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The McEndrick Option: The Kate Hoagan Investigations, #2

The McEndrick Option: The Kate Hoagan Investigations, #2

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The McEndrick Option: The Kate Hoagan Investigations, #2

Length:
463 pages
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 1, 2016
ISBN:
9781540147370
Format:
Book

Description

The McEndrick Option is a fast-moving, psychological and political thriller featuring Len Cooke’s maverick Cumbrian police heroine – Kate Hoagan.

It is now 1995 and Detective Superintendent Kate Hoagan, the no-nonsense, invariably cynical and iconoclastic Cumbrian detective, is back; investigating what, at first view, appears to be yet another sexually motivated killing perpetrated on her large and very watery English Lake District patch. However, she soon finds herself embroiled in a pot-mess of intrigue and corruption, where powerful vested interests, from within her own organisation and even the distant corridors of Whitehall itself, conspire to ensure that no one seems to have a real clue as to what is truth and what is fiction. Only one thing is certain – Britain’s most celebrated and at times controversial collar-feeler is back!

Publisher:
Released:
Nov 1, 2016
ISBN:
9781540147370
Format:
Book

About the author

To entain the reader, Len Cooke writes crime novels as other writers treat war stories; to him the two are virtually inseparable.

Related to The McEndrick Option

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The McEndrick Option - Len Cooke

Christine

The McEndrick Option

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Len Cooke

Published by Red Panda Press 2016

Copyright 1994/2016 Len Cooke

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Also by Len Cooke

September

The Illusionists

The Time Travellers’ Guide to Total Chaos

or

Harry Sandy and the Zandron

The Extraordinary Adventures of Charlie Frank

The Guardian Angel

The Mindhunter

The Jupiter-Three Dilemma

––––––––

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any events, persons, alive or dead, is purely coincidental. The characters are fictitious products of the author’s imagination

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The McEndrick Option

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CHAPTER ONE

Saturday, April 22 1995

Coniston, the English Lake District

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It was spring time, the still, night air, intoxicatingly heavy with the scent of a million bluebells and as they walked, slowly, arm-in-arm and towards the caravan park, the intrusive sound of drunken laughter drifted to them across the dark lake; the laughter of late-night revellers partying close to a campsite bonfire on the far shore.

Steven put his arm around the girl; although they were both only sixteen they had the simplistic, unfaltering, energy and conviction of youth. Both knew they were in love, had always been in love; always would be in love.

Protectively, Steven pulled the girl closer to him. ‘You won’t get into trouble for being late will you?’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘my father’s gone fishing with his mates; he won’t be back ‘till breakfast time.’

They were walking cheek to cheek now and he whispered, softly, in her ear.

Sharon Blaketon snorted before thumping him, playfully. ‘I’ve already told you – no! It’s too dangerous!’

The boy sounded sad. ‘If my mum and dad weren’t here we could have spent the night together.’

She squeezed his arm. ‘No we couldn’t – silly! My dad said he would be fishing all night but...well you never know with parents do you? I mean they’re so unpredictable.’

They were entering the caravan park now and the faint moonlight, that, thus far, had illuminated their forest walk, was suddenly complimented by the dim and infrequently sited lamps of the campsite. The girl stopped almost immediately, outside one of the more expensive, static vans on the outskirts of the lot.

Sadly she put her arms around the boy’s neck and gave him a long, slow, lingering kiss. She had seen, on a rented DVD, an actress kiss her boyfriend in the same passionate way only a few days before. Now she hoped she had impressed Steven with her sophistication and that he would like her even more. Then, suddenly self-consciously and feeling a little out of her depth, she pushed him away.

‘I must be going,’ she spoke nervously, while fumbling, clumsily in her small, waist bag for the caravan key.

The boy was disappointed. ‘Can’t I come in for while? You said your dad’s not likely to be home until morning.’

Sharon shook her head, adamantly. ‘No chance, I know why you want to come in but forget it.’

