Two Feet Under (Lindenshaw Mysteries, #3)
This title is #3 of the Lindenshaw Mysteries series.
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Things are looking up for Adam Matthews and Robin Bright—their relationship is blossoming, and they’ve both been promoted. But Robin’s a policeman, and that means murder is never far from the scene.
When a body turns up in a shallow grave at a Roman villa dig site—a body that repeatedly defies identification—Robin finds himself caught up in a world of petty rivalries and deadly threats. The case seems to want to drag Adam in, as well, and their home life takes a turn for the worse when an ex-colleague gets thrown out of his house and ends up outstaying his welcome at theirs.
While Robin has to prove his case against a manipulative and fiendishly clever killer, Adam is trying to find out which police officer is leaking information to the media. And both of them have to work out how to get their home to themselves again, which might need a higher intelligence than either a chief inspector or a deputy headteacher.
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“And this is our safeguarding checklist. If you’ll just sign it to show you’ve read it and agree to abide by it . . .”
Adam nodded, read the sheet of paper, then signed and dated it at the bottom.
Adam Matthews, deputy headteacher. 10th April.
He fancied writing the job title again, as it had felt so good the first time. His first deputy headship, and a real chance to put a feather in his cap, given that Culdover Church of England Primary School officially “required improvement.” He’d been recruited to help the new headteacher light such a firework under the staff that by the next time the Ofsted inspectors popped their cheery heads round the door, they’d rate the school as at least “good.”
Before any of that could happen, though, he’d have to go through the standard induction procedure, almost all of it necessary, some of it boring, and some elements—like safeguarding and the location of the men’s toilets—vital.
Soon everything was done and he had the chance to familiarise himself with the place, including sitting in with his year-six class, which he’d be taking two days a week and who were at present under the beady eye of Mrs. Daniel, the teacher who’d have them the other three days. The pupils seemed a cheery enough bunch, eager to show their new deputy just how good they were at maths. He sat down at one of the tables, where they were mulling over fractions, although it wasn’t long before they wanted to bombard him with questions, a new member of staff—and that rare thing in primary education, a man—being much more interesting than halves and quarters. In the end, Adam, Mrs. Daniel, and the pupils came to the arrangement of making the last five minutes of the lesson a question-and-answer session, in return for which the children would work like billy-o up to that point. The plan worked.
“Which team do you support, sir?” opened the official interrogation.
“Saracens for rugby. Abbotston for football.”
“Are you married, sir?”
“No.” Until he had an idea of how mature his class were, he’d better keep quiet about the exact nature of his relationship. “But I’ve got a Newfoundland dog called Campbell.”
“Wow! Will you bring in a picture of him?”
“Of course. I’ll put it on the desk so he can keep an eye on you all.” One day perhaps he’d also be able to bring a picture of Robin in to show the class, but that was probably wishful thinking. Children had open minds, yet too often they got filled with an imitation of their parents’ prejudices.
“I interviewed you, sir,” one spiky-haired lad piped up.
“I remember.” The school-council part of the interview process had been trickier than facing the headteacher and governors. “You asked me to sing a song.”
“Yeah. And you made us sing one instead.” The boy chortled, his classmates joining in.
“I remember. No point in getting old if you can’t get cunning.” Adam grinned. “Right, one last question.”
One of the girls—with an expression more serious than normally came with her age—raised her hand among a sea of others. She waited for Adam’s nod before asking, “Which school did you used to teach at?”
Adam forced his grin to keep going. “Lindenshaw. Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s, to give it its full name.”
“Oh.” The girl turned pale. “My dad told me they had a murder there. Is that why you left?”
Adam paused. So the school’s reputation was preceding it?
Mrs. Daniel, obviously flustered, said, “I don’t think we should talk about things like that.”
Adam pursed his lips. “I think I disagree. It’s better to have stuff in the open, and I’d have hoped this class is mature enough to discuss matters like that sensibly.” How best to describe what had happened? Simply stating that there’d been a murder in what had been the children’s kitchen, where the pupils had once learned to make semi-inedible fairy cakes, might put these pupils off cookery for life. “Somebody was killed, which is a really rare thing to happen in a school. None of the children were ever at risk, and the police found the killer very quickly.”
And he’d found a partner in the process, which had been the best outcome from a wretched time.
The spiky-haired lad chipped in again. “My dad says that you probably can’t go anywhere in Culdover without walking over a place where someone’s died. What with the Romans and the air raids and—”
Adam raised a hand. “I think that’s where we’ll leave it. Time for lunch.”
The class left their chairs, lined up at the door, and waited for Mrs. Daniel to let them out to their pre-lunch play. Just another first day of term for the children at Culdover, but for Adam it was that cliché: “the first day of the rest of his life.” He’d miss Lindenshaw school—that went without saying, especially as it was starting to show a real improvement under the new headteacher—but his regrets would be few. The place held far too many unpleasant memories and associations now, and not simply in terms of the murder. Just last term a young teacher had thrown away the chances of a good career because he couldn’t keep his fists to himself.
Worst of all, but predating Adam’s sojourn at Lindenshaw, it had been Robin’s school, where he’d been subjected to continual bullying.
Adam had promised to keep in touch with those of his colleagues who’d become genuine friends, but the building itself . . . The sooner Adam could shake the dust of the place off his shoes, the better.
He decided to spend his lunchtime mingling in the Culdover staffroom, getting into the normal school routine as soon as possible, then he’d give Robin a quick bell, and he wouldn’t need to wander a quarter of a mile to do so. Another thing he wouldn’t miss about Lindenshaw school was the mobile-phone black spot it sat in, which made reception a hit-or-miss affair unless you braved the women’s toilets, where the signal was said to be perfect. Adam had always opted for the quarter-mile walk.
