Jury of One (Lindenshaw Mysteries, #2)
This title is #2 of the Lindenshaw Mysteries series.
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Inspector Robin Bright is enjoying a quiet Saturday with his lover, Adam Matthews, when murder strikes in nearby Abbotston, and he’s called in to investigate. He hopes for a quick resolution, but as the case builds, he’s drawn into a tangled web of crimes, new and old, that threatens to ensnare him and destroy his fledgling relationship.
Adam is enjoying his final term teaching at Lindenshaw School, and is also delighted to be settling down with Robin at last. Only Robin doesn’t seem so thrilled. Then an old crush of Adam’s shows up in the murder investigation, and suddenly Adam is yet again fighting to stay out of one of Robin’s cases, to say nothing of trying to keep their relationship from falling apart.
Between murder, stabbings, robberies, and a suspect with a charming smile, the case threatens to ruin everything both Robin and Adam hold dear. What does it take to realise where your heart really lies, and can a big, black dog hold the key?
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Robin Bright wiped the residual shaving cream from his face and grinned at his reflection in the mirror. Life tasted good, better than it had in a long time. Work was going well, with a promotion to detective chief inspector on the cards, but that wasn’t the only thing making him so happy. He had plenty of blessings in his private life, and if he was counting them, the number one was at present down in the kitchen, clattering about. And Robin’s second-best blessing was probably sitting in his basket, chewing on dog biscuits and hoping somebody might throw the end of a sausage in his direction.
Was it only a year ago that he’d have woken on a Saturday morning with nothing more to look forward to than the delights of washing and ironing, accompanied by the radio commentary of Spurs getting thrashed by the Arsenal? He used to hope the phone would go, calling him in to work because a gang of little scrotes had misbehaved on Friday night. How things had changed.
“Are you going to be in there forever?” Adam Matthews’s voice sounded from downstairs. “Your tea’s going to get cold.”
“I’ll be down soon. Got to get my shirt on.”
“Yeah. You don’t want to scare the postwoman again.” The sound of footsteps and the thud of the kitchen door indicated that Adam had gone back to making breakfast.
Robin took a final glance at the mirror, decided he’d do, and went off to find his favourite T-shirt. Hopefully his phone would keep silent today so a proper shirt and tie wouldn’t be needed; surely a man deserved his relaxation time? In the meantime he should get his backside downstairs before Adam sent Campbell, the huge black Newfoundland that shared their lives—when he couldn’t share their bed—to fetch him.
“Smells good.” Robin soaked up the delicious aromas as he came into the kitchen.
“Me or the crepes?” Adam expertly flipped a pancake. “Can you let himself into the garden? I suspect he’s bursting.”
“He probably doesn’t want to go out in case he misses a crumb falling on the floor.” Robin opened the back door and eased the dog outside, with a promise that they’d keep him some of their breakfast.
The radio was on, the relentlessly cheerful tones of the Monkees forming a standard part of Radio 2’s Saturday morning fodder. Adam’s well-nigh tuneless tones competed with Davy Jones’s much more melodious ones as they encouraged Sleepy Jean to cheer up.
“Just as well you didn’t sing for those kids.” Robin let Campbell back in. “You’d never have got the job.”
Adam had recently been interviewed—successfully—for a deputy headship that he’d be taking up at the start of the next term. The recruitment ordeal had included being grilled by the school council, who’d insisted that each candidate sing them a song. Adam, being a smart cookie, had managed to persuade the kids to do the singing instead, and they’d loved him for it.
“Look at me ignoring that.” Adam produced a stack of pancakes from the oven, where they’d obviously been keeping warm. “Get some of those inside you. Busy day.”
More than busy. Lunch with Adam’s mum, followed by a bit of shopping, trying to navigate the tricky issue of what Robin’s mother might want for her birthday. What do you get for the woman who insists that all she wants is for you not to be at work so you can share her birthday dinner?
“I just hope the bloody phone doesn’t go.”
“So do I. Can’t you put it onto divert and make the call go through to Anderson?”
“He’d kill me if I did.” There was another blessing, Anderson still being on Robin’s team, making snarky remarks and useful leaps of deduction. “Or at least put laxative in my coffee.”
Adam sniggered. “You need to make the most of him. He won’t be with you forever.”
“True.” Anderson’s promotion was on the horizon, as well. He’d proved himself a bloody good copper, as Robin had.
“Even Campbell likes him, and that dog’s no fool.”
“He’s an excellent judge of character.” Robin stirred his tea. “I wish there were more like Anderson in the force. People who don’t think themselves above being civil and pleasant to the old salts who’ll be walking the beat until their retirement.”
“More clones of you, then?”
“Why not?” Robin didn’t like to boast, but he knew he did his job well. He’d won plenty of friends on the way up, and when they neared retirement, he’d be on his way to becoming superintendent. “It’s not hard to do the job. Keep nicking people, keep your nose clean, and keep your paperwork up to date.”
“Yes, sah!” Adam saluted, then tucked in to his breakfast.
