Chapters Six and Seven of a police procedural novel set in Cardiff, UK
The Major Incident Room was at full-tilt: officers at desks, telephones ringing, people moving between the glass-walled offices.
Kate Langdon’s desk was already littered with sheaves of paper. The office manager had the start of an associations chart on the whiteboard: a visual overview of the information generated by Nightbird.
‘We have a couple more names for you.’ Shaw handed Langdon the visit paperwork and two evidence bags, each containing a saliva sample.
She took the documents and the bags and logged them into evidence. ‘How did the parents take it?’
‘As you’d expect. They started to come apart as we were leaving. They want to view the body, but I'm not sure that's a good idea.'
'Any news on the FLO?’ Wilde asked.
‘DI Stone has nominated Charlotte Bancroft for the role,’ Langdon said. ‘She’s in a briefing with North and Dillon at the moment, and should be with the family this afternoon.’ She studied the action sheets, the names Shaw had written in block capitals. ‘OK, priority actions: we need to inform Robert Lloyd that his girlfriend is dead. Plus, I want us talking to Laura’s colleagues. If her murder is related to something in her private life, the people she worked with might just be able to shine some light on it.’
Shaw dug into his pocket and drew out a coin. ‘Heads or tails?’
‘I’ll take the boyfriend,’ Wilde said.
Wilde left the station before one o'clock, edging the Vauxhall north along the Central Link. Traffic was heavy and slow-moving beneath a sky that looked increasingly like rain.
She patched her mobile through to the car’s Bluetooth, scrolled through the on-screen contacts to the name Pete Dawson. The call rang until she thought it would go to answerphone.
Then: ‘I’ve been thinking about you.’
Wilde, surprised by the comfort she found in his voice, apologised for not calling sooner.
‘Are you OK?’
‘I’m fine.’ The lie came easily, but she knew it carried no weight.
‘What is it?’
'A woman, stabbed to death. It’s a bad one.’
Pete said, ‘I know it’s difficult, but you have to focus on your role; what you’re doing. Do not fixate on the body or what has been done to it. Focus on the investigation.’
‘This isn’t my first rodeo,’ she reminded him, finding a smile.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Please look after yourself. And please let me know if you need anything.’
‘Well, if you’re around later, I could definitely use wine and Indian food.’
There was a hesitation. ‘Hannah, I’m not sure. There’s something I’m meant to do this evening.’
‘That’s OK,’ she said, a little too quickly.
‘I’ll let you know.’ She heard another voice on the line, abrupt and urgent; somebody had entered the office.
She ended the call.
The drive to Cyncoed took twenty minutes. Time enough to formulate the death message. To think about what had happened to Laura Fields. To contemplate those final moments. The fear and the pain. And in those twenty minutes, Hannah Wilde made a silent promise to herself and Laura Fields.
She turned off Llandennis Road and into the grounds of Cardiff High School. The existing building had been extended, a modern annex constructed to the front of the classic nineteen-sixties design. She parked near the entrance, and followed the signs into the spacious reception.
The receptionist regarded Wilde with mild interest when she said she needed to talk to the head teacher.
‘Do you have an appointment?’ she asked. ‘Mr Ruskin is in a meeting.’
Wilde laid her warrant card on the counter. ‘It really is very important.’
The woman recoiled, then went to her phone. After a brief, hushed conversation, she returned to the desk. ‘Please take a seat.’
While she waited, Wilde thought back to the people she’d known while here. Friends with whom she’d lost touch. Evil bitches she was amazed she hadn’t encountered in the job.
After several minutes, a door at the side of the reception opened. John Ruskin was not as tall as she remembered, and his hair had thinned and greyed.
Wilde got to her feet. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you, sir.’
‘That’s quite all right. Please, come into my office.’
The room was spacious, plain white decor broken up by a feature wall in vivid red. A modern desk dominated the floor space. Two padded chairs for visitors.
Ruskin turned to face her. ‘What can I do for you?’ His voice trailed off, probing for a name.
