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A Killing Resurrected
A DCI Neil Paget Mystery
By Frank Smith
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2010 Frank Smith
All rights reserved.
Tuesday, July 7th
Detective Superintendent Thomas Alcott ran a finger around the inside of his collar, but it stuck back to his skin the moment he released it. It had been four days since the stifling heat had settled into the valley, and there was no sign of it shifting. Barely ten o'clock in the morning, but it felt more like high noon in Saudi Arabia. He eyed the open file on his desk with distaste, then pushed it away and sat back in his chair as if trying to distance himself from it.
He should never have agreed to meet with the Hammond woman, he thought irritably. The last thing he needed was some old woman rattling on about a thirteen-year-old case when they could barely keep up with the current ones. He glanced at the time. He'd give her a few minutes, then find an excuse to leave the room and let Paget take over. He was toying with the idea of having Fiona ring him with an urgent message, when Paget appeared in the doorway.
'Morning, Paget,' he said tersely. 'I hope this woman isn't going to be late. God knows we have enough on our plate without digging up old cases. You've read the file, I take it?'
'Enough to get the general picture,' Paget told him. 'But I would like to ...'
He stopped as Fiona popped her head around the door to say, 'Miss Hammond is here, sir. Shall I show her in?'
Alcott gave a grudging nod and rose to his feet as Fiona opened the door wider and ushered the visitor into the office.
Claire Hammond was younger than Alcott had pictured her when they'd spoken on the phone. Much younger. Thirtyish or thereabouts, he guessed, and very attractive. Tall, slim, dark shoulder-length hair, luminous eyes, generous mouth. Smartly dressed and looking remarkably cool, considering they were in the middle of a heat wave. Plain white blouse beneath a pale-blue linen jacket that followed the curve of the waistline; a flowing A-line calf-length skirt in a summery print, and white ankle-strap sandals. Ankle-strap wedges, if he was not mistaken. The Superintendent was by no means an expert when it came to women's clothes, but he had two daughters who were, so, like it or not, he was kept abreast of what was 'in' and what was not, and Claire Hammond was definitely 'in'.
His hand went to his tie to straighten it, and suddenly felt as if he were only half dressed, with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled halfway up his arms.
'I asked Detective Chief Inspector Paget to join us,' he explained as introductions were made and he guided Miss Hammond to a seat, 'because if there is to be any follow-up on what you have to tell us, it will be his responsibility.' He moved back around his desk and sat down. 'Now, you say you have information that appears to connect the suicide of a young man by the name of Barry Grant with the death of two people who were killed during the course of a robbery thirteen years ago. Is that right, Miss Hammond?'
'That's right, Superintendent.'
'And how, exactly, did this information come into your possession?'
Claire opened her handbag and drew out a folded brown envelope, but it remained in her hand while she asked a question of her own. 'Do you remember Jane Grant, Superintendent?'
'The boy's grandmother? Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, I was thinking about her after I spoke to you on the phone. Poor woman. She took her grandson's death very hard, as I recall.'
'Yes, she did,' Claire agreed, 'and she remembered you from that time, which is why I asked for you when I rang the other day. But she wasn't his grandmother; she was his great aunt. Barry was her sister's grandson. The Grant's adopted him when his mother died in rather tragic circumstances when he was six years old. But the reason I asked was because Jane Grant died last week, and it is because of her that I am here, and if you'll bear with me for a moment, I'll try to make my own position clear.
'You see, we moved into the house next door to the Grants when I was about five years old, and Barry and I more or less grew up together. As you will remember, the Grants had an orchard at the back of their house, and Barry and I used to play there. I became very fond of Aunt Jane – we're not related, but I've always called her that because that was what Barry called her – and despite the difference in our ages, Aunt Jane and I became very close friends over the years. In fact, she treated me more like a daughter than a friend. Even so, I was stunned when I learned last week that she had left everything to me: the house, the orchard, everything, including a letter to me, and these, the letters Barry tried to write before he died.' Claire slid the envelope across the desk towards Alcott.
The Superintendent opened a drawer, took out a pair of latex gloves and pulled them on before touching the envelope. 'You've read the letters, I take it?' he said as he picked up the envelope.
Alcott nodded absently. There was nothing remarkable about it: plain, brown and unmarked except for the handwritten inscription that simply said: Claire Hammond, and creases where it had been folded twice. Inside was a single sheet of A4 paper that smelt faintly of lavender, and a smaller envelope containing several sheets of paper torn from a notebook. Originally crumpled, they had been smoothed out and folded carefully. Alcott held the scented page by the corners, and began to read.
