About the Book
About the Author
Also by Ruth Rendell
Title Page
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
About the Book

Sergeant Caleb Martin of Kingsmarkham CID had no idea just how terminally unlucky the thirteenth of May would prove. Even alive, he could have no inkling of the chain of bloody events to follow – at first the bloodbath at Tancred House looks like the desperate work of a burglar panicked into murder. The sole survivor of the massacre, seventeen-year-old Daisy Flory, remembers the events imperfectly, and her confused account of the fatal night seems to confirm this theory. But more and more, Chief Inspector Wexford is convinced that the crime lies closer to home, and that it has sinister links to the murder of Sergeant Martin some ten months earlier . . .
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.
A Demon in My View
The Fallen Curtain
Harm Done
A Judgement in Stone
The Lake of Darkness
Murder Being Once Done
No More Dying Then
One Across, Two Down
Shake Hands Forever
A Sleeping Life
Some Lie and Some Die


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: 9781409068105
Version 1.0
Published by Arrow Books 1993
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
© Kingsmarkham Enterprises 1991
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 1991 by Century 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 9780099249115
In memory of Eleanor Sullivan
A great friend
Chapter One
The thirteenth of May is the unluckiest day of the year. Things will be infinitely worse if it happens to fall on a Friday. That year, however, it was a Monday and quite bad enough, though Martin was scornful of superstition and would have engaged in any important enterprise on 13 May or gone up in a plane without a qualm.
In the morning he found a gun in the case his son took to school. They called it a satchel in his day but it was a briefcase now. The gun was among a jumble of textbooks, dog-eared exercise books, crumpled paper and a pair of football socks, and for a single frightening moment Martin thought it was real. For about fifteen seconds he thought Kevin was actually in possession of the largest revolver he had ever seen, though of a type quite beyond his ability to identify.
Recognising it as a replica didn’t stop him confiscating it.
‘You can say goodbye to this weapon and that’s a promise,’ he said to his son.
The discovery was made in Martin’s car just before nine on the morning of Monday 13 May on the way to Kingsmarkham Comprehensive. Kevin’s briefcase, insecurely fastened, had fallen off the back seat and some of its contents had come out on to the floor. Kevin watched ruefully and in silence as the replica gun found its way into the pocket of his father’s raincoat. At the school gates he left the car with a muttered goodbye and did not look back.
This was the first link in a chain of events which was to lead to five deaths. If Martin had found the gun before he did and Kevin left the house, none of it would have happened. Unless you believe in predestination and fate. Unless you believe our days are numbered. If you can imagine it, if you can perceive them numbered in reverse, from death to birth, Martin had reached Day One.
Monday 13 May.
* * * *
It was also his day off, this Day One of his life, Detective Sergeant Martin of Kingsmarkham CID. He had come out early, not only to take his son to school – that was incidental, a by-product of leaving the house at ten to nine – but to have a new pair of windscreen wipers fitted to his car. It was a fine morning, the sun shining from a clear sky, and the forecast was good, but still he wouldn’t risk taking his wife to Eastbourne for the day with wipers that failed to function.
The people at the garage behaved in typical fashion. Martin had made this arrangement by phone two days before but that did not prevent the receptionist reacting as if she had never heard of him, or the only available mechanic shaking his head and saying it was just possible, it could be done, but Les had been called out unexpectedly in an emergency and Martin had better let them phone him. At last Martin got a promise of sorts out of him that the job would be done by ten thirty.
He walked back along Queen Street. Most of the shops were not yet open. The people he passed were commuters on their way to the British Rail station. Martin could feel the gun in his pocket, its weight and its shape, the heaviness of it weighing him down on the right side. It was a big heavy gun with a four-inch barrel. If the British police were eventually armed, this was how it would feel. Every day, all day. Martin thought this might have its drawbacks as well as its advantages, but anyway he couldn’t imagine such a measure getting through Parliament.
He wondered whether he should tell his wife about the gun, he seriously wondered if he should tell Chief Inspector Wexford. What does a boy of thirteen want with a replica of what was probably a Los Angeles policeman’s weapon? He was too old for a toy gun, certainly, but what could be the purpose of a replica except to threaten, to make others believe it was real? And could this be for anything but criminal intent?
There was nothing Martin could do about it at present. Tonight, of course, whatever else he decided on, he must have a serious talk with Kevin. He turned into the High Street, from where he could see the blue and gold clock on the tower of St Peter’s Church. It was coming up to half past nine. He was heading for the bank, intending to draw out enough to cover the garage charges as well as pay for petrol, lunch for two, incidental expenses in Eastbourne, and have a bit left over for the next couple of days. Martin distrusted credit cards and though he possessed one, seldom used it.
