About the Book

Behind the quiet patterns of everyday life, lie the frailties and desires, the deceptions and guilty secrets of ordinary men and women. In this powerful new collection of long and short stories, incuding the acclaimed novella The Strawberry Tree, Ruth Rendell probes their lives with unerring and disturbing insight.

About the Author

Ruth Rendell was an exceptional crime writer, and will be remembered as a legend in her own lifetime. Her ground-breaking debut novel, From Doon With Death, was first published in 1964 and introduced readers to her enduring and popular detective, Inspector Reginald Wexford.

With worldwide sales of approximately 20 million copies, Rendell was a regular Sunday Times bestseller. Her sixty bestselling novels include police procedurals, some of which have been successfully adapted for TV, stand-alone psychological mysteries, and a third strand of crime novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.

Rendell won numerous awards, including the Sunday Times Literary Award in 1990. In 2013 she was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE, and in 1997 became a Life Peer.

Ruth Rendell died in May 2015.


Long and Short Stories

Ruth Rendell


This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN 9781409007869
Version 1.0
Published by Arrow Books 1996
5 7 9 10 8 6
© Kingsmarkham Enterprises Ltd 1995
Ruth Rendell has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in Great Britain in 1995 by Hutchinson
Arrow Books
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA
Arrow Books is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 09 978461 0
For Don

About the Book
About the Author
Title Page

Blood Lines
Lizzie’s Lover
Shreds and Slivers
Burning End
The Man Who Was the God of Love
The Carer
Unacceptable Levels
In all Honesty
The Strawberry Tree

