A yellow and blue single decker bus turns a corner off a main road and circles around a semi circle of houses, mostly 1950s council semi detached houses and bungalows, with a modern build block of flats at one end. It stops at the bottom opposite an alley leading to fields. A large house can be seen in the distance, along with waving yellow rapeseed plants and a wood. The door opens with a hiss and the entrance lowers with another hiss for a woman with a buggy and an elderly lady struggling with a heavy shopping trolley. Behind them a tall young man with long, matted black hair showing dark brown roots and smudged black eyeliner gets off, one hand firmly on a wooden walking stick and the other, equally firmly, holding hands with a small child of about five or six, with blond hair in bunches and wearing a green and white check primary school dress and green cardigan. She has a bandage over a pink plaster on her other hand. Sighing, he leads her through the alleyway.
In the bleak corridor of a remand prison a man in the blue uniform of an inmate is on the payphone. He is tall, broad, with spiked blond hair and a hard but not unattractive face, and speaks hurriedly in Polish. Behind him a shorter man stands, picking at his teeth and twirling a cigarette between his fingers. He appears to be an older, more compact version of the man on the phone.
A woman in a short black skirt and high-heeled boots is staggering down the middle of a 1960s open air shopping precinct. Over half the shop units are empty, many boarded up. She talks rapidly into her mobile in Polish as she pulls her white puffa jacket around her with her other hand.
The sun shines onto the yellow walls of Merton opposite as the Fellow stirs his tea thoughtfully. He is listening to his phone as he stares out of the window, sun shining on rain and college and meadow, making a rainbow that appears to end in Deadman’s Walk.
Hathaway shivers as he shelters under an oak tree on the edge of the Cherwell in Christchurch Meadow, smoking a damp cigarette. The rainstorm had come from nowhere and now the sun was out. Lewis approaches him, carrying an umbrella and bearing a Styrofoam cup, hopefully containing coffee.
“There you are,” Lewis smiles.
“You’ve nothing to say sorry for. I’m sorry for pushing the issue again.”
“I want you to push,” Hathaway says fiercely.
“Not like that. No you don’t. I really thought we were done with this love?”
Hathaway’s shoulders droop and his head drops as he turns away and mutters, “So did I.”
Dumitre sighed again as he unlocked their mobile home. Behind him the gutted outline of the old cottage that Mick was supposed to be doing up cast shadows in the sunshine. He had to walk a mile from the village, cutting across the rape fields and wood to get to their lane and walk past old Mr. and Mrs Haycock’s lovely white cottage with its well-maintained garden and then into the fields and ruined cottage that had belonged to Mick’s granny. The other two caravans, who rented the land from Mick, were both occupied. Tim and Sarah were not often home at this hour, but he could see the bedroom curtains were closed and it was about a year ago they moved in, wasn’t it? Si’s TV could be heard, some movie with lots of gunfire, drifting across the long grass. He really hoped they couldn’t hear it inside.
“In you go Crina, darling.” He spoke in barely accented English, but he always spoke in English, often with a much more ex public school boy/Estuary accent than his own Romanian one, which sometimes he felt might even be an affectation these days because it was expected. Crina had grown up with a mixture of Romanian, Polish and Russian with a little English until he found his sister and made her send his niece to school. Ten years it took to find his sister, and only one year together before he’d lost her. He and Mick always spoke in English.
“Can I watch TV Uncle Dimi?”
Dimi shrugged. “Only Cbeebies, okay?”
In the small living room of their trailer Crina flopped on the floor in front of the TV after fetching a rag doll and a floppy rabbit from her small bedroom. Dimi put on the kettle and some water to boil for pasta. What was he going to do? He asked himself for the fifth time. In one year five schools had decided that Crina’s special needs were beyond their ability to cope with.
His phone buzzed angrily, vibrating in his skinny black jeans pocket.
It was Waleria – Walli, as she was known – his sister’s friend.
“I get advice,” she snapped immediately. “I tell people what you do, that you no better than me and Tatiana. I speak to men who bring you. I speak to man who pay. He had videos of you.”
“Do what you want Walli. I have done nothing to be ashamed of. I’m clean; I’ve always been clean. I have a home and Mick.”
“I tell them about illness. I tell them you too sick. Tatiana and me, we were two together, when we get away from them, we stay, we promise each other. She wanted me to have Crina.”
“She made me promise to look after Crina on her deathbed,” Dimi hissed in the phone. “Social services agree. Do your worst.”
He hung up and threw the phone on the counter. He felt dizzy and stumbled to the dining table and sat down heavily.
“Just tired darling. Oh, Charlie and Lola. I like that. I’ll watch it with you before I make tea.”
Si stared out of the window as he answered his phone. A job. A bit of enforcement. Good. He liked hurting people. He left, locking up the wagon and climbed into his van and sped away, rocking Dimi’s caravan as he did so.
The Fellow, one Professor Anton Milyutin, visiting professor of sociology of criminal behaviour, here for a three year contract at Nuffield had found rooms, bizarrely, in Merton Street, just around the corner from Oriel Square. He had made a famous study of people trafficking and the use of drugs to control people and the general ignorance and avoidance of the situation by various Western governments, which in his later award winning book, The Lower Depths, he argued was for convenience, that there was a demand for prostitution and hardcore porn that was better met by illegal immigrants rather than citizens. His papers had been well received and he had to turn down Harvard and Yale for here, despite the larger salary. He had loved the idea of coming to one of the oldest colleges in Europe and besides; he had personal reasons to come to the UK.
He looked at the time. He had agreed to a meeting in Abingdon but now he doubted himself – could he get there and back by public transport and be in time for his public lecture on Poverty, Addiction and Prostitution in the Post-Modern West. Swearing under his breath, he discarded his black gown and snatched up a battered grey leather trench coat and umbrella and left, stuffing a much needed cigarette into his mouth.
A white van revved away as Milyutin walked up the street to the girl’s flat. Inside was mayhem. She sat in the detritus of her small, poverty stricken bedsit, in tears, mascara and eyeliner streaming down her face. She was most unattractive.
“Anton!” She jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around him. “Darling! Thank you for coming. I need some money, badly.” She spoke in Russian with a heavy Polish accent.
Milyutin removed her arms with distaste. If he didn’t need girls like this for his research, he would never bother. But this girl knew too much from his past, how he had funded his degrees in the early years.
“Yes yes, I know. How much? But this has to stop, I have finished my research, I no longer need you.”
“I know about you.”
“Yes, I know. And I know about you.”
“I know about you and Dumitre. I know about the money and the movies.”
“So?” he said coldly, feeling panic seep through his skin.
“I know Dimi. He has my friend’s little girl and I want her. I need money and a home to have her. I need to pay debts.”
Si parked up just off the A34 junction, having visited the Maccy D’s drive through. He was stuffing his face with a double cheese quarterpounder with extra fries when his phone rang. He’s been waiting for hours for the call but he guessed his bosses were finding it hard to get to the phone whenever they needed.
“Scared her. She told me where to find the boy. Couldn’t get any cash though.” Si had been very surprised to find out where the boy was, who indeed he was.
He listened. “Sure. London. Ring us tomorrow morning, give me the addresses then. Money. Sure.”
He listened some more, his appetite going. “What the fuck? No! No way man! I’ll hurt anyone, but I don’t kill! And certainly not a –”
The line went dead. He guessed a prison guard had interrupted his old boss’ brother. He finished his burger and fries and drained the cola before starting the engine to go home and have an early night. He had a long day ahead in London, enforcing to pay for the boss’ lawyers.
Waleria was grateful to find a taxi driver to give her a ride for a ride, as it were, and she ran barefoot, holding her heeled boots, across the back of the fields behind the crumbling cottage to Dimi’s caravan.
“Dimi! Dimi!” she shouted, banging on the door.
Tim and Sarah looked out of the window. Tim’s heart flipped. Shit, he knew that girl. He pulled Sarah away from the window.
“None of our business,” he said. “Let’s not gawp.” He kissed the back of her neck. She giggled. “Come back to bed,” he whispered in her ear.
“I’m sorry!” Walli went on. “Sorry. I not mean to tell them. They are closing all their loose ends. I not mean to tell them...”
Dimi sat on the floor hugging Crina tightly, rocking them. Crina was crying.
“Mama didn’t want me to stay with Auntie Walli. Make her go Uncle Dimi. She is bad when she can’t get the medicine, very bad. Mama stopped it didn’t she? When she was sick and they gave her proper medicine?”
“I know darling.”
“Don’t let her in! Don’t open the door. I don’t want to live with her!”
Waleria was shouting now in Polish. “They will get you Dimi. You can testify. The police will get the videos and make you testify!”
James Hathaway also sat hugging his knees and rocking. What the hell had he done? His phone rang and rang, only pausing to let him know he had yet another text. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do! He was too broken. Robbie Lewis should give up and dump him.
Perhaps he was?
No, Lewis would never dump anyone over the phone. He was worried for him.
He’d panicked. Again. That was it. And it wasn’t even his childhood, was it? Robbie had just moved his hand and put it – there – as he’d kissed him deeply and suddenly his senses had been hit by the memory of someone else’s tongue, someone else’s teeth, someone else’s hand, to the smell of foreign cigarettes and skunk and bad meat and boiled cabbage and male sweat. And he’d done what he’d done in the back of the cab, even though he’d been drugged – he’d punched!
He got up and walked around his flat, still hugging himself tightly. What a stupid twat he was. He could go back and he’d have someone to hold him tightly. He did want a hug. He was pretty sure he wanted more, too. Just his brain kicked into survival mode or something.
Stupid. He punched the fridge door and then stared at his collection of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir and then reached for the Glenfiddich and poured himself a generous glass and went back to the sofa and curled up tightly.
Lewis paced the flat, trying and trying James’ number, stopping now and then to send yet another reassuring text, bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel over one eye.
The other phone rang. It was Lyn. She phoned so much since she had moved in with her new bloke. He had this inkling she was pregnant but too embarrassed to tell him. He could sense she was hiding things, that she wasn’t as happy as she should be in a new relationship. This time he found himself pouring his heart to her, which he hated himself for. He was the parent; he should be there for her, not vice versa. He had already told her about his feelings for James, about their very slowly developing relationship. For some reason he had needed to reassure her that nothing too physical was happening as much as he needed to reassure he had never hidden anything from her Mam, that he was and always had been in love with her Mam, that he’d never cheated on her, but likewise, he had always been bisexual, there had been lads as well as lasses before her Mam. To do this he had dropped hints that James had issues, that James had had an unhappy, difficult childhood.
Tonight was different, he poured out all that had happened back in May, only a couple of months ago after all.
That James had panicked.
And punched him.
Lyn told him to give him space and invited him to stay with her as soon as he could get leave.
He said he’d think about it while thinking, yes, love, you are pregnant, I knew it, and I’m going to be a Granddad. A Granddad!
And then hoped for a murder. He’d have to speak to him, then, wouldn’t he?
Crina and Dimi fell asleep on the floor watching her Peppa Pig DVD for the umpteeth time. He awoke stiff and cold and carried her to bed then forced himself to wash up. He then remembered the text from Mick. He’d left the water on in the cottage. Dimi grabbed the torch and opened the door.
Tim suddenly remembered the presentation he was supposed to be working on at home and Sarah had marking to do. Both brief cases and laptops were still in the cars. Their little unofficial ‘sickie’ holiday had come to an end. He picked up the torch and headed for the old cottage drive where he and Sarah parked their cars.
Tim put his hand over his mouth. He didn’t even think people did that in real life with shock. Bile rose in his mouth. Dimi was standing there next to – her! Next to Valerie. The girl from that ‘massage parlour’ he and some of the lads had gone to that time. He had dropped his torch and he was standing there weeping, muttering something over and over again. Tim thought it was probably Russian, Polish, Romanian, whatever, for God.
Dimi was in shock. He’d not let her in earlier. He thought she had gone home.
Waleria was stretched out on her side, her straight black hair fanned out, greenish in the torchlight, making her look like a mermaid, except mermaids heads were not usually lolling at strange angles. Her neck was probably snapped, Dimi thought numbly. Who could do that? Could he do that? Mick probably could, if riled, if defensive. But Mick was in Devon, wasn’t he?
There was blood too. Lots of blood. He couldn’t see where it came from.
“Don’t touch the blood,” he said to Tim, numbly.
“I’ll phone for an ambulance,” Tim said equally numbly.
“Police,” whispered Dimi. “Police. She needs police. An ambulance will do nothing for her now.”
“Yes. Yes. Oh God.”
Lewis pulled up the narrow lane, passing the white cottage, lights blazing and an elderly couple stood at their garden gate gawping up the lane at the police cars, mortuary van and arc lights over people moving in white suits. He saw James’ car parked next to Hobson’s four by four. He looked at himself in the mirror before he got out. Not bad, the frozen peas had done their job and there was little swelling and fortunately it hadn’t developed into a black eye, just a small purple bruise to the side of his left eye. James had one hell of a right hook. He ran the lie through his head one last time to check he had it off pat and got out.
Immediately James approached, his face blank and professional. “Sir.” He handed him a scene suit.
“What have we got then?” he asked, stepping into it.
He followed James past cars and a crumbling cottage to a field as James spoke. “A Polish young woman. Waleria Nowicka. Twenty-seven years old. Bashed on the head and then finished off with bare hands around her throat. Should get some DNA, hopefully, according to Dr. Hobson. Body found by Tim Jones, from there –” James indicated the right hand caravan, “- and a Dumitre Brown...”
“He’s Romanian, in a civil partnership with a Mick Brown, decided to take his boyfriend’s surname, apparently.”
“You can do that?”
“Obviously. He’s in shock. He knew the victim, a friend of his sister – deceased. He has custody of his niece, and Ms Nowicka didn’t like that. He was also on the ball when uniform, SOCO and Hobson got here, not letting anyone go near the body until properly gloved.”
“The victim was HIV positive.”
“Yup.” James’ eyes glazed over and he looked over Lewis’ head as Lewis sucked in a breath through his teeth and he looked at his feet. James’ first HIV test had come back negative, but he was supposed to have a second in a few weeks. Neither man liked to think about it, let alone talk about it.
“Well, in a isolated hamlet far from a bus route she must have been here to visit her dead friend’s brother. Mr. Jones seems to think he saw the other neighbour talk to her in Abingdon a few weeks ago though. Abingdon is where she has a room. He’s a Simon Cope, a bit of a thug, if appearances are anything to go by. Besides, he has form. He denies it. Also Jones tells us she was banging on the Brown caravan earlier this evening.”
“And what does this Dumitre Brown say?”
“Nothing. I agreed we’d interview him in the morning Sir.”
“There is a six years old child in that small mobile home. I thought...”
“It’s fine James.”
They had now reached the body. Hobson stood up. “Ah, Robbie. Pretty straightforward if violent. I should be able to get you some skin cells from her neck. John.” A man handed her a bag containing a rock, a large piece of flint. “Struck on the back of the head with this first. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get a print.”
“Maybe. Right. I’m done here ‘til morning, I think. James has everything under control.” He had been deliberately keeping to the shadows but Hobson stepped closer to him and peered at his bruise.
“What happened to you?”
“Smacked me head on a kitchen cupboard, didn’t I? Emptying the dishwasher I stood and whacked me face coz I’d not shut the door. Feel a bit of a prat, really.”
Hobson smiled, “Bet you do. You should take care, Robbie.” But she watched with a thoughtful expression as Robbie looked at Hathaway, watching him as he awkwardly tugged his suit sleeve even further over his hand.
“Get someone to take your car. You’re with me. We need to talk about the witnesses you’ve already interviewed,” Lewis said to Hathaway in earshot of uniform, mentally amending, ‘and other things’.
“I’ll drive it back sarge,” said Julie.
“Thanks,” James replied, tossing her the keys.
Once in the car James snapped, “A variation on a theme of walked in to the door. Robbie!”
Robbie said nothing for a while, but once they were on the B road on their way to Boars Hill he pulled into a layby and snapped on the interior light and demanded,
“Well, what am I supposed to say? Innocent wouldn’t take too kindly to hearing my sergeant assaulted me. Again.”
“I slapped you last time.”
“Still assault.” Lewis watched as James fiddled with the sleeve over his hand and slowly reached out and pulled back the sleeve and looked hard at the bruised, swollen knuckle. “Looks like you came off worse, really. Mind you, its been said before, I’ve got a head like an anvil! You okay? I know you were flashing, James. It’s okay love, okay. Okay. Did you put something on this? No, of course not. You’re gonna have to keep this hidden or everyone is going to put two and two together...”
James sighed. “I know.” He looked directly at his boss. “I’m sorry. Very sorry.”
Lewis shrugged. “I know. So I am, shouldn’t have let my hand wander. You’re not... ready. But I’m warning you pet, I don’t know if I can always remain so in control. You keep smacking me I’m going to lose it sometime and hit you back. And you don’t want that.”
James shivered but his pupils dilated. “Is that a threat?”
“No. A warning. I’m trained in self-defence, I’ve been a policeman a long time and survival instinct might take over, especially if I’m tired. It’s probably better if we don’t do anything...”
“I want...!” James said fiercely.
“What do you want, eh? Snog on the sofa like we’re teenagers? I think I want bit more. But every time we try to...”
“So make me.”
“No way man. No bloody way. We’ll find a way through this together, alright.” Lewis stared a moment at James, who lowered his eyes, looking flushed, and nodded. “Right,” Lewis decided to chance the subject. “What do we know about the victim, eh? Apart from her name, age and nationality?”
“No much, but I think Dumitre Brown knows more. And probably his niece, she lived with her until her mother died.”
“So we know she lived with another woman. Where’d the kid come from?”
