In Cold Blood

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS - BY ALI­SON CARTER

A mur­der mys­tery by Ali­son Carter

Four bru­tal mur­ders, with no mo­tive and no sus­pects – but D.I. Ad­di­son knew there had to be a con­nec­tion . . .

DE­TEC­TIVE IN­SPEC­TOR Vicky Ad­di­son fum­bled for the phone by her bed, her arm flail­ing around. She heard the tell-tale sound of a glass hit­ting the car­pet.

“No way, Vic.” Her hus­band Mark’s grav­elly mur­mur rose out of the dark­ness.

“You know on telly,” Vicky mut­tered, still fum­bling for the phone, “when the sexy hus­band sleeps on, mus­cles glint­ing in the half light, not a hint of a snore?” Mark grunted. Vicky clamped the phone to her ear. “Hello? This had bet­ter be good.” “Boss?” It was Ben Rob­bins, the desk sergeant (as far as she could re­mem­ber from the rota sheet) for that night.

“It’s . . .” Vicky squinted at the glow­ing alarm clock “. . . three in the morn­ing.”

“We’ve got a mur­der,” Ben said, his voice tinged with a bit too much ex­cite­ment for Vicky’s lik­ing. “Yeah?” “Ac­tu­ally, boss, a dou­ble mur­der!” “Twice the thrill, then, Rob­bins?” There was a pause at the end of the line. “I didn’t mean . . .” He coughed. “Could you come to the scene, ma’am?” His voice had be­come sud­denly grave. “I’ve got an ad­dress for you.” Vicky smiled. “OK, Rob­bins, I’m just fling­ing aside my satin sheets now, step­ping out of my neg­ligée and look­ing ra­di­ant in full make-up.” “Sorry, boss?” “For­get it. On my way.” Vicky wasn’t quite as keen on the ar­rival of vi­o­lence as Ben, her ju­nior col­league at Wel­ston CID. Ten years in an in­ner-city Birm­ing­ham sta­tion had taken the edge off her ap­petite for death.

Wel­ston was the other end of the polic­ing spec­trum from cen­tral Brum, a re­fined and his­toric town with two Nor­man churches, six tea shops and an in­flu­en­tial his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety. A re­port of tipsy shout­ing in the me­di­ae­val mar­ket square (with orig­i­nal cob­bles) was enough to have the lo­cal con­stab­u­lary fling­ing down their cof­fee cups and play­ing “Mi­ami Vice”.

Mark, her hus­band of 12 years, had been of­fered an in­ter­est­ing job in the lo­cal col­lege, and it had been Vicky’s turn to be flex­i­ble in her ca­reer choices, so to Wel­ston they had come.

Luck­ily a post at the right level of se­nior­ity turned up, and she was slowly set­tling in to semi-ru­ral crime.

Vicky rubbed sleep from her eyes, left her cosy py­ja­mas in a heap on the floor, and wished she had time or energy for lip­stick.

She dressed quickly in her usual work clothes, left the house and got into her car.

She had scrib­bled the ad­dress of the in­ci­dent on her hand in the semi-dark­ness of the bed­room, and knew that Cathe­dral Close was on the other side of town from where her house was lo­cated.

The Close was well known in Wel­ston, a sweep­ing horse­shoe of Tu­dor, Ge­or­gian and early Vic­to­rian prop­er­ties with ver­dant front gar­dens and enough class to sink a ship.

When she’d moved to Wel­ston, Vicky had taken a look at prop­erty prices and noted that you could buy one of the smaller houses in Cathe­dral Close – a fully tim­bered semi with a preser­va­tion or­der on its yew tree – for about six times what she and Mark had paid for their own house.

The Manor, Vicky read. None of the houses in the Close, she re­called, had num­bers, which might be an­noy­ing in the dark. But, Vicky thought to her­self, if one’s gaff is called the Manor, the gas­man will prob­a­bly be able to find it. Hope­fully some of her col­leagues would have ar­rived be­fore her.

****

A fa­mil­iar but un­pleas­ant scene greeted her when she drove around the cor­ner and into the el­e­gant precincts of Cathe­dral Close.

It was very “Up­stairs, Down­stairs”, with iron rail­ings and man­i­cured box hedges, but the scene-of-crime tape draped all over the place did give it a new and dif­fer­ent as­pect.

Vicky climbed out of her car to see Tom Pol­lock walk­ing to­wards her, round the side of the enor­mous house and into the road.

“They’re in the gar­den at the rear, ma’am,” Pol­lock said. “The vic­tims.” Vicky looked around her. “This is a lot of tape if all the ac­tion is out back.”

There was enough yel­low tape flut­ter­ing and glint­ing in the moon­light to dec­o­rate Re­gent Street for Christ­mas.

“Maybe we were over-cau­tious,” Pol­lock ad­mit­ted. “I de­cided it was im­por­tant to keep eye­ballers at bay.”

“Eye­ballers in Cathe­dral Close?” Vicky replied, glanc­ing at the silent houses. “You’ve watched too much of ‘The Bill’. These peo­ple would rather die than look nosy or naff.” “Yeah, sorry, boss.” “You all right, Pol­lock?” Vicky asked. Her sec­ond-in-com­mand looked pasty, even in the faint light. Had he seen a body be­fore in his short ca­reer?

“Fine, ma’am. Keep­ing my wits about me.” He stood up straight. “I’ve a list of ob­ser­va­tions that I can share, just as a start­ing point . . .” He was flick­ing through a well-thumbed notepad, his nose bury­ing it­self grad­u­ally in the pages. “An­gle of fall, um, resid­ual heat in prop­erty de­spite open back door, some ideas on exit route, dis­turbed soil pat­terns –”

“Hang on, Tom,” Vicky in­ter­rupted, hold­ing up a hand. “Let me take a look be­fore your Pow­er­point pre­sen­ta­tion, OK?”

She could feel how crest­fallen Sergeant Pol­lock was as he trailed be­hind her, his boots click­ing on the cob­bles.

Pol­lock had ap­par­ently stud­ied physics, chem­istry and bi­ol­ogy at col­lege. He was a bright boy, but he tended to get overex­cited about raw science, when what was usu­ally needed was psy­chol­ogy.

There were po­lice work­ing lights up in the gar­den. On the grass – man­i­cured, per­fect grass – lay a man and a woman, side by side, both about thirty-f ive, she es­ti­mated.

Both wore large sun­glasses – the kind that cost £200 in Lon­don stores.

“Sun­glasses, ma’am,” Pol­lock whis­pered in her ear, mak­ing Vicky jump. “First thing I no­ticed. In­flu­ences time-of-death de­ci­sions, maybe. Did the death oc­cur be­fore dark­ness fell? Or does it in­di­cate light in­tol­er­ance in the vic­tims, or a re­cent re­turn from an air­port? They may have been us­ing the glasses to hide their iden­tity, hence both of them wear­ing –”

“Did they live here, Con­nors?” Vicky in­ter­rupted, turn­ing to an of­fi­cer who was di­rect­ing the pho­tog­ra­pher. Con­nors was a lo­cal, a posh boy who’d know Cathe­dral Close well.

“Yes, ma’am,” Con­nors replied. “This house used to be­long to Lady Coleman. She died last July aged about a hun­dred and fifty, so these two must have bought it then.”

“So, Tom,” Vicky said to her sergeant, “hid­ing their iden­tity while in their own back gar­den would be a bit re­dun­dant, don’t you think?”

Pol­lock burst into ner­vous laugh­ter, but shut up quickly when Vicky frowned. She ran her trained eye over the first body, which lay at a rough right an­gle to the male vic­tim.

