Detective Constable Ben Cooper ran his hand down the glass of the passenger window, clearing a path through the condensation. But it was wetter outside than inside the car, and all he saw was a blurred reflection of himself — a pair of dark eyes, fragmented against the streets of Edendale. Automatically, he swept back the stray lock of hair that fell across his forehead, before focusing beyond his own image to the side door of the house across the street.
‘Someone home, I think.’
‘There’d better be. The boss won’t be happy if it’s all a wasted effort.’
Despite the rain, Cooper would always prefer to be outside, rather than shut up in the office with a mountain of paperwork. That was why he’d managed to talk himself into this assignment, though he hadn’t anticipated finding himself trapped inside a car instead, with the atmosphere growing stale and his breath steaming the windows.
‘We’ll get into the property, whatever,’ he said.
‘We need an arrest, though.’
He could feel an itch developing under his stab-proof vest. Right underneath, where he had no chance of reaching it without taking the thing off completely. No amount of twisting his body and squeezing a hand into the gap would do the trick. That was the trouble with sitting doing nothing, waiting for the action to start. You began to develop unreachable itches. You began to think about things.
His colleagues were fidgeting and grumbling beside him in the car, trying to reach itches of their own, or ease the cramp in their legs. They might have been better waiting outside in the rain, except that Kevlar was said to disintegrate when it got wet. Cooper didn’t know whether that was true, or just a canteen-culture myth that had survived the death of the canteen. He had no urge to be the first one to try it out, though. An itch was better than a knife in the guts.
‘What are we waiting for now? Who’s running this show, anyway?’
‘Laurel and Hardy, by the look of that entry team.’
‘Jesus. They’ve got the Michelin Man on ram.’
Cooper watched four officers in overalls and riot helmets exiting their unmarked van and approaching the house. Well, no one looked good in a stab vest; Cooper had an uncomfortable feeling that he had put on a few pounds in the wrong places himself. Despite the muscle he’d been building up in the gym, too much good food had staged a kind of counterattack and his waist was now pushing uncomfortably against the inside of the vest. That would be Liz’s fault, he reckoned. She wasn’t a bad cook, and every time she made a meal for him, he felt obliged to return the favour with a visit to a decent restaurant. What a fatal spiral. At this rate, he’d be the Michelin Man himself before too long.
He watched the bulky figure of the entry team officer swing back the ram. The big red key, they called it. It opened any door, if you used it right.
A couple of liveried Traffic cars moved into position to close off the road. Cooper had done his five years in uniform before he joined CID, but he’d never been tempted by Traffic. Funny, when it was the job that got you out and about the most, instead of wearing out a chair in the CID room. Even without his twelve years in the force, he had more local knowledge than the rest of his shift put together. Well
… one day, maybe, when the paperwork finally wore down his resistance.
‘Here we go, lads.’
And then suddenly everything was happening at once. Cooper threw open the door and jumped out of the car. Immediately, he was surrounded by noise — the thump of boots on the pavement, an Alsatian barking furiously, a radio crackling with messages, and the first shouts of ‘police’ as the entry team burst into the hallway of the house. As he ran, he could hear his own breathing, feel his heart pounding in his chest. This was the moment many police officers lived for — the sudden rush of adrenalin, the surge of excitement, the blood pumping through the veins at the scent of danger. It was like a high for some of them, a feeling they couldn’t get enough of. Dangerous, in its own way.
Almost before he was inside the door, he caught the distinctive odour. An officer at the top of the stairs signalled a find. So intelligence had been on the mark, after all. Upstairs, a bedroom would have been converted into a small-scale cannabis factory, with its windows boarded up, an air vent protruding from the attic, possibly hundreds of plants under cultivation, releasing that unmistakable smell. There was no way of disguising all the tell-tale signs in a suburban street like this one. How did they think they could fool anyone? Well, he supposed they relied on a code of silence, the closing of ranks against the authorities. No snitching.
And that was why more than sixty per cent of cannabis sold in the UK was home-grown now. Latest bulletins showed an average of three factories a day raided around the country. The owners of this house would appear at magistrates’ court tomorrow charged with cannabis cultivation, and would probably be remanded in custody.
Cooper entered the living room, where two male suspects were already being handcuffed by the entry team. Somewhere in another room, a female suspect was screaming — a hysterical, high-pitched noise that penetrated the walls and rattled the windows. He helped the sergeant in charge of the operation to search one of the men, removing keys and a mobile phone from a pocket. Vital seizures, these — the keys would lead to a vehicle containing more evidence, the phone would provide contacts for the enquiry teams to follow up.
