Fictional murder mystery series | Season 1 | Chapter 1 | Written by Jacqueline Dyer
Note: the Metropolitan Police covers all 32 boroughs of Greater London. Since 2018 they have been merged to form 12 Basic Command Areas (BCUs) incorporating 2 or 3 boroughs each.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) has several air bases in and around London. Northolt is close to Heathrow Airport, in West London.
The excitement of the afternoon, arresting a suspected murderer on a moving train, had left me feeling charged with energy, so as soon as I had wrapped it up, I went home, got changed, and took my bike out for an hour. The bitter wind whipped into my face, burning as I pounded the pedals, sweating hard, fighting the gusts on the final incline before coasting breathlessly down into the village I called home in the outer London suburbs.
My refurbished terraced house was warm when I entered, carrying my bike through and out to the conservatory. Missy, my cat, set up a plaintive mewling for her supper, weaving around my feet, nearly causing an accident.
“Hold your horses”, I warned her as I tried to stay on my feet. I got the bike safely stowed and came back inside, unzipping my quilted bodywarmer and tossing it onto an armchair as I set about measuring out Missy’s meal ration. The cat was fond of eating and didn’t have a “stop” switch, so her food had to be carefully measured, and treats apportioned so as not to spike her blood sugar.
After that I treated myself to a long, hot shower, dressed in old sweats, and defrosted some home-made vegetable soup in the microwave. I took the last two slices of multigrain bread that I toasted and buttered, then prepared a tray and went to sit in front of the TV.
Suddenly I found myself with a whole evening to get through with no work commitments and I wasn’t sure I liked it. It had been at least a couple of weeks since I had experienced a gaping hole like this. In an attempt to relax, I poured myself a glass of Merlot and tried to find something on TV to distract me. I started watching a comedy series about a dysfunctional family, but my concentration kept wavering. As I was debating switching to another programme, my phone rang. The number came up as Hillingdon Central, so I knew it was work.
“Good evening, Jo, sorry to disturb you at home.” The voice was that of Detective Chief Superintendent Gail Dobson, the regional head honcho.
“What can I do for you, Ma’am?”
“A new case has fallen into our lap but it involves two different forces in West BCU -Hillingdon and Ealing. The vic is a thirty-five year old female who worked at RAF Northolt but lived in Ealing. She was found just outside the Northolt perimeter, and it was called in by a dogwalker. When we got the ID, Ealing took it and started following up with the family.”
“Then I should be there”, I said, shoving Missy off my lap and reaching for the remote to blank the TV.
“Well, it’s awkward”, Dobson sounded embarrassed, something I would never have thought possible.
“Awkward how? This is our case if she was found at Northolt.”
“Right, but we have a hotshot DI in Ealing who picked it up from the night duty crew and is working that end with the family.”
“But what about the body?” I asked, stunned to have been bypassed.
“DC Lane got there and has been with the paramedics and CSIs, he’ll have full notes. I know you completed the Anderson murder case this afternoon so I thought we could pick up the loose ends in the morning. I doubt he missed anything, he’s sharp.”
“That he is,” I agreed. “But who’s this hotshot I’ll have to work with?”
“DI Rebecca Sadler”, she said, almost apologetically. “She joined us after a long stint with the Murder Investigation Team in Manchester, and various jaunts with Vice down here.”
I trod cautiously, remembering that Dobson’s background was Manchester.
“So, you know her quite well? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes, pretty much. I worked with her quite a bit back up north, but there’s been a gap and we lost touch. She can be quite full-on, so I want you to make sure you hold your own. Go to the mortuary in the morning for the post- mortem- 9.00 am sharp. Professor Surinder Kaur. Rebecca will l have been up all night I expect, so you’ll have more of an advantage. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” was all I could reply as, perplexed, I put down the phone. Rebecca? Seemed a bit overfamiliar for a senior police officer to use instead of her rank.
The Chief Super and I had a rather odd relationship based on the fact that I had once bumped into her in a pub in Hampstead that had singles nights, although it was popular with couples as well. At the beginning of my grieving phase, when I was still in denial, I did go once or twice, trying to drown my sorrows. I didn’t really want to date anyone, I just wanted to get that feeling when someone looks at you in appreciation and there’s a bit of flirting. I wasn’t exactly sober when I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to face my Chief Super.
She was with her latest partner, Kenneth Khumalo-Taylor, known on the circuit as Fit Kit, a popular black QC with a track record of defending murder suspects who were victims of domestic violence. She introduced me, then, obviously seeing I was the worse for wear, asked me how I was getting home. I reassured her I’d be Ubering and wouldn’t be late for work the following morning. I cringed now every time I thought about it. I worried for a while that it might affect how she perceived my work, but she was never anything but professional and respectful. I detected no pity in her gaze, but I sensed her antenna out, ready to pick up distress signals. I didn’t give any.
At 8.45 the following morning I was pulling into the car park at the mortuary, two steaming cups from the Caffè Nero down the road sitting in the tray on my dash. DC Quinton Lane was standing outside, holding a cup of his own. He looked tired and his eyes were bloodshot. I got out and carried the cups over to him.
“You won’t be needing this, then?”