“Look at the fe­male vic­tim’s ripped jeans,” Vicky mur­mured. “De­signed to look ca­sual, but ac­tu­ally only avail­able on the sec­ond floor of Har­vey Ni­chols for a three-fig­ure sum. Con­sider her per­fectly even sa­lon tan, the large diamond ring and well-ex­e­cuted tat­too of Chi­nese let­ter­ing.

“The ex­pen­sive blonde streaks are re­cent, be­cause there is no re­growth. The groomed eye­brows and per­fect abs, vis­i­ble in the gap be­tween jeans and top, are both the re­sult of time spent at the gym and a beauty par­lour. Oh, and that leather jacket set her back no less than a thou­sand.”

Pol­lock was star­ing at her. Vicky turned to the other body, and nod­ded slowly.

“In fact, I could re­peat those ob­ser­va­tions for the male here – blond streaks, tan and all. What I’m get­ting here, sergeant, is bling.” “Bling?” “You must have heard the term, Pol­lock. It means flashy. Os­ten­ta­tious. Look it up. Any­way, the sun­glasses don’t tell us any­thing, be­cause the so­cial group to which our vic­tims be­long likes to wear shades like these in­doors and out. It sig­ni­fies cool.” “That’s not very Wel­ston.” “No, in­deed.”

****

The team worked for hours, col­lect­ing ev­i­dence, pho­tograph­ing, get­ting a move on be­fore the fore­casted rain came down. Vicky ar­rived home just as Mark was get­ting his fold­ing bike out of the un­der-stairs cup­board. “I’m off to col­lege,” he said. “Have a nice day,” Vicky replied, and kissed him on the cheek.

Mark stopped for a mo­ment in the door­way.

“We’re ships that pass in the night, Vic,” he said with a grin. “I’ll be late for reg­is­tra­tion.”

Once the front door was shut, Vicky slumped on the sec­ond stair. The house was quiet.

“Ships pass­ing in the night some­times strug­gle to get the stork to call with a small bun­dle,” she said to the door.

She and Mark were both thirty-eight. They’d forged ahead with their ca­reers, telling each other that they’d love to have chil­dren some time soon. Now, when both of them felt a nag­ging yearn­ing for a baby, and they’d de­cided it was the right time, it wasn’t hap­pen­ing.

Vicky padded up­stairs to­wards a hot shower. There was a mur­der to solve and she’d bet­ter get back to it.

****

The cause of death of Sher­adeen and Dar­ren Wil­son was said to be poi­son­ing, and time of death placed about seven the pre­vi­ous evening.

“I’ve found ex­ces­sive sali­va­tion,” the foren­sics man said as Vicky and Pol­lock stood in his lab, “which may sug­gest se­vere nau­sea.”

“That ex­plains the wan­der­ing foot im­pres­sions across their lawn,” Vicky said. “Those per­fectly straight mow­ing lines made it easy to see that they’d both wan­dered.”

“There are signs of se­vere ab­dom­i­nal pain,” John Forester con­tin­ued, “with slight bruis­ing caused by at­tempts to re­lieve it. From the state of var­i­ous mus­cles, I reckon we’re look­ing at seizures and res­pi­ra­tory fail­ure, which is what took the poor blighters in the end.”

Pol­lock was hop­ping about, mak­ing the hard lino floor squeak un­der his boots.

“What is it, Pol­lock?” Vicky asked im­pa­tiently.

“I have to do a cou­ple more tests,” Forester went on, eye­ing the sergeant, “but I think I’ll f ind piperi­dine al­ka­loids in there.”

“Hem­lock,” Pol­lock said quickly. He blinked at Vicky when she swung round to look at him. “I read quite a lot of crime science books.”

“Don’t get ahead of your­self, sergeant,” Mr Forester warned. “There’s still work to be done. But yes, Co­nium mac­u­la­tum, known as hem­lock, might cause these symp­toms. It can cer­tainly cause death. Where were they found? In the gar­den?” Vicky nod­ded. “The owner of the prop­erty that backs on to their gar­den, not in the Close, heard R&B mu­sic puls­ing out of their open back door for too long, and went to the end of the gar­den to check,” she told him.

“It’s not my job to say,” he be­gan, “but I can en­vis­age them head­ing out­side for air, gasp­ing and los­ing co-or­di­na­tion, and as their lungs packed in –”

“Thanks, got the mes­sage, John,” Vicky said. She picked up her bag. “Hem­lock. Weird veg­e­ta­tion poi­son­ing. Ru­ral crime, don’t you love it? Give me a nice tidy re­volver any day of the week. Sergeant Pol­lock, we’d bet­ter track down where this plant grows lo­cally.” “I’ll get on to that,” Pol­lock said. Vicky could sense his young body pop­ping with pride at his di­ag­nos­tic suc­cess.

The first thing Vicky made sure of was that Sher­adeen and Dar­ren Wil­son had not taken their own lives. Vicky sat look­ing at photos of their un­touched din­ner and two large glasses of flat spark­ing wine. There was no note, noth­ing. Two peo­ple ar­rang­ing a sui­cide would not act like that. No, some­one else had been at the Manor that evening.

****

A fort­night later Vicky was re­ally frus­trated at her lack of progress on the Wil­son dou­ble mur­der. The source of poi­son was a mys­tery and, just as cru­cially, no mo­tive had sug­gested it­self from any quar­ter.

No­body re­ally knew the Wil­sons; there seemed to be no se­crets that in­cluded them, no sim­mer­ing ir­ri­ta­tions.

Pol­lock had pitched in with an ex­haust­ing se­ries of ideas, half based on com­pe­tent po­lice work and half spun from his fan­tasy world of crime fic­tion.

The lat­ter, thank­fully, stayed within the con­fines of their tea breaks.

Pol­lock did es­tab­lish that there wasn’t a sin­gle hem­lock plant grow­ing in Wel­ston and sur­round­ing vil­lages. Still, she brought up the plant when she made her house calls.

“It’s not some­thing a sen­si­ble gar­dener grows,” the vicar in­formed her, “and we have a whole town­ful of sen­si­ble gar­den­ers here.” He smiled, and Vicky de­cided that she liked the vicar.

“We have two hor­ti­cul­tural shows a year; no-one wastes their time grow­ing deadly poi­sons when they have to per­fect their fuch­sias and leeks.”

“You’ve got a lovely place here,” Vicky com­mented, look­ing up at the Ge­or­gian porch of the vicarage.

“Haven’t I just?” he said. “It’s a beau­ti­ful house, and so many of the clergy have been moved out of the old vicarages and into mod­ern boxes, so I’m very for­tu­nate.”

“Can you tell me about Mr and Mrs Wil­son?” Vicky asked. He ex­haled and shook his head. “Not much. They moved in about eight months ago, and sadly didn’t in­volve them­selves very much in lo­cal life. I called round, and they were po­lite enough, but . . .” He looked awk­ward. “I don’t want to ap­pear dis­re­spect­ful, but they seemed keen to get rid of me, to be hon­est. Mr Wil­son shoved a twenty into a col­lect­ing box I had with me, and I wasn’t even col­lect­ing! I was tak­ing it round to Mrs Quinn’s house ready for the sum­mer fair at the school.”

Vicky thanked Rev­erend Tat­ter­sall, and con­tin­ued with her house calls.

Ab­so­lutely noth­ing new emerged. There were no sight­ings on the night, no fresh ev­i­dence. Vicky kept up a desul­tory of­fen­sive on the case as her team moved on to other press­ing mat­ters.

