Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files Book 1)
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘Of course,’ said the woman. ‘But they were fighting last night. Sound travels well in this building.

‘Really? About what time would that be?’

The woman thought. ‘Nineish. Maybe later. I didn’t watch any telly last night, or I could have told you what was on. Sorry.’

‘Don’t worry. I don’t suppose the words carry down, do they?’

‘No; just the noise. Voices and sometimes something sounds like it goes over.’

‘And last night?’

‘I’m sorry. I heard some shouting, but that was all I could swear to.’

‘You were going to describe the boyfriend for me.’

The woman described Avery well enough.

‘And after you heard raised voices last night, about nineish, did you hear anything else unusual?’

Again the woman thought. ‘No, but I was in bed by ten. Husband’s away and I’ve got to get up early, get these two ready for dropping off before I go to work.’

Marsh thanked the woman, said goodbye to the children, who ignored her, and went in search of the caretaker. She convinced him to let her back into Claire Stamp’s flat on the premise that she thought she might have left something behind when she was there earlier. He unlocked the door and left, asking her to make sure she pulled it to after her and told him when she was leaving.

Marsh had the idea that while she was in the building she would take another look at the lounge area of Claire Stamp’s flat. Now that she knew there might be something missing – something that might have been used to strike Claire Stamp – she would see if anything was notable by its absence.

She flicked the lights on and wandered down the passageway. It was cold; someone had turned the heating off. She’d only gone a few paces when her sixth sense told her something was wrong.

The flat had been ransacked. Every drawer had been pulled out and upended; clothes from the wardrobe were strewn around; the mattress had been pushed off the bed; the bath panel had been ripped off its fastenings; the laundry basket emptied. In the kitchen a similar scene awaited her. The cupboard doors and drawers were open and packets and tins lay where they had been thrown. The lounge had not escaped. Cushions were scattered, the sideboard cleared and the coffee table upended. The big plasma television was still there. And on the floor was Claire Stamp’s purse. Marsh checked it. There was cash and a couple of credit cards. This wasn’t a robbery. Someone had been searching for something.

Marsh phoned the DI. When he’d finished upbraiding her for being there at all, let alone on her own, he listened to what she had to tell him.

‘Any sign of a forced entry?’


‘Well, we know that Avery has a key, and he would have had ample opportunity,’ said Romney. ‘Speak to the caretaker, see if he saw him, just so we know, but until someone reports that a crime has been committed, you know as well as I do that it’s none of our business.’

Marsh said, ‘Perhaps it was Avery looking for something he had entrusted to Claire for safe-keeping or just kept here. If it was, it must be pretty important, and my guess is he didn’t find it.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Romney, sounding more interested. ‘Perhaps, it was important enough to kill her over.’

The caretaker couldn’t say whether Avery had been there that day. As he told Marsh, ‘I don’t spend all my time spying on the comings and goings or the residents. I’ve got better things to do.’

She thanked him as cordially as she could manage and went home.




The ransacking continued to nag at Marsh’s thoughts. It was as she was staring at her ready meal doing laps of the microwave that she thought of Claire Stamp’s mother. Although, according to Claire, Avery didn’t tell her they were through and that she was to vacate the flat until after her mother had left, it was, thought Marsh, entirely possible that the young woman had feared something of the sort. Maybe there were other considerations too: things that they knew nothing about. But if Claire had feared for her security and her position and Avery had left something sensitive, something valuable to him, with her for safe-keeping, something sensitive enough for him to ransack the flat so completely searching for it – Marsh didn’t agree with the DI that he would have or had killed her for it – then it was possible she had given it to her mother for her own safe-keeping, security and protection. Her mother certainly hadn’t waited around long after Avery had arrived back on the scene. Marsh looked at her watch and wondered whether to give the DI a call. She decided it would keep to the morning. And in any case, she reflected, perhaps it would be as well if she slept on the idea.




Romney worked late. He had a backlog of paperwork to catch up on. Most of it was pointless bureaucratic nonsense, but, unfortunately, that was no excuse not to do it.

Julie Carpenter had a parents’ evening and was then going out with colleagues for a meal. Romney felt a pang of jealousy at this, which disturbed him. He wouldn’t see her but he would have. If she’d asked him to meet her afterwards, or to go around to her house when she was home, he wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

They had seen each other on six occasions, made love on three of them, and he felt like a new man for it. It wasn’t just the sex, which was the most engaging, fulfilling, adventurous and satisfying of any he had ever experienced, she was, he realised with something bordering on embarrassment, an infatuation for him.

Romney wasn’t stupid. He understood himself. He understood that this relationship with an attractive, vivacious young professional woman was a boost to his waning ego.

In the last few years he’d dated on and off – dipped his toe in the water now and again. Mostly it was for the promise of sex. He wasn’t looking for anything more permanent. Been there, done that, had the scars. There had been a couple who had interested him further than the bedroom, but eventually such encounters had all boiled down to one issue: his difficulty with women his age.

In Romney’s opinion the passing of years were unfairly harsh to women. While men did bald and sag and line and look every year of their time on Earth they could also, like a good wine, and without great effort, improve with age.

Romney had kept his thick dark curls that now, smattered with grey, gave him a mature and distinguished look. He kept himself fit and his body reasonably trim. The ageing process had weathered his features into something bordering on rugged and this with his height, his natural build and his clear blue eyes encouraged many women to give him a second look, young and old.

