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‘Who are these people?’
‘Just a bunch of kids really, but there are a couple of older ones. Black hair, black clothes. They’ve been hanging around the town centre the last few days. I think they killed Billy Privett and Amelia.’
Julie gasped. ‘Are you sure?’ When Charlie didn’t answer, she said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it, don’t worry.’
‘Thank you,’ Charlie said, and he gave her Donia’s home address. ‘Her mother will be calling,’ and then he hung up.
He put hands to his face. This couldn’t be happening. His mind raced through the last nineteen years. The career, his firm, nineteen years of girlfriends and drink. Just years of being an arsehole, and all the time he’d had a daughter. He thought of Donia. Beautiful, intelligent. His life had drifted along for nineteen years, and there was something there all along, a person who would have given it meaning.
He opened his eyes. Ted was looking at him.
‘We need to find this group,’ Charlie said, and he headed for the door.
Sheldon peered out of his windscreen as he tried to make out the house numbers, looking for John Abbott’s house. He was on a street of seventies semis, with wood panelling under large windows and bright glass porches. He came to a stop at the right number, marine blue on a white tile, like something bought on holiday, but he was confused. There was a large To Let sign outside and the house looked vacant. Sheldon remembered the story. His mother had died and he had been left the house. Except that John Abbott was no longer living there.
Sheldon stepped out of his car and looked at the house, and then up and down the road. It was quiet but unremarkable, just low garden walls and saloon cars on the drives. The street was forty years old. People who bought the houses from new would have seen their children grow up and leave, and so now the street looked like pensioners filled it, with heavy floral curtains in the windows and china ornaments visible on the sills.
The wooden gate creaked open and then he went towards the living room window, stepping across the small square of lawn that was unkempt and long, seeded ends blowing in the light breeze. There was a gap in the curtains where they didn’t quite meet, and so he pressed his face against the glass, his hands cupped around his face to keep out the glow from the streetlights. The house was completely empty. There was no furniture, nothing. Just bare floorboards and the red glow of the burglar alarm sensor in the corner of the room, disturbed by his face pressed against the window.
Sheldon stepped back and pursed his lips. He had disturbed the alarm sensor but there was no noise coming from the metal box on the side. Why was that?
He looked around and saw that most houses were in darkness, and he didn’t want to raise suspicions by getting people out of their beds. Then he saw a light shining along a driveway three houses further down the street.
The light came from a pebble-dashed garage at the end of a concrete drive, a man visible through the gap where the battered green wooden doors wouldn’t close properly. As Sheldon got closer, he saw the man was wearing safety goggles and sending up sparks as he messed with something on a workbench.
Sheldon got his identification ready and coughed lightly so as not to alarm him. He stepped around an old bike leaning against the house and tapped on the garage door.
The man lifted up the goggles, surprised. He was in his sixties, with grease etched as black lines along his cheeks.
‘DI Brown from Oulton police,’ Sheldon said. ‘I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you.’
The man put down a soldering iron and nodded. ‘It’s late,’ he said, confused. ‘Am I making too much noise?’
‘No, it’s not that, and I apologise for the hour, but I want to ask you some questions about the occupant of number nineteen.’
The man frowned. ‘What about him?’
‘How well did you know him?’
‘Hardly knew him at all. No reason why I should, he wasn’t here long enough, despite what it said in the paper.’
‘What do you mean?’
The man put his goggles on an old red biscuit tin filled with tiny light bulbs and screws. The whole garage was like that, filled with drawers and boxes piled haphazardly on each other, filled with rusted old nuts and bolts and different coloured electrical wiring.
‘He was in court, I read about it, and it said that he had inherited number nineteen from his mother, but he hadn’t. He was lying.’
‘Why do you say that?’ Sheldon said.
‘There was no old woman in that house. He had only been there a few weeks himself. Whatever he told the police and the court was a lie, because there was no inheritance. A young family lived there, but they had it repossessed when the husband lost his job. A nice man, a real shame. But that is why it is empty, because the bank took it back and sold it in auction to a property company. We’ve had all sorts living there since.’
‘Back to John Abbott,’ Sheldon said. ‘So everything that was in the paper was a lie?’
‘Yes, apart from the fact that it was his address, but not for long.’
Sheldon thought about what had been in the paper, and how it matched what was in the file. The paper hadn’t got it wrong. He remembered his thought from earlier, how Abbott seemed determined to get himself before the court, almost as if he wanted to draw attention to himself.
‘Did you see much of him?’ Sheldon asked.
‘No. He didn’t come out much, but he used to get visitors. All in black, they were, and used to arrive in a dirty old van.’
Sheldon nodded. It all fitted. ‘When was the last time you saw him?’
‘A few weeks ago now.’
Sheldon thanked the man and turned away. Just as he walked along the pavement, a pair of headlights swung into view around the corner ahead and then drove quickly towards him. Sheldon’s eyes narrowed and then he tensed.
The car was a silver Audi, and it pulled up sharply behind his car, the tyres grinding along the kerb. The doors opened quickly and two men got out, in their forties, both in dark suits and bright white shirts, thin ties above the three jacket buttons that were fastened tightly.
Sheldon pulled out his identification again and thrust it forward, as they advanced quickly towards him.
‘DI Brown, Oulton police,’ he said quickly.
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