Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Lindenshaw Mysteries by Charlie Cochrane Part 1

The Best Corpse for the Job #1
Tea and sympathy have never been so deadly.

Schoolteacher Adam Matthews just wants to help select a new headteacher and go home. The governors at Lindenshaw St Crispin’s have already failed miserably at finding the right candidate, so it’s make or break this second time round. But when one of the applicants is found strangled in the school, what should have been a straightforward decision turns tempestuous as a flash flood in their small English village.

Inspector Robin Bright isn’t thrilled to be back at St. Crispin’s. Memories of his days there are foul enough without tossing in a complicated murder case. And that handsome young teacher has him reminding himself not to fraternize with a witness. But it’s not long before Robin is relying on Adam for more than just his testimony.

As secrets amongst the governors emerge and a second person turns up dead, Robin needs to focus less on Adam and more on his investigation. But there are too many suspects, too many lies, and too many loose ends. Before they know it, Robin and Adam are fighting for their lives and their hearts. 

I have to start by saying that I have been a fan of English murder mysteries since I knew what the definition of mystery was, anything and everything from Agatha Christie to Caroline Graham.  The body count in The Best Corpse for the Job may not be as high as most English mysteries but the camaraderie  between Robin and Anderson, his sergeant reminds me of Barnaby and any of his sergeants from Midsomer Murders. As for the mystery, it is simple and completely mind boggling all at the same time. Being a fan of mysteries there aren’t many times that I can’t figure it out halfway through the story, no matter how well written it is, and I’m not gloating or bragging, it’s just experience. But this one kept me guessing right up to the big reveal.

You can’t help but love Adam, he’s exactly the kind of guy we all want in our lives: fun, caring, and has the potential to love with his whole heart.  Robin is the kind of cop that we all would want to be handling the case of a murdered loved one. He’s determined to find the killer without being so single-mindedly focused on one suspect that he doesn't search everywhere. Looking at them together, is amazingly fun. Robin and Adam may not be an enemy to lover trope but certainly a strangers-at-odds to lover kind of pair ripe with banter, sexual tension, and fighting the moral dilemma of drawing the line between “chatting” and cop/witness.  Definitely a win for those who love mystery and wit with budding romance possibilities.


Jury of One #2
Inspector Robin Bright is enjoying a quiet Saturday with his lover, Adam Matthews, when murder strikes in nearby Abbotston, and he’s called in to investigate. He hopes for a quick resolution, but as the case builds, he’s drawn into a tangled web of crimes, new and old, that threatens to ensnare him and destroy his fledgling relationship.

Adam is enjoying his final term teaching at Lindenshaw School, and is also delighted to be settling down with Robin at last. Only Robin doesn’t seem so thrilled. Then an old crush of Adam’s shows up in the murder investigation, and suddenly Adam is yet again fighting to stay out of one of Robin’s cases, to say nothing of trying to keep their relationship from falling apart.

Between murder, stabbings, robberies, and a suspect with a charming smile, the case threatens to ruin everything both Robin and Adam hold dear. What does it take to realise where your heart really lies, and can a big, black dog hold the key?

Once again Charlie Cochrane reminds me why I love English murder mysteries so much.  The relationship between Robin and Anderson, his sergeant is reminiscent of Barnaby and Troy/Scott/Jones(Midsomer Murders), Morse and Lewis(Inspector Morse), and many more.  I enjoyed seeing how Robin and Adam have grown since The Best Corpse for the Job and Adam may not be at the center of this mystery but he is drawn into it and not just because he is living with Robin.  As for the mystery, it may not have been as heart pounding as book one but it still managed to keep me on my toes guessing the outcome.  A true gem that is well deserving of the English murder mystery genre that has left me hungry for further adventures from the apparently dangerous Lindenshaw countryside.


The Best Corpse for the Job #1
Chapter One
Adam Matthews stifled a yawn, shifted in his seat, and wished he were anywhere else but here.

Outside, the sun was shining. A beautiful late-spring Thursday morning in a beautiful English village. Two blackbirds were having a standoff on a grassy bank dotted with daisies; the world looked bright, exciting, and full of hope. The only sign of schoolchildren was the sound of purposeful activity. Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s School was putting on its handsomest face, as if it knew it had to sell itself to the visiting candidates as much as they had to sell themselves to the board of governors. Maybe that handsome face would distract them from learning just how much of a bloody mess the school was and how badly it needed a new headteacher to turn it round.

Simon Ford, one of the applicants for the headteacher post, was droning his way through his presentation on “what makes an outstanding school,” sending volleys of jargon and acronyms flying through the air to assault his listeners’ ears. The droning was so bad that Adam’s head began to nod. Which, in the greater scheme of things, was the least of his worries.

He was one of the poor sods trying to work out whether Ford was right for the job.

Two days of activities, interviews, picking apart everything the candidates said, and this was only bloody day one. He’d been given a particularly important role, or so Victor Reed, the chair of governors, had said. They needed an educational perspective, and Adam’s invaluable feedback from the candidates’ presentations and his marking of their data-handling exercises would help the rest of the governors—as laypeople—form an opinion. Yet, all Adam could feed back at the moment was the feeling of being bored to death. He knew he should have brought his buzzword bingo sheet.

“Adam? What’s your view on that point?”

Oh hell. Victor was talking to him, and he had no idea what it was about. “I’m sorry,” Adam busked it, trying to look like he’d been deep in meaningful thought. “I was thinking about the point Mr. Ford made about children in care. Could you repeat the question?”

“Mr. Ford was saying that the key to any school’s success is the enthusiasm for learning it produces in its pupils.”

“Were I to be headteacher of Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s,” Ford began again, before Adam could add his twopenn’orth, “I would make it my priority to engender that lifelong love of learning in all the children here.”

Bugger. That would have given me full house on my buzzword bingo card.

Still, Ford had hit at the crux of the matter because the previous headteacher had done bugger all to make anybody want to do anything at the school, least of all the teachers to produce good, or even outstanding, lessons. As was typical of too many nice little schools in leafy English villages, St. Crispin’s had relied on its reputation for too long. The best thing the previous headteacher had done for the school was leaving it, although the reasons for that lay under a cloud of rumour and secrecy. Why was it proving so hard getting somebody to step into her shoes? They’d tried the previous term and failed.

Adam sneaked a look at the clock. Ten past twelve—not much more torture to endure today. He caught the eye of one of the parent governors, who gave him a wink. Christine Probert was keen, committed, and pretty as a peach. The hemline of the skirt resting at her knees hadn’t stopped the blokes present from eyeing up her legs.

“Do we have any questions?” Victor asked, surveying the governors with an expression that seemed to demand they didn’t.

“Mr. Ford, what is your view on—” Oliver Narraway, community governor and the bane of much of the community’s life, nipped in but not quick enough.

“Simon, I’m a parent governor, so you’ll appreciate why I ask this question.” Christine had been hotter off the mark than Usain Bolt. “You mentioned parental involvement as being key to children’s success. How have you engaged them in your existing role?”

Well done, Christine. Tie down the loose cannon.

Ford beamed. “That’s a challenge for every school these days, Mrs. Probert. At Newby Grange Primary . . .” He was off again, leaving Oliver looking furious at having been knocked off his “modern education is rubbish” hobbyhorse and Victor breathing a huge sigh of relief at that fact. Oliver’s hit list didn’t stop at modern education; it included modern hymns and women in positions of power—apart from Mrs. Thatcher, whom he regarded as a saint. And gay men. Or, as Oliver put it, raving poofs.

Surely they’d break for lunch soon? Adam felt guilty for not being more enthusiastic, but he wouldn’t give any of the candidates houseroom on their showings so far. Three years he’d been teaching here, and despite all its failings, despite the lack of leadership and the dinosaurs on the governing body who couldn’t be trusted to choose new curtains let alone a new headteacher, he loved the place.

He looked sideways at Oliver, watching him slowly seethe at what Ford was saying. What would he do if he saw me coming out of that bar in Stanebridge? Bosie’s wouldn’t be his sort of place. All right, nobody could sack him for being gay, thank God and employment law, but he wouldn’t put it past any of them to make his life intolerable. Subtly, of course. Just like the previous headteacher, had done. Maybe that’s why she’d been eased out, or at least one of the reasons, before the wrath of the school inspectors came down like a ton of bricks and even more cow manure hit the fan.

A knock on the door, followed by the appearance round it of Jennifer Shepherd, the school secretary, cut short all talk.

“Sorry to interrupt. The wire’s worked loose on the front door release again, and the thing won’t open properly.”

“I’ll sort it.” Adam was out of his chair before anyone could stop him. Freedom ahoy! Thank goodness the caretaker only worked early mornings and evenings so Adam was the appointed handyman the rest of the time. “Sorry everyone. Class A emergency.”

“That’s fine,” Victor said, sending him on his way with a wave. “Our security system is vitally important,” he added, addressing Ford. Vitally important and almost impenetrable. Unless someone was a staff member, and as such, granted knowledge of the entry code for the keypad. Somebody, like Ford himself, couldn’t usually get into the school except through the main door. He’d need to buzz the intercom and persuade Jennifer to press the little switch to let him in, after which he’d come into view of her desk, through the hatchway window. Ultimate power for Jennifer, except when the wire had worked loose, then nobody without the code could get in that way short of bulldozing the door down.

Adam followed Jennifer down the corridor.

“Sorry to pull you out,” she said. “I didn’t have anywhere else to turn.”

“I’ll give it my best shot,” Adam said, stepping into the office and realising that freedom was still a pipe dream. Ian Youngs, another candidate for the headship, was flicking through a book of school photographs. This was part of his free time, intended to let the candidates have a chance to go round the school and get to know it better. Adam could think of better things to do with the time, like talking to the children, rather than lurking in the office.

“Got that screwdriver, Jennifer?”

Jennifer handed over a little box of tools. “I’ll leave you to it.” She turned her attention to the other invader of her territory. “Are you enjoying those? That’s from when St. Crispin’s won the local mathematics challenge in 1995.”

“Really?” Youngs didn’t sound impressed.

“Yes. We used to be one of the top schools in the county.”

Adam felt Jennifer bridling, even though he was under the desk, wrestling a handful of wires.

“You seemed to win lots of awards in the 1990s, Mrs. Shepherd,” Youngs continued, sounding like he was trying to redeem himself. Adam wanted to warn him not to smile, as that would ruin the effect. He’d weighed the bloke up as soon as he’d seen him, and while Youngs wasn’t exactly bad looking, when he opened his mouth, he revealed a set of crooked teeth. Not the most attractive smile, especially in combination with his slightly protruding ears.

“We did.” Jennifer didn’t sound any happier. She cleared her throat and changed the subject. “Will they be out soon, Adam?”

“Should be.” Adam emerged, brushing fluff from his trousers. “All sorted, I think.”

Jennifer pressed the button, heard the release catch open, then smiled. “You’re so clever. What would I do without you?”

“Have a peaceful life?” Adam winked at Youngs, who just scowled in return.

“It’s a shame they can’t just change the timetable around and see you straight after lunch, Mr. Youngs, now that we’re down to two candidates instead of three. It means you having to kick your heels for ages,” Jennifer said. “But our Mr. Narraway insisted we had to keep to what we’d planned, breaks and all.”

“It’s to do with the timing of assembly,” Adam explained. “The vicar has to watch Simon Ford lead an act of worship, like he watched you earlier, before he sits in on your presentation. And we all need a bit of lunch before any of that.” Adam kept his eye on Youngs, who was slipping a piece of paper—on which Adam had seen him jot something down—into his pocket.

“I don’t mind.” Youngs smiled, crooked teeth and all. “It’ll be nice to go stretch my legs for a while. This morning’s been hard work, what with taking assembly and getting the third degree from the pupil panel.”

Jennifer smiled at the mention of the pupils. “You should take a wander around the village while you’re at it, Mr. Youngs. You can’t say many places have kept their charm and not changed too much over the years, but it’s certainly true of Lindenshaw.”

Adam choked back a laugh. Parts of Lindenshaw had barely reached the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first.

“I’ve got that impression already. I’ll see you at about half past one, Mrs. Shepherd.” Youngs turned towards the door.

“Good. That’ll give you plenty of time to set up your presentation. They’re strict about punctuality.”

