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By Bill Kitson
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2011 Bill Kitson
All rights reserved.
Anna was late. Her clattering footsteps on the concrete steps of the multi-storey car park reflected her haste. Although she was behind schedule she had taken precious minutes to check her appearance in the mirror before leaving the office. She wanted nothing to give Alan cause for suspicion. She felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of Alan. Deceiving him was the worst part of the whole business.
The car park was deserted, badly lit. Most of the light bulbs had succumbed to the attention of vandals. Anna wrinkled her nose in distaste, the stairwell smelt of stale urine and vomit. Her car was on level seven, parked against one of the concrete supports in the most remote corner. She unlocked the door and was about to step in when she heard a rustling sound. She glanced round. Surprise turned to shock, shock to horror and she opened her mouth to scream.
The trial lasted three days; extremely short for a murder case. The evidence was circumstantial but convincing. The plea of not guilty had little to support it. Faced with the allegations of the prosecution and with little to refute them, the judge's direction to the jury was disposed heavily in favour of the Crown. As one reporter whispered to another, 'Why bother with a jury, the verdict's already been handed down.'
The jurors needed less than an hour to consider their findings. They filed back into the court, conspicuously avoiding the defendant's gaze. Their foreman rose in response to the usher's call.
'Have you reached a verdict?'
'Yes, my lord.'
'And is that verdict unanimous?'
'Yes, my lord.'
'On the charge of the murder of Anna Marshall, how do you find the defendant Alan Charles Marshall?'
'Alan Charles Marshall, you have been found guilty of the murder of your wife Anna Marshall, a verdict with which I entirely agree. This was a brutal crime carried out in cold blood. You knew your wife's love for you was dead. You knew she was on the point of leaving you. You could not tolerate that rejection so you slit her throat in the cruellest and most gory manner; using such violence you almost decapitated her. Then you calmly drove more than sixty miles to dispose of the body into the North Sea. Hoping no doubt that it would remain there so that the evidence of your foul deed would remain undetected. However, the sea gave up the corpse, your wife's body was identified and the police investigation uncovered the motive behind your evil action. In view of the nature of the crime, the complete lack of remorse you have shown, and your refusal to acknowledge your undoubted guilt in the face of unchallenged evidence, I therefore sentence you to life imprisonment with the recommendation that in this instance that should mean a term of no less than twenty-five years.'
'It is the opinion of the Court of Appeal that this conviction is not safe. Our findings are based on inconsistencies in the evidence presented by the prosecution at the original trial and we are less than satisfied that the direction to the jury was other than prejudicial to the defendant. This court deems that the defendant's guilt was not established beyond reasonable doubt, and therefore determines that the conviction of Alan Charles Marshall for the murder of Anna Marshall be set aside. The defendant is free to return to the community.'
As the handful of attendees filed out, Marshall stepped from the dock. He was greeted by his counsel with a curt nod. As the barrister stuffed the case notes into a folder, Marshall asked, 'How much is this going to cost?'
'No concern of yours. The bill's been paid. You're a free man, what more do you want?'
'I want to know who paid.'
'I'm not at liberty to say. Accept your freedom and be grateful. If you want something to worry about, prepare yourself for the press when you walk through that door.'
The small dwelling was more than remote, it was isolated. Although the scenery was beautiful there was little else to recommend it. The single-storey cottage had nothing in the way of luxury apart from an ancient, but serviceable, Aga. It was no place for the social-minded. For a hermit it was ideal. The prospective tenant nodded approvingly. 'It'll do.'
'You understand the terms? If you leave your job you've to leave the cottage.'
'You're quite sure? It gets lonely out here and pretty bleak in winter.'
'Then it's yours, and the job with it.'
There were only ten shopping days before Christmas. DI Mike Nash grimaced at the thought; office parties, drunken brawls, domestic violence and opportunist thieves. That's what Christmas meant to him. When he walked into Helmsdale police station he was surprised to see the reception desk manned by Sergeant Binns, who'd been working at HQ in Netherdale. 'What are you doing here, Jack?'
'I've been sent back. Flu!'
'Who's gone down with it now?'
'Almost everybody. Apart from you, me and your visitor.'
'My visitor? Who?'
'The chief constable, no less. She doesn't visit many of her officers' – Binns gave a sly glance – 'but we all know she has a soft spot for you.'
'You've been listening to Clara too much; you're getting to sound like her.'
Nash hurried upstairs to his office. 'Morning, ma'am.'
Gloria O'Donnell, the highly respected chief constable, known irreverently as 'God' because of her initials, more than for her rank, looked up from his desk. 'Morning, Mike. I came to ask for help because of the flu outbreak, but it seems you've got your own problems.' Nash raised his eyebrows questioningly. 'I've taken two phone calls since I got here. Both Mironova and Pearce have gone down with the virus. Netherdale station is like the Marie Celeste. You're the only CID officer in the area who's fit for duty. There seems little chance of any of them returning to work this side of New Year.'