His attitude was the same in respect of the cash-point dispenser. The bank was still closed, its solid oak front door firmly shut, but there was the automatic bank, installed in the granite façade for his convenience. The card was in his wallet and he went so far as to get it out and look at it. Somewhere he had written down the vital number. He tried to recall it – fifty-fifty-three? Fifty-three-O-five? He heard the bolts shifted, the hammers in the lock fall. The front door swung inwards to reveal the inner door of glass. The huddle of bank customers who had been waiting when he arrived went in before him.
Martin made his way to one of the counters which were provided with a blotter and a ballpoint chained to a false ink-well. He took out his cheque book. His credit card would not be needed here to back the cheque, for everyone knew him, this was where he had his account; he had already caught the eye of one of the cashiers and said good morning.
Few, however, knew his Christian name. Everyone called him Martin and always had. Even his wife called him Martin. Wexford must know what he was called, and the accounts department must, and whoever attended to such things in this bank. When he was married he had uttered it and his wife had repeated it. Quite a lot of people thought Martin was his first name. The truth of it was a secret he kept locked within himself so far as he could, and now as he made out the cheque he signed it as always, ‘C. Martin’.
Two cashiers dispensed cash or received deposits behind their glass screens: Sharon Fraser and Ram Gopal, each with name tag on the glass and overhead light to flash to indicate they were free. A queue had formed in the area newly designated for waiting in with chrome uprights and turquoise-blue ropes.
‘As if we were cattle in a market,’ said the woman in front of him indignantly.
‘Well, it’s fairer,’ said Martin, who was deeply committed to justice and order. ‘It makes sure no one goes out of turn.’
It was then, just after he had spoken, that he was aware of disturbance. There is something very calm in the atmosphere of a bank interior. Money is serious, money is quiet. Frivolity, amusement, swift movement, haste, can have no place in this seat of custom, of pecuniary exchange. So the slightest change of mood is felt at once. A raised voice is remarked on, a pin dropped becomes a clatter. Any minor disturbance makes waiting customers start. Martin felt a draught as the glass door was opened too suddenly, he sensed the falling of a shadow as the front door, which was never shut in the daytime, which remained permanently fastened back during opening hours, was carefully and almost silently closed.
He turned round.
Everything happened very fast after that. The man who had closed the door, who had bolted the door, said sharply, ‘All get back against the wall. Quickly, please.’
Martin noticed his accent, which was unmistakably Birmingham. He would have called it Brum. When the man spoke, someone screamed. There is always someone who screams.
The man, who had the gun in his hand, said in his flat nasal tones, ‘Nothing will happen to you if you do as you’re told.’
His companion, a boy really, who also had a gun, advanced up the passage of turquoise rope and chrome uprights, towards the two cashiers. There was a cashier behind a window to the left of him and another behind a window to the right of him, Sharon Fraser and Ram Gopal. Martin got back against the left-hand wall with all the others from the queue; they were all on that side, covered by the man’s gun.
He was pretty sure the gun in the boy’s gloved hand was a toy. Not a replica like the one in his own pocket, but a toy. The boy looked very young, seventeen or eighteen, but Martin knew that, although not himself old, he was old enough not to be able to tell if someone was eighteen or twenty-four.
Martin made himself memorise every detail of the boy’s appearance, not knowing, not dreaming then, that any memorising he might succeed in doing would be in vain. He noted the man’s appearance with similar care. The boy had a curious rash on his face, or spots perhaps. Martin had never seen anything like them before. The man was dark with tattooed hands. He had no gloves on.
The gun in the man’s hand might not be real either. It was impossible to tell. Watching the boy, he thought of his own son, not so many years younger. Had Kevin contemplated something of this sort? Martin felt the replica in his pocket, met the eyes of the man fixed on him. He removed his hand and brought it up to clasp the other.
The boy had said something to the woman cashier, to Sharon Fraser, but Martin hadn’t caught what it was. They must have some alarm system in the bank. He confessed to himself that he didn’t know what kind. A button that responded to foot pressure? Was an alarm going off even now in the police station?
It did not occur to him to commit to memory any details of the appearance of his companions, those people cowering with him against the wall. In the event it would have made no difference if he had. All he could have said of them was that none of them was old, though all but one were adults. The exception was the baby in a sling on its mother’s chest. They were shadows to him, a nameless, faceless public.
Inside him was rising an urge to do something, take some action. He felt an enormous indignation. It was what he always felt in the face of crime or attempted crime. How dare they? Who did they think they were? By what imagined right did they come in here to take what was not their own? It was the same feeling that he had when he heard or saw that one country had invaded another. How dare they commit this outrage?
The woman cashier was handing over money. Martin didn’t think Ram Gopal had set off an alarm. He was staring, petrified with terror or merely inscrutably calm. He was watching Sharon Fraser pressing those keys on the cash dispenser at her side which would tumble out banknotes already packed into fifties and hundreds. The steady eyes watched pack after pack pushed under the glass barrier, through the metal valley, into the greedy gloved hand.
