Japp sat sipping his tea, oblivious to his surroundings. They’d been shooed out of A & E as Martha wouldn’t be returning there after her operation, and the cubicle she’d occupied was needed by someone else already, and they had ended up in the waiting area off one of the surgical wards. Arthur was alternating between pacing up and down the small area and sitting down and fidgeting with the Roman coin. Patrick Spencer had sat down as soon as they had entered, disguising the fact that he was between Arthur and the exit and keeping a very close eye on him by sprawling his long legs out in front of him and looking supremely relaxed. His chin was nearly on his chest, but his eyes followed Arthur as he paced, his expression carefully neutral and seemingly uninterested in the scene in front of him.
As they’d walked over from A&E Japp had managed to snatch a few private words with Constable Spencer. Having two police officers in the hospital was a little extravagant, and one that they weren’t going to be able to justify for long, so Japp wanted to make sure Spencer was ready to take over sole responsibility for Arthur when Japp would inevitably have to leave. Japp knew that a choice was going to have to be made fairly soon, and it was partly this that occupied Japp’s thoughts as they waited. Did they caution Arthur and question him formally on the basis of what Stevie Kilner had said, which could end up being a PR disaster if it turned out that he was completely innocent, or did they risk letting him walk out of the hospital and possibly disappearing as completely as the Smiths and the Frenshams had done, which would be another scale of PR disaster entirely.
These thoughts spun around in Japp’s head, refusing all his attempts to put them in order and come to some sort of an opinion. He tried thinking about the rest of what they knew, little as it was, to see if that helped. The problem they had was far too many loose ends – it all seemed to be spiralling out of control. Who would have thought that the case of a missing family could end up with two explosions and a secret tunnel? The tunnel did seem to be at the centre of most of it, and Japp wondered just how far back its origins went. He’d heard nothing back from the experts at English Heritage who’d been sent the photographs he’d taken the day before. They’d also have to chase up the farmer who had been the last tenant at Winser Gill, to find out what he knew about the tunnel and its history, both ancient and modern. No doubt they’d have to send someone up there to interview him.
As he sat there pondering he decided that he needed to have another go at talking to Arthur. This time, preferably, without ending up feeling like he was torturing the poor bloke with painful memories. He’d love to know why Arthur had been so startled when he asked about the coin, and why he’d looked like he was going to try and hide it for a second. It was the only thing that jarred with Japp’s overall impression of Arthur being guileless and innocent of any crime, but he knew it wasn’t a good place to start. If he started off on the wrong foot then he could kiss goodbye to getting any other information out of Arthur without having to get heavy-handed, and they weren’t at that stage yet. Since they’d first met in the forest that seemed like a better place to start.
Arthur creased his brow as he contemplated Japp’s question.
‘I’m not sure when it all became Forestry Commission, you’d have to check with them when they acquired the land exactly, a lot was bought up just after the Second World War. I don’t work for them full time, I have my own tree surgeon business, but I help out when fallen trees need to be cleared. Cheaper for them than sending someone down from wherever they’re working at the moment. Anyway, it’s called Hemsted Forest after the old mansion house at the south west corner, although that’s been a posh private school for nearly a hundred years now.’
OK, thought Japp, that went better than my first few questions, let’s see what happens when I ask him about the abandoned house.
‘The house? I assume it was bought up at the same time as the surrounding woods. When we were very young it was lived in, I think, but I couldn’t tell you who by. Then it was empty for a while before the roof and walls were stripped of tiles and it started to collapse. So far as I know the Forestry Commission still own it. After all, who would want to buy a derelict house?’
‘How very true’ Japp agreed, while making a mental note to check up on the ownership and purchase dates. Just in case it turned out to be relevant somehow.
Reluctant to go straight from questions Arthur would assume were tied to the investigation to the one Japp really wanted to ask, about the coin, Japp asked if being a tree surgeon left him with any energy for hobbies. It was a lame question, and Japp knew it, but he really didn’t want to have to question Arthur formally if he could possibly help it. He could imagine the look that Martha would give him, and that wasn’t something he particularly wanted to experience.
Arthur looked a little taken aback by the change in direction, but Japp gave him his most innocent smile, the one he’d learned at school when teachers asked who had kicked the ball that had landed on the roof this time, and mumbled something about not having seen him at the pub with Martha the past two evenings. He added,
‘It must be a very physically demanding job, I just wondered if you collapsed into bed most nights or whether you found time for anything else, and I didn’t see you at the pub with Martha the last two nights’
Arthur smiled a little at that. ‘Well, as to the pub, the one you went to with Martha isn’t really our local – it’s the one Martha goes to with her colleagues. If it’s just us two we go to the same pub Joe goes to. We were there with him on Halloween when he made such a fuss about no-one leaving the pub. It’s a load of superstition if you ask me, but it was a Friday night and no-one had anything better to do, so we stayed. There were some sore heads the next day though, so he wasn’t that popular for a while!’
Knowing that Arthur had been with Martha and Joe the night the Smiths disappeared made Japp very relieved indeed. He knew that Joe’s alibi for that night was the CCTV showing that he, and everyone else still in the pub towards the end of the night, hadn’t left until morning, long after the Smiths’ disappearance had been discovered. All of which made it less likely that Arthur was deeply involved in anything.
‘How did you come by that Roman coin? Is collecting one of your hobbies?’
