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CRIME IN THE TOWER

Prologue

                    

It was shortly after six o’clock on the evening of Saturday 2 December as cleaner Pam Appleton worked her way through the offices in the basement of the Queen’s House (the governor’s residence) at the Tower of London. Mechanically emptying waste paper bins and wiping computer screens in the outer office, she reflected how it was funny the way people imagined working in the Tower to be dead romantic and spooky, like starring in one of those paranormal shows that were all the rage nowadays. The truth was that for most of the time, it was just like any other job and she had come to take the ancient surroundings almost for granted.

  Mind you, at this time on a cold wet winter’s day, the vast stone walls and ramparts seemed vaguely clammy and menacing, as if some baleful humidity had broken out on them like a disease.

  And then there were the ghosts…. She hadn’t been able to avoid hearing about them.

  Her favourite was Lady Arbella Stuart, known as the White Lady, who was supposed to go flitting about after dusk wringing her hands in the approved tragic style. A cousin of James I and niece of Mary Queen of Scots, she ended up being imprisoned in the Queen’s House after some plot or other and promptly set about starving herself to death. The assistant curator Margaret Esdaile had done a special study of Arbella, telling Pam that she most probably suffered from porphyria like Mad King George and might even have been clinically certifiable.

  To think of the royals having all these nutters in their bloodline. No wonder Prince Harry and Meghan kept banging on about mental health!

  Pam liked it when Dr Esdaile told stories about all the folk who had suffered in the Tower or showed her antique books containing ‘contemporary sources’ . She’d  even memorised some lines a poor young Catholic scribbled before dying for his part in a conspiracy to free Mary Queen of Scots:

  My tale was heard and yet it was not told, My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green, My youth is spent and yet I am not old, I saw the world and yet I was not seen; My thread is cut and yet it is not spun, And now I live and now my life is done.

  That was just how Pam felt at times. Like life was passing her by and she hadn’t made the most of her opportunities, so the pressure was on to make up for lost time. But Dr Esdaile had said not to be daft and the world was her oyster, even writing a reference to help her get into the History programme at St Mary’s Twickenham. Pam was willing to bet snooty Benedict Ryan and Daniel Locke,  the joint chief curators, would have given her short shrift if she had dared approach them, but Margaret Esdaile had no airs and graces and was never too busy for a chat about Pam’s long-term ambitions. She even made time to show Pam the carved graffiti that laced the walls of the Beauchamp Tower and recount stories about famous prisoners like Sir Walter Raleigh who kitted a room out as his study and even had a converted chicken shed where he conducted all kinds of weird and wonderful experiments on treasures plundered from the New World… or the earl of Southampton whose cat that climbed down a chimney to find him. Then there were the legends about Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley having clandestine meetings in the Bell Tower, through that was probably ‘a load of tosh’.

  Pam knew Dr Esdaile had a new and exciting research project on hand. Something to do with the Princes in the Tower and hidden relics. It had put Dr Locke’s nose properly out of joint, her moving in on what he regarded as his patch. And word had it that Dr Esdaile’s ex-husband Steven Winders, now a curator at Hampton Court, was none too happy either, seeing as he and second wife Lucy (HR manager) planned an exhibition on Richard III and were afraid she might steal their thunder. Academics were a right bunch of prima donnas in Pam’s opinion, but Dr Esdaile wasn’t as ‘up herself’ as the rest.

  The assistant curator was no pushover though, Pam thought with a wry smile, as she recalled that business with Beefeater John Whittingham. Thanks to Dr Esdaile reporting him for fluffing his spiel to the tourists, he’d had to mug up on his history and do some kind of oral exam in front of the deputy governor…. he was hopping mad about that, and her complaint that he’d been overly familiar with a group of Italian exchange students just poured oil on the flames. Pam didn’t much care for Whittingham herself – too leery by half – but he was popular with his colleagues and the episode left Dr Esdaile in the doghouse with the small Tower community. Just as well the curator didn’t live in the palace…..

  Pam supposed it must be a feather in one’s cap to give the Tower as your home address. The black and white timber-framed Queen’s House was something else, though stuck-up Clare Hunter, the events co-ordinator, took good care to ensure the facilities staff had little opportunity to linger and marvel at its treasures. The cleaner pulled a face as she recalled how Hunter practically threw a fit when she came across Dr Esdaile giving her a guided tour of the Council Chamber where they’d interrogated Guy Fawkes. The Tower’s chaplain, Reverend Bernard Doyle MBE, wasn’t much better, she reflected sardonically, despite all that blather about them being one big happy family. It seemed like any time her team was on shift in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where Anne Boleyn was buried, the padre hovered around like he suspected they might pinch the candlesticks or something. And he’d turned downright frosty when she asked about taking a look in the little crypt where Thomas More was buried. ‘His head isn’t there you know,’ was the quelling response to her enquiry, as though she was a ghoulish philistine looking for cheap thrills. ‘It’s kept in a vault at St Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury,’ he pronounced, ushering her firmly towards a memorial plaque to the left of the main altar.

  Doyle was the kind of bloke her mum described as a long drink of water, but she supposed he wasn’t too bad if you liked the half-starved and hollow-cheeked look. Pam had heard a rumour that he’d made a play for Dr Esdaile before she married Steven Winders and still carried a torch for her even though she was now happily remarried to stockbroker Charles Esdaile.

  Pam couldn’t imagine Doyle had ever stood much of a chance with Margaret Esdaile. There was just something so buttoned-up and bloodless about him…. Mind you, Winders was one of those cadaverous brooding characters too, and she recalled hearing that the new husband was tall and dark, so maybe Dr Esdaile had a type….

  Somewhat shamefaced at her own prurience, Pam justified it with the reflection that the Tower was…. well, if not exactly a hotbed of romantic intrigue, certainly home to some interesting personalities. And gossip had it that Bernard Doyle wasn’t the only one to have a thing for Margaret Esdaile. If Sophie McGrath was to be believed, stiff and stuffy Daniel Locke had a crack too only to be rebuffed.

  Even though she was only an intern, Sophie’s intel was usually bang on the money. Pam wasn’t sure she really liked the pert blonde twenty-seven year old, though the Beefeaters had predictably fallen for her to a man. Pam had the impression that Dr Esdaile kept Sophie somewhat at arm’s length. It was the same with the new apprentice conservator Elena Rogers, a well-spoken thirty something brunette who had previously worked for English Heritage. The curator was perfectly friendly but never let either woman get too close… as if there was something which made her wary. Given Sophie’s reputation as a snoop – maybe even a spy for senior management – it was probably sensible to be cautious.

