A Question of Identity

Page 34

'Oh ha ha.'

'And how are Judith and Richard? I heard at first but not for a bit now.'

'Fine,' Cat said, going out. 'Busy. But fine.'

Hannah was coming up the stairs as she went down, bursting with things to tell Molly, ask Molly, complain about or boast about or share in confidence with Molly. She left them to it.

Simon finally left the office at nine that evening. Rachel was not answering her phone, which meant she was at the hospital, but he drove round past the house anyway. Her car was not there. Lights were out.

He had stopped for fuel and bought a bunch of flowers on the forecourt, but now he looked at them on the passenger seat and saw that they were dismal and looked cheap. He scribbled a note on a torn-out page from his diary and put it through the letter box instead.

Thinking about you. Ring when you can S. x.

He dropped the flowers in a bin on the way home.


OLIVE TREDWELL'S SON had written to the Chief making a formal complaint against the police and Serrailler in particular. Muriel Atkinson had telephoned several times in distress to ask why the killer of her twin sister had not been caught and why others had been allowed to die in the same terrible way. Simon was about to have a team meeting for an update on the builders' yard set-up, when a call was put through to him from Rosemary Poole's daughter.

'I keep reading this and that in the paper, I keep seeing your face on the television and you're being all full of sympathy for the bereaved families, but we don't get told anything, we're fobbed off with "ongoing investigations" and what we can guess from the TV. It isn't good enough. I've got two little boys here asking questions I can't answer, wanting to know what happened to their Gran, and what am I to say? I don't think you understand.'

'Mrs Fletcher, I assure you absolutely that I do. And you were right to ring me. I can't promise that I can tell you everything because some things have to remain confidential to us – if they got out they could hinder our progress.'

'You're saying you've made progress? Seems like the exact opposite to me.'

'I know it does. As I say, I can't tell you everything but you're right to pick me up on my failure to keep you and the other relatives informed and hear what you have to say. I'm going to ask all the bereaved families to come here and meet me, and ask whatever you like – and I promise you I'll do my very best to address all your concerns.'

'You sound like a politician.'

'God help me, I hope not. We'll arrange a time suitable to everyone and meet you all here. Perhaps we can even organise it for late this afternoon, if that isn't too short notice.'

'Make it for two in the morning. I'll be there.'

'Someone will ring you later and give you a time.'

'The TV people won't be there, will they?'

'They will not. This will be a closed and private meeting, you have my word.'

'To be honest, I thought I'd be wasting my time – I never expected to get to speak to you, thought I'd be fobbed off with someone or other. So I'm grateful.'

The meeting was held in the conference room at six o'clock and the press officer and Polly had set it out with the chairs in an informal half-circle, with a table of tea, coffee and biscuits, places in front for Serrailler and the Chief. No one else. There was no desk, no microphone, no reporting, no interruptions.

Simon told them everything he was able to about each case and its investigation, and the way everyone worked both separately and as a team. He was sympathetic, apologetic, gently spoken, and used as little police jargon as possible. There was actually very little he could say that they hadn't already heard but he managed to make it sound new, and as if he was taking them all into his confidence. It worked. The initial hesitant questions were not aggressive and he did not feel challenged. Mrs Sanders's twin sister said she believed the police had the hardest job in the world, Karen Fletcher asked if there was anything more they could do to help. 'I've racked my brains to think of anything I might know, but I can't. I'd rack them again if it was useful. There's a monster out there. We can't get our own loved ones back but surely to God we can try and do something, anything, to stop this happening again.'

'That's all very well,' Olive Tredwell's son said, 'but it isn't our job, is it? It's theirs.'

Murmurs of agreement.

