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


The Silent Three - A Murder Mystery

By Paul Norman


Chapter Fifteen


    Michael’s thought processes were in overdrive. He’d raced through his paper mark-ups and the two paper rounds he had to do because of no-shows, returned to Mr Lees’s shop to collect an extra large pay packet, and set off. No need for either a coat or his bowler hat this morning as it was warm, bordering on hot by seven thirty. That was typical of the British weather, it was the end of the Easter holidays, they were back at school on Monday, and the low pressure that had dominated the past two weeks was finally on the move, the sun was out and it promised to be a pleasant weekend. In one respect, that was.
    He toyed with the idea of going home for a cooked breakfast but decided he would cycle up to the farm first. He knew that the police should have conducted a thorough examination of the area, but there was always the possibility someone had missed something. There was no one around when he arrived at the farm. No police, no police tape to let people know it was still a crime scene, in fact nothing to show that the police had ever been there.
    He pictured Brenda’s naked body in his mind’s eye, stretched out in the hospital morgue, covered with a sheet, and he was glad he hadn’t had anything but a slice of toast first thing, around five fifteen, before he’d set off for work, otherwise he might well have brought it all up as the image entered his mind and lingered there.
    If he was serious about joining the police force, he would obviously have to overcome his squeamishness and nausea. He would be expected, during the course of his duties, to attend post mortems, and to watch as they cut the victims open, removed and weighed the internal organs and then replaced them. He concentrated on imagining Brenda’s body as evidence, and nothing more, and pictured the gruelling processes that would have to take place in order to determine how she had met her untimely end. Although he had not continued with biology after year one at the Crypt, he had a perfectly detailed knowledge of the human body and its internal organs, and found that he had no problem thinking about what the pathologist and his or her assistant would have had to do during the course of their examination of Brenda’s body. Furthermore, his books about detective work spelled out in some detail what had to happen to a murder victim, and he decided that if he divorced himself from the knowledge that he had been Brenda’s friend, and treated her body as just something that had to be examined in the minutest detail in order for the killer to be tracked down and arrested, he would be able to deal with this side of the police work. Thankfully, he had a way to go before he would have to think about such things. First there was his final term at school, then his “A” Level results, and then his application to join the police force as a cadet, and a couple of weeks training at Hendon Police College. He had it all worked out. If there was no accommodation at Hendon, and he hadn’t yet had time to research that, he would be able to stay with members of the Thompson family who had stayed behind in the East End of London when the rest had moved out to Gloucester.
    He still had to raise the subject of how serious he was about joining the police with his parents and his sisters. He knew that Annette and Pauline would support him in whatever decision he made about his future. He had mentioned it casually to his mother a few weeks back, and he supposed she would have told Albert, but he knew the time would come when he had to sit down with them and tell them that he was not going to university, that all he really wanted to do was to be a policeman, and eventually, a detective. That meant two years’ hard graft as a bobby on the beat, he was aware of that, but it was what he wanted, and he hoped that they, too, would see it from his point of view and support him. It was not what they wanted for him, but it was what he wanted, and that should be sufficient for everyone concerned. Maybe if he found something that helped with the enquiry into the murder of poor Brenda, he could enlist the help of DCI Maxwell, and he could speak with his parents. He parked his bike and started to examine the area where Brenda McLaren had been raped and then murdered.
    He found the cufflink quite by accident. It was covered in earth, but had probably had been dug out by a jackdaw or something, who had then dropped it in the far corner of the barn. He wrapped it carefully in a handkerchief and put it in his pocket, but not before noticing the engraving on the gold upper surface, which seemed to be a pair of initials, but he couldn’t make them out.
    He wondered what else the police might have missed, and started searching again. He did not know what he hoped to find, although he did know from conversations with his uncle that they had not yet found the murder weapon. The hay was stacked high, to a height of about twenty feet. Most of it was rotting, because the roof leaked, and no one had done anything up at Morgan’s Farm after the fire, but in the corner of the barn, someone had covered a large mound with a tarpaulin, and the firemen had managed to bring the blaze under control before it reached this corner. Mike tugged at the string that secured the tarp, and it undid easily. The tarp smelled awful, a mixture of mustiness and fire, even after all this time. It occurred to him that the tarp could not have been properly secured in the first place, and then he wondered if someone else had untied the knots that held it in place, and recently. If so, what was the likelihood of someone hiding the murder weapon here, in this dingy corner? He mentally marked out an area about two feet higher than himself, reasoning that there was nothing in the barn for anyone to stand on, and carefully began to examine the hay bales. A half hour or so passed, and he was on the point of giving up when he suddenly felt a sharp prick, winced with the pain, and withdrew his hand, expecting to see it covered in blood, but it was just a nick in the tip of his right forefinger. He carefully moved some of the hay aside and, standing on tiptoe, peered into the little hole he’d made, then put his hand in and pulled out a breadknife, the blade of which was covered in dried blood, and wrapped it in his other handkerchief, and making a mental note to thank his mother for making him put one in each pocket before leaving the house that morning.
    ‘Well, well,’ he said to himself, pretending he was a senior police officer attending a crime scene. ‘The officers have been somewhat careless in their examination of this crime scene.’ When he was a high ranking officer in the force, things like this would not happen. There would be thorough, meticulous searches carried out by competent officers working logically and towards one end. To find and secure the vital, essential evidence that would lead to a conviction. It did not occur to him that the murderer, if this was indeed the murder weapon, might have returned to the scene of the crime after the police had finished their fingertip search, and hidden the knife away in the bale, he automatically assumed that the police had carried out a cursory search and had failed to find the knife he had stumbled upon so easily. He resolved to tackle Chief Inspector Maxwell about this as soon as he saw him. There was the fact that both he and Lynda had seen the Standard Vanguard, and her description of it proved beyond doubt that it was the same car they had both seen. Then there was the fact that Lynda had seen Brenda McLaren get into the car, something his uncle had said could not possibly be true and had to be discounted. And now, at the very place where poor Brenda had been raped and murdered, he, Michael, had found a cufflink with initials on, which he was sure was not beyond the skill of the police technicians to decipher, and not only that, and far more important, what was almost certainly the murder weapon!
    He put the bread knife carefully into his saddle bag, along with the cufflink, both wrapped in his handkerchiefs, and cycled home, intending to take them over to Constable Hutchinson and demand to see Chief Inspector Maxwell as soon as he became available. His uncle John was hiding something. He did not know what it was, or why, but he would not mention these finds to him, because he felt sure his uncle would make them disappear and then deny all knowledge of them. He could think of no possible reason why his uncle would try to do such a thing, except one, and that simply didn’t bear thinking about. The man who for so long had been his hero, was slowly turning into the exact opposite.
    As he turned into Boverton Avenue, he saw his uncle walking down the road, probably on his way to the pub, and decided to follow him at a discreet distance. Keeping a good two hundred yards behind him, he watched his uncle open the pub door and go inside, and then he noticed the car parked in the car park at the side. Mike wished he was a couple of years older, and could enter the pub and eavesdrop on his uncle, but for now all he could do was to park his bike and sit and wait until his uncle came out, and continue to follow him.

    Eddie Mason got the call at nine o'clock that morning. ‘We need to talk.’
    ‘Forget it,’ said Mason.
    ‘Aren’t you forgetting something, Eddie?’
    ‘You were there. You know what happened. You saw what happened to the girl.’

    ‘You what?’ How did he know that? He must have been watching from the barn…
    ‘Meet me where I tell you, or I’ll be putting in a report that you were there when the girl was raped and murdered.’
    ‘You wouldn’t do that! You can’t do that! We had an agreement.’
    ‘You have no proof, Eddie.’ The man reeled off a load of instructions, including a time and a location which Mason listened to with wide, staring eyes. He could not believe the man was asking him to go back to the barn. Wouldn’t the police still be watching the place? ‘Man with your contacts, shouldn’t present you with too much of a problem.’
    ‘I can’t do it.’
    ‘One call. To the police, then your nasty little empire will come crashing down and you’ll be going away for a long stretch.’
    ‘You can’t prove anything.’
    ‘Something of yours was found at the scene.’
    ‘What? What was it?’ Mason said, desperately trying to remember what he could have left in the barn, and came up with a complete blank. The man might be lying, but he couldn’t take any chances. Maybe he had dropped something, a hankie, a pen, something? Something that could conceivably tie him to the murder of Brenda McLaren. At the back of his mind, something was tugging at his memory. A cufflink. He was missing a cufflink. Eddie Mason was a snappy dresser, not for him those cheap modern shirts with buttons at the cuffs. He prided himself on his appearance, and dressed smartly always. The cufflinks had been a birthday gift from his sister, and now he came to think of it, he could only remember seeing one on the dressing table in his bedroom that morning. He tried to remember when he might have lost it, and then it came to him. In the heat of the moment, whilst he was at the barn, trying to revive poor Brenda McLaren, he had rolled up his sleeves so that none of the blood from her throat would get onto his sleeves. He had put the cufflinks in his trouser pocket, along with his keys and his wristwatch. Monday evening, when he had finally arrived home, he had emptied his pockets onto the dressing table, but he hadn’t noticed that there was only one cufflink. Cursing softly to himself, he knew that for the time being he had to do what the caller said.
    ‘I’ve got something on you, Eddie. It will be going to the cops shortly unless you do as I say. Are you understanding me now?’
    Eddie thought furiously. ‘How do I know it wasn’t you?’
    ‘You’ll have to take my word for it. I swear to you I didn’t murder her! But you were there after me, weren’t you? That won’t look so good when the police start asking questions, will it?’
    ‘She was dead when I got there.’
    He could almost see the man smile on the other end of the phone as he replied: ‘Yes, but I didn’t drop anything incriminating, did I? She was alive when I left her. After I’d done – after she and I… Look, it’s you who has the problem, Eddie, and if you don’t do as I say, a phone call to the police should see you brought in for questioning. So. What’s it to be?’
    ‘Yes, yes! All right, but it’s the last time. I’m having nothing to do with you after this.’
    ‘Well, I think I’ll be the judge of that, you know?’
    ‘I’ll go to the police myself. I’ll confess everything!’
    ‘That would be really stupid, wouldn’t it? You get me what I want, this afternoon, and we’ll take it from there.’

    Mason put the phone down and realised that he was sweating profusely. He looked for his little black book, which held the names and addresses of all the boys on his books. At their initial meeting, the talk had been about girls. It had all gone badly wrong when Brenda McLaren had happened to walk along. She was not the girl Eddie had planned for the customer, and he had not had time to warn her not to go with him. He had seen the little car rattling its way along Vicarage Road towards the farm, and eventually, with his conscience getting the better of him, he had followed. He’d been too late to save Brenda from being raped or murdered, and when he got to the farm, he saw her body, tried to revive her, but then he’d seen someone else sneaking off from their hiding place in the barn. Maybe they had seen him crouching by Brenda’s body, making sure she was dead, but he didn’t think so. All he could think was that the man had seen him walking along the lane and had driven back. He thought he’d not been seen, now he was not so sure. For the life of him he had no idea of the involvement of this second person in the murder of Brenda McLaren. If the police came after him, he would probably tell them everything he knew, knowing it would be the end of him and his seedy career. For the time being, all he could think of was doing what the man wanted in the hope it might buy him some time.
    Eventually he came upon the name of the one boy he’d been unable to coerce into his seedy world of procurement – Michael Thompson. He had a twin sister, Annette, whom he thought might be a suitable candidate. And then there was Thompson’s new girlfriend, Lynda Bamber. He didn’t much care what happened to either of them. They were associated with the one boy he had always wanted and whom he couldn’t have. He would supply one last girl to the customer, and then he would leave. The town, the country, whatever. It was nice in Spain, he had heard. Time to retire. Wind up the business. He was not going to be blackmailed for the rest of his life, and he certainly wasn’t going to volunteer anything to the police. It was not his fault they hadn’t yet come knocking.
    Time to make a stand. He had a gun, his own army revolver from his service days was upstairs in the wardrobe. That was it. He would get the man a girl, and meet him with her, and then, before anything could happen to the girl, he would shoot him, and then he would be a hero. Having seen the second person at the barn, he couldn’t say definitively which one of them had killed Brenda, but that didn’t matter. First he had to work out a way of getting one of those two girls, the Thompson girl or the Bamber girl, to go with him to meet him at the barn. There had to be a way… What really needed to happen was that he should not be involved until the very last moment, when he would just pop up, out of nowhere, and shoot the both of them. Eddie Mason put his thinking cap on.

