CH TWO 18
Rain is falling steadily as DC Staples drives his boss, DS Roberts out to the Gull Filling Station to pay a visit on Dave Barton. They have received information concerning his wife, who has been missing for some months. Her mother has reported that there has been no word from her, not even a card at Christmas and this is out of character. She has tried talking to her son-in-law but he simply fobs her off, saying that Pam left after a furious row and he hasn’t seen or heard from her since.
Dave Barton is flirting with the new petrol pump assistant as the two police officers walk in, causing him to jump as if the young woman has just given him an electric shock. She scurries behind the counter and adjusts her dishevelled clothing while he leads the way to the tiny office up the rickety stairs in the back of the room.
He ushers the men inside and closes the door, offers them a glass of whisky, which Roberts accepts and a shocked Staples declines. They take their seats opposite Barton, who keeps the desk between himself and the enemy as some sort of psychological defence barrier. ‘What’s the problem then?’ asks Dave, trying his best to look unflustered. He takes a good gulp of whisky and holds onto the glass. Roberts takes a measured sip and rolls the liquid round his mouth before letting it slip down his throat. ‘Acting on information received,’ he explains; ‘apparently nobody has seen or heard from Pam since last August and her family are worried about her, especially her mother.’
The telephone rings, giving Barton a welcome opportunity to think before he replies. He speaks a few words into the receiver before hanging up. ‘Sorry about that; now what were we saying? Oh yeah, Pam doing a runner with my four grand. She’s gone the money’s gone, end of story as far as I’m concerned.’ DC Staples does not believe a word of it and asks directly: ‘why didn’t you report her disappearance?’ Barton shrugs; ‘why would I bother when I don’t want her back? Good riddance is what I say and good luck to the bloke who she ran off with.’
Roberts drains his glass and stands, ready to leave. ‘If you do hear from her you’ll let us know, won’t you?’ Barton says of course he will and similarly if they have any news will they pass it on to him. ‘See you on Saturday, yes?’ he adds as the two men head for the door.
Once they are back in the car Staples turns the car around and heads back towards the station. ‘What was all that about?’ he asks ‘You drinking on duty and now Barton saying about meeting you on Saturday?’ Roberts gives him a dirty look, ‘not that it’s any business of yours but we both attend the same Lodge.’ DC Staples says no more on the subject but he might have known. There is something very unsavoury about his superior officer.
‘You didn’t believe any of that, did you?’ says Staples after a few moments awkward silence. ‘Considering Barton has given at least four different versions of his wife’s disappearance to various family and friends I think it’s fair to say he is probably not being a hundred per cent truthful,’ replies his boss, ‘but slowly slowly catchy monkey as they say.’ DC Staples considers the logic of this approach but says he can’t understand why they don’t at least make a search of the premises. ‘Not enough evidence for a search warrant,’ says Roberts, ‘anyway he’s had plenty of time to cover his tracks.’
The bridge lights start flashing as they approach and they have to stop while the middle section is raised to allow a ship to pass on its way to the paper mill. They take the opportunity to gaze about them at the scenery. Sheep are grazing on the marshes, gulls screeching overhead, a few small boats bob about on their moorings as the larger vessel glides past, leaving them rocking in its wake. Two men are standing on the small jetty where in better weather the local water skiing club set out for their Sunday afternoon runs up and down the Swale. It looks as though they are pulling something heavy from the muddy water. ‘Better take a look at that,’ says Roberts, pointing to the scene. DC Staples turns the car round and drives to the landing stage.
‘What have we got here then lads?’ asks Roberts, showing his badge to the startled fishermen. ‘Don’t know,’ replies one, ‘we saw this thing in the river and thought we’d best fish it out.’ They haul the sopping coal sack onto the jetty and stand back as muddy water spreads on the boards. They look at each other nervously before Roberts asks if anyone has a knife. One of the fishermen hands over his filleting knife and Roberts cautiously cuts the cord tying the neck of the sack. He uses the tip of the blade to lift the filthy material clear of whatever is inside then they all jump back in disgust as a putrid smell issues from within.
‘Better get forensics down here,’ says Roberts. ‘I’ll need to take your details and we’ll want to take statements at some stage. Take their details will you Staples?’ He then returns to the car to use the radio leaving his junior to take notes and stand guard over the sack and its contents. The fishermen are keen to make their exit and after writing down the number of their van Staples lets them go. By the time DS Roberts returns he is convinced that they will find a dead body in the sack and it is sure to belong to Pam Barton.
Forensics arrives on the scene in a state of high excitement hoping this will be a juicy one. They take several photographs from varying angles before cautiously opening the sack. Inside they can see what looks like a head of blonde hair. DC Staples gasps and he steps away to avoid the stink of putrefying flesh, his handkerchief firmly clamped over his mouth and nose. More photographs are taken as the sack is carefully peeled back to reveal its grisly contents.
The forensics chief straightens up, a grim look on his face, and then he breaks into a smile. ‘It’s a body sure enough,’ he says, covering it up again, ‘I’d say this dog has been dead about a week from the state of it.’
His assistant is tasked to put the corpse in a body bag and into the van. ‘Better to be safe than sorry,’ he says, ‘but you could have checked before calling us out.’
As they are driving back to the station Roberts again mentions the Lodge meeting. ‘Don’t think I wanted to join,’ he tells his colleague, ‘but if you want to get on in this game you have to be prepared to do things you may find distasteful. You’d be surprised how it can help your career, so think on.’ DC Staples says yes, he will think on, but he has no intention of being drawn in to any secret society however much it may help his career. He has not, however, imparted this news to his dear lady wife, who has ambitions for her husband and ways of persuading him what is best for him.