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Early One Morning, Just As The Sun Was Rising

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Tuesday

Laura Hobson was of the opinion if she was going to be called out at five o’clock in the morning it was far better to be called on a sunny summer morning rather than a wet winter one.  Approaching the location where a dead body had been found when it meant walking along a footpath with wild flowers on either side and the sun casting shadows from the trees was pleasant.  She was aware of what would be waiting for her, but that was no reason not to enjoy nature when it was displayed in its midsummer glory.

The constable who had met her on arrival and had carried her case for her indicated the clearing where the body had been found.  She knelt down to examine the dead man.  The grass she knelt on was practically dry, but she noted there was still dew on the area shaded by a large hedge.  The body was partially in shadow, and she took careful note of the condition of the clothing.

One sleeve, the one nearest her, was almost dry, but the other, still in the shade, was wet with dew.   The body had clearly been there for some hours.  There was no discernible cause of death at this stage, so she got back onto her feet to wait for SOCO to photograph the body as it was, so she could then turn it over.

As she looked at the body, she felt as if she knew the man.  He was lying on his front, with his face mostly obscured.  Of medium height and build, he was wearing jeans, trainers and hoodie, nothing to distinguish him from many others who lived and worked in Oxford.  Yet the nagging feeling of recognition remained.

“Who found the body?” she asked the constable. 

“A couple on a narrowboat travelling down the canal spotted him.  They were unable to moor up, but phoned 999 thinking it was someone who had collapsed.  We responded to the call in advance of the ambulance, but discovered he was dead.  We were told to leave the body as it was when we found it.”

The sound of footsteps caused Laura to look along the path.  She could see her SOCO colleague talking to James Hathaway as they approached and so waved to them. 

James greeted her briefly before going to speak to the second officer who had discovered the body.  Laura waited for SOCO to finish taking photographs and then she turned the body over.

“Oh!”  She stood up in surprise.  She was vaguely aware of James coming to stand beside her and, further away, a choked sound followed by footsteps as someone, presumably SOCO, moved rapidly away.

“Are you okay?” James asked, putting an arm around her shoulders.

“Yes, just give me a minute.”

James called to one of the officers.  “There’s a bottle of water in my car.  Take my keys and go and get it.  And, Havers, see if SOCO needs anything; I think he’s been sick.”

“Thanks, James,” Laura said.  “I’m okay now.  It was just the shock.”

Laura knelt down again.  The body before her was one DS Darren Riley of the West Midlands police, who had been seconded to Oxford for a few months the previous winter to assist with a drugs trafficking case involving the two forces.  He had made himself extremely unpopular in the months he had been in Oxford, and general feeling was West Midlands had been only too pleased to be rid of him for that time.

He had returned to Birmingham in the late spring and everyone had hoped that was the last they would of him.  However, he was now lying in a clearing by the canal with the front of his hoodie ripped and a large X carved across his chest.

Laura finished her examination of the corpse and stood up.  She accepted the bottle of water James passed to her, and took a drink before saying, “Death from a single stab wound, probably delivered by someone who knew what they were doing.  Death would have been almost instantaneous.  The cross was made afterwards.  I’ll know more when I’ve done the PM.”

“Time of death?”

“Between three and five hours ago, probably about four.”

Leaving James at the scene she walked back towards her car, briefly acknowledging the officers heading in the opposite direction.

***

In some ways, if James Hathaway was going to be dragged out of bed at five o’clock in the morning, he preferred it to be a dull day, even a dark one.  Days when the sun shone through the gap in the curtains made it feel as if nature was laughing at him.

James drove morosely, conscious part of his bad humour was entirely his own fault.  He had known he was tempting fate reading so late the night before, but he had been hooked and it was only with reluctance he’d put down his book when he had.

The other part of his bad mood was not of his own doing.  He would be working without a sergeant, at least until he had someone assigned on a temporary basis.  His own sergeant, with whom he was slowly building a good working relationship, had phoned him the evening before to say his pregnant wife had been rushed into hospital with complications.  James had told Sherratt to take the next twenty-four hours off (Sherratt already had a small daughter so he would need to organise child care) and then they could review the situation.  James had then called the station to notify them.  He hadn’t anticipated this would cause a problem since he was second on the rotation.  He didn’t doubt he would have someone assigned, but he wasn’t expecting an instant replacement.

James recognised Laura’s car when he reached his destination.  SOCO had arrived just before him, so he offered his help with some of the equipment.  He greeted Laura before going to speak to one of the two officers who had found the body.

The constable was tense and clearly still shocked.  He confirmed what James had already been told concerning their actions and said they had observed nothing suspicious since then.

He heard Laura cry out and instantly went to her side.  She had turned the body over and at that point had recognised the dead man.  Fortunately, although shaken, Laura seemed all right, unlike SOCO, who James suspected was about to be sick.

James hadn’t known Darren Riley, since he had been in Oxford whilst James himself was on secondment to the Met.  Robbie had mentioned the name in passing, never very complimentarily, but as far as James knew Robbie had had little to do with the man.

The initial phone call had included the victim’s name and that CS Innocent had been informed and had requested he attend rather than whoever was top of the rotation.  She had also ordered Riley’s name was not to be released to anyone at that stage.

James continued to wait while Laura finished her examination, passing her the water bottle from his car when she stood up.  He listened to her initial report and watched as she started walking to her car.  He saw the reinforcements arriving, including a rather bleary-eyed Sergeant Bradshaw, DI Garrett’s sergeant.

Bradshaw came over.  “Morning, sir,” he said.  “I’ve been sent to take over temporarily, so you can get back to the station.  CS Innocent would like to see you as soon as possible.”

James told Bradshaw what he knew, before leaving the sergeant to oversee collection of the body and the search of the area.  He was pleased it was Bradshaw who had been sent; he wasn’t an ambitious man, and would probably always remain a sergeant, but he was efficient and painstaking and James was confident little would slip past him whilst he was in charge.

“I’ll see you later,” James said, and followed the path back to his car.

***

Robbie Lewis had stirred when he heard the phone call, but as soon as his brain registered it was not his ring tone he rolled over, luxuriating in not being required to leave his bed.  Had it been his own phone he would have been up in a shot, for nowadays early morning calls meant family in trouble.  He listened to James moving round getting dressed; he had not needed to put the light on, for the sunlight was already coming through the curtains.

The sunlight was almost enticing, but the lure of bed was stronger.  Robbie had had plenty of early calls when he’d been working and he knew from long experience what appeared encouraging through the window rarely fulfilled its promise.  He would doze for a while longer and then in an hour or so he would get up.  He had no desire to sleep too late on what promised to be another glorious day; he had work planned for the garden, which he wanted to get done before the day grew so hot the only thing to do in it was sit in the lounger under their newly purchased parasol.

He let his mind wander over the tasks he was planning to tackle, before falling back asleep shortly after registering the sound of the front door closing as James departed.

Robbie woke again a couple of hours later, stretched and went to make himself some coffee.  He found Monty peering in through the kitchen window, so he opened the window to let the cat in.  Monty rubbed round Robbie’s ankles until he fed him, at which point he sniffed the food before wandering off to find somewhere to sleep.

Robbie had already checked his phone to see if James had sent him a text.  He wasn’t surprised there was no message; James would no doubt tell him about the call later.  Not the details, but some of the more general points.  Since James had been called out, Robbie presumed it had been a busy night, for he wasn’t top of the rotation. 

Robbie pottered out into the garden and, picking up a trowel, began to weed the main flowerbed.  There were days when he missed the job now he was retired, but on a sunny day it was far preferable to be mooching around the garden pulling up a few weeds, cutting off some of the dead heads from the roses, than looking at a dead body and battling with the paperwork.

***

As soon as he reached the station, James made his way to Innocent’s office.  He knocked and entered at her “come in”, noting the relief on her face when she saw who it was.

“Take a seat,” she said.

James briefly reported what he had learnt at the crime scene and Innocent nodded her understanding.

“You are no doubt aware of the implications of Darren Riley’s death.  DCI Murphy will be responsible for the case, but you will take charge of the day-to-day running of it.  Given the amount of animosity Riley caused whilst he was here, it seems appropriate for you to have the case, since it should be easier for you to be unbiased.  How much have you heard about him?”

“Robbie mentioned his name a few times in passing, but didn’t appear to want to say much about him.”