‘Can you escort a prisoner, Ben?’ asked the sergeant.
Cooper looked around the room while he waited for the man to be read his rights. He could hear the woman sobbing now, in between outbursts. For him, this was the worst moment. After that surge of adrenalin at the start of a raid, there was this uncomfortable feeling that came over him when he found himself standing in someone’s home, an intruder into their lives, turning over the belongings and poking into the hidden corners. He always felt he had to avoid the accusing eyes, though he knew the feeling of guilt was irrational. He always prayed there would be no children in a house like this. Children were the worst. No amount of explanation would make it right for the children.
But this was something he couldn’t really share with his colleagues. He looked at them now, more of them entering the house, intent on their jobs, professional and calm. Did any of them experience the same feelings?
Long before his prisoner was in the car, the female suspect had stopped screaming. Yet the sound still seemed to echo in Cooper’s head long after the shouting had died down and the barking had stopped, and the adrenalin surge had drained from his body.
By the time the ME and the crime-scene manager allowed her to get near the body in the field, Diane Fry was glad to climb into a scene suit. She followed the line of stepping plates laid down by the SOCOs and examined the victim as closely as she could. There would be much more detail in the SOC and ME’s reports, and in the photographs. But personal impressions could still be vital, whatever the benefits of science.
The first thing she noticed was how much blood there was on the victim. His hair was matted with it, and it had run down his temple and into his ear. His shirt collar was stained, and the waxed cotton was darkened by more than rain.
‘The victim is in his mid-forties,’ said Murfin, rustling alongside her with his notebook. ‘He seems to have been in reasonably good health, though a little overweight. Well, that describes a perfect specimen of manhood, if you ask me.’
Fry glanced at him, noting the way his scene suit bulged and sagged unflatteringly around the middle.
‘Matter of opinion, Gavin.’
Murfin sniffed. ‘Approximately six feet tall, brown hair, brown eyes; the blood is from a rather nasty head wound.’
‘I can see that.’
Scalp wounds always bled dramatically, even a surface cut. But in this case, Fry could see the damage to the skull, where it had been crushed a few inches above and behind the left ear.
‘No ID in his pockets,’ said Murfin. ‘That’s the bad news.’
‘No wallet, no chequebook, no car keys. And no mobile phone.’
‘A robbery victim? Out here?’
‘Could be. Or it might have been an attempt to prevent us identifying him.’
‘The postmortem might find something for us. It would be useful if his fingerprints or DNA are on record, of course.’
The body had been moved by the ME during his examination, but now lay on its back, face turned upwards to the rain, which was being deflected by the roof of the body tent. The coat the man was wearing turned out to be one of those green waxed affairs, similar to one that Fry had seen Ben Cooper in sometimes, though this one looked a bit newer and probably more expensive. Underneath the coat, there was a blue body warmer and a cotton shirt with a thin green check. Dark blue corduroy trousers led down to that pair of nice brown brogues. Dark blue and brown never went well together in Fry’s opinion, but the shoes looked much too good for yomping across sheep-infested hills.
‘Logic would suggest that his car must be somewhere within easy reach,’ she said. ‘He wasn’t really dressed for hiking, was he?’
‘He was wearing a rainproof coat,’ pointed out Murfin. ‘So he must have expected to be outdoors for a while, at least.’
‘But no boots. Just the sort of shoes he might wear at the office. Of course, somebody else could have brought him here.’
‘And there’s no visible blood spatter on the ground,’ said Fry. ‘That could be thanks to the rain, or because he was killed somewhere else.’
‘So if he came here in someone else’s car, he might still have been alive when he accepted the lift.’
‘Do dead people accept lifts?’
‘Probably not,’ conceded Murfin.
‘And no ID on him at all? What was in his pockets?’
‘Some loose change,’ said Murfin. ‘Comb, tissues, a pair of reading glasses in a metal case. I suppose we might be able to trace him through the optician, if necessary.’
‘SpecSavers, but no branch name on the case.’
‘Blast. They’re everywhere.’
‘Yes, I suppose he could be a tourist,’ said Murfin. ‘Even in March.’
‘Oh, and there’s a receipt from somewhere called the Le Chien Noir. It’s a restaurant in Edendale. Quite upmarket, I believe. Expensive, anyway.’
‘Not the sort of place I’m likely to know, then.’
Murfin held up the evidence bag and squinted at the receipt. ‘The print is a bit faint, but it looks like dinner for two.’
‘The ninth. That was last night.’
Fry nodded. ‘The condemned man’s last meal. I hope the chef was up to scratch.’
‘This restaurant is a long way from the crime scene,’ said Murfin. ‘Eight or nine miles, or more.’