There was no recognition. A vague smile.
‘I need to speak with a member of your teaching staff,’ Wilde said. ‘Robert Lloyd. Is he here today?’
Ruskin could not keep the intrigue from his voice. ‘Yes, I believe so. May I ask why?’
‘School finishes at three o’clock. I’d rather you wait until then. We don’t like to disrupt lessons unnecessarily.’
‘His girlfriend is dead.’
‘Oh, dear Christ.’
‘Do you think somebody could bring him down?’
‘Of course. Please, bear with me.’ Ruskin left the room, closing the door behind him.
Wilde sat there, the silence heavy around her. She, the calm and the storm, the destroyer of worlds. This was the moment, to be savoured, before everything changed.
The door opened, and she got to her feet. Ruskin stood in the doorway, another man just in front of him.
He was shorter than Ruskin, lithe and handsome in a way she could imagine the schoolgirls liked. He was wearing a denim shirt and a herringbone jacket. He hadn’t shaved for a few days, and the stubble suited him.
‘Robert Lloyd?’ Wilde asked.
‘What’s going on?’
‘Please,’ she said, ‘come in and sit down.’
Lloyd did as she asked, lowering himself slowly into the seat opposite her. His eyes were on Wilde the whole time. He knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t tell if he knew why she was there.
She heard the door close softly, and turned to see Ruskin had gone.
‘My name is Hannah Wilde,’ she said. ‘I’m a police officer. Robert, I’m sorry to have to tell you that a body was found this morning. We have reason to believe the body is that of Laura Fields.’
Lloyd’s mouth opened, then closed. No sound came out. His eyes searched Wilde. ‘Laura? No, there must be some mistake.’
‘I’m sorry, Robert. There is no mistake.’
‘But I saw her last night. We went to dinner. She’s absolutely fine.’
‘I know this is difficult, but I need to ask you some questions.’
He made a noise that she took for consent.
‘How was your relationship with Laura?’
His eyes were dead. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Had you argued recently?’
‘No, of course not. Why would we?’
‘Why do any couples row?’
‘We were just starting out. We had no cause to argue.’
‘How long were you together?’
‘We met before Christmas. There was an exhibition. Laura was displaying her work. I fell in love with it immediately.’
Wilde said, ‘Where did you have dinner last night?’
‘An Italian on the High Street.’
‘How was she?’
‘She was absolutely fine.’ He rubbed the line of his stubble. ‘We talked about art and work. She was happy. She was positive. We talked about the future, and about plans for half-term. She suggested a holiday. Majorca, somewhere like that. Just a few nights.’
‘Was that typical of her?’ Wilde asked. ‘To be happy and forward-looking?’
‘I cannot explain her to you; she’s like nobody I have ever known. She’s such a beautiful woman.’
‘What about work?’
Laura had been teaching, Lloyd said, for three years. Before embarking on a career as an art teacher, she had worked as an artist. She’d gained some recognition for painting the album cover for a singer songwriter from Reading Wilde thought she might have heard of. Laura had still been a practicing artist, working out of a home studio. She was due to exhibit her work in the spring. But, while she loved being an artist, the classroom was where she felt she belonged. Teaching was her life.
Wilde watched Lloyd. ‘Was Laura experiencing any difficulties at work? Had she argued with anyone?’
Lloyd looked down at his knees. ‘No, of course not.’
‘This is important, Robert. If you know anything, you have to tell me.’
‘I don’t think I understand. How did she die?’
‘At this moment, a cause of death has not been determined, but there are a number of factors that suggest she was assaulted.’
‘We believe Laura was murdered.’
Robert Lloyd went loose then. His mouth fell open, and his head sagged. He stood up, then sat down again, hard. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he rubbed it roughly away with the sleeve of his jacket. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that in the beginning?’ He looked for Wilde. ‘I thought she’d done this to herself.’
‘I’m sorry, Robert. I truly am. We still don’t know what happened to Laura. If you were with her before this happened, you may hold information vital to our enquiries. We need to make sure we’ve got all the information we need so we can find out what happened to Laura. Do you understand?’