“I’ll remember that.” Youngs stopped at the office door, and Adam thought he heard the man mutter, “I bet they like being strict about all sorts of things.” Youngs pushed against the front door, annoyed that it wouldn’t budge, as the rest of the governors came out of the classroom and into the hallway.

“You’ll need to use the exit button,” Christine piped up, smiling at Youngs.

“Thank you!” he replied, beaming. Every male candidate puffed his chest out when Christine was around, like a gamecock trying to impress a hen.

“It’s like bloody Alcatraz getting in and out of here,” Oliver said.

Adam gave him a sharp glance; Oliver was watching Youngs with more than a passing interest, as were the vicar and Marjorie Bookham—the only other woman on the governing body—as if there was something about the man that they were trying to fathom out. A hand on Adam’s shoulder ushered him along the corridor, and the others following in his wake. The Reverend Neil Musgrave was steering his flock as usual, this time in the direction of the staffroom, where lunch would be waiting.

“The more I see that man, the more I think I might have met him somewhere before,” Neil said. “What about you, Marjorie? Does he ring any bells?”

Marjorie bridled. “Of course he doesn’t. If I knew him from somewhere, then I’d have already declared it or else I might not be allowed to stay on the selection panel.” She stopped, waiting for Victor to catch the others up. “I’m right, aren’t I, Victor?”

“Sorry, Marjorie, I missed that.” The chair of governors looked preoccupied, his normally neat appearance slightly awry and an untidy pile of papers under his arm.

“I said that if the vicar crossed swords with Ian Youngs in the past, then he should declare it.”

“What’s all this? Can’t have any conflict of interest, Neil,” Victor said.

Neil shook his head. “I didn’t say that I knew him. Marjorie’s being mischievous. I just said I had a feeling I’d met him at some point in the past, but even if I have, it’s probably something entirely innocuous. I run across an awful lot of people in the diocese, one way or another.”

Victor, who had a certain bovine quality, scowled. “Please be careful, Marjorie, even if you’re just making a joke. Remember all the trouble we had last time we tried to recruit.”

Seconds out, round one?

“I don’t think I’m responsible for that debacle.” Marjorie turned on her heels and headed for the ladies’ toilet, sashaying stylishly as she went. Marjorie was a good-looking woman for her age—early fifties, maybe?—and was always immaculately dressed in clothes that reeked of class and couldn’t have been found even in the poshest of the Stanebridge shops.

Neil watched her go, shrugged theatrically, then led the way to the staffroom and lunch.

Adam flopped into his favourite chair, grabbed a sandwich, and dealt with priority number one. Cheese and pickle would stop the rumbling in his stomach from becoming too audible.

“They both seem to be very nice. Mr. Ford and Mr. Youngs,” Christine said.

“Nice?” Oliver snorted from across the room. “I’m not sure nice is what we’re looking for in a headmaster.”

“Admiral Narraway’s looking for a hanging and flogging captain,” Neil said under his breath.

Victor grimaced. “We shouldn’t make any judgements this early in the process. And it’s ‘headteacher,’ not ‘headmaster,’ remember? Gender neutral.”

“We can decide if we want to send them home.” Oliver, ignoring the gender bit, pointed his sandwich crust at Victor as though it were a gun.

“Like we sent them home when we tried last term? Not one of them made it through to the second day and the interviews proper.” He fished the tea bag from his mug, flinging it into the bin like a bullet.

“That’s because they were all rubbish,” Oliver continued, aiming his crust gun at Neil this time. “And I can tell you exactly why. It was because—”

“Sorry, chaps and chapesses. May I remind everyone present about confidentiality?” Victor wagged his finger. “I’m sorry, but what happens in the interview room stays in the interview room. Leave it at the fact that none of them were good enough.”

Marjorie, who had returned and was now hovering by the watercooler, nodded. “It’s such a shame Lizzie Duncan was taken ill and couldn’t be here. Getting a woman’s answer to some of the questions would have been enlightening. And yes, I know the last woman wasn’t much use, but don’t tar all of my sex with the same brush.”

“We couldn’t have put the process off again, Marjorie,” Victor said, tetchily.

“We’ll just have to hope these two chaps don’t make a mess of things like the last lot did,” Oliver said, unable to point his crust gun at anyone as he’d eaten it.

Adam wasn’t interested in hearing more if they weren’t going to dish the dirt on the last round of recruitment and looked up at the clock. “Blimey, is that the time? I’ve got a phone call to make.”

“Making a date for the weekend?” Christine smiled knowingly.

“Nothing so glamorous. Finding out how Mother’s cat got on at the vet. Said I’d ring before one o’clock. Twenty minutes before I get cut out of the will.”

Marjorie picked up her handbag. “I think there’s time for me to nip home and put my washing out. Shame to waste a good drying day.”

“Just make sure you’re back in time.” Victor kept looking at his phone. “Ian Youngs is giving his presentation at one fifty-five.”

Marjorie headed out of the room as Oliver got to his feet. “I’m going to find somewhere to have a cigar. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I’m far enough away from the school not to pollute the air the little ones are going to breathe.” He slammed the door behind him.

Neil, hovering over his seventh sandwich, shook his head. “He’s always been a bit of a loose cannon, and I fear he’s getting looser by the day.”

“Then tie him down,” Jeremy Tunstall said, looking up from the huge pile of papers he’d been flicking through. Lead Learning Partners, or whatever it was they were calling the people from the county education department this week, seemed to go through a lot of trees. “You don’t want a repeat of the mess you got into when you tried to recruit before. Now, I’ve got calls to make, assuming I can get a bloody signal. I’ll be back about half past one.”

Adam watched him go. “I should have told him about the ladies’ loo. You’re supposed to be able to get a signal in there.”

“How do you know?” Neil asked, grinning.

“Jennifer told us, of course.” Adam eased out of his chair. If he went out into the lane by the school field and faced south, he could generally get a decent fix on the network. Maybe it would be easier just to see Jennifer and ask to use the landline?

He was halfway through the office door when Jennifer’s voice—in conversation with Marjorie about sandwiches or some such nonsense—stopped him. He didn’t want to be nabbed by these two formidable females, who, for all their superficial spikiness with each other, had always been thick as thieves.

“Neither Simon nor Ian joined us for lunch, even though there was an open invitation. Are they in the candidates’ hidey-hole?”

“Hidey-hole? Oh, you mean the children’s kitchen? Not as far as I know.” Jennifer waved her hand airily.

Marjorie sniffed. “Good. We were hoping they might spend their spare time looking around the school and talking to the children rather than hiding away.”

“Oh, that nice Mr. Ford was certainly keen to do that. Last time I saw him, he was being led off by a group of children to eat his sandwiches with them on the field.” Jennifer smiled; it was clear which candidate she had her eye on. “It’s such a lovely day, we let the children have a bit of a picnic out there. Much healthier.”

“I wish I’d joined them. I feel the need of some fresh air, especially having been cooped up with Oliver most of the morning.” Marjorie eased past Adam, who was still hovering in the doorway, leaving a trail of good-quality perfume behind her.

“Maybe you could rescue Mr. Ford if he’s still out there,” Jennifer shouted after her. “I wouldn’t put it past some of the year-six children to have tied him to a tree by now, pretending he’s a human sacrifice.”


The ringing of the bell signalled the end of the children’s lunchtime but not quite the end of Adam’s phone call. They’d established that the cat was fine and the vet hadn’t charged an arm and a leg, and were just getting onto the “when are you next coming to dinner?” bit.

“Let me get through these next few days, and I’ll organise something. Bell’s going. Got to go. Love you.”

The vicar was coming up the field, weaving his way between children as they dawdled over getting into line. He looked distracted.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Adam asked as Neil approached.

“Eh?” He took a deep breath. “Oh, they’re not even worth a farthing. Come on, better not be late or Victor will have my guts for garters.”

“I think you’ve got the short straw. Watching Ford lead assembly and then back in to listen to another presentation.”

“Collective worship, not assembly. The bishop insists on the right name as we’re a church school.” Neil winked. “Only the second collective worship of the day. I’ll survive.” Neil steered them towards the side of the school. “I’ll take the shortcut and see if anyone will let me into the hall direct.”

“I’ll sign you in, then, or Jennifer will have your guts for garters too.”

“Don’t bother. I forgot to sign out.”

Adam wished he were going with the man. Watching assembly had to be better than going through Ian Youngs’s data analysis—another one of the many hoops they’d made the candidates jump through. He’d take the file into Jennifer’s office and plonk himself at the spare desk, which was about the only bit of free space available today, then plug in his iPod so the background noise wouldn’t disturb his concentration.

He was a third of the way through the task when a quiet passage in his music coincided with a harsh buzz from the front door intercom.

“Who is it?” Jennifer spoke into a little grey box, out of which a tinny version of Marjorie’s voice emerged in answer. She flicked a switch under her desk. “It’s open, come in.”

Marjorie soon appeared at the hatch. “Does someone eat all of the pens here?”

Jennifer looked up. “What? Oh, sorry, Marjorie, I’ve been fighting with the computer all lunchtime. It’s got a mind of its own. Here you are.” She eased herself out of her chair and passed a Biro through the hatchway.

“I’m not late, am I? Oliver would tear me off a strip if I was.” Marjorie didn’t seem overly concerned about the fact.

“More likely give you six from the cane.” Jennifer appeared pleased with herself for making a slightly saucy joke, even though Marjorie didn’t seem at all amused. “No, you’re fine.”

Adam gave up trying to sort out the data. “The presentation’s not due to start until one fifty-five, so you’ve even got the chance to grab a cup of tea.”

“Anyway, Mr. Youngs went for a bit of fresh air earlier on and isn’t back yet, so he’ll be the one getting the wigging.” Jennifer shook her head.

Marjorie sniffed. “How was the cat, Adam?”

“Cat? Oh, yes, fine, thank you.”

“Adam had to ring his mother about her cat,” Marjorie explained, showing no sign of going to get some tea, or even of going anywhere.

“Are you sure he wasn’t ringing his girlfriend?” Jennifer said, archly.

Oh, joy.

“If I was, I wouldn’t tell you. You’d be working out how to get in touch with her and snitch about all my bad habits.” Adam cringed. Why did he always feel as if he had to hide? Why couldn’t he bring a partner to the summer social without risking somebody like Oliver having palpitations? Might help to have a partner to bring, of course.

“I can’t believe you have any bad habits, Adam.” Marjorie smiled.

Better ask the ex about that, Marjorie. He’d make your eyes stand out like organ stops.

“It’s nearly ten to two. I’ll give Mr. Youngs another couple of minutes, and then I’ll ring his mobile.” Jennifer was back at her desk, scowling at the computer, which seemed to be misbehaving still.

“If he’s got his phone turned on. We do ask candidates to switch them off during the activities.” Marjorie sniffed again. “I think I will get myself a cup of tea. It’s been a bit more hectic today than I thought it would be.”

“You shouldn’t have rushed home; you should have put your feet up,” Jennifer said, still making faces at the screen. “Your husband could have put the washing out, couldn’t he?”

“Could he? That would be an unexpected case of taking initiative.” Marjorie turned on her heel and headed for the staffroom.

“She leads a dog’s life.” Jennifer kept her voice low, even though Marjorie had gone around the corner. “When you get wed, don’t you expect your wife to wait on you hand and foot.”

“I promise I won’t,” Adam replied. That was a cast-iron guarantee.


Back again. Same classroom, same panel, same anticipation of death by PowerPoint.

Same Oliver, glancing at the clock and looking like he was about to explode.

“I say we should just scratch Youngs’s presentation and count it as a definitive black mark against him.” Oliver clenched and unclenched his hands. “We don’t want a headmaster who can’t keep his appointments.”

Christine, inevitably, was the voice of reason. “We should give him another few minutes. Maybe he got lost.”

“Got lost?” Oliver glowered. “Then he shouldn’t have been wandering around, should he? What’s that chappie Ford doing now?”

“It’s all on the timetable, of which you have a copy, although I don’t suppose you’ve bothered with it.” Victor rummaged in his inside pocket, producing a folded sheet of A4 paper. “He’s into his second session of free time. You’ve just been watching him lead an assembly, haven’t you, Neil?”

Neil rubbed his hands together. “Yes. And very good it was. The children loved singing ‘Our God is a great—’”

“This is ridiculous.” Tunstall got up, prowled over to the window, and peered out. “Can’t see him.”

