I clocked straight away it was the same number as on the ads.
I knew there’d be loads of them ringing up so I decided to go in, have a look, try and get whoever to see me then.
Only, at the back of my mind all the time there was something . . . there was just something. Daft.
Walked in. Looked OK. Bit down at heel but you don’t expect a builders’ yard to be Buckingham Palace.
So I’m here. I was right as well. One lad’s in there, looks about twelve, no way is he a fully qualified plumber.
I’m in here. Outer office, waiting area, whatever. The usual. One chair, one sofa, magazines out of the ark, yesterday’s Sun, holes in the lino. Like something off the telly. Your typical builders’ office.
I got the feeling the minute I walked in. Or rather, I had the feeling, only I got it more. A lot more.
There’s just something. I can’t put my finger on it. Something’s buggin’ me.
Oh for Christ’s sake, get over it. This is work, man, this could be very good work, and they won’t find a better plumber than me within fifty miles. They won’t.
He’s coming out. Twelve-year-old. Ought to be in school.
Slapping him on the shoulder, no hard feelings.
Taking him down to the gate as well.
Having a shout at the guy with the truck and the other guy, looks like a right waste of space. What’s he doing employed here?
He’s walking back up the yard. Coming in.
‘Sorry about that, only that lad, he could talk the talk. Right, now . . . come in the back office. You said you saw the notice on the gate? I’m glad about that because the guys told me it was a waste of paper putting it up, no one’ll go by here and see it, whereas in point of fact three have done just that. You’re the third. Come in here. Right, what’s your name?’
I don’t know what it was. Nothing. Just that feeling. Bloody hell.
‘Can I have your name?’
‘OK. Come in, let’s have a chat, get some details.’
Harry stood up, and as he did so, everything in him gave out the urgent signal. It was like an electric current zapping through him.
GO. GET OUT OF HERE.
The two guys were at the gate and the van was blocking it, even though it was supposed to have been moved. He swerved, and ran left, dodging a pile of full rubble sacks and a bale of barbed wire. He ran to the back of the yard, all the time working out what was ahead, how to get past it or over it or round it, and he sussed that he could jump onto the cement mixer, and, in one even faster leap, be onto the wall and over the other side. He was good at this. He was very good. He’d had training enough.
He ran, swerved, gathered himself, leapt onto and off the mixer, landed on the wall, where he wobbled for a second or two, put out his arms for balance, and was up and over and down. And running. He’d no idea why but he was running faster than he’d ever run.
‘Go, go, go!’ Serrailler had yelled into their ears, the second he saw the man taking off out of the office and down the yard.
But he was lightning-fast, ducking, leaping, up and over and off. They pounded down, but they were nothing like as agile getting up and onto the wall. Lee revved the pickup, Pete banged at the iron bars and hauled the gates open, the rest of them poured through and went in every direction, ear-mikes full of Serrailler’s shouted instructions.
But he had a head start.
The yard was empty, the gate swinging open. In the office, the phone rang and rang.
IT WAS EVERY cop’s dream chase. The guy trips over a loose kerb. Simple as that. Pete got to him first, Serrailler a minute later. The rest had gone in the other direction.
‘Harry Fletcher, I am arresting you for . . .’
Backup was there. The street was half empty. It was all over in seconds.
Fifteen minutes later Harry Fletcher was in front of the desk sergeant; twenty, and he was banged up.
The team were jubilant and Serrailler sent them off in a warm glow after showering them with well-deserved praise. But the clock was now ticking. He could only hold Fletcher for thirty-six hours without applying to the magistrates. He put an urgent application in for a warrant to search Fletcher’s house. Ben Vanek would do the initial interview, while he himself watched and listened in. Fletcher was using the duty solicitor.
Simon rang forensics. They had tested the DNA on Olive Tredwell’s mirror, and they had found several exhalation traces, all of which were a match for her.
‘All but one,’ the girl said.
‘So someone else had been close to the mirror?’
‘And it’s fresh. Someone sneezed or coughed or otherwise exhaled in fairly close proximity to the mirror. Mrs Tredwell’s weren’t fresh.’
