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The Chocolate



Michael Saunders

The Chocolate Killer

Copyright @ 2018 by Michael Saunders

Published on Amazon 2018

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


The Chocolate 1

Killer 1

by 1

Michael Saunders 1

Chapter 1 8

Chapter 2 17

Chapter 3 29

Linda was already dressed and ready for work, but had made a cup of tea from the facilities in her room. She couldn’t start off the day without a cuppa – even if it was a bag in a cup. She made herself comfortable leaning against the bed head. “I must get the Huntingdon Post today,” she reminded herself, eager to sort out more permanent living arrangements. She checked her watch. She had ten minutes. Taking a sip of tea she closed her eyes, relaxed and attempted to clear her mind. 29

From nowhere an image of a happy young teenage girl invaded her consciousness; a girl whose life was about to become decimated. She shook her head hoping the picture would fade, but it seemed to gain evermore clarity in her mind. Her forefinger gently touched the gold locket around her neck. Suddenly there was heaviness in her chest, she shivered and began to feel cold. 29

“Pull yourself together, wimp,” she harshly scolded herself out loud. Getting off the bed she put on the shaped jacket of her camel coloured, flared trouser suit and slid her feet into the navy kitten heeled shoes. She cast an eye over herself in the mirror. It was fashionable, but hoped it was not too much over the top for work, but it showed off her slim shape and made her feel good. “Knock ‘em dead kid,” she said to the reflection, and caught the slight break in her voice as it brought the memory of her father come flooding back. She sniffed and went out the door. 29

It was a relatively short walk from the Fox and Hounds. She felt the autumnal chill seep into her bones, but it seemed for once the dark clouds had parted to allow a weak sun to smile. Walking along she rested her hand on the navy blue matching shoulder bag and smiled to herself. She had only been here a day and was already involved in a murder investigation. It didn’t get more exciting than that. 29

“Oi darlin’ you doin’ business?” 29

She snapped her head round furiously, wondering whether to flash her warrant card at the ignoramus shouting at her, but instead let rip with a wide grin. “Idiot! I’ll have you up for insubordination of a senior officer.” 29

“Fancy a lift - sir?” He emphasised ‘sir’ in a long drawl. 29

Tim O’ Halligan grinned at her, reaching across the gear stick to open the passenger door. She slipped into the seat and sniffed. “Oh, just smell the newness in here,” she breathed and turned towards him. “It’s brand new. How long have you had it?” 29

“Not even a month yet, I’m still running it in. It’s the latest model, the MKII De-Luxe. What do you reckon? Real groovy, eh? It’s even got a built in radio system too. How cool is that?” 29

Linda threw him a look. “Hillman isn’t it? New cars don’t come cheap, not on your wage.” 29

He glanced across. “It only cost £575 – that’s a doddle on the never never,” he smirked and tapped the wheel. “She goes like a bat out of hell; nought to sixty in only twenty seconds.” 29

She looked duly impressed, but inside was smiling. Case solved. “So this is a bit of a babe magnet is it,” she asked? 29

He grinned. “It’s part of the whole package; arrive in a nice set of wheels, wearing some groovy gear, some nice aftershave and the birds start eating out of your hand. They can’t help themselves,” and he smirked as he smoothed down his mop of hair, grinning at her with his lopsided Georgie Fame smile, a smile that was obviously part of his seduction armoury. 29

“It’s nice to hear that romance is still alive and kicking.” It made her amused to see the sarcasm had fallen on deaf ears. 30

“Aye, aye, what does this mean Timmy boy,” called out Barry seeing them both arrive together? “You been feeding the ponies,” and waved a hand in Linda’s direction. 30

Tim didn’t have a clue, but Linda reached out and gave Barry a sharp clip round the ear. “OK soft lad? I may not have the accent, but I was brought up in Liverpool. Get my drift?” Barry looked suitably chastened, but seeing Linda’s broad grin he realised it was said in fun. However, he was now made fully aware that any scouse innuendos at Linda’s expense was a definite no, no. 30

Jack came out of his office. “Morning everybody, let’s see what we’ve got,” and stood with chalk in hand by the blackboard. “As you know, our missing person Brenda Barnes, unfortunately, has now become a murder investigation,” and he rubbed the board clean, wrote BRENDA BARNES and pinned up a picture of her. He turned to his team. “Gareth, what have you managed to find out about the victim?” 30

“She was fifty one and brought up by her family in Leicestershire,” he said looking down at his notes. “I couldn’t find any siblings and her parents have been dead for a long time. She lived in a house which she owned in Palmers Green, North London. It seems she was unmarried and lived there alone. She was a trained pharmacist and had worked for a local chemist for nearly ten years. The owner recently died and his family decided to close the business down.” 30

“So she would have been unemployed,” asked Jack? 30

“That’s right, but it seems they gave her plenty of warning and she got a job at a pharmacy in Norwich – due to start at the beginning of next week. She was lucky in selling her house very quickly. There was no mortgage, so she had a tidy bob or two in the bank.” 30

“So why was she in Huntingdon?” 30

“From what I can find there was a short gap between the completion date on her house and the start of her new job. I presume she simply took her time and decided to enjoy the wonders of Huntingdon.” 30

“What is there to enjoy here,” sniffed Barry? 30

“I’ve been looking at her diary and found various trips to different towns, throughout the year,” said Tim. “Apparently she seems to have liked museums and churches. There’s nothing mentioned at all about any friends or family living here, or anywhere else for that matter. It would seem she was what she was, a person on her own, and there was nobody here that she knew.” 30

“So it seems very likely the killing was random by a stranger unknown.” 30

At that moment a uniformed Constable came into the office clutching a manila folder. “This is just in, sir,” he said handing it to Jack. 30