“How’s it going?” Robin said when Adam had done his mingling and reported in.
“Much as expected.” What was there to say about a typical first morning? “Friendly place, good team, interesting pupils.”
Robin sniggered. “Interesting as in potential psychopaths?”
“Do you think of everyone as a potential criminal?”
“Only if they come from Culdover.”
“Don’t let them hear you say that.” Culdover was a typically English small town, one that had been distinctly posh in its heyday although it had gone downhill post-war, and parts of it were looking rather ropey. Regeneration had made a difference in some places, but the preponderance of charity shops on the high street showed there was plenty still to do. “Busy today?”
“Usual sort of stuff. Spate of upmarket car thefts. Case of dognapping too. I won’t tell Campbell.”
“Make sure you don’t. He’ll have nightmares.” At work one of them may report to a headteacher and the other to a chief superintendent, but at home the roost was ruled by a large, black, wet-nosed Newfoundland dog, whose self-estimation had been swelled by his having saved both of his masters’ lives on separate occasions.
“Got to go. Villains to nick. See you tonight.”
“Yeah. Don’t forget the milk.”
Adam smiled. Their house was well stocked with semi-skimmed, but “don’t forget the milk” and its response “I won’t,” or some slight variation on them, had become code for “I love you” and “I love you too,” which couldn’t always be used. Even if Robin and Adam were no longer in the closet, sometimes common sense had to prevail.
* * * * * * *
Robin ended the call, finished his sandwich, and got back to his paperwork. He glanced up at the clock, only to find that it wasn’t where he’d expected. How long was it going to take him to get used to this new office and new location?
Abbotston nick wasn’t proving so bad in the wake of chucking out the rotten apples. It was better still, Robin believed, now that he was the acting chief inspector with every prospect of that position being made permanent in the months to come, so long as he kept his nose clean and his clear-up rate healthy. It was a pity Anderson hadn’t come with him, but his erstwhile sergeant had been bumped up to acting inspector back at Robin’s previous station, Stanebridge. He’d miss the man’s spiky sense of humour and his sudden bursts of enlightenment, if not his driving style.
Crime was crime anywhere, from big city to leafy village—the Lindenshaw murders had proved that—but the sheer scale of things came into play at Abbotston. It was larger than Stanebridge, much more sprawling, and so there was extra everything, from industrial estates to coffee shops to drug dealers, even if murder was still thankfully rare. It had grown bigger than Kinechester, which was the county “capital” and had been since the time of the Romans, who’d made their base there and left their stamp in the layout of the streets, although Abbotston lacked the history which had secured Kinechester’s importance. At least Abbotston was a step up from Culdover, which might give Robin some bragging rights over Adam if they were into that kind of new-job-related one-upmanship. But they weren’t.
Campbell would never tolerate that, anyway.
A rap at his door—thank goodness he remembered where that was—made Robin look up from the papers on his desk. “Yes?”
“Got a bit of an odd one, sir.” Pru Davis, also newly promoted and blossoming in her role as his sergeant, poked her head round Robin’s door, her brow wrinkled in bewilderment.
“Go on.” Robin had always had a lot of time for Pru. She’d been a keen-as-mustard and deadly efficient constable at Stanebridge, and when the chance to bring her along to Abbotston presented itself, he’d snapped it up. While the pair of them had to make sure they didn’t form an ex-Stanebridge clique—there was history between the two stations that wouldn’t make for an easy ride initially—she’d be moral support for him. The fact she was so good at her job, not something that could be traditionally said for Abbotston coppers, made her presence a win all round, although it carried the risk of alienating the pair further from the locals.
They had a subtle path to walk and a lot of diplomacy to deliver.
“Got a dead body turned up at an archaeological site.”
Robin frowned. “Is this a wind-up? Abbotston city slickers trying to put one over on the yokels?”
“I wish it was.” Pru entered the room, notepad at the ready. “It came from Lewington, down on the front desk, so I doubt it’s a wind-up.”
Lewington appeared to be an old-fashioned sort of career copper, and he had a reputation of not suffering fools gladly. His son was something to do with the BBC sports department so allegedly always had a bit of inside gossip on who to put your shirt on for the Grand National.
“Added to which,” Pru continued, “I recognised the name of the bloke who rang it in, so it seems legitimate. Up at Culford Roman villa.”
“You’d better take a seat and tell me all about it.” Robin jotted down notes while his sergeant gave a brief but pertinent outline. They’d been contacted by Charlie Howarth, who was the bloke at Kinechester council in charge of historic sites, and who’d apparently pulled Pru’s pigtails when they were both only five, back in Risca.
“Near Newport. Land of my fathers and all that.”
“‘Cwm Rhondda’ and ‘Delilah’?” Robin grinned. “How did you both end up here?”
“Took a wrong turn off the M4.” Pru rolled her eyes. “Charlie was bound to end up by here, given all the history in the area.”
Robin winced at the Welsh argot, which had a habit of coming and going in Pru’s voice. She was right about the history, though; the local area was awash with it. He’d learned back in school that Culdover had been occupied for thousands of years because of its abundant natural resources. Even Kinechester wasn’t as old as Culdover, which had been knocking around since the Neolithic. Like so many places throughout England, it retained evidence of its previous occupants, and many of the local schools made the most of that fact, focussing their trips on both the Iron Age hill fort and Roman villa not five miles from the town centre.
School trips. Please God there’d not be a connection to Adam this time.
