Collier drove him home.
He was still dead tired, fed up and miserable. Why had he had that flaming whisky? And he felt battered and bruised. Whether or not it was his fault that Skinner had died, guilt was chewing away at him. He still felt that part of him had wanted the sod to die and that he deliberately hadn’t let the WPC go in to take his place as hostage.
Sod it. He didn’t want to go to the station and face everyone, but with Skinner dead and no one to take over his cases, he’d have to bloody well go in.
After a quick wash and a half-hearted shave, he headed out of the front door. But his car wasn’t waiting for him in the street outside. Had some bastard nicked it? Then he remembered leaving it at the station when Collier drove him home.
He called a minicab.
‘Denton police station,’ he grunted.
‘What have the bastards nicked you for then?’ asked the chatty driver. ‘Speeding? The bastards copped me the other night. Driving in a bus lane… ten minutes to midnight, no bleeding buses until the morning and they nicked me. Passenger was in a hurry, so I took a chance and they nicked me. Police cars do it all the bleeding time. One law for them bastards, another for us.’
‘There’s no justice,’ muttered Frost.
‘See one of the sods got shot last night,’ continued the cabby. ‘Hope it was the bastard who nicked me.’
‘Shouldn’t these back seats be fitted with safety belts?’ asked Frost, fishing out his warrant card.
‘Honey, I’m home,’ he called to Bill Wells, carefully stepping over the heaps of flowers and wreaths that covered the lobby floor. ‘Mullett’s mum and dad getting married?’
Bill Wells grinned. ‘Morning, Jack. Seen the paper? Headline news.’
He held out a copy of the Denton Echo – the headline read:
POLICE HERO KILLED SAVING CHILD.
‘Nothing about Skinner, then,’ sniffed Frost, pushing it away. He’d seen it all happen. He didn’t want to read about it.
Wells looked at his scratch pad. ‘Everyone wants you, Jack. Mullett wants to see you the minute you arrive, Sandy Lane wants you to phone him and that nice Mr Beazley has phoned about eight times.’
Frost held up a hand to cut him short. ‘They can all wait. I’m going to get myself some breakfast.’
The phone rang. Wells answered it and held it out. ‘It’s for you, Jack. Meyers from the Crown Prosecution Service.’
Frost took the phone. ‘Yes?’
‘Graham Fielding was granted bail.’
Frost’s jaw dropped. ‘What!… A bleeding murderer? He raped and killed a girl.’
‘A long time ago, Inspector, and the defence are querying the DNA evidence. He’s married, with a business to run. The bench didn’t think he posed a risk. There was no one from the police to oppose bail
… I thought Detective Chief Inspector Skinner – ’
‘Skinner’s dead,’ said Frost flatly.
‘Oh…’ said Meyers, not really taking this in. ‘Sorry to hear that – then you, as second in charge…’
‘I’ve been up most of the night. I’ve only just come in.’
‘Well, it might have made a difference, but no use crying over spilt milk. He had to surrender his passport, his father-in-law met the?10,000 bail demanded and he’s now a free man. The trial has been set for next March.’
‘Thanks very much,’ snapped Frost, banging down the receiver. ‘They’ve only let Fielding out on bleeding bail,’ he told Wells.
Before Wells could answer, a voice roared down the corridor. ‘Inspector Frost… my office, now!’
‘Flaming hell,’ muttered Frost. ‘Mullett! I thought he couldn’t come out in the sunlight.’ He called back sweetly, ‘Coming, Super,’ then turned to Wells. ‘Probably wants me to put a stake through Skinner’s heart in case he comes back from the dead.’
Mullett was wearing his best uniform, a black tie and a black armband. If the press or television wanted to interview him, he was ready. He frowned as Frost shambled in and flicked a finger at a chair. ‘The Chief Constable is very upset,’ he snapped.
‘Few of us are laughing,’ said Frost, flopping into the chair. ‘What did you want to see me about?’
‘What happened at court today?’
‘Fielding got bail.’
‘I know he got bail, Frost. I want to know why. Why weren’t you there to oppose it?’
‘Me? It was Skinner’s case.’
‘You knew he was dead. Who else could go in his place apart from you?’
‘Things were a bit bloody abnormal last night,’ retorted Frost. ‘We did have other things to worry about.’
Mullett fluttered a dismissive hand. ‘Excuses, excuses, always excuses. The case files are on DCI Skinner’s desk. I want you to take them over for the time being until we get a replacement. This, as I am sure you will appreciate, makes no difference to your joining Lexton division, although that will depend on the result of the inquiry into Skinner’s death. I can’t back you up there, as you know, so your future in the force is in doubt. And in that respect, County want a full report from you on what happened last night. Detailed, Frost – not a couple of lines of your usual scribble.’
‘Right,’ said Frost, rising from the chair. ‘Was that all?’
Mullett patted some papers into a neat pile on his desk. ‘There is one other thing… the funeral. There will be a police presence, of course. You – er – have got another suit? That one is hardly appropriate.’
‘I’ll rake out my old Teddy Boy suit,’ said Frost. ‘It should still fit.’
Frost mooched into Skinner’s office and shivered. The room felt cold. Why did a dead person’s office have a different feel to a living person’s office? He crossed to the filing cabinet where Skinner kept his fiddled car expenses and gave the top drawer a tentative tug, but it was locked. None of the keys on his ring worked, neither did his nail file or an opened-out paper clip. Skinner had had an expensive new lock fitted. Shit!
He sank into Skinner’s chair and tried the deep filing drawer. It slid open to reveal a couple of bottles of Johnny Walker. Serendipity! Well, Skinner wouldn’t want them anymore. He took them out and scurried back to his own office, hid them in his desk drawer, then returned to Skinner’s room.
A small stack of case files awaited his attention. He pulled them towards him. The one on the top was for the Fielding rape and murder case, which Skinner had had ready for his court appearance. Frost opened it and idly flicked through the contents, pausing as he reached all the old papers from that distant Christmas when the girl’s body was discovered in that frozen churchyard. He shivered again, the cold of the room transporting him back to that frosty Christmas morning with hard-packed snow scrunching underfoot. And it put him in mind of his return home and his young wife, in that red dress… He shook his head to shake away the memories.
He closed the file and pushed it to one side. Then he paused. Something inside his head was telling him that he had spotted something in the file, something significant. There was something he had skimmed over, which had subconsciously registered in his brain. So what the hell was it?
He opened up the file again. Among the top papers were the computer printouts of Fielding’s petty criminal record – all minor traffic offences. Nothing there – or was there? Speeding.. . dangerous driving… Manchester. Manchester! He stared, snatched up the file and scurried into the Incident Room, waving the folder at Collier and Morgan, who were seated by the computer.
‘Come and have a look at this.’
They crowded round him as he opened up the file. ‘This is the list of Fielding’s past offences, right?’
‘Pretty trivial stuff though, Guv,’ said Morgan. ‘Motoring offences.’
Frost jabbed a finger. ‘This one. Dangerous driving, Manchester, 22 September.’ He looked at them expectantly. They looked back, puzzled.
‘Are we missing something?’ asked Collier.
‘The date,’ said Frost. ‘The bloody date!’