Robin had put away his third pancake and was eyeing a fourth when his mobile phone sounded. Adam made his eye-rolling “I hope that’s not work” face, although the bloke was getting used to being at the beck and call of Stanebridge police headquarters. You couldn’t expect anything else when you’d hitched up to a rozzer.
Robin grabbed the phone. “Robin Bright speaking.”
“Cowdrey here.” His boss’s not-so-dulcet tones came down the line. “Sorry to interrupt your Saturday morning, Robin, but we’ve got a tricky one. Bloke got killed last night, a stone’s throw from the Florentine restaurant, in Abbotston. Bit off our patch, but the local superintendent’s a friend of mine and wants us to handle things. His team’s tied up with those attacks.”
Abbotston, fifteen miles away, was twice the size of Stanebridge, with a crime rate four times as high, and its very own ongoing crisis. “The Abbotston Slasher,” the papers had christened whoever was making the knife attacks, although that title smacked more of Carry On films than the terrifying reality: three young women stabbed these last three months, each on the eve of the new moon, and one of them had died of her wounds. The moon would be new again tonight; Robin guessed leave had been cancelled and any unexplained death not related to the case would be an unwelcome distraction.
“Never rains but it pours, does it, sir?”
“Pours? It’s bloody torrential. There’s the cup tie, as well.”
“Oh hell, I’d forgotten about that.” Millwall hitting the town, to play non-league Abbotston Alexandra. Even their cleaning lady was going to the match. Robin mouthed Sorry at Adam, then grabbed a pen and notepad.
“What do we know about the murder, sir?”
“It happened about three o’clock this morning. A couple of passers-by found the victim alive, just, although unconscious, and they called an ambulance. He didn’t make it beyond the operating theatre. Died at six o’clock. ” Cowdrey sounded short of breath; he was corpulent, asthmatic but as hard as nails. “Stabbed four times at least.”
“Any leads?” Robin, while making notes, was already building up a picture. The Florentine was an upmarket kind of a restaurant to get stabbed near, the sort nominally run by an up-and-coming television personality chef. It attracted punters from across the Home Counties. Perhaps, he thought—irreverently and guiltily—the dead man was one of the waiters and the murderer had been a customer incensed at the size of the bill?
Whatever was going on, there was a guarded edge to the chief superintendent’s voice as he continued. “The men who found him reckoned he’d been drinking at a local bar earlier, and got himself into a fight there in the process. We got called in with the ambulance and managed to start taking statements at the club concerned. One of these all-night-opening places.” The slight hesitation in Cowdrey’s voice made Robin stiffen; he could guess what was coming.
“Which bar was this, sir?”
The Desdemona. Robin had been there once or twice, back when he was single; it wasn’t a bad sort of a place. It was on the pricey side, but the decor was tasteful, and there were neither slot machines nor TV screens to ruin the atmosphere. It was about two hundred yards from the Florentine, both of them in the posh part of Abbotston. And the bar flew a rainbow flag outside, which was presumably one of the reasons why he was being put onto the case when the local boys needed a hand.
“Homophobic element, sir?” Might as well ask the obvious.
“Too early to say.” Cowdrey exhaled, loudly. “Sorry, but I think your Saturday’s ruined. I’ll call Anderson and get him to meet you at the scene.”
“Thanks. I’ll be there in half an hour or so. Less if the traffic’s kind.” Robin ended the call, looked longingly at the fourth pancake, and decided to snaffle it now. It could be a while before he got anything else to eat today. At least Lindenshaw, where Adam lived, was the right side of Stanebridge for getting to Abbotston quickly.
“A case?” Adam said in the supportive tones—supportive but with an edge of resignation—he used on these occasions.
“Yeah. A bloke’s been murdered. Stabbing,” Robin said between mouthfuls.
“Blimey. It’s getting like Morse’s Oxford round here.” Adam half filled Robin’s mug. “Here, wash those pancakes down.”
“Thanks. And this is hardly Morse country. It’s only the second murder investigation I’ve led on.”
“That’s two too many.” Adam patted Robin’s hand. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be so tetchy.”
“I should be the one apologising. For buggering up the weekend.”
“It’s not your fault, it’s your job. Like marking a ton of books is mine.” Adam smiled. “And it’s best part of a year since the last one, so I shouldn’t complain, even though I probably will. Where did it happen?”
“It’s not our patch, thank goodness. Abbotston.” Robin let his guilt subside under the details of the case. “Near that posh restaurant with the Michelin star.”
“The one we could never afford to eat at?” Adam’s eyebrows shot up.
“That’s the one. Don’t think the victim ate there either. He’d been at the Desdemona, earlier.”
“The Desdemona? Did they bring you in because . . .?” Adam finished the question with another lift of his eyebrows.
“Because I’m a bloody good copper?” Robin grinned, then swigged down the tea before going over to give Adam a kiss. “No. My boss is bosom buddies with the local detective superintendent, so it was a case of helping out an old mate. The local guys are up to their eyeballs with these attacks on women, and if whoever’s doing it plays to form, there’s likely to be another tonight.”
