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     First part of my second Mike Thompson story begins today...

   



The Four Marys - A Murder Mystery

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By Paul Norman

In the beginning…

Summer of 1948

He stood over her, brandishing his knife, then took a length of rope from his trouser pocket and started to secure her wrists.

You’re my prisoner now,’ he said. ‘She was my prisoner too, but I killed her.’

Why?’

Because she disobeyed me. Besides, I like you.’

Jennifer and June Cole and the boy, Jason Lassiter, had been playing cowboys and Indians, with another girl, Mary Radlett, who was the daughter of the cook. They didn’t really like Mary Radlett, because she was a servant and servants didn’t normally mix with people like them, but Jennifer and June’s mother, Lady Victoria Mary Cottingholme-Cole, had insisted. In any case, Mary Radlett was just eight years old, and Jennifer and June were just three years old. They had nothing in common, because of the age difference, but to avoid any unpleasantness, they had agreed that she could watch them play but not actually join in the game, and so that was how Mary Radlett came to be watching from the kitchen door. When they ventured further into the grounds, away from the house, she followed at a discreet distance. She would never tell anyone that they had not included her in their game. She made sure that she could hear what they were saying, though, in case they said something nasty about her or her Mummy, the cook. If they did, she would tell, and hang the consequences.

Will I be your squaw or something?’ Jennifer was saying.

Something like that. Why is your sister named after a month of the year?’ he asked.

Don’t know. Anyway, you are too.’

What d’you mean?’

July, August, September, October, November. J-A-S-O-N.’ She spelled it out for him as he was not that good with his letters. She wasn’t even sure he could spell his own name, and often thought that Jason Lassiter might be a bit simple in the head.

Oh. I’ve got a real knife, you know.’

No, you haven’t.’

Have.’

Show me, then.’

In my pocket. I got it from the shed, at home. It’s my grandfather’s really, but he lets me use it, and he says it’s to be mine when he dies. I might kill him with it just so’s I can have it for myself.’

That’s not a very nice thing to do.’

I don’t like him. He’s very old, and he smells. And he never gives me money.’

Mine does. I got two shillings last weekend.’

Where is June?’

She was with you. Anyway, I thought you said you killed her.’

Oh, yes, that’s right, so I did.’

Jennifer watched sleepy-eyed as the man in the black uniform carried her twin sister to the ambulance, knowing that it was too late, the damage was done, she wouldn’t be coming back, there was just too much blood. On the radio, Dinah Shore was singing “Buttons and Bows”. It was her favourite song, but she couldn’t listen to it right now. Her best friend, her twin sister, was dead. Her father folded her in his arms and tried to comfort her, but she pulled away from him, and ran out into the garden, wanting to get away from all the blood and the mess. That was where the police found her. What happened that day changed their lives forever. She would never be able to look at her father again because of the shame and the misery, and the fact she was never going to see her sister again. Where had her mother been when she needed her? Looking after their newborn baby sister, baby Mary, probably. Although baby Mary was somewhere, sitting in her pram. Or, to be more accurate, laying in her pram, propped up with her cushion so she could see what was going on. Not that she took any notice, with her little beady eyes. Her older brother, Barney, was away at preparatory school. He might have been able to help but he just wasn't there.

She imagined that her mother was probably sitting slumped at the kitchen table with a bottle of whisky, which was all she seemed to do nowadays. Jennifer knew about whisky. It burned your throat and made you grimace, and sometimes cough. She had tried a sip one day, when her Mummy was asleep and baby Mary was lying in her pram whimpering. She couldn’t see the point of drinking something like that, something that made you feel that bad. Jennifer cried her eyes out, and no one seemed to care what she was going through, except for her Aunt.

She comforted her niece while Mummy got blind drunk, in an attempt to shut out the horror of her dead daughter. Mary Radlett watched from the sidelines while all of this took place, while Victoria Mary Cottingholme-Cole, who hadn’t actually witnessed anything at all, and the twins’ father, made up a story about it having been an accident, that June had somehow fell onto the knife, but Mary knew otherwise.