“What about Laura Hobson?  I know the three of you meet up.”

James thought.  “I don’t recall her ever speaking about him.”

“Good.”  Innocent looked relieved, although James had no idea why.  “You’ll find out more about him soon enough.  In Sherratt’s unfortunate absence ...”  James was about to make an apology, but Innocent forestalled him. “- Unfortunate in timing for us; I have authorised his absence – I’m seconding Sergeant Tomlinson from uniform across.  She’s a very capable officer, and had minimal contact with Riley, for reasons which will become apparent soon enough.”

James was surprised at the vehemence of the last sentence.  He realised even Innocent was having trouble keeping the dislike of the man out of her voice.

Innocent finished by saying, “I’ve called a meeting to address everyone in half an hour.  Please make sure you’re in attendance.”

James went to his office, sat down at his desk and started to make notes of the essentials from his current caseload that would still need action while he worked on this latest case.  He was scanning through his emails when there was a quiet knock on the door.  He beckoned through the glass to the sergeant who nervously entered.

“Come in, Tomlinson,” James said.  “I’m pleased to have you working with me.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Have a seat.  There’s no need to look so worried.”

“Thank you.”

Tomlinson continued to look nervous.

“Is there a problem, sergeant?”

“No sir.  It’s just I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.  I wasn’t expecting to be in CID.”

“Don’t worry about that; I’ll tell you what to do.  Most people complain I’m too specific in my instructions, so there shouldn’t be a problem in that respect.”

Tomlinson gave a small smile.

“The first thing I want you to do is give me a brief description of what Riley was like.”  James noted the hesitation in Tomlinson’s face.  “I know we’re required to be unbiased, but given the layer of hostility towards him it would be helpful to know why.”

Tomlinson thought for a moment.  “He was brash and arrogant.  He saw himself as a ladies’ man and he had a stream of girlfriends from within the station.  Not me, I was beneath him.  As far as I know he got results.”

James noted what Tomlinson didn’t say.  “Was he a racist?”

“Not outwardly.”

“What he didn’t do, rather than what he did?”

Tomlinson nodded.

“Thank you.  That should give me something to work on.”  James looked at his watch.  “Time to go to Innocent’s meeting.”

When they reached the meeting room, they could hear the assembled officers discussing the case.  James stood to one side, not wishing to be drawn into the discussions.  The start time passed without Innocent arriving, which raised heightened anticipation of further developments.  Finally, DI Garrett arrived and took the podium.

“CS Innocent sends her apologies,” Garrett began, “She’s been unavoidably delayed but will be joining us shortly.  In the meantime, she has asked me to remind you about the need to remain professional at all times.”

Garrett went on to outline what was expected, but James switched off and let his mind wander.  He thought about the case and its implications, specifically what could have happened to delay Innocent.

***

Laura decided to stop for a coffee on her way back to the morgue.  She would have to wait for SOCO to finish photographing the body before it could be released for the post mortem, which gave her time to put her thoughts in order.

Her first question was whether she should hand over the post mortem to one of her colleagues.  She hadn’t known Riley well, but what she did know of him meant she had despised him.  Along with the shock of realising the body was Riley’s, she had been surprised at how angry she had felt at seeing him again and how a part of her had felt he deserved the mutilation.

The man, to her knowledge, had been responsible for the hospitalisation of two women.  Neither at his hands, of course, but it might as well have been.  One young woman had attempted suicide on learning their relationship was not as exclusive as he had led her to believe.  A second had had an ‘accident’ when her boyfriend had overheard Riley describing the woman in rather more intimate details than he felt appropriate.

Riley had shown no sign of remorse or even any responsibility.  He’d even made a half pass at Laura, who had responded with a glare worthy of Medusa.  Unfortunately, it hadn’t been as effective and Riley had not turned to stone, but had wandered off whistling.

Still undecided as to what she should do, Laura returned to the morgue.  Her first instinct would have been to discuss the matter with Robbie, but knowing on this occasion it would be inappropriate, she phoned Karen, her colleague, and the person who would have to do the post mortem if Laura didn’t.  Karen’s response was immediate; they would do it together.  It would be unusual, but justifiable in the circumstances.

***

Robbie was sitting on the garden seat enjoying a cup of coffee when his phone rang.  He was surprised to find it was Innocent who had called, and equally surprised at her request.  He knew he should say he would think about it, but it was Innocent who had called, she did need him, and the whole situation was becoming more of a mess.  Before the rational part of his brain could take control and remind him he had retired because he wanted a quieter life, he had said “yes”.

He went indoors, took his overnight bag out of the cupboard and began to pack.

***

James was not surprised he and Tomlinson were summoned back to innocent’s office following the meeting.

Innocent began, “As you know, DCI Murphy was supposed to be attending the meeting.  However, shortly before it was due to start I received a message from him to say he was leaving for Birmingham to liaise with West Midlands police.  I hadn’t authorised his immediate departure, and because I was unable to contact Murphy, I spoke to my counterpart at West Midlands.  They had not, at that point, requested the meeting.  I’m left with the unavoidable conclusion Murphy may be implicated in Riley’s murder.”

“I suppose it’s possible West Midlands communications haven’t worked properly,” James said.

“I would like to think that’s the case.  And, therefore, until we receive further clarification, none of this is to be made know to the station in general.  I’m sure you both understand.”

“Yes, ma’am,” James and Tomlinson chorused.

“Good.  However, since I cannot afford to waste time, I’ve contacted former Inspector Lewis to ask him to act on our behalf.”

James gave a visible start.

“I need someone I can rely on to liaise with West Midlands, and, possibly with other forces.  He will not be involved with the day-to-day running of the case and will report directly to me.  As you will too, Hathaway, until I give further instructions.”

James nodded.

“So, unless you have any questions, you may carry on.”

James walked back to his office, his mind a whirl. He had scarcely sat down when he received a text, to which he sent a quick reply.

He phoned Laura to establish when they could expect the preliminary results from the post mortem.  Then he turned to Tomlinson.  “I’d like a brief timeline of Riley’s actions when he was in Oxford, with, where possible, who he reported to and who he worked with.  If you’re not sure, put a question mark for the moment and we can fill in the details later.  Go out for lunch and eat your sandwiches on a park bench or something.  It will be easier than facing questions in here.  If anyone suggests you join them, just tell them Inspector Hathaway has sent you out.  They don’t need to know why.  Then meet me at the morgue at two o’clock for the post mortem report.”

“Yes sir!”

James stood up and put his jacket on.  “See you later.”

***

James was not surprised Robbie had chosen their regular bench to meet.  By the time he arrived Robbie was already there, coffees and takeaway sandwiches in hand.

“Hi!  Your retirement didn’t last long,” James began.

“No,” Robbie said ruefully.  “But this is entirely back room stuff – no running, no fast driving, no leaping in rivers.”

“I seem to recall it was always me who ended up leaping in the river.”

Robbie chuckled.  “True, but you get the idea.  How many people know about my involvement?”

“As far as I know just me and Tomlinson, my temporary sergeant, and presumably Innocent’s P.A.  Innocent may have spoken to others, though it’s unlikely I think.”

Robbie nodded.  “That’s what I thought.  Garrett knows – he brought the paperwork round to me and filled me in as far as possible.  I can see him as the next DCI.”

“Well-deserved too.  I presume that’s why we’re meeting here – no-one would give us a second glance, we must eat lunch here at least twice a week.”

“Precisely.  I wanted to say goodbye before I headed to Birmingham.  I shouldn’t be away for more than two nights, or three at the most.”

“I’d say I would miss you, but I doubt I’m going to be home much myself for the next few days.  Is there anything you want me to do while you’re away?”

“Make sure you water my flowers and feed the cat.”

“Have you ever known Monty allow us to forget to feed him?”

Robbie chuckled again.  They finished their lunch and then stood to say goodbye.

***

James met Tomlinson at the entrance to the morgue. 

“Have you been to a PM before?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“In which case, take it at your own pace.  If you need to leave, do so; don’t bother asking.  And if you have questions afterwards in any respect, Dr Hobson is very good at answering them, whether they’re about the specific examination or procedures in general.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Laura greeted them and then started her report.

“Death from a single stab wound.  Not killed on site – but you would have deduced that from the lack of blood at the scene.  No sign of a struggle.  We’re waiting for the tox report to list what was in his blood, but some form of sedative must have been administered.  I think he would have been conscious, but without knowing how much he’d been given, I can’t tell for sure.  The cross was added at the scene.”

