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Continues in this issue: The Four Marys...


Contents: The Front Page | Fiction | Fantasy & Science Fiction | Children's | Nonfiction | Nostalgia | The Silent Three | 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 Three (You can access the other parts from the main menu).

Chapter Nine


The reference to Noddy was not lost on Mike. His parents had bought him the very first Noddy book by Enid Blyton, published in 1948, and it had become a firm favourite of Mike’s. He had been sorely tempted, on inheriting Jasmine, to paint the front and rear bumpers of the car red, but knew what the consequences would be. Some day he would have her resprayed a less noticeable colour, just one colour, not two-tone, as it was now. Something respectable such as British Racing Green, or maroon, maybe. Or just plain black, which was probably how it had left the Morris factory in Cowley. But then he would have to change her name, of course.

Jasmine chugged her way out to Churchdown, turned left and headed up the narrow road towards the council houses where he was to meet DCI Maxwell. He followed the line of council houses until he reached the one belonging to Mary Fielding and Jenny Rogerson. He could see Maxwell’s gleaming black Wolseley, big, chunky, and functional, but luxurious on the inside, parked a little way down the street, and pulled in behind him, then made his way to the front door of the house. A kiddie’s Tri-Ang tricycle was in the front garden, which was well-tended, comprising a three-yard square of lawn either side of the concrete path, and a single climbing rose that was thinking of struggling free of the trellis to which it was attached.

A uniformed constable, whom Mike did not recognise, stood at the doorway and asked to see his warrant card, then let him in.

Upstairs,’ he said, without smiling. The stairs were opposite the front door. Mike ran lightly up them, turning left at the top to follow the voices he could hear in the front bedroom. As he reached the top of the stairs, WPC Alice Matthews was on her way down, carrying a crying infant.

Morning Mike. This is James. His Mum, a Mary Fielding, has been battered to death with a piece of flint,’ she said, smiling wanly, cuddling the little boy to her chest as though he were one of her own. Mike paused to smile at James, and he momentarily stopped crying, reached out a chubby little hand and touched Mike on the nose.

Might need you in a little while,’ Alice said. ‘He seems to like you…’

There was an appalling smell of excrement, urine and the coppery smell of blood as he entered the bedroom. Inside the surprisingly large room was a bed, a chest of drawers in antique pine, a rickety dressing table made from cheap plywood and painted white, and a bedside cabinet on which stood a table lamp with a dirty but serviceable shade. There was also a copy of A Summer Place, a Pan Giant which Mike also had in his own collection because the film had starred a young Sandra Dee. There was also a pair of glasses, a tumbler of water, and a small bottle of aspirin. Mary Fielding lay face down on the lino, a pool of dark blood spreading away from beneath her face. She wore a housecoat with a floral design and nothing else, apparently. Not that he could see, anyway. It was quite clear that as she had died, she had soiled herself, and the stench was overpowering. Her shoes, expensive-looking and evidently quite painful from the state of her feet, were alongside her. One of her eyes was visible, as her head was on one side, and it was open. Mike found himself staring into it, mesmerised by the piercing blue colour, wondering when she was going to say something. The side of her head had a distinct depression where the flint, which lay to the right, had impacted. Fragments of bone and brain were matted into her hair. This was a young mother, James’s young mother, and she had died painfully, reaching out for her little boy, desperate to save him from the same fate.

Elizabeth Trigg was on her knees beside the body, taking samples of hair, blood and tissue from Mary Fielding’s wound. She had evidently been called just as Mike was arriving back at the police station, and she must have set out immediately. She had on her beautiful white lab coat, which still somehow managed to accentuate her stunning figure. Maxwell stood in the bay window, his trilby hat on the dressing table, his pipe in his mouth, though from what Mike could tell, it was empty, for there was no smoke emanating from it.

Constable Thompson, open a window, will you?’

Hallo Mike,’ Lizzie said.


Maxwell’s eyebrow raised a fraction at the familiar greetings. ‘Same method, obviously.’

Evidently. There is flint around, for example you could pick some up at a builder’s yard, but my guess is that it’s come from someone’s back garden,’ Lizzie said.

Two Marys,’ Mike said, quietly.


Both of the victims were called Mary. Mary Simkins, Mary Fielding.’


I have no idea, Sir.’

Well then, get your thinking cap on, if you have one. See if there’s a connection, why don’t you? Keep your brain active, that’s the stuff. Miss Trigg, are you going to tell us anything we don’t already know?’

I suspect not, Chief Inspector. It seems very likely to me that the two victims, the two Marys, were killed by the same perpetrator. If you can find a connection, you will in all probability have your man.’

Right. We’ll leave you to it. Thompson, you and I will interview the other girl who lives here. Matthews is arranging for social services to pick up the kiddie, then you and she can do the house to house enquiries. There aren’t that many houses in the Close, shouldn’t take you long…’

Do we have any idea what happened?’ Mike asked. It was Maxwell that answered.

Miss Fielding’s housemate, a Miss Jenny Rogerson, was downstairs. There was a party going on, apparently. When everyone had left, she came upstairs to check on Mary and her son, and found her dead, on the floor, as you see her. We believe that whoever killed her climbed up the drainpipe and through the window. Battered her head in, left the same way. The forensic officers are on their way. There are footprints, both here, on the carpet, and outside, on the front garden – I hope you kept to the path, by the way, constable? And there are fingerprints on the drainpipe and the window sill, by the look of it, plus another footprint as he scrambled through the window. She didn’t have time to put up a struggle, just looks as if she raised her arms to defend herself, he took a swing at her and caved her head in. She wouldn’t have known much about it, if anything. I’d say it happened sometime around three this morning.’

He? You know that it’s a man, then?’ Mike addressed his question to Lizzie.

From the size of the footprint on the window frame, which I would say was a ten or even an eleven, I’d say we’re looking at a man, yes. Almost certainly.’

Right, thank you Miss Trigg, we’ll wait to hear from you. Quick as you can, as usual, if you please. Constable Thompson, with me.’

They went downstairs and into the front room, which looked out onto the street. Jenny Rogerson sat on a chair, one of only three in the room. Alice Matthews was standing in the window holding the little boy in her arms.

Waiting for Social Services, guv,’ she said, addressing Maxwell.

Take him away somewhere, if you please, Matthews. He doesn’t need to hear this. He’s probably too young, but you never know.’


Maxwell parked his sizeable frame in the chair next to Jenny’s. Mike hovered by the front room door then removed a teddy bear from the third chair and sat down. Jenny Rogerson was in her early thirties, Mike thought. She had shoulder-length blonde hair which was obviously dyed because the roots were just starting to show through. She was attractive, but in an artificial way, her eyes were red from crying and her make-up had run. She wore a loose-fitting blouse beneath which could be seen her underwear, consisting of a bright red brassiere, and she wore a pair of tight-fitting jeans. Her feet were bare. Not like Mary Fielding’s, she evidently wore sensible, well-fitting shoes, unlike her dead housemate. She reminded Mike of Mandy Rice Davies, the pretty call girl who had been involved in the breakup of Harold Macmillan’s government three years earlier.