  The basement quarters were orderly, sleek and well-tended as befitted their situation in an historic landmark, with pale oak floors, oriental rugs and trellised book cases of dark-red wood where gold-tooled almanacs were ranged behind gleaming glass. Dr Esdaile’s office was at the far end of a vestibule, and Pam never begrudged dusting its spindle-legged furniture nor the mahogany lectern and book plinths because she felt they somehow brought her close to that mysterious realm where great wars had been fought, with blood feuds leading to murder in high places and parboiled heads rotting on pikes above London Bridge….

  Unusually on this occasion, however, Pam felt strangely uneasy as she stood in the thickly carpeted little hallway.

  Everywhere was very quiet, the usual background hum of tourists finished for the day.

  Through the corridor’s oriel window she saw cottony white flakes floating down and suddenly felt very tired. What was that poem about woods being lovely, dark and deep and a traveller having ‘miles to go before I sleep’? Her mum would be bustling round in Tower Hamlets getting a chippy tea ready round about now, and she felt an unexpected acute yearning to be away from all this history and antiquity and back in her everyday cocoon…. her safe shell.

  The silence was like a thick pall.

  What the heck was wrong with her? she wondered, shaking the sweaty fringe out of her eyes. She wasn’t one for superstition and fairy stories and all that jazz. Always felt quite superior when some of the others banged on about White Ladies and wailing spectres and the rest of it…. liked to think she was too sophisticated for nonsense like that….

  Only now, despite the central heating being on full blast, it seemed as though the temperature had suddenly dropped and she felt icy cold.

  Again, she was conscious of the profound hush.

  Neither the governor nor the deputy governor was in residence. The same went for the  senior administrative staff and curators who generally hightailed it at weekends. The yeoman warders would be doing their rounds but hadn’t yet got round to the Queen’s House.

  Normally Pam wouldn’t have welcomed the Beefeaters’ over-loud galumphing presence but now felt a strange yearning for that reassuring patrol.

  Get a grip, girl! she told herself. You can’t stand here forever.

  Gently, respectfully, she turned the handle to Dr Esdaile’s office.

  The curator was sitting at her desk, looking towards the door as though to greet Pam.

  But her eyes were filmed over and her mouth frozen in an agonised Oh.

  A pool of blood coagulating stickily in front of Margaret Esdaile showed that she had been the victim of a savage attack.

  Strangely, it never occurred to Pam to imagine that she herself was in any danger. She knew that the tsunami of murderous rage had spent itself and moved on.

  Margaret Esdaile’s handsome bony face and Joan of Arc dandelion bob weren’t disfigured by her death throes, but it seemed somehow more of a sacrilege to Pam that the curator’s desk and papers should have been despoiled.

  Afterwards, she couldn’t say what had made her move all of the books and documents to one side. It just seemed the right thing to do at the time.

  ‘Contamination of the crime scene,’ a forensics officer had snarled once the flashing lights brigade descended on the place, but DCI Knevitt with the kind creased face and soulful eyes told him to button it, questioning Pam kindly and patiently until she had given them everything she could think of.

  Seeing her distress, he made a feeble joke about the historic environs and no-one taking any tombstone seriously if it began with the words Here I Lie. But she knew obscurely that this man was a terrier who would follow the trail wherever it led.

  The notorious Crime in the Tower investigation was underway.

1

The Call

 

DI Gilbert (‘Gil’) Markham and his partner Olivia Mullen were ensconced with the Sunday papers in the living room of Markham’s apartment at The Sweepstakes, an upmarket complex off Bromgrove Avenue, when the telephone call came.

  The weather was fiercely wet and windy, but they were toasty warm, the trusty woodburner inducing a feeling of soporific lassitude made all the more pleasurable by contrast with the tempest that raged outdoors.

  This was their favourite room, with baroque red and gold vintage wallpaper, thick carpet of the same hue, comfortable wingback armchairs and a Chesterfield sofa upholstered in Tartan check. Carefully chosen walnut antiques and a certain old-fashioned ambience gave it the air of a gentlemen’s club, but Olivia’s ballet prints and figurines (she was a serious balletomane) lightened the décor and offset the subdued colour palette.

  ‘Only a fortnight till school breaks up!’ Olivia exulted, plonking a pile of magazines onto a gateleg coffee table.

  ‘There’s still the carol concert to get through,’ Markham laughed.

  ‘Oh yes,’ she grimaced. ‘Can’t wait to sing ten choruses of Holly and the Poison-Ivy!’

  She looked nothing like a schoolteacher in that clinging sloppy joe number, he thought admiringly, with the side-parted (and fashionably highlighted) dark red bob that skimmed her shoulders a striking contrast to the pale complexion, high cheekbones and starry grey-green eyes that glittered in the soft light from the Tiffany lamp at her elbow. He noted with relief that she had regained some of the weight lost when they separated briefly for a time, while the old mischievous smile played once more over her full lips.

  If Olivia hardly resembled the traditional schoolmarm, still less was Markham anyone’s idea of the average policeman, his commanding height, thick dark hair (lightly streaked with silver), sensitive chiselled features and keen dark eyes combining with a reserved, almost donnish demeanour to give the impression of something unusual…. a copper with undoubted star quality. But he lacked personal vanity and was notoriously aloof, relaxing only with Olivia and a tight-knit group of confidantes.

  He was looking forward to a cosy Christmas with just the two of them, having worked hard to clear his caseload and plough through a blizzard of paperwork before the holidays. Aware that his workaholic tendencies had damaged the relationship with Olivia, he now kept Sundays sacrosanct so was startled when their peace was interrupted. ‘I’ll take it in the study,’ he murmured, slipping away to pick up the extension.

  He was gone for a long while and looked preoccupied when he rejoined Olivia, who saw at once that something unexpected had occurred.

  ‘Go on!’ she urged. ‘Don’t keep me in suspense, Gil. What’s going on?’

  ‘That was DCI Len Knevitt,’ he said slowly. ‘He was based up here for a time before moving to Tower Bridge and wants my help with something.’

  ‘What kind of something?’

  ‘Murder at the Tower of London…. the victim’s a young curator who was researching the Princes in the Tower. It was a frenzied stabbing apparently.’

  She scanned his face intently. ‘There’s more, isn’t there?’

  ‘Yes.’ Markham sat down heavily, his gaze turned inward as though he no longer saw his partner. ‘A short time ago this same curator contacted Knevitt’s colleague DI Gordon Morrissey to say she might have information about an unsolved case connected to the Tower….. the disappearance of two children who went missing in May 2008 during some kind of procession…. “Beating the Bounds”, I believe it’s called…. Morrissey arranged to meet with her yesterday afternoon –’

  ‘Only she never showed up.’

  ‘Correct.’ Markham’s expression was grim. ‘Someone got to her first.’

  He returned his gaze to Olivia, his expression guiltily apprehensive.

  Before he could resume, she said quietly, ‘They want you in on this…. down in London?’

