Maggots - Sample Extract
Not many people have been murdered at regimental reunion dinners. The victim, the guest of someone with past connections with the regiment, had at no time been a member of the armed services but worked for MI5. This national security organisation immediately became involved. On hearing the news the deceased’s manager, Charles Dixon, who inhabited the foggy summits of that service, suffered an emotional reaction that could be described as freaking out, an expression that had never once crossed his lips. Then, upon receiving further intelligence a couple of days afterwards and remembering that his late subordinate had had an address in the Somerset village of Sandford Upwell he urgently sent off an email to someone who lived not far away from there near Bath. Whatever his motives it must be emphasised that the person he contacted, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Gillard (rtd) of the Devon and Dorset Regiment, who, with his wife Ingrid, had been a one-time employee of MI5 in a department called D12 and subsequently the National Crime Agency, had not been present when the crime was committed.
No, Gillard not not been there.
‘I’m fully aware that you weren’t,’ Dixon huffed in his whispery voice when Gillard phoned him shortly after receiving the email and had pointed this out. ‘You weren’t in the Duke of Berkshire’s Fusiliers either as I gather was the grandfather of the man who invited him to be his guest. At least, that was what was said. Anyway, it was absorbed into another regiment last year.’
There was no doubt about it, Dixon was extremely put out.
‘How can I help you?’ Gillard asked patiently. He still undertook small contracts when requested to but only if whatever it was didn’t clash with anything he was engaged on for the NCA as he took on small assignments for them as well. All very quietly.
‘As you probably know it was first thought that he had simply died from natural causes,’ Dixon continued. ‘But the PM showed that he had been murdered – a single stab wound with a narrow blade to the heart. That suggests to me that the killer was a professional.’
Gillard didn’t know, hadn’t heard anything about the occurance at all, perhaps because he simply didn’t have the time to delve into restricted MI5 websites, to which he had access, on a regular basis and was fairly sure that nothing had appeared in the media.
Dixon was still talking. ‘This man dealt with extremely sensitive matters and it’s vital that his death is investigated. Did you know him?’
‘I don’t even know his name.’
‘He used the name Dean Trowbridge in the course of his job. It wasn’t his real one.’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘Nevertheless, I should like you to do look into the matter.’
‘Whose guest was he?’
‘I haven’t been told that yet.’
‘And where did this crime take place?’
‘At the regiment’s old HQ in Windsor. It’s an historic building and part of it’s been a museum for a while. The first floor – the one-time officers’ mess – has been converted into a bar and social area that can be hired for wedding receptions and so forth. He was found behind the wheel of his Jag in the car park.’
‘It’s quite difficult to stab someone accurately when they’re sitting in a car.’
‘Well, you’d know far more about that sort of thing than I do.’
‘It’s Thames Valley Police’s job to look into it.’
‘No, I mean really look into it. As you know we can’t reveal all the details they want but I can to you. When can you come up to town?’
‘Possibly in a few day’s time.’
‘That delay is not what I expect from you.’
Gillard took a deep breath. ‘Mr Dixon, I’m having a short break as I’ve had no real time off having been working practically seven days a week with the NCA on a case for the Avon and Somerset force due to Detective Chief Inspector Carrick of Bath CID breaking his leg. The children are on their half term holiday and I’m going to devote some time to them and do a few jobs around the house.’
‘We do pay you a retaining fee.’
‘An extremely modest one and the NCA and the cops are still arguing over who’s going to pay me for the last job. I’ll call you some time next week.’
He ended the call and put his mobile phone down very gently on the kitchen table. ‘Source of all iniquity and mayhem,’ he muttered.
‘Who is?’ asked his wife, Ingrid, sitting opposite to him.
‘Me. Dixon said he was fully aware that I wasn’t at a dinner in Windsor where someone was murdered. That means he’d checked – just in case I was and for some God-awful reason had done the deed.’
