendy Willow, dead. Lauren Cowley dead. Penny Willow in a coma. Martin Willow did not do this, he thought. He needed to look more closely at Frank Paxton and Roxy Jones. His cell phone rang in his pocket. He took it out. It was Whitton.

“Tell me you’ve cracked the case and we can all go on holiday,” he said.

“Not quite,” she replied, “but I think I’ve got something. Where are you?”

“I’m sitting on a log next to the River Esk in Danby.”

“In Danby? How did you end up there?”

“Something brought me here. Theakstons loving it. What have you got?”

“The babysitter’s house mate, Susan Jenkins flew off to Tenerife yesterday with her boyfriend.”

“Are you telling me this to make me jealous?” Smith said.

“She was flat broke sir,” Whitton ignored his sarcasm, “I have a photograph of her and her boyfriend. Maybe Dave can identify them. She has blonde hair sir.”

“Good work Whitton,” Smith said, “does this mean you need me back in reality?”

“Sorry sir, shall we meet at the taxi depot in forty five minutes?”

“Give me an hour. These roads are pretty narrow.”

“There’s something else sir,” Whitton added.

“What’s that?” Smith asked.

“You have a bit of a fan club at the Deep Blues Club.”

“I’ll see you in an hour.”

He hung up.

As Smith drove back to York he made a mental to do list. They had overlooked a number of factors that may be important. First they had to find out who was the father of Lauren Cowley’s baby. He remembered the message she had left on Martin Willow’s phone. ‘I’m sure she knows’. Who was she talking about? How did the Benzodiazepine find its way into Lauren Cowley and all of the Willows? There were huge pieces of the puzzle missing.

Whitton was waiting outside the taxi depot as Smith drove up.

“Nice work Whitton,” he said as they walked in together.

“There’s something else sir,” she said, “The baby sitter drank two bottles of expensive wine the night she died. I managed to get my hands on the empty bottles so we can have them tested.”

“Tested for what?” Smith asked.

“The drug we found in hers and the Willow’s systems. If we can find out where the bottles came from we might get closer to catching whoever did this.”

Her green eyes were sparkling.

“Jane Brown, Lauren’s house mate said the wine belonged to Susan Jenkins, the woman who conveniently did a runner yesterday.”

“Go on Whitton,” Smith was intrigued.

“If we can get the taxi driver to identify Susan from the photo, I have another theory I’d like you to consider.”

“What theory?”

“Let’s see what our friend Dave has to say first.”

As luck would have it, Dave was still there when Smith and Whitton entered the staff room.

“Mr Smith,” he said with a grin, “we’re becoming good friends. Twice in one day and you’ve brought a friend this time.”

He beamed at Whitton.

“We’ve come back to test that amazing memory of yours,” Smith said. “The woman and man you took on separate fares on Christmas Eve, do you think you would recognise them?”

“Of course,” Dave replied.

Whitton showed him the photograph of Susan Jenkins and Mick Hogg.

“That’s the man,” Dave said immediately, “and the woman has the same face but her hair was different; it was blonde.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” Smith asked.

“Positive. I could be a police man like you Mr Smith.”

Smith’s heart began to beat faster. They were finally getting somewhere.

“Thank you Dave,” Smith said, “you’ve helped us a lot.”

“Any time Mr Smith,” Dave replied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY

 

BLOOD MONEY

 

“What’s this theory of yours Whitton?” Smith asked as they walked through the Police Station reception.

“I don’t think this Susan woman and her boyfriend have anything to do with the murders,” Whitton replied.

“You reckon? So where does that leave us?”

“Its something one of Susan’s housemates said sir; it got me thinking.”

“I’m all ears Whitton.”

“Susan Jenkins was broke and that boyfriend of hers was even worse off. What if someone paid them just to take a taxi ride in the early hours of the morning?”

“Easy money,” Smith admitted, “but why?”

“To move the suspicion away from Frank and Roxy. They’re involved in this, I know it. Susan Jenkins booked her holiday online. She must have paid for it over the internet.”

“How does that help us?”

“I think you need more sleep Sir, the money I think she received from Frank and Roxy must then have been transferred into her account.”

Smith caught on.

“So all we need to do,” he said, “is check Susan Jenkins’ bank records and then we’ll know for sure.”

“Exactly sir,” Whitton smiled, “it’s just a theory but its worth checking out.”

Smith yawned. “Sorry,” he said, “the search warrant, the wine, the bank records and the doctor who prescribed the Benzodiazepine can wait until tomorrow. Go home Whitton, get some sleep. I think we’re going to need it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY ONE

 

CUCKOO

 

Smith unlocked the door to his house and went inside. He put Theakston down and the puppy headed straight for the litter tray. Smith made a mental note to do some shopping for the puppy when the shops opened again. He suddenly felt faint. He had not eaten anything since the pie at the Hog’s Head. He took a frozen pizza out of the deep freeze and switched on the oven. While the oven was warming up he picked up his guitar, plugged it into the amp and started to play. He played a few blues songs then switched the amp off. I need some new strings, he thought. He had not changed the strings since he bought the guitar ten years ago. He was scared to change them as the sound they made gave character to the guitar. The alarm on the oven announced that the temperature was right to cook the pizza. His cell phone started to ring in harmony with the shrill oven alarm.

“Shit, shit, shit!” he said out loud, “what now?”

He did not recognise the number.

“Smith,” he answered gruffly.

“DS Smith?” a vaguely familiar voice said, “sorry to bother you so late on a Sunday but I thought you would like to know that Martin Willow has come back to the land of the living.”

“Who is this?” Smith asked.

“Its Doctor Simmons,” he replied, “I met you at the hospital. You asked me to let you know when Willow was well enough to talk to.”

Smith looked at his watch. 17.45.

“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said, “Thank you Doctor Simmons.”

“No problem Detective,” Simmons said, “and I’ve advised Miss Lamb to let you see him without any drama this time; she’s still quite disturbed about the last time.”

“I’ll see you in an hour then.” He hung up.

Smith put the pizza back in the freezer and turned off the oven. He switched the kettle on and made some coffee instead. He switched the television on. The weather forecast promised nothing more than rain and the prospect of more rain for the week ahead. He finished the coffee, picked up Theakston and headed out again.

It had stopped raining as he drove to the hospital. There were even a couple of stars in the sky. So much for the weather report, he thought. Theakston assumed his position on the passenger seat. Smith wrapped him in a blanket.

“You stay here boy,” Smith said as he parked the car, “I’ll try to be as quick as possible.”

The woman behind the reception desk smiled falsely as Smith approached.

“Good evening Detective,” she said, “Doctor Simmons is expecting you, his office is just through there on the right.”

She gestured to a long corridor.

“Thank you Miss Lamb,” Smith said with a smile.

The brass plaque on Doctor Simmons’ door was only just big enough to accommodate all of the letters behind his name. Smith knocked on the door.

“Come in Detective,” a voice came from within.

Smith opened the door.

“How did you know it was me?” Smith asked.

Doctor Simmons laughed.

“I told you,” he said, “Miss Lamb guards me very well.”

The room was elaborately decorated. There was a book shelf that took up the whole of one wall from floor to ceiling. On the shelves were various medical journals and reference books but there were also numerous travel volumes. Photographs of exotic golf courses took up much of the other space on the walls. Smith recognised one of them.

“Western Australia,” Doctor Simmons said, noticing Smith’s interest in the particular photograph.

“That’s where I’m off when I’ve hung up my boots here,” he said, “good golf, food and plenty of sunshine. A far cry from the dreary weather and football hooligans we have to deal with here.”

“Can I see Mr Willow now?” Smith came straight to the point.

“Of course. I’ll lead the way.”

In the furthest corner of the hospital was what locals referred to as the ‘cuckoo coop’. The psychiatric wing was the oldest part of the hospital building and the rumours about the place were a feature of many a school yard tale. Even when Smith was in his final year of school the place was the stuff of legends. It was said that a few years earlier a pupil from the same school had taken part in a certain initiation ceremony in a bid to be accepted by the ‘cool’ kids at school. He had been dared to break into the ‘cuckoo coop’ one night and bring back a souvenir of his exploits. The boy managed to get past the minimal security they had in those days but he got more than he bargained for in terms of a souvenir. The story goes that as he was about to leave, one of the mental patients, a giant of a man who was known as TackMan because of his obsession with hammering nails into just about anything, was reading in his room when he heard the boy creep by. He opened the door, dragged the boy inside and before the wardens came to find out what all the screaming was about, TackMan had managed to hammer nearly a hundred nails into the terrified school boy. Nobody was quite sure if the boy died but he never returned to school.

As Smith and Doctor Simmons reached the entrance to the Psych wing, Smith could not believe the security they now had in place. Must be since the TackMan incident, he thought. There were two check points to get through before they were even inside the ward and there were CCTV cameras everywhere. There were more guards than they had in the cells at the Police Station.

“Can’t be too careful,” Simmons said, noting the look on Smith’s face, “Some of the patients in here are a danger, mostly to themselves. It’s for their protection really. Mr Willow is just a bit further up here.”

They walked along a wide corridor. A man was singing in a high falsetto voice about Jesus in one of the locked rooms. They reached another security desk. Smith shook his head in disbelief.

“Martin Willow,” the doctor began, “he’s still the number one suspect in a brutal murder isn’t he?”

“He is,” Smith admitted, “but I have my doubts.”

“Be that as it may, I’ve had my orders; he’s to be kept in here, in the highest security ward. If he was well, he would have been locked up anyway wouldn’t he?”

“I guess you’re right,” Smith conceded.

“This is his room here,” the Doctor said as they reached the end of the corridor.

Martin Willow was sitting up on the bed as Smith and Doctor Simmons entered the room. Apart from the bed, the only other item in the room was a small sink in the corner. Two straps bolted to the floor prevented Willow from leaving the bed.

“Is that really necessary?” Smith pointed to the straps. “It seems a bit barbaric.”

“Detective Smith,” Doctor Simmons said, “unfortunately when a patient such as Mr Willow is brought in, ranting and wild eyed, we need to take the necessary precautions. He was in no fit state to be incarcerated in a prison. He’s a murder suspect. We did what we had to do.”

“Can I talk to him?” Smith asked.

“Be my guest, he’s been evaluated and I can tell you, he’s no more a loony than you or I for what that’s worth. In fact, I believe he’s ready to be discharged. He’s your problem after that.”

“Thank you Doctor. Would you mind organising a chair, I see there’s not much furniture in here.”

“Certainly,” the Doctor said, “I’ll have one brought in; I must get back to the patients who actually need my help.”

Smith believed this to be rather callous but he kept quiet.

“Mr Willow,” he said, “my name is Detective Sergeant Smith, how are you feeling?”

Willow sat up straighter and looked Smith in the eyes. His eyes were not as wild as they had been on Christmas Day; there was merely a blank look of despair in them.

“My head is still floating in a white mist,” Willow said, “I don’t know what they’ve been pumping into me for the last few days but I can’t seem to think straight.”

An orderly arrived and placed a plastic chair on the floor next to the bed.

Smith decided to get to the point.

“Can you remember anything about when you returned from your friends’ house?” he asked.

“Frank and Roxy’s?” Willow said. “That’s the strange thing; I remember everything leading up to arriving home; what we talked about, what we ate everything up to the dessert and the photos Roxy took. After that I can recall nothing, I seem to have lost a whole day. I woke up in this place to be told that I am suspected of killing Wendy and trying to kill Penny.”

Willow’s face distorted in such a way that Smith feared a sobbing fit was on the way but he quickly controlled himself.

“Can you think of anyone who might want to hurt your family Mr Willow?” Smith asked.

“Are you saying you don’t think I did it?” Willow almost smiled.

“It’s my job not to form any opinion until I have the facts,” Smith replied, “But, and don’t repeat this to anyone, no, I don’t think you did this. Unfortunately though, with the evidence we do have, this one is a case of you being guilty until proven innocent.”

“So what you’re saying is I just have to hope you find out who really did this?”

“I’m afraid so,” Smith said, “and that’s why it’s vital you try to remember anything. You said you can remember what you talked about and what you ate. Let’s start with that.”

“With what?”

“What did you eat?”

Willow scratched his head.

“We had some nibbles,” he began, “Prawn crackers, I think.”

“And then?” Smith urged.

“Frank had made a sublime Beef Wellington. There wasn’t much left, even Penny tucked in.”

The tears now came.

“How is Penny?” Willow asked hoarsely, “nobody can tell me a damn thing; I’m not even allowed to bury my own bloody wife.”

“Penny is still in a coma,” Smith said, “I’ll make sure you hear if anything changes but now can we please concentrate on the night of Christmas Eve. After the Beef Wellington.”

“We had a Pavlova.”

“Who made the Pavlova?”

“Roxy bought it,” Willow said, “Wendy still joked about it.”

“What did she joke about?”

“About how delicious it was.”

“Did everyone eat it?”

“I think so.”

Willow thought hard.

“I had some,” he said, “Wendy did, and Penny but she left half of hers, she always does.”

“What about Frank and Roxy?”

“I don’t know, I can’t remember. Why all these questions about a bloody Pavlova?”

Smith used this as an excuse to take a break.

“Mr Willow,” he said, “I know this is unpleasant. Let’s have a rest for a few minutes; I need to make a quick phone call. He left the room, took out his phone and dialled Frank Paxton’s number.

“Paxton,” an irritated voice answered.

“Mr Paxton,” Smith said, “sorry to bother you but I just need to ask you something about what you ate on Christmas Eve.”

“Nothing surprises me anymore about you,” Paxton joked, “Shoot.”

“After your Beef Wellington you had a Pavlova,”

“That’s right.”

“Did everyone eat it?”

“I think so. I didn’t but I don’t like desserts. Martin, Roxy, little Penny, they all had some. Hold on.”

“What is it Mr Paxton.”

“Its Roxy, she didn’t eat any.”

“Is that strange?”

“She normally scoffs down more than anybody but she said she was full that evening. Is this relevant?”

“I don’t know yet,” Smith said, “thank you Mr Paxton, we’ll be in touch.”

He rang off and dialled another number.

“Whitton,” he said, “you’re not asleep yet are you?”

“Not yet sir,” she laughed.

“Whitton, when we get a warrant to search Frank Paxton’s place tomorrow, remind me about a Pavlova will you?”

“I won’t ask sir,” Whitton said, “ok, I’ll remind you about a Pavlova.”

“Thanks Whitton. Get some sleep.”

He hung up.

As Smith was about to return to Willow’s room, he felt an arm on his shoulder. “Detective,” it was Doctor Simmons, “we’re discharging Willow tomorrow morning, he’ll be your problem from then on.”

“You’re being discharged tomorrow,” Smith said as he sat back on the chair next to the bed, “after that I’m afraid we’re going to have to arrest you.”

“What will happen then?” Willow asked.

“If I were you, I’d get myself a damn good lawyer. You’re going to be locked up though until this thing goes to trial. If you remember anything at all, give me a call, any time.” He handed Willow his card and got up to leave.

“Thank you Detective,” Willow added as Smith opened the door.

“For what?” Smith asked.

“For being half decent about all of this, it’s quite refreshing.”

“Good evening Mr Willow.”

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY TWO

 

Monday 28 December 2008

 

BIN DIVING

 

“Where’s Thompson?” Smith asked DI Chalmers as the team gathered in the small conference room of the Police Station. The three Detective Constables, Whitton, Palmer and Bridge were already seated.

“Glory hunting,” Chalmers replied gruffly, “he thinks he’s singlehandedly caught a mass murderer. He’s at the hospital arresting this Willow bloke.”

“You’re bloody kidding me?” Smith said.

“You’re bloody kidding me sir, if you don’t mind. Anyway, someone had to do it. What’s your problem?”

“Sorry sir, you’re right.” Smith needed the DI on his side. “I need a search warrant for Frank Paxton’s house.” he added.

“What the hell for?” Chalmers barked.

“Can I have a word in private sir?”

“You’ve got two minutes.”

They left the conference room and Chalmers beckoned Smith to follow him outside.

“So why the secrecy?” Chalmers asked Smith outside.

He took out a packet of cigarettes and offered one to Smith.

“No thanks,” Smith said, “I thought you’d given up?”

Chalmers lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and coughed.

“That’s better,” he said, “I did give up but I think better with a bit of nicotine running round my veins. I always seem to start up again when we land a tricky case. What’s on your mind Smith?”

“I found some medicine in the cabinet in Frank Paxton’s bathroom,” Smith said.

Chalmers spat the cigarette out.

“You did what?” he boomed as he bent down to pick up the cigarette.

“I searched his bathroom. I had a suspicion I’d find something.”

“You idiot. Any half-cut lawyer would have you on that one. What were you thinking of?”

“That’s why I’m talking to you, Paxton doesn’t know I did it. If I get the warrant I can search it again legally.”

“We still don’t have grounds to search the place.”

“The Willows all had the same drug in their systems that I found in that cabinet, including Martin.”

Smith emphasised the word Martin.

“All three of them ate Pavlova that night; I’m sure that’s where the drug was placed. Besides sir, isn’t your brother in law some big shot judge? Ask him for a favour.”

“I don’t need any favours from that prick,” Chalmers said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

He flicked his cigarette under a nearby car.

“We’d better get back in,” he ordered, “people are going to start talking.”

“Listen up,” Smith shouted as he and Chalmers walked back into the conference room, “this is what we have. As you know, Martin Willow is being arrested as we speak. I have spoken to Willow and unfortunately this case is far from over. Martin Willow is no murderer.”

“But Thompson is certain,” Bridge said, “and he’s been on the force a lot longer than you.”

“Bridge,” Smith glared at the DC, “let me finish and when I was a DC, I addressed anyone with a higher rank than me as sir. Have you got that?”

“Sorry sir,” Bridge said.

“Where was I? Whitton, you’re coming with me. The DI is trying to see if he can get us a warrant to search Paxton’s place. Bridge, what do you know about Internet Banking?”

“It’s the only way to bank sir,” Bridge replied.

“Good, I want you to find out if someone has deposited money into Susan Jenkins’ bank account recently.”

“What bank is she with?” Bridge asked and regretted it immediately.

“Find out,” Smith barked.

Chalmers entered the room again; he looked very angry.

“You’ve got your warrant Smith,” he said, “but this had better produce something or my balls are on the block.”

“Thanks sir,” Smith said, “your balls are safe. Come on Whitton, we’ve got a lot to do.”

DS Thompson swaggered in with a smug look on his face.

“Late again Thompson?” Smith said

“I’ve been busy arresting a murderer,” Thompson said, “Maybe a double murderer. I’m sure the Super will want to see me at once.”

“Sorry to burst your little bubble,” Chalmers said, “but we’re still far from clearing up these murders and the Super only likes to see people who can make his precious crime statistics look good for the Chief Constable. I’m sure Smith has got something to keep you amused with.”

“Premature again Thompson?” Smith joked.

“You can get pills for that these days,” Whitton added.

Thompson glared at her.

“I want you to find Susan Jenkins and her boyfriend, Mick Hogg,” Smith continued, “they left the country the day after the murders. They went to Tenerife.”

“You want me to go to Tenerife?” Thompson seemed excited.

“Find out where they are staying you moron,” Smith was becoming irritated, “make them understand that it is in their very best interests to get on the first flight back here. Understood?”

“Can I say something sir?” Bridge said meekly.

“Make it quick Bridge.”

“I know a fair bit about computers, misspent youth or something. If we can get hold of this Susan Jenkins’ computer, I reckon I can get into her history and find out exactly where they are. I can also look for other correspondence to implicate her.”

“Good,” Smith said, “now you sound like a detective. Take Palmer with you, his pretty boy looks can distract the two young women in the house while you hack into the computer.”

DC Palmer beamed.

“What about me?” Thompson said.

“You’re our hero,” Smith said, “and seeing as though Bridge can find Susan Jenkins and her boyfriend without you, you can babysit the murderer you’ve just arrested. Maybe you’ll get a full confession out of him.”

Thompson was furious. He approached Chalmers.

“Can I have a word sir?” he said, “I’m not happy at all about the way Smith talks to me.”

“Not now,” Chalmers said, “grow a pair of testicles, we have work to do.”

 

“Detective,” Frank Paxton said warmly as he answered the door, “come in. It’s nice to see you again. Any news on the case?”

“We’re getting closer, I think,” Smith said, “but I’m afraid we’re going to have to search your house.” He closed the door behind them

Frank Paxton’s demeanour changed at once.

“What the hell are you talking about?” he said, “Why do you need to search my house? You don’t think I have anything to do with this do you?”

“I don’t know yet,” Smith said, “Whitton, let’s start upstairs.”

“I assume you have a warrant?” Paxton seemed anxious.

“Whitton,” Smith said.

Whitton produced the search warrant and handed it to Paxton. He gave it a cursory glance and handed it back.

“Would you come with us please?” Whitton asked, “We don’t want to be accused of anything untoward.”

“If you insist,” Paxton replied, “I’ve got nothing to hide anyway.”

“Where’s your wife?” Smith asked in the bathroom.

“Roxy’s not my wife,” Paxton said bluntly, “she’s away.”

“She has this convenient habit of never being here when we need to talk to her,” Smith said.

“She’s away on business, she goes away quite often.”

“What does she do?” Whitton asked.

“Computers,” Paxton said, “She sets up systems for huge multi-nationals. She travels all over the world.”

Smith had put on a pair of rubber gloves and was trying to open the bathroom cabinet it was locked.

“Where is she now?” he asked.

“North Africa somewhere,” Paxton replies, “Morocco or somewhere like that; I don’t really have much interest in what she does, computers bore the hell out of me to be honest.”

“Do you have a key for this thing?” Smith pointed to the cabinet.

Paxton seemed surprised.

“I didn’t know it had a lock,” he said.

Whitton eyed him suspiciously.

“You’ve never locked it before?” she said.

“Why should we,” Paxton replied, “we don’t have any kids and I don’t think there’s anything other than over the counter stuff in there anyway.”

“Do you have a flat screwdriver?” Smith asked.

“Are you going to break it open?”

“Unless you find a key.”

“I’ll get you a screwdriver. Roxy is going to kill me.”

“This thing wasn’t locked two days ago,” Smith said to Whitton as Paxton went downstairs to look for a screwdriver, “Someone must have locked it since then.”

Paxton returned with a screwdriver, a solid heavy duty one.

“Please try not to make too much of a mess of it,” Paxton said.

He handed the screwdriver to Smith.

Smith inserted the screwdriver in between the doors of the cabinet just above the lock, tapped it in further with the back of his hand and pulled the handle to one side. There was a slight crunch and the lock gave without too much resistance. The doors swung open.

“There you are Mr Paxton,” Smith handed him the screwdriver, “not too much damage, Roxy won’t even notice.”

“She notices everything,” Paxton said, “what are you looking for here anyway?”

“Just a routine check,” Smith lied, “you’d be surprised how many people hide things in their bathrooms.”

Smith pretended to casually check the pill boxes but when he realised Paxton was not watching anymore he looked to the back of the cabinet where he had found the Benzodiazepine two days ago. He checked again. His heart sank. The drugs were gone.

“Ok Whitton,” he said, “nothing here, let’s check downstairs.”

Whitton was confused. Smith took her to one side.

“They’re gone,” he said, “Someone must have taken them out.”

“What about the Pavlova?” Whitton suddenly remembered.

“Thanks Whitton,” Smith smiled, “that might give us something at least.”

“Would you two like something to drink?” Paxton asked as they walked downstairs.

“Coffee would be nice,” Smith replied, “what day do they collect the rubbish around here?”

“Tuesdays and Fridays,” Paxton said.

“Whitton,” Smith smiled, “put these on.”

He handed her a fresh pair of gloves.

“Thanks a lot sir,” Whitton sighed, “where are your bins Mr Paxton?”

“There are two wheelie bins in the yard,” Paxton replied, “We keep them in there until collection day. What are you looking for now?”

“DC Whitton is a bit of a bin diver,” Smith joked.

“Be my guest,” Paxton said and went to make the coffee.

Outside in the yard, Whitton carefully turned over one of the wheelie bins and emptied the contents piece by piece. She removed empty whisky bottles, wine bottles and beer cans.

“This is exactly why I joined the force,” she said to Smith, “to rummage through the garbage of alcoholics none too bloody anonymous. There’s nothing here sir.”

“Try the other one,” Smith said, “I’ll fill this one up again. Don’t ever say I’m opposed to getting my hands dirty.”

Whitton repeated the procedure with the second bin. It was not as full as the first. She removed more empty bottles, a bag full of newspapers and then, right at the bottom was a white cardboard box. It had been crumpled under the weight of the other rubbish. She took it out and placed it on the floor. There was a Marks and Spencer label on the front. Carefully, she opened the lid of the box. Inside was an almost perfect quarter of a Pavlova.

“Bingo,” she exclaimed, “We’ve found our Pavlova.”

Smith handed her one of the larger evidence bags and she closed the lid of the box and placed the whole thing inside.

“You smell like a brewery Whitton,” Smith observed as they drank their coffee at Paxton’s dinner table.

“Thanks,” Whitton smiled, “those bins were brimming with Christmas spirit.”

Paxton laughed.

“You’re right of course,” he said, “we all tend to overdo it at this time of year. Did you find anything?”

He did not seem the least bit concerned.

“We don’t know yet,” Smith said, “when is Roxy due back?”

“In three days,” Paxton replied, “just in time for New Year. Will there be anything else?”

“Not for the moment,” Smith replied, “We’ll let you know if anything comes up.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY THREE

 

HACKERS

 

“Where’s this place again?” Bridge asked DC Palmer as he turned the ignition.

“Hull Road,” Palmer replied, “Number seven, I was there the day the girl was found dead. Damn shame, she was definitely the prettiest of the lot of them living there.”

“You’re still single aren’t you?” Bridge asked.

“For now, yes,” Bridge said, “but I have my eye on someone.”

“Number seven you said. This is the place here.”

Bridge stopped the car outside the house.

“Before we go in, “Bridge began, “this is the plan. You just flutter your eyelids at the women in there; get them in conversation about something while I try and hack into this Susan Jenkins’ computer.”

“Isn’t that a bit on the illegal side?” Palmer asked.

“Just a bit,” Bridge replied, “but I’m bloody good, nobody will even know I’ve been there.”

He knocked on the door.

Jane Brown answered almost immediately.

“Good Day Miss,” Palmer smiled his famous winning Smile. “Police,” he said, “may we come in? We need to ask you a few more questions.”

The smile did not work; Jane Brown eyed both Palmer and Bridge with suspicion.

“We’ve already answered a million questions,” she said. “We just want to try to forget about the whole thing.”

“I know Miss,” Bridge said, “I understand this is extremely hard but we think we may be on to something and it won’t take long.”

“You’d better come in then.” Jane Brown conceded.

“DC Bridge here would like to have a look at Susan Jenkins’ room if that’s ok,” Palmer said.

“Susan?” Jane Brown looked confused, “do you think she had something to do with this?”

“Not at all,” Bridge said, “I just need to check a few things on her computer, there may be some information on there that can help. Would you mind showing us her room?”

“It’s upstairs. The only room on the right hand side, her name’s on the door. It’ll be locked but I’ll get you a spare key.”

Susan Jenkins’ room was immaculate. The bed was made in military fashion. Bridge was almost tempted to bounce a coin on it. There was a small bookshelf against one of the walls; the books were arranged in alphabetical order. Most of the volumes were medical but there was a whole row at the bottom of the shelf dedicated to what looked like the complete works of Jack Kerouac.

“Odd collection of books,” Bridge noted. “What is Susan studying?” he asked, “medicine by the look of it.”

“Pharmacy,” Jane Brown corrected him, “she has that kind of brain, no common sense though and even worse taste in men.”

“You can leave us to it,” Palmer smiled again. This time Jane Brown responded with a shy grin.

“Ok,” she said, “let me know when you’re finished so I can lock her room again.”

Bridge sat on the desk and turned the computer on.

“So far so good,” he said, “no password needed.”

He tapped away on a few keys.

“I’m just going through her browsing history. Here we go Wilson’s travel. Late deal for two weeks in Tenerife. Total six hundred and ninety pounds. Payment method, electric funds transfer. An e mail was sent to confirm booking and provide banking details. Let’s check her e mails.”

Bridge opened up the e mail program

“Here it is,” he said, “and here’s one from the bank verifying the internet banking transaction, Halifax, same bank as me. This part is going to be a bit harder.”

“What are you going to do now?” Palmer asked, “My ten year old sister knows more about computers than me.”

“I’m going to try and get into her internet banking account,” Bridge said, “very serious fraud.”

He opened up the Halifax web site and was prompted to enter the user name and password. He thought of his own user name for the same site

“Susan Jenkins,” he said, “SJenkins01.”

He typed it in.

“Now for the password.”

“What’s her password?” Palmer asked.

“Let me think.” Bridge looked around the room. His eyes fell on the book shelf against the wall.

“Worth a try,” he said. Palmer looked at him in bewilderment.

Bridge typed in ‘Kerouac’ and was about to press the Enter key when he realised the password had to be at least eight characters long. He added a ‘1’ to the end, took a deep breath and pressed Enter. He closed his eyes. After what seemed like an eternity he opened them again and looked at the computer screen. At the top of the screen it read, ‘you are logged in as Susan Jenkins’.

“I’m in!” he exclaimed, “I’m bloody well in.”

Bridge quickly selected the ‘accounts’ icon and clicked on ‘transaction history’

“There’s the payment to the travel agent,” he said, “and here, on the 23rd of December, there’s a sum of one thousand five hundred pounds paid into her account. Have you got your notebook there?” he asked Palmer.

“Of course,” Palmer replied.

“Write this down. Reference number MW001.”

He clicked on the ‘detailed transaction’ icon and read out the account number where the money had come from. They heard a noise from downstairs, Jane Brown was coming up the stairs. Bridge quickly logged off, closed the internet banking window and opened up the e mail program. An e mail immediately came through informing Susan Jenkins that she had logged on to her internet banking. Bridge deleted it, opened the deleted items page and deleted it again, this time permanently. He stood up from the desk just as Jane Brown entered the room.

“Thank you Miss,” he said, “we’re just about done here.”

“Did you find anything useful?” she asked.

“Not really, mostly junk e mails and spam.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY FOUR

 

BARE FACTS

 

“Bingo!” the Ghoul cried out so loud that Whitton flinched, “what we have here is what us wretched bastards in the medical profession call a direct frigging hit, a bloody bulls-eye if you want.”

He stood up and did a version of a victory dance that would embarrass any teenager.

“And the bottles of wine?” Whitton asked.

“Are you not listening?” he said, “I said Bulls-eye, the Pavlova and the wine have traces of the same drug in them.”

“The same drug found in the babysitter and the Willows?” Smith added.

“You’re usually much sharper than this my friend,” the Ghoul said, “Must I draw you a frigging picture?”

“Sorry,” Smith said, “its just that we’ve been banging our heads against so many brick walls that we need to be one hundred per cent sure.”

“I assume you want a report?” the Ghoul asked.

“Please,” Smith replied, “but do me a favour, keep it simple. We need bare facts if you know what I mean.”

The Ghoul shook his head.

“How boring,” he said, “Did Coleridge keep it simple? Sailor bags a frigging great sea bird, the end. Did Shakespeare keep it simple? Moody bloody Dane, shit friends…”

“Please,” Smith interrupted him, “remember the Marshall murder? You confused the hell out of everyone with a twenty page report about a meat cleaver.”

“That was a work of art,” the Ghoul insisted, “but if you insist, I’ll stick to the facts.”

“Thank you,” Smith said “and I need your help with something else, off the record.”

“I like the sound of this one.” The Ghoul licked his lips.

“I want you to have a look at these.” Smith took out his phone and brought up the photographs he had taken of the drugs in Frank Paxton’s bathroom cabinet.

The Ghoul took the phone, pressed a few keys, gave the phone back and sat back down in front of the computer. Smith looked confused.

“That’s better,” the Ghoul said as he opened up his e mails. The photographs appeared on his computer screen.

“Benzodiazepine,” he said, “no doubt. This is the same drug we found in the Pavlova and the wine. The label has been torn at the top though. Let me see if I can zoom in a bit.”

He made a few clicks with the mouse and the writing at the top became larger

“Oh dear,” he said, “Oh deary frigging me.”

“What’s wrong?” Smith asked.

“These pills were prescribed by Beelzebub himself. Doctor Peter Carroll.”

“What does that mean?” Whitton asked.

“Peter Carroll is what’s known in medical circles as, how can I put this, a first class wanker, if you’ll pardon my Swahili Miss Whitton. You said this is off the record?”

“I’m afraid so,” Smith said, “I found these pills without a warrant and when I went back with one they were gone.”

The ghoul looked at the photographs again.

“They were prescribed on the twenty third of December,” He said, “and see those numbers on the side. This is not a repeat prescription. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that whoever these drugs belong to got them for the sole purpose of rendering someone incapacitated.”

“Can you see who they were prescribed to?” Whitton asked.

“The name has been almost scratched out,” the Ghoul said, “but I can make out a couple of the letters. R, N, E and S.”

“Roxanne Jones,” Smith exclaimed.

“You’ve suddenly woken up,” the Ghoul joked, “I assume she’s the one you’ve been looking at?”

“She is. There’s just one thing I don’t understand, why would someone be prescribed these pills?”

“Sleeping pills,” the Ghoul replied, “real kick arse ones but if taken properly all you’ll get is a good nights sleep.”

“You say this Doctor Carroll is a bit of a bastard?” Smith asked.

“Biggest bastard in the profession. He has this fancy practice by the river, you need to be stinking rich for him to even consider taking you on.”

“And I suppose he also has an equally fancy legal team behind him?” Whitton added.

The Ghoul smiled. His perfect teeth gleamed.

“You’re good Constable,” he said, “you won’t get anywhere near him.”

Smith’s phone started to ring. It was Thompson. Smith sighed

“What do you want Thompson,” he said, “We’re busy.”

“Smith,” Thompson said smugly, “it looks like I was right, you owe me a few beers.”

“What are you talking about Thompson?” Smith said, “Spit it out.”

“Bridge got into Susan Jenkins computer banking. There was a deposit of fifteen hundred pounds paid into her account on the twenty third of December.”

“Go on Thompson.”

“We’re at the bank now. It took a bit of persuading; these banks are a bit reluctant to give out details of bank accounts but guess where the money came from?”

“The suspense is killing me,” Smith said.

“Give me a drum roll,” Thompson began, “Fifteen hundred quid paid to Susan Jenkins from the account of……. Martin Willow. I’ll see you back at the station.”

He rang off.

“Shit,” Smith said.

“Problem?” the Ghoul asked.

“We’re back to square one.”

“Can I give you a piece of advice?” the Ghoul said.

“I’m sure you’re going to anyway.”

“You are concentrating all of your energy on the flotsam and jetsam of this frigging shipwreck.”

“In plain English?” Smith said.

“I think I know what he means,” Whitton said, “he thinks we’re spending too much time going through the wreckage.”

“Very good,” the Ghoul was beaming. “You even elaborated on my simple metaphor. I’m impressed.”

“I’ll try to keep up,” Smith added.

“Go back to the very beginning,” the Ghoul suggested, “how did all of this shit start?”

“The babysitter,” Smith said.

“And?”

“The brutal attacks on Wendy and Penny Willow.”

“What do we know about the babysitter?”

“Shit,” Smith said, “the babysitter was pregnant. I’m sure the two murders are connected. We need to find the father of the baby.”

“Good man,” the Ghoul said, “you already know the how and the when but you’re missing the deciding factor.”

“The why,” Whitton added.

“Exactly. Find out why and you’ll be much closer to the whom. Do you like cryptic crosswords Miss Whitton?”

“Love them,” she replied.

“Thought so. Don’t you find that after the first clue is solved and put on the grid, the rest get progressively easier?”

“You’re right,” she exclaimed, “and what we need to do now is get the DNA of every male in this puzzle; Martin Willow, Frank Paxton and Mick…”

“Hogg,” Smith said.

“And now,” the Ghoul said, “now that I’ve given you a nudge in the right direction, would you kindly piss off and let me get back to the fruitful world of stocks and shares. You’ll have your simple report in the morning.”

He emphasised the word, “simple”.

 

TWENTY FIVE

 

TENERIFE

 

“That’s quite a brain he has sir,” Whitton said as they were driving back to the station.

“One in a million,” Smith added.

“I’ve thought of something else too.”

“What’s that Whitton?”

“Something Frank Paxton said about his wife being away on business.”

“Girlfriend Whitton, Roxy is not his wife.”

“Anyway sir, Roxy Jones is in Morocco and what is just a stones throw across the Atlantic from Morocco?”

“Australians are as bad as Yanks when it comes to Geography Whitton. Where are you going with this?”

“Tenerife sir. Tenerife is just across the water from Morocco. That’s quite a coincidence if you ask me. It seems strange that’s all.”

“But we now know that the money came from Martin Willow. Maybe I was wrong about him after all.”

“But the drugs belonged to Roxy Jones and the wine that Lauren Cowley drank was Susan Jenkins’”

“What’s Tenerife like at this time of the year?” Smith asked.

“Warmer than York sir,” Whitton replied, “much warmer.”

 

TWENTY SIX

 

SUNSHINE

 

Tuesday 29 December 2008 Santa Cruz, Tenerife

 

The three star Casablanca Hotel stood on a hill in the tourist town of Santa Cruz. From room 262, if you looked between two other similar hotels, you could just make out the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. Susan Jenkins lay on the bed reading a magazine article about twins who claimed they could read one another’s thoughts. The telephone on the table by the bed rang. Susan hesitated but on the fourth or fifth ring, she gingerly picked up the receiver.

“Hello,” she said nervously. She was still scared to death that the police might find out what she and Mick had done in York.

“Miss Jenkins,” a woman’s voice with a broad Spanish accent said, “this is the reception. There is someone down here looking for you.”

Susan’s heart stopped beating for a few seconds.

“Who is it?” she asked finally. “I don’t know anybody in Tenerife. Did they say who it was?”

“No. She just said it was important that she sees you.”

“She?” Susan asked.

“Yes, she. It’s a woman, she looks about forty.”

“Ok,” Susan said, “Tell her I’ll be there in a minute.” She put down the phone.

Roxy Jones was sitting in the bar next to reception, drinking a glass of wine when Susan arrived. Susan sat down opposite her.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Susan snapped, “We did everything you wanted; I thought the plan was to lay low for a while until the suspicion falls away from us.”

“Relax Susan,” Roxy said calmly, “do you want a drink?”

“No thanks. What do you want?”

“Nobody knows I’m here dear, I’m supposed to be in Morocco on business. I paid a guy to fly me here this morning. Dreadful flight, those small aeroplanes are so uncomfortable.”

“What do you want?” Susan repeated.

“Where’s Mick?”

“Where he’s been since we arrived here, drinking bloody San Miguel and watching Spanish football.”

“We have a slight problem,” Roxy took a large sip of her wine.

“What sort of problem?” Susan fidgeted nervously with the rings in her ear.

“A problem by the name of Jason Smith. He’s a police detective and he’s getting close to figuring out what we did.”

“What we did,” Susan emphasised the word we, “I didn’t do anything.”

“You gave Lauren the wine; you knew I’d drugged it.”

“I didn’t know it would kill her.”

“It doesn’t matter. That Smith guy found the drugs in our bathroom cabinet. I could tell, he put them back in the wrong place. Men are useless.”

“So he didn’t take them?”

“I assume he didn’t have a warrant but he came back with one, I spoke to Frank. The bloody prick broke the lock off.”

“So he has the drugs?”

“I told you not to worry, I threw the bloody things away after I realised this Smith character was on to something.”

“If he hasn’t got any evidence then what are you worrying about. I will have that drink now if it’s ok with you.”

Roxy ordered two glasses of wine from the surly waiter sitting at the bar.

“He knows, Susan,” Roxy said, “that pig knows and he’s only going to keep digging until he finds out everything.”

“What’s he going to find?” Susan took a sip of the wine.

“Oh Shit,” she said, “They can check my bank records can’t they? They can see that you paid money into my account.”

Roxy Jones smiled.

“We don’t have to worry about that,” she said, “what do you think I do for a living? I set up systems for huge corporations, getting into Martin Willows internet banking was child’s play.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The money you were paid came from Martin Willow according to anything they’ll find on the system. To the cops it’ll look just like a case of good old blackmail.”

“But why would I be blackmailing Martin Willow?”

“Use your head Susan. College Professor knocks up one of his students, house mate finds out. Perfect.”

“You’re forgetting one thing thought aren’t you?”

“What?”

“We both know that Martin Willow was not the father of Lauren’s child don’t we?”

Roxy’s face reddened.

“Let’s just keep to this version of events,” she barked, “for all our sakes. Martin Willow gets one of his students pregnant and you were blackmailing him. He’s not exactly in any position to defend himself now is he? It looks like he’s already going down for the murder of his wife.”

“I’m scared,” Susan said, “What if they find out?”

“They won’t if we stick to the story ok?” Roxy insisted.

Susan looked at her watch.

“Where’s that boyfriend of mine?” she said, “He was supposed to be back over an hour ago.”