  ‘If I can scramble the team, yes…. Knevitt read about our art gallery investigation –’

  She shivered, remembering. ‘That one with the missing child….’

  ‘He thinks there are some parallels…. at any rate, reckons my lot might be a useful addition to his resources.’

  Her mouth twisted ironically. ‘Can’t imagine the Gang passing this one up, sweetheart.’ Then suddenly she had a flash of inspiration. ‘Look Gil, why don’t I come with you…. It’s only a few days to the holidays and the English department should be able to sort cover… Plus, everyone’s demob-happy, so it shouldn’t be a problem…. I’m sure Mat can swing it for me.’

  Markham tensed imperceptibly at the allusion to Mathew Sullivan, the deputy head with whom Olivia had been briefly infatuated during their breakup. But she didn’t appear to notice. ‘Come on,’ she pleaded softly. ‘Call it my pre-Christmas treat.’

  ‘You may not see much of me,’ he warned, clearly weakening.

  She flashed a radiant smile. ‘No worries, Gil. I adore London… nowhere better for a spot of retail therapy…. and all the heritage stuff,’ she added sheepishly. ‘Palaces and museums and the rest of it…. I could offer to do a project on the Princes in the Tower next term,’ she suggested piously. ‘Richard Crookback would go down a storm with my Year 8.’

  He grinned. ‘You’re incorrigible….. but if you can square the school, why not?’

  Indulgently, she waved a hand towards the door. ‘Go on, I know you’ll be wanting to round up George and the rest of the Gang.’

  But once in his study – its cool minimalism in marked contrast to the cluttered living room – Markham did not immediately reach for either his laptop or the telephone. Instead, his thoughts turned to the members of that same “Gang” and Olivia’s history with them.

  First up, George Noakes…..

  Markham’s austere features softened as he thought of his oldest friend.

  Noakes had now been retired from CID for three years. Not a minute before time, was the opinion of the former sergeant’s long-suffering superiors who had never exactly warmed to his uniquely iconoclastic brand of humour and intergalactic tactlessness.

  Noakesy still turned up at all the retirement bashes and police social events, to the ill-concealed chagrin of Bromgrove’s high command and widespread mirth amongst the lower ranks. Most recently, he had caused mortal offence to the po-faced wife of Chief Superintendent Ebury-Clarke after she overheard him commenting in a loud voice that the raffle prizes were so rubbish that folk with the winning tickets probably wouldn’t own up. Matters hadn’t been improved when Ebury-Clarke opened his speech with the immortal words, ‘Let us consider Bromgrove as a whole,’ after which things rapidly deteriorated, Noakes’s poorly suppressed hysteria bursting out afresh when his well-refreshed former boss concluded with a tribute to the town as a ‘monument to posteriority’ and a toast to ‘our gaseous Queen’. It had all undoubtedly left a legacy of ill-will. And hell would freeze over before the Jewish Police Association forgave Noakes’s stage Scottish jokes about the famous kosher poet Rabbi Burns and that well-known feast day ‘Hog Money’. DCI Sidney had been apoplectic when, at the same dinner, in response to the toast-master’s injunction to ‘Pray, all be up-standing,’ the former sergeant was heard sniggering ‘Them that are able’, before telling his neighbours that on such occasions he always felt there was something to be said for the likes of Rishi Sunak and Donald Trump being life-long ‘teetotalitarians’. Whereas Markham had always enjoyed his friend’s notorious malapropisms – or Noakseyisms, as Olivia affectionately called them – such sallies invariably made Sidney’s eczema flare up to an alarming degree.

  Oh yes, it had been a bright day for Sidney when Noakes collected his carriage clock. Mind you, Markham thought with a reminiscent chuckle, it was a miracle his friend had managed to scrape through that last fitness test, a passion for junk food and fry ups invariably getting the better of all his virtuous resolutions. And how he had finagled a positive medical review was anyone’s guess. ‘The quack spouted a whole lot of guff about life-style an’ body mass ratio an’ histo-pathology wotsits,’ he confided cheerfully to Markham afterwards. ‘At the end of it all, he said I had between twenty-five an’ forty percent chance of having a morbid coronary episode in the next ten years…. Thank chuff for that. Back of the net! I honestly thought he was going to tell me the odds against having a heart attack!’

  Olivia simply adored the piggy-eyed chunky Yorkshireman whose appalling dress sense and capacity for gaffes were alike legendary. As far as Noakes was concerned, Kipling connoted cakes and Hamlet cigars, while Socrates was a world-class sweeper. She had gradually converted him to ‘High Culture’, however, and he had been touchingly thrilled to discover that Shakespeare and the Romantic poets were full of quotations from Markham’s partner. Her colleagues in the English department at Hope Academy (popularly known as Hopeless) were equally fond of Noakes, whom they had got to know over the course of sundry investigations involving the school, and delighted Bromgrove CID’s bête noire by presenting him with a special limerick in his honour: The men that come from Yorkshire are poets to a man, And when they curse and swear at you, they make it rhyme and scan. (With apologies to G.K. Chesterton.)

  Mrs Muriel Noakes was less enthused to witness her husband’s enthusiasm for Olivia, regarding the teacher as a neurotic poseur and nowhere near good enough for the handsome inspector whose grave courtesy and old-fashioned gallantry were greatly to her taste. Bossy and an inveterate social-climber who had met Noakes (most improbably) on the amateur ballroom dancing circuit, she softened somewhat after her brassy perma-tanned beautician daughter Natalie – formerly the doyenne of Bromgrove’s less salubrious nightclubs –  became unexpectedly pregnant only to suffer a stillbirth. Back on track now, and the proud possessor of a degree in History to boot, the prodigal daughter was affianced to Rick Jordan, proprietor of a local fitness centre whose hard-featured mother was seemingly in no hurry to see her precious son and heir walk his on-again, off-again girlfriend down the aisle. Olivia had never really got on with Natalie who, despite being his blue-eyed darling, was not in fact Noakes’s natural daughter (the discovery of which fact sent him temporarily off the rails), but tried to smother her antipathy ‘for George’s sake’. She liked Muriel even less, finding the woman’s arch affectations and pretentions a perpetual source of annoyance. But there was pity mixed with her irritation, and she had come to see the vulnerability and social insecurity which lay beneath the other woman’s brittle veneer. Besides, Noakes was immensely proud of his wife, regarding her as the oracle on pretty much everything – from ‘free pea sweets’ to foreign royalty (she was a dedicated royalist). And Olivia understood how much Noakes meant to Markham, she and the burly Yorkshireman being the only two people who knew that he was the survivor of childhood abuse by an abusive stepfather, a trauma he had somehow survived but his brother Jonathan –long since lost to drink, drugs and suicide – had not.