‘Source of all iniquity and mayhem,’ thoughtfully echoed the crime writer. ‘I like that phrase. I’ll use it.’ She rose and gathered up their coffee things. ‘Do I take it that the murder victim lived round here?’
‘Not that locally. Sandford Upwell – at least, he had a house there.’
‘Which might have absolutely no bearing on the case at all. And the last thing you need is to get involved in a whodunnit.’
The situation was further complicated the following day when a neighbour of the murdered man called round to the house – he kept an eye on it – to make sure that all was as it should be since the police had seached the place for clues. It had been ransacked. Gillard didn’t know about this either until DCI James Carrick phoned and told him. This was due to the aforementioned half term holiday and, as he had intimated, the part-time spook/cop desperately needing to get away from restricted websites and everything that went with them for a while.
‘I’m the senior bod and the crime’s been upgraded due to what I’ve been told is an MI5 angle,’ Carrick went on glumly. ‘There’s only an inspector in the locality in Shepton Mallet and she’s up to her eyebrows with a series of thefts of hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of equipment and stock from small businesses on industrial estates. It’s thought to be an organised gang. One security guard’s in hospital having been run down by his own car as he tried to stop them stealing it. The medics aren’t hopeful about him as he’s getting on in life so there’ll be a charge of attempted murder in there somewhere. There’s also a gang of burglars on the loose so she’s not a happy lady.’
‘I can’t see the NCA getting involved with any of that,’ Gillard said, quickly adding, ‘Not that I wish to sound a hard-hearted bastard.’
‘No, I’m just sharing a few woes. But are you likely to get involved with this Windsor murder?’
‘They’re trying very hard to get me on board. Fancy a dram tonight?’
‘I can’t. Joanna’s on duty this evening and it’s the nanny’s week off.’
His wife had re-joined the police after having at one time been Carrick’s DS.
‘Bring Iona Flora and have a dram over here then.’
‘I won’t inflict her on you,’ the DCI sighed. ‘She’s teething.’
There’s not a lot you can do with a really gloomy Scot.
When the post arrived on Monday there was a letter for Gillard from a ‘government department’, actually Charles Dixon’s office, to the effect that his retaining fee would be doubled as of the first of next month. This caused Patrick to grab his mobile, speak to Charles’s Dixon’s P.A. and make it plain that he was offended by the supposition that he could be bought. He was, but far more polite to this pleasant woman than if he had been talking to Dixon himself, his language to the point but chaste.
There was to be no peace. Late the next afternoon Gillard was contacted by Commander Michael Greenway, his boss in the NCA.
‘Has anyone told you about a murder at a regimental reunion dinner in Windsor followed by the trashing of the victim’s house?’ was Greenway’s question after the usual greetings.
‘Too many,’ Gillard replied shortly.
‘You’re involved then.’
‘I’m hoping not to be.’
‘You might be more interested if I tell you that the man’s brother is what crime reporters in the media like to call a “Mr Big”.’
‘So how come the murder victim worked for MI5 if a family member had connections with serious crime?’
The commander chuckled, for some reason seeming to be in a good mood. ‘You might have to ask them about that. Perhaps the vetting team didn’t dig too deeply.’ After a pause he said, ‘This character’s involved with weapons and drug smuggling and is someone we’ve been keeping our eye on for a while but he seems to have fizzled out somewhat – gone to ground.’
‘I’d be a bit suspicious about that.’
‘I am. And he might operate out of your neck of the woods – the info’s sketchy on that.’
‘What does he call himself?’
‘By several aliases apparently.’ Greenway then changed the subject, saying, ‘Are you still working for that insurance company after discovering that the departmental manager was being terrorised by his nephew who just happened to be a serial killer?’
‘No. They were very nice about it but I got the impression they were nervous because I seem to attract criminals to myself like a magnet. I got a good redundancy payment though.’
‘Attracting the wrong kind of people can happen when you work for the police too,’ Greenway pointed out soberly.
Gillard rather felt that he knew that already.
