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Kissing the Gunners Daughter

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A bank job goes wrong and a Kingsmarkham detective sergeant is killed. Months later, the Flory family are slaughtered at home by an unknown assassin. The cases seem unrelated. But Chief Inspector Wexford is not so sure. By the author of "The Copper Peacock" and "The Bridesmaid".
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  WEXFORD went home early. His feeling was that this might be the last time he got home by six for a long while.

  Dora was in the hall, replacing the phone receiver, as he let himself in. She said, 'That was Sheila. If you'd been a second sooner you could have talked to her.'

  A sardonic retort rose to his lips and he suppressed it. There was no reason for being unpleasant to his wife. None of it was her fault. Indeed, at that dinner on Tuesday, she had done her best to make things easier, to dull the edge of spitefulness and soften sarcasm.

  'They are coming,' Dora said, her tone neutral.

  'Who's coming where?'

  'Sheila and — and Gus. For the weekend. You know Sheila said they might on Tuesday.'

  'A lot of things have happened since Tuesday.'

  At any rate, he probably wouldn't be home much during the weekend. But tomorrow was the weekend, tomorrow was Friday, and they would arrive in the evening. He poured himself beer, an Adnam's which a local wine shop had begun to stock, and a dry sherry for Dora. She had her hand on his arm, moved it to enclose the back of his hand. It reminded him of Daisy'sicy touch. But Dora's was warm.

  He burst out, 'I've got to have that miscreant here for a whole weekend!'

  'Reg, don't. Don't begin like that. We've only met him twice.'

  'The first time she brought him here,' said Wexford, 'he stood in this room in front of my books and he took them out one by one. He looked at them in turn with a little contemptuous smile on his face. He took out the Trollope and looked at it like that. He took out the short stories of M. R. James and shook his head. I can see him now, standing there with James in his hand and shaking his head slowly, very slowly from side to side. I expected him to turn his thumbs down. I expected him to do what the Chief Vestal did when the gladiator had the net-man at his mercy in the arena. Kill. That's the verdict of the supreme judge, kill.'

  'He has a right to his opinion.'

  'He hasn't a right to despise m; ine and show he despises it. Besides, Dora, that's not the only thing and you know it isn't. Have you ever met a man with a more arrogant manner? Have you ever — well, as a friend in your own family circle or that you know well — have you ever come across anyone who so plainly made you feel he despised you? You and me. Everything he said was designed to show his loftiness, his cleverness, his wit. What does she see in him? What does she see in him? He's small and skinny, he's ugly, he's myopic, he can't see further than the end of his twitching nose...'

  'You know something, darling? Women likesmall men. They find them attractive. I know big tall ones like you don't believe it, but it's true.'

  'Burke said...'

  'I know what Burke said. You've told me before. A man's handsomeness resides entirely in his height, or something like that. Burke wasn't a woman. Anyway, I expect Sheila values him for his mind. He's a very clever man, you know, Reg. Perhaps he's a genius.'

  'God help us if you're going to call everyone who was short-listed for the Booker prize a genius.'

  'I think we should make allowances for a young man's pride in his own achievements. Augustine Casey is only thirty and he's already seen as one of this country's foremost novelists. Or so I read in the papers. His books get half page reviews in the book section of The Times. His first novel won the Somerset Maugham Award.'

  'Success should make people humble, modest and kind, as the donor of that prize said somewhere.'

  'It seldom does. Try to be indulgent towards him, Reg. Try to listen with — with an olderman's wisdom when he airs his opinions.'

  'And you can say that after what he said to you about the pearls? You're a magnanimous woman, Dora.' Wexford gave a sort of groan. 'lf only she doesn't really care for him. If only she can come to see what I see.' He drank is beer, made a face as if the taste were after all not congenial to him. 'You don'tthink — ' he turned to his wife, appalled ' — you don't think she'd marry him, do you?'

  'I think she might live with him, enter into — what shall I call it? — a long-term relationship with him. I do think that, Reg, really. You have to face it. She's told me — oh, Reg, don't look like that. I have to tell you.'

  'Tell me what?'

  'She says she's in love with him and that she doesn't think she's ever been in love before.'

  'Oh, God.'

  'For her to tell me that, she never tells me things — well, it has to be significant.'

  Wexford answered her melodramatically. He knew it was melodramatic before the words were out but he couldn't stop it. The histrionics brought him a tiny consolation.

  'He'll take my daughter from me. If he and she are together that's the end of Sheila and me. She will cease to be my daughter. It's true. I can see it. What's the use of pretending otherwise, what is ever the use of pretending?'

  He had blocked off that Tuesday evening's dinner. Or the events at Tancred House and their consequences had blocked them off for him, but now he opened his mind to them, the second beer he poured opened his mind, and he saw that man entering the little provincial restaurant, eyeing his surroundings, whispering something to Sheila. She had asked how her father, their host, would like them to sit atthe table they were shown to, but Augustine Casey, before Wexford had a chance to speak, had chosen his seat. It was the chair backing a corner of the room.

  'I shall sit here where I can see the circus,' he had said with a small private smile, a smile that was for himself alone, excluding even Sheila.

  Wexford had understood him to mean he wanted to watch the behaviour of the other diners. It was perhaps a novelist's prerogative, though scarcely that of such an extreme post post-modernist as Casey was. He had already written at least one work of fiction without characters. Wexford had still been trying to talk to him then, to get him to talk about something, even if the subject was himself. Back at the house he had spoken, had delivered some obscure opinions on poetry in eastern Europe, every phrase he used consciously clever, but once in the restaurant he became silent, as if with boredom. He confined his speech to answering briefly requests that had to be made.

  One of the things about him which had angered Wexford was his refusal ever to use an ordinary phrase or to indulge in the usage of good manners. When 'How do you do?' was said to him, he replied that he was not at all well but it was useless to enquire because he seldom was. Asked what he would drink he requested an unusual kind of Welsh mineral water which came in dark-blue bottles. This unavailable, he drank brandy.

  His first course he left after one mouthful. Halfway through the meal he broke his silence to talk about pearls. The view from where he sat had afforded him a sight of no fewer than eight women wearing pearls round their necks or in their ears. After using the word once he didn't repeat it but referred to 'concretions' or 'chitinous formations'. He quoted Pliny the Elder who spoke of pearls as 'the most sovereign commodity in the whole world', he quoted Indian Vedic literature and described Etruscan jewellery, he delivered a thousand words or so on the pearls of Oman and Qatar that come from waters one hundred and twenty feet deep. Sheila hung upon his words. What was the use of deceiving himself? She listened, gazing at Casey, with adoration.

  Casey was eloquent on the subject of Hope's baroque pearl that weighed eleven ounces and on La Reine des Perles which was among the crown jewels of France stolen in 1792. Then he talked of the superstitions associated with 'concretions', and with his eyes on the modest string round Dora's neck, spoke of the folly of older women who used to believe and no doubt still did, that such necklaces would restore their lost youth.

  Wexford had made up his mind then to speak, to rebuke, but his phone had started bleeping and he had left without a word. Or without a word of admonition. Naturally, he had said good-bye. Sheila kissed him and Casey said, as if it were some received rubric of farewell, 'We shall meet again.'

  Anger had fulminated, he had been boiling with rage, up through the dark, the cold woods. Enormous tragedy neutralised it. But the Tancred tragedy was not his, and this was, or might well be. The pictures kept on coming, the imagined future scenarios, their home. He thought of how it would be when he phoned her and that man answered. What message of arcane wit would that man have recorded on his and Sheila's answering machine? How would it be when, on some necessary trip to London, Sheila's father dropped in on Sheila as he so dearly loved to do, and that man was there?

  His mind was filled with it and when he went to bed he expected a dream of Casey to be its natural consequence. But the nightmare which came, towards dawn, was of the massacre at Tancred. He was in that room, at that table, with Daisy and Naomi Jones and Davina Flory, Gopeland having gone to investigate the noises upstairs. He could hear no noises, he was examining the scarlet tablecloth, asking Davina Flory why it was such a bright colour, why it was red. And she, laughing, told him he was mistaken, perhaps he was colour-blind, many men were. The cloth was white, as white as driven snow.

  She didn't mind using a hackneyed expression like that one? he had asked her. No, no, she replied and she smiled, she touched his hand with her hand, cliches like that were often the best to describe something. You could be too lever.

  The shot came and the gunman walked into the room. Wexford slipped out, he escaped unseen, the window with its panes of curved eight-ounce glass melted to allow his passage, so that he was in time to see the getaway car slide on to the courtyard, driven by the other man. The other man was Ken Harrison.

  * * *

  At the stables in the morning — he had stopped calling it an incident room, it was the stables — they showed him the composite picture made from Daisy's description. It would appear in television news programmes that evening, on all networks.

  She had been able to tell him so little! The pictured face was blander and blanker than any real face ever can be. Those features she had been able to describe, the artist seemed to have accentuated, perhaps unconsciously. After all, these were all he had to work on. So the man who looked out of the paper at Wexford had blank wide-apart eyes and a straight nose, and lips neither full nor thin, but a strong chin with a cleft dividing it, large dramatic ears and a copious thatch of pale hair.

  He gave Sumner-Quist's post-mortem reports a summary examination, then had himself driven down to Kingsmarkham to put in an appearance at the inquest. As he expected, it was opened, the pathologist's evidence heard, and the proceedings adjourned. Wexford walked across the High Street, down York Street andinto the Kingsbrook Centre, to find Garlands, the craft gallery.

  Although a notice inside the glass door informed prospective shoppers that the gallery would be open five days a week from 10 a.m. until 5.30 p.m., on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. and closed on Sundays, it was shut. The windows on either side of this door contained a familiar assortment of pottery, dried flower arrangements, basketwork, marble photograph frames, shell pictures, ceramic cottages, silver jewellery, inlaid wooden boxes, glass baubles, carved, woven, moulded, knitted, blown-glass and sewn miniature animals, as well as a great quantity of household linen with birds and fish and flowers and trees printed on it.

  But no lights were on to illuminate this plethora of uselessness. A dimness, becoming a darkness in the depths of the gallery, just allowed Wexford to make out larger items hanging from fake antique beams, gowns perhaps, shawls and robes, and a cash desk set up between a pyramid of what seemed like grotesque felt animals, the teverse of cuddlesome, and a display case showing behind dim glass, terracotta masks and porcelain wall-vases.

  It was Friday and Garlands was closed. The possibility that Mrs Garland had closed her gallery for the remainder of the week out of respect for the memory of Naomi Jones, her partner, who had died so dreadfully, did not ape him. Or she might have failed to opencause she was simply too upset. The degree of her friendship with Daisy's mother was stillunknown. But the purpose of Wexford's call had been to enquire about the visit she might or might not have paid to Tancred House on the Tuesday evening.