    Still unable to believe he was capable of doing such a thing, such a criminal thing, Michael had just finished letting the air out of one of the front tyres on the little black car when the door opened and two men came out of the public house, his uncle John, and another man, the latter being smartly dressed in a silver-grey suit. Michael hid at the side of the pub, straining to catch what they were saying.
    ‘Bit of luck that cufflink I found belonging to Eddie Mason,’ Kimble said. ‘If one of the bobbies had found it, it would have been logged by now. I’ll let you have it next time we meet.’ He could hardly tell the man he’d mislaid it after telling them he’d found it, could he? Hopefully they could both soon forget about the cufflink…
    ‘Make sure you do. And make sure also that you scotch this idea of your nephew’s that my car was anywhere in your village on the day the girl was killed. Do what you have to. You know I had nothing to do with death of that girl...’ Kimble nodded. Villain as he was, the man would not lie about a thing like that.
    ‘If you can’t handle it,’ the other man said to Kimble, ‘just let me know and I’ll pay him a visit. Just let me know when his parents are out. Same goes for the girl.’
    ‘I can handle it, don’t worry,’ Kimble said.
    ‘Make sure you do. I pay you good money to keep me on the right side of the law.’
    The man got into the driving seat and realised that something was wrong with one of the tyres.
    ‘Fuck it!’ he said. ‘One of the tyres is flat. I’ll get the foot pump out.’
    The man looked at Kimble. The look was full of menace and heavy with meaning. ‘Shit! I’m going to be late! I’ve got that little homo getting me another girl.’ He attached the connector to the tyre and started to pump up and down furiously with his right foot. There was nothing Kimble could do to help, so he simply stood there, his hands in his pockets, wishing he could locate the missing cufflink, wondering what had happened to it, and watching. Neither man saw Michael Thompson slip away on his bike. As he cycled away, Michael set to thinking what it was that this man, and maybe others, could possibly know about his uncle that could lead to his being corrupted in such a way. Maybe they knew him from his service days, when he had been a pilot in Coastal Command. He couldn’t believe that they were blackmailing him about his wartime service, but one never knew. His uncle rarely spoke about what had happened during his time in Coastal Command, but when it came to his police career, that was an entirely different matter.   
    The words “black market”, “dodgy”, “gangs” and “stolen goods” cropped up frequently in the conversations he overheard his uncle having with his father, and to young Michael Thompson, it had all seemed rather thrilling. With Enid Blyton’s assistance, he had developed an outstanding imagination, and could easily picture his hero of an uncle in all kinds of dangerous, life-threatening situations. When he was older, and more mature, he had not quizzed his uncle about his police service, preferring to imagine him as a character from his Blyton mysteries, a kindly, principled man who was someone children could turn to in a time of need, someone caring but firm, strict, but fair, coming down hard on the villains but at the same time looking after the people who did no wrong but came into danger. Looking back, it might have seemed a tad naïve, but it was his way of bookmarking people. In all honesty, he had never come into contact with anyone “dodgy” with the exceptions of Eddie Mason and the piano teacher. His life, he realised, had been idyllic, a flawless childhood surrounded by love from his family and protection from the adults in his life, parents, uncles and aunts alike.
    The murder of Brenda McLaren had affected him deeply, although he may not yet have realised it. This was someone he had known most of his life, someone he had been close to, someone he had once loved. The thought that his uncle might not be the saintly, heroic policeman like those in the comics and books he read had hit him hard. Uncle John Kimble was not a hero. There were men he knew who had some kind of hold over him. They could tell him to do something, to cover something up so that they were not incriminated, and instead of marching them off to the police cells, he did it. He had never seen his uncle with less than a wallet full of white fivers. A generous man, John Kimble had handed over one of those white notes the day Michael had set off on the bus with his Dad to put the deposit on his Raleigh cycle with the drop handlebars and the four-speed gear mechanism. It had made all the difference, and he had loved him for it.
    John Kimble spoke often about his time in the force in Liverpool, about the deprivation of the people up there, how they had no money for food, how it was difficult to get work, how many villains there were up there “on the rob” just to make ends meet. When he had moved down to Gloucestershire with his wife, Marian, he had been determined to call a halt to that period of his life when men were able to buy protection from the police force, buy immunity from prosecution, and although he and Marian lived a life of comparative luxury, he knew it had to stop.
    But a series of bad losses on the horses at Cheltenham Race Course had led him to turn a blind eye when local villains had approached him, and it was not long before Eddie Mason came to his knowledge. Kimble didn’t think that what Mason was doing was particularly evil – he didn’t hold with homosexuality himself, although it had been in evidence during his time in the R.A.F., and again during his spell in the Liverpool constabulary. He didn’t know all the details of Mason’s operation, but he did think it was probably a hobby rather than a full-time career, and that the number of boys involved with Mason’s seedy little empire could be counted on the fingers of one hand. That much was true, but what he didn’t know was how many notable figures in the parish of Brockworth indulged their sexual proclivities with the assistance of Eddie Mason, and he would have been shocked and disgusted if he had known.
    He made it his business to get to know all of the pimps and prostitutes down at the docks, and turned a blind eye to their activities in return for a small amount of money from each one. He was soon able to repay his gambling debts, although the bookie to whom he handed over this money now also had a hold over him, and joined a long list of “clients” for whom Kimble was able to make things go away. He was by no means the only copper taking bribes, but the vast majority of the men and women on the force were decent, hard-working people, and Kimble was careful to cover his tracks so that no one suspected anything. To all intents and purposes, he was himself a decent, hard-working ex-serviceman with a string of medals, someone you trusted. Over the years, he had amassed a decent amount of money which he put to good use, looking after Marian in fine style until her untimely death. Now he was caught up with two men who were involved with the murder of Brenda McLaren, and both men had something on him, both of them had paid him to keep his eyes and his mouth shut.
    He knew about Eddie Mason’s empire. He didn’t know what the other man got up to, other than that it might have something to do with stolen goods, cigarettes, televisions, that kind of thing. Maybe even drugs. He didn’t know, and he hadn’t cared. Until now. Something had pricked Kimble’s conscience. He was aware of the consequences for himself and his career, aware of the shame he was going to be bringing on the Thompson family, but his mind was made up. He couldn’t let it continue. One of these men was possibly a murderer, and he had persuaded himself that morning that he was going to do something about it. 

    Michael had spotted a telephone box further down the road. He sprinted off while the three men were all looking the other way. He let himself into the phone kiosk and took out a two penny piece, dialled Constable Hutchinson’s number, and waited for someone to answer. Eventually he heard the voice of Mrs Hutchinson and plunged the silver button home to fire his two penny piece into the black box.
    ‘Mrs Hutchinson? It’s Michael Thompson, from opposite. Is Constable Hutchinson there? It’s quite urgent.’
    ‘I’m sorry, Michael, he’s out on his rounds. Is there anything I can do to help?’
    ‘I’m afraid Lynda might be in danger,’ Mike said. ‘Lynda Bamber. She lives in Westfield Road.’
    ‘I know who you mean, Michael. Shall I walk down and see that’s she’s all right?’
    ‘Would you mind? I’m in Hucclecote, by the public house. I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes or so.’
    ‘I’ll get my shoes. Mind how you go.’
    Vera Hutchinson didn’t need to ask why the boy thought his girlfriend might be in danger. With the television awaiting the fitting of a new valve and just the wireless for entertainment, they had spent the last couple of evenings talking about her husband’s work. Hutchinson had told his wife how helpful Michael Thompson had been, and she knew that he held the boy in high regard. If Michael was worried about his girlfriend, the least she could do was to walk down and keep Lynda Bamber company. It wasn’t as if she had anything else to do. The potatoes and peas were done, the stew was on the hob, and the jelly was setting on the cold shelf in the larder.

    Mike cycled back home, taking a back lane so as not to be seen by his uncle John. Thinking furiously as he pedalled, he wondered how he had come to be mixed up with someone who was obviously some kind of criminal. He tried to marshal his thoughts into some coherent order. From conversations with his uncle about the murder of Brenda McLaren, he knew that she might have been “procured” by someone for a client. Mike wasn’t totally green and naïve, he knew about prostitution, and he knew that girls sometimes disappeared and ended up on the streets working as prostitutes for men who treated them very badly. He knew from conversations with his school friends that there were areas in the city, down by the docks, where you could buy the company of a prostitute for an hour. Some of the older boys he talked to even laid claim to having done this, and he knew a couple of girls who had at one time gone to the same primary school as him, who might be willing to sell their favours, girls he had been advised to steer clear of for that very reason, by his parents, and by his uncle John, who apparently knew about such things. Knowing that Brenda would never do anything of that nature, he tried to put two and two together, and came up with a theory. Someone had procured poor Brenda for a client, who had then raped her. Things had got out of hand when she struggled, and someone had ended up killing her. He had seen the Standard Vanguard in the road the day Brenda had gone missing, and so had Lynda, who also claimed to have seen her get into the car, something his uncle had dismissed out of hand. Everything pointed to the man who drove the car, and from what he had just overheard, both he and Lynda were in danger because of what they had seen. And, of course, from what he had witnessed at the public house, it was clear that his uncle John was not the hero he had thought, but a policeman who took bribes and concealed vital evidence.
    Mike had to get to see Chief Inspector Maxwell as soon as possible, to tell him about the car, the man at the pub just now, and his uncle’s unbelievable treachery. The main thing he could not get his head round right now was the fact that the man he had overheard talking to his uncle hadn’t been driving a Standard Vanguard at all. Had that been why his uncle was so adamant that Brenda had not been seen getting into a Vanguard? Had Lynda been mistaken about the Standard Vanguard? Had it been the Austin she had seen her get into?
    But first, he had to make sure that Lynda was safe. He thought it would take them a few minutes to pump up the tyre, and he wished he’d had something to puncture it so that they had to change the wheel, but it was done now. He could have used the breadknife, of course, but he knew from his detective books that there could well be fingerprints on it that could lead to a conviction. All he could hope for was that Mrs Hutchinson reached Lynda’s house in time, and that he wasn’t far behind. Having to take the back lanes wasn’t helping, either. He put his head down and cycled to beat the devil.

    He found Vera Hutchinson sitting with June Bamber and Lynda, thanked her profusely and watched her walk away back home before attempting to explain anything. When he did, it came out like something from one of his Enid Blyton Famous Five adventures, and neither Vera, June or Lynda could make head or tail of what he was trying to tell them. Eventually June Bamber had heard enough.
    ‘Time you went home, young man. Your nan’s funeral is next week. Best you stay away till that’s over, I think.’
    Lynda looked at him sadly. Her mother had already told her she had been to see Cissy Thompson to start on the wedding arrangements. It was something Lynda didn’t want, not yet, she hated being rushed into things, but her mother had been most insistent that this was the way forward. In the meantime, she intended to keep the young couple apart for long periods of time, so that familiarity did not breed the contempt that had crept into her own marriage shortly before Trevor Bamber had started to abuse her.
    And now June Bamber laid into Michael as though he were a primary school kid, laughing at his protestations that Lynda might be in danger, pooh-poohing his claims that there were gangsters in the village who might do them harm, and through it all, Lynda watched him, her eyes narrowing and harsh, as though she wanted to disown him. She saw him to the door, and pushed him away when he stooped to kiss her.
    ‘Don’t. I’m not cheap and easy, like she was,’ she hissed. Michael drew back, startled.
    ‘What? Who are you talking about?’
    ‘You know who I’m talking about. I saw you together. I’ve seen you together. Often. Just go. I don’t want to see you today. I have things to do.’ She, too, had heard him out, heard his fancy, unbelievable tale about how Brenda McLaren had been
procured for someone. True, he’d sent Vera Hutchinson along to make sure she was alright, but today it seemed to Lynda that the only person he really cared about was Brenda McLaren. She had never liked Brenda. From the first day at primary school, she had noticed now she and Michael hung about together, how she was his country dance partner, how they held hands and how Michael had gazed into her eyes while Miss Paige had played the piano and they had danced like professionals. One day, Brenda had been missing from school because she was ill, and Lynda had seized her chance.
    ‘I’ll be your partner today, Michael,’ she’d said, and before he could protest, she’d taken his hand and led him onto the hall floor, the parquet floor where she danced to save her life and to get the boy she wanted. It was a schoolgirl crush, nothing more, a chance for her to prove she could take Michael away from Brenda, and she had succeeded. Michael was captivated by the new girl, and when Brenda returned to school, he politely declined when she asked him to once more be her partner, saying that he preferred to dance with Lynda. Then the three of them had all gone their separate ways to their respective grammar schools, and Lynda had forgotten all about him for several years as they went about the business of growing up through their teenaged years. She’d seen him, a few times, in the village over the ensuing years, and every year, when what seemed like the entire village went up the hill to watch the cheese rolling, she’d occasionally caught sight of him, always with his family, always with his arm around that pretty sister of his.
    They’d talked about Brenda, of course they had, when he’d come to the house and asked her to ride in the charity bath push, and he had awakened her memory of how attractive she had found him. Now he was a blond-haired giant, strong, manly and ruggedly handsome. She’d thought she had done enough to make him forget about Brenda McLaren but he’d turned up at the house today wittering on about her getting into cars and how terrified she must have been, and how she must have felt about being violated, and first her mother, and then she, Lynda, had found it all too much.

    This wasn’t like the Lynda who’d been all over him yesterday, exploring him, kissing him, taking him to places he’d never been before. It was her mother, of course. June Bamber wielded enormous influence over her daughter, and had told Lynda to play it down, to hold him at arms’ length for a while, so that when they did get back together, he would be panting for it, unable to stop himself, and he would be hooked.
    When Michael had gone with his tail between his legs, Lynda turned on her mother with hatred in her eyes.
    ‘You had to interfere, didn’t you?’ she cried. ‘Mike and I would have been perfectly happy being just boyfriend and girlfriend. Why did you have to stick your nose in where it’s not wanted?’
    Taken aback by her daughter’s outburst, June Bamber fled to the kitchen with Lynda in hot pursuit.
    ‘It’s for the best,’ she said, washing up furiously.            
    ‘Whose best? Yours? You want Mikey and me to get married while we’re still teenagers so we can look after you in your old age now he’s gone, is that it?’
    ‘He needs to be prised away from that sister of his,’ June said.
    ‘Pauline? What do you mean?’
    ‘Not Pauline. The twin sister, Annette. He calls her Annie. It’s not natural. I’ve seen them walking down the street holding hands, arms round each other. It’s not natural. Not by a long chalk.’
    ‘They’re twins, Mum!’ Lynda said, fighting to hold back the tears that threatened to cascade down her face. ‘Twins are always close like that!’ But Lynda knew that her mother was right. She tried to dismiss visions in her head of Michael Thompson and his sister Annette sharing a bath together, even now that they were sixteen years old. It was a vision that would not go away. Not now. Not ever.
    ‘Not natural. You don’t see the Hannaford boys walking around holding hands! It’ll be good for them to be apart for a while. I think I’ll suggest to Cissy Thompson that she send her away to stay with relatives for a while, leastways until you’re properly engaged. She’ll see sense. No one’s going to cheat my daughter out of her husband!’
    ‘Don’t you have homework to do?’
    ‘It’s done. I’m going for a walk to clear my head.’
    June Bamber swung round violently, catching her daughter a glancing blow with the wet dishcloth. Lynda reeled back, her eyes full of venom. Without a word, she turned on her heel and stormed off out of the house, mindless of the gathering storm clouds. She walked up into Boverton Drive, intending to make her way to Michael’s house, but then thought better of it, and cut through to the playing fields, where there was a park bench to sit on. Now she noticed that it was getting a little cold, and the sky was getting blacker and blacker behind her. She had friends on the council estate just up the road, and decided to make her way there, through the primary school grounds. It was as she was entering the grounds that Eddie Mason saw her from his bay window.

    ‘Lynda Bamber,’ he said to himself. ‘Well, well. Just the girl I need!’ He let himself out of the house and crossed the road in hot pursuit. There was no one about. He had the keys to the boiler room in his pocket. As Lynda went past the main building, he slipped round the back, knowing that she would have to pass the boiler room on her way to the council estate, for that was evidently where she was headed right now. He slipped open the door and went inside, and then as she walked past, he called her name, softly.
    ‘Lynda!’ She turned suddenly and followed the sound of his voice.
    ‘Mr Mason. What are you doing here on a Saturday?’
    ‘Problem with one of the pipes,’ he said, bending down and pretending to try to undo a nut. His toolbox was open, but out of reach, against the far wall. ‘You couldn’t pass me that wrench, could you? Save me standing up?’
    ‘Of course,’ she said, and reached for the wrench, then crumpled to the floor as he whipped round and hit her behind the ear with a spanner.
    Straightening up, he took out of the toolbox some thick grey tape. Minutes later, with Lynda safely tied up and a piece of tape across her mouth so that she couldn’t scream, he made his way back to his house, making sure no one was about and hoping against hope no one was looking out of their window. He pulled the front room curtains, then picked up the phone.
    ‘I’ve got a girl for you,’ Mason said.
    ‘Where is she?’
    ‘I’ve got her, that’s all you need to know. Bound and gagged. Meet me at my house in a half hour.’
    ‘We can’t meet there.’
    ‘Where, then?’
    ‘At the farm. Morgan’s Farm. I drove by there this morning. The police haven’t been there for days now. The coast’s clear.’
    Mason put the phone back into its cradle. He picked up the revolver and checked it carefully. He still had it in mind to shoot the man. Then he would claim that he had seen the man abduct the girl, he had followed them and rescued her. Surely that way he would be seen as a hero rather than a villain. The only fly in the ointment was that Lynda Bamber would know that he had hit her in the boiler room. What could he do about that? Eddie Mason once again put on his thinking cap.


