The criminal, we agreed, had to be someone who knew the habits of the boys, who knew the layout of the Kingdom house, who had entry to it that afternoon, and who had access to the necessary equipment.
Research on the web showed that midazolam was used by doctors for things like epilepsy and insomnia. It was used by anaesthetists. It was used, as Gentleman had said, by vets. And — what was new to us — it was also used by dentists. There was no resident doctor who practised in Dorchester. Unless there was a doctor, or an anaesthetist, who lived in the village but worked at the John Radcliffe in Oxford, that cut the home-grown candidates down to two.
“Why don’t you like Cedric Riddle?” I asked.
David’s brow furrowed. “Hard to pin down. The Dr Fell syndrome, I suppose. You know, ‘I do not love thee, Dr Fell. The reason why I cannot tell.’ He’s creepy. He used to look at us — me and Carl — with a lean and hungry look. I don’t think it was a dirty-old-man look, not that I’d really have recognised that then. But it was a look we didn’t like. And Riddle didn’t like us either. He was mad at us for annoying his cows. We hadn’t, but he thought we had. He flipped his lid and ranted at us and complained to our parents. But Dad stood by me. I’d been out to farms with him often enough to know better than to chase cows with sticks. And Dad knew that. And that Carl wouldn’t have done either.”
“Riddle had a herd he kept on the Dyke Hills. Maybe still has. They’re Limousins. Pedigree ones.”
“Pedigree? So he bred them?”
“Oh yes. He was inordinately proud of them. He showed them off at the County Show. But never won any prizes.”
“If they were pedigree he’d have used AI, wouldn’t he? Artificial insemination?”
“That’s right. Dad used to do the necessary.”
“Hmmm. Next question: could Riddle have known about your cards?”
David thought. “Yes, he could. I don’t say he did, but he could. We all lived in Bridge End, which is a cul-de-sac. Pretty secluded. Our house and Carl’s faced each other, the last ones on either side, and his was between them at the very end, at right angles, set back. Three sides of a square, sort of.”
He sketched a little map on a blank bit of the day’s paper.
“So from his front windows,” he explained, “he could see cards in ours. And he could watch our response. Carl going to my house or me to Carl’s, or both of us beetling off to the pillbox. Yes, he could work out the code easily enough.”
“All right. But how did you get to the pillbox?”
“Not by the public footpath, not the way we went before Christmas. That was too far round, and not secret enough for kids. We used to go through our garden, through a gap in the back fence and down the field behind. Like this.” He added to his map.
“Carl as well as you?”
“Yes. He’d come through our garden.”
“Could anyone have seen where you went?”
“Only Riddle. And even he couldn’t see beyond our garden. There are trees in the way. Here.” He put them on his map. “But he could’ve seen us cross the garden and deduced where we were heading.”
“If he’d tried to go the same way, mightn’t he have been seen?”
“Yes, he might. But he could’ve got into the field from his own garden without being seen by anyone. More trees in the way there.”
“Right. Now remind me of people’s movements that day. Your Dad went to Riddle in the morning to have his tooth out — we’ll come back to that. What about the rest of you?”
“Well, in the morning we went off to Oxford on a shopping trip. Mum and me, and Mrs Faithfull and Carl’s little sister. Not Mr Faithfull — he was in France, I think, something to do with his work — and of course not Carl. He was mad on cricket and insisted on staying behind to watch the Test Match. He said we were lined up to win hand over fist and he wanted to see the finish.”
“So he was home alone. Was that usual?”
“Oh yes. They trusted us by ourselves, so long as we stayed in our end of the village. We weren’t supposed to go up the High Street. But Bridge End, and the pillbox, and the Dyke Hills, no problem. Anyway, Dad was there in case anything went wrong.”
“But when … whoever … put the card up in your window, how could he be sure Carl would see it if he was glued to the telly?”
David looked dashed. “Oh. Mmmm. Don’t know.”