“So the body was carried there, laid out, cut and then rolled over?”

“Yes, that sounds about right.  I’d guess a proper body bag was used rather than a home-made solution.”

“There were plenty of vague footprints and signs of flattened grass in the area, but from what you say the whole procedure seems to have been clinical.”

“That area is very popular with what could be described as ‘courting couples’ so not all of the flattened grass may be due to illegal activities.”

Tomlinson smothered a slight snigger and then looked mortified as everyone looked at her.  “Family tradition has it my eldest niece was conceived there,” she explained.

“My point exactly,” Laura said.

“Is there anything else you can tell us?” James asked.

“Not at the moment.  I’ll let you have the tox reports when we get them, and if we find anything more I’ll obviously contact you.”

“So we need to find where Riley was killed,” James said.  “One thing: how much time between his death and the subsequent mutilation?”

“About an hour.”

“Which means, given how organised his killers appear to have been, he didn’t have to be in Oxford when he was killed.  Which doesn’t help at all.”  James was thoughtful.  “Right, Tomlinson, time we got back to the station.”

***

Robbie had an uneventful journey to Birmingham, and even the traffic once he reached the city was no worse than he had anticipated.  He was expected, and shown to an interview room, which did surprise him as in the normal run of things he would have been taken to an office.

He was soon joined by someone who introduced himself as DI Green.  “Apologies for bringing you in here, but my office is too close to the rest of my section and at this stage we’re trying to contain things as much as we can.”

Robbie nodded his understanding.

“Firstly,” Green continued, “how much do you know?”

Robbie outlined the information he had received from Innocent, together with his own limited dealings with Riley.

“The last confirmed contact we had with Riley was 4pm yesterday,” Green said.  “He was seen by a number of officers and civilian staff, after which no-one is admitting to having seen him again.  We’re assuming he deliberately slipped out – generally he liked draw attention to himself and no-one on the main desk can remember him leaving.”

“There’s not the possibility he left with a group and wasn’t noticed?”

“He wasn’t the sort to allow himself to be ignored.  A bit like Flashheart from Blackadder, but without the attraction.”

“Could he have left intending to return and been prevent from doing so?  Following up something he was working on?”

“If that had been the case he should have left details.  Riley didn’t follow procedure, but there was nothing to indicate he had.  We’re still checking possible leads in that respect, but is seems unlikely.” 

Green was about to say more when he was interrupted by someone knocking loudly on the door.

“Come in!” he called.  “Ah, Bateman, I might have known it was you.”

The young man grinned.  “There’s been further developments.  CS Black says you’re to come to his office at once, both you and DI Lewis.”

The two men stood and Green led the way to Black’s office.  Bateman trotting behind them with what Robbie felt was the enthusiasm of a puppy about to go to the park.

Black’s welcome of Robbie felt somewhat perfunctory, but Robbie thought the man had rather more on his plate than a visiting ex-DI.

It transpired not only had Murphy gone AWOL from the Oxfordshire police, but two further officers from West Midlands were also unaccounted for.  Both had been closely involved in the case which had brought Riley to Oxford.  The West Midlands police had begun an urgent investigation into the situation.

“Which means DI Green will need to concentrate on our investigation rather than being able to assist you,” Black said.  “I have informed CS Innocent.”

Robbie began to hope this meant he could return to Oxford that evening.

“However,” Black continued.  “I think it is important you remain here.”  He looked at Green who nodded.  “In the circumstances, I shall allocate DC Bateman to you to assist you however you may require.”

Bateman looked happy – if Robbie continued the puppy analogy he’d have been sitting with his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

“We’ve booked a hotel room for you,” Black said.  “So Bateman can take you there.”

***

Later that evening, James phoned Robbie.  When Robbie answered, James said, “Is it okay to call, or are you in the middle of something?”

“Only a repeat of Dad’s Army, so very happy to talk.  Are you still at the station, or have you made it home?”

“I’ve been home about ten minutes.”

“Have you eaten?”

“I’m heating up some of the Bolognese I froze last week as we speak.  And before you ask, Monty’s been fed.  It was the first thing I did when I got in.  He informed me he hadn’t eaten for a week, so I told him he was lying.  I assume you’ve eaten then?”

“Yes.  Bateman pointed out a number of pubs in the locality who do decent food.  I had sausage and mash.”

“Bateman?”

“A very enthusiastic DC who has been assigned to assist me while I’m here.  Reminds me of a puppy, all bounce and wagging tail.”

“I presume he’s not with you now?”

“No, I assured him I could fend for myself this evening.  He’s promised to pick me up at 8 o’clock sharp tomorrow morning.”

“How’s it going otherwise?”

“Okay, I suppose.  I get the feeling I’m considered a necessary evil, which is probably how I’d feel if the position was reversed.  So far I haven’t encountered any antagonism; I think the greater problem is going to be finding people who have the time to answer my questions.”

“Yeah,” James agreed.  “I presume you’ve heard they’ve got officers who’ve gone AWOL as well?”

“Yes, but I’ve not been given any details, so it would be better if you didn’t say any more.”

“Other than they, like Murphy, have disappeared, I don’t have any details to share.  We’ve spent the greater part of the day working on timings to see if we can reconstruct last night’s events.  Tomlinson’s proving a great asset; she’s very methodical and has a good local knowledge.”

“What about Sherratt?”

“His wife has to remain in hospital.  He should be back tomorrow, but Innocent has decided I can keep Tomlinson as well, since Sherratt may well need further time off.”

“Impressive – two sergeants of your own!”

“And you with only a bouncy DC!”

Robbie chuckled.  “Don’t remind me!”

James said, “I think my tea’s about ready.  Do you want me to call you back later once I’ve eaten?”

“You can if you want, but you’d be better off getting some sleep.  Do you think you could water my plants though?  Don’t worry if you’re too tired, I’m sure they’ll survive.”

“I was planning on doing so.  It’s a lovely evening, so a few minutes in the back garden won’t go amiss.  Oh, and text me when you wake up tomorrow – I may be at work by then, I’m hoping for an early start.”

“Will do!  Sleep well.  I miss you!”

“Miss you too!”

***

 

Wednesday

Faithful to his words, James had watered the flowers and then gone to bed.  He looked longingly at his book, but reluctantly ignored it, not wishing to repeat his mistake of the previous night and reading into the early hours.  It was as well.  He was woken by his phone ringing at three a.m.

“Hathaway,” he murmured blearily into the phone.

“It’s Tomlinson, sir.  There’s been another murder; it’s believed to be Murphy.”

“Right.  Give me the details and I’ll meet you there.”

“Sir!”

“Are you okay, Tomlinson?  You have dealt with this sort of thing before?”

“Oh yes, sir.  But only from uniform perspective.  Is there anything extra I should be doing?”

“Not at this stage.  Getting the basic details.  Our work generally starts as we come to put together all the information.”

“Thank you, sir.  I’ll see you there.”

The body had been discovered in a wooded area on the same side of the city as Tomlinson lived, so by the time James arrived he found her already talking to a middle-aged woman.  He started to walk over to join them, but the instant the woman saw him she tensed.  James contented himself with nodding at Tomlinson and saying “Carry on, sergeant.”

He greeted Laura on her arrival.  She was markedly less cheerful than she had been the previous morning, treating him to an expression which said she blamed him for her second interrupted night.  She confirmed death was again due to a knife wound.  “This time the body is lying where he was killed, as you can see from the blood loss.”  She looked more closely.  “In fact it may be two stabs, not the precise single stab from last time.  If I were a detective, rather than a pathologist, I’d say this murder lacked the planning of the first.”

“Is it the same knife?” James asked.

“I can’t tell at this stage, but it would certainly appear to be done by the same person.  I’ll be able to tell you more when I’ve examined the body back at the morgue.”

“Thanks Laura,” James said.  He looked up as he heard Tomlinson saying, “I’ll just go and speak to the DI, I won’t be a minute.”

He nodded to her.  “What have you got?”

“The witness’s name is Sylvie Palmer.  She was further into the woods with a Mike Dalton when they heard voices.  Initially they ignored them, but then they heard shouting followed by running footsteps.  Dalton told her to stay where she was and he’d go and investigate.  She waited for about ten minutes, she thinks, but he hadn’t come back, so she cautiously followed the path he had taken.  She then found the body and rang 999.  She’s not sure how long she took before she phoned.”