My Dear Claire,
I know it was wrong of me not to tell the police about the letters Barry tried to write to me, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it at the time. I found them all screwed up in the corner beside his bed when I went in to make it that morning, and found it hadn't been slept in. If only he'd talked to me instead of trying to write it down, he might still be with us. I knew something was wrong, but I thought he'd come round in his own good time, so I let him be, but he never did. Just went inside himself the way he used to do when he was little. Barry wasn't a bad boy, not really, you must know that, Claire. He just wanted everyone to like him, but he fell in with the wrong crowd and they took advantage. It wasn't all his fault, so I couldn't bear the thought of having people thinking the worst of him after he died. I believe him when he says he didn't know what was happening inside that shop. Oh, Claire, I'm sorry to burden you with this, but keeping these letters secret has been on my conscience these past few years, so I want you to take them to Superintendent Alcott. He was an inspector when he came to see me when Barry died, and he was very nice. I don't think he remembered me, but I knew him when he was just a small boy. His mother and I sang in the same choir for a number of years, and we were good friends until they moved away and we lost touch. Please tell him I'm sorry for what I did, and I hope it's not too late to find the people who committed that terrible crime and drove Barry to take his own life.
All my love, and God bless you, Claire,
It was signed, Aunt Jane.
Alcott passed a pair of gloves to Paget along with the letter before turning to the pages in the smaller envelope. They were undated and unsigned, but as he scanned through them, he was left with the impression that an attempt had been made to put them in some sort of order. He returned to what appeared to be the first one and began to read.
I know I've let you down, Auntie, and I'm sorry, but I have to tell someone because I don't know what to do. I was the one who drove the van when Bergman's was robbed, same as I did for the other robberies at the pub and that lawyer's house, but I swear on the Bible I didn't know anyone would get killed. I wasn't even in the shop when they did it.
I can't face David. Not after what happened. It was horrible. I feel sick inside all the time, and I know by the way you keep looking at me you know something is wrong. If I'd known what they were going to ...
The next few words had been scratched out, but Alcott felt confident that Forensic would be able to bring them up.
All I did was get the van for them and keep watch in the lane behind the shop while they went in. I never ...
More words were crossed out.
I didn't see David's dad come out of the bakery and go into the back of Bergman's shop until it was too late to warn them. I thought they'd just tie him up like they said they were going to do with Mrs Bergman, but they told me he struggled and pulled one of the masks off, so one of them hit him with the bar and killed him. They said Mrs Bergman started to scream, so they killed her too. But you have to believe me, Auntie, I knew nothing about it until it was all over.
Nobody was supposed to get hurt. It should have been easy like the others, because we knew ...
More words crossed out ...
It started out as a bit of fun, a sort of exercise to prove that it ...
The letter ended there with the last two lines crossed out and completely illegible – if indeed it was intended to be a letter and not something the boy was rehearsing to tell his aunt. The Superintendent passed the letter over to Paget, and turned to the next page. It repeated much of what had been said before, except this time it seemed to Alcott there was an undercurrent of hysteria as Barry Grant tried to explain to his aunt how he wanted nothing more to do with the others, but wanted to go to the police and try to explain what had happened.
Give me a name, for God's sake! Alcott scanned the page, searching for a name, a nickname, anything that might point to an individual, but there was nothing.
When they came out, they said it was all my fault that it went wrong, because I should have warned them and didn't, so I'd better keep my mouth shut or they would all swear I was inside with them and I was the one who panicked and hit David's dad, and I don't know what to do ...
The rest was a jumble of words crossed out, ending in three heavy lines across the bottom of the page, and the word SHIT! scored into the paper with such ferocity that the page was torn.
The third page was shorter and even less coherent. Whole sentences were crossed out, and Alcott sensed a rising desperation rather than mere frustration at being unable to find the right words. The boy was trapped and saw no way out.
'Who else knows about these letters?' he asked Claire.
'To my knowledge, no one. The envelope was sealed when it was given to me by Aunt Jane's solicitor. He told me she had given it to him a couple of years ago, with instructions to hold it until after her death, then give it to me when the will was read. Aunt Jane didn't tell him what was in it, and he said he didn't ask.'
Alcott opened the bottom drawer of his desk, took out several clear plastic bags, and gave them and the remaining letters to Paget, saying, 'I doubt if Forensic will be able to find anything of value after all this time, but you never know.'
He turned back to Claire. 'This David he refers to?' he said. 'That would be David Taylor, the son of George Taylor, the baker who was killed?' Alcott had had Records dig out the file, now archived, after his conversation with Claire Hammond on the phone.
Claire nodded. 'That's right, Superintendent,' she said. 'I wasn't in the country at the time, but I heard about it later, and I could never understand why they killed Mr Taylor and Mrs Bergman, but after reading those notes from Barry, it makes more sense.'