 Chapter Sixteen


     Michael saw Maxwell’s Wolseley coming down Boverton Drive and flagged him to stop. ‘I need to speak to you urgently,’ he told the detective. ‘I was about to go across the road to constable Hutchinson’s to see if he could get in touch with you.’ He led the detective past the little Morris Tourer and into the corrugated iron garage.
    Pulling up an old dining chair, he indicated that DCI Maxwell should take a seat.
    ‘I know you’re busy trying to find Brenda’s murderer, but this is really important. I found these,’ he said, handing him the cufflink and the breadknife, carefully laid out on handkerchiefs. Maxwell’s eyebrows raised.
    ‘Where did you find these, Michael?’
    ‘At the murder scene up at the farm. I went back. There was no one there.’
    Maxwell scowled. ‘I was told the barn had been searched thoroughly and that nothing had been found!’
    ‘There’s something else you should know. I think my uncle John, Detective Sergeant Kimble, is taking bribes. Working for some man. He might be from up north, I think. And for Eddie Mason, too, possibly.’ 
    ‘I was on my way to interview Eddie Mason and then young Marco Russo, but I think we’d better discuss this properly with your parents present, Michael,’ Maxwell said. ‘Are they home?’
Michael shook his head. ‘Mum and Dad have gone into town to do some shopping. They won’t have a clue what’s going on, anyway. To them, Uncle John is a hero. He was to me, too. Why I want to join the police force. Pauline’s working this morning. Annie’s still asleep, I think. I still do, by the way.’               Maxwell’s eyebrows raised slightly. ‘Want to join the police force. Would you like some coffee, Chief Inspector?’
    Maxwell nodded, seemingly absent-mindedly. He had just noticed the initials engraved on the cufflink. ‘As long as it’s not that Camp stuff.’
    ‘No, it’s that new stuff, Maxwell House. We’re trying it. I don’t really like it, I prefer the Espresso they serve in Gino’s. Do you know who it belongs to? This cufflink?’
    Maxwell peered at the initials on the cufflink and nodded. ‘Eddie Mason. He’s supposed to be a lay preacher at the Methodist Church in Hucclecote, but I think he has one or two clients, shall we call them, who get him to procure little boys for them, if you know what I mean?’
    ‘He propositioned me once,’ Michael said. ‘I told Uncle John, but he just sent me away with a flea in my ear. Just said to steer clear of men like Mason. I saw him earlier this morning, at the Pinewood, down in Ermin Street, with a man. They were talking about Eddie Mason. I think he’s supposed to be getting another girl for this other man. I didn’t recognise him. I let the tyre down on the man’s car to stop them following me, but they may be going after Lynda.’     
    Maxwell nodded slowly. ‘From the beginning, Michael, if you please?’
    And so Mike started at the beginning, telling DCI Maxwell how he and Lynda had both seen Brenda on the day she disappeared, and Lynda had actually seen her getting into a car. Then how he had gone back to where Brenda’s body had been found, and saw the cufflink and then found the murder weapon hidden in the haystack.  
    ‘It was him, wasn’t it?’
    ‘Mason? Maybe. I’m not sure. To the best of my knowledge he’s not the sort of person to get involved in the murder of a young girl, but who knows? You say you didn’t recognise the man who was talking to your Uncle?’
    Michael shook his head. ‘No, I’ve never seen him in the village before, but then I don’t know everyone. I’ve done most of the paper rounds in the past, when the other boys haven’t shown up for one reason or another, but I don’t know everyone in the village, especially the people who live on the estate. And I’ve never delivered to the other estate, where the flea pit is.’
    ‘Flea pit?’
    ‘There’s an estate up Ermin Street on the right. There’s an old cinema where they show old films. We call it the flea pit. There’s an enormous boiler house behind it that heats the whole estate, I think.’
    Maxwell frowned as something clicked inside his head, and he made a connection.
    ‘He tried to proposition me,’ Michael said bitterly. ‘Eddie Mason. He works as caretaker at the primary school. No one likes him. Except the little boys who don’t know any better. I hate him.’
    ‘Because he’s a homosexual? I’m with you there, Michael. But unfortunately, I think things are going to change soon, and we’ll all have to get used to having them around, legitimately. Did he ever touch you?’ He and most of his colleagues were aware of the Wolfenden recommendation that homosexuality between consenting adults should be legalised, and the legislation would eventually become law in just a few years’ time. It was inevitable.
    Michael shook his head fiercely. ‘No. Do you think he’s involved?’
    ‘I know that Eddie Mason gets young boys for people. I think the man might have approached him about something of that nature, but I’m struggling to find a connection between Mason and the disappearance and murder of poor Brenda. I’m more inclined to think I should be questioning this man you saw at the pub with your uncle.’
    ‘Shouldn’t you be questioning Eddie Mason?’ Michael couldn’t believe he was telling this man, this experienced detective how to do his job.
    ‘As soon as we’re done here. I need to find this man you’ve never seen before, see what he has to say. I have an idea I might know who he is, you see. Then I need a word with Mr Mason, and I also need to talk to Marco Russo again. You might be able to help me there, kill two birds with one stone, as it were. Was it you or Marco who was Brenda’s boyfriend? We found a diary entry about someone with the initial “M”. You or Marco?’
    ‘Marco. I only found out…’
    ‘That doesn’t matter. I didn’t think it was you, or you would have said.’ Michael nodded.
    ‘What about my uncle John?’
    ‘There will have to be an enquiry, of course, and he will probably be suspended from duty for the time being. No easy way to say this, Michael, but it looks as though your uncle might be what we call a bent copper.’
    Michael nodded sadly. ‘I know about bent coppers, they’re in all my books. He was my hero. I’ve got pictures of him looking like Paddy Payne, in his flying gear.’
    Maxwell nodded. He had had his suspicions about Kimble for quite some time, but there was never any evidence. What his nephew had just told him could well change all that. ‘Look, Michael, I don’t think Lynda Bamber is in any danger. I’m not at all sure that Mason had anything to do with the murder of Brenda McLaren, even though he might have been at the farm, might have seen something. If it was him he would be really stupid to revisit the scene of the crime so soon. I’d better go. I need to get these items to forensics for analysis. By the way, you know they found your girlfriend’s father’s body? Tommy Hinkley found him.’
    Michael’s eyes widened.
    ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this, Michael, but he was dumped at the bottom of Cooper’s Hill, by the hedgerow. There would have been deep snowdrifts when they put him there. If he wasn't already dead, he would have frozen to death quite quickly. It’s my belief that one or both of them hit him and then someone helped them to move his body out of the house and up to the hill. Dumped it there. If I had to put money on it, I’d say it was both of them. June and Lynda. Mother and daughter. You involved with her, are you? Lynda Bamber?’
    Michael nodded. A day or so ago he wouldn’t have believed that Lynda could have been in any way involved with the death of her own father. Now he wasn’t so sure. Whatever her mother had said to her, she had cooled towards him, and there had been something about her eyes…
    Michael hoped Lynda had the good sense to stay in the house with her mother, but he was aware that what he had been saying had probably not meant a great deal to either of them. And he was still mulling over what Lynda had said to him earlier – how she had seen him with another girl. Who had she been talking about? Annie? Pauline? Why would it concern Lynda that Michael went around with one of his sisters?
    ‘Don’t go too far out of the village, I might need to talk to the two of you again quite soon. I’m off to find this man, and I obviously need to talk to Eddie Mason. I’ve a feeling he might be able to help us with our enquiries! You can, of course, tell me about the car whose tyre you let down? If I know you right, you’ll have the number plate written down.’
    ‘AAB 642,’ Michael said. He’d written the number in his little book before cycling away, but he had also memorised it, knowing how important it was to Maxwell’s enquiry.
    Michael watched the big detective walk slowly up the path, putting his grey trilby hat back on, and get into his car. Resolving to go back to Lynda’s house no matter what her mother said about it, he charged upstairs and barged into the room Annie and Pauline shared, but it was empty. He had been certain Annie would be still in bed. He picked up her nightie and held it to his face, breathing in the soft, subtle perfume, then realised what he was doing and put it down, hurriedly. Then he raced downstairs, closed the back door quietly and climbed onto his bike.

    Mrs Bamber explained patiently that Lynda and she had had a row and Lynda had stormed off, walking up the Drive towards Michael’s house.
    ‘I’m surprised you didn’t see her,’ she said. ‘She must have gone past your front door about a half hour ago. I thought I told you to go home, young man.’
    ‘I did. I was talking to the police,’ Michael said. ‘I was worried about Lynda. I thought she might be in danger. I tried to tell you, but it came out all wrong, like something from one of my Enid Blyton adventure books. So I told DCI Maxwell, and I was right. Lynda could be in danger.’
    ‘You’d better come in, young man, and tell me again what you know.’
    ‘No time,’ Michael said, turning his bike round and cycling off. He didn’t think Inspector Maxwell would find Eddie Mason at home, because he thought Mason might already have started looking for a girl for the man he had seen talking to his uncle, and he thought that girl might well be Lynda. Eddie Mason was the caretaker at the primary school. There were a dozen places he could hide her, and Michael knew every one of them. He didn’t have the keys, but he knew where they would be. Once again, he rode to beat the devil. But this time the devil won, and he had to ditch the bike because of a puncture…

    Eddie got his car out of the garage, an MG Midget, and drove round the back of the school to the boiler house. Satisfied that no one had seen him, he unlocked the door and went inside. To his horror and amazement, Lynda was no longer there. The ropes he had used to secure her were discarded on the floor, as was the piece of tape he’d put across her mouth.
    ‘What the…’ he said, swearing under his breath. Then he realised that he didn’t need the girl anyway. He would pretend to have concealed her in the barn at the farm, and then he would shoot the man. It meant a change of plans, of course. If he wore gloves, there would be nothing to link him to the murder. He would throw the revolver away and someone would maybe find it one day. He would drive north, to Manchester, and he could be in Ireland overnight. From there he could sail to the States, and then make his way down to South America, where he could simply fade away. He had his money stashed away in a suitcase in the back of the car. He would wait until dark and then make his getaway. He went back into the garage, then remembered he had left something in the caretaker’s room at the school, and made his way back there. As he opened the door, something hit him on the back of the head and he crumpled to the hard concrete floor.

    Annette Thompson had decided to catch the bus to Cheltenham, where she intended meeting her older sister for lunch, and then to do some shopping in the city. She walked through to the bus stop and realised that she had just missed a bus. Glancing at her watch, she saw that the next No. 54 was not for another half hour, and decided to go into the newsagents’ shop to buy a magazine to read while she waited for the bus. This week’s Mirabelle caught her eye, as it had a feature on Mark Wynter inside and a photo of him on the back cover. She loved Mark Wynter. She paid for the magazine and went back outside into the sunshine. It was coming up to twelve o’clock. She sat on the brick wall near to the bus stop and opened her magazine, skimming through the picture stories and wondering if Michael had read them. She adored her brother, and wondered where he was right now. He could have accompanied her to Cheltenham. They could have sat on the top deck of the bus, in the front seat, their arms round each other, and swapped stories about what they had got up to during the week they had been apart.
    She would have asked him about Herbert, and he would have asked her about Virginia. They were their pet names for their private parts, and they fell about laughing as they spoke about them and the rest of the family didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. The conversation would have gone something like this:

    ‘So what’s young Herbert been up to while I’ve been in France?’
    ‘Well, Herbert’s been quite active, actually. Lynda came round to play with him. We had a whale of a time. What about Virginia? How did the two of you get on with those damn’ Frenchies?’
    ‘She thought she was going to see some action with Francois, but it turns out he’s a pouffé.’
    ‘Don’t you mean poof?’
    ‘Does it matter? He’s one of those, and Virginia was disappointed!’

    And the laughter would continue long into the night, until Pauline came home and wanted to go to bed, and the twins would reluctantly separate and go their separate ways. One day she would find someone to love more than she loved Michael, and he was already showing some initiative in getting himself a girlfriend. Annette started to sing the words to her favourite song, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, by the Shirelles, and that was when the car pulled up alongside her.

    Maxwell went looking for Eddie Mason, but after knocking on the front and back doors for several minutes and getting no response, he gave up and drove slowly back up the hill to where Tommy Hinkley lived, and found him in his back yard. The dog was laying down, gnawing on a bone. It looked up at the big detective and thumped his tail on the ground.
    ‘Time for the truth, Tommy,’ Maxwell said quietly.
    ‘Thought you’d be back. Will I go to jail?’
    ‘You didn’t kill him, did you?’
    Tommy shook his head. There were tears in his eyes, and Maxwell felt genuinely sorry for the lad.         ‘What about Brenda? Did you kill her?’
    Tommy looked up, frowning. ‘No, course I didn’t. What d’you take me for? I ent a murderer! I loved her! I love all the girls in the village!’
    ‘I know that, Tommy. I just need you to tell me what happened. From the beginning.’
    ‘Ent much more to tell about Brenda, ‘part from what I already told you. Saw her get into the car and they drove off up Vicarage Lane. Stopped at Eddie Mason’s house and she got out. She was going to the fair, but she met someone up by the school. A man, driving a baby Austin. An Austin A35, black, it was. I didn’t recognise the driver. They went off together. I lost track of them. That was the last I saw of her. I didn’t know she would be found dead. If I’d known, I would have followed her.’ Maxwell knew that Tommy could not possibly have seen all this from the top of Cooper’s Hill. He had to have been closer, somewhere in the village… but it was a detail that, for the time being, wasn’t that important. That Tommy had seen what was going on was…
    Maxwell’s expression didn’t change.
    ‘There’s an entry, in her diary, about a boy she met called “M”, with blue eyes. Michael Thompson?’
    Tommy shook his head. ‘Marco Russo, from the Nissen huts.’
    Maxwell nodded sagely. He’d already had confirmation from Michael Thompson that Brenda’s boyfriend was Marco Russo, but he wanted to hear it from Tommy, too. Tommy Hinkley obviously knew more than he was letting on, and if he could keep him talking, sooner or later it would all come out. Tommy was clever, but he wasn’t that clever. ‘Of course. Michael has green eyes, doesn’t he? Silly of me. What about Trevor Bamber, Tommy?’ He hadn’t yet ruled out Marco Russo as a possible suspect for the murder. But it seemed, for the time being, that Tommy had nothing further to give on the Italian boy.
    ‘They hit him because he kept attacking them.’ Maxwell knew intuitively that Tommy was referring to June and Lynda Bamber when he said “they”. I was walking past. It had been snowing, snowing bad. There’s a lane at the back of the houses, by the brook. Mrs Bamber come out and asked me to help, so I helped. I waited till dark, then I drove down in Dad’s car and we carried the body out and up here. We hid the body in the hedgerow, in the snowdrift. He would have frozen to death. Then she walked back home so's no one would see us together.' He omitted to tell Maxwell that she had come back to Tommy's cottage, where she had given herself to him, a small price to pay for the service he had rendered her and her daughter. There was no need for DCI Maxwell to know that. No need at all. 'Mum and Dad were visiting in Bristol. I was on me own for a couple of weeks. Lucky really. No one up here in the winter, just us. They're away now, as it happens, back in Bristol again.'
    ‘Do you know which one of them killed him, Tommy?’
    Tommy shook his head. ‘Don’t matter, do it? He was abusing them, hitting them. He had to die, see. If they hadn’t done it, I would’ve.’
    ‘You knew what he was doing to them?’
    ‘Saw him a coupla times. Very nice lady, Mrs Bamber.’