Robin refocussed. “What did this mate of yours have to report? It’s not one of those routine ‘found a body; we’re pretty sure it’s from the time of Cromwell, but we have to call it in just in case’ things?”
“Looks unlikely. They’ve had the doctor in.” Pru’s eyebrows shot up. “To declare that this poor soul really is dead despite it being obvious she must have been there months.”
“It’s procedure. Is Grace there too?” Grace was Robin’s favourite crime-scene investigator. If anything had ever evaded her notice, he wasn’t aware of it.
“On route, at least.”
“So what do we know?”
“A routine, planned dig started up earlier today, exploring an area near the villa where somebody reckoned they’d found a new range of buildings. New as in unexcavated.”
“I understand that. I have watched Time Team.” It was one of his mother’s favourite programmes.
“Better you than me, sir, but don’t tell Charlie. He’s at the site, if we want to drive down there.”
Robin fished out his car keys. “Let’s go and hear what he’s got to say.”
There was no easy route directly from Abbotston to Culford; the main roads made two sides of a triangle, and the third was formed of winding country lanes. The old Roman road, which ran straight and true through Tythebarn and other villages and which formed the foundation of Culdover High Street, was the wrong side of the site to be of help.
When they arrived at the car park, Charlie Howarth was already waiting for them, chatting on his phone while trying to sign off some paperwork.
“Sorry about that,” he said in a deep Welsh accent as he ended the call. “Pru, you don’t age, do you?”
“Got a picture in the attic.” Pru’s voice reflected its roots more than normal. “Chief Inspector Bright wants to know all about what you found.”
“Not me who found it. One of the diggers, poor girl.” Howarth—what sort of a Welsh name was that?—winced. “I was going to send her home but thought you might want to interview her.”
“Quite right.” Robin nodded. “Tell us what you can.”
“We started digging the area this morning. Just by hand, nothing mechanical. This is supposed to be a virgin bit of the site, excavation-wise, so we had no idea what we’d turn up.”
“Why here in particular?” Robin asked.
“The university got a grant to do a geophysical survey of the whole area. Do you know what that is?”
“Of course,” Robin snapped. “We’re the Time Team generation. Did you think you’d found a plunge pool?”
Howarth inclined his head. “Sorry. I was being patronising.”
“Apology accepted.” Robin could be gracious when required.
“We weren’t sure what we’d found, to be honest, only that there were signs of underlying structures. Unlike the people on Time Team, we don’t make assumptions until we’ve exposed the archaeology.”
“So what did the digger expose?”
“Part of a mosaic to start with. Bit of a small panel, with some sort of substrate for the tesserae to be embedded in, just lying in the topsoil.” Howarth indicated the size of the thing with his hands. “Very unusual, which is what got Kirsty—that’s the digger I mentioned—so puzzled in the first place. She’d barely raked off anything else when she found black plastic. A sheet or a large strong bag. It was slightly ripped, and hair was protruding through the tear.”
“We’ll get her to supply the details.” Robin couldn’t shake off an instant, and uncharacteristically unprofessional, dislike he’d taken to this witness. “You said this was virgin ground, but if somebody buried a body, then the area must have been disturbed. Did nobody notice?”
Howarth shrugged. “That bit of ground’s been used for all sorts of things over the years, because people didn’t think it was important. There used to be a children’s play area there, but it was taken out. Health and Safety.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s been a right mess since then, so if somebody was careful enough, they could cover their tracks.”
“Hm. How easy is it to get into this place out of hours?”
“The main building’s locked and alarmed.” That made sense, given that the mosaics and hypocaust ruins were in great condition. Culford wasn’t Fishbourne, but it remained impressive. “The rest of the site just has a fence. We weren’t aware of anything that needed protecting.” Howarth gave Pru a rueful smile.
She returned the smile, then adopted her most professional air. “You’ll appreciate there are questions we’ll have to ask you, and statements to be taken, both now and as the details emerge. For a start, are you aware of anyone associated with the site going missing?”
Howarth shook his head. “No, all women accounted for.”
“How do you know it’s a woman we’re concerned with?” Robin interjected.
“Oh, sorry. Kirsty said she reckoned the corpse was female, from what she could see of the hair. Have I spoken out of turn?”
Robin narrowed his eyes. “We don’t make any assumptions about identifying the victim until we hear from our experts.”
“I apologise once more. Thing is, our staff here is predominantly female. We only have one paid employee, Clare, who runs the administration and just about everything else. She gets helped by volunteers so we can have the site open as much as possible.”
“I’ll get a full list of names from Clare, thank you. In the interim, I’d like to talk to the student who found the body. Kirsty, did you say?”
“That’s right. She’ll be up in the staffroom, which is our posh term for that Portakabin.” Howarth pointed towards a dingy green building. “Do you want to talk to her now?”
“After we check in at the scene. Thanks,” Robin added, remembering his manners.
“Shall I take you . . .?”
“No thanks, Charlie.” Pru cuffed his arm. “You’ll be busy enough putting off the school trips and the public. This place needs to be shut to everyone for the time being.”
Howarth’s face dropped. “Hell. I never thought. I’ll get onto it.”
As Robin and his sergeant made their way from the car park to where a white tent indicated the victim’s last resting place, he cast a glance over his shoulder. Howarth was on his phone, talking animatedly. “Is he always like that?”
“Like what, sir?”
“Gets up people’s noses and they can’t work out why.”
Pru laughed. “Yeah, that’s him. Or at least it is if you’re a bloke. They find him a bit smarmy.”
“And what’s he like with women?”
“A charmer. No harm in him, though. He’s always struck me as happily married.” They halted at the point where they’d have to slip on at least gloves and overshoes if they wanted to get closer to the shallow grave. “I suspect if a woman misread the charm and made him an offer, he’d run a mile.”
