It felt cool working up on the top floor now that the roof was finished and the walls and insulation were mostly in. The fact that the windows had yet to be installed let plenty of outside air drift through. In another month it would be too cold, but just now? It was as close to perfection as you could get on a construction site.
Well, leaving aside the fact that they were a bit behind schedule and trying to catch up before that too cold weather and the rain and snow that accompanied it set in. It was always a toss-up which would happen first, the weather change or the completion of the exterior construction. No amount of planning ever seemed to make the slightest bit of difference.
"Come on now, I've got ahead of you again."
"Yeah," Mitchell answered, "some of us like to work the way we have sex… slow and steady, getting the job done right."
"I'll ask your wife about that when I'm sneaking out of your bedroom tomorrow night," his work mate jeered back at him.
"Oh, yeah. Everyone knows you've got the hots for the boss," Mitchell snorted, turning back to his work.
"I do not!"
"Give over. No one makes calves eyes like that for no reason." Mitchell laughed, taking off his hard hat and pulling out his bandana to wipe the sweat off his brow. Maybe the temperature wasn't quite as perfect up here as he had originally thought. "Hey, can you hook up that nail gun so it will reach over---"
It was an unassuming piece of correspondence as such things went, just an envelope in a subdued cream shade, approximately eight and a half inches by eleven inches. It was, apparently, filled just enough to make it a rather solid form, and if the print on the outside were a little bit forceful and a rather annoying shade of bright green, it was cancelled out by the relaxing pictures of elderly people walking through a meadow or playing some kind of card game.
All in all, there was nothing about it that should have caused the look of dismay that was currently covering his DI's face and, he expected, his own as well.
"Still not doing that," Lewis said, crossing his arms over his chest.
It was no surprise to James that the bulky envelope remained untouched.
"I don't believe that either card-playing or frolicking in meadows is mandatory, sir," James pointed out. "Although, I seem to recall your daughter mentioning that you play a rather cutthroat game of 'Go Fish'."
"Humpf," Lewis gave a snort and finally picked up the envelope. "S'pose I should have a look then."
"S'pose." James said, his mouth twitching into a grin.
"I know. I know." Lewis shook his head. "I'm the one who requested the information, but it just...I don't know…makes it seem just that bit more real."
James nodded and moved toward his own desk. Lewis had been waffling about his retirement for weeks – since his return to active duty after the events of their last case. It had been a trying time for all concerned, the fact that a killer had tried to make Lewis one of her victims. The only criteria for her choice being that he was older and all alone. Lewis's rehabilitation and therapy had been rough and a bit more extended than originally anticipated. It had put a severe dent in Lewis's self confidence and one of similar size in James's heart.
"You think--?" Lewis started. "No. Never mind."
"What is it, sir?"
"Well, it's a lot of information, yeah?"
"Sadly, yes," James had to agree.
"Just, well, would you be willing to go through it with me?" Lewis's voice was just slightly tentative, as if he felt he was asking too much. "I'll treat for dinner and all."
James hesitated for a moment. Although he wasn't unwilling, he wondered if this wasn't something Lewis should be discussing with his daughter or…well, someone who wasn't him. Laura perhaps.
"Yeah. I thought as much." Lewis sighed. "Can't blame you really. It's sure to be a very dry read."
"I've read Boethius. It can't be worse than that."
"A bit stodgy, this Boethius guy, then?"
"The stodgiest, sir." James agreed.
Lewis raised an eyebrow, "I'll pay for beer too. Might dull the pain a bit."
"As always, sir, your astuteness amazes me."
It was a bit chill out on the back step without his coat. The sky was clear, the stars twinkling overhead obscured only by the ambient lights of the city and the soft swirl of smoke that enwreathed his head. His latest attempt at giving up cigarettes had been scuppered by the stress of Robbie's hospitalization and recovery time.
"If we're friends it's only right," Lew—Robbie had insisted. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to do these bloody exercises and breathe like Darth Vader in front of someone who calls me sir. Might as well have stayed in hospital if I was going to do that and deal with Mister Lewis all the day."
And Robbie it was still, away from the station, during evenings at the pub and late nights sharing a takeaway and zoning out over television.
"James?" Robbie called out from the kitchen. "Another beer? Coffee? Tea?"
James tamped out his cigarette and dropped the remains in the empty beer bottle he'd carried out with him. "No more beer if I'm driving home and no caffeine if I intend to sleep tonight."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Lewis agreed. "Thanks for going over that paperwork with me. I'm still not sure exactly what I want to do, but at least I know my options now, yeah?"
"Well, you've still got time. It's not as if---" James's words were drowned out by the sound of Robbie's mobile ringing.
"Lewis…" Robbie's voice, as always, is steady and sure. "Yes… And that is? I'll contact me partner and we'll be there as soon as possible. What's that address again?"
James peered over Robbie's shoulder as he scribbled on a note pad. The location was not too far, a scant half-hour’s drive at that time of day.
Robbie finished the call and looked at James, "We've got a call in."
After that there were no more words to say. They grabbed keys and coats and headed out the door.
The crime scene was unusual only in its location, open with the rustle of heavy plastic sheeting beating a counterpoint to the whistle of the evening breeze. It was on the roof of a building, one of the newer dormitories that was being refurbished to add a fifth floor to the four already in existence. James took a moment to speak to the constable on duty and then moved to where Lewis was giving the scene his usual intensive survey.
The body was half-covered with canvas sheeting that had obviously been used as some kind of drop cloth at some point and was covered with an incongruently cheery sprinkle of pink, orange and green. Blood red was now swirled into the mix and, in Hathaway's opinion, did not add to its artistic qualities.
"What have you got?" Lewis asked, standing rather nearer to the open, wall-less side of the room than Hathaway liked. Lewis had his hands in his pockets as he peered out at the surrounding area and addressed Doctor Hobson over his half-turned shoulder.
"And good evening to you too, Robbie." Laura smirked over at him.
"Aye, sorry. Hello, Laura." Lewis gave her a chastened smile.
"Good evening, Doctor," James added as well.
"James. Robbie," Laura acknowledged and nodded at them. "It seems our victim ran afoul of the business end of a pipe wrench."
The wrench itself lay nearby, covered in blood and sawdust. It had already been markered and photographed by the forensics team.
"One good shot at the back of the head was all it took, as heavy as that thing appears. I'd say that death took place within moments."
"Time of death?" Lewis asked.
"I'm guessing it was between seven and nine this evening. I'll be able to narrow it down later."
"Any idea who he is?"
"Mitchell Walker, according to his identification." Laura passed Lewis the sealed evidence bag with the wallet open inside.
"According to the PC," James glanced back towards the stairwell, "the site security guard, Bertie Forbes, found him when he was making his rounds. Called it in right away."
"Just the one guard?"
"Two, actually. They take turns walking the rounds every half hour. The other one stays on the ground floor with the equipment. The primary contractor, Willoughby Construction, is also doing an addition in the rear and there's no way to completely secure it all. They just have a guard to make sure no one slips in. The lower floors are still occupied by students." James grimaced. "I'm sure the construction noise is quite conducive to studying."
"That's what i-pods are for, or so I've been lead to believe," Lewis huffed. "Any other exits aside from the stairwell we came up?"
"No regular ones, but with the scaffolding all around the sides it wouldn't be too difficult for someone to get in and out without notice if they knew the guard's schedule," James answered. "They only use the stairwell."
"Does the guard know Mr Walker?"
"No, sir." James paused, and then amended, "Not by name at least. Mr Forbes said he'd seen him leaving the site in the afternoons. The guards come on duty at half four and most of the time the construction workers leave between then and half past five."
"Right, well, make sure Mr Forbes is available if we need to ask more questions and then let him go. Laura?"
"I don't have anything more to add." She looked up at him and then stood. "Here…."
She tugged Lewis's scarf more securely around his neck. "It's a bit chilly tonight."
James was glad she'd done that. He'd wanted to since they left Lewis's flat, but it wasn't exactly something he felt comfortable attempting and would probably have engendered a scowl and a growling rebuff from Lewis. It hadn't been that long since Lewis's return to duty. If James ever had to listen to the groaning rattle that had been Lewis's respiration again, it would be too soon.
"I'm fine," Lewis protested.
"Yes." Laura smoothed her hand down his chest. "So let us help you stay that way, alright?"
"Fine." Lewis rolled his eyes and walked off toward the stairwell.
"Thank you," James spoke quietly to the doctor.
Laura patted him gently on the arm. "That man is more stubborn than is good for him."
"Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen," James quoted, softly.
"Doesn't make it any easier for those who care about him though, does it?"
"No, ma'am," James acknowledged, and then went to catch up with said stubborn man.
Their next stop was at the home of the victim, Mitchell Walker. Although it wasn't fancy, the place seemed nice enough; a semi-detached in a quiet neighbourhood, bright pink tricycle pushed partway into the hedge by the walkway. Other signs of a small child's residence were clear once they were let in by the PC on the scene – colouring books and puzzles shared the coffee table with a tea tray and a wrapped plate of brownies. A large yellow dumptruck sat nearby, filled to the brim with dolls and stuffed animals, some of them wearing odd yellow caps made from construction paper. The décor was cozy in the way that only a happy family could make it, comfort and togetherness taking precedence over style.
There were three women sitting on the sofa when they entered, none of them with completely dry eyes,. It was fairly easy to pick out Mrs Walker, her stunned, pale face giving her away.
"Mrs Walker?" Lewis asked.
The woman nodded, aimlessly.
"I'm DI Lewis and this is DS Hathaway. We're very sorry for your loss."
"Thank you." Mrs Walker answered, her words automatic and toneless.
James wondered if she even really realized she had spoken. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but we need to ask you a few questions."
"More?" The woman on her left spoke up. "She already spoke to the constable."
"I know, Miss…?" Lewis raised an eyebrow in question.
"Mrs… Ventrue. I live next door." She pointed in a direction that James assumed was meant to indicate which home was hers. "The constable has already asked a lot of questions. Can't this wait? It's bad enough that this happened without her being badgered with so many questions."
"Sadly, it is necessary." Lewis glanced at James.
"I know it seems as if we're being thoughtless," James offered, "but the sooner we get answers, the sooner we can find out who did this. The constable asks questions, we ask questions, and then we put all the answers together to see what we get. You might have told him something that you forget to mention to us, or vice versa."
All three women looked resigned and Mrs Walker signalled for Lewis to continue.