Marjorie turned in her seat to address Adam. “He did go out for a walk?”

“Yes. He made his escape just when I’d finished sorting that buzzer out.”

Tunstall shook his head. “I was hoping he’d show a bit more gumption. Simon Ford certainly seems to be on the children’s wavelength.”

Adam waited for the inevitable comment from Oliver. It came.

“Do we want someone on their wavelength? When I was young, I was scared stiff of my teachers, and when I was a headmaster, the children would never have wanted to play skipping with me. Fear and respect—that’s what’s lacking these days.”

Oliversaurus archaicus.

Tunstall swivelled in his chair. “We want someone who can take the school into the twenty-first century. You seem to want to drag it back to the nineteenth.”

Oliver stood up. “Now, you just—”

Any likelihood of fisticuffs was put on hold by a knock on the door. Shame. Adam had been looking forward to Tunstall versus Narraway, heavyweight knockout.

“Come in!” Victor said.

Jennifer stuck her head around the door. “I’ve tried ringing Mr. Youngs, but he’s not picking up his mobile. Do you think he’s all right?”

“Good lord, you don’t think he’s had an accident or something, do you?” Christine grabbed Adam’s arm.

“What on earth makes you think that, Christine?” Victor asked. “Would you try ringing again, please, Jennifer? If there is some genuine problem, we should allow him a bit of leeway.”

Tunstall forestalled any dissent. “Ian Youngs is a good candidate, and you can’t afford to turn your noses up at him if he’s been delayed by something out of his control.”

The increasingly awkward silence just continued. Apart from a faint noise . . .

“Is it me, or does that sound like a mobile phone?” Adam jerked his thumb towards the wall dividing the classroom from the children’s kitchen, where space had been set aside for the candidates to take refuge.

Victor leaped out of his chair. “I bet Youngs got the timetable buggered up—sorry, vicar—and he’s sitting there waiting.”

“Or he’s gone off and left his phone, and that’s why Jennifer can’t get him to answer. Although, how he’s got signal when most of us struggle . . .” Marjorie stared out of the window, as though she was trying to spot him.

Victor rose and headed for the door, raising his voice as he went out. “Don’t bother trying to ring Youngs, Mrs. Shepherd. He’s left his phone in the kitchen. We can hear the bloody thing ringing, and I’m going to go and find out what’s going on.”

“Language, Victor. There are children around, you know,” Neil said as Victor left. He grinned at Adam. “He must be rattled to have sworn twice in as many minutes.”

“How rattled do you have to be to turn the air blue?”

“You should hear me in the shed if I hit my thumb with a hammer! There was once . . .” Neil stopped, as the chair of governors reappeared at the door. “Are you all right, Victor?”

“Um, got a bit of a problem. Neil, could you and Adam give me a hand?” Victor’s face was as pale as if he’d met the school ghost in the corridor.

“Of course.” Neil, unhesitating, followed Victor out the door, and Adam slipped into their wake, intrigued.

The children’s kitchen was barely bigger than a generous broom cupboard, with a door to the corridor and a fire door leading to the field in case the little horrors set their fairy cakes ablaze. The table where the ingredients usually got slaughtered was tucked in an alcove with a bench on either side of it. Only, this time, something else had come to a sticky end there.

Ian Youngs.

Even though there wasn’t any TV-forensic-show-type bloodbath, the man was obviously dead, eyes wide-open and unseeing, body slumped and unmoving. Adam, who’d never been in the presence of sudden death, wasn’t sure if he was going to faint or throw up.

“Should I get Jennifer to call an ambulance?” Victor, transfixed by the corpse, seemed like he might beat Adam to the fainting bit.

“Get Adam to do that.” Neil exuded professional competence, leaning over the body. He gently shook Youngs, got no response, felt for a pulse in his neck, and shook his head.

“He’s not just been taken ill?” Victor asked.

Why did that voice sound so faint? And why had the room started to swim in and out of Adam’s vision?

“Gone, I’m afraid. But I don’t like the appearance of his face, nor the bruising on his neck.” Neil looked up, face ashen. “Be a good chap, Adam, and ask Jennifer to get the police to come, as well. I don’t think this was from natural causes.”

Adam, who’d made the mistake of getting a glimpse of that contorted face, managed to pass the message on before heading for the men’s toilet and losing all his Waitrose sandwiches.

Chapter Two
Inspector Robin Bright peered out his office window at the magnificent view of assembled glories the Stanebridge Police Headquarters car park could boast. Two traffic-division bobbies were chatting beside a police motorbike, one of the handlers was lugging a hot and bothered dog into a van, and somebody else was shaking his head over some scraped bodywork. Another typical day in Rozzerland.

Bloody hell, the day had turned hot. No wonder that Alsatian looked as if it wanted to take a chunk out of someone’s leg.

He turned away from the window. His sergeant was at his desk. How did the bloke always seem so cool? And so young? Granted, Robin wasn’t exactly long in the tooth, having gone straight on the promotion fast track, but Sergeant Anderson had the face of someone barely out of nappies.

“This weather makes no sense.” Robin ran his fingers round his collar then eyed a pile of paperwork that needed to be dealt with. It could wait. “I was so cold last night I ended up putting the heating back on.”

“You want to be living with my Helen, sir. I’m always last in the pecking order.” Anderson grinned. “She nabbed the fan heater. She almost sits on top of it when she’s marking essays. And the dog was parked by the radiator.”

“You should have got the dog to lie on her feet and killed two birds with one stone.” Robin tried to keep his voice free of envy at the cosy domestic setup. There were times when having a lecturer—or anybody—to come home to would be the summit of all desire.

Anderson groaned. “If I’d suggested that, my life wouldn’t have been worth living. And we forgot to turn the bloody heating off this morning too. The house will be sweltering when we get back.”

The phone rang, cutting off any further meteorological discussion.

“Inspector Bright’s office,” Anderson said in his best telephone voice.

Who is it? Robin mouthed.

Anderson mouthed, Some school, in return, which left his boss none the wiser.

“Yes . . . Got that . . . Right,” he continued. “Have they rung for an ambulance? Good. I hope they have the sense to keep people away. The less tramping around the better. Thank you.”

“There’s nothing more frustrating than only hearing half a phone call. I take it we’re wanted?” Robin was already out of his chair and heading for the door.

“Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s School, sir,” Anderson replied, joining him. “The emergency services had a call that they’d been recruiting for a new headteacher today and one of their candidates has come a bit of a cropper.”

Robin had a cold feeling in his stomach on hearing the location. “Do you mean they’ve had an accident?” Maybe they wouldn’t need to go there.

“Doesn’t sound like it. He was found dead in the kitchen the children use for doing their cookery lessons. The people at the school think there may be suspicious circumstances.”

“Right.” Robin felt in his pocket for his car keys. Keep to the professional and objective. “I guess it won’t be anything as simple as him having choked on a fairy cake. Police surgeon been notified?”

“I was just about to make sure, sir.” Anderson waggled his mobile phone. “The school secretary apparently rang for an ambulance, but she said that’s a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

“Isn’t it always?” Robin headed down the stairs, his sergeant on the phone and hot at his heels. Murder, if this was what they had on their hands, wasn’t a quantity they came across a lot in Stanebridge, despite the depiction of murderous middle England in television crime dramas. And most of the violent deaths he’d had to deal with had been easily solved, the culprit close at hand among relatives or friends. What was it about families that drove people to such extremes?

I was tempted to bash Patrick over the head with a blunt instrument. More than once.

Oh yes, he’d loved Patrick with a fiery ardour, and it had blazed away to leave nothing but ashes. And a bitter taste in his mouth that the best part of a year hadn’t yet washed away. Maybe this poor bloke had rubbed their nearest and dearest the wrong way, and they’d chosen to do the deed away from home.

“Jigsaw time,” Anderson said, slipping his phone back into his pocket. That was Robin Bright’s line, his description of putting together the evidence surrounding any suspicious death, seeing how the pieces fitted together.

Even though he had no idea what the picture on the box lid was supposed to be.


Lindenshaw was only a fifteen-minute drive away, the first village out of Stanebridge, just off the same main road the police station stood on. Robin parked in the staff car park, next to the ambulance, blocking all the other cars in; it didn’t matter, because nobody was going to be allowed to go anywhere for the moment.

The playground was empty, although sounds of children playing games filtered round the building. Robin pulled the front door handle, then pushed it, then pulled the bloody thing again.

“Is it me or is this sodding thing fighting back?” He couldn’t remember it being this hard to get into the place, but then school security had gone mad since then.

“You need to press the bell, sir.” Anderson reached across to press the intercom button, clearly fighting a grin.

“Must be easier to get into Parkhurst prison.” Robin’s mutterings were interrupted by a sharp, efficient-sounding female voice. One he recognised all too well.


“This is Inspector Bright, Stanebridge police.” Robin hated talking into intercoms with his sergeant standing by. It felt so idiotic. “I . . .” A sharp click and the door yielded to his shove. The entrance hall and corridors appeared much the same as they had when he’d been a boy, except they’d been brightened up by pieces of the children’s work and pot plants with decorative stones round their stems.

But there was the perennial Mrs. Shepherd, leaning through the hatchway window, looking no older than she had twenty years previously, and pointing to a book on the ledge. The door, the little window, and the book might be new, but nothing much else seemed to have changed.

“Could you please pop your names in our signing-in book? Everyone who visits the school is supposed to do it. You’ll need a visitor’s badge too.”

“Must we? We’re supposed to be dealing with a dead body.” Why did they have to go through such a rigmarole?

“You must. Even police inspectors have to obey the rules.” She fixed him with a gimlet glance, just as she’d done when he’d been rising eleven. Maybe she remembered him as clearly as he remembered her. Back then, the height of Robin’s ambition had been to win an argument with her, but this wasn’t the time he’d at last be successful. He took the pen, signed in with a touch of theatricality, then gave it to Anderson, who was still grinning. By God, if he didn’t stop it, Robin was going to have to whack that smile off his face.

“Put these on, please.” She gave them each a brightly coloured adhesive badge, which they dutifully stuck on their lapels.

“Now, will any more of you be coming through this way? It’s bedlam, what with the crime scene people and the ambulance crew and who knows what.” An unexpected crack appeared in her façade as her voice faltered. “I’m sorry. It’s been a trying day. I just wanted to make sure I was on the alert to let them in.”

Time to be magnanimous. “Very wise. So the CSIs are here.” Would he ever get used to the change from scenes of crime officers, which rolled off the tongue, to crime scene investigators, which just smacked of American TV? “What about the police surgeon?”

Mrs. Shepherd nodded. “I sent him through the school, after the ambulance men. The children are out on the field, so they won’t get wind of what’s going on.”

Robin fought to control his voice. “On the field? There could be vital stuff out there being ground to pieces under a hundred pairs of plimsolls.”

“It’ll be trainers, sir. No one wears plimsolls anymore,” Anderson cut in, although it wasn’t helpful.

“It was already too late, according to the CSI woman.” Mrs. Shepherd sounded on the verge of tears. “She had the same concern. I told her the children were out on the field all over lunchtime and most of the younger children were out there for their first afternoon lesson, practicing for sports day. She said anything would likely be long gone.”

“If it was there at all. I doubt the killer risked wandering past all those prying little eyes if they’ve been out there most of the day,” Anderson continued, soothingly.

“I suppose you did the right thing,” Robin said at last. He didn’t feel like scoring points anymore. Murder wasn’t a matter for one-upmanship, no matter how much satisfaction it would have given his inner schoolboy. “Right. Nobody should leave the school until we give our say-so. I’ll rely on you to help us with that.”

“You can rely on me entirely, Inspector. I’ll watch that front door like a hawk.” Mrs. Shepherd paused, biting her lip. “What are we to do with the children? They’re due to be picked up at three fifteen.”

“There’s no reason they can’t go home. So long as all the adults stay here until we’ve taken their statements. “What have you told them? The children, I mean.”

“That they’ve all been so good they can have extra games out on the field for the rest of the afternoon.” Mrs. Shepherd smiled. “Mrs. Barnes’s idea—she’s our acting head—to keep them busy and away from what’s going on in here. They can’t really see the children’s kitchen windows from the field, so hopefully they’ll be none the wiser.”