Steven pushed his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans and stared dejectedly at the newly mown grass at his feet. One of the residents, a man in his fifties, walked past them with a large Alsatian dog. He stared knowingly at the duo, adding to the embarrassment of the girl. Suddenly the dog began to bark wildly at something out of sight, something concealed in the blackness of the dense woodland that surrounded the complex.

‘Got wind of a rabbit, I expect,’ said the man, apologetically.

To the girl’s relief both animal and man moved quickly away; all the while the man admonishing the dog for barking so late at night. Steven looked back to the girl who, having taken advantage of the interruption; was now standing in the open doorway of the caravan. He smiled, hopefully. ‘See you tomorrow then?’

She nodded. ‘Yes, after breakfast – say about nine?’

‘Okay’, he turned and began making his way in the direction taken by the man and the dog. As he passed by the spot where the Alsatian had barked, he could have sworn he heard the rustling of leaves. Momentarily he stopped, staring pointlessly into the black hole that was the forest at night but after a few seconds shrugged his shoulders before turning, reluctantly, towards the mind-numbing boredom he knew awaited him in his parent’s mobile home.

*

She smiled when she heard the knocking on the caravan door; clearly Steven was not one to give up easily.

‘Go away!’ she shouted, trying to sound angry but lacking conviction. Immediately the knocking started again. She had removed her T-shirt, in the process of preparing herself for a shower. Now she quickly re-dressed and leaned, still smiling, with her back against the outside door.

‘Go away, Steven! If my father returns he’ll kill both of us!’ The response to her plea was predictable and loud and in deference to the other caravaners and from fear of what they may say to her father in the morning, she inserted the key and unlocked the door.

April 23, Temporary Murder Room, Coniston

Detective Inspector John Hawthwaite eased his six-foot-five inch frame into a chair at the side of the broken, sobbing man.

‘Mr. Blaketon.’

George Blaketon did not look up, he merely nodded.

‘Err...look...I’m sorry about this, sir,’ continued Hawthwaite, ‘but I’m afraid there are some important questions I must ask you.’

The policewoman, assigned to the care of the murdered girl’s father, returned with hot tea; Hawthwaite also accepted a mug and as he sipped it, delved deeply into his long experience and training; it was no use. How, he thought, how was he going to even start?

*

Detective Chief Superintendent James Parker put down the telephone. He looked at the lived-in face of his visitor to headquarters and smiled grimly. ‘Sorry about that, John. Now, what have we got?’

John Hawthwaite shrugged. ‘Not a lot, sir. The girl, Sharon Rachel Blaketon, was sixteen years old; apparently bright, intelligent and attractive. Her parents had divorced two years previously; she was on a short access holiday in the Lakes with her father.’

‘What do we know about him?’ asked Parker.

‘The family are from Birmingham. The father’s a forty-year-old salesman – for a furniture company. Central CRO’s, the collator at his local nick and Birmingham Social Services have absolutely nothing on him.’

‘No hint of anything sexual?’

‘Zilch, not even pencilled in for anything. The guy’s a deacon at his local free church.’

Parker stared at Hawthwaite quizzingly, unsure as to whether his inspector was seriously trying to impress him with such information.

Hawthwaite caught the look and smiled, knowingly. ‘He was fishing all that night until six in the morning, with three other tourists from the caravan park.’

‘You’ve checked this out?’

‘Discreetly – yes, three absolute confirmations from the anglers; further, they’re not even friends of his, none of them knew him until this weekend. I’ve no problem with the father, he’s genuinely heartbroken. He found her when he returned from his fishing trip in the early hours of this morning. Because his van was one of the first on the site the other men were still only yards away when he found her.’

Parker studied the reports and photographs on his desk. ‘Pathologist says she was probably gagged, raped and then beaten to death.’

‘Yes sir, she was killed by multiple blows to the head. Pathologist reckons the wounds are indicative of a wrench or Mole Grips. I’ve checked with the father, he confirms there was a set of Mole Grips in the van.’

‘We have them?’

‘No, still searching.’

‘Pathologist puts time of death at about eleven-thirty to one o’ clock,’ said Parker. ‘What time did the boyfriend leave her?’

‘Around eleven.’

‘Can we confirm that?’