On the other hand, time and motherhood, in his opinion, proved an irresistible unkindness to women. Encroaching middle age lined women in a way that could rarely be determined as improving a woman’s looks. Too often, life left its mark in ways that no cosmetics, exercise or surgery could counter or hide. Thighs, backsides, cellulite, paunches, sagging breasts, bingo wings, turkey necks, and the sprouting of facial hair. Romney felt great sympathy for womankind and the constant battles on several fronts they were obliged to fight in their warring with age. Finding themselves on the relationship rubbish tip with their best-before dates something of a distant memory, most that he had encountered were inevitably looking to snare their man for the security and the long term, while they still retained something of their looks.

He’d almost been fooled once or twice into thinking that he’d found an exception, but none had looked so good in the morning after the night before that he could see himself turning the casual into something more permanent.

It dismayed him to admit to himself that he had never met a woman whose conversation, intellect and outlook on life held a greater interest for him than her body. He didn’t know if that was his problem or theirs and didn’t dwell on it because the fact that the issue existed for him was enough. It was his natural inclination, and at his age he wasn’t about to try to reason himself out of the prejudice of his position, however, unreasonable, shallow and narrow-minded it might be considered.

And that is why at nearly forty-three he had a double bed to himself, spent his days off and his money improving his collection of first editions and his property, started his summer Sundays with early morning rides on his motorbike, ate when, where and what he liked and never missed a Champions League match if he wasn’t working.

The life-style he had chosen for himself was never going to be something he would give up easily, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t consider it if the right person came along. With the surprise of Julie Carpenter he was able to rekindle something of his youthful inner-self; to imagine wistfully that perhaps the ‘one’ had arrived. But he was under no illusions, at the moment it was lust and if she had been ten years older, he probably wouldn’t have looked twice.




At seven o’clock Romney extinguished the office lights and headed down to his vehicle. The night was colder by a couple of degrees than any so far that week. A keen thin wind sliced through his clothing and stirred up debris in the car park.

He sat in the refrigerator-like car still undecided about how to spend his evening. He could go to his gym – his bag was in the boot. He could grab a take-away, head home and watch some telly with a beer. He could visit a pub he knew well enough where the food was home-made and filling, and the real ale advertisement outside was not a trading standards concern. He checked his mobile just in case and smiling to himself at his foolishness started the car.

His mind drifted back to Claire Stamp and what she could have had of Avery’s that would make him attack her. It would have to be something personally incriminating and substantial. And what would she have done with it? Where could she have hidden it, if, as Marsh had suggested, Avery hadn’t recovered it from his ransacking of the flat?

He was about to exit the car park when he remembered Claire Stamp’s mother. She could have accepted something from her daughter to hold for her. She hadn’t hung around at the flat once Avery had returned. He stopped the car, took out his phone and dialled Marsh. She answered on the third ring.

‘Hello, sir.’

‘Sorry to bother you this late. I wanted to ask you something about Claire Stamp’s mother.’

‘No problem. I was just on my way out.’

‘Anywhere special?’

‘Only the take-away. Nuked my dinner to oblivion.’

Silence filled the line.

‘I ruined my dinner in the microwave.’

‘Oh, right,’ said Romney. ‘Look, I’m just going to get something to eat myself. Decent pub not far from you, actually. The White Horse in St James Street. Care to join me?’ She thought for a second too long. ‘It’s OK,’ he said. ‘Just thought I’d ask.’

‘No, I mean, yeah, sure. That sounds great. Thanks.’

‘Good. I’m heading there now. See you in, what, ten minutes?’

‘Ten minutes,’ repeated Marsh, ending the call.

She checked herself in the hall mirror and didn’t like what stared back. Coming home she’d changed into sweats and taken off her make-up. Looking like that was all right nipping to the chippy, but no good if you wanted to make a good impression on your immediate boss. She checked her watch. She’d got ready in three minutes before.




Romney was standing at the bar ordering a pint of ale when Marsh arrived. The wind had whipped the shoulder length hair she normally wore bunched for work, but down tonight, into a dishevelled mess.

‘I didn’t realise there were so many hedges between The Gateway and here,’ said Romney, smiling at her scraping her hair back into some sort of order with her fingers.

‘Thanks for noticing, sir.’

‘What’ll you have?’

She had a white wine spritzer and they took a table near the open fire.

Marsh sipped her drink. ‘It’s cosy in here,’ she said.

‘Haven’t you been in before? Geographically, it must be your local.’

‘I’m not much one for going into pubs on my own.’

‘Of course. I didn’t think of that. How long have you been with us?’

‘Two months including courses.’

‘And before that?’

‘I was a DC at Gravesend. They had all the DSs they needed, so when I gained promotion they offered me a posting down here. I say offered, but you know how it is.’

Romney did. ‘How do you like it?’ He was just realising that he didn’t know anything about DS Marsh.

‘It’s a lot less intense than north Kent.’

‘Politely put. So, two months, what do you do with yourself when you’re not working?’

‘Gym, shop, read, sleep. My family is in London. I usually go up there when I have a few days off.’

‘What do you like to read?’ said Romney, interested as he always was in other people’s reading habits.

‘Don’t laugh, but detective novels mostly. I know,’ she said, misinterpreting his wide smile, ‘it’s a bit pathetic, isn’t it?’

‘Not at all. You know what they say about coppers who read detective novels?’ Marsh didn’t, but didn’t like to say so, so she sipped her drink. ‘Don’t tell anyone down the nick, but I’m a big fan of the genre myself.’

BOOK: Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files Book 1)
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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