Gene Hunt opened his office door and stuck his head out. “Oy Tyler, I’ve got something I want you to take a look at.”
Sam looked up, his concentration on the witness statements he was trying to compare broken, only to see Gene disappearing again. “Coming, Guv,” he called.
He went into the office and, at a nod from Gene, shut the door. “What is it?” he asked.
“Read this report and then tell me what you think.” Gene slid a thin folder across the desk. Sam grabbed it just before it fell to the floor.
He read through the report as ordered, then said, “I saw something about this yesterday. Proceeds from multiple burglaries and a suspect in the cells. I thought uniform were dealing with it.”
“They are. It’s just there’s something that feels a bit odd about it. I thought you, with your finely honed senses, could tell me what it is.”
“Nothing jumps out at me. What makes you think there is?”
“What we in the trade call a copper’s gut instinct. Maybe it’s something to do with the street?”
“I don’t know that area well,” Sam said. This was relatively truthful; he did know the area, but it had been redeveloped completely since the 1970s, so the knowledge he had would be of no use to the case.
“In which case it is high time you became better acquainted with it,” Gene said, standing up. He rattled his car keys. “Let me take you on a guided tour.”
Gene’s tour was as idiosyncratic as Sam had expected. It included a number of pubs, two of which had barred Gene and one which he refused to go into, what had been a semi-decent knocking shop until the proprietor had moved on to a more upmarket location (‘for which read wealthier punters’) and various red-bricked terraced houses where sundry villains had lived, or, in a couple of cases, still lived. By the end of the tour Sam had a good idea of what the area had looked like before it had been re-developed.
Finally they came to the street in question. Sam looked at the rows of houses as they drove along. Suddenly he said, “That’s it!”
“No, it isn’t,” Gene replied. “It’s further up the street.”
“No, not the house, but if you remember the report said, ‘nothing else was out of place’, which was annotated by Grover as ‘rather like after my mum’s been spring cleaning’.”
“Look at the houses. Do they look like the sort where it would be impeccable inside? Maybe tidy, but with three or four kids, not perfect.”
“My Auntie Nell lives in a street like this, and woe betide you if you put a cup out of place.”
“Yes, but your Auntie Nell doesn’t have a back room full of stolen goods.”
“So what you’re saying is with Stevenson and Dutton living in the house there should be a certain amount of untidiness.”
“Exactly, so why wasn’t there?”
“Let’s take a look, shall we?”
Gene pulled the Cortina into a sudden u-turn and screeched to a halt by one of the houses. Sam swore and then followed Gene in getting out of the car. Gene opened the front door of the house with his penknife, shouting “Police business” at the neighbour who had come out to see what was going on. Sam was still reaching for his warrant card as the woman muttered “what, again?” and went back indoors.
They had a quick look round the house, which as the report said, was extremely tidy.
“Maybe there wasn’t anyone living here,” Sam said. “They could have just been using the house for storage, I suppose.”
“You wouldn’t keep food in the fridge then,” Gene said. “Some of it looks a bit manky though.”
“I’ve seen you eat worse from your fridge.”
“It’s okay if you scrape the green bits off.”
“Hmm. Upstairs then?”
Sam went into the back bedroom. As was the case in the rest of the house, everything seemed spotless and in the condition which would satisfy even Gene’s Auntie Nell. He opened the wardrobe and then a cupboard, to find clothes hanging neatly and in tidy piles on the shelves. He tried to keep his own place relatively tidy, but this was almost clinical.
The bed was neatly made, but in an effort to find something out of place, perhaps a book down the side of the bed or an escaped sock, he pulled back the blankets.
“Guv! You’d better come in here!”
Gene came through and Sam pointed out the blood stain on the wall.
“That doesn’t look very old, a few days I would guess,” Gene said. “What do you reckon, an argument turned violent?”
“Probably. But who hit who?” Sam would have loved to be able to call in forensics and use their report to fill in the gaps.
Gene opened the wardrobe door and looked at the clothing hanging inside. “From the suit size I’d say this was Dutton’s room, so presumably Stevenson hit Dutton.”
“I thought it was Dutton who was in custody. The report didn’t mention any injuries.”
“Why should it? He got picked up for burglary, not for a violent crime. And it doesn’t explain why this place is so tidy. If there’d been a fight you’d expect the place to be a mess.”
“So what if Stevenson attacked Dutton, who fought back and killed him? Dutton’s injured and leaves blood spots around. He doesn’t want to draw attention to what’s happened – we know other people were coming into the house – so cleans everything.”
“Except the wall,” Gene said.
