“I’ll miss you,” Robbie Lewis said to James Hathaway, as he helped James load two suitcases into his car boot.
“And I, you,” James replied, closing the boot and getting into the passenger side of the car. “But we both knew something like this would happen as soon as we told Innocent we were planning on moving in together.”
“I know. I just didn’t expect quite so big a separation.”
“At least with this secondment I’ll be working normal office hours, and I’ll be back every weekend.”
“I can’t guarantee to have the time off,” Robbie grimaced. “But I suppose it won’t be much worse than if we’d been on separate shifts here. And I know you’re looking forward to this assignment.”
“Who wouldn’t be?” James grinned at Robbie’s expression. “I’ll rephrase that – given my interests, who wouldn’t be? A secondment to the Metropolitan Police, to a team working on forged thirteenth century documents. It’ll be fascinating and I should learn a lot.”
“It seems so sudden though.”
“Yeah. Two weeks didn’t give much time to prepare. On the other hand, we weren’t able to dwell on it either. And look on the bright side; when I’m spending solitary evenings in my Met provided flat, I’ll be able to start the preparation for my inspector’s exams, as you’ve been nagging me to do!”
Robbie laughed. Having reached the station car park they hugged, and then Robbie carried one of James’ bags into the station concourse.
“I’ll see you Friday,” James said.
“Text me what time you’re due in and I’ll pick you up.”
“Will do. But don’t worry if you can’t make it; I can always get a taxi.”
“I’ll make it. I’m not letting anything get in my way.”
Five months later:
Robbie was sitting in Innocent’s office. She’d just told him she had contacted the Met, who had agreed to James’ immediate return to assist with his current case.
“I’m sorry, Robbie, but given the circumstances, it really is the best solution,” Chief Superintendent Innocent said. “I know it’s not ideal, and normally I wouldn’t approve, but I honestly don’t see there’s any alternative.”
Lewis continued to present his objections. “I could hand my investigation over to John Garrett. It shouldn’t take too long to bring him up to speed.”
“That would mean you taking over one of his cases in return, and whilst I have every confidence in both your abilities, I think it would be too complicated. You’ve already done a lot of the ground work into Professor Hembury’s death, and now his wife has been killed as well it makes sense for you to stay on the case. I presume the two are connected?”
“I think we have to assume they are. As you know, we’d been looking at Dr Allen’s possible involvement with the death of her husband, and the documents they were both working on seem to be gaining in significance.”
“Which is precisely why I’m bringing James back. I understand the documents are later than the ones he’s been looking at with the Met, but nevertheless the experience he has gained should prove valuable to the investigation.”
“I’m not disputing that James will be the best man for the job; especially as he already has plenty of local knowledge. But I still don’t think we should be working together.”
“I understand your reservations, Robbie, and I would suggest that as far as possible you work independently of each other. You will obviously continue with your current lines of enquiry and James can start work on the documents. I’ve been told by the college Chancellor they would like to deal with the documents themselves, but all those who have the knowledge to do so are already heavily involved in the case. What we need is someone external who can go through them and hopefully determine what we need to know. So, do I have your agreement?”
“Good. In which case I suggest you head over to the railway station to pick James up. I spoke to him briefly earlier, but it would be a good idea if you were to bring him up to speed with the situation.”
Robbie arrived at the station just before James’ train was due. He parked and wandered slowly towards the station entrance to find James already standing there, waving to him. Robbie hurried over and went to pick up one of the suitcases.
“No,” James said, “Take the other one; it’s lighter.”
“Why, what have you got in that one?”
“That figures. I’m sorry you had to struggle across the station with this lot; I wasn’t expecting you quite yet.”
“That’s okay,” James laughed. “The train was on time for once.”
They walked across the car park and loaded James’ luggage into the car boot.
“Can we drop this lot off at home, or do you want to go straight to the station?” Robbie asked. Then he paused to think. “Have you eaten anything today?”
“Well, I had breakfast, but that’s it. After I spoke to Innocent I rushed back to the flat, packed everything up and then took a taxi to station.”
“That settles it. We’ll go home, you can unpack some of your stuff while I get you some lunch and we can go into the station afterwards.”
“Do you think Innocent will mind?”
“She told me to give you the details of the case. It won’t matter where we do that. Then you can look at the evidence board afterwards. From what I understand, apart from knowing who the dramatis personae are, you don’t need to concern yourself with the minutiae of the case from my side.”
“Yes. Innocent told me she wants me to concentrate on the documents and to leave you to your own enquiries. I got the distinct feeling she was warning me off involving myself in that part of the case. Has she told you to stay clear of the documents?”
“No, but then she probably didn’t think there was any great risk of me working my way through passages of medieval Latin.”
James laughed. “It’s good to be back. I’ve missed working with normal people.”
“I presume I’m supposed to take that as a compliment. There was I, thinking I was extra-ordinary.”
“You are to me! It’s been interesting working with the Met, and some of it has been fascinating, but there were times when I wondered whether anyone ever considered the human element of what we were doing.”
“I think you’ll find there’s plenty of that in this case, however you approach it.”
James spent most of the rest of the day reading through the case notes to get the background information. He also spent time with Innocent, who gave him more of an outline regarding the documents which were involved. By the time he had finished he was feeling both tired and hungry, and was grateful Robbie suggested they pick up fish and chips on the way home. James would have continued discussing the case whilst they were eating, but Robbie, clearly aware of both James’ tiredness and the need to keep their home and work lives as separate as possible, redirected the conversation. After they had eaten they sat together on the sofa to watch the television, but it wasn’t long before James found he was being woken by an elbow in the ribs, to be told that if he was just going to lie there and snore, then he might as well go to bed.
The following morning they parted company, Robbie to go to the station to start working his way through witness statements and plan the next line of enquiry; James to the college to begin reading the documents.
