Read The Shroud Maker Online

Authors: Kate Ellis

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

The Shroud Maker (8 page)

‘A boyfriend?’ Gerry asked.

Hungerford shrugged. ‘I only rang it once and a woman answered.’

‘Have you been trying it?’

‘Of course. But there’s no answer.’

Wesley looked at Ursula and Harry. ‘What about you? Do you know anything about her?’

The question was greeted with blank looks.

‘Are you students?’ Wesley asked.

Ursula shook her head. ‘Not any more. I did study music but now I work in the box office at the Morbay Hippodrome.’

‘I teach music,’ said Harry. ‘Brass and woodwind. Dan got in touch when he was forming Palkin’s Musik. I’ve always been interested in old instruments so…’

‘Can you tell us anything else about Kassia?’

‘Not really,’ said Ursula. ‘She keeps herself to herself and she’s always rather vague about her background. She’s a bit of an enigma, if you ask me.’

‘You wouldn’t have a photograph of her, by any chance?’ Wesley said, looking from face to face hopefully.

Dan Hungerford sighed. ‘There’s a publicity shot of Palkin’s Musik in the festival programme. Hang on.’

He delved into the depths of his brown leather briefcase which lay on the table beside the instrument cases and brought out a glossy booklet. Wesley had seen quite a few of them around but he hadn’t been inclined to look at any, taking the attitude of many Tradmouth residents that the festival was mainly for the tourist trade.

Hungerford found the page and passed it to him. The group had posed in costume, holding their instruments. Rosie Heffernan was at the front on the left, a large recorder half raised to her lips. Harry stood at the back with Dan Hungerford in the centre. Ursula was on the right and sitting on the ground at Hungerford’s feet was a young woman with tumbling auburn curls wearing a familiar blue velvet gown.

Wesley stared at the picture for a while, overwhelmed by a feeling of deep sadness. It was her all right: beautiful and bubbling with life. And now she was lying in a refrigerated drawer in the mortuary.

He passed the programme to Gerry. They had a name for the victim. Next it was a question of finding out who had ended her life.

Wesley was about to ask whether anybody was willing to identify the body when the doors to the church hall opened with a crash.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Rosie Heffernan as she stumbled in carrying a long, black instrument case.

It was then Wesley noticed the bruising around her left eye – and the look of fear on her face.

 

When John Palkin married his first wife Joan Henny, the match increased his wealth and allowed him to pay for the construction of four new cogs for his expanding fleet. However, Joan died giving birth to their son, Richard, leaving John a widower of considerable means. Strangely, some eighteen years after Joan’s death, shortly before the untimely death of their son, Joan’s father, Thomas Henny, wrote a will leaving his entire fortune to his grandson, his only living relative.

Some two months after the will was made, Thomas Henny was murdered. According to the coroner at the time, he was set upon by footpads while riding home from visiting Tradmouth (he lived eight miles away in Neston). The footpads – a pair of runaway servants – were caught and hanged. These were men outside the law, branded as wolf’s heads by the authorities for stealing from their master and badly beating a fellow servant who tried to stop them. But they protested their innocence, claiming they’d never set eyes on Thomas Henny, let alone murdered him. At the time Henny had been carrying a purse of gold coins which was found on his body. Which begs the question, were the servants innocent? And if they were, who was responsible for the death of Thomas Henny?

A short time after Palkin’s son Richard inherited his grandfather, Thomas’s, fortune, he too died at a tragically young age leaving his father, John Palkin, an extremely wealthy man.

 
 

From ‘The Sea Devil – the Story of John Palkin’ by Josiah Palkin-Wright. Published 1896

 

When Gerry asked Rosie about her injuries, her answers were evasive. She claimed she’d bumped into something and that everything was fine, even though it didn’t take a detective to know she was lying.

Wesley had asked Dan Hungerford to identify Kassia’s body. As he was in charge it only seemed right that he took the responsibility. The man had been reluctant at first but it was something he couldn’t wriggle out of.

