Chapters Eight and Nine of a police procedural novel set in Cardiff, UK
Major Incident Room. End-of-play briefing.
The whiteboard at the front of the office displayed images of Laura Fields in life and in death, a police custody photograph of Steve Adlington and a candid shot of Robert Lloyd lifted from social media.
North started by thanking everyone for their hard work, then recapped developments in the enquiry.
‘We’re checking CCTV from across the city,’ Dillon said. ‘The search parameters have been widened to incorporate Lloyd’s car, a Ford Fiesta, Adlington’s van and the victim’s own vehicle, although that remains parked outside her home.’
North outlined the ongoing work to trace and interview Laura Fields’s friends and acquaintances. So far, nobody seemed to have the first idea what Laura was doing in Leckwith, or why she was murdered.
Charlotte Bancroft, leaning against a desk, raised a hand. She was wearing a jacket and jeans, her hair and make-up flawless. She’d previously worked as a beauty therapist and Shaw knew many a villain had made the mistake of judging her on her appearance.
‘According to the family, Laura had a group of close friends. Hopefully, they’ll be able to provide detailed information about life events and her state of mind in the time leading up to her death.’
‘How are the family holding up?’ Shaw asked.
Bancroft nodded. ‘They’re broken. I’ve introduced myself to them and the sister, but I haven’t launched any substantial investigative work. I’m still building trust.’
North crossed to the whiteboard and stood near the crime scene images. ‘We don’t think this attack is the killer’s first,’ he said. ‘Maybe it’s his first murder, but he will have done something like this before. We’ve not yet identified any similar offences, but we are still looking.’
Dillon went on to explain that a technical error on one of the major mobile telephone networks was preventing the retrieval of some subscriber data.
‘We’ll keep at it,’ North said. ‘But I want to slim the team down at this point. Any officers who have been on this since the beginning are to head home and rest. I appreciate everything you’ve done, but fatigue will lead to mistakes. Thank you all for your continuing efforts.’
Shaw walked Wilde down through the custody suite, and out into the cold winter night. A hard wind whipped around the car park, blowing Wilde’s hair across her face.
‘It’s not easy,’ Shaw said, approaching his car. ‘This job. The things we see.’
Wilde unhooked her hair from her eyes. ‘Part of the reason I keep doing the job is to protect people from the worst of themselves. But when I close the door tonight, I’m afraid I’ll see whoever did this. I know it isn’t over. Whoever killed her, he enjoyed it. He’ll do it again.’
Shaw didn’t say anything. He’d had the same feeling that morning, standing in the woods with the body of Laura Fields. This was not a one off. This was part of something bigger: the start of something, or the culmination.
Wilde unlocked her Renault. ‘Are you going home?’
Shaw understood the question. ‘I’m meeting a friend.’
‘Good. I don’t think either of us should be alone tonight.’
‘Do you have somebody you can call?’
Wilde gave him a weak smile. ‘I won’t be alone.’
Shaw climbed behind the wheel of the Alfa and started the engine. He watched Wilde pull out of the car park, then set off after her.
He turned right onto Clarence Road, over the river and onto Corporation Road. Settling in the stream of evening traffic, he called Victoria. ‘I’m done.’
‘How’s your day been?’
Shaw let the question hang there. ‘It can only get better.’
‘If you still fancy it,’ Victoria said, ‘I know a great little place near here. Italian.’
‘Sounds perfect. I’ll pick you up at yours?’
‘You don’t know where I live.’ The smile softened her voice.
‘I have your business card,’ Shaw reminded her.
The smile was still in place. ‘In that case, I’ll see you soon.’
Hannah Wilde rolled the Renault to a stop behind a tailback on West Grove: a trail of red lights stretching through the lights on Richmond Road.
In the sodium glare of the streetlights, she reached for her handbag and dug out her mobile.
Pete Dawson picked up on the first ring. ‘I’ve been waiting,’ he said. ‘Are you OK?’
‘I am now.’ She studied the static line of taillights. The constant stream of headlights drifting towards her. ‘Where are you?’