The boy took the money in his left hand, scooping it up, shovelling it into a canvas bag strapped round his hips. He kept the gun, the toy gun, trained on Sharon Fraser. The man was covering the rest of them, including Ram Gopal. It was easy from where he stood. The bank interior was small and they were all huddled together. Martin was aware of the sound of a woman crying, quiet sobs, soft whimpers.
His indignation threatened to spill over. But not yet, not quite yet. It came to him that if the police had been authorised to bear arms he might now be so used to them that he would be able to tell a real gun from a false. The boy had moved to stand in front of Ram Gopal. Sharon Fraser, a young plump girl whose family Martin slightly knew, whose mother had been at school with his wife, sat with her hands in fists and her long red nails digging into the palms. Ram Gopal had begun passing packs of notes under the glass barrier. It was nearly over. In a moment it would all be over and he, Martin, would have done nothing.
He watched the dark stocky man retreat towards the doors. It made very little difference, they were still all covered by his gun. Martin slid his hand down to his pocket and felt there Kevin’s huge weapon. The man saw but did nothing. He had to get that door open, the bolts drawn, for them to make a getaway.
Martin had known at once that Kevin’s gun wasn’t real. By the same process of recognition and reasoning, if not from experience, he knew this boy’s gun wasn’t real either. The clock on the wall above the cashiers, behind the boy’s head, pointed to nine forty-two. How swiftly it had all happened! Only half an hour earlier he had been in that garage. Only forty minutes ago he had found the replica in the satchel and confiscated it.
He put his hand into his pocket, snatched Kevin’s gun and shouted, ‘Drop your guns!’
The man had turned for a split second to unbolt the door. He backed against it, holding the gun in both hands like a gangster in a film. The boy took the last pack of notes, swept it into his canvas bag.
Martin said it again. ‘Drop your guns!’
The boy turned his head slowly and looked at him. A woman made a strangled whimpering sound. The feeble little gun in the boy’s hand seemed to tremble. Martin heard the front door crash back against the wall. He didn’t hear the man go, the man with the real gun, but he knew he had gone. A gust of wind blew through the bank. The glass door slammed. The boy stood staring at Martin with strange impenetrable, perhaps drugged, eyes, holding his gun as if he might at any moment let it fall, as if he were carrying out a test to see how loosely he could suspend it from a finger before it dropped.
Someone came into the bank. The glass door swung inwards. Martin shouted, ‘Get back! Call the police! Now! There’s been a robbery.’
He took a step forwards, towards the boy. It was going to be easy, it was easy, the real danger was gone. His gun was trained on the boy and the boy was trembling. Martin thought, I will have done it, I alone, my God!
The boy pressed the trigger and shot him through the heart.
Martin fell. He did not double up, but sank to the floor as his knees buckled under him. Blood came from his mouth. He made no sound beyond a little cough. His body crumpled, as in some slow-motion film, his hands grasped at the air, but with weak graceful movements, and gradually he collapsed into utter stillness, his eyes cast up to stare unseeing at the bank’s vaulted ceiling.
For a moment there had been silence, then the people burst into noise, into screams and shouts. They crowded round the dying man. Brian Prince, the bank manager, came out from the office behind and members of his staff came with him. Ram Gopal was already on the phone. The baby began to utter desperate heartrending cries as its mother screamed and gibbered and flung her arms round the sling and the small body. Sharon Fraser, who had known Martin, came out into the bank and knelt beside him, weeping and twisting her hands, crying out for justice, for retribution.
‘Oh God, oh God, what have they done to him? What’s happened to him? Help me, someone, don’t let him die . . .’
But by then Martin was dead.
Chapter Two
Martin’s Christian name appeared in the newspapers. It was spoken aloud that evening on the BBC’s early-evening news and again at nine o’clock. Detective Sergeant Caleb Martin, aged thirty-nine, married and the father of one son.
‘It’s a funny thing,’ said Inspector Burden, ‘you won’t credit it, but I never knew he was called that. Always thought he was John or Bill or something. We always called him Martin like a first name. I wonder why he had a go? What got into him?’
‘Courage,’ said Wexford. ‘Poor devil.’
‘Foolhardiness.’ Burden said it ruefully, not unkindly.
‘I suppose courage never has much to do with intelligence, does it? Not much to do with reasoning or logic. He didn’t give the pale cast of thought a chance to work.’
He had been one of them, one of their own. Besides, to a policeman there is something peculiarly horrible in the murder of a policeman. It is as if the culpability is doubled and the worst of all crimes compounded because the policeman’s life, ideally, is dedicated to the prevention of such acts.
Chief Inspector Wexford did not expend more effort in seeking Martin’s killer than he would have in the hunt for any other murderer, but he felt more than usually emotionally involved. He hadn’t even particularly liked Martin, had been irritated by his earnest, humourless endeavours. ‘Plodding’ is an adjective, pejorative and scornful, often applied to policemen, and it was the first which came to mind in Martin’s case. ‘The Plod’ is even a slang term for the police force. But all this was forgotten now Martin was dead.