“Thank you Constable.” He quickly scanned through the paper and photographs. “I have the Home Office Pathologist’s report which is short and sweet and pictures of the crime scene. Apparently she died somewhere between 4.00 pm and 7.00 pm last Monday. It says she had been raped and cause of death was from asphyxiation. He has also referred to the fact that the victim had a chocolate Crunchie bar inserted into her genitalia.” He caught the smirks on the faces of his detectives, but could not bring himself to look at his Sergeant for fear of feeling self-conscious, embarrassed and awkward. It was a scenario that perfectly illustrated the difficulties of having to work with female colleagues. Grateful for being able to turn his flushed face away; beneath the name of BRENDA BARNES on the board, he wrote STRANGLED – RAPED. He turned to the team. “Gareth, you took Ray Little’s prints. Apart from his, were there any other dabs on the torch?” 30

“As you would expect; Little’s prints were the only ones I could find. If it was used by the killer he must have wiped the torch clean or used gloves. There’s nothing of any use on it at all.” 31

“It’s a bit strange isn’t it guv,” asked Tim? 31

“What is?” 31

“I mean the victim was fifty odd. That must mean the attacker was older.” He looked round at the others. “A young bloke is going to be a bit choosier, isn’t he? Looking for someone a bit more tasty I’d have thought.” 31

“Grow up and stop behaving like an adolescent,” spat Linda, looking at him in disgust. Tim rolled his eyes mockingly, but could find no allies in the room. 31

Jack chose to ignore the comment for now. He would have a quiet word with Tim later and carried on. “So, we have a victim with no links to the town – or anyone living here - and it would appear to be a totally random killing. As a stranger here I doubt whether she was aware of the short cut. I would think she must have been walking along the street and been grabbed and pulled into the alleyway. Didn’t she shout, didn’t she resist? He must have half dragged her for some fifty feet away from the street. It was the late afternoon for God sake – a motorist, house owner; someone must have seen her, surely.” He looked at each detective. Barry, Gareth, Tim, I need you to do a house to house all along the route from the coach station back towards the B & B. Take a copy of her photograph with you,” and clapped his hands as if this would galvanise them all into action. 31

“Chocolate cake anybody? Tea? Coffee,” asked Gwen? 31

It was gone six ‘o clock when Jack heard his telephone ringing. He snatched at the receiver. “Gilbert,” he answered brusquely. There was a long pause as he listened, before speaking in a quiet consoling tone. “Yes OK, don’t worry. Yes you go. No, I forgot that’s all. I’ll be there in about thirty minutes. No, don’t worry.” He put the phone down with a huge sigh, feeling the whole world was on his shoulders as always. How could he expect to manage a murder investigation with this dragging him down? Chewing his nail, he tried to focus, failing dismally to separate both areas of his life. A burp bubbled up; he screwed up his eyes and thumped his chest at the heartburn. Reaching inside his jacket pocket he shook out a tablet, dry swallowing it to rapidly kill the sharp pain. It had been the same for him too, he thought; before letting out a deep sigh and reflecting that that was being selfish. People are all made different. 31

Linda was working at her desk as he came out of his office. 31

“Everything OK,” he asked her without waiting for a reply? “I have to go. Probably I won’t be back. Do what you can and we’ll have a briefing at nine in the morning.” 31

“No problem guv,” she smiled, wondering where he was going. After he’d gone she turned to Gareth. “Does he do that often?” 31

“Every so often he seems to dash off, but he never says where or why.” 31

“Problem at home or trouble with one of his kids do you know? 31

Gareth pulled a face. “I haven’t a clue. He keeps his private life private and never says anything – so it puts everyone off from asking. It seems any question about his home life is a definite no, no. I don’t think he has any children, and I did hear his wife was very poorly, so that may be something to do with it.” 31

Jack drove home as fast as he could, but the ring road was crammed and it took nearly twenty minutes to get to Little Stukeley. He turned into the drive beside the old cottage and walked through the gate, across the paved courtyard garden and let himself in through the kitchen door. “I’m home,” he called, wandering through the kitchen. Having learned the hard way from when they first moved in, he was now programmed to instinctively duck and miss the low beam across the small cottage door which led into the lounge. “Viv, where are you?” 32

He opened the wooden door leading into an inner hall and open tread staircase. “Oh, sweetheart what are you doing there,” he cried seeing the figure huddled beneath the stairs. Bending down he took her in his arms. “It’s alright darling, I’m here,” and tenderly kissed the top of her head. 32

“I’m sorry Jack, I was so frightened.” 32

“There’s nothing to be frightened of. I’m here now,” and gently pulled her up. “Come on, let’s go into the lounge. I’ll make us a nice cup of tea, yes? Have you taken your pills?” 32

She nodded. “I think so, I don’t really remember.” 32

Jack doubted it. Her medication normally kept these feelings of utter blackness and despair at bay. He dreaded when she was like this, and worried she might do something to herself. She leaned into him as he lovingly guided her into the lounge, and set her down on the sofa, in front of the inglenook fireplace. “Make yourself comfy and I’ll put the kettle on. I’ll just be there in the kitchen.” 32

Viv nodded, a finger reached up to push a stray lock of brown hair back behind her ear. Sadness lined her attractive face, and tears welled up in her grey eyes. “I love you,” she whispered almost to herself, feeling safe now that she wasn’t alone. 32

It had been two years since their loss. Neither had managed to cope well. Viv had become withdrawn, Jack threw himself into work. Viv’s every waking thought was spent locked in remembrance. Jack dealt with it by locking the memory behind closed doors and throwing away the key. Neither option really eased the suffering, but they did have each other. 32

Jack brought in the drinks. “Here we are. Hancock’s Half Hour is on tonight. Shall I switch the telly on?” He set down the two cups before going over to the TV and switching it on. He waited for it to warm up and turned the dial to channel three. “I’ll have this and then cook us something,” he said. 32

“Sue said she would drop by about eight. She said she would bring in some fish and chips.” 32

Their next door neighbour was a life saviour. Sue Hammond was all the difference between making Viv feel safe and him being able to work like he did. She was a lonely widow, living on her own, and Jack didn’t know how he would ever have been able to cope without Sue’s help. She kept Viv company and lent a hand with all the household chores. At times he still found the emotional pressure almost too much to bear; the guilt of not doing enough for his wife, who was always second best to the stressful job he was married to. 32

Chapter 4 33

Chapter 5 41

Chapter 6 50

Chapter 7 61

Chapter 8 67

Chapter 1

She had three hours to go and thought she’d kill some time.

