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‘And if it was flaming Buckingham Palace, but it isn’t,’ snapped Frost. Eighty-five thousand would just about buy a one-bedroom flat in a not-too-salubrious part of Lexton. But he had no flaming choice. ‘All right. Put it on the market at that.’

‘I see,’ said Mullett. ‘Yes, I see., Thank you for telling me.’ He put the phone down. ‘That was my contact in County,’ he told Frost. ‘A bit of good news for us. They’ve just had the post mortem results on DCI Skinner. It seems he died instantly from the gunshot wound.’

‘So he was already dead when Taylor was asking for a hostage?’ said Frost.

‘Er – yes, it would appear so,’ conceded Mullett begrudgingly.

‘Which means that if I had sent in Kate Holby as you wanted, we’d have risked her life and got sod all in return?’

‘Ah – yes,’ mumbled Mullett, wishing Frost wouldn’t keep rubbing his nose in it. ‘But we weren’t to know that at the time, of course. With hindsight – ’

‘You don’t get the benefit of hindsight in this job,’ snapped Frost. ‘You have to use your common sense.’

‘Yes, quite,’ nodded Mullett. ‘My thoughts exactly.’ He quickly changed the subject. ‘Any news on the tractor driver?’

‘Nothing yet. So if that’s all…’ Frost was out of his chair and away before Mullett could reply. Back in his office, he snatched up the phone.

‘No, Inspector,’ said Lambert patiently. ‘Still no news. When there is, I promise you’ll be the first to know.’

‘Flaming heck, Jack. Are you still here?’

Sergeant Wells’s voice woke him with a start. He blinked and scrubbed his face. He’d fallen asleep at his desk. ‘Damn. I must have dropped off.’ He yawned and stretched. ‘What time is it?’

‘Half past one in the morning.’

‘Has Allen been sighted yet?’

‘We’d have told you if he had. Look, Jack, go home and get some proper kip. If he’s spotted we can phone you.’

Frost yawned again and shook his head. He didn’t feel tired any more and he certainly didn’t feel like going back to that empty house. ‘Do you know how much that smarmy estate agent reckons my house is worth? Eighty-five flaming K. He says it’s a tip.’

‘Estate agents always over-price houses they want to sell,’ grinned Wells.

‘What sort of a place am I going to get in Lexton for that sort of money?’

‘An even shittier tip than yours, Jack,’ said Wells, ducking as the inspector hurled a file at him.

Frost reached for his cigarettes and rammed one in his mouth. A tip. It hadn’t been a tip when he was first married. His wife had kept it beautifully. He dribbled smoke through his nose. Why was he constantly harping back to those days? It must be that ancient Christmas Day murder and the girl Fielding killed. ‘I’ll hang on here for a while. Any chance of some tea?’

‘We’re not a flaming all-night cafe, Jack.’

‘And I wouldn’t say no to some toast.’

‘Bloody hell. What about a four-course dinner? You’d better leave a big tip.’

‘Leave my big tip out of this,’ said Frost.

He wandered into the Incident Room, where DS Hanlon and Taffy Morgan were on standby. His mobile rang.

‘Inspector. PC Williams – Traffic. I’m by the Dedham roundabout on the Denton Road. That car you asked us to look out for – it’s just gone past.’

‘You mean Allen’s car?’

‘Yes. It drove past here about two minutes ago.’

‘Didn’t you go after him?’

‘Inspector, I’m at the scene of a traffic accident… a car and a motorbike. Two teenagers killed and the car driver badly injured. I’ve got enough on my flaming plate.’

‘Sorry, sorry. Which direction was he heading?’

‘Away from Denton – going north. Man driving. Woman next to him.’

‘A woman?’ Frost was now excited. ‘Did you get a good look at her?’

‘Yes. They had to slow down. It’s single-lane traffic here at the moment.’

‘What did she look like?’

‘Dark hair, buck teeth – in her forties, I’d say.’ Frost was squeezing the phone so hard his hand hurt.