The appearance of Grace, emerging from the tent with a cheery wave, focussed their attention away from smarmy site directors towards the gruesome minutiae. “Coming over for a look, sir?”
“When we’re kitted up. Want us in bunny suits?”
“Please. Whole kit and caboodle. This isn’t Midsomer.” Grace had no time for television crime dramas and the way they played fast and loose with crime scenes and forensic matters. Shoddy procedures and the depiction of seemingly limitless budgets; both riled her. “The doctor has been, to say that she’s definitely dead. He’ll do the postmortem tomorrow.”
“How long has the body been there?” Robin asked once they were inside the tent and had their first glimpse of the corpse. The dismal sight of somebody’s child, somebody’s loved one, cut off in their prime was one Robin would never get used to.
Grace wrinkled her nose. “She’s been there months, rather than days. I’ll be able to give you a better answer when all the tests are done.”
“Definitely a she?” Pru clarified. She waited for Grace’s nod before continuing. “Any idea how old she was?”
“About twenties or thirties, from what I can see of the body and clothes. Although what I can expose has been restricted by the plastic she was wrapped in. We’ll confirm everything as soon as we can, along with cause of death and all the rest of it. I suspect she’s had blunt trauma to the forehead, but she’s in a pretty bad way. The doctor didn’t like the state of the bit of her face that’s visible.”
“Series of blows?”
Grace shrugged. “Can’t tell as yet. Maybe something that happened postmortem. When I know, you will.”
Robin, with a quickly hidden shudder, glanced at the dead woman again. “Do we have a name for her?”
“Not that I’ve found yet. But it’s going to be a slow process. Don’t want to miss anything by rushing.” Grace sighed. “Poor lass.”
“Poor lass, indeed.” Robin forced a rueful smile. “Get all the information you can. She deserves it.”
“I’ll do my best. And then we’ll see what Greg and his pals can make of it.”
“We’ll leave you to it.” The sooner Grace could collect the samples, the sooner they’d be off to the lab for examination.
Once they’d left the CSI to get on with her job and were heading off to find the digger who’d uncovered the body, Pru—pale faced—rubbed her hands as though ridding the grave dirt from them.
“First corpse?” Robin asked, not unkindly. Death took some getting used to.
“First murder, assuming it is a murder. Seen a couple of RTAs.” Thank God that was still the most likely way the local police came across dead bodies. “I imagined it would be the same.”
“But it isn’t?”
“No, and I can’t work out why.” She halted. “Ditch me if I’m being a sea anchor, sir. There must be some of the Abbotston team who’ve got more experience than I have.”
“There are. And they’ll have plenty to exercise that experience on, especially if there’s no ID on our victim. At least you didn’t puke all over your shoes, like Anderson did.”
“Do you think I’m lying?” He was, but it wouldn’t hurt for her to believe the story for a while. “Fancy a cuppa? Your pal must be able to rustle us up one.”
“No, thanks.” They’d reached the Portakabin door. “He’d only try to find somebody with two X chromosomes to do it. He wouldn’t know one end of a kettle from another.”
Robin grinned, then immediately changed his expression for one suitably serious for interviewing a witness.
Kirsty—they guessed it was her from the name emblazoned on the back of her sweatshirt—was sitting at a table with what appeared to be a colleague. Both had their hands clenched around mugs which somehow looked far too large for them. The Portakabin was comfortably enough decked out, having—apart from the table and chairs—several more comfy armchairs, a sagging sofa, a tiny kitchenette, and another section which appeared to be set aside for the cleaning and sorting of artefacts. A couple of PCs, surprisingly modern, completed the contents. The windows provided a scenic view of the car park, which could be blocked out by blinds when the sight of school coaches and snotty pupils became overwhelming.
The inevitably edgy introductions were made, and Kirsty’s colleague, Abby, offered to make them all a fresh brew, which Robin readily accepted.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Kirsty said, without being asked. “I mean, I’m used to turning up burials or cremations, especially on the edges of Roman sites, but I knew as soon as I saw it that this wasn’t old.”
“Can we take this from the beginning, please? Assume we don’t know a thing,” Robin said in what he hoped were soothing tones. The girl was clearly nervous, and some important element might be lost if they didn’t go through things logically.
“Okay.” Kirsty gave a little background to the dig, which matched what Howarth had said. She and Abby had arrived that morning as the advance guard of a team from Kinechester University, and they’d barely got a couple of inches down when they’d come to the mosaic.
“Where’s that now?” Pru enquired.
“In a finds tray, up by the trench. We lifted it whole, didn’t we, Abby?” she called across to where her colleague was doling teabags into a pot.
“We did.” Abby gestured with her teaspoon, miming the procedure. “After we’d recorded it and everything. It was obvious it wasn’t in situ, so we thought it must have been backfill from some previous dig we didn’t know anything about, or maybe from when they put the play park in.”
“Yes”—Kirsty nodded—“we knew before we started that the ground had been disturbed time and again, and who knows how careless people had been.”
Robin wasn’t sure that the contractors who put in or took out the play equipment would have been allowed to be so gung-ho with any artefacts they turned up, but he let it ride. “And then?”
“And then we cleared back a bit more and found the plastic. I wondered at first if it was from landscaping. You know, people put down black plastic to inhibit weeds. I made some stupid joke about how it wasn’t typically Anglo-Saxon or anything like that, and then I called Abby over. She spotted the tear in the bag and the hair sticking through, so she said we should leave everything as it was.”
“Quite right.” Pru smiled encouragingly. “Did you turn up any other finds before you shut digging down for the day?”
