Authors: Jane A. Adams
Alec laughed, then wondered if he should have done. Maureen's spending habits had long been a touchy subject. âSo,' he said, by way of diversion. âKnow anything about this DI Eddison we're meant to be meeting?' The truth was, Alec was curious too about Travers' involvement. Why did they need Alec
his DCI if all Alec was going to do was refresh a few memories of an old case, give his perspective on it? Travers had only just got his promotion at the time, and Alec couldn't recall that he'd been all that active on the Robinson business. He'd been off on some management course somewhere when everything came to a head and the arrest was made.
âI've met Eddison,' Travers said. âHe was a speaker on a conference I went to, if I remember right. He delivered a paper on steganography.' Travers laughed. âUntil then, I thought that was a type of dinosaur.' He paused again, waiting for Alec to say he still thought it was. Politically, Alec probably should have done, but as it happenedâ
âHiding things in plain sight,' he said.
âGive that man a peanut.'
âAnyway, he's become the “go to guy” for anything technical.' Travers shrugged, but Alec could see he was reluctantly impressed.
They were out in the country now, driving a twisting road too fast for Alec's taste. Travers had always driven like a maniac. Alec remembered when they'd both taken the advance driving course and Travers had set out with the intention of proving just how good he was behind the wheel, only to be told at the end of the first day that he'd be thrown off the course if he didn't quiet down and focus.
Alec found himself switching attention between the now darkening road ahead and the little brown squiggle on the satnav map. âWhat time are we expected?'
âWhen we get there. Why?'
Alec shrugged. From past experience he knew that any comment on the speed of Travers driving, any mild suggestion that he might like to slow down, would have the opposite effect. Silently, he cursed his failing car and hoped that Naomi
be taking the credit card for a walk and getting them a nice reliable one before he returned home. Harry could be trusted to ask the practical questions about insurance and petrol consumption, and Patrick and Naomi between them could be relied upon to make sure the purchase wasn't too dull.
âSo, do we know what killed Robinson?'
âNot yet. Tox reports still aren't back. I understand you were familiar with that journalist woman?'
âJournalist? Oh, Jamie Dale. Yes, Naomi and I started in the force around the same time she started at the local paper. We got to know her quite well back then, but lost touch rather when she moved down south, as you do. Why?'
âWell, Eddison seems to think it may be helpful. That you knew her.'
âVery much past tense,' Alec told him. âWe liked her. She was funny and clever and very good at what she did. Committed, too. Even back then you'd have made a bet on her making it, whatever field she decided to go into.'
âBet no one took odds on her burning up in a smashed-up car.'
âBurning?' Alec went cold. âThe news reports said nothing about a fire.'
âNo, they didn't. The news reported it as an accident. Sad, but these things happen. The evidence says it was murder.'
Travers nodded. âSo now we've got two bodies. It seems that your funny, clever reporter friend burned to death in her car. The keys had been taken, the child locks activated. She was locked in and left to die.'
t was funny, Gregory thought, the way some people were able to compartmentalize their lives. He doubted anyone in Jamie's circle knew about her friendship with Neil Robinson or many in his that he had a connection with her.
âWe started chatting in a pub one night,' she'd said. âI was supposed to meet a friend, and she was late and then she texted to say she'd been held up at work and probably wouldn't make it. Neil was there too, looking equally fed up, and we got talking.'
She had not, Gregory remembered, been in London all that long at the time and was probably just glad of the company. Neil could be engaging company. Smooth and charming and seemingly open: just the personality traits that made him such a good conman.
Not, so far as Gregory knew â and he knew a great deal â that Neil had ever tried anything with Jamie.
The two had become casual friends. The odd coffee, a film, an evening in the pub. It had been easy and appealing to a woman like Jamie, whose life otherwise was so intense.
Gregory, not an expert in personal relationships, had always been interested when people spoke about theirs, and Jamie had been very easy to listen to. Like Neil she, too, was charming, smooth and open â though in Jamie's case she really was â and it made her pleasant company.