James shrugged. “I expect Brown will tell us more tomorrow.”
“Is he a suspect, you were there longer than me?”
James didn’t point out his boss had been there barely fifteen minutes. “Well, she wanted to take his niece from him, and the neighbours overheard her at the door, threatening him.”
“And where’s this Mick he’s married to?
“It’s not marriage Sir, it’s...”
“I know the stupid name. It’s marriage, right, by any other name. Bloody hell, you’re so bloody pedantic! Where is he anyhow?”
“He’s a carpenter, he goes where the work is, apparently.”
“Ah. Okay. We’ll find out tomorrow. We’ll get statements from her neighbours and that, find someone to identify the body.”
“I think that might end up being Mr. Brown.”
Lewis caught the biting sarcasm and what he could chose to call bitchiness as he heard the invisible quotation marks around Dumitre’s name. Time enough to explore it at a later date. James still wasn’t even comfortable with his sexuality, without the recent abduction and rape. Poor sod.
“Come stay at mine pet. I won’t touch you, just sleep with me. Please. I’d like to just hold you, if that’s okay? Is it? I won’t touch you in any way to make you uncomfortable, please, I...”
James was looking down, his head bowed and his neck bent to make him appear even smaller. He never needed to, all his height was legs, he was actually slightly shorter than Lewis sat down; it was one of those things that actually turned Lewis on, bizarrely. It also felt amazing lying between those long legs looking down at that beautiful face, so pretty...
James nodded. He seemed nervous to Lewis. “ Yes please,” he said so quietly Lewis had to strain to hear. “I really am sorry. I wanted you to hug me so much when I was home but I was so afraid you would finish this... whatever it we have. I love you.”
First thing in the morning Lewis and Hathaway found Tim Jones waiting for him in the car park of the station.
“Sergeant! Sergeant Hathaway.” He stopped, short, having run up to them as he saw them get out of Lewis’ car. He looked at Lewis, confused.
“This is Inspector Lewis, he’s heading the investigation. How can we help you Mr. Jones?”
“Well, it’s kind of... I knew the woman. A bit. I just didn’t like to say in front of my fiancée. It’s...kind of embarrassing,” he broke off, mumbling.
“I can promise you Mr. Jones, everything you say will be treated in the strictest confidence, we’ll only use it if we have to.”
“I’d met her. Three times over a couple of years, but I’d not seen her for at least three. When I was a student... well, we visited this place, okay, there were girls...”
Lewis sighed and rubbed his eye, “A brothel,” he supplied helpfully.
“Well, yeah. But it was called a massage parlour, you know the thing.”
“I do indeed, unfortunately.”
“Can you give us the address Mr. Jones?”
“Of course. She wasn’t calling herself Waleria or whatever it is –” he pronounced the W as such instead of a Vee “- she called herself Valerie.”
Tim was surprised the way the sergeant’s head snapped to the side to check on his boss, looking concerned. A sad looked past the Inspector’s eyes before he pulled himself together and said politely, “Thank you Mr. Jones. We appreciate your honesty in this matter. You didn’t need to tell us, but the more we know about the woman’s past the more we have to find who killed her. Is there anything else you can tell us? Do you get the impression these were trafficked women, women funding a drug habit, what? Were they controlled? I realise that you weren’t looking for things like that, God knows it would have spoiled your enjoyment.”
“I was young!” Tim snapped at the Inspector’s disapproving, biting sarcastic tone.
“Of course,” the sergeant said, equally nastily, as if youth justified nothing.
“Look, I was trying to be helpful. And to answer your questions, I don’t know, is the short answer. She always had sleeves to below the elbow and I think I saw scars on her thigh, so maybe she was injecting something. She was always with a girl called Tracy, she also had an East European accent, so her name probably wasn’t Tracy, was it? There were always tough looking thugs at the door, I thought they were to protect the girls, but...” he shrugged. “I dunno. I only went the three times. My friend Colin was much more into that sort of thing. I can give you his name, if you like. He’s an accountant in Bristol now, married, with a baby, so be tactful, please.”
“So, she was a prostitute,” Hathaway said as he entered their office. Lewis followed him in and closed the door.
“We need to see what this Dumitre Brown has to say. I’ll look at the SOCOs initial report and then we’ll go. Get on to immigration, social security, inland revenue, will you, let’s find out if this girl has a paper trail.”
“Sir. She’s Polish, she can only be here legally.”
“Now. Yeah. But how long has she been here? And while you’re at it, chase Dumitre Brown – do we even know his... his original name, for that matter. What are you smirking at?”
“You sir. You’re so old fashioned and flustered, you were going to say maiden name, I can tell.”
“Oi!” Lewis grabbed a screwed up piece of paper at James and tossed it at James, who caught it and smirked again. “You. None of your cheek. Get me a cup of tea and then chase up those people on all databases. I know they’re not on the PNC; Julie’s already done that for me. The victim, the boy, his sister and niece.”
Dimi opened the door to the sergeant from the night before, this time with an older, slighter shorter man. Well, you’d have to be shorter than the blond one. He was taller than Dimi, who at six one was used to people around him being shorter. The Inspector had startling blue eyes, twinkling quite friendlily, despite the circumstances, and a trustworthy northern English accent. Dimi liked him immediately.
They came in and sat down exceedingly close together on the sofa, the Inspector chatting to Crina while the blond picked up her rag doll and looked at it and then stared at the TV, showing even more Cbeebies, while Dimi made them coffee.
Once the coffee and Crina’s milk was on the coffee table, the Inspector gave a nod to the sergeant who stood up and held out his hand.
“Could you show me around outside please Crina? It would be really helpful if you could tell me who lives in what caravan and show me the fields and the houses, all the ways in and out of this field apart from through the cottage drive.”
Crina stood up and nodded solemnly. Sergeant Hathaway opened the door for her and she jumped out, followed by him in one long legged stride.
“He has immensely long legs,” Dimi caught himself murmuring without really thinking about it.
“Yes he has,” agreed Inspector Lewis. “And he’ll be fine with kids. He’s a big one himself. I thought the idea of interviewing you now was she wouldn’t be around.”
“Sorry. Yes, I’m sorry. She’s been excluded. Again.”
“What? She’s such a sweet kid. Well behaved. Hardly said a word, not demanding attention or whatnot. Sometimes, bereaved kids, well, they attention seek, don’t they?”
Dimi shrugged. “Perhaps. She knew her mother was ill for a long time. We – Mick and I – try to give her security, normality. She didn’t have that with Tatiana and Walli.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I have some questions to ask. Firstly, you are Dumitre Kobori from a village just outside Astra, Brasov, Romania, reported missing by your mother in 2001, following your sister’s disappearance only six months before. Is that right? She went to get a job, in England, as an au pair, but never phoned or wrote. You went to Bucharest, phoned your mother to say you had a lead, that you thought she’s been tricked and there was no au pair job. That you?”
“Yes.” Dimi looked down.
“You come back on the radar three years ago with a legal fight to stop your deportation following your giving evidence in a case against several men in London who were running a porn recording studio and gay brothel. There was snuff stuff live on the internet, I believe, among other stuff.” Lewis sniffed with disapproval. “That you?”
Dimi nodded, looking down and picking at a thread on the cushion of the chair.
“You were trafficked?”
Dimi looked up and glared at Lewis defiantly, “I was enslaved. So was my sister. My mother was the local schoolteacher. I had three brothers and a sister. My sister couldn’t find work and this man came to the village, saying rich people in Paris and London were looking for au pairs to look after their children. It seemed too good to be true. My older brothers worked in my father’s business – he was a builder. They went all over the world to work. I had a place waiting for me at university, modern languages. It kept me sane and alive, I hid how well I spoke English, or Russian or Polish for that matter. It was run by two Poles and a Russian, and they handed us over to Russians with a truck. I told this to the police three years ago.”
“You went looking for your sister, she was... enslaved too, for prostitution.”
“I just wanted them to tell me where they’d taken her. But...”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lewis said gently. “Waleria was enslaved too, but she was Polish?”
“It was before Poland was in the EU. She and Tatiana were on the truck on the same journey.”
“And they stayed together.”
“No, they found each other about five years ago. Tatiana was living in a squat with Crina and a guy called Jaska was pimping her, they were both on heroin. So was Walli, but she got Tatiana away from Jaska and into a bedsit in Oxford, then they set up together, found work in a brothel, because, I think, it was all they knew. When I found her – them, Crina was five and a half and had not been to preschool or school. I made her send her to school. They moved to Abingdon. You know this, yes?”
“And both women were HIV positive?”
“Tatiana died of AIDS, yes, and Crina, it’s why the schools... she was excluded for cutting her hand.”
“And you Dumitre?”
“You walk with a stick, man, you look white as a sheet. You’re not a well man.”
“I have Lupus.”
“Shit. I know that one. It’s painful, right, affects your blood and muscles, makes you tired, hurts all the time. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not AIDS.”
“Is there hope, for the little girl?”
“This is where she was dead,” Crina said coldly, pointing to the patch of grass, fenced by police tape. A mound of grass tapered down to a dip in the ground with sparse grass and hard, baked earth. Blood still stained the earth.
“You don’t seem bothered,” James pointed out gently.
Crina shrugged. “She was bad. She made my Mama sick. She hit Mama and me. I’m not sad she’s dead. I just hope she isn’t hitting Mama in heaven or where dead people go. I think they go to be stars but Uncle Mick says they are in a garden with God.”
“I don’t think any of us really know, just somewhere quiet and peaceful where there is no pain,” James said diplomatically. “But I don’t think it’s a place where people hit other people.”
Crina shrugged as if to say, ‘whatever’, and skipped off away from the site of the body towards the wood. James followed.
“Did you hear anything Crina?”
“I heard her earlier. Banging and shouting at Uncle Dimi. She thinks I should live with her. She thinks it is better with her than two men who are married. She thinks I will go weird or something.”
“In what way?”
Crina shrugged. “They have sex with lots of men. I might be young but I’m not stupid. And they need medicine against the law. How is that better than my Uncles who have money and love me and don’t even smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol?” Crina scowled at James’ cigarette. He held it behind his back.
“You seem to know a lot for a little girl. I’m not sure I knew the words sex or alcohol when I was six.”
“But I suppose you are like the boys and girls at all the schools I’ve been to, mummies and daddies or step mummies and step daddies and not thinking they do things. They do it with men when I’m there; I see it. If when I am a big girl I want to marry other girl it is their fault not my Uncles. It is disgusting. Like pigs or dogs. I am not sorry she is dead. Or Mama really.”
“I don’t think I was that innocent, either,” James said slowly, “I just didn’t know the words. Are you always so angry?”
“No. I watch TV, I play, I like to draw pictures. I’m just a kid. Do you think Uncle Dimi killed her?”
“I know he didn’t. He was asleep on the floor. After she stopped shouting we opened the chocolate cake we were saving for when Uncle Mick came home and put on my Peppa Pig DVD really loud and he fell asleep.”
“Did you hear anything? Look out of the window?”
“I hear a car. I see lights go across our caravan on the inside.” Crina shrugged. “Nothing. Might be the fat man or the posh man come home, or the girl. I showed you their caravans. Fat Simon parks his van outside and Posh Tim and Stupid Sarah park theirs at the cottage.”
“What about the path to the woods at the back?”
“The woods go on to the big road and dump, I don’t think anyone would walk from there. People from the village come through the field to walk dogs in the wood.”
James lit another cigarette from the first.
“You will die of that,” said Crina.
“Thanks for the coffee,” Lewis said, standing, as Hathaway returned with Crina. She picked up her rag doll and rabbit and walked off to her bedroom without a word.
“You’ve not asked me much about last night,” Dimi said, sounding mystified.
“You look tired, and to be honest, all this background detail will be of more help. Presumably you saw the same as Jones.”
“Yes, I suppose, but...”
“And there’s time Mr Brown. As I said, there is no one else, so if you don’t object...”
“I said not.”
“Fine, you have a rest, get you and the kid lunch and someone will pick you up and take you to the mortuary at three. We’ll talk more then.”
After the door was closed on the two detectives and they began their walk back to the car Hathaway grumbled,
“I suppose I’ll be babysitting again.”
“If you don’t mind James. I’ll do it if you object, you can do the ID and interview.”
James thought of that young life, forced into prostitution, and talking to Dumitre, who made him uncomfortable for some reason. Crina seemed an odd little girl, but she was okay. She didn’t want to use him as a punch bag; unlike the last girl Lewis had him babysitting. And she was human. Definitely a bonus.
Hathaway’s phone rang as they got in the car. “Hathaway.”
“So this is where she lived. Seems nice.”
“Have you ever read ‘Notes from a Small Island’?”
“What’s that, some posh...”
“No, it’s a travelogue by Bill Bryson. What I was going to say is all he could say about Abingdon was they have the neatest, cleanest council estates in the country.”
“This council, then?”
“Ex council. Yes.” He opened the wrought iron rising sun gate for his boss and they walked up the neat garden path with patchwork lawns and flowerbeds each side and knocked on the door of the red-bricked 1950s semi detached house.
An elderly lady opened the door. Her grey hair was brushed back and held with a plastic clip and she wore a nylon dress.
“It’s Ms, dearie, but no, I’m her... friend. How can she help you boys?”
Lewis produced his warrant card, aware Hathaway was doing the same. “I’m Inspector Lewis, this is Sergeant Hathaway. We’re investigating the death of her lodger?”
“Oh. Poor Valerie. Come in boys.”
They followed her through a narrow hallway and into the back room. An equally elderly woman in a red low cut dress in a wheelchair was smoking a slender cigar. The three-piece suite was upholstered in red satin and the walls covered with ornamental china with pictures of kittens and puppies. The huge old-fashioned dresser on one wall was covered with china ‘cute’ animals, angels and fairies. On the opposite wall hung a huge 40inch flat screen TV, showing Loose Women on low. There was a bookcase under the screen full of DVDs, mostly musicals, black and white British movies of the stiff upper lip or the Ealing comedy variety, and at the bottom the whole Emmanuel collection, along with some less well known, more explicit 1970s porn movies. On the glass coffee table was a bottle of gin, one of tonic and two glasses. The whole room was a fug of cigar and cigarette smoke. Hathaway just knew he was blushing again just by the way Lewis was smirking at him.
“The police Camille.”
“Oh. Right. About poor little Valerie. Please sit down gentlemen. Can I offer you a drink?”
“Not on duty,” Lewis said firmly, regarding the gin with distaste.
“Tea then. Get these gentlemen some tea Iris.”
“Of course.” Iris shambled off in her oversized red carpet slippers. Camille, however, preferred kitten heeled fluffy slippers. Her wheelchair was pink too.
“We did say what we knew about the poor girl to the other chap, the one in the uniform. So attractive. I said as much to Iris. Didn’t I?” she raised her voice.
“Used to be partial to a blond lad in uniform,” Iris yelled from the kitchen and then laughed a throaty laugh before breaking off to hack a smoker’s cough. “Sugar boys?” she yelled once her coughing fit had ended.
“Please. Two for me,” Lewis called back. He looked at his sergeant, whose cheeks were still flushed pink. “And one for me sergeant.”
“I expect he looked rather cute in uniform, too,” Camille said, smiling at Lewis.
“Hadn’t thought about it,” Lewis answered, his brain instantly painting pictures in his mind of James half in, half out of uniform, handcuffs were involved in the mental picture too. He coughed and crossed his legs. He glanced at James, whose pink flush had turned a scarlet red.
“Tea,” Iris said, suddenly appearing with a tray. James leapt to his feet and took the tray. Lewis moved the bottles and glasses to one side to make room. Iris sat on a pouffe in front of Camille’s wheelchair.
“I presume,” Camille began, watching James pour their teas and sugar them, two for his boss and one for himself, “you’ve come to ask me to identify the body again. As I explained to the dishy young constable, I barely saw her. She was my tenant, you see, not my lodger. I do have lodgers, too. They’re all asleep now; they work nights you see. But I own the house next door too, and she lived there. When poor little Tracy was alive with little Katy they had the attic flat, but I moved her down to the downstairs backroom when Tracey passed and the social took little Katy away.”
“This would be Tatiana and Crina?” Lewis clarified.
“Yes, that’s their foreign names, I think.”
“It’s alright Ms Braithwaite, we’ve come about something you said. Something about you hearing a row through the walls. I take it the semis are back to back, so the reverse of this one is next door. So your sitting room here would be next door to her bedsit?”
“That’s right Inspector.”
“Did you see who she had with her?”
“I did,” Iris said. “Well, I think I did. Any road, a man left next door soon after the shouting and crying finished, face as black as thunder.”
“Would you be able to describe him? Had he visited before?”
“I think so. I think he’s been before, back in October and November last year. She said something about being in a research group, he was paying her to talk about her life as a working girl.”
“Working girl?” Hathaway said.
Lewis looked at him with disbelief. Camille and Iris looked at Lewis. He rolled his eyes at them, “Unbelievable, eh? Young lads.”
Hathaway scowled at Lewis before continuing, “So he wasn’t a punter. He was engaged in – what? Academic research regarding prostitution.”
“People trafficking, wasn’t it Iris?” Camille said. “So many girls are here because they were trafficked and forced these days. In my day you did it coz you wanted to. I take them in, some stay on the game, some try to build up a life of some kind. Most are too ashamed to go home, you see.”
James lowered his eyes and nodded, “I can imagine,” he said quietly.
“So, this is a charity you run here?” Lewis asked.
“I wouldn’t say that Inspector... Lewis is it? Weren’t you Morse’s sergeant?”
“Yeah. Yeah I was.”
