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Part Two of The Four Marys...


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The Four Marys Part 1
The Four Marys Part 2
The Four Marys Part 3
The Four Marys Part 4
The Four Marys Part 5
The Four Marys Part 6
The Four Marys Part 7
The Four Marys Part 8

The Four Marys - A Murder Mystery

By Paul Norman

Part Two (You can access the other parts from the main menu).

Chapter Three


Student Nurse Martha Baker’s shift finished at seven on the evening of Monday 16th May 1966. It had been long and difficult, and she was tired, and desperately wanted a drink, but knew she mustn’t, even though she had a small bottle of brandy hidden away in her locker. She never drank during her shift, it was there for emergencies only. She did like a drink in the evening, though.

Her shift had started reasonably well, but then old David Farmer had been brought in with a broken ankle and a fractured elbow from a fall the previous evening. Being ninety-one years old and not too good on his feet at the best of times, he needed help with going to the toilet, and during the course of her shift, Martha had emptied ten bottles and two bedpans for the old boy. All the shit jobs, it seemed, came her way, because she was a lowly student nurse…

Then there was Peter Downing, twenty-three years old, from the East End of London, a flyboy, cocksure and full of himself. Recovering from an appendectomy, he insisted on removing most of his lower clothing whenever Martha was asked to check and dress his wound, and he would take the opportunity to make sure she saw his bits. At the tender age of nearly eighteen, she was worldly wise, she knew about men’s bits and where they went in relation to her own bits, but what she had to put up with from Peter Downing she considered to be above and beyond the call of duty, and Staff Nurse Young always seemed to have her in mind for this task. Complaining wouldn’t have done any good, it was par for the course on men’s surgical. The nurses, particularly the young trainees, were expected to put up with this kind of thing, it was part of their training. How to deal with awkward patients, how to mollify disgruntled patients, jolly them along, how to ignore patients who pushed their luck.

It didn’t help that Martha was far and away the most attractive nurse on the ward, possibly in the entire hospital. She had lost count of the number of patients and staff who told her she looked like a cross between Sandra Dee and June Thorburn, or even Marilyn Monroe. She was easily the most popular nurse on the ward, too, at least with the patients, probably some of that popularity having to do with how attractive she was, particularly to the men, but today had been a particularly difficult and onerous shift; she couldn’t wait to get on the bus, get home, make herself a sandwich and a cup of tea, or something stronger, plonk herself in her favourite chair and curl up with her latest book, Young Rennie by Mazo de la Roche. She was reading the Whiteoaks chronicles out of order, because that was how the Pan Giant paperbacks came into her possession, courtesy of her aunt Joyce, in whose house she was living. Actually the house was rented in the name of her adoptive father, but he was away on the North Sea on one of the trawlers operating out of Aberdeen, and so for the time being, it was to all intents and purposes Aunt Joyce’s house. It was Joyce who paid the rent, albeit with a small contribution from Martha, although it was she who took the rent card and the cash to the corporation office at the Hyde each week. Rent, rates and water rates. One simple payment took care of everything. There was a two-bob meter for the electricity, and the same for the gas.

Joyce Baker worked nights at the Hawker Siddeley factory in Gunnelswood Road North, where they made the enormous Blue Streak rockets which would one day take men to the moon and the stars, if the newspapers were to be believed. Space City, they called Stevenage, because the other end of Gunnelswood Road had the British Aircraft Corporation factory, three quarters of a mile of it. Ironically, the Hawker Siddeley site was less than a third of the size, but produced far and away the larger product, the Blue Streak rocket system. When a completed Blue Streak left the factory to travel along Gunnelswood Road towards the Knebworth turn off onto the A1M, it seemed like half the town turned out to watch. But Stevenage wasn’t a city, it was a new town, and of the two giant factories, only Hawker Siddeley Dynamics was involved in the space industry. British Aircraft Corporation made missiles. Swingfire, Milan, Merlin, Seawolf, Sea Skua and the very latest, the Rapier anti-aircraft missile system. Still very high-tech., still products that screamed up into the sky, but nothing whatsoever to do with space exploration.

Every now and then a completed Blue Streak rocket would leave the factory, and the people of Stevenage would gather in their hundreds, sometimes their thousands, to see the iconic cylinder on its trailer, on its way to the next stage in its life, the comparatively short trip to Spadeadam in Cumbria. It was mind-blowing and inspirational, but it was short-lived. In just a few years a short-sighted British government would call time on the project, and all that technology that could have seen Britain take its rightful place in the exploration of space was lost to the archives. The boyhood dreams of Britain taking a leading role in the Space Race, inspired by Eagle comic, of putting a man on the moon and maybe sending men to Mars were dashed overnight. Hawker Siddeley Dynamics diverged into satellite technology, and British Aircraft Corporation continued to make missiles for the u;timate protection of the British people. Stevenage continued to be known as Space City, at least through the 1960s.