‘His parents assured me he was home by just gone eleven, they remember because they were going to bed and had just set the alarm. We’re running blood tests on him and Forensics are checking out their caravan and all his clothes.

‘And this character with the Alsatian, the man who spoke to the girl and boy, who’s he?’

‘David Michael Penman, a fifty-five-year-old newly retired dentist.’ Hawthwaite shook his head before Parker had chance to ask the question. ‘No, he’s straight up I’m sure. He freely admits to walking his dog at the time the boy claims. His wife is equally adamant he was back home by just gone eleven and that he never went out again that night. He also volunteered a sample of his seminal and any of his shoes and clothes we wanted before I even asked.’

‘Has the forensic psychologist reported yet?’

‘Too early, she’ll come through in a few days.’

Parker smiled. ‘Good job Kate Hoagan’s not here; she has a thing about shrinks.

‘Had, I think, is more correct, sir. She’s a little more tolerant nowadays.’ Hawthwaite coughed, not to clear his throat more to hide his discomfort. Detective Superintendent Kate Hoagan and psychologists were, it was true, an unstable compound. There were also items of information, from a series of brutal murders the year before that he was not supposed to know about. He changed the subject quickly before he incriminated himself. ‘There is one thing by the way; both the man and the boy reckon they heard something, or someone, in the forest at the side of the caravan park. Around the time the girl was last seen alive.’

‘That it?’

‘Yes sir.’

Parker shook his head. ‘Could have been anything, I mean anything – fox, badger, even a bloody sheep.’

‘Or a man, sir, lying in wait for something; an opportunity to commit rape and murder perhaps.’

‘Have Forensics and SOCO checked out the area?’

‘Yes, drawn a blank. The forest is all pinewood at that point, thanks to the weather the ground is bone dry and covered in even drier needles; no footprints, nothing.’

‘You think our killer could have been spying on the girl and took his chance when everyone had pissed off? I mean, using the Mole Grips makes him sound opportunist rather than deliberately going equipped.’

‘I do think that’s a possibility.’

Parker closed the folder, before placing it in the ongoing tray on his desk. He looked at the inspector, shrewdly. ‘You know Ray Marsdon’s back tomorrow?’

Hawthwaite nodded, Ray Marsdon was the divisional DCI, currently completing the final day of a strategic planning refresher course at Bramshill Police College. The two men did not get on.

‘Naturally, Ray will be taking the case over when he returns.’ Parker fixed Hawthwaite’s tired, puffy, grey eyes. ‘I know you two have had your differences in the past, John but I expect you to work closely with Ray and give him your total support; just as though he were Kate Hoagan!’

Hawthwaite smiled at the prospect of treating his DCI like Detective Superintendent Hoagan. If nothing else and in truth there were a lot of, elses like – intelligence, wit, professionalism, Kate Hoagan was an extremely attractive woman. He also thought it unlikely he could bring himself to admire Marsdon’s legs as he could hers.

Satisfied, Parker returned to his notes. ‘We’d better talk about logistics and how much support you’re going to need, John. If Ray wants to make any changes tomorrow fair enough, but I think between us we can have most of what he’s going to need in place before he gets here.

*

Doctor Stephanie Buchanan was seriously attractive, thirty-two, red-haired, delightfully freckled, highly conceited and had a figure most women would be prepared to kill many times for. For the past six months she had been retained as a consultant forensic psychologist by the Cumberland and Westmorland Police. This however was the first murder case she had been invited to demonstrate her academic and intellectual talents on. She knew, therefore, how important it was for her to make the right impression. Unfortunately, to police officers, that meant only one thing – infallibility.

The main hall, of the hastily commandeered Coniston Village Hall, was busy. Busy for the most part with young detectives undergoing briefings or filing reports with the case collator. As Buchanan moved gracefully through the office the babble of voices slowly ceased, nearly every male in the room finding it difficult to take his eyes off the newly arrived ‘goddess’.

Buchanan, always pleased to be the centre of attraction, smiled as she knocked loudly on the enquiry head’s office door; in less frenetic times the village committee and parish council meeting room.

