On our return to the grindstone we debated whether to contact Sarah. It was well over a month since the episode at the Abbey. But having at least some inkling of the work-load of a minister responsible for six parishes, we were reluctant to nag. And two days later, as if she had heard our agonising, she phoned to apologise for her silence, and to give a progress report.
It was good. She had pointed out to as many people as she could reach that while abhorrence of rape and murder was one thing, it was quite another to blame the innocent for sins that were not theirs. The response, she felt, was encouraging. Previously, few had given it any thought.
“It’s quite extraordinary,” she said. “They’re just like the mindless types who believe all the tattle they read in the gutter press. And once an idea gets into circulation, it’s hard to eliminate. Mud sticks.”
David’s Dad had been well-liked, indeed popular, and when he was convicted some people were angry with themselves for having, as they thought, misjudged him. So they took it out on David instead, and more and more followed suit. Now, she felt, most of them were persuaded that rumour and herd instinct were a bad guide.
“David should find it less unpleasant in Dorchester now” she ended. “Some people actually want to apologise to him. And on the other aspect I’ve been making some quite hopeful progress too. You should be getting a phone call from someone soon.”
It came after dinner one night as we were chewing over Tennyson for the Wetwank’s class.
“Oh, good evening,” said a deep and confident voice. “You won’t know me, but the Reverend Sarah Friendly has been talking to me.”
I signalled frantically to David to come and listen in.
“My name’s Tom Gentleman. Detective Chief Inspector in the Thames Valley Police, but speaking in my private capacity, not as a police officer. Please, may I drop round for a word? You’ll know the reason.”
“Yes, of course. When?”
“What about now? I live in Berinsfield. Only five minutes away.”
“Well, yes. But … if you come in a police car, questions might be asked.”
He chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m off duty. I’ll come in my own car. And emphatically not in uniform.”
“Great. We’ll meet you at the main entrance, then.”
We exchanged looks of hope tinged with puzzlement (why off duty?), put on the kettle to be hospitable, and went down to the portico. A car soon drew up, and out stepped a man who, even in civilian clothes, looked every inch as I imagined a fairly senior policeman should look — fifty-ish, solid, stolid, grizzled, experienced, canny, dependable, fierce or fatherly as occasion might demand. Just as Sarah looked as I imagined an Anglican minister should look — sympathetic, caring and competent. We introduced ourselves and invited him up.
“Never been in here before,” he remarked as he took in the grandeur of the hall. “How posh!” The reception desk was not manned, or womaned, at this hour. And, in the privacy of the lift, he asked, “What’s it like?”
David was cagey. While he was entirely comfortable by now with those whom he trusted, like Sarah and my family, and had taken to Mr Booker like a duck to water, he was still chary of those who had yet to prove themselves.
“I’ve nothing to compare it with.”
The inspector looked at me.
“It’s not a school,” I said flatly. “It’s a glorified hotel.”
“Ah yes. I hear you’re from a state school.”
“Which was infinitely better.”
We sat him down in S312, gave him a cup of plastic coffee, and waited for him to take the lead. Throughout he was very human, and to begin with he was strangely diffident.
“I’m not here in my official capacity. You do understand that?”
“And will you keep all this under your hats? You’ll see why in a minute.”
Odd. But we both agreed.
“And do you mind if I call you David and Peter?” No suggestion, I noticed, that we should call him Tom.
“Fine by us.”
“Good. Well, Sarah … I mean the rector …”
“We call her Sarah too.”
“Well, she’s told me everything about you. Everything she knows. I’m sorry, David, to hear about your tribulations.”
He was looking at David, sizing him up. Then he turned to me, and I felt the full force of a very shrewd pair of eyes.
“Look,” he said. “As a policeman I wouldn’t normally talk to boys your age in anything like this way. But I’m a father too. I’ve got a son, though he long ago left the nest. You made a big impression on Sarah, you know, and I see what she means. So I’m going to put my cards on the table, because this affects you more than anyone, other than your father.”
