The Silent Three - A Murder Mystery
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Easter 1963 and the peace of a small Gloucestershire village is about
to be shattered. The murdered body of teenager Brenda McLaren is found
at the derelict Morgan’s Farm, and fingers of suspicion start to point
at her friends and family, at the Italian prisoners-of-war who stayed
behind to make new lives for themselves, at Eddie Mason, who prefers
little boys, and at Liverpool gang leader Garry McAteer, who has moved
his operation into the city.
Bamber’s husband, Trevor, has been missing since winter. She’s resigned
to him being found dead, but who had the motive to kill him?
Thompson wants to leave school and become a policeman. Having once been
a close friend of Brenda McLaren, and now under suspicion himself, has
he chosen the wrong time to think about a career in the police force,
following in the footsteps of his beloved wartime hero, his Uncle John?
DCI George Maxwell, it’s as though all his worst nightmares have come
at once in a village that’s seen no serious crime since the murdered
twin toddlers twenty years ago, and now looks set for a killing spree
as he races against time to save a second teenager’s life.
people hold the key to the murders in the village of Brockworth, and
they’re not saying anything – they’re the Silent Three…
can remember the day they found Brenda McLaren’s body as if it were
yesterday. It was the Easter holidays in 1963, so there were quite a
few kids around to join the search party. I was a member myself, but we
were ushered away when Tommy Hinkley shouted out that he’d found her.
That sort of thing happened in London, or Manchester, or Birmingham,
but never in Gloucester, let alone in our little village. I went back
home. I was sixteen years old, I was supposed to be studying for my
A-Levels, but I just couldn’t face Paradise Lost right
then, even though it was my favourite poem. I put on a Bobby Darin LP
instead. Mum and Dad just sat in the dining room, drinking tea.
My Uncle John was in his early forties, and at the time of Brenda’s
murder he was a Detective Sergeant in the Gloucestershire Police Force,
and he was more or less in charge of the search party. He’d been my war
hero. I used to sit for hours looking at photos of him with his pilot’s
cap at a jaunty angle, just like Braddock in The Wizard, or Johnnie
Wingco in Knockout, or Paddy Payne in Lion.
I was still reading all those comics, even though I was turned sixteen
– just. I even knew where he kept his pilot’s cap, the one that made
him look a little like Dan Dare, and often sat and looked at myself in
the bedroom mirror whilst I wore it with pride.
In those days he was starting to look middle aged. His wavy hair was
receding from his forehead like all my uncles on my mother’s side, and
his temples were turning grey. At parties, I’d ask him if he wanted a
cucumber sandwich and he’d decline, saying it didn’t agree with him.
Surely only old people suffered with indigestion? Me, I could cycle the
seven miles home from school after a rowing session, eat a couple of
rounds of cucumber, egg and tomato sandwiches, a whole Yorkshire
pudding swimming in gravy, and then a complete two-course dinner when
Dad and Pauline arrived home from work. I suppose I was what you’d call
a ‘growing lad’. I continued to respect Uncle John, of course, even if
he did suffer from indigestion. I was planning on going to university –
as it happened I never did get there, and ended up doing what I wanted
to do all along, join the police force, but that’s another story
altogether – and then I was going to do something in the diplomatic
corps, maybe as a translator. I was good at Spanish and French, you
see. Those were my three A-Level subjects: Spanish, French and English
Literature. I always won the prize for Spanish. Pedro Smith – we called
him Pedro because he was good at Spanish, though not as good as me -
from Court Road, or was it Green Street? No, it was Court Road before
it went into Green Street, I think – he always won the French prize,
with me a very close second, but Spanish was always mine. Anyway,
someone from Dad’s side of the family had suggested that I should
definitely not go into the police force, like Uncle John. Those family
members who held a mutual disrespect of the police were on my father’s
side. Mind you, at that time, I didn’t know Uncle John was bent. It
never occurred to me that he was anything but a good man – a good
copper. Back then, he always had the best suit, the best everything, no
one in the family ever questioned that. And so I revered him, like
Fabian of the Yard, and PC49, maybe even more than I did my Dad. I was
young and impressionable back then. But I remember that day like it was
yesterday… the day they found Brenda McLaren’s body. I can remember
most things, my mind's not gone like so many other old people's have.
So here goes, this is what I remember...
of the head had been eaten away by rats, and the extremities, too. One
eyeball was missing, and the deep red welt around her neck had been
widened by rodents, foxes and carrion crows. Her fingers and toes were
bloody stumps where they’d been nibbled by the rats. There were maggots
in the open wounds, and fully grown flies buzzing all around. The
stench was overpowering. It was difficult to imagine how such damage
could be done to a dead body in just a couple of days. The weather had
something to do with it – it was exceptionally warm that Spring.
It was Tommy Hinkley who found her. The search party had set off from
the village at around four o’clock, walking the lanes and fields
towards Churchdown, past St George’s Church. They’d got as far as
Morgan’s Farm by the time it was starting to get dark. DCI Maxwell was
on the point of calling the search party off for the night. He didn’t
think they would find the girl that quickly. He was wrong. His
sergeant, John Kimble, was second on the scene. Tommy Hinkley worked in
the new Co-op supermarket that had recently opened on Court Road, and
he’d seen the police gathering their volunteers together. Mr Calvert,
the manager and owner, said he could pack up early, the search was much
‘Jesus, Tommy!’ Kimble said,
clutching a handkerchief to his mouth. Tommy Hinkley turned away and
was quietly sick into the grass. Kimble felt his own gorge rise and
regretted the liquid lunch he’d had a few hours earlier in the Flying
Machine. He pulled out his whistle, which he still had, even though he
was CID, and gave a long blow on it.
‘Over here! She’s over here!’
The group of trees known locally as the ‘Five Trees’, near to the
run-down shell that had been Morgan’s Farm, was well away from the
road, and centred on a depression caused by a crashing Spitfire in
1943. The trees were well established now, mostly oak and elm, but
there were a couple of quick-growing sycamore, and at the bottom of the
crater there was a bog which local children had been told would suck
them in and eat them alive if they fell in. So most of them, they kept
away from the area. They were not stupid. They were village kids, but
they were well educated back then. They all were. There wasn’t a single
pupil from Brockworth New County Primary School who couldn’t read or
write or add up by the time they were eleven. In 1963 there were only
three who had started grammar school six years earlier, two girls and a
boy, but the others were not stupid by any means. The eleven-plus
simply sorted out the early learners who were ready for academic life
at the time the education system thought they should be ready. The
others went to the secondary modern schools in Hucclecote, Barnwood or
Churchdown and they all got decent jobs afterwards, as secretaries, or
nurses, or cooks, or carpenters, apprentice engineers, electricians and
plumbers, that kind of thing. That was how it was in the early fifties
in Gloucestershire. Pretty much like everywhere else, I guess.
It was hot that third week of April, the second week of the Easter
holidays, and although there had been a coating of frost on the windows
that morning, the sun had warmed everything through quickly and it was
still surprisingly warm. The body had lain there for about forty hours,
and nature had started work on it almost immediately. Brenda McLaren
was entirely naked. Kimble took off his raincoat, thanking providence
that the rain they'd had over the last few days had at last stopped,
and spread it over her. DCI Maxwell lumbered over, grasped the edge of
Kimble’s coat and lifted it. Maxwell was pushing fifty, his sergeant
was forty years old. He wore a dark brown suit and a trilby hat, and
sported a neat moustache which he trimmed every evening before
retiring. He was five feet eleven inches tall, dark-haired and handsome
in a Clark Gable sort of way, his hair slicked back with Brylcreem. He
was well-built, and had seen action in the Far East during the war. He
turned to Tommy Hinkley.
‘This is her, I take it? I mean to say, you know it’s Brenda McLaren?
We’re not looking at two missing girls, I hope?’
Tommy nodded. He was not much older than Brenda himself, and had been
at the primary school in Shurdington with her in the early months of
1950. The five of them, Tommy, Michael and his twin sister Annette and
older sister Pauline, and Brenda had caught the double decker bus every
morning as it chugged its way up the hill to the single class of
Shurdington Primary School, where they had made up nearly a quarter of
the intake. And then, in 1950, Brockworth New County Primary School had
opened, big, brand new and shiny. Now, in 1963, Tommy was small for his
age, maybe average height at five feet nine, and he had a big nose.
‘It’s Brenda, yes,’ he said, choking back tears that were singeing his
throat. ‘There’s enough of her left to recognise.’
‘Radio in, Sergeant,’ said Maxwell. ‘Tell them what we’ve got. Formal
identification tomorrow. I’ll call in on the father and let him know we
think we’ve found her. Call an ambulance, Sergeant. I’ll wait here.
Tommy, you go home and take something to calm your nerves. It’s all
right, it’s all over now.’
Tommy glared at him through tear-stained eyes.
‘No it en’t!’ he said. ‘You ‘aven’t got the bloke who did it, ‘ave you?
And the way things are going, even if you do catch ‘im, chances are ‘e
won’t hang for it!’
The newspapers were full of
rumours that the abolition of hanging for murder was soon to be
considered by parliament. None of the police thought it was a good
idea. There would be no deterrent. Murder would become more commonplace
in their opinion, and the nature of the murders committed would become
worse. And worse. As if this one wasn’t bad enough. Mistakes were made,
innocent people got hung, but they were few and far between. It was a
‘All in good time, Tommy. All in good
time. Off you go, now, go with Sergeant Kimble, he’ll look after you.
You did well, Tommy, you did well.’ In his experience, Maxwell knew
that murderers often revisited the scenes of their crimes. It crossed
his mind that Tommy Hinkley might already have known where the body of
Brenda McLaren would be found because he had put her there after
killing her. He would need to be interviewed, that was for certain.
‘You did well, Tommy,’ he said absently, almost as though he was
talking to himself. The discovery of the body would be enough to give
Tommy Hinkley nightmares for years to come. But not before he was
interviewed twice by the police as a potential suspect.
Maxwell sat down on the branch of a fallen tree and surveyed the crime
scene. He had no doubt in his mind that the girl had been raped before
her throat had been punctured. He hadn’t seen the whole of her body,
but the pubic area was bruised and discoloured, as were her thighs and
arms. A pathologist would examine her and give his official view some
time tomorrow, but for Maxwell the facts were clear enough. Someone had
taken the girl against her will, raped her, probably tied her up while
they did it, judging by further bruises on her wrists and ankles, and
then stabbed her in the throat to shut her up. Coming from the Met.,
where he had seen at first hand what the London gangs got up to, he
felt a shiver run through him. But this murder wasn’t a gangland throat
slashing. It was a puncture wound, not an execution. The gangland
killings and beatings were his main reason for leaving the capital and
coming out here, out of the way, to forget. Fat chance of that now.
Brenda might have been procured for a client. Maxwell's mind recalled
how it had been in the East End of London. A sadistic, brutal client
with no regard for the sanctity of human life, would ask for a girl, or
a boy, and one would be procured, never to be seen again. He wondered
if that was what had happened here, then dismissed it as quickly as it
had occurred to him. Things like that didn't happen out here in the
sticks, in this little village, four or so miles from Gloucester city.
This was the first time he could recall coming to Brockworth on a case.
Before the war there had been that case of the twin toddlers, kidnapped
and then discovered murdered, but he wasn’t even sure it was here, in
Brockworth, and in any case it was well before his time.
He'd been to the village a couple of times before to watch the cheese
rolling at Whitsuntide, and a county cricket match at the Gloster
Aircraft Factory sports ground, but that was it. From memory, there
were large houses along the Hucclecote Road near to the aircraft
factory, plenty of decent, well-built semi-detached villas with
sizeable gardens, a few leftover prefabs from the post-war years, a row
of shops, separating the decent houses from the large council estate,
and a public house. And wasn’t there a fleapit of a cinema on the
council estate? Yes, by the boiler house. He’d been there once or
twice, he recalled. Three to four thousand people was his guess. He
would need to check the files back at the station in the city centre,
but he would bet money on this being the first ever murder, at least in
modern times, in this sleepy little village.
He dragged his mind back to the murder of the young girl, of Brenda
McLaren. His first assessment of how she had been tied up, raped and
then killed to shut her up didn’t quite do it for him. There had to be
something else. No time to think about it now, though, he had to break
the heart-breaking news to her father, Dougal. Tomorrow he would set
his mind to working out how and why Brenda McLaren had died... and who
had murdered her.
Michael Thompson first ran into Brenda McLaren at around nine o’clock
Monday morning. He was on his way home after completing his second
paper round, because Pedro Smith had failed to turn up again.
He was called “Pedro” because he was good at Spanich, though not as
good as Michael himself. It was the second week of the Easter holidays,
and the weather was good, with children spending their time playing
football, swapping comics and so on. He spotted Brenda coming out of
the grocer’s store and hurried across to meet her. They waved to each
other while the lady she was with hovered in the background, but she
seemed anxious to be off. He wasn’t surprised. He was inexperienced
around girls and hadn’t had the courage to call out her name in the
street. The second time he saw her was around three o’clock in the
afternoon. He’d been into town, to the city library as he’d run out of
things to read in his leisure time. He was walking up the road towards
his own road, Boverton Drive, and saw her once again emerging from the
shop on the corner, Mr Ellis’s grocery store. There was the same woman
she had been with earlier standing in the doorway of the shop talking
to Mr Ellis, and Michael wondered if it was her mother, maybe. He had
never been to Brenda's house, even when they were best friends at
Primary School, so he didn't recognise the woman she was with.
‘Hallo Brenda,’ he said shyly as he stopped beside her, his eyes drawn
immediately to her breasts, then back to her pretty face. She didn’t
seem to notice. They’d grown up more or less together, attending their
first school in 1950 when Michael was aged just four and a half; the
little school up the hill at Shurdington, where there was just one
class of eighteen pupils aged from four and a half to eleven, and just
the one teacher. Then, after six months, the new County Primary School
had opened in Court Road and they had been among the first intake, with
Mike's older sister Pauline the eldest pupil, and automatically a
prefect. Brenda was ten months older than he was. She used to live in
Westfield Road, just a five minute walk from where he lived, in
Boverton Drive, but more recently had moved onto the main road, Ermin
Street, where she now lived with just her father. Michael did not like
to ask about Brenda’s mother. His own mother had told him that the
McLaren family had split up. It was none of his business, in any case,
but he thought the woman with her was probably not her mum.
‘Hallo Mike,’ she said, with a beaming smile, and his anxiety that she
might cut him dead in the street evaporated. They used to be friends,
admittedly a few years ago, but they occasionally saw each other in the
street or at the youth club, and she had talked to him once or twice.
He still quite liked her but he didn’t think she was ‘the one’. Back in
their Primary School days, they had at one time been country dance
partners. That had been before Joan Reynolds had arrived and started at
the school during their last year before graduating to senior school.
Joan was stunning, in a Sandra Dee sort of way. And now she worked in
the City Library, which was Michael’s second reason for going there as
often as he could, the first reason being the vast numbers of books to
be read. Mike would often stand pretending to look at the books whilst
secretly gazing at Joan Reynolds's beautiful face. Standing in the
street a few yards from the small parade of shops at the southern end
of Boverton Drive, neither he nor Brenda noticed they were being
‘How are you? At least the weather's a bit better
now. I guess you'll be going to the fair? How’s school?’ Do you have a boyfriend?
‘All right, I
suppose. I’m struggling with chemistry,’ she said.
‘I gave up chemistry after the first year,’ he said. It was true. At
the Crypt Grammar School, they sorted you into classical and modern
scholars after the first year. He had been able to cope reasonably well
with the three sciences but he was better at languages, and so, in his
second year, he’d ditched the sciences and taken Greek, Latin, French
and Spanish instead. Later he would drop Greek, swapping it for German,
although Latin remained compulsory for classical scholars.