Martha stole a look at the ward clock and saw that she had just five minutes to go, unless Staff Nurse Young saw her and asked her to do one last task, which would probably stretch her shift well beyond seven o’clock. But no, today she was lucky, and at a minute past seven she opened her locker to get out her coat, a thin cotton bolero-type jacket in a pale blue colour. Her hand rested briefly on the bottle, but instead of taking it out, unscrewing the cap and taking a swig from it, she put it further in, right at the back, and covered it with the fawn cardigan she kept in there for when the days and the nights were cold, too cold to go outside behind the boiler house for a smoke without it.

The ride from Hitchin to Stevenage on the bus was uneventful, and her arrival at the bus station coincided with a bus home immediately, a green Routemaster to the Hyde. It was still light when she got off the bus, thanking the conductor as she stepped down onto the concrete car park, where the bus turned round in preparation for its return journey to the town centre, via Longmeadow and the Roebuck, but the sun was very low. She crossed to the left hand side of the car park and onto the pavement where the Fold Public House stood. It was her local pub, but she was not in the mood for a drink this evening, the shift had been bad, but not that bad, really. She walked past the shops, Martin’s Bank on the corner, Raymond Leslie’s hairdressers, then to the main parade: Furr’s Fish and Chip Shop, Pearce’s Baker’s, the TV shop, Rediffusion, Fox’s supermarket and the butchers on the right, the Coop supermarket on the left, then the chemist, then the little haberdashery where she had her first ever job after coming to live with aunt Joyce. There was nothing in the windows of these shops to interest her right now, and they were all shut anyway.

The other end of the parade had Radio Rentals, then Simmonds the furniture shop, then West’s hardware store, which sold just about everything imaginable, crockery, ironmongery, paint, wallpaper, gifts, paraffin etc., then the Galleon Wine Company’s off-licence, finally Martin’s the newsagents and the Corporation office where she went to pay the rent every week. Had it been a more difficult shift, she might have gone into the offy and picked up a bottle of wine, or another bottle of gin to replace the one at home in the sideboard, which she had almost, but not quite, finished. Aunt Joyce, who was of the Methodist persuasion, didn’t approve of Martha’s drinking, and told her on more than one occasion that sooner or later it would get her into trouble. Serious trouble. Martha hadn’t the heart to tell her aunt that she had already been in trouble through excessive drinking quite a few times during the past year. Thankfully for Martha, each of those times had been when her aunt was on nights, and she had managed to slink home in the early hours of the morning with just a caution, pretending to be getting up and getting her breakfast prior to doing another shift at the hospital. Often, on those mornings following a night in the police cells, she felt more like collapsing into her bed than travelling to work and doing a long, long shift, but she hated to let her aunt Joyce down. Joyce Baker was more like a mother to Martha than her own mother could ever be. Even if she ever found her real mother and discovered that she was a Saint, she could not compete with Aunt Joyce, who was angelic, the perfect role model for her. On the subject of strong drink they held completely opposite opinions, though Martha was careful never to drink in front of Aunt Joyce.

Martha had some idea of who her real parents were, but she didn’t want to hear from them, ever. All she knew was that they had wasted their money on an expensive boarding school education for her in Bristol, to which she never really took, although she did turn out with quite a good education in the end, and also that there was a trust fund set up for her when she reached the age of twenty-one. If she ever did touch that money, she would spend it on drink, for which she had developed a taste during her brief time in the sixth form before her expulsion. All of it on drink. And she never, ever, wanted to meet her real parents, they might as well be dead to her. Nearly two years ago she had been expelled from the school in Bristol for trying to organise some kind of brothel in the gym, having gone to the trouble of arranging a meeting between the girls in the sixth form and boys of a similar age from their boarding school a couple of miles across the city.