“Bad business, that. Three working girls done in, just coz they were in the way. Poor Morse, I knew him when he was a sergeant. He hated not solving a case. How is he, retired I expect?”
“I’m sorry. He was a decent bloke, for a policeman. No offence, but in those days...”
Lewis held up his hands. “No worries. So...?”
“I’m not registered as a charity, Inspector, nor do I claim to be, but girls know about me, word of mouth, and if they want to get away from some drug addled pimp or they’ve escaped people traffickers, other girls can point them here. About half carry on working, I’d say.”
“Is that how Waleria and Tatiana came to live here?” Hathaway asked.
“Yes,” Camille answered directly. “About three years ago. I think Tracy wanted to get out of the game. They rowed endlessly. Then Tracy got sick and Valerie got herself tested.”
“What about the little girl? What about Crina?”
“I believe so.”
Lewis drained his tea and got up suddenly. “Thank you Ms Braithwaite Ms...?”
“Ms Luton. If you’re happy with it, I’ll get an identity artist to come visit you with their laptop and stuff, and you can try to give us a picture of this man who visited last night. Is that alright?”
“Happy to,” Camille smiled. Iris nodded, beaming. They watched Lewis jerk his head in the direction of the door and the young sergeant leap to his feet and follow. Some thing obviously unsettled the blond, and it was equally obvious to the old women that the Inspector fancied his sergeant rotten. The young man was harder to read, but they doubted he was straight, but he strangely was very naive for a gay man in his late twenties, early thirties. He ‘acted like a blinking monk straight from a monastery’ Iris concluded when they discussed the two men after they left, before she got up to cook their tea. Iris had been Camille’s maid for over thirty years, and they had an easy comfortableness with one another. They knew what their neighbours all thought, but it didn’t bother them. Better they thought them a lesbian couple than two retired pros, especially since the occupation of half their lodgers and tenants would no doubt shock even more!
“You would think social service would have got involved, wouldn’t you?” James snapped as soon as they were out of the house.
“Two mothers, HIV positive, prostitutes, the girl not even going to school. What was the GP thinking, not referring?” he snapped, before opening the passenger door and sitting down and folding his legs to hug them.
“It’s none of our business. And anyway, how do we know what the situation was for that girl, eh? Her Mam would have loved her, come what may. She was trafficked into prostitution, they probably got the girls addicted to better control them. It happens. I bet the kid was an accident too. Condoms fail, you know?” Lewis said calmly.
James stared at him at the mention of condoms. His boss didn’t tend to do this sort of thing, he tended to trail of, leave words unsaid. They were both so good at that.
“Put your seatbelt on. Tell me what’s wrong or not, but we’re going now. We’re meeting Dumitre Brown at the JR at three thirty and I want lunch.” He revved the car and squealed the tyres as he did a U-turn on the suburban road.
James looked at him harshly, “What?”
“You’re in a weird mood.”
“Yeah. So are you,” James retorted sharply.
Lewis’ phone began to ring.
James went out for sandwiches and coffee while Lewis had to see Innocent. Innocent looked up as Lewis was shown into her office by yet another young, attractive secretary. Innocent seemed to get through secretaries at an alarming rate. Lewis didn’t like to speculate the reasons.
“Ah, Lewis. There you are.”
“Yes, Ma’am. You sent for me.”
“Initial forensic reports on the large piece of flint found at the scene.” Innocent tossed a folder across the desk at Lewis. It landed with a slap in front of him. He picked it up and flicked through it.
“Blood and hair a match for the type. Obviously we’ll have to wait for the DNA for an absolute match, but it’s fairly certain it was used to strike her. Although, I understand her neck was broken?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Two blows to the head, Laura tells me. One here –” Lewis pointed to the back of his head, “- a sharp wound, small indentation and graze, from what I could see of her. And here –” he pointed to his forehead, the same side as the injury high on the back of her head, the right side “- more of a blunt trauma, more force. It’s the one that bled more – caused most of the blood at the scene. She was lying face down in her blood, Ma’am.”
“Talking of head trauma – Robbie, what the hell happened to you? Was that in the line of duty? Why wasn’t I informed?”
“Bashed my head on the kitchen cupboard, didn’t I?”
“Emptying the dishwasher, Ma’am.”
“Now, that’s the kind of silly accident that we all do, especially when we’re tired. You take care, Robbie. Now, this is what I called you for.” Innocent tapped the folder in front of Lewis. “Look at the finger prints.”
“Ma’am?” Lewis picked up the file and flipped through the report until he found the relevant page. He frowned and looked confused, and then, glancing at Innocent, he held out his hand over the prints, placing his own fingertips on them. He looked at Innocent, appalled, and she stood and walked around the desk to hold her own fingers over the prints. “They’re... they’re...” Lewis stumbled out.
“Small? Yes Robbie, I know. About the size of a child between five and seven, so I’ve been reliably informed.”
“Could a child...? Would a child...?”
“We need more evidence,” Innocent replied briskly. “Procedure, Inspector. We cannot speculate until we have all the facts. I understand you’re seeing Dr. Hobson this afternoon? The other head injury, which might not be the flint, was the cause of the blood loss, and then there is the broken neck...”
“Yeah, but could a child have been playing earlier with it and the murderer wore gloves? Was there any form of glove print on it?” Lewis looked at the report.
“God, I sincerely hope so.”
“So do I Ma’am, but...” Lewis stood up and came behind his boss and, ducking down so he was considerably lower than her, raised his hand and mimed hitting her, “if I strike you from behind, you could fall, bash your head on the hard ground and break your neck.”
“Meaning manslaughter. Or accidental death. Oh God, I sincerely hope not. Let’s wait for Laura’s report before we speculate further.”
Over a ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of tea in their office Lewis silently passed Hathaway the folder and watched him read through it thoroughly, finally getting to the prints and, carefully placing his chicken mayo next to his coffee first, look up alarmed at Lewis, a slight frown furrowing his forehead as his eyes shone with sadness. He did as Innocent and Lewis had done, he placed his fingertips over those of the prints lifted from the stone with blood and hair from the victim. He looked back up at Lewis, his eyes full of puzzlement and unhappiness.
“Of course,” he said when he finally spoke, “we don’t know if it is the rock that caused her death.”
“We’ll know more after we’ve seen Laura, which should be –” Lewis glanced at his watch “- about now.”
Lewis and Hathaway met with Hobson in her examining room at just gone two thirty. An orderly was pushing the trolley with Waleria’s covered body out of the room towards the mortuary chapel as they arrived. Hobson was washing the exam table with a hose and disinfectant.
“You’re late. You’ve missed the action again I’m afraid.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. Interviewing her neighbours in Abingdon.”
“Anything useful?” Hobson asked, biting the inside of her cheek as she realised she was imitating Robbie.
“Maybe,” Lewis replied non-commitally, not noticing or choosing to ignore the tease. “Tell me about the girl?”
“Her neck was snapped. Someone was intending to strangle her, from the bruising patterning. We have defence wounds on the hands. Skin and blood from the assailant under her fingernails – hopefully enough for a DNA match. It’s a fair bet that whoever killed her will have a scratch or two on their hands, maybe even their face. She had long manicured nails with fake nail extensions – mostly snapped off in the struggle and her fall. Somehow she seemed to have been pulled forward in the struggle and hit her right temple on the rocky ground, but whether it was the neck snapping that killed her, I’m not sure. From the blood loss I would favour the fall causing the break rather than the attempt to strangle her, but the assailant, if he – and this would have to be a he, however equal opportunities kind of girl I am – unless we’re talking some six foot muscle bound weight training kind of girl! – it would be a he.” Hobson stopped to stare at Lewis. He made a go on gesture with a slight shake of his head. Hobson glanced to James, leaning on the back wall, biting his thumbnail. She went on. “Well, he could have snapped her neck, let go and she fell forward, bashing the skull and bled out as she was already dying of the broken neck. Not very pleasant for the poor girl, either way.”
“A sad ending to a sad little life,” Lewis mused, thinking on his discussion with Dumitre.
Hathaway, however, asked a more pertinent question, “So, it wasn’t the bang on the back of her head that killed her?”
“It’s possible,” Hobson allowed. “If the neck bruising was from earlier on, and there was a bruise to her hip, which could have been caused in an earlier struggle or equally by stumbling into a random piece of furniture. She’d consumed a fair bit of alcohol and eaten very little in the hours before her death. In fact, her stomach contents were mostly Vodka and semen, to be exact, and some sweets. Peppermints.”
“We know she was a prostitute,” Lewis supplied.
“So it is possible?” Hathaway pushed.
“Yes. It’s possible. I just said. The sharp bang on the back of her head could cause enough momentum for her to fall forward, smashing her forehead and breaking her neck as she hit the ground.”
“So we could be looking for two separate assailants?” Lewis clarified.
“Could be. Or the same person, trying twice, perhaps? The bruising on the neck certainly happened within hours of the cuts on the head and the broken neck. In fact there is no way of accurately measuring whether the two knocks on the head happened within seconds of each other or hours apart. I’m sorry I can’t be of more clarity regarding the three separate injuries. Why are you so keen to pin this down?” She looked from Lewis to Hathaway, watching their glances to one another, sensing... something. It was Hathaway, with another unfathomable look to his Inspector, who finally asked the question, thus at the same time answering Hobson’s.
“Could a child, a small child, hit an adult on the head with a rock with sufficient force to cause her to fall forward and break her neck and cut open her head?”
“Unlikely. Except...” Hobson trailed off, watching the two men’s anguished expressions. “Robbie, what is this?”
“Please Laura. Except what?”
“Except for the fact that the woman, that Waleria Nowicka, was very slight, less that seven stone, was half starved and drunk, and was wearing almost six inch stiletto boots on uneven, cracked dried earth with long, wet grass. A slight knock might be all it took for her to stumble forward with the force needed. If she were exceptionally unlucky with how she landed, with the force she hit the ground. She was laid with her head next to a slight mound, wasn’t she, with some kind of rocky ground beside it? From what I remember of the scene.”
“Yes,” Hathaway replied briskly.
Lewis sighed heavily and swore under his breath.
“Are you going to tell me now what this is about?”
Lewis looked to Hathaway who replied abruptly, “The stone with the victim’s blood has one set of prints, either fingers or gloves, and those prints are a child’s fingerprints. A child no older than seven, perhaps a small eight, but certainly no older.”
Hobson suddenly looked like they felt – world weary and heartsick.
Once alone and walking through the bleak, cold, grey corridor back to more public parts of the hospital Lewis grabbed hold of Hathaway’s arm to stop him.
“Are you okay about staying with the girl while we get an ID and I interview Dumitre Brown?”
“I said fine, Sir, and I can...”
“No!” James looked alarmed at his boss’ harsh tone. “Sorry, but no James,” Lewis went on more gently. “You can’t ask questions, you can’t fish, you can’t lead the conversation in anyway. Any thing you try to get out of her will prejudice the case. We have to do this one completely by the book. Okay?”
“I mean it James. If you ask, hint or lead now any defence lawyer can pick it and later statements and evidence apart. You know that.”
“Yes Sir, I know.” James sighed. “What will you do?”
“I’m going to get him to do the formal ID, get him some tea and sit down and ask all the usual stuff, and then, after I’m clear he hasn’t a clue, I shall ask his permission, as her guardian, if we can bring her in and take her prints and statement. Get on to Julie now and make sure she’s in the station. And tell her we’ll need a child and family social worker on call, and to see if she can get our child psychology officer to the station asap to wait on standby. Shit, James, I’ve never had to do this.”
“I know, Robbie. Nor have I. Not a suspect. We’ve had the training, but... that’s what the play therapist is for.”
“Aye, I know. And much as I appreciate the thought, love, don’t call me Robbie at work.”
“Sorry Sir. And of course, I can call Julie now. But what will you do if he won’t give permission?”
Lewis blew out his breath in an aggressive huff. “Let’s hope he does, coz I don’t want to do this the hard way.”
“Yes, that is Walli – um, Waleria Nowicka,” Dumitre said, nodding slightly, staring and staring through the glass window. “She looks peaceful now, clean, not like... not like...” A tear slid silently down his cheek. Lewis nodded at the mortuary assistant who covered Waleria’s face again, and then he gently put a hand to Dumitre’s shoulder.
“A cup of tea, Mr. Brown, or coffee if you prefer, and a bit more of a chat. I do need to ask you about last night and yesterday evening.”
“Of course. Um. Yes. Of course.” Dumitre pushed away the tear with his finger, absently. “Tea would be nice. I’ve been in England so long, you see, I’ve...”
“Gone native?” asked Lewis, trying to lighten the mood a little.
Si was in his caravan, watching the torrential rain as it pounded down on wood and caravans and his white van. All it seemed to do was rain these last few weeks. What had happened to the summer?
He was on the phone, listening to Sergei, his boss’ younger brother and translator, give instructions on what to do with ‘the boy’.
“He must be silenced,” Sergei was saying. “Yuri wants this. We know he gave evidence about those who paid for him. The police must not find him.”
Worriedly Si said, “They have him now. Nothing to do with you, but I watched a pig come fetch him up an hour ago. Him and that brat.”
There was a rapid exchange in Russian and then Sergei said, “What the fuck is going on?”
“That bint, the prossie you told me to put the frighteners on. One of Yelton’s Polish girls?”
“Waleria, the one Anton pays for now? You get the addresses?”
“Yeah, I did. Anton and the boy. But, the thing is, she’s showed up dead, like.”
“Dead? Did you...?”
“I told you, I don’t kill nobody, and I don’t hurt girls. Not if I can help it.”
There was another frantic conversation in Russian.
“We need money Si, money. We are in the shit and we need good lawyer. Money, not trouble. Money and silence. You better have not got carried away or had an accident with this girl when you put on the ‘frighteners’. We do not need to know if you have. You just get us the money and make any witness keep their mouths shut!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Si said placidly, trying to calm Sergei down. Personally he thought all the money in the world to buy the best lawyers wouldn’t alter anything. They could bury years of evidence of people trafficking, enforced prostitution and drug smuggling all they liked, even all the other violent crimes across Europe and the UK, CPS only really cared about the one they were in remand for now. “Well,” he went on, “I got your money from your London contacts, like I said I would.”
“You give to our lawyer. And silence the boy.”
“Scare him to dead,” Yuri hissed in heavily accented English into the phone, “but not to kill. But you to kill...” He began another exchange with his brother in their mother-tongue.
“Yuri say if you not kill, you find someone who does and keep back some of the lawyer money to pay. You must eliminate...”
“No!” snapped Si. “No way!” and he hung up, shaking, as crossing these Russian bosses wasn’t a good idea. But no way was he killing...
Hathaway had planned to take Crina down to the play park opposite the Children’s Hospital at the bottom of the hill, but it was raining again. Instead he bought her a sketch book, a colouring book and a pack of felt tip pens and took her to the volunteer run cafe on Level 2 at the end of the main corridor of the JR.
Crina demanded ‘pink milk’ which Hathaway took to mean strawberry milkshake and he joined a very long queue of staff, visitors and patients to get Crina her drink and himself a coffee.
When he returned Crina had covered a whole sheet of plain paper from her pad with tiny red hands as well as small red stick people chasing lots of tiny red animals that looked a bit like antelope, deer, big cats and elephants, although at the second look Hathaway guessed them to be woolly mammoths. She was currently tracing around her left hand with the same red felt tip, her tongue sticking out slightly with her concentration.
“Interesting art work,” Hathaway said. “My nieces and goddaughters, they would draw fairies and princesses, maybe flowers and trees.”
“Yes. They would. Boring English girls always do. I’ve been to lots of schools. I know.”
“What is all this then Crina?”
“It is the oldest art people ever did. This should be blown. Red ochre paint in the mouth blown over the hands. Only girls and ladies. Nearly a million years ago. To make the shape of the hand. It means something special to them. They went into caves to paint with their mouths with paint they make. Red felt tips is all I ever get,” she grumbled after her astounding little monologue.
Hathaway supposed it was no different to some small boys and their obsessions with dinosaurs. “How do you know about all this?” he asked her.
“I have book. Uncle Mick gave it to me. I think it was his when he was little. The book is old. It has stories about little children in Stone Age – all Stone Ages. Neolithic. Mesolithic. And before. Long before. Before we were proper people. Called hominids. I am interested, so Uncle Mick and Uncle Dimi gets me more books, big books, lots of pictures and facts, for my birthday. I like knowing about times like that.”
“What about school Crina?”
“School history is boring. All Tudors and Henry VIII’s wives. Who cares how many wives he had? Pah! And dressing up as Victorian children. People come and you have to play at being a Victorian child for a day as if they all went to school and not down mines and up chimneys. I did it four times. Five schools and four times these same people came and we play pretend for a day. Auntie Walli, she... she helped Uncle Dimi make me Victorian girl dress. It is good, with one of those white pinafore things and everything. Auntie Walli likes to... used to like to sew.” Crina paused, scowling, before saying firmly, “I like the Stone Age. We were all the same – no English or Scottish, not Romanian or Polish or Russian. Just people. I like it. I like the fact it was all wood and stone. I like to try things. One books teaches how they lived, how they made things...” Crina suddenly picked up her milkshake
Hathaway itched and itched to ask about the flint. Maybe she had planned to try to make flint tools and the prints were days old, or at least hours old, and a complete coincidence. Then again, there was the blood and no other prints. But he knew he couldn’t ask.
Crina looked up from drinking, a pink foam moustache on her upper lip. “I tell you what I like. What do you like?”
“Music. Chamber music. World music.”
“Is that classical stuff?”
“And I play guitar.”
Crina looked unimpressed.
“In a band,” Hathaway added.
Now Crina looked up. “Are you a pop star as well as a policeman then?”