‘What happened after the meal?’
‘She got into a cab, and I walked home.’
‘What time was this?’
‘Ten thirty, just a little before.’
Wilde made a note. ‘What can you tell me about the taxi?’
‘It was a black cab. City Cars. I wanted to go with her, but she said that would be a waste of money. Why the hell didn’t I go with her? I could have stayed with her.’
‘Who called the cab?’
‘Why didn’t she call herself?’
‘Why did you ring the taxi for her?’
‘Because it’s the right thing to do. And anyway, she didn’t have her mobile. She thought she’d left it at home.’
‘When she left, did she say where she was going?’
‘She was going home. Where the hell do you think?’
‘We didn’t find her at home, Robert. We found her on the other side of the city. In Langcross Wood. Do you know where that is?’
Lloyd shook his head. ‘I’ve never heard of it.’
‘It’s in Leckwith. We don’t know how she got there.’
‘She was going home. I told the operator the address on the phone.’
Wilde made a note. ‘Can you describe the taxi driver?’
Lloyd shook his head. ‘Asian male. Older. I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, and it was dark.’
‘What was Laura wearing last night?’
‘A white dress.’
‘What about a coat?’
‘No. But she had a bag, like a clutch bag.’
‘Not that I can remember. Apart from her necklace.’
‘Can you describe that?’
‘She has a gold chain she always wears. It was a present from her grandfather for her eighteenth birthday. I’ve never seen her without it.’
Wilde looked up. ‘And she was definitely wearing it last night?’
‘One-hundred percent. Was this a robbery? Is that what you’re saying?’ Robert Lloyd started to cry. ‘What did they do to her?’
Wilde leaned forward. ‘Robert.’
‘Please, tell me this isn’t happening. Laura can’t be dead. We’re made for each other. That’s what she said. She said we’d always be together. She promised she wouldn’t leave me.’
Wilde got to her feet. ‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Let’s get somebody to take you home.’
Shaw booked out a Ford Focus for the drive to Rumney. One of the oldest pool cars in the CID fleet, the decommissioned roads policing vehicle was seldom signed out. Shaw could never understand that; race-tuned power plant, on-board computer and concealed blue lights. In the early afternoon, the streets thick with traffic, Shaw had to rein in the car.
He turned off Newport Road, into the grounds of Eastern High, and parked near the entrance to the large, red brick building.
He followed signs for reception through glass doors into a spacious foyer. Photographs of pupils past and present adorned the walls, along with a collection of certificates, and a display board picture list of the current staff. His eyes found Laura Fields immediately.
The school office overlooked the foyer. A blonde woman in her fifties got up and moved towards the window.
Shaw showed his warrant card and asked for the head teacher.
‘I’m afraid Mrs Hensley is not in school today,’ she said in a low voice. ‘If it’s important, I can check whether the deputy head is available.’
‘I’d appreciate that.’
The receptionist went back to her desk and spoke briefly into the telephone.
As she replaced the receiver, a door near the reception opened, and a man stepped out. He was tall and dark, dressed in shirt and trousers, lace-up brogues, wearing a beard and thick-rimmed glasses. He extended his hand. ‘Salem Ali.’
The grip was firm. ‘Detective Sergeant Tom Shaw, Cardiff Bay CID.’
‘Please, come in.’ The office was small and cramped. Filing cabinets and full-height shelving units crammed with textbooks and files. The desk was littered with papers. ‘Would you like a tea or coffee?’
‘Thank you, no.’ Shaw helped himself to a spare seat.
Ali stared at Shaw like he knew what was coming.
‘I’m sorry to have to notify you that we are investigating a murder. We have this morning discovered a body, and we believe it to be that of Laura Fields.’
Ali took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. ‘I tried ringing her. I thought she must have been sick.’
‘When did you last see Laura, Mr Ali?’
‘Yesterday. Leaving work.’
‘How did she seem to you?’
‘Like any other day. She said she was going on a date night.’