She had never intended to become involved in the actual sexual activities, her determination to preserve herself for the one man she would truly love was born of her romantic nature coupled with a natural shyness and reluctance to make friends easily with boys. However, her experiences as a young girl right up until her thirteenth year, when she had been abruptly sent off to boarding school, had put paid to her ever being a virgin bride. In her sixteenth year, her brothel plans had been thrown into disarray when one of the girls had blabbed to the headmistress, and Martha had been sent packing. At her parting interview the facts had come out about her newly found obsession with alcohol, and as she had been drinking brandy on the morning of the interview, the headmistress had little choice in the matter. Martha was naturally gifted in languages, and knew everything she needed to know about English literature and history, and had an extremely good knowledge of classical music, which was her passion, although she did quite like some of the modern groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Jazz was never her thing, though, she just didn’t understand it. Luckily, her formal education had just about been completed by the time she had left the school, and it had been sufficiently robust for her to get a job as a trainee nurse in the hospital in Hitchin, with her cache of six GCE O Levels. She looked no more than her sixteen years, and she did indeed have the innocent, girl-next-door features that likened her to both Sandra Dee and June Thorburn, and yet she had never had any problem buying bottles of drink from the off licence. Had she been questioned, she would have said that she was buying it for her adoptive father, but whenever she had gone into the Galleon, the proprietor’s daughter, Jenny, had served her, no questions asked.

Martha lived in Hydean Way. She was within sight of her aunt’s house when she became aware of someone walking along behind her, about a hundred yards away. As she crossed the road to her house, the house where she lived, she glanced back, and saw a man in a leather jacket, also crossing, and she knew intuitively that he was following her. Her heart quickened, and with it, her pace. Her house was just a few more yards away, but he was gaining on her. Her mind flashed back to last week’s Comet newspaper, and the headline: STEVENAGE RAPIST STRIKES AGAIN, and she just knew that this man was following her, knew that he was the rapist, knew that he was going to grab her from behind, drag her into one of the alleys between the terraced houses, and do to her what he had done to three, or maybe four other women during the last six months. She should have screamed. There were lights on in most of the houses, but although Martha knew some of the residents by sight, she didn’t know many of them to talk to, and they probably didn’t know her. Had it been her aunt Joyce who was being pursued by the Stevenage rapist, they would have rushed to her defence. Joyce was a stalwart of the local community, and her brother Edwin was also a staunch member of the Methodist Church, when he was at home and not riding the waves as a merchant seaman.

Martha hadn’t gone to church for two years, not since she had been chucked out of her boarding school in Bristol for gross misconduct, which involved getting blind drunk and trying to arrange a mass assignation between the sixth form of her own school and that of the nearby boys’ boarding school for the purposes of sexual experimentation. Nothing had come of it, and she was never even sure she would have gone along with any sexual exploration even if the planned meeting had taken place. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on your point of view, a nosy prefect had intercepted the note intended for one of the lads at the boys’ school and the whole thing had been nipped in the bud. Perfect timing. Martha had planned everything down to the last detail, had even turned the gym into a kind of bordello with a table lamp purloined from the headmistress’s office, cushions from the prefects’ room, and sheets and blankets from the store cupboard in the sick room.

The plan was for a number of lads with money to burn to cycle Martha’s School, where they would hand over their money in return for sexual favours from a hand-picked selection of girls. It was to be five shillings for a grope, ten shillings for a grope below the waist, a whole pound for full sexual intercourse. Martha had confessed to dreaming up the whole money-making scheme, and it was she who had been asked to leave, while the other girls who had signed up to her scheme were all given a severe dressing down. Martha didn’t know if she would have gone through with any of the items on offer in her tariff. She had convinced herself that she was desperate to know the real joys of sex, but although she had personally vetted the girls who were going to partake, none of the boys appealed to her, and she honestly believed that if the opportunity had presented itself, she would have cried off. Martha Baker was not a virgin. Years of abuse at the hands of her father had put paid to that. She was nearly seventeen years old, and the Swinging Sixties looked all set to pass her by. Most of the girls her age that she knocked about with, many of them nurses but by no means all, had done it. One thing was certain, though – she did not wish to experience the joy of sex by being raped. Although she didn’t realise it at the time, that was exactly what her father had done to her - raped her. It had begun when she was just seven years old, when, after reading her a bedtime story, her father had climbed into bed with her and done things to her he should not have done. Her mother, downstairs on the sofa almost unconscious from the amount of wine she had drunk, was oblivious to what was going on in Martha’s bedroom. Martha tried not to think of her father, who had raped her, or her mother, who should have protected her from him. It was a period of her life, six years long, that she had somehow managed to shut out of her head. But now she was being pursued by the Stevenage rapist, it all came flooding back.

