|Primary Characters:||Barbara Havers, Peter Lynley, Thomas Lynley|
|Warning:||violence, incest, adult themes|
|Description:||Lynley is trying to drown out the memory of the recent trauma by immersing himself in his work. A tough case ends up making everyhing worse. Barbara and Peter are in Cornwall, trying to help Peter deal with his trauma.|
“Sir. With all due respect -”
Thomas Lynley was addressing his superior, standing before his desk like a repentant school boy. It was a position he didn’t relish. Furthermore, his pleas seemed likely to be left unheard. He’d never liked the man. At least now it looked as if he was at last going to reply.
The man behind the desk coughed and fixed his gaze on Lynley. A good man, no doubt about that, but such a – troublemaker wasn’t the word, though his former partner, Havers could be described that way – hm – accident prone – that was more like it. Wherever Thomas Lynley went, disaster followed.
“Listen to me, Tommy – you can’t just come here and ask me to be reinstated less than two weeks after you and a family member suffered a vicious attack from a suspect. Be reasonable. You were on extended leave of absence, after – hm – well -”
The way he was using his first name was exasperating. They had never been friends. Lynley knew it was just a cheap trick to make his superior seem more acessible, not to say reasonable, when in fact, he was anything but that.
“Sir – if you’d just let me -”
“Please. Let me finish. In view of recent events I must say this eagerness to return to your duties seem a little – how shall I put it – hm – well, I might consider it, if you agree to stay behind your desk for a period of evaluation.”
“Why? It’s not as if I’ve been guilty of any disciplinary offenses.”
“Quite. Well, why don’t you try doing a little light work – desk duties and – then we’ll see.”
“Sir – please. I’ve had enough rest to last me for years. This incident – well, in a way, that’s what made it clear to me how much I’ve missed my work. Don’t take that away from me, sir. At the moment, it would seem it’s all I have.”
Lynley hated himself for begging like this. It was undignified and he’d certainly never planned on using this tactic, but the exasperating fool drove him to it.
Again, Lynley’s superior sat back to mull the suggestion in silence. His unruffled calm was maddening. Lynley had to clench his teeth to avoid scowling at his boss.
In the end, he nodded and Lynley felt a momentary lifting of his spirits. It would be alright. He would be able to immerse himself in his work, and thus begin to obliterate the painful memories. Police work was the only job he’d ever found worthwhile. At this point, he felt it was, literally, all he had.
The sessions with the department psychologist seemed a minor inconvenience rather than a major stumbling block on his way back to what he considered his real life. With that out of the way, he was allowed back in the office.
To his relief, he was to continue working with Winston Nkata, and not be required to work with Barbara Havers. It wasn’t anything he was proud of, but somehow, working with Havers would bring back all kinds of memories he wasn’t prepared to deal with right now.
She and Peter were in Cornwall, surrendering themeselves to the cares of his mother, Lady Asherton. Lynley could only imagine how Havers – Barbara – felt about that. He seemed to recall a certain reluctance on her part, to believe in the good intentions of the aristocracy. It was all rot, of course. Why should his mother resent a girlfriend like Barbara, in Peter’s life? From his mother’s point of view it must be heaven-sent. In the past, Peter had only dated vapid girls with no sense at all. Barbara would do him a world of good.
Despite all that, Lynley was immensely grateful for the fact that Peter and Barbara would be miles away. He couldn’t very well get his life back together again, should that even be possible, if he had to watch his brother every day, as a constant reminder of what the two of them had been forced to endure, together.
On the morning of the first day when Lynley would be allowed to return to work, he arrived early, as was his habit. He checked to see if Winston Nkata was there and sure enough, his conscientious partner was standing by the coffee machine, paper cup in his hand.
The sight of the tall, dark-skinned man reminded Lynley uncomfortably of the day when he and Barbara had burst into the room – Barbara’s bedroom, to be precise – and saved him and Peter from – What had Nkata seen? What had he been able to deduce?
But this was his big chance to at last return to normal and he wouldn’t waste time worrying over what a co-worker had or had not seen on that day. If he just went about his day in a normal fashion, he was sure things would improve.
Nkata looked up from his cup and nodded amiably enough, but Lynley thought he noticed a sombre look on his face. Lynley forced himself not to show any reaction.
“Hello, Winston. I heard you have a case for me.”
Nkata nodded and again, his demeanour struck Lynley as serious. Perhaps he’d been wrong about the cause for the expression.
“A bad one. Last night, it was discovered that an entire family had been butchered. In Highgate. Big, fancy house. Two parents, grown son and daughter. The son is still hanging on by a thread, but the doctors aren’t too hopeful he’ll recover.”
“Any other survivors?”
“Not on the scene. Another daughter who was away at the time, or so she says. The oldest daughter had two children who were away visiting their father.”
“I see. Cause of death? You said ‘butchered’ -”
Nkata made a face. He’d already seen the photos. So much violence had gone into the attack, there had to be some sort of personal grudge. He was certain it couldn’t be a robbery gone wrong.
“Knife wounds. The victims have been stabbed with such frenzy the culprit must have been covered with blood.”
“What does our ME say?”
“Nothing yet. You know how it is. We’ll get the postmortem report in a few hours, hopefully.”
“Well, you’ve seen the photos. Any ideas?”
“Well, then, I suppose we’ll visit the scene ourselves. Forensics have finished by now, surely?”
The scene of crime was as grim as could be expected. Standing there, watching the markings on the floor, casting a glance at the photos Nkata had given him, Lynley could only agree with Nkata.
There were enormous amounts of blood and the victims – at least according to the photos – must be horribly disfigured. At least death must have been more or less instantaneous, but one perpetrator – if that was the case – couldn’t have been physically capable of attacking four people at the same time. There were indications that the parents had been killed first, but four or two made no difference. Someone must have had some sort of warning.
The mother had been found in the kitchen, beside a broken tea cup. Her husband had been lying face down in the kitchen doorway. Their daughter had clearly been out somewhere and had been attacked as she’d walked in. Her body was right inside the front door. The son was lying in the hallway leading to – or in this case – from the bathroom.
Once Lynley had determined there was nothing more to learn, he decided it was time to talk to the surviving members of the family. Uniformed colleagues were already canvassing the neighbourhood.
Lynley had decided to leave the surviving daughter for last. Even if the son made it, there was no reason to hope for him coming to, in the next day or two. The mother had a brother who lived in the London area and the father had two sisters, both of which lived in the south. Then there was the ex-husband with the two children. He, too, was in the greater London area.
