In Cold Blood
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
“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.”