The Cuckoo Murders

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Chapter 25

Early the following morning Grey was pouring over the details of the search of Ward’s house. Giordano had reported there was evidence of contact with someone with the name Cameron, and meetings with him on the days she deposited cash into her bank. Circumstantial evidence at best, but perhaps enough to make her talk. The search team found no evidence of drug abuse or paedophilia, but hard evidence of debt problems, several final demands, and threats from bailiffs. Ward had said she gambled, but no evidence was found to confirm that. No receipts, no old betting slips, no statements, nothing. The debts gave her a clear motive for working with McVey.

She called Giordano and asked her to join her. Giordano arrived after a few seconds.

‘Morning Jo, how’re you doing?’

Giordano sat down heavily on the plastic chair in front of Greys desk. ‘Ohm not bad, thanks. Had a good time with Dave last night.’ She said.

‘Go anywhere nice?’

Giordano blushed again as she had two days earlier when Grey had quizzed her about her first date with Echo. ‘No, we stayed in at my flat.’

‘Ooh, romantic. Sounds like he’s love’s young dream to me.’

Giordano giggled. ‘You really are terrible. We’re getting along alright but I’ve only seen him twice.’

Grey tapped her nose. ‘Listen to aunty Sheila. I can tell you’re made for each other.’

‘Well so far so good. Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t drag me in here to talk about my love life. How can I help?’

‘I’ve been looking at the Ward case notes. The search uncovered circumstantial evidence that this Cameron person paid her for information on Alicia Monk. I wondered if you’d uncovered any pattern with her other children.’

‘Not yet, at least nothing we could build a case with, but there are a couple of addresses we could check out. The problem is she might hear about it.’

‘Why does it matter? If she has been selling information, we can lock her up.’ Grey said, puzzled at Giordano’s caution.

‘It matters because even if we do find that these addresses are compromised, we will not be able to prove that she was the cause. All we will have is more circumstantial evidence.’

‘So, we have to crack her.’

‘I can’t think of any other way at the moment. Plus, I don’t see how she will bring us any closer to finding who killed Markovic, and that’s our priority. We already have McVey locked up, and as far as we know he’s the only person she’s involved with.’

At that moment Grey’s phone rang. She picked up the receiver and listened, her expression turning from serious to apprehensive in the space of seconds. She replaced the receiver and said, ‘I’ve got to go. They’ve found a body in Foot Meadow.’

‘Another one? That’ll make five this week! What is going on?’ Giordano exclaimed.

‘Call Thomas, ask him to meet me there. The tunnels under West Bridge.’ Grey said gathering her bag and hurrying out.

Grey ran to her car, zapped the locks, opened the door, and threw her kit bag onto the back seat. She strapped herself in and put the pedal to the metal. She turned left onto the A45 and exited at the first junction above the cross of Queen Eleanor. From there it was a straight line past Wootton Hall and then a sharp right downhill towards St. Peter’s Way, past Castle Station, over West Bridge and she was there.

She parked her car, hazards flashing, on the kerbside at the entrance to Foot Meadow and hurried down the ash path towards the river. On her left below was a grassy area that led to the tunnels under West Bridge. On their right in front of her the river flowed alongside the London to Birmingham railway lines.

Grey avoided the uneven grassy area and kept to the ash path as far as she could, until it ended twenty yards east of the tunnel where the body lie. Uniformed officers had already erected a perimeter and she had to show her ID before being let inside.

The ground underneath the tunnel was saturated. Her shoes sank six inches into stinking black mud. One of them stuck and she toppled forward, landing softly, but ruining her designer suit before one of the constables gave her a hand up. Finally finding firm ground she used a whole packet of tissues to wipe herself down. Nevertheless, her black trouser suit now had a smelly stripe the length of her torso, and her face and hair were blotted with mud patches.

The naked body of a woman lie on her back near the east wall, fifteen feet inside the tunnel. The ambient light was not great, making detailed inspection difficult. Grey asked a constable to bring a static from his car. While she waited, she called the pathologist and a team of SOCOs. Even from this distance she could see that this body showed similar injuries to those found on Markovic. Cut throat, no blood.

Two lights were positioned to provide her with a better view. She approached the body as closely as she could without touching it. The face, breasts, and stomach were heavily bruised, indicating she had been badly beaten before death. Ligature burns were evident on the wrists and ankles. Across the throat was a clean cut the width of the ears.

‘Who found her?’ Grey asked one of the constables.

‘Anonymous call mam. Early this morning. We arrived half an hour ago, called it in straight away.’

‘Surely somebody must have noticed it here?’

