November 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 Twelve


      At around seven thirty, a taxi pulled up outside the house and Annette Thompson got out, paid the driver and sauntered up the drive. Mike had been watching out of the front window, and ran to meet her, taking her holdall and throwing his arms around her. Two women walking past the Thompson house paused for a second and watched in amazement. ‘Isn’t that his sister?’ one of the women said. Mike caught a brief glimpse of long blond hair, and then whirled Annie around in his arms so that he was facing the front door, and planted a firm kiss on the side of her mouth. ‘Steady, Mikey!’ she said, laughing, but she was thrilled with his greeting. They went inside and he made her a cup of coffee because ‘that’s what they drink in France, coffee, lots of it, and wine, and champagne by the bucketful’. Then, after recounting her adventures to her parents, who were naturally also thrilled to have her home again safe and sound, she and Mike went up to her room, which she shared with Pauline, and he helped her to unpack her things. He saw nothing wrong with handling her underwear, putting it away neatly in her chest of drawers. That done, they sat on the bed and he put his arm around her.
      ‘Missed you, Sis,’ he said in a whisper.
      ‘A little bird tells me you didn’t miss me that much. You appear to have a girlfriend!’ she said with a gay smile, and rested her cheek against his. It was good to be home, it really was.
      ‘Who told you? How did you find out so soon?’ he said, taken aback.
      ‘Mum said. You were in the kitchen making my coffee. Lynda Bamber, eh? She’s very pretty. Have you?’
      ‘Have I what?’
      ‘You know. Done it?’
      The colour rushed to his cheeks. ‘Not yet. We’re planning to, though. Promise you won’t say, Annie! And it won’t change anything between us, I promise!’
      ‘Of course it won’t, silly,’ she said, standing up. He still had hold of her hand. ‘I need a bath. I stink after all that travelling!’
      ‘I’ll run it for you,’ he said.

      In bed, later, Michael found that he had two things on his mind. There was the matter of Marco’s claim that he’d been targeted by a local man because of his involvement with Brenda McLaren. And there was the not inconsiderable matter of Lynda and the possibility that he might lose his virginity before the week was out. He masturbated, as usual, but it was nothing compared to the feel of Lynda’s hand around him, urging him to touch her at the same time. How would it feel, he wondered, to actually put it inside her, and to actually do it? It would feel wonderful, of course, that much was guaranteed. But it would be a betrayal of everything he believed in. He was aware of what was going on in “Swinging London”, that young people everywhere were liberating themselves from the sexual constraints of the previous decades, but he had always promised himself that he would go to his wedding night a pure man. Kissing and cuddling, and the occasional surreptitious feel of the curve of the breast were fine, but actual, full sex? Could he handle the guilt? How would he explain himself to his future wife when it came to their wedding night, and he had to confess that he’d already lain with a girl? Infatuated as he was with Lynda right now, he wasn’t actually sure that she was the one. She might well be, but the thought of settling down with her was not the most pressing thing on his mind. His mind was young and active, and right now it was crammed with other things to think about, like Brenda McLaren’s murder. If he was going to be a detective, it was something he needed to concentrate all his efforts on. But sex was a difficult thing to dislodge from his brain at the moment, for he was inevitably getting a taste for it. His close encounter with Lynda and the return of Annette pushed everything else from his mind for the time being.

      It was in all the books he read, of course. Renny Whiteoak did it before he was married. Simon Templar, his beloved Saint had a relationship with the luscious Patricia – it was perfectly clear they were lovers. Everyone in all of his Dennis Wheatleys’ did it, especially Roger Brook. Once, whilst staying at his Aunty Molly’s while his mum was at work as a dinner lady at the primary school, he’d found a shelf-full of books by people like Mickey Spillane and Irwin Shaw, all with fairly explicit covers. Then there were TitBits and The Weekly News which serialised stories like Angelique by Sergeanne Golon, whom he discovered later to be two people. The Angelique story was fabulous, about a fascinating community of thieves, beggars, courtesans and other terrific characters living beneath the streets of Paris. There was plenty of history in it, too, and loads of sex, and he devoured it. One day he would save up and buy the book; he’d seen it in Smiths, the cover showing a most beautiful young lady in a low-cut dress. One of his aunt’s books, by Burton Wohl, entitled A Cold Wind in August had a young man making love with an older woman. Not as explicit as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a copy of which he’d found in his Uncle Eric’s car when he was cleaning it, but pretty strong stuff, stimulating and exciting. He’d put the Burton Wohl book in his school bag and often read the saucy bits, although he didn’t really need much to stimulate him. He had a funny idea that the book was pretty well written, and the story was certainly interesting, about air conditioning going wrong and the young man fixing it for the older woman and then ending up in bed with her. But he doubted his father would approve of it, and so he kept it hidden under his bed.

      Aunty Molly’s husband, Cyril, also had some books with really lurid covers, women hardly dressed, and men toting guns, that sort of thing. Gangland members and their molls – commonplace in America, as he well knew from the American comics Uncle John brought home. The covers of these books were great but the words inside were just silly, and he didn’t progress past the first few pages. Now he wished he had, because they featured gangs and guns and knives, and after listening to what Marco had told him, he needed to know about that kind of thing. His collection of police books, such as Fabian of the Yard contained lurid details about the famous detective’s dealings with various gangs, and wondered briefly if Marco had been stabbed by such a person, but then dismissed it out of hand. There were no such gangs in Brockworth.

      At the age of ten he had been in love with Brenda. And then Lynda Bamber had turned up, out of the blue, her family having moved from Leicester, and he had taken to her straight away. He had taken to sitting next to her instead of Brenda, and she had become his regular dance partner in country dance, which he adored, because you got to hold your partner’s hand, and at ten, you either loved it, or you hated it. Brenda had quickly got over it, because she had a more mature head on her slightly older shoulders, and realised fairly swiftly that romantic liasons and feelings amongst ten-year-olds rarely went anywhere and would soon be forgotten once they began their secondary school education. In any case, they remained firm friends.

      Michael Thompson was a romantic. He loved romance. Now he thought he might be in love with Lynda, and felt a stab of guilt as he realised that he had dumped Brenda for her all those years ago. If he had stayed with Brenda, would she be dead now, he wondered, if he had been there to protect her?

      He drifted off into an uneasy sleep, dreaming about gangsters, about stabbings, and about poor Brenda McLaren. Lynda Bamber entered the dream later, in the early hours of the morning, and the terrifying thing was that she was being held by the gangsters. They had murdered Brenda, and now they were going to murder Lynda.

      Kimble strolled into the public bar of the Pinewood Public House and took up his regular place, sitting on the stool where he could talk to the owner and friend, fellow Welshman Owen Lewis.
      ‘Johnny. Fancy giving me a hand this evening? There’s a match on at the aircraft factory and they’ll all be in here soon, baying for pints and God knows what else. All you can drink and a fiver, how’s that sound?’
      ‘You’re on,’ Kimble said, and took off his coat and hat, and went round behind the bar. ‘Better have Rego on standby?’ Rego was an enormous cream and black Alsatian, the pub dog. Kimble often took him for walks and frequently took him back to Cissy’s Mum’s house in Boverton Avenue. Michael had grown up playing with the dog, and adored him. He was the absolute spitting image of one of his childhood books about the exploits of a dog during the second world war. Most people shied away from the huge dog, but Michael had a way with animals, and although he was not allowed to have a dog of his own, he regularly played with his gran’s dog, Rex, a red border collie, until it had died a couple of years ago. His best pal also had a dog, which they called Feck, for some unexplained reason, but as he was away with his father, the opportunity to play with her in the half term holiday was lost.
      ‘Expecting trouble, Johnny?’ Owen asked.
      ‘Dougal McLaren might show his face. If he’s already tanked up, he may kick off about his daughter.’
      ‘He’d be right to. I hope you catch the bastard that did it, and soon!’
      Kimble didn’t answer. He poured himself a pint of brown ale and drank it down. Dougal McLaren did indeed show up at the pub that evening, but he was quiet enough, and the only trouble occurred when the losing team accused the winners, the Gloster cricketers, of cheating, but it was half-hearted, and there was no need for him to call the uniformed bobbies out from the Hucclecote police station, just down the road. He made his excuses and left Owen and his wife Glenda to clear up, and started to walk home just after ten o’clock.
      He heard the car pull up behind him just as he turned into Boverton Avenue. He wasn’t surprised when Eddie Mason got out of a black Morris Oxford and barred his way.
      ‘I need a word. Get in the car.’
      ‘I don’t think so, Eddie. I happen to like my legs. I’ll keep walking, I think.’
      ‘Not if you know what’s good for you.’ Eddie was an ex-boxer. Before he had discovered his penchant for men and boys, he’d had a fairly normal childhood, excelling at sports and particularly at boxing. During his spell in the army, he had come into his own in the ring, whilst at the same time coming to the attention of an attractive young man with whom he had had a brief fling before being demobbed. The army had changed his life forever, but he had continued to work out every morning, and although he was not as tall as Kimble, he was more powerfully built. His nose was broken, and there was a piece of his earlobe missing which he had lost in a fight in ’48 against Kid Billy Brooks of West Ham.
      ‘I’m not getting in the car, Eddie. Say what you have to say.’
      ‘The girl.’
      ‘The McLaren girl?’
      ‘Yeah. I didn't kill her. You know that.’ Kimble knew nothing of the sort. He knew that sooner or later he and Maxwell would have to question everyone in the village. He wasn't looking forward to that, and he also knew that it may well come out that he was in Mason’s pocket.
And had taken what might turn out to be a vital piece of evidence from the scene of the murder...which reminded him to look again when he got home, in his jacket pocket lining to make sure he still had it…
       ‘Do what you have to. You’ll be well looked after.’
      Without waiting for Kinble’s response, Eddie got back in the Oxford and drove off towards Cheltenham, leaving John Kimble feeling sick to his stomach. He stood over the kerb and brought up most of the evening meal he’d eaten, together with a couple of pints of brown ale. He could not believe that Eddie Mason would stoop so low as to kill a young teenaged girl, but he knew that Maxwell had taken the files home and that he would surely have read them by now and started to make assumptions. Kimble continued unsteadily on his way home, and let himself into the house he shared with his mother-in-law.  
      ‘Ma? I’m home!’ he called softly, but there was no reply. He switched on the front room light and saw her lying on the floor, a deep gash in her forehead where she’d caught it on the fender. He knelt beside her, and felt for a pulse.
      ‘Oh, Christ, no!’ he whispered, then threw his coat back on and ran through the lane to the Drive. The Thompsons’ house was in darkness, so he hammered on the kitchen door, and seconds later, Cissy Thompson opened it, peering out into the darkness. He pushed past her into the kitchen.
      ‘It’s your Mum, Cissy. I think she had a fall while I was at the pub. I think she might be dead.’