Robin nodded. There was a convenient shrubbery dating back to his time at the school that would have hidden everything from view. Which was just as well for the murderer, come to think of it. “Your acting headteacher sounds very sensible.”

“She is. Mind you, we won’t be able to stop everyone seeing the ambulance. They’ll come in here asking things.” The secretary seemed as though she was fighting a losing battle with a bucketful of tears. “Mrs. Barnes has been back at her own school for the day, and even though she’s on her way, she may not make it in time to fend off the parents.”

“Then don’t let them through the door,” Robin said. “You stand guard and keep anyone outside from nosing about too much. That would be really helpful.” Fat chance of that happening, though. These small communities were all the same, and the parents would be thinking up excuses to come in and find out what was going on.

Still, Mrs. Shepherd appeared relieved to have something proactive to do. “I’ll get on it straightaway, then.”

“Can you show us the way to the kitchen?” Anderson was champing at the bit.

“Along the corridor, past the classroom, and around the corner. You won’t miss it. Inspector Bright will remember it as the old kiln room.”

Anderson gave his boss a sideways glance and mouthed, Remember?

“Keep walking.” Robin led the way.

“Can I help you?”

Robin swung round to see a grey-haired, harassed-looking man coming out of one of the classroom doors. His old classroom, scene of many a murder, although only of the English language and that was usually in one of Robin’s stories.

“Ah, the police.” The man held out a hand for Robin to shake. “Victor Reed, chair of governors.”

Robin shook his hand, introduced himself and his sergeant, and tried to edge towards the kitchen. Were they never going to get to the corpse?

“Thank you for being so prompt. Such a terrible thing to have happened to the school.” Reed rubbed his temples.

“Pretty terrible thing to have happened to Mr. Youngs,” Robin muttered, although not quietly enough for Reed not to have heard.

“Of course. Yes.” He appeared even more distressed. “I found the body. Shall I show you . . .?”

“No, thank you,” Robin said, trying not to be too officious. “We can find our way there.”

“If you’re sure.” Reed seemed relieved. He pointed to the door, carefully closed behind him. “I have the rest of the panel and governors in there.”

“The interview panel? Would you warn them we’ll have to take statements from them all before they can go home? And I’d like the school shut tomorrow, so we can go over everything unimpeded. Could you arrange that too?” There was a time when Robin would have been grateful for a murder coming to St. Crispin’s—anything to get an extra day off school.

“Luckily we’d already booked tomorrow as a teacher-training day so the children wouldn’t be around when we conducted the interviews themselves. So at least we won’t have hordes of parents complaining they can’t get childcare on short notice.” Reed looked as if that was a much worse prospect than even fifty unexplained deaths would be. “I’ll just tell everybody about their statements.”

“Yes, you do that. We have to get into our gear.” Robin escaped along the corridor, hauling Anderson with him. The memories the building evoked didn’t make him want to hang around. He concentrated on getting into his protective clothing, a necessary evil in these days of microscopic examination of crimes scenes down to a molecular, let alone cellular, level.

Anderson, fully suited and booted, grabbed the kitchen door handle. “It’s shut, sir. Should I knock?”

“You’re not a child coming to the headmaster’s office for a whacking. Get in there.”

“I’m afraid you can’t . . .” A deep voice came from the other side of the door as Anderson turned the handle.

Robin pushed into the room. “I’m afraid we can.”

“Oh, sorry, sir.” A gangly constable stepped aside to let them in, carefully shutting the door behind them. “I thought you might be another unwanted interloper. We’ve had a few of them.”

“And not all of them children, Bright.” The police surgeon, Dr. Brew, straightened up from where he’d been leaning over the body. “Offers of tea or coffee or help—none of it wanted. Ghouls . . . they want to get a peek at what’s going on.”

“And pick up information.” Or maybe even cross contaminate it. How many people had already been in here, innocently or otherwise? “It’s always like gold dust around a murder scene.”

Robin took in as much of the room as he could at first glance. A general impression—that’s what he wanted before he got bogged down in forensic detail. Cookers, fridges, worktops, all at the right height for children. The shrubbery outside the window . . . It had grown so much in twenty years. The little table with the body slumped over it.

“Oh yes. Worth a fortune in gossiping currency.” Dr. Brew sniffed.

“How did he die?” Anderson asked.

“It’s strangulation, I’d say.”

That seemed clear, even to a layman. No obvious signs of blood or a violent struggle. The young man looked as if he’d just laid his head down on the table to get forty winks. Only the ugly bruising just visible on his neck and the awful appearance of his face made that peaceful scene a lie.

“And,” the doctor continued, “not, I think, with bare hands. Something like a knotted cord. Or a good old-fashioned stocking with a gobstopper tied up in it.”

Anderson looked at his boss, mouthed Gobstopper? and shrugged.

“I saw that, Sergeant.” Dr. Brew grinned. “You should have been at my school. We used to fantasise about how we were going to get rid of the maths teacher. A stocking with a gobstopper—or one of those large marbles—tied up in the middle was the method of choice.”

“Ye-es. Quite.” Robin had come up with a few of those ideas in his time here, but he wasn’t going to admit it. “Do you think the victim was just sitting here when he was killed?”

“It appears so. There were some papers under the body, so I suppose he could have been reading them. No sign of a struggle, or at least not much of one. Some evidence that he’d tried to pull the other person’s hands away—some fibres appear to be under his fingernails.”

Anderson nodded. “We’ll know better when the CSI has fully processed the scene. I wonder if it’s Grace. She wheedles out anything that’s there to be wheedled.”

Robin rolled his eyes at Anderson’s flight of verbal fancy. For a zealously straight bloke, he could be camper than a row of tents. “May I?” he asked the doctor, gesturing that he wanted to move the dead man’s arm to get a better look at what lay underneath.

“Be my guest. The girl took plenty of snapshots and samples before I even started.”

Robin knew he could have waited—those papers weren’t going anywhere—but he liked to get his hands on evidence, letting it speak to him even through the obligatory protective gloves. This time the papers were mute. “This looks like it’s all to do with their interviews.”

The doctor grinned. “Were you hoping it might be a vital clue? I only think detectives get that lucky on the television.”

Robin ignored the quip. “We saw the ambulance outside. Are the paramedics hitting the tea and biscuits?”

“I think they’re in the first aid room dealing with some seven-year-old who’d been whacked on the conk with a rounders ball. Blood everywhere.” Dr. Brew grinned. “Nothing else for them to do here, is there?”

“I suppose not.” Robin sighed, weighing up the scene. There would be no countering the rumour mill once it started grinding. “Mr. Youngs doesn’t seem that big a bloke. I guess he could have been easily overpowered by someone strong—or cunning—enough to put him at ease. Anderson, can you get behind him?”

“If I can just . . .” The sergeant manoeuvred round behind the body.

“Would you have room there to carry out murder without making your intention so bloody obvious that the victim would be able to fight back?”

Anderson made an elaborate mime of strangulation. “Plenty, sir. I can imagine someone looking over Youngs’s shoulder at what he was reading, a nice innocent conversation turning into . . .” He finished off with another garrotting movement.

“Yes, we get the picture. Easier there than from this side of the table too.” Robin eyed up all the likely angles. “Would an attack from behind fit with the marks on the body?”

Dr. Brew nodded. “Absolutely. Still, I wouldn’t jump to any hard-and-fast conclusions. Let’s see what the autopsy shows.”

Robin took a close look at the body, shutting his mind—as ever—to the fact this was someone’s son or lover, cut off in his prime. Pleasant-looking guy, nothing out of the ordinary, except for ears that seemed too large for his head. And yet . . . Robin sniffed, then wrinkled his nose. Something there, some scent. He leaned closer to Youngs’s body and sniffed again. “Sergeant, can you smell something?”

Anderson leaned closer to the dead man, sniffing around like a bloodhound. “There’s something there, sir, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. Some sort of aftershave?”

“Maybe. It seems a bit too floral, though.”

“Perhaps Mr. Youngs preferred his cologne—what’s the word?—metrosexual.” Dr. Brew winked, clearly thinking he’d been hilarious.

“Or possibly he’s been up close and personal with one of the women here,” Anderson said, easing them through a tricky moment.

“You’d better get close to them yourself then and see if you can match up the scent.” Robin was quite happy to delegate that duty. “Maybe—” A sharp rapping noise interrupted him. A nod to the constable and the door got opened an inch or two.

“I’m afraid— Oh, sorry.” The constable produced his usual line as an efficient-looking woman barged through the door. Grace, one of the crime scene investigation team members, was pretty, clever, always appeared to be trying her best, and was fancied by half the blokes in the division. The first three facts were unlikely to cut any ice with Robin and the last one just riled him.

“Out of the way there, Harry, I just—” The sight of the police took the wind out of Grace’s sails. “Didn’t realise you’d arrived, sir. We were just wondering if the doctor had finished so we can get on in here some more.”

Robin nodded. “That’s quite all right by me, Grace. Anything turn up so far?”

The CSI smiled, clearly arranging herself as elegantly as she could, given the disadvantages of working gear. “Not that I can see, although we’ve not been around the outside of the building yet. Didn’t want to scare the children while they practice their sports.”

“I thought sports days were a thing of the past. The perils of the little ones becoming upset at not winning and all that.” Dr. Brew started to pack his stuff away.

“Oh, they still thrive around here. If you want to see cutthroat competition you should watch the average parents’ race. We nearly got called out to stop a fight after the last one.” Anderson rolled his eyes. “Anyway, sir, maybe it’s as well they’re trampling about out there rather than obliterating anything in here.”

It was a valid point. A bit of thought might have ensured the children were all taken entirely off the premises, but if nobody was certain it was murder, would they have bothered to think of that?

“Constable, you did check with the teachers to find out if they’d noticed anything suspicious?” Robin kept his gaze out the window, fighting down his temper. It was probably too late now to make a fuss about sloppy procedures.

“I had a quick word, sir. They hadn’t.” The constable smiled nervously, like a child desperate to please the teacher. Local lad, most likely, drafted in at a moment’s notice and maybe out of his depth. “I nipped round all the teaching staff. We felt it would be safer to let them take the kids out there and keep the building clear.”

“You probably did the right thing.” Robin sighed and turned to Grace again. “Did you by any miraculous chance find anything in the school itself? With your unimpeded snoop around?”

Grace, unmoved by his sarcasm, or unaware of it, shook her head. “Very little.”

“Nothing at all show up?” Anderson, at least, was keeping civil.

“Nothing apart from a couple of smelly socks and two Top Trumps cards, no.” Grace eyed the dead body eagerly. “More luck in here, I hope.”

“We’ll leave you to it, then.” Robin wasn’t convinced. What chance was there of something like a clear set of prints, with the number of sticky fingers that would have been all over everything? “Let me know as soon as anything significant turns up.” He nudged Anderson, tipping his head towards the door. “Come on. We’ve got people to talk to.”

“And sniff at, sir?” Anderson asked, almost earning himself the sort of clip around the ear that Robin had suffered more than once on these very premises.

Chapter Three
Can the hands on that clock turn any bloody slower?

All conversation had ceased in the classroom, leaving an uncomfortable silence, livened only by the funereal ticking of the clock in question.

“Until we know for certain what’s caused the death, perhaps we shouldn’t even discuss it at all,” Victor had said, putting the gossipers to shame but leaving a vacuum. Adam had tried to spark a discussion about police procedures, anything rather than just go crazy with his thoughts, but that had been met with little enthusiasm. And now Adam’s stomach—bereft of all its contents and horribly sore—was starting to rumble, although he wasn’t ready to risk putting even a biscuit in there. He could still see Youngs’s face—mottled, lifeless, horrible—every time he closed his eyes.

A dead body, in his school. He thought of the pupils in his class, how much this was going to upset them, how much he wanted to go out and make sure they were all right, how much he didn’t want to kick his heels in here.

Oliver, inevitably, broke the silence. “How much longer are we to be kept waiting?”

“A man’s dead, Oliver. We have to do what we’re asked.” Marjorie had fished a manicure kit out of her bag, using the enforced captivity to titivate elegant hands that had suffered under the laundry load. The coolness didn’t fool Adam; at times, her hands shook.

Oliver produced something like a growl. “That’s still no reason to treat us like common criminals, cooped up until called for.”

