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Authors: Bernard Knight

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BOOK: According to the Evidence
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Moira had vanished into the kitchen with her cup and saucer and left the receiver on the table. Picking it up, he soon found that a detective sergeant from Brecon was asking him to turn out to visit a scene.
‘Probably an accident, doctor, or possibly even a suicide. But my DI wants to make sure that there's nothing fishy about the death.'
Something in Nichols' tone suggested to Richard Pryor that he felt that there might well be something fishy, but he did not want to pursue it on the telephone. Taking directions to Ty Croes Farm, which was between Brecon and Sennybridge in the next county, he promised to be there within a couple of hours.
As he put the phone down, Angela Bray and Siân came out of the staffroom.
‘Do you want a trip out into the jungle, Angela?' he asked flippantly. ‘There's a body lying under a tractor about forty miles away.'
‘Doesn't sound very forensic to me,' said Siân in a disappointed tone. She marched off to the laboratory, where she had several alcohol analyses waiting. Angela grinned at Richard.
‘She wants every call to be a serial murder, poor girl!' she said. ‘Do you really want me to come with you?'
‘I thought it might be a change for you. You've been stuck here for days with those paternity tests. And you never know, the keen eye of a forensic scientist might be vital!'
The handsome biologist smiled at him. ‘It would be nice to have a ride in the country on such a nice day. You're off straight away, I suppose?'
She went off to her room at the front of the house to get a coat and the ‘murder bag', a leather case which contained their tools of the trade. Ten minutes later they were rolling down the steep drive in his black Humber Hawk, turning left on to the main road and setting off up the valley towards Monmouth. As she had said, it was a nice autumn day, with the dense woods on the steep sides of the gorge beginning to glow with a spectrum of colours, from green through gold to orange. The River Wye meandered down below them, its meadows bright green on either side.
‘We're lucky to work in such a lovely place,' said Angela. ‘This beats Scotland Yard, even if I could just see the Thames if I leaned out of the window!'
Five months ago Angela, a scientist with a PhD in genetics, had given up her job in London's Metropolitan Police Laboratory and joined Richard Pryor in this risky venture in South Wales.
Though the Met Lab was a prestigious place, she had become disenchanted with a repetitive workload and the poor chance of further promotion. That, together with a traumatic broken engagement, had persuaded her to join Richard when he proposed setting up a private consultancy after returning from years in the Far East. He had been given a generous ‘golden handshake' from his university appointment in Singapore, where he had been Professor of Forensic Medicine. This coincided with his aunt's bequest of Garth House, and he had decided to take the plunge and go private, persuading Angela to become his partner. He had met her months earlier at a forensic congress and they had hatched this plot to go it alone.
As they drove, he related what little the sergeant had told him about the death they were attending. Angela wondered what could be so odd that the CID wanted a Home Office pathologist at the scene of what sounded like an industrial accident.
‘Ours not to wonder why, just prepared to do or die!' sang Richard. Angela smiled to herself at his happy mood, brought on by this first call in his new role for the police. He was a nice chap, she thought to herself, never snappy or unpleasant. He had these moods of elation but was sometimes anxious at the gamble they had taken at giving up salaried jobs for the uncertain nature of private practice. After months of living in the same house, their relationship was still strictly professional, but she liked him a lot.
The black Humber, which he had bought second-hand on returning to Britain, was a spacious, comfortable car, and the forty miles through Abergavenny and Brecon passed quickly. Richard had a set of Ordnance Survey maps for all the counties along the Welsh Marches, and with Angela as pilot they easily found the secondary road off the A40 that led to Cwmcamlais, the nearest hamlet to the farm that the detective sergeant had described.
Beyond the empty rolling farmland, the profile of the Brecon Beacons lay on the skyline, and to the west the high ridges of Carmarthen Van and the Black Mountain could be seen from the higher points of the road. A little further on, a police constable was waiting at a small junction and, after the pathologist had identified himself, the officer climbed into the back of the car and directed them down the side lane.
