Authors: Katherine John
Published by Accent Press 2012
Copyright © 2008 Katherine John
The right of Katherine John to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior written permission from the publisher: Accent Press, The Old School, Upper High Street, Bedlinog, Mid Glamorgan, CF46 6SA
Cover design by Red Dot Design
Murder of a Dead Man
A Well-Deserved Murder
For Diane and Neil Langford, absolutely the best neighbours in the world.
Unfortunately not mine, but my father’s.
However, if I didn’t know about the other kind, this book may never have been written.
Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the gallon.
Kacy Howells cut the last of the lower branches from the willow tree, switched off her power saw and surveyed her handiwork. The tree looked neat and tidy. It would blend in with the other trees she had cut, shaped and fixed bird-boxes to. Finally she had the well-ordered view she wanted from her kitchen window. Except for … she looked at the ragged silver birch. The farmer, Bob Guttridge, had warned her twice not to cut any more trees on his land, but once it was done, what could he do? The trees might be on his land, but he had made no effort to manage the woodland that backed on to her garden. And she was the one who had to look at it from her kitchen window …
She switched on her power saw again and in seconds the tree was on the ground. Birch trunks were so slim – and satisfying – to slice into. She picked up one end and dragged it to the wire fence that separated the farm’s woodland from her garden and tipped the trunk over. Climbing after it, she picked up the end of the trunk and hauled it towards the five-foot deck she’d had built that overlooked the garden next door.
Her neighbours had sat out there every summer and spring evening until she’d built the deck, deliberately placing it in a position to overlook as much of their garden as possible. Her husband George hadn’t been too keen at first. Joy and Alan Piper had moved into their house the same time as George’s parents over thirty-five years before. They’d been his neighbours since he was six years old. But she knew how to handle George. Knew all his little secrets, and made certain he knew his position inside their marriage.
The house may have been his before their marriage but since then she’d had two children that were registered in his name. If she divorced him citing his preference for young – very young – boys she was confident of obtaining the house and a restraining order that would keep George away from it – and her and the children.
She walked up the steps onto the deck, cleaned the electric saw with a rag, opened the door of the summer-house and laid the saw in the chest she used to store her electrical and cordless tools. She locked the chest, slipped the key onto the rack above it and opened one of the two “secret” cupboards she’d had built into the walls – the one she used to store her hand tools. George only knew of this one. She suppressed a smile at the thought of what she stored in the other.
She lifted out an axe, walked down the steps and proceeded to chop the birch into logs. If she rolled them under the decking with the other debris from the trees she’d cut down, the farmer would be hard put to prove that she was the one “managing” his woodland. Irritating man. He’d neglected the woodland for years and yet had the gall to complain that she was trespassing whenever he saw her on it.
She left the axe embedded in the chopping block, disposed of the logs and looked at her watch. Time had run away with her. Another five or ten minutes and
’d be with her.
She climbed back onto the deck, entered the summer-house and opened the second “secret cupboard”. How could she have allowed herself to get carried away? She tested the rubber and leather straps fastened to the wall. Flicked through the items on the shelf above. Rubber rings … spray cans of nipple dust … handcuffs – whips – she’d hurt him last time and he’d complained – but he couldn’t possibly object to her soft plaited lamb’s leather whip. A jar of liquid chocolate, two wooden massage rollers … large as well as small …
She heard the wooden step creak under the weight of his foot. She peeled off her sweatshirt, slacks and underclothes, hung them on a peg inside the door and, stark naked, turned around. She looked through the open door. There was no one in sight. She braced herself. The last time he’d hidden behind the door, he had jumped on her and played his favourite game – masterful owner takes unwilling slave. She stepped out through the door and looked left and right. Still nothing. Had she imagined the creak?
Suddenly his shadow blocked out the sun. She opened her lips in readiness to receive his invasive, wet kiss. A hand gripped the back of her neck, squeezing painfully, forcing her to her knees before an excruciating pain in her head darkened the scene. Dazed, disorientated, she struggled to collect her thoughts but hurting and blind she could sense nothing beyond the warm, wet and sticky fouling of her hair and an irritating trickling down her neck. She lifted her right hand …
The second blow severed her hand at the wrist before cleaving into her skull. She was aware of acute pain in her teeth and the crunching of bone in her skull. Her agony was excruciating, all-encompassing. She could feel nothing beyond it; see nothing through the thick blanket of suffocating grey.