Once in the mortuary, Hungerford had seemed detached, speaking in a monotone and showing no emotion. Wesley suspected that this was the man’s way of dealing with the horror of the situation. But he’d made a positive ID. The dead woman was Kassia Graylem all right.

They’d made arrangements to interview the group later down at the police station. Wesley, of course, would be the one to speak to Rosie and he wondered whether she would reveal where she’d been the previous night. Somehow he doubted it.

After arranging for a patrol car to drop Hungerford back at the church hall, Wesley and Gerry returned to the incident room where Gerry assembled the team and called for attention before making the announcement. The dead woman had been identified as Kassia Graylem, aged twenty-two.

The phone number Hungerford provided had already been tried but there’d been no answer. All they knew about Kassia was that she was a busker who lived in a Neston squat and Wesley asked Trish Walton to find an address for her so that they could interview her fellow squatters and trace her family. He hardly liked to think of her unsuspecting parents receiving a visit from some hapless police officer who’d been told to break the bad news, stumbling for the right words and feeling like the Angel of Death. He’d done the job himself in his time but now he tried to delegate it to others. Sometimes this made him feel like a coward.

Wesley asked Rachel to call on Mrs Bercival to tell her the news. Then he followed Gerry back to his office where he asked the question that had been on his mind since Kassia’s body had been discovered.

‘Do you think Kassia’s death is connected to Jenny Bercival’s disappearance?’ he asked as Gerry sat down. ‘I can’t get over how alike the two women are. And the tattoos…’

Gerry looked at him. ‘You think we might have a serial killer who targets redheads? The press is going to love that. And it’ll do the hair dye industry no end of good.’ Gerry sounded tired, as though his day of worry about Rosie had taken its toll and he was longing to go home and get some sleep. It was, however, only four o’clock so they still had hours of work stretching in front of them, and the positive identification of the victim had just given the investigation a fresh boost.

‘What if Jenny was killed in the same way but her body was never recovered? After all, it was only chance that the dinghy was spotted before it capsized. You know all about tides, Gerry. What do you think? If that was the case would Jenny’s body have been washed up on a beach somewhere? Or is there a chance it could have been carried out to sea and lost?’

Gerry considered the question for a moment. ‘Bodies have been lost never to resurface so it’s quite possible. It would depend on the prevailing tides and currents at the time.’ He paused. ‘But there’s no need to mention that to Mrs Bercival, not till we know anything for certain.’ He picked up a sheet of paper from his desk. ‘This is the forensic report on that anonymous letter she received. Nothing found.’

Before Wesley could answer, there was a token knock and DC Paul Johnson poked his head round the office door.

‘Something you might be interested in, sir,’ he began, stepping into the room. Paul was tall and had the lanky frame of a keen athlete.

Wesley looked up at him. ‘What’s that?’

‘There’s been a call from a lobster fisherman. He was bringing his catch back into Tradmouth yesterday morning around ten thirty when he noticed a yacht moored up at the mouth of the river beyond the castle, not far from where the lifeboat found that dinghy. Someone on board was leaning over the side as if they were trying to fish something out of the water and he reckoned they ducked down when they saw his boat passing. He thought it was odd at the time and when he heard about the murder on the news he decided he’d better report it, just in case.’ In his hand Paul had a sheet of paper which he placed on Gerry’s desk.

Wesley turned it round. Below the fisherman’s details was a name. The
Queen Philippa
. ‘This the name of the yacht?’

‘That’s right. I’ve been in touch with the harbour master and she’s moored here in Tradmouth. Belongs to a Dennis Dobbs. London address.’

Gerry looked up. ‘Don’t tell me he’s sailed off to God knows where.’

Paul grinned. ‘No. The boat’s still moored up not far from the Higher Ferry. Want me to go down and have a word? I could take Trish.’

Wesley caught Gerry’s eye. Paul and Trish had once gone out together but had broken up some time ago. However, that didn’t stop Paul angling to work with her at every opportunity. If Paul hadn’t been such an uncomplicated, straightforward young man, it might have been interpreted as stalking. Not that Trish had ever made any complaint.

