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Two Stories:-

 

 

Room Four  by Veronica Sims

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

What a shitty thing to happen on a Friday afternoon, she thought.  Cindy Blaine needed a quiet place to think.  She sat at her desk: not working but blanked out.  There was a lot of ‘not working’ happening in the office.  In fact no one had worked since the Phys.Dis. manager, Frank James, had, an hour or so before, been marched out of the office between Barry Hepplewhite, one of County Hall’s security guards, he of loping gait and lubberly mindset, and another man, tall and fit looking, from HR.  Barry was a particularly creepy guy, she thought, who could usually be found slinking around in reception trying to chat up the receptionists.  Then after that upset a slimy looking dude from IT had arrived and taken Frank’s PC away.  No explanation, nothing.  Cindy had asked.  

Now the irritating sound of ‘Ever Loyal’ Doris, the admin officer, sobbing at her corner desk distracted Cindy and she knew she needed to be by herself if she was going to work out what, as Frank’s alleged ‘second in command’, she was going to do next.  Ignoring a group of her colleagues who were huddled around their departed boss’s empty desk talking in excited whispers, she slipped out of her chair, through the door to the corridor and made her way to the front reception desk. Rosa, the receptionist looked up ready to help, while the Kenyan security guard, George, gave Cindy a cheery wave from the doorway.

‘Give me the key for one of the interview rooms, Rosa, honey.  I need a quiet think,’ she said; waving back to George whose mother was one of her Phys.Dis. clients.

‘Number Four is free,’ said Rosa with a puzzled frown as she passed her the key, ‘anything wrong?’  Room Four was nearly always free as it wasn’t the best of the interview rooms being cramped, dark and airless.  Cindy often used it as a bolt hole when the open office became too noisy or too tense.

‘Yes, don’t know what exactly, I need a few minutes alone to think about it.’ Cindy took the key and turned away before Rosa could question her further: she didn’t have any answers to give her anyway.  She hurried toward her supposed refuge.

Relieved at the prospect of solitude Cindy turned the key in the door to Room Four.  There was no window in the room so she groped around the wall for the light switch.  She found it...then stared... frozen: ‘Oh my god, Oh my god!  She repeated the words, like a mantra, over and over. Other words were struggling to form in her head. She managed a shaky deep breath then screamed: ‘George, here! Quickly!

George Zaberi rushed to Cindy’s side. Took one horrified look inside the room and dragged her away from the spectacle. Closed the door.Locked it.

He shouted over to Reception: ‘Lock the main doors Rosa, no one leaves. Ring for the police. Get someone to look after Mrs Blaine.’ Cindy stood shaking at his side...mute.  ‘Where the hell is Hepplewhite?’  muttering to himself.

 

***

 

Detective Inspector Murphy, the designated Senior Investigative Officer (SIO) and Detective Sergeant Jones arrived an hour after the first uniformed police officer had taken the 999 call from Rosa.  Uniformed officers had already listed all the people who’d been in Borough Hall at the time and had let most of them leave the building with the exception of Cindy, the two security guards, the head of HR, and the reception staff. SOCO had taped off Room Four and the surrounding area.  Meanwhile the pathologist was inspecting the body a police surgeon had already pronounced dead.  

‘Body first, Jones, then the security guard.’ DI Murphy then asked the uniform who’d let them in, ‘how’s the woman who found him getting on?’

‘She’s with a woman PC...seems to have calmed down, sir.’

‘OK, let’s get to the body.’  The door of the room was closed but a couple of forensic staff busied themselves inside the taped off area collecting samples: someone else was taking photographs.  The detectives both peered at the outside floor and walls: there was no obvious sign of blood or undue scuffing of the carpet: nothing visible anyway.

‘Find anything?’ Murphy asked the nearest masked and overalled figure who, before answering the question, reminded the pair to gown-up themselves before entering the room...while pointing across the hall to a pile of gear on a table near by.

‘No, sir there doesn’t appear to be anything unusual out here but we’ll keep looking. Inside it’s a different story though.’ The man raised his heavy black eyebrows.

‘Well that’s why we’re here...’ Murphy and Jones now gowned and gloved entered Room Four.

The dead man was impossible to miss.  A hole in the middle of his forehead...a deluge of blood on the wall behind that looked like the work of an abstract graffiti artist:  the smell of the catastrophic haemorrhage filled the room with fear.  Murphy felt his stomach churn.  He glanced toward Jones and saw his colleague’s expression fix.

Without turning the pathologist said: ‘Hand gun, with silencer, barrel held directly against forehead; as you can see not suicide: he was firmly tied up and gagged.  I’ll be able to tell you more after the post mortem.  The photographer has been.  Doc has pronounced death... an educated monkey could have done that though: no probs.  I expect SOCO have a bit more to do.  I’m off now.  See you tomorrow at... let’s make it 11.30: OK with you?

‘Thanks Roger, see you tomorrow.’

Murphy and Jones had a brief look round.  Without the cadaver the room would have been a plain, characterless interview room: but a dead body, noted the Inspector to himself, certainly changes the feel of a place.

Once outside Jones was quick to ask the police constable guarding the scene for the whereabouts of the lavatory and Murphy wondered if his subordinate was off to throw-up: perfectly understandable.  He knew Jones, despite looking like a heavy weight boxer, had a ‘delicate’ stomach.  Meanwhile he enquired where he would find the uniform in charge. His own stomach still churned and he was relieved now that he had missed lunch. The PC directed him up the main stair case to the meeting rooms beside the council chamber. He recognised the area having been to a number of meetings there in the past.

‘Tell DS Jones where to find me when he gets back,’ he said, starting up the stairs.  He found Sergeant Moxton talking to a tall man in a smart suit.  Murphy thought he recognised him but couldn’t place from where immediately.

Sergeant Moxton looked up and beckoned him over. ‘Sir, let me introduce you to Mr Adams, Head of HR.  Mr Adams, this is Detective Inspector Murphy: CID.’ The two men shook hands.

‘I think we’ve met before Inspector,’ said Adams.

‘I was thinking the same but I can’t think where: it will come to me eventually.  Do we have a name for the victim?  Was he a member of staff?’

‘Yes indeed.  His name is Frank James.  But it is a bit complicated.  He was manager of the Physical Disabilities team in Social Services; however about a couple of hours ago I had been required to suspend him.’  Murphy wondered if he was detecting traces of pain and guilt in the other man’s eyes; maybe Adams was thinking the death had been a suicide.

‘I should tell you, Sir that this wasn’t a suicide.  Your member of staff was murdered.’  Adams expression stayed agonised.  Murphy remembered where they had met before: an Equal Rights seminar.

‘Yet perhaps if I hadn’t set this suspension in motion Frank would still be alive.’

‘We have no way of knowing, but if he was being suspended I am guessing the decision on this wasn’t yours alone to make anyway.’

‘No, no of course not.’  

‘Do you have details of next of kin?’

‘I looked at his HR record.  He wasn’t married.  I think there is a number for a cousin somewhere up north.’

‘You’d better let Sergeant Moxen here have the details and we will get the police up there to inform the relative.  We need to get a full statement from you eventually but first I need to get an interview room set up.  Could we use a couple of your meeting rooms here, saves time if we are on site?  Less disruption for your staff..  Can you leave us your contact details?’

Adams pulled a card out of the top pocket of his suit jacket and handed it to Murphy.  ‘I’ll get the property manager on to setting up something for you right away.’  

‘Is there somewhere we can speak to the woman who found him?

‘Not a problem she is in the smaller office along from here with one of your colleagues.’ Adams pointed to a closed door further along the hall.  ‘Her name is Cindy Blaine she’s Frank’s deputy, by the way.’

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

The two women sat together in quiet conversation.  When Murphy entered the room the PC stood.  Cindy Blaine looked up, her eyes red rimmed.

‘I’m Detective Inspector Murphy.  I’d just like a quick word before we let you go home.’

‘Of course, not sure I have much to tell you though.’  Murphy looked at Cindy.  A woman verging on middle age: probably not unattractive under normal circumstances he decided.  But now pale and shaking slightly; her mascara smudged and leaking onto her cheeks.  Who could blame her after what she’d just been confronted with?

He took a chair across the small table from where she was sitting.  He didn’t want to crowd her.

‘Just give me an outline of what happened.  Take your time, no rush.’’

‘I think I need to start from before I (her voice faltered) I went into Room Four.’ Murphy was struck by her soft drawl, Canadian, American?

‘That’s fine.  Just start from where you think it makes sense to begin.’

She paused a moment, sniffed, reached into a pocket pulling out a paper tissue, blew her nose, then began.

‘Everything had been just fine until Barry, he’s security, and a guy from HR came into the office.  They went over to Frank’s desk and were whispering to him.  I looked up from what I was doing and saw his face, all the colour had gone; he was like a corpse.  Oh God, what a thing to say!’  Tears began to form in her eyes.

‘Quite understandable, do continue,’ Murphy encouraged her. She sniffed and produced another tissue from her pocket.  Then went on:

‘After that the three walked out together, but Frank grabbed his coat and back pack.  No explanation.  At first I thought it was something to do with work: a death or something.  Frank could be quite secretive so I wasn’t surprised not to be told what was happening.  Still everybody got a bit restless and I then noticed he hadn’t signed out on the white board.  OK other people sometimes forget, but Frank never.’ Her eyes filled again but she continued talking.  ‘Then came a guy from IT; he didn’t say anything at first but began unplugging Frank’s computer.  At that point I did ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, but he said he was just following orders and gave a kinda sick grin.  Well we all realised that this didn’t look good for Frank.  I phoned HR but got brushed-off big time.  A sort of mild hysteria broke out in the office and of course our admin lady who thinks the sun shines out of Frank’s..., well any way she just collapsed into tears.  I knew, as his deputy, I needed to do something but in all that chaos it was impossible to think straight.  That’s when I went to reception to ask for the key to one of the interview rooms, so that I could have a think and decide what to do, you know.  Then...well...I opened the door, switched on the light and saw Frank.’  She finished and her face twisted as if she was re-living the scene in her head.  ‘I can tell you inspector that when I left Chicago and came here I thought that I was never going to come across this kind of violence again,’ she almost smiled.  ‘Jesus, Bedstanton isn’t supposed to be like this.’

‘You’d be surprised...you were surprised.  Just tell me what you know about Frank?’

‘He was OK to work for: though as I said before a bit secretive but I always guessed that was down to living by himself a single guy, never married. I was supposed to be number two in the team.  He didn’t ask my opinion much: just expected me to get on with my own case load.  Pretty even tempered for all that, you know: I liked him as a boss.’  

‘OK, I going to let you go now but is there anyone at home to be with you? And, by the way, I don’t want you driving you’ve had too much of a shock.  We will of course be in touch.’

‘My husband will be home later.  But how do I get home without the car?’

‘This PC will take you.’  Murphy nodded toward the police woman. ‘Can you stay with Mrs Blaine until her husband gets home?’

‘Of course, Sir.’  

As the women left DS Jones entered the room.

‘You took your time?’ Murphy grinned.  Jones looked sheepish but said:

‘OK sir, I confess, I threw up.  But I haven’t been in the loo all this time.  I had a word with the girl on the desk, Rosa her name is.’

‘Did she see anything, hear anything?’

‘She said ‘No’ at first but did after a bit recalled a dull thud around twenty minutes or so before the woman found the body.  Thought it was furniture falling over on the first floor where they are reorganising some offices.  Reception was busy all afternoon until just before Claire asked for the key.’

‘Had anyone else used the room?’

‘Nope, that room was not used all day.  It is the last one they use as it is small and dingy, she said.’

‘Keys: anyone take the keys or did she notice them missing?’

‘Nada, but I reckon it would be easy enough for anyone to make a copy.  The keys hang on a board behind the desk.  All the reception staff and the security chaps go round there and others do if they want to talk to the manager in the office.  Or someone could have just left it open from earlier: though that would have been taking a chance.  Anyway I told her she could go and we might need to see her again.’

‘Let’s find the security guard who called 999 and talk to him upstairs. What was his name?’

‘George Zaberi Owiti.’