“I know. Sally at the school lives over there, and she won’t go out after dark.” Adam gave Robin’s cheek a squeeze. “You look after yourself, right? I don’t want you getting stabbed.”
“Yes, Mother.” Robin swiped an apple from the fruit bowl, on the principle that it might be as much lunch as he’d get, then legged it upstairs to put on that bloody shirt and tie.
Abbotston wasn’t the kind of place Robin could warm to. The posh parts were much posher than anything Stanebridge had to offer, but it lacked character, except in some of the outlying areas where villages had been absorbed. The centre had been bombed during the war, and the rebuilding programme had been typically 1950s: utilitarian and horribly ugly. Part of it had seen recent redevelopment, and the Florentine was located there.
The telltale blue-and-white police tape surrounded a piece of concreted hardstanding behind an estate agent’s office next to the restaurant—probably where he or she parked their big, swanky car. The area was partially hidden from the street and not likely to be well lit at night, so you’d avoid it if you were female and the new moon was about to appear. Within its boundaries, a solitary crime scene investigator was finishing off his painstaking task.
Robin noted the groups of people gathered on the pavement, who stood for a while watching, then went about their normal Saturday morning business with the added bonus of a mystery to speculate about. Who, why, when? The word would soon get around. The local news was probably already carrying it, and people would watch, wonder, and just as soon forget. Robin wouldn’t be able to do that until the culprit had been brought to book.
According to Cowdrey, who’d briefed Robin on arrival at the scene, the victim had left the Desdemona, turned east, and headed up the main road, towards the smart new block of flats about a mile away, which, according to the business cards the CSI had found on his body, was the contact address he gave. It also turned out to be where the man lived. That was a mystery in itself, not because it was so unusual to work from home, but because he’d have had to double back to get to this end of town.
Thomas Hatton, Tax Consultant.
They’d found the victim’s wallet seemingly intact, so robbery didn’t appear to have been the motive. Hatton’s keys had been in his pocket too, and, once the CSI had finished at the scene, the police were going to have to work through the dead man’s flat, trying to build up a picture of him.
Four stab wounds indicated to Robin that hatred or some other deep passion had been involved. Though the police couldn’t rule out a random attack from somebody who was so drunk or drugged up that they didn’t know what they were doing.
He looked up and down the road. If Hatton had initially been heading home, why had he taken a detour and ended up here? Had he met someone en route and been walking with them? The early reports were that he’d left the club alone.
“Surprised nobody saw him being attacked, sir.” Sergeant Anderson’s voice at his shoulder made Robin jump.
“Must you creep up on people?”
Anderson grinned. “Reconstruction. I’ve proved the victim could have been crept up on. Assuming he hadn’t come along here voluntarily with his killer. Into a dark car park for a bit of slap and tickle, perhaps?”
“I’m not sure why anybody would have come up here.” Robin shrugged. It might be as simple as a few minutes of fun gone horribly wrong. “Hardly Lovers’ Lane.”
“Some people appreciate the sleazy aspect. I wonder why he wasn’t heard, either. Did he shout out? Or did he know whoever killed him, and get taken off guard?”
Robin nodded. Certainly children were most at risk from people they knew and trusted, family and friends being more dangerous statistically than strangers were. The same applied, if to a lesser extent, to adults. “Does it get that busy round here in the middle of the night? That you’d not be seen or heard?”
“Fridays and Saturdays, yes, or so my mates say. Clubs and bars turning out. The men who found him had been drinking not far from here. Not one of your haunts?”
“No,” Robin replied, coldly. “I can’t help wondering if these local drinkers are so universally sloshed that they wouldn’t notice somebody running away covered in blood? This would have got messy for the killer.”
“Some of the people who roll out of clubs are so far gone they wouldn’t notice if aliens invaded.” Anderson rolled his eyes. “Point taken, though.”
“I suppose if you had a big enough coat, one that you discarded for the attack and then put on again, you could have hidden a multitude of sins.” Especially under street lighting that would have been hazy at best. “If the killer made his or her way off into the residential area, they could have easily gone to ground. That’s supposed to be a complete rabbit warren.”
“You don’t like Abbotston, do you?”
“Not even the football team?” Anderson didn’t wait for a response. “I wouldn’t have minded getting called in for cup tie duty.”
“You enjoy aggro?” Abbotston Alexandra’s stunning progress through the early rounds of the FA Cup was about to be put to an end by a Millwall team who were having a great league run and whose supporters had a nasty reputation. All in all, Abbotston wasn’t a nice place to be at present.
Anderson made a face. “It would make more sense to escape up by the apartment blocks than to go along the main road. Unless you had a car waiting for you, then you’d slip in and Bob’s your uncle.” And a car wouldn’t have necessarily attracted attention at chucking-out time if things did get that busy, because there’d have been taxis milling around and people getting lifts home.
“That lack of noise bothers me. Even if Hatton was attacked suddenly by somebody he knew, he was stabbed time and again, so why didn’t he call out?”