“I’d better go anyway,” Roxy said, “I’m flying back to Morocco this evening. I’m not looking forward to it. Remember what I said ok? I don’t see any reason why we need to speak again.”

 

Mick Hogg was slumped in the chair in the Los Paradiso Sports Bar. He had just finished his seventh beer.

“Can I buy you another one handsome?” Roxy Jones asked.

“I wouldn’t say no,” he slurred, “what are you doing here anyway?”

“Two beers,” she said to the waiter, “I’ve come to tie up a few loose ends.”

“What loose ends,” Mick asked, “I thought everything was fine, we just need to hide out here for a couple of weeks and everything will be cool when we get back.”

“It was perfect until Martin Willow went and killed his wife; now the cops are digging into everything. They know Lauren’s death wasn’t a suicide.”

“How,” Mick said, “I did everything you said, I waited until she had finished the wine and then smothered her with a pillow. She didn’t even struggle; she was so out of it. I even put the note on the pillow afterwards like you said.”

The waiter arrived with the beers.

“You were paid very well to do what I said,” Roxy said, “you should really be getting back to Susan, she’s waiting for you.”

“She can wait,” Mick grunted, “I’m getting tired of her anyway, she’s always moaning.”

“She’s getting nervous Mick,” Roxy said.

“I know,” he added.

“I’m worried that when you get back, she’s going to completely flip and go to the police or something. I’ve seen it in her face. She’s going to take us down with her.”

“I’m worried too, but what can we do about it?”

Roxy Jones unzipped her handbag and took out the bag of pills. She handed them to Mick. He looked at them and shook his head.

“I can’t,” he said, “She’s my girlfriend.”

“Do you think she’ll visit you in jail?” Roxy said sternly.

“She won’t talk; she’ll go to jail too.”

“They’ll get her to make a deal, I’ve seen it happen before and besides, I have this for you.”

She took out an envelope and placed it on the table. Mick opened it and carefully counted the money inside. There was more than three thousand pounds. Roxy took the pills and placed them in the envelope with the money.

“This is a lot of money Mick,” she said and placed her hand over his. “It’s all yours. As long as you do one more thing and say nothing of this ever again.”

Mick looked at the envelope then at Roxy. He finished the bottle of beer and stood up. He picked up the envelope.

“Deal,” he said and staggered out of the bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY SEVEN

 

FIRST FIGHT

 

Thursday 31 December 2008

 

“Almost the end of another year Whitton,” Smith said, “any plans for tonight?”

“Not yet sir,” she replied, “what about you?”

“Anywhere far away from this place. I worked Christmas so some other sucker can deal with the drunks and hooligans tonight. I need a day or two away from the case. To clear my head. I think I’ll see the New Year in at the Deep Blues Club, I may even get up and play for a bit if I’m in the mood.”

“Do you mind if I join you?” Whitton asked.

“What, like a date?”

“No,” Whitton blushed, “it would be nice to hear you play that’s all. How’s Theakston?”

“Full time resident at the Hog’s Head at the moment. Marge doesn’t mind though, she says it’s a bit of company for her. I was thinking of having a few beers there first tonight; the Deep Blues Club doesn’t really get going until after ten.”

“I’ll meet you there at around eight then,” Whitton suggested.

“It’s a date,” Smith joked, “or not.”

“Anything new on the horizon?” DI Chalmers poked his head round the door.

“Nothing as yet sir,” Smith said, “We’re waiting for some DNA results. We need to find out who was the father of Lauren Cowley’s baby.”

“Who’s in the running?”

“Martin Willow of course, Frank Paxton and Susan Jenkins’ boyfriend, Mick Hogg.”

“Odds on favourite?”

“Martin Willow I suppose, we’ll have to wait and see.”

“I believe your evidence did a runner,” Chalmers said with a wry smile.

“Sir?” Smith asked.

“The drugs,” Chalmers added, “I believe they had disappeared when you returned with the warrant.”

“How did you know sir?” Smith looked at Whitton.

“Don’t worry Smith, Whitton didn’t say a word, I play poker with Paul on Wednesday nights.”

“Paul?” Smith was confused.

“I think you know him as the Ghoul. Real bugger to play poker against. He brought me up to scratch and he speaks very highly of you Whitton. Paul’s very rarely impressed with anyone.”

Smith looked at his watch.

“That’s enough for today,” he said, “See you next year Sir.”

“All the best Smith,” Chalmers said, “you too Whitton.”

“Sorry Whitton,” Smith said when Chalmers had left.

“So you bloody should be,” she glared at him, “I’ve got your back.”

“Our first fight,” Smith smiled at her.

She reluctantly smiled back.

“See you at eight,” she said.

TWENTY EIGHT

 

UNFAITHFUL

 

“Do you want another glass of wine?” Frank Paxton asked.

“Go on then,” Roxy Jones replied, “I’ll be asleep before the clock strikes twelve though.”

“How was Morocco or wherever it was you went?”

“Same old shit. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world; a computer screen is a computer screen. Did I miss much while I was away?”

“Apart from the police paying me regular visits, not much. Oh, and I went to see Martin.”

Roxy looked furious.

“What the hell did you do that for?” she screamed, “he’s a bloody murderer.”

“He’s my friend. He’s our friend and he still can’t remember anything about that night.”

“What did the police want, apart from breaking our bathroom cabinet?”

“That’s the strangest thing,” Frank said, “They searched our bins and took away what was left of the Pavlova we had.”

Roxy finished her glass of wine in one go.

“They did what?” she exclaimed.

“They seemed very interested in the Pavlova.”

“Shit, I laced it.”

“You did what?”

“When I saw they’d brought Penny, I crushed some of my sleeping tablets into the cream inside.”

“What the hell did you do that for?”

“To get them to leave early, I obviously didn’t put enough in. What if they find it?”

“They will find it; I can’t believe you could be so stupid.”

“I’m not the one who’s made friends with most of the bloody York police department.”

“You’ll have to tell them what you did.”

“Oh that’ll sound just perfect won’t it? I’m sorry officers but I accidentally drugged three people who just happened to end up in a vicious attack later.”

“They will find traces of the drug,” Paxton insisted, “they’re not stupid. It’ll be better for you if you approach them first; you need to put yourself in the clear. I gave them a DNA sample yesterday too.”

“This just gets better and better, what did you do that for?”

“I’m not sure. I think they need it to rule me out of any involvement.”

“You idiot, I think you’ve just ruled yourself very much in.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“The babysitter who died.”

“Lauren something or other?”

“She was pregnant.”

It was now Frank Paxton’s turn to finish the rest of his wine.

“Oh my god,” he said, “they think I’m the father of the baby.”

“You are the bloody father,” Roxy poured more wine, “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“How long have you known?” Frank asked.

“I saw you,” Roxy began, “If you’re going to conduct a proper affair, at least have the brains to be discreet about it. I saw you with her in the town centre.”

“Oh Jesus,” Frank said and topped up his own wine.

“I spoke to one of her friends,” Roxy said, “and she confirmed what I thought. How long had you been sleeping with her?”

“Only once or twice,” Frank replied, “I realised that being unfaithful was not for me. I’d actually ended it. What are we going to do?”

“We’re not going to do anything, the police are going to find out that this woman was carrying your baby, I’m going to play the part of the wronged girlfriend and we’re going to wait it out.”

“What about the evidence?”

“What evidence? Just because you couldn’t keep your dick in your pants it doesn’t make you a murderer and lacing a bloody Pavlova with sleeping pills doesn’t make me one either. Now pour me some more wine. This is going to be a bloody marvellous New Year.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY NINE

 

2009

 

The Hog’s Head was busy. Marge had hired two extra bar staff for the night. Whitton was already sitting at the bar when Smith walked in at fifteen minutes past eight.

“Am I late?” he asked her.

“Only just,” she smiled, “I’ve got you a drink.”

“I’m supposed to buy the drinks aren’t I?”

“Good old Australian chauvinism?”

“We call it chivalry,” he said, “thanks anyway. Have you seen Theakston?”

“He’s upstairs asleep; Marge said he’s better off up there away from the crowds.”

“I’ll just go and check on him anyway. Keep my seat will you.”

“Ok. Unless someone much better looking comes along.”

Theakston was curled up on a blanket next to the radiator in the kitchen. Smith stroked his belly. The puppy smiled and stretched out but did not wake up.

“I’ve got the day off tomorrow boy,” he said softly, “we’ll do something fun.” He left the puppy to his dreams.

“Are you going to play tonight?” Whitton asked as Smith sat down.

“I think so,” he replied, “I dropped my guitar off at the club earlier. I know the owner, it’ll be quite safe. He’s expecting quite a crowd tonight. You look very nice Whitton by the way.”

Whitton was wearing make up for a change and her hair was not tied up in its usual pony tail.

“Thanks.” Whitton blushed.

“Another drink?” Smith asked

“Ok,” she replied.

“I’ve organised our friend Dave to pick us up at half nine,” Smith said when he returned with the drinks.

“I like him,” Whitton said.

“He is quite a character,” Smith agreed, “He has a friendly face, smiling eyes. You can tell a lot about a person from their eyes.”

“Is that so?” Whitton laughed. “What can you tell about me?” She moved closer and looked him directly in the eyes. The make up highlighted the unusual green colour and for the first time, Smith noticed the light blue circles around the pupils.

“Well,” he said and studied her for a while, “your eyes are telling me that they belong to someone who shouldn’t really be buying drinks for her boss on New Years Eve.”

Whitton slapped him playfully on the shoulder and looked away.

“Seriously,” he said, “the rest of the night’s on me ok? That’s an order.”

“Yes sir!” she replied and raised her arm in a mock salute.

“Dave will be here soon,” Smith said, “drink up; you’re lagging behind.”

“I was trying to pace myself.” She finished her beer in one go. “There are still a few hours left of this year,” she added.

 

“How’s the case going Mr Smith?” Dave asked as he left the Hog’s Head car park.

“Getting closer every day Dave,” Smith lied, “you helped us a lot.”

He noticed that Dave was playing that corny Beatles song again, the one with the nonsensical name.

“I’ve remembered something else about Christmas Eve,” Dave added.

“Dave,” Smith said, “I’m actually enjoying a night off.”

“Sorry Mr Smith but I thought you might want to know that that man was very angry that night.”

“What man Dave?” Smith sighed.

“That man with the kid.”

“Martin Willow?” Smith was suddenly interested.

“That’s him,” Dave said, “The one the papers say killed his wife.”

“What do you mean angry?”

“He was in a very bad mood. Nasty man. He spoke to his wife like she was a pig. I got quite scared of what he would do. I was so glad when he got out, no tip too.”

“Ok Dave,” Smith stopped him, “that’s enough for now. Are you on duty all night?”

“All night,” Dave replied, “and all of the morning; there’s good tips to be made at this time of the year.”

“I’ll give you a ring when we need picking up again. This is the place here, how much do I owe you?”

“No charge for you Mr Smith.” Dave smiled at Whitton, “have a nice evening, I’ll see you later.”

 

The Deep Blues Club was situated between two shops on the outskirts of the city centre. During the day it was possible to walk past it without even realising it was there.

“There was something strange about that taxi driver tonight sir,” Whitton said as they were about to go in.

“What do you mean?” Smith asked, “And please don’t call me sir tonight.”

“I don’t know. I just can’t put my finger on it.”

“He seemed fine to me,” Smith said, “let’s grab a good seat before this place starts to fill up.”

Smith led Whitton to his usual seat; a double padded chair with a small table in front. “Not too far from the stage,” he said, “but not too close that we won’t be able to talk over the noise.”

A middle aged man with thinning long hair in a ponytail approached them.

“Jason Smith,” the man said and stretched out his hand. “The Wizard of Oz, are you in the mood for jamming tonight?”

“Mad Dog Malone,” Smith shook his hand. “I am in the mood, yes,” he added.

“Then your drinks are on the house. Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

He looked at Whitton.

“Erica,” Smith used her first name, “Meet Billy ‘Mad Dog’ Malone. He owns this dump and he plays the drums quite well too.”

“Nice to meet you Mr Malone,” Whitton said.

“Billy, please,” Mad Dog insisted, “I’ll have a waiter come and take your order. You two have a good evening.”

“I think you’re charmed Jason Smith,” Whitton said when they were alone, “do you ever have to pay for anything?”

“Charmed or cursed,” Smith mused, “what are we drinking tonight?”

The Deep Blues Club was slowly filling up. The lights over the small stage were switched on and Mad Dog assumed his usual position behind the simple four piece drum kit. He was joined on stage by a bass player and a guitarist.

“Are you going up?” Whitton asked.

“Not yet,” Smith said, “we’ve just got here, let’s just listen for a while.”

The shrill tones of a blues harmonica filled the room. Mad Dog tapped out an intro on the high hat; the bass joined in with a slow, ambling bass line. The guitarist played a single A chord and held it; there was a crash of a cymbal, a drum roll and then silence. Whitton looked at Smith with bewilderment in her eyes.

“Just wait,” he reassured her, “they always do that.”

The guitarist played the opening riff from Crossroads and the audience erupted.

“These guys are good,” Whitton said after a while, “either that or I don’t get out enough.”

Smith smiled at her. He was starting to forget about work; the music was soothing his soul and he happened to be in the company of a very attractive woman.

“So, Jason Smith,” Whitton said, “I know nothing about you. Tell me something.”

She was becoming quite merry.

“What do you want to know?” he replied, “Twenty six years old, Aquarius, Police Sergeant, no friends, no life, can’t even look after a dog. Anything else?”

Whitton laughed so loud that she could be heard over the music.

“Here’s to being a pair of complete losers.” She raised her glass.

“Let’s order some Bourbon,” Smith suggested, “real Blues drink. Jack Daniels,” he gestured to the waiter, “bring a bottle and two glasses.”

“This is going to be a night to remember,” Whitton said. “Or forget.”

“A few of these,” Smith said as the waiter put the bottle and glasses on the table, “the Mojo will be loose and I’m going to play.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY

 

HOPE

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the audience,” The gravelly voice announced over the microphone.

It was Mad Dog Malone.

“We have one hour left of two thousand and eight and if the world goes boom at the stroke of midnight none of you will die with any regrets. For this final hour, we have a very special treat for you. A very good friend of mine is going to blow you away with his Blues Guitar. Let the man towards the stage. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Wizard of Oz himself, the one and only, Jason Smith.”

“No pressure then?” Whitton smiled as Smith rose to his feet.

Smith laughed.

“I might need this though,” he said and poured a full glass of Jack Daniels and took it with him to the stage.

He picked his Fender off the stand and plugged it into the amp.

“I’ve figured out a new one,” he said to the bass player, “Tea for One, the Joe Bonamassa version. Do you know it?”

The bass player nodded. His name was Jim and Smith reckoned he had emerged from the womb playing the bass, he could play anything.

Smith turned up the volume control and sat in the chair that had been provided for him. He always preferred to play sitting down.

The crowd was eerily quiet as Smith got comfortable. He then launched into the first chords of Tea for One. The music slowed and the deep voice of Jim, the bass player sang the first few words.

“How come twenty four hours, seem to slip into days?”

The crowd went wild. Whitton was transfixed. She could not take her eyes off Smith. He began the guitar solo and closed his eyes as his fingers ran up and down the frets as though they were possessed. It was only when the song drew to a close that he opened his eyes again and stared at something in the distance like a man bewitched.

“Anybody in the mood for a bit of Hendrix?” Smith screamed into the mike.

The audience cheered.

“A bit of Voodoo?” he added.

He played the wah wah intro and the cheering got louder. There were people filling the dance area. Smith looked over to where Whitton was sitting. She was not alone anymore; someone was sitting in Smith’s seat. It was a man who looked older than Smith but he seemed very familiar. The man and Whitton were talking but Whitton seemed very uncomfortable. The song was about to end but Smith nodded to Jim to tell him to carry on playing, Smith felt like jamming. The harmonica player joined in and Smith slowed things down a bit. He played slow, gritty blues, no fancy scales, just haunting soul wrenching sounds. The crowd were mesmerised. Smith was not sure how long he had been playing but the sudden increase in tempo from Mad Dog on the drums told him it was time to wrap it up. Smith stood up, nodded to Mad Dog and played his signature finale, a slow minor run down the frets that ended in a continuous chord with an accompanying drum roll and crash of the cymbals. Smith turned off the amp, unplugged his guitar and replaced it on its stand.

The audience cheered as he walked back to his seat. A few of them patted him on the back.

“Wow,” Whitton said as he sat down, “you’re in the wrong job.”

“The force pay better,” he said and finished his drink, “besides, being in the Police is much better for your health.”

Whitton laughed.

“If you say so,” she said.

“Who was that guy who was sitting here while I was up there?” Smith asked.

“Getting jealous were you?”

“It’s not like that.” Smith had a serious expression on his face.

“I was joking,” Whitton said, “he just came and sat down, he said he saw us come in. He was very unnerving actually.”

“What did he want?”

“He says he knows you, or he used to. He needs to talk to you.”

“Where is he now?”

“He had to go; he wanted to see the New Year in somewhere else.”

“What time is it now?”

Whitton checked her watch. “Ten to twelve,” she said, “he left a business card.” She handed the card to Smith.

“White and White exporting,” Smith read from the card, “David and Lucy White. Perth Australia.”

“Do you know him?”

“David White,” Smith thought out loud, “Jesus Christ, Whitey.”

“So you do know him?”

“A long time ago. He was a real arsehole.”

“He said something else,” Whitton added, “something strange. That’s why he needs to talk to you.”

“What was that Whitton?”

“He told me to tell you that your sister is still alive.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY ONE

 

ROOM SERVICE

 

Friday 1 January 2009

 

“Room Service,” Janet De Vos called as she knocked on the door for the second time. She looked at her watch. It was almost lunch time, time for her break and she was told she had to finish this room before she could take it. She put her ear to the door. There was no sound from room 262 in the Casablanca Hotel.

“Room service!” she repeated, much louder this time, “I need to clean your room, it’s nearly two in the afternoon.”

There was still no answer. She tried the door. It was locked. She was becoming impatient. Using her master key, she unlocked the door and opened it slowly. She was instantly aware of an unpleasant odour; a mixture of stale alcohol and something she could not quite place. She opened the door further and peered inside. It looked like a bomb had gone off inside. The television was smashed to smithereens and was lying on the floor; the fridge had had its doors pulled off the hinges, there were broken bottles lying all over the floor and one of the windows had a huge crack in it.

Janet De Vos frowned. There goes my lunch hour, she thought. These English tourists always seemed to go wild when they were on holiday. The room seemed empty. They must have run off after causing all this damage. De Vos decided to phone down to reception to get the manager to come and take a look at the mess. She walked over to the telephone on the bed side table and that is when she found Susan Jenkins lying on her back by the side of the bed. Her eyes were open but she was definitely not awake. The screams of Janet De Vos’ could be heard in reception.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY TWO

 

HANGOVER

 

Jason Smith was having the dream again. It had been a few days since the last one. This time it was slightly different; he was underwater and he could just make out his sister a short distance away. He called out to her but the sound was muted by the water. He swam over and took her hand. She smiled at him and they swam to the surface together. As they broke the surface, Laura had disappeared again.

He woke up with sweat covering his whole body. He sat up in bed and took a deep breath. There was a woman lying next to him.

“Shit!” he said much louder than he intended to.

Erica Whitton woke up with a start.

“Are you alright?” she said. She rubbed her eyes, “you’re covered in sweat.”

“Whitton,” Smith said sheepishly, “what are you doing here? We didn’t…”

“No we didn’t,” she interrupted him. “We didn’t,” she repeated, “you were just in a bit of a state last night that’s all.”

“I can’t remember coming home.” He held his head in his hands, “I feel like crap, did I embarrass myself at the club?”

“You played beautifully but just after midnight you became slightly, what’s the word? Pissed, that’s it. You insisted we go to another club.”

“Oh Christ,” he said, “My head hurts like hell. I didn’t cause any trouble did I?”

“You picked a fight with a bouncer.”

“I hate bouncers; they think they’re a law unto themselves.”

“Well this one was quite well behaved. He threatened to call the Police if you didn’t leave.”

“What did I do?”

“When you told him you were the Police and you were going to arrest him for being in possession of an offensive face, I pulled you out of there and called a taxi.”

“Thanks Whitton,” Smith said, “why are you in my bed?”

“When we got back here you got all sentimental and said you wanted to talk. You told me about your sister and how she disappeared. I think that guy last night brought up some pretty nasty memories. You asked me to stay with you; you didn’t want to be alone. Oh, and you cried.”

“I did not bloody cry.”

“You did, you cried. You told me to never leave you and you cried.”

“Do you want some coffee?” Smith changed the subject, “I need some and if you tell anybody I cried your life won’t be worth living ok?”

“Understood sir,” Whitton smiled, “coffee would be great.”

As Smith made coffee, he thought about the dream. Why was it different?

“Whitton,” he called up the stairs.

“I’m in the bathroom,” she replied, “I’ll be down in a minute.”

Smith put the two cups of coffee on the table in the kitchen. Whitton came in and sat down.

“Whitton,” Smith said, “that guy who sat by you in the Blues club last night.”

“Mister White,” she replied, “I see your memory is coming back.”

“What did he say about my sister?”

“That she is still alive.”

“What did he mean by that?”

“That’s all he said. Tell Jason his sister is not dead. I gave you his card. He seemed keen to talk to you.”

“What did I do with the card?”

“You put it in your pocket I think.”

Smith checked his pockets.

“It’s not here,” he said, “Damn. I wonder what he wanted to talk about. This doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe you left it at the Blues Club.”

“Good thinking, I need to collect my guitar later. I’ll see if I dropped it. Good God, my head hurts, I need to go and fetch Theakston too. Happy New year by the way Whitton, I don’t know if I wished you last night.”

“Many times,” Whitton laughed, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll drive you to the Blues Club and then we’ll go to the Hog’s Head. A Steak and Ale pie will sort you out.”

“Smith smiled. “Thanks Whitton,” he said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

 

The Deep Blues Club was locked up when Smith and Whitton got there. Smith took out his phone and dialled Mad Dog’s number. He noticed he had had a missed call at one that morning. On the third or fourth ring the door of the club opened and Mad Dog stood there, phone in hand. He was dressed in just his underpants and a T shirt.

“Jason,” Mad Dog said, “It’s always nice to see you but it’s a bit bloody early isn’t it?”

“Its lunch time mate,” Smith said, “I need to fetch the Fender and I think I might have dropped something in here last night.”

“You were unbelievable last night,” Mad Dog said, “you were really in the vibe. Come in.

He smiled at Whitton.

Inside the club, Smith went straight to where he was sitting the night before.

“Did anyone sit here after we left?”

“Of course,” Mad Dog replied, “this place was pumping until after five.” He looked at the clock on the wall. “That was approximately seven hours ago.”

Smith spotted something under one of the table legs. He bent down and picked the card up; it had been used to stop the table from wobbling. He unfolded the card.

“Got it Whitton,” he said, “White and White exporting. Let’s go, my stomach is making strange noises.”

Smith picked up his guitar, put it in the case and locked it.

“Thanks Mad Dog,” he said, “get some sleep. You look worse than I feel.”

As they drove to the Hog’s Head Smith took out his phone to see who had phoned him early that morning.

“This is interesting Whitton,” he said, “Frank Paxton phoned me at one this morning.”

“That was about the time you asked that bouncer for a dance,” Whitton smiled, “did he leave a message.”

“Just checking,” Smith opened up his messages, “yes he did.”

Smith dialled the voice mail retrieval number, put the phone on speaker phone and played the message. Frank Paxton sounded very drunk, his voice was barely audible. Smith played the message twice but there were still parts he could not understand.

“Pull over,” he said, “this sounds intriguing.”

“Sergeant Smith,” Paxton said, “This is Paxton, Frank Paxton. Sorry about the hour but I have a feeling that you never sleep anyway. I need to get something off my chest. You will no doubt find all this out anyway. I am the father of Lauren’s baby. I had a very brief fling with her a while ago. I just want to make it clear that I had nothing to do with the murders and neither did Rox. It might look like it but Rox just did something very stupid…”

He stopped there.

“Play that again,” Whitton said. She sounded excited. “I heard something in the background,” she added, “right at the end. It sounded like a woman’s voice. Maybe Roxy Jones.”

Smith played the message again.

“There!” Whitton said, “Did you hear that? The woman’s voice, what the hell are you doing you idiot?”

“So,” Smith smiled, “Frank Paxton is a real dark horse. The father of Lauren Cowley’s baby. That changes everything but it can wait until I’ve fed this hangover of mine.”

The Hog’s Head was quiet when Smith and Whitton walked in. Marge was sitting by the fire with Theakston on her lap.

“Hi Marge,” Smith said, “I need a large coke and a pie or I think I’m going to pass out. How’s Theakston been?”

“He’s been as good as gold,” Marge smiled, “he’s buggered though, real party animal this one. He stayed up until the last customer had left. I’ll get your order. Can I get you anything love?” She smiled at Whitton. “This Australian suffers from a lack of manners sometimes.”

“Just a glass of water please Marge,” Whitton replied, “I need to get home. I’m still in the same clothes I wore last night.”

Marge had a naughty twinkle in her eyes.

“It’s about time you two got serious,” she said.

“Marge,” Smith said, “my stomach is busy digesting organs one by one.”

“Ok, ok, it’s on its way.”

“That puppy of yours is getting fat,” Whitton said

She patted Theakston on the head.

Smith laughed.

“I think he’s enjoying the good life in the pub too much,” he said, “When we put this case behind us, I’m going to look after him properly.”

Whitton cast him a doubting look.

“I will,” he insisted

His phone buzzed inside his jacket. He took it out and looked at the screen.

“Crap,” he said, “Work. Shall I ignore it?”

“You never ignore your phone,” Whitton said, “that’s one thing about you.”

Smith answered the phone. From his expression as he listened, Whitton could tell that it was not good news.

“First thing in the morning,” he said and rang off.

“Bad news sir?” Whitton asked.

“How’s your Spanish Whitton?” he said.

“Sir?”

“How’s your Spanish? Pack a bag. I know it’s a bit soon but we’re off on our first holiday together; we’re going to Tenerife.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY THREE

 

MR AND MRS SMITH

 

Saturday 2 January 2009

 

“Detective Sergeant. I am Oficial Santos,” the officer shook Smith’s hand, “and this is my colleague, Agente Carlos. We are with the CNP, the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia.”

“Jason Smith,” he replied,” and this is Detective Constable Erica Whitton.”

Whitton stared at Smith, this was the first time Smith had used her first name at work.

“Oficial Santos,” Smith continued, “I must say that we appreciate you calling us.”

“You have my man here to thank for that Detective,” Santos said, “he is very diligent. We know the dead woman is Miss Susan Jenkins, we could find that out from her passport but Agente Carlos here found a student union card in her purse. It was from York University.”

“You contacted us very quickly,” Smith said, “I’m impressed. I believe the woman was only found yesterday.”

“Common courtesy Detective,” Santos smiled, “and I would hope that you would reciprocate should the shoe be on the other foot as it were.”

“Your English is impeccable,” Whitton said, “there are a few people in York who could learn a thing or two from you.”

Santos beamed.

“Thank you,” he said, “I spent a good many years in Ireland when I was younger.”

His chest seemed to have swelled up with pride.

“What do we know so far?” Smith asked.

Agente Carlos produced his notebook. He nervously turned a few pages.

“I’m sorry my English is not good like my Oficial,” he began, “but I get by. Girl found by cleaner tomorrow afternoon at two.”

“Yesterday,” Santos corrected him.

“Yesterday,” Carlos repeated, “at two.”

“We believe this woman is involved in a murder investigation,” Santos said.

“She could be,” Smith replied, “how do you know that?”

“Your friends in York seem very open with their information. I once had to liaise with some of your fellow Police in London. Those guys are so bloody secretive.”

Whitton laughed.

“We’re a bit more rough and ready up north, Oficial,” she said.

“Yes,” Smith added

He looked at Whitton.

“Yorkshire folk are very forward,” he said, “they have a saying in Yorkshire – I say what I like and I like what I bloody well say.”

“That’s funny,” Santos said.

“Can we see the room where the woman died?” Smith asked.

“Of course,” Santos replied, “we’ll drive there now and this evening you will both have supper with me and my family. Where are you staying?”

“My inspector thought it would be a good idea to stay at the hotel where the woman was found.”

“Very clever. You can get a feel about what happened. We’ll go in my car. Carlos will drive; he drives like a lunatic but I assure you he’s quite safe.”

“Tenerife is very beautiful,” Whitton said as they drove to the hotel, “It must be very nice to live here, it’s warm, even in January.”

“We get five million tourists here each year,” Santos said, “they are good for business but it gets too crowded. January is a very nice time, very quiet and this, Miss Whitton is what we call cold weather.”

“What happened to the dead woman’s boyfriend?” Smith interrupted.

“I can see you’re a very good Detective,” Santos said, “but we know nothing of any boyfriend.”

“Susan Jenkins was here with her boyfriend, Mick Hogg.”

“No boyfriend, just the woman. This is the hotel here. I’m afraid the body had to be taken away; a dead body in one of the rooms is not good for business but we informed the staff to leave the room exactly as it was until you got here.”

“Thank you Official,” Smith said, “I appreciate it.”

“Oficial,” Santos corrected him, “it’s the CNP equivalent of Sergeant.”

“Sorry Oficial. We’re going to check in first and then we’ll take a look at the woman’s room.”

“Will you be requiring anything else from us Detective?” Santos asked.

“Not for the moment,” Smith replied, “thank you again for all your help.”

Santos handed Smith his card.

“This is my number,” he said, “I’ve written my address on the back. You’ll come at seven and my wife will cook for you.”

“Thank you Oficial, see you then.”

The hotel lobby was deserted as Smith and Whitton walked up to the Reception desk.

“Good Morning,” Smith said, “we have reservations, the name’s Smith.”

“Mr and Mrs Smith,” the receptionist smiled, “yes, here it is. Room 260, I just need your passports please.”

“Mr and Mrs Smith?” Whitton whispered to Smith, “How corny is that?”

“You are the English Police aren’t you?” the receptionist said.

“That’s right,” Smith said

He noticed the look on Whitton’s face.

“Excuse me,” he said, “you don’t perhaps have another room? We’re not actually Mr and Mrs Smith. Detective Whitton is actually my colleague.”

“I’m sorry Sir,” the receptionist said, “there was only one room reserved and, even though it’s our quiet time the hotel was fully booked up a while ago by the London Philatelist society.”

“The what?” Smith asked.

“Stamp collectors,” Whitton said.

“Breakfast is served from seven until nine,” the receptionist added, “Here’s your key, number 260, second floor.”

“Can we see the room where the woman was found?” Smith asked.

“The room next to yours I’m afraid. I’ll give you a while to settle in and then I’ll ask the manager to come up and see you.”

“Thank you,” Smith said. He looked over at Whitton. “Come on Mrs Smith,” he said, “smile, we’re on holiday.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY FOUR

 

RESIGNATION

 

“What the hell is this piece of shit Thompson?” Chalmers was not in the best of moods; he had not had a cigarette for two days.

“It’s what it says sir,” Thompson backed off a couple of steps, “my resignation.”

Chalmers took two steps forward. Thompson could smell the chewing gum in Chalmers’ mouth.

“We’re deep in the middle of a bloody murder investigation Thompson,” Chalmers boomed.

“But sir,”

“But sir nothing. Clear this case up and we’ll talk, I might even accept this piece of drivel.” He pointed to the letter.

“Then you can go off and play bowls or whatever. What’s brought this on all of a sudden anyway?”

“It’s not sudden sir. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, I just don’t feel appreciated.”

“Appreciated!” Chalmers voice was getting louder. “Appreciated, grow a pair of balls for god’s sake Thompson. How long have you been on the force? Twenty, thirty years?”

“Twenty seven years sir and I’m still a Sergeant.”

“You’re still a Sergeant because, and don’t repeat this, you’re a bloody good Sergeant and, to be brutally honest, you’d make a crap Inspector.”

“I just don’t think it’s fair that…”

“This is about Smith isn’t it?” Chalmers interrupted him.

“How does he get to jet off to some sunshine island with his mistress while I’m stuck with the shit here?”

“Smith’s the right man for the job Thompson. He’s, how can I put this without you pissing your pants, he’s more worldly wise than you and Whitton is a bloody good officer.”

“But sir.”

“Enough of this but sir crap. Instead of bawling like a baby, why don’t you use Smith’s absence as an opportunity to show all of us what you’re made of? Before Smith and Whitton left, Smith gave me a recording of a message left on his phone in the early hours of New Years Day.”

He handed Thompson the tape.

“Listen to it,” he said, “and then pay this Paxton character a visit. I’ve got a feeling that him and his girlfriend are in this shit deeper than we think. Take Bridge with you and use that wasted talent of yours to get to the bottom of this.”

“Talent sir?”

“You’re a mean miserable old bastard Thompson. Use that to your advantage and you may just get one over on your friend Smith. Now piss off.”

Chalmers spat out his chewing gum.

“This nicotine gum doesn’t work,” he moaned, “I’m going out for a smoke.”

Thompson stormed out of Chalmers’ office. He found Bridge in the canteen eating a sandwich.

“Eat up Bridge,” he ordered, “we’ve got a murder to solve.”

“What was on the tape sir,” Bridge asked as they drove.

“Frank Paxton got Lauren Cowley pregnant,” Thompson replied, “he confessed to Smith on New Years Day. He also wanted to say something else but he was stopped.”

“What do you think it was sir?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out. That girl who’s computer you broke into.”

“Hacked sir,” Bridge corrected him.

“Susan Jenkins,” Thompson ignored him, “she was found dead in Tenerife. Her boyfriend has disappeared.”

“The one who Martin Willow paid?”

“That’s her. Smith and Whitton are there now.”

“Tenerife?” Bridge exclaimed, “They get all the luck.”

“Just drive Bridge,” Thompson said, “let me think.”

They drove in silence for a couple of miles.

“Sir,” Bridge broke the silence, “there’s something that doesn’t make sense.”

“There are a lot of things that don’t make sense Bridge,” Thompson sighed, “go on.”

“If Frank Paxton is the father of Lauren Cowley’s baby, why is it that Martin Willow paid Susan Jenkins fifteen hundred quid?”

“What are you getting at?”

“It would be feasible that Lauren’s house mate found out about the baby and, being a bit short of cash, decided to blackmail the father but what has Martin Willow got to do with it? Unless…”

“Unless what Bridge?”

“Unless she was sleeping with Willow too. Maybe none of them knew who the father of the baby actually was.”

“You’ve got an over active imagination there Bridge.”

“Just looking at it from all angles sir. Something Smith taught me.”

“I might have known. This is the house right here. I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to direct this one.”

“Sir,” Bridge said, “Paxton obviously had something to get off his chest. Would you mind if I led this one for a bit. We need Paxton to be relaxed and don’t take this the wrong way but you can come across as a tad unapproachable at times.”

“Ok Bridge,” Thompson sighed, “It’s your show.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY FIVE

 

THE DROWNING MAN

 

The room allocated to Smith and Whitton in the Hotel Casablanca had a much better view than the one afforded to the guests in 262. Whitton stared out of the window.

“Do you know what sir,” she said, “I haven’t seen the sea for over two years. Isn’t that sad considering that we live on a small island?”

“The sea’s overrated,” Smith replied, “where’s that manager?”

“I hope those stamp collectors don’t make too much noise tonight,” Whitton joked, “I’ve heard they can be a rowdy lot.”

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Smith said.

The door opened and a tall blonde man with light brown eyes stood in the doorway.

“Donovan Green,” he stuck out his hand to Smith. “I’m the manager of this place, have been for five years. Never had to deal with a corpse before though.”

“DS Smith,” Smith shook his hand, “and this is DC Whitton.”

Donovan Green’s eyes lit up when he heard Smith talk.

“I’m from Melbourne,” he said, “spent the first twenty years of my life there.”

“Cool,” Smith said, “I’m from York. Can we see the room next door please?”

Green looked confused.

“Of course,” he said, “I’ve got the key right here. It hasn’t been touched since they took the body away.”

He led them to the next room and opened the door. The place was exactly as the cleaner had found it.

“Have the local police been in here?” Smith asked.

“The CNP,” Green replied, “no, they told us to wait until you had had a look.”

“You can leave us to it,” Smith said, “We’ll call you if we need anything.”

Donovan Green cast a glance at Whitton and left the room.

“Can I ask you a question sir?” Whitton said.

“Go for it Whitton,” Smith replied.

“You always get so defensive when people mention anything about Australia. Why is that?”

“It’s Bullshit.” He said it louder than he intended. “It’s all in the past,” he added, “just because we were born on the same stupid island doesn’t mean we have this instant fraternity bond. What do you see in this room Whitton?”

“Looks like the stamp collectors were here sir.”

Smith could not hold back a smile.

“Sorry Whitton,” he said.

“For what sir?”

“I’ve been a bit of a miserable Git haven’t I?”

“No more than usual. Looks like quite a party was had here. Where was the Susan Jenkins found?”

“The side of the bed. This side. Whitton, stand by the door please.”

She did as she was asked.

“Can you see the side of the bed from there?”

“No sir.”

“Do you see this?” He pointed to the carpet.

“See what?” Whitton was curious.

“Stand on this side, the light’s better.”

“What am I looking at?”

“Do you see the way the carpet fibres are pointing in a different direction there?”

“And here,” Whitton said, “It’s like a path.”

“Exactly,” Smith said, “like a snail trail. It looks like something heavy was dragged from the window over to the side of the bed.”

“Like a body?” Whitton suggested.

“Exactly. What else doesn’t seem right?”

“The bed. The bed is not straight.”

“Standard hotel practice,” Smith said, “Most double rooms consist of two single beds. Couples usually just push the two together. These ones look like they were pushed together and someone tried to separate them again but didn’t do a very good job.”

“If they were left together, the body would have been visible from the door.” Whitton observed.

“Yes,” Smith said, “and maybe then, the CNP would have noticed there had been two people in the room straight away.”

“We need to find the boyfriend,” Whitton said, “He’s got to be the killer.”

“Slow down,” Smith warned, “you of all people should know by know that nothing is as it seems. Let’s ask a few questions first.”

The reception had filled up as Smith and Whitton walked out of the lift.

“Stamp collectors,” Whitton suggested.

“Could I have a quick word?” Smith asked the receptionist.

“Be quick,” she said curtly.

“The woman who was found dead in room 262. Did you see much of her?”

“I didn’t see her at all,” the woman said, “I’ve just returned from ten days leave. Lucia was working. She’s actually just finished her shift; if you hurry you may still catch her. She’s short with long blonde hair and she’ll still be wearing her uniform. Go left when you exit the hotel. Now please, will that be all; these philatelists can be very impatient.”

“Thank you,” Smith said, “come on Whitton, we’ve got to run.”

They rushed out of the hotel. The sun blinded their eyes as they turned left and half ran, half walked down the long road leading to the beach.

“There she is,” Whitton cried, pointing to a short woman with blonde hair

They quickly caught her up.

“Excuse me,” Smith said.

He was out of breath.

“Are you Lucia?” he asked.

“That’s me,” she replied. She seemed apprehensive.

“Sorry if we startled you. We’re Police officers from England.”

“Is this about the dead woman?” she asked.

“Yes, the man who was with her; do you know where he went?”

“I last saw him on New Year. It was the early hours of the morning. Him and the woman collected their key and went up to the room.”

“And you haven’t seen him since?”

“No, he never came down.”

“Can you remember anything else about the woman?”

“Not really, she spent most of the time in her room. There was one thing. She had a visitor.”

“When was this?” Smith asked.

“A few days ago. She seemed quite scared when I phoned up to her room to let her know.”

“Can you remember this visitor?”

“A woman, mid thirties, forties, around there. They talked for a while in the lobby.”

Whitton took out her phone.

“Was this her?” she asked. She showed her a photograph of Roxy Jones.

“That’s her,” Lucia replied, “will there be anything else? I’m late for an appointment.”

“You don’t know where the man might be?” Smith said, “It’s important that we find him.”

“He usually drinks at the Los Paradiso Sports Bar,” Lucia replied, “it’s a tourist pub down on the beach front. He wore one of those T shirts they give away to good customers.”

“Thank you,” Smith said,” you’ve been a big help.”

“So Roxy’s trip to Morocco was a front,” Whitton said smugly, “I knew it.”

“But what was she doing here?” Smith asked, “And how many other photographs have you got on that phone of yours?”

“I’ve got Martin Willow,” Whitton began, “Roxy’s, Frank Paxton, Susan Jenkins and her boyfriend’s. I’ve also got some pretty compromising ones of you from New Year,” Whitton laughed, “but you’ll have to be nicer to me before I show you those.”

Smith shook his head.

“This is the place here,” he said, “Los Paradiso Sports Bar. Typical tourist place. People come to do exactly what they do at home with a bit of sun outside. Fancy a drink Whitton?”

“Why not sir,” she said, “we are on holiday.”

They sat at a table by the window. The place was very quiet. A waiter with a surly face cam to take their order

“Two beers please,” Smith said.

The waiter shrugged his shoulders. “

Spanish, English,” he said, “French, German, Dutch, Czech, we’ve got the lot.”