‘Have you found anything else?’ the commander went on to enquire.
‘Not yet. As I told Dixon, I’m having a short break as it’s the children’s half term.’
They ended the call, Greenway saying that he would inform Patrick accordingly if he heard of anything ‘interesting’ having happened. This left Gillard wondering why the commander had phoned him in the first place.
Seemingly not one to take no for an answer, Charles Dixon made contact again two days later. ‘I think you ought to know that we’ve been trying to check on the man whose guest Trowbridge was at the dinner,’ he began. ‘He seems to have disappeared into thin air.’
‘What do you mean by that? He’s no longer at a known address?’
‘He’s not at the address given at the time of booking and can’t be contacted at the mobile number he gave.’
‘It’s quite likely then that either he’s the murderer or thinks he might be next on the list,’ Gillard said. Out riding on his horse George with Katie, thirteen, his adopted daughter, on her Exmoor pony Fudge he was slightly annoyed at being thus badgered.
‘That had occurred to me,’ Dixon said. ‘Another thing is that I’ve discovered that Trowbridge’s brother isn’t exactly squeaky clean. I’m furious about it. The vetting people are bleating that he’s only just come out of the wallpaper.’
‘The NCA knows that already but right now the intelligence is very thin on the ground. Did this character whose guest the murdered man was really have family regimental connections?’
‘It might be a good idea to find out.’
Dixon ignored the suggestion, perhaps because of the hint of sarcasm in Gillard’s tone and said, ‘Because of the security angle I’ve asked Thames Valley Police to send all the case notes to Detective Chief Inspector Carrick in Bath. There’s absolutely no point in having every Tom, Dick and Harry looking into this. And you might regularly keep me in the picture with regard to how he’s getting on with the investigation.’
He then rang off without waiting for a reply, something the man to whom he was speaking was quite pleased about as he had been about to tell him that he had no intention of potentially exposing Carrick to criticism.
There was no doubt in Gillard’s mind that Dixon was worried. For his own safety?
They weren’t far from home, riding on the Monks’ Way, an ancient track that had at one time connected the various religious houses in the south west of England. It was supposed to be early summer but the weather was still unseasonably cool and wet, their mounts splashing through puddles.
‘Can we gallop to the top?’ asked Katie, bobbing along by his side, Fudge trotting to keep up with George’s long strides.
‘Canter,’ Patrick told her. ‘If he really wants to go faster then let him. He’s getting a bit old for tearing around.’
Needless to say after a few yards the pony set off like a rocket. Gillard held George back for a few moments and then followed at a more sedate pace out of range of the mud being flung everywhere by Fudge’s hooves.
He groaned inwardly. Perhaps he ought to do something about Dixon…
‘Doing something about Dixon’ entailed Gillard first driving into Bath the following morning and to the relocated police station, that is the part of it that is now housed in Redbridge House, Midland Road. Members of the public who want to report crimes and so forth have to visit the quaintly named One Stop Shop in Manvers Street not far from the building where the original police station had been located. That had been deemed dated and unsuitable for modern policing and sold to the University.
The DCI was in his office engaged in an on-screen training questionnaire. He had a pile of paperwork to attend to as well, this teetering untidily in a wire basket on one corner of his desk. Sometimes he wished that he hadn’t been promoted so that he could go back to being more hands-on with criminal investigations. No, more than sometimes – especially right now.
Without saying anything Carrick raised a hand in a somewhat weary greeting and got up to switch on his coffee machine. An eyebrow was quirked in the direction of his visitor who smiled, nodded briskly and seated himself on a spare chair.
But for the distant sound of a road drill the hush continued for a few more moments and then the DCI said, ‘I’ve been told to oversee the case.’
‘I take it you mean the murder and the subsequent trashing of the house of the military reunion murder victim,’ Gillard murmured. ‘Why?’
‘Because MI5’s involved. Whoever broke into the place was obviously looking for something. And I’m interpreting ‘oversee’ to mean take charge.’
