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So he had been reading the file, but because he was away from the pub and the alcohol had stopped flowing, he’d fallen asleep. So he ended up on the floor, and someone came looking for the file, and then the knife had been planted.
Why hadn’t he been killed too? Was he nothing more than a deflection?
Charlie pulled out his phone and called the office. If the police were there, he wondered whether it would be answered. It rang out a few times, and then a voice came on, meek and nervous. It was Donia.
‘Don’t react,’ Charlie said, talking low so that no one passing by could hear him. ‘If the police are there, just say that Charlie isn’t in the office at the moment.’
There was a pause, and then she repeated what he had told her, that Charlie wasn’t in the office.
So the police were there already. They had moved fast, had obviously found the body, although he realised that the link with Billy Privett sent the investigation straight there.
‘I was reading Billy Privett’s file last night,’ he said. ‘I need to know if it was taken.’
‘I don’t know if I can help you,’ she said, her voice quiet.
‘I need to know about the file, Donia. Is Linda talking to the police?’
‘Yes,’ she said, her voice a whisper.
‘Can you go into my room for me? It will be on the desk, or perhaps on the floor.’
Another pause, and then, ‘What do I do?’
He tried to picture the scene, the police everywhere, but he knew they wouldn’t be able to take all the files. They would want Billy’s though.
‘Just find it,’ he said, some desperation creeping into his voice. He knew what he was going to ask her to do, and it was wrong. Donia was just a kid, a wannabe lawyer looking for some work experience, but he couldn’t think about that. ‘Try on the floor in my room, near to my desk. If it’s there, just put other files on top of it, and my dictation machine. They won’t expect it to be there. Bluff it, say that it’s my typing pile.’
There was a pause, and then the phone went quiet. She had hung up.
Charlie paced up and down and gripped his phone, almost threw it into the quarry. He would have to go to the office for the file, if he was going to get it at all. But what alternatives were there? He could just come out of hiding, blame it all on a bad hangover and invite them to prove something against him. But that was too risky, and he wasn’t ready for a prison cell. No, he had to see what was in the file, if it was still there.
Then his phone buzzed in his hand. He looked at the screen. A text.
Got file. Im in weekly rental flat. Marshall Ave. 66. Fl 6. Go there. Donia.
Charlie looked at the screen, unsure what to make of it. It could be a trap. He didn’t know Donia’s number, so how did she know his? The police might be behind it.
He knew one thing though; he had few options.
He texted her back. OK. Then he turned away from the quarry edge and started jogging towards the town.
Sheldon came down the stairs, rubbing his hair dry with a towel, dressed in Ted’s old clothes; jeans that hung low on his hips and a shirt that revealed the bones in his shoulders. They showed how much weight he had lost, but at least they were clean. As he walked along the hall, Ted was standing in front of a microwave oven, and as he got closer, the smell of curry drifted towards him.
‘Emily has gone away to her sister’s,’ Ted said. ‘This is the best I could do at short notice. Jake hasn’t got beyond the microwave with his cooking skills, but I found this in the fridge. Chicken Madras.’
Sheldon smiled. ‘That’s perfect,’ he said. ‘Did I have anything to do with Emily going?’
‘Yes, you did,’ he said, a scowl appearing for a moment. ‘She was expecting more visits from you and couldn’t stand the thought of me being locked up.’ He sighed. ‘It was more than that though.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You remember the girl in the car? Well, she believed me about that, or at least she said she did, but there is that small part of her that doubts me, because it sounds implausible, doesn’t it? It sounds like bullshit, but I can’t change what happened, and Emily knows that since Alice died, well, we’ve been pretty quiet in the bedroom.’
‘I don’t need to know this,’ Sheldon said.
‘I know that, but who do I have to talk to?’ Ted said. There was some desperation in his voice, as if he needed to explain himself, his words coming out quickly. ‘Alice being killed affected both of us badly. I dealt with it by becoming more vocal about it, but Emily just retreated. She spends hours in Alice’s room, just lying on her bed, hoping that one day Alice will walk back in. I can’t blame her for not being interested in sex anymore. Hell, I don’t think I’m too bothered. It just wouldn’t seem right to be so carefree, as if we had forgotten about her already. But Emily thinks I’m lying, just to be kind, because I’m a man, and we have urges, right? So there is a small part of Emily that wonders if I was with that girl, because I just needed something, like some closeness, or even just a release. And so I could see it in her eyes, that if I lied about that, perhaps I lied about Billy Privett, and that I did kill him.’
‘So Emily thinks you killed Billy?’
Ted shook his head. ‘No, she doesn’t, because she knows me, but there is a small part of her that is not prepared to rule it out, like with the girl.’
‘I’m sorry if I made it worse,’ Sheldon said. ‘I just haven’t been myself lately.’
