Two Feet Under (Lindenshaw Mysteries, #3)
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.
Word Count: 87,600
Page Count: 328
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Series: Lindenshaw Mysteries
Release Date: 01/06/2018
Release Date: 01/08/2018