“Let’s interview the ex-husband first.”
Nkata nodded his agreement. That made sense.
The ex-husband lived in a house, every bit as expensive as the dead family, but one far more modern. Lynley guessed that the neighbourhood had been cleared out in the 1970’s and entirely new buildings had shot up there.
In the car, Nkata warily studied Lynley out of the corner of his eye. As one of the few people who had a pretty good idea of what Lynley and his younger brother had suffered at the hands of their captor, he wasn’t taken in by his colleague’s show of insouciance.
In Nkata’s experience, there was always a breaking point and he didn’t want his friend and colleague to reach it while on the job. But so far, Lynley seemed able to carry on, and perform as well as in the past.
If Lynley noticed his colleague’s scrutiny, there was no discernible reaction to it. Without hesitation, he walked up the few steps to the front door and rang the doorbell.
A pallid-looking, red-eyed man opened the door to them.
“If you’re from the press -”
“We’re the police. My name is Thomas Lynley and this is my colleague Winston Nkata. May we step inside?”
“Oh. Of course. I thought -”
“Some of your colleagues were here only an hour or so ago. I assumed -”
“We’re from London CID.”
Mr Soames showed them into a living room bearing signs of children’s play. A few discarded toys lay on the couch and mr Soames automatically removed them before gesturing for his guests to sit down. He chose to sit down on the edge of an old armchair’s seat.
Nkata studied the man closely. He didn’t look nervous, as much as exhausted and in a state of shock, but appearances could be deceiving, as he well knew.
“I just can’t – What will I tell the children?”
He didn’t appear to be expecting an answer, so Lynley decided to push on. After all, they had four other family members to interview, not counting the new mrs Soames. The children at the age of four and six, respectively, were too young to interview, especially considering the fact that they had been at their father’s house at the time when their mother, uncle and grandparents had been brutally attacked.
“Let’s start with this: where were you at the time when your ex-wife was murdered?”
At this, the man looked sick. His face turned even whiter, if that was possible.
“I was in a meeting, at work. There had been a crisis and -”
“Just to be clear – the Medical Examiner estimates that your ex-wife and her family were killed between five thirty and nine thirty on Saturday night.”
“I was in that meeting until almost nine. Afterwards, I drove straight home. I think I was here about nine twenty-five, give or take a minute.”
“Can someone verify this?”
“My colleagues. There were seven others attending the meeting, and I’m afraid we had to keep the secretaries too, so at least four others were there. The two security guards were there as well. At home, my wife and the nanny.”
“I see. You have a nanny, even though your daughters are only visiting every other weekend?”
“She looks after Benjamin, my wife’s son from a previous marriage.”
“Thank you. Can you think of anyone who might have wished to harm your wife?”
An odd look came over mr Soames’ face. Lynley formed the distinct opinion he knew something.
“I believe she’d been seeing another man lately, but I really don’t know anything about their relationship.”
“What’s his name?”
“Greg Foster, I think. Or Graham. No, Greg.”
“Thank you. Anyone else?”
“You have to understand that Penelope and I didn’t really speak, except for matters concerning the girls. I usually picked them up outside the house and my mother-in-law – my ex’s mother – would bring them to the car.”
“I see. May I speak to your wife and the nanny?”
“I’ll go and ask Jenny to come here. Melanie, my wife – I think she’s lying down at the moment.”
Five minutes later, mr Soames returned with a young woman who looked anything but glamorous. She had large glasses, mousy-looking hair and was dressing rather plainly. But she had a pretty smile and Nkata had a feeling she was good with the children. It didn’t look as if she was much of a threat to the current mrs Soames. Perhaps she’d been chosen for that very purpose.
The girl confirmed the time of her employer’s arrival on Saturday night. That was all she could add. She had never met the ex-wife and seemed to know very little about her, apart from what the little girls had told her, which didn’t seem to be much.
It took mr Soames rather a long time to bring his wife, so after exchanging a few meaningful glances, Nkata got up and went off in search for their host and hostess as it were. He tiptoed up the stairs and was gratified to hear the sound of loud voices coming from an upstairs room.
“I know. But I don’t have to tell them that. It’s utterly irrelevant. I mean, did they expect me to adore your ex-wife? Don’t be absurd.”
“Can’t you hurry up? They’re waiting downstairs.”
“That damned woman is as much trouble now than she was when she was alive.”
“Don’t say that.”
Mr Soames opened the door, still staring at his wife, who was straightening out her hair. He turned to go, but caught sight of Nkata and froze in mid-movement. An odd mixture of fear and dismay was plainly visible on his face.
“Excuse me -”
“We have more interviews to get through today, so we’d appreciate it if your wife could come downstairs now.”
“Yes, well – here she is.”
Mrs Soames cast Nkata a cutting glance as if he’d been caught peeping through her window while she was undressing. The thought was mildly appealing. Mrs Soames was perhaps thirty years old, about the same age as the ex, and – at least according to the photo Nkata had seen at the murder scene – at least as pretty.
Superficially, she merely confirmed the time of her husband’s arrival, but Lynley had a feeling there was much she wasn’t telling him. In fact, though he couldn’t say why, he had formed the impression she might have been out of the house on Saturday night. If so, she clearly saw the risk of being implicated and wanted to keep that information to herself. That had to mean that if she’d been out, she was either guilty of the murder or had done something no witness could confirm.
Either way it was intriguing.
They next went to see the dead man’s two older sisters. One of them was in a wheelchair, apparently crippled with arthritis. The other one, a doctor, had been working on the night in question, a fact which could be confirmed by at least two colleagues and a number of nurses and patients. Both were devastated by their loss.
Even the doctor, who seemed the tougher of the two, couldn’t keep her tears at bay, when she talked about her brother and his family.
Nkata couldn’t see how either one of them could be guilty. The husband of the one in the wheelchair had been home all evening with his wife, and the doctor was recently widowed and as far as was known, she wasn’t seeing anyone yet.
Their children – a total of three between them – were all away at university. At the moment, there was no reason to believe they were implicated.
On their way to the murdered woman’s brother, Lynley and Nkata discussed the case.
“The sisters are clearly out of it and I don’t see that the husband could have done it either.”
