Five p.m. was unusually late for Hathaway to be called in on a case. Ordinarily, a murder had been committed in the night and was discovered in the morning. Sometimes, a body was found only minutes after death had occurred. For a rotting corpse to be found in the afternoon… well, that was unusual.
That was how Dispatch had described the body on the phone. Rotting. A fairly old body, then. Maybe a week. He would have to see what Laura said.
The really interesting part was the location. The Oxford Spires hotel, apparently. One of the more upper-class hotels, for people who could afford better than a Travelodge. How a body could remain undetected for any length of time in a hotel was a mystery in itself. One which Hathaway hoped could be solved more easily than the actual murder.
The hotel was not too far away from where he lived, and since he knew how bad parking could be from that area he decided to walk. Maybe some fresh air could clear his head, anyway. During his leave, after the Temple case, he had barely been outside. Aside from being in court for a couple of days after Mrs Temple had recovered sufficiently to attend – and as she pleaded guilty straight away, it was over in a flash.
By the time he arrived, fifteen minutes later, he found Lewis already conversing with Laura. Hathaway accepted the forensic suit off one of the forensic officers and went to join them.
“Is it true then? About the rotting corpse?”
“’Rotting’ is going a bit far,” Laura replied. “It’s a few days old, at least. And it’s spent most of its time underneath a bed.”
“A bed?” Hathaway said, astonished. “How come no one found it sooner?”
“I’ll show you, if you would care to follow me,” Laura said with a smile. She inclined her head towards the stairs. “Second floor.”
“Have you ever been here before?” Hathaway asked Lewis on the way up.
“It seemed unnecessary, what with living in Oxford,” Lewis replied.
It was extremely posh. The foyer – or entrance hall, as Hathaway imagined they called it – was large and spacious, and decorated with leafy wallpaper and beige rugs. Interestingly, poems written by Oxford alumni hung on the walls, such as Oscar Wilde and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as several portraits of other familiar literary faces. Near to the back of the room, in the bar area, several well-dressed people with expensive products in their hair were taking a break from sipping their champagne to gawk at the unfolding scene. The stairs were carpeted in the most luxurious tawny brown.
They reached the second floor, which had been blocked off with tape. They ducked under it one at a time. Laura led the way to one of the rooms, number 213, and pushed open the slightly ajar door.
The body had been laid out on the floor, arms and legs gently splayed out. The stench of it hit them like a wave.
“Christ,” Hathaway said, hand over his face. “How could anyone sleep in here?”
“The maid assumed a rat had died in the wall,” Lewis said. “She was using a lot of air freshener until the removal guys could get here.”
“Who found the body?”
“The two teenagers who were staying here,” Laura told him. “Their parents were staying in the adjacent room.” She pointed to a door set back in the wall. “They’re all downstairs.”
Hathaway gingerly stepped over the body and crouched down by its head. A woman, light blonde hair, probably late-fifties. Her face held hints of makeup, and her hair was neatly curled, although lanky and unwashed by now. She was dressed well, in a light pink top and black trousers, although both items were stained with dried blood.
“Stabbed?” he asked.
“Three times, by the look of things,” Laura said. “Additionally, the congealed blood in her hair indicates she hit her head as well.”
“Before or after the stabbing?” Lewis said.
“Impossible to tell yet.” Laura knelt down next to the woman and gently lifted her arm. “Nicotine stains on the fingertips; I’m sure the post mortem will confirm that she was a heavy smoker.”
“What are those marks on her arm?” Lewis said, pointing to what looked like a cluster of pinpricks on her upper arm.
“Injection scars, I’d say.”
“Drugs?” Hathaway asked.
“It’s possible. Could be heroin, or some kind of opiate. I’ll check for you.”
Lewis began rifling through the small plastic bags that held the contents of the woman’s pockets. “Any identification?”
“Not so far.”
“She was probably staying in this hotel,” Hathaway pointed out. “It can’t be particularly easy to smuggle a body in here.”
Lewis nodded. “Check the records of who stayed in this room.”
“By the way,” Laura said, “the witnesses who found the body are down the hall.”
To Hathaway’s astonishment and dismay, the two witnesses were children. Teenagers, really; aged sixteen and fourteen, according to their parents, who expressed annoyance about their children being questioned. The officers who had first attended told them it was completely necessary, which they were not overly happy with. The two children, however were in their element.
“Neither of us had ever seen a dead body before,” the younger one, Hanna, told Lewis and Hathaway. “So it’s quite exciting really.”
“Which one of you found the body?” Lewis asked with a small smile.
“I did,” the elder one, Becca, said. “The duvet fell off the bed, and as I was putting it back on I noticed what looked like blood on the sheet. It made me think of that urban legend – you know, the one where the couple find a dead body under the bed in the motel or whatever? So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a dead body under my bed? And so I looked, just for fun, and, well…”
“Neither of you had noticed anything suspicious in the hotel?” Lewis said.
Both girls shook their heads.
“Do you know who had the room before you did?”
“No,” Becca said, “but I think they must have left early.”