James did his best to ignore the resentment which greeted his arrival. He was tempted to appeal to the academics’ better nature, by playing down his role and taking the “just doing my job” line, but swiftly realised they were of the opinion that no matter what had happened, there was no place for an outsider to be involved with their work.
James settled for a brief polite nod and began to consider the first document. He was extremely grateful for all that he had learnt during his time with the Met. When engaged in this type of work there were certain systems to be put in place, and he automatically slipped into them. Whilst academic research had always appealed to him, the order the set procedure brought to the work suited his own nature, and gave him a structure he knew would be invaluable.
It didn’t take him long to confirm the documents were forgeries. This, of itself, was no surprise. That fact had been known for decades. The documents purported to be from the mid fifteenth century; the forgeries had been made approximately two hundred years later. Any benefits that had been gained during the seventeenth century were of no concern to the modern police force.
Yet it would seem there was something within the documents which had suddenly become relevant, and it would be James’ task to find out what it was. As he began to read, he felt the familiar thrill of being immersed in another world, with the added bonus that this world was itself hiding in a second world.
James was sufficiently engrossed he didn’t notice the time, until the rumble of his stomach, and a loud ‘tut’ from one of the others present, made him realise it was past lunch time. He had arranged with Robbie they would meet up so they could share the progress each had made. James left the building and sent a quick text to Robbie asking if he was free.
Ten minutes later Robbie arrived, carrying sandwiches. They found a suitable bench and once they had started eating James said, “You go first.”
“We’re following up a number of leads, but nothing specific at the moment - lots of contradictory information and an equal number of gaps. We’re at what Innocent likes to refer to as the opening gambit stage when playing Battleships.”
“Yes, I remember that. Send out a random selection of shots and see what you hit.”
“Precisely. What about you?”
“Nothing as yet. I’m amazed it took so long for anyone to realise the documents were forgeries. I know spelling wasn’t as strict as it is now, but there are standard errors most authorities should have recognised. My conclusion is no-one looked at them for a good number of years.”
“What about at the time?” Robbie asked. “Surely the people involved would have noticed, especially since they are supposed to be quite important documents.”
“The side which commissioned the forgeries might not have done. They would have chosen the best person for the job and assumed what was produced was correct. And if they had spotted a problem, they were hardly going to say anything. As for the other side, I don’t know enough about them. I’m going to do some delving into who they were this afternoon.”
“Well, have fun!” Robbie stood up. “And don’t be too late home.”
“I won’t be. I’ve been told very pointedly the doors are locked at half past six on the dot.”
Partway through the afternoon Julie Lockhart came to see Robbie, “I’ve been interviewing the Hemburys’ cleaner,” she said. “I’d asked her if she was aware of any unexpected visitors in the last few weeks. She said she couldn’t think of anyone before the professor’s death, although ‘all sorts of people you never expect to call came once he’d died; a bit like them French women knitting in front of the guillotine.’ But there was one thing she thought a bit odd – before Hembury’s death Dr Merrick was a frequent caller, but he didn’t come afterwards. ‘Course there are those who say he and Mrs Hembury were having an affair, but it’s not my place to gossip’”
“And you’re thinking no smoke without fire?” Robbie asked.
“I’m not sure, sir. I suppose it seemed like an angle we should consider.”
“And you’re quite right. I’ll arrange to speak to Merrick again. Whatever his relationship with Mrs Hembury the fact he was a frequent visitor to the house didn’t come up in the previous interview. I presume we can accept that part of what the cleaner said as true?”
“Yes, sir. That seems to have been an accepted fact. It was his subsequent absence which surprised her.”
“Thank you, Julie. Good work.”
Robbie phoned Dr Merrick asking to arrange to speak to him again, but was told curtly it wasn’t possible that day, so he made an appointment to meet him the following morning. Robbie was annoyed, but didn’t feel in a position to push matters. Gossip about a possible affair with the dead woman was not likely to be sufficient cause to ignore Innocent’s instructions to tread carefully. In addition, any bad feeling caused by the police investigation would no doubt have an effect on the work James was doing.
James was enjoying himself. He was fascinated by the relationships between the various college chancellors during the late 1680s. As far as he could tell, the amount of spite and backbiting going on was as great as he’d discovered was present in the current century. In fact, had a time machine brought the men forward 330 years, they would have felt entirely at home, trading insults and practising one-upmanship on the present day chancellors.
His attention was drawn to the account of a disagreement about the ownership of a small parcel of land. As the disagreement had escalated, both parties had hired ruffians to promote their own side. In the course of which, the two groups had met and fought each other in one of the alley ways. There had been a number of injuries and a clerk, an apparently innocent bystander, had been killed. No one was brought to trial, the ring leaders on both sides having fled the city.
Shortly after the tragic death a manuscript proving ownership of the land had surfaced. Hathaway realised with a start the manuscript referred to was the one whose provenance he was currently investigating. He hastily made as many notes on the events as he could before the library custodian demanded he leave so the library could be locked up.
Still thinking about the suspicious death in 1682 he began walking down the stairs. He took no notice that someone was following him down, until they were nearly level with him. James was starting to turn when he felt himself being shoved in the back. Unable to keep his balance he fell the full length of the flight of stairs.
Robbie was surprised James wasn’t already back when he got home, but he wasn’t worried. It wouldn’t be the first time James had managed to sweet talk someone into letting him stay later somewhere when they were supposed to be locking up. He was starting to prepare their dinner when his phone rang; Innocent’s name being shown as the caller.
“Robbie, I’m sorry, but you need to go to the John Radcliffe. James has had an accident. It’s okay, he’ll be fine, minor concussion and a broken collarbone. I’ll wait until you get here, but after that I need to get off.”
“Why are you there, ma’am?”
Innocent sighed. “For some reason I am listed as James’ next of kin. It would be extremely helpful if you two could update the records.”
Robbie felt reassured from the dryness of her tone that Innocent wasn’t concerned about James’ injuries, but remained worried as to how the accident had happened.
