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Authors: Faith Martin

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‘Right, she won’t be needing the money now, will she?’ Keith put in, putting himself in the mind of a junkie.

Janine shot him a quick impatient look and charged on. ‘So he grabs the money and legs it to one of Benny Higgs’ runners. Gets off his head. Probably doesn’t even remember much about that night now.’

‘But when we pull him in, something in his fried brain makes the connection.’ Keith picked up the baton. ‘And he has a flashback. Maybe even thinks he might have done the killing. Who knows?’

‘And does a runner,’ Janine finished triumphantly.

Hillary smiled and slowly clapped her hands. ‘Well done. A lovely house of cards. Now let’s see how it stands up to scrutiny. First, Keith, I want you to do some background research on Walter Keane. Find out what his regiment was, where he served, and see if you can prise out of the army any of his old records, especially any psychological evaluations he might have gone through. If he was special ops, I think they had the shrinks check them over for suitability.’

Janine laughed. ‘For all the good that’ll do. Psychology was in the dark ages in them days, boss.’

Hillary sighed. ‘That’s it, make me feel better.’

She watched her team set to work with renewed vigour, and wished she could feel so energized. The fact was, she had very little faith in their latest ‘lead’. If it could even be called a lead at all, when the truth was, Hillary had just created it out of thin air. A chilling example of just how desperate she was. Forensics was no help. The few witnesses they had weren’t really of much use. Unless they could find a motive, at the very least, the case was almost certainly going to stall.

‘Janine, I want you to put on your best radio voice. Ask for anybody who might have visited Florence Jenkins that night to get in touch. Speak to the PR officer about it – see if they can get a piece in the
Bicester Advertiser
, the
Banbury Cake
, you know the drill.’

‘Right boss,’ Janine agreed.

‘If it wasn’t Hodge who was seen that night, I want to know who it was, and what he was doing there. What about …’

‘Guv, I’ve got him.’ Frank Ross’ triumphant shout cut across the busy office, temporarily silencing the ever present murmur of voices, as Hillary, Janine and the new boy, all rose to their feet.

Frank Ross, charging across the room, a wide cheesy grin lighting up his features, puffed up to them. ‘One of my snouts told me about this safe house near the railway station. Nothing more than an abandoned old electric shed – you know, six foot by six foot concrete block where there used to be an electricity sub-station. Used to service the railways when they were still using steam, by the looks of it. Anyway, Hodge was there, right enough, snoring away in a pool of his own piss.’

‘Oh great,’ Janine said, sitting back down. ‘Barrington, you can take the interview if you like.’

Hillary laughed drily. ‘Get the custody sergeant to clean him up a bit. Is he conscious? Talking sense?’

‘More or less, guv,’ Frank said cheerfully.

‘Right then. Let’s have another go at him.’ She wanted to take Barrington with her, but it was Frank’s collar. She sighed. ‘Frank, you’re with me.’

Hodge smelled of carbolic soap by the time he was led into interview room two. He was also wearing a loose white cotton overall, over a faded black T-shirt. Hillary glanced at them curiously, recognizing them as ‘emergency togs’. These were old clothes donated, usually by serving officers, to be used as and whenever circumstances dictated. As Frank set up the tape and introduced all those present, she looked over at the constable standing by the door.

‘I sincerely hope you didn’t burn his clothes, constable.’

‘No ma’am.’

‘Good. I want them taken to forensics along with the rest of his gear. Frank, you retrieved his gear, right?’ she asked sharply, and beside her Frank Ross sneered.

‘Course I did. Logged it in to the evidence officer the moment I came in.’

Hillary nodded, but it wouldn’t have been the first time Ross had ignored the protocols. Then she glanced sharply at Hodge. ‘I hope you’re listening to all this, Mr Hodge,’ she said. ‘We now have all your worldly possessions, which will be gone over by our forensics department. All we need is one speck of your grandmother’s blood to place you at the murder scene.’

This was not, of course, strictly true. Any good defence barrister could argue that Hodge could have got his grandmother’s blood on his clothes at any time. He was, after all, a regular visitor to her home. Perhaps she’d had a nose bleed, your Honour, or had even, given her condition, coughed up some blood into a handkerchief, which her dutiful grandson had then dealt with.

Hillary, ever mindful of the tricks lawyers liked to play, and even more mindful just how tenuous her evidence against this man was, knew she had to be careful now. And balanced against this need, as ever, was the even greater need to get the man talking. It was a tightrope every SIO had to walk, and sometimes it led to you falling flat on your face.

