DI Sarah Bacon was absolutely correct in her prediction that DI Japp’s disappearance was going to cause something of a storm. It felt like the forest clearing was heaving with fellow coppers, all curious to discover just how she had lost a fellow DI.
This was a little harsh, she thought, as she hadn’t personally lost him and was only first on scene because she’d been investigating a particularly nasty burglary nearby. Forensics she pointed in Martha’s direction, and told them to get an update from her before they even ventured inside the walls. They were looking a little sheepish, it had to be said, which was only fair given that they’d missed so much evidence when they’d investigated the disappearance of the Smiths – all because they’d assumed the initial core area of interest didn’t need to include inside the walls.
DI Bacon glanced over as Martha was pointing out to Freddy, Floss and Frankie the discoveries she’d made while waiting for everyone else to turn up and was pleased to see that they were as impressed as she had been with Martha’s powers of observation. Everyone was standing well back until they had decided what ground the investigative area was going to cover, but she decided to get some police tape set up around the far edge of the clearing, just in case a dog walker sprang out of one of the side paths without warning.
Frankie listened to Martha and was impressed and irritated in equal measure. Admittedly the irritation was with herself and her team, for missing that damn path last time they were here, but with resources being tight they weren’t about to go and investigate swathes of woodland or collapsed dwellings for clues when they appeared to be outside the scope for investigation. There was thorough, and there was getting yourself bollocked by superiors for running up unnecessary expenses. Still, she thought, this time at least there shouldn’t be a quibble. The police force had bottomless pockets when it came to investigating a crime against one of their own.
Martha felt at a loose end once she’d passed on all she knew. As a lowly PCSO she wasn’t a full police officer, as had often been pointed out to her, so she wandered over to DI Bacon to see if there was anything else she could be doing, even if it was just crowd control. Sarah looked around as she considered the question. To be honest she felt at a loose end herself. There wasn’t much she could do here until she was allowed to go tramping around poking at stuff.
‘What do you know about the burglary in the next village over?’ she asked.
‘The one where 4 masked men broke in and beat up the family?
Sarah nodded, ‘That’s the one.’
‘Nothing much, except that I know the burgled family and they were an odd target for such a brutal attack. What on earth were they hoping to find?’
‘That settles it then, there’s something that doesn’t fit about the whole thing and you’re probably best placed to sniff it out. Come with me and we’ll go back to what I was doing when I got the call to come here. Better than us both being spare parts.’
Sarah delegated keeping the crime scene protected to one of the other officers hanging around. She toyed with choosing the most bored and cold-looking sergeant, but decided that would be counter-productive and decided on Patrick instead. A little over keen, perhaps, and a reputation for being nosey, but that would be no bad thing in this case. He could put those qualities to good use for once. Martha realised that Japp’s car was stuck in the hospital car park, but as Japp had the keys they decided that it could stay there for the moment. The security guard could keep an eye on it until they could move it.
That sorted, they headed off the mile or so of access road to DI Bacon’s car and headed off. The house they were going to was in the middle of a tiny village; opposite the pub and with a driveway down the side wall, with a garage at the end. It was this driveway the burglars had used to sneak around the house and in through the unlocked kitchen door at the back, before terrorising the Frensham family. The days of being able to leave houses unlocked were long gone.
As they waited for the door to be answered Martha wondered why Stu and his family had been targeted. As an engineer who worked on repairing white goods and the like he was hardly rolling in it. Even though she knew the attack had been a vicious one, she still wasn’t prepared for just how his face looked when the door finally opened. His right eye was shut with bruising, his cheekbones looked like they were in the wrong place because of all the swelling, and his skin was blotched purple everywhere she looked. His wife and daughter looked much the same when they walked into the front room – it had been a truly vicious attack and all for a few pounds.
DI Bacon went back to asking what the family remembered from the burglary while Martha went into the kitchen with Stu’s daughter, Maddy, to make some tea. The conversation was monosyllabic and strictly tea-making related at first, but Martha sensed that Maddy was confused and troubled by the attack. As they waited for the tea to brew in the pot she asked if Maddy had heard their attackers say anything.
The answer to that was yes, and they’d talked to each other in a language she didn’t understand and had accents she couldn’t place. ‘Romanian?’ Martha prompted, wondering if all the recent weird incidents could possibly be linked.