‘Who was the date with?’
‘Her boyfriend, Rob. Robert Lloyd. They’ve been seeing each other a couple of months. I think it’s going well for her.’
Shaw made a note in his pocketbook. ‘What was your relationship with Laura Fields?’
‘We’re friends. We had a lot in common. Books, art, music.’
‘OK. Did she ever confide in you any troubles?’
‘But minor stuff? She trusted you with that?’
‘She trusted me. Laura didn’t have any serious concerns.’
‘No financial difficulties?’
Ali shook his head. ‘I’m sure you know she comes from money. And she had her art; she sold some of her work after an exhibition last month. Her career as an artist was showing great promise.’
‘How much do you know about her life? Her personal circumstances?’
‘How much do we know about anyone? I know she lives alone in Canton. No children. She’s got this boyfriend. There was somebody before. He was no good for Laura. From what she said, they just made each other miserable.’
‘What was his name?’
Ali shook his head. ‘I don’t remember, sorry. He was an electrician or a plumber.’
‘How much did you see Laura socially?’
‘We try to meet up at least once a month.’
Another note. ‘You assumed she was sick. Was that a regular thing?’
‘Not at all. I thought that because she was going out yesterday evening.’ He lost his train. ‘I thought maybe she was hungover. Look, I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t even know what’s happened to her.’
‘She was stabbed.’
Ali put his hand to his mouth, and leaned forward. ‘How could he have done this?’
Shaw looked up from his notes. ‘Who?’
‘Why do you think Lloyd killed her?’
‘What do you mean? You said–’
Shaw shook his head. ‘I didn’t say anything. You said it was going well for her, and she liked him. Had she given you any indication he may have been violent?’
‘I’m sorry, I made an assumption. Who did kill her?’
‘We don’t know what happened yet. That’s why we need you. But we’re dealing in facts, not assumptions.’
Shaw flicked a page in his pocketbook, ignored Ali’s eyes on him. ‘Can I have contact details for any staff Laura was close to here at the school?’
‘Of course.’ Ali shifted in his seat. ‘I’ll have to ask for a warrant, I’m afraid.’
Shaw nodded. ‘I’ll email you a disclosure request.’
‘I don’t mean to be awkward.’
‘I know times like this our questions can seem intrusive,’ Shaw said. ‘But we need to find out what happened to Laura. I assure you, no offence is meant.’
Ali nodded his understanding.
‘Was Laura in any kind of trouble?’
A beat. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘You’re sure? What about issues with pupils or parents?’
Ali took a deep breath. ‘Back last year, Laura suspected a pupil had drugs on her. The girl alleged that another colleague, Julia McCarthy, assaulted her. Hadi Azim was temporarily excluded and Julia was suspended pending an investigation.’
‘Laura wasn’t suspended?’
‘Laura saw Hadi take what she believed to be drugs from a man outside the school, but it was Julia that attempted to get the drugs from her bag. Julia stuck Hadi. We had no choice, but Julia saw the suspension as a personal attack.’
‘What was the outcome of the investigation?’
‘It’s still ongoing.’
Shaw looked at Ali. ‘What are you not telling me?’
‘Julia tried to kill herself,’ he said. ‘New Year’s Eve, she took an overdose. As you can imagine, Laura was devastated by what happened. Everyone disputed Hadi Azim’s version of events, but there are procedures we have to follow. Whatever Julia did, she did it for the right reasons. She cares about the kids. She’s a good teacher.’
Shaw said, ‘We’ll need addresses for both Julia McCarthy and Hadi Azim. And we need to know exactly what you uncovered during your investigation.’
Shaw walked out through the foyer, past the picture of Laura Fields. Out into the afternoon that looked increasingly like rain. He slid behind the wheel of the Ford, pulled out his mobile and scrolled through his contacts.
‘Hello?’ Victoria sounded almost breathless.
‘Hey. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, thank you. This is an unexpected surprise.’
‘Sorry if I’m disturbing you.’
‘Not at all. Where are you?’