"What can you tell me about this particular job, ma'am? Did your husband tell you anything about it? Did he voice any concerns about working for Willoughby Construction?"
"No." Mrs Walker assured them. "He liked working for Willoughby. That's why he's done so many jobs with them…both before and after John Willoughby passed on."
James glanced up. "Does the company belong to someone else now?"
"Oh…no. It's still owned by the family."
"And Mitchell hadn't complained at all about this particular job?" Lewis asked. "No-one on the job that he might have argued with or who might have a grudge against him?"
"Not that I know of," she sighed. "Honestly, I can't think of anyone who would want to do this…or any reason. It's just…incomprehensible to me."
"Mummy?" a tiny voice drifted in from down the hallway. "Mummy?"
"I'm in here, Serena…with Auntie Kate and Elsa."
A young girl of about four years old came running in and climbed up into Mrs Ventrue's lap, "I woke up. Why is there a con'sable here?"
"Oh… well… " Mrs Walker looked lost.
The other woman, Elsa, picked the plate of brownies up off of the table and handed them to Lewis. "They're having a bake sale and Auntie Kate made some brownies for them to sell."
"Are you a con'sable too?" she asked, looking up at James.
"Sort of…" James answered.
"Do you not have a uniform 'cause you're too tall?" Serena tipped her head to one side and pushing her curly brown hair back from her face.
"You're very clever," Lewis told her with a smile. "That's exactly why. We've had a very hard time finding one that's long enough."
"Auntie Kate makes good brownies," the little girl told him. "I'll bet you can get a hun'red pounds for them."
"Awwww…that's so nice of you to say so." Mrs Ventrue gave the little girl a hug. "Come on. Let's go into the kitchen and have a glass of milk and then you need to go back to bed."
"Okay." The little girl scurried off, her slippered feet making tiny squeaks as she ran.
Mrs Ventrue trailed after her.
"Look…I know you probably have more questions, but really, I can't tell you anything else," Mrs Walker told them. "Mitchell was a good bloke. He didn't have any enemies and…." Her face clouded up and she started to cry.
"Alright, ma'am. Look. Here's my card. If you think of anything…no matter how small… call me." Lewis said.
She nodded as Elsa handed her a box of tissues. "I promise."
Lewis eyed the plate of brownies sitting on the dashboard of his car. It was the same expression that James had seen him wear when he was looking at his retirement papers.
"They look…good?" James said.
"Aye," Lewis agreed, but his wary expression remained.
"No." Lewis shrugged. "Well, yeah, a bit."
They both stared at the brownies for another moment.
"It's just… accepting homemade food from someone involved in a case," Lewis let his voice trail off.
Of course he would be wary. Who wouldn't? The last thing he had accepted from someone involved in a case had almost killed him.
James picked up the plate and put it on the floorboards in the back seat. "I'll dispose of them later."
"Thanks, lad. Felt a bit silly, being so fussed."
"Never a bother, sir."
Lewis cleared his throat. "Anyway, aside from the brownies, we've got absolutely nothing from Mrs Walker. I don't think she's lying."
"No… but perhaps Walker didn't tell her everything?"
"Always a possibility," Lewis agreed and started the car. "Let's call it a night, then. In the morning we'll lay out our board, see if we can get an idea."
Their morning had dawned bright, clear and cool. It was a time that would preferably have been spent over hot coffee and a leisurely breakfast. Those hours had, in fact, occasionally been spent that way while Lewis was still on leave and James had one of his rare mornings off. It had relaxed them both from the tensions of exhausting therapies (on Lewis's side) and temporary reassignment (which Hathaway always dreaded).
When Lewis had been in hospital their interactions had been quiet and at times, a bit stilted. Talking had still been difficult for Lewis and somehow the things that James had to say seemed so pointless – reports of his frustrations now that Innocent had turned the case over to another team, citing his personal involvement as her reasoning for doing so, and his own odd feelings of wanting to wrap Lewis in cotton wool had all kept him holding back his words.
More had been shared over those first post-hospital shared meals than small talk and calories. The feeling of friendship and family that Lewis had always engendered in James increasing with time spent together doing something (anything) other than discussing a case. He'd even managed, with Lewis's blessing, to reassure his daughter that her father was progressing back to health steadily, if not quickly – "Really, James. I'm so glad to hear it. I can't ask dad because he always says he's 'just fine', no matter how he's really doing."
Now, however, wasn't the time for regrets. If they no longer shared breakfast, the radio playing something soft in the background while they squabbled over who got what section of the newspaper, at least they were back to a somewhat normal equilibrium. It remained to be seen, James couldn't help but think, if their more relaxed interchanges would extend beyond Lewis's return to the workplace.
"Have we got back all the reports on the interviews yet?" Lewis looked up from where he had been catching up with a bit of morning email. "Surely someone must have heard something?"
"There were a couple of students that said they'd heard raised voices around 8 o'clock but hadn't really paid attention to what was said. The workers were always yelling back and forth to be heard over the sounds of equipment and hammering." James shrugged. "I do have more information on Willoughby Construction. They're a smaller company, but one that's been around for quite some time – twenty years or more. They put a bid in on this job and just barely beat out their competition. It was a bit surprising considering a couple of larger firms also put in bids."
"Maybe they have a good deal with someone for supplies?"
"Could be," James answered. "The person I spoke to in the school's purchasing department said that low price wasn't the only thing they took into consideration when making a choice. The fact that Willoughby is a local company and that the owner actually went to school there, was also in their favour."
"Maybe we should speak to the owners then, see what they can tell us about Mr Walker."
"We also need to talk to the Board of the college." James reminded him.
"We can do that this afternoon. You take the construction company and I'll go talk to the Board."
When James contacted the construction company, he discovered that the owner was actually out at the site rather than in the office. Although, of course, the roof area was officially a crime scene, the company had requested and been allowed to continue their work on the other parts of the building.
When James arrived, he found the site foreman. He had construction plans pinned down over a board, giving instructions to members of his crew.
"That's got to be finished today or we're totally fucked." The man shook his head. "I know you can get it done if you'll just get your heads out of your arses and knuckle down."
The men grumbled but hurried off to work.
James stepped forward. "Excuse me."
"We're doing an inspection today?" The man's voice was gruff and he sounded a bit put upon. "You do know we're running behind what with the bloody police shutting us out of the other part of the site."
"I think you've mistaken me for someone else," James interrupted him. "I'm DS Hathaway."
The foreman looked at him blankly.
"I'm with the 'bloody police'," Hathaway explained, his face as deadpan as he could manage.
The foreman grimaced, "Sorry. I know there was a murder. We all liked Mitchell, he was a hard worker. It's just that, in our business, time is money and the college won't be happy if we run over our schedule. I'm John Shaw - the foreman, in case you hadn't guessed."
"Did you know Mr Walker well then, Mr Shaw?" James didn't comment on the business side of the discussion, although he made note of it.
"Just as far as his work ethic went," Mr Shaw replied. "He came in, did his job and went home. I don't spend much time with our workers when they're off the clock. They see enough of my face during the day, I suspect."
"Was it unusual for him to be around the place after regular hours?"
"We don't exactly have what you'd call regular hours when we're on a deadline. We normally knock off around five o'clock if everything is going well, but if supplies come in late or something's not going exactly as planned we work late... sometimes as late as eight or nine o'clock if the light and the weather holds. This time of year, the weather is a major factor, so if it's good, we work late."
James gave a nod. "Does that time have to be approved?"
"Oh… yeah…" The foreman lifted his hardhat and scratched underneath. "Yeah, Mitchell came to me at about quarter to five and said he still had a few of the footings to drill and wanted to finish them up. Most of the exterior is completed on that part of the job and Mitchell was getting it ready for the electrical to be put in. I Okayed it and then left myself."
"Did anyone else stay late?"
Mr Shaw wrinkled his nose in concentration. "Sorry, no one else asked but there must have been someone. For safety purposes we don’t allow anyone to remain on site alone. Mitchell was always very careful about following the rules, that's why we've used him on so many jobs."
"Thank you for your time, Mr Shaw." James said, tucking his notebook back into his pocket. "We may have more questions later, but I actually came to see the owner."
"Leo? Yeah, around the back, I think." The foreman pointed. "You'll have to grab a bucket though. It's a rule."
"A bucket?" James tilted his head.
Mr Shaw barked out a laugh. "A brain bucket. A hardhat. There are some spares over there."
"Ah yes. Thank you." James placed the hardhat on his head with a grimace. He probably looked like some kind of exotic bird with long legs and a bill… a crane perhaps. "Around the back, you said?"
James moved carefully through the site, stepping around piles of supplies and dodging equipment. The whole place seemed to be running like clockwork, in spite of the fact that one of their own had been killed only a few hours earlier.
He was, after asking a few questions, directed to a tall figure calling out directions to someone up on one of the scaffolds.
"Yes. I know, Misha, but the rest of the fittings won't be here until this afternoon."
The reply from…Misha…wasn't intelligible to James but must have been quite humorous because the answer was a laugh and a reply. "Yeah…yeah…you are Mr Sex. Now go see if you can give Lucas a hand. He probably needs it."
"Excuse me, but…" James cleared his throat. "I'm looking for Leo Willoughby."
The woman smiled at them. She appeared fit and tanned from what James could tell. Dressed, incongruously, in a pin-stripped business suit, her low-heeled pumps brought her almost up to James's height. Her hair, underneath the hard hat, was pinned up in some elegant but simple style, and her make-up only enhanced her bright friendly looks.
"That would be me." She nodded.
"I'm sorry, Miss, but I never would have taken you for a Leo," James said, raising his voice slightly as a large earth mover rumbled behind them.
"You must have been talking to John. He's known me since I first learned to use a hammer. He's been the foreman on jobs for Willoughby for more than twenty years," she replied with a chuckle. "It's Leona, actually. And you are?"
"More questions?" She seemed to deflate a bit with that announcement. "Sorry, it's been a long morning. I went over to see Mitch's wife as soon as I spoke with the police this morning. And then the College Board wanted to see me. That's never particularly pleasant. They're intelligent people but they really do not understand construction at all."
"Just a few more questions, I'm afraid," James told her.
"Well, come on." Leo sighed. "I was on my way to the trailer when Misha stopped me. I want out of these horrid shoes and to get changed into something a bit more construction site friendly."
James looked down. His own shoes were covered with dust and sand. "That's quite understandable."
