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‘I hope all this is worthwhile, Jack. Every available bit of manpower is out there – we’re even ignoring 999 calls. Suppose we can only nick him for speeding?’

‘If that’s all there is, I’ll frame the bastard,’ said Frost.

Five minutes later, an excited Jordan called again. ‘We’ve got him, Inspector. He nearly smashed through the roadblock, but braked just in time.’

‘Drag him out of the van, cuff him and charge him with anything you like. We’re on our way.’

As he snatched his scarf off the hook, WPC Holby came in with a mug of tea.

‘Dump it, love,’ said Frost, grabbing her by the arm. ‘You’re coming with me… you can drive.’

Traffic roared past the white van. Fielding, hand cuffed in the back of the police car, was fuming.

‘Would someone have the courtesy to tell me what the hell this is all about? Do you need an army of cops just for a speeding offence? Give me a ticket and let me go. Why am I handcuffed?’

‘To stop you picking your nose,’ said Frost, sliding into the car seat alongside him. ‘What was all the rush?’

‘I was in a hurry I had a delivery deadline to meet.’

‘A delivery? So what’s the name of the firm in such desperate need of your services you have to be out at this time of the morning?’

For a while Fielding was silent. He chewed away at his lower lip. ‘You know… with all this harassment, I’ve completely forgotten.’

‘So what have you got in the back of the van that they need so urgently?’

‘Packages. I don’t know what’s in them.’

Frost held out his hand. ‘Give me the key and I’ll tell you.’

‘I haven’t got the key. I want a lawyer.’

‘I haven’t got time to sod about,’ snapped Frost. ‘Give me the key or I’ll smash your bloody face in.’

Fielding leant back in his seat and stared back defiantly. ‘Just try it!’

Frost opened the door and called Jordan over. ‘Search the bastard. Get the van keys.’

Jordan patted pockets and dragged out a bunch of keys. Frost gave them to Kate Holby. ‘Little job for you, love. Find the right. key and see what he’s got in the van that he doesn’t want us to see.’

Suddenly Fielding jerked forward, spinning Jordan to one side, and tried to make a run for it. Kate shot out her foot and, as he fell face-down to the ground, kept her foot crushing down on Fielding’s neck until Frost dragged him back into the car. Blood was streaming from the man’s nose. The handcuffs meant he couldn’t do any thing about it.

‘When we get the keys back,’ beamed Frost, ‘I’ll drop them down the back of your neck – they’re marvellous for a nose bleed.’

There was the sound of the key being turned and a click as the rear doors unlocked, then clanged open.

‘Oh my God!’ cried Kate. ‘Oh my God! It’s the girl. It’s that missing teenager.’

Frost was out of the car in a flash. Kate Holby was bending over a girl stretched out on the floor of the van, naked, bound hand and foot, and gagged. She looked up, white-faced, at Frost. ‘I think she’s dead, Inspector.’

Frost pushed her out of the way and felt for a pulse in the girl’s icy neck. Was there something or was it bloody wish-fulfilment?

‘Get an ambulance,’ he yelled. ‘Right now… Paramedics and a bloody ambulance.’

‘He’s had that poor kid tied up in the van ever since we arrested him,’ Frost told Mullett. ‘No food, no drink, freezing cold, terrified

… He’d have strangled the poor cow and dumped her body miles away if we hadn’t kept him under surveillance.’

Mullett frowned. ‘Surveillance? What surveillance? I didn’t authorise any surveillance.’

Frost pretended not to hear. ‘If it wasn’t for your thoughtfulness in stretching the budget to the limit and letting us carry on with the operation, we’d have had another dead teenager on our hands.’

Mullett considered this very briefly and instantly accepted it. ‘Yes… I’m so glad I did the right thing.’ He rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. ‘Another excellent result for the Denton team, which means, of course, your successor will be starting out with a clean sheet, although you must still have a few loose ends you want to clear up.’

‘Yes, you know me,’ sniffed Frost. ‘Always like to leave things neat and tidy.’

‘How’s the questioning of the two murder suspects going?’

‘The man’s decided to “no comment” everything unless we let the woman off the hook. The woman is blaming everything on the man – saying he made her do it. They killed Kelly and Malone because Malone was going to blackmail them and tell us she found Debbie’s phone in Leigh’s locker. They arranged to call with the blackmail money, but once inside, smashed Kelly’s and Malone’s heads in and set the place alight… thought we’d never guess it was arson.’

‘And we will get a conviction?’ asked Mullett, slightly worried.

‘He can “no comment” as much as he likes – the forensic evidence is solid and the woman’s given us a statement.’

‘And Fielding?’

‘The CPS want to do him on the old murder first, then the rape and kidnap of Jan O’Brien. There’s no doubt in my mind that he killed Emily Roberts and dumped her on the railway embankment, but it’s all circumstantial – no forensics, and the CPS aren’t keen on pushing it.’

‘Excellent. I’ve arranged another press conference with Jan O’Brien’s parents – they are over the moon at getting their daughter back. The hospital say she will be able to go home in a couple of days. No need for you to attend, of course – I expect you’re very busy arranging for the move to Lexton.’

‘Yes, I’m counting the minutes,’ said Frost.

‘Yes… well, we will obviously want you to come back from Lexton for the trial… we will need your evidence. Oh – er – one other thing.’ Mullett began doodling little circles on his scratch pad and avoided looking at Frost. ‘I haven’t told Lexton about your misdemeanour with the car expenses. I hope there will be no repetition in your new post.’

‘Not if there’s any chance of my being caught,’ said Frost.

Mullett’s smile flickered on and off like a failing light bulb. He never knew how to take Frost’s flippant remarks. ‘Quite.’

Frost yawned. Tiredness was beginning to creep up on him and he was finding it a job to keep his eyes open. He was even too tired to try and read the memos in Mullett’s in-tray.

‘Oh, one other thing. The autopsy on Kelly and Malone is at ten o’clock. You’ll be there, of course.’

Shit! thought Frost. Aloud he said, ‘Of course.’

He was late. It was ten fifteen. He had gone up to the canteen for breakfast and must have fallen asleep over the plate of uneaten food. He had been shaken awake by Sergeant Wells. ‘I thought you were going to the autopsy?’

‘Knickers!’ cursed Frost, snatching a cold slice of toast and ramming it in his mouth as he raced downstairs.

He parked his car in its usual place. Like a milkman’s horse, it seemed to know the way unaided. He glanced quickly round the car park. No sign of Drysdale’s black Rolls Royce, so perhaps the great man himself was late for a change. He could only hope.

Shrugging on a green gown, he hurried into the autopsy room to be greeted by the cloying smell of burnt flesh. A police photographer was moving forward to take a shot of a body on the autopsy table. Sod it, the post-mortem was under way. Then, as the photographer moved back, he saw the wobbling buttocks of a plump figure. His heart leapt. It wasn’t Drysdale. It was Carol Ridley.

He hurried over. ‘Sorry I’m late.’

She flashed a smile. ‘At least you’ve turned up for a change.’

‘Sorry about that. I was called out on a case. I couldn’t get to a phone.’

She nodded as she took up a scalpel and scraped a red line across the blackened flesh of Bridget Malone’s stomach. ‘For new readers,’ she said, ‘the woman and the man died of asphyxiation from smoke inhalation, but before death they were hit heavily on the head with our old indispensable friend the blunt instrument. This fractured their skulls and would have rendered them unconscious before the fire started.’