'That's going to be fun, with the mayhem the festive season brings.'
'Tell me about it. The only solution I can come up with is to let civilian clerical staff run the desk at Netherdale. You'll have to make do with a community support officer here. That'll free Binns up to work with you in CID. I've just got hold of DC Andrews. She's been on attachment to Yorkshire Central. I told them I needed her back. She's on her way. They squealed a bit, but I pulled rank. She lives in Netherdale, so that helps. Oh, and I've had a word with HMIC. In view of the circumstances, they're prepared to lend me Superintendent Edwards again, short term. You've worked together before, so that shouldn't be a problem.'
'That would help. Don't suppose a recruitment drive's on the cards yet?'
O'Donnell sighed. 'Let's not talk about that. The cutbacks are getting worse. I can't have a new deputy, vacancies aren't being filled; even civilian staff levels are being culled. Put it this way, if you drop a paperclip, pick it up.'
'With the whole country having to tighten its belt, then so must we. With rising unemployment there's bound to be a hike in the crime rate, but that carries no weight. We've to knuckle down and get on with it. It's not much I'm afraid, but it's the best I can do for the time being.'
'That means Helmsdale has four officers, Edwards, me, Binns and DC Andrews, plus a rookie for the desk? I should be able to cope.'
O'Donnell paused before telling him the worst. 'No, Mike, that's to cover Netherdale as well.'
The buzzing took on an angrier note as the chain made contact with timber. The process had been going on for three days. The pile of stacked lengths of wood at the edge of the clearing, and the pale tops of exposed tree stumps testified to the level of activity.
The chainsaw operator paused. Despite the cold December wind he was sweating from both the thickness of his quilted shirt and the effort. Wiping his brow he transferred liberal quantities of sawdust from his shirtsleeve to his forehead. He switched off the saw and rested it against one of the stumps. Thinning trees was a job he enjoyed most, in hindsight. He didn't even have the distraction of a companion to enliven his rest breaks. He reached for his knapsack. A pale winter sun hung low in the sky. He reckoned it was about 2 p.m. Time for lunch.
Taking his flask, he brewed a mug of tea and examined the clearing as he ate his sandwiches. With luck he'd have the job finished by the weekend. He thought briefly of Nell; wondered whether she gave him a thought out here on his own. He smiled wryly; he of all people should be used to being alone.
Using a long-bladed knife from the sheath on his belt, he sliced effortlessly through an apple; then tossed the core into the long grass. He stood up, flexed his arms and back, repacked his knapsack and fired up the chainsaw again.
Some accidents are down to carelessness; some are pure misfortune. In this instance it was both. As the chainsaw bit into the trunk of a silver birch the head of a nail snagged one of the teeth. The chain snapped, but the drive continued feeding links round the blade. It unwound with the speed of a striking rattlesnake. His hands felt the change first. He slackened his grip on the trigger. A split second later he saw the chain arcing towards him. He ducked to his right.
The last few links caught against the side of the guard, slowing the chain and slewing it slightly. The reduction in speed and the change in its path undoubtedly saved his life.
Shock deprived him of movement. He stared down at his quilted shirt, ripped apart in a long gash across his arm and chest. Blood began to spurt from the wounds. He was alone, miles from help. He took a deep breath, let the saw drop and cut the motor off with the toe of his boot.
Using his right hand, he unbuckled his belt, wrenched it from his jeans and looped it tightly round his upper arm, manoeuvring the improvised tourniquet above the wound. He took another deep breath. Shock was making him dizzy. He'd over a mile to walk. Even then he'd be little better off. Without a phone, the cottage was as remote as this wood. There was no alternative. He'd have to drive or bleed to death.CHAPTER 2
Lisa Andrews wasn't happy. She'd arrived in Helmsdale late morning; had only been there five minutes when she was sent on a job. Sergeant Binns had greeted her briefly then tossed a patrol car key to her. 'Andrews, I've a nice drive for you.'
'Far side of Kirk Bolton. Chance to make a name for yourself: the only detective in the county investigating a rustling case.'
She shouldn't have got her hopes up. Her thirty-mile round trip had been for nothing. The old farmer stared at her in dismay. 'Eeh, I'm sorry, lass. I forgot I'd arranged for them to be tupped. Spoke to a mate of mine at mart yesterday.' The old man scratched his head ruefully. 'Thing was, we were in Cobblers Arms, having a pint. It weren't my last, though.' He cackled with laughter at the pun.
His laughter died as he saw her expression. 'I forgot he'd said he'd send his wagon for 'em yesterday afternoon, so when I saw they weren't in t' field this morning I thought they'd been nicked. 'T weren't until after I rang your lot I remembered. Sorry, an' all that.'
