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Authors: Faith Martin

Walk a Narrow Mile

BOOK: Walk a Narrow Mile
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Walk a Narrow Mile

Faith Martin

T
he middle of May was indulging itself with a rare mini heatwave, and Hillary Greene was glad to park Puff the Tragic Wagon under the welcoming shade of a large and
beautifully
flowering horse chestnut tree in Thames Valley Police HQ’s car-park. She locked up her ancient Volkswagen Golf and walked towards the large lobby doors feeling a certain amount of weary lethargy that was unusual for her.

She had not long passed the hurdle that was her fiftieth birthday, but so far her bell-shaped cut of dark reddish-brown hair didn’t need the help of a bottle, and her figure, though never trim, still retained the right sort of curves. It was not a physical thing that made her feel so lacklustre, but she was unwilling to dwell on the real reason. Wallowing in self-pity had never been her favourite pastime.

In the lobby, the desk sergeant grinned a greeting at her over the heads of a gaggle of excited officers, dressed in raiding gear. She wondered idly what operation was about to take place, as she headed down into the bowels of the building and the more sedate offices where the Crime Review Team hung their hats. The days of high-octane policing were now no longer her concern. Since retiring as a detective inspector with a full pension over a year ago, Hillary had only recently returned as a civilian consultant to help solve cold cases.

In the rabbit warren below stairs, she made her way to the stationery cupboard that now masqueraded as her office, and
logged onto her computer. She stowed away her bag and quickly checked her emails before poking her head in the small communal office where the rest of her team worked. Well, she called them her team. In reality, they consisted of a retired
ex-sergeant
, Jimmy Jessop, now sixty-three, and regarded by both of them as her right-hand man. The two youngsters who were thinking about joining the force, and were getting some ‘on the spot’ training by also working in the CRT were, however, absent this morning. It was not an uncommon state of affairs. Sam Pickles was probably at uni, where he was in the last year of doing his BA degree course, but Hillary had no idea where Vivienne Tyrell might be.

‘The super in?’ Hillary asked Jimmy, who was reading through one of the current files in his in-tray.

‘Been in an hour or more, guv,’ Jimmy confirmed, and gave her a curious look. ‘He’s got a DI in with him. Don’t know him,’ he added laconically, one eyebrow raised in enquiry.

Hillary nodded, showing that she knew what was up, and withdrew. She then walked a few paces down the gloomy corridor and tapped on a door marked
SUPT. STEVEN CRAYLE.
She waited until she heard his voice call for her to come in and then pushed open the door and entered.

Her eyes went first to Steven Crayle, who was already rising from behind his desk. Just over six feet tall, he had a head of thick, dark-brown hair and dark chocolate eyes. Lean and elegant, he was dressed in a charcoal suit with a cream shirt and pale blue tie. His eyes watched her carefully, as they tended to do recently. She wanted to snarl at him that she was all right, that she didn’t need to be constantly monitored to see if she was about to fall apart, but ruthlessly fought back the impulse.

She didn’t
do
hysterical women.

Instead, she turned her attention to the other man in the room. So this was DI Geoff Rhumer, the man she was going to have to share her case with, she acknowledged to herself
grudgingly
.

‘Geoff, this is Hillary Greene,’ Steven introduced them, making it clear that the two men were on first name terms already, and that nice and friendly and co-operative was how he intended that they should all play it. Which made sense, Hillary supposed. Besides, it was how Commander Donleavy had insisted it should be, and if she didn’t play ball, she knew the commander was perfectly capable of pulling the plug on her and sidelining her altogether.

So play nice, she told herself firmly. And smiled.

‘Hillary.’ DI Rhumer held out his hand and she took it quickly.

She knew from having asked around, that Rhumer was
fifty-two
, a widower with three grown children, and said to be a steady, capable pair of hands. He wasn’t dirty, or particularly ambitious, and his rep, if a little stolid, was at least consistent. As a partner, she supposed, she could have had far worse foisted upon her.

Hillary shook his hand and smiled a bit more. He was about an inch or two taller than herself which put him at around five feet ten, with greying hair and somewhat watery blue eyes. ‘I know and admire your reputation, DI Greene,’ Rhumer said, deliberately choosing to use her former title. ‘And I’m really looking forward to working with you. I’m only sorry it’s in such circumstances.’