Feel up to answering a few questions, Miss Rogerson?’ Maxwell asked.

Mrs Rogerson,’ Jenny said. ‘I’m married. Separated. Well, divorced actually. Papers came through yesterday.’

Mrs Rogerson. Constable Thompson, pass Mrs Rogerson that box of tissues off the sideboard, will you?’

We were carrying on the party down here… no one heard anything… the blokes drifted off around four-ish… work, you know. I think Mary sent John packing because he was drunk and he had a terrible headache, he suffers with them - migraines. I can give you his address if you want to talk to him. He’s Mary’s – he was Mary’s boyfriend. He’s not James’s father, though. Terry, my boyfriend, wanted to stay, but I told him no, he had to wait, because of my… you know… period.’

Do you know who James’s father is?’ Mike said, and she nodded.

David Smith. He doesn’t live round here anymore. He moved away. Matson, I think. I don’t have an address for him, but Mary might, in her address book. That’ll be upstairs…’

We’ll find him,’ Maxwell said. ‘We’ll need to talk to him, that’s for sure. Did you know him? What was he like? Jealous type?’

Not really. A bit weedy. Civil servant, worked at the Guildhall, I think. There was a Christmas party, people were pairing off, Mary got stuck with him, fell pregnant. Just a one-nighter. There was never anything between them. He moved away before Christmas. The people at the Guildhall might be able to tell you where he went. I don’t think Mary kept in touch with him, though she might have his address, like I say, I think he lives somewhere near the railway station. She wanted to forget him, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the party… sort of fizzled out because the boys went home…’

You were partying like there was no tomorrow, and the “blokes” had probably come here expecting a bit of how’s your father…

You heard nothing? Absolutely nothing?’

The record player was on… It was quite loud… I think it might have been the Everley Brothers… By, bye Love, something like that. I was still listening to it, even after they’d gone. I didn’t think about Mary.’ Jenny Rogerson sniffed into a handful of tissues.

The party started when?’

Not here. It wasn’t here. We came home because of Mary’s little boy. Because of the babysitter. Abi. Abigail. Abigail Walker. She lives a few doors down. She’s only sixteen, she had to go home because of getting up for school. We were a little late, she was a bit cross, but we gave her an extra half crown to shut her up. Her Dad was waiting to take her home. He wasn’t too happy, either, he has to get up early for work, he’s a postman. They live at number three. On the corner. One and three, the semis on the corner.’ Mike had his notebook out and was making notes of the names and addresses they needed to visit during the course of this morning’s enquiries.

What time did you all get here? Was it by car? Who came?’ Maxwell asked. ‘I’ll need names and addresses. And do you remember if anyone went missing during the time of the party? And then showed up again?’

There’s a lot of blood,’ Mike said. Maxwell looked at him quizzically. ‘I mean, if someone had left the party, climbed up the drainpipe and killed Mary, then rejoined the party, wouldn’t he have been covered in blood?’

Maxwell shrugged. It had probably occurred to him but didn’t need to be said right now, in his opinion. ‘We’d best check with Miss Trigg on that score,’ he said gruffly. ‘Mrs Rogerson? Can you answer the questions, please? Did you come home by car, and how many of you were there? If it was more than the four of you, did anyone leave during the course of the evening? While the party was going on? And can you think of anyone who might want to harm Mary Fielding?’

Jenny shook her head. ‘So many questions… there were just the four of us. Me, Mary, Terry and John, in Terry’s car. It’s an Anglia, a Ford Anglia, it should be out in the street. Terry and John live in Longlevens, their addresses are in my book, over by the phone. Under their first names. Mary came home because of Jack, her little boy, she sent John home and went straight upstairs. It was just the three of us down here. We shouldn’t have been driving, really, given the amount of drink we’d all had, but we had to get back, you see. For Abigail.’ Mike found the relevant entries against the mens’ names and copied them into his notebook. Terry Vincent and John Harrison.

Just the three of you? Partying? Drinking, dancing, that kind of thing?’

Jenny nodded. ‘Yes. We were pissed, really, sorry. Someone passed some tablets around at the party…’

The party you left to come home?’

Again Jenny nodded. ‘I don’t know what they were. The tablets, I mean. Mary didn’t have any. She was just drinking. Just drink. Just a couple of Babychams, as far as I know. She said she needed a clear head to take care of Jack. She doesn’t drink much at all, really. Not normally. She was a bit more drunk than usual tonight, though, as if someone might have spiked her drink with something. We only went out for a night of fun… I think it was someone’s birthday…’

Well, it wasn’t much fun for Mary Fielding, was it?’ Maxwell said. ‘Right, I think we’re done here for now. Let’s let the forensics do their stuff. Mrs Rogerson, you’ll need to come down to the station to make a statement. And…’

No,’ Jenny said through her tears. ‘In answer to your question, I can’t think of anyone who might want to kill Mary.’

Thompson, get started on those house to house enquiries. Start with the babysitter and the house next door. We’re looking for anyone who might have seen or heard something, someone, or a car between midnight and four o’clock. Make that two cars, in case the killer also came by car, and have a look for Mr Vincent’s Ford Anglia while you’re at it. Ask if anyone saw anything suspicious, loitering around this house or anywhere in the street between those hours. WPC Matthews can help with that once the social have collected the little boy. I’ll see you back at the station. Mrs Rogerson? Sometime this morning at the station, if you please?’

Jenny nodded. Mike followed Maxwell out of the house. Lizzie Trigg was just putting her gear back into her car, which was a grey Hillman. Further along the street was a black Ford Anglia. Lizzie beckoned him over.

There’s a concert tonight in the Cathedral. Britten’s War Requiem. Fancy it? I have a spare ticket.’

I’d love to.’ The words were out of Mike’s mouth almost before he knew it. Elizabeth Trigg might be a year or so older than him, but she was incredibly attractive, and he had really enjoyed having that coffee with her yesterday. As far as he was concerned, he had nothing on that evening, and although he was not familiar with the War Requiem, he did know some of Britten’s music, and in any case Lizzie was very good company and he quite liked the idea of spending an evening at a concert with her. He had been thinking of asking Martha Baker if he could see her again tonight, but something as instant, as organised as this concert that Lizzie Trigg was offering him, well, it was a no-brainer. And it was not as if he had made any kind of arrangement with Martha. Not yet. Tonight wouldn’t hurt. She would be quite safe walking home from Ermin Street, because Mike had established that Barney Cottingholme-Cole, Barney Cole, was not, could not be, the rapist. It suddenly occurred to him that the rapist might strike again, this time in Brockworth, but he dismissed it immediately. He wanted to go to the Cathedral with Lizzie Trigg tonight.

Great. I’ll see you there.’

I’ll pick you up if you like.’

In Jasmine?’ In the Noddy car?

No rain forecast for tonight. We can leave the top down.’

If you’re sure? I can easily get the bus and meet you there. I’m not that far away. I live in Tuffley. Chedworth Road. Number eighty-five.’ Quite near where DCI Maxwell lives, Mike thought.