‘I understand that you’re going to get all case information from Thames Valley as well.’
Carrick groaned and then glanced up from grabbing a couple of clean mugs from a shelf. ‘I have an idea your Mr Dixon is behind this – stirring up the boss.’
By that he meant the Chief Constable.
Gillard made no comment. Dixon was more than aware that in the past the two of them had worked together on cases involving career criminals risking national security so what was taking place wasn’t really a surprise. And Dixon was right in not wanting a surfeit of investigators involved. Too many cops…
‘Has the DI in Shepton Mallet handed over all the case notes so far then?’ Patrick asked.
‘Yes, but there’s precious little of it. House-to-house enquiries have yielded bugger-all. No one in the vicinity saw or heard anything that night, which isn’t surprising as the houses in that road are detached with quite large gardens. It’s thought the break-in occurred in the small hours of the morning that it was discovered. The neighbour who discovered what had happened has been spoken to twice and can’t offer any information.’
‘I take it whoever it is has a key.’
‘Yes, he does.’
‘Were there signs of forced entry?’
‘A window in a utility room had been smashed in order to put a hand in and open it.’
‘No alarm system?’
‘The case notes don’t mention one so presumably not.’
‘Nothing. They must have worn gloves.’
‘Would you like me to take a look at the place when I have the time? The kids are on their half-term holiday.’
But right now he had to return home as Ingrid was going out.
Three days later Police Constable Roderick Morris moved into a friend’s garage. This was not quite so dreadful as it sounded as the pair of them, lugging a few things back from charity shops, had made a good effort to turn it into a passable bed-sit – that is if you can put up with a home that has an up-and-over door to the outside world and no windows. They had done the work quietly, aware of the frowns from the local council if officialdom discovered the ‘improper use’ to which the garage was being put. At least it had an inter-connecting door to the house so Morris could fix himself something to eat in the kitchen and use the shower room just inside the back door. The only real worry was that the neighbours on one side would find out and snitch on him as he’d been told that they appeared to regard all young people, male especially, as vermin.
He was very grateful to his friend, Ian, as living at home had become impossible. His parents had never wanted him to go into the police, had been appalled really when their only child, having left university with a joint degree in English and History, had declared his intention. His father was a lecturer, now part-time, in Classical Studies at Nathaniel Blake University – known affectionaly as Nats – in Bristol, his mother taught the violin three days a week at a girls’ private school in Bath. In his father’s mind, Morris knew, a career had been mapped out for him of an academic nature, teaching probably. He had refused to attend Roderick’s passing out parade. Recently he had been further angered when his son had been ‘borrowed’ by CID, the temporary undercover posting necessitating not shaving for a few days and dressing ‘rough’.
Everything had come to a head when Roderick had announced that he was looking for a home of his own. This had really upset his mother, who wasn’t in good health. She was still doing his washing, cooking his meals and doting on him far, far too much, a career in the police or no. Raging, his father had told him he ought to know better than to upset her like that and Roderick had been forced to counter that this was nothing more than emotional blackmail and gone on to ask in which century his father thought he was living. Privately, he thought that the man, who had become a parent late in life and was now in his mid-sixties, might be suffering from some form of early-onset dementia.
‘It’s revenge,’ he had said to Ian when he had asked if there was a nook or cranny in his and his wife Carol’s house for him to live. ‘Although I got several jobs for pocket money during my time studying Dad paid all my uni fees. He now wants me to pay him back – quickly.’
‘Weren’t you going to pay him back anyway?’ Ian had asked.
‘Initially he insisted he didn’t want me to. But now he’s nailed me down to paying a certain amount to him every month, too much really, which means I can’t afford to pay rent on even the smallest flat. He said I couldn’t refuse – not that I would have done – or it would upset my mother even more. To be honest I don’t think she’d worry about it at all.’
‘Your folk wealthy then?’
‘You could say that.’