All of which random thoughts piled through her head as she broke into a run. She wasn’t fit, not for the purposes of running. She did plenty of walking during the course of her shifts at the hospital, plus to and from the bus stop, and she was reasonably strong, for she had to be able to help lift the patients on her ward, of course, but she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she’d had to run since moving to Stevenage, and one of those times had been to catch the bus home, a matter of a few yards, and not enough to raise her heartbeat. Right now, she wished she had taken part in the gym lessons at Badminton school, and not taken refuge in the library or the sick room on the pretext of a painful period or a bout of nausea.

Now she ran as though her life depended on it, and she supposed, in a way, that it could. Two of the rapist’s victims had ended up in her own hospital with broken limbs. One of those, a forty year-old woman, had also suffered a heart attack at the scene and had nearly died.

Panting heavily. Four more yards to the front garden, two yards to the front door, and then she realised that she didn’t have her key out ready. She reached the front door and frantically plunged her hand into her handbag to pull out her key, and at the same time saw out of the corner of her eye, that the man who had been following her had also stopped, perhaps twenty yards further back along the road. He didn’t look out of breath, and she got a good look at him for the first time. Five feet ten, perhaps, quite well built, sandy hair and beard, glasses, leather jacket, corduroy trousers, green, Oxford brogues, black. He wasn’t wearing a tie, because he wore a polo shirt, red.

She finally found her door key and turned it in the lock, pushing open the door in one fluid movement. ‘Leave me alone!’ she screamed.

Stop! Wait, please…’ the man called, but then she was inside, she was closing the door, she was sliding across the security bolt, and at last she was sitting on the stairs, trembling. She expected any moment that the man in the leather jacket would start pounding on the door, but when she plucked up the courage to look out of the front room window, there was no one in the street. No one at all. Now she didn’t hesitate. Martha opened the sideboard, the right hand side of the dark brown utility sideboard the Baker family had purchased from the little furniture shop, Kenneth Phillip, in Market Place in the town centre. This was the side where Edwin Baker kept his spirits. She took out a bottle of whiskey and poured herself a half inch of the golden liquid, downed it in one.

When Joyce Baker came home at six o’clock the following morning, she had to pound on the door to get Martha to slide back the bolt and let her in. Her aunt knew that Martha had spent the night drinking, finally falling asleep around two o’clock, because her glass had slipped from her fingers onto the carpet, and she was still wearing her clothes rather than her winceyette pyjamas. Luckily for Martha the glass had been empty. Joyce Baker reckoned that her adopted niece had consumed in the region of a third of a bottle of whiskey. She didn’t ask why, she simply packed Martha off to bed for a couple of hours, quietly cleaned up after her, and made herself a cup of tea.

She woke a protesting Martha at ten o’clock and made her shower and clean her teeth before coming downstairs to eat the scrambled egg and toast she had prepared for her.

What happened, Martha?’

Without hesitation, and in between mouthfuls of the delicious breakfast her aunt had prepared for her, Martha told her.

A man followed me home off the bus last night. I thought he was going to rape me!’

Joyce Baker’s eyes were as round as saucers. ‘Did you call the police?’ she demanded. Martha shook her head. ‘Then do it now!’

Nothing happened. He must have turned around and gone away.’

That doesn’t matter. It is important that you give a description of this man to the police because it might help in the apprehension of the rapist. Do you want another young girl or a woman to suffer at his hands because you omitted to do your duty?’

No. Sorry. I’ll call them now.’

Better than that. Drop in at the police station on your way to work.’ It’s not on my way to work was the rejoinder that was on the tip of Martha’s tongue. But Joyce Baker, Aunt Joyce, was a forceful woman who knew what was right and what was wrong, and she insisted that Martha do the right thing.

Tell them about this man, describe him in full detail as you did to me. Then catch the bus to the hospital and do your shift. If you see him again, get somewhere there are lots of people, somewhere you are safe. Get someone to come home with you on the bus tonight. Do that for me and God will protect you. You are a good girl. He will see that no harm will come to you if you do the right thing.’

Yes aunt,’ Martha said.

Finish your breakfast and get the earlier bus into town, and stop off at the police station.’

Martha nodded. Five minutes later she was walking down to the Hyde where she would wait for the bus, ten minutes earlier than her usual one. On her way into the police station, she heard someone give out a wolf whistle, and turned her head to see a blue and white police car driving around the back to the station car park. There was no one else in sight. She carried on into the station and told the officer behind the desk about last night’s incident, but it was frantically busy in there that morning, so he took down her name and where she worked and promised that someone would be in touch later today to take a statement. Then, with a slight headache, but otherwise none the worse for wear after her drinking bout last night, she made her way along Danestrete to the bus station and arrived at the hospital in time to get a cup of coffee and a biscuit before her shift started.

