Winchester Police Crime Investigation Department: Adam Lazarus sat at his desk. In front of him was an open file filled with sheets of paper. Stacked high to his left and by his elbow was a towering set of box files rising like a miniature tower block. To his right, a steaming mug of coffee gave off an exotic scent. It was his fifth mug in as many hours. He scratched his chin and felt the stubble that had grown there. He had been studying the Hand in Glove case now for the past three days, ever since he had said goodbye to Hilary Leatherbarrow. He had an odd niggling feeling that was itching behind the back of his eyes. It was like having a migraine, a relentless pounding that knocked aggressively at his mind. There was something he was missing, some vital clue that he had overlooked.
Since her promotion from Police Constable to Detective Sergeant, Vesper Highlot had been working with Adam Lazarus. Luck had played a part in her being assigned to Lazarus. His previous DS, Debbie Sundae, had asked to be transferred to another division. Superintendent Pearight had reluctantly agreed. There had been speculation over Sundae’s relationship with Lazarus. It was widely known the pair had been lovers.
Working with Lazarus was a role Vesper liked. She found his methods to be both stimulating and intriguing. He was a fascinating man to observe as he checked then re-checked the facts and clues he had assembled like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, moving the fragmented parts around until they suddenly all fitted together. She had seen the legendary Simian Simpering at work and he struck her as being not so much on drugs but the drug itself. His methods seemed surreal even chaotic. She had no idea how he managed to solve so many cases that others found impossible to crack. DCI Lazarus employed a totally different method and yet his case profile was already looking impressive.
Lazarus held his head in his hand then rubbed it over his face in an effort to wake himself up. He drank the rest of his coffee.
“Sergeant! Sergeant Highlot!”
Vesper moved in front of her boss.
“May I have another coffee?”
“That’ll be your fifth. Caffeine isn’t good for you.”
“It’s my sixth and frankly I don’t care.”
The police sergeant took the mug from him then walked toward the percolator that hissed and bubbled on the side. She poured the brew into the mug the returned the beverage to the desk.
“You need to go home and grab some sleep. You also need a shave and a bath.”
“Are you saying I smell?”
“Not in so many words but, now you mention it, yes.”
Lazarus blew across the top of the mug making little ripples flicker on the surface then he took a shallow sip.
“Pass me that file would you, that one over there,” he indicated with his forefinger.
Vesper did as requested, then watched as he thumbed through the pages. His forehead creased as he perused the text. Then he threw the papers on his desk and cursed. He looked up at Vesper.
“You are right,” he said.
“That you smell?
“I was thinking more of getting some sleep”
“Good idea,” agreed, Vesper.
“First though some breakfast. You fancy some?”
Vesper thought for a moment before answering.
“What about the case?” she asked.
“For now it can wait. I think I need some space, some distance just to gather my thoughts. Tomorrow may bring fresh insight.”
“Okay, what? Okay to grab some breakfast or okay to take a break from the case?”
“Both. Let me grab my coat.”
After leaving the Birchtickle case, along with Adam Lazarus, behind her Hilary had, much like the detective, immersed herself in a backlog of work. For her though it wasn’t a single case; she had a great many contractual obligations to fulfill. A body had been found, a possible suicide, at the bottom of Wessex Tower. There had been no suggestion of murder. The corpse was an unmarried man, Kelvin Migham, who had apparently thrown himself from the top floor. Paramedics had arrived and pronounced him dead when they examined him. As a matter, of course, the body had to have an autopsy. Chief Constable Lawrence O’Law had insisted the examination be carried out by Hilary Leatherbarrow.
There really had been no need for a surgical autopsy as it was evident that Kelvin Migham had been murdered. Under normal circumstances when an individual selects jumping as their preferred suicide method there is very little blood. There is, of course, a lot of internal bleeding. When Kelvin had fallen he had spiraled down to his death spraying blood as he fell from fatal wounds already inflicted. His killer had hoped by pushing him over the edge the final impact would disguise the truth. To the casual observer it may have but not to the professional eye.
After working through the night Hilary decided to call it a day. The sun was rising through the blinds and she could see the cracks of light as they slipped onto the window ledge.
Hilary washed up after the autopsy, ensuring that all surfaces were hygienically clean. She then showered, dried herself and dressed in her usual casual way: blue roll neck jumper, brown leather jacket, blue jeans, white trainers. She looked around her before locking up. The laboratory was hers; she had purchased it several years ago and had been investing in it heavily since then. It was state of the art and she was very proud of the facility.