  If she had been there why had she not come to tell them? The publicity, the coverage, had been enormous. Everyone with the least knowledge of events, everyone with the smallest connection with Tancred House, had been appealed to. If she had not been there why had she not told them why not?

  Where did she live? Daisy had not said, but it was a simple matter to find out. Not over the gallery, at any rate. The three floors of the centre were entirely devoted to the establishments of retailers, boutiques, hairdressers, a vast supermarket, a DIY place, two fast-food restaurants, a garden centre and a gym. He could call in to the incident room and have the address within minutes, but the main Kingsmarkham Post Office was only on the other side of the road.

  Wexford went in and, avoiding the queue for stamps, pensions and allowances, which coiled serpentinely around a roped-off winding lane, asked to see the electoral register. It was what he would have done long ago, before the advent of all this technology. Sometimes, defiantly, he liked doing these old-fashioned things.

  The voters' list was arranged by street, not surname. It was a task for a subordinate but he was there now, he had begun. Anyway, he wanted to know, he very much wanted to know, and as soon as possible, why Joanne Garlandhad closed her shop, and presumably closed it for three days.

  He found her at last, and only a couple of streets from where he lived himself. Joanne Garland's house was in Broom Vale, a somewhat more spacious building and a rather superior location to his own. She lived alone. The register told him that. Of course, it wouldn't have told him if she had anyone under eighteen living with her, but this was unlikely.

  Wexford went back to the court where his car was. Parking in the town was not something to be engaged in lightly these days. He could just imagine the piece in the Kingsmarkham Courier, some bright young reporter — perhaps Jason Sebright himself? — spotting that it was Chief Inspector Wexford's car on the double yellow line, trapped in the jaws of the wheel clamp.

  There was no one at home. Next door, on both sides, there was no one at home either. When he was young, you usually found a woman at home. Things had changed. For some reason, this reminded him of Sheila, but he sternly chased away the thought. He had a look at the house, which he had never bothered to study before, though he had passed it hundreds of times. It was quite ordinary, detached, set in its garden, well kept, newly painted, probably four-bedroomed, two bathroomed, with a television dish sticking out by an upstairs window. An almond tree was coming into bloom in the front garden.

  He considered for a moment, then walked around the back. The house looked closed up.

  But at this time of the year, early spring, it would look closed up, windows wouldn't be open. He looked through the kitchen window. Inside it was tidy, though there were dishes on the draining board, washed and stacked against each other to dry.

  Back to the front of the house and a squint through the keyhole in the garage door. There was a car inside but he couldn't make out what kind. A glance through the tiny window to the right of the door showed him newspapers on the floor and a couple of letters. Perhaps only this morning's papers? But no, he could see one Daily Mail masthead against the edge of the mat and another half-hidden by a brown envelope. Wexford twisted his head, striving to make out the name of the third paper of which he could only see a corner and a section of a picture. The photograph was a full-length shot of the Princess of Wales.

  Returning to Tancred House, he had the car stop at a newsagent. As he had expected, the Princess of Wales's photograph was on today's Mail. Therefore, three newspapers had arrived for Joanne Garland since she had last been in the house. Therefore she had not been there since Tuesday evening.

  * * *

  Barry Vine said in his slow laid-back way, 'Gabbitas may have been in that wood on Tuesday afternoon, sir, and he may not. Witnesses are what you might call thin on theground out where he was. Or says he was. The wood's on land belonging to a man who owns five hundred acres. He calls it organic farming what he does on some of it, cattle just roaming around, if you know what I mean. He's planted some new woodland and he's got some of that set-aside the Government pays you not to grow things on.

  'The point is, the wood where Gabbitas says he was is miles from anywhere. You go down this lane for two miles, it's like the end of the world, not a roof to be seen, not even a barn. Well, I've lived in the country all my life but I wouldn't have believed there was anything like that in the Home Counties.

  'They call it coppicing, what he was doing. It'd be pruning if it was roses, not trees. He's done some, that's for sure, and you can see he's been there — we checked the track marks with his Land Rover. But your guess is as good as mine, sir, if he was there on Tuesday.'

  Wexford nodded. 'Barry, I want you to get down to Kingsmarkham and find a Mrs Garland, Joanne Garland. Failing finding her—I don't think you'll find her — see if you can discover where she's gone, in fact her movements since Tuesday afternoon. Take someone with you, take Karen. She lives in Broom Vale, at number fifteen, and she's got one of those kitschy shops in the Centre. See if her car's gone, talk to the neighbours.'


  Wexford put up his eyebrows.

  'What's a kitschy shop?' Vine placed thestress on the first word, as in fish shop. 'I'm sure I ought to know but it's slipped my mind.'

  Somehow, this reminded Wexford of distant days and his grandfather, who managed an ironmonger's in Stowerton, telling a lazy boy assistant to go out and buy a pound of elbow grease and the boy obediently going. But Vine was neither lazy nor stupid, Vine — de mortuis notwithstanding — was cuts above poor Martin. Instead of telling this tale to Vine, he explained the word he had used.

  Wexford found Burden eating lunch at his desk. This was behind screens in the corner where Daisy's furniture, bookcases, chairs, floor cushions, were carefully covered up in dust sheets. Burden was eating pizza and coleslaw, not among Wexford's favourite foods, either apart or associated, but he asked where it came from just the same.

  'Our caterers' van. It's outside and will be every day from twelve thirty till two. Didn't you fix it?'

  'It's the first I've heard of it,' said Wexford.

  'Get Karen to go out and fetch you something. That's quite a selection they've got.'

  Wexford said Karen Malahyde had gone down to Kingsmarkham with Barry Vine but he'd ask Davidson to get his lunch. Davidson knew what he liked. He sat down opposite Burden with a mud-coloured coffee from the machine.

  'How about these Griffins then?'

  'The son's unemployed, living on the dole — well, no, Income Support, he's beenunemployed too long for the dole. He lives at home with his parents. He's called Andrew or Andy. The parents are Terry and Margaret, late middle-age to elderly.'

  'Like me,' said Wexford. 'What telling phrases you do use, Mike.'

  Burden ignored him. 'They're retired people with not enough to do, they struck me as being at a loose end. And they're raving paranoiacs as well. Everything's wrong and everyone's against them. When we got there they were waiting for Telecom to fix their phone, that's who they thought we were, and they both gave us a blast before we got a chance to explain.

  'Then as soon as the name Tancred was mentioned, they started whingeing on about the best years of their lives they gave up to the place and the iniquities of Davina Flory as an employer, you can imagine. The funny thing was that although they must have known, I mean it was clear that they knew, all about what happened on Tuesday night — there was even yesterday's paper lying there with all the photos — they never said a word about it till we did. I mean, not even a comment on how terrible it was. Just an exchanged glance when I said I believed they'd worked there, Griffin said rather grimly that they'd worked there all right , they'd never forget it, and then they were fiff, the pair of them, until we had to — well, stem the tide.'

  Wexford quoted, ''An event has happened on which it is difficult to speak and impossible to silent.'' He got a suspicious look in return.

  'Did the Telecom man come?'

  'Yes, he did at last. I was going spare, what with her toddling to the front door every five minutes to look up and down the road for him. By the way, Andy Griffin wasn't there, he came in later. His mother said he was out jogging.'

  They were interrupted by Davidson, coming round the screens with a waxed paper carrier containing tandoori chicken, pilaf rice and mango chutney for Wexford.

  'I wish I'd had that,' said Burden.

  'Too late now. No swaps, I hate pizza. Did you find out what they quarrelled about with the Harrisons?'

  Burden looked surprised. 'I didn't ask.'

  'No, but if they're so paranoid they might have volunteered the information.'

  'They didn't mention the Harrisons. Maybe that's significant. Margaret Griffin went on about the immaculate state she'd left the cottage in and how the one time they met Gabbitas he'd had tar on his boots and it came off on their carpet. He'd soon turn the place into a tip, she could tell that.'

  'Andy Griffin came in. I suppose he might have been jogging. He's overweight, not to say fat. He was wearing a tracksuit but not everyone who wears them goes on tracks. He looks as if he couldn't run for a bus that was going at five miles an hour. He's shortish and fair but there's no way you could stretch Daisy Flory's description to fit him.'

  'She wouldn't have to describe him. She'dknow him,' said Wexford. 'She'd know him even behind a mask.'

  'True. He was out on Tuesday night, he says with mates, and his parents confirm he went out at around six. I'm checking it out with the mates. They're supposed to have gone the round of pubs in Myringham and for a Chinese in a place called the Panda Cottage.'

  'Those names! Sounds like a haunt for gay endangered species. He's on the dole?'

  'Like I say, one of those benefits. They're always changing the names. There's something funny about him, Reg, though I can't tell you what. I know that's not helpful but what I'm really saying is, we have to keep our eye on Andrew Griffin. His parents give the impression of disliking everyone and they've got a lot of resentment built up for some reason — or no reason — against Harvey Copeland and Davina Flory, but Andy, he hates them. His whole manner and voice change when he talks about them. He even said he was glad they were dead- 'scum' and 'shit' are the words he uses about them.'

  'Prince Charming.'

  'We'll know a bit more when we find out if he really was out round the pubs and this Panda Cottage on Tuesday.'

  Wexford glanced at his watch. 'Time for me to get off over to the Infirmary. D'you feel like coming? You could put a few Griffin queries to Daisy yourself'

  The moment the words were out of his mouthhe regretted them. Daisy was accustomed to him by now, she would almost certainly not want another policeman arriving with him and arriving unannounced. But he need not have worried. Burden had no intention of coming. Burden had an appointment for another interview with Brenda Harrison.

  'She'll keep,' he said of Daisy. 'She'll feel easier about talking when she's out of there. By the way, where's she going when she is out of there?'

  'I don't know,' Wexford said slowly. 'I really don't know. It hadn't occurred to me.'

  'Well, she can't go home, can she? If it's her home, I suppose it is. She can't go straight back where it happened. Maybe one day but hardlynow.'

  'I'll be back,' said Wexford, as he went, 'in time to see what the television networks do for us. I'll be back in time for the ITN news at five forty.'

  Once again, at the hospital, he did not declare himself but entered unobtrusively, almost secretly. No Dr Leigh was about and no nurses. He knocked on the door of Daisy's room, unable to see much through the frosted glass, the shape of the bed only, enough to tell him no visitor sat at the bedside.

  No one said to come in. Of course, he was rather earlier than he had been on previous occasions. Alone, unescorted, he did not like to open the door. He knocked again, now certain, without evidence for his certainty, that the room was empty. They must have a day room and shemight be in it. He turned away and came face to face with a man in a short white jacket. The charge nurse?

