On the last Sunday of term, immediately after lunch, Tom Gentleman phoned and asked to come round. He was currently rushed off his feet, but there was something new that we ought to hear. When we met him at the portico he suggested we talk in his car to save time. He sounded angry and came straight to the point.
“I’ve been through all the paperwork — the autopsy and forensic reports — and can’t find any leads. But the police conducted a finger-tip search at the time, and collected a number of items from the pillbox floor. We’ve still got them, and I’ve looked at them. There’s that coin, of course. And most of the rest seem innocuous, the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a kids’ hideout. Sweet papers, empty drink cans, a broken plastic light sabre, a ping-pong ball, half of a diabolo thingummy, that sort of stuff. But there’s also a wooden garden dibber.”
He produced a photograph. From the scale it was a good nine inches long, the diameter tapering down from two and a half inches to a blunt point.
“It wasn’t investigated then. That was a gross failure by the police. Maybe they thought it was another toy. But it made me wonder whether the rape was really what it seemed. Whether it might have been this that caused Carl’s injuries, rather than, um” — he was clearly trying to be delicate — “what everyone assumed. So I had it tested. It still carries traces of faeces and blood. From the DNA, both were Carl’s. The medical advice is that if this dibber were forced into him it would readily tear his, um, sphincter.”
I was gobsmacked, and David seemed in shock.
“Remember he was unconscious,” I said, my arm round him. “He wouldn’t have felt anything.”
“Technically,” the inspector continued, “it would still be rape. But it raises a host of questions. Was the scene set up to mislead? Is the semen actually a red herring? Does paedophilia really come into the picture at all? There’s a whole range of possibilities opening up. So …”
He paused, in rueful recollection it seemed, rather than for effect.
“… so I went to my boss for authority to reopen the case. And I got it.” He laughed hollowly. “It was hard work explaining why I’d poked my nose into this, but I got away with only a mild reprimand. And if I can prove it was a set-up and your Dad is innocent, I’ll be forgiven even that. Trouble is, this dibber doesn’t prove anything. Not by itself — he could still have been, um, penetrated in the other way too, the way that everyone assumed. What it does show is that things weren’t as simple as was thought. And we still need more new evidence.
“So you can now use my police number if you need to get in touch. It’ll reach me quicker than my private number.”
He gave it to me, we got out, and he drove off.
“David, my love,” I said carefully as we watched the car diminishing down the drive. I knew this would be cathartic for him. “I’ve never seen the pillbox. If you took me, I can well understand it might bring back too many bad memories. But would you tell me how to find it?”
He cogitated for a while before sighing deep. “No. I’ll take you. I haven’t been there since then. But I can’t avoid it for ever. And there’s hope now. That things aren’t quite as bad as we thought they were.”
So then and there we walked in to Dorchester. There was still no problem in the High Street. Nobody avoided us and a few nodded. We went the full length of the village and part-way along Bridge End before branching off into a parallel street signed Wittenham Lane. At the end of the tarmac a footpath carried on beside a field. This brought us to a massive pair of grassy banks separated by a wide ditch, stretching off into the distance.
“The Dyke Hills,” said David. He seemed to be fully in command of himself. “The defences of the Iron Age town.”
Hand now in hand, we left the path and after a hundred yards reached the pillbox. Come summer, the nearby shrubs would partly camouflage it. It was low-slung and functional, with brick walls a good three feet thick and a concrete slab roof. At the back was a big doorway, in the two ends were small slots for rifles, and at the front another rifle slot and a large horizontal embrasure.
“Second World War,” said David. “Anti-tank. For quite a big field gun, not just Dad’s Army with pop-guns. Hardly anyone came here, apart from us. Nothing to stop them, but I suppose it wasn’t interesting enough to draw them off the footpath.”
The interior measured about twelve feet by ten, its concrete floor thick with dry soil and dead leaves and bird droppings. It was a scruffily mundane place, far from cheerful, but not easy to visualise as the scene of a tragedy. We were still holding hands, and David was still under control.
“Carl’s clothes were piled here,” he pointed, “and he was lying here. Like this.”
Letting go of my hand he got down on the ground, on his knees, shoulders in the dirt, backside in the air.
