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DS Ruth Bayliss arrived within ten minutes. Calladine was waiting for her by the entrance, holding two polystyrene cups of coffee. As she walked across the tarmac towards him he noticed something different about her. It had been niggling him for a while, and he couldn’t work out what it was. She’d grown her hair a little longer, had things done to the colour, but that wasn’t it. There was something else. For now, he’d just put it down to the ‘Jake Ireson’

effect and keep an eye on her.

“What’s this all about, sir? Haven’t we got enough on with the Rigby case?”

“This is a murder, Ruth, and a particularly brutal one at that. If my instincts are right, there may be others.” He handed her one of the cups, looking grim. “It has all the hallmarks of a really evil bastard—holding her captive, torture and sexual assault—way over the top. And her mouth has been mutilated—some of her teeth were removed and her lips were stitched together with string.

String! Can you believe that? She wouldn’t have been able to talk, eat or even drink, the way she was left. So you tell me—what do we do? Shelve it until Cassie Rigby turns up, or crack on?”

His lurid description made Ruth shiver. “Where was she found?”

“Her body was in one of the cars. The driver has just come out of surgery.”

“Perhaps this isn’t so complicated after all then, sir. And you’re absolutely sure that she can’t have got the injuries in the crash?”

“Please—after what I’ve just told you, what do you think? And anyway, to finish her off, she was garrotted.”

His tone was sombre. Calladine didn’t like this one. It was giving him that feeling again, one he hadn’t had since the Handy Man

case.

“So you think this guy planned to dump the body somewhere and got caught in the pile-up instead?”

“I don’t think anything. For a start, no attempt had been made to hide her, and she was stark naked. You’d imagine the boot would be a better place to hide a naked body, wouldn’t you?”

Ruth Bayliss didn’t know what to think. “This gives us a huge caseload, and we’re short on the team. The missing child and now this; it’s going to really stretch us.”

Calladine scratched his head. It couldn’t be helped. Things were what they were.

“With regard to Cassie Rigby, sir, shouldn’t we alert Central?

Perhaps we should be treating it as a Category A incident from the off. Child abduction is big time and we’re delaying things.”

“No, we’re not. We’ll get the preliminaries done first. You met those people; something’s not right in that house. We need to get to the bottom of it, because it’s more than likely pivotal to the child’s disappearance. Look, I’m sorry things have got so hectic suddenly, but you know how it is. If you’d anything planned, then apologies. You’ll just have to make Jake see how things are,”

Calladine said.

“He’d promised to take me to that new Italian place in Hopecross. So—yes, I was hoping for an early dart, but he’ll understand. He’ll have to.”

Calladine knew how hard it was—combining a private life with the job. He also knew that Ruth had been seeing her teacher since they met during a previous investigation. Things were at what she liked to call ‘the interesting stage.’ From this point on, their relationship would settle into something more permanent, or else it would fold. But one way or another, a relationship demanded compromises if it was to succeed. Calladine was a good example of what happened if you didn’t.

They went to find the injured man.

“You like him, then?”

“Yes, I suppose I do, but it’s not easy. I’ve lived alone for so long it causes problems. Then there’s the job. It’s a minefield, it really is.”

Wasn’t that the truth?

* * *

“He’s still groggy,” the nurse told them, as the two detectives arrived on the ward.

“What’s the damage?” Calladine spoke to a young doctor hovering over the semi-conscious man.

“Broken femur—we’ve fixed it with a nail and some screws, plus superficial burns and smoke inhalation. He’ll be hoarse, don’t expect too much. He’s had a heavy dose of morphine so he might not know what you’re even talking about.”

Alexander Stone was a rep for a clothing company based in Liverpool.

“Mr Stone …” Calladine shook his arm gently. “Do you remember anything about this morning?”

The man looked to be in a bad way. His face was crimson from the fire and his leg was bandaged. He was muttering. Nothing coherent, Calladine thought, as he put his ear closer to the man’s mouth. Just rubbish. That’d be the drugs.

But Alexander Stone was conscious, barely, and turned his head to look at who was bothering him.

“Bloody mess.” He coughed and spluttered. “Bastard terrified me

…” The coughing took over again.

“Do you remember the woman?”

He screwed up his face and shook his head. “What woman? I travel alone. There was no woman—not with me anyway.”

His eyes closed and he visibly relaxed onto the pillow as the drugs finally won the battle. The nurse stuck the oxygen mask on his face and shrugged.

‘You won’t get anything else I’m afraid. I suggest you come back in a few hours, or even better, tomorrow.’

So that was that. The two detectives left the ward and strode down the corridor to the lift.

“I’ll have a word with Julian before we leave,” Calladine decided.

“He has Stone’s briefcase. I want to know where he’s been these last few days and what he was doing on the bypass this morning. I don’t think he’s anything to do with this, because it doesn’t add up.

It’s the way the woman’s body was just lying there on the back seat for anyone to see, and in that state too. It’s bugging me. I’ll meet you back in the car park.”

“The body was in Stone’s car so he must have put her there.

He’s our man—straightforward enough, so why make things more difficult? Don’t we have enough to think about?”

Calladine watched her walk off shaking her head. He knew what she thought—he was at it again, joining up dots that weren’t there.

* * *

“Julian, did Stone have a diary, electronic or otherwise, in that case of his?” Calladine poked his head around the lab door. “Also—something occurs to me. The car with the body in it, can you determine if it caught fire on its own, or if there was an accelerant used?”

Julian Batho raised his head from a mass of paperwork, and gave the inspector one of his enigmatic little smiles.

“Got a theory, DI Calladine? Looking for more than meets the eye—again?”

“Usually right though, aren’t I? So less of the sarcasm please, Julian. Just let me know what you find, as soon as. Oh—and let me have a diagram that shows the position of the other vehicles, relative to the car you found her in.”

Julian Batho reached across his desk and handed Calladine a tablet computer. “It’s all on there—his diary, appointments, everything. There’s no password. Get Imogen to look at it for you.”

Calladine nodded his thanks. He met Ruth outside the room.

“What’s going on in your head, sir? Imogen’s been on the phone: DCI Jones has been looking for you, and Long’s team are up to their eyes with something big of their own. Things seem cut and dried to me. So we need to sort the missing kid thing urgently—don’t you think?”

“I’m not looking to make work for us, Ruth. We’ve got a murder on our hands. Whichever way you look at it and, regardless of what you think, I’ll lay odds that Stone isn’t our man.”

Chapter 4

Day Two

Calladine was busy removing the remains of an old case from the incident board. “Right folks—gather round. Let’s get this up and running. We’re dealing with two unconnected cases; a missing child and a suspicious death. Although I haven’t yet got the post-mortem report I can safely say that this young woman was brutally murdered.” He pinned a photo to the board. “There are one or two things that want doing urgently, so as to rule suspects in or out. We should be able to rule out Alexander Stone very soon. He was driving the car she was found in, but I don’t think he had anything to do with it.” The team exchanged looks and began to whisper.

     

 

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