Read an Excerpt
Detective Inspector William Trave of the Oxfordshire CID felt the pain as soon as he’d passed through the revolving entrance doors of the Old Bailey and had shaken the rain out from his coat onto the dirty wet floor of the courthouse. It hurt him in the same place as before—on the left side of his chest, just above his heart. But it was worse this time. It felt important. Like it might never go away.
There was a white plastic chair in the corner, placed there perhaps by some kind janitor to accommodate visitors made faint by their first experience of the Old Bailey. Now Trave fell into it, bending down over his knees to gather the pain into himself. He was fighting for breath while prickly sweat poured down in rivulets over his face, mixing with the raindrops. And all the time his brain raced from one thought to another, as if it wanted in the space of a minute or two to catch up on all the years he had wasted not talking to his wife, not coming to terms with his son’s death, not living. He thought of the lonely North Oxford house he had left behind at seven o’clock that morning, with the room at the back that he never went into, and he thought of his ex-wife, whom he had seen just the other day shopping in the covered market. He had run back into the High Street, frightened that his successor might come into view carrying a shared shopping bag, and had ducked into the Mitre in search of whisky.
Trave wanted whisky now, but the Old Bailey wasn’t the place to find it. For a moment he considered the possibility of the pub across the road. It was called The Witness Box, or some fatuous name like that, but it wouldn’t be open yet. Trave felt his breath beginning to come easier. The pain was better, and he got out a crumpled handkerchief and wiped away some of the sweat and rain. It was funny that he’d felt for a moment that he was actually going to die, and yet no one seemed to have noticed. The security guards were still patting down the pockets of the public just like they had been doing all morning. One of them was even humming a discordant version of that American song, “Heartbreak Hotel.” A rain-soaked middle-aged policeman sitting on a chair in the corner, gathering his breath for the day ahead, was hardly a cause for distraction.
A sudden weariness came over Trave. Once again he felt weighed down by the meaninglessness of the world around him. Trave always tried to keep his natural nihilism at bay as best he could. He did his job to the best of his ability, went to church on Sundays, and nurtured the plants that grew in the carefully arranged borders of his garden—and sometimes it all worked. Things seemed important precisely because they didn’t last. But underneath, the despair was always there, ready to spring out and take him unawares. Like that morning, halfway down his own street, when a young man in blue overalls working on a dismembered motorcycle had brought back the memory of Joe as if he had gone only yesterday. And fallen apples in the garden at the weekend had resurrected Vanessa stooping to gather them into a straw basket three autumns before. It was funny that he always remembered his wife with her back turned.
Trave gathered himself together and made for the stairs. When he got time, he’d go and see his doctor. Perhaps the GP could give him something. In the meantime he had to carry on. Today was important. Regina v. Stephen Cade, said the list on the wall outside the courthouse. Before His Honour Judge Murdoch at twelve o’clock. Charged with murder. Father murder—patricide, it was called. And the father was an important man—a colonel in the army during the war and a university professor in civilian life. If convicted, the boy would certainly hang. The powers that be would see to that. The boy. But Stephen wasn’t a boy. He was twenty-two. He just felt like a boy to Trave. The policeman fought to keep back the thought that Stephen was so much like Joe. It wasn’t just a physical resemblance. Joe had had the same passion, the same need to rebel that had driven him to ride his brand new 600cc silver motorcycle too fast after dark down a narrow road on the other side of Oxford. A wet January night more than two years ago. If he’d lived, Joe would be twenty-two. Just like Stephen. Trave shook his head. He didn’t need the police training manual to know that empathising with the main suspect in a murder investigation was no way to do his job. Trave had trained himself to be fair and decent and unemotional. That way he brought order to a disordered world, and most of the time he believed there was some value in that. He would do his duty, give his evidence, and move on. The fate of Stephen Cade was not his responsibility.
Up in the police room, Trave poured himself a cup of black coffee, straightened his tie, and waited in a corner for the court usher to come and get him to give his evidence. He was the officer in the case, and, when the opening statements were over, he would be the first witness called by the prosecution.