‘No, I’d recognise that because I used to go around the farms with Dad in my summer holidays. It definitely wasn’t Romanian. It could have been Russian, but I’m not sure because the only time I’ve heard it spoken is in old Bond movies.’
Martha had to agree, films were not necessarily the best method of identifying an accent, so she moved on to asking what had been said in English. Maddy looked even more confused as she recalled the incident.
‘It was all very odd, they kept asking where Dad kept his safe, but there isn’t one. Then they went through all his paperwork. It didn’t make any sense – why were they looking through old invoices and receipts, what were they hoping to find?’
Martha had to agree that was not your usual burglar behaviour, but the tea was well brewed and Maddy was pouring it into mugs to take through on a tray, so they went back to the others before she could ask any more questions.
As the tea was handed round Martha picked up on the fact that Stu was as confused as Maddy had been about the whole thing. He was answering DI Bacon’s questions as best he could, but as Maddy had pointed out it didn’t make sense. His wife, Mary, was looking like she was still in shock and barely said a word. She just sat there cradling her hot tea and staring at the carpet beyond the coffee table.
Sarah looked at Martha and gave her a nod, indicating that if she had any questions or comments now was the time to jump in.
Martha started by mentioning that Maddy hadn’t recognised the language spoken by the intruders and that she was certain it wasn’t Romanian. Sarah frowned, and Martha remembered Sarah hadn’t been present when she’d discussed Stu’s visit to the Smiths’ house with Japp, and decided she needed to be careful not to reveal too much. Stu nodded and agreed on ruling out Romanians, so Martha went on to ask if he’d have recognised a Russian accent and if it was possible that had been the language spoken. Mary looked up sharply at that and creased her forehead, but didn’t say anything. Martha wondered what Mary was thinking and waited for her to speak, but still nothing. She didn’t go back to looking at the carpet though, but remained with her eyes fixed on Martha’s face as she resumed talking.
‘Stu, Maddy mentioned that the attackers looked through all your business paperwork. Did you get the sense they were looking for where money might be hidden, or a particular piece of paperwork? Did they take anything from your filing cabinet?
Sarah was looking from one Frensham to another as Martha spoke, trying to figure out what was bothering her so much, so she saw Mary look startled and suddenly very afraid as Martha asked that last question. Her eyes darted over to the filing cabinet, and then to the wall over the fireplace where there was what looked like an old map in a rather battered frame. It didn’t look special in any way, it was just the local Hundred with surrounding areas in a black and white print; the same sort of thing could be found in just about any Kentish antique shop. Then Mary went back to staring at the same spot of carpet as before, all without saying a word. It was so quick that Sarah wasn’t sure if anyone else had noticed. Stu and Maddy certainly didn’t react to it. Stu, in fact, was still thinking over Martha’s question.
It turned out he hadn’t seen if anything was taken from his paperwork, he was too busy being hit in the face at the time, and the place had been left in such a mess that he couldn’t tell straight away. Sarah and Martha looked at each other and silently agreed that they weren’t going to get much further at the moment. Now that fingerprints had been taken, not that there was much hope of finding any from the burglars as they’d worn gloves the whole time, the Frenshams were free to put their house back in order and Stu promised to let them know if he discovered anything missing. Or, more accurately, if Mary did as she did his accounts and she’d be the one most likely to spot a gap.
Sarah looked thoughtful over that as they walked back to her car. Was there something Mary knew that she was keeping from everyone, even her husband? She looked over at Martha and realised that she was puzzling over something too. ‘Out with it,’ she said. ‘This is why I brought you along, to see what I was missing.’
It turned out Martha had also spotted Mary’s reaction and wondered what it meant. On the drive back to the local station at Ashford, Martha filled Sarah in on the conversation she’d had with Japp about Stu visiting the Smiths’ house, and her initial thought that all these things could be connected. It certainly seemed a bit of a coincidence that so many out of the ordinary incidents were happening in the same small geographical area, and DI Bacon didn’t believe in coincidences of that kind.
It was dusk as they drew into the station car park, and Martha was marvelling at how many hours had passed since she left there early in the morning, when the car’s radio crackled into life.
‘DI Bacon? We thought you’d like to know as soon as – there’s been contact from DI Japp. He’s managed to find a signal to call in, but he’s lost and has no idea where he is. We’re trying to pin his location down now.’