She had seen Jennifer wander off into the woods to pick some flowers for her mother. She had seen Jason show June the knife, which he had fetched from his grandfather’s shed at her insistence. The knife glinted in the sun, momentarily blinding Mary, but she saw that it was similar to the sharp knife in her own mother’s kitchen drawer. She heard June ask if she could hold it, but Jason had said no, she couldn’t. After that it had all happened very quickly, and although Mary didn’t actually see what happened, she could picture it in her mind’s eye, and this was the story she came up with in her mind.

Jason had raised the knife to stop June from grabbing it, and then as she reached for it, he had plunged it into her chest, deliberately, it had seemed to Mary, although she hadn’t actually seen it happen. And then June’s father was there, and all Hell broke loose, with shouting and screaming as he carried June’s bloodied body back to the house and someone called for the police. She was never called as a witness, though, never even questioned by the police. Instead, she had been whisked away to stay with a relative at the seaside for a while, returning only when the inquest had returned a verdict of accidental death and Jason Lassiter had walked free. Except the price he paid was to be sent to a young person’s mental hospital, and neither Jennifer nor Mary ever saw him again. In fact Jennifer herself died in an horrific car accident a month short of her sixteenth birthday when the car she was driving illegally, spun off the road and into an oak tree, killing her instantly as the car exploded in a ball of fire. There were rumours that she had been driving recklessly because of her extreme depression, or that someone had been tinkering with the steering and she had lost control, or even that she had been drinking or taking drugs. The police chose not to pursue that line of enquiry at the request of her father, and for the second time in the tragic lives of the Cottingholme-Cole family, a verdict of accidental death was returned.

When June screamed, Jennifer came running, and Mary ran for help. She had seen it all, clearly, in her mind, she had seen the plume of blood spurting from June’s chest, drenching her pretty white blouse with the frilled sleeves in a torrent of blood, and it was Mary who had run to the house to raise the alarm. Now it was all about poor Jennifer, and her distraught parents. It was because of them that June was dead, because of them Jennifer no longer had a twin sister. Mary was only five, but she knew right from wrong, and she thought that Jason Lassiter had murdered June Cole. She had seen it in his eyes. He hadn’t wanted to share his precious knife with anyone, even though it was only a common or garden kitchen knife like everyone had in their cutlery drawer.

Mary hadn’t wanted to play with them in the first place, because she knew that Jason Lassiter was a sadistic little bully. She knew him from the farm where he lived with his father, his mother having died giving birth to him. Jason’s father had a reputation for being quite brutal with the animals he kept, including his sheepdogs, and she had witnessed Jason following in his father’s footsteps on more than one occasion. She desperately wanted to say something, to tell the people investigating June’s death that Jason had done it deliberately, but no one would listen to her. Some weeks later, Jennifer Cottingholme-Cole caught a chill that progressed into pneumonia, and she, too died. Now there was only Barney and Mary, the baby.

No one paid any attention to Mary Radlett in the days or weeks that followed, and it would be several years before she would sleep through the night without waking from an intense and frightening nightmare. The horror of what she thought she had witnessed but had never had the opportunity to discuss with anyone, lived with her until 1966. Until her own untimely death. 

July 1963

The man’s head had almost been cleaved in two. A jagged wound ended just below the hairline on his forehead, and the shock of the blow had dislodged his eye socket. His left eyeball was loose, the eye staring and lifeless. Dried blood from the enormous wound had congealed over his brow and down onto his nose. A huge bruise was beginning to show around the left eye, which was open and staring. The right eye was closed, and there was dried blood around both nostrils. Around his throat was an angry red weal, as though something had been tied around his neck and pulled tight to strangle him. More bruises discoloured the flesh around his shoulders and down his arms. Lacerations. Yellow-green bruises to his ribs. A stab wound to his chest.