Blood Lines

I THINK YOU know who killed your stepfather,’ said Wexford.
It was a throwaway line, uttered on parting and over his shoulder as he reached the door. A swift exit was, however, impossible. The moment he got up he had not to duck his head merely but bend himself almost double. The girl he spoke to was a small woman, the boyfriend she lived with no more than five feet six. Life in the caravan, he thought, would otherwise have been insupportable.
Stuck in the doorway, he said when she made no reply, ‘You won’t mind if I come back in a day or two and we’ll have another talk.’
‘All the same if I do, isn’t it?’
‘You don’t have to talk to me, Miss Heddon. It’s open to you to say no.’ It would all have been more dignified if he could have stood up and faced her, but Wexford wasn’t much concerned with dignity. He spoke rather gravely but with gentleness. ‘But if you’ve no objection we’ll continue this conversation on Monday. I’ve a feeling you know a lot more than you’ve told me.’
She said it, one of those phrases that invariably means its opposite. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘That’s unworthy of someone of your intelligence,’ he said and he had meant it.
He opened the door and climbed out. Climbing, half-crouched, was the only way. It was with relief that he put his feet on the ground, got his head clear, and straightened himself up to his full height. She had followed him and stood there, holding the door, a pretty young woman of twenty who looked even younger than her age because her blonde hair was waist-length and her white blouse schoolgirlish.
‘Monday, then,’ Wexford said. ‘Shall we say threeish?’
‘Suit yourself.’ With one of her flashes of humour, she said, ‘You must feel like a Rottweiler in a rabbit hutch in here.’
He smiled. ‘You may be right. It’s true my bite is worse than my bark.’
Possibly digesting this, she closed the door without another word. He picked his way back to the car where Donaldson waited at the wheel. A path of cinders made a just usable track across the corner of a muddy field. In the cold haze the shape of a cottage converted from a railway carriage could just be seen against a grey tangle of wilderness. Two inches of rain had fallen in the week since Tom Peterlee’s death and the sky of massive grey cumulus was loaded with more.
‘We live in a caravan culture, Steve,’ he said to Donaldson. ‘As homes, I mean, not mobile tents. You can see two more over there – travelling farm workers, I imagine. The one on the corner patch up here has been there at least two years and to my knowledge is home to four people, a dog and a hamster.’
‘It wouldn’t suit me, sir. Though, mind you, I’d have gone down on my bended knees in gratitude for a caravan when the wife and me were first married and living with her mum.’
Wexford nodded, invisibly, from the back. ‘Go by way of Feverel’s, will you? I don’t want to stop, just take a look.’
The Kenhurst road ahead from the south for Edenwick and Kingsmarkham. Rain began to spit against the windscreen as they came to the outskirts of Edenwick and its half-mile-long village street. After the houses ended, Feverel’s buildings appeared as the car rounded a loop-like bend in the road.
The farm shop remained closed, though a wooden board offering for sale apples, pears, plums and walnuts for pickling still stood by the gate. Wexford told Donaldson to stop the car and park for a few moments. Let Heather Peterlee see him. That sort of thing did no harm. He looked, for the dozenth time, at the shack that had been a shop, the huddle of wooden buildings, the house itself and the inevitable caravan.
‘She’ll have a job selling it, sir,’ said Donaldson as if reading his mind. ‘People won’t much fancy the idea.’
‘The murder took place in the kitchen,’ Wexford said rather sharply, ‘not in that thing.’
‘It’s all one to some,’ Donaldson said cryptically.
The house was a Victorian building, rendered in a pale stone colour that the rain had turned to khaki, an uncompromising cheerless place with a window on either side of the front door that was plumb in the centre, and three windows above. No porch, balcony or even trellis broke the monotony of its façade. The shallow roof was of dull grey slate. Some ten yards of bleak ground, part gravel and part scrubby grass, separated the house from the shop. In between and a little distance behind, the caravan stood on a concrete slab, and beyond it stretched away the market gardens, looking from here no more than acres of cabbages. The only trees were the walnuts, still in leaf but the leaves tired and brown.
The shop, its double doors closed and padlocked, its windows boarded up, the display stalls which stood outside it gone, seemed a dilapidated hut. A sheet of the corrugated iron that roofed it had come loose and clanged up and down rhythmically in the increasing wind. It was a dreary place. No visitor would have difficulty in believing a man had been clubbed to death there. Wexford remembered, with distaste, the little crowd which had gathered outside this gate during the previous week, standing and watching, or sitting in the line of cars, some of them waiting for hours, staring at the house, hoping for happenings. Some of them recalling, no doubt, how a matter of days ago they had driven in for half a hundredweight of Maris Bards, a couple of pounds of Coxes and one of Heather Peterlee’s apple pies from the freezer.