‘And before that get one of the uniforms to go and see if the HR bloke is still around.  We need to make sure that we get that computer of Frank James’ under lock and key.  And get someone over to the James’ house and get it secured.’

 

They found Zaberi sitting silently in the reception manager’s office.  The other security guard Barry Heppelwhite was also there.  It seemed to DI Murphy that the pair had not been talking to each other, seemed almost alienated from what he observed of their body language.  He wondered about their relationship.

George was a handsome black man who appeared to be in around his late twenties.  His uniform was spotless and the white collar of his shirt pristine.  His shoes shone.  

Ex army? wondered Murphy...

Barry Hepplewhite on the other hand gave an overall impression of neglect. Shirt grey and the collar discoloured.  The neck none too clean.  An attempt seemed to have been made, with generous lashings of a cheap aftershave, to mitigate the olfactory effect of minimal personal hygiene but the potion hadn’t quite hit the spot.  

‘Perhaps you would come with us Mr Zaberi?’  Jones pointed toward the door.  The man got up without a word.

‘What about me?  Can I go now?’ Hepplewhite asked in a growling ash tinged voice.

‘Sorry Sir, we will see you after this gentleman,’ said Jones.  They left Hepplewhite muttering and went upstairs to the room to where they had interviewed Cindy Blaine.

‘Now Mr Zaberi this is just a quick informal interview.  We just want to know if you saw anything significant before Mrs Blaine discovered the body.’

‘I understand, sir,’ Zaberi replied in a deep, accented voice.

‘No need for the ‘Sir’ you are not in the army now.’  The man sat up and looked with narrowed eyes at Murphy.  ‘You have checked me out already.  I have nothing to do with this killing.  I am legal.’

‘No checking, I guessed.  You look army.  I was army before police,’ Murphy explained.  ‘Also it was you that got them to shut the doors and called the police: you didn’t panic.’

Zaberi relaxed and even half smiled: ‘What is it you English say? It takes one to recognise one.’

‘Exactly, regiment?’

‘1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, five years; two fun trips to Afghanistan.’

‘OK George, tell us what you saw.’

‘As soon as I got back from lunch around two, the other guard, Barry, was called away to do something for HR. There were the usual comings and goings.  A maintenance man came to fix the toilets.  Mr Adams came down about twenty minutes before Mrs Blaine came to ask for the key.  He wanted me to have a look around the car park to see if there was anyone illegally parked: that was a bit strange.  I suppose I was away for fifteen minutes.’

‘Had the maintenance man gone in the mean time?’  

‘No he was still around.  Though the front desk was empty but I found out just now that Rosa had been in and out of the manager’s office doing something.’  Both Murphy and Jones were surprised.  Rosa had said she hadn’t been away from the reception desk.

‘Do you know the name of the maintenance man?’

‘No, most of the maintenance is contracted out, but he signed in.  It will be on the list.’

‘Did you see his van?’

‘Yes, plain white van: no logos.’

‘Had you noticed Room Four being used before this afternoon?’

‘No.  I looked in the book to see if someone had gone in but Ms Blaine’s was the first name for this afternoon and in fact all day.’  Murphy was impressed that Zaberi had bothered to look.

‘The maintenance man wasn’t asked to stay after the body was found.’

‘No the uniform sergeant let him go because the man said he had another call to make.  But I made a note of the van’s registration...’  He pulled a post it note out of his top pocket and handed it over.

Murphy smiled.  ‘Good man,’ he said.  ‘We will probably need to talk to you again tomorrow but you can go now.  Send Hepplewhite up on your way out, would you?

Murphy turned to Jones.  ‘What’s your feel about this?’

‘Someone, possibly more than one, in fact, almost definitely more than one planned this.  It could have easily gone wrong but they could have aborted at any point I suppose.  I’m guessing they didn’t expect the body to be found quite so quickly.  But whoever did it was sending a message.’

‘I agree, but motive.  Motive has to be the key.  Why was he suspended? Adams didn’t say.’  Murphy took the card Adams had given him out of his pocket and then his mobile.  He punched numbers into the phone.

‘Hello, DI Murphy here...yes thanks we will need our chaps to look at that tomorrow.  No the other thing is: what was the reason for Frank James suspension? Right... I see, we’ll obviously need to talk more about that tomorrow.  Thanks.’  Murphy ended the call.  Jones gave him a questioning look.

‘They think he was accessing porn sites.’

‘Surely he wouldn’t have been that stupid?’

‘Who knows...? Well we’d better see Hepplewhite before we go.’

‘I suppose we must.’  There was a tap on the door.  Hepplewhite entered: his face dull and morose: put upon.

‘I hope this won’t take long I have to do food shopping on the way home the wife’s in bed with ‘flu.’  Murphy sighed.

‘May I point out to you Mr Hepplewhite that a man has been murdered here this afternoon and you were one of the last people to have seen him alive, in addition your job in the Council is, I believe, that of a security guard.  These seem to me three very good reasons for you to be sitting here in front of me ready to answer questions for as long as I feel necessary.’  The security guard’s face flushed a shade of purple that reminded Murphy of the colour of vinegar left over from a jar of pickled beetroot.  Hepplewhite spluttered but held his tongue.  The Inspector imagined it had been a struggle to do so.

‘What time did they call you from HR to go and get Mr James?’

‘They said in the morning I’d be needed for a special job at two fifteen so I went up to Mr Adams’ office about five past when Zaberi came back from his lunch break.’

‘And then what happened?’

‘Well they sent me and the HR bloke, Jake somebody, to take Mr James up to HR and then see him off the premises.’

‘Then?’

‘We went down to Phys Dis. The HR bloke did the talking: something about suspension and a meeting in HR.  I didn’t take much notice.  Stuff happens all the time in this place if I listened to half of it I’d go mad...James looked pretty pissed off but he didn’t make no trouble.  Bunch of sissies in Social Services.’

‘But you didn’t see him off the premises I take it,’ asked Jones?  Hepplewhite seemed surprised to get a question from the sergeant.

‘No, no I didn’t:  I waited a while outside Mr Adams’ office.  Voices were raised at times but I didn’t hear what was said then the Jake bloke came out and said he would deal with the rest and I could go back to work.’

‘But you didn’t did you?’ Jones persisted: digging away.

‘No, I fancied a cuppa and went to the staff restaurant; then outside by the river for a fag.’

‘Anyone who can vouch for you on this?’  The security guard’s face became angry again.  Jones hung on to the bone.

‘Of course, you berk.  There are people working in the restaurant and always a bunch of the smokers round the back.  But what are you suggesting?  That I killed someone?’

‘There is no need to shout Mr Hepplewhite,’ Murphy interjected in a soft voice.  ‘We have to know the movements of everyone who had contact with Mr James this afternoon.  I will need some names.  Tomorrow will do.’  The DI nodded dismissal.  Hepplewhite stood up.

‘I can go then?’ he growled.  

Jones opened the door and the two men stared at each other with mutual dislike; Hepplewhite looked away first.  Murphy smiled to himself.

The sergeant grinned as he returned to the table: ‘I seem to have made a lifelong pal there.’

‘Time for a drink, I’m thinking,’ Murphy suggested looking at his sergeant.

‘A sly half only: Karen needs me back to baby sit while she goes to her evening class.’

‘Right: sly half coming up.’

They sat in The Wellington: Jones with his half pint.  Murphy prepared to make an evening of it: planning to order some sandwiches after Jones had gone. Meanwhile he slaked his thirst with a pint of Guinness and a double measure of Clontarf single malt.

‘OK, what’re your thoughts?’ he asked Jones.

‘Something to do with porn sites?’

‘At the very least.’

‘Perhaps the stuff on the computer will give us some more.’

‘Maybe...’

Jones drained his half and glanced at his watch: ‘have to go otherwise you’ll have another murder on your hands.’

As soon as his sergeant left Murphy went up to the bar and ordered his food and another whiskey.  Pulling a notebook from his coat pocket he started to write.

Was James stupid enough to look at porn sites on his work computer?

Had he found out something about others in the organisation?

Had he been set up?

If a set up who was involved? Claire Blaine? Unlikely

Hepplewhite? Maybe: but seems too stupid to trust

Zaberi? I mustn’t let my feeling of comradeship cloud my judgement.

Adams? Seemed upset by the death but relieved to learn it wasn’t suicide (could be an act)

Edgeworth?  Need to talk to him and Patterson the IT Asst.

Maintenance man?

Rosa Kemp?

The sandwich arrived.  He put his notebook away and ate.  A jazz group had set up and began to play some mellow old standards.  When he’d finished eating he went home, arriving in time to catch Newsnight; do the quick crossword in the Guardian then went to bed.  He slept well.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Murphy woke at six thirty and was in the office by eight.  Many things were buzzing around his mind about the homicide.  He had his list from the pub and also two messages on his mobile...A memory stick had been found on the body.  He phoned to find out more.

‘Strange it wasn’t taken by the killer,’ he said to the officer who had discovered it.  

‘Not really: it was on a chain around his neck; under his shirt.  Not visible.  But we didn’t find any house keys.’

‘Odd, he lived alone.  Did they manage to get into the house?’

‘Yes, a neighbour had a spare and let them in.  But the place had been searched by somebody before they got there.  The neighbours hadn’t seen anything as they were out until about ten last night.’

‘Send someone from forensics to look for prints or anything.’  He finished the call and sat at his desk thinking.  He was curious to know if anything had been found on the computer.  He got up and walked across the corridor to what was known on the force as ‘The Geeks’ Room’.

A ridiculously young detective was working on a computer.

‘Pegler... is that the computer from the Borough Hall murder?’  The man looked up a dissatisfied expression on his face.

‘Yes sir, but I’m afraid it has been wiped.’

‘All lost?’

‘Well maybe not quite all. Basically you are supposed to do three wipes but here only two seem to have been done.  We might be able to retrieve something.’

‘Let me know if you do?’  

‘Yes sir,’ said the techie in a vague voice, already re-immersed in the puzzle before him.  Murphy smiled.  Not his scene, but techie knowledge often solved crimes these days.  He decided it was time to get himself down to County Hall.

 

***

Jones was already in the rooms that had been designated for their use.  People were sitting at desks bent over laptops and a large white board had been set up at the end of the room.  

‘Ok you lot gather round and we’ll have an update,’ Murphy walked toward the white board.  Everybody looked up ready to listen.

‘Here’s where we are. Frank James, manager of Physical Disabilities Team found in meeting Room Four yesterday by his deputy Claire Blaine at about three fifteen.  Shot in the head at close range.  Obviously a silencer was used.  Previously, about an hour or so before James was escorted to HR from his desk by Barry Hepplewhite security guard and Jake Edgeworth HR Assistant.  No explanation was given to people there in the office and they had assumed he had been called out on a work emergency, though it did seem a bit strange.  However, a while later when someone from IT came and took away James’ PC they changed their minds and concluded that James must be the one in trouble.  Cindy Blaine his deputy felt she couldn’t think straight because of the uproar and so decided to take some time out to decide what she should do.  She got the key from the reception desk for Room Four, a room that was rarely used, and found the body.  The security guard, George Zaberi, took charge of the situation.  He locked the door of Room Four, securing the scene.  Called the police and stopped anyone leaving until the uniforms arrived at about three-twenty.  The two secondary exits were also secured.  We were told yesterday that James had been suspended as it was alleged he had been accessing porn sites on his work computer.

For your information the computer has already been examined and the hard drive has been partially wiped.  They are trying to rescue some info.  But a memory stick was found on the body.  Hepplewhite claims he was told to leave HR and didn’t see the victim after he went into the office of Richard Adams.  Instead of returning to work though he went up stairs to the staff restaurant for a cuppa and then a smoke outside the back door near the river.’  Murphy pointed to a DC at a desk near the back: ‘Kirk I want you to follow up on his alibi after I’ve finished.’

‘Someone needs to talk to the IT chappie,’ he looked down at his notebook, ‘His name is Len Patterson.  We need to establish why and when the PC was wiped, logically, if James was being suspended for accessing porn HR would need to retain everything on the hard drive: not get rid of it.  DC Rogers you can talk to him.’ He nodded toward a woman detective who smiled back.  ‘We’ve also got a nameless maintenance man.  We need to find anyone who was around the Reception area when all this must have happened.  Has anyone received anything about his van?’