DCI George Maxwell stood up and addressed the small gathering.

Anyone still fancy being a copper?’ he said. In the room were three young men aged between sixteen and twenty, and a pretty young girl with an elaborate bouffant hairdo; she was probably eighteen years old. Michael Thompson spoke first. ‘Yes,’ he said, and pushed the photograph of the dead man away from him. He had seen enough, but he knew that this was what he wanted to do. The girl also nodded her head. The other two young men said nothing.

You don’t have to make up your minds today, obviously. The photographs I have shown you this morning were taken at a crime scene yesterday evening. That is now a murder enquiry, which we shall pursue with all the full vigour of the law, and the considerable forces at our disposal. We have a long day ahead of us, so those of you who want to stay, follow me. You’ll see fingerprinting, statements, interviews, possibly even an identity parade. Those of you who have not yet made up your minds, or have been put off by these photographs, which are of real victims, and which we come across every day, I suggest you go home, think about it some more, and apply for the next careers day, which will be in six months’ time.’

D.I. Maxwell picked up the photographs and replaced them in his manila folder. Mike and the girl, whose name was Felicity Vanneck, followed him. To Mike, she looked a little like Dusty Springfield, and possibly might have had some Italian blood in her, though the name suggested otherwise. Dutch, maybe? She wore lots of elaborate make-up, especially around her eyes. Her hairdo and her make-up would be the first things to go should she sign up to join as a female police cadet, he thought, but he said nothing. For one thing, he was enjoying her company, and she was easy on the eye. One of the boys caught hold of Mike’s arm.

You’re staying, then, Tiger?’

Tiger” was Mike’s nickname from school, because he had been obsessed with the Tiger comic when he had first started at the Crypt Grammar School. Still read it from time to time. He nodded. ‘Yes. It’s what I want to do. Besides, this is only an open day, to get a feel for what it’s like. You can pull out, not join, walk away later. Up to you. No one will think any less of you if you don’t want to do it.’ If you’re not up to it, was what he wanted to say. Yelland, who went to the same school, the Crypt Grammar School in Gloucester, and was in the same form as Mike, waivered. Mike had never really got on with him, he was not a close friend, not one of Mike’s circle. It would have been nice to go through cadet school and then on-the-beat training with someone he knew, but not essential. Felicity Vanneck, “Fliss” to her friends, and that included Mike, would do just nicely.

Try again in six months’ time, Pete.’ Yelland nodded. George Maxwell waited for Mike and Felicity to catch him up.

Ready for this, you two? It gets worse. Those were just photos.’

Ready,’ said Mike.

I’m ready,’ said Felicity Vanneck.


Chapter One

February 1966

Monday


Thompson, DCI Maxwell wants to see you pronto.’

Sarge.’

Mike Thompson, six feet three inches tall without his helmet, stooped his way into DCI Maxwell’s office and stood to attention.

At ease, Thompson, just me and you now, son.’

Sir.’

Fancy a coffee?’

Sir?’

Not in the canteen. Let’s walk down the road to Petropoulos’s, or the Cadena, maybe? I’ll square it with the desk sergeant, say I’m briefing you on a case I need you for.’

They left the station in the Bear Gardens, Gloucester, and walked silently to the nearest coffee house, in Northgate Street, which was run by Gino Petropoulos, a Greek immigrant. He served the best espresso coffee in the city, everyone acknowledged, and Gino knew to keep his mouth shut when he saw Maxwell walk in, other than to ask what they both wanted and to serve them.

They found a table at the back and sat down. Gino brought their coffee. ‘On the house, Mr Maxwell.’

No need for that, Gino. Here’s the money. You have a family to feed, just like everyone else. Take it.’

Gino took the money with a mouthed but silent “thank you” and went back behind the counter.

I’m moving on,’ Maxwell said.

Where to, Sir?’ This was a bombshell Mike had not been expecting to hear.