“Hang on.” I had an idea and went to the computer. A rapid search gave the answer. Easy.
“England beat Pakistan by an innings and 120 runs. It was all over at half past two that day.”
“But how could … um, whoever … have banked on that?”
“If Carl foresaw it would end that day, surely he could have foreseen it too.”
“Ah, yes! And as soon as the cricket was over Carl would look around for something to do and spot the card.”
“And could the criminal have known who was going to be in or out that afternoon?”
“Riddle didn’t talk much to Dad.” David had given up on the criminal being anonymous. “Not normally, except by way of business. Nor to Mr Faithfull. But he chatted a lot with our Mums. They could have told him. So could Dad, come to that, when he went in for his tooth.”
“Yes, tell me about that tooth. Do you know what was wrong with it?”
“Oh yes. Ten days or so before, he’d been out at a farm working on a colt when it kicked him in the mouth. He was in a right mess when he got home. His two top front teeth had been broken off at the roots, and his lips were all bloody and swollen, and he had difficulty talking. So he went to Riddle …”
“Hold on a mo. Riddle’s surgery’s in his house?”
“Yes. Just like Dad’s was in ours. Though Riddle’s is in his front room and Dad’s was in an extension at the back.”
“Does he have an assistant?”
“No, he’s a one-man band. After all, Dorchester isn’t that big. Even with the villages round about he can’t have that many patients. Dad was different. He did much more work on livestock out on the farms than on pets in the surgery. But dentists can’t go out to their patients.”
“And is Riddle married?”
“Don’t know about now. He wasn’t then. He had been, but he had a blazing row with his wife. We could hear him shouting at her, even from our house. She walked straight out and never came back.”
“And no kids? Nobody else in his house?”
“All right. Sorry I interrupted. Your Dad’s consulting Riddle.”
“Who said the answer was a bridge. You know, a row of false teeth fixed to the first sound ones either side. Which meant removing the broken roots …”
David paused reflectively.
“They look all right now — they must’ve finished the job in prison. But that’s hardly relevant. Anyway, Riddle took them out in two sessions, a week apart. The first was under general anaesthetic. He brought Dad home afterwards. We were out that day too, and when we got in he was still wuzzy. It took him hours to recover. And the second time was that morning. Exactly the same thing happened. General anaesthetic again, I suppose, which was why Dad was so wuzzy when we got home. He was watching the telly. Or rather asleep in front of it, with blood drooling from his mouth.”
“Which was why he had no alibi. Why he could have been at the pillbox.”
Suspicions were crystallising. When I had done a bit more searching on the web I was ready to offer a reconstruction of what happened. Or what might have happened. It would not be pleasant to hear, and I held David’s hand.
“Shoot this down, David. At the first session on your Dad’s teeth Riddle sees his opportunity. Not planned out in full, not at that stage. But his opportunity to get hold of two things he could use at some point in the future. He gives him a general anaesthetic and takes out one root. There’s a lot of blood, and he syringes some of it up. And while he’s still under he nips next door to your Dad’s surgery. He knows all about artificial insemination. He borrows … I’m sorry, David love, this is even more revolting, but I can’t help it … he borrows a probe and extracts some of your Dad’s semen. I really don’t want to spell out how.”
Readers with a strong stomach may find the details on Wikipedia under Electroejaculation.
“He collects it in a syringe, and washes the probe and returns it. He stores both syringes in his freezer. And when your Dad begins to come round he helps him home.”
David was grim-faced. “The plot thickens … No,” he corrected himself bitterly. “The plot sickens. But go on.”
“Right. He buys the dibber from the garden centre, unless he already has it. He buys New Berry Fruits in Oxford or online, and doctors them with midazolam, careful to wear rubber gloves all the time … Oh, that’s a point … how could he know Carl liked New Berry Fruits?”