'You're right,' Simon said. 'The job of catching this extremely dangerous man is ours first and foremost, but this is no different from any other situation – we rely on members of the public for vital information, things people may know or remember that we couldn't possibly be privy to. That's not dodging our responsibility, I assure you. Now as to the resources we're putting into this –'

'Hang on.' An overweight man with a shaven head almost knocked over his chair as he jumped up. 'Anthony Tredwell, Olive Tredwell's grandson. Before you start blinding us with talk about police manning and giving us the sob story about being under-resourced, I don't think you realise just how angry everyone is. You've been let off lightly up to now, people have even asked how they can help you. How we can help you? And I heard what you just said about not knowing stuff. But it's your job to find it out, not wait to be told. Christ Almighty! I want to know exactly what is being done, line by line, and why these other murders have been allowed to happen under your noses, why this monster, as the lady rightly called him, is still roaming the streets killing innocent old people . . . I want to know why you've failed so far. Because you have failed, make no mistake, and if something isn't done, there'll be more. So never mind about us helping, I've got one word for you and that's S-U-E – sue. We'll be suing you for every penny, see what that does to your bloody "resources".'

There was a murmur among the others, though Simon found it hard to tell who was in agreement, who sympathetic to him, but as they were all leaving, Karen Fletcher stood back for a moment.

'Thank you,' she said very quietly. 'And for arranging this. I know you're doing your best, you're doing your jobs. I shouldn't have rung you and spoke the way I did this morning. I wouldn't like to guess how many late nights you're working.'

Simon shook her hand. 'Thank you. And they will pay off. We'll get this man, Mrs Fletcher.'

'Well done, Simon – they're onside now, I think. They listened. And forget the bluff. Nobody's going to sue.'

'He needed to get it out of his system. I was surprised there wasn't more anger in the room actually.'

'Grief takes some funny forms. Now – this builders' yard. It's a pretty long shot and I'm never keen on entrapment.'

Simon took a deep breath. 'It's hardly that, ma'am, and frankly, at this point . . .'

'I trust you know what you're doing.' The Chief stood up. 'I'll leave you to it but don't keep me guessing on this one. And it goes without saying that the press mustn't get a whisper.'

Simon waited until he heard her footsteps go smartly down the corridor before he swore. Sometimes, the Chief could make him feel like a first-timer still wet behind the ears.


THE CARDS WENT up on pinboards and were stuck in shop windows all over Lafferton . Simon hoped they wouldn't have to extend to Bevham. The local free paper had a small ad under TRADES VACANCIES which appeared at the top of a column in bold. The paper came out twice a week and it would appear in both editions.

Simon left his car some distance away from Nelson Street and walked round to the garage. He wore jeans, dirty trainers and a faded Guns N' Roses T-shirt under a denim jacket – dressed as unsuitably for the cold weather as most of the males in the area. He had rejected a baseball cap, which looked so wrong that it gave him away, and just gelled his hair back. He had not shaved for the past twenty-four hours. He wasn't going to do more than hang about the yard, listening, on standby, but he couldn't stick out like a sore thumb.

If this had been a bit of TV filming instead of part of a major murder inquiry, he thought as he slouched in through the gates, it would have been fun.

The empty, long-disused repair garage had been transformed into a small, scruffy but fully functioning builders' yard. A pickup lorry and a small truck were parked up, both with 'Cliff Hendry & Son, Building Contractors' on the side. The back of the lorry had been let down and roped-together planks of 4 x 2 were half loaded, with more stacked against the back wall. The rear windows of the van had an ancient Bevham Wanderers sticker, and the doors were held together with string.

Cement mixers, a portable generator, ladders and some random scaffolding, a broken bath and toilet, a couple of stools and a skip half full of rubble had been placed about, and some shavings and general dirt were underfoot. There were also small piles of stones, aggregate and sand, various buckets and spades and bags of cement. At the far end, assorted kindling and wood chippings and an industrial wheelbarrow were available to feed the wood burner in the covered shed area.

Leading off that was the office, built out of old doors and window frames. Behind that, a small area with a rickety sofa and chair, and a notice on the half-open door: 'Waiting Room'. Old trade magazines and the free newspaper going back several weeks were on a bamboo table, together with a sad-looking plant, two ashtrays and a No Smoking sign. On the wall, a couple of Page 3 calendars, and a reproduction of Annigoni's formal portrait of the Queen.

