But they never would, she thought, switching out the lights in the sitting room and hall, and struggling with the new lock on the front door, before going carefully up the steep stairs, carrying her drink in the sunshine-yellow mug.
She was a light sleeper and she put earplugs in because of the late-night and early-morning traffic noise, so she did not hear the sound of the back door being tried. But she had bolted the back door. The windows were well secured because of the locks Anthony himself had fitted.
Breaking in by smashing windows was a mug’s game, for kids and amateur burglars. He had never broken a window, never would.
He had two others in mind if this one was tricky. That had always been the secret. If complicated locks and bolts and alarms were all in place, leave it.
He tried the front door, on the off chance. It was unlocked. He shook his head in disbelief. He went in, closing the door softly behind him.
Even without her earplugs, Olive would probably not have heard a sound.
She was deeply asleep when the stairs creaked, and creaked again, and the loose floorboard on the landing outside her room bumped slightly.
She remained deeply asleep, even when the door of her bedroom opened, and only woke, startled and bewildered, when the light went on.
THE CHIEF CONSTABLE heard him out without interrupting. She knew Serrailler well and she had seen him in many moods but never as angry as now. They had gone to Chalford Road together, to the house in which Olive Tredwell had been murdered, and where her body was still upright in the new white-painted chair with its bright blue cotton cover, in front of a large oak cheval mirror. The electrical flex was still tied tightly round her neck, knotted on the left-hand side, as all the others had been. She wore a long floral nightgown. Her feet were bare, the toenails freshly clipped.
When he had walked in and seen her, Simon had wanted to weep, with frustration, anger, grief, and with a terrible feeling of guilt. But he had shaken himself within seconds. The other emotions he accepted, but if anyone other than the killer was guilty, it was not him.
‘I‘ll have the skin ripped off their bloody backs.’
‘Simon . . .’
‘I mean it, ma’am.’
The pathologist had been and gone and forensics had finished the first part of the job. They heard voices now, then the tread of footsteps on the stairs. The bump of a loose floorboard.
The men with the body bag and the stretcher.
‘Ma’am . . .’
‘It’s fine, get on with your job, guys. We’re out of here.’
At the front door, the Chief said, ‘Press conference?’
‘Yes but the bare minimum for now. They’re asking even more awkward questions, unsurprisingly, and an army of TV and radio vans are outside. I can deal with the press, but those bastards at Special Ops will hide behind their walls of secrecy. They think they’re not answerable to anybody.’
‘They’re not, in the normal course of events, they’re a law unto themselves, most of the time for good reason, but this is precisely why they can’t make mistakes. Nobody’s going to cut them any slack, Simon.’
‘Cut who any slack? Nobody knows they exist. Punch them and it’s like punching a hole in a cloud.’
‘Forget revenge for now. Find this man before we have a fourth murder.’
‘Fifth,’ Simon said wearily. ‘You’re forgetting Nobby Parks.’
‘You’re sure about that? A different MO, though it definitely wasn’t an accident.’
‘Of course it wasn’t. Nobby had to be shut up. He’d been talking to the press about the mobile-phone pictures. He might have seen and heard anything on his night walkabouts. That’s what the killer was afraid of.’
‘Did he see anything? Is there anything on the photos?’
Simon shook his head. ‘That’s the sad part. Not a thing. And I doubt if Nobby knew anything either, he was just enjoying his hour in the sun, poor bugger.’
Paula Devenish walked a few paces away from her waiting car so that they were not overheard.
‘My resignation’s gone in. Have you thought any more about it or is this all getting in your line of vision?’
‘No. My line of vision is clear. As I said when we met on the train, I’m grateful for your vote of confidence but it’s not for me.’
Simon watched her car speed off before going to his own and heading back to the station, seething with anger and more than ready to do battle. His mobile rang as he was taking the bypass fast so he had to ignore it. As he entered the building, Polly was coming down.
‘Looking for you. Priority call two or three minutes ago. They wouldn’t speak to me, but they’ll ring back at ten fifteen.’
It was ten fourteen. Simon got to his office, closed the door and hung up his jacket.
The phone rang.