“Exactly the impression I had. But the ex-husband and even more so, his new wife -”
“Yes, the wife. What I overheard suggests that she seemed to dislike her predecessor intensely. The question is, did she go out on Saturday night? Supposedly, she was in her room, but since she wasn’t in the habit of socializing with the nanny, there’s really nothing to confirm her statement. If she took her own car, she could have been at the ex-wife’s house in fifteen minutes, kill them all in another fifteen, then be back in less than an hour.”
“Even if she did, it doesn’t mean she killed her predecessor. She might have liked to, but at this point I can’t say if she did it.”
“No, but I think she would be fully capable.”
“I have to say I agree with you. Well, let’s see what the dead woman’s brother has to say.”
The brother was not married and lived in a small, but luxurious flat in central London. Again, he didn’t have far to go, if he had been the one to murder his sister and her family, but so far, there didn’t seem to be any motive.
A man in his late thirties, he was about ten years younger than his sister. He gazed suspiciously and belligerently at them.
“Listen to me. I’m not talking to you lot. And I’m warning you. If I read anything about my sister and her family in tomorrow’s papers -”
“Mr Paine -”
“Yes. If you’re not out of here in thirty seconds, I’ll contact my solicitor.”
“Mr Paine, there seems to be a misunderstanding. My partner and I are from London CID. I’m Thomas Lynley and this is Winston Nkata. May we come in?”
“Since I don’t have any choice, go ahead.”
They asked him the same questions as the others and he replied, in rather a similar way. He, just like his former brother-in-law had been in a business meeting most of Saturday evening.
Again, Lynley and Nkata had an idea he was holding something back, but no matter how they questioned him, they couldn’t get anything more out of him. For the time being, there was nothing more to gain by continuing the interview.
Underneath his hostility, they could sense a deep sorrow. Whatever else he had to hide, it was clear that he had loved his sister very much. And that was about all they really learned. His alibi seemed to hold, but they would look into that more extensively later.
“Now the surviving daughter. According to her statement, she was with a boyfriend. We’ll need to see him too and talk to him, but let’s talk to the girl first.”
Heather Dickinson turned out to be a tall, slim girl, who seemed to resemble her mother more than her father. There was something about her eyes which kept drawing Lynley’s gaze in. She was defiant, yet, it seemed to him, emotionally fragile. Apparently a typical teenager.
She stared back at him, intensely.
“I’m sorry to have to intrude on you, miss Dickinson, but we have some questions for you.”
“Go on, ask them.”
“My name is Thomas Lynley and this is my partner Winston Nkata.”
Througout the interview, Heather only glanced once at Nkata, and that only briefly. She appeared to have formed the impression Lynley held the highest rank and accordingly, she addressed her replies to him, even when the question had been asked by Nkata.
“You told our officers that you were with your boyfriend – Alex Wilkins?”
She nodded, appearing restless and unfocused. It occurred to Nkata that she might have been on some kind of drug, perhaps something to relieve the shock after her entire family had been wiped out, with the exception of a brother who might or might not make it, and two little girls.
“At what time did you get there and when did you leave?”
“I think I got there at around five in the afternoon, then stayed until nine or so. I don’t remember exactly.”
“Where did you go from there?”
Her long eyelashes fluttered in a way Nkata didn’t think was natural, then she looked up, again facing Lynley. Nkata was wondering if this was to do with racism or merely the fact that Lynley held a higher rank.
“I went to a bar, to have a drink and listen to some music. It was Saturday night. I’d been hoping Alex would want to come, but he was – tired.”
Again, Nkata had the impression she wasn’t telling them everything. Did tired mean – on drugs? Or perhaps tired meant exactly that, after sex? Of course, they might have had an argument or there could be some other reason the boyfriend didn’t come with her.
“Do you know of anyone who might want to harm anyone in your family?”
She laughed, then appeared to remember why they were questioning her and that laughter might not be appropriate. Instantly sober again, she continued to fix Lynley with those oddly coloured eyes.
Were they violet? Or grey? Nkata had never seen that shade before.
“There’s that Melanie Soames woman. I’ve heard her raving over the phone. She hated Penelope.”
“I see. Mr Soames told us your sister was seeing someone new. A mr Greg Foster.”
“Yeah, that old bore. He was probably almost fifty. Just like Charles. Her ex.”
“Had they quarrelled?”
“Penelope and Greg? I doubt it. He was so – bland. An accountant, I think. I only saw him once.”
“What about your brother? Or your parents? Can you think of anyone who might like to harm them?”
“No. No one. Maybe Patrick had been arguing with someone, but if he had, I didn’t know about it. We don’t really talk. He’s twenty-five. I don’t know why he was at home that Saturday. He has his own place. He shouldn’t have been there.”
“I see. Thank you, Heather. We might have some more questions for you later.”
Outside in the car, Nkata turned to his colleague.
“The boyfriend was tired. What do you think that meant?”
“Oh. We’ll ask him.”
“And why didn’t he go with her?”
Nkata frowned. Lynley appeared to be deep in thought.
The boy Heather had been seeing was about her age. He was tall, thin and rather shy-looking. He watched the police with wide eyes, not exactly nervous but seemingly filled with awe. They had run a check on him, before going to see him and he didn’t have any criminal record. His family belonged to the same social stratum as Heather’s.
“We’re from the police. Could we speak to you for a moment?”
He showed them into his room. His parents didn’t appear to be at home, but his records showed he was eighteen years old, so there should be no difficulty about interviewing him without a family member present.
There was only one chair and on it some clothes and a backpack were lying. Alex sat down on the unmade bed and the two police officers remained standing. The boy’s room looked like a typical room inhabited by a teenager. A computer stood on his desk and a number of technological gadgets were strewn across the desktop and bedside table.
There were posters of bands on the walls, but no pinups.
“Heather Dickinson was here with you on Saturday evening?”
For some reason, Alex blushed. He nodded, but didn’t reply.
Nkata wanted to put the boy more at ease, so he tried a less direct question.
“Heather’s your girlfriend, right?”
Judging by the boy’s expression, perhaps he’d been overly optimistic about getting him to open up. He looked as if he hesitated before he replied, considering his next words carefully.
“Well, we used to go out, then she said she wanted to stop seeing me. But on Saturday, she showed up here and – well, apparently, she was still interested.”
“At what time was this?”
“I think five in the afternoon.”
“At what time did she leave?”
“Just before nine, I think.”
“Did she say where she was going?”
“Did you have an argument?”