Chapter Four


Sergeant Trevor Wilson was briefing his team of bobbies before they set off on their various beats. He motioned for Mike Thompson to remain behind when the others had left.

You come highly recommended, Thompson.’ He said it with something approaching a sneer, as though it was something bad rather than something good. Mike had met most of the other force members stationed at Stevenage New Town Police Station and although they were not idiots, their intelligence was not quite up to the standard of a “Grammar School Boy” with seven “O Levels and three “A” levels under his belt. A boy who could have had a place at Oxbridge had he wanted it. It was not snobbishness on his part, just something he was aware of, that his general knowledge was mostly better and more far-reaching than theirs, and so he took care not to rub it in. He was not sure about Sergeant Trevor Wilson, and there were one or two detectives he had not yet met. By and large, it took a measure of superior intelligence to make the transfer from uniformed bobby to CID officer. Mike was fully aware that he would be on probation as a uniformed constable for at least a couple of years before Sergeant Wilson would endorse any attempt to make such a transfer. He had heard that when CID was at full stretch, a senior officer might commandeer a bobby to help with a particular investigation, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen to him just yet, because there were plenty of long-serving constables who would be chosen before him for such a task. No, he was happy enough in uniform – for now.


Wilson was not quite as tall as Mike, but he was powerfully built, and had graduated to the police force after a spell in the army. Probably ten years older than Mike, he sported a thick black moustache and his short back and sides betokened a throwback to his army days. He rarely smiled, and if he did, it was likely to be accompanied by an outburst of bullying sarcasm that had been known to reduce some younger, greener recruits to tears. Mike didn’t particularly like him, but the word in the nick was that he was a good copper, he did a good job and got results. What Mike could not forgive Wilson for was his attitude to the female officers, but thankfully, he had not so far witnessed for himself the senior officer abusing them verbally, or physically for that matter. But Wilson had a reputation, and if it came to it, Mike would not be able to just stand by and watch it happen. Naturally, the two WPCs were considered fair game by most of the men, but Mike always treated them with respect, and the girls responded to him favourably. Both were married with young families.

I just need to tell you that recommendations mean nothing to me. You’re here because there’s a slot for you, not because some high-ranking detective wants you molly-coddled. While you’re under my command you do as I say, you do it at the double and I’ll be the judge of whether or not you’re worthy of anyone’s recommendation. I don’t care if you’re the chief constable’s favourite nephew. I judge all my men on their performance. Got it?’

Yes, Sarge.’

Right, we’ll get off on the right foot, then. Get yourself over to the hospital. There’s a nurse there who claims she was followed home off the bus last night. Martha Baker, her name is, she’s nearly as young as you are, so she could be considered jail bait in some circles. Might be our resident rapist that followed her. I want you to take a statement from her, get a description of the man who followed her. She came in this morning on her way to work, Bob Seeley was on the desk and there was a lot going on, so he told her he’d send someone to talk to her. This is your chance to shine, lad. Don’t let me down! And when you’ve done that, there’s a pile of paperwork for you to go through, see if any of it can be signed off. Cases closed, that kind of thing. Jump to it!’

The hospital in question was the North Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire Hospital, first opened in 1823 in Cock Street, Hitchin to look after the sick and the lame. In 1948 it became part of the newly formed NHS and now served Hitchin, Stevenage and the surrounding villages while plans for the new Lister Hospital in Stevenage were being considered. Mike left Wilson’s briefing room and went to the canteen, where he knew he would find someone who might be willing to give him a lift to the hospital in Hitchin. He had been warned in advance that Sergeant Wilson expected his officers to act on their own initative. There were plenty of buses a few minutes’ walk away that would get him to Hitchin in about a quarter of an hour, but a Panda car would be that much quicker. PC Bob Seeley beckoned him over to his table, where he was just finishing a round of toast and coffee. He didn’t particularly like Seeley, for they had nothing whatsoever in common, but a lift was a lift.

After a lift, Tiger?’ The school nickname had followed Mike, probably because of something Maxwell had written in his file about Mike’s favourite weekly comic being the Tiger, and the reference had made its way across country to the Hertfordshire force. Some of the bobbies referred to him as “Tiger”, but those of them who were closer to Sergeant Wilson tended to call him “Posh” because of his grammar school background. Stevenage Old Town was home to Alleyne’s School for boys, which had previously been a grammar school, though it was not as old and venerated as the Crypt Grammar School, in Gloucester, which Mike had proudly attended until 1963; as far as he was aware, none of the officers or constables at the nick were grammar school boys.