  Noakes had fallen on his feet after retiring from CID, landing a cushy number as the security manager a Rosemount, an upmarket nursing home. This hadn’t prevented him having a finger in every CID pie, however, leading to his retention by Markham as a ‘civilian consultant’, another development that didn’t do much for DCI Sidney’s blood pressure. Of course, Olivia – no fan of ‘Slimy Sid’ (as he was known by the troops) – was tickled pink by the notion of the DCI’s nemesis hovering in the wings as a sort of honorary copper, but it had made for some decidedly sticky moments. At least with Sidney himself not far off retirement (something he had deferred in the wake of an acrimonious marital separation), things should be less fraught. There were rumours that Sidney nursed ambitions to become sort of TV pundit in the mould of John Stalker, which had sent Oliva and Noakes into paroxysms of laughter at the prospect of ‘The Rhinocerboss’ transforming himself into ‘The People’s Peeler’. But stranger things had happened, and such a reinvention might be precisely the development which would bring Mrs Sidney (aka ‘The Valkyrie’ and an even bigger snob than Muriel Noakes) back to the marital home. There was no question that Sidney had mellowed in recent times and, whatever his resentment of Markham’s good looks and Oxbridge credentials, he had fought his DI’s corner where necessary. It was unlikely he would object to this secondment to London, especially with it being the run-up to Christmas, traditionally a fairly quiet time in Bromgrove.

  Noakes had now resigned his position at Rosemount to set up as a private investigator, so would be an invaluable asset to any enquiries that Markham undertook, quite apart from the fact that wild horses wouldn’t keep his friend from being part of such an intriguing case. An armchair historian and avid consumer of true crime documentaries, the whole Princes in the Tower angle was right up his street and guaranteed to set him off like a truffle hound. Sidney and the high command might prove prickly about Noakes coming on board, but Markham was reasonably sure he could swing it for his former wingman to join the team. And of course, DI Kate Burton could always be relied upon to pour oil on troubled waters.

  Burton, still engaged to Professor Nathan Finlayson of Bromgrove University’s criminal profiling department, appeared no nearer making it to the altar than Natalie Noakes. A psychology graduate and fast-track detective, it had taken a good while before she and Noakes warmed to each other. Eventually, their fierce loyalty to Markham and shared fascination with true crime brought about a rapprochement. Outwardly somewhat earnest and indefatigably politically correct, Burton in fact possessed a mischievous sense of humour which was apt to take the unwary by surprise. And, like Noakes, she was never fazed by Markham’s cultured intellectualism and use of ‘Big Words’ (which had led to him being dubbed ‘Lord Snooty’ by the rank and file and regarded with darkest suspicion by his superiors). Her colleagues nearly fell off their chairs when he quoted from Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, only for her to observe slyly that she’d always loved the story about how Horatio made a fourth at bridge not to mention that line ‘How can man die better than facing fearful sods’. It was possibly then that Noakes recognised here was a kindred spirit.  

  Burton, whom Markham now regarded as a dear friend, had proved strangely unreachable in recent months. He knew that the death of her father had hit her hard and that there had been ‘blips’ in the relationship with Finlayson (nicknamed ‘Shippers’ by Noakes on account of his startling resemblance to the serial killer Harold Shipman). He wondered too if feelings for himself had proved an obstacle in her romantic life and remained unsure if his own emotions – a mixture of respect, tenderness and protectiveness – were entirely irreproachable. Noakes believed Burton carried a torch for him, while Olivia had picked up on the complexity of his feelings towards his colleague and never warmed to Burton in consequence. Markham’s fellow DI had resolutely turned down opportunities for advancement elsewhere and remained attached to his special homicide team, causing him to worry that their affinity might somehow have worked to her professional detriment.

  Still, he knew that like Noakes she would be keen as mustard to seize this opportunity of working with the highly-regarded Knevitt and Morrissey on a case that was bound to put them all through their paces.

  DS Doyle and DS Carruthers would likewise want their share of the action, he thought with a wry smile.

  Doyle and Noakes were old friends, the veteran sergeant taking an avuncular interest in the easy-going auburn-haired youngster’s romantic dilemmas – now happily resolved with the advent of teacher girlfriend Kelly – and sharing his passion for Bromgrove Rovers. When the formerly ambitious Doyle appeared distracted by domestic bliss and somewhat apathetic regarding his inspector’s exams, Noakes nagged him from the sidelines about career progression despite himself having never been remotely interested in rising higher than sergeant.

  DS Roger Carruthers (or ‘Roger the Dodger’, as Noakes had christened him), on the other hand, needed no urging to make the most of himself, being highly driven and what his colleagues called ‘ace at brownnosing’. The fast-track detective was nephew to Superintendent ‘Blithering’ Bretherton and hard to warm to, with his peculiar pallor, slicked back hair, horn-rimmed specs and a penchant for leather trench coats which heightened his resemblance to an officer of the Third Reich. It didn’t help matters that he was rumoured to spy for Sidney and the high command. However, over time he had bedded in to Markham’s fabled ‘Gang of Four’, proving that he was his own man and nobody’s cat’s paw. An obvious respect and admiration for Markham had appeased even Noakes whom Carruthers now called ‘sarge’ like the rest. The fact that Carruthers was football mad ensured that he made a rapid conquest of Doyle, while his passionate interest in forensic psychology gradually won over Kate Burton. Quick at repartee, he gave as good as he got. On Noakes informing him that he was the spit of Jospeh Goebbels, the younger man merely replied deadpan that many considered the Nazi propagandist to be the most influential broadcaster of the twentieth century. On another occasion, listening to Noakes complaining loudly – with a sidelong glance in his direction – about ‘poshos’ who said ‘hice’ instead of ‘house’ and were generally incomprehensible, he punctured the tension with an amusing anecdote about Bristolians who put ‘el’ on the end of any words ending in a vowel, which led to Westcountryman DI Les Jago calling the Chief Constable’s wife ‘Normal’ for the duration of a police federation dinner. Oh yes, there was no doubt that Carruthers was able to handle Noakes!

  There had been a time when Markham suspected him of being too close to journalists at the Gazette (in particular, one Gavin Conors), but he had tipped Kate Burton the wink and she now kept a discreet watch on her colleague. Nobody had ever detected Carruthers engaged in anything slippery and Markham sincerely hoped it would remain that way….

  His study’s large picture window looked out onto the neighbouring municipal cemetery but, swivelling round in his office chair, the landscape was pitch black, monuments and obelisks invisible in the darkness. Only his reflection, wan with concentration, gazed back at him.

  But through the enveloping winter gloom, he was aware of all the graves out there in the wild, wet storm. That was why he had wanted the apartment.  

  Timor mortis conturbat me.

  The cemetery was a permanent reminder of all his murdered dead and the insatiable gnawing urge to avenge them…. to bring those shrouded victims out from their “palace of dim night” into the light so that they could at last find peace.