Little did she think this was nearer the truth than she could ever know?

Leaving her suitcase fully packed on the bed, she decided to get some fresh air, and perhaps a bite to eat before catching the coach. Brenda Barnes was a charming and intelligent woman, if a little old fashioned for her years. In fact her mind was set in somewhat of a time warp, ever since losing her fiancé, during the war. Since then she had lived a lonely life and the years had passed in silent unremitting sadness. She never wore makeup, but each day was forced to disguise the sorrow with a Mona Lisa smile, the public face she wore when meeting customers in her job at the chemist. Now that too had come to an end, with the pharmacy about to close down she had been faced with the prospect of being out of work. Luckily she had seen a vacancy in Norwich of all places – which seemed like the end of the earth to her – but she had gone for an interview and lo and behold got the job. It was the first time in years that a piece of good fortune had come her way and was unaware a smile had fleetingly lit up her face, just thinking about it.

The move had given her such a new lease of life she had done something really naughty, something she thought she would never ever have the courage to do in all her wildest dreams. Just thinking about it had given her palpitations, but at the same time it was so terribly exciting, so very modern. Decision made; despite much trepidation she had steeled herself and splashed out on buying a Toni home hair dye for five shillings and six pence, to change her hair to blonde. Although she would never know, it had sealed her own death warrant.

That was a week ago now and looking in the mirror she was still surprised at the effect. She looked so much younger than her forty eight years, even if she said so herself, but being a curvaceous size 16, perhaps she could do with losing some weight she wondered, still lacking in self confidence.

She wandered along Huntingdon high street and came across a cafe. It looked clean, if a bit basic. She nervously checked her watch, which she repeatedly did every few minutes, fearful she might leave matters too late. Her coach to Norwich departed at 3.15. There was plenty of time yet and she went inside, finding an empty table away from the door. Picking up the menu she scrutinised over what dish to choose, but as usual was unable to make up her mind. The ability to make a decision about anything large or small was always impossibly fraught with a worrying indecisiveness. With the intimidating presence of a waitress hovering over her with pen at the ready, she forced herself into a rushed decision and opted for the pork chop, peas and potatoes, accompanied by a cup of tea – no sugar. She raised a critical eyebrow at the establishment’s low standards. In her opinion, working with food the brassy blonde waitress should be dressed far more modestly and wear a lot less makeup. Giving the waitress an icy glare, she self consciously patted her newly permed hair, thinking it might be blonde, but at least it wasn’t combed in that cheap looking beehive style with all its dreadful backcombing. She looked at the woman’s legs resembling joints of pork poking out from below a skirt worn far too short for a woman of her age? It was not as if she was a silly teenager; more mutton dressed as lamb, she sniffed to herself.

She watched as the waitress picked up a huge urn and poured out a cup of tea, which she brought over. “Your chop will be five minutes,” she declared, receiving from the customer a demeaning look in return. “Bloody Miss high and mighty,” the waitress thought to herself, giving the woman a hateful glance, a reaction not exactly to be found in a customer relations manual.

Two tables away a child cried at being scolded by its mother for doing something and nothing. “Elvis, you are doing my nut in. Now eat it up!” The obstinate child tightened its lips and gave its mother a glaring look of defiance. Make me was written all over its dirty face. The Mother grabbed the child’s nose waiting for its mouth to open and breathe. As it did so, it was fed a spoonful of peas, followed by loud cries of frustration.

A pasty faced man sitting in the corner glanced across. He frowned at the intolerant mother, shook his head and on catching Brenda’s eye, gave her a conspiratorial smile. She smiled back, surprising herself. She was always normally so reserved with strangers, especially men. Self-consciously she touched her permed hair and shyly pulled at her necklace, her hand almost having a life of its own in the way it was fluttering. It must be because I’m blonde she smiled to herself. She’d read somewhere that blondes were supposed to have all the fun. Maybe the move to Norwich would change her life for the better. Moments later the waitress brought her meal over and Brenda tucked in, surprised at how nice the food was. As she lifted her fork she inadvertently looked up and caught the man with the dough like face in the corner surreptitiously running his eyes over her face and ample body. Caught out, he gave her a sly knowing smile. Blushing at the attention, she scolded herself for being so forward and continued with her meal, conscious of her heart racing at the attention she rarely ever received. He didn’t have film star looks and was a lot younger than her she thought; in fact he was also no stranger to a fish and chip supper going by his double chin and pallid face. Mind you she thought, at her age she was hardly an oil painting herself. Why would anyone ever deign to give her a second look; someone so dumpy, fat and plain. He did look quite nice though she reflected, in a homely sort of way and that was perfectly acceptable. Life was hardly ever a Mills and Boon novel she scolded herself. Several minutes later she called for the bill, just as the stranger got up to go. He nodded, smiled and said, “goodbye,” leaving her with an empty sadness. She settled the bill of five and six and began to walk back to the B & B and retrieve her suitcase to begin her new life in Norwich. Lost in thought she didn’t see him.

“Hello again.”