What time does it start?’

Seven thirty. We can park in front of the city library in Brunswick Square. I know the librarian, he lets me use the car park. It’s a ten minute walk to the cathedral.’

Boyfriend? Mike thought, but said nothing. Surely she would have said if she was going out with the librarian? Besides, the librarian would be an older man, the kind of man who wore a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, who smoked a pipe and had a Labrador retriever that followed him everywhere.

I’ll pick you up at six thirty, then.’

Look forward to it. See you later, Mike. Oh, by the way, post mortem on this one, tomorrow morning, around tennish, if you’re up for it? Jeremy has gone home sick, he won’t be in for the rest of this week. Tonsilitis. Probably been drinking last night, if you ask me!’

Mike thought that there had been nothing wrong with the pathologist this morning, but he said nothing. People did get ill at the drop of a hat, but it did seem a little out of character. He couldn’t imagine Jeremy Burnham-Twist taking more than the occasional sip of sherry, but he said nothing. She was probably making a joke that anyone who already knew the pathologist would recognise as such. ‘I’ll see you tonight, then?’

Of course, sorry. You can remember the address? Number eighty-five?’

I know it. Near my old school. One of my class mates used to live in your road. Name of Scudamore. I’ll see you later.’ He remembered only too well setting off ona cross country run with John Scudamore, only to hop on a bus once they were out of sight of the school, going to Scudamore’s house for coffee and gramophone records before catching the bus back an hour or so later, when they would feign exhaustion from the run and arrive back at school in the middle of the pack. He would familiarise himself with where Elizabeth Trigg lived so that he wouldn’t be late for this evening.

She squeezed his hand and smiled, and his heart melted. Somehow he could foresee trouble brewing. At this particular moment he felt equally attracted to Lizzie Trigg and Martha Baker. Something that would need to be sorted out sooner rather than later. Martha obviously had the edge because of the spooky Ouija board episode that had predicted her as his life partner all those years ago, but although he had at one time filled his head with a lot of superstitious nonsense, his police training had overtaken that and he now thought he was much more sensible. Even so, he was on edge, and the delicious thought of the two beautiful girls fighting over him was difficult to get out of his head right now, and he started to feel distinctly uneasy about cheating on Martha. As those thoughts tumbled through his mind, Martha’s face swam into his consciousness and he was on the point of running back to tell Lizzie that he couldn’t go with her after all. He could imagine a life with Martha, growing up, growing old together, raising a family and so on, whereas he couldn’t imagine the same thing with Lizzie Trigg. But he finally managed to convince himself that a night out with her would be harmless. It wasn’t as though they were going to leap into bed together at the end of it. That simply wasn’t going to happen. Panic over.

He caught up with Alice Matthews and together they began the laborious task of knocking on the doors in the immediate vicinity to hear what the neighbours had to say about last night’s party and the fact that Mary Fielding had been murdered as they slept in their beds. Or, hopefully, had been disturbed by the partygoers and the murderers arriving in the lane during the night.

But the house to house enquiries were fruitless. Abigail Walker was at school, of course, at the nearby Churchdown Secondary Modern. Her mother confirmed that her husband had walked along to the Rogerson-Fielding house to collect her and they had returned some two hours later than planned. She had managed to wake Abigail in time for school, but her husband had called in sick with an upset stomach and she had made the phone call for him using the call box at the end of the road. They had a brief chat with Mr Walker, who was none too pleased to be roused from his sick bed, but he confirmed what his wife had told them, and offered nothing new, nothing that would help with their enquiries, and they had no reason to doubt him.

Abigail, the parents told them, was in the fifth form at the Secondary Modern School, and she would be home around four o’clock this afternoon. Mike made an appointment to come back and talk to Abigail when she was home, rather than disturb her lessons by turning up at the school. The rest of the street had apparently slept through what had happened last night, or else someone was lying. Neither Mike nor Alice could point to anyone of whom they were immediately suspicious, and so for the time being, they made their separate ways back to Stevenage and resumed their normal duties.

Mike drove back through Brockworth to Ermin Street, then through Hucclecote and Barnwood, reaching the suburb of Longlevens a quarter of an hour later. He parked outside John Harrison’s house in Richmond Gardens and knocked sharply on the door.

It’s open!’ a female voice called, so he pushed open the door and walked in, finding himself in a smartly decorated hall with a dado rail, and a staircase. At the far end of the hall he could see a woman in a pinafore skirt busying away in the little kitchen. He could tell at a glance that this was a house the owners were proud of and someone, probably the lady who was now walking towards him, kept spotlessly clean and tidy.

Mrs Harrison?’

Thelma Harrison was in her mid-fifties, and had a kindly face. She reminded him of his own Mum, and he briefly wondered how the rest of his family were settling into their new life in Australia. Especially Annie.

That’s me. Can I help you?’

Mike produced his warrant card. ‘It’s about Mary Fielding. I believe your son, John Harrison, is her boyfriend.’

That’s correct. What’s he done now? Or her? What’s she done?’ Mike noted that Mrs Harrison had immediately gone onto the offensive, thinking the worst of both her son and her girlfriend.

Well, I need to talk to your son about last night, Mrs Harrison. I need to question him about his movements after he left Mary’s house last night…’

Why? What’s happened?’ A young man in his late twenties came flying down the stairs in his stockinged feet. This must be John Harrison, Mike thought, and looked him up and down for signs of blood. There was none, and the clothes he was wearing looked as though he’d slept in them. Not our man, Mike thought, though he would still need to question him, of course. Rule him out.

John Harrison? Can we go somewhere and talk?’

Front room. What’s happened? Is Mary OK?’

The voice was rough and uneducated, and the accent sounded like someone who possibly came from the Birmingham or Coventry area. Harrison led Mike into a spotless front room and they sat down. His mother hovered in the doorway.

It’s all right, Mrs Harrison, you can sit in on this if you wish,’ Mike said. She parked herself on a fireside chair. ‘I’m investigating the murder of your girlfriend, Mary Fielding,’ he began. The colour drained from Harrison’s face. He buried his face in his hands and began to sob. His mother let out a strangled cry and rushed to her son, throwing her arms around him.

It is my understanding that you were sent home from Mary’s house in Churchdown last night because you had had too much to drink. A headache brought on by excessive alcohol intake. Is that correct?’ Harrison nodded.

We made a night of it because Jennifer’s divorce papers came through yesterday. Christ! Are you sure she’s dead?’ His eyes filled with tears suddenly. His mother produced a clean, fresh hankie from her pocket and passed it across, then put her arms around his shoulders.

I’m sorry. Mr Harrison, Jennifer identified her before I came away. There will have to be a formal identification later, probably tomorrow, but there is no doubt it was Mary, I’m afraid. You and she were close?’ It was his mother who answered.

They were saving up to get married. They have their names down for a Council House. As soon as that comes through, they’re… sorry.’ Mrs Harrison began to sob, softly, too, and Mike could see that they had both really cared for Mary Fielding and her little boy, James. This had obviously hit them hard, and from their reaction to the news that Mary had been murdered, he was in no doubt that neither of them had known anything about it.