‘No, I don’t collect coins. Just rescue dogs and old forestry tools. I found it, tangled up in the roots of a fallen oak. The local history society looked into it for me, they were the ones who told me what kind of coin it was. It got them quite excited, I think they were hoping there were a lot more to be found but nothing has shown up yet.’
Japp was bemused at the thought of a club, sorry, society devoted to local history, so he encouraged Arthur to tell him more about it. You never know, he thought, they might be more helpful in tracing the history and usage of that tunnel.
‘Well, they research old maps and records. Lots of work has already been done on mapping out the original coastline and Roman roads, so they try to add to it. Not just Roman stuff, but that does seem to interest them most. There’s a site near Cranbrook that they researched. There’d been a find of some Roman stuff years ago, but they looked into it some more and found that there had been some iron workings there. I think one of them, Stevie, is a bit obsessed with Hadrian, to be honest. He nearly bit my hand off when I showed him this coin.’
‘Oh yes, Stevie Kilner. The pub landlord in Rolvenden Layne. I think he’s hoping to prove that Hadrian stayed nearby, or something silly.’
‘Who are the other members of this society then? Do you know?’
‘I’m not sure I met them all, but there was Stevie, of course, Hatty Sackville, and Mary Frensham. They were the ones I talked to most.’
‘Mary Frensham? Not the Mary Frensham who’s house has just got blown up.’
‘Yes, that one. Her family have lived in this area for generations, but she was always more interested in the smuggling history. I think I heard her say that she was descended from one of the smugglers, but that all he’d ever passed on was his name, a bad reputation, and a useless old map.
‘Was Stu Frensham a member, or just Mary?’
‘Just Mary. Stu was always more interested in photography. I’d see him out with his camera sometimes. Huge great big thing, he talked about entering photography competitions and setting up a website to sell some of his prints, so that seemed to take up most of his spare time.
Japp couldn’t believe his luck, everything Arthur was saying would have to be checked out, of course, but it was tying in with things Japp had noticed. The fact that Mary was a member of the same society as Stevie Kilner explained why the pub landlord had said he’d thought the search was for Mary and the family, not Stu and the family. At the time Japp had put it down to the landlord assuming that Stu would have been out at work, but then why wouldn’t he have simply said “Mary and Maddy”? He wasn’t sure how helpful all this would be to solving their original mystery, yet, but it did seem as though Stevie Kilner had had an ulterior motive when he’d thrown suspicion on Arthur. They’d definitely have to look into him more closely, and Japp was convinced that they needed to track down Mary Frensham and her map. Assuming it was the same one she’d had hanging over the fireplace it looked like it was going to turn out to be highly significant.
Japp started to wonder if that had been what the burglars had been after, and if so why hadn’t they spotted it and taken it. OK, so that bit didn’t make sense, but he could feel that the case was starting to be more comprehensible. His instincts told him that Arthur had told him the truth, and that he wasn’t a suspect. Even so, he had to ask the question before making the final decision that Arthur would be free to leave whenever he chose.
‘Arthur, why would Stevie Kilner try to make you look suspicious?
‘What? What on earth are you talking about? In what way suspicious?’
‘He came up to me and said that you’d been raving after the paramedic sedated you. That you’d been rambling about catching the Frenshams and making them pay for what they’d done to Martha and that you wish you’d never got involved.’
Arthur looked utterly gobsmacked.
‘He said I said what? That’s mad. Even if I thought Stu was desperate enough to blow up his own house, why would he plan to do it with Martha inside? How would they know that she was in the house just then anyway? And what on earth am I supposed to be involved in?’ All good questions, as Japp acknowledged. What indeed. Mr Kilner had been silent on the subject.
That would appear to be that, thought Japp. He couldn’t see that they had any grounds for detaining Arthur, so he walked over to Patrick Spencer and gave him the good news that he could return to his other duties. Patrick pulled a face that made Japp suspect he’d been on traffic duty previously, and would rather not go back to it.
‘What are you going to do, Sir? Should I tell DI Bacon that you’re on your way back too?’
‘No, thanks. I’ll need to call her anyway and let her know the latest information about Stevie Kilner.’
‘You might want to call Coat, sorry, Sgt Nickerson with that, sir. I had a message while you were talking to Mr Farquharson. They’ve found bodies in the tunnel and DI Bacon went to Winser Gill Farm, so she left Nickerson to talk to Mr Kilner. I can give you her mobile number if you need it.’
‘No, it’s OK thanks, we swapped numbers when she went to collect my car for me. I’ll just stay here for a while. I can make phone calls from here as well as anywhere else and I’d like to be here when Martha gets out of surgery if I can.’
Patrick nodded and left to go while Japp made his calls. He felt numb at the news that there were apparently no survivors underground from the tunnel explosion. He hadn’t known any of them, only meeting them for the first time that morning, but it was odd to think that he was one of the last people to talk to them. If they hadn’t decided that he’d be in the way in the tunnel he might well have been down there with them. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that yet. He suspected that, in time, he’d feel very bad indeed, but for now his relief at not having to arrest Arthur was uppermost, and he was looking forward to seeing Martha when she came round from the anaesthetic without having to tell her any bad news about her brother.
Japp knew that there was probably something else he ought to be doing right now, but after three nights of next to no sleep he was feeling exhausted. He stretched, sat on the chairs as comfortably as he could, and settled down thinking that he’d just close his eyes for a couple of minutes. Within a couple of seconds he was deeply asleep despite being perched somewhat awkwardly and despite all the clatter and clamour of the hospital around him. He smiled as he slept, utterly oblivious to the noise around him.