As Donaldson started the engine a dog came out from the back of the house and began barking inside the gate. It was a black spaniel, but not of so mild a nature as is usually found in the breed. Wexford had felt its teeth through his jacket sleeve, though blood had not been drawn.
‘That the dog, is it, sir?’
They all knew the story, even those only remotely involved. Wexford confirmed that this indeed was the dog, this was Scamp. The poor creature had recovered the voice it lost, giving continual tongue at the voyeurs until strain on its vocal cords struck it dumb.
Wexford spared a glance for the neighbours, if a house fifty yards of field and copse away can be called neighbouring. Joseph Peterlee had a plant hire business and a customer was in the act of returning a mechanical digger with what looked like half a ton of the local chalky loam adhering to its giant wheels. In conversation with her husband and the digger driver on the concrete entrance, an area much cracked, pitted and now puddled, was Mrs Monica Peterlee in her unvarying uniform of rubber boots and floral crossover overall, holding over herself a green umbrella. And those are the characters in this drama, he thought, with the exception of one who (to paraphrase Kipling) has gone to the husband of her bosom the same as she ought to go, and one who has gone heaven only knows where.
Why was he so sure Arlene Heddon had the answer? Mike Burden, his second-in-command at Kingsmarkham CID, said with contempt that at any rate she was more attractive than the sister-in-law and the widow. With his usual distaste for those whose lives failed to approximate fairly closely to his own, he spoke scathingly of ‘the Peterlee girl’ as if having no job and no proper roof over one’s head directly conduced to homicide.
‘Her name,’ Wexford said rather dourly, ‘is Heddon. It was her father’s name. Heather Peterlee, if you remember, was a Mrs Heddon before she re-married.’ He added, wondering as he did so why he bothered to indulge Burden’s absurd prejudices. ‘A widow, incidentally.’
Quick as a flash, Burden came back with, ‘What did her first husband die of?’
‘Oh God, Mike, some bone disease. We went into all that. But back to Arlene Heddon; she’s a very intelligent young woman, you know.’
‘No, I don’t know. You must be joking. Intelligent girls don’t live on benefit in caravans with unemployed welders.’
‘What a snob you are.’
Married welders. I’m not just a snob, I’m a moralist. Intelligent girls do well at school, go on to further education, get suitable well-paid jobs and buy themselves homes on mortgages.’
‘Somehow and somewhere along the line Arlene Heddon missed out on that. In any case, I didn’t say she was academically inclined. She’s sharp, she’s clever, she’s got a good brain.’
‘And her mother, the two-times widow, is she the genius Arlene inherited her IQ from?’
This was neither the time nor the place to be discussing the murder, Wexford’s house on a Saturday evening, but Burden had come round for a drink, and whatever the topic of conversation, things had a way of coming back to the Peterlees. They came back to the extent of Wexford’s suggesting they go over the sequence of events again. Dora, his wife, was present, but sitting on the window seat, reading tranquilly. For once, he didn’t suggest he and Burden go somewhere private.
‘You can set me right on the details,’ Wexford began, ‘but I think you’ll agree it was broadly like this. On Thursday October 10 Heather Peterlee opened the farm shop at Feverel’s as usual at nine a.m. They had on sale their own produce and other more exotic vegetables and fruit they bought in. Heather had her sister-in-law Mrs Monica Peterlee to help her, again as usual. Heather’s husband, Tom, was working outside, and at lunchtime he brought up to the shop by tractor the vegetables he had lifted and picked during the morning.
‘They ate their midday meal in the shop, keeping it open, and at three or thereabouts Joseph Peterlee arrived in his car to fetch his wife and take her shopping in Kingsmarkham. Tom and Heather served in the shop until closing time at five when they returned to the house and Heather began preparing a meal. Tom had brought in the shop’s takings with him which he intended to put in the safe, but in the meantime he left the notes on the kitchen dresser that faces the outside door. The sum was about three hundred and sixty pounds. He put the money on the dresser shelf and placed on top of it his camera in its case, presumably to stop it blowing about when the door was opened. He then went to the caravan to discuss some matter of business with Carol Fox who had been living there since the summer. In fact, the matter of business was the question of raising the rent she paid.’
‘Tom Peterlee wasn’t killed for three hundred and sixty pounds,’ said Burden.
