Wellingborough Police Station
Wednesday, 7. 7. 1993
Luckily, DI Ravindar Singh knew what to do. He had dealt with police forces and agencies of all descriptions from India and Pakistan to Dubai, Greece, Madagascar and even Tasmania on one occasion. Mostly on cases of child snatching, but he had also been involved in a big counterfeit operation. Ten and twenty pound notes. As well as German money and American dollars. The gang worked from three different countries. Grant may have read about it in the papers. Ravindar’s name was mentioned in full at least twice. ‘Only, I’d rather you’d called me Rav, Sir. Not Singh. Rav. What do I call you?’
‘Try calling me Sir,’ said Grant. ‘Nobody else does. Work with Matthew on this one. Do you know anything about computers, Inspector? Or the Internet?’
‘Do I know anything about computers, Sir? My family own three computer shops. Two in Brum and one in Warwick. I use the Net all the time. Even my kids surf the Net all the time. Who’s Matthew?’
‘Debbie will introduce you,’ said Grant.
* * * * *
Darwen was of the opinion that they’d have to go public if either the implant lead or the dental records failed to produce a result any time soon.
‘No, not that kind of public,’ the Super added quickly when Grant frowned. ‘I know Ken Carlton messed up the Old Mill affair with publicity overkill, and it was you who was nearly killed on account of it, but we may not have a choice.’
Grant nodded. By Wednesday lunchtime Ravindar Singh and Matthew have gone some way towards arranging “something official”, but it was threatening to take all day. Whatever it was, it required Chief Superintendent’s signature, and he was at Silverstone.
‘Sorry. No way can I sign anything like that for him. Nor is it important enough to drag him away from the VIP box, champagne, strawberries and cream,’ said Darwen. ‘Nice job if you can get it. He hates motor racing, though.’ Darwen smiled at the last thought but looked haggard, not quite with it. ‘You don’t have any kids, do you, Grant?’
The honest answer would have been I don’t know, Sir. ‘No, Sir,’ Grant said wisely.
‘Keep it that way,’ Darwen advised and reached for the phone with a sigh. Grant noticed that he dialled the number himself instead of asking Monica to get it for him. Either the Super was becoming surprisingly independent by the end of his career, or else it was a very private call.
* * * * *
‘No sightings of any strangers in Holdenby Wood, Boss,’ said Warner half an hour later. ‘People don’t go that way much. That bridle path is out of use. Mr. Evans and his assistant only happened to be there on Sunday night because they’re from the Forestry Commission and that’s their regular semi-annual round. Playing catch-up, they were. Their report to the ministry is due this week, so they had no choice but to work late at the weekend. Or else, the lady would still be laying there undiscovered.’
‘So our friendly neighbourhood rapist can feel free to attack anyone he pleases without worrying about being discovered,’ retorted Grant without thinking.
‘Don’t know about anyone he pleases, Boss, if he’s got to wait for days on end for someone suitable to come along.’
‘Don’t be such a bloody cleverdick, Bill. It’s lunchtime. Let’s go for a brew.’ Grant slapped the Constable on the back. ‘Are we getting anywhere with her clothes yet?’
‘You won’t like it, Boss.’
An anonymous woman had been strangled in a lonely spot by a murderer, a possible serial killer, who left no clues. What was there to like?
The Wig and The Pen had been adopted as the Force’s second headquarters, ever since DS Mark Tully took early retirement last November and bought himself a share in his brother-in-law’s business. There were still visible relics of both wigs and pens on the walls in the shape of smoke and grime covered framed photographs and two life size oil paintings. Otherwise, it was a dump.
‘Suits me,’ Tully had warned everyone at his retirement party. ‘There won’t be any brass ornaments or fake Tudor beams in any pub of mine. Nor designer saw dust on the floor, karaoke or games machines. Just good old-fashioned brew and a darts board. Take it or leave it.’
They took it because Tully was a useful unofficial post box. One could leave a piece of loose information with Tully and he’d pass it on wherever it fitted best, find it a good home, so to speak. And then, the place was handy, just a stonethrow away from the Station. There was a pools table in the back room as well as the darts board and Stanley, the usually absent brother-in-law, stocked a bit of Charles Wells and Phipps for the more discerning. Tully kept some Natterjack under the counter as well, mostly for his own consumption.
Grant’s ignorance of beers was legendary. The only one he’d ever drank in some quantity was the Oxford Morrells, but that was in his student days, so it was compulsory and didn’t really count. ‘What’s Natterjack when it’s at home?’ he asked.
‘It is at home,’ said Tully. ‘Frog Island Brewery, just down the road in Northampton. Too good for the likes of you, Sir.’
Warner went for a pint of Carslberg and a hotpot, Grant for a small Scotch with plenty of soda and ice and a ham salad sandwich.
‘The bread’s a bit stale, Sir,’ said Tully. ‘How about a nice portion of chips and a couple of fried eggs? You’ve just missed Tibb.’
Grant agreed to chips and egg provided he could put his own salt and pepper on, no vinegar and no ketchup, please. It was a shame about Tibb.
He didn’t really mean the last one.
‘There’s trouble in paradise, if you ask me, Sir.’ The ex-sergeant Tully had never called Grant ‘Sir’ while he was still with the Force if he could help it. Now, the title probably helped him feel as one of the boys, still a part of the team.
‘Tibb’s paradise?’ Not the two words Grant would be often tempted to use in the same breath. ‘What can go wrong at the police training college? Does he not enjoy his new status of a highly paid lecturer of Accident Strategies?’
Tully was wiping the counter with his usual slow persistence. ‘It’s not the work.’ He blew onto a stubborn stain and rubbed at it with a red and white chequered cloth. ‘It’s his oldest. He’s being bullied.’ Tully stepped back, inclined his flat-topped head to one side and squinted at the shiny black surface.
