There was a stir in the room but Serrailler went straight on. “Right, I need background on Melanie Drew—work colleagues, family, everyone at the wedding. Close friends. Ditto on Craig Drew. As I said, we’ve done house-to-house in the avenue itself but we now have to spread that out into the adjacent streets—that’s Caledecott Avenue, Tyler Road, Binsey Road and the cul-de-sac at the end of there called Inkerton Close. People hanging round, unfamiliar cars, all the usual. We’ve got nothing at the moment and I mean nothing. I’m doing a press briefing in an hour, we need them onside. Tomorrow we’ll have posters, uniform will be at the supermarket handing out leaflets, we want to be sure anyone who was shopping there yesterday afternoon knows about it. Television news have it, Radio Bev has had it on several bulletins and they’re running an appeal for info. I also want to go further back on Melanie Drew—previous place of work? We know she went swimming most days—I want someone up at the pool, talk to anyone who might have known her there. School. She went to the Sir Eric Anderson until sixteen, then to Bevham College of FE, so inquiries up at both—friends she had, any she still kept in with. OK, that’s it for now, plenty to do. Thanks.”
“Needle in haystack, then?” DC Warren Beevor said on his way out.
“I know,” Serrailler said. He never minded brief groans and moans, as long as he heard them inside the building, not outside, and they represented a reflex reaction, not an attitude of mind. “Get yourself a decent magnet.”
“You in all morning, sir?” DC Vicky Hollywell, small, plump, face folded into a perpetual expression of worry.
“No. I’m going back to Dulles Avenue. Why?”
“Nothing,” Vicky said anxiously. “Just in case we need you.”
You would never believe, Simon thought, running quickly down the concrete stairs, that Vicky Hollywell was one of their best and brightest, who came up with original suggestions time after time. She only lacked the one quality which she would need to get her moving up the ladder—self-confidence.
He drove through Lafferton, thinking. He planned to talk to Craig Drew later, but first wanted to spend more time at the flat in Dulles Avenue. He had been there on the evening of the murder, before Melanie’s body had been moved, but, in his experience, he could learn more from a solitary, careful assess ment later when the crime scene had become less dramatic, less immediate and distressing. It would also be less busy. Too many people were around while a body was in situ, doing their very necessary jobs but lending the place a highly charged and unnatural atmosphere.
He thought about his recent dealings with appalling crime scenes, on his first case in command of SIFT. An area of rural Kent had been targeted by an arsonist. Four cottages on or near working farms, but in fairly remote locations, had been set fire to in the middle of the night. All had been occupied and a total of seven people had died including two children, all but one of the bodies burned beyond recognition. A fifth cottage had then gone up in flames, and another person had almost died.
After three weeks on that case, Serrailler had been glad to return to Lafferton and his new position as Detective Chief Superintendent, heading up CID. He had resisted a posting to Bevham, threatening—and half meaning—to look for another job outside the area if he was not offered Lafferton. Fortunately, the Chief Constable had either taken his threat seriously or pretended to, and the Bevham idea was dropped.
He slowed as he turned into Dulles Avenue. A lot of the large houses here had been converted into flats during the past twenty years or so. It was a pleasant part of the town but not the most expensive, not like the Sorrel Drive area where the large houses were all still intact as single dwellings. In the sixties Dulles Avenue had been like that. Then it had gradually become run-down as the occupiers of the large houses died and many properties fell empty. When the houses were converted, it began improving again. Serrailler could see the police tape sealing off the crime scene. He parked on the opposite side of the road, well down from it, and began to walk, looking closely to right and left. Here, a spruce drive with white-painted fencing and a well-kept front lawn, a closed gate. There a scruffy drive with a badly parked motorbike. No gate. Here a house name—Belmont—next door to it just a number; after that, a house with half a dozen name slots beside an entryphone. A white cat sat on the wall, watching him as he approached. He stopped and put out his hand but the cat leapt away into some laurel bushes.
It was quiet. Most of the drives were empty, no one looked from front windows so far as he could tell. People were at work. Anyone could drive or walk up Dulles Avenue, stop, go into a house, come out again ten or twenty minutes later, and do so entirely unobserved.
He neared number 48. A solitary officer was standing on duty at the front door. A car came from the opposite direction, slowed, the driver peering at the house. The red-and-white tape moved slightly as it picked up speed again.