“She seemed very wary when she saw me; do you think she knows more than she’s saying?”

“No.  She doesn’t want people to know she was here.  She’s separated and her kids were spending the night at their father’s; she’s worried he’ll get to hear of it and make things awkward for her.”

James nodded.  “Get someone to drive her home.  Or better still, you take her, in case there’s an early rising nosy neighbour.  Tell her we may need to contact her again, but we’ll be discreet.”

“Yes, sir!”

James watched as Tomlinson and Sylvie Palmer walked away.  He stretched, took one final look at the scene, and headed back to his own car; there would be time to follow Dalton up later.

***

Robbie woke just before seven and sent a short text to James.  He was slightly surprised not to receive one in reply, but assumed James was busy elsewhere having clearly got the early start he’d wanted. 

He had a shower, got dressed quickly to give himself time for a ‘proper’ breakfast before Bateman arrived at eight o’clock.  He was just putting on his socks when someone thundered on the door to his room.  He padded across the room to open the door.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but there’s been a development and Chief Superintendent Black thought you should come too.”  Bateman paused in order to get his breath.

“Come in, constable.  Grab a seat whilst I put my shoes on.  There’s a bottle of water if you want a drink.”  Robbie continued calmly to get ready.  Years spent on the force had taught him, unless a life was actually in danger, it was always better to assess a situation before diving in.

Having laced his shoes, Robbie looked at Bateman, who was clearly waiting for permission to continue. 

“Sir,” Bateman nodded in response.  “They’ve found the body of DI Burrows.  He’s been stabbed.”

“And Burrows was one of the two who had disappeared yesterday?”

“Yes, it was him and DS Ward.  Ward was Burrows’ bagman.”

“Right.”  Robbie picked up his jacket.  “Are we expected at the murder scene?”

“Yes, sir.  DI Green said he would meet you there.”

“Okay.  I presume there’s no chance of me having some breakfast then?”

“I’m afraid not.  But there’s a café two doors up which does excellent breakfast rolls to take away.”  Bateman’s expression was one of a puppy hoping for scraps from the table.

“So there might just be time for me to get a couple of rolls there?”

Bateman put his hand in his pocket to find some change.

“It’s okay constable, I’ll buy them.  Then if there’s any question of being delayed, it’ll be my fault.”  Robbie smiled.

Bateman drove them to where the body had been found, rapidly eating his roll whenever they were held in traffic.  Robbie took longer over his own roll, agreeing with Bateman’s assessment as to their quality.  He suspected they were better than the breakfast he would have had at the hotel.

They drew up at a scrap of wasteland in between two old factory buildings, one of which had fairly recently been converted to designer apartments.  The constable on duty acknowledged Bateman and indicated where they should go.  To Robbie the whole scenario looked depressingly familiar, and one he’d hoped he wouldn’t need to be present at anymore.

Green nodded to Robbie on his arrival.  “Thank you for coming.  Things are going from bad to worse.”  He indicated they should move away from the group who were standing round the body.  They took a gravel path which went by the side of the unconverted building.  “You saw the cross cut into the body?  I’m assuming it’s identical to what was done to Riley.”

“I didn’t see Riley’s body, but it certainly looks the same from the photograph.”

“That’s what I thought.  But that’s not all.  It’s not been made general knowledge yet, but we heard from Oxford this morning; DCI Murphy’s been found dead as well.”

“Shit!  Did they ...?”

“Stabbed, but not mutilated.”

“That’s something.  I know his wife, and his daughter’s the same age as mine.”

“Yes, this is getting a little too personal.  Burrows and I go back years.”

Robbie gave Green a slightly dubious look.

“Haven’t worked together since we were both sergeants, and that was more years ago than I care to remember,” Green continued.  “Still a shock when something like this happens.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.  Do we know when he was killed?”

“According to the pathologist, between 2.30 and 3.00 this morning.  It’s another case where he was killed elsewhere and the body brought here.  We were phoned at 6.40 by a dog walker who’d found the body.  He says it wasn’t here at 6.15 when he headed out along the track.”  Green pointed to a hardened mud path which appeared to have been formed by countless dog walkers.  “He found it on his return.”

“But why leave the body here, when, even though you might not expect it to be found this quickly, it wouldn’t go unnoticed for very long?”

“As a warning, perhaps?”

“You think there are others involved who are not yet suspected?”

“It’s a scenario we have to take into consideration.  And if that is the case, they’ll have to bring in another force to investigate.  I’d prefer to get it solved before that happens.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m hoping you can use your contacts in Oxford to speed up the rate of exchange of information.  Nothing underhand – I’d want it all documented and shared.  My gut feeling is Riley’s death started a chain of events and the sooner we break that chain the better.”

“I’ll need desk space and a telephone.”

“I thought of that.  We’ve a couple of spare offices which are used when we’re dealing with particularly sensitive material – generally to do with children or those in the public eye.  You can use one of those.  And Bateman can do the running around for you.”

Robbie gave a slightly wry smile.

“Oh, don’t be fooled by the bouncy exterior.  He’s sharp enough and has an excellent memory.”

Robbie nodded.  “Okay.  Let’s get on with it then.”

***

Just before nine o’clock, James left the station to buy coffee for Tomlinson and himself.  His brain was buzzing and he’d felt the need to grab a few minutes to slow down.  As soon as he’d arrived at the police station following his attendance at the murder scene, he’d been called to see Innocent.  She’d gone through the very limited progress he’d been able to make the previous day and outlined the steps she wanted taking to ascertain Murphy’s involvement with Riley.  Most of this work was being undertaken by other officers reporting to Innocent, but she was keen nothing was missed, whilst at the same time avoiding duplication of work.

After that, James had returned to his own office to delegate various tasks to Tomlinson.  He regretted the absence of Sherratt, which meant he had to take longer explaining things to Tomlinson, but she was quick on the uptake and he was confident she would do the job well.

As he walked back into his office carrying the coffee, he realised Innocent was in there waiting for him.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, “I just nipped out for a couple of minutes.”

Innocent nodded.  “Tomlinson told me where you’d gone, which was why I waited.”

“Would you like a coffee?”  James indicated one of the cardboard cups.

“No, thank you, I can send out for my own if I feel the need.  I’ve just come down to tell you West Midlands have had another of their officers murdered.  They’ve asked former Inspector Lewis to stay up there and liaise with us on their behalf.  Reading between the lines, they’re pretty badly rattled.  I’ve given permission for him to contact you directly to share information.  West Midlands have assured me they will be documenting everything and I would like us to make sure we do the same.  Do you have any questions?”

“No, ma’am, that seems clear enough.  Do you want me to phone Robbie, or should I wait for him to contact me?”

“Let him contact you.  He’ll need to get himself sorted.  Just be sure to let me know if there is anything, and I mean anything, you are not happy about.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And someone needs to talk to Mrs Murphy.  In the circumstances I think I would be the best person to do so.  Don’t look so surprised, Hathaway, I haven’t always been a Chief Superintendent.  It ought to be a senior officer, and we’re badly stretched at the moment so it makes sense for me to go.  Is there anything in particular you want me to ask?”

“Actually, ma’am,” Tomlinson began, “the day before DS Riley was killed, DCI Murphy was out of the station between 13.00 and 15.00.  There doesn’t seem to be any record of where he was going and I wondered if it was a personal matter?”

“Good,” Innocent replied.  “I’ll see if Mrs Murphy knows anything about it.”  She nodded and departed.

James turned to Tomlinson.  “Good work.  What else can you tell me about Murphy’s movements?”

Tomlinson looked at her notes.  “He came into the station at approximately 8.15 and was here until 13.00.  A couple of people have said he seemed a bit distracted, but nothing specific.  He left at 13.00 and no-one saw him again until 15.00.  There’s nothing in the log to say what he was doing.  It’s possible he went out for lunch.”

“Agreed, but grabbing a sandwich wouldn’t take two hours.  And if he’d had something like a dentist appointment he’d have mentioned it to someone.  Carry on.”

“After that he was here until 18.45.  His wife confirms he arrived home about 19.30 and he left for work the following morning at about 7.30.  You already have his movements from his arrival at the station until he disappeared.”