‘No, but various people would like us to think he was. It’s a problem even guessing why he was killed. Everyone seems to have liked him. We have had . . .’ Wexford hesitated, ‘“golden opinions from all sorts of people”. He was something of a paragon by all accounts, an ideal husband, good, kind, undeniably handsome. He was even handsome on the mortuary slab – forgive me, Dora.
‘But I’ll go on. They ate their meal at five-thirty. During the course of it, according to her statement, Tom said to his wife that they had fixed up the matter of the rent amicably. Carol wanted to stay on and understood the rent she was paying was inadequate . . .’
Dora interrupted him. ‘Is that the woman who’d left her husband and Heather Peterlee said she could have their caravan because she’d nowhere to live?’
‘A friend of Heather’s from way back, apparently. According to Heather, she told Tom she’d be round in an hour to accompany her on a dog walk. Heather always took the dog out after supper and Carol had got into the habit of going with her. Heather washed up their dishes and Tom dried. As I’ve said, he was an ideal husband. At some point he went out to the woodshed and fetched in a basket of logs to feed the wood-burning stoves, of which there was one in the kitchen and another in the living room.
‘Carol knocked on the door and came into the kitchen at twenty past six. It wasn’t raining but it looked like rain and Carol was wearing only a cardigan. Heather suggested she put on one of the rainproof jackets of which there were several hanging behind the back door, and Carol took a fawn-coloured one.’
‘Strange, wasn’t it,’ Burden put in, ‘that she didn’t fetch a coat of her own from the caravan? Especially a woman like that. Very conscious of her appearance, I’d say. But perhaps she wouldn’t care, out on her own with another woman. It was a dull evening and they weren’t likely to meet anyone.’
Dora gave him a look, enigmatic, half-smiling, but said nothing.
Her husband went on, ‘If you remember, when the caravan was searched as the house was, the fact was remarked on that Carol Fox had no raincoat among her clothes. She has said and Heather has confirmed it that she always used one of Heather’s. They took the dog and went for a walk through the Feverel’s land, across the meadows by the public footpath and down to the river. It was sometime between six-twenty and six-thirty that they left. It was still light and would be for another half-hour. What Tom did in their absence we don’t know and probably never shall know, except that putting that money into the safe wasn’t among his activities.
‘At about ten to seven Arlene Heddon arrived at Feverel’s, brought in her boyfriend’s van.’ Wexford raised an eyebrow at Burden. ‘The unemployed, married welder, Gary Wyatt.
‘Arlene and Gary have no phone and Arlene got the message from Grandma on whose land she lives. She’s not really her grandmother, of course, but she calls her Grandma.’
‘The old witch,’ said Dora. ‘That’s what people call her. She’s well known.’
‘I don’t think she’s as old as she looks and she’s definitely not a witch, though she cultivates that appearance. To be the mother of Joseph and Tom she need be no more than sixty-five and I daresay she’s not. The message Arlene got from Mrs Peterlee Senior was that Mum had finished her jumper and if she wanted it for the Friday, could she come and pick it up? The time suggested was about eight. Grandma said she’d drive Arlene herself on account of she was going to her Conservative Association meeting in Kingsmarkham – I kid you not, Dora – but she said, no, Gary and she would still be eating their tea. Gary would take her in the van a bit later on.
‘In fact, Gary wanted to go out at half past six. He dropped her off at Feverel’s, thus getting her there more than an hour earlier than her mother had suggested, and went on to have a drink with his pals in the Red Rose at Edenwick. Not that anyone has confirmed this. Neither the licensee nor the girl behind the bar remembered him being there. Which is in direct contrast to the evidence of the old witch’s witnesses. Strange as her presence there might seem, every Tory in Kingsmarkham seems to remember her in the Seminar Room of the Olive and Dove Hotel that night. Not until seven-thirty, however, when the meeting started. Where had she been in that lost hour and a half?
‘Gary promised to come back for Arlene in an hour. Arlene went round the back of the house and entered by the kitchen door, which was unlocked. As a daughter of the house, she didn’t knock or call out, but walked straight in.
‘There, in the kitchen, on the floor, she found the body of her stepfather, Tom Peterlee, lying face-downwards, with a wound in the back of the head. She knelt down and touched his face. It was still faintly warm. She knew there was a phone in the sitting room but, fearing whoever had done this might still be in the house, she didn’t go in there but ran back outside in the hope Gary had not yet gone. When she saw that he had she ran the hundred yards or so to Mr and Mrs Joe Peterlee’s where she used their phone and dialled 999.