The trailer was actually rather comfortable on the inside. A couple of desks, a couch and side chair decorated the main area, with a small kitchen nook in one corner, complete with a fridge and microwave.
"Help your self to coffee or tea, and there's cold water in the fridge," Ms Willoughby told him. "Sorry, but I can not stand these shoes another minute."
She stepped into another room at the back of the trailer, but came back only a few moments later, her feet encased in a pair of fuzzy bedroom scuffs. "Much better."
Collapsing into the side chair, she looked at James expectantly, "Okay… ready for questions."
"I suppose the first thing I need to know is if you can think of anyone who would want to harm Mr Walker? Any co-workers who held a grudge over some slight? Anything at all?"
Miss Willoughby frowned slightly, apparently giving the question due consideration. "I'm sorry but I can't think of anyone. That's what makes this all so horrid. I could see someone sabotaging our deliveries or damaging equipment to slow us down but this? Mitchell was a decent guy, a good husband from what I can tell and adored his daughter. He was always sharing pictures and telling funny stories about things she'd done."
"You've been worried about someone sabotaging your site?" James asked.
"Not specifically, but when you bid on a job there is always someone who is going to lose. That does cause bad feelings and people have been known to take things into their own hands over it. We weren't the lowest bid on this job, I do know that much. But we're local and I went to school here." Leona shrugged. "That would be enough for some people to think we took an unfair advantage."
"Do you know who those people would be?"
Leona sighed and shook her head. "The bids are sealed and they don't tell us who else placed a bid. I can take a guess though, from who's in the area and who our typical competitors are."
Just like students would know who was up for what scholarships and where someone stood in line for a fellowship, it made sense that Miss Willoughby would know who the other bidders likely were. "Would it be possible for you to give me a list?"
"Oh, certainly. I'll have my office fax one in for you, complete with addresses and phone numbers if that would help."
"Thank you. That would be helpful," James told her. "And also a list on of who had been on the site that day – working, visitors, anyone who might have had the chance to hang around after hours."
"Aside from the students who live here, I take it?"
"Yes. Aside from them."
There was a knock on the office door, followed almost immediately by one of the workers walking in. It was the same man that Leona had been speaking to earlier. Misha?
"Just came to see if you need any help getting changed out of your fancies…oh…er…. " The man glanced over at James. "Sorry, Leo. I didn't realize you still had company."
Leona snorted out a laugh. "No, Misha… I think I can reach all my own buttons today. Now what do you really need?"
"Mr Shaw says that as soon as you get changed, could you come out at take a look at the fittings that just arrived 'cause he doesn't think they're what you ordered."
"Aw, damn." Leona's shoulders slumped. "Tell him I'll be out as quick as I can."
"Sure thing, Leo. Sorry again." Misha ducked back out the door.
"Ah, boys." Leona laughed again. "That's Misha Roberts, but they all love to tease me."
James smiled in understanding.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, Sergeant Hathaway?"
"No, Miss. Let me give you my card. And please do call if you have any further information."
James walked back to his car a short time later after depositing his hardhat back in its place.
Could it be possible that this murder wasn't personal at all? James wasn't sure if that made it better or worse. Somehow killing someone over a decision they had no connection to just seemed like a ridiculous idea.
James would confess that he didn't understand half of the crimes they investigated. He could understand the emotion behind them, or the confessed motivation, but how someone could actually act upon them was incomprehensible.
His mind wandered momentarily to Jennifer Stanley, the woman who had drugged and almost killed Robbie. In her mind, he supposed, she was actually providing a benevolent service – ensuring that kindly old people did not have to spend their final years alone and friendless. She'd been off the mark with Robbie though. He might live alone, but he was certainly not friendless.
Shaking his head, James pulled out his mobile and checked in before heading back to the office.
--all is blank before us; all awaits, undream'd of, in that region – that inaccessible land.
Whitman was speaking of the afterlife of course, but at the moment, staring at the partially filled white board before him, James felt as if the inaccessible land was his brain. They had worked to lay out all their facts in an understandable order and now had been staring at them and comparing them to the reports and statements that they had, occasionally adding or correcting a piece of information. There had to be something in all of this that would give them a link, something that would tell them what had happened to Mitchell Walker. Or who had happened to Mitchell Walker, which seemed the more pertinent question at the moment.
"So," Robbie spoke up from the midst of his own silent perusal of the board, "five o'clock comes 'round. Most everyone calls it a day, except for Walker. He speaks to the foreman and tells him he wants to hang around for a bit and finish up something. Foreman okays it and… leaves?"
"Yes," James replied. "Walker went back up to the roof top area with…someone. Presumably. He knew the rules and, according to the foreman and the owner, he was known to follow them."
"So the question is who went with him and is that person the murderer?"
"Or did Walker break the rules, go by himself, and the murderer was waiting for him?"
They both silently stared at the board for another moment.
"Either way," Lewis continued, "the murderer, for reasons undetermined, comes up behind him and smashes him over the head with a pipe wrench. Done."
"Yes." James gave the crime scene photos another look. There was something. Something that— "How did he do that?"
"Waited until he was distracted or---"
"No!" James cut Lewis off, pointed animatedly at the photos. "How could he? The man should have been wearing a hard hat. It's rule that even visitors have to comply with. But look! No hat near the body. No hat on the ground. Nothing. Not in any of the pictures."
Lewis stepped closer, then snatched up the evidence reports, "No mention of a hard hat anywhere. So what happened to it?"
They both stared at the board again. It was clue, it had to be, but at the moment neither one of them could figure out what it meant.
"Find the hat. Find the killer." Lewis intoned. "Maybe."
"Maybe," James agreed.
He'd always found comfort in music, comfort and focus. In the first few days after Robbie had been released from the hospital, it was the only way he had been able to sleep – the music in his ears covering up the sounds of Robbie’s harsh breathing. It really had been all he could do to keep from hovering over Robbie's bed, or abandoning the couch in favour of sleeping just outside Robbie's bedroom door, like a dog who'd been banished for poor behaviour.
Neither option would have been acceptable to either of them. So James had put his headphones on, letting the soft sibilance cover the harsher noises. It was loud enough for disguise, but not loud enough to cover the sound of Robbie's voice had he needed James.
Tonight's selection was different, but played for comfort nonetheless. His flat held too much ringing silence. Whirling thoughts of their current case tumbled through his head, Robbie's imminent retirement on the horizon and…other things, other thoughts that he wasn't really ready to dwell on let alone face up to. At least with music playing there was some distraction, something to hold his mind to the task of preparing a meal rather than spinning off into retrospection and the pops and rattles of the building settling, or his neighbours running water, flushing toilets, slamming doors.
James finished slicing vegetables, then slid all of them off the board to join the chicken in his already hot skillet. Stir-fry tonight, using up most of the fresh ingredients in his refrigerator in anticipation of the long evenings ahead. He and Lewis had turned over the list of contractors to other members of their team. Tomorrow they'd go over which matched up with the list from the college Board and begin with interviews. Grunt work, mostly, but you never could tell what might be useful until you started putting the pieces together.
His mobile phone rang. James grabbed it off the countertop left-handed, using his right to stir the food on the stove. "Hathaway."
"Sorry to bother you, but I was still trying to make a bit more sense out of all this paperwork. What was it you said about reinvesting principle? I think I'm getting it confused with--- Damn. Hang on lad, I've another call coming in."
James chuckled, and turned off the stove. He scooped rice out of his steamer and poured the chicken and vegetables over the top.
His dinner looked wonderful, smelled good and, he was certain, was going to taste even better. The only problem was that he was going to be eating it alone. One more lovely meal that he would rush through, barely taste and forget about in ten minutes time as he tried to find something else to distract himself.
"James." Lewis's voice came back through the phone. "We've got another murder at a construction site. I'll swing by and pick you up. Can you be ready in about 15 minutes?"
He looked sadly down at his dinner - one that he wouldn't even have the chance to forget. "Of course, sir. I'll be ready when you arrive."
Well, that certainly wasn't the kind of distraction I was hoping for. James stowed away his dinner and went to change into more work appropriate clothing.
Blood mingled with sand and sawdust, like the floor of some ancient gladiatorial combat, dark and thick and already beginning to turn from red to rust as it dried. The body sprawled and skewered on the raised tines of a forklift, its face turned down and away.
The forensics team were already at work, the area marked off and the site secured while evidence was collected. The lights were almost too bright for comfort, casting sharp shadows. Lewis and Hathaway stepped up the uniformed officer standing with their only witness, a very unnerved forklift driver.
"Good evening, sir. I'm DI Lewis and this is DS Hathaway." Lewis's voice was steady and calming. "And your name is?"
"Um…Bernardo…Bernardo Manza," the man stumbled over his words, his face pale with shock.
"Well, Mr Manza, can you tell us what happened?" Lewis asked.
"I already told the officer." Manza looked from Lewis to Hathaway to the uniformed officer and then back to Lewis.
"I know, sir. But sometimes when you tell the story again you remember things that you didn't mention on the first go. Alright?"
"Alright." Manza agreed nervously, his eyes darting back to where the forklift sat with its gruesome burden. "I…I was moving building materials around the site for the start of tomorrow's work. It had come in late, you understand, or I'd already have been done and gone."
"And then what happened?" Lewis said, encouraging him to continue.
"I had just come around the corner of the building, when WHAM…I didn't even see him until he hit and I…I don't know where he came from… what floor, I mean." Manza's eyes tracked up the side of the building. "I thought Will, Padraig, and I were the only ones still here."
"And who are Will and Padraig?" Lewis asked.
"Um…Will is the other forktruck driver and Padraig is the assistant foreman." Manza pointed to the men standing talking to another officer.
"Do you know who the victim was, Mr Manza?" James said. He tried to keep his voice just as smooth as Lewis's, knowing it would help keep the man calm.
"No… I mean, I don't know if I do or not." The man grimaced. "I'm embarrassed to say that as soon as I saw him, I just turned off the truck, jumped out and ran straight to where Padraig was working to have him call the police…an ambulance… something."
"I can imagine," Lewis said. "It would have been a bit shocking."
"But tell me, Mr Manza, you must have looked up. It would have been a pretty automatic response," Lewis asserted. "Did you see anything? Any one?"
"I…I don't." The man sighed, "Maybe? A movement. A shadow. Not anything that would help."
"Can you tell me what floor?"
"No. Sorry. It was just a glance."
