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‘If it’s not a hoax,’ said Frost, ‘I’ll invite you and Mr Beazley to the post-mortems.’ He took a sip of coffee and shuddered. It tasted foul. Probably Supersaves own economy brand. He pushed the cup away and read the letter again.

‘… GET TO THEM BEFORE YOUR CUSTOMERS DO OR YOU’LL HAVE DEATHS ON YOUR HANDS.’ ‘My feeling is that this isn’t a hoax. But if you’re prepared to take a chance…’

‘I’ve got the staff out now, checking the aisles,’ said Martin, ‘and the check-out girls are keeping their eyes open just in case a customer has put one in their trolley.’

‘You should close the store down until you find the lot,’ Frost told him.

Martin looked horrified. ‘Mr Beazley would never allow that. We’re trying to contact him, but he hasn’t reached his office yet. If we shut down without his consent, he’ll be furious.’

‘It won’t make him happy if customers come in with dead babies as proof of purchase, asking for their money back,’ said Frost. ‘Kick everyone out and shut the flaming place down.’

‘But if it turns out to be a hoax…’

‘Flaming heck,’ said Frost. ‘Is that your theme tune?’ He moved to the window and looked down at the store, its aisles thronged with customers, mingled with hordes of red-overalled Supersaves employees searching the shelves.

There was a tap at the door and a thin, be spectacled man sporting a lapel badge reading ASSISTANT MANAGER came in, followed by a young, red-overalled assistant clutching two bottles to her chest. ‘We’ve found these so far, Mr Martin. One wine, one mouthwash.’ He took the items from the girl and handed them to the manager.

Frost groaned. ‘Why don’t you pass them round the store so everyone can have a turn mauling them about? I’d hate the blackmailer’s fingerprints to be nice and clear so we can find out who he is.’

‘Sorry’ flushed the assistant manager. ‘I didn’t think.’

Slipping a polythene bag over his hand to avoid adding any more fingerprints, Frost carefully took the items from Martin and placed them on the desk. ‘Where were they?’

‘We found the wine in the Grocery Warehouse, on a shelf by the door. The mouth wash was in the Household aisle.’

Frost unscrewed the cap of the mouthwash and sniffed. The smell was unmistakable. ‘Bleach,’ he said. ‘Well, one thing’s for sure – we can stop deluding ourselves it’s a hoax. This bastard means business.’ He turned to the assistant manager. ‘What about the baby milk powder?’

‘We’re still looking.’

‘Find it,’ ordered Frost, ‘and quick.’ He turned to Martin. ‘Shut the bleeding place down.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Martin. He turned to the assistant manager. ‘Close the store. Say there’s an electrical fault or something – we can tell Mr Beazley it was on police orders.’

Frost waited until the assistant manager and the girl had left. ‘They found the wine in the warehouse area. Who’s allowed in there?’

‘The warehouse staff and staff from the shop floor who help to unload and stack.’

‘Members of the public?’

‘Oh no. Staff only.’

‘Then it’s odds on it being an inside job. Can you think of any member of staff who would have a grudge against Supersaves?’

‘Every bleeding one of them,’ said Martin bitterly. ‘Me included. Mr Beazley is not the nicest person to work for.’

‘I’ve met him,’ sympathised Frost. ‘I wouldn’t work here for a thousand quid a day. Let me have a list of all employees – include those who have been sacked or left within the last month or so. We’ll run them through the computer.’ He read the letter through again. ‘It’s not dated. It came today, did it?’

‘I think so,’ said Martin.

Frost stared at him. ‘You think so? Don’t you flaming well know?’

‘It could have come on Saturday. We have limited clerical staff on duty at weekends. Head Office correspondence gets priority; other stuff is left unopened until Monday.’

‘Bloody brilliant,’ muttered Frost. ‘He says instructions to stop his actions will follow. I take it you would have told me if you had received a blackmail demand.’

‘We haven’t received it, and of course I’ll let you know when we do.’ Martin looked through the office window down to a store now devoid of customers. ‘I wish they’d hurry up and find that missing jar. Mr Beazley will be furious. He’s not renowned for his tolerance.’

Frost’s stomach rumbled to remind him he hadn’t eaten yet. ‘Do you serve breakfasts here?’ Before Martin could answer there was a tap at the door. His eyes brightened as the assistant manager came in.

‘You’ve found it?’

The man shook his head. ‘We’ve exhausted all possibilities, but we’re going over everything again.’

‘It could have been sold to a customer,’ said Frost. ‘We’ll have to get the media on to it to warn the public.’ He reached for the phone.

‘Hold it!’ said the assistant manager. ‘It might not be necessary.’ He pulled a computer printout from his overall pocket. ‘That baby powder is a brand-new line. We didn’t put it on the shelves until all stock of the old line had gone. It went on display late on Sunday, just before closing time. A box of twenty-four. I’ve checked and there are twenty-three left – only one has been sold, and that must be the adulterated one.’

‘So how does that help us?’ asked Frost.

Martin took over. He could see what the assistant manager was getting at. ‘We can check the printed receipts. When it goes through the check-out, the product is registered. If the customer paid by credit card we can easily get their name and address from the credit-card company.’

‘That could take flaming ages,’ said Frost. ‘“If you have lost your credit card, press 8; if you want to trace a customer with contaminated baby milk, press 9.” Get on to it right away.’

‘We’re checking late-night-Sunday till receipts now,’ the assistant manager told him. ‘If our luck’s in we’ll get to the customer before the tin is opened.’

‘And if your luck’s out, they could have paid with cash. Make it quick. If you haven’t turned anything up in a quarter of an hour, I’m going to local radio and the rest of the media.’ His stomach rumbled again. ‘Do you do breakfasts at the restaurant here?’ he asked the manager again.

‘We do an excellent full English – it’s on special this week.’

‘How do I pay for it?’ asked Frost.

‘Oh – we take credit cards.’

Shit, thought Frost, who was hoping the stingy sod would let him have it on the house. ‘Right, I’ll nip over and get something to eat. Tell your assistant where I am.’

As he crossed the shop floor he could see the staff were doing a thorough job with the search. Everything was being taken off the shelves, examined and put back again.

In the restaurant, he was just dipping his fried bread in his egg when Taffy Morgan burst in and came running towards him.

‘Ah – there you are, Guv.’

‘Yes,’ said Frost. ‘I know where I am.’ He took a swig of tea.

‘I tried to get you on your mobile, Guv.’

‘I keep it switched off,’ said Frost, ‘in case some Welsh git tries, to ring me. Sit down and watch me eat.’ He forked a piece of bacon and surveyed it gloomily. ‘This pig was solid fat.’ Morgan dragged out a chair and sat opposite him. ‘That rape case, Guv, I’ve run through the CCTV tapes from the multi-storey car park. Got a shot of a car roaring off at about the time the girl said. A Ford Focus. It’s got to be our rapist.’

Frost pushed his unfinished breakfast away and lit up a cigarette. ‘Well done, Taff. About time our flaming luck changed. You got the registration and checked it out?’

Morgan nodded. ‘Graham Fielding, 29 Castle Road, Denton.’

‘Any previous? Has his dick got him into trouble before?’

‘No, Guv. Shall I pick him up?’

Frost dribbled smoke from his nose as he chewed this over, then shook his head. ‘No. Don’t let’s jump the gun. We’ve got nothing on him other than the fact that his car was in the vicinity at the time of the rape. Call on him, Taff, use your Welsh charm, and if that doesn’t put him off, ask if he will give us a DNA sample – Forensic will tell you what to get. Take a paper bag in case they want poo. If it matches, we’ve got the bastard; if not, we can forget him.’