The last sounds she heard were her attacker’s laboured breath and the thud of her body as she slumped onto the deck – the last sensations, the sun-warmed solidity of the wooden planking beneath her – the last perfumes, the sharp astringent smell of wood, tinged with an iron stink that permeated her mouth.
She didn’t have time to connect the metallic taste with her blood.
‘Noddy gave you sound advice, Alan. You should take it.’ Peter Collins sat back so the waitress could set the roast beef sandwiches he and his cousin, Alan Piper, had ordered on their table.
‘Sound advice that will send my neighbours even further round the bend,’ Alan predicted gloomily. ‘Given what they’ve already done, can you imagine what they’d get up to if they saw a CCTV camera set up between our houses?’
‘Stop stealing your property.’ Peter reached for the mustard, opened his sandwich and spread on a liberal helping.
‘I haven’t thanked you for your help. I’m not sure the community police would have taken my complaint seriously without the statement you sent them.’
‘Revered journalist like you, course they would have,’ Peter teased. ‘I told them I was in shock. You don’t expect a woman – and I use the word loosely – to stalk her neighbours by snaking around the border of her garden using her elbows and knees like a commando so she can eavesdrop on a private conversation.’ Peter cut his sandwich in two. ‘I can still see the look on her face when she looked up and saw us staring down at her. I expected her to at least say “sorry” before running into the house. But she didn’t say a word, not a single bloody word.’
‘That’s not the first time it’s happened. One of my …’ Alan hesitated.
‘Sources?’ Peter questioned.
‘I wouldn’t dare. Although I’d give a great deal to know who tipped you off about the White Baron. Not that anyone on the force is complaining. We’ve been after the bastard for years. The amount of crack cocaine and heroin on the streets has halved since he was sent down. Of course there’s always the other half.’
Alan didn’t take the hint. Peter had been a police officer too long to miss the obvious. The villain most likely to shop another was one in direct competition. But the first rule he had learned as a journalist was the identity and anonymity of sources was sacrosanct. Reveal them and it wouldn’t only be the information that would dry up. The blood flowing in your veins might too.
He changed the subject. ‘It’s foul living next door to stalking kleptomaniacs. I’ve caught myself counting the plants in my front garden. If one disappears I’m never sure whether it died or I should go and bang on their front door.’
‘How many paving bricks did they take?’
‘Two square metres.’
‘Two square metres at 19p a brick …’
‘Knock it off, Peter. It’s not funny,’ Alan protested. ‘One day it could be you.’
‘Could be.’ Peter demolished half of his sandwich in two bites. ‘Two minutes after I moved in with the love of my life she started making noises about trading in her flat for a house. It doesn’t help that Trevor Joseph has one, complete with wife, baby, cat and full wedded bliss.’ He referred to Inspector Trevor Joseph, his colleague and closest friend.
‘Take my advice, keep out of suburbia. Buy a place on its own in the middle of nowhere.’
‘That would be a prime burglary risk,’ Peter the law officer recited automatically.
‘I don’t know how much more I can take,’ Alan muttered, obsessed with his problem neighbours.
‘So far, you’ve been the good boy. You’ve done everything by the book, kept a diary, listed their ridiculous complaints about you and everything they’ve stolen from you. The community constable was right, bless him. Put up a CCTV linked to a video recorder and film their movements every time they come near your property. They’ll soon back down.’
‘I wish to God I’d never bought half his garden off him. When he knocked on my door and said he couldn’t afford the mortgage any more I should have let him move into a semi on the estate.’
‘You should have,’ Peter agreed cheerfully.
‘I felt sorry for the kid. His mother had just died, he had to buy his brother out of his share of the house … how was I to know he’d marry the bitch from hell a couple of years down the line?’
‘“No good deed goes unpunished”,’ Peter quoted Clare Boothe Luce. ‘Serves you right for being bloody charitable.’
‘Not that charitable. The land gave Joy and me a view of the woods. She used to love sitting out there in the evening.’
Alan’s wife Joy had died of cancer a year ago and Peter felt helpless every time Alan mentioned her. He wondered if Alan and Joy had been close because they hadn’t had kids. That was something else “the love of his life” was talking about. He knew his reluctance to start a family was down to pure selfishness. Things were so mind-bogglingly perfect between them, he didn’t want to risk what they had by bringing another being into their lives. Especially one that would demand round the clock attention.