    Bit out of your league, though, eh, Tommy? ‘But they didn’t tell you which one of them had killed him?’ Tommy knew just what the detective was thinking, that June Bamber wouldn't be seen dead with a boy like Tommy, and permitted himself a little smile. If he only knew...
    ‘Didn’t ask. I was just glad to know he was gonna be dead soon and wouldn’t hurt them any more. It doesn’t matter which one did it, does it? Anyway, they didn't actually kill him, did they? He died up here. Exposure.’

    Are you really that naïve, Tommy? Of course it matters. Someone has to be tried for the murder of Trevor Bamber. At the very least it would be manslaughter…
    ‘No, I guess it doesn’t matter at this stage, Tommy.’ He would take them both in for questioning, and Tommy, of course, and the truth would come out. His money was on the mother right now.
    ‘Will I go to jail?’
    ‘Not sure right now, Tommy. It’s possible. I can’t give you a cast iron guarantee that you won’t, let’s put it that way. I will need you to come to the station and make a statement. Once we’ve done that, someone will make a decision about whether or not to charge you, and then we’ll send the file to the DPP and they’ll decide if you’re to stand trial. Officially, as it stands, you're an accessory to the murder of Trevor Bamber. Anything else you want to tell me?’
    Tommy nodded. ‘Yes, there is.’
    ‘Go on.’
    ‘I found her Tuesday morning.’
    Maxwell’s eyes widened. He had not been expecting that. ‘Go on.’
    ‘I was out with Charlie. We were walking over by the Churchdown road, and Charlie darted off to the five trees. He found her, really, not me.’
    ‘You didn’t report it to the police?’
    ‘It was too late. I could see she was dead. I knew you'd be looking for her later that day.’
    ‘But, Christ, Tommy, she’d been murdered!’
    ‘I know that too. But I knew that someone would have already reported her missing and then you would come along and she’d be found, eventually.’
    ‘Why didn’t
you report it, Tommy?’
    ‘I don’t know, and that’s the God’s honest truth. Anyway, I wasn’t the only one who knew she was there.’
    ‘Tell me, then, Tommy. Who did you see?’
    So Tommy told him, and all the pieces of the jigsaw started to fit together.

    Michael knew where there was a window that he could open from the outside. It was round the back, near to the school kitchen, and once inside he could open the headmaster’s study with a paperclip which he carried in his saddle bag. He’d done it once before, but it had been when he was still attending the primary school, and he hoped they hadn’t had occasion to change the locks in the intervening years. It had been a dare. Robert Gilmore, the headmaster’s son, had bet him he couldn’t break into the school and put something on the roof, on the brand new television aerial. To do this, he needed a ladder, and the only one he knew of was in the caretaker’s room. He’d accepted the dare, because he didn’t particularly like Gilmore, but more importantly, he had wanted to impress Lynda Bamber and Brenda Offer, the two most attractive girls in the school.
    Annette, who was laid low with a bad case of ‘flu in 1957, suggested he take one of Pauline’s bras and fly it from the aerial. Had she felt better, she would have accompanied him, for she was just as good at climbing as he was, and just as fearless. At midnight, with her encouragement still ringing in his ears, he had crept out of the house and made his way to the school, found the keys he needed and entered the caretaker’s room, taken the ladder and achieved his goal easily and quickly. The following morning, which was the last day of term, found a group of giggling girls and boys pointing up at the TV aerial and the white bra flying from it like a pennant.
    Michael didn’t own up to the prank, he didn’t need to, because Robert Gilmore told his father that it was Michael who had done it, and he was soundly beaten for his troubles. The headmaster was a brutal man, given to doling out corporal punishment at the drop of a hat, including six of the best when Michael had complained that the custard served for school dinner was lumpy and inedible. Despite these setbacks, he had done well at the school, he liked and respected the rest of the teachers, and actually loved Miss Paige, and his reward was a place at the Crypt Grammar School, one of the oldest grammar schools in the county, and a maroon and gold uniform which he wore with pride.
    The locks had not been changed, and he found the spare to the caretaker’s room and made his way round the back of the building, expecting to find Lynda bound and gagged like a character from one of his
Famous Five stories or a Barney mystery. But when he opened the door, what struck him first was the smell, the coppery tang of blood in the air, and there, on the floor, lay Eddie Mason, his head battered, and a huge monkey wrench lying next to him.
    ‘Blimey!’ Michael said to himself as an enormous wave of relief flooded through him. His first thought was not that Eddie Mason had been assaulted, possibly murdered, but that Mason had failed to imprison Lynda. He didn’t know where to feel for a pulse, and didn’t really want to touch Mason, but he thought there was a pulse point beside each ear, above the cheek, and sure enough, Mason was still alive, breathing shallowly. He got to his feet, and that was when he saw the ribbon. Lynda’s blue ribbon, which she had been wearing in her hair earlier. So it had been her that Mason had tried to tie up, and she had overpowered him and knocked him out. So why had she not called the police, he wondered?

    “I saw you together. I’ve seen you together – often…” she’d said.
    He ran out into the playground to see if anyone was around, but the streets were empty. Further along the road, in the playing fields, the fair was just starting up, and he thought it might be best to go there and see if there was anyone who could help. He also needed to find Lynda, of course, but his fears that Mason had abducted and imprisoned her had been ill-founded, so he was no longer that worried about her.
    As he ran to the fair, his uncle John was coming back from the public house, and brought him to a halt.
    ‘Where’s the fire, Mikey?’ he said.
    Michael threw off his uncle’s arm angrily.
    ‘Eddie Mason, the caretaker. He’s hurt. Back at the school. You need to call an ambulance. I think he’s still alive, but he’s been hit on the head.’
    ‘Where are you off to in such a hurry?’
    ‘Can’t stop, I need to find Lynda.’
    ‘Why, what’s happened?’
    ‘I know about you and the man you were with at the Pinewood,’ Michael said, and started to walk away.
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘You knew he took Brenda in his car!’ Michael said furiously. ‘You knew, and you lied about it. You knew his car was there on Monday, and you said both me and Lynda were mistaken. You lied! Mr Maxwell says he had nothing to do with her murder, but I’m still not convinced. I have to go. Call an ambulance for Mr Mason. Not that he deserves it. You were probably in it together.’
    ‘Mikey, listen, I…’
    ‘I don’t want to listen and I don’t have to. Inspector Maxwell will be here soon, and you can explain everything to him, why you allowed them to kidnap Brenda, and then kill her.’
    ‘Mikey, it wasn’t like that, you have to believe me! That’s not what happened.’
    ‘No, I don’t have to believe you!’ Kimble laid a heavy hand on Michael’s arm, but found himself looking up into the eyes of a young man who was much bigger, and now much stronger than him. How could he stop Michael from shopping him to Maxwell without using force, and how could he use force on his nephew-by-marriage? Marian would never have forgiven him for hurting Michael. Kimble realised, with a heavy heart, that the game was up. All he could do now was to try to redeem himself. When the time came, he would confess everything to Maxwell.
    ‘Mikey, you’re right, I’ve been an idiot. Now tell me what’s happened and I’ll try to help. We can sort out what happens to me later.’
    ‘As though you don’t know!’ Michael said, frowning. ‘I was there, outside the pub, when you were arranging it all.’
    ‘Arranging what?’
    ‘To keep me and Lynda quiet. What was it he said? “
Do what you have to?” Is that what happened to Brenda? She was killed because she knew too much? She knew who had raped her? Was it Eddie Mason?’
    ‘I don’t know why she was killed,’ Kimble said, his shoulders drooping. ‘It wasn’t Mason. That’s all I know. He wasn’t involved, and neither was I. You have to believe me, Mikey.’
    ‘So who killed her?’
    ‘I don’t know. All I know is Eddie Mason’s not a murderer, Mikey, I know him.’
    ‘So maybe the other man killed her? Who is he? Are you taking money from him? From Eddie Mason too?’
    ‘That doesn’t matter any longer,’ Kimble said. ‘I’m probably going to go to jail for what I’ve done, I’ll take what’s coming to me. But let’s sort this out first, shall we? Why were you here, looking for Lynda?’
    ‘Like I said, I heard them tell you to keep us quiet. When I got to their house, Lynda and her mother had had a row and she’d gone out. When I heard what he was saying to you, I thought Lynda might be in danger. And me.’
    ‘Not going to happen, Mikey. I’m on your side now. Why did you think Mason might have taken her?’
    ‘He has to be involved, doesn’t he? It’s what he does, gets boys for people. He could just as easily have been getting girls for people all this time. He tried to get me, some years back.’
    ‘The little shit…’
    ‘Well, that’s the sort of thing you’re mixed up in, Uncle John. How could you do it? You know I want to be a policeman. God, I hope they’re not all like you!’
    Kimble flushed crimson with shame. ‘No,’ he said in a whisper. ‘They’re not all like me, Mikey. Maxwell’s a good cop. Come on, let’s start looking.’
    ‘Suppose they’ve got her already?’
    ‘Someone must have belted Eddie Mason on the back of the head. Do you think that could have been Lynda?’
    ‘I suppose so. Can’t you find out where they’re supposed to be meeting, and when?’
    ‘How can I do that?’         
    ‘I don’t know. Call the other man. There’s a phone box down by the shops.’
    Kimble nodded. ‘What excuse can I give for wanting to know?’
    ‘Say you want a piece of the action. I don’t know. Just think of something, for God’s sake! I’m going into the estate to see if I can find her.’
    ‘Right. I’ll meet you back home in an hour.’
    Michael nodded. His mind was working furiously. He wished he had pressed his uncle John for the other man’s name, but right now he couldn’t think straight. Lynda could have been the one who hit Eddie Mason. Equally, it could have been the other man, and he could even now have Lynda in the back of their car, taking her to who knew where?


Chapter Seventeen


     Maxwell drove towards the Thompson residence at a little after two, with Tommy Hinkley in the passenger seat. Albert Thompson was mixing concrete for his new garage. The Morris Tourer sat proudly on the drive, and Maxwell guessed that he was working his way through the grief of losing his mother-in-law, of whom he knew he had been very fond from conversations with Kimble. Although he had an inkling of Kimble’s involvement with the Mason, he had no proof, and his investigations so far into the abduction and murder of Brenda McLaren had been fairly satisfactory. What he now knew, or thought he knew, was who had killed Brenda, and it had not been Eddie Mason. He pulled up outside the Thompson house and got out of the car, directing Tommy to stay inside.
    ‘Mr Thompson? I’m DCI Maxwell, Gloucestershire Constabulary. Is Michael at home?’
    Albert Thompson scowled. ‘No he isn’t! He was supposed to be helping me with this bloody concrete! I’ll give him what for when he turns up!’
    ‘I’m sure he’ll be along soon. Is your daughter in?’
    ‘Which one? Pauline or Annette?’
    ‘It’s Annette I’m after.’
    Thompson shook his head. ‘No, she went off that way,’ he said, pointing up the road towards Vicarage Lane. ‘Going to Cheltenham on the bus, she said. What’s this all about?’
    Maxwell raised his trilby. ‘Nothing to worry about,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to catch up with them. It’s about the Brenda McLaren murder.’
    ‘Anywhere near arresting anyone?’
    ‘Just a matter of time,’ Maxwell said, but he was thinking that if he didn’t make his excuses and get going, he may well be looking at another murder, and Mr Thompson might end up grieving for someone else, someone nearer to home. ‘I have to go. Nice talking to you.’
    He climbed back into the Wolseley and started the engine. ‘Time to go, Tommy,’ he said. He turned the car in the circle between the eight houses and took off up the road in the direction Thompson had pointed, hoping against hope he would be in time.
    He saw Michael Thompson walking through the playing fields pushing his bike, past the fun fair, on his way to the council estate, and pulled up alongside him.
    ‘Get in, Michael,’ he said.
    ‘What about my bike?’ Maxwell got out, opened the boot, and between them they managed to squeeze the bike in.
    ‘Where are we going?’
    ‘Not sure, but we need to get going now!’
    Michael saw that Tommy Hinkley was in the front seat next to Maxwell. He climbed in the back.
    ‘Seen your sister today, Michael?’
    ‘Earlier, yes, why?’
    ‘Tommy here has something to tell you, don’t you, Tommy?’
    Tommy Hinkley shrank back against the leather upholstery and stared out of the side window.
    ‘Don’t you, Tommy?’
    Tommy Hinkley opened his mouth and started talking as Maxwell moved off. And Michael knew pretty much what Tommy was going to say… 