“Spanish please,” Smith said, “San Miguel if you have it.”

“Of course we have it,” the waiter said and walked off.

“Friendly chap,” Whitton observed, “I bet the tourists love him.”

“Let me see that photo of Mick Hogg again Whitton,” Smith said.

She passed him her phone.

“Looks like a nasty piece of work,” Smith said, “tattoos, piercings, evil eyes.”

“Should be easy to find,” Whitton suggested.

The waiter put their beers on the table.

“Have you seen this man?” Smith showed him the photograph of Mick Hogg.

“Big Shot Mick,” the man said immediately, “he spent a lot of money in here.”

“When was the last time you saw him?” Whitton asked.

“New Years Eve, I remember because he came in and put one thousand Euros on the bar. He was very popular that night.”

“Did he come in alone?” Smith said.

“He was with a woman, young, pretty with blonde hair.”

“You said he was flush with cash?”

The waiter paused.

“Look,” he said, “I’m not one to pry on my customers but a couple of days before New Year he was here with another woman, an older one. They had a few drinks and she gave him an envelope full of cash.”

“How did you know what was in the envelope?”

“He wasn’t exactly discreet about it. He counted the whole lot on the table; there must have been a few thousand in there.

“Thank you Mr?” Smith said.

“Wurth,” the waiter replied, “Bill Wurth. What’s he done anyway?”

“Nothing,” Smith lied, “we just need to talk to him, that’s all”

He handed him his card.

“If you see him again call me ok? How much do we owe you?”

“On the house,” Wurth said, “it’s always good to help the Police.”

“Do you ever have to pay for anything?” Whitton asked as they left the bar.

“Just lucky I suppose,” Smith laughed, “I should be rich by now. Hold on Whitton, show me that photo of Mick Hogg again.”

Whitton took out her phone and showed him.

“That guy over there,” Smith whispered, “in the telephone booth, that’s him isn’t it?”

“I think you may be right sir,” Whitton said, “What are we going to do?”

“Let’s have a quiet word with him”

“Shouldn’t we phone for back up sir?”

Smith looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face.

“Who are we going to call?” he said, “and we don’t even know where we are. Just walk towards him casually.”

Smith took hold of Whitton’s hand and held it.

“Sir,” she said, “what are you doing?”

“Blending in Whitton. Relax; we are Mr and Mrs Smith after all.”

As they approached the man in the phone booth, it became clear that it was Mick Hogg. Smith rapped on the glass of the phone booth.

“It’s taken,” Hogg snarled, “piss off.”

Smith took out his ID and placed it against the glass.

“Mick Hogg,” he said, “please end your call, we’d like to have a quick word with you.”

The blow seemed to come from nowhere. Smith felt like he had been hit in the midriff with a sledgehammer. He doubled up in agony. Hogg bolted off in the direction of the beach. Smith caught his breath and gave chase with Whitton not far behind him. Hogg was fast. Smith cursed himself for not exercising more; he used to be quite an athlete. Hogg raced along the beach but he was running out of land.

“Stop him!” Smith screamed to a couple who were walking hand in hand just up ahead but they did not hear him.

Hogg had reached a section of the beach where rocky screes blocked the passage round the point.

“We’ve got him,” Smith panted, “there’s nowhere left for him to go.”

“Unless he tries to swim for it,” Whitton said.

She had caught up and was not even out of breath.

“Shit,” Smith said, for Whitton was spot on.

Hogg had run into the sea and was trying desperately to make a swim for it.

“What do we do now Whitton?” Smith realised he was feeling dizzy; he was sweating.

“Go after him,” Whitton said.

Hogg was struggling in the water. He was a decent runner but he barely knew how to swim. Smith ran to the edge of the water and froze. He could not move.

“He’s going to drown!” Whitton screamed.

Smith did not appear to hear her. Hogg was really struggling now. He was making very little headway and his arms were flapping about in the water.

“Sir!” Whitton shouted, louder this time.

She looked at Detective Sergeant Jason Smith with dismay. The scene was disturbing. Smith was standing very still and he had a look of absolute terror in his eyes. Whitton ran past him into the water. The water was freezing. She swam out to where Hogg was splashing around. Whitton was a very strong swimmer but she had no idea what she was going to do when she reached the drowning man. Hogg was now finding it difficult to stay afloat and he had started to swallow water.

“Hogg!” Whitton called out, “try and float. You’re going to drown unless you do as I say.”

Hogg did not seem to hear her. She swam closer.

“Piss off cop,” he spat a mouthful of water out.

Whitton grabbed him by the arms. He was weak now from the struggle but he still managed to put his arm around her throat. He forced her head under the water and kept it there. Using all her strength, Whitton managed to twist herself round and with all her strength she managed to kick him hard in the groin. He let go immediately.

“Sir!” Whitton called again, “I need some help here. Jason Smith, snap out of it.”

Smith still did not move. It was as if something about the sea had hypnotised him. He stood there fixed to the spot. Hogg was close to exhaustion and was dragging Whitton under. She released his grip on her, put her arm around his chest and started swimming towards where Smith was still blankly staring on the shore. Hogg was now a dead weight and Whitton was running out of strength.

“Just a few more strokes,” she told herself.

She finally reached a place where her feet touched the bottom and paused for a while. With one last lunge, she managed to cover the last few metres and drag Hogg onto the beach. A sizeable crowd had now gathered and a few were eyeing Smith with some concern. As suddenly as it had begun, Smith’s trance was now over. He shook his head and turned to see Whitton and Hogg collapsed on the beach.

“What the hell happened there sir?” Whitton was furious, “I could have drowned.”

“I don’t know Whitton,” Smith said.

He was still quite shaken.

“That’s never happened before,” he added.

“Now can we phone for back up?” Whitton was shivering, “and tell them to bring some towels.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY SIX

 

SUNSHINE

 

“There’s nobody in sir,” Bridge said after ringing the doorbell for the fifth or sixth time.

“Listen,” Thompson said, “can you hear music coming from inside?”

Bridge put his ear to the door and listened.

“You’re right sir,” he said, “What do you want to do?”

Thompson put his hand on the door handle and slowly turned it.

“Sir,” Bridge said, “that’s technically breaking and entering.”

“We’re in a bit of a rush Bridge,” Thompson said, “and they won’t know that.”

Thompson stood in the hall way.

“Mr Paxton!” he shouted, “Police.”

The music stopped and Frank Paxton appeared from the lounge.

“I’m becoming very popular with you lot,” he sighed, “I don’t know if that is good or bad. I assume you’ve heard the message I stupidly left on New Years Eve; I’ll just get a few things together and I’ll come with you to the station.”

Thompson was confused.

“That won’t be necessary Mr Paxton,” he said, “There’s just a couple of things we still need to clear up.”

“If its ok with you,” Paxton said, “I’d rather do this at the station.”

He seemed anxious.

“Very well,” Thompson said, “where’s your girlfriend? Roxy isn’t it?”

“She just popped out for a while to fetch a few things from the shop; she’ll be back any time now. I just need to get my phone from upstairs and I’ll be right with you.”

“He doesn’t want to talk in front of his girlfriend,” Bridge whispered to Thompson when Paxton was upstairs, “I’d say he’s scared of her.”

“You should learn to whisper properly,” Paxton said as he walked down the stairs, “and scared does not even come close. At this point in time, I’m terrified to be in the same room as that woman. Shall we go then?”

Thompson’s phone rang. It was DI Chalmers.

“Where are you Thompson?” Chalmers barked.

“Just bringing Frank Paxton in sir,” Thompson replied.

“Is his girlfriend there?”

“No sir but she’s expected back soon.”

“Ok,” Chalmers said, “get here right now, Smith and Whitton have uncovered something in Tenerife. It looks like this Roxy woman in up to her neck in it.”

“Do you want us to wait for her and bring her in too sir?” Thompson asked.

“Not yet Thompson,” Chalmers said. “We’ll bring her in a bit later when we’ve heard what this Paxton has to say. Get him to write a note to say he’s been taken down to the station. Arrest him if you have to.”

“Sir?” Thompson was confused.

“I want her to start shitting her pants,” Chalmers sounded angry. “Just tell him to write a note to her saying he’s been taken in for questioning,” he said, “I’m sure you can manage that.”

He rang off.

“Something wrong?” Paxton asked.

“Just the opposite,” Thompson replied, “it looks like we might be getting somewhere. Would you mind leaving Roxy a note to let her know where you are?”

“What for?” Paxton said.

“Just do it please. Nothing fancy just tell her you’ve been taken in for questioning.”

Paxton shrugged, took the notebook from beside the telephone and wrote the note.

“I’ll drive Bridge,” Thompson said as they were ready to go, “I suddenly feel like driving.”

The sun was visible in the sky for the first time in weeks.

“Looks like the weathers changing Sir,” Bridge said as they drove, “I was starting to get depressed with all that rain. Did you know that the weather definitely has an affect on human behaviour?”

“No I didn’t,” Thompson humoured him.

His mood was definitely lighter.

“It’s been proven sir. In parts of Scandinavia, they spend half the year in darkness. People top themselves like its going out of fashion in the winter there.”

“Very interesting Bridge,” Thompson sighed, “lovely topic of conversation.”

“And I reckon,” Bridge carried on undeterred.

“I reckon,” he repeated, “if you were to look at the statistics, you would find that most of the murders too, were carried out when the weather was shit.”

“Bridge!” Thompson said, “that’s enough ok?”

“Sorry sir,” Bridge said, “I just think it’s interesting, that’s all.”

At the station, Frank Paxton was asked to take a seat in reception. Thompson and Bridge made a beeline for Chalmers’ office.

“Shut the door,” Chalmers ordered, “where’s Paxton?”

“In reception sir,” Thompson said, “what did Smith find in Tenerife?”

“Smith found Mick Hogg,” Chalmers replied, “at least Whitton did. It also seems that Paxton’s girlfriend paid a visit to Hogg and Susan Jenkins a few days ago. Smith and Whitton will be back tomorrow with Mick Hogg in tow. Seems he put up quite a struggle, tried to make a swim for it.”

“Swim for it?” Bridge asked.

“I’ll spare you the details Bridge but it seems as though Whitton is quite the hero.”

“Heroine Sir,” Thompson corrected him.

Chalmers just glared at him.

“Anyway,” he said, “The Jenkins woman seems to have been killed in the same way as the other one, the babysitter.”

“Lauren Cowley,” Bridge said.

“She was drugged and smothered with a pillow. This Hogg character sang like a bird, admitted to killing them both.”

“I must be missing something sir,” Thompson said meekly, “but what’s Roxy Jones got to do with all of this then?”

“Apparently, she’s the one who paid Jenkins to kill the babysitter with Hogg’s help. Jenkins developed a conscience and wanted to come clean so Roxy Jones paid Hogg even more money to shut her up for good.”

“What about Paxton?” Bridge asked, “Where does he fit into all of this?”

“Apart from knocking up the babysitter, it seems Frank Paxton is guilty of nothing but having dangerous taste in women.”

“What do you want us to do with him?” Thompson asked.

“Get him to make a statement. He obviously wants to get something off his chest.”

“When are Smith and Whitton due back sir?” Bridge said.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” Chalmers replied, “go and get Paxton’s statement before he changes his mind. Thompson, can I have a word?”

“I’ll go and prepare the statement,” Bridge said.

“What’s wrong sir?” Thompson said.

“About that piece of paper from earlier,” Chalmers said.

“Tear it up sir. I’ve changed my mind.”

Frank Paxton was talking on his phone when Bridge walked back through to the Police reception. He ended the call as soon as he saw Bridge.

“Could you come this way please,” Bridge said, “I’ll show you through to one of the interview rooms. Would you like something to drink?”

“No thanks,” Paxton replied, “Let’s get this over with shall we?”

“Is anything the matter Mr Paxton?” Bridge said.

Paxton looked very pale.

“My girlfriend just phoned. She saw the note I left her. She’s on her way here with her lawyer and I have to warn you, she is fuming.”

“Let’s get this thing started then,” Bridge said.

Thompson emerged from Chalmers’ office with a smile on his face. He followed Bridge and Paxton into the interview room and closed the door behind him.

“Mr Paxton,” Thompson began, “you left a message on Detective Sergeant Smith’s phone in the early hours of New Years Day. Is that correct?”

“I did yes,” Paxton said, “I was pretty drunk but I needed to talk to someone.”

“You said you were the father of Lauren Cowley’s baby and you mentioned there was something else.”

Frank Paxton took a deep breath.

“What the hell,” he said, “on Christmas Eve, we had the Willows over for supper. We had Pavlova.”

“Go on Mr Paxton.”

“Roxy spiked it.”

“Spiked it?” Thompson said, “With what?”

“With some of her sleeping pills. Benzo something or other. They’re very strong tranquilisers.”

“Why did she want to drug the Willows?” Bridge asked.

“It sounds crazy,” Paxton said, “but when they arrived and they had their daughter, Penny with them, Rox thought if they ate the Pavlova laced with the drugs, it would make them sleepy and they would leave early. Roxy hates kids.”

“And why are you only telling us this now, Mr Paxton?” Thompson asked.

Paxton rubbed his temples.

“It’s such a mess,” he sighed, “after what happened to Wendy and little Penny and with Martin being arrested, I feel responsible somehow.”

Paxton’s phone started to ring. It was Roxy. The ringing stopped and the door was swung open. Roxy Jones stood there in the doorway with an elderly man standing behind her.

“This interrogation is over!” Roxy screamed.

“You can’t just barge in here,” Thompson said, “we have an official interview in progress.”

“What are you holding him for?” the elderly man demanded.

“Nothing,” Thompson replied, “Mr Paxton came here of his own free will. He is free to leave at any time.”

“Come on Frank,” Roxy ordered, “let’s get out of here before you do any more damage.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible Miss Jones,” Bridge said.

“Why the hell not?” Roxy was getting angry. “You said he was free to leave.”

“He is.” Bridge emphasised the word ‘He’, “but I’m afraid we’re going to have to place you under arrest as an accessory to the murders of Lauren Cowley and Susan Jenkins.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY SEVEN

 

OLD CLOTHES

 

“Your colleague is a tough one Sergeant Smith,” Oficial Santos said as Whitton was drying herself with a towel.

“She caught him by herself, you say,” he added, “very impressive. I suppose you would like to get back to your hotel to change? I’ll have one of my men drive you back. Be ready at six thirty and I’ll pick you up for supper. Are you alright Sergeant? You are very quiet and your face is pale.”

“I’m fine Oficial,” Smith replied, “I’m just a bit worried about Whitton. We’ll be ready at six thirty.”

Smith and Whitton sat in silence on the way back to the hotel. Whitton was cold and was looking forward to a hot shower and Smith was still shaken up about the way he had frozen on the shore.

“There are two messages for you Mr Smith,” the receptionist said as she handed him his room key.

“Thank you,” he said and followed Whitton up the stairs.

“I’m sorry Whitton,” Smith said as he opened the door.

“I’m cold,” Whitton said, “I need a shower, we’ll talk later.”

“We’ve got just over an hour,” he said, “Santos is picking us up at six thirty.”

Whitton could not hear him. She had already turned on the shower and was feeling the high pressure jets ease her muscles after the battle on the beach.

Smith opened the mini bar, took out a beer, opened it and finished it in one go. He took out another and placed it on the table while he read his messages. One was from DI Chalmers. It read – ‘Roxy Jones arrested in connection with the murders of Lauren Cowley and Susan Jenkins’. Smith sighed. At least their trip here had been worthwhile. The other message was merely a confirmation of their return flight details. Ten, tomorrow morning. Three tickets; Mick Hogg would be going with them. Whitton emerged from the bathroom with a towel around her.

“That’s better,” she said, “I can feel my legs again. Have you got one of those for me?” She pointed at the beer on the table.

Smith smiled.

“Of course,” he said. He took another beer out of the mini bar, opened it and passed it to her.

“We’re booked on a flight back to Manchester tomorrow morning,” he said, “we’re taking that scum bag back with us.”

Whitton frowned and took a sip of beer.

“I’m not sitting next to him,” she said, “I rescued the bastard; you can babysit him on the plane.”

“I think I can manage that.”

Whitton sat down on one of the two chairs in the room.

“When was the last time you went anywhere near the sea?” she asked.

Smith looked over at her. Her hair was wet and a few loose strands were hanging over her green eyes.

“Twenty ninth November nineteen ninety eight,” He replied.

“The day your sister disappeared?”

“That’s right. How much did I tell you at New Year?”

“Just about how you were surfing and you looked over and your sister was gone. You said it was your fault and you cried.”

“I told you, I did not cry.”

He looked at his watch.

“We have half an hour,” he said, “is it possible for a woman to get ready in half an hour?”

“Watch me,”

“If you insist.”

“One second thoughts,” Whitton laughed, “I’ll get changed in the bathroom.”

 

Oficial Santos’ house was a twenty minute drive into the interior of the island. Santos drove very carefully.

“I believe you’re leaving us tomorrow?” he said, “and you’re taking the drowning man with you.”

Whitton laughed. She remembered a song of the same name, ‘The Drowning Man’. The Cure if she was not mistaken.

“The drowning man,” she repeated, “I’m not going to be allowed to forget that one am I?”

“You were very brave Constable,” Santos said, “this is my house here; it’s not exactly a mansion but I call it home.”

They drove up a drive way that seemed to go on for ever. It is a bloody mansion, Whitton thought as they finally reached the front of the house. Two impressive palm trees rose on either side of the building. The house was painted entirely in white with green window frames and trimmings. Santos parked the car and they got out. He led them to the most elaborate door Smith had ever seen.

“My brother makes doors,” Santos said noting Smith’s surprise, “very good ones. This one, he gave me as a birthday present. I had to knock out quite a bit of the frame to make it fit. He opened the door and gestured for them to go inside. The interior of the house was just as grand as the exterior; the floors were marble and a huge wooden staircase dominated the reception room.

“It’s rather cold this evening,” Santos said, “so we will eat inside. Come on through to the dining room. My wife is preparing food in the kitchen. What would you like to drink?”

“Beer please,” Smith said.

“Me too thanks,” Whitton added.

Santos led them through to an enormous dining room. In the centre of the room stood a twelve seater table exquisitely carved from different pieces of wood.

“Your brother?” Smith guessed.

“You’re a smart Policeman Smith,” Santos remarked, “Made from wood left over from the doors. It’s so big that he had to finish it off in here. We’ll never get it out again. I’ll get your beers, sit down and make yourself comfortable.”

A small girl of maybe four or five years old approached the table. She was holding an old doll.

“Good evening,” she said, “how do you do.”

Whitton smiled at her.

“Good evening,” she replied, “Como Te Llamas?”

The little girl’s brown eyes opened wide and she smiled.

“Mi Llamo Nita,” she said.

“Mi Llamo Erica.” Whitton held out her hand and the little girl took it tentatively.

“When did you learn Spanish Whitton?” Smith was amazed.

“About two days ago,” Whitton laughed, “that’s my whole vocabulary exhausted now.”

Santos returned with the beers.

“I see you’ve met my little Nita,” he said. He put his hand on the back of her neck. “She’s my Princess,” he said,” She’s been practicing her English all day.”

“We heard,” Whitton said, “She’s very good.”

A woman entered the room. She was in her mid thirties and she had blonde hair and pale blue eyes. She placed a large plate of unusual snacks on the table.

“My wife Shona,” Santos said.

Smith and Whitton stood up.

“Oh don’t be daft,” Shona said in a broad Dublin accent, “sit down, eat something; I’ll just be finishing off the supper.”

“You have an Irish wife?” Whitton said.

“I told you,” Santos smiled, “I spent a good few years there when I was young. I brought back a souvenir, but that’s a long story.”

“It’s such a shame we have to leave tomorrow,” Whitton said, “everyone is so friendly here.”

“The sunshine lifts the spirits,” Santos remarked, “when its dark and dreary it’s only natural for the soul to follow suit.”

“Very philosophical,” Smith mused.

“But you come from sunshine don’t you?” Santos said, “You’re Australian aren’t you?”

“A long time ago,” Smith sighed.

“And you’ve never returned?”

“Never felt the urge, I’ve been away for ten years.”

“Then you must have your reasons.”

Shona appeared with a dish that looked and smelled delicious.

“Food is served people,” Santos said, “this is my favourite; I’m sure you’ll like it.”

Shona placed the tray on the table. It looked like an elaborate stew.

“Looks delicious,” Whitton remarked, “I’m starving, it’s amazing what a dip in the sea can do for your appetite.”

Everyone laughed.

“Rosa Vieja,” Santos said, “roughly translated it means Old Clothes but don’t let that put you off. Dig in, as you say and help yourself to bread.”

The dish was a mixture of chicken, beef and pork. There were potatoes and a kind of bean Smith had never seen before.

“Garbanzo Beans,” Shona said, “it’s a traditional Canary peasant dish but I’ve added a bit of home; I cook it the Irish way.”

“Tastes delicious,” Whitton said, “where’s little Nita?”

“It’s past her bed time,” Santos said, “she ate earlier.”

Smiths phone rand in his pocket. Smith took it out. It was Chalmers.

“Sorry,” he said, “it’s my boss, it might be important.”

“Of course,” Santos agreed, “we’re Policemen twenty four hours a day.”

“Sir,” Smith answered the phone.

“Sorry to bother you Smith,” Chalmers began, “where are you?”

“Having supper with a Policeman friend,” Smith replied.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,” Chalmers said gravely.

Smith’s heart jumped.

“Go on sir,” he urged.

“Your house has been broken into. Your neighbour phoned. He noticed the broken window at the back when he let his cat out.”

“Shit,” Smith said under his breath, “was much taken?”

“We can’t tell yet. We’ve boarded up the window and Thompson has agreed to stay the night in case they decide to have another go.”

“Thompson?” Smith could not believe it.

“Yes,” Chalmers said, “apparently he’d had a huge fight with his wife and he was more than happy to help. It’s a long story; I’ll fill you in when you get back.”

“Thanks sir,” Smith said, “thanks for letting me know, I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Problems?” Santos could see the concern on Smith’s face.”

“Somebody broke into my house,” Smith replied.

“You’re kidding?” Whitton said. “Did they take much?”

“I’ll find out tomorrow,” he said, “it just riles me that someone robs me while I’m away trying to make the world a safer place.”

“My friend,” Santos said, “Manana, Manana. Tomorrow is another day. What you cannot rectify today is not worth worrying about until tomorrow. Eat up.”

“Ever the Philosopher,” Smith smiled, “you’re right. I think you and me are going to become good friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY EIGHT

 

INTRUDER

 

Sunday 3 January 2009

 

“Did he give you any trouble?” Bridge asked as Smith, Whitton and Mick Hogg emerged through the Arrivals door at Manchester Airport.

“Quiet as a lamb,” Whitton said, “he seems more afraid of Roxy Jones than anything else.”

“I don’t blame him,” Bridge said, “she is quite vicious. I believe you had a nice dip in the sea whiled you were away?”

“Very funny,” Whitton said, “word travels fast. I’m sitting in the front on the way back to York; I’ve been as close as I ever want to get to this thug.”

Smith opened the back door of Bridge’s car, pushed Hogg inside and sat next to him. He still had the handcuffs attached.”

“Sorry about the break in at your place,” Bridge said as they left the airport car park.

“Thanks Bridge,” Smith sighed, “I need to get there as soon as we get back. I believe Thompson looked after the place while I was away? I must thank him for the favour.”

Bridge laughed.

“His wife kicked him out sir,” he said, “You actually did him a favour.”

“Why did she kick him out?”

“They’d had a big fight. She wanted him to leave the force. She’d been nagging him for ages it seems. He was making himself comfortable in one of the empty cells when the call came through about your place. You did him a favour, he jumped at the chance.”

“I must thank him anyway,” Smith insisted, “poor bastard.”

“It looks as if Martin Willow is still going to go down for killing his wife sir,” Bridge said.

The sign on the road indicated that York was fifty miles away.

“What about Roxy Jones?” Smith asked.

“We can only tie her to the murders of Lauren Cowley and Susan Jenkins. It seems the attacks on the Willows were mere coincidence.”

“There’s no such thing as coincidence,” Smith said, “You should know that by now.”

“I thought so too sir,” Bridge admitted, “but there is nothing to suggest that Roxy Jones had anything to do with it.”

“Has she confessed to the other murders?” Smith asked.

“Not yet sir, but the DI has an idea. She doesn’t know that we have him.”

Bridge pointed to Mick Hogg who was silent in the back.

“We’re going to let them accidentally bump into each other at the station.”

Hogg’s face turned ashen.

“Classic Police technique,” Whitton said.

“Straight out of the movies,” Smith added, “let them both know the other is being questioned and see which one rats out the other first.”

“But that’s not fair,” Hogg interrupted, “Roxy said she’d kill me if I didn’t keep my mouth shut.”

Smith winked at Whitton.

“Shut up you,” he said to Hogg, “you’re opinion ceased to count when you nearly drowned my colleague. Bridge, would you mind dropping me off at my house first, I’ll get to the station as soon as I can. I wouldn’t want to miss this for the world.”

Smith’s house was in a bit of a state. There was fingerprint powder everywhere; empty beer cans covered the floor and his entire CD collection was spread across the living room floor. Some of the cases had been smashed. He heard the sound of the toilet being flushed upstairs, the adrenalin began to pump and he was instantly alert. He hid behind the door and waited as he heard the intruder start to walk down the stairs. He looked around the room for something he could use as a weapon. That was when he realised his guitar was gone. His precious Fender had been stolen. The anger boiled up inside him. He picked up an empty Jack Daniels bottle and held it ready, above his head. The intruder had reached the bottom of the stairs and was coming straight towards him. Smith was ready. As the intruder entered the room, Smith grabbed him around the neck with one hand and brought the bottle down with the other. The man was too quick. He countered the attack, stuck an elbow in Smith’s midriff and neatly flipped him over on to one of the couches.

“How was the holiday Smith?” the man said.

“Thompson!” Smith croaked, “Where the hell did you learn to do that?”

“You pick up a few moves after twenty seven years in the force,” Thompson laughed.

“Sorry if I scared you,” Smith said, “or not.”

He stood up.

“I didn’t know you were still here.”

“So it seems,” Thompson said, “they had a real good go in here. Is there much missing?”

“I’ll have to check but they’ve definitely taken my bloody guitar; I’ve had that for ten years.”

“The fingerprint guys got loads of good prints.”

“So I see,” Smith surveyed the room, “they’ve been unusually thorough.”

“They get quite upset when its one of their own,” Thompson said, “you’ll need to make a list of what’s been taken and you’ll have to make a statement but I suppose you already know that.”

“That can wait,” Smith said, “we need to get to the station. We’ve got Roxy Jones and Mick Hogg there; I reckon its going to be quite explosive.”

“We’ll have to go in your car,” Thompson said, “my wife has taken mine; she’s gone to stay with her brother for a few days.”

“No problem,” Smith said, “Oh and one more thing Thompson…”

“What’s that?”

“Thanks. Thanks for keeping an eye on the place; you didn’t have to.”

“Does that mean we’re friends?” Thompson asked.

“No,” Smith replied immediately.

“Good,” Thompson said with a smile, “Let’s go.”

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY NINE

 

CASE CLOSED?

 

Smith and Thompson could hear the screams from the car park.

“Sounds like my wife is in there,” Thompson joked.

He opened the door to the Police station.

“After you,” he said to Smith.

Inside, Chalmers’ plan seemed to be working better than he had expected. Roxy Jones was being restrained by Bridge and two officers in uniform. Mick Hogg was cowering in one of the chairs in reception. Chalmers and Whitton were standing between the two suspects.

“Which one shall we do first sir,” Smith said to Chalmers.

“Our friend Hogg seems anxious to get away from her,” Chalmers pointed to Roxy Jones, “let’s see what he can tell us first. Thompson, you and Smith seem to have kissed and made up for the time being. You can sit in too.”

Thompson smiled.

“Yes sir,” he said.

The elderly man who was with Roxy Jones earlier emerged from the bathroom.

“Mr Atkins,” Chalmers addressed him, “I suggest you advise your client that this kind of behaviour will not work to her advantage.”

“Are you threatening my client Inspector?” Atkins said.

“Detective Inspector,” Chalmers replied, “and no, I’m not threatening her, I’m giving her a piece of advice that won’t cost her three hundred quid an hour. Would you like to sit in while we interview Hogg? He’s entitled to have a lawyer present.”

“No bloody way,” Roxy Jones cried, “that moron is on his own now.”

“Come through Mr Hogg,” Smith said, “we’ll use room number three; it’s my favourite.” He looked at Roxy Jones.

“That’s where we interviewed your husband,” he added.

“How many time do I have to tell you lot,” Roxy Jones screamed, “he’s not my husband, he’s nothing.”

“Thompson,” Smith said, “are you joining us?”

Thompson followed them down the corridor.

“Interview with Mr Michael Hogg”, Thompson began, “Sunday 3 January 2009. Time 15.30. Present DS Thompson and DS Smith. Mr Hogg has declined the offer to have a lawyer present on the grounds that they are all, and I quote, crap. Where shall we start Mr Hogg? “

“How long have you known Miss Jones?” Smith began

“I hardly know her,” Hogg replied.

“How can someone you hardly know get you to kill two people in just over a week? I’d hate to see what she could accomplish if she knew you well.”

“She threatened me,” Hogg insisted.

“So you said. What did she threaten you with?”

“She said she’d kill me if I told anyone.”

“Can I say something?” Thompson said.

“Please do,” Smith replied.

“Mr Hogg,” Thompson began, “you don’t seem to me the kind of person who would be scared easily. Why are you so frightened of this woman?”

“Can I have something to drink?” Hogg asked.

“In a minute Hogg, answer the question.”

“Roxy is clever,” Hogg said, “and she has money. Do you know how much it costs to have someone killed these days?”

“Enlighten us,” Smith sighed.

“About five grand. That’s small change for someone like her.”

“Ok,” Smith said, “so the recession is hitting the hit men too but you could let us help you.”

“How can you help me?”

“Listen Hogg,” Smith was becoming impatient, “Roxy Jones has a lawyer who earns more in a week than you’ve ever earned in a year. We know you killed Susan Jenkins and we’re pretty convinced you killed Lauren Cowley too. You’re going to jail; it’s up to you for how long.”

“What do you mean?” Hogg asked.

“Listen carefully, we have nothing on Roxy Jones except for your word and to be honest, your word doesn’t really count for much. Unless you help us, she’s going to get away with it.”

“But she paid me,” Hogg said, “Twice. You can prove that.”

“That’s going to be a bit of a problem. None of the money can be traced back to her. The first payment came from someone else’s bank account and the second payment was in cash and I doubt you have any of it left anyway.”

“Can I have that drink now?” Hogg said.

“I’ll get you some water,” Smith replied.

“Interview paused,” Thompson said, “DS Smith is leaving the room.”

He paused the machine.

Smith walked back through reception and bought three bottles of water from the machine in the corner.

“How are things going in there?” Chalmers asked.

Smith looked over to where Roxy Jones was sitting with her lawyer.

“Almost done Sir,” he said it loud enough for her to hear. “Hogg is thirsty; singing like a bird really dries out the mouth. He’s told us everything.”

“Interview recommenced,” Thompson spoke into the microphone, “Time, 15.45. Present, DS Thompson and DS Smith.”

Smith handed Hogg a bottle of water. He opened it and drank greedily.

“Where were we?” Smith asked, “Oh yes, the money that Roxy Jones gave you.”

“The first payment went straight into Susan’s bank account,” Hogg said, “but Roxy told me later she’d hacked into someone else’s account and sent the money from there.”

“Who’s account?” Smith said.

“That bloke who killed his wife,” Hogg said, “the one from the University.”

“And the second payment?”

“Roxy gave me three and a half grand in cash in Tenerife.”

“And that can’t be traced to her either, so where does that leave us?”

“What do you mean?”

“It means that you’re in deep shit Mr Hogg and Roxy Jones is going to get away with it. She’s going to sit back and watch you go down for this. How old are you Hogg?”

“Twenty two,” Hogg replied.

“Then you should get out just before you start to draw a pension,” Smith said, “if there is such a thing in forty years time.”

“Forty years?” Hogg was sweating.

“Forty years,” Smith repeated, “unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless you help us,” Thompson interrupted, “my colleague here is what you would call a by the book Policeman; he even studied the law for a few years. We know you killed those two women but you could argue, what’s the exact term DS Smith?”

“Criminal duress,” Smith said, “if you argue that you killed them under duress or admit only partial liability then you can expect a much lighter sentence.”

“And Roxy?” Hogg suddenly seemed very interested. “What will happen to her?”

“Conspiracy to commit murder,” Smith said, “It carries the same sentence as murder.”

“So she’ll be done for the murders, is that what you’re saying?”

“If she’s found guilty, yes,” Smith said, “but that depends entirely on you. We need to know everything; times, dates, the whole lot.”

“There’s one thing I still don’t understand,” Thompson said, “I can see why you killed Lauren Cowley; Roxy was the jealous girlfriend, but why Susan?”

“She was getting scared,” Hogg said, “Roxy told me to kill her to keep her quiet. Susan was terrified that the cops were on to us and she’s a terrible liar.”

“Didn’t that bother you,” Smith said, “killing your girlfriend?”

“Like I said,” Hogg sighed, “Roxy could be very persuasive.”

“Interview finished,” Smith announced suddenly, “Time 16.15.” He turned the machine off.

“Are we done?” Thompson looked surprised.

“Officially, yes we are,” Smith replied with a wry smile.

He leaned over the table so he was closer to Mick Hogg.

“I don’t like you Hogg,” he said, “but what I like even less are rich murderers with fancy lawyers getting away with it. You are going to make a statement that implicates Miss Jones in both of these murders. Do you hear me?”

“Loud and clear,” Hogg said nervously.

“How are your creative writing skills Thompson?” Smith asked.

“I don’t like the sound of this,” Thompson replied.

“Would you rather see Roxy Jones’ smug face as the judge pronounces her not guilty?”

“No, but…”

“I’m not asking you to do anything illegal Thompson; I just happen to know a bit about the other side of the law. All you need to do is jazz up the statement a bit with a few poignant phrases like terrified of Roxy Jones and fearful for my life. Otherwise, just keep to the facts.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Thompson sighed.

“Good,” Smith said, “and I’m going to see how that lawyer of Roxy Jones’ can justify the fees he charges.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY

 

CONFESSION

 

“Done and dusted,” Smith said triumphantly as he swaggered through the reception area, “We should be able to put this one behind us soon. The Super will be happy.”

He smiled at Roxy Jones.

“Miss Jones, would you follow me please.”

Roxy Jones stood up.

“Whitton,” Smith said, “can I have a quick word.”

“Of course sir,” she replied.

“Whitton,” Smith said when they were out of earshot, “I want you to help me with this one.”

“What have you got up your sleeve sir,” she asked.

“I’m going for the jugular,” he replied, “I’m not going to stand and watch this woman get away with it. I’m going to hit her where it hurts; I just want to warn you beforehand ok?”

“I’ll be ready sir.”

“Where’s Bridge?” Smith asked as they made their way to the interview room.

“Called out sir,” Whitton said, “domestic.”

“Get hold of him. I need him to bring in Miss Jones’ computer. Come through,” he said to Roxy Jones, “we’ll use room two; Hogg has left behind a particularly unpleasant smell in room three.”

He closed the door behind them.

“Have a seat please,” Smith said.

He pulled another chair out for Roxy Jones’ lawyer. Atkins looked at his watch.

“You can start the meter now Mr Atkins,” Smith joked, “or has it been running since Miss Jones called you?”

“Enough of the sarcasm Sergeant,” Atkins said, “can we get on with this; I’m a very busy man.”

“Me too,” Smith smiled, “you’re right of course, this shouldn’t take too long. Miss Jones, what can you tell us?”

Roxy Jones looked at her lawyer.

“Don’t say anything,” he advised her.

“Very well then,” Smith said, “looks like it’s up to me to begin.”

There was a knock at the door and Whitton entered the room.

“Mr Hogg,” Smith continued, “has told us everything and is busy putting it down on paper.”

He turned on the recording device.

“He’s lying!” Roxy Jones screamed, “I don’t know what he’s told you but he’s a liar.”

“Miss Jones,” Atkins said, “don’t say anything.”

“I don’t think this thing was turned on in time anyway.”

Smith pointed to the tape machine.

“Would you mind screaming that again,” he smiled.

“Sergeant,” Atkins said gravely, “I’m warning you, if you can’t take this seriously then I’m afraid I’ll have to take this up with your superiors.”

“Fair point,” Smith said, “as I said, Hogg has put us in the picture about Lauren Cowley, the baby.”

Smith looked directly at Roxy Jones.

“Or should I say Frank’s baby?” he added.

The room went silent but Roxy Jones’ face reddened.

“Where was I?” Smith said, “Oh yes, we know about Martin Willow’s bank account, Tenerife, pretty much everything. Why did you go to Tenerife Miss Jones?”

“I didn’t go to Tenerife,” Roxy Jones replied.

“First lie of the day,” Smith said, “we’ve got at least three people who saw you there.”

“They’re mistaken,” Roxy Jones insisted, “you can’t prove I was on any plane to Tenerife”

Smith looked at Whitton and gave her a nod. He had decided to take another approach. “Let’s start at the very beginning shall we?” he said, “Miss Jones, when did you find out about Frank and Lauren Cowley?”

“That Bitch,” she replied, “Frank was old enough to be her father. Frank used to go for drinks with Martin sometimes after work.”

“Martin Willow?” Smith asked.

“Yes. Martin always seemed to have a stream of groupies running after him; this Lauren bitch was one of them.”

“Is this really relevant Sergeant?” Atkins asked.

“Go on Miss Jones,” Smith ignored him.

“One night, Frank said he would be working late and my sister became ill. I phoned his office to tell Frank I would be at my sister’s but the woman on the switchboard said that Frank had already left for the day.”

“What did Frank say about that?”

“He said the switchboard woman didn’t know her arse from her elbow so I let it go.”

“But you sensed that something was wrong?”

“Frank started to change,” Roxy Jones was becoming agitated.

“In what way?” Smith said.

“He became a different person,” she said, “he became quite childish; started to listen to new music. At first I hoped it was just a phase, a mid life crisis kind of thing but it carried on for some time. One evening I had had enough so I followed him from his office.”

“You followed him?” Whitton said.

“It’s not a crime to follow your boyfriend is it?”

“No,” Smith said, “what happened?”

“He got in his car,” Roxy Jones began, “and drove to where this Cowley tart stays. I followed him there.”

“What did you do then”?

“Nothing. I just watched as some young woman opened the door and let Frank in. I knew what was going on but I was devastated anyway. Then I got angry. The bastard had been lying to me; he had been cheating on me. I went back to the girl’s house the next day.”

“What were you planning to do?” Smith asked.

“What do you think?” Roxy Jones said, “I was going to confront the bitch and tell her to leave my man alone.” She was becoming quite flustered.

“Calm down Miss Jones,” Atkins said.

“Did you confront Miss Cowley?” Smith asked.

“I didn’t have to,” she replied, “as I was busy boiling up in the car, the front door to the house opened and a woman appeared. It was the same woman I had seen let Frank into the house.”

“Then what?”

“Then I saw red. I got out of the car and approached her. I think I called her every name under the sun but she just stood there aghast. She said that she didn’t know what I was talking about and that she already had a boyfriend.”

“Susan Jenkins?” Whitton suggested.

“Yes,” Roxy Jones said, “that was how I met Susan and considering what I had just called her, she seemed quite calm. She was very kind; she suggested we go and get a drink somewhere so I could calm down and it was then she told me everything.”

“What did she tell you?” Smith asked.

“She told me that Frank and this Lauren had been seeing each other for a few months. I work away from home a lot and he had been seeing her while I was away.”

“How did you find out Lauren was pregnant?” Smith asked.

Roxy Jones’ face changed. She looked exhausted.

“Susan told me,” She said, “she found the pregnancy test in the bathroom.”

Smith decided to go for broke.

“You can’t have children can you Miss Jones?” he said.

“Sergeant!” Atkins shouted, “This is highly inappropriate.”

“It’s ok,” she said.

Her whole demeanour had changed.

“I’m finished,” she said, “I can’t take much more.”

“I’m requesting a break,” Atkins insisted.

“Let me finish,” Roxy Jones said.

“Carry on,” Smith said. He was keen to keep the momentum going.

“It all got out of control very quickly,” she continued, “I became quite friendly with Susan Jenkins despite the difference in our age. I suppose it’s because I paid for everything; Susan and Mick were always broke. Susan was always talking about going to somewhere nice for a holiday. She had only been abroad once.”

“To Tenerife maybe?” Smith suggested.

“Yes, and she said she would love to back there one day. One night after a few drinks I came up with a plan. On hindsight it was the most stupid thing I have ever done but I lost all sight of reason. Some young slut was having Frank’s baby. That’s when I concocted the suicide plan. Susan would get Lauren to drink the laced wine and then Mick would smother her with a pillow. In return, I would give them enough money to have a holiday in Tenerife.”

“You’re not helping yourself Miss Jones,” Atkins said.