‘I’ve often thought,’ Wexford said to Burden, ‘what a poor piece of psychology that was on Shakespeare’s part when he said that the evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. Not that poor Martin was evil, but you know what I mean. It’s the good things about people that we remember, not the bad. I remember how punctilious he was and how thorough and – well, dogged. I feel quite sentimental about him when I’m not bloody angry. But God, I’m so bloody angry I can hardly see out of my eyes when I think of that kid with the spots shooting him in cold blood.’
They had begun with the most careful in-depth interviewing of Brian Prince, the manager, and Sharon Fraser and Ram Gopal, the cashiers. The customers who had been in the bank – that is, those customers who had come forward or whom they had been able to find – were seen next. No one was able to say exactly how many people had been in the bank at the time.
‘Poor old Martin would have been able to tell us,’ Burden said. ‘I’m sure of that. He knew, but he’s dead, and if he wasn’t none of it would matter.’
Brian Prince had seen nothing. The first he knew of it was when he heard the boy fire the shot that killed Martin. Ram Gopal, a member of Kingsmarkham’s very small Indian immigrant population, of the Brahmin caste from the Punjab, gave Wexford the best and fullest description of both men. With descriptions like that, Wexford said afterwards, it would be a crime not to catch them.
‘I watched them very carefully. I sat quite still, conserving my energy, and I concentrated on every detail of their appearance. I knew, you know, that there was nothing I could do but that I could do, and I did it.’
Michelle Weaver, on her way at the time to work in the travel agency two doors away, described the boy as between twenty-two and twenty-five, fair, not very tall, with bad acne. The mother of the baby, Mrs Wendy Gould, also said the boy was fair but a tall man, at least six feet. Sharon Fraser thought he was tall and fair but she had particularly noticed his eyes which were a bright pale blue. All three of the men said the boy was short or of medium height, thin, perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three. Wendy Gould said he looked ill. The remaining woman, Mrs Barbara Watkin, said the boy was dark and short with dark eyes. All agreed he had a spotty face but Barbara Watkin was doubtful about the cause being acne. More like a lot of small birthmarks, she said.
The boy’s companion was described invariably as much older then he, ten years older or, according to Mrs Watkin, twenty years older. He was dark, some said swarthy, and with hairy hands. Only Michelle Weaver said he had a mole on his left cheek. Sharon Fraser thought he was very tall but one of the men described him as ‘tiny’ and another as ‘no taller than a teenager’.
Ram Gopal’s confidence and concentration inspired belief in Wexford. He described the boy as about five feet eight, very thin, blue-eyed, fair-haired and with acnaceous spots. The boy wore blue denim jeans, a dark T-shirt or sweater and a black leather jacket. He had gloves on, a point no other witness thought to mention.
The man wore no gloves. His hands were covered in dark hairs. The hair on his head was dark, nearly black, but receding severely, giving the effect of a superlatively high forehead. He was at least thirty-five and dressed similarly to the boy except that his jeans were of some dark colour, dark grey or dark brown, and he wore some sort of brown pullover.
The boy had only spoken once, to tell Sharon Fraser to hand over the money. Sharon Fraser was unable to describe his voice. Ram Gopal gave his opinion that the accent was not cockney but not an educated voice either, probably from south London. Could it be the local accent, ‘Londonised’ as it was by the spread of the capital and by television? Ram Gopal admitted that it could be. He was unsure about English accents, which Wexford discovered by putting him to the test and finding he defined a Devon accent as Yorkshire.
So how many people were in the bank? Ram Gopal said fifteen including the staff and Sharon Fraser said sixteen. Brian Prince didn’t know. Of the customers, one said twelve and another said eighteen.
It was clear that, however many or however few there had been in the bank, not all had come forward in response to police appeals. During the time between the raiders’ departure and the arrival of the police, perhaps as many as five people had quietly left the bank while the rest concerned themselves with Martin.
As soon as they saw their opportunity, they made their escape. Who could blame them, especially if they had seen nothing relevant? Who wants to be drawn into a police investigation if they have nothing to contribute? Even if they do have something to contribute, but something small and trivial which other more observant eye-witnesses can supply?
For peace of mind and a quiet life, how much simpler to slip away and continue to work or the shops or home. Kingsmarkham Police faced the fact that four or five people had kept mum, knew something or nothing but kept silent and hidden. All the police knew was that not one of these people, four or five or perhaps only three, were known by sight to the bank staff. So far as they could remember. Neither Brian Prince, nor Ram Gopal, nor Sharon Fraser could remember a face they recognised in that queue in the roped-off area. Apart from, that is, those regular customers who had all remained inside the bank after Martin’s death.
Martin himself had of course been known to them, and Michelle Weaver and Wendy Gould among others. Sharon Fraser could say only this: she had an impression that the missing bank customers were all men.
