Authors: Mel Sherratt
BEHIND A CLOSED DOOR
Behind a Closed Door © Mel Sherratt
E-edition published worldwide 2012
Kindle edition Copyright 2012 © Mel Sherratt
All characters and events featured in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to any person, organisation, place or thing living or dead, or event or place, is purely coincidental and completely unintentional.
All rights reserved in all media. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form other than that which it was purchased and without the written permission of the author. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the author.
Cover image by ©OtnaYdur
Of all the shenanigans that occurred on the estate, nothing sent shivers down Josie Mellor’s spine more than a no-response call.
‘Josie, it’s Trevor. The alarm’s going off at five Nursery Lane. No one’s answering.’
‘But that’s Edie Rutter!’ Josie grabbed her car keys,
the phone still against her ear.
‘Her son can’t get there for about an hour,’ Trevor continued. ‘Any chance of you checking on her for me?’
‘I’m already on my way.’
It took Josie less than five minutes to drive to Edie’s home. She banged on the front door and lifted up the letterbox to shout through.
‘Edie! It’s Josie. Are you there?’
She looked through the window but could see no one in the front room. She raced around to the back and stood on her toes to look through the kitchen window. There didn’t seem anything amiss, although she couldn’t see the floor from where she was standing. She moved to the bedroom window, took off a woollen glove, and gave it a firm rap.
Cursing her short legs, Josie moved aside a terracotta plant pot, jumped up onto the low wall and looked inside. Screwing up her eyes, she tried to focus through the pattern of the netting.
In desperation, she began to lift up some of the pots around the tiny patio area. At her third attempt, she found what she was looking for. Moments later, she unlocked Edie’s front door and stepped in. Please God, she prayed, don’t let it be gruesome. Let her be asleep.
The television was on low as she stepped into the tiny porch. Through the slightly open door, she could see a foot in a pink slipper. Pushing it open, her hand shot to her mouth. Wide eyes stared straight at her. Edie was lying on her back, her head turned towards the door. There was a pool of blood around her ear.
Josie gagged. There was no life in Edie’s eyes but she looked terrified. The buzzer for the lifeline system still hung round her neck; Josie had fitted it when Edie’s husband had died. Alfred Rutter had left Edie broken-hearted and distraught – leaving Josie with the job of visiting her regularly to see that she was coping.
‘God bless you, Edie Rutter,’ Josie whispered into the silence of the room. It was then that she noticed the mess. The living room was littered with Edie’s possessions; the lamp and its occasional table lay on its side, photographs were ripped from their frames and discarded, glass shards sprinkled like confetti, and the mahogany sideboard stood with its doors wide open, its contents slung across the carpet. And what was that on the poker? She shuddered.
A noise behind her made her jump.
‘Fucking hell, Andy, you scared the shit out of me! Couldn’t you have knocked to let me know you’re here?’
‘Sorry, the door was open. I heard the call and then I saw your car outside.’
Tears streamed down Josie’s cheeks. Her hand shook as she pointed at Edie. ‘She’s dead. And I don’t think it was an accident.’
Andy took off his police helmet and a glove. He checked Edie’s neck for a pulse. Then he held his palm in front of her mouth. But there was no sign of life.
‘What the hell happened in here, Andy?’ Josie asked. ‘It’s one thing to rob the old dears but another to take their lives as they try to defend what’s theirs.’
‘There are some nasty bastards out there. We can’t protect everyone, no matter how hard we try.’
‘How long do you think she’s been there?’ Josie glanced at the clock on the mantel piece. It was only nine thirty-two. ‘All night, maybe?’
‘Early hours, I suspect. She must have come round enough to raise the alarm before she died.’
Josie pointed to the poker lying on the rug, knowing better than to touch it. ‘There’s blood on that.’
Andy nodded before reaching for his radio. ‘I’ll get the team out, set the wheels in motion.’
When Josie didn’t move, Andy placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
‘How can anyone do that?’ she asked. ‘Even if it was an accident, someone left her there to die. That’s beyond belief. It’s so cruel.’
Andy sighed. ‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’
‘This is the Mitchell Estate.’
Josie Mellor threw her car keys onto her desk and collapsed in a huddle on her chair.
‘What is it with me and the Bradley family? That’s five more complaints I’ve received in as many days. I was hoping after I’d been to visit Gina last week that the twins would behave themselves.’
‘Your three-fifteen’s here,’ Debbie Wilkins shouted over. ‘I’ve put her in interview cubicle one. She seems a bit stressed.’
‘A bit stressed?’ Josie retorted. ‘She ought to try finding dead people and dealing with the aftermath like I did with Mrs Rutter last month. And before I can take a minute to catch my breath this afternoon, I’ve got to deal with all
.’ She pushed aside the pile of phone messages on her desk that had grown considerably since she’d left it two hours ago. ‘I’m sure our tenants think I have the answers to all their problems.’