How did you guess?’

Where to? I’m just out on my rounds. Little Wymondley, Hitchin…’

Stroke of luck! Wilson wants me to interview some nurse at the hospital. You saw her first thing this morning?’

Jammy sod! She was a cracker, I can tell you! I can just picture her in her nurse’s uniform!’ His eyes took on a dreamy, lustful look. ‘Nurses, eh? They love a man in uniform, and we love ‘em back! Come on, then. Countryside ride, is it, or up the motorway?’

The alternative was the A1M, running from Hatfield to Stevenage, opened in 1962, soulless but quick. People called it the motorway, though it was only two lanes wide, and didn’t really qualify. ‘He didn’t give me a timetable, so let’s take the countryside route. You can do your Little Wymondley patrol on the way…’

Bob grinned and picked up his peaked cap from the table. ‘Thanks, Doris!’ he called, and carried his tray over to the counter. Doris, the canteen manager, beamed her appreciation of his thanks. For some reason, women like Doris seemed easily taken in by Seeley’s broad cockney charm. Outside, in the car park, they made their way to a pale blue and white MkI Ford Escort police car. The police station was situated at the western end of the town, within easy reach of the Old Town, in quiet, classic contrast to the modern estates of the new town. They made their way out into the countryside, through the village of Little Wymondley, where absolutely nothing seemed to be happening, and fifteen minutes later Seeley pulled up outside the North Herts and South Beds Hospital.

Want a lift back, mate?’

Mike considered for a moment. ‘Give me a quarter of an hour to find this nurse. If I’m not out by then, leave it, I’ll get the bus back or hitch a lift with a civilian or something. Thanks for the ride. I’ll see you later.’

Mike made his way into the dark, green-painted corridors of the Victorian hospital and looked for someone to ask. Eventually, a janitor in navy blue overalls directed him to the men’s surgical ward, and there he found a couple of nurses at their station.

Excuse me.’

Yes, officer?’

Mike flushed quietly. He was still getting used to the respect his uniform brought with it. ‘I’m Police Constable Thompson from Stevenage Police Station. I’m looking for a nurse, Martha Baker, who says she was followed home off the bus last night.’

The nurses looked at each other. ‘She’s in the staff room, making tea for the patients. Follow me, Constable.’ Neither nurse questioned why they hadn’t sent someone from Hitchin Police Station to speak to the nurse who had been followed home. The nurse led him through the ward to a room tucked away in the corner and held open the door for him. If the first nurse had struck him as pretty, the girl wearing a pale blue nurse’s uniform who was standing at the sink pouring boiling water into a large teapot had to be one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen in his life.

Mike loved the cinema, and he worshipped Sandra Dee, the little blonde starlet of The Reluctant Debutante, A Summer Place, Portrait in Black and Romanoff and Juliet and thought she was maybe the most beautiful girl in the world, with a quiet, girl-next-door look about her. Mike persuaded himself that he would have loved those films even if Sandra Dee had not starred in them, but the truth was, he loved them simply because of Sandra Dee. He had one favourite photograph of her in his possession, her head tilted on one side, her blonde hair cascading about one side of her face, her lips slightly parted and a light smile that had always melted his heart. She was, in his eyes, the perfect girl, someone to worship, someone to die for. Now, studying Nurse Baker’s face, he found himself thinking that hers was the most perfect face he had ever seen in his life, and he would gladly swap all the photos of Sandra Dee he owned for just one of Martha Baker. Her hair was what you might call ash blonde, with strands of beautiful gold which caught the light from the huge lamps which hung from the ceiling. Her eyes were a pale hazel colour, she had a snub nose and a generous mouth, but as far as he could tell, she wore little or no make-up. That could have been due to a hospital rule, of course, but for the moment, he was lost in the wonder of her beauty. He put her at about sixteen or at most seventeen years old. Of course, she could be married, he thought, even at that young age, because that was what most young girls did at the time, they got married, had children, cared for their little families, and he came crashing back to Earth with a bump as the nurse who had left him there introduced them.

Nurse Baker, this policeman wishes to speak with you.’

Yes, Staff.’

The older staff nurse went back to her duties, leaving Student Nurse Baker and Mike alone in the staff room. He produced his warrant card with as steady a hand as he could muster.

I’m PC Mike Thompson. I understand you reported someone following you home last night?’

