Now, Nathan Coates had been in the force for six years, in CID for eighteen months, at Lafferton from the start. He knew he could not have dealt with patrolling his own patch, arresting his own former neighbours and schoolmates, and besides, he wanted to get out as the second step to a new life. He worked hard and cheerfully, he played hockey for the regional team and, to everyone’s amazement, lived with an exceptionally pretty girlfriend who was a midwife at Bevham General.
‘You’re a star,’ said Freya, ‘but I need you for something else, just for an hour or so.’
‘OK, Sarge.’ Nathan shut down the database and followed Freya to her desk, where she filled him in on Angela Randall.
‘Not the sort who’d just take off. That’s kids in trouble at home, men who can’t stand their nagging missus another day or ones who’ve had their fingers in the till and get wind that someone’s sussed them. She don’t fit.’
‘I’m glad you agree. I’m concerned about this one, but as far as the DI is concerned, it’s just another missing person.’
‘File ’em, forget ’em, I get the picture, Sarge. If anyone asks, I’m like, “Who’s Angela Randall?”’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Go back over the missing persons file for the last year, eighteen months, see if any other case has a look of this one … you know the sort of thing. I can’t be specific but if it’s there it’ll ring bells. Read up the notes on Randall first. Pull out anything and leave it on my desk.’
‘Are you off again?’
‘Officially, I’m back at the business park among the embezzlers.’
‘I’m nipping into Bevham to visit a very expensive jeweller’s.’
‘Sugar Daddy lent you his credit card for the day then?’
Freya took her jacket off the back of her chair. ‘Certainly.’
If there had not been the embezzlement case and Angela Randall to take her out, she would have had to cook up something. It was better for her not to be in the station much today. She wanted to see Simon Serrailler, wanted to bump into him in the corridor, find an excuse to go to his office, attend any briefing he might be giving … anything. She wanted to look at him, in uniform, at work, when he was ‘Sir’, wanted to prove that her feelings had been temporary and ridiculous, some sort of delayed emotion related to the end of her marriage. She had looked at Simon Serrailler and been momentarily attracted to him, as anyone might, and had built on the flush of physical feeling to assume she had fallen in love.
E. J. Duckham & Son had an entry bell and a CCTV which scrutinised potential shoppers before they were allowed in. Before pressing it, Freya looked in the double-fronted windows, at diamond necklaces, earrings and brooches without any visible price, sapphire, emerald, ruby and diamond rings, Rolex and Patek Phillipe watches. She wondered who, in Bevham, could possibly be customers for any of these, as well as the more bread-and-butter silver bowls and the tiny pearl bracelets for newborn infants. Bevham had its expensive side, to the south around Cranbrook Drive and the Heights, where detached houses with long drives and huge gardens went on sale at three-quarters of a million pounds and rising, and some of the villages had the odd wealthy inhabitant, whether retired merchant bank chairman or reclusive pop star, but they were not likely to buy their baubles in Bevham. Casting a second lingering look at a delicate silver filigree and star-diamond choker, she pressed the bell for entry, and as the door swung soundlessly back, flipped open her warrant card.
The place had the sort of velvet hush special to jewellers and designer dress salons; the woman behind the counter was as impeccably groomed and coiffed as a royal lady-in-waiting, and the man who came to greet Freya had the smooth charm she associated with Jermyn Street, from where his pinstriped suit and lavender tie must surely have come.
‘I do hope you’ve come bearing good news, Sergeant.’
‘Good news?’ Freya knew there had been a series of raids on jewellers’ shops the previous year, and presumed E. J. Duckham had been one of them. ‘If it’s about the thefts …’
‘Oh no, no, I doubt if you’ll ever catch those raiders, they’ll have come from Birmingham or Manchester and disappeared up the motorway very fast. No, I meant about Miss Randall. One of your officers was in here a week or so ago asking about her. I gather she had gone away unexpectedly?’
‘We’re pursuing several lines of inquiry as to exactly what has happened, Mr Duckham.’