‘Poor Edie,’ Debbie said as she joined her.
‘I really liked her. She was a lovely old sort.’
Josie had been distraught when Edie had been found dead with head injuries in her bungalow a few weeks ago. The place had been trashed and a huge sum of money, among other things, had been stolen. But Mrs Rutter’s daughter had been particularly upset that a pearl necklace with a clasp in the shape of a butterfly was missing. It had been a family heirloom for years. There had been no leads at all, not even with the press coverage it had received for a couple of weeks afterwards.
‘It doesn’t seem fair, does it?’ Josie could feel tears forming again. ‘People shouldn’t die all alone. I met her son at Mr Barber’s funeral. He thought a lot of his parents, not like some of the families on the estate.’
‘Cluck, cluck, Mother Hen,’ Ray Harman chirped up. ‘It’s a good job everyone has Josie Mellor.’
Josie pulled a face at Ray. ‘Yes, it is, because if it was up to you, there would be no Mitchell Estate, right?’
Ray nodded, pushing his glasses back up his nose. ‘You got me.’
‘Yes, I got you a long time ago, you smarmy git,’ she muttered under her breath.
‘You’ve only yourself to blame, though. If you would insist on spoon-feeding the morons, then what do you expect?’
Josie ignored him. She’d known a lot of people like Ray during her eighteen years working for Mitchell Housing Association. Ray was in his late forties and had been a housing officer for longer than Josie, yet he didn’t mince his words when it came to job dissatisfaction. Between the two of them, they covered the sprawling estate, along with Doug Pattison, the maintenance officer. Doug looked after reporting all the repairs needed at the properties, but would always offer to help out if Josie didn’t feel safe going to a visit alone. Ray, however, would be far too busy checking if garden hedges were an inch higher than they should be or whether Ms-Anderson-at-number-fifty-two’s skirt needed to be an inch higher than it was.
Josie picked up two folders from her desk and wiped her eyes again. ‘Right, then, I’d better get started on the next one. As the saying goes, no rest for the wicked.’
She put on her broadest smile as she walked into the glass-walled cubicle a few minutes later. ‘Hello, Kelly.’
Kelly Winterton’s face scrunched up with indignation.
‘And, you,’ Josie turned her attention to the young child sitting next to her, ‘you must be Emily. Am I right?’
Emily nodded shyly.
‘Do you remember me? I’ve met you before, at your house, and it’s very nice to see you again. Now, if I give you some pens and a colouring book, do you think you can choose a picture to fill in with some bright colours while I speak to your mummy?’
‘Have you got a red one?’ asked Emily, wide brown eyes looking up expectantly. ‘Please.’
Josie gave her one of the folders and watched her face light up when she saw the packet containing felt-tipped pens of every colour. Along with her mittens, her coat and scarf came off in a flash and she got down to work.
‘Now then, it’s your turn.’ Josie pushed a thick form across the table towards Kelly. ‘You’ll need to fill in the bits I’ve marked with a cross while I go through your options.’
Kelly remained silent while she chewed on her nails.
‘As the tenancy is in Mr Johnstone’s name only, and due to his recent trip to Her Majesty’s Services, the number one priority is to stay where you are now – at Patrick Street – while we set eviction proceedings in motion.’
‘Eviction proceedings!’ Kelly cried. ‘What do you mean? He’s only been sent down for six months!’
Josie flicked over a page and pointed to a box. ‘Mr Johnstone isn’t entitled to housing benefit if he’s in prison for longer than thirteen weeks, and as he won’t be able to pay the rent himself, we’ll try and get him to give up his tenancy. Six months will give him a bill of at least two thousand pounds to pay when he gets released. And he’ll have a criminal record – which will work in our favour. We don’t do evictions willy-nilly. We feel we have a duty of care to offer you something else, and we have to follow procedures – take Mr Johnstone to court first, sign paperwork, so it’s likely to take a while. You can stay at Patrick Street until that date, if you wish.’
Josie had Kelly’s full attention now. ‘But what if he only serves three months, half his time? Scott’ll keep his nose clean, you know him.’
‘Not my rulings, I’m afraid. And if he doesn’t assign the property straight back to us, for every week he’s inside, he’ll be liable to pay when he does get out.’
Kelly sat forward. ‘I’ll claim benefits, then. I live there too.’
‘Are there any bills in your name?’
‘How the hell should I know?’ They sat in silence until Kelly sighed loudly.
‘I don’t think so,’ she replied.
‘In that case, you have no proof that you’ve been living there. You’re registered with the benefits agency from 18 Christopher Avenue.’
Kelly frowned. ‘No, that’s my mum’s address. I left there five years ago when I shacked up with Scott.’