She felt that her very first homi­cide in this back­wa­ter should not de­feat her, so she called again on all the res­i­dents of the Close, and found no mo­tive among them.

They were all mon­eyed, all nicely brought up and po­lite, and all with lit­tle to say about the Wil­sons.

A few of them did have the usual lit­tle se­crets and his­to­ries, Vicky could tell. These were the hid­den truths that glinted in peo­ple’s eyes as they opened the door to a po­lice of­fi­cer show­ing her badge.

But the one thing they had in com­mon was that they didn’t know the bling Wil­son cou­ple and had no rea­son to kill them. Not even a dis­pute over over­hang­ing shrub­bery emerged.

The el­derly man next door, Mr Drake, couldn’t re­call any­thing about the new cou­ple ex­cept that they were no trou­ble.

“We share main­te­nance of the brook that runs along the bot­tom of both gar­dens,” he ex­plained. “It’s an an­cient le­gal thing. Lady Coleman, who owned the Manor House, was al­ways for­get­ting to have it checked. We took it in turns to do this funny lit­tle chem­i­cal test for con­tam­i­nants.

“The Wil­sons came round one day soon af­ter they moved in and handed me a piece of pa­per. It said that they’d con­tracted a firm in Birm­ing­ham to do the test an­nu­ally, and I could for­get all about it, which was mar­vel­lous.” “I bet it was,” Vicky said. “I’m ninety-six in June,” Mr Drake told her proudly. “I don’t need to be rum­mag­ing around in river weed!”

“Could I see the brook?” Vicky asked. It had been men­tioned in the case files, but noth­ing had emerged to con­nect it to the crime. “Of course.” Mr Drake led the way, sup­ported by a pair of hand­some ash sticks. The brook was charm­ing, a clear mur­mur­ing stream that re­minded Vicky of child­hood trips to the Peaks.

“I’m very fond of it,” Mr Drake said, “and I am lucky to live here. The Close is sought af­ter these days – ev­ery­one wants to live in such a his­toric, quiet place. I’ve had of­fers at my very door – peo­ple ask­ing if I’ll sell.”

“Have you any chil­dren to help you look af­ter the house, Mr Drake?” “No. I’m an old bach­e­lor.” He was clearly a gen­uine, right-minded in­di­vid­ual. Vicky had a nose for them.

“Can I make you a cup of tea?” Mr Drake of­fered once they were back in­doors.

“No, thanks. I must be on my way.”

****

The Manor didn’t lie empty for long. Vicky was walk­ing in the town one morn­ing when she saw a re­moval van turn­ing into Cathe­dral Close.

“Has the Wil­son fam­ily sold the Manor?” she asked the town’s com­mu­nity sup­port of­fi­cer, who she saw out­side the post of­fice. “I don’t know, ma’am,” he ad­mit­ted. “I don’t think those poor peo­ple had any fam­ily.” A woman had joined them. She was tall and el­e­gant, in a blazer and trousers. She was in her late thir­ties, Vicky guessed.

“I’m told it was pri­vately sold by the ex­ecu­tors, or so my hus­band said.”

“Oh?” Vicky knew that any in­for­ma­tion, how­ever small a de­tail, might help her fi­nally get a han­dle on the case.

“An ac­quain­tance of the cou­ple bought it, ap­par­ently. A man who did work for Mrs Wil­son’s PR com­pany.” “And how did you learn this?” Vicky asked. “My hus­band is one of the es­tate agents in Wel­ston,” the woman ex­plained, “for his sins.” She laughed. “He gets to know about prop­erty sales in town, es­pe­cially when he doesn’t get the com­mis­sion!” She looked sud­denly guilty. “Gosh, is that rather in­sen­si­tive?” she asked. Vicky smiled. “You have to have a sense of hu­mour in my job,” she said.

The woman wished them good luck with the case.

“It’s not just that we don’t want nasty things hap­pen­ing here,” she as­sured Vicky. “It’s that ev­ery­one feels so sorry for the poor cou­ple.”

She walked on, urg­ing a brown spaniel along as it sniffed the pave­ment.

“That’s Mrs Quinn,” the CSO said. “Nice woman. I don’t like es­tate agents as a rule, but she’s only mar­ried to one. They live in Peartree Av­enue over there. It’s a lovely house – but it would be, I sup­pose, with his job.”

Vicky walked back to­wards the sta­tion. She felt in­ex­pli­ca­bly and sud­denly tired. She needed a lead on this case soon.

****

Life at Wel­ston CID rolled on un­til a breezy day in March, when Vicky was at her desk try­ing to write an­nual ap­praisals for her team.

She was won­der­ing how to hint kindly to Sergeant Pol­lock that he needed to tem­per his en­thu­si­asm for foren­sics, and con­cen­trate on the solid grind, how­ever te­dious it might be. Lately, he had been ap­ply­ing ad­vanced sta­tis­tics, us­ing some long ar­ti­cle he showed her in “Math­e­mat­ics To­day” mag­a­zine, to pre­dict bi­cy­cle theft in the area.

Sergeant Pol­lock, she wrote, and then chewed her pen for a minute, has the ben­e­fit of con­sid­er­able in­tel­lect, but . . .”

She hated to be mean in ap­praisals. She tapped the pen and said softly to her­self, “Sergeant Pol­lock, Sergeant Pol­lock.” “Yes?” Vicky’s bot­tom left her chair as she leapt in shock, and she looked up to see the sergeant him­self loom­ing over her.

“What?” he asked. His eyes were bright, and Vicky knew that if he had a tail, it would be bushy.

“Oh, noth­ing,” Vicky lied, slid­ing the ap­praisal form un­der a file. “Some­thing’s come up, ma’am,” he said. “Another bike theft for your new data­base?” Vicky asked, smil­ing.

“Oh, no, the fig­ures are pretty sta­ble there, boss. My forecast is work­ing, ac­tu­ally. Two road bikes in Fe­bru­ary and a shop­per last week. No, this is a sus­pected homi­cide.” Vicky stood up. “You seem re­mark­ably ca­sual about it, Pol­lock,” she pointed out. He blinked. “Well, last time you said I was en­joy­ing it too much.” Vicky sighed. “I’ll get my coat and you can fill me in as we drive to the scene.”

****

Vicky was up­set to find that the ad­dress for this crime scene was Vir­ginia Cot­tage, Cathe­dral Close. “Isn’t that Mr Drake’s place?” she asked. “Yeah,” Pol­lock said. “There’s a lady comes in to clean for him, and she found him early this morn­ing in the brook. She’s in quite a state.”

Vicky quickly ap­praised the scene, anx­ious that Bernard Drake’s body should be re­moved from the wa­ter as soon as pos­si­ble.

“How do we know he wasn’t taken ill and then fell into the wa­ter?” she asked the scene-of-crime boys. One of them shook his head. “There’s a nasty wound to the back of the head,” he told her. “I can’t see how it could be self-in­flicted, but John Forester will con­firm it at his lab.”

“Who would want to mur­der him?” Vicky asked, more to her­self than the team.

“We’ll make a start on the house,” one of her men said, “and find out more about Mr Drake. We’ll be able to take a stab at mo­tive.”

A neigh­bour of Mr Drake was ut­terly shocked at the news.

“I won­der if you need to talk to the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, off icer,” she said.

She was a very thin, mousy, meek woman with grey eyes, and ap­peared to live alone in her enor­mous Tu­dor house, which lay on the other side of Mr Drake’s house from the Manor.