Chapter Thirteen


      At one thirty in the morning, Tommy Hinkley was out in Cranham Woods with his dog, a Cocker Spaniel called Charlie, hunting for rabbits by torchlight, but his main reason for being up so early was so that he could make his way down the hill towards Green Lane Farm where the brook turned into a river teeming with trout, and where he could do a little poaching. There was a full moon, and it was very wet underfoot following the previous day’s heavy rain. Tommy had on his wellington boots and a heavy raincoat and hat, but had forgotten to put on his waterproof trousers, and his jeans were soaked through at the bottom. He had seen only one rabbit, and his shot had missed, although Charlie had gone diving into the undergrowth anyway, and when he came back to his master, grinning and wagging furiously, he did have something in his mouth. It was a hand. A human hand. Old and almost skeletal, it had probably been there for a few months, but it was most definitely a human hand. On the ring finger, there was a solid gold band. There was an inscription on it, but Tommy didn’t like to take it off and look. He knew he should wait for the police. He made his way carefully down the near-vertical slope of Cooper’s Hill, known locally as Cheeseroll Hill, until he reached the little lane at the bottom where his parents’ cottage was, and telephoned the police. His parents were away, visiting a sick relative in Shropshire. Tommy waited patiently, the grisly discovery made by Charlie sitting on yesterday’s newspaper on the kitchen table.
      ‘What’s going on?’ Michael called. He could hear his mother and father downstairs, talking quietly, and his Uncle John was there, too.
      ‘It’s Gran, Michael. We’re going round the Avenue to see if she’s all right. You go back to bed, you have to get up early for your paper round,’ his mother called.
      ‘Is there anything I can do?’
      ‘No, go back to bed. I think Annie is asleep, but if she wakes, just tell her not to worry and to go back to sleep. She was travelling all day yesterday, she’s probably exhausted.’
      Pauline Thompson sauntered down the drive as her parents were leaving with Kimble to go round to the Avenue. She turned to wave to her boyfriend as he started up his motorbike and roared off into the dark.
      ‘What’s happened?’
      ‘It’s your Gran,’ Cissy told her. ‘Go inside and make some tea, Michael needs his sleep as he has to get up early to go and mar the papers for Mr Lees and then do his paper round. Wake Annie if you need someone to talk to. We’ll be back as soon as we can. We think she’s dead, Johnny thinks she’s dead.’
      ‘Oh, Mum! I should have been here.’
      ‘There was nothing you could have done, luvvy,’ Kimble said. ‘I got home from the pub just now and she was lying there.’
      ‘Did you call an ambulance?’
      ‘Yes, it should be on its way, we’d best get round there.’
      Michael had heard every word of this, and his heart sank. His grandmother, dead? How could that be? How many times had he come home from school and gone there, because his mum was out somewhere? She’d taught him to read, and to write. She’d taught him to play cards – rummy, pontoon, snap, Beat your Neighbour, whist, poker – they’d played for pennies and he’d amassed a small fortune. She’d let him take the bottles back to the off licence to collect the money on them, and he’d paid the money into his post office savings account, buying those stamps showing a young Prince Charles, week by week. He didn’t remember his grandfather, who had died when he was just three years old, but the bond between him and his gran had been strong, and unique. He was her favourite of all her grandchildren, and there were a fair few of them, because she’d had seven children herself.
      He watched Pauline from where he was sitting on the stairs. She didn’t know he was there, and she busied herself in the kitchen, making herself a cup of tea and keeping the kettle on the low gas ready to hot it up when they came back from Gran’s.
      ‘I wouldn’t mind a cup,’ he said softly, coming into the kitchen.
      ‘You startled me!’ Pauline said, and then they were holding each other, and she was crying against his shoulder.
      They sat in the lounge drinking their tea, and the minutes grew into hours. It was almost two o’clock when Albert and Cissy returned, looking gaunt and grim.
      ‘No easy way to say this, but she’s gone, I’m afraid. Doctor Cookson thinks it was a stroke, she fell and hit her head against the fender. She was probably dead before she hit the floor, he thinks. She wouldn’t have suffered,’ Albert told his children. They stared at him, unwilling to believe that the elderly grey-haired woman they had all adored would no longer be there to welcome them into her home.
      ‘Have a day off, Michael,’ his mother said. ‘I’ll pop down and tell Mr Lees what’s happened, and…’
      ‘No, it’s all right,’ Michael said. ‘I’ll do the rounds. I don’t have to go to school, so it doesn’t matter. I’ll do the papers, then I’ll come home.’
      Right now, what he wished for was Lynda, so that he could hold her, and she could comfort him, but he wouldn't be seeing her until the afternoon. He’d have to get a message to the others to let them know he wouldn’t be able to make it for the inaugural bath-pram meeting at David Hope’s farm tomorrow. And surely his dad wouldn’t think of starting work on the garage on Saturday, after what had just happened?
      ‘Where’s Uncle John?’
      ‘He stayed while they came and took her away, to the chapel of rest,’ Cissy said. ‘Then he went back home. He has to go to work. It's the Brenda McLaren case. He can't stay home, not really. Anyway, it’s not as though it’s his mum, though he was fond of her, I believe. I think I could do with a cup of tea, then I’m going to bed. Albert?’
      ‘Yes, I’ll do it. You two get to bed, there’ll be plenty to do in the morning. I’ll stay home, of course.’ He was due back at work this morning. Not today, though, work would have to wait until Monday. He had had enormous respect and genuine love for Cissy’s mum.
      Cissy nodded. Her eyes were red with crying. ‘I’ll go up, you can bring my tea up, if you don’t mind, Bert.’
      They went back to bed, all of them. Michael spent an hour or so staring at his bedroom ceiling, and then snatched a couple of hours before his alarm rang. He thought he would be half dead, but to his amazement, he was wide awake. He made himself a cup of coffee and a slice of toast, then slipped quietly out of the house and unlocked the garage to get his bicycle out. He put on his bowler hat, and a thick windcheater, and set off down the road to the newsagents.
      ‘My grandmother died last night,’ he told Mr Lees.
      ‘Sorry to hear that, Michael. Why don’t you go home? I can manage here for today. I’m sure Pedro won’t miss another day!’  
      ‘I’d rather keep busy, besides, no one will be up yet at home. I’ve got time to mark the papers and do my rounds and get home before they all get up.’
      ‘If you’re sure.’ Mr Lees was a kindly man, in his mid fifties. He had served in both the second world war and the Korean war, and seen some horrific things, but he was level-headed, and a good businessman. He was short, barely five feet six inches, and had relished returning to the army when the Korean conflict beckoned. He was unmarried, and, like Constable Hutchinson and his wife, looked on Michael Thompson as the son he’d never had. He was a popular trader with all his customers, always cheerful, although Michael knew that he lived alone and was probably lonely.
      ‘I hear you’re going out with young Lynda Bamber,’ Mr Lees said, taking a sip from his mug of coffee.
      ‘Word gets around quickly!’ Michael said.
      He started marking his papers just as the first influx of customers came into the shop to buy their newspapers and cigarettes before trudging over the road to work in the aircraft factory. There were rumours going round that the factory was going to be demolished to make way for houses, some said that the Gloster Saro company was about to start making vending machines there. Mr Lees already had such a machine standing outside the shop, from which you could buy a pint of milk at any time of the day or night, in a sort of plastic carton. It was unthinkable that the factory that had played such an important part in building aircraft and armaments for the second world war was about to stop, but there were signs of change all over the country.
      Michael hoped that the factory would continue to function as a factory, he would miss the silence-shattering engine testing that took place with monotonous regularity every day around ten o’clock. He hoped they wouldn’t build houses on the site. He recalled sitting on the top of Cooper’s Hill looking down on the factory site and seeing the vast expanse of green that constituted the playing fields and the runway. It was a part of the fabric of Brockworth, and should be preserved. But it was out of his hands. Politicians would make decisions about the factory. Michael had not yet given a lot of thought to politics. Once, when the ginger twins had asked him how he would vote in a general election, he’d answered “conservative”, and when they’d invited him to explain the reasons behind such a decision, he’d told them “because that’s how my dad votes.” They had laughed. “Do you have no opinions of your own?” they’d asked, and it had set him thinking. His mum, he knew, was a socialist, so why did he think his father’s voting preferences were more important than his mother’s? It was a question he couldn’t answer yet, but when he thought back, to when he was on the point of putting down a deposit on his BSA bicycle, the night before Prime Minister Macmillan had announced a tightening of credit controls for hire purchase, he remembered thinking how much he hated the conservatives just then.
      He’d got his bicycle, courtesy of a whip round from his uncles and aunts to help him with the deposit, and he and his father had gone to Currys in King’s Square, and purchased the bicycle on hire purchase, and within six months he had paid for it out of his paper round wages, but he always remembered the feeling of desperation he’d experienced when Macmillan almost deprived him of his beloved bike. Maybe he would form an opinion of his own when he was a little older, and old enough to vote. Maybe the conservatives weren’t the best people to run the country after all. At least he was starting to think about it. They rarely talked about politics at school. There was a debating society, and he had attended once, to hear a heated debate about why the school should abolish school uniform, but he wasn’t convinced by the arguments, and in any case he felt extremely proud in his maroon and gold blazer and tie.
      He finished marking his papers and magazines, and loaded them into his delivery bag, relieved that it wasn’t Sunday, when the bag would be overfilled and enormously heavy. He set off on his round, which today took in Westfield Avenue. As he pushed Mrs Bamber’s
Daily Sketch through the letterbox, he heard an upstairs window open and looked up to see Lynda leaning out of the window, looking absolutely adorable in pink winceyette pyjamas, her auburn hair tousled, her eyes sleep-filled but gorgeous.
      ‘Hello you!’ she whispered. ‘I wish you were up here with me.’
      ‘Me too,’ he said. He blew her a kiss and walked to the gate. ‘Will I see you before tea-time?’
She shook her head sadly. ‘We’re going shopping, and then we have visitors, and I have to be here. Sorry.’
      ‘My grandmother died during the night.’
      ‘Oh, Mike, I’m so sorry. Wait there, I’m coming down!’
      He took off his bowler hat and placed it on the saddle of his bike. A few moments later the front door opened and she ran towards him in her bare feet, still clad only in her pyjamas, and threw her arms around him, clasping him tightly. Her breath smelt minty, and he supposed she had already washed and was getting ready to go out with her mother. His own body thrilled to the feel of her young, firm breasts pressing against his chest, and he felt himself harden against her.
      ‘I’m sorry I can’t be with you this morning.’
      ‘Me too. Are you still on for this afternoon?’
      ‘I’ll be there. And Mum says you’re to come for dinner some time. We could go to the pictures!’
      ‘The flea pit?’
      The flea pit was just across the road, and showed pictures that were usually, on average, six months or more out of date. If you wanted up-to-date films, you needed to get the bus into the city,
into town, and go to the Regal cinema in King’s Square. Where the Beatles had been one of the support acts for Tommy Roe, whose song “Sheila” sounded like a copy of the great Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”, and Chris Montez, whom he didn’t really like all that much, and because they were only a support act he’d not bothered to go and see them, something he would regret for the rest of his life…
      ‘I’ll find out what’s on. I’ll see you tomorrow. I have to go, Mum will have breakfast ready. I love you!’
      ‘I love you too,’ he said, and kissed her briefly on the lips. It wasn’t seemly to be seen kissing in public, especially at eight o’clock in the morning. Lynda ran lightly back indoors and closed the door. Michael replaced his bowler hat, climbed back on his bike and cycled off. He’d all but forgotten about Lynda telling him she had seen Brenda McLaren getting into the big car, but it surfaced briefly in his mind as he cycled home up the Drive, because it was at the bottom of the Drive that she had seen them. He intended tackling Uncle John about it again, but not yet. Today was for mourning, and he was not surprised to see all the curtains still drawn even though it was half past seven and broad daylight. All of the immediate neighbours’ curtains were also drawn. It was the custom. They would remain drawn for the rest of the morning, or at least until the Thompson family emerged from their house to set about the business of arranging Florence’s funeral, and then, in a few days’ time, on the day of the funeral itself, the curtains would again be drawn.
      Michael found his parents, Annette and Pauline, together with Uncle John and Uncle Eric drinking tea and eating Peek Frean biscuits in the lounge. He put the newspapers he always brought home with him on the arm of one of the chairs and took off his bowler hat and coat and hung them in the hall.
      No one was speaking. Abruptly, Albert Thompson, who had been surprisingly close to his mother-in-law, stood up. ‘I need to get on with the car if I’m not going to work. Call me when the vicar gets here. Mikey, d’you want to help? We’ll start on the garage later, maybe.’
      Michael shook his head. ‘I’m no good with mechanical things, Dad,’ he said, which was not strictly true. Once, he had found an old typewriter in the old garage, and seen that one vital piece was missing. He had taken a piece of sheet metal, of which there always seemed to be a plentiful supply, and his father’s tin snips, and had cut a piece exactly the right shape and size, and repaired the typewriter, and now he used it occasionally when he was in the mood to write a story which he thought he might want to keep for posterity. One day he would buy himself a modern typewriter, a Smith-Corona that he had his eye on, a blue one, and he would fit a black and red ribbon to it and start his creative writing career. But for now, he used the ancient Olivetti that sat on the floor in a corner of his bedroom. He no longer did physics at school, and did not really understand the workings of the combustion engine, carburettors, pistons and all that. When you turned the key in the ignition, the car should start, that was the extent of his knowledge. Besides, messing about with bits of car engine would inevitable mean getting dirty, really dirty. It was bad enough when he had to oil his bike. He hated getting dirty, and spent ages scrubbing his hands with Vim when he got dirty oil on them. Above all, he liked to be clean.
      ‘I’ll be in my room,’ he said. ‘I still have some work to do before school next week.’
      ‘I’d like you to be here when the vicar comes, Michael,’ his mother said, and he nodded and left the room. When his mother called him “Michael” he knew he had to pay attention, he was either in trouble, which was rare, or else it was something important. On this occasion he didn't have to even think about which it was. He was halfway up the stairs when his Uncle John followed him.
      ‘Mikey, a word,’ he said.
      ‘About your friend. The one who thought she saw the girl get into the car.’
      ‘What about her?’
      ‘Tell her she must have been mistaken,’ Kimble said. ‘I’ve checked all the other statements, and Brenda McLaren was never near the car she saw.’
      Michael frowned, because Lynda had been so sure. But he said nothing.
      ‘Best not to mention it in front of your parents, especially with all this going on, your gran’s funeral arrangements and so on. I’ll see you this evening. Chief Inspector Maxwell and I will be carrying on with our investigations.’