Once he reached the hospital he made his way to Accident & Emergency, using his warrant card to get access. Innocent spotted him as he came in. She escorted him to the nurse in charge.
“This is Inspector Lewis,” she told the nurse. “Sergeant Hathaway’s partner. He will take over from me and will be taking the sergeant home.”
The nurse started to tell Robbie about the signs he would need to look out for with someone who had suffered concussion, but Robbie barely listened. He was looking round for James. He relaxed slightly when he saw him sitting on one of the chairs, with a constable next to him. James looked very pale, and had one arm in a sling, but otherwise he seemed all right. Robbie nodded when the nurse finished talking – he wasn’t concerned he’d missed anything important; it wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with someone with concussion.
They were both quiet on the journey home. It wasn’t until they were back at the flat and Robbie had made them a mug of coffee that he said, “Okay, tell me all about it.”
“There’s not much to tell. I don’t know how it happened.”
“Which means you’ll sit and play everything through in your brain trying to make sense of it. Much easier just to describe the events to me in the first place.”
James told Robbie how he had come to fall and his suspicion he’d been pushed, but that he had no proof and certainly no idea who might have been responsible. He explained what he’d been reading about that afternoon and his conviction that somewhere within the entries lay the clue to why he’d fallen.
Lewis nodded. On the face of it James had fallen because he’d had his mind on other things and not noticed something he’d tripped over. But he wasn’t going to ignore a copper’s instinct and given there had already been two deaths, he wouldn’t dismiss this potential attack out of hand. Which meant he needed to ensure James’ safety. He would have to give that some thought.
In the meantime, he said, “If you make a list of books we can get for you for tomorrow, I’ll see they’re brought round first thing.”
“I’ll be okay to go back to work tomorrow, so there won’t be any need, but thank you for thinking of it.”
“You’ve been concussed, so there’s no way Innocent will let you work tomorrow, regardless of the state of your arm.”
“I was hoping she wouldn’t enforce the rule since I’m not on active duty as such.”
“Not a chance.”
James sighed. “Well, in which case there are a couple of books I could usefully read, before I’m able to get back to the actual documents. I’ll write the details down for you.”
The following morning, having arranged for Julie to pick up the books James had requested, Robbie went to meet with Dr Merrick.
When he arrived at the Merricks’ house he was greeted by Mrs Merrick, who explained her husband was out for his morning run, but should be back shortly. Robbie sighed – he had come at the time Merrick had suggested, so he was not impressed to find he had suggested the time deliberately to force Robbie to wait for him.
Mrs Merrick offered to make some coffee and while she was doing so Robbie took the opportunity to ask her some questions.
“I’m sorry to have to ask you this,” he said, “but I’ve heard rumours your husband had a relationship with Mrs Hembury.”
Robbie was surprised at Mrs Merrick’s reaction, for she started to laugh.
“No, inspector,” she said, “that’s ridiculous.”
Robbie tried to find the best way of saying that sometimes the wife wasn’t aware, when Merrick himself came in.
“Ah, inspector, I’m glad to see you were on time,” Merrick said.
Robbie glared, but managed not to respond to this. Instead he said, “I have a few more questions I would like to ask you.”
He indicated they should move somewhere private, but Merrick shrugged and said, “Ask away.”
Mrs Merrick said, “I’ll make myself scarce.” And Robbie nodded his thanks to her.
“I understand you were a frequent visitor to the Hemburys’ house,” he continued.
“And where did this understanding come from?”
“We’ve spoken to other witnesses and it came up during the interviews.”
“Mere gossip, to which you can attach no weight.”
“So, are you saying you didn’t visit their house?”
“I was an occasional visitor, you know the way these things happen.”
“If you could be rather more specific, please sir.”
“I would call round to collect papers if Hembury was working at home, or to drop something off after work. And Hembury hosted a social evening before Christmas.”
“And was it just the Professor you went to see, or did you see his wife as well?”
“You are aware they were working in similar fields, so it could be one of the other. Anything more is pure conjecture on your behalf and tittle tattle by those who should find better ways to occupy their time.”
“Thank you for clearing the matter up,” Robbie said.
He turned to leave and Merrick watched him go, making no attempt at politeness.
Robbie was walking down the drive to his car when Mrs Merrick caught up with him.
“I hope my husband explained the reason for my laughter,” she said.
Robbie looked blank.
“You do know he bats for the opposite side,” she added, before turning round and walking back to the house.
Robbie cursed as he got into his car. There was no way he could go back and ask Merrick if he was having an affair with the professor. It seemed a distinct possibility – Merrick had been so emphatic in his denial of a relationship. If only he’d known that fact sooner.
Once back at the station Robbie began to look through all the potential suspects again. He marked the few who had alibis for one or both of the murders, keeping in mind more than one person might have been involved. He then started to look at possible motives. Robbie put the relationship between Hembury and Merrick turning sour at the top of his list.
James began to look through the books Julie had brought over. At first glance there was nothing of interest to him, but as he started to read the chapters he realised hidden within the pages were nuggets of importance. He decided to treat the chapter as he would any witness and pick out the relevant facts from amongst the flow of information. His only regret was that he could not ask this particular witness to clarify points where he would have been grateful for further details.
There was a paragraph about the document being brought before the magistrate to settle ownership of the piece of land. It was noted the clerk who had been due to present the document was unavailable. The magistrate declared the land belonged to Whitestone College and ordered St Donal’s College to give up the rights by the end of the week. This meant, James thought, it was possible the clerk had been the one killed in the brawl. But why was this not mentioned at the time? He considered the timing – the court case happened first thing in the morning, so it was possible the identity of the dead man was not yet known.
So, was it a co-incidence the clerk had been killed? Co-incidences did happen, but it seemed unusual the leaders of both gangs had fled. Normally one would have been only too happy to accuse the other. And to be able to disappear without trace – no apparent rumours of them being in hiding locally – implied the perpetrators had greater funds than would have been reasonable for such folk.