"Thank you, sir. We may have more questions for you later." Lewis dismissed the man and signalled for James to follow him to where Laura was working.
"Robbie, James," Laura greeted them with a half smile. "Sorry to interrupt your evening, boys."
"You only interrupted another frustrating go 'round with retirement papers, for me," Lewis told her.
Laura's raised eyebrow prompted James to add, "Dinner."
"Yes, me, too. But after seeing this, I'm just as glad I didn't finish."
"He is a bit of a mess," Lewis agreed.
"Cause of death is rather obvious, one would think," Laura continued. "I'll let you know if I find anything secondary. Time of death is pretty well set as well – half six, give or take a few minutes."
"Do we have an identification?" Lewis asked.
"Not yet." Laura grimaced. "No wallet on him that we've found. None of the witnesses recognized him but the assistant foreman said that if he's a subcontractor or temporary help, he wouldn't necessarily. That's apparently all handled by the foreman."
"Do we have a contact number?" Lewis turned to James.
"Yes. But there was no answer." James glanced back over his shoulder. "The assistant foreman, Padraig, says the foreman's wife is pregnant and due any day now. That might explain why there's no answer."
Lewis nodded. "Still, someone else must know who was here tonight. For payroll purposes if nothing else."
"I'll see what else I can find out." James said.
"Leave it for later," Lewis told him, and turned back to Laura. "Have a guess as to where he fell from?"
"It's only guess," she warned him, "but judging from the force of impact and the estimated angle of descent….Probably the seventh or eighth floor."
"Any one been up there yet?"
James looked at the notes the PC had given him, "A search was made for the assailant but the forensics team hasn't gone up yet."
Lewis said, "Let's have a look then shall we, James?"
"After you, sir."
Of all the precautions that they had to take in their jobs, James hated the gumby suits the most. They never fit him quite right, either riding up immodestly or bagging out and making movement awkward. He saw the need for them, obviously, but he would never like them. The one he had currently climbed into seemed to be the worst of a bad lot – too short from inseam to shoulder and too loose everywhere else – giving him the feeling of being constricted and clumsy all at once.
One look at the grimace on Lewis's face almost made him feel better.
"Yeah. Alright. Mine doesn't fit any better so keep yer trap closed." Lewis gave a bit of a hop and a tug to get the one piece suit up over his shoulders. "I think she does this on purpose."
The stifled giggle coming from the direction of Dr Hobson as she directed the removal of the body tended to bear out that theory. Although, honestly, James would hazard a guess that not a person on the forensics team was over a hundred-eighty centimetres.
"Seventh floor first, sir?" James asked, keeping his face as bland as possible.
Lewis turned toward the building, "I'll assume the team that searched the building didn't see anything?"
"Nothing. It probably took between ten to fifteen minutes for them arrive on the scene. That's plenty of time for someone to get away."
"And longer than that for the two of them to search all the floors," Lewis agreed, stepping into the lift. "If the murderer knew the layout it would be pretty simple for him to slip past them."
Stepping out into the seventh floor made the many hiding places even more obvious. All the exterior walls were in and the window glass set. The framing was up for all of the interior walls and quite a few were already sporting their drywall, making the space into an odd maze of blind spots. The place smelt like plaster, industrial glue and paint.
Lewis and Hathaway carefully made their way to the windows on the proper side of the building. Taking care not to disturb anything, they circled wide around equipment and any obvious pathways.
"This one, ya think?" Lewis pointed towards the window.
"The angle would be right… but it's closed and look…" James pointed to the window sill, where a fine but obvious film of plaster lay undisturbed.
"Next storey up then."
The next floor, the eighth, was more open than the previous storey. The work on interior walls had not yet begun, although some of the framing was up. The windows were open holes in the walls, covered loosely with plastic to keep the weather out.
"This is it."
The window was placed in the same spot as the floor below, but that was the only similarity. The plastic covering was pulled loose on one side and it was obvious that a struggle had taken place. A tool box lay turned over on its side and the tools were scattered across the floor along with a container of framing nails.
"No hardhat here either." Lewis frowned. "Are they mandatory when they're down to inside work?"
"I'm afraid I don't know that one, sir. Not exactly my field."
Lewis huffed out a breath and looked up as the lift door slid open behind them. He raised a hand to the techs as they came out, telling them what they'd seen so far.
"Come on, lad. We've more questions to ask, but we won't know how to link things up until we can get an identification of our victim."
More questions was a slight overstatement as it turned out. The assistant foreman and the other forklift driver really had little clue as to what had happened. Lewis pressed Padraig with questions about safety precautions but nothing seemed to be out of normal protocols – hard hats were not required on the type of work the victim appeared to be doing. Since interior finishings didn't involve any dangerous equipment the man would have been allowed to work in comparative solitude as long as other people were on site.
Had he actually been working alone? That seemed to be another question that would have to remain unanswered until Lewis or Hathaway could contact the foreman or the victim was identified. There were names on the sign-in board that showed the people remaining on site. In spite of Manza's belief to the contrary, those men signed in would have to be tracked down and matched up. Assuming they were still on premises and had not simply forgotten to sign out.
By the time Lewis and Hathaway were done, they had three names unaccounted for and names of the companies they were employed by. Only one was the main construction company for the site – Lockland Construction.
"Come on, lad, let's call it a night. Like as not, we won't be able to contact any of them this late. Bit beyond business hours." Lewis blew out a puff of air. "I'm knackered and I'm hungry. Join me for a pint and a bite to eat?"
"Please." James nodded, following Lewis to his car.
They went to the Bell and Compass. It was not one of their usual stops but close by, which made it good enough for two blokes with growling stomachs. Lewis and James were settled in, plates in front of them and pints at their elbows, before either one of them mentioned their case. It might possibly have been a new record.
"So… do we have one case or two?" Lewis looked up from his beef and mushroom pie, fork clutched in one hand.
"I hate to speculate until we've identified the victim, sir."
"Robbie. We're off duty now, ya know?"
"Robbie." James corrected himself. "Two murders at two construction sites within forty-eight hours of each other? It could just be a coincidence…"
"But I tend to doubt it." Lewis finished for him, picking up his pint and taking a drink. "My instincts say that when our John Doe is identified, we'll find out that he's connected to Mitchell Walker or Willoughby construction in some way."
James picked up his fork and stabbed at his Chicken Jalfrezi. He paused, food halfway to his mouth as someone came in through the front door. Well, two someones actually - Leona Willoughby and John Shaw.
"Well hello, Sergeant." Leo smiled at him.
"Hello, Miss Willoughby." James and Lewis moved to stand.
"No. No, don't get up." She put one hand on James's shoulder to emphasize her point. "I only wanted to say hello. You're in the middle of dinner."
"Sir, this is Miss Willoughby and her foreman, Mr Shaw. This is Detective Inspector Lewis."
"Miss Willoughby. Mr Shaw." Lewis gave them both a smile of acknowledgement.
"This is your…boss?" Leona asked. At James's nod, she continued. "Have you made any progress on the case at all?"
"We have a few lines of inquiry that we're working on," Lewis answered her diplomatically.
"And what, exactly, does that mean?" Shaw frowned.
"John, you're being rude." Leona tapped him on the arm. "I'm sure they'd tell us if they could. You know how they have to play it – everyone's a suspect…until they're not."
"That's it, exactly."James agreed.
"Well, it's time we stopped keeping you from your dinners and go to have our own." Leona smiled and held her hand out to James and then Lewis. "Have a nice evening."
They walked away. John directed Leona to an empty table with one hand on the small of her back.
Lewis watched them go, an intent look on his face.
"What is it, sir…Robbie?"
"Bit old for her, isn't he?"
James spared a glance at the other two. "I don't think they're meant to be dating. Miss Willoughby told me that Shaw has known her since she was a child. More likely to be some type of father substitute, don't you think, since hers has passed on?"
Lewis shrugged and turned back to his dinner, "Could be. It was just a feeling."
Bit old for her, isn't he?
The words kept poking at him long after he and Robbie had said their goodnights and he had climbed into bed. On the outside, it was a fairly obvious conclusion to reach, but from inside…closer to the situation…things weren't always that simple. Sometimes people had far more things in common than an age difference could outweigh. Sometimes they were simple, like the love of good music or sports, other times they could be as complex as a whole outlook on life – the younger being aged by experiences and the older having a youthful joy that made him younger than his age. Such things tended to make people meet in the middle and find a way to make it work.
It was a subject that he was woefully familiar with.
James set his alarm clock, turned out the light and rolled over in the bed, but sleep was held at bay by his thoughts.
John Shaw and Leona Willoughby could have found a middle ground with their construction work. It seemed to be something they'd long had in common and they both appeared to love it. Something like that could bring people together. Could Lewis have been right?
Only time would tell, he supposed. But it was something he thought they might want to add to their list of motivations. Could these murders be motivated over jealousy or some kind of misguided helpfulness? Could Leo be coercing John into murder? Or vice-versa, there was no need to be sexist. It didn't take much strength to push someone off a building if they weren't aware they were in danger. Leona Willoughby certainly didn't look dangerous for all that she seemed fit and strong. Who would suspect her?
He'd also seen how casually the other workers treated Leona, calling her by her nickname even though she was their boss. That might be enough to make someone jealous. Of course, he'd also noticed that they all called John Mister Shaw.
It wasn't something he'd figure out without some sleep, so bed it was. Lewis would expect him in by seven in the morning, bright eyed and ready to work. It was apt to be a busy day, with more interviews and phone calls. There was that whole list of bidding contractors that had to be gone through and a match done between it and the one that Leona Willoughby had given them.
Sleep. Now. James slowed his breathing and began the exercises he knew to relax both his body and his mind.
The morgue was a quieter place first thing in the morning. Not that it was ever very noisy, but at this hour, the sole live occupant tended to be the Medical Examiner on duty – in this case, Laura. None of the bustle of people running tests, peering into microscopes or recording data, this hour was reserved for victims of foul play, autopsies and forensic conclusions.
"Gentlemen," Laura looked up from the body, now stretched out and looking somewhat more dignified in its post-autopsy state, "let me introduce you to Mr Morgan Thatcher."
"You got him identified." Lewis said. "Good work. Dental records?"
"Car keys," Laura replied, her expression deadpan.
"His car keys were in the bottom tray of his toolbox. All we had to do was match them to the right car. His wallet and license were in the glove box." Laura pointed at the mentioned items, sealed in their evidence bags and sitting in a tray nearby.