‘Revenge,’ he now murmured to himself as he entered Bath police station to start his shift. It seemed so sad. Perhaps he ought to leave the police, use his degrees and get a better paid job more in line with what his father wanted.
‘Right!’ said Sergeant Derek Woods coming seemingly from nowhere when Morris had changed into his uniform. ‘Have you had anything to do with this turning over of a house in Sandford Upwell owned by a murder victim?’
‘No, sarge,’ Morris replied.
‘I think the DCI wants to show that we’re doing something as the case has landed in his lap. Go with the NCA man, stand outside the front door and look intimidating.’
For a moment Morris didn’t connect ‘the NCA man’ with Patrick Gillard who was the one who had ‘borrowed’ him for the recent case on which he and the DCI had been working. But there he was, standing in the entrance lobby reading a poster warning of the penalties of owning unlicenced shotguns. Tall, dark-haired going grey and wearing a dripping anorak over jeans he could have been any common-or-garden bloke in the street. He wasn’t.
‘Hello, Roderick,’ he said. Gesturing to the poster he added, ‘I’ve just sold my late father’s, so you won’t have to come banging on my door.’
‘I’ve been told to accompany you to Sandford Upwell,’ said Morris. ‘And look intimidating. I think Sergeant Woods was having a joke.’ With his youthful appearance and blue eyes Morris knew he looked anything but that.
The other chuckled. ‘Glad to have your company. We’ll do a small detour and stop for coffee at home first.’
Morris had been to the old rectory where the Gillards lived at Hinton Littlemoor before, in connection with the previously mentioned case. It stood next to Saint Michael’s church, both of which faced the village green and the Ring o’ Bells public house on the far side of it. Even on a wet, grey day like this the village was pretty, spring bulbs still flowering in the gardens due to the cool weather, a sweep of daffodils on the grass verge outside the church.
Gillard had not missed the fleeting sad look that had crossed the young constable’s face as they arrived and he had parked his Range Rover in the rectory drive. He said nothing but guessed that it might be in connection with his companion wanting to transfer to CID. Had his boss, Inspector Jenny Anderson, not explained to him that these things did not happen overnight and Morris would have to wait quite a while to get what he wanted? But it was none of his, Gillard’s, business so when they had entered the warmth of the house he concentrated on making the coffee. Ingrid seemed to be somewhere else.
The village of Sandford Upwell was quiet, understandable as these days it was mostly home to middle-class professionals who commuted to Bristol, Bath and London. It differed from Hinton Littlemoor in several ways. One was that there was no parish church as the place had originally been a mining hamlet and the only place of worship, a chapel, had been converted into a ‘desirable residence’ some years previously. By dint of planning permission rules somehow being circumvented fields had been built on, although the houses had more than average good taste. Mature trees on the site had been safeguarded and a small pond and marshy area turned into a nature reserve. For this reason or perhaps others – local people had wryly pointed out the very high cost of the properties – suddenly the development had become the place to live for those who could afford to. Again, unlike Hinton Littlemoor there was no post office or village stores or even a primary school, all the children attended those in Shepton Mallet just a few miles away.
‘D’you know anything about this place?’ Gillard asked Morris as he parked, his sat-nav having insisted that they had arrived at their destination.
‘Not really,’ Morris replied. ‘But you do tend to hear gossip.’ He still struggled not to call this man ‘sir’ as even retired lieutenent colonels have a certain manner about them. Gillard had been emphatic that it wasn’t necessary as he only had the nominal rank of constable to enable him to arrest people.
‘It can be valuable sometimes,’ he was encouraged.
‘Oh, often disgruntled locals, people who have lived locally for most of their lives, put about stories that places like this where comparitively wealthy people have moved in are drugs dens, a refuge for dealers, bolt-holes for city mobsters – you name it. I’ve heard no evidence to support anything like that but…’ He shrugged. ‘You never know.’