      Michael went to his room and tried to read a book, but he could not concentrate. He heard the squeal of tyres outside and ran into his parents’ bedroom to look out of the window, and saw his uncle climb into DCI Maxwell’s Wolseley. The car turned in the road and went screaming off down towards the Hucclecote Road at a fearsome speed. Mike frowned. That didn’t look like “carrying on with our investigations”, and he wondered if something else had happened, another crime of some sort. He recalled Lynda telling him about how she had seen Brenda getting into the Standard Vanguard, and wondered why his uncle was dismissing it so out of hand. He resolved to mention it in private to Chief Inspector Maxwell at the earliest opportunity.
      Later, when the vicar called to make arrangements for the funeral, which would take place the following Friday, Michael was asked if he would like to do a reading, but he declined. He was naturally shy, and not that good at public speaking. Besides, he was genuinely upset at the passing of his grandmother and knew that he would not be able to carry it off without breaking down. In the end it was agreed that no one except the vicar would speak, and he left, having helped the family to decide on three very nice hymns, all of which Michael sang regularly with the school choir. Later that morning, he got out his bike and cycled to the crater where Brenda’s body had been found. If he was going to have a career as a policeman, where better to start? He parked his bike in the derelict barn and started to look around on the ground, searching for clues.
      It was not long before he spotted the tyre tracks. The ground was mostly soft because of the rain they’d had in the past few days, and there was a set of fresh tyre marks in the soft earth in front of the barn. He wondered if the police had taken any notice of them, or if they were really fresh, and someone had visited or revisited the scene of the murder in recent days. In his saddle bag, he had a camera which he took everywhere with him. Occasionally he spotted a bird or a landscape that took his eye, and was always ready with his box brownie. He knew he had at least two shots left, and snapped the tyre tracks, intending to develop the film later that day in the tiny, smelly cupboard under the stairs where the gas meter was, and where he had once hidden when he had accidentally stepped in the wet concrete his father and uncles had been laying. By the time the concrete had set, it was almost dark, and he had felt safe enough to emerge from his hiding place. Amazingly, no one had noticed that he was missing, and the footprint in the concrete had been left, preserved for posterity. In the event, he was not punished for spoiling the concrete, but for ruining his shoes. The punishment involved being sent to his room, which suited him down to the ground, as it was a kind of sanctuary for him, a place where he could sit and read, which he loved more than anything at that point in his life.
      It was desolately quiet at Morgan’s Farm. There was a soft, warm wind blowing, and it washed over him as he stood in the yard, mulling over what his uncle had said about Lynda being mistaken about seeing Brenda get into a car.
      ‘She was so sure,’ he said to himself. ‘So sure. Why would she get something as important as that wrong?’
      What was it they talked about on the radio and in his police books? House to house enquiries, that was it. He knew pretty much everyone in Boverton Drive, because he delivered their newspapers, and because the Thompsons were a decent, popular, respected family. No one had a bad word for them. He would ask them. He would conduct his own house to house enquiries, and they would probably talk to him, where they might not talk to the police. Some people had things to hide. His father had told him that a while back, though he hadn’t elaborated at the time.
      He heard the squeal of bicycle brakes and looked up to see his nemesis, Robert Delaney, coming towards him. He didn’t appear to have any of his friends with him. Normally, there were three or four of them. Delaney was a bully. He delighted in pushing the younger boys around at school, and on more than one occasion Michael had stopped him, threatening to tell a teacher or a prefect what was going on. He wasn’t afraid of Delaney any more.
      ‘This where it happened, then?’ Delaney asked as he leapt off his bike. Even from ten feet away, Michael could tell the other boy had been smoking, and turned his head away in disgust. It made him feel ill. He hated it when his parents and his uncles lit up, almost as much as he hated it when they had too much to drink.
      Michael nodded.
      ‘Why are you here? Playing detective?’ Delaney said.
      ‘I guess.’
      ‘More of your Famous Five stuff, I suppose.’
      ‘Nothing wrong with the Famous Five.’
      ‘It’s kids’ stuff.’
      ‘If you say so. What do you read, then?’
      ‘As little as I have to. As little as I can get away with. Reading is for losers.’
      ‘That figures.’
      ‘What’s that supposed to mean? I read books when I have to. For school…’
      Delaney was pushing five feet ten, which meant he was at least two inches shorter than Michael. He was good at games, especially rugby, and was well built, but Michael’s rowing had brought him on in leaps and bounds, and whereas a year ago, Delaney had been taller and bigger than Michael, now he was shorter and less well-muscled.
      ‘Did you know her?’
      ‘Yes. She was a friend from primary school.’
      Delaney nodded. ‘I heard your uncle was on the case. That right?’
      ‘Yes. He’s a top detective.’
      ‘Not what I heard.’
      ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
      ‘Nothing. Smoke?’
      ‘No thanks. Not into it. It’s not good for you. Stunts your growth.’
      Delaney flexed his muscles. ‘Hasn’t done me any harm.’
      ‘It will. Eventually. What did you mean about my uncle?’
      ‘Doesn’t matter.’
       Delaney climbed back onto his bike, lit his cigarette, and turned in the saddle. ‘I saw you with the Bamber girl. She’s cute.’
      Michael nodded. At least Delaney would spread the word that he had a decent girlfriend.
      ‘Any good, is she?’
      ‘Bye Delaney,’ Michael said, turning his back on him.
      ‘You haven’t done it yet, have you?’ Delaney said with a sneer.
      ‘None of your business.’
      Delaney laughed and rode off towards Churchdown. Michael wondered why he had come to the five trees, and supposed it must have been curiosity and a desire to see where the young girl had been murdered. Such things were not commonplace in the Gloucestershire countryside, after all.
      He continued to search the area, but there was nothing else, no clues. To Michael, it looked for all the world as though someone had deliberately obliterated most of the tyre tracks, and it had been sheer chance that had blown away some of the leaves that had been covering the remaining ones. He made a mental note to tell his uncle or DCI Maxwell about the tyre tracks in case they could make a cast and identify them and the car. He’d read about something similar leading to the arrest of a criminal in his
Fabian of the Yard book a couple of years ago. Real police work, that was what it was. What was it they did at crime scenes? Fingertip searches, that was it. And why had they not secured the area? Shouldn’t there be a bobby standing guard where the body was found? Never mind. He would conduct his own fingertip search of the area. Methodically. Starting in the barn.


