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Authors: Angela Dracup

The Burden of Doubt

The Burden of Doubt
Angela Dracup
Robert Hale (2012)

When consultant anaesthetist, Moira Farrell, is found stabbed to death, shock reverberates amongst her medical colleagues. Worse is to come when rumours start to leak out regarding the professional incompetence of her clinical director. Was Moira about to blow the whistle on him? Was that sufficient reason for him to silence her forever? But then contradictory evidence from forensics emerges, firmly pointing to a petty criminal who had worked as a gardener for Moira.DCI Ed Swift must unravel the tangled threads of the murder against a background of growing concern for his own daughter who has unaccountably run into trouble with the police.Then, unexpectedly, the DCI's investigation suddenly bears fruit, flushing out a killer with all the motivation for the murder. Will justice now be done?

The Burden
of Doubt

Angela Dracup

The little white van pulled to a halt. It was 8.45 a.m. on a dismal January morning and the van’s cheery pink
Merry Maids
logo was barely discernible in the gloom. Spots of freezing rain had started to smear the windscreen. The occupants of the van, who at this point were neither maids nor merry, yawned as they swung themselves out of the van on to the wide gravel drive.

‘No lights on,’ Pat, the driver, remarked, glancing towards the house before walking around to the back of the van to pull open the doors and reach inside for the bag containing the
Merry Maid
overalls and the firm’s standard issue of pink rubber gloves.

Her companion, Meg, nipped the end of her cigarette and placed the dead results in the breast pocket of her pink overall. ‘Brass monkey weather,’ she observed, shuffling around to the back door of the house, clutching her padded jacket around her.

Pat selected a key from the fat bunch she carried in her handbag. Most clients were prepared to hand out house keys: the firm prided themselves on the integrity of their staff. And the staff, in their turn, knew that if anything went missing from the houses they cleaned in the clients’ absence, they would be the first ones under suspicion. As the key touched the lock Pat prepared to exert the pressure required to slot it into the snug gap. But at the touch of the key the door began to open and Pat found herself stumbling to stop her weight falling forward. ‘Door’s open!’ she exclaimed. Walking forward, with Meg following cautiously at her heels, she called, ‘Mrs Farrell?’ The words echoed, high and anxiety-tinged, into the large hallway.

Three mornings a week, at 8.30 or thereabouts, Pat and Meg would greet Mrs Farrell and sometimes Dr Patel in the kitchen, before proceeding to the walk-in cloakroom under the stairs where they would remove their coats and then climb the stairs to the first floor and spend an hour wiping, polishing and vacuuming, before returning to the ground floor, snatching a coffee – and a cigarette if the coast was clear – then repeating the same dirt-busting procedure in the kitchen and reception rooms.

This morning they tiptoed cautiously over across the wood floor, the one they polished each week with a mixture of bees-wax and vinegar. The curtains on both the ground floor and landings were closed. Pat stopped, resting her hand on the dark wood newel post, atop of which was a large, ornately carved acorn. The acorn required regular applications of almond oil and a fair bit of elbow grease to make it shine. And it was indeed shining away now in the gleam of the electric lights which were all on.

‘I’m getting a bad feeling about this,’ Meg muttered, hanging back.

Pat raised her chin and walked forward steadily up the stairs and on to the wide landing. Together they made a tour of the main guest room and its starkly white art deco bathroom suite. On one of the beds the covers had been thrown back, revealing the crumpled white sheets beneath.

‘Looks like they’ve had guests this weekend,’ Meg remarked.

‘That’s not like them; they seem to like to keep themselves to themselves.’ Pat was surveying the room with hands on hips. ‘Funny isn’t it,’ she mused, ‘how most rich folks spend their time having company or jazzing off all over the world? They seem to need a lot of entertainment.’

Meg was not one to muse on the generalities of human behaviour. ‘We’ll be needing to strip these sheets off later and put them in the wash,’ she said.

There were creaking sounds as the central heating warmed the wooden floors. A draught of cold air stole up the staircase. The two women eyed each other nervously.

Pat went back on to the landing, calling out again, ‘Mrs Farrell? Hello, hello.’

They looked in the master suite, in the his and hers dressing areas, in the master bathroom.

Nothing.

‘Oh dear,’ Pat exclaimed in a stage whisper.

Returning downstairs they went into the sitting-room.

‘Dear God Almighty!’ Meg bent double, gasping with shock and revulsion.