Gerry looked at his watch. ‘Ta, Paul, but I think I’ll have a word with this Dennis Dobbs myself.’ He stood up, looking at Wesley. ‘It’s about time we got some fresh air.’

Wesley followed him out of the office. Some people didn’t mind being stuck behind a desk directing operations once they reached the rank of detective chief inspector, but Gerry liked to speak to suspects and witnesses himself, saying it was the only way to get a feel for the truth. At this stage he liked to follow his instincts and only when they had the culprit was Gerry happy to hand them over to be interviewed by specially trained officers who would dot the i’s and cross the t’s for the Crown Prosecution Service.

It was a fine day and Wesley was glad to be outside, walking down the quayside, shading his eyes from the sun as he peered at the vessels moored on the river. The Palkin Festival and its attendant regatta had brought visiting boats from all over. He spotted a couple with French flags flapping on the stern and one sporting the Stars and Stripes. But most boasted the usual Red Ensign of British-registered vessels. Gerry himself was a keen sailor who’d restored a thirty-foot yacht called the Rosie May after his daughter who’d been eleven at the time and the apple of his eye. She was moored over the river at Queenswear because the fees were cheaper. Several times he’d invited Wesley to go sailing with him when they’d had a rare free weekend. Wesley had always made an excuse. He suffered from seasickness and knew his limitations.

They found the
Queen Philippa
moored at the end of a long wooden jetty that protruded into the river not far from where the new car ferry plied to and fro across the water. She was larger than her immediate neighbours and when Gerry spotted her he muttered his admiration. The
Queen Philippa
was a nice vessel.

‘Must have cost a pretty penny.’

‘You jealous?’ said Wesley with a smile.

Gerry snorted his disdain and walked off ahead down the jetty, halting by the bobbing yacht with its gleaming white hull, neatly furled sails and spotless deck. He cupped his hands and shouted: ‘Anyone aboard?’

Wesley caught up with him and stood beside him as he repeated the question, a little louder each time, disturbing the seagulls which increased their volume in reply. For a while there was no sign of life. Then the cabin door opened and a head popped out.

The man was in his mid twenties with an open face, bare torso and sun-bleached hair which fell in soft waves to his shoulders.

‘What can I do for you?’ He sounded confident, almost cocky.

‘Dennis Dobbs?’

‘Who’s asking?’

‘Police,’ said Gerry, flashing his warrant card.

The young man’s cockiness suddenly vanished. ‘Den’s gone into town.’

‘And you are?’

‘I just crew for him.’

He jumped up on to the deck with almost feline grace. Wesley could see he was endowed with muscles most men would envy and a deep tan that hinted at time spent in sunnier climes. If it weren’t for his public-school accent he might have been mistaken for an Australian surfer.

Gerry asked him his name and he hesitated before replying. ‘Jason Teague. Look, if Den’s in any sort of trouble…’

‘No trouble,’ said Wesley smoothly. ‘We’re making routine inquiries concerning the murder of a woman whose body was found near the mouth of the river yesterday.’

‘I heard about that. It’s terrible.’

‘Can we come aboard?’ said Gerry, sick of having to conduct the conversation from the jetty.

‘Be my guest,’ Teague said with casual confidence.

Gerry stepped on to the deck and Wesley, after a moment’s hesitation, did likewise. Gerry put out a hand to steady him as he climbed aboard. Once safely on the deck, Wesley took a deep breath. Boats made him uncomfortable. Even when he took the short ride across the river on the passenger ferry, he was only too pleased to get off at the other side.

Jason led them down into a spacious cabin, comfortably furnished with all modern conveniences: plush seating, a TV, a sound system and a well-stocked drinks cabinet. He invited them to sit, casting a nervous glance at the clock.

‘I take it you were aboard yesterday morning around ten thirty when this boat was seen sailing out of the river?’ said Wesley.

Teague shook his head. ‘No, I wasn’t. Den told me on Friday that he wanted to take her round to Bloxham for a short run yesterday morning. Said he wasn’t going far so he wouldn’t need me.’ He smiled. ‘Think he went under power – he isn’t the world’s best sailor.’

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