James could get no further. Had it been a current case this would have given him several lines of enquiry, but with the participants all long dead, there was almost no chance he’d find further information in this direction. He turned his thoughts instead to consider the value of the land.
To all intents and purposes the land didn’t seem particularly important. It was situated between the two colleges and was used by both to provide a secondary entrance, mainly by the cleaning and catering staff. It was wide enough to drive a cart down. St Donal’s paid Whitestone a nominal sum each year for its use. The sum, although a significant amount when the original claim was made, no longer seemed large enough to justify possible murder over a forged document.
Feeling like he had once more reached a dead end James picked up the other book Julie had brought and began to read.
Robbie was about to go out to grab a sandwich for lunch when his mobile rang.
“Hello, love, how’s your morning been?” he asked, having seen James’ name on the screen.
“Fine, thank you. Look, there’s another document.”
“It appears the document with the deeds for the land wasn’t the only one. I’ve been reading the book by Grace Durbar which Julie brought me. Durbar quotes from a ledger listing two ‘lost’ documents the magistrates validated within one month of each other.”
“Er, right. So what’s your point?”
“I’m not getting anywhere with the first document. But if the two are connected in some way ... Which means I need to see the second document.”
“James, I think you’re becoming too involved in the idea that the murders are purely linked to the documents. I think it’s far more likely the relationship between Merrick and Hembury went sour – and yes I mean the professor, it seems Merrick’s gay – and Mrs Hembury found something out. Nothing complicated at all – a straight forward crime of passion.”
“No! It has to relate to the documents. Hembury must have found something; we just don’t know what it was. And I believe the clerk who forged the land deeds was deliberately killed. It has to be of significance.”
“Okay. It was important back then. But does it matter now which college owns the land?”
“Not particularly. Not unless they ask for all the money for usage of the land to be repaid.”
“Calculating something like that could take years. I bet there’s an academic who’d love to do it. But it’s no reason for committing murder now. You need to take a step back.”
“Robbie, listen. I know it’s important.”
“Look, James. I’ve got to get on. We’ll talk about it tonight if you want.”
“Please, Robbie ...”
Robbie jammed the phone in his jacket pocket and stomped out of the office. As good a policeman as James was, there were times when he was so caught up in one idea he failed to see what else was going on around him.
He continued to mull the conversation over as he walked to the sandwich shop. Maybe he should humour James a little; after all, that would mean he couldn’t be accused of concentrating on one idea to the exclusion of all others.
Accordingly, once he was back in the station he phoned Merrick. “Dr Merrick, I understand there may have been a second document which was registered about the same time as the one we’ve been looking at. Can you tell me anything about it, please?”
“You’re mistaken,” Merrick replied. “There’s no other document.”
“There’s nothing more to say. I have a tutorial now. Good bye.”
Robbie looked thoughtful as he put the phone down. How could someone deny the existence of a document without even considering it? Surely, for an academic, the mere possibility of a new document would be of interest. And if the question had already been raised, but nothing found, then presumably he would have said something like, “I’ve heard it mentioned, but there’s been no evidence it still exists.” It looked as if they would need to do some further investigation in this area after all.
At about seven o’clock James heard the door bell ring. He opened the door to find Laura outside holding a pyrex dish.
“Hello, James,” she said.
“Hi, Laura. To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“I’ve brought dinner – only shepherd’s pie and veg, but I thought we could all do with a decent meal. Didn’t Robbie tell you I’d be coming?”
“He’s not back yet.”
“Oh!” They walked into the kitchen. “Do you mind if I stick this in your oven to reheat?”
“No, please go ahead. It’s very kind of you to do this.”
“It’s no problem. Has Robbie said when he’ll be back?”
“I haven’t heard from him.”
“That’s very strange. I spoke to him just after four to tell him what I was doing. He said he’d let you know and you’d both look forward to seeing me. So if he’d been held up I’m sure he’d have contacted one of us. Is there a problem?”
“We argued at lunch time.”
“He made no mention of that when I spoke to him.”
“I just assumed he was in a bad humour and staying late.”
“That wasn’t the impression he gave me. I got the feeling he was looking forward to being home. Have you tried phoning him?”
James didn’t reply.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then,” Laura said. “I’ll try. I suppose it’s possible he’s got engrossed and not noticed the time. Although it’s unlike Robbie to ignore his stomach.”
James smiled slightly at this.
Laura tried phoning and then frowned. “Straight to answer phone. I’ll phone the station and get someone to check his office.”
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m chasing him,” James said.
“They won’t. It’ll be Laura Hobson who’s chasing him and most of them know better than to question my actions.”
She spoke to the desk sergeant and then put her phone down again. “There’s no reply from his office, but the sergeant’s going to get someone to check to see if he’s elsewhere in the building.
A few minutes later Laura’s phone rang.
“Hello, Laura. It’s John Garrett.”
“I saw Robbie on his way out about five o’clock. He said he was calling in on one of the university libraries – something about a question concerning a document – and then going home. If you know where he would have been going I could ask a patrol to call round and see if there’s any sign of his car.”
Laura had put her phone on speaker, so James gave the address.
“That’s where James had his accident,” Laura added.
“Yeah, I wondered about that. I’ll keep in touch.”
Laura looked at James. “He’ll be fine. He’s probably talking to someone in one of the old colleges and the signal can’t get through the walls.”
James looked at Laura, but she was unable to meet his eyes, confirming to both of them neither believed this.
The next phone to ring was James’. He picked it up. “Ma’am?”
“I presume you’ve not heard from Robbie yet?” Jean Innocent said.
“No, not a word.”
“Right. Inspector Garrett has spoken to me. In the circumstances I’m taking this extremely seriously. Please let me know the instant you hear from him.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
James told Laura the content of his conversation. The timer rang on the oven, but by mutual agreement the oven was switched off. Neither was feeling hungry.
When James’ phone next rang he snatched it up. “Ma’am?”