“Maybe he did and the noise got swallowed up among the traffic. Or it coincided with some rowdy mob coming out of the Indian restaurant.” Anderson gestured vaguely along the road.
“Or, if he knew his attacker, that line of thought may be irrelevant because he could have let them get close enough to put a hand over his mouth.” Robin shook his head. Too much speculation and no proper evidence to go on, yet.
Robin glanced towards the pavement, the other side of the tape, where Cowdrey was talking to Wendy May, a young, tired-looking WPC, who’d been called the previous night to help take statements from the people at the Desdemona. Whose idea had it been to send a female, black officer into the club to accompany the white, male, local officers? Had someone seen the rainbow flag—or known of the establishment’s clientele—and decided that if they couldn’t find a gay officer, then some other minority member would have to do?
He wasn’t being fair, and he shouldn’t make snap judgements. WPC May was described as an excellent copper, but he’d always been sensitive to outbreaks of political correctness. It was a weakness he found hard to overcome. People said a gay copper would have opportunities galore to get on the force if he displayed any talent. And possibly if he didn’t; the powers that be wanted minority officers to hold up as examples of the constabulary’s open-mindedness.
It grated. Somehow being condescended to in such a way was as bad as coming up against rampant discrimination. Adam felt the same.
“Inspector Bright. Sergeant Anderson.” Cowdrey called them over. “WPC May has been updating me on the statements she took with Inspector Root. He’s gone to get a couple of hours’ sleep before this evening.” They all nodded.
“Is there anything to follow up, sir?” Robin liked presenting the superintendent with opportunities to show off his knowledge. It made the man happy and by some reverse psychology seemed to give Cowdrey the impression that Robin was a particularly bright spark.
“Hatton was involved in a scuffle inside the Desdemona club. He and the other man were ejected at about twelve forty-five. The doorman made sure they went off in opposite directions.”
Twelve forty-five. That left the best part of two hours unaccounted for.
“Do we know who the other man was?” Anderson asked the superintendent.
Cowdrey shook his head. “Seems like no one had seen him there before. Someone called him Radar, but that wound him up, so it’s not a lot of use.”
Radar? That was a character in a show they ran on the classic-comedy channel; maybe he was a fan? Or an air traffic controller, or one of a hundred other things. “I suppose it would have been easy enough for this ‘Radar’ to double back or go around the block and meet up with the victim again? How long would that take, May?”
“To get here? About four times as much as going direct. It wouldn’t take two hours, though.” The constable stifled a yawn.
Cowdrey adopted a paternally encouraging expression. “You’ve done a good job here, given us a start. Before you get some rest, can we pick your brains? Who would you follow up first out of the people you spoke to? You met them; we didn’t.”
May nodded. “As I said previously, sir, there was only one I think needs further questioning at the moment, and I’ve put his statement at the top of the pile. Max Worsley. I know it’s only a gut feeling, but I’m certain he knew more than he was saying.”
“Thank you. Go and put your feet up.” Cowdrey turned to Robin, handing him a dossier stuffed with paper. “There you are, Bright. Not often you get a murder to keep you two out of mischief.”
“Thank God for that, sir.”
“Think of it as good for your careers.” Cowdrey nodded at Anderson, then left, ushering May with him.
“Good for our careers?” Anderson snorted. “Only if we don’t make a pig’s ear of it.”
“Too true.” Robin looked at the dossier, glanced at where the murder had happened, then puffed out his cheeks. “I’m assuming we rule out a link to the Slasher?”
“Don’t you always tell me never to assume?” Anderson flashed his cheeky grin. “Can’t make an obvious connection, though. Victim’s the wrong sex; wounds aren’t in the same places.”
“That’s what I thought.” It would, however, be unwise to dismiss a connection entirely; last night had seen the appropriate phase of the moon. He noted the address on the statement. “Right. Get your phone and find out where Sandy Street is. Let’s see if this Worsley bloke has surfaced this morning.”
Sandy Street was in the part of Abbotston that had been developed back in Victorian times, when the railway arrived, best part of a mile from where Hatton had been found. The quality of the properties shot up a notch as they turned the corner in Worsley’s road.
“Number twenty-one will be on the left side.” Robin peered at the numbers. “Looks like you should be lucky with a parking space.”
They drew up outside an elegant town house; the column of names and bell pushes showed it had been divided into flats, though the facade was well maintained and there wasn’t the air of seediness there usually was about such conversions. They rang, gave their names and purpose over the intercom, were let in, and went up to the top floor. Worsley—a muscular bloke with two days of stubble and a gorgeous smile—was waiting for them at the turn of the stairs.
“It’s about last night.” Anderson dutifully flashed his warrant card. “One or two things we need to clarify.”
“Come in, I was just making myself some coffee. Bit of a late night. Want some?”
“I wouldn’t say no.” Anderson looked at Robin hopefully.
“Count me in as well.”
Worsley ushered them into a little dining area, set in a corner of the lounge, with a view of the local rooftops. A vase of flowers on the table and another on the bookshelves helped fill the place with colour. Worsley soon appeared, bearing coffee-filled china mugs, leaving the policemen to juggle with drinks, notebooks, and pens.