It looked, felt, even smelled like a small builders' yard. It might well have been 'Est. 1950' as was painted, then almost rubbed out, on the front gate.

'Morning, guv.'

Simon shook his head.

Gerry Rathbone grinned. He was one of the old CID, in place before Simon, a sergeant and happy to remain so, hard-working, reliable, imaginative and quicker on the uptake than most. He had four years left in the force and he would hate to go. He relished the job, and in particular he relished a challenge, getting his hands dirty, getting out of the station. He had done some minor undercover work on drugs ops and fitted into the scene perfectly. Simon had told him he could have been an actor in a TV crime series. 'More fun when it's real though.'

Behind the office a small Portakabin stood against the wall. It had no visible door, no windows, was cramped and dimly lit. It contained two straight chairs, a table on which was a mike system, and what looked like CCTV but which relayed live images from the yard itself, the gates and the road immediately outside the gates. There was another console showing close-ups inside the office. Everywhere had been miked; concealed cameras were in place.

The two CID in the small back room each had a laptop, showing the identikit projections of the man they wanted, like a series of postage stamps. Clicking on any one brought it into full-screen. Both men had earpieces to communicate with everyone else on the site.

Serrailler went into the office and sat down on a swivel chair whose polystyrene filler was puffing out of various torn spots like emerging mushrooms.

'Press the grey switch, everyone should hear you. I've tested.'

Simon pressed and looked out of the dirty window into the yard. He could see the gate and a section to the side with the lorry and white van. One of the DCs was lounging against the van smoking, another seemed to be in the driver's cab.

'Listen up, everybody. Gerry will go live on the mobile number in fifteen minutes. We'll also unlock the gate. We'll start booking them in for appointments every thirty minutes, assuming anybody's interested. Cross your fingers. You know the drill, you've had the acting class, I've no worries. Message, basically, is don't overdo it. If we think we've got our man, chances are we'll know when he walks through the gate, but whenever we suspect anyone, Doug sends the Morse code alert to everybody so listen out for the beeps. Pete and Lee will go straight to the gates on this side, Andy will drive the jeep up and block them from the outside. Rest of you stand by for orders. Don't move until I say. We don't want to hit on the wrong guy but, more important, we don't want to lose the right one. He is most unlikely to be armed but, even so, we're not taking that for granted, and we're prepared. Armed or not, remember this is a dangerous man and he'll be cornered. Don't take any chances. One thing I've noticed . . . for a builders' yard this place is as quiet as a cemetery. Get some noise going – general banging about, engine noises, shouting, dropping planks. We'll start up Radio 1 in the office area but we can't afford to drown out the intercom. OK, good luck, guys. Let's make sure that if he does come in here, he won't go out again of his own accord.'

Simon clicked on one of the stamps of Alan Keyes. The ageing was subtle – ten years did not greatly change the features of a man in the prime of life but the cosmetic alterations made a surprising and sometimes dramatic difference. Bald head. Shaven head with a three-day bristle of hair. Hair cropped short and dyed black, blond, ginger. Moustaches, large and small, dropping and straight. Glasses of various shapes changed a face significantly as did a full thick beard. A close-cut beard less so. They had given him a few off-the-wall haircuts – Mohican, ponytail, permed in tight curls, none of which was convincing, all of which made the man stick out like a sore thumb, whereas, in reality, he would want to blend in with the general crowd. Serrailler shrank the more bizarre pictures and put them in a corner as being possible but very unlikely. Keyes, aka whoever, was going to look different but in a rather vague way. He might be recognisable, close up and under careful scrutiny, but there would be things that didn't quite fit. Change of eye colour was one of the things that deceived most easily.

He looked up and saw Pete go to the gates and lift the bar that held them, then the bolts at the bottom, and finally put a key into the heavy padlock.

As he did so, the phone on Gerry's desk rang. Simon went into the cabin via the concealed door. The intercom sound was on low but reception was clear.


'Is that the builders'?'

'Hendry's, yup.'

'Right. I've seen your advert in the free paper.'

'The plumber or the stores manager?'

'Plumber. I'm a plumber, only I left my last –'

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