Frustrated at the waste of time, Andrews reversed too quickly into the lane and ended up in a ditch. The patrol car was not as damaged as her pride. It took nearly an hour for the farmer to fetch his tractor from the field and get her back on the road. As she left the farmhouse the old man watched her go, aware of her frustration.
The scenery went unnoticed. She failed to register the change from wild moorland to the gentler pastures and forestry of the lower slopes of the dale. The dense woods concealed a side road that spewed on to the lane at an acute angle. Her attention was brought back abruptly as a Land Rover cut across her bows and careered in front of her. The rear door of the vehicle was so close it filled her windscreen.
She slammed her foot on the brake. The Fiesta snaked wildly as she fought for control. The Land Rover was pulling away. She gritted her teeth. 'Right!' Her foot hit the accelerator as her hand flicked on the siren and lights.
He heard the sound but failed to identify it. Consciousness was beginning to slip away. He tried to fight the lethargy, muttering through gritted teeth. 'Must get to Barry's, must get to Barry's.' It became like a mantra. Barry would be out shooting. He prayed Barry's wife would be home.
The noise filtered through a fierce wave of nausea. His vision blurred as he saw the red and blue lights in his mirror. 'Oh shit.' He stopped. The road was moving, up and down, then side to side. He stared at it, nausea rising, senses failing.
Andrews flung her door open and leapt from the car. This was no false alarm. The man's erratic driving marked him down as a drunk. She reached the Land Rover and looked in. The driver was around forty, she guessed, his dark hair was going grey early, his face was deathly pale. He was lolling back in the driving seat with his eyes closed. The classic drunk's pose.
She tapped angrily on the window. The driver opened his eyes and looked at her. How keen his focus was she couldn't be sure. She flashed her warrant card and gestured for him to open the door. 'Get out of the car please.'
As he fumbled with the handle she saw his face screw up with pain. She took an involuntary step back. Something wasn't right. He looked drunk. He drove as if drunk, but there was something strange about him. As he put one foot on the road he half fell, half knelt; then vomited violently. A second later he straightened up. She stared in horror at the bloodstained mess that had been his left arm and chest. 'Oh God, what happened?'
'Chainsaw,' he muttered through gritted teeth. 'Must get help.'
Stating the bleeding obvious she thought, without noticing the pun. 'You can't drive. You're in no fit state. Can you make it to my car?'
'I'll get you in the passenger seat; try not to bleed on the upholstery. I'll move your vehicle off the road then drive you to Netherdale Hospital.'
The nausea eased momentarily. 'There's a ditch on the left–'
'I know,' she snapped.
When the Land Rover was secured she hurried back. 'Can you manage your seat belt?' He tried but the effort caused him too much distress. 'OK, let me do it.' She leaned over and gently eased the belt across his chest; trying to avoid as much of the bloodstained gash as possible. She put the car into gear and hit the siren and lights. After a few abortive attempts she managed to get a strong enough signal to talk to the control room. 'I'm taking a badly injured man to Netherdale General. He's had an accident with a chainsaw. He's got wounds to the upper arm and chest, severe loss of blood and is in shock. Pass that to A and E.' Glancing sideways she added, 'Tell them he's been vomiting and now he's lost consciousness.'
The staff nurse looked harassed. 'Can you tell me the patient's name and address?'
'I'm sorry,' Andrews replied. 'I don't know them. I stopped his car because he was driving erratically. Before I'd chance to question him, he collapsed.'
'Do you know anything about him?'
'Not yet, but I soon will. I have his registration number. Unless he stole it, I'll find out his details.' She pulled her mobile phone from her pocket, only to receive a glare from the staff nurse.
The nurse pointed to the phone on the end of the reception counter. 'Use that one.'
Andrews read out the Land Rover's details to Jack Binns.
'OK, I'll check it out then ring you back. Give me that phone number.'
'Hang on a mo.' Andrews hailed a passing nurse. 'Does this phone accept incoming calls?'
The nurse nodded. It was ten minutes later when Binns phoned back. 'The Land Rover's registered to Winfield Estate, which doesn't get us a lot further. I've rung the estate office but got no reply. I'll keep trying.'
'The hospital needs to know his details. Also his car's stuck out on a country lane and I've got the keys.'
'I'll get back to you as soon as I have anything.'
The A and E department had changed shift before the information came through. Andrews put the phone down and smiled apologetically at a nurse waiting to speak to her.
'Are you with the patient who had the chainsaw accident?'
'Yes, how is he?'
'He's recovered consciousness, but he's very weak. He lost a lot of blood and had to have a transfusion, so he'll be kept in for a few days. He's been moved on to a ward.'
Excerpted from Back-Slash by Bill Kitson. Copyright © 2011 Bill Kitson. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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