“Did you see either of the men who were in the scuffle at any other part of the evening?”
“Not really. I was too busy drinking and chatting with friends.”
Drinking with friends? Robin was trying to find a subtle way to phrase the natural follow-up question when Anderson cut in with, “Do you go to the Desdemona a lot?”
“As often as I can. Even my straight pals hang out at the place. I assume the question actually meant ‘am I gay?’” Worsley grinned.
“Not at all.” Anderson, if he’d been wrong-footed, made a swift recovery. “I was trying to establish if you were a regular there, in case you could tell us whether Hatton or the man he fought with had been at the club before.”
“My apologies. And no, I’ve never seen them there before. Not that I remember, anyway.”
Robin took a swig of coffee, earning some thinking time. What had May picked up that made her think Worsley had more to say? They couldn’t ignore the fact that he lived relatively close to the scene of the crime, and it was possible that he could have left the club, done the deed, run home to clean himself up, and returned to the Desdemona later, bold as brass.
“Have there ever been similar incidents near the Desdemona? Or the Florentine?” Anderson—eyes darting about—was clearly taking in the flat, maybe searching for clues. “Not necessarily stabbings, but trouble of any sort.”
“Not that I remember. The Desdemona’s a pretty staid place. Matches the area. Very quiet part of Abbotston. Safe.” Worsley shrugged and drank his coffee.
“And is there anything else, however small or insignificant it might seem, that you can add to what you told WPC May last night?” Robin was on the verge of closing his notebook and leaving.
Worsley’s face became guarded, as if he was weighing his options. “What do you know about Hatton? Come to think of it, what do you know about me?”
Well spotted, WPC May. Looks like you were right about him knowing more than he’d let on. Adam would be giving you a house point if you were in his class.
Robin shared a wary glance with his sergeant before replying. “Very little. Hatton’s business card says he was a tax consultant . . .”
“Tax consultant? I suppose he might have been by now, assuming he’d left GCHQ.”
“GCHQ?” Alarm bells started to go off in Robin’s head. “Do you mean Hatton was involved with the secret services? How on earth do you know that?”
“The answers to those are, in order, ‘yes,’ ‘he used to be,’ and ‘I did some computer work for them and saw him there.’” Worsley grinned again, the sort of grin that made Robin uncomfortable around the collar. If he didn’t know better, he’d say he was being flirted with.
You’re not my type, dear. And anyway, I’m already spoken for.
“Let me get this right,” Anderson said. “You saw him there? How long ago was that?”
“Oh . . .” Worsley wrinkled his brow. “Three years?”
“Three years and you remembered him?”
“Yes. I have a photographic memory for faces, especially handsome ones, and he was a real silver fox. How I hadn’t clocked him in the bar before the fight, I don’t know. Maybe because it was crazy busy.”
Maybe. If he was telling the truth.
“I’m bloody useless with names, unfortunately.” Worsley carried on, oblivious. “I must have seen him around and about GCHQ perhaps half a dozen times over the course of a month, even though I wasn’t working in his department.”
“I suppose you can’t tell us what you were doing there?” Anderson asked.
“Afraid not. Official Secrets Act and all that, although I’m sure you can verify my security clearance and the like, if you need to make sure I’m a good, reliable boy.”
“We will, believe me.” Anderson had clearly taken a dislike to this particular witness. “Did you notice anybody else you recognised from GCHQ while you were at the club?”
“No. Should I have?” Worsley appeared to be equally disenchanted with the sergeant.
“Please. We’re only trying to find out who killed Hatton,” Robin reminded them both. “You work in computing?”
“Yeah, part of a consultancy. Helping to put in new systems or troubleshooting old ones.” Worsley ran his finger round the rim of his mug. “And in answer to an earlier question, I have no idea if he was gay. He certainly didn’t give the impression of being on the pull last night.”
Robin nodded, but he’d keep an open mind on that point for the moment. “You said you saw Hatton half a dozen times. Ever speak to him?”
“Not back at GCHQ.”
Worsley shrugged. “No.”
“What about the other guy in the fight?” Anderson asked. “Did you interact with him? You said you’d ‘not really’ seen either of them. Is that a yes or a no?”
“It’s a qualified no. Unless you count me saying ‘thank you’ when he held the door to the men’s toilets open. And for the record,” he added, with a sharp glance at Anderson, “nothing goes on in those toilets.”
“I never said anything.” Anderson raised his hands in a gesture of innocence that clearly fooled nobody. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in us trying the old ‘do you know of anyone who had a grudge against Hatton’ question? Or whether you’ve got any further bombshells to drop?”
“No, I’m sorry.” Worsley’s regret sounded genuine enough. “Although if that changes, I’ll get back to you. Have you a contact number?”
Robin produced a card with the relevant details on it. “This is the Stanebridge police station number, but someone there can make sure I get any message; I’ll ring you back.”
“Okie dokie.” Worsley took the card, studied it, then put it in his wallet. “Just as well I’ve got this, because I’ll never remember your names.”