Needing to get groceries, she drove to the local shops where she bought a newspaper, half-a-dozen eggs, bacon, a loaf of bread, a jar of instant coffee and a bag of potatoes. She carried her basket to the counter where a small queue stood, waiting patiently to be served. As she was gazing out of the window a small voice spoke to her.
“Hello, it’s Doctor Leatherbarrow isn’t it.”
Hilary turned to look at a petite young woman who had joined the queue behind her. She recognised the woman but couldn’t recall her name.
“Penny, Penny Farthing. I don’t look the same out of uniform, do I? It must be hard to recognise me?”
“Of course I recognise you but you are right, not seeing you in uniform threw me. Do you live around here? I don’t remember seeing you in here before.”
The young police officer wrestled with her basket that was filled to the brim and looked heavy.
“I got a flat near here when I moved to plain clothes, to Detective Constable. Rent’s not so bad and I wanted to move away from the area I had been living in. Do you mind if I ask you a work-related question?”
Hilary always disliked it when people she knew wanted to know some gory detail or other about a case she was involved with.
“I cannot talk about specific cases but as long as it’s a question, in general, I don’t mind.”
“I am working with DS Highlot, I don’t know if you know her but she got promoted at the same time as my changing roles. She’s a bit of fast tracker though and she landed Detective Sergeant. Anyway, she and I have been working on that jumper case, you know, the one you are carrying out an autopsy on. Still, if you aren’t able to discuss it I guess we’d better forget it.”
Hilary shuffled forward as the queue began to move along.
“I didn’t realise you wanted to talk about a case you are working on. Go on then, ask away.”
The woman at the head of the queue was arguing about overpaying for an item she had bought. She loudly explained to the shop assistant that the sign had said ‘buy two get one free.’ The assistant was trying to explain that just because she had purchased three items, one of which she needn’t pay for, didn’t mean she got a fourth for free. Detective Constable Farthing posed her question.
“We don’t think he jumped. We think he was pushed.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Hilary.
“We think Kelvin Migham was a member of the Brethren.”
“I thought they were just a bunch of weirdoes who lived in Fekenham?”
“No. That was some sort of deception. Remember Wynkyngate? The Brethren are or were the para-military wing of East India Trading. Even though the government has broken that company up we think we have found more cells of them. Migham appears to have been a member of the Winchester chapel. He was possibly its financial secretary. We believe he may have defrauded his own people of thousands of pounds. Later on today I am going to his bank to requisition his accounts. If he has banked any large sums in recent weeks it may be the money he stole from his chapel.”
It was Hilary’s turn to be served. She smiled at the assistant then placed her basket on the counter.
“Are you going with DS Highlot to the bank?” asked Hilary.
“I should be but she has been putting in a lot of overtime working with DCI Lazarus on that Birchtickle case. They have spent the last twenty-four hours together.”
“Really?” said Hilary as she pulled a five-pound note from her purse before handing the note to the cashier. “Thank you,” she said as she took hold of her change. Penny Farthing moved to take pole position in the queue.
“Well,” said Hilary, “it was nice to have bumped into you. I might see you the next time I am in your neck of the woods.”
“Bye, take care,” said the police detective.
Hilary left the shop and walked back to her car. Placing the bag of groceries on the back seat, she then drove to her home.
Her home was unassuming; neatly decorated but plain. A large painting took pride of place on her living room wall. It was a copy of Dali’s ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus.’ She put away her groceries, neatly stacking the items in their correct places within her cupboards. She then pulled out a saucepan intending to cook some scrambled eggs but thought better of it. Rather than cook herself she decided to walk down the road to a café she knew where she could order a fry-up. If the fried food was bad for her then the walk should go some way to compensating for her culinary sin.
The morning was chilly but bright, the walk refreshing. By the time she got to the café she felt famished. The door opened with a creak as she stepped in. She looked around and was surprised to see Adam Lazarus sitting eating with a woman. The woman was Vesper Highlot, Hilary recognised her at once. The pair was sitting facing one another, both leaning in close sharing an obvious intimacy. Hilary felt an unexpected pang in her chest. She looked away, admonishing herself for being stupid, then she left the way she had come. Suddenly her appetite had disappeared.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.