Pat stared in frozen horror. Talk about blood on the carpet. And on the furniture. And all over Mrs Farrell’s white Indian rug. She found herself automatically considering the best way to clean up, and flushed at the crass inappropriateness of the thought.

It was now a few minutes past nine. The sky had darkened and a mean wind drove small daggers of freezing rain against the windows.

By this time the two maids were very far from merriment.

 

Ed Swift looked down at his watch. 9.55. The speaker had been on his feet for less than half an hour and already time had slowed to a crawl. His voice was a dull monotone, he made no use of visual aids or humour and his subject was that of statistical reliability in psychometric testing.

Swift straightened his spine against the back of his chair and made an effort to dredge up some interest. Still another fifty minutes to go before the morning coffee break. He took a glance at the conference delegates sitting on the row beside him. Their body language suggested they were as bored as he was. Weren’t the best speakers usually put on first? Surely sponsors and organizers preferred to avoid a mass walkout after lunch. If things carried on like this the place would be empty after the coffee pots had dried up.

Glancing towards the windows he saw that the hesitant sleet of an hour ago had now turned to snow. Flakes as big as rose petals were tumbling out of a grey, glowering Yorkshire sky. Already the lawns flanking the hotel hosting the conference were coated in pristine white.

He became aware of a door at the back of the room opening, of hurried footsteps making their way to the front of the audience. It
was one of the conference assistants, a young woman in a tightly fitting navy suit and black stiletto heels. She went up to the speaker, silently claiming his attention. He looked visibly annoyed and pointedly finished his long sentence before allowing her to communicate with him in whispered phrases. Frowning he stepped back from the microphone and the woman moved forward to speak.

‘If Detective Chief Inspector Swift is here could he please go to the organizer’s desk in the lobby.’ She paused, clearing her throat. ‘As soon as possible. There’s an urgent phone call for him.’

Swift’s heart lurched. Reason told him this would be a work call, but his emotions automatically leapt into action, hurling a picture of his daughter into his mind, taunting him with visions of some horrible road accident, or some unidentified distress or menace which might be threatening her. His reaction was founded on his long experience in the police force; a knowledge of how tragedy could come out of the blue and alter people’s lives at a single stroke.

He got to his feet and edged along the row, schooling himself to be calm and unhurried. There were one or two curious glances from other delegates wondering what could be so important as to justify interrupting a speaker in the middle of a lecture. The conference assistant met him in the aisle and led the way through the exit door and into the lobby. ‘This way, sir,’ she said, moving to the organizer’s office and pointing to the telephone whose handset was resting on the desk beside it, indicating that the caller had been holding.

He picked it up. ‘Ed Swift.’

‘Ed. Damian here. There’s been an incident at a house on the north west side of Ilkley. A suspicious death.’ He began to give details.

Swift listened, envisaging the newly appointed Superintendent Damian Finch orbiting his office, the phone clamped fiercely against his ear as he projected himself into the investigation ahead.

Relief swept through him: it was work.

  

In the bedroom of her small flat overlooking Five Rise Locks in the small town suburb of Bingley, a few miles north of Bradford, Detective Constable Laura Ferguson snapped awake as her radio, which was tuned to Classic FM, sprang into action and began playing her a fragment of Beethoven’s Symphony Number Eight.

Her mind was switching itself on like a row of street lamps steadily picking out the details which had faded into the dusk of a winter afternoon. From the gloom of a winter morning the dark head of a man infiltrated her field of vision. Oh hell!

She’d been at a party in one of the other flats in the block. He’d chatted her up. He was quirky and funny and flattering, and way too sexy to resist. She’d brought him home and taken him to bed. Just like that.

Well, to be fair she had met him twice before some weeks ago at the estate agency which had handled the purchase of her flat. He had been a very persuasive salesman and she had taken quite a fancy to him right from the start, she supposed. All strictly business, of course.

But to let him pick her up at a party. To take him home and into her bed, and then to let him stay on. And then stay the night. She would blame the plentiful intake of wine on both their parts. Because if it hadn’t been for that she could think of no excuse whatsoever.

She sat up, pulled on her blue towelling robe which lay crumpled on the floor like an abandoned slut, and parted the curtains. The world outside was snugly carpeted in white, the only relief being the contrasting black gleam of the canal. Snow was falling steadily, vanishing as it hit the cold white surface of the lying snow or dissolved into the canal.

She tiptoed to her wardrobe, glancing at the bed and praying its occupant wouldn’t wake up. Not just yet. Not until she was on the point of leaving when she would issue him firm instructions to shut the door behind him when he left.