The courtroom was one of the oldest in the Old Bailey. It was tall, lit by glass chandeliers that the maintenance staff needed long ladders to reach when the bulbs blew out. On the wood-paneled walls, pictures of long-gone nineteenth-century lawyers stared out on their twentieth-century successors. The judge sat robed in black in a leather-backed armchair placed on a high dais. Only the dock containing the defendant and two uniformed prison officers was at the same level. Between them, in the well of the court, were the lawyers’ tables; the witness box; and, to right and left, the benches for the press and the jury. The jurors were now in place, and Trave felt them slowly relaxing into their new surroundings. Their moment in the limelight, when they stumbled over their oath to render a true verdict in accordance with the evidence, had come and gone. Now they could sit in safe anonymity while the drama of the murder trial played out in front of them. Everyone—members of the press, the jurors, and the spectators packed together in the public gallery above the defendant’s head—was focused on the prosecutor, Gerald Thompson, as he gathered his long black gown around his shoulders and prepared to begin.
“What time did you arrive at Moreton Manor, Inspector?” he asked, “on the night of the murder?”
“Eleven forty-five.” Trave spoke loudly, forgetting for a moment the acoustic qualities of the Old Bailey.
“Were you the first policeman on the scene?”
“No. Officers Clayton and Watts were already there. They’d got everyone in the drawing room. It’s across from the front hall.”
“And the victim, Professor Cade—he was in his study. On the ground floor of the east wing.”
“Yes. That’s right,” said Trave.
There was a measured coldness and determination in the way the prosecutor put his questions, which contrasted sharply with his remarkable lack of stature. Gerald Thompson couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. Now he took a deep breath and drew himself up to his full short height as if to underline to the jury the importance of his next question.
“Now, tell us, Inspector. What did you find?”
“In the study?”
“Yes. In the study.”
Trave could hear the impatience in the prosecutor’s voice, but he still hesitated before beginning his reply. It was the question he’d asked himself a thousand times or more during the four months that had passed since he’d first seen the dead man, sitting bolt upright in his high-backed armchair, gazing out over a game of chess into nothing at all. Shot in the head. Detective Inspector Trave knew what he’d found, all right. He just didn’t know what it meant. Not in his bones, not where it mattered. Pieces of the jigsaw fit too well, and others didn’t fit at all. Everything pointed to Stephen Cade as the murderer, but why had he called out for help after killing his father? Why had he waited to open the door to his accusers? Why had he not tried to escape? Trave remembered how Stephen had gripped the table at the end of their last interview in Oxford Police Station, shouting over and over again until he was hoarse: “I didn’t do it I tell you. I didn’t kill him. I hated my father, but that doesn’t make me a murderer.”
Trave had got up and left the room, told the sergeant at the desk to charge the boy with murder, and walked out into the night. And he hadn’t slept properly ever since.
Thompson, of course, had no such doubts. Trave remembered the first thing the prosecution counsel had told him when the case was being prepared for trial: “There’s something you should know about me, Inspector,” he’d said in that nasal bullying tone with which Trave had now become so familiar. “I don’t suffer fools gladly. I never have and I never will.”
And Trave was a fool. Thompson hadn’t taken long to form that opinion. The art of prosecution was about following the straight and narrow, keeping to the path through the woods until you got to the hanging tree on the other side. Defence lawyers spent their time trying to sidetrack witnesses and throw smoke in the jurors’ eyes to keep them from the truth. Trave was the officer in the case. It was his duty not to be sidetracked, to keep his language plain and simple, to help the jury do its job. And here he was: hesitant and uncertain before he’d even begun.
Thompson cleared his throat and glowered at his witness.
“Tell us about the deceased, Inspector Trave,” he demanded. “Tell us what you found.”
“He’d been shot in the head.”
“How many times?”
“Where in the head?”
“In the forehead.”
“Did you find the gun?”
“Yes, it was on a side table, with a silencer attached. The defendant said he’d put it there after picking it up from the floor near the french windows, when he came back into the study from the courtyard.”
“That was the story he told you?”
“Yes, I interviewed him the next day at the police station.
“His fingerprints were on the gun. That’s right, isn’t it?”
“And on the key that he admitted he turned in order to unlock the door into the corridor. The defendant told you that as well in his interview, didn’t he, Inspector?”
“Yes. He said the door was locked and so he opened it to let Mr. Ritter into the study.”
“Tell us who Mr. Ritter is.”
“He was a friend of Professor Cade’s. They fought together in the war. He and his wife had been living at the manor house for about seven years, as I understand it. Mrs. Ritter acted as the housekeeper. They had the bedroom above the professor’s study, overlooking the main courtyard.”