He double declutched and slammed the column gear change down into first to take the corner. The blue Austin 55 took the turn in its stride, but the BBC Light Programme with Jimmy Hanley and his Start the Day Right vanished as the transistor radio slewed across the rear parcel shelf. Sometimes when he turned the wheel the wireless would slide back and re-tune itself, but not this time and the dulcet tones of the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra disappeared in a hubbub of hisses, crackles and whistles. Detective Inspector Jack Gilbert let the interference wash over him as he focussed on finding a parking space behind the old red brick building; originally built in the nineteenth century it resembled something between a work house and a public convenience. He leaned forward over the steering wheel and looked up at the gloomy grey sky, swollen with the promise of rain. “Another day in paradise,” he thought to himself.

An hour before he had been dead to the world when his eyes had been ripped open by the sound of an unrelenting warble. He glanced at the faint light sneaking through the curtains. It was morning – just. Urgently he swung his legs out of bed, grabbing the cord of his striped pyjamas as he ran downstairs. In the hallway he snatched up the green coloured Trimphone to kill the noise. “Bloody thing,” he cursed under his breath. He much preferred the original GPO’s black Bakelite telephone than this modern atrocity. In the silence he glanced upstairs hoping against hope the ringing hadn’t woken up his wife Viv. She needed her sleep. He was always worried about her after what had happened and the way she was.

“Yes,” he barked down the phone.

That had been less than an hour ago. He squeezed his Austin between a black Morris Minor and what looked like a shiny brand new Hillman Imp. He shook his head. Someone had obviously fallen off the straight and narrow and been tempted by Hire Purchase, he thought. He took an envious look inside and could almost smell the newness seeping out through the glass. A drop of rain broke his thoughts and he quickly walked round to the front of the building, just as the heavens opened. Breaking into an awkward run he winced as chilled muscles were suddenly called upon to stiffly stretch themselves. He dashed up the stone steps and disappeared into the station entrance beneath the traditional blue lamp, reflecting at his age the act of running lacked the elegant grace of youth.

“Good morning Jack,” grinned the Station Sergeant watching him brush the rain off his tweed jacket and attempt to shape his pepper and salt hair into some semblance of order.

He glared at the Sergeant. “What’s good about it,” and he pushed open the swing door off the vestibule before looking back and shouting. “Oi, Frank!”

The Station Sergeant looked up.

“Show a little respect. It’s Detective Inspector to you,” and threw him a grin, which turned into a chuckle on receiving a V sign in return.

Jack hurried along the corridor, past the rickety old lift, which only a fool would ever trust, and took the stairs to the next floor. In his mid-forties he prided himself on keeping fit and was one of the few at the station who did not smoke. Even so he was piling on the pounds and had the beginnings of a paunch and a face on the tipping edge of jowls and eyebrows altogether too bushy for comfort. However, he did have his own hair, albeit a little on the horsey side of unkempt, despite the Brylcreem.

The Manor at Brampton had been converted into the new HQ for a police force now serving most of Cambridgeshire. Someone in their perceived wisdom – probably a civil servant in some dark corner of Whitehall fed on a diet of budgets and cost cutting, had made the decision to mix five police forces together by folding in the Constabularies of Cambridge, the Isle of Ely and Huntingdon, with a blend of the Peterborough Combined Police and a dash of the Peterborough City Police, to cook up a slim line bake now known simply as the Mid-Anglian Constabulary. Jack had been caught up in this culinary example of law enforcement planning and hoped it wasn’t a half baked idea. This was his second week at Brampton and he was certainly pleased to have more space here than in his previous office at Peterborough.

His team were from various local forces, some detectives he had heard of by reputation from other local forces, although he’d never worked with any one of them. It was early days yet, but they appeared to be gelling together quite nicely. There was always the odd difficult one – in this case Gareth Powell. In his thirties, the dour Welshman had beady accusing eyes set behind his glasses, giving him a default look of aggression, but that was totally at odds with the kindly demeanour beneath. However, press the right buttons and he could fly off the handle with a temper of Incredible Hulk proportion, off the Richter scale of wrath. Before becoming a Detective Constable he had done his stint in uniform at Huntingdon and knew the area like the back of his hand. Jack had asked him how on earth a lad from North Wales had found himself in this neck of the woods, and received a somewhat cryptic reply that Glebe Farm satisfied his taste in beer. It left his boss wondering whether that was true or more likely was it really the more common reason – sniffing after a woman. Anyway, the reason was irrelevant. Jack had already become impressed by the man’s work rate, dedication and the way he could accurately assess character. That point alone was invaluable in the interview room. However, with unreserved banter as part of normal office humour Jack would have his work cut out to defuse potential conflicts if someone went too far and elicited the Welsh beast that lurked within.

There was one more member of his team still to be appointed. Jack knew those on the top floor had been interviewing and he was due to get some respite to his workload by the appointment of a new Detective Sergeant. He had no input, but hoped the bloke would be someone who knew his onions and who he could quickly come to trust and rely on. In this job you needed somebody who watched your back.

He pushed open the door. The main office was arranged with four untidy wooden desks, each one with a typewriter, an ashtray full of dog ends, encircled by piles of files, both manila and Lever Arch, the odd framed photograph, empty cups and all the working dross of a general office. One desk, destined for the new sergeant was the only one which was relatively tidy. Overlooking the scene a raft of gun metal grey filing cabinets and shelving ran along one wall. Two half dead pot plants sat miserably on the window ledge, desperately waiting for a drink, their soil plugged with cigarette butts, while the metal framed frosted glass windows provided a modicum of daylight. A blackboard took pride of place in one corner; it had been Jack’s idea. He liked to assemble all the pieces on a case, creating a jig saw of thinking by brain storming and linking up information which he would write on the blackboard. During a major case this would involve a lot of rubbing out and new amendments continually being added as ideas came and went.

“Morning Barry couldn’t you sleep,” he asked the oldest member of his team?