‘We know you stole your grandmother’s pension money, Dylan,’ she said sharply. ‘We’ve been having a word with Benny Higgs.’

At this, Dylan Hodge suddenly straightened up in his seat. He’d been lounging forward sleepily, like a lizard that hadn’t quite had enough morning sun to heat his blood, but at the mention of his supplier, his torpor vanished.

Hillary smiled. ‘Yes, thought that might interest you. He told me something very interesting. Know what that was?’

‘Oh man,’ Dylan Hodge whined. ‘You ain’t really been talking to Benny have you? Everyone knows Benny don’t like talking to cops. That last stretch he did inside really bent him out of shape. Made him paranoid as hell. He won’t want to know me now,’ he wailed. ‘I’ll have to find another connection. You cow, you really screwed me.’

Hillary sighed heavily. ‘Dylan, try and pay attention will you? Listen to what I say.’ She leaned forward, forcing eye contact, and then said slowly and clearly, ‘We know you visited your grandmother on the night of her murder. You were seen,’ she said, being just a little bit over-indulgent with the truth there. ‘We have a witness who can prove you were flush with money that night. We know your grandmother withdrew her old age pension that day. Your clothes and gear are with forensics now. All it takes is one scrap, one molecule, one little hair, and you’ll be tied in to her murder. Why are you worried about finding another connection, when the chances are that you’ll be serving life for first degree murder? Wise up, will you, and do yourself a favour.’

Dylan Hodge’s jaw had slowly swung open during this speech, and now a trail of saliva trickled over his chin. Hillary sighed and leaned back in her chair.

‘Look, Frank, why don’t you explain to Mr Hodge the score, hmm? I’m running out of patience.’ She knew she could trust Frank to handle this stage of the interview. In fact, he was very good at putting the wind up people.

For once, Frank was glad to oblige her. ‘See, Hodge, when you’re looking at a dead old lady, it’s all in the details,’ he began, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. ‘Was it premeditated? Can you wangle manslaughter out of it? What about diminished responsibility? Then there’s temporary insanity and mitigating circumstances. If you acted whilst under the influence of the old skank, well then, a clever lawyer might be able to get you off in ten years. But you’ve got to do yourself some good here and now. Get it?’

Frank Ross tapped his temple, but Hodge, as far as Hillary could tell, was only staring at him for something to do with his eyes. She doubted if any of it was getting through. He was still worrying about where he’d find a new connection.

‘See, this is when the deals are done. Here and now.’ Frank wasn’t giving up. ‘You scratch our back, make our job easier, and we scratch yours, know what I mean?’

Hodge obviously didn’t.

Hillary stirred in her chair, one eye on the tape machine. Frank was sailing very close to the wind now. She coughed a warning, and when Frank flicked a glance at her, pointed at the machine. Frank scowled.

‘Look, if you didn’t really mean to do the old lady in, if she wouldn’t let you have her pension money and you just lost it and grabbed the knife, well, see, that’s not premeditation is it?’ Frank ploughed on. ‘That’s not twenty-five to life.’

‘I didn’t kill her,’ Dylan Hodge said flatly. Then glanced across at Hillary. ‘I didn’t. I didn’t even touch her. Didn’t go nowhere near her.’ And then, quite suddenly and shockingly, he began to grin, a big, wide grin, as the wonderful truth seemed to dawn in his brain. ‘So it don’t matter if you’ve got my gear, or nothing else. I didn’t do it, so you can’t prove I did, see? Now, I want a lawyer.’

Frank sighed heavily and glanced guiltily over at Hillary Greene. Once they’d asked for the lawyer, and it was on tape, they had to stop questioning and bring one in.

Hillary nodded and without a word stood up. Outside, Frank Ross swore, long and hard. ‘Sorry guv, don’t know how I lost him.’

But Hillary was already shaking her head. She had the sinking feeling that forensics wouldn’t find any of Florence Jenkins’ blood on Dylan Hodge’s clothes. She was, in fact, almost certain that he’d been speaking the truth – or at least, a junkie’s version of it.

No, she suspected they had it right before. Hodge had called round to do his usual scrounging, and found his grandmother dead in her chair. He hadn’t gone near her, just as he’d said, but simply stolen her money and ran.

‘When his brief gets here, keep at him,’ Hillary said. It had to be done, and it kept Ross out of her hair for a while. ‘You never know, he might still give us something useful.’

‘Right guv,’ Frank said listlessly. Like herself, he could already sense it was a lost cause.

Hillary walked upstairs and towards her desk, but instead of sitting down, carried on to the nearest window and stared out over the dark car park. The orange street lights stared back at her and the wind threw raindrops against the window pane. No help there, then.