“Shut up!” she shouted, “just shut up.”

“And Susan and Mick just went along with the whole thing?” Whitton asked.

“Not at first,” Roxy Jones said, “but once I’d convinced them that the plan was flawless, nobody would ever find out, they did what I asked. I even wrote a note.”

“I AM SO SORRY MARTIN,” Smith quoted, “Why Martin?”

“At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea; the Police would look in a completely different direction. That is until the idiot decided to try and slaughter Wendy and Penny. That was definitely not part of the plan.”

“And the trip to Tenerife?” Smith asked.

“When Frank decided it was a great idea to confess to being the father of the baby and let you search our house I decided that things were getting out of control so I went to make sure Mick and Susan kept their mouths shut.”

“And you found out that Susan Jenkins was getting cold feet?”

“She was a wreck.”

“So you paid Hogg to shut her up?”

“I had to; I didn’t know what else to do. What will happen to me Sergeant?”

Roxy Jones looked almost relieved.

“You’ll be charged with two counts of being an accessory to murder,” Smith said.

“This is unbelievable,” Atkins snorted. He stood up.

“Get out,” Roxy Jones said to him, “you old fossil, you’re fired.”

Atkins muttered something under his breath about his fee and left the room.

“One more thing,” Smith said, “On Christmas Eve, we have a taxi driver who claims that after he dropped the Willows off, he came back to your house twice; once to pick up a young woman and then again to fetch a man.”

Roxy Jones seemed confused.

“He only came back once,” she said, “Once the Willows had left I phoned Susan and told her to wait outside my house for a taxi to take her home. I thought it would not seem odd that Susan caught a taxi back to her own house.”

Smith rubbed his temples.

“Maybe the driver was mistaken,” he said, “Thank you Miss Jones, you’ve done the right thing. I’m afraid we’re going to have to charge you and then it’s out of our hands.”

“What about Hogg?” Roxy Jones asked.

“He’ll be charged too,” Smith said, “on the same two counts.”

 

“That went much better than I’d anticipated,” Smith said as he slurped a coffee in the canteen.

“You pushed the right buttons sir,” Whitton laughed, “us females can be slightly over emotional some times.”

“You women are bloody scary,” he laughed, “a woman scorned and all that. Do me a favour Whitton. Find Thompson and tell him he can tear up Hogg’s statement; I don’t think we’ll be needing it.”

“Do you still think Martin Willow is innocent sir?”

“Yes I do; there’s something just not quite right about it but it looks like he’s the only suspect at the moment.”

“So what now?”

“We go home and get a bit of rest. Two murders have been cleared up; that’ll satisfy the Super for the time being. I’ve got a few things I need to sort out at home. I need to clean up the mess those bastards left and I need to fetch Theakston from the pub. There’s one thing you can help me with though if you’ve got time.”

Whitton laughed.

“I’ve got all the time in the world,” she said, “You should know that, I’m a real sad case. What is it?”

“Help me find the people who stole my guitar.”

“They took the Fender?”

“Looks like it.”

“Then we’ll find it, there can’t be many guitars like that around.”

“Thanks Whitton.”

“You’re forgetting something sir,” Whitton said nervously.

“What’s that?”

“That guy who gave me his card at New Year.”

“Whitey?”

“That’s him. Aren’t you going to contact him? He said he would only be in the country for a few weeks.”

Smith’s expression changed. His eyes were open but they did not seem to see anything; they were staring far in the distance.

“That, I’ll have to think about,” he said finally, “now go home and get some rest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY ONE

 

THE TRIAL

 

Wednesday 20 July 2005

 

“All rise,” the official of the court ordered, “the honourable Judge Briggs presiding.”

The people in the courtroom all stood as Judge Briggs entered the room.

“Please sit down,” he said in a voice that belied his appearance.

Judge Nelson Briggs was a judge of twenty years. He was a bear of a man with an impressive walrus moustache that had taken him years to grow. His mere presence demanded respect but, unfortunately when he opened his mouth and spoke in his broad Tyneside accent, his air of dignity disappeared.

“The court is now in session,” the official announced, “the people versus Vera Mae Lin on the charge of manslaughter.”

“Mrs Vera Mae Lin,” Judge Briggs began, “you are accused of manslaughter, and please stand up while you are on the stand. You are charged with causing the death of Jonathan Passman on the fifteenth of March of this year. How do you plead?”

“It was an accident,” Mae Lin squeaked.

“Please speak up,” Judge Briggs said.

“It was an accident,” Mae Lin repeated, louder this time.

“Do you plead not guilty or not guilty?” Judge Briggs sighed, “And please address me as your honour; it sounds much more professional on the transcript.”

The courtroom was filled with low chuckling.

“Not guilty, your honour,” Mae Lin said.

“Good,” Judge Briggs said, “at least we can begin now. Prosecution, I think it’s customary for you to go first.”

“Sorry your honour,” a tall thin man stood up

He quickly filed through some pieces of paper and put them down.

“Mrs Vera Mae Lin,” he began, “could you please recount to the court the events of Tuesday the fifteenth of March this year.”

“I was at work,” she said, “I was working the afternoon shift.”

“Your place of employment was Smiley’s Pizzas in the town centre?”

“Yes, it was very quiet at the front of the shop so I was busy preparing the dough for the evening shift. They have an all you can eat Tuesday special which is very popular, especially with the students.”

“You were preparing dough in the back?”

“That’s right.”

“What happened next?”

“My boss came through to the kitchen and told me there was a man waiting to be served in the front of the shop.”

“Your boss was Jonathan Passman, is that correct?”

“Yes, he was very rude. He accused me of skiving and said I should be serving customers not hiding away in the back.”

“What did you do then?”

“I took the customer’s order, told him how long it would take and took the order to the pizza chef.”

“Carry on Mrs Lin.”

“The pizza chef was on a break so I decided to make the pizza myself.”

“Is that normal practice?”

“Not really but I’d done it before. We all try and help where we can. I rolled the dough and was preparing the topping when Mr Passman came in.”

“What did he do?”

“He was very angry. He swore at me and called me names.”

“What kind of names?”

“Nasty names.” Mae Lin began to shake.

“Take your time Mrs Mae Lin,” the prosecutor said.

“He called me a slanty eyed bitch,” she said.

There were gasps in the courtroom.

“What happened next?” the prosecutor asked.

“I’d had enough,” Mae Lin replied, “it wasn’t the first time he had been rude to me.”

“What did you do?”

“I was very angry. I told him I was leaving, threw the pizza on the floor and told him to make the pizza himself. Then I tried to leave.”

“What did Mr Passman do then?”

“He grabbed me by the arm and he said…”

Mae Lin paused.

“Can I repeat what he said? It’s not very nice.”

“Go on,” urged the prosecutor.

“He said make the fucking pizza you yellow skinned whore.”

The courtroom erupted.

“Order,” Judge Briggs shouted, “Order. Carry on Mrs Mae Lin.”

“He still had hold of my arm,” she continued, “I was scared. I picked up the chopping board with my other hand and hit him in the face with it. He let go and fell to the floor.”

“What did you do then,” the prosecutor said, “did you run?”

Mae Lin was silent.

“Mrs Mae Lin,” the prosecutor desperately wanted to keep the momentum going. “Did you run?” he repeated.

“No,” she said meekly,” I didn’t run. I was very upset. He was about to get up so I hit him again, harder this time. I was scared.”

“And you hit him again didn’t you?” the prosecutor said, “and then you hit him once more. In fact, isn’t it true that you just kept on hitting him? Even when he showed no more signs of life. You literally knocked the living shit out of him.”

“Objection, your honour,” a voice was heard from the defence.

“Withdrawn,” the prosecutor quickly said, “I have nothing further.”

“All this talk of pizza is making me hungry,” Judge Briggs said, “we’ll carry on after lunch, and I’ll have no more foul language in my courtroom. Is that understood?”

“Court adjourned,” the official said, “all rise.”

 

 

 

FORTY TWO

 

ME AND THE DEVIL BLUES

 

Sunday 3 January 2009

 

Jason Smith sighed as he surveyed the carnage in his living room again. The CDs were still scattered all over the floor. Luckily these bastards had crap taste in music, he thought as he collected the CDs together. They all seemed accounted for. There was an empty space on the cabinet where the television once stood but, apart from the TV and his guitar, nothing else seemed to be missing. He boiled the kettle. While he waited for it to boil, he checked the rooms upstairs. Draws had been left open in one of the rooms and clothes were strewn on the floor but nothing seemed to be missing there either. He checked the room where his Gran used to sleep. His heart sank when he noticed that the old bureau opposite the bed had been prised open. He quickly looked inside and saw that his Gran’s jewellery box was gone. He took out his phone and dialled Whitton’s number.

“Whitton,” he said, “do you feel like going shopping tomorrow?”

“Shopping sir?” she said,

“Yes, shopping. We’ve both got a couple of days off. I want to check every pawn shop in York; they took my Gran’s rings and my Grandfather’s watch.”

“Shopping it is then,” she said, “I’ll be at your house at nine.”

There was a knock on the front door. Smith quickly ran downstairs and opened it. Dave, the taxi driver was standing there with Theakston in his arms. The puppy was really starting to get fat.

“Delivery from Marge,” Dave beamed, “she thought she would save you a trip and I was coming this way home anyway.”

Dave put Theakston down and he trudged up to Smith and jumped at his legs.

“Thanks Dave,” Smith said, “how much do I owe you?”

“Nothing Mr Smith,” Dave insisted, “Like I said, I was coming this way anyway.”

Smith suddenly thought of something he needed to ask Dave but quickly forgot as Theakston started to sniff at his empty food bowl.

“Thanks again Dave,” he said.

“Any time,” Dave said, “goodbye Mr Smith, enjoy your evening.”

Smith closed the door and went to the kitchen to make the coffee. He put some food in Theakston’s bowl and the puppy ate greedily. Smith looked at the clock on the microwave. 19.40. He piled four heaped teaspoons of coffee into the cup.

“I’m not going to sleep much tonight anyway boy,” he said to Theakston.

The puppy had emptied the bowl of food and was begging for more. Smith smiled and put one more cup of food in the bowl.

“As of tomorrow boy,” he said, “you’re on a diet and a strict exercise routine.”

Smith took the coffee through to the living room and placed it on the table. He selected a Robert Johnson CD, put it in the machine and pressed play. ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ meandered out of the speakers. Theakston raced into the room and tried to jump onto the couch. He almost made it. He rebounded off the side and landed flat on his back. Smith laughed, picked him up and sat with him on the couch. He crawled on Smith’s stomach and made himself comfortable. Robert Johnson’s woeful voice sang out, ‘You may bury my body, down by the highway side, so my old evil spirit can get on a greyhound bus and ride.’

Within seconds both Smith and Theakston were asleep.

 

Smith woke to a dog barking. Theakston was barking at the coffee table. Smith’s phone was vibrating and moving itself around on the table. Theakston was trying to catch it; he thought it was a great game. Smith rubbed his eyes and picked up the phone. It was Whitton. He answered it.

“Are you alright sir?” Whitton asked, “I’m standing outside your house, the curtains are drawn and the lights are on.”

Smith looked at the clock on the wall.

“I’ve never felt better,” he said, “I’ve just slept for thirteen hours. The doors open, you can let yourself in.”

“Did you sleep in your clothes sir?” Whitton said as she walked in.

“I fell asleep on the couch,” Smith replied, “me and this fat fella slept here the whole night. Do you want some coffee?”

“Love some.”

“You know where everything is. Would you mind warming this up for me in the microwave too?”

He handed her the untouched cup of coffee from the previous night.

“I need a shower and a change of clothes, I haven’t changed since Tenerife.”

FORTY THREE

 

VERDICT

 

Wednesday 20 July 2005

 

“Mrs Mae Lin,” the defence counsel began, “you said that your employer, Mr Passman verbally abused you at work?”

“All the time,” Mae Lin replied.

“And on the day in question, you claim that he grabbed you by the arm. What did you think when he did this?”

“I was terrified; I thought he was going to hurt me.”

“And so you merely acted in self defence?”

“I had to get him off me; I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Thank you Mrs Mae Lin,” he said.

He addressed the jury.

“I think it is clear,” he began, “that my client is in fact a victim, not a perpetrator of a crime. She merely acted in a way any one of us would have under the same circumstances. What we have here is a tragic accident, nothing more. I have nothing further your honour.”

Judge Briggs consulted his watch.

“Prosecution,” he said, “do you have anything further to add?”

The tall thin prosecutor stood up.

“I’d like to call one more witness if I may your honour,” he said.

“Is it relevant?” Judge Briggs asked.

“Extremely your honour. I took the liberty of having a very well respected psychologist interview Mrs Mae Lin and he came to some very interesting conclusions.”

“Very well,” Judge Briggs conceded, “then I’ll allow it, but please make it short; it’s my wife’s birthday and I told her I’d take her somewhere nice.”

“Thank you your honour,” the prosecution said, “I’d like to call Martin Willow, Professor of Psychology at York University.”

“Objection,” the defence counsel shouted, “your honour, how is this relevant?”

“Mrs Mae Lin’s state of mind is highly relevant,” the prosecutor argued.

“I’ve already said I’ll allow it,” Judge Briggs was becoming impatient.

“I would like to call Martin Willow to the stand,” the prosecutor repeated.

Martin Willow walked up to the witness stand.

“Professor Willow,” the prosecutor began, “you are a Professor of Psychology at the University of York?”

“That’s right,” Willow said

“And you are considered an expert in this field”?

“I wouldn’t put it like that,” Willow said, “I’m more a scholar of behavioural patterns; the human brain is a complex thing.”

“But you are more qualified than most to understand what makes the human brain work?”

“I suppose so,” Willow said, “I’ve written many theses on the brains actions and reactions to various outside stimuli.”

“Objection your honour,” the defence interrupted, “where are we going with this?”

“Yes,” Judge Bridge agreed, “where is this leading?”

“Please humour me a moment your honour,” the prosecution said, “Mr Willow, you spoke with Mrs Mae Lin did you not?”

“I did, yes,” Willow said.

“And what, in your professional opinion did you deduce?”

“I did a number of standard tests with Mrs Mae Lin. You must understand that Psychology is not an exact science like say Physics or Chemistry but there are definitely certain constants in what can be considered normal reactions to certain forces.”

“Once again in English please,” Judge Briggs said.

“Sorry, your honour,” Willow said, “let me put it this way. When subjected to outside stress, the human brain adopts a defence mode; it’s a primeval defence, fight or flight. Mrs Mae Lin in nine out of ten of the tests displayed an unnatural tendency toward the fight phase.”

“And this is not considered normal?” the prosecutor asked.

“No,” Willow replied, “not at all. As humans have evolved their self preservation has centred mostly on getting the heck away from the apparent danger.”

“The flight phase?”

“Exactly. Mrs Mae Lin’s brain does not function that way and to be quite honest, God help anybody who triggers her fight response.”

“Would you consider her to be dangerous?”

“She’s volatile,” Willow said, “but I believe she can be stabilised.”

“Objection your honour,” the defence said.

“What now Counsel?” Judge Briggs was getting quite angry now.

“This so called expert is painting my client as a homicidal maniac. Volatile? The woman acted in fear of her life that’s all.”

“Please just bear with me,” Willow insisted, “I don’t believe she’s homicidal, I just think she needs help.”

“You mean with medication?” the prosecutor asked.

“Not just medication,” Willow said, “I believe that Mrs Mae Lin would benefit from a period of observation in a medical institution.”

“A psychiatric hospital?”

“Yes, I do not believe in her case, jail would be beneficial. In fact, it would have the reverse effect.”

“My skinny prosecutor friend,” Judge Briggs interrupted, “Isn’t it normally the responsibility of the defence to argue diminished responsibility?”

“Your honour,” the prosecutor said, “Is it not our duty to rehabilitate, not to punish those in society who break the law?”

“My God,” Judge Briggs exclaimed, “the legal world has gone soft. In my day prosecutors were only out for blood. Very well, how long are we talking about here Professor Willow?”

“A year at least,” Willow said, “We cannot ascertain exactly how long it will take but I’d definitely say a year to begin with.”

“This is highly unorthodox,” Judge Briggs addressed the jury, “and I’m sorry to have wasted your valuable time but if we are all in agreement I will pass judgement. Any objections?”

There was silence in the courtroom.

“Good,” Judge Briggs said, “Mrs Mae Lin, on the charge of manslaughter, I find you guilty. However, under the circumstances and based on your evidence and that of Professor Willow’s I believe that incarceration is not the answer. I therefore sentence you to no less than two years in a psychiatric unit for suitable treatment. Case closed. Now, I have to go; Mrs Briggs gets grumpy when I’m late.”

As the defence lawyer was leaving the court building he was approached by a man.

“What the hell happened in there?” the man asked, “I thought you said she would be found not guilty?”

“Mr Lin,” the defence counsel said, “she would have been. The prosecution knew that; that’s why they brought in their so called expert.”

“That bastard is going to pay for this,” Mr Lin sneered.

“Mr Lin, a mental hospital is not jail; you’ll have more visits and she’ll be very well looked after.”

“Can I speak to her before they take her away?”

“I’m afraid not, you’ll have to arrange a visit when she’s settled in.”

“Martin Willow,” Mr Lin said, “He’s going to pay for this.” He walked quickly away from the Court House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY FOUR

 

POETIC JUSTICE

 

Monday 4 January 2009

 

“Where shall we start sir?” Whitton asked as they drove into town.

“I’ve printed out a list,” Smith said, “There’s a couple of pawn shops on WalmGate and a few more on Foss Bank. You can park in the long stay car park just up ahead and we can walk from there.”

Whitton parked the car. It was threatening to rain as they made their way to the shops.

“Do you think Theakston will be ok?” Smith asked, “He’s not used to being by himself.”

“He’ll get used to it,” Whitton said, “he’ll have probably chewed his way through the whole house but that stops after a while I think. Here’s the first one on the list ‘Ishmael and Sons.’ Sounds very up market.”

Smith laughed.

“Lets hope they can help us,” he said, “don’t let on we’re Police.”

“Just Mr and Mrs Smith?” Whitton joked.

Ishmael and Sons was a treasure trove of mostly worthless goods. One wall of the shop was lined with shelves containing various power tools; there was a counter next to the cashiers desk containing what looked like cheap tatty jewellery and there were clothes racks littered all over the shop floor holding clothes that were straight out of the seventies. Something at the back of the shop caught Smith’s eye. There was a rack with a dozen or so guitars lined up next to each other.

“Do you see what I see Whitton?” he said.

“Is your guitar there?” Whitton seemed excited.

“No its not, but look at this little beauty.” He picked up an immaculate sunburst electric guitar.

“If I’m not mistaken,” he said, “this is a Rickenbacker 330. Collector’s piece.”

“Looks pretty ugly to me,” Whitton said.

“Have you got any money on you?” Smith asked, “I wasn’t planning on buying anything today.”

“How much do you need?”

“Two hundred; they obviously don’t know what this things worth.”

“But it’s got no strings on it.”

“Ten quid strings. These go for over a grand. I’ll pay you back.”

“I’ve got my credit card but I need it back; I’ve just had to fork out a fortune to fix my car.”

“You’re a star Whitton.”

“Shouldn’t we ask about the stuff that was stolen?” Whitton asked, “That’s why we’re here isn’t it?”

“I don’t see any of it here.”

He took the guitar to the front desk. A young girl was busy on her cell phone.

“Excuse me Miss,” he said, “sorry to drag you away from saving the world but I’d like to buy this guitar please.”

The girl looked at him as if he was asking her to change his car tyre.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” he added.

His sarcasm was wasted on her. She took the label off the guitar and wrote out an invoice. Whitton handed her the credit card.

Outside the shop, Whitton was about to put the credit card slip in her purse when she noticed something.

“Sir,” she said, “the guitar’s a gift; call it a late Christmas present.”

Smith was astounded.

“I can’t take this,” he said, “I said I’d pay you back.”

Whitton showed him the credit card slip.

“She rang up twenty quid instead of two hundred,” she said, “or should we go back and tell her?”

“No chance,” Smith said with a wry smile, “these sharks get rich from people’s misfortune. Plus, that sales assistant was bloody rude. Poetic justice if you ask me. You do realise what this means though?”

“No sir,” Whitton said, “what does it mean?”

“When you buy someone a guitar it means you have a bond with them for life; nothing can break it.”

Whitton blushed.

“What about this place?” she said as they passed a shop with a sign that read ‘Music City’. “They’ve got tons of guitars in the window.”

“They’ve got my guitar in the window,” Smith said and took a closer look.

His red Fender Stratocaster was staring at him from behind the glass.

“How do you know it’s yours sir?” Whitton was dubious.

“Let’s have a closer look,” he said, “mine had a small sticker on the back plate; the Australian flag.”

As they entered the shop, Smith’s phone rang. It was Chalmers.

“Smith,” he said, “I’ve got some good news for you. We’ve got the little scrotes who robbed your place.”

“That was quick sir,” Smith’s heart was pounding.

“Forensics got a load of prints. One of the scumbags has been in and out of jail his whole life.”

“I think I’ve found the guitar they stole Sir, I’m at the shop now. What are the names of these toe rags?”

“Steven Maude and John Bartlett. Maude’s the career criminal.”

“Steven Maude?” Smith repeated.

The name seemed very familiar.

“I’ll be there in about an hour sir,” he said, “I just want to put the wind up the owner of the shop.”

“Be careful Smith,” Chalmers warned, “do it by the book.”

“Of course,” Smith smiled, “you should know me by now sir.”

He rang off.

“They’ve caught the crooks that broke into my house,” he said to Whitton.

“That was quick sir,” Whitton said.

“That’s what I said. Let’s have a look at that guitar.”

Smith walked over to the guitar in the window and picked it off the stand. It had a slight nick on the paintwork that was not there before but other than that it was undamaged.

“Quite a specimen isn’t she?” A voice was heard behind him.

“Genuine US Strat,” the assistant added, “plays like a dream; been well looked after.”

Smith turned the guitar over. There was a small sticker of the Australian flag on the back plate.

“That’ll be easy to remove,” the assistant said, “Australians are not really known to be guitar legends anyway. This one will sell quickly; we only got it in this morning. It’s yours for eight hundred, or three hundred plus that.” He pointed to the Rickenbacker.

“Can I speak to the owner of the shop?” Smith asked.

“He’s busy with the accounts in the back,” the assistant replied, “I can help you with anything; I’ve worked here for six months now. I practically run the place.”

Smith took out his ID.

“Go and get him,” he said.

“I’ll go and get him.”

“How long have you been playing?” Whitton asked.

“Just over ten years,” Smith replied, “I bought the Strat when I first came over here. A guy needed money to go to Brazil so I got it for a good price.”

“Can I help you with anything?” the owner appeared.

“DS Smith,” Smith said, “and this is DC Whitton. I’m very interested in this guitar.”

The owner looked angry.

“You can’t come in here and flash your badge and think you’ll get a discount,” he said, “I can report you for that.”

“What’s your name?” Smith demanded.

“Colin Charles,” the owner said, “what’s this all about?”

“This guitar was stolen in a burglary a few days ago,” Smith said, “where did you get it?”

“Two guys brought it in this morning. I remember they didn’t look like musical types.”

“Did you get any identification from these men?” Smith said, “Isn’t that normal practice?”

“They didn’t have any and they said I could have the guitar for a hundred quid; its worth much more than that. How do you know it’s this guitar?”

“Because it was my house they stole it from.”

Colin Charles was now becoming agitated.

“I didn’t know it was stolen,” he insisted, “please, just take it; I don’t want any trouble. I’ve had this place for fifteen years. I had branches in Bradford and Leeds but I had to close them down. This recession is really hitting the musical instrument business badly. What are you going to do?”

Smith scratched his head.

“What I should do,” he said, “is arrest you for handling stolen goods but seeing as they’ve caught the guys and I’ve got my guitar back, I’m going to let you off with a warning.”

“I’ll give you four hundred for the Rickenbacker,” Charles said.

“It’s not for sale,” Smith said, “It was a gift from a very good friend.”

He smiled at Whitton.

“I could use a set of strings though,” he added.

“Mark,” Charles said to the assistant, “organise the Detective a set of good strings please. No charge.”

The assistant picked up a set of strings from behind the counter and handed them to Smith.

“Thank you Mr Charles,” Smith said, “and remember, no ID no deals ok?”

“It won’t happen again,” Charles insisted.

“Hopefully you’ll get your Gran’s Jewellery back now” Whitton said as they drove to the station.”

“I hope so,” Smith said, “it means a lot to me. Do you want to drop me off at the station? I’ll get a taxi back; its your day off.”

“It’s ok Sir,” Whitton replied, “I’d only be bored at home.”

Smith smiled.

“People are going to start talking Whitton,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY FIVE

 

LITTLE CHUCK

 

Wednesday 27 July 2005

 

“The visiting room is through there Mr Lin,” Nurse Hagen said, “I’m afraid we’re going to have to search your bag before you go in.”

Mr Lin handed his bag to a short, stocky man standing in front of the desk.

“There’s one thing you must understand Mr Lin,” the nurse continued, “your wife was sent here on an involuntary commitment order. She is undergoing strict rehabilitation and involved in that therapy is strong medication. She is still getting used to that medication.

“Will she know who I am?” Lin asked.

“It’s not that bad,” Nurse Hagen said, “she’ll just be a bit groggy for a while. You can go through now. I must warn you that some of the other patients can seem a bit odd. I assure you they are quite harmless though.”

Lin took his bag from the stocky man, walked through the security gate and followed the sign that read ‘visiting room’. The sound of singing could be heard from one of the rooms in the distance; it was a song about Jesus. Lin opened the door to the visitor’s room and looked inside. The room was completely white with a dark grey floor. There were a dozen or so tables in the room, each with four chairs around them. A man in a hospital uniform approached.

“Can I help you?” he asked suspiciously. He had a strange accent.

“I’m here to see my wife,” Lin said, “Vera Mae Lin, she’s expecting me.”

“The patients who are expecting visitors will be through in a moment,” the man said, “you can take a seat at one of the tables while you wait.”

Lin picked the table closest to the window. It was raining quite heavily outside. While he waited he looked around the room and realised how devoid of character it was. White walls and a grey floor. How could anyone hope to get better in here? He thought. His thoughts were broken as a group of people shuffled into the room. They all looked the same in their hospital regulation white gowns and plastic socks. Lin stood up as he saw Vera Mae Lin enter the room. He smiled at her but she stared straight past him. In just a week, her appearance had changed dramatically; her face was a strange greyish white colour and she looked thinner. It was her eyes that startled him the most. There was none of the sparkle he remembered; they were just dead pools of black under sunken lids. Lin approached her and embraced her. She stiffened as she felt his arms around her. She smelled of disinfectant. He pulled out a chair for her and she sat down.

“How are they treating you?” Lin asked.

A glimmer of recognition appeared in her eyes but she did not answer.

“They told me you’ll get used to the drugs after a while,” Lin said.

There was an eerie silence. Lin did not know what else to say.

“They make me feel so tired,” Vera Mae said eventually.”

Lin smiled.

“They will do at first,” he said, “but after a while you’ll get better.”

“I can’t think properly,” she said slowly, “There’s a white mist in front of my eyes the whole time and I’ve been sick most mornings.”

Lin took hold of her hand. It was cold.

“You’ve got me,” he said, “and I’ll be here every Wednesday until you get out. I promise.”

“I’m not a bad person am I?” she asked.

“Of course not. You shouldn’t even be in here; if it wasn’t for that Professor, you’d be at home with me right now.”

“I think I might be pregnant,”

Lin’s face dropped but just as quickly, it brightened and every inch of it was engulfed in a radiant glow.

“Pregnant?” Lin’s eyes were now glowing. “We’re going to have a baby?” he cried to a man sitting at the table across from them.

The man did not move; he had not moved since he had sat down.

“I said I might be pregnant,” Vera Mae said.

There was a hint of a smile on her face for the first time.

“You know Vera Mae,” Lin insisted, “we’re going to have a baby, little Chuck. It’ll be just like the song.”

“What song?”

“The one I always play. The one about growing old together and being happy. Maybe they’ll let you out early when they find out.”

“I’m tired,” Vera Mae said, “these stupid pills make me tired and I’m tired of this place already; I think I need to lie down and sleep for a while.”

“Yes,” Lin agreed, “you must rest and look after our little Chuck.”

 

FORTY SIX

 

RED RAG

 

Monday 4 January 2009

 

“They’re in the holding cells,” Chalmers said, “Bartlett’s scared shitless but Maude’s putting on a brave face.”

“This Maude character,” Smith said, “you said he has quite an impressive record, what’s he been inside for?”

“Robbery, breaking and entering, assault, GBH, you name it. He was up for manslaughter a while back but they couldn’t make it stick. Some scumbag lawyer got the sentence reduced.”

“Manslaughter?”

“Robbed an old woman a while back. He knocked her to the ground. She fell so hard that she broke her hip and she never recovered; she died later in hospital.”

Smith’s heart started to beat faster. He took a couple of deep breaths.

“Where did Whitton disappear to?” he said.

“She said she needed to check her e mails,” Chalmers replied, “why do you ask?”

“No reason sir. Would you mind if I had a quick word with this Maude guy?”

“You shouldn’t really, you’re personally involved.”

“Personally involved sir?”

“The burglary, he broke into your house.”

“I just thought if I asked him nicely, he might tell me where the rest of my stuff ended up.”

Chalmers scratched a scab on his nose.

“You’ve got five minutes,” he said.

There were five holding cells at the Police station. Over weekends they were normally full of drunkards and petty criminals but today, Steven Maude and John Bartlett had the place to themselves. Smith opened the door to the cell. He recognised Maude immediately.

“You,” he said to Bartlett, “Out! There’s an open cell at the end of the corridor. Sit there and wait until I’m finished.”

Bartlett looked terrified. He did as he was asked.

“Steven Maude,” Smith said when he was sure Bartlett was out of ear shot, “we meet again.”

Maude seemed confused.

“Do I know you?” he snarled.

“All in good time,” Smith replied, “you made the mistake of breaking into a Police Detective’s house. That was a stupid thing to do.”

“We didn’t know it was a copper’s house,” Maude insisted.

“Never mind that. You took some jewellery from me. Where is it?”

“Sold it,” Maude said immediately.

“I assumed that,” Smith said, “who did you sell it to?”

“What’s in it for me?”

“That will become apparent. Who did you sell it to?”

“There’s this Paki down on the West Hill Road. He owns a corner shop but that’s just a front for the other stuff he buys and sells.”

“Name.”

Smith’s heart started to beat even faster.

“I don’t know,” Maude said, “Muhammad or something.”

“You really don’t remember me do you?” Smith said.

“No,” Maude replied, “I don’t remember every pig I’ve been pulled by.”

“A good few years ago you robbed an old lady.”

“I robbed a good few old ladies in those days,” Maude shrugged his shoulders and a smug grin appeared on his face.

Smith was finding it hard to control himself.

“This old lady in particular,” he said, “you knocked her to the ground and she broke her hip.”

Maude’s face changed. He seemed like he was deep in thought.

“The one who died?” he said.

“You got there in the end.” Smith was close to boiling point.

“What of it?” Maude said, “I didn’t mean to kill her. Even the court saw that. What’s this got to do with anything?”

“You don’t feel bad about it?”

Smith was ready to snap; his fists were clenched by his side.

“Why should I feel bad?” Maude said defiantly, “she was old; she would have died soon enough anyway.”

It was like showing a red rag to a bull. The first punch knocked Maude into the wall. He was stunned for a moment but quickly got up and assumed a defensive stance. Blood was flowing from a cut on his lip. He swung a punch but Smith blocked it and landed a right hook on Maude’s nose. A resounding crack could be heard.

“You’ve broken my bloody nose, you pig,” Maude cried, “you’re crazy. All I did was rob your house.”

“You killed my fucking Gran,” Smith screamed.

Maude’s eyes were filled with terror. Smith swung again and connected under Maude’s chin. He landed another blow on the cheekbone. Maude collapsed on the floor. Smith leaned over him and grabbed him by the hair. He continued to land blow after blow; he could not stop himself. He felt himself being pulled from behind. Four arms restrained him and pulled him backwards. Smith was exhausted; he fell to the ground and lay on the floor against the wall. Maude was making quiet whimpering sounds in the corner.

“Smith!” Chalmers barked, “My office. Now! Somebody see to that mess in the corner. If he has to go to hospital, we’re all in deep shit.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY SEVEN

 

TOO LITTLE TOO LATE

 

Wednesday 17 August 2005

 

“You’re looking much better this week,” Lin said to his wife.

“I don’t feel so drowsy either,” Vera Mae said, “they said they’ve figured out the medication I need and it’s not as much as they thought at first.”

“How’s the morning sickness?”

“Bearable. I’m definitely pregnant; they did a proper test. That’s another reason they don’t want to drug me up too much.”

“Will they let you out early to have the baby?”

“I don’t know what will happen. I hope so. How are things going at work?”

“They’re laying people off. I don’t think there will be a Post Office in a few years. Nobody sends letters anymore, its all on computers now. A friend has offered me another job.”

“What kind of job?”

“Driving a taxi. It’s quite a fancy taxi company and they need more drivers. They pay well and the tips are great.”

“Are you going to take it? You can hardly drive.”

“I don’t think I’ll have much choice. It won’t take me long to learn and people will always need taxis. I’m seriously thinking about it. Anyway, enough about me, how are things going in here? Have you made any friends yet?”

“Not really, everybody is a bit strange. There are people here who have been here for years; this is the only life they know.”

“Another woman has come forward with information on Passman.” Lin said suddenly.

“What information?” Vera Mae’s eyes were shining.

“She said she used to work for him and he made her life hell too. She only came forward now because she found out he had been killed. I’ve spoken to your lawyer and he said she could have made a huge difference in the outcome of the case.”

“Can’t we still do something?”

“The lawyer said it was too little too late. He said that if you’d been sent to jail we could have appealed and you’d probably be at home now but something in the law states that a commitment order is almost impossible to change. There’s nothing we can do.”

“I’m sure they’ll let me out early to have the baby though.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY EIGHT

 

SUSPENDED

 

Monday 4 January 2009

 

“What the hell were you thinking of Smith?” Chalmers barked, “If that scumbag wants to, he can end your bloody career.”

“Sorry sir,” Smith said, “I just lost it.”

“Whitton told me about your Gran. I didn’t know.”

“That’s why I joined up sir.”

“And you’re a bloody good detective; now use that brain of yours to help me find a way out of this mess.”

“You and Bridge saw me sir,” Smith said, “You saw me beat the crap out of him. You’re both witnesses.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Chalmers insisted, “and I’ll make sure Bridge didn’t either but what about Maude’s mate?”

“John Bartlett,” Smith said, “he was in the holding cell at the end.”

“Then here’s the story we’re going to stick to. Our friend Maude thinks he’s in deep shit; he has a record but even so, with this burglary, he’s probably only looking at a few months or so. He’s not the brightest spark in the world so I’m going to trick him into agreeing to a sentence he would get anyway.”

“Thanks sir,” Smith said, “I appreciate it.”

“I’m not finished with you yet Smith. As of this minute, you’re officially on leave.”

“But sir,” Smith protested, “what about the Willow murder?”

“That one’s a dead end.”

Chalmers was serious.

“Forget about it,” he said, “Thompson was right all along, the husband did it. It’s always the husband, remember.”

“Something doesn’t feel right sir. We still don’t know why he did it.”

“Get out of my office before I change my mind. You’ve got two weeks owing, take it. Go somewhere nice, play with your dog, anything. Now piss off and tell Bridge to get in here.”

“Thanks sir,” Smith said, “I think.”

Two weeks, Smith thought as he closed Chalmers’ door behind him. What does someone do with two weeks off in the middle of winter? In Fremantle, this was the warmest time of the year. Smith knew immediately what he was going to do.

“What did the DI say sir?” Whitton asked as Smith walked through reception.

“He told me to piss off,” Smith replied with a wry smile, “he told me to piss off for two weeks.”

“Are you suspended?”

“Not officially,” Smith said, “I’m on leave.”

“What are you going to do for two weeks? What about the Willow murder?”

“That’ll have to wait until I get back. Right now, I’m going to do some private detective work of my own. Remember that guy at the Blues Club?”

“The White guy.”

“Whitey, yes. I’m going to find out what the hell he meant when he said my sister was still alive.”

“Do you need some help sir?”

“Thanks Whitton but I think I’ve abused enough of your time already.”

“I’m only a phone call away Sir,” Whitton said.

“I know Whitton,” Smith said, “but I think I need to do this one on my own.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY NINE

 

CHRISTMAS PRESENTS

 

Saturday 24 December 2005

 

“Mr Lin,” the sombre voice on the telephone said, “I’m afraid I need you to come to the hospital.”

“Is something wrong with Vera Mae?” Lin asked.

There was a pause on the line.

“Please Mr Lin,” the voice continued, “I’ll explain everything when you get here.”

Lin put down the phone, finished his tea and picked up his car keys. He looked over at the small Christmas tree in the corner of the room. There were two presents underneath it. One was labelled’ Vera Mae’ and the other, ‘Chuck’. Lin picked them up, put them inside his coat and left the house.

Lin drove carefully to the hospital; the roads had been gritted but it had snowed heavily and it was beginning to lay again. As he drove, he wondered what was wrong with Vera Mae. She had been upbeat the last few times he had visited; her belly was getting big and there was a strong possibility of her being discharged early to have the baby. Lin parked the car as close to the entrance of the hospital as possible. He got out, locked the car and walked quickly to the front of the building. Once inside, he shook the snow off and approached the reception desk. Nurse Hagen was sitting there looking through some papers.

“I got a call to come here urgently,” Lin said, “what’s wrong?”

Nurse Hagen could barely look him in the eye.

“Good afternoon,” she said sympathetically, “I’ll let Doctor Bushell know you’re here, please have a seat.”

“What’s wrong?” Lin repeated.

“The doctor will explain everything,” she said, “please have a seat.”

When Lin saw the expression on Doctor Bushell’s face he knew at once that something terrible had happened.

“Can I see my wife?” he said.

“Please Mr Lin,” Doctor Bushell said, “come through to my office.”

He led Lin to an office just down the corridor from reception. The office was furnished very grandly; a huge mahogany desk dominated the room, bookshelves lined one wall and various species of fish were displayed in frames on the other walls. Doctor Bushell was obviously a keen fisherman.

“Please sit down Mr Lin,” Doctor Bushell beckoned to one of the leather chairs.

“Is Vera Mae alright?” Lin asked, “You’ve got me worried. Is there something wrong with the baby?”

“I’m afraid there was an incident on Wednesday night,” Doctor Bushell began, “after visiting time.”

“What happened?” Lin asked.

“Vera Mae attacked another patient; she stuck a fork in the woman’s arm.”

“Why did she do that?”

“We don’t know. We had to sedate her. I’m afraid we had to get an expert to reassess her and he came to the conclusion that she is by no means fit to look after a baby.”

Lin took out the Christmas presents.

“Can I see her?” he asked, “I’ve got gifts for her and the baby, they might cheer her up a bit.”

Doctor Bushell took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry Mr Lin,” he said, “I’m afraid your wife died two hours ago.”

Lin felt sick. He could hear his own heart beat; it was beating quickly.

“What do you mean she died?” Lin said eventually, “How could you let that happen?”

“She died of a Cyclic Antidepressant overdose,” Doctor Bushell said gravely.

“Overdose?” Lin repeated, “You mean she killed herself?”

“I’m afraid so. A fellow patient was not taking her medication; she’d saved up two weeks of pills and Vera Mae took the lot.”

“What about the baby?”

“There was nothing we could do Mr Lin, Vera Mae’s body simply shut down.”

Lin stood up.

“Can I see her,” he said.

“Of course,” Doctor Bushell replied, “she’s in her room, I’ll come with you.”

“What was the name of the expert?” Lin asked.

“Expert?” Doctor Bushell was confused.

“The one who decided Vera Mae was not fit to look after a baby?”

“Just a Psychology Professor from the University.”

“What was his name?”

“Professor Willow,” Doctor Bushell replied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY

 

CONSCIENCE

 

Tuesday 5 January 2009

 

White and White exporting owned a small flat above an Indian restaurant in Leicester city centre. David White had decided that this was as central as possible for distributing all over England and Wales. He had converted half the flat into a basic office with a phone, computer and a few small filing cabinets. He was busy finalising a contract with an antiques firm in Cardiff when Jason Smith had phoned. He was expecting the call but it still took him by surprise.

“Smith,” he said, “it’s been a long time. Where are you?”

“In Leicester,” Smith replied, “this place is a nightmare to get around.”

“You get used to it,” Whitey said, “what road are you on?”

“Aylestone Road,” Smith said, “No, now it’s bloody changed. It’s now Oxford Road.”

“Ok,” Whitey said, “keep left, turn onto Saint Nicholas and follow it round to High Street. There’s parking at the Shires shopping centre. I’m just round the corner on Silver Street. Look for the Magic Balti restaurant; there’s a plaque with my name on it. Just ring the bell and I’ll let you in.”

He hung up.