Victoria shifted, perhaps catching something in his tone. ‘Are you all right?’
‘I’m fine. I don’t have a lot of time. I wanted to ask if you are free later. Maybe for a bite to eat?’
‘That sounds great.’
‘The problem is, I don’t know when I’ll be finished.’
‘I’ll be here. Whenever you’re ready.’ Victoria sighed. ‘Did that sound desperate?’
‘I promised myself I wouldn’t do desperate.’
Shaw smiled. ‘Would you like to rewind a little?’
‘Can we go back to the question?’
‘That sounds good,’ Victoria said before ending the call. ‘I’ll be waiting for you.’
The traffic on Newport Road was light, but Shaw had no urge to push the car, or himself.
He reached Cardiff Bay twenty minutes later. There was no space in the car park, so he left the Focus on the pavement and climbed the steps to the main entrance.
He crossed the reception and swiped his ID to enter the station.
Before making his way up to the MIR, he stopped off on the second floor.
Max Stone was in his office. Shaw tapped the door, then pushed into the room.
‘Tom,’ Stone said, looking up from some papers. ‘Is everything all right?’
Shaw closed the door behind him, then dropped into the chair opposite Stone. ‘I wanted to apologise for earlier.’
‘You’d had a shock,’ Stone said. ‘By all accounts, it was pretty rough.’
‘It’s not just that. Have you seen her?’
When Stone shook his head, Shaw opened his messenger bag and drew out one of the images of Laura Fields. He handed the sheet of printer paper to his friend.
He had known Stone since they’d arrived at Cardiff Central as probationers almost twenty years ago. Both had aspired to a career in CID, and they had advanced through the ranks step for step until Shaw made DS and decided that was where his management aspirations ended. After six years as a DI, Stone had now set his sights on a posting as DCI. Despite their differences in background - or perhaps because of them - the two had become firm friends. When Shaw and Louise got together, Stone had been a friend to the couple, and Shaw’s only real choice for best man.
Once Stone saw the crime scene images, he’d recognise the similarity, and he’d want to know why Shaw hadn’t said anything.
‘Oh, my God.’ Stone stared at the likeness, then looked up at Shaw. ‘I don’t know what to say. Have you told anyone about this?’
Shaw shook his head. ‘I can’t jeopardise my position on the enquiry team.’
Stone rubbed his face. ‘I don’t think your place on the squad is at risk; it’s not like you knew her. The only potential conflict is in your ability to remain impartial.’
‘I know Laura isn’t Louise. I know this is a coincidence of bone structure and hair colour. I’m grieving, not deluded.’
‘Three years isn’t a long time.’
‘It’s long enough.’
‘You’re still having nightmares.’
Shaw looked past Stone. ‘Is that just for show?’
Stone glanced at the espresso machine on top of a filing cabinet. ‘It’s reserved for higher-ranking officers.’
‘Black, no sugar, thanks.’
Stone got to his feet and crossed to the coffee machine. With his back to Shaw, he loaded a capsule. ‘I know you’re hurting. Jesus, I still miss Louise. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.’
Shaw folded the picture of Laura and returned it to his bag.
Stone placed a coffee on the desk before Shaw. ‘How’s the house coming along?’
‘It’s not far off.’ Shaw took a sip of the coffee. ‘If you called round more, you’d know.’
‘I could come over this evening if you like. I’ll bring beers and a scathing critique of your DIY.’
‘About later,’ Shaw said. ‘I took your advice and called Victoria. We’re meeting for dinner.’
‘You’re standing me up?’
‘You said you didn’t mind.’
‘Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d go through with it.’ Stone grinned at his own joke.
Shaw smiled. ‘Thanks for the coffee, Max. I need to get back to the MIR. I’ll speak to you later.’
Stone swiped the empty cup off the desk. ‘Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.’
Shaw was at his computer, finishing up the action reports, when Langdon emerged from the senior management office. Across the room, Wilde sat at her desk, her back to him.
‘Outside Enquiries,’ she called. ‘North wants you.’