“Mr Drake was a de­voted mem­ber – the trea­surer un­til re­cently. They will know much more about his af­fairs than I can tell you.”

“When did you last see Mr Drake?” Vicky asked.

“Um, I think I saw him through his front win­dows as I left for my class,” she said, her quiet voice shak­ing. “Oh, isn’t this aw­ful?” “Your class?” Vicky queried. “My fla­menco class,” she said, and Vicky sensed Tom Pol­lock be­side her swal­low­ing a laugh.

She put her foot on the tip of his shoe and pressed hard. Pol­lock gasped and was silent. “I see. Thank you, Miss . . .? “Gre­gory. Clarissa Gre­gory.” “Sergeant Pol­lock,” Vicky said. “Go and get me an up­date on the crime scene, will you?” Pol­lock traipsed off re­luc­tantly. “This class was at . . .?” she prompted Miss Gre­gory.

“I leave in my car at seven p.m. ev­ery Thurs­day for Birm­ing­ham,” she said. “No­body teaches real fla­menco in Wel­ston, you see. Oh, my good­ness, is this where I have to give you an alibi?”

Her face was turn­ing red and Vicky could see beads of per­spi­ra­tion pop­ping up on her brow.

“It’s all right,” Vicky said. “It’s just rou­tine. This is Wain­scot House, yes?”

“Yes,” the woman replied. She was about forty-five, though it was hard to tell her ex­act age, and she was dressed in an odd, frilly cot­ton dress cov­ered in lilacs, and an over­sized cardi­gan.

“Thank you, Miss Gre­gory,” Vicky said. “You’ve been very help­ful.”

The neigh­bours on the other side of Clarissa Gre­gory were dev­as­tated at the death of Mr Drake.

If this mid­dle-aged cou­ple who in­hab­ited Lau­rel Mead, a lofty Vic­to­rian villa, had bashed him over the head and shoved him in the wa­ter, they were very ac­com­plished ac­tors, Vicky thought.

“Who would want to hurt Bernard?” Mrs Bore­man asked, her hus­band nod­ding vig­or­ously be­side her. “He was a sweetie.”

“Do you know any­thing about his fam­ily?” Vicky asked. “Who my sergeant should con­tact, for in­stance.” Mr Bore­man nod­ded again. “He has two neph­ews, we know that. They visit oc­ca­sion­ally. Both work in Lon­don. I re­mem­ber that Bernie sug­gested some time ago that one of them should live here and en­joy the lovely house, when he . . . ” His wife be­gan sob­bing. “Put the ket­tle on, dar­ling,” he said, pat­ting her arm. “I got your favourite lap­sang yesterday.” He turned back to Vicky.

“Nei­ther of them had any in­ter­est in liv­ing in Wel­ston. They’re city types. One of them doesn’t bring wellies when he comes – can you imag­ine?” As Vicky left, Pol­lock hur­ried up to her. “The mur­der weapon’s been found. A poker from the house, part of a hearth set. It was in the river. What’s the bet­ting there won’t be any fin­ger­prints?”

“Let’s get in­side and see where it came from first,” Vicky replied.

The po­si­tion of the poker set, tucked neatly away be­hind an arm­chair, sug­gested to Vicky that the crime had been planned.

“No­body would grab some­thing from this po­si­tion in anger,” she said to Pol­lock thought­fully. “It’s very pos­si­ble that the mur­derer knew that it was here.”

As Sergeant Pol­lock had pre­dicted, any prints on the poker had been wiped clean. Time of death was set at around 7.30 p.m. the day be­fore, cor­rob­o­rated by the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, who had met Bernard Drake that day for tea in one of the tea shops be­tween three and five.

“So,” Pol­lock said, “he most likely went home at five, and was killed by the in­truder a cou­ple of hours later. The Bore­mans, on the other side, didn’t see him that day at all, and they have an alibi – they were at an an­tiques fair in Brum.”

“What about the cleaner? The one who found him? She might be hid­ing in plain sight. Kill him and come back to find him in the morn­ing?”

“The boys don’t think so. Mrs Bore­man tells me that they’re more old friends than em­ployer and em­ployee. She’s in her mid-eight­ies and they mainly play backgam­mon to­gether over tea. Mr Drake’s neph­ews ar­ranged for a con­tract cleaner to visit once a month to give the place a

proper go­ing-over.”

“You reckon the cleaner wouldn’t have had the strength?” Pol­lock shook his head. “Def­i­nitely not, boss.” “OK. Can you get some­one to test the river wa­ter?” Vicky asked. “What­ever tests they usu­ally run.” Pol­lock’s eyes lit up. “What’s your think­ing? I’ll do it. I read an ar­ti­cle once –”

“It’s just to rule out some con­nec­tion with the Wil­sons, Pol­lock. They had joint own­er­ship of the wa­ter­way, and had to do con­tam­i­na­tion test­ing by law.” “I’m on it.” Vicky watched Pol­lock hop and skip away across the Close. She gazed at the row of hand­some pe­riod prop­er­ties.

Surely there must be a con­nec­tion be­tween the deaths of Sher­adeen and Dar­ren Wil­son and the death of Mr Drake? But no link was leap­ing out at her yet.

****

The Bore­mans pro­vided the po­lice with e-mail ad­dresses for both of Mr Drake’s neph­ews.

“They kept an eye on him,” Mrs Bore­man said, wip­ing her eyes on her silk scarf ab­sent-mind­edly. “We were to e-mail if we had con­cerns.”

Vicky bounced ideas off Pol­lock the fol­low­ing af­ter­noon, with the case file laid be­fore her.

“What if one of the neph­ews got tired of Un­cle Bernie be­ing around?” Vicky mused. “If I was fond of money, and my el­derly rel­a­tive had cash, I could nip down there one evening. I’d know the lo­ca­tion of the poker from child­hood vis­its.”

But one nephew turned out to have been in Am­s­ter­dam at the time of the mur­der, and the other in a pri­vate hos­pi­tal in May­fair, hav­ing his nose nar­rowed.

“They could have hired some­one,” Pol­lock sug­gested brightly.

“Too far-fetched,” Vicky replied. “At least I think so.”

More house calls came up with no fur­ther sight­ings of Mr Drake, and no sight­ings of any­one sus­pi­cious in the Close. Morn­ings, Vicky es­tab­lished from her wan­der­ings in the area, seemed a busier time than af­ter­noons, which were silent. But even morn­ings were very quiet.

Peo­ple tended to live at the back of these huge houses, away from the road; the lo­cal school and the shops were on the op­po­site side of town. Peo­ple didn’t see things!

Miss Gre­gory had been seen by a res­i­dent who lived on the op­po­site side of the curve, strug­gling out of her car at lunchtime with su­per­mar­ket bags; the new owner of the Manor House had been work­ing at home, and no­ticed a few other res­i­dents, but ear­lier than the cru­cial time.

At five he had en­tered the base­ment gym and worked out for sev­eral hours. He said that they could check his in­ter­net search history, and it proved that he had been us­ing his lap­top for the whole cru­cial pe­riod, busy on web­sites.

As she left the Close later that af­ter­noon, Vicky met Mrs Quinn.

