Read The Shroud Maker Online

Authors: Kate Ellis

Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General

The Shroud Maker (10 page)

BOOK: The Shroud Maker
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‘She never mentioned it. But lots of people are. I’ve seen the badges all around at the festival. Not that I’m into it, of course. All that John Palkin stuff and the Shroud Maker.’

Rachel raised her eyebrows. ‘Who?’

‘The Shroud Maker. The dark force who controls Shipworld. Palkin’s his enemy. Or is he his puppet? You see, I know all about it even though I’m not a fan. Can’t avoid it,’ she added dismissively. She looked at Wesley, her head tilted coquettishly. ‘Can I go now, Wes? I’ve told you everything I know. Honest.’

He glanced at Rachel. ‘Fine. But if you remember anything else that might help us, you’ll let us know, won’t you?’

‘Sure,’ she said. She bent down to retrieve her denim bag from the floor and stood up.

‘Is something bothering you, Rosie?’ Wesley asked.

‘Is that any of your business?’ Rosie muttered before hurrying out of the room.

‘She’s hiding something,’ said Rachel as Rosie disappeared off down the corridor.

Wesley didn’t answer.

 

When Wesley returned to the incident room Gerry summoned him to his office.

‘How did you get on with Rosie? Is she OK?’ Gerry was trying to sound casual but Wesley detected anxiety behind the question.

‘She seems fine,’ Wesley said as he sat down, pushing aside the paperwork piled up on the boss’s desk.

If Gerry was worried about his daughter, he felt bound to bring some reassurance. ‘She overheard the dead girl talking to someone in St Leonard’s Church porch a couple of days before she disappeared but she’s no idea who it was. She’s given a full statement.’

He looked at Gerry expectantly but there was no reaction. Then after a few seconds Gerry spoke. ‘She didn’t mention me?’

‘Not really. Why?’

‘No reason.’ Gerry gave a heavy sigh. ‘I just wonder if she didn’t turn up at mine because of this thing she has about Joyce.’

‘Did she give an explanation?’

‘She just said she’d met a friend and decided to go back to her flat after all. Says her mobile battery wasn’t charged so she couldn’t let me know.’

‘And you don’t believe her?’

Gerry shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I thought things were OK between her and Joyce for a while and that she’d accepted the situation but recently… If she ever sees Joyce she’s downright rude to her and…’

Wesley said nothing. In his opinion Rosie was a grown woman and should have got over teenage tantrums by now.

There was a knock on the open office door. Wesley turned to see Trish standing there, and he could tell by the eager expression on her face that she had news.

‘The
Queen Philippa
was bought with cash in the South of France a few weeks ago. And the address Dennis Dobbs gave is false.’ She looked from Wesley to Gerry, gauging their reaction to the news. ‘Do you think we’re talking money laundering? Or something more sinister?’

Written at North Lodge, Upper Town, Tradmouth this 10th day of January 1895

My dearest Letty

You have not replied to my last letter and I long to hear from you. Why do you not write even a word to me? Is it that my last letter disturbed you? If this is the case, my dearest sister, please consider my feelings and my increasing fear.

Josiah speaks little to me. Rather he keeps to his study working on his book, his mind focused solely on the life of his illustrious ancestor. In Josiah’s absence on Monday night, after ensuring Maud Cummings was lying drunk and snoring in her bed, I sneaked like a thief into his study. There I perused the notes my husband has made for the book he claims to be writing and I found the contents most distasteful. If Josiah’s writings are to be believed John Palkin was a man who cared nothing for man or God and it is small wonder that he worships him as a hero for he is cut from the same cloth.

I do not like Maud Cummings for she seems to wield a power over my husband inappropriate for a mere housekeeper. I would dismiss her but I dare not for fear of Josiah’s temper.

The records of St Margaret’s Church reveal that John Palkin was a great benefactor. But how can this be if he was as wicked as my husband claims? I wish I could discover more but Josiah forbids me to leave the house unaccompanied.