He was addressing himself mainly to David, but not leaving me out in the cold.
“She tells me you’re convinced that your father is not a murderer. Well, that’s exactly the point. I’m not convinced either.”
“I knew him, you know. I first met him about ten years ago when I took our cat to him to be neutered, and we found we had a common interest in gardening. While he was working on the cat I was admiring his dahlias from the window, and when he’d finished he took me out for a conducted tour. I called back from time to time, and he used to come out to Berinsfield and give me advice about my begonias, and once or twice we met in the pub for an evening pint.
“So I didn’t know him all that well. But he did strike me as one of gentlest men I’d ever met. OK,” he laughed mirthlessly, “in my job you soon learn not to go by appearances. The nicest people can be crooks. Or bastards — and they’re by no means necessarily the same thing. But instinct’s no bad guide. So when I heard about the murder I was astonished. I wasn’t around here at the time — I was on temporary secondment to the Met — so I wasn’t in on the detail. And by the time I came back it was all tied up and he was behind bars.”
He rubbed his nose thoughtfully.
“No doubt you’re wondering why I didn’t make any noises. Well, I was only an inspector then. And we don’t poke our noses into colleagues’ cases, not unless we’re asked to, or told to. And we don’t want to, not normally. Our job’s hectic enough as it is. Now if he’d appealed, I might have taken an interest. But he didn’t, because as far as I can see he had no grounds for appeal at all, not as the evidence stood. All right, I suppose I could have visited him in prison, but what for? Just to commiserate with a convicted murderer? So it all stayed tucked away in the far recesses of my mind. Until Sarah contacted me and told me about you.
“And that brought all the niggles back to the surface. It made me dig out some old photos. I take photos of flowers, you see,” he said unexpectedly. “Good flowers, but not good photos. And once when I was round at your Dad’s place … your place … I was snapping away at his dahlias while he was playing with you and young Carl. There’s no reason why you should remember. But it was such a lovely scene that I photographed it.”
The inspector held out a print. Being the nearer, I took it. It was the same photo that David had. David gave it one glance and put his head in his hands.
“He’s got a copy himself,” I explained, handing it back. “It’s his favourite picture of his Dad.”
“Ah. That must be the one I gave to Charles.”
“And Dad gave it to me,” said David faintly. He was withdrawn, wearing his small and lost look.
I moved my chair across to put an arm round him. The inspector watched noncommittally. He may have seen it as a gesture of comfort, which it was, or he may have seen it as something more, which it also was. If so, he must have known it was none of his business.
“Anyway,” he resumed, “looking at it again, I still can’t see him as a murderer. Not of a young boy. Not of your best friend. By itself that doesn’t mean anything, of course, any more than your own doubts do. But the other day Sarah put me onto another friend of hers, who lives in Oxford. His name’s Philip Justice. It’s a highly appropriate name, because there are three special things about him. First, he’s a retired Crown Court judge. Second, he tried your Dad.”
Our heads shot up.
“And third, he’s also got grave doubts.”
Oh my God!
“Now judges don’t discuss their judgments. Well, no doubt they do among themselves, but not in public. I don’t know if there’s any rule against it, but they don’t, and you can see why. That’s why this is so extraordinary. He’s talked to Sarah as a minister, he’s talked to me as a police officer, and now Sarah’s trying to persuade him to talk to you.”
That opened up a brand-new vista.
“As judge, of course, he had as complete a view of the evidence as any, and as judge he had to view it impartially. But even though your Dad pleaded not guilty, all the evidence was stacked against him — the coin, the drugs, the DNA.”
“Hang on,” I interrupted. “You’re leaving us behind. All David knows is what he was told at the time, which wasn’t much. And all I know is what David’s told me. What’s this about a coin?”
“Oh. I imagined you’d know about it. Look, I haven’t seen a transcript myself, and I’m only going on what Mr Justice told me. But he’s as sharp as a pin. Apparently an old silver coin was found beside the body, a very special one, which was easily traced to Mr Kingdom.”