“Not quite. Not yet,” Hathaway added mischievously.
Crina looked up at him, eyes as big as saucers, taking him quite seriously at his word.
“Yes, she came. I didn’t let her in. She was drunk and Crina was scared.”
“What time was this?”
“It would have been before seven, maybe six thirty? Crina had had her shower and was watching Cbeebies Bedtime Hour. I was about to make her cocoa.”
“What did she want Dimi?”
“The same as always when she is drunk.”
“And what is that?”
“Crina. She says Tatia wanted her to have Crina. It’s not true. Tatia loved Walli as a friend – a comrade in arms, yes? For all they had been through. But she wanted better for Crina. She saw a lawyer and a social worker in the Hospice, she drew up papers. She made me promise, when she die, that I...” Dimi broke off.
“You were with her, when she... died?”
Dumitre looked a moment at the sympathetic policeman, confused by the... wistfulness, envy, something, in his voice. “Yes,” he replied sadly. “She was holding my hand so tightly, because she hurt so much and she made me promise that Mick and I would always be there for Crina and then she... and then she... She let out a rattling kind of breath and her hand just fell from mine and she... she just wasn’t there anymore.” Dimi had been looking down, watching his hands curled around the disposable teacup. Lewis had brought him to a quiet corner of the restaurant on Level Three, James having sent a text to say he was on Two with Crina.
Dimi suddenly looked up. “She was at peace. But Walli? When I found her she looked... startled? Not scared, nothing scared Walli, but surprised? As whoever did it had surprised her. She did not think that this person was dangerous, I think.”
“Talk me through that evening Dimi. Please. From when you heard Waleria at the door to when you found the body at... just gone eleven?” Lewis had to check his notebook, something he had rarely had to do for years, but he had had other things on his mind that night.
“I don’t make cocoa. I go to comfort Crina. She is crying and pleading with me not to open the door. I think Walli used to hit Crina and Tatiana when she was like this, drunk, aggressive, angry.”
“Did you call out? Tell her to go away?”
“No. Nothing. I pulled Crina down and we lay on the floor and then I held her tightly and rocked her, sitting low down. That way we are below the below the line of the windows.”
“How long did she stay knocking?”
“A long time. Cbeebies had been off air for a long time by the time she left. She banged on the door and rattled it to see if it was locked, pulled at it to try to force it open then went around the back to try the fire exit in Mick and my bedroom and then walked around the whole van banging on all the windows.”
“What did she say?”
“The usual. About wanting Crina, that my sister said she should have Crina.” Dimi suddenly looked up again. “Actually, no. First she was shouting in broken English or the usual threats of going to social services about my illness and being gay, and then the empty lawyer threats and then...”
“Then?” prompted Lewis.
“Just before she gave up and left she spoke in Polish, quietly, through the door.”
“What did she say Dimi? Translation please.”
“I’m not sure, she was quieter and Crina was still sobbing and shaking in my arms. Something about someone knowing something about me and she was sorry.”
“What do you think she meant?”
“My evidence shut down a lucrative porn business Inspector. It was mostly legal, but they had me – they owned me! They could make me do anything, have men do anything to me! I was powerless. They charged what they liked to rich men to rent me... I should think a lot of men are angry with me, and a lot more don’t want to be associated with what they did to me.”
“What... what was so special about you, that the traffickers... sold you to...? I don’t want to be sexist, or do I mean homophobic, but I thought these gangs dealt in girls.”
“I look like... I looked like a younger version of... the way they cut my hair, clothes they put me in, make up on, I looked like... like someone famous then, back ten years ago, someone powerful...” Dimi removed his black-rimmed spectacles, held his long, matted, greasy hair of his face and tilted his chin. In the light from the window from the roof garden, despite the three or four days worth of stubble and smudged black eyeliner at least two days on, Lewis caught a likeness to someone long since disappeared from public life however much his legacy lived on.
“Yes. ‘Satirical porn’ they called it. Then he disappeared and my profitability disappeared as well. That’s when the snuff stuff started.” Dimi shuddered. “No doubt someone would have eventually paid enough to see me killed not just raped and tortured, but... but Mick, you see, he saved me.”
“His other grandmother, his Scottish one, she passed away and left him her Highland croft. He sold it to a holiday developer and he... he bought me. He had been in the industry you see, combination of alcohol and gambling made him desperate for money, but unlike the other ... actors? Well, he took an interest in me, took time to know me, to realise that I was controlled, that I was not free, that I was owned! I had thought we had fallen in love under the bastards noses, they paid off his debts so maybe they owned him a bit too, but then he disappeared and I didn’t know...” Dumitre stopped himself. “Sorry. I don’t know why I tell you this.” He lowered his head, tears splashing on his cup and the table.
“It’s okay. Maybe you needed to. And anything maybe relevant, anything at all at this stage. Another tea?”
When he returned Lewis changed the subject. “Walli and your sister, they had the more usual tragic tale of tricked girls, trafficked into prostitution, didn’t they?”
“The men that brought you all, it’s a long time ago. Over ten years. Would they want you silenced now?”
“They brought so many. It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? Walli made a lot of people angry, but how she... how she...?” Dimi broke off, his voice cracked.
“Let’s go back to that evening then. You didn’t open the door to her and she left, say seven thirty, seven forty five, no later than eight? And as far as you knew, she had left the field and the cottage grounds to somehow get back to Abingdon? But she didn’t have a car, did she?”
“No. It takes about an hour to cut through the wood and fields past the Haycock’s to get to the nearest bus stop, and half an hour more on that is you follow the lane around. She had high heels and...” Dimi shrugged. “If she missed the last bus...?”
“She might have come back to you?” Lewis demanded.
“Yes, she may have. Or planned to, before...”
“But you didn’t see her, hear her, until you found her body?”
Dumitre looked straight into Lewis’ eyes. “No,” he said levelly.
“So. Let’s go back. She left, Crina was still crying and then what?”
“Well, obviously I reassured her Auntie Walli was gone. It was past Crina’s bedtime and there was no way I could just put her to bed with cocoa and a story like normal so I opened the chocolate cake we had been saving for when Mick comes back tomorrow and put on her favourite DVD. I got the quilt from my room, and the pillows too, and we snuggled up. She grew drowsy, but I think I crashed out first. When I woke it was almost completely dark outside and Crina was snoring.”
“What did you do then?”
“I switched off the DVD, put the mugs and plates in the sink and the cake in the fridge and carried her through to bed. When I picked up my quilt I remembered the text Mick sent me that morning.”
“To say he’d left the water on in the cottage and could I turn it off. What with Crina being excluded and Walli...”
“Okay. So that’s why you went out of the caravan and found her.”
“Right. I’m sorry Mr. Brown, but right now I need to ask a couple of questions, alright?”
“Alright.” Dumitre looked completely mystified.
“Crina. She wears pyjamas?”
“Were her... Were the bottoms wet? Muddy? And her feet? Dirty? When you put her to bed?”
“Not that I noticed. No. Why? What is this?”
“Any stains of any kind – mud, grass, anything – on her pyjamas that you noticed? This morning?”
“It’s been suggested to us by your neighbours Mr. Brown that when Mick is away and you’re asleep, maybe ill, Crina sneaks out at night. Are you aware of this?”
“What is this? Are you social services? I thought you were investigating a murder? We’re miles from anywhere! She’s perfectly safe, what could happen?” Dumitre’s eyes widened and he clapped his hand over his mouth as he thought about Walli’s body.
“This is a murder investigation. If the social workers visited every family who’s child snuck out at night at some point they’d have no time for the serious stuff. My own two were known to, at times, in the summer holidays. Just to play in the garden, it still being light. I’m not here to judge you Dumitre, believe me. I’m sure you do your best for your niece. Now, is it possible?”
“Sarah told me, she’s seen Crina climb trees or play with her rocks after nine when I thought she’d been asleep since seven. Yes, I do sleep lots when the pain is bad, I get so tired...”
“I’m not judging you, okay? Now, you say you probably fell asleep before her?”
“So Crina could have snuck outside?”
“Yes, I suppose...”
“And maybe, like you say, Waleria missed the bus and came back?”
“It’s possible, but surely...”
“Crina would have woken me up. Or Walli would banged on the window.”
“Mr. Brown, I need to formally ask your permission to bring in your niece, Crina Kobori, to the station, to take her fingerprints and a DNA sample, and probably also to question her.”
“I can do it without your permission, but that would require a court hearing and a custody order. You don’t want that, do you?”
“What? What are you saying?”
“We would like Crina’s DNA and fingerprints – purely for elimination purposes, you understand?”
“What? What are you saying? That Crina...? That my little girl...? Killed...?”
“No. I’m saying we have to eliminate her from our enquiries. She is your ward, isn’t she? Not officially a ‘looked after’ child in your foster care?”
“No. Mick and I are her legal guardians. We’re in the process of adopting.”
“Then I need your permission Mr. Brown.”
“Questions, you said? You mean interrogate!” Dumitre looked panicked. Lewis reminded himself the lad would have grown up under a police state before the revolutions in 1989.
“Ask questions, yes, not interrogate. We don’t interrogate adults, let alone wee kids. Every force employs a special child psychologist specialising in play therapy for all child witnesses under eight. And a parent or guardian must be present. Unfortunately, I need what you told me taken down as a formal statement, so you had better call your Mick and tell him whatever the job, however much money he’ll lose, to leave Devon immediately and head for the station on St Aldate’s. That is, if I have your permission?”
“You think... You think...?”
Lewis sighed. “There is a child’s set of prints on the possible murder weapon.”
Dumitre hung his head. Lewis thought he looked defeated, as if this were the final straw in his appalling, miserable life. “Yes,” he said, “yes. Now?”
Lewis left Dumitre to compose himself and to phone his husband and called his sergeant.
“Where are you?”
“I’m outside the toilets on Level 2 waiting for the little madam. And Sir, Hooper called. A taxi driver turned up after the appeal on the local radio for information. He took Waleria out to the hamlet. Hooper’s taking...”
“Never mind that! We have permission, but we’re waiting for the step Uncle, or whatever he is. Dumitre, I’d stake my reputation on, is entirely innocent, but procedurally he’s still a suspect.”
“Child play therapist on standby in Reading Sir. She can be with us in under an hour.”
“Well, give her an ETA of four hours, alright? And is Julie around? I want Julie to do the prints and DNA, not Sophie. She’ll alarm the girl with her chatter.”
“Julie’s at the station Sir. How did he take it?”
“Like the bottom just dropped out of his world. Poor sod.”
“Well, er... Hi Crina. We are going to meet Inspector Lewis and your uncle by the lifts.”
“I hear you sergeant. We’re on our way.”
“Are we going home now? Are you taking us or do we get to go in a proper police car, like coming here?”
“Um. No. We need to go to a proper police station now. In the Inspector’s car. It’s still a proper police car you know, it’s just....” James squatted down and whispered, “it’s in disguise.”
“How?” Crina asked, curious.
“It has a secret light and siren. I’ll show you.”
“Cool!” Crina grabbed James’ hand and she skipped up the corridor to meet her uncle and the Inspector.
Si was following Anton Milyutin from his college after waiting outside for some half an hour or more. The porter had given him a couple of curious glances but the first time Si had looked up with what he hoped was suitable vacant expression towards the coach station as if he were waiting for a person or a bus and the second time he bent down to do up his trainer lace.
Following Milyutin was easy in terms of not being seen, but it was touch and go a few times when Si lost sight of his target. The huge July crowds of tourists and language school students gave him plenty of cover, it being earlier enough in July for there still to be post-grad students and school kids. At one moment he got caught up in a crocodile of local primary school kids heading down the Broad as they crossed from George Street. Si panicked for a moment before he caught sight of the tall Russian, black gown billowing out, caught up among a group of Chinese teenagers with matching fluorescent pink and blue backpacks. He had thought Milyutin was going down the Turl, but no, he carried on, losing the language school students as Si lost the school kids as they crossed the road, probably heading for the University Museum he guessed – he’d loved the dinosaur bones when he was a kid, and it was obviously something a teacher still did with a hot, bored, tired class of ten year olds near the end of term. They had some models and anitromics now, he remembered, he had been more blown away than his nephew a couple of weeks ago – stuff for the BBC Walking With Dinosaurs series. It had been so cool.
For a moment he’d lost his sight of Milyutin again, thinking of his childhood and innocent things, but the Roschenkovs did not pay him to think of dinosaurs. He was lucky, as striding quickly, oblivious to his surrounding, the tall academic literally tripped over a woman sitting in her wheelchair at the bottom of the steps of the Sheldonian. The moments it took to regain his balance and utter a presumed apology to the woman and the angry looking teenage girl in a sundress and no shoes allowed to Si to catch up to a few paces behind as Milyutin turned to go down Catte Street.
They were able to continue like this all the way down into Radcliffe Square, Si a few paces behind, Milyutin blithely unaware of his tail, passing the Camera and about a hundred gaping tourists and into The Vaults. Si had no choice to follow him and order himself a tea, sitting three tables away in the garden as Milyutin ordered himself an iced tea and a lemon sponge cake and began to smoke. He was soon joined by two earnest girls in short skirts and sandals, one with a slogan tee shirt and the other with a vest top and scarf around her neck. These were obviously post grad students and they began an incomprehensible discussion on something to do with pre-determination of circumstances and moral choices.
Si sighed into his tea.
Ngoti and Mercer were also fed up, trudging up the drive to the field with the three mobile homes. Although it was currently sunny in the centre of Oxford, eight miles away to the west it was pouring with rain yet again. Ngoti had watched, impressed, as Sophie had removed her pumps and taken out bright pink flowered wellies from the boot and pulled them on. “I always hope to have to put them on in some wet, muddy murder scene, but so far Lewis has never let me attend a body. I did in uniform, you know? In Slough.”
Ngoti idly wondered about what Sophie would look like in uniform as he followed her over the squelchy field, his polished shoes slipping in the boggy ground.
Tim welcomed them and made them coffee, apologising for not being in his office that day – Ngoti and Mercer had already been to the Web Design company in St. Giles where he worked, only to be told he was off sick, again – and explaining it was the stress. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Valerie- Waleria! – lying face down in the dirt, blood soaking into the ground. Ngoti made the right sympathetic noises while Mercer blundered into the fact of why they needed to clarify some things with him. Ngoti rolled his eyes at his partner’s lack of tack and accepted the foul instant coffee.
Still, it was productive, as he later reported to his DI on the phone. Tim, with his mind going constantly over what had happened, could clearly remember Dumitre’s reactions and responses. Tim – and by the end of the interview Ngoti – was in no doubt that Dumitre was shocked and surprised by her death.
Lewis later agreed wholeheartedly with Ngoti, having already come to this conclusion from his in depth interviews with the lad. However he did concede Ngoti’s suggestion that Dumitre could have had a black out, it was possible – he had already considered it. Considered and rejected, although he was aware that he could be rejecting the possibility on the fact he liked young Dumitre, and felt more than a little protective of him.
Lewis had to first apprise Innocent of the situation that they had a possible suspect, and the suspect was only six years old, and they were most likely looking at accidental death, although the cool way Crina showed no guilt or remorse coupled with the fact she had said to Hathaway that she wasn’t sorry that Waleria was dead was a concern.
“Oh my God Robbie!” Innocent sat down heavily at her desk, slowly and carefully removing each clip-on earring, one at a time. Lewis thought he could see his boss pale under her make-up. He could almost hear her think ‘The Press’ although he felt he was probably being unfair. She was probably as horrified as anyone else, although the press was a scary thought, if they got wind of this. They loved to portray child killers as monsters, not damaged, vulnerable kids.
“She’s with James now,” Lewis said, waiting for Innocent to tell him what to do, he didn’t want this his decision.
“What are your plans?”
“I can’t really interview her. The child specialist is coming over from Reading. We’re waiting for the other uncle to arrive, as Dumitre was on site, so he may prejudice the interview. I had Julie on standby but Crina didn’t take to her, and she thinks we have to interview her uncle. She’s been very keen to stress to me and James, separately, that her uncle didn’t do it, but that’s it. I’m not keen to even to do a swab and dabs until the other uncle is here. He’s driving up from Devon.”
“Devon? Isn’t he in a civil partnership to the child’s blood uncle?”
“Yeah. Work, Ma’am. Restoration work on a church, apparently. He’s a carpenter.”
“Okay. Keep me informed, Inspector. And Robbie –”
“Don’t take this to heart so.”
Lewis sighed. “Ma’am.”
Hooper had just finished taking the taxi driver’s statement when the phone rang. The poor sod had been guilt ridden and embarrassed in equal measure. A young family man, he swore he’d never done the like before, but when the girl had pleaded with him to drive him out of Abingdon towards Boars Hill in exchange for a blow job he had been a little shocked but also excited, and more importantly, tempted. By he time she had called back at about eight he had a couple hours to grow to hate himself for betraying his girlfriend and his own view of himself as a decent bloke. Hooper felt sorry for the poor sod, could see where he was coming from. The taxi driver had had another call from the girl at around nine thirty to say she had missed the last bus and could he please, please come and collect her. She would pay him any way he liked, if he waited long enough she would pay him in money, however much he asked. The driver had still refused,
“If I hadn’t, she might be alive now, mightn’t she?” he had asked.
“You don’t know that,” Hooper had soothed, “after all, it might have happened while she was waiting for you. You could have been the one to find her, so maybe you should be glad you didn’t go out there.” But Hooper could see his words hadn’t sunk in and the driver was going to blame himself for a long time.
Now, on the phone, the call transferred for the centre, he spoke to an obnoxious old man who lived opposite Waleria. Hooper knew the type, nosy, interfering busybodies, the type who always started and ran the Neighbourhood Watch schemes.