Chief Inspector Raymond Marsdon was exactly forty-two years and one day old. Physically, for a police officer, at only five feet-six inches, he was almost disturbingly small. His hair was equally disappointing, the little of which that remained being more akin to the texture of fine, unimpressive grey fluff. Whilst some men make up for lack of height with a broad, stockiness of build, Marsdon had been unlucky in that area also. Thin to the point of cadaverousness, his lack of physical stature had had a considerable and unfortunate influence on the development of his personality. Height had also been compensated for by an aggressive and over-assertive approach to nearly all his interactions, lack of physical power by verbal abuse and, some said, a highly confident use of bluff.

Marsdon had joined the force in the mid-nineteen seventies; a period when many forces in the UK were struggling desperately to recruit. At that time, before the election of a fairly radical right-wing regime that understood the need for a well-fed, contented aid to the civil power only too well, most of those forces were prepared to lower standards. Lower them almost, said some informed critics, ‘to ground level’. As many long-serving officers, at the time, had remarked – ‘they’re taking monkeys on sticks these days!’ Marsdon therefore, to those who had joined before that two to three-year period and indeed some since, was still, very much, a – ‘monkey on a stick’.

Weasel-faced, dark-eyed and intense, he now watched as Stephanie Buchanan eased herself into the only other chair in the sparse and despite the portable heater, rather damp room. He became even more interested as her blue-striped navy skirt rode six inches up a recently Alpine bronzed and shapely thigh and at her nod poured his visitor coffee from a large, conference flask.

‘So’, he began, passing her a mug of the steaming liquid, ‘what do we know?’

Buchanan pulled a folder from her briefcase, withdrew two copies of her report and handed him one. She smiled. ‘Better to stick with what I think I might know, chief inspector. That’s your copy of my interim.’

‘Interim?’

‘Yes, I may or may not revise it, but for now we’ll call it – interim.’

Marsdon shrugged and opened the report. It was surprisingly technical and comprehensive and soon he began to look confused.

‘Don’t worry about the jargon,’ said Buchanan. ‘I’ll take you through it slow time. There’s an overview, sort of child’s guide to my findings in the back – Annex A, but you’ll understand the whole much better if I talk you through it.’

Marsdon grabbed pencil and pocketbook then indicated she should begin.

‘Okay, the girl’s sixteen years old, comes from a broken home and was on weekend access holiday with her father. On Saturday night, around eleven, she and her boyfriend walk back from a junior disco at the youth club in Coniston village. When they reach the victim’s van, at the caravan site, they kissed for about two minutes then, after they are disturbed by a fellow caravaner, she goes inside and locks the door. A few minutes later she hears knocking.’

‘And apparently opens the door to her murderer,’ finished Marsdon. ‘We know this from the people in the next van who were awoken by the knocking.’

‘Right,’ Buchanan clearly resented the interruption. She was deliberately giving the known background to justify her hypothesis. ‘We know someone was knocking very loudly but clearly we don’t know who. The people next door were an elderly couple, who had learnt from bitter experience that in nineteen ninety-five it’s better to shut up than put up.

‘So,’ she continued, ‘Sharon opens the door and the guy’s in. Before she can scream he overpowers her, gets her on the floor gagging her with his left hand; which from the bruising on her face seems quite large. This whilst he probably fumbles with his right hand for the tea towel, hanging from a hook on the sink; the towel he used to gag her with properly.’

‘We’d sussed he’s right-handed,’ said Marsdon.

‘Then he probably hit her a couple of times, to stop her struggling before the rape took place. When he’s finished, that is, when he’d experienced catharsis for his psycho-sexual fantasy, he panics. She’s seen his face, so now he looks around for something to silence her, for good. The mole grips are on the kitchen unit, used earlier that day when Sharon’s father fixed the fan belt on his car.’

‘So, we’ve got a sex maniac on our hands,’ concluded Marsdon.

