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Authors: Sally Spencer

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BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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Walter shook his head again, more violently this time. ‘It couldn’t have been more than a second between him setting the fuse an’ the explosion. He’d never have miscalculated it that badly.’

‘So what
did
happen?’

‘I can’t be sure,’ Walter Clegg admitted. ‘I’m not an expert like Tom was. But it seems to me that them explosives had to have been tampered with—either by Culshaw or by some other murderous swine.’

 

 

Five

 

There were three people in the pony trap that was making its way down the narrow country lane. One was a uniformed police constable, who was sitting on the box and gently urging the pony on whenever it felt inclined to slacken its pace a little. The other two people—a man and a woman—were sitting behind the box and looking around them. Jed Trent appeared to be enjoying the change of scenery and the fresh air. Dr Ellie Carr, on the other hand, looked at each and every new hedgerow suspiciously—as if expecting an ambush.

It was not her fault that she was so ill at ease, Ellie told herself. She was a city girl. She had been brought up in the slums of the East End, and though she now lodged in a much more salubrious area, it was
still
London—still very much a part of the metropolis.

The countryside, in her opinion, was something best viewed from a train window, on the way to a medical conference in Manchester or Glasgow. To actually find herself in the middle of it—surrounded by green fields, with not a lamp-post or tramline in sight—was bound to be rather disconcerting.

The constable reined in the horse and applied the brake. That done, he climbed down from the box and gallantly offered Ellie his arm to assist her in her own descent.

Ellie looked somewhat mystified, but took the arm anyway, and stepped down on to the lane.

‘Why have we stopped here?’ she asked.

‘Because that’s where the poor girl was murdered,’ the constable replied, pointing into the drainage ditch.

Ellie Carr looked shocked. ‘You are joking, aren’t you?’ she asked.

‘Why would I want to joke, Doctor?’ the constable wondered. ‘It really
is
the scene of the crime?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then why isn’t there anybody standing guard over it?’

The constable shrugged. ‘Why would anybody want to stand guard? The body’s been removed. There’s nothing to see here any more.’

Ellie placed her hands squarely on her hips, so that—though she did not have the bulk for it—she somewhat resembled the bellicose fishwives of her childhood memories.

‘Didn’t it occur to any of the so-called detectives working on this case that, until I’d looked at the site, it shouldn’t be disturbed?’ she demanded.

‘Doesn’t seem to have,’ the constable replied evenly.

Ellie Carr could have said more—undoubtedly
would
have said more—had not Jed Trent chosen that moment to position himself squarely between her and the local policeman.

Staring into his broad back—which he was clearly intending should block her out—Ellie heard Trent say, ‘Thank you for bringing us here, officer. We’ll find our own way back to the police station.’

‘You’ll walk?’

‘We’ll walk.’

‘But it’s over three miles.’

‘Dr Carr won’t mind that,’ Trent told the constable. ‘Like a lot of people who’ve never done a day’s really hard work in their lives, she considers exercise to be good for the body.’

The local copper chuckled. ‘It takes all sorts to make a world,’ he said. ‘Well, if you really don’t need me, I’ll be off.’

Ellie heard him walk back to the cart and climb up into the driver’s seat, but she didn’t actually
see
him do it, because every time she shifted her position, Jed Trent did the same.

It was only when the constable began to drive away that Jed turned to face her.

‘How dare you mock me like that?’ Ellie demanded furiously.

‘I thought it was the best of the possible options that you’d left me,’ Trent replied.

‘The possible options
I’d
left you?’

‘That constable could have gone away either laughing at you or furious with you. I thought that, for the good of the investigation, it would be better if he was laughing.’

‘Explain yourself!’ Ellie ordered.

‘Gladly. You got right up that constable’s nose with your high-handed manner, Dr Carr—and that certainly isn’t the best way to get co-operation from the local force.’