‘So how did he get from dinner at Le Chien Noir to a field near Birchlow?’
Fry looked down at the victim again. Rain still glinted on his face from the lights set up inside the tent. Blood was darkening rapidly in his hair, smears drying on the sleeve of his nice waxed coat.
Despite the difficulties presented by the location and the weather conditions, the crime-scene examiners would have followed all the protocols for evidence collection. Trace hairs and fibres first, then bloodstains, any possible tool or weapon marks, visible fingerprints or footwear patterns. Finally, latent patterns that required powder or chemical enhancement. Not much chance of some of those in the monsoon season.
Although Fry had been given an estimate by the ME, she knew that time of death should be based on witness reports and not on physical evidence. Measuring body temperature was prone to error, and the degree of rigor mortis wasn’t as accurate as it was sometimes cracked up to be. But in this case, her stiff was, well… hardly stiff at all. The corpse had been pretty fresh when it was first spotted.
She looked across the moor. Somewhere over there were the remains of the agricultural research station. Although units had been despatched in response to the 999 call some time ago, the airwaves had been ominously quiet since then.
‘Let’s see what we’ve got across the way then,’ she said. ‘With luck, body number two might explain everything.’
It took Fry so long to find her way to the collection of derelict buildings on the hill above Birchlow, the site had already been searched by uniformed officers, and Wayne Abbott had moved on from the field to supervise the scene.
Most of the site consisted of little more than cracked foundations, weed-grown concrete yards and broken fencing. The surrounding bracken and gorse were gradually encroaching on to the site, and weeds had burst holes through the tarmac road.
She stepped through a door sagging from its hinges and gazed at the scene of dereliction inside. The buildings hadn’t been occupied for many years, of course, and the site had reverted to the landowner. Health and Safety might have something to say about the lack of security, though. No locks, no warning signs, no measures to prevent anyone from suffering injuries through collapsing roofs or broken shards of glass.
‘There’s no body here, Sergeant,’ said an officer who had been searching the building. ‘But we’ve found what look like bloodstains on the concrete in the largest hut.’
Fry turned to gaze back across the fields in the direction from which she’d come. The white body tent was clearly visible from here.
‘Well, unless we’ve got a dead man walking, this call wasn’t to a body at all. Our victim was still alive when he came in here — and then he made it across at least two fields before he gave up the ghost.’
‘Why would someone phone in and give this location for the body, then? It doesn’t make sense.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Fry, ‘whoever else was here believed the victim was already dead.’
Murfin came up alongside her, shaking himself like a dog. ‘It seems the 999 call was made from a mobile,’ he said. ‘The caller refused to give a name, but we’ve traced the number, and the phone is registered to a Mr Patrick Rawson, with an address in the West Midlands. Control have tried calling the number back, but it just goes to voicemail. The phone is switched off, probably.’
‘Has anyone checked the barn over there?’
At that moment, the sight of Wayne Abbott making his way towards her again through the rain came as a relief to Fry.
‘No drier up here, is it?’ he said.
‘Who’d live in England?’ said Fry.
‘It rains in other countries, you know. I went to Texas for a conference once, and it rained the whole week.’
‘Somehow, that doesn’t sound too bad.’
Fry was wondering how CSMs managed to get sent to conferences in Texas. Perhaps she’d been in the wrong job all this time. No one had ever suggested sending her to Swindon for a conference, let alone the USA.
‘Have you found something?’ she said.
Abbott pushed back the hood of his scene suit. The last time Fry had seen him at an incident, he’d had a shaved head. Now, his hair had begun to grow back in ragged patches, so that his skull looked like an old tennis ball that had been chewed by the dog.
‘Well, we’ve got a series of impressions in the soil within a two hundred-yard radius of the hut,’ he said. ‘Quite a lot of impressions, actually.’
‘Well, sort of.’
‘I thought the rain would have obliterated them by now.’
‘In the usual way of things, yes — that’s what I would have expected, too. Light prints on soft soil like this would have deteriorated beyond use. But these prints are a bit different.’
‘The amount of weight behind the shoe marks has imprinted them deep enough into the ground to preserve them in the drier subsoil, where the rain hasn’t affected them so much.’
‘Weight? That makes such a difference?’
Abbott nodded, a knowing smile on his face. ‘This amount of weight does. That, and the fact the shoes in question were made of steel.’
Fry found herself starting to get irritated. She was too wet and uncomfortable to tolerate people playing games.
‘Steel? What on earth are you talking about, Wayne?’
‘Horses,’ said Abbott. ‘I’m talking about horses.’