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Authors: Faith Martin

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‘Very up, how? Did he say anything in particular?’ she pressed.

‘Oh no. He wouldn’t. He didn’t confide in teachers, you know, not even me.’ Hillary nodded. She’d got the same impression from all the other teachers too.

‘But you knew him better than most,’ Hillary said flatly. ‘Any ideas why he was so chipper?’

Jenkins sighed heavily. ‘Billy was a very talented
photographer
, but a very flawed human being, I’m afraid. If he was excited about something in particular, it would almost certainly have something to do with gain. Billy wanted things. Money, of course, always. The best toys. Power. Knowledge. He was a boy who spent all his time and energy acquiring things for himself. He was probably the most selfish boy I’ve ever known – and I’ve known a few. And he was sly. Clever in ways only the sly, as opposed to the truly intelligent, are. You understand?’

Hillary thought that she might. Blackmail. Billy Davies’s art teacher, although he would never say so in as many words, suspected Billy was the type to indulge in blackmail.

And everything she’d heard about him so far seemed to fit. He was greedy, clever, sly, and hard-headed. His family was obviously living on a tight budget, which had probably fostered his resentment. Yes, he’d have felt no qualms about extorting money. In fact, Hillary could only find one thing wrong with that theory.

What secret worth killing for could a fifteen-year-old boy living in a tiny hamlet possibly uncover?

 

‘Blackmail sounds a bit iffy to me,’ Janine said right away, when the three of them met up at one o’clock by the admin office, as arranged. ‘I mean, would any adult really take him seriously? I can’t see any man standing for it. Having his arm twisted by a snotty-nosed, working-class yob.’ She shook her head.

‘Perhaps they didn’t,’ Tommy said at once. And mimed the stabbing through the chest with a pair of shears. Janine grimaced. ‘We’ll have to take a close look at all the
neighbours
,’ Tommy mused. ‘Although he might have put the bite on somebody here,’ he added, looking at the school speculatively.

‘Well, let’s not get hung up on it,’ Hillary advised. ‘We’ll keep it simmering on the back burner, but that’s all.’ She
knew from bitter experience how one single idea could get a hold of a murder inquiry and screw it up totally. ‘We need to keep an open mind, yeah? So far, we don’t have any leads worth a damn. Janine, I want you to concentrate on the family. I don’t need to tell you what the statistics say about victims and family members.’

Janine nodded. She couldn’t see the mother being up for it, but the father maybe. And uncles were always in the frame. ‘I’ll start digging, boss.’

‘So, what do the kids in his form have to say so far?’

She listened to their reports, but they had nothing new. They only served to confirm that if anybody would know what was going on in Billy Davies’s life, it was his alter ego, Lester Miller.

‘Is Miller in today?’ Hillary asked.

‘Yes, guv,’ Tommy said. ‘I hadn’t got around to him yet,’ he added, guessing that she’d want to be in on it when he did.

Hillary sighed. ‘Right. Let’s find a pub and have a
sandwich
, then we’ll tackle him.’

 

The Fox was a pub she hadn’t been in before, but as she ordered a round of ploughman’s for everyone, and an assortment of soft drinks, she barely paid any attention to the ambience. Something was niggling at her. Something had been niggling at her before she’d gone to bed last night, and it was still niggling at her now. Something she’d seen or heard yesterday, obviously. Something that shouldn’t have been there. Or something that should have been there, but wasn’t. She didn’t think it was something someone had said.

As the barmaid brought their order to the table, she was still replaying her actions yesterday. Something at the death scene, in the shed. Something in his bedroom maybe. But it wouldn’t come.

Tommy too was distracted; with the approach of June, his upcoming wedding was an ever-growing presence in his
life. He had no real feelings of panic though. He wanted kids, and a home of his own, and a wife to come home to. And Jean was level-headed and hard-working, two traits any copper’s wife needed in abundance. He sighed heavily and bit down into a tomato.