“Don’t put yourself out remembering mine.” Anderson pushed back his chair, signalling that the interview was finished.
Robin made an apologetic face, smoothing over the awkwardness with some platitudes, before getting Anderson through the door. They were halfway down the stairs and out of earshot before he asked, “What rattled your cage?”
“Him. He put my back up.” Anderson made a face, as though even referring to Worsley left a bad taste in his mouth. “We should keep an eye on him.”
“And is that based on anything other than the fact he narked you?”
Anderson grinned. “Call it instinct. Anyway, if Hatton was still involved with GCHQ when he died, this is likely to get messy.”
Robin nodded. Murder wasn’t something he had a broad experience of, with the exception—the wonderful exception—of the case that had brought Adam across his path. Terrorism was outside his experience entirely. Of course, Hatton might have been acting as nothing more than a tax consultant at the time of his death, or that could be a cover story; they’d have to wait for further information.
“We’ll get back to the station and plough through the rest of the statements first.” They’d reached the car, although Robin stopped and took a deep breath before getting in. “And we’ll get Davis to work her usual magic on the background stuff.”
“Sounds good. She’ll love you for spoiling her weekend.” Anderson grimaced.
“She can join the club. Your Helen won’t have been happy at you getting called in.”
Anderson shrugged. “She’s got a hen do tonight, so she’s glad to have me out from under her feet.”
“I’ll volunteer you for more Saturday jobs, then.” Adam wouldn’t be so glad. He accepted the long hours as part of a policeman’s lot, in the same way he worked every hour God sent at times, but they’d got used to having their weekends together. Robin was ready to go, but Anderson seemed to be lost in thought. “Are you thinking about the earache you’ll get if I keep screwing up your weekends?”
“No. I’m trying to work out why he bugs me.” Anderson jerked his thumb towards the house. “He’ll be trouble. Mark my words.”
“I will.” Robin started up the engine. Trouble? Robin couldn’t work out how. But the nagging voice in his head reminded him that Anderson had been right about this kind of thing before.
Adam and Campbell took advantage of having time on their own by taking a Saturday morning run. Since Robin had moved in, they’d had to adapt to a new routine, and while Adam wasn’t complaining—a change of habits was far preferable to an empty space in his heart—sometimes it was nice to slip back into bachelor ways. Campbell clearly appreciated the opportunity as well, straining at his lead to urge Adam on to faster speeds.
Mum would be sad not to see Robin at lunch, though, given her soft spot for him, and Campbell couldn’t take his place at the restaurant, no matter how much he’d have relished the chance. She often said she was lucky she got to see Robin at all; in fact, it seemed like a miracle that he and Robin got to spend any time together, given the hours they both put in. Thank God the Stanebridge crime rate wasn’t soaring, particularly in the school holidays when there wasn’t quite so much work to call on Adam’s time.
“Slow down, Campbell.” Adam pulled on the lead, trying to restrain the dog’s enthusiasm. “I’ve got a lot to do today, and you’ll wear me out before I’ve even started.”
And he’d have to do it on his own, given that Robin wasn’t likely to be back until late. Murder or child abduction took priority over everything else, as did this Abbotston Slasher business. Sally, one of the learning support assistants in the infants’ part of the school, wasn’t the type to panic, being used to dealing with children with bodily fluids coming out of every orifice at once. She was kind but formidable; Adam wouldn’t have liked to meet her in a dark alleyway if she bore him a grudge. Even so, she was locking her door in the evening and never going out alone at night, if only to put the bins on the pavement, irrespective of the phase of the moon. Apparently her neighbours were similarly edgy. It didn’t help that she knew one of the victims, although said victim refused to discuss how awful the experience had been for her.
“Murder’s never nice, is it, Campbell?” Adam hadn’t intended to voice his thoughts, but they’d come out anyway. Just as well there was nobody but the dog within earshot.
The repercussions spread wider than the victim and his or her family; Adam knew that from experience. Those in the vicinity of the crime, witnesses to it, and those who ended up under suspicion all suffered. And the poor bloody rozzers, as Robin kept reminding him, had to mop up the mess while juggling too many balls, not least the interest of the media. What chance of the national press keeping away if there turned out to be a link to the Florentine and its celebrity chef? Adam had gone through that once before, when the media had invaded Lindenshaw on the heels of the murder at the school. He envied no one the experience.
Adam shivered, a sudden wave of cold sweeping over him as he recalled those days. “Come on.” He and Campbell broke into a run, which might both warm him up and make the unpleasant memories go away.
Hopefully Robin would get home at a reasonable time that evening, so Adam could fuss over him, feed him up, and get a bit of a debrief. Not that a mere schoolteacher would be able to offer anything in the way of insight to the average police problem, but Robin said having to explain the case to somebody not involved helped him to get things clear in his mind. Not only that: when Adam asked for clarification or needed points explained, Robin said he sometimes began to view matters afresh, get a new angle on things, and cut through the dross. It helped.