Hillary felt herself thawing, just a little. At least she wasn’t going to have to cope with some know-it-all, out to make a name for himself, or some Jack-the-Lad who had problems taking orders from a woman.

Then she gave herself a mental head slap and reminded herself that she was the civilian here now. If anything, she was supposed to be the one taking orders from him. Her new status as an ex-copper still didn’t sit very comfortably on her
shoulders
, and she knew she was going to have watch herself.

‘I appreciate that the situation’s somewhat unusual and … shall we say, delicate?’ she said with a wry smile, and caught Steven nodding towards a chair. She sat down, somewhat
amused to note that the two men only did the same once she was seated. How nice it was to be in a roomful of gentlemen.

Of course, Steven was her lover, and since the attack on her a fortnight ago, he was an anxious lover at that, so his behaviour was understandable.

She still wasn’t sure about Rhumer. Oh, he was making all the right noises, but he could have a hidden agenda. Only time would tell.

‘I think that’s a bit of an understatement,’ Rhumer said, with a brief smile, revealing slightly nicotine-stained teeth. ‘I’ve been fully briefed by Commander Donleavy, of course, but before we start, I’d obviously like a run-down of the case from you.’

Hillary nodded, but wondered how much Steven had said already.

She was wearing a dark-green skirt and jacket, with a white, open-neck blouse, and she had to stop her hand from rising automatically to touch the still red, but rapidly healing scars on her neck.

‘You know what we do here, right?’ Hillary began, and Rhumer nodded.

‘As I understand it, the superintendent is in charge of a team within a team here at CRT, concentrating on high-level cases, nearly always murder cases, that need someone with experience to actively reinvestigate them,’ Rhumer said.

‘Right. That’s where I come in,’ Hillary agreed.

Rhumer nodded. ‘The super was just filling me in on that. You’ve only been doing this a few months, but have already solved your first two cold murder cases. Colour me even more impressed than I was before.’

Hillary smiled briefly, in no mood for flattery. ‘But you’re not here for the cold cases,’ she reminded him flatly. ‘That’s my remit. You’re here for the current case that touches on mine.’ She did not say it with any undue emphasis but she was nailing her colours to the mast.

In his seat, Steven shifted slightly, but said nothing.

Geoff Rhumer met her gaze steadily and nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said quietly. ‘That’s how I see it too. I had the full briefing and the paperwork from the commander yesterday, and I’ve covered most of it, but I’d still like your take on it before I start thinking out my strategy.’

Hillary thawed a little more. So far, so good.

‘Right. Well, the cold-case aspect of it is clear cut. We have three missing girls, with a common link,’ she began.

‘Your stalker,’ Geoff Rhumer put in quietly.

‘Yes,’ Hillary said, her voice perfectly emotionless. ‘And he’s all yours, of course.’ Again, her voice was perfectly flat and even, but Steven Crayle felt the hairs on his arms stand up to attention. The more he learned about Hillary, the more he
realized
that she was at her most dangerous when she was being calm and reasonable. ‘You’ve heard why Superintendent Crayle and I believe that he’s almost certainly working here at HQ, either as a police officer, or as a civilian with access to certain information.’

‘Yes, and I agree with your reasoning,’ the DI murmured.

‘How you and your team set about tracking him down is, of course, your show,’ Hillary conceded, still in that same flat, calm voice, ‘but you can call on me at any time if you think that I can do anything to help you lure him out and catch him.’

She noticed that Rhumer and Steven very carefully avoided looking at each other as she made this offer, and instantly knew why. They’d been talking about her behind her back, and had probably agreed that she was, under no circumstances, to be used as bait. As a civilian now, she could understand their
reluctance
. The station-house lawyers were probably having the jitters about her suing them if something went wrong. It was how their little minds worked, after all, and the brass had no choice but to listen. It was to be expected, but that didn’t mean to say that she liked it.

‘Let’s be clear on this,’ Hillary said, careful to take a deep, steadying breath first; the last thing she could afford to do now
was to get emotional. One whiff that she wasn’t coping and Donleavy would have her off the case in a flash. And that she was damned well not going to let that happen. ‘You may need me at some point, if for no other purpose than to try and
establish
a dialogue with the little shit, and if that happens, I need you to know that I would have no objections.’