“It’s too sleepy here, De­tec­tive In­spec­tor,” Mrs Quinn said, look­ing up at the houses. “I think as a com­mu­nity we need to go back to old ways, and be nosier. It might save lives.” “Did you know Mr Drake?” “Oh, yes. I liked him. Do you know he was still do­ing work for the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, at ninety-six?” “I heard.” “I was set­ting up a web­site for them – well, I hope I still am. Mr Drake and his so­ci­ety friends weren’t au fait with the in­ter­net.” Mrs Quinn looked up­set. “Now it’ll be in mem­ory of poor Bernie Drake.” She put a hand on Vicky’s arm. “You’ll get who­ever did this, won’t you? And who­ever killed that poor cou­ple, who did no­body any harm, too.” “That’s my job.” Vicky was be­gin­ning to feel she was get­ting nowhere. With two quite dif­fer­ent MOS, there was no rea­son to sug­gest a link be­tween these mur­ders, and nei­ther of them seemed to have any mo­tive at­tached.

The team had done ex­ten­sive re­search al­ready into Drake and the Wil­sons, and they were clean as a whis­tle.

Noth­ing in Mr Drake’s home had been dis­turbed, although there were por­ta­ble and very beau­ti­ful an­tiques at ev­ery turn.

He had an in­ven­tory, stored on his el­der nephew’s com­puter, and the place was un­touched.

****

Vicky made an ap­point­ment to call at the tiny of­fices of the Wel­ston His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. She found them – three men of ma­ture years – sit­ting for­lorn around a ta­ble.

“We can’t be­lieve it, of­fi­cer,” one of them said. “Bernie Drake. Never hurt a fly.”

“Can you think of any­one who might have cause to kill Mr Drake?” Vicky asked, look­ing at their faces closely. “Any grudges, any an­i­mos­ity?”

Three heads shook slowly, un­til one, a wild-haired, pro­fes­so­rial-look­ing man of about eighty-five, looked up, his move­ments quick as a bird.

“Do you re­mem­ber the horse-trough in­ci­dent?” he asked, and the oth­ers looked at him. “The coun­cil wanted to re­move it, and Bernie proved that it was a rare ex­am­ple from the time of King Ge­orge. He wrote a let­ter to that coun­cil man who was –”

“It was very strongly worded in­deed!” the man be­side him piped up. “I re­ally didn’t ex­pect it of Bernie.”

The third man shook his head, as though re­act­ing to a pair of silly three-yearolds, and pulled a leather-bound vol­ume across the ta­ble.

Its cover read Wel­ston His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, pro­ceed­ings 1995-2014. He opened it and thumbed the pages, puff­ing in short, im­pa­tient breaths as he did so.

His com­pan­ions looked on, ob­vi­ously used to wait­ing while the great doc­u­ment was con­sulted.

“That was back in 1998,” he said briefly, and banged the vol­ume shut. “Do you think some chap at Wel­ston Bor­ough Coun­cil har­boured a grudge for sev­en­teen years and then came and whacked poor Bernie on the head?” He looked up apolo­get­i­cally at Vicky. “You see what I have to work with?”

****

Vicky trav­elled down to Lon­don to in­ter­view Bernie Drake’s neph­ews. The two men were ob­vi­ously not par­tic­u­larly at­tached to their un­cle, and were ea­ger to get go­ing on selling the house and sort­ing out his af­fairs, but Vicky had no rea­son to sus­pect them. She was be­gin­ning to feel re­ally de­spon­dent.

The chief in­spec­tor called at the sta­tion the fol­low­ing week. He im­me­di­ately en­quired about the triple mur­der in Cathe­dral Close.

“These cases are my pri­or­ity, sir,” Vicky as­sured him. “Cur­rent leads?” Vicky swal­lowed. “We’re in a tran­si­tion phase just now, sir. There’s a lot of data to sift through, so –” “Which trans­lates as you haven’t a clue?” Vicky felt her face go­ing pink. “They’re tough cases, sir.” “Se­ri­ously, Ad­di­son? Af­ter your years in the mean streets of Birm­ing­ham? This here is your Agatha Christie, your P.D. James – they get solved.”

The CI sat down on the other side of her desk.

“My old dad is in the WHS,” he said. “I’m from Wel­ston my­self – lovely place. Those WHS chaps are shak­ing their heads at your lack of progress. It’s only the new mu­seum ven­ture that’s keep­ing them up­beat.” “Mu­seum?” Mean­while Tom Pol­lock had si­dled up, ea­ger to im­press the chief, Vicky ex­pected.

“Mr Drake left the house to the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, boss,” Pol­lock said. “I meant to say.”

The chief smiled up at Pol­lock, and Vicky raised her eyes to heaven. She never got any credit.

“Good – your ear’s to the ground, Sergeant,” the chief told him. “It’ll make the per­fect mu­seum for the town. They’re al­ready work­ing on a Lottery grant. Those old guys have their wits about them and no mis­take.”

****

At home, Mark wanted to know why his wife was so moody. “Just work,” Vicky ex­plained huffily. “I thought that you’d en­joy knock­ing them all dead with your in­ner city ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said, putting a plate of blue cheese risotto be­fore her.

“Well, that’s not how it’s work­ing out,”

Vicky said glumly. “I’m look­ing like the be­gin­ner. I’ve three un­solved homi­cides on my hands, and barely a lead be­tween them.”

“You’ve got a day off to­mor­row, love, right?” Vicky nod­ded. “Well, join a club, get out there like you planned to do when we moved here. Yoga? The WI?”

“I’ll go shop­ping in Wel­ston. That al­ways helps.” Vicky looked down at her plate. “Sorry, Mark, I don’t re­ally feel like eat­ing. You can have mine.”

Vicky wan­dered up and down the pic­turesque high street of Wel­ston the fol­low­ing morn­ing, win­dow shop­ping. There were posters up for a host of town ac­tiv­i­ties from pi­lates to the Choral So­ci­ety, but she wasn’t in the mood. “It’s De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Ad­di­son, isn’t it?” It was Mrs Quinn, smil­ing and tug­ging a spaniel.

“Yes,” Vicky replied, pleased to see a smil­ing face.

“I hardly recog­nised you with­out your clothes on,” Mrs Quinn said. Vicky burst out laugh­ing. “I mean, in nor­mal clothes.” Mrs Quinn was blush­ing. “How rude of me.”

“No, you’re right, we do have a weird kind of plain clothes uni­form.”

“Can I buy you a cup of cof­fee?” Mrs Quinn said. “To say sorry. Is that al­lowed?”

“No need to apol­o­gise, but a cof­fee would be lovely.” “Call me Bev.” Vicky was grate­ful to have made a friend, and luck­ily Mrs Quinn was not a wit­ness in any shape or form, so she could chat to her.

They talked over the cases – it was un­avoid­able – and Bev tried hard to come up with bet­ter ideas.

“It’s ac­tu­ally good to get another per­spec­tive,” Vicky said.

“Do you think that it just might be co­in­ci­dence?” Bev asked, top­ping up Vicky’s pot of tea. “What if the Wil­sons ate that poi­son in some weird ac­ci­dent? Truth is of­ten stranger than fic­tion. And was Bernard Drake mur­dered by some ran­dom in­truder?”

“I’ve got a hor­ri­ble feel­ing that you may be right,” Vicky said sadly, “but my boss wants bet­ter than that.”

“Do you want this scone?” Bev asked. “I should never have or­dered two.”

“Yes, I do. Com­fort eat­ing,” Vicky ex­plained. “Thanks.” She pulled the plate to­wards her. Bev looked at her watch. “I’ve got an ap­point­ment in a quar­ter of an hour,” she said. “It’s been nice.”

She stood up and took her jacket from the back of the chair.

“I’ve got it!” she said. “It’s Char­lie, my hus­band. He’s killing off all the peo­ple who don’t pay up!”

Vicky looked non­plussed and Bev laughed at her puz­zled ex­pres­sion.