Janine wondered if Paul Danvers had a girlfriend.

 

Lester Miller had freckles. A lot of freckles. All over his face and on the backs of his hands. There wasn’t anything really surprising about that, given his ginger hair and pale complexion, it was just that Hillary had never expected Billy Davies’s best friend to be a freckled beanpole of a boy with eyes so pale a blue they were almost white.

‘This is about Billy-Boy, right?’ he said at once, the moment they walked into the deserted classroom. He’d been due for a session in the language lab, listening to a
tape-recorded
session between a supposed French housewife doing her morning shopping. But he’d far rather be here.

As Hillary sat down at a desk opposite, turning her chair around to face him, she could detect no redness around the eyes, no fine trembling in his hands. No pinched whiteness around the eyes or mouth. Lester Miller didn’t seem that upset that his best friend was dead. Unless he was just very good at hiding it. Some teenage boys liked to take bravado to the nth degree.

‘Billy-Boy. Is that his nickname?’ Hillary asked, and Lester grinned.

‘Nah, not really. It’s just what I call him. To make him narked, like.’ He was dressed in stone-washed jeans and a green-and-white checked shirt. He wore an expensive wristwatch, and was slumped in his chair like a pile of nutty slack. Perhaps the reality of his friend’s death simply hadn’t hit him yet.

Hillary smiled. ‘You liked to get him narked?’

Lester grinned again, showing a line of uneven teeth. ‘Sometimes. He was a mate, wasn’t he? He didn’t really mind.’

‘Sounds like you got on really well. We’ve been talking to others in his form and they all seem to think that you and he were really tight. He spent a lot of time at your place too, they said.’

‘Yeah, well, you can hardly blame him, can you? His place is a right dump. Talk about depressing. Billy couldn’t wait to leave. Him and me were going to go halves on digs in Oxford. Find some sort of cheap student bedsit, move in, have some fun. Once we were sixteen, like, the old parents couldn’t do much about it, right?’

Hillary said nothing. She didn’t ask what these two sixteen year olds were supposed to do for money. That was obvious. Get jobs. Easy. Earn their way, be free, pull girls, find out about booze and drugs maybe. She could read it all in Lester Miller’s open, grinning, unknowing face. And suddenly it hit her how young these boys were. The one dead, and never to grow any older, and this boy in front of her now, who had no idea what life was all about, but would, in the years to come, soon find out.

It made her feel suddenly very tired.

She opened her notebook and pretended to read a few lines. ‘A lot of Billy’s friends seemed to think he was a bit of a troublemaker. A bit of a bully. Is that true?’

‘Nah,’ Lester Miller said at once. ‘They’re just jealous, see. Billy’s smarter than all of ’em, and they know it. And he had balls too, you know?’ He said the crude expression with studied calm and insolence, but the quick look he darted at her to see if she was shocked somewhat spoiled it.

Hillary, in no mood to play along, merely nodded and looked bored. ‘So, did you bully anyone, Lester? Did
Billy-Boy
egg you on?’

‘Nah, I told you. Billy couldn’t give a toss about any of the tossers around here, and neither could I. We’ll only be here another year and then we’ll be gone. Most of the losers bad-mouthing Billy and me now will still be stuck here, stacking shelves in Tescos or working the tills in
Woollies, while me and Billy will be long gone. London, eventually.’

Hillary noticed all those present tenses and wondered if Lester was aware of them. Time, she thought grimly, for a reality check.

‘But Billy won’t be joining you in Oxford, or London now, will he, Lester? Billy’s dead, and someone killed him. Do you have any idea who?’

Lester’s freckled face flushed a dull ugly red, then paled. Then he shrugged. ‘No idea.’

‘Oh come on,’ Hillary said. ‘You’re his best friend. You and him were like that!’ She held up two entwined fingers. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t know what Billy was doing. Even his art teacher could tell he was excited about something.’

‘Oh, “snow-man” Jenkins,’ Lester said dismissively. ‘He don’t know nothing.’