Whitey’s directions were perfect. Smith found the shopping centre and parked his car in the multi storey car park. It was raining as he walked outside but it seemed a few degrees warmer than in York. As he walked he was overcome by a feeling of dreadful expectation. If what Whitey had said was true and his sister was still alive, what had become of her? What happened on that beach over ten years ago had determined the direction of his life. Laura would be nineteen now.

The Magic Balti restaurant was one of those typical tacky Indian restaurants that had sprung up all over England in the past twenty years. The windows were dark and over them hung an awning in the shape of the Taj Mahal. To the left of the restaurant there was a plaque. It read ‘White and White exporting. Perth, Leicester, Hong Kong, Bejing’. Smith noticed that room had been left on the plaque for additional information. Whitey’s done alright for himself, Smith thought as he rang the bell. The door clicked open almost immediately. Smith went inside and closed the door behind him. As he climbed the stairs he suddenly had feelings of doubt. Should he be here? What did Whitey have in store for him? Smith had despised Whitey when he was growing up and he was sure that the feeling was mutual. The door at the top of the stairs was open but Smith knocked anyway.

“Come in Jason Smith,” Whitey shouted from inside. He still had the annoying nasal drawl. Smith walked in to find Whitey sitting behind a desk next to the window.

“David White?” Smith said.

Whitey had changed almost beyond recognition. His once blonde hair was darker with grey stripes on the side; his face was ashen and puffy. Whitey stood up; he seemed shorter and he was definitely a good few pounds heavier.

“Ten years can change a person dramatically,” he said noting Smith’s surprise, “You haven’t changed a bit though.”

“I’m very different inside,” Smith said but regretted it instantly, “do you usually open the door for just anybody? You should be more careful.”

“Like I said,” Whitey said, “you haven’t changed a bit, I saw you from the window. What’s Jason Smith up to these days?”

“No Smith shit then?” Smith joked.

Whitey smiled.

“I was a bit of a prick back then wasn’t I?” he said.

“Just a bit,” Smith agreed, “you seem to be doing alright for yourself now. Leicester, Perth, Hong Kong, Bejing. Very impressive.”

“We’re just about to crack Canada too,” Whitey said, “we tried to get into America but those sepos are so full of shit.”

“Sepos?” Smith asked.

“Septic Tanks, Yanks. You’ve been away from home too long.”

“York’s my home now.” Smith corrected him.

“So what does Jason Smith do in York? I believe the surfing’s not too hot there.”

“I’m a Policeman,” Smith said, “Detective Sergeant and I love York.”

“A Policeman?” Whitey was amused. “I never would’ve had you pegged for a cop,” he said.

“I studied law for a while but that’s another story,” Smith said, “why did you come looking for me and how did you find me?”

“I thought you were the detective,” Whitey joked, “come over here, I want to show you something.” He pointed to his computer.

“Unfortunately you have a real pain of a name,” he began, “You can’t just punch in Jason Smith on the Google search engine; you’ll get a million hits but you can narrow it down.”

Smith was confused.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

“Ok,” Whitey said, “what do we have? Jason Smith, Australian, York, Guitarist.”

He pressed the enter key and a familiar sight appeared on the screen.

“The Deep Blues Club,” Smith was amazed, “they’ve got reviews on here.”

“Yes my friend,” Whitey smiled, “you’re famous.”

“But how did you know I’d be there on New Years Eve?” Smith asked.

“For a copper, you’re pretty naïve,” Whitey said, “I’m a business man which means I basically bullshit for a living. I phoned the club, pretended I liked your style and asked them when you’d be playing next.”

“As simple as that?”

“As simple as that.”

“But why?” Smith asked, “It’s been ten years.”

Whitey took out a packet of cigarettes.

“Smoke?” he said.

“No thanks,” Smith replied.

“Probably for the best.”

Whitey lit a cigarette, inhaled and coughed loudly.

“Listen Smith,” he said, “are you sure you want to know what became of your sister?”

“I came all this way didn’t I?” Smith replied, “Why are you telling me this now?”

“Mortality,” Whitey sighed.

“Mortality?” Smith repeated.

“When you realise the extent of your own mortality you do strange things. Your brain triggers off emotions you never thought existed.”

“You’re not making much sense Whitey,” Smith said.

“A conscience is a very destructive thing Smith. I’m a very rich man. I have land in China and Hong Kong that is worth more than most people earn in twenty lifetimes. It hasn’t been handed to me on a plate though; I’ve built up an exporting empire through lying, cheating, scheming and crushing anyone who got in my way. But at what cost? What cost Smith?”

“You’re dying aren’t you?”

“Now the Detective is showing his face, well done. I have lung cancer; I’ve known for some time but now it’s too late.”

Smith did not know what to say.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “You can get treatment for it.”

“It’s too late for that,” Whitey said, “and besides, I don’t want to be treated. You sound like my doctor. I’ve accepted my fate but this new found conscience is eating away at me more than the cancer. My affairs are in order; Lucy will be a very rich woman when I go.”

“Lucy?” Smith exclaimed, “You married Lucy McClean?”

“Lucy left me five years ago,” Whitey sighed, “we never quite got around to getting a divorce. I was trying to make enough money so we could have a nice life together. It’s the cruellest of ironies, the more money I made, the more she despised me. Lucy was the one who told me I was going to work myself into an early grave; clever woman that one.”

“I’m sorry to hear all this,” Smith said, “but what about my sister? What really happened to Laura?”

“Listen to me,” Whitey said, “I used to see self pity as a weakness. I hope you’re ready. You’re going to find this hard to take in but let’s go back to that day on the beach in ninety eight.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY ONE

 

CHARMED

 

“They’ve set a date for the trial,” Thompson said smugly.

“What trial?” Whitton asked.

“Martin Willow’s of course.”

“That was quick; I wonder what will happen to him.”

“Not you as well Whitton?”

“What do you mean sir?”

“You and Smith still think he’s innocent don’t you?”

“There’s something missing,” Whitton said, “something important. There was no murder weapon found and there’s still no motive.”

Thompson shrugged his shoulders.

“Any jury will find him guilty,” he said, “I say we put the whole thing behind us.”

“When Smith gets back,” Whitton said, “he’s going to do a bit more digging.”

“He’ll be wasting his time,” Thompson insisted, “he’s not going to find anything; there’s nothing to find. Haven’t you got something to do?”

“I’m actually supposed to have a few days off sir,” she said, “but with Smith’s little outburst, we’re a bit short staffed. The DI wants to see me about something.”

“Where is Smith anyway?”

“Off on his own mission; something important he had to do.”

“That idiot can get away with anything,” Thompson scoffed.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s a loose cannon,” Thompson replied, “only he could get away with knocking the living shit out of someone and be rewarded with a bloody holiday.”

“He must be charmed sir.” Whitton’s face reddened slightly.

“In league with the devil more like.”

“Anyway sir,” Whitton said, “much as I like to spend time with you, I’d better not keep the DI waiting.”

“Whitton,” Chalmers said in an uncharacteristically soft tone, “I’ve been thinking.”

“What about sir?” Whitton was intrigued.

“I’ve been in this job for thirty years,” he began, “I’ve seen murderers put away; I’ve seen murderers get away with it and I’ve seen people put away for murders they didn’t commit. I’ve got a feeling that this Martin Willow falls into the last category.”

“I agree sir,” Whitton said, “he just doesn’t fit the profile, if you’ll excuse the cliché.”

“I think he’s being set up.”

“Set up sir?”

“Someone has gone to great lengths to make it look like Martin Willow killed his wife.”

“What do you want me to do sir?”

“Something completely unorthodox. Something that’s not completely by the book. Martin Willow is an expert in Psychology isn’t he?”

“He’s a Professor at the University.”

“Now Whitton, this could blow up in our faces, especially if the press get hold of it but I want you to ask our chief murder suspect to help us find the perpetrator of the crime he’s being accused of.”

FIFTY TWO

 

REVELATIONS

 

“The surf was good that day wasn’t it?” Whitey began, “a bit tame by the beach but round the point, the swells were perfect.”

“Get to the point please,” Smith insisted.

“It’s been ten years,” Whitey said, “indulge a dying man. Would you like something to drink? There’s a few beers in the fridge; I’ve a feeling you might need one.”

“Later,” Smith said, “go on.”

“What can you remember as we were paddling out?” Whitey asked.

Smith thought back. The events of that day were still clear in his mind.

“Laura was bobbing around in the surf near the beach,” he said, “then she was a bit further out and I saw a shark.”

Whitey laughed and a mild coughing fit ensued.

“What’s so bloody funny?” Smith said, “This is my sister we’re talking about.”

“There was no shark Jason,” Whitey said, “hundreds of people have reported seeing sharks but what they actually saw was the crests of the waves; the light plays tricks with the eyes.”

“But Laura was there one minute and the next minute she was gone.”

“These people are very clever,” Whitey said.”

“What people?” Smith was baffled.

“The people who took your sister. Can you remember seeing anybody unusual on the beach that day?”

“Apart from you, Lucy and that other boy, the place was deserted.”

“And in the car park?”

“There was just us.”

“Are you sure? Think.”

Smith cast his mind back. He had parked the pick up close to the path leading down to the beach.

“There was a white van on the other side of the car park,” he said.

“That was them.”

“Who?”

“The people who took Laura; they were watching you the whole time.”

“Who are these people?” Smith asked, “I don’t understand any of this.”

“I’m getting to that now. Are you sure you don’t want that beer now? Get one for me too, will you. I’m a bit of an alcoholic but one beer won’t kill me.”

Whitey laughed and the coughing started again.

Smith put the beers on the desk.

“Have you ever heard of The Rainbow of Life?” Whitey asked.

“The Cult?” Smith said, “I thought they had been wiped out.”

“They were, but a very small sub section of them survived. They are very similar in their views but they approach things in a different manner.”

“What do you mean”?

“Whereas the old Rainbow of Life was basically a bunch of rabid fanatics, this new faction is much more businesslike in their approach. They have committees, sub committees and so on. Do you know who some of the richest companies in the world are?”

“Go on,” Smith urged.

“Religious institutions. The Catholic Church, The Salvation Army; they make money out of fear and conscience.”

“Are you telling me that these people kidnapped Laura?”

“They call it recruitment,” Whitey corrected him. He took a long sip of beer.

“How did they take her,” Smith asked, “I saw her on the board the whole time.”

“She was gone before we’d even reached the point,” Whitey said, “These people are professionals.”

“But how did they do it and how the hell do you know all this?”

“I’m coming to that. Drink your beer.”

Whitey lit another cigarette.

Smith opened his beer and took a drink.

“This is what happened,” Whitey began, “they saw us paddling out towards the point. They ran down and grabbed your sister. They were driving away by the time you looked over for the first time.”

“But I saw her on the board,” Smith said.

“From that distance you cannot be sure what you saw. You saw what looked like Laura. They placed a sack full of sand on the board. The sack was specially designed to dissolve. That’s why when you got back to the beach, there was nothing there.”

“But the board had teeth marks in it.”

“Bolt cutters,” Whitey said, “they made it look like a shark had bitten the board.”

“This is all a bit far fetched,” Smith said, “and I’ll ask you again, how come you know all of this?”

“I only found out recently,” Whitey said, “As I said, these people are businessmen and I’m a businessman. I had a number of dealings with them; they were very interested in some land I had acquired in Taiwan. My beer seems to be empty, would you mind getting me another one?”

Smith opened the fridge. He was finding it difficult to swallow what Whitey was telling him. He slammed Whitey’s beer on the desk in front of him.

“If you’re lying to me,” he shouted, “I’ll make you pay.”

Whitey smiled.

“Calm down Jason,” he said, “are you not familiar with the old saying ‘a dying man never lies’? I’m nearly done and then it’s up to you. Can I continue?”

“Go on,” Smith said.

“I had a business lunch with a member of this company if you can call it that. It turns out that he had become disillusioned with the whole thing. One single malt led to another and he spilled out his heart to me. It turns out that Laura wasn’t the only one who was recruited in this manner; their membership had grown quite substantially using this method. I have to warn you though before I carry on, these people are dangerous. This particular man had his membership subsequently terminated if you know what I mean.”

“How did they get the people to stay?” Smith asked.

“By literally putting the fear of god into them,” Whitey replied, “somebody of Laura’s age is very easily manipulated. They are terrified at first of course but after the initial fear they feel wanted; part of a big family unit. It’s quite easy to brainwash people under certain circumstances.”

“But Laura was a tough kid,” Smith argued, “she would have fought like hell.”

“At first she would,” Whitey said, “but an eight year old girl would have been no match for these people.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“I’m afraid not. Even if I did I don’t think you’ll be able to get her back.”

“So why the hell did you contact me?”

“Because losing a sister must be terrible; knowing she’s still alive makes it more bearable somehow.”

“I’m going to find her,” Smith said.

“I thought you might say that,” Whitey said, “you always were a stubborn bastard.”

He finished his second beer.

“And I’m going to help you,” he said, “it might take some time though.”

“I’ve got two weeks,” Smith said.

“I don’t think that will be long enough but it’s a start. Like I said, I’m a very wealthy man and that will help us. This is what we are going to do.”

 

 

 

 

FIFTY THREE

 

PROFILE

 

“Mr Willow,” Whitton said, “My name is DC Whitton and this is DC Bridge. We need to ask you a few questions.”

Martin Willow looked utterly dejected. It had been almost two weeks since his life had been turned upside down and with the pending trial it looked like the nightmare was only beginning.

“I’ve told you everything I know,” he said, “over and over again. I could never harm my family.”

“I know,” Whitton said, “I believe you; that’s not why we’re here.”

“Why then?” Willow said, “Have you caught whoever did this?”

“No, not yet. We need your help.”

“You need my help?”

“In a professional capacity; Psychology is your field isn’t it?”

“In an academic sense it is,” Willow’s face seemed to brighten up. “What are you getting at?” he said.

“Mr Willow,” Whitton said, “I know this is hard but I want you to distance yourself from all involvement in this matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s pretend you are being asked your professional opinion on an identical case. A woman is brutally murdered and a child is attacked. The father is unharmed but it is made to look like he carried out the attacks.”

“Do you think I’m being framed?” Willow said.

“Distance,” Whitton repeated, “distance yourself. What would make somebody do that?”

Willow stared straight past Whitton as though he was deep in thought.

“I see what you’re getting at,” he said finally, “revenge is always a good starting block.”

“Revenge?” Whitton said.

“Since the dawn of time, humans have sought retribution for one thing or another,” Willow began, “it is a basic human tendency; when people are wronged they seek justice.”

“Then that’s where we will begin,” Whitton said, “who would have reason to carry out such a brutal attack?”

“Are we talking hypothetically here?” Willow asked.

“For now,” Whitton replied.

“In the Bible they call it an eye for an eye,” Bridge suggested.

Whitton and Willow looked at him.

“In that case,” Willow said, “this is quite disturbing. What we are looking for is someone who lost a wife and child because of me.”

“Any ideas?” Bridge said.

“I think I’d remember killing someone’s wife and child,” Willow snarled.

“Maybe that’s not what this is all about,” Whitton suggested.

“What do you mean?” Willow said.

“Maybe whoever did this just thinks you are responsible. In their mind, you did something dreadful and you needed to be punished for it. Can you think of anybody at all who might blame you for something that happened in the past?”

“No,” Willow insisted, “I’ve never hurt anybody in my life.”

“This may sound flippant,” Bridge said, “but lets say, for example that you were to keep a student behind after class to discuss something; that student misses the last bus home and is forced to walk. While walking home the student is attacked. If you hadn’t kept them behind they wouldn’t have been attacked, ergo, it’s your fault.”

Willow shook his head.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said, “it’s like saying the butterfly that flaps its wings in Brazil is responsible for the death of the people from a tornado in Texas.”

“You’ve lost me,” Whitton said.

“Chaos theory,” Bridge said.

“It’s ludicrous that’s what it is,” Willow sighed.

“I’m afraid you’re too close to this,” Whitton said, “you’re too involved. Let me ask you one more thing though. What do people do when they’ve been wronged?”

“They look for someone to blame,” Willow replied.

“Exactly, and in this case I certain that something happened in the past and somebody believes it was your fault.”

“I’m a University Professor Detective; it’s not exactly a dangerous occupation.”

“You’re a Professor of Psychology. Is your work strictly limited to the classroom?”

“What do you mean?” Willow was becoming irritated.

“You’re an expert in your field. Do you do any other Psychology related work?”

“No, that’s all I do. A few years ago I used to do the odd evaluation but I stopped it. I don’t have the time any more.”

“What kind of evaluations?” Whitton said.

“I used to do work for law firms; psychological profiles, stuff like that.”

“Could you elaborate on that?”

“If there was a case going to trial, I was often called to the stand to give my opinion on the state of mind of some of the defendants.”

“So someone could be sent to jail based on your diagnosis?”

“Not jail,” Willow said, “my findings usually kept people out of jail. If the judge saw fit he would sometimes recommend psychiatric facilities.”

“Mad houses,” Bridge laughed.

“They prefer the term Mental Institution these days,” Willow said.

“So let’s start there then,” Whitton said.

“Is this going to take long?” Willow asked.

“Are you going somewhere?” Bridge said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY FOUR

 

WOLFIE

 

“What kind of Police force gives a Detective Sergeant two weeks off in the middle of a murder investigation?” Whitey laughed.

“How do you know about the case?” Smith asked.

“Twenty four hour news,” Whitey replied, “I can find out anything I need to know on this baby.”

He tapped the computer screen.

“My house was broken into while I was away picking up a murder suspect,” Smith said, “one of the guys who broke in rubbed me up the wrong way.”

“I see,” Whitey said with a knowing smile, “I want you to take a look at this.”

He brought up the Face Book home page on his browser and in the search box he typed in ‘Brain of Wolfie’. A new page appeared on the screen.

“Who’s Wolfie?” Smith asked.

Whitey laughed. “Do you like cryptic crosswords?” he said.

“Not really,” Smith said, “but my colleague does; I suppose you have to have a certain kind of brain.”

“When I first started dealing with these people they traded under the name BOW Enterprises but I couldn’t figure out what the BOW stood for. One evening in a marijuana haze, purely medicinal I might add, I was reading an article about the Rainbow of Life and it struck me.”

“I don’t get it,” Smith said.

“Rainbow of Life,” Whitey said, “Brain of Wolfie, they’re anagrams of each other. The old cult was tarnished so they couldn’t use the same name but they managed to keep the name only with the letters in a different order. It was genius. The man in charge even started referring to himself as Wolfie. He became the Alpha Wolf as it were.”

“And the rest were members of his pack,” Smith added.

“Exactly. Look at this page; they have over eight hundred members all over the world. Your sister may be on here somewhere. She will probably be using a different name but there might be something on her profile that you could recognise. Be my guest, scroll down and see what you can find. Do you like Indian food?”

“Not really,” Smith said.

“I’m going to order something anyway. You’ll like their Tandouri chicken; it’s not too spicy.”

Whitey stood up from his chair. He immediately grabbed hold of the desk. Smith looked concerned.

“Dizzy spell,” Whitey said, “I get them a lot these days; nothing that a Lamb Vindaloo can’t sort out. I’ll be back in ten minutes; help yourself to another beer.”

While Whitey was gone, Smith looked at the screen in front of him. Under the title ‘Brain of Wolfie’, it read ‘Spiritual Community’. Underneath, there was a picture of a wolf in a howling stance on the top of a rainbow.

“This is freaked out,” Smith said to himself as he scrolled further down.

He clicked on the Friends icon and a list of names appeared on the screen. They were in alphabetical order. Whitey was right; most of the names seemed to be made up. There were names like ‘Lone Wolf’ and ‘Mother Wolf’ but as Smith scrolled down further, something grabbed his attention.

“Find anything?” Whitey said. He put the food on a table in the corner.

“I think this is her,” Smith said, “Moonface Wolf.”

He clicked on it.

“Moonface Wolf?” Whitey exclaimed.

“From the book,” Smith explained, “The Magic Faraway Tree.”

“I’m still none the wiser,” Whitey said.

“It was Lauren’s favourite book. Moonface was her favourite character; this has got to be her.”

“What does it say?” Whitey asked, “You don’t mind if I eat do you? There’s nothing worse than cold Vindaloo.”

“Eat away,” Smith said. “Moonface Wolf,” he read from the page, “the Lord and the spirit of the wolf will guide me to ultimate enlightenment. This is scary shit.”

“Click of the information tab,” Whitey said with a mouthful of curry in his mouth, “she might have set privacy limits but we may get lucky.”

“This has got to be her,” Smith was getting excited, “Female, nineteen years old.”

“Christ this is a hot one,” Whitey said as he ate, “does it give any clue as to where she might be?”

Smith carried on reading.

“Married to the community,” he said, “In Allen Station. What the hell does that mean?”

“Say that again,” Whitey said.

“In Allen Station,” Smith repeated.

Whitey spat out his food. “She’s closer than I thought,” he said.

Smith looked back at the screen.

“What does it mean?”

“Another anagram,” Whitey replied, “look at the letters. In Allen Station.”

“You’re going to have to help me on this one,” Smith said.

“Tallinn Estonia,” Whitey said.

“Where the hell is Estonia?” Smith asked, “Geography’s not my strong point.”

“Former Soviet State,” Whitey said, “very popular for stag parties I believe.”

“I’m going to find her,” Smith insisted.

“Slow down my friend. Eat your chicken, Tallinn is a big place; we need to find out a bit more first. You don’t even know what she looks like now.”

“She can’t have changed that much in ten years.”

“I did. Now just chill; we need to think. Eat your food before it gets cold. Let me demonstrate to you the wonders of the computer generation.”

He sat down at the desk.

“I’m sure I have a dormant e mail address here somewhere,” he said.

He tapped away on the keyboard like a lunatic.

“Thought so,” he said eventually, “I need your help here. What other characters did Laura like in that book?”

Smith thought for a moment.

“She liked the angry pixie,” he said, “He always made her laugh.”

“Good,” Whitey said, “you are going to be Angry Pixie 20. I’ve found a nice picture of an angry pixie here. That will be your profile picture. You are, how can I put it, searching for guidance in a chaotic world. I should have been a writer. Ok, almost done. He typed in ‘Moonface Wolf’ and clicked on ‘send friend request’. All done.”

He had a sparkle in his eyes that was not there before.

“Please tell me you have a cell phone with internet access,” he added.

Smith took out his phone; he saw he had received two messages. He handed the phone to Whitey.

“It’s slow,” Whitey said, “but it’ll do the job.”

He quickly tapped a few keys and handed the phone back to Smith.

“There,” he said, “it’s all set up; you can access this page from your phone and if Laura or who you think is Laura accepts your friend request, you’ll receive a message to notify you.”

“It is my sister,” Smith said, “I’m positive.”

“Your user name is Angry Pixie 20,” Whitey said, “and your password is Tandouri. Can you remember that?”

“Of course,” Smith said, “I am a Police Detective.”

“You had two messages from someone called Erica Whitton,” Whitey said, “Girlfriend?”

“No,” Smith replied almost too quickly, “she’s a work colleague.”

He looked at the phone. The first message read ‘Willow given us info on possible new direction to take. Looks like he was set up’. The second one said ‘Hope you find what you’re looking for. x.’ Smith smiled at the kiss at the end. As he was putting the phone back in his pocket it beeped. There was a symbol on the screen that Smith has never seen before. He handed the phone to Whitey. Whitey pressed the retrieve button.

“Angry Pixie 20,” Whitey said, “you are now friends with Moonface Wolf. This is going to be interesting.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY FIVE

 

THE PURLOINED LETTER

 

Thursday 7 January 2009

 

“Please tell me you have something for me Whitton,” Chalmers said, “as you know, the Super has his annual crime stats presentation next week and this unsolved murder of ours is going to drag his figures right down.”

“Can I ask you something sir?” Whitton said.

“Fire away.”

“How did the Super reach such a high position in the force? I mean, anybody who knows him thinks he’s a complete buffoon.”

“He went to the right school and he knew the right people Whitton. Don’t be so bloody naïve; that’s the way things work in this job. Eton, Oxford, high power job. Intelligence doesn’t even come into it. What did you get from Willow?”

“He was a bit reluctant at first,” Whitton began, “but he’s given us a different direction to take; it could be someone with a grudge.”

“That’s some grudge,” Chalmers remarked. “You’d better get moving on this. Willow is due in court next week. The press have already labelled him a wife killer. He’s going down for this one unless we find something.”

“Willow has given us a list of consultancy work he used to do. Me and Bridge are going to check it out.”

“Have you heard from Smith?” Chalmers asked.

“No sir,” she replied, “should I have?”

“It’s just that you and him are pretty tight; I think you’re the only one he trusts.”

Whitton blushed.

“I’d better get cracking sir,” she said.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket.

“Sorry sir,” she said.

“Answer the bloody thing,” Chalmers insisted.

It was Smith.

“Detective Whitton,” she said.

“Why so formal Whitton,” Smith joked, “you could see it was me. Are you busy?”

“Busy with a case,” she said quietly.

“Is the DI there?” Smith was astute.

“Yes.”

“Put the phone on speaker,” Smith said, “he needs to hear this too.”

Whitton did as she was asked.

“Morning sir,” Smith said.

Chalmers looked around the room in confusion; he was not quite up to date with technology.

“I’ve put the phone on speaker sir,” Whitton said, “Smith has thought of something.”

“Where are you Smith?” Chalmers said.

“Spending a bit of quality time with an old friend,” Smith replied.

“Who’s that?”

“Nobody you know sir.”

“What have you got for us Smith?” Chalmers said, “We haven’t got much time; Willow is almost certainly going to be sentenced to jail next week.”

“We’ve been stupid sir,” Smith said, “all this time we’ve been trying too hard; we’ve been concentrating all our efforts on something we think is deeply hidden.”

“You’re talking in riddles Smith.”

“Where’s the best place to hide something?”

“Where nobody would ever think of looking for it I suppose,” Chalmers replied.

“Exactly and where’s that?”

“Spit it out Smith.”

“Have you ever heard of Detective Dupin sir?”

“Never heard of the bloke.”

“The Purloined Letter,” Whitton said.

“The what?” Chalmers was becoming agitated.

“Purloined, stolen sir.”

“I know damn well what purloined means Whitton.”

“Let me explain sir,” Smith said, “Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story. The Purloined letter. A letter was stolen, an important letter and the owner of the letter was being blackmailed so she contacted the Police so they could help her find it. This is my point. The Paris Police are very competent and this is what the thief who stole the letter is banking on. They tear open walls and search every conceivable place for the letter but they still can’t find it.”

“Smith,” Chalmers said, “get to the point.”

“This detective Dupin, an amateur detective I might add, searches the room and finds the letter immediately.”

“Where was it?” Chalmers was suddenly interested.

“In plain sight sir. It had been placed in a card rack where everyone could see it.”

“So what you’re saying is,” Chalmers said, “we need to look at what’s been in front of our faces the whole time.”

“Who else can be placed at the Willow place around the time Wendy Willow was murdered? Who was also at the babysitter’s place?”

The room was silent.

“Who even helped us to solve the babysitter’s murder?”

“The taxi driver!” Whitton exclaimed.

“Our friend Dave,” Smith said, “not only was he there but he still hung around afterwards; he was more than willing to help. He was in our bloody faces the whole time, he even brought my dog back to my house.”

“I still can’t see it,” Whitton said, “Dave, a murderer. He seems so nice. What made you think of this?”

“Just something an old friend said,” Smith replied, “can you remember that time when Dave dropped us off at the Blues Club?”

“I won’t ask,” Chalmers said.

“You said there was something odd about him that night.”

“I remember,” Whitton said, “he seemed different from the first time we met him; he seemed agitated about something.”

“I’ll be back in a few days,” Smith said, “I’m going to make sure Martin Willow doesn’t go to jail.”

“That’s not your decision Smith,” Chalmers warned, “you’re on leave. The Super is already after my balls; I really stuck my neck out for you there.”

“I know sir, but you need me.”

“Ok Smith, I can feel my pension going up in smoke as we speak. You’re on leave for another ten days; if you want to do a bit of snooping in your spare time make sure nobody finds out about it. This conversation never took place ok?”

“Thanks Bob,” Smith said and rang off.

“Cheeky bastard,” Chalmers smiled but Smith could no longer hear him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY SIX

 

AIR RAGE

 

“Don’t worry sir,” the man in the flight attendants uniform said to the passenger sitting in seat 17D on Estonian Air flight ES21, “I assure you that flying is much safer than driving.”

Jason Smith sighed and looked around the aeroplane; it was almost empty.

“Is there anyone else expected on this flight today?” he asked.

“No,” the attendant replied with a smile, “this is it.”

“Then would it be possible for me to change seats?”

He cast a glance at the grossly obese man sitting next to him in seat 17D. He was sweating profusely.

“I’m afraid that’s against our policy,” the man said, “We have regulations.”

“Regulations?” Smith repeated.

“Listen to me sir,” the man was getting angry, “you were booked in seat 17E. If something were to happen we might have difficulty locating you should we have an accident say.”

“You listen to me,” Smith said, “if we do have an accident the chances are I’ll be crushed to death by this mountain of lard sitting next to me before a rescue party can reach me.”

“Have you been drinking sir?” the flight attendant asked. He sounded nervous.

“Not yet,” Smith replied, “it’s only ten in the morning, but if you insist, I’ll have a beer please. I am on holiday.”

“Sir, if you carry on like this I’m going to have to ask you to leave the aeroplane.”

Smith reached into his pocket and produced his ID.

“Detective Sergeant Smith,” he said, “I’m on my way to Tallinn to pick up a prisoner. Double murderer, very nasty piece of work; if you don’t let me change seats now, I’ll make sure we’re on your flight on the way back.”

The flight attendant was very pale.

“I suppose I could turn a blind eye just this once,” he said.

“Thank you,” Smith said, “and could you please ask this tower of Russian blubber to kindly get out of the bloody way. I’ll have that beer now; I’ll be sitting somewhere back there.”

He pointed to the back of the aeroplane.

I’m getting just like my father, Smith thought as he fastened the seat belt in his new seat. Once, when Smith was ten and Laura was still a baby they had taken a road trip in his father’s camper van. They had travelled east into the Gibson Desert. His mother was still quite normal then. They were a hundred miles or so into their journey when an oncoming car nearly forced them off the road. Smith can remember his father swearing like he had never sworn before. He turned his head as the car screamed past and would have given chase had his wife not calmed him down. Later that evening as they stopped for the night at a hotel just off the road, Smith saw the car again. He made the mistake of telling his father. The next day as they carried on their journey, Smith saw the car again. It seemed closer to the ground; all four tyres had been slashed and there was a note on the windscreen that read ‘learn to drive you morons’. Smith knew that his father was responsible but he said nothing.

He gazed out of the window next to him and realised they were taxiing along the runway. He checked his watch; in just under four hours he would be in Tallinn, a city roughly the same size as York. How could he expect to find one person in such a large place? The aeroplane stopped and the engines roared in preparation for take off. The plane gathered speed and Smith felt the sudden upward thrust as the wheels left the tarmac of East Midlands Airport behind. Moments later, the seat belt signs were switched off and he saw the flight attendant approach with a beer. He sheepishly placed it on the table next to Smith’s seat.

“Will there be anything else?” he asked.

From his name tag, Smith saw that his name was Stepan.

“No thanks,” Smith said, “and I’m sorry about my little outburst earlier; I just couldn’t bear four hours with an obese giant gluing me to my seat.”

“No problem,” Stepan said, “I understand?”

“Do you stay in Tallinn Stepan?”

Stepan seemed to relax.

“I have an apartment there,” he said, “not that I use it much; I seem to spend most of my time in the air.”

He looked at his watch.

“But as of five this afternoon I have three days off.”

Smith’s Detective brain began to formulate a plan.

“How well do you know Tallinn Stepan?” he asked.

“Very well; I was born there, I went to school there and I’ll no doubt die there. Why do you ask?”

“I need your help,” Smith came straight out with it.

“What do you mean? I thought you were going there to bring back a murderer.”

“That wasn’t quite true,” Smith admitted.

“So you’re not really a policeman?”

“No, unfortunately that part is true; I’m going to Tallinn to look for somebody.”

“A criminal?”

“No.”

Smith thought carefully about what he was going to say next but looking at the face of Stephan, the Estonian flight attendant, with the warm brown eyes and slightly crooked nose, he decided to tell him the truth.

“I’m looking for my sister,” Smith said, “she disappeared from a beach in Australia ten years ago and now I have reason to believe she is alive and staying in Tallinn.”

Stepan’s eyes widened and Smith could tell he did not quite believe what he was hearing. After a brief silence, Stepan smiled.

“I can see my three days off are, as you say, buggered up,” he said, “meet me at the Café Zeppelin just past the arrivals gate at half past five. I will show you Tallinn. I know some people in Tallinn; if your sister is there they will find her. Now I must get back to work.” He walked back down the aisle, shaking his head.

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY SEVEN

 

THE VERDICT

 

Monday 11 January 2009

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury,” Judge Anderson began, “before you reach a verdict, I want to make it very clear that you are to concentrate only on the facts that have been given to you today.”

Judge Sylvia Anderson was the youngest female judge in British history. This was the first murder case she had presided over; it was in fact only the third case of any description in which the thirty two year old was in charge and she knew very well that she was under the microscope. Any blunder this early in her career would be fatal.

“Our fickle friends in the press,” she continued, “are prone to cast judgement long before the law has run its course. I want you to base your decision today, not on what you may have read in the papers but on what you heard today in this courtroom. Is that clear?”

It had been one of the shortest murder trials in history. There were no material witnesses and the only character witnesses were Frank Paxton and Roxy Jones. Jones had already confessed to two murders and Paxton had been romantically involved with one of Jones’ victims. Martin Willow’s defence council had prudently decided they would not make very good witnesses. All the evidence was limited to the scene of the crime; Willow was found at the murder scene, unharmed and covered in blood. Willow’s daughter was still in a coma and his amnesia plea was weak.

It took a jury of respected members of the community approximately thirty minutes to return to the courtroom with a guilty verdict. Judge Anderson sighed. The defence council did not even decide to lodge an appeal.

“You have been found guilty of one count of murder,” Judge Anderson said to Martin Willow, “and one count of attempted murder. Because of the despicable nature of these crimes I have no alternative but to sentence you to life imprisonment.”

Martin Willow sank to his knees.

“I didn’t do it,” he sobbed.

The volume of noise in the courtroom rose.

“Order!” Judge Anderson shouted but she was ignored.

“Take him away,” she said, “quickly.”

Outside the Court House, Detective Constable Bridge could tell from the journalists shuffling around that the trial was over. They were quickly forming a barrier in front of the main entrance. The prosecutor emerged and was instantly engulfed by microphones. Camera flashes lit up the grey winter half light. People began to leave the Court House and descend the stairs. One of them, a man in his forties wearing a duffel coat, quickly walked down the steps and carried on walking down the road. He was wearing a beanie and dark sunglasses. Bridge watched as he opened the driver’s door of a taxi cab, closed the door and drove away. What Bridge did not see was the smile on Dave Lin’s face as he looked in the rear view mirror. It was a smile he would be wearing for a very long time.

 

 

 

FIFTY EIGHT

 

CRIME STATS

 

Tuesday 12 January 2009

 

Superintendant Jeremy Smyth was in a very good mood. From August onwards he looked forward to the second Tuesday in January with relish. It was his annual Crime Stats presentation and this year it looked like he was in the running to have some of the most impressive statistics in the country. Henry Bullington, an old school friend and rival was the Superintendant at Carlisle City Police and he was leading Smyth five to four. This year, Smyth would definitely equal the score. The conviction of Martin Willow the day before had just tipped the scores in Smyth’s favour. Smyth checked his paperwork again. He had come in two hours earlier than his usual ten o clock start to ensure that the presentation went smoothly. He made sure the projector was working properly and that all the files were stored on the computer in the correct order.

“Everything set sir?” Chalmers said.

“Oh yes Bob,” Smyth replied, “its going to be a good one; has everybody been informed?”

“Of course sir, Smith won’t be here but that can’t be helped.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s on leave sir.”

“Well that’s a damn shame,” Smyth said, “he is mainly responsible for me having such corking good statistics this year.”

“I’ll get someone to video tape it sir,” Chalmers said, “I’m sure Smith wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.”

“Why that’s a splendid idea Bob. Well, better get cracking. Round them all up will you. I’ve got a surprise for you all this year; a bit of a reward for all your efforts but you’ll have to wait and see what that is.”

 

“If I were a criminal,” Thompson said, “I’d wait for the second Tuesday in January and I’d rob as many houses and banks as I could. Do you know why? Because there are no bloody coppers on the streets; they’re all forced to watch the Super brag about his vital statistics.”

“Vital statistics sir?” Whitton laughed.

“Whatever he brags about,” Thompson said, “bloody college boy thinks he’s a Policeman. Well he’s not a Policeman’s arse if you ask me.”

“You’re in a good mood today sir,” Whitton said.

“The wife’s kicked me out and I’m stuck looking after a bloody dog; things are just bloody great. I suppose we’d better get this over with. That lucky bastard Smith has got away with it again and do me a favour Whitton, when the Super asks if there are any questions at the end, do not under any circumstances ask any ok? One year we were stuck in there for three hours because some bright spark wanted to know how the stats are calculated.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Smyth began, “it’s that time of year again when we look back at the results of our hard work from the past year.”

Smyth could not help but notice that the turnout was down from last year.

“Is everybody here?” he asked.

“All here,” Chalmers assured him.

“Then I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Does anybody have any questions before I start?”

Thompson held his breath but nobody said a word.

“Ok then, let’s get this show on the road. Firstly I want to briefly run through last years figures so we can compare.”

What followed was two hours of bar charts, graphs, comparisons and more graphs. After that came thirty minutes for an explanation of Smyth’s complicated points system where he explained that a statistical points system had been developed that allocated certain points to certain crimes. Murder, for example carried the highest points and parking offences the least. Smyth finally came to the final result.

“We should have a drum roll for this part,” he said.

Nobody laughed.

“Final results for York Police Department for the year 2008 are eleven thousand five hundred. A nice round number and seventy points down from last year. The icing on the cake though is I heard from Carlisle that they were over twelve thousand so that’s one in the eye for old Bullington. As a result of this, I have a surprise for you all but before I reveal what this is; does anybody have any questions about the results?”

Thompson looked at Whitton and shook his head. She kept quiet.

“I know you’re going to love this,” Smyth said.

He picked up a box from the floor.

“I took the liberty of having these made.”

He picked up one of the plaques. It was brass with a dark wooden back. On the plaque it said, ‘York Police Department. Top of the League 2008’.

“If you could form an orderly line,” Smyth said, “and collect one each from me, that would be great.”

Whitton sniggered. Thompson smiled at her.

“Top of the league hey?” he said.

“That’s if for another year,” Smyth announced, “let’s make it even better for next year.”

Very few people could keep a straight face as they received their award from Smyth but he did not seem to notice.

“Thank God that’s over for another year,” Thompson said as he sat in his office.

He turned round and with amazing accuracy, managed to throw the plaque in the bin in the far corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTY NINE

 

TALLINN

 

Stepan and Smith took a taxi from the airport to Stepan’s flat on Sadama just before the passenger ferry port east of the old Tallinn town square. As they drove Smith was amazed at the driver of the taxi.

“If this much snow had fallen in York,” he said to Stepan, “they’d close all the roads.”

Stepan laughed.

“Life must go on,” he said, “It snows here for much of the year so we learn to live with it; I hope you’ve got some warm clothes with you, it’s going to be well below freezing tonight.”

It was dark as they parked outside Stepan’s flat. Smith could see the lights of the ferries carrying people into the Gulf of Finland and on to Helsinki, Stockholm and St Petersburg. He had never felt so out of his depth. This was another world altogether. He had heard how the Russian Mafia still had their roots here and hoped that the Brain of Wolfie was not allied to them.

As the door of the taxi opened, a wave of freezing air gushed in. Smith shivered; he would wear more clothes next time he went out, he thought. Stepan paid the driver and led Smith up the stairs of his flat. He opened the door and gestured for Smith to go inside. Thankfully, it was much warmer inside, a log fire was burning and Smith noticed that the glass in the windows was unusually thick. He heard water running from a room that must have been the bathroom. A tall man with black hair appeared in the doorway. He looked at Smith and scowled. Stepan walked towards him and greeted him with a bit too much affection for male friends, Smith thought. Stepan and the man embraced and kissed each other warmly.

“Forgive me,” Stepan broke the embrace. “This is Lucas,” he said, “Lucas, this Jason Smith, he’s from England and he’s come to look for his sister.”

Lucas said something to Stepan in a language Smith could not understand anything of. It was not Russian as he had expected but a strange language he could not place. Lucas smiled, walked over and shook Smith’s hand.

“We will help you,” he said, “I know just the man, if your sister is here in Tallinn, he will know where she is.”

“I told you,” Stepan said, “Lucas is a journalist and knows everyone. Would you like a beer?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Smith laughed.

“How much do you know of this Cult?” Lucas asked, “This Brain of Wolfie?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” Smith replied, “I’ve just heard they are very powerful.”