The most sensational piece of evidence given by any of the witnesses was that of Michelle Weaver. She said she had seen the boy with acne drop his gun just before he escaped from the bank. He had thrown it on to the floor and run away.
* * * *
At first, Burden hardly believed she expected him to take this statement seriously. It seemed bizarre. The act which Mrs Weaver described he had read of somewhere, or been taught, or gleaned from some lecture. It was a classic Mafia technique. He even said to her that they must have read the same book.
Michelle Weaver insisted. She had seen the gun skid across the floor. The others had crowded round Martin but she had been the last in the line of people the gunman had directed to stand against the wall, so therefore the furthest from Martin who had been at the head of it.
Caleb Martin had dropped the gun with which he made his brave attempt. His son Kevin later identified it as his personal property, taken from him by his father in the car that morning. It was a toy, a crude copy, with several design inaccuracies, of a Smith and Wesson Model 10 Military and Police Revolver with four-inch barrel.
Several witnesses had seen Martin’s gun fall. A building contractor called Peter Kemp had been standing next to him and he said Martin dropped the gun at the moment the bullet struck him.
‘Could it have been Detective Sergeant Martin’s gun that you saw, Mrs Weaver?’
‘Detective Sergeant Martin dropped the gun he was holding. It skidded across the floor among people’s feet. Could you be mistaken? Could it have been that gun which you saw?’
‘I saw the boy throw it down.’
‘You said you saw it skid across the floor. Martin’s gun skidded across the floor. There were two guns skidding across the floor?’
‘I don’t know. I only saw one.’
‘You saw it in the boy’s hand and then you saw it skid across the floor. Did you actually see it leave the boy’s hand?’
She was no longer sure. She thought she had seen it. Certainly she had seen it in the boy’s hand and then seen a gun on the floor, skating across the shiny marble among the people’s feet. An idea came that silenced her for a moment. She looked hard at Burden.
‘I wouldn’t go into court and swear I saw it,’ she said.
In the months that followed, the hunt for the men who had carried out the Kingsmarkham bank robbery became nationwide. Gradually, all the stolen banknotes turned up. One of the men bought a car for cash before the numbers of the missing notes were circulated, and paid out six thousand pounds to an unsuspecting second-hand car dealer. This was the older, darker man. The car dealer furnished a detailed description of him and gave, of course, his name. Or the name the man had given him – George Brown. After that, Kingsmarkham Police referred to him as George Brown.
Of the remaining money, just under two thousand pounds came to light wrapped in newspapers in a town waste-disposal dump. The missing six thousand was never found. It had probably been spent in dribs and drabs. There was not much risk in doing that. As Wexford said, if you give the girl on the check-out two tenners for your groceries she doesn’t do a spot-check on the numbers. All you need to do is be prudent and not go there again.
Just before Christmas Wexford went north to interview a man on remand in prison in Lancashire. It was the usual thing. If he co-operated and offered helpful information, things might go rather better for him at his trial. As it was, he was likely to go down for seven years.
His name was James Walley and he told Wexford he had done a job with George Brown, a man whose real name was George Brown. It was one of his past offences he intended to ask to be taken into consideration. Wexford saw the real George Brown at his home in Warrington. He was quite an elderly man, though probably younger than he looked, and he walked with a limp, the result of falling off a scaffold some years before when attempting to break into a block of flats.
After that, Kingsmarkham Police started talking of their wanted man as o.k.a. (otherwise known as) George Brown. Of the boy with acne there was never any sign, not a whisper. In the underworld he was unknown, he might have died for all that was heard of him.
O.k.a. George Brown surfaced again in January. He was George Thomas Lee, arrested in the course of a robbery in Leeds. This time it was Burden who went up to see him in the remand prison. He was a small, squinting man with cropped carroty hair. The tale he spun Burden was of a spotty boy he had met in a pub in Bradford who had boasted of killing a policeman somewhere in the south. He named one pub, then forgot it and named another, but he knew the boy’s full name and address. Already sure that the motive behind all this was revenge for some petty offence, Burden found the boy. He was tall and dark, an unemployed lab technician with a record as spotless as his face. The boy had no memory of meeting o.k.a. George Brown in any pub, but he did remember calling the police when he found an intruder in the last place he worked at.
Martin had been killed by a shot from a Colt Magnum .357 or .38 revolver. It was impossible to tell which, because although the cartridge was a .38, the .357 takes both .357 and .38 cartridges. Sometimes Wexford worried about that gun and once he dreamed he was in the bank watching two revolvers skating round the marble floor while the bank customers stared like spectators at some arena event. Magnums on Ice.
He went to talk to Michelle Weaver himself. She was very obliging, always willing to talk, showing no signs of impatience. But five months had gone by and the memory of what she had seen that morning when Caleb Martin died was necessarily growing dim.