‘But you do. So tell me. Don’t you want to see whoever killed Billy pay for it? You’re his best mate – don’t you want to help get his killer?’ She used the provocative language on purpose, of course, but Lester Miller didn’t bite. Sometimes an appeal to someone’s need for vengeance worked where threats or pleas didn’t. But for some reason, Lester Miller didn’t seem interested in helping to get justice for his friend.

And Hillary found that fact very interesting.

As the silence stretched, and Lester began to shift on his chair but remained stubbornly uncommunicative, Hillary shifted tack. ‘A good-looking lad, Billy,’ she mused. ‘I imagine he had a girlfriend?’

She knew, from listening to Janine and Tommy’s reports that he’d had several, and had prided himself on having the prettiest girls in school fighting over him. But she wanted to hear it from Lester. From the much less physically attractive Lester.

‘Oh yeah, lots. But Heather Soames was his latest,’ Lester said casually and apparently without jealousy. ‘Though how much longer she wouldn’t have lasted, I
dunno. They’d been going out for, like, nearly eight months.’ He said it as if months should mean years. ‘And her dad’s a bit mental. I reckon Billy was gonna dump her.’

‘Was going to, or had?’ Hillary asked sharply. When teenage passions were in the frame, and a dumped girlfriend might be in the offing, a stab in the chest took on a whole different significance.

‘Nah, he hadn’t dumped her yet,’ Lester said confidently. ‘Heather’s, like, really hot, you know, and Billy had been after her for some while. And they were at it, of course. Billy liked that. Getting it regular.’ Again he shot her a quick look, hoping for shock or disgust. Again Hillary merely sighed heavily.

‘So …’ she began and felt the phone in the pocket of her blazer vibrate. She took it out and read the message, surprised to find an urgent request for a call back from SOCO. ‘I might need to talk to you again, Lester,’ she said, more as a threat than a warning. She definitely hadn’t finished with him yet.

Miller, it had to be said, didn’t exactly start quaking in his boots. Another hard-headed boy, Hillary mused. No wonder he and Billy-Boy had been so close.

Hillary stepped outside the classroom and dialled back the number on the message. She was very much aware that she’d let Lester Miller rile her, and gave herself a mental ticking off as she put the phone to her ear and heard it ring. It did no good to feel antagonistic towards witnesses or suspects. It only clouded your judgement and your thinking. Next time she spoke to Lester, she’d have to be careful.

‘Hello. This is DI Greene. I’ve just had a message to contact Dr Fraser. It’s the Davies case.’ She heard the usual telephonic clatter, then a surprisingly crisp and loud voice said, ‘Yes? Dr Fraser.’

‘This is DI Greene. SIO on the William Davies call. You wanted to speak to me urgently?’

‘Yes. Davies. Shears.’ Fraser was obviously one of those
boffins who spoke in shorthand. ‘Fingerprints found, matched deceased’s sibling, Celia Davies. Thought you might want to know.’

Hillary thanked the technician and rung off. She leaned slowly back against the cool, white-painted corridor wall and frowned, thinking back.

Had she asked Celia Davies if she’d touched the shears? She wasn’t sure, but she didn’t think so. It annoyed her that her memory was so sketchy. Had finding out Danvers was her new boss really sent her into such a tailspin that she’d forgotten to ask Celia Davies such a basic question? She didn’t think so. The little girl had been in bed, and afraid of her, so she’d deliberately gone easy. But now she’d have to go back, and play the wicked witch again.

From her memories of last evening, she was sure that Celia Davies had not mentioned touching the shears. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more sure she was that she’d got the distinct impression that Celia had simply looked in the shed, saw her brother, and ran home. The question was: had she been deliberately manipulated into thinking that way, or was she just guilty of leaping to conclusions? And she rather thought it might be the latter. She simply couldn’t see Marilyn Davies as some clever psychological manipulator, and the little girl was surely not so devious. Although spoilt eleven-year-old girls, by their very definition, were probably very good at getting their own way.