“Es­tate agents live for their com­mis­sion,” Bev said. “The Wil­sons’ friend bought the Manor House af­ter their death with­out go­ing via an es­tate agent. Then Bernie Drake passed his house straight on to the WHS. It’s Char­lie. His mild ex­te­rior hides the heart of a ruth­less mur­derer.”

“I wish I had a the­ory half as con­sis­tent.” Vicky laughed. “Un­for­tu­nately your hus­band would have to have been a prophet, be­cause oth­er­wise he couldn’t have pre­dicted ei­ther of those out­comes be­fore the mur­ders.” Bev looked crest­fallen. “I was so hop­ing to help,” she said, and then burst out laugh­ing. “I don’t think I’d make a de­tec­tive.”

Vicky headed home, feel­ing more re­laxed. Bev was funny. Fleet­ingly, she imag­ined Char­lie Quinn as a mur­derer.

She’d met him, and he was an or­di­nary, good-na­tured, easy-go­ing man. Some­times they were killers, but Ben had taken state­ments from the Quinns, and Char­lie had been at an es­tate agents’ awards din­ner in Coven­try un­til late on the night that the Wil­sons died.

Bev had ap­par­ently con­fessed to go­ing to the pub on her own to watch football and drink gin, both of which her hus­band hated! He’d been in with his wife when Bernie Drake died.

****

Vicky was pin­ning photos and notes to her board at the sta­tion when Ben Rob­bins brought her a con­sol­ing cap­puc­cino. “Thanks, Rob­bins,” Vicky said. Rob­bins looked at the board. “Don’t you just wish for some­thing sim­ple?” he said.

“Man run over by bus, no­body sus­pected of crime?” Vicky replied. “That would do me.”

“I’ll get back to the foren­sics for the Drake case,” he said, and walked off.

Vicky sniffed the cof­fee and screwed up her nose. They didn’t make cof­fee here like they made it at her old sta­tion.

Vicky didn’t be­lieve Sergeant Pol­lock when he re­ported to her an hour later that a woman had been run over by a bus in their area of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Rob­bins put you up to this, didn’t he?” she said. He blinked. “Sorry, boss?” “Are you re­ally telling me that we’ve had a bus ac­ci­dent?”

“Yes, boss, out­side a row of shops on the main road be­tween here and Brum. The driver’s in a ter­ri­ble state. But . . .” Pol­lock bit his lip. “The thing that’s, er, in­ter­est­ing is –”

“In­ter­est­ing?” Vicky’s heart was al­ready sink­ing at the look on Pol­lock’s face.

“The vic­tim lived in Cathe­dral Close, ma’am.” There was a long pause. “Who was it?” Vicky even­tu­ally asked. “Miss Clarissa Gre­gory.” “But it was an ac­ci­dent?” “Ev­ery rea­son to sup­pose so,” Pol­lock said.

It was no ac­ci­dent. Foren­sics es­tab­lished that Clarissa Gre­gory had been shoved into the street from be­hind. It was a dry day, and dust dis­tur­bance on the pave­ment meant that she could not have ended up in the path of the bus.

“Un­less she jumped like a gazelle as it ap­proached,” the foren­sics man added.

“She might have,” Vicky coun­tered. “She was a ner­vous in­di­vid­ual.”

“Ex­cept we also found some very new bruis­ing on the mid­dle of her spinal area, con­sis­tent with a vi­o­lent push from be­hind. Miss Gre­gory suf­fered from a de­fi­ciency of B vi­ta­mins – her GP con­firmed it – and this sort of mild vi­o­lence will show up in these cir­cum­stances.”

“Tell me I don’t have another mur­der on my hands.” “I wish I could.” Apart from the driver of an empty bus, whose mem­ory was tem­po­rar­ily shot by the trauma, only a sin­gle wit­ness had any­thing use­ful to say on the mat­ter of Clarissa Gre­gory’s death.

A teenage lad, pim­ply and hooded, had seen a fig­ure hur­ry­ing away from the scene sec­onds af­ter the in­ci­dent.

“It was well hor­ri­ble,” he told Vicky. “I’m com­ing out of the newsagent, and I hear brakes just as I push open the door, right?”

“Right.” Vicky was lean­ing to­wards the boy, ea­ger for real ev­i­dence, ig­nor­ing the reek of cig­a­rettes on his breath.

“So there’s the bus, and the old bird in the road, and it’s all quiet be­cause the other shops shut hours ago, and I see this bloke . . .” “Bloke?” “Black coat, black shoes, you know, like a teacher or some­thing, and this fig­ure van­ishes down the al­ley by the bet­ting shop.”

He sat back, de­lighted to have been so help­ful.

“Height? Weight? Skin colour?” Vicky had to get ev­ery de­tail out of him fast, be­fore his mind wan­dered. “No idea. About my height, maybe.” It was some­thing. Vicky knew al­ready that Clarissa must have been on her way back from her fla­menco class, so the mur­derer prob­a­bly knew that, un­less this killing was another ran­dom act, and Vicky knew how un­likely this ex­pla­na­tion was.

****

More back­ground checks were run, this time on Miss Gre­gory. She had ap­par­ently met a man at fla­menco, so her e-mails to a friend in the USA told them, and they had once shared a bot­tle of wine af­ter class. Clarissa was clearly thrilled by the en­counter.

Vicky called on the fla­menco com­pan­ion at his flat. He was a tall, very good-look­ing man about thirty who Vicky imag­ined could dance well.

“I’m a so­cial worker, work­ing on this side of Brum,” he said. “I love fla­menco.”

“For­give this in­del­i­cate ques­tion,” Vicky be­gan care­fully, “which is prob­a­bly also po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect. But why you and Clarissa Gre­gory? Miss Gre­gory was a very shy woman, un­con­cerned about her ap­pear­ance. I just won­der a lit­tle why you would . . .”

“The dance has power to bring peo­ple out of them­selves, de­tec­tive,” he ex­plained. “I have un­der­stood that for many years. I

be­lieve pas­sion­ately in its power, and some­times I en­cour­age peo­ple who come to try the dance. We have cof­fee and I make sure they keep com­ing.” He grinned. “It is so ben­e­fi­cial. My girl­friend some­times loses pa­tience.”

“Did your girl­friend know you had met Clarissa?” He frowned. “I think so. I usu­ally put it in the di­ary.” “Can I meet her?” He looked sur­prised. “Is­abella? If you like. We’ve a class in ten min­utes.”

In a dance stu­dio nearby, Vicky was in­tro­duced to a woman so tiny that she made Vicky, at five foot five, feel like a lum­ber­ing gi­ant. She was Span­ish, and rav­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful, with huge dark eyes and long flow­ing black hair.

“Is­abella, this is De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Ad­di­son,” he in­tro­duced her. She smiled. “You try fla­menco?” she asked, tak­ing Vicky’s hand and plac­ing it in her boyfriend’s. “This month, I can­not dance, I hope no more than month. My back is dam­age.” She smiled. “So Ian teach you?”

Vicky ex­cused her­self, called Ben Rob­bins to check out Is­abella’s med­i­cal story, and sat in her car with her head in her hands. Another dead end. Even cig­a­rette boy couldn’t have mis­taken teeny Is­abella for the per­son leav­ing the scene.

****

A few days later the bus driver was re­cov­ered enough to give an in­ter­view, but as much as he tried, his only mem­ory was the flash im­age of Clarissa fly­ing out be­fore him.

He had no pos­si­bil­ity of look­ing to the left or right, and he cer­tainly saw no dark fig­ure quit­ting the scene.

