Under orders, p.16

Under Orders, page 16


Under Orders

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  So where is the second bullet?

  I moved the remaining armchair into the place where I had seen Bill sitting when he died. I sat down on the chair. I was looking at the bookcases and the television. The bullet clearly hadn’t gone into the television because the screen was unbroken, so I started with the books.

  I removed the contents of each shelf in turn, checking both the books themselves and the wooden bookcase behind them. It took me ages and I turned up some surprising finds. One of the books was not a book at all but a secret hiding place. The center of the book had been hollowed out and Bill had used the space to keep some gold coins. Behind a row of racing Timeforms, he had hidden a couple of men’s magazines with well-thumbed pages, and there were two old-style fivers neatly pressed between the pages of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. There were also a couple of old letters to Bill from people I didn’t recognize, one concerning a horse for sale and the other about a holiday villa in Portugal. But no bullet, and no bullet hole.

  I scrutinized all the surfaces of the bookcases and where they met the walls. I looked into the flap on the front of the video player to see if I could see any damage. I lifted the rug and looked at the wooden floor to see if a hole existed. I pored over every square inch of the leather sofa and inspected every thread of the cushions. I moved the sofa and the tables and looked under them all for a telltale bullet hole in the floor or a wall. I searched behind the curtains and in the valances, even though these had predominantly been behind Bill as he sat in the chair. I examined every nook and cranny that existed in that room. I missed nothing.

  In the end, I had a few coins and a ballpoint pen from down the back of the sofa, a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and dust from underneath it, and some fine, gritty, sandlike material from the paisley rug. No bullet. No cartridge case. Nothing. Not a thing that could indicate that a second shot had been fired.

  I sat down again in the chair, exhausted and fed up.

  Was I wrong?

  I had been so sure that a second bullet existed. I’d thought I just needed a quick search to find it and that would be enough to convince Inspector Johnson that I was right and he would reopen the case.

  But now what? Was there any other way of getting the gunpowder residue onto Bill’s hand and sleeve?

  I looked out at the garden. Had the second bullet been fired out through an open window?

  I went back into the hall and let myself out through the front door. I spent some time looking but could find nothing. It was a hopeless task, I thought. If the bullet had been fired out here, it could have gone anywhere. But it would have been risky. Quite apart from hitting something that couldn’t be seen in the dark, it would have been much noisier out here than with the windows closed. There would also have been the risk of someone hearing the noise and investigating before an escape could be made.

  I didn’t know the answer. Was I even asking the right question?

  I went back inside the house and through to the kitchen.

  Kate and Marina had been joined by the children, who were sitting at the table, ready for their lunch.

  “Any luck?” asked Marina quietly.

  I shook my head.

  “Would you like some lunch?” asked Kate.

  “No, it’s fine, thanks,” I said. “We’ve taken up too much of your time already. We’ll be off.”

  “Are you sure? There’s plenty.”

  “Please stay,” said William.

  “Yes, stay, pleeeeeeease,” chorused the others.

  “OK,” I said, laughing.

  Kids were a great tonic for the soul.

  We stayed, squeezed round the kitchen table, and ate a hearty lunch of fish sticks, baked beans and mashed potato, with chocolate ice cream to follow. Wonderful.

  After lunch, the children took Marina up to their bedrooms to show her their toys and I went for a walk round the stable yard. I had happy memories of many hours spent here, teaching young horses to jump on the schooling grounds beyond the hay barn.

  I had ridden here first for Kate’s father when I was about nineteen and had done so on and off until I had been forced to retire.

  But my memories were of a place buzzing with activity, a living, energetic factory of thrills and excitement. Now it stood empty and quiet like a Wild West ghost town. The Marie Celeste of the racing world, with straw still on the floor of some stalls and hay nets still hanging in others. It was as if the effort of clearing up had been too much and when the horses walked out so did the staff.

  I wandered around the lifeless buildings and wondered who would next occupy this establishment. Perhaps it was time for the timber stables to be torn down and replaced with warmer, fireproof brick.

  I made my way back to the house. Beside the gate from the yard sat a red fire extinguisher and a red-painted metal bucket filled with sand. Some of the stable staff had put out cigarettes in the sand and left the stubs standing upright, as if they had been thrown in like little brown darts. I was sure that if Bill had still been alive, the grooms wouldn’t have dared dispose of their cigarette butts in the fire buckets.

  I went through the gate, and then stopped. Fine, gritty, sandlike material.

  I went back to the bucket and tipped the whole thing out on the concrete path. I went through it with my fingers and there it was, a lump of lead, slightly misshapen but still identifiable as a .38 bullet.


  * * *

  “You’ve found another what?” said Chief Inspector Carlisle.

  “Another bullet,” I said.

  “Where?” he asked.

  “At Bill Burton’s place. Look, can I come see you to explain?”

  He sighed. I could hear it over the telephone line.

  “Do you have to? I’m up to my ears here. The press are after me for failing to arrest a child killer. I’m exhausted.”

  “I’ll come now. It won’t take long, but it’s easier face-to-face.”

  What I really wanted was his undivided attention. I didn’t want him looking at his computer screen and thinking of his other case while I prattled on to him over a wire.