‘Have you got a match?’
‘No. Nothing comes up.’
‘Well, stay right there and pray. We’re getting a swab in the next five minutes and we’ll run it over to you on a blue light. It’s urgent. Can you drop everything else?’
‘I’ll do my best but –’
‘Don’t say “no promises”. Say “I promise”. Please?’
The search warrant would be with them in half an hour, and the DNA swab had been taken from Fletcher. Simon put his head round the door of the CID room.
‘I’m going for a breather, run round the block. How’s everyone?’
Half the room were busy on other cases, several were pent up, as he was, waiting, waiting, knowing they’d got the right man and knowing they had to prove it.
‘Luck,’ Steph said. ‘That’s what we need.’
‘We’re on the home straight, guys, not long. Get your heads into some nice paperwork, keep your minds off the waiting.’
Someone threw a ball of screwed-up paper at him as he went. He put his head back round the door, face grim. There was an uneasy silence. Simon paused, then bent down, picked up the paper ball and chucked it back at the nearest person.
Running in his suit was out so he walked fast four times round the block then went into the Cypriot deli. It was empty. A couple of poached eggs on toast and a double espresso were quickly in front of him, hot, fresh, looking and smelling delicious.
His phone rang. Forensics? Too soon and the search warrant wouldn’t have arrived.
Rachel’s voice was very quiet. She was probably in one of the hospital waiting areas.
‘Is it all right to talk?’
‘Of course. I’m having a fast food break. How are you?’
He saw her face, her beautifully shaped face, anxious violet eyes, long lashes, the curve of her mouth.
‘You should know . . . Ken died . . . twenty minutes ago. Sorry, I can’t say any more just now.’
The coffee scalded his mouth and he did not remember tasting the eggs. He sat staring out of the window onto the street, seeing nothing, disorientated every time he came to from his focus on Rachel – what had happened, what she would be doing, where she would go, how she felt, if she wanted to see him . . .
Phone again. At least the job would take him over for the next few hours or days.
But it was his sister.
‘Can I talk?’
‘Are you OK?’
Tell her? Don’t tell her?
He told her.
‘Oh, Si . . . I’m so sorry . . . Are you with her?’
‘God, no, I’m just grabbing some food, then heading back to the station.’
‘How’s it going?’
How was it going? What? How was what going? How . . .
‘Looks like we’ve got him.’
‘Listen, do you want to come over here tonight? Have something to eat . . .’
‘Yes. Only . . . I’m not sure.’
‘Sounds as if you might get an evening off if you’ve made an arrest, or . . . if Rachel needs you, you should go there.’
‘I don’t know if she will.’
‘Si – come when and if. Got to go, here’s the supermarket delivery. See you later.’
He stared at the phone after it had gone silent. Would he go? Did he want to be on his own? Would Rachel need him?
He got up, wandered out, and only heard Nico calling him back to pay when he was halfway down the street.
He texted Rachel, sent her flowers, talked to Ben about interviewing Fletcher, started his report on the builders’ yard op, but realised he wasn’t focusing.
After that, so many things happened that his focus came back, sharp as a pin.
The team who had gone to search Fletcher’s house had found nothing at all of relevance to the murders but in a dustbin they came upon a plastic carrier bag containing trainers and a pair of jeans, both smelling of petrol. They had also found an empty disposable cigarette lighter at the bottom of the bin.
‘Thank God for dustbin collections only every two weeks,’ Serrailler said to Steph. ‘Come back in with this lot and we’ll scoot them round to forensics. If they don’t find something to link with the Nobby Parks fire I’ll go back on the beat. Was the house empty?’
‘No, guv. Karen – Mrs Fletcher – was in with two little lads. She’s in a bad state. First, her mum is murdered. Now, it’s her husband who’s the murderer. Well, perhaps he’s the murderer. And Heaven knows how any woman could cope with that.’
‘Right, I understand. I‘ll get bods round. One of you stay there until they arrive, the rest get back with the stuff. Sure there was nothing to connect with the old lady murders?’