‘You mean she is still missing from home?’
‘Do you know her well?’
‘Not at all, but she has been a very good customer of ours over the past – what – eighteen months, something like that, and we pride ourselves here on personal service.’
‘The uniformed officer will have questioned you about the cufflinks Miss Randall purchased in early December.’
‘Indeed. Extremely nice ones. Lapis lazuli. Beautifully made.’
‘Could you tell me how much they were?’
He looked disapproving.
‘I understand that is not the sort of information you would normally give out but this might be important.’
When there was no good answer to a legitimate question, you hid behind official jargon.
‘It would be relevant to one of several leads we’re pursuing.’
Nathan would have described the man’s expression as po-faced but after another hesitation, he sighed, and went into a glass-panelled office at the back of the shop, where Freya could see him tapping a keyboard. Their pride in being old-fashioned clearly did not extend to a scorn of computers. Behind the glass counter on the opposite side of the shop the woman with impeccably coiffed hair was polishing a crystal rose bowl, which caught the light prettily. She glanced up, did not meet Freya’s smile, and carried on polishing. Dirt beneath your feet then, Freya thought.
‘The cufflinks were £275.’
‘A present for someone Miss Randall knew well, clearly.’
‘I really couldn’t say.’
‘But you do say that she was a regular customer … how regular? How often had she been in during the past year?’
‘Half a dozen times. Yes, at least that, wouldn’t you say, Mrs Campion?’
Coiffed Hair murmured.
‘Did she just browse?’
Not that this was the sort of shop you came into on a wet Wednesday afternoon to kill time.
‘Not exactly … obviously she always looked carefully through what she was shown before making her selection.’
‘And she always bought something?’
‘Yes, I think she did … There was one occasion when we hadn’t exactly what she was looking for … a particular watch, but we managed to obtain one eventually.’
‘What kind of watch?’
‘Showing the phases of the moon. It was an Omega in fact, from the 1950s.’
‘It depends what you call expensive. We have watches costing £25,000.’
‘But this one?’
‘Less than two thousand.’
‘Did you get the impression money was not a problem to her?’
‘I’m afraid I didn’t consider it. It’s none of my affair.’
Freya got up. ‘Would you have a photograph of the watch?’
‘No. But we bought it at auction from Goldstein and Crow in Birmingham. You might try them.’
‘Do you have the date of the sale?’
‘I’ll look it out and let you have it.’
‘I’d also like to have a complete list of every item Angela Randall bought from you during the time you say she was a regular customer, Mr Duckham, with exact descriptions, cost and date purchased. Would that be possible?’
He looked po-faced again and glanced across at the woman, who had now put the rose bowl back in the case and taken out a set of photograph frames and a silver cloth. Housework by any other name.
‘I suppose I can do this if you really think it is going to be of use.’
‘But I would stress that we regard our customers’ purchases as confidential.’
‘How long will it take you?’
‘So long as we don’t have a rush of customers … an hour perhaps?’
‘Make it forty minutes.’
Freya walked out, leaving the two of them to talk about her behind her back.
An hour later, she was in her parked car with a takeaway cappuccino reading Mr Duckham’s list. Poor Angela Randall – all this and for whom exactly? Someone with whom she seemed to be sufficiently infatuated to spend a large chunk of her modest salary buying costly presents for.
She finished her drink, wiped the froth from her lip and headed back to Lafferton and the Four Ways Nursing Home.
Carol Ashton was with the undertaker, the girl said, there had been a death in the night and she would not be free for another ten minutes. Freya waited in the office, refusing the offer of more coffee, and went through the list again.
1 gold tiepin. 14 April 2000. £145
1 gentleman’s Omega watch. 5 June 2000. £1,350
1 silver business-card holder. 16 August 2000. £240
1 gentleman’s signet ring, gold with single diamond. 4 October 2000. £1,225
1 silver letter opener. 27 October 2000. £150
1 pair of gold and lapis lazuli cufflinks. 4 December 2000. £275
Nothing for herself, nothing for another woman, everything for a man at a total cost of over three thousand pounds in a single year.
