Read The Shroud Maker Online

Authors: Kate Ellis

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

The Shroud Maker (9 page)

‘So where were you while he was chugging round the headland?’ Gerry asked.

‘I spent Friday night with a friend then I had business to attend to the next morning so I didn’t get back till yesterday lunchtime. She was here at her mooring again by then.’ He shrugged.

Wesley looked at Gerry for guidance. He’d know whether the story was feasible if anyone did. Gerry said nothing so Wesley assumed it was.

‘So what about this friend you were with while Mr Dobbs went on his solo voyage?’

‘It was someone I met at the festival. A girl.’

Wesley took his notebook from his pocket. ‘She lives in Tradmouth?’

‘She’s got a flat up near the market. Then yesterday morning I went to see an old mate here who wants a partner to help with his yacht charter business. We met at his office.’

‘How long have you worked for Mr Dobbs?’

‘Only a few weeks. I met up with him in Antibes. I’d been crewing for an American guy and Den said he needed someone to help him sail the
Queen Philippa
back to Blighty. She’s a nice craft,’ he said, looking round appreciatively.

‘You’ve worked a lot in the South of France?’

‘Yeah. All around the French coast.’

‘But you’re planning to settle in Tradmouth if your mate’s job offer works out?’ Gerry sounded genuinely interested.

The man shrugged his shoulders. ‘I guess so and if it doesn’t work out there are a lot of yachts in Tradmouth for this Palkin Festival so if Den doesn’t need my services any more, I won’t have any trouble getting another berth.’ He smiled.

‘Is that what you do for a living… bum around on yachts?’

The smile widened to a grin. ‘It’s nice work if you can get it. And so far I’ve never had any trouble.’

‘What can you tell us about Dennis Dobbs?’ Wesley asked.

Teague’s manner suddenly became guarded. ‘Den’s OK.’

‘How does he earn a living?’ This was a question Wesley would have liked to ask many of the yacht owners who turned up in Tradmouth each year. He suspected that not all the flashy vessels moored in the river were paid for by honest graft.

Jason rolled his eyes. ‘In my line of business you learn not to ask too many questions. I do my job and I do it well. That’s it.’

‘Where does Dennis Dobbs live when he’s not on his yacht?’

‘London as far as I know.’

‘What time is he due back?’

‘Not till this evening. And before you ask, I don’t know where he’s gone or who he’s seeing. I’m just the hired help. He doesn’t confide in me.’

‘You said you’d heard about the woman who was found floating in an inflatable dinghy yesterday.’

‘Can’t avoid it. It’s the talk of Tradmouth. How did she…?’

‘She was strangled.’

Jason frowned. ‘Bad business.’ He looked away, avoiding Wesley’s eyes.

‘A fisherman saw this yacht anchored near the entrance to the river yesterday, about half an hour before the call came in to report the body.’

‘Like I said, Den took her out on his own.’

‘Do you have an inflatable dinghy on board?’

‘Sure. But I can assure you it’s still where it should be.’

‘You’re certain about that?’

‘Course I am. Have a look if you like.’

Gerry caught Wesley’s eye and stood up. He wasn’t taking Jason’s word for it that the inflatable dinghy was still there. He followed Jason out on to the deck while Wesley waited below.

Wesley hadn’t been aboard many boats and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable this one seemed, although he guessed that comfort came with a hefty price tag.

He decided to stretch his legs so he walked around the cabin, looking out of the portholes at the river, bustling now with the extra traffic caused by the clement weather and the Palkin Festival. The water looked so crowded that he was surprised there weren’t more collisions. But what did he know about maritime matters?

Gerry returned after a few minutes, a look of disappointment clouding his face. Wesley guessed that the dinghy had been exactly where it should be. But Dennis Dobbs had been seen acting suspiciously near the spot where the body had been found. They needed to speak to him as soon as possible.

 

Neil knew that the signs of disturbance in the soil didn’t necessarily indicate anything sinister. The builder of the bungalow might have buried a sewer pipe in there. Or some rubbish. Or a pet dog, or anything, come to that. It was hardly worth mentioning to Chris Butcher.