'It does,' Alcott agreed. 'It was a sensational case at the time, but I wasn't directly involved. The case was handled by Detective Inspector Rogers, who's retired now. But I was directly involved with Barry Grant's suicide, and there was never the slightest reason to connect the death of the Grant boy to the robberies. They were two completely separate events as far as we were concerned. You say you grew up with Barry, and you were a close friend of Mrs Grant, but I don't recall talking to you at the time. Did any of our people speak to you?'
'No. As I said, I was out of the country, attending a summer arts course in Spain when Barry died. I came back for his funeral, but returned to Madrid the following day. No one so much as mentioned the death of David's father at that time, in fact I didn't hear about it until I returned a month later. But even if they had, there would have been no reason to connect it with Barry's death.'
'Mrs Grant didn't mention it, knowing what she did?'
Claire shook her head. 'She was in shock. Uncle Arnold had died the year before, and she was only just beginning to come to grips with that when Barry killed himself. Now, having read the letters Barry tried to write to her, I realize she must have been absolutely devastated. I could see she was suffering, and I offered to cut my course and stay with her for a while, but she wouldn't hear of it.'
Alcott still looked puzzled. 'But surely some of Barry's friends and yours were at the funeral? Yet you say no one so much as mentioned the burglary?'
Claire shook her head. 'I think that was the saddest part of it all,' she said softly. 'Aunt Jane and I were the only ones there.'
'And she said nothing about why she thought Barry had killed himself?'
'No. Except she blamed herself.'
Alcott frowned. 'Why would she do that, when she knew the reason?'
'Aunt Jane felt she'd failed him. She felt it was her fault that he'd turned out the way he did, although God knows she had done everything she possibly could to give Barry a good home. But Barry was a strange boy. He ...' Claire shrugged and fell silent, seemingly unable to find the words to express her thoughts.
Paget looked up from the letters he held in his hand. 'You say he was a strange boy, Miss Hammond. Would you mind telling us in what way? Because if what Barry Grant is saying in these letters is true, and we reopen the investigation into the deaths of the two people who died during that robbery, the more we know about him and his friends, the better.'
Claire didn't respond immediately, but sat looking down at her hands, lips pursed, her brow furrowed. 'I find it hard to describe Barry,' she said at last. 'You see, I prefer to remember him as he was when we first came to live next door. He was a year older than me, and I suppose you could say he sort of adopted me.'
Claire smiled as she saw the questioning look on Paget's face. 'It isn't obvious now,' she explained, 'but I was born with a deformed leg, and I had to wear a metal leg brace for several years. It was an ugly thing and, as children will, they picked on me, called me names, and made fun of me. But Barry never did. He was only a year older than me, but he literally took me under his wing when I started school, and he would always walk with me. It was funny, because he was no bigger than I was when I first met him, although he soon filled out with Aunt Jane's cooking, but he was ready to take on the world if necessary.
'And that,' she ended wistfully, 'is the way I prefer to remember Barry, because he changed so much over the years that almost everyone he'd grown up with avoided him – including me, I'm afraid. So when you ask about his friends, all I can tell you is that he knew a lot of people, and I'm sure he regarded many of them as his friends, but I can't think of anyone who would claim Barry as their friend.'
'Changed in what way, Miss Hammond?'
'In trying too hard to be liked,' said Claire. 'He couldn't stop acting: acting the fool; putting on a show; doing almost anything to draw attention to himself. He simply had to be the centre of attention, and that put people off. He couldn't bear to be excluded from anything. He would attach himself to people, insist on being part of the group even when it was clear to everyone except Barry that he wasn't wanted. He was his own worst enemy in that regard, and I felt sorry for Aunt Jane and Uncle Arnold, because they did everything they could to make him feel loved and wanted in their home, but it still wasn't enough for Barry.'
'You told us earlier that his mother died in tragic circumstances,' Paget said. 'How did he come to live with the Grants? Was there no father? No other relatives?'
Claire became aware of Alcott moving restlessly in his seat as if impatient to be off somewhere. 'It's a long story, and not a very pleasant one,' she said quickly, 'but to give you an idea, I can tell you that Barry's mother, Aunt Jane's niece, was a prostitute who died of an overdose of drugs, and Barry, by all accounts, had a pretty miserable upbringing. There were no other relatives, at least not in England, so the Grants adopted him.'
'Which was very good of them, I'm sure,' Alcott said brusquely, 'but the lad must have had some friends, surely? I mean according to what he's written here, he claims to be part of a gang.'
Excerpted from A Killing Resurrected by Frank Smith. Copyright © 2010 Frank Smith. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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