“No thanks, boss. I’m so fuelled by caffeine that I can barely stand still,” he said, glumly, managing a small smile.
“Long night, was it?” I asked, putting one cup down on the window ledge and taking a cautious sip from the other.
“Very long. That DI from Ealing, she just never stops. Relentless.”
“And where is she now?”
“Went home at half -seven to freshen up, she said. Should be here soon.”
“Right, Quint, well I suggest you brief me now, hand me your notes and leave me to deal with DI Sadler. You go and get some rest. Come back in this afternoon.”
At precisely 8.57, a silver Lexus coupé roared into the yard and screeched to a halt. The occupant climbed out, gathering briefcase and handbag, and straightening her jacket. I had the impression of quick energy and singularity of purpose. Lane had just departed. We were alone.
I stood very still, conscious of my clean, pressed clothes, the slim black pants and blazer with the silver buttons over a pale blue shirt. DI Sadler, on the other hand, looked to have thrown her long leather coat on over a dark green trouser suit and cream v- neck top in a mad hurry. Her shoulder-length brunette hair was attractively mussed and still damp from the shower. As she approached me, her eyes flickered up to mine and she smiled. Her eyes were deep brown with flecks of amber and I noted ridiculously long lashes and perfect white teeth. She may have thrown her clothes on, but the lipstick was immaculate.
“Good morning, you must be DI Redmond. I’m DI Rebecca Sadler. Is that for me?” indicating the coffee cup beside me on the windowsill.
“If you’d like. I always bring a spare,” I said. “And it’s Jo”.
“Rebecca”, releasing waves of a light floral perfume as she offered her hand to shake.
‘So, tell me, Rebecca, where are we up to with this one?”
“The body was found at 20.15 by a dog walker who called it in immediately. We got the CSIs and DS Lane here within half an hour, fenced off the crime scene, and he took the dog walker’s details and arranged for a statement to be taken this morning at your station. We identified the vic from the driving licence and Northolt ID in her bag. Andrea Crawford, age 35, civilian clerk on the base. Cause of death appears to be strangulation, ligature marks on the neck, time of death yet to be determined. After the post-mortem we’re going to visit the husband and parents.”.
She paused while I took in this information. I raised my eyebrows. “Did you inform them last night?”
“Yes, I talked to the husband. He said he wanted to be the one to tell the parents. They’ll be with him this morning.”
I frowned. Spouses were often the first suspects that needed to be eliminated.
“Don’t worry,” Rebecca added, “I saw him alone last night and I think it would be good to observe him with the in-laws today. I’ll bring you up to speed on the way.”
I refrained from commenting and we made our way into the mortuary where Professor Kaur, the pathologist, was setting up.
“Good morning, ladies”, she intoned, a stout Indian lady in her 50’s, an absolute stickler for detail, as I had often learned to my cost.
“DI Redmond, a familiar face around my table. And you must be DI Sadler, Ealing, is it?”
“Yes, that’s right, pleased to meet you”, Rebecca smiled briefly, keeping it professional. The professor peered over the top of her spectacles, which were perched strategically on her nose and sniffed. Then she got down to the job.
“The victim is a well-nourished female in her mid-30’s, tattoo on left ankle, and another on the right forearm. No signs of abuse, no old bruising or fractures and, since I can see you’re about to ask, DI Sadler, no signs of sexual assault, at least externally. We’ll take a closer look later…..”
Forty-five minutes later, we stumbled out of the mortuary gulping in the cold, clean air. Rebecca was green.
“Got to you, did it?” I enquired not unkindly, having a cast-iron stomach myself for these things.
“Sleepless night, no breakfast”, was her answer. Then, seeing my quirked eyebrow, she explained “I have a four-year old son. When I got home, I only had time to shower and get him up and dressed and breakfasted ready for kindergarten.”
“OK let’s grab a coffee and a breather”, I suggested. “There’s a Costa down the road, you can brief me there.”
I got into my well-worn Nissan Qashqai indicating for her to follow. Once there we ordered coffees- hers a tall latte, mine an americano, and toasted teacakes.
“So, the husband?” I ventured, once the colour had returned to her cheeks.
“Right, Philip Crawford, 38, manages a small indie record company. Thinks he’s the bees’ knees. Very cut up when I broke the news, but I sensed it was a bit of an act.”
“I dunno. Something about him just didn’t sit right. Might be something there, can’t tell at this stage. That’s why I want to see how he gets on with the in-laws.” Her Mancunian accent was suddenly more pronounced. She shoved half a teacake into her mouth and chased it with a swig of coffee.
“That’s better. Ryan, my son, is a picky eater, so it can take quite a while to get him fed in the morning. That’s why I often miss breakfast. Honestly, kids, if anyone had warned me, I wouldn’t have bothered!”
“Do you have a partner, or a live-in childminder?” I asked, then, realising this might seem intrusive, I added “Sorry, that wasn’t meant to sound nosy”.
She waved her hand “No, no problem. His dad and I are not a couple, but he’s been living with us for about a year, helping with Ryan. Trouble is, he’s soon going to remarry so we have to decide on the best solution. He wants joint custody and I kind of agree. But it totally depends on Ryan. If he’s not happy I have to find a way to keep him with me.”
