If you’re not up to speed on The Bluebell Informant so far, the first five chapters can be found here.
The crime scene was a hive of activity with the pillbox at its centre. No one had notice Giles slip away into the next field – they were all far too preoccupied. She slipped back into the cordon and moved her way through the waiting constables. She stepped up beside Harris who gave her an excited wink before peering into the dark, damp of the pillbox.
‘I owe you an apology, Giles,’ he said casually. ‘You were right about the pillbox.’
‘You found the bullet casing?’
He shook his head. ‘No, not so far. We’re doing a final sweep of the inside but it doesn’t seem to be in there.’
‘But it must be…’
Giles stepped up to the opening and peered inside. It took her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark and the damp, concrete walls appeared before her. Several SOCOs moved slowly from one side of the bunker to the other, carefully searching the floor with their fingertips – moving aside crisp packets and empty tins, disintegrated leaves and clumps of soil in the search across the pillbox.
It has to be in there.
Harris pushed himself away from the opening and stared curiously at Giles. ‘Not to worry,’ he replied. ‘If it’s there, it will turn up.’ He grabbed her by the arm and gently pulled her away. ‘But we did find something interesting. Follow me.’
He led her over to the forensics table and barked at the evidence officer: ‘Do you have it?’
The officer’s hand plunged into the sea of clear bags and plucked one out. He handed it over to Harris who held it up for Giles to see.
‘The missing piece of the puzzle,’ he announced.
Giles’ eyes grew wider as she stared at what was inside – at first glance the small, orange and white ticket appeared no different to the one she’d seen before except that it was crumpled and deformed, but the data printed on it told a different story:
‘You found it,’ she whispered, stepping forward a little to see it more clearly. ‘The second ticket.’
Harris’ eyes widened a little as he nodded excitedly.
‘And is there a name on the back?’
Slowly, Harris turned the ticket around to face her. There it was – scrawled inside the endorsements box – the distinct impression of two words. Giles studied the words closely, not immediately seeing what the letters spelt out until she finished translating the first of the two. The second word appeared almost instantaneously and Giles could taste the unpleasant tang of metal on her tongue the moment she recognised it.
‘You have to be joking,’ she said, staring up at Harris, who beamed happily back at her.
‘I have to say I’m relieved,’ he boasted, placing the bag back in the evidence pile. ‘I didn’t much fancy going up against him myself…’
Giles didn’t respond. The words were burned into her mind. Two scrawled collections of letters that had changed everything…
‘He’s not in the clear yet,’ she shot back at Harris, turning back towards the pillbox. ‘You still haven’t found the casing.’
Harris smiled delicately at her – he even placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as he said:
‘Giles, it will turn up. It’s probably just been trampled into the ground by a careless constable or by Barker himself by accident…’
‘Or deliberately thrown away,’ Giles fired back. ‘The appearance of one ticket doesn’t prove his innocence.’
‘No,’ Harris agreed. ‘We’ll need to take his statement first. Perhaps you would like to be in on it as it was you who helped prove there is more to this than meets the eye…’
‘I’ve suffered enough of that man’s lies for one lifetime…’
She marched off in the direction of the pillbox. She didn’t look back to see if Harris was following her, but she was sure he was. As she reached the opening, the last of the SOCOs was already climbing out, grasping in her hand another clear plastic bag.
‘Did you find it?’ Giles demanded, barely waiting for her to finish climbing out of the opening.
The SOCO inspected Giles with an air of irritation as she clambered awkwardly out of the opening and landed gingerly on her feet on the hard ground. Harris stepped out from behind Giles and, giving the SOCO a quick nod, said:
‘It’s all right, Bellamy, answer her questions.’
Bellamy pondered Giles for a moment longer before turning towards Harris.
‘It’s all clear,’ she announced. ‘No bullet casing but it looks like the pillbox has been occupied recently: empty food wrappings, a sodden sleeping bag, a couple of beer bottles…’
‘Anything to suggest someone has been there recently?’
‘Possibly,’ Bellamy replied. ‘There’s a queer smell of smoke in there, almost like someone has been smoking…’
‘Smoking?’ Giles burst out.
‘Yes,’ Bellamy answered, eyeing her with annoyance. ‘But I can’t find any evidence of cigarettes in there. No butts, no ash.’
‘So there is a potentially a witness who hasn’t come forwards?’ Harris mused.
‘Perhaps,’ the SOCO replied. ‘Or another suspect.’
Giles shook her head frantically. ‘Can I see for myself?’
Bellamy shrugged. ‘Be my guest. It’s cleared now so you can pootle around to your heart’s content.’