What will happen to James?’ Harrison asked, wiping his eyes.

I really couldn’t say. Mary’s Mum and Dad…’

have to be told, they have to be told their beautiful little girl has been brutally murdered and their grandchild is now both fatherless and motherless. At least, if David Smith could be contacted …

Chapter Five


Martha Baker started to pour teas for the patients, and then smiled to herself as she remembered how nice looking PC Michael Thompson was. She was definitely looking forward to riding home on the bus with him tonight, even if he was undercover, a few seats behind her, and ostensibly not with her at all. Maybe she could get to go out with him if she played her cards right. Since starting work at the hospital Martha had had plenty of offers but no one had taken her fancy, with the possible exception of Johnny Allen, one of the porters, a year or so younger than her, and very nice looking in a Gene Vincent kind of way, but not quite what she was looking for. She had already knocked him back a couple of times, and he hadn’t seemed too fazed by her rejection. PC Michael Thompson, PC Mike Thompson, she corrected herself, was tall, very good looking, and being a policeman, could offer her protection from almost anything life could throw at her. Couldn’t he?

Mike paused at the nurses’ station and waited until the staff nurse who had directed him to Nurse Baker, turned and saw him waiting.

Can I help you, Constable?’

Nurse Baker. Is she married?’ He couldn’t believe he was asking such a question, and neither could the staff nurse, for she frowned at him and sniffed the air suspiciously.

What business is that of yours? What relevance to the case in hand does it have, might I ask?’

None whatsoever. I just wondered…’

She’s not married, Constable,’ the other nurse, the younger one, exclaimed, giggling behind her hand. With the staff nurse frowning, Mike found his way out into the street and found Bob Seeley sitting in the ambulance bay in his Escort waiting for him.

All done, mate?’

All done.’

Where to now, then, your Lordship?’


What? Only kidding, mate! You have to admit you have that air about you. Someone a bit posh. Grammar School and all that. Classical music and jazz… no rock and roll for you, eh?’ Not as posh as public school-educated Martha Baker, though…

I don’t know what you mean, Bob.’ A year ago he had stood in the pulsating, rocking atmosphere of the local ballroom in Gloucester and listened, fascinated, whilst the Rolling Stones had pounded out rock classic after rock classic, honing their musical skills to perfection after years of practise at Alexis Korner’s place in London. Since his sixteenth birthday, when he was deemed by his parents as being responsible and sensible enough to travel on his own, Mike had often made his way to stay with relatives in the East End of London, from where a short tube journey brought him to the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club, and later to the Marquee Club, where Korner had graduated to, and where he had first seen the Stones.

Mike loved the Stones, but preferred the Beatles for their close harmony. He did listen to some classical music, having been introduced to it by his father at a working men’s club gramophone recital of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and he still bought every album released by Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, along with all the Bobby Darin LPs, and various EPs and singles by Lonnie Donnegan and Django Reinhardt. But someone had put it about that because he liked Beethoven, Brahms and various Italian and German operas, that he was posh. A Grammar School boy, while almost every other copper at Stevenage Police Station came from a Secondary Modern background. It was unwarranted, of course. He was a grammar school boy, but he certainly didn’t consider himself posh, although he was well educated, and he knew very well that Sergeant Wilson and his cronies would take every opportunity to punish him for it, given half the chance.

But before any of that could happen he intended to make a good fist of looking after the Nurse Martha Baker enquiry. What a dream start to his Stevenage career it would be if he could nail the rapist! Mike soon dismissed this idea as a pipe dream, though, because Martha’s description of the man who had been following her up Hydean Way certainly didn’t fit the description the other victims had given. After Bob dropped him off at the nick, he buried himself in a pile of paperwork, sorting it into two piles, parking tickets and minor offences that could be signed off and handed over to Jack Kershaw in the records office, and those that required a longer look, to make sure every officer involved had done his bit and the case files could be closed and filed away. One particular file caught his eye, and it was the one that detailed an interview between Sergeant Wilson, a visiting CID officer, and Roger Simkins. In essence, it was a missing persons case, and Mike read through the transcript of the interview with interest, resolving to spend the afternoon out at the little neighbourhood chemist’s shop where the incident Mr Simkins had reported was supposed to have taken place. There was no mention in Wilson’s written report of the conversation that suggested that Roger Simkins might have murdered his wife.

The disappearance of his wife, Mary Simkins, and the involvement of the pharmacist, intrigued Mike. All of the paperwork in the file was up to date, and each relevant officer, including Sergeant Wilson, had done his or her bit. But there was something not quite right about it. The investigating officer had been WPC Primrose Matthews, a pretty young policewoman who was married with two young children, though Mike had recently heard rumours that she and her husband had split up. She and her husband and her young family occupied the other semi-detached police house next to the one allocated to Mike, in Burwell Road, next to the March Hare public house. She and Mike had hit it off fairly quickly when he first arrived, and after a quick lunch of a sandwich and a cup of tea, he sought her out in the staff room, where she was putting the finishing touches to her uniform before going out on foot patrol in Longmeadow, where the alleged disappearance had occurred.

Mind if I tag along, Pre? Sergeant Wilson has asked me to close a load of case files and the last one is the one you attended, at the chemist’s shop. Mr Simkins reported his wife had gone missing. Remember?’

A couple of weeks ago, yes. No problem. We’ll park at the shops. What are you planning to do?’

I thought we could just have a chat with the pharmacist. Always supposing he’s not still disappeared, that is.’

Disappeared? What do you mean? Come on, let’s get the car, we can talk as I drive.’

Bob Seeley had just gone off duty, and Primrose took the keys off the hook, signed out the Escort Bob had been driving and they sped off along Broadhall Way towards the Longmeadow estate and the little square of shops.

Primrose wound the window down a little. Seeley had evidently been smoking in the car again. ‘What did you mean about the pharmacist disappearing? It was Mary Simkins who disappeared. Apparently. Sergeant Wilson seems to think they had a row and she just walked out on him. At the shops. Got on a bus, caught the train to London and started a new life without him. End of.’

There’s a note from Mr Simkins. On the back of his statement. He said something about his wife being taken into a consulting room by the pharmacist, but neither of them came out. He swears blind he was watching from outside the shop the whole time, and he never saw them come out, but there was no other way out of the consulting room.’

Primrose frowned, pulling the car round the enormous roundabout at Longmeadow, where the hollowed out underpasses formed the hub of the cycle tracks and walkways that were the hallmark of the new town, the envy of the rest of the country, and the world, for that matter. Every effort had been made to ensure the safety and convenience of all road users in the town. There was no need for cyclists to mingle with other traffic, as there were cycle tracks running parallel to each major road, no traffic lights except for one set in the Old Town, but instead plenty of roundabouts to slow the traffic down. It all seemed to work perfectly.