“No. We weren’t expecting to, given how little we’d got down into the soil. If the archaeology is at the same level as the villa, we’d have expected to go down another three feet.”
“Why didn’t you use a mechanical digger to take off the top layers?” Robin had seen that on Time Team too.
“Because we knew the top layers were likely to have already been disturbed and didn’t want to risk missing artefacts in the topsoil.” Abby brought over the steaming mugs of tea, to a chorus of gratitude. “Just as well, isn’t it?”
“Indeed.” Robin blew on his tea, then risked a semi-scalding sip. “Why didn’t you ring us? Protocol?”
“Lack of phone signal. You know what it’s like round here.” Kirsty, taking a draught, didn’t seem to notice how hot the tea was. Maybe she had it milky enough to counteract the heat. “I came down to the office, where Charlie was. Mr. Howarth. He came up to double-check, then went to ring you. You can get signal in here.”
“What did he double-check?” Pru asked.
The students rolled their eyes. “That we hadn’t made a mistake and misidentified a body that was too old to be of interest to you. As though the Romans used plastic.”
“I thought you had to report all bodies, unless they were found properly interred in a burial ground.” Pru looked to Robin, who both shrugged and nodded.
“Always best to call us in.” He took another sip of tea. “Have you any idea of who the dead woman might be?”
Abby and Kirsty shared a How the hell are we supposed to know? glance before shaking their heads.
“I know, it sounds a daft question.” Robin smiled. “But you’d be surprised. People hear things, about somebody who’s gone missing but not been reported to the police, or rumours about odd happenings. Office gossip that turns out to have a basis in truth.”
“Sorry.” Kirsty shook her head again. “Nothing.”
“That mosaic’s a bit off, though,” Abby remarked. “I took a picture of it to send to my tutor. She reckons it’s totally the wrong design and era for this site. She said it looked like a Victorian antiquarian might have hacked it out of somewhere else.”
“Seems fishy,” Robin agreed. “It was definitely on top of the sheeting? The dead woman couldn’t have been holding it in her hands or anything?”
“I doubt it.” Kirsty frowned. “Not unless the plastic had all been disturbed already.”
“Thank you.” Robin took another swig of tea. He’d never be able to manage the entire mug. “We’ll get a constable up here to take formal statements from you both, as well as anybody else who’s on-site. You’d think somebody would have seen or heard something suspicious.”
Abby snorted. “Don’t count on it. I can think of people in my department who’d notice a flint flake three metres away but not spot a bollard until they walked into it.”
“Let’s hope you’re wrong.” Robin had an awful feeling she wouldn’t be.
Adam had just put the house phone down as Robin trudged through the front door. Campbell must have heard the approach of his “other” master well before Adam did, as he was ready and waiting to pounce.
“I wasn’t expecting you to be home so early,” Adam said, then gave his partner a kiss.
“Sorry about that. You’d better tell your sugar daddy to skedaddle.” Robin, dog in tow, edged towards the kitchen. “Was that him on the phone?”
“No. The usual ‘We’re from Microsoft and there’s something wrong with your computer.’ I always say, ‘Microsoft? That’s very interesting,’ then clam up. They panic and put the phone down.”
“Good tactic.” Robin yawned. “I told the team to make the most of this evening. Once we have an identification of the dead woman, it’ll be all hands to the deck.”
“Dinner won’t be long. Saturday’s chilli con carne from the freezer.”
“Sounds like heaven.” Robin kicked off his shoes. He’d texted earlier, from the site, to warn Adam a new investigation was afoot, although Adam had already guessed that was the case, as the incident had been on the local news feed. Once the folks from Culford villa had cancelled the school trip which was due the next day, and the characteristic blue-and-white police tape had appeared, word had spread.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not a lot to say at present.” Robin stroked Campbell’s ears.
“What’s that on your sleeve?”
“Where?” Robin twisted about.
“Left elbow. Looks like oil. Or rust. Or both.”
“That’s because it is oil. Sod.”
“Take it off and I’ll put something on it. There’s a can of Stain Devil under the sink.”
Robin slid the jacket off, grimacing at the smear on what he’d always described as one of his favourite items of clothing. “This cost me a small fortune. Got it in a little shop down an alley in Bath.”
“No wonder it cost so much.” Adam started work on the stain. Little domestic tasks such as this formed part of the process of bringing them closer and keeping them together. It was like being a married couple, only not quite.
“That jacket’s almost as precious to me as Campbell, even if it’s never saved my life.” Robin peered over Adam’s shoulder. “I rubbed up against some rust bucket of a truck in Culford car park. Must have done it then.”
“No wonder the people on Time Team always look like they’ve borrowed their outfits off the local scarecrows. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard.”
“Don’t you start. I feel like I’ve spent all day fending off daft ‘of course you’ve found a mosaic at a Roman site’ type quips.”
“Mosaic? There wasn’t anything about that on the news.” Adam, having performed first aid on the jacket, opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer and one of sparkling water.
“Just the water, please. I’ll keep the beer for when I really need it. Thanks.” Robin took the bottle. “And yes, we’ve kept the mosaic quiet for the moment.”
He gave a résumé of what they’d found out about that morning: the ground-penetrating survey, the possible bathhouse, the university students beginning to dig.
Adam winced when he reached the part about finding the body. “Poor girls. Do you think it’s worse to find a fresh corpse or an old one? Or are they equally gruesome?”
“You should ask Pru Davis that. I thought she was going to lose her breakfast, although she held it together in the end. Anyway, this bit of mosaic was on top of the body, a whole section of it embedded in whatever Romans used to hold their tesserae. I suspect the archaeology mob is more puzzled about that than about the dead woman. Wrong era, wrong place, wrong everything.”