Buchanan shook her head. ‘Depends what you mean by sex maniac, to me that means most men!’ she laughed at her joke, nervously but Marsdon ignored her. ‘Seriously though, rapists and sex murderers, of the type you’re talking about, usually have a different MO. They often bite the victim, breasts, buttocks, nipples. They prefer strangulation; it gives them a feeling of dominance and control, as do the mutilations and symbolic phallic penetrations by stabbing of the body – post mortem. They also have been known to remove a trophy, say a nipple or breast, even a head for later masturbatory fantasies.’

Marsdon was only too well aware of the truth of what she was saying. The previous year he had helped in the hunt for David Benson, the notorious ‘Lakes Killer’. ‘So why is this guy different?’

‘Because he didn’t do any of those things; also the way he killed her and the fact the girl’s body was left almost completely untouched.’

‘You call having her brains splashed all around the van, untouched?’ Marsdon looked at her disbelievingly.

‘You’re not listening, chief inspector.’ Buchanan sounded impatient at her client’s refusal even to try to understand where she was coming from. ‘The killing is not typical of an experienced psycho-sexual murderer. Not typical of the behaviour of someone you would expect to be a serial rapist or serial killer.’

‘What about the fucking he gave her, isn’t that a sexually motivated assault?’

Buchanan ignored the intended put-down. She knew she had entered the domain of the dominant alpha male. That any sensibilities she may or may not have, as a woman, would not be spared one second of time. She was dealing with a hard-nosed police officer; a man who had a reputation in the force for confrontation, at any level, and with, almost, anyone.

Buchanan spoke slowly, carefully, assertively. She was letting Marsdon know he had not rattled her, that she could take it. ‘I looked closely at the curtains in that van. When they’re fully closed there’s still a sizable gap at one end; a gap through which a voyeur could stand and peep. For most, so-called perverts, it would be enough merely to watch and masturbate as she got undressed. He’d probably seen her getting heavy with the boyfriend before she went inside. That in itself would have stimulated him sexually. Then he saw the chink in the curtains and got lucky.’

Marsdon pulled hard on his cigarette. ‘Okay, so what are you telling me?’

‘This character’s inexperienced, probably quite young, late teens early twenties. He was an opportunist, in the right place, for him, at the wrong time – for the girl. He raped her almost as an instinctual act, then, following the catharsis of orgasm, panicked. I don’t think he’ll have any previous for sexual offences, other than maybe flashing or piking through keyholes.’

Marsdon stared unwinkingly into her needle sharp, blue eyes. ‘Qualify.’

Buchanan looked at her notes. ‘He had no kit with him, weapons, bindings, gags, tape etc. Everything he used was in the van, to me that’s opportunist, ad hoc behaviour. As I said earlier, many of these killers leave the body in a terrible condition. They bite, stab, insert all manner of foreign objects into the vagina. There’s none of that in this case; thoughtfully he’s given us a sample of his seminal fluid and I understand Forensics have clothing traces and a sample of hair?’

‘Yes, they have,’ conceded Marsdon; then, grudgingly. ‘Not that that’s too unusual.’

‘No, but as you know, sex killers often try to interfere with the vagina using acid or fire.’

‘In an attempt to destroy forensic evidence,’ agreed the detective.

‘Exactly, but not in this case.’

‘So,’ Marsdon glanced at her report, ‘what sort of profile have you come up with?’

Buchanan pursed her lips and sucked in a lungful of air, it was reputation time. ‘I think the killer is young, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. He’s going to be quite strong but not very bright, hence the panicking and the fact he’s left us with a semen sample that’s ultimately going to nail him.’

‘Is he going to kill again?’ Marsdon asked the question so matter-of-factly he momentarily threw the academic’s cool approach to the discussion.

‘Ah...’ she said defensively, whilst simultaneously folding her arms, ‘now thereby hangs a tale.’

The detective chuckled quietly, his visitor’s body language telling him he had at last wobbled her. ‘It’s a tale I need telling, Stephanie.’ His tone was deliberately patronising and designed to annoy the academic, which it did. ‘It’s also what we’re paying you for. So – tell me, do you think this murder will be his last?’