“And she didn’t mention where she was going?”
“I thought she was going home, but – I didn’t ask.”
Lynley took over.
“Did she ever mention someone who might have had a grudge against her family?”
“Not really. Her older sister’s husband had married some other woman. She seemed to dislike Heather’s sister. That’s all I’ve heard.”
“Did you know Heather’s older brother? Patrick?”
Again, Alex seemed ill at ease.
“Not really. I’d met him a few times, that’s all.”
Sensing a certain evasiveness, Nkata decided to press a little harder.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
He’d responded too quickly. It didn’t seem convincing and Nkata ignored it and pushed on, without consulting his superior.
“You’re sure you and Patrick didn’t have an argument? About you seeing his sister, for instance?”
“No, why should he do that?”
“Alright. Some other reason then? You’re sure you didn’t have a grudge against your girlfriend’s brother?”
“Of course I’m sure. Are you saying I had something to do with her family being killed?”
“I’m just asking you a few questions.”
“There was no reason for me to dislike any of them. Mrs Dickinson was always nice to me when I was there, and I haven’t heard anything bad about mr Dickinson either, but I hardly ever saw him.”
“Then what about Patrick? You didn’t mention him.”
Alex stayed silent for so long, Nkata didn’t think he was going to reply, then suddenly, the boy began to speak.
“I didn’t hate him at all. I – I had a crush on him. That’s why Heather stopped seeing me and that’s why I was surprised to see her on Saturday night. She’d laughed at me and told me I didn’t have a chance with Patrick. He’s completely straight.”
“Did Heather really stay with you for all those hours?”
“Yes, she did.”
Alex stubbornly insisted, his face a deep, brick red by now.
“What did you do?”
He appeared to consider the question, then give up the pretense.
“We had sex. She’d brought some pills. I don’t know what they were, but they had quite an – interesting. effect.”
“No, I think it was E or something like that.”
“So you had sex, then what?”
“Nothing. I – fell asleep afterwards. When the drug wore off. I woke up and she was gone. It was about nine, so I assume she left just before I woke up.”
Alex gazed inquiringly from one of the officers to the other.
“Will I get in trouble for taking that pill?”
“I can’t guarantee that you won’t, but we’re investigation three murders and one attempted murder. The pills you took aren’t our first priority.”
“Do you have to tell Patrick what I told you? About how I felt about him?”
“If it’s irrelevant to the case, we won’t have reason to.”
A look of relief spread across the boy’s tense features. Apparently, he took the rather vague claim as a promise.
On the way back to headquarters, Lynley again appeared to be deep in thought. And again, Nkata wondered if his colleague was as focused as he appeared to be. But he was employed to solve crimes, not analyse his colleagues, so Nkata turned his mind back to the case.
To Barbara’s relief, the physical injuries Peter had sustained during Burns’ attack on him, turned out to be minor. Furthermore, there had been no difficulty in obtaining a blood test from the attacker. The syringe appeared to have been unused but Barbara had played up the danger of infection and demanded a blood test. Nkata had backed her up and to her relief, the result had been negative.
Peter’s emotional state was another matter. Barbara had known all along that she’d need to contact Lady Asherton, but what she didn’t know was how to explain Peter’s apparent breakdown. His physical injuries weren’t serious and though he’d been injected with heroin, that hadn’t seemed to cause any physical damage either.
Of course, what effect it would have on his ability to stay off the drugs in the future, remained ot be seen. That was something Barbara really didn’t want to worry Lady Asherton with. She’d assumed that Lynley would have preferred to decide what to tell his mother, but from the start it was clear that Lynley’s first priority had been to keep his mother as far away as possible.
So Barbara had had to make up her own mind about the contacts with the Lynley family. In the end, she had decided to play up the shock. Burns had threatened to kill both brothers and that, it seemed, appeared to convince Lady Asherton.
To Barbara’s amazement, Lady Asherton and her daughter who had come along, seemed to take it for granted that Barbara, as Peter’s current girlfriend – and – to judge by the ladies’ reaction – de facto fiancee and future wife, would be making the decisions concerning Peter’s health.
That put rather a dent in Barbara’s conviction that she was only being tolerated because A) Peter was the proverbial black sheep of the family and B) she was a colleague of Thomas Lynley’s. Instead, both Lady Asherton and Peter’s sister, who had insisted early on that Barbara call her Judy, went out of their way to treat Barbara as a long-awaited daughter-and sister-in-law.
As soon as Peter was well enough to travel, the three women took him back to Cornwall. It was Judy who had suggested it, and Barbara could only concur. The likelihood of Peter being exposed to drug dealers would be far less down in the country.
As if it had been a tacit agreement between them, Barbara never discussed what had occurred in her bedroom, while Peter and Lynley were being held captive there. In a way, it would have been a relief for her to finally know the truth, rather than imagining all kinds of horrors, but if that was what Peter wanted, she would make sure he wasn’t disappointed.
To her relief, he displayed no signs of needing more drugs. Instead, he appeared to relish the opportunity of returning to his childhood, as it were.
The first morning they were in his childhood home, Peter astonished Barbara by suggesting they go and see his old pony, that Haddiya had asked about.
“If you don’t mind. We could snap a few photos to send to her. Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing the old boy either. Of course, I’d be too big to ride him. I think the girl who’s currently riding him is getting a little old too. But if they don’t want him, mother’s told me he’ll be welcome back here.”
Barbara couldn’t help smiling. To her, horses were big, potentially dangerous animals, who smelled. Clearly, Peter saw his old pony as a friend.
“That’s nice. And I’d love to go and see him.”
“After breakfast. Have some more toast.”
Barbara greedily spread a generous dollop of marmalade on the piece of bread where already fresh butter was melting. It was amazing. Though she still expected the innate prejudices of the aristocracy towards the working classes to pop up, she couldn’t help being charmed by the unreality of the place. It was like being on holiday.
Her family had never been able afford staying anywhere as luxurious and her brother, who had shared all her summer adventures, was now gone, but she had Peter. If being here, helped him recover more easily, she would bear the humiliation of being an intruder in their aristocratic paradise. She even stoically accepted being away from work, her only true passion, except for Peter.
They walked leisurely over to the vicarage where a rather fat black horse was placidly chewing some yellowed grass.
“Hello there, old boy.”
To Barbara’s horror, Peter climbed the fence and began to pat the horse’s neck and nose or mouth or whatever they called those big snout things.