‘Joe Peterlee was out, according to his wife. Arlene – all this is Arlene’s evidence, partly confirmed by Monica Peterlee – Arlene asked her to come back with her and wait for the police but she said she was too frightened to do that, so Arlene went back alone. Within a very few minutes – it was now five past seven – her mother and Carol Fox returned from their walk with the dog. She was waiting for them outside the back door.
‘She prepared them for what they would see and Heather cried out, pushed open the door and rushed into the kitchen. She threw herself on the body and when Arlene and Carol pulled her off and lifted her up, she began banging her head and face against the kitchen wall.’
Burden nodded. ‘These two – what do we call them? Hysterical acts? Manifestations of grief? – account for the blood on the front of her jacket and the extensive bruising to her face. Or at least are possible explanations for them.’
‘The police came and everyone was questioned on the spot. Of course no one had seen any suspicious characters hanging about Feverel’s. No one ever has. Joe Peterlee has never been able to give a satisfactory account of his movements between six-twenty and six-fifty. Nor have Gary Wyatt and Grandma Peterlee.
‘The money was gone. There was no weapon. No prints, other than those of Tom, Heather, Carol Fox and Arlene were found in the house. The pathologist says Tom died between six-fifteen and seven-fifteen, a time which can be much narrowed down if Arlene is to be believed. Remember, she says he felt warm when she touched him at six-fifty.
‘I think she’s lying. I think she’s lying all along the line, she’s protecting someone, and that’s why I’m going to keep on talking to her until I find out who. Grandma or her boyfriend or her uncle Joe – or her mother.’
Dora wrinkled up her nose. ‘Isn’t it a bit distasteful, Reg, getting a girl to betray her own mother? It’s like the KGB.’
‘And we know what happened to them,’ said Burden.
Wexford smiled. ‘I may only be getting her to betray her step-aunt by marriage, or isn’t that allowed either?’
Burden left them at about ten to ten. He was on foot, for he and Wexford lived less than a mile apart and walking was a preferable exercise to the kinds his wife suggested, riding a stationary bike or stomping up and down on a treadmill. His route home was to take him past the big new shopping mall, the York Crest Centre. He deplored the name and the place, all a far cry from what Kingsmarkham had been when first he came there.
Then there was life in the town at night, people entering or emerging from pubs and restaurants, cinema visitors, walkers strolling, in those days before the ubiquitous car. Television, the effects of recession and the fear of street violence had all combined to keep the townsfolk indoors and the place was deserted. It was silent, empty but brightly lit, and therefore slightly uncanny.
His footfalls made a faint hollow echo, he saw his solitary figure reflected in gleaming shop windows. Not a soul passed him as he entered York Street, not a single being waited on a corner or at the bus stop. He turned into the alley that ran along the side of the York Crest Centre, to cut a furlong or so off his journey. Does anyone know what a furlong is these days, thought old-fashioned nostalgic Burden.
Into his silent speculation burst the raiders.
It took him about thirty seconds to realise what this was. He had seen it on television but thought it confined to the north. A ram raid. That was what someone had named this kind of heist. The Land Rover first, turning on the paved court, reversing at the highest speed it could make into the huge glass double doors that shut off the centre by night. The noise of crashing glass was enormous, like a bomb.
It vanished inside, followed by two cars, a Volvo and a Volvo Estate, rattling over the broken glass, the wreckage of the doors. He didn’t wait to see what happened. He had his cell-phone in his hand and switched on before the second car’s tail lights had disappeared. ‘No Service’ came up on its screen and ‘No Service’ when he shook it and pulled the aerial out. It had gone wrong. Never before had that happened but it had to happen tonight when he was in the right place at the right time.
Burden raced down the alley to the phones on the post office wall, four of them under plastic hoods. The first he tried had been vandalised, the second worked. If he could get them there within five minutes, within ten even . . . He pounded back, remembered it would be advisable not to be heard, and crept the rest of the way. They were leaving, the Land Rover – stolen of course – with all its glass shattered, the two Volvos hard on its rear, and were gone God knew where by the time the Mid-Sussex Constabulary cars arrived.
The purpose of the raid had been to remove as much electronic equipment as the thieves could shift in five minutes from Nixon’s in the Centre. It had been a tremendous haul and had probably taken twelve men to accomplish it.