Hertfordshire CID. Two weeks’ time, the DCS job is mine if I want it.’

Detective Chief Superintendent? Congratulations, Sir.’ Mike tried to analyse quickly what was going through his own mind. This could not have come at a worse time for him, what with the upheaval in his own life, which was not yet resolved.

Maxwell nodded. ‘Work out the rest of my years, retire to one of those pretty little villages in the north of the county. Knebworth, Datchworth, somewhere like that. Roses round the door, that sort of thing. Might get a dog. Spaniel. Always liked spaniels, something about them. Very waggy tails, always pleased to see you.’

Mike grinned. ‘I can’t see you ever retired, Sir. Not really. You’ll always be a detective. Sir.’

Maxwell had something of a reputation as a good, solid, dependable detective who did plenty of legwork and almost always got his man. A good, old-fashioned detective who was not afraid of hard work. It was unthinkable that he was thinking of retiring, even if it was still a few years off.

The word is, you’re not happy. Private life.’

Mike squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. He was not happy, true, but he didn’t really want to discuss it with DCI Maxwell. He wanted to be off on his beat. He didn’t want to discuss it with anyone, it was too big a deal to get his head round.

Wrestling with my conscience, Sir.’

You can’t decide whether or not to move to Australia with the rest of the family.’

Mike’s eyebrows raised. Someone had been blabbing to the DCI. ‘How did you know that, Sir?’

Ear to the ground. A good detective is always one step ahead. In this case, I’m one step ahead of you. Australia’s a vibrant young country still. Plenty of opportunities for a newly qualified copper like you.’

Sir.’

All going, are they?’

Maxwell knew the Thompson family well, after the murder enquiry three years ago, when he had first met the sixteen-year-old Mike Thompson. Together they had solved two murders, that of Trevor Bamber, killed by his wife, June, and her daughter Lynda, with whom Mike had been about to start a liaison, and that of Brenda McLaren, a childhood sweetheart of Mike’s from primary school, whom Lynda Bamber had murdered in a jealous rage, believing that she was still interested in Mike. There were Albert and Cicely Thompson, the parents, Annie, Mike’s diminutive, beautiful twin sister, and his older sister Pauline. The murder enquiry had hit them hard, finding out as they had that their son, Mike, had been involved right from the start. It was the tireless legwork Mike had put in on the two murders that had convinced him that his future lay in the police force, and Maxwell had encouraged him right from the start. He and constable Hutchinson, who lived opposite the Thompson family in the village of Brockworth, nestling at the foot of Cooper’s Hill, where they rolled the cheeses at Whitsuntide.

The Thompson family were mostly from London, and it had been a standing joke amongst them when Mike had declared his interest in joining the police. None of them had believed he was serious. But the threat to Annette’s life when Gordon Clark had bundled her into the car and when Lynda Bamber had subsequently fired the shot that had nearly killed her had brought the reality of injury or even loss of life too close for comfort. Especially as Mike’s uncle John, a detective sergeant who worked for Maxwell, had caught the bullet meant for Annie in his back and was still confined to a wheelchair three years later. Probably always would be, despite his own best efforts and those of the national health service to get his wasted leg muscles back into action.

Mike knew and Maxwell knew that John Kimble had been a bent cop, but they had agreed to keep it quiet because Kimble was a hero, he had saved Annie from being shot. Nothing much had appeared in the newspapers about Kimble’s dodgy dealings, and he was still the family hero, whilst everyone had tried their best to deter Mike from pursuing his chosen career. But he had become a cadet and then a fully fledged constable, and now, here he was, discussing the move to Australia with his friend and mentor, DCI George Maxwell, the man he looked up to more than anyone else.

All except Pauline, Sir. She’s married and staying in Gloucester. Well, out in Matson, actually. She doesn’t want to go, but says when she has enough money saved up they’ll go across for a holiday.’

Down,’ Maxwell said, raising his coffee to his lips.

Sir?’