He looked back at her, not exactly smiling, but at least with a calm expression on his face and Barbara began to relax a little.
“Come on. It’s alright. I’ll help you over the -”
“What? Oh, I’ll manage.”
She’d never intended to jump into that fenced in lawn or whatever they called it, but she had her dignity. If she let her boyfriend, who was recently out of the hospital, not to mention a recovering drug addict, help her over that fence, what sort of copper would she make? Exactly the kind of policewoman who offered tea to distraught victims of crime and were never promoted, that’s what.
So she grabbed the top of the fence and with relative ease was able to swing herself across. Not, she thought bitterly, quite as easily as her boyfriend. It was the age difference, she told herself, but that didn’t make her feel any better.
Warily, she held out a hand to the huge creature, which sniffed her fingers, then terrified her by pressing its big nose thing into them. She jumped back, afraid that the horse would bite her.
Peter didn’t laugh at her. Again, she began to relax a little. Being here so close to him once again brought it home to her how lucky she’d been to meet him and that he’d fallen in love with her. The fact that she’d fallen for him too, wasn’t the same thing at all. After all, why should an aristocrat, although one without a title of his own, and one with a slightly tarnished reputation, be interested in her?
“He’s only looking for a treat. Here. I nicked some carrots in the kitchen before setting out. Give him one. He won’t bite you. I promise.”
Barbara stared at her boyfriend. Was he serious? That great big brute could take off her fingers in one bite. But it appeared he was. Rather than looking like a fool, Barbara took the carrot Peter was offering her and held it out to the horse, with a slightly shaking hand.
Again it sniffed her fingers, then snapped up the carrot, all without even touching her with its teeth. Perhaps Peter did know what he was talking about. He must have spent years around that horse and whatever had happened to him hadn’t been the horse’s fault, that was certain.
Peter continued to pat the horse’s neck and flanks for a while longer, then reluctantly gave up, perhaps sensing that Barbara wasn’t quite as thrilled as he was.
On the way back to the house, he entertained Barbara, first with a little basic lesson in horse lore or whatever it was – the names of body parts and breed names figured prominently in that part – then amusing anecdotes about his exploits on the pony’s back.
Another new experience awaited them back at the house. Lady Asherton wanted to take Peter and Barbara and show them some repair work that had been done since their last visit. Barbara was about to accept, when she became aware that her shoes were covered in horse dung. She made a face and bent over to see if there was something to be done about them. Peter’s sister Judy came into the room, after a horseback ride, at least judging by her attire.
“I’ll help you with that, Barbara. Mother, why don’t you and Peter go on and I’ll give Barbara a hand with those.”
After Barbara insisted she’d be alright on her own, Peter went off with his mother. It was odd. He seemed equally at home in the country and in the city. At least she was lucky he didn’t prefer the countryside. If that had been the case, Barbara knew she’d have to request a transfer to some godforsaken hole down here, rather than facing life without him.
At Judy’s insistence, Barbara pulled off her shoes and surrendered them to her hostess, as it were. In the end, it wasn’t Judy herself who cleaned them, she merely handed them over to a servant of some kind. Barbara still hadn’t been able to get used to the fact that there were still people who had servants. A stable manager. A housekeeper. And this factotum, whose job description apparently included cleaning shoes.
“Let’s have a cup of tea. In the conservatory.”
Barbara found that she much preferred having tea to trudging around the grounds, this time of year. The housekeeper brought a tray with the tea and some biscuits. They were delicious. Nothing like the cheap ones Barbara herself would buy at Sainsbury’s.
In theory, nothing prevented her from going to Harrod’s, but in reality, only a case would force her to mix with the nobs there.
To Barbara’s considerable surprise – there had been one after another that morning – she found it easy to chat with Judy, just like she’d once talked to Lynley’s late wife Helen or Deborah St James – Cotter.
Once the tea was finished, Judy leaned back in her chair, smiling contentedly.
“Barbara, I just have to say how pleased mother and I are that Peter’s finally met someone like you. You have no idea what dreadful girls he’s been seeing, after he dropped out of uni.”
Abashed, Barbara hastily mumbled something, hoping the awkward topic would be dropped. She began to look around for an escape route, wondering what on earth was keeping Peter, though she realized that she couldn’t evade her boyfriend’s family forever.
“Don’t be so modest. Without you, Peter might not even be alive today. As far as mother and I are concerned, you saved his life.”
That was more true than Barbara wanted to admit to Peter’s sister and even less to his mother, but she knew Judy didn’t refer to anything that direct.
“Believe me, the pleasure’s all mine. Peter’s such a sweet guy. You have no idea what sort of men I was seeing in the past.”
There was a glint of interest in Judy’s eyes, but to Barbara’s relief the other woman was far too well brought up to pry into something that personal. Ignoring the fact that it was obvious Judy wanted to know why, Barbara went on, trying to avoid the topic.
But it seemed there was some kind of conspiracy against her, the object of which was to make her endure all kinds of embarrassing attention. Judy elegantly sidestepped Barbara’s evasion and continued on with what she had intended to say all along.
Barbara was hoping she wouldn’t ask her what had happened to Peter, not recently and certainly not in the past. She’d promised him, and besides, that was nothing a sister or a mother would wish to know about their son and brother. Barbara knew that if her own brother had been gay or a drug addict or had been sexually abused by someone, for instance that revolting old neighbour every child was warned to stay away from, she would never have been able to tell her parents about it.
“Barbara – I – this is a little awkward, but I feel i have to bring it up. We want you to know that – we couldn’t have hoped for a better fiancee for Peter. You might think that because of our – background, we might be prejudiced or some other nonsense, but we’re not like that. Wait. I know there are many who are, but my family – well, we’ve never seen things that way.
Please believe me, Barbara. We’re happy to have you here. We liked you from the start, even before you and Peter became involved. So please, believe me when I tell you that you and Peter are always welcome here. If you could, mother and I would love for you to consider this your home too.”
Despite herself, Barbara was touched. She could tell that Judy was embarrassing herself by insisting on finishing the awkward conversation. Drawing on her professional skills, Barbara thought she could tell that Judy was being honest. Reluctantly, Barbara let go of some of her suspicions against them.
“Thank you. I appreciate it. Perhaps – in any case, I hope you can tell that I like you and your mother too. You’ve been very kind to me and you’ve made me feel welcome here.”