The voice was familiar by now.
‘Can I have a name?’
‘Floor Five. Your current situation has been under close consideration this morning. As you are aware, we can’t answer questions, we cannot confirm or deny anything, or make comments on names or cases. But in view of the most recent incident we’re prepared to pass on one piece of information.’
‘Now listen –’
‘As I say we cannot comment or answer questions, so if you would just listen to me, Superintendent.’
Simon realised that this was to be as near as they would come to some sort of climbdown and face-saving exercise, though neither would ever be admitted. He also knew that whatever they were about to give him would be all.
‘I can tell you that we retrained the man you named as a plumber.’
‘From what? What was his original trade?’
‘No further information and I can neither confirm nor deny anything else.’
A climb-down. Jesus, what a way to work. Asking questions was a detective’s default setting, but these guys worked strictly on a need-to-know basis. They asked no questions and answered none, they lived in little numbered boxes, among the anonymous, those with code names, and those going only by a number. Their cases were filed under computer-generated passwords and they had personal control over only a severely limited corner of a jigsaw, the rest of the pieces being under the control of many others, none of whom they necessarily knew. It would drive him mad, just as terrorist and code work would drive him mad, though surveillance and undercover operations had always got his blood flowing faster.
He pulled out a sheet of paper and a pen, and after thinking hard for a few minutes about what he had been told, began to draw out a plan of action, writing furiously.
Then he called the whole team for a meeting in an hour’s time.
‘Olive Tredwell,’ he said, pointing to the usual hideous pictures. ‘Same MO, same clean crime scene – no prints, no blood, no semen. But forensics have the mirror and they’re examining it for any trace of saliva. They have it as top priority. But they found nothing at the other crime scenes. Nothing on the mirrors or the surfaces.’
‘Mrs Tredwell’s place is nowhere near the sheltered housing.’
Someone else jumped in at once. ‘But who’d risk going up there now we’ve got the patrols?’
‘True. I just thought – well, it’s completely on the other side of town, and her street isn’t entirely full of older people, it’s got all ages.’
‘Which could mean he’s started walking about, looking, keeping watch. Not so easy, but nor is it difficult to find old people living alone. Most streets have them.’
‘I think this is a copycat.’
Simon shook his head. ‘Remember, we haven’t released details about the MO. Nothing about putting the bodies in front of a mirror has got into the media and it won’t, nothing about the toenail clipping. This isn’t a copycat. Now, heads up. I know it’s frustrating, I know you feel got at, you feel demoralised, you feel he’s running rings round us. He has done that but he won’t be doing it for much longer. He’s getting cocky now – and once that happens, he’ll make a mistake. Cockiness always leads to errors. They start thinking they’re invincible. They believe that they cannot be caught.
‘More important. I have a bit of inside info. I know we’re looking for Alan Keyes. I don’t know the name he’s using, or whether he’s changed his appearance, but he’s working as a plumber.’
‘So we need to find a plumber?’
‘Exactly. OK, entrapment is the name of the game and let’s hope to God it works. Can any of you come up with a likely venue? A small industrial area maybe with individual workshops, a disused repair garage. We’ll be setting up a backstreet builders’ base, with a couple of vans, workshop, carpentry and brick stuff . . . plastering . . . all the supplies will be there but not in huge quantities. Crummy office at the back – you know the sort of place.’
‘Girlie calendars from 2001 and no tea mug without a crack in it.’
‘You’ve got it.’
‘Are we trying to find this place and get the owner to vacate?’
‘Too risky. We’re setting the whole thing up ourselves. In Lafferton, doesn’t matter too much where so long as it’s tucked away.’
‘Nelson Street,’ someone else said.
‘Right,’ a DC said. ‘I did an op round there last year, had to hang about for days, got to know it like the back of. It’s the old working end of Lafferton, terraces, two-up two-down.’
‘Got you,’ Serrailler said.
‘Run-down. Some of the houses are boarded up, some have dossers, some students. One or two of the old locals left but they’ve pretty much died off. There’s a couple of pubs, bookie, two corner shops. Disused church. But halfway down Nelson Street there was a repair garage, with a yard. Got wooden gates, padlocked but kids broke the padlocks. Got an office, outside lav, sort of waiting area for people collecting cars. Could make a small builders’ yard.’