"Some times the difficult problems have the simplest answers." James quirked a smile, and looked through the other bagged items.
"Also, Mr Thatcher most likely saw his assailant before he went out the window."
"What makes you think that?"
Laura drew back the sheet covering Thatcher's upper body. "It's impossible to be sure with all the damage, but these look like defensive wounds on his forearms."
James raised an eyebrow,."So the person we're looking for may be sporting some fresh cuts and bruises? Difficult to sort that out though. I'm sure those types of injuries are pretty common on a construction site."
"Thanks, Laura." Lewis said. "That'll give us a start on our morning's work."
They passed back out through the morgue's double doors and into the hallway before Lewis spoke again. "If you'll get a start on matching up those lists, and tracking down the ones for the new site, I'll see what I can find out about Mr Thatcher."
"Certainly, sir. I do have one other idea I'd like to pursue but that will only take a moment."
"Oh?" Lewis peered at him "Anything you'd like to share?"
James fidgeted slightly. "Not yet, sir. It's just… well, I'd rather not say. It might just be an idle thought on my part."
"Fine, then. I'm sure you'll let me know if it pans out."
"Of course, sir."
They both settled in behind their desks for a morning of phone calls and paperwork.
"The bidder list from the college and the list that Miss Willoughby gave me are almost identical," James announced after a short time. "And the ones for the second site only add one or two companies to the list."
"About what we expected, yeah?" Lewis said. "Are Willoughby and Lockland on both sets?"
"Then I'd guess that our next move is a trip to Lockland's office."
"I've already called," James agreed. "The person we want to speak to is Stephan Crawford and he is, apparently, 'on site' this morning. I have the address."
Both men stood, pulling on their coats.
Although brass and glass weren't exactly his style, James could still appreciate the beauty of the house standing before him. The original structure was two stories high and had, in the past, been subdivided into three flats for student housing. The wear and tear of that usage could still be seen in the older parts of the house, but the addition to the rear of a large lounge and patio was going to be quite modern and elegant with lots of windows and skylights to allow in light.
James almost cringed at the thought of the future heating bills. Still, he supposed, if you had enough money to pay for such extensive remodelling and renovation, owing your soul to the utility company probably wasn't an issue.
"Oh, hello again," a voice interrupted his thoughts. "You're getting to be a bit regular around the sites. Thinking of taking up construction instead of police work?"
The man looked vaguely familiar, short, dark-haired and grinning – a lost boy awaiting the instruction of The Pan, "Oh uh… Misha Roberts, isn't it? You work for Miss Willoughby?"
"Sometimes, yes, but I finished up on that job and now I'm doing some work for Mr Crawford." Misha winked at him.
Lewis looked at him. "You quit?"
"No," Misha assured him. "I'm a subcontractor, so I work for whatever company needs me."
"Oh, I see."
Misha leaned in, lowering his voice, "Tell you the truth, I'd rather work for Leo than Mr Crawford, but this particular job was paying too much for me to pass it up."
James looked around at the house once more. "I can imagine it would."
"Yes." Misha shrugged. "If I had my way, though, I'd work for Leo all the time and tell everyone else they could bugger off."
"A dream come true, eh?" Lewis said. "We all have our preferred work mates."
"Gentlemen?" a voice broke into their conversation. "I'm Stephan Crawford. How can I help you?"
Stephan Crawford had a commanding presence. He had to be six feet three, and built square, like one of the structures his firm worked on. He was dressed in work clothes – jeans, boots, chambray shirt – and had a red bandana wrapped around his head in a band, holding his hair up off of his face. James had the feeling that if he'd only been five feet tall, people still would have listened to him.
"I'm Inspector Lewis and this is Sergeant Hathaway," Lewis introduced them. "We're here to talk to you about Morgan Thatcher's death.
Crawford nodded. "I had a feeling you'd come by when my office let me know about the accident."
"I'm sorry, sir, but Mr Thatcher's death was anything but an accident."
"Another murder?" Misha chimed in.
"Don't you have work to do, Misha?" Crawford waved him away, then looked around the room. "Here. Let's take this conversation somewhere more private."
Lewis and Hathaway followed him around a scaffold and into the older part of the building.
"Here, this should be alright." Crawford opened a door and gestured Lewis and Hathaway inside. The room had probably been a small sitting room during the time of student housing. The plaster was dotted with the remains of cheap shelving and abused paint.
Mr Crawford closed the door behind them, but kept his voice low and controlled. "Look, I'm sorry about that. I do understand that Morgan's death was anything but an accident, but I don't want to spook any of my workmen. I can't have them walking off the job because they don't feel safe…and two murders on-site in less than a week? That could set them off."
Lewis frowned. "I understand, Mr Crawford. But you have to understand that we can't allow anything to stand in the way of our investigation."
"No. Of course not." Crawford said. "I'm certainly one hundred percent behind you. Morgan was a rough guy, foul mouthed and crude…but he did good work and didn't deserve to be pushed out of a window while he was just trying to do his job. I'm willing to cooperate with you in any way. But, if you could keep this as low key as possible, I'd certainly appreciate it."
"Low key." Lewis looked more than a bit disgruntled. "Aye, we'll do what we can, Mr Crawford."
"I appreciate that. Now, what can I do to help?"
They asked their questions, to little avail. Mr Crawford, it seemed, had not even been in the country, let alone in town when either murder had taken place. He had just returned from a job in Calais that morning. However, Lewis had received the promise of a list of workers and delivery people who could have been on the site of the second murder. Mr Crawford's secretary, alerted by a 'discrete' phone call, agreed to have it to Lewis and Hathaway later that day.
It was a wasted trip, James thought as they moved back towards the open front doors. What little information as they had gained would probably not do them any good.
"I can't believe you're pulling this shit. We were counting on you, Angelo!" The sound of shouting stopped them in their path.
"Then you shoulda fuckin' paid me what I'm worth."
Lewis frowned at James, "That sounds like—"
"Mr Shaw," James finished for him.
Sure enough, Lewis and Hathaway stepped out into the forecourt just in time to see Shaw climb into a yellow Willoughby Construction lorry. The large vehicle tore away from the curb, the bright red of its markings blending into a streak in the afternoon haze.
"Mr Shaw sounded a bit annoyed," James ventured.
"Yeah, well, he's got reason," Misha said, coming up behind them. There was no sign of the mischievous Lost Boy from earlier; he was pixie sharp with the tinge of vengeance. "Tell 'em, Angelo."
"Not their business, is it? Nor yours, I'm thinking," Angelo snarled. "The man can't figure out why I'd rather work for Mr Crawford on this job, than wait around for him ta decide if 'n' when they need me on their site. I got mouths ta feed and this job pays more and now."
"Yeah, yeah." Misha frowned. "But you promised Lou that you'd be free at the end of the month and that's just four days away. You'll be here for another fortnight at least."
"Well, that's the breaks, yeah?" Angelo shoved between Lewis and Misha, going back into the house.
"Jerk," Misha muttered under his breath. "Sorry. I can understand why Mr Shaw is upset. Angelo does tile work. He's fast and he's good, very good. He was supposed to do the fountain that the College paid for as part of the renovation. Now they'll have to find someone else and, well, there aren't a lot of people who have the skills and the artistry for the job…especially if they need to keep it within a budget and timeframe. And they're already behind because of…well, you know, your lot haven't released the upper floors yet."
"I'm sure it won't be too much longer," James offered. "We just want to be certain—"
"—Certain that you haven't missed anything important." Misha interrupted him. "Yeah, I get that. Lou gets that. But understanding doesn't pay the bills and won't cover the forfeit that will be due if they go over the contracted time and budget."
"I'll see what I can do to get the release hurried along," Lewis assured him.
"That's not…" Misha gave a little huff. "Yeah, thanks." He stomped back into the house, slamming the door behind him.
"Lot of hot tempers around today." Lewis raised an eyebrow.
"Anger ventilated often hurries towards forgiveness; anger concealed often hardens into revenge." James said softly as they walked towards their vehicle.
"What? You think that means we should take Shaw off of the list of suspects or add…Misha, was it?"
"It's just a quotation, sir, not a prediction."
Lewis chuckled and bumped his shoulder against James. "Daft lad. Come on then, let's grab a sandwich and get back to the nick. Lots of 'discrete' inquiries to be made."
Their inquiries filled up the better part of the afternoon and, sadly, left them not much better off than they were before, with more questions and little to no answers. The only thing of any worth that James discovered was that Morgan Thatcher, the second victim, had also been recently employed by Willoughby Construction and had, in fact, worked for them off and on since he graduated from University.
James looked up to see Julie standing in the doorway.
"I have that background you asked for. I hope it's what you wanted."
"I'm certain your work will be fine…whether it's what I wanted or not," James assured her.
"Yes, sir. Thank you." She flashed him a smile, nodded a greeting at Lewis and then continued down the hallway to her own work area.
"Background check?" Lewis asked. "Is this your 'idle thought'?"
James gave a small grimace, "It was just something you said…about Shaw. Thought it might be worth checking into."
James skimmed through the man's file, pausing at the portion he had been looking for. "And this is what I wanted to check. Shaw was arrested a few years ago for assaulting one of his crew. Sent the man to A&E with a concussion. Charges were dropped, but still."
"Still good enough to have him brought in for further questioning."
"Yes, sir…although I—"
The phone on Lewis's desk rang cutting his comments short. "Lewis. Oh? Yeah, which hospital? Right, we'll run by there. Also, can you send someone out to Willoughby and by Mr Shaw's home? We need him in for questioning. Thanks."
Lewis hung up the phone and reached for his coat, "There's been an accident at the Lockland site. Hit and run."
James tilted his head. "And you think it's connected to the others somehow?"
"Positive." Lewis nodded, passing James his own coat. "The victim was Frank Angelo…the tile man that Shaw was arguing with."
The renovated Victorian looked a bit different in the late afternoon sunshine, the golden light reflecting off of the tall windows giving it a sterile look. Even the pale stone of the walls added to the effect. Where they had seemed warm and welcoming earlier, now the colour seemed harsh.
James pulled himself away from his ruminations, refocusing on the woman Lewis was questioning. She was slight and thin, dressed in a green track suit with bright yellow joggers. Her eyes were flitting here and there in agitation, and she had a smallish, quiet, mixed-breed dog clutched in her arms.
"Tell me again what you saw, Mrs Evans."