The first batch of dross came with the late afternoon local news on the telly, the stabbing taking precedence even over the FA Cup game. Adam, curled up on the sofa with Campbell, both content from lunch and a postprandial nap, watched with interest.
“A man was found dead with stab wounds early this morning in Abbotston,” the reporter said, in a piece that must have been filmed earlier that day.
“No sight of himself,” Adam said, scratching Campbell’s ear. “He’ll be avoiding the cameras, I guess.”
“Police are appealing for witnesses, particularly anyone who saw a fight in the Desdemona club in Abbotston last night.” The reporter finished her piece and the feed went back to the studio, where talk turned to the gutsy but ultimately losing performance by Abbotston Alexandra.
The football fans had behaved themselves, miracle of miracles. Maybe it had been the result—or the unexpected sunshine—that had tempered things.
“Perhaps the police got the catering staff to put something in the half-time Bovrils, to take the edge off their aggression. Like you need when you see that big moggy from up the road.” Adam grinned at the dog’s expression. “Only joking. With any luck, your favourite person will be back to tuck you up in bed.”
Adam’s hope came true, but only just. The clock was striking nine when Robin came through the door, tie undone, looking desperately tired. They’d worked out a routine for such occasions, one that got sporadically reversed when Adam was late back from a governors’ meeting or a school parents’ evening. Robin kicked off his shoes and slumped on the settee with Campbell while his better half performed the kitchen duties, rustling up a hot drink and a bite to eat, waiting for it to be wolfed down before getting into any proper conversation. Feeding the body before he exercised the brain.
“We saw your case on the news, although I doubt we got the real story.” Adam settled himself on the sofa once the dishes were put away. “Campbell doesn’t believe anything he sees on the telly anymore.”
“He’s always had a lot of sense, that dog.”
“He won’t grill you if you’d rather clear your mind.”
“Nah. I’d rather keep you up to date.” Robin gave Adam an outline of some of the things the media didn’t yet know, including what the police had found out about the dead man, which admittedly wasn’t a lot at present. “Every indication is that he genuinely was working as a tax consultant, so the witness we had who saw him at GCHQ either made a mistake or Davis hasn’t managed to trace things back far enough. We’ll come at it fresh tomorrow. Sorry to spoil the weekend. I never even asked how your mum is.”
“She’s blooming. Kept going on about her new bridge partner. I might be getting a new dad, the way she talks.” Adam rubbed his partner’s arm. “And don’t worry about tomorrow. Now I can’t feel guilty at the pile of marking and planning I have to do. I suspect you’ve got the better deal.”
Robin stifled a yawn. “Sez you. Right. Bed. I could sleep for a week.”
“I’ll set the alarm to make sure you don’t. Come on, boy,” Adam encouraged Campbell to come with him to the kitchen. “You go up, Robin, while I get this lump settled for the night.”
By the time Adam had made sure the dog emptied his bladder and was happy in his basket, and got himself ready for bed, Robin was out for the count. Adam watched over him for a while, concerned at how tired the bloke appeared, upset that he’d been deprived of his well-deserved weekend of rest. He supposed this would always come with the territory.
Adam just hoped that this case would get sorted out as soon as possible, and normal—or what passed for normal—life could resume. He also hoped it wouldn’t veer quite as close to home as the previous murder case had.
Sunday morning brought rain, so the prospect of having to work—marking or investigating—wasn’t too unpleasant. Robin, looking refreshed, wolfed down his breakfast and talked murders.
“There are various possibilities, but you need to start with the obvious,” he said, waving a slice of toast and driving Campbell mad in the process. “I’d always go down the line of nearest and dearest, because they’re the people you’re most at risk from.”
“Charming. Still, I suppose you’re right. Who were Hatton’s nearest and dearest?”
Robin shrugged. “Not sure yet. Both parents are dead. No wife, no live-in girlfriend—or boyfriend. Nothing much on social media and very little evidence in his flat of any relationships, apart from some packets of condoms, so possibly he always played away from home and kept it casual.”
“Possibly.” Somebody must have known the man, though. “But it could have been the person he got into that fight with, couldn’t it? Was that an unhappy client who’d found out Hatton had been swindling him?”
“That’s for us to find out. Mind you, given the GCHQ angle, the attack might have been about something distinctly nasty.”
Adam shuddered. “The Slasher is bad enough. Can you imagine terrorists loose in Abbotston? My mum would have kittens. Campbell would have kittens.”
The Newfoundland frowned, looking suitably offended.
“Did he strike last night, by the way?” Adam asked.
“Not that I’ve heard, but I’ve been wrapped up in my own case. Anything on the news?”
“Not a dickie bird. This Hatton couldn’t have been him? Somebody found out and got their retaliation in first?” The timings were remarkably coincidental if there wasn’t a link.
“We did think of that, you know, Superintendent Matthews.” Robin slapped Adam’s arm. “Nothing to suggest a connection in his flat, although we’re keeping an open mind. Okay. Let’s go and see what the new day brings. Not sure when I’ll be home, I’m afraid. I’ll text you, but it could be late. Sorry.”
