Frost surveyed his team in the Incident Room. Most of them looked as tired as he felt. ‘Right, let’s stop sodding about. I’m definitely being booted out in a couple of weeks and I want to tie up at least one of our outstanding cases before that happy day.’
He passed his cigarettes around and perched himself on the corner of a desk. ‘Debbie Clark and Thomas Harris. We’ve missed something. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve bloody missed something. So let’s go over it, step by step. If anyone has any bright ideas that I can pinch as my own, don’t be coy – shout them out.’ He flipped open the file. ‘Right. Girl beaten, raped and strangled on video. Woman phones wanting us to tell the press about the video. The theory so far, a snuff movie. They haven’t got an up-to-date photo of Debbie so they don’t get any money unless we confirm it is her. The boy went with her, was caught and killed to keep his mouth shut. The girl took a bikini and we reckon was expecting a photo session – she always wanted to be a model. Whoever killed her must have known this. There’s at least two people involved – a man and a woman. The girl calls out a name – Millie, Molly or something similar. The mother is positive the girl took her mobile with her. Bridget Malone reckons she pinched the mobile from the kid’s locker the day after the girl disappeared – kids should lock their lockers, but too often they don’t bother, so she just helped herself.’
‘Guv – ’ Taffy Morgan was waving a hand.
Frost looked up wearily. ‘You should have done one before you came in.’
‘Not a wee, Guv. If you remember, I searched Debbie’s locker the morning after she went missing.’
‘And the phone wasn’t there?’
‘That’s right, Guv… just an envelope with a fiver inside, for a school outing.’
Frost frowned. ‘Hold on, Taff. A fiver? How come Bridget didn’t pinch that? She took the mobile. She would have taken the readies too, surely.’
‘That’s the point I’m trying to make, Guv. Debbie’s locker was locked. I had to get the key from the headmistress to open it.’
Frost leant back in amazement. ‘Locked! You never mentioned this in your report.’
Morgan looked shamefaced. ‘I didn’t think it was important, Guv.’
‘Every bleeding thing is important in a murder case, you prat. But locked? That tart Malone said she only went to the ones she could open and she wouldn’t have bloody well locked it up again.’
‘Exactly, Guv. What I’m saying is, if it was locked and there was no phone when I unlocked it, then Bridget Malone never got the phone from there.’
‘Then she’s lying,’ said Frost. ‘The cow’s lying. Bring her in.’
‘This is harassment,’ she screamed. ‘Sheer harassment.’
‘Shut up, Bridget,’ sighed Frost. ‘You’re giving me a headache.’ He slid Debbie’s mobile in its polythene bag across the table. ‘I want the truth about this phone.’
She glared at him. ‘So I nicked a flaming phone. What am I going to get – life?’
‘You don’t know how right you are,’ said Frost. ‘Only the charge won’t be nicking, it will be conspiracy to murder.’
‘Murder? You must be hard up for suspects. I told you, I pinched it from her locker.’
‘There was a fiver in an envelope. Why didn’t you take that as well?’
‘So I’m guilty of not taking a fiver now? This is all rubbish.’
‘No. Your story is rubbish, Bridget. There is no way you could have got into her locker. Debbie’s locker was locked. The only way you could have got hold of that phone was by taking it from Debbie the night she was murdered.’
‘Then it must have been in someone else’s locker. I don’t bother with locked ones, and I certainly wouldn’t have missed a fiver. Can I go now?’ She stood up.
Frost flapped a hand. ‘Sit down, Bridget.’ He squeezed his chin in thought. Somebody else’s locker. Bloody hell. He should have thought of that. Bridget was a tea-leaf, but in no way a killer. He raised his head and looked thoughtfully at the woman. ‘Prove your story to me, Bridget. Think hard. Which locker did you get the phone from?’
She shook her head. ‘As sure as there’s a God in heaven, I don’t know. I just went round quickly in case anyone caught me. I tried locker doors. If they opened I saw what was worth pinching and I took it. It came from one of the lockers, that’s all I can tell you.’
