The Cuckoo Murders

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Chapter 3

While Riley mobilised his men, and Maric pondered where to start, events were about to overtake them. As often happens in life, the best laid plans are derailed by chance events, and the search for Markovic was one such.

In fact his body was found at just about the time Kubric was making his closing speech. A dog walker had stumbled upon it in Eastfield Park at about ten fifteen that night.

One of the most pleasant features of Northampton is its many parks. Northampton boasts being the largest town in England and it also has the largest area of green parkland acreage in the country.

Eastfield Park covers sixty acres and lies between Booth Lane to the East and Hillcrest Avenue to the West. To the North runs the main highway to Kettering. It holds a play area for children, two sports fields, a lake, and borders Cynthia Spencer Hospice, a palliative care home for the terminally ill.

Like many parks in Northampton it has a long history. There are records of it dating as far back as the seventeenth century, but its current shape was formed after James Manfield of boot and shoe fame, built Weston Favell House at the turn of the twentieth century. Manfield introduced the lake and ponds for fishing and boating and constructed a ha-ha to separate his house from the park. Inside the ha-ha was a Bull Ring of twenty-six lime trees and inside those a statue of a man and a wild boar. The statue no longer exists but the ha-ha and Bull Ring remain.

The body of Malkovic was found lying face down in the stream running below the ha-ha and inside the Bull Ring. The walker’s dog had run off and its owner had caught up with it yelping and tugging at Markovic’s clothing. In the dark it had been difficult to make out what the dog was chewing on but one touch of the stone-cold neck had made him recoil in shock, and after throwing up the trembling dog owner had dialled 999. The emergency control room despatched a squad car to the scene and after a cursory glance, the constables called in a sudden death and asked for CID.

Serious crime in Northamptonshire was handled by the Serious Crimes Team, headed by Detective Chief Inspector Brian Thomas, his assistant Detective Inspector Sheila Grey, her partner Detective Inspector Jo Giordano, plus a few constables and support staff. The Team dealt with all category A crimes including rape, murder, armed robberies, drugs, terrorism, and any crimes involving the use of firearms. Thomas was called to the scene just after eleven that same evening and on his way he called his senior Grey. Grey lived in Booth Lane so arrived at the scene before Thomas.

Grey lived so close she could have walked but drove instead, parked her car in Kettering Road on the grass verge close to Cynthia Spencer Hospice and walked down the gravelly lane towards the ha-ha in the park. It was cold and the ground was covered with a heavy dew. The night air was damp and there was a hint of mist. The path was uneven. She plotted her way slowly with the aid of a hand-held torch. The lane was called Apple Tree Walk but there were no apple trees that she could see, maybe because it was dark, maybe because there were not any, she could not tell which. Narrow and flanked by high hedges and bushes, visibility was down to only a few yards. At any other time she might have been worried about being attacked by muggers or rapists, but with the squad car’s headlights on full beam a few hundred yards ahead she felt safe enough. Nevertheless, her free hand was clutching her pepper spray.

The lane ran adjacent to the back gardens of a small housing estate. Some of the houses had bedroom lights glowing behind closed curtains. A dog barking gave her a jolt, but it was quickly followed by an irritated shout from its owner and the barking stopped. After a few hundred yards the lane opened out onto the park. To her left Grey could make out two constables standing close to the squad car, and a tall thin man with a dog on a lead. The man looked as though he would rather be anywhere else but where he was.

One of the constables recognised Grey as she approached and said without preamble. ‘The body’s over here, by the stream.’ He pointed the way towards the ha-ha.

Grey nodded and said. ‘You need to secure the area. Erect a perimeter say about 30 yards all round. Is the doctor on the way?’

‘Yes mam.’

‘I take it you haven’t touched the body?’

‘No mam, not really got anywhere near it.’

‘And the man with the dog?’

‘He discovered the body and called it in. Be careful over there, it’s slippery, and he spewed up with shock.’

‘I’ll need to talk to him but first I’ll look at the body.’ She said.