  He could just imagine how Sidney would react to such fey musings, the DCI having little time for anything that smacked of ‘romantic moonshine’. Best to play down the whole Princes in the Tower side of things and emphasise the potential kudos for Bomrgrove CID if they helped to crack a murder and child abduction.

  The whole Tower connection, however, meant that this case would be quite unlike anything the team had encountered before.  

  He reached for the telephone.

  Time to set wheels in motion.

2

Green Light

 

It was traditional for Markham to spend some time before the start of each new investigation gathering his thoughts in the tranquil terraced graveyard of St Chad’s Parish Church round the back of Bromgrove Police Station.

  The morning of Monday 4 December was no exception, though wreathes of fog and a crackling carpet of hoar frost weren’t conducive to protracted meditation on his favourite bench. Unusually, there were no squirrels about, which suggested that nature too was battening down the hatches.

  While savouring the peace and Gothic ambience, he kept a wary eye out for the Reverend Simon Duthie (a late vocation to the priesthood after a career as a bank manager) who had crossed swords with Noakes on certain memorable occasions, most recently on the occasion of St Chad’s Celebration of Science and Faith after which his friend launched a denunciation of ‘all them trendies who say Heaven an’ Hell’s in the brain an’ try to explain scrotes by looking at their genes or quantum physics or whatnot…. as if being a Christian’s all about smart alec stuff from Einstein ’stead of black and white rules in the bible.’ No, all that Sunday school Methodism hadn’t gone down at all well. Nor had Mrs Duthie been convulsed at Noakes’s anecdote about ‘the Sally Army lot asking me Mum what hymn she’d like them to play an’ they didn’t bat an eyelid when she said, “Anything so long as it’s got him on’t big drum”!’

  Mercifully it was too early for either of the Duthies to be about, he reflected glancing a his watch and breathing in lungfuls of the sharp, pine-scented air which invariably helped to clear his head before the rigours of the day.

  Eventually, regretfully, after saying a silent prayer for the soul of the young curator whose murder they were to investigate, he headed for the station.

  The stale fug of CID and garish, half-hearted paper decorations trailing drunkenly across the computers and work surfaces weren’t exactly the epitome of Christmas cheer, the DI thought wryly as he walked towards his own office. And the sparsely decorated white twig tree was what Noakes would call a poor show.

  Talk of the devil!

   Opening the door to his corner cubbyhole (with unrivalled view of the car park), it was no great surprise to find his ex-wingman installed like a portly genie in the chair opposite his own, ferociously bashing the desk pendulum that he was prone to abuse in moments of high excitement despite an avowed contempt for such executive toys and gadgets.

  The former DS was attired in an extraordinary combination of novelty plum pudding sweater and baggy purple cords the colour of which almost matched his corned beef complexion. Wiry grey hair sticking out in every direction like prongs gave him a somewhat wild aspect that an overflowing paunch and stubby poorly shaven chin did nothing to mitigate. Markham could only hope the DCI wouldn’t take it into his head to attend the morning briefing. The spectacle of this ‘civilian consultant’ apparently masquerading as some sort of dishevelled Santa lookalike was virtually guaranteed to send Sidney’s blood pressure soaring.

  Aloud, he observed mildly, ‘I take it you’re not working undercover today, Noakesy?’

  The sarcasm was water off a duck’s back.

  Giving the pendulum once last swipe, the other beamed complacently. ‘I cleared the diary soon as I knew about this Tower thing. Mr Shah from downstairs said he’ll keep things ticking over.’

  Noakes now rented a minuscule office above a Tandoori in the Medway Centre, a move not at all to his wife’s taste, since she regarded his departure from Rosemount’s manicured surroundings as a definite comedown. Markham, however, knew his friend missed chasing ‘scrotes an’ scumbags’ and had helped reconcile Muriel to the situation by valiantly talking up Noakes’s new enterprise and stressing his continuing association with Bromgrove CID. He had already helped to put a couple of jobs his friend’s way while Olivia had sorted the office stationery. Meanwhile, kindly Mr Shah sent many a free takeaway upstairs to his new neighbour. Moreover, Noakes was still a welcome visitor at Rosemount, staff and residents having become very fond of their unconventional security manager.

  ‘How’s your campaign to poach Kevin coming along?’ the DI enquired, referring to Noakes’s young apprentice at the retirement home. ‘Any chance of him becoming your Man Friday?’

  ‘He ain’t sure yet,’ Noakes replied gloomily. ‘His mum reckons he should stick where he’s got prospects….. better pay an’ all.’

  ‘Oh well, at least you can always use him for freelance jobs.’ Markham’s tone was bracing.

  His friend brightened. ‘Yeah, thass true…. An’ he’s sound is Kev….. says he’s gonna see if they c’n get a picture of Captain Cook for the library…. one showing him fighting the aboriginals…. summat inspiring.’

  Noakes had taken a hands-on role when it came to refurbishment and décor, his history as an alumnus of 2 Para making him desirous of surrounding Rosemount’s retirees (including many an ex-serviceman) with suitably patriotic heroes on which to feast their rheumy eyes.

  ‘So you’ve switched loyalties from Horatio Nelson then?’ the DI teased. ‘No longer flavour of the month is he?’

  Noakes pursed his lips. ‘Nelson’s a bit…. flamboyant,’ he said thoughtfully.

  Markham suppressed a grin as he recalled his friend’s reservations about the whole “Kiss me, Hardy” episode.

  ‘An’ when all’s said an’ done, Captain Cook’s a Yorkshireman.’

  ‘Ah,’ Markham said in a deep tone of comprehension, long familiar with a world view which considered Yorkshire as the backbone of England while London was somewhere to the south.

  ‘Cook’s a bit controversial these days though, Noakesy,’ he was unable to resist pointing out. ‘The cancel culture mob don’t hold with all that colonialism,’ he added mischievously, thinking that in the current climate Noakes’s paragon was more likely to be called Captain Crook.

  ‘He were ’xactly what you’d want alongside if it were of life an’ death,’ was the squelching reply. ‘’Sides being good at trigonometry an’ charts.’

  Markham could think of no adequate response to such a magnificent non-sequitur.

  ‘Right,’ he said hastily. ‘The main thing is that you’re gloriously available for this London case.’

  Noakes nodded vigorously. ‘There might even be a bit of publicity for Medway Investigations,’ he said hopefully (for such was the name of his new business venture).

  Somehow the grizzled veteran’s eagerness brought a lump to Markham’s throat.

  ‘Absolutely,’ he agreed with more confidence than he felt. ‘Olivia plans to wangle some leave and join us.’

  Noakes was looking cheerier by the minute.