It looked as if Judy was beginning to relax too.
“I think your shoes will be finished by now. If you like, we could go and save Peter from mother’s lengthy tours of the estate. Of course, she’s so pleased he’s back and seems to be doing well, under the circumstances. I know she doesn’t mean to bore him or tire him out, but I also know he’ll be grateful to escape. Besides, lunch should be ready in a bit.”
Barbara decided that she didn’t mind too much, having to march around the endless grounds of this place. Judy lent her a pair of wellies, making it easier to get around. On her way out to where Lady Asherton and Peter were supposed to be, Barbara caught sight of a few horses and realized that Peter’s pony actually was quite a small one. Perhaps it wasn’t as dangerous as she’d thought. And Peter seemed to like him. The least she could do was to make an effort to learn to like his friends and family.
Lynley did his best to shut out the memories and his way of doing so was to immerse himself entirely in his work. The case was a truly absorbing one. After his long absence, he might have enjoyed anything, even a dull cases, where it was obvious from the start who had killed who, but the facts of this case were intriguing to say the least.
Again and again, Lynley found his interest being drawn back to the girl, Heather. There was something about her that struck him as noteworthy. He didn’t really believe she was guilty but something had traumatised her. Possibly the fact that her parents and sister were dead and that her brother was in a coma in the hospital.
In any case, though he was far more suspicious of the new mrs Soames or the uncle, he couldn’t help thinking of the poor girl.
Once the forensics team had meticulously gone over the murder scene, they moved on to search the Soames’ house and the flat belonging to the uncle.
Not convinced that the latter had been entirely honest with them, Lynley insisted that mr Paine’s garage and place of work be searched thoroughly.
By accident, a hidden box, filled with photographs was uncovered. It had been tucked away at the back of a kitchen cupboard and if a uniformed policeman hadn’t been overcome with a craving for marmite, they might not have found it at all.
When he dug around among the packages, a larger box fell from a higher shelf. The lid was pushed aside and a number of photographs scattered across the kitchen counter and the floor below.
Their motifs caught the man’s attention and he called Nkata to the kitchen to investigate further.
Even a glance told Nkata that this was important information. He told the man not to touch the photos, then putting on plastic gloves, picked up one of them to take a closer look. Using a pen, he pushed the box with contents into a plastic evidence bag, tied it up and sent it straight to the forensics lab.
In this case, it wouldn’t pay to be sloppy. The suspect wouldn’t be given the opportunity of claiming to have no knowledge of the box and its contents, or in fact claiming that it had been planted there by whoever had taken them.
This done, Nkata rang Lynley and returned to headquarters to discuss his find with him.
“But first, see if you can find mr Paine. Apparently, he’s attending a conference, here in London somewhere. Find him and – ask him to help us in our inquiries. Here. I’ll send some other officers out to look for him.”
But Nkata’s thorough search failed to turn up any trace of mr Paine and in the end, he was forced to return to headquarters.
Lynley was sitting behind his desk, looking through a file. When Nkata arrived, he put the file aside and faced his colleague.
“We’ll wait and see if the uniforms can’t dig him out. In the meantime, tell me again what you found. They were photos of his niece?”
“All of them, yes. Not any sort of photos either. Nudes. Sexually provocative ones. She’s seventeen now. I think I saw some that might have been taken two or even three years ago and others that might be far more recent. At least she looks exactly the same in those as she does now.”
Lynley pressed his lips together grimly.
“I see. We’ll have to go over his flat again, more thoroughly this time. Earlier, we were looking for evidence connecting him to the murder. We’ll have to widen our search. Anything to do with this – obsession of his for his niece.”
Lynley got up, grabbed his jacket and Nkata followed him outside.
This time they found a few letters and his computer turned up several emails. Several text messages had been exchanged between uncle and niece, all more or less similar. The pattern that emerged hinted that they had been under the impression they were having an affair.
A dismal mood descended over them. As if a gruesome murder wasn’t enough, they now had to deal with this.
Nkata was the first to rouse himself and again focus on the case.
“The question is, how does this connect with the murder? It would be far too much of a coincidence if this was completely unrelated.”
Lynley didn’t reply.
“Sir – I mean – Tommy -”
“Mm. What? Oh, right. No, I think we can assume these two crimes are connected, but we can’t do much more at the moment. Once the analysis of the photos have been finished and we’ve found Paine. we should be able to learn more.”
“Yeah. You’d think we wouldn’t be so surprised, but I didn’t see this coming. She had a boyfriend.”
“A boyfriend who preferred her older brother, if you recall. Perhaps it was easy enough to snare her.”
“No, that doesn’t add up. If I wasn’t mistaken about her age in the photos, she must have begun the relationship with her uncle before she even met Alex.”
“Perhaps she was looking for a way out. You have to admit that a boy close to her own age would be a far more suitable companion for her.”
“Exactly. I wonder where our mr Paine is. He couldn’t have had any idea we’d stumble across that box, or he would have removed it or even destroyed the photos.”
Lynley’s mobile phone rang and he fished it out of his pocket.
“Lynley. Oh. I see. Thank you.”
He put the phone away, looking as if he hadn’t quite finished his train of thought, then roused himself and faced Nkata.
“Mr Paine has turned up. Dead. The body was in a small park. We’d better go and see for ourselves.”
“What was the cause of death?”
“He was found below a low cliff. It looks as if he fell badly. There are serious injuries to the head.”
There wasn’t that much more to see on site. The body had already been removed and the results of the ME’s examination would be at least a few more hours. In the end, Lynley and Nkata returned to headquarters to wait.
Something appeared to strike Lynley and he got up again.
“While we’re waiting, we might as well confront the girl. Perhaps she’ll be able to tell us something about her uncle, now that he’s dead.”
“Yes. I don’t think we have the whole picture yet. If someone had killed the uncle right away, it would have made more sense. At least if this – their relationship – was the motive. But why kill the parents? Unless he did it. If they confronted him – But that doesn’t explain who killed him. Would mr Soames have a motive to kill him?”
Lynley appeared to take Nkata’s musing seriously.
“Possibly. If he found out Paine killed his ex-wife. I had the impression he was still quite fond of her, and besides, she was the mother of his children.”
“Yes, but I still don’t think we’re seeing the whole picture. Some pieces are missing.”
“I know. Perhaps Heather can provide us with them.”
Nkata nodded. His phone rang, and he picked it up.
