For the story so far, please go to my St Marmduke’s page.
Tuesday 12th November 1985: 03.00 – 04.00
DCI Meredith tossed fretfully in bed. It was 3am, and he hadn’t had a wink of sleep since throwing the duvet over himself at eleven. Beside him, his wife said, ‘Still not able to get off, Charles?’
Meredith sighed. ‘No, love. I think I’m going to give up.’ He swept his half of the cover aside and added, ‘Like some tea?’
‘No thank you, darling. I’ll try to get some sleep myself.’
‘Okay. Night.’ Meredith donned his dressing gown and slippers, then crept out of the room and down the stairs. In the kitchen he boiled up the kettle, spooned some tea into the pot, poured on the water, then left it to brew while he went into their spacious, neatly-furnished lounge and picked a file out of his briefcase. Returning to the kitchen he poured his tea, added milk and sugar, then sat himself at the table and opened the file.
‘Mabel Cartwright,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Spinster, aged 82. No known relatives, batty as a flying mouse by all accounts. Done to death on Monday 4th November by stabbing through the left eye; medico estimates three or four times, more probably the former.’
He flipped a page. ‘Harriet Foster, commonly known as “Hettie”. Spinster — again — aged 79. The murderer of Mabel Cartwright, according to eyewitness statement of one Joseph Makumbo, who is currently chief suspect of He Who Must Not Be Named Because If He Is I’ll Want to Punch Something.’
He paused. ‘Hmm,’ he reflected. ‘He Who Must Not Be Named. A good title for a character in a book, that. I hope somebody uses it one day.
‘Anyway,’ he continued, dismissing the random thought, ‘Harriet Foster also done to death on November 4th. By — oh, what a surprise, stabbing through the right eye. Probably three times.’
He took a sip of tea. ‘Hmm — one through the right eye, one through the left. Mirrored killings? Or coincidence?’
It seemed an odd coincidence. No — absolutely not a coincidence.
‘So. Two spinsters, both killed in the same way.’
He paused again. ‘Killed in the same way, so presumably by the same person. However —’ he turned back to the file ‘— Joseph Makumbo reckons he saw Victim Number Three —’
He shook his head. Hang on! Number Three? Why Number Three? And in capitals? Why was he hearing capitals? Where had all that come from? Surely he meant number — Number —
But it was no good. Another number, uncapitalised or not, refused to come.
‘Mabel Cartwright, then. Joseph Makumbo reckons he saw Harriet Foster kill her, but nobody — despite my sergeant’s eye-witness evidence that no less than eight people were in her bungalow at the time, plus another one close by outside — saw Harriet Foster being killed.
‘In fact —’ he paused again, and shook his head in sheer bewilderment at the notion ‘— three other police officers present each thought that they were the only one there. As did, according to statements taken by my sergeant, the other five people present.’
He dropped the file and sat there, sipping his tea and staring into the distance. ‘Only common denominator between the two deaths — Joseph Makumbo.’
He sighed. ‘All points at the moment towards Jack Bloody Hampshire being right. Bollocks!
‘But even then, and despite continued questioning of the world and his wife, there’s not a shred of proof, so we can’t begin to make an arrest.
He finished his cup and refilled it. Returning to the file, he continued, ‘And then, there’s this, quote, “weird old woman” that the bod outside — one Kevin Proctor — reckons he drove to the scene and who, he says, kicked down the front door before stomping in. Who was she, and where does she fit in?’
He dropped his head into his hands. ‘And is everybody involved in this case going round the bloody bend, including probably me?’
He gave another deep sigh, and added, ‘And I’ve got three officers I can’t use because they’re suspects, and despite having had to get off my backside and lead the investigation myself, the whole thing’s going bloody nowhere.’
‘A neat summing up, Chief Inspector,’ a voice said, right beside him.
He jumped, and jerked his head to right and left. ‘Sarah?’ he said.
But his wife wasn’t there.
And besides — the voice had been a man’s.
Standing, he hastened out of the kitchen.
What the hell?
He paced through the rest of the downstairs, then up to the bedrooms, his slippers making no noise on the thick-piled carpets. Absolutely nobody anywhere; and no signs of any kind of break-in.