‘Yes sir, the van has been traced.  It had been reported stolen from outside a house on the Alston Road.  They are going over it for prints now.’

‘OK that sounds as if this maintenance chappie had something to do with the overall plan to get rid of James then.  I want the rest of you to first talk to all the staff who were in the Physical Disabilities’ office yesterday afternoon and then to staff on other floors.’  He snapped his notebook shut.  ‘Right off you go my merry sleuths and let’s get this one sorted.’

While Murphy had been talking Jones had stood at the white board writing up names, times and movements as the Inspector had mentioned them.  There was already a ground plan of the reception area stuck on with blue tack.

Jones now went over to his desk and looked at the screen of his lap top and said: ‘I’ve got an email from the guy who was looking at the contents of the memory stick.  This should be interesting...’  Murphy joined him and they both stared down, reading; Jones occasionally tapping to scroll down.  When they’d finished reading Jones ran his fingers through his hair.  Murphy’s expression grew darker and darker.

‘So that was what they were trying to wipe: Dear God!  It looks as if James had somehow collected evidence of a paedophile ring and they had to shut him up.  Or was he in it too?’ Jones pondered aloud.

‘We will have to go through this carefully again but to me I would say he was accumulating evidence to expose them.’ Murphy said.  ‘But there are no names here.  He must have had some idea.  We’ll have to bring in Vice on this.’  Murphy looked at his watch.  ‘Shit! we have to be over at the Morgue in ten minutes.’

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

The couple of hours spent with the pathologist did not add much to what they already knew.  It hadn’t been suicide: they’d known that, and that the gun had had a silencer attached: even Watson could have worked that one out without the help of Sherlock or the police pathologist.

When they returned to County Hall someone called Porter, a DS from Vice, was waiting for them.

‘Hear you’ve got something you need help with?’  He grinned.

‘Not at all, old chap.  Info for you,’ countered Jones.  They showed him the contents of the memory stick.

‘Hm, well I recognise some of this as we have been after this lot for some time.  It goes high up we think but we haven’t got to the top so we were holding fire.  Some of this is new though.’  The man from Vice seemed to be trying not to be too impressed.  ‘Does this have something to do with your case?’

‘The stick was around the neck of the deceased: hidden under his shirt.  It seems to us he was doing a bit of private investigating.  Turned out bad for him, I’m afraid,’ said Murphy.

‘Never try to outdo the professionals,’ Porter remarked.

‘No, indeed,’ Murphy agreed.  ‘Look I think we are going to have to co-operate on this one.  Will your boss want to have someone here in the team?’  

‘Probably, I’ll go back and discuss with him.  Can you forward what you’ve got on that stick?’

‘Yes, tell him to call me if he wants it.’  The sergeant turned to leave.

‘I have a feeling I’ll be back,’ he said as he went out of the door.

The officer Murphy had sent to talk to Len Patterson approached them.  

‘A word sir?’ she said.  

‘Of course DC Rogers, what have you got for us?

The DC opened her notebook: ‘Edgeworth said he hadn’t done anything to the computer except to open it quickly and try to look at the files.  But it had already been wiped.  I asked him if he was sure he hadn’t done anything else but he said even if they’d told him to do that he wouldn’t have had time as soon after he got back to the office he was called out on two emergencies that lasted the whole of the afternoon.’

‘Thank you, write that up will you and get him to sign it.’  The DC headed off toward her desk.  ‘Oh and check his alibi will you?’

Murphy looked at Jones: ‘Are our thoughts about James’ innocence to be proved wrong I wonder?  I am going to see if Mrs Blaine is in,’ he lifted the phone and dialled through to reception: ‘Put me through to Mrs Blaine in Physical Disabilities team please... Ah Mrs Blaine would you have time to pop up here to the incident room I have another question for you.  See you in a moment then. Thank you.’

Murphy met her at the door of the incident room and walked her over to the large picture window that looked out over the river.

‘Just what might sound like a silly question, but anyway here goes... I would be obliged if you could identify Frank James’ computer.’

‘Do you mean the look of it?  I couldn’t get into it as I haven’t a clue about his password.’

‘Yes, the look of it.’

She smiled. ‘As a matter of fact I could.  Frank loves parrots, loved parrots,’ she swallowed as she corrected the tense. ‘Last April Fools’ Day someone covered his computer with little plastic stickers, you know like children have.  Parrots everywhere... most of them had fallen off but there must have been about half dozen left on the side.  Why? Is it important?’

‘Not sure yet...It might be.  Thanks anyway.’  She left him gazing out of the window.  After a moment or two he straightened up and took a deep breath.  He put his head round the incident room door.  ‘I’m going up to talk to Adams in HR again do you want to come with me Jones?’

They walked up the main stairs to the third floor while Murphy explained about the parrots.  He asked someone where Adams had his desk and they were taken to his office.  

He greeted them with alacrity, jumping up from his chair and asking:  ‘Can I get you gentlemen some coffee?’  He walked over to an elaborate, expensive looking coffee maker.  The room had a large fern in the corner and several paintings and drawings decorating the walls.  The curved wooden desk was clear except for an Apple lap top and a framed photograph of a woman and two children.  Murphy noted that the photograph had been angled so that it could be seen by visitors as well as the occupant of the room.

Both policemen refused the coffee.  

Murphy started: ‘We just need to clear up a few things that have arisen during our enquiries, Sir.  Firstly, how long did you speak with Frank James when he was brought up to you yesterday afternoon?’

‘Not long.  It was all a bit embarrassing really, these things are you know.’

‘And then?’

‘Well I told him to leave the building and that we would be in touch.’  

‘Who went with him?’

‘The security chap and Jake Edgeworth I suppose.’

‘The security man says that Edgeworth came out of this office and told him he wasn’t needed anymore.’  Adams bit his lip then straightened up.

‘Well I suppose Jake thought that he could manage alone.’

‘And you sir what did you do next?’

‘Well I went down to reception to ask security to have a look around the car park for any illegal parking.  We have a bit of a problem with this from time to time.’

‘Hardly in your job description I would think,’ broke in Jones.  Adams gave him a startled look and then seemed to recover himself.

‘The property manager phoned me and asked me to get security on to it.  He is was off at a subsidiary site yesterday and worries about these routine things not getting done.  I’ve told him to always phone me when he has a problem like that and I will see that things are kept on an even keel.  He’s a good man but does worry, you know.’  Adams gave a sad smile.  Jones looked unconvinced.

‘Thank you for your time, sir,’ Murphy said and signalled to Jones they should go.  He took one last thoughtful look at the HR manager before he turned to leave.

Going down the stairs they were overtaken by the security man George Zaberi.  He greeted them with a wave.  

‘Any progress?’ he asked and then said smiling, ‘No Man, I know you can’t tell me.  Can’t stop anyway I have to oversee the loading of the recycling truck.’  He started down the stairs...

‘Wait,’ Murphy called after him; ‘what sort of recycling?’

‘Old PCs, printers, stuff,’ Zaberi replied without stopping or turning.

‘No wait, we’re coming with you,’ Murphy announced to the retreating back.  Zaberi waited until they caught up.

‘What are we looking for then?’

They told him about the parrots.

They stood at the edge of the loading bay as the equipment was packed into the truck.  It was Zaberi who spotted it: picking it up and handing it to Jones.  ‘This looks like the one you want.’

‘You’re wasted here, Mate,’ Jones remarked tucking the machine under his arm.  Zaberi grinned.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Murphy got Jones to take the computer back to the ‘geek squad’ but in the meanwhile he thought he would like to chat to Jake Edgeworth and asked Rosa to put him through to HR.  But Edgeworth had called in sick.

‘I will need his address then,’ he said

‘I am sorry but I cannot give out staff addresses,’ the woman at the other end of the line sounded indignant.

‘This is to do with the murder enquiry, I am Detective Inspector Murphy.  You are quite right not to give me the information over the phone.  I will be up in your office in about ten minutes.  While you are waiting please talk to your boss Mr Adams and get clearance.’  He put down the phone before receiving a real reply.  He just heard a gasp.

Before he left the Incident Room he checked the list of staff who’d been in the building after the body had been found.  He didn’t find an Edgeworth listed.

Mounting the stairs he found Adams waiting at the top with a piece of paper in his hand.

‘I’m not sure how useful this will be.  Edgeworth was not a permanent employee but came from an agency.’

‘I understood he was just off sick.’

‘Well yes, but if he was involved in this terrible business I would have expected him to have flown the coop,’ Adams’ voice faltered a fraction.

‘We’ll see...’ said Murphy.  He went back to the Incident Room and asked DC Kirk to accompany him to Edgeworth’s address.  Though it seemed unlikely they would find him waiting for them...if he had been involved.

The satnav brought them to a small, unassuming hotel on the edge of town.  There was no one in reception and they had to ring the bell on the desk several times before they got a response.  Finally a stressed looking, middle aged woman hurried down the hall toward them.

‘So sorry to keep you gentlemen waiting,’ she said, trying to get her breath back, ‘I was just helping with getting the rooms done.  Can’t get staff, at least not on the wages our boss pays, we can’t.’  

They showed her their warrant cards and introduced themselves.  She began to look even more harassed and worried.

‘Oh dear has something happened?’

‘Well yes it has: but not anything to do with the hotel.  We just need to know if you have a Jake Edgeworth staying here.’  Murphy spoke in a calm voice realising the woman was twitchy.

‘Mr Edgeworth, yes we did.  Agency work at the Borough Hall, I believe.  He left last night.’  She hesitated at this point.  ‘Oh God, he hasn’t had an accident has he?’

‘Not as far as we know,’ Murphy said.  We just needed to talk to him about something at County Hall.  Do you have a forwarding address?’

‘No nothing of that sort.’

‘How did he pay you?’

‘Well that was a bit strange.  You know how it is, most people pay with a card these days.  In fact we usually take their card details when they arrive in case they do a runner.  But no he insisted on paying cash up front for the fortnight: said he might be tempted to spend the money otherwise...made a joke of it.’

‘Did he have a car?’

‘If he did he didn’t park it here.’  Murphy reluctantly began to conclude that this interview was by way of a dead end at the moment.  

PC Kirk then asked: ‘Do you have any CCTV in the hotel?

‘No sorry, but the shop over the road might be able to help.  I saw him go over there for some cigarettes once or twice.  I know they have it: lots of shop lifting goes on.  In fact I saw him go over just after he left yesterday afternoon. Must have been about five.’

‘Well done Kirk,’ said Murphy as they crossed the road to the shop.

The shop keeper got his teenage son to show them the set up.  

The lad was enthusiastic: ‘We just got us a digital system.  So much more cool than the tapes.  I told my Dad it was well worth.  We caught two bros last week trying to steal booze.  What time do you want me to look for?’ They told him.  He fiddled with the equipment while Kirk looked over his shoulder with what, Murphy assumed, was an easy understanding of the system.  He let them get on with it.  It was quick.

Kirk pointed at the scene: ‘This must be him: he’s buying cigarettes and a Mars or something.  Around that time there isn’t anyone else it could be...all kids and women.’

‘I remember him, real moody guy... had come in a few times for ciggies and chocolate before last afternoon.  Went off in a car,’ said the lad.

‘Do you remember what sort of car? Kirk asked him.

‘Actually I do.  It was a dodgy black BMW.  That’s why I clocked it.’

‘Did he drive?’

‘No, the car slid up when he went out of the shop and he just got in the passenger side.  I did notice the first two letters of the registration,’ he looked a bit embarrassed for a moment, ‘only because it was my initials AK: Ahmed Khan.’

‘Good man,’ said Murphy. ‘We’ll need a screen print of the chap’s face from your machine.  Can you send it to us?  Kirk give him your email.’

When Murphy and Kirk got back into the car the DC asked if Murphy thought Edgeworth was the killer.  

‘Might be...he has taken a lot of trouble to make himself scarce but unless he was hired for the job, why?’  Murphy’s phone rang it was Jones.  He listened.