Australia is down, not across. Across would be the United States, or Europe. Australia is down. Don’t they teach you anything at school these days?’ There was a twinkle in Maxwell’s eyes as he said it – he knew better than anyone that Mike Thompson was probably the best educated young man he had ever known.

Didn’t do geography, Sir. I know where Australia is, though.’

And you don’t fancy it?’

Not really, Sir.’ He didn’t need to spell it out for Maxwell, how much of a wrench it would be, watching his beloved twin sister, Annie set sail for Australia.

Maxwell took his pipe and tobacco from his coat pocket and began to fill the pipe, looking down at the table all the while.

Come with me, then.’

Sir?’

Hertfordshire. Come with me. A couple of years on the beat, then do your sergeant’s exam, or better still, apply for a transfer to CID. I’ll put in a word for you. What d’you say? Fancy it?’

Mike’s face split into an enormous grin. ‘Yes, Sir, that would be great!’ Detective Constable Thompson… That had a nice ring to it…

There’s an opening for you, under Sergeant Trevor Wilson, at Stevenage New Town nick. I’ve known him for some time, worked with him on a couple of occasions in the past. He’s all right, he’ll look after you, nurture you. There’s accommodation, too, a police flat, might even be a house for all I know, next door to a pub. Should suit you down to the ground.’ Knowing how Mike felt about alcohol and the untold damage it caused, this was ironic, but Maxwell was not to know about that side of Mike’s life, at least not at this stage…

You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you, Sir?’

I have, as it happens. I heard you weren’t keen on Australia and I rather like the idea of having you where I can see you. Keep my eye on you, see you don’t get into any trouble, as it were. In loco parentis. Now drink your coffee and we’ll go back to the nick and get some of the paperwork under way. You can always change your mind and go off down to Australia at the last minute. Like I said, they’re crying out for good coppers in Australia, I’ve heard.’

Not going to happen, Sir. Not yet. My future is here, in Britain. Maybe in a few years’ time… And I can always visit, like Pauline. Even go with her.’

You want me to drive out to Brockworth and help you break it to your parents?’

Mike lived in the village of Brockworth, half way between Gloucester and Cheltenham, at the foot of Cooper’s Hill, the hill where they rolled the cheese down at Whitsuntide.

No Sir, thank you. They already know I don’t want to go. It’s Annie who’ll take it the hardest. We’re close, as you know.’

Maxwell nodded, draining his cup. He stood up.

It’s your decision. Only you and Annie can decide if you can bear to be apart. I know how close you are. Feeling each other’s pain and so on. It’s a well known fact. Isn’t it? With twins?’

Mike stood up too, and stared at his feet, ignoring the question. ‘I’ve made up my mind, Sir. I can always go and visit, just like Pauline and her hubby are going to.’

Maxwell nodded and made his way to the door. He raised his hand to Gino, who nodded silently, and Mike followed him into the street.

You’d better be off on your beat. I’ll see you back at the nick later, we’ll fill those papers in. Know anything about Stevenage New Town, do you?’ If the truth were known, Maxwell had already filled in the forms, and Mike Thompson’s career with the Gloucestershire force was at an end. All that was required was his signature.

Not really, Sir. Heard of it, of course.’

Better read up on it, it’s unique, from what I’ve heard. One set of traffic lights, in the Old Town, loads of roundabouts to slow down the traffic, cycle tracks alongside all the major roads, cycle underpasses at all the roundabouts… designed to keep the traffic flowing, and no need for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists ever to come into conflict. Unique. Split into neighbourhoods, supposed to be like villages, I think. Plenty of nice countryside around it, too. Low crime rate. Like I say, read up about it before you turn up for work. Familiarise yourself with the layout and the various neighbourhoods. Nothing worse than turning up for work in a new town and not knowing anything at all about it. In your own interests.’

Sir.’

Chapter Two

April 1966

Monday


When questioned, Roger Simkins said that his wife, Mary Simkins, née Mary Radlett, had simply disappeared.