‘I can’t have seen him throw it down, can I? I mean, I must have imagined that. If he’d thrown it down it would have been there and it wasn’t, only the one the policeman dropped.’
‘There was certainly only one gun when the police arrived.’ Wexford talked to her conversationally, as if they were equals in knowledge and sharers of inside information. She warmed to this, she grew confident and eager. ‘All that we found was the toy gun DS Martin took away from his son that morning. Not a copy, not a replica, a child’s toy.’
‘And was that really a toy I saw?’ She marvelled at it. ‘They make them look so real.’
Another conversational interview, this time with Barbara Watkin, revealed not much more than her obstinacy. She was tenacious about her description of the boy’s appearance.
‘I know acne when I see it. My eldest son had terrible acne. That wasn’t what the boy had. I told you, it was more like birthmarks.’
‘The scars of acne, perhaps?’
‘It wasn’t anything like that. You have to picture those strawberry marks people have, only these were the purple kind, and all blotched, dozens of them.’
Wexford asked Dr Crocker, and Crocker said no one had birthmarks of that description, so that was the end of that.
There was not much more to say, nothing left to ask. It was the end of February when he talked to Michelle Weaver and the beginning of March when Sharon Fraser came up with something she had remembered about one of the missing men among the bank customers. He had been holding a bunch of banknotes in his hand and they were green notes. There had been no green English banknotes since the pound note had been replaced by a coin several years before. She could remember nothing else about this man – did it help?
Wexford couldn’t say it did, much. But you don’t discourage that kind of public-spiritedness.
Nothing much else happened until the 999 call came on 11 March.
Chapter Three
‘They’re all dead.’ The voice was a woman’s and young, very young. She said it again. ‘They’re all dead,’ and then, ‘I’m going to bleed to death!’
The operator who had taken the call, though not new to the job, said afterwards she turned cold at those words. She had already uttered the formula of asking if the caller wanted police, the fire service or an ambulance.
‘Where are you?’ she said.
‘Help me. I’m going to bleed to death.’
‘Tell me where you are, the address . . .’
The voice started giving a phone number.
‘The address, please . . .’
‘Tancred House, Cheriton. Help me, please help me . . . Make them come quickly . . .’
The time was eight twenty-two.
* * * *
The forest covers an area of something like sixty square miles. Much of it is coniferous, man-made woods of Scots pine and larch, Norway spruce and occasionally a towering Douglas fir. But to the south of this plantation a vestige of the ancient forest of Cheriton remains, one of seven which existed in the County of Sussex in the Middle Ages, the others being Arundel, St Leonard’s, Worth, Ashdown, Waterdown and Dallington. Arundel excepted, they once all formed part of a single great forest of three-and-a-half-thousand square miles which, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, stretched from Kent to Hampshire. Deer roamed it and in the depths, wild swine.
The small area of this which remains is woodland of oak, ash, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut, birch and the wayfarer’s tree, which clothes the southern slopes and borders of a private estate. Here, where all was parkland until the early thirties, green turf on which grew Douglas firs, cedars and the rarer Wellingtonia, an occasional half-acre of mature woodland, a new forest was planted by the new owner. The roads up to the house, one of them no more than a narrow track, wind through the woods, in places between steep banks, in others through groves of rhododendron, past trees in the prime of life and here and there overshadowed by an ancient giant.
Sometimes fallow deer can be seen among the trees. Red squirrels have been sighted. The blackcock is a rarity, the Dartford warbler common, and hen harriers are winter visitors. In late spring, when the rhododendrons come out, the long vistas are rosy pink under a green mist of unfolding beech leaves. The nightingale sings. Earlier, in March, the woods are dark, yet glowing with the coming life, and underfoot the ground is a rich ginger-gold from beech mast. The beech trunks shine as if their bark were laced with silver. But at night there is darkness and silence, a deep quiet fills the woods, a forbidding hush.
The land is not fenced but there are gates in the boundary hedge. All are of red cedar and five-barred. Most give access only to paths, impassable except on foot, but the main gate closes off the woods from the road that turns northwards from the B 2428, linking Kingsmarkham with Cambery Ashes. There is a sign, a plain board attached to a post and bearing the words, TANCRED HOUSE. PRIVATE ROAD. PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE, which stands to the left of it. The gate is required to be kept closed, though no key, code or device is needed to open it.
On that Tuesday evening, eight fifty-one on 11 March, the gate was shut. Detective Sergeant Vine got out of the first car and opened it, though he was senior to most of the officers in the two cars. He had come to Kingsmarkham to replace Martin. There were three vehicles in the convoy, the last being the ambulance. Vine let them all through and then he closed the gate once more. It was not possible to drive very fast but once they were inside, on this private land, Pemberton went as fast as he could.
Later they were to learn, using it daily, that this road was always known as the main drive.