And Christopher had been right, Gregory thought. He had allowed himself to grow fond, to believe that the girl could be deflected from the dangerous path she had been taking
And so she had been, for a while.
He turned the little silver device in his hands. A digital recorder, quite high end and very pretty and compact. Then he looked at the number scribbled on the pad on his desk. Not that he needed to look; numbers he needed to know were committed quickly and retained, Christopher always joked, for elephant's years.
Reaching for the phone, and with his finger poised to play, he dialled the number.
Harry called around midnight. He apologized for the lateness, but said Patrick had told him it would be a good idea. Naomi smiled, amused at the parental buck-passing. The HarryâPatrick dynamic had certainly shifted in the past year. Harry would have missed him terribly if his son had decided to pick a distant university, but Patrick, despite offers of finance from his mother and stepfather, had elected to go to a local art college, which meant he could still live at home.
âPatrick was right,' Naomi said.
âNo word from Alec?'
âNothing yet. They should have arrived by now, but he probably won't get much time to call until later. You know how it is.'
âAnd you're all right?'
âI'm fine,' she lied.
âBecause I can come over, you know I would.'
âBless you, Harry. But I'm going to bed now, and I'll be OK. I've locked up everywhere.'
âIf you're sure? Right then, we'll pick you up at half five tomorrow, if that's OK. The private view starts at six, and Patrick wants to meet up with his friends.'
Naomi smiled again. Friends hadn't really been dominant in Patrick's life when she first knew him and had definitely not been without their tragedy. They had both worried for Patrick for a while, but he seemed happy in his own skin these days, and she knew how relieved Harry was about that. âLooking forward to it,' she said.
She had just put the phone back on its cradle when it rang again. Not Alec, she thought; he'd have rung her mobile just in case she'd already gone to bed. Had Harry forgotten something?
âHello. Did youâ?'
She knew at once that this was not Harry. The emptiness that greeted her words echoed as though she had connected with some vast space. No one spoke.
âHello,' she said again. âWho is this?'
A sudden click as though someone had flicked a switch. The sound of a voice, tight and panicked and speaking her name. Her unmarried name. âNaomi? Naomi Blake? Do you remember me? This is Jamie, Jamie Dale.' The sound broke off, words becoming sobs so desperate that Naomi felt herself grow cold.
âWho is this?' she said again, trying hard to keep her own voice steady. You're dead, she thought. How can you be speaking to me?
Another click; she recognized it now, a tape machine being switched off. The voice had been recorded, but by whom? When?
âWho the hell are you?' Angry now. Fearful too.
Silence. Then the phone was hung up and the line went dead.
She stood for a moment, clutching the receiver in her hand, then slowly laid it back on the cradle. Light-headed and chilled, she felt as though all the blood and warmth had drained out of her. Jamie was dead. What the hell . . .? Briefly, she stood stock still, telling herself that whoever was doing this was just trying to frighten her, that she wasn't going to let that happen. Her resolve lasted only scant seconds. Whoever was trying to frighten her had damn well succeeded.
âNapoleon! Napoleon, come!' In a frenzy of activity she stormed around the house, barking her shins on furniture she knew was there but could not seem to avoid. She checked the locks on the windows, unfastened and then refastened the doors while the big black dog, thinking this was some new game, beat his heavy tail enthusiastically against her legs.
Finally, she stumbled up the stairs to her bedroom and locked that door too. Then stood, staring at a key she could no longer see and listening hard, as though any minute she might hear footsteps on the stairs and know that her carefully erected barricades had just been breached.