  'I'm looking for Miss Flory.'

  'Daisy went home today.'

  'She went home?'

  'Are you Chief Inspector Wexford? She left a message that she'd phone you. Her friends came for her. I can give you the name, I've got it somewhere.'

  Daisy had gone to Nicholas Virson and his mother in Myfleet. That, then, was the answer to Burden's question. She had gone home to her friends, perhaps her closest friends. He wondered why she hadn't told him of this on the previous day, but perhaps she hadn't known. No doubt, they had been in touch with her, had invited her and she had agreed in order to escape. Almost every patient longs to escape from hospital.

  'We'll be keeping an eye on her,' the charge nurse said. 'She has an appointment here for an examination on Monday.'

  Back at the stables, he watched television, one news broadcast after another. The artist's impression of what the Tancred gunman looked like came on to the screen. Seeing it like that, enlarged, somehow more convincing than a drawing on paper could be, Wexford knew who it reminded him of.

  Nicholas Virson.

  The face on the screen was exactly as he remembered Virson's face at Daisy's bedside, coincidence, chance and something fortuitouson the artist's part? Or some unconscious displacement on Daisy's? Did that make the picture, which had now vanished from the screen to be succeeded by some pop star's wedding, worthless? The mask the gunman had worn had served its purpose if the result of wearing it had been to make himself look like the .witness's boyfriend!

  Wexford sat in front of the television, unseeing. It was getting on for half past six, the time Sheila and Augustine Casey might be expected to arrive. He felt no compulsion to go home.

  He went back to his own desk where a dozen messages awaited him. The top one told him what he already knew, that Daisy Flory could be found care of Mrs Joyce Virson at The Thatched House, Castle Lane, Myfleet. It also gave him something he didn't know, a phone number. Wexford took his own phone out of his pocket and punched the digits.

  A woman's voice answered, superior, sweeping, imperious. 'Hallo?'

  Wexford said who he was and that he would like to talk to Miss Flory on the following day, in the afternoon at about four.

  'But it's Saturday!'

  He agreed. There was no denying it.

  'Well, I suppose so. If you must. Can you find this cottage? How do you intend to get here? The bus service isn't at all reliable...'

  He said he would be there at four and pressed the cut-off button. There was much to be said for this new phone. The door opened, a strongdraught of cold evening air swept in and Barry Vine appeared.

  'Where have you sprung from?' Wexford said rather sourly.

  'It sounds ridiculous, but she's disappeared. Mrs Garland. Joanne Garland. She's missing.'

  'What d'you mean, missing? You mean she's not there? That's hardly the same thing.'

  'She's missing. She told no one she was going away, she left no messages or instructions for anyone. No one knows where she's gone. She hasn't been seen since Tuesday evening.

  'Don't say it! Don't abuse him!'

  'I couldn't abuse him. What would be abuse to a miscreant like him? To that drunken foul mouthed clown? The biggest insults I could find would flatter him.'

  'My God, whatever I've inherited from you. I'm glad it isn't your tongue. Listen to me. Father...'

  He gave a whoop of laughter. 'Father? Since when have you called me Father?'

  'Right, I'll call you nothing. Listen to me, will you? I love him with all my heart. I'll never leave him!'

  'You're not on stage at the Olivier now,' said Wexford very nastily. He heard her draw in her breath. 'And if you go on like this I frankly doubt if you ever will be again.'

  'I wonder,' she said distantly — oh, she had inherited much from him! — 'I wonder if it's ever occurred to you to think about how unusual it is for a daughter to be as close to her parents as I've been to you and Mother, how I phone you a couple of times a week, how I'm aIways coming down to see you. Have you ever wondered why?'

  'No. I know why. It's because we've always been nice and sweet and loving to you, because we've spoiled you to hell and let you stompall over us, and now that I've summoned up the nerve to confront you and tell you a few home truths about you and that ugly little pseud...'

  He never finished the sentence. What he was going to cite as the consequence of his 'nerve' he never reached, and now he had forgotten what it was. Before he could get another word out she had slammed down the receiver.

  He knew he shouldn't have spoken to her like that. His mother, long ago, had used a regretful phrase which was perhaps current in her youth: 'Come back all I said!' If only it were possible to call back all one had said! By saying those words of his mother's, to cancel out abuse and sarcasm, to make five minutes disappear. But it wasn't possible, and none knew better than he that no word uttered could ever be lost, only, one day, like everything else that ever happened in human existence, it might be forgotten.

  His phone was in his pocket. The train, as usual these days, was full of people using phones, mostly men making business calls. It had been a novelty not long ago, now it was commonplace. He could phone her, she might be at home. She might put the receiver down when she heard his voice. Wexford, who didn't usually care for the opinion of others, very much disliked the idea of his fellow passengers witnessing the effect this would have on him.

  A trolley came round with coffee and those ubiquitous sandwiches, the kind he liked in three-dimensional plastic boxes. In this world are two kinds of people — among the fed, thatis — those who when worried eat for comfort and those whose appetite is killed by anxiety. Wexford belonged in the first category. He had had breakfast and presumably he would have lunch, but he bought a bacon and egg sandwich just the same. Eating it appreciatively, he found himself hoping that what he encountered at Royal Oak would to some extent drive Sheila from his mind.

  At Crewe he got a taxi. The taxi driver knew all about the prison, where it was and what sort of institution it was. Wexford wondered who were the fares he habitually drove up there. Visitors perhaps, sweethearts and wives. There had been a move here a year or two ago to allow conjugal visits in private, but this had been vetoed. Sex was evidently rated highly among amenities not to be countenanced.

  The prison turned out to be well out in the Country, in, according to the driver, the valley in the River Wheelock. Royal Oak, he told Wexford in a practised guide-like way, came from an ancient tree, long since disappeared, in which King Charles had hidden from his enemies. Which King Charles he didn't say find Wexford wondered how many such trees proliferated in England, as many as there were slept in by Elizabeth I, no doubt. Therecertainly was one in Cheriton Forest, a favourite spot. Charles must have spent years of hisclimbing them.

  .tige, sprawling, hideous. Surely what must be the highest and longest wall in the Midlands, was here. So barren, indeed, was the plainon which the cluster of crimson brick buildings stood, as to make the name absurd. 'Her Majesty's Prison: Royal Oak'. He had arrived.

  Would the taxi come back for him? Wexford was presented with the hire company's card. He could phone. The taxi disappeared rather quickly as if, unless a speedy escape was made, there might be problems about getting away at all.

  One of the governors, a man called David Cairns, gave him a cup of coffee in a rather nice room with carpet on the floor and framed posters on the walls. The rest of the place looked like all such places, but smelt better. While Wexford drank his coffee Cairns said he supposed he knew all about Royal Oak and its survival in spite of official distrust and Home Office dislike. Wexford said he thought so, but Cairns proceeded to describe the system just the same. He was obviously proud of the place, an idealist with shining eyes.

  Paradoxically, it was the most violent and recalcitrant prisoners who were referred to Royal Oak. Of course, they also had to want to come. So many wanted to come that there was currently a waiting list of over a hundred. Staff and inmates were on Christian name terms. Group therapy and mutual counselling were the order of the day. Prisoners mixed, for, uniquely, there was no Rule 43 segregation here and no hierarchy of murderers and violent criminals at the top and sex offenders at the bottom.

  All inmates came to Royal Oak on referral, usually the recommendation of a prison Senior Medical Officer. Which reminded him, theirown Senior Medical Officer, Sam Rosenberg, would like to see him before he went to meet Jem Hocking. As he'd said, it was all first names here. None of your 'Sir' this and 'Dr' that.

  A member of staff conducted Wexford to the hospital, which was just another wing. They passed men walking about freely — freely up to a point — dressed in tracksuits or pants and sweatshirts. He couldn't resist a glance through an interior window where a group therapy session was in progress. The men sat round in a circle. They were opening their hearts and baring their souls, the member of staff said, learning how to bring to the surface all their inner contusions. Wexford thought they looked as hangdog and wretched as most incarcerated people.

  A smell just like Stowerton Infirmary hung about the hospital; lime juice, lysol and sweat. All hospitals smell the same, except private ones which smell of money. Dr Rosenberg was in his room which was like the charge nurse's room at lltowerton. Only the cigarette smoke was absent. It commanded a view of the empty green plain and a line of electricity pylons.

  Lunch had just arrived. There was enough for two, unexciting piles of brown slime on top of boiled rice, chicken curry probably; individual fruit pies to follow and a carton of non-dairy creamer. But Wexford was eating comfort and he accepted at once Sam Rosenberg's invitation to join him while they talked about Jem Hocking.

  The medical officer was a short thickset manof forty with a round childlike face and a thatch of prematurely grey hair. His clothes were like those of the prisoners, a tracksuit and trainers.

  'What d'you think?' he said, waving a hand towards door and ceiling. 'This place, I mean. Bit different from the 'System', eh?'

  Wexford understood the 'System' to refer to the rest of the prison service and agreed it was.

  'Of course it doesn't seem to work. If by 'work' we mean stopping them doing it again. On the other hand, that's rather hard to tell because most of them hardly get the chance to do anything much again. They're lifers.' Sam Rosenberg wiped up the remains of his curry with a hunk of bread. He seemed to be enjoying his lunch. 'Jem Hocking asked to come here. He was convicted in September, was sent to the Scrubs or it may have been Wandsworth, and set about tearing the place apart. He was referred here just before Christmas and he got into what we do here, roughly an ongoing 'talking it through', like a — well, a duck to water.'

  'What did he do?'

  'What was his conviction for? He went to this house where the owner was supposed to keep her shop takings over the weekend, found five hundred pounds or so in a handbag and half-beat to death the woman who lived there. She was seventy-two. He used a seven-pound hammer.'

  'No gun involved?'

  'No gun, so far as I know. Have one of thesepies, will you? They're raspberry and redcurrant, not bad. We have the nondairy creamer because I'm a bit of a cholesterol freak. I mean, I'm scared of it, I believe in battling against it. Jem's ill at the moment. He thinks he's dying but he's not. Not this time.'

  ' Wexford raised an eyebrow. 'Not a cholesterol problem, I'm sure.'

  'Well, no. As a matter of fact, I've never tested his cholesterol.' Rosenberg hesitated. 'A lot of the Bill — sorry, didn't mean to be insulting — a lot of the police still have gay prejudice. I mean, you'll hear coppers make these jokes about queens and queers and then they'll mince about. Are you one of those? No, I can see you're not. But you may still think homosexuals are all hairdressers and ballet dancers. Not real men. Ever read any Genet?'