Dave was impatient to get on with the digging but Butcher had just arrived and Neil would have preferred to wait until he was well away from the premises. He wasn’t quite sure why this was, just some nebulous feeling that if it turned out to be something interesting he didn’t want the house owner breathing down his neck.

As they trowelled away the soil from the section he was starting to think of as the warehouse wall his eyes kept being drawn to the anomaly in the neighbouring trench; a definite edge where the shade of the soil changed subtly. The sight teased and tempted him to plunge in and satisfy his curiosity. But any excavation has to be done systematically, scientifically. It isn’t just a case of taking a spade and shovelling the earth away until something interesting turns up.

From where they were working he could see that the bungalow’s front door was ajar. Butcher had gone inside earlier, too preoccupied to say hello, which wasn’t like him as he usually stopped for a chat whenever he visited, wanting chapter and verse on each new find, however run-of-the-mill. This time he’d marched into the house and when his wife Astrid had arrived ten minutes later she hadn’t even glanced in the direction of the trench. She had never been the friendliest of women, usually cool and aloof with her dark hair pinned in a neat French pleat. But today she looked as if she was boiling with pent-up rage. Maybe Chris had done something she disapproved of and she was gunning for a row. There were times he was glad he’d stayed single.

He stopped digging and stood up, intending to see how the students were progressing, when he heard voices coming from the direction of the house. A high-pitched female voice raised in anger and a man’s, quieter, appeasing and almost inaudible.

Standing still he could just make out what the woman was saying.

‘It’s her, isn’t it? The one you’ve been seeing.’

Butcher answered although Neil couldn’t catch what he said, only the tone of his reply: calm and unemotional. The voice of reason.

The woman spoke again. ‘It’s all your fault… just like it was last time.’

When the door opened Neil bobbed down, trying to look inconspicuous. Dave caught his eye and winked.

Astrid emerged from the house, her face ash-pale. And she was crying.

 

Wesley had asked Jason Teague to report to Tradmouth police station to make a statement but Dennis Dobbs still hadn’t turned up.

Teague arrived at the front desk surprisingly promptly but his statement was of little help. He’d never met Kassia Graylem. Never even heard of her. Den said he was taking the
Queen Philippa
down the river on the morning in question but as the boat was at her mooring when Teague returned from his meeting, he couldn’t confirm whether he’d kept to his plan. The whole thing was a complete mystery to him.

On the night Kassia vanished he’d stayed the night with a girl called Kimberley who worked as a chef in the kitchens of the Tradmouth Golf Club Hotel two miles outside the town. It had been Kimberley’s evening off and he’d gone back to the flat near the market she shared with two other girls and spent the night with her. He knew she’d vouch for him but he didn’t know the exact address of the flat, although he was sure he could find the place again. He’d left Kimberley’s around nine thirty the following morning to go straight to the meeting with his mate about the yacht charter business. Then he’d looked around the town before having lunch at the Angel, not setting eyes on the
Queen Philippa
again until about one. Wesley had asked someone to check out both stories. There was always a chance Jason was lying.

He’d arranged for Kassia’s fellow musicians to report to the station to make formal statements and Dan Hungerford was the first to arrive. As he and Gerry had already spoken to Hungerford when he’d identified Kassia Graylem’s body, Wesley sent Rachel and Trish to speak to him in the interview room, hoping a fresh approach would produce more information. He wasn’t too optimistic; the man looked as if he wouldn’t give much away.

The other members of Palkin’s Musik turned up half an hour later as requested and officers were assigned to take their statements.

When the call came to say that Rosie had arrived at the front desk Gerry looked unusually anxious. Rachel had just finished with Dan Hungerford and Wesley knew she’d be the ideal person to conduct the interview as he could rely on her not to be swayed by the fact that Rosie was the boss’s daughter. He told Gerry what he was planning and the DCI nodded agreement. The other members of the group had claimed that they hardly knew Kassia Graylem – something that would be checked and double-checked in due course – but there was always a chance that Rosie might know more.