It was dark, sunset two hours past. The last streetlamp was a hundred yards down the B 2428 before the gate. They relied on their headlights alone, lights which showed up the mist that drifted through the woods as streamers of greenish fog. If eyes looked out of the forest the lights did not show them up. The tree trunks were colonnades of grey pillars, swathed in scarves of mist. In the depths between was impenetrable dark.
No one spoke. The last person to speak had been Barry Vine when he said he would get out and open the gate. Detective Inspector Burden said nothing. He was thinking about what they would find at Tancred House and telling himself not to anticipate, for speculation was useless. Pemberton had nothing to say and would not have considered it his place to initiate a conversation.
In the van behind were the driver, Gerry Hinde, a scene-of-crimes officer called Archbold with a photographer called Milsom, and a woman officer, Detective Constable Karen Malahyde. The paramedics in the ambulance were a woman and a man, and the woman was driving. A decision had been taken at an early stage to display no blue lamps and sound no sirens.
The convoy made no sound but for that produced by the engines of the three vehicles. It wound through the avenues of trees where the banks were high and where the road passed across sandy plateaux. Why the road should wind like this was a mystery, for the hillside was shallow and there were no features to avoid except perhaps the isolated giant trees, invisible in the dark.
The whim of a forest planter, thought Burden. He tried to remember if he had seen these woods in their younger days but he did not know the region well. Naturally, he knew who owned them now, everyone in Kingsmarkham knew that. He wondered if the message left for Wexford had reached him yet, if the Chief Inspector was even now on his way, in a car a mile or two behind them.
Vine was staring out of the window, pressing his nose against the glass, as if there was something to be seen out there besides darkness and mist and the verges ahead, yellowish and shining and wet-looking in the headlights. No eyes looked out from the depths, no twin points of green or gold, and there was no movement of bird or animal. Even the sky was not to be discerned here. The tree trunks stood separated like columns but their top branches seemed to form an unbroken ceiling.
Burden had heard there were cottages on the estate, houses to accommodate whatever staff Davina Flory kept. These would be near Tancred House, no more than five minutes’ walk away, but they passed no gates, no paths leading into the woods, saw no distant lights, dim or bright, on either side. This was fifty miles from London but it might have been northern Canada, it might have been Siberia. The woods seemed endless, rank upon rank of trees, some of them forty feet in height, others half-grown but tall enough. As each bend was turned and you knew that round this corner must be an opening, must be a break, a sight of the house must at last be granted, there were only more trees, another platoon in this army of trees, still, silent, waiting.
He leaned forward and said to Pemberton, his voice sounding loud in the silence, ‘How far have we come from the gate?’
Pemberton checked. ‘Two miles and three-tenths, sir.’
‘It’s a hell of a way, isn’t it?’
‘Three miles according to the map,’ said Vine. He had a whitish squash mark on his nose where it had pressed against the window.
‘It seems to be taking hours,’ Burden was grumbling like this, peering out at the endless groves, the infinite reaches of cathedral-like columns, when the house came into view, rearing suddenly into sight with an effect of shock.
The woods parted, as if a curtain was drawn aside, and there it was, brilliantly lit as for some stage-set, bathed in a flood of artificial moonlight, greenish and cold. It was strangely dramatic. The house gleamed, shimmered in a bay of light, thrown into relief against a misty dark well. The façade itself was punctured with lights, but orange-coloured, the squares and rectangles of lighted windows.
Burden had not expected light, but dark desolation. This scene before him was like the opening shot of a film about characters in a fairy story living in a remote palace, a film about the Sleeping Beauty. There should have been music, a soft but sinister melody, with horns and drums. The silence made you feel an essential was missing, something had gone disastrously wrong. The sound was lost without fusing the lights. He saw the woods close in again as the road wound into another loop. Impatience seized him. He wanted to get out and run to the house, break in there to find the worst, what the worst was, and he kept his seat petulantly.
That first glimpse had been a brief foretaste, a trailer. This time the woods fell away for good, the headlights showed the road crossing a grassy plain on which a few great trees stood. The occupants of the cars felt very exposed as they began to cross this plain, as if they were the outriders of an invading force with an ambush ahead of them. The house on the other side of it was now illuminated with absolute clarity, a fine country manor that looked Georgian but for its pitched roof and candlestick chimneys. It looked very large and grand and also menacing.
A low wall divided its immediate surroundings from the rest of the estate. This ran at right angles to the road they were on, bisecting the treeless open land. A left-hand turn branched off just before the gap in the wall. It was possible to go straight on, or turn left on this road which looked as if it would take you to the side and back of the house. The wall itself concealed the floodlights.
‘Go straight ahead,’ said Burden.
They passed through the gap, between stone posts with ogee tops. Here the flagstones began, a vast space paved in Portland stone. The stone was golden-grey, pleasingly uneven, too close-set for even moss to spring between. Plumb in the centre of this courtyard was a large circular pool, coped in stone, and standing in the midst of it, on a stone island laden with flowers and broad-leaved plants in varied marbles, green and pinkish and bronze-grey, a group of statuary, a man, a tree, a girl in grey marble, that might or might not have been a fountain. If it was, it was not at present playing. The water lay stagnant, unruffled.