Giles was already halfway through the opening before Bellamy had finished speaking. As she grabbed hold of the wall and swung her legs up to climb through, Harris said:
‘Don’t you want to hear what Barker has to say?’
Giles didn’t reply. Holding on tightly to the roof of the pillbox, she wiggled her legs through the narrow opening until her feet clattered to the ground. Then she let go of the roof and, with the grace of an acrobat, gently arched her back and slid the rest of her body inside.
Reaching into her pocket, Giles pulled out her smartphone and, with a few flicks of her nimble fingers, quickly found the torch application. The pillbox exploded into white light as the torch lit every corner and crevice of the old structure, even sending Giles’ own shadow dancing across the concrete floor as she manoeuvred it to hold more securely.
The floor was littered with rubbish: crisp packets, empty bottles and tin cans – half packs of mouldy bread, the sleeping bag that Bellamy had mentioned. As her light hit the far wall, a rat scurried around the edge, fleeing the light as it clambered up the wall and disappeared through a tiny hole in the outer wall. The murmurs of discussion outside the walls were somehow muffled by the structure and as Giles turned around to peer through the opening she could see Harris and Bellamy walking away from the pillbox, deep in conversation.
At the far side of the crime scene, a pair of SOCOs walked smartly across the grass towards her, taking care to avoid the patch of blood in the centre of the clearing. They carried a black body bag in their hands, which they unzipped and placed down on the ground just out of sight. Giles couldn’t see the body being moved, but she could hear the grunts as the SOCOs gently lifted it into the rubbery plastic and zipped it back up again.
Giles turned back to face the rest of the pillbox, shining her light towards the back where the entrance had been bricked up. At the foot of the hastily blocked doorway was the red sleeping bag – reeking of sweat and urine and crumpled in a heap against the wall. Giles used this as a starting point as she diligently traced her way across the structure, her eyes glued to the floor and her fingers flicking items out of the way as she made her search.
She did this three or four times before eventually giving up. There was no bullet casing – just as Bellamy had said. Giles moved across the room and stood in the opening, watching as Bellamy’s team carted the body off across the clearing and towards the bridge. As they passed the blood splatter on the ground, Giles raised a hand to form a gun with her index finger and thumb and pointed it at their retreating backs.
‘So question number one,’ Giles muttered to herself. ‘Why did the body end up against the pillbox wall?’
And question number two?
Giles sniffed deeply.
‘The smoke smell…’
Damp cigarettes or gun powder?
Giles sat perched on a steep section of the riverbank, watching the water trickle and flow downstream on its way to Edenbridge. The first she noticed of Harris was as he arrived and crouched down beside her. Together they watched as an emerald green dragonfly flitted back and forth between the long grass, floating elegantly towards the carpet of bluebells a little further up river from them.
For a long time he didn’t say anything. It was hard to tell whether he was relieved or troubled. Giles could appreciate his dilemma.
‘Well,’ he muttered, picking a blade of long grass and tossing it towards the river. ‘That was interesting.’
Giles wondered how long it would take Harris to carry on speaking. She certainly wasn’t going to pry into what absurdity Barker had sold him, but she was almost certain that the DI was eager to share his new information. It was almost as though he wanted her approval…
Not that your approval matters.
Harris picked another blade of grass and spun it between his fingers, watching as the green end flickered from side to side.
‘Barker’s story seemed to tally with what he know so far,’ he announced. ‘It seems pretty open-and-shut to me.’
‘Congratulations,’ Giles replied bitterly.
She said nothing more. Her mind was awash with a dozen more questions; facts that didn’t make sense and missing evidence that should be there. It didn’t surprise her that Harris had a theory:
‘Barker said he was attacked by our John Doe and I believe him,’ he said, his eyes flickering to the scarf around Giles’ neck.
She should be used to it by now. She’d had these scars for almost a year now and still it surprised her that people would try to look beyond her scarf to see them. Everyone knew they were there – the papers had made a big deal of them. What made it worse was that Giles was plastered all over the front pages…
And yet, as she sensed Harris staring at her, she instinctively reached up and pulled the silk a little tighter, ensuring her disfigured skin was hidden from view.
Harris turned away again, staring out at the river. It was so serene. The water flowed softly past them, unaware of the terrible scene it was passing by – unaware of the great torrent of crashing weirs that it was pouring towards.
Giles would give anything to feel like that again…
‘It makes sense,’ Harris continued. ‘From what Barker tells me, this John Doe was a bit of a professional. He even carried a dog leash around so that Barker wouldn’t suspect who he was until it was too late.’ He nodded self-approvingly. ‘That would account for his lack of identification. A professional hitman wouldn’t carry around his own wallet and ID – he wouldn’t want anything to link him back to whoever employed him, right?’