Where were you?’

Longmeadow shops. The chemist’s. I was waiting outside. It’s a small shop. In the corner.’

I know where it is,’ the visiting DCI said, not smiling. ‘Your wife went in to pick up a prescription.’ When Roger Simkins’s name had cropped up, he had been called, and had arrived within the hour. The DCI vacancy had been filled a few weeks earlier by George Maxwell, but he was still getting his feet under the table, and in any case would have known nothing about Roger Simkins. Besides, Maxwell was soon to become the new DCS, and his hands-on involvement could be next to nothing.

Yes, I told you that.’

You saw the pharmacist bring out a paper bag from the dispensary and call her name?’

Yes. He didn’t speak very loudly, though. Like I said, I was waiting outside.’

Can you describe him?’

He was tall. Swarthy. Stocky. He was the pharmacist. Mr King. He’s always there. He wears a white jacket thing. They all do. Pharmacists. They all wear them.’

The DCI referred to his notebook. ‘Stocky? And tall?’

Well built. Muscular. And quite tall, yes.’

Was there anyone else in the shop at the time?’

Yes, a couple. Old ladies, buying stuff, perfume, shampoo, that kind of thing, I think.’

The prescription counter is separate?’

No. You just queue up and ask. Just the one counter. Look, you’re wasting time. My wife has been abducted!’

The DCI looked straight into Simkins’s eyes. Unmoving, unfeeling. ‘There is no evidence that your wife has been abducted, Mr Simkins. Shall we continue? Any other shop assistants in sight?’

I went in with her. She asked the assistant for her prescription, and the assistant went out back. I went outside so they wouldn’t think I was queuing for anything. I stood with my back to the shop window. Five minutes went by, or at least it seemed like that long. I turned round and looked through the window, and the pharmacist came from out the back with her prescription. Then she followed him into the consulting room.’

Consulting room?’

There’s a room in the corner of the shop. It says consulting room on the door. I’ve been in there myself, it’s just a broom cupboard. Literally.’

Is there a window in the door, or is it a solid door?’

I don’t know. You could go and look.’

My officers will be checking it out, Mr Simkins, rest assured. Your wife followed the pharmacist into this office – the consulting room.’

Yes.’

And she never came out.’

No. I mean yes, she never came out.’

That was how long ago?’

I told the desk sergeant. It happened this morning, at eleven-ish.’

And it took you three hours to report it?’

I came straight here. I’ve been waiting to talk to someone. I didn’t wait, I’ve been kept waiting. Actually, one of your WPCs arrested me. Restrained me.’

Are you saying you were mistreated, Mr Simkins?

Roger Simkins considered for a moment. ‘No. Not at all.’ He did not wish to make matters worse for himself. He genuinely required the cooperation of the police. He wanted them to find his wife so that she could explain what had happened. His mind was racing. Could there have been a basement in the pharmacy? Was there a trapdoor or something? Something that would explain the mysterious disappearance of his wife and the pharmacist?

What do you think could have happened, Mr Simkins?’

Why are you asking me?’

Had you had a row?’

A row? What?’

Had you had a disagreement with your wife?’

What? No!’

Everything between you was normal.’

Yes. What are you suggesting?’

I’m not suggesting anything. You say your wife disappeared.’

Yes. In the chemist’s shop. This morning.’

You don’t think she could have just walked out on you?’

What?’

To get away from you?’

What? No. Why would she?’

You tell me.’

Look, this is ridiculous. Are you going to look for her or what?’

Did you go into the shop when she didn’t come out?’

What? Yes, of course!’

And what did they say?’

There was no one in the office.’

And did they show you the office?’

Yes.’

It was empty?’

Yes.’

No one in there.’

No. And no other way out. Not that I could see.’

Is it possible she came out when you weren’t looking and went out through the back of the shop?’