Hillary had headed up five murder investigations in her career to date, and she had solved and closed all of them. Now, fear of failure bit deep. This case seemed to be drifting away from her. It was as if she was floundering, forever looking in the wrong places, or chasing her own tail.

Then there was the dark cloud that was Jerome Raleigh, and the Luke Fletcher fiasco, threatening to break over her head, drowning her in hot water. No way around it, things were beginning to look distinctly bleak. And to cap it all, she was still feeling uneasy about her relationship with Mike Regis, and where it was going, or might end up.

Well, she mused grimly at her reflection, at least things couldn’t get any worse.

And then Paul Danvers came out of his cubby hole, walked over, and rubbing his hands said brightly, ‘Right everyone, what say we go for that drink I promised you?’

M
itch ‘the Titch’ Titchmarsh had not been idle since his unexpected call for help from Hillary Greene.

In truth, he was finding retirement something of a mixed blessing. At nearly seventy, he was glad to lie in of a morning, contemplating nothing more onerous than coaxing a spurt of growth in his Brussels sprouts so that the wife might have some home-grown fresh veg ready for Christmas dinner. The allotment had been her idea, of course, designed to get him out from under her feet, but Mitch hadn’t objected too strenuously. He enjoyed sitting in the allotment shed during the long summer evenings, drinking cider with his fellow toilers of the soil, talking about the poor state of British football and, just for a laugh, the state of the Labour Party.

Even so, he missed the excitement of the old days back in uniform, and Hillary’s call to arms was giving him a taste of it once more.

It hadn’t taken him long to alert the three of his sons who were serving at Kidlington HQ to the problem, although Jonathan, the oldest, hadn’t seemed that impressed. As far as he was concerned, a blonde bombshell sergeant from CID should be capable of looking after herself. Mitch soon put a flea in his ear however, and now all three were keeping their eyes and ears firmly open.

Geoff, the youngest, had alerted him to one PC Brian Conleve, who’d been at the nick for a year just before Mitch left. Conleve, it seemed, had a bit of a rep for being a misogynist, one of those men who never married but lived with his mother. Sainted mother excepted, he seemed to see the female gender as one step below him on the food chain.

Mitch remembered him only vaguely, but thought that anyone that openly anti-female was unlikely to be their man. In his experience, it was the ones who kept things bottled up who were most likely to explode into nasty action. No, a far better bet seemed to be one that Jonathan had noticed, a young PC in Traffic called Martin Pollock. Pollock, according to Jonathan, had been trying to get into plain clothes for some time now, without success. Thwarted ambition, as Mitch had seen only too often, could twist itself into dangerous paths. Added to that, he’d learned from an old mate only this morning that Pollock had been used to make up numbers on a house-to-house inquiry on an estate in the Leys – a particularly nasty mugging that had nearly killed a 42-year-old father of six. Janine Tyler, interestingly enough, had worked that case too, so their paths had definitely crossed.

But the thing that twitched Mitch’s radar the most about Pollock was the news that he’d recently been given the elbow by his girlfriend – a pretty blonde, by all accounts. Apparently, according to one of Traffic’s biggest gossips – a divisional section head who liked to tie one on on a Saturday night – the girl, who worked in a travel agency, had dumped young Pollock for the manager.

Mitch didn’t need a degree in psychology to read a whole volume into that. Janine Tyler, pretty, blonde, a fully fledged member of CID, and about to marry her boss. Pollock might as well be walking around with arrows pointed at him.

Mitch, who was at that moment sitting in front of the telly pretending not to watch EastEnders, glanced at his watch, and once more reached for his mobile phone. He’d tried to call Hillary at work, only to learn she’d just left, but she wasn’t answering her mobile. He called her number again and got the ring tone. He waited for several moments, and was about to switch it off and try again, when it was suddenly answered. A blast of jukebox music and some loud voices nearby told him she was in a pub.

He grinned into the phone. ‘That’s nice that is,’ he bellowed loudly, so that she could hear him, and ignored the sigh his long-suffering wife gave, who really
was
trying to watch EastEnders. ‘Here’s us retired, poor old clapped-out buggers doing your work for you, when you so-called elite are swaggering about swilling it down at the boozer.’

Hillary, who was sitting at a table with her boss, Keith Barrington, Janine and Mel and, unfortunately, Frank Ross, kept her face perfectly straight. ‘Yes, speaking,’ she said flatly.

Mitch whistled. ‘Can’t talk, huh?’

‘It’s not really convenient right at this moment.’

