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IN PLAIN SIGHT


Longbright looked around at Arthur Bryants memorabilia. On the opposite wall was a sampler stitched in gratitude by the Oregon Ladies Sewing Bee after he had solved the Chemeketa Rain Devil case for them in 1963. It read The Greatest Secrets Are Hidden in Plain Sight. It was a favourite sentiment of Bryants. What was hidden in plain sight here?

She missed him looking over her shoulder, discoursing on any bizarre subject that took his fancy. She missed the stagnant reek of his pipe, his furtive watering of the sickly marijuana plant beneath his desk, the tottering stacks of mouldy books he dumped on her, the impossible requests, the childlike innocence in his eyes whenever she suspected him. Youd know what to look for, she thought. Youve shown us how a thousand times over. Why cant I remember what to do now?

She studied the books on the shelves, trying to imagine Bryant in the room, arguing with John about methodology. Hed be stepping off on a tangent, refusing to follow the obvious routes of detection, leaving the doorstepping and data-gathering to others while he blew the dust from volumes of ancient myth and folklore. It was amazing how he managed to reach accurate conclusions by examining the case from the wrong end, and no matter how often he explained the process to her, it still didnt make sense. She read the spines on the opposite shelves: Victorian Water Closets: A Social History, Sumerian Religious Beliefs & Legends, Colonic Exercises for Asthmatics, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Mend Your Own Pipes, The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Toe, Tomography and Paganism, Courtship Rituals of Tapua New Guinea, Code-Breaking in Braille. How on earth could any of these help?

Lilith Starr had suffered an allergic reaction to something other than the chemicals in the recreational drugs she had taken, but what? Longbright took down A History of Vivisection and idly thumbed through it. Samuel, Liliths former boyfriend, had disappeared, but Owen Mills was still around. Even though he wasnt with her when she died, he was still the only person who could shed some light on her condition. She decided to give him one last try, but found that his mobile was switched through to voice mail.

She looked up to see April dashing past with a bowl of wilted nasturtiums. What are you doing? she called.

The Princess is going to be here with half of the Home Office in two hours, and weve fulfilled none of the requirements on Rosemary Armstrongs list. April looked as if she could do with some help.

A few crummy old garage flowers arent going to make any difference to our future now, said Longbright despondently.

No, but until I can come up with something better they will have to do, April replied, not pleased at having to shoulder the responsibility alone.

April, what did you do with that photograph of Lilith Starr? The one her father gave me?

Its on your desk in the file. Want me to get it?

Please. Longbright placed herself in Bryants seat, spreading her hands on his desk, amid the perfumed aroma of exotic rolling tobacco and the weird aftershave he favoured that no-one had sold for forty years. April returned with the photograph and handed it to her.

She examined Liliths face, her clothes. Her arms. Digging into the desk drawers, she found Bryants horn-handled magnifying glass and passed it over the print. Lilith still had the tattoo when the picture had been taken. Samuel. It was clearly visible on her left arm.

Hidden in plain sight. She looked back at the volume of Poe, and thought of The Purloined Letter, with its clue hidden right under the noses of the police. She must have removed it soon after this photograph was taken.

Maybe thats why she got rid of it, said April, peering over her shoulder. The tattooist spelled her boyfriends name wrong.

What are you talking about?

Look again. Thats an a, not a u.

Longbright stared at the bare arm once more. Samael. Maybe its right. Kids spell their names in a lot of crazy ways these days. Check with the tattoo parlour and see if he remembers. She rose and collected her jacket.

Where are you going? asked April.

To get the truth out of Owen Mills, even if I have to throttle it out of him, said Longbright. Hes the only one whos left alive to tell us what might have happened. Dont worry, Ill be back in time for our royal visit.

Kershaw took Banbury with him to Bayham Street, hoping that the crime scene manager might spot something he had missed. He looked around the room in which he had spent so much time expecting to become the units next medical examiner. Part of him was perversely pleased that Finch had failed to recommend him. If he couldnt understand what had happened here, he would not consider himself worthy of holding the post. Today his career would live or die by the decisions he made.

Finch, found dead in his own morgue. Why had the blade of an extractor fan been used as a weapon? Because it had fallen, because it was there. If you meant to kill or at least wound someone, you wouldnt strike them with a piece of lightweight aluminium, would you? he asked Dan. I mean, a child could tell its no good as a weapon.

When youre desperate, anything will do, said Banbury, pulling his head out of Finchs instrument cupboard. Ive heard of pens, stereo speakers, coat hangers, candles and laptops all being used as assault weapons. Everyone knows that if you attack a burglar with a torch youre likely to get off, because its an item youre likely to be carrying. You dont think Renfield clouted him?

I should imagine the good sergeants training in the Met would have taught him not to leave marks, said Kershaw. The business with the empty bottle of naltrexone still bothers me. Finch didnt use it on himself. There was nothing in his system.

Banbury rose slowly to his feet and stared steadily at his colleague. My God, he used it on the corpse, he said, heading for the cabinets. You heard Renfield. Oswald knew that the sergeants boy had got it wrong; he realised she wasnt your usual Camden overdoser. He was trying to revive her when the sergeant reappeared. He must have been furious with him. Hed already had Owen Mills turning up in a state just after the body had been delivered, trying to understand why his girlfriend was lying on an autopsy tray, and it sowed doubt in his mind, so he pumped in the naltrexone and called Renfield back to have a go at him.