The constable moved off and said a few words to the man with the dog, then gestured to his partner after which the two of them began rummaging in the back of the squad car for some tape and supports.

Grey pulled out a pair of nitrile gloves and shoe covers from her pocket and put them on. The bank down to the stream from the ha-ha was steep and slippery with dew. There was no natural light. What little moonlight there was, was obscured by the trees surrounding the Bull Ring and so Grey used her torch as a guide. She trod carefully; the nitrile shoe covers made the going even more treacherous. She grabbed hold of a low hanging branch to help ease herself down towards the body. When she was about a foot away, she let go and crouched closer. She shone the torch on the head, looking for signs of injury.

The body was face down with the head below the surface of the stream. A male, short hair, a dark coat with the collar turned up meant she could not examine the neck, arms bent slightly at the elbows, palms up, grubby dark trousers that looked too long, and dark rubber-soled shoes. Grey stretched out her arm so the beam from the torch was within inches of the head. She could see nothing obvious. No blood, no bruising of the scalp, no smell of alcohol or other substance.

Next the arms. The positioning was unusual. If the man had tripped it would have been natural to see the arms outstretched to break the fall. Often arms are broken as a result but there was no sign of that, they simply hung by the side of the body as if they had been placed in that position. No rings were visible on the fingers.

The legs too looked staged. Too straight, and the feet, pointed toes out, away from one another. If this had been an accident Grey would have expected to find at least one leg bent at an angle from the rest of the body, but they were spread straight out. If she could have levered the body upright the man would have been in a kind of robotic standing position. Not a fall then and very unusual.

So how had he got there, and why? The ha-ha separated the park from the Hospice and it was far from the defined walks in the park which were prepared with crushed gravel. Unless someone was going to try to gain access to the rear of the Hospice there was no reason to go anywhere near this area, especially at night-time. Of course, it was possible the body had been there during daylight hours because the stream was hidden from the main park, but surely someone would have noticed it.

Just then Grey heard footsteps behind her and turned to see Jane Edwards, the Forensic Pathologist, approach holding her medical bag. Grey had had many dealing with Edwards in the past and they were on first name terms.

‘Evening Jane, you must be shorthanded if they’ve called you out.’

‘Hello Sheila. Well I’ve had to include myself in the roster for a few months. One of my team is on maternity leave. What have we got?’ She asked as she eased herself into her white coverall. With the hood up she looked like a snowman.

‘Male, fully clothed, head in the stream. Be careful, the slope is very slippery and steep, and there’s vomit from a dog walker close by.’

‘We need more light. Can we ask the constables to move the car, so the headlights are shining on the area? And do they have a static? It might do for a preliminary examination.’

Grey called a constable over and asked him to move the car round and bring a static strobe light or whatever he had that might prove useful. A few minutes later the area was lit up as best it could be for the time being. Edwards inched her way down the steep bank, one hand holding onto Grey’s arm, the other holding her medical bag.

She gripped a small Maglite between her teeth.

While Edwards was working Grey decided to talk to the dog owner. She found him sitting in the passenger seat of the squad car, his dog lying patiently on the wet grass, front legs stretched out in front with its head resting on them.

‘How’re you feeling?’ She asked.

The man was mid forties, tall, thin, with receding dark hair. He wore a short grey North Face hiking jacket and black corduroy trousers. ‘Bit shocked’. He replied. ‘Not the kind of thing you expect when you take your dog for a walk.’

‘Do you live round here?’ She asked.

‘Yes, Coniston Avenue, number seventy-seven.’

‘Can you talk me through what happened, starting from when you began your walk?’

‘I left home about a quarter to ten intending to do my normal walk. I always come into the park from the bottom of the avenue, walk up the lane towards the Hospice then veer right by the ha-ha, and follow the perimeter of the park. Usually takes about half an hour or so. I had begun walking by the ha-ha when the dog ran off towards the stream. That wasn’t unusual, he does it most nights. But he didn’t come back when I called him, and I could hear him growling at something, so I strolled over to tell him to hurry up. It was then I saw the body.’