Mike watched with interest as they drove past the serried ranks of Corporation houses, each one identical to the next, terraces of three, four, five or more two- and three-bedroomed houses, shiny and new, with identical front doors, set back from the road and with a low post and rail to denote the limit of their front garden. Nothing like Gloucestershire, where most of the privately owned housing stock comprised villa-style three bed semis. These Stevenage estates were different, even, to the council estate in Brockworth, where Mike’s best friend, Jimmy Hunter lived with his three sisters and two brothers, his mother and his father and their dog, a collie cross they affectionately called “Feck”. These houses were nicely laid out, the gardens neat and well-kept, the front doors painted smartly

Mike could see the attraction of these new town housing estates. During his frequent visits to family in the East End of London, he had seen that there were still no-go areas, areas dominated by piles of bomb-damaged rubble, street-long terraces of two up, two down houses with no indoor sanitation, just a hut at the end of the yard, sometimes shared between two or three houses. A two-week long holiday with his ancient Aunt Maggie and Uncle Leopold, who were actually his father’s aunt and uncle, had left him craving the comparative civilisation of Brockworth, and now the reality of life in the East End convinced him that Stevenage New Town would seem like paradise to people who had never known anything better than Camberwell.

He realised that Primrose was speaking, and dragged himself back to the present.

I didn’t see that. I did speak to Mr Simkins, but I didn’t take his statement. I made some notes, which I handed over to Sergeant Wilson at the time. At the shop, Mr Simkins was almost hysterical. He was being abusive to the shop staff, and I had to restrain him and take him to the nick. He calmed down eventually, and the sarge took over. That’s the last I heard of it. My statement, my account of what I saw and heard is in the file, isn’t it? Sergeant Wilson took my notebook and issued me with another. That should be in the file.’

I don’t recall seeing it, only the interview notes with Sergeant Wilson and the CID officer, Bailey, I think his name was. He doesn’t work at Stevenage. I’m just confused by what Roger Simkins wrote on the back of his statement. It’s as though he was hoping someone would come along and question what happened. As though his official statement was somehow written for him and not by him.’ There was no mention, in any of the notes, that the interviewing officer had threatened to charge Roger Simkins with the murder of his own wife.

He must have written it at some point when he was on his own.’

Mike nodded. ‘If no one believed him… I don’t know. There’s just something odd about it. I didn’t want to sign it off without chatting to the pharmacist first. And then maybe to Mr Simkins himself.’

We’re here. The pharmacy is in the corner, right next to the betting shop.’

I see it. You’re off on your beat now?’

Primrose nodded. ‘Let me know how you get on. I’ll be a couple of hours or so, then back to the station for some more paperwork. I hate paperwork!’

Mike grinned. ‘I don’t mind it. Then home to the hubby and kids?’

Right. Then the real work starts. John’s great, but he’s not a very good cook, and he lets the kids run riot! Anyway, he’s away on business at the moment. I’ll be glad when the kids start sch00l! They’ll be starting at Ashtree JMI in September, thank God!’ That sounded familiar, and Mike wondered how he had come to be living next door to Primrose Matthews for several days without realising it. Remembering now that he rarely heard a sound from next door except for the occasional raised voices early in the morning and sometimes late at night, when he was in bed reading. He's domehow got the impression that Primrose and her husband had a very strange, almost cool relationship, although just now she had said he was great. But Mike didn't buy it. He really liked Primrose but he didn't believe all was well with their marriage, though of course he didn't know what was wrong.

He didn’t have a television – yet. They had managed in Brockworth well enough without a television, the radio had been sufficient entertainment for them, that and the large gramophone he’d nagged his mother to buy from Currys in King’s Square, opposite the Bon Marché store so he could play the shellac 78rpm singles an ancient uncle from Boverton Avenue had given to him. Jack Hylton and his orchestra, Harry Roy, Al Bowlly, some Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and a couple of arias from Puccini and Verdi. E lucevan l’estelle was his favourite. He thought the performance was by Enrico Caruso. On Family Favourites they often played such tracks. O, mio babbino caro was another.

Then he had started buying his own records, beginning with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band’s Whistling Rufus, followed by Kenny Ball’s Jazz Men and finally Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Band’s performance of Under the Double Eagle, which persuaded him once and for all that Acker was the best. Listening to Saturday Skiffle Club presented by Brian Matthew was a regular treat in those teenaged days. He bought Lonnie Donnegan’s ground-breaking Rock Island Line, and a number of other records on the blue Pye Jazz label. EPs had followed, and then the Beatles had happened. There was very little popular music on the BBC, which had three networks, The Light Programme, the Home Programme, and the Third Programme, the latter confining itself to classical music and highbrow plays and discussions. Sometimes they had managed to find Radio Luxembourg on the ancient Walnut-cased radio, with the tiny lettering denoting all of the stations on the Long Wave frequency. They listened to an hour or so of popular music, but the reception wasn’t that good, and so Mike and his friends would crowd into Hickeys Music Shop or the Bon Marché basement and into one of the so-called soundproof booths so that they could listen to the record they might want to buy. The Beatles were revolutionary, with a raw energy that was lacking in even the great rock and roll singers from the United States, singers like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. The black-labelled Parlophone singles now formed a significant part of Mike’s collection. He hadn’t brought the gramophone with him to Stevenage, that had gone to someone along the road in Brockworth. Instead he had bought himself a decent record player with detachable stereophonic speakers and a socket into which he could plug a set of headphones so that he could listen to his music in bed before going to sleep and dreaming of Sandra Dee and June Thorburn. She was considerably older than Sandra Dee but still looked young enough to turn his head, and he had spent many happy hours watching her at the cinema in such classics as The Cruel Sea and Tom Thumb in which she looked absolutely adorable.

Being in the company of a rather attractive young policewoman right now started him thinking about who Primrose looked like, and with her striking almost black hair and eyebrows, her clear complexion and her ready smile, he thought she looked very much like a cross between Vivienne Leigh and a young Elizabeth Taylor. Mike smiled to himself. Who needed film starlets like Sandra Dee when you had real-life girls like Martha Baker? Or Elizabeth Taylor, when you were sitting next to the delightful Primrose Matthews?

Primrose locked the car, unaware of the youthful thoughts coursing through Mike’s head, and she was no doubt thinking about when she could finish her shift and get home to her little ones. She was eighteen years old, having married young, and had just a few months’ more experience in the force than Mike.

There were no playschools or nursery schools in those days, of course, they were still a couple of decades away. Mike had not had time to explore the whole of Stevenage, but he did know the major neighbourhoods, Bedwell, Marymead, Longmeadow, Roebuck, and Shephall, which was where the Hyde was, a quarter of a mile down the road from where he lived in Burwell Road, where he was to get off the bus with Martha Baker tonight. He had spent the whole of his first weekend in Stevenage riding around the town on his bicycle, which he had brought with him, thinking that it would be less noticeable than his car, the Morris 8 Tourer he had inherited from his Dad before the family left for Australia. That was parked in the garage next to his section house, which he had been extremely fortunate to have had allocated to him. There seemed to be no shortage of available houses for police force members in Stevenage, unlike in Gloucester.