“It would be difficult to get the blood off the wallpaper without making it noticeable. And the bed originally covered it – I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t pulled the blankets back. It’s quite possible there are other signs which haven’t been spotted because no-one’s looked for them. Where did the tip-off come about the goods?”
“It was anonymous. But I wouldn’t put it past one of their mates to have got suspicious and decided a bit of burglary was okay, but wanted nothing to do with murder. Right, Sammy-boy, time to get back to the station. Just what I like, a nice juicy murder case and the suspect already in custody.”
“We don’t have a corpse yet.”
“Give it time. Get the word out on the street and I’ll wager we’ll know where it is by the end of the day.”
“So confident I’ll lay you three pints plus pie and chips that we have the body by midnight.”
“And if I refuse to accept the bet?”
“Tyler, you should know by now, that is as unlikely to happen as I am to be wrong. Now stop this idle chatter; we have a murderer to question.”
It was early evening. Sam stretched his tired muscles. Despite Gene’s best attempts, Dutton had denied knowing anything about Stevenson’s whereabouts and had laughed in Gene’s face when he had suggested he, Dutton, had killed him.
Word had gone out Gene Hunt was looking for Stevenson, dead or alive. Although Sam had doubts, it was implied no questions would be asked if information was forthcoming. But they had had no results and Sam was starting to think for once he would not be losing a bet with Gene.
He was just thinking about knocking on Gene’s door and suggesting they give up for the night, when a young constable came in.
“This has been brought in for DCI Hunt,” the constable said. “Should I take it to him?”
The constable looked nervously at Gene’s office door and Sam took pity on him. “No, it’s all right, give it here and I’ll pass it on.”
The constable shoved a scrappy piece of paper into Sam’s hand and departed hastily.
Sam banged on the door and went in without waiting for a reply. “This has come for you,” he said.
“Read it then!”
Sam uncrumpled the piece of paper and read. “LOOK BEHIND HERMAN’S FISH BAR”.
“Excellent!” Gene jumped up and grabbed his keys and coat. “I told you someone would know something.”
“It could be a joke. Or a trap.”
“The only things trapped behind Herman’s Fish Bar will be a load of old greasy newspapers and the occasional fish head.”
It didn’t take long to reach their destination. Gene parked halfway up the pavement in front of the chippie. Sam leapt out of the car and followed Gene as he pushed his way through the queue.
“Oh, Mr Hunt, what a nice surprise,” a man, whose greasiness meant he almost blended into his surroundings, said. “Come for a nice bit of fresh-cooked fish, have you?”
“Your fish is as fresh-cooked as the Sunday before last’s roast dinner would be,” Gene replied. “And no, I’m here to look out the back.”
With that he barged his way through, past the fryer and out of a small back door. The stench out the back was worse than in the chippie. Gene looked round then headed unhesitatingly for a tarpaulin-covered mound. He lifted the tarpaulin to reveal a dead body. Wordlessly he and Sam turned back and re-entered the chippie.
“Right,” Gene said, “I am closing this premises with immediate effect.”
Those waiting in the queue began to grumble, and Herman said, “What grounds have you got?”
“The corpse in your back garden.”
Sam turned from watching Herman’s reaction to find the queue had miraculously disappeared.
“Look, Mr Hunt, I swear I don’t know anything about a dead body.”
“It’s on your property, so you have certainly got questions to answer. And since I don’t want to be in your horrible smelly place any longer than necessary you can come back to the station.”
Sam contacted the station and requested backup. As soon as two uniformed constables appeared he and Gene drove back to the station with the reluctant Herman.
It didn’t take long for Herman to admit Dutton had been using the ground at the back of the chippie as part of his delivery network. Items would appear and disappear overnight and Herman never looked under the tarpaulin to see what was there.
Sam and Gene left Herman in the cells and returned to Gene’s office.
“It was almost the perfect temporary hiding place for stolen goods,” Sam said. “The brick wall round the yard meant passers-by couldn’t see in and the only person with a good view from above was Herman, who had no intention of seeing anything. He was clearly frightened of Dutton.”
“That’s not surprising, Stevenson wouldn’t be the first person Dutton fell out with, and he’s always been quick with his fists. So Dutton has a key to the gate at the bottom end of the yard, and this time, instead of stolen goods he hides Stevenson’s body, presumably intending to move it as soon as he’s found somewhere more suitable to dispose of it. But he’s arrested before he can do anything about it.”
“We’re going to need more proof it was Dutton who killed Stevenson,” Sam said thoughtfully. “A good lawyer will be able to get him off with what we’ve got so far.”
“That can wait until tomorrow. For the moment we have a corpse and that means you owe me pie and chips and three pints of bitter.”