David looked shocked. “I remember that coin,” he said distantly. “He dug it up in the garden. Roman, and quite rare. The emperor Constantine III. He was so chuffed he kept it in his pocket and showed it to anyone interested. Half of Dorchester must’ve seen it.”
“All right,” I said, satisfied. “And we do know that Carl was drugged and raped and murdered. Were the drugs traced to Mr Kingdom too?”
“Yes. The tests showed Carl was knocked out with” — the inspector visibly searched his memory — “midazolam, administered in some sweets. From the residue they recovered from his stomach they think they were New Berry Fruits. It was the midazolam that killed him. In small doses it’s a sedative, and is regularly used by vets. In larger doses it’s an anaesthetic. An overdose can be fatal, and Carl ingested a massive overdose. And in Mr Kingdom’s surgery were quite a number of empty midazolam ampoules.”
“Oh … And what was that about DNA?”
“Well, on Carl’s body there was blood and … and …”
He paused, looking awkward. I could guess why. Just like me to begin with, he was still confusing David’s two ages.
“Come on, inspector,” I said impatiently. “We’re both sixteen. We both know the facts of life. Do you mean semen?”
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry. Yes, blood and semen. The blood on his, um, backside was his own. But there was a small patch of blood on his hair that wasn’t, and obviously the semen wasn’t. The DNA profile showed conclusively that both were Mr Kingdom’s. He’d had a tooth out that day and his gums were still bleeding when he was arrested.
“So it all pointed to him. Physically, he could easily have done it — he had the know-how and the means and the opportunity. And he had no alibi.”
That did not sound good. “But did he have a motive?” I asked.
The inspector looked appreciative.
“Not an obvious one, no. Murder following rape is rarely premeditated. Usually it’s a matter of an upsurge of lust, then of shutting the victim’s mouth in panic. But in this case it was obviously planned. Even so, the prosecution produced no evidence that your Dad was a paedophile. The defence produced witnesses who were sure that he wasn’t, but it’s difficult to prove a negative. The defence argued that he could have dropped the coin when he did visit the pillbox, after you’d found Carl. For the rest, all they could suggest was that he’d been framed. But they couldn’t produce anything in support of that, let alone suggest who might have framed him, or why.
“Mr Justice says they put up a very feeble show. He reckons they didn’t believe in his innocence, and in the teeth of the evidence they didn’t try very hard to prove it.
“Well, the opinion of someone like that deserves respect. It’s still no more than an opinion, of course, but if three people share it quite independently … What’s that thing in James Bond? Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time — especially this third time — it’s … well, let’s say a sight more suggestive.”
“Is there any future,” I put in after a pause, “in asking whoever did the original investigation if he’s got any ideas?”
“No.” Gentleman was emphatic. “He retired a few years ago and moved abroad. To the Costa del Sol, I think. It would mean suggesting that the real criminal pulled the wool over his eyes so successfully that he failed to look any further. Which could indeed be true. But that particular gent would take it as criticism, and clam up.”
The inspector seemed to have no high opinion of his late and nameless colleague.
“So that’s where I stand. I don’t like the idea of a miscarriage of justice. Whatever impression you may get from the media, not all policemen are bent. The trouble is, there’s nothing I can do. We only reopen old cases if we’re told to by a court or if new evidence turns up. Which it hasn’t. I can’t reopen this one without authority. Without new evidence my bosses won’t authorise it. And for that matter we’re not supposed to discuss police matters with the public, any more than judges discuss their judgments. Like Mr Justice, I’m only doing it because I’m uneasy. Which is why I want you to keep this under your hat.”
That last bit, at least, was fair enough.
“Not very useful, I’m afraid,” he admitted. “But I hope you can see Mr Justice. If you want details filled in, short of laying hands on a transcript of the trial, he’s the one who can best do it. You’ll have to go to him in Oxford, though. He’s not a well man, and he’s house-bound. But Sarah will keep you in the picture.