Marjorie rolled her eyes. “Must you exaggerate?”

Adam would normally have enjoyed this sort of tiff, especially if he needed something to pass the time. George—his ex—had slagged him off for it plenty of times. People watcher? Don’t kid yourself, Adam. You’re a nosy fucking parker. The name-calling had started off lightheartedly, but towards the conclusion of their relationship, there’d been an edge to everything. The failure of George’s sense of humour had been the first sign of the end approaching.

Well, Georgie boy, you’ll be pleased to know I’m not amusing myself by people watching today. This is too serious to make a joke about.

Christine’s voice cut into his thoughts. “I hope we won’t be here too long, Marjorie. Who’s going to look after my Rachel and Tom?”

Victor, clearly trying to sound reassuring, began, “I’m sure the police will be—” only to be interrupted by the door opening. As if on cue, the rozzers—it had to be the police, Adam thought, as no other grey-suited individuals would be lurking around the school—came through it.

“Ah, Inspector Bright,” Victor said. “We were just wondering when you’d be here to tell us what’s going on.”

“A murder enquiry’s going on.” The inspector’s voice preceded him into the room.

Christine clasped her hands to her mouth. “Murder? Oh . . .”

The inspector appeared, nodding sympathetically. “I’m afraid so. Which means we’ll need to get a statement from each one of you before you can go.”

If the policeman said anything else, Adam didn’t quite catch it. He was feeling confused enough, so to have—Wright, Bright, what the hell had Victor said his name was?—walk through the door looking like that sent his thoughts off in ten directions. Policemen weren’t supposed to be so tall, dark, and stupidly handsome. Apart from in Adam’s fantasies.

Oliver’s voice interrupted the unwanted germination of some inappropriate thoughts in Adam’s brain. “Perhaps you could take Mrs. Probert’s statement first? She has two small children at the school, and they’ll need her to pick them up at the end of the lessons.” His unexpected thoughtfulness earned him one of Christine’s stunning smiles.

“Happy to oblige,” the inspector said with kindness.

Why did Adam never seem to meet blokes who reacted to his smile the way they reacted to Christine’s? Why couldn’t this policeman favour him with a flash of those dark eyes?

“Perhaps you could come along now, Mrs. Probert, and my sergeant could take you through things?” The sergeant looked like that was the best news he’d heard all day. “Anyone else need to get away urgently?”

For a moment—only a moment—Adam felt like shouting, Take me, take me now! but this was serious business. Was it defiance or denial in the face of sudden death that made him feel like behaving like a schoolboy? Or was it simply the incongruity of somebody like the inspector walking through the door? Instant chemistry, that’s what they called it, but he’d never come across such a sensation before. It was the romantic equivalent of being hit over the head with a sock full of wet sand.

Then he remembered why the police were here—Youngs’s body, those awful teeth—and felt sick again.

“Can’t you see me at the same time? I need to get my husband’s tea.” Marjorie got out of her chair, following in Christine’s fragrant wake.

Victor slammed down the papers he’d been fiddling with for the last ten minutes. “Oh, Marjorie, can’t he fend for himself for once?”

“I wish he could.” Marjorie pinched the bridge of her nose, then suddenly smiled. “Actually, this might be just the thing to make him. Take your time, Inspector Bright. I’m happy to go to the end of the list. It’ll be nice to have an excuse to be out later than expected.”

“Put me at the end of the list too.” A voice that must have been Adam’s emerged from his mouth, although he wasn’t sure he’d meant to speak. “I haven’t got any domestic duties to rush away to . . .” Oh God, you’re blethering. Shut up before anybody notices.

“Thank you,” Bright said, maybe with a note of humour in his voice. Or was it suspicion? He hoped the policeman didn’t think Adam was trying to hide anything, given how quickly the guy turned away and addressed Oliver. “Perhaps you could organise a list for me of all the people in the room, Mr. . . .?”

“Narraway. Oliver Narraway.” Oliver seemed delighted at the policeman’s trust in him. “Yes, I’ll do that.”

“Thank you. Everyone who was involved with your recruitment is here, I assume?”

Victor cleared his throat. “Ah, well. I’m afraid not. Jeremy Tunstall—he’s our Lead Learning Partner—isn’t.”

“Your what?”

“He’s a sort of school inspector. Our very own.” Adam’s answer got him pinned by those flashing brown eyes again. Where was the verbal equivalent of Imodium when he needed it? He remembered being like this when he’d witnessed his grandfather being hit by a car: he hadn’t known what to say, so he’d just gabbled. Apparently, the romantic sock full of wet sand had the same dramatic impact.

“He had to go out and make some calls to his manager,” Victor explained, hurriedly. “As you can appreciate, it’s going to be a difficult time for the county education department.”

“For the county?” Bright’s voice could have taken the paint off the window frames if they hadn’t been made of plastic. “What about for Mr. Youngs’s family? Please stay here while I try to locate him.”

“What’s so important about Tunstall that your boss has to go chasing him?” Victor asked the sergeant as soon as the door had shut. Adam wanted to know the answer too. It dawned on him, with a sudden sickening belt to his stomach, that one of them might have killed Youngs.

“I’d have thought it was obvious.” The sergeant narrowed his eyes. “We sent the message out for everyone to stay put. There’s a horde of kids all over the field and now one of you has gone walkabout? That’s the sort of thing that makes Inspector Bright hot under the collar.”

The inner schoolboy told Adam there were lots of things he could do to make Inspector Bright hot under the collar. But the rational part of him felt the need to go and dump whatever was left in his stomach. Again.


Robin had a volley of swear words ready, but he kept them for when he got to the playground. Old habit, developed in this very spot—never show emotion in front of people who could make use of it. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to remember he was a detective inspector, not a schoolboy.

He opened his eyes again to find someone was out by the road, talking on his mobile. If that was Tunstall, the bloke was going to get a roasting. The conversation became gradually more audible as Robin crossed towards the gate.

“I know. It’s an absolute bloody mess. Murder. I sometimes think this school is cursed.” The man paused, listening. “Yes, it’s all been rearranged already, although I—” He jumped as Robin tapped his shoulder. “I’ll call you back later. Police, I presume?”

Robin resisted saying he was Dr. Livingstone. “Inspector Bright. Mr. Tunstall?”

“That’s right.” Tunstall slipped his phone into his pocket. “Well, Inspector, I was just checking in with my district manager. Awful business, never known anything like it.”

Robin wasn’t sure he’d ever seen such a mess, either. Except for the yummy mummy who’d got Anderson smirking and the nice-looking lad who went red every time he said anything, the denizens of St. Crispin’s seemed like well-meaning middle England at its worst.

“How did you know Mr. Youngs had been murdered?”

Tunstall scowled. “Give me some credit. Victor said Youngs was dead, but I saw the expression in the vicar’s eye—and how shaken that young teacher was when he came back from losing his lunch. When I saw your crime scene officer arrive, I knew it couldn’t just be natural causes.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable answer. Everybody watched an endless parade of crime shows these days; they all knew about procedure. “We should go inside. Where I can take your statement properly.”

Tunstall seemed like he was going to argue, but he shrugged and followed Robin back into the school, passing the office, turning left, and going through the big doors to the school library. Scene of many horrors of the past, when young Robin Bright—academically an ugly duckling—had been so slow to learn to read. They settled at a table, where Robin produced his notebook.

“Did you know Youngs? Before today?”

“Of course I did. We have all the aspiring headteachers on our radar. Run across them at all sorts of events.” Tunstall seemed to be taking it all in his stride.

Robin would have to trust him about the radar for the moment. Shame there wasn’t some convenient TV show to teach coppers about school procedures. Still, he didn’t like how Tunstall had just gone wandering off. Surely ringing his office could have waited. Or been done on the school landline.

“Is there anything you can tell us about him to help our enquiries?”

Tunstall narrowed his eyes. “Do you actually mean the old cliché ‘Did he have any enemies?’ If that’s the question, there’s nothing I can tell you.”

“I don’t think I was being quite that blunt. Although, if there were any parents he’s fallen foul of in the past, maybe one of them might hold enough of a grudge to want revenge.” At least some things had changed since Robin’s school days. Now the teachers were more likely to live in fear of the parents than vice versa.

“Oh, come on, Inspector. Irate letters, maybe a shouting match over the office hatchway, but murder? I don’t think parents get quite that worked up.” He rolled his eyes. “Not even here.”

Robin had decided he didn’t like Tunstall. Too much of a smarmy git, irrespective of the unhelpful wandering off. “You’d be surprised what works people up enough to make them kill someone. Especially if they’re unstable to start with.”

Tunstall appeared dubious. “If you say so. You’d be best to check with the schools he’s worked for, past and present. I could get you a list from his application form.”

He may have sounded helpful, but Tunstall looked as though doing anything to help was going to be like having teeth drawn. Did he have something to hide, or was it just a typical case of local-government-employee syndrome? What made them naturally so bloody-minded?

“As far as the county was aware,” Tunstall went on, “he didn’t have anything that would bring him to our notice. He’s led a blameless life . . . educationally.”

Robin’s ears—always alert to nuance, whether it was some villain giving himself away or some bloke in a bar hinting that he was interested—pricked up. “Does that imply he hadn’t outside of the classroom?”

Tunstall sniffed. “I couldn’t say. We concern ourselves with a candidate’s ability to do the job. Anything that is just grist to the rumour mill, we try to ignore. Unless it’s about child protection—or if they find themselves on the front page of The Sun.”

“You’d better hope this story doesn’t end up there. The tabloids love this sort of stuff. Murder in rural England.” Robin enjoyed watching Tunstall squirm.

“Oh God. I’ll have to get through to the press office, in case my boss hasn’t already. And tell those idiots here not to talk to anyone they shouldn’t.”

Idiots? Robin decided he liked Tunstall even less than before. “Can you tell us why the school failed to appoint last time? It’s all over the Stanebridge gossip network that the candidates were sent home before they even got to interview.”

“Is there really a gossip network?” Tunstall looked less than comfortable.

“It’d make our job a lot harder if there wasn’t.” Robin wasn’t going to admit that the main source of gossip about St. Crispin’s school was his mother. Shame she’d gone off to Málaga for a month of over-sixties frivolity just when he could have done with her eyes and ears. “Why didn’t they hold any interviews?”

“I’m not sure I should tell you that. It’s supposed to be confidential to the selection panel, and I can’t believe it has any bearing on Ian Youngs being killed.” Tunstall ran his finger around his collar.

Robin produced one of his favourite lines. “I think we should be the ones to decide what has a bearing and what hasn’t.”

“Yes, well, I’ll need to consult Education Personnel and get back to you.”

“If you could do that as soon as possible, I’d be obliged.” Robin smiled. Not his best “I really fancy you” smile, as Tunstall wouldn’t have counted as fanciable even if he’d been the last bloke in the world. This was the “I’m being civil even if I wouldn’t trust you with a balloon on a stick” smile.

“Is that all, Inspector? I have a lot of things to do back at the office because of . . .” Tunstall gestured vaguely in the direction of the children’s kitchen.

“You’ll be free to go once we’ve finished this statement. It’s just like the dentist: better get it over and done with before you have too long to think about it.”

And before you get a chance to set any stories straight.

Jury of One #2
Chapter One
Robin Bright wiped the residual shaving cream from his face and grinned at his reflection in the mirror. Life tasted good, better than it had in a long time. Work was going well, with a promotion to detective chief inspector on the cards, but that wasn’t the only thing making him so happy. He had plenty of blessings in his private life, and if he was counting them, the number one was at present down in the kitchen, clattering about. And Robin’s second-best blessing was probably sitting in his basket, chewing on dog biscuits and hoping somebody might throw the end of a sausage in his direction.

Was it only a year ago that he’d have woken on a Saturday morning with nothing more to look forward to than the delights of washing and ironing, accompanied by the radio commentary of Spurs getting thrashed by the Arsenal? He used to hope the phone would go, calling him in to work because a gang of little scrotes had misbehaved on Friday night. How things had changed.

“Are you going to be in there forever?” Adam Matthews’s voice sounded from downstairs. “Your tea’s going to get cold.”

“I’ll be down soon. Got to get my shirt on.”

“Yeah. You don’t want to scare the postwoman again.” The sound of footsteps and the thud of the kitchen door indicated that Adam had gone back to making breakfast.