Of the two boys’ grammar schools in Gloucester, Michael had chosen the
Crypt Grammar School over Sir Thomas Riches, because the Crypt was far,
far older; founded in 1539 by Joan Cooke, with money left her by her
husband John which he made from his brewery business, the school had
originated in St Mary de Crypt Church in Southgate Street in the city,
although its present site was a few miles out of town in the
sub-district of Tuffley. It was the age and reputation of the school,
along with the very smart maroon and gold uniform which Michael proudly
wore on school days, that had attracted him. Of the four houses, he had
been chosen for Henley house, named after the poet William Henley, who
had attended the school during the previous century.
‘You’re lucky,’ she said. ‘We have eleven subjects
to cope with!’
‘You’re very tall, Mike! I don’t remember you being that tall. As I
recall, you were quite small for your age!’
'Rowing,’ he said, and the one-word explanation was quite sufficient.
Brenda’s older brother, who was away at Hull university, played rugby,
he also rowed, and he was well over six feet tall, like Michael.
‘Are you running errands?’
‘Yeah, for my Dad,’ she said. ‘He's a bit under the weather at the
moment.' Mike supposed this might be a euphemism for a hangover, but
said nothing. Dougal McLaren was an old friend of his Dad's, and both
men had a reputation for liking their drink a little too much. 'Trouble
is, he keeps remembering things he should have asked for, and I have to
keep going backwards and forwards. Might have to go into town, Mr Ellis
doesn’t have the toothpaste he wants, those little round tins, you
‘Didn’t think anyone used that any more,’ he said.
‘I thought everyone used tubes nowadays.'
I’d better get back, he’s probably thought of more things for me to
get! Then I thought I might go to the fair,’ she said, answering his
‘Yes, I might pop along later. Going to the youth
‘I might be, see you there?’
‘Okay.’ What he really wanted to ask was Have you got a boyfriend? But
he knew the answer to that. He thought it was Craig Watson, because he
had seen them together, Craig Watson, who lived in the house opposite
his. Craig Watson, who was about to join the army, and everyone knew
that he was joining the army because he was not intelligent enough to
get his O-Levels and A-Levels. Craig Watson, who looked so smart in his
uniform, and kept getting paraded about by his proud parents in it.
Michael was just a little bit jealous of Watson, especially as he had
somehow got Brenda McLaren as his girlfriend, but then he’d had the
chance, and he’d not taken it, because, going to an all boys’ school,
he’d become rather shy around girls. He could have been walking out
with Brenda McLaren, but the smart soldier boy had got her, he was
fairly sure, and there was nothing he could do about it now. In fact,
Brenda and Craig were cousins, and would no more have thought about
walking out together than fly in the air, even though it would have
been perfectly within the law for them to do so. Michael had a cousin,
Sylvia, who was a year older than him, and lived in London with his
Dad’s sister and her husband. Michael had a crush on Sylvia big time,
but she too had a boyfriend. Still, he lived in hope...
‘I must go,’ she said, and planted a moist kiss on his cheek, and he
felt the brush of her left breast against his chest, and went bright
red as the pleasure of the touch suffused his body.
‘You know. Lots to do. You?’
‘Same here. Been into town?’ Although Gloucester was a
city, everyone spoke about “going into town”.
‘Yes, there’s a huge new supermarket up Southgate
opposite the Woolworth’s.’
‘I know, we go there once a week. The Co-op.’
‘I’d better get on.’
‘Yes, me too. Take care.’
‘You too. ‘Bye.’
I like you! I really like you! The
words formed in his mind as he remembered that once, in class at
school, he had written a note and had one of the girls who sat in front
of him pass it to Brenda while Miss Page was reading Milly Molly Mandy to
them. Mike was in love with Miss Page too, but was adult enough to know
nothing could ever come if it. After all, Miss Page was married... It
was Friday afternoon, story time before going home. Miss Page had asked
which story and everyone had said Milly Molly Mandy.
On the note he had written “I love you. Do you love me?” He had seen
Brenda open the note and read it, and then she had turned round and
smiled at him. A ten-year-old girl, with the face of an angel, and she
had smiled shyly at him, then scribbled a note back, and a moment later
it had landed on his desk courtesy of Robert Gilmore, who was the
headmaster’s son. Michael opened the note and read what it said. “Dear
Michael. I like you but I don’t love you.” His world crumpled and he
felt tears stinging his eyes. But he had got over it, and they had
continued as country dance partners, when he got to hold her hands, and
the thrill of that was almost unbearable. Now, he almost said the words
out loud, but realised that it would not have been true. He lusted
after her, he thought, but he didn’t love her. He loved his cousin
Sylvia more. Maybe with time he could love Brenda, but that opportunity
was probably now gone, she was spoken for. He thought that she would
wait for Craig Watson, they would marry, and have three children, and
live happily in the village. Only Fate had something else entirely in
mind for the pretty young girl. Michael walked away moodily, ruing the
fact he hadn’t had the courage to ask a girl out, unaware of the eyes
that followed him along the road, then turned their attention to
Brenda, now making her way to her grandmother’s house with the woman,
who was actually her aunt, straggling along behind her, and never quite
catching up to her.
He saw the beige Standard Vanguard parked at the bottom of Boverton
Avenue and got out his notebook to write down the number plate. It was
just like the one his Uncle Eric drove around town to do his insurance
round, but it couldn’t be Uncle Eric’s because that one was no longer
on the road. It had broken down irrevocably a year ago, and he had sold
it for scrap and bought an MG Midget instead. Mike loved cars but
didn’t like the Midget. He didn’t trust cars that only had three
wheels. He had no idea why he still collected car number plates, for he
was sixteen years old, after all. But it was something he’d done for
several years, and some of his friends still did it, too. It was just
something boys did, like collecting steam locomotive numbers. Just a
boy thing, really. He made up his mind there and then not to do it any
more. He was a grown up, after all!
there were only a few cars in this part of the village, they were not
an altogether uncommon sight on the Gloucestershire roads, and were of
course becoming more common countrywide as people started to recover
from the exigencies and strictures of the war and as car production got
back into gear. Insurance men like his Uncle Eric, for example, almost
always had cars. In fact it would be fair to say that you could see a
car of some description any hour of any day except Sunday in
Brockworth. Cars were still something of a rarity in Brockworth, even
in 1963. The postman sometimes delivered parcels by van, but hardly
anyone owned a car. There was a rumour going around the family that his
father was about to invest in a car, put about by Uncle John, who was a
policeman, a detective, no less, and Uncle Eric, but Mike didn’t take
it too seriously. What did they need with a car? There was a regular
bus service into the city, into town,
he had his bike, Annie, his twin sister got the bus into town every
day, to Denmark Road School for girls; older sister Pauline got the bus
the other way, to go to work in Wolf and Hollander’s furniture store in
Cheltenham every morning, and his Dad got the works bus to Mitcheldean,
where he worked for Ranks. At the weekend the entire family caught the
bus into the city to do the weekly shop at the well-stocked shops, and
shared the carrying of it back home on the bus. During the week his Mum
shopped locally. Who needed a car?
the notebook, pushed his bowler hat down over his head and cycled home,
through the little lane that connected the Avenue with Boverton Drive,
where he lived, and thought no more about the car for quite some time.
The postman had left a package for him by the back door. It was very
thin, and square, and he knew exactly what it was. The record club he
belonged to had sent details of the new Acker Bilk album a few weeks
back, Stranger On The Shore it was called, and he had sent a postal
order to pay for it a week or so ago. He parked his bike against the
side wall of the house, a 1930s-style semi-detached villa, and took his
package inside to open it. He used the kitchen door at the side of the
house, because the front door stuck, and his father had not yet got
round to fixing it. He knew he wouldn’t wake anyone, because they had
all gone their separate ways by now, Dad Albert to work in Mitcheldean,
at the J Arthur Rank factory, sister Pauline to work as a secretary,
Mum Cissy to the shops. Annie, his beloved twin sister, was away, in
France for a week, a school trip to Boulogne.
Michael Thompson was one of only four children who
went to grammar school from the class of ’57 that sat the eleven-plus
examination at Brockworth New County Primary School. The other three
were Annie, Brenda McLaren and Lynda Bamber, who was the same age as
Brenda, and nearly a year older than Michael. He was the only boy, and
he went to the Crypt Grammar School for Boys, having chosen it because
it was the oldest of the two Gloucester grammar schools; Brenda went to
Denmark Road School for Girls, although she was in a different form to
Annie, and Lynda to Ribston Hall Grammar School, all of them single-sex
schools. Mike was now very tall for his age, an inch or so above six
feet, with a mop of fair hair which he had at one time tried to tame
into an Elvis or Bobby Darin quiff but failed. Brylcreem didn’t do
anything other than make his hair greasy, for it was very fine, almost
blond. One of his friends at school, David Hope, had come in one day
with his hair done like John Lennon’s and the last time Mike had gone
to the barber’s he’d taken with him a photo of his hero, and instructed
the barber to cut it like that. It was a partial success, and he no
longer used anything on it, preferring a more natural look which would
soon enough become the vogue throughout Britain and ultimately the
world as men and boys tried to emulate the look of the Beatles. He
unwrapped his precious gramophone record, which would not be available
in the UK for another few weeks, and gazed enraptured at it, but he
would wait a while before playing it, because he had something else to
do first, and couldn’t settle until it was done. He checked to see if
there was a postcard from his twin sister. From Annette. But there
wasn’t. Not today.
The mist cleared slowly to reveal a solitary figure with his dog,
walking towards Brockworth along the Churchdown Lane. It was six-thirty
and still quite dark. The grass was soaking wet with a heavy dew. Tommy
Hinkley let Charlie, his Springer spaniel, off his lead. There were
pheasants to flush out, and skylarks’ nests to disturb. There was no
traffic, because it was 1963, and there was not that much traffic
around in those days. Looming out of the mist Tommy could see the ‘Five
Trees’. Tommy headed straight for the depression, which everyone said
had been caused by a crashing Spitfire during the battle of Britain,
but Tommy preferred to think of it as a giant’s footprint. He wasn’t
simple minded, or mentally defective. If anything, he was what would
come to be known as a savant though not an idiot savant.
He’d not passed the eleven-plus exam, but he had got a reasonable
education at Hucclecote Secondary Modern. He was good with his hands,
good at woodworking and metal working, but what he really liked was to
be out and about with Charlie, whatever the weather, walking the
country lanes, observing the wildlife, just being one with nature. His
parents owned a ramshackle little two-bed cottage at the foot of
Cooper’s Hill, where the lane ran out. He was seventeen years old and
the family more or less eked a simple living off a smallholding and the
animals he and his father were able to trap and kill, like rabbits and
pheasants. It was a simple life, but they managed, with his wages which
he earned working a few hours a day in the new Co-op shop run by Mr
Calvert in Vicarage Lane.
He knew Charlie had
found something when he started to bark, and he knew straight away what
it was. Brenda McLaren had gone missing the day before. He’d seen her
through the powerful binoculars he’d inherited from an aged relative,
and which he used for his birdwatching. He knew she was dead, too. If
he had to explain how he knew she was dead, he would not have been able
to tell you. He just
that was all there was about it. He walked over to where Charlie stood,
his tail wagging, and looked down at the naked body of what had been
Brenda McLaren. Taking a grimy handkerchief from his trouser pocket, he
wiped away a tear and called the dog away just as the sun started to
penetrate the mist.
‘Leave it, Charlie. Let her
rest in the sunshine. Time enough when they start looking for her. None
of our business till then. Not our job. Not this time.’
He started to walk away, along the road that led into the village. He
heard, rather than saw the figure behind him. Quite a way behind him,
too, and when he looked round, he couldn’t be sure if they’d seen him
or not. But he recognised who it was, and scratched his head, wondering
why they were here too, at a little after six o’clock on a Tuesday
George Maxwell switched off the alarm at
the precise moment that Tommy Hinkley found the body of Brenda Mclaren
and got out of bed, padding slowly to the bathroom. His wife, who was
dying of cancer, lying in the single bed in the spare room, didn’t
stir. He threw on a dressing gown and went downstairs to make himself a
cup of tea. No point in waking her just yet, he thought, and took his
tea back to bed. Off duty today. No major cases. Nothing requiring his
immediate attention. For now, he wanted to go back to sleep, so he did
His sergeant, Detective Sergeant John
Kimble, who was Michael Thompson's uncle, looked at the handwritten
note that had been handed in at the reception desk. A missing
schoolgirl, Brenda McLaren, aged sixteen. Kimble knew the McLaren
family, and was a regular drinking partner with wee Dougal McLaren, the
girl’s father, at the Pinewood public house just down the road from the
aircraft factory, where Kimble worked a few hours now and then when he
was off duty. He’d been hoping for a quiet day. Fat chance of that now,
although he was confident she would turn up, having spent the night
with a boyfriend or something. He didn’t need to worry about her right
now, did he? He drank his coffee and munched his way through a bacon
sandwich from the station canteen, then returned to his crossword in the Mirror. Took him less than
five minutes. He was good at crosswords. He read the Jane cartoon
strip, smiling at her nakedness.
Sergeant Baxter poked his head round the C.I.D.
door. ‘Maxwell’s not in today, Johnny,’ he said.
‘Right, thanks. Anything for me other than this
‘Not so far.’
‘Good. Let’s hope it stays that way.’
Mike finished his paper round by eight o’clock and went home. He made
himself a second breakfast and watched for the postman. Brenda hadn't
turned up at the fair after all, and he had spent the afternoon playing
some of the stalls and then went home to see if anyone was around for a
game of football. He didn't have that many friends in the village, no
one his age, at any rate, except for his best friend, James Hunter, he
was off on a field trip with his father, who was an amateur
archaeologist, and he wouldn't be back until the end of the week, then,
after the weekend, it would be back to school.
There was only one topic of conversation in Jacomelli’s the butchers
that morning: the disappearance of the girl from one of the houses on
the main road. Already there was talk of a search party, and the police
seemed ready to encourage it, for the girl, Brenda McLaren, was a young
teenager, and she had last been seen walking through the little lane
that connected Boverton Drive to the Avenue on Monday afternoon. At the
back of Boverton Drive there were the few remaining Nissen huts, where
the Italian prisoner-of-war camp had once been. Eighteen years after
the end of the war, there was still a small number of Italians in the
village. Some of them had settled, like Jacomelli the butcher himself,
and had been accepted into the local society. But there were still
people in the village who didn’t like them, who didn’t trust them, and
it was Betty Gillmore, wife of the Primary School headmaster who said
that she thought an Italian was behind the disappearance of Brenda
McLaren. There were plenty of people in the village who had fought in
the war, some, indeed, who had seen action in the Great War, and
memories were still short and unforgiving. Jacomelli was a typical
Italian charmer, and some of the Mums liked his easy, jocular way and
his dark good looks that reminded them of Frank Sinatra and Al Martino.
It was the women who did the shopping, or else they sent their children
to the shops with a note, and so, over time, Jacomelli and the other
Italians who stayed in England, in this little backwater, came to be
accepted. But never quite enough, never totally, they always had
to be watched, just in case...
‘She was with one of the boys, that Marco, or whatever his name is,’
Betty said. ‘I saw them Monday morning. They were getting on the bus to
go into town.’ This was not strictly true. She had seen them, but it
was not Monday, it was well over a week ago, and they had been walking
towards Green Lane, where the bus stop was, and the lane led to
Cooper’s Hill, where they rolled the cheeses down at Whitsuntide. The
locals called it Cheeseroll Hill. Her observation that Brenda had been
associating with the Italian boy reached the ears of the local
constabulary, and in particular the local bobby, in the form of
Constable Hutchinson. He lived in Boverton Drive, and his house was one
of four semi-detached properties arranged in a circle, diametrically
opposite one another. This end of Boverton Drive was considered one of
the best streets in the village, with the Avenue a close second. Down
the road towards the parade of shops, some of the houses were prefabs,
built just after the war and meant to last just a few years, but they
were still standing, and looked set to stay for several more years.