  ‘I think Liv’s going to sell it to Hope as a fact-finding exercise for some project on the Tudors,’ Markham continued. ‘She tells me she’s had it up to here with colleagues banging on about the Industrial Revolution and evil capitalists.’

  Noakes sympathised heartily with this point of view, seeing as Bromgrove was known to have had some of the most revolting industrialists in England, especially when it came to building and infrastructure. ‘Mind you,’ he concluded evilly, ‘it ain’t as bad as some places. I mean, jus’ look at all them statues with Queen Victoria sitting on a throne, togged out with the orb an’ whatnot, with her legs straddling the signs for “Ladies” an’ “Gents”.’

  ‘Olivia always insists Bromgrove has pockets of great historical romance, though,’ Markham qualified.

  ‘Romance my backside,’ Noakes snorted. ‘What she means is some bugger like Thomas Cromwell knocked half the churches down or a manky poet snuffed it from cholera or one of them other nasties.’

  Entering the room as Noakes offered his pearls of wisdom, Kate Burton looked almost as though she wanted to reverse back out.

  ‘Morning sarge,’ she offered weakly.

  The small black eyes were riveted on Burton’s brown paper bag and tray.

  ‘I thought we could use muffins and coffee from Costa.’

  ‘Nice one,’ Noakes approved, losing no time in getting stuck in.

  Burton was followed in short order by Carruthers and Doyle, the trio as well groomed and dapper as Sidney’s heart could desire, Markham thought gratefully.

  Actually, his fellow DI now cut a far more striking figure than the rather frumpy, homespun picture she had presented on first joining CID, her sleekly streaked geometric bob and well cut trouser suit the epitome of corporate chic. But the expression of loyal devotion in the hazel eyes had never changed, and she still persisted in calling him ‘Sir’ despite the fact that they were now the same rank.

  The Noakesian preoccupation with commissary and ‘fuelling up’ was legendary. ‘I look alright from the back,’ he retorted when twitted about his expanding girth. Even Sidney’s acid comments about ‘the seeming inability of DI Markham’s team to go five minutes without a pit stop’ failed to dent his insistence on proper rations. And Markham had come to like the collegiate, almost cosy, atmosphere this engendered (the more so, seeing as his refractory office radiator appeared finally to have given up the ghost). His little unit Contra Mundum. Even Burton joined in, though he noticed she swiftly substituted a granola bar for the double chocolate pastries she had brought for her male colleagues.

  ‘Have we got the go ahead for this Tower investigation then, sir?’ she asked politely as the others guzzled their way through the Costa offerings.

  ‘Indeed we have, Kate,’ Markham said warmly. ‘So long as we keep the DCI fully briefed, of course.’

  ‘An’ make sure he gets to share the glory when we crack the case,’ Noakes observed beadily through a mouthful of muffin.

  Markham was unruffled. ‘That too,’ he agreed easily.

  ‘What’s with the whole Princes in the Tower setup?’ Carruthers wanted to know. ‘Has it got something to do with this woman being murdered?’

  Markham took a last draught of coffee and got down to business.

  ‘Dr Margaret Esdaile’s research interests centred on the legend of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower,’ he confirmed.

  ‘They’ve always thought highly of Crookback in Yorkshire,’ Noakes weighed in with no small satisfaction. ‘Apparently the snooty brigade down south decided northerners were savages – more or less running around with their faces painted in blue woad – until Tricky Dicky showed them we knew what’s what.’

  ‘Plus ça change,’ Carruthers murmured, Then, observing Noakes squinting suspiciously at this lapse into French, he added, ‘I imagine the chatterati still feel the same about anything north of Watford.

  Noakes was duly mollified. ‘Too right,’ he said fervently before continuing, ‘Dicky were a brave soldier despite having a wonky spine.’

  ‘So what happened to the Princes then?’ Doyle enquired. ‘Did Richard really murder them?’

  Burton piped up, delighted as ever to be afforded a pedagogic opportunity. ‘There’s various theories about it,’ she told them. ‘Some sources say they were walled up in a room and left to starve to death. Others insist they were buried alive in a large chest. And there’s a body of opinion that thinks they were drowned in a vat of red wine like their uncle Clarence.’

  God, why does she always come across like some boffin from Time Team, Doyle thought. However, he was intrigued despite himself.

  ‘But their skeletons eventually turned up, right?’ he asked.

  ‘That’s right.’ Burton beamed at him, as though at a promising student. ‘In the reign of Chales II some workmen found two skeletons in a wooden chest buried about ten feet below ground while they were digging at the base of a staircase which led to the Chapel of St John the Evangelist in the White Tower. The taller child lay on its back, the smaller face down on top of it.’

  As his colleague said this, Markham had an unwelcome flashback to one of their earliest cases at St Mary’s Cathedral choir school. With an effort, he suppressed the intrusive memory.

  ‘The bones had pieces of rag and velvet on them,’ Burton continued after a swift, uneasy glance at Markham. ‘The velvet was a crucial clue because it wasn’t made in England until the sixteenth century and in the fourteen hundreds the wearing of imported velvet was restricted to the nobility.’

  ‘So the skellies had to be toffs,’ Noakes said trenchantly.

  ‘Exactly.’ Burton ducked her head submissively. ‘It was a fair assumption that these were the Princes. Charles II eventually arranged for the bones to be reburied at Westminster Abbey, apart from a few which went to the Ashmolean in Oxford and ended up getting lost.’

  There was an eloquent sniff from Noakes at this. Typical academics!

  ‘Though not before an antiquarian had seen them and recalled them being very small, especially the finger bones,’ Burton added hastily. ‘George V later allowed an examination of the remains in Westminster Abbey… There were all kinds of bones mixed in with them including animal bones…. But the doctors eventually established they had the incomplete skeletons of two children aged between twelve to thirteen and nine to eleven…. They couldn’t be sure of the sex, but the older child had a chronic bone disease of the jaw – probably osteomyelitis – which would have been very painful and might account for reports of Edward V having suffered from depression before he disappeared.’

  ‘As if being locked up an’ scared for his life weren’t enough to be going on with,’ Noakes pointed out, his expression darkening.

  Markham felt a sharp stab of unease at this. Olivia had been badly scarred after undergoing an abortion before he met her. This had temporarily unbalanced her during the course of their relationship, to the point where she had actually entertained mad ideas of adopting Natalie Noakes’s unplanned baby. Stillbirth had put paid to those schemes, but now Markham wondered if it was really such a good idea to have Olivia accompany him down to London for an investigation that involved missing children…. On the other hand, she had seemed in excellent spirits the previous night, talking without any apparent self-consciousness about Natalie’s decision to start a family with Rick Jordan and disappointment that she was having difficulty conceiving. ‘Only George could come out with such gems as his daughter being “impregnable” and inconceivable”,’ she laughed blithely, though Markham wondered what pain lurked beneath the apparent insouciance.