‘Divert to Headquarters, Kirk.’  Once they arrived Murphy went straight to the geek squad office.  He sent Kirk to see if there was any CCTV around the area of the shop.  A slim chance they might get the ‘Beamer’ on camera.  Having those first two letters could mean the difference between success and failure.

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Pegler and Jones were looking pleased with themselves.  The computer with the ‘sticky parrot’ additions was on the desk attached to a screen.

‘This is James’ computer alright.  Has a file the same as the one from the memory stick; as well as all the usual work stuff you’d expect.  The other wiped one was obviously to implicate James in the paedo ring he was working to expose.  A rather clunky way of doing it’ said Jones.

‘I managed to get some stuff from the first one and it was obviously an old HR computer.  Whoever had tried to wipe that hard drive didn’t take much trouble to do it properly or ...didn’t know quite what they needed to do,’ the techie added.

‘Or didn’t have time to finish the job...’ suggested Jones.

‘That’s another possibility... Let’s get Len Patterson in for another talking to.’

‘Here?’

‘Yes.’

 

***

Len Patterson sat on a chair in the interview room.  His face so pale Murphy wondered if the man ever went out of doors willingly when the sun was shining.  He had refused the right to have a solicitor with him saying he had nothing to hide. Detective Inspector Murphy wasn’t so sure...

As Jones started to caution him Patterson’s eyes began to dart about the room unable to rest on anyone or anything.  

‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

Murphy took over:  ‘I also have to tell you Mr Patterson that this interview is being recorded.’  Patterson nodded and hid his shaking hands under the table.  

‘When DC Rogers spoke to you this morning you told her that after taking Frank James’ computer to your office you had a superficial look at and you realised it had been wiped.  I put it to you this was not the truth.’

‘I just had a quick look and then had two call outs,’ insisted Patterson.

‘While it is true that the computer you passed to us as James’ computer had been partially wiped that machine wasn’t his, was it?  Our experts managed to retrieve some information from the hard drive but that info had more to do with HR issues and did not belong to Social Services: your comments please?’  While the Inspector had been saying this Patterson’s face froze as if his circulation was failing and he would pass out.

‘Someone must have changed the machines while I was on my call outs,’ he just about managed to gasp.

‘Won’t do I’m afraid.  You have already told us you did a quick check before you went out of your department and it had been wiped,’ Murphy said, pausing a moment and staring at the man in front of him.  ‘Quite by chance we managed to get our hands on the correct computer before it was taken away for re-cycling.  The information we found was the same as that we found on a memory stick belonging to the victim.’  It wasn’t just the man’s hands that were shaking now Murphy noticed: Paterson’s whole body shook as if he had been dunked into a cold bath. ‘Now perhaps you could tell us what really happened.’

‘I didn’t kill him,’ Patterson shouted in a tone that bordered on desperation.

‘I know that,’ said Murphy. ‘You do have a perfectly good alibi for the time of the murder.  My interest is what really happened to the computer after you took it from James’ desk.’

‘I didn’t know they were going to kill him...’

‘You haven’t answered the question.’

‘I was told to leave it on a desk in HR and pick up another machine in exchange.  I didn’t see anyone.’

‘Didn’t you wonder why?’

‘Not really.’

‘But you did look on the computer you took in exchange?’

‘Well I was a bit curious, of course.’

‘Were you surprised it had been wiped?’

‘A little.’

Murphy’s tone hardened: ‘You were surprised because you thought it would have incriminating info on there didn’t you?’

‘Suppose, yes I did.’

‘You were prepared to exchange a machine for one that might have lost a man his job and perhaps lead to criminal proceedings?  How much did they pay you?’

‘You’ve got to understand I have a real debt problem.  It was £500.’ Patterson mumbled and seemed unable to raise his eyes to look at the Inspector; staring at the table as he spoke.  

‘Have you any idea who was paying you?’

‘Well I thought it must have had something to do with the HR lot.’

‘How did the messages and money come to you?’

‘Brown envelopes on my desk marked ‘personal’.’

‘Do you still have the notes or the cash?’

‘No I shredded the notes and paid the money into my account straight away.’ Murphy sat in silence for a few moments looking at the sorry excuse for a man in front of him.  OK Patterson didn’t know murder was going to be involved but he did have some idea a man would lose his job and reputation...

Finally he said: ‘OK you can go now.  But you will be hearing from us again.’  Jones turned off the recording devise after noting the time.

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

Murphy still felt annoyed and frustrated despite the fact he’d established some of the story behind the swopped computers.  He wanted to have a further talk with Vice and was pleased to see DS Porter was sitting waiting for them when they returned to Borough Hall.  And there was more good news.  From CCTV they now had the full registration number of the car that had picked up Edgeworth from outside the grocer’s shop.  They also had the identity of its owner.

DS Porter read the name with some interest: ‘Bobbie Villa,’ he muttered to himself, then smiling and in a louder voice, ‘Oh yes, I know him.  If he’s involved this thing is big.  By the way my boss was very interested in the stuff you mailed over.’

‘Tell us more,’ said Murphy, a little encouraged by the few flickers of light that just in the last few moments were beginning to illuminate the case.

‘Any chance of coffee first? asked Porter.

They gathered around the coffee machine in the corridor.  A few councillors, on their way to some committee or other, walked by eyeing them.  Murphy wondered to himself if any of them were involved in what was going on.

Back in the office, Porter updated Murphy and Jones.

‘It sounds as if this social worker of yours had got some hot info on this lot we’ve been working on.  Several names came up in his notes that we know.  I just wonder why the idiot started an investigation of his own when he could have come to us with what he had.’

‘I have a feeling that this goes way up in the hierarchy.  James probably thought he had to get it right and have plenty of evidence before he went to the police,’ Murphy suggested.

‘True: and he might have been spot on.  Sometimes the ‘oligarchs’ have more than one way of covering their backs,’ agreed Jones, ‘it’s happened before in Bedstanton Council.’

‘Still we are supposed to be hearing what you have on all this, Porter.’

‘Right, my turn then,’ he paused, ‘we have been after a well organised gang for several months now.  They have connections all over but the main man seems to run it all from south London (nothing new in that scenario).  They have set up high class ‘clubs’ or rather brothels on the edges of several provincial towns.  They started as clubs for people to go to for their private liaisons but then girls were brought in from other countries: Eastern Europe mostly.  Recently, a couple of our undercover boys reported that some of the new girls seemed under age.  In fact the paedo side seems to have become a very lucrative sideline.  Difficult to prove because the older girls just claimed the youngsters were their children or relatives: like sisters or cousins.  Several forces have been pooling information and building a case.  A couple of months ago three girls ran off from one of these clubs up North: just disappeared for a time.  The eldest, she was about twenty-five, had been sick before she left.  Our lads reported back on this but the girls had vanished into thin air...until we saw your victim’s notes.  We are pretty certain the three girls he mentions in the notes are the three who disappeared.’

‘But how does this affect us locally?’ asked Jones.

‘Some top bananas from the Council, (your ‘oligarchs’ Jonesie) have been seen at a club on the outskirts of Pullen.  Not far from here.  Our boys have been keeping an eye on them.  They seem, so far, to have kept away from the paedo scene but are well entrenched with the older hostesses...and hosts.’  Some local business women have also been using the facilities.’  

Murphy nodded: ‘So perhaps this is not just murder but blackmail as well.’

‘It certainly looks like it,’ Porter agreed.  ‘Perhaps the people who frequent this Pullen place were sucked into getting rid of James.  Its possible they didn’t even realise it would end in murder.  Edgeworth was the gang’s man on the ground but who did the deed? Bobbie Villa is a close henchman of the main man in London.  I would think Edgeworth is also one of the London lot and was sent to see everything went to plan and nobody backed out at the last moment.’

‘Well that’s our problem I suppose.  Yours is all the rest.’  The frown on Murphy’s face seemed to indicate that for him solving the murder was enough for the moment.

Later, alone in The Wellington, Murphy pondered the possibilities.  Although he knew Adams could have been near the scene or the shooting around the right time, for him, the HR chief didn’t seem to have the balls for actual cold blooded murder: a facilitator perhaps?  The whereabouts of the three girls worried him as well; their fate lurked in the back of his mind.  Had James been forced to divulge their whereabouts before he was shot?  Where were the girls?  They needed to be found ASAP.

He sipped a Guinness and ordered a sandwich...The other person he knew must be key was the driver of the white van: they needed to track him down.  He decided that next morning the two people he wanted to talk to urgently were the white van man and Cindy Blaine...

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

 

He phoned Jones early.

‘Pick me up at home and we’re going to the house of the person who reported the white van stolen.’  Jones sounded a bit surprised but didn’t question the plan.  While waiting for him to arrive Murphy phoned the incident room and asked for the address.

‘The sat nav landed them outside a neat looking semi in a street of former council houses.  Most of the inhabitants seemed to have changed their front doors and spent time on their front gardens.  The door of number 78 was opened by a middle aged man in jeans and a white vest.  His face showed they had disturbed him shaving.

‘Are you the law?’  They introduced themselves showing their ID.

‘You’d better come in.’  He pulled the door open wider and ushered them in. Shutting the front door he pointed the door which led to a front room.

‘Just give me a minute.  I’ll finish shaving and be with you.’

The room was small, clean and sparsely furnished.  Murphy thought, bachelor, if a bit tidy.  No signs of a woman or children.

The man returned dressed in navy overalls.

‘Come to talk about the van I suppose.  Any chance of getting it back soon? I use it for work.’

‘A day or two:  the forensics people are going over it.’ Jones said.  The man looked surprised.

‘Are you always so thorough with stolen vans?’

‘We do our best Mr Harris,’ Murphy said quickly not wishing to reveal more of the circumstances.  ‘We will need you to come down to the station so that we can have a set of your prints, for elimination purposes, you understand.’

‘No probs: any special time?’

‘Whenever it’s convenient today.  Can you tell us when you first noticed the car had gone?

‘Day before yesterday about 9 o’clock:  my partner and I had a job out of county and we just went in his: not to waste petrol.  Came back, wasn’t there.  Reported to the insurance and the police there and then...it’s a bit of a rust bucket, seems a strange old heap to steal...’

Neither Murphy nor Jones offered any suggestions.

The door bell rang. ‘That’ll be Ray.  I really need to go.’

‘Of course, just remember to come round to the station after work.  Tell them who you are and they will do the necessary.  If your mate has been in the van he’ll need to come as well,’ Jones said as they left the house.

 There was a tall, rather obese, bearded man, also dressed in blue dungarees waiting by the inevitable white van.  He nodded to them as they passed.

After they were sat in the car Jones said: ‘I think I recognise the other bloke. I arrested him once for burglary.  He got a couple of years, first offence, out after eighteen months.  Been alright since as far as I know: probably thought I wouldn’t recognise him with the beard and the extra pounds.  Came up here from London when he was in his twenties.’

‘That’s interesting.  He knew the car would be unused all day.  Could have told a friend?  Could even have acquired or even had a duplicate key.  A man in dungarees comes up and opens the car door: the neighbours wouldn’t have thought twice.  The maintenance man is important it seems.’  They were both silent for a few minutes.  Murphy pondered the new information and its implications.  ‘I’m anxious to find those girls.  They’ve already killed James, I’ve no doubt they would off the girls if they got the chance.  I’m also wondering if Mrs Blaine knows a bit more than she is letting on.  We talk to her next.  Meanwhile let’s get Kirk and Rogers onto this Ray guy to see if they can get anything out of him.  Give them the info on his record.  Check if any of his old London contacts chime with any of the Vice Squad suspects.

‘That might be tricky.’

‘It’s worth a try.  Now let’s get back to County Hall.’

Back at the Incident Room Jones went to instruct the two DCs what they needed to do with regard Ray, Ray Martell.  Jones had remembered the man’s full name on the drive back.  Maybe they could catch him when he came in the station to leave his prints when he wouldn’t be expecting to be questioned.

Meanwhile Murphy sat at a desk letting his mind wander over what was known already.  It was a technique he used when information seemed disparate and illogical.  Why had James taken all this on his own back?  The girls must have been referred from another agency.  Had he already known about the local sex club?  He must have had some idea that he was taking risks.  Murphy also felt the killing was high profile to send out a warning to others, perhaps?  The press were already baying at the door and giving the Press Officer back at headquarters a bad time.  