The house in which they were interested was double-fronted, Edwardian, probably, but had been spoilt with an ugly annexe at one side and bottom-of-the-range replacement windows and porch. From marks on the walls it was obvious that at some time climbing plants had been removed, yanked off forcibly, pulling off the render in places revealing the red bricks beneath. Also at some time in the past the render had been given a white coating which was now dirty and, in places, dark green, almost black, with mould. The overall impression, not helped by litter in the drive that had probably blown in from the road, was stark and slightly unnerving.
‘Strange kind of place for an employee of a national security department to live,’ Gillard commented. ‘It looks like a point of going into administration clinic originally set up to deal with unmentionable tropical diseases.’
‘Perhaps he was a bit twitched about his role and preferred to hide in plain sight,’ Morris said.
‘Good point.’ It was, he thought and did that also apply to the dodgy brother?
Their arrival might have been expected, a uniformed constable standing outside the front door.
‘It’s still being given some sort of priority by the local cops then,’ Gillard said quietly to Morris. ‘Leave him to look intimidating and come in with me. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one.’
He was asked for his ID and they were told that the forensic team had finished work so it wasn’t necessary for them to don anti-contamination suits.
‘Do you know anything about the man who lived here?’ Gillard asked the constable whose name he had established was Julian Bailey.
Bailey shook his head. ‘No, sir. I was told that he’d hardly ever lived here and just came home sometimes to look the place over. That information came from neighbours apparently. Take care when you go in – the place is a real mess.’ He unlocked the door for them.
‘Do you know if the local search team found anything of interest?’
‘I’m not sure, sir. You’ll have to ask the boss.’
When they were standing in a surprisingly narrow and gloomy hallway Morris asked, ‘Did the murder victim have a wife or partner?’
Although there was a fusty stale smell any kind of ‘mess’ wasn’t in evidence here except that the contents had been pulled out of a small corner cupboard close to where they were standing and left on the floor. No surprises; two torches, a pile of used dusters or car polishers, an aerosol can of de-icer and a dirty pair of plastic gardening over-shoes.
‘The DCI told me that he was divorced,’ Gillard answered. ‘Or so the neighbour had said.’
‘Are you going to question him?’
‘Hopefully. But as he’s been spoken to twice already we’ll have to be tactful.’
To their right was a sitting room. Two of the walls were emulsioned in a dark cream colour, murky, the others papered in an abstract pattern in pale shades of brown. A brown leather three-piece suite was grouped around an old-fashioned brick fireplace with the remains of an open fire in the grate. The mantlepiece was bare, seemingly swept of the little ornaments and and bric-a-brac that were now smashed to pieces on the tiled hearth. There was a thin layer of dust on everything and things had been pulled from shelves on one wall and an antique writing desk which had been forced open. Glass ornaments, books, a pair of china vases and any amount of magazines and paperwork lay on the floor.
‘This must have been his granny’s house and he was keeping this room as a shrine to her,’ Morris said decidely.
‘His great-granny’s house,’ Gillard corrected. ‘My own mother would shudder to bits with horror in a room like this.’
‘Yes, one forgets. Grandparents are young and trendy these days.’
‘They’re all dead.’
‘I’m sorry about that.’
‘It’s sad really. Mum’s parents died in a boating accident on holiday in South Africa when she was young and Dad was quite old when he got married and his had already passed away.’
The room on the other side of the hallway was equally from a previous era, a dining room with a table, six chairs and a dull and scratched wooden dresser cum sideboard. The dinnerplates, cheap earthenware, on this had been left in place. There was a fireplace in here too, a tiled one with an embroidered firescreen in front of the grate. The pictures on the wall, prints, were Scottish Highland scenes of cattle, sheep and red deer.
‘It’s a front,’ Morris muttered to himself.
Gillard wasn’t really listening, wishing that Ingrid was with him using her gut feelings, jokingly referred to as her ‘cat’s whiskers’. Women notice different things to men and he used to refer to her as his ‘oracle’. Obviously this was not a part of ‘normal’ policing, and come to think of it, she had told him it was frowned upon in crime writing circles, but her intuition and imagination had helped several criminal investigations to the extent of bringing a number of self-styled ‘crime lords’ to justice. In other words, mobsters.