I didn’t turn away.’ But he couldn’t be sure. He might have been distracted for a moment. Long enough for his wife and the pharmacist to leave the room and for her to be rushed out the back and through the back door. All the shops in the parade had a back door, of course, a door that gave out onto the row of garages behind the shops. From there it would have been easy to get away from the Longmeadow shops, while Roger Simkins was inside arguing with Mr King the Pharmacist about what had happened to his wife.

Not even for a second? You said you had your back to the shop. You couldn’t see, could you? You couldn’t be sure, could you? It’s a hot day. There were probably plenty of diversions for you.’

What do you mean?’

Pretty young girls wearing hot pants and skimpy tops and very little else, for example. Someone might have caught your eye. Distracted you, just for a moment. Long enough for your wife to come out of the consulting room and out through the back. Describe what you saw when they took you into the office.’

They didn’t take me. I opened the door.’

You said they showed you the office.’

Yes, well, I just opened the door.’

No one in there.’

No.’

Your wife was not in the office. The consulting room.’

No, she wasn’t.’

The pharmacist. Was he in there?’

No, he wasn’t in there either.’

Where do you think he went, Mr Simkins?’

I’m not interested in the pharmacist. It’s my wife who’s disappeared.’

And the pharmacist, if what you say is true about there being no way out.’

I don’t care about the pharmacist!’ Simkins thought for a moment, then continued. ‘He was back behind the counter when I went in to look for my wife. Back behind the counter. Pretending that nothing had happened. When I asked him where she was, he said she had left the shop. He was lying! She never came out of that shop!’

There is no need to shout.’

You’re not doing anything!’

Like I said, my officers will check out the chemist shop.’

Then what?’

I beg your pardon?’

What will you do about it?’

I don’t understand.’

When are you going to start turning the place over? Looking for my wife?’

I have no authority to do that, Mr Simkins. Your wife is a grown woman, Sir. Technically speaking, she’s only been gone a few hours. She’ll turn up, you mark my words, and then you can sort this out between you. You’ll see.’

Christ almighty! What do I have to do to get through to you?’

One of your neighbours confirms seeing you and your wife leaving your house this morning at nine am, shouting at each other.’

What?’

I sent one of my officers round to your house to have a word with the neighbours while we were waiting to interview you. They said there was a row when you both left the house this morning. Do you deny that you left the house in the middle of a violent argument, Mr Simkins?’

What? Yes. We were just discussing something, that’s all. It wasn’t an argument as such. What is all this? You have no intention of looking for my wife, have you?’

The neighbour says she heard your wife say something like “you can fuck off, Roger, I’m leaving and that’s that.”’

What?’

Did she say that she was leaving you when you left the house this morning?’

What? No. Yes. Not leaving me, just leaving.’

Can you explain that, please?’

To go to work, that’s all. Look…’

Just calm down, please, Mr Simkins, and explain what your wife meant when she said she was leaving you.’

She wasn’t leaving me! She was leaving her job. Giving up her teaching job.’

Why?’

Why what?’

Why was she leaving her teaching job.’

We didn’t discuss it. I don’t know why. We were going to talk about it this evening. Over dinner.’

Yet, out of the blue, as you left the house this morning, she informed you she was leaving her job.’

Yes. We agreed to meet at Longmeadow shops mid-morning, during her break, she was going to pick up her prescription, she was going to give me a hint about what she was thinking of. Did my neighbours tell you that? No, I didn’t think so!’ The truth was that she had said she was going to pop out in her break to pick up her prescription, and he had taken time off work to be there, to find out what she was doing. Only she had refused to discuss it there and then, and had stomped off into the shop. He had followed her inside, and then when the pharmacist had said her prescription would be ready shortly, he had made his way outside and waited for her, only she had never come out. He did not recall a distraction outside, and wanted to believe that he had kept his eyes planted firmly on the shop the whole time she had been in there, but now, after this persistent and stupid questioning, he could no longer be sure of anything. But he wasn’t going to tell the policeman that!