‘OK, just a quick update then. I think I’ve found your man. I’ll let you know when it’s more than an old copper’s gut feeling and nasty suspicion.’

‘Thanks,’ Hillary said, and waited for Mitch to hang up before flipping her phone shut. She smiled across at Mel, who’d raised an eyebrow. ‘An old snout, probably blowing bubbles,’ she said dismissively. ‘It’s my round, isn’t it? What’s everyone having?’

When she got back to the bar, Barrington helping her to transport the drinks, Danvers was filling Mel in on her latest case, evidently bewailing the fact that there were no solid leads.

‘Those sorts of cases can be a sod,’ Mel said, catching Hillary’s eye as she sat down. ‘I know just how frustrating they can be. No apparent motive, or none that really stands up to scrutiny. Plenty of forensics, but nothing that tells you something useful. No witnesses to speak of, going nowhere fast. It’s even worse when it’s one of the elderly that’s been victimized.’

Hillary shrugged. ‘Early days yet. We’ve still got leads to follow up.’

Janine shot her a quick ‘have we?’ look that everyone at the table caught. Frank Ross smirked, and drank his beer. ‘It’ll be the scumbag grandson,’ he said. ‘We just won’t be able to prove it.’

‘Thanks for that, Frank.’ Hillary smiled cheerfully at him. ‘Always good to have the right attitude. Remember that, Keith.’

Ross scowled at Keith, who pretended not to hear.

‘So, the big day Friday,’ Paul Danvers said, glancing at his immediate superior. ‘Still can’t tempt you into a bit of a do afterwards?’

‘No,’ Mel grinned. ‘Janine and I have plans for the weekend though.’

Janine beamed and reached across to take Mel’s hand. Hillary watched them and sighed. If the Flo Jenkins case suddenly cracked open and they needed all hands on board, she knew who she wouldn’t be calling. She saw Keith Barrington’s lips twitch, and realized she’d telegraphed her thoughts. Barrington was bright and perceptive, no two ways about it. She’d have to remember that in the future.

Thinking about Barrington, it was time she hauled him out into the open, kicking and screaming if she had to. It might be cruel, but it had to be done. Everyone at the station was gossiping about him, and the sooner he was a known quantity the better. There was nothing else for it to be quick and brutal. It was far kinder that way.

‘So, Keith,’ she said, her voice, though quiet, instantly attracting everyone’s attention. ‘Just why did you put your old sergeant back at Blacklock Green in hospital?’

Keith went pale. It wasn’t hard for him to do, given his colouring, but the unexpected attack, and the direction from which it came, clearly took the ground out from under him. Although it had only been a few days, he’d begun to feel comfortable in his new work environment and had begun to trust Hillary Greene. Now he shot her a look like a dog that had been unfairly kicked by its master.

‘Yeah, let’s …’ Frank began, but Hillary shot out, hard and fast.

‘Shut up, Ross. I don’t want to hear it from you.’

Ross went red. Danvers reached slowly for his beer, wondering what Hillary was doing, and if it was wise. Mel, who knew her better, said nothing, but simply waited. He knew only sketchy details himself, since the firm from the Smoke hadn’t been very forthcoming. Not that that was surprising. No station liked to wash their dirty linen in public for all and sundry to laugh at.

Hillary waited until Keith looked at her again, before saying quietly, ‘We need to know. Surely you can see that? I need to know what makes you lose control to that extent. And unless I can trust you, it’s pointless you being a member of this team. And you’re not deaf and blind – you must be aware of the idle speculation that’s going around about you. It’s far better to have the truth out in the open. And besides, I want to hear your version of it.’

Something about the steady way she spoke, and perhaps the unspoken promise that she was not about to judge him without a hearing, made Keith Barrington square up to her in his chair. ‘OK guv,’ he said flatly. If she wanted it, she could have it. ‘Mick Barnes was a bastard. He was always a bastard, long before I joined the nick, and no doubt he still is. He was a natural born bully, often picking on those in uniform and making their life hell. When I was assigned to his team, he decided it would be more fun to have someone he could torment on a day to day basis. And I took it. I took the constant put-downs, the way he’d pull rank when he shouldn’t, the way he’d take credit for my work, the bad-mouthing to the brass and everything else that went with it.’

He paused, took a breath, aware that everyone was hanging on his every word, took up his glass with a hand that wasn’t quite steady, and took a pull of draught bitter.