"Standish and I were just heading out for our morning run…my dog, you know?" She looked down, running one hand nervously over the dog's coat.
"I'm sure he's quite nice." Lewis said.
"He is. Very well behaved, and not a bit yappy as some small… Sorry, Inspector." The woman recalled herself to her task. "We had just left our walkway when that poor man came out of the place they're renovating and cut across the road."
"Where exactly was that, ma'am?"
"Standish and I were just there." Mrs Evans pointed to a walkway cutting through a low hedge that surrounded the front garden of a smallish semi-detached house. "He went between two cars there and was moving across the road ahead of us….and this lorry… it….it just came right at him. He tried to dodge but it still clipped him and knocked him flying, onto the pavement."
James frowned. Perhaps it would have been better if he'd done the questioning and suggested that Lewis go ahead of him to the hospital to check on Mr Angelo's condition. Hearing the details of a hit and run accident would probably never be easy for the man, but James also knew that Robbie wouldn't thank him for the suggestion. Damn, stubborn….
Lewis cleared his throat. "But what makes you think it wasn't just an accident, ma'am? Tragic and horrible, of course, but such things happen."
"No. I'm sorry, Inspector, but it wasn't an accident," Mrs Evans said, adamantly. "I heard the engine rev up and the tyres squall, as if the bloody thing was making a charge….and it swerved right over as that poor man tried to get to the kerb."
Lewis nodded sympathetically. "What happened then?"
"I…I screamed, I think…. And ran to him. I don't know how I managed to keep hold of Standish through it all. Nervous reflex, I suppose. But anyway, he was bleeding and moaning…Oh, God… But I managed to dial 999 and get help."
"And did a good job too, the EMT said. Kept the man still and calm until they could get here."
"Well, I tried," Mrs Evans said with a frantic expression. "Do…do you suppose someone could let me know how he is? If he's going to be alright, I mean? I know they can't tell me if I call the hospital."
"I'm sure that can be arranged, ma'am," Lewis replied. "Could you tell me what the lorry looked like? The colour? A plate number would be wonderful but we'll take anything you can give us."
"Oh…I know exactly what it looked like, Inspector." She nodded. "It was big and yellow, some kind of construction vehicle. It had ladders on the side and, I think, a tool chest and buckets and things in the back. And it had a name on the side…Will…Willow…Williams… Sorry, it happened so quickly, but I'm certain that it was Will-something."
"I'm going to have one of my officers escort you home and get you settled, Mrs Evans." Lewis took out his card and handed it to her. "Call me if you think of anything else."
James signalled for one of the PCs to attend Mrs Evans. He and Lewis headed back toward their car.
"Willoughby, do you think?" James asked.
"Seems a bit too much of a coincidence otherwise." Lewis said. "Let's see how Mr Angelo is doing and then head back. Maybe they'll have brought Shaw in by then."
Going into a hospital emergency room was never going to be easy, James had decided. It was either recalling his own past visits or reliving the long hours he had sat waiting to hear how Robbie was doing. If he would make it through…if he had gotten help to him in time. It was something he'd never forget, being stuck out in the waiting room while Robbie's life hung in the balance. His only relief being when Dr Hobson had appeared, her face also etched with worry. She had brought him horrible vending machine coffee and quiet, sympathetic conversation.
"I couldn't have stood it, you know? Not really," she had finally confessed to him. "It's one thing when you have a body on your slab and are trying to uncover a mystery, and quite another when it's someone you know that's been hurt."
He had nodded, blankly, agreeing with her in principle even if this was his own first experience with the latter.
All in all, this trip, while less personally taxing, was also less productive. Frank Angelo was out of the operating theatre, but still unconscious. His doctor couldn't say when, or even if, he would wake up.
So it was back to their office, pausing only for a very quick cup of strong coffee. James could only hope that the smell of it would drown out the hospital odours – take them out of his nose and his memories.
Julie stopped them just as he and Lewis reached the door. "They've collected Mr Shaw, sir. He's in room three. But, I think you'll want to look at this first."
She handed them a report from the officer who had brought Shaw in. The coppers had taken one look at the yellow lorry parked at Shaw's house and had it taken in for forensics testing. It seems that there was a good sized dent in the passenger's side fender and a few red-brown flecks that looked very much like dried blood…further testing was being conducted.
"Aye." Lewis gave Julie a smile. "That will get us started."
Lewis and Hathaway stepped into the interrogation room and took a seat across from John Shaw. The man's expression was an odd mixture of confusion and anger.
Good, James thought. Sometimes the best way to get answers out of a suspect was to keep them off guard. Lewis was an old hand at exploiting such situations.
Lewis turned on the recorder, stating who was present in the room. He addressed the suspect. "Mr Shaw, do you know why you've been brought here?"
"I have to assume it's something to do with your murder investigation, don't I?" Shaw almost growled. "But I've told you everything I know about Mitchell Walker and I had no reason to kill him. I actually liked the man. I also heard about Morgan Thatcher and I didn't have anything to do with his death either. He was a good guy. He even went out with Leo once or twice."
"He dated Ms Willoughby?" James asked. Well, that could be an adequate motive, if what Lewis was assuming about the relationship between Ms Willoughby and Mr Shaw was correct.
"Yeah. It was back when they went to University." Shaw replied. "That's why we've used him on many jobs through the years. It's always nice to be able to give work to people you like."
"But you're not so fond of Frank Angelo, are you?" Lewis asked.
"Angelo? That jerk? No… not very fond of him at all. He's going to cost Leo…Willoughby Construction a lot of money if we can't replace him."
"Is that why you had a dust up with him at the renovation site?" Lewis asked.
Shaw let out a frustrated sigh. "I went by to try to convince him to stick to our agreement. It wasn't anything on paper but he'd… I guess it sounds juvenile to say 'he promised', but he had. And yeah, it pissed me right off."
"You have a bit of a temper don't you, Mr Shaw?"
"Yeah, sometimes." Shaw shook his head. "I was alright after I cooled down a bit but…I'm sure I got pretty loud."
"Sometimes." Lewis pursed his lips, and then leaned forward. "Is that what happened five years ago when you assaulted a man in a bar? You had a bit of a temper?"
"What?" Shaw's eyes went wide and then narrowed suspiciously. "No… no… I caught that punk trying to slip something into Leo's drink. He thought she was there alone, I guess… so I called him on it and well, I can honestly say that I don't regret swinging on him. I can only regret that I couldn't prove it and have the guy locked up."
"Where were you today, Mr Shaw? Between three and five o'clock?"
"Where was I…? Look, are you accusing me of something?" Shaw looked from Lewis to James and back.
"Today, at about half three, someone driving a big yellow construction lorry tried to run over Frank Angelo as he left the renovation site." James said quietly, adding his bit to the questioning.
"What? Is he okay?"
"Mr Shaw. You had a big yellow construction lorry parked in front of your home. That construction lorry had a large dent on the passenger's side fender."
"A dent? You think I tried to run Angelo down?"
"Our forensics people are checking over the car right now, sir. If you---"
"I got that dent two days ago,” Shaw interrupted. “I hit a deer out on the road near Burry Port. I filed a report with our insurance company as soon as I got back into town."
"We will check that out, Mr Shaw." James said.
"Go right ahead." Shaw folded his arms.
"And your whereabouts this afternoon?"
"I was with Leo. We have dinner together a couple of times a week. Her father and I used to do that, keep in touch with the projects we had going…Leo and I just kept up the tradition."
Lewis ended the recording and stood up. "Excuse us for a moment, Mr Shaw."
"Look, is this going to take much longer? I have a lot of paperwork to get through tonight…and since we're already behind…"
Lewis closed the door behind them as he and James stepped out into the hall.
"What do you think?" Lewis asked in a straight forward tone.
His mind was probably already made up, James thought, but he liked to verify things, make sure there was nothing he'd missed.
"His explanations were simple and his alibi will be easy enough to check," James said. "Plus he seemed not to be worried about the accusation beyond what you might expect."
"He could just be a good actor."
James raised an eyebrow at that.
"Okay, I doubt that as well," Lewis huffed, "but there's always the chance."
"Sir?" Julie came down the hallway toward them. "I have the report from forensics about the blood stains."
Lewis took the file and opened it, scanning down the page. "Deer. It was deer's blood. A couple of days old, too."
"Just as Shaw said," James recalled.
"Well, we'll still follow it through," Lewis said. "Julie, could you find out what company insures Willoughby's vehicles and see if Mr Shaw made a report recently?"
"Of course, sir." She nodded. "And Mr Shaw?"
"He can go…for now," Lewis told her. "Oh, and Julie, when you contact Willoughby, see if you can get a log showing what other vehicles were out yesterday and who was driving them."
"Yes, sir," she said, her smile bright, ridiculously pleased at being given a task that would, no doubt, add up to quite a bit of tedious paperwork.
James had to admit she was quite good at her job and, well, you couldn't fault her enthusiasm.
Young people. James gave a mental chuckle. He certainly hadn't classed himself in that category for a very long time, even though he knew most other people would. His state of mind was far beyond the frivolities and enthusiasms normally associated with that state. He wondered if that was why he and Robbie had formed such a strong bond…partnership…whatever it was they had. Robbie was quite young at heart and he…he was what he was.
"You with me, James?" Lewis asked.
"As ever, sir."
The white board was filling up. It currently held three sets of crime scene photos, salient facts, guesses, and whatever else they could find to connect the two murders and one attempt. What it, sadly, did not hold was a single concrete clue as to who had committed any of them.
James grimaced to himself. Concrete clues? Next he'd be looking for nut and bolt connections or think of hammering suspects into confessing.
"I'm just not getting the connection." Lewis frowned at the board. "How does the missing hardhat fit into all of this?"
"Maybe it doesn't." James shook his head. "It could be coincidental."
"Aye. Or maybe our killer took it for a trophy."
"Wouldn't think trophies were part of his M.O. Hard to collect them if you've taken to running your victims down with a lorry."
"Sir?" The tentative sound of Julie's voice came from behind them. "I have that list for you. The one for the vehicles."
"Good girl." Lewis gave her an appreciative smile. "Let's have a look."
She handed him the list, a slight frown on her face. "I don't think it's going to be as useful as you might think, sir."
Lewis scanned down the list. "There's only five names on here. The rest just have addresses."
"Yes," Julie continued. "They assign trucks to job sites rather than individuals. I've already got in touch with a couple of the locations to see if they have checkout sheets or anything like that."