‘Did you touch it at all?’

‘The back of the neck. I’m not sure why, somehow I knew he was dead. He was stone cold. It frightened me to death. I couldn’t get away from it fast enough. I threw up. Shock I suppose, then I called 999.’

‘Any sign of anybody else about?’

‘Not that I noticed. Sometimes there are a few like-minded dog walkers, but not tonight.’

‘Did you recognise the body?’

‘No, I didn’t really take that much notice, and he was face down.’

‘Ok, do you need anything?’

‘No, I’ll be alright.’

‘Hang around for a while if you don’t mind. We might need to talk to you again, and we will need to take your particulars.’

More footsteps to her right and Grey could make out the tall form of Thomas striding across the grass towards her. The frosty grass crunched under his feet. Despite the darkness his outline was unmistakable, as was his gait. Thomas had been on a fitness regime and strict diet for several months, and his six feet two frame was now solid muscle, and he walked with a pronounced bounce in his stride. Grey sighed miserably, if only she had the willpower.

‘DI Grey.’ He said.

‘Sir.’

‘What have we got?’

‘Deceased male, face down in the water. Fully clothed. Suspicious death I would say.’

‘Why?’ Thomas asked.

‘Position of the body sir. No visible injuries although I can only see the back of the head. Arms and legs in unnatural positions, looks like he was placed there. Also, clothes don’t fit.’ Grey explained.

‘Any witnesses?’

‘None so far sir. Body was found by a dog walker; he’s sitting in the squad car at the moment. He says he came for his usual stroll with his dog at about a quarter to ten and stumbled on the body shortly afterwards.’

At that moment Jane Edwards called Grey over. She was not aware that Thomas had joined her. Thomas followed along behind.

‘What have you got Jane?’ Grey asked.

Edwards stood up, thermometer in one hand. ‘There’s a deep cut across the throat, possibly several, but no blood. I would have expected to see some splatter marks in the surrounding area, but there are none that I can see. It might be worth you checking farther afield. He’s been dead about three hours.’

‘So, are you saying he wasn’t killed here?’ Grey asked.

‘Almost certainly not. When a throat is slit like this the carotid artery is severed and blood spurts out under great pressure. Splatters can travel several feet. But in this case the wound is clear, and I can’t see any blood around at all. That’s unusual, but assuming, and of course I will need to confirm this by autopsy, exsanguination was cause of death, then he was not killed here.’

‘Might explain the strange position of the legs and arms.’ Grey said.

‘You noticed that too. Doesn’t appear as though he tripped. There are no marks on the trousers or jacket. And no defence marks on the hands which suggests he was cut from behind.’

‘Are you sure about that?’ Thomas asked.

‘Oh, hello Brian, I didn’t notice you there. Not absolutely certain, but to inflict a wound like this is more difficult than it seems. Chins and collars and usually hands tend to get in the way. In this case the cut is very deep, exposing bone and the spinal cord, so the obvious conclusion is that someone yanked the head up from behind, exposing the throat, and then sliced across.’

‘Doesn’t account for the complete absence of blood though. That is unusual.’ Thomas added.

‘It is. There appears to be a complete absence of it, although I’ll learn more once I get him in the theatre.’

‘Ok thanks Jane. Grey you’d better call the cavalry and get them to scour this whole area. Then start door to door first thing and check CCTV for what it’s worth. Call Giordano, you’re going to need her. You’re SIO on this one.’

‘Yes sir.’ Grey said and began thumbing through her mobile phone contacts. SIO, she was fired up.

Boucher’s problem was preying on Kubric’s mind. Boucher had made light of it but Kubric suspected that the disappearance of Markovic and the new supplier in the Eastern district were somehow connected. Boucher’s business was already down and although he would pay Kubric compensation that would only take care of the immediate financial loss. The longer-term problem would remain. Boucher’s assertion that it had been down to one of his people stealing was not credible.