“Sounds bloody peculiar. And who knows how it links to the murder.”
“It’ll make sense in the end.” Adam began to plate up their food. “Like a jigsaw when you can’t see where a particular bit goes until you’ve got the ones that fit round it. Then you say, ‘Bloody hell, I never realised it went there!’”
Robin grinned. “Are you always so aggressive when you do jigsaws?”
Adam made a face. “You know what I mean. Ooh, and before I forget, your mum rang. Must have heard about the case on the news and knew you’d have your nose stuck in it.”
“You leave my nose alone.” Robin chuckled. “Mum says I’ve got a cute nose.”
“She’d say you had a cute nose if you were Cyrano de Bergerac, though, wouldn’t she? Mums do. Anyway, she sends her love, says she’ll be thinking of you and you’re not to work too hard.”
“Fat chance of that.”
They gave the next few minutes over to eating and preventing the dog from stealing anything from their plates.
“It’ll upset your tummy, young man,” Robin said, fending off a furry snout. “Basket. Go on.”
Campbell grudgingly obeyed, curling up in his basket with a mortally offended look on his face.
“You can have a biscuit in a minute if you’re good. You as well,” Adam added, turning to address Robin rather than the dog. “Sandra got in some Abernethys from Waitrose. And Bonios for ‘himself’.”
“I have no idea how I survived in the past without a cleaner cum Jill-of-all-trades to pander to my every biscuit whim.”
“Oi!” Adam snorted. “What about me? How did you survive without a handsome teacher in your life?”
“I’ve no bloody idea about that, either.” Robin scooped up the last bit of food from his plate with a satisfied sigh. “Good cook, good lover, sympathetic ear. What more could a man want?”
“A quick solution to this case?”
Robin blew out his cheeks. “Too true. Not sure we’ll get it, though. Nothing useful showed up on the initial trawl through missing-persons reports, despite the description we have. Grace says she’s a slim thing, size eight or ten, perhaps, and that the clothes are standard UK brands like White Stuff and Fat Face. Preliminary thoughts are that she isn’t a visitor from abroad. Auburn hair, seems natural.”
Adam cleared away the plates, then put the kettle on. “Now we’ve finished eating, can I ask whether she’s recognisable?”
Robin winced. “Grace has a feeling the body was originally not wrapped in plastic. Something got at the face and had a gnaw.”
“Ew.” Adam raised his hand. “I get the picture. Don’t say any more or you’ll put Campbell off his Bonio.”
“I’ll get him one while you make a cuppa.”
“Deal.” Everything seemed more manageable with a cup of tea in one’s hand. “You said, ‘originally.’ Was she reburied?”
“Seems like it. Grace’s guess is somewhere around six months ago, give or take a bit either way. That supports what the site administrator said—they had a Community Payback group in to weed and dig over some of the tattier parts of the site. That would have been best part of a year ago, and she wasn’t in the ground then.”
“May sort of time?” Adam nodded. “And leaving a nice turned-over piece of ground for somebody to make use of. Who’d notice another bit of disturbance?”
“Indeed. Especially out there. They’d think it was a fox or badger having a poke. Look at the mess Campbell can make if we let him.”
The dog raised his head at the sound of his name, clearly decided there was no food involved in the conversation, and snuggled back down again with the remains of his biscuit.
“What are your thoughts on the mosaic?” Adam asked.
“No thoughts, simply questions, like how it entered the scene. Has it always been with the body? Was it put in the second time, or just lying around in the topsoil and got interred by accident or what?” Robin watched as the dog nibbled his biscuit. “I’ve never seen a hound who eats so daintily when he wants to.”
“He’s smart. He’s learned it makes the food last longer.” Adam couldn’t help but smile at the two beings he valued most. Campbell could easily have been envious of Robin suddenly appearing in his master’s life, but from the start he’d been as besotted with the policeman as Adam had been. “Smart but sentimental.”
“Then he takes after you.”
“Guilty as charged.” Adam kept an old mobile phone upstairs, SIM card intact, because it had saved the last text his grandfather had ever sent him. When he’d first told Robin about it, they’d both been in tears— He should get back to talking about the murder, or he’d be getting sentimental again. “Why did nobody notice that the area had been disturbed twice?”
“It wasn’t necessarily disturbed twice. The body might have been somewhere else the first time and moved because Culford was a better spot. That’s up to Grace and her cronies to work out. I get the impression the area was overgrown and ignored. They’ve had to clear a mass of weeds already.”
Adam nodded. “If you’d enough nous to choose your spot behind a bush and pick your time, I suppose you could get away with murder. Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound flippant.”
“I know. We all use those expressions too casually.” Robin strolled over, put his arms round Adam’s waist, and leaned into his back. “Next few days are going to be busy. If I forget to say ‘I love you,’ you won’t forget that it’s a fact, will you?”
“I promise.” Adam, thoughts heading trouser-wards, caressed Robin’s hand before the arrival of a pair of massive paws and a cold, wet nose broke the romantic moment.
“Yes, and we both love you too.” Robin stroked Campbell’s head. “Now hop it to your basket so Daddy can give Daddy a kiss.”
Eventually the dog got the message, but the kiss had barely started before the unwelcome tones of Robin’s phone interrupted it.
“Oh, hell. Sorry.” Robin grabbed it off the breakfast bar and managed, “Hello?” before heading for the hall. It had to be work, given the snatches of conversation Adam could hear; developments on the case, no doubt. Chances were Robin would have to go in to work again, just as the evening was looking promising. Hopefully the traffic wouldn’t be too bad at this time of the day so he could make a swift journey there and back.