Robin took a final glance at the mirror, decided he’d do, and went off to find his favourite T-shirt. Hopefully his phone would keep silent today so a proper shirt and tie wouldn’t be needed; surely a man deserved his relaxation time? In the meantime he should get his backside downstairs before Adam sent Campbell, the huge black Newfoundland that shared their lives—when he couldn’t share their bed—to fetch him.

“Smells good.” Robin soaked up the delicious aromas as he came into the kitchen.

“Me or the crepes?” Adam expertly flipped a pancake. “Can you let himself into the garden? I suspect he’s bursting.”

“He probably doesn’t want to go out in case he misses a crumb falling on the floor.” Robin opened the back door and eased the dog outside, with a promise that they’d keep him some of their breakfast.

The radio was on, the relentlessly cheerful tones of the Monkees forming a standard part of Radio 2’s Saturday morning fodder. Adam’s well-nigh tuneless tones competed with Davy Jones’s much more melodious ones as they encouraged Sleepy Jean to cheer up.

“Just as well you didn’t sing for those kids.” Robin let Campbell back in. “You’d never have got the job.”

Adam had recently been interviewed—successfully—for a deputy headship that he’d be taking up at the start of the next term. The recruitment ordeal had included being grilled by the school council, who’d insisted that each candidate sing them a song. Adam, being a smart cookie, had managed to persuade the kids to do the singing instead, and they’d loved him for it.

“Look at me ignoring that.” Adam produced a stack of pancakes from the oven, where they’d obviously been keeping warm. “Get some of those inside you. Busy day.”

More than busy. Lunch with Adam’s mum, followed by a bit of shopping, trying to navigate the tricky issue of what Robin’s mother might want for her birthday. What do you get for the woman who insists that all she wants is for you not to be at work so you can share her birthday dinner?

“I just hope the bloody phone doesn’t go.”

“So do I. Can’t you put it onto divert and make the call go through to Anderson?”

“He’d kill me if I did.” There was another blessing, Anderson still being on Robin’s team, making snarky remarks and useful leaps of deduction. “Or at least put laxative in my coffee.”

Adam sniggered. “You need to make the most of him. He won’t be with you forever.”

“True.” Anderson’s promotion was on the horizon, as well. He’d proved himself a bloody good copper, as Robin had.

“Even Campbell likes him, and that dog’s no fool.”

“He’s an excellent judge of character.” Robin stirred his tea. “I wish there were more like Anderson in the force. People who don’t think themselves above being civil and pleasant to the old salts who’ll be walking the beat until their retirement.”

“More clones of you, then?”

“Why not?” Robin didn’t like to boast, but he knew he did his job well. He’d won plenty of friends on the way up, and when they neared retirement, he’d be on his way to becoming superintendent. “It’s not hard to do the job. Keep nicking people, keep your nose clean, and keep your paperwork up to date.”

“Yes, sah!” Adam saluted, then tucked in to his breakfast.

Robin had put away his third pancake and was eyeing a fourth when his mobile phone sounded. Adam made his eye-rolling “I hope that’s not work” face, although the bloke was getting used to being at the beck and call of Stanebridge police headquarters. You couldn’t expect anything else when you’d hitched up to a rozzer.

Robin grabbed the phone. “Robin Bright speaking.”

“Cowdrey here.” His boss’s not-so-dulcet tones came down the line. “Sorry to interrupt your Saturday morning, Robin, but we’ve got a tricky one. Bloke got killed last night, a stone’s throw from the Florentine restaurant, in Abbotston. Bit off our patch, but the local superintendent’s a friend of mine and wants us to handle things. His team’s tied up with those attacks.”

Abbotston, fifteen miles away, was twice the size of Stanebridge, with a crime rate four times as high, and its very own ongoing crisis. “The Abbotston Slasher,” the papers had christened whoever was making the knife attacks, although that title smacked more of Carry On films than the terrifying reality: three young women stabbed these last three months, each on the eve of the new moon, and one of them had died of her wounds. The moon would be new again tonight; Robin guessed leave had been cancelled and any unexplained death not related to the case would be an unwelcome distraction.

“Never rains but it pours, does it, sir?”

“Pours? It’s bloody torrential. There’s the cup tie, as well.”

“Oh hell, I’d forgotten about that.” Millwall hitting the town, to play non-league Abbotston Alexandra. Even their cleaning lady was going to the match. Robin mouthed Sorry at Adam, then grabbed a pen and notepad.

“What do we know about the murder, sir?”

“It happened about three o’clock this morning. A couple of passers-by found the victim alive, just, although unconscious, and they called an ambulance. He didn’t make it beyond the operating theatre. Died at six o’clock. ” Cowdrey sounded short of breath; he was corpulent, asthmatic but as hard as nails. “Stabbed four times at least.”

“Any leads?” Robin, while making notes, was already building up a picture. The Florentine was an upmarket kind of a restaurant to get stabbed near, the sort nominally run by an up-and-coming television personality chef. It attracted punters from across the Home Counties. Perhaps, he thought—irreverently and guiltily—the dead man was one of the waiters and the murderer had been a customer incensed at the size of the bill?

Whatever was going on, there was a guarded edge to the chief superintendent’s voice as he continued. “The men who found him reckoned he’d been drinking at a local bar earlier, and got himself into a fight there in the process. We got called in with the ambulance and managed to start taking statements at the club concerned. One of these all-night-opening places.” The slight hesitation in Cowdrey’s voice made Robin stiffen; he could guess what was coming.

“Which bar was this, sir?”

“The Desdemona.”

The Desdemona. Robin had been there once or twice, back when he was single; it wasn’t a bad sort of a place. It was on the pricey side, but the decor was tasteful, and there were neither slot machines nor TV screens to ruin the atmosphere. It was about two hundred yards from the Florentine, both of them in the posh part of Abbotston. And the bar flew a rainbow flag outside, which was presumably one of the reasons why he was being put onto the case when the local boys needed a hand.

“Homophobic element, sir?” Might as well ask the obvious.

“Too early to say.” Cowdrey exhaled, loudly. “Sorry, but I think your Saturday’s ruined. I’ll call Anderson and get him to meet you at the scene.”

“Thanks. I’ll be there in half an hour or so. Less if the traffic’s kind.” Robin ended the call, looked longingly at the fourth pancake, and decided to snaffle it now. It could be a while before he got anything else to eat today. At least Lindenshaw, where Adam lived, was the right side of Stanebridge for getting to Abbotston quickly.

“A case?” Adam said in the supportive tones—supportive but with an edge of resignation—he used on these occasions.

“Yeah. A bloke’s been murdered. Stabbing,” Robin said between mouthfuls.

“Blimey. It’s getting like Morse’s Oxford round here.” Adam half filled Robin’s mug. “Here, wash those pancakes down.”

“Thanks. And this is hardly Morse country. It’s only the second murder investigation I’ve led on.”

“That’s two too many.” Adam patted Robin’s hand. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be so tetchy.”

“I should be the one apologising. For buggering up the weekend.”

“It’s not your fault, it’s your job. Like marking a ton of books is mine.” Adam smiled. “And it’s best part of a year since the last one, so I shouldn’t complain, even though I probably will. Where did it happen?”

“It’s not our patch, thank goodness. Abbotston.” Robin let his guilt subside under the details of the case. “Near that posh restaurant with the Michelin star.”

“The one we could never afford to eat at?” Adam’s eyebrows shot up.

“That’s the one. Don’t think the victim ate there either. He’d been at the Desdemona, earlier.”

“The Desdemona? Did they bring you in because . . .?” Adam finished the question with another lift of his eyebrows.

“Because I’m a bloody good copper?” Robin grinned, then swigged down the tea before going over to give Adam a kiss. “No. My boss is bosom buddies with the local detective superintendent, so it was a case of helping out an old mate. The local guys are up to their eyeballs with these attacks on women, and if whoever’s doing it plays to form, there’s likely to be another tonight.”

“I know. Sally at the school lives over there, and she won’t go out after dark.” Adam gave Robin’s cheek a squeeze. “You look after yourself, right? I don’t want you getting stabbed.”

“Yes, Mother.” Robin swiped an apple from the fruit bowl, on the principle that it might be as much lunch as he’d get, then legged it upstairs to put on that bloody shirt and tie.


Abbotston wasn’t the kind of place Robin could warm to. The posh parts were much posher than anything Stanebridge had to offer, but it lacked character, except in some of the outlying areas where villages had been absorbed. The centre had been bombed during the war, and the rebuilding programme had been typically 1950s: utilitarian and horribly ugly. Part of it had seen recent redevelopment, and the Florentine was located there.

The telltale blue-and-white police tape surrounded a piece of concreted hardstanding behind an estate agent’s office next to the restaurant—probably where he or she parked their big, swanky car. The area was partially hidden from the street and not likely to be well lit at night, so you’d avoid it if you were female and the new moon was about to appear. Within its boundaries, a solitary crime scene investigator was finishing off his painstaking task.

Robin noted the groups of people gathered on the pavement, who stood for a while watching, then went about their normal Saturday morning business with the added bonus of a mystery to speculate about. Who, why, when? The word would soon get around. The local news was probably already carrying it, and people would watch, wonder, and just as soon forget. Robin wouldn’t be able to do that until the culprit had been brought to book.

According to Cowdrey, who’d briefed Robin on arrival at the scene, the victim had left the Desdemona, turned east, and headed up the main road, towards the smart new block of flats about a mile away, which, according to the business cards the CSI had found on his body, was the contact address he gave. It also turned out to be where the man lived. That was a mystery in itself, not because it was so unusual to work from home, but because he’d have had to double back to get to this end of town.

Thomas Hatton, Tax Consultant.

They’d found the victim’s wallet seemingly intact, so robbery didn’t appear to have been the motive. Hatton’s keys had been in his pocket too, and, once the CSI had finished at the scene, the police were going to have to work through the dead man’s flat, trying to build up a picture of him.

Four stab wounds indicated to Robin that hatred or some other deep passion had been involved. Though the police couldn’t rule out a random attack from somebody who was so drunk or drugged up that they didn’t know what they were doing.

He looked up and down the road. If Hatton had initially been heading home, why had he taken a detour and ended up here? Had he met someone en route and been walking with them? The early reports were that he’d left the club alone.

“Surprised nobody saw him being attacked, sir.” Sergeant Anderson’s voice at his shoulder made Robin jump.

“Must you creep up on people?”

Anderson grinned. “Reconstruction. I’ve proved the victim could have been crept up on. Assuming he hadn’t come along here voluntarily with his killer. Into a dark car park for a bit of slap and tickle, perhaps?”

“I’m not sure why anybody would have come up here.” Robin shrugged. It might be as simple as a few minutes of fun gone horribly wrong. “Hardly Lovers’ Lane.”

“Some people appreciate the sleazy aspect. I wonder why he wasn’t heard, either. Did he shout out? Or did he know whoever killed him, and get taken off guard?”

Robin nodded. Certainly children were most at risk from people they knew and trusted, family and friends being more dangerous statistically than strangers were. The same applied, if to a lesser extent, to adults. “Does it get that busy round here in the middle of the night? That you’d not be seen or heard?”

“Fridays and Saturdays, yes, or so my mates say. Clubs and bars turning out. The men who found him had been drinking not far from here. Not one of your haunts?”

“No,” Robin replied, coldly. “I can’t help wondering if these local drinkers are so universally sloshed that they wouldn’t notice somebody running away covered in blood? This would have got messy for the killer.”

“Some of the people who roll out of clubs are so far gone they wouldn’t notice if aliens invaded.” Anderson rolled his eyes. “Point taken, though.”

“I suppose if you had a big enough coat, one that you discarded for the attack and then put on again, you could have hidden a multitude of sins.” Especially under street lighting that would have been hazy at best. “If the killer made his or her way off into the residential area, they could have easily gone to ground. That’s supposed to be a complete rabbit warren.”

“You don’t like Abbotston, do you?”


“Not even the football team?” Anderson didn’t wait for a response. “I wouldn’t have minded getting called in for cup tie duty.”

“You enjoy aggro?” Abbotston Alexandra’s stunning progress through the early rounds of the FA Cup was about to be put to an end by a Millwall team who were having a great league run and whose supporters had a nasty reputation. All in all, Abbotston wasn’t a nice place to be at present.