I beg you, Letty, please reply to this. I am now and always your loving sister,

Charlotte

As they couldn’t get hold of Dobbs, Gerry decided that the next best thing was to come down heavier on Jason Teague. He’d been with Dobbs, cooped up on board a boat for a couple of weeks. Wesley found it hard to believe that you wouldn’t get to know somebody pretty well in those circumstances. If anything untoward was going on, surely Teague would have been aware of it.

In the meantime Wesley was becoming more and more intrigued by Kassia Graylem, possibly because, as Rosie had said, she seemed to have been beamed in from outer space. A girl with no baggage, no family, no past. Or maybe it was the fact that her body bore the same ship tattoo as that of the missing Jenny Bercival.

He sat at his desk, going through the statements taken from the members of Palkin’s Musik. When Trish had interviewed Ursula Brunning, she’d asked her where Kassia had got her blue velvet gown from. But Ursula had no idea. Kassia had simply turned up in it for a rehearsal and when Ursula had admired it and inquired about its origins, Kassia told her she’d been given it by a friend. She hadn’t elaborated, much to Ursula’s chagrin. It was obvious, Trish had observed, that she’d been envious of Kassia’s costume.

Someone had already been in touch with the theatrical costumier Bygone and Son and their records showed that the gown had been bought two years ago. They still had Kassia’s measurements and details of the design and fabric but the dress had been paid for in cash and the only name they had was Kassia’s and an address in London that was being checked out. Trish wondered how a girl who lived in a squat and busked in the streets could have afforded such a rich garment. And why she’d gone to the trouble of having it made.

While Wesley was mulling over these questions he saw DC Nick Tarnaby approaching. When he was a few feet away he hesitated, as though unsure of his welcome. Nick was hard work and Wesley sometimes wondered whether his wariness was due to some suppressed racism or whether in the past he had offended him in some way without realising it.

Wesley looked up expectantly. ‘Did you want a word, Nick?’

‘We’ve found the squat where the victim was living,’ the man said without enthusiasm.

‘Where is it?’ Wesley felt as if he was coaxing a stubborn child.

‘Big old place just outside Neston. Three of them live there. We should send some uniforms down. See what they’re growing,’ he added meaningfully.

‘No. I’ll speak to her housemates myself,’ Wesley said, heading off disaster. If Tarnaby had his way the interview with Kassia’s fellow squatters could turn into a raid. Hardly the best way of prising information out of people who probably harboured an instinctive mistrust of the boys in blue.

Wesley made for Gerry’s office to break the news. Gerry immediately pushed his paperwork to one side, and Wesley could tell that he was eager to be doing something constructive again.

They drove out to the address Nick Tarnaby had supplied. It was a substantial Georgian house in its own grounds, too small to be a stately home but too large for the average family if they didn’t fall into the millionaire category. The name Bolton Hall was painted in Gothic lettering on a flaking wooden sign next to a pair of rusty gates that would have been impressive in their heyday. The rest of the property was similarly dilapidated. The grounds were overgrown and the grass of what had once probably served as a croquet lawn was almost waist height. The original sash windows had been left to rot and the stucco of the elegantly proportioned façade was badly stained and falling away in places to reveal the brickwork beneath.

The half-rotten front door was firmly shut and the cheap plastic doorbell which had long ago replaced the elegant bell pull had dwindled to a pair of wires protruding from a cracked rectangle. Gerry rapped on the door but when there was no answer Wesley suggested they try round the back.

Soon they found themselves in a large paved yard filled with clucking chickens and fringed by raised vegetable beds containing small plants which, with luck, would triple in size come the height of summer. Their arrival had disturbed the chickens and a young woman emerged from the back door to see what was causing the commotion. Her hair was bunched into mousy dreadlocks and a long patchwork skirt draped itself over her skeletal body. In Wesley’s opinion she didn’t look well.

He stepped forward to speak to her holding up his warrant card and her eyes widened in alarm. ‘My name’s DI Wesley Peterson and this is DCI Gerry Heffernan. We’ve been told that a Kassia Graylem lives here.’ He hoped she’d guess from his solemn expression that they were there to bring bad news.

The woman seemed to catch on fast. ‘Yeah. But we’ve not seen her for a couple of days. We were getting a bit worried, to tell you the truth. Has something happened?’