“Oh. Really? And he can talk? Is he well enough for us to – I see. Great. I’ll be right there.”
Nkata terminated the call and hurried after his colleague who was on his way out.
“Wait, sir – I mean Tommy. I just had a call from the hospital. The brother – Patrick Dickinson – has regained consciousness.”
Lynley raised his eyebrows.
“I was surprised too. It seems the doctors are more hopeful now. We’ll have to go over and interview him, right away.”
“You do it. I’ll talk to Heather.”
Nkata couldn’t entirely subdue a feeling of excitement. He was surprised Lynley would choose to seek out the daughter and sister of the victims, rather than asking the one survivor of the crime. Unless Patrick Dickinson had been caught by surprise, never seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary, the upcoming interview would almost certainly reveal the identity of the killer.
Perhaps Lynley had taken an equally strong interest in the other crime. Nkata didn’t in any way suggest that was any less serious, relatively speaking, but as far as he was concerned, murder was the primary focus of their investigation. Someone else could deal with the girl and her trauma.
He arrived at the hospital a bit out of breath, showed his ID to the nurse behind the reception desk and was taken upstairs to the ward where Patrick Dickinson, the sole survivor of the family tragedy, was lying.
Again, Nkata pulled out his ID and showed it to the young man in the hospital bed. A nurse was hovering nearby, keeping an eye on her charge.
He looked stricken. While his physical injuries had been bad enough, it looked as if his emotional state was the more precarious. Nkata was hoping that wouldn’t affect the value of his testimony. But despite the shock and anguish, the look in his eyes was lucid. Nkata didn’t think the young man would be hallucinating and it seemed far-fetched to say the least, to suggest he might lie to protect someone who had not only attacked him, injuring him seriously enough to almost kill him but also murdered his parents and older sister.
“Mr Dickinson, I’m Winston Nkata from CID.
“Yes, I realize who you are.”
“I was hoping you could help me with some of my questions.”
“Go on. Ask me whatever you want.”
“Thank you. Mr Dickinson -”
“You might as well call me Patrick.”
“Patrick. On that Saturday – you and your family were attacked. As you know, your parents and sister were killed and you were left lying unconscious. Can you tell me about what happened that day?”
Patrick closed his eyes briefly, as if trying to gather what strength he had, then swallowed and took a deep breath. The nurse appeared at his side, pressing a glass of water into his hand. He wet his lips, but didn’t show any enthusiasm for the rest of the contents of the glass.
Nkata decided they needed their privacy.
“Nurse – Mahmoudi. Could you leave us alone for a moment? It’s really important.”
She nodded and left the room, after glancing back a few times. Apparently, she took her job seriously.
“I was there because my father rang me and asked me to be present when he confronted my uncle about -”
Nkata could hardly keep his enthusiasm in check. This was it. He had no doubt the identiy of the killer would be revealed within minutes. Despite that, there was a part of him that remained suspicious. This was too easy. But on the other hand, there was never any set pattern to murder cases. Some were never solved, others were solved within hours of the discovery of the crime. This time it might really be this simple.
“About what he and Heather had been – about their relationship.”
A look of pain flew across Patrick’s pallid face.
“Apparently, uncle Edward had – had a sexual relationship with my youngest sister. It seemed they had been – meeting secretly for at least two years. I don’t know if you’ve met my sister, but Heather’s only seventeen now. It was monstrous, but we were hoping it might not be as bad as it sounded. You know, that there might be an unhealthy attachment, but – I suppose we were hoping nothing really – sordid – had taken place.”
“I was present while my father confronted my uncle Edward about it. He denied it but my father became angry with him and shouted at him. My mother – she became more or less hysterical and attacked uncle Edward, so my father had to restrain her. She – said some things that I wish to god I hadn’t heard. It was – far worse than we thought.”
When Patrick hadn’t said anything for close to a minute, Nkata glanced anxiously at the patient. If his condition deteriorated they might never learn the truth. But after a moment, Patrick seemed to recover. Taking a deep breath, he continued his account.
“It was the most dreadful thing I’d ever heard. Apparently, my mother and her brother – uncle Edward – had had a relationship for years. Not only was uncle Edward sleeping with his niece, it turned out Heather was actually his daughter. His daughter by his own sister.”
At this point, Patrick was so overcome with emotion, Nkata had to force himself to wait and hold back his questions, while the young man again managed to compose himself.
“That made everyone fall quiet. Uncle Edward was probably in as much shock as the rest of us. He just left, without saying anything else, but it was obvious he was appalled. I don’t see why this was any worse, from his point of view, but apparently it was. My father began to argue violently with my mother and I – I was sick. I went to the bathroom and – I suppose I stayed there for rather a long time.”
Patrick glanced around for the glass. Nkata helped him get a few sips of the water, then set the glass down again on the bedside table.
Patrick licked his lips nervously. This time, Nkata thought he caught a glint of terror in his eyes.
“I heard the front door open and someone came in. I thought perhaps it was Edward who had come back and I must admit I – didn’t want to hear anything else to do with all that – Anyway, suddenly, I heard screams. I opened the door and began to run, to see what was happening.”
Again, Patrick broke off his account, this time so overcome with emotion, Nkata realized it was only a matter of time before he would have to call the interview off, rather than risking the young man’s life. The strain might easily be bad enough to kill him, in his weakened state.
But it seemed Patrick wanted to get the story off his chest, so he made another effort and was able to continue, despite being badly shaken.
“I met my sister, there in the corridor outside the bathroom. She was – there was blood all over her and – she had a knife in one hand and a walking stick that used to belong to belong to my grandfather in the other. I never had time to run or – defend myself. She was in such a frenzy – I hardly recognized her. I blacked out and -”
Nkata got up, worried that he might have done the witness serious harm. He knew enough to close the case or at least to continue without Patrick’s help, for now. Besides, he’d just recalled that his friend and colleague, Lynley, had been heading out to find the girl who he’d just found out had killed most of her family.
“Thank you, mr Dickinson – Patrick. You’ve been very helpful. Get some rest now. I’ll send the nurse in. We’ll talk to you later.”
“Please don’t harm Heather. She’s – she was such a sweet kid when she was younger. When she began to date Alex Wilkins – we were hoping she was going to calm down a bit. Since her early teens, she’s been – a bit wild. Then she broke it off with Alex and – of course I saw why. The poor kid was – let’s just say he was probably not really interested in her.”