“And there’s another bit of potentially good news. Sarah asked me to say that she’s trying to get clearance to visit your Dad. She wrote first to him, suggesting that he apply for a visiting order — the initiative has to come from the prisoner — and then she wrote to the governor asking him to relax the rules so that you can go with her.”
David drew a sharp breath and his hands flew to his mouth.
“She was writing as a minister, and I’ve written as a police officer to support her. These Prison Service rules are crazy, and it’s a harsh regime at Bullingdon. But between us with luck we’ll get them to see sense.”
“Oh, thank God!” David was deeply moved. “And thank you. But would this be just for Sarah and me?”
“Afraid so. It would be hard to wangle Peter in too.”
And it would also be wrong. David could not go without an adult chaperone, but this first meeting in five years needed to be as private as it could possibly be.
“Don’t worry about me,” I put in. “But inspector … you said you can’t do anything. Which means, I take it, that you can’t do anything officially. But can’t you do it unofficially?”
He sighed heavily. “I wish I could say yes. But we’re governed by regulations. Just like the Prison Service, I suppose. We have to follow them. If I were caught spending police time on something unauthorised, I’d be in for a severe reprimand. Perhaps demotion. Even losing my job. I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it.”
There was something that I could suggest, but it would be asking too much. I caught David’s eye and saw the same thought there. Wordlessly we agreed not to ask it. So we thanked the inspector. His visit, in a way, had been a let-down, but it had also brought potentially good news. In silence we saw him down to the entrance, where he shook our hands and wished us luck. He unlocked his car, but instead of getting in he stood for a full minute jingling his keys and staring out from the floodlit foreground into the black beyond. Abruptly he relocked the car and turned back to us. A noisy bunch of students was coming in from the sports centre.
“May we go up to your room again? It isn’t private enough here.”
Up we went, still in silence: a puzzled silence on our part. Only when our door was shut did he speak.
“I saw you looking at each other and not saying what you’d have liked to say. You were wondering, since I can’t do it in police time, why I couldn’t do it in my off-duty time. But you were too polite to say so. Or too considerate.”
There weren’t many flies on Detective Chief Inspector Gentleman.
“And you’ve shamed me into saying yes. I’ll try.”
“Thank you. We appreciate that, very much.”
“Mind you, it’s still against regulations, and it takes a lot for a police officer to admit that he’s going to break them deliberately. So there’s even more need to keep this under your hat. Not a word, please, to anyone, except Sarah and Mr Justice.”
“Understood. But may we tell my parents?” I asked. “They’re both hospital consultants. They know all about David. And about confidentiality.”
“Oh yes. Sarah said you were their patient, David. Yes, all right.”
“Thank you. What exactly are you going to do?”
“Look in our records. We may have a transcript of the court proceedings. We’ll certainly have our investigation notes and the autopsy report and the forensic report. I’ll have to locate them and find a way of borrowing them. Then I’ll have to read them in the hope of finding something they missed first time round. Always assuming it exists. But I can’t delegate the donkey work to my minions as I usually do. I’ll have to do it all myself. All in my spare time. So it’s going to be a slow job. Meanwhile, if you have any bright ideas, give me a ring. Not on the police line, not on any account. Best text my private mobile and I’ll call back. Let me write the number down for you.”
This time we thanked him profusely. He really was putting himself out on our behalf.
“And on his own behalf,” David observed as the car pulled away. “I think he’s feeling bad at having said nothing five years ago.”
In the lift I gave him a kiss. “And you’re feeling bad at all these horrors being resurrected.”
“Yes. But they have to be.”
We abandoned Tennyson and chewed over the inspector instead. We liked him. He had given us cause for hope, if only limited hope. A visit to David’s Dad was excellent, should it materialise. Mr Justice sounded promising, should he materialise. But what Tom Gentleman was looking for might not even exist. And like everybody else he had warned us not to expect immediate results. More patience was called for. More twiddling of thumbs.NEXT CHAPTER