“Thank you, Inspector. All the fingerprint evidence is agreed, my lord.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said the judge, in a tone that suggested he’d have had a great deal to say if it hadn’t been. His Honour Judge Murdoch looked furious already, Thompson noted with approval. Strands of grey hair stuck out at different angles from under his old horsehair wig, and his wrinkled cheeks shone even redder than usual. They were the legacy of a lifetime of excessive drinking, which had done nothing to improve the judge’s temper. Defendants, as he saw it, were guilty and needed to be punished. Especially this one. People like Stephen Cade’s father had fought in two world wars to defend their country. And for what? To see their sons rebel, take drugs, behave indecently in public places. Stephen Cade had made a mistake not cutting his hair for the trial. Judge Murdoch stared at him across the well of the court and decided that he’d never seen a criminal more deserving of the ultimate punishment. The little bastard had killed his father for money. There was no worse crime than that. He’d hang. But first he’d have his trial. A fair trial. Judge Murdoch would see to that.
“Let’s stay with the interview for a little bit longer,” said Gerald Thompson, taking up a file from the table in front of him. “You have it in front of you, if you need to refer to it, Inspector. It’s an agreed version. The defendant told you, did he not, that he’d been arguing with his father shortly before he found Professor Cade murdered?”
“Yes. He said that he went to the study at ten o’clock and that he and his father played chess and argued.”
“Argued about his father’s will? about his father’s intention to change that will and disinherit the defendant?”
“Yes. The defendant told me they talked about the will but that their main argument was over the defendant’s need for money.”
“Which his father was reluctant to give him.”
“Yes . . .”
Trave seemed to want to answer more fully, but Thompson gave him no opportunity. “The defendant told you in interview that he became very angry with his father. Isn’t that right, Inspector?” asked the prosecutor.
“The defendant admitted to shouting at Professor Cade that he deserved to die.” The pace of Thompson’s questioning continued to pick up speed.
“And then he told you that he left the study and went for a walk. That’s what he said, wasn’t it, Inspector?”
Thompson asked the question in a rhetorical tone that made it quite clear what he, at least, thought of Stephen Cade’s alibi.
“He said he walked up to the main gate and came back to the study about five minutes later, when he found his father murdered.”
“Yes. Now, Inspector, did you find any footprints to support Stephen Cade’s account?”
“No. But I wouldn’t have expected to. The courtyard is stone and the drive is Tarmac.”
“All right. Let me ask you this, then. Did you find any witnesses to back up his story?”
“No. No, I didn’t.”
“Thank you. Now one last question,” said Thompson, smiling as if he felt he’d saved his best for last. “Did you find any of the defendant’s belongings in the study?”
“We found his hat and coat.”
“Ah, yes. Where were they?”
“On a chair beside Professor Cade’s desk.”
“And the professor himself. Where was his body in relation to this chair and in relation to the entrance doors to the room? Can you help us with that, Inspector?”
“Why don’t you give the jury a chance to look at all this on the floor plan, Mr. Thompson?” said the judge, interrupting. “It might make it clearer.”
“Yes, my lord, I should have thought of that. Members of the jury, if you look at the plan, you can see the courtyard is enclosed on three sides by the main part of the house and its two wings. Professor Cade’s study is the last room on the ground floor of the east wing. It faces into the courtyard, and you can see the french windows marked. The internal door in the corner of the room opens out into a corridor which runs the length of the east wing. You can take it up from there, Inspector,” said Thompson, turning back to his witness.
“Yes. The deceased was seated in one of the two armchairs positioned in the centre of the study, about midway between the two entrances,” said Trave, holding up the plan. “The desk and the chair with the defendant’s hat and coat were further into the room.”
“So the professor was between the doors and the defendant’s hat and coat?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Thank you, Inspector. That’s what I wanted to know. No more questions.”
Thompson sat down with a self-satisfied expression on his face and stole a glance at the jury. He knew what the jurors must be asking themselves: Why would Stephen Cade have gone for a walk at half past ten at night? And if he did, why didn’t he take his hat and coat? It was obvious he hadn’t been wearing them, because not even he could pretend that he put them back on the other side of his dead father’s body on his return.
No, the truth was inescapable. Stephen Cade never went for any walk at all. He was in the study the whole time, arguing with his father about his will, threatening him, and finally killing him with a pistol that he had brought along for that precise purpose.
Then, the next day, he’d told the police a ridiculous story in order to try to save himself. But it wouldn’t wash. With a little help from the prosecution, the jury would see right through it. It’d find him guilty, and then Judge Murdoch would make him pay for what he’d done. With his neck.