  'A bit. It was a long time ago.' Wexford tried to remember titles and recalled one. 'Our Lady of the Flowers'

  'Querelle of Brest' was what I had in mind. Genet, more than anyone, makes you understand gay men can be as tough and as ruthless as the heterosexual sort. Tougher, more ruthless. They can be killers and thieves and brutal criminals as well as dress designers.'

  'Are you saying Jem Hocking is one of these?'

  'Jem doesn't know about closets, being in them or coming out of them, but one of the reasons he wanted to come here was to talk only to other men about his homosexuality, talk about it day after day, unchecked, ingroups. The world he lived in is perhaps the most prejudiced of all worlds. And then he got ill.'

  'You mean he's got AIDS, don't you?'

  Sam Rosenberg gave him a narrow look. 'You see, you do associate it with the gay community. I tell you, it'll be as common among heterosexuals in a year or two. It is not a gay disease. Right?'

  'But Jem Hocking has it?'

  'Jem Hocking is HIV Pos. He's had a very bad go of flu. We've had a flu epidemic at Royal Oak and he just happened to get it worse than the others, badly enough to come in here for a week. With luck, he'll be back in the community by the end of the week. But he insists he's had AIDS-related pneumonia and he thinks I'm jibbing at telling him the truth. Hence, he believes he's dying and he wants to see you.'

  'Why does he?'

  'That I don't know. I haven't asked and if I asked he wouldn't tell me. He wants to tell you. Coffee?'

  * * *

  He was a man of the doctor's age but dark and swarthy, a week's growth of beard on cheeks and chin. Aware of modern hospital trends, Wexford had expected him to be up, dressing-gowned, seated in a chair, but Jem Hocking was in bed. He looked far more ill than Daisy ever had.

  'How are you?' Wexford said. Hocking made no immediate reply. He put one blue-configured finger up to his mouth and rubbed it. Then he said, 'Not good.'

  'Are you going to tell me when you were in Kingsmarkham? Is that what it's about?'

  'Last May. That's making bells ring for you, isn't it? Only I reckon they've rung already.'

  Wexford nodded. 'Some of them have.'

  'I'm dying. Did you know that?'

  'Not according to the medical officer.' Derision altered Jem Hocking's face. He sneered.

  'They don't tell you the truth. Not even in here. Nobody ever tells the truth, not here, not anywhere. They can't, it's not possible to. You'd have to go into too much detail, you'd have to search your soul. You'd insult everyone and every word'd show you up for the bastard you are. Have you ever thought of that?'

  'Yes,' said Wexford.

  Whatever Hocking had expected it wasn't a bold affirmative. He paused, said, 'Most of the time you'd just say, 'I hate your guts, I hate your guts' over and over. That'd be what the truth is. And, 'I want to die but I'm fucking scared of dying.'' He drew a breath. 'I know I'mdying. I'll get another bout of what I've had but a bit worse and then a third and that one'll get me off. It might be quicker than that. It was a fucking sight quicker for Dane.'

  'Who's Dane?'

  'I reckoned on telling you before I died.' The hands that rested on the red blanket were dark blue with tattoos. 'Might as well. What can I lose? I've lost everything except my life and that's on the way out.' Hocking's face narrowed and his eyes seemed to draw closer together. He suddenly looked one of the nastiest customers Wexford had ever come across. 'D'you want to know something? It's the last pleasure I've got left, talking to people about me dying. It embarrasses them, see, and I enjoy that, them not knowing what to say.'

  'It doesn't embarrass me.'

  'Well, fucking Bill, what can you expect?'

  A nurse came in, a man in jeans and a short white coat. In Wexford's youth he would have been called a 'male nurse'. That was what they said then: 'male nurse' and 'lady doctor'. There was nothing particularly sexist about it, but it shed a lot of bright illumination on people's expectations of the sexes.

  The nurse heard Hocking's last words and said not to be rude, Jem, there was no call for that, mud-slinging didn't help, and it was time for his antibiotics.

  'Fucking useless,' said Hocking. 'Pneumonia's a virus, right? You're all fuckwitted in here.'

  Wexford waited patiently while Hocking took his pills under feeble protest. He really looked very ill. You could believe this was death's threshold. He waited till the nurse had gone, hung his head, contemplated the designs on his blue hands.

  'Who's Dane? you said. I'll tell you. Dane was my mate. Dane Bishop. Dane Gavin David Bishop, if you want the lot. He was onlytwenty-four.' 'I loved him' hung unspoken in the air. Wexford could see it in Hocking's face, 'I loved him,' but he wasn't a sentimentalist, especially about killers, especially about the kind who hammer old women. So what? Does loving someone redeem a man? Does loving someone make you good?

  'We did the Kingsmarkham job together. But you knew that. You knew that before you came or you wouldn't have come.'

  'More or less,' said Wexford.

  'Dane wanted money to buy this drug. It's American but you can get it here. Initials it goes by, doesn't matter.'


  'No, as a matter of fact, clever cop. DDI it's called, stands for Di-deoxy-innosine. Not available on the fucking NHS, needless to say.'

  Don't give me your excuses, Wexford said to himself. You ought to know better. He thought of Sergeant Martin, foolish and foolhardy but quite bright by turns, a good man, an earnest, well-intentioned good man, the salt of the earth.

  'This Dane Bishop, he's dead, is he?'

  Jem Hocking just looked at him. It was a look full of hatred and pain. Wexford thought the hatred was due to the fact that the man couldn't embarrass him. Perhaps the sole purpose of the exercise, this 'confession', was to cause an embarrassment in which Hocking had hoped torevel.

  'Died of AIDS, I guess,' he said.

  'Dead before we could get the drug. It took him fast at the end. We saw that description you put out, spots on his face, all that. That wasn't fucking acne, that was Kaposi's Sarcoma.'

  Wexford said, 'He used a gun. Where did he get it?'

  An indifferent shrug from Hocking. 'Are you asking me? You know as well as I do, it's easy to get a shooter if you want one. He never said. He just had it. A Magnum, it was.' The sly sidelong look came back. 'He chucked it away, threw it down, getting out of the bank.'

  'Ah,' said Wexford almost silently, almost to himself.

  'Scared to be found with it. He was ill then, it makes you weak, weak like an old man. He was only twenty-four but he was weak as water. That's why he shot that fuckwit, too weak to keep up the pressure. I got us away, I wasn't even in there when he shot him.'

  'You were concerned with him. You knew he had a gun.'

  'Am I denying it?'

  'You bought a car in the name of George Brown?'

  Hocking nodded. 'We bought a vehicle, we bought a lot of things with cash, we reckoned we could sell the vehicle again on account of we never dared keep any of the notes. I wrapped them in newspaper and stuffed them in a dump. We sold the vehicle — not a bad way of handling things, was it?'

  'It's called laundering money,' Wexford said coldly. 'Or it is when done on a grander scale.'

  'He died before he got the drug.'

  'You told me before.'

  Jem Hocking heaved himself up in bed. 'You're a frozen bastard, you are. If it was anywhere else in the system I was doing bird they wouldn't have left you alone with me.'

  Wexford got up. 'What could you do, Jem? I'm three times your size. I'm not embarrassed and I'm not impressed.'

  'Just fucking helpless,' said Hocking. 'The world's helpless against a dying man.'

  'I wouldn't say that. There's nothing in the law to say a dying man can't be charged withmurder and robbery.'

  'You wouldn't!'

  'I certainly will,' said Wexford, leaving.

  The train took him back to Euston in pouring rain. It was raining all the way down from Victoria to Kingsmarkham. As soon as he got in he tried to phone Sheila and got her Lady Macbeth voice, the one that said, 'Give me the daggers', asking callers to leave a message.

  Wexford added a note to the notes in front of him, read what he had written, looked up and began to speak about Joanne Garland.

  He fancied Jones was surprised, perhaps even disconcerted. This was not what he had expected.

  'We were friends once, yes,' he said. 'She was married to my pal Brian. We used to go about a bit together, the two couples, I mean. Me and Naomi, Brian and her. As a matter of fact, I was working for Brian while I lived here, I had a job with his company as a sales rep. I did my leg in, as you may know, and the world of sport was closed to me at the tender age of twenty-three. Hard cheese, wouldn't you reckon?'

  Treating the question as rhetorical, Wexford said, 'When did you last see Mrs Garland?'

  Jones's laughter was a honking sound. 'See her? I haven't seen her for whatever it is, seventeen, eighteen years? When me and Naomi split up she took Naomi's side, which I daresay you could call being loyal. Brian took her side too and that was the end of my job. What you'd call that, my friend, I don't know but I'd call it treachery. Nothing was bad enough for those two to say about me — and what had I done? Not a lot, to be honest with you. Had I beaten her up? Did I go with other women? Did I drink? No way, there was none of that. All I'd done was get driven round the bend by that old bitch till I couldn't stand another bloody day of it.'

  'You haven't seen Mrs Garland since then?'

  'I told you. I haven't seen her and I haven't spoken to her. Why would I? What was Joanne to me? I never fancied her, for a start. As you may by now have gathered, bossy meddlingwomen don't exactly turn me on, besides her being a good ten years older than me. I haven't seen Joanne and I haven't been near this place from that day to this.'

  'You may not have seen or spoken to her but you've communicated,' Wexford said. 'You recently had a letter from her.'

  'Did she tell you that?'

  He should have known better than to ask. Wexford wouldn't have described his blustering manner and quick protests as good acting. But perhaps they were not acting at all.

  'Joanne Garland is missing, Mr Jones. Her whereabouts are unknown.'

  His expression was the extreme of incredulity, the look of a character in a horror comic confronted by disaster.

  'Oh, come on.'

  'She's been missing since the night of the murders at Tancred House.'

  Gunner Jones pushed out his lips. He lifted his shoulders in a massive shrug. He no longer looked surprised. He looked guilty, though Wexford knew this meant nothing. It was merely the air of a person who is not habitually honest and straightforward. His eyes fixed themselves on Wexford's but the gaze soon faltered and fell.

  'I was in Devon,' he said. 'Maybe you haven't heard that. I was fishing at a place Called Pluxam on the Dart.'

  'We've found nobody to support your story, that you were there during March the eleventh til the twelfth. I'd like you to come up with thename of someone who might corroborate that. You told us you had never handled a gun, yet you're a member of the North London Gun Club and hold firearms certificates in respect of two weapons.'

  'It was a joke,' said Gunner Jones. 'I mean, come on, surely you can see that? It's funny, isn't it, being called Gunner and never had a gun in my hand?'

  'I think I must have a different sort of sense of humour from yours, Mr Jones. Tell me about the letter you had from Mrs Garland.'