“The journey home shouldn’t have taken him forty-five minutes.  Get onto traffic and see if there were any known hold-ups which would have accounted for it.  Otherwise it’s possible he took a detour.”

“Sir!”

James’ phone rang and he answered it immediately.  “Robbie.  I gather you’re working for West Midlands now.”  The reply wasn’t polite.  James laughed and continued, “What information do you want for the moment?”

“It looks as if Riley and Burrows were murdered by the same person, and in the circumstances it seems reasonable to assume the three deaths are related, even if there were two murderers.  Given we believe Burrows was killed between half two and three this morning, but the body was only dumped after quarter past six, does that fit with your timings?”

“We know Murphy was killed just before two – there were people who heard an altercation and then found the body.  I suppose Burrows could have been killed down here and then driven back to Birmingham.”

“It’s feasible.  Burrows and his assailant drive down to Oxford to meet with Murphy and there’s an argument.  Did your witnesses say how many people they thought were involved?”

“No.  We can make further enquiries though.  Our main witness was badly shaken when we first spoke to her.  I’ll get Tomlinson to talk to her again, see if she can find out anything else.  And I’ll track down the second witness; see what he can tell us.  We’re currently looking at Murphy’s movements on Monday as there are some times we can’t account for at the moment.  It would be helpful if you could provide us with details for Burrows and the other missing officer to see what we can tie up.”

“I’ll get Bateman to find the information and email it across to you as soon as possible.  And if you think of anything else which would be useful, let me know.”

“Will do.  It might be worth having a catch up call this afternoon, just to compare notes.”

“Good idea.  I’ll phone you after two – if you’re not around, you can phone me back.”

“Okay.  Talk to you later.”

***

Robbie put his phone down after talking to James and turned to Bateman.  “I believe we already have Riley’s movements for Monday until he left the station at 4pm.  I’d like a copy of them, plus full details of all Burrows’ and Ward’s movements from when they arrived on Monday morning up to the last sighting.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll get on to it at once.”

Bateman departed and returned half an hour later.

“What have you got for me?” Robbie asked.

“It appears DS Riley wasn’t particularly scrupulous with his record keeping, which means we can’t be sure at this stage of the exact times.”  Bateman laid a hand written list on the table.  It was clearly a working document, with various crossings out and arrows.  “I’ll type this up in a minute, but I thought you would like to see this first.”

Robbie nodded.  “Carry on.”

“Riley was in and out of his office most of the day, but I can account for much of the time give or take the odd five minutes, until just after two o’clock when no-one seems to have seen him for roughly half an hour.  It’s an open plan office, and as you have probably gathered he liked to make his presence felt wherever he was, so I think we can assume he wasn’t there.”

“Okay.  And the others?”

“I’ve been able to produce a rough timetable for DI Burrows for the whole of Monday.  There are some gaps, but nothing more than about 15 minutes.  He has his own office, so it’s quite possible he was in there by himself.  He went out at lunchtime for approximately half an hour, but he was seen leaving, DI Green spoke to him in the sandwich shop, and I saw him returning with a coffee and a paper bag holding his lunch.”

“I thought Ward was Burrows’ bag man.  Presumably they shared an office?”

“DS Ward was on leave on Monday – he’d taken a long weekend.”

“Right.  Carry on!”

“Burrows left promptly at five o’clock, which was unusual.  DC Carter who told me this said she was surprised, because she was bringing him some figures he’d asked for earlier in the afternoon and he didn’t seem particularly bothered about them.  Just told her to show him the next day.  He didn’t offer any explanation for his departure – most people would give some sort of reason.”

“Agreed.  What about yesterday?  When were Burrows and Ward last seen?”

“Both arrived at eight o’clock.  No-one saw them again until about just before half past nine, when they were seen heading out together.  DI Green called us all to a meeting at ten o’clock to tell us about Riley’s death and said Burrows and Ward had already gone out to begin investigations.”

“But no-one knew they’d deserted until the afternoon?”

“Ward phoned in before lunch time to say they were on their way to speak to a contact in Wolverhampton.  It wasn’t until they failed to phone in again in the afternoon it was suspected they were involved.”

Robbie looked angrily at Bateman.  “It was known Murphy had disappeared in the morning; why didn’t anyone question what Burrows and Ward were doing?”

“I don’t know, sir.”  Bateman looked down at the floor.

“What are you keeping from me?”

Bateman looked directly at Robbie.  “Nothing, sir.”

“There’s gossip, isn’t there?  There are things you wouldn’t mention to DI Green; but I’m with the Oxfordshire Police.  None of this will affect me and I won’t pass on anything you tell me, unless it becomes relevant to the case, but I do want to know what’s being said.  Sit down and talk me!”

“DI Burrows was very temperamental.  He was also very protective of the case they were working on – I believe there were some mistakes made at the beginning - and he insisted no-one acted without his explicit say so.  In addition, he was playing his cards very close to his chest, so basically he was left in charge of the case without much oversight.  He certainly didn’t welcome much help.”

“So what you’re implying is no-one actually knew what Burrows was doing.”

“I didn’t say that, sir.”

“I know.  Right, I want you to phone Sergeant Tomlinson to give her the details you’ve just given me.  See if there’s anything specific they want us to follow up at our end, and then I want you to tell me about the mistakes you mentioned which happened at the start of the case.  And don’t look at me like that; you know far more about what went on than you’ve said so far.”

***

“Sir,” Tomlinson called to James.  “Mike Dalton, our other potential witness, has form.  Nothing major, stolen credit cards, that sort of thing.  And I recognise the names of several of his known associates; all petty criminals though.”

“Right, I’ll go and have a word with Mr Dalton; see if he can tell us anything useful.”

“Shall I go and see Sylvie again?”

“Ring her, it’ll be less intrusive.  You can always go round later if necessary.”

James drove round to the garage where Dalton worked.  The proprietor was not impressed when he learnt the police wanted to have a word with his employee, and glared at the mechanic when he called him out.

“You’ve no right to be here,” Dalton began.  “I ain’t done nothing.”

“Which is precisely why I’m here.  In this case, you should have done something; namely reported finding a dead body.”

“Yeah, well.  I recognised him as a copper and I didn’t want no trouble.”

“So you recognised DCI Murphy but didn’t phone us, even anonymously?”

“He was never one of them top bods, was he?  I thought he was a sergeant, like that other bloke.”

“What other bloke?”

“There were two of them, and before you ask I didn’t know either of their names.  Didn’t know them at all really, but you would see them for a couple of months back in the winter, in some of the clubs and pubs.  They used to be there to meet people, the sort of people you don’t remember seeing places, if you get my drift.”

“I do.  But you knew they were policemen?”

“Oh yes.  It sort of got about.  The girls used to tell each other, if you get into bother speak to the Brummie, he’ll sort things out for you.”

James nodded.  It didn’t surprise him, but it wasn’t an area he wanted to pursue at that moment.  “I understand you heard shouting and then running footsteps.  Can you tell me how many people you heard?”

Dalton thought.  “Two voices shouting, one might have been a Brummie.  One or two people running, I can’t be sure,” he paused.  “No, wait.  There must have been two people running, because I was fairly sure the two who’d been arguing had both gone, I didn’t really want to meet either of them.”

“Thank you.  That will be all for now.”  James stood up.

“You are going to tell the boss I’ve not done anything, aren’t you?”

“I’ll tell him I came to talk to you as a possible witness.  And next time you find a dead body, whoever it is, make sure you contact us at once!”

***

“Sir,” Bateman began.

“Yes?”  Robbie looked at him, and when he hesitated added, “Spit it out, man.”

“Is there a White Hart or White Horse pub in Oxford, in Woodley Road?”

“Not that I’m aware of.  There’s a White House in Woodstock, which isn’t very far away.”

“Oh, right.”  Bateman continued to look unsure.

“Tell me!  I promise not to judge you.”

“At the beginning of the case, I was allocated to work for DI Burrows.  We received information that implied some of the drugs and equipment used were being stored at a pub, which I understood to be the White Hart in Chelmsley Wood.  I was sent to investigate and told to take some of uniform with me but there was nothing there.  After I returned I was taken off the case and told my enthusiasm had chased away the dealers and caused a lot of extra work.”

“One of the mistakes made at the beginning?”

“Yes sir.”  Bateman paused for breath and then continued in a rush.  “There were some photos of the area around the pub, but they were nothing like what we found when we went there.  I queried it on my return, but was told I’d clearly not looked at the pictures properly.”