“Easy. We did eat rather a lot of sweets, and I’m afraid we didn’t look after our teeth properly. Despite everything our Mums said. We’d both had to go to Riddle for fillings.”
“Right. Then on the morning of the next session he takes the syringes out of the freezer to thaw. He anaesthetises your Dad again and extracts the second root. By now his plans are complete. Easy to go to your Dad’s surgery and find his midazolam, pour some down the drain and leave the empty ampoules to be found. Easy to take that coin from your Dad’s pocket. When he starts to wake up he helps him home, sits him in front of the telly, maybe even gives him some sort of booster to keep him wuzzy. He keeps half an eye on the telly himself — yours or his own — and on the state of the Test Match. When it’s down to the last wicket or two, say, he nips to the pillbox via his own garden and plants the New Berry Fruits, presumably on the floor. Then he nips back to your house and puts up the blue card in your window.
“Then from his own house, once the cricket is over, he watches for Carl to head for the pillbox. After leaving enough time for him to guzzle the fruits and for the midazolam to take effect, he goes back, taking both syringes and the dibber and the coin and rubber gloves. He finds Carl’s flat out, and strips him and sets up the scene. He plants the coin. He smears your Dad’s blood on Carl’s hair. He, um, tears his arse by pushing the dibber in, and injects the semen into it with a syringe without a needle. That’s how AI is done.”
David was holding my hand very tightly.
“He can’t find the box of fruits because, unbeknown to him, Carl’s hidden it behind the brick. But it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing in it to identify him, or so he thinks. He leaves with the syringes, which he destroys at home. But he forgets the dibber. Does he go in a hurry, thinking he’s running out of time? Or has it got buried in the dirt on the floor? I doubt we’ll ever know. He can’t go back for it later because the police are in occupation. Luckily for him their incompetence saved him, at least for the time being. But he does remember to take down the card from your window.”
We contemplated the reconstruction.
“That’s good,” said David. “That’s very good. It covers everything. Except why. Why did he deliberately devastate two families … destroy them … so deviously … in cold blood? Why?”
I had no answer. There was no suggestion that Riddle was a paedophile, or that he had anything seriously against Carl. The objects of his venom seemed to be the two families. One by killing the son. The other by framing the father and getting him locked up for a very long time. Why?
By the time we returned to Dorcic we had heard nothing from Gentleman for the best part of a month. Presumably he was pursuing meticulous lines of enquiry, as the police have to do. If he had traced that hair to someone in the factory in Germany we were back at square one, or almost. If he had not, we could understand his reluctance to request DNA samples from the whole of Dorchester, which would put the wind up the criminal. Yet his suspicions were surely similar to ours, and surely he could somehow get a sample from a prime suspect. Or did he want to avoid giving the suspect any hint whatever that he was a suspect?
He had been quite remarkably open and generous to us. We did not want to abuse his generosity. We were amateurs and he was a professional. But he was not just a policeman. By now, we felt, he was a friend. In the end, frustrated, we rang him up and asked straight out if he had made any progress. No, was his patient answer. Everything he had tried had led to a dead end. Even the hair might have come from the factory, or might not. He would let us know when anything emerged. All right then, we said to each other. We might be amateurs, but there was nothing to stop us jumping the professional gun.
We began to go into Dorchester whenever we could in the hope of finding what we were after. You can get people’s DNA, we knew, from something as simple as a cup they have drunk from. So we lurked, forlornly hoping to see Riddle coming out of a café, and to sidle in and nick his cup. As it turned out, fate smiled on us, and sooner than we deserved. We saw him come out of a pub. No chance of two kids sidling into a pub and nicking his glass. But as we followed him down the High Street, keeping well back, he pulled a tissue from his pocket and blew his nose. Then he tossed the tissue into a litter bin.
We looked at each other and grinned. We had come ill-prepared, but we happened to be beside a baker’s shop.
“David, we need a paper bag. Buy a bun or something. In a bag.”