The chief be­gan e-mail­ing Vicky, his tone slightly ir­ri­ta­ble. The area homi­cide stats were not look­ing good; Wel­ston was not a place where un­solved crime got for­got­ten.

Vicky felt faintly nau­seous each time she en­tered the of­fice in the morn­ing, look­ing at the grow­ing case board. Clarissa Gre­gory’s house, when Vicky vis­ited the Close for more rounds of ques­tions (with in­creas­ingly alarmed and ir­ri­ta­ble res­i­dents), looked mis­er­able, shrouded in plas­tic.

“The en­vi­ron­men­tal peo­ple at the coun­cil have shut it up,” Bev Quinn told her over a glass of rosé in a Wel­ston wine bar. “As­bestos. I’m not as sur­prised as I might be. Char­lie told me that her par­ents bought the place at least sixty years ago – they were get­ting on when they had their only daugh­ter. It’s been pretty much un­touched since then, and prac­ti­cally fall­ing down. Some­one ob­vi­ously in­stalled as­bestos at some stage.” “The Close won’t like it.” Bev shrugged. “It’s a safety is­sue. Char­lie says it will prob­a­bly have to be con­demned en­tirely in the end.” “Blimey.” “I know. Char­lie says that quite a few of the prop­er­ties in the Close are not in a great state. Own­ers hang on to them, but with­out the funds to do them up.” “The vicar – what’s his name again?” “Tat­ter­sall.” “He con­fessed that their house isn’t in very good con­di­tion.”

“I heard that. Ap­par­ently the bishop has twice con­sid­ered mov­ing him and Mau­reen out into a more mod­ern, smaller place, to raise money for the dio­cese, but they don’t have the money in the bank to tart it up enough for a sale. Mau­reen told Char­lie that they’ve got the place for a fur­ther two years, which is good. She loves the place, though it’s crum­bling. Lovely woman.” Vicky held up her glass. “This is tasty. None of those tan­nin flavours you get.”

“I’m no con­nois­seur. I brew my own, you know.” “Beer?” “No, wine. The great English vine­yard move­ment! Ex­cept mine’s un­der our stairs!”

“You’re a sur­pris­ing per­son, Bev.”

“So are you. You’re the first po­lice of­fi­cer I’ve ever got to know.”

****

No­body hated Clarissa Gre­gory. There was no pos­si­ble theft mo­tive, since her huge, cold house was se­curely locked with sev­eral de­vices when the po­lice opened it up.

In­side felt like a by­gone era, with piles of news­pa­pers, vinyl records and cheap fur­ni­ture. Vicky no­ticed the irony – a spec­tac­u­lar his­toric house un­seen within. She hoped that Clarissa had known hap­pi­ness there, but doubted it.

Vicky stood and looked around the Close af­ter her visit to the Gre­gory house, just as dusk fell. The frontages, with their an­cient stones and tim­ber, seemed to laugh at her. Her team were po­lite but dis­tant, she thought, await­ing the next crit­i­cal call from the CI.

Vicky sighed and got in her car to drive home.

She was hav­ing trou­ble sleep­ing, so she moved into the spare room. She lay, toss­ing about, try­ing not to imag­ine how they might turn it into a nurs­ery, and fi­nally she got up and sat in the kitchen lis­ten­ing to the World Ser­vice with the vol­ume turned low.

The pro­gramme was about the African sa­van­nah, and as Vicky lis­tened to the de­scrip­tions of wide open spa­ces, she felt lack­ing in oxy­gen.

She crept back into the bed­room, got her clothes, dressed and set off to walk. At least it was safe to stroll in this quiet town – not like the city. Ex­cept, she smiled to her­self as she set off across the park, if one got mur­dered.

Think­ing away, breath­ing the night air, she walked a mile and then another, drawn back to the Close. It was still there, dark­ened and still, and she strained to hear the breath­ing of its sleep­ing, wor­ried in­hab­i­tants.

That was the com­mon thread, of course, the lo­ca­tion. Had these vic­tims been killed be­cause of their wealth?

But Clarissa had no cash, the Wil­sons kept all their money in in­vest­ments, and Bernard Drake in good but hard-to-carry an­tiques.

Vicky stood, hands in pock­ets. There was no solid so­cial con­nec­tion here, just the place.

“The Close,” she whis­pered. “It’s the Close.”

It was this place that had to con­nect them all. It was surely some­one out­side the Close who was com­mit­ting these crimes.

Was it jeal­ousy? Vicky looked at the tall chim­neys, white plas­ter work, the cob­bles and trimmed lawns. She knew that peo­ple did feel strongly about houses.

The way peo­ple talked in restau­rants and at din­ner par­ties about the price of houses – there was some­thing pow­er­ful in the na­tional psy­che when it came to bricks and mor­tar. But surely no-one was crazed enough to kill in or­der to buy one?

The Wil­sons’ house had not gone on the mar­ket at all fol­low­ing their deaths, but had the killer thought it would?

Mr Drake’s house had ended up a legacy to a char­ity, and Clarissa Gre­gory’s was out of ac­tion, not to come on the mar­ket for years, pos­si­bly, if ever.

Vicky shook the silly ideas out of her head, but Bev’s joke about Char­lie came back to her. He had in­deed missed out on huge per­cent­age fees as a re­sult of all three.

She walked around the Close un­til she was be­side the lovely old vicarage. The Tat­ter­salls’ bed­room, the only one with closed cur­tains, seemed to be on the far side of the frontage from where she stood. She thought of the vicar, dream­ing his next ser­mon, and Mau­reen, wor­ry­ing about the damp.

Then she heard a noise, and fol­lowed the sound round the side of the house. A faint scuf­fling came at her through the door, and she waited for a cat to emerge from the flap.

But then she saw the fat vicarage tabby sit­ting silently on a nearby wall, its ears pricked up at the noise, as hers were.

The sounds stopped, and Vicky had walked back along the front of the house when she heard, in the thick si­lence, what she could have sworn was a creak. The creak of a stair? The win­dows were old, and not dou­bleglazed, so Vicky could hear some­thing of what was hap­pen­ing in the hall.

“Hello? Ev­ery­thing OK?” Her voice, barely a whis­per at the front door, seemed very loud.

There was ut­ter si­lence, as though the Close held its breath. Vicky knew she was be­ing foolish, imag­in­ing killers prowl­ing, tired from lack of sleep.

It was ei­ther noth­ing, or it was Mr or Mrs Tat­ter­sall mov­ing about. But if so, why the sud­den si­lence? Why no re­ply?

Vicky thought of those four bod­ies, and a shiver ran through her as she con­tem­plated the pos­si­bil­ity of another in­no­cent per­son be­ing mur­dered.

She moved care­fully to the back door again. The lock was an old Yale, the wood soft around the edges, an easy en­try point. Why didn’t peo­ple care about their se­cu­rity?

Vicky gave the nec­es­sary weight to the door, and it cracked open with a dull splin­ter­ing. She found her­self in some sort of boot room, muddy and cold, and silently opened the door to the rest of the house.

In a large, dimly lit hall­way, her back to Vicky, lis­ten­ing in­tently and ut­terly still, was Bev­erly Quinn.

Vicky took two long strides, bless­ing in those few sec­onds her un­fash­ion­able, squishy suede boots, and had Bev in hand­cuffs be­fore she had time to no­tice Vicky’s pres­ence.

“Another life – two lives?” she said into Bev’s ear. Bev tried to twist round. “I’m just here to de­liver –” “At one a.m.?” Vicky hissed, just as the vicar ap­peared at the head of the stairs.