‘Really, Jed, I don’t think you understand how—’

‘No, I don’t think
you
understand,’ Trent said firmly. ‘You can get away with playing the brilliant-but-volatile scientist with Inspector Blackstone, because I reckon he still fancies you. But if we’re going to continue working with other policemen—who probably
don’t
fancy you—then you’ll just have to learn to be a little more tactful.’

‘How
can
I be tactful when they allow this to happen to the scene of the crime?’ Ellie protested, gazing down at the flattened grass and a dozen or so impressions of heavy police boots.

‘It’s a mess all right,’ Trent agreed. ‘But it probably wasn’t that particular constable’s fault.’

‘But—’

‘And even if it was his fault, it’s done now, and it can’t be undone—whereas the local coppers
could
undo the fact we’ve got rooms booked for the night, if they felt so inclined.’

‘You have a point,’ Ellie Carr conceded reluctantly. ‘But look at what they’ve done, Jed! It’s almost as if they’d held a bleedin’ carnival here!’

‘So I suppose that if they’ve destroyed all the evidence, there’s nothing to be learned, and we might just as well head back to the town,’ Jed Trent said, lifting his hand to his face to hide his slight smile.

‘I never said they’d destroyed
all
the evidence,’ Ellie Carr told him. ‘It is just possible that a few shreds might remain—and that a brilliant young scientist just might be able to recover them.’

‘If only we had one with us,’ Jed Trent said softly.

‘What was that?’ Ellie demanded.

‘Nothing,’ Trent told her.

Ellie walked over to the ditch. ‘Did you mean what you said earlier?’ she asked.

‘About Inspector Blackstone fancying you?’ Trent asked.

Ellie frowned. ‘No. About the local coppers probably
not
fancying me at all.’

‘Of course I didn’t mean it,’ Trent said, the smile behind his hand broadening. ‘With your graceful manner and your winning ways, what man
wouldn’t
fall in love with you immediately?’

Ellie Carr nodded, as if acknowledging what was no more than the simple truth.

‘That’s all right then,’ she said, stepping down into the ditch—and seemingly oblivious of the fact that she was immediately plunging herself up to her ankles in dirty water.

It was twenty minutes before Ellie climbed out of the ditch again. As she stood dripping in front of him, Trent gave her a quick up-and-down inspection. It was not a pretty sight. The bottom half of her dress was soaking, and she had somehow contrived to get mud in her hair.

‘Just look at the state you’re in,’ Trent said disapprovingly. ‘You’ve probably caught your death of cold. And even if you haven’t, it’ll take a washerwoman hours to get all that filth off your dress.’

‘Oh for heaven’s sake, Jed, stop fussing,’ Ellie said dismissively. ‘What does a bit of dirt matter if the cause of forensic science has been advanced?’

‘And has it?’

‘I think so. What was the first thing that everyone told us about Emma Walsingholme when we arrived?’

‘That she’d been killed and mutilated in a ditch?’

‘Exactly! And the constable, whom you seemed so eager to defend, repeated that same error not half an hour ago.’

‘So she
wasn’t
killed and mutilated here?’

‘Certainly wasn’t
mutilated
.’

‘How can you be so sure?’

‘If she had been, I’d have found at least traces of it—splinters of bone, bits of tissue, the odd tooth...’ Ellie paused. ‘You really don’t want to know the details, Jed.’

‘No, I probably don’t,’ Trent agreed. ‘So she wasn’t mutilated here. But was this where she was killed?’

‘Highly unlikely,’ Ellie Carr said crisply. ‘Apart from the difficulty it would have caused the killer to move a girl who was spurting blood like a fountain, she’d have bled to death in a very short time. So there’d have been no need to strangle her, would there?’

‘But if she didn’t lose her hands and feet in the ditch, why were her gloves and shoes found next to her body?’

‘You tell me,’ Ellie suggested.

Trent thought about it for a minute. ‘Because her killer wanted people to believe that this
was
where she met her end?’ he said finally.