“I’m afraid this is going to be difficult,” Lucas said, “not to mention dangerous. If what I hear is true, these people are above the law.”

“Like the Mafia?” Smith suggested.

“Worse, but I know where to start.”

Lucas took out his phone and dialled a number.

“Would you like to shower?” Stepan asked Smith as Lucas was talking on the phone.

“That would be great,” Smith said, “flying always makes me sweat; I don’t know how you do it for a living.”

“You get used to it after a while,” Stepan said, “the showers through there.” He pointed to a room to the right.

As Smith had his shower he heard noises coming from the room next door. Stepan and Lucas were speaking in their strange language but Smith could hear from the volume of their voices that something was not right. Although the water pressure was strong, Smith was sure he heard the phrase Brain of Wolfie a few times. Had he bitten off more than he could chew? He thought as he turned off the tap and dried his hair. He got dressed and opened the door again. The atmosphere seemed calmer but he could still sense that everything was not right.

“Feel better?” Stepan asked.

“Much better,” Smith replied.

He decided to come straight out with it.

“If I’m causing you any trouble,” he said, “then I’ll try and do this on my own; I don’t want to put you in any danger.”

Stepan laughed and Lucas quickly joined in. He had a hearty laugh. Smith was confused.

“Are you married Mr Smith?” Stepan said.

“No,” Smith replied.

“Girlfriend?”

“Not at the moment, why?”

“That explains it then. When I walked through the door after seven days away with a man, a reasonably handsome one at that, you can understand that Lucas here would get a bit upset. What else was he to think?”

“I don’t get it,” Smith said, “wait a minute, you’re both…”

“Gay,” Lucas said, “it’s not a rude word.”

“Shit,” Smith said, “sorry, I didn’t realise.”

“Your condolences are appreciated Mr Smith,” Stepan said, “but they’re not really necessary. This is the modern world.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. Can we start this conversation again?”

Lucas laughed.

“Going back to what you said about putting us in danger,” he said, “We are Estonians; danger is in our blood. Do you realise that the Estonia you see today is less than twenty years old; we have been invaded by Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany and of course Russia many times but we are proud and we fight for what we believe in.”

“What language do you speak?” Smith said, “It doesn’t sound like Russian.”

“It’s more like Finnish,” Stepan replied, “it’s a beautiful language; very poetic.”

“Finish your drink,” Lucas ordered, “we’re meeting a friend of ours in fifteen minutes. We’ll walk; it’s only a few hundred metres. Do you need to borrow a coat?”

“That would be great,” Smith replied, “its bloody freezing here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY

 

DEAD END

 

“Where is he?” Chalmers asked Whitton. He looked around nervously.

“Interview room one sir,” she replied.

“We’d better be bloody careful. If the Super gets wind of this we’re in shit, especially after his presentation this morning.”

“He won’t find out sir; I think he’s gone home for the day anyway.”

“Just be careful anyway, if it becomes known that we’re still investigating the Willow murder we’ll both be looking for another job.”

“Would you mind sitting in with me sir,” Whitton asked, “he doesn’t know you and I reckon a new opinion of him will help.”

“Ok. If you think so. What have you got on him?”

“I spoke to all of the law firms that Willow did consultancy work for. One of them prosecuted a woman for manslaughter; she killed her boss in a rage after he abused her. It seems like Martin Willow’s report doomed this woman to a few years in a mental home.”

“What’s this got to do with our suspect?”

“The woman was his wife.”

“So he kills Willow’s wife in revenge,” Chalmers said, “seems far fetched if you ask me.”

“There’s more sir,” Whitton said, “this woman was pregnant and Willow stated in another report that the woman was not fit to look after a baby.”

“Still doubtful,” Chalmers insisted.

“She killed herself sir. The baby died too. I think Willow’s wife was killed to avenge the death of our guy’s own wife. He tried to kill Penny Willow too. It fits exactly with Bridge’s eye for an eye theory.”

“Let’s go and speak to your friend Dave then.”

Dave was sitting in Interview room one by himself. The door opened and Whitton and Chalmers walked in.

“Good Afternoon Miss Whitton,” Dave said.

“Hello Dave,” she said, “this is Detective Inspector Chalmers; he’s going to sit in with me while I ask you a few questions.”

“Anything for you,” Dave said, “shouldn’t you have a tape going?”

“That won’t be necessary; this is just a friendly chat.”

“Will it take long?” Dave asked, “I have to be back at work this evening.”

“Then let’s begin,” Chalmers said, “Mr Lin, you knew Martin Willow didn’t you?”

“I only found out when I read about the trial,” Dave said, “before then I wouldn’t have known him if I’d bumped into him in the street.”

“So you didn’t recognise him when you drove him home on Christmas Eve?”

“No, not at all.”

“You weren’t present at your wife’s trial?” Whitton asked.

“I was,” Dave said, “but that was a long time ago.”

“So you can’t remember the Psychology expert who declared that your wife was mentally ill?”

“Like I said, it was a long time ago and there were so many witnesses during the trial.”

“But only one of them pretty much determined your wife’s fate.”

“That’s not true, there were plenty of people involved in that; the judge with the funny voice; the prosecutor, even my own lawyer was pretty useless.”

“So you didn’t kill Martin Willow’s wife in revenge?” Chalmers said.

“Of course not,” Dave protested, “I couldn’t hurt anyone. Miss Whitton knows that and Mr Smith. Where is Mr Smith?”

“He’s away,” Chalmers said, “Let’s get back to the night when you drove Martin Whitton and his family home. I believe you have an extraordinary memory?”

“That’s right,” Dave smiled. “I picked them up at midnight and drove them home.”

“What did you do then?”

“I had to go back where I’d come from; I picked up a young woman and drove her to Hull Road. I’ve already explained all of this to Mr Smith. It’s all on here.”

He handed Chalmers a detailed print out of his routes that night.”

“What did you think when your wife was sent to a mental institution?” Chalmers asked.

“I was upset,” Dave replied, “but then I realised maybe it was for the best; Mae Lin had a temper on her and it was better than jail.”

“When she died in there were you angry?”

“Of course, I was very upset. She was my wife and my baby had died too; my life was a mess for months afterwards.”

“Who did you blame for that?”

“I blamed the hospital. They were supposed to be keeping an eye on her; it shouldn’t have happened.”

“So you didn’t blame Martin Willow, the Psychology Professor?”

“Of course not. I’ve told you, I hardly knew about him.”

“Can I have a word outside Whitton?” Chalmers said.

“Of course sir,” she replied.

“I’m afraid this is a dead end,” Chalmers said in the corridor, “this guy has a watertight alibi and does he strike you as a brutal murderer?”

“You’re right sir,” Whitton admitted.

“Unless he’s a raving psychopath without a conscience, he’s not our guy. He doesn’t seem the least bit nervous about being here. Even the worst serial killers in history have cracked sooner or later. I’m afraid this is now definitely case closed, understood?”

“Understood sir,” Whitton sighed, “What do you want me to tell him?”

“Tell him we’re grateful for his time and show him the door.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY ONE

 

HELL HUNT

 

As they left the flat and ventured out into the Tallinn night, Smith was instantly grateful for the coat he had borrowed from Stepan. It was not his usual taste in coats; it was a formal camel hair coat that made him feel like a member of the Gestapo but it was warm and it made him blend in somehow. The ferries were still coming and going from the passenger port as they walked south through the old town square. It had stopped snowing but the streets were icy and quite treacherous. There were very few people on the streets and as they walked, Smith felt like he was in a spy movie. They passed the old church of St Nicholas and Smith marvelled at the medieval architecture. It was worlds apart from York Minster.

“Where are we going?” Smith said after they had walked for twenty minutes, “I thought you said it wasn’t far.”

“Not far now,” Lucas replied, “you’re in for a surprise; have you ever been to a gay club before?”

“Of course,” Smith lied, “I’m a Policeman remember.”

Stepan and Lucas both laughed. They carried on walking past a park. They were getting further and further away from the centre of the City and Smith was becoming apprehensive. What if this is trap? He thought, what if I’m walking straight into an ambush. His paranoia subsided when they turned left into a small side street and the neon lights of G Punkt lit up half of the street.

“Here we are,” Lucas smiled, “its Tuesday night so it will be quiet but I must warn you, there are still a few strange characters that come here every night. Stay close to us and you won’t be in any danger.”

“Danger?” Smith’s paranoia was returning.

“They won’t hurt you,” Lucas started to laugh again, “they might try and dance with you though.”

It was almost pitch black inside the G Punkt club; only a few dim green and yellow lights lit the entrance to the bar area. Smith stayed very close to Stepan and Lucas as he had been told. They emerged into another room. This one was slightly better lit up. Lucas ordered a beer for Smith and some drinks Smith did not recognise for him and Stepan. They chose a seat in the furthest part of the room away from the dance floor. It was still quite early so they had the place pretty much to themselves. Smith was nervous. What would happen in this strange place tonight? He thought. He drank his beer very quickly.

“Can I get you another drink?” he asked Lucas and Stepan, “mine’s finished.”

“No thanks,” Stepan replied, “behave yourself at the bar though.” Lucas laughed.

“Beer please,” Smith said to the barman. He was a man around Smith’s age and he was very tall; six foot eight at least. He put the beer on the counter.

“How much?” Smith asked.

The barman laughed.

“Lucas does not pay here my friend,” he said, “but I’ll be finished at midnight if you’re interested.” He winked at Smith.

Smith quickly picked up the beer and returned to the table.

“I think that barman tried to pick me up,” he said as he sat down.

“Sebastien?” Lucas, said, “I think he was teasing you, you’re not his type and it’s pretty obvious you’re not gay.”

“Is it?” Smith said.

“Of course, you can spot it a mile away.”

A short man with impressive facial hair approached the table. He eyed Smith with suspicion. Lucas nodded at him to acknowledge that Smith was ok.

“This is my good friend Alec,” Lucas said to Smith, “he is the one I was talking about; the one that knows everything. Alec, meet Jason Smith. He is a Policeman from England.”

The man they referred to as Alec looked angry. He said something in their language to Lucas and Lucas replied with some reassuring words.

“I apologize Mr Smith,” Alec said, “I’m afraid I haven’t got much love for the Police.”

“I don’t blame you,” Smith agreed, “Most of them are complete arseholes.”

Alec laughed, smiled at Lucas and sat down at their table.

“What is it you need to know Mr Smith?” he asked.

Smith told him everything; about the day on the beach and about what Whitey had told him and about the Face Book page that led him to believe that his sister was now in Tallinn.

“I have heard of these people,” Alec began, “but they are very careful. I am in the fortunate position in that I have family in very high places and as you are a Policeman I will not elaborate. Do you understand?”

“Completely,” Smith said, “but can you help me?”

“We need to get away from this place first though,” he said, “There’s a bar in the heart of the old town square in Vanalinn. It’s called Hell Hunt.”

“Hell Hunt?” Smith gasped, “Are you being serious?”

“It’s Estonian Mr Smith, it means The Gentle Wolf. It has the best local beers in Tallinn and due to its name; it has become very popular with certain members of this Brain of Wolfie.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY TWO

 

DAVE

 

Dave Lin drove home the long way. He had been a taxi driver for a few years now and he had a mental map of the whole of York in his head. He drove slowly. He was feeling anxious. The Police had nearly worked out what had happened on Christmas Eve and it had startled him. He decided he would do something he had not done since Vera Mae had died, he would go and get drunk. He parked his car outside his flat and stopped the engine. He reached under the passenger seat and groped around. He soon found what he was looking for. He smiled as he took out the hammer and placed it inside his coat. Those stupid Police, he thought, they had been inches away from a murder weapon on numerous occasions and they were none the wiser. He unplugged the GPS device from the dashboard and put it in the cubby hole out of sight. He got out of the car, locked the door and walked up the steps to his flat. Inside, he looked at the photograph of Mae Lin on the mantelpiece over the fire. She was so beautiful. He put the hammer in the sideboard next to the television and locked the door. He looked at the photograph again. “It’s all over,” he said to Mae Lin, “I’ve got away with it and its time to put it all behind me; I’m going out to get very drunk.”

The Bag of Nails pub was a five minute walk from Dave’s flat. It was raining as he walked. Inside, they had a log fire burning. Dave approached the bar. He was not a drinker so he paused as he pondered what to have to drink.

“Guinness please,” he said eventually; the Guinness looked good.

The barman poured the drink and handed it to Dave. He took the first sip tentatively; it tasted bitter but it was very smooth. The second sip tasted much better. He took the drink and sat at a table in the corner. The bar was quite full; mostly with student looking types drinking lager. He was grateful he did not recognise anyone in the bar, this was his celebration and he was going to enjoy it on his own. He ordered another Guinness; the first one had gone down well and Dave was already starting to feel slightly tipsy. He thought about that night after he drove the Willow family home, it was still very clear in his head. It was when he picked them up outside their house for the first time that he had realised who Martin Willow was. That was when he had devised the plan. After he dropped them back at home just after midnight, he had driven off and parked round the corner. He had disconnected the GPS tracker. He had the hammer in the car for protection so he had put it inside his coat and walked the hundred yards or so to the Willow’s house. They had seemed very drunk when he had dropped them off so they would be in no state to put up much resistance. Dave had looked through the window to see Martin Willow slumped at the bottom of the stairs. He had put on the balaclava just in case, opened the door and gone inside. The wife had put up a bit of a fight but he had soon silenced her with the hammer. When he was sure she was dead, he had seen the daughter hiding under a table. Martin Willow was passed out by now. He did not know why but he had decided to take off the balaclava and show the daughter his face. Attacking the daughter had been hard but when he thought about Mae Lin and little Chuck he hit the girl again and again with the hammer. He had dragged Martin Willow over to his wife and covered him with her blood. He had then washed his hands in the kitchen, looked over to where the daughter was lying and left the house. The whole thing had lasted no longer than five minutes. He had walked back to the taxi, changed his clothes and put the blood stained ones in a bag he had brought. He had then put the hammer in the same bag, plugged the GPS back in and driven back to the house he had just come from. It was perfect; the whole thing had gone without a hitch. Martin Willow would wake up and wonder what had happened. The Police would automatically think that he had killed his family and they would look no further.

As Dave sat down with his third drink, he suddenly felt a black anxiety sweeping over him. The daughter was still alive; they were keeping her alive on a machine. What if she wakes up? Dave thought. He sipped his drink and tried to dismiss the thought. I’m here to celebrate, he thought, nothing can ruin that. The bar was slowly filling up so Dave decided to carry on celebrating at home. He finished his drink and stood up; he was feeling very drunk now. He stopped at a corner shop and bought four more cans of Guinness. That would be enough, he thought. The rain was falling heavily as he staggered the last few yards to his flat. As he turned the corner his heart sank. There was a Police car parked outside the building where his flat was. He breathed deeply and tried to remain calm. A Policeman in uniform was standing by the car.

“Hello,” Dave said to the Policeman, “what’s wrong?”

“Domestic disturbance,” the man said, “all sorted out now. Do you live here?”

“Flat 4,” Dave replied, “I bet it was the people in Flat 1, they’re always fighting.”

Dave opened the door to his flat, closed it behind him and locked it. He opened the cupboard and took out the hammer. I need to get rid of this, he thought. He took the hammer and put it in the bin in the kitchen. Tomorrow when the bins get collected, I’ll be rid of this forever, he thought. He suddenly felt sick; it had been a long time since he had had a drink. He ran to the bathroom and emptied the contents of his stomach into the sink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY THREE

 

THE GENTLE WOLF

 

They drove in Alec’s car to the Gentle Wolf Bar. Smith was grateful, it must have been minus ten outside and the wind had started to blow from the North. The car was a Mercedes, a very expensive one from what Smith could gather. It had leather seats and the dashboard was full of buttons and gadgets. Smith did not want to know how Alec managed to afford such a luxury car. They drove past Tatari through Sibulakula and headed for the old town square again. Alec parked the car and they walked through the square. There were a surprising amount of people around considering the temperature outside. They must be used to the cold, Smith thought. They walked through a dimly lit tunnel to the other side of the square. Estonian flags that hung from many of the shop fronts, blew in the wind. They reached the entrance to the Hell Hunt Bar. The building was painted green and huge wooden doors welcomed the people in. Smith followed Alec to the huge bar inside. The place was almost deserted. An old man sat alone at the bar reading a newspaper.

“It will be full later,” Alec said, “Estonians drink at night. We’ll sit at one of the larger tables in the corner there.”

He pointed to a very impressive wooden table with eight wooden chairs around it.

Lucas put a tray of extremely large beers on the table.

“Proper beer glasses,” he said, “Drink up.”

Smith looked around the room. He was agitated. Would he meet his sister in here later? He thought. What would he say to her if he did?

“I happen to know that some of them will be here tonight,” Alex said.

“Some of them?” Smith was confused.

“The Wolfie people,” Alec replied, “I have it on good authority that they are busy finalising a very lucrative property deal in Tallinn and this is where they like to take their clients. How’s the beer?”

“Very good,” Smith replied, “much better than English beer.”

The bar was slowly filling up. Every time someone new entered the bar, Smith jumped. A blonde woman around twenty walked through the door. She was with a much older man. Smith looked at her suspiciously. The man she was with approached their table and said something in Estonian. Alex said something back to him and the man walked away.

“Relax,” he said to Smith, “you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re on edge. That man wanted to know why you were staring at his girlfriend.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I told him he was stupid; that you are obviously gay and have no interest in his girlfriend.”

Smith laughed.

“Thanks a lot,” he said, “how will we know who we are looking for?”

“You’ll know when they come,” Alec said, “You’re a Policeman aren’t you?”

Smith took a long sip of beer. He was feeling more relaxed now. A group of around ten people walked through the door. They were obviously very drunk already and were making a lot of noise. People moved out of their way as they approached the bar. They were of all different ages but they were all dressed very smartly. Alec whispered something to Lucas. He turned round and nodded.

“Wait here,” Lucas said to Smith.

Alec followed Lucas to the bar. Smith watched as Lucas spoke to a bald man in his forties. They looked like they knew each other quite well. He saw Lucas point in his direction. Alec came back to the table with a fresh tray of beers.

“Listen carefully,” he said to Smith, “you are an Australian business man in Estonia looking for land to purchase for development. Be very careful with these people; they have very powerful connections in this country. Do you understand?”

“What do I say to them?” Smith said, “I know nothing about developing land.”

“You tell them you’re just an agent. We will help you. Get ready, he’s coming over.”

The bald man had his arm round Lucas as they walked to the table. He had a very red face and his eyes were bloodshot. Smith stood up and thought carefully about what he was going to say.

“Gregor Sertov,” Lucas said, “meet a very good friend of mine Jason Smith. He’s from Australia and he is looking for land.”

Sertov looked Smith directly in the eye.

“Australian,” he mumbled, “I like Australians.”

He shook Smith by the hand; he had a very firm handshake.

“I was in Australia once,” Sertov said, “where are you from?”

“Perth,” Smith lied. He exaggerated his accent slightly.

“Perth is very beautiful,” Sertov said, “I believe you are in the market for land?”

“I might be,” Smith said, “if the price is right.”

“I like you Jason Smith. You don’t fuck around. We are all going to the Angel in a while. Why don’t you join us; there are some people who will be very interested in meeting you.”

Smith looked across at Lucas and Stepan.

“You’re all welcome,” Sertov assured them, “we leave in half an hour.”

“That wasn’t too bad,” Smith said when Sertov was gone, “I thought he’d want to know a bit more about me.”

“That was the easy part,” Lucas warned him, “Sertov claims to be a good judge of character but he is, in fact quite stupid. You may not be so lucky with the other people.”

“What’s this Angel place?” Smith asked.

“It’s a gay club,” Stepan laughed, “They have nice private sections of the bar. I think these people like it because it’s exclusive.”

“Two gay clubs in one night,” Smith said, “people are going to talk.”

Smith looked over at the crowd by the bar. One woman caught his attention more than the others. She was sitting at the bar and Smith could only see her profile. Even so, there was something very familiar about her.

“Where are the toilets?” he asked.

“To the left of the bar,” Lucas said, “don’t do anything stupid; I saw you looking at that woman.”

“I need a piss,” Smith said, “this beer goes right through you.”

Smith had the feeling he was being watched as he made his way to the toilets. The bathroom was empty. Smith chose the cubicle closest to the door. When he was finished, the door opened and a man walked in. He was one of the crowd that had come in with Sertov.

“Jason Smith,” the man said, “I’ll let you wash before I shake your hand.”

His accent was difficult to place. It was a mixture of accents.

Smith washed his hands, dried them and looked the man up and down. He was very short but he had broad shoulders. He would be difficult to knock over, Smith thought. He offered his hand to the man and braced himself for a bone crusher of a handshake. Thankfully the man’s handshake was neither firm nor limp.

“How do you know my name?” Smith said.

“Sertov,” the man said, “I believe you are here to acquire land?”

“That’s right. I think Estonia has potential.”

“Forget about it,” the man said, “Estonia is backward thinking. They live in the past. But I do have something you might be interested in.”

“What’s that?” Smith asked, “And I didn’t catch your name.”

“I didn’t offer it, “the man said, “I believe you will be joining us at the Angel. I will explain to you there.”

As Smith made his way back to the table he glanced quickly at the woman he had noticed earlier. She looked straight at him. Their eyes met and they stared at each other. The woman frowned, shook her head and turned her back to him. Smith knew there was something familiar about her. Laura would be nineteen now, he thought. This woman had the same blue eyes but her hair was darker and her nose slightly longer than Laura’s had been. His phone started to ring in his pocket. He took it out, it was Thompson. He pressed the reject call button and put the phone back in his pocket. It rang again. Smith switched the phone off. Thompson was staying at Smith’s house while he was away; he had been kicked out of his house and Smith was more than happy to have someone to look after Theakston while he was away. He was not sure whether Theakston and Thompson would get on though.

“Are you ready to go?” Lucas asked. He finished the rest of his beer.

“Do you know that woman over there?” Smith pointed her out.

“Never seen her before,” Lucas replied, “she’s one of Wolfie’s people.”

“Have you ever met this Wolfie?” Smith asked.

“Of course,” Lucas said, “so have you. You two just took a piss together.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY FOUR

 

BLOODY DOG

 

Thompson had his evening planned out. Pizza, beer and football. He had bought a second hand television to replace the one of Smith’s that had been stolen; the pizza was warming up in the oven and the national anthems were just about to begin. England versus Germany in the1966 World Cup Final. Thompson had been a child when England had played Germany in the final but he remembered it like it was yesterday. Theakston ran into the room with something in his mouth. It was one of Thompson’s slippers.

“Give that back,” Thompson demanded but Theakston carried on chewing it.

Thompson got up from the couch and walked towards the puppy. He tried to take the slipper out of his mouth. Theakston thought this was great; he shook the slipper and pulled it from Thompson’s grip.

“Bloody dog,” Thompson moaned. “You’ll sleep in the rain tonight if you’re not careful.”

The alarm on the oven sounded. The pizza was ready. Thompson forgot about his slipper, pressed pause on the video machine and walked through to the kitchen. He put the pizza on a plate, took a beer from the fridge and walked back to the living room. He put the pizza on the coffee table, pressed play on the machine and settled down to watch the game. Theakston could smell the pizza and he dropped the slipper and sat next to the table begging.

“Bugger off,” Thompson said, “you’ve got plenty of food in your bowl.”

Theakston did not want dog food, he wanted pizza. Siegfried Held sent the ball into the England penalty box and Thompson groaned as he knew what was coming up next. Ray Wilson headed the ball straight to the German Helmut Haller who put the ball past Gordon Banks. England 0 Germany 1.

“You’re a moron Wilson,” Thompson said.

He took a slice of pizza. Theakston sat there wagging his tail but Thompson ignored him. Bobby Moore was about to take a free kick. Thompson put the pizza down and watched the television intently. Moore curved the free kick straight to the head of Geoff Hurst who headed it down into the back of the net. England 1 Germany 1. Thompson stood up and did his victory dance. He sat down again and picked up his pizza. The slice was gone. While Thompson was dancing around, Theakston had not only helped himself to the slice but he had eaten nearly half of the pizza on the plate.

“Bloody dog,” Thompson said again.

He knew there would be no more goals until the second half of the game so he picked Theakston up, took him to the kitchen and closed the door. The puppy started to bark. Thompson merely turned up the volume on the television. Theakston’s bark had turned into an almighty whining sound. This dog has been spoiled, Thompson thought. He went back to the kitchen, picked the puppy up and carried him back to the living room. He put him on the couch beside him.

“Now keep quiet,” he ordered, “the second half is about to start.”

Theakston curled up beside him and watched as the players returned to the pitch. Thompson picked up his phone and dialled Smith’s number. After two rings it went to voice mail. He tried again. The voice mail message came up after one ring. Once more, he thought. Voice mail immediately. The bastard has switched his phone off, he thought; I wonder what he’s up to.

Allan Ball was about to take a corner. He sent the ball straight to Geoff Hurst. Hurst’s shot was deflected to Martin Peters who quickly slotted the ball in the back of the net from eight yards. England 2 Germany 1. Thompson patted Theakston.

“Don’t get too excited boy,” he said, “the bloody Krauts equalise just before full time.”

Theakston stretched out his paws. The Germans were awarded a free kick.

“Open your bloody eyes ref,” Thompson shouted.

Emmerich passed the ball straight to Cohen who blocked it. He sent the ball to Weber whose shot went into the back of the net.

“Hand ball.” Thompson protested, “That referee needs glasses,” he said to Theakston.

England 2 Germany 2.

“Extra time now boy,” Thompson said, “What am I doing? I’m sitting talking about football with a bloody dog.”

Thompson went to the kitchen to get another beer. Theakston jumped off the couch and followed him. There was one slice of pizza left so Thompson cut it up and put it in Theakston’s bowl.

Ten minutes into extra time, Allan Ball sent in a cross to Geoff Hurst who turned and shot. The ball hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced back down. The referee gave the goal and the crowd went wild. England 3 Germany 2. With one minute to go before full time the Germans pushed forward with everything they had. Bobby Moore threaded a pass through to Geoff Hurst. People started to run onto the pitch. Hurst blasted a shot towards the goal and it smashed into the back of the net.

“Some people are on the pitch,” Thompson said, “they think it’s all over. It is now, four.”

England 4 Germany 2. Thompson patted Theakston on the head.

“Good boy,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY FIVE

 

ANGEL

 

The Angel was only two streets away so they walked. Smith was still thinking about the young woman in the bar. He was sure he knew her; she might even be his sister, he could not be sure. He had the ominous feeling again; the feeling that something was about to happen. There was a queue outside the Angel. Smith looked at his watch; it was almost midnight, Tallinn time. Alec walked to the front of the queue, handed something to the man on the door and beckoned for Smith, Lucas and Stepan to follow him. Inside the night club it was warm and dark. The music was so loud that it would be impossible to talk. Smith followed Alec up a set of stairs to a private room with leather couches and glass topped tables. The music was not so loud in there. They were the only people in the room.

“Have a seat my friend,” Alec said, “this is one of the benefits of having a lot of money; you don’t have to queue and you can avoid the crowds downstairs. We will not be disturbed in here. I’ll organise us some drinks.”

Smith sat at solid wooden table. He looked around the room. There was a bar in the corner and a balcony that overlooked the dance floor downstairs. A man approached and put a tray of drinks on the table; he eyed Smith with suspicion. This is a country of ironies, Smith thought; the people are very open and generous and yet they do not seem to trust anybody. His phone beeped in his pocket. He took it out and looked at the screen; it was a Face Book message. He opened the message and gasped at what he saw. ‘I know you are in Tallinn’, it read, ‘and I know exactly who you are. Be very careful’. It was the woman he believed to be his sister, Moonface Wolf. Smith put the phone away and scanned the room anxiously. Maybe he was right, he thought, maybe the woman from the bar earlier was Laura.

“Too much thinking can send you mad,” Alec said, “drink your beer and focus; this is not going to be easy. Do you think they are just going to let you take her away from them?”

Smith was amazed.

“How did you know?” he said, “are you a mind reader?”

“Just incredibly perceptive,” Alec replied, “we need to approach this very carefully; Tallinn is an easy place to get lost in. It is an easy place to make someone disappear too if you understand what I’m saying.”

“I think so,” Smith said, “you don’t think they’d harm a Policeman from England though do you? Surely there would be repercussions.”

“My friend,” Alec sighed, “you are very naïve. These people will not hesitate to dispose of you and they will easily make it look like you had an accident. A car accident, drowning on the ferry to Finland maybe. Does anybody know you are here?”

Smith thought hard for a while and realised that only Whitey knew he had come to Tallinn to look for his sister.

“Only one person knows,” he admitted, “and he also warned me that this could be dangerous.”

“Listen to me,” Alec said, “do exactly what I say and you will not be harmed. If that woman you saw earlier is your sister, it will be difficult to talk to her on her own. Also, if what Stepan has told me is true, you haven’t seen her for ten years?”

“That’s right,” Smith said.

“Ten years with these people will have altered the way she thinks; she’s not likely to want to just get on a plane with you and leave all this behind.”

“So what do I do then?” Smith asked.

“What we do is have a few drinks with these people and enjoy ourselves; this will not happen overnight.”

Stepan and Lucas sat down at the table. They were covered in sweat and had obviously been dancing. Lucas grabbed one of the beers and drank half of it in one go. “They are playing some good stuff tonight,” he said.

He put his arm around Stepan.

“Why the serious face?” Stepan said to Smith, “drink and be happy you’re alive. The night is still young.”

Smith smiled and finished his beer.

“Where’s everyone else?” he asked.

“Dancing of course,” Stepan replied, “that is what we like to do in Tallinn, drink and dance and forget everything else. Do you want to dance?”

Smith frowned.

“I’m not much of a dancer,” he said.

“Get up,” Stepan ordered, “you’re going to dance. You don’t mind do you?” he said to Lucas.

Lucas shrugged his shoulders in reply.

The dance floor was full as Stepan literally pushed Smith into the middle of it. It was a Gay Bar but there were plenty of women dancing too.

“Women feel safer in gay clubs,” Stepan shouted into Smith’s ear, “they don’t have to put up with the bullshit.”

The music was not to Smith’s taste. He hated electronic, computer generated noise but he made an effort for Stepan’s sake. He spotted the woman from the bar. She was dancing with another older woman. She looked over at him and smiled. Smith did not know what to do so he concentrated on trying not to look too ridiculous while dancing. The music stopped abruptly and another song began. The crowd of people on the dance floor screamed and many more people barged in to dance. Smith did not recognise the music but it seemed to be very popular here. There was barely room to dance and Smith was getting thirsty so he decided to leave and go back upstairs. He had left the dance floor and was walking towards the stairs when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned abruptly and saw the woman standing there. She put her hand in his and headed back to join her friends. Smith thought she looked nervous. He opened his hand. The woman had given him a piece of paper. He looked around him before opening the note but he could not see anything suspicious. Nevertheless he put the note in his pocket and decided to read it in the toilets where nobody could see. He pushed his way through the crowd and opened the door to the toilets. There were a few people inside so he entered one of the cubicles and locked the door behind him. He took out the note. He realised his hands were shaking. What he read in the note did nothing to calm his nerves. ‘There is a door to the left of the bar downstairs, it said, ‘it leads outside to an alley. Meet me outside in ten minutes. L.’ Smith put the note back in his pocket and walked back upstairs.

“You look pale my friend,” Alec said as Smith sat down.

“I don’t like crowds,” Smith lied, “they freak me out. I’ll feel better after another beer.” He took a beer from the table and drank heartily. He looked at his watch.

“Do you have somewhere to be?” Alec was very astute.

“Just wondering what time it was,” Smith replied, “it’s one in the morning.”

“Still early then. Just relax and enjoy yourself.”

“You’re right,” Smith thought of something, “I’m going to dance again; these gay bars are not too bad.”

Alec looked at him suspiciously as he left the table and walked down the stairs.

Smith found the door to the left of the bar and opened it. The sweat on his face felt like it had frozen instantly. He closed the door behind him and looked around. He walked out into an alley behind the club and listened for something that might tell him he was not alone. The door blocked out the music coming from inside and the alley way was completely silent. This is a bad idea, he thought. He had the feeling that something was going to happen again, something terrible. He had decided to go back inside the club and get very drunk when he heard something. Something that sounded like trouble. The door opened and a man walked out. He shut the door behind him and just stood in front of it without saying anything.

“What do you want Jason Smith?” a voice came from the shadows.

It was the strange voice; the one that seemed to come from many different places. Wolfie, Smith thought.

“What do you want”? He said again, this time he was much closer.

Smith turned round and saw him emerge from the darkness and take another step closer. He had two men with him and they did not look like they were going to ask Smith to dance. Smith braced himself for trouble; the adrenalin was flowing and his heart was pumping more blood around his body.

“Where’s the woman?” Smith asked.

Wolfie took another step closer.

“What do you want with her?” he said.

“I just want to talk to her, she gave me a note.”

Wolfie laughed. He had a fake laugh; it sounded like he had borrowed it from a gangster movie.

“I know exactly who you are Mr Smith,” he said, “do you think I’m stupid; I had you checked out the moment you set foot in Estonia, now I’ll ask you again, what do you want?”

Smith looked at the men on either side of Wolfie; they were obviously there to intimidate and they were succeeding. They were both taller than Smith and they looked like they were no strangers to violence. He decided what he was going to do. There was no hope of beating them in a fight and making a run for it was impossible. He was surrounded.

“I’m here to find my sister,” he said defiantly.

“Your sister died ten years ago,” Wolfie said, “the ocean swallowed her up.”

Smith gasped.

“You took her,” he said, “I know all about it.”

“Leave her alone,” Wolfie warned, “you don’t know what you are getting in to.”

“I want to speak to her,” Smith was insistent.

Smith saw Wolfie’s face change. He lifted his head as a signal to the man standing in front of the door. Smith felt his arms being forced behind his back and Wolfie and his associates came closer. The man was incredibly strong.

“You shouldn’t have come here Jason Smith,” Wolfie said, “although there are worse places than Tallinn in which to die.”

What happened next did not seem real. Smith watched in horror as one of Wolfie’s men opened his coat and took out the gun. Smith was no expert on guns but he did recognise the long pipe at the end that acted as a silencer. He handed the gun to Wolfie.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Wolfie repeated.

He pointed the gun at Smith’s head.

The door opened behind them.

“That’s enough!” Alec shouted, “Let him go.”

Wolfie still had the gun pointed at Smith’s head.

“He’s Police,” Alec said, “that will only make trouble.”

Wolfie lowered the gun and handed it back to his bodyguard. Smith was still in the grip of the other man. Wolfie came closer and stuck his face as close to Smith’s as possible. Smith could smell alcohol and tobacco on his breath.

“Consider this a warning,” he said, “If I even think that you’re trying to get in contact with your sister again I will kill you first and then I will kill your sister.”

 

 

 

 

SIXTY SIX

 

POKER NIGHT

 

Wednesday 13 January 2009

 

“Straight flush,” Paul ‘The Ghoul’ Turner announced as he threw the cards on the table, “frigging beautiful.”

“Are you counting cards?” Chalmers asked, “That’s the fifth hand in a row you’ve won.”

“Of course I’m counting bloody cards,” The Ghoul said, “although it doesn’t help much in Poker; it’s more useful in Blackjack.”

“Let’s take a break,” Chalmers suggested, “you’ve taken nearly all my money anyway. Another beer?”

“Don’t mind if I do. How are things in the fascist department going?”

Chalmers laughed.

“You think we’re all a bunch of little Hitlers don’t you?”

“You lot aren’t too bad,” The Ghoul said, “but those frigging bastards in uniform think they can click their heels, give the Nazi salute and, hey presto we’re all under their control.”

“They’re not that bad really. Anyway, who do you think keeps villains off the streets?”

“Lawyers and Pathologists like me of course; we’re the frigging heroes in life. Bad luck about the Willow case by the way. I suppose that public school prick who calls himself the Superintendant has officially closed that one.”

“We had to endure his stats presentation yesterday,” Chalmers sighed, “There’s no way in hell we can reopen the case.”

“You know he didn’t do it don’t you?” the Ghoul said.

“Martin Willow?” Chalmers said, “Smith is convinced it wasn’t him.”

“Smith is right. Bloody good copper that one. And the other one, the one who fancies Smith?”

“DC Whitton?” Chalmers seemed surprised, “she’s a colleague that’s all.”

“If you say so,” the Ghoul smiled, “I reckon if I had to open her up and remove her heart, Smith’s name would be all over it. Anyway, I’ve been working with the police for over five years and the only decent coppers I’ve met have been those two.”

“You heard what happened to Smith?”

“That bloody scumbag deserved it,” the Ghoul said, “Smith only did what any of us would have. I hope you didn’t bollock him too much for it.”

“I gave him two weeks leave,” Chalmers replied, “it was owed to him.”

“You’re all frigging heart Bob. Where’s he gone, Blackpool? Lovely at this time of year.”

“He wouldn’t say,” Chalmers said, “he said he had some family business to sort out.”

“You know he’s not going to let that Willow rot in jail.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Chalmers said, “he’s a brilliant detective but he pretty much does what the hell he likes. Luckily, he’s got Whitton to look after him.”

“I tell you Bob,” the Ghoul said, “those two are going to be the next frigging police wedding we’ll be going to. I can feel it.”

 

SIXTY SEVEN

 

DETERMINED

 

Smith woke up in a strange room. He had a thumping headache and his mouth was dry. He got up off the bed he was lying on and stood up. The veins in his temples seemed to be pumping too much blood to his brain and he felt like his head was going to explode. He needed a glass of water. He opened the door of the room and realised he was in Stepan’s flat. Alec was asleep on one of the couches in the living room; he was snoring loudly. Smith poured himself a glass of water from the tap in the kitchen, drank it in one go and poured himself another. He sat on the other couch and rubbed his temples gently.

“Coffee is good for the hangover,” Stepan said from the doorway to the bathroom.

Smith smiled.

“I must stop drinking too much,” he said.

“I’ll make the coffee strong then,” Stepan said.

Even with a hangover, Smith could remember clearly what had happened the night before; everything until the gun was pointed at his head and Alec saved his life. After that, the night just blurred into drinks, dancing and many unfamiliar faces.

“There you go,” Stepan placed the coffee on the table in front of Smith.

“Thanks,” Smith said.

Stepan did not seem in the least bit concerned that he had a man who had almost been executed in his flat. Maybe Alec did not tell them, Smith thought.

Alec groaned. He was waking up. He stood up, groaned again and walked past Smith and Stepan without saying a word.

“Where’s Lucas?” Smith asked Stepan.

“Work,” Stepan replied, “he’s an early riser, he never gets hangovers either.”

“Lucky bugger,” Smith said.

“Would you like some breakfast?” Stepan asked.

“I’m not hungry,” Smith said, “but I’d better eat something. Thanks.”

“I’ll go and get something from the baker down the street. That’s if they have anything left, it’s almost lunchtime.”

Smith looked at his watch. It was half past eleven. Stepan put on his shoes and coat and left the flat. Smith heard the toilet flush in the bathroom. The door opened and Alec sat down again; he looked terrible.

“I suppose I must thank you for what you did last night,” Smith said.

Alec shrugged his shoulders.

“I told you not to do anything stupid,” he said, “You could have been killed.”

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Smith insisted, “I got a note from my sister and then I was ambushed in the alley. How did you know I was there?”

“I saw the way you were acting and when you disappeared I went looking for you.”

Alec took a sip of coffee.

“That’s better”, he said, “I hope you will have the good sense to leave Tallinn as soon as possible.”

Smith sighed; he had come so close but now it seemed that his sister was further away than ever.

“She wanted to meet me,” he insisted, “why else would she have given me the note?”

“There’s a lot you don’t understand my friend,” Alec said, “Wolfie knows everything and he has that most dangerous of personalities, a paranoid genius. He is in total control of everything that happens around him.”

“He can’t keep an eye on everything twenty four seven,” Smith said, “There must be a way I can see my sister without him knowing.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“You know a way don’t you?”

“You’re very stubborn Mr Smith,” Alec said, “that’s a very perilous trait; you were almost killed last night and yet you persist.”

“I’m determined to get my sister away from these people. After what happened last night, I’m even more determined.”

“There may be a way,” Alec said finally, “but I won’t discuss it now; Stepan will be back soon.”

“You didn’t tell him what happened did you?”

“He didn’t need to know. Nobody knows and we must keep it that way. I have a meeting in an hour but it shouldn’t take long. Meet me in the car park of the Passenger Port at two; it’s only a few hundred metres from here. Wolfie will be watching you but I’m certain he will not follow you to Finland.”

“Finland,” Smith exclaimed.

“Beautiful country,” Alec mused, “But it has no interest to Wolfie. Bring your bag; you will not be coming back to Tallinn.”

“But I have a return ticket.”

“You will never make the flight, Wolfie will not risk it. What happened last night was merely a prelude. You will simply disappear and nobody will ever know what happened. I have to go home and change; meet me at two. If I can organise it I may have a surprise for you.”