“Bev? Is that you?” His voice was muf­fled with sleep.

“It’s De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Ad­di­son, Mr Tat­ter­sall,” Vicky called. “Please ring the Wel­ton sta­tion im­me­di­ately.” “Is there a prob­lem? Can I –” “Now, vicar,” Vicky in­ter­rupted. Bev had stopped wrig­gling, and Vicky de­cided that it was safe to loosen her grip. The woman had nowhere to run to.

A minute later, they stood fac­ing each other. Vicky stared at the other woman, whose face was pale in the lights that Mr Tat­ter­sall had switched on as he de­scended the stairs, as­ton­ished.

“Have I got to ac­cept that you killed four peo­ple, and tried to kill a fur­ther two, so you could buy prop­erty?” she asked.

It seemed un­real, a com­edy story in a hor­ror movie.

“Not prop­erty,” Bev said, her usu­ally bright voice a thin drawl. “Prop­erty in the Close. All my mar­ried life, it’s all I’ve wanted. These peo­ple cling on, Vicky. They won’t shift, and I’ve hated them.”

“Don’t call me Vicky.” Vicky was al­ready feel­ing a sharp pang of re­gret that this woman who might have been her first friend in town was a killer.

“What were you do­ing in the Close?” Bev said, look­ing up at Vicky. “I couldn’t sleep.” “If you hadn’t come nos­ing about, I know that this house would have ended up for sale. I heard it from peo­ple at church.”

“Ex­cept you’d have had to mur­der the res­i­dents f irst, Bev­erly.”

Bev shook her head, as though this part was a for­mal­ity.

“The bishop had a bach­e­lor lined up – the per­fect mo­ment to flog the house. Have you seen the ar­chi­tec­ture? It’s been vir­tu­ally un­touched since the turn of the nine­teenth cen­tury. The stone quoins are adorable, and they ne­glected the balustrade. I would have made it per­fect!” “Is Char­lie in on this?” Vicky asked. “Char­lie! He’s a waste of space – lack­ing am­bi­tion, fee­ble. I don’t think I ever re­ally wanted Char­lie. It was just that he knew when houses in the Close were com­ing up, or I thought he did. Char­lie would be happy to stay in our ghastly house plant­ing his stupid gar­den. This house could have a real Ge­or­gian parterre, you know.” “You re­ally did all this, didn’t you?” “I have waited eigh­teen years. Eigh­teen! When I was a kid, my mum would bring us to Wel­ston and we’d walk around the Close. I wanted this. I wanted to en­ter­tain in my pe­riod home. I bought mag­a­zines about it. Char­lie wasn’t in­ter­ested. He said he just wanted to be warm!”

“My good­ness,” Vicky said, lis­ten­ing to the squad cars pull up. “You ac­tu­ally tried to pin the mur­ders on your own hus­band.”

“Two birds with one stone.” Her ex­pres­sion was chal­leng­ing, tri­umphant.

“You said he was an­noyed by lack of com­mis­sion.”

“And you fell for it. It was fun, throw­ing you lines you didn’t take, Vicky.” “I thought you were a friend.” “Did you? I’d have cho­sen my friends from the Close, Vicky. The nicer fam­i­lies.” “The ones you didn’t mur­der.” “I only had to keep go­ing un­til I got a house. It should have been the one the dread­ful Wil­sons owned. All their gold jew­ellery – no­body wanted them here.” Vicky re­garded her. “I met some lowlifes in the city,” she said, “but you take the bis­cuit.”

‘I only wanted one thing,” Bev con­tin­ued, as though her de­sire was the most nat­u­ral thing in the world.

Once Vicky had ar­rested her, Bev­erly Quinn was per­fectly will­ing to ex­plain how clever she had been, and how use­less she felt Wel­ston CID was.

“The Wil­sons were in­su­lar – ev­ery­one knew. So I used the home brew; no­body likes it. I make it so I can get qui­etly drunk when Char­lie is off on busi­ness. I’ve got my own car, so it wasn’t that hard to get hem­lock, which I stole, by the way. And the in­ter­net pro­vided the in­struc­tion man­ual.” Vicky shook her head in dis­be­lief. “I can’t be­lieve no­body saw you that day.” “Pick the right time, Vicky. You for­get how well I know Cathe­dral Close.”

“De­tec­tive In­spec­tor to you.” Vicky felt ex­hausted, and sick. “So when a pri­vate buyer got it, you . . .”

“I was fu­ri­ous. All that ef­fort and dan­ger to my­self! I thought that Drake’s house would come up for sale. His rel­a­tives didn’t want it – Penny Bore­man will gos­sip about any­thing.”

“Char­lie gave you an alibi for that one,” Vicky com­mented, run­ning a fin­ger down the case f ile pa­pers, try­ing to stay alert.

“Char­lie and I aren’t ex­actly in each other’s pock­ets. I went to the loo – he’s too stupid and trust­ing to re­mem­ber that de­tail – it takes five min­utes to get to the Close. I found his lit­tle poker.” Bev leaned for­ward. “He was ninety-six, Vicky. How much of a crime is that, re­ally?” “It’s the worst kind,” Vicky said softly. Bev ex­am­ined her nails. “I don’t re­ally care what hap­pens next. If I can’t live in the Close, I’m not in­ter­ested. Any­thing rather than go back to num­ber six­teen Peartree Av­enue. It doesn’t even have a pear tree, did you know? The de­vel­op­ers made up the name.” “Tell me about Clarissa Gre­gory.” “Poor old Clarissa.” “Younger than you.” “That was harder. I was wor­ried that I’d get no­ticed in the Close now that you lot were all over it so much. I hated you for cur­tail­ing my move­ments, ac­tu­ally.

“But I do know those bus routes. I drive along there and I’d seen Clarissa clam­ber­ing on and off, chang­ing buses. That time of day was per­fect – not a soul around. A big coat of Char­lie’s and Bob’s your un­cle. She weighed noth­ing.”

Vicky shook her head, and then rubbed her eyes.

“Bev­erly Quinn,” she said, her tone stronger. “I am charg­ing you with the mur­der of . . .”

The charges took some time. Bev­erly sat and pushed down her cu­ti­cles as Vicky read them.

****

“Vicky, thank God you were there,” Mark said.

Vicky had fi­nally walked into the house soon af­ter he got back from work, drained and tear­ful. She told the story while Mark first hugged her, and then sat with his arm around her on their sofa.

“Yes, I know. Two more lives. It’s un­be­liev­able.”

“A waste, and for some sad woman’s twisted ob­ses­sion of liv­ing in a house she thinks is per­fec­tion.” Vicky sat up and turned to Mark. “It’s a small thing, I know,” she said, “be­side all that loss. But I thought I had a friend. I thought she was nice.”

“You’ll make other friends,” Mark said. “Nor­mal peo­ple.” “If there are any in Wel­ston.” “There are loads. What about the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety blokes?”

Vicky laughed, and they sat back, silent for sev­eral min­utes.

“Any­way,” Vicky said qui­etly, “we’re go­ing to be busy, at least come Christ­mas.”

“Oh, yeah? Plan­ning to buy a ram­shackle pe­riod home?” “Just a cot.” Mark spun round, send­ing a cush­ion fly­ing at the telly. “You’re kid­ding me?” Vicky smiled. “I’m not. I kept won­der­ing why I didn’t want cof­fee or blue cheese, and it wasn’t the case, it was our daugh­ter.”

“Or our strap­ping son.” Mark put his arms around her. “I love you so much. And now, you need a long sleep. On the dou­ble.”

The End.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.