Shaw crossed the floor, passing by Wilde’s desk. She pushed her chair back and got to her feet, falling into step with him.
The SIO was at his desk. Samantha Dillon sat alongside him, the policy file open between them.
North got to his feet. ‘A CSI team has been into Laura Fields’s home address,’ he said. ‘She owned a house on Greenfield Avenue in Canton. As well as physical evidence, we were looking for an idea of who this woman was. Any lifestyle indicators to set alarm bells ringing: sex, drugs, whatever.’
Shaw was trying to place the address. ‘Greenfield Avenue. Doesn’t that run onto Thompson’s Park?’
‘There’s no direct access to the park from the street,’ Dillon said. ‘And the gates on Romilly Road, Pencisely Road and Saint David’s Avenue are locked at dusk.’
North picked up the notes. ‘The search of the house revealed no sign of a disturbance, no blood. Whatever happened, it almost certainly didn’t happen there. Nearly all the fingerprints lifted from the property were the same: most likely Laura’s. We’ll know for definite once we have the PM report. There were also prominent prints belonging to another individual.’
‘Lloyd?’ Shaw asked.
‘Quite possibly. He’s not known to us, so we’ll need to get a set of elimination prints from him. CSIs also found several sets of glove prints. There’s no sign of forced entry, no sign anything is missing; we found laptops and an iPad. It’s January, so certainly feasible Laura touched the surfaces in her home before removing her gloves.’
‘We found a quantity of white powder which we believe will turn out to be cocaine,’ Dillon said. ‘Stuffed down the back of her underwear drawer.’
‘How much?’ Wilde asked.
‘A couple of grams.’
‘And we’re sure that’s all of it?’ she asked.
North smiled at her. ‘Quite sure.’
Six months ago, Wilde had discovered that a detective on her team had syphoned off a quantity of cash and cocaine during the search of a suspected dealer’s address. Outraged at the insinuation his haul was a couple of thousand pounds and twenty grams light, the dealer had demanded a recount. After a criminal trial, Detective Constable Vinny Ryan had received a suspended sentence and dismissal without rights.’
‘The only sniff of aggravation Laura was involved in centred around drugs,’ Shaw said. ‘One of her pupils, Hadi Azim, fell in with a bad crowd. Laura and a colleague, Julia McCarthy, tried to intervene. Things got physical and Julia ended up on a suspension pending an investigation. She tried to kill herself on New Year’s Eve. It seems Laura has some pretty conservative attitudes, for an artist.’
‘Lloyd didn’t mention the suspension or suicide attempt,’ Wilde said. ‘He must’ve known, and I gave him multiple chances to tell me.’
North went back to his notes. ‘The team located a number of items of jewellery. It’s impossible to tell if anything is missing. Once we’ve got the inventory, we’ll pass it around Laura’s family and friends, see whether anything jumps out at them as being conspicuously absent.’
Wilde said, ‘Robert Lloyd reckoned Laura always wore a gold necklace, a gift from her grandfather. He swears she was wearing it last night.’
‘We’ll get him to cast his eye over the inventory,’ Dillon said. ‘If it’s not there, we’re looking at a possible robbery. Or, more likely, the killer took it as a trophy.’
‘Laura’s car, a Toyota Aygo, was parked on the road outside the flat,’ North said. ‘Again, no bodily fluids, no struggle. The CSIs recovered a mobile phone from the passenger footwell. There was an unread text message from Lloyd on the home screen. Received at ten to eleven yesterday, thanking her for a lovely evening. A number of missed calls, including several from the school where she worked. The tech items are with scientific support, and we’ve requested subscriber data from the network providers. We’ll start analysing cell site data for everyone involved as soon as we’ve got the records.’
Wilde said, ‘That text would tie in with the time Lloyd claimed he’d put her into the cab.’
Dillon tapped a pen against her teeth. ‘If Lloyd’s version of events is true, we have the taxi driver as the possible last person to see Laura Fields alive.’