“We’ve found Robbie and he’s on his way by ambulance to the John Radcliffe. He’s conscious but somewhat confused. A car is on its way to pick you and Laura up – I assume she’s still with you. Do not leave until it arrives.”
Innocent rang off before James could reply. He turned towards Laura. “There’s a car coming to take us to the hospital.”
He grabbed his shoes and then started to battle unsuccessfully with the laces with one hand. Laura came over and batted his hand away. “Here, let me.” She helped him into his coat and then insisted he sit down until their lift arrived.
When they arrived at the hospital they found Innocent on the phone. “Please don’t worry,” she was saying, “I’ll make sure you’re kept fully informed. If you wouldn’t mind just confirming to the doctor you would like James to see your father, since you aren’t able to be here at the moment, it would be helpful.”
Innocent passed her phone over to the doctor and turned to face James. “As you probably gathered, that was Lyn. I’ve arranged for you to see Robbie once the doctors have finished examining him – Lyn is of course his next of kin, so we needed her authority.”
James nodded. “How is he?”
“Battered, bruised and suffering from a blow to the back of the head. We’ll know more soon.”
“Do we know what happened?”
“We don’t have the details yet and the medics have said unless Robbie volunteers any information he’s not to be questioned until tomorrow morning.”
James looked sick at this news, but Innocent hastened to reassure him that as far as the doctors could tell Robbie was going to make a full recovery, but he was still suffering from concussion and therefore confused and repeating himself. She added it was quite possible he would never remember what happened immediately before he was hit.
“What do we know?” Laura asked.
“He was found in his car in a layby just outside the city. We had issued all patrols with the details of his car and instructed them to be on the lookout for it. He was semi-conscious when the patrol found him; tied up on the back seat. Inspector Garrett has gone out there to supervise the investigation, although how much evidence can be obtained we’re not sure. PC Reynolds has admitted to me they weren’t as careful about preserving evidence as they should have been. I assured him their haste to reach Inspector Lewis justified their lack of protocol on this occasion.”
Laura turned to James. “Sit down!” she ordered. “And if you’re feeling faint put your head between your knees.”
He sat down, but indicated he wasn’t actually going to faint.
“I need to get back to the station,” Innocent said. “Garrett told me he understood Robbie was heading for the university when he left the station. Do you know any more, James?”
“I told him I thought there was a second document – I didn’t think he believed me – but that’s the only reason I can think of for him going there. His main contact was Dr Merrick. Other than that, I’m none the wiser.”
Innocent nodded. “We can speak to Merrick; if nothing else he may be able to tell us if Robbie made it to the university. It’s Friday, so there would have been less people there who might have seen him. Until we have more details, James, you are not to return to the library.”
“But, ma’am, surely it’s even more important now to discover why this is happening and to find out who’s responsible?” James objected.
“That is precisely what I am doing. And since for the moment it appears my officers are in danger in the vicinity of the library, they are not to go there without my express permission. That is an order. Do you understand me?”
James and Laura watched Innocent as she departed and then sat down to wait.
The following afternoon James opened the front door to find Laura holding another pyrex dish.
“I hadn’t expected you back so soon,” James said sharply.
“I wanted to make sure the two of you were okay – twice reheated shepherd’s pie didn’t seem enough for the weekend. I’ve made a large casserole which will do you for two days.”
“I can cope, you know.”
“I’m not doubting that. I just think you’ve got enough to cope with and a bit of help wouldn’t go amiss. How is he?”
“As well as can be expected. He went to lie down after lunch, he must have gone to sleep.”
“You are keeping an eye on him?” Laura couldn’t conceal the concern in her voice.
“Of course, what do you take me for? I listened to his breathing from the bedroom doorway – I just didn’t go right up to him and stare in his face.” James’ annoyance was apparent.
“Good. I know he seemed okay this morning when we picked him up – it’s still a worry though.”
“Anyway, can I put this in your kitchen? I’m going to a concert tonight and then out walking with friends tomorrow, but if you do need me, please call me.”
Laura carried the casserole into the kitchen and James returned to the papers he had spread out all over the living room.
“I presume you wouldn’t like me to stack the dishwasher for you?” Laura called out.
“As I said, I can cope.”
Laura came out of the kitchen and surveyed the papers over the floor. “James, what exactly are you doing?”
“It’s here somewhere and I have to find it. There’s a reason Robbie was attacked – I must just keep skipping over it.”
“You need to take a break. Did you actually get any sleep last night?”
“I owe it to him.” James was getting louder with every sentence. He almost shouted, “Stop fussing!”
“What do you owe to who?”
Neither James nor Laura had heard Robbie come into the room and both swung round at the sound of his voice.
Robbie continued quietly, “James, clear the stuff off the settee and come and sit down with me. Laura, would you mind making us all a cup of tea, please. And if you want to tidy the kitchen a bit, I won’t object.”
Reluctantly, James did as he was told. Laura brought the tea through and cleared herself a space on one of the armchairs. They drank their tea in silence. Robbie put his mug down and gave a contented sigh, leaning back on the settee. James looked as if he was about to start arguing again when Laura’s phone pinged.
She read the message and then laughed. “It’s a text from John Garrett. His wife wants to know if it would be okay to invite the two of you to Sunday lunch.”
“No!” James exclaimed.
“Can you reach me my phone, please, Laura? It’s on the dining table,” Robbie said.
Laura passed him the phone and he rang Garrett. “Hi, John, it’s Robbie Lewis. If you’re sure it’s okay with your wife we’d love to come to lunch tomorrow.” Robbie laughed at the reply and then put his phone on the arm of the settee.
“That’s all settled. John will pick us up about twelve to save me driving. He said his wife’s looking forward to cooking a proper Sunday lunch for someone who will definitely not be disappearing half way through!”
Laura collected up the mugs and took them through to the kitchen. She then loaded the dishwasher, before coming back into the sitting room.