When Carol Ashton came in, apologising for the delay, Freya said at once, ‘We’ve no news I’m afraid, but we are following up a couple of leads.’
‘Has someone seen Angela then?’
‘Then what do you mean by leads?’
‘Lines of inquiry.’
‘So you do think something has happened to her – you are taking this seriously.’
‘I’ve taken it seriously from the beginning, Mrs Ashton.’
‘Just tell me what you think has happened?’
‘I don’t know that anything has but obviously, as time goes on and Miss Randall hasn’t come back, we need to go into one or two things.’ She handed over the list. ‘I’d like you to look at this please.’
Carol Ashton ran her eyes down it quickly and looked at Freya in bewilderment.
‘These were items purchased by Miss Randall from Duckham’s the jeweller in Bevham during the past year.’
‘May I ask you how much she earned with you, Mrs Ashton?’
‘Just a moment – I can tell you exactly.’ She went to her desk, and tapped into her computer.
‘Yes, here we are. Angela was on £13,500 a year.’
‘Not a fortune.’
‘Wages in the care industry are low. I pay the standard rate. There are perks, of course, meals on duty, uniforms … and I give a bonus at Christmas.’
‘I’m not criticising you.’
‘I couldn’t keep open, no care home could, if we had to pay some of the salaries people can get even in the NHS for example. That isn’t always well known. Everyone assumes the private sector must be able to pay big wages.’
‘Do you know of any other income Angela Randall might have had?’
‘She didn’t have another job, I’m sure of that … she wouldn’t have had the energy. It’s demanding, working on nights in a home like this.’
‘I have no idea. I wouldn’t have thought so, but I don’t actually know anything. I told you before, I think, that she was a very private person and I really knew nothing about her life outside here.’
‘Have you any idea who she might have bought all these expensive things for?’
‘I’m afraid I haven’t a clue.’
‘Are you surprised by this?’
Carol Ashton considered for a moment, tapping her finger on the side of her desk.
‘I have to say, yes, I am, very. I mean, these are not things someone would buy all in one year for, say, a brother or some other relative, even supposing there were one. She might have bought one of the lesser items for – oh, I don’t know, a special birthday, a godson … that kind of thing. But the others … yes, I am very surprised about those. It looks as if they were bought for … well …’
Carol Ashton shook her head. ‘I can’t believe that. Angela was – is … how can I put this … quite a prim sort of person. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had never had any serious relationship. She was always clean and neat and well groomed but she didn’t put herself out to look fashionable. Sensible clothes, you know, well looked after but not much that was smart. At least, not that I ever saw.’
‘It sounds awful, doesn’t it? Patronising somehow. But yes.’
Freya got up and took the list back. ‘If you think of anything at all that rings a bell, especially in connection with this, would you telephone me please?’
‘What sort of thing?’
‘Just something you may suddenly remember that she had mentioned … some remark she might have dropped.’
‘Angela wasn’t … isn’t the kind of person who drops remarks. She’s very guarded.’
‘All the same.’
‘I will, of course … but I doubt if you’ll hear from me. I’m only astonished by what you’ve shown me. It just shows, though, doesn’t it … how little you know about people you see every day?’
At the station, Freya found Nathan Coates back at his computer working on the drug database.
‘Have you been through missing persons?’
‘Yes, Sarge, back for two years.’
‘I’ve left a few on your desk. Nothing much though. A teenager but it was eighteen months ago and she was last sighted near the railway station. The other’s a bloke.’
‘Oh well. Thanks anyway.’
‘No prob. Made a change.’
His grin cheered her up as usual.
The two missing persons he had pulled out of the list seemed at first sight to have nothing in common with Angela Randall, as Nathan had supposed, and certainly the teenage girl, Jennie O’Dowd, looked like the typical runaway from unhappy home circumstances.
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