‘It’s surprisingly quiet at this end of the meadow mam, especially at this time of the year. The body could have been here for some time without being noticed.’ The constable said.

‘Well there was no effort to conceal it. Somebody wanted us to find it quickly.’

Grey noticed Jane Edwards hurrying across the grass towards her. Grey tiptoed gingerly to meet her. ‘Careful Jane, it’s sticky here. Have you brought your wellies?’

Edwards was treading carefully over the uneven ground. At ten yards away she said. ‘Morning Sheila. The bodies are stacking up this week. Didn’t realise we were in a war zone.’

‘Five so far. This one’s female.’ Grey said.

Edwards stopped just short of the tunnel, lay her bag on the grass, and pulled out her theatre blues. She slipped them on and then tugged on a pair of nitrile gloves. ‘Let’s have a look then,’ she said, and picked up her bag and approached the body. ‘We could do with more light, it’s quite dark in here.’ Grey signalled to a constable and a minute later three more statics were in place, shining directly onto the body. ‘Let’s erect a screen too please.’ Edwards said to nobody in particular, but again Grey made a gesture and the constables wasted no time.

Inside the protective screen Edwards busied herself with the body. Meanwhile, Grey decided to have a look around the area while she waited for the SOCOs and Thomas. Despite being so close to the centre of town the meadow had a bleak feel to it. High above, endless traffic roared across the bridge, but here, fifty feet below, was an eerie silence, and an atmosphere of desolation.

The eastern side had no public access for half a mile. The river Nene and the railway closed the near border. Likewise, there was no access from the north or the south. To the north a tributary of the river cut off any possible entrance, and an industrial estate with petroleum storage tanks cut off the southern border. The only way in, with easy access to the tunnels, was the western entrance that Grey had used.

Further east, on the other side of the railway tracks, the meadow continued for another half a mile until it reached the site of the old gas works. That side was popular with walkers, but this side was rarely visited.

Grey was certain the victim had not been killed where she lie and wondered how the body had been transported. There really was no way in other than from the busy road above. Surely the murderer would not have risked using that entrance, which left only the Tanner Street entrance half a mile away. Was that feasible?

Thomas arrived ten minutes later. ‘What have we got this time?’ He asked.

‘Female sir. Uniforms found her after an anonymous tip-off early this morning. Pathologist is with her now but it looks like her throat was cut and there are bruises on the body. Lots of similarities to the Markovic case sir. No blood.’ Grey said.

‘So she wasn’t killed here. I wonder how she got here. I can’t imagine anyone using the entrance on the bridge, it’s too busy. Is there another way in?’ Thomas asked.

‘Only from Tanner Street sir, half a mile away through the other tunnels over there, under the railway.’ Grey said, pointing east.

‘Can’t imagine anyone carrying a body half a mile, just to dump it under a bridge. It’s illogical.’ Thomas walked slowly towards the screen and had just reached it when Edwards stood up.

‘Ah, Brian. Good timing. Female, early forties, throat cut by a right-handed person, no blood. Almost the same as Mr. Markovic. Time of death about ten to ten thirty last night. Did not die here. She was brought here.’ Edwards said.

‘Grey said there were bruises.’ Thomas said.

‘Yes she was beaten badly before she died. The wounds are not from fists. Someone used a rod or bat on her.’

Before he could respond his mobile buzzed. ‘Sorry Jane, I have to take this.’ He said, putting the phone to his ear. It was the Chief’s secretary, asking him to have lunch with him later that day. Thomas agreed and put the phone back in his pocket. He walked over towards Grey and said. ‘We need to identify her as soon as possible.’

‘I think I know who she is sir. We will need to check prints but I think it’s Diana Hall. I arrested her a long time ago and I recognise her face.’ Grey said.

‘Hall, wasn’t she mentioned in connection with McVey?’

‘Yes sir, according to Micky, she runs one of the County Line operations.’

Thomas stood motionless, deep in thought. ‘Let’s discuss this back at the Centre. Finish up here and meet me in my office. Bring Giordano with you.’ He said.

Grey stayed until SOCOs arrived and the body was removed, and then made her way up the path to her car. It was late morning when she arrived back at Brackmills. She collected Giordano and together they made their way to Thomas’ office. They found him standing by the side of his whiteboard with a marker in his hand. He invited them to take a seat as he put down the marker and took his own seat behind his desk.

‘I think this latest case confirms what we have suspected all along. The victim is Diana Hall, who together with McVey and the Frenchman Boucher, appear to have been running heroin in the town. The Khans were small-time dealers, and Markovic was certainly a dealer. It’s too much of a coincidence to think that they are not linked. I think we may have a power struggle in a County Line operation on our hands.’ He said.