“Right,” she said, “I’m off. And as I said to James I shall be out and about for the rest of the weekend, but if you do find you need something, make sure you ring me.”
“Thanks, Laura,” Robbie replied. “I appreciate it; although I reckon we’re pretty well set up.”
Once Laura had left James said, “You go to the Garretts for lunch tomorrow; I’ll carry on with this.”
Robbie looked at him. “I have accepted for both of us, and we are both going. I understand your concern, but it’s time you took a break.”
James stood up. “Is that an order?”
“If necessary, yes!”
James turned round and stormed out of the room towards their bedroom. Wanting to be left alone he shut the door forcibly and then winced at the idea that he was behaving like a teenager slamming the door. Feeling completely frustrated he lay down on the bed and shut his eyes.
Robbie waited for a quarter of an hour, but when James did not return to the living room, Robbie got up and went to knock quietly on the door. There was no response and he hesitated for a moment, but then decided, since it was his bedroom too, to go in. He found James asleep. Robbie picked up the spare blanket and covered James up, before returning to the living room and switching the television on to watch the rugby. The game was a good one and took his own mind away from the events of the last few days.
Robbie had probably expected James to resume his opposition to going out for lunch, but by the time James had woken up, he had come to the conclusion it was possible he was overdoing things. He was never going to agree with Robbie that he was so far involved that ‘he couldn’t see the wood for the trees’, but nevertheless he had to admit a break would do him good.
Michelle Garrett welcomed them warmly when they arrived and then apologised for the clutter they had to negotiate as they made their way to the sitting room.
“The joys of teenage children,” Robbie said.
“Indeed,” Michelle said. “Have a seat, lunch should be ready in about quarter of an hour and John will get you a drink in the meantime.”
Once they were all seated round the dinner table the conversation worked its way through a number of topics. James, who had expected the Garrett’s two children to be monosyllabic, was pleasantly surprised to find them joining in with the discussion about medieval Oxford.
“Mum and I went to the new exhibition of silverware from some of the colleges,” Chloe, the older of the two said. “Some of it was quite boring, but the plate in the middle of the exhibition was beautiful. And it didn’t even look as old as the rest, although the description said it was. I took a picture of it on my phone when no-one was looking, if you want to see it.”
Michelle said, “I’m not sure you should be admitting such things.”
James laughed. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Chloe began to feel in her pocket for her phone, but was stopped by her father, who said, “At least wait until we’ve finished dinner.”
Chloe pulled a face, but James winked at her and said, “You can show me afterwards.”
Once they had finished eating, Robbie offered to help Michelle with loading the dishwasher. She told him it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted he was quite happy to give her a hand whilst she made the coffee. James returned to the sitting room, where Chloe found the picture of the silver plate on her phone.
“We’d gone to the exhibition because my art project is concentrating on certain silver designs,” Chloe told James, “And Mum thought it might be helpful to see a number of different examples. I’d been making sketches as we went round, but this plate was quite different from the others. It looked more like some of the later designs we’d been looking at in class, but when I read the description it said it came from the same period as the rest.”
“I don’t suppose you made a note of the description?” James asked.
“I was going to take a picture of it, but one of the stewards appeared so I thought I’d better not. I do remember there was something about an old document which confirmed its date – oh, and it was from Whitestone College.”
“What?” James’ exclamation made Chloe jump. “You’re sure about the college?”
“Well, yes,” she said. “Is it important?”
“It might be.” James sank back onto the sofa, apparently deep in thought.
Chloe stood up and muttered, “Glad to have been of help.”
James looked up at her. “Oh, you’ve definitely been of help. If I give you my number could you forward the picture to me?”
“Sure,” she said with a shrug.
At that point John came in, carrying a tray of coffees. “Everything okay?” he asked, “We heard your shout.”
“Very much so,” James replied. “Your daughter may well have provided the next link in the chain. She’s clearly very observant – would make an excellent police officer.”
Chloe gave her father a cheeky grin and left the adults to their coffee.
James didn’t pass any further comment on the plate until he and Robbie were back home, and then it was Robbie who began the conversation. “I presume from your enthusiasm the plate Chloe saw may have some bearing on the case?”
“She said this particularly plate belonged to Whitestone College and its provenance was confirmed by a document. She was unable to get a photograph of the details of the document due to the unfortunate arrival of one of the stewards.”
“And you think this might tie in with your missing document?”
“Well, the timing would make sense. You would hardly want nosy coppers asking awkward questions when your plate was the centre of an exhibition, would you? Do you think Innocent would object to us taking a look at that plate?”
“We’re both supposed to be on sick leave – I’m sure a trip to an exhibition would be an acceptable activity.”
They arrived at the exhibition shortly after it had opened the following morning. Robbie was all for heading straight for the plate, but James insisted they work their way around the exhibition. Therefore Robbie trailed round after James, vaguely listening to the comments he made on the other pieces of silverware on show and trying to make appropriate noises until James stopped and said, “You weren’t listening to me at all!”
“Of course I was.”
“Then how come you didn’t pull me up when I pointed out the beautifully executed elephant on the cup when it’s obviously a bear?”
“Must have misheard you.”
They walked round the corner, which brought them to the centre of the exhibition, the Whitestone silver plate.
“Wow!” Robbie said. “I can see why Chloe thought it different from the previous articles.”
“And why she was surprised at the dating of it,” James said. “Let’s see what the description says.”
They both read the description, which explained there was a document, held by Whitestone College, which related to the original purchase of the plate in the mid fifteenth century.
“We need to see the document,” James said. “I’ll phone Innocent and tell her.”
“No, wait,” Robbie said. “I’ll make the phone call.”
Once outside the exhibition James listened with increasing annoyance to Robbie’s phone call. He hadn’t phoned Innocent, but Garrett and the last thing James heard was Robbie agreeing to wait for Garrett to phone him back.