Eddie Mason procures little boys for clients who prefer boys to girls, just like he does. Out of the blue a man calls and asks him to meet. Just like that. The client is a man who has recently moved to the village from up north, and Eddie Mason’s name has come up in conversation. Eddie has a phone, of course, and the call came Saturday morning.
    ‘The word is you could be useful to me.’
    The voice has a low northern lilt. Lancashire or Yorkshire. They all sound the same to Mason.
    ‘In what way, useful?’
    ‘I don’t like to be messed around.’
    ‘I can get you a boy, if that’s what you’re after.’
    ‘A boy? Why would I want a boy! Are you a homo or something?’
    ‘Or a girl. I could get a girl for you. A virgin, of course.’
    ‘A girl, yes, that’s what I want. You can get me one?’
    ‘I know a couple of girls in the village who’ll….’
    ‘They’re not prostitutes, though?’
    ‘No. Not prostitutes. Teenagers. Teenaged girls.’
    ‘That’s good. That’s what I want.’
    Eddie tried to picture the man he was talking to on the other end of the phone, and all he could come up with was some older man, possibly in his fifties, wearing glasses, balding, shortish. It was meaningless, of course, because he did not know this man. Not yet. And speculation was worthless.
    ‘I’ll meet you. When?’
    ‘Monday afternoon. Has to be the afternoon, you understand? I’m tied up over the weekend. Moving in. She’ll suspect something if I disappear for a couple of hours. No, it has to be Monday afternoon. She’ll be at work then.’
    ‘Right. Monday afternoon it is.’
    They arrange to meet at his house, and then they will drive to Morgan’s Farm, where it is quiet, and no one will see them. In the event, he doesn’t need to sort anything, the business kind of falls into his lap. After Brenda McLaren, whom Eddie knows vaguely from the primary school, gets out of the beige Standard Vanguard on Monday afternoon, and wanders off towards the fair, Eddie thinks briefly that maybe Brenda will do. He knows nothing about her, no more than he knows about his client. But he has read in the newspapers that sex is high on every young person’s agenda now, at the beginning of the “Swinging Sixties”. Why should Brenda McLaren be any different? Surely there is something she wants to buy, something she can’t afford right now? A Pair of shoes, a new handbag, something of that nature? The client will pay well, Eddie knows that, because the fee has already been discussed. But then, abruptly, he changes his mind. He doesn’t know Brenda, apart from when she was a little girl. Now she’s all grown up, she probably has a boyfriend and is already making plans to get married and have a couple of kids. He can’t risk it. It might all go horribly wrong. It has to be someone he knows will do it for money.
    Eddie has a couple of local girls in mind for this job, his own sister has helped him with that, because she works at the youth club in Hucclecote and knows them all. She knows which ones have already been with boys, and which ones are on the point of doing it. There is Lucy Davies, who has already had two children by two different fathers, and she is not yet sixteen years old. There is Joan Gilmore, daughter of the primary school headmaster, who has breasts the size of ripe melons, and who will let any boy – or man, for that matter, feel her up for the price of a cigarette or two. Iris, his sister, assures him that she has seen Brenda knocking around with a boy, that Craig Watson from the estate, the one who was joining up, joining the army, and she swore she had seen a ten shilling note being passed to the girl afterwards. She was not to know that Brenda was taking the money so that she could get some shopping in for Watson’s mother, who was lying in bed at home with a bad dose of sciatica. And although they have kissed, she thinks Brenda is still a virgin. Furthermore, she is no more interested in Craig Watson than Eddie is. Watson is too old, and he is built like a brick shithouse. And he is going into the army. Her real interest is in Marco Russo, the Italian boy from the prisoner of war camp. They still think of it as the prisoner of war camp, even though the war has been over for eighteen years now…

    Brenda McLaren just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She has something of a reputation locally as a friendly enough girl and she is one of the girls Eddie did his eye on for his client, as it happens, though she is way down at the bottom of his list, and he would probably have never got down that far. One of his first choices will come good for him, he is sure. There is good money to be made for something like this, both for Eddie and for the girl. But it doesn’t matter. What was it to Eddie Mason that a cheap little tart got drawn into the cruel world of prostitution? He is to get fifty pounds for the deal, ten of which will go to the girl, the client will go away satisfied, and life is sweet, as the saying goes.
    Brenda, herself sixteen years old, has been backwards and forwards to the shops all that Monday, running errands, when the car stops and the man gets out. It is now just after three thirty. If she’d had her way, she would have been with her new, secret boyfriend of two months, not Craig Watson but little Marco from the huts, having sex again, but today she has drawn the short straw and her father’s bizarre shopping requests come first. As it happens, she will be having sex, but not to her boyfriend, and not the way she had planned or, indeed, envisaged it. When the car stops next to her, she turns to see who it is, and if she knows them. She is dressed in a lemon-coloured top and a blue and white polka dot skirt, and wears white ankle socks and plimsolls. She is a pretty girl, with dark brown, shoulder-length hair and blue eyes, and looks a little like her namesake, Brenda Lee, though not quite so diminutive as the pop singer.
    She has been taught to be considerate and courteous to strangers. As he steps out of the car she sees that the man is tall, and very well dressed. She doesn’t know him, but she can see that he is very smartly dressed in what she supposes must be a very expensive suit.
    ‘Excuse me,’ the man says, raising his hat. ‘I wonder if you could help me. I am looking for Mr Mason. Mr Edward Mason.’
    ‘I think there is a family called Mason in Green Street,’ Brenda says. She knows about Eddie Mason, all right, that he is someone the local children have been told to keep away from, though they don’t know why. But she doesn’t say that to the man.
    ‘Where is that?’
    Brenda points. ‘At the end of this road,’ she said, ‘the road that runs along the top. It’s called Court Road. You go across at the crossroads and turn left into Vicarage Lane and then on to Churchdown. The Masons live in one of the houses on the left, just before you get to the lane. Number thirty-two’
    ‘Could you show me, perhaps?’ the man says with a big, beaming smile that immediately puts her at her ease.
    Without hesitation, Brenda gets into the car, which is a beige Standard Vanguard. She thinks nothing of getting into a car with a strange man, because this is 1963, and bad things do not happen to people out here in rural Gloucestershire. Though she doesn’t read the newspapers, she knows that they are full of dreadful kidnappings and murders, especially of children, but that is in the big cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham. Here, in Gloucestershire, in Brockworth, nothing ever happens. It is a quiet little village where everyone knows everyone else, front and back doors are rarely locked, and crime is virtually non-existent. Islwyn Evans, the Welsh tearaway from down the road was arrested for shoplifting a year ago, but that is ancient history. And a woman was arrested for breaking into the vicarage, but she was off her rocker, and sent off to what some people called Coney Hatch, out near Barnwood, where they sent mad people from the villages. Brenda does not hesitate to get into the car with the black man. She has no reason to fear him, he is well spoken, well educated, she can tell that from the way he has spoken to her, or so she thinks. She settles into the comfortable passenger’s seat and leans back against the cool fabric. The car moves off slowly, sedately, almost, and they cruise along Boverton Drive in some style, past Vera Northcotes’s house. Mrs Northcote lives at number 98 Boverton Drive and she sees her in the car. Vera Northcote is eighty-three. She has cancer of the liver and it has started to spread. She is dying. Within an hour of the big car cruising past, an ambulance will be taking Vera Northcote to the infirmary and by tea time she will be dead herself, and one of the last people to see Brenda McLaren alive will be of no use whatsoever to the murder enquiry. Here is the rag and bone man’s horse and cart, and even with the car window shut, she can hear his shout of “Rag bone, rag bone!” Here Mr O’Reilly is delivering potatoes to Mr Hannaford’s house. Here is the postman, Mr Beresford, stopped for a cup of tea with old Mrs Hamilton at number 76. None of these people take any notice of the Standard Vanguard as it cruises past Mrs Northcote’s house. But she is looking out of her window, and she sees the car and its occupants. Mrs Northcote never misses anything that happens in the Drive. In any event, the beige Standard Vanguard belongs to an insurance salesman, come to see Mason about life insurance. It is an appointment that Eddie has forgotten all about.
    He drops her outside Eddie Mason’s house, and she wanders off into the fun fair. By the time they find her body, two days later, on Wednesday, at the Five Trees, it is virtually impossible to identify her except by dental records and the clothes she had worn, and which had been hidden beneath the fallen tree where the body was found. That and the fact she was the only sixteen-year-old girl in the village who was missing.
    She gets out of the car, points to Mason’s house, and the man says thank you with a beaming smile. Further down the lane is the field where the Easter fair has been set out. She has six shillings in the form of one half crown, some sixpences and a threepenny piece, the rest in pennies and tuppences. She spends it all on a stall that lets you throw hoops over sticks. Three hoops and you win a cuddly toy. Brenda is singularly unlucky today, in more ways than one. She sees Alice, her “aunty”, the woman who is living with, “taking care of” her father, and waves.
    There are tombola stalls, hoop-la stalls, penny machines, rides for the kiddies, rides for the teenagers and the young grown-ups, candy-floss stalls, dodgem cars, where the loudspeakers blare out the latest pop tune at a deafening, distorted loudness that people seem to accept and enjoy. This is 1963, and the opportunity to listen to the really trend-setting “pop” music on the radio is confined to Two-Way Family Favourites, Children’s Favourites and a two-week annual broadcast from the Earls Court Radio Show, or tuning the radio to Radio Luxembourg. While the insurance agent is inside Eddie Mason’s house, signing him up for a life insurance policy for tuppence a week, the little baby Austin stops in the lane and the driver leans across and opens the door. ‘Get in,’ he says, and Brenda leans in to see who it is, recognises him as someone she knows. ‘I want to talk to you. It’s your mum. We have to go to Churchdown, the new house. I think she might be ill, I need your help.’
    Without a word, Brenda gets into the car and the driver pulls away from the fair. He continues out into the country, towards Churchdown. When the Austin, which smells of tobacco and leather and the driver’s pungent aftershave, pulls into the gateway that was the entrance to Morgans’ Farm, a large estate on which the main farmhouse had burned to the ground two years earlier, she thinks he is turning round to go back to Mason’s house. But he pulls the car to a halt and switches off the engine.
    ‘Where are we going? Why have you stopped?’ she says.
    ‘Just keep quiet and you won’t get hurt.’
    ‘What do you mean?’ Brenda says, ever polite, and now more than a little worried.
    ‘Get out of the car,’ he says, then puts his hand on her arm and stops her. ‘Wait. Let me look at you.’ He stares at the young girl sitting next to him. She is pretty, with shoulder-length hair and blue eyes. He particularly approves of the fact she is wearing little or no make-up. He hates girls that plaster their faces with make-up, like the older girls who work in the brothels in the city. He notices the swell of her young breasts and her legs, which are naked save for her white ankle socks, and sucks in his breath.
    ‘Why have you brought me here? The place is derelict. What about my Mum?’
    ‘Don’t worry about your Mum, Brenda, that was just an excuse to get you in the car. I want to talk to you, that’s all. You owe me that much at least. Get out of the car, please.’
    Brenda does as she is told, and follows him into one of the barns. Inside it is warm, and there is hay everywhere.
    ‘What do you want?’
    ‘Just to talk to you. Do you have a boyfriend, Brenda?
    ‘Marco. He lives in the Nissen huts back the way we came.’
    ‘Very good.’ He looks her up and down, smiling. He takes off his national health glasses and folds them carefully, stowing them away in the hard case which he always carries in his trouser pocket.
    ‘I’m going back to the fun fair. I can walk back by myself,’ Brenda says. ‘You don’t have to worry. It’s just down the lane.’ She starts to walk back out into the sunshine, but he grabs her by the arm and pulls her back. He opens his mouth and smiles, revealing a set of teeth that are stained yellow through years of chain smoking. Brenda’s heart lurches into her stomach, then back again, as she realises what may be going to happen to her. She opens her mouth to scream and as tears start to form at her eyes, she does scream. He places a big, calloused hand over her mouth to prevent her from making too much noise, and then he yanks her blouse open, revealing her underclothes. With expert hands he reaches behind and undoes the clasp, freeing her small but beautifully formed breasts as Brenda struggles, terrified, unable to move in his iron grip.
    He pulls at the waistband of her skirt and it falls to the floor, then he yanks off her knickers. Brenda becomes hysterical. She screams, and he slaps her, hard, across the face. She has never been with a man in her life, only with young Marco. She has kissed boys, and on more than one occasion she has let them touch her breasts. Two months ago she had met the boy of her dreams and had allowed him to put his hand inside her knickers, inside her. And then, tentatively, cautiously, they made love. She knows she is no longer a virgin but she is still sexually immature, she knows about rape, and she can’t believe it is going to happen to her. Had she not had the misfortune to run into Eddie Mason’s insurance agent that afternoon, she would have gone straight round to her boyfriend’s place, which was empty except for Marco, his mother having gone into Cheltenham to visit a friend who had just had a baby, his father working on the farm. One day she would marry Marco, they would settle down and have beautiful children. That is the fanciful dream of this particular young girl, though she knows intuitively that her father will do everything in his power to stop it happening. But in any case it is never going to happen now. She knows what is going to happen to her, that she is going to be raped here at Morgan’s Farm, and that her boyfriend will not want anything to do with her after that.
    She doesn’t put up much of a struggle against him. He is not particularly tall, nowhere near the six feet that Michael Thompson is. He is small and wiry, not much taller than Brenda herself, but he is incredibly strong, and she is powerless against his hands, his fists, his violence. By the time he has finished with her, she is virtually unconscious. As the enormity of what is happening sweeps over her, she has fainted clean away.
    ‘You should have done as I said when I first moved in with your Mum,’ he says, breathing heavily. ‘You should have come to me when she was out shopping, or staying over with her sister, like I said.’ He adjusts his clothing carefully, standing over her, watching her chest rise and fall. He has closed her right eye with his fist, it is already discolouring. There are bruises forming on her arms and on her legs. He makes no attempt to put her knickers back on, or to cover her up. There is a trickle of blood on her inner thigh where he has been so brutal. Tears form at the corner of his eyes, and then he is crying out loud, snivelling, snot pouring from his nostrils. He wipes it away with a dirty handkerchief which he then stuffs into his trouser pocket. He puts his glasses back on and tips his head back. He wipes his tears away with the back of his hand and lurches away from her, staggering unsteadily back to his car.
    ‘You should have done as I said,’ he mutters, then gets into his little car, slams the door shut and drives back home. Not to Churchdown. The move to the house in Churchdown has fallen through. For the time being he and Mary Lamb, Brenda’s mother, are staying put. On the council estate. He doesn’t think Brenda will say anything to her mother, but she might tell her father, the little Scotsman, Dougal McLaren. But he doesn’t think she will. He’s sure she’ll be too ashamed of what has just happened to tell anyone. Gordon Clark lets himself in the side door and makes himself a pot of tea. Mary Lamb will be home soon, he will tell her that he left work with a migraine, came home and spent the day in bed, only getting up just before she arrives home from her cleaning job. There will be stew for dinner, because it has been cooking on the hob all day, and there is plenty of it. Things will quickly get back to normal for Gordon. The girl’s bruises will fade, she will keep quiet about what has happened this afternoon, and life will carry on as usual. He will return to his job on the Abbotswood estate, where he stokes and maintains the boiler in the boiler house behind the flea pit. Maybe next time Brenda visits, she will do as he says, and come to her willingly, quietly, submissively.
    When she wakes, she opens her eyes slowly, aware of a terrific pain in her head, and as her eyes become accustomed to the light in the barn, she remembers what has happened to her, and she screams. ‘Help me!’ Brenda whispers, still crying. She is very sore between her legs, and thinks she might even be bleeding down there.
    ‘He’s gone, it’s just you and me now,’ someone says, and Brenda tries to focus her eyes. There is someone else there. It is getting dark, she has been raped, there is blood on her thighs, and she feels as if she has been kicked between her legs, but thank God, there is someone there who could, who would, surely, help her. Someone whom she recognises instantly.
    ‘Help me, please. He raped me.’
    ‘Only what you deserve,’ the voice says, cold, unfeeling, and Brenda’s heart lurches into her stomach. As the enormity of what has happened to her sinks in, she leans over to her left and throws up, violently into the straw.
    ‘Nice,’ the voice says.
    ‘Please can you call an ambulance? I’m hurt. He raped me.’
    ‘I know. I saw. It was only what you deserve.’
    The figure emerges from the shadows, and Brenda sees that she is carrying a knife. It looks like a bread knife, with a long, curved blade and a serrated edge. She begins to scream wildly.
    ‘Scream away. No one here to hear you. He’s long gone, and I’m going to put you out of your misery. I know what he did to you, and you won’t be able to live with the shame of it. It’s best this way,’ says the figure, and the knife descends quickly. Brenda’s last thought is that she is going to die and she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t know what she has done to upset this person, whom she recognises. She feels the warmth of her own blood cascading down her throat, front and back, filling her mouth, choking her, gagging her, and then her lungs fill with blood, and she dies, twitching once. She slides to the floor and her life blood ebbs out onto the straw. The figure stands up and wipes the knife on Brenda’s skirt, then removes every last item of her clothing, putting it into a shopping bag, drags her out of the barn and across to the five trees crater. The boggy clay at the bottom and the rats and the crows and the insects will do their work quickly. The figure walks back to the barn to hide the knife, the breadknife from the kitchen drawer, in the middle of one of the bales of hay. She collects up all of Brenda’s discarded and torn clothing and returns to the Five Trees, where one of the trees has fallen during a recent storm. She stuffs the clothes beneath the fallen tree, out of sight, then walks away as though nothing has happened, as though it was just another day’s work.
    Marco Russo, Brenda’s Italian boyfriend, a year younger than her, also sees her ride past where he lives in the little black car, and hurries after her. They had met a couple of months ago at the youth club in Hucclecote, but there were too many people about who knew both her and him, and they wanted to keep their friendship a secret for a while longer. He sees the car out of the corner of his eye, catching the glance of the man in the driving seat as he recognises Brenda. He starts to run towards the car but the man’s expression warns him off. Marco knows about such men, for his father came from Sicily, and has told him about them. Mafiosi, he calls them, and warns his young son to stay out of trouble.
    ‘There are people like the Mafiosi all over the world,’ he told Marco. ‘You will know them when you see them. If they warn you to stay away, you stay away, capice?’
    ‘Si, papa,’ Marco said. He understood. The man in the car had glared at him, then ran a finger along his throat, and the gesture was unmistakable. Follow us, and you’re dead. Capice?
    Now he feels like the most cowardly boy in the world, he feels that he should have followed the car, he should have fought for Brenda, because he knows, in his heart of hearts, what is going to happen to her. Twenty minutes later the car slows to a halt at the entrance to the road where the Nissen huts stand, and the driver gets out and walks over to where Marco stands. He is a small man, wiry, well-muscled, wearing glasses. He is not Italian. He is not Mafioso. He speaks with a northern accent, and he does not smile.
    ‘You saw nothing, you understand? Your mother and father, they’re well, are they?’
    Marco nods. He is fifteen years old, just a young teenaged boy, in love with a girl a year older than him.
    ‘Where is Brenda?’ he says in a choked whisper. My girlfriend, you took her up the road in your car. Where is she?’
    The man knows instinctively that Marco is an Italian, he knows about the Nissen huts, and guesses correctly that Marco’s father was a prisoner of war.
    ‘Your parents would not approve of you going with an English girl, would they? It would be a shame if they found out.’
    ‘What have you done to Brenda?’
    The man laughs. It is the laugh of a man who doesn’t care what he has done to other people. ‘She is having a rest, that is all. She came over all faint when she left the fun fair. When I left her she was fine. Now why don’t you run off and play, like a good little boy? You don’t want to tell anyone, believe me, that you saw us here. How much do you love your mama and your papa, eh, boy?’
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘Do you love them enough to want to keep them alive, eh? Can I trust you not to say anything to anyone?’ The man’s hand is suddenly around Marco’s throat, and a flick knife has suddenly appeared in his hand. Marco feels the enormous flash of pain as the blade enters his upper thigh, and stifles a scream as the man’s other hand clamps his mouth shut.
    ‘That will feel like a pin prick compared with what your mama and your papa feel if I find you’ve told anyone about us. Do you understand, boy?’
    Marco nods through his tears, and as the man releases him, he falls to the ground, whimpering. The man climbs back into the car and drives off at high speed, kicking up a huge dust cloud that sends millions of tiny particles of dust into the air. Marco stares at the disappearing car through a haze of tears and snot, and takes off his trouser belt to tie around his leg, above the wound. Then he staggers off into the late afternoon, down the lane towards the shops and up towards Cheeseroll Hill, where he will spend the night in complete agony, wondering how he can go home and explain to his parents how he has come by this awful wound. He will survive, but he will walk with a slight limp for the rest of his life, and for the time being, to protect his parents, whom he loves dearly, as much as, or probably more than Brenda, he will say nothing about having seen Brenda in the front of a small Austin A35. And he will regret forever the fact that he was unable to walk the mile or so along Court Road to Morgan’s Farm, in search of his beloved Brenda. He would have been far too late to save her life, but at least he would have gone looking for her. But for the time being he can walk no further.