‘Past the farmhouse, sir, then on for a bit and you'll see the yard and buildings on your left.'
A few moments later the Humber pulled in to the cluttered yard, where a police Wolseley, a blue Vauxhall and a small white Morris van were parked. A small group of men were standing smoking near the van but came across as soon as they arrived. Introductions were made all around before Arthur Crippen launched into an account of the incident.
‘Behind that big door, doctor, there's a fellow lying dead with his neck under the back wheel of a tractor.' He jabbed a finger towards the barn. ‘No doubt about who he is – it's the mechanic who does most of the repair work. In fact, he's a partner of the other two men.'
‘This is not just a farm, then?' asked Richard Pryor.
The DI shook his head. ‘They've got this business repairing agricultural machinery and implements. I suspect it's paying better than actual farming these days, though they've got a fair-sized dairy herd.'
He returned to his main story. ‘This chap, Thomas Littleman, was a bit of a boozer, it seems. Not the best of workers and, from what I gather, the other two from the farm, who are cousins, were not too keen on continuing the partnership. Anyway, last evening Aubrey Evans had a bit of a barney with him, as he was well behind in finishing a job on a tractor that had been promised for yesterday.'
‘Who exactly is Aubrey Evans?' asked Angela.
‘He's the senior partner; lives in the house and does most of the farm work,' explained the sergeant. ‘The other one is his cousin, Jeff Morton, who lives in a cottage at Ty Croes and does some of the mechanical work as well.'
Crippen picked up the thread of his tale once again.
‘Aubrey told Littleman that he had to finish the job last evening and that's the last anyone saw him alive. They have a young chap as a sort of apprentice, who opens up the barn every morning. That's him over there, name of Shane Williams.' He jerked a head towards the youth, who was sitting on the tailboard of a Land Rover at the other side of the yard, aimlessly swinging his legs.
‘He opened up at seven today and found the body under the tractor. He raced up to the farm and raised the alarm. Bit of a shock for him, no doubt.' Crippen's long face looked even more mournful, and Richard sensed that he was sorry for the boy.
They began walking across to the big corrugated door, which a constable began to push wide open for them.
‘Why are you concerned that it might be anything other than an accident?' asked Richard Pryor.
The detective shrugged. ‘Just covering all the options, doctor. It's bloody odd that an experienced mechanic would stick his head under a jacked-up vehicle, unless it's a weird sort of suicide.'
With the door wide open and hooked back against the barn wall, full daylight now illuminated the scene. Richard and Angela stood a few yards away and looked at the inert body sticking out from under the big blue tractor.
‘We've taken photos, but if there are any others you want, just tell Jim.' Crippen indicated one of the detective constables from the van, who had a large camera slung from his neck.
Angela stood back, holding their case-bag while Richard Pryor crouched down alongside the corpse.
‘It's safe enough. The tractor can't drop any further,' said DS Nichols, reassuringly.
‘When you're ready, we'll jack it up and get him out,' added Crippen as the pathologist began feeling the dead man's arms and legs for warmth and rigor mortis.
‘Has the police surgeon been?' asked Richard.
‘Yes, he certified death. Said he was stiff then, so he must have died some time ago.'
Pryor examined the hands, then pushed up one of the loose trouser legs of the mechanic's stained dungarees to look at his shin. This seemed to interest him, and he did the same on the other leg, taking a few minutes to repeatedly press his thumb into the purpled skin. Then he stood up and looked at the expectant faces of the small group gathered around.
‘I can't do any more until we get him out, Mr Crippen. Are you ready to do that now?'
The detective inspector nodded. ‘I've sent the cousins back to the farm. Best not to have them around if they're possible witnesses for the coroner. Our chaps here can pull him out.'
With a coroner's officer, three detective constables acting as photographer, exhibits officer and a dogsbody, as well as a uniformed PC, there was no lack of muscle power. Within minutes one DC had dragged a trolley jack from the back of the barn and, pushing several of the fallen blocks out of the way, set it under the right-hand side of the back axle.