A Scouser, Detective Constable Barry Roberts was five years short of retirement and just as tall, but inside that crew cut head of white hair and weather worn ruddy complexion there lurked a mind that was as sharp as a tack. A career plodder he was a little overweight, smoked like a chimney and had type two Diabetes, but with head in a proverbial bucket of sand he ignored all that and prided himself on being a fine specimen of a man, especially at his age. Jack already valued his wealth of experience and the way he tackled the approach to a case. Nothing much seemed to faze the man and he always had a ready smile and a joke to lift everyone’s spirit – or more often than not in Gareth’s case a dark scowl.

“I got a heads up about there being a missing person, so I thought it best to get in early,” smiled Barry. “Heard anything yet?”

Jack shook his head and his shiny brogues, polished to within an inch of their life click clacked across the parquet flooring to the door of his office. Inside he took off his tweed sports jacket and hung it on the hat stand, loosened his tie and paused to take an admiring look at his office which he still got a kick out of. It was so much bigger than the other place, which was so small it could almost have been a cupboard in comparison. Here he had a large mahogany desk and battered chair which was set beneath a window now dripping with rivulets of rain. All along one wall there was a bank of filing cabinets and a shelf system full of lever arch files. The only humanizing factors were two pot plants, way past their best and a framed picture on the window ledge of Jack and Viv on their wedding day. He gave a shiver. “Jeez, it was cold in here,” he thought, rubbing his hands together as he bent down to switch on the two bar electric fire. Give it ten minutes and the window would steam up but at least the chill would be taken off the room. Meanwhile he’d get a mug of Maxwell House. Most of the others stuck with tea, but he couldn’t be doing with all that malarkey of waiting to let the stuff brew.

He went out to the screened off corner in the outer office where there lurked a sink and tiny kitchen area. As Jack waited for the kettle to boil Gwen Street, the civilian admin clerk came in all of a bustle. She was one of those people that must have always seemed from an early age to have been much older. With her maternal attitude, dressed in early fifties fashion, a well upholstered chest, permed hair and owl specs, she mothered all the detectives, scolding the naughty scallywags, and chivvying up those who needed encouragement.

“Oh you don’t have to do that. I’ll make it.”

“Morning Gwen. No worries, the kettle’s almost boiled.”

“I’ve bought in a Victoria Sponge today. Fancy a slice.”

Jack grinned. “There go any thoughts I had of going on a diet. I’ll have a slice later.”

In the two weeks since they had been at Brampton, Gwen had become the office mother hen, clucking around, making sure everyone had something hot to drink when they first came in, and a little something she had cooked and brought in for later, to stave off any hunger pangs. She was already a Godsend to the whole team as she fussed about making drinks for everyone. She had lost her husband several years ago and Jack thought he must have died from overindulgence consuming Gwen’s home baking which was almost on a scale of sheer commercial magnitude.

He returned to his office with drink in hand. Reaching in his drawer he took out a tiny velvet box. Inside was a silver spoon. He smiled sadly as the tip of his finger reverently touched the shiny metal. Using it to stir his coffee, he gently wiped it clean with his handkerchief and placed it back in its case.

With hot cup warming his chilled hands Jack stepped back into the main office to see the rest of the team gradually arriving.

Over in the corner Detective Constable Gareth Powell was already at his desk, wiping raindrops off his glasses and complaining about the weather despite nobody listening.

As usual young Tim O’Halligan, the other DC got in by the skin of his teeth and was just hanging up his coat, but not before shaking it and incurring Gareth’s wrath of raindrops splashing him. Jack resolved he would keep an eye on Tim; he seemed the sort to take short cuts and do just enough to get by. He was in his early twenties, had just completed his Initial Crime Investigators' Development Programme, and this was his first post. Jack thought he ought to be bright eyed and bushy tailed with boundless enthusiasm for the job, but that was not the case. With his Georgie Fame lop sided smile, he fancied himself as a ladies man and had probably been downstairs, ferreting around chancing his arm with one of the young WPC’s. He was of the modern generation with long hair and a penchant for strange clothes. Today he had on a pink shirt. Pink! What was the world coming to?

Just then the office door opened and a uniform came in with a folder. “Inspector,” he called, walking over to Jack. “Here are the details on that missing woman, sir.”

“What kept you?”

“Sorry sir, I’ve only just been given it.”

Jack took it and brusquely waved him away, as he opened the file and quickly scanned it. “There’s not much here,” he said to whosoever was listening. He sat on the corner of a desk and waited for his detectives to give him their full attention before he continued. Today’s policing was changing that’s for sure. He shook his head wondering; surely a missing person would normally be the province of uniform and not a team of detectives.

“Apparently a Brenda Barnes has been staying at the B & B on Huntingdon Road. She was supposed to catch a coach from the bus station and travel to Norwich on Monday afternoon. Her landlady, a Mrs Parmenter, last saw her on the Saturday. After two days and having seen neither hide nor hair of her, she let herself into Miss Barnes room. On the bed was a packed suitcase. She telephoned us at 2.40 pm on the Monday and the Station Sergeant told her to wait until the following day. He presumed she had obviously met somebody and changed her plans. Mrs Parmenter again called us at 9.30 am on the Tuesday and Miss Barnes was then subsequently listed as a missing person.”

“I know Mrs Parmenter,” exclaimed Tim with a wide grin. “She’s formidable to say the least. I wouldn’t like to cross swords with that one. Come 10.00 pm she locks up for the night and woe betide anybody who breaks the curfew.”