Anderson made a face. “It would make more sense to escape up by the apartment blocks than to go along the main road. Unless you had a car waiting for you, then you’d slip in and Bob’s your uncle.” And a car wouldn’t have necessarily attracted attention at chucking-out time if things did get that busy, because there’d have been taxis milling around and people getting lifts home.

“That lack of noise bothers me. Even if Hatton was attacked suddenly by somebody he knew, he was stabbed time and again, so why didn’t he call out?”

“Maybe he did and the noise got swallowed up among the traffic. Or it coincided with some rowdy mob coming out of the Indian restaurant.” Anderson gestured vaguely along the road.

“Or, if he knew his attacker, that line of thought may be irrelevant because he could have let them get close enough to put a hand over his mouth.” Robin shook his head. Too much speculation and no proper evidence to go on, yet.

Robin glanced towards the pavement, the other side of the tape, where Cowdrey was talking to Wendy May, a young, tired-looking WPC, who’d been called the previous night to help take statements from the people at the Desdemona. Whose idea had it been to send a female, black officer into the club to accompany the white, male, local officers? Had someone seen the rainbow flag—or known of the establishment’s clientele—and decided that if they couldn’t find a gay officer, then some other minority member would have to do?

He wasn’t being fair, and he shouldn’t make snap judgements. WPC May was described as an excellent copper, but he’d always been sensitive to outbreaks of political correctness. It was a weakness he found hard to overcome. People said a gay copper would have opportunities galore to get on the force if he displayed any talent. And possibly if he didn’t; the powers that be wanted minority officers to hold up as examples of the constabulary’s open-mindedness.

It grated. Somehow being condescended to in such a way was as bad as coming up against rampant discrimination. Adam felt the same.

“Inspector Bright. Sergeant Anderson.” Cowdrey called them over. “WPC May has been updating me on the statements she took with Inspector Root. He’s gone to get a couple of hours’ sleep before this evening.” They all nodded.

“Is there anything to follow up, sir?” Robin liked presenting the superintendent with opportunities to show off his knowledge. It made the man happy and by some reverse psychology seemed to give Cowdrey the impression that Robin was a particularly bright spark.

“Hatton was involved in a scuffle inside the Desdemona club. He and the other man were ejected at about twelve forty-five. The doorman made sure they went off in opposite directions.”

Twelve forty-five. That left the best part of two hours unaccounted for.

“Do we know who the other man was?” Anderson asked the superintendent.

Cowdrey shook his head. “Seems like no one had seen him there before. Someone called him Radar, but that wound him up, so it’s not a lot of use.”

Radar? That was a character in a show they ran on the classic-comedy channel; maybe he was a fan? Or an air traffic controller, or one of a hundred other things. “I suppose it would have been easy enough for this ‘Radar’ to double back or go around the block and meet up with the victim again? How long would that take, May?”

“To get here? About four times as much as going direct. It wouldn’t take two hours, though.” The constable stifled a yawn.

Cowdrey adopted a paternally encouraging expression. “You’ve done a good job here, given us a start. Before you get some rest, can we pick your brains? Who would you follow up first out of the people you spoke to? You met them; we didn’t.”

May nodded. “As I said previously, sir, there was only one I think needs further questioning at the moment, and I’ve put his statement at the top of the pile. Max Worsley. I know it’s only a gut feeling, but I’m certain he knew more than he was saying.”

“Thank you. Go and put your feet up.” Cowdrey turned to Robin, handing him a dossier stuffed with paper. “There you are, Bright. Not often you get a murder to keep you two out of mischief.”

“Thank God for that, sir.”

“Think of it as good for your careers.” Cowdrey nodded at Anderson, then left, ushering May with him.

“Good for our careers?” Anderson snorted. “Only if we don’t make a pig’s ear of it.”

“Too true.” Robin looked at the dossier, glanced at where the murder had happened, then puffed out his cheeks. “I’m assuming we rule out a link to the Slasher?”

“Don’t you always tell me never to assume?” Anderson flashed his cheeky grin. “Can’t make an obvious connection, though. Victim’s the wrong sex; wounds aren’t in the same places.”

“That’s what I thought.” It would, however, be unwise to dismiss a connection entirely; last night had seen the appropriate phase of the moon. He noted the address on the statement. “Right. Get your phone and find out where Sandy Street is. Let’s see if this Worsley bloke has surfaced this morning.”

Sandy Street was in the part of Abbotston that had been developed back in Victorian times, when the railway arrived, best part of a mile from where Hatton had been found. The quality of the properties shot up a notch as they turned the corner in Worsley’s road.

“Number twenty-one will be on the left side.” Robin peered at the numbers. “Looks like you should be lucky with a parking space.”

They drew up outside an elegant town house; the column of names and bell pushes showed it had been divided into flats, though the facade was well maintained and there wasn’t the air of seediness there usually was about such conversions. They rang, gave their names and purpose over the intercom, were let in, and went up to the top floor. Worsley—a muscular bloke with two days of stubble and a gorgeous smile—was waiting for them at the turn of the stairs.

“It’s about last night.” Anderson dutifully flashed his warrant card. “One or two things we need to clarify.”

“Come in, I was just making myself some coffee. Bit of a late night. Want some?”

“I wouldn’t say no.” Anderson looked at Robin hopefully.

“Count me in as well.”

Worsley ushered them into a little dining area, set in a corner of the lounge, with a view of the local rooftops. A vase of flowers on the table and another on the bookshelves helped fill the place with colour. Worsley soon appeared, bearing coffee-filled china mugs, leaving the policemen to juggle with drinks, notebooks, and pens.

“Did you see either of the men who were in the scuffle at any other part of the evening?”

“Not really. I was too busy drinking and chatting with friends.”

Drinking with friends? Robin was trying to find a subtle way to phrase the natural follow-up question when Anderson cut in with, “Do you go to the Desdemona a lot?”

“As often as I can. Even my straight pals hang out at the place. I assume the question actually meant ‘am I gay?’” Worsley grinned.

“Not at all.” Anderson, if he’d been wrong-footed, made a swift recovery. “I was trying to establish if you were a regular there, in case you could tell us whether Hatton or the man he fought with had been at the club before.”

“My apologies. And no, I’ve never seen them there before. Not that I remember, anyway.”

Robin took a swig of coffee, earning some thinking time. What had May picked up that made her think Worsley had more to say? They couldn’t ignore the fact that he lived relatively close to the scene of the crime, and it was possible that he could have left the club, done the deed, run home to clean himself up, and returned to the Desdemona later, bold as brass.

“Have there ever been similar incidents near the Desdemona? Or the Florentine?” Anderson—eyes darting about—was clearly taking in the flat, maybe searching for clues. “Not necessarily stabbings, but trouble of any sort.”

“Not that I remember. The Desdemona’s a pretty staid place. Matches the area. Very quiet part of Abbotston. Safe.” Worsley shrugged and drank his coffee.

“And is there anything else, however small or insignificant it might seem, that you can add to what you told WPC May last night?” Robin was on the verge of closing his notebook and leaving.

Worsley’s face became guarded, as if he was weighing his options. “What do you know about Hatton? Come to think of it, what do you know about me?”

Well spotted, WPC May. Looks like you were right about him knowing more than he’d let on. Adam would be giving you a house point if you were in his class.

Robin shared a wary glance with his sergeant before replying. “Very little. Hatton’s business card says he was a tax consultant . . .”

“Tax consultant? I suppose he might have been by now, assuming he’d left GCHQ.”

“GCHQ?” Alarm bells started to go off in Robin’s head. “Do you mean Hatton was involved with the secret services? How on earth do you know that?”

“The answers to those are, in order, ‘yes,’ ‘he used to be,’ and ‘I did some computer work for them and saw him there.’” Worsley grinned again, the sort of grin that made Robin uncomfortable around the collar. If he didn’t know better, he’d say he was being flirted with.

You’re not my type, dear. And anyway, I’m already spoken for.

“Let me get this right,” Anderson said. “You saw him there? How long ago was that?”

“Oh . . .” Worsley wrinkled his brow. “Three years?”

“Three years and you remembered him?”

“Yes. I have a photographic memory for faces, especially handsome ones, and he was a real silver fox. How I hadn’t clocked him in the bar before the fight, I don’t know. Maybe because it was crazy busy.”

Maybe. If he was telling the truth.

“I’m bloody useless with names, unfortunately.” Worsley carried on, oblivious. “I must have seen him around and about GCHQ perhaps half a dozen times over the course of a month, even though I wasn’t working in his department.”

“I suppose you can’t tell us what you were doing there?” Anderson asked.

“Afraid not. Official Secrets Act and all that, although I’m sure you can verify my security clearance and the like, if you need to make sure I’m a good, reliable boy.”

“We will, believe me.” Anderson had clearly taken a dislike to this particular witness. “Did you notice anybody else you recognised from GCHQ while you were at the club?”

“No. Should I have?” Worsley appeared to be equally disenchanted with the sergeant.

“Please. We’re only trying to find out who killed Hatton,” Robin reminded them both. “You work in computing?”

“Yeah, part of a consultancy. Helping to put in new systems or troubleshooting old ones.” Worsley ran his finger round the rim of his mug. “And in answer to an earlier question, I have no idea if he was gay. He certainly didn’t give the impression of being on the pull last night.”

Robin nodded, but he’d keep an open mind on that point for the moment. “You said you saw Hatton half a dozen times. Ever speak to him?”

“Not back at GCHQ.”

“Last night?”

Worsley shrugged. “No.”

“What about the other guy in the fight?” Anderson asked. “Did you interact with him? You said you’d ‘not really’ seen either of them. Is that a yes or a no?”

“It’s a qualified no. Unless you count me saying ‘thank you’ when he held the door to the men’s toilets open. And for the record,” he added, with a sharp glance at Anderson, “nothing goes on in those toilets.”

“I never said anything.” Anderson raised his hands in a gesture of innocence that clearly fooled nobody. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in us trying the old ‘do you know of anyone who had a grudge against Hatton’ question? Or whether you’ve got any further bombshells to drop?”

“No, I’m sorry.” Worsley’s regret sounded genuine enough. “Although if that changes, I’ll get back to you. Have you a contact number?”

Robin produced a card with the relevant details on it. “This is the Stanebridge police station number, but someone there can make sure I get any message; I’ll ring you back.”

“Okie dokie.” Worsley took the card, studied it, then put it in his wallet. “Just as well I’ve got this, because I’ll never remember your names.”

“Don’t put yourself out remembering mine.” Anderson pushed back his chair, signalling that the interview was finished.

Robin made an apologetic face, smoothing over the awkwardness with some platitudes, before getting Anderson through the door. They were halfway down the stairs and out of earshot before he asked, “What rattled your cage?”

“Him. He put my back up.” Anderson made a face, as though even referring to Worsley left a bad taste in his mouth. “We should keep an eye on him.”

“And is that based on anything other than the fact he narked you?”

Anderson grinned. “Call it instinct. Anyway, if Hatton was still involved with GCHQ when he died, this is likely to get messy.”

Robin nodded. Murder wasn’t something he had a broad experience of, with the exception—the wonderful exception—of the case that had brought Adam across his path. Terrorism was outside his experience entirely. Of course, Hatton might have been acting as nothing more than a tax consultant at the time of his death, or that could be a cover story; they’d have to wait for further information.

“We’ll get back to the station and plough through the rest of the statements first.” They’d reached the car, although Robin stopped and took a deep breath before getting in. “And we’ll get Davis to work her usual magic on the background stuff.”

“Sounds good. She’ll love you for spoiling her weekend.” Anderson grimaced.

“She can join the club. Your Helen won’t have been happy at you getting called in.”

Anderson shrugged. “She’s got a hen do tonight, so she’s glad to have me out from under her feet.”

“I’ll volunteer you for more Saturday jobs, then.” Adam wouldn’t be so glad. He accepted the long hours as part of a policeman’s lot, in the same way he worked every hour God sent at times, but they’d got used to having their weekends together. Robin was ready to go, but Anderson seemed to be lost in thought. “Are you thinking about the earache you’ll get if I keep screwing up your weekends?”

“No. I’m trying to work out why he bugs me.” Anderson jerked his thumb towards the house. “He’ll be trouble. Mark my words.”