As soon as Robbie ended the call James turned to him. “What are you doing? Garrett’s not even involved in this case. We need Innocent to authorise me, us, to see that document.”
“Calm down! Firstly, since my abduction Garrett is involved with the case. Secondly, Innocent will not authorise anyone to visit the library until she is sure they will be safe. We wait.”
“But the document ...”
“The document is safe for now. It will need to be produced if anyone queries the plate’s authenticity. If it can’t be produced my understanding is the value of the plate drops considerably. I am correct, aren’t I?”
“Yes. It would still have value due to its age and the nature of the stones and the silver, but nothing like as much as the purported age would give it.”
Robbie’s phone rang. He listened to the speaker on the other end, before saying “Excellent, we’ll see you then,” and hanging up.
He turned to James. “John’s arranged for a meeting with Innocent at 2 o’clock this afternoon, when we can discuss the way forward. So I suggest we find somewhere for lunch, since we can’t do anything more until then.”
Innocent greeted Robbie and James when they entered her office and enquired as to their well being. Both men assured her they were fully recovered, to which she made a non-committal sound and added, “We shall see about that.”
Shortly afterwards Garrett knocked on the door. He apologised for being slightly late, explaining he had been waiting for the results from forensics.
“Did they find anything we can use?” Innocent asked.
“There are some recent fingerprints under one of the rear door handles which have so far not been identified. The steering wheel and driver’s door handle were both wiped clean, as might be expected. We’ve identified most of the prints as being either Robbie’s or James’ and eliminated those from the two officers who were first on the scene. Are you aware of anyone who would have accessed the rear seat of your car in the previous few days, Robbie?”
Robbie shook his head.
“We’ve checked CCTV but have so far not found anything to identify who drove your car from the library to the layby.”
James looked thoughtful. “Whoever drove your car would have had to get back again. Either they got someone to pick them up – risky, because it would mean explaining why they needed a lift – or they walked back which would also have drawn attention to themselves.”
“But no-one would notice if they were jogging – I’ve seen them out there a number of times,” Robbie said. Then he added, “And Merrick jogs.”
“Which brings us back to Dr Merrick again,” Innocent said. “Inspector Garrett tells me you’ve found another possible connection to Whitestone?”
James explained about the silver plate and the need to see the documentation which related to it.
Innocent nodded. “I think it’s time we invited Dr Merrick in for an interview.”
“And the documents?” James asked.
“They can wait.”
“We have established they have a role to play, but if there was a forgery that crime is beyond our jurisdiction. And, as far as I understand it, Merrick’s use of them was only illegal if he was aware they were forgeries and proving that would be difficult.”
“It’s accepted the document relating to the land is a forgery,” James objected.
“But no-one recently has benefitted from it. And just because one document has been forged it doesn’t mean the second has.”
James continued to look furious.
Innocent ignored him and turned to Garrett. “Bring Merrick in and see if he has an alibi for the night Robbie was assaulted. And let’s see if his fingerprints match those on the car.”
The three men stood to take their leave.
James was clearly not happy and his mood did not improve when Innocent told them to go home again. “I appreciate the contribution you have both made, gentlemen, but whatever your own opinion may be I am not ready for you to return to work. Take another day off; I will ask Garrett to contact you if we need you.”
When they got back into the car James said, “Can we drive home via the library?”
“Are you deliberately ignoring what Innocent said?”
“What? No, not that library. I meant the public library. Or are you going to tell me I’m not allowed to even read about medieval silverware?”
“I can’t see that that should be a problem. I could even see if there’s anything I fancy reading, since I’ve got all this time to spare.”
James had agreed to watch a DVD with Robbie in the evening, so it wasn’t until the following morning he picked up the book on silverware he had borrowed from the library. He began by flicking through, looking at the coloured illustrations. As he did so an envelope fell out. He bent down to pick it up and said “Now that is a surprise.”
“What is?” Robbie asked.
“This envelope was sent to Professor Hembury. He must have been using it as a bookmark.”
“So? Lots of people use old envelopes to mark their place.”
“But why would Hembury have been reading about medieval silverware? It’s not his sphere of interest.”
“Not unless he knew about the second document.”
“Exactly. And he wanted to know more about the subject before he challenged Merrick as to its authenticity.”
“Can I see?” Robbie asked.
James passed the book over and Robbie flicked to the front. “From the return date stamped here he must have taken the book out a week before he was killed,” Robbie said. “So did he read up and then challenge Merrick?”
“That would seem plausible. But you didn’t pick up on anything when you were looking at Hembury’s work.”
“No, but we wouldn’t have done. We were concentrating on the land documents. We ignored anything else. His wife told us when I interviewed her he was writing a book and that was only one part of it. He had notes and stuff for several different chapters.”
“What happened to the notes?”
“Still at the station.”
“Can we get someone to look through them?” James asked.
“And would you fancy putting yourself forward for that task?” Robbie replied. “I’ll ask.”
Innocent agreed there was no reason why James shouldn’t look through Hembury’s notes to see if he had written anything about the silver plate. Her only provisos being he wait until the following day before starting and all work was to be done in the station. Robbie similarly was allowed back to work, but confined to his desk.
John Garrett was pleased to see Robbie back at his desk as he dumped a pile of papers on it. “Merrick’s statement from when we questioned him, statements from the library security staff regarding movements of cars and people Friday evening, statements from the museum staff about the plate,” Garrett said. “All yours, mate.”
Unsurprisingly, Merrick’s statement confirmed nothing except that he had indeed been jogging after work on Friday. Robbie moved onto the statements from the library staff. No-one had noticed anything out of the ordinary, although one mentioned one of the secretaries asking him about Merrick’s whereabouts. The secretary hadn’t been questioned, so Robbie decided to give her a call.
“Miss Sinclair,” he began. “I believe you where looking for Dr Merrick last Friday. Could you tell me about it?”