‘I agree sir. I’m sure Micky was killed because he knew too much, and there’s no question in my mind that someone set up McVey.’

Giordano looked at Thomas’ whiteboard and said, ‘I see you’ve drawn a structure chart sir with an unknown person at the top, and McVey, Boucher, and Hall at the next level. If that’s correct, then someone is making a play to take over that rank. McVey was set up, Hall is dead, leaving only Boucher. Has he been trying to remove the competition?’

‘Let’s not forget that Riley is thought to be Boucher’s man, and Riley killed the Khans.’ Grey said. ‘Plus, Ronnie operated in Bellinge, which we think is Boucher’s patch.’

‘So did Markovic sir.’ Giordano added.

‘It all points to this man Boucher.’ Thomas said. ‘Do we have anything on him?’

‘No sir, he’s a bit of a ghost. Everyone’s heard of him, but nobody has set eyes on him.’

‘When is Hall’s autopsy?’ Thomas asked.

‘This afternoon sir. Jane thinks around two.’ Grey said.

‘Well I have to see the Chief, but I’ll try to make it.’

The meeting broke up shortly afterwards. Grey and Giordano strolled back along the corridor deep in thought. ‘I wonder what the Chief wants to see him about?’ Giordano asked.

‘No idea, but it must be something. He doesn’t like Thomas, and Malan is always stabbing him in the back. Watch this space.’ Grey said.

Later that morning Thomas reported to the Chief Constable’s private office. After a few moments, his secretary ushered him into his private dining room where the Chief and Malan were waiting.

They were both drinking Sherry when Thomas entered. ‘Ah, Thomas, thank you for finding the time. Drink?’

‘Sherry, please sir.’ Thomas said, examining Malan while the Chief poured his drink. Malan was in pain, he could see it in his eyes. He was trying to hide it, but he winced every few seconds, and he looked gaunter than ever.

‘Take a seat Thomas,’ said the Chief, handing him his drink. Thomas sat at the oval dining table flanked by Malan and the Chief. He took a sip of the Sherry. Not his favourite drink but this one was quite smooth and not too sweet.

‘Now then Thomas, Chief Superintendent Malan has told you about his illness. He told me a few days earlier and had my blessing to share it with you. Unless there’s a miracle, and we pray there will be, he is going to have to leave his post in the coming few weeks.’

‘He did sir, it’s very sad.’

‘It is what it is Thomas. As I recall when my predecessor retired you declined to take his job, but now the position will be free again.’ Malan continued.

It was not lost on Thomas that he was getting it in both ears, and the seating arrangements were no accident. Malan to his left, the Chief to his right. Still it must have been heart-breaking for Malan.

Thomas studied the menu. A few moments later a waitress entered and hovered beside the three men. Each gave their order, Thomas electing for a Caesar Salad. The Chief ordered a beef pie, and Malan made do with the soup.

‘We need someone who understands the town Thomas, someone who can hit the ground running. Your record in leading the Serious Crimes Unit is one of the best in the Country.’ The Chief said.

‘Thank you, sir. I have an excellent team.’

‘Well let’s stop beating about the bush. Chief Superintendent Malan thinks you would be a perfect fit, and so do I.’

Thomas was surprised that Malan had recommended him, and that the Chief was giving him a second chance. Neither had done him any favours since he had turned the job down some years before. It was time to make a decision, but truthfully, he had already made it. Alice had convinced him.

‘I didn’t feel ready a few years ago sir, but things have changed now. I have more experience.’ He said.

‘So, you’ll take the job?’ The Chief asked.

‘I’ll be honoured to sir.’ He said. His stomach dropped as he said it, but the Chief’s face lit up and Malan gave him a knowing look.

‘Excellent Thomas. You will of course need to build your own team. You’ll have a free hand, within budgetary constraints of course.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ He said.

Malan asked. ‘Will you look within or farther afield Thomas?’

This was the first hurdle and it had arrived faster than he had expected. Still, better to be firm now, even if Malan was going to disapprove. ‘Grey is ready for a move up sir, and Giordano has the ability to be SIO when needed. Other than those two I think I’ll look outside.’

Strangely Malan seemed to have expected his answer. ‘Good choices Thomas, both excellent officers.’ Malan said.

Thomas was astonished but said nothing. It was obvious the Chief and Malan had choreographed their moves.

The rest of the meeting was a blur of congratulations and anecdotes. Thomas came out feeling slightly punch drunk but delighted, nevertheless. They had agreed to make Malan’s retirement public without delay which gave Thomas licence to speak to Grey and Giordano as soon as he liked.

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