"They do… "
"But?" James heard the hesitation in her voice.
"But the foreman at more than one told me that there is no guarantee that they were signed out every time…pressure of the job and time deadlines. Sometimes it just doesn't happen."
Lewis gave an explosive sigh.
James had to sympathise. Oh, well, that's why they were detectives…because very few crimes came with easy answers.
"Still, it couldn't hurt," Lewis told her. "Try to get the rest just the same, Julie. Maybe something will show up."
"Of course, sir."
"Damn it," Lewis growled as Julie left the office. "We're missing something. So much information, but nothing!"
Hathaway his head in sympathy. Facts could help them narrow down the window for opportunity, but it wouldn't give them motivations and that seemed to be what they were lacking. "This all has to tie back to Willoughby construction, yes?"
"Somehow I'm thinking it does," Lewis agreed.
"How though? Walker worked for them, but seemed to be well liked. Angelo had been working for them but left with hard feelings all around. And Thatcher had worked for them in the past, was an old friend of Ms Willoughby, dated her in fact – he did his job satisfactorily when he worked there and then moved to the next job." Hathaway stood and stepped closer to the white board."There has to be something else linking them besides just working for Willoughby, another common factor."
"They all did different jobs. Mitchell was a carpenter, Thatcher an electrician and Angelo's a tiler…tileman… whatever." Lewis frowned at the term. "How do they fit?"
The phone rang and James moved to pick it up. "He is? Yes, thank you. I understand. We'll be there shortly."
"That was the PC on duty at the hospital. Mr Angelo has regained consciousness."
After checking in with the PC on duty, they found Leona Willoughby haunting the waiting area, just outside of Angelo's room. She looked rather mussed and a bit haggard. James wondered just how long she'd been holding vigil for the worker she had to be angry with. Could she be feeling guilty? Had they been investigating the wrong member of the Willoughby team the last few days?
"Miss Willoughby," Lewis greeted her. "I'm surprised to see you here."
The tall blonde ran her hands down the sides of her trousers, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles, "Because I'd argued with Angelo? I've known him for years and just because we've had a disagreement, doesn't mean that I want anything to happen to him. Frank's a very talented workman and if he hadn't been injured, I'd have tried to work something out so he could do both the Lockland job and ours."
"No hard feelings at all then?" Lewis asked.
"Of course there are hard feelings," Leona shrugged, "but that's the construction business. We're very competitive, but the people you're competing with this week will be the ones you're working with next week. It's rather like one big dysfunctional family."
James could understand that idea. Working with the police could be much the same at times. You competed for recognition, promotions, everything, but as long as you kept in mind that the real goal was serving the public and keeping people safe, it never really got too out of hand.
"Is Mrs Angelo not here?" It was odd, wasn't it, that she wasn't the one keeping vigil.
"She was." Leona waved a hand vaguely toward another door. "The nurse and I convinced her that getting some sleep would be a good idea, so she's having a lie down."
"Inspector Lewis?" A doctor stepped out of Angelo's room, interrupting their conversation. "You can go in, but I can't say how coherent Mr Angelo will be. He's rather heavily sedated and all that entails."
"We understand, Doctor, but anything he can tell us might help."
The doctor waved them on and then moved over to speak softly to Leona Willoughby. Lewis and Hathaway walked past the PC and into the room.
"Mr Angelo?" Lewis said calmly and evenly. "Frank?"
"It was like a flamin' goldfish…flying…" the man in the bed muttered, his eyes half closed.
"Mr Angelo?" Lewis tried again.
"It's DI Lewis, Mr Angelo. We met at the Lockland site, do you remember?"
"Yeah…yeah… dust up wit' Shaw…" Frank Angelo gave a slight nod, but his eyes didn't seem to be tracking very well.
James wondered if he would even remember them being there, let alone anything that had happened during the hit and run.
"That's right," Lewis confirmed. "Do you know why you're in the hospital, sir? Do you remember?"
"I 'as hit… big yellow…." Angelo frowned slightly, "goldfish…"
Apparently, they had Mr Angelo on some very good painkillers. Good for him, but not so good for anyone needing to question him.
Lewis gave a small smile of frustration. "It was a lorry, Mr Angelo. A lorry that quite possibly belonged to Willoughby Construction. Did you see who was driving it?"
"It was flamin'… was fast…tried to…" He blinked again. "Somethin' was barkin' a' me..."
Most probably Standish, in spite of Mrs Evans's claim that he wasn't "yappy".
"But did you see the driver, Mr Angelo?" Lewis asked again.
"I…ran… but too fast…too fast." His eyes darted around the room. "Couldn't make it. It was fast… And then I was flyin' , flyin'… Watch out!!" Angelo jerked upright in the bed, then gasped, gripping his ribcage in pain.
A nurse rushed in through the door. "I think that's all for now, Inspector. It's all a bit much for him in this state."
Lewis gave a frustrated sigh, but signalled for James to precede him out the door.
Leona Willoughby was still there, standing tensely in the corridor, her eyes locked on the door of Angelo's room like she could see through it. "Is he okay? I…I heard shouting."
"He will be," James assured her. "He just got a bit agitated, and with the medication in his system, he overreached himself."
"This is all so ridiculous," she suddenly exclaimed, running one hand through her hair. "First Mitchell and poor Morgan, and now Angelo… "
James wondered if she realised that she sounded almost as agitated as Frank Angelo had been.
"I run a construction company. We build buildings. Sure there is money and some reputation at stake but it's not exactly something you'd kill for, is it? Is it?"
"Someone must think so," Lewis answered her, not without sympathy. "And we don't know if it's necessarily about the company."
"But what else could it be?" Leona threw her hands up in the air. "Really? I just don't understand."
Lewis put a calming hand on her shoulder. "Murder is never easy to understand. But we'll do our best to find out who is doing this and stop it."
She slumped against him, like a puppet with its strings cut. "I'm sorry. I think… I think I'll just go down the hall and say good-bye to Mrs Angelo and then go home. I still have to go see Morgan Thatcher's family tomorrow and attend the funeral. Sleep would probably make this all a little easier to face."
"That's probably a very good idea, " Lewis agreed, patting her absently. "You do look a bit done-in."
Leo gave a small snort, then straightened up, kissed Lewis on the cheek and turned to walk down the corridor.
"The voice of reason isn't always so well received," James told him, his lips quirking up in a smile as he watched the tips of Lewis's ears turn pink.
"It was only truth," Lewis said, turning to go back towards the elevators.
"You've got a bit…er…lipstick." James poked out one finger, waving it around near Lewis's cheek.
"Humpf," Lewis grunted and pulled out his handkerchief to wipe his face.
The sun outside was bright, if not very warm, causing flairs of reflection to shine off the hospital windows, leaving square sparkling patches on the vehicles in the car park. James squinted at the light, wondering if this would be just another working day for Willoughby construction or if they'd return to the office to find word of yet another murder. It wasn't a cheering thought.
"Well, either you're constipated or you need a smoke," Lewis commented. "I'm going to go with 'needs a smoke'."
"Very discerning, sir."
"Yeah, well, you stay here and have one. I'll bring the car around."
James walked to the designated smoking shelter, and watched as Robbie stopped to help a very pregnant woman and her daughter climb into a cab. It was such a typical gesture that he had to smile. Thoughtful and caring, gentlemanly - all descriptions that Robbie would brush off with a deprecating gesture, but which suited him, whether in terms of his family, or strangers, or lanky sergeants with more brains than hair.
Lewis sent the cab on its way with a tap on the roof, and stepped off the curb in the direction of the car park.
That was a signal for something that James, at first, only registered subconsciously. But it was enough to get him moving out of the shelter and after Lewis before he even knew why. The loud revving of an engine and squall of tires almost drowning out his shouted warning before he tackled Lewis, knocking both of them out of the way of the on-coming lorry.
"Sir?" he looked frantically down at Lewis where he lay beneath him. "Robbie? Are you alright?"
Lewis's eyes were wide, unblinking, and his mouth moved soundlessly open and closed.
"Robbie?" You promised me you wouldn't make me do this again. Wouldn't make me watch you be hurt, his mind cried out.
There was a sudden gasp of indrawn breath and raucous coughing, "Oh…okay….just kno..knocked the breath…out of me."
Robbie's face was close, so very close, his body limp and relaxed beneath James as he tried to regulate his breathing.
"Did you…see them, lad? The driver?"
James gave himself a mental shake. Of course, he should be concentrating on who had just tried to run Lewis down. Not the fact that being this close to his boss was not only improper, but far more comfortable than it should be.
"No. Sorry, sir. I was a bit…preoccupied at the time." James grimaced and moved to the side, taking his weight off of Lewis. "Are you okay? I hit you pretty hard."
"Not as hard as that truck would have done." Lewis sighed. "A bit banged up, but nothing serious I don't think. You?"
"A bit…shaken," James could admit that at least. "Adrenalin, most likely."
There was nothing more to be said after that. Hospital personnel came rushing out, bundling them off to the A&E to make certain their personal assessments were correct. The doctor releasing them with a few pain pills and a brace for Hathaway's wrist. James had strained the joint during their fall.
"Good thing that's your off-hand," Lewis nodded at the brace.
"Don't worry, sir. I won't let it keep me from completing any and all paperwork you choose to hand my way."
"Daft lad. As if I care about that," Lewis huffed. "I just hate to see you banged up."
"I'm sure I can…work around it. As you said, it being my off-hand should make it relatively easier to cope with."
"Yeah. There are some things that just have to be done with your dominant ha—" Lewis cut himself off, his ears going slightly pink at the tips.
"Nevermind." Robbie said gruffly. "We need to get back to the nick."
"You two… I swear I'm going to start sending a PC along with you where ever you go, whose sole responsibility will be to keep you from getting hurt." Innocent stared down her nose at Lewis and James.
"Really, ma'am, its not a bad thing if you think about it?" Robbie said.
The skeptical expression on the Chief Inspector's face was something that James had seen far too often to be surprised.
"Would you care to explain that to me, Robbie? Because all I can see is you two, all banged up and bloody." Innocent said.
At least she hadn't mentioned the tear in the knee of James's suit trousers. He hadn't had a chance to change, since Innocent had called them in almost immediately when they returned to the nick.