If they’d just wanted James dead they would have got rid of the body more discreetly; disappeared him in the foundations of a bridge or something.  Murphy’s hunch that Cindy Blaine might know more than she was letting on strengthened.  A talk with her should be his next move.  He lifted the phone.  

Ten minutes later he was sitting with Cindy the smaller office which they were using for interviews.  The woman looked in an even worse state than she had just after finding the body.  Her hair hung in what his mother would have called ‘rat’s tails’ around her pale face.  No makeup.  Her clothing haphazard: not dirty but ill-matched.  Sitting in front of him she had the demeanour of a child waiting for a bollocking.

‘Mrs Blaine, we know that Frank James was investigating a situation that involved child abuse and possibly trafficking.’  The woman held herself rigid as she waited for him to say more; Murphy saw it as a definite sign she knew more than she had so far revealed.  ‘There were obviously people in County Hall he didn’t trust because he hadn’t taken his findings further up the chain of command.  However I believe he didn’t quite anticipate the extent of the danger he was in personally.  I understand why you said at our first meeting that Frank James was secretive.  He had told you not to let on you knew anything about the girls, whatever happened to him, didn’t he?’

‘I don’t know what you are talking about Inspector Murphy I really don’t,’ she was almost pleading.

‘Look, I know that part of your remit is liaison with the GUM clinic across the road in regard to patients who need help from social services because they have an AIDS diagnosis.’

‘I don’t see what that might have...’

‘The eldest girl had an AIDS diagnosis didn’t she?’  

‘How do you know that?  That is highly confidential information.’ Her expression changed as she realised that she had revealed her complicity.  Anger took over. ‘A lousy trick, you tricked me.’  

‘Yes, I did in a way, but I’m not going to apologise.  Those girls, wherever you have got them hidden, are in danger.  This whole case is far wider than crime in Bedstanton: as you must realise... those girls came from up North.  But it goes further than that and you are up against a gang whose control stretches from the UK to Eastern Europe.’

‘But you don’t understand we had to keep it a secret in County Hall.  The people involved go right to the top here.’

‘Councillors?’

‘Maybe... but definitely the CEO.’  This rocked even Murphy.  He knew the CEO was a woman.

‘How do you know that?’

‘When we talked to the eldest girl she told us the three had headed for Bedstanton because they’d heard that the GUM clinic here was very helpful in dealing with cases that involved asylum issues.  A girl who had worked down here at Pullen was taken to the place they came from, just outside Derby.  She told them.  Look Inspector I’m leaving myself and my family open to a whole bunch of shit by talking to you...I’m going to want some assurance of protection before I tell you any more... and for those girls.’

Murphy nodded: ‘Of course, I understand that.  I will arrange all that.’

She sighed appearing resigned, if not relieved...

‘Well I told Frank about the situation the girls were in and he felt that we needed to go further and find out what was happening in this area.  So he decided he would have a look at the club in Pullen himself.  By this time we had the girls in a very safe place.’

‘I hope you do...’

‘Oh it’s safe alright.  Well how he got himself an invite to the place, I don’t know.  Something on the internet I expect.  I didn’t want him to go.  I didn’t think it was part of our remit but Frank was one of those Rottweiler guys that once he has his teeth into something he just wouldn’t let up.  When I saw him the next day he seemed really shaken.  Not because of what went on there, he was expecting that but who he saw there.  Yes, you guessed it: Siobhan Fitzgerald and Richard Adams.  They didn’t seem to be part of any under age stuff that the girls had mentioned went on up North.  Though Frank didn’t hang around very long once he spotted them so he couldn’t be sure.  He tried to hide himself but as he was leaving he bumped into Adams having a smoke in the car park.  They didn’t speak.’

‘What happened next?’

‘We kept a low profile.  But after a couple of days Frank was summoned up stairs.  Not to speak to Siobhan, of course, the pair couldn’t have been sure he’d seen her.  No, he spoke to Adams, what a slime bag he is...anyway he tried to warn Frank off from saying anything.  Said he would get in first if any accusations were going to be bandied around.  Said Frank didn’t know who he was dealing with...’

‘I suspect that was true...’ Murphy felt a sense of frustration that people these days lacked confidence in the police to the extent that they would try to investigate something like this by themselves.  Idiots.  ‘In protecting you we have a bit of a dilemma.  They are bound to be keeping an eye on you; might even be hacking your work mobile.  If we send someone round to yours they will become suspicious.  I’ll put in some covert surveillance...

‘We could go to the States for a time,’ Cindy suggested but without much enthusiasm.  ‘Could say someone is unwell and that we all need to go.’

‘What about you husband, what does he do?’

‘He works at the BBC. Journo.  They might understand.  He’s researched Mafia stories in the States; that’s how we met.  I’ll talk to him.’ Cindy looked increasingly troubled as she said this.  Murphy understood.  Her husband would register the danger immediately and probably be just a little pissed off that Cindy had become so deeply involved.  He also suspected she was realising that her world was being turned upside down.

‘What does your husband know about this, anything?’

‘Nothing yet.’  Murphy could see there would be several difficult peaks to conquer, but he had to make sure that Cindy and her family were kept safe...and she would, when and if it all came to trial be a key witness for the prosecution.  He couldn’t let anything happen to her or her family.

‘There’s the other thing.  The three girls.  Where are they Cindy?’ There was a moment of hesitation.

‘In Devon.’

‘Devon!’

‘We have a holiday cottage there.  In a tiny village near Dartmoor.  I gave Frank the key.  He took them down a couple of weeks ago.’

‘What are they living on?’

‘Benefits.’  Murphy felt astounded.  It must have showed.

‘The older woman was entitled because of the AIDS. She’s from the EU. It’s enough for them all to live on for the time being.  I pay the utilities out of my salary anyway.’

‘It must be tight.’

‘Not really, they’re country girls they know how to manage.  They even say they want to start growing veg and have a few chickens.  Though I must say I’d been hoping we could get the whole thing solved before the summer holidays.’

Murphy rubbed his forehead with his thumb: ‘Bonkus, completely bonkus,’ he muttered, more to himself than to her.

‘You don’t have to tell me, I know.  I got carried along by desire to help them.  The two young girls are about the same age as my two.’

‘Well you will have to tell your husband now.  Do you want back up?’ he asked.

‘No I’d better tell him first but I know he will want to talk to you eventually.’

‘OK let me know.  By the way how have you been communicating with the girls?  

‘There was a mobile. Frank had it.  I could give you the number... that won’t work though they will freak if a stranger calls them.’

‘We will call them together from Blackfriars this evening.  I’ll come and pick you up from your house.  Not a police car...after your husband gets home.  The sooner we get going on this side of things the better.  You’d better get back to the office now.’  He smiled at her. ‘How good are you at am dram? You are going to have to act really fed up with being questioned again when you get back to your desk.  We have to keep them off your trail until we can get you safely out of Bedstanton.’

He stood up and showed her to the door.  He had noticed her become less tense as she came clean about her part in the fiasco but her expression changed again as soon as she hit the corridor: she looked full of righteous indignation...method acting.  It made him smile a second time.  He went to find Jones.

It occurred to him that it had most probably been Edgeworth who had searched Frank James’ house.  He’d taken quite a risk.

 

 

Chapter Nine    

 

 

He found Jones and took him back to the interview room for a private conversation.  It was imperative that no word of the girls’ whereabouts leaked out.  The murder investigation could proceed without anyone else knowing about them for a while yet.

‘So I will take Cindy Blaine to Blackfriars tonight and she can call from there.  They know her well but I don’t want her using her work mobile for more than a few seconds: we’ve no idea what type of technology these chaps have got.  After that we can go onto a secure line.  I know she thinks they have no idea she is involved but they might have put two and two together if they know she deals with AIDS clients.’

‘What about Porter?’

‘We’ll see tomorrow...after we have spoken to them.  But now I think it is time for a bit of lunch.’  They went upstairs to the staff restaurant.  The food wasn’t bad but they were eyed with suspicion by several of the diners and people left them alone.  The atmosphere of the place was oppressive and no one laughed, people spoke in whispers.  It was understandable, thought Murphy, no one in a place like County Hall expects to be this close to murder.

‘What shall we do with these girls?  It sounds as if they are legal and haven’t really committed any crimes: more sinned against.  If they have been trafficked it might not be safe for them to go back to their own countries when this is over.  They will be important witnesses.’

‘I think we have to get them into witness protection.  I’ll speak to the Asst Chief Constable and get him to get the ball rolling it probably goes for the Blaine family as well.  But looking after the girls doesn’t help to find our murderer...’ Murphy took off his glasses and fished around in his pocket for his glasses’ case.  Taking out a square of soft material he began to polish the lenses slowly and meticulously.  These small rituals helped him to think.  Jones knew him well and waited in silence.

The moment of reflection was rather spoiled by the ringing of Jones’ mobile. He answered it giving neither Inspector Murphy or nor the pricked ears at adjacent tables any clue what information he was receiving: just an occasional grunted: ‘yes’ and finally: ‘thanks for that,’ before returning the phone to his pocket. He leant toward his boss.

‘Ray and the car owner have been in to leave their prints.  There’s some more info down stairs.’  They both rose to go.

Kirk and Rogers were waiting for them.

‘Well, what have you got for me?’  Murphy asked and gestured for the four of them to sit round a table.

‘We weren’t expecting them in so soon for the finger prints.  The chaps at the station said they seemed anxious to get it done and had come in their lunch break.  I expect we will get more on that before the end of the afternoon,’ said Rogers.

‘About Ray Martell, he seems to have been pretty well behaved since you came across him last, Sergeant.  His links in London appear to have petered out.  In fact most of his old mates seem to be banged up or be living on the Costa.’  Jones looked disappointed.

‘OK, what about the other guy, Derek Harris, the van owner.’

‘Couldn’t find anything criminal; not even a speeding ticket.  Seems to have been a plumber all his life...came to Bedstanton about five years ago.  Rents house no wife,’ Kirk reported.  

‘Thanks for that, good work...keep an eye open for the forensic report.’  The two younger officers drifted away to their desks.  Murphy waited for them to be out of ear shot before he spoke again.  ‘Jones go and chat up Rosa and see what she was up to going in and out of the office when she said she was on reception the whole time.  Also find out if she can give any sort of description of our maintenance man.  I’m going to the interview room to get this witness protection stuff started.’

The rest of Murphy’s afternoon was taken up with getting things arranged for the girls’ safety.  He thought about the information that Kirk and Rogers had collected but was not yet convinced of Ray Martell’s innocence in arranging the theft of the car.  He phoned his son and asked if he could borrow his car for a few hours.

He left about six thirty and drove to his son’s house to swap cars. He called Cindy then and asked if it was convenient to arrive at the house:

‘Oh God the sooner the better: Giles really wants to talk to you.’

‘I can imagine...’ he said, ‘see you in about ten minutes.’

Giles Blaine met him at the door and showed him into the sitting room.  The room was full of bright colour, books over flowing from shelves and an eager looking Jack Russell sitting in the middle of the carpet panting to be noticed.  Cindy sat in a large leather armchair looking at odds with the up beat ambience.

Giles spoke first: ‘What the hell has she got us into Inspector?’  Murphy coughed and glanced in Cindy’s direction.  She avoided his glance and bit her lower lip.

‘In fairness Mr Blaine I don’t think your wife intended to get in so deep or even realised when she discussed the girls’ case with Frank James where it would all lead.  In fact, of course, she couldn’t have.’  Giles Blaine seemed to relax a little.

‘Inspector if it was just Cindy and me in this I wouldn’t worry.  It’s our girls I’m worried about.  They will be so vulnerable.’

‘Did Mrs Blaine mention Witness Protection to you?’

‘Yes but that would be for the girls in Devon, wouldn’t it.’

‘That’s true.  I think your wife’s idea of an emergency visit to her family in the States would be the best thing for you.’