‘Spice House. Do you want the usual?’
The traffic started to move. Wilde almost made it up to second gear. ‘Right now, my primary concern is the wine.’
He laughed. ‘I already have it.’
Through the lights, the traffic thinned, and it took less than fifteen minutes to get to Tewkesbury Street. Wilde found a parking space almost outside her front door.
Out of the car, she looked up and down the road. A van parked a little way along the kerb could have been shielding Pete’s Volvo.
Wilde stepped into the porch, juggling her bag and keys. The heating had kicked in, and a warm glow greeted her. Reaching for the hall lights, she looped her shoulder bag and overcoat on the newel post. She texted Pete to say she was home. Added two kisses because she thought it was a little soon for three.
She kicked off her shoes, the tiled floor cold beneath her feet, and went into the kitchen. She took out plates, wine glasses, serving spoons and forks, and the remnants of a bottle of Wolf Blass from the fridge. She poured the wine into a glass and drank it down. Pete would understand; it had been one hell of a day. The anaesthetic effect of the chardonnay was almost immediate.
Upstairs, she swapped her suit for jeans and a thick woollen jumper, then lifted a slat in the blind to look out onto the street below. There was an empty bay behind the van. Still no sign of Pete’s car. Maybe she should invest in a resident permit for him. She turned away from the window. Maybe they needed to move up to three kisses first.
Shaw drew the Alfa up outside a white-rendered semi-detached house off Fairwater Road, on the western edge of the city. A Mini Cooper, a few years old, sat on the drive.
Out of the car, he approached the vivid red front door. He wiped his palms on his jeans, then reached out and pressed the doorbell. A chime reverberated inside the house. Shaw blew air from his cheeks, aware of his heart beating in his chest.
Victoria opened the door and looked out at him, her long dark hair tumbling around her shoulders. She wore jeans and heels, a silk blouse beneath an open blazer.
Shaw looked her up and down. ‘You look wonderful.’
Victoria placed her hands on his arms, leaned in and laid a gentle kiss on his cheek. ‘Please, come inside.’
Shaw followed her into a dark grey hallway accented with white woodwork. The seductive fragrance of Victoria’s perfume lingered in the air. She led Shaw though into an immaculate kitchen diner lifted from the pages of a lifestyle magazine.
Victoria moved to the dining table and started placing items into a clutch bag. ‘I won’t be a moment,’ she said. ‘Can I pour you a drink?’
‘No, thank you.’ He watched her move with practised efficiency. ‘This is a lovely house.’
‘Thank you.’ Without turning to look at him, she asked, ‘Do you want to talk about your day?’
Shaw gave her a thin smile. ‘Maybe we need to get that drink first.’
When Wilde heard the front door close, she went to the top of the stairs.
He was standing in the hallway. Dressed in a blue suit and open-necked white shirt, his dark hair workday dishevelled, Pete Dawson held two carrier bags: one for the food, the other for wine.
Hannah jogged down the stairs, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him hard on the lips.
‘I missed you,’ she said. And she meant it.
He returned the kiss, then took a small backward step, half-lifting the bags. ‘Your order, ma’am.’
She took the bag of food and led him into the kitchen. While she dished up the biryani, Pete set about pouring the chardonnay.
He opened a drawer. ‘Where’s the corkscrew?’
She glanced across. ‘You bought wine with a cork?’
‘This is a bloody good wine.’ He showed her the bottle.
Wilde bit back a criticism and tried to remember the last time she’d had wine without a screw top. Couldn’t for the life of her. ‘It should be in the drawer you’re in,’ she said. ‘Otherwise there’s one in the chest in the lounge.’
Pete left the room, and she watched him go. Smiling to herself, she loaded poppadums onto the plates.
Pete came back spinning the corkscrew on his finger. ‘What are you grinning at?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
They took the food and wine through into the lounge and ate with their plates in their laps.
After a few minutes, Pete said, ‘I heard what happened.’
Wilde had a sudden image of a woman lying on the fallen leaves.