  Burton resumed her disquisition with characteristic punctiliousness.

  ‘The medics worked out that there was a familial link between the skeletons and that a red stain on the facial bones of the older child indicated suffocation…. Later on, experts concluded that dental records supported the theory that these were pre-pubescent relatives. Of course, we still can’t be sure because Queen Elizabeth refused permission for further testing of the remains on the grounds that they should be allowed to rest in peace.’

  There was a respectful silence at the reference to Elizabeth II whose framed portrait adorned the open plan CID work space.

  ‘Quite right an’ proper,’ Noakes said finally.

  ‘Though it looks as though King Charles might be up for further investigation,’ Burton continued, ‘given his interest in archaeology.’

  Noakes blew an irreverent raspberry. ‘Yeah, with him being a crank an’ all.’

  Burton bit the inside of her cheek at this interjection but continued earnestly enough. ‘Well, it would be good to know one way or another,’ she told them. ‘A couple more bodies that could have been the Princes turned up in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in 1789, but some people are convinced the older boy was let go by Richard and ended his life in Devon as a park ranger…. All very Da Vinci Code,’ she added apologetically, ‘but intriguing nonetheless… There’s carvings in the church where he’s buried showing a woman with a snake-like tongue that historians think might be a veiled attack on the mother of Henry Tudor, the one who deposed Richard III after the Battle of Bosworth…. and all kinds of occult messages,’ she finished hesitantly, aware of her colleagues’ scepticism.

  ‘What about the younger lad?’ Noakes demanded.

  Burton frowned. ‘Oh, there’s all kinds of stories. Some academic at the university of Leicester thinks he was smuggled out of the Tower to live with his mother when the elder boy died of natural causes…. ending up as a bricklayer after Bosworth.’

  Doyle was growing restive.

  ‘So, what the heck…. Are we saying some nutter with a thing about the Princes in the Tower went after this curator woman cos they didn’t like where she was going with her research?’

  The DI smiled, mindful of DCI Sidney’s frequently expressed irritation that ‘Markham’s unit does nothing but talk…. like some outpost of the Open University.’ Personally, he found such “talk” invaluable in terms of understanding the context for murder.

  ‘I don’t know as yet whether there was anything particularly controversial about Margaret Esdaile’s research interests,’ he admitted. Even as he said the words, however, he felt this legend of the Princes in the Tower gnawing away at his subconscious, as though some twisted medieval pathology was insidiously poisoning the present.

 ‘And there’s some unsolved kidnapping or whatever with two kids who went missing from the Tower?’ Doyle persisted.

  ‘Correct.’ Burton took over crisply. ‘Annie and Dominic Sullivan vanished during the Beating the Bounds procession in 2008…. It’s a centuries old affair… people from the Tower tapping the ground with willow wands…. something to do with marking boundaries…. kind of like a great big street party –’

  ‘Only with kids being snatched at the end,’ Carruthers interjected drily.

  ‘Properties and gardens along the route were extensively searched at the time,’ Burton retorted stiffly. ‘But there was neither hide nor hair of them…. Apparently Margaret Esdaile contacted DI Gordon Morrissey at Tower Bridge the day before she was killed to say she had information about the children’s disappearance, but when he made an appointment she never showed.’

  The team digested this.

  ‘So her murder’s got to be tied in with the kids’ disappearance?’ Carruthers pressed.

  ‘It would seem so,’ Markham replied cautiously. ‘The fact that Dr Esdaile contacted the police about an unsolved abduction surely has to be more than pure coincidence.’  

  ‘So who’s in the frame then?’ Noakes wanted to know.

  ‘Well,’ Markham’s mouth twisted ironically, ‘it appears the governor and deputy governor can be ruled out, since they’re both currently visiting Fontainebleau as part of a cultural exchange programme organised by the British Council.’

  Before Noakes could say anything sarcastic about leeching off taxpayers – his wingman’s screwed-up expression appearing to herald a polemic on the subject – Markham continued, ‘That being the case, we can confine our enquiries to the Tower community…. those who had  a connection with Margaret Esdaile either professionally or personally.’

  The DI paused and looked down at his hands, mentally marshalling the roster of suspects.

  ‘Here goes,’ he said calmly. ‘Dr Esdaile was on her second marriage to stockbroker Charles Esdaile. Her first husband Dr Steven Winders is based at Hampton Court and also happily remarried to the HR manager there.’ Aware that Noakes was always keen to uncover a juicy crime passionnel, he added swiftly, ‘By all accounts it was a highly civilised setup and they were both hands-on parents to their daughter Antonia.’

  ‘Any blokes sniffing around Esdaile?’ Noakes demanded, ignoring how Burton winced at such bluntness.

  ‘She was apparently on friendly terms with Reverend Bernard Doyle the chaplain,’ Markham replied. ‘Sounds like he was an admirer…. Dr Daniel Locke, one of the joint chief curators, was another…. though they were also academic rivals since he also had Ricardian research interests. I gather the other joint chief curator Dr Benedict Ryan wasn’t a fan of Dr Esdaile…. it had to do with them crossing swords over relics or artefacts or something of that sort.’ He continued trawling his mental rolodex of potential suspects. ‘There’d been some unpleasantness with John Whittingham, a Beefeater Dr Esdaile accused of unprofessionalism, and relations were fairly cool towards two other women in her office – the intern Sophie McGrath and an apprentice conservator name of Elena Rogers… oh, and she didn’t really get on with Clare Hunter the Tower events co-ordinator.’

  ‘So Esdaile was standoffish then?’ Carruthers asked interestedly.

  Markham was thoughtful. ‘Not according to DCI Knevitt,’ he said. ‘Apparently junior staff adored her…. the cleaner who found her body was in bits.’

  ‘Any chance it could’ve been random?’ Doyle asked. ‘I mean, the Tower must attract all kinds of oddballs… maybe there was a security breach, so that’s how they got in…. and the thing about missing kids isn’t connected….’

  The DI considered this. ‘Security at the Tower is tight,’ he pointed out. ‘Difficult to see how an intruder could have made it to Dr Esdaile’s office undetected…. plus, the fact that she was murdered the same day DI Morrissey was due to meet her strongly suggests a link with the Sullivan case.’

  ‘Whatcha reckon to Knevitt an’ Morrissey then, guv?’ Noakes asked. ‘D’you rate ’em?’

  ‘Very much so,’ Markham replied. ‘Knevitt’s got no side despite an impressive solve rate…. genuinely humble and just wants fresh pairs of eyes on this. Gordon Morrissey’s the same, absolutely on the level.’

  ‘And Sidney’s on board?’ Doyle enquired with a hint of incredulity.