‘I’m afraid Ms Graylem was found dead yesterday. We’re treating her death as suspicious. I’m very sorry,’ Wesley said gently. He waited a few moments for the news to sink in.

‘Is there somewhere we can talk?’

The girl looked uncertain.

‘We’re not interested in any dodgy plants you might be growing. We just want to find out what happened to your friend,’ said Gerry. ‘What’s your name, love?’

‘Scarlett. Scarlett Derringer.’

‘Who owns this place, Scarlett?’

‘I do. I inherited it from my grandparents.’ There was a suggestion of proprietorial pride in her grey eyes as she glanced towards the building. ‘It needs a load of work. Pixie’s quite handy so he does the odd essential repair but… You’d better come in.’

‘So it’s not really a squat then,’ said Wesley.

Scarlett shook her head. ‘People make assumptions, don’t you find?’ Her eyes met his and she smiled. When she smiled she looked beautiful.

She led the way through a dingy kitchen out into a hallway where the plaster was falling off the walls in places, revealing the laths beneath. The proportions of the large room they ended up in were stunningly perfect and the large sash windows in the semi-circular bay afforded what would have been a breathtaking view of the gardens and the countryside beyond. Wesley looked round at the splintering floorboards and the peeling wallpaper, once grand red and gold but now faded to a muted pink. Perhaps one day somebody would love this place and restore it to its former glory. If they had the cash.

Scarlett sat down on a dusty velour floor cushion of indeterminate colour and invited the two policemen to take a seat on the sagging sofa opposite. Avoiding the horsehair stuffing springing from the seat, they did their best to make themselves comfortable.

‘I know this must have come as a shock,’ said Wesley. ‘But can I ask you some questions?’

Scarlett sniffed and nodded.

‘What can you tell us about Kassia? Any boyfriends for instance?’

The woman looked as though she was making a decision. Eventually she spoke. ‘I think there was someone. Not that she said much about him. She wasn’t that kind of person. How did she…?’

‘She was strangled. You’ve not heard about the body found in a dinghy not far from Tradmouth Castle?’

A look of horror flashed across her face for a moment then she shook her head vigorously. ‘We don’t have TV here… or radio or newspapers. Was that her? Was that Kassia?’

Before Wesley could answer the door opened. A man marched in and stopped to stare at the newcomers. He was in his twenties, with long, dark straggly hair, several facial piercings and a pasty complexion. He wore a faded grey T-shirt and drooping washed-out jeans.

‘Who’s this?’ The question was hostile, as though he’d found Scarlett entertaining a pair of con men, bent on getting her to sign over the house.

Scarlett struggled to her feet. ‘They’re from the police. Kassia’s dead. She was murdered.’

The man froze as if he couldn’t quite believe the news. ‘When? How? Do you know who did it?’ The words came out in a rush.

‘She died early on Saturday morning. She was found floating in a dinghy at the mouth of the river. She’d been strangled.’

The man slumped down on a plastic garden seat next to the sofa and stared ahead. Scarlett introduced him as Pixie and he gave a small nod of acknowledgement.

Once the news had sunk in, Scarlett and Pixie were models of cooperation. They wanted the bastard who killed Kassia caught and put away. Wesley considered that a good start, although something about the inappropriately named Pixie’s reaction perplexed Wesley – the way he kept asking for details of how Kassia had been found, as if it was the manner of her death that worried him. Still, that could have been his imagination.

Wesley asked them to tell him everything they could about Kassia and her life, and anyone she might have been afraid of. Had they heard Kassia mention a Dennis Dobbs? Or a Jason Teague? In each case the answer was a definite no.

‘Did she mention if she was planning to meet anybody? On a boat perhaps?’

The pair shook their heads.

Scarlett’s tantalising mention of a possible man in Kassia’s life had captured Wesley’s attention and he couldn’t quite believe that these people knew nothing about him. There must be something, however small, that she’d let slip even if they weren’t aware of it. ‘Please think hard. It could be very important. This man she was involved with: can you remember anything she said about him? Anything at all?’

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