Alan managed a small smile, ‘I haven’t been that good. And, I suspect that if I do take the Community Police Officer’s advice and put up a monitor, they’d only chuck a brick at it.’
‘Then we’d charge them with criminal damage.’
‘And they’d end up in a magistrates’ court where they’d get a ticket to a “Support The Misunderstood Criminals group”, a stern “don’t do it again” and remain free to return to their house where they’d tear down more of my fences and steal even more of my property.’
‘There are no guarantees in this life, especially when you’re dealing with lunatics,’ Peter qualified. ‘What do you mean you haven’t been “that good”?’
‘You want to know what they left in front of my garage this morning.’
‘You haven’t answered my question,’ Peter said warily. Alan had an odd sense of humour which wasn’t always understood by his friends, let alone his enemies.
‘Journalists move in mysterious ways.’
‘And rarely truthful ones.’ Peter sipped his orange juice.
‘They left an axe – a bloody axe.’
Peter frowned. ‘An axe with blood on it?’
‘Not bloody in that sense,’ Alan replied irritably. ‘One was lying in front of my car this morning. I had to move it.’
‘And you saw them put it there?’
‘Then how do you know they left it?’
‘Who else would have done it?’
‘Axes cost money. You should have run over it.’
‘And risk damaging my tyres?’ Alan shook his head.
‘Your obsession with these nutcases is unhealthy. Ignore the stupid bastards!’
‘Obsession!’ Alan’s voice rose two octaves. ‘They build a deck overlooking my garden then complain to the police that I’m watching them when they spend all their time on a five-foot platform in view of the patio I’ve used for over twenty years. They build a monstrous shed on the platform and paint it bright blue and yellow …’
‘Everyone’s entitled to express themselves,’ Peter interrupted.
‘In fairground colours?’
‘Perhaps they love cartoons.’
‘If Mickey Mouse was sick he wouldn’t throw up anything that vivid.’ Alan was on a rant and nothing was going to stop him. ‘They stole my paving bricks and used them to raise their pots in their front garden so I could see exactly what they were doing. They tore down my fence, dug up and stole my plants. They took delivery of the flowers Joy’s friends sent her when she was in hospital and kept them for days until they were dead. And to top it all they dug up my gatepost and stole my gate and post, and I was the one who had to fork out for a new fence to make my garden secure. And you lot advise me to pay out even more money to put up a camera linked to a recorder.’
‘Not “you lot”. Community police officers aren’t real officers.’ Peter pulled the lettuce leaves from the other half of his sandwich and discarded them.
‘They haven’t had their polite gene removed.’
‘Very funny.’ Alan eyed Peter. ‘It’s not a laughing matter.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Peter wiped his fingers on his paper napkin. ‘The idea of your neighbours tiptoeing around in their pyjamas in the dead of night, digging up your gatepost and stealing your gate is hilarious. It’s not even as if it’s your usual sized gate. It must weigh a ton. The locals said they couldn’t believe it when they went around to retrieve it. Or his explanation that he was “keeping it safe for you”. It took two of them to find it, even when he told them where it was. They didn’t expect to find it buried under half a ton of tarpaulins.’
‘So you did check up on the locals’ progress?’
‘The community policing service needed monitoring. I volunteered for the job.’ Peter’s tone was so casual, Alan knew his cousin had made it his business to follow their progress. ‘They acquitted themselves well. I wouldn’t be as restrained as they were in dealing with kleptomaniac lunatics.’
‘You need bigger and heavier community officers.’ Alan sipped his pint. ‘The one who retrieved my gate was terrified they were going to have him for breakfast.’
‘He was the one who told you to get CCTV?’ Peter checked.
‘I told him I subscribed to Robert Frost’s philosophy.’
‘Frost, do I know him?’
‘The writer, you ignoramus. He said, and I quote, “
Good fences make good neighbours
‘You have one now.’
‘Only after I paid a builder more than a month’s wine bill to erect one.’
‘Moan, moan, moan. And don’t plead poverty to me. You journalists coin it with syndication rights. I’ve seen your work in six or seven nationals in the last couple of months. That White Baron piece alone must have made you enough to buy a summer palace.’
‘Not after tax. I have overheads.’