*

The weekly headquarters CID progress meeting broke at 12 a.m. and Hawthwaite moved hastily out of the conference room, through the sliding glass doors, into the cool air of the quadrangle that formed the centre of the former manor house. Close behind him followed one of his oldest colleagues, Detective Inspector Roger Downer.

Hawthwaite offered him a cigarette and within seconds both men were pulling large amounts of carbon monoxide gas and copious quantities of nicotine into their expectant, craving bodies.

‘Shit,’ Hawthwaite was already shivering in the biting easterly. ‘This is a real pain-in-the-arse, no longer being able to smoke indoors.’

Downer nodded aggressively. ‘Too right, problem is, these days they’re scared shitless of being sued by passive smokers. Downer looked up, inquisitively, into the haggard face of his fellow addict. ‘How’s the case going by the way, any leads?’

Hawthwaite grunted. ‘Too early yet, Rog. All I can say is we’ve got virtually sod-all to go on at the moment.’

‘I hear she was well sorted – the girl?’

Hawthwaite glanced at Downer uncertainly. His last remark, which in truth was more of a question, disturbed him. He loathed macabre hunters, whether they were police officers or the general public. Downer should also have known, only too well, that murder enquiries were never discussed in detail with anyone outside the immediate case management team. Security leaks could seriously damage the chances of perpetrator detection and even subsequent conviction. Further, too much published detail often made it difficult to tease out confessions from cranks against the real offender.

Hawthwaite knew that Downer was probably pumping him to gain kudos with his fellow mess users. As the special branch inspector, he was a headquarters man; many of the officers he would interact with at lunch had some of the most boring jobs in the force. Training, administration, prosecutions; as such, any snippets of information, about something as unusual as a Cumbrian sex murder could be useful socially, possibly even – career wise.

‘Who told you that, Roger?’ Hawthwaite spoke casually, ignoring the question and replacing it with one of his own.

‘Oh...just general gossip around the bazaars,’ Downer ground the cigarette butt into the shale at his feet. He was sensitive to his companion’s mood, realising too late for his ego that he had asked the wrong question of the wrong man.

Hawthwaite’s face looked pained, Downer was an old friend, it was damage limitation time. ‘You know I can’t talk about the case, Roger, it’s like me asking you who Branch are breakfasting with at the moment.’

‘Of course,’ agreed Downer, ‘I’m sorry.’ He felt embarrassed and looked at his watch, defensively, before moving swiftly in the direction of one of the numerous doors that led back into the building. ‘Got to dash, John, catch you again.’

Hawthwaite stared after him, impassively and threw his own half-smoked Marlboro onto the mounting debris on the ground. Then, Still shivering, he too left the chilly quadrangle but in the opposite direction.

*

Stephanie Buchanan walked on the east side of Coniston Lake and seethed. She desperately wanted to prove herself, to demonstrate that she was not just a pretty-faced woman but also a damned good profiler. The attitude of the police inspector leading the hunt for the girl’s murderer had been, in her opinion, nothing less than ungratefully obstructive. She was a professional psychologist, not a mind reader. If the police wanted people who could see into the future, tell them whether a probably first-time murderer would kill again, then they should employ a medium or fortune-teller. She was a highly-trained social scientist, not a soothsayer!

She picked up a piece of flat, round, shale and stooping low skimmed it across the lake. She counted eight skims before the small stone sank out of sight. Buchanan smiled; she had always been able to beat her brothers at the game.

She had returned to the scene of the murder to try and gain a feel for the atmosphere of the place, to empathise with and try once again to get into the mind of the killer. It had proven a fruitless exercise, the trail, like the weather, was cold, and suddenly, so was she.

Shivering now she retraced her steps, crunching along the shingle beach at the edge of the lake. She had left her car in one of the numerous Forestry Commission car parks that were a feature of the eastern shore of the water. She was about to climb up the small banking, that would take her back onto the road, when she spotted something fast in the reeds and bushes of the lake edge some fifty yards away. Intrigued, she walked hastily towards it, the loose shingle noisy beneath her feet.