  'Which one?' said Gunner Jones. He went on as if he hadn't asked the question. 'It doesn't matter because they were both about the same thing. She wrote me three years ago — it was when I got divorced from my second wife — and said Naomi and me should get back together. I don't know how she knew about the divorce, someone must have told her, we still knew some of the same people. She wrote to say now I was 'free', her word, there was nothing to stop me and Naomi 'remaking our marriage'. I'll tell you something, I reckon these days folk only write letters when they're scared to talk on the phone. She knew what I'd say to her if she phoned me.'

  'Did you reply?'

  'No, sport, I didn't. I consigned her letter to the bin.' A look of ineffable shiftiness took command of Jones's face. It was pantomimic. It was also, probably, unconscious. He had no idea how sly he looked when he lied. 'I had another one like it around a month ago, maybe a bitmore. That went the same way as the first.'

  Wexford began questioning him about his fishing holiday and his prowess with guns. He took Gunner Jones over the same ground as when he had first asked him about the letter, and got similar evasive answers. For a long time Jones refused to say where he had been staying in York but he yielded at last and admitted sulkily that he had a girlfriend there. He provided a name and an address.

  'However, I shan't be taking the plunge again.'

  'Until today you haven't been to Kingsmarkham for getting on for eighteen years?'

  'That's right.'

  'Not on Monday, 13 May of last year, for instance?'

  'Not on that day, for instance, or any other instance.'

  It was the middle of the afternoon and two hours since a sandwich lunch had been provided from the canteen, when Wexford asked Jones to make a statement and reluctantly and inwardly decided he must let him go. He had no hard evidence on which to hold him. Jones was already talking about 'getting a lawyer down here', which seemed to tell Wexford that he knew more about crime from American television imports than from actual experience, but again he could be acting.

  'Now I'm here I might think about taking a cab up to meet my daughter. How about that?'

  Wexford said neutrally that this, of course,would be up to him. The idea was not pleasant but he had no doubt Daisy would be perfectly safe. The place was swarming with police officers, the stables still fully-staffed. In advance of his own arrival, he put through a call to Vine, alerting him to Jones's intention.

  In the event, Gunner Jones, who had come by train, returned to London at once by the same means, putting up no resistance to the offer of police transport to Kingsmarkham British Rail Station. Wexford found himself uncertain as to whether Jones was really quite clever or deeply stupid. He concluded that he was one of those people to whom lies are as reasonable an option as the truth. What is chosen is that which makes life easier.

  It was growing late and it was Saturday but he had himself driven back to Tancred just the same. Another floral offering had been hung on the right-hand post of the main gate. He wondered who might be the donor of these flowers, this time a heart composed of dark-red rosebuds, if it was a series of people or always the same person, and he got out of the car to look while Donaldson opened the gate. But on the card was written only the message, 'Good night, sweet lady', and there was no name or signature.

  Halfway up the woodland road a fox ran across in front of them but far enough away for Donaldson not to have to brake. It disappeared into the thick greening underbrush. On the banks, among the grass and new April growth, primroses were opening. The car window wasopen and Wexford could smell the fresh mild air, scented with spring. He was thinking of Daisy, as the fear of her father's surprise visit had led him to do. But thinking of her — he realised with careful self-analysis — with no excessive anxiety, no passionate fear, no absolute love, to speak truly.

  He felt slightly shaken. He had no great desire to see Daisy, no need to be with her, place her in that daughter's position, be her father and have that role acknowledged by her. His eyes were opened. Perhaps by the fact that he had not been horrified or angered by Gunner Jones's declared intention of coming up here. He had been no more than annoyed and on his guard. For he was fond of Daisy but he did not love her.

  It was self-revelation that the experience brought him. He had been taught the difference, the huge division, between love and being fond of someone. Daisy had been there when, for the first time in her life, Sheila defected. No doubt any amicable pretty young woman who was nice to him would have served the purpose.

  He had been given his allotment of love, for wife, children and grandchildren, and that was it, there would be no more. He wanted no more. What he felt for Daisy was a tender regard and a hope that all would go well with her.

  This final reflection was forming itself in his mind when he caught sight, from the car window, of a running figure in the distance among the trees. The day was fair and shafts of sunlight penetrated the woods everywhere in blinding misty rays, in places almost opaque.

  These hindered his view rather than helping him to see whose the figure might be. It ran, apparently joyously and with abandon, through the clear spaces and into the dense bars of light, then between them again. Impossible to tell whether the flying figure was a man or a woman, young or middle-aged. Wexford could only be confident that the runner was not old. It disappeared in the vague direction of the hanging tree.

  * * *

  When the phone rang Gerry Hinde was talking to Burden, asking him if he had seen the flowers on the gate. You never saw flowers like that in a flower shop. When you wanted to buy some for your wife, for instance, you got them all bunched together, not looking very attractive, and she had to arrange them. His wife said that she didn't really like people bringing her flowers because the first thing she had to do, whatever else she might be doing, was put them in water. And that might take ages when the chances were she was cooking a meal or getting one of the kids to bed.

  'It would be a useful thing to know. I mean, where whoever he is got those flowers from. Done like that.'

  Burden didn't like to say they would very likely be beyond DC Hinde's means. He picked up the phone.

  The puritan ethic still played an important role among the forces that ruled his thinking. Ittold him not to use a car if you could walk the distance, and that phoning the people next door was almost a sin. Therefore, when Gabbitas said he was at home in his cottage. Burden was on the point of asking sharply why he couldn't have come over if he had something to say. A note of gravity and perhaps of shock in the woodsman's voice stopped him.

  'Could you come here, please? Could you come and bring someone with you?'

  Burden didn't say what he might have, that Gabbitas had seemed far from keen on his company that morning. 'Give me some idea of what this is about, would you?'

  'I'd rather wait until you're here. It's nothing to do with the rope.' The voice wavered a little. It said awkwardly, 'I haven't found a body or anything.'

  'For God's sake,' said Burden to himself as he put the receiver back.

  He emerged on to the courtyard and walked round the front of the house. Nicholas Virson's car was parked on the flagstones. The sunshine was still very bright but the sun by now quite low in the sky. Its oblique rays turned the car approaching along the main road out of the woods to a dazzling globe of white fire. Burden was unable to look at it, so that it had drawn up not far from him and Wexford was getting out before he saw who this was.

  'He said to bring someone with me. I thought It a bit of a nerve.'

  'I'll come with you.'

  They took the narrow road through thepinetum. On either side the placid sunshine of early evening showed the varying colours of the conifers, smooth spires, serrated cones. Christmas tree spruces and sweeping cedars, green, blue, silver, gold and almost black. The sunlight stood in pillars and hung in bands between the symmetrical shapes. There was a strong aromatic, tarry scent.

  Underfoot it was dry and rather slippery, for brown needles covered the road surface as well as the interstices of the wood. The sky was a great blue-white dazzlement above them. How lucky they were to live here, Wexford thought, those Harrisons and John Gabbitas, and how much they must fear the loss of it.

  Uneasily, he remembered his homeward journey of the previous evening and the woodsman and Daisy standing side by side in the sunlit aisle. A girl might lay her hand on a man's arm and look up into his face in that confiding way and it all meant nothing. They had been a long way distant from him. Daisy was a 'toucher', she tended to touch you as she talked, to lay a finger on your wrist, pass her hand lightly across your arm in a gesture near a caress...

  John Gabbitas was out in his front garden, waiting for them, his right hand beating time with a frenzied impatience as if he found this delay intolerable.

  Once again Wexford was struck by his looks, a spectacular handsomeness which, if it had belonged to a woman, would have led you to call it a waste, buried in such a place. The same sort of comment simply never appliedto a man. He was reminded suddenly of Dr Perkins's remarks about Harvey Copeland and his appearance, and then Gabbitas was ushering them into the little house, into the living room and pointing with the same quivering finger that had beat time, at something which lay on a woven-raffia-topped stool in the middle of the room.

  'What is this, Mr Gabbitas?' Burden asked him. 'What's going on?'

  'I found it. I found that.'

  'Where? Where it is now?'

  'In a drawer. In the chest of drawers.'

  It was a large handgun, a revolver, of a dark leaden colour, the metal of the barrel of a slightly paler and browner shade. They looked at it, in a moment of silence.

  Wexford said, 'You took it out and put it there?'

  Gabbitas nodded.

  'You know, of course, that you shouldn't have touched it?'

  'OK, I know now. It was a shock. I opened the drawer, I keep paper and envelopes in there, and it was the first thing I saw. It was lying on top of a packet of paper for printing out. I know I shouldn't have touched it, but it was instinctive.'

  'May we sit down. Mr Gabbitas?'

  Gabbitas cast up his eyes, then nodded furiously. These were the gestures of a man tendering at the triviality of the request at such a time. 'It's the gun they were all killed on the 11th, isn't it?'

  'It may be,' said Burden. 'It may not. That remains to be established.'

  'I phoned you as soon as I found it.'

  'As soon as you'd removed it from where you found it, yes. That would have been at five fifty. When was the last time you looked in that drawer, prior to five fifty?'

  'Yesterday,' Gabbitas said after a small hesitation. 'Yesterday evening. About nine. I was going to write a letter. To my parents in Norfolk.'

  'And the gun wasn't there then?'

  'Of course it wasn't!' Gabbitas's voice was suddenly ragged with exasperation. 'I'd have got in touch with you then if it had been. There was nothing in the drawer but what's always in it, paper, notepaper, envelopes, cards, that sort of thing. The point is the gun wasn't there. Can't you understand? I've never seen it before.'

  'All right, Mr Gabbitas. I should try to keep calm if I were you. Did you in fact write to your parents?'

  Gabbitas said impatiently, 'I posted the letter in Pomfret this morning. I spent the day felling a dead sycamore in the centre of Pomfret and I had two kids doing community service to help me. We finished at four thirty and I was back here by five.'

  'And fifty minutes later you opened the drawer because you meant to write another letter? You seem to be an enthusiastic correspondent.'

  It was with a scarcely restrained fury that Gabbitas turned on Burden. 'Look, I didn't have to tell you about this. I could have chuckedit out with the rubbish and no one the wiser. It's nothing to do with me, I simply found it, I found it in that drawer where someone else must have put it. I opened the drawer, if you must know, for a piece of paper on which to write an invoice for the job I did today. To the borough council's environment department. That's the way I work. I have to. I can't hang about for weeks and weeks. I need the money.'

  'All right, Mr Gabbitas,' Wexford said. 'But it was unfortunate you handled this weapon. I suppose it was with bare hands? Yes. I'm going to put through a call to DC Archbold to come over here and take care of it. It'll be wiser for no other unauthorised person to touch it.'

  Gabbitas was sitting down, leaning forward, his elbows resting on the arms of the chair, his expression truculent and peevish. It was the look of someone who has been baulked of his desire to have authority thank him for his services.

