This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 1250 words.
The end of a career
It was obvious that the woman wearing the blonde wig and glasses was not Leonora. The new investigative team could see that. But they were so focused on the idea that she was the prime suspect, they came to the conclusion that the blonde woman must be part of the Quigley crime empire. Under some pressure to act quickly, they allowed a photo-fit image of the suspect to be released to the press. Not the CCTV image, which they decided to keep quiet about for now, but a generic description. Shoulder length blonde hair, probably a wig. Large black-framed spectacles, and aged between thirty-five and forty. Stocky build, and height under five feet five.
Knowing that such a general description would generate a huge amount of calls, they issued the usual police public contact number, and decided to let the local forces collate the information. Everyone knew it was as good as useless anyway, with tens of thousands of women fitting that description, and the suspect likely to have dumped the wig and glasses. But they were seen to be doing something, and left alone to continue to concentrate on Quigley.
When she had bought the car from him, Jenny hadn’t looked anything like that. So Kenny Farrell had no reason to think anything about the short news item, and checked the time to make sure the football match was coming on soon. He was supposed to be fixing a telephone junction box five miles away, but had called in to say there was something wrong with the van.
Although he was no longer officially on the case, Ivor Jones took the call from America. Agata Scultz had been contacted by her mother, and wanted to know what was going on. Ivor outlined the case, and asked of she knew any reason why someone might be targeting members of the netball team from twenty-five years ago. It was so long ago, it never even occurred to her to remember Jenny Pettifer. But her Mum had finally remembered the name of someone who had called at the house recently, asking about her daughter. “My Mum told me that Tanya Birch came to her house recently, asking about me. Not that long ago, no more than a few days. Perhaps she has got something to do with it?” Ivor usually hesitated to give out too many details, but they had taken the case off him, after all.
“It could not have been Tanya Birch, Mrs Shultz. She was one of the first three to be killed”. After a few moments of silence from the other end, the woman came back on the line. “Right, I am flying over. I will be there late tomorrow night, you can contact me at my parents’ house”.
The open wound felt hot, and Jenny was worried that it might be getting infected. There was no question of being able to obtain any antibiotics, so she had to make do with the painful option of cleaning it with an over the counter surgical fluid that she had brought with her. And there was no denying that the stuff leaking from it was giving off an unpleasant smell, one that she could detect every time she changed the dressing. She made a mental note to use more perfume if she had to go out, then took two paracetamol tablets to bring down her overall body temperature. The last couple of days had been quite arduous, and she knew her body needed rest.
But if she rested too long, it might become an eternal rest.
Richard Kenwright didn’t step in to help Catherine, as the Commander became more insistent. “Well, I’m waiting. What’s your explanation?” She tried to catch her boss’s eye again before speaking, but he was looking at his shoes. Nothing to do but to come clean.
“I didn’t have anything to do with the girls on the netball team. I was in the year above them, and already planning to leave to join the force. So I don’t know of any reason why someone might be trying to kill them all, or have the faintest idea about who might be doing it.
But I did know Melissa Silletoe. She and I were lovers for just over a year, until I left school. In fact, she was the first woman I ever truly loved, and we were devoted to each other for that time. We even used to go away for weekends to a cabin she rented in a holiday park. I used to tell my parents I was going on organised school trips”. The young detective was scribbling away on his pad, and Catherine waited before continuing, wondering if this cold Commander was actually going to arrest her.
“I haven’t seen her since. No doubt she moved on to another impressionable girl once I left school. I am sure I wasn’t her first conquest. I didn’t mention any of this to my team, as I could not see any relevance to the investigation. Besides, nobody at the school ever knew about us. I didn’t tell anyone, and I know that Melissa never would have, as she would have been fired from her job”.
What Catherine couldn’t have known was that someone had discovered her relationship with the teacher. Someone had followed Melissa, watched as she met her new lover, and watched as they kissed passionately in the front of her car, parked in a deserted side street. Jenny knew the older girl by sight, and knew her name too. Cathy Neal.
It was the ninth name on her list.
Commander McDonald exchanged a look with the Chief Constable, then reached across to stop her young colleague writing. “I thank you for being so candid, and I can assure you that none of this will be passed on to any of the officers involved in the investigation”. She stood up, as did the young man. “But I caution you to be careful. If this killer did know about you and Miss Silletoe, your life may well be in danger”. She nodded to the Chief Constable. “We will show ourselves out, sir”. Her boss sat back in his chair, shaking his head slowly. “Catherine, I feel let down, I really do. I recommended you for this promotion, and this is how you repay my trust”.
Catherine went to speak, but he held up both hands, stopping her dead. “You have over twenty-six years in the job, I believe. Here is what is going to happen. You will go off sick with stress, anyone will understand that.
The demands of the job, and so on. In six month’s time, I will call you in for an interview, and suggest that you are retired on full pension. Nothing about your relationship with the dead woman is to be divulged, to anyone. And as far as myself and Commander McDonald are concerned, this conversation never happened. Is that clear?” Catherine nodded, barely fighting back the tears forming in her eyes as he continued.
“Go home now, then phone in to the personnel department tomorrow, reporting sick with work-related stress. Go to see your doctor, and start the ball rolling with treatment for that. You will be paid of course, but you are not to attempt to enter any police station, or to contact any serving officer.
Do I make myself clear?”
No longer able to stop the tears, Catherine reached for a tissue from the box on her desk.