Alec put on his coat, shook his head and left the flat. Smith wondered what he meant by the surprise. He stood up and looked out the window; the snow had turned to ice on the roads and the sky was clear. He shivered even though it was warm in the flat. He could just make out the icy waters of the Gulf of Finland in the distance. Finland, he thought. Never in a million years did he think he would be in Estonia about to take a ferry to Finland.

The door opened and Stepan rushed in.

“Its minus eight outside,” he said, “it says so on the board next to the Theatre.”

He placed a brown paper bag on the table.

“I’ll get some plates,” he said.

They ate a lunch of bread, cheese and cold meats Smith had never tasted before.

“What are your plans for today?” Stepan asked.

Smith thought hard. He did not want to put this kind flight attendant in any kind of danger.

“I think I’ll see a few of the sights,” he lied.

He looked at his watch. Half past twelve; he had an hour and a half.

“I’ll show you around,” Stepan offered.

“Thanks but I have a map and you’ve done enough for me already.”

“Its no problem,” Stepan said, “Lucas doesn’t finish until late.”

“I’d rather walk around on my own,” Smith said, “I need to think.”

“You’re leaving aren’t you?” Stepan was sharp.

“How did you know”?

“I may be a flight attendant but I have eyes in my head. I saw how you looked last night. He threatened you didn’t he?”

“Who?”

“Wolfie of course. Where are you going?”

“I don’t want to put you in any danger.”

“I’m nobody to them,” Stepan said frankly, “they’re not worried about me.”

“Alec is meeting me at two at the Ferry Port; I’m going to Finland.”

Stepan stood up and went to the bedroom. He returned with the Gestapo camel hair coat. “Take this,” he said, “Finland is even colder than Estonia.”

“I can’t take your coat,” Smith said

“Take it.”

Stepan was adamant.

“I bought it for Lucas in Paris,” he said, “but he never wears it.”

Smith had a lump in his throat.

“Thank you,” he said, “I think I’ll leave now; I really do need to think.”

Smith picked up his bag, put on the coat and turned to face the kindly flight attendant. He was sure he saw a tear on Stepan’s cheek. Stepan quickly wiped it away.

“That coat looks much better on you anyway,” Stepan smiled.

He held out his hand to Smith. Smith took the hand to shake it but quickly let go. He put his arms around Stepan and hugged him tightly.

“I see you’re a bit more relaxed around gay people,” Stepan said with a smile.

“Thanks for all your help,” Smith said, “I won’t forget it.”

He opened the door.

“Oh, by the way,” he added, “I was meaning to tell you before; my mother was gay.”

Stepan smiled and watched Smith walk down the stairs.

Smith was instantly grateful for the coat as he made his way to the Ferry Terminal; the wind was biting his ears. He put the collar of the coat up higher and fastened the top button. Smith did not notice the man in the green car as he passed; he was too preoccupied with staying warm. When Smith was further along the road, the car door opened and the man got out. He closed the car door, walked up the stairs to Stepan’s flat and rang the bell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTY EIGHT

 

REUNITED

 

Smith arrived at the ferry terminal half an hour early. Alec’s car was nowhere to be seen. There was a small café just past the car park that was used by the truck drivers. Smith would be able to see the car park from there and it would give him some shelter from the wind that was even fiercer by the water. He went inside, bought a cup of coffee and found an empty seat by the window. He thought again what Alec had meant by a surprise. He checked his watch; it had moved five minutes forward since he had checked it five minutes ago.

“Calm down,” he said to himself, “Calm down. Alec will come.”

He bought another cup of coffee from the counter; it was strong coffee and it was making him agitated. There was a ferry timetable on the wall. He stood up and checked to see when the ferry would leave. There were ferries leaving for St Petersburg, Stockholm and Helsinki and, according to the timetable, the next ferry to Helsinki would leave at three. He checked his watch again; Alec would be here in twenty minutes. The car park was starting to fill up with people who needed to get to Finland, Smith presumed. None of the people entered the café. Alec’s expensive Mercedes was still nowhere to be seen. The door to the café opened and two men approached the counter and ordered coffee. Truck drivers, Smith assumed. The clock on the wall told him it was two on the dot. Smith could still not see Alec’s car in the car park. He’s not coming, he thought, what am I going to do now? The truck drivers opened the door and left. Smith looked at the clock on the wall again.

“It’s fast,” a familiar voice was heard behind him.

“Alec,” Smith gasped, “I didn’t see your car.”

“I borrowed my brother’s” Alec said, “It’s a rust bucket but it’s inconspicuous. Come, we need to go now.”

There was no sign of the surprise Alec had mentioned earlier.

“You’ll see what I meant on the ferry,” Alec said as if he had read Smith’s mind, “Come on, we need to board quickly.”

They left the café and walked towards the passenger entrance. Neither of them noticed the green car in the car park. Alec paid for their tickets; they walked up the companionway and boarded the ferry. Smith followed Alec through various corridors until they came to a restaurant. Alec chose a seat by the window. An announcement in Estonian was heard over the loudspeaker and was repeated in Finnish. Alec looked around anxiously. Smith looked out of the window and froze. It was not the icy weather that had glued him to the spot; it was the sight of the sea outside. His eyes seemed to glaze over and he stared at nothing in the distance. His face was very pale.

“Mr Smith,” Alec was concerned.

Smith did not hear him; he continued to stare vacantly into the depths of the Gulf of Finland. He was abruptly brought out of the stupor when he found himself being violently shaken.

“What’s wrong?” Alec said, “Are you ok?” He was very worried now.

“What happened?” Smith’s eyes had returned to normal and colour returned to his cheeks.

“You were out of it for a while there,” Alec said.

“The water,” Smith said, “I have this thing about the sea; it’s like a phobia I suppose. It all started the day my sister disappeared.”

“Then it can stop right now.” A woman was standing behind them

Smith turned to see the woman from the bar standing there. The one who gave him the note that had almost had him killed; his sister, Laura. They looked at each other carefully, each one scrutinising the other’s face like they were observing a new species. She looked very different to when Smith had seen her at the Hell Hunt Bar; she was without make up and her hair was hidden inside a thick woollen hat. She was much paler than Smith could remember from their childhood in Fremantle but her eyes were Laura’s. This was definitely his sister.

The engines of the ferry started to growl into action, the companionway was removed and the mooring ropes were being untied one by one. They were safe and on their way to Finland.

“I’m thirsty,” Alec said, “I’ll get us some drinks and leave you in peace; I’m sure you have a lot of catching up to do.”

Smith did not know where to begin. He had thought about it non stop since he had been given a glimmer of hope by Whitey in Leicester. What would she look like now? Would she even recognise him? What had she been doing all these years? So many questions but none of them seemed to come to him at that moment. It was Laura who broke the silence.

“So, you Loon,” she said, “aren’t you going to give your little sister a hug?”

It seemed to come from nowhere. It started in his throat and then the numbness spread up through his cheeks and finally it reached his eyes. His lips began to shake and then the tears came. He could not stop them. Laura put her arms around him and held him for what seemed like hours. Neither of them even noticed that Alec had put three beers on their table and disappeared again. Smith finally broke the embrace. He wiped his eyes and looked at Laura. She showed little emotion. She’s become hardened, Smith thought.

“Why didn’t you get in touch?” Smith asked her, “We thought you were dead.”

“It wasn’t that easy,” she said, “I didn’t even know where I was let alone have the means to find you.”

“What happened that day on the beach? Where did these people take you?”

“Like I said, I don’t know; I don’t even remember much about it.”

“Where have you been all this time?” Smith’s questions were flowing now.

“All over the place,” Laura said, “do you mind if I smoke?”

“Go ahead,” Laura was not a little girl anymore.

She lit a cigarette and offered him one.

“No thanks,” he said, “didn’t you miss us?”

“They have this way of becoming your family,” she inhaled deeply. “It was only as I got a bit older than I realised what was going on but by then it was too late.”

“What do you mean?”

Laura laughed.

“Don’t you see,” she said, “nobody can leave. People have tried of course but they are never heard of again.”

“I’m going to take you away from this Wolfie maniac,” Smith was determined. “You can stay with me in York; he won’t find you there.”

“He will find me anywhere. You’re lucky he didn’t kill you last night.”

Smith looked out of the window; the lights of Tallinn were far behind them.

“We’re safe now,” he said, “Once we get to Finland, we can get to the airport and get on the first flight to England.”

“I heard you were living in England,” she said.

“I was deported there shortly after you disappeared. Our mother wasn’t exactly a model parent but that’s a long story. I’ll tell you all about it one day”

Alec returned to the table.

“We’ll be in Helsinki in just over an hour,” he said, “What are you going to do when you get there? I’ve done all I can for you.”

“I appreciate everything you’ve done Alec,” Smith said, “we were just talking about it; I’m going to get us the first flight to England where we’ll be safe.”

Alec suddenly looked anxious.

“We’ve got trouble,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Smith said, “We’re nearly there.”

“Three men have just walked in, they’re standing at the bar now.”

Smith looked round. One of the men was the one who handed Wolfie the gun that nearly ended Smith’s life.

“Shit,” he said, “how did they know?”

He looked at Laura.

“Don’t look at me,” she said, “I did everything I could to make sure I wasn’t followed.”

“It doesn’t matter how they knew,” Alec said, “We’ve got to figure a way out.”

“Do you think they’re armed?” Smith said.

“Of course,” Alec replied, “wait here.”

Alec approached the men at the bar. They nodded respectful greetings to him but they looked suspicious. Smith saw them speak. Alec opened his arms in a pleading gesture but the stern faces of the men gave Smith little hope. Alec returned to their table.

“Wolfie wants to speak to you,” he said.

“Wolfie’s here too,” Smith was devastated. “Where is he?”

“On the other side of the bar; I suggest you speak to him.”

Smith stood up and took Laura by the hand.

“Let’s go and reason with this lunatic,” he said.

“Just you,” Alec ordered.

The look on his face made Smith let go of Laura’s hand.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” Smith said, “then we can put all this behind us.”

He smiled at Laura and she smiled back. Smith could see that the smile was not genuine.

Wolfie was by himself at a table on the far side of the restaurant. Smith thought this unusual; Wolfie was never without his gorillas for protection.

“Jason Smith,” Wolfie said as Smith sat down at his table, “you’re either very stupid or very brave, although to me they both amount to the same thing.”

“I’m taking my sister home with me,” Smith came straight to the point.

Wolfie laughed. It was a different laugh this time; it was quite sinister.

“Jason Smith,” he said, “I do not normally give people a second chance and now I’m going to give you a third one. You will get off this ferry in Finland and go home. Do you understand?”

“I’m taking Laura with me,” Smith repeated.

“You have two choices Mr Smith. Choice one, you can go home to your life and forget about all of this. You will no doubt have regrets but you’ll be alive.”

“And what about choice two?” Smith asked.

“Choice two involves you persisting in this fantasy where you take your sister back to your perfect life and you live happily ever after. If you insist on this choice, you and your sister will be taken outside the ferry, shot and fed to the fish in the Gulf of Finland. Maybe you will meet your little friend Stepan in heaven.”

“You killed Stepan?” Smith was shaking.

“Only after he’d told us where you were,” Wolfie smiled, “he endured a surprising amount of pain before he cracked. I was surprised. I thought he’d crack when we cut the first finger off.”

Smith felt sick.

“You’re a mad man,” he said, “you can’t get away with this.”

“Choice one or two Mr Smith?” Wolfie demanded.

“Can I say goodbye to my sister?” Smith asked.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea; I’ll have one of my men retrieve your bag. He will make sure you make it off the ferry safely and he will direct you to Vantaa airport. You need to be careful; there are some nasty people out there. Good bye Mr Smith and I hope for your sake that we never see each other again.”

SIXTY NINE

 

DEJECTED

 

Thursday 14 January 2009

 

Smith was dog tired. He had been travelling for almost twenty four hours. After the ferry trip from Tallinn he had been escorted to Vantaa airport in Helsinki; his escort had made sure he boarded the first flight to Heathrow airport. From there he had caught a bus to East Midlands where he had parked his car. A two hour drive later and he had arrived outside his house. He parked the car and breathed deeply. He felt utterly dejected. He sat in his car and put his head in his hands. The trip to Tallinn had exhausted him; his sister was alive but, as he sat there outside his house he was even further away from her than he was before. He opened the car door and walked towards his house. As he put the key in the lock he decided on a plan of action for the remainder of his leave; he would drink as much as possible and forget everything that had happened. He would forget that he ever found his sister; he would forget that he was responsible for the death of poor Stepan and he would forget all about Tallinn. Theakston ran towards him as the door opened.

“Hello boy,” Smith sighed.

He patted the puppy half heartedly on the head. Thompson was nowhere to be seen. Smith was glad; he needed time to himself. Time to forget.

Smith took a Robert Johnson CD out and put it in the machine. He opened his bag and took out the bottle of Jack Daniels he had bought at the duty free shop in Helsinki. He opened it and took a long swig straight out of the bottle. He winced as the bourbon burned his throat. Theakston was at his feet wagging his tail.

“Go away,” Smith said but the puppy did not understand.

Smith sat at the couch with the bottle. Theakston managed to jump up and tried to snuggle up but Smith pushed him away. He took another swig from the bottle. He took out his phone. The Face Book message icon was flashing on the screen. He dialled Whitton’s number but cancelled the call immediately. He threw the phone on the table and emptied a quarter of the bottle down his throat. Theakston was still trying to snuggle up to him but Smith ignored him. The puppy did not know what was wrong and nuzzled his nose up against Smith’s leg. Robert Johnson was singing about hell hounds on his trail. Smith looked at Theakston, put the bottle on the table and picked the puppy up and put him on his lap. Tears started to flow at an alarming rate and a fit of uncontrolled sobbing followed. Theakston put his paws on Smith’s chest and licked his face.

“I’m sorry boy,” Smith sobbed, “you’re all I’ve got.”

Smith realised he had not eaten anything since the lunch at Stepan’s flat. He stood up and walked to the kitchen with Theakston following at his feet. He opened the freezer and cursed; it was empty. Thompson had eaten everything. He fetched his phone from the living room and dialled the pizza shop’s number. While he waited for the pizza he decided to take a bath. He took the bottle of Jack Daniels upstairs with him. Theakston lay on the mat next to the bath the whole time. The warm water of the bath made him feel sleepy so he got out, dried himself and went back downstairs. Robert Johnson was standing at the Crossroads. This is my life, Smith thought, standing at the crossroads waiting for the devil to take me to hell. There was a knock at the door. Smith realised he did not have any money for the pizza. He answered the door and a teenager with bad acne stood there with the pizza. Smith took it.

“I’ll have to pay you later,” he said, “I don’t seem to have any cash on me.”

“Sorry mister,” the boy said, “no money, no pizza.”

He tried to take the pizza back.

“I said I’d pay later,” Smith was starving and he was feeling quite drunk.

“I’ll drop the money off at the shop tomorrow.”

The boy was adamant.

“Give me the pizza,” he demanded.

“Piss off,” Smith was in no mood to argue with a boy.

He closed the door in the boy’s face.

“I’m calling the police,” the boy said from behind the door.

“No bloody respect,” Smith said to Theakston as he sat down with the pizza. Theakston started to beg.

“Since when did you acquire a taste for pizza?” Smith asked him.

He tore a piece off and handed it to Theakston.

There was a knock at the door again. Smith picked up the bottle of Jack Daniels and went to answer it. Two policemen in uniform stood there. Smith took a large swig from the bottle.

“Evening all,” he said. He was feeling really drunk now. “Lovely evening for it ossifers.”

“I’m afraid we’ve had a complaint Sir,” one of the policemen said.

Smith did not recognise either of them.

“That’s the trouble with the world today,” Smith said, “everybody complains too much.”

“Have you been drinking Sir?” The other officer asked.

Smith looked at the bottle in his hand and laughed.

“Have been?” he said, “you don’t know the half of it. Guilty as charged. You may now arrest me for being drunk in charge of a dog. It’s a far cop.”

He patted Theakston on the head.

“Sir, we have had a complaint from the pizza shop. It seems you ordered a pizza and took it without paying.”

Smith let out an almighty belch.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Pepperoni. I admit it but I’m afraid you no longer have a case as the evidence has been eaten.”

“I think you’d better come with us sir,” the policeman said.

“Where too?” Smith asked, “I’ll get my coat.”

“Down to the station.”

“The station? That’s a horrible idea; I’m still on leave. I have a few days left. Now if you don’t mind, I’m tired. Do you realise what drinking half a bottle of this stuff does to you? Good night.”

He closed the door behind him.

There was a knock on the door again. Smith opened it.

“That was quick,” he said, “Did you catch the bastards that stole that pizza?”

“Sir,” the policeman was becoming impatient, “I’m arresting you for stealing a pizza and for being drunk and disorderly.”

“Piss off,” Smith said.

He took another drink of Jack Daniels. He tried to close the door behind him but one of the officers put his foot in the way.

“Do you know where I was yesterday?” Smith said, “Didn’t think so. I was in the middle of a bloody spy novel that’s where I was and now I come back for some peace and you want to arrest me for stealing a pizza. Fuck off.”

One of the policemen tried to grab Smith’s arm. Theakston started to bark at him. Smith pulled away and the policeman stumbled.

“Add assaulting a police officer to that,” he said.

“You or me?” Smith said, “And I don’t call that assault. This is assault.”

Smith swung a punch at the officer. The man stepped to the side and Smith fell on the ground.

“What the hell is going on?” It was Thompson; he had just finished his shift.

“This man is refusing arrest Sir,” the policeman said.

He knew Thompson.

“What’s he done?”

“He stole a pizza and then he tried to punch me; he’s obviously drunk.”

“I’ll handle this. Thank you officers, you can be on your way now.”

“But Sir,”

“I said I’d handle it.” He closed the door behind him.

“Bloody pigs,” Smith said.

He walked back through to the living room and collapsed on the couch.

“What the hell was that all about?” Thompson called to him but from the snoring noise coming from the living room it was obvious that Smith could not hear him.

SEVENTY

 

DEEP BLUES

 

Friday 15 January 2009

 

Smith was back in Tallinn. He realised he had left his phone in Stepan’s flat. As he walked up the stairs he could hear noises from inside. The door was left slightly ajar and Smith peeked through the crack before he went in. Stepan was sitting at the table and he was not alone. A man was asking him something in Estonian. Stepan looked scared and he kept repeating the same few words. The man’s voice became louder but still Stepan just kept repeating himself. The man suddenly forced his elbow into Stepan’s face with such a force that Stepan seemed to have been knocked out for a few seconds. When he came to the man took his arm and slammed it on the table. He said something and when Stepan did not reply he took out a knife and sliced it through Stepan’s little finger. Stepan screamed and the blood spurted from the stump where his finger had been. Smith could not move. He wanted to help Stepan but he was glued to the floor; he could not even scream out. Somebody grabbed hold of him and shook him.

“Smith,” Thompson said, “wake up.

Smith woke with a start.

“Holy crap,” he said, “where am I?”

“You’re on the couch in the living room,” Thompson said, “you were screaming; that must have been some dream.”

Smith stood up. He felt like he was going to pass out.

“I’m going to be sick,” he said.

He rushed up the stairs and just made it to the toilet in time. When he was finished, he washed his face and looked in the mirror. His eyes were more bloodshot than they had ever been and the bags under his eyes made him look like an old man.

“I made you some coffee,” Thompson said when Smith came back down, “you look like shit by the way. I have to get to work.”

“Thanks Thompson,” Smith said, “thanks for looking after Theakston too.”

He picked up the coffee and took it back upstairs with him. I need some more sleep; he thought but instantly changed his mind when he thought about the dream. He walked back down and put the television on. A programme discussing the reasons why people are gay was on and he turned it off immediately. It suddenly struck him that Thompson must have bought a television while he was away. He picked up his phone. There was a missed call from Whitton and the Face Book icon on the screen. He opened the Face Book message first. It was his sister. He read the message three times and decided he would start the day where he left off last night, with a Jack Daniels. ‘Jason,’ the message began, ‘Wolfie has me under 24 hour surveillance. You must never try to contact me again. Laura’. He picked up the bottle of Jack Daniels from the table; there was only a quarter of the bottle left. He took a sip of coffee and poured a large measure into it. He would need some more if he was going to forget. Theakston waddled in from the kitchen licking his lips; he had just finished off the remains of the pizza from the night before. “How did you and old Thompson get on boy?” Smith asked, “I bet he drove you mad.” He picked up the puppy and kissed him on the head.

“Do you feel like a walk? I need some more to drink.”

He looked at the clock. It was only ten in the morning but it felt much later. He finished the rest of the coffee, put on his coat and put the lead on Theakston. Theakston led the way to the shop. It was the first time he had been for a walk on the lead and he got used to it very quickly.

“Bottle of Jack Daniels,” he said to the man behind the counter.

“No dogs allowed,” the man said.

“I promise I won’t let him touch a drop,” Smith said sarcastically, “just give me the whisky please.”

He handed the man his credit card and made a mental note to draw some money sometime.

The man handed Smith the Jack Daniels and the credit card receipt.

“Remember,” He said, “no dogs next time.”

“There won’t be a next time,” Smith said, “if he’s not welcome then neither am I.”

I’m buying whisky at ten thirty in the morning; Smith thought as he walked home, I’ve turned into my mother. He stopped at the cash machine and took out fifty pounds. His next stop was the pizza shop round the corner. They were closed so he decided they could wait for the money.

When they got home, Theakston barged past and ran straight to his water bowl. Smith decided he would be a more civilised drunk today. He would use a glass and try not to upset anybody. He poured a large measure of Jack Daniels and took a long drink. The whisky tasted good. He turned on his amp, picked up the guitar Whitton had given him and sat down to play. The strings were too new and the tone of the guitar was not right for his mood. He picked up the Fender instead and the rusty old strings gave him the deep blues sound he was looking for. He closed his eyes and played whatever his mind told his fingers to play. Theakston jumped on the couch and curled up. Smith played for an hour or so and suddenly stopped. He picked up his phone and listened to Whitton’s message. “I’m worried about you Sir,” she said, “please give me a call.”

Smith dialled her number but changed his mind. He finished the whisky in the glass and went to get some more. He was starting to feel better again but he knew it would only last while he was drunk.

“Cheers,” Smith said to Theakston and set off on a journey into oblivion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEVENTY ONE

 

FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES

 

Friday 13 February 2009

 

Penny Willow lay as she had done for a month and a half; completely still with that serene expression on her face. It seemed that this eight year old girl had accepted her fate. In three hours time, the machines that had kept her alive would be turned off. These machines that had helped pump the blood around her body and made sure enough oxygen was reaching her brain would stop at the flick of a switch.

“Are you superstitious?” Nurse Sarah Marshall asked.

“Not at all,” Sister Bennett replied, “I think it’s a load of hogwash.”

“I know people who won’t even leave the house on Friday the Thirteenth.”

“That’s just stupid. Did you know that over half of fatal accidents happen in the house?”

“She’s got three hours left,” Nurse Marshall sighed and looked at her watch, “do you think there’s still a chance?”

“I’m afraid not dear. I know it sounds terrible but it’s probably for the best. I mean, what has she got left? Her mother’s dead and her father will be in jail for the rest of his life.”

“I’m sure I saw her move yesterday.”

“Wishful thinking I’m afraid; the mind sometimes makes you see what you want to see.”

“Look at her,” Nurse Marshall said, “she still looks so peaceful. I think she’s put on a bit of weight too. Do you mind if I sit with her for a while longer?”

“”Not for too long,” Sister Bennett said, “I’ve got rounds to do. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

When Sister Bennett had gone, Nurse Marshall sat where she had sat every day since Penny Willow was brought in on Christmas Day, on a chair by the side of the bed. She carefully picked up the little girl’s arm and held her tiny hand.

“Listen to me sweetheart,” she said. Her voice was shaking. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Your Daddy needs you; we all need you to wake up.”

A tear rolled down Nurse Marshall’s cheek. She wiped it away. She looked at her watch again; two and a half hours. At noon today whatever authorities that ruled on these matters had decided that this little girl’s life would end. This is so unfair; Nurse Marshall thought as she placed Penny’s hand back on the bed and stood up. Penny’s book still lay on the table next to the bed. Nurse Marshall had read it to her many times but whether Penny had heard her was another matter.

Nurse Marshall wiped another tear from the side of her face, looked at Penny once more and walked towards the door. Friday the Thirteenth would have a new meaning to Sarah Marshall for the rest of her life from this moment on; it would be the luckiest day of the year. For some peculiar reason and she will never remember why, Nurse Marshall paused in the doorway. Something made her stop. She had a feeling she could not describe. Seconds later a sound came from the bed that Sarah Marshall would remember for the rest of her life.

“Daddy,” the little voice croaked.

Sarah Marshall turned round slowly.

“Daddy,” Penny repeated.

Sarah ran to the bed and pressed the emergency button on the wall. Within seconds the room was full of people. Doctor Pete Simmons looked at Nurse Marshall.

“She spoke,” she cried, “she said Daddy.”

“Well bugger me,” Doctor Simmons exclaimed, “and I’ll be damned if her eyes aren’t open too.”

Penny started to cough. Doctor Simmons carefully removed the tubes from her nose that had provided her with oxygen.

“This is bloody amazing,” he said, “who said miracles can’t happen?”

Penny’s eyes scanned the room. Nurse Marshall picked up her hand and held it.

“Its ok sweetheart,” she said, “you’re going to be just fine.”

The little hand squeezed her gently and Penny seemed to recognise Nurse Marshall’s voice.

“Ok everyone,” Doctor Simmons said, “Nurse Marshall and I have got this under control; you can all get back to what you were doing.”

“The man,” Penny said softly, “the man.”

“What man sweetheart?” Nurse Marshall asked.

“The man with the song,” Penny said.

“Calm down baby, you need to get some rest.”

Doctor Simmons looked at the machines next to the bed.

“This is amazing,” he said, “according to these, this little girl has almost fully recovered. Her heart beat is a bit fast but that will be from all the excitement in here.”

“What do we do now Doctor?” Nurse Marshall asked.

“What we’re trained to do,” he replied, “we help this little girl to get on her feet again.”

SEVENTY TWO

 

SOBER

 

Smith woke for the first time in weeks without a hangover. Yesterday was his first official day back at work. After his leave had finished he had gone into the Station drunk as a skunk. Fortunately Chalmers had pulled him aside before he could do any damage and put him on sick leave for three weeks. In those three weeks, Smith had managed to alienate himself from just about everybody he knew. Ironically, it was his old enemy Thompson who had stood by him the whole time. Whether it was out of genuine concern for Smith or the fact that he needed a place to stay, Smith did not really know. All he knew was it was time to put what was left of his life back together.

“You finished the bloody milk again Thompson,” Smith said as he closed the fridge door, “I don’t mind you helping yourself but have the decency to replace it. No wonder your wife kicked you out.”

“I’ll get some more,” Thompson said, “Can I borrow your car later?”

“Again,” Smith was irritated, “what for?”

“I have a doctor’s appointment. Blood pressure; I don’t think all the drinking I’ve been doing recently has helped.”

“Why don’t you go back to your wife Thompson? You can’t stay here forever.”

“I’ve looked at a few flats in town,” Thompson said, “I don’t think my wife will take me back. I’m not sure I actually want to go back. I’ll go and get the milk. Do we need anything else?”

“You might as well replace the beers you drank last night too.”

He handed Thompson his car keys.

While Thompson was out, Smith tidied up a bit; Thompson was a bit of a slob.

“I’m going to phone his wife,” Smith said to Theakston as he picked up empty beer cans from around the house.

Theakston followed him around.

“Soon be spring boy,” Smith said, “then we can get out more.”

Luckily, during Smith’s forced absence from work it had been very quiet down at the station since Martin Willow had been convicted. That case was closed and they had been told by the Superintendant in no uncertain terms to keep it closed. Dave, the taxi driver had been ruled out; the events in his past were mere coincidences.

“There’s been too many coincidences lately,” Smith said to Theakston, “I hate coincidences.”

Thompson returned with the milk and beers.

“The Doctor’s office phoned me,” He said, “they can fit me in an earlier spot. You don’t need your car do you?”

“Thompson,” Smith was annoyed, “you need to sort your life out; you’re a grown man. Buy yourself a car, apologise to your wife just leave me out of it ok?”

Smith instantly regretted saying it. After all, Thompson had spent the past few weeks sorting Smith’s life out.

“I’ll be a couple of hours,” Thompson said, “I need to do a bit of shopping afterwards; I seem to have run out of notebooks.”

Smith sighed,

“People are a pain in the arse sometimes boy,” he said to Theakston, “that’s why I’ve just got a dog. Are you hungry boy?”

It was a stupid question; Theakston was always hungry. Smith put three cups of food in Theakston’s bowl; the puppy nudged him out of the way and ate greedily. Smith heard his phone ring in the living room.

“Smith,” he answered it.

“Detective,” the voice said, “this is Doctor Simmons at the hospital. You gave me your card a while ago.”

Smith was curious.

“That’s right,” he said, “is anything wrong?”

“On the contrary,” Simmons replied, “I need you to come to the hospital right away. Penny Willow has woken up and she keeps mumbling about a man and a song.”

“A man and a song?” Smith repeated.

“I think it might be important,” Simmons insisted, “I think she may know something about the night she and her mother were attacked.”

“I’ll be there right away,” Smith said. He rang off.

“Shit,” he said out loud.

Thompson had his car. He dialled the taxi firm number. They told him that Dave would be there in ten minutes. Smith quickly made a cup of coffee, topped it up with cold water and drank it in two or three gulps. He checked to see if Theakston had enough water, picked up his phone and put his coat on. He left Thompson a note on the table in the hallway. We’re like an old married couple, he thought as he wrote it out. There was a knock on the door. It was Dave.

“Hospital please Dave,” Smith said.

“Nothing wrong I hope Mr Smith?” Dave said.

“No, remember that little girl who was attacked on Christmas Eve?”

Dave remembered all too well.

“I remember,” he said, “it was in all the papers.”

“She’s woken up and she’s talking,” Smith said.

“That’s great,” Dave said.

Smith did not notice the expression on Dave’s face; he looked terrified.

“Don’t take this the wrong way Dave,” Smith said, “but your taste in music is dreadful.”

Dave was playing the corny Beatles song again; the one about getting older.

“The Beatles did much better stuff than this drivel,” Smith added.

Dave turned the music off.

“Thanks Dave,” Smith said as they parked outside the hospital, “how much do I owe you?”

“Come on Mr Smith,” Dave said, “no charge, I’m always happy to help the police. Do you need a lift back?”

“That’s fine Dave, I’ll get Thompson to pick me up. He’s borrowed my car. Thanks a lot.”

“I hope the little girl can help you,” Dave said.

Smith could still not see the terror in Dave’s eyes.

Smith ran rather than walked to the room where Penny was being cared for. Doctor Simmons was waiting for him.

“Detective,” Simmons said, “good to see you again.”

“How’s she doing?” Smith asked.

“Remarkably well considering the circumstances. The swelling on her brain has gone and she’s taking water by herself for the first time in seven weeks.”

“What has she been saying?”

“She keeps mumbling about a man and a song; I can’t figure out what she’s talking about.”

“Can I speak to her?”

“Of course, that’s why I phoned you.”

Penny Willow was now sitting up in her bed. Her face had regained some of its colour and most of the bruises and cuts from the attack had disappeared. All that was left was a small scar on the left hand side of her nose. Smith sat beside the bed.

“Penny,” he said, “How are you feeling?”

She said nothing; she just stared at him. She reminded Smith very much of his sister. “You’ve got good taste in books anyway,” Smith said, “this was my sister’s favourite. Do you think Moonface and the Angry Pixie like each other?”

There was a sudden spark in her eyes.

“Moonface can also be a bit grumpy at times,” she said.

“My name’s Jason” Smith said, “You’re an amazing little girl. The Doctor said you must be very strong. Can you remember what happened to you?”

“Not really,” she replied.

“The Doctor said something about a man and a song. He said you were talking about it earlier.”

“I remember a man,” she said, “I think he hurt my mummy.”

“Do you remember his face?”

“No, but there was a song. The man played a song.”

“What kind of song?”

“It was a nice song about going on holiday and birthdays.”

“And this man played it to you?”

“I think so.”

Doctor Simmons approached.

“Can I have a word detective?” he said.

“Of course,” Smith said, “I’ll be back soon Penny. See if you can remember anything more about that song.”

“You must realise detective,” Simmons began, “there were traces of Benzodiazepine in her system when she was brought it. Her memory of that night will be very vague.”

“But she remembers a man and a song,” Smith insisted.

“She will remember bits and pieces but it will be a while before everything slots into place.”

“Can I ask her one more thing Doctor?”

“Of course but keep it short, she needs to rest.”

“Penny,” Smith said as he sat down by the bed again, “the man and the song. Can you remember this from the start of that night or at the end?”

“I think it was at the end,” she said, “I just remember this man and a song he played.”

Smith sighed. He was no closer to understanding what Penny was talking about.

“Can you remember anything else about the song?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “I’ve told you. It was about digging in the garden and locking the door. I don’t remember anything else.”

Smith could see she was getting upset.

“It’s ok Penny,” he said, “You get some rest. I’ll come and see you again ok?”

“Can you read my book to me next time?” she asked.

“Of course,” Smith said.

He took out his phone and rang Thompson’s number.

“Where are you Thompson?” he said.

“At your place,” Thompson replied, “I’m busy packing.”

“Where are you going?”

“My wife said I can come back.”

“That’s good news,” Smith was relieved, “good news for me anyway,” he added.

Thompson sighed.

“She’s agreed to take me back as long as I change just about everything about myself,” he said.

“At least it’s a start. Can you pick me up from the hospital?”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” Thompson said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEVENTY THREE

 

MARRIED BLISS

 

“Do you know what most successful marriages are based on?” Thompson said as he drove Smith back to his house.

“I don’t know,” Smith said, “I’ve never been married remember. Enlighten me.”

“Fear,” Thompson said. “Fear, that’s what. Show me any married man over the age of forty who isn’t terrified of his wife. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be I reckon. What were you doing at the hospital?”

“Penny Willow woke up.”

“She woke up?” Thompson exclaimed, “I thought she was a goner.”

“Everybody did. The Doctor said it was a miracle. He thought she might be able to tell us something.”

“Did she?”

“Not really,” Smith said, “it’s clear that Martin Willow was wrongly convicted though. She kept going on about a man and a song.”

“What song?”

“I don’t know, she was very vague. What time is your wife fetching you?”

“I’ve got half an hour of freedom left,” Thompson sighed. He parked the car outside Smith’s house.

“Fancy a beer?” Smith said when they got inside.

“I’d better not,” Thompson replied, “she’ll smell it and it’ll only give her more ammunition to fire at me.”

Smith took a beer from the fridge.

“I’d like to say its been fun,” he said, “but I’d be lying. Are you going to be alright?”

“My wife’s not violent,” Thompson said, “she just has a bit of a moan every now and then. I suppose she’s not as bad as I make her out to be.”

“Good luck Thompson,” Smith shook his hand.

“Does this mean we’re friends?” Thompson asked.

“No,” Smith said immediately.

“Good. She’s here. I’ll see you at work.”

“Peace at last boy,” Smith said to Theakston, “what do you feel like doing today?” There was nothing much of any importance waiting for him at work; a couple of break ins and a mugging in the city centre but Palmer had offered to work on those. Smith decided he needed to do a spot of bridge building. In the past few weeks in his drunken stupor he had distanced himself from everybody and he had upset quite a few people in the process. He decided to kill two birds with one stone. He took out his phone and dialled Whitton’s number. It was engaged. He tried again.

“Sir,” Whitton answered. She sounded irate.

“What are you up to?” Smith asked.

“I’m getting my hair done,” she said.

“That’s the oldest one in the book,” Smith said.

“No really, I am getting my hair done. I’m going to a wedding tomorrow.”

“In February?”

“Some people get married in February,” Whitton was getting annoyed. “Besides, it’s Valentines Day. What do you want?” she said.

“I’m sorry Whitton,” Smith said, “I want to take you out for a drink.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Come on. I need to apologise to Marge.”

“I’ll meet you at the Hog’s Head in an hour. I’m nearly finished here anyway.”

“Thanks Whitton.” He rang off.

Smith decided he would get to the pub first for once. He picked up Theakston and immediately put him down.

“You can walk to the car,” he said, “you fat little bugger.”

Theakston was getting heavy. Smith stopped of at a florist on the way and bought two bouquets of flowers. It’s a start, he thought. He arrived at the Hog’s head half an hour early. It was fairly quiet. Marge was washing glasses behind the bar. Smith handed her the flowers.

“I’m sorry Marge,” he said, “I lost the plot for a while there.”

“I’m sure you had your reasons,” she said, “I’ll put these in water. I hope those are for Erica.” She pointed to the other bunch of flowers. “She has done nothing but try to care for you and you’ve been downright nasty to her.”

“She’ll be here just now,” Smith said, “can I have a pint please?”

Marge eyed him with suspicion.

“I’m sticking to beer from now on Marge,” he said, “it doesn’t make me so miserable.”

Marge poured him a pint.

“You can get me one of those as well.” It was Whitton.

Smith handed her the flowers.

“Sorry for being such an arsehole,” he said, “you look different.”

Marge sighed. “You’ve got a lot to learn,” she said to Smith, “when a lady has her hair done saying you look different is not what she wants to hear. Your hair looks beautiful dear. Special occasion?”

“Thanks Marge,” Whitton said, “I’m going to a wedding tomorrow.”

“In February?” Marge said.

“That’s what I said,” Smith said, “Could I get a bowl of water for Theakston please Marge?”

Theakston had wandered off and was now lying by the fire. Marge took the water and placed it on the floor next to him.

“Penny Willow woke up,” Smith said to Whitton.

“That’s fantastic news,” Whitton said.

Her green eyes were sparkling.

“I went to see her this morning; I think she knows who attacked her and her mother.”

“You mean it wasn’t her father?”

“I’m sure of it. The killer is still out there.”

“What did she say?”

“She kept going on about a man and a song. She remembers a man and a song that he played.”

“Where does that leave us?”

“I’m not sure,” Smith looked deep in thought. “There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on but I’m sure it’ll come to me. Are we friends again?”

“Buy me another pint and I’ll think about it.”

“Deal,” Smith smiled.

“How’s it going with you and Thompson?” Whitton asked.

“He went back to his wife this morning,” Smith replied, “I think I might actually miss him; he’s not really that bad.”

“What happened to you in Tallinn?” Whitton said out of the blue, “you turned into a different person when you came back.”

“It’s something I never want to think about,” Smith said, “I’d prefer to forget the whole thing.”

“I’ll get it out of you one day,” Whitton smiled, “I have to go; I have a lot to organise before this wedding. I’ll see you at work on Monday.”

“Are we friends then?” Smith asked again.

“Of course,” she said, “you should know me by now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEVENTY FOUR

 

VERA CHUCK AND DAVE

 

Saturday 14 February 2009

 

Smith woke with a start. He had been dreaming again but this was a completely different dream. This dream had had a soundtrack to it; a very corny soundtrack. He quickly got up and put on a T shirt and a pair of jeans. Theakston was awake and he looked at Smith as if he were crazy. Smith picked him up and carried him downstairs. His mind was running at a hundred miles an hour. What was the song in his dream and why was it so important? Coffee, he thought. That would help. As he waited for the kettle to boil he looked through his CD collection. He had the entire Beatles catalogue on CD. “Which album was that song from?” he said to Theakston as if he was expecting an answer.

He threw the CDs on the floor.

“Crap,” he said as he looked through them one by one.

He heard the click of the kettle and ran through to the kitchen. Theakston ran after him; he thought this was a great game.

“Think,” Smith said as he sat on the couch with his coffee, “think.”

He had checked the CDs with no luck. There must be one missing, he thought, maybe it was stolen in the burglary. He took out a piece of paper and listed the Beatles albums in chronological order. What was he missing? He took a sip of coffee and it came to him. There was a gap between Magical Mystery Tour and Let it Be, the best album of them all. He went back to the CDs on the shelf and there it was. The White Album. It was a collectors edition double CD so it did not fit in the CD rack. He put the first CD in the machine and put on track four. Ob la di ob la da started to play. Smith listened to the whole song. He played it again. It was similar to the song in his dream but it was not the one.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit!” he said. Theakston immediately sat down and raised a paw in the air.

Smith laughed,

“I said shit,” he said, “but good boy anyway.”

Smith looked through the CDs again. As he was glancing through the track list of Sergeant Pepper he found it.

“When I’m sixty four,” he said.

He did not know why but that was the song. He put the CD into the machine and played the song. Theakston started to bark. Smith turned up the volume and carried the puppy to the kitchen. He opened the back door and let Theakston out. When Smith returned to the living room he heard it. Paul McCartney’s irritating voice was singing, ‘Grandchildren on my knee, Vera, Chuck and Dave’.

Smith put his boots on, grabbed his car keys and ran to the kitchen. He called Theakston inside and locked the back door. He picked up his phone and called Whitton’s number. It rang a few times but then he heard the voice mail message.

“Whitton,” he said, “phone me as soon as you get this.”