He was familiar, too, with Shephall Way, and Hydean Way, where Nurse Martha Baker had told him she lived, not that far from the other major road into the town, Six Hills Way, so named because of the six undulations at the side of the road near the junction with Shephall Way, which resembled ancient barrows. No one had yet confirmed that was what they were, but they had to be something of the sort, surely? If you followed Six Hills Way out of town you came first to the Bedwell neighbourhood, the first estate to be built in the 1950s, then down through the valley. Turning to the right took you to the Broadwater Estate whilst carrying on, up past the Girls’ Grammar School, brought you to Shephall Way and the start of the Shephall Estate. Further along Six Hills Way and you came to the end of the current phase of building, the Chells Estate, then out into open countryside which led, eventually, through Aston, and Benington, and ultimately to Hitchin. It was a young, vibrant new town, with an average age of 37, a town where people displaced from the war-torn capital could carve out a new life for themselves in modern, comfortable housing in a well-planned, well laid-out town. As yet it didn’t have a great deal of character, and was known variously as “Space City” on account of the British Aircraft Corporaion factory, and Hawker Siddeleys, or “the town with no grannies”, but people were making an effort, they were personalising the small front gardens, they were bringing their character out into the open. He liked it, in fact he liked it a lot. It signified a fresh start after the trauma of the second world war generally, and for Mike, personally, a fresh start after saying goodbye to his family, who had emigrated to Australia.

He glanced at his watch. Two fifteen. Less than six hours till he saw her again. He resolved to do a check on Martha Baker when he got back to the nick. He knew he wouldn’t find anything on her, but there was the remotest chance she had fallen foul of the law at some point in the past, and then there might be a photograph of her – a mugshot. Better than nothing, but probably not at all flattering. They never were. There again, it might be better than nothing.

I’ll just pop in the shop and have a word. Which way are you headed?’

You want to come with me on my beat? Of course, he doesn’t trust you with a beat of your own yet, does he, that Sergeant Wilson? All paperwork and running errands for people, I’ll bet! It’ll come, Mike, don’t you worry. You’ll make a great copper! Come on, I’ll come with you, then we can do the beat together.’

They made their way into the shop, which was empty apart from the pharmacist and a shop assistant, who was an older woman, about forty-five, wearing a pale blue overall. She looked like a cleaner.

Constable, what can I do for you?’ the pharmacist said, addressing Primrose.

Your case, Mike. Do your stuff.’ Primrose took a step back and began to think about her children and her husband John. Primrose was an inexperienced policewoman, and recognised the need for her and Mike to get some experience in interviewing people. But this was Mike’s case, so she left him to it. With just a few months on him, she knew the ropes slightly better than he did and would be ready to step in to help if he needed her to. She sat down on the chair which had been placed by the door for customers, knowing she would have to vacate it if an elderly customer came in.


King. Says so on the sign outside,’ the pharmacist said, and Mike took an instant dislike to him. He was in his early fifties, with a receding hairline and thick-rimmed glasses. He was about five feet six inches tall, and wore a short white lab coat. He didn’t look much like the kind of pharmacist you could confide in, Mike thought. Charmless, grumpy, sarcastic, annoyed at having to serve people, almost as though he didn’t want to soil his hands with customers.

I’m Constable Thompson and this is WPC Matthews. We’re following up enquiries relating to the reported disappearance of Mrs Mary Simkins a couple of weeks ago. Her husband says he saw you take her into a consulting room, but neither of you came out. I just wondered if you could remind us of your version of the events that day.’

Again? I’ve told this story several times over to your lot,’ King said, frowning. ‘There’s a consulting room over there, in the corner, little more than a broom cupboard, actually. Mrs Simkins wanted to ask me something in private, there were other customers in the shop, so I took her into the room, spoke to her, and then she left. We were in there less than a minute. Then she left. That’s it.’

She left? Through the front door?’

Correct. She left through the front door, turned right and was never seen again. Apparently.’ Again that smirk on Mr King’s face that confirmed Mike’s dislike of him even more.

And you went back about your business?’

Correct,’ King said again with an audible sigh.

Mr Simkins says he was outside the whole time, watching, and neither of you came out of the consulting room. He called the police from the call box over there, outside the newsagents, and they arrested him. You remember that?’

I was told about a commotion outside, yes. I didn’t witness it myself…’

I did,’ the lady in the overall chipped in. ‘He was in a right state, poor man. Didn’t know what to do with hisself, he didn’t.’

Thank you, Edith, no one was asking you.’

I’d like to hear what the lady has to say, thank you, Mr King.’

He hung about outside the shop,’ Edith said. ‘There was a commotion, he was looking the other way when his wife come out, so he missed her. Shortly after his wife left, he come back in, asked where she was, and we told him she’d left. All over in a split second, if you ask me.’

Nobody did ask you,’ muttered King under his breath, but both Mike and Primrose heard him.

Did you make a statement, Mrs…?’

West. Edith West. No. Nobody asked me to.’

Would you be willing to come down to the station and make one this afternoon?’

I suppose I could. I finish at three. I’m supposed to meet the kids off the school bus, but I could get my daughter to do it, she’s at Barnwell School.’

It would be much appreciated if you could, Mrs West.’

Edith West shot a withering glance at the pharmacist, Mr King, and returned to what she was doing, stacking shelves with bottles of cough mixture and the like.

Mike turned to Primrose. ‘I’ll finish up here and scoot back to the nick, so I’ll be there to take Mrs West’s statement when she arrives. One more thing, Mr King – what was it that Mrs Simkins wanted to ask you about? In Private?’

Contraception. She wanted to talk about contraception.’ Did that make sense? Didn’t men buy condoms? As far as he knew, Mary Simkins had no children, so she couldn’t have been worried about the need to avoid having any more. Of course, it was possible she needed advice on contraception to avoid getting pregnant because of a medical need, but that didn’t seem likely either. Mike thought that Mr King was being untruthful, but he didn’t have the experience to question him, and Primrose wanted to be off on her beat. Whatever it was that Mary Simkins wanted advice about, it certainly wasn’t contraception. If Mike couldn’t get his head round her disappearance, he might well be coming back to speak to Mr King again. For the time being he was prepared to leave it and concentrate on where the young lady might be. He didn’t think Mr King had had anything to do with her disappearance, but he couldn’t rule it out altogether.

I see. Well, thank you for your time, both of you. You’ve been most helpful.’ Mike and Primrose left the shop. ‘I’ll walk from here, won’t take me more than twenty minutes or so. Thanks for the lift, Primrose, see you back at the nick.’

OK. Mind how you go. Think you’ve got everything you need to close the case now?’

Mike removed his helmet and scratched his head. ‘Not sure. Something still doesn’t ring true for me.’

Me either. Something fishy about Mr King.’

And why didn’t anyone ask Edith West to give a statement at the time, I wonder.’

Maybe she wasn’t in the shop when they interviewed Mr King? Keep this up, all these questions, and you’ll make CID in no time!’

Right,’ Mike said with a grin. It was what he wanted above all else. Since arriving in Hertfordshire he’d run into DCI Maxwell only twice, and then only fleeting glimpses as the detective had gone into briefings back at the nick. He took his leave of Primrose and walked back into the town, arriving at the police station at a little after two thirty. He just had time to go through the records to see if there was anything on Martha Baker. Jack Kershaw showed him where the card indices and the relevant files were kept, and left him to it.