He returned to the kitchen, satisfied the house weren’t being turned over, but shaken anyway. Bloody hell, lack of sleep must be making him hallucinate!
Taking his tea and the file, he went through into the lounge and dropped onto the sofa.
He couldn’t carry out the investigation using only Hampshire’s team anymore. They were one short with young Chowdhary also missing, for a start; and frankly, they were so under Hampshire’s sway he wasn’t sure they were being that much bloody use anyway.
That meant he had to find somebody else to fill in. Somebody smart. Somebody he’d be able to rely on. Somebody —
He stopped dead, as a thought struck him like a wrecking-ball smashing through his brain.
He replayed the thought, then replayed it again. And then he thought through the implications.
And then he began to laugh. Oh — wouldn’t this particular somebody just love that!
Detective Constable Amita Chowdhary also couldn’t sleep, and hadn’t done properly for the last week. She was chewing over and over the unfairness of being suspended just for showing a bit of initiative. She hadn’t killed the Hettie woman, and she didn’t see why she shouldn’t be able to investigate the murder, and that of Mabel Cartwright. The two killings were obviously linked.
It made it worse, the fact that DI Hampshire had been suspended as well. Just her luck not to be able to continue investigating under another CIO. She might have been treated with a little respect, and actually given some official responsibility rather than having to ‘go renegade’, as the DCI had put it.
No doubt when it was all sorted, both she and the inspector would return at the same time. And then each morning she’d wake to the usual feeling of dread where once she’d expected to greet the day with a sense of excited anticipation.
Well — it was no good lying here brooding. She might as well lose herself in her book for an hour and see if she could read herself to sleep.
She reached over to her bedside lamp. And as the bedroom was flooded with light she bolted upright to a sitting position and let out a squeal of fright.
At the end of her bed stood a little old lady. A little old lady who was fixing her with a stare that turned her blood — which was racing round her body due to the sudden doubling of her heart-rate — to ice.
Most specifically, the stare from the eye that wasn’t there. The left — right — left — right — er…
‘I have a message for you,’ the woman said.
Or rather — didn’t say. At least — her mouth didn’t open.
Amita suddenly realised that she couldn’t breathe properly. The reason being that she’d thrust her knees and her duvet so far up to her chin, she was cutting off circulation to both her lungs and the rest of her body.
Forcing her muscles to unknot themselves, she slid her feet forwards a little, and sighed as the air and blood began to pump round her system again. ‘Who — who are you?’ she stuttered, noting with relief that at least her voice was emerging through the proper channel.
The old woman ignored the question. ‘This afternoon,’ she — said — ‘go to the Costalot Coffee House in Teashop Lane. There you’ll find something to your advantage.’
Amita felt her eyes widen. Find something to her advantage? Did anybody actually say things like that?
It sounded like a line from an old novel, or film. And not a particularly well-written one at that.
She opened her mouth to reply, or at least ask the old woman what on earth she was talking about. And then she gasped as she saw the woman wink out of existence.
No preamble. No grin or anything lingering like Alice’s Cheshire Cat. Just one second there — the next, gone.
And then Amita’s eyes jerked open, she stared at the gloom between her and her ceiling, and began to tremble violently.
Kevin Proctor was sound asleep, and dreaming of pleasant things concerning whipped cream, coils of rope and Sally Evans lying across his desk wearing something very lacy, very black and extremely easy to take off.
Her head was resting on his slush pile of manuscripts, and her eyes were smouldering at him in a way that would have brought a blush to the cheeks of even the most liberal-minded Patagonian shepherdess. Smoking, in fact. And any number of other romantic cliches.
‘I want you, Kev,’ she…
What? Whispered? Purred?
Either. The sound went right through him and, in much the same way as HL Danvers’s Oolaxian merman, brought his pet budgerigar springing to attention.
He reached down towards the flimsy garment.
And she in turn reached round, whipped the top manuscript off the pile under her head and immersed herself in its contents.
‘Hmm — it’s a good read this, Kevin,’ she said after the first few pages.
And dreams being what they are, for the rest of its duration she lay encased in a suit of armour and totally ignoring him, while he sat behind his desk with no trousers on.