"Well, some would say that was a sign that we must be getting close to the murderer, if he's taking steps to stop us…"
"Some would say that, I'm sure….but I would not be one of them." Innocent shook her head. "I'll let you go, but please…do be more cautious. The incident reports I have to write for the two of you take up far too much of my time."
Coming from Jean Innocent, those words were as good as a hug and mother's kiss – nice, but a bit awkward when you were grown.
"Of course, ma'am," James agreed, and he and Lewis nearly scurried out of her office.
The nick was fairly quiet for that part of the day, officers out working their own cases, James assumed.
Or sneaking away to enjoy what bit of sun there was while the weather was still pleasant enough to do so. That was also a decent guess.
Lewis paused in front of their white board, tugging on his bottom lip as he studied their evidence. It was a long-standing habit James knew, although why Lewis at developed it was one of those small mysteries. If he did it, it would be a sign of his (Doctor Hobson would say) oral fixation and nicotine addiction. Had Lewis smoked, when he was younger, perhaps? James had never thought to ask.
"Well, there is one thing I do know," Lewis said, dropping his hand, "the lorry that tried to run me down was a 'big goldfish'."
"So it was." James agreed. "Bright yellow, just like the one that hit Frank Angelo."
"So, back to the construction site."
"Back to the construction site."
After a quick call to the Willoughby offices, James and Lewis headed towards a site near Oriel College rather than either of the previous locations. John Shaw was there, supervising a site inspection, prior to putting in a bid for repair and restoration of one of the older buildings.
Although James couldn't claim to know much about such work, or construction in general, he had to imagine that working on the more historic buildings wasn't an easy task. There had to be a thin line between modern convenience and maintaining the look and integrity of such a monument.
Oddly though, the site appeared deserted, no hard-hatted workers nor even business suited inspectors to guide them to where ever they could find John Shaw or anyone else. James finally spotted one skinny student at a lone folding table near a side entrance. There were books spread out around him as he made notes in binder, a second Byro, this one in red, tucked behind his ear.
"Hello, are you on the books?" The young man scrambled to pull out another binder. "If you're….Mac-Lyn Construction, you're too early. Willoughby has the site until four."
Lewis pulled his identification out of his pocket. "I'm DI Lewis. That's DS Hathaway. We're looking for Mr Shaw with Willoughby."
"Oh…" The young man blinked his eyes. "I'm only supposed to allow construction teams in. The building really needs some work. Some of it isn't considered very safe and…. Well, I suppose it's okay, you being the police and all…but be careful and stick to the areas marked off with yellow tape."
"We will," Lewis assured him. "Any idea where we'd find, Mr Shaw?"
"Could be anywhere." The young man shook his head. "The job is going to be for the whole building, so they have to look it over to make their bid. Ms Willoughby and one of her crew also signed in a little while ago and I think he said something about one of the upper levels."
James stepped closer to Lewis as they moved into the building, "That was a very short rest for Miss Willoughby."
"As much as she has on her mind that figures, I s'pose."
They followed the yellow tape through several rooms. As far as James could tell, the place looked as sturdy as most buildings of its age. The old stone and dark wood made the rooms beautiful but rather claustrophobic. The stairwell leading to the second floor had been temporarily overlain with a wood framework, so obviously there was work that needed to be done.
"Watch your head there," John Shaw said. He was gazing around the room as he made notes in book clutched in his hand. "I thought we had until four to… Oh, hello Inspector…Sergeant."
The frown on Shaw's face was no surprise considering their last conversation.
"Please don't tell me there's been another murder." The man closed his eyes. "Or even another attempted murder."
"Well, yes and no—" James began.
"Not exactly. Look it would save time if we could talk to Miss Willoughby at the same time."
"Sorry, but Leo's not here. She's at the hospital with Angelo." Shaw told them.
"The young man downstairs told us she arrived a little while ago," James corrected him.
"She did? But she sent me here because---"
His words were cut off by the sound of something falling and a woman crying out.
"Next floor up." James moved as quickly and quietly as he could up the steps to the next floor, Lewis and Shaw following behind.
He froze at the landing. The door was propped open, hiding the rest of the room.
"You know I don't feel that way about you." It was Leona Willoughby, her voice shaky and tense.
James couldn't see who she was speaking to yet.
"I like you but… " Leo said.
"You haven't really given me a chance, Leo."
The voice was very familiar. James had definitely heard it before.
"I've tried teasing and flirting and… you don't take me seriously. I've done so many things for you . You'll never know."
"You're scaring me, Misha."
The same guy that had cut in on their interview! The same guy that had told them about Angelo's defection.
"You have to listen to me!" Misha was insistent. "You have to stop flirting with other men. First it was Thatcher. I took care of him though. And then you were kissing that Inspector."
"He's a nice man. I was just saying thank you for—"
"No! I won't have it!" There was the sound of struggling and then liquid pouring on the ground. "I'm not sharing you anymore. Not with him. Not with anyone. I took care of them and what did I get? Nothing. No thank you kisses for Misha!"
James started to move out into the room, hoping to distract the man from whatever he was about to do, only to be shoved aside by Shaw.
"John!" Leona cried.
Things happened all too quickly after that. There was yelling and fighting and flames. Shaw pulled Leona free from Misha's grasp but got tangled up fighting over the burning torch Misha was holding. Shaw was knocked down and into whatever accelerant had been poured on the floor.
James made a grab for Misha but he was surprisingly strong for someone who was so small - strong and desperate. James had a firm grip on Misha's wrist but even with that he was almost afraid that they were both going to go down in flames. He was using his off-hand and even with the brace on it, it was not going to hold up to much of a struggle. The torch was only a few inches away from James's face, the heat making itself frighteningly known, when a fist suddenly came out of no where, clocking Misha right in the face.
Misha went down immediately and James wasted no time in getting the torch out and away from them. He flipped Misha over onto his stomach and cuffed him while he was still stunned from the blow
Puffing with exertion, James looked up at Lewis, "Thanks."
Lewis shrugged. "Seemed that it was about my turn to save you, wasn't it?"
James laughed with relief, and with Lewis's help, pulled the smaller man to his feet. Misha was definitely worse for wear, blood pouring down his face from his, most probably, broken nose. There was a bit of a struggle but between the handcuffs and Lewis's grip on the other side, Misha soon seemed resigned to his capture.
James took a moment to look over to see if Shaw and Leona were alright.
"Hmmm… I told you," Lewis said.
"You did." James agreed.
Shaw and Leona had moved away from the dangerous area but hadn't gone much farther. They were wrapped around each other, Shaw kissing her in a way that was not at all fatherly. Leona, for her part, did not seem to be objecting in the least.
Lewis loudly cleared his throat. "You two alright then?"
They broke apart, but only far enough to lean their foreheads together.
"Fine now, Inspector," Leona answered for them both. "Better than ever."
Lewis huffed out a bit of a laugh and headed back to the stairs. "Come on. I think we need to get loverboy here to the A&E…and then into a nice cell."
James nodded at Robbie, his hands gripping an amazingly subdued Misha. The man had stopped even struggling when he had seen Leona and Shaw together, a look of resignation covering his face. James read him his rights and moved toward the stairs with him as Robbie called for a car to pick him up.
James couldn't help taking a last look at Shaw and Leona. They didn't seem to consider their age disparity to be any kind of a drawback. He wondered if it was that simple. Was this a momentary forgetfulness brought on by the situation, or would they work, long term?
As usual, only time would tell. Time and the determination to make another person a part of your life, he supposed.
"You coming, lad?"
"I'll be right with you, sir." As always.
Considering the season, the sun was very bright, adding a cheer to the day that even the smiling faces around them couldn't out do. James and Robbie stepped out of the vestibule to take their places with the rest of the well-wishers. A young girl of seven or eight, carrying a large basket, was handing small decorative bottles out to each of the waiting guests.
"Bubble soap?" Lewis looked down at the bottle after thanking the girl.
"It's the latest thing for weddings." James informed him.
"Been reading 'Brides Magazine' again, have you?"
James rolled his eyes. "It's supposed to save on clean up, or poisoning birds or something."
"And it's pretty," the little girl with the basket said.
"And it's pretty." James winked at her.
Pretty actually summed up the wedding they had just attended quite perfectly – flowers and gowns and all. Amazing really, when you consider it hadn't been two months since they'd arrested Misha Roberts. James had been under the impression that it normally took much longer to arrange a wedding.
Then again, James hadn't been privy to all their plans. Perhaps John and Leona had been planning this for quite some time but only let the cat out of the bag after the arrest. It didn't matter really, determination can make things happen…even fancy weddings.
The church had been completely packed. It seemed as if everyone they had questioned during their investigation had turned up for the ceremony, including Stephan Crawford of Lockland Construction and Frank Angelo. Angelo was still in a wheelchair but had happily told anyone who would listen that he wouldn't be for much longer. He was healing well and expected to recover completely.
The bride and groom came out the door, smiling. Leona and John made a mad dash for their waiting limo, while James, Robbie and the rest of the wedding guests did their best to cover the bride and groom in a deluge of bubbles. James had to admit, the little girl was right. It was all very pretty. Judging from the number of pictures being taken, other people thought so, too.
"They looked quite happy." Lewis smiled as the limo pulled away. It was absolutely covered with streamers and paper roses, the horn playing the first few notes of the traditional bridal march as they pulled out of the drive. The look on Lewis's face could only be called nostalgic.
"Yes," James agreed with a smile.
He had spoken to Leona Willoughby when she came by the office to drop off their invitations. She seemed to be in good spirits but was still a bit agitated by the events of the murders.
"How could I not have see any of this coming? I worked with Misha for years and had no idea that he could be capable of such….things."
It was a common enough feeling for people in that situation – the self-doubt. James had read the psychiatric evaluation and the interviews he and Robbie had done with Misha Roberts. The first murder had been done in the heat of the moment. Apparently, once Misha realised what he had done, and having gone that far, the other murder and attempted murders were only a means to an end. He’d been compelled to help Leona and keep everyone else away from her. James supposed that Leona was lucky that Misha hadn't figured out her very real connection to, and affection for, John Shaw. Misha had only seen it the same way James had – fatherly affection.
"Soooo," Lewis interrupted his train of thought. "Reception? Or pub?"
"Pub, please." James wasn't certain if he could handle the…enforced socializing that were wedding receptions everywhere.
Lewis chuckled and patted James on the back, smoothing his hand down James's shoulder to give his arm a squeeze. "Good choice."
Connection and affection. Good things could start from there.