‘Ransacked the place, guv. Garden shed was padlocked like Fort Knox but it was only garden stuff.’
‘Steph, you know what we’re after. Trophies. Did you find any toenail clippings?’
He heard her stifle a giggle. ‘No, sir. And we looked in every jar and tin.’
‘No gruesome photos kept as mementos? No electrical flex anywhere?’
‘Not that we found – and we took the place apart, to the lady’s distress.’
A few minutes later, she was back on the phone.
‘Mrs Fletcher wants to see her husband. She’s very upset and not taking no for an answer. Says she can get someone for the kids but she’s got to see him.’
‘No. Get the FLO to her, calm her down. I can’t give her access yet. Get that stuff over here as soon as, I want it on hand for the interview.’
Forty minutes later, he went downstairs. The petrol-smelling trainers and jeans had arrived bagged up and were concealed at Ben Vanek’s feet in the interview room. Fletcher was sitting at the table, the duty solicitor beside him – Serrailler was pleased to see Michael Spiers, a steady, older pair of hands, fair but no soft touch. Ben Vanek was opposite.
‘Cool as a bloody cucumber,’ Gerry Rathbone said, getting up.
‘Thanks, I’ll stand. Is he cool? His eyes are flicking about.’
‘He’s got a hell of a lot to hold together.’
Ben Vanek had gone through the standard opening lines. Fletcher spoke clearly in answer, looking directly at him, ignoring his brief, not glancing round or fiddling with his hands or shifting in his chair.
Holding himself together was right. It took a lot of concentration. And practice.
Simon itched to be doing the interview but Ben was measured, calm and relentless. They were the qualities that had won him fast promotion, but he also had a spark, a flare, which Serrailler had spotted early on.
‘Do you wear trainers?’ he asked Fletcher now.
‘When? Work? Every day?’
Fletcher shrugged. ‘Sometimes.’
‘You’re not wearing them now.’
‘How many pairs do you own?’
‘And where are those trainers now?’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Just answer the question.’
‘In the wardrobe, in the hall, I don’t know.’
‘What colour trainers are they?’
‘White. White and blue. Maybe grey.’
‘Don’t remember offhand. White and blue. Yes. And there’s a grey pair. Think I’ve still got them.’
Ben bent swiftly and brought the cellophane bag containing the trainers onto the table under Fletcher’s nose.
‘Are these your trainers?’
‘Of course they’re not.’
‘Why of course?’
‘They wouldn’t be here in a plastic bag, would they? I said, they’re in the wardrobe or somewhere at home.’
‘So you don’t own these trainers? Grubby but white with a blue flash. Look at them carefully please. Handle them, so long as you don’t take them out of the bag.’
Fletcher took the trainers and turned them over and back. Dropped them on the table.
‘What size do you take? Don’t bother lying because it’s easily checked.’
‘These are a ten. Sure you don’t recognise them?’
‘I said . . . they’re a bit like mine but most trainers are much the same.’
‘Our officers searched your house this afternoon and found these in the bin, along with these.’ He picked up a second plastic bag. ‘Jeans. These are your jeans, aren’t they?’
Fletcher stared at them but said nothing.
‘Why did you dump a pair of perfectly good trainers and some jeans in the bins, Mr Fletcher?’
‘The wife would have. I don’t know.’
‘Why would your wife do that? She might bin some very old clothes but these aren’t old, are they? Look in good nick to me. So why did you bin them?’
‘Just didn’t want them.’
‘So they are yours?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Come on, Harry, don’t take the piss. These are your trainers and jeans and you dumped them in your dustbin. Why?’
Fletcher moved about in his chair but did not reply and did not meet Ben Vanek’s eye.
‘If you don’t know, I do. You dumped them because they smelled of petrol, the petrol you used to throw on Nobby Parks’s shack before you set light to it. You spilled some and we all know how petrol reeks on your clothes. You could hardly walk home in your Y-fronts so you dumped them in the bin as soon as you got back. Isn’t that the case?’
‘I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about. Never heard of this Nobby bloke.’