Wilde said, ‘He shouldn’t be too hard to track down. With luck, the cab will show up on the restaurant’s CCTV.’
North nodded. ‘What did you get from Laura’s place of work?’
‘The deputy head was aware she’d been out with Robert Lloyd last night,’ Shaw said. ‘He assumed Lloyd killed her.’
North looked to Wilde. ‘Hannah?’
She shook her head. ‘I’m not sure. My gut instinct says he’s not that good an actor.’
‘Did anybody mention Steve Adlington?’ North asked.
‘Lloyd said he didn’t know him,’ Wilde said. ‘He couldn’t tell me anything about him.’
‘What about Laura’s colleagues?’
‘Salem Ali knew of somebody before Lloyd,’ Shaw said. ‘An electrician or a plumber, but he didn’t know a name. It’s likely to be Adlington, and Ali suggested he made Laura’s life a misery.’
‘Adlington is known to us,’ Dillon said. ‘He’s got some previous involving violence – a handful of public order offences. He also lives in Canton. Five minutes from Greenfield Avenue.’
North got to his feet. ‘Before we go any further, let’s give Steve Adlington’s tree a little shake. I want to know why so many people think he’s bad news, and why Laura Fields’s parents assumed he murdered their daughter.’
Three o’clock in the afternoon, the light already starting to bleed from the day, the main thoroughfare through Canton, one of the city’s most vibrant areas, was at a standstill.
Shaw turned off Cowbridge Road East, a wide avenue lined with shops and takeaways, restaurants and bars. He negotiated the maze of narrow one-way streets to a terraced row nestled three rows back from the strip.
The house was unremarkable: red brick with white PVC windows. A grey Ford Transit, a few years old, parked on the street outside.
Wilde pressed the doorbell.
Shaw stepped back, looking for signs of life at the upstairs windows.
There was movement inside the hallway: a dark shadow flicker behind the glass before the door swung open. The man stood in the doorframe was tall and dark, dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans.
‘Steve Adlington?’ Shaw asked.
‘What if I am?’
‘Police. Can we talk inside?’
‘I’m meant to be working,’
‘We are working,’ Wilde said. 'And we need to talk to you now.’
‘OK. So talk.’
Shaw raised an arm, gesturing. ‘Inside really would be better.’
Adlington sighed, then opened the door wide.
In the narrow hallway, a mountain bike leaned against the radiator, coats hanging from the handlebar.
‘First left,’ Adlington said.
Shaw pushed the door into an over-furnished lounge: too-big flat-screen television, PlayStation and Xbox, Blu-ray player, soundbar.
Adlington gestured to the large, white sofa. ‘So, what’s this all about?’
Shaw seated himself slowly, straight-backed and professional. Wilde eased herself down beside him.
Adlington dropped into an armchair. ‘I hope this won’t take long,’ he said. ‘I need to get back to work. Providing a service, scraping a living.’
Shaw checked his watch. ‘A little late in the day to be starting work, isn’t it?’
‘I stopped for lunch.’ Adlington rubbed his jaw. ‘That’s not why you’re here, is it? Longer than regulation tea break?’
‘Where were you last night?’ Shaw asked.
Adlington’s eyes narrowed. He looked between Shaw and Wilde, his gaze steady, unwavering. ‘Why? What is it I’m supposed to have done?’
‘Tell us about your relationship with Laura Fields,’ Wilde said.
‘What’s she been saying?’
‘I’m sorry, but we are investigating the discovery a body this morning. The body is that of Laura.’
The colour drained from Adlington’s face. ‘Is this some sort of fucking joke?’
Shaw said, ‘As part of that investigation we need to ask you some questions. We understand the two of you were in a relationship a while back?’
Adlington got to his feet. ‘We were together about six months, until last October.’
‘How did you meet?’
He crossed to the window, and looked out. ‘Someone gave her my number. She had a problem with her boiler.’
‘And what was the nature of your relationship?’
‘Hang on, now,’ Adlington said. ‘You haven’t told me anything. How can she be dead?’