Chapter Thirteen


      Cissy opened the door to June Bamber. She’d had a good sleep and felt slightly refreshed, but the events of the previous night tumbled in on her and she had spent a good half hour in the bathroom, just weeping.
      ‘Mrs Bamber.’
      ‘Mrs Thompson. Came to pay my respects.’ June Bamber was the same age as Cissy, but in marked contrast, was done up like a dog’s dinner, wearing a smart two-piece cream suit and a little red hat with a bow. ‘I know how you must be feeling. They still haven’t found my husband.’
      ‘He’s missing, is he? Not dead, though?’
      ‘Who knows. I’m just saying, it’s sad when you lose someone. I doubt we’ll ever see him again.’
      ‘Not the same as someone dying, though, wouldn’t you say? Come in, I’ll put the kettle on.’
      ‘Thanks. While I’m here, I thought we could talk about my Linnie and your Michael. Make some plans, like.’
      ‘Plans? What plans? Sit down. How do you like your tea?’
      ‘Well, an engagement party, for starters.’ Cissy’s eyes opened wide but she held her nerve and said nothing. Mrs Bamber, who was openly, almost blatantly beautiful, and certainly turned heads wherever she went, was in full flight.
      ‘They make such a lovely couple, don’t they? And I think it is so romantic that they are childhood sweethearts, don’t you agree?’
      ‘Mrs Bamber…’
      ‘Please, call me June. Your name is Cicely, I believe?’
      ‘That’s right… I’ll get that kettle on.’
      Over tea, they talked about young people in general, and how things were going to be so much better now that everything was settling into a pattern of plenty after years of austerity and privation. It was as June Bamber was eating her third chocolate digestive that Cissy brought up the subject of the engagement again.
      ‘I think they should have a fairly long engagement myself. Give them time to get to know each other.’ In those days in rural Gloucestershire, folk married young, and tended to stay in the same place their parents lived. It was the same in most countryside villages, though the swinging sixties was starting to change the way people felt about marrying and settling down.
      ‘I agree. Young people these days… Shall we say six months?’
      Cissy had been thinking more along the lines of a couple of years, but again held her tongue. In fact, until June Bamber had mentioned an engagement, it hadn’t occurred to her at all that her Mikey might be thinking about getting married and settling down. She needed to talk to Michael rather urgently, to see what, if anything, had given June Bamber the idea that he was ready to settle down with her daughter, yet she was already certain that this was all in Mrs Bamber’s head. But she was nothing if not polite, and even offered her another cup of tea.
      ‘There are so many things to be arranged. Dress, flowers, photographs, invitations. You will let me have a list of people you would want to invite to the wedding, won’t you, Cicely?’ All Cissy could think of at the moment was how to get rid of this most annoying woman. She could have simply said that her mother had died in the night and asked her to leave, but she didn't think that would be sufficient for this brass-necked woman. She obviously already knew that, anyway, because she had “come to pay her respects”, although that now seemed to be simply an excuse for her to get her foot in the door to talk about Michael and her Lynda. She decided to go along with what she was suggesting, in the hope that she would be satisfied and leave of her own accord.
      ‘Of course. And Albert and I will be pleased to help in any way we can. We’re not well off, but we have a little money put aside, and it’s not as if Annette is showing any interest in boys just yet…’
      ‘Ah, yes,’ June Bamber said, sniffing. ‘That’s your youngest daughter, I believe? She is very close to your son, isn’t he?’
      ‘They’re twins. But you wouldn’t know it to look at them. He’s shot up in the last few months, and she’s stayed petite and adorable, just like your Lynda.’
      ‘Yes. Hmm. Well, I must go. Thank you for the tea. Don’t forget to let me have that list.’
      ‘Of course. I’m sorry there isn’t any news of Mr Bamber.’
      Mrs Bamber’s nose rose into the air. She was now positively frosty. ‘No, it’s as though he has disappeared off the face of the earth. I should cancel his newspaper order with Mr Lees.’
As though that was the most important aspect of Mr Bamber’s disappearance… ‘Good day to you, Mrs Thompson. I’ll see you again shortly. Once again, thank you for the tea and the biscuits.’
      ‘You’re most welcome, I’m sure,’ Cissy said to Mrs Bamber’s rapidly disappearing back. ‘Curious,’ she said to herself, and wondered where Mike could be, and if he had any idea what June Bamber had planned for him and her daughter.

      Maxwell and Kimble sat in Tommy Hinkley’s kitchen staring impassively at the hand that sat on a pile of old newspapers on the battered old formica-covered table. Charlie sat in the corner by the gas stove, his tail wagging furiously. He had obviously done very well to find the object, and was thoroughly enjoying all the attention he was getting, for both of the detectives had made an inordinate fuss of him when they entered the little cottage.
      ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Tommy asked them, and put the kettle on anyway.
      ‘That would be most welcome, Tommy,’ Kimble said.
      ‘Where did your dog find the hand, Tommy?’ Maxwell said.
      ‘In the woods at the top of Cheeseroll Hill.’
      ‘You’d better radio in for assistance,’ Maxwell said to Kimble, scratching his chin. ‘We’ll wait here till they get here and then we’ll all go up together. He had climbed Cheeseroll Hill once before, the year before last, with his wife, so that they could get a good view of the start of the races from the top. There was no easy way to the summit, and although he was as fit as Kimble, he was not relishing the climb. An hour later, a team of forensics officers and a dog handler with an enormous Alsatian named Jake arrived, and they started off for the top of the hill. Kimble remembered the time Michael had come home one evening, well after tea had been served, covered in lacerations, all over his back and his legs, and his shirt had been torn to shreds. Cissy knew full well where he had been. He was eleven years old and forbidden to go up the hill without an adult. In fact he had been with the ginger twins. He had been reluctant at first, but they had teased him, and he hated that, and so he had agreed to go. Inevitably, his foot had slipped on a pile of loose stones barely twenty feet from the safety of the summit, and he had fallen, rolling over and over until he had come to rest near the bottom of the slope. The twins had charged down the face of the hill at breakneck speed – both of them always entered the races – and found Michael, not moving, bleeding copiously from a dozen wounds, and feared the worst. He was shaken badly, but he was not badly injured, and certainly not dead. They had done their best to wash his wounds in a nearby stream, and at six thirty had finally made their way into the Drive, and waited on the front lawn while Michael explained to his mother what had happened.
      ‘It wasn’t their fault,’ he said. ‘I made my own mind up to go. I’m sorry, Mum.’
      She had clasped him to her ample bosom and soothed his tears, then waved the twins away. ‘They’re not in trouble, and neither are you. Now you know how dangerous it is, you know why I said you shouldn’t go on your own. The fact you were with the twins means nothing. They’re good lads, and they did their best. But next time, you’ll be much more careful, I’d guess. Now come inside and let’s clean you up and find you some tea. Then it’s straight to bed for you and you can rest up for a day.’
      The incident had been forgotten quickly, except by Kimble, who remembered clearly the logic as he struggled to keep up with Tommy Hinkley and Maxwell, who was almost sprinting up the face. At last they all reached the summit and Tommy led them through the bramble and hawthorn bushes until they stood at the precise spot where Charlie had found the hand. The dog handler showed the severed hand to Jake, and he and Charlie started to sniff around.
      ‘Missing persons? Anyone on the books, Sergeant?’ Maxwell said.
      ‘No one springs to mind, unless it’s June Bamber’s husband. He wasn’t reported missing, but he hasn’t been around for a good few months, Cissy was telling me.’
      ‘My sister-in-law. Michael’s mum. Lives in the Drive, opposite Constable Hutchinson.’
      Maxwell nodded. ‘And you think the hand might belong to him?’
      ‘No one saw him go. Just upped and left, according to Mrs Bamber. She might recognise the ring.’ He held up a small plastic bag containing the ring. ‘Forensics took it off for safe keeping.’
      ‘Good. You can call in and ask her later. If we find the rest of the body, that is.’
      It was Jake who found the remainder of Trevor Bamber, and there was no mistaking it was him, because in the rotting pocket of his tweed jacket, they found a wallet containing his ID card from the wartime years, and on his other hand was a wristwatch engraved with his name. It was unthinkable that anyone should try to pretend that this was anyone other than Trevor Bamber, and they would shortly have to visit Mrs Bamber and break the unpleasant news to her. The area where the body was found was sealed off, and forensics went to work as the pathologist started his examination of the remains. A while later, the doctor found Maxwell and Kimble sitting in Tommy Hinkley’s kitchen eating biscuits and drinking coffee.
      ‘A severe blow to the back of the head with a blunt instrument,’ he said. ‘It's possible he fell and struck his head on a rock, but it looks to me as though he's been carried up here and hidden. During the winter, I'd say. Probably froze to death during the winter, it was particularly bad up here, you know. A wild animal must have gnawed at the hand for a while until it came off. In other words, it wasn’t cut off, but wrenched off. There’s blood on the ground so I’d say he died up here, on the hill, but I really think someone brought him up here to hide him, if you take my meaning. It's not a recent death, and there's not much to go on, but if you want my professional opinion, he was either hit from behind or he fell and hit his head somewhere else, then someone brought his body up here, up to the woods to hide it. It may or may not be murder, I can't be sure now there's not that much left of the body. Your call.’
      Maxwell nodded. ‘Thank you, doctor. Let me have your full report as soon as possible, please. Come along, Sergeant, let’s pay Mrs Bamber a visit, shall we?’