‘Fine wine, dining, cigars …’ Peter held up the cigar Alan had given him so the landlord could see it from behind the bar. ‘Not that we’re allowed to smoke them in this pub.’
‘It’s no good complaining to me about the law, Sergeant Collins,’ the landlord chipped in.
‘Suppose not,’ Peter conceded.
‘But if you have one spare I could enjoy it upstairs when I shut up shop,’ he hinted.
‘I couldn’t afford this one. It was a present.’ Peter raised his glass of orange juice in the direction of the landlord.
‘This is the first time I’ve seen you drink anything soft at lunchtime – or any time come to that. Missus curbing your lifestyle?’ Alan enquired maliciously.
‘Meeting this afternoon. New female broom upstairs doesn’t like officers smelling of alcohol.’
‘That must cramp your and Trevor’s style.’
Peter deliberately moved the conversation on from the personal. ‘You put up your CCTV yet?’
‘No.’ Alan sank half his pint of beer.
‘You’ve no intention of taking good advice?’
‘As I said, I haven’t entirely been a good boy. I had a better idea.’
Alan tapped his nose. ‘I’m waiting on results. Soon as I get my patio back, you and your lady love – Rose?’
‘Daisy,’ Peter growled.
‘Must come round for a barbecue.’
‘What have you done?’
Alan glanced at his watch. ‘Tell you next time.’
‘And which innocent character is the emperor of the gutter press assassinating this afternoon?’
‘Haven’t made my mind up – yet.’ Alan hesitated. ‘Off the record …’
‘Isn’t everything always off the record with you?’
‘What do you know about that missing girl?’
Peter narrowed his eyes suspiciously. ‘What missing girl?’
‘The beauty queen who disappeared after winning the competition. “Miss Eco-friendly” or “Miss Alternative Lifestyle” …’
‘If you mean, “Miss Green Earth” I know jack shit,’ Peter answered. ‘Why? Do you know more?’
‘I know you. You never “just ask” about anything. You’ve had a tip-off?’
‘Not in so many words.’
‘No?’ Peter queried sceptically. ‘Because if you have, and kept it to yourself, you could be charged with withholding evidence.’
‘It wasn’t worth mentioning.’
‘Then why mention it? Stay silent and it could be construed as perverting the course of justice,’ Peter warned.
‘I don’t know anything.’
‘A pound to a penny if you stretch out your tongue it will be black.’
‘Grow up. We’re not six years old any more.’
‘You’re behaving as if you’re a fully paid-up member of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven.’
‘All right.’ Alan moved his chair closer to Peter’s. ‘I had a call this morning from someone who said they know where she is and why she’s in hiding. They want to meet so I can print her side of the story.’
Peter pulled out his notebook. ‘What story?’
‘If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t need to meet them.’
‘When and where?’
‘You expect me to tell you that so you and your colleagues can tramp in with your size fourteen boots? No way. Besides, it might be nothing.’
‘And, it might be something.’
‘If it comes to anything, you’ll be the first to know,’ Alan assured him.
‘Man or woman?’
‘Who phoned you, man or woman?’ Peter pressed him.
‘Don’t know. They used one of those electronic voice changer things.’
‘They rang the office switchboard and asked to be put through to me. And don’t suggest I look at the records. That phone rings off the hook. We get up to 500 calls an hour.’
‘In other words you didn’t try to trace it.’
‘You think I have time to record every crank call that comes in?’ Alan left his chair. ‘Like I said, if anything comes of it, I’ll let you know.’
‘It’s not every day a beauty queen goes missing or you read unsubstantiated articles about them being sold into white slavery on the North African coast.’
Alan held up his hands in mock defence. ‘Not one of mine.’
‘This week,’ Peter sniped.
Alan checked his watch again. ‘I have to file a piece before I meet my snitch, or not as the case maybe.’
‘Piece on what?’ Peter asked.
‘Police incompetence,’ Alan joked.
‘Spell my name right.’
‘Don’t I always?’
‘Unfortunately.’ Peter picked up his coat and followed Alan out the door.
Alan filed his report, on the abandonment of a rape trial, by three forty-five. He left the office, bought a box of chocolates and drove out of town via home so he could pick up a sleeping bag in case his contact wanted to move on and it would turn into an all-nighter. He dropped the chocolates into a neighbour’s house as a combination “thank you and sorry for being insensitive” gift.