Commuting from their house in Lindenshaw to both Abbotston and Culdover was viable, albeit logic kept telling them that a move would reduce travelling time for both. With the money from the sale of Robin’s flat, they had a sizeable deposit to lay down on another property, although it would have to be exactly the right place to warrant selling up their Lindenshaw home, especially given the house’s history. It had belonged to Adam’s grandparents, and it had been the site of all the significant moments in their romance, even when it hadn’t been an actual romance, simply an illicit longing between detective and witness.
Didn’t people reckon that moving house was a stressful experience at the best of times? So shouldn’t any potential move have to be worthwhile? And, of course, any prospective property would have to pass the most stringent of tests, specifically that of Campbell, who’d need to sniff every bush and tree in the garden to assess its suitability for leg cocking. And the residents of Lindenshaw wouldn’t appreciate having their favourite hound—much petted and fussed over by locals when he was taken out for walks—being relocated to a place where other lucky so-and-sos would be able to ruffle his fur and have his wet nose stuck on their legs.
“Sorry about that.” Robin’s reappearance in the kitchen roused Adam from his thoughts.
“You really don’t need to apologise about work calls any more than I do about the interminable marking and planning. It goes with the job.” Adam wrinkled his nose. “Time for that cuppa before you go?”
“Go?” Robin frowned. “Oh, no, this can wait until morning. We’ve had a report of a missing archaeologist. Right sort of age, although not from this area. London. Somebody saw the story on the BBC news website, remembered the lass disappearing, and got in touch. I’ll have to go up there, assuming that a more local or viable connection doesn’t turn up.”
Adam nodded. “I guess it’s dangerous to assume this poor lass is anything to do with Culdover.”
“I wish you’d tell that to some of the constables at Abbotston. Two plus two always makes five for them.” Robin, sighing, rubbed his eyes. “I hate it when there’s no identification. I’m going to double- and triple-check what we know about the missing woman against what we know about the corpse. Imagine if we go up there and spook her family and it turns out it’s not her?”
“God, that would be awful. They must be twitching each time the phone rings or the doorbell goes. Like she dies again every day, if that makes any sense.” Adam poured the tea—they needed it more than ever. “How can so many people simply go missing?”
Robin shrugged. “They’re not all abducted by loonies, certainly. Some of them must take ill and die when they’re miles from nowhere and don’t turn up for months or years. Thanks.”
They took their drinks and the packet of biscuits into the lounge.
“That can’t be many people, though, can it? To go unfound for so long? Britain isn’t exactly full of unpopulated areas.”
“True, but it does happen. More likely they decide to go off somewhere for whatever reason.”
“Made a break for freedom?” Adam, having got himself comfortable on the sofa, and Campbell comfortable—if a touch peeved—on the floor, managed to open the biscuit packet without too much damage to the contents and without intervention from black canine noses.
“Could be. People are complex. They do illogical things because it seems like a good idea at the time.” Robin dunked his biscuit for the required amount of time, then ate it with evident pleasure. “Maybe it gets to the point you can’t face returning home because of all the fuss and the shame, so you stay put and it just gets worse with every day that passes.”
Good point. Putting off dealing with matters only made them worse, and it would surely get to the stage where it made them impossible. “What if she’s missing and hasn’t been reported, though? That happens, doesn’t it?”
“It does.” Robin’s brow puckered. “Even in these days of social media overkill and constant communication, people quietly disappear or are made to disappear. If this girl was here illegally, we might have the devil’s own job of finding out who she is—was—despite doing facial reconstructions. The fact that she had no ID suggests somebody didn’t want her name coming to light in the event that her body did.”
“Unless she was killed in a robbery that went wrong. Purse and whatever taken for their contents as opposed to anything else.”
“True, oh genius.” Robin took another swig of tea. “They host lots of school trips at Culford, I understand.”
“Yeah. Most of the Culdover schools use the place for trips, and there’s an activity centre near Tythebarn that always takes the kids over for a day.”
“Ever taken your class there?”
“No. Culdover Primary uses it for a year four visit, but Lindenshaw never utilised the place, I’m afraid. Too infra dig, if you’ll excuse the pun. Oh.” The penny dropped. “I get it. You want to know if I have a connection to this case too.”
“Well, I have to ask.” Robin grinned sheepishly. “Just promise me you won’t let yourself get involved this time.”
“You make it sound as though I deliberately try to. I don’t. Your cases want to embroil me no matter how much I attempt to keep out of things.”
Campbell opened one sleepy eye, as though agreeing that Robin’s murder investigations seemed to want to involve them all, him included.
“If you do end up finding you have a connection to Culford, I’m not sure if I’ll want to know. Even if it turns out you dropped a ring pull in the play area and it has your fingerprints on it.”
“You can count that out, for a start. I visited the villa when I was a boy, but I’ve not been there since, and I don’t think any ring pull would be mine. Mum would have killed me if she’d caught me dropping litter. And I didn’t see anyone burying a body.” Adam paused a moment, feigning deep thought. “No teachers of my acquaintance gone missing, either.”
“Pillock.” Robin slapped his arm. “You never went out with any archaeologists? Sat on a committee with one? Did jury service when one was on trial?”
Adam rolled his eyes at the reference to two of Robin’s previous cases, both of which had been a bit too close to home. Even before they met, they’d both derided those television shows where friends of the detective—or his daughter, in one case—were always linked to the corpse or the suspects. Neither had dreamed that could apply in real life, but Robin’s two recent murder cases had disproved that, although technically that connection had been the outcome of the first case. Still, random events clustered, didn’t they? So hopefully they’d had their cluster and could move on safely.