A few yards away Simon saw a Honda Civic parked, a man and woman sitting inside it. As he approached, the passenger door opened. “Super?”
Adam Phillips from the Bevham newspaper. The woman would be a photographer.
Simon went over. He did not believe in being rude and obstructive to the press so long as they kept their side of the bargain.
“Hello, Adam. Nothing going on here, I’m afraid. I’m just taking another look round, now forensics are out of the way, but I doubt I’ll have anything to report.”
“Mind if I come in with you?”
Serrailler gave him a look. “I’ll be doing a briefing at four. I want to catch the local TV and radio news.”
“Anything you can tell me now?”
“Nothing. I would,” Simon said, turning away, “if I could. Sorry. I’m not keeping you in the dark.”
Adam nodded and went back to the car.
But the DCS noted that the pressman did not drive away.
He ducked under the tape. Stood, looking around him. Tarmac drive. A couple of bushes in front of a low brick wall. Neat and tidy. Well-kept woodwork on front door and window frames. The door was open with more tape across.
He went into the communal hall. Again, it was well maintained. Clean. Staircase recently painted. Quiet. Unnervingly quiet.
There was a second uniform at the door of the top flat. Boring job, Serrailler thought. He remembered doing it years ago. Trying to stay alert, thinking of things to think about.
“Morning. Nothing doing?”
“Not a thing. You going in, sir? It’s not locked.”
“Thanks. Yes, I’m going in.”
The two flights of stairs to the top had rubberised treads so the noise of anyone coming up was slightly deadened. Not completely though. It would depend on the shoes.
The landing smelled faintly of pine cleaning fluid.
Melanie Drew had come up these stairs. Stood on this landing.
Serrailler opened the door. Silence came out of the empty flat, a blank, deathly, oppressive silence.
After a few seconds he went inside.
Any house, any room, in which there has been a recent murder, has its own atmosphere. He had learned that over the years and had experienced it often. There was sometimes a feeling of intense sadness and stillness, of melancholy. And sometimes of fear.
He remembered breaking into a luxury Docklands penthouse, accompanying the brother of a missing man, and the dreadful wave that had all but hit him in the face, the vivid sensation of pent-up violence and evil. They had both felt it, looked at one another and hesitated to go in.
The man had been chained and manacled, hung from a steel beam by leather cuffs and disembowelled. The atmosphere of the flat had lodged itself forever somewhere deep in Simon’s mind.
Now, as he entered the bright, newly furnished flat where Melanie Drew had been shot there was a feeling of absolute emptiness. He went into the living room first. Then the main bedroom. The spare bedroom was full of boxes and packages, most of them labelled www.everythingwedding.com and “Cream lamp and shade” or “Navy towel bale X 2” or “Casserole trio—Blue.”
His footsteps echoed on the polished wood floor.
Forensics had left their mark in the kitchen—chalked body outline, white circles, small stickers. The floor was stained with blood over a wide area, the walls splashed and spattered, as were one leg of the table and the side of a chair. But he had a strange sensation of—nothing. Nothing. No struggle, no fear, no presence at all. The flat might never have been occupied. It gave out no clue, not the slightest hint of who had been here and why.
It was the worst sort of case, the murder with no apparent motive, no witnesses, no public sighting of anything or anyone. Unless there was DNA from a person other than the victim and her husband. It felt cold, sealed, purposeless, empty.
“Over 70 per cent of murders are committed by a partner or close family member,” Serrailler said to the waiting constable, who nodded and said “Shall I close the door, sir?”
“Thanks. Do that.”
Outside, he rang the station and the new DS. “Graham? Where’s Craig Drew?”
“Staying with his parents, sir. He left the address as 6 Oak Row, Nether End, Foxbury.”
“Meet me out there in half an hour?”
Graham Whiteside had been in Lafferton for a little over six months, having joined from the Thames Valley force. Simon did not know him well and had not yet formed a detailed opinion of him. He needed to. Since Nathan Coates had left, he had not sustained a close working relationship with any other CID officer and he felt the lack of it. He was someone who liked to work and plan and think alone, but out in the field he needed a good colleague who was bright, on his wavelength, loyal and reliable. Nathan, now an inspector in Yorkshire, had been that. He and his wife had a son, Serrailler’s godson Joe, and were expecting a second child. He must get up there to see them, but at the moment Yorkshire might as well be the moon.