“Why do you say that?” Hathaway asked.
“Well, usually when you check in, they say that your room will be ready by about three o’clock, right? Because the old occupants only left at eleven, and the cleaners have to tidy the room. But when we arrived, they told us our room was already ready, even though we got here at midday.”
The SOCOs scoured the crime scene for some time, but were unable to find any fingerprints except for those of the teenagers who had stayed there. Evidently, the maids were very good at their jobs. There was still no ID to be seen.
After some persuasion – “Resident confidentiality, and all that,” the receptionist said – Hathaway was able to get the name of the man who had stayed in that room before the girls. A Mr. T. Whiteman.
“Do you remember anything about him?” Hathaway asked.
“Not much,” the receptionist said. “I don’t really pay attention to the residents.”
“How old was he?”
“Sixty, there or thereabouts. He had dark grey hair, I think, and was going kind of bald.”
“Decently, I suppose.”
“He booked a twin room. Do you know who he was staying with?”
“Some woman. His wife, I presumed. She had blonde hair – dyed, most like.”
Hathaway jotted a few notes down in his notebook. “Am I correct in saying Mr. Whiteman checked out early?”
“Yeah, funnily enough. He booked for five days, from the third to the seventh. But he checked out late on the fifth. We don’t usually allow checkouts after midday, but the girl who was working that day is young, and... easily swayed.”
Hathaway nodded discreetly. “Did he give a reason for leaving early?”
“It should have been recorded, yeah,” the receptionist said, typing for a moment on the keyboard. “’Resident gave ‘personal reasons’ as reason for early checkout.’”
“Helpful,” Hathaway said. “Was his wife with him when he checked out?”
“I’ll ask for you,” the receptionist said. She went through the door behind the desk.
Hathaway waited for a minute or two, drumming his fingers on the desk, until the girl returned.
“She says not,” the girl said. “And none of us remember her leaving at all.”
Hathaway nodded and was about to go into his ‘call this number if you remember anything’ spiel when the girl said:
“She did say, though, that he was kind of dishevelled, and looked like he’d been crying. That’s why she accepted the simple ‘personal reasons’. He looked like someone had just died.”
“Deceased is possibly a Mrs Whiteman,” Hathaway said as he entered the crime scene once more. The body had been moved, and Lewis was examining the spot of blood on the bedspread. “It was a Mr. T. Whiteman and his probable wife who stayed here before the kids.”
“Any sign of him?” Lewis asked absently.
“No, he checked out five days ago – without his wife, I might add. And, to quote the receptionist, ‘looking like someone had just died’.”
Lewis stood up slowly. “Let’s get back to the station, then. See if we can get a trace on this Mr. Whiteman.”
Hathaway nodded. “Where’s Dr. Hobson?”
“Gone back already, with the SOCO’s. See if they can match the woman’s DNA with any on our database.” He held up a small piece of torn white card. “One of them found this behind the desk.” He handed it to Hathaway, who examined it briefly. Its shape was half a rectangle, with a jagged edge that suggested it had snagged on something and ripped rather than been purposely torn in half. The word fragments Wendy Wh and Accoun were just discernible on the dusty surface.
“A business card?” Hathaway suggested.
“The ‘Wh’ could stand for Whiteman,” Lewis said, “and I think the bit underneath is the first part of ‘Accountant’.”
Hathaway turned it over in his hands. “It doesn’t look particularly old,” he said. “It could have belonged to the dead woman.”
“And if it did,” Lewis finished, “then I think we've just identified our corpse.”
“You’re not going to like this, sir.”
Back in the station, Hathaway had spent about half an hour trying to trace Mr. Whiteman. After the internet had come up with nothing of much use – there were surprisingly few T. Whitemans of age 55-65 in South England – he tried the police database. Something had come up almost straight away.
“Make my day,” Lewis said with a sigh.
“Well, I’ve found our Mr. Whiteman. Trevor Whiteman, aged sixty-one, currently resides in Stow-on-the-Wold with his wife Wendy Whiteman, aged fifty-nine.”
“’Wendy Wh’,” Lewis realised. “What’s the bit I’m not going to like?”
Hathaway held up the piece of freshly-printed paper he was reading off. “This is the list of current missing persons in the greater Oxfordshire area.”
“You’re joking,” Lewis said with a groan. “Missing since when?”
“’Reported missing by his sister when he did not return from his Oxford holiday,'” Hathaway read, putting particular emphasis on the word ‘Oxford’. “'Missing since the eighth. Also missing is his wife, Mrs. Wendy Whiteman.'”
“Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic,” Lewis said. “Missing for two days? Well, at least we’ve found the wife.”
“The question now, sir,” Hathaway said grimly, “is where’s the husband?”
“Found any next of kin?”
“Not for Mrs. Whiteman, no, but the name of Mr. Whiteman’s sister is Geraldine Thomas, who also lives in Stow-on-the-Wold.”
“Ever been there, Sergeant?”
“I’ve not yet had the pleasure,” Hathaway said. “I guess we’re off there, then?”
“You’re not a detective for nothing, are you?"