The Woman in the Peacock Patterned Coat, page 1
THE WOMAN IN THE PEACOCK PATTERNED COAT
The Woman in the Peacock Patterned Coat
©Jennifer Jones 2018
This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Place names, if real, are used fictitiously.
This publication is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under relevant Copyright law, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the author.
Cover design by Carolina Pachioli
For Tara and Bridie, as always
‘Please help me. My sister has gone missing and … and I think she’s been murdered.’
The buzz in the police station foyer quietened. Everyone – police officers and members of the public alike – turned to stare at the tall, slightly dishevelled young woman who had spoken these words.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil Hammond stepped swiftly forward. He placed his hand gently on her arm.
‘Come through,’ he said, ‘we’ll talk somewhere more private.’
He took her to the soft interview room where she collapsed onto the couch and immediately burst into tears. He placed a box of tissues in front of her, then sat in the armchair opposite, waiting, notepad and pen held ready, until she cried herself out.
She looked to be in her mid-twenties, thirty at the most. She was stylishly dressed, in a black leather coat belted tightly at the waist, knee-high, stiletto heeled, black leather boots, and dark jeans. Her shoulder-length blonde hair looked as if it had had a brush pulled perfunctorily through it, her face was devoid of make-up, and there were dark shadows under her eyes. He glanced at her hands, at the fingernails which had been bitten down to the quick.
She grabbed a tissue, dried her eyes, blew her nose. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘That’s perfectly all right. Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee? A glass of water?’
‘No … no, I’m fine, thank you.’
‘Well then … Miss …? Mrs …?’
‘Campbell. Sheila Campbell.’ After a pause she added, ‘I’m not married.’
‘Tell me about your sister.’
‘Her name’s Katie. She’s twenty-three. She … she wrote to me and said she’d met this man – Shaun – and she was going away for a weekend with him. That was five weeks ago and I haven’t heard from her since.’
‘And to you that’s unusual? Ms Campbell, we get cases like this all the time, and usually there’s a perfectly ordinary explanation. For instance, your sister could be having such a great time with this new bloke she’s …’
‘No! She … she wouldn’t forget my birthday, or … or … the anniversary of our parents’ death, whatever she was doing.’
He looked into her eyes. ‘I’m sorry. OK, you said, “she wrote” …?’
‘Well, emails, you know. We email each other, every few weeks. I’ve written three times since her last email and there’s been no response. I don’t have any other way of getting hold of her – she doesn’t have a landline, and if she has a mobile phone I don’t know the number. I’ve taken all the leave I have and come over to look for her. I’ve been to her flat, but no-one there has seen her … oh, God, she was so excited about meeting this man, but he’s done something to her, I know he has!’
‘You’ve “come over” …?’
‘From Australia. I’ve been living in Sydney the past four years … I’m sorry, I’m not telling this very well, am I?’
‘It’s all right. So you’re living in Australia … there’s no other family, close friends, you could have contacted to check in on her?’
‘There’s only me and her. After our parents died in a car crash I decided to try my luck in Australia. I was in a dead end job, I’d just walked in on my boyfriend in bed with two other women, the idea of a complete change really beckoned.’ She added, almost defensively, ‘I did feel a bit guilty at leaving Katie behind, she was only nineteen at the time, but she was working by then, living her own life, she was fine about it, enthusiastic even.’
‘What is your sister’s address?’
‘It’s flat eight, number six, Ellesmere Road. Near Wandsworth Common.’
‘You’ve been round there, you said? Did you gain access to the flat?’
‘No … no I didn’t. I don’t know who the letting agency is and the other residents weren’t very helpful. They’ve seen her going in or out a few times over the past six months, but they’ve never really spoken to her, or got to know her …’
‘She’s been there only six months?’
‘Yes. We grew up in Glasgow, she moved down to London six months ago. Just like me she felt her job wasn’t really going anywhere. She’d been living with a man – Gordon Renfrew – a bit older than her, but she was getting tired of him. She felt like a change of scene. I did suggest she come out to me, but that was too much of a step. London was far enough for her.’
‘OK. Can you tell me the names of any friends she’s made, where she’s working …?’
‘No. She’s never mentioned anyone, except this Shaun. And she’s been having trouble finding a permanent job, she’s just been doing a bit of casual work here and there, she’s never given me any details …’
‘What did she tell you about this man Shaun?’
‘Just that they’d met at a pub, there was an instant mutual attraction, and they were going on a weekend trip together … she never told me his full name, or where he lived, the name of the pub, or where they were going …’ She looked miserable. ‘It’s not much to go on, is it?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it’s not. Tell me … is it … in character … for your sister to go away with someone on such short acquaintance?’
‘She’s a bit impulsive, yes. Spontaneous, outgoing – she loves to go partying, out to clubs … She was with Gordon a year and a half but before that it was one boyfriend after another.’