‘Get on to it, find out who owns it, we want to rent it, by the month. Any To Let signs?’
‘Been a For Sale one for yonks. Garage must have closed five or six years ago, maybe more.’
‘OK, you get on with that asap, Barry. Next up, small ads. I want them on cards in all the corner shops and newsagent windows you can find. Then in the free papers – wherever you see “Kittens for Sale” and “TV Aerials. Good Rates. Reliable.” Get them ready to go up but don’t roll them out until the yard’s set up. Nice excuse to requisition some new felt tips from stationery. Off you go, won’t take long, but I want to see what you’ve done.’
One by one the team picked up on their jobs. Simon pulled in three uniforms for overtime work, playing the roles of extras round the yard.
The most difficult to assign was the builder who owned the yard and was doing the advertising. Getting him to look the part was not as hard as having him sound it.
But by the end of the afternoon, he had his team, and the DC had come back with a deal done easily on the empty garage. They were in business. The text of a small ad printed out was on his desk, and two cards beside it.
PLUMBER WANTED. Must be fully qualified and experienced in variety of installation/repair/emergency work, including CH. Gas-fitting cert. and own vehicle a plus. Plenty of long-term contract work for right applicant. Top pay for top man.
Hendry’s Builders, 44 Nelson Street, Lafferton. Phone 222848 for appt.
Simon ticked approval and asked for twenty handwritten copies.
He was about to leave, and drive round there for a recce, then go to Rachel’s, hoping that she might be back from the hospital, when he had a call from forensics. They had found a minute amount of saliva on the mirror in Olive Tredwell’s bedroom. If the DNA was recoverable and matched hers, it meant that she had been strangled after she had been placed in the chair. She had watched it happen. They were running final tests and would know definitively tomorrow.
EVEN SAM WAS on the doorstep to greet Molly. She had spent the day at Bevham General, seeing her tutors, and come over to spend the night at the farmhouse. She looked older, thinner, and her face had changed subtly. The old Molly had been plump, still half childlike in her soft round features, but now her bone structure showed. She would never be a beauty but she was pretty, with an interesting, thoughtful face. Felix wrapped his arms around her, and every bit of news spilled out of the other two as they went in, Sam carrying her bag.
She had driven herself there. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever cycle like I used to,’ she said to Cat, as they went upstairs to her old room. ‘I know nothing that happened had anything to do with cycling, but it seems to have attached itself to that. I’d be terrified.’
‘But apart from that, how are you?’
‘Good,’ Molly said firmly. ‘I feel steady now. I’ve learned to cope with flashbacks, I know what to do if I have a panic attack, but I’m not having many now. I’ve had a lot of help from the psychologist – I never realised the half of what they do. Oh God, it’s lovely to be back here, Cat . . . it’s just the same but something’s different.’
‘We’ve painted the walls. New bedcover. Better lamps.’
‘It’s still home though.’
Cat sat on the edge of the bed. ‘So, what did they say?’
‘I’m repeating my final year and taking the exams after that. No worries. The prof said the experience might prove very useful even if it doesn’t seem so at the moment. Empathy with patients being the buzz phrase – I’ll understand about PTSD better than most . . . She asked if I had thought of going into psych. I hadn’t, but she suggested I give it some thought. I don’t know though . . .’
‘No, and you won’t yet. Listen, you don’t have to – there’s no pressure and I’d totally understand if you wanted to be at the hospital for the year instead – but if you wanted it this room is yours and you’d be more than welcome. Think about it.’
But Molly had already flung her arms around Cat.
‘I was going to ask but then I thought probably you wouldn’t need me, or want anyone or . . . well, anything might have changed. Yes, please!’
‘That calls for a celebration bottle then. I’ll go and open one. Take your time, have a bath, come down when you feel like it. I’ll keep the marauders at bay.’
‘No, don’t, I want to see them. There’s a lot to catch up on. I know you told me about the hospice . . . how’s everything else? Simon married yet?’
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