“Yes, his wife phoned wanting to remind him they were going out and not to be late back. She did that occasionally. I spoke to one of the security staff, who said he’d already left, so I thought no more about it. It was strange though, because when I looked out of the window I could still see his car in the car park.”
“Can you tell me what time that was?”
“It was about 5.15. I came back to my desk and began tidying up before I went home.”
“I understand Dr Merrick sometimes went jogging after work. Could he have done that?”
“I suppose it’s possible, but I don’t think he would have done so, knowing he was going out that evening. He might have been engrossed in his work and not finished on time, but he wouldn’t deliberately go jogging.”
“Thank you very much,” Robbie said. “You’ve been very helpful.”
Robbie was thinking about the significance of this conversation when James burst into the office. Robbie smiled at him and said, “You look like the cat that got the cream.”
“Is it that obvious?” James replied. “I found them. Hembury’s notes about the Whitestone plate. Meticulous notes about why the plate was almost certainly later than was claimed in the document. There’s a couple of names in his notes I don’t recognise – they could either be references or people he was considering consulting – there are question marks by both of them. And crucially, Hembury had started to cross reference details between the land document and the one dating the plate. Hembury was an expert in this field, and he’s going into much greater depth than I’m capable of, but it’s clear he believes the two documents were connected.”
“And you think he confronted Merrick with this information?”
“That’s what’s slightly strange. With something like this, I’d have expected it to have been made public, or at least known around the college and yet nothing’s been said.”
“But what if they were in a relationship? Might Hembury have wanted to speak to Merrick in private first?”
James nodded. “You said Hembury was killed with a single knife wound? And there was no sign he’d tried to defend himself. So someone he trusted. But at the same time pre-meditated.”
“That’s right,” Robbie replied. “Which was why we suspected his wife. Someone who could get close to him without causing suspicion, and who could have prepared for the act. So what if Hembury phoned Merrick and asked him to come over to discuss the documents?”
“Merrick’s put on his guard and decides to silence Hembury before he can say anything to anyone else. But he doesn’t know Hembury has spoken to his wife, so when he finds out he has to silence her as well.”
“Either that or she suspects he was involved in her husband’s death. And while you were finding all this I learnt Merrick did indeed go jogging on Friday night, but it wasn’t planned exercise as his statement seems to imply. I think it’s time we arranged to bring Dr Merrick in for a formal interview.”
Robbie was leaving the office in order to go and speak to Innocent when Garrett arrived.
“Hi John,” Robbie said. “From your impression of the Cheshire Cat I assume you have good news for us.”
“I do. Michelle’s just phoned me. She was listening to an item on Radio Oxford where the museum curator was encouraging people to come to the latest exhibition. And he said it would be their final opportunity to see the Whitestone plate before it was sold to a private collector.”
Robbie thought he was sharing Garrett’s grin. “Right! Did he say how much for?”
“An undisclosed figure.”
“Excellent,” James added. “Finally, an obvious motive.”
A few days later Robbie and James were at home. Robbie was glancing through a newspaper when he called out to James, “According to the local rag the sale of the Whitestone plate is no longer going through due to problems with its authentication.”
“Now there’s a surprise!”
“But why did anyone want to forge a document about a plate?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was drawn up as a demonstration of their skill by the forger of the land document, who never expected it to be seen again.”
“Which it wouldn’t have been if Merrick hadn’t wanted to use it to boost the sale price of the plate and Hembury hadn’t started looking at the similarities of the two documents.”
“And then asked Merrick,” James added, “Who despite their ‘close’ relationship – and we may never know how close it was – decided Hembury was asking too many questions and therefore had to be silenced.”
“It worries me there are people who are so single minded about their goals they lose touch with the effect their actions have on people. And these aren’t mafia types, but otherwise normal academics. The way Merrick callously killed Hembury’s wife apparently because she asked him to comment on her husband’s latest research since she wanted to publish it posthumously. Granted we don’t know whether this was a loaded question and she was hinting as Merrick’s involvement, but it seemed extreme.”
“I can’t say I was happy at the way Merrick admitted he had pushed me down the stairs,” James said, “But claimed it was an accident and he didn’t stop because he was in a hurry.”
“He was so clinical in his answers. It was as if he’d rehearsed everything in his head so he believed his actions were justified. And then to lose it all over a thumb print.”
“I was glad you weren’t leading the interview at that moment.”
“So was I,” Robbie said. “Not that it would have been appropriate for me to be there when Merrick was questioned about my abduction. But the way he went for John when he asked him to explain how his thumb print came to be on the rear door handle of my car was impressive.”
“I don’t think John thought so, especially since I only had one arm to help restrain Merrick.”
“He did okay though – bit of the old Manc brawler coming out.”
“Yes. And losing his temper so spectacularly rather spoiled Merrick’s argument that he was a quiet academic merely protecting the college’s assets. I’m definitely glad this case is over.”
“Have you decided what you want to do now? Innocent only called you back for this particular case,” Robbie said.
“The one thing this case has done is confirm my opinion that there is more to policing than documents. I want to be involved in the human side as well, which means I shall have to ask Innocent if I can stay in Oxford. The trouble is there’s no-one I’d want to work with, since we won’t be working together.”
“John Garrett’s good.”
“And has an equally good sergeant already.”
“You are still intending to work for your Inspector’s exams, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but I need to find somewhere to be until a vacancy comes up.”
“That may be sooner than you think. After this last escapade I’ve decided it’s time to retire. I could request I stay on desk duty, but that’s not what my policing is about, any more than yours is, so it is time to go.”
“You’ll miss it.”
“Probably less than you think. I feel like I’ve done my bit now and it’s time to let others, including yourself, do theirs.”
“Are you expecting me to put the opposite view, to try to persuade you to stay?”
“No, I’m expecting you to agree with me for once. We talked about it when you first went to the Met, and although it’s a bit earlier than I’d planned, I know it’s the right decision.”
James laughed. “Well, we may have had our differences of opinion lately, but this isn’t going to be one of them.”