Wesley felt a little apprehensive as he made his way downstairs with Rachel walking slightly behind him. Besides being the boss’s daughter, Rosie was an intense young woman who made him feel awkward whenever they met. When he reached the interview room he paused for a second before pushing open the door.

Rosie was sitting there waiting for him. Gerry had often said that she looked like her mother. He had never met Kathy Heffernan but he’d seen photographs of her in Gerry’s house and he could see the resemblance. No wonder the fond father always forgave his daughter’s shortcomings. She was all he had left of Kathy.

Rosie looked up. ‘Where’s my dad?’ She sounded nervous.

Wesley smiled at her and sat down. ‘Afraid he’s busy. You’ve met Rachel, haven’t you?’

Rachel gave her a cautious nod, as if she found the situation uncomfortable.

‘Yeah. Hi.’ Rosie began to fidget with the empty coffee cup on the table in front of her. ‘Look, we’ve got a gig tonight so I’d be grateful if we could get this over with as soon as possible. Kassia dying has caused us major problems so…’

‘Not as many problems as it’s caused her,’ said Rachel quickly. Then she fell silent, as though she regretted the sharpness of her words.

Rosie bowed her head, realising that what she’d said had been insensitive. The bruising on her eye was still visible, even though she’d tried to conceal it with make-up. She was still insisting that she’d done it by accident and Wesley couldn’t help wondering if she was telling the truth.

‘We’ve spoken to everyone else in the group and they all claim that they didn’t know Kassia very well.’ Wesley paused. ‘What was your relationship with her?’

‘Well, we passed the time of day and talked about the music but I wouldn’t have said we were bosom pals.’ There was a hint of defiance in her voice.

‘Do you know who her friends were? Did she mention any names? It’s important that we find out everything we can about her life.’

‘She never mentioned anyone in particular. She didn’t talk about herself much.’

‘Did she say anything about her family?’

‘I asked her about them once and she said they were dead. She clammed up after that so I think the subject upset her. The only thing I know about her is that she lived in a squat in Neston.’

‘Did she ever talk about the people she shared with?’

‘I think there was someone called Pixie but that’s all I know.’

‘Would you say she was secretive? As if there were things she didn’t want you to find out?’ Rachel asked.

Rosie thought for a few seconds. ‘Yeah. That’d be about right. It was odd. Almost as if she hadn’t had a life before she joined Palkin’s Musik. Like she’d been beamed in from outer space.’

‘We haven’t found her things – a bag or a mobile phone.’

‘She didn’t always carry a bag and I don’t know if she had a phone – never saw her with one.’ She paused. ‘But she would have had her instrument – her viol – in a battered black case. Have you found it?’

‘Not yet. Did you ever see her with anyone?’

Rosie hesitated before answering. ‘When we were rehearsing on Thursday she was very jumpy. Then she disappeared when Dan wanted to get on with the rehearsal. He got a bit annoyed with her if you must know. He told us to take a break so I went out for a ciggie.’ She leaned forward. ‘For God’s sake don’t tell Dad I’ve started smoking again. He thinks I’ve given up. He’d go mad if… His dad died of lung cancer, you see, and…’

Wesley uttered the necessary assurances. Gerry would never learn her unhealthy secret. ‘So where did she go?’

‘I saw her in the churchyard talking to someone. And before you ask, I don’t know who it was ’cause I didn’t see him.’

‘How come?’

‘He was in the church porch, in shadow. I couldn’t see who it was or even if it was a man or a woman to be honest. But I did hear some of what she said. She told this person she’d see him or her later. And she said she was sure she was right. I couldn’t hear what the other person said but Kassia sounded a bit, I don’t know, excited maybe.’

‘Do you know anything about the tattoo she had on her shoulder?’ Wesley asked. ‘It was a ship. A medieval cog?’

‘Like the Shipworld logo?’

‘Yes. Was she into Shipworld?’

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