‘No need,’ Ted said, and pointed Sheldon through to the dining room, next to the kitchen and separated from the living room by wooden double doors. There was a conservatory behind, filled with cane furniture and potted plants. In the dining room, there was a large mahogany cabinet with glass shelving units. On top there was a framed photograph of the Kenyon family, showing Ted and Emily sitting at the table, beaming proudly with their children behind them, Alice’s arms wrapped around Ted’s neck, and Jake’s around his mother’s.
Ted brought the curry through, and saw Sheldon looking at the photograph.
‘That’s the last picture of us together,’ Ted said. ‘I didn’t donate it to the police for a press release because it would taint it. It would be the picture they splashed on the news when they talked about her. I wanted to remember the afternoon as it was, everyone happy. Alice died the weekend after.’
Sheldon felt a wave of sadness as he thought of his own family. It was still intact then, or at least he thought it was. As he thought more about it though, perhaps it wasn’t. He couldn’t remember a family photograph as happy as that, not since Hannah was a small girl, when all he had to do was be there.
Sheldon turned away from the photograph and thanked Ted for the food. As he sat down to eat it, he became ravenous and realised how much he had neglected himself. Ted watched him eat for a while and then said, ‘If we are sharing information, you tell me: what suspects did you have?’
Sheldon paused as he thought of it. ‘None, other than Billy. We knew who some of his friends were, because we had been up there enough times over party noise before Alice died, but everyone had an alibi that they could prove. And anyway, we believed them, because they all said the same thing, that Billy hadn’t invited them up for a few weeks. It was as if he had got himself new friends.’
‘And you couldn’t find out who they were?’
Sheldon shook his head. ‘There was blood at the scene, but we don’t know whose. Did you find anything out?’
Ted shook his head. ‘I thought people were embarrassed at first, about what had gone on up at Billy’s house, because his money loosened clothes and no one would tell me too much. Except that Billy had new friends, but no one knew who they were. Some people had gone up and Billy wouldn’t let them in, and on the drive were old vans, and there were Goth-type kids, all in black, different to Billy’s usual crowd. Billy’s old friends were from the estate, people with no money helping Billy to spend his.’
Sheldon stopped eating for a moment and said, ‘Do you have any suspicions?’
‘Drugs,’ Ted said. ‘People told me that there were always a lot of drugs at the house, but they thought Billy was running out of money. He used to buy cars just so they could race them on the field behind his house, but for the few months before Alice’s death all he had done was repair the old ones. And he was starting to buy dodgy vodka, and was selling the drugs, cocaine and cannabis mainly, not giving it away. That’s why people weren’t as bothered about missing out on the parties. Too many people had watched their boyfriends or girlfriends sleep with other people, just because the mood was right, but if they were going to have to pay for it, what’s the point, right? Billy thought he was Mister Popular, but he wasn’t. He was just the mug willing to spend his money.’
‘So why drugs?’
‘Because he must have been in debt to dealers if he was stocking up so much but running out of money. It would explain why he was so scared to say anything. I think he got a visit from someone big, and things got out of hand. Alice was a good girl, but she would speak her mind, and so I wonder whether she had said the wrong thing, tried to show that she couldn’t be bullied. But she wouldn’t know what those people were like, and so things just got nasty.’
Sheldon nodded as he ate his curry. ‘That makes a lot of sense. He was still taking drugs before he died, because we found a dealer list in his house, but his silence might have extended his credit line. We looked at the drugs angle, but there was no intelligence about where he was getting his drugs. Because of the quantities, we thought that he had gone higher up the chain, to the wholesaler, not the street dealer, and they are harder to track. We always know the street dealers, because your bottom-rung junkies will tell you anything to keep on your good side, just to make sure they always get bail, or so we won’t bust their door down. The higher up you go, the more it becomes about money, and so people stay quiet. No one knew where Billy was getting his drugs from.’
Ted sighed. ‘So we both came up with nothing except theories.’
Sheldon nodded. ‘It seems that way.’
Ted stayed silent as Sheldon finished his food, until the chirp of Sheldon’s phone disturbed the peace.
Sheldon reached into his pocket and saw that it was a number he didn’t recognise. He clicked the answer button.
‘DI Brown?’ It was a man’s voice.
‘Yes.’ There was no need to correct him.
‘I’m PC Ellis. I work in Southern Division. I saw the email that was sent round earlier, with the young woman’s photograph. Your number was on it.’
Sheldon looked at Ted, who was sitting up straight, watching him. ‘Go on.’
‘I know her,’ Ellis continued. ‘There is a care home here, New Pastures. It keeps most of us busy. I recognised the girl in the photograph, although it threw me, because she isn’t called Christina. It’s Lucy, Lucy Crane.’
‘Not much, but she was a constant misper, always turning up in the houses of the local pervs, her pockets filled with fags and stinking of booze. I don’t what happened to her because I got posted elsewhere, but it looks like her.’
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