Hooper listened, taking notes and doodling, as the officious old geezer explained how he had gone away that evening, catching the bus that late afternoon to get a train at 5:43 from Oxford to Leeds, changing at Birmingham, to stay with his daughter and granddaughter, as it was the daughter’s birthday. After this long winded account of how he had only got back late yesterday evening and gone straight to bed and had only just seen an account in the free newspaper just delivered and having asked his next door neighbour had been shocked to realised it was one of the girls from opposite – and did the police know what those girls did? – and had called in. It was his habit, as the chairman of the Neighbourhood Watch, to jot down all number plates unknown to the neighbourhood. At just gone three o’clock in the afternoon a white transit van had pulled up out side and he jotted the number. It had roared off just after five, it had passed him as he walked up the road to the bus stop to Oxford. A man in a grey leather long coat had passed him and they had both looked, startled, at the speed of the white van.
As soon as Hooper had got rid of the old sod he tapped in the number plate. Registered to one Simon Cope who lived...? Shit! He rented one of the caravans from the Browns! He’d have been there when she was killed and earlier he’s visited her. Possibly. Knowing the boss was in a meeting with the Chief Super and the Sarge was babysitting, Hooper took it on himself to visit the other girls in the house. He needed to check whether this Simon Cope was visiting any of them first.
Twice Hathaway had tried to leave Crina and Dumitre alone with Julie, and twice Crina had clung to his arm and insisted he stay, that she trusted only him, that only he believed her when she said her uncle didn’t kill Auntie Walli. Since Lewis didn’t want the two of them left alone, as Dumitre couldn’t talk to Crina about why they were really there, Hathaway had no choice to stay as anyway Julie looked appalled at staying with a screaming child who potentially had murdered one woman and Dumitre just looked worn out and sick.
They had sat now for hours in the interview room. Julie sat by the door and periodically left to get more tea and coffee. Crina sat at one end of the table and furnished with plenty of paper and felt tips she drew countless pictures of cave paintings. Dumitre sat to one side of his niece, cold or cooling cups of tea in front of him, drumming his chipped black painted, bitten finger nails and staring, a little out of focus with pain and exhaustion, into space. Hathaway sat at the other end of the table, reading. Once Hathaway had produced his posh looking book to read Julie had fetched her own chick fic and also sat reading, when she wasn’t providing more tea for herself and Dumitre, coffee for the Sarge and milk and biscuits for the child, which she seemed to be doing hourly.
Milyutin left for home after just over an hour of his unofficial tutorial. He was pleased with both his students, their dissertations were both progressing nicely and as there was overlap they were working together where necessary with no jealousy or plagiarism. The research they were assisting with was his latest book ‘Swimming the Depths’ about the survivors of enforced trafficking and prostitution, learning to hide as an illegal alien in a strange culture, was also progressing satisfactorily. Their work was saving him the long of tedious groundwork, leaving him time to write the screenplay for a BBC4 documentary on his popular sociology book ‘The Lower Depths’. He had suggested David Tennant or Benedict Cumberbatch to voice it, but the producers had only pretended to consider it.
As he turned into Magpie Lane to head home he yet again appreciated the irony of living around the corner from a street once names Grope Street, and a couple of hundred years ago popularly known as ‘grope c...’ well, something unpleasant! It was typical of the more earthy English of the pre-Victorians, and also typical of the English ironic humour that he loved so much in his students. And so, so descriptive for the street that once was the red light district of Oxford! And, of course, so ironic for the professor who had made his mark on his subject with his sociological research into modern prostitution to live next to this particular street. Of course, the red light district had long since moved east, to Cowley Road.
As he progressed down the narrow cobbled street and the sounds of the traffic, tourists and shoppers receded he began to suspect that he was actually being followed. It began to grow dark as the heavy rain clouds began to pile swiftly above the city centre. As Milyutin turned to face the stocky man in jeans and a dirty blue and black striped Oxford United tee shirt the rain began, falling almost in a single wall of water.
Julie hurriedly shoved her book under her chair as Inspector Lewis flung the door open. The sergeant, she noticed, causally laid his book down and looked up attentively. Dumitre also raised his tired head and looked at the officer with swollen eyes. Crina continued to keep her head down, colouring in the shape of Hathaway’s hand in orange, her red felt tip having run out. Julie had been a bit surprised at how small his hand had been, in proportion that was, to how tall a man he was.
“Mr. Brown? Dumitre?”
“Is it... that is, do you feel comfortable about leaving Crina here with my officers while I take your statement now.”
“Well, um... Crina, will you be okay here with James and Julie?”
“Can’t Julie go away too?”
“No, I don’t think so darling.”
“Then can we go home Uncle Dimi? I’m bored.”
Dumitre got to his knees in front of Crina and put his arm around her, making sure she was looking into his eyes. “Crina sufletel, I will be as quick as I can, but we need to find who killed Auntie Walli and Inspector Lewis will need us for one or two more things, first, okay? Uncle Mick will be here soon and he can stay with you.”
Crina pushed her uncle out of the way and stood up and shouted up at Lewis, “My Uncle didn’t kill Auntie Walli! He didn’t! I know. I know he didn’t! I tell James! He believes me! Why don’t you believe him?”
“How? How do you know Crina?”
Crina stopped suddenly, looking at the floor. “I just know. He sleep all the time. I just know. Please Mr Lewis, believe me, please.”
Lewis squatted down to look at Crina, but she wouldn’t meet his eyes. “How do you know Crina?”
“I just DO!” she yelled at him.
“Okay. Okay.” Lewis straightened up, rubbing at the small of his back. “I guess we can do your statement when your partner gets here Mr Brown.”
“No. Do it now. I want to go home!” Crina yelled.
Dumitre shrugged at Lewis and walked towards the door. Lewis touched Dumitre lightly on the elbow and then shoulder before opening the door for him. Crina sat back down and resumed her colouring. Hathaway watched the gentle touches the Inspector gave the witness, a slight frown and down turn to his lips marring his normally passive face. Julie watched her seargeant watching his Inspector, wondering...
Sorry for the long wait :(
Thanks to the guys of the inspector_Lewis com on Livejournal for the help with the Russian.
Contains explicit references to a HIV+ child and internalised and externalised homophobia in the police force.
And yes, that is Lewis' esteemed creator making a larger than usual cameo :)
Colin was on his way home from a rather splendid luncheon party held by the Warden of Merton. Of course, in true Oxford style, the lunch had gone on for hours and then Colin had been invited by the Warden’s wife to a post prandial sherry or two. Naturally, she had had an ulterior motive, in this case, as so often, she was fond of his long ago published series of detective books and had some splendid hardback first editions she wished him to sign. He had been happy to oblige, besides the sherry had been excellent.
Now, as he shuffled his way painfully back to the high and a bus home he found himself embroiled in a real life crime, a somewhat sordid and mundane one.
The man was obviously a Fellow from his gown and he had no doubt been set upon by a thug or thugs. He was slumped, semi-conscious, on the wet ground. The rain was still falling heavily and the first thing Colin did was to hold his umbrella over the unfortunate academic. The man was mumbling something, over and over again, in Russian. Russian was not one of Colin’s well-aquainted languages but he felt certain it was an invocation or prayer or somekind, although he recognised also the odd swear word.
“Are you alright? Do you need assistance? Have you phoned for help? Would you like me to?”
The man looked up blankly for a moment, but he obviously spoke English if he was a member of Oxford.
Colin fumbled for his phone. At well past eighty years of age he had struggled to master his mobile phone, but he had got there in the end he was proud to say.
The man looked a little more focused, gazing into Colin’s face. “If... if you might help me? I live around the corner, on Merton Street.”
“I’m really not sure about that old chap. You’ve taken quite a beating.”
The man’s face alone was a mess of bruises, although the marks on his knuckles showed he had given quite a show of defending himself. Colin was more worried about the increasing confusion in the man’s eyes and the way he held his right side, as if it pained him terribly.
The man struggled to stand with the aid of the wall and a bollard that closed half of Magpie Lane to traffic, but he cried out in agony and appeared to faint with the effort or the pain.
This decided it for Colin, he immediately dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance and police.
Lewis returned to the interview room a little over fifteen minutes after he’d sent Dumitre back after taking his formal statement. He came bearing fish and chips for everyone, except for little Crina, for whom he had bought fishcake and chips – Lyn had only eaten fishcakes and fish fingers up to the age of nine or ten, refusing to eat any fish that might have bones in them, and Crina struck him as a potentially equally picky little girl.
Dumitre looked up from his still twitching and drumming fingers. “Mick just texted to say he’s just come off the M4 and is on his way up to us on the A34. I know this is urgent but I asked him to go home first.”
“Crina has tablets she needs to take.”
“Ah. Right.” Of course she has, poor kid, Lewis thought. Remembering exactly what was wrong with the child. “Right,” he said again awkwardly, “We’re going to have to talk about how we proceed when he gets here. Our – um, specialist, was over in Reading but she’s gone home, finished for the day – although she is on 24 hour call, so she is on standby. But it might make sense if we do this tomorrow.”
“Can we go home now?” Crina demanded. She had finished a stack of her ‘cave art’ and had moved on to the colouring book Hathaway had bought for her at the John Radcliffe.
“Not yet Crina,” Hathaway answered gently. “Inspector Lewis has one or two more things he needs done.”
“We have to wait for Uncle Mick,” Dumitre answered.
Si had spent the past few hours following his little encounter with Anton back on the road. After Oxford he had driven first to High Wycombe and then on to Slough and finally to Reading, back home via Didcot and Abingdon, visiting various ‘massage parlours’ and ‘escort agencies’, strip clubs and pole dancing venues as well as various other nefarious ‘clubs’. He had just reported to his bosses and was feeling very bleak about either doing the required ‘hit’ or finding a ‘professional’ to do the ‘hit’. For one, the target was not an easy one and one that carried immediate full weight response from the police, and the very nature of the hit would carry a big price for a hit man. Secondly, and more importantly, being honest with himself, although he didn’t object to a bit of ‘enforcing’, it was even his calling if you liked, he didn’t like intimidating girls and he didn’t kill people. He also, thirdly, thought all this collecting of money and the silencing of witnesses was a waste of time. The Roschenkovs were going down for a long, long time, however expensive the barrister. Yuri was a nutter and Sergei weird. Life had been so much easier before their Dad had got wasted in Moscow. He used to use Sergei as a translator too, but he had been so much more organized and Sergei always seemed happier, less weird, scared of his Dad in a respectful way, not this shit scared terror and obedience he had for his much older brother.
Si also hated accidents. He was always so careful!
Hooper was on his way to see Lewis with the information from the taxi driver and Waleria’s pompous neighbour and her housemates regarding Simon Cope when Innocent told him to get over to the Radcliffe. Young PC Dixon had attended a violent assault of a Russian sociology professor. The assumption had been he had been mugged but Dixon had requested CID as Dixon had realised it was not mugging at all, as the victim was still in possession of his wallet, phone and laptop. Dixon had suspected some kind of revenge attack or perhaps queer bashing as, to quote the young beat officer, ‘he seems a bit gay’. Worst of all, which had promoted the young constable to ask for CID was Professor Milyutin’s own behaviour, he was the most unhelpful victim Dixon had ever come across.
As Hooper left Tracy Hicks was pinning up the photo fit of the man seen leaving Waleria’s hours before she had been killed. It was most certainly not Simon Cope. Uniform could show it around the street, tomorrow maybe, Hooper thought as he left the office, almost empty now, it being long gone six o’clock in the evening.
When Mick Brown arrived he wasn’t at all as Lewis had imagined, although what quite he had imagined, he didn’t know. After all, he knew he was a carpenter involved in renovating a medieval church and that he was a little older than Dumitre, but he also knew he was gay and acted in gay porn movies, and Lewis was surprised at himself for making assumptions. Mick might have once been rather muscular and fit, and no doubt he was still strong, but much of what was once toned muscle on shoulders and biceps and stomach had turned to flab and soft belly. He had short dark, almost black hair and dark brown eyes, as tall as his husband but broader and chunkier, but that wasn’t hard, as Dumitre managed to make Hathaway look a bit plump – probably his illness.
Mick was shown into the side room everyone sat in, waiting, having long finished their fish and chips. Time had ticked yet again into overtime, so at least Julie, a uniformed officer, was happy. Tracey had popped by with a DVD of her children’s and it was playing on Hathaway’s laptop – something about animals running a hospital and flirting with each other, if Lewis was following it right. He was also going through Hooper’s witness statements of the neighbours and housemates.
Mick swept his niece up into his arms, dropping his leather jacket and battered blue canvas bag he had been carrying. He wore a faded, old black Jesus and Mary Chain tee shirt, worn out jeans splattered with brick dust, plaster and white paint and steel capped work boots. His arms were covered in tattoos, Lewis counted at least five, including a Celtic cross on the inside of his lower right arm and Dimi in curled Gothic writing on the left, a Maori patterning on his upper left and a Celtic pattern encircling the right, and just in the crook of his elbow, above the Dimi, a curved little abstract bird made of the letters C, R, I, N and A.
“How are you my little chick, eh?” He had a vague Highland Scottish accent, so gentle it was almost not there.
“James’ boss thinks Uncle Dimi killed Auntie Walli but I know he didn’t. He didn’t! It was an accident!”
“What was an accident Crina?” Lewis demanded, immediately.
“Nothing. I mean...” Crina sounded panicked.
“Crina needs her meds, she is late,” Dimi said forcefully, standing.
“You can’t interview Crina, you need a specialist child psychologist, I’ve been checking,” Mick said, glaring angrily at Lewis.
“Inspector Lewis doesn’t think your Uncle did it, Crina, we just need to eliminate everyone from our inquiries. I sent other CID officers to get the fingerprints from your neighbours, and we have your Uncle’s, and now your other Uncle is here we need you to give us yours.”
“I don’t want to!” Crina yelled at James, safe in here uncle’s arms.
“Tablets first!” Dimi yelled, stumbling forward towards his husband’s bag and jacket. He nearly fell. Lewis caught him.
“Your Uncle is right, Crina,” he said, sighing.
“Yes, he is,” agreed Mick, sitting Crina back on her chair and grabbing his bag. He took out a bottle of strawberry milkshake, a plastic pill organizer and a packet of jelly tots. He popped open the pillboxes. In several compartments lay lots of pills of various sizes and colours. Then he opened the milkshake bottle and placed it in front of Crina.
Crina sighed and looked at the large selection of big, bright tablets. She looked up at Hathaway. “I have the thing that killed Mama. She didn’t mean to make me sick, I catched it from her getting born. This makes me not die like Mama.” And she began to systematically pick up and swallow the tablets, washed down by the milk. Some got stuck and she choked once, they were obviously hard for her. The she gulped down the rest of the milk and snatched up the sweets, tearing open the packet.
“I think you are very brave and clever,” Hathaway said, “I’m hopeless at swallowing tablets.”
“I have to do it lots,” Crina said indistinctly, mouthful of sticky fruit gums.
Hathaway picked up her pile of ‘cave art’. “May I have one of your pictures, Crina, and a handprint? My office wall is a bit dull.”
“And in a minute you can make some handprints with real black ink.”
Crina’s eyes widened, and she looked nervously at her uncles.
“And then you can go home.”
Crina nodded nervously.
Hathaway looked at Lewis, who nodded. Hathaway stood, “This way Mr. Brown, Crina.”
Mick picked up his niece, still chomping on her chews, and carrying her, followed Hathaway.
In the end, Crina quite liked sticking her fingers in the ink, and it took several goes until they had perfect prints and not smeary too dark lumps. She then watched nervously as Hathaway had put on a pair of plastic gloves and produced what looked like a cotton bud her uncles used to clean her ears only much longer.
“What is that for?”
“It’s for your DNA hen, it’s lots of invisible strings that make us what we are. The police need a little bit to check, you see, that you didn’t do anything wrong. This won’t stay on file, will it? She’s under ten.”
“We just need to eliminate her...”
“What is this eliminate word? It sounds like exterminate like Daleks! I didn’t mean anything, I didn’t mean to...”
“Mean to what, Crina?” Hathaway asked, despite himself.
“Nothing! Go outside when Uncle Dimi was sleeping! I told her to go away, that’s all. To leave us alone, I didn’t want to live with her! She wasn’t dead then, I promise, she wasn’t dead, and Uncle Dimi was asleep so he couldn’t have killed her, could he?”
“Crina, s’sh little chickie, we’ll get this sorted tomorrow. You don’t need to say anything. But if you open your mouth for the sergeant, he can get the sample and we can go home, okay?”
“We ate your cake,” Crina said suddenly, remembering. “Auntie Walli made me scared and Uncle Dimi said we could have your cake.”
“We’ll get another, on the way home, okay.”
“Big Abingdon Tescos?”
“Yes, if you like.”
“Can I have a colouring book?”
“If you open your mouth wide like at the dentist for the sergeant.”
“And a toy?”
“We’ll see Crina, I’m not made of money, I just lost this job...”
“A small one then. Now, so the sergeant can do his job, will you open your mouth and we can go home!”
“His name is James.”
“Well, open your mouth for James and then we will go and buy cake, a colouring book and a small – very small – toy.”
Crina jumped off Mick’s lap and went and stood before Hathaway, opening her mouth wide. Hathaway took the DNA sample.
“Right. Unless she’s under arrest, you can sort out the questions with the specialist tomorrow, okay? With our solicitor present, not just me, alright?”