No, she was more willing to believe that she’d still been reeling from the angst of the awards ceremony, followed by
her demotion back to DI, and finding out that Paul Danvers had been appointed as her new boss. No two ways about it, she must have been well and truly off her form not to ask so basic a question.

And it made her angry.

She pushed open the door of the classroom and smiled briefly at the boy inside. ‘You can get off to class now, Lester, but we’ll be having another talk soon, all right?’ She didn’t wait for an answer, but shut the door behind her and made her way down the corridor and out into the open air, with some feelings of relief.

Although she herself had gone to an old-fashioned grammar school, she’d never been overly fond of it, and being back in a school, any school, was giving her a case of nostalgic blues. Unlike some, she’d never thought that childhood had been the happiest years of her life. In fact, thinking about it, she supposed that right now was her happiest time. She was free of her disastrous marriage, was living in an environment that – against all the odds – seemed to suit her, and her career was right where she probably wanted it to be.

She felt needed and useful. And right now, that translated into finding Billy-Boy Davies’s killer.

She punched in a number as she walked slowly back to her car, getting Doc Partridge’s assistant. A few moments later, the pathologist himself was on the line.

‘Hillary, nice to hear from you. Problems?’

‘The William Davies case.’

‘With you. What’s up?’

‘In your opinion, could an eleven-year-old girl have been capable of delivering the fatal blow?’

Over the line, she heard the medico suck his breath in through his teeth. ‘I don’t think so. Hold on, let me get my notes, remind myself of the depth of penetration and the angle.’

Hillary reached her car, and opened all the doors and windows to let the heat out. Lilac trees in a nearby garden wafted a giddying scent on the slight breeze and made
Hillary wonder what else she might have done with her life; different choices taken that would now have allowed her to spend such a lovely day without thinking about crime and punishment, guilt and innocence. She’d got a good English degree from an unaffiliated Oxford college – she could have been a librarian or a seller of rare books, maybe even a writer of some sort. A biographer maybe.

‘Hello, Hill?’ Steven Partridge’s voice turned off all idle speculation in an instant. ‘I take it you’re thinking of the younger sister, yeah? How tall would you say she was?’

Of course, Partridge hadn’t seen Celia Davies. ‘I’d say no more than four feet two. Maybe not that.’

‘Then I very much doubt it. Is she stocky?’

‘No – a wisp of a thing.’

‘Then I’d very seriously doubt it,’ Doc Partridge said. ‘Why do you ask?’

Strictly speaking, of course, Hillary was not obliged to tell him. The doc had his area of expertise and she had hers. But they’d worked together for many years now, and she was willing to bend the rules to keep up a good working relationship. Besides, she trusted him to keep any and all salient details on an ongoing investigation firmly to himself. ‘We found her dabs on the murder weapon. Good solid ones, it seems. Both hands.’

SOCO, on finding so many clear fingerprints on the murder weapon, indicating that someone had taken a firm hold on both handles of the shears, had been quick to follow it up. Naturally, they’d dusted down the boy’s bedroom and certain rooms in the family home, and had found an instant match in Celia’s dabs.

‘Hmm. I still don’t think it’s likely, Hillary,’ Doc Partridge said at last.

‘What if she was in a rage?’ Hillary had to press it. She knew from several sources that Celia and her brother were not close – in fact, had probably fought bitterly. If Billy had done something to enrage her, she needed to know if Celia could be on the suspect list. ‘Doesn’t rage give people a boost of strength? You
know, like desperation does. You hear about mothers ripping off car doors to get children out of burning cars, that sort of thing. Does it work with a real temper tantrum too?’