“God knows why we’ve been saddled with this. It should be a case for Plods in uniform,” exclaimed a disgruntled Jack. “Anyhow, it doesn’t smell of anything untoward to me. Barry, you come with me and we’ll have a chat with this Mrs Parmenter. Tim, I want you to check with the bus station to see whether the woman actually bought a ticket to Norwich. I think that’s as much as we can do without knowing what Miss Barnes looks like. Gareth can you stay here and continue going through the reports on the spate of those burglaries on the River Estate. See what you can come up with, cross reference statements, see whether there’s anything in common that flags up.” He put his half drunk coffee on the desk and called to Barry. “Right, come on Bazzer let’s see what we can find out.”

They stood at the station entrance. The sky was grey, but at least the rain had stopped, leaving a definite damp chill in the air and the promise of showers to come before not too long. “Come on, I’m parked over there,” said Jack pointing.

“Nice car,” enthused Barry, looking at the shiny new Hillman Imp.

“No, that’s not mine,” and he pointed three cars along. “My old jalopy’s over there, the blue one.” He looked at the Hillman and sniffed. ”Bet you a pound to a penny that’s on the never never. I don’t agree with all this modern thinking of easy payments.”

“Oh, HP is the new way to buy things nowadays,” grinned Barry nonchalantly.

“I’m more old school; I was brought up to believe if you want something, it’s far better to save up rather then get into debt with a loan and have to pay a small fortune in interest.”

Barry thought he should change the subject before his governor got on a soap box and began damning the swinging sixties. Although older, he felt far more in tune with today than his boss, who still retained a somewhat old fashioned approach to life. “We could have walked couldn’t we,” he asked, sliding into the burgundy leatherette front bench seat. “It must be what – all of ten minutes; fifteen tops.”

Jack gave him an old fashioned look. “At your age you shouldn’t even be thinking about exercise. It’s bad for your health.”

“Yes you’re quite right,” he grinned, fumbling in his jacket. “Want one guv,” and held out a packet of Senior Service.

Jack shook his head. “No ta. It’s your lucky day; I have to stop for petrol so it’ll give you time to smoke it. I’d hate to arrive too quickly and have you with a fag end stuck behind your ear. From what I hear that would not go down particularly well with the formidable Mrs Parmenter.” He pulled out the choke, turned on the ignition, and the A55 spluttered into life. Slamming the column change into gear he double de-clutched into first, pulled out of the car park and on towards the ring road. Two minutes later he pulled into the Shell garage and waited for an attendant to serve him. Winding the window down he called, “four and four please,” before getting out of the car to read the pump gauge, just to be on the safe side, as the man squirted four shots of Red-X into the tank.

“That’ll be one pound, one shilling and four pence mate,” said the attendant, ready to open the leather satchel strung over his shoulder and delve into it for change.

Jack pulled out his wallet and gave him a pound note, one shilling and a sixpenny piece. “Keep the change,” to which the pump attendant smiled and gave him a salute.

Five minutes later they drew up outside the detached pre-war property, fronted by a well cut yellow privet hedge above a creosoted ship lap fence. A concrete driveway led to a detached asbestos garage with wooden doors. The lawn in the small front garden was impeccably mowed and paving stones guided the visitor up to the glazed porch. In the bow window with a net curtain back drop hung a sign which said in no uncertain terms – NO VACANCIES. Jack stepped up and pressed the door bell and they both waited as the dulcet tune of God Save the Queen played. After half a minute he pressed the bell again and banged the door knocker for good measure.

A few seconds later the door opened and a furious woman with tightly permed raven coloured hair, a bottle short of jet black, stood there in a floral wrap-round pinafore, with flour on her hands. “What’s the matter with you, can’t you read,” she barked angrily, pointing a finger at the sign.

“Mrs Parmenter?”

“Who wants to know,” exclaimed the woman as if chewing on a wasp. Her chins wobbled with indignation at being affronted by these two commercial travellers who couldn’t read her sign, and she crossed her arms over a huge, well shored up chest, ready to repel any boarders.

Jack held up his ID card. “I’m Detective Inspector Gilbert, and this is my colleague Detective Constable Roberts.”

“Oh, at long last; you took your time!” She looked at the card, leaning back with arm extended and squinting her eyes into slits, before shaking her head. “It’s no good. Without my glasses it might as well be a British Railways season ticket for all I know?”

“I wonder whether we could come in for a moment. It’s about your tenant, Miss Barnes?”

She gave a curt nod. “Wipe your feet though; I don’t want any marks left from your big boots traipsing all over my nice clean floor,” she sniffed. Both men looked quizzically down at their feet. Boots? They were wearing common or garden shoes.

“Come on in,” she commanded. “Heating costs a pretty penny I can ill afford to waste. So don’t let the warmth out. Shut the door behind you.”

They followed her down the linoleum corridor, before she stopped and opened a door. “In here,” she instructed wiping her hands on her apron. “I’d offer you a cup of tea, but you won’t be here that long.” They went into a room with a floor laid with lino on which sat a threadbare burgundy and black Persian style carpet. “Sit on those chairs there, not on the sofa.” She pointed to some uncomfortable dining chairs, which the detectives pulled out from the table, turning to see Mrs Parmenter making herself comfortable in an easy chair.

“Here, put your feet on this,” she barked, handing over two spreads from the Daily Sketch. “It’ll save having to clean up after you’ve gone.”

Jack looked at Barry and received the same inscrutable look in return, both knowing what the other was thinking and it was not good thoughts. However, in a well rehearsed routine Jack began the questioning and Barry took notes on his pad.

“How long has Miss Barnes been staying here?”

“Three days.”

“And do you know where she lived before?”

“No, I just rent out my rooms; I don’t want to hear about peoples’ life history. Provided they pay their dues that’s all I need to know.”

“But don’t you pass the time of day with your guests?”

“Why should I? The only reason I got in touch with you was because the woman owed me money.”

Jack sighed. “Can you give us a description of Miss Barnes and what exactly she did here, so we can get some kind of time frame regarding her movements? The more information we have, the quicker we can find her.”