The green coloured, one-man canoe was almost completely covered in undergrowth but just visible. In the well of the small vessel she could see a pair of crumpled wet jeans. Manufactured of fibreglass the canoe was of light construction and the academic easily pulled it clear of the reeds. Carefully, between finger and thumb, she lifted the sodden denims out of the boat, instantly revealing the presence of a, once white, T-shirt. This too she extracted then laid it out, open on the ground. Almost half the garment was stained a deep coppery colour. She smiled grimly, instantly and instinctively knowing she had found the clothes of the young girl’s murderer.

No further items of clothing were visible in the small well, but she put her head inside to inspect the forward and after sections. What she found there, securely lodged in the bow space, made her grin, smugly.

*

‘Is that it then?’ Marsdon looked at John Hawthwaite as though he had confessed to the murder himself.

Hawthwaite nodded, aggressively. ‘Christ, what do you expect? We’ve hardly bloody well started. There’s something like two hundred blokes to interview within a thirty-mile radius; all with previous for being in love with their dicks. You give me the staff and I’ll give you better progress!’

Marsdon scowled at his deputy. ‘You know that’s a non-event. What have Forensics turned up?’

‘The killer’s blood group is type ‘O’ Positive.’

‘What’s the most common group?’ asked Marsdon.

‘Type ‘O’ Positive.’

‘Fucking-hell.’

‘The DNA will nail him, blood’s only useful for initial suspect sorting these days.’

Marsdon gave Hawthwaite a warning look; it said, quite uncompromisingly –‘don’t get too smart!’

‘The clothing traces align with denim, the heavy type used to manufacture jeans.’

‘Have we got a make?’

Hawthwaite smiled, inwardly, he knew he was going to upset his boss even more. ‘Apparently the cloth is of a general manufacture, not specific to any one label. It’s used by little back street sweat shops that make their own brand of jeans. The type you can buy for fifteen quid on any market stall in Britain.’

Marsdon lit a cigarette, blowing away the smoke in disgust. When he spoke his voice was laced with sarcasm. ‘That’s useful.’

‘Could be,’ said his deputy, thoughtfully. ‘It’ll just take longer to trace that’s all. At least it indicates the killer may not be wealthy, in fact he may probably be unemployed. A lot of youngsters these days won’t be seen dead in anything without a Levi or Next logo on their arses.

‘Anything in from the case collator, sightings, unusual noises etc?’

‘Plenty,’ confirmed Hawthwaite, then dryly, ‘but nothing to get excited about.’

Marsdon stood up. ‘Okay, let’s go next door and tell the troops what they’re doing tomorrow.’

*

Stephanie Buchanan drove onto the large circular drive at the front of the old Victorian house and stopped the car. The rain, ice cold and driving from the west, encouraged her to run the short distance to the covered porch. As she did so half a dozen, infrared activated security lights illuminated the driveway and house front.

The door was opened almost immediately by a tall, sharp-featured, blond-haired man in his early thirties. He was clearly surprised to see her, he was also obviously pleased. Despite the drenching and the wind that had all but destroyed her normally immaculate grooming, Buchanan was still an attractive woman.

‘Yes?’ he asked.

Buchanan smiled. ‘This is Grensham House?’

‘It is.’

‘My name’s Buchanan, I’m working with the local police. I wondered, could I come in for a moment and have a word with the owner?’

For just the briefest moment, a flicker of concern flashed across the man’s face. Buchanan, busy trying to keep her hair away from her face, never noticed. ‘Of course,’ he beckoned her inside, ‘please do come in.’

She moved quickly into the large, oak-panelled hallway, relieved to be out of the wind and rain. The man closed the door behind her, then turned, smiling.

‘Now, how can I help you?’

Buchanan was surprised. ‘You are the owner?’

Her host shook his head, grinning broadly. ‘No, no, just a humble tenant; however I assume that as the owner is in London, you will make do with me? I’m Ken Whitford by the way.’ he held out a hand.

She took it, immediately noticing he was deceptively strong. ‘Stephanie Buchanan, I’m a forensic psychologist, working with the police.’

‘Really?’ Whitford sounded impressed. ‘Do you think I’m in need of your services then?’ He giggled. ‘Has someone told you I’m ready for the fruit farm?’