‘I know what you’re talking about,’ Partridge said instantly. ‘There’ve been several studies done about how the levels of endor … but you don’t want details,’ he caught himself up before he got into full lecture mode. There was another, longer and more thoughtful silence for a moment, then he said slowly, ‘Well, Hillary, I suppose it’s just barely possible. If she caught her brother unaware. But he was stabbed from the front, not the back. And he was a big hefty lad. I can’t see him being unable to fight off his little sister even if she had turned into a veritable hell cat. Sorry, that’s the best I can do. If I was you, I wouldn’t be looking at the sister as a serious suspect at this stage. Not unless you get some strong corroborative evidence.’

Hillary sighed, thanked him and hung up. It was all very well for Steven Partridge to dismiss Celia Davies as a killer, but Hillary couldn’t afford to be so sure. And there were plenty of cases of killer children to back up her caution. The notorious Mary Bell had probably been overtaken in the public’s memory by the two boy killers of little Jamie Bulger, but there were other cases that didn’t receive such notoriety where children had committed spine-tingling crimes.

She had to talk to Celia Davies again.

 

Frank Ross pulled up outside the dry cleaning shop in the latest shopping development to hit the market town of Banbury, and climbed out of his car. His jacket – which could definitely have benefited from the services the shop had to offer – was slung on the back seat, and he’d long since ripped off his tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves, which hid his hideously greasy cuffs just right.

He cursed the heat as he walked to the shop door and opened it, a cheerfully tinkling bell above making him wince. He’d tied one on last night, and still had the headache to prove it.

A man appeared from the back and approached the counter that was the single piece of furniture in the tiny store and smiled a greeting. He was, Frank knew from his preliminary notes, forty years old, although he looked older. Tall, thin, fair, he looked at Frank a shade uncertainly. Probably because he wasn’t used to seeing people come into the shop without something in need of steam-cleaning draped over an arm.

‘Can I help you, sir?’ he asked cautiously. He knew Frank wasn’t a regular, so couldn’t be here to pick up some clothes either. And in spite of the Winnie-the-Pooh face and figure, there was something faintly menacing about the man.

Frank showed him his ID and Marty Warrender nodded with relief. ‘Oh, right. I was expecting you. This is about Billy, yeah?’

Frank nodded. ‘You live next door to the Davies on the right, as you go into the village from the main road?’

Marty Warrender nodded gloomily. ‘Yeah. I was shocked to hear what happened, yesterday, when I got home, like. June told me all about it. June’s the wife. I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it.’

Frank smiled wearily. Warrender was the third neighbour he’d had to track down at work today, and all of them were saying the same thing. What was not to believe?

‘Did you know Billy well?’ Frank went straight into it. The sooner he’d finished with everyone on his list, the sooner he could clock off and head for a pub. The bitch from Thrupp wouldn’t know how long it had taken him, and if he managed to get through by three, he could even get a few bets down on the gee-gees.

‘No, not really. He wasn’t a friendly sort, and he wasn’t at home much anyway, to tell the truth. Always off on that bike of his. Had a friend somewhere, he used to practically live there. I knew him to say hello to, and that, but that’s all. We’ve only lived in Aston Lea two years.’

Frank nodded. ‘You see him that day at all? You’d have left for work, when? Eight?’

‘Half past. We don’t open till nine, and it’s an easy commute. And no, I didn’t see Billy. He’s usually been picked up by the school bus by then.’

‘He didn’t go to school that day,’ Frank said flatly. ‘Do you come home for lunch?’

‘No, the wife packs me sandwiches, like. Cheaper than eating in a café.’

‘So you didn’t go home at all during the day?’

‘No. Like I said, first I heard of it was when June told me when I got home. About six. We close at half five, see. Gives people time to drop off stuff from work, if they don’t have time in the morning or in their lunch hour.’

‘And have you ever heard Billy Davies arguing with anybody? Seen him get into any fights, or heard anybody threaten him?’

‘No, not him. More likely the other way round,’ Marty Warrender said, then looked appalled. ‘I mean, I don’t want to speak ill of the dead or anything,’ he added hastily. ‘It must be horrible for the Davies family and all that,’ he trailed off lamely.