I don’t suppose for one minute there will be anything about young Martha,’ Mike said to himself, and started to look through the 5x3 inch cards that held the records of anyone in the town and outlying villages who had been questioned about anything in the last ten years.

To his amazement, there was a card for Martha Baker, from just over a year ago. He noted the reference number and pulled out the relevant file. There she was, in all her glory, a photograph of her looking much as he remembered her from this morning, though the police photographs were not meant to be flattering, but simply a record of the person’s address and personal details, and there were two handwritten sheets of foolscap together with an official record sheet. Martha Baker had been arrested several times, or so it seemed, for being drunk and disorderly and she had a police record!

Chapter Six


Mike read through Martha Baker’s file with an expert eye – it was something he had excelled at in police college lectures – how to assimilate information quickly and efficiently. It would see him in good stead when the time came for him to make the transition from uniformed bobby to CID, if it ever happened. Martha was in fact eighteen years old, having been born on the 14th February 1948. She had attended Badminton School, Bristol, a boarding and day school for girls, and it seemed that although she claimed not to know who her birth parents were, apart from their names, they had paid the fees regularly, right up until she had been expelled in July 1964 for drinking and unacceptable behaviour, the nature of which was not recorded, but which must have been pretty bad. Her real name was Mary Cottingholme-Cole, but she refused to change it from the name of her adoptive parents, Edwin and Emily Baker, with whom she had spent her holidays for the past five years. Edwin Baker was the son of a Jamaican man and a white woman. His wife, Winifred, had died from cancer of the oesophagus four years ago, and Martha currently lived in his house in Hydean Way with his sister, Joyce, who was a kind of unofficial housekeeper. There was no further mention of Joyce Baker in the notes, but Mike remembered from his conversation with Martha that she worked on the assembly line at the Hawker Siddeley Dynamics Blue Streak factory in Gunnels Wood Road. There was nothing in the notes about why Martha had changed her name from Mary, though.

Edwin was employed as a hand on the trawlers working out of Aberdeen, and was away from home for several months at a time. Martha had been arrested in January of the current year for shoplifting, and had been given a caution. She had also been picked up several times during the last year for being drunk and disorderly. Mike sat back and scratched his head. It was impossible to believe that the sweet young girl with the looks of an angel and the temperament to match could possibly be the girl who was the subject of the police file he had laid out before him on the desk, and he wondered if there had been some kind of administrative error. But it was most definitely her photograph that stared back at him from the file. He was tempted to take her photograph and keep it in his wallet, but the consequences, if he were found out, were unthinkable.

He put the file away, picked up his helmet and was about to return to his pile of case files, of which only two remained, the Simkins file and one other, when he heard Sergeant Wilson bellowing his name at the top of his voice, and walked into the main office to find him and DCI Maxwell.

Where have you been, Thompson? I’ve been calling your name for hours!’ Wilson barked. Mike saw DCI Maxwell wince at the sheer volume of Wilson’s voice.

In the records office, Sarge. Filing.’ This was not strictly true, but it was apparently a satisfactory answer. Wilson indicated the presence of DCI Maxwell. ‘Thank you, Sergeant, we’ll take it from here. You can spare him for a couple of days?’

Yes, Sir,’ Wilson said, although Mike guessed that he wasn’t too happy about losing his runabout, and he hovered in the background as Maxwell addressed Mike.

A body has been found in the King George Fifth Playing Fields. I’m told that since arriving in the town, you know your way around pretty well. I’m hoping you can take us straight there. Sergeant Wilson assures me the site has been secured and a Home Office Pathologist has been called. There’s a car out back. Thank you, Sergeant, we’ll have him back in time for tea.’

Sir.’ There were plenty of uniformed bobbies present in the station at the time. In all probability, DCI Maxwell had simply demanded the loan of PC Mike Thompson, knowing that Wilson would not be able to refuse a senior officer’s request, and most of the other available bobbies would know Stevenage New Town and the Old Town, for that matter, in far greater detail than Mike would.

But Mike was grateful to Maxwell for rescuing him from Wilson, even though he knew he would probably still have a mountain of paperwork to take the place of the one he had just more or less cleared, waiting for him on his desk on his return, and in all probability he would be expected to clear it before finishing his shift, although he had no intention of missing his appointment with Martha Baker if at all possible. Besides, it was the one project Sergeant Wilson had so far entrusted him with, and although he had not had time to report back on it as yet, he was determined to see it through, especially as his beloved Martha Baker might be in danger.

In the car park, he slid into the driving seat of a pale blue Triumph Herald at Maxwell’s insistence, and Maxwell himself got in the passenger seat. Mike had passed his test six months after his seventeenth birthday, in a similar car. He had inherited his father’s Yellow and Black Morris Eight four-seater Tourer with the number plate BAD785 when the family had sailed to Australia two months ago. It was currently parked in the garage of the police house he occupied in Burwell Road off Shephall Way, near to the March Hare public house, which heralded the start of the little group of shops that included the newsagents’ shop and the big hardware store on the corner. He had not yet had the courage to drive it to the police station because he knew how the other bobbies and Sergeant Wilson in particular would pull his leg about it. Moreover, there was something wrong with the dynamo, the fitting of a new one would solve it, but having spent most of his pay on his gramophone and then getting the engine tuned to perfection, Mike couldn’t afford it right now. So he carried a spare battery, fully charged, on the running board. If the worst came to the worst, he always had the starting handle. No, he was keeping Jasmine, which was the name his father had given to the car, well under wraps for now. Primrose Matthews knew about it, of course, and rather than tease him about it, had asked several times if he would take her out for a drive around the countryside in it. Mike had so far made a number of excuses not to take her, saying that he was still working on it, that it wasn’t quite roadworthy, both of which were not strictly true, but he was looking forward to driving her in it. Possibly this coming weekend…

Far to go, Thompson?’

No, Sir. Turn left at Zenith Garage, down Southgate, left into St George’s Way, then the road sort of takes you right there, to the playing fields. Sir.’

It was evident from the way Mike drove without having to have his memory refreshed, that he knew perfectly well the way to the King George Vth Playing Fields, and he began to wonder if it had all been an excuse to rescue him from the clutches of Sergeant Wilson. A voice inside his head muttered “don’t flatter yourself, you mean absolutely nothing to DCI Maxwell, and Sergeant Wilson is probably pissing himself laughing right now, because he probably lives in Stevenage and has done so all his life!”

It took just five minutes to traverse the length of St George’s Way, past the magnificent church, which was the largest parish church built in Britain since the second world war, past what would soon be the new swimming pool, then across the junction of Fairlands Way and St George’s Way and into the Playing Fields named after the Queen’s grandfather. They could clearly see, over to the left by a group of tall trees, a roped-off area with the blue and white plastic tape, two police cars, and a group of officers. A brand new black Morris Oxford was also parked there, and Mike supposed it might belong to the pathologist.