To the rear was a marginally more modern kitchen, the contents of cupboards strewn all over the floor, a utility room, where the intruder had broken in, and a strange small room off it that appeared to have been a dumping ground, like a cloakroom but without the necessary plumbing. Three or four black plastic bin bags had been upended – by the police search team or the intruder? – and the contents sorted through judging by the fairly neat piles of stuff in the corners. Most of it appeared to be rubbish of one kind or another, some things perhaps intended to go to the tip or charity shops.
There were three bedrooms upstairs, two of medium size and a very small one struggling to accommodate a single bed and a chair. The bathroom, with very dated ‘pampas green’ decor, wasn’t much bigger than this and beyond dreary. It wasn’t very clean either.
The two men stood in the doorway of what an estate agent might call the master bedroom and gazed in. As before, everything had been turned upside down, a candlewick bedspread and other bedding thrown into a corner. Clothes from a cheap wardrobe were also heaped on the worn carpet. Even the curtains had been ripped down.
‘What did you say just now?’ Gillard suddenly asked.
Morris recollected for a moment. ‘Oh, I said I thought it was a front. You know, like the scenery for a play set in the sixties or before that. And the guy didn’t live here, did he?’
‘You might be right. If so we ought to find out why,’ Gillard said. ‘What strikes me more than anything is that whoever did this was agitated, angry, sweeping things off shelves as though frustrated at not being able to find what they were searching for.’
They walked around the house for a second time but there was absolutely nothing that might give the flimsiest clue about the murder victim to whom it had belonged. The neighbour who had been keeping an eye on the house wasn’t at home so the two left, Gillard thinking there was little point in talking to the local police as they had already forwarded all relevant information to Carrick.
Constable Morris hadn’t thought for one moment that he was included in the ‘we’ when Gillard had referred to the need to find out what was going on at the house they had visited, that was CID’s job. When he returned to the nick therefore he got on with his normal duties. For the rest of the morning this entailed visiting a fashion boutique that had had expensive garments stolen by shoplifters. Invited to use the manager’s office he took statements from the staff. They didn’t have much to say and only one assistant said she had seen seen the two women she thought might have been the guilty ones.
She gave the impression of not being particularly interested which drove him to ask, ‘Did you recognise these women? Had you seen them before?’
‘No, of course not,’ she snapped.
‘Are you sure?’
He had an idea she was lying but had no evidence so had to leave it there.
During his lunch break his mother rang his personal mobile. ‘Are you all right, darling?’
‘Absolutely fine, thank you Mum,’ he replied.
‘The house seems so empty without you.’
Well, yes, his father could at times be like living with an Easter Island statue.
‘I was wondering,’ she went on, ‘If you’d like to come to dinner on Saturday. ‘Your father met a couple at the golf club and we went to their house for a meal a couple of weeks ago. I suppose he felt he ought to return the invitation so he did. You will come, Roderick, won’t you?’
She actually sounded a bit desperate. And he had no excuse, he wasn’t on duty that night.
‘It’ll be difficult with Dad though,’ Morris pointed out. ‘Someone’ll ask me what I do and it’ll start him off.’
‘No, it won’t. I’m going to have a word with him.’
‘What’s the deal, Mum? Don’t you like these folk?’
There was a short silence and then she said, ‘No, I don’t really. I feel that I need a little moral support.’
Perhaps he’d caught it from Patrick, perhaps he hadn’t, but Morris felt a twitch of cop curiosity.
‘OK,’ he said. ‘Can I bring anything?’
‘If you have a girlfriend, bring her.’
He almost said that girlfriends tended not to go out with blokes who live in garages but refrained as he hadn’t told her the full details of his new living arrangements. ‘No, not right now.’
‘Just bring yourself then, darling.’