Chapter Eighteen


     Lynda stood next to Annie Thompson. She had seen her giving directions to a man in a car at the bus stop, and then, as the car drove away, walked up to her and introduced herself.
    ‘I’m Lynda Bamber, Michael’s new girlfriend. You’re Annette. He talks about you a lot. Are you going into Cheltenham?’
    ‘Yes, why?’
    ‘You just missed the bus. Won’t be another for a while. Why don’t we walk up Court Road and wait for my brother? He’s promised to pick me up in his van at Morgan’s farm. It isn’t far. We could all squeeze in? Come on, what do you say? Give us a chance to get to know each other?’
    So Annette had agreed and they had walked up Court Road, past the church, out towards Morgan’s Farm, arm-in-arm, chatting away as though they had known each other for years. Annette had no reason to suspect that Lynda Bamber didn’t have a brother. As they reached the farm, Lynda suggested they sit down, away from the road, and have a drink from the bottle of Tizer she had brought with her.
    ‘You’re very close, aren’t you?’
    ‘We’re twins,’ Annette said, as though it explained everything.
    ‘Do you tell each other everything, then?’
    Annette laughed gaily. ‘Oh, yes! Everything!’
    ‘So he told you about me and him?’
    ‘Some of it, yes.’
    ‘What did he say?’
    ‘How gorgeous you are.’
    ‘No, I mean about what we did. Did he tell you that?’
    Annette lowered her eyes. She was not quite so comfortable discussing this aspect of Michael with his girlfriend. Not the details, anyway.
    ‘Go on. Did he tell you how he put his hand inside my knickers, and how I put my hand inside his trousers?’
    ‘Don’t,’ Annette said, frowning. She didn’t want to hear this, she had only just met the girl, and this was not the conversation they should be having. They were just inside the barn, sitting on a haystack, where it was a little cooler. She had enjoyed quizzing Mike about his sexual encounters with Lynda, but hearing it from her was a different matter altogether. It made her feel decidedly uncomfortable
    ‘Was it good when he did it to you?’
    ‘What do you mean?’Annette said, gasping.
    ‘Well, that’s what you do, isn’t it? You make out together, don’t you?’
    ‘That’s a disgusting thing to say! He's my brother!’
    ‘Does he help you when you’re in the bathroom together? Scrub your back while you’re in the bath? Do you do it in your bedroom, or his bedroom?’
    ‘Look, I don’t know what you’ve heard, or what you think you’re trying to do, but he’s my brother. My brother, for God’s sake!’
    ‘My mum’s seen you,’ Lynda said.
    ‘She saw you. The night you came home from France. Hugging and kissing each other, out in the street for all to see. You’re shameless. Just like she was. Brenda McLaren.’
    ‘This is your idea of getting to know each other better, is it? You wait till I tell Michael what you’re like!’
    Annette stood up intending to walk away, but Lynda tripped her and she fell to the ground. Lynda hit her across the face, a gentle slap to start with, then again, harder, and her head rocked against a flint buried in the hay, and she lost consciousness immediately. Lynda sat down on the haystack and pulled Eddie Mason’s army revolver from her handbag. Her father had taught her how to handle a rifle, and she didn’t think a revolver could be that much different. She pulled the trigger, aiming at a rabbit by the five trees, and the noise was deafening. It had been child’s play undoing the pathetic knots Mason had tied her up with, and as she hit him from behind with the pipe, she remembered how it had been all those months ago, in the depths of winter, when she had clobbered her father the same way.
    ‘Christ almighty!’ she said, recoiling from the shock, as Annette’s eyes slowly opened. ‘It really works!’
    Annette struggled to a sitting position. ‘What are you doing?’ she said, nursing her head, which was just starting to bleed.
    Lynda carelessly waved the revolver in the air. ‘He doesn’t need you. Mum was right.’
    ‘What are you talking about? I have to go.’
    Suddenly the barrel of the revolver was pointing at her. ‘Sit down!’ said Lynda. ‘You’re going nowhere.’
    ‘You stupid girl. What makes you think there’s something going on between me and Mikey? We’re sister and brother, you stupid cow!’
    ‘Call me stupid once more and it’ll be the last thing you do!’
    ‘We love each other as sister and brother, that’s all. We’re close. We’re twins, for Christ’s sake!’
    ‘Don’t waste your breath. Mum told me what you get up to, even in the street in front of everyone, in front of normal people. You’re not going to take him away from me! I’ll kill you first!’ Lynda’s voice rose steadily until it became an hysterical scream.  
    ‘You won’t get away with it,’ Annette said. Outwardly, she was trying to appear calm, trying to defuse the situation. Inwardly, she was terrified, and she knew she was shaking like a leaf. She had been wondering what the enormous bang was that had brought her round, and seeing the gun, still smoking, she now realised that Lynda Bamber had been trying it out for size.
    ‘Why shouldn’t I? I got rid of the other girl. That Brenda McLaren.’
You killed her?’
    Lynda nodded slowly. ‘I saw them together, in the street. I think she kissed him as well. I followed her, I saw her get into the car, and I followed them here and hid in the barn. I watched while she was raped, and then after he’d gone, she pleaded with me to help her, to call an ambulance. I told her, “It’s only what you deserve”, and I killed her. I stabbed her in the throat, with a breadknife.’
    ‘My God! You’re insane!’  
    Lynda shook her head. ‘No, I’m not, and don’t you say that I am. It’s not nice. I’m quite normal. I saw Michael, knew he was the one for me, and I stopped Brenda McLaren from getting her dirty little whore’s hands on him. Now I’m going to stop you.’
    ‘I don’t want Michael, not like that, he’s my brother, you stupid bitch!’ Annette said wearily. Inside her chest, her young heart was hammering wildly, and she felt faint. There was blood running down the side of her face and onto her clean white blouse.  
    ‘It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, I know different.’ Lynda seemed not to have noticed that Annie had called her “stupid” again.
    ‘In that case, why haven’t you pulled the trigger already? You’re not sure, are you?’  
    ‘Perfectly sure,’ Lynda said in a curiously matter-of-fact voice, and levelled the revolver at Annette’s chest and pulled the trigger.

    Michael stood gazing at the prone figure of his uncle, his arm around Annette’s waist. She was shaking like a leaf. He had stopped the bleeding by pressing a piece of his shirt against the wound, and was trying to comfort her, to get her to stop crying. To his relief, the blood flow appeared to be slowing down. Maxwell had a pair of handcuffs on Lynda, and was cautioning her. Tommy Hinkley stood by the car. He had not made any attempt to see if there was anything he could do, and he appeared to be weeping.
    ‘I need to get her home,’ Michael said.
    Maxwell nodded. ‘Let me get her into the car, then I’ll radio in for an ambulance and another car to take you home. Tommy, you OK?’
    Tommy nodded and said something unintelligible. He got in the back of the car next to Lynda, but he wouldn’t look her in the eye. He had known, of course, and that was what he had told Michael and Maxwell as they drove to the five trees.
    ‘I saw her. I followed her, I saw her kill Brenda, and I watched her cover her over in the copse, and I should’a told the police but I couldn’t, because I loved her. I know she wouldn’t ever love me, but I couldn’t do it. I thought I was in love with her Mum, but it was really her I was in love with, it was Lynda, Michael. I’m sorry.’
    ‘Your uncle is alive, but he’s out cold,’ Maxwell told him. The ambulance will be here in about ten minutes or so. There’s a squad car on its way but I think you should go to the hospital with your uncle and Annie. OK?’  
    Michael nodded. He had by now managed to calm Annette down a little. They sat on a haystack, and he had found a blanket beneath his bicycle in the boot of Maxwell’s car to put round her shoulders.
    ‘If you hadn’t turned up when you did… If Uncle John hadn’t rushed at her as she pulled the trigger…’ The first bullet had hit his uncle and the second had nicked Annie’s upper thigh. It was John Kimble throwing himself at Lynda that had deflected her aim and caused her to miss killing Annie. She had wanted to pass out, to faint away and leave them all to it, but the pain was enormous, and she had stayed awake while Mike and the detective had overpowered Lynda and Maxwell had cuffed her. She was now sitting in the back of Maxwell’s car, her eyes looking downwards, towards her feet, a sullen, almost blank expression on her face, although the corners of her mouth were turned up in an almost imperceptible smile.
    ‘Shush, shush. It’s all going to be all right now, Annie, you’re safe now. DCI Maxwell has unloaded the gun and made it safe. Lynda is in handcuffs. No one’s going to hurt you now, you’re safe.’
    Annette nodded and leaned against her brother, and closed her eyes. Two hours later she had been discharged from Gloucester Royal Infirmary and she and Michael were on their way home in a police car, again laid on by Maxwell. He arrived at the Thompson house at around eight o’clock that evening. Annette was lying on the sofa, her mother and Pauline fussing over her, while Michael and his father sat in easy chairs. The wireless was on, but very quietly, playing some dance tune or other by Victor Sylvester and his orchestra.
    Maxwell found himself a seat and removed his trilby hat and overcoat.