‘This will lift three tons, so no problem with an E27N like this,' promised the DC, who was something of a tractor enthusiast.
He pumped away at the long handle, and the hydraulic jack smoothly lifted the back end of the Fordson.
‘That'll do it!' shouted Crippen from the doorway once the big tyre had risen about nine inches from the floor. ‘Pull him well clear, lads. We don't want any more accidents.'
Richard gave Angela a look that, combined with the raising of his eyebrows, suggested to her that something was not quite right. However, he did not elaborate and watched as the policemen carefully lifted the body by its arms and legs and laid it gently on the tarpaulin a few yards from the tractor. Beneath the wheel where the head had been lying, the concrete floor was stained with blood, but there was not sufficient to leave a pool.
The senior detective became aware that Shane Williams was still across the yard, staring fixedly at what the police were doing. He motioned to the only officer in uniform.
‘Best send that kid back up to the farmhouse, Davies. We don't want him having nightmares, but I may want to speak to him later.'
With the corpse now clear of the tractor, both Richard and Angela crouched alongside the head. She had been in the forensic service for many years and had attended scores of scenes of death, so, although she did not relish blood and gore at such close quarters, she was not particularly distressed by this one.
As she pulled a pair of rubber gloves from their murder bag, she gave him a quizzical look. ‘What's bothering you, Richard?' she asked in a low voice.
‘I want to see his feet and legs as well as his neck,' he muttered cryptically, before turning his attention to the top end of the body. The tyre had been almost a foot wide and had crushed everything from the upper chest to the lower jaw. With over a ton weight above pressing against the concrete below, the tissues and bones had been converted into a bloody pulp, the skin torn and grossly discoloured. Pryor lifted the head up, feeling it wobble obscenely because of the shattered neck vertebrae.
‘I'm trying to see the back of the neck. The skin there hasn't suffered so badly,' he murmured to his partner. But without turning the whole body over on to its face, there was no way he could get a satisfactory view, so he laid it down again and went to the legs. This time, he pulled down the woollen socks, as well as dragging up the trouser legs as high as they would go.
‘That's just post-mortem lividity, surely?' asked Angela, pointing at the purplish staining that covered all the exposed skin.
‘That's just the problem,' he said quietly, then looked across at the police officers, who were keeping at a respectful distance.
‘I'd like to get him to a mortuary as soon as we can, Mr Crippen,' he said. ‘I can't examine him properly out here, though I'll have to take his temperature or it'll be too late, given that he almost certainly died last night.'
Like Angela, Arthur Crippen picked up a note of concern in the pathologist's voice. ‘D'you think there's a problem, doc?' he asked.
Richard declined to be drawn too far. ‘Let's just say I'll be happier after I've had a good look at him on the slab,' he said. ‘Meanwhile, I'd suggest you preserve the scene until we know what we've got. And perhaps it would be wise to get a few more pictures of him, now that he's out in the open.'
The detective inspector, with years of experience behind him, recognized a hint when he heard one and rapidly began organizing his troops.
THREE
I
t was now a little late to have lunch, but the two scientists found a small cafe in the twisty little streets of Brecon that could offer them bacon, egg and chips with their bread, butter and tea.
They had tried a pub on the way from Cwmcamlais, but after threading their way past sheepdogs and local farmers drinking Buckley's Bitter, all that was on offer at the bar were crisps, desiccated pork pies or Scotch eggs.
‘So what's all this mystery, Richard?' demanded Angela as they sat over a second cup of Brooke Bond in the bay window of the little shop. He had refused to be drawn during the short journey from Cwmcamlais, promising to explain it after he had had more time to think.
‘Those legs,' he said, stirring sugar into his tea. ‘Why is there all that lividity in them, especially on the front of the shins? The fellow had been on his back for hours.'
Though she was a biologist, not a medical doctor, Angela immediately realized what he was implying. ‘But that seems impossible! He was found lying under a tractor with his neck squashed.'
BOOK: According to the Evidence
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