Buchanan shook her head, adamantly. ‘Nothing like that I can promise you. Err...as I’m sure you’re aware, there was a particularly brutal killing of a teenage girl, on the other side of the lake last Saturday.’

Whitford nodded. ‘Oh yes... yes...we heard about that, nasty business. Have you got anyone for it?’

Buchanan shook her head. ‘Not yet, but there are some questions I’d like to put to you.’

Whitford offered her his open upturned palms. ‘Sure, always happy to help the police.’ He looked at her wet coat. ‘Here, let me take that from you, it’s damp. Then we’ll go through into the lounge, it’s warm in there, perhaps you’d like some tea?’

*

Buchanan placed her teacup on the occasional table at the side of the chair. ‘Thank you, that’s marvellous.’

Whitford shook his head, dismissively. ‘No problem, now perhaps you’d like to tell me what this is all about?’

Buchanan grimaced. ‘I think we really ought to wait until a colleague of mine arrives, Chief Inspector Marsdon. He’s the detective leading the hunt for the girl’s killer.’

Whitford looked disappointed. ‘Oh...if you insist, I’m afraid I don’t understand how you people work. I mean if you’re on the team, as it were, I wouldn’t have thought it really mattered who asked the questions.’

Buchanan felt her ego interfering with commonsense and her normally impeccable decision-making. She knew very well that she should not even be at the house, let alone interviewing the tenant. However, she still felt as though she had been treated like a second-rate schoolgirl by Marsdon. It would serve him right if she had effectively solved the case by the time he arrived. Who would be laughing then? She asked herself.

The ego won the debate. ‘Do you have a canoe here, green, one man type?’

Whitford ran thoughtful fingers through thick, corn-coloured hair. ‘You must forgive my hesitation, Miss Buchanan....’ He looked at her index finger. ‘It is Miss?’

‘It’s Doctor actually.’

‘My apologies, you see’, he continued, ‘I’ve only been here a few weeks and apart from a couple of days, last weekend, it’s been too cold for boating. However, I do think I remember seeing a canoe of the type you describe in the boat house, when I was checking the inventory.’

‘Is the boat house locked?’ she asked.

‘Yes, to the best of my knowledge.’

Buchanan became serious. ‘You see, I’ve found one, in reeds near John Ruskin’s old house. It had the name of this house painted on the hull.’

‘Ah...’ Whitford stared at her, blue eyes intense, searching. ‘You found it you say?’

‘Yes, the thing is, Mr. Whitford, there were items of blood-stained clothing in the vessel, also a pair of mole grips.’

‘Mole grips...sorry – don’t see the relevance.’

‘The Home Office Pathologist seems to think the girl was killed by blows to the head, possibly with a pair of mole grips!’

Visibly shaken, Whitford sat back in his chair. ‘Good God! So you think that maybe the killer stole it do you?’

‘It’s a possibility, However, I wondered if you had had anyone staying here recently, young men, possibly teenagers?’

Whitford’s blue eyes began to turn darker, the pupils contracting to needlepoints. ‘What exactly are you suggesting, Doctor Buchanan, that one of my guests may have committed a sex murder?’

Buchanan detected the tone change in her host’s voice and it worried her. For the first time she began to realise just how incredibly foolish she had been. Not only in talking about the case to a possible suspect she knew absolutely nothing about, but in even coming to the house alone in the first place. She was not, she now acknowledged, a trained police officer. Terrifyingly the realisation came to her that, this man whose hospitality she was enjoying, could even be the killer himself!

‘I’m not suggesting anything, Mr. Whitford,’ she replied defensively. Then, once again asserting herself, tried to re-take control of the interview. ‘I’m merely acquainting you with the facts.’

Whitford stood and walked thoughtfully to a small drinks cabinet. He poured himself a liberal measure of whisky then held up the bottle, Buchanan declined with a shake of her head.

‘Who else did you say was arriving?’ he asked casually.

‘Chief Inspector Marsdon.’ She looked at her watch. ‘He should be here in the next few minutes; I managed to catch him in his car, by radiophone, as he was leaving the area

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