    ‘Your uncle is not very well, I’m afraid. The second bullet caught him in the middle of his lower back and shattered his spine. It is unlikely he will be able to walk ever again. As it is, he’s lucky to be alive. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, it must come as a huge shock coming after the death of your mother. Lynda Bamber and her mother have been charged with the murder of Trevor Bamber. Lynda Bamber has been charged with the murder of Brenda McLaren and the attempted murder of Annie, here, and Sergeant Kimble. Tommy Hinkley has been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, but it’s unlikely he’ll be prosecuted. He really was just an innocent bystander trying to help the woman and the girl he was hopelessly in love with. Through it all, he meant well, he honestly meant well, bearing in mind what Trevor Bamber put his wife and his daughter through. And we have to take into account the kind of lad he is.’ Maxwell tapped his forehead with his fingers. ‘Not all there, is how you’d describe it, I think. I know it doesn’t explain Lynda’s psychotic behaviour, but it goes some way. It goes some way. Michael, could I have a word with you in private, please?’
    Michael nodded and they left the room and went to sit in Maxwell’s car. ‘Eddie Mason has been arrested, and Gordon Clark will be picked up just as soon as I’ve finished here. Mason was supposed to procure a teenaged virgin for Clark. He and McLaren’s wife Mary were supposed to be setting up home in Churchdown, but the move fell through. In the meantime, he went to Mason because he wasn’t getting what he wanted from Mary. You don’t need me to spell it out for you, do you? That’s why some men visit prostitutes, because their wives or girlfriends don’t perform to their satisfaction. Mason was usually getting hold of boys for his clients, it must have come as something of a shock when Clark turned up asking for a girl. Anyway, Brenda was always his first choice, he’d tried making a move on her when she was staying with him and Mary earlier in the year, but to her credit, she was having none of it.’
    Maxwell paused to light his pipe. ‘I’ve seen it all too often. Men coming home from the wars, expecting to carry on as though nothing’s happened. In the meantime, their wives have become used to not having them around for years, not having to perform every night. Sex isn’t to everyone’s taste, you know. Some women like it, some see it as a duty. If you’ve had four or five years off, or even taken up with another man while your man’s away fighting, the chances are you’re going to be a bit choosy about when you do your duty, as it were. Gordon Clark took up with Mary a few months back, and he’d been used to doing all sorts of things with Korean girls while he was out there. Western women aren’t quite as, well, liberated, if you know what I mean, and Mary really didn’t come up to scratch, although she was exactly what he wanted in the way of a housekeeper. The house is actually in her name, you know? So he wanted a home to go to after a day in the boiler house – hard work, that, of course – and a woman who’d do what he wanted, when he wanted. Only Mary dug her heels in, so he went to Mason.’
    ‘I told my uncle that both of us had seen the Standard Vanguard in the Avenue. Lynda said she’d seen Brenda get into it.’
    Maxwell nodded. ‘He was an insurance agent, new to the area. He asked Brenda to show him where Eddie Mason lived. It was a coincidence, that’s all. The man is innocent.’
    ‘My other uncle, Uncle Eric is an insurance agent. He drives the same car.’
    ‘I’ll need you to make a statement about seeing the Standard Vanguard in the village on Monday. I’m hoping Lynda will see sense and start talking soon. She was there when Clark raped Brenda, almost certainly. It appears she was insanely jealous of her, and was afraid, after seeing you talking to her Monday morning, or afternoon at the fun fair, that you and she were on the point of getting back together. She’s been sexually abused by her father for several years. It doesn’t excuse what she did, but it goes some way to helping us to understand her thought processes.’
    ‘Are you absolutely certain it wasn’t Gordon Clark that killed her?’
    ‘Absolutely certain, yes. Fingerprints on the bread knife, the murder weapon, will confirm that, but from what your sister said, Lynda confessed to everything. I just need her to repeat it all before I wrap the case up and send it off to the DPP. At the moment she’s sitting tight, saying nothing, probably in shock. Don’t worry, she;s not going anywhere. We all saw what she was going to do when we arrived at the barn. Tommy was there, anyway. Even if Lynda and Clark continue to say nothing, I’ve got Tommy’s statement. He was watching them, he was there in the barn when it happened. I can’t forgive him for that, helpful as he’s been. To stand by and watch someone do that to poor Brenda and then watch the girl he loved stab her death… I told him he probably wouldn’t go to jail, but now I hope he does. Being a bit simple doesn’t excuse what he did, does it?’
    ‘No. He could have stopped it. He could have stopped Lynda from killing her, at least, even if he didn’t want to tackle the man. What will happen to Uncle John?’
    ‘My officers are going over your late grandmother’s house now to see if there’s any money there that can’t be accounted for, but on the face of it there’s no evidence of him taking bribes or anything like that. It was probably money for gambling or drinking. Your family do have a bit of a reputation for liking their drink, but I expect you already know that. If you want my advice, steer clear of alcohol, it only leads to trouble further down the line.’
    ‘He saved Annie’s life.’
    Maxwell nodded gravely. ‘I know, Michael, and that’s why I’m thinking of not taking it any further. If he chooses to confess, that’s another matter, but as far as I’m concerned, he was a hero today. He won’t ever work again, I shouldn’t think, except maybe behind a desk, and I don’t know what your family will have to do to look after him, if that’s what you choose to do, but there is a small local police fund for officers injured in the line of duty, and there’s his pension, of course. If he confesses to anything, and he goes down for it, he won’t get his pension. Maybe it’s best we leave it at that, best for all concerned?’
    ‘It’s lucky we all got there just in time,’ Michael said. ‘He told me he was going to meet me there.’
    ‘Yes, most fortunate for all concerned. And, of course, he got there a few seconds before we did. We’ve been working together for about a year, and some of what I taught him must have stayed in there,’ Maxwell said, pointing to his head. ‘We both reasoned that Lynda would make her way back to the scene of her second murder. It’s what murderers do. And she had unfinished business, of course. She was hell-bent on getting rid of anyone who stood in her way, anyone who was remotely interested in you. You should be flattered! Can’t see the attraction myself. Still want to be a policeman?’
    ‘More than ever!’
    ‘Put your application in at the end of term. I’ll put a word in for you, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a place. The force needs good young people like you. You did well to unravel it all. I was only a couple of paces ahead of you.’
    ‘What about Eddie Mason?’
    ‘I’ll be interviewing him on Monday about his part in all this. You did well, Michael, finding that cufflink. But then he’s confessed to just about everything under the sun. And he’s also given us what we need to convict Clark.’
    ‘And Marco? He told me someone threatened him. It was them who stabbed him. That’s what made me think it was them who raped and murdered Brenda…’
    ‘Again, that would have been Gordon Clark. I believe he thought Marco had seen them discussing his business with Eddie Mason, and wanted to make sure he kept quiet. Marco is at the station now, making a statement. Clark will also be done for GBH against Marco, at least. He’ll be OK, Michael, your friend Marco, he had nothing to do with all of this except he tried to protect his family. He wasn’t to know Brenda was going to be murdered. And I don’t think he or his family will be in any danger. I should go. My wife…’
    ‘Thank you.’
    ‘For what?’
    ‘Putting it all together. The Silent Three.’ Mike immediately thought of the comic strip in his older sister Pauline's Schoolfriend comic, which he loved to read. It was called The Silent Three and it involved three senior girls at boarding school who fought injustices of all kinds and invariably ended up solving mysteries and catching criminals...
    ‘Tommy Hinkley, June Bamber, Lynda Bamber. They all knew what was going on, and they said nothing. June Bamber knew her daughter had killed Brenda McLaren. They each knew the other’s part in the death of the husband. And Tommy Hinkley knew just about everything. They all said nothing, they all kept quiet until you and I realised what had happened, and then Tommy came clean.’
    ‘He’s not simple, you know.’
    ‘No, far from it. And in his own way, I suppose he meant well. But he shouldn’t have just stood back and let it all happen like that, especially when it came to Brenda’s murder. Can’t forgive him for that. Look, I really must be going. Thanks again for all your help. You’ll make a good policeman, if it’s really what you want to do.’
    ‘Are the photographs really as bad as they say? My mate Jimmy says he saw some, once, and he was physically sick afterwards.’
    ‘Not just photographs, Michael. The photographs are simply a record of what happened. There will be blood, and bruising, and broken and twisted limbs, because there are some really sick people out there. Friday nights are the worst, when the men get their pay packets and drink or gamble it all away, then they have to go home to face their wives, and the beatings start. I wouldn’t worry too much about the photographs. It takes a strong stomach, but you get used to it. Finding the real thing, like Tommy and your Uncle John did, that would have been much worse. It takes a certain kind of person to do this job, but I really think you’re that kind of person. I’ll see you Monday.’
    Michael watched as the big detective got into his car and drove off, then went back indoors. He had just sat down when the doorbell rang again. This time it was his best mate, Jimmy.
    ‘Coming out for a game of footie, Mike?’
    Michael stuck his head round the living room door. ‘OK if I go out for an hour, Mum, Dad? Annie? Pauline? Do you need me here?’  
    Five minutes later they parked their bikes in the playing fields at the top of Boverton Drive and Jimmy produced a football from his saddle bag.
    ‘So, did I miss anything this week?’
    Michael studied his best friend for a moment before replying. ‘Not really. Not much.’ He wondered where Lynda was right now, and what she was doing. That had been the hardest thing to swallow, that she had killed Brenda, and had been going to kill Annie. Anything he had ever felt for her had evaporated the second he saw her level the revolver at his sister. He closed his eyes as the memory washed through him, and then, just as suddenly, he was chasing the football with Jimmy Hunter hard on his heels.
    ‘No,’ he said, returning to Jimmy’s earlier question. ‘Not really. Not much at all.’ 

    While the two boys were enjoying their game of football, Eddie Mason was sitting in an interview room in Gloucester Police Station describing the little A35 Austin he had seen on the road to Morgan’s Farm and the Five Trees. It hadn’t take Maxwell long to establish who the owner of the car was, and later that evening, as Gordon Clark walked home from the pub at closing time, Maxwell and a uniformed sergeant apprehended him and took him to the city police station for questioning.
    ‘We know you didn’t kill her, Mr Clark, but we believed you raped her and then left her at Morgan’s Farm. Anything to say? I would remind you you’re under caution, and also that we have a sworn witness statement that it was your car they saw with Brenda McLaren in the passenger seat, driving to the farm Monday afternoon. So. Anything you’d like to tell me about what happened that day?’
    Clark shifted uneasily in his seat, took off his spectacles and cleaned them with a handkerchief, then cleared his throat.
    ‘I wanted her to be nice to me as soon as I met her,’ Clark muttered. ‘When she came to stay with us to look after me while her mother was out of town, I offered her money. She wasn’t interested.’
    ‘I wonder why that would be, Mr Clark,’ Maxwell said, gazing at the weedy little man before him. ‘You should have stayed behind, in Korea, made full use of the
facilities there, while you had the chance.’
    Within four hours, Gordon Clark had made a full confession to the rape of Brenda McLaren, and was behind bars awaiting an appearance before a magistrate. There seemed to be no further loose ends to be tied up, and Maxwell went home to his ailing wife.


Chapter Nineteen

    On the first day of term, at break time, seven boys, young men really, including Michael Thompson and James Hunter, sat around a desk in their sixth form common room with a home-made Ouija board. One by one they asked questions like the name of the girl they were going to marry. When it came to Michael’s turn, the first letter the glass stopped at was “M”, and he cast about in his mind for the names of girls he had been at school with, and could come up with none whose name began with that letter. The glass started to move again, and hovered over the “A” and then “R”, and Michael blushed fiercely, but nobody noticed. Then there was a “T”, an “H”, and finally another “A”, and relief flooded through him. Martha. He didn’t know anyone called Martha. With Brenda and Lynda gone, there was no one in the village he fancied at all. Being only sixteen years old, his view on life was painfully parochial – with the Ouija board proclaiming that he was going to marry someone called Martha, the thought occurred to him that there was life beyond Brockworth, beyond Gloucester, even, and that cheered him up no end. He hadn’t had to tell his friends about what had happened during the Easter holidays, it had all been in the papers, of course. They all had questions for him, but school life was hectic, frantic even, and by lunchtime other matters had taken over.
    ‘One more question,’ Michael said, ‘and then we have to go.’
    ‘How many children will I have?’ he asked. They all stared at him. In his mind’s eye, romantic that he was, he could already see into the future, two or three years hence. Martha. He would spend a couple of years as a uniformed bobby, and would transfer to CID as soon as he possibly could, under the watchful eye of DCI Maxwell. He would be well on his way up the police ladder, and it would be time to start a family. He didn’t know where she would come from, somewhere in the city, he supposed, but Martha would be petite, brunette, stunningly beautiful, and she was a nurse. He was as certain of this as he was of the fact that he was not going to university, he was going to join the police force.
    The glass moved again and stopped at the “T”, then the “H”.
    ‘Three,’ Michael said. ‘Just right.’
    ‘So long as it’s not thirteen,’ said Jimmy, laughing. Then he added, under his breath, in case anyone took offence: 'One of each sex...'

    ‘My lucky number, actually,’ Michael said, and went off to his English Literature lesson with Mr Price-Jones, and a date with Paradise Lost. What he really wanted to read was the latest episode of The Silent Three in his sister’s Schoolfriend, but that would have to wait till he got home.

