DI Bacon watched Japp jog trot back to his car and then dialled the station in Ashford to arrange for an officer to meet the ambulance at the hospital. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard that Patrick Spencer was not only back on shift but available to go; she had confidence that he could be trusted to pick up on anything Arthur might say that would be of importance, while being discreet enough to avoid tipping Arthur off that he was under surveillance. That done, she turned her attention back to the scene in front of her. She had a good view as she sat at one of the pub’s wooden picnic tables. The investigation into what had caused the explosion had picked up in pace now that the house – or what was left of it – was clear of people needing to be rescued. The sense of urgency had been replaced by a slow, methodical search for evidence and everything looked like it was under control. Perhaps it was time to chase up some of the other strands of the investigation, she thought.
A quick call through to Sgt. Nathan McKeown at the site of the other crime scene reassured her that things were under control there too, as far as they could be while they were still waiting to hear the fate of those who had been underground. Relief crews from the fire and ambulance service had turned up, the bomb squad were on standby, but no-one was expecting there to be anything left to explode. Thanks to Japp’s experience with the chemical fumes no-one had entered the tunnel from the other end before the explosion, the crime scene officers had been waiting for the all clear before entering, but now rescue teams had joined them at the remote farm house to use the other tunnel entrance to reach any casualties. Sarah winced a bit at the thought of the evidence that could be destroyed, or masked, by having a group of non-forensic specialists troop through, but looking for casualties was obviously top priority.
Sarah ran down her mental to do list, and decided she really needed to write it down, or else she was likely to miss something of vital importance. Japp’s sleeplessness since he arrived in Kent was becoming something of a running gag amongst the station staff, but since her youngest had started teething she too was finding sleep elusive. Lucky she had that extra mug of tea Japp hadn’t had time to finish, she grinned to herself, as she pulled out her notebook and started to organise her thoughts. It was clear that they were going to have to set up a proper team to investigate things – it couldn’t stay as just her, Japp and Martha picking over the evidence, especially as it was by no means certain when, or even if, Martha was going to be back on duty. She would never have been able to be a formal part of an investigation anyway, there was a limit to what a Police Community Support Officer could do, no matter what cost-saving initiatives Superintendent Sean Greene would like to implement.
As she thought of Greene Sarah’s face clouded over. She wasn’t sure why he had taken it upon himself to scrutinise the finances quite so thoroughly, but she knew he wouldn’t be happy about all the added expense of a major investigation. Before he’d got so pernickety about every last penny spent in their division she could remember him being ambitious and a little frustrated at being posted to such a rural backwater where nothing, seemingly, happened. Well, maybe that could work to their advantage. This was certainly turning into the sort of name-making case that could catapult a capable officer into public view, and hopefully a promotion. She’d have to subtly suggest that getting a good result on this case would fast-track him to a more senior position far quicker than counting out how many paper-clips had been used in the last quarter. Taking another sip of tea she looked over her list. Sarah realised she had more to do than she thought, and was half regretting sending Japp off to the hospital, until she remembered that Sergeant Nickerson was on traffic detail, which seemed like a bit of a waste. Just as she was looking around and pondering who to send to swap places, she saw Sarah Nickerson walking towards her.
The two Sarahs grinned at each other and DI Bacon moved up on the bench to make room for Sgt Nickerson.
‘Don’t panic‘ she said as she swung her legs over the bench seat, ‘I haven’t left the junction unattended. Some Neighbourhood Watch enthusiast turned up to find out what was going on. He had a high-vis jacket and everything, so he’s directing traffic now. Not that there’s much round here barring the odd tractor.’
Sarah Bacon ran through what they knew so far, which had Sarah Nickerson reeling a bit. She’d known that things had stepped up a bit on the missing Smiths case, but hadn’t realised that all the rest of it seemed to be related.