“And you’re sure it was the White Hart in Chelmsley Wood?”

“Again, I ventured our informant might have been mistaken, but was reminded I was only a constable and should not be questioning an inspector.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to follow it up.”

Robbie phoned James to apprise him of the fact.  He listened to the reply, his expression turning serious as he did so.  When the call finished, Robbie turned to Bateman.  “Strangely enough, there was a fire at the White House last night, which the fire brigade suspect may have been arson.  They’re going to make further enquiries.”

Bateman nodded.

Robbie glanced at the clock.  “I really want to get on with this report.  Would you mind nipping out and getting us both some sandwiches.”

“Certainly, sir.  What would you like?”

Fifteen minutes later Bateman returned with the sandwiches.  Robbie looked up and saw the young man looking upset.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Bateman said.  “I didn’t realise I wasn’t working to your standard.  I’ve just been told you’ve asked I be reassigned.  I’m to leave you immediately.  I’ve only come back because I needed to bring you your sandwich.”

“What?”  Robbie was totally surprised.  Then he saw someone standing by the open doorway.  “I’ve been really disappointed with your behaviour.  At least you can carry this,” he passed over his backpack, “to my car for me.”

Robbie swept out of the office, with Bateman trailing miserably behind him.  Robbie wasn’t sure what was going on, but he certainly wasn’t happy with the situation.  He’d had no complaints with Bateman’s work, which had been exemplary; and he wouldn’t officially complain about the bouncy puppy nature of the officer, even if he had bewailed the fact to James.  Although now the puppy had his tail between his legs.  Someone saw Bateman as a threat, and Robbie was taking that seriously.

They reached the car, which Robbie unlocked and ordered Bateman into the passenger seat.  Robbie got in and started the engine.  “I presume you can direct me the best way to the road back to Oxford,” he said.

Bateman did so.  Robbie was glad the man hadn’t so far questioned his actions; he suspected he was still in shock at being pulled off the job.

“Right,” Robbie said.  “I want you to phone your station.  Tell them I wasn’t feeling well and have asked you to drive back to Oxford with me.  Then I want you to dial another number I’ll give you, speak to DI Hathaway, and tell him I said - and emphasis the ‘said’ - I wasn’t well and you’re accompanying me.”

Bateman did as he was told.  James was surprised and demanded to speak to Robbie, who instructed Bateman to put his phone on speaker.

“Are you okay?” James asked.

“As far as you’re concerned, yes; as far as Birmingham are concerned, no.    And can you phone Birmingham and confirm we’re on our way back to Oxford because I’m feeling unwell.  You’d better tell Innocent.”

Shortly after this conversation, Bateman’s phone rang.  He answered it and said, “It’s Chief Superintendent Innocent, sir.  Shall I put her on speaker?”

He did so and Innocent began, “Robbie, what’s going on?”

“I’m not sure, ma’am, but it’s not a situation I’m happy with.  In the circumstances I thought it was better if I left.”

“And abduct a DC in the process?”

“It seemed the best idea at the time.”

“I presume you believe he should remain in Oxford rather than return immediately to Birmingham.”

“I think it would be wiser.”

“I understand.  I’ll phone up and say we’re making use of his knowledge.  But we’ve got no budget for accommodation.”

“That’s okay.  We’ve got a spare bedroom.  He can stay with us.”

Innocent sighed and rang off.

Robbie said, “Sorry about this, lad, but I couldn’t think what else to do.”

“I appreciate your concern, sir.”

Robbie glanced round, catching the tremor in Bateman’s voice.  “If I’m honest, it wasn’t just you I was concerned for.  I didn’t much fancy being isolated up there either.”

Bateman nodded.  “And please don’t feel obliged to put me up.  I can find a B&B I’m sure.”

“You’ll do no such thing.  I should warn you, Inspector Hathaway and I live together.”

“I’ll mind my ps and qs then, sir.”

Robbie was glad a bit of Bateman’s bounce was returning.

“And we have a cat, in case you’re allergic to them.”

“My sister has two and they’ve never given me any problem.”

“Good, so that’s settled.”

***

Robbie parked his car at the Oxford police station and led the way to James’ office.  He introduced Bateman to James and was in turn introduced to Tomlinson.  James updated Robbie on the state of the White House.  The fire had destroyed most of the evidence, but the sniffer dogs had been convinced there had been drugs in the pub, and in sufficient quantities for the smell to survive the effects of the fire.

“There are also traces of blood,” James added, “although it will take forensics some time to confirm how recent they are.”

“You suspect this may have been where Riley was killed?”

“Yes.  And also possibly Burrows.  Tomlinson has been working on the various timelines and we think Burrows may have been killed in the White House and his body subsequently put into a van, or whatever means of transport the killer was using, and then the fire started.”  Turning to Bateman James asked, “Would someone like DS Ward have been able to carry Burrows’ body?”

“Easily sir.  DI Burrows was of medium height, probably slightly shorter than you, sir,” he said to Robbie, “DS Ward is taller than Inspector Hathaway and thick-set.”

“Which means, if a body bag was used again, there would be no trace of blood in the vehicle,” Robbie said thoughtfully.  “It would certainly make sense.”

James nodded, and then added, “It will come as no surprise to you Innocent wanted to see you as soon as you arrived.”

“Bateman as well?”

“She didn’t mention him.”

“Good.  There’s one thing I’d like to follow up, if I can make use of Sergeant Tomlinson?”

“By all means,” James agreed.

“Bateman, you mentioned seeing some photos of what you assumed was the area around the White Hart in Chelmsley Wood.  Do you still remember what they look like?”

“Yes, sir,” Bateman replied.

“In which case I’d like you to go with the sergeant to the White House and take a look round there, because it’s possible that’s where they were taken.  And meanwhile I’ll go to see Innocent to bring her up to date.”

Robbie left the office, shortly followed by Tomlinson and Bateman.

***

Robbie knocked on Innocent’s door and went in. 

Innocent permitted herself a brief smile at seeing him.  “I really did think I’d finished having to apologise for your actions,” she said.  “I should have known better.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“I’ve spoken to the senior officer from the Manchester police, who will be investigating the deaths, and told him you have acted with my full approval.  You had, therefore, best tell me what happened so I know what I’ve approved.”

Robbie told Innocent all he had found out, including Bateman’s suspicions.  He finished with the totally unexpected news of Bateman’s reassignment.

She looked grave.  “If I understand you, Bateman was told to report elsewhere immediately, and only came to see you in order to give you your sandwich.”

“Yes.  I assume I would have been told he was needed urgently for another task.  It would have left me isolated, and I was concerned for Bateman’s welfare.”

“That was the conclusion I’d drawn from your actions.  Whether they are found to be correct in the long run is another matter.  For the moment you acted for the best for both yourself and a colleague and I therefore feel entirely justified in supporting you.”

Robbie breathed a sigh of relief.  He had felt fairly confident Innocent would back him up but hadn’t been sure how she would view his sudden behaviour.  He explained Bateman and Tomlinson were following up the photos Bateman had seen.  Innocent nodded and dismissed him as her phone started ringing.

***

Back in James’ office, Robbie was greeted by the sight of James struggling into his jacket whilst talking on his mobile.  James indicated to Robbie to follow him as he strode out of the office.

They got into James’ car and he began to explain.  “Tomlinson’s just phoned me.  Bateman recognised some of the area at the back of the White House from the photographs.  They were taken early this year, so there’s been a considerable growth in vegetation since, but he believes there should be a hut hidden behind some trees.  I’ve told them to wait for our arrival and we’ll investigate it together.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t asked them to take a look and report back before charging out there.”

“Tomlinson has only just come over from uniform; she’s good, but she lacks experience.  If Ward is as clever as he sounds to be, I think we need to tread carefully and not miss anything.  And Bateman seems to be the sort who rushes in without thinking.”

“Bateman’s enthusiastic, but I don’t get the feeling he’s reckless.  The more I think about it, the more I suspect that description of him has been cultivated by others to discredit his ideas.”

“That’s possible.  I still think it would be a good idea for us to be on site.”

“I’m happy with that.”

Tomlinson and Bateman were waiting in the car park when Robbie and James arrived.  Bateman led the way, stopping a couple of times to look around, before heading towards a thicket.  As they emerged on the other side, they found a hut.  The grass around the hut showed signs of activity, with something having been dragged in the opposite direction to the pub.