Would you care to sit down? The tea has to brew for four and a half minutes,’ the beautiful young nurse, who looked as if she should still be at school, said, and pointed to a chair that would not have looked out of place in Mike’s old school hall. Serviceable but decidedly uncomfortable and in dire need of a coat of paint.

No, I’m fine, thanks. Can you tell me what happened?’ Tell me you’re not married, tell me you’re available, and tell me you’ll go out with me, because I have just met you and I am head over heels in love with you and I can’t think straight…

My shift finished at seven. I got the seven thirty to Stevenage, then my local bus to the Hyde. When I got off the bus and walked up Hydean Way to where I live, I caught sight of someone wearing a leather jacket. He was following me. When I stopped, he stopped. Thankfully, my house, my father’s house is only a short walk from the Hyde, but the house is empty because my aunt, with whom I live, is on nights. The man stopped under a lamppost and watched whilst I pulled the curtains. He was looking the other way, but I’m sure that was because he didn’t want me to suspect he was after me. When I went upstairs to change out of my uniform, I peeped out through the curtain and he had gone. I’m not a qualified nurse, by the way. Not yet. I’m a student, I’m on probation.’ A bit like me, Mike thought, followed by: you didn’t need to tell me that.

The first thing that struck Mike about the way Nurse Baker spoke, was that she was very well spoken, not BBC announcer-English, but there was no trace of a London or Essex accent. He wondered if she had attended the local grammar school. In that he could not have been more wrong.

Okay, then. A couple of background questions, then I’ll make a few notes and we’ll decide what to do next. Apart from the leather jacket, did you notice anything else about him? Hair colour, short or tall, that sort of thing? His age, for example?’

Not as tall as you. Around five feet nine or ten, I would have said. He had sandy-coloured hair, and he had a very neat beard and moustache, I think. His trousers were green corduroy, and his shoes were black. He wasn’t terribly old. He looked about his mid-twenties, or even younger, if you want the truth. He didn’t really look threatening, you know. He looked sort of, I don’t know, frightened.’

Mike guessed straight away that the person she was describing couldn’t be the rapist they were looking for – at least three victims and witnesses had put the rapist at between forty and fifty years old. The nurse was describing a much younger man. He breathed a sigh of relief, but said nothing. Right now his mind was working furiously on how he could get to know this angelic looking girl. What was it about her that appealed to him so much? Was it the uniform? He had quite liked seeing the girls of Denmark Road School and Ribston Hall School in their school uniforms when their choirs and that of his own school had performed in the Three Choirs Festival each year, in either Gloucester, Hereford or Worcester Cathedral. And WPC Matthews, the eighteen-year-old WPC back at the station always looked very fetching in her uniform… But there was something about Nurse Baker that was sending his pulse into overdrive right now. Images of Sandra Dee and June Thorburn, his other favourite actress, and who had very similar in looks to Sandra Dee, flashed through his mind. He dragged himself back to the task in hand.

Right. How long have you lived in Stevenage?’

I came to stay with them, my aunt and uncle, two years ago, after school.’ Boarding school, then. ‘My mother died a few years ago. My Aunt Joyce takes care of me, we live in a house in Hydean Way. They used to live in London, the Elephant and Castle, I think, but I’m not sure. Is that relevant? She works on the production line for the Blue Streak missile. My uncle works on the trawlers out of Aberdeen and isn’t at home right now, so I’m living with my Aunt Joyce in their house but she’s on nights, as I said.’ As I said, not like I said. Well educated, then. She used to work at their headquarters, in London, Charteris House and Welkin House, I think, but where she lived was condemned and she came here to Stevenage to live with my father after he and Aunt Joyce moved here in 1958. He’s not my real father, and she’s not my real aunt, by the way. I don’t know why I’m telling you that, but I was adopted. I don’t know anything about my birth parents. Just their name, which I don’t use. They abandoned me, after all.’ You didn’t need to tell me that either, he thought, but it was he who had asked her how long she had lived in Stevenage, and he wasn’t sure why he had asked the question, unless it was simply to prolong the time he had with her. He was held in thrall by her beautiful voice and her soft, penetrating hazel eyes. She could have read out the weekend football results for all he cared. He did not want this interview to end, ever.

You’re a Londoner?’

No, we’re originally from Kent. Margate. At least, they were, I think. I’m not sure where I was born. It’s all I remember, though, from when I was a kiddie. Ramsgate, Margate, Broadstairs. Long walks along the cliffs, endless summer days on the beach, then months and months at boarding school, paid for by my real parents. You know how it is. I guess most people would love to live at the seaside all year round.’ ...and every night my father raped me, starting when I was seven years old...