Past the shops, in Ermin Park, the houses were not quite so good. At
the opposite end of Boverton Drive, there were the playing fields, the
primary school, and the huge council estate. The population of
Brockworth ran to around three thousand five hundred, of which the vast
majority lived on the council estate.
morning Hutchinson cycled along Court Road to the huts, where the
majority of the Italians still lived. There were only twelve of the
huts left now, for the land had been sold to a developer, and modern
semi-detached houses were being built. Constable Hutchinson had seen
action in the Korean War. He was an inch over six feet tall, and had a
slight limp from a sniper's bullet, but he was slightly built and
extremely fit, although it was his uniform, always immaculate, that
gave him the air of authority that commanded the respect he merited. He
lived in the house opposite Michael Thompson's, and did his patrols of
the village on his bicycle. He was in his mid-forties and sported a
moustache which he believed gave him an air of added authority. His
house, which was a mirror image of Michael's had a brick-built
extension with a barred window, in which he had the capability of
locking someone up overnight or until they could send someone from the
Gloucester City Police Station or the sub-station in Hucclecote to take
the prisoner into custody. The extension had never been used for that
purpose in living memory, and nowadays he used it to store his seed
potatoes, until it was time to dig them in, and his gardening tools,
and his bicycle, of course. Constable Hutchinson was well-liked by the
adults in the village, and well-respected by the children.
There was a small police station in the next village along the road
towards the city, Hucclecote, but by and large very little happened in
Brockworth to trouble Constable Hutchinson and he could count on the
fingers of one hand the number of times he had had to call either
Hucclecote or Gloucester City Police Station during his three years as
the village bobby. His was one of the few houses in the Drive with a
He sought out the hut where Marco
Russo’s family lived. He parked his bicycle against the black
corrugated iron of the hut and rapped briskly on the door. Betty
Gillmore had called at his house that morning to tell him that she had
seen Marco staggering home holding his leg, and it was bleeding, and he
was very pale, he had been almost on the point of fainting. It had not
occurred to her to take him in and help him. While she was at it, she
told Constable Hutchinson that she had seen Marco with the missing
girl, Brenda. It was the first he knew about a missing girl, but then a
phone call from the city police station about Dougal McLaren’s daughter
had come through just after nine o’clock, and the man had been quite
distraught about Brenda’s failure to come home last night.
Betty Gillmore was the village busybody. She knew everybody in the
village, and everything about them. She felt it her duty to report that
she had seen a wounded boy walking through the respectable streets of
Brockworth to the ghetto on the outskirts of town which was full of
Italians for whom she felt only disgust, and mentioned Brenda McLaren
in passing, but in a tone of voice that suggested the boy must know
something about her disappearance, and that Constable Hutchinson would
do well to investigate the matter. He preferred to believe that he had
made that decision himself, of course.
‘Police!’ he said. ‘Open up!’
The door opened hesitantly to reveal a peasant-looking woman, dressed
well enough, her weather-beaten face creased with tears.
‘Mrs Russo? Is your son at home?’
Valentina Russo shook her head and began to cry
‘Now, now, don’t take on so. It’s Marco I’m after,
not you or your husband. Is he at home now?’
A voice from the interior of the hut said softly;
‘You’d better come in, constable.’
Constable Hutchinson bent his head to get through the low door,
especially as he still had his helmet on. He would never think of
taking it off whilst on duty. In the dingy interior of the hut, he
could make out a fireplace, with a few meagre scraps of coal on it, and
an empty scuttle next to it. There was a stove, and a sink to one end,
where the solitary window was, looking out across the countryside
towards St George’s Church. The other end of the hut saw a pair of
put-u-up beds, and a single mattress on the floor. Giuseppe Russo knelt
by the mattress, and he, too, was crying. On the mattress was a body,
which Constable Hutchinson supposed to be that of Marco Russo.
‘Is he all right?’ the constable said, advancing
into the room.
‘No, he’s not all right,’ Val Russo said. ‘He’s
a-been beaten up. Stabbed. He’s a-goin’ to die.’
‘Ah, yes, so I have been given to understand,’ said
Constable Hutchinson. ‘Have you called the Doc?’
‘Doctor Cookson, he’s on his way.’
‘Joe, can’t you stop the bleeding?’ Constable Hutchinson and Russo were
old acquaintances, and he always used the anglicised version of the
Italian's name, finding it difficult to get his tongue round his proper
‘I’ve tried,’ Russo said, turning his grimy,
tear-stained face to the copper. ‘It won’t stop.’
‘Do you know who did it?’ The constable applied steady pressure to the
boy’s wounds. He had a basic knowledge of first aid, and to him the
wound looked deep, and definitely needed a doctor to attend, or even a
hospital visit. Doctor Cookson himself had put a few stitches in the
policeman's thumb when he had caught it in the french windows at the
primary school a couple of years back, but whilst he believed himself
capable of stopping the bleeding momentarily, he really thought Marco
Russo should be on his way to hospital for expert treatment. Without
doctors and nurses to patch him up it would soon start to bleed again.
The boy was already pale and feverish.
parents shook their heads slowly. ‘Everyone knows we are not welcome
‘ere,’ said Val. ‘They want to tear down the huts and build ‘ouses
which we canna not afford. Where will we go?’
‘That’s not important right now!’ snapped her
husband. ‘Right now we gotta worry about Marco!’
‘Here, Joe, you keep the pressure on this. I’ll go and see if Dr
Cookson is coming,’ Constable Hutchinson said. ‘Oh, deary-me, what a
to-do. I wasn’t expecting to find this! I’m supposed to be searching
for the missing girl. I’m supposed to be asking if Marco saw her, so I
am!’ He ducked his head and went outside, where he heard, in the faint
distance, the rattle of Dr Cookson’s sit-up-and-beg Ford Prefect. The
car pulled to a stop in the makeshift road outside the hut, and the
short, stubby, middle-aged figure of Dr Alan Cookson, the local GP, got
‘Hutchinson? What are you doing here?’
‘It’s Marco Russo, Doctor. He’s been beaten up. Stabbed. He has what
looks like a knife wound to his upper thigh.’
Cookson’s eyebrows raised. He was fifty-five years old, and wore a grey
battered trilby he had purchased to go with his demob suit in 1945. All
servicemen returning home from the Second World War were issued with a
set of civilian clothing, including a three-piece suit, courtesy of His
Majesty's Government. He took his bag from the back seat of the car and
went into the hut while Constable Hutchinson stood outside, smoking a
cigarette, his first of the day. After what seemed like an age, Dr
Cookson emerged, and at the same moment, there came the unmistakeable
sound of sobbing.
‘Well, Hutchinson, looks like
you’re going to have your hands full, aren’t you? I’ll ring for an
ambulance to take him to the Royal Infirmary. They’ll need to patch him
up. He’s lost a bit of blood but I’ve bandaged his leg as best I can.
If I move it, he may bleed to death. Just missed his femoral artery!
Best call it in, eh? Job for the ‘tecs. I’ll bid you good day,
‘Yes, Doctor. Thank you. Dear me, I
was expecting to find out something about the missing girl, and what do
I find? Marco Russo stabbed! My word!’
‘Missing girl?’ Cookson said, turning back.
‘Brenda McLaren. Sixteen years old. Missing since yesterday. Last seen
yesterday afternoon. Father reported her missing first thing this
morning. Why he didn’t call us yesterday I don’t know. Probably been
Cookson nodded sagely. ‘Yes, that’s
Dougal McLaren for you! The girl was all right last week, at the
surgery. Well, I say all right, she’d cut her hand on a piece of
shrapnel in the crater up by the church, but other than that she was as
right as rain.’
‘Was she with anyone? Her mother? Father?’ Constable
‘No, she came on her own, as always. If you ask me, her mother’s not
around any more. Went off with that Italian airman, I think, and not
been seen since. You know where she lives, of course, the girl? One of
the big houses on Ermin Street.’
‘Yes, I know
where she lives. Make that my next port of call, I think. After talking
to the guv-nor. On the telephone, that is.’
‘Right. I must be off. Mrs Hudson’s fifth is on its way and Nurse Doyle
is unwell with shingles, unfortunately. Most inconvenient. I’ll bid you
good day.’ Cookson raised his trilby, got into his car and drove off.
Constable Hutchinson knocked softly on the hut door and went back in.
‘Mr and Mrs Russo, I have to take a statement from you, and I do need
to talk to Marco about another matter, but I would suggest we wait
until the ambulance has taken poor Marco away, then you can come down
to the station in Hucclecote with me this afternoon. We’ll get the bus
together.’ Val Russo was sitting on the floor next to her son, rocking
back and forth, sobbing quietly. Giuseppe Russo was busying himself in
the corner of the room, muttering to himself in Italian.
‘I’ll leave you to it. We’ll need to ask Marco how this happened, of
course, and if he knows who did it. Leave him to sleep for now...
Right, then, I’ll leave you in peace. The ambulance will be here soon,
about a quarter of an hour or so, I shouldn’t wonder.’ All thoughts of
asking Marco about the disappearance of Brenda McLaren had left his
head for the time being.
As he turned to leave, Giuseppe himself turned
round. He was holding a pistol.
‘Now, Joe, you don’t want to be doing anything silly. Give the gun to
me, there’s a good chap.’ Constable Hutchinson held out his hand for
the gun. Russo hesitated.
‘They tried to kill my son!’ he said.
‘If you know who did it, you must tell me, Joe,’ Hutchinson said
softly. ‘Now give me the gun. You don’t want to be doing this. Think of
Marco. Think of your wife!’
Tears streaming down
his face, Russo handed over the pistol and Constable Hutchinson, who’d
been a sapper during the war – a kind of a combat engineer – quickly
and expertly disarmed and unloaded it, putting the bullets into his top
pocket. ‘Good man,’ he whispered. ‘Like I say, whatever you know, you
tell me. Let’s wait till the ambulance men have taken your son away to
the hospital, then we can talk. I’m sure they’ll take good care of him.
I’ll be back later. I’ll have to take this gun away from you, of
course. Why don’t you make a nice cup of tea for your wife, eh?’ He
pocketed the gun. Later he would lock it away in the wooden box he kept
beneath his bed, and there it would stay, passing out of this story
forever. That was the way things worked then, out in the quiet
countryside – time went very slowly and nothing was worth breaking into
a sweat over.
Not knowing whether they would be
all right or not, he left them to it. Stabbings were unheard of in the
village, in fact violent crime of any kind was unheard of. The very
worst that happened was a fight after closing time outside the Pinewood
or the Flying Machine on a Friday night. He cycled back to Boverton
Drive, where he would make a phone call to the City Police Station and
talk to Detective Sergeant John Kimble.
Mr Peter Hannaford, who lived opposite Constable Hutchinson, had a
phone, of course. And he was shortly to take delivery of one of those
new Ford Anglias. When it arrived, it would be pale blue and white. His
two ginger-haired twin boys, two years older than Michael Thompson,
would learn to drive in it and take it to school. He didn’t know how to
stop them, for they had minds of their own and they sometimes acted as
though they didn’t wish to be associated with him. His wife, Ivy, was
far more easy-going. He had very strict rules for his family, which they totally ignored,
much to his irritation. Next door to the Hannafords were the Thompsons.
They had a garage, a corrugated iron affair they’d carried round in
sections from Albert Thompson’s mother-in-law's house in the next road,
the Avenue, one Sunday morning before adjourning to the pub down on the
main road. Later that same day they had reassembled it on the lawn to
the side of the house. Constable Hutchinson had watched them, Mr
Thompson and three of his brothers-in-law, including Johnny Kimble, who
worked in CID in the city. All big drinkers, all four of them. Neither
Constable Hutchinson nor Mr Hannaford approved of excessive drinking,
and on more than one occasion he had seen them coming home in the early
hours of the morning, all four of them the worse for wear. It was a
matter of some relief to Constable Hutchinson that he had never had to
arrest or even caution them. They were not trouble-makers, they rarely
disturbed the peace so that anyone could complain, it was simply that
they liked their drink rather too much for his liking.
Mr Hannaford didn’t approve of alcohol, either, he was a Methodist lay
preacher, and he lived next door to them! What must he be thinking when
the drunks went past his house and into next door of a Saturday night?
It was a wonder Mr Hannaford hadn’t asked Constable Hutchinson to
arrest them and throw them in his little cell. He thought that Mr
Hannaford might be just a little frightened, or maybe even a little in
awe of his next door neighbour.
Mr Carter, who
worked for the city council, lived on the next corner, opposite Mr
Hannaford, and had his new car, a four-door Ford Prefect, already, but
they were two of only fourteen car owners in the street. Four people,
including Constable Hutchinson had telephones at this end of Boverton
Avenue, and a few more people had cars, mostly locked away in garages
since before the war, cars like Austin Sevens, red with rust and
probably unsafe to drive, but here in the backwoods of rural
Gloucestershire it still seemed like the country was just getting back
on its feet and the safety of cars on the road had not yet become a
priority. Many men who had driven army vehicles during the war had not
even taken a driving test.
The area was affluent,
almost middle class, but cars had not yet graduated in any great number
to Brockworth. In fact, Constable Hutchinson knew that some of the
boys, Michael Thompson included, actually collected car number plates
by writing them down in little notebooks, in which they noted down the
make of car, its colour, which was almost always black or beige,
occasionally dark red, and the registration number.
The milkman had a van, of course, but Mr O’Reilly, the greengrocer, had
a horse and cart, and so did the coal man, Mr Russell.
Two hundred yards down the road, where the small parade of shops was,
there was a call box. But Constable Hutchinson had his own phone, and
he was ringing the police station in Gloucester city right now,
reporting the attack on Marco Russo, a fifteen year-old Italian youth
whom he knew well enough, and who attended the secondary modern school
in Hucclecote. His superior officer, Sergeant Baxter, assured him that
CID would be there within the hour, they were coming out anyway because
of the missing girl, and Constable Hutchinson agreed that after
deciding what was to be done about the McLaren girl, they should drive
round to the Russos’ hut to interview the parents rather than bring
them into the city. In the meantime, he was to continue with his
enquiries into the disappearance of Brenda McLaren. It completely
slipped his mind that he had been going to see Marco Russo because
someone had said they had seen him with the missing girl. Constable
Hutchinson was nothing if not methodical, but his attention had been
focused wholly on the immediate priority of Marco’s leg and the
stabbing, and the Brenda McLaren connection drifted into his
subconscious for the time being. It resurfaced now, and he made a
mental note to tell the detectives about it so that they could follow
it up properly.
Which meant he just had time to
make himself a much-needed cup of coffee before he cycled down to Ermin
Street to where Brenda lived with her father, Dougal. He glanced out of
the bay window. His wife was in the back garden, putting the washing
through the mangle. Across the road, he could see the milkman unloading
crates of milk for tomorrow morning’s deliveries into his refrigerated
shed in the house next to Albert Thompson’s. Michael Thompson, who had
a twin sister, Annette, and an older sister, Pauline, delivered the
newspapers. If Harry and Henry Hannaford were so alike you couldn’t
tell them apart, Michael and his sister were totally dissimilar. She
was a comparatively petite five feet six, he was well over six feet
tall. He had a racing bike with drop handlebars and four gears that
made the policeman’s bicycle look shabby and old-fashioned – which it
was – and he wore a bowler hat when he was out on his paper round,
because he liked Acker Bilk. Or Mr Acker Bilk, to give him his proper
name. Michael was never late with the papers. He never missed a day,
and he knew everybody in this part of the village, even some of the
people in the council estate up near the Cheltenham Road. Constable
Hutchinson thought that Michael Thompson would be a good lad to ask
about the disappearance of Brenda McLaren. Probably knew her from
primary school. Ermin Street could wait for a few minutes.