It was twenty past eleven. Indian summer. The leaves were duller but still thick and barely changing colour. He drove out of Lafferton into the country. Foxbury. Nice village, one of the last with a couple of working farms, some vegetable growing, not much in the way of new building.
Oak Row was on the very edge of it, six cottages together, in the past housing for workers on the adjacent farm. Similar to the first cottage torched by the arsonist in Kent. Serrailler remembered the acrid smell of the burnt-out building, the sight of twisted and blackened beams and rafters. Two people had died there.
But these cottages were whitewashed and spruce. Number 6 was actually two, Numbers 5 and 6, which had been knocked into one. Beyond were freshly ploughed fields leading to a view of Starly Tor.
The garden was colourful with dahlias and chrysanthemums, a rose in late flower. Two cars were parked outside. As Serrailler pulled in behind them he caught a flicker of movement at an upstairs window.
DS Graham Whiteside’s car turned down the lane.
The back room of the cottage had an old-style sun lounge extending onto the garden. The door was open, the small enclosure hot under its unshaded glass roof. Beyond the long stretch of grass, with flower beds on either side, was a hen run in which half a dozen bantams were scratching around and what had probably been a ferret cage. Over the fence, fields, hedges, trees and Starly Tor.
Craig Drew sat on the wicker sofa, staring out as if looking at the garden and the view, but Serrailler knew he was seeing nothing, that his views were inward, tunnelled and dark. He had thick, tangled curly hair, a narrow face. His eyes were deadened, sunken down into the sockets. He was unshaven. His hands hung between his knees and the nails were bitten down. The DCS had seen him in his wedding photographs, happy, with his arm round Melanie’s waist, wearing a morning suit and silver waistcoat, dark blue cravat. A good-looking, confident young man.
His father had brought them mugs of coffee and a plate of assorted biscuits which were on the rattan table in front of them, pink icing and chocolate coating already melting stickily in the heat. He was a man of fifty who looked twenty years older. His skin was weathered. He looked shrunken inside his open-necked shirt and trousers. He had set down the drinks and gone out again, touching his son on the shoulder as he passed. Two well-trained spaniels stayed close to his heels.
Somewhere in the far distance, a tractor turned the earth, droning steadily into earshot and out of it again.
“I don’t understand this,” Craig Drew said without looking up. “I don’t understand any of it.”
“Mr Drew, I’m sorry to have to come here and question you again. I do know how distressing this is. We want to find out who killed your wife. That’s why I’m here. It’s the only reason. Do you understand that?”
“You are not under arrest, you are not under caution. You are free to ask us to go at any time and we will leave. But it is in your own interests to try to answer.”
The young man sighed, a long, desperate, agonising sigh. He wiped his hands over his face, back over his hair. Sat up. He did not look at either Serrailler or the DS, but ahead out of the window, still into nowhere.
“I told the others. Didn’t they write it down?—no, hang on, they taped it. Why don’t you listen to the tape? You’d find it all out from that.”
“I need to ask you some things myself. I have listened to the tape but sometimes things are better understood in a personal interview. And you may have remembered something.”
“I wish to God I had.”
He leaned forward to pick up his mug of coffee but his hand shook so hard that the drink spilled and he set it down again.
“I’d just like you to remember again how your wife seemed that morning. I know it’s painful but it is important. Was everything as usual?”
“She was fine. It was fine. She was—we’d only been married a couple of weeks.”
“She was wishing I didn’t have to go back to work—she had another three days of holiday herself. I was wishing it. We’d have liked to go into Bevham together, there was some stuff she wanted to look at—curtains and … we wanted to have a day like that. But there wasn’t anything else. She was fine. Lovely. My wife was lovely.”
“Did she have a serious relationship immediately before she met you?” Graham Whiteside had barked out the question without warning.
Craig looked at him in bewilderment. “I—she’d had boyfriends. Well, of course she had.”
“No, I mean what I say—a serious relationship?”
“I don’t know. Not just before. She’d broken up with a guy called Neil … but it was months before. I think. I don’t know. You’d have to …” He dropped his head suddenly, stared hard at the floor. His hands were still trembling.