It took five minutes to drag information out of the recalcitrant woman, who was clearly only interested in the money owed to her.

“Have you got all that Constable?

Barry nodded, closed his notebook and pulled out his jacket to clip his pen into the inside pocket.

“Right one more thing if we may,” Jack asked the dour faced woman. “Could we see Miss Barnes’ room?”

“Oh I don’t know about that. I might get a bob or two for the things she left behind.”

Jack was fast losing patience. “Mrs Parmenter, I should warn you that any property owned by Miss Barnes may be called upon as evidence. You are to leave it alone.”

“Oh, so it’s OK for you to pick through it and take whatever grabs your fancy,” she scoffed.

That did it. “Mrs Parmenter I should be extremely careful if I were you. One more crack like that and I’ll arrest you for obstructing a police officer in the course of his duty.”

The hard nosed woman was not impressed and merely sneered. “I suppose you’d better follow me then,” she snorted, leading the detectives out of the room and up the stairs to a door on the landing. She delved into her apron to find the key, unlocked the door and stood with arms crossed. “Get on with it then,” she snapped, waving them inside. “And be quick about it. I don’t want any of my guests coming back finding the place alive with rozzers. They’ll be thinking this is a place of ill repute next,” she sniffed. “I do have my reputation to think of,” she added, as if this really was of the utmost importance.

There was beige lino on the floor with a small rag rug beside the double bed. The room was sparsely furnished with a dresser, chair, bedside table and a large wardrobe all crowded in there too. Barry looked inside the wardrobe but there were only a few wire hangers and nothing else. On the eiderdown lay an old suitcase. Jack opened it and delved through the clothes. He checked the pockets and found a folder. Inside was an assortment of correspondence, mainly to do with life assurance and details of a house in North London. There were also several photographs. Jack pulled out three and held them out to the bristling Mrs Parmenter. “Is one of these Miss Barnes?”

Reluctantly the woman deigned to look, shaking her head at the first and giving a blunt “no.” The second photograph she nodded. “That’s her. Bit flattering if you ask me. It must have been taken a few years ago; I reckon she’s put on quite a bit of weight since this was taken if you ask me. She must be about thirty odd in this and got dark hair.” She pursed her lips. “I’d put her more like fifty now and she’s gone blonde too.”

Back at the station, Jack stood before the blackboard and wrote the name BRENDA BARNES, as heads turned to see Tim return.

“Right now everybody is here; let’s go through what we’ve got. From the information received from Mrs Parmenter, this is Miss Barnes and he held up an enlarged copy of the black and white original. This was probably taken a few years ago, as Mrs Parmenter reckoned she had put on a bit of weight since this picture was taken and her hair is now blonde. She also recalled Miss Barnes saying in passing that her family was originally from Ashby de la Zouch.”

Barry grinned at Tim. “No Tim that is not France. It’s in Leicestershire,” and was surreptitiously given a V sign in return.

“If I may continue,” and Jack looked sternly at the pair. “Mrs Parmenter’s best estimate of a description was that Miss Barnes must be aged around fifty, is rather portly, doesn’t wear makeup and dresses rather conservatively. She didn’t wear a ring and we can therefore only presume she was apparently not married. It seems she is a trained pharmacist, and until recently worked for a family owned chemist in North London which closed. She was in Huntingdon for a couple of days before taking up a new position at a chemist in Norwich. Tim, any joy on the ticket front?”

Tim took out his notebook. “I checked with the bus station. There was a coach leaving on the Monday at 3.15 pm bound for Norwich. It goes once a week and was half full, but there’s no record of a ticket being bought by a Brenda Barnes.” He looked round at the others with a smart arse smirk. “However, I did manage to trace the driver. He helped passengers load their cases in the storage hold. He says there definitely wasn’t a woman on her own travelling on the coach.”

“Was he certain of that?”

Tim nodded. “There were twenty six passengers in all. Most women were with a husband or boy friend. There were four women all travelling together, but there was no woman travelling alone.”

“Perhaps she met a sugar daddy in Huntingdon and never left,” suggested Barry with a grin.

“It doesn’t smell right to me,” said Jack. “Apart from the dreadful Parmenter woman, there must be other people who know something about her. Barry, she was supposed to have gone out to lunch at a cafe in town. Can you do the rounds, take a photograph and see whether anyone remembers her. I think that’s all we can do at the present – unless anyone has a bright idea?” He looked round, but there were no enthusiastic faces.

“Anyone fancy a slice of my Victoria Sponge,” grinned Gwen, lightening the mood. “Freshly baked last night.”

Chapter 2

It was 6.45 in the morning. Ray Little looked up at the sky and received a raindrop in the eye for his trouble. Wiping his face and swearing under his breath, he strode down the garden path with a pack-up in a Tupperware box under his arm, hoping the storm wouldn’t break during his walk to work. Moments later he turned off the pavement and onto a dirt track of a lane, which led behind houses and saved a good five minutes rather than going along the road.

There was a crack of thunder which only served to increase his pace. Thankfully it had been dry the previous few days. Probably by tomorrow the track would be a quagmire. There was a flash of lightening and he counted up to six before the peal of thunder. “Six miles,” he reasoned, hoping the storm was moving away. Luckily, so far there was only the odd plop of rain and not a downpour.

Suddenly he saw in front of him something shiny on the ground – what looked like a brand new torch. He bent down to pick it up. “Finders keepers,” he grinned to himself. In that instant there was another flash of lightening. Everywhere was lit up for a split moment and in that milli-second of time he chanced to see something beneath the bushes to his left. It looked as if somebody had dumped something there. Maybe it was worth a bit of dosh? He flicked on his new found torch and crept beneath the foliage. His disturbance caused droplets on the shrub to fall and he shivered as a cold drip plopped down his neck.