Hutchinson finished his coffee and walked across to the Thompsons’
house. He knew for a fact that the parents were out, because Albert
Thompson worked for some company or other across town, somewhere in the
Forest of Dean, he believed, and he had seen him leave earlier this
morning. He caught the work’s bus from outside the Gloster Aircraft
Factory every morning at seven thirty, and he had seen him this
morning, flying down the road, late, as usual, pursued by Mrs Hall’s
terrier. Cicely Thompson, the mother, was out shopping at this time of
day. Normally she just walked down to the parade, or up to the
Cooperative store, but today she had caught the Number 57 bus into the
city to buy new underwear for the two girls. Pauline, the older sister,
worked as a secretary at the furniture store in Cheltenham. He hadn’t
seen the younger girl, Michael’s twin sister, for a few days, and
supposed she was out of town on a visit. It was quite a coincidence,
the two houses opposite his both having twins, but he didn’t dwell on
it. The two families were as different as chalk and cheese. The
Hannafords were quiet, reserved, but the ginger twins were turning into
somewhat rebellious boys, although not to the extent that they caused
trouble for anyone else. It was just that Mr Hannaford, who ran a tight
ship, was losing control of them as they graduated into older teenagers
with minds of their own. In contrast, the Thompsons were what he would
call a normal family. Londoners, originally, like himself. Except for
the children – they had been born here, all three of them, in
Brockworth. There was always music coming from the Thompsons’ house,
and on more than one occasion he had seen the twins creeping next door
to join in some kind of fun that would be unthinkable in their own
house. Even when they fell out with each other, the ginger twins took
it next door, into the Thompsons’ slightly larger garden, where they
could fight to their hearts’ content.
Hutchinson, being a village bobby, was well liked, well respected, and
well informed. Nothing much escaped his notice in the village, although
sometimes some of his information came his way courtesy of his wife,
Vera. Some of the lads on the estate beyond the playing fields were
young tearaways, but he could deal with them, and there was rarely any
real trouble in the village, just high spirits, really. He thought that
Michael Thompson was a decent lad, polite, respectful.
He knocked on the door, and after just a moment, Michael opened it. He
was just over six feet tall and powerfully built, with exceptionally
broad shoulders and legs like tree trunks. He rowed for his school, the
Crypt Grammar School out in Tuffley, and he cycled there every day,
seven miles there, seven miles back. A broad shouldered, fair-haired
giant. Nurse Doyle had said when she delivered him that she thought he
might be a German baby because he had a square head. To Constable
Hutchinson, who had seen limited action in the war, the lad looked for
all the world like a member of the Hitler youth.
‘Constable Hutchinson. Can I help you?’
‘Can I come in, lad?’
‘Of course. Has something happened?’
‘Nothing for you to worry about, lad. Let’s go into the lounge, shall
we?’ Constable Hutchinson was pleased to see that the Thompsons used
their lounge on a daily basis, just as he and Mrs Hutchinson did. They
didn’t have a room that was kept for best, like Mr Hannaford next door.
That was pretentious, and silly, in his opinion. Rooms were for using,
not for preserving like museum pieces. The less you used a room, the
more chance dust had of settling. He ran his hand along the cold,
smooth tiles of the mantelpiece, and was pleased to note that there was
no dust in the Thompsons’ front room. Mrs Thompson ran a clean ship, so
she did, and Constable Hutchinson approved.
was no television, at least not in the lounge, but on the gramophone,
Acker Bilk’s “Stranger On The Shore” was playing. On the floor lay a
pile of LPs, mainly by Acker Bilk, one or two by Bobby Darin, and the
very latest craze, The Temperance Seven, and one by that Liverpool
group that was taking the country by storm, The Beatles. Michael turned
the gramophone down and lifted the needle off his precious record. He
held out the album cover for Constable Hutchinson.
‘I sent for it from America last year. It was released there a couple
of months earlier. I belong to a record club, and they get them
earlier. I had to have it,’ Michael said, by way of explanation, even
though none was needed. ‘What’s happened? Please tell me. It’s not
Annie, is it?’ Annette, known affectionately as Annie to Michael, was
on a week-long exchange visit with her French pen-friend from her last
year at school, in Boulogne, due back at the weekend. Surely nothing
could have happened to her in France? And, of course, there was his
mum, his dad, or Pauline. A road accident, perhaps? But Constable
Hutchinson made a mental note that the lad had asked about his sister
‘Like I said, nothing to do with you,
Michael, or your sister. I just wanted to ask you a couple of
questions, that’s all. I wondered if you’d seen Brenda McLaren
recently? The last known sighting of the girl so far was at around
three fifteen Monday afternoon, at the bus stop in Ermin Street, with a
woman they think might have been her aunt, or at least, a woman she
calls her aunt.' Constable Hutchinson had yet to trace the whereabouts
of Mary Lamb, who was Brenda’s mother. He did not know then, and would
never know, that Victoria Northcote, who was even now being prepared
for her funeral, had seen Brenda later still on that fateful Monday,
but had passed away without telling a soul about the car Brenda was in.
‘Not since yesterday. Why?’ Today was Tuesday, the
second day of the second week of the school holidays.
‘She’s gone missing. We’re starting a search party. You and your
friends can help, if you like, as long as your parents are all right
with it, of course. So where was it you saw her yesterday?’
‘I saw her in the morning, down by the shops near Westfield Road with
someone, a lady, I’d not seen her in the village before, but then I
don’t know everyone. It wasn’t her Mum, I know what her Mum looks like.
I was on my way home after my paper rounds and she was going down to
the main road to catch the bus into town. Then I saw her again, later,
around three o’clock, I think, she was running errands for her dad. She
stopped and spoke to me for a few minutes. She said she might go to the
fair later on but I never saw her there. I won a basket of plums in the
raffle. They were rotten!’ It had rankled with him. ‘Has something
happened to her?’
‘Like I say, she’s gone
missing, so we don't really know. She could have gone off with a
boyfriend or something, or met up with someone in town, if that's where
she was going. There will probably be a search party, when the
detectives from Gloucester City arrive. You say you didn’t recognise
this lady she was with?’
Michael shook his head. ‘I hadn’t seen her before.’
‘If you know her Mum, then it probably wasn’t her, probably this aunt
they’re talking about. She lives with her father, so I've been told.
Never mind, I'll get to the bottom of it, no doubt. And you haven’t
seen her since? Young Brenda, I mean, not the woman she was with.’
‘We don’t hang out together any more, not since Primary school. She
goes to Denmark Road, I go to the Crypt, so we don’t see each other
that often, hardly at all, in fact.’
‘You don’t go to the youth club?’
Mike shook his head again. ‘Not for a while. We did mention the youth
club, but that would have been this coming Friday. I haven’t been for a
while. It’s my A-Levels this year, so I can’t really spare the time.’
He pointed to the small table in the window, which was covered with
school text books and exercise books. Hutchinson raised his eyebrows.
Young Michael Thompson was simply too good to be true. Most boys his
age were out with girlfriends, shagging or at least snogging and
petting in the fields or behind the trees, or playing football with
their friends in the recreation area next to the school. Most of them
didn’t spend their Easter holidays sitting indoors listening to Acker
Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band and reading. Still, not for him to
judge, eh? Each to his own. If he had a son, he would want him to be a
bit like Michael Thompson. But his wife was barren, and they were
childless. They had talked about adoption, but that was all it had
been. Just talk.
‘And you haven’t seen anyone suspicious on your
travels? I know you deliver the papers down Hucclecote Road.’
‘I did all the way to Hucclecote this morning. Pedro Smith didn’t turn
up. Again. Three rounds, I did. At least it wasn’t the Sundays!’ It
never occurred to Michael to mention the Standard Vanguard at this
smiled. ‘Jason Smith. Everyone calls him Pedro because he’s so good at
Spanish. Not as good as me, though! He lives in Court Road. Opposite
the shops. Has a sister and another brother. They’re quite poor, I
think. His sister had a baby a few months back. She’s not married.’ He
had no idea why he volunteered that piece of information about the
Smiths. It just occurred to him to say it, and it came out. It wasn’t
relevant to the conversation, but now it was said, and couldn’t be
taken back. It probably had something to do with the fact that he was a
little jealous of Jason Smith. He wanted to be best at French and
Spanish every time and Jason Smith spoiled that for him. To Mike it was
somehow unthinkable that someone coming from a poor family could be any
good at languages. It made no sense but that was how he felt. In all
probability, Constable Hutchinson already knew about Jane Smith and her
illegitimate baby. Michael sometimes tried to imagine what it must be
like in the Smith household, trying to do homework with screaming
babies, dirty nappies and suchlike going on. It didn’t bear thinking
about. He didn’t think he was a snob, it simply did not occur to him.
And besides, he got on well enough with Jason Smith at school, whose
family had moved to Brockworth last summer; and he must have been
clever enough to pass the eleven-plus exam. What Mike really didn’t
have time for was the fact that Jason Smith had a job and simply
couldn’t be bothered to turn up for it.
‘I know the Smith family. If you think of anything
you think I should know about, give me a knock.’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Oh, and there’s something else.’ Michael led the policeman into the
hall and opened the front door. ‘What’s that?’
‘There’s been a stabbing in the Nissen huts.’ Mike’s eyes widened.
‘Well, not in the huts as such, I suppose. To tell you the truth I
don’t know where it happened. I’d appreciate it if you kept it to
yourself for the time being. There’ll be some detectives arriving from
the city later this morning, probably your Uncle John will be among
‘em, to help with the search for Brenda, and to find out who stabbed
‘Marco’s dead! My God! Who would have done that?’
'He’s not dead, Michael. He has a nasty stab wound on his upper thigh,
but Dr Cookson patched him up. He’s on his way to hospital. I’m sure
he’ll be all right. You can see him later, I’m sure.’
Mike thought he might have heard the penetrating jangle of the
ambulance bells a little while ago. He knew Marco well. Though he was a
year older than Marco, the Italian boy and he had played together many
times, and Michael had helped him with his English. He often visited
the Russos’ hut, unbeknown to his parents, who didn’t really approve of
the occupants. Recently, Marco had introduced Michael to the delights
of coffee. They spent many a happy hour together in the coffee bar in
town, run by Gino-the-Greek Pelopida’s father, talking about football,
which Marco did not understand, and girls, which he did understand,
being Italian, and drinking cups of espresso coffee. Sometimes, Mike
had observed, Marco Russo had a bit of an explosive temper. He did not
mention this to Constable Hutchinson, though.
Nissen hut estate, which had served as an Italian prisoner-of-war camp,
backed onto Michael’s house. Until a few weeks ago, he could look out
of his bedroom window over the camp, and he knew just about everyone
who lived there. Some had papers delivered, but not many, because they
were all quite poor families and couldn’t afford the sixpenny delivery
charge that Mr Lees charged. As well as housing the Italians, one or
two of the huts were now temporary homes for Polish immigrants who had
come to fight for the British dhring the War and had stayed when it
ended. Marco, of course, knew nothing about Italy himself, having been
born in the camp, but he did grow up speaking mostly Italian because of
his parents. Knocking around with Michael had brought his English on in
leaps and bounds, and Mike himself now had a smattering of Italian
which sometimes helped with his French and Spanish. They didn’t teach
Italian at the Crypt. He’d tried his hand at German for a month or so,
but much as he admired it as a language, he just couldn’t get his head
round the grammar, which was odd, as he had excelled at Latin. Mr
Strange, the German teacher, hadn’t been too pleased to lose such a
star pupil, but Mike couldn’t have done four subjects at A-Level
anyway. Three was the limit at the Crypt.
twelve of the huts had been demolished and removed recently and two
pairs of semi-detached houses had gone up in the space of six weeks,
and four families had moved in four weeks later. From his bedroom
window, Mike could see into the bedroom of the two girls in the house
behind. Both were older than him, but not much, only a couple of years
or so, and he was certain one of the girls liked him. Enough to open
the curtains and treat him to the sight of her undressing at night,
which he thought might have happened once but could not be sure if it
had been intentional on the part of the girl. He was sorely tempted to
save up and buy himself a pair of binoculars. His comics often had
advertisements for them, but he couldn’t think of a decent enough
excuse, and his parents would wonder why he’d got them. It wasn’t as
though he was keen on birds – the feathered variety. That would come
later in life. In any case, he couldn’t possibly spy on the girl with a
pair of binoculars as she undressed! He even thought of going round and
knocking on the door to ask the girl if she would like to go to the
cinema with him, but he had a sneaky feeling that because she was two
years older than him, and she no longer attended school, but was a
secretary somewhere in the city, she would turn him down. And he was
essentially shy. Painfully shy.
Despite being a
very good looking young lad, he was awkward around girls, probably
because he went to an all-boys’ school. It had been different at the
primary school, where he had become very friendly with Brenda McLaren
in the last couple of years, and the new girl, Lynda Bamber, whose
family had moved to Brockworth from Sheffield. Her father had come to
work in the Gloster Aircraft Factory just at the bottom of the road,
and Mike had been attracted to Lynda from the outset. But that was when
he’d been ten years old. Now he was sixteen, turning into ayoung man,
and girls were difficult for him to get his head round. He was close to
his twin sister, Annie, of course, in fact he worshipped her. As far as
Mike was concerned, they were close, just close, because they were
twins. They felt each other’s pains, they thought alike, they knew each
other’s minds. It was a twin thing. Being twins, they were naturally
exceptionally close, it was an accepted thing. The Hannaford twins next
door, Howard and Henry, were the same most of the time. Annie and Mike
told each other everything, and often knew what the other was thinking
or feeling. In some respects they were as different as chalk and
cheese. Apart from the physical difference, for she was eight inches
shorter than he was, and a girl, of course, Annie was just as
intelligent as him, yet she found it a bore having to concentrate on
lessons every day and had left school at fifteen to get a job in the
city as a trainee hairdresser.
Some of his
friends at the Crypt boasted of having had sex with their girlfriends.
Mike, whose favourite books in the whole world were Robin Hood and his Merry Men and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,
was steeped in the belief that a partner in marriage was for life; you
went into that partnership a virgin, and you did not betray the person
you were married to. He knew full well that Guinevere and cheated on
Arthur with Sir Lancelot, but Arthur was his role model, and he had not
done anything wrong. Mike would no more think of having sex with a girl
before marriage than flying in the air. Full sex was a mystery he was
not yet ready to investigate, at least, not with girls. Masturbation
was something he indulged in regularly, but he was sure it was
harmless, despite what the adults said, and it gave him considerable
pleasure, enough to keep his mind off actual girls for the time being.
That was what he told himself, but in actual fact he was lying to
himself. Secretly, he craved a girlfriend, but he lacked the courage to
ask a girl to go out with him. In a way, he used his relationship with
Annie to stimulate himself, though he would have denied it. Many times,
after sharing a late hour of intimate talk with his sister, he would
retire to his own bedroom and lay in bed, touching himself, unaware
that she had been the catalyst for his nocturnal relief. In the coming
dayss, all that would change and his confidence would receive a massive
‘Well, anyway, that’s for the detectives
to find out,’ Constable Hutchinson said, jerking his mind back to the
present. ‘Did you deliver to the huts this morning, Michael?’
‘No. One of Mr Lees’s daughters did it, I think.
Caroline. I could find out for you.’
‘No, you get on with your studying. Planning on
going to university, are you?’
‘I have a place at Cambridge if I get the right A-Level results. I
shall be the first in the family to go to university,’ he said proudly. But what I really want to do is to be a policeman, a
detective, like my uncle, the war-hero-turned-detective. ‘I
might get the bus into town and go and visit Marco this afternoon.’ He
tended not to use his bicycle for journeys into the city, preferring
the top deck of the bus, where he could sit and read. He would take the
new Dennis Wheatley with him to read on the bus, the one the travelling
library man had brought last week. His father didn’t really approve of
him reading Dennis Wheatley, but there wasn’t a great deal he could do
about it. His father considered such novels trashy, his own tastes
running to more esoteric writers like Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh,
Beverley Nichols and George Bernard Shaw.
for you. I’ll leave you to it, then. Best get back, those detectives
will be here any minute. If you think of anything…’
‘I’ll give you a knock... Constable Hutchinson?’
The bobby turned back. ‘Yes, Michael?’ he said, thinking that young
Thompson might have remembered something significant. ‘What is it?’
‘What I really want to do is to be a policeman,’ Mike said. ‘There’s an
open day at Cheltenham Police Station the week after next, when we’re
back at school. Some career thing. I wondered if you knew anything
‘I heard there was going to be one.
You could do a lot worse than joining the police force, lad. Make a man
of you. You certainly have the height and the build.’
‘I want to be a detective, like my uncle.’
Constable Hutchinson nodded sagely. He had already deduced, and him a
lowly constable, that the lad standing before him was very likely a lot
more intelligent than himself. He didn’t know John Kimble that well,
but guessed that he must have been clever enough to pass the
examination to transfer to CID at some point. Vera, his wife, had
nagged him during the first years of their married life to put in for
CID, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her that he had already
tried for it and failed the exam.
‘It would be a good career for you, Michael, bright
lad like you.’
Mike shut the door quietly behind his visitor and returned to the front
room, thinking to himself that one of the detectives who was coming to
investigate the stabbing and Brenda’s disappearance would be his Uncle
Constable Hutchinson walked back to his
house as the gramophone started up once again, this time with Bobby
Darin singing “Up a Lazy River”. He turned around to see Michael
standing at the bay window, waving and smiling. He liked the boy.
Respectful, well mannered, well spoken. He knew some people in the
village watched television programmes in which the police were referred
to in derogatory terms such as ‘scuffers’ and ‘rozzers’, and he knew
the local tearaways had much worse names for them, too. Not the
Thompsons. They didn’t have a television. In fact, they were jokingly
referred to as “the only people in the village who didn’t have a
television”. In the early months of 1963 they were probably one of the
only families in the whole of Gloucester who didn’t have a television.
They were a decent family. Church-goers and all that. An example to
everyone in the village.
He got to thinking about
Brenda McLaren and his heart sank. People just didn’t disappear in
Brockworth. It simply didn’t happen. He wondered if she had any reason
to run away. Then he wondered if she had accidentally fallen into a
ditch or something, and banged her head. He knew that children in the
big cities with less stable home lives sometimes ran away and were
never found again, and hoped fervently that that was not the case with
Brenda McLaren. He didn’t know the family that well, but he had heard
rumours that the mother and father had split up, and that the girl had
remained with her father in Ermin Street. Hopefully she would turn up
soon, alive and unharmed, and they could all get back to their quiet,
largely uneventful lives.
The detectives arrived at Constable Hutchinson's house at ten thirty in
an unmarked black Wolseley. They operated out of Gloucester City Police
Station. Hutchinson’s wife had tidied and polished in the dining room
in readiness, and he ushered them through into that room now while his
wife busied herself making cups of tea and coffee and laying out a
plate with digestive biscuits.
There were two of
them, both wearing trilby hats, and they introduced themselves as DCI
Maxwell, a tall man of fifty or thereabouts, who looked a lot like
Clark Gable, and DS John Kimble, who was indeed Michael Thompson’s
uncle. Constable Hutchinson knew Kimble was a Welshman who had married
into the Thompson family several years ago. He was about seven years
younger than Maxwell, and with characteristic black, curly hair,
receding at the front and greying at the temples. He was about five
feet ten inches tall, his trilby hat making him appear a little taller.
Both of them wore long grey raincoats. Hutchinson had seen adverts for
such raincoats in the magazines he read. “Sartor” was the brand. He
would like to have one for himself, but raincoats were intended only
for detectives; at least that was the way Hutchinson’s mind worked. If
it rained whilst he was out on his patrol in Brockworth, he had his
cape to wear. It was sufficient. He still wanted a “Sartor”, though, to
wear on his days off, maybe.
‘Let’s start with
the missing girl first, shall we?’ Maxwell said. He was a lot taller
than Kimble – around six feet three, in fact – very slim, and good
looking, the kind of man that would turn heads in the street. His hair
was greying, but his eyes were a piercing blue. He rarely smiled.
Kimble had been his sergeant for less than a year, and they were not
that close. Maxwell gave orders, and Kimble did as he was told. He had
been a copper in Liverpool, but he knew about all of the gangs that
ruled the East End and the big cities, and it was while he had been
living in Liverpool that he had taken money from one such gang. It was
when one of them had threatened his young wife, Marian, who was one of
Albert Thompson’s younger sisters, that he had made the decision to
move from Liverpool to Gloucestershire, where Marian’s family lived,
some years ago. Marian had been visiting a friend in Liverpool when
they met in a public house, and they had fallen in love instantly and
married within a couple of months.
He had never
regretted that decision, and had almost managed to forget most of what
he’d seen in Liverpool, and what he’d done there. He still suffered
from sleepless nights, occasionally, but life in the rural south west
was for the most part trouble-free and peaceful. Murders were few and
far between, and organised crime was on a very small and insignificant
scale – a little protection here and there, some pimping, nothing
anywhere near as bad as London, and here in Brockworth he and Marian
had lived in relative comfort and away from danger until she had died
suddenly from a brain tumour the year before last. Marian had been
Michael’s favourite aunt. Young-looking, vivacious in a kind of Audrey
Hepburn sort of way, she invariably turned up at the house in Boverton
Drive wearing designer clothes and movie-star dark glasses. She had a
sexy voice and Michael had hung on her every word. One day he had just
come out of the bath and was standing at the top of the stairs wearing
just his underpants, waiting for his mother to tell him where he could
find his clean clothes. Marian had stood at the foot of the stairs and
she had removed her glasses to get a better look at him. It was enough
to set his mind racing. How he longed for a girlfriend like a younger
version of his aunt Marian. She had shared a hectic sex life with
Kimble until the bad headaches had started three years ago. Kimble had
been devoted to her, and blamed himself for her death, believing he
should have got her away from Liverpool sooner. He hovered in the
background while Maxwell quizzed Constable Hutchinson.
‘What have we got so far, Constable?’ Maxwell said.
‘Well, Sir, the last known sighting of the girl was Monday afternoon at
the fair… But I haven’t yet spoken to the aunt or the parents. The lad
opposite saw her down at the bus stop around three p.m. with a lady
whom he didn't recognise, but our other witness says was her auntie.
The girl said she was going to the fair but he didn't see her there.’
‘Fair still here, is it?’
‘Yes, Sir. They’re here till the end of the week.
It’s the school holidays, you see.’
‘We’ll start there, then. Go on.’
‘Like I said, young lad opposite saw her at three, Michael Thompson.
Nice boy. Your nephew, of course, Sergeant,’ he said unnecessarily,
just making conversation.
‘I’ll be the judge of that,’ Maxwell said curtly.
‘Sergeant? Something to say?’
‘He’s my nephew by marriage, Sir.’
‘Right. Best you don’t talk to him, then. Leave him
‘Sir.’ I’ll see him this evening, anyway, when I go round for my
tea, Kimble thought,
but said nothing.
‘Go on, Constable.’
‘Young Italian boy lives in the huts behind Boverton Drive. Stabbed in
the leg. He’s on his way to the Royal Infirmary right now. Should be
there by now, I should think. The local headmaster’s wife thinks she
might have seen them together, him and the missing girl, but we’re not
‘When was he stabbed, Constable?’
‘I – don’t know, Sir. Yesterday some time, I think.
Priority was to get him to hospital.’
gave an exasperated look, and turned to Kimble. ‘Get the address, go
see his parents, find out about this stabbing. Where?’
‘In the upper thigh, Sir,’ Constable Hutchinson said.
‘Where did the stabbing take place?’
‘I don’t know, Sir. I was more concerned with getting the wound stopped
so he didn’t bleed to death. And so I could help with finding the
missing girl, Sir.’
‘Very commendable, Constable. Sergeant.’
‘I’ll take the fair, you take the eyeteyes.’
‘Sir, with respect,’ Constable Hutchinson said, as Maxwell and Kimble
started to leave. ‘The parents won’t be there, Sir. They’ll have gone
with the boy, I should think.’
‘Right, yes, of course. We’ll go to the fair, ask
some questions, then we’ll see about the eyeteyes.’
‘Italians, Sir.’ Even as he said it, Constable
Hutchinson knew he was wrong to correct the senior officer.
‘They’re eyeteyes to me, always will be, Constable. I fought against
‘em in the war. When they weren’t running the other way, that is. I
suggest you carry on with your duties.’
was going to cycle down the Hucclecote Road to interview the parents of
the missing girl. At least, the parent. I know the father will be
there. He reported the disappearance of his daughter, you know. Wife’s
gone off with someone else.’
Maxwell frowned. ‘All right. But tell them we’ll be
along later. Got a photograph of the girl, have you?’
‘No, Sir, I haven’t.’ From the corner of his eye, Constable Hutchinson
saw the Thompson boy walking up his drive, and he went to the door to
meet him. Michael was holding a large photograph.
‘I thought you might need a photo of her. Brenda. It was taken at the
youth club last year. She hasn’t changed much. Filled out a bit, I
suppose…’ His voice trailed off. Constable Hutchinson took the
photograph, keeping his eyes firmly on Michael.
‘Which one is she?’
‘The girl,’ Michael said, trying not to laugh. The policeman had not
even looked at the picture. If he had, he would have seen that it was
of two boys and a girl. It was a photograph Michael’s Dad had taken a
year ago at youth club fete, and showed Brenda with Michael and another
boy from Hucclecote. It was a good enough likeness of Brenda.
‘Good. I see. Thank you, lad. That will be all. I’ll
see that you get your photograph back in due course.’
‘Did I see my uncle arrive?’ Michael said.
‘Yes, but he’s not allowed to talk to you right now.’
‘He just isn’t. Chief Inspector’s orders. Now run
along, there’s a good lad.’
He's just like
PC49 in one of my friend’s Eagle comics,
Mike thought. He walked away, his hands in his pockets. He liked
Constable Hutchinson, but he didn’t like the fact that he’d not let him
talk to his uncle John. Never mind, it probably wasn’t his fault.
Procedure, or something like that, he supposed. John Kimble would be in
Boverton Avenue later, anyway, for his evening meal. He could catch up
with him then, find out how things were going. He went back to his own
house and started to get ready for his visit to the Royal Infirmary. It
was coming on to rain, so there was not much chance of a game of
soccer, anyway. And he wanted to find out how Marco was. Afterwards, he
would run into Boots and see if they had any secondhand Billy Bunter
books, withdrawn from their lending library. And it was possible that
Bon Marché would have the new Bobby Darin LP, Earthy.
On his way to the bus stop outside the aircraft factory, he realised
he’d forgotten to pick up his new book, so he popped into the
newsagents and picked up the film magazine he’d seen earlier, when he
was marking the papers for his rounds. It had a picture of Sandra Dee
on the front, looking more beautiful than ever, heart-achingly
beautiful. Michael loved Sandra Dee. Even though she was married to his
favourite singer, Bobby Darin, he was not a bit jealous. His fantasies
about himself and Sandra continued, but on the surface he was genuinely
delighted that his favourite actress in all the world was married to
the greatest singer in all the world.
arrived at a minute after two. He could see it all the way up the road,
and when it stopped, he paid his fare and ran lightly up to the top
deck. The front seat was vacant. He settled back and opened his
magazine and turned to the article on Sandra Dee. She was Jane to his
Tarzan, Guinevere to his Arthur, Marion to his Robin, Lorna Doone to
his John Ridd. She was Diana from the Enid Blyton Barney Mysteries, in
fact she was everything a sixteen-year-old boy dreamed of. He
worshipped her. That was the long and the short of it. He’d seen four
of her films at the Odeon cinema in Gloucester, A Summer Place, Portrait in Black, Romanoff and Juliet and If A Man Answers, and
the article, which was an American import, was filled with fantastic
photographs of her. Only black and white, of course, and not
particularly well printed, but it was enough. Good enough to cut out
and stick on his bedroom wall. Later that day, if he got back in time,
he would listen to Mrs
Dale’s Diary and
hope against hope that Jenny Dale was back from her stay with friends
in the Cotswolds. He worshipped Jenny Dale, too, thinking that she had
the most incredible, sexy voice in the universe. He wouldn’t forget
Sandra, but he would put her to one side for the time being while Jenny
Dale was on the radio. Then it would be time for Children’s Hour
and the new serial by Angus McVicar that featured a secret airbase on
top of a remote hill in the countryside. Just like Robinswood Hill out
in Tuffley, near to his school, in fact. He could see Robinswood Hill
from his bedroom window, in fact, and there was some kind of
installation on the top, which always fired his imagination, which was
what good literature was all about.
Mike knew he was perhaps a little old to be
listening to Children’s
but McVicar was one of his favourite authors. In any case, that was a
couple of hours off, and the chances were that by the time he’d seen
Marco and done his shopping, he would be too late for Mrs Dale’s Diary.
He didn’t have a clue what the actress who played Jenny Dale looked
like, they didn’t seem to put photographs of the actors in the Radio
Times. For all he knew she could be really ugly. Never mind, she had
the most delightful voice. And there was always tomorrow. Sandra Dee
and Jenny Dale – that wasn’t her real name, of course, but the name of
her character – weren’t the only girls in his life. He had a soft spot
for June Thorburn, and for Brigitte Bardot, and for the French actress
Mylene Demongeot, and there was also Linda Scott, who looked so cute in
the girls’ comics he read whilst marking them up for delivery in the
newsagent’s. Linda Scott was the latest American teen singing sensation
who’d remade an old classic – “I’ve Told
Every Little Star” – and had
considerable success with it both here and in her native USA.
Michael, or Mike, as he preferred to be known – and “Tiger” to his
schoolfriends, because they had insisted that he needed a “nick” name –
had an enormous collection of comics at home. His Uncle John, who’d
served in the RAF during the war, brought them home by the bagful. Adventure Comics, Detective Stories, Superman, Batman,
Tarzan, Film Fun, Knockout,
Michael read them all. He sometimes thought that the only comics he
didn’t get to read were th Dandy, the Beano, and the Eagle. But of
course, there were quite a few more, and although he didn’t know it at
the time, this was the Golden Age of British comics, and not just for
boys, either. Of the American comics, his favourites were Tarzan of the Apes and Supergirl. He
particularly liked the Tarzan comics that featured his wife, Jane,
wearing a loincloth and bikini top that left very little to the
imagination. And Supergirl was simply superb, as was Wonder Woman! He was not
ashamed of still reading comics, even though he knew he was probably
the only boy in his school class that did.
He’d started reading his older sister Pauline’s School Friend and Girls’ Crystal comics
one day when he’d finished his own. His favourite home-grown comics were Tiger and Lion, and
he was spectacularly unashamed of telling his schoolmates that he still
read them and still received the annuals amongst his Christmas presents. Tiger was
his absolute favourite, and that was how he came by his nickname. He
was never an Eagle boy, though he often read his friends’
copies, especially the PC49 strip.
Then, a couple of years ago, he had graduated to Pauline’s Christmas
annuals. Now it was a pretty regular thing, he found himself reading
them before she did. Pauline Thompson was too old for comics, but had
never quite got round to cancelling her order at Mr Lees’s newsagents,
and there was still a sizeable pile of School Friends and Girls' Crystal comics
and annuals in her bedroom to which Mike often helped himself. She was
now into boys in a big way, sometimes found the time to read a book,
maybe a Whiteoaks story, but most of her time when she wasn't working
was taken up with her current boyfriend.
Mike sometimes bought a Mirabelle or
a Valentine, if
it contained articles about Acker Bilk or Bobby Darin, or especially
Sandra Dee, and he did read the stories, too. He was an avid reader,
and he particularly liked the romantic picture stories, with their
wonderful line drawings, especially of the beautiful girls. Every
birthday, every Christmas, he asked for and received books. For four
Christmases in a row, beginning in 1957, he’d received The Commander Book for Boys and
devoured everything inside it, then started on Annie’s companion Coronet annuals.
Two Christmases ago, Annie had bought him The Book of Bilk,
the wonderful book full of photos and essays about Acker dressed as
characters from history, the names distorted into things like Ghenghis
Bilk, Kemal Ackerturk and so on. It was the brainchild of the brilliant
Peter Leslie, Acker’s publicist, who had come up with The Bilk
Marketing Board, a play on the Milk Marketing Board, and who wrote the
stupendous album cover notes that so amused and delighted him. His room
was lined with shelves holding his considerable collection – all the Saint books,
all the Dennis Wheatleys, including The Devil Rides Out, a
complete set of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books
bar one, Tarzan At The
Earth's Core, which
he was saving up for, and his Enid Blytons, of course. From his
substantial collection he’d brought with him a Mickey Spillane – whose
books he wasn’t supposed to read and which he had borrowed from one of
his aunts – and a Leslie Charteris Saint book
for Marco to read. The lad could read as well as he could speak
English, thanks to Michael, and Michael knew that Marco would take
really good care of his books.
Constable Hutchinson waved the two detectives away in the big car,
driving up Boverton Drive to where the fair stood on the rough ground
between the houses in Court Road and the Primary School. He got out his
bike, put on his cape to protect him from the wind and the rain, and
cycled down the road towards Ermin Street, where Brenda McLaren’s house
The Hucclecote Road, also known as Ermin
Street, was the main road into the city. Either side of the road were
big houses, mostly of a Victorian vintage, all set back from the road
and screened by huge trees. He turned left at the bottom of Boverton
Drive and set off up the hill, just catching sight of Michael Thompson
as he got on the bus. The McLaren house was just before Green Street,
which took you up to Cooper’s Hill. The chances of there being anyone
at home were remote. Constable Hutchinson did not know the family well,
but he did know, or at least he had heard rumours, that the mother was
having an affair with a schoolteacher who had been in the Italian air
force and who now lived up by the school, and that Dougal McLaren
worked at the Gloster Aircraft factory at the other end of the village
where it merged with the next village, Hucclecote. The chances were he
would be at work, but Constable Hutchinson rapped on the door anyway,
and somewhere in the house a dog started to bark.
‘Shut yer noise ye wee shite!’ Dougal McLaren opened the door and
kicked the dog, a small Jack Russell terrier, out, past the constable.
‘I’ve come about your daughter, Dougal. You’re not
at work today?’
‘It disnae look like it, does it? It’s Mr McLaren to
you. Ye’d better come away in.’
McLaren was short, wiry, with carrot-coloured hair
and freckles. He was probably around forty years old.
‘You haven’t heard from her, I suppose?’
‘Why would I hear from her?’
‘Is it possible she’s run off?’
‘Run off?’ McLaren stared at the constable in
disbelief. ‘Why would she run off?’
‘Why indeed?’ Constable Hutchinson said quietly.
‘When did you last see her?’
‘Where else? Are ye stupid or something?’
‘And your wife?’
‘She’s long gone, and guid riddance tae her!’
‘Where can I find her?’
‘How should I know?’
‘When you telephoned me, this morning, you said that
Brenda had not been home last night.’
‘Aye, that’s right.’
‘But she went missing Monday. So she didn’t come
home Monday night either? Is that correct?’
‘Aye. What of it?’
‘Why did you not report her missing yesterday, Mr
‘What are ye getting at?’
‘I’m not getting at anything. I’m just trying to
establish the facts.’
‘Aye, well, it sounds like ye’re accusing me of
‘Not at all.’
‘I suggest ye get oot there and find her.’
‘CID are searching for her and questioning people right now, Mr
McLaren.’ Constable Hutchinson could see he was going to get no more
cooperation from the Scot. He opened the door. The rain was bucketing
down now. I’m not
surprised she didn’t come home, he
thought. The man was an animal. No, that’s unfair to animals,
he thought, remembering how the man had treated his little dog. He
turned back to McLaren.
‘You really have no idea where your daughter is?’
‘You’re supposed to be lookin’ for her. Why ask me?’
And I’m not
surprised she left you, either.
‘What about your
sister, Mr McLaren?’
‘Ma sister? I din’t have a sister.’
‘Your wife’s sister, then? Someone saw your daughter
Monday afternoon with a woman. Not your wife?’
McLaren thought for a moment. ‘Aye, that ‘ud be
‘Mary Lamb. She's no longer ma wife and she's shacked up with someone
else right now. It wouldny have been Mary they saw her with, it’d be
Alice, I’m guessing. Mary is having it off wi’ the schoolteacher.'
McLaren gave a short laugh, almost a sneer. ‘Aye, this week she's with
Gordon Clark. She met him when we were at a works do a month or so ago.'
'You're separated, then?'
'Aye. Not officially, but yes, you could say that. She's changed her
name back to her maiden name, anyway. She's living on the estate: 35
Tamar Road. They call it the big hoose. Four bedrooms. I'd guess it was
no her they saw my Brenda with. I sent her out for some shopping
yesterday morning, but when she brought it back, she went off out
‘And this other lady? Alice?’
‘She’s staying wi’ me at the moment. Liverpool lass.’
‘Trent. Alice Trent. Been around a while. A few
‘Looking after you and your daughter?’
McLaren nodded curtly.
‘That address again, for Mary Lamb? Just in case…’
’35 Tamar Road.’
Constable Hutchinson made a note of the address in his notebook and
touched his helmet. ‘Good day Mr McLaren.’
‘Dinnae come back here without my wee girrul,’
McLaren said, and slammed the door shut.
Constable Hutchinson did not know Mary Lamb personally, especially if
she played away from home as often as it seemed, but his wife probably
would. He cycled back home, getting drenched in the process, and went
indoors. His wife, Vera, who was a year older than him, was preparing
the vegetables for their supper.
Arnold?’ she said, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek.
‘You’re wet through. Have you finished for the day? Your shift began at
six o’clock last night.’
She was petite, with
wavy blonde hair, and Arnold Hutchinson thought the world of her. She
was always apologising for the fact they were not able to have
children, but he was blissfully happy with his life with her. He adored
‘No, I have to go to the estate and see a Mary Lamb.’
‘You know her?’
‘Everyone knows her, Arnold. Except you, it seems. She keeps a red
light in her bedroom window, if you get my meaning.’
‘Oh. She and Brenda McLaren were seen together on Monday afternoon. She
may have been the last person to see her alive, well, as far as we know
Vera Hutchinson wiped her hands on her
apron and touched her husband on the arm. ‘It’s common knowledge that
Mary Lamb is Brenda’s real mother, although I’m not sure if even Brenda
herself knows it. Dougal McLaren took her in all those years ago and he
brought Brenda up as his own. Well, I say that, but of course, Doogie
is her dad, after all. He just wasn’t careful one night, that’s all.’
Hutchinson scratched his head. ‘So Dougal McLaren was one of Mary
Lamb’s customers, she had a baby by him and he took her in and raised
her. Is that what you’re saying? They were never married?’
‘It’s no wonder his women goes off with other men, you know,' Vera
said, ignoring the question. 'Doogie McLaren is a little handy with his
fists. I heard that Mary and her new man were planning on moving to
Churchdown. I don’t think she’s in the big house any longer, in fact
Jimmy Porter was going to drive her and all her stuff out at the
weekend in his van. She may still be knocking around, I’m not sure if I
saw her in the shops this morning or not. My mind was on other things.’
Arnold Hutchinson knew better than to ask what other things his wife
would have been thinking about. It was incumbent on him to find out if
Mary Lamb was still in the village, and if she was, he would let the
detectives know when they came back from the fair. It was no business
of his wife’s, though he valued her local knowledge and extensive
contacts, of course.
‘I’d better tell Maxwell so he can drive out to ask
‘Mind he doesn’t tell you to cycle out there. You’ll catch your death
of cold! Can you stop for a cup of tea?’
best get Mary Lamb out of the way. I’ll try the big house, then if
she’s not there Maxwell and Kimble can drive out to Churchdown. It
isn't far. Is Brenda McLaren the sort of girl to go off with someone,
do you think, Vera?’
Vera shook her head.
‘She’s a very nice girl. Not like her mother in that sense, not really
like Mary Lamb at all, they brought her up to be a decent sort of girl.
I believe they told her Mary Lamb was her auntie, but why else would
she be with her ?’
‘You said she may not be aware
that Mary Lamb is her birth mother? Maybe the woman herself can help
answer that question. If she really needs to know, like?’ And if she’s still alive,
he thought to himself. He had a bad feeling about Brenda McLaren which
he did not want to share with his wife.Not just yet. He hoped he would
be proved wrong during the course of the day.
‘What about Alice?’
Hutchinsons’ eyebrows raised a fraction. ‘Alice?’ he
‘Yes, Alice Longman. She’s supposed to be staying with Dougie these
past few months. I’m surprised you didn’t run into her. You really need
to ask her too. About Brenda, I mean. It could well have been her who
was with Brenda on Monday.’
‘I suppose you’re right. Yes, he mentioned Alice.
What do you know about her?’
‘All I can tell you is she’s a Liverpool lass, and she’s been keeping
Dougie company these past few months, ever since Mary walked out on
him. It’s maybe why she walked out on him in the first place.’
‘Just turned up, out of the blue, did she?’
‘Now, Arnold, how would I know where she came from or when? All I know
is she moved in with Dougie a couple of months back.’
‘Do they get on, do you know that? Alice Long and
Vera shook her head sadly. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know,
and that’s the truth. I could ask around…’
‘That might be a great help,’ her husband said, knowing that if anyone
could get to the bottom of these tangled webs, it was Vera, his beloved
‘I saw you over at the Thompsons’ house earlier. Was
young Michael any help at all?’
‘He saw them twice on Monday, Brenda with Alice, we
think. So far, he’s the last but one to see Brenda.’
‘Nice boy.’ A sudden thought occurred to her. ‘Does
that make him a suspect?’
‘Wouldn’t have thought so. He is a nice boy, that he
is. I’d best be going. What’s for tea?’
‘Sausage and mash. And gravy, and peas.’
Hutchinson beamed with genuine pleasure. Simple food, simple pleasures.
He bent to kiss Vera and went back out into the torrential rain.
‘There’ll be flooding down the lane if this keeps up,’ he said, and
climbed onto his bike. Ten minutes or so later, he was on the council
estate and parking in front of the “big house” in Tamar Road. It looked
deserted, but when he got no response to his knocking, he quietly
opened the side gate and found Mary with the man he assumed was Gordon
Clark in the garden shed, putting away some gardening tools.
'Mrs Mary Lamb? I'm Police Constable Hutchinson,
from down the road, Boverton Drive, the police house.'
'That would be me,' the woman said. She had red hair, and she reminded
Constable Hutchinson of Yvonne De Carlo, a film star he had never found
particularly attractive, preferring the more wholesome appearance of
his little wife. But he could see how such a woman would attract a
certain kind of man.
'And you would be Mr Gordon Clark? You're not
'I'm off on the sick right now,' Clark said, but Hutchinson just
snorted in scorn, for he could see absolutely nothing wrong with the
man, who was of medium height, with slicked-back black hair parted in
the middle, clean shaven and wearing horn-rimmed glasses. Still, that
was none of his business - and he was well aware that sickness was not
always just physical.
'I wanted to
ask you about your daughter. Your ex-husband reported her missing this
morning, and we're asking questions of all the people who saw her last.
It's possible she was with you yesterday. Can you say whether or not
you saw Brenda yesterday at all, Mrs Lamb?'
Lamb didn't hesitate for an instant. 'Yes, I saw her with Mrs Long at
the shops in the morning, and again around three in the afternoon. She
said she was going to the fair, and I was going home to get Gordon's
tea, so I watched her walk up Vicarage Road and then I didn't see her
'And you, Mr Clark? Did you see Brenda at all
Gordon Clark narrowed his eyes, as though
considering his response. 'No, I don't believe so.'
'I see. Well, thank you, both of you. I shall report back to the CID
boys and it's possible they may wish to talk to you again. I heard a
rumour that you were planning to move to Churchdown. If that is the
case, then I would be most grateful if you could let me have the
address so that I can pass it on?'
'The move fell
through and that's an end to it,' said Clark, and turned to walk back
into the house via the back door.
'Mrs Lamb? Have you anything to add to Mr Clark's
'We're not moving, Constable. Not moving, more's the
John Kimble pushed his trilby back off his forehead and surveyed the
scene at the fairground. A few punters were drifting around the stall,
one or two trying their hand at hoop-la, and others throwing darts
trying to spear the ten shilling notes, and always, always missing.
There were about twenty stalls in all, and half a dozen rides, not
including a couple of small roundabouts for the tots. Maxwell was
sitting in the car smoking his last cigarette, watching while Kimble
did all the work. Truth was, it was raining too hard. The sky was
black, there was a gian t rainbow over Cooper’s Hill, and it was
chucking it down. All Kimble wanted right now was to be sitting in the
Flying Machine with a pint and a fag, reading the Mirror.
What he did not want to be doing was poncing around in the pouring rain
asking a load of scrotty gippos questions about a girl he didn’t know.
‘You! Gippo!’ he said, calling to the scruffy boy on
the hoop-la stall. ‘Seen this girl?’
The boy shook his head.
‘Monday, she was here Monday. Have a good look at the photograph. Look
again. Have you seen her? Do you remember her from Monday? Christ, do
you even speak fucking English?’
The boy shook
his head again, and then opened his mouth. ‘Of course I speak English.
I ain’t no gippo, neither! I’m from Becontree, copper. My Dad’s a
cockney. No, I ain’t seen the girl. I weren’t on the stall Monday, I
was in the city.’
‘On the rob, I suppose? Who was on the stall?’
‘Me gran. She’s in the caravan. Over there, by the hedge.’ He jerked a
grimy thumb towards the hedge, beyond which were the school playing
fields. Kimble walked over to the grubby caravan, wondering what anyone
saw in these rip-off merchants running what they called a fun-fair. He
rapped on the door and went in.
Inside was a
fifty-year-old woman with peroxide blonde hair, looking more like a
West End tart than the Gypsy Petulengra the notice on the caravan door
proclaimed her to be.
‘Copper?’ she said, lighting a cigarette. Kimble
nodded shortly and removed his sopping trilby hat. How did she know? Was it written on his forehead or
something? He pushed
the photograph across the table.
‘Remember the girl? Word has it she was here Monday.’
‘Yes, I remember her. What of it? What’s she done?’
‘Not my problem.’
‘She could be your granddaughter!’
‘Granddaughter? Daughter, you mean! But she ain’t,
is she?’ Maybe not, but
sure as hell you’re too old to be her mother, thought Kimble.
‘See where she went?’
The woman shrugged her shoulders, allowing her shawl to slip down,
revealing the top of a tired, sagging breast. Kimble sucked in his
breath in disgust.
‘She was here, then she weren’t. I didn’t see where
she went. There were a lot of people here Monday.’
‘Was she with anyone?’
‘Black-haired woman. Could’a been her mother. I
‘Did they play the stall?’
‘Yes. She won a teddy bear.’
‘The girl or the woman?’
‘The woman. The girl was useless. We done here?’
‘I may be back.’
‘Please yourself. Next time, come not as a copper,
John Kimble was out of the caravan in a trice. He liked his women
wholesome, like his sister-in-law, Cicely, and like Marian had been.
Sweet-smelling and wholesome. Not old chain-smoking hags like
“Becontree Bertha”. He had hoped he’d got away from all that. He
grimaced and carried on with his enquiries. By the time he’d finished,
he had sworn statements from various stallholders that Brenda McLaren
had done the rounds, tried her luck at all of the stalls, been on all
of the rides, and had gone off on her own, back to Boverton Drive. The
red headed woman had gone a different way, towards the shops. Kimble
got back into the Wolseley, to find Maxwell asleep and snoring loudly.
He opened the window to let out the smell. It was one thing smoking in
a pub or in your own home, but in the car it was overpowering and
unpleasant. He had no idea why Maxwell would need to fall asleep in the
middle of the day, but then he didn’t know his boss’s personal
circumstances. Neither did he want to know them. To Kimble, Maxwell was
the boss, not a friend, and he didn’t know or care about the boss’s
private life. Right now, he needed his boss to be awake and helping,
not sleeping on the job. He coughed under his breath and the Chief
Inspector started awake, frowning.
‘She was seen
by just about everyone, made her way back to Boverton Drive around four
o’clock, Sir,’ Kimble said. ‘She was in the company of a black-haired
woman who went off in a different direction when they left the fair.’
‘Right. Call it a day here for now. We’ll get a search party organised
while it’s still light. Radio it in, get Hutchinson and as many men as
‘It’s pouring with rain!’
‘So we’ll get wet. The girl has been missing for over a day, Sergeant.
I’ve got a bad feeling we’re not going to find her alive! Get going.
You should find plenty of volunteers from the fun fair. Your nephew
should be keen enough – didn't you tell me he wanted to be a copper?’
'He's a busy lad, Sir. A Levels and all that. He may
be too busy...'
'It's the school holidays, Sergeant. He can spare a couple of hours
while it's still light, can't he? He probably knew the girl too.
Probably shagging her as well if the truth were known.' Kimble nodded.
He knew his nephew fairly well, and his passion for police work more or
less guaranteed that he would be really keen to join the search party
to help find his missing friend. He also knew that Mike Thompson was
still inexperienced when it came to sex, because they had discussed it,
something Mike felt he could not do with his own father.
‘Marco! You OK?’
Marco Russo looked up from his hospital bed. His olive skin was pale,
but he managed a grin as his best friend, Mike, sat down next to him.
‘Brought you a couple of books.’
‘Thanks. Not up to reading at the moment. Lost a lot
‘Who did it?’
‘Who did it? Who stabbed you?’
Marco shook his head. ‘I didn’t see.’
‘You must have!’
‘I need to sleep, Mikey.’
‘Just tell me?’
'I can't, Mikey! Don't ask me!'
'Is it over some girl?' Mike knew that Marco was far more advanced than
he was in the matter of sexual relations, knew that he was always
chatting up the girls, in the village, in the youth club... Marco's
eyes dropped, and Mike knew he had touched a nerve.
'Right, so someone stabbed you because of a girl?
Who was it?'
'I can't say...'
'I'm not going to say anything, am I? How long have
we been friends, Marco?'
Marco raised his sleepy eyes and met Mike's gaze.
'Promise you won't say anything?'
'Of course! You can trust me!' He leaned forward, but instead of saying
the name of the girl he'd been seeing, Marco shook his head and closed
his eyes. 'I need to sleep. Sorry... tell you tomorrow.' Mike would
have tried to get the name out of him, but a nurse happened to be
passing and put a finger to her lips to put a halt to the conversation,
and so he put the books on the bedside cabinet and slipped away into
the afternoon. Outside it had finally stopped raining and there was
blue sky. Leaving the Royal Infirmary, which was down by the docks, he
made his way up into the city, past the Cathedral and into Westgate
Street. The Boots branch he wanted was not the biggest of the two in
the city, and it was in Eastgate Street. But before he could cross the
square, he was hailed by one of his friends from school, Melvyn Morris.
‘Tiger!’ Melvyn said. They called him Tiger because on his first day at
school, when they had been sorted into classes, everyone had to have a
nickname. Michael didn’t know anyone else, being the only boy from
Brockworth to pass the eleven plus and go to grammar school in his
year, and he had never had a nickname. So they called him Tiger,
because he was forever going on about the stories and the characters in
his weekly comic, and it stuck. He wasn’t the most popular boy in his
class to begin with, but no one actively disliked him. Now that he was
stroke in the school rowing team, he commanded a respect that had not
been there at the outset. That, and the fact he was three inches taller
than the next tallest boy in the class, gave him an air of superiority
that he neither sought nor relished. But his popularity had soared in
recent months, especially since they had actually won a race in the
heats at the Henley Regatta last summer, and finished third overall,
enough to win him his colours. He felt certain that when the new school
term started in September, the Headmaster would call him into his
office and ask him to be a prefect. But that was months away.
‘We’re meeting up tomorrow morning at eleven in the Cadena Cafe. The
Prof has an idea to raise some more money for Oxfam,’ Morris said.
‘Go on,’ Michael said.
‘Hope’s dad says we can use his bath.’ Mike didn't particularly want to
get involved with anything that meant getting dirty...
‘Yes, he’s going to make a trailer for it, and we’re going to push it.
From Gloucester Town Hall to Cheltenham Town Hall. My dad can organise
a welcoming committee by the council, and we can get people to sponsor
us, and collect money on the way.’
‘Ok. I’m in. What do you need me to do?’
‘Well, it’s going to take some organising, so we thought we’d meet
tomorrow morning at ten in the Cadena and thrash out the details – who
does what and so on. Do you know any girls?’
a brief moment, Brenda McLaren’s face swam into view, but Mike shut it
out quickly. He didn’t want to think about her right now, because he
had an awful feeling something bad might have happened to her.
‘There’s Lynda. She’s at Ribston Hall.’ Lynda was the pretty brunette
whose family had moved down from Sheffield. She and Michael had hit it
off straight away in their last year at primary school, and there had
been some mild jealousy in the country dancing lessons, because Brenda
McLaren had up till then been his regular partner, but Lynda was a
better dancer, and Brenda had drifted away and found another partner.
Although he continued to see Brenda and Lynda in the village, or
occasionally in the City over the intervening years, neither were what
he would term “girlfriends”, but he thought Lynda would definitely be
up for a ride in a bath for charity, and that she probably had a
girlfriend from school who would also do it. It did not occur to him at
the time that Brenda would be found dead, and he thought he could also
ask her to ride in the bath. At any rate, when asked about girls for
the bath ride, the first name that remained in his head as a serious
candidate for the privilege of riding in the charity bath push was
‘D’you think she would sit in the bath while we push
‘I should think so.’ He didn’t really have a clue whether she would
agree to it or not, but now that he’d said it, he couldn’t lose face.
He would have to go to her house, seek her out, talk to her, ask her if
she was up for it. He wasn’t sure he could do that, but he had to try.
He was still awkward and shy around girls.
‘Right-oh. You sort out a couple of girls and we’ll all get together
tomorrow to talk it through. Hope’s dad thinks a couple of weeks to
sort out the trailer. We could have a band. Music! You play, don’t
you?’ David Hope was a relative newcomer to the county, having moved to
Newent from across the border in Wales, and as yet, the gang that hung
around together, and which included Mike, had not yet got around to
giving him a nickname. For the time being he was known only as “Hope”.
‘Yes. Guitar.’ Used to play the piano. Until the incident with the piano teacher at school.
‘Great! See you
‘Yes, see you.’
Mike made his way down Eastgate until he came to the small branch of
Boots that had once housed the Boots Lending Library. He went upstairs,
where there were benches laid out with secondhand books, and started to
rifle through them. The manager, Robert Speke, who had once gone out
with Michael’s sister, Pauline, recognised him instantly.
‘Mike! What are you looking for?’
Mike looked up from the books. ‘Frank Richards, mainly. There are some
Billy Bunters I still need for my collection.’
‘Haven’t got any today, sorry. Next week there may be some. One of the
Bristol branches is sending over some of their surplus books at the
weekend. The public libraries are taking over, and they don’t charge,
of course. Tried there?’
‘No, I really want it to
keep. What about Delano Ames?’ Dagobert and Jane Brown were his
favourite detectives right now, he’d read all the Saint and Toff books,
and Carter Dixon didn’t seem to have written any more Sir Henry
Merivale mysteries lately. Inspector West, another favourite, seemed to
have retired. Back then he didn’t know that the prolific John Creasey was
an alter alias of Carter Dickson and that both were pen names of John
Dickson Carr. Mike occasionally went into W H Smith opposite, and Bon
Marché also had a fairly good book and record section, but his
paper-round money didn’t usually stretch to new books. Not in the
quantity he wanted to buy them, that was. And wherever possible, he
liked his books to be new. He hated reading and owning dog-eared books
that looked like a dog had been chewing them. Not that he had anything
against dogs, of course. He loved dogs, and had always wanted one after
playing with the pub Alsatian and his Gran’s red border collie. But his
parents had always said “no”, that he had too much on his plate with
his paper round and his school work. Robert shook his head.
‘Sorry. Tried Smiths, opposite? They’ll order it for
‘I suppose so. I’ll have a look at the records in Bon Marché instead, I
think. They may have the new Bobby Darin – he’s gone all folksy, it’s
Michael spent the next two hours in the coffee bar, catching up with a
couple of schoolfriends, talking about music and films, and books. At
six o’clock he caught the bus home carrying his new LP. It indeed
seemed that Bobby Darin had gone folksy, jumping on the Pete Seeger
bandwagon. There were a couple of titles on the record that he
recognised, like “La Bamba”, and “Guantanamera”, and “The Er-i-ee Was
A’Rising”, but other than that, they were unknown songs. He started to
sing “La Bamba” to himself on the bus, and decided that if Detective
Inspector Maxwell and his Uncle John were organising a search party to
look for Brenda McLaren, then he should be part of it.
‘Right, everyone, listen up,’ Maxwell said, as Mike arrived at the
scene, having dumped his new record indoors on the gramophone. In front
of him, at the top of Vicarage Road, stood a motley crew of about
twenty men and a few boys, together with a couple of women. Two of the
boys were from the fun fair, a third was Tommy Hinkley, who’d seen
Maxwell gathering volunteers. The rain had finally stopped and a watery
sun was poking through the clouds. The black weather had moved off to
the north-west, towards the Welsh borders. The grey outline of the
Malvern hills was once again becoming visible.
‘Half of you with me, we’ll take the playing fields, the school
grounds, and the rough ground up to the Cheltenham road. The rest with
Sergeant Kimble, you’ll take this road,’ he said, indicating the lane
that ran out past the vicarage and on to Churchdown. ‘And the playing
fields. Spread out, but keep within shouting distance, and listen for a
police whistle. If you find anything, anything at all, tell Sergeant
Kimble or me, and we’ll take it from there. Constable Hutchinson?’
‘You’re to go back home, your shift has ended, and I
want you next to a phone in case we find anything.’
‘But I thought…’
‘Home, Constable, you’ve been on duty nearly twenty-four hours. Go
home, get a good meal inside you and you’ll be ready to assist in the
‘Very good, sir.’
‘Anyone have any questions before we set off?’
‘What if we don’t find her?’ someone said. Maxwell
didn't see who it was. It wasn't important, anyway.
‘Then tomorrow we’ll extend the search area to cover Cheeseroll Hill
and Cranham Woods. The last sighting of Brenda McLaren was at the fair,
and one of our witnesses saw her walk out of the field into Vicarage
Lane and turn right towards Churchdown.’
‘What about outbuildings? Sheds, and the like?’
‘If the owner’s around, ask permission. If not, and you suspect
something, kick it down – if it’s locked, that is. Try to open it
without kicking it down first, obviously! Right. Everyone set? Let’s
Some bright spark coming up at the rear of
Kimble’s group asked what they were looking for, and he was told in no
uncertain terms that they were looking for a girl, and he made some
fatuous riposte that was lost in the scrum as the group split into two
and moved off. Tommy Hinkley and Michael kept close to Kimble, and
Tommy struck up a conversation with him as they went out into the open
countryside beyond the vicarage. Mike hung back a little so that he
could just catch what they were saying.
‘Do you think we’ll find her tonight?’
‘Tommy, chances are, chances are. The last sighting of her was at the
fun fair, then headed this way, so maybe, maybe we will. I hope we
don't,’ he added under his breath.
‘Used to be friendly they did. At school. Your
nephew, Mikey, and Brenda.’
‘Primary school, you mean, Tommy?’
‘Yes. When he was sick all over the floor, me and Brenda took him down
to the nurse. She was his girlfriend then.’
‘That was a while ago, though, Tommy. Seven or eight
years, wouldn’t you say?’ How
could anyone think that little primary school kids could be boyfriend
and girlfriend? They were just kids, knocking around together, playing
tag, skipping, playing ball, that sort of thing. Little kids like that
weren’t boy and girlfriends in that way, Kimble surmised. Maybe he just didn’t want to think that his nephew could
be in any way involved in the disappearance of Brenda McLaren.
‘As far as I know, Mikey doesn’t have a girlfriend.’
‘T’woulda been her, though, if he did.’
‘What are you trying to say, Tommy? Something we
‘No, nothing like that. Me and Mike get on famously.
Just saying, that's all?’
Morgan’s Farm swam into view as they crested a rise in the road. Kimble
remembered the night it had burnt down. He’d been dozing, his newspaper
on his lap, when Michael had burst in through the back door and alerted
them all to the fact that there was a fire, an enormous haystack fire,
at the farm just up the road. He’d followed his nephew to the top of
the road and into Vicarage Lane, where the sky was lit up by the
flames, some a good fifty feet high. Already they could hear the fire
engine’s bell as it lumbered past the vicarage. A good crowd of people
were gathered to watch. Thankfully Mr Morgan and his family were all
accounted for, and the farmhouse was untouched by the fire.
‘Anyone you think should be
under surveillance in the village, Tommy? You must see things, working
in the shop. Talking to people. Watching people.’
‘Yeah, that’d be right.’
‘Well? Did you see Brenda McLaren with anyone during
the last few days?’
‘Nope. No one. But you should be keeping an eye on
Eddie Mason. He’s a right wrong-un, that one.’
‘We’ve got our eyes on Eddie Mason, Tommy, just a matter of time. What
do you know about him?’ Eddie Mason was the caretaker at the primary
school, an ex-serviceman with a penchant for young boys. Primary
school-aged boys. Kimble was well aware of Eddie Mason.
‘I know he likes little boys, Sergeant Kimble. Seen
‘em going into his house, I have. Not natural, that ent.’
‘No indeed. But we have nothing on him, you see. Not yet, not yer.
Anyway, let’s concentrate now, we’re out in the open fields. This is
where we should be concentrating.’
Tommy Hinkley nodded sagely, still thinking about
Eddie Mason definitely preferred boys. He had discovered this whilst
serving in the army doing his National Service. He was by no means
effeminate or weedy, but rather well-built, muscular but lean, a shade
over five feet ten inches tall, and very handsome, with light brown
hair cropped to a neat short back and sides, and a beard and moustache
that gave him a suavity that spoke of experience. He was thirty-five
years old, and had already done a short stretch for propositioning a
couple of young boys in the public conveniences next to the Spread
Eagle Hotel in the city. He’d tried it with a girl, once, when he was
younger, and it had done nothing for him. For the past eight years he’d
had a job at the primary school as the caretaker, and occasionally
found a boy that took his fancy, used and abused him for a couple of
months, then moved on to the next victim. The boys kept quiet about it
out of shame, and no one was any the wiser. And Eddie went regularly to
confession, so that was okay. When he confessed to abusing small boys,
the priest didn’t turn a hair, and Eddie got the impression that maybe
he also had a fondness for young boys.
went for the older boys, the ones coming up to eleven-plus age, because
they tended not to want to lose face around their friends. Over the
years he’d built up a small business for himself, supplying willing ten
and eleven-year olds to clients after he’d finished with them. There
were three boys in particular who’d do anything for money, for the
thrill of sexual experience of any kind, and many others who avoided
him like the plague, even shouting out “homo” whenever he was far
enough away that he couldn’t catch them. If it happened in front of a
teacher or a dinner lady, he’d assume the role of a humble, broken man,
an ex-serviceman who’d fallen on hard times and the children were just
picking on him and being cruel to him, calling him unfounded names and
generally being nasty. So far, he’d got away with it. Those three boys
were making tidy sums of money, Eddie Mason was a relatively rich man,
and everyone was happy. There were some boys you simply didn’t ask, of
course. The ginger twins were two of the hardest nuts in the village,
and they’d threatened him with physical violence if he approached them.
And the boy that lived next door to the ginger twins, Michael Thompson,
he had also given him short shrift.
Tommy bent to
the task of examining the area around him. As they came within sight of
Morgan’s Farm and the Five Trees crater, it occurred to him that they
should steer clear of the boggy morass, but something urged him towards
it, and in the fading light, he caught sight of a naked foot. As he
scrambled down the bank, the rest of Brenda’s body came into view, and
he let out a strangled cry, attracting Kimble’s attention. Kimble
followed him and the others started to converge on the body. Michael
knew he should have joined them, wanting to be a policeman and
everything, but he couldn't bring himself to go down to where the body
of Brenda McLaren lay in the undergrowth. This was too close to home.
Only yesterday he'd been having a normal, pleasant conversation with
her, had even been close to asking her out. He started back along the
lane towards home, joining a group of other villagers that Kimble had
told to leave the scene to avoid contamination.
Tommy had known Brenda was there all along, of course. Even so, it came
as something of a shock as he realised they were actually going to find
her and put into motion the procedures to catch her killer. He wished
he had said something earlier, when he had first found her, but it was
too late for recriminations. What was done, was done.
‘Forensics are up at the farm now, where we found the body. Where Tommy
Hinkley found the body, that is. Went straight to it, he did. I'm
surprised he didn't have that spaniel of his with him, but there you
go. That was delicious, Cissy,’ Kimble said, downing his pint of brown
ale and patting his stomach. He had turned up in Boverton Drive for his
dinner because Gran, Cissy’s Mum, had one of her turns and was having a
lie down. Cissy had been round to see to her mother, and settled her
down with a drink and some toast, switched on the radio, found her book
– a Frances Parkinson Keyes – and her spectacles. She had offered to
call Doctor Cookson but her Mum, Florence Jeffers was old school. It
was nothing serious, and she would be right as rain come morning as
long as Cissy could see to Johnny’s tea. It was something that happened
quite often these days, but then Florence was in her seventies and
although her faculties were all there, her physical defects were
beginning to manifest themselves.
is brother-in-law, Albert Thompson, lit a cigarette
and relaxed in his armchair, opening the Daily Telegraph. Kimble,
as always, had the Daily
Mirror, turning his nose up at the Telegraph, because his
dead wife’s and Cissy’s father, Leo Kimble, had been chairman of the
local labour party, and everyone knew the Telegraph was
a tory paper. Albert and John Kimble had been best friends ever since
Bethnal Green. In the years before the war, both families had moved out
to Gloucestershire, both settling in Brockworth, in the new villa-style
three-bed semis that were going up in Boverton Drive and Boverton
Avenue. Albert started work in the Gloster Aircraft Factory in
Hucclecote Road, the factory where they now made the Gloster Javelin,
though production had all but ceased, and there were rumours that the
factory was about to close. John had transferred from the Liverpool
Police Force to Gloucester, bringing Marian back into the fold of the
Thompson family. When war was finally declared, Albert found himself in
a reserve occupation and the factory was turned over to the making of
armaments, while John and his brother Eric had joined the Royal
Gloucestershire Regiment. Later in the conflict, John had transferred
to the air force and flown flying boats along the Mediterranean in
coastal command while Eric saw action in the Middle East. Now John and
Eric lodged with Cissy’s mother, Florence, in the Avenue, in the house
she had bought with her husband, Arthur Jeffers, now deceased. It was
an arrangement that suited everyone just fine. Florence and Arthur had
been the first to move from London to Brockworth, and sent word that
the houses were cheap to buy, even cheaper to rent, and it was a decent
neighbourhood. The rest of the family followed suit. There were two
more of Cissy’s brothers now living in other parts of the village, and
an elderly aunt and uncle on the opposite side of the Avenue.
Mike lay on the floor in the front room, listening to his new Bobby
Darin LP while the others relaxed in the dining room. Cissy had laid a
fire in both rooms, and was now busying herself with the washing up.
Pauline was out with Ronald, her boyfriend, on his motorbike.
‘We found the girl,’ Kimble said. ‘She’s dead, I’m
Mike’s ears pricked up, and he went through to the
'Hallo Mike. Sorry, that can't have been pleasant for you.' Mike had
read enough police memoirs to know how it would end for poor Brenda
McLaren. She had been happy enough when he spoke to her. Not even a
hint of depression or a falling-out with her family that might have led
her to run away. He did not know, of course, that she had been seeing
Kimble lit a cigarette.
‘Oh, dear. I must go and see poor Mrs McLaren,’
‘You won’t find her. There isn’t one at the moment. She went off with
George Clark, changed her name back to Mary Lamb,’ Kimble said. ‘That
Liverpool lass, Alice Long is staying with Dougie, but we haven't seen
her yet, and I've a feeling she's away too.’ Cissy raised her eyebrows
but said nothing. It confirmed what she had thought herself.
‘How did she die, Uncle John?’ Mike asked.
‘Can’t say, lad. Not yet. There’ll have to be a post mortem. Can’t tell
you anything until that’s completed. You know how it is.’
‘Was she murdered?’ Mike persisted, hoping that Brenda’s death
might have been some horrific accident.
John Kimble eyed his nephew silently, unsmilingly.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Oh, dear God!’ Cissy whispered. ‘John, no!’
‘I’m afraid so. I can’t tell you how it happened, but I can tell you
that she didn’t take her own life, and she didn’t have an accident. It
will be in the local paper tomorrow, of course, minus the gory details,
but it’s more than my job’s worth to tell you anything right now.
Maxwell will have my guts for garters if he knew I’d told you anything!’
‘But we’re family!’ Cissy said, although she didn’t really want to know
how the poor girl had died, or, for that matter, where they’d found
her. No, she didn’t, not really. Michael, by contrast, wanted to know
everything, not because he was close to Brenda, though he had been, all
those years ago, but because his mind was turning over like a
detective’s would. He wanted to be a detective, and he needed to know
these things, and now he wished he had stayed at the scene with Tommy
and his Uncle, wished he had hung around while the forensic officers
did their stuff, sifted through the undergrowth and the surrounding
area, looking for clues.
If his uncle, who was a
respected policeman, couldn’t tell him anything, who could? But his
uncle was not to be moved. He had his orders, and that was that.
Someone switched on the wireless and Beyond Our Ken came
on, but no one was in the mood to listen to the antics of Kenneth
Horne, Betty Marsden, Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, side-achingly
funny though they were. The conversation drifted off into silence, and
then Mike thought about Brenda’s father.
dad, though,’ he said. He went quietly outside and mounted his bicycle.
The ride to the Hucclecote Road took him just five minutes. His Raleigh
four-speed went like the wind now that he had the power in his legs
that rowing had given him. He knocked on the McLarens’ door, and a
moment later Dougal McLaren opened it. His eyes were red and wet from
crying. He had what looked like a glass of whisky in his hand.
‘What d’ye want, boy?’
‘I’m sorry about Brenda,’ Michael
Mike could see that Mr McLaren was mostly sober, which made a change
from the usual. Sometimes he would see McLaren staggering home the
worse for wear at five in the morning, having spent the night on a park
bench or in the bus stop outside Mr Lees’s newsagent’s shop. He was
undeserving of any respect. But he couldn’t help but feel sorry for him
now, in this darkest of times. He followed the small, wiry Scotsman
into the lounge, where a small nine-inch television in a large walnut
case was showing a variety programme. A copy of tonight’s Gloucester Citizen lay
on the chair next to the television, open at the racing results.
‘The detective was here earlier wi’ the news about Brenda. The tall
one. Ye were at school wi’ her, I’m thinkin’.’
‘Yes. She was my partner.’
‘Partner?’ McLaren squinted at him through his
small, beady eyes. Michael knew he had been crying.
‘In country dancing. I saw her yesterday in Boverton
‘Aye, I know. Constable Hutchinson told me that.’
‘I’m really sorry, Mr McLaren. I’m really sorry.’
‘Aye,’ said Dougal McLaren, and sitting down, he
started to weep.
‘Are you on your own?’ Michael said.
‘There’s Brenda’s aunty, Alice. She’s staying with her sister tonight,
she’ll be hame tomorrow. But no fer long. She’ll be back up to
Liverpool at the weekend for a few days. Aye, now that wee Brenda’s
gone, and her mam’s gone, I’m on ma own. Just the dog and me. You get
off, laddie. Thanks fer comin’ round.’
‘I’d like to go to the funeral.’
‘Aye, I’ll let ye know when it’s tae be. I know yer
Da. I see him in the pub. I’ll gi’ him a message.’
Mike let himself out and cycled back home. His father was listening to
the radio, something on the Third Programme, while his mother and his
uncle were chatting in the dining room. A copy of Aldous Huxley’s Heaven and Hell was
on his dad’s lap, open but face down, creasing the spine. Michael
shuddered. He could not bear to see books, new or old, ill-treated like
that. John Kimble had another pint of brown ale before him, his fourth
of the day. Where did he put it all, Michael wondered. That was another
thing to admire about Uncle John. He could drink and drink and drink
and somehow still be alert the next day to do his police work. The man
was amazing, a true-life hero to a teenaged lad. Michael had tried
their beer at last year’s Christmas party and really didn’t like it.
Moreover, he knew first-hand what drink did to you, and he wasn’t sure
he wanted to go down that route. Admiring someone who could hold their
drink was one thing, but the more he thought about it, it wasn’t
something he wanted to do himself. Like smoking. The house was always
full of smoke. His mother, father and older sister all smoked, and the
air in the house was sometimes thick with it, so much so that it was a
relief to get out of the house into the fresh air. He hadn’t tried
smoking, but knew intuitively that he wouldn’t like it. What he did
like, however, was the image of himself as a famous detective, wearing
a trilby hat and smoking a pipe. It would have to be an empty pipe, of
course, just for show.
‘Eric’s coming down at the weekend,’ John said.
‘Oh, good, that’ll be nice. Mike, where were you? I
wanted you to go next door and get me a pint of milk.’
‘I’ll go now,’ Mike said, and popped next door to where Mr Gillespie,
the milkman, was just locking his cold room.
‘Mum says could she have a pint, please, Mr
‘Ah, Michael, just in time, just in time. Bad
business, this, eh?’
‘The young girl. Young Brenda.’
‘Oh, yes.’ He hadn’t realised that anyone else would know yet. He
thought it might be privileged information, because his uncle was a
detective, but it seemed word had got round the village already. This
was hardly surprising. All of the men in the search parties, apart from
the policemen, were from the village, and would have told their friends
and families all about it. He took the pint of milk and went back home.
He still had studying to do, but he couldn’t think about his exams and
Milton’s Paradise Lost was off limits right now, he knew he wouldn't be
able to concentrate. Not when there was a murder to think about. Things
like that didn’t happen here, in Brockworth, and certainly not to
someone you knew.
When he got in he listened to
something on the radio with his mum and dad, while Uncle John snored
quietly in the dining room, and then at eight o’clock he went up to
bed. Looking through the window he could see the lights on in the house
behind, and one of the girls was sitting there, in her own bedroom
window. He wondered if she had been waiting for him, and gave her a
wave. To his amazement, she waved back. She stood up, and he could see
that she was wearing a thin cotton dressing gown. She had probably just
had a bath, but it was rather early for her to be thinking about going
to bed, he thought. He’d seen her close up, in the street, on the way
to the shops with her sister, and she really was very pretty indeed.
Not the girl he intended to marry, he knew that intuitively, but she
was attractive, all the same. He wondered what her name was.
Unbelievably, she was undoing the wrap, and he watched, silently, as
she let it slip to the floor, revealing the naked, milky creaminess of
her young breasts and the pure virgin white of her knickers. Then,
abruptly, she dropped to the floor to pick up the wrap, put it back on
and pulled the curtains across, pursing her lips together and blowing
him a kiss as the curtains closed. He hoped against hope the striptease
had been intended for him and not for the slightly older twins next
door, because they, too, slept at the back of the house, but then he
knew for a fact they were out for the evening. He thought one of the
twins next door might have asked her out, and been knocked back. Now
here she was, giving him his own private show. He could see her sister,
sitting on the bed, watching and smiling, and he wished, suddenly, that
their own back garden wasn’t so long, for then he might have had an
even better view. And why hadn’t he bought those binoculars he’d
promised himself? But then, how would it look if he was watching the
girl undress for him through a pair of binoculars?
Mike Thompson did what any normal teenaged boy would do under the
circumstances. He reached inside his pants to free his straining
erection, and brought himself off in the privacy of his own room, while
his uncle and his father listened to the radio, and Annie and his
mother sat in the dining room with a jigsaw. Then, after cleaning
himself up in the bathroom, he put on his bedside lamp, picked up the
book he was currently reading, a Pan Giant version of Mazo de la Roche’s Young Renny, and
settled down to immerse himself in the world of Jalna. His favourite
character was Renny himself, although he quite fancied being called
Piers. That would never do at school, though. The boys in his class
would call him “queer” which more or less rhymed with Piers, or “homo”.
Piers was no name for a self-respecting teenaged lad in the early
1960s. He knew about Piers Ploughman, the narrative poem by William
Langland, they had tackled it briefly in his sixth form English
Literature class, but Piers wasn’t a name for now, it was a name for
He tried not to think about Brenda McLaren.
Someone would have had to tell Mr McLaren his daughter was dead. The
tall detective, he had said. That would have been DCI Maxwell. That
couldn’t have been an easy thing to do, but he imagined it was all
covered in the training, telling relatives sad news, like how their
daughter was dead, and that she’d been murdered. At nine o’clock he put
his book away and settled down to sleep, knowing he had to get up at
five tomorrow to mark the papers and to do his own paper round and any
others that were left if any of the delivery boys and girls didn’t turn
up, which happened surprisingly often. In a few hours’ time he had to
approach Lynda Bamber and ask her if she would be interested in taking
part in the charity bath push in readiness for the meeting with the
gang at the Cadena Café. Sleep came easy, despite what had happened
that day. He dreamed of Lynda Bamber, of Brenda McLaren, the latter
coming to him like you saw in those romantic films, running, arms wide,
waiting to fall into his and clasp him to her bosom.
He awoke once, at three o’clock, sweating profusely. He got out of bed
and looked out of the window. It was raining again, and the smell of
damp vegetation from his father’s vegetable patch in the back garden
wafted up through the window. There was a light on in the house behind
his, but the curtains were drawn. He went back to bed again, resolving
to change his room around tomorrow, to put his bed underneath the
window so that he could sit in bed and watch the striptease in comfort,
if it happened again, that was. He drifted off to sleep again, wishing
he had been able to say something nice to Brenda before she went to her
death. Not much consolation for her, he thought, but he was sad to
think of her dying alone. Just before his alarm clock went off, he sat
bolt upright, with his mind fixed on one thing, and one thing alone. He
was going to track down Brenda’s killer and help bring them to justice.
To be continued in the
October 2021 issue...
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll let you know where to send it.
o n t e n t s:
The Front Page
& Science Fiction
The Silent Three
The Four Marys
Growing up in the 1950s
Living with Skipper
Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes
Sundays with Tarzan
The Back Page
selection of the kind of books Mike Thompson would have had in his
collection in 1963. The portraits of Dirk Bogarde and Yoko Tani on THE
WIND CANNOT READ above are of photographic quality, and quite