      When they arrived at the Bamber house, they found June Bamber in the kitchen reading her husband’s Daily Sketch. He put the evidence bag containing the ring on the table and asked her to look at it.
      ‘Yes, it’s his. Where was he found? He is dead, isn’t he?’
      ‘At the top of Cooper’s Hill. I’m sorry, Mrs Bamber…’
      ‘I’m not!’ she snapped. She looked for all the world like Diana Dors, except she was brunette rather than blonde, and Kimble could not help but find his eyes drawn to her magnificent breasts, barely concealed by a leopard-print blouse with a plunging neckline.
      ‘Was he…?’
      ‘He was hit on the head with a blunt object. I’m sorry, Mrs Bamber, it's possible he was murdered. I shall need you to tell me everything that happened the day he disappeared. What you said to each other, if he gave you any clue as to where he might be going, if he was acting normally, that sort of thing.’
      ‘Yes, of course, Sergeant. I need to get my thoughts together, just give me a moment. I need a cigarette…’
      ‘Sorry, I don’t smoke,’ Kimble said, lying. The last thing he wanted right now was to interview a grieving widow as she puffed clouds of acrid smoke into the room. He wondered if there was anyone else in the house, and realised, with a start, that this was the mother of Michael’s girlfriend, Lynda.
      ‘How long has your husband been missing, Mrs Bamber?’
      ‘A few months.’
      ‘And you didn’t report it?’
      June Bamber shook her head, her magnificent hair cascading about her face. Her breasts shook a little as she settled herself, and Kimble felt himself getting hot under the collar. What a woman! He glanced at Maxwell, who seemed singularly unimpressed.
      ‘No. There didn’t seem much point. I assumed he had gone off with another woman. One evening, he simply didn't come home from work. He'd been threatening to leave for weeks, so it didn't come as much of a surprise.’
      ‘You don't know the name of the woman he was seeing? You didn’t make any enquiries?’
      ‘No. Why would I? We were better off without him.’
      ‘What makes you say that?’
      June Bamber lowered her eyes, and then looked pointedly at her upper left arm. ‘It’s faded now, of course, and you wouldn’t know he’d ever done it,’ she said. ‘But he used to beat me. And Lynnie. Lynda, my daughter.’
      ‘I see. And you didn’t report this to anyone either?’
      ‘His word against ours. I’m glad he’s dead! We’re well rid of him!’ 
      ‘Is there anyone else in the house, Mrs Bamber? Is your daughter here, for instance?’
      ‘She’s upstairs getting ready, we're going shopping this morning.’ She was unaware that her daughter had been up for several hours, and only a couple of hours earlier she had been talking to Michael Thompson on the doorstep, and in her pyjamas. But at that moment, Lynda appeared in the doorway, still wearing her pyjamas, and nothing on her feet.
      ‘What is it, Mum? I heard talking. Is it Dad?’
      ‘Yes, love, I’m afraid they’ve found him. He’s dead. It seems he was murdered.’ Lynda’s eyes were unexpressive. She sat on the arm of the chair in which her mother was seated, and put her arms around her neck. ‘I’m sorry, he’s finally gone.’
      ‘I’ll leave you to it for the moment, Mrs Bamber. We’ll call back later to get a statement from you both.’
      ‘If you see Michael,’ Lynda said quietly, ‘could you ask him to call round?’
      Kimble nodded and returned to where Maxwell sat, in the car, reading his notes.
      ‘Well, she certainly kept that quiet. Didn’t even report him missing. Claims he used to hit her and the daughter.’
      Maxwell nodded. ‘It doesn’t surprise me. Some men do that. Me, I’d hang them if I had my way. Let’s go, shall we?’
      ‘Back to the station, get some breakfast. We have a lot of sorting out to do.’
      ‘Do you think the two murders are linked, Sir?’
      Maxwell’s steely grey eyes seemed to bore into the sergeant’s. ‘It’s a small village, John,’ he said. It was the first time he had ever addressed his sergeant by his first name. ‘Everyone knows everyone else. It wouldn’t surprise me, but at the moment I can’t see a link. Can you? What made you ask?’
      ‘I don’t really know why I said it. It just came into my head.’
      ‘Well, it won’t hurt to bear it in mind. You never know. There is a link, of course, a tenuous one, but one worth thinking about nevertheless.’
      ‘What would that be, Sir?’
      ‘Tommy Hinkley. Let’s bring him in for questioning, shall we?’
      ‘Tommy Hinkley?’
      ‘He found both bodies, didn’t he?’
      Kimble nodded. That had not occurred to him, and he realised now why Maxwell was the chief inspector while he was still a lowly sergeant. That and the fact that Maxwell was totally, brutally honest and incorruptible.

      Lynda and her mother sat quietly side by side in separate armchairs, each remembering the last time they had seen him, the brutal husband who had terrorised his wife, the terrifying father who would not have been able to stop himself from abusing his daughter. Late January or early February it had been, neither recollected the exact date, only that June Bamber had come home to find her daughter sprawled on the floor in the kitchen while Trevor Bamber stood over her, a fire iron in his hand. His eyes were those of a psychotic maniac who has reached the end of his tenuous reasoning.
      ‘No more!’ she cries, picking up a tin of Tate & Lyle’s Golden Syrup. It is a big tin, one that has been in the larder for many years. She lobs it at him, but it misses by a mile, and he turns to face her, murder in his eyes.
      ‘Shouldn’a done that!’ he grunts, and lurches forwards. The stale smell of tobacco and alcohol reaches her nose, and he raises the iron, intending to hit her, but it never lands, because her daughter has picked up the syrup tin and smashed it against the side of his head. A spray of blood and brain matter flows from the wound. His eyes widen in anger, but the damage is done, and anyway, she is bringing it down on his head again, this time behind the ear, and he falls heavily, hitting the side of the kitchen table with a sickening thud.
      ‘That should finish him!’ the mother says, and the daughter nods.
      ‘I’ll get someone to help clear up. We have to move the body.’

The mother has gone out into the back garden, and as luck would have it, the young man walking past, in the lane by the brook, raises his cap. He knows her from the shop where he works. He knows her, and he knows her daughter, and he likes and respects them both. What he doesn’t like is the brute of a husband that makes both their lives a living hell. It is no coincidence, him being there, in the lane.
      ‘I’ll bring my dad’s car down, after dark,’ he says. ‘We’ll move him then. Just act normally now, as though nuthin’s happened. Just go about yer business. Shut up the house, go into town, if you like, long as you’re clean. Leave the rest to me.’
      ‘Thank you!’ the mother says. The girl says nothing, but her eyes tell him what he needs to know. She is grateful for his help, but there could never be anything between them, nothing like that. He nods, replaces his cap, and saunters off. He isn’t helping them because he wants to get inside the daughter’s knickers. That isn’t it at all. No, it is actually the mother he is interested in. As he promises, he arrives after dark driving his father’s shooting brake van, and he and the mother carry Trevor Bamber's body through the back door, through the back garden and out into the lane that runs along beside the stream, the brook that probably gave the village of Brockworth its name. They lift the body of her dead husband into the back.
      ‘Shall I come with you?’ she says, and he nods.
      ‘Might need some help getting him out the other end. I’ll drive you back.’ At the top of Cooper’s Hill is Cranham Woods. They don’t bury him, but rather cover him in the profusion of bramble and undergrowth.
      ‘He’ll get eaten, by and by. T’won’t be nuthin’ left of him after an ‘ard winter.’
      ‘Thank you,’ she says, and reaches for his hand, knowing what he wants. It is a small price to pay.

      ‘My parents are in Bristol,’ he says. They are visiting a relative, and Tommy has been fending for himself for two weeks now. He and Charlie are self-sufficient. Tommy knows everyone in the village, and most people in the village know him by sight, a few know him well enough to talk to. He is harmless, and very well read, and can hold a conversation, but nevertheless there are always villagers who shun him, some who even cross the street to avoid him. Mike Thompson knows him and always talks to him. June Bamber has seen him walking in the fields the other side of the brook, and always waves to him. She quite likes the look of him, but if you were to ask her, she wouldn't have been able to say what it was about him that attracted her. She doesn’t question his being there to help dispose of her husband's body, and neither of them actually know if he is dead or not, nor do they care. What Tommy has in mind for Trevor Bamber will surely finish him off. The snow is still lying in six-feet drifts at where the hedgerows separated the cultivated fields from the common land at the foot of Cooper's Hill. Trevor Bamber's body would rot away after he died of hypothermia. Few words had passed between June Bamber and Tommy Hinkley. Now, at last, he speaks. ‘You could come to the house.’
      ‘Yes, I will,’ she says. He is an awkward, inexperienced lover, but she makes him lay naked on the bed with just an oil lamp for illumination, and then she undressed before him, pulling her blouse off over her head, revealing a white bra. This she undoes, freeing her magnificent, firm breasts, and then she straddles him, guiding him inside her, and rides him like a wild thing.
      ‘I’ll drive you back home,’ he says, pulling on his trousers and boots, but she shakes her head.
      ‘No, I’ll walk. There may be people about. I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble.’ That means that she doesn’t want to be seen in his company, something she later, vigorously denies, but they keep apart for several days, and it is not until after a couple of months has been and gone without the discovery of the body, that he ventures back down the lane where the brook ran, and she lets him in by the back door, knowing her daughter is at school.