‘Bloody hell,’ he said. ‘Bloody, bloody, hell! Thanks, Williams. I owe you one.’ He hung up, then looked round the room, rubbing his hands together with glee. ‘You,’ he announced, ‘are looking at the biggest prat in Denton.’

They stared open-mouthed at him.

‘Well look bleeding surprised. Don’t look as if you knew that all the time.’

They grinned.

‘Why are you a prat, Guv?’ Morgan asked.

‘Millie… Molly… Maisie… Misty… It was none of those bleeding names. That wasn’t what the poor kid was saying. And it was under my flaming nose all the bleeding time and I never flaming twigged. The bitch who was videoing her was her form teacher, that toothy cow Janet Leigh. Miss Leigh. Miss bleeding Leigh!’

Hanlon’s eyes widened. ‘Miss Leigh? Debbie was saying Miss Leigh?’

Frost nodded. ‘Someone the poor kid trusted… her form teacher – Miss bleeding Leigh. When Bridget went on her nicking spree, she went down the staff lockers as well and I bloody missed it. That’s where she found the phone – in Janet Leigh’s locker.’

DS Hanlon stood up. ‘Shall I run her through the computer, see if she’s got form?’

Frost shook his head. ‘She won’t have form. Everyone dealing with kids has to be thoroughly vetted. If she had form she’d never be allowed to teach.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘The fingerprints on the wrapping paper that came with the video tape. I bet a pound to a pinch of poo they are hers.’ He drummed his fingers on the desk. ‘Taffy – get on to Control. I want a message putting out. Allen’s car has been spotted on the Denton Road. I want all patrols to be on the look-out. If they see the car, they should stop it and arrest the occupants on suspicion of murder.’ He turned to PC Collier. ‘Get the Electoral Roll up on the computer. I want that tart’s address.’ He beckoned DS Hanlon over. ‘Arthur. Bit late for a social call, but we’re going to do her place over. She could have Jan O’Brien locked away there.’

‘We’ll need a search warrant,’ said Hanlon. Frost looked at the sergeant sternly and waggled a finger. ‘Wash your mouth out with soap, Arthur. I don’t want to hear that sort of filthy talk from you again.’

Morgan and Collier were sent to cover the back way while Frost, DC Hanlon at his side, hammered the door knocker. The sound echoed inside the house. Frost frowned. ‘I don’t think there’s anyone in, Arthur.’ He knocked again.

Frost bent and examined the lock. ‘Do you know, Arthur, I think this is the sort of lock you can open with a credit card.’

Hanlon looked alarmed. ‘Now watch it, Jack. You’ve already pushed your luck with the Kelly house.’

Frost found his wallet and extracted his Mastercard. ‘I’ve got my Crime Prevention Officer’s hat on. I just want to check to see if I can open it with a credit card, then I’ll advise the good lady bitch to get a more secure lock.’ He slid the card in the side of the door and wiggled it. ‘Come on, you stubborn bastard,’ he hissed. A satisfying click. ‘There. What did I say? If I was up to no good, I could walk straight into this place and search it from top to bloody bottom.’ He pushed the front door. It creaked open. ‘Look at this. An open invitation for no-good coppers to exceed their authority.’

Hanlon, looking very worried now, stepped back. ‘Shut it, Jack, for Pete’s sake.’

Frost ignored him. He pushed the door open wider and called, ‘Anyone at home?’

Dead silence.

‘Noise from upstairs,’ hissed Frost. ‘Must be a burglar. We’d better check, Arthur.’ He dragged Hanlon inside and shut the front door behind them.

‘I don’t like this, Jack,’ moaned Hanlon.

‘If we get caught, I’ll take all the flak,’ said Frost. ‘I’m a better liar than you. But we won’t get caught.’ He tugged his mobile from his mac pocket. ‘Taffy, we’re in the house. Get round the front, keep out of sight and warn me if they come back.’ He turned to Hanlon. ‘You search downstairs, Arthur. I’ll do the upstairs. Don’t switch on lights, use your torch. Let’s see if we can find that kid.’