This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1341 words.
Don and Jean Sinclair were still stuck in the hotel. They were told that forensic specialists were going back in, and it would be a few more days before they could go home. Their liaison officer mentioned he would like them to appear on a televised appeal for witnesses. Don had pointed to his grief-stricken wife, and said one word. “Really?”. The policeman swallowed hard before replying. “Jean’s condition would actually make that appeal more effective, Don, believe me. Please think about it. I am sure you want to do everything you can to help us catch Allan’s murderer”. Don wiped his lips with the fingers of his left hand. “I am happy to go on telly, and make a statement. I have something to say. Not sure we should put Jean through that though. I will talk about it to her in private”.
By Tuesday morning, Sally still had nothing. No footprints, no witnesses, nothing to tie anyone to the crime. She was banking on the second sweep of the forensics team to uncover something. Inspector Mullins just kept issuing pointless instructions, and Mr Singh was on the phone three times a day, chasing progress. She knew if she didn’t come up with something concrete soon, they would hand it all over to the city squad. Young Sandy Kelly put his head around the door of the incident room. “Sarge, I have been going over the house-to-house reports, tying them in with CCTV footage. There’s something you might want to see”. She followed him back into the technical room, and looked over his shoulder as he rewound something on one of the screens. “This is the neighbour’s car, the wife’s”. He checked a typed sheet. “Lucy Conroy. She said that she had been away, attending some seminar in the city. Well, this is her car heading south, and here it is again, picking up someone from the station. We get it again, still heading south, and she takes the trunk road. Totally the wrong direction for the city”.
Sally frowned. “That man she is picking up is definitely not her husband. He looks foreign. Is there anything showing her coming back, the same day?”. Sandy shook his head. “No, we are looking further south, to see where she went. I have requested traffic camera footage within a one-hundred mile radius”. Sally stood up straight. “Good work, Sandy. Keep at it”. Walking back into the department, she knocked on the door of Inspector Mullins’ office and walked straight in. “Boss, there’s something strange about one of the neighbour’s movements on Friday. Lucy Conroy, the woman next door to the Sinclairs. I think I should have her in for a chat”. Mullins nodded. “Be careful though, her husband is Alexander Conroy, the big cheese in the local Council. He knows everyone. Play nice”.
Tom Henderson was off his supposed line of enquiry. He knew the forensic team was in the Sinclair family’s house, and he had diverted to Waterloo Close to have a proper look around. Last time, he had been sent off to check out the burglars, and had little time to examine the property. He pulled over his car in front of the cordon, and struggled into the plastic overshoes. As he started toward the house, his mobile rang. “Henderson”.
“Hi Tom, it’s Sally here, I wanted to know if you had got any further with the lead on that burglar, Kenny something”. Tom paused before answering. “I doubt it was him, sarge. Not his style to hit anyone, and although he has nobody to corroborate his alibi, his car wasn’t seen on CCTV anywhere in the vicinity, at any time. And as far as I know, none of his prints or DNA turned up at the scene. Besides, he has to go to the dentist and get an abscess seen to, so that much was true”. Sally sounded disappointed. “OK, keep at your contacts. I’m going over to talk to the neighbour, Lucy Conroy. She has been telling us fibs. Naughty girl”. Tom hung up, and walked through the Sinclair’s side gate into the garden.
They were the last but one house on that side. Behind them and the Conroys, fields stretched out as far as the trunk road. And at the end of the close, a woodland area marked the boundary of the small Nature Reserve. Two houses opposite had security cameras, but they had shown nothing suspicious on Friday evening. Cars coming home from work, all accounted for. A pizza delivery at number six around eight, all checked and confirmed. Most of the residents were middle aged or elderly; so no parties or late night taxis, and no movement of the cars they owned once they got home. It seemed to Tom that there was only one answer. Whoever killed Allan had entered from the fields or the Nature Reserve, and waited until it got dark, before escaping in the same direction. But there were no footprints, and the whole area had been searched since Sunday, with not a single clue discovered.
Tom knew better. There was always a clue.
Since returning to work on Monday, Alex carried on as normal of course. Some of the staff came in and offered sympathy. After all, the boy was his neighbour, and they presumed he knew him well. Behind their words was their desire to learn more details of course, and they looked disappointed when he could offer no more than they already knew. People loved to hear gory details from someone in the know.
Tom stood for a long time, taking in the garden. He pictured himself as the criminal. How would he escape? The back fence meant a long trudge over the field. At least ten minutes in plain sight in the open. Going through the side gate led back into the close, and possibly being seen by residents. The fence to the left was the same deal, leading into the gap between numbers five and seven, and back into the street. Tom looked at the fence to the right, shared with the Conroy’s much larger garden at number nine. He looked at the large planter pots in a row, and walked over to inspect them. Each one contained a fairly mature shrub. They didn’t appear to have recently been watered, at least the earth in them was dry. The promised rain last week had come to nothing, certainly not enough to dampen the soil. They had also seen better days, weather-stained, with dirty rims. He guessed that the Sinclairs were not that keen on gardening. Tom wondered if the crime scene people had moved them, to look for clues. But there were no scuffs or marks to indicate that.
He started to walk slowly down the row, until something caught his eye. At the back of one pot, obscured by the foliage, the rim was white. Not clean, but brighter than any of the rest. He took out his mobile, and shot a few pictures on the phone camera. Then he pulled himself up the fence, glancing quickly over at what was on the other side, before he lost his grip. A large garden storage box was on the Conroy’s side. Whoever did this had probably escaped through their garden, stepping on the edge of the pot, to vault over onto the storage box. Across the lawn, and over the next fence into the Nature Reserve. That would be out of sight of any local cameras, and unseen by anyone in the close. Unless Mr Conroy had noticed anything of course.
Tom made a note in his book. He would have to arrange to have a word with Mr Alexander Conroy. And as he walked back to the car, he had another thought. How did the killer know the storage box was in the Conroy’s garden? Unless he had either been upstairs in the house, and had seen it through the back window, or had possibly been in the garden next door at one time. Interesting.
To be continued…