“Stark naked … blood dripping out of his arse … and spunk … I thought he was dead … and I lost it.”
His voice was quavering now. I hauled him to his feet and held him tight. But he carried on.
“I threw up … over there.” He pointed again. “Then I belted for home. And I haven’t been back here since … Hang on a mo …”
He pulled free of me and went out, to return only seconds later holding four precociously early snowdrops which he laid carefully where Carl had lain. Then he burst into tears and clung to me again.
“Come on, David,” I said after a while. “We’ve seen enough. Let’s go.”
So I waited until the quaking subsided.
“Thank you, Peter. You see, this place isn’t only bad memories. It’s good ones too. We loved it here. Our own property … castle … fortress. We defended it. That’s what the light sabre was for, till it broke. Daft, I know, defending a World War Two pillbox with a Star Wars light sabre. But that’s kids, isn’t it? We pretended nobody in our world knew about it. We stored things here, secret things, sometimes things we weren’t supposed to have. We found a loose brick and worked it free and hollowed it out behind to put them in. And kept paper and pencil there so we could leave messages if we weren’t here together. All kids’ stuff. Where is it? Oh yes, here.”
He went to the end wall and put his hand on a brick. I could now see that the pointing around it was missing, but without his guidance I would never have noticed.
“How do you get it out?”
With fingers either side he wiggled it free.
“The pencil’s probably still here.” He bent to peer in. “Oh my God!”
He turned to me wide-eyed, and I looked in myself.
In the murk at the back of the recess a spider was scuttling to safety behind a small cardboard box, on whose side were printed the words
The original and the best
NEW BERRY FRUITS
assorted fruit jellies with a
in a sugar glaze
On top of it seemed to be a slip of paper. We stared at each other.
“Better not touch it,” I said. “Let’s get the inspector here. PDQ.”
David nodded, speechless. I dug out my mobile and rang Gentleman’s police number. He answered immediately. I explained where we were and what we had found.
“Oh damn! And I’ve only just got back to HQ. But it doesn’t sound like the full forensic team’s needed.”
“No. Just careful removal. In case of fingerprints.” But that was teaching grandma to suck eggs, wasn’t it?
“OK then. I’ll be with you in, oh, half an hour. But I haven’t been to the pillbox yet. Tell me how to find it.”
“High Street, Henley Road, fork right into Bridge End, fork right again into Wittenham Lane, park at the far end, footpath straight ahead. We’ll meet you a couple of hundred yards along the path.” It was three o’clock, and midwinter. “You’ll probably need torches before you’re done.”
“Thanks, Peter. See you.”
We hung around, growing steadily colder, trying to work out the meaning of this.
The forensic conclusion, Gentleman had said, was that Carl had ingested the midazolam in some sweets, most likely New Berry Fruits. It looked as if that was right. And it looked as if, having eaten some, he had hidden the rest away for David. And that only then had the drug taken effect and he had lost consciousness.
“That would fit,” said David. “We always shared whatever we got.”
After half an hour we moved back to the footpath, and eventually Gentleman hove into sight accompanied by a young detective constable, whom he introduced as Kevin, carrying a large black bag. We led them to the pillbox and showed them the recess and its contents.
“You haven’t touched it? Brilliant. You’ve got your heads screwed on. But we knew that already. Would you hold the torch?”
The daylight was already fading, and we held the torch while both men donned rubber gloves. Kevin took a few flash photos before fishing in the recess with a slender pair of tongs. Out came the slip of paper, to go straight into a transparent plastic envelope. Out came the box, which went into a plastic bag, followed by a stub of a pencil and a few more slips of paper, which went into more envelopes. Gentleman took the torch to look closely inside.
“Nothing else,” he confirmed, sliding the brick into place again. “But we’ll come back in the morning to double-check and to give the floor another going-over. And while we’re here, David, would you show me where you found Carl?”
David moved the snowdrops to one side, got back on the ground, and demonstrated again. Kevin took a few more photos. David stood up, brushed dirt off his trousers, and replaced the flowers.
“Thank you,” said Gentleman. “Right, we’re done here. Would you come back to our car, please? We need a statement from you.”