He tried again. Voice mail again. He opened the car door, put Theakston on the passenger seat and set off for the station. It was a distance Smith normally covered in fifteen minutes but today he made it in just over seven. He parked the car badly, picked Theakston up and barged through the doors into the station. Thompson was in reception speaking to an elderly lady.

“Where’s Whitton?” Smith said.

“I’ve no idea,” Thompson replied.

“Is Chalmers in?” Smith shouted.

“In his office.” Thompson looked at Smith in bewilderment.

DI Chalmers was on the phone in his office when Smith barged in.

“Where’s Whitton?” Smith demanded without waiting for Chalmers to finish his call. Chalmers held up his hand to tell Smith to wait. He ended the call.

“What’s wrong with you Smith?” Chalmers said, “And what the hell is that?”

He pointed at Theakston.

“It’s a dog sir,” Smith said, “Have you seen Whitton?”

“Calm down Smith. Whitton is off today; she’s going to a wedding.”

“Where’s the wedding?”

“In Whitby. These crazy people are having a wedding on a boat in February.”

“When did you last see her?”

“She was here earlier; she came to check her e mails. She looked very nice. All dolled up and everything.”

“What time was this?”

“About an hour ago. Her car was giving her trouble so that taxi guy said he would give her a good deal to take her to Whitby.”

“What taxi guy?” Smith asked.

“The one you always use. The Chinese one. What’s his name?”

Smith was already out of the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEVENTY FIVE

 

FISH AND CHIPS

 

“I really appreciate this Dave,” Whitton looked at his reflection in the mirror.

They had just passed Scarborough and were travelling north up the coast to Whitby.

“It’s no problem Miss Whitton,” Dave said, “I haven’t seen the sea in a very long time.”

“You must let me pay something for your time though.”

“Really, it’s my pleasure,” Dave smiled. “What time is the wedding?”

Whitton looked at her watch.

“I have two hours,” she said.

“I need to put in petrol,” Dave said, “I think there’s a petrol station just up ahead. I’m thirsty too; I didn’t bring anything to drink.”

“The petrol and the drinks are on me then,” Whitton said, “I insist.”

While Dave put in the petrol, Whitton went into the shop and bought two bottles of water. She waited for him to fill up and paid for the petrol as well. She was surprised that it came to so little; Dave had only put in five litres. They set off again. About two miles further up the road Whitton was sure she could hear a flapping sound coming from the right hand side of the car.

“What’s that noise?” she said.

Dave opened his window and looked out.

“Oh no,” he said, “Flat tyre. I’m going to have to change it. It looks like there’s a dirt road just up ahead.”

He pulled over onto the dirt road and stopped the car. He looked around; there did not seem to be many people around. He got out of the car and walked to the boot. Whitton also got out. She crouched down and examined the flat tyre. Something did not seem right; the valve cap was missing and there was something sticking out of the valve. It looked like a broken matchstick.

“Just enough to let the air out slowly,” Dave said, “just enough to get us this far anyway.”

Whitton was confused. It was then that she saw the gun.

“Do you know how to change a wheel?” Dave asked.

“Of course,” she replied, “what’s going on Dave?”

He threw the car jack on the ground next to her.

“The spare wheel is in the boot,” he said, “get it.”

“I don’t understand.” Whitton was getting scared.

“It would have been Vera Mae’s birthday today,” Dave said, “Valentines Day. We used to come along this road quite often. Vera Mae liked the sea. Sea, sunshine and fish and chips out of a newspaper. She loved that.”

Whitton stood up.

“Don’t try anything stupid,” Dave ordered.

He pointed the gun at her.

“I’m tired,” he said, “and I’ve got nothing to lose. Get the spare wheel.”

Whitton slowly walked to the back of the car and unscrewed the spare wheel in the boot. Dave pointed the gun at her the whole time. She picked up the wheel and rolled it over to the side of the car.

“I still don’t understand Dave,” she said.

She tried to sound calm but she could hear her own voice trembling.

“Nobody understands anything anymore,” Dave sighed, “that’s the trouble with the world these days. There’s no such thing as empathy. Unscrew the wheel nuts.”

A phone rang from inside the car’ it was Whitton’s.

“Ignore it,” Dave ordered.

The phone continued to ring and then it went silent. A car drove past on the main road but it did not stop. Whitton put the wheel spanner around one of the nuts and yanked. Nothing happened.

“It’s stuck,” she said in a panic.

“Try harder,” Dave said, “it’s amazing what you can do when you have to.”

Whitton looked up at the gun pointing at her. The phone in the car started to ring again. Whitton had managed to budge the wheel nut and was busy unscrewing it. Dave casually walked round to the back of the car and opened the door. He picked up Whitton’s phone, stood on it and kicked it further up the road.

“I tried to help you,” he said.

Whitton was busy with the second nut.

“I still don’t get it,” she said.

“Didn’t you think it was strange that I was always around?” he said, “I came out of nowhere and suddenly I was in your faces the whole time.”

“What are you talking about Dave?”

Whitton looked at the gun again.

“You and that boyfriend of yours were just too stupid to see it. In a way I think you lost sight of everything because you saw just one thing.”

“One thing?” Whitton said.

“Each other. I could see it in your faces. You were so blinded by each other that you missed what was right in front of you.”

“What was that?”

“Me of course but I knew it was all over when I took Mr Smith to see the girl.”

“What girl?”

“The girl in hospital. When Mr Smith told me she had woken up I knew that was it. She saw my face.”

Whitton suddenly felt sick. She dropped the wheel spanner on the ground.

“You?” she said.

She looked straight into Dave’s eyes.

Dave smiled. It was a mournful smile.

“The little girl,” he mused, “by the time I’d finished with her mother most of the rage was gone but I had to finish what I’d set out to do. I obviously didn’t have enough hate left in me.”

“You don’t have to do this Dave,” Whitton said.

“Finish changing the wheel,” he sighed, “you and me are off to the seaside. Vera Mae loved the seaside. We’ll have fish and chips out of a newspaper.”

 

 

 

 

 

SEVENTY SIX

 

WEDDING BELLS

 

“What the hell is wrong with Smith?” Chalmers asked Thompson, “he barged out of my office like a mad man.”

“I don’t know Sir,” Thompson said, “he ran straight past me out of the door; he said our man is with Whitton in Whitby.”

“What did he mean by that?”

“Something about the Willow murder. He’s not answering his phone either.”

“Go after him,” Chalmers ordered.

“What Sir?”

“Go and find him. Take Bridge with you; there’s obviously something wrong.”

Smith was driving too fast along the A64 to Scarborough. Theakston was sleeping on the passenger seat; he was snoring. Nothing fazes this dog, Smith thought as he pressed down on the accelerator. He looked at the speedometer. Ninety miles an hour. He noticed he was very low on fuel. There had been a petrol station a few miles back but he decided to risk it until he found another one. The petrol light had now come on; he would have about twenty miles in reserve. He reached the outskirts of Scarborough and turned left onto the coast road to Whitby. His heart was beating fast; what has Dave done with Whitton? He thought. Has he hurt her? He saw a sign telling him there was a petrol station just up ahead. Relieved, he parked the car next to a pump and got out. He noticed for the first time that it was reasonably warm outside and there were no rain clouds in the sky. He filled up the tank and went inside the shop to pay. The woman behind the counter smiled at him as he approached. He decided to take a chance.

“Afternoon,” he said to the woman, “you haven’t perhaps seen a woman and a man here today have you? A Chinese man and a woman in her mid twenties with green eyes.”

“It’s been very quiet today,” the woman said, “I think there was a woman in here earlier.”

Smith realised he had a photograph of Whitton on his phone. He showed it to the woman.

“That’s her,” she said, “she was all dressed up. I didn’t see a man though, although he could have been waiting in the car.”

“What time was this?” Smith asked.

“About an hour ago,” she replied.

“Thanks,” Smith said and paid for the petrol. “How far is Whitby from here?”

“About twenty miles on the A171,” she said.

Smith ran out of the shop. The woman watched in amazement.

The A171 to Whitby was a beautiful stretch of coastal road. Smith could not drive more than sixty mile per hour as there were some dangerous bends. After two miles or so, something caught his eye on the side of the road. He stopped the car and reversed back to the side road. He parked the car where he thought he had seen something. There was a wheel lying in the middle of the road with a spanner on the top. The tyre was deflated. A few metres away Smith found what had caught his eye. It was a cell phone. He picked it up and saw that the screen was cracked but it still seemed to be working. He recognised the phone immediately; it was Whitton’s. He put the phone in his pocket, took out his own phone and dialled Thompson’s number.

“Thompson,” he said, “I need you to get to Whitby as soon as possible.”

“We’re half way there,” Thompson said.

Smith was amazed.

“Who’s with you?” he asked.

“Bridge. Chalmers told us to follow you. What’s going on?”

“I think our friend Dave killed Wendy Willow and I’m almost certain he’s kidnapped Whitton.”

“Wait for us to catch up,” Thompson ordered.

“There’s no time,” Smith said. He rang off, got back in the car and sped off in the direction of Whitby.

As he drove, Smith tried to figure out what he would do when he got there. He had never been to Whitby before. He gazed out across the North Sea on his right hand side. “Focus,” he said to himself and concentrated on the road instead.

The wedding was on a boat in the middle of February. Whitton must know some crazy people, he thought, why did it have to be on a boat? He saw Whitby in the distance ahead of him. He turned right on to Church Street and then left onto Bridge Street. The River Esk emptied into the sea just ahead. He started to panic as he drove down Pier Street and saw the North Sea in front of him. He stopped the car, took a few deep breaths and patted Theakston on the head. He parked the car in a car park at the top of the town.

“Wait here boy,” he said to Theakston. He locked the car and looked around. He could see plenty of boats in the harbour but none of them looked like they were about to take a wedding party out. Who the hell would want to start their wedded bliss like this? Smith thought. He could picture Thompson and his wife. I bet they didn’t get married on a bloody boat, he thought. He took out his phone and rang Thompson’s number.

“Where are you?” Thompson asked.

“I’m running down to the harbour,” Smith replied.

“Wait for us there. Don’t do anything stupid.”

Whitton’s phone started to ring in his pocket. He took it out and answered it.

“Where are you,” a woman’s asked, “you were supposed to meet us an hour ago.”

“Who is this?” Smith asked.

“Who is this?” the woman repeated.

“I’m a friend of Erica’s,” Smith said, “what’s the name of the boat you’re going out on? And where is it?”

“It’s called the James Cook II, “she said, “It’s moored at the main harbour. You can’t miss it; it has decorations all over it.”

“Thank you,” Smith said, “if you see her will you please let me know on this number.”

“She’s here,” the woman said, “its ok. “

The phone reception was very bad.

“What was that?” Smith shouted.

“She’s here,” the woman repeated, “she didn’t mention anything about bringing a guest though.”

“Wait,” Smith said.

The phone went dead. Smith looked at the broken screen. The battery was dead.

 

 

 

 

SEVENTY SEVEN

 

AUTO PILOT

 

“Do exactly as I say,” Dave said as they approached the wedding party, “the gun is still pointing at you.”

“What am I supposed to tell them?” Whitton said.

“You tell them I’m a friend of yours and I am accompanying you to the wedding. Do anything stupid and I’ll shoot you. Do you understand?”

“There’s still time Dave,” Whitton insisted, “you don’t have to do this; you need help.”

“We’re going on a boat ride Miss Whitton,” Dave smiled.

His smile was quite disturbing.

“We’ll have fish and chips later,” he added.

Whitton walked towards the crowd of people assembled at the jetty. Dave walked behind her. She knew he had the gun pointed at her in his pocket.

“We thought you weren’t coming,” a woman said to Whitton.

It was the woman Smith had spoken too earlier.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked.

“This is Dave.” Whitton tried to remain calm.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said.

“We’re just about to leave,” the woman said, “we’ve got a beautiful day for it.”

The engines of the boat started with a low hum. There was a loud chattering in the air as the people waited to board the boat. Dave stood close to Whitton the whole time. He still had the strange smile on his face and people were giving him a wide berth.

Smith spotted the boat immediately. It was decorated with white frills around the edges and silver and red balloons were hung from the safety rails.

“Whitton!” he shouted but the noise from the jetty drowned him out.

“Whitton!” he screamed again, much louder this time.

Dave was the first to turn round. He saw Smith running towards them. He took out the gun and fired a shot in the air. People screamed and started to run. Dave pointed the gun at Whitton again. Smith reached the jetty and stopped when he saw Dave with the gun pointed at Whitton.

“Dave,” he said calmly, “I think it would be best if you put the gun down; we can talk.”

“The boat’s ready to go,” Dave smiled.

His eyes were shining.

“We’re going for a ride on a boat.”

“Put the gun down Dave,” Smith repeated, “let Whitton go.”

“We’ll have fish and chips later,” Dave said, “out of a newspaper; Vera Mae used to love fish and chips.”

The Captain of the boat had heard the gun shot and had radioed the Police from the cockpit. He approached them cautiously.

“Get this thing ready to leave,” Dave ordered, “I want to go out to sea.”

He fired another shot in the air.

“Mr Smith,” he said, “untie the ropes and get on the boat.”

Smith hesitated. His legs were shaking. Where are Thompson and Bridge? He thought. He unclipped the hooks from the mooring cleats on the jetty and jumped onboard.

“Get on,” Dave urged Whitton with the gun in her back.

She did as she was told. Dave jumped on behind her.

“Take us out to sea,” Dave told the Captain. “You two sit down and keep still.”

He pointed the gun at Smith and Whitton.

The engine clicked into gear and the captain turned the wheel. The boat edged slowly away from the jetty and headed for the mouth of the harbour.

“What are you going to do now Dave?” Smith asked, “there’s nowhere for you to go. Why did you have to come to a wedding on a bloody boat?” he whispered to Whitton.

They reached the open sea and the captain increased the speed.

“Relax,” Dave said, “we’re just friends enjoying a ride on a boat. We are friends aren’t we?”

“Of course we’re friends Dave,” Whitton said, “that’s why you don’t need the gun. Why don’t you give it to Smith? We’re not going to hurt you.”

The sea had become quite rough and the boat was rocking from side to side.

“Can you drive a boat?” Dave asked Smith.

“Probably,” he said, “but the Captain knows what he’s doing.”

“Stay here,” Dave ordered, “this man can’t drive properly.”

Smith and Whitton stared at each other as Dave made his way forward to the cockpit. He opened the door and closed it behind him. There was a loud bang and the boat lunged forward. Whitton screamed; it was the first time Smith had heard her scream. Dave emerged from the cockpit.

“If I drove my taxi like that I’d be fired,” he said.

He laughed.

“I fired the Captain, we’re on auto pilot now.” he smiled.

He held up the gun.

The boat had started to go round in circles.

“You need to go forward and drive,” Dave said to Smith. “Take us right out. I want to go out as far as possible”

Smith stood up slowly.

“Get close to him,” he whispered to Whitton, “I’m going to try and flip the boat.”

“Quickly Mr Smith,” Dave said, “and don’t try anything. I’ll shoot you both, friends or no friends.”

Smith opened the door to the cockpit. The captain was slumped in his chair; Dave had shot him through the head. Smith picked him up and put him on the floor. He sat behind the wheel and stared out into the open sea. He could feel the panic approaching and he was breathing quickly so he closed his eyes and thought about Theakston who was still locked in his car. His breathing became calmer. He steadied the boat and headed directly out to sea. He checked the instruments and the controls. Years ago, he had been on plenty of boats in Fremantle and this one did not seem too complicated. He pushed the throttle forward and they picked up speed. This thing must have a powerful engine, he thought. The door opened and Whitton appeared with Dave behind her.

“Help me get rid of him,” Dave said to Whitton. They picked up the dead Captain and dragged him out of the cockpit.

“What are you going to do with him?” Smith asked.

“He’s in the way,” Dave said, “We’ll throw him over the side.”

Smith’s eyes closed slightly and he began to formulate a plan. Through the open door he saw Dave and Whitton drag the Captain to the side of the boat and dump him on one of the long seats. Dave took him by the arms.

“Take his feet,” he said to Whitton, “and on the count of three we’ll throw him over.”

Dave did not see Smith wink at Whitton.

She picked up the man by his feet.”

“One,” Dave said.

Smith was ready.

“Two…”

Smith had one hand on the throttle and the other on the wheel. He waited for what seemed like forever.

“Three.”

Dave and Whitton started to throw the Captain over the side. At the same time, Smith pushed the throttle as far forward as it would go and turned the wheel to the left with all his strength. The boat lunged forward and sideways at the same time. It went over on its side. Whitton screamed as she and Dave followed the Captain over the side of the boat. Smith pulled back on the throttle and turned the wheel. He steered the boat to where Whitton and Dave had fallen in. He hoped the Captain had not dragged Whitton down. He brought the boat to a stop where they were bobbing in the water. Dave had his arm round Whitton’s neck and she was struggling to stay above the water. Smith ran back to the cock pit and released the anchor. He stood looking into the water.

“Not now,” he said to himself, “please not now.”

The panic did not come. He looked around the boat for something to use as a weapon. There were bottles of champagne on the table. Most of them had been smashed when the boat rolled over but he found one that was intact. He picked up the bottle, closed his eyes and jumped into the water. The cold almost knocked him out. It was the coldest water he had ever experienced. His head felt like something was sticking icicles into it. He broke the surface and looked around. Dave had pushed Whitton’s head under the water and she was struggling to take in air. He swam over and grabbed Dave’s arm. He twisted it so it released its grip on Whitton. Smith raised the bottle above his head and, as he brought it down on Dave’s head he felt a stinging pain in his arm. The bottle smashed to pieces. Dave looked at Smith and smiled. Blood started to flow from the top of his head, down past his nose and into his mouth. Dave smiled all the way to the bottom of the sea.

Smith looked around him. Whitton was nowhere to be seen. He took a deep breath and looked under the water; he could not see anything. He surfaced again, took another breath and swam down. He groped with his hands while he swam but he still could not find her. His arm was now in agony and he could see the blood in the water. His lungs were about to burst and then he saw something. Whitton was drifting down slowly. Smith swam down, grabbed her under her arms and swam back to the surface. She was not breathing. Smith panicked. She’s been under too long, he thought. He tried to remember the first aid they had taught him when he joined the Police. He tried a crude mouth to mouth exercise but it did not seem to help. He swam with her back to the boat and with all his strength, managed to carry her up the boarding ladder at the stern. He grabbed some of the white sheets that had been used for decorating the boat and laid her down. Her face was blue and she was still not breathing.

“Think,” he said.

He tilted her head back, held her nose and breathed into her mouth. Her lips were freezing. He tried to remember the CPR procedure. He had not used it once since he had joined the Police. He pressed his hands into her chest and pushed for a minute. His arm was covered in blood; it had stained the white sheets red. He repeated the procedure. Whitton was still not breathing.

“Wake up!” he shouted.

He pumped her chest again. He was exhausted. He slumped to the ground next to her and stared up at the top of the boat. There was a banner attached to the flag pole. It read ‘Just Married’.

Whitton coughed; the water that had been in her lungs shot out. She coughed again. Smith looked at her. Her eyes opened; they were bloodshot and the makeup had washed off in the sea but Smith thought they were still the most amazing shade of green he had ever seen. They lay in silence for a while looking up at the flagpole.

“Fuck!” Whitton said eventually, “We didn’t get married did we?”

Smith looked again at the ‘Just Married’ banner.

“Do you want to get married?” he said.

“No,” she said immediately.

“Good,” Smith said, “neither do I.”

 

 

 

 

‘Boomerang’, the second DS Smith Thriller is out now. Read the first few chapters here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOMERANG [BOO-MUH-RANG]

#
p<>{color:#000;}. A BENT OR CURVED PIECE OF TOUGH WOOD USED BY THE AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES AS A THROWING CLUB.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. SOMETHING, AS A SCHEME OR ARGUMENT THAT DOES INJURY TO THE ORIGINATOR.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. TO CAUSE HARM TO THE ORIGINATOR; TO BACKFIRE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREFACE

 

26 August 1966

Phuoc Hai. Vietnam

 

The four men huddled close together under a makeshift plastic shelter. The monsoon rains were not showing any signs of abating. It had rained solidly for six days now. These four men had become very close friends in the short time they had known each other. As part of the First Battalion Royal Australian regiment, they shared one thing in common: They had joined the war voluntarily. The rain was falling heavier now and a substantial pool had formed at the top of the shelter.

“Why don’t you just paint a bloody target on that thing to make it easier for the gooks to shoot at you?” Sergeant Norbert ‘Nobber’ Hastings said. Nobber Hastings had been in Vietnam for over a year.

He lifted the sheet and got underneath.

“Bit of rain never hurt anyone,” he said, “you should have seen the typhoons we got last year.”

Nobber took out a crumpled packet of American cigarettes and offered them round even though he knew that none of these men smoked. He put a cigarette in his mouth, straightened it and lit the end. A cloud of smoke filled the shelter. The gunfire in the distance seemed to be getting closer.

“Would you mind smoking somewhere else?” One of the men said.

His name was Mark Doyle but everyone called him Abo because of his unusually dark skin. Nobber took a long drag of the cigarette, exhaled and smiled.

“Would you mind smoking somewhere else Sergeant,” he said, “relax Abo, a bit of smoke isn’t going to kill you. It’s those bastards out there that will do you in. Sounds like they’re getting closer. The yanks have reported heavy losses. Since Long Tan, those gooks seem to be wising up to our operations.”

“What’s the plan Sarge?” A tall blonde man asked.

His name was Brian but he was known as Brain because of his exceptionally high IQ.

“We wait for further orders,” Nobber replied, “you volunteered didn’t you?”

“We all did sir,” Brain said.

“Bunch of bloody idiots, you should be back home surfing and chasing girls.”

A bullet flew over the shelter and bored into a nearby tree.

“You better take this thing down,” Nobber ordered.

He nodded at the plastic sheet. They climbed out of the shelter and were immediately drenched by the rain. Nobber spat out his cigarette in disgust.

“We’d better get back behind those trees over there,” he said, “We’re sitting ducks out here.”

He picked up his rifle and fired three shots into the distance. Brain looked at him in amazement.

“These American rifles go rusty in the rain if you don’t use them regularly,” Nobber smiled. Three of his top teeth were missing.

“How come you managed to get hold of an M16?” Brain asked, “They’re much more reliable than these bloody Fals.”

“I pulled rank,” Nobber replied, “besides, there’s nothing wrong with a Fal. A rifle is only as good as the fella on the trigger. Let’s get the hell out of here. Brain, you and Abo make a line with those blokes back there behind that row of trees.”

He pointed to a clump of small trees behind them to the left.

“You two come with me.”

The other two men had barely spoken to anyone since the battle of Long Tan. Fifteen Australian soldiers had been killed and many others wounded. It was deemed a resounding victory for the Australian army but what happened there had left a permanent mark on many of them. John Fulton and Max Brown had been friends since school. They had joined up together, undergone basic training together and now they were fighting a war together.

“Are you still with us?” Nobber asked when neither of the men moved. “Come on, there’s a small ditch back there where we can pick them off as they approach. Move it soldiers.”

Fulton and Brown stood up and followed Nobber to the ditch. The gunshots were becoming more frequent now. The ditch was barely big enough for two men but it provided protection from the incoming fire. Bullets flew over their heads in quick succession. Nobber took out his radio.

“We need help here,” he screamed, “These bastards are everywhere. Give us some cover fire.” He shouted to Fulton and Brown.

Fulton did not move.

“Get your bloody rifle out and shoot some of those mothers,” Brown shouted at him.

Fulton had a vacant look in his eyes that Nobber had seen many times before.

“He’s out of it,” Nobber said.

A bullet hit him in the left shoulder and he fell backwards.

“Shit,” he cried, “that was my good shoulder. We need help now,” he screamed into the radio again. “Where the hell are those Yanks?”

Fulton stood up, looked at Brown and then at Nobber. He smiled, put his hands on the edge of the ditch and pulled himself up. Brown stared in disbelief as he walked towards the enemy fire.

“Get back here, you dumb moron,” Nobber screamed.

Blood was pouring down his arm.

“I’ll go after him,” Brown said.

“You’ll do no such thing,” Nobber ordered, “you’ll be shot to pieces.”

“He’s my friend.”

Brown crawled out of the ditch and, with his head down he ran after Fulton. The hum of helicopter blades could be heard in the distance. About bloody time, Brown thought. He spotted Fulton up ahead. He was sitting under a tree staring into the distance.

“Stay there,” Brown shouted, “I’m coming to get you.”

Everything suddenly went quiet. All Brown could hear was the rain on the trees and his rapid heartbeat pulsing in his ears.

The bullet entered the right side of his chest, pierced a lung and exited through his back. Very soon his lung would fill with blood, his blood pressure would decrease rapidly and unless he received urgent treatment he would die. Fulton watched the whole thing as if it were in slow motion. He saw the bullet hit Brown and watched as he put his hand to his chest and fell to the ground. He still had the vacant look in his eyes. Brown lay face down on the ground and blood was pouring out of his mouth. The gunfire seemed to have stopped.

“Fulton!” a voice screamed. It was Nobber. “Help him in the name of the Lord.”

Fulton did not move.

“Medics,” Nobber bellowed into his radio, “we’ve got one man in serious shit out here and another who doesn’t even know where he is. We need assistance now and while you’re at it you might as well have a look at this bloody shoulder of mine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

LIGHT MY FIRE

 

Monday 1 March 2010. York

 

The man walked into York City police station and stood at the counter. He was one of those men whose age was not instantly apparent. He could have been anywhere between forty and sixty. His face was tanned, his hair thick and when he looked directly at PC Baldwin, who was manning the desk, she could not help but stare at his eyes for a little longer than was appropriate. His eyes were too blue; she had never seen eyes like them.

“Can I help you sir?” she asked him eventually.

“I hope so,” the man replied in an accent Baldwin could not place, “I’m looking for someone.”

“Who would that be sir?” Baldwin sighed. Another time waster, she thought.

“I believe you have a detective Jason Smith working here,” the man said, “Can I speak to him?”

“I’ll just see if he’s in,”

Baldwin picked up the internal telephone, pressed a button and waited. She smiled at the man nervously while she waited for an answer. The man smiled back and his eyes seemed to become brighter.

“I’m sorry sir,” PC Baldwin put down the phone, “there seems to be nobody there. Those guys in CID seem to think they can do as they please.”

“I’ll wait,” the man said, “try again.”

“But sir,”

“Try again,” the man repeated.

He sounded angry.

“Hold on,” Baldwin said, “sir.”

A man was just about to go through the doors of the station. Detective Sergeant Thompson turned around. He had just finished a night shift and was about to leave.

“What is it Baldwin?” Thompson asked.

“Is Smith in sir?” she said.

“He’ll be back tomorrow,” Thompson replied, “he’s at a funeral in Leicester. Old friend of his. The rich one; probably left Smith a fortune.”

The man seemed to listen with interest.

“This gentleman is looking for him,” Baldwin said.

Thompson looked at the man suspiciously. Nearly thirty years in the force had made him distrust everybody.

“I’ll come back tomorrow then, “the man said.

“What’s this all about?” Thompson asked.

“It’s a personal matter,” the man replied.

“Then I suggest you try and contact him in a more personal capacity. This is his place of work.”

The man nodded and looked Thompson directly in the eyes. They stared at each other for a few seconds until Thompson broke eye contact.

“Do you know of a good hotel in the area?”

The man’s demeanour had changed completely. He addressed the question to Thompson.

Thompson thought for a while.

“The York Pavilion is very good,” he said.

“Very well,” the man smiled, “York Pavilion it is then. Thank you for your help.”

“Who shall I say is looking for him should Smith ask?” Thompson said.

The man smiled.

“Why should he ask?” he said, “And as you quite rightly pointed out, this is no place to discuss a personal matter. Good Day.”

The man smiled at Baldwin and walked out of the station.

It was raining as the man walked from the station to where he had parked the hired car. He shook the rain off his coat and got in the car. He looked around to see if anybody was around but the rain seemed to have kept the people off the streets. He took the briefcase off the back seat, placed it on the passenger seat and entered the code on the lock. He smiled as he thought about what the code stood for. It was the date that had changed his life. Maybe Smith is going to use today’s date on a lock one day, he thought and a shudder went through his whole body. His life is certainly going to change from today onwards. The man took out a mirror, carefully removed his contact lenses and put them in their case. He looked at his eyes in the mirror. They were such a dark brown colour they were almost black. He took off the wig and put it in the briefcase. He had shaved his head two weeks before and patches of grey hair had now sprouted randomly. He took the flat cap out, put it on his head and closed the briefcase. He turned the key in the ignition, switched on the GPS and typed in the address for the Royal York Hotel. The Pavilion was his first choice but since the Detective Sergeant had suggested that, he could no longer stay there. The address came up on the screen. Station Street. The man smiled; he had always liked the area around train stations. With all the people coming and going, it was easy to get lost in the crowds.

As he drove the man thought about what he was about to do. He had read everything he could find about Detective Sergeant Jason Smith. He was far from stupid. He put a CD in the player and turned up the volume. The haunting introduction to the Doors’ ‘Light my fire’ filled the car. He looked at the ‘No Smoking’ sign on the glove compartment and smiled. He took a cigarette from a silver case and lit it. The car slowly filled up with smoke.

“The first one is going to be tonight,” he said out loud.

The smoke had completely filled the car now.

“And I know exactly how it’s going to happen,” he added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO

 

DOORS

 

Tuesday 2 March 2010

 

“How was the funeral Smith?” Thompson asked.

Smith had barely got through the door.

“How the hell do you think it was Thompson?” Smith snarled.

He was exhausted; he had hardly slept in three days. His friend David White had been given six months to live in two years ago but managed to fight the lung cancer for longer than anyone expected.

“How much did he leave you?” Thompson was not letting up.

“He left everything to his wife you ignorant Yorkshire fossil,” Smith said, “How’s your wife by the way?”

Thompson had been leaving his wife on and off for the past three years. He glared at Smith.

“Chalmers wants us in the conference room in ten minutes,” he said and quickly walked through to his office.

“Any messages?” Smith asked the woman behind the reception desk. She was new.

“Nothing sir,” she said, “Although PC Baldwin left a note that someone was looking for you yesterday.”

“Where is she now?”

“In the canteen sir.”

Smith walked through the doors of the canteen or at least where the doors used to be. Someone had removed them. PC Baldwin was sitting on her own next to the window.

“Morning Baldwin,” Smith said,” what happened to the doors?”

“Morning sir,” Baldwin said, “bright idea of the Super’s. Old Smyth thinks it will benefit us if the place is more open. He’s planning on removing all the doors so we’re not shut away from each other. We were forced to endure a two hour meeting yesterday. He calls it the dawn of a new era in policing. He reckons it will cut down on communication problems.”

“You can’t be serious?” Smith said.

“Afraid so sir.”
“I believe someone was looking for me yesterday?”

“A man.”

“Did he leave a name?”

“Thompson pretty much told him to bugger off sir. He said this wasn’t the place for personal matters.”

“That old fart would,” Smith said, “I’ll have a quiet word with him. Thanks Baldwin.”

Smith walked down the corridor to the conference room where, thankfully the doors were still on their hinges. Detective Constable Erica Whitton was sitting next to Thompson. Smith took the seat on the other side of her.

“How are you doing sir?” she asked.

“Bloody knackered Whitton,” he replied, “I hate funerals.”

“What was the turnout like?”
“Terrible. Me, Lucy and a few nosy bastards only there for the free food and booze. Old Whitey wasn’t exactly popular.”

“Sorry to hear that sir,” Whitton said, “I actually got to like him in the end.”

“Thanks Whitton. Thompson,” Smith leaned back in his chair. “You didn’t tell me someone was looking for me yesterday,” he said, “who was it?”

“Didn’t give a name,” Thompson said, “and I didn’t ask for one.”

“Thanks Thompson. Can you at least tell me what he looked like?”

“I don’t know. About fifty, nice tan. Thick black hair.”

“Anything else?” Smith sighed.

“His eyes,” Thompson said, “they were a weird bright blue colour; they didn’t look real.”

“And he didn’t say what he wanted?”

“No and I’m not your bloody secretary. He said he’d come back tomorrow. Today I mean.”

Detective Inspector Bob Chalmers barged through the doors into the room. He was obviously in a foul mood. He sat down in his usual seat at the top of the table. He was chewing on a large carrot.

“First things first,” he growled, “That’s the last time I’m going to be able to barge through those doors if the Super has anything to do with it. That dumb public school amoeba is determined that this station is going to be doorless if there is such a bloody word. Does anyone have anything to report?”

The room was silent.

“Good,” Chalmers grinned, “that’s how I like it. At this moment, we have what us sad gits in the force call a bit of a crime lull.”
“A what sir?” Thompson said.

“Exactly what I said Thompson. Crime is so low at the moment that I’m thinking of getting a few of you to get out there and rob a few banks. At least then we’ll have something to occupy our time and the pay is much better.”

He picked a piece of carrot from between his teeth.

“Are you telling us that there’s nothing going on?” Smith said, “Nothing at all?”

“There’s the usual petty stuff,” Chalmers said, “minor house breakings, students beating the crap out of each other, a suicide at the Royal York Hotel but not much to really test these brains of ours.”

“A suicide?” Smith’s ears pricked up.

“That’s right Smith. A businessman hung himself in his room.”

“Hanged sir,” Thompson said.

“What?” Chalmers looked annoyed.

“The correct word is hanged,” Thompson said, “it’s a common mistake.”

“Hung, hanged. What the hell does it matter, the poor bastard topped himself.”

“Are you sure it was suicide sir?” Smith asked, “Remember a few years ago? Lauren Cowley. The babysitter. She was drugged first and it was made to look like suicide.”

“He was found hanging by a length of cable,” Chalmers said, “suicide if you ask me.”

“Do you mind if I check it out anyway?” Smith asked, “It’s not like we have much else to work on.”

“Be my guest Smith,” Chalmers said, “you’re wasting your time though. I can tell you that right now.”

“Come on Whitton,” Smith said, “let’s get out of here before the Super has us removing doors.”

The Royal York Hotel stood in huge grounds on Station Parade right in the heart of the city. Smith parked his car in the car park at the front of the hotel.

“I’ve always wanted to stay here,” Whitton said as they walked through the entrance into reception.

“Hotels are depressing places Whitton,” Smith said, “look at these people. They’re all miserable.”

They approached the reception desk.

“Good morning,” the man behind the desk said, “welcome to York.” He had an American accent.

“Detective Sergeant Smith,” Smith said, “this is Detective Constable Whitton. We need to ask you a few questions about the suicide here.”

“Horrible thing to happen,” the receptionist said, “Poor man. What could be so bad that you have to end it all like that?”

“Who found him?” Smith asked.

“Mike, the general manager. Some old fart was smoking in his room and set off the alarm. Standard procedure is to evacuate the whole hotel. Mike had to check the rooms to see that everybody was out.”

“Where’s Mike now?”

“He’s on a break. You’ll probably find him in the hotel gardens. It’s the only place we’re allowed to smoke.”

“What does he look like?”

“Tall, blonde. A bit like you actually.” The receptionist smiled, “you Australians all look alike to me.”

“How do we get to the gardens?” Smith asked.

“Go past reception and carry on straight. It’s well signed.”

“Come on Whitton,” Smith said.

“I think he liked you,” Whitton said as they walked outside.

“Rubbish Whitton,” Smith said, “that could be our man Mike over there.”

A tall blonde man was sitting under what looked like a covered bandstand. He had his head in his hands and as they got nearer, Smith was sure he had been crying.

“Are you the manager here?” Smith asked him.

The man jumped and stood up abruptly.

“Who are you?” he asked. His face was dirty and his eyes were red.

“Police,” Smith replied, “I need to ask you a few questions about the man you found hanging in his room.”

“It was awful,” Mike said. His accent was a mixture of Australian and Yorkshire.

“He was just hanging there. His eyes were bulging and his tongue was sticking out. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget about it.”

“You will,” Smith said, “what did you do after you found him?”

“It was chaos.” Mike started to cry again.

“Take it easy,” Smith said. He could not bear it when men cried. “From the beginning. You found a man hanging in his room. What did you do next?”

“The fire alarm was going off. Some idiot had been smoking in his room. Pretty soon the fire brigade arrived.”

“Did you call the police?” Whitton asked.

“No,” Mike replied at once, “I phoned down to reception and got them to send a couple of fire fighters up.”

“Why did you do that?” Smith said.

“I thought they would be able to cut the man down.”

“For Christ’s sake.” Smith was becoming frustrated. “Please don’t tell me they cut him down without letting us lot have a look first? Don’t answer that.”

Smith took out his phone.

“Baldwin,” he said, “find out which fire brigade attended to the alarm at the Royal York last night and who cut down the man who was hanging in his room. Phone me back immediately.”

He rang off. Whitton and Mike looked at him in disbelief.

“Mike,” Smith said, “I need you to show me the room where the man died.

“Please,” Mike sobbed, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go inside that room ever again.”

“Get a grip Mike,” Smith said, “you’re giving Australians a bad name.”

 

 

 

 

THREE

 

WINGS

 

“Don’t you think you were a bit hard on him sir?” Whitton whispered as they followed Mike back inside the hotel.

“Whitton,” Smith said, “I’m tired and I’m sick and tired of the namby pamby attitude of people these days.”

“You’re starting to sound like a Yorkshireman,” Whitton smiled.

“This is the room here,” Mike said nervously, “room one two three.”

He inserted his master key in the lock and opened the door. Smith went in first. His cell phone rang in his pocket. It was PC Baldwin.

“I’ve managed to find out the fire station that took the call last night sir.”

“Do you know which of them cut the man down?” Smith asked.

“Yes sir, but they’re not at work now. They’re only due back on duty this evening.”

“Get hold of them and tell them to meet me at the Royal York as soon as possible.”

“But sir,” Baldwin protested.

“Just do it Baldwin,” Smith said. He rang off.

“I think you need some sleep sir,” Whitton said. She followed him into the room.

“Where was the man hanging?” Smith asked Mike, “up here?”

He pointed to a light fitting on the ceiling.

“That’s right,” Mike said, “he was just hanging there like I said.”

Smith walked around the room. There was a double bed on one side of the room and a table with two chairs around it on the other. There was no other furniture in the room. He stood on his tiptoes and tried to touch the ceiling. At six foot one and with his arm outstretched he was still over three feet short. His phone rang. It was Baldwin again.

“The two fire fighters will be there in five minutes sir,” she said.

“Good work Baldwin,” Smith said,

“They’re not too pleased about it.”

“Life’s a bitch.” Smith rang off.

“Something’s not right here Whitton,” he said.

“It never is with you sir,” she sighed.

There was a knock at the door and two men walked in. They looked exhausted.

“Firemen I presume,” Smith said.

“You lot think you’re superior to us for some reason don’t you?” one of the men snarled.

“Not at all,” Smith said, “I have tremendous respect for what you guys do. Detective Jason Smith.” He held out his hand. “And this is Detective Whitton.” He purposefully omitted their ranks.

“Jimmy Neill,” the man said. He shook Smith’s hand. “And this is my colleague John Scorcher. Don’t even start. He’s heard all the jokes before.”

“You were called upstairs to cut down the man who hanged himself,” Smith said.

“That’s right,” Neill replied

“And did you put the chair back around the table after you’d cut him down?”

“What chair?” Scorcher said.

“I assumed you stood on the chair to cut him down.”

“There was no chair,” Neill said, “we are the fire department, we have things called ladders.”

“Did you put the chair back?” Smith addressed Mike.

“The chairs were both where they are now,” Mike replied.

“So when you entered the room, the man was just hanging there? There was no chair underneath him?”

“The chairs were where they are now,” Mike repeated, “what is this all about?”

“Think Mike. A man hangs himself in one of your hotel rooms. The ceiling light has to be at least ten feet off the ground. How the hell do you think he got up there? Did he suddenly sprout wings and fly?”

“Shit,” Whitton said. “Sorry,” she said immediately.

“Shit is what it is Whitton,” Smith said.

He looked at Neill.

“What did you do with the cord that was around the man’s neck?”

“It was still around his neck when the paramedics took him away,” Neill replied.

“Whitton,” Smith said, “looks like we’re off to the morgue again. Mike, make sure nobody comes into this room until I say so. You’ve just had a murder in your hotel.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Smith

'The sleepy historical city of York is about to wake up'. It is Christmas Day in York. A woman is found dead in her bed. A suicide note is found on her chest. It reads ‘I am so sorry Martin’. Hours later the police are called to a house a few miles away. A mother and her daughter have been brutally attacked; the mother is dead and the daughter is barely alive. The father is found shaking uncontrollably in the corner of the room. He is covered in blood but he is unharmed. His name is Martin Willow. Detective Sergeant Jason Smith is put in charge of the investigation. After reaching dead end after dead end, Smith starts to put the pieces together and figures out that Martin Willow is innocent and the killer is still out there. The little girl who was attacked on Christmas Day wakes from her coma and gives Smith a clue about the attacker; a piece of a song she heard directly before the attack. Smith then finds himself in a race against time to find this maniac before he kills again.

  • Author: stewartgiles
  • Published: 2015-09-10 12:20:29
  • Words: 93864
Smith Smith