‘But it wasn’t as bad as it sounds,’ he carried on thoughtfully, determined to be scrupulously honest. ‘Everyone knew he was a bastard, and it didn’t take long for it to get around that he had it in for me. So Barnes couldn’t really do me that much harm. Our DI knew what he was about, all right, and the rest of the team made it their business that he got to know when I did well, because Barnes sure as hell wasn’t going to. My mates were supportive and let me blow off steam when I needed to. And maybe Barnes began to realize that he wasn’t doing himself any favours either, because after the first six months or so, he slackened off a bit.’ Barrington sighed. ‘I got used to dodging the worst of it, and like I said, the lads rallied around, never letting him get me down too much. And it would have gone on like that, I expect, until I could transfer away from the bastard. I was determined I wasn’t going to let him win, see. But then we got a tip-off about a body shop on our manor. This was right up our alley, because car theft figures had been rising steadily, and it had put the crime rate way up. And you know how the brass sing about that.’

Mel, being ‘brass’ merely smiled. The rest simply waited for him to go on.

‘Well, a chop shop made sense. Young kids, working as a ring, lifting middle-range vehicles for the parts, all added up. We just didn’t know the chop shop was on our patch. Once a snitch let on, Barnes was all over it. Well, he would be, it had glory written all over it, and he wanted the kudos.’ Barrington took another sip of bitter and sighed again.

‘Anyway, this young kid, Jimmy Grigson, Grigsy we called him, volunteered to go undercover, posing as a young twocker. He looked like one too – he was nineteen, but could have passed for fourteen on a good day. Stick thin, gawky, spots and all. I didn’t think he was ready for it, to be honest. He’d only been in the force ten months, eager and all, and a good head on his shoulders, don’t think I’m doing him down. But not …’ Keith, as if aware of his own youth, looked suddenly embarrassed. ‘Well, he just didn’t have the experience to be thrown in at the deep end. Of course, he shouldn’t have volunteered in the first place, and I tried to talk him out of it, but once Barnes heard about it, he sold it to the super. Get a man on the inside, get a raid organized, find ’em bang to rights, and hey presto, the crime rates for the next month would fall by magical numbers.’

Hillary had a very bad feeling about where this was going. Glancing across at Paul Danvers, she saw a similar tension in his own body language, so she obviously wasn’t the only one.

‘Well, at first, it all seemed to go OK,’ Barrington carried on. ‘Grigsy teamed up with this known car thief, who after a bit took him along on a job. He didn’t take him to the chop shop of course, just used him as a lookout. But then he used him again, then began to teach him the tricks of the trade. We knew it would only be a matter of time before Grigsy was trusted to do his own thieving, and take the car to the body shop, then we’d have ’em.’

By now even Frank Ross was looking more interested in the story than his own sulking, and Hillary nodded encouragement. ‘And they did?’ she prompted softly.

‘Oh yeah, they did. We set up the car, of course, one from the motor pool. We watched Grigsy steal it, but Barnes was all for putting a tracer on it, the dozy bastard. As if people who butchered cars for a living wouldn’t spot it. Naturally, the DI vetoed it, but we didn’t follow Grigsy in case they spotted us. The plan was for Grigsy just to ascertain the location of the garage, and then we’d raid it another night.

‘Nothing wrong with that plan. It was simple, relatively safe for Grigsy, and it would probably have worked. But Barnes wanted more. He wanted to make sure the big fish was caught as well as the minnows. He wanted to know who was behind the garage and if he had more chop shops. So he persuaded the DI to hold off a bit.’ Barrington shook his head. ‘Of course, Grigsy was all for it. He was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and still green enough behind the ears to think he was indestructible.’

Hillary leaned slowly back in her chair. The writing was so clearly on the wall, she hardly needed to have it spelled out. But she’d asked for it, after all, so now she was going to take it.

‘Next day, we ran a trace on the garage, and sure enough it was a front for a man only too well known to us – a Kray wannabe called Wilkie Dalton. He’d done time for GBH, and was running one of the biggest protection rackets on our patch. Of course, the DI and Barnes went wild. If we could get Dalton dead to rights, the whole division would be celebrating for a week. So they let Grigsy run with it. We set up another car for him, this time got him to wear a wire. See if he could get them talking. And sure enough, we got one or two nibbles about Dalton being behind it all, but nothing we could take to court. Then Grigsy started to push it, suggesting they do something bigger and better – maybe start nicking top-of-the-range gear, shipping and selling it abroad. Pushing to have a word with the boss so that he could sell him on the idea.’

Hillary shook her head and groaned. That was a mistake that no seasoned undercover officer would make.

‘I’ll bet the minnows loved that,’ Frank grunted. ‘As if they’d let a newcomer come in and start getting ideas above his station. What was your DI using for a brain?’

BOOK: With a Narrow Blade
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