Mike nodded, although he got the impression that the young nurse’s childhood may not have been as idyllic as his own. He’d spent many happy childhood holidays in Ramsgate, migrating along the coast to the larger, brasher resort of Margate and the quieter, more refined streets of Broadstairs. He might even have seen Nurse Baker, the breathtakingly beautiful Student Nurse Baker during his annual two-week holiday at the Kent resorts. She would have been a year or so younger than him, and he might not have taken any notice of her whatsoever, but it was a nice, comforting fantasy, that it was such a small world and they might both have been in the same place at the same time in the past.

They paid for your education but you don’t know who they are?’

No,’ she said candidly, and the smile on her face vanished momentarily. ‘Guilty conscience on their part, I suppose. I could find out who they were – are, if I wanted to, but who would? They abandoned me when I was born, why should I want to know them?’ Of course she knew who her real parents were but her life with them was over, and it was a chapter of her life she preferred to forget about.

Small world,’ he muttered, referring to the Margate connection, which was, at best, tenuous.

Is it all right if I pour the patients’ teas?’ Nurse Baker asked, ignoring his comment. The angelic smile was back, and his heart melted. The four and a half minutes needed for the tea to brew properly had apparently passed.

Yes, of course, please carry on. You didn’t recognise this man?’

She shook her head emphatically.

Right, then. I think I have a plan. What time does your shift finish tonight?’

The same as last night. Seven.’

If you’re amenable, I’ll wait for you at the bus station in Stevenage, I’ll get on the same bus and go to the Hyde with you, though I'll sit separately from you. Around seven fifteen to seven thirty? I won’t sit with you, or anything like that, because if he’s there again, he might be put off following you if he sees you with me. Not that we want him to follow you, but I can’t really apprehend him just for being at the Hyde. I want to see him follow you, then I’ll collar him and have a word with him.’

Could he be the rapist, do you think?’

Mike shuffled his feet uncomfortably. Obviously, she probably read the local papers, or her Aunt did and had told her. Why hadn’t her aunt gone to meet her down at the Hyde, where the bus turned round and went back to the bus station? Wouldn’t that be what any self-respecting adult should do? But Nurse Baker had said that her aunt worked a night shift, which was a pretty good reason for not being around to collect her from the bus stop. On the other hand, apart from the rapes, the last of which had occurred almost a month ago, there was very little recorded crime against the person except at closing time around the various neighbourhood pubs at the weekends. The vast majority of young women living in Stevenage were under no threat whatsoever when they walked home after a long day at work. But with three rapes during the last six months, nerves were understandably stretched and no one wanted to take any chances.

I sincerely hope not! I don’t think so, no. The man you’re describing is far too young for my liking. I won’t be able to rule him out till I’ve spoken to him, of course, but no, I don’t believe he is the rapist. Right, then, I’ll see you at seven thirty-ish.’

Thank you. I shall feel safer knowing you’re on the bus. He gave me the creeps.’

You’ll be quite safe with me. I’ll see you tonight. If he doesn’t turn up tonight, we’ll repeat the process until he does.’

Mike turned to go, then stopped in the doorway. ‘By the way, you didn’t tell me your first name.’ I know it, I just want to hear you say it…

The nurse smiled softly. ‘You didn’t ask. It’s Martha. Martha Baker.’ It's actually Martha Cole, Martha Cottingholme-Cole, daughter of Alistair Cole - you'll have heard of him, I'm sure...

Mike’s heart skipped a beat. He knew that he was blushing fiercely, and he stumbled awkwardly out of the door and into the corridor.

You need to turn left at the ward entrance,’ Martha Baker said, and Mike should have turned and said “thank you”, but all he could think of was how, in his last term at the Crypt Grammar School, he and his schoolmates had been playing with an Ouija board in the little room they had been allocated for a common room. Everyone asked questions about football, and cricket, who was going to win the first division title, who was going to win the test match series. Except for Mike. He had just come out of a stormy relationship with Lynda Bamber, who had turned out to the murderess of his childhood friend, Brenda McLaren. Mike had asked the name of the girl he was destined to marry, and the Ouija board had spelt out the name “Martha”. He didn’t know anyone called Martha, at the time, but he instantly fell in love with the name. He had forgotten all about “Martha” until now. It hadn’t even registered when Sergeant Wilson had asked him to interview her. But now that he had met her, he was utterly convinced that one way or another, Martha Baker was the girl he was destined to marry.

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.