‘Was she sexually assaulted?’

Patterson couldn’t restrain a shiver. ‘He took a knife to her. We didn’t see it at first. Her skirt covered it up. Then the doc took a look.’ He closed his eyes, giving in to the urge for a swift, silent prayer. ‘Bastard butchered her. I don’t know that I’d call it sexual assault, as such. Sexual obliteration, more like.’ He turned away and moved towards the exit. He chose his words carefully, weighing Jennifer Maidment’s body against others whose deaths he had investigated. ‘Worst I’ve ever seen.’

Outside the tent, the weather was atrocious. What had started that afternoon as a flurry of stinging rain driven by blusters of wind had whipped itself up into a full-scale storm. On nights like this, the citizens of Worcester had learned to fear the rising swell of the Severn. Flooding was what they expected, not murder.

The body had been found on the verge of a pull-in that had been created when the main road had been straightened a few years before. The old, tight bend had assumed a new role as a stopping-off point for truckers and van drivers, attracted by the greasy-spoon van that supplied snacks during daylight hours. At night, it served as an unofficial lorry park, usually hosting four or five rigs whose drivers didn’t mind roughing it to save a few quid. The Dutch trucker who had climbed out of his cab for a piss that evening had got a lot more than he’d bargained for.

The pull-in was hidden from passing vehicles by a thick copse of mature trees and heavy undergrowth. The gale howled through the trees, soaking Ambrose and Patterson as they jogged back to the Volvo. Once inside, Patterson ticked items off on his fingers as he spoke. ‘Get on to Traffic. They’ve got a couple of number-plate recognition cameras on this road, but I’m not sure where. We need a full run-down on every vehicle that’s been down this stretch of road tonight. Get on to Family Liaison. I need one of their officers to meet me at the family home. Get on to the school head. I want to know who her friends are, who her teachers are, and I want interviews set up with them first thing in the morning. Get whoever took the initial report to email me the details. Get on to the press office and brief them. We’ll sit down with the hacks tomorrow morning, ten o’clock. OK? Anything I’ve forgotten?

Ambrose shook his head. ‘I’ll get on to it. I’ll get one of the traffic boys to run me back. You going to the house yourself?’

Patterson sighed. ‘I don’t relish it. But their daughter’s dead. They deserve an SIO. I’ll see you back at the ranch.’

Ambrose climbed out and headed towards the police vehicles ranged across the entrance and exit to the pull- in. His boss watched him go. Nothing seemed to daunt Ambrose. He took the weight on his stolid shoulders and ploughed on through whatever their investigations threw at him. Whatever the price of that apparent imperviousness, Patterson would happily have paid it that night.


Carol could tell John Brandon was winding up. His sad blood-hound face was more animated than she’d ever seen it in working hours, and his beloved Maggie was at his side, wearing the indulgent smile Carol had often seen at the family’s dinner table when Brandon had been shaking a subject like a terrier with a rabbit. She swapped her empty glass for a full one from a passing waitress and started to head back to the alcove where she’d left Tony. His expression would have been better suited to a funeral, but she couldn’t claim to have had higher expectations. She was aware he thought events like this were an empty waste of time and for him she supposed they might be. She knew that where she was concerned it was a different matter.

’ It wasn’t catching criminals that made the world go round in modern policing. It was politics, just as it was in any big organisation. Once upon a time, a night like this would have been an excuse for a no-holds-barred piss-up, complete with strippers. These days, it was about contacts, connections, conversations that couldn’t happen in the nick. She didn’t like it any more than Tony, but she had a certain gift for it. If this was what it took to make sure she kept her place in the unofficial hierarchy, she’d grin and bear it.

A hand on her arm made her stop and turn. Detective Constable Paula McIntyre from her team inclined her head towards Carol’s ear. ‘He’s just arrived,’ she said.

Carol didn’t have to ask who ‘he’ was. John Brandon’s replacement was known by name and reputation, but because he came from the other end of the country, nobody in Bradfield had much first-hand information about him. There weren’t many officers who transferred from Devon & Cornwall to Bradfield. Why would you want to swap a relatively quiet life in a pretty tourist area for the constant attrition that was policing in a post-industrial northern city with eye-watering rates of violent crime involving guns and knives? Unless of course you were an ambitious copper who thought it would be a good career move to run the country’s fourth-largest police force. Carol imagined the word ‘challenge’ had featured more than once in James Blake’s interview for Chief Constable. Her eyes scanned the room. ‘Where?’

Paula looked over her shoulder. ‘He was giving out to the ACC Crime a minute ago, but he’s moved on. Sorry, chief.’

‘Never mind. Thanks for the tip-off.’ Carol raised her glass in a salute and carried on towards Tony. By the time she’d worked her way through the crowd, her glass was empty again. ‘I need another drink,’ she said, leaning against the wall beside him.

‘That’s your fourth glass,’ he pointed out, not unkindly.

‘Who’s counting?’

‘I am, obviously.’

‘You’re my friend, not my shrink.’ Carol’s voice was icy.

‘That’s why I’m suggesting you might be drinking too much. If I was your shrink, I wouldn’t be nearly so judgemental. I’d be leaving it up to you.’

‘Look, I’m fine, Tony. There was a time after . . . I admit there was a time when I was drinking too much. But I’m back in control again. OK?’

Tony held up his hands, palm out, placatory. ‘Your choice.’

Carol sighed deeply and put her empty glass on the table next to his. He was maddening when he was this reasonable. It wasn’t as if she was the only one who disliked having the fucked-up aspects of her life dragged out into the light of day. See how he likes it. She smiled sweetly. ‘Shall we go outside for a breath of fresh air, then?’

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