‘I agree with one proviso...I stay here.  It seems to me if we all go it will be more suspicious.  If I stay here, going to work in the normal way, the excuse of an emergency in Cindy’s family will have more credibility.’  Murphy noticed Cindy was looking shocked.

‘I think you have a point.’  Murphy agreed before Cindy could protest.  ‘The summer holidays start next week so your girls missing school will not be an issue.  It will seem perfectly normal... no need to even say it is an emergency.  We might need to tell HR the stress of your discovery of the body has had some effect on your health and your GP has suggested a break.’  Cindy still looked uncomfortable.

‘So I have put Giles in danger while I shoot off and have a great time with my folks?’  Giles went over and sat on the armrest of her chair.

‘I don’t think I will be in danger.  Shit! Auntie has sent me to some pretty hairy places over the years...not least Chicago...look at the danger I got into there?’  This raised a weak smile in his wife.

‘Ok I can leave you to arrange all that.  The only thing is we need to go down to Blackfriars now and contact the girls in Devon,’ said Murphy, anxious to get on with the witness protection issues.  He wasn’t looking forward to the reaction they would get when the girls were told Frank James was dead.

Cindy didn’t speak while they were in the car on the way to the station.  She seemed to be resigned to the coming upheaval in her life, which in reality started way before she had walked into Room Four; as far back as when she’d told James about the runaway girls.  The acceleration of events: a sports car 0 to a 100 in very few seconds: OK while you’re in control...He realised her emotions must be churning.

The call, as he’d predicted, was not easy.  The girls had been worried that they had not had contact for a few days but were then devastated by the news of James’ death.  Cindy went light on the detail and said that they would be visited by two police officers within the next day or two.  Murphy then took over.

‘I shall bring a woman officer with me.  You can check we are genuine by talking to Detective Inspector Farrow at the police station in Barnstaple, the number is 101.  I have told him to confirm my visit.  If in the meanwhile you are in any way concerned phone the same number and someone will be sent as soon as possible.  But it shouldn’t: we have been very careful and only a very few senior officers know where you are.’

‘Ok, Inspector, we have to trust you.  When will you be here?’ the woman’s voice was soft and heavily accented.

‘I will be there sometime tomorrow evening.  Is there anywhere for me to stay in the village.’

There was a soft laugh from the other end: ‘You have to understand, Inspector, Ashreigney is the end of nowhere...but I will ask my neighbour if she knows of anyone who has a room to let.’

‘Thank you, see you tomorrow then.’  He handed the phone back to Cindy who said her goodbyes and hung up.

Murphy looked at her. ‘Now you have to plan your journey.  Hopefully you won’t need to stay away long.’  She nodded without much enthusiasm.

‘I suppose I should be glad to be going to see my folks.  I just wish it could be under better circumstances and I wish Giles could come with us...though I do see the sense of his staying here.  Make sure he is OK won’t you Inspector?’

‘Of course.’  

He drove her home and then went to pick up his own car at his son’s house.  He also called DS Rogers to tell her she was to accompany him on the journey to Devon: ‘I’ll explain it all to you in the morning,’ he promised.  All this achieved he felt it was too late for The Wellington so stopped at a chippy for some cod and chips to eat at home.  He felt he deserved the indulgence.

Turning on the telly he settled into his favourite chair, his supper on a tray: he didn’t bother with a plate.  An hour of David Attenborough calmed his mind.  The glass of Abbot made him ready for a good night’s sleep.  

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

   

He picked up DC Rogers from outside Blackfriars at 9am.  Jones had orders to say his boss was indisposed: dental problem...emergency treatment.  DC Rogers had taken leave for undisclosed reasons.  He’d been given permission to bring DS Porter up to date; but not reveal the whereabouts of the three girls: the less people who knew the better.

On the way down to Devon Murphy explained to DC Rogers the purpose of their mission and the need for absolute discretion.  They took it in turns to drive listening to the Inspector’s choice of music, the Radio 4 news, switching occasionally to traffic reports.

Ashreigney really was an obscure location; up a twisting, narrow road. Murphy, who was driving at this point, prayed that he wouldn’t meet a tractor coming in the opposite direction and need to back down the serpentine lane.    

Eventually they reached the village.  Passed a row of erstwhile council houses, then eventually a row of old cottages near what looked like the village hall. The road widened and skirted a green near a church.  Murphy checked the number of the cottage they wanted and then parked outside.  The door opened as he turned off the engine and a tall blond woman stood looking at them as they got out of the car.

Murphy approached her with his hand outstretched: ‘DI Murphy, I imagine it was you I spoke to on the phone yesterday.’  The woman shook his hand and smiled carefully.

‘I am Yana,’ she said, ‘the two young ones are inside: they are Ola and Katya.  Come I will introduce you.’ Murphy clicked shut the car and followed by DC Rogers entered the house.  The girls inside leapt to their feet as their visitors entered: they looked nervous and uncomfortable.  Introductions were made.  

DC Rogers went over to the pair of them and said: ‘please call me Sally; I can’t have you saying ‘DC Rogers’ all the time.’  Murphy was pleased by the gesture and observed, with amusement, that his colleague, dressed as she was in civvies didn’t look that much older than the other two.  All three sat down on a comfortable, if ancient, settee together.

‘Can we make you some tea? You have come a long way, you must need refreshment,’ Yana said.

‘What a good idea,’ he replied, ‘and then we can get you up to date...’

The subsequent discussion caused some distress to the women but Murphy thought it important that they were aware of the full implications of the situation.

‘But Cindy is safe, please I hope?’ said Yana. ‘It was she who first helped us.  Mr. James was a good man but crazy to try to solve all this alone.  I tried to explain what he was up against.  He didn’t trust anyone in the authority, not even the police.  Said he had to get very, very good evidence before he could reveal to the press.’

‘I think you were right.  His murder proves he was up against the big boys,’ Murphy agreed.  ‘But now we must endeavour to keep you three safe until my colleagues in the Vice Squad are ready to charge the ring leaders.’

‘Will we have to move from here, Inspector?’ Yana asked him.

‘No, I’ve discussed this with the people who will be taking care of your safety and they say it would be quite difficult to find anywhere in England that was a better place to hide you.’  Yana smiled.  

‘It is a bit like my own village in Romania, a little ‘remote’ is how you say?’

‘Absolutely,’ he smiled at the woman. ‘In the morning other officers, from Witness Protection, will arrive and DC Rogers and I will go back to Bedstanton.  By the way, did you find me a place to stay?’ He hoped they had...he did not relish a night sleeping in the car.

‘No problem.  Our neighbour sometimes has guests, she says and would be happy to have you there.  Of course Sally can stay here with us.’  

‘Great, now let’s get down to business...’

He spent some time explaining the witness protection arrangements that he had put in place and the hopes there were of getting the women witness anonymity in the event of their being called to give evidence at any court proceedings.  Yana continued to look disturbed while he was talking and when he paused said:

‘Inspector, you must understand it is not just us ourselves we worry about but our families back home.  These men work in both of our countries.’  Murphy well appreciated her fears and the evil interlacing of influence of the gangs that spread over the whole of Europe.  In his head he thought the police were only nipping at the edges of the problem.  Those concerns he could not share with them.  The only thing he could do was to concentrate on keeping these young women and Cindy safe.  It was of course too late to help Frank James.

‘I do understand and we will do our best to keep you safe.  This gang have got to be stopped first and then you will be able to choose which way you want your lives to go.’  

All three of the women looked at each other nodded and gave a little shrug.

‘Thank you Inspector: we know you will do your best for us.  But now you must eat.  We have cooked traditional Romanian meal for you...sarmale... stuffed cabbage.  Come we will eat in the kitchen.’

They moved to the kitchen.  Murphy avoided looking toward PC Rogers: ‘stuffed cabbage’...he wasn’t at all sure if this was going to be a pleasure or a trial.  

It proved to be a pleasure.  When he left to go next door to sleep the four women were chatting and preparing to watch television.

Next day Murphy left early with PC Rogers.  He was anxious to return to his main task: finding Frank James’ murderer.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

 

It was afternoon before they arrived back in Bedstanton.  He dropped Sally Rogers off at her home and told her not to return to work until the next morning.  Talking with the women far into the night about their lives and hopes she hadn’t had much chance to sleep and so Murphy had driven most of the way back with Sally dozing by his side.

‘How’s the toothache?’ Jones grinned at his boss as he entered the office.

‘The dentist did his magic, better now,’ Murphy replied not allowing himself to grin.  ‘What’s happening?’

‘Nothing I wanted to trouble you with while you were away.  The forensics on the car didn’t turn up any new prints.  Strange really: this so-called maintenance man must have been very careful.  Not so much as a stray hair.’

‘I’d better have a word with DS Porter about our friends in Devon.  I’ll get some coffee and meet you in the interview room.’

Porter was very interested in hearing about the visit but Murphy had to endure another sly enquiry after the state of his teeth before being allowed to get on with the briefing.

‘None of the women agreed to come here knowing they were to go into prostitution.  The younger two haven’t been here long but Yana, the older one, has been here about five years.  When she started to get HIV symptoms she knew she had to get away.  The other two were desperate to leave as well.  They headed this way because someone had told them that the GUM clinic and social services here were on the ball as far as immigrants were concerned.  But they are very concerned about the effect all this might be having on their families back in Romania.’

‘Probably with reason,’ said Porter, he sounded grim.  ‘Their families just for a start might have been banking on them sending money but also the gang affiliates there might well take the girl’s running away out on them.’

‘I suppose there is not much we can do about that?’ Murphy hadn’t often dealt with foreign police forces during his career.  He had enough problems with local thugs.  ‘The whole sorry affair has arisen because this berk, James, wanted to play detective.  If he’d allowed Cindy Blaine to deal with the situation through her usual channels the girls would have been found places of safety away from the gang anyway.  Your lot, Porter, could have added the girls’ testimony to the evidence which you were already accumulating.  I suspect Vice knew about the little outings Adams, Fitzgerald and no doubt other local leading lights made to the club.’  Porter nodded.  ‘So all he did was bring down a London gang to Bedstanton and get himself killed: clever.’  

‘More than that really,’ said Jones, ‘he has involved people like Patterson who I expect will at the very least lose his job.  Not that I have a great deal on sympathy for that sleaze ball...Cindy Blaine has had to rush off to the States... a bloody mess.’

Jones’ mobile bleeped, he looked at the text: ‘they’ve found Edgeworth...’

‘Tell them we want a word first...where is he?’  

‘In some fancy apartment by the Thames, apparently.’

‘Get him back here...and I want to see the white van chaps back here to,’ Jones raised a questioning eyebrow, ‘Yes, both of them.  It better be down at Blackfriars and make sure Edgeworth doesn’t see the other two.’

Murphy felt sure that the three men would not be available before evening.  He suggested to Porter and Jones that they had a bite to eat.  Jones, he noticed, was looking uncomfortable.  

‘Er sir, I’ve a bit of a problem...’

Murphy smiled: ‘I know: the wife expects you home.’ Jones nodded his apology.  ‘Well if DS Porter can stay I can’t see a problem.’  Porter was only too willing for a chance to be in on the interview with Edgeworth.

They made their way to the ‘Wellie’ which was not one of Porter’s usual haunts; but he was clearly happy to give it the once over. He approved the quality of the beer and the pair settled down to their drinks and some substantial sandwiches. They drank and ate in contented silence for a while then Porter asked:

‘Why the two white van men?’

‘I just feel there is more going on there than is apparent on the surface.  But we’ll interview Edgeworth first.’

‘But will we get much out of him?’

‘Let’s see what happens,’ said Murphy sipping his drink.

A call came through on his mobile: Edgeworth had arrived at the station.

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

 

They found him sitting in an interview room; he’d brought his brief with him.  A uniformed constable stood by the door.  Murphy introduced himself and Porter.  They faced the pair across the table.  The two men looked unperturbed and if Murphy hadn’t known what Edgeworth looked like he would have been hard pressed to know which man was the solicitor.  Both in smart suits; impeccable shoes; expensive hair cuts: no cost spared.  ‘Crime pays,’ thought Murphy, not for the first time.

