A Liam Collins Mystery by Kevin Tye
Wallace Tiernan whistled as he threaded his way between the plots and markers pushing his wheelbarrow. He stopped for a moment and examined one of the markers. This was his favourite section of the yard. Tiernan never referred to it by its full name, as far as he was concerned, it was simply the yard. This was the oldest part and he always felt at peace here. A large oak spread its canopy over this corner, giving it a coolness and calmness that Tiernan loved.
Wallace, or Wally as he was known by his friends, took out a grubby looking hankie to mop his brow. He was a tall scarecrow of a man and his mishmash of differently styled clothes draping his spare frame made him look like a jumble sale on a stick. Wiping away the sweat he looked up into the clear blue cloudless sky. It was going to be a hot one. Only half past eight and already it was nearly eighty degrees. Wally stuffed the hankie back into his pocket and bent to take the handles of the wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was the only piece of equipment he didn't leave by the side of an unfinished hole. Wally had been taught by his predecessor in the job that spades came and went, shovels were two a penny, but a good wheelbarrow was worth its weight in gold. His back gave a creak as he straightened, but he took the strain and began pushing the barrow towards the new section of the yard.
He rolled the barrow to the edge of the new section and stopped. He had the final bit of digging to do on that last hole and he was finished for a day or two. The hole in question was two rows over and three rows down. He picked up the barrow again and began the trudge to the hole.
As he approached the edge of the hole, he could see something at the bottom of it. It seemed to be about the size of a body. Leaning over the edge he peered in.
The blue Volkswagen Passat rolled smoothly to a stop at the edge of the grass verge next to the side pedestrian entrance to the graveyard. Police crime scene tape was wrapped around everywhere it was possible to wrap tape. Detective Inspector Liam Collins opened the passenger door of the Passat and stepped out onto the verge. He walked across the grass towards the pedestrian gate, glancing back over his shoulder at the car.
'Are you planning on coming Sergeant, or are you waiting for a gilt edged invitation?'
'Sorry Sir.' The short harried looking man hurriedly closed his door and locked the car. He quickly walked over his now receding superior. Detective Sergeant Roger Desmond was a slight, weasel faced man with sparse thinning hair and a long pointed nose. His wrinkled beige suit was a size too big for him making him look like a boy wearing his father's clothes.
In contrast, Collins was a tall slim good looking man in his early thirties. He had a shock of blue-black hair, severely in need of a trim and contrasting with his neatly trimmed van dyke beard and moustache. His lightweight dove grey summer suit fit him as if tailored to his exact measurements, and the lilac shirt and dark purple tie he wore complemented each other perfectly, the tie matching the jacket's top pocket handkerchief. The whole ensemble in his opinion, made him look devilishly handsome.
Collins was on the promotions fast track. He was the youngest officer to make Detective Inspector in the Wessex Region, consequently, his was a rising star on which many of the junior officers were attempting to hitch a ride.
Opening the gate and ducking under the crime scene tape, he stepped into the graveyard, not bothering to hold the gate open for his Detective Sergeant. Stepping carefully forward he looked around for the actual crime scene. The Sergeant was almost running as he came up behind him.
'I think it's over there Sir.' he said gesturing over to the far corner of the graveyard.
'I had pretty much guessed that Desmond. The milling wooden tops and forensics people were a bit of a give away. What do we know?'
'The gravedigger, a Mr...' Desmond fumbled for his notebