October 2021 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
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Continues in this issue: The Silent Three by Paul Norman

   



The Silent Three - A Murder Mystery

 
By Paul Norman

Chapter Six

Wednesday

       Marco Russo was discharged from Gloucester Royal Infirmary after the doctor’s rounds at nine o’clock, and his mother and father took him home on the number 54 Painswick bus. As they got off the bus, he saw Michael Thompson briefly, in the distance, cycling home from the newsagent’s, wearing his long mac and his bowler hat against the driving rain, and then he was back in the hut where there was a roaring fire and strong, hot coffee and toast. It was not long before Constable Hutchinson was knocking at the door of the black nissen hut, and within a minute or two, he was sitting at the table with his notebook open.
       ‘Now then, Marco, lad, I’m glad to see you’re on the road to recovery, but we still have some questions for you. You can stay, Mr and Mrs Russo, there’s nothing you shouldn’t hear. Marco, I need you to tell me when you were stabbed, and if you know who did it. In your own time, lad. When you’re ready.’
       Marco took a swig of coffee and coughed.‘It was Tuesday morning, early, still dark. I was walking in the field where the fun fair is. There’s a stream runs by the hedge, and a small wooded area.’
       ‘I know it.’
       ‘I saw some boys playing there, and stopped to ask them what they were doing. They ran off. When I looked, they were burying something. A sack of kittens. They were all dead. I started to cover them back over, and then they came back, two of them, and jumped on me. One of them pushed my face down in the mud, and the other stood over me. “You didn’t see anything, you filthy wop!” he said, then out of the corner of my eye I saw a knife in his hand, and I started to struggle, but he stabbed me in the leg. I passed out with the pain, and they ran off, I guess. When I woke up, it was about nine o’clock. I managed to stagger home and Momma stopped the bleeding for a time, then it started up again and suddenly got worse. That’s when you came.’
       ‘You knew these boys?’
       ‘Not the second lot, and I’m not even sure they were the same boys.’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       ‘The boys I saw burying the sack with the kittens, they were small. Ten, maybe, eleven. The two that came back and attacked me, they were older. Eighteen, maybe even older. I didn’t recognise them. Not from the village. Not from the fair, either. I know the boys at the fair. They were older than me, anyway.’
       ‘So you think the smaller boys ran off to tell the bigger boys and the bigger boys came and stabbed you?’
       ‘Only one of them stabbed me.’
       ‘Yes, of course.’
       ‘They were all dead. Seven little kittens!’ Marco said, and there were tears in his eyes. Constable Hutchinson reached across the table and patted the boy’s hands.
       ' ll right, lad. We’ll get to the bottom of this. Don’t you worry. You say you didn’t recognise any of the boys? Any of them? Either of them?’
       ‘Probably from another village, just knocking about. Just boys.’
       Constable Hutchinson wrote all of this down in his notebook, then closed it and put it in his top pocket. ‘Thank you, Marco. Mr Russo, I still have your gun, and I’m going to hang onto it for the time being. I don’t think there’s any need for anyone to know about it, for now. I’m going to cycle up to the fun fair and see what I can see. You rest up here, Marco, and take it easy. I’m sure you’ll be back on your feet in no time. There’s just one more thing. Did you run into the missing girl, Brenda McLaren on Monday at all? We have a witness who says she saw you with her, but she’s not at all clear when that was. Do you know Brenda? I mean, did you know Brenda?’
       Marco’s eyes widened and he blushed.
How much did they know about him and Brenda? He decided to play it safe. ‘Sure, I know her, she lives just down the road in the main road. She was quite friendly to me. Not everyone is, you know?’
       ‘No, I suppose not,’ said Constable Hutchinson, uncomfortably. ‘When did you last see her, Marco?’
       ‘I don’t really remember when it was – a week ago, perhaps. Why? What’s happened to her? Is she in trouble?’
       ‘I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, she’s dead. Murdered. Her body was found out by the five trees up by Morgan's Farm yesterday evening.’
       Marco looked at his parents. His mother was trying to choke back tears. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t see her on Monday at all,’ he said, choking back the tears whilst still playing it safe. And he hadn’t, but he had seen her more recently than a week ago. He was certain no one had seen them together. It had been early Sunday morning when he had crept out of the back door of Brenda McLaren’s house and made his way back home. Not even Michael, his best friend, knew about that. And then, after he had been stabbed, he had gone and hid in a barn up Green Lane, waiting for the bleeding to stop, and then limped home and made up the story about being stabbed by the boys. There was no way he could tell the police or his parents about the man who had threatened to kill his parents, even though Brenda had now been found.
       He desperately wanted the policeman to leave, and for his parents to go out somewhere and leave him alone to deal with his grief. Brenda had been a year or two older than him, but they had been in love, and she had been his first. They had met a month or so ago, at the youth club, and he had offered to walk her home after they had missed the last bus.
       Brenda had been immediately captivated with the charming, dark-haired Latin boy, who looked a little like a young Al Martino, the famous crooner, and a day or two later, with her father out at the pub and unlikely to come home at all, they had gone up to her room and petted. Four more occasions after that they had done it again, not having full sex, but exploring each other’s bodies, kissing and cuddling, and Brenda was utterly, completely infatuated with him. He had never told her he was younger than her, but she would not have cared anyway. He was the archetypal Latin lover, the boy of her dreams, and she wrote in her diary every night, sometimes in code, so that anyone finding it would not have a clue what she was writing about, but then again, when she couldn’t express herself properly in code, she wrote in plain English. Having first seen him at the youth club with a group of boys who were apparently not that interested in the girls, she had fallen for his dark good looks. She could not contain herself any longer, and turned back to the day in her diary she had met him at the youth club. She wrote: “Saw the boy of my dreams in the indoor market. He lives right here, in Brockworth! He didn’t notice me, so I’ll have to make him. I wonder when I’ll see him again.” That had not been difficult, he had walked her home from the youth club and within a month they had become lovers, albeit inexperienced ones.
       Constable Hutchinson dragged everyone back to the present day. ‘Right. So Mrs Gilmore is right when she said she saw you together, but it was not on Monday. Is that correct, Marco?’
       ‘Yes, it was one day last week. Not this week, no.’
       ‘Right then. I have one more question for you and then I’ll leave you to get some rest. Why were you out walking so early?’
       Marco glanced across at his parents. ‘I was coming home. I’ve been seeing a girl on the council estate.’
       ‘Marco!’ his father roared, leaping to his feet.
       ‘Now then, Mr Russo, no need for any of that.’
       ‘Sorry, Poppa. I sneaked out of the hut when you were asleep. We spent the night together in her bedroom.’ The lies were coming thick and fast, now, tripping off his tongue. He didn’t know how many more lies he needed to come up with to throw them off the track, away from the truth, but he was certain they didn’t know he was lying. Not yet.
       ‘Marco, Marco, you are too young!’ his mother said, gathering him in her arms.
       ‘Sorry, Momma. I didn’t mean to let you down.’
       ‘What’s her name?’
       ‘Julia.’
       ‘I forbid you to go to her again!’ Mr Russo said.
       ‘Giuseppe! Basta! Is enough!’ Valentina Russo said. ‘Make a-some more tea. Constable Hutchinson?’
       ‘Not for me, thank you. I’ll leave you to it. I’ll tell my superiors to start looking for these boys. If you can think of anything about them that might lead me to them, please let me know. You know where I live.’ Marco watched the policeman leave the hut. He tried to meet his mother’s eyes but had to look away. The whole story about the boys burying the kittens in the copse was a pack of lies from start to finish. It hadn’t been boys from the fun fair that had confronted and stabbed him, and it hadn’t been boys from another village either. But how could he tell his parents or the police who had done it, or why? They’d threatened to kill his parents if he told anyone, and he loved his parents dearly.. But he couldn’t tell them that. If he did, his parents were dead. That had been the threat, and he had believed them. So he made up the story about the boys and the kittens, and kept his mouth shut about what had really happened. Even Dougal McLaren didn’t know, and that was the way it was going to stay. They were everything to him, and he wasn’t going to lose them.

       DCI Maxwell and Sergeant Kimble returned to the village, looking for Hutchinson, but he was doing his rounds, of course, interviewing people who might have seen Brenda after Michael Thompson. There was no suggestion that the two events were connected in any way, so they settled to their own investigations.
       The woman everyone thought was Brenda's aunt, Alice Long, was not really an aunt at all, but just a woman friend of Dougal’s. At the McLaren home in Hucclecote Road, they found her sweeping the stairs. At first they did not know that she was the “aunt” Brenda had been seen with, but this came out in conversation over a much needed cup of tea and a digestive biscuit. 

       Alice Long was in her late thirties. She was a Liverpudlian with a strong Scouse accent, and John Kimble immediately found her extraordinarily attractive. His home town, in North Wales, Rhyl, was close enough to Liverpool for the great city to attract him. It was there he had met and married Marian before graduating south to Gloucester. He’d served for a time in the Liverpool force, and still had contacts there, some of them a bit dodgy. Now he found himself sitting opposite a stunning blonde Scouser with breasts the size of melons that were straining to get out of the confines of her pinafore, and she appeared only to be wearing a thin cotton blouse beneath that. He offered her a cigarette but she said no, she didn’t smoke.
       Good, he thought. I hate the smell of fags on a woman. He didn’t smoke himself, not in public, but he always kept a pack in his coat. It often helped when it came to getting information from a grass or a witness.
       ‘How do you come to know Dougie McLaren?’ he asked. Maxwell looked at him sharply, but said nothing.
       ‘Friend of the family. Me Mam’s Scottish. We came south looking for work.’
Like me, Kimble thought. Like me when things started to get a little hot in Liverpool.
       ‘And found Dougie McLaren wanting a woman because his wife had run off with another man?’ Maxwell said with a hint of sarcasm. She looked at him with a blank expression.
       ‘Yeah, that’d be right.’
       ‘I’d like to know when you last saw Brenda,’ Maxwell said.
       ‘Monday.’
       ‘Monday morning?’
       ‘Yeah. We went to the shops in Court Road. Got some groceries in that new Co-op supermarket. Then we walked home down Boverton Drive and through the Avenue, back here. She went off to look for someone, a friend. I didn’t see her after that.’
       ‘Why not go down Green Street? It would have been quicker, wouldn’t it?’
       ‘She wanted to see her Mam on the way home, in Tamar Road, but she wasn’t in. The neighbours said she’d gone away for a few days, with her other man, as you put it.’
       ‘And she never came home?’
       ‘No. Look, I swear I had nooth’n to do with it!’
       ‘No one’s accusing you, Mrs Long,’ Maxwell said.
       ‘I just feel responsible, like.’
       ‘Not your fault. We’ll find out who did this, don’t you worry,’ said Kimble, patting her hand and standing up so he could get a better look down the front of her pinafore. And to hide the uncomfortable bulge in his trousers. ‘We’ll be in touch.’
       ‘I don’t think we’re quite finished here, Sergeant,’ his DCI said, shooting him a venomous look. He could see where things were going between his sergeant and the Scouse woman. Now that his wife was dead, John Kimble had become a notorious womaniser, and it had not gone unnoticed by his colleagues. ‘Sit back down, if you please. Mrs Long, can you tell us if Brenda was happy?’
       Alice Long gave him a puzzled look. ‘What do you mean?’
       ‘Was she a happy girl? Settled? Her mother was gone, you’d moved in to live with her and her father. Did you all get on?’
       The house was large, expansive, open, but very dark and gloomy inside. The décor had not been touched for several years, and there was plaster in desperate need of replacing and the whole place could do with a lick of paint. A visit to the small handyman’s shop in Vicarage Lane would not go amiss. They stocked a fair amount of wallpaper, paint and other decorating sundries, but Maxwell guessed that McLaren was not that well off. There was a small television in the lounge, he’d noticed that much, but the floor was covered in dirty, cracked lino, and there was no sign of a rug anywhere in the house. The kitchen, where they now sat, had a sink and a wooden draining board, and an elderly gas cooker. There was a pantry, and while they were talking he thought he heard the skittering of mice in there. He also thought he could detect a faint whiff of gas. The cooker looked like it was on its last legs, and hadn’t been properly cleaned for a while.
       ‘I’m going back home at the weekend for a short stay, just to catch up with me mam and me da. I’ll be back next week in time for the funeral of course. I don’t know if Dougal will want me around now his Brenda’s gone, but yes, I’d say so, as a family we would all have got on. But now she’s gone, there’s nothing to keep me here,’ Alice said. ‘Him and me weren’t that close, yer know?’ Maxwell glanced across at his Sergeant, who could not take his eyes off Alice Long’s magnificent breasts.
Why stay with him in the first place, then? he thought, but said nothing. Men and women often got together for the most bizarre of reasons. Maybe Alice Long had been brought in to help look after Brenda, a growing schoolgirl. Dougal McLaren could well have been out of his depth when it came to young girls. Maybe Alice and Dougal weren’t lovers, but she acted more as a housekeeper. Who knew? He didn’t think it was relevant to this enquiry so he didn’t pursue it for the time being.
       ‘Could we see her bedroom, please?’ Maxwell said.
       ‘Why?’
       ‘It’s standard procedure. I’d like to see if she keeps a diary or anything. Something that might give us a clue as to where she was going on Monday after she’d finished the shopping runs for her Dad.’
       ‘I told yer, she was goin’ to look for her Mam, Mary.’
       ‘If she has a diary, she might have written the friend's name in there. Could you please show us to her bedroom?’
       'Top of the stairs, first on the right,’ Alice said. ‘I need to get on. Dougie will be home soon for his lunch. And I need to get to the shops for some sausages. Then I need to start packing my stuff.’
       Maxwell beckoned to Kimble to follow him, and they made their way to the landing. ‘First on the right, she said,’ Maxwell murmured as he pushed open the door. It was a surprisingly large room. There was a bed, a bedside cabinet, and a utility wardrobe. In the dormer window there was a dining chair. On the wall was a set of shelves containing a handful of books. On the floor was Brenda’s satchel. The bed was neatly made, all her school books were on it, as though she might have been working on her homework the last time she’d sat in there. Her school uniform, the blue and yellow of Ribston Hall, hung on the wardrobe, and beneath the pillow they found her diary.
       ‘Bingo! Knew she’d have one. All girls have diaries.’
       ‘What’s it say?’
       ‘Here we are – Saturday. “Fun fair in the village! Some of those gypsy boys are quite nice. Not as nice as M, though.”’ Maxwell looked at Kimble. ‘M? Who’s M? Marco? Michael? Was your nephew seeing the girl, Sergeant Kimble?'’ Constable Hutchinson had, of course, read out the notes he had made about Marco Russo when the detectives had arrived yesterday morning.
       Kimble shrugged. ‘It's possible. You'll have to ask him. I'll be seeing him later today, but best if you ask him officially, don't you think? Carry on, boss, anything else?’ There could be any number of boys in Brockworth and the surrounding area whose name began with “M”, and he had so far had only a short conversation with Constable Hutchinson regarding the Italian boy.
       ‘Sunday. “Didn’t fancy church. P pains.”’ Maxwell looked up, baffled.
       ‘Period pains?’ Kimble deduced. His wife, Marian, had suffered terribly in the few years they had been married. Sex was off the menu for a good week out of four while she suffered agonising stomach cramps.
       ‘Ah. “Didn’t have any Sunday lunch. Had some supper. Can’t stop thinking about M.”’
       ‘We need to find out who “M” is, boss.’
       ‘Yes, Sergeant, I’m aware of that! I’ll carry on, shall I? Monday. “Half term! Hooray!”’ That’s it. Nothing else.’
       ‘Give it here. I’ll work backwards, see if it says who “M” is.’
       Maxwell handed the slim volume to Kimble, who sat on the bed and thumbed through it. ‘Here we go. Three weeks ago. “Saw the boy of my dreams in the indoor market. He lives here, in Brockworth! He didn’t notice me, so I’ll have to make him. I wonder when I’ll see him again. Oh, those gorgeous blue eyes! Just like Al Martino.”’
       ‘Al Martino, the crooner, I'd guess. He may have looked quite nice in the 1950s, but now? Your nephew might know who “M” is, I suppose. Might even be him! We'll ask him when we’ve finished here, always supposing it isn't him. And try to take your eyes off Mrs Long’s bosom!’ Maxwell didn’t really believe that Mike was Brenda's boyfriend, and at this stage he had no reason to doubt the integrity of his sergeant, even though he didn’t particularly like him. He didn’t think it likely that a member of his sergeant’s family could in any way be responsible for what had happened to Brenda McLaren.
       ‘Boss.’ They went downstairs to find Alice Long wearing her raincoat. She was evidently ready to go shopping now.
       ‘Finished, have you? Find anything?’
       ‘She was interested in a boy. “M”. Any idea who he might be?’ Maxwell said. Alice shook her head.
       ‘Sorry, I don’t know. She didn’t say anything to me about boys. All I ever saw her do was her homework. Always had her head buried in a book, that one. Poor girl. What a way to go, eh? My poor Brenda.’
       ‘You’re not her mum,’ Maxwell said.
       ‘I might as well be, for all the good her mam is! Are you going my way?’
       ‘No, I’m afraid not, Mrs Long. We have enquiries to make elsewhere.’
       ‘Just find who did it and string him up, won’t you. Fooking bastard!’
       Maxwell recoiled inwardly at the use of the swear word, not liking to hear such things coming from a woman’s mouth, then he remembered she was a Scouser. Kimble turned to open the door. He still fancied her, and was extremely jealous of Dougie McLaren for ending up with such a cracker, although from the way she was talking, she might not be staying with Dougal much longer. Marian, Albert Thompson's sister, had died of a brain tumour some years ago, and he’d been looking for a suitable companion ever since.
       ‘See you again,’ he said quietly as Maxwell walked away down the path.
       ‘If yer like,’ Alice said. ‘He’s normally in the pub in the evening. Mind you, he might sit at home for a while here, waiting to see if you find the murderer. More than likely he’ll be in the pub, though. Drowning his sorrows. Mind you, at least this time his sorrows are for real, if you get my meaning?’
       ‘Right,’ Kimble said. It occurred to him how flighty a piece Alice Long was, apparently ready to abandon her home with Dougal McLaren so soon after the death of his daughter.
       ‘Sergeant!’ Maxwell said, and Kimble walked briskly to the car. Alice watched him go. She already had a soft spot for a handsome Welshman, and as she was thinking of walking out of Dougie McLaren’s life, she might consider coming back from Liverpool after the weekend if the handsome Welshman was on offer. She felt a tear at the corner of her eye as she remembered Brenda, and took a hanky from her coat pocket to wipe it away. Here she was, thinking about John Kimble, while Dougie’s wee girl lay on a slab in the mortuary and the killer was still at large. She shut the door and started off down the road towards Boverton Drive, and an appointment with some sausages.

       Eddie Mason stretched and yawned, and glanced at the clock on the chair next to his bed. Eight o’clock. He heard the newspapers thud through the letterbox and looked out of the window to see a boy wearing a long macintosh and a bowler hat pushing his bike along the road, weighed down by a bulging newspaper sack.
       ‘Michael Thompson!’ he said. ‘Sodding Michael Thompson!’ Michael Thompson had been one boy that he really liked the look of who had resisted his overtures, and the one boy he thought he could earn serious money from, but the little sod had turned him down. Now, several years later, he was over six feet tall and built like a brick shithouse. A wasted opportunity. When he had first approached him, he had been the perfect little angel, a boy soprano who’d sung in Gloucester Cathedral at one of the Three Choirs festivals, and Eddie had really fancied him. But he’d knocked him back, and brought one of his ginger-headed twin friends to warn him off later that day. Once or twice at the primary school he’d asked him again, but the boy was simply not interested, and he’d eventually given up on him.
       He padded downstairs in his dressing gown and picked up the papers from the mat.
Daily Sketch, Gloucester Echo. He tossed them onto the kitchen table and filled the kettle for a cup of tea.
       With his tea and a couple of digestive biscuits on a plate, he went through to the dining room and switched on the radio, looking at the front page of the papers on the way. The headline on the
Echo caught his eye, and he almost dropped his tea. Staggering backwards, he fell onto the settee. “VILLAGE GIRL STABBED TO DEATH”, screamed the headline, and beneath it was a photograph of Brenda McLaren.
       ‘Shit! Shit!’ Mason said. He gulped a mouthful of tea with a sharp intake of breath at the heat as it hit his throat, and then raced to the phone in the hall. He dialled a local number and waited for someone to pick up.
       ‘Tell me it’s not true!’ he said.
       ‘It’s true,’ the voice at the other end of the phone said quietly.
       ‘Fuck and damn! How did this happen? Where are you now?’
       ‘Why do you need to know?'
       ‘Did you have anything to do with it?’
       ‘Just leave me alone. You know nothing, Mason. You and I never met.’
       Mason’s eyes narrowed. The man on the other end of the phone had approached him a week ago, knowing that Eddie was in the business of procuring little boys for various clients around the city and the villages. He had come to the house in broad daylight, dressed in his filthy work clothes, straight after his shift at the boiler house. Eddie had made sure there was no one in the street before ushering him into the front room. The row of houses of which Eddie’s was the last before the road petered out into Vicarage Lane, faced the site of the new primary school, and was overlooked only by a row of tall trees. He satisfied himself that no one had seen him ask the man into his house. The people next door were away, on holiday.
       ‘I’ve heard you can get hold of… certain things,’ the man said. Eddie knew the man from the village, knew who he was shacked up with.
       ‘You want a boy? She not enough for you, then?’
       ‘I don’t want a boy, no. I want a girl. A teenaged girl.’
       ‘A girl? What makes you think I can get you a girl?’
       ‘You know everyone in the village. You must have contacts. You must know who’s likely to want to make a bit of money on the side.’
       Eddie studied the man standing in his front room and wanted to laugh. He was about five feet eight inches tall, had an emaciated face like a skull, wore national health glasses with round lenses the thickness of bottle bottoms. He was wearing a shirt with no collar, grey and grubby from the coal he shovelled into the furnace in the boiler house up at the council estate on the opposite side of the main road, and a multi-coloured sleeveless jumper that had seen better days. His trousers were fastened at the bottom with cycle clips and he wore a battered flat cap on his head. Any self-respecting girl would run a mile before going with him. Eddie knew a couple of girls in the village who would do anything for a tenner, but he thought even they might shy away from this ugly, cadaverous man. But he was reluctant to turn any business away.
       ‘I might know someone, yes.’
       ‘I’m willing to pay. Tenner for you, tenner for her.’
       ‘That’s a lot of money.’
       ‘I’m good for it.’ The man’s lilting accent put him as coming from the Forest of Dean. He smelled of coal. It was not altogether unpleasant but he would need to clean himself up before anyone would be willing to do what he wanted. What he was willing to pay big money for.
       ‘But it’s not enough. Twenty for me, ten for her,’ Eddie said. ‘Take it or leave it.’
       ‘I’ll take it. When can you get her?’
       ‘Give me a couple of days. Give me your phone number, I’ll call you.’ The man nodded, handed him a piece of paper he had evidently come prepared with, walked out of Eddie’s house and climbed awkwardly into his bike and cycled off. That had been a week ago. Two days ago, Eddie had seen one of the two girls he had in mind for his latest client, walking back home from the shops in Court Road. He had been on the point of dashing out into the road to call her over, to offer her a fiver on account, but he had held back, and when he saw his client pull up in his car just along the road, he stayed inside and simply watched.
       ‘I saw you with her. With Brenda McLaren,’ Eddie said.
       ‘You saw nothing! You’ll say nothing. I’ll make things extremely unpleasant for you if you incriminate me!’
       ‘Did you kill her?’
       ‘No!’
       ‘Did you…?’
       ‘This conversation is over. Keep your mouth shut and I won’t go to the police about you and your unsavoury little business.’
       Eddie put the phone down. He knew what he had seen, and if the cops came to see him, which they would, inevitably, because they knew he had a reputation, he would have to have his story straight. Luckily, he knew someone in the force who might be able to smooth things over for him. If he was somehow implicated in the death of the girl, he might have to call in a favour. If the worst came to the worst, he would have to resort to blackmail…
       He needed to think. Sooner or later, the police would come knocking, and he had to have a story ready for them. He washed, shaved and dressed, and then went out. The rain had just about stopped and the sun was coming out. He wondered how long it would take the police to find him, and he needed to start getting his alibi in place.

 

Chapter Seven

 Wednesday

      Michael got back home at a little after eight o’clock and had his second breakfast of the day, an omelette sandwich. His father and Pauline had left for work, going in opposite directions as usual. His mother was round at his grandmother’s house in the Avenue, but she had left him a note telling him to make himself an omelette sandwich. After he had washed up he went upstairs to get out of his paper round clothes, then went back downstairs just as the postman popped a few letters through the box. There was nothing to interest him except for a postcard from Annette, addressed to the whole family, but intended mainly for him, he thought. Being twins, they were exceptionally close. They 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, Annette 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.
       The postcard was short and to the point.
“Missing you. Marie has appendicitis so am coming home early. Should be back Thursday around 7-ish. Love, An.” Thursday was tomorrow. Annie was home sooner than expected! Michael’s heart soared. He had missed her terribly. Annie was a lot like Sandra Dee – pert, pretty, clever, sexy, with very similar features. He did love her, with all his heart, it was just that sometimes he could not think of her as his sister. And then, a few months ago, he had seen her kissing a boy outside the front door when he came home from the youth club, and it had all made perfect sense. It was because they were twins. She was his twin sister, and he loved her dearly, that was all there was to it.
       Nothing would ever come between them. And now she was coming home. The words “missing you” were intended for him and him alone, he knew that now. He could hardly wait to hug her again, she’d been gone almost a week. He hoped he would be at home when she arrived. Right now, he had to be somewhere else.

       Ten o’clock saw a gathering of sixteen-year-olds in the Cadena Café in the city, five of them. Michael ‘Tiger’ Thompson”, 'Gaffer' Morris, so called because his father was a farmer, David 'Hopeless' Hope, 'Professor' Frank Aldiss and Christopher 'Longshanks' Lang, his name deriving from the fact he had always been on the tall side, except that now Michael had overtaken everyone in the class. They ordered coffee and sticky buns and found themselves a table next to the window.
       'Tiger! Heard about the murder in your village – did you know her?' Gaffer Morris asked in his lilting, broad West Country accent.
       'She was my ex,' Michael said modestly, and a barrage of questions was fired at him, which he fielded successfully until Hopeless Hope casually mentioned the fact that Sergeant Kimble CID was Michael's uncle. He'd met the detective on one of the rare occasions when he and Mike and a couple of others got together to play jazz and skiffle records after rowing on a Sunday morning.
       'Yes, he's my uncle.'
       'Any clues?'
       'Not yet. Not as such.'
       The waitress, who was a girl whom Mike had been at primary school with, brought a tray laden with coffee and stickybuns, and they waited until she had gone before resuming their conversation. Thankfully, she appeared not to recognise him and so didn't embarrass him further.
       'So what's this about a bath on wheels?' he asked, steering the conversation away from the murder of Brenda McLaren. It seemed to work.
       ‘There’s an old bath in the cow shed,’ David Hope said. ‘Dad says we can make a frame with pram wheels, put the bath on it and push it from Gloucester to Cheltenham, collecting money along the way. How many villages are there between Gloucester and Cheltenham, Prof?'
       'At least seven,' Aldiss replied. 'I have an Ornance Survey map at home, I'll let you know at the next meeting.'
       ‘My father knows the mayor of Cheltenham,’ Gaffer Morris said. ‘He’ll get him to organise a welcoming party at the town hall.’
       ‘And my brother works for the
Echo – he can get photos done and a story and everything,’ Aldiss said.
       ‘You can play the guitar and I can play the clarinet,’ Lang said to Michael.
       ‘Count me in. How much do you think we’ll raise?’
       ‘Well, we’ll get everyone we know to sponsor us, and as we go through the villages – Longhope, Barton, Hucclecote, Brockworth and all those on the Cheltenham road – people can throw money into the bath and we’ll count it at the end,’ Hopeless said. He seemed to be in charge of the operation.
       ‘Great! We should get much more than we did for the dance,’ Frank said. At the end of the winter term they had organised a dance in the school hall, and raised fifty pounds from ticket sales after paying the group. They had tried to get Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, an East End group they’d seen advertised on posters locally, but their fee was far too high even though they said it was for charity, and so they’d used a young local group, The Rockets, and the dance had gone down a storm, even though teachers had insisted on being present and that there was no smoking or drinking on school premises.
       ‘When are you thinking of doing it?’ Michael asked.
       ‘Towards the end of term,’ Hopeless said. ‘Give us time to make the thing. We’ll need quite a few of us to push it. Some of it is uphill! Especially when we get to your village, Nick!’
       ‘There’ll be enough of us to push a bath, I should think!’ Gaffer said, laughing. ‘Tiger, didn’t you say you could get a couple of girls to sit in the bath?’
       ‘Yes, I know some girls who would do it,’ Michael said, realising that he had completely forgotten to ask Lynda as he had said he would the day before, but he knew his sister, Annie would do it like a shot.
       ‘I’m surprised you don’t know any girls!’ Gaffer said to Longshanks, who was the eldest in the form, strikingly handsome, with black hair and piercing blue eyes.
       ‘I went to a Catholic all-boys’ school before the Crypt,’ Longshanks said by way of explanation, and it seemed to satisfy everyone present. He could hardly tell them he’d felt the stirrings of homosexuality after being grabbed and fondled by Father Harris, could he? He wanted to experiment with girls to see if it was all it was cracked up to be, but so far the opportunity simply hadn’t presented itself. Looking around the table, he guessed that of the other four, Gaffer, with his John Lennon haircut, was the most likely one to have “done it” with a girl. Michael Thompson was on record as saying he was saving himself, and no one had laughed when he said it. The Professor was a bookworm. So was Michael, but Frank ate, breathed and slept books. There was nothing he didn’t apparently know. Longshanks Lang was also a farmer’s son, like Gaffer Morris, and not the most attractive boy in the group. It was possible he’d also done it, but by no means certain.
       ‘When do we start on the bath, then?’ he said.
       ‘I thought we could all meet up at the weekend,’ David Hope said. ‘We’re a bit busy on the farm till then, but Dad says he can start on the frame on Saturday. We’ll get together next Monday at school and start designing posters and stuff. Ask your parents if they have any clean buckets for collecting money in.’
       The meeting broke up shortly afterwards. The Professor and Gaffer headed back to Tuffley, where they lived, to play football. Hopeless had to meet his parents to help with the farm work, and Longshanks lived right out near Painswick, which was actually in the Cotswolds, so he and Michael shared a bus ride home. They spoke again about the murder of Brenda McLaren before Michael reached his stop near the newsagent’s, but as he didn't live anywhere near the village, Longshanks wasn't able to contribute a great deal, except to express his sympathy that Brenda had at one time been a friend of Mike's.
       ‘I’ll see you Saturday at Dave’s then.’ 
       ‘You cycling, Mike?’ Away from the group, there was no need for the use of nicknames. If there were just the two of you, you tended to use actual names rather than nicknames.
       ‘If the weather’s OK. Jimmy should be back by then, too.’ James Hunter or “Whitey” because of “White Hunter”, was Michael’s best friend, and he was away this week on an archaeological dig with his father, uncovering a Roman road in the Painswick area. Just up the road from Brockworth, in fact, but not near enough to cycle. He was looking forward to seeing Jimmy again. 
       ‘Good, he’s quite useful. I’ll be at yours around ten o’clock.’
       ‘Right.’
       Michael walked briskly up Boverton Drive, past the parade of shops. He felt in his pocket to see how much change he had, decided he had enough for a bar of Fry’s Five Boys, and went into the grocer’s shop. It was a small shop, one in which you had to stand at the counter and ask for what you wanted, and the proprietor fetched it for you. Michael doubted it would be able to compete with the Co-op supermarket in Court Road for long, but it was convenient, and it had what he wanted. He waited for Mr Gregg to serve a couple of ladies with children, then asked for his chocolate bar.
       ‘Yes, Michael?’
       ‘Could I have a Fry’s Five Boys bar, please, Mr Gregg?’
       Thomas Gregg knew the Thompson family very well indeed. When they had first moved to Brockworth from London, before the war, Albert and Cissy Thompson had lived in the flat above Gregg’s shop while their house was being completed, and Pauline had actually been born there. Gregg had watched the family grow into a decent one, and was genuinely impressed with Michael Thompson and the way he was so polite and respectful. Away from the front page news about Brenda's murder, he’d been reading in the paper how the start of the new decade had seen a lowering of standards in the way some young people behaved in the big urban sprawls where regeneration was taking place, and thanked his lucky stars he lived in a quiet rural backwater like Brockworth, rather than somewhere brash, like London, where all manner of unruly things seemed to be going on amongst the young people.
       ‘Of course. Give my regards to your parents. Sad news about young Brenda. Is your uncle involved in the enquiry?’
       ‘Yes. He was there yesterday evening, when they found her. I was with the search party, but we weren’t allowed anywhere near the body. Near Brenda.’
       ‘What a good thing it’s the school holidays, eh?’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       ‘Give you a couple of days to get over it, get back to normal.’ That wasn't going to happen, Mike thought. The death of Brenda McLaren had hit him pretty hard and had affected a lot of people's lives. It wasn't something that would just, well, get better in a matter of days. For one thing, until they caught whoever had murdered her, there was always the chance the killer could strike again, and if it was something to do with young village girls, everyone needed to be wary of strangers, of people acting suspiciously, or just about everything, really.
       But Mr Gregg meant well. Michael nodded, preferring not to talk about it any longer. He made his excuses and left the shop. He hadn’t been a close friend to Brenda for several years though they spoke whenever they ran into each other. They had been inseparable during that last year of primary school, until Lynda had arrived and taken her place, but the rigours of an all boys’ grammar school had driven everything else into the background as far as he was concerned. He was expected to do well, and he knuckled down to the academic life straight away. There was fierce competition to be top of the form right from the word go, and he was invariably third or fourth in the class when the end of term reports were issued. Some teachers commented that he could do better, but in reality he was a naturally high achiever and did very well in modern languages and literature. After year one he had dropped the sciences and concentrated on his Latin and Greek, then dropped Greek in favour of Spanish. He was good at history, but no good at geography, so he dropped that, too. His truly weak spot was mathematics. He could do sums, adding, dividing, subtracting and multiplying standing on his head, but couldn’t get that head of his around logarithms, geometry or trigonometry.
       Michael, being a September child, had done his eleven-plus exam at the age of ten and sailed through it, leaving all but the two girls in his wake. Brenda, Lynda, and he, had gone to grammar school, the others to secondary modern schools in Hucclecote and Churchdown. So Michael was always in reality a year ahead of everyone else. He took his first GCE Ordinary-Level exam at the age of fourteen and scraped through with a Grade E in English Literature. He’d taken it again at age fifteen along with the other six subjects, and got a B. He’d passed all of his O-Levels at age fifteen with the exception of maths, which he was to take again in January. Now he was studying “A” Level Spanish, French, and English Literature. Next term would see the mock “A” Level examinations, but he was seriously considering jacking it in and enlisting as a Police cadet. He had never lived away from home, and wasn’t sure he was ready for three or four years away from home at university. Two weeks at Hendon Police College might be bearable, though. Yes, he was fairly sure that he had made his mind up to join the police.
       He walked home, thinking to himself that he should pay Marco another visit, but then decided he would play some records instead. He hadn’t thought about “getting over” the death of Brenda McLaren until Mr Gregg mentioned it. Now he believed that listening to some music might take his mind off it, but everywhere he looked, there was a reminder of death. Not just Brenda’s, although that was plastered across the local paper, of course. But there were news items on the radio, in the national paper (he brought his father’s
Telegraph and his mother’s Daily Mirror home every morning), and his father, who had a fascination with real-life murders, had got out a couple of his own books to read the previous evening, and hadn’t put them away. Michael had read some of them. His favourite was Fabian of the Yard, and it had been that book that persuaded him that he might enjoy life as a policeman instead of going to university. Fast forward a couple of decades and the incidence of graduates joining the police force and being fast-tracked to positions of seniority would be commonplace. Right now, the police force was a career in itself, and not one that was remotely associated with university study.
       He put on a record of Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos. His father had taken him to a smoke-filled workers’ recreation hall one evening in the previous summer, where they had stood at the back and listened while someone played gramophone records of Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. After that, he’d found himself listening to the BBC Third Programme quite a lot, especially during July and August, when they broadcast the promenade concerts from the Royal Albert Hall. He never missed the
Navy Lark, Beyond Our Ken, The Goons and Hancock’s Half Hour, and Saturday Skiffle Club was required listening for all boys his age, but whenever there was an opportunity, he listened to classical music or jazz, and over the last couple of years had become quite knowledgeable. The first classical record he bought was an Embassy 10 inch LP recording of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the Eroica, from Woolworths. It had been a toss-up between the record and an Airfix kit of a Bristol Beaufighter, and on that occasion the Beaufighter had lost.
       The Brandenberg soothed his troubled mind, but he couldn’t divorce himself entirely from the death of his one-time friend and country dance partner. He cast his mind back to Monday, when he’d seen her with the woman everyone thought of as her aunty, but who was, in fact, no relation. There was a small lane, a footpath which connected Boverton Drive with the Avenue. It served as a short cut down to Hucclecote Road, and if you crossed the Avenue and followed it down past the allotments you came out almost at the bus stop. For years children had been told not to use it for that purpose because there were a couple of men who spent most of their time in the allotments who were considered to be a bit soft in the head, and mothers and fathers didn’t want their children being spoken to by them. They might have been harmless, but they were known to drink a lot, methylated spirits mainly, and they tended to home in on young unaccompanied children.
       Mike, being over six feet tall and well built, used the footpath frequently and no one ever spoke to him, in fact he couldn’t remember ever seeing the two tramps, for that was what they were. But with the disappearance and murder of Brenda, he wondered if they were real or something the mums and dads had made up to prevent their children from running straight out into the Hucclecote Road, where there was a fair amount of traffic.
       It was there he’d seen Brenda for the first time that day, with the woman the police had identified as Alice Long with the help of Dougal McLaren. He was going to catch the bus, they were coming out of Mr Gregg’s shop. He’d smiled and waved at Brenda, and she’d stopped to talk to him Mrs Long waited a few yards away with her half of the shopping bags.

       Now he stood at the head of the lane, remembering the last time he’d seen Brenda. He’d been coming back up the road off the bus, and there had been that beige Standard Vanguard parked down by the telephone kiosk. He had the number plate written down in his notebook, but that was indoors, and his memory for such details wasn’t that good. He struggled to remember important historical dates other than the really obvious ones like 1066, 1914 and 1939, his parents’ and his sisters’ birthdays. He had the same problem remembering pieces of poetry, and it was one of the reasons why he’d felt unable to audition for the school play. Instead, he had played some of the incidental music composed by Alfred Lord, the school’s music teacher, whom all the boys called Tennyson, on the piano. He could still play the piano, but after the incident with Gerard Pallister, the peripatetic music teacher, he’d given up taking piano lessons and concentrated instead on teaching himself to play the guitar, picking up rapidly what he heard on Saturday Skiffle Club and on the records he bought of Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France.
       His dissertation in French had been about Django, how he had lost the use of two of his guitar-playing fingers in a caravan fire, and had devised a way of playing that enabled him to become, in Michael’s opinion, the world’s greatest guitarist. It had gone down a storm, because many of the boys in his class were interested in music and respected the fact he’d done so much research and translated it all into French. He even brought along one of his LPs,
Django, and played them his favourite track, the one with the three violins, “Lady Be Good”, the track in which Django played to beat the Devil – and won.
       He wondered if the number plate had any significance. Well, not the number plate, but the car. Cars were hardly a rare sight in Boverton Drive. The postman sometimes delivered parcels by van, but hardly anyone owned a car, with the exception of Mr Hannaford and Mr Carter. There was a rumour going around the family that his father was about to invest in a car, put about by Uncle John and Uncle Eric, but Michael 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 got the bus into town every day, Pauline got the bus the other way, to Cheltenham every morning and night, and his Dad got the works bus to Mitcheldean. Who needed a car?
       He thought about the beige Vanguard now. He was familiar with most of the cars in the village, especially the ones belonging to the residents of the Drive and the Avenue, even the ones that only visited occasionally, like those belonging to insurance agents, for example. But he was not familiar with the Vanguard. It had been parked down the road while he was talking to Brenda, and he’d been able to see the man sitting in it, enough to know that he didn’t know him personally, but only by sight. He memorised the number plate long enough to write it down when he got back home.
       He would call in at Constable Hutchinson’s and ask him about the car and the number plate, ask if might be significant. For the life of him he didn’t know why he still collected car number plates. What use were they? And cars were becoming more common all the time. He would stop now, there was no point to it.
       As it happened, he didn’t have to call at Constable Hutchinson’s house, because he saw his Uncle John emerging from his Gran’s house in Boverton Avenue, and hurried to meet him.
        ‘Hello, Mikey. You all right?’
       ‘Yes thanks. I was coming to see you,’ he said, which wasn’t exactly a lie.
       ‘I have to get on. Maxwell will be here in a moment.’
       ‘It’s about Brenda.’
       ‘Brenda?’ Kimble’s eyes were blank, and Michael guessed that his uncle had been drinking heavily the night before. In the distance, at the top of the road, he could see the Wolseley turning in and coming towards them. Maxwell would be here in a moment and the opportunity would be lost. The Wolseley wasn’t a frequent visitor to the village, but it had “police car” written all over it, and in any case, his uncle was expecting it.
       ‘I saw a car in Boverton Drive Monday, just before Brenda went missing. A Standard Vanguard. Beige. Got the number in my book, at home.’ He didn’t see the brief look of recognition in his uncle’s eyes, because at that precise moment the Wolseley pulled up next to them.
       ‘I shouldn’t think it’s anything to do with it, Mike,’ Kimble said. ‘Got to go. I’ll see you tonight.’ Kimble got into the passenger seat and the car pulled away. Boverton Avenue was a cul-de-sac, so Maxwell had to do a three-point-turn, but the road was wide, and he managed it in two. Kimble waved to his nephew, and Mike waved back. His uncle was a detective, after all, he should know what was important and what was not. If the beige Standard Vanguard was in any way important to the disappearance and murder of Brenda McLaren, he would know, wouldn’t he? Michael walked back home, deep in thought.

       Maxwell said, ‘What did the kid want?’
       ‘Just asking when I’d be home tonight, that’s all.’
He wasn’t telling me about a beige Standard Vanguard that an acquaintance of mine from London uses to get about in. It wasn’t that at all. Maxwell was saying something else.
       ‘Did you ask him if he knew who “M”was?’
       ‘Forgot, Sir, sorry. Wouldn't that be better coming from you? I can ask him tonight. At least we know it wasn’t him, Michael. I had a word with him earlier. He knew her, he was fond of her, but he wasn’t seeing her. You can take my word for that. I’ll ask him about the eyeteye, like I said.’
       ‘See that you do. Unlikely as it may seem, I’ve a funny feeling it might be the eyeteye boy, Russo, Marco Russo. Just because he’s your nephew doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your job. The post mortem is in. The girl was roughed up pretty bad, she was raped twice, then she was stabbed. Bit of a coincidence, that, wouldn’t you say?’
       ‘Coincidence, boss?’
       ‘The eyeteye lad getting stabbed this week as well. We need to get on top of this, Sergeant. Go and see the eyeteye boy and his parents, find out who did it, see if you can find anything out about the knife. I don't believe the story he told Hutchinson about the kids and the kittens, it just doesn't ring true to me. Kids don't carry knives. This was an adult, and it may be the killer. And ask him if he knew Brenda McLaren while you’re at it. Could be important. Like I say, it might be the same person. Right, here are the important bits. She was raped, then killed during the early evening of Monday, probably between the hours of five and seven, they can’t be more precise than that, apparently. Throat cut with a bread knife. Ordinary bread knife, sort you’d find in your kitchen drawer, and forensics say it looked like the blade was wiped clean on her skirt. She was tied up, and she was raped. Oh, and by the way, she was pregnant. Just a few weeks, but she was definitely pregnant, not by the rapist, obviously, but probably by the boy “M”. She probably wouldn’t have known about it herself. Not yet.’
       ‘Pregnant,’ Kimble said. ‘Oh, Jesus fuck! Oh, fuck.’

       ‘Precisely,’ said Maxwell.


Chapter Eight

 Wednesday

       Detective Chief Inspector George William Maxwell lived in Podsmead Road, just a stone’s throw from the Crypt Grammar School where Michael Thompson went to school, on the south side of Gloucester, some seven miles from Brockworth. He parked the Wolseley on the gravel drive, opened the front door with his Yale key and closed it quietly behind him. A teenaged girl, Beth Hathaway, who lived next door but one, was in the kitchen. There was an overriding smell of Vim in the room, and he guessed Beth had been having a clean up. 
       ‘Hallo, Mr Maxwell,’ she said. ‘I’ve given your wife her tea but she didn’t eat anything. She drank some of the tea, though. I’d best be off, I have some homework to do.’
       ‘Thank you, Beth. I’ll settle up with you at the weekend, okay?’
       ‘No hurry, Mr Maxwell. It’s not like I have to do much.’
       ‘Has she said anything today?’
       Beth shook her head, her pony tail dancing. ‘No, she’s been asleep since I got here. I roused her up enough for her to drink her tea, but she said nothing. I’m sorry. She may need the loo when she wakes up.’
       She was a pretty girl, a little older than Michael Thompson, and wore a white blouse and blue skirt. Every afternoon she let herself into Maxwell’s house and made something to eat for herself and for Mrs Maxwell, then watched television or read a book, or sometimes, on schooldays, she even started on her homework until the detective chief inspector came home. It was an arrangement that suited Beth perfectly, because she lived with her father, and he worked the night shift at the railway rolling stock company, and she didn’t really get on that well with him. He was a bully and a thug, and if she could keep out of his way by helping Maxwell out with his wife, so much the better. Her mother had left home two years ago. Tired of being beaten up, she had thought that her husband would not touch Beth, but she was wrong. She occasionally showed up at school on a Monday morning with bruises on her arms, and once even Maxwell had noticed them, but she had lied about how she had got them, and Maxwell, against his better nature and his instinct, was persuaded by the girl to take it no further. His mind was preoccupied with his wife at the time. One day in the not too future, he would have words with John Hathaway. But for now, all he could think of was his wife.
       In the mornings, when he left for work, a neighbour from opposite came in to sit with his wife, and then a succession of neighbours and friends dropped in through the day to see that she was comfortable. At four o’clock or after, Beth came in, and she would remain there, sitting with Frances Maxwell until her husband arrived home. If he was on a case that was going to see him missing through the night, like a murder enquiry or something really serious like that, he would ring her, and she would let herself out of the three-bed semi and go home, waiting by her own phone to hear that Maxwell was on his way, otherwise she popped back every half an hour. Then she would go to bed and leave the house well before her father got up. That way, she was in control, and Maxwell’s support network was complete. There was no need for anyone in the force to know he was nursing a dying wife, no need for nurses or doctors, and that was the way he wanted it to stay. He was not even sure he would be with her when she died, because his devotion to his job almost matched his devotion to his wife, but he could not think about that right now, he had too much going through his head. The rape and murder of Brenda McLaren had shaken him badly. Though he never knew Brenda, he imagined her to be the daughter they had never been able to have. Her or Beth Hathaway. Either would have done nicely.
       ‘That’s okay, Beth, I appreciate what you’re doing for her, I really do, you know that. I’ll sort out some money for you for the weekend, I promise.’
       ‘I don’t need it, don’t worry about it. At least he gives me money to do the housekeeping,’ she said, referring to her father. ‘There’s some stew in the oven, and I made an apple crumble. You just need to heat it up for a half hour or so. I didn’t make custard, there wasn’t enough milk, I’m afraid.’
       Maxwell smiled for the first time that day, or so it seemed. ‘Thanks again, Beth, you’re a treasure. I don’t know how I would be able to cope without you. See you tomorrow. By the way, I’m on a murder enquiry, so I may be late. Don’t hang around all night waiting for me. Go out with your friends or something. I’m sure Mrs Maxwell will be all right, just make her some tea, you know, a cup of tea, a boiled egg and soldiers, something simple like that. I can bring in fish and chips for myself. I can bring some in for you, too, only I don’t know what time I’ll be finished.’
       ‘It’s all right, there’s plenty to eat. I did a big shop on Monday. Just bring your own in. I’d better go.’
       ‘I’ll stand at the door, make sure you get home all right.’
       ‘It’s a few yards away! It’s not like anyone’s going to come after me!’
       He stared at her. She had evidently read the newspapers. It was even possible she knew who Brenda McLaren was. Denmark Road school, wasn’t it?
       ‘Did you know her? The girl who was murdered?’
       ‘She wasn’t in my class, but I did know her. Year below. I knew of her. It must be terrible for her family.’
       ‘Right. Best get going, Beth. I’ll see you tomorrow evening if I can.’
       ‘I am quite safe, Mr Maxwell!’
       ‘Nevertheless.’
       He made sure Beth was safely in her house, and then he went upstairs to the spare bedroom and opened the door quietly. There was the smell of impending death there, it hit him as he opened the door and looked down at the sleeping skeleton that had once been his beloved Frances. Diagnosed with cancer of the bowel six months ago, she was on the wrong side of six stones now, her features pinched and shrunk back against her bones, her eyelids fluttering gently, a frown on her once-beautiful face.
       ‘I’m home now,’ he said. Not
I’m home, but I’m home now. He always said it, as though the extra syllable would penetrate her dying brain and bring her some kind of comfort. How long had they given her, six months ago? Three months maximum, they’d said. She was still alive, hanging in there, but was she alive, really? It had been two months to the day since she had last said a word to him. ‘I’m going for my tea, then I’ll come and sit with you, and I’ll read to you,’ he said, and closed the door. As he stepped onto the first tread, he heard her take a deep, rasping breath. Either she was in pain, which she was, always, of course, or else she had heard something of what he had said. The doctor had given him some powerful tablets for her, to ease the pains, and he noted that Beth had given her some while she had been looking after her.
       When he’d eaten, and washed up the plates and cutlery, he took his briefcase upstairs with him and sat with his wife.
       ‘Just going to read through some papers,’ he told her. ‘Some papers to do with the case I’m working on. I might make some notes, and I might say things out loud from time to time. If you want anything, you just sing out. I’ll make some more tea for you soon.’
       But before he could get out the papers, he knew that he needed to get her out of bed, to get her undressed and washed, and to take the bedclothes and put them in the wash, because, like every other night, she had wet herself. Mixed with the smell of impending death was the unpleasant, acrid smell of urine, and he couldn’t leave her soaking in her own wee, could he?

       Almost an hour later, at eight o’clock, he turned on the wireless and tuned it to the Light Programme, turning the volume down so as not to disturb her. The gentle strains of some dance band or other drifted through the bedroom. Frances Maxwell was now dressed in a clean pair of pyjamas, and smelled of soap and talcum powder. He opened the first file and read it quickly, paying it scant attention. The second file had been brought to his attention by a uniformed sergeant back at the nick.
       ‘Think you should read this one, Sir. Sergeant Kimble had it, he was supposed to return it to the warrant officer, but I found it lying on his desk.’
       Maxwell picked up the autopsy report on Brenda McLaren that had been given to Kimble that afternoon. The contents of her stomach, unsurprisingly, were quite normal: the semi-digested remains of breakfast – cereal and milk – and a couple of boiled sweets, probably Spangles, and fish and chips, which presumably had been her last meal, her lunch. She had been brutally raped, as evidenced by the severe bruising around her vagina. This was well before the advent of DNA evidence and testing, and perpetrators didn’t think twice about leaving ‘samples’ then. There was also substantial bruising about her arms and legs, and inner thighs, and there was evidence that she had been tied up, by the wrists. The cut that had killed her had been made with a bread knife, the sort you would find in any kitchen drawer. A knife with a long, serrated edge. He wondered where the knife was now, and why the officers who’d searched the murder site hadn’t found it.
       Brenda McLaren was eight weeks pregnant. Just long enough for them to tell.
       Not any more, she wasn’t. Maxwell tried not to picture the tiny drop of blood that would some day have grown into a foetus, lying in a kidney bowl in the pathologist’s room which would have grown into a foetus, but it refused to budge, and he felt a tear brush his eye. He knew the pathologist wouldn’t remove it anyway, they knew she was pregnant from carrying out blood tests, but the image remained in his head. He looked across at Frances, and was pleased to see that she was now sleeping peacefully. He decided that he would not make her any more tea tonight, it would only disturb her. If she awoke during the night, he would make her a cup, or some weak squash.
       In another file he found a handwritten note from Kimble, together with an evidence bag containing the girl’s diary. He flicked through it quickly, found the reference to “M” he and Kimble had seen earlier, and then found another note from Constable Hutchinson, about his visit to the Nissen Huts to interview Marco Russo.
       ‘”M”?’ he said, musing aloud. His wife snored deeply, then her eyes opened for a second, she looked at him,
no, through him, and then she closed them again and snored. ‘I definitely think that your boyfriend was Marco Russo,’ Maxwell mumbled to himself. ‘Not Michael Thompson? Are we sure about that? Could Kimble be covering for his nephew? Maybe it was both boys?’ he said, thinking out loud. He decided to make some notes on the Brenda McLaren case, and started to write in his casebook.
       “
Victim: Brenda McLaren, 16 years
       Living with father and Alice Long, mother is Mary Lamb, left home to live with George Clark.
       Attended Ribston Hall school for girls.
       Raped then stabbed.
       Died Monday pm, probably between 5pm and 7pm
.
       Last seen Monday pm, by Michael Thompson exiting the newsagent’s, just before 3pm. With unknown woman, possibly Alice Long. Possible sightings at local funfair later by a couple of witnesses. Read their statements tomorrow. How had she got to Morgan’s Farm? Home in opposite direction to Morgan’s Farm. Was it a chance encounter with the rapist out at Morgan’s Farm, or was she taken there by the rapist? In which case, they must have had a car, otherwise someone would have seen her being taken to the Churchdown Road, and would have reported it. Unless she knew them, and had gone with them willingly?
       Eight weeks pregnant – by whom? Marco Russo? Michael Thompson?
       “Saw the boy of my dreams… he lives here in Brockworth…”
       Brenda McLaren, born December 1945, attended Brockworth New County Primary School from 1951-1957, same time as Michael Thompson, so she already knew him. Need to find out where Marco Russo went to school. Hutchinson said the Russo family had lived in the huts for quite some time. He was obviously the son of Giuseppe Russo, a former Italian prisoner-of-war, so if he also went to BNCP School, did she also already know him? Did she meet up with the father of her child, confront him with the fact she was pregnant, and he killed her to escape responsibility for the child? But why rape her? Was the father a grown-up rather than “M”? Faced with the shock of being told you’re the father, you might have lashed out at her, and in a fit of rage you might have killed her (with a breadknife??? Who carries a breadknife around???) but you wouldn’t have raped her first, surely? Doc says she was raped and then killed.
       People interviewed so far:
       Dougal McLaren – father. Known for being drunk and disorderly. Always the prime suspect at first, but I don’t think he did it.
       Alice Long – McLaren’s woman friend(?) A woman could have killed her. Dougal McLaren could have got her pregnant (her own father – it happens!) and Alice Long could have killed her because she was jealous.
       Mary Lamb. Brenda’s mother
questioned by Hutchinson along with George Clark. Hutchinson was probably writing up their statements right now, knowing him. He worked long hours, always prepared to go the extra mile, was Hutchinson.
       Jack? – gypsy lad from the funfair.
       Jack’s grandmother.
       Get their full names before the funfair moves away from Brockworth.
       Still to be interviewed:
       Michael Thompson – saw Brenda in the morning and then again in the afternoon, possible boyfriend, or former boyfriend. She rejected him and he was jealous? Last person to see her alive that we know about. 
       Ida Marsh, woman who says she saw Brenda at the funfair after 3pm Monday afternoon. Read her statement again tomorrow.
       Marco Russo – find out about schools and if he was seeing Brenda.

       Maxwell felt his eyes getting heavy. He stood up and put the files back into his briefcase, then bent to kiss his wife on the forehead. ‘Going to bed, love. Early start in the morning. Sleep tight.’
       He made himself a cup of coffee and ate a couple of chocolate digestives, then went to bed, knowing that before he left for work in the morning, he would have to do the laundry and hang it out. It wasn’t Monday, it wasn’t laundry day, but he couldn’t leave those bedclothes lying in the washing basket for others to find.


Chapter Nine

 Thursday

       Lynda Bamber lived in Westfield Avenue, at the westernmost end of the village. She was studying for her A-Levels, like Michael. She was a petite, very pretty girl, with an hourglass figure and well-developed breasts that were not too large, but firm. She was five feet three inches tall, and had short brown hair that tended to curls. Her snub nose and almond eyes were her best features. She went to Ribston Hall School for Girls, in the city. It was a grammar school, and along with Brenda McLaren and Michael Thompson, she was the third pupil from Brockworth New County Primary School to pass the eleven-plus examination and go to grammar school in 1957. She saw Michael walking up the road from her bedroom window, and ran to the door to let him in. She’d seen him on more than one occasion, walking through the village or delivering newspapers on his bike, and she had noticed him, recognising him as the nice boy from primary school with whom she had partnered at country dancing all those years ago. She had been hoping to bump into him, strike up a renewed friendship with him, and here he was, coming up her drive and knocking on her front door! She could not believe her luck.
       ‘You’ve grown!’ she said, standing on her toes to plant a moist kiss on his cheek. For a moment, he was completely taken aback. This wasn’t behaviour he was used to from a girl he hardly knew, had barely spoken to in the six years since they had been at school together. Female cousins sometimes, reluctantly kissed him on the cheek. But not strangers. He glanced down at her blouse, which was a pretty lemon colour, and wanted to say that she’d grown too, but he thought that might not be entirely appropriate and wasn’t sure how she would take it. Some girls liked to have their breasts admired, others were more coy, more reserved, and it was five or six years since he had last felt the thrill of holding Lynda Bamber’s hands during country dancing. He wasn’t entirely sure how to act around girls his own age.
       ‘Would you like a drink? We have some coke in the fridge.’ Michael knew that some people in the village had refrigerators, but Lynda’s was the first house he’d ever been in that actually had one. The larder kept everything cool enough, and they managed. It was as simple as that.
       ‘Yes, please.’
       ‘Go through into the lounge.’
       A minute later Lynda returned with a tray, two glasses and two bottles of Coca Cola. Michael had never tasted anything quite so wonderful. He’d heard about it, of course, and seen advertisements in various magazines, but had never plucked up the courage to try it for himself. It was every bit as delicious as the advertisements said. He had absolutely no idea that it was going to ruin his teeth, but then dental care from the NHS was still in its infancy; children regularly bought and ate whole packets of boiled sweets, such as Spangles, without giving any thought to the damage they were causing. Although this was Mike’s first taste of Coca Cola, there was a drinks lorry that came round once a week, from which his Mum would buy a couple of bottles of Corona, one of lemonade, one of limeade. The bottles had cork stoppers that were held in place by a wire lever arrangement. When these soft drinks ran out, the children were expected to drink water, tea, or now that they were old enough, coffee. Occasionally, if they were going on a family outing, such a walk up to Cheeseroll Hill, his Dad would fork out for a bottle of Tizer from Mr Greggs’s shop at the bottom of the road.
       ‘How’s school?’ he asked. ‘You heard about Brenda, I expect?’
       ‘Yes, it’s awful, isn’t it? Poor Brenda.’
       ‘I saw her. In the afternoon, before she went missing. My Uncle’s a detective, he’s working on the case.’
       ‘So you’ll get to hear all the gory details! Poor you!’ She sat next to him on the sofa, and their thighs touched. He made no attempt to move away. The thought of sitting next to Lynda Bamber, this close, was stirring something inside his trousers. The last time he’d felt anything this wonderful was when he’d sat next to his cousin Jill, in the front room the weekend before last, before Annie left for Boulogne. They’d been having a family party to celebrate his mother’s birthday, and the entire family, it seemed, had dropped in, even some of the London branch, to wish her well, to bring cards and presents. Cissy Thompson was popular in the extreme. Michael and one of his younger cousins from a branch of the family that had stayed behind in London, in Camberwell to be precise, had been sitting next to each other on the settee, and he had tried to keep his hands to himself but couldn't, and as he put his arm around his cousin, Jill, her name was, it had accidentally brushed against the underside of her breast, she had turned and smiled at him, and he had smiled back, but didn't take his hand away. Nothing further had developed from this encounter, which he now regretted, because Jill was a really attractive girl, a year younger than him, with shoulder-length black hair and hazel eyes, but she and her parents had gone back to Camberwell the same day, and he didn't have any idea when they might meet up again. Now, sitting next to Lynda, he didn’t dare move.
       ‘Well, he doesn’t tell me everything. He would if I were to ask him. I’m thinking of joining the police force myself.’
       ‘You’d look good in a uniform.’
       ‘Thanks. Actually, I was hoping to be a plain clothes detective.’ He was well aware that progression to CID was dependent on at least two years in uniform, but he felt like he needed to make the point.
       ‘What did you come for?’ she said, ignoring his last remark. She was evidently still thinking about Michael Thompson in a uniform.
       ‘Hmm? Oh, to ask if you wanted to ride in a bath we’re pushing from Gloucester to Cheltenham for charity. In the summer. There would be a civic reception and stuff like that.’
       ‘Ride in a bath? I’d love to! There would be cushions and so on, I guess?’
       ‘I expect we could manage a few cushions. And blankets if it's cold, and an umbrella if it’s raining, of course! Do you know anyone else at your school who might join in? We could do with a couple of girls.’
       ‘I could ask Janet.’
       ‘Janet Hobbs?’ Michael knew Janet Hobbs. She was a year older than Lynda, two years older than Michael. She had been at the primary school until 1956 and then she and her family had moved to Longlevens. He presumed that Janet had also made it through the eleven-plus and now attended Ribston Hall with Lynda.
       ‘Yes. She’d be up for it, I’m sure. You’d have to let me know where and when.’
       ‘Of course. I like your record player.’
       ‘My Dad bought it for me for Christmas. I’ve got heaps of singles. Have you heard this one? “Love Me Do” it’s called.’
       ‘The Beatles – yes, I have the album. You’ll have to come to mine and listen to it. I met them, you know, in the town, in Hickeys.’ He had met the Beatles, in person. Last month, when they were doing a supporting tour in Gloucester. He’d been on his way home from school one afternoon and he’d gone into Hickey’s, the music shop in Westgate Street to see if they had a copy of Ray Charles’s “What’d I say?” They didn’t have it by Ray Charles, but in a box of 45rpm single records, he’d found the song performed by Bobby Darin, and that suited him perfectly, because Darin could do nothing wrong. Amazingly, Michael had no idea at the time that his favourite singer in the entire world, was married to his favourite actress, the incredibly, painfully beautiful Sandra Dee.
       He’d been about to take his purchase to the desk when he caught sight of three young men, dressed in black trousers with black leather jackets, and mop-headed haircuts, clowning around with the guitars, of which there was a small selection in the other room, the musical instrument room. Hickeys sold sheet music, a very small selection of gramophone records, and musical instruments, mainly brass, woodwind, and orchestral strings, but they also carried half a dozen guitars. It was here that Michael had bought his Rosetti cutaway, the nearest he could get to a Macaferri, like the one Django played. It had cost him three pounds.
       The lad with the aquiline nose was holding a guitar exactly like Michael’s, and was playing expertly, producing chords Michael could only dream of. One of the others was singing in a high voice, ‘There were bells, on the hill, but I never heard them ringing…’ And then the one playing the guitar was picking out the most exquisite solo, his long fingers flying over the strings and producing an incredible, easy, sumptuous sound.
       They finished. And Michael Thompson applauded.
       ‘What record you buying, kid?’ Aquiline said.
You’re not much older than me, Michael thought. Who are you calling “Kid”?
       Walking over, he showed them the record. ‘”What’d I say”. The Bobby Darin version.’
       ‘Ace!’ Aquiline said, approvingly, and shook his hand. ‘We’re the Beatles,’ he said, in a nasal, Liverpudlian accent. ‘On at the Regal. Supporting some fooker or other. You comin?’
They were supporting the Tommy Roe/Chris Montez tour. Who would have thought that they would go on to eclipse every other singer and band in the world?
       ‘I hadn’t thought about it.’ The Regal Cinema had displayed a poster, and he had thought about it, but the date had slipped his mind. 18th March 1963 – something had happened to stop him from going to see his new favourite group, a family illness or something like that.
       ‘Do you go to music concerts?’ the one who’d been singing asked.
       ‘I went to see Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band at Cheltenham Town Hall last month,’ he told them.
       ‘Well, then. Come and see us, kidder. See some genuine rock and roll. Like Buddy Holly?’ Michael realised this last was a question. He nodded.
       ‘Yes, he’s great! Was great…’
       ‘Great guitarist,’ Aquiline said. ‘You’d like us. Hey, have they got any of
our records in this shithole?’
       The manager of the shop, who had been keeping his eye on the lads in leather, walked over and extricated the Epiphone guitar from Aquiline’s hands. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ he said. ‘You’re upsetting my other customers.’
       ‘What other customers?’ Aquiline said, smiling.
       ‘They’re not upsetting me,’ Michael said, and immediately wished he hadn’t, because it was disrespectful to the manager. For an awful moment, he realised that if the man asked him which school he went to, he would have to say “The Crypt”,a nd to give his name, and the man would be within his rights to report him to the headmaster, Mr Woods. But he simply snorted, made a face and walked away. Michael was the only customer in the shop. ‘They’re the Beatles. They’re on at the Regal.’
       ‘They’ll have to leave, I’m afraid.’
       Michael paid for his record and followed the Liverpool lads outside. There they were joined by a fourth Beatle, this one had a huge nose and an even more pronounced accent than the other two. He was carrying an expensive looking camera, and Michael guessed that he might have been round at the cathedral, taking pictures. He realised that the third Beatle, the one with the longest hair, hadn’t said a single word.
       ‘Enjoy yer record, kid,’ Aquiline said. ‘Come and see us. One night only.’
       Michael never went to see the Beatles that night, and only one of his friends, Jimmy Hunter, believed his story about meeting them in the music shop. He dragged himself back to the present, to the
now, to sitting next to the delectable Lynda Bamber…
       ‘I’d love to,’ Lynda said. And then, incredibly, her arms were around his neck, and her breast was pushing against his arm, and her mouth was just an inch from his. She kissed him, softly, expertly, taking away his breath. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so she took one of them and placed it, carefully, on the firm mound of her breast, and then moved against it. Michael thought his erection was going to burst out of his trousers. She disengaged from him, and patted her hair. Her cheeks were flushed.
       ‘That was nice,’ she said, and then the most incredible thing happened. She took his hand, and he thought she was pushing it away, but she was putting it inside her top, and he found himself caressing the bare flesh of her stomach, and then upwards, underneath her thin brassière, and her whole, young breast was in his hand, and the most exquisite sensations began to flow through him. She kissed him again, and caressed the side of his face, feeling the juvenile stubble that was beginning to grow there, and then her hand sort of dropped into his lap, and came to rest on his erection.
       ‘Do you want to go upstairs, to my room?’ she said in a whisper, and for a brief moment, Michael Thompson thought that all his birthdays had come at once, and that he was about to break his own self-avowal not to have sex before marriage. She actually stood up, and took his hand in hers, which was just as thrilling, to Michael, as touching her naked breast. They went to the stairs, and she kissed him again. Something in his brain was screaming at him,
“It’s too soon, too soon! You barely know her!” but his heart told him he’d known her from way back, from primary school days, he’d always fancied her, she’d been his country dance partner, and this was just catching up. Nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all. This was what young lovers did. He thought of A Summer Place and Molly, played by Sandra Dee, and whatshisname, played by Troy Donahue, who wasn’t a patch on Bobby Darin. This was what they did. Young lovers. They made love. It was natural, it was nature.
       ‘My father has some rubbers in his drawer,’ she said, and then the back door opened, and the dream of making love to Lynda Bamber that day was suddenly shattered. Michael felt his erection shrivel.
       ‘Lyn, you there?’
       ‘Hi, Mum,’ Lynda said. ‘Michael’s here. I was just going to show him my record collection.’
       ‘Oh, right. I forgot my purse. Hallo, Michael.’
       ‘Hallo, Mrs Bamber,’ Michael said. June Bamber was extremely attractive, just like her daughter. Her long blonde hair was naturally wavy, and she looked very much like a young Diana Dors, with pouting lips, and breasts that looked much, much bigger than Lynda’s.
       ‘Don’t mind me. I’ll be out of your way in a moment. Better not go upstairs, Linnie. You know what your Dad’ll say. Bring the records down here, in the lounge. Michael, say hallo to your Mum, won’t you? I haven’t seen her in a while.’
       Mrs Bamber knew what they were about to do. She didn’t really mind that much, but for the sake of keeping up appearances, she preferred that they didn’t do it under her nose, and not upstairs. That would mean pulling the curtains, and the neighbours, particularly Mrs Offer across the road, would know that something was going on at number 23 Westfield Avenue.
       ‘Right, I’m off,’ she said, and closed the back door behind her.
       ‘Perhaps we’d better….’ Michael’s voice trailed off, and he looked embarrassed. Not so Lynda. She put her arms around his neck and pulled him to her, kissing again, deeply.
       ‘Maybe when I come to yours, to listen to the Beatles, you could show me your bedroom?’ She seemed to sense that the mood had changed, that now was perhaps not the right time after all. She knew that Michael Thompson wanted her, wanted her badly. She had done it twice, before, with her last boyfriend. The first time it had hurt, but the second time it had been glorious. That had been at Christmas, but then they had split up. It was a while since she had last made love, and she was missing it badly. In fact, she was experienced in adult sex too, because of her father, but he had gone missing earlier in the year. She didn’t miss him, had hated what he had made her do with him, and was only now beginning to experience the thrills of teenage sex rather than being forced to do something she hadn’t wanted to do.
       ‘Yes,’ he said in a quiet murmur, and then, ‘You could come round tomorrow! Wait, though, my Mum will be in.’
       ‘Won’t she have washing, or cleaning, or cooking to do? We don’t have to make a noise.’
       Michael considered for a moment. ‘We could listen to some records, in my room. We could carry the gramophone upstairs.’
       Lynda smiled. ‘No need for that. My one’s portable. I’ll bring it round. What time shall I come?’
       ‘Four-ish? You could stay for tea. Let's say around four.’
       ‘Okay. Friday then. That will be nice.’
       ‘I’d better go. I have stuff to do.’ He kissed her on the cheek, but she held his head between her hands and turned it so that their mouths were almost touching.
       ‘I’m really sorry about Brenda,’ she said.
       ‘Yeah, me too.’
       ‘I saw her, you know. The day she went missing.’
       ‘Yes, so did I. She was with someone, a woman, her aunty, I think.’
       ‘I saw her getting into a car.’
       ‘You what?’ If Lynda had seen Brenda McLaren getting into a car, it was surely something the police must take seriously.
       ‘I was walking along to the shops to get something for Mum which she’d forgotten to get in town. I saw Brenda. The car was parked at the roundabout, pointing towards your house, you know, going up the Drive. It was black, the car. I don’t know what make it was, I don’t know anything about cars, but it was quite small. She was talking to a man. He had his back to me, but he was wearing a flat cap.’

       ‘Are you sure it was her? What time was this? It could be important.’ Not the beige Standard Vanguard he had seen on Monday, then?
       ‘Well, I do know Brenda from primary school. Yes, I’m sure it was her. I was at the funfair. It was about three-thirty. She got into the car and they drove off, up your way. I’m sure it was her. What should I do?’
       ‘What do you mean, do?’
       ‘Should I tell the police? Should I walk up and tell Constable Hutchinson?’
       ‘I could tell my uncle.’
Like I tried to tell him earlier, and he told me it couldn’t be right, Brenda could not have been getting into the Standard Vanguard… only now it seemed as though Lynda had seen her with a man who was driving a small black car.
       ‘All right, you tell your uncle, and then when I come to yours you can tell me what he said.’
       Michael nodded. ‘I’ll see you later,’ she said.
       Then she kissed him, properly, rushed upstairs to her bedroom and watched him walk off down the path, smiling to herself. Michael Thompson was a good boy to have as a boyfriend. He was tall, strong, good looking… and he’d asked her to ride in this bath thing they were going to do. Maybe he would have asked Brenda if she had been alive. Lynda sat on her bed and hugged herself, smiling all the while.

 

Chapter Ten

 Thursday

       DCI Maxwell stopped the car in the lane near to the coppice where Brenda McLaren’s body had been found. A uniformed constable was there, and kind of saluted when Maxwell and Kimble got out of the car and walked over to him.
       ‘Had a look in the farm buildings?’ Maxwell said, jerking his thumb towards the barns.
       ‘No Sir, waiting for you, Sir.’
       ‘Right. What’s your name?’
       ‘Crosby, Sir. They call me “Bing”.’ Maxwell winced.
       ‘Where you from, Crosby?’ said Maxwell, ignoring the last remark.
       ‘Churchdown, Sir. On secondment, Sir. Cycled, Sir.’ As though the fact was relevant. Churchdown wasn’t that far.
       ‘Right. Let’s take a look here first, then. This is Sergeant Kimble. I’m DCI Maxwell.’
       ‘Sir.’
       There was a depression in the boggy crater where the body had been found. There was apparently nothing else there.
       The trio crossed the field to the farm, the house now a burnt-out wreck. There were two sets of tyre tracks, one leading to a burnt-out Landrover, which had in all probability belonged to the farmer, Mr Morgan, the other belonging to the Wolseley. Maxwell and Kimble had been the first officers on the scene after hearing the news that the body had been found by Tommy Hinkley. Kimble had remained behind with the forensic officers, looking for the murder weapon and anything that might lead them to the murderer. Then he’d walked home in the pouring rain, back to Boverton Drive, where Cissy had given him soup and a generous helping of stew, together with a bottle of brown ale.
       ‘I remember the house going up in flames,’ Kimble said, recalling the fire that had destroyed Morgan's Farm. ‘There were hundreds of people came to watch, vicar included. He was the first to report it, I think. He could see it from his bedroom window. I was at home, in Boverton Avenue. It was about seven o’clock that night, just starting to get dark, last October. They tried to put it out, but it was too far gone.’
       ‘Was anyone hurt?’
       ‘Morgan himself died. He was carrying a pale of water, and he slipped in the doorway. He never stood a chance. One of his sheepdogs died trying to drag him away, out of the house.’
       ‘Right, let’s take a look in the barn, shall we? Over there, gents, that's where she was murdered, according to the pathologist, then she was carted across to the five trees.’ Maxwell led the way to the biggest barn, untouched by the fire, and separated from the main house by about fifty feet. Inside, the forensics officers had found a coil of rope, and left an annotated marker to say where they had found it. Maxwell had read their report, and so had Kimble, of course.
       ‘Looks like this is where it happened,’ Maxwell said. ‘The murderer probably tied her up before he raped her, poor kid.’
       ‘Any fingerprints on anything, Sir?’ Crosby said, but Maxwell shook his head.
       ‘No, lad, I don’t think so. Not according to the report, he probably wore gloves. No footprints, either, so he must have erased them all before scarpering. Easily done on ground like this. Anything worth printing they’ll have done. It’s mainly the knife we’re looking for, I think. Something forensics missed, which isn't likely. Something dropped. Anything. Off you go, start in that corner. I’ll start in the middle, you do the other corner,’ he said to Kimble. ‘Work towards the hay and then we’ll see what we’ve found, if anything.’
       ‘I’ll take the middle,’ Kimble said. Maxwell raised his eyebrows but said nothing, and moved away to the right-hand corner of the barn. Kimble had already seen something from the corner of his eye, a silver cuff-link, and he didn’t want the others to find it. He picked it up swiftly and pocketed it before the others could see, then bent to the task of fingertip searching once more, unaware of the hole in his pocket. The cufflink dropped back onto the floor of the barn and Kimble’s size eleven boot ground it into the earth. It took them the best part of a half hour to search the floor of the barn, and by that time all they had found was a cigarette end which Maxwell carefully placed in an evidence bag. Nothing else at all.
       ‘What about the hay bales, Sir?’ Crosby said. He was a keen young constable, anxious to make a good impression.
       ‘It’s unlikely, but we’d better have a look. What’s your first name, Son?’
       ‘Jason, Sir. After the Argonauts. Jason Crosby, Sir.’
They call me “Bing”.
       ‘I don’t follow football,’ Maxwell said, and Kimble laughed behind his back. ‘Just see if you can get up there, will you?’
       ‘Sir.’
       Crosby climbed easily onto the first tier, then began to haul himself upwards. But there was nothing to be found. Searching every square inch of the hay bales would take forever. They concluded that there was no murder weapon, because the murderer, or murderers, had taken it with them.
       ‘All right, come down now. Let’s go and get some lunch. Sergeant Kimble, you live in this village, where do you suggest?’
       ‘Well, there’s the Flying Machine up by the Shurdington Road roundabout, or there’s the Pinewood, almost into Hucclecote.’
       ‘Well, which one?’
       ‘Flying Machine, Sir,’ Kimble said. ‘It’s nearer.’
       ‘Crosby, you get back to Churchdown and resume your duties. I doubt we’ll find anything else here. If we need you, we’ll phone through.’
       ‘Sir.’
       Crosby cycled off along the lane towards Churchdown. Maxwell and Kimble sat in the car.
       ‘You’d think we would have found something,’ Maxwell said.
       Kimble felt for the cufflink in his jacket pocket, found nothing, and his heart skipped a beat, but he said nothing. It must have fallen through his pocket and into the lining, he thought. He would find it later. He’d found it, hadn’t he? It must still be there, in the lining of his pocket. They had swapped places, and he was now in the driving seat.
       ‘Right, then. Lunch. Then we need to go and see Marco Russo, in the Nissen huts, and I’d better have a chat with your nephew. Both their names begin with “M”. I’m aware you told me that Michael was not seeing Brenda, but I need to question him all the same. And then you can organise a house to house. I want Boverton Drive, Boverton Avenue, Church Road, Ermin Park, Court Road, Vicarage Lane, oh, and Westfield Avenue, and Westfield Road, the bottom end, near the shops done. And maybe Green Lane and the roads off that, too. Get Hutchinson to help you. And phone Churchdown and get Crosby back if you think it will help. Someone must have seen her. I want to know why she came here, of all places. Everyone seems to think she was running errands for her father, so what brought her up here to this godforsaken spot?’
       ‘What do you mean? Maybe she was meeting someone here, someone who lost his temper and raped her, Sir?’ Kimble said.
       ‘That's one possibility, I think. If it was the eyeteye boy, Marco Russo, maybe things got out of hand, he got stabbed in the leg and she got her throat cut. It’s the most likely scenario to my way of thinking. At the moment he's our prime suspect, wouldn't you say? No signs of a scuffle, though. Anyway, there was no reason for her to come out to Morgan’s Farm, no reason whatsoever, unless she was meeting her lover. If he didn't do it, if he's not our killer, then I don’t believe she was meant to be here at all, I think she was brought here by whoever raped and killed her.’ He wanted to add
in a car but the only tyre tracks they had found belonged to the police vehicles. It was as though all the evidence had been cleared away, obscured. The torrential rain of the past few days hadn’t helped, of course. Maxwell’s mind was working overtime now.
       ‘Your nephew could just as easily be our number one suspect, Sergeant. He knew Brenda McLaren well. He might just as well be the “M” in her diary, don’t you think? Just because he’s your nephew doesn’t mean he couldn’t be involved. He might be lying to you about not seeing Brenda after three o'clock Monday afternoon. Might have been him who stabbed Marco Russo, after finding out she was cheating on him. Suppose she knocked him back, said she preferred the eyeteye, and he lost his temper, raped her and killed her?’
       ‘My Mikey?’ Kimble said, his eyes reflecting genuine horror at the thought that his beloved nephew could do something so terrible, and that he might inadvertently have become a suspect.
       ‘He and Russo could have been here, waiting for her. Or they could have met her in the village and walked her out here to this remote spot, and done the dastardly deed. We shouldn’t overlook anything at this stage in the investigation, Sergeant.’
       ‘Not Michael. Not Mikey,’ Kimble said, shaking his head. ‘He’s a good boy, he wouldn’t do anything like that.’
       ‘I’m sure you’re absolutely right, Sergeant, but we must not rule him out until we’ve spoken to him. Does he have any other girlfriends right now?’
       ‘Not that I know of,’ Kimble said, unaware of how quickly the lives of teenagers change. But he was convinced that his nephew by marriage could not have had anything to do with the death of Brenda McLaren. Into Kimble’s mind flashed an image of Eddie Mason. This was not his style, from what he had heard. He had no previous form for picking up young girls, taking them to some remote spot, a building site or something like that, having his way with them and then murdering them. He was far more likely to introduce her to a life of prostitution because she was too ashamed to go back home. And then sit back and rake in the profits. But murder? He didn’t think so, but then you never knew people really until something like this happened. Eddie Mason could lose his temper with the best of them, Kimble knew that. Men had come back from the war expecting things to get back to the way they were, but it didn’t always happen the way they wanted it to. Some men, having got used to a life of violence, and finding no one except a loved one to take it out on, lashed out at their wives or their girlfriends. Some men who had been used to giving orders, and finding themselves back home under the thumb of a dominant woman, sometimes reacted badly, and domestic violence would ensue.
       Kimble knew that Eddie Mason had not come home to a wife or a girlfriend, he knew that Mason was a homosexual, because everyone in the village knew it and the vast majority turned a blind eye, even the Vicar, who was himself partial to little boys rather than little girls. Eddie, having secured for himself a reasonably well-paid job as caretaker of the primary school, often lost his temper with the kids when they made fun of him, but as far as Kimble was aware, he had never touched a child in public, not in anger. More than his job was worth. But you never knew when people would snap, and he would have to keep an eye on him.
       Kimble put the Wolseley into gear and drove off.

 

Chapter Eleven

 Thursday

       The car was pushed through the wrought-iron gates, the ones Albert Thompson had made himself, and onto the driveway, where it now sat. Luckily it was not raining, for the roof was down. It was a 1936 four-seat Morris Tourer, pale green, with running boards. One of the flip-up indicators was broken and hung loosely at an angle. One of the headlamps was cracked. It was a convertible, but the roof didn’t work. It wouldn’t start, of course, for it had lain, unused, in a dingy garage the other side of town, and Albert Thompson had parted with twenty pounds for it. His brother, Eric Kimble, John’s brother, who lived in Matson, had borrowed a neighbour’s delivery van, and had towed it from Matson to Brockworth that morning, and there it stood.
       Cicely Thompson had stood in the front doorway, a blank expression on her face. Twenty pounds would have paid for three or even four weeks’ shopping. But Albert Thompson, being a senior charge-hand at Ranks in Mitcheldean, had decided that he required a car as a status symbol. He could not afford a new Ford Anglia, like Mr Hannaford next door, or Mr Carter across the road. It would take him the best part of a month to strip and rebuild the engine, and to source the replacement parts for those that did not work, but he was an engineer. He knew how things worked, and he had no doubt he could get the car working. 
       ‘She’s called Jasmine,’ he said, and his wife turned, abruptly, and went back indoors. Secretly she was quite pleased with the acquisition, and knew that Albert would make a good job of it in the end, but there was no need for him to know that just yet, was there? She knew he would get it going, he would make it look nice – jasmine was his favourite colour, and there was a large tin of bright yellow paint in the corrugated iron garage. Albert had taken a day off to get his car and start work on it. He needed to push it into the temporary garage which he and John Kimble and Ernest Thompson had carried round from the Avenue in sections, and which stood on the flat lawned area up an incline towards the back of the house. He would need help with that, and would wait for Michael to come home, as there was quite a slope to the garage. He had already laid the foundations for the new garage, which he would build next to the house, and the breeze blocks he was going to use stood just outside the gates, on the pavement next to the telegraph pole. They, too, had to be moved. They’d already been peed on twice by various neighbours’ dogs. The Hannaford twins, who lived next door, had volunteered to help, and Michael would help too, of course. He might give them ten bob each, and hoped that his horse came in at the weekend so that he would not be out of pocket.
       ‘The first thing is to get the car in the garage,’ Albert said. He was small, wiry, but incredibly strong. Looking at his son, he sometimes doubted the boy’s parentage, but Cicely was nothing if not loyal, and tall men ran in her family, even if it did not on the Thompson side. In any case, you only had to look at Michael’s features to know beyond a doubt that he was Albert Thompson’s son. If anyone had been unfaithful, it would have been Albert. In fact, he had been unfaithful, twice, and the second affair was still going on, with a woman from accounts who lived in Cinderford, a short walk from the Rank factory where they both worked. Cissy Thompson was blissfully unaware of this.
       By two o’clock the four of them had pushed the car into the dark interior of the galvanised iron garage which Albert had secured to Mr Ellis’ fence with strong bolts,
– with Mr Ellis’ approval of course. Albert Thompson was a decent man and a handy person to know, because he knew about engineering, and on more than one occasion he had got Mr Ellis’s little delivery van going on the cold, frosty mornings of winter.
       Then they bent to the task of carrying the breeze blocks down the path to stack them next to the front door on the fresh concrete. Henry and Harry Hannaford were a year older than Michael, and were known as the “ginger twins” because of their fiery red hair. They rowed with Michael, and if anything, were both slightly shorter than him, though only by an inch at the most. They started off carrying one breeze block each, but when Michael and his father took two each, they followed suit and soon all of the blocks were moved. The sand and the concrete had already been delivered, and Albert had decided that he would start mixing and laying the first course that very afternoon. Michael had promised to help again at the weekend, and realised he was now double booked because of the charity bath push meeting. He would have to make his excuses, for he could not let his father down.
       Albert thanked the twins, gave them a ten shilling note each, and a third he gave to Michael. It was worth it, and he could always work overtime during the coming weeks to make it up. Or place another bet. For now he had everything he wanted, his new car, and the bricks and mortar for his new garage.
       ‘Thanks, Dad!’ Michael said, genuinely pleased at his new-found wealth. Now he could get the Tarzan book he was missing,
Tarzan At The Earth’s Core, a Four Square paperback sitting on the revolving rack in the basement of Bon Marché in King’s Square. He ran indoors and asked his mother if Lynda could stay for tea on Friday.
       ‘Yes, I've got sausages for tea tomorrow, Mikey. You’ll need to nip down to the butchers and get some extra sausages, Michael,’ she said.
       ‘Ok. How many?’
       ‘Eight. Uncle John will be coming to tea again because Gran’s going into Cinderford on the bus to see Uncle Dick. I’ve got some in the larder, so another eight should do. Do I know Lynda? What’s her second name?’
       ‘Bamber.’
       ‘Oh, yes! Her Dad went missing a few months ago, during the winter, when we had the snow. Is she a nice girl?’ The winter of 1962-63 had been the worst on record, eclipsing even the terrible winter of 1947. The snow had started to fall on Boxing Day and when they tried to get out of the house they found snowdrifts around ten feet tall and had to dig a tunnel from the front door to the front gate to get out onto the road. Then it had frozen, and stayed frozen for the best part of three months. Michael remembered cycling to school over ruts of ice that were a good two inches high. He also remembered sitting in class on the second storey when the sun finally came out in March, and the snow and ice had started to melt.

       A nice girl? Not if things go to plan, Michael thought. Aloud, he said, ‘yes, of course she is!’ He took the proffered money and cycled down to the butcher’s shop. Mr Manelli, in his familiar blood-stained overall, served him with eight of his finest pork sausages.
       ‘I heard about Marco,’ he said, wrapping them in greaseproof paper. ‘Bad business.’
       ‘Yes,’ Michael said. ‘Those kids from the fun fair… Why do they have to carry knives?’
       Mr Manelli stared at him. ‘What kids, Michael Thompson?’ he said. He always called Michael by his full name. Michael wasn’t aware of him doing it with anyone else, just him. ‘What kids are you talking about?’
       Manelli had been a prisoner of war himself, and at one time had worked on the land behind Boverton Drive and joining the Nissen hut camp. He was a short man, with slicked back black hair that was parted in the middle, and an olive skin. He had married Ruth Jollye, but she was unable to have children, much to their regret. Everyone knew and liked the couple, and they had settled into village life easily. He had a long, straight nose. Aquiline, they called it. One of the Beatles had been sporting a nose just like it, Mike remembered.

       ‘What kids are you talking about?’ Mr Manelli said again, and Mike jolted back to the present. If there was one thing he was really good at, it was daydreaming, and reminiscing about the past came a close second.
       ‘The ones who stabbed him. From the fun fair. I don’t know what the police are doing about it.’
       ‘It wasn’t kids from the fun fair what stabbed him, Michael Thompson. He got stabbed because he was messing around with a girl he shouldna been messing around with. Someone’s daughter.’
       ‘Yeah, right!’ He couldn’t believe he’d said that, and immediately apologised. One thing you did not do was to cheek your elders. You treated them with respect because they were older than you, and they deserved that respect. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that!’
       ‘Don’t worry, Michael Thompson. I won’t say nothing. You listen to me, though. That was a man looking out for his daughter. Marco Russo is lucky to be alive, I’ll tell you!’
       ‘What man?’ Michael said. He knew some of the rougher kids from the council estate went around in gangs, but he could no more imagine them having a knife than the Hannaford twins.
       ‘I don’t know what man, Michael Thompson, but don’t get involved! When it comes to men and their daughters… you know?’
       ‘Right. Thanks! Bye.’
       Michael cycled back with the sausages and his mother put them on the cold slab in the larder. Some houses had refrigerators in Brockworth, but by no means everyone had one. The larder kept everything cool, there was a hole in the back wall covered with a very fine metal gauze that allowed the cooler air from outside into the larder, and they managed, they had always managed. It was as simple as that. He remembered the cold, refrigerated Cola at Lynda’s that morning. The luxury of modern appliances had not yet reached the Thompson household, although they had watched a demonstration of one of those spherical vacuum cleaners, the one shaped like a spaceship, a door-to-door salesman had brought one to the house, and Cissy Thompson was thinking of saving up for one or even buying it on hire purchase. Albert had his car, and she was determined to have a vacuum cleaner. Right now she had other things on her mind though, like tidying before Lynda Bamber came round to have tea with them. She had managed to place Lynda’s mother, remembered hearing how her husband had disappeared, more or less overnight, but that was nothing whatsoever to do with Mikey's friendship with Lynda, and she still wanted to make a good impression on June Bamber’s daughter.
       Michael had other things on his mind right now, like getting to the bottom of what happened to Marco.
He should be back home from the hospital by now, he thought, so he left and cycled through to the huts. There were another four semis going up, and there seemed to be a whole army of workmen there, mixing concrete, mixing mortar, carrying bricks up almost vertical ladders on vee-shaped things with long handles which he later learned were called hods. The workmen occasionally turned up in the playing fields and joined in one of their games of football. They were friendly, hard-working men, some not much older than him. He waved cheerfully to them, and made his way round to Marco’s hut. Giuseppe Russo was out working in the fields. He was a farm labourer. Val, Marco’s mother, was in the small enclosed yard, hanging out washing. Marco was inside, sitting on his bed, reading one of the books Michael had given him.
       ‘Marco! How’s the leg?’ 
       ‘Stinging a bit.’
       ‘I was talking to Mr Manelli,’ Michael said. ‘He said it wasn’t kids from the fun fair.’
       ‘Yeah? How would he know?’
       ‘I’m just telling you what he’s saying. He said you upset some man or other. Something about a girl?’
       Marco’s eyes lowered.
       ‘Marco?’
       ‘I can’t tell you,’ he said in a conspiratorial whisper. ‘They’ll hurt my mum and dad.’
       ‘So it’s true, then?’
       Marco nodded. ‘I daren’t say anything,’ he said miserably.
       ‘Surely you can tell me? Who am I going to tell?’
Your uncle, the cop, Marco thought, but it went unsaid.
       ‘Not really. It’s complicated. There is a girl involved. I didn’t know she was one of theirs, I thought she was just, you know, a girl.’
       ‘What do you mean, one of theirs?’
       ‘I can’t say. He warned me off. He said he would hurt my parents if I went to the police.’
       ‘Who was she?’
       Marco’s misery was complete. He’d come this far, now there was no going back. He owed Michael big time for helping him with his English. Because of Michael, he had the promise of an apprenticeship at the garage on the Shurdington Road roundabout.
       'Mike, it was Brenda,' he whispered.
       Michael stared at him open-mouthed. He had made a promise to himself to do everything in his power to find out who Brenda's murderer was. Hearing Marco say that the girl he had been seeing was Brenda opened the floodgates in Mike's mind, and he immediately tried to put himself in the position of an investigating police officer. This was his chance to find out what had happened, and he wasn't going to let it go. Marco was his friend, but he had not told him the truth. It was up to him to ascertain the truth, to find out if Brenda's murder had been anything to do with Marco.
       'Right, Marco,' he said. 'From the top. Who was it that stabbed you?'
       'One man,' Marco replied. 'It was just one man.'
       'From the village?'
       'I don't know. I haven't seen him before, but he could be from the estate.'
       'The council estate, you mean?'
       'Yes.'
       'And what did he say to you?'
       'He saw me with Brenda a week or so ago. We had been to the cinema, the flicks, you call them.' The “flicks” was a local fleapit that showed films about six or more months old, unlike the Odeon in Kings Square, which was bang up to date with its screenings. 'I took her home, then started to walk home myself. He followed me home, hung about for a while, then went away. And then on Monday evening, he stopped me at the bus stop, and warned me not to see Brenda again. I said I would carry on seeing her if I wanted to, and he took a knife from his pocket and waved it at me. “Not if you know what's good for you!” he say. “She is not for you, she is spoken for.”' Michael noticed that Marco was shaking as he told his story.
       ‘I told him she was my girlfriend and he went crazy, shouting at me and waving his knife. It was only a small one, a penknife, but he was bigger than me, and very strong. We struggled. He stabbed me in the leg. I tried to stop it bleeding, I ran away, up Green Street because I was too ashamed to go home and tell my parents what had happened. I crawled inside one of the barns and fell asleep. When I woke up and tried to walk home, it started bleeding again. The rest you know. I swear I didn’t see Brenda after last week. Not even to talk to in the street! You have to believe me!’
       'Mr Manelli thinks you’ve fallen foul of some gangsters,' Michael said. 'I'm not so sure. Can you describe him?'
       Marco shrugged his shoulders. 
       ‘It was just one man. If I describe him to you, you will tell your uncle and my Mama and Papa will get hurt!’
       ‘Marco, did you have anything to do with Brenda’s murder?’
       ‘Of course not! I didn’t see her on Monday, not at all!’
       And if he hadn’t seen her Monday, then he couldn’t be the murderer, could he? Michael believed Marco, because as far as he was aware, the Italian boy had never lied to him and had no reason to lie now.
       Michael left knowing that sooner or later he would have to tell Maxwell and his Uncle everything that had just passed between them. He set to wondering how Marco had come to be involved with Brenda McLaren in the first place. At the back of his mind was the thought that Marco might know something about how she had come to be murdered, but simply couldn’t say because of the threat to his parents, but he couldn’t think about that right now, he had other things on his mind, like the forthcoming visit of Lynda. Cycling back home, he resolved to tackle his Uncle John about it over tea, and wished that Lynda was coming tonight and not tomorrow. Talking about police work with his uncle would surely impress her?
       ‘It almost looks like Noddy’s car,’ Michael said. ‘Will you be painting the wheel arches red and the rest yellow?’
       The Morris Tourer was out on the grass in front of the garage, where the gentle slope would make it easy to coax it back inside. Albert Thompson obviously wanted the neighbourhood to see and admire his car, and had given it a first coat of the bright yellow paint, but right now he was mixing concrete. The first course of breeze blocks was cemented in place. A few half blocks lay discarded where he’d failed to cut them accurately enough, but now he had the hang of it. Michael had helped him for a while, but then there was nothing he could actually do to help for a while, so he went indoors to read.

       Uncle John sat in one of the armchairs in the sitting room and opened his Daily Mirror. Michael often read the Garth and Jane cartoon strips, much to the displeasure of his father, who believed the conservatives were the only people who could bring the country back to its former glory. He was in the kitchen, with parts of the Morris Tourer’s engine spread out on sheets of newspaper. Cissy was in the dining room, listening to music on the Light Programme. Pauline was out with her boyfriend at the pictures.
       ‘Uncle John?’ Michael said. ‘I spoke to Marco Russo today. He said it wasn’t boys from the fun fair who stabbed him after all.’
       ‘No?’
       ‘No, he said it was over Brenda. He said it was a man who warned him off seeing her. I thought that sort of thing only happened in London. I mean, I know some of the kids have penknives and so on, but this?’
       Kimble put his paper to one side and took a long draught from his pint. ‘What makes you think that, Mikey? There are plenty more big cities besides London. You have no idea what goes on after closing time in the cities, young man. There are stabbings in Gloucester some weekends, when they tumble out of the pubs on a Friday night after they’ve been paid. They don’t all get reported in the papers, but they happen, nevertheless, believe you me.’
       ‘Well, you don’t hear about it. I mean, I only read the headlines in the local papers, I don’t have time for anything else, but I’ve never read anything about knives or anything like that. Some of the kids on the council estate have a gang, but they’re just little kids.’
       ‘I wouldn’t worry about it, kidder. This Marco, eyeteye, isn’t he? They’re very excitable. Probably made it up just to get your attention.’
       ‘He wouldn’t do that!’ Michael made no comment about his uncle’s racist tag, but it didn’t go unnoticed. Political correctness had simply not been invented in the 1960s, and people were free to call others whatever they liked, eyeteyes, wops, spicks, niggers, you name it, anything was acceptable in those days.
       ‘Well, take it from me there aren’t any knife-wielding gangs in Brockworth, or in the city for that matter. Rest easy, nothing’s going to happen to you. I’m a copper, for God’s sake! Who’s gonna mess with a copper’s nephew?’
       ‘It’s not me I’m worried about. Suppose there is a gang in the area and they’re targeting young girls like Brenda? Who next? And there’s something else. You remember I told you I saw a car in the street the day Brenda went missing? My girlfriend saw her too, and she said she saw her get into the car. That’s important, isn’t it? Will she have to make a statement?’ He failed to notice the colour drain from John Kimble’s face.
       ‘She – she may have to, yes. I’ll check with Maxwell and I’ll let you know, Mikey. Ok? We will obviously have to question your friend Marco as a suspect in the murder, you know? I'll nip across the road later and get PC Hutchinson to phone through to the DCI.’
       ‘I have homework to do,’ Michael said abruptly, and went into the other room. Kimble could no longer concentrate on his newspaper. What had the girl seen? What had the eyeteye kid been saying? They needed to pay a visit to talk to Marco Russo, tomorrow, find out what he knew, so that Kimble could set things straight.
       ‘Cissy, I’m off down the pub,’ he said, putting on his coat and his trilby hat. He knocked on Constable Hutchinson's door and after a moment was let in. As soon as the phone call had been made, he continued down the road to the pub, and tried not to think about Brenda McLaren or Marco Russo until the following day, but all the time knowing that they should have gone round to the Nissen hut immediately. He would worry about that tomorrow. For now, he was off duty, and if he got into trouble with Maxwell over it, well, it wouldn't be the first time and in any case, he now had bigger things to worry about than DCI Maxwell.

To be continued in the November 2021 issue...


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



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A 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 extraordinarily good!