  “Oh, all right. I can give you half an hour, no more. How soon can you get here?”

  Lambourn to Cheltenham, Monday afternoon.

  “About fifty minutes max,” I said.

  “OK. See you then. Bye.” He hung up, and I realized that he had his problems, too. The press can be merciless on the police for not catching a killer, especially a child killer, while at the same time accusing them of having too many powers. A no-win situation.

  Marina was talked into staying with Kate and the children while I drove to Cheltenham.

  I made it to the police station in forty-five minutes flat, but Carlisle kept me waiting for fifteen more before he hurried into the reception area. This time, I accepted his invitation to join him in one of the interview rooms.

  “Now, what is all this about another bullet?” he asked. “Where is this bullet? Where did you find it? What is so important about it that brings you all the way here?”

  Your undivided attention, I thought.

  “All in good time,” I said. “We are going to play a little game of ‘Let’s suppose’ first.”

  “‘Let’s suppose’? I’ve never heard of that.”

  “Well, it’s quite simple, really. You sit there quietly without asking any questions and I’ll do the talking.”

  “All right, if I must.”

  I smiled. “You must.”

  He leaned back and tipped the metal chair on its back legs. My mother had always told me off for doing that, but I resisted the temptation to say so.

  “Now, let’s suppose that Bill Burton didn’t kill himself,” I said.

  “That’s up to the coroner,” said Carlisle.

  “I said no talking—please.”


  “Let’s suppose Bill didn’t shoot himself. There was indisputable evidence that he was shot, so someone else must have murdered him. But there was also gunpowder r
esidue on Bill’s hand and sleeve, so he did fire a gun, probably the gun that killed him. Now, he could have shot the gun before he was murdered, or his dead hand could have been used afterwards so that the residue would appear on his hand. Yes?”

  “Yes,” said Carlisle, “but—”

  “No buts, not yet, we’re still playing ‘Let’s suppose.’”

  He closed his mouth and crossed his arms over his chest, a typical body-language movement showing displeasure and/or disbelief.

  “Either way, there had to be a second bullet.”

  “And, I suppose, you found it?” he said.

  “Yes, I did.”

  “Where?” he asked.

  “I searched the den where Bill was killed,” I said. “I searched every inch of that room and didn’t find anything.” I took the misshapen lump out of my pocket and put it on the table in front of him. “It was in a sand-filled fire bucket in the stable yard.”

  Carlisle brought his chair back to earth with a clatter, and he bent forward to look first at the lump of lead and then up at me.

  “What on earth made you look there?” he said. He picked up the bullet and rolled it around between his fingers. “Perhaps Burton had a practice shot into the fire bucket outside in the yard first to make sure the gun was working. Perhaps he didn’t want the thing to misfire when he put it in his mouth.”

  “I thought of that, too,” I replied, “but there are a number of things that don’t add up. First, you’ve proved that it was the same gun that killed both Bill Burton and Huw Walker, and since it had fired perfectly well the week before why did it need testing? Second, why would Bill replace the empty case in the gun with a fresh bullet so that there was only one fired cylinder? And, third, there was a trace of sand on the rug in the den that tells us the bucket had been brought there from the yard, so why would he bother to take the bucket back outside if he was about to make a bloody mess in the den, anyway?”

  “Hmm,” said the Chief Inspector. “He might have tested the gun before he went to Cheltenham races. There’s nothing on that bullet to say it was fired the day he died.”

  “True,” I said, “but what about the sand on the rug? Kate Burton told me they have a cleaner who comes in once a week on Mondays. Also, Bill would never have fired a gun in the yard close to the horses. If he’d wanted to test the weapon, he would have walked off in the fields to do it and fired into the ground.”

  And, I thought, if he had wanted to shoot himself he would have gone in the same fields to do it.

  “So what do you want me to do about it?” asked Carlisle.

  “Reopen the case,” I said. “You’re a detective, so detect.”

  “The case isn’t shut.”

  “All but. Order Inspector Johnson to start believing that Bill Burton didn’t kill himself and that he was murdered.”

  “I can’t order him to do anything.”

  “Why not? You’re a chief, he’s an injun.”

  “It doesn’t work like that and you know it. He’s in a different police force. But I will speak with him about this.” He held up the bullet, then looked at his watch. “Now, I must get on. I have a team of over a hundred officers to brief in ten minutes.”

  “Any luck with the little girl?” I asked.

  “No,” he said gloomily. “Poor little mite would have been eleven tomorrow. Breaks my heart to see the parents in such pain. Wish they’d bring back hanging for child murder. Give me the rope and I’ll do it.”

  “Good luck,” I said and we shook hands warmly.

  “I suppose I’ll need it,” he said and smiled.

  He wasn’t a bad chap, for a copper.


  I PICKED UP Marina from Lambourn and we drove back to London against the rush-hour traffic.

  “What did the policeman say?” she asked as soon as we had driven away.

  “I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t wholly convinced by my argument,” I replied. “Poor man is too wound up with this child murder. I think he’ll probably speak with the man from Thames Valley Police, but I don’t hold out much hope that they’ll put a team back on the case.”