‘I understand. We’re getting reports from lots of sources that Billy was something of a lad. Fancied himself a bit. Bit of a bully, was he?’ Frank asked, smiling and putting on the all-lad’s-together attitude. As he’d expected it worked, and Marty Warrender relaxed a little bit and ran a hand through his hair.

‘Well, yeah, he was a bit of a bother,’ he gave a rueful laugh. ‘But he never bothered me, mind,’ he added quickly, opened his mouth to say something else, then quickly shut it again. No, he thought silently, best not. Least said, soonest mended. It was one of his mother’s favourite sayings, and Marty could truly appreciate it at that moment. Besides, he didn’t know anything, not really, not for sure, and he didn’t want to get mixed up in police business. They’d be bound to find out anyway from someone else. Best just to keep his head down.

Frank Ross smiled some more and made a strong note in his book. The bugger was hiding something. Or knew
something
he didn’t want to cough up. Well, he’d pass his thoughts along to the girl wonder and she could do the secondary interview. See if she could wangle it out of him.

‘Well, thanks for your time, Mr Warrender. If you think of anything else, give me a call, yeah?’ He handed over one of his cards, then stepped back outside. June Warrender, he knew, worked in a cake shop in the centre of town. After her he just had two more to go.

A flotilla of ducks, passing by on the Oxford canal a few yards opposite, quacked a noisy demand for bread. A child, strolling alongside his mother, laughed with delight and duly obliged.

Frank ignored it all and climbed back into his car, checking the paper on the front seat which was folded back at the sports section. In the 3.30 at Chepstow there was a nag running called ‘Billy Blunder’. Now that had to be worth a tenner of anybody’s money, right? Especially at 12-1.

 

Hillary knocked on the Davies’ side door and waited. The bungalow, even in bright sunlight, seemed to ooze a dull unhappiness, as if the very building had somehow absorbed the misery of the family living within it. Even a colourful cluster of ladies’ bonnets and aromatic wallflowers just under the kitchen window failed to relieve the atmosphere.

After a moment the door was opened by George Davies. He hadn’t shaved, and obviously hadn’t slept. He blinked at her for a moment, then absently reached down to button up the shirt that was currently undone, and exposing his flabby, white belly. ‘Oh, sorry,’ he said vaguely. ‘Come on in. I’ll put the kettle on.’

Hillary accepted, and wondered for how much longer she’d be a welcome visitor in this house. Not long, perhaps, after talking to Celia.

‘Milk and sugar? Marilyn’s in the living room, pretending to sleep on the sofa. Doc left her some pills, but I don’t reckon she’s taken them. We’ve got to talk about arrangements, she said. You know. For burying and suchlike.’

Hillary nodded, noting that George Davies hadn’t been able to say his son’s name yet. ‘The coroner will let you know when Billy’s body can be released, Mr Davies,’ she said gently. ‘So there’s no rush.’ Although there was a school of thought that said having to cope with funeral arrangements was a good way of making the mind accept the finality of death.

‘Oh. Right. Didn’t think of that. He’ll have been … cut about, I suppose?’

Hillary shrugged helplessly. ‘The coroner’s office treats every body with the utmost respect, Mr Davies,’ she assured him gently.

George Davies said nothing.

‘So, how’s Celia doing?’ Hillary asked brightly. Perhaps now was as good a time as any to remind this grieving man that he still had one child living. And his favourite, too, by all accounts.

‘Oh she’s much better,’ George said, his face brightening up for a moment. ‘She slept the night through – me and Marilyn kept checking on her. The pills the doc gave her I suppose. And she was up this morning, and had some breakfast. She’s in her room now, colouring.’

‘I’ll just pop my head in then, shall I? Perhaps you’d best come too?’ She knew she couldn’t interview the child alone – her guts would be had for garters if she’d tried it – and as far as she could tell, George wasn’t any more likely to fly off the handle than the little girl’s mother when the questioning got tough.

BOOK: Through a Narrow Door
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