“Divorce can be a bitch,” I commented.
She looked startled. “Oh, we were never married. We had an affair when he was married to someone else. So, the remarrying is about that…” she broke off, seeing my expression.
“Jeez, you don’t want to hear all this”, she laughed, downing the last of her coffee. “Come on, let’s get cracking”.
And Rebecca Sadler slung her coat over her arm and headed for the door like a heat-seeking missile. I followed, somewhat bemused.
In my 20’s I used to ride out sleepless nights and keep going. At 41 that was no longer an option. By midday I was shattered, so I left the Crawford case in the hands of DI Redmond and my number 2, DC Lisa Childs, and headed home for a rest. I should have been out like a light as soon as my head touched the pillow, but, annoyingly, I kept seeing the tall, slim, blonde Hillingdon inspector in her smart blazer and perfectly ironed shirt. It was very classy, I had to admit, and I had a pang of envy when I thought of my wash and wear outfits from well-known high street brands. She had a typically southern air of educated authority about her, yet she didn’t come across as unfriendly or patronising. I didn’t quite know what to make of her.
In the end I got a couple of hours, then the alarm woke me and I started the whole process of getting dressed and heading to work for the second time that day. At least Steve would be picking Ryan up from childcare after work. That spared me from having to rush back.
At Ealing station, Lisa was surrounded by files and was working on her computer. I had checked my phone and found several messages from Dobson asking to call her with an update, so my first priority was getting up to speed.
“OK Lisa, let’s have it.”
“Right, well, after you left, DI Redmond took me to RAF Northolt to interview Andrea’s boss. I bet you didn’t know her Dad was a retired Air Commodore in the RAF? Yeah, they all seemed to know her and asked about him. She has quite a way with people, doesn’t she? Doesn’t make any fuss but gets maximum cooperation.”
I made no comment, quelling the urge to say something sarcastic about privilege and entitlement. But that was the old Rebecca. The new one would watch and wait. I indicated for Lisa to continue. When she did, making clear her admiration of Jo Redmond’s interview technique at various junctures, I eventually learned that Andrea Crawford was generally liked and trusted but that her marriage was rocky in the extreme. Her best friend, Amy Waterston, knew that Philip had been having an affair with a model called Gabrielle something. Andrea had finally decided to ask him for a divorce, but it’s not clear whether she had done so or not before she died.
“And what about her? Has she been seeing anyone else?”
“They say not, boss. She was crazy about Philip but had just had enough of the humiliation.”
‘Right. And is there anything else significant that we need to know?”
Lisa turned around, her eyes gleaming. “Oh yes, boss. I’ve been looking at Philip Crawford’s social media sites. It makes fascinating reading”.
I took off my coat and hung it up (as opposed to throwing it over a chair, which was what I would have done in Manchester) and got stuck in.
Steve phoned at 7 and asked me whether I planned to be home for dinner. I said probably not. He said he wanted to go to band practice at 8.30 and I swore. I’d forgotten about that. He was generally very good at covering evenings when I worked late, but I’d forgotten that Wednesdays were his night off. I paused and thought for a minute.
“Have you eaten?”
“No, not yet. I was about to make something quick.”
“Tell you what, I’ll leave now and bring Nando’s. Your favourite? Veggie bean burger with extra hot sauce and sweet potato fries?” Steve was a vegetarian, which made takeaways challenging at times.
He sounded surprised. “That would be fantastic, Bec, but remember they take at least 15 minutes to serve.”
“I’m onto it. I’ll be home by 7.40 at the latest.” I really meant it. Steve deserved a break. I called the Nando’s in the high street ahead, pulling rank by using my police ID, gave them my credit card details and asked for the order to be ready in 20 minutes when I would stop briefly outside the door. Yes, Ma’am! The station used them quite often as they catered to a wide range of tastes, so I got preferential treatment.
By the time we had eaten, and I had got Ryan to bed and read him a story, it was almost 9pm.I went to my laptop and logged into the system, falling effortlessly back into Philip Crawford’s social media activities. He was most prolific on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as one might expect, and it was the latter that yielded the richest information. There were a number of pictures dating back about three months of a mixed-race model referred to only as “G”. In one picture, they were attending an industry awards event, and he had his hand on her waist. It looked casual, but who could tell?
If the frequency of her image cropping up was anything to go on, Andrea Crawford might have had reason for suspicion. Before I left the office, Lisa had done a search for a Gabrielle who resembled the woman in Philip Crawford’s Instagram pictures. She wasn’t too hard to find, with a Facebook profile identifying her as Gabrielle du Toit, age 29. I noted she had had modelling contracts with several leading designer clothes brands, although her Facebook page was only 6 months old.
When the phone rang, I was surprised to see it was 10.30 and that the caller was Jo Redmond.
“Rebecca”, came Jo’s rather husky, patrician tones, “I hope I’m not disturbing but I wanted to give you an update. I think we should meet first thing in the morning to plan our next moves. There are some interesting angles here I’d like to explore.”
[Chapters to Crossing Lines will be posted to the members exclusive Read Online page weekly.]