  Wexford considered that there were two possible views to take. One was that Gabbitas was guilty, perhaps only of possessing this gun, but guilty of that and now afraid to hang on to it. The other was that he simply did not realise the gravity of the matter or understand what this meant, if the revolver on the stool was indeed the murder weapon.

  He made his call, said to Gabbitas, 'You were out all day?'

  'I told you. And I can give you the names of dozens of witnesses to prove it.'

  'It's a pity you can't give us the name of one tocorroborate where you were on 11 March.'

  Wexford sighed. 'All right. I suppose there are no signs of a break-in? Who else has a key to this house?'

  'Nobody, so far as I know.' Gabbitas hesitated, and quickly emended what he had said. 'I mean, the lock wasn't changed when I moved in. The Griffins might still have a key. It's not my house, it doesn't belong to me. I suppose Miss Flory or Mr Copeland had a key.'

  More and more names seemed to come to mind. 'The Harrisons had a key between the Griffins going and me coming. I don't know what happened to it. I never go out and leave the house unlocked, I'm careful about that.'

  'You might as well not bother, Mr Gabbitas,' said Burden drily. 'It doesn't seem to make much difference.'

  * * *

  You lost a rope and found a gun, Wexfordreflected when he was alone with Gabbitas.Aloud he said, 'I suppose much the sameapplies to the keys to the machinery shed. Alot of people have keys?'

  'There's no lock on the door.'

  'That settles that, then. You came here lastMay, Mr Gabbitas?'

  'At the beginning of May, yes.'

  'No doubt you have a bank account?'

  Gabbitas told him where, told him withouthesitation.

  'And when you came here you immediatelytransferred your account to the Kingsmarkhambranch? Yes. Was this before or after the murder of the police officer? Can you remember that? If it was before or after DS Martin was murdered in that bank branch?'

  'It was before.'

  Wexford fancied Gabbitas sounded uneasy, but he was used to his imagination telling him things like that. 'The gun you found just now was almost certainly the weapon used in that murder.' He watched Gabbitas's face, saw nothing there but a kind of blank receptiveness. 'Of the public who were in the bank that morning, 13 May, not all came forward to make statements to the police. Some left before the police came. One took that gun with him.'

  'I know nothing about any of this. I wasn't in the bank that day.'

  'But you had already come to Tancred?'

  'I came on May the fourth,' Gabbitas said sullenly.

  Wexford paused, then said in a conversational way, 'Do you like Miss Davina Jones, Mr Gabbitas? Daisy Jones?'

  The change of subject caught Gabbitas off guard. He burst out, 'What's that got to do with it?'

  'You're young and apparently unattached. She's young too and good-looking. She's very charming. As a result of what has happened she's in possession of a considerable property.'

  'She's just someone I work for. All right, she's attractive, any man would find her attractive. But she's just someone I work for, so far as I'mconcerned. And may not be working for much longer.'

  'You're leaving this job?'

  'It's not a matter of leaving the job. I'm not employed here, remember? I did tell you. I'm self-employed. Is there anything else you want to know? I'll tell you one thing. Next time I find a gun I won't tell the police, I'll chuck it in the river.'

  'I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mr Gabbitas,' Wexford said mildly.

  * * *

  In the Sunday Times review section was an article by a distinguished literary critic on material he had collected for a biography of Davina Flory. Most of this was correspondence. Wexford glanced at it, then began to read with , mounting interest.

  Many of the letters had been in the possession of the niece in Mentone, now dead. They were from Davina to her sister, the niece's mother, and indicated that Davina's first marriage, to Desmond Cathcart Flory, had never been consummated. Long passages were quoted, instances of unhappiness and bitter disappointment, all written in Davina's unmistakable style that alternated between the plain and the baroque. The author of the article speculated, basing his argument on evidence in later letters, as to who might have been Naomi Flory's father.

  This accounted for something Wexford hadwondered about. Though Desmond and Davina had married in 1935, Davina's only child had not been born until ten years later. He called to mind, painfully, that horrible scene at the Cheriton Forest Hotel when Casey had loudly averred that Davina had still been a virgin for eight years after her marriage.

  With a sigh, he finished the piece and turned over to the double-page spread on the newspaper's Literary Banquet held at Grosvenor House on the previous Monday. Wexford looked at it only in the hope of seeing a photograph of Amyas Ireland, who had been at the banquet the previous year and might be again.

  The first face he saw, that leapt at him from a page of photographs, was Augustine Casey's. Casey was sitting at a table with four other people. At any rate, there were four other people in the picture. Wexford wondered if he had spat in his wineglass, and then he read the caption.

  From left to right: Dan Kavanagh, Penelope Casey, Augustine Casey, Frances Hegarty, Jane Somers.

  All were smiling pleasantly except Casey, whose face wore a sardonic smirk. The women were in formal evening gowns.

  Wexford looked at the picture and reread the caption, looked at the other pictures on the two pages, returned to the first one. He sensed Dora's silent presence at his left shoulder. She was waiting for him to ask but he hesitated, not knowing how to frame what he wanted to say. The question came carefully.

  'Who is the woman in the shiny dress?'

  'Penelope Casey.'

  'Yes, I know. I can see that. What is she to him?'

  'She's his wife, Reg. It looks as if he's gone back to his wife or she's come back to him.'

  'You knew this?'

  'No, darling, I didn't know. I didn't know he had a wife until the day before yesterday. Sheila didn't phone this week so I phoned her. She sounded very upset, but all she told me was that Gus's wife had come back to their flat and he'd gone back there 'to talk it through'.'

  That expression again... He put his hand up to his eyes, perhaps to hide the picture from sight. 'How unhappy she must be,' he said, and then, 'Oh, the poor child.'



    Ruth Rendell


    First published in Great Britain in 1992 byHutchinsonLondon

    First Charnwood Editionpublished April 1993

    by arrangement withThe Random Century Group LimitedLondon

    The right of Ruth Rendell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by herin accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

    Copyright © 1992 byKingsmarkham Enterprises Limited

    All rights reserved

    British Library CIP DataRendell, Ruth

    Kissing the gunner's daughter. —Large print ed.— Charnwood library series I. Title II. Series 823.914 [F]ISBN 0-7089-8702-8

    Published byF. A. Thorpe (Publishing) Ltd. Anstey, Leicestershire

    Set by Words & Graphics Ltd.Anstey, Leicestershire

    Printed and bound in Great Britain byT. J. Press (Padstow) Ltd., Padstow, Cornwall



    In memory of Eleanor Sullivan

    1928- 1991

    A great friend





    THE thirteenth of May is the unluckiest day of the year. Things will be infinitely worse if it happens to fall on a Friday. That year, however, it was a Monday and quite bad enough, though Martin was scornful of superstition and would have engaged in any important enterprise on 13 May or gone up in a plane without a qualm.

    In the morning he found a gun in the case his son took to school. They called it a satchel in his day but it was a briefcase now. The gun was among a jumble of textbooks, dog-eared exercise books, crumpled paper and a pair of football socks, and for a single frightening moment Martin thought it was real. For about fifteen seconds he thought Kevin was actually in possession of the largest revolver he had ever seen, though of a type quite beyond his ability to identify.

    Recognising it as a replica didn't stop him confiscating it.

    'You can say goodbye to this weapon and that's a promise,' he said to his son.

    The discovery was made in Martin's car just before nine on the morning of Monday 13 May on the way to Kingsmarkham Comprehensive. Kevin's briefcase, insecurely fastened, had fallen off the back seat and some of its contents had come out on to the floor. Kevin watched ruefullyand in silence as the replica gun found its way into the pocket of his father's raincoat. At the school gates he left the car with a muttered goodbye and did not look back.

    This was the first link in a chain of events which was to lead to five deaths. If Martin had found the gun before he did and Kevin left the house, none of it would have happened. Unless you believe in predestination and fate. Unless you believe our days are numbered. If you can imagine it, if you can perceive them numbered in reverse, from death to birth, Martin had reached Day One.

    Monday 13 May.

    * * *

    It was also his day off, this Day One of his life, Detective Sergeant Martin of Kingsmarkham CID. He had come out early, not only to take his son to school — that was incidental, a by-product of leaving the house at ten to nine — but to have a new pair of windscreen wipers fitted to his car. It was a fine morning, the sun shining from a clear sky, and the forecast was good, but still he wouldn't risk taking his wife to Eastbourne for the day with wipers that failed to function.

    The people at the garage behaved in typical fashion. Martin had made this arrangement by phone two days before but that did not prevent the receptionist reacting as if she had never heard of him, or the only available mechanic shaking his head and saying it was just possible,it could be done, but Les had been called out unexpectedly in an emergency and Martin had better let them phone him. At last Martin got a promise of sorts out of him that the job would be done by ten thirty.

    He walked back along Queen Street. Most of the shops were not yet open. The people he passed were commuters on their way to the British Rail station. Martin could feel the gun in his pocket, its weight and its shape, the heaviness of it weighing him down on the right side. It was a big heavy gun with a four-inch barrel. If the British police were eventually armed, this was how it would feel. Every day, all day. Martin thought this might have its drawbacks as well as its advantages, but anyway he couldn't imagine such a measure getting through Parliament.

    He wondered whether he should tell his wife about the gun, he seriously wondered if he should tell Chief Inspector Wexford. What does a boy of thirteen want with a replica of what was probably a Los Angeles policeman's weapon? He was too old for a toy gun, certainly, but what could be the purpose of a replica except to threaten, to make others believe it was real? And could this be for anything but criminal intent?

    There was nothing Martin could do about it at present. Tonight, of course, whatever else he decided on, he must have a serious talk with Kevin. He turned into the High Street, from where he could see the blue and gold clock on the tower of St Peter's Church. It was coming up to half past nine. He was heading for thebank, intending to draw out enough to cover the garage charges as well as pay for petrol, lunch for two, incidental expenses in Eastbourne, and have a bit left over for the next couple of days. Martin distrusted credit cards and though he possessed one, seldom used it.

    His attitude was the same in respect of the cashpoint dispenser. The bank was still closed, its solid oak front door firmly shut, but there was the automatic bank, installed in the granite facade for his convenience. The card was in his wallet and he went so far as to get it out and look at it. Somewhere he had written down the vital number. He tried to recall it—fifty-fifty-three? Fifty-three-0-five? He heard the bolts shifted, the hammers in the lock fall. The front door swung inwards to reveal the inner door of glass. The huddle of bank customers who had been waiting when he arrived went in before him.

    Martin made his way to one of the counters which were provided with a blotter and a ballpoint chained to a false ink-well. He took out his cheque book. His credit card would not be needed here to back the cheque, for everyone knew him, this was where he had his account; he had already caught the eye of one of the cashiers and said good morning.