Frost nodded wearily in despair. ‘All right, Bridget. I believe you. But if you can remember…’
She shrugged. ‘If I remember, I’ll tell you, but I don’t think I will. There were lots of lockers and it was all done in a rush.’
‘I’m clutching at flaming straws!’ moaned Frost. ‘Her and Kelly are not the type to do this sort of thing. I know that, so why did I suddenly decide they were guilty?’ He rammed a cigarette in his mouth. ‘Snuff movies. Bloody snuff movies, and the kick of seeing yourself doing these things to a kid.’
‘It’s lucky that bloke spotted the bodies,’ said Morgan. ‘They were so well concealed, they could have remained there like the other one.’
Frost stopped dead in his tracks, the match for his cigarette still in his hand. ‘I’m a prat, Taffy, a flaming prat. That’s what’s been nagging away at me all the time and I’ve not been listening. Get your car. We’re going round to where the bodies were.’
They were in the field with its burnt stubble where the corn had been harvested. Frost had made Morgan bump his car into the heart of the field. ‘Stop here, Taff. This is about it.’
Morgan stopped the car and switched off the engine. ‘Why here, Guv?’
‘Because my little Welsh wonder, this is where the tractor driver was when he spotted the bodies.’ Taffy followed as Frost headed out into the field.
Frost pointed. ‘They were behind that bush up there.’ The blue marquee had been removed.
‘I know, Guv,’ said Morgan. ‘I was here, remember?’
‘Don’t get snarky with me, you Welsh git. Debbie was wedged behind that bush, Taff. Now there’s no way you could have seen her body from here.’
‘The driver wasn’t on the ground, Guv. He was higher up, in the cab of his tractor.’
‘Right. Get on the roof of your car… come on.’
Morgan looked doubtful, then clambered on to the bonnet. His foot slipped and his shoes scraped across the paintwork. ‘I’ve scratched the car, Guv,’ he said plaintively.
‘I thought you might,’ said Frost. ‘That’s why I said we should come in your car.’ He rubbed his thumb along the scratch mark. ‘Nothing much to worry about – a complete respray ought to hide most of it. Now come on, hurry up.’
The DC heaved himself up on to the car roof, then stood gingerly, bracing himself against the wind. ‘Even up here I can’t see anything behind those bushes, Guv.’
Frost rubbed his hands with glee. ‘We’ve got the sod, Taff, we’ve got him. He couldn’t see Debbie’s body, but he knew it was there, because he planted it there.’
‘He could have stood up in his cab, Guv,’ offered Morgan. ‘He might have been able to see it then.’
‘Why the bleeding hell should he stand up in his cab? He was cutting bleeding corn, not looking for bodies hidden behind a bush. Right, let’s get back to Denton nick.’
‘Thomas Henry Allen,’ reported Collier, reading from the computer monitor. ‘Couple of speeding offences, nothing else. We’ve got him down at an address in Bristol.’
‘Bristol?’ queried Frost.
‘Yes, Inspector. He’s living in temporary rented accommodation in Denton, which is why he never showed up before. He’s working part-time for the farmer, who lets him live in a tied farm cottage.’
Frost nodded. ‘Right. What else?’
‘You’re going to love this, Inspector. He used to work for that modelling agency.’
Frost punched the air in delight. ‘We’ve got him. We’ve got the sod.’
‘A possible suspect, but not enough evidence yet, Jack,’ said Hanlon.
‘Proof,’ snorted Frost. ‘All you bleeding well think of is proof. In – ’
‘In the good old days…’ cued Hanlon with a grin.
‘Exactly. We didn’t need proof in the good old days. If we didn’t have proof we faked it.’ He leant back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. ‘Right. I don’t give a monkey’s what it costs, I want 24/7 surveillance on the sod. There’s a woman involved. They must meet up some time. And I want it doing properly. We mustn’t let him know he’s under suspicion, so leave your bloody helmets at home and let the only thing dangling be your dicks, not your handcuffs – don’t have your police radio blazing away.’ He nodded to Hanlon. ‘Sort out a rota, Arthur.’