While he did that, I sauntered casually up to the bin. Riddle was almost out of sight. I fished out the tissue, holding it by a corner even though I was wearing gloves. David cantered up with a bun in one hand and a paper bag in the other. I dropped the tissue in, and while David ate the bun I phoned the inspector.
“We’ve got something for you. Something vital, we hope. But we’re not at Dorcic. We’re in Dorchester.”
“There’s a bit of luck. So am I. Still trying to trace the sale of certain things and getting nowhere fast. Where can we meet?”
“Abbey churchyard?” I suggested. “Reasonably private.”
“All right. I’ll be there in two minutes.”
We had to run to make it in two minutes, and arrived at the same time as him.
“Here you are,” I said, panting and thrusting our precious bag at him. “It’s a paper handkerchief with snot in. If the DNA matches that hair, it’s the snot of the murderer.”
He gave us a severely quizzical look. “Are you aware,” he asked in a dry and very official voice, “that you have acted in contravention of the Human Tissues Act 2004?”
We gawped. Becoming human again, he laughed at our expressions.
“I didn’t think you were. It prohibits private individuals — but not the police — from covertly collecting biological samples for DNA analysis.”
“Oh,” said David, crestfallen. “But if the DNA doesn’t match up, can’t you just forget about it? And if it does, can’t you just arrest him and take your own sample to keep it above board?”
“Yes. In the circumstances I think I can do either of those.” At last he took the bag. “Provided you forget you had any hand in this. Now the person this is from … I can guess who it is. But do you have anything else against him?”
“Yes, we do. We can tell you how he did it. Every last detail. We can tell you everything except why.”
Gentleman’s eyes widened. “Then you’re ahead of me. But that had best wait till we’re sure of our man. I’m finished here. I’ll take this to the lab myself, right now — we use LGC Forensics at Culham. Handy having them on our doorstep.”
Culham was only a few miles away, just beyond Clifton Hampden.
“I’ll get back to you with the result. Should be the day after tomorrow, with luck. And thank you, David. Thank you, Peter.”
He went. David, looking pale, leant against a tombstone.
“Peter. I need to sit down.”
He was showing all the signs of reaction setting in, and as before I steered him into the Abbey and into the same pew.
“Oh God!” he burst out. “Make it come true!”
My arm was round him again, and Mrs Goggins, whether reformed or not, was not in evidence. But Sarah was. Hearing him, she came to sit in front of us again.
“That sounded heartfelt, David,” she said.
“From the bottom of my heart. Tell her, Peter.”
I brought her up to date, in outline. “But I’d better name no names, in case we’re wrong.”
“Then I hope God does make it come true. But if he does, will I be losing another of my flock?”
At that point enlightenment dawned on me. The Cedric she had spoken to on her mobile on that distant day when first we met had apparently been the chairman of the parochial church council. The name being uncommon, the chances were that he was also Cedric Riddle. If that was right, a brute of a murderer was masquerading as a Christian.
“Yes,” I said. “I think you will.”
“Oh dear. I was afraid so. Tom Gentleman’s asked if I’d be willing to help him identify someone he wouldn’t name. He wanted me to clean a communion cup very carefully and make sure that that person was the only one to drink from it, and to keep it safe so that he could take a DNA sample.”
“What did you say?”
“Neither yea nor nay. I’m all for tracking down criminals. But I’m not happy about using the sacrament of communion for anything but its proper purpose. It’s a tricky question. I’m still thinking about it.”
It was hardly our place to offer theological advice, even if we had it to give. In any case …
“With luck you’ll be spared that decision.”
After two of the longest days of our lives, the inspector phoned.
“Double-checking,” he said tersely. “That tissue. Whose?”
“Riddle’s. Does it match?”
“It does. I’m on my way to pull him in. I’ll phone later if I can.”
God — or providence, or whatever you care to call it — had heard David’s prayer.NEXT CHAPTER