Giles shook her head. ‘It doesn’t explain the tickets.’
Harris observed her nervously.
‘I’m afraid it does,’ he replied. ‘This will come as a bit of a shock.’ He paused, waiting until Giles finally turned her head to look at him. ‘We don’t think Daniel Barker was the only target.’
Giles stared blankly back. ‘What the hell are talking about?’
‘The tickets, Giles. We believe the man who attacked Barker had another target in mind as well – you.’
Giles struggled not to howl with laughter.
‘Me?’ she cackled. ‘You really have been taken in by him, haven’t you?’
‘I’m absolutely serious.’
‘What possible reason would anyone have to send someone after me? The whole idea is absurd…’
‘You’re a police detective, Giles,’ he replied forlornly. ‘I’m sure you have plenty of enemies.’
The ridiculousness was unbearable. Giles threw herself back into the grass and lay there sniggering up at the sky as Harris looked on. After a while, her sides began to hurt from the constant laughter, but she kept it up anyway. It wasn’t real – but it was the only thing she could do to stop her mind from giving in to panic. Regardless of how stupid the idea was, Giles knew her mind would eventually start to accept it as reality – and then she would hear the screaming again…
She sat upright, grinning at Harris as he studied her.
‘Don’t tell me, Barker told you this, right?’
Harris’ answer was not what she expected.
‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘Barker only told us what happened. He said he saw the man approaching him, calling out a name – he figured it was just a walker who’d lost his dog until he pulled out the gun. Barker ran at him – they struggled over the weapon and it went off. Barker was about call the police when the young woman found them…’
‘So why me?’ Giles interrupted. ‘Why am I on a hit list all of a sudden?’
Harris gazed at her. It was a look that Giles knew well. It was the look that people gave you when they felt sorry for you, when they would love to help you but there wasn’t anything they could physically do to. It was a look Giles knew all too well.
‘It’s like I said – the tickets. Two tickets – two parts of a return from London. On one ticket was written Barker’s name. On the other was yours…’
Giles shrugged disinterestedly. ‘Who’s to say Barker didn’t write them? He obviously wanted my attention…’
‘I asked him,’ Harris interrupted. ‘He denied it.’
‘Of course he did.’
‘But he didn’t deny knowing who you are. On the contrary, he says he knows what it’s all about, but he will only talk to you about it.’
‘I told you before, I have nothing to say to that man…’
In a smooth movement, she clambered to her feet and began to saunter down the riverbank. Harris sprung up energetically and jogged behind her until he was right alongside.
‘He even gave me a name,’ Harris insisted. ‘He said you’d be interested in what he has to say…’
Giles laughed once again. ‘He’s really spun you a line, hasn’t he? He murdered a man in cold blood and your buying into this rubbish. You said it first, he was obviously hoping I was some easy-to-manipulate bit of skirt that he could use to get himself off – but now that hasn’t worked, it isn’t me he’s got wrapped around his little finger…’
‘He mentioned the Bluebell Killer.’
Giles stopped dead in her tracks. The screaming echo had started…
‘He could’ve read that anywhere,’ she hissed. ‘Everybody knows about it…’
Harris nodded. ‘Well, he claims to know a little bit more.’
‘He really has you right where he wants you, doesn’t he?’
Harris didn’t reply. Some ridiculous things had been said today, but Harris at least seemed confident in himself. He was no longer the nervous, trembling voice on the end of a phone – he was a hero. A man who wanted to save the day – to protect Barker, to protect Giles…
Giles span back towards the pillbox. The SOCOs had all but packed away their equipment and were slowly moving towards the bridge. A short distance behind them, Barker sauntered along the path, escorted by half a dozen constables who stared out at the countryside – wide-eyed and alert. It was as though they expected someone to jump out from a nearby bush at any moment.
‘Come on then,’ Giles announced, pushing off her heels and marching in Barker’s direction.
Harris was taken completely by surprise.
‘What…?’ he muttered. ‘Where are you going?’
Giles kept up her pace but turned to look back at him. Her eyes sparkled and gleamed with excitement.
‘We’re going to talk to Daniel Barker,’ she announced. ‘And I’m going to show you what a liar looks like…’
Nick R B Tingley is a crime writer from the UK. After several years working as a ghostwriter, Nick released his debut novel The Bluebell Informant– the first in his DS Evelyn Giles series. He is currently working on the second in the series – The Court of Obsessions – as well as a Victorian-era mystery novella called The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow.
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