His smile was puzzled. ‘OK, if you want.’

‘I’ve found out some stuff about your father. Let’s go somewhere we can talk properly.’ She watched his smile shift to a rueful grimace. The identity of Tony’s father had only come to light after his death, thanks to his decision to leave his estate to the son he’d never known. Carol knew very well that Tony was at best ambivalent about Edmund Arthur Blythe. He was as keen to talk about his recently discovered father as she was to discuss her putative dependence on alcohol.

‘Touche. Let me get you another drink.’ As he picked up the glasses, his path was blocked by a man who emerged from the press of bodies and stood four square before them.

Carol gave him her routine assessing stare. Years ago, she’d developed the habit of forming mental descriptions of people who crossed her path, assembling a picture in words as if it was destined for a ‘wanted’ poster or a police artist. This man was short for a police officer, burly without being fat. He was neatly barbered, the white line of a side parting dividing the light brown hair. His skin was the ruddy pink and white of a foxhunter from the shires, hazel eyes nested in fine lines that indicated late forties or early fifties. A small bulb of a nose, full lips, and a chin like a ping-pong ball; he had an air of authority that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an ancient Tory grandee.

She was also well aware that she was coming under the same acute scrutiny. ‘Detective Chief Inspector Jordan,’ he said. A rich baritone with a faint race memory of West Country speech. ‘I’m James Blake. Your new Chief Constable.’ He thrust a hand out for Carol to shake. It was warm, broad and dry as paper.

Just like his smile. ‘Pleased to meet you, sir,’ Carol said. Blake’s eyes never left her face, and she had to break away from his gaze to introduce Tony. ‘This is Dr Tony Hill. He works with us from time to time.’

Blake glanced at Tony and inclined his chin in passing acknowledgement. ‘I wanted to take this opportunity to break the ice. I’m very impressed with what I’ve heard of your work. I’m going to be making changes round here, and your bailiwick is one of my priorities. I’d like to see you tomorrow morning at ten thirty in my office.’

‘Of course,’ Carol said. ‘I look forward to it.’

‘Good. That’s settled, then. Till tomorrow, Chief Inspector.’ He turned and shouldered his way back through the crowd.

‘Extraordinary,’ Tony said. It might have meant any of a dozen things, all of which would have been equally valid. And not all of them insulting.

‘Did he really say “bailiwick”?’

‘Bailiwick,’ Tony said weakly.

‘That drink? I really need it now. Let’s get out of here. I’ve got a very nice bottle of Sancerre in the fridge.’

Tony stared after Blake. ‘You know that cliche about being afraid, very afraid? I think this might be a good time to wheel it out.’

The Family Liaison Officer, Shami Patel, explained that she’d recently transferred from the neighbouring West Midlands force, which explained why Patterson didn’t know her. He’d rather have had someone who was familiar with the way he worked. It was always tough to deal with the family of murder victims; their grief made them react in unpredictable and often hostile ways. This case would be doubly difficult. Partly because the sexual homicide of a teenager was an emotional horror in itself. But in this case, there was the added difficulty posed by the time frame.

They sheltered from the rain in Patterson’s car while he briefed her. ‘We’ve got more problems than usual with this case,’ he said.

‘Innocent victim,’ Patel said succinctly.

‘It goes beyond that.’ He ran his fingers through his silver curls. ‘Usually, there’s a gap between somebody like this going missing and us finding the body. We’ve got time to get background from the family, information about the missing person’s movements. People are desperate to help because they want to believe there’s a chance of finding the kid.’ He shook his head. ‘Not this time.’

‘I’m with you,’ Patel said. ‘They’ve not even got used to the idea of her being missing and we’re walking in to tell them she’s dead. They’re going to be devastated.’

Patterson nodded. ‘And please don’t think I’m not sympathetic to that. But for me, the difficulty is that they’re not going to be in a fit state to interview.’ He sighed. ‘The first twenty-four hours of a murder inquiry, that’s when we need to make progress.’

‘Have we got a note of what Mrs Maidment said when she reported Jennifer missing?’

It was a good question. Patterson extracted his BlackBerry from his inside pocket, found his reading glasses and pulled up the email Ambrose had forwarded from the duty officer who had taken Tania Maidment’s phone call. ‘She phoned it in rather than come down to the station,’ he said, reading from the small screen. ‘She didn’t want to leave the house empty in case Jennifer came back and found herself locked out. Jennifer had a key but her mother didn’t know whether she’d have it with her. Mother hadn’t seen her since she left for school in the morning . . .’ He scrolled down. ‘She was supposed to be going to a friend’s house for tea and homework, should have been back by eight, no problem because her and her pal often did that at one house or the other. Mum cut her a bit of slack, rang the friend’s house at quarter past. The friend hadn’t seen her since the end of school, no arrangement for tea or homework. Jennifer hadn’t said anything about any plans other than going to the Co-op then heading home. And that’s when Mrs Maidment calls us.’

‘I so hope we took her seriously,’ Patel said.

‘Thankfully, we did. DC Billings took a description and circulated it to all units. That’s how we identified the body so quickly. Let’s see . . . Age fourteen, 165 centimetres, slim build, shoulder-length brown hair, blue eyes, pierced ears with plain gold sleepers. Wearing Worcester Girls’ High uniform - white blouse, bottle green cardigan, skirt and blazer. Black tights and boots. She had a black mac over her uniform.’ To himself, he added, ‘That’s not at the crime scene.’

‘Is she an only child?’ Patel asked.

‘No idea. No idea where Mr Maidment is either. Like I said, it’s a bitch, this one.’ He sent a quick text to Ambrose, instructing him to interview the friend Jennifer had claimed to be with, then closed down the BlackBerry and rolled his shoulders inside his coat. ‘We ready?’

They braved the rain and walked up the path of the Maidments’ family home, a three-storey Edwardian brick semi fronted by a well-tended garden. The lights were on inside, the curtains pulled wide open. The two cops could

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