    Few, however, knew his Christian name. Everyone called him Martin and always had. Even his wife called him Martin. Wexford must know what he was called, and the accounts department must, and whoever attended to such things in this bank. When he was married he had uttered it and his wife had repeated it.

    Quite a lot of people thought Martin was his first name. The truth of it was a secret he kept locked within himself so far as he could, and now as he made out the cheque he signed it as always, 'C. Martin'.

    Two cashiers dispensed cash or received deposits behind their glass screens: Sharon Fraser and Ram Gopal, each with name tag on the glass and overhead light to flash to indicate they were free. A queue had formed in the area newly designated for waiting in with chrome uprights and turquoise-blue ropes.

    'As if we were cattle in a market,' said the woman in front of him indignantly.

    'Well, it's fairer,' said Martin, who was deeply committed to justice and order. 'It makes sure no one goes out of turn.'

    It was then, just after he had spoken, that he was aware of disturbance. There is something very calm in the atmosphere of a bank interior. Money is serious, money is quiet. Frivolity, amusement, swift movement, haste, can have no place in this seat of custom, of pecuniary exchange. So the slightest change of mood is felt at once. A raised voice is remarked on, a pin dropped becomes a clatter. Any minor disturbance makes waiting customers start.

    Martin felt a draught as the glass door was opened too suddenly, he sensed the falling of a shadow as the front door, which was never shut in the daytime, which remained permanently fastened back during opening hours, was carefully and almost silently closed.

    He turned around.

    Everything happened very fast after that. The man who had closed the door, who had bolted the door, said sharply, 'All get back against the wall. Quickly, please.'

    Martin noticed his accent, which was unmistakably Birmingham. He would have called it Brum. When the man spoke, someone screamed. There is always someone who screams.

    The man, who had the gun in his hand, said in his flat nasal tones, 'Nothing will happen to you if you do as you're told.'

    His companion, a boy really, who also had a gun, advanced up the passage of turquoise rope and chrome uprights, towards the two cashiers. There was a cashier behind a window to the left of him and another behind a window to the right of him, Sharon Fraser and Ram Gopal. Martin got back against the left-hand wall with all the others from the queue; they were all on that side, covered by the man's gun.

    He was pretty sure the gun in the boy's gloved hand was a toy. Not a replica like the one in his own pocket, but a toy. The boy looked very young, seventeen or eighteen, but Martin knew that, although not himself old, he was old enough not to be able to tell if someone was eighteen or twenty-four.

    Martin made himself memorise every detail of the boy's appearance, not knowing, not dreaming then, that any memorising he might succeed in doing would be in vain. He noted the man's appearance with similar care. Theboy had a curious rash on his face, or spots perhaps. Martin had never seen anything like them before. The man was dark with tattooed hands. He had no gloves on.

    The gun in the man's hand might not be real either. It was impossible to tell. Watching the boy, he thought of his own son, not so many years younger. Had Kevin contemplated something of this sort? Martin felt the replica in his pocket, met the eyes of the man fixed on him. He removed his hand and brought it up to clasp the other.

    The boy had said something to the woman cashier, to Sharon Fraser, but Martin hadn't caught what it was. They must have some alarm system in the bank. He confessed to himself that he didn't know what kind. A button that responded to foot pressure? Was an alarm going off even now in the police station?

    It did not occur to him to commit to memory any details of the appearance of his companions, those people cowering with him against the wall. In the event it would have made no difference if he had. All he could have said of them was that none of them was old, though all but one were adults. The exception was the baby in a sling on its mother's chest. They were shadows to him, a nameless, faceless public.

    Inside him was rising an urge to do something, take some action. He felt an enormous indignation. It was what he always felt in the face of crime or attempted crime. How dare they? Who did they think they were? By what imagined right did they come in hereto take what was not their own? It was the same feeling that he had when he heard or saw that one country had invaded another. How dare they commit this outrage?

    The woman cashier was handing over money. Martin didn't think Ram Gopal had set off an alarm. He was staring, petrified with terror or merely inscrutably calm. He was watching Sharon Fraser pressing those keys on the cash dispenser at her side which would tumble out banknotes already packed into fifties and hundreds. The steady eyes watched pack after pack pushed under the glass barrier, through the metal valley, into the greedy gloved hand.

    The boy took the money in his left hand, scooping it up, shovelling it into a canvas bag strapped round his hips. He kept the gun, the toy gun, trained on Sharon Fraser. The man was covering the rest of them, including Ram Gopal. It was easy from where he stood. The bank interior was small and they were all huddled together. Martin was aware of the sound of a woman crying, quiet sobs, soft whimpers.

    His indignation threatened to spill over. But not yet, not quite yet. It came to him that if the police had been authorised to bear arms he might now be so used to them that he would be able to tell a real gun from a false. The boy had moved to stand in front of Ram Gopal. Sharon Fraser, a young plump girl whose family Martin slightly knew, whose mother had been at school with his wife, sat with her hands in fists and her long red nails digging into the palms. Ram Gopal had begun passing packs of notes underthe glass barrier. It was nearly over. In a moment it would all be over and he, Martin, would have done nothing.

    He watched the dark stocky man retreat towards the doors. It made very little difference, they were still all covered by his gun. Martin slid his hand down to his pocket and felt there Kevin's huge weapon. The man saw but did nothing. He had to get that door open, the bolts drawn, for them to make a getaway.

    Martin had known at once that Kevin's gun wasn't real. By the same process of recognition and reasoning, if not from experience, he knew this boy's gun wasn't real either. The clock on the wall above the cashiers, behind the boy's head, pointed to nine forty-two. How swiftly it had all happened! Only half an hour earlier he had been in that garage. Only forty minutes ago he had found the replica in the satchel and confiscated it.

    He put his hand into his pocket, snatched Kevin's gun and shouted, 'Drop your guns!'

    The man had turned for a split second to unbolt the door. He backed against it, holding the gun in both hands like a gangster in a film. The boy took the last pack of notes, swept it into his canvas bag.

    Martin said it again. 'Drop your guns!'

    The boy turned his head slowly and looked at him. A woman made a strangled whimpering sound. The feeble little gun in the boy's hand seemed to tremble. Martin heard the front door crash back against the wall. He didn't hear the man go, the man with the real gun, but he knewhe had gone. A gust of wind blew through the bank. The glass door slammed. The boy stood staring at Martin with strange impenetrable, perhaps drugged, eyes, holding his gun as if he might at any moment let it fall, as if he were carrying out a test to see how loosely he could suspend it from a ringer before it dropped.

    Someone came into the bank. The glass door swung inwards. Martin shouted, 'Get back! Call the police! Now! There's been a robbery.'

    He took a step forwards, towards the boy. It was going to be easy, it was easy, the real danger was gone. His gun was trained on the boy and the boy was trembling. Martin thought, I will have done it, I alone, my God!

    The boy pressed the trigger and shot him through the heart.

    Martin fell. He did not double up, but sank to the floor as his knees buckled under him. Blood came from his mouth. He made no sound beyond a little cough. His body crumpled, as in some slow-motion film, his hands grasped at the air, but with weak graceful movements, and gradually he collapsed into utter stillness, his eyes cast up to stare unseeing at the bank's vaulted ceiling.

    For a moment there had been silence, then the people burst into noise, into screams and shouts. They crowded round the dying man. Brian Prince, the bank manager, came out from the office behind and members of his staff came with him. Ram Gopal was already on the phone. The baby began to utter desperate heartrending cries as its mother screamed and gibbered andflung her arms round the sling and the small body. Sharon Fraser, who had known Martin, came out into the bank and knelt beside him, weeping and twisting her hands, crying out for justice, for retribution.

    'Oh God, oh God, what have they done to him? What's happened to him? Help me, someone, don't let him die... '

    But by then Martin was dead.





    MARTIN'S Christian name appeared in the newspapers. It was spoken aloud that evening on the BBC's early evening news and again at nine o'clock. Detective Sergeant Caleb Martin, aged thirty nine, married and the father of one son.

    'It's a funny thing,' said Inspector Burden, 'you won't credit it, but I never knew he was called that. Always thought he was John or Bill or something. We always called him Martin like a first name. I wonder why he had a go? What got into him?'

    'Courage,' said Wexford. 'Poor devil.'

    'Foolhardiness.' Burden said it ruefully, not unkindly.

    'I suppose courage never has much to do with intelligence, does it? Not much to do with reasoning or logic. He didn't give the pale cast of thought a chance to work.'

    He had been one of them, one of their own. Besides, to a policeman there is something peculiarly horrible in the murder of a policeman. It is as if the culpability is doubled and the worst of all crimes compounded because the policeman's life, ideally, is dedicated to the prevention of such acts.

    Chief Inspector Wexford did not expend more effort in seeking Martin's killer than he would have in the hunt for any other murderer, but hefelt more than usually emotionally involved. He hadn't even particularly liked Martin, had been irritated by his earnest, humourless endeavours. 'Plodding' is an adjective, pejorative and scornful, often applied to policemen, and it was the first which came to mind in Martin's case. 'The Plod' is even a slang term for the police force. But all this was forgotten now Martin was dead.

    'I've often thought,' Wexford said to Burden, 'what a poor piece of psychology that was on Shakespeare's part when he said that the evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. Not that poor Martin was evil, but you know what I mean. It's the good things about people that we remember, not the bad. I remember how punctilious he was and how thorough and — well, dogged. I feel quite sentimental about him when I'm not bloody angry. But God, I'm so bloody angry I can hardly see out of my eyes when I think of that kid with the spots shooting him in cold blood.'

    They had begun with the most careful in depth interviewing of Brian Prince, the manager, and Sharon Fraser and Ram Gopal, the cashiers. The customers who had been in the bank — that is, those customers who had come forward or whom they had been able to find, were seen next. No one was able to say exactly how many people had been in the bank at the time.

    'Poor old Martin would have been able to tell us,' Burden said. 'I'm sure of that. He knew,but he's dead, and if he wasn't none of it wouldmatter.'


    Brian Prince had seen nothing. The first he knew of it was when he heard the boy fire the shot that killed Martin. Ram Gopal, a member of Kingsmarkham's very small Indian immigrant population, of the Brahmin caste from the Punjab, gave Wexford the best and fullest description of both men. With descriptions like that, Wexford said afterwards, it would be a crime not to catch them.

    'I watched them very carefully. I sat quite still, conserving my energy, and I concentrated on every detail of their appearance. I knew, you know, that there was nothing I could do but that I could do, and I did it.'