      ‘Do you think they’ll come after us?’ Lynda says, when she arrives home that afternoon.
      ‘Nothing to link him to us,’ June Bamber says. ‘I buried the syrup tin, we wiped away everything in the kitchen. As far as we were concerned, he walked out on us all those months ago and we never saw him again. He was no loss. What he did to you…’
      ‘Hush, Mum. He’s gone now. He can’t hurt us now.’

Chapter Fourteen


       Aware that Kimble’s wife’s mother had died in the night, Maxwell dropped him in the Drive and drove out to Tommy Hinkley’s place, knowing that Kimble would want to spend some time with his family as they made the funeral arrangements.
      Tommy was just making himself a mid-morning snack of bread and cheese when Maxwell pulled up. The kitchen was tiny, cramped. Just a sink, a table and two chairs. Maxwell wondered what they did in the mornings when there were three of them. On the single shelf above the sink, he noticed bottles of washing up liquid and soap flakes, a box of Omo washing powder, a tin of Brasso and a pair of binoculars.
      ‘Have they found anything, Inspector? Do you know who did it?’
      ‘Let’s sit down and have a chat, Tommy. Did you say that your parents were away?’
      ‘Yeah, visiting my Granddad. He’s had a stroke. Bristol, they’ve been gone two weeks now.’
      ‘Sorry to hear that. You're all right, living up here on your own, just Charlie to take care of?'
And take care of you? Tommy nodded.
      'I wanted to hear, in your own words, how you came to find the body this morning.’
      ‘Do you know who it is?’
      ‘Yes, Tommy, it’s Trevor Bamber, husband of June and father to Lynda.’
      Tommy nodded. ‘He were a wrong ‘un, yer know.’
      ‘Was he, Tommy? How did you know that?’
      ‘I saw him.’
      ‘Saw him where? Do what? Perhaps you should start at the beginning?’
      And so, at the police station in the city of Gloucester, Tommy Hinkley told Maxwell how one day he had been walking past the back of the Bamber house towards the small stream, or brook where he was intending to fish. He saw Bamber and his wife arguing in the bedroom at the back, and recognised the house as theirs because of the swing in the back garden, where he had once gone to play with the children of previous occupants. When the Bambers had arrived in the village, he had still been at school and on one occasion Lynda had spoken about the swing in the back garden. Also, he thought he recognised June Bamber from her long blond hair. As he made his way through the copse to the stream, the voices went silent, and then he heard sobbing, and guessed that Bamber had managed to subdue his wife by hitting her. He saw Bamber leave the house by the back door, then let himself out of the side gate and walked towards the main road. Deciding it was none of his business as long as June and Lynda were unharmed, Tommy spent the morning fishing in the brook and then went home after catching nothing. All that day he had worried about them, and eventually he had decided to go and see that they were all right, but before he could reach the road, he had run into Lynda Bamber at the bottom of Green Lane. She seemed happy enough, and he was satisfied that Bamber had not touched her. Rumours abounded in the village that the man was a brute and regularly beat or abused his wife.
      ‘Any idea when that would have been, Tommy?’ Maxwell said.
      ‘Around February time, late-ish, I would say. He been gone that long, has he?’
      ‘It would seem so, Tommy, it would seem so.’
      ‘Reckon he walked out on her?’
      ‘I’m not sure. All we know is that he was not murdered in situ.’
      ‘In where?’
      ‘In situ. It means in the place where he was found. There was no blood in the surrounding area. He was murdered somewhere else, and then brought here, to the woods, although I won’t know for certain until the pathologist gets in touch, which should be some time on Monday.’
      ‘Have you been to the house?’
      ‘The Bambers’ house? Yes, but I’m going back later to get a statement. Then we should know exactly what day he disappeared.’
      ‘I expect you’re thinking it’s a coincidence,’ Tommy said. ‘Me finding both of the bodies and that?’
      Maxwell nodded. ‘I will have to look into that, Tommy, yes. Anything you want to say?’
      Tommy shook his head. ‘I got nothing to hide,’ he said.
      ‘Come back to the station on Monday and make a statement, will you?’
      ‘Right you are, Inspector. I hope you find who killed them. Do you think it was the same person?’
      ‘Nothing to link the two murders at the moment, Tommy. I’ll see you on Monday.’
Except you, Tommy, except you. Maxwell took himself off somewhere quiet to think and Tommy went home to feed Charlie. Ideally, he would have liked to be at home, with his dying wife, but she was in good hands and he had never let his private life interfere with his work. It was just that the time had come for him to collect his thoughts, to piece together the evidence they had, and to ask himself some searching questions.

      Maxwell parked at the foot of Cooper’s Hill and walked slowly to the top. He looked out across the vast panorama of countryside. On a clear day you could see the Malvern Hills. Robinswood Hill was clearly visible, out near Tuffley. Immediately below him was the huge green space that constituted the grounds which belonged to the aircraft company. Clearly marked was the cricket pitch where Gloucester County Cricket Club played a fair proportion of their home matches. He could easily pick out Boverton Avenue, the Drive, Green Lane and Vicarage Lane, and the council estate at the northern end of the village, together with the primary school. With a powerful pair of binoculars, it would be possible to see some of what was going on in the village, and wondered if Tommy Hinkley, who was not quite the full ticket, ever did that. He did seem to have a knack of knowing what some of the villagers were up to, despite not living there himself.
      From this vantage point, someone might have seen Brenda McLaren being abducted, bundled into a car or something. He started back down the hill. Tommy Hinkley had known where her body was going to be found, he knew that now. Tommy wasn’t simple, he had a full working brain, but he wasn’t
normal, not quite. There were things going on in his brain that would not occur to other people. He was savvy. Maxwell rapped sharply on Tommy’s door.
      ‘Tommy, I have some more questions for you, I’m sorry. You’re not in any trouble, it’s just I think you might know more than you’ve told me. Possibly without knowing you know it, if you take my meaning?’
       Tommy nodded. ‘You’re going to ask me about the car, ent you?’
      Maxwell sat down heavily. ‘Yes, Tommy, tell me about the car. Where were you the day Brenda disappeared?’
      ‘At the fair.’
      ‘Down in the village?’
As though there was another fair somewhere, same time, same village… Tommy didn’t seem to notice the ridiculousness of the question.
      ‘Did you have your binoculars with you, Tommy?’
      ‘Yeah, I always has them with me. I like to watch the birds, and sometimes I like to just sit and watch what’s going on down there. Sometimes I see her.’
      Tommy nodded. ‘She were always nice to me. Not nice, nice, just nice, if you know what I mean?’
      ‘I think I do, Tommy. Others made fun of you, Brenda was nice to you? That what you mean?’
      ‘Aye. Her and Mikey. Always nice to me, they were. I’m not stupid!’ He nearly said that Lynda and June Bamber were nice to him as well, but caught himself in time.
      ‘No, you’re not stupid, Tommy. Anything but.’
And harmless, I’d guess, until you got caught up with this murder, thought Maxwell, then dismissed that thought from his mind. ‘Go on. What did you see Monday afternoon?’
      ‘I see her coming from the fair, and the car stopped by her, just outside Eddie Mason’s house. I told you about Eddie Mason, you need to talk to him! The driver spoke to her for a minute or two, and she got in the car and they drove off, towards the farm.’
      ‘That’s how you knew where she would be?’
      Tommy nodded. ‘She never came back. I saw the car come back, but she weren’t in it.’
      ‘Did you see what car it was? What type of car? What colour?’ Tommy nodded, and produced an accurate description of the vehicle in which Brenda had been driven to the five trees by Morgan's Farm. Maxwell noted everything down in his notebook. Something at the back of his mind was nagging. At least now he knew the colour and make of the car which had taken Brenda McLaren to the farm.
      ‘Powerful binoculars. Sometimes I use ‘em for looking at the stars.’
      ‘And Trevor Bamber? Did you see him up here?’
      ‘No. I never saw him. God’s honest truth.’ That was also a lie, but the policeman couldn’t prove it. Not at this stage, at any rate.
      Maxwell nodded. ‘I believe you, Tommy, I believe you. We’ll talk again, soon. Mind how you go. Give the dog a bone from me, eh?’ He tossed a half crown across the table and patted the dog on the head. ‘One more thing, Tommy.’
      ‘Whats’ that?’
      ‘You didn’t see Trevor Bamber? From the top of Cooper’s Hill? Like you saw Brenda? You didn’t see him leave the house, see where he went? Not the same day, when he went missing, I mean?’
      Tommy Hinkley considered this question carefully before making his answer. ‘No, Inspector. I didn’t see him from up here. Not at all.’
I saw him as I was walking past the back of their house…

      At a little after four o'clock, Lynda had come through the gates. Knowing that Michael’s grandmother had died, she was not sure she should come, but his mum welcomed her straight away and made her feel completely at home. She had changed into a pretty pink top with a Rose motif, and a full polka-dot skirt. She had a small box of chocolates with her, which she gave to Michael’s mum.
      ‘I think she’s going to be black and yellow,’ Michael said. ‘Like the house Dad’s obsessed with black and yellow. She’s called Jasmine.’ He didn’t mention his joke with his Dad about it looking a little like Noddy’s car. He wasn’t sure if Lynda knew about Little Noddy. He didn’t want to make a fool of himself.
      ‘She has a name? How sweet!’
      ‘Shall we go inside?’
      ‘It’s a really nice afternoon, shouldn’t we stay outside?’ Lynda said. ‘What excuse could we give for being indoors on a day like this?’
      ‘We’re going to play some records.’ She had brought her Dansette record player with her, as promised, and Michael had run up the long drive to take it off her.
      ‘Is that what you want to do?’ she said, gazing into his eyes. ‘You know, you have the most amazing eyes. They’re bright green!’
      ‘I know. My mum is the seventh child of a seventh child,’ he said. ‘It’s something to do with magic.’ Since discovering the dark worlds of Dennis Wheatley, Michael had been studying magic whenever possible. He was fascinated by astral planes, and Satanism, and had a couple of books on the subject. He was not entirely convinced by astrology, but he did occasionally read his stars in the
Mirror. Henry Welch, at school, had a Ouija Board, and was planning on using it when they went back to school after the holidays. Michael could hardly wait. He wanted to ask who he was going to marry, and having spent the last few hours fantasising about Lynda, he knew the board was going to spell out her name for him.