Showered and dressed she switched on the kettle to make coffee and rooted in the biscuit tin for something to sustain her on the drive out to the station. He stole up behind her and the first
she knew of his awakening was the feel of his arms around her waist and the touch of his mouth on the back of her neck.

‘Don’t even think of shooting me a line about coming back to bed,’ she told him. ‘I’ve got to go to work.’

‘Och, lassie, you’re a wee tease,’ he said, squeezing her tighter and mimicking her Scottish lilt to perfection. ‘And it’s only just gone seven.’

‘I’m a wee bonehead for letting a slippery shite like ye have your wicked way wi’ me,’ she responded tartly. ‘Away with ye!’

‘I’ve no clothes on!’

She squirmed out of his grasp. Reluctantly abandoning thoughts of coffee, she began to collect up her things. ‘Well, get them on,’ she snapped. ‘Help yourself to coffee if you must. Then go. And be sure to drop the latch.’

‘Never fear, you can always trust an estate agent to behave well in an empty house. That’s my job.’ He offered a stunningly seductive wink.

‘Aah!’ She stalked to the door.

‘You’re the loveliest girl I’ve ever met,’ he said, with a wry smile.

‘For pity’s sake!’ She slipped around the door.

‘And the cruellest,’ he said without rancour, as she closed it behind her.

 

An hour and a half later in the CID room at the station Laura and her colleague Constable Doug Wilson were ploughing through their backlog of paperwork.

Laura laid down her pen, gazing out of the window at the snow which was falling in giddy swirls. She wondered if Saul had left the flat and hoped he’d remembered to lock the door. And then she thought of her mother’s face if she knew her daughter had had a one night stand with a man she hardly knew. And then she felt a lurch of horror as she tried desperately to remember if Saul had used a condom. Stabs of molten alarm sped through her nerves. Yes, he had, she was sure of it. But, of course, condoms were by no means one hundred per cent reliable. Her heart rate was now running at an alarming high. What about the morning
after pill? Could she slip out to a pharmacy and get one? The idea swamped her with guilt. She had long since rejected the Catholic faith in which her parents had brought her up, but the idea of killing potential life still held a pull. She simply couldn’t do it. Oh hell! She lifted her head and took a few deep breaths. Banishing the dilemma, and Saul, from her mind she went back to the
paperwork
with a small sigh.

Doug looked up and smiled as he watched her. ‘Fretting at the bit?’ he suggested.

‘Uh-huh. I could do with some action.’

‘I remember the feeling,’ he said. ‘When I was young and eager and longing to be at the cutting edge. But now, I don’t mind a spell of keeping my bum on the seat and letting the old brain have a bit of a rest. Not to mention the nerves. There’ll be trouble and agitation before long. Always is.’

Right on cue the phone on Doug’s desk trilled. He straightened his back as he heard the new super’s voice. For Doug, Damian Finch was a New Age police person: crisp, correct and decisive. And pretty clever if the framed first class degree from Oxford sitting on his shelves was to be believed. Doug listened as he spoke. ‘I see, sir. Yes, I can come straight away.’ He listened again. ‘Yes, sir, Constable Ferguson is here too.’

Laura’s head snapped around to look at him.

‘We’re commanded to join the big boss in his office for a preliminary briefing,’ he told her. ‘I took the liberty of suggesting that you were free.’

‘As a bird,’ she said, jumping to her feet and slipping her arms into her black jacket.

They walked together along the corridor, Laura trying to stop herself breaking into a trot. Doug looked down at her and raised an eyebrow. ‘Told you so.’

 

An hour later the assembled team sat in Detective Chief Superintendent Finch’s office, sipping the ground coffee he kept constantly simmering in his room. Swift glanced around, marvelling at the way in which Finch had transformed the cluttered den of the former superintendent, Tom Lister, into a place of brightness and
order which proclaimed a dedicated organizer’s touch. Banished were the piles of tottering paperwork on the desk, the little cluster of family photographs and the little tin ashtray which had once brimmed over with cigarette ends. In their place were a pen stand, a notebook and a state of the art laptop. On the shelves to the side of the desk were neatly stacked police manuals, books on criminal law and Finch’s university degree certificates. A large potted palm sat in one corner of the room, its shiny leaves forming an artistic tracery against the background of the pure white walls. Above was a
hand-painted
reproduction of Da Vinci’s
Mona Lisa
keeping watch over the room with her steady disturbing gaze and her inscrutable smile.

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