She looked Rhumer squarely in the eye. ‘Two weeks ago, the man grabbed me from behind in a deserted pub car-park, pulled me into the bushes and held a knife to my throat.’ As she spoke, she felt the scars on her neck throb in remembrance, and kept her hands firmly clasped in her lap. She would
not
touch them. ‘He cut me, not badly, and I managed to talk my way out of it by convincing him that we were playing some game together. That I was a … a willing participant in his sick little fantasies. I
appreciate
that it was a close call, and I know that it put me into shock for a short time. But that was then, and this is now. Now I, that is,
we
, have a job to do, and I am perfectly capable of doing it.’

She moved her eyes from Rhumer to Steven in a clear and unmistakable message.
And that had better be clear to you too.

Steven shifted again in his chair but remained silent.

‘I appreciate the offer, DI Greene …’ Rhumer said, making Hillary shift her focus back to the stranger in the room.

‘You’d better start calling me Hillary. I’m not, strictly speaking, a DI anymore.’

‘You wouldn’t prefer Mrs Greene then?’ Rhumer asked, and then smiled as Hillary glowered at him, and held up his hands in the universal peace gesture. ‘Fine. But in that case, I’m Geoff.’

‘OK, Geoff,’ Hillary said, taking a deep breath. ‘How it works is this – I intend to try and track down exactly what happened to Meg Vickary, Judy Yelland and Gilly Tinkerton. If, and when, their cases cross the path of your case, that is, my stalker, we pool intelligence and agree a strategy. Sound fair?’

‘Yes. I don’t see a problem with that, so long as you give me full disclosure.’

Hillary smiled.

Steven Crayle felt the hairs on his arms start to dance a fandango.

‘At the moment they’re still officially listed as simply missing persons,’ Hillary swept on, ‘but we all know that all three of them are almost certainly dead, and murdered by the same man’ – she took a slow, deep breath – ‘whom we are calling Lol.’

Seeing Geoff’s questioning look, she sighed deeply. ‘It was the name he suggested I use when we had our … little encounter. It stands for Love of my Life, apparently. Which is what he considers himself to be.’

Geoff hid a wince. ‘Nasty. And you definitely didn’t get a look at him, right?’

Hillary shook her head. ‘He grabbed me from behind and had the knife to my throat right away. I didn’t dare turn my head. The only description I can give of him isn’t of much use. His voice was almost directly in my ear, and yet he didn’t feel
particularly
stooped over, so I would say that he was around your height, not much taller, and certainly not any shorter. He had muscles that went way beyond normal, so he’s a body builder. The hairs on his wrist that I could see were dark, so he’s not
fair-haired
, unless he dyes it. His accent was local. He wasn’t wearing a watch, so there’s nothing on that that we can trace. There wasn’t much of use gathered from the scene of the attack forensics-wise either, I take it?’ Hillary batted the last question straight to Steven.

‘No, nothing much,’ Steven agreed bleakly. In his mind’s eye he was back on that day nearly two weeks ago. Hillary had just solved the second murder case he’d given her, and he was still at the station, processing the chief suspect, when he’d got her call. At first, he hadn’t realized it was her on the line – she’d been breathing hard, and her voice was faint. And her words, when he’d been able to make them out had been disjointed, and not altogether making sense.

But when he’d finally been able to understand what she was trying to say, picking up key words like ‘knife’, ‘bleeding’ and
‘evidence’ he’d realized that their worst scenario had come true. The unknown perp who’d been stalking her for over a month, had finally launched a physical attack.

Steven had managed to get Hillary to tell him where she was – the car-park of a pub in Thrupp. The pub was on the Oxford canal, not far from where she moored her narrowboat, the
Mollern
, which had been her home now for nearly six years.

He had called an ambulance from the office and then raced to the scene, and he and the paramedics had both arrived more or less together.

He could still remember seeing her crumpled form on the tarmac, and running towards her, his heart thumping
sickeningly
fast in his chest as the ambulance siren blared behind him. He’d seen the blood first – on her neck, soaking into her blouse, pooling around her.

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