‘Oh,’ said Grant, ‘oh, I see. Sorry to hear it.’
When he reached the table Warner had already emptied a half of his glass. ‘Tully told you about Inspector Tibb’s kid?’
Why the hell was everyone suddenly so worried about Tibb’s kid? Half the time Tibb himself wasn’t too concerned with his own kids. ‘Yes,’ he nodded. ‘Very unpleasant, I’m sure. So, what is it that I won’t like?’
Warner pulled at his drink, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and caught up with Grant’s train of thought. ‘Vicky’s had a long, hard look at the woman’s clothes, Boss…’
Warner blushed. ‘Victoria Plummer. She’s from the forensic team. Specialises in clothes.’
‘So why are you blushing?’ Grant leaned back in his seat. ‘A nice looking girl, Vicky? Yes?’
Warner’s face and neck, particularly neck, blossomed out into deep crimson. ‘We’re going pubbing Friday night.’ He drained off his glass. ‘Shall I get another round?’
Grant stopped him with his hand. ‘No, my boy, you’re going nowhere. More of the same, Sergeant, if you don’t mind. Warner’s paying,’ he shouted over his shoulder. ‘And has that hen laid those eggs yet or are we waiting for the midwife?’ He finished off his own drink. ‘What’s Victoria’s problem?’
‘With the clothes, Bill?’
Warner recovered something of his normal colouring. ‘She’s certain they’re second hand. Good makes, probably very expensive in the shops, but not the latest styles. And there have been some alternations on them. A hem here, a sleeve there. That’s a bugger, she says.’
‘Young Vicky certainly has an elegant way with words,’ laughed Grant and looked up at Tully who was hovering as usual. ‘Are you acquainted with a certain young person of female persuasion called Victoria Plummer, Sergeant? From Brendan Shea’s outfit? Are we safe to allow young Warner here run loose with her on a Friday night without adult supervision?’
‘Can’t say that I am, Sir.’ Tully deftly placed two fresh glasses on the table followed by two well loaded plates. ‘Those bright young sparks, they all look the same to me. Maybe you could have a word with Tibb, Sir? When you get five minutes.’
Since when had Grant become Tibb’s bosom friend and confidante? ‘Sure, Sergeant.’
Warner quickly returned to the subject of clothes. ‘The thing is, Boss, that the woman could have obtained those clothes from just about anywhere. They could be a friend’s hand-me-downs, or bought in a charity shop or at a car boot sale. That’s a dead end, Boss.’ The Constable was forking his way through the piping hot stew. He dunked a thick piece of bread crust into the gravy the colour of burnt orange.
‘Yes,’ nodded Grant. Curiously, his mind wasn’t on this latest setback. He was thinking of Tibb for some reason. Tibb, who after the Branton Estate fiasco had become a model husband and father. And of Debbie. She must have reached a new low to even mention leaving the Force. ‘The whateverhername couldn’t have been particularly well off.’
‘But she could afford the breast implants, Boss.’
‘She could, couldn’t she? Good point, Constable. I wonder, now… Got the number for the Riding Boot on you?’
The number was provided courtesy of ex-sergeant Tully, along with two cups of black coffee, on the house. Grant had a feeling the gift had something to do with DI Tibb and his predicament.
‘Win, my old friend, just the man. Our elusive Ms Hunt, what sort of an accent did she have?’
‘I can’t really tell. She sounded like a French woman who’d learned her English in the States,’ said Win Boot, then excused himself.
A French woman speaking American English? That was a turn-up. Grant had been thinking more of a regional or educational background. Why the hell hadn’t Win mentioned that before?
It was a couple of minutes before Boot was back. ‘Sorry about that, Inspector. Guests, you know.’
‘Are you saying she was foreign?’
Boot hesitated. ‘Yeah, I’d say so. Or putting on an act, maybe. You know, like the chefs who call themselves Pierre or something and are really from Walsall. But, she must have lived somewhere abroad for a long time. Not Australia. They use different words. I’d have recognised even a whiff of Australian immediately. My brother and I went over there …’
‘South African?’ Grant intercepted the threatening rush of fond memories. ‘Canadian?’
‘That could be it. It could have been a Canadian accent. French Canadian, now that you mention it. I thought the French was put on, for effect, you know. To throw us off the scent. I’m usually good with accents… a bit of a hobby of mine…’
‘You’re a treasure, Win. Thank you.’ Grant pushed his mobile back into his pocket. ‘Do you want the bad news, Constable, or the bad news?’
* * * * *
Back in the office Debbie said there was no fingerprint match as far as she could tell. The dead woman didn’t have a record. And would the Boss ring his wife, please. It was sort of urgent.
Grant’s hopes soared. ‘What have you got for me?’
‘You free Friday night? Gladys Arbuthnot has phoned. She and Jacob would like to meet for dinner.’ Pippa must have been sitting by an open window. He could hear the sound of London traffic in the background.
‘Oh,’ said Grant, ‘oh, I see.’
‘Well? What do I tell them?’
‘You haven’t found anything out about those implants, have you, by any chance?’
‘Sophie’s working on it. Someone in Milwaukee should be leafing through the old records as we speak. A long story.’ Pippa sounded distracted. ‘I’m thinking of offering Sophie a job when the clinic is finished. I can’t hope to get a better PA than her. Only, she may not want to leave London.’
‘Your present boss won’t thank you for poaching her.’
Pippa laughed. ‘Patrick Mooney can go and jump. Anyway, what about Friday night?’
‘Better not plan anything. It’s a murder. Literally. You go and I’ll join you if I can.’