The phone on the post office wall was repaired and on the following day vandalised again along with all the others in the row. That was on a Monday, the date of Wexford’s second conversation with Arlene Heddon. He went along to the caravan on old Mrs Peterlee’s land in the late afternoon. Arlene sometimes had a cleaning job but she was always in during the afternoons. He tapped on the door and she called out to him to come in.
The television was on and she was watching, lounging on the seat that ran the length of the opposite wall. She looked so relaxed, even somnolent, that Wexford thought she would switch off by means of the channel changer which lay on top of the partition that divided living/bedroom from kitchen, but she got up and pressed the switch. They faced each other, and this time she seemed anxious to talk. He began to take her through a series of new enquiries and all the old ones.
He noticed, then, that what she said differed very slightly from what she had said the first time, if in minor details. Her mother had not thrown herself on the body but knelt down and cradled the dead man’s head in her arms. It was on one of the counters, not against the wall, that she had beaten her head.
The dog had howled at the sight of its dead master. The first time she said she thought she had heard a noise upstairs when first she arrived. This time she denied it, and said all had been silent. She had not noticed if the money was there or not when she first arrived. Now she said the money was there with the camera on top of the notes. When she came back from making her phone call she had not gone back into the house but had waited outside for her mother to return. That was what she said the first time. Now she said she had gone briefly into the kitchen once more. The camera was there but the money gone.
Wexford pointed out these discrepancies in a casual way. She made no comment.
He asked, with apparent indifference, ‘Just as a matter of interest, how did you know your mother was out with the dog?’
‘The dog wasn’t there and she wasn’t.’
‘You were afraid to use the phone in the house in case your stepfather’s killer might still be there. You never considered the possibility that your mother might have been dead in some other part of the house? That Carol Fox might have taken the dog out on her own, as perhaps she sometimes did?’
‘I didn’t know Carol very well,’ said Arlene Heddon.
It was hardly an answer. ‘But she was a close friend of your mother’s, an old friend, wasn’t she? You might say your mother offered her sanctuary when she left her husband. That’s the action of a close friend, isn’t it?’
‘I haven’t lived at home since I was seventeen. I don’t know all the friends my mother’s got. I didn’t know whether Carol took the dog out or what. Tom sometimes took him out and my mother did. I never heard of Carol going with my mother, but I wouldn’t. I wasn’t interested in Carol.’
‘Yet you waited for them both to come back from their walk, Miss Heddon.’
‘I waited for my mother,’ she said.
Wexford left her, promising to come back for another talk on Thursday. Grandma was nowhere to be seen but as he approached his car hers swept in, bumping over the rough ground, lurching through a trough or two, skidding with a scream of brakes on the ice and, describing a swift half-circle round the railway carriage, juddering to a stop.
Florrie Peterlee, getting on for seventy and looking eighty, drove like an eighteen-year-old madbrain at the wheel of his first jalopy.
She gave the impression of clawing her way out. Her white hair was as long and straight as Arlene’s and she was always dressed in trailing black that sometimes had a curiously fashionable look. On a teenager it would have been trendy. She had a hooky nose and prominent chin, bright black eyes. But Wexford couldn’t offhand think of anyone he knew who so intensely seemed to enjoy herself as Mrs Peterlee Senior. Some of her pleasure derived from her indifference to what people thought of her, apart of course from her need to make them see her as a witch; some from her enduring good health and zest for life. So far she had shown no grief whatever at the death of her son.
‘You’re too old for her,’ said the old witch.
‘Too old for what?’ said Wexford, refusing to be outfaced.
‘Ooh, hark at him! That’s a nice question to ask a senior citizen. Mind I don’t put a spell on you. Why don’t you leave her alone, poor lamb.’
‘She’s going to tell me who killed your son Tom.’
‘Get away. She don’t know. Maybe I did.’ She stared at him with bold defiance. ‘I all but killed his dad once. I said, you’ve knocked me about once too often, Arthur Peterlee, and I picked up the kitchen knife and come at him with it. I won’t say he never touched me again, human nature never worked that way, but he dropped dead with his heart soon after, poor old sod. I was so glad to see the back of him I danced on his grave. People say that, I know, it’s just a way of talking, but me, I really did it. Went up the cemetery with a half-bottle of gin and danced on the bugger’s grave.’
Wexford could see her, hair flying, black draperies blowing, the bottle in one hand, her wrinkled face dabbled with gin, dancing under the rugged ilexes and the yew tree’s shade. He raised his eyebrows. Before she had more chances to shock him, or try to, he asked her if she had thought any more about telling him where she had been in that lost hour on the evening of her son’s death.