And you expect me to believe that?’

What?’

I believe you are lying, Mr Simkins. I believe you had a violent argument with your wife, and she rushed out of the house with you following her, shouting at you, telling you she was leaving you. You bundled her into the car, drove somewhere and killed her, then disposed of the body and made up this ridiculous story about her going into the chemist shop in the high street and being called into the office – the consulting room, and not coming out. I believe you murdered your wife, Mr Simkins.’ This was such a stupid suggestion that Roger shook his head and smiled, a sneering kind of smile that said “you are saying anything that comes into your head rather than take me seriously and get down to the business of what you are supposed to be doing – finding my wife.” There were witnesses at the shop – the pharmacist, the cleaning lady who had been stacking the shelves when they were there. This stupid, arrogant, bullying policeman could not seriously be saying that he and his wife had not been at Longmeadow shops at all this morning?

Roger Simkins could not believe what he was hearing. He slumped back in his chair, unable to comprehend the events of the last three and a half hours. He could find no words to say. The door opened and a uniformed constable spoke quietly into the detective’s ear.

I’ll be back shortly, Mr Simkins. We’ll get the duty solicitor, we’ll interview you again, formally, then we’ll think about charging you.’

What? No…’ Roger’s eyes misted over and he felt tears begin to form. This couldn’t be happening to him, it simply couldn’t. He’d come to the police station to report the fact his wife had disappeared, and here they were, talking about charging him with her murder… There was no body, for God’s sake, was there? Had they found a body? Was that what was going on? Had he walked into some nightmare? His wife had disappeared from the chemist’s shop in Longmeadow, and three and a half hours later, they were going to charge him with her murder… this was madness of the highest order. Roger felt light headed, sick, even. He asked for a glass of water, but the DCI ignored him.

The detective left the room, leaving the constable standing at the door, his arms behind his back. Roger was going nowhere for the time being.

DCI Marshall conferred with one of his uniformed colleagues, Sergeant Trevor Wilson. ‘I think we have enough to hold him here for a few hours, then we’ll send him on his way. His wife is safely away, now?’

Yes, guv, as per instructed.’ Mary Simkins was, in fact, “away”, but she was far from safe, as it turned out. But Sergeant Wilson was not to know that at this stage.

Right. I don’t like it, not one little bit, but orders are orders.’

Guv.’

I’d better get back in there. I wouldn’t put it past him to start kicking off.’

You want me in there, guv?’

No, you’re all right. I can handle it. It’s not as if Roger Simkins is a violent man, is it? Quite the opposite, I believe.’

Not what the neighbour says, guv.’

No, but how much was the neighbour paid to say what she did? What a mess. What a Godalmighty mess. Still, we’ve done everything we were asked to do, so that’s that. It’s Mr Simkins I feel sorry for. He doesn’t have a clue, does he? Not a clue.’

Guv.’

The call came through to the station an hour or so later. Mary Simkins had disappeared without trace. She had not arrived at the safe house in Little Wymondley, where she was supposed to wait until someone picked her up and drove her away to her new life. Somehow she had given her minder the slip and had disappeared. At three thirty that afternoon they let Roger Simkins go with a caution for wasting police time. He had walked out of the station and got into his car, an Austin Seven, and dissolved into tears. Mary Simkins was the love of his life. They had been married only a short while. That morning she had told him she was leaving her job in a month's time, but would not tell him why. The case file lay untouched on Sergeant Wilson’s desk for several days, and would not be opened again until Mike Thompson arrived to take up his post with the Hertfordshire Police Force exactly two weeks later. DCI Marshall returned to Police HQ in Welwyn Garden City. His name did not appear in the file. The name of the interviewing officer was crossed out and smudged. Unreadable.

Go to Part two by clicking here...


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.



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A selection of the kind of books Mike Thompson would have had access to in the 1960s. Pan Giants were the best of the bunch, with photo-realistic cover art of the highest calibre!