“Yes, I heard. Don’t worry about it, Patrick. We’ll do our best not to harm your sister. Just focus on your own recovery for now. Leave the rest to us.”
Patrick looked as if he might have more to say, but his exhaustion made him fall back against the pillows. Despite his concern for Lynley, Nkata took the time to go and look for the nurse before anything else. Fortunately, she hadn’t gone far.
Though he knew every second counted, Nkata waited while the nurse saw to Patrick.
“Is he alright?”
“No thanks to you. He’s exhausted, but I think no real harm’s been done. The doctor will be able to tell you more.”
“Thank you, nurse. I wouldn’t have questioned him like this, unless it was absolutely vital to the case. The murder of his family.”
“I’m aware of that. Go on. He’s resting comfortably now.”
Nkata turned and more or less ran down the stairs. Outside, in the parking lot, he began to punch in Lynley’s number. The phone went on ringing until he reached the voicemail.
He punched in the number for headquarters and put in a request for backup.
Lynley found Heather in the garden of her home. She was sitting curled up on a stone bench, something he certainly wouldn’t have adviced her to, at this time of year.
He called her name, and she started and looked up. The look in her eyes was veiled.
“Hello. Your name is Lynley, isn’t it?”
“You can call me Tommy if you like.”
“Tommy. Have you come to tell me you know who killed my family?”
“I – have some bad news. Your uncle has been found dead.”
He couldn’t read her reaction. Somehow, he didn’t think she looked surprised, but he wasn’t sure. Those dark eyes didn’t reveal any emotion.
“I see. Do you think I’m in danger?”
That hadn’t occurred to Lynley. Though he wasn’t sure Soames was guilty of this latter crime – he hadn’t looked upon Heather as more than a bereaved family member and the victim of another crime. He stopped to consider the idea that the killer might be looking for her. That didn’t seem to match his impression of the case, but he still didn’t know who might be responsible for the murders of her parents and sister.
“No. But just to make sure, you’d better come with me.”
Heather got up and studied him closely. A faint smile appeared on her lips.
“You’d protect me?”
“I’ll try to make sure you’re safe, yes.”
He waited until she’d walked ahead of him, then followed out to the street and his car.
“Can I sit in front with you? I always enjoyed riding like this with my dad and my – uncle.”
Lynley nodded gravely. He might as well ask her about the uncle too, now that he’d broken the news to her.
Once they were both seated and he’d turned the key in the ignition, he turned to face her.
“Heather – during the course of our investigations, we found some photographs of you.”
This appeared to surprise and disturb her.
“Heather – they were nude photos of you. We found them at your uncle’s flat. Is there anything you could tell me about that?”
She kept quiet for so long, Lynley was wondering if she wasn’t going to reply at all. In fact, he was beginning to regret mentioning the photos at all.
In the meantime, he turned onto a more traficked street. To get back to headquarters, he’d need to take one of the major arteries through west London, then turn north.
When he’d made the turn and was travelling north again, he glanced at Heather. She looked tense. Her hands were moving nervously over her skirt, then the shoulder bag she was clutching on her lap.
“He – lied to me. I didn’t know -”
Sensing her distress, Lynley wanted to back down, to say something to calm her down.
“Heather – it’s alright. We don’t need to discuss that now. Let’s just get you back to -”
The scream startled him. Her reaction was so violent, he had no time to prepare himself. One second, she was just screaming, the next she reached for the steering wheel. They struggled for control over the car, and Lynley felt his hands sliding on the slippery surface of the wheel, then he lost control of the car. He must have hit his head somewhere and blacked out. That was the last thing he remembered.
Barbara came awake instantly. Someone was knocking on her door – their door. Peter was lying next to her in the dark. She felt him spring into action and jumped out of bed and made for the door.
Even before she opened it, she knew it was bad news. Judy was standing outside, her face ashen and rigid.
“Peter, Barbara – it’s Tommy. He’s been in a car accident. We have to go.”
A few seconds ticked away while the impact of what Judy had just said sank in, then Barbara recovered control over her limbs. She and Peter were dressed and ready to leave in less than fifteen minutes.
A quick look at the Lynleys told Barbara she would have to drive the posh car that was standing in an old converted stable. It looked like a Bentley, but Barbara wasn’t really good at cars. She knew how to drive them, that was about all.
Peter’s eyes were dark with dread and Lady Asherton’s face was so white, Barbara was afraid the old lady would suffer a heart attack then and there. Judy appeared to be the one most capable of keeping herself under control. She sat holding her mother’s hand, from time to time glancing at Peter, who was at least able to keep quiet.
Judy had phoned ahead to the airport. They would be given seats on the first morning flight to London. That wouldn’t be for another three hours, but it was the best they could do.
Neither of them remembered much of the journey. Eventually, they arrived in London and got into a cab, directing it to the hospital.
To Barbara’s relief, the first face she saw was Winston’s. He wouldn’t try to mislead her about Lynley’s condition. Whatever there was to learn, Winston would tell her.
The tall, African man turned and faced her, a look of deep concern on his face.
“Barb. He’s in surgery now. Concussion, some cuts to his face. Tha’s nothing serious, but I’m afraid he’s been quite badly burned as well. His legs and side.”
Intensely aware of Lynley’s mother and sister nearby, Barbara forced herself to ask the question that must have been on both women’s minds, just as it was in hers.
“How bad is it?”
“They wouldn’t tell me much, but I think he’ll make it. The burns are the worst of it. There were some fractures, but like I said – nothing very serious.”
Barbara felt weak with relief. She thanked Winston briefly, then turned towards Lady Asherton, Judy and Peter. Not until now, did she see Deborah. She was sitting on Lady Asherton’s other side, holding her hand. Of course. She would have come with Winston. Naturally she’d want to know about Lynley, her ex.
“Lady Asherton – Judy – I suppose Deborah told you -”
Judy nodded reassuringly. Winston came and sat down on Deborah’s other side. Barbara sank down next to Peter and took his hand. Peter had already suffered enough losses in his life. The thought of losing his brother must have been enough almost to cause a breakdown. Somehow, she’d make sure that didn’t happen. Peter mustn’t be allowed to once again resort to drugs to keep his nerves under control.
Together they waited until the surgeon came to tell them the surgery had been a success. Despite everything, Barbara felt her eyes mist over. He would be alright. For now, that was really all they needed to know. She pulled Peter into her arms and held on to him.