“I will.” Robin started up the engine. Trouble? Robin couldn’t work out how. But the nagging voice in his head reminded him that Anderson had been right about this kind of thing before.

Chapter Two
Adam and Campbell took advantage of having time on their own by taking a Saturday morning run. Since Robin had moved in, they’d had to adapt to a new routine, and while Adam wasn’t complaining—a change of habits was far preferable to an empty space in his heart—sometimes it was nice to slip back into bachelor ways. Campbell clearly appreciated the opportunity as well, straining at his lead to urge Adam on to faster speeds.

Mum would be sad not to see Robin at lunch, though, given her soft spot for him, and Campbell couldn’t take his place at the restaurant, no matter how much he’d have relished the chance. She often said she was lucky she got to see Robin at all; in fact, it seemed like a miracle that he and Robin got to spend any time together, given the hours they both put in. Thank God the Stanebridge crime rate wasn’t soaring, particularly in the school holidays when there wasn’t quite so much work to call on Adam’s time.

“Slow down, Campbell.” Adam pulled on the lead, trying to restrain the dog’s enthusiasm. “I’ve got a lot to do today, and you’ll wear me out before I’ve even started.”

And he’d have to do it on his own, given that Robin wasn’t likely to be back until late. Murder or child abduction took priority over everything else, as did this Abbotston Slasher business. Sally, one of the learning support assistants in the infants’ part of the school, wasn’t the type to panic, being used to dealing with children with bodily fluids coming out of every orifice at once. She was kind but formidable; Adam wouldn’t have liked to meet her in a dark alleyway if she bore him a grudge. Even so, she was locking her door in the evening and never going out alone at night, if only to put the bins on the pavement, irrespective of the phase of the moon. Apparently her neighbours were similarly edgy. It didn’t help that she knew one of the victims, although said victim refused to discuss how awful the experience had been for her.

“Murder’s never nice, is it, Campbell?” Adam hadn’t intended to voice his thoughts, but they’d come out anyway. Just as well there was nobody but the dog within earshot.

The repercussions spread wider than the victim and his or her family; Adam knew that from experience. Those in the vicinity of the crime, witnesses to it, and those who ended up under suspicion all suffered. And the poor bloody rozzers, as Robin kept reminding him, had to mop up the mess while juggling too many balls, not least the interest of the media. What chance of the national press keeping away if there turned out to be a link to the Florentine and its celebrity chef? Adam had gone through that once before, when the media had invaded Lindenshaw on the heels of the murder at the school. He envied no one the experience.

Adam shivered, a sudden wave of cold sweeping over him as he recalled those days. “Come on.” He and Campbell broke into a run, which might both warm him up and make the unpleasant memories go away.

Hopefully Robin would get home at a reasonable time that evening, so Adam could fuss over him, feed him up, and get a bit of a debrief. Not that a mere schoolteacher would be able to offer anything in the way of insight to the average police problem, but Robin said having to explain the case to somebody not involved helped him to get things clear in his mind. Not only that: when Adam asked for clarification or needed points explained, Robin said he sometimes began to view matters afresh, get a new angle on things, and cut through the dross. It helped.

The first batch of dross came with the late afternoon local news on the telly, the stabbing taking precedence even over the FA Cup game. Adam, curled up on the sofa with Campbell, both content from lunch and a postprandial nap, watched with interest.

“A man was found dead with stab wounds early this morning in Abbotston,” the reporter said, in a piece that must have been filmed earlier that day.

“No sight of himself,” Adam said, scratching Campbell’s ear. “He’ll be avoiding the cameras, I guess.”

“Police are appealing for witnesses, particularly anyone who saw a fight in the Desdemona club in Abbotston last night.” The reporter finished her piece and the feed went back to the studio, where talk turned to the gutsy but ultimately losing performance by Abbotston Alexandra.

The football fans had behaved themselves, miracle of miracles. Maybe it had been the result—or the unexpected sunshine—that had tempered things.

“Perhaps the police got the catering staff to put something in the half-time Bovrils, to take the edge off their aggression. Like you need when you see that big moggy from up the road.” Adam grinned at the dog’s expression. “Only joking. With any luck, your favourite person will be back to tuck you up in bed.”

Adam’s hope came true, but only just. The clock was striking nine when Robin came through the door, tie undone, looking desperately tired. They’d worked out a routine for such occasions, one that got sporadically reversed when Adam was late back from a governors’ meeting or a school parents’ evening. Robin kicked off his shoes and slumped on the settee with Campbell while his better half performed the kitchen duties, rustling up a hot drink and a bite to eat, waiting for it to be wolfed down before getting into any proper conversation. Feeding the body before he exercised the brain.

“We saw your case on the news, although I doubt we got the real story.” Adam settled himself on the sofa once the dishes were put away. “Campbell doesn’t believe anything he sees on the telly anymore.”

“He’s always had a lot of sense, that dog.”

“He won’t grill you if you’d rather clear your mind.”

“Nah. I’d rather keep you up to date.” Robin gave Adam an outline of some of the things the media didn’t yet know, including what the police had found out about the dead man, which admittedly wasn’t a lot at present. “Every indication is that he genuinely was working as a tax consultant, so the witness we had who saw him at GCHQ either made a mistake or Davis hasn’t managed to trace things back far enough. We’ll come at it fresh tomorrow. Sorry to spoil the weekend. I never even asked how your mum is.”

“She’s blooming. Kept going on about her new bridge partner. I might be getting a new dad, the way she talks.” Adam rubbed his partner’s arm. “And don’t worry about tomorrow. Now I can’t feel guilty at the pile of marking and planning I have to do. I suspect you’ve got the better deal.”

Robin stifled a yawn. “Sez you. Right. Bed. I could sleep for a week.”

“I’ll set the alarm to make sure you don’t. Come on, boy,” Adam encouraged Campbell to come with him to the kitchen. “You go up, Robin, while I get this lump settled for the night.”

By the time Adam had made sure the dog emptied his bladder and was happy in his basket, and got himself ready for bed, Robin was out for the count. Adam watched over him for a while, concerned at how tired the bloke appeared, upset that he’d been deprived of his well-deserved weekend of rest. He supposed this would always come with the territory.

Adam just hoped that this case would get sorted out as soon as possible, and normal—or what passed for normal—life could resume. He also hoped it wouldn’t veer quite as close to home as the previous murder case had.

Sunday morning brought rain, so the prospect of having to work—marking or investigating—wasn’t too unpleasant. Robin, looking refreshed, wolfed down his breakfast and talked murders.

“There are various possibilities, but you need to start with the obvious,” he said, waving a slice of toast and driving Campbell mad in the process. “I’d always go down the line of nearest and dearest, because they’re the people you’re most at risk from.”

“Charming. Still, I suppose you’re right. Who were Hatton’s nearest and dearest?”

Robin shrugged. “Not sure yet. Both parents are dead. No wife, no live-in girlfriend—or boyfriend. Nothing much on social media and very little evidence in his flat of any relationships, apart from some packets of condoms, so possibly he always played away from home and kept it casual.”

“Possibly.” Somebody must have known the man, though. “But it could have been the person he got into that fight with, couldn’t it? Was that an unhappy client who’d found out Hatton had been swindling him?”

“That’s for us to find out. Mind you, given the GCHQ angle, the attack might have been about something distinctly nasty.”

Adam shuddered. “The Slasher is bad enough. Can you imagine terrorists loose in Abbotston? My mum would have kittens. Campbell would have kittens.”

The Newfoundland frowned, looking suitably offended.

“Did he strike last night, by the way?” Adam asked.

“Not that I’ve heard, but I’ve been wrapped up in my own case. Anything on the news?”

“Not a dickie bird. This Hatton couldn’t have been him? Somebody found out and got their retaliation in first?” The timings were remarkably coincidental if there wasn’t a link.

“We did think of that, you know, Superintendent Matthews.” Robin slapped Adam’s arm. “Nothing to suggest a connection in his flat, although we’re keeping an open mind. Okay. Let’s go and see what the new day brings. Not sure when I’ll be home, I’m afraid. I’ll text you, but it could be late. Sorry.”

“I’ll make a cottage pie or a casserole or something. Easy enough to heat up when you do get back.”

“You spoil me. God knows what it would have been like if this case had cropped up before I met you.”

“You wouldn’t have eaten properly, for a start,” Adam said, avoiding anything emotional. This wasn’t the time or the place; best leave it for when the case was wrapped up and they could wrap themselves up in the duvet in their big, comfy bed. Which might be a while off, but it was a more enticing prospect than the pile of marking on Adam’s desk.


Stanebridge police station in the rain wasn’t exactly the world’s nicest place; a damp odour hung about it, mingling with the smell of disinfectant from where one of the Saturday night drunks had disgraced himself. Or herself. We are an equal opportunity puking facility.

Davis was hovering outside his office.

“Here’s what we’ve got sir.” She waggled a file.

“Have you been here all night?”

“No. Not quite, anyway. I can get forty winks this afternoon. If you let me,” she added, with a smile at Anderson, who had appeared in the doorway. “It’s useful living in Abbotston. I called in to Hatton’s block of flats on my way here and helped his next-door neighbour put out her recycling. Little old lady. Great source of information.”

“Aren’t they always?” Anderson settled behind his desk. “What did she say?”

“That Hatton was one for the women. He left at least two of them to mourn him, one in Abbotston and one here in Stanebridge. A shop girl for weekdays and a bit of posh totty for high days and holidays.”

Robin flinched. He would have rapped Anderson’s knuckles for talking like that; he couldn’t decide whether Davis needed the same. What was sauce for the goose . . .

If Anderson had noticed Robin’s reaction, he didn’t show it. “Blimey. Got any names?”

“Not surnames. Beryl and Sandra, which is why the woman remembered them. Characters off some old TV programme, she said.” Davis shrugged. “Anyway, I’ll have a shufti through his address books. Mrs. Cowan, that’s my friend with the recycling, says she’d expect Beryl the shop girl to be heartbroken and Sandra the posh one to be pretty philosophical.”

Anderson would have said that put to bed the question of whether Hatton was gay, but that was being too simplistic.

“And what’s that observation based on? How the Liver Birds would react?” Robin ignored Anderson’s quickly suppressed chuckle. So what if he’d gone and outed himself as a fan of TV reruns? He’d been indoctrinated in British comedy classics at his mother’s knee.

“Not with you, sir.” Davis frowned. When elucidation wasn’t forthcoming, she cracked on. “Anyway, she’s met Sandra, and wasn’t particularly impressed. The other woman she’d just heard about.”

“Good work. Which would be even better if you got their addresses.” Robin tried his most persuasive smile.

“I’m on it, sir.” Davis waggled what must have been Hatton’s mobile phone. “I’ll get May on the case, too, when she comes in.”

“Excellent. She struck us as being perceptive.”

Davis rolled her eyes. “She is. Workwise. Wouldn’t trust her choice in blokes; she’s had a few dodgy fellers. Now she goes out with a dog handler.” She smiled, then left them to contemplate Hatton’s complicated love life.

“Sounds like Hatton got himself in the old eternal triangle, sir. What’s the chance that one of the girls got overcome by the green-eyed monster and took her revenge on the love rat?”

“Must you talk like you’re a tabloid journalist? Some offices have swear boxes—you need a cliché box.” Robin shook his head, although Anderson was quite right. Was one of these women the deadly “nearest and dearest” he’d been talking to Adam about? The sudden reappearance of Davis, still clutching the mobile phone and wearing a superior smile, suggested he wouldn’t have long to wait to find out.

“Beryl’s rung. She had a hell of a shock to hear a female voice on the end of the line.”

“I bet she thought you were Sandra.” Anderson said.

“I’m not posh enough for that!” Davis laid on the Welsh accent good and thick. “Anyway, she’s been away for a few days and heard the news on the radio when she came back. She was hoping against hope it was about another bloke called Hatton.”

Robin nodded. It was one of the parts of the job he loathed intensely, telling people that their loved one wouldn’t be coming home. “How is she?”

“Devastated, like Mrs. Cowan said she would be. She wants to talk to you, though. As soon as is convenient.”

“We’ll get round there now.” Robin picked up his car keys from the desk where he’d not long since laid them down. Chances were it would be late that evening before they lay in their usual place in the hallway.

Author Bio:
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.


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