Wilde said, ‘That’s what we are trying to ascertain. She sustained a number of injuries consistent with assault.’
Adlington let out a slow breath. He went back to his armchair, and sat down. He leaned forward, elbows on knees. ‘Somebody killed her?’
‘We are still awaiting the outcomes of certain tests,’ Shaw said. ‘And there will need to be a post mortem examination.’
‘What about Anna, her sister? Her parents? Do they know?’
‘Her family has been notified.’
Shaw said, ‘We found Laura in Langcross Wood. Do you know where that is?’
Adlington shook his head.
‘It’s near Leckwith. Have you ever been to Langcross Wood?’
‘What about Laura? Do you know if she had any connection to the area?’
Another shake of the head.
Wilde shifted forward in her seat. ‘What was the nature of your relationship?’
‘It wasn’t a whirlwind romance or anything, but while we were together everything was good. I suppose we were different people, and it fizzled out. It wasn’t bitter or anything. We just agreed the spark went out.’
‘Did you love her?’
‘I thought maybe I did, for a while.’
Shaw made a note. ‘What can you tell us about her family?’
Adlington’s face clouded. ‘Like what?’
‘How was Laura’s relationship with her parents?’
‘It was fine. Her father can be a little overbearing, but she loved them both. She used to see them all the time. They’d speak practically every day.’
‘Had they had any arguments, any fallings out?’
‘Not that I ever knew of.’
Shaw made a note. ‘What about her sister?’
Adlington got to his feet and went back to the window. ‘Anna is just different. I mean, I don’t know. I think they’re fine. I don’t think anything happened between them. No, I can’t believe that.’
‘How was Laura’s financial situation?’
Adlington turned back into the room. ‘I don’t think money has ever been an issue. Jesus, you should see their parents’ house.’
‘So you wouldn’t say she had any need to supplement her teaching income?’
Adlington shook his head. ‘No. Laura sold her art because painting is her passion, and she’s bloody good at it, even I could see that, not because she needed the money.’
‘What do you know of her friends?’ Wilde asked.
Adlington blew air from his cheeks. ‘Spoiled little rich kids. I wouldn’t say I knew any of them.’
‘I’m not sure,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s going on here, but she hadn’t argued with anybody and nobody would want her dead.’
‘What about ex-boyfriends?’
Adlington shrugged. ‘Laura never mentioned anyone, and I never asked. I don’t see how I can help you.’
Shaw made a note. ‘What about new boyfriends?’
‘She’s seeing somebody, but I don’t know him. None of my business, is it?’
Shaw looked up from his pocketbook. ‘When was the last time you saw Laura?’
Adlington scratched his head. ‘It’s been a while. I don’t think I’ve seen her since the break-in.’
Wilde leaned forward. ‘What break-in?’
‘Somebody broke into her art studio; she converted her garage. She asked me to go round there and patch the place up.’
‘Some wanker smashed the glass door and vandalised one of her paintings. I fixed the pane, helped her clean up, and that was the last time I saw her.’
‘Where were you last night?’ Shaw asked.
‘I was here. I watched a film and went to bed.’
‘Can anybody vouch for you?’
‘What did you watch?’
‘I don’t even remember. Something old.’ He scratched his head. ‘How did she die?’
Shaw ignored the question. ‘What was Laura’s attitude to drugs?’
‘She hates them. I think she’d seen things in school, kids throwing their lives away. How is that relevant?’
‘We found some cocaine in her house.’
Adlington shrugged. ‘I don’t know why she’d have had anything like that. Do you think she could have confiscated them from a kid at school? Something happened with another teacher, yeah? An incident around drugs. Maybe this is related?’
‘What do you know about that incident?’
‘Nothing much more than that. Laura mentioned it when I went round there after the break-in.’
Shaw got to his feet. ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ he said. ‘We will need to talk to you again, though, OK?’
Adlington turned his back to the detectives. ‘I don’t deserve her,’ he said through the window. ‘I know that. She’s far too special for someone like me.’