Tomlinson said, “There’s a lane just down the slope, behind the hedge.  It would be easy to park there and load up a vehicle without anyone noticing.”

The hut door was secured with a padlock.  Robbie and James looked at each other.

“We could break the door down,” Robbie said, “but if we do we risk disturbing any evidence inside.”

Bateman produced a small screwdriver from his pocket.   “If we unscrew the plate it will come away with the padlock and we can open the door.”

Robbie grinned.  “Good thinking.  Although why are you carrying a screwdriver?”

“I had a feeling we might need one, so, while we were waiting for you, I borrowed it from one of the forensic team.”

It didn’t take long for Bateman to remove the plate.  Robbie pulled the door open and all four looked into the hut.

James was about to step inside when Bateman said quietly, “Sir, would you mind waiting a minute?”

James stopped and said quite sharply, “Why?”

Bateman hesitated and glanced at Robbie, who said, “You’ve seen photos from inside the shed?”

“Yes, sir,” Bateman replied.  “There was one photo.  I’d like to be sure I’ve seen all the differences between then and now, in case there’s anything of importance.”

James nodded.  “All right.  Let me know when you’re ready.”

About thirty seconds later Bateman said, “Thank you, sir.”

“Anything of significance?” James asked.

“There are a couple of small black boxes just in front of the workbench.  I can’t make out what they are, but they look like deliberate additions.  Other things have moved around or been added, but you’d expect that if someone had been working in here.”

James approached the workbench cautiously and then backed out hurriedly.

“It looks as if it’s been booby trapped,” he said.  “We’ll have to get assistance in.  Bateman, take a last look in case there’s anything else which will prove useful to us.”

“I can stay, sir, and make a note of everything from outside the door.”

“No.  We’re all going to get to a safe distance, in case we’ve already disturbed something.”

Grim-faced, James led the way back to the car park, with Robbie bringing up the rear in case Bateman decided to ignore orders.  James then went to update the forensics team on the latest development. 

The other three sat down under the shade of a tree.  Bateman described the inside of the hut to Tomlinson who drew diagrams of what he was saying whilst Robbie listened.

After a few minutes, James joined them.  “Forensics say the boxes we found could well be the same as were used to start the fire; they can either be detonated remotely or by a booby trap.  The good news is they should be easy to defuse.  Uniform are on their way over to stand guard until someone from the bomb squad arrives.  So unless there’s anything else we should be looking at here, I suggest we head back to the station.”

A police car drew up and James went over to give his instructions, before walking towards his own car. 

As he and Robbie drove back to Oxford, James said, “So where do you suggest we go from here?  It seems fairly conclusive whoever was involved was tying up the loose ends before moving on.  And I assume we are working on the basis it has to be Ward.”

“I think that’s a reasonable assumption.  The only question in my mind is whether Ward chose to move on at this point, or whether something forced his hand,” Robbie replied.

“And if something did force his hand, there’s a greater likelihood of his making a mistake.”

“Right.  And the more I think about it, the more I think he didn’t initially intend killing Murphy.  Riley and Burrows were both killed somewhere out of the way, possibly at the White House, where there was no risk of being seen.  Murphy was killed in the woods, almost as though it was a spur of the moment action.”

“And we currently have no idea what Murphy was doing in the earlier part of Monday afternoon.  Innocent has confirmed he had been planning on meeting his wife at lunchtime but cancelled at the last minute.”

“In addition, Riley disappeared for half an hour during that time and Ward wasn’t working that day.”

“So we need to find out where Murphy went,” James said emphatically.

***

When they arrived back at the station, there was a note from Laura asking James to contact her urgently.  He listened to what she had to tell him and then turned to the others.

“It appears the cross on Riley’s chest wasn’t a single cut each way, but made by two separate diagonal cuts in each direction.  Laura has spoken to her opposite number in Birmingham who confirms it was the same pattern on Burrows.”

“A double cross,” Bateman said thoughtfully.

Robbie looked up.  “Not a double cross, but double-crossed.  Ward believed Riley and Burrows had double-crossed him.  And this was not only an execution, but a warning to anyone else.”

“But not Murphy,” James said.

“No.  I think Murphy stumbled onto something that concerned him.  Maybe he goes to investigate; almost certainly he contacts his co-conspirators.  Ward puts two and two together – he can probably do that easier than Murphy, he’s in Birmingham with the others after all.”

“So what tips Murphy off?  Innocent has gone through all the cases Murphy was dealing with and found nothing specific there.”

“No, I think it was something small and unexpected,” Robbie said.  “Something routine Murphy was doing that morning.”

“It was Monday morning, he’d have been going through the weekend’s reports,” James said.  “I suppose we should get details.”

Robbie nodded.  After all the excitement of the last few hours, trawling through pages of reports seemed an anticlimax and the drop in adrenalin made him realise he was feeling tired.

James saw him start to sag.  “You know something,” he said, “I could do with an ice cream.  Tomlinson, can you go out and get us some.  Take Bateman with you and he can get some cold cans at the same time.”  He passed the money over to his sergeant.

It wasn’t long before they returned.  Tomlinson passed out the ice creams and said, “We may have discovered what DCI Murphy found out.  We were in the queue behind three of our well-known prostitutes, who had clearly just been charged with soliciting.  Apart from one of them propositioning Bateman ...”

James raised an eyebrow at the constable.

“It’s okay, sir,” Bateman said with a broad grin, “she was very mistaken.”

Tomlinson laughed and continued, “One of the others was moaning, ‘that bastard didn’t get me off like he said he would’ and her mate added, ‘he used to be pretty good about that too’.  Would it be possible Riley was down here at the weekend?”

“It’s a thought,” James replied.  “DI Garrett has taken over Murphy’s every day duties for the moment.  I’ll go and have a word with him while you lot finish your ice creams.”

James returned shortly.  “You were right, Tomlinson.  Hidden amongst a string of other names was one DS Riley.”

“So, Murphy knows Riley’s been down and gets suspicious,” Robbie said thoughtfully.  “Cancels his lunch with his wife and drives out to the White House.”

“Where his suspicions are confirmed,” James added.  “So, what does he do next?  Contact Riley?”

“No, he makes a call to Burrows, which would raise no questions; just two senior officers discussing a case.”

“Burrows speaks to whom, Riley, Ward?” James asked.

“Maybe they already had concerns about Riley,” Bateman said.  “He wasn’t a team player at all.”

James nodded.  “So Burrows contacts Ward, who meets Riley.  They come down here on some pretext.  Perhaps Riley has been taking his own cut and Ward suggests they leave the others out.  And deals with him in such a fashion as to send a warning to all those involved.”

“Then Murphy, on hearing the news does a runner.  I think we can assume Murphy and Burrows speak again after 5pm, but neither expected Ward to act as he did,” Robbie said.

“But why was DCI Murphy killed?” Tomlinson asked.

“The three of them meet, argue and Ward decides he can’t risk Murphy losing his nerve,” Robbie answered.  “After which he kills Burrows – and this seems much more premeditated.”

Bateman looked worried.  “If Riley was left as a warning to the others, why did he do the same with DI Burrows?”

Robbie looked sadly at him.  “Because there were others involved.”

At that point, the phone rang and James answered it.  When he put the receiver down he said, “That was Innocent.  She’s just spoken to DI Green, who it appears has come to the same conclusion.  Without knowing who else is implicated he’s handed his investigation over to the Manchester police.  She’s also said she wants to see me to bring her up to date on what we know and then we should finish for the day.”

***

Thursday

James’ phone rang again slightly after four the next morning.  He groaned, and stretched out to answer it.  “Hathaway,” he said, then wondered why he could still hear ringing.

“Robbie.”  He nudged his partner, who had his head under the duvet.  “Answer your phone!”

The voice in his own ear said, “Sir, sir, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“There’s been a development at the White House.  We’re to get there as soon as possible.”

“Right.  I’m on my way.”

James was aware Robbie was similarly getting out of bed.  Presumably he’d been called too.

“Can you bang on Bateman’s door?  We may well need him,” Robbie said.

It wasn’t necessary; Bateman opened the door himself when he heard James’ footsteps.

“Five minutes,” James said and Bateman nodded.

Once they were in the car, Robbie phoned John Garrett to get the details, which he passed on to the others.

