Lynda La Plante
The eighth book in the Anna Travis series, 2012
Special thanks and gratitude go to all my team at La Plante Productions: Liz Thorburn, Richard Dobbs-Grove, Cass Sutherland, Sara Johnson, Karol Griffiths and Ellen Steers for all their committed and valuable support.
Many thanks also go to Duncan Heath and Sue Rodgers at Independent Talent Agency and Stephen Ross, Dan Ross and Andrew Bennet-Smith at Ross, Bennet-Smith.
To the stars of the
My thanks for the constant encouragement from my literary agent, Gill Coleridge, and the team at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
The publication of this book would not have been possible without the hard work and support of Susan Opie and the team at Simon & Schuster: Ian Chapman, Suzanne Baboneau, Kerr MacRae, Nigel Stoneman and Dawn Burnett; I am very happy to be working with such a terrific and creative group of people.
‘Quiet night so far, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, an’ we’ve still got seven hours to go before the shift finishes!’
The two uniformed officers in the night duty patrol car were chatting whilst driving past a council estate in East London, and all was quiet in the residential street, in contrast to the numerous clubs, bars, restaurants and buzzing nightlife of Shoreditch, just down the road. And so the van bearing the logo
‘Is he on another planet?’ said the officer driving.
‘Bit late for a kiddies’ party,’ his colleague joked. ‘Go pull him over, we’ve nothing better to do at the moment.’
As they drew closer the van driver began to accelerate away from them and suddenly, without indicating, took a sharp left down a side street.
‘He’s trying to avoid us. Turn the blues and twos on,’ said the officer at the wheel as he sped after the van and turned into the side street. ‘Where’s he disappeared to? There’s no way he could have made it to the other end of the road without us seeing him.’
As the police car moved slowly down the street they saw the van parked up between two cars with its lights off. On their approach the driver ducked down, seemingly avoiding their headlights, and the officers could clearly see the van’s logo silhouetted in the patrol car’s blue flashing light: a grinning clown’s face with balloons and decorations painted around it.
‘My kids would run a mile if they saw that bloody clown’s face,’ said the officer driving as he pulled up in the middle of the road. ‘Gives me the creeps. I wouldn’t hire them.’
He got out and walked casually towards the driver, shining his torch into the van, and tapped on the window, indicating for the man to open it. As the window was slowly lowered, the driver put up a hand to shield his face.
‘Leave the keys in the ignition and step out of the vehicle, please.’
‘Because I’ve asked you to and you’re acting suspiciously.’
The driver suddenly grabbed the ignition keys and tried to start the van. The officer yanked open the door, pulled the man’s hand away from the keys and dragged him out of the vehicle while his partner, seeing what was happening, hurried out of the patrol car to help.
‘Hands where I can see them.’
‘I was just having a rest. I’ve been working all afternoon.’
The officers quickly had the driver face down on the pavement with his hands cuffed behind his back while they patted him down, discovering a worn leather wallet, which contained a few five-pound notes and a library card in the name of Henry Oates.
‘Just stay still, Mr Oates. Is that your name?’
‘Yeah, Henry Oates.’
Oates didn’t argue, but remained calm, as one officer pulled him up from the pavement and pressed him against the side of the van, while his partner returned to the patrol car to check on its registration plates and the identity of its driver.
‘You’ve been working, you say?’
‘Do you live round here?’
Oates straightened and half turned. The officer pushed him in the small of his back.
‘Just stay where you are. This shouldn’t take long.’
‘This your van, is it?’
‘It belongs to a friend. I just help him out.’
It turned out that the van was neither insured nor registered to Oates, and the MOT was out of date. The control room radio operator informed them that there had been a number of overnight break-ins in the area, leading the two officers to suspect that Oates might be involved and could be using the vehicle to carry stolen property.
‘Why were you trying to avoid us?’ asked the police driver.
‘I wasn’t. I didn’t even see you. I’ve parked up here cos it’s near home.’
‘What’s in the back of the van?’
‘For fuck’s sake, just party gear, balloons, pumps and stuff like that,’ Oates replied, becoming noticeably more agitated as he tried to turn towards the officers.
‘So we won’t find any nicked gear then?’
‘No way,’ Oates said as he suddenly started to gasp for breath and mutter something inaudible as one officer started to walk to the rear of the van.
The officer opened the back door of the van and leaned forward with his torch then suddenly jumped back startled as a helium balloon with the grotesque clown’s face on it wafted almost mockingly out of the van. Composing himself he continued his search, making out a number of cardboard boxes with something large wrapped in black bin liners between them.
The officer leaned in closer so he could reach the edge of the bin liner without getting into the van. He pulled at it gently, then gave it a hard yank, at which part of the bin liner came away easily. The beam of his torch fell on what appeared to be matted blonde hair covered in wet blood. Cautiously he leaned further forward and pulled away more of the bin liner. Now he realized that what he was looking at was a body – a woman’s body. Slowly he reached out and felt her neck for a pulse, but although she was still warm it was clear she was dead.
Easing himself from the van, he radioed for immediate backup, before turning back to his fellow officer and Oates.
‘Well, well, Henry,’ he said. ‘What sort of party have you been to tonight?’
During the journey to Hackney Police Station Oates stopped muttering, even appearing to accept his situation in a resigned, offhanded manner, and on arrival was booked in just after midnight on Friday, 12 October 2012. He said that he was thirty-eight and had no permanent address because he was living rough. He was given a clean police-issue tracksuit to wear, then after his DNA sample and fingerprints were taken Oates was allowed to speak with the duty solicitor on the phone, who advised him to say nothing and informed him that an Adan Kumar would attend the station in the morning to represent him. Oates was then placed in a cell for the night. He asked for a cup of tea, but made no reference to why he had been arrested.
The next morning at 5 a.m., much to the annoyance of his wife, DCI Mike Lewis was awoken by the sound of his mobile vibrating on his bedside table.
‘Mike Lewis,’ he grunted into the phone.
‘Sorry to disturb you, sir, this is DC Roy Hunter from the murder squad. A woman’s body has been discovered in the back of a van over in Hackney and they’ve arrested a bloke called Henry Oates.’
Mike sat up, and his wife moaned as he threw the duvet to one side.
‘What?’ Mike asked, still not fully awake.
‘DCS Hedges is heading up the investigation and he wants you in for a 7 a.m. handover briefing at Hackney Police Station.’
‘Gimme the address… no, the crime scene!’
He jotted down the address and leaned over to kiss his wife and give her his apologies, but she was fast asleep. Dressed and using his battery shaver he headed across the landing and peeked in to see his twin boys, who were still asleep, before quietly heading down the stairs.
En route to the station Mike visited the scene, and was immediately taken to one side by the Crime Scene Manager, who told him that a handbag had been recovered containing documents in the name of Justine Marks. The body was still in the back of the van as there were a lot of items around it that needed to be photographed then seized and bagged before she could be removed and taken to the mortuary. The post mortem was to take place at 2 p.m. that afternoon.
Mike decided tha ...