In their car, we sat in the back and began to warm up. The inspector switched on the light and took something from the black bag. He looked at it and sat stroking his chin.
“David, I’m afraid this is going to be very painful. This paper is a note to you from Carl. You can’t keep it, but at least you can see it. Don’t take it out of the envelope.”
He handed it over. Through the transparent plastic most of the boyish scrawl was easily read.
‘D, saw your card. Where did you get these? And why did you leave them out, you goon? Anyone could have scoffed them. But I’ve left half for you. C.’
Those last few words were less legible, as if Carl was beginning to be overcome by drowsiness. My arm round David could feel how painful it was, this last message from his best friend, finally delivered five years on. The inspector understood. He waited a full minute before going on.
“I’m truly sorry to push you at a time like this, David, but I do need to understand the set-up. Can you explain how you used the pillbox?”
David repeated what he had told me. At the wheel, Kevin was writing, presumably in shorthand.
“How many people would have known you used it?”
“Very few. Our families did, but we didn’t tell other kids because we wanted to keep it to ourselves.”
“And who might have known about the brick?”
“Nobody. That really was secret.”
“And what’s that about your card?” the inspector asked.
“Well, our houses faced each other, and our bedrooms were both at the front. We didn’t have mobiles, so we’d worked out a simple code to communicate. A red card propped up in one of our windows meant come here, me to Carl or Carl to me. A blue card meant go to the pillbox.”
“So it would’ve been a blue card up that day?”
“Must have been. But I didn’t put it up.”
“So someone else did, to lure him …” Gentleman changed tack. “Was Carl fond of New Berry Fruits?”
“And how. We both were. Any sweets, come to that. But we only got New Berries if someone gave them to us. Far too pricey for our pocket money.”
“Thank you. And finally, would you explain exactly how you found the cache this afternoon? Peter, your turn.”
I did so.
“Right, that’s the lot for now. We’ll get this typed up and I’ll bring it to Dorcic for you to sign. And David, I’ll bring a photocopy of Carl’s note for you to keep. But the forensic types have got to go over all this stuff, which will take perhaps a couple of days. So if I come over on Tuesday evening there should be some news by then. But I’ll give you a ring in advance, to confirm if that’s all right.”
“Have you,” asked David, “been to see Mr Justice again? He said he needed to talk to you. He suspected someone, and we think he wanted to tell you who.”
“Yes, I have. He asked me to. He didn’t tell you who it was he suspected, which was very proper. But he told me as a police officer. And sorry, I’m not going to tell you either.”
Foiled again. “And are you going to tell my Dad the case has been reopened?”
“Yes, I am. I need to talk to him anyway.”
They dropped us off at the Dorcic gate. There was still half an hour before dinner. Time for two glasses of sherry each, not the usual one. We felt we deserved them. And time for a long deep kiss into the bargain, which we felt deserved as well.
“But it would be a dreadful let-down if it came to nothing,” David mused, apropos of nothing. “So I hope he doesn’t raise Dad’s hopes too high.”
It was not until Wednesday evening that the inspector called. First he handed over the promised photocopy. Then he had us read and sign our statements. Then he reported on his visit to Mr Kingdom, who was elated at the case being reopened but not, he thought, over-elated. Then he broke his news bit by bit, leaving the most exciting item to the end.
“The dibber could well have come from the garden centre at Golden Balls. They sell that sort, and they did five years ago. But a small casual sale that far back … they don’t remember it. And they haven’t kept a record. Why should they? That’s going to be my problem throughout.
“It’s going to be the same with the New Berry Fruits. They were in a 200-gram box, sixteen of them, in two layers. Eight had gone, presumably into Carl. Eight were left, spiked with midazolam. Easily injected with a syringe. They’re very sweet, plenty sweet enough to mask any taste. Midazolam’s usually administered by injection, when it acts very fast, but it can be taken orally, which slows down the effect. Trouble is it’s only a Class C controlled drug, which means it’s relatively mild. It can’t be bought over the counter, but practitioners don’t have to keep a register of their stocks. So there’s no realistic way of checking its history, not after all this time. But if the murderer lived in Dorchester there were very few people who could legally have it in their possession.