‘What I really need, Coat, is for you to phone border control and see if there’s been any sign of the Frenshams trying to leave the country yet. While you’re on it, see if the Smiths have been spotted at any borders either. They’re supposed to still be on the list, but it won’t hurt to remind them that they’re still a high priority. Even more so now. I’ll make sure the Police National Computer has the latest descriptions of everybody we’re looking for, then I’ll chase up the information about who owns that farmhouse. You’d think that bit of information, more than all the others, would have been easy to establish. If there isn’t any positive news from McKeown by the time we’ve done that then I think I’ll leave you here and pop over to the house in the forest and see what’s going on there. Sound good?’
Sarah Nickerson nodded. The two of them had been friends ever since she’d been transferred over to the police station at Ashford, in spite of the fact that as the newbie she’d had to put up with being allocated a nickname so everyone knew which Sarah was being talked about. Coat wasn’t that bad – she’d had far worse at training college, police humour being what it was, and being short she was grateful it wasn’t midget as she’d been called at school.
More tea arrived at their table as they made their calls, although by this time Sarah Nickerson had jumped up and was pacing up and down with frustration. Sarah Bacon waved thanks for the two of them and went back to listening to the terrible music some tone-deaf sadist had chosen as the on hold music. With only half an ear on her own phone it was easy to tell that Sarah Nickerson was being given the run around by whoever she was talking to at Border Control. Her responses were getting progressively insistent that she be given the latest updates, but with no apparent success. No doubt some complete jobsworth at the other end was taking great pleasure in brushing off a lowly Sergeant, Bacon thought. She was about to suggest they swap phones when the music, mercifully, came to an end and a human voice said, ‘Hello, may I help you?’
A few minutes later and she’d written down the name and address of who owned the farmhouse, but it wasn’t really very helpful at first glance. Winser Gill Farm was the name of the property according to Land Registry, and it was owned by Winser Agricultural Holdings, which was registered as a company in Australia. She wasn’t sure if it was going to be a coincidence, but the Head Office was in Brisbane, which just happened to be where the Smiths had lived before moving to England and disappearing. Having already checked that the relevant entries on the PNC were as accurate as they could be for now, Sarah Bacon got up to walk across to the wreck of the house and check in with the teams that were searching for evidence.
The search had concentrated on the kitchen at the back of the house after Martha was clear of the rubble, the strong smell of gas when they arrived making it seem likely that the gas supply had been used to set off the explosion somehow. There was still quite a long way to dig down until the gas supply could be reached, although the fire crew had reassured her that they’d managed to turn the gas supply off so no more could leak out through ruptured pipes. As she stood looking at the search, a crew member she didn’t recognise wandered over to join her. He nodded at the house and said, ‘She’s lucky to be alive, you know, your PCSO. Any news on how she’s doing?’ Sarah Bacon shook her head and he carried on. ‘We were having a chat, her and me, as everyone was trying to get her out, just to keep her going and awake and find out how badly she might be hurt, like. I asked her what on earth she’d been doing under that coffee table, as it seemed an odd place for someone to be, and she said something about Mary staring at the carpet. It made no sense to me, and I’m not even sure if she knew what she was saying as she was rambling a bit from the sedative we’d managed to give her. I mean, she was also raving about Roman roads, tunnels, and iron workings as well, which makes no sense at all.’
He broke off at that point as Sarah Nickerson had joined them, although judging by the expression on her face she wasn’t happy with what she’d found out. The fact that she was also muttering ‘Useless bloody shower’ and words that were considerably less complimentary just added to the impression that she was far from being impressed. Sarah Bacon raised her eyebrow in query and Nickerson launched straight in.
‘They took the Smiths off their lists! Nobody has been looking for them leaving the country for over a week, but no-one thought to tell us, not even when Japp rang up to check on progress when he first got here!’ In response to Sarah Bacon’s bewildered look she carried on. ‘No-one could explain why, no-one knew who had made the decision, or explain any of it. I got the impression one person I spoke to thought the decision had been made at very senior level, but there’s no paper trail to track back. None that they’re admitting to, anyway.’ With that, she gave a great sigh and her shoulders sagged. Both Sarah’s knew that their task had got just that little bit more difficult, with no-one knowing where the missing family were, not even being sure whether they were still in the country or not. At the back of DI Bacon’s mind a suspicion was growing that someone was interfering with their investigation, but who?