Adam hadn’t expected that murder would never cross their paths again, given Robin’s job and the fact that the villages of England were as full of jealousy and other fiery emotions as the cities. And the prevalence of legitimately held and used shotguns—or golf clubs or any other potential implements of death—gave means as well as motive or opportunity. Probably easier to hide a body, welcome to that, which was just what this case showed.
“No, no, and thrice no. I swear,” he replied at last, hoping that vow wouldn’t come back to haunt him. He’d seen one dead body and was in no hurry to repeat the experience.
“Right.” Robin grabbed another biscuit and held it in mid-air, pre-dunk. “Not another word about this case until we have some proper evidence to go on. And what’s so funny?”
“Sorry.” Adam managed to get the word out despite the laughter. “You reminded me of an old joke. The one about all the loos being stolen from the cop shop, so the police had nothing to go on.”
“I’ll give you bloody nothing to go on.” Robin laid down both mug and undunked biscuit, pounced at Adam, and tickled him mercilessly down the sides of his ribs.
“Hey! Stop! You’ll spill my tea.”
“That’s not all that will spill if I get my way.”
“Promises, promises.” Adam put his mug on the table. Might as well take advantage of the offer because who knew when they’d have the chance again? Murders meant long hours, late nights, and knackered policemen whose thoughts were too tired to descend to their pants. He leaned in for a smacker of a kiss.
“That was good. For starters.” Robin’s lascivious grin could have turned the iciest libido to butter. “What about—”
Once more Robin’s phone interrupted them.
“Sorry,” he said, picking it up off the table.
“I told you to stop saying that.” Adam forced a grin. A second call so hard on the heels of the first couldn’t be good news and surely meant Robin’s return to the station.
“Oh, hi.” Robin halted halfway to the door. “How’s life?” Not the station, by the sound of it. “Yes, if we can. Depends what it is.” Robin turned to mouth what looked like the name “Anderson.” Hopefully this was just a social call from his old sergeant that could soon be dealt with, letting them get back to the matter in hand.
“Bloody hell!” Robin sat down heavily in the armchair. “When? Why?”
Adam, infuriated at only hearing half the conversation, helped himself to a consolatory biscuit. The worried expression on Robin’s face and the way he’d settled into his chair suggested he was in for the long haul. As it turned out, though, the call was surprisingly short, with Robin saying, “Okay, I think that’ll be all right, so long as it’s short term,” then making a helpless gesture at Adam.
“What the hell’s going on?” Adam mouthed, but his partner simply gritted his teeth and rolled his eyes. Things must be bad.
“I guess you got that was Anderson,” Robin said after the call ended.
“Yeah. Sounded ominous, whatever it was.”
“It is. Helen’s chucked him out.”
“What?” Stuart Anderson had been living with his teacher girlfriend for years, and everyone at Stanebridge seemed to regard them as an old married couple, even if they hadn’t actually tied the knot. Although Robin always said he wouldn’t have been amazed if it turned out they’d been married years ago, and Anderson hadn’t mentioned the fact to any of his workmates. Helen never wearing a wedding ring seemed to argue against that, though. “What’s he done?”
“According to him, he didn’t do anything. She’s been edgy for days, and this evening it all exploded.” Robin retrieved his tea, took a sip, then winced. It had no doubt turned tepid. “She says he can pack a bag and hit the road.”
“But surely she gave some sort of explanation?”
“Apparently, she said that if he didn’t know what he’d done, she wasn’t going to tell him.”
“Ouch.” Adam gave Campbell, who looked distressed at the goings-on, a conciliatory pat. “What a mess. What’s he going to do? Ah.” The sheepish expression on Robin’s face answered the question. “He’s staying here, isn’t he? Presumably he cadged a bed, seeing as I didn’t hear you offer.”
“You should be a detective.” Robin patted his arm. “He hasn’t got any family around here, and I suspect we’re the people he trusts most, in this area. It’ll only be for a few days until he sorts himself out.”
“Or works out what he’s done and apologises for it?” Adam remembered the penultimate assembly he’d attended at Lindenshaw school, how it had centred on the Good Samaritan; that’s how they were being called to act. “I’d better get the spare bed ready. You can find him some towels.”
Robin started to clear away the remains of their tea and biscuits. “Sorry about our romantic night in being spoiled.”
“You can make it up to me when he’s gone or when the murder’s solved. Whichever comes first. Hopefully the former.” Adam halted halfway out of the lounge door. “What does he eat for breakfast?”
“Whatever we put in front of him. Beggars can’t be choosers.”
Beggars. Adam shivered. “Maybe that’s how it started with your dead woman. Row with the other half, or with her parents. Sofa surfing until her mates got fed up with it. Nobody realised she’d slipped out of the loop until it was too late.”
“Now who’s putting two and two together and getting five?” Robin edged over to give him a hug, encumbered by mugs and plate—and a dog that wanted to be involved—but a hug nonetheless. “We won’t let him end up on the streets.”
“Good. Only I wouldn’t want him to end up living here permanently, either. I mean, he’s a nice bloke and all that, but three’s a crowd. Four . . .” he added, glancing at Campbell.
Robin grinned. “Yeah. Better get practicing our relationship advice.”
The lies, the manipulations, the intrigue! This story has them all in spades. Nothing is face value and the shady characters abound. . . . These books are witty, the banter between the MCs entertaining, and the mystery is always just that, a mystery to be solved.
This was just on the whole an entirely enjoyable story.
The relationship between Robin and Adam shows significant growth as a couple, which was enjoyable. They are truly committed to one another, with a future that seems realistic.