Down in the hall the phone rang out again, and Naomi jumped. Napoleon whined softly in sympathy, realizing belatedly that Naomi wasn't having fun. She counted. Five rings and then it stopped, as though whoever was calling merely wanted to make a point:
I know who you are; I know where you live
. She had her mobile in the pocket of her cardigan, and she almost gave in to the impulse to call Harry, ask him to come and get her and beg the use of his spare room for the night. She had the phone in her hand before she dismissed the thought. She wasn't going to drag Harry and Patrick into this, not unless she had to. Someone was trying to scare her. Someone was doing a bloody good job of it, and when Alec phoned she'd tell him what had happened and they'd figure out what she ought to do. One thing was certain. Neither Naomi nor Alec believed in coincidence. Alec had been called in to investigate a murder. The victim, Neil Robinson, had been in contact with Jamie Dale. Just what was going on here?
âRight, deep breaths, just stay calm. Doors are locked, everything is fine.'
Napoleon whined again, and she bent to stroke the smooth fur. She was still listening for any unusual sound, any little creak or groan that might not be the familiar noises of the house settling down for the night. After a while, she realized that she could hear nothing out of the ordinary. All was quiet, peaceful. Safe. She kicked off her slippers and curled up on the bed, shrinking back against the headboard, instinctively retreating from the bedroom door, and she listened again, then shook herself angrily.
âDope. Do something about it!' The number for the local police station where Alec worked and Naomi once had done too was on speed dial in her phone, and she called it now. Got through to the desk sergeant and was utterly relieved to hear a voice she knew.
âNaomi? Are you all right, love? You know he's not here, surely?'
âYes, don't fret. He didn't go without telling me.' She tried to laugh, but it came out shaky and unconvincing.
âDon, I wonder if you could get a car to swing by, just take a quick look around. Nothing urgent, but . . .?'
âNaomi? I mean, course I will, but what is it?'
âI've just had a strange phone call,' she said, oddly relieved to have said it out loud.
âA nuisance call?' His turn to laugh now. âWhat was it, a heavy breather?'
âIf it had been, I wouldn't be bothering you,' she said. âI'd have got Napoleon to bark down the phone. No, Don, it was something weirder than that. You know that journalist that died?'
âDale. That one?'
âYes, well someone just called me and played a message from her down the phone. She sounded scared, Don. And whoever it was wanted me scared too.'
âSounds like they succeeded. Right, love, I'll get someone to you. You spoken to Alec yet?'
âNo, I'll talk to him later. There's nothing he can do right now. Thanks, Don, I appreciate it.'
She rang off and sat clutching the mobile as though it was a lifeline, keeping her connected to the sane and ordinary world. Listening again, she could discern no out of the ordinary noises, nothing that should not be there, but the sense of unease grew nonetheless, prowling like some solid, feral thing along the hallway outside of the bedroom door.
As it happened, the satnav got them to their destination. A lone house set back from a long, empty road.
âThis is it?'
âWell, there's nothing else here,' Alec said. They pulled into the drive and parked up outside the house. Two other cars could be seen, tucked in at the side. The house itself was largely hidden from the road by a tall, unkempt hedge.
Alec glanced at the front door, illuminated by a small porch light. A sign above the door said
, in faded letters. A rural police station, then? Though the cracked paint on the door, the faded sign and the general untidiness of the front garden indicated it had been out of use for some time.
The front door opened as Alec and Travers got out of the car, and a tall, heavily built man stood silhouetted in the doorway.
âSomeone's got a sense of the dramatic,' Travers muttered.
The figure stepped out into the arched porch and his features came into view, illuminated now by the scanty light. Alec noted a flat face and a broken nose.
âDCI Travers and DI Friedman, I presume? Nick, good to see you again. Good, come along in, apologies for all the mystery, I'll explain why we're meeting here if you care to step inside. Good.'
The word âgood' seemed to be a tick, Alec noted. The man's tone, however, noted no such approbation.
He turned, and Alec followed him â Travers, Alec noted, pausing to glance around before bringing up the rear. The stranger's voice was accented, a lilt that was vaguely Scottish, Alec thought, though with a touch of something more angular. Birmingham, perhaps? Alec gave up.