The more important question was who was supplying this meddler? Was it his own supplier? If so why? Had he lost faith in Kubric’s ability to control his territory? Was he looking for new blood? And was this pest a chancer or the tip of a much bigger organised iceberg?

There were good reasons to believe it was organised. Perhaps a gang from another town wanting to expand. After all Northampton had been one of the fastest growing towns in the country for many years. Even in the relatively short time Kubric had been operating he had seen a population explosion, and that would not have gone unnoticed amongst some of the organisations operating in the cities. Northampton now had a population larger than most of those cities.

Or was it one of his own people? It was possible but somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to believe it.

Take Hall; she had been a lowlife pimp running streetwalkers around the Boroughs and operating a couple of brothels, But the law had caught up with her and she was almost bankrupt when he picked her up and gave her another chance. Her most valuable assets were her contacts. Despite running an organisation at the bottom end of the market her girls had built up hundreds of clients over the years, mostly frustrated losers but a few with real influence. They had proved to be useful. Pliable, easily controlled either with threats of making videos public or violence, they had helped keep the law at bay, and in a few cases provided nests from which stock could be distributed and cash stored. Even Kubric had to admit her cuckooing abilities were first class. She had taken over half a dozen properties around the town centre quietly and efficiently. But she lacked foresight, and her choice of security was risible, hardly more than a juvenile delinquent. Not a strategic thought in his head.

McVey was a different animal. An alcoholic thug who did not pretend to be anything else. He had left the army with a small pension and huge ambition. From the moment he moved his family across from Hereford he focussed on one thing and one thing only. To be the king of the drug trade in Northampton. And for a few years he had been successful, but he struggled with distribution. Running drugs was easy, it was a simple case of supply and demand, and demand was high. But running drugs without the law interfering was not so easy. Successful runners built up a chain of nests from which they could safely and discreetly conduct their trade. The kind of thing seen on TV and in films, whereby customers were handed packets of scag from passing cars did not happen in the 21st century. Far too risky for anyone serious about their business. Safe houses were the way to go. But to cuckoo a house the owner or tenant had to be displaced, not an easy job unless blackmail or some other threat could be used. That took finesse, but McVey had none. He relied on violence; risky, inelegant, and not always successful. So, he had come to Kubric and Kubric had given him Cameron, a mild mannered but ruthless man of many talents. Did McVey have the brains to try to take over? Not in a million years. Did Cameron? Maybe but Cameron had no ambition.

But Boucher had brains and ambition in spades. Before the French Police had run him out of Paris, he had been the top man in the underground. He had run drugs, and girls, through a network that he had created, by himself, without help. That showed brains, foresight, strategic ability, and enough burning ambition to take him right to the top. In the end he had been betrayed, not his fault, although Kubric thought it proved a lack of judgement on his part in choosing his people. So, Boucher could be on the move, yet Boucher was the victim. He was the one struggling. His man was missing, his territory being invaded. How could it be him?

Riley had gathered half a dozen men and set off in two cars towards EastField Park. He parked in Booth Lane and spread his men out at ten yard intervals, covering the width of the Eastern end of the park. They marched in line slowly, heads down, concentrating on the ground beneath them, looking for anything that might lead them to Markovic.

They were approaching the lake when Riley called them to a sudden halt. In the distance he could see what looked like strobe lights blazing towards the Hospice. For a few seconds he was confused but quickly realised the lights were coming from a car. He ordered his people to stay where they were while he slowly crept towards the brightly lit area. As he approached, he could make out silhouettes standing around the car and the ha-ha. He kept close to the bushes at the Northern edge of the park and drew closer. Now within 60 yards he could make out the yellow tape, and the unmistakable logo of the police on the car. So, a crime scene. There was half a dozen or so people standing around, one dressed in a scenes of crime coverall, two constables, a man with a dog, and two others, one a woman. She was on her phone. Riley did not linger; he quickly made his way back to his men and told them to retreat back to their cars. They could resume their search in the morning.

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