  ‘No objections in principle,’ the DI answered with a thin smile. ‘I’ve got a meeting with him straight after this, so I’ll make sure he signs off on it.’

  ‘When do we start? Carruthers was all business.

  ‘You four can catch the 2:53 to Euston and get yourselves booked in at the Tower Hotel, St Katharine’s Dock. I’ll follow later this evening. Then tomorrow morning we meet up with Knevitt and Morrissey 9 am sharp at the West Gate. I’m operating on the basis that we’ll be away at least a fortnight. Don’t forget to keep receipts for everything,’ he warned before adding casually to Noakes, ‘Your expenses are sorted, Noakesy, just swing by the desk sergeant before you head off.’ Not for worlds would he have had his friend aware of the that he was personally subbing him an advance, though a sidelong glance from Kate Burton told him that his fellow DI had a shrewd idea.

  ‘Champion.’ Noakes was delighted. ‘Mind you, I wanna go in the Quiet Coach…. otherwise all we’ll hear on the way down to London is dickheads shouting “I’m on the train!”’

  Doyle and Carruthers exchanged grins as Burton shuddered delicately.

  ‘I were on the Trans-Pennine Express this one time an’ the train kept stopping,’ Noakes continued happily. ‘The last time it happened, we were stuck in Milton Keynes an’ this announcement came over the tannoy.’ Noakes affected his best Jamaican accent. ‘“Ladies and Gentlemen, I apologise for the delay to your journey. The reason is….” Then there were this pause that went on forever. “Human cock-up.”’

  As Burton cringed, Carruthers chuckled. ‘It’ll be great, sarge. You know you like train journeys… aren’t you always going on about that politician bloke on TV.’

  ‘Oh aye, Portcullis’s Great Railway Journeys,’ was the laconic rejoinder.

  ‘He means Michael Portillo, ma’am,’ Doyle explained observing Burton’s puzzlement.

  They lingered a while longer, engaging in inconsequential chat about plans for the festive season. There was a tricky moment when Noakes announced he was getting a new coat for Muriel for Christmas and Doyle quipped, ‘A good swap, I reckon,’ but Carruthers diverted the conversation into safer channels – football and the awfulness of in-laws – and the awkwardness passed.

  After the other three had departed, Burton lingered.

  ‘Shall I come up to see the DCI with you, sir?’ she offered shyly.

  ‘Could you bear to, Kate?’ He smiled, reflecting that senior management invariably responded well to his colleague’s respectful earnestness that was unmixed with servility or sycophancy.

  ‘Of course, boss.’ She grinned puckishly. ‘I’ll get him onto the heritage angle…. If we play our cards right, he’ll see it as fodder for a TV spot…. something along the lines of those Jack the Ripper programmes with the likes of Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson…. though I’m not sure he’s quite so photogenic.’

  Too right, Markham thought ten minutes later as they sat in Sidney’s sanctum listening to the DCI drone on about British history, a subject on which he suspected his superior was decidedly less well informed than culture vulture Burton. How was it, he wondered idly, that Sidney’s strictures seemed to require chronic adenoids as well as chronic sinusitis, but he supposed he was now more or less reconciled to the strident honk.

  At least the Princes in the Tower angle was catnip to the DCI, he reflected, glancing at the Hall of Fame, as the photomontage in Sidney’s office was irreverently dubbed by the lower ranks. Yes, there was HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh, Sidney’s all-time favourite “celebrity”, prominent in several pictures of civil shindigs, with his boss’s bald bonce bobbing away unctuously over the royal shoulder.

  He suddenly became aware of Sidney’s basilisk gaze skewering him.

  ‘Quite remarkable that Knevitt should suddenly have thought of you, Markham,’ the DCI said suspiciously. ‘I mean, it’s not as though you’re an habitué of historic palaces.’

  He spoke as though his DI was a presumptuous peasant capable of pinching the silver.

  Markham had long experience of holding onto his temper.

  ‘Oh, it’s just that he remembered the art gallery investigation, sir, and thought we might be useful…. the experience of being around academics and museum types –’

  ‘Curators and conservators,’ Burton interjected owlishly.

  ‘We don’t have any homicide investigation on hand right now,’ Markham continued smoothly.

  ‘And DI Carstairs says he’s available to deal with those outstanding burglaries in Old Carton, sir,’ Burton duly picked up the baton.

  We make a good double act, Markham thought in amusement as Sidney looked from one to the other.

  ‘So it’s just yourselves along with Sergeants Doyle and Carruthers on this…. assignment,’ Sidney said after a long pause.

  God, he makes it sound like we’re off on a massive skive. But Markham kept his charming smile nailed firmly in place. 

  ‘Any other personnel involved?’ As in civilian consultants.

  Time to bite the bullet.

  ‘As you know, George Noakes has set up as a private investigator, sir,’ Markham began.

  The DCI’s countenance suggested he did not regard this development with any particular enthusiasm.

  ‘It just so happens that he’s got a window in his diary,’ Burton said brightly.

  Sidney’s expression was highly sceptical, as though he found it hard to imagine the former sergeant being exactly overwhelmed with business.

  ‘And of course he was part of the art gallery enquiry, sir,’ Burton continued bravely, trying hard not to remember her former colleague’s sacrilegious denunciations of Western art. ‘You’ll recall that case involved child abduction as well as,’ she groped for suitably impressive terminology, ‘a cultural foundation…. so, with that kind of experience….’

  ‘It’s understood that Noakes has no official remit.’  Sidney’s tone was flinty, but his two subordinates could see that they had won the day.

  ‘Absolutely, sir,’ Burton nodded fervently.

  ‘And I want receipts for everything,’ the DCI rapped.

  ‘Naturally,’ Markham murmured, having already generously ensured that his friend wouldn’t have to wait until some hard-faced auditor should cough up expenses.

  ‘Noakes just can’t keep away from CID,’ Burton said with a polite cough. ‘But he knows his place, sir.’

  That should appease Sidney’s seigneurial streak, Markham thought as they salaamed their way out of the Presence.

  ‘I always feel a bit disgusted with myself after one of those sessions,’ Burton said ruefully once they were safely back in his office. ‘Feel as though I’m laying on the obsequiousness with a trowel.’

  ‘You were note-perfect, Kate.’ Markham wanted to ask about her own plans for Christmas, but something in his colleague’s expression suggested it might be dangerous territory.

  ‘Right,’ he said. ‘You need to push off and clear that in tray if you’re going to catch the 2:53…. London here we come!’

  After she had gone, he wandered across to the window. The skies outside was grey and bruised looking, but a powdery sprinkling of snow softened the outlines of the town centre beyond.

  Despite the tedium of his self-flagellation before Sidney, Markham felt a stirring of excited anticipation. This case promised to be the most unusual challenge of his career.

  Bring it on!

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