Shaped like an E without the central crosspiece, or like a rectangle missing one long side, the house stood unadorned beyond this great plain of stone. Not a creeper softened its smooth plasterwork or shrub grew nearby to compromise its bands of rusticated stone. The arc lamps on this side of the wall showed up every fine line and every tiny pit on its surface.
The lights were on everywhere, in the two side wings, in the central range and the gallery above. They glowed behind drawn curtains, pink or orange or green according to the colours of the curtains, and they shone too out of uncurtained panes. Light from the arc lamps competed with these softer glowing colours but was not able entirely to quell them. Everything was quite motionless, windless, giving the impression that not only the air but time itself had been stilled.
Though, as Burden asked himself afterwards, what was there that could have moved? If a gale-force wind had been blowing there was nothing here for it to move. Even the trees were behind them now, and thousands more beyond the house, lost in that cavern of darkness.
The convoy drove up to the front door, passing to the left of the pool and the statuary. Burden and Vine threw open their doors and Vine made it first to the front door. This was approached by two wide, shallow stone steps. If there had ever been a porch it was gone now, and all that remained on either side of the door were a couple of unfluted recessed columns. The front door itself was gleaming white, shining in this light as if the paint on it was still wet. The bell was the kind you pull, a sugarstick rod of wrought iron. Vine pulled it. The sound it made when he tugged at the spiral rod must have clanged through the house, for it was clearly audible to the paramedics, getting out of their ambulance twenty yards away.
He pulled at the bell a third time and then he banged the brass knocker. The door furniture gleamed like gold in the bright light. Remembering the voice on the phone, the woman who had cried for help, they listened for a sound. There was nothing. Not a whimper, not a whisper. Silence. Burden banged the knocker and flapped the letter-box. Nobody thought of a back door, of what numerous rear doors there might be. No one considered that one might be open.
‘We’re going to have to break in,’ Burden said.
Where? Four broad windows flanked the front door, two on each side of it. Inside could be seen a kind of outer hall, an orangery with bay trees and lilies in tubs on the mottled white marble floor. The lily leaves glistened under the light from two chandeliers. What was beyond, behind an arch, could not be seen. It looked warm and still in there, it looked civilised, a well-appointed gentle place, the home of rich people fond of luxury. In the orangery, against the wall, was a mahogany and gilt console table with a chair placed negligently beside it, a spindly chair with a red velvet seat. From a Chinese jar on the table spilled out the long tendrils of a trailing plant.
Burden turned away from the front door and began to walk across the stone-flagged plain of this vast courtyard. The light was like moonlight much magnified, as if the moon had doubled or reflected itself in some celestial mirror. Afterwards, he said to Wexford that the light made it worse. Darkness would have been natural, he could have handled darkness more comfortably.
He approached the west wing where the window at the end, a shallow bow, had its base only a foot above the ground. The lights were on inside, reduced, from where he was, to a soft green glow. The curtains were drawn, their pale lining towards the glass, but he guessed that on the other side they must be of green velvet. Later he was to wonder what instinct had led him to this window, to reject those nearer and come to this one.
A premonition had come to him that this was it. In there was what there was to see, to find. He tried to look through the knife-blade sliver of bright light that was the gap between the edges of those curtains. He could see nothing but a dazzlement. The others were behind him, silent but close behind him. To Pemberton he said, ‘Break the window.’
Pemberton, cool and calm, prepared for this, broke the glass in one of the largish rectangular panes with a car spanner. He broke one of the flat panes in the centre of the window, put his hand through the space, lifted the curtain aside, unlocked the lower sash and raised it. Ducking under the bar, Burden went in first, then Vine. Heavy thick material enveloped them and they pushed it away from their faces, drawing the curtain back with a swish, its rings making a gentle clicking sound along the pole.
They stood a few feet into the room, on thick carpet, and saw what they had come to see. From Vine came a strong indrawing of breath. No one else made a sound. Pemberton came through the window and Karen Malahyde with him. Burden stepped aside to allow them space, aside but not for the moment forward. He did not exclaim. He looked. Fifteen seconds passed while he looked. His eyes met Vine’s blank stare, he even turned his head and noted, as if on another plane somewhere, that the curtains were indeed of green velvet. Then he looked again at the dining table.
It was a large table, some nine feet long, laid with a cloth and with glass and silver; there was food on it, and the tablecloth was red. It looked as if it was meant to be red, the material scarlet damask, except that the area nearest the window was white. The tide of red had not reached so far.
Across the deepest scarlet part someone lay slumped forward, a woman who had been sitting or standing at the table. Opposite, flung back in a chair, another woman’s body was slung, the head hanging and the long dark hair streaming, her dress as red as that tablecloth, as if it had been worn to match.