She set her plate down on the wooden floor. ‘Her name was Laura Fields.’
‘It was a bad one.’
Her mind flashed to Shaw and his reaction to the scene, and she knew she wouldn’t say anything about that to Pete. ‘Hands down, the worst I’ve seen.’
‘Where’s the motive?’
‘So far, there doesn’t seem to be one. She was a well-liked professional with a small group of friends and no discernible enemies.’
‘Anything that doesn't sit right with you?’
‘There’s a boyfriend who’s either in the dark about some parts of her life or he’s withholding information from us.’
She told him about Julia McCarthy and the trouble at school, and about Steve Adlington and his claim of a break-in at Laura’s home studio.
‘Why didn’t she report the break-in to the police?’ Dawson asked.
‘That’s one aspect I’m struggling with. Laura seems pretty straight laced. She comes from a good family. Not the sort of person to not report something like that.’
‘So, what do you think?’
‘Maybe there was no break-in. Maybe she suspected somebody close to her, and didn’t want to drop them in it? Maybe she knew full well who it was.’
‘This Robert Lloyd?’
‘I don't know if the timings fit. They may have met after the break-in. Of course, it may not be connected to what happened to her.’
Pete reached for her hand. ‘I know this will get to you, Hannah,’ he said. ‘You’re not the sort of person that can see something like that and not be affected by it.’
‘This sounds like your testimony from my professional standards review.’
Dawson touched her face, moved forward and kissed her. ‘You are a brilliant detective and I know you’ll find whoever did this. Just promise me you’ll look after yourself.’
Hannah kissed him back. She closed her eyes, and let the darkness engulf her.
Giovanni’s was a short drive from Victoria’s home, on the Fairwater high street, sandwiched between a letting agency and a beauty salon.
The restaurant was bright and warm, homely, inviting. The heavy and delicious aromas of cooked steak, fresh herbs and red wine filled the air. Rows of tables ran the length of the restaurant, most of them full. Shaw and Victoria waited near the door to be seated. Victoria reached down and took Shaw’s hand in hers. Her skin was soft and warm.
A waiter in a white shirt and full-length apron approached, a menu tucked under his arm. ‘Good evening,’ he said, his accent laced with Italian. ‘Do you have a reservation?’
‘We do,’ Victoria answered. ‘In the name of Shaw.’
Shaw cast her a sideways glance; they followed the waiter through the restaurant to a table for two at the back of the room.
The waiter pulled out Victoria’s chair, and asked if they would like drinks to start.
‘A bottle of Argentinian Malbec,’ Victoria said, before Shaw could respond.
The waiter placed a menu each in front of them, then departed.
‘My favourite,’ Shaw said. ‘How did you know?’
She looked at him then. ‘What happened today?’
‘A woman was found murdered this morning. We’re investigating the circumstances.’ Shaw broke off as the waiter returned with a bottle and two glasses.
Shaw poured a large glass for Victoria and a smaller measure for himself.
‘What happened to her?’
‘She was stabbed,’ Shaw said. ‘My colleague and I were first on the scene.’ He drank some wine. ‘It’s complicated.’
Concern clouding her eyes, Victoria watched him.
He turned the glass on the table. ‘There’s something I need to tell you.’
‘Oh, God! I knew this was too good to be true. You’re married, aren’t you?’
Shaw looked down at his hands, the swell of skin on the ring finger of his left hand. ‘No, I’m not married. But I was. My wife died three years ago.’
‘Oh, Tom, I’m sorry.’
Shaw didn’t look at her. He focussed on his glass. ‘I wanted to tell you last night, but it felt too soon. Not telling you felt like I was hiding something. I need you to know. There’s never going to be a good time.’
Shaw raised his eyes. Victoria was looking at him with concern or compassion or a combination of the two. He made a conscious effort not to drink.
‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’
Shaw didn’t know where to start, so he started at the beginning. He told Victoria how he’d rented the house in Glenroy Street as a student and how when the ageing landlord decided to get out of the university accommodation racket he’d offered Shaw the lease as a private tenant. As a working detective, Shaw had been comfortable living on his own for a number of years. Until the landlord asked if he would consider taking on a temporary house share: the foster daughter of a friend just starting out. Louise Ferguson, a newly qualified vet, had secured a junior position in a Cardiff practice. She'd fully expected renting to be a short-term arrangement, just until she found her footing. It wasn’t love at first sight or a whirlwind romance. Rather, Shaw and Louise had settled into a steady rhythm of companionship and routine. They shared similar interests and enjoyed each other’s company. And then, before he knew what was happening, Shaw found himself actively seeking her company, and he realised he didn’t want to be anywhere else. Over the next few years, Shaw and Louise grew inseparable, their bond in part strengthened by their similar family histories. When they married, everything was perfect. Then their landlord announced that he was selling the house and gave the newlyweds first refusal. They jumped at it. They’d dreamed of renovating the place, and Louise had already planned out what she would do with the entire house. They started with the room at the top of the stairs. Early February, and Louise was called to a farm out near Saint Fagans. It was an awful winter night, snowing heavily, and somehow Louise lost control of her car on a dark lane. She hit a tree. According to the post mortem report, she would have been killed almost instantly. The same pathologist had also revealed the baby she’d been carrying for seven months had been a girl. Shaw, coming off a late shift, had returned home to find a patrol car waiting for him. To this day, the memories and imaginings of that night still plagued his dreams.
‘I’m sorry,’ Victoria said again.
She reached for his hand, and he entwined his fingers with hers.
‘I can’t begin to imagine what that was like for you, Tom. But I want you to know I’m here for you.’
He looked into her green eyes and knew he’d made a mistake. ‘I shouldn’t have told you.’
‘You don’t get to approach middle-age without squirrelling away a few skeletons in your closet. Next time, I’ll tell you some of mine.’
‘If you still want there to be a next time.’
‘Of course I do.’ She smiled. ‘Thank you.’
Shaw looked at her. ‘For what?’
‘For trusting me with it.’
The waiter started towards their table, a notepad in hand.
Shaw drank a little wine. ‘Why don’t we get something to eat, then maybe we can rewind a little?’
Victoria picked up her glass. ‘I hope you realise my rule of not drinking during rehearsals has gone right out of the window.’
Shaw scratched his forehead. ‘Sorry about that.’
‘I’m a big girl,’ Victoria said. ‘I make my own mistakes. Anyway, it wasn’t a very sensible rule. A vow to play more violin would have been much better.’
‘Do you want to tell me about your day?’
‘There’s not much to tell. I broke up a fight between two five-year-olds, avoided being drawn into office gossip, managed some marking and squeezed in a little violin.’ She shrugged. ‘Since you called, this is all I’ve been looking forward to.’
Shaw felt himself smile. He half-rose, leaned across the table, and kissed Victoria on gently on the cheek.
Shaw parked on Glenroy Street, a few hundred yards from the house. Locking the car, he crossed the road, fumbling with his keys.
The front door opened to a cold, dark silence. He shrugged off his overcoat on the way to the kitchen, unstoppered a bottle of Laphroaig, and poured an inch into a tumbler.
Then he went upstairs. Outside the closed door at the rear of the house, he braced himself then reached for the handle, twisted, and pushed the door softly, quietly inward. He stepped into the darkness.
The baby’s room.
If he tried, he could count the number of times he’d been into the nursery since the accident. A handful of occasions in three years.
His steps fell gentle on the carpet that had faded in the sun, but otherwise was like new.
The cot was still in its packaging, unopened, unassembled. A soft toy sat atop the cardboard box: a small, white teddy bear.
He slumped against the wall, set the glass on the floor then held the bear to his chest in silent, godless prayer.
Eyes closed, he drank the whisky and allowed himself to think about what could have been. A different life. And for the first time in those years since the accident, he thought that maybe he would find a new normal. He struggled to his feet and placed a gentle kiss on the bear’s head before returning it to its box. He went out onto the landing.
Closed the door on the past.