Another lightening flash. The image came and went, his eyes seared by the light saw nothing in the following darkness, but his mind retained a terrible vision.

In a fearful panic he pulled back unaware of being soaked as he battled his way out of the foliage. He screwed up his eyes in terror, his ears deafened by a booming crash of thunder shaking him to the very core. He straightened up and just ran, but the haunting image remained. A woman lying there on her back. Her sightless eyes staring right at him. Her muddied blouse torn open. A bare breast exposed. Her skirt rucked up, ripped stockings and torn underwear. The rain poured and he screamed. He had never been so scared in all his life.

By the time he reached work five minutes later, he was drained, devoid of breath and desperate. His foreman stood there by the wrack of clocking in cards, ready to give him some stick for just making work in time. He was taken aback by the snivelling man who threw his arms around him in abject terror.

“Gaffer, please, please call the coppers,” Ray managed to whimper, as the foreman indignantly pulled out of the embarrassing embrace.

“Get off me! Get a grip Little, you’re not late. Just clock yourself in.”

“I found a body,” he wailed. “Call the bloody coppers will you? It was terrible.”

As nobody had seen the unmanly embrace, the foreman retained his dignity and stepped back to give Little a scathing look, as if he had just crawled out of a cess pit. “Pull yourself together you numpty. Go on, get into work or I’ll dock your wages,” and he waved him towards the door leading to the factory floor.

Ray was now in more control of himself. “I tell you I saw a dead woman lying in the track behind the houses.”

“You’ve been watching too much TV Little. She’d probably had too much to drink. Now get to work, or you’ll be for it.”

“She was dead I tell you. Her eyes were open, looking at me. Someone had interfered with her.”

“Oh so you got yourself a right eyeful then did you,” smirked the foreman, not believing him for one second.

“Fucking dock me if you like, but the police need to be told!” Little barged past and through the door marked Reception, leaving the Foreman effing and blinding behind him.

The startled looking receptionist was busy doing her nails when Ray grabbed the telephone.

“’Ere you can’t do that. Factory floor are not allowed to make phone calls.”

“Try and stop me,” he glared, dialling 999.

The foreman careered through the door. “Little,” he shouted. “You’ve done it this time. Management will have your guts for garters. Only office can use the telephone – and you are not office. Get back here this instant!”

“Yes, I’d like to report a body,” and Little paused, turning his back on the irate foreman. “Yes, my name is Raymond Little. I’m calling from where I work, Briggs and Son, off Ermine Street. Yes, I’ll wait here.”

Jack Gilbert was going through paperwork, when he heard the main office door open followed by polite murmurs. There was brass in the room. He didn’t need to look up he could smell them. Moments later his immediate superior Detective Chief Inspector Leftwich opened the door and royalty stepped into the office in the form of Chief Superintendent Payne, who flapped his hand dismissively at Jack. “As you were Gilbert, as you were,” and Jack let his half raised posterior sink back from whence it came.

“Sir,” he acknowledged.

Without further ado the balding, burly six footer plumped himself down in the chair opposite Jack’s desk. While his uniform appeared pristine when standing, it had a life all its own when relaxed as stitching and silver buttons were brought to bear in a struggle to contain the sagging bulging body within. DCI Leftwich stood in the doorway, his large pointed nose and beady eyes giving him somewhat of a birdlike quality, underlined further by a wiry frame of nothing but skin and bone.

“Well now Gilbert, as you know we are fully aware your department is short staffed,” and the Chief Superintendent managed to raise a benign smile, as he pinched two fingers together to pick off an imaginary spot of fluff from his uniform. “So you will be pleased to know we have appointed a Detective Sergeant to join your ranks.”

“Oh thank you sir, that’s great. Which force was he with,” asked Jack, making polite conversation, but really not giving a toss providing the man was halfway intelligent.

DCI Leftwich turned away from the doorway and beckoned a person in from the main office.

“This is DS Bundy, Gilbert – first class applicant, first class. It demonstrates how the Mid-Anglia Constabulary is in the forefront of modern thinking, what? I think you will be very pleased with our choice.”

Jack looked at the doorway and was taken aback on seeing who stood there.

“Good morning, sir,” smiled an attractive young woman.

He had presumed his new Sergeant would be a man, and despite trying his very best, Jack was unable to mask the disappointment written all over his face. “Er, good morning Sergeant. Welcome to Brampton,” he faltered. Managing to smile, although he felt it seemed more of a grimace, he stood and stretched his hand out across the desk in welcome.

“Bundy sir, Linda Bundy.” He felt a softness in her grasp before a firm hand shook his. Huge saucer eyes of blue were judging him as he flicked a look across an inviting mouth, inappropriately down to her chest covered by a well cut jacket and rapidly back up to take in the button nose and shiny auburn hair cut in that fashionable pixie cut which was all the rage; like what’s her name, skinny girl with legs like twigs. Twiggy, that’s the one. Before he took on board any further detail he became aware of a subtle smile as she looked at him; her mind duly processing the impression she was gaining of the middle-aged man standing before her. A bit old school was the initial reaction.

The Chief Superintendent had other places to be and people to see. “Right Leftwich, our job here is done,” and he nodded at the new Detective Sergeant. “I am sure the Detective Inspector will bring you up to speed directly,” and with that swept out through the main office with the Detective Chief Inspector following in his wake, attempting to keep up with the pace.

For once Jack was lost for words. He scratched his head and indicated for his new Sergeant to sit down. “Where have you come from,” he asked?

“To you I must be from another world,” she thought to herself, but nevertheless smiled, aware that her presence made him feel a little uncomfortable. Should she milk it? Good sense prevailed and she decided not to. “I did two years in uniform at the Met and was a TDC at Bethnal Green before moving up to Stevenage, where I made Detective Sergeant.”

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