Lewis agreed to them leaving, after a phone call to the child witness expert, they made an appointment for nine thirty the following morning. Hathaway escorted them off the premises, as far as Mick’s dirty white van. While Dimi got Crina settled and strapped in on her child’s booster seat in the middle seat of the large van, Hathaway coughed, embarrassed, and shoved a ten pound note into Mick’s hand.
“What’s this?” Mick looked horrified.
“The colouring book and toy, they’re on me. I know money’s tight, and you bribed her to make my job easier. Please, don’t be offended, she’s a lovely girl, she reminds me a bit of my God-daughters, and I don’t see them often enough. Please, it’s for Crina, not for charity...”
Mick, who had lost his contract, and such contracts went by reputation and recommendation, sighed, knowing that nearly half of the weeks groceries would have gone on cake, book and toy, accepted the tenner, hating himself while he did so. “Alright. Thanks.” He turned and then turned back,
“Do you think she did it?”
Hathaway looked back, anguished. Mick saw the doubt and uncertainly in the policeman’s eyes. “We have a child’s prints on a piece of flint with the victim’s blood on it.”
“But Crina is always banging bits of flint together, she tries to make arrow heads and knives and things like that. She plays at being a Stone Age kid.”
“But it’s evidence Mr Brown, it’s procedure. We have to follow up all lines of enquiries. How could she have felled a great bit woman, she’s tiny, small and weak for her age? No, I don’t think she did it. She’s hiding something, though.”
Mick sighed. “Dimi wouldn’t have done it either, I know him. Trust me.”
“She could be hiding anything. Your tenant, Mr. Cope. He has a record, did you know that?”
“No. Shit. I didn’t. What for?”
“GBH. ABH. Assault and battery.”
“Violence. Jesus. And Crina’s playing in the field near his van. Isn’t he...?”
“At the moment, my boss is focusing on this lead. It’s the prints, you see.”
“My Chief Super.”
“Ah. See you tomorrow Sergeant.”
“You’re not being very helpful Prof,” Hooper tried not to snap, but he was getting fed up. The boss had a diplomatic touch, but Lewis was right, he was an old plodder – give him evidence to sift through or door to door when it came to interviews and statements. Dixon had got nowhere, either, which was why he’d called CID. He was calling Anton Milyutin Professor and Prof by sheer dint he wasn’t very good at foreign names.
“I don’t remember, “ Milyutin replied again.
“It weren’t no mugging, PC Dixon told me that. He thinks it was a queer bashing – uh, homophobic assault.”
“What makes the young constable think I’m queer?”
“Don’t ‘ave to be, just the bashers ‘ave to think so.”
“As the PC did. Do you?”
“Can’t say. To tell the truth, my whole world view on who is queer and who isn’t has just taken a massive battering just recently,” Hooper blurted out honestly, thinking again of his boss.
“Oh, really?” Milyutin coughed, and sat up. “People are people, aren’t they? And nothing is so fixed and rigid as all that. My research centres around people trafficking into prostitution, in the main. Men are trafficked too, you know, straight men forced to be rent boys. And they are often controlled the same way as the girls, by straight men, who do rape them.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t, Constable.”
Now Milyutin was sitting up, looking straight at Hooper in the harsh hospital lighting, the niggling feeling of recognition coalesced in Hooper’s mind in a powerful recollection of the incident board in the office – the photo fit of the man who had come to Waleria’s digs after the man in the white van had left. He hoped Lewis had got his message about Simon Cope owning the van seen leaving Waleria’s house, and his long list of convictions he’d dug out – all for enforcement and assault, often connected to body guard stuff at massage parlours and strip clubs. It had to be a connection with the victim. And now this professor had research into trafficked girls like poor Waleria.
“Do you – um, like interview trafficked people? Prostitutes and the like?”
“I did, yes, for my first book, across three continents and countless countries. My new research focuses on survival and integration, once they have escaped the traffickers. How they get back home and if they are accepted, or if they stay on in the country they were trafficked to, and what they do – do any manage to reintegrate and have productive, useful lives. Most don’t, you know, and your lot don’t help – you raid brothels, arrest the girls and then hand them on to immigration who send them home, often to traditional societies, to whom these are fallen women, Jezabels, damaged goods...” Milyutin coughed again. “Forgive me, I am somewhat obsessed with my research, it got me this Fellowship here, and...”
“Sorry, Sir,” Hooper interrupted, “but I think you maybe able to help us in another inquiry.”
“Well, anything I can do to help.”
“You say that, but you won’t tell me or Dixon anything about who jumped you. Doc says another few hours and you could have died. Damaged your kidney. It’s only the painkillers that are stopping you screaming, I reckon.”
“Really, Constable, it’s not that bad. My kidney suffered bruising, there was no internal bleeding as such,” although Milyutin glanced down at the tube coming from his abdomen, draining away blood and fluid. He also has an IV giving him fluids and painkillers. On top of that were the broken collarbone and the three broken ribs. “Perhaps the painkillers are a blessing. I really don’t see what |I can do to help you. He attacked me and left me. I don’t know why. He grabbed me from behind and rammed my face in the wall first, after which my recollection is very hazy. Plus, it was raining torrentially. You see.”
Hooper narrowed his eyes. He saw. He saw Milyutin knew his attacker and was terrified. “I see. Well, then, Professor. We have a girl found dead, out in the sticks, lives in Abingdon, but is works as a sex worker in a brother off the Cowley Road. With your research I was thinking my boss could come see you, maybe, with your expertise, we might find a motive, and suspect.” Other that a six year old kiddie, Hooper added mentally, and a motive other than her wanting that poor sick kid.
“I’d be happy to help. In anyway I can, contacts or language – so many of these girls are not English.”
“Are many Russian then?”
“Some. I speak Polish, Serbo-Croat, Romanian, Arabic, Mandarin with smatterings of Malay, Korean and Indonesian.”
“Wow! You could lecture in foreign languages, you don’t need to do sociology.”
“Ah, but I love my subject, detective, I really do. I do assist in the language schools in the summer months. What language did this girl speak?”
“Polish, I guess. She was a Pole. But she went to see this Romanian when she was killed. He’s innocent, but she was found dead near his mobile home. Miles from Abingdon or Oxford, miles from a bus route with no car.”
Milyutin had paled, if that was possible, he already being pale with his injuries. “What was her name? This Polish girl? Her name?”
Hooper consulted his notebook and read out painfully, “Waleria Nowicka.”
Anton Milyutin paled further and clutched his heart, “Bozheh moj!”
“Professor! Sir! Shall I call a nurse?”
Milyutin muttered something and shook his head. However, a nurse had arrived anyway. “I’m afraid I must ask you to leave now.”
“I think he knows our murder victim. I’m going, but if he says anything about it, you must call. Please. Ask for DC Hooper. Or my boss, DI Lewis. Or his... bagman. DS Hathaway. Please.” Hooper gave a card to the nurse and placed another on the table beside Milyutin’s bed. The he left, thinking of all he had to tell his boss. Was it shock or fear at getting caught? The girl had meant more to him that just a girl he might have interviewed once or twice for his poncy Oxford sociology book, that was obvious even to a plodder like Hooper.
A slight reference to James' being abused at Creavecoeur Hall in the form of a nightmare, plus references to his abduction, drugging and rape in my Cold Summer that starts this AU
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lewis sat at his desk, yawning. A fat folder sat on it, plus he had an e-mail and voicemail from Hooper. In the morning, he decided. James had already gone; he’d sent the lad home to get some sleep. They had already eaten, and he had a ‘hands off’ rule during a murder investigation. Besides, the boy was so twitchy and stressed about what had happened the previous night, the night the body had been discovered. It might have been nice, taking James home with him, sleeping again. Even if James didn’t have issues, he was so bloody knackered it would all he’d want anyway, even if he didn’t have the rule. The phone rang. Lewis swore. If it was bloody Hooper again, he’d swing for him in the morning. It was Hobson.
“And hello to you too Robbie.”
“Sorry. Bad day.”
“Yes. And not only you. After you and James told me about the child’s prints on the possible murder weapon I went back and ran tests, complex bio-chemical tests, but in English, as you would demand, I really can’t determine actually at all, but it appears, possibly, that the girl suffered...”
“Laura. I’m tired and operating on a short fuse and you’re confusing things as much as our James.”
“Do we share ownership of James now, or is this northern thing? If it is Robbie, watch who you refer to him as ‘our James’ to, will you.”
Lewis sighed. “Noted. Now, briefly, you ran tests on the body and...?”
“I’m not sure I can swear to this in court yet, I’ll need further tests and to wait for more results, and then it’s still guess work but...”
“I think our victim was roughed up and then the maybe attempt to be strangled happened some hours before death and maybe, and this I’m no so certain about, the small cut on the back of the head, which may, or may not be, made by the large piece of flint that has the child’s prints, probably occurred maybe up to an hour, possibly slightly longer before, her death.”
“So a person, or persons unknown, pushed her about and bruised her and then tried to strangle her, then bunged a rock at her, then snapped her neck and smashed her forehead on the ground?”
“Or vice a versa. I’ve withdrawn my ruling until I’ve more evidence. I’m flipping between accidental death and murder/manslaughter.”
“You’re probably still looking for someone Robbie, but someone who caused an accident and failed to report it. Or she actually just fell, wet ground, high heels, out of her tree on vodka and dope. Or the neck was snapped and she cut her head open as she fell, already dying. I really can’t tell at this time. But even if the child is responsible...”
“Yeah. It bothers me Laura. She’s definitely hiding something from us and her uncles.”
“Fancy a drink Laura. I’ve sent James home.”
“But will he like it?”
“Screw him. What the eye doesn’t see... Anyway, you’re my friend. He knows that.”
“I hope so. The White Horse? Half an hour?”
“I’ll be there.”
Back at the caravan, Mick carried the sleeping Crina straight to bed, pulling off her shoes and tucking her under her quilt, gently pushing a toothbrush in her mouth as, three-quarters asleep, she let her uncle brush her teeth. He tucked up the rag doll and the floppy rabbit next to her and switched of the light. In the main room Dumitre had got as far as putting on the kettle but now he sat, in the dark, on the sofa, staring at nothing.
“Okay Dimi?” Mick switched on the light and poured the hot water into the coffee pot.
“Don’t know. Thanks for coming back.”
“What else could I do?
“Sorry you lost the job.”
“I’ll find others.” Mick shrugged. “There’s always regular stuff.”
“You’re a craftsman.”
“Got you and Crina to think of. I’ll even assemble flat pack for a price if I have to. Lost my pride years before you, you know that.”
“I thought you got it back.”
“Come shower with me Dimi.”
“I’m not in the mood.”
Mick laughed. “Nothing so kinky, smelly. I’ll wash and de-tangle your hair. Give you a shave. Bad week with the pain and tiredness, huh?”
“Shit week all round. Crina’s been excluded. Again.”
“Yeah. You said. In a text. Yesterday morning.”
“Was it only yesterday? Feels like months have happened since I had to fetch her from school. Do you think she did it?”
“Come and have a shower, eh? We’ll talk there.”
Sarah had thought her fiancé had gone to sleep. When she had got home from school she was shocked to find him in such a state she had rung their GP surgery and insisted he’d been seen. He was given sleeping pills and antidepressants and a referral to the practice counsellor for post-traumatic stress disorder. It had been a shock, finding the body, and some people coped better than others. Tim’s own father had died in an accident on the family farm when he was small, and he had always been convinced his playing out in the barns had caused it. This was apparently some kind of ‘resurrection of memory’ the young doctor had suggested.
Suddenly Sarah heard a bump.
“Tim? Tim, are you okay?” She got up and headed towards the bedroom. He stood in the corridor; eyes wide open but not seeing.
“Valerie. Blood. No. Not me. Can’t be. Valerie. Poor Valerie.”
“Come on Tim,” and very gently Sarah guided her fiancé back to bed.
Anton sat up staring out of the window at the many lights of the hospital buildings he could see and across towards Northway and the lights of all the houses and the tower blocks, the tallest in Oxford. Shame he wasn’t the other side, with a view of the countryside or maybe even down into the city centre and the medieval buildings. But the twinkling lights of homes and streetlights and cars were soothing, like an aid to meditation. What was he to do? What could he tell the police? He was sure this Hooper’s boss, his Detective Inspector, would be back in the morning. Did the cop mean a caravan park or just a few mobile homes in the countryside between Abingdon and Oxford? Is that what Hooper had said? He knew whom she was visiting then. He tried so hard to pretend that whole part of his life hadn’t happened, that the boy didn’t exist. His research, his atonement, his giving those girls (and the boy) their dignity back. He, himself, had come so close to killing Waleria, had seriously considered it, and now she was dead. That SiCo bastard? The boy? The boy’s man? Someone else? Once the police knew his connections, knew he’d been to visit, they were going to come after him anyway. He would be a suspect. Hopefully she was killed while he had been giving his public lecture, over a hundred witnesses to alibi him there. And if not? What then? He lived alone, had gone straight home with a takeaway, no-one he knew had seen him until his lecture at nine this morning.
James was disturbed. Even more so that he had been by Zelinksy. That poor girl, her damaged body, sodden and dismembered in the cistern; that sick, twisted bastard torturing them in his interviews over four days... More so than going back to Crevecoeur Hall, more so that thinking he was attending a routine suicide – always upsetting enough - and seeing Will, his brains blown out across the floor in front of the alter, the statue of Our Lord smashed by Will’s hammer...
He liked Crina. She was bright, different, had suffered so much but was so cheeky and optimistic in a quiet, hardly noticeable way. And she was so ill, that alone was disturbing enough. It was something one read about, something one gave money to charity for, it was something far off and a long, long way away in Africa, places like that. Once didn’t expect to meet a HIV positive child here, in Oxford, it was unthinkable.
He’d opened a bottle of wine, but wasn’t really drinking. The TV was on, but he wasn’t really watching. He could see the endless little scribbles of stick animals in red felt tip, Crina’s little hands on bits of flint, trying to imitate the people from her favourite period in history, little Crina throwing a rock, banging it down on a head, full of anger and fear, not wanting to leave her uncles...
How could she bang it down on an adult's head? Even on the steps up to the mobile home front door he doubted she’s be tall enough, and then she’d have to follow Waleria over 50 metres to then push her over with such force she snapped her neck and cut open her forehead as she fell. Could a six year old do that? And keep quiet about it.
Think about it maybe?
Want to do it?
Children have no power; they are entirely dependant on the adults around them. They can’t choose, they can’t demand, they get what they are given. And after living in squats and brothels and bedsits watching men screw her Mum and her ‘Auntie’ Walli Crina had a home, even if it was just a big caravan in a field, she had regular food, a TV, toys and books and two adults that doted on her. Why wouldn’t she kill to keep that, if she could?
Or cover up someone who did kill?
Lewis was convinced Dumitre Kobori Brown was entirely innocent. But then he was also opening doors for him, fetching him tea, giving him little reassuring touches on the shoulder and arm and hand, looking at him like...
Shame that Mick Brown didn’t see it. He’d have something to say. All that flirting stopped when he arrived.
James was tired; he was letting his imagination run away with himself. Why would Lewis...?
Because you’re frigid and fucked up! James answered himself, switching off the TV and lying down flat on his sofa, staring at the ceiling. He didn’t want me tonight, he went on, tormenting himself.
Yeah, that would be because I punched him!
Should have punched Augustus!
And what good would that have done me then? As small a Crina when he started it all...
Tim sat in bed shaking, Sarah’s arm around, helping him drink a cup of warm sweet tea.
“You can’t have done it, silly. You don’t even have a motive. Remember what the doctor said about your feelings from when you were a boy?”
“I do. Sort of. That is, I knew her. Oh Sarah! You are so going to hate me when I tell you.”
“Tell me what Tim? How did you know her?”
“When I was a student, years ago, well... You know Colin; I took applied Maths with him. Well, he used to go to these places and he persuaded me and David to go with him – it was just the three times, and I only went with one of the girls once, but I’m so ashamed, you’ll hate me, I never wanted you to know.”
“You went to a brothel as a student?”
“And this woman, the dead one, she was the tart you shagged?”
“Well, yeah. I’m so sorry, I never wanted you to know...”
“And you think now you were so panicked about me finding out you killed her and then forgot about it?”
“I know it sounds crazy Sarah, I know I sound crazy...”
“No. It didn’t happen. I would have known. Noticed. And you would have had to go out before and would have been gone ages, but you weren’t even gone five minutes before you shouted and then Dimi was screaming in Romanian and I called the cops. And that pathologist, she said she’d been dead for well over an hour. You didn’t do it, Tim.” Sarah put down the mug and took Tim’s face in her hands. “Look at me. You didn’t do it. It’s as the doctor said – you have flashbacks to the guilt you had as a kid – and you didn’t kill your Dad either, darling, you didn’t. That was an accident, this was some bastard killing her for God knows what. Maybe even Dimi.”
“She was shouting about how she wanted Crina and how she had told someone something about him. I’ve got lots of East European kids in my class, I pick up words from various languages,” she said as Tim stared, glazed-eyed, at her.
“Dimi wouldn’t. You saw him.”
“And you. I saw you. And I know you better. You didn’t kill her. Dimi probably didn’t either. God knows how uneven that ground is with the subsidence and the molehills and the long grass and weeds, thistles; huge mutant thistles grow there. She might have just fallen and broke her neck, mighten she? Maybe? Or Si? He’s a scary bastard. But not you darling, not you.” She kissed him gently on the forehead and lay them down, he snuggling into her. She stoked her fiancé’s head. “And I forgive you. We all do stupid things we feel uncomfortable with when we’re students. Remind me one day to tell you about the lap dancing me and my classmates did in the Student Union one Rag Week!”