      He was convinced that his mother had some kind of mystical powers, but when he’d tackled her on the subject, she just laughed, although she always seemed to know what he was thinking. There was absolutely no point in trying to lie to her, because she knew when he was lying. She did have mystical powers, of that he was certain. His father knew something about the occult, he felt sure, but he refused to discuss it, and said that he didn’t approve of Dennis Wheatley, but as his wife also read Wheatley’s books, there was little he could do about it.
       ‘Superstitious nonsense,’ his mother said, and refused to discuss it any further. The fact was, she did know about such matters, but confined her knowledge to being able to get what she wanted from Albert, whenever she wanted it, and knowing exactly what was going on in her children’s heads, especially Michael’s. She could read him like a book, she knew when he was lying just by looking at him. She knew that he masturbated, and that worried her, not because she thought he might go blind, or anything like that, but because she thought it might sap his strength and drain his energy. But so far that hadn’t happened, in fact quite the opposite, and she tended to worry a lot less about it now.
      ‘Yes, I’d like to take you up to my room and listen to some music,’ he said, pulling Lynda towards him and kissing her lightly on the mouth.
      ‘Do you have any, you know?’
      Michael was sexually inexperienced. He knew what to do, and Lynda’s beautiful curvaceous body was already starting to turn him on. But he was totally naive about protection. Sex education lessons at school were non-existent. You got your sex education from your school friends, and although some of it was absolute nonsense, Michael knew enough to know what he had to do with Lynda, and that they should somehow avoid making babies. Unmarried mothers were few and far between in Brockworth, and when it did happen, fingers pointed, tongues wagged, and reputations were earned.
      ‘No,’ he said, wondering what on Earth she was talking about. And then he remembered how, one day, he’d been in his parents’ bedroom, sitting on the bed in front of the dressing table mirror, practising the guitar, and his mum had come in and told him that if he was staying in there, he shouldn’t go prying about in the drawers or anything.
Why would I? he thought, but as soon as she’d gone, he did just that, and found a drawer full of condoms. He’d seen his father buy them at the hairdressers. After they had both had their hair cut, they had stood at the counter and the man had asked his father if he wanted “anything for the weekend, Sir?” and his father had said “yes, please”, and had come away with these packets. There were about twenty packs in the drawer. Either his father and his mother made love every single night, or else his father bought them every time he got his hair cut, just to shut the man up. He preferred to think it was the latter.
      ‘Oh! Yes, my dad has some, in his drawer. I can get some.’
      ‘Come on, then.’
      He desperately wanted to talk about Brenda McLaren, but he knew he couldn’t tell Lynda, and besides, she wouldn’t want to talk about another girl, she was here to see him, she was now officially his girlfriend, even if only since this morning, and there was nothing else on her mind. They took the Dansette up to his room, and Michael tried the door of his parents’ bedroom, only to find it locked.
      ‘It’s locked,’ he told her, closing his own door quietly behind him. His mother must have known what they were intending to do, he thought. But then, that was illogical, wasn’t it? If she wanted to stop them from having sex in her house, she would have said something, but that didn’t make sense either, because Michael could have taken Lynda back to her house, or anywhere, really. Cissy Thompson couldn’t stop them from having sex, so she’d locked the bedroom door to stop him taking his dad’s condoms? And risk having him get Lynda pregnant and ending up with an unwanted baby? None of it made sense. Perhaps it was his dad who had locked the door? That made more sense, but as far as he knew, there was nothing in their bedroom they weren’t allowed to see, except when it came to birthdays and Christmas… and then it clicked. It was Pauline’s birthday in a week’s time. They didn’t want her walking in there and finding what they had got her for her birthday.
      ‘Never mind,’ she said. ‘We can go so far, can’t we?’
      ‘What do you mean?’
      ‘Put a record on and sit down, on the bed,’ she said, tugging at his hand. They kissed. It was long, tender, sweet and innocent. He thought that Lynda
was a nice girl, it was simply the fact that the swinging sixties had visited her early, and had engaged her earlier than it had Michael. He was not totally naïve, he was fully aware of the possibility that she had already had full sex with a previous boyfriend, and he was prepared to forget this fact if it turned out that she was his lifetime partner. With Connie Francis belting out “Who’s Sorry Now?” she took his hand and placed it on her naked stomach, having pulled up her top a little to reveal the lower part of her bra.
      ‘Down,’ she whispered, and manoeuvered herself so that his hand slid down inside her knickers.
      ‘Oh, Christ!’ he said, breathing heavily. His forefinger found the first curl of her pubic hair, and then she had her hand inside his trousers, and she was undoing the buttons. ‘Oh, Christ!’
      Lynda stroked him slowly, expertly, confirming his belief that she was sexually experienced. Bringing himself off was delicious fun, but it was nothing compared to this. She began to stroke him slowly, and he thought he would die from the sheer ecstasy of it.
      ‘Put your finger inside me,’ she said, and he did, and she was moist, and warm, and beautiful, and when she moved against his finger she made a low sighing noise in her throat that frightened him at first, but then he realised that she was enjoying it, the same as he was.
      ‘You’d better have a hanky ready,’ she said, and kissed him long and hard as they brought each other to their first mutual climax. He’d pulled his hanky from his pocket and spread it over them, and when he shuddered into it, he thought he had never felt anything so joyous, so fantastic, in his life.
      They sat together, just holding each other, savouring their climaxes, for a minute or two, and then he turned away from her and tidied himself, putting the wet handkerchief in the waste bin.
      ‘That was unbelievable,’ he said. His eye caught the spine of his King Arthur book on the shelf above their heads, and he realised that in spite of what had just happened, if things stayed as they were, he would still be walking down the aisle on his wedding day a virgin. Lynda Bamber might not be a virgin, but he was. He wasn’t sure if he loved her yet, although he certainly loved what she had introduced him to. It was entirely possible that he would grow to love her, fall in love with her, and that she would be the one. It occurred to him once more that she was more experienced than he was in sexual matters, and it wasn’t important. He knew that she had probably done it, gone all the way. They say love is blind, and for the time being, all he could think of was the next time Lynda Bamber and he would be able to explore each other sexually. He smiled inwardly, and helped her to arrange her clothing.