‘You’d be surprised.’
She said it, not as a figure of speech, but as a genuine undertaking she could astonish him. He had no doubt she could. She grinned, showing even white teeth, not dentures. The sudden thought came to him that if she had a good bath, put her copious hair up and dressed in something more appropriate for a rural matriarch, she might look rather wonderful. He wasn’t too worried about her alibi or lack of one, for he doubted if she had the strength to wield the ‘blunt instrument’ that had killed Tom Peterlee.
He was very certain he knew what that instrument was and what had become of it. Arriving at Feverel’s within the hour, he had seen the wood splinters in Tom Peterlee’s head wound before the pathologist arrived. With a sinking heart he had taken in the implications of a basket full of logs just inside the back door and the big wood-burning enclosed stove in an embrasure of the wall facing the door into the house. They would never find the weapon. Without being able to prove it, he knew from the first that it had been an iron-hard log of oak, maybe a foot long and three or four inches in diameter, a log used to strike again and again, then pushed in among the blazing embers in that stove.
He had even looked. The stove had been allowed to go out. Could you imagine anyone making up the fire at a time like that? A pale grey powdery dust glowed red still in one patch at the heart of it and as he watched, died. Later on, he had those ashes analysed. All the time he was up there the dog howled. Someone shut it up in a distant room but its long-drawn-out cries pursued him up the road on his way to see Joseph and Monica Peterlee.
He remembered wondering, not relevantly, if she dressed like that to sit down at table, to watch television. At nine o’clock at night she was still in her crossover overall, her black wellies. Her husband was a bigger and heavier version of his brother, three or four years older, his hair iron-grey where Tom’s had been brown, his belly fat and slack where Tom’s had been flat. They alibi’d each other, uselessly, and Joe had no alibi for the relevant time. He had been out shooting rabbits, he said, produced his shotgun and shotgun licence.
‘They done Tom in for the money,’ he told Wexford sagely. He spoke as if, without his proffered information, such a solution would never have occurred to the police. ‘I told him. I said to him time and again I said, you don’t want to leave that laying about, not even for an hour, not even in daylight. What you got a safe for it you don’t use it? I said that, didn’t I, girl?’
His wife confirmed that he had indeed said it. Over and over. Wexford had the impression she would have confirmed anything he said. For peace, for a quiet life. It was two days later that, interviewing them again, he asked about the relationship between Tom and Heather Peterlee.
‘They was a very happy couple,’ Joe said. ‘Never a cross word in all the ten years they was married.’
Wexford, later, wondered what Dora would have said if he had made such a remark about relatives of his. Or Burden’s wife Jenny if he had. Something dry, surely. There would have been some quick intervention, some, ‘Oh, come on, how would you know?’ or, ‘You weren’t a fly on the wall.’ But Monica said nothing. She smiled nervously. Her husband looked at her and she stopped smiling.
The ram raiders were expected to have another go the following Saturday night. Instead they came on Friday, late shopping night at Stowerton Brook Buyers’ Heaven, less than an hour after the shops closed. Another stolen Land Rover burst through the entrance doors, followed by a stolen Range Rover and a BMW. This time the haul was from Electronic World, but it was similar to that taken the previous time.
The men in those three vehicles got away with an astonishing thirty-five thousand pounds’ worth of equipment.
This time Burden had not been nearby, on his way home. No one had, since the Stowerton Brook industrial site where Buyers’ Heaven was lay totally deserted by night, emptier by far than Kingsmarkham town centre. The two guard dogs that kept watch over the neighbouring builders’ supplies yard had been destroyed a month before in the purge on dangerous breeds.
Burden had been five miles away, talking to Carol Fox and her husband Raymond. To Burden, who never much noticed any woman’s appearance but his wife’s, she was simply rather above average good-looking. In her mid-thirties, ten years younger than Heather, she was brightly dressed and vivacious. It was Wexford who described her as one of that group or category that seems to have more natural colour than most women, with her pure red hair, glowing luminous skin, ivory and pink, and her eyes of gentian blue. He said nothing about the unnatural colour that decorated Mrs Fox’s lips, nails and eyelids to excess. Burden assessed her as ‘just a cockney with an awful voice’. Privately, he thought of her as common. She was loud and coarse, a strange friend for the quiet, reserved and mousy Heather.