He got on well with his colleagues, but he often used enthusiasm to mask laziness. He did just enough work to get by, to get the job done, and he spent the rest of his time appearing busy. He was also involved in selling drugs seized from the street back to the very people it had been seized from. Not much, and he was always careful to make just enough money on the side for a few luxuries. He hated being the kind of guy no one took seriously, but sometimes it had its advantages.
He’d been involved for a time with DCI Amanda Baker, back when she was hot, he hastened to tell himself. It was she who introduced him to having that extra stream of income, selling on the side, and they had worked together for a time. Then she had been thrown off the case and disgraced, and their relationship fizzled out. She was always there though, like a thorn in his side, calling in favours and threatening to shop him in. He’d helped her out of several parking fines, and once altered the results of a DUI which would have resulted in her losing her licence.
This, however was serious. She was asking too many questions about this investigation…
His phone rang in his pocket and he pulled it out. He saw that he had moved quite far from the location of the cottage and was now on smoother rocky ground. The phone showed it was the woman herself, Amanda Baker.
‘I need your login and password for HOLMES,’ she said. There was no hello, or how are you? Or any kind of deference in her tone. She still spoke to him like she did when she was his boss.
‘I’m at work,’ he hissed, and I’ve told you I will help with passing on any info, but you will leave a digital stamp if you log into MY account.’
‘Crawford, don’t piss me about. You’ve got far more to lose, and anyway, I’d be accessing the case your working on. Stuff you have access to.’
‘What do you need it for?’
‘I have a hunch. I’m not going to tell you what, but when I do get to the bottom of it, I will let you have it exclusively, and you can take all the glory… maybe you’ll finally get that promotion,’ she added with a mocking phlegmy laugh.
‘Crawford, give me the fucking log in, I’m not pissing about anymore…’
He looked back at the officers milling around the cottage, most of the area had been cleared and there was only the whine of one strimmer, clearing a path to the final window. He gripped the phone, turned his back on it all, and with a heavy heart he gave her his login details.
Two hours after forensics went inside the cottage, Nils called Erika, Moss and Peterson over. They suited up outside, pulling on the blue all-in-one paper suits over their clothes, and then the face masks. Nils met them where a long sheet of plastic began a few meters from the front door.
The door opened straight onto the living room, where the floor was littered in broken glass. At first Erika thought was a black and white patterned floor.
‘It’s bird shit,’ said Nils. ‘We’ve scraped a little away at the edges and it’s parquet floor underneath.
‘Looks quite good. Some people pay a fortune to get a floor like that,’ said Moss.
Above them were rotting beams inlaid in a crumbling plaster ceiling. A sagging lump in the centre of the room was covered in more bird droppings, old newspapers, and broken glass and this was the remains of a sofa. Two of the CSI’s worked intently where they had stripped away a layer of bird droppings from the thinning cushions and were attempting to take samples. Erika realised that any forensic evidence had most probably been obliterated by the birds. In a corner next to the broken window was a table covered in some old mugs, and the remnants of where someone had tried to light a fire. There were two other places where a fire had been lit; one against the back wall, and one by the front door. Black scorch marks streaked up the wall, and around them were the remnants of drug paraphernalia, slivers of blackened foil, a syringe and bent tea spoons.
‘What about upstairs?’ asked Moss glancing at the sagging ceiling.
‘No one has been up there yet. The staircase has collapsed and we’re not sure how safe it is until we’ve done a structural check.’
‘You don’t want anyone falling through,’ said Peterson.
‘Although, there would be a team, ready to photograph their dead bodies…’ said Nils.
He moved off toward the kitchen, as Moss muttered, ‘Tumbleweed.’
The kitchen was old and just as filthy and caked in bird droppings as the living room. A low counter ran the length of one wall with its doors missing, exposing empty cupboards, save for a couple of old dusty saucepans and another blackened scorch patch. The matching unit of three cupboards had been attached to the wall above the counter, but fallen off and lay in pieces in the middle of the room. The rawl plugs still hung out of the holes in the wall. The light fitting was gone, just a few wires hung from a hole in the ceiling, and there was an exposed beam crossing the length of the room.
‘This could be where Robert Jennings hung himself,’ said Erika.
‘It’s not,’ said Nils. He took them to a tall doorway in one corner of the room, the door lay rotting on the floor in front. A strong lamp had been clipped to the doorframe, illuminating a cramped filthy staircase leading down into darkness. The few stairs they could see were covered in piles of a hard brown substance, and mixed with bird droppings and rubbish.
Nils stepped trough and pointed up with a gloved hand. There was a loop of frayed decaying rope attached to a beam at the top of the stairs. A CSI was up on a ladder, gently scraping away at the piece of rope.
‘This could be from a hanging,’ said Nils. ‘We’re checking to see what we can get. If you mind where you walk, keep to the outside of each step,’ said Nils as they followed him through the doorway and down the creaking stairs.
The cellar was small and cramped and made Erika feel panicky. The walls were a dark brown and clogged in the corners with cobwebs. It had an uneven earth floor and a low ceiling. From above they heard creaks as Nils’s team moved across the floor. Bright halogen lights had been set up in opposite corners, and two of the CSI’s were on their knees looking intently at where they had dug out some small sections of the soil floor.
‘It’s bloody warm,’ said Moss.
‘As we approach winter the soil releases stored heat,’ said Nils. As with the upstairs, there were several small scorched areas where fires had been lit, small piles of burnt foil and wood. The soil floor was a light brown and the soil was compact. Dotted around were several large blackened areas.
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