    Michelle Weaver, on her way at the time to work in the travel agency two doors away, described the boy as between twenty-two and twenty-five, fair, not very tall, with bad acne. The mother of the baby, Airs Wendy Gould, also said the boy was fair but a tall man, at least six feet. Sharon Fraser thought he was tall and fair but she had particularly noticed his eyes which were a bright pale blue. All three of the men said the boy was short or of medium height, thin, perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three. Wendy Gould said he looked ill. The remaining woman, Mrs Margaret Watkin, said the boy was dark and short with dark eyes. All agreed he had a spotty face but Margaret Watkin was doubtful about the cause being acne. More like a lot of small birthmarks, she said.

    The boy's companion was described invariablyas much older then he, ten years older or, according to Mrs Watkin, twenty years older. He was dark, some said swarthy, and with hairy hands. Only Michelle Weaver said he had a mole on his left cheek. Sharon Fraser thought he was very tall but one of the men described him as 'tiny' and another as 'no taller than a teenager'.

    Ram Gopal's confidence and concentration inspired belief in Wexford. He described the boy as about five feet eight, very thin, blue eyed, fair-haired and with acnaceous spots. The boy wore blue denim jeans, a dark T-shirt or sweater and a black leather jacket. He had gloves on, a point no other witness thought to mention.

    The man wore no gloves. His hands were covered in dark hairs. The hair on his head was dark, nearly black, but receding severely, giving the effect of a superlatively high forehead. He was at least thirty-five and dressed similarly to the boy except that his jeans were of some dark colour, dark grey or dark brown, and he wore some sort of brown pullover.

    The boy had only spoken once, to tell Sharon Fraser to hand over the money. Sharon Fraser was unable to describe his voice. Ram Gopal gave his opinion that the accent was not cockney but not an educated voice either, probably from south London. Could it be the local accent, 'Londonised' as it was by the spread of the capital and by television? Ram Gopal admitted that it could be. He was unsure about English accents, which Wexford discovered by puttinghim to the test and finding he defined a Devon accent as Yorkshire.

    So how many people were in the bank? Ram Gopal said fifteen including the staff and Sharon Fraser said sixteen. Brian Prince didn't know. Of the customers, one said twelve and another said eighteen.

    It was clear that, however many or however few there had been in the bank, not all had come forward in response to police appeals. During the time between the raiders' departure and the arrival of the police, perhaps as many as five people had quietly left the bank while the rest concerned themselves with Martin.

    As soon as they saw their opportunity, they made their escape. Who could blame them, especially if they had seen nothing relevant? Who wants to be drawn into a police investigation if they have nothing to contribute? Even if they do have something to contribute, but something small and trivial which other more observant eye-witnesses can supply?

    For peace of mind and a quiet life, how much simpler to slip away and continue to work or the shops or home. Kingsmarkham Police faced the fact that four or five people had kept mum, knew something or nothing but kept silent and hidden. All the police knew was that not one of these people, four or five or perhaps only three, were known by sight to the bank staff. So far as they could remember. Neither Brian Prince, nor Ram Gopal, nor Sharon Fraser could remember a face they recognised in that queue in the roped-off area. Apart from, that is, thoseregular customers who had all remained inside the bank after Martin's death.

    Martin himself had of course been known to them, and Michelle Weaver and Wendy Gould among others. Sharon Fraser could say only this: she had an impression that the missing bank customers were all men.

    The most sensational piece of evidence given by any of the witnesses was that of Michelle Weaver. She said she had seen the boy with acne drop his gun just before he escaped from the bank. He had thrown it on to the floor and run away.

    * * *

    At first, Burden hardly believed she expected him to take this statement seriously. It seemed bizarre. The act which Mrs Weaver described he had read of somewhere, or been taught, or gleaned from some lecture. It was a classic Mafia technique. He even said to her that they must have read the same book.

    Michelle Weaver insisted. She had seen the gun skid across the floor. The others had crowded round Martin but she had been the last in the line of people the gunman had directed to stand against the wall, so therefore the furthest from Martin who had been at the head of it.

    Caleb Martin had dropped the gun with whichhe made his brave attempt. His son Kevin later identified it as his personal property, taken from him by his father in the car that morning. Itwas a toy, a crude copy, with several design inaccuracies, of a Smith and Wesson Model 10 Military and Police Revolver with four-inch barrel.

    Several witnesses had seen Martin's gun fall. A building contractor called Peter Kemp had been standing next to him and he said Martin dropped the gun at the moment the bullet struck him.

    'Could it have been Detective Sergeant Martin's gun that you saw, Mrs Weaver?'


    'Detective Sergeant Martin dropped the gun he was holding. It skidded across the floor among people's feet. Could you be mistaken? Could it have been that gun which you saw?'

    'I saw the boy throw it down.'

    'You said you saw it skid across the floor. Martin's gun skidded across the floor. There were two guns skidding across the floor?'

    'I don't know. I only saw one.'

    'You saw it in the boy's hand and then you saw it skid across the floor. Did you actually see it leave the boy's hand?'

    She was no longer sure. She thought she had seen it. Certainly she had seen it in the boy's hand and then seen a gun on the floor, skating across the shiny marble among the people's feet. An idea came that silenced her for a moment. She looked hard at Burden.

    'I wouldn't go into court and swear I saw it,' she said.

    In the months that followed, the hunt for the men who had carried out the Kingsmarkhambank robbery became nationwide. Gradually, all the stolen banknotes turned up. One of the men bought a car for cash before the numbers of the missing notes were circulated, and paid out six thousand pounds to an unsuspecting secondhand car dealer. This was the older, darker man. The car dealer furnished a detailed description of him and gave, of course, his name. Or the name the man had given him — George Brown. After that, Kingsmarkham Police referred to him as George Brown.

    Of the remaining money, just under two thousand pounds came to light wrapped in newspapers in a town waste-disposal dump. The missing six thousand was never found. It had probably been spent in dribs and drabs. There was not much risk in doing that. As Wexford said, if you give the girl on the check-out two tenners for your groceries she doesn't do a spot-check on the numbers. All you need to do is be prudent and not go there again.

    Just before Christmas Wexford went north to interview a man on remand in prison in Lancashire. It was the usual thing. If he cooperated and offered helpful information, things might go rather better for him at his trial. As it was, he was likely to go down for seven years. His name was James Walley and he told Wexford he had done a job with George Brown, a man whose real name was George Brown. It was one of his past offences he intended to askbe taken into consideration. Wexford saw the George Brown at his home in Warrington.

    He was quite an elderly man, though probably younger than he looked, and he walked with a limp, the result of falling off a scaffold some years before when attempting to break into a block of flats.

    After that, Kingsmarkham Police started talking of their wanted man as o.k.a. (otherwise known as) George Brown. Of the boy with acne there was never any sign, not a whisper. In the underworld he was unknown, he might have died for all that was heard of him.

    O.k.a. George Brown surfaced again in January. He was George Thomas Lee, arrested in the course of a robbery in Leeds. This time it was Burden who went up to see him in the remand prison. He was a small, squinting man with cropped carrotty hair. The tale he spun Burden was of a spotty boy he had met in a pub in Bradford who had boasted of killing a policeman somewhere in the south. He named one pub, then forgot it and named another, but he knew the boy's full name and address.

    Already sure that the motive behind all this was revenge for some petty offence, Burden found the boy. He was tall and dark, an unemployed lab technician with a record as spotless as his face. The boy had no memory of meeting o.k.a. George Brown in any pub, but he did remember calling the police when he found an intruder in the last place he worked at.

    Martin had been killed by a shot from a Colt Magnum .357 or .38 revolver. It was impossible to tell which, because although the cartridge was a .38, the .357 takes both .357 and .38cartridges. Sometimes Wexford worried about that gun and once he dreamed he was in the bank watching two revolvers skating round the marble floor while the bank customers stared like spectators at some arena event. Magnums on Ice.

    He went to talk to Michelle Weaver himself. She was very obliging, always willing to talk, showing no signs of impatience. But five months had gone by and the memory of what she had seen that morning when Caleb Martin died was necessarily growing dim.

    'I can't have seen him throw it down, can I? I mean, I must have imagined that. If he'd thrown it down it would have been there and it wasn't, only the one the policeman dropped.'

    'There was certainly only one gun when the police arrived.' Wexford talked to her conversationally, as if they were equals knowledge and sharers of inside information. She warmed to this, she grew confident and eager. 'All that we found was the toy gun DS Martin took away from his son that morning. Not a copy, not a replica, a child's toy.'

    'And was that really a toy I saw?' She marvelled at it. 'They make them look so real.'

    Another conversational interview, this time with Barbara Watkin, revealed not much more than her obstinacy. She was tenacious about her description of the boy's appearance.

    'I know acne when I see it. My eldest son had terrible acne. That wasn't what the boy had. I told you, it was more like birthmarks.'

    'The scars of acne, perhaps?' 'It wasn't anything like that. You have to picture those strawberry marks people have, only these were the purple kind, and all blotched, dozens of them.'

    Wexford asked Dr Crocker, and Crocker said no one had birthmarks of that description, so that was the end of that.

    There was not much more to say, nothing left to ask. It was the end of February when he talked to Michelle Weaver and the beginning of March when Sharon Fraser came up with something she had remembered about one of the missing men among the bank customers. He had been holding a bunch of banknotes in his hand and they were green notes. There had been no green English banknotes since the pound note had been replaced by a coin several years before. She could remember nothing else about this man — did it help?

    Wexford couldn't say it did, much. But you don't discourage that kind of public-spiritedness.

    Nothing much else happened until the 999 call came on 11 March.





    'THEY'RE all dead.' The voice was a woman's and young, very young. She said it again. 'They're all dead,' and then, 'I'm going to bleed to death!'

    The operator who had taken the call, though not new to the job, said afterwards she turned cold at those words. She had already uttered the formula of asking if the caller wanted police, the fire service or an ambulance.

    'Where are you?' she said.

    'Help me. I'm going to bleed to death.'

    'Tell me where you are, the address...'

    The voice started giving a phone number.

    'The address, please...'

    'Tancred House, Cheriton. Help me, please help me... Make them come quickly...'

    The time was eight twenty-two.

    * * *

    The forest covers an area of something like sixty square miles. Much of it is coniferous, manmade woods of Scots pine and larch, Norway spruce and occasionally a towering Douglas fir. But to the south of this plantation a vestige of the ancient forest of Cheriton remains, one of seven which existed in the County of Sussex in the Middle Ages, the others being Arundel, St Leonard's, Worth, Ashdown, Waterdown andDallington. Arundel excepted, they once all formed part of a single great forest of three-and a-half-thousand square miles which, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, stretched from Kent to Hampshire. Deer roamed it and in the depths, wild swine.

    The small area of this which remains is woodland of oak, ash, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut, birch and the wayfarer's tree, wh