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‘Mullett will have to authorise it,’ said Hanlon.

Frost snorted. ‘Consider it authorised, Arthur. The four-eyed git is going to have to do what he’s told this time.’

‘You haven’t got enough to go on,’ protested Mullett. ‘He might have stood up in the cab.’

‘To scratch his arse? He was driving the flaming thing. It was moving. You don’t stand up in a moving tractor on the off chance that you might see a body.’

‘Couldn’t it wait until Skinner’s replacement arrives?’ Someone else to take responsibility for the outlay, Mullett thought, in case it blows up in our faces like so many of Frost’s enterprises.

‘He’s a temporary worker. He lives in Bristol. He could move back there any time now the harvesting is finished.’

Mullett sighed. ‘All right, I agree, but on a strictly limited basis. Two days, no more.’

‘Of course,’ said Frost, making for the door. He had no intention of packing in the surveillance early.

He was back in his office, waiting for something to happen. A break of some kind… a break of any flaming kind. His phone rang. It was Harding from Forensic. ‘That rape case, Inspector. We’ve got a DNA match on the sperm sample.’

‘Please tell me it’s Superintendent Mullett,’ said Frost, reaching for a pen. The break he wanted at last.

‘An eighteen-year-old boy. He was arrested nicking a battery-charger from Homebase. His DNA matches.’

‘Let’s have the details,’ said Frost, his enthusiasm taking a nosedive. Somehow he didn’t think an eighteen-year-old was the serial rapist they were after.

‘Peter Frinton, 22 Victoria Terrace, Denton. He’s currently out on police bail.’

‘Thanks,’ grunted Frost, hanging up. He stared at the name he had scribbled on one of Mullett’s memos, then shook his head. It didn’t ring a bell.

Peter Frinton, a sullen-looking, greasy-haired youth, glowered at Frost, who was sitting opposite him in the Interview Room.

‘Why have you dragged me in again? I’ve been bailed out. I told that other cop, I walked out of the store without thinking. I intended to pay, but forgot.’

‘You forgot to bring any money with you, either,’ Frost reminded him, flipping through the arrest report. ‘You didn’t have a brass farthing on you when you were arrested… and I see from your form sheet this isn’t the first time.’

The youth glowered at Frost and said nothing.

‘Actually, son,’ continued Frost, ‘this is about something a tad more serious than nicking a battery-charger. We’re talking rape.’

Frinton leant back in his chair and stared at Frost, wide-eyed. ‘Rape? I should be so lucky. You’re bloody joking. Who am I supposed to have raped?’

‘A fifteen-year-old girl – Sally Marsden.’

Frinton gave a derisive laugh. ‘Sally Marsden? You don’t have to rape Sally Marsden, you have to bloody well fight her off.’

Frost frowned. ‘You know her?’

‘Of course I know her… she’s one of my girlfriends.’

‘Where were you last Thursday night, around ten, eleven o’clock?’

‘A Thursday? I would be indoors. I always stay indoors Thursdays.’

‘Can anyone verify that?’

‘Yes, flaming Sally Marsden – ask her. She was with me. Came about seven, left at a quarter to ten.’

‘She told us she was with her girlfriend.’

‘She always pretends that’s where she’s going, and the girlfriend always backs her up if mumsy asks. Her mother thinks she’s too young to go with boys… she’d go berserk if she found out her darling daughter hasn’t been a virgin for at least a year.’

‘She was with you that night – and you had sex?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Unprotected sex?’

‘She’s on the pill.’

Frost chewed away at a hangnail. That bleeding girl. Steering them in the wrong bloody direction. He stood up. ‘We’re going to put you in a cell for a little while, son, and if your story checks out, you can go.’

He knew it was going to check out. The little butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth mummy’s girl had lied her head off and steered them away from Fielding, because the DNA in the sperm sample didn’t match his. ‘The bleeding trail’s gone cold now,’ moaned Frost. ‘If we could have caught him with his dick still steaming, we might have got something – more DNA perhaps from his clothes, but he’s been on remand, mixing with all types of villains, his brief would tear our evidence to shreds.’

The girl was tearful. ‘I’m sorry’ she kept saying. ‘I’m so sorry.’ She wiped her eyes and looked pleadingly at Frost. ‘Please don’t let me mum know. She’ll murder me.’

‘If it goes to court, of course she’ll flaming well know,’ said Frost. ‘If I was you, I’d tell her.’ He shook his head as Kate Holby took the girl back home.

He spotted Bill Wells in the far corner of the canteen and carried his tray over. ‘Hope you’re getting your five a day, Bill.’

Wells grinned. ‘So Fielding could be back in the frame for the first car-park rape?’

‘Yes. DNA evidence no longer clears him. He was in the vicinity. He had the opportunity, but that’s all we’ve got on him.’ He bit into a Jaffa Cake. ‘But it’s him, Bill. He’s the bloody rapist and I know it, I just know it. And I’m bloody sure he topped the girl from Manchester too.’

‘We ought to get him for the old crime, Jack,’ said Wells. ‘But there’s no way the court would convict him when the only evidence we’ve got is that he was in Manchester when that girl went missing and his car was seen near where Sally Marsden was raped. The fact that she lied won’t help us. You’re going to need a hell of a lot more than that.’

‘The bastard’s out on bail,’ said Frost. ‘I want 24/7 surveillance.’

‘Flipping heck, Jack. Mullett will never agree to that – you’re already watching the driver.’

‘Right, then I won’t ask Mullett. I’ll do it on my own authority… By the time the overtime returns come in I’ll be in Lexton anyway and he won’t be able to touch me.’

‘But Jack…’

‘Just do it, Bill. Just flaming well do it.’

Chapter 20

The estate agent, his pen hovering over his clipboard, sucked air through his teeth and shook his head despairingly. ‘It’s rather cramped, Mr Frost, and it badly needs a woman’s touch.’

‘So does my dick,’ said Frost, ‘but it doesn’t get one very often.’ He wished the supercilious sod would hurry up. He was itching to get back to the station. Surely someone would have spotted Allen or his car by flow.

The estate agent squeezed a sour smile. ‘I suppose we could say it would suit a DIY enthusiast. There’s rather a lot that wants doing to it.’

‘Say what you flaming well like,’ said Frost. ‘Just sell it.’ He looked around, seeing the house for the first time through a prospective buyer’s eyes. Yes, it did veer on the tatty side. He had let it get run down. Memory clicked back to that day, so many years ago, when his young wife first saw the house. She had fallen in love with it the minute they stepped inside. She didn’t think it was cramped. ‘Just right for the two of us,’ she had said, and they had raced back to the estate agent with the deposit in case some other well- heeled buyer got there first. They’d had some bloody happy times here. And then it had all gone wrong… He shook the thoughts from his head. No point getting maudlin and sentimental. Thanks to Skinner and Mullett, he had to sell the flaming place. ‘So how much?’

The man consulted his clipboard and again shook his head. ‘If it was in better condition…’ He spread his hands and shrugged. ‘But there, it isn’t. We can only go on what we have got.’ He tapped his teeth with his pen and did a few mental calculations. ‘I suggest we offer it at eighty-nine thousand but be prepared to come down to eighty-five, or thereabouts. As I said, if it was in better condition