What have we got, then?’ Maxwell asked one of the uniformed constables. He surreptitiously winked at Mike when he saw him, knowing that the CID officer must have commandeered him from the station.

Female, Sir. She has a library card in her purse, according to the pathologist, her name is Mary Simkins. Sir.’ Mike frowned, but said nothing.

What do we know about her? Afternoon, Jeremy,’ Maxwell said, calling across to the pathologist, who was examining the body. ‘We sure she’s dead?’

Very drole, Chief Inspector. Yes, she’s dead alright. Whoever did it caved the back of her head in with this piece of flint. From the look of it, she’s been dead for about two weeks. Rats, crows and insects have done their fair share of damage. If we didn’t have her purse with her library card, we’d be looking to identify her from dental records.’

Flint, you say? Find much flint around here, do we?’

Not really, no, we don’t. The perpetrator must have carried this around with them. It’s quite heavy, but not beyond a strong woman, so we can’t rule a woman out as the murderer.’

Killed in situ, or killed somewhere else and brought here by the murderer, do you think? Might explain the flint.’

Hard to say, Chief Inspector. Need a thorough examination of the remains and the surrounding material here. There may be residue of earth or clay that might indicate she was killed somewhere else, but for the time being I would work on the theory that two weeks ago she was murdered right here and her body hidden beneath the undergrowth, then she was found earlier today. Someone set out with the express purpose of murdering this poor woman, and carried a piece of flint with them. There’s quite a stench coming off the body, it’s a wonder no one found her earlier. But then that’s your job, I suppose, to find out why?’

Thank you, Jeremy. Do we know anything about her, Constable?’ Maxwell said, addressing the uniformed officer. Mike butted in.

I might know something about her, Sir, I was just reading the case files this morning. Apparently, she and her husband were at Longmeadow Pharmacy about two weeks ago, and she just disappeared.’

Maxwell’s eyebrows went up. ‘Go on.’

The husband says the pharmacist took her into his consulting room, and neither of them came out. He reported it to the police, got very shirty because they didn’t seem to want to take him seriously. Said she just disappeared, Sir. Into thin air.’

That what they taught you at Hendon, constable? People don’t just disappear into thin air.’

No, Sir, it’s what it says in the report,’ Mike explained patiently. ‘I was there this afternoon, just before you came to the nick – the station, Sir. Spoke to the pharmacist. He thinks that Mr Simkins looked the other way long enough for Mrs Simkins to make her way out of the shop and run away. He might have been distracted, Sir. The cleaning lady, who also helps out in the shop now and then, she’s coming to the nick – the station, this afternoon to make a statement. Sergeant Wilson wanted me to close the file, but I’m reluctant to do that before hearing what Enid West the cleaning lady has to say.’

Hmmph. Well, we’d better have a word with Mr Simkins, and we’d better go back to this shop of yours and have yet another word with the pharmacist - .’

Mr King, Sir.’

Right. Let me know an accurate time of death and so on when you have a moment, Jeremy. And I need to be absolutely certain it is this Mary Simkins before I go breaking the news to her husband. Just because she has Mary Simkins’s library card doesn’t mean that’s who she is.’

The pathologist stood up and stretched to get his muscles moving again. He was tall and slim, though not as tall as Mike. His hair was jet black and he had a cowlick that projected out over his forehead. He wore light brown corduroy trousers, a flower-power shirt covered by a yellow waistcoat with a bright red and blue paisley pattern, and a red corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches. A maroon cravat completed his outfit. Mike had no doubt that if he were to look down he would see that the pathologist, who seemed to be in his early thirties, would be sporting a pair of smart light brown Oxford brogues. He looked for all the world like a character from a Richard Gordon Doctor book, and would not have looked out of place on a Pinewood film set. He saw Mike and extended his hand.

Burnham-Twist, H.O.P.,’ he said, pumping Mike’s hand vigorously with a very firm handshake.

Constable Thompson,’ Mike replied with a grin. He liked Burnham-Twist immediately. Ordinarily, constables, even constables at murder scenes, were ignored by the powers that be, especially if there was a DCI present.

I don’t see why she would be carrying someone else’s purse and library card, but you’re the detectives, of course,’ Burnham-Twist said, turning back to DCI Maxwell. ‘Regarding the post mortem, Detective Chief Inspector, you’ll be the first to know. First thing, at the hospital, of course. You’ll be there?’

Constable Thompson will be there. I have a meeting with the ACC at nine o’clock. Bit tight. I’ll square it with Sergeant Wilson. You’ll be working on my team for the duration, Constable Thompson. Got a suit, have you?’

Not really, Sir. Never had occasion to wear one.’ This was true. At his sister Pauline’s wedding, he had worn the smart black Beatle jacket his mother had bought for him as a kind of compensation for missing their appearance in Gloucester in the Spring of 1963. They had joined the queue a good quarter of a mile from the Odeon cinema in Kings Square the night before the tickets were due to go on sale, and much as he liked the Beatles, he preferred to listen to their records and to settle down with a good book. He knew from what he had read that he would be unlikely to hear them anyway, above the sounds of the screaming, hysterical girls. This was in complete contrast to the concerts he had been to in the City, in Cheltenham and at the Colston Hall in Bristol to see his favourite jazz band, Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, where there was no screaming, just dead quiet so that you could hear every note, and then an eruption of applause at the end of each piece.

Smart casual, then? Pair of decent trousers, nice jacket? You get back to the nick and finish your shift as normal, then first thing tomorrow, get yourself over to the hospital and sit in on Mr Burnham-Twist’s post mortem.’ Mike found himself staring at the outrageously flamboyant outfit sported by Jeremy Burnham-Twist, and permitted himself a small inward smile.

Sir.’ I’ll just walk back to the nick, then, shall I? Stop and buy a suit on the way, I suppose? Mike had casual clothes, of course, but there was a gents’ outfitters on the way back to the nick, who sold off the peg suits. Well, he had a little money in his pocket, which he had been saving towards the purchase of a new dynamo for Jasmine, his car, but it wouldn’t hurt to splash out on a suit. Three months had passed without so much as a word from Maxwell, and now he was seconded to CID for a couple of days. It didn’t happen often, and he would be the envy of his fellow bobbies and, no doubt, a period of leg-pulling and snide remarks would come his way, but then, the murder of Mary Simkins might occupy no longer than a few days. He thought he could pull it off. And between now and tomorrow’s post mortem, there was the small but significant matter of his catching the same bus home as Martha Baker. And Edith West’s statement to take, too. His thoughts returned to what he had just read about Martha Baker, this apparent wild child, and he was having some difficulty equating her angelic good looks and easy, friendly manner with someone who, to all intents and purposes, liked her drink perhaps a little too much, and had spent quite a few nights locked up in a Stevenage Police Station cell, sleeping off her drunken antics. The mugshot didn’t do her justice, of course, but that wasn’t their purpose, was it? She had been expelled from public school, for Christ’s sake! Was she really the girl for him? But the Ouija board…

The Four Marys continues in the April issue...

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.