      ‘Next time come to my place. My Dad’s never there, he works nights, and my Mum won’t mind as long as we’re careful,’ she said, kissing him and squeezing his hand. My Dad’s never coming home, actually…
      There was a smell in the room, one that Michael was familiar with, and he hoped his mother would not notice it. He casually opened the window.
      ‘You have a lot of books,’ Lynda said, standing up as though nothing had just happened between them. One entire wall was covered with shelves, the end wall, behind the door, and there were more shelves on the wall opposite the window where he sat and watched the girls undressing in the house behind.
      ‘I love books,’ he said. He had almost a complete set of Four Square’s Edgar Rice Burroughs’
Tarzan books, although he was missing Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. There were loads of Dennis Wheatleys, ten or so Leslie Charteris Saint books, some Whiteoaks by Mazo de la Roche, his treasured Robin Hood and King Arthur Regency editions, some Charles Dickens which his Aunt Molly, Dad’s sister, had given him, and a huge pile of annuals. All four Commander Books for Boys were there, Lion annuals, Tiger annuals, even a couple of his sister’s Coronet and School Friend annuals had made their way into his collection. One shelf held all his comics, magazines and weeklies, the ones that had pictures of pop stars and jazz band leaders in, the ones he bought on a Saturday morning after he received his wages from Mr Lees down at the newsagent’s. Somewhere in that pile was a well-thumbed copy of Health and Efficiency given to him by Jimmy Hunter. It was a real turn-on, except none of the naked girls in it appeared to have any pubic hair, and he knew full well that most girls did. Well, his two sisters did, that was for sure. He hoped Lynda would not start looking through that pile.
      On the bottom shelf were his Enid Blyton books. If he was stuck for something to read, he could always pick up
The Rockingdown Mystery, it was his favourite book in the whole world, and had introduced him to the world of mystery and adventure. Sometimes he thought that Diana was the most brilliant heroine of any book he’d ever read. Actually, in the later books, she turned out to be a bit wet, always trying to duck out of anything that might put her in danger, but his opinion of her was formed with the first book, and it was unshakeable. She was terrific. A bit like Annie. He shook himself to wake himself up. His girlfriend was here, in his room, the least he could do was concentrate on her and not on his books.
      ‘I can see that. Where do you keep your school books, then? I can’t see any here.’
      ‘Downstairs. I’m working on stuff through the break.’ He often worked at the dining table downstairs, but equally he would quite often spread all his books out on the bed and work in his room.
      Back to school next Monday. Michael loved school, particularly now that he was far taller than most of the boys in his class, and much more heavily built, even than the rugby players. He hated rugby. On the first day he’d played, he had come home and drawn a diagram comprising lots of little stick men, and pointed to the one on the ground beneath about twenty others.
      ‘That’s me,’ he told his parents. ‘It’s called a scrum. It’s really stupid. There’s no kicking of the ball, like in football, there’s no skill, no goals. It’s really stupid. Licensed thuggery.’ His mother and father had reminded him that the Crypt was a grammar school, and grammar schools all played rugby because they were posher than secondary modern schools.
      ‘I don’t care,’ he said. ‘I’m not doing it any more. It’s stupid. If you can’t get me out of it with a note, I’ll skive off, or write my own notes.’
      And he had done just that. Most games days, he’d written a short note from his mother, and signed it himself, saying things like “Michael cannot do games today, he has a chest infection.” Michael’s handwriting was very good, similar to his mother’s, and he had become an expert in writing like she did so that no one suspected. The games teacher, Horace Walker, never twigged it, and he was allowed to go to the school library until games were over. That was when the bullying started. It was half-hearted bullying really, just pushing and shoving and name-calling, really, nothing serious like getting your head shoved down the toilet while someone else pulled the chain, but for Michael it was utter misery. He was not cowardly by nature, but the bullies always went round in twos and threes, and during the first four years of grammar school he was a weedy, underdeveloped child, and lacked the confidence to retaliate.
      In year five he had finally persuaded his mother to let him cycle the seven miles to school in the company of his best friend, Jimmy Hunter. That coincided with the chemistry teacher, Mr Strubshaw announcing that he was starting a rowing club, and asking for volunteers,
provided they could swim. Swimming was another bugbear of Michael’s. Try as he might, he couldn’t quite get the hang of it, and so, when he took the note home for his mum to sign, he persuaded her that he could swim, and in the event of the boat capsizing, he would be fine, just fine. Seeing how much he needed this, she signed, and nothing ever happened. Rowing was the making of him physically. On the one occasion when the boat did capsize, they had been able to stand up in three feet of water and the necessity to swim had not materialised. During last summer, whilst on the family holiday in Hastings, Michael had spent an awful lot of time in the sea teaching himself to swim, and by the time they had travelled back home on a series of Black and White coaches, he had mastered the stroke and could proudly boast to his parents that he could finally swim. After what seemed like just a few weeks, he filled out and grew, his muscles developed, his shoulders broadened, and his legs thickened like tree trunks.
      Before long he was promoted to stroke, and never looked back. He’d already rowed twice for the school, once at the Henley Royal Regatta, where they had come third, and once at Stratford-on-Avon. Now nobody even thought of bullying him on account of his size and muscles. That was the thing about bullies. They picked on smaller, weaker people. Mike rarely got involved in the stopping of bullying, it was part of growing up, and in those days amounted to nothing more than physical violence. He occasionally saw someone being bullied at school, and if it was a really small, weedy boy, he would stop it, but at the same time he would think that he had had to go through it himself, and he had come through it all right. If he was made up to prefect next year, he would have to pull his weight and stop bullying when and wherever he saw it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be a prefect, but everyone thought it was a good thing, it went on your school record, and helped when it came to job interviews. But that was years away. First there was the prospect of university, or the police force, and he sincerely hoped it would be the latter. For some reason, his parents preferred the university option. He was going to have his work cut out if he was going to persuade them otherwise. He wondered if Lynda was planning on going to university.
      ‘I was thinking of becoming a nurse,’ she replied.
      ‘You’d make a wonderful nurse,’ he said, and folded her in his arms and kissed her again. She responded eagerly to his touch, and they found themselves exploring each other’s bodies again.
      ‘Tea will be ready.’
      ‘I’ll help lay the table,’ she said as they entered the dining room. Cissy Thompson flashed them a look which turned into a smile. They made a really attractive couple. Even if they had been doing something they shouldn’t, upstairs, there was little she could do about it. The world was changing, she realised. Best to let them make their own mistakes, she thought, remembering how she and Albert had hidden away in attic rooms, making love out of sight in cold, cramped conditions because her parents disapproved of him. She would ask Michael later, when they were alone, if they were being careful, and she hoped she knew what the answer would be. The girl appeared to be more savvy than he was, and probably carried a pack of contraceptive rubbers in her handbag, if the truth were known. If she knew her son inside-out and backwards, she also had the measure of young Lynda Bamber. A decent girl, but one that knew the ins and outs of sex, had probably done it properly before now. And there was something about her, her eyes suggested something deep, something sinister that Cissy wasn't quite comfortable with. On the surface, Lynda was a pretty, charming young girl with nothing on her mind other than the Hit Parade, boys, and occasionally school work. Cissy couldn't put her finger on anything specific, but there was definitely something about her, not least the fact that she was sexually
      Cissy was no prude, not like her husband, but she knew how Mike felt about virginity and purity, he’d spoken about it enough times. Would he be disappointed to know his future wife would come to him not as a virgin, and would it matter that much if he truly loved her? She thought not. Love is blind, indeed, and that was the thrill of it. It wouldn’t matter if he did know, and would probably never know in any case. But she was getting ahead of herself. The boy was sixteen. Too young to be thinking about marriage.
      Tomorrow she would go and have another talk with June Bamber, see what she thought. Cissy didn’t really want her son to go to university, not because she wanted to control his life in any way, but because she didn’t think he would be able to cope on his own, living away from home. That was something he’d never done. His sisters were always away. Annie was always staying over with some girlfriend or other, and had been to France twice to visit her pen friend, Amelie, who had come to Brockworth once, for a long weekend. Mike had fallen in love with her instantly, and had followed the two girls around like a little puppy, but he had been only fourteen at the time. Pauline had joined the guides and had gone away for long camping trips and expeditions, but Mike had tried scouts, had found it uninteresting in spite of the fact some of his cousins belonged, and one of them even helped to run it. He’d attended one meeting and then gone back to his books and his records. He’d never been away from home on his own, even for one night, and as far as Cissy was concerned, it was going to be a giant leap into the dark for him. She preferred to think that he would complete his A-Levels and take up the offer of a university place, then get a job locally, maybe at the aircraft factory at the bottom of the road, where she could continue to keep her eye on him until he settled down with a local girl, perhaps even Lynda Bamber, and they got married. She would not have chosen a career in the police force for her son, but she would not stand in his way if that was really what he wanted to do. She occasionally found him reading one of her library books, an Inspector West mystery, or a Carter Dickson, or an Agatha Christie, so she knew what was going on in that head of his.
      She was fiercely proud of Michael, his good looks, his physique, his unfailing good manners and his common sense, and thought that they would see him in good stead in the coming years. But she knew, even then, that he was not destined for university, which was why it was essential that he found the right girl, and quite soon. Marriage might still be a couple of years away, but first loves were important, and she wanted to make sure little Lynda Bamber was right for him early on, because if she wasn’t, there were things she could do to influence the way it all panned out. She smiled down at them, love’s young dream, sitting at the table holding hands beneath the tablecloth, and began to serve.
      Dinner was a grand affair, where, for a change, there was no mention of Brenda McLaren’s murder. John Kimble was in a hurry to get to the sitting room with his
Daily Mirror, and afterwards Mike and Lynda washed up, which amused Albert, Cissy, Annie and Pauline no end. Mike never washed up without being press-ganged into it. When they’d finished, he walked her home, as it was nearly dark. They held hands, they kissed a lot, and he ran his hand inside her top, underneath her bra, felt the wonderful soft creamy silky smoothness of her young but full breasts. Life was excellent right now. What could possibly spoil it?
      ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ he said.
      ‘I can’t. We’re going into town to get my new stuff for school. New blazer, skirts…’
      ‘Oh, that’s a shame.’ Then he thought,
Brenda won’t be going back to school this Monday, and the thought saddened and chastened him. He kissed her on the lips and held her against him, where he was hard again. ‘Another time? Sunday, maybe?’ Now he really was up against it – he had promised to help his father with the building of the garage, but he had also promised his mates he’d be there to help with the charity bath thing, and now here he was making arrangements to meet up with Lynda.
      ‘You bet!’
      ‘In the morning I have to help with my Dad’s garage, but in the afternoon we could go out to Dave’s place and hang about while they start on this bath thing, then we could go to the pictures?’
      ‘I’d like that.’ To be honest, Lynda would like being anywhere that Mike Thompson was right now. She’d seen him walking down the street, she’d seen him in the shops, she’d watched him delivering his newspapers from her bedroom window. She’d been keeping her eye on him for several weeks, now, since the breakup of her last relationship, and when he’d come knocking at her door and asked her to join the charity bath push, she couldn’t believe her luck. For several weeks she had been consulting every horoscope she could lay her hands on, seeking every bit of advice she could glean that might offer some crumb of advice on what she should do to secure him as her boyfriend.
      Everyone in Brockworth knew and respected the Thompson family, and Mike Thompson was a real catch. Lynda did want to be a nurse, but she wanted something else even more. She wanted to have a beautiful white wedding, she wanted to settle down and to have babies with a man she loved. Right now, she thought she had found the boy that would be transformed into that man. By today’s standards, this was maybe not much of an ambition for a very clever young girl, but in the early 1960s, this was the dream of most young girls, clever or not. Nursing might well be a waste of her considerable talents, but for now, all she could think of was Mike and how he had chosen her over all the girls in the village. Michael Thompson had sort of fallen into her lap. Had it not happened the way it had, she might have had to do something about it. Have words with Brenda McLaren, put her in her place, make her see sense. At least Brenda McLaren couldn’t take him away from her. Not now. Not ever. It was a sobering thought.
      He watched her go into the house, where she ran upstairs to her bedroom and threw open the sash window. ‘I love you, Michael Thompson!’ she said, and blew him a kiss.
      ‘I love you too,’ he said, not realising he had used the “love” word, and walked away, his hands thrust deep into his pockets. On his way home, he realised that he had forgotten to tell his Uncle John about Brenda McLaren getting into the big car, and Lynda hadn’t asked him about it either. But then, they’d had other things on their mind that afternoon, hadn’t they?

To be continued in the December 2021 issue...

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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!