    The day of Michael’s Grandmother’s funeral was grey and damp. He was not in the mood for it, and so he took himself off to Cheltenham for the day, where he spent some time in the store where Pauline worked – she was not attending the funeral either. At lunchtime he went into W H Smith and bought himself a new EP of Django Reinhardt, and a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with the money his father had given him. Whilst he was sitting, quietly reading the book, he thought about his Gran, and shed a few private tears. When he and Pauline got home, at just after six o’clock, the wake was still in full swing, although there was one notable absence, his uncle John.
    DCI Maxwell was in the garden, drinking a beer, talking to members of the public who lived locally and knew the old lady. When he saw Michael, he grinned and waved.
    ‘What are you doing here?’ Michael said.
    ‘Your mum and dad asked me to come.’
    ‘Dunno. Because your uncle couldn’t be here, I guess. He’s still being assessed, but I believe he’ll end up in a home eventually. There’s one out in Matson.’
    ‘It’s a long way to cycle.’
But not as far as he cycled to school each day…
    ‘It is. He wouldn’t expect you to go and see him too often. There’s talk of a bravery medal, too.’
    ‘And you wouldn’t tell them what he was up to? You’d let him take the medal?’
    ‘He did save your sister’s life, Michael. At great cost to himself. He’s not all bad, and he thinks the world of you and your sisters. Not many men would have sacrificed their own health in that way.’
    ‘I suppose.’
    ‘Where is Annie, anyway? I don’t see her.’
    ‘Been packed off to the seaside to recuperate. We have relatives, friends really, who own a guest house in Margate.’
    ‘You didn’t want to go?’
    Michael shrugged. ‘Wasn’t asked. Besides, I have to concentrate on my “A” Levels, even though I’m not going to university.’
    Maxwell could see that he was a little jealous of the attention his twin sister had received after the incident in which she had nearly died, and felt genuinely sorry for him. Had it not been for Michael, Annette Thompson would be dead. ‘Sorry. Will she be back soon?’
    ‘A few days. Back next Monday, I think.’
    ‘She’s lucky to have you.’
    ‘How is the case progressing against the Bambers?’
    ‘Spoken like a policeman! Very well. We have all the evidence we need to prosecute. Not sure if the trials will take place in Gloucester or the Old Bailey. Crown Court, though, whatever happens.’
    Michael nodded. ‘I’ll be there, wherever.’
    ‘As for Gordon Clark… He came onto her when she was staying with her mother, Mary Lamb, and him earlier in the year. She took his fancy, and when her mother was out at the shops, he tried to persuade her to have sex with him. Brenda was having nothing of it and knocked him back. He had Eddie Mason looking for a girl for him, someone who would do almost anything for money. You’d be surprised how money talks, Michael. I expect you know some girls like that… no, I take that back, you wouldn’t, would you, nice lad like you. Anyway, he was at the fair Monday afternoon, thinking to pick up one of the gypsy girls while he waited for Mason to come up with the goods. Instead, he saw Brenda walking away from Mason’s house towards the fair and picked her up in his little car. I hate those little cars! Black, insignificant little buggers! He drove her to Morgan’s Farm and had his wicked way with her, then left her. Lynda Bamber had been following her more or less all day. Having got her claws into you, she wanted to make sure little Brenda didn’t turn your head again. You used to be friends, close friends, and Lynda was insanely jealous, you see. Her diary, which will be presented as evidence, is littered with references to you.’ Maxwell saw Michael’s eyes widen and grinned. ‘Don’t get above yourself, now. She wasn’t just some infatuated schoolgirl, she was a girl who’d been on the receiving end of some rather nasty ill treatment at the hands of her father. It’s my guess, though I haven’t been able to get her or her mother to admit it yet, that it was her father who took Lynda’s vaginity several years ago. It’s no wonder she was anxious for a tall, strong, decent boyfriend like you. When you turned up at her house asking her to ride in the charity bath push, she thought all her birthdays had come at once. With her father out of the way, rotting away up near the top of Cheeseroll Hill, she and her mother set out to capture you, and no one was going to stand in their way.’
    ‘Her mother was in on it too?’
    Maxwell nodded, filling his pipe. ‘I think so, yes, though Lynda came to resent just how far her mother was pursuing it. She wasn’t ready to settle down just yet, but she didn’t want anyone else having you either. So she followed Brenda, hid herself in the barn and watched while Gordon Clark raped her, and then she stabbed her in the throat with the breadknife which you found hidden in the straw.’
    ‘Slightly nuts, would you say?’
    ‘Yes, but that’s hardly surprising after what her father did to her and her mother, wouldn’t you say?’
    ‘I suppose so. Doesn’t excuse murder, though.’
    ‘No. No, it doesn’t excuse murder, nothing does in my book.’
    ‘Will she hang for it?’
    ‘I very much doubt it. More likely to send a couple of years in a juvenile offenders place, then she’ll be transferred to Holloway for the duration, is my guess. I see you put your name down for the day course at Cheltenham nick.’
    Michael nodded again.
    ‘Thought about it, then? This hasn’t put you off wanting to be a policeman, then? Everything that happened?’
    ‘Not at all. I don’t want to do anything else. I saw this film, Bachelor of Hearts, a few months back, about a young German bloke at university – Cambridge, I think. It’s quite old, I know, but I don’t think things have changed that much. All they did was run around chasing girls in another college and climbing into their bedrooms. They didn’t seem to be doing much studying. I don’t think that’s what I want to do. I rather enjoyed trying to work out who killed Brenda, though I’m really sad she had to die, of course. She was a friend. It was a bit hair-raising at the end, and I know we only just got to Annie in time. But it was worth it, wasn’t it? I know I didn’t work it out as quickly as you…’
    ‘You did really well, Michael. And don’t forget I wouldn’t have been able to work it out had it not been for Tommy Hinkley coming clean. You didn’t have that luxury.’
    ‘He’ll be all right, won’t he?’
    ‘I don’t think he has much to worry about. He might get a slapped wrist, but I’m sure he’s had worse at school. Didn’t go to your school, did he?’
    ‘No, he went to Hucclecote secondary modern, but after a year they found out he was really clever and he got a place at Thomas Riches. After that, I lost track of him, except to see him every now and then to talk to, to wave at. He worked in the Court Road supermarket, the Coop, but we don’t use it that often.’
    ‘He really is very clever, but not in an academic way, not like you. Your skills will come in very useful when you join the police.’
    Michael smiled. ‘I thought you would try to put me off.’
    ‘Ordinarily, I might have, but you’re observant, you’re methodical. Just what we need. Sorry, I have to go.’ He turned to leave, then turned back. ‘My wife is dying from cancer. I have to see to her, because the girl that normally looks after her at this time of day is off out somewhere.’
    ‘I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?’
    Maxwell shook his head and smiled.
    ‘No, but thanks for asking. I’ll see you again soon.’
    Michael watched the big policeman drive off down the road, and thought to himself,
That’ll be me in a few years’ time, then went back indoors to help celebrate his grandmother’s long and happy life.

    The next time Michael saw Maxwell was at Brenda McLaren’s funeral the following Friday, which he felt the need to attend. Also present were Dougal McLaren, Mary Lamb and Alice Long, together with Tommy Hinkley, Michael’s parents and his sister Pauline, and a few of Brenda’s school friends and some of Dougal’s neighbours. Michael felt a pang of guilt at not having been to his gran’s funeral, and took his place in St George’s, the little Norman church that served the people of Brockworth. The service was short and spartan, and he wished he could get up and say something about the girl who had travelled through primary school with him and had been his best friend and dance partner until the arrival of Lynda Bamber. But no one spoke about Brenda expect the vicar, and what he said was punctuated by the harsh, rasping sobs of Dougal McLaren and the quiet weeping of Mary Lamb. As they filed out of the church, following the coffin to the grave, Michael noticed that Alice Long held onto him for dear life, and remembered someone telling him that she was moving out now that there was no Brenda to care for. He wondered if she had changed her mind. He knew Dougal had a mild drink problem – he had been carried home from Boverton Drive on more than one occasion when Michael’s Dad and his cronies had had a heavy drinking session – but Brenda had always spoken fondly of him, and he didn’t want to think about the little Scotsman rattling around in that big house in Ermin Street all alone. At the very least, he didn’t seem to have abused his daughter in the way that Trevor Bamber had abused Lynda. He hoped that Alice Long would stay with him and look after him. Or even that Mary Lamb might move back in with him now that Gordon Clark was in prison for the rape of her daughter.  
    Maxwell was waiting in his car as Michael left the churchyard. ‘I’ll give you a lift home, if you like?’
    ‘I said I’d go to the house for a while.’
    ‘I’ll take you there, then. Hop in.’
    Michael climbed into the front seat. The last time he had sat in Maxwell’s car was when they were looking for Lynda Bamber and Annie. Tommy Hinkley had sat in the passenger seat that day.

    ‘She’ll have gone back to Five Trees,’ Michael said.
    ‘What makes you say that?’
    ‘I’ve read about it. They always revisit the scene of their last crime. There won’t be anyone there now, will there? No bobbies or anything like that?’
    Maxwell shook his head. ‘No. All finished up there as far as I’m concerned.’
    ‘Put your foot down. It’s where she is. I know, I’m her twin brother!’
    As they rounded a curve and Morgan’s Farm came in sight, a shot rang out. Michael winced, and closed his eyes. ‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Annie’s still alive. She’s unconscious, but she’s all right. Hurry!’

    John Kimble was in his own car, a Triumph Mayflower, a hundred yards or so ahead of them. He had known, too, that Lynda Bamber had taken Annie to the Five Trees, because of something Michael had said during their confrontation. Maxwell’s car shot past him, almost forcing him off the road, and he recognised it, of course, and followed. The Mayflower was no match for the Wolseley, but still they arrived within seconds of each other, and Kimble was out of his car first, running towards the barn as Lynda Bamber raised the revolver. He threw himself at his niece, and the bullet went straight through him, smashing into his spinal cord and flaying it to shreds, then nicking Annie Thompson’s upper thigh.
    ‘Painful memories, eh, Michael?’ Maxwell said, dragging him back to the present. Michael saw the little circle of dancing lights in the corner of his vision and closed his eyes.
    ‘I have a migraine starting,’ he told the detective.
    ‘I’ll take you home, then I’ll make your excuses.’
    Michael shook his head. ‘No, It’ll pass. I need to be there.’
    ‘If you’re sure.’
    ‘How is your wife?’
    ‘She died on Tuesday.’
    The silence in the car was palpable. ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Michael. ‘A lot of deaths in such a short space of time.’ Brenda McLaren, his grandmother, and now Maxwell’s wife. And Vera Northcote, of course. Michael had read about Mrs Northcote’s passing in the Gloucester Citizen. She lived in Boverton Drive and could well have known what was going on. He delivered her newspaper, and she always answered the door rather than let him push the paper through the letterbox. She was a lonely old lady, but she knew everyone, knew everything about everyone in the village, and kept Michael talking for several minutes each morning.
    He’d never met Maxwell’s wife, but he knew just what kind of woman she would have been before the cancer took hold, because he knew what a decent man Maxwell himself was, and he would have chosen well. A partner for life.
    ‘I didn’t tell anyone,’ Maxwell said, ignoring him. He pulled up outside the McLaren house in Ermin Street. ‘I didn’t tell anyone about Frances. Not at work. Only the people who helped me to care for her knew about her.’
    ‘That was stupid of you.’ Michael couldn’t believe he was telling a senior police officer that he was stupid. But it had to be said.
    ‘I know. I couldn’t let it interfere with my work. This may sound callous, but she had at least four months more than she should have done. She should have died before Christmas. I loved her so much, Michael.’  
    ‘Have you told them now? At work, I mean?’
    Maxwell nodded. ‘Yes, I took a couple of days off. The funeral is on Friday.’
    ‘Three funerals in two weeks. Bit much, eh?’
    Maxwell forced a smile. ‘I should warn you, Michael, being a policeman is quite often about death. Road traffic accidents, murders, domestic violence, drunks getting knocked down and killed, drunks driving cars into lorries and trains on level crossings. Quite a lot of death. And when it’s a murder enquiry, being the senior investigating officer, you’re honour bound to attend the funerals. I have two more this week apart from my wife’s. Hardly any time left to do any real police work!’
    ‘Good God!’
    ‘Just so’s you know what you’re letting yourself in for.’
    Michael nodded. ‘Are you staying for the wake? Brenda’s?’
    ‘I think I’ll give this one a miss. I’ll see you at Cheltenham for the bath push, though.’
    ‘You’ll be there?’
    ‘I’m walking the course, yes, I’ll be a few paces behind you. Someone has to direct the traffic safely around you. If I wasn’t going to see you again in a couple of months’ time, I’d be saying “it’s a pleasure to have worked with you on this case”.’
    Michael grinned for the first time that day. What might follow in the McLaren house could well be grim, but he was now prepared for it. The dancing lights around his eye had diminished, and he was left with a sickly headache. If he had been at school, he would have quietly left, made his way to the bus stop, gone home to his Gran’s and waited there until his Mum came to fetch him. Now his Gran was gone, he would have to go home. He felt a sudden sadness sweep over him, and tried to banish it, unsuccessfully. ‘No, I’ll see you next week. I’ll be there, at your wife’s funeral.’
    ‘It’s another school day…’
    ‘Doesn’t matter. Your wife is more important.’
    Maxwell nodded as Michael got out of the car. He wound down the window. ‘See you next week, then. I’ll let you know the details. Make sure your parents are OK with it. Take care.’


Afterword – July


On Saturday afternoon, half a dozen sixth form boys from the Crypt Grammar School, Podsmead Road, Tuffley, pushed a bath mounted on a home-made wheeled chassis made from an old perambulator, from Gloucester city centre to Cheltenham town hall raising money for Oxfam on the way. They passed through Longlevens, Barton, Hucclecote, and Brockworth before the long push from Brockworth to Cheltenham. Two of the boys played guitar and clarinet, and the weather was gloriously sunny. Girls from Denmark Road and Ribston Hall Girls’ schools rode in the bath, together with Annette Thompson, twin sister of one of the sixth formers, who wore a bowler hat in honour of his favourite musician, Mr Acker Bilk. The party was met at Cheltenham Town Hall by the mayor of Cheltenham along with civic dignitaries, and the money, mostly in coins and collected in buckets along the way, and thought to be in the region of £100, was handed over. A full civic reception with a buffet tea was held for the children in the town hall.

     Two months later, Michael and Annie Thompson sat on the front seat on the top floor of the bus home.
    ‘Holiday tomorrow.’
    ‘Another two weeks in Ramsgate. Can’t wait.’
    ‘Are you being sarcastic?’ Michael said. ‘Don’t you want a holiday after what you’ve been through?’
    ‘You just want to get your end away with that girl who serves the dinners at Aunt Ruby’s,’ Annette said, her eyes merry with mischief.
    ‘Well, Herbert has got the taste for it now,’ he said, chuckling, remembering Aunt Ruby’s pretty niece, the one who had accidentally tripped and upended his dinner in his lap, causing him to run and change his clothes, and knowing full well that nothing would come of it. He was waiting to meet someone called Martha, after all. ‘Anyway, what about Virginia? She might meet someone in the Marina, or on the promenade, or on the beach…’
    ‘I wish I’d said I’d go back to Boulogne now.’
    ‘Too late for that, my dear.’
    ‘You’ve been reading too many Dornford Yates books, Michael! God, It’s been a funny year so far,’ Annette said, her eyes dreamy and misty with tears.
    ‘It can only get better,’ Michael said, putting his arm around her and pulling her close.

Author’s Note

     The places are real, and some of the people are real, too. I’ve changed the names, I just hope they don’t recognise themselves in the story… They say that you should write about what you know, and what I know about is an idyllic childhood in rural Gloucestershire in a small village at the foot of the hill they roll the cheeses down at Whitsun.
    The character of Michael Thompson is based on someone I was at school with, someone a couple of years older than me, someone I admired and looked up to. He was a prefect, and for a brief period, he was head boy. Some of his character is shared with mine, because I remember my childhood with perfect clarity and “Michael Thompson” (that wasn’t his real name) lived in a different village entirely. I did used to do my paper round wearing a bowler hat because I was obsessed with Acker Bilk… I did enjoy country dancing at primary school, and I did want to be a policeman, briefly, and even attended an open day at Cheltenham Police Station as part of the school careers service. There the similarities end. I’m nowhere near as tall as Michael Thompson, though I did row for my school, despite the fact that I couldn’t swim! I did live next door to the ginger-haired twins, and we were really good friends! Oh, and we did push a bath from Gloucester to Cheltenham for charity in 1963 – or it may have been 1962… But I am definitely not Michael Thompson.
    By the way, the sexual revolution of the 1960s never reached our part of the world in the early sixties. At least, not for me! Mine was an innocent childhood in an innocent little village where very little happened – certainly not murder! Finally, I did meet the Beatles in Hickeys music shop in Gloucester on the way home from school in 1963, where they were one of the support acts for the Tommy Roe/Chris Montez tour – you’ll have to take my word for it, because there were no witnesses!


Paul Norman

November 2021


The second story involving Mike Thompson and his early career as a policeman begins in the January issue. It's called THE FOUR MARYs, and is named after another of my favourite girls' comic strips from Bunty comic... See you in the new year...

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

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   The Front Page

   Children's Books

   Fiction books

   Fantasy & Science Fiction

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   The Silent Three

   Growing up in the 1950s

   Living with Skipper

   Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes

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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!