‘Mr Edgeworth until earlier this week you were working in the Human Resources Department at Bedstanton Borough Council I believe? He asked the question in a bland voice.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Edgeworth replied in similar tones.

‘You left rather suddenly, I believe.’

‘No, not really my two week assignment had finished.’

‘Your hotel said that you still had some days to go on the money you had paid them.’

‘That had nothing to do with it,’ he smiled as he spoke. ‘I was efficient, my task was finished early.  I left the remainder of the money with the hotel as a tip for the excellent service I had received.’  Murphy noticed the curl of the lip.

‘You had a lift back to London I believe?’  For the first time Edgeworth looked a little ill at ease.  His breath quickened a tad.

‘Yes a friend came for me.’

‘Rather suspect friends you have Mr Edgeworth,’ put in Porter.  ‘Bobby Villa is well known to the London CID.’

‘I know nothing about that, he’s just a mate.’  Slight beads of perspiration appeared on the man’s forehead.

‘My client does not have to justify his friends,’ the solicitor ventured in a soft velvety voice.

‘Indeed he does not,’ Murphy agreed in an equally reasonable tone, ‘but you have to understand we might be a little suspicious when the last person your client was with in Borough Hall ended up shot in the head and also your client saw fit to go to this same person’s house and search it before leaving town.’  Edgeworth’s cool disappeared.

‘What the hell is this supposed to do with me? I didn’t search anyone’s house and Frank James was alive when I saw him last.’

‘He might well have been.  But you took him to Room Four and tied him up and gagged him didn’t you.  And it was you who went to his house to search for anything that might have been dangerous for us to find.’

‘My client will not answer any more questions.’  The two men half rose from their chairs.  

‘Not just yet gentlemen.  I have another couple of people to talk to and I would be obliged if you could wait here for a while.  Do the names Ray Martell or Derrick Harris mean anything to you, Mr Edgeworth?’  It was only the merest flicker but Murphy caught it.  He didn’t wait for an answer but left the room with Porter.

Once outside Porter said: ‘those two names meant something I think.’

‘You noticed it to?’

‘Let them stew while we talk to the others.’

‘Right you talk to Ray Martell and I’ll take Derrick Harris.’  Porter nodded and went off to collect his interviewee.

 

***

 

Murphy decided he needed a cup of coffee.  He went to his office after collecting a cup from the machine in the corridor: using the time it took for the drink to cool to mull over the case.  He stood at the window his thoughts concentrating.  The passing traffic as if invisible.  He drank the bitter brew then threw the plastic cup into the waste paper basket.  

Murphy believed it unlikely that Edgeworth was the killer.  He was a man who would let others do his dirty work for him.  He’d been sent to set things up.  But the maintenance man...had he had the opportunity?This brought him back to the mysterious, or not so mysterious, mender of the toilets.  He called through to the desk sergeant and asked for Derrick Harris to be brought through to the interview room.

Harris came in with the air of a man without a care in the world.  Innocent or just a good actor?  Murphy wondered.  The man opposite him looked around at the room as if he had never been in a place like that in his life: no sign of nerves. He wore baggy track suit trousers, a worn-out looking jumper and a pull-on woolie hat that covered his ears.

‘Well we haven’t found any prints in your van Mr. Harris other than yours and your partner’s.  The thief must have been very careful.’

‘I suppose you would be if you were going to steal a car.’

‘There’s truth in that, I suppose,’ Murphy agreed in an easy voice.  ‘Of course the other possibility is that one of you was the person who came to County Hall.’

‘I told you Inspector: Ray and me were on a job together, miles away.  My van was stolen.  I reported it when I got back.’  Harris remained calm: too calm Murphy decided.

‘I would like a few details of the job you were on...When you got there...When you left...The names of anyone else who can vouch for your alibi...’

‘Not a problem: just give me some paper and a pen and I will write it all down for you.’

Murphy took him through to the front desk and Harris was provided with pen and paper.  Ray Martell was already waiting there.  He was also given pen and paper and sent to the other side of the reception area to write down his alibi.  To Murphy Martell appeared the more nervous of the two: writing a few words then looking up and around: rubbing the palm of his right hand on his overalls as if he might be sweating.  When they finished Murphy allowed them to leave.  He gathered up the papers and took them back to his office.  Porter was waiting there for him.

‘What did you think of Martell?’  Murphy asked.

‘Completely freaked.  Stuck to the story that they were both working in Hatfield on Monday.  Used his car to get there.  Were together all day.  Says when Martell dropped Harris off they realised the van was gone.  But he seemed shit scared all the time he was in there.’

‘Thing is Martell’s the one with the dodgy past.  Links to a London gang.  If he is supplying a duff alibi for Harris he has a lot to lose having played it straight for a while.’  They sat down to look at the men’s statements.  It didn’t take long.

Porter laid down the paper he was reading: ‘exactly the same...virtually word for word.’

‘Which makes you think?’

‘Pure bullshit.’

‘Right,’ agreed Murphy, ‘OK tomorrow we check neighbours the job they were doing in Hatfield.  It might be worth getting the forensics chaps to look in that lavatory the mysterious maintenance man was supposed to be mending.’

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

 

He sent Porter home.  He felt dog weary.  It had been a long day.  Ashreigney seemed like somewhere he had been a week ago instead of about sixteen hours.  Stopping at the ever open grocery shop at the end of his road he bought a ready meal but only managed half.

When he reached County Hall the next morning a couple of lads from forensics had already started on the lavatories.  He was happy to see DC Rogers in looking bright and eager: he sent her off to check Harris’s neighbours.  He sought out Kirk and gave him the job of driving down to Hatfield to see if anything of interest turned up there.  Then he rounded up Jones and Porter.  It was time for some brain storming.

The three sat in the interview room.  

OK what have we got?  A couple of dodgy alibis from the likely lads; Edgeworth looking like the representative of the big boys in London:  probably not wanting to get his hands too dirty.  Then there’s our HR boss enjoying at least one questionable outing with the CEO... what are your thoughts?  Porter sat back in his chair resting it precariously on its two back legs: his hands clasped at the back of his head.  By contrast Jones leaned forward resting his elbows on his thighs.  Murphy smiled to himself at the contrasting body language of the two detectives.  There was silence for a long minute.

‘Well I don’t think the van was stolen for a start,’ said Porter.  ‘I think one of those two was the mysterious maintenance man.’

‘But neither of them fits the description that Rosa and George gave us,’ pointed out Jones.

‘It’s easy enough to disguise yourself when no one is going to look at you too carefully.’  Jones nodded slowly in agreement.

‘In fact that was the point Rosa made that the man had a very bushy beard and long hair...’Latter day hippie,’ she called him.  Harris is in complete contrast: shaved head...no sign of a beard.  Could he be our hit man?’

‘What about Adams?  He was probably in the right area when the shooting happened.  He’d come down to send George Zabiri off on a wide goose chase in the   car park and had very good reason to want James out of the way,’ Jones suggested without sounding very convinced.  ‘Perhaps we need to talk to him again...’

‘And, of course the person we haven’t spoken to as yet is our CEO: the glamorous, and never out of the local paper: Ms Siobhan Fitzgerald,’ Murphy reminded them.  ‘She had a lot to lose if her presence at the club was revealed.’

‘Of course she did...but murder?’

‘She sounds a bit of a thrill seeker.  Otherwise why on earth would she risk visiting the place at Pullen?  Porter you go and find out if the forensics lot are getting anywhere and Jones and I will arrange to have a word with the fabulous Ms Fitzgerald.’

 

***

He suggested to Jones that it would be stupid to interview Fitzgerald in her own surroundings: she would probably be a difficult enough nut to crack anyway without giving her any advantage.  He had a strong feeling she was involved in the death even if that meant she had just let the suspension of James go ahead without any intervention on her part.  An appointment was made for her to be at Blackfriars in the afternoon.

She came equipped with a solicitor from the County’s law department.  God forbid thought Murphy that she should pay for her own advocate!  He was amused by her style; the long blond hair and faultless makeup.  The six inch heels that almost brought her up to his height and the slight tinge of an Essex girl accent when she started to speak which seemed to indicate that nobody messed with Siobhan Fitzgerald.

‘Thank you for coming here I know it must be an inconvenience but...’ he said hoping he did not sound in any way convincing that he was in the least sorry.  He noted that Jones had put on his totally neutral expression which probably meant he was quite impressed with her style.  The solicitor just looked annoyed.

‘Well I suppose you needed to speak to me at some point Inspector.  A rather nasty business and the sooner you wrap it up the better.’  She made it sound as if the whole thing was his fault.  For some reason this amused him.

‘How well did you know Frank James Ms Fitzgerald?’

‘Met him once or twice: I let my heads of department sort out their own problems; I have a perfectly competent Director of Social Services Inspector.’

‘Oh was Frank James a problem?’

‘I wouldn’t know: as I just said the DSS would have taken care of all that.’

‘So you never met him socially?’

‘Good Lord, No!’ Her smile contained a sneer.

‘Not at the club at Pullen? Jones asked in a quiet voice.  The woman gave an almost imperceptible start.  The solicitor turned and looked at her askance but didn’t offer any assistance.

‘What club would that be Sergeant?’  She recovered quickly.

‘A rather special club I believe: private members,’ Jones continued.

‘I’m afraid you have lost me...’

Murphy took over: ‘but you went there with Mr Adams at least once.’  Fitzgerald glanced toward her solicitor... who just shrugged.

‘Oh yes.  I do know where you mean.  Well Inspector I heard about this place and I was very concerned that it should have been allowed to exist in the County.  I meant to talk to your Chief Superintendent about it but I suppose, rather impetuously, I decided to go and see for myself what it was all about,’ she gifted Murphy with a moderately seductive smile: aimed, he supposed, to bring him on side.

‘It seems that it wasn’t only Frank James who thought he could investigate the situation better than the police,’ said Murphy keeping his voice neutral.

‘On reflection Inspector I can see it was wrong.  I do hope your people have it all under control,’ she smiled.

‘Oh they do, Ms Fitzgerald, believe me they do.’  For some reason his tone did not seem to give her more confidence, in fact, she began to look a little sick.  Murphy made a decision.  ‘I think this is all for now.  You may go...’  Murphy thought she looked wrong footed as she stood up.  As if she felt there was something she would like to say, perhaps just to have the last word.  She was after all a woman notorious for needing to always have the last word.  As the CEO and the solicitor left Murphy noted the advocate was looking more disenchanted than ever.

‘Well she is one cool dude,’ said Jones in a rather exaggerated American accent.’

‘Yes indeed but I think we’ve rattled her,’

‘Maybe...but for how long?  You don’t think she could have shot James do you?’  

‘It seems unlikely; but that would have given her the last word.’  They both laughed.

When they got back to County Hall Porter was there waiting for them: his face shining.  

‘He’s got something for us.  Just look at his face,’ said Jones.  ‘Don’t tell us they found prints?  

‘Not prints...hair and blood.’ Porter told them.  Murphy felt a rush of disappointment: hairs and blood in a loo couldn’t be uncommon.  Murphy realised he must have looked less than thrilled because Porter hurriedly continued...

‘The hair isn’t human hair it is some synthetic stuff they use to make wigs.  Yes, I know other people might be wearing wigs but this was found on a piece of pipe near the back of the cistern: with some smears of blood.  As if someone had banged their head hard against it.  The cistern is hidden behind panelling which has been recently removed and replaced.  Come and have a look...’

Once there it was obvious that the panel had been tampered with.  The pipe work nearby was chipped as if it had been hit hard.  There were still a few tiny red specks when they looked closely.  A blood sample had been taken and sent for DNA testing.

‘Well what do you think?’ asked Porter.

‘We’ll need to test the DNA of Harris and Martell.  Also see if one of them has a bump on is head.  We also need to find out if any other plumbers came within the last few days before the shooting and had access to that lavatory,’ Murphy replied.  

It didn’t take long to check the visitor lists: there was one possibility: about two days before the murder.  But no one who worked on the desk could give a description.  The man had signed in as Thomas Cream.

‘Well he’s a joker then, our man,’ Jones noted twisting his lips but not laughing.

‘Joker, what do you mean? Porter looked bemused.