Kershaw was already helping him to slide open the drawer and ease out the body bag containing Lilith Starrs cadaver. This is my damned fault. I was so preoccupied with Finch putting the blocks on my career that I didnt run the obvious checks. Ill bet he had doubts about the cause of death from the moment he saw the body. Hed have found obvious signs of cocaine and heroin use, but would have known the levels werent enough to put her into a coma, so he tried to pull her out of it. When that didnt work, he started searching for something else, probably testing for the most common causes of anaphylactic shock. And either before or after Renfield returned, he discovered something, stopping to write it down.

Wait, that cant be right, said Banbury. Renfield insists he didnt destroy the report, so Mills must have, but Mills arrived first, when Finch could only have just started working on it. So why would he have ripped it out?

You have a point, old chap. You dont think someone else was here?

Banbury looked up. Who?

There is only one other person left: our missing man, the former lover-Samuel, the man with no surname.

Blimey, it seems like the morgue was busier than Camden Market on Tuesday morning.

An appropriate blasphemy, said Kershaw excitedly. Blimey is supposedly short for God blind me, something thats been happening to all of us in this investigation. Weve been blinded from the outset. Think, what else did you find here?

Ive got Finchs handprints, Millss trainers and Renfields boot marks, but no fingerprints on your supposed weapon, the fan blade. Exactly where am I supposed to look for this invisible man?

Meanwhile, Longbright had found Owen Mills in the very first place she looked-Lilith Starrs claustrophobic flat on the Crowndale Estate. The front door was ajar, and Liliths belongings stood stacked in cardboard boxes in the hall. Mills was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her bedroom, sorting through a pile of drawings and photographs.

Owen? Longbright took a further step into the shadowed room. When he turned to her, she could see he had been crying, but he hastily wiped away the evidence with the tips of his fingers. Im not going to go away, you know, she told him, not until Ive heard the truth. You see, Ive been wondering about your last night together.

Thats nothing to do with you.

How was she? You spent the evening here, right? How did she seem to you?

Mills thought for a moment, caught by the question.

Owen, Ill help you, I promise. I have the power to do that. If you care about her, you have to tell me how she was.

All right, she was kind of weird. Vague, you know? Not all there. She kept saying she had a chest pain. But shed said that before. I dont want to talk about her.

Im not here to disrespect your relationship with Lilith, Longbright insisted. T think youve been through enough in the last two days. I know how much you cared for her, but I want to rule out your involvement in the death at Bayham Street.

Then talk to me about something else. Part of him seemed anxious to tell her more.

All right, lets talk about you. How are you coping?

Okay, I suppose.

Whats your family arrangement?

I got three other brothers, two sisters. Im the oldest.

The detective sergeant seated herself on the floor beside him. Get on okay with your parents?

I dont know. I guess.

Did they meet Lilith? What did they think of her? I mean, you were serious about her, right?

She wanted me to marry her, I guess thats serious.

Did you introduce her to your mum and dad?

Yeah. Yeah, they met her once. They thought she was nice.

And to your brothers and sisters?

No.

Why not?

They respect me. They look up to me.

What, you didnt think Lilith was respectable enough for them?

Not that. The wall of evasion Mills used as protection had suddenly reappeared.

Owen, Im going to need two answers from you about Lilith, then Im out of your way. Can we make that a deal?

I dont have to answer anything.

I know, but you must be as anxious as I am to put the subject to rest. Im convinced you took Finchs notes. Just tell me what you did with them.

I told you, I didnt take anything.

They were there before you turned up, and gone immediately after. He didnt tear them out himself, or we would have found them. If youre only prepared to tell me one thing, make it this. I wont ask anything more of you.

I didnt take them; he burned them. It was like, one page, okay? He did it for her. His voice was toneless.

You mean Oswald Finch burned his own notes? Why would he do that?

You dont need to know. It has nothing to do with your investigation.

I understand why you asked him, to protect her, said Longbright. I know that. You didnt want her drug use to come out on the report that would be sent to her parents.

She hated her parents, but she felt like shed hurt them enough. She said there was no point in kicking them beyond the grave, asked me to clean up behind her if anything bad ever happened, like she was expecting it.

Where can I find her former boyfriend?

Why do you need to know? asked Owen wearily.

I have to eliminate him from the investigation.

Well, you can do that, all right. Hes dead and buried, in-nit. Gone forever.

When did it happen?

Eight months ago. Thats why she took his name off her arm.

What happened? How did he die?

Owen gave her a crooked smile. It was a knife wound.

Who did it?

Nobody you know.

Getting answers from the boy was like pulling teeth once more. In the peculiar manner of most of the kids living around this estate, he had answered her questions without explaining a single thing. Longbright checked her watch and saw that it was three-fifteen p.m., which left just one and three quarter hours before the slow-motion car crash of the units destruction concluded. More frustrated than angry, she rose and left Mills to his grief and his photographs.

Crossing the sleet-slick paths of the estate, she tried to shake the feeling that she had been tricked. Somehow, Mills had told her everything she needed to know while simultaneously hiding the truth in plain sight.


CULPABILITY | White Corridor | IN THE DRIFTS