  “You’ll just have to do it yourself, then,” said Marina.

  “Did you have a nice afternoon with Kate?” I asked, changing the subject.

  “Lovely,” she said. “Those children seem very resilient after what has happened. Except William. He’s a little quiet and moody.”

  “How about Kate?”

  “Poor girl. She blames herself. We had a good long chat over tea while the children watched television. She thinks everyone will blame her for Bill’s death.”

  “I expect they will,” I said, “but I doubt that they’ll do it to her face.”

  “She said that she was seduced by Huw Walker, that she made no moves to get him.”

  Huw almost certainly saw Kate as a challenge, I thought. “I expect she’s trying to shift some blame onto him, for her own peace of mind.”

  “It had obviously been going on for a while,” said Marina.

  “I can’t think how,” I said. “Racehorse trainers are at home lots of the time, and, when they are away, they’re at the races, where Huw would have been.”

  “Well, clearly they did manage it, and often. Kate implied that Huw was great in bed.”

  “You two really did have a good chat.”

  “Yes, I like her. She also told me that recently Huw had been really worried about something. He wouldn’t tell her what exactly, but he’d said that it was all about power and not about money. Does that make sense?”

  “Mmm. Perhaps it does,” I said. “Maybe Huw was fixing races not because he enjoyed the financial rewards but because he felt it gave him even more power over Bill—screw his wife and his business.”

  We drove down the Cromwell Road in silence.

  “So what are you going to do now?” said Marina as we turned into Beauchamp Place.

  “About what?”

  “About the murders, of course.”

  “Take a bell and go stand on street corners and shout.”

  “Good boy.”

  “It’s dangerous.”

  “Then we’ll take precautions,” said Marina. “You take me to work, as agreed, and collect me, and I’ll be very careful not to talk to strangers.” She laughed.

  “It’s not a laughing matter.”

  “Yes, it is. If you can’t laugh, you’d go mad.”

  We carefully checked every dark shadow in the garage and chuckled nervously at each other as we continually looked around like Secret Service agents guarding a president. However, I was right. It was definitely not a laughing matter.

  We made it safely to our flat and locked ourselves in for the night.


  IN THE MORNING, I drove Marina to work. She had woken feeling much better and the ugly bruises to her face were, at last, beginning to recede.

  I parked the car outside the London Research Institute in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and we went inside and up to Marina’s lab to see the results of our DNA work of Friday night.

  “I have to bake the gel onto a photographic paper to be able to see the results. I’ll need some help. Rosie, probably. She spends all her time doing DNA profiles but mostly of fruit flies.”

  “Fruit flies?” I asked.

  “Yes. Parts of their DNA are not wildly different from that in humans. She’s in a team that is trying to find out how cancers develop. Fruit flies are quite good for that and they reproduce quickly. No one minds if you kill a few fruit flies in an experiment. Less controversial than rabbits or monkeys.”

  We went down the corridor to find Rosie, who was deeply disturbed by Marina’s two black eyes. Rosie stared at me and was clearly asking herself if I were the guilty party, but Marina introduced me in glowing terms and trotted out the car accident story again. I wasn’t sure if Rosie was much reassured.

  “Rosie, darling, can you help me with a DNA profile?” asked Marina.

  “Sure. Do you have the s

  “I’ve already done the electrophoresis.” Marina gave her the square of gel.

  “Right,” said Rosie, turning to the bench behind her and fitting the gel matrix into a machine. “Ready in a few minutes.”

  While she waited, she chased an escaped fruit fly around the lab. The fly was very small and difficult to see, but she eventually trapped it in a handclap.

  “How do you do experiments on things so small?” I asked.

  “We use microscopes to look at them. There,” she said, pointing at a microscope on the bench, “have a look down that.”

  I leaned over and looked through the double eyepieces. Fruit flies in all their glory, big, easy to see and very dead.

  “You see? They’re not really that small, not compared to cells,” she said. “Cells are so small, we need to use an electron microscope to see them.”

  I decided not to ask how an electron microscope worked. I was feeling inadequate enough already, as I couldn’t have caught the fly between my two hands. I couldn’t even clap, with or without a fly.

  The machine behind her emitted a small beep and Rosie removed what looked like an early Polaroid photograph from a small door in its side.

  “This isn’t from a fruit fly,” she said. “Looks human to me. Anyone I know?”

  “I hope not,” said Marina.

  “So it wasn’t a road accident?” said Rosie.

  Rosie was a smart cookie, I thought.

  “I’m going to have to go,” I said, “or I’ll get a parking ticket on the car.”

  “Or it’ll be towed away,” said Marina. “They’re dreadful round here.”

  “Be careful, my love.” I gave her a kiss.

  “I’ll look after her,” said Rosie.

  “Do that,” I said.

  I went down and retrieved my car from under the gaze of a traffic warden, with just one minute remaining of my time. He didn’t look happy.

  I drove round the corner and stopped to ring Frank Snow at Harrow.

  “Yes,” he said, “I’ll be in the office on Thursday and you are welcome to come and see me. What is it about?”

  “A former pupil,” I replied.

  “We don’t discuss former pupils with the media,” he told me.

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