Dimi sat on the floor of the shower room; Mick knelt behind him, raking a comb with difficulty through Dimi’s dyed black hair, covered with the thick white foam of conditioner. The water was switched off.
“Do you think she did it?” Dimi asked again.
Mick thought before answering. “I asked the sergeant that. He thinks it unlikely, and I seriously doubt it. But I think she knows something and that scares me. She mentioned an accident while the sergeant was getting her prints, then clammed up again.”
“I’m scared Mick.”
Mick sat down and wrapped his arms around his husband. “It’ll be fine. She’ll be fine. She could even just be scared of us telling her off for playing with big rocks or sneaking out when you’re asleep. You know how kids are. Or maybe she wished Waleria would leave us alone and now she’s dead she thinks her wishing did it. Come on Dimi love, she’s six, she’s tiny and weak for her age at that, what could she do?”
“I don’t know Mick, I don’t know. I just feel I can’t take anymore. I feel as frightened as I did when they found me in that warehouse in Bucharest and realised what they had planned for me, or on the truck, or arriving in England, or when you left the studio and he left office and they were planning to kill me...” Dimi was crying now. He hardly ever thought of his past, he and Mick never talked about it, it was a rule. Mick tightened his hold on his husband and buried his face in his foamy hair. The conditioner stung his eyes but it wasn’t that that made them water.
“I love you. Anthony is coming with us tomorrow. He stopped your deportation and arranged the adoption, didn’t he? He’s good. He won’t let anything bad happen to Crina.”
“I’m more afraid. It’s not for me. I didn’t think anything or anyone could take over your heart and mind so much, but Crina has.”
“I know. I thought when I fell in love with you it was the scariest thing I could feel, but with Crina...”
“How could she kill Walli? She’s so tiny.”
“That’s what I said. It’s what the sergeant thinks, too. Crina trusts him, and she doesn’t feel safe around many men, thanks to your sister and Walli’s lifestyle.”
“Yeah. But he’s gay.”
Mick laughed. “Takes one to know one, yeah?”
“Walking stereotype, did you not notice the foundation and mascara?”
“A straight meterosexual. London’s full of ’em.”
“In the police?” Dimi scoffed.
“Let’s rinse your hair.” Mick switched the shower back on. “It’s going to be fine.”
James woke up in a panic. It was dark, the TV off and the candle he had lit gutted. Only the cars passing and the street light lit the room. Heart in his mouth, shaking and sweating, feeling cold all over and the palpitations so strong he felt like he might have a heart attack, he stumbled off the sofa and snapped on the main light. His legs shaking he sank to the chair, putting his hands in his head.
It had been so vivid. He’d been six. Small, all white blond curls and excitement about music, about learning to play the piano, about being one of his lordship special ones. Then he had been sitting on the piano stool, Mortmaigne guiding his hands, moving his hands, touching him, guiding his hands to do something else and suddenly James was standing, as small as he had been then, everything so huge, Augustus towering, but now a large, irregular piece of flint was in his hand and he threw it and Augustus fell, face down, smashing his face and breaking his neck and lay there, bleeding his life out on the Summerhouse floor and the child James stood over him, panting with fear and something like satisfaction and...
James woke, shaking and afraid.
He began to weep.
Si pulled over and threw his hardly eaten double cheeseburger and fries away. He felt sick. He’d met with his boss’s lawyer and handed over the money, all save for the few thousand he had kept back for the meeting he’d just had an hour before buying his McDonald’s. He didn’t kill people, barring frightening accidents he wanted to forget, but he had just handed over the photo, the name, the address of the victim. He had just paid someone to kill another person, a cop!
He got out of the car and threw up. He couldn’t deal with this. He shouldn’t have done it. But if he didn’t, wouldn’t it have been him? The Roschenkovs had contacts everywhere, and if he was dismissed, he didn’t rate his chances. He wished to God he’d never started working for them and kept to being a bouncer with a bit of freelance enforcing.
Mick and Dumitre were snuggled up in each other’s arms when they heard Simon’s van pull up.
“Do you think he did it?” Mick whispered. “The sergeant told me he has a record an arm long, all for roughing people up.”
“Why? Did he know her?”
“Well, he’s a lonely straight bloke with no girlfriend, he could easily have seen her, you know?”
“S’pose. But why? Oh God Mick, I’d hardly got my head around losing her. She was a right pain in the arse, as you would say...”
“I frequently did.”
“But she was a constant in Crina’s life, and she loved my sister as if she were hers and I can’t fault her for that. I didn’t want her dead. Sober. Straight. Off the streets. Yes. But dead? I had to identify her. They’d cleaned her up, she looked... peaceful?”
Mick tightened his hold again. “Awful for you, though. I had to identify both my grandmothers, as you know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Hang on in there. Be strong for Crina. This play therapist, she’ll get Crina to open up. It’s her job. But listen love; Crina did not kill anyone, okay? Just hang on to that. Come one, we have got to get some sleep or we’ll be no good for her in the morning.”
Lewis was sound asleep when he was awoken by his doorbell. “Ah hell!” As he stumbled out of bed his mobile began to ring and vibrate: James. Torn, he pulled on his bathrobe and went to the door. James stood there, wet and shivering, despite the mild summer night. He was still in his work suit, sopping wet, his hair flat again his head. He was hugging himself tightly, his phone in his hand.
“Did you just call?”
“You didn’t open the door.”
“I was asleep. It’s what people do at – dear God! Three in the morning.”
“Near enough. Developments in the case? Couldn’t you call?”
“I... I... No, I...”
“Come in and get yourself dry. Raining is it?”
“James, you’re soaking man!”
James followed Lewis to the bathroom where Lewis switched on the shower and started to strip James, who pulled away in a panic.
“Okay love. Alright. I’ll leave you to sort yourself out. I’ll find you something to wear and make you a cup of tea.”
“C...can’t shower. F...forensics.”
“What?” Lewis then noticed the scrape on James’ chin, the bruised knuckles – no, that was from the other night wasn’t it? “What has happened? James? Let’s get you out of the wet things anyway. Do I need to stick them in an evidence bag? Have you been... you know, again?”
“Assault. I think. He had a gun. I got away, I ran and I...”
“He fired. I jumped in the Cherwell. He didn’t come after me. I think... I don’t know...”
“Where the hell was this? What were you doing near the Cherwell at silly o’clock in the morning any how?”
“C... coming to you. I had a bad dream. I was scared. Then I thought someone was in the flat and I panicked and...”
“I'll call uniform, get them out to – where is it?”
“Christchurch Meadow. I was cutting across from Rose Lane to get to St. Aldates.”
“Why the hell didn’t you drive?”
“Over... over the limit.” James teeth were really chattering now.
“Just grabbed you, you say? Bugger forensics pet, you get into that shower and warm yourself up, alright?”
It was over twenty minutes before James came into the sitting room dressed in an old pair of Lewis’ pyjamas and an equally old sweater, socks on his feet. He sat next to Lewis who instantly pulled a blanket around James and handed him some tea.
“Uniform found nothing in the meadow but at yours the front door and flat door have been tampered with. Professional. We’ll get forensics around and you can give your statement in the morning. Fuck knows how you’ll explain walking to me in the middle of the night coz you had a nightmare.”
“Because of what happened? In May. You’re my friend as well as my boss and you’re helping. Innocent might advise counselling again but she can’t make me, can she? Sir.”
“It’s Robbie James.”
“I’m scared. What were they doing in my flat? And why did they try to shoot me?”
“Coincidence, James, people don’t shoot cops here. This is Oxford, for Godsake! You probably scared a burglar when you woke and decided to come to me, and as for the guy in the park – well, hell, a nutter with a gun. That is a worry. But it’s not about you personally, is it. Come on, calm down love.” Robbie put his arms around James and pulled him down. James curled up with his head on Robbie’s lap.
“I dreamt I killed Augustus. When I was six. It was so real. I terrified myself.”
“It was only a dream love.” Robbie began to stroke James’ hair. “Only a dream. And only a random nutter in the meadow. Don’t worry, uniform will catch him.”
James drifted into a doze with his hair stroked. Lewis made him feel safe. Lewis fell asleep too, only to be woken a few hours later, his back killing him, by a call from Innocent. He lifted the sleeping head of James from his lap and stood, settling James back onto the sofa cushions.
“A gunman? In Christchurch Meadow?”
“Forensic Ballistics have dug out a bullet from a Willow tree on the path beside the Cherwell about a hundred yards from the footbridge to the boathouses.”
“Yes, Lewis, what the hell is going on? Was it personal? Does it relate to your case? Or the Roschenkov one?”
“Or a coincidence.”
“People don’t have easy access to guns, Lewis, you know that. Seriously, how likely is it that some mentally ill person would have access to a gun, let alone be wandering around meadows in the early hours with it taking pot shots at strangers who happen to be CID officers. I’ve tasked Peterson with this, see that James cooperates. Is he okay? What the hell was he doing anyway?”
“On his way to me. He has nightmares, Ma’am, about his abduction, I said if he needs to talk, anytime...”
“Very commendable, I’m sure. But listen to this, Peterson has been in since five this morning and he has dug up all sorts of reports from Aylesbury Remand – the Roschenkovs have been having regular phone calls with a Simon Cope, known felon, an enforcer, body guard and former pimp and living in one of those damn caravans where your body was found! Apparently Hooper had found eyewitnesses to Cope’s van being in the victim’s street and even him, possibly, in her house. Why hasn’t he been questioned?”
“On my to do list Ma’am. You said yourself that the priority was the child – her prints, she had motive. Eliminate her from our inquiries or charge her as discreetly as possible keeping press out. Your priority order. Ma’am.”
I love Hooper, who I Christened Alec Hooper after PC Alec Hooper moved to CID in the course of a Midsomer Murders episode. Gerard Horan has also played a DS in a Marple episode and of course is the awesomely scary Father of Mine in Doctor Who. But I think I love him best for one of his first movie roles in one of my all time favourite films - man on telephone In 'My Beautiful Laundrette'.
Please comment - they make my day. And I apologise for the probably large number of typos in the last two chapters.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Lewis knew sleep was impossible now, besides it was already gone six. He washed, dressed and shaved and then fetched the fat folder Hooper had left him and fired up his old dinosaur of a desktop to access the e-mail Hooper had sent late last evening. He printed the e-mail and sat at the breakfast bar with a strong cup of instant coffee and a pile of toast, and with his notebook and pen started making notes, flow charts and spider diagrams and mind maps, one for Crina, one for Cope, one for this Professor Milyutin, one for the Roschekovs and one for Dumitre Brown. He made Venn diagrams and lists. Crina still came on top, with motive, opportunity and fingerprints. But she was a wee girl and he knew little of the others. Both Cope and Milyutin had visited Waleria, either could have roughed her and her bedsit up.
But why would Milyutin want to harm her? Was she more than part of the Fellow’s research? A relationship he wanted kept quiet? Could she have been blackmailing him? Had he followed her out to the hamlet of Aston Bassett and beyond to the back of a farm lane and the few houses of what wasn’t even a hamlet where the Browns’ fallen down cottage and land lay with the three mobile homes? How? Hooper said he had no car. Could he have borrowed one? Hired one?
As for Cope? He threatened and beat people up for a living and the Met. had connected him to the Roschenkovs, according to Peterson. But what could one Polish prostitute be to them? How could she threaten them? Yes, they had been people trafficking and yes, they were remanded under counts of that along with drug and alcohol smuggling as well as multiple abductions, druggings and sexual assaults. Yuri didn’t do girls and Sergei did what Yuri told him. Except according to the psyche reports Yuri was basically heterosexual but damaged by rape and torture by Chechen rebels whilst in the Russian Army. Maybe he had had a relationship with Waleria and she knew too much about the business? No, that wouldn’t work. She wouldn’t have been living in a small bedsit working at a massage parlour cum brothel selling herself if she had been – to coin a phrase from the films of his misspent youth, a ‘gangster’s moll’?
Dumitre had motive and opportunity if Crina was covering for him. But Lewis trusted his instincts and that boy had been in deep shock, and there was no way he would let this go on with Crina as a suspect if he were guilty. Of that, Lewis was certain.
He stared at James on the sofa. He was curled up on his side, feet sticking over the edge all the same. Perhaps he ought to get a longer sofa? Anyways, he needed to wake James. He made fresh coffee, this time properly and not instant, else he’d put James in a bad mood, and shook him awake.
“It’s nearly seven James. Wakey-wakey. Feeling more like yourself?”
“Um?” James sat up and let out an almighty sneeze. He looked startled. “I feel awful,” he rubbed his forehead, speaking with a croaky voice.
“That’s what you get when you jump in the Cherwell. Just be thankful the crocodile didn’t get you!”
James pulled a face.
“I’ll get you some painkillers. I need you to go and interview a possible suspect – he’s in hospital. Can’t have you coughing and sneezing there. But I meant – soft lad! – how are you feeling after last night?”
Lewis watched as a faint flush of embarrassment spread across the lad’s cheeks. He had really let his guard down again last night, nothing had been hidden or repressed or denied, even acknowledging his fear. Lewis was sure that some head shrink would say that was good, but he doubted it. James was James and had his own ways of coping. But, he’d had guns pointed at him too, and nearly been shot himself. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Morse... No, he wasn’t going to think of that poor lass...
“Right, we have Dr. Louise Jasper coming in at nine to go through our evidence before the Browns bring Crina in at nine thirty. Before that you need to get home – don’t worry, forensics have finished and the flat’s secure – and changed before you get on to the station, give Peterson your statement and then up to the JR and onto this Professor Milyutin person.”
“Right Sir. Milyutin?”
“Tell you over breakfast. You want breakfast, right? Cereal or toast or what?”
“Um. Both?” James asked hopefully. “And those painkillers. “ He sneezed again.
Mick was stirring porridge while Dimi got Crina dressed and supervised her first round of drugs for the day. She sat at the dining table, swinging her legs, her rabbit and doll sat in a wooden toy high chair beside her, scowling. On the TV Milkshake was showing an old version of Noddy.
“I hate this,” Mick murmured.
Dumitre said nothing; he was trying to get Crina to stay still to brush her hair.
Just then there was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” Crina skipped to the door.
“Oh. Anthony?” Crina was puzzled. She turned around. “Uncle Dimi! Uncle Mick! It’s Anthony. What is he doing here? Why? I can stay with you now? Auntie Walli is dead and no one else wants me do they?” She stamped her foot but her face was screwed up as if she were about to cry.
Dimi hurriedly scooped up his niece and hugged her. “No sufletel, he is here to drive us into Oxford. Inspector Lewis needs to see us again, to ask some more questions to help find who killed Walli, okay?”
“Why won’t they just leave us alone!” Crina stormed out to her tiny room, banging the door, making the van shake.
Lewis pulled up just up the road from James’ flat, parking in Stanley Road opposite the small mosque there.
“Alright? Or shall I walk you to the door. Innocent tells me Peterson has someone watching your building, okay. Okay?”
Lewis was used to James and the way he hid everything and tried to shut off from his feelings so to him the slight tick in one eye and the little swallow told him James was not okay at all, but he pretended to believe James’ answer,
Milyutin looked again out of the window, staring across the car parks and service roads to beyond, to all the very English neat red brick nineteen fifties and sixties housing, all in little pairs, all so close to each to each and yet with their little patchwork gardens. The English so loved their ‘little pieces of earth’. And then up to the ugly grey concrete block of flats. He knew behind that there were allotments, so many allotments in Oxford. But he had been to those with a colleague, a Philosophy Professor and aspiring Chair of the PPE interview assessments. To Anton the obsession with growing one’s own vegetables when one had a very good salary to pay for all kinds of more palatable foods from hotter climes was a complete mystery, but it had been a pleasant day, sitting smoking while Adrian had weeded his carrots and harvested peas and broad beans and raspberries. They’d gone back to his rooms and Adrian had produced a delectable feast of risotto with the vegetables and a ‘summer pudding’, an English concoction he could happily have eaten again. They’d sat on the sofa afterwards but nothing happened. Anton was always afraid to make the first move, and as for Adrian, he was never sure what he wanted or felt.
He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.
“You don’t want your breakfast then?” asked the horrendously cheerful West Indian lady who had brought round the breakfasts earlier. It had been ordered by the previous occupant of the bed and was a bacon roll.
“Sorry. I don’t seem to be hungry.”
“I shall have to tell the nurses love, okay? Drink your tea.”
Milky and English, he’d not been awake enough to ask it for it black and sweet.
“You in pain love? Want a hot cup?”
“Yes, I am, and no tea, thank you.”
“Get better soon love.”
How could she be so cheerful so early on in the morning? And why did they serve breakfast so early? Surely the best healer was sleep? And yes, he was in pain, all where that bastard the Roschenkovs had sent had punched and kicked him, but that wasn’t what made him feel so sick. A senior officer in the investigation of Waleria’s death would be here soon and he was going to have to tell the truth.
And the truth would make him a suspect.
Anton went back to window gazing as a distraction.
Crina wore her favourite pink dress with her best red sandals and cardigan. Bunny came too. She sat in the back of Anthony’s car with Uncle Dumitre feeling scared. A lady was going to ask her questions and she was to tell the truth. Her uncles would find out how wicked and evil she could be.
But it was an accident! They must see it was an accident!
Lewis pulled out into Iffley Road as James was half way down to his flat when something caught his eye, a flash, a reflection, something. He never knew what. His niece Willow would call it telepathy or something, he later thought. All he knew was he had just stopped the car and jumped out, pushing James to the ground as a bullet whistled past their heads. He carried on pressing James into the pavement and shielding his body as Peterson’s ninjas reacted with speed and efficiency. Peterson had stationed more than one armed officer as well as other CID officers in the street.