“Innocent had left a PC on duty by the shed.  The bomb squad had done their work, but there was still the possibility someone would return.  About an hour ago, he heard the terrified screams of a woman.  He hesitated at first; knowing he shouldn’t leave his post, but the screaming grew worse and he ran to find her, radioing in for help as he did so.  By the time backup arrived, the shed door was open and the shed was beginning to smoulder.  Fortunately they managed to put the fire out.”

“What about the woman?” James asked.

“Gone to hospital.  Several nasty knife cuts to her arms and legs, but she’ll live.  She’d been told to scream for help because her life depended on it – which it did.”

“Bastard!” Bateman exclaimed.

“Indeed.”

When they reached the White House, James parked the car.

They were met by Tomlinson, who said, “D I Garrett has gone down to the shed.  He’s asked us to join him as soon as you arrive.”

They made their way down.

“Hello, John,” Robbie said.  “I didn’t expect to be meeting you at sunrise ever again.”

“Me neither,” Garrett replied.  “And James, I’m not trying to muscle in on your case.”

“I suspect technically, since this is a second case of arson, it’s under your purview anyway,” James said.  There were inspectors whose presence James would have resented, but John Garrett wasn’t one of them.  “What surprises me is the shed didn’t burn down immediately.”

Garrett grinned.  “He must have been in a rush and didn’t have time to ensure the fire had taken properly.  And my men used the fire blanket which was conveniently hanging on the wall.”

Robbie laughed.  “Is it possible to look in the shed?”

“SOCO are in there at the moment.”

“Could you call them out and let Bateman look in from the doorway?”

“Yes, if you want.”

Robbie called Bateman forward.  He stood and looked hard.  “Ignoring the fire damage,” he said, “the only difference I can see is under the bench.  See, sir, yesterday there was a piece of wood the length of the bench.  It looks like it’s been moved and not quite replaced.”

“Can we get SOCO to look at it?” Robbie asked Garrett.

Garrett sent the two SOCO operatives to check out the bench.

“There are two narrow drawers,” the female operative said.

“Bring us the contents,” Garrett ordered.

The drawers slid out easily, so they carried them over and laid them on the grass.

“All yours, James,” Garrett said.

James began looking through the contents of one of the drawers, indicating to Robbie to do the same with the other.

Suddenly James said triumphantly, “Got it!”  He held up a rough hand-drawn sketch map, which had been caught inside the pages of a local magazine. 

Tomlinson looked at the map.  “I don’t know how much it tells us, sir.  It goes from W to W.  I presume we’re at one W, for the White House.”  She worked her way along the route.  “Wait a minute.  Isn’t that the Swan?”

James looked.  “Yes, I think it is.  But why ‘W’?”

“The sign shows a white swan.  If you didn’t know the pub, you might well think it was the White Swan.”

“It would make sense,” Robbie agreed.

“Right, I’ll get it checked out.  We know Ward was here less than two hours ago and he’s still looking for something.  There’s a chance we can catch up with him,” James said.

A few minutes later his phone rang.  He answered it, and then told the others what he had learnt.  “There was a patrol car in the area of the Swan.  They drove round and have reported unusual activity.  Innocent has ordered all cars in the vicinity there, but no-one is to make any attempt to enter the premises.  If it is Ward, then he is clearly very dangerous; firearms are being called in.”

James led the run back to their cars.  He set off in the direction of the Swan, with Tomlinson following him.  As they were driving, the duty sergeant put out a call to say a white transit had left at full speed before sufficient backup had arrived to block him in.

Robbie swore.  It was still early enough for there to be not much traffic on the road, and James put his foot down.  They were taking the back lanes, since this was the more direct route.  As they crested a hill, they saw a vehicle heading their way.  James slowed down; the road was narrow and although two cars could pass each other with care, it was dangerous at speed.  The other vehicle did not slow.  James pulled as far into the hedge as he could, not wanting a head on collision.  The transit went into his front wing.  Both vehicles stopped.

James gripped the steering wheel and tried to calm his breathing.  He was aware of Bateman leaping out of the back seat, and James watched him slide across the car bonnet and wrench the transit door open before anyone else had a chance to act. 

Stiffly, James climbed out of the front of the car.  As far as he could tell, nothing was broken, but he felt bruised and badly shaken.  The adrenalin at finally having caught Ward kept him going and he too climbed over the car bonnet.  As he did so he saw Ward try to aim a blow at Bateman with a heavy torch, but the constable pushed him down and handcuffed him.

Once James was standing in the road he said, “Detective Sergeant Gary Ward, I am arresting you for the murder of Darren Riley.”

James was relieved to see Robbie climb out of the car.  He had had to move over into the driver’s seat to get out, the passenger door being wedged into the hedge.  Tomlinson had pulled up behind them, and she offered Robbie her arm, which he took.  James thought he looked rather shaken.

James phoned the station and was put straight through to Innocent.  After he had finished talking to her he said, “Innocent’s going to send support, including tow trucks, and will arrange for Traffic to close the road.  As soon as someone arrives to take Ward into custody, we’re to head straight back to the station.  I told her we didn’t need an ambulance and that Tomlinson can drive us back.”  He looked at Robbie.  “I can still request an ambulance if you need one.”

“No, I’ll be fine,” Robbie replied.  “Just feeling my age and remembering why I retired.”

“Would you like to sit in my car, sir?” Tomlinson asked.  “Actually, there’s a farm gateway slightly back along the road.  Would it be better if I turned the car round there, before anyone else arrives?”

“Yes,” James said.  “Do so.”

Once Tomlinson had turned the car and reversed back down the lane again, Robbie went to sit in it.

It wasn’t long before support arrived, and, having handed Ward over, James and Bateman climbed back over James’ car bonnet and took their seats in Tomlinson’s car.

James noticed Bateman was shaking.  “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.  I think it’s all catching up on me now.”

“That’s hardly surprising.  And very well done, your quick thinking stopped Ward from causing any more harm.”

“Thank you, sir.”

***

That evening Robbie and James were sitting on their garden bench, drinking a beer, and enjoying the warmth from the evening sun.  Monty was sprawled out on the lawn in front of them, waving a paw at a piece of long grass James was idly swinging before him.

Robbie had insisted Bateman spend another night with them prior to heading back to Birmingham the following morning.  They had spent the better part of the day writing reports and filling in missing details, and Robbie had wanted to be sure Bateman wasn’t suffering any ill effects after the morning’s events.

Robbie himself was feeling stiff and bruised.  Bateman had insisted on watering the garden for him, for which Robbie had been extremely grateful.  The younger man had now gone for a shower, which left Robbie and James to discuss the case.

“I’m glad it’s all over,” Robbie said.  “I have to admit I was quite taken at the idea of being back in the harness again when this started, but it didn’t take long to remind me why I retired in the first place.”

“It was rather more full-on than anyone expected,” James replied.  “You couldn’t have anticipated what happened.”

“No, I made the right decision.  I shall very happily return to lying in until, ooh, eight o’clock, pottering around in my garden, talking to the cat, and going out for a beer whenever I feel like it.”

James laughed.  “Fair enough.  I can’t say I blame you.  There is one thing though ...”

“Yes?”

“You told me Bateman was a bouncy puppy.  He certainly didn’t strike me as that.  A very competent and yes, enthusiastic, officer, but nothing like the juvenile canine you’d led me to expect.”

“I noticed that.  He changed when he realised his contribution was being taken seriously.  I suspect the bouncy puppy act was just an act, so no-one realised how astute he actually was.  It can’t have helped when there were people who were afraid he would unearth something they didn’t want to be found.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay going back to Birmingham?” James asked.

“Yes.  DI Green phoned me this afternoon.  There’ve had a number of suspensions pending investigation, including CS Black, and they’re short of experienced officers.  They’ll have plenty of work for Bateman to do and the chances are he’ll move up the ranks quite quickly.  Green also told me he’d been happy to allocate Bateman to me because he thought he’d be safer with me.  He, too, was completely taken by surprise to learn Bateman had been reallocated, and applauded my abduction of his officer.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear it.” 

James spotted movement inside and called out, “You’ll find three cans in the fridge.  And there’s a garden chair by the back door.  Grab the cans and the chair and come and join us!”

Bateman did as instructed, handed the new beers over, and then sat down in the chair.  All three men took a swig and relaxed in the evening sunshine.