‘Thomas Cream was a murderer in the 19th Century.  Not a shooter but a poisoner.’

‘Could be a coincidence.’

‘Could be,’ Jones conceded.  

‘Let’s forget history,’ Murphy chipped in before a whole discussion started about 19th Century poisoners.  ‘Could our Mr Cream have hidden the gun behind the panelling and then either he or someone else come back to pick it up after the shooting.  All arranged by our friend Edgeworth.  We need to get that DNA testing done ASAP.  Incidentally...and give it some thought gentlemen: the toilet where we are thinking the gun was stashed was a ‘Ladies’!

‘But it could still have been the white van man,’ said Porter.

‘It could be but why bother to hide the gun and come back a second time?’

‘To suss out where everything was located?’

‘True, but if Edgeworth was the one directing the operation he could have given him a ground plan at any time.’

Porter and Jones went off to organise the DNA testing.  After they had gone Murphy had another thought.  He returned to the reception desk.  Rosa was on duty.

‘Rosa you don’t happen to have a list of the people who use the interview rooms and take the keys, do you?’

‘We certainly do.  Otherwise we would always be losing the wretched things.  People forget them and put them in their pockets, you know.  The list is our only way of getting them back.’

‘You don’t happen to have the lists for about a week or so before Mr James was shot do you?’

‘We might.  Obviously we don’t keep them for ever. I usually shred them about once a month.  I’ll have a look for you.’  She came back after a few moments waving some papers.  ‘I have them for about a week before, will that help?’

‘I hope so,’ he replied, taking them from her and making his way up to the incident room.  He sat at the desk and ran down the list.  Two days in he found the key had been requested by someone from the Chief Exec’s department.  It was a day before it had been returned.  He checked with forensics about finger prints but had no luck there.  He hadn’t expected anything really.  Now all he had to do was wait for the DNA results.  Even if they obtained them today he knew he would have to be patient for four to five days.  But then he reasoned his suspect wasn’t planning on going anywhere.  It might even be helpful for there to be an apparent lull in the proceedings.  Give the killer a false sense of security, perhaps.  He also thought he wanted to talk to Mr Adams again.  But now he would go home where he knew his wife would be: returned from her visit to Scotland.  No more sandwiches and real ale at the Wellie for a while.

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

 

They waited for the lab reports but in the meanwhile Murphy decided to have another word with Richard Adams the Head of HR.  He took Jones with him deciding to talk to him in his office hoping it might give the man a sense of security: being on his own turf.

He let them into his office.  ‘How are things progressing Inspector?  Though I expect you can’t actually tell me anything can you?  Now can I offer you both coffee?’  He pointed toward the machine.  He spoke hurriedly as if he were nervous of what might be said to him if he paused.  Both the detectives agreed to the coffee.  Adams gestured toward the chairs in front of the desk.  They sat and waited in silence while he prepared the minuscule cups of expresso.  

‘Things are going to plan,’ said Murphy, speaking slowly, but he hoped convincingly.  The words seemed to do nothing toward alleviating Adams air of nervousness.  Good, thought Murphy.

‘We’d like to have a word about your visit to the club at Pullen...was that the only time you went?’  Adams looked as if he had been punched in the face.

Yes, of course,’ he said eventually.

‘Were or are you having an affair with Siobhan Fitzgerald?’ asked Jones in a conversational tone.  Adams actually jumped.

‘No, no of course not.  She’s out of my league.’  Murphy thought this was probably true.

‘We know you bumped into James when you were there.’  James nodded with resignation.

‘I didn’t have much choice about going there.  Siobhan got it into her head to go.  She needed an escort.  She doesn’t take a ‘No’.  I’ve known her for years.  I need this job.’

‘Why do you think she wanted to go?’

‘Thrill.  She likes life on the edge.  I think she was a bit disappointed though... and then furious that James was there.  She got worried that he would get her fired.’

But couldn’t she have told him she was investigating the place.  He might have had some sympathy as he was doing the same thing?’  

She had picked up some guy and she thought James had seen her snogging him...’

‘Ah Yes,’ said Murphy, knowing James hadn’t seen that bit...

‘Mr Adams, did your interest in keeping your job allow you to be persuaded to kill Frank James?  Jones asked the question in a conversational tone.  

Adams seemed to collapse in upon himself: ‘No I didn’t know they were going to kill him.  I thought they just planned to discredit him.  Lose him his job, you know...’Edgeworth came.  He arranged things.’

‘Mr Adams, said Murphy, ‘you realise I’m going to have to charge as an accessory to murder, don’t you...?

The results came and the DNA match confirmed Murphy’s suspicions plus the remains of the injury still visible on Harris’s scalp previously hidden by woolie hat.  They interviewed him at Blackfriars.  

‘You put the gun behind the panelling a few days before the shooting.  Is that when you hit your head or was it when you collected it after the murder?’

‘Look I didn’t know they were going to shoot the bloke.’

‘What did you think they wanted the gun for?’ Murphy asked.  ‘I take it they specifically asked for you to place it in the female lavatory?’

‘Yes, I thought that strange but the bloke from London said it would be less likely to be found by the wrong person.’

‘Only true if the person collecting it was a woman, surely?’

‘I suppose so,’ Harris replied without a further show of interest.’

’I take you picked up the gun the Friday afternoon before you reported the van stolen.’  Harris nodded.

 

***

It was time for the big one...

Murphy checked that the CEO was in.  He omitted to tell her he was coming.  He took DS Porter with him.  There was some resistance at the PA level, of course.  They walked into Fitzgerald’s office without knocking.

She looked up: staring at them both with extreme annoyance.  He thought he was going to enjoy cutting this one down to size.

‘Siobhan Fitzgerald I am arresting you for the murder of Frank James on Friday the 7th July 2007.  Anything you say...’

She interrupted him, sneering...’In your dreams Inspector no one will ever believe you.’  

‘May be taken in evidence’... Murphy continued without missing a beat.  He’d make sure she didn’t have the lost word this time.

 

The End

 

 

 

Death, Where Is Thy Sting by Veronica Sims

 

 

‘And about time too’, I think, as I soar above the bed and realise at long last, I am dead. It has been a long three months since that fall I had in the bathroom. I know Geraldine and Alice tried their best to sort me out; though I kept trying to tell them that was not what I wanted. I love my daughters, my grandchildren and even the great grandchildren (though recently I have to admit to sometimes getting into a bit of a muddle over which one is which), but I’ve known for a while I was superfluous to life. Too weak to do anything for them, while they and the professional carers, had to do everything for me. Difficult for me to put up with all that: I’m a doer... actually better insert ‘was’ before ‘doer’ ...

 

My doctor knew as soon as he saw me after my tumble. He understood I had given up and just wanted the comfort of death. Bless him! He eased my pain at the end.

 

And now, as I look down on the wizened old corpse that was my body until a few moments ago, I realise I can start to live my eternity. This is all a bit of a surprise to tell you the truth. Because as I lay there, crawling with aches and pains and wishing I was dead, I couldn’t be certain that there was a life after death. And I really didn’t mind much either way. But now unhampered by that decrepit, past-sell-by-date body, it seems I can do anything I want now... perhaps. It’s a feeling of release: a cool shower on a hot day.

 

Hold on though! That can’t be entirely true, some things will obviously be beyond me now: sex, food, the odd glass of sherry; but then, to be honest, the were

 

all memories anyway... and, of course, I don’t have much of a clue how eternity works yet...

 

Wait... someone is opening the door! It’s one of the nurses; she’s bringing something in. Flowers...that’s nice. Dear me, poor thing, now she’s realised I might have ‘passed over’. She’s feeling for a pulse and listening with her stethoscope for a heart beat...shaking her head. Now she’s leaving. Of course she needs to let people know: the matron, my daughters and Oh yes! ...the doctor will have to certify me dead.

 

I don’t think I want to hang around for when my girls come and stare at that shrunken cadaver down there: I won’t feel any satisfaction from their grief and still less from their relief...for I am sure they will feel relief... relief, grief; perhaps no accident that the words rhyme.

 

I wonder what songs they will choose for my funeral. I hope I can be there. Is that allowed I wonder? Are there rules?

 

I am also starting to dare to hope I might encounter those dear ones who reached eternity before me: Gerald, Will...Mother. Is it possible that I might even meet my father? He was killed on the last day of the Great War: so never knew his baby daughter. Is that the way infinity works?

 

***

 

Well, I am here, at my funeral, as I had hoped. I shall hover over my daughters and try to impart my sense of peace to them. I don’t want them to think I am haunting them though: that would be dreadful. I still have to get the hang of this state of being dead but not completely out of things: being a ghost is what it

 

amounts to. There I have said it: I’ve admitted to being something I never in my life believed in. It feels strange.

 

They are all shuffling around now, getting seated. Quite a few people: close family, relatives I haven’t seen for years, old colleagues (how nice that they have bothered, it’s a long, long time since I retired, but some of us kept in touch). There is music playing and it’s just the song I would have chosen myself to start the ball rolling:

 

‘There’s a long, long trail a winding,

 

Into the Land of my Dreams

 

Where a nightingale is singing and a white moon beams.

 

There’s a long long night of waiting

 

Until my dreams all come true;

 

‘til the day when I’ll be going down that long, long trail with you.

 

Yes, I know it’s a song from the First World War, but I’ve loved it all my life as it always seemed to bring me close to the father I never knew; my father dying in Flanders as I was being born in London. If I had a body I might be able to cry, but now I am a thing of shadows and light and not of flesh and blood...now I’m on that ‘long, long trail’...

 

Shush, it’s tribute time! My eldest daughter speaks first:

 

‘Mum was a fighter, but only a fighter for good: against meanness and prejudice’...well, well, and I always thought they’d never noticed the things I’d tried to do outside of my role as wife and mother. Perhaps you have to die to find out

 

what people really think of you. Though, on second thoughts, I don’t suppose you hear the whole truth at your funeral. In my experience people are usually fairly polite at on these occasions...but...after a few drinks at the wake… I’ve known it to change...

 

Now one of my granddaughters, Lizzie, is standing up and walking over to the lectern. Poor thing, she is crying so much her tears are spattering down onto her notes. I will try to wash over her with my love. I have to learn new tricks; without substance how do you demonstrate your feelings?

 

Good, what ever I did it worked. She is now smiling and telling the congregation about the fun we’d had together when she was small and the earnest discussions that took place between us as she grew into an adult. What do you know? It seems she was listening to me; at least some of the time.

 

The final song starts. This one’s from the Second World War, the war I helped to fight, albeit on the Home Front; the war in which I met Gerald. Perhaps they were not very original with this choice, I’ve heard it at countless funerals, but my daughters know I love it:

 

‘We’ll meet again don’t know where, don’t know when,

 

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.’

 

They’ve even managed to get the version sung by Vera Lynn. I listen remembering my first meeting with Gerald. It was at a dance somewhere along the Tottenham Ct. Road.

 

‘Will you dance with me?’ he’d asked, seeming to expect I might say ‘No’.

 

‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘I might be a bit sleepy though. I’ve just come off duty.’

 

He grinned: ‘That’s OK it’s a foxtrot not a jitterbug.’ He pulled me onto the dance floor and we started to glide.

 

We were lovers for a month and then he was gone.

 

I look down on my eldest daughter: she has his blond hair and blue eyes. I was so glad to have her: my darling Geraldine. And I can sense the shade of Gerald standing behind her...so we will meet again.

 

My second daughter, named Alice after her grandmother: curly white hair (it used to be red), green eyes; devoted to her older half sister, hasn’t been able to hold back the tears either. But now beside her I sense the spirit of Will, her father, my husband. He was eighty-nine when he died. Alice pulls a tissue from her pocket and is drying her eyes. Yes, Dear Will, my consolation; he came to see me after the peace in 1945 to pass on a message from Gerald; they’d been friends in a POW camp in Germany. I fell in love a second time. How very lucky I was to have another chance. We were together over fifty years.

 

And now I can also feel the presence of Mum and who is that with her? Good Lord! It must be my father. We are all together again: is this bliss, heaven? No choir of angels as yet, but it seems I’m to be united with my loved ones beyond the tribulations of life. What more can I ask?