Peterson had known it was overkill and it had taken him some persuasion with Innocent, but having seen the reports from Aylesbury Remand he was following his gut, and his gut told him that the Roschenkovs were getting rid of as many witnesses as possible who could testify against them.
Lewis sat up as a man was led out of the homeless hostel opposite James’ flat. The man was struggling and shouting aggressively as two burly officers held him, restraining him with handcuffs behind his back, not usual Oxfordshire procedure. The men looked like they wanted to punch him one. Well, hell, so did he, but well, what good would that do? Justice was for the courts; their job was to just nick them. Another officer, plain clothes, followed, carried a high-powered rifle and sights in a large evidence bag. Lewis climbed off James, who was as white as a sheet, and sat beside him on the pavement, putting a hand to his shoulder. He was about to ask James if he were okay when,
“Why don’t you two get a room man,” Peterson teased as he approached them.
“What?” Lewis snapped back, guilty, taking a few seconds to recognize it as harmless banter and not a real accusation.
The sniper, safely in handcuffs and now subdued, head hung in defeat, was now being pushed into a panda car by a uniformed officer. The shooter was balding, with a tattoo, wearing grey tracksuit bottoms and a blue tee shirt. He looked so ordinary.
“Hathaway?” Peterson asked, concerned, looking down at James, still as white as a sheet. “Alright now? We’ve got the bastard and we’ll get to the bottom of this, don’t you worry.”
“I’ll need your statement, but later. I’m sure your inspector has work for you with this murdered woman.”
Mute, James nodded awkwardly again.
“Do you have any idea why this bloody thing happened Peterson?” Lewis asked, confused by this cock-sure attitude, as if he had known there would be another attempt at shooting James.
“Hired by the Roschenkovs, at least I suspect so. Have him in custody now. I’ll get him to talk. Hey!” Peterson suddenly interrupted himself, squatting down next to Lewis and James.
Lewis turned and quickly pushed James head down between his legs. Peterson pulled out a bottle of mineral water from his pocket.
“Careful there Hathaway,” he said. And then to Lewis, “Stupid, the forensics and Hathaway’s statement are enough, besides which the younger one testified against his brother, right?”
“I thought Yuri was going into a secure mental health facility.”
“Apparently the shrink didn’t see any reason for it. Why they’re in Aylesbury Remand – got the prison’s expertise on hand. Should have separated them though.”
“Bloody well should have done.”
“Shame they didn’t ‘hang themselves’ while in our custody. If I’d been here back then...”
Lewis had stood up and stared at Peterson. “No one likes what happened at our station Peterson, but we do things by the book, alright?”
Peterson looked aghast. “It was a joke,” he said lamely.
“Alright. Fine. Maybe I’m a bit touchy when it comes to my sergeant right now. Now, help me get James to his feet and to his flat and then bugger off and process the bastard.”
“Is he alright?”
“Do you think he’s alright? After you so casually...”
“What? Oh, the Roschenkovs...”
“Shut up.” James said quietly. They both turned and looked down on him. “Sirs,” he amended.
“Sorry James,” Lewis said, and took an arm. Peterson took the other and they hauled him to his feet. Peterson was surprised to feel how James was shaking. Lewis looked at him as if to say ‘I told you so.’
“Sorry sergeant,” he said. “Okay now? Make him a cup of tea Lewis.”
“I intend to,” Lewis snapped a lot harsher than he intended. Something about Peterson always put his hackles up. Only Laura’s dry humour and mick takes of ‘action man’ could lower them again. But Laura wasn’t here. Thank goodness she wasn’t here! Lewis thought, realising suddenly what so nearly could have happened and that Peterson, he assumed angrily, had been planning to get his man for murder or attempted murder and it had mattered little personally to him which it had been. He was also annoyed at Peterson’s audacity to dare to be angry about what James had been through in such a casual way, not caring for what James had suffered and what he felt but only that the bastards had got an officer. He had no right! The crime, after all, had inadvertently outed James to the entire station and, Lewis was sure, officers like Peterson were always one veiled comment away from homophobia. It was why he was so desperate to keep his possible relationship, all his feelings, to himself.
Robbie Lewis had never been so glad as to get back to James flat. They both sank down to the sofa, as Robbie’s legs too were now shaking as badly, as with no Peterson to get angry with, he could dwell on how close James came to being shot.
“Sir. Your keys.”
It was Julie; she’d parked his car. She took one look at inspector and sergeant and said, “I’ll put the kettle on.”
Si Cope sat in his caravan, staring at his mobile. He had just spoken to Sergei – or rather Yuri, with Sergei translating, and he wasn’t happy. He had done all they asked but it wasn’t good enough, apparently. They had wanted a professional, not a mate. But Si wasn’t into that side of things, how the hell was he supposed to find someone who did... that for a living at such short notice? His cousin hadn’t found work since he’d been discharged from the army, and with a kiddie on the way had needed the money. Still, as far as he knew, it was still all sorted. As long as they got what they wanted and it didn’t come back to him, what was their problem?
But now they wanted someone else silenced, roughed up like the others. But they were doubtful if it would work, and if it didn’t, if this man refused to cooperate after ‘persuasion’, he was supposed to again engage a certain professional to do what he wouldn’t.
And Si couldn’t. Not to this person. Not even hit him. He knew him too bloody well.
But one didn’t cross the Roschenkovs.
An hour after the incident James was making his way to the bay the helpful nurse indicated to being where Professor Anton Milyutin was. Afterwards, in his flat, Julie had made them both sweet tea, and obviously Robbie had told her something and trusted her implicitly, as he had not seemed bothered or embarrassed by either hugging his sergeant or calling him ‘James love’ and ‘pet’ in front of her. It was confusing as together out of work Robbie would get cross if he called him ‘Sir’ protesting time and time again that ‘he wasn’t like that’ but then he would come down on him like a ton of bricks if he accidentally called him Robbie at work. He had spelled out a strict ‘no dates, no snog, no nothing’ on live murder cases and yet would still do something like that, or something like squeeze his thigh in the car if he were driving. To James it was becoming a minefield. He couldn’t quite believe he had the right to be called a boyfriend or call their time together dates since he wasn’t willing, or rather, couldn’t give more than he could. And every time they tried anything physical...
No. He wasn’t going to think of that. It was just this case. People trafficked, forced and coerced into prostitution and porn movies against their will. No one had trafficked him, but he had certainly been coerced and forced...
But he wasn’t going to think of that. He was never going to think of that. Once it stopped he had told himself to pretend it never happened, just as he had at twelve at Crevecoeur. Unfortunately the Black case had put paid to that. But this case was not going to bring anymore bogeymen from out of his head, anymore than the Zelinksy case had.
Anton was feeling a little calmer. He had managed to call Adrian and explained all that was happening. He was so glad he had, as Adrian had heard he was in hospital and had been worried sick. He had even phoned but had not been allowed any information. He was coming by later with some clean clothes, some books and his wash bag and razor. He had even told Adrian that there was something personal, something from his teens and twenties that gave him this interest and passion for his area of research and campaigning for greater public awareness and government action.
Anton looked up and saw a tall, thin young man in an expensive dark suit and lilac shirt and tie. His hair was styled neatly up in a quiff and he, if Anton was any judge, wore foundation, powder, brown mascara and a dark pink lip-gloss. It was subtly done and enhanced his 1950s film star good looks without being obvious he was wearing anything at all.
“Sergeant Hathaway, Oxfordshire Police. DC Hooper tells me you knew Waleria Nowicka?”
“As a woman I interviewed a few times in connection to my research, yes.”
The sergeant pulled up a chair and sat down with a sigh, folding himself up awkwardly. His impressive height was entirely down to those incredibly long legs, Anton decided. However, however pretty, this was a policeman looking for a suspect in poor little Walli’s death and unless he was very careful he could reveal he had what could be interpreted as possible motive. And he had wanted her to stop demanding money with menaces that was true. He’d even been tempted in a flash of anger, God forgive him!
“How well do you know her? How often did you see her? When did you last see her?”
“I met with her on several occasions over the past two years. Her testimony was one of my appendices in my second edition of ‘The Lower Depths’ and her experience here in Oxford since she arrived, having escaped the control of the gang who trafficked and pimped her have been invaluable to my new work, ‘Swimming the Depths’. I would say we’ve had several indepth interviews over the past few months. She had also taken to calling me asking for money.”
“Do you pay your interviewees Professor?”
“Some I do, some I don’t. Certainly those still on the game I will.”
“A few pounds from me means one or two less tricks they have to turn. Surely you can understand that sergeant?”
“M’m,” Hathaway replied vaguely. “So she was coming back for more money? Is that why you went to visit her at her bedsit in Abingdon?”
“The night she was murdered, we have witnesses who state you visited her at around half past five to six o’clock that evening. Raised voices were heard, and breaking furniture. Her bedsit looked as if it had been smashed to pieces.”
Anton sighed and considered lying. He looked down at his hands, one having a tube going into the back of it carrying meds and painkillers.
“That wasn’t me. Someone else had been there. She didn’t tell me who. She was scared and hysterical when I arrived.”
“Why did you go? Was it to pay her more money or to ask her to stop or some other reason? Was she more to you than a subject of your research? Were you and she having a relationship? Or perhaps you were paying her for sex?”
The disapproval and disgust dripped from the sergeant’s plummy mouth. “I was most certainly not! She is most certainly not my type at all! Yes, she did know something of my early... past. The things I did to fund my first degree and get out of Russia to study first in Paris and then here. We had someone in common I really did not want knowing I was near by. She threatened me sergeant, she threatened to expose things I’m ashamed of, but they were not against the law, and any involvement I unwittingly had in trafficking and enslavement horrifies me. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”
“She was blackmailing you?”
Anton looked away, back out of the window. “I suppose one could refer to it as such, yes.”
“Were you involved in prostitution in any way? Working for the traffickers? The gangs? As a translator perhaps? Hooper tells me you speak many languages, languages of many of the countries girls are often trafficked from.”
Anton continued to gaze out of the window, his right fingers unconsciously fiddling with the tube going into his left hand.
“Stop that, you’ll pull it out.” Hathaway gently put his hand over Anton’s, guiding it away from the IV. Anton looked at him, seeing sympathy in his eyes. “Were you a prostitute Professor?”
Anton shook his head. “No. But I acted, if one can call it that, in porn movies made by a dodgy company called Moon Dog Blue Productions. It was a front for trafficking, drug smuggling and prostitution rings. Male prostitution included. I was in debt and I was tempted, but my... um, fall from grace was restricted to the celluloid.” Anton snorted. “How old fashioned that sounds, how poetical. No film was used, only digital camera, putting a lot straight onto the internet. I didn’t know about any of the illegal stuff until later.”
“How long did you work for them?”
“All my time through at the Sorbonne and the LSE. I had no family, no money, no government or UN funding or grants or bursaries. I wanted to success, I wanted to graduate so I could study, research. Do you understand?”
Sergeant Hathaway’s eyes were full of understanding and compassion. “Yes. Yes I can.”
“I did a lot of, um, ‘acting’ with this Romanian, Dumetri. I didn’t know he was essentially a slave. I didn’t know he was not consenting to what we did, that he wasn’t paid, I...” Anton took a breath and calmed himself. “I understand he lives where Walli’s body was found. If I understood the other detective correctly?”
“I’ve not seen him in five years. I didn’t know. But I understand Walli knew his sister and wants custody of a child. It was why she was demanding money from me.”
“Did you hurt her Professor?”
Anton looked out of the window again.
Anton looked back to the pretty policeman. “What does it matter? Yes, I lost control, I’m ashamed to say. I tried to strangle her. I didn’t mean it, it was only a momentary thing. I just wanted her to stop with the demands, the threats. She threw herself at me, was clinging to me, crying over me and threatening me all at the same time.”
“And did you hit her?”
“Hit her? No. She was already bruised, I should imagine, if that was what you have found. From the man who threatened her, who smashed up her room. I saw him drive away – at least I think it was he. The same man who attacked me. Oh! Damn it! You may as well know. Before I was offered a place at the Sorbonne I did translation work for a haulage firm in Moscow – Roschenkov Shipping Haulage. They got me the job with Moondog; they have money in it. I didn’t know, half of what was going on. Crack and Meth into the UK, cannabis out, yes, I guessed at and was too afraid to go to the police. Vodka in and Newcastle Brown Ale out was the official haulage mostly. I had no idea about the people trafficking and the enforced prostitution until my last few months making those retched, dreadful films. I swear!”
“Do you know the name of this man, who smashed up Waleria’s bedsit and beat up you?”
“No. He’s English and has worked for the Roschekovs as bouncer, bodyguard, minder and enforcer. This is what Walli said. She called him a psycho. I am only 50% certain that is who attacked me, as I caught only a glimpse of him as he drove away from Walli’s place and again, he smashed my face into the wall and as I told DC Hooper, it was raining so hard it was difficult to see anyway, without one’s own blood on one’s face. Walli told me that the Roschenkovs are in prison. I think they are trying to silence anyone who could testify. It sounds crazy, but then the elder son is. I worked for the father, but I believe he and his wife were killed by the Russian Mafia sometime after I left Moscow. The older son, Yuri, is dangerously mad.”
“I know.” Hathaway spoke flatly, his eyes were inscrutable, all the softness and sympathy had gone from them. But he didn’t look hard and indifferent, Anton thought, but brittle. As if he may crumble.
When James arrived back at the station he was directed to the room behind the mirror in interview room five. Innocent was there as well as Lewis. She gestured with her finger for silence. Milyutin’s possible evidence but possible motive could wait. James felt he was innocent, but alibis regarding this public lecture had to be checked, along with his lack of access to any car. He left the room again to get uniform and DCs onto the chasing, and also to inform Hooper of the possible identification of Cope as Milyutin’s attacker. The assault was Hooper’s case, after all. All of it took him less than fifteen minutes, so, curiosity getting the better of him, James returned to the room to watch with Lewis and Innocent. He may, after all, get the opportunity to brief them on the information from Milyutin.
The table had been removed from the middle of the interview room, as had the four upright chairs. Instead a rug had been placed in the middle with four easy chairs in the corners of the room. On the rug was a small sandbox and scattered around it were various small plastic dolls with opposable arms and legs. The dolls were different sizes and colours and represented different ages, genders and dress. One that looked rather like a thin fashion doll was dressed as Waleria had been that night and was sat in the sandbox. In the opposite corner of the sandbox lay a girl doll with blonde bunches. Scattered all over the floor and rug were pieces of paper and felt tips, many showing evidence that Crina had been busy with her cave art.
Mick Brown was sat in one seat, looking awkward and uncomfortable, obviously finding it hard to remain silent and say nothing or interact with his niece in any way. Another man, tall, thin, mixed race, in an expensive suit and hair styled in a long, crazy upward quiff, sat in another seat, the same side of the room as Brown. He had a notepad and pen on his lap and a briefcase and laptop case sat on the floor at his feet, a pile of papers balanced on top of them. The solicitor, no doubt, Hathaway reasoned. However, his eyes were drawn to the people in the centre of the room.
A young woman with her blonde hair tied back scruffily, wearing jeans and a pale blue vest top and chunky beaded necklace and matching bangles and a man’s black wrist watch was seated on the floor next to Crina as she was drawing her stick people and animals and was asking, by the reactions of the adults, yet again for a larger canvas and real paints. As Hathaway came to stand between Innocent and Lewis the woman, the play therapist, asked Crina to explain about all the things flint was used for in the ‘Stone Age’.
Meanwhile, not too far away in interview room one, Peterson was interviewing his ‘hitman’, his arrestee. They had found him a duty solicitor and he was being very unhelpful regarding anything. However, of one thing Peterson was becoming surer of: this man was no professional. If anything, he was an imbecile. Desperate for money, and cooperating after a fashion, sure, but he really didn’t seem to know who hired him or why.
There was a knock at the door and Peterson’s sergeant got up and opened it, coming back with a hand written note he put down in front of his governor. It told him that, under another investigation entirely, Customs and Excise working with the Met., had been taping the Roschekovs calls out of the Remand Centre at Aylesbury for the past three weeks and had only just deigned to share the information with their colleagues in Oxford, despite some of it concerning one of their officers. The transcripts were waiting for him in encrypted e-mail. He was not to share.
“We’re not getting anywhere, are we Matthew Basden? Interview terminated at oh ten oh six. For a comfort break and a chance to think things over. But I must tell you, Mr. Basden, I’ve had information to tell me you were employed by the Roschenkovs – one step down from Russian Mafia,” Peterson bluffed.
“Who?!” Basden seemed genuinely confused.
Peterson needed to talk to the Chief, desperately. He was told she was observing the interview with the little girl suspect. He couldn’t interrupt. Dammit! It was nearly eleven. He was going for an early lunch and a pint. How dare he be restricted in what he shared? They were not talking terrorism, but drugs and people trafficking. He knew the one funded the other in many cases, but with the Roschenkovs he doubted it. If he had been given these transcripts one day earlier he could have prevented that nutter taking a pot shot at Hathaway. He doubted Basden had any idea who he had been hired by, but no doubt this cope was the go between.
Peterson got as far as the Head of the River before turning around to go back and push Basden into giving him Cope’s name. Then, at least, he could bring him in. Why give him this information if he couldn’t act on it. But first he would chase Hathaway, take his statement. At least the truth of that would give him enough to bluff with to intimidate this young thug with too many guns.
For those who have seen the ITV documentary, you may be feeling a bit confused. This is Aylesbury Remand Centre, run for Thames Valley by a private security company, situated in the same town as HMS Prison Aylesbury. Lovely town (not sacasm - spend many a happy Saturday there being spoiled by grandparents).