“The fruits themselves, now. There aren’t many places that sell them, but they’ll still be a headache to trace. I doubt if any shop in Dorchester stocks them, or did five years ago, but I’ll have to enquire. Otherwise they must have come from a supermarket or a specialist sweetshop, which means Oxford or further afield. Or else an online outlet. Precious little chance of finding that sale either. The boxes are sold film-wrapped, which obviously had to be removed to doctor the sweets. Yet your box has no fingerprints other than Carl’s.
“But the boffins went over the whole thing under the microscope, and on one of the fruits they found a hair. A grey hair, very short, less than half a centimetre long. They read its DNA, which took time — that’s why I didn’t come here yesterday. And this is the punch line. The hair isn’t Carl’s, and it isn’t Mr Kingdom’s. It doesn’t match anyone on the national database either, even though there are nearly five million people on it.”
Oh my God! Was this the longed-for light at the end of the tunnel?
“I may end up having to request DNA samples from everyone in Dorchester. It probably wouldn’t be productive, though, because I’m only allowed to request them, not to demand them, and anyone whose conscience isn’t clear is unlikely to say yes. And it’s a last resort anyway, because that hair could be from the factory where these things are made. It’s in Germany, worse luck. I’ll have to have enquiries made there first to see if it could have got in on the production line. If it couldn’t, the chances are it came from the murderer.”
I already thought I knew who the murderer was. So too, to judge by his pensive look, did David. What Gentleman thought he did not reveal. He was poker-faced. But he was not short on intelligence, any more than Mr Justice was.
Next day it was home to Hampstead for Christmas. Of recent weeks, by morning, I had been cursing the fate that took me to the dump that was Dorcic and cursing the prospect of five terms still to go. By afternoon and night I had been blessing it, because then we were thrown so close together. You might have expected that living in each other’s pockets would lead inevitably to bickering and squabbles if not to downright quarrels. But it had not done so with us. We were slow to appreciate it, for it takes longer to notice when the path is smooth than when it is rough. But now, in the peace of Hampstead, we asked Mum why.
“Two well-balanced people,” was her simple verdict. “And two people very deeply in love.”
That was comforting. Deeply in love, yes, no argument. As David had said of me, he was my life. But it is reassuring to be told that you are well-balanced. She had regular psychotherapy sessions with David over the holiday, and when, shortly before we returned to Dorcic, I got her alone and asked what she thought of his progress she was upbeat.
“I’m as delighted with it as Dad is with his physical progress. The only thing that still worries me is his feeling of guilt that he doesn’t grieve more for his mother.”
“Can I help over that?”
“Don’t think I’m decrying your compassion, Peter, or your support. But best not try. You haven’t had any real experience of bereavement or suicide, have you? It’s a very tricky area. Leave it to me.”
Otherwise a happy time was had, most of which need not detain us. Tim was at home too, or partially so — he spent so much time with his girlfriend that we saw little of him. We did see something of Doug and a few of my other friends. We restocked on sherry. We went to a couple of shows in town. Mum and Dad’s catering was generous, as was their present to David — at my suggestion, a compact and high-quality pair of bird-watchers’ binoculars — which was received with incredulous delight.
We went to Great Ormond Street where Dad took more blood. David’s hormones, it turned out, were still on the rampage. Since September he had grown an inch — Mum had to let down the hems of his trousers — and he was several pounds heavier. His cock and balls, too, were noticeably larger. We stayed on at the hospital to help with the children’s Christmas party, as I always had done before. David was brilliant with the youngsters. We passed on Mr Justice’s regards to the retired Dr Helps who, along with several former staff, was there too, and he enquired tenderly after his friend’s state of health.
But much of the holiday we spent in discussion, tramping the frosts on Hampstead Heath or toasting in front of the fire. We tried to keep Mum and Dad in the picture but, keenly interested though they were, they did not know the ins and the outs and could contribute little. It was David’s memory which held the keys to the problem, and they had to be winkled out and set in logical order.
“Do you mind,” I asked, “thinking back to that time?”
“No. Not now. I’ve got this feeling in my bones that we’re on the way to the truth. And that overrides everything.”NEXT CHAPTER