‘That’s just the conclusion I’ve reached,’ Ellie agreed.

‘But why would he give a damn what we think?’

‘I don’t have the slightest idea,’ Ellie admitted. ‘Maybe an examination of the actual body itself will give us some clue.’

*

Blackstone and Walter Clegg had already knocked back three pints of best bitter—followed by whisky chasers—when Clegg suddenly said, ‘Why don’t we go back to my house?’

Blackstone had no idea why Clegg should have made the offer, but he accepted it immediately, because, in his experience, men were much more comfortable on their home ground. And whilst he did not think that Clegg had been lying to him so far, he was hopeful that the miner would become even more forthcoming from the safety of his own hearth.

They left the pub and walked down the lane towards the flashes. When they had gone about a hundred yards, Clegg turned into an alleyway, and Blackstone followed him.

They reached the back yard that contained the wash-house, outside lavatory and the house’s only tap. Walter Clegg lifted the latch on the back door and pushed it open.

Blackstone was half-expecting to be greeted by a bunch of screaming kids, but instead there was only silence from inside the house.

‘Are you there, Mam?’ Clegg called out, and when there was no answer he said, ‘She’s probably gone off to visit one of her old cronies.’

‘You still live with your parents?’ Blackstone asked incredulously, before he could stop himself.

‘Only with Mam,’ Clegg said, not noticing his tone. ‘Dad’s been dead a good few years now.’

The room they entered was probably typical of the village. A cooking range dominated one wall, and though it was by no means a cold evening, there was a fire burning in the grate to keep the oven warm. Most of the rest of the space in the room was taken up by a heavy oak-veneer sideboard—which was covered with photographs—and a large kitchen table.

‘Well, this is it,’ Walter Clegg said proudly. ‘This is the place that I call home.’

‘Very nice,’ Blackstone said, knowing that was what was expected of him. ‘Very nice indeed.’

‘Where are you plannin’ to stay for the night?’ Clegg asked, in a manner which suggested he had been waiting quite some time for the moment to spring this particular question.

‘I haven’t really thought about it,’ Blackstone admitted. ‘Is there a cheap boarding house in the village?’

Clegg laughed. ‘A boarding house? In this village? There most certainly is not. If you want to find a room, you’ll have go back to town.’

‘Well, since there doesn’t seem to be any choice in the matter—’ Blackstone began.

‘Unless, of course, you wouldn’t mind staying here,’ Walter Clegg interrupted him.

‘Here?’

‘You could sleep in the front parlour, if you wanted to. I know Mam wouldn’t mind.’

‘I’m not sure...’

‘There isn’t a bed in there, I’m afraid, but I think you’ll find the sofa quite comfortable.’

So that was what the invitation to his house was all about. It had been the first step in Clegg’s campaign to get him to agree to spend the night there.

The reason for his eagerness was obvious, Blackstone thought. A police inspector who had come all the way from London was important—at least in the eyes of someone who had probably never been more than a few miles from this village—and having that inspector spend the night under his roof would make him feel important, too. And, when all was said and done, what was the
harm
in that?

‘The sofa would do me just fine,’ Blackstone said. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the bottle of whisky he had bought from the off-sales in the pub. ‘Why don’t you find us a couple of glasses?’

Clegg produced two glasses from the mock-oak sideboard, and the two men sat down at the kitchen table.

‘In the letter he sent to me, Tom sounded very worried,’ Blackstone said. ‘Did he seem worried to you?’

Clegg nodded. ‘He did. An’ it wasn’t like him at all. Tom was the kind of feller who normally took difficulties in his stride.’

‘He didn’t tell you what it was that was on his mind?’

‘No. I asked him, but he said it would be better for me if I didn’t get involved.’ Clegg’s eyes watered slightly. ‘I should have insisted,’ he continued, with a note of anguish in his voice. ‘I should have said that, as his best mate, I had a right—an’ a duty—to share his burden with him.’

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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