“I’ll make a cottage pie or a casserole or something. Easy enough to heat up when you do get back.”
“You spoil me. God knows what it would have been like if this case had cropped up before I met you.”
“You wouldn’t have eaten properly, for a start,” Adam said, avoiding anything emotional. This wasn’t the time or the place; best leave it for when the case was wrapped up and they could wrap themselves up in the duvet in their big, comfy bed. Which might be a while off, but it was a more enticing prospect than the pile of marking on Adam’s desk.
Stanebridge police station in the rain wasn’t exactly the world’s nicest place; a damp odour hung about it, mingling with the smell of disinfectant from where one of the Saturday night drunks had disgraced himself. Or herself. We are an equal opportunity puking facility.
Davis was hovering outside his office.
“Here’s what we’ve got sir.” She waggled a file.
“Have you been here all night?”
“No. Not quite, anyway. I can get forty winks this afternoon. If you let me,” she added, with a smile at Anderson, who had appeared in the doorway. “It’s useful living in Abbotston. I called in to Hatton’s block of flats on my way here and helped his next-door neighbour put out her recycling. Little old lady. Great source of information.”
“Aren’t they always?” Anderson settled behind his desk. “What did she say?”
“That Hatton was one for the women. He left at least two of them to mourn him, one in Abbotston and one here in Stanebridge. A shop girl for weekdays and a bit of posh totty for high days and holidays.”
Robin flinched. He would have rapped Anderson’s knuckles for talking like that; he couldn’t decide whether Davis needed the same. What was sauce for the goose . . .
If Anderson had noticed Robin’s reaction, he didn’t show it. “Blimey. Got any names?”
“Not surnames. Beryl and Sandra, which is why the woman remembered them. Characters off some old TV programme, she said.” Davis shrugged. “Anyway, I’ll have a shufti through his address books. Mrs. Cowan, that’s my friend with the recycling, says she’d expect Beryl the shop girl to be heartbroken and Sandra the posh one to be pretty philosophical.”
Anderson would have said that put to bed the question of whether Hatton was gay, but that was being too simplistic.
“And what’s that observation based on? How the Liver Birds would react?” Robin ignored Anderson’s quickly suppressed chuckle. So what if he’d gone and outed himself as a fan of TV reruns? He’d been indoctrinated in British comedy classics at his mother’s knee.
“Not with you, sir.” Davis frowned. When elucidation wasn’t forthcoming, she cracked on. “Anyway, she’s met Sandra, and wasn’t particularly impressed. The other woman she’d just heard about.”
“Good work. Which would be even better if you got their addresses.” Robin tried his most persuasive smile.
“I’m on it, sir.” Davis waggled what must have been Hatton’s mobile phone. “I’ll get May on the case, too, when she comes in.”
“Excellent. She struck us as being perceptive.”
Davis rolled her eyes. “She is. Workwise. Wouldn’t trust her choice in blokes; she’s had a few dodgy fellers. Now she goes out with a dog handler.” She smiled, then left them to contemplate Hatton’s complicated love life.
“Sounds like Hatton got himself in the old eternal triangle, sir. What’s the chance that one of the girls got overcome by the green-eyed monster and took her revenge on the love rat?”
“Must you talk like you’re a tabloid journalist? Some offices have swear boxes—you need a cliché box.” Robin shook his head, although Anderson was quite right. Was one of these women the deadly “nearest and dearest” he’d been talking to Adam about? The sudden reappearance of Davis, still clutching the mobile phone and wearing a superior smile, suggested he wouldn’t have long to wait to find out.
“Beryl’s rung. She had a hell of a shock to hear a female voice on the end of the line.”
“I bet she thought you were Sandra.” Anderson said.
“I’m not posh enough for that!” Davis laid on the Welsh accent good and thick. “Anyway, she’s been away for a few days and heard the news on the radio when she came back. She was hoping against hope it was about another bloke called Hatton.”
Robin nodded. It was one of the parts of the job he loathed intensely, telling people that their loved one wouldn’t be coming home. “How is she?”
“Devastated, like Mrs. Cowan said she would be. She wants to talk to you, though. As soon as is convenient.”
“We’ll get round there now.” Robin picked up his car keys from the desk where he’d not long since laid them down. Chances were it would be late that evening before they lay in their usual place in the hallway.
A writer of both mysteries and romances, Cochrane . . . strikes a fine balance between the two in story of professional meets personal.
[T]horoughly enjoyable and well-paced, with several strands to the mystery and a sharp, tense conclusion. The gay romance is well balanced, augmenting the investigation, and the central characters are all very likeable. An excellent read.
[T]he red herrings have red herrings in this book. . . . It is the well written, well thought out, no stone left unturned storyline that leaves you satisfied in the end.
This book was the written equivalent of a…well, a steaming hot mug of tea. A little sweet, a little dark, and a bit dangerous if you’re not careful.
[Cochrane] fills her books with humor to go along with the mystery and whenever I read one I feel I have a little piece of England that I can take with me where ever I go.