‘And this Gordon … did she tell you why she was leaving him?’
‘She just said she’d got bored with him, it was time to move on.’
‘She never said anything about him being violent towards her, being scared of him?’
‘No … no, nothing like that. Just that they were drifting apart, it was a mutual break-up … nothing sinister …’
‘OK. Well I’d like his details just the same, please, if you have them.’
‘Of course.’ She wrote them down for him.
‘Where did Katie work up in Glasgow?’
‘For the Royal Bank of Scotland.’ She wrote those details down too.
‘Can you give me the names of any friends she had up in Glasgow? Anyone she might have kept in touch with? Maybe she told them something more.’
She looked unhappy at the idea that her sister would confide more in other people than in her but she said, ‘Only first names – Annie, Philippa – they were the two women she lived with before she moved in with Gordon. And Kirsty or Chrissie – she was at the bank with her.’
‘All right. Thank you. And when did you last hear from her? Or to be more precise, what date did she say she was going away?’
‘It was Friday the thirteenth of May.’ She gave a weak smile. ‘Not a date you’d forget, is it?’
‘No, I suppose not. Do you have a recent photograph you can give me?’
‘Yes. Here’s one she sent me last September.’
Neil took it. It was a full-length photo, Katie Campbell framed in an open doorway, smiling cheerfully for the camera. She had similar features to her sister, the same shoulder-leng
‘That is a very distinctive coat,’ he said. ‘People would remember seeing a coat like that.’
‘She’s had it for years. She wears it everywhere.’
‘Does she have any distinguishing features? Birthmarks? Scars? Tattoos?’
‘No birthmarks or scars that I can think of. And she’d never get a tattoo. She’s terrified of needles. She won’t even get her ears pierced.’
‘All right. Ms Campbell, I have to ask these questions. Does your sister have any financial problems that you know of? Any problems with alcohol or drugs? Any mental illness? Depression?’
‘No to all of those. I know it’s been frustrating for her, not finding any full-time work, but she told me she’s getting by. She’s always sounded OK in her emails.’
‘OK. One last question. When your parents died … was there much in the way of an inheritance?’
‘Not really, no. After we’d cleared their debts and mortgage, there was enough left over for a healthy savings account each, something to fall back on in case of emergency.’
‘Thank you. We have your permission of course to search your sister’s flat?’
‘Of course.’ She looked him straight in the eyes. ‘She’s dead, isn’t she?’
‘It’s far too early to draw any conclusions. But I assure you, Ms Campbell, this will receive our fullest attention. Where can we get hold of you?’
‘I’m staying at the Strathmore Hotel, in Cumberland Street.’
‘I know it. Before you go, can you give us access to your email account. We’ll need to make certain of where your sister sent the emails from. And we’ll need to take your fingerprints.’
‘You would have tried the door handle at the flat, yes? So it’s just for elimination.’
‘Oh! A-all right. Of course.’
He walked with her back to the front desk, where someone else would take care of these technical details. ‘Moving to Australia,’ he asked, ‘that’s worked out for you?’
‘Yes, I have a great job with an accountancy firm, a new partner, life’s really good … or it was until Katie disappeared. You’ll find out what’s happened to her, won’t you, Inspector Hammond?’
‘I promise that we will do everything we can.’ He shook her hand. ‘Take care of yourself,’ he said. ‘I’ll be in touch.’
Neil went upstairs to the CID room. It was empty except for a young constable typing at a computer.
‘Where is everyone?’
Steve Kendall looked up. ‘Well, the DI’s in court, Tony and Soumela are …’
‘Never mind. It’ll have to be you and me, Steve. There’s a flat in Ellesmere Road we need to check out.’
‘You saw that young woman right then, Sir? Has her sister been murdered?’ There was an eagerness in his voice that Neil found slightly repulsive.
‘It’s too soon to say. But the woman in question is called Katie Campbell and it’s her flat we’re going to visit.’
In the car, the young man kept up a constant chatter, much to Neil’s irritation. He seemed to lead a very active social life and was eager to share every detail. Halfway through a story about a trip to Southend he and his girlfriend had made the previous weekend, he broke off and whistled loudly.
‘Take a look at the legs on her, Sir. Bit of all right, isn’t she?’
Neil turned to him, ready with a sharp rebuke, when he continued,
‘Whereas that … I’ve heard of mutton dressed as lamb, but her … other way round, wouldn’t you say?’
Neil couldn’t help looking in the direction the constable was staring. He saw a young, blonde-haired woman scurrying along the pavement, head bent, bag clutched tightly at her side, wearing a rather shapeless, calf-length beige and white dress.
‘Stop the car,’ he commanded.
He got out and walked quickly up to the woman.
Janey jumped, then looked up. A dazzling smile broke across her face. ‘Hello!’
He drew her into an embrace, kissed her on the mouth.
‘Going for a stroll in the sunshine before heading off to work?’
‘Y-yes, that’s right.’
‘Garry and Felicity have invited us to dinner on Saturday night. Shall I say yes?’
‘Of course. It’ll be fun.’
He hesitated a moment, then said, ‘Well, I’d better get on …’ He kissed her again. ‘See you tonight.’
He watched her on her way. She was walking with more confidence now, holding herself straight, her head up high. Once she had disappeared from sight, he returned to the car.
‘That was my wife,’ he said.
‘Sir … I … I’m sorry … I’m sure I never meant …’
‘No of course you didn’t, Constable. Just keep your thoughts to yourself from now on, please. A woman should be able to walk along the street without having her appearance commented on – favourably or unfavourably.’
They drove on in silence for some minutes. At least that’s shut him up, Neil thought. He felt shaken. Seeing Janey like that, looking so fearful, and – if he was honest – dowdy, had shocked him to the core. He looked up, saw the intersection they were approaching, and said on impulse,
‘Can you turn left into Rochester Road, please?’
Steve glanced at him, startled. ‘But Ellesmere road is …’
‘Just do it, please.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Sullenly, the constable made the turn. Neil directed him down a side street, then to a stop in front of a block of flats.
‘I’ll just be a minute.’
He went straight to Janey’s wardrobe and pulled it open, stood gazing at the clothes it contained. Here were the dresses he knew well, the ones she would be wearing when he got home at night, the ones she wore when she was out with him. Short dresses, mini dresses, in bright colours and stylish prints. She leaves in the morning after I do, and gets home before me, every day. He pushed these clothes aside and here were more like the dress he had just seen, longer dresses in plain greys, browns and beige. His mouth set in a grim line. It was entirely her choice what she wanted to wear, but he felt there was some dark meaning behind this, and his thoughts were troubled as he returned to the car.
The flat at Ellesmere Road was part of a large complex, four red-brick, three-storey buildings arranged in a rectangle, a central path curving through well-tended gardens and lawns. The window frames were painted white, no signs of peeling or cracking, and the flats on the upper storeys had white-railinged balconies. It was late June and the gardens were in full colour. Neil was no expert but he recognised honeysuckle, sweet peas, freesias. Overall, it looked like a very pleasant place to live.
Katie Campbell’s flat was at the rear of a building running at right angles to the road. Neil knocked on the door but as expected there was no answer. He walked around the outside, looking through the windows. The curtains had been left open, allowing him a clear view into every room.
‘Well, it’s obvious there’s no-one inside. We’ll have to find out who the letting agency is, they’ll have a spare set of keys. But while we’re here we might as well see if any of the other residents are home.’
As he spoke, the door to the foyer opened and a sour-faced man in his late sixties emerged. He scowled at them and continued heading towards the street.
‘Excuse me, Sir.’
The man turned. ‘Look,’ he said angrily. ‘Whatever it is you’re selling – religion, mobile phone plans – I’m not interested. OK?’
‘We’re the police, Sir. I’m DCI Hammond, and this is DC Kendall of Grover Street Police Station.’ They showed him their warrant cards. ‘We’d like to ask you a few questions about your neighbour, Miss Katie Campbell.
‘I’ve already told her sister everything I know, which is practically nothing.’
‘Well now you can tell us. For starters …’ Neil took out the photo Sheila had given him. ‘Is this the woman living in flat eight?’
The man gave it a quick glance. ‘Of course it is. I’d recognise that coat anywhere.’
‘Look at her face. Is this the woman who is living in this flat?’
‘I said didn’t I?’
‘All right.’ Neil put the photo away. ‘And which flat do you live in?’
‘The one opposite. Number seven.’
‘And your name is …?’ He waited. After a long pause, the man said, grudgingly,
‘Bryson. Andrew Bryson.’
‘Mr Bryson. How well do you know Katie Campbell?’
‘I don’t know her. As I told her sister, I’ve seen her a total of four times, each time going out as I was coming in. I’d nod to her, but I didn’t even know her name until her sister told me. We keep ourselves to ourselves here and that’s just the way I like it.’
‘Was she ever with anyone?’
‘OK. But even if you’ve rarely seen her, you’ll have heard her, moving about in her flat, watching TV …’
‘These flats are very well constructed,’ he said as smugly as if he’d built them himself. ‘You never hear a thing.’
‘Oh come on, Mr Bryson, surely. A young woman – no loud music? Parties?’
‘Absolutely not. In fact, I would describe her as very quiet. The perfect neighbour.’
‘Then, in effect, you’re telling me that from one night to the next you could never really know if she was at home or not?’
‘Well … her lights would be on, or …’
‘Or nothing. What’s that got to do with anything, anyway?’
‘Just establishing a few facts, Mr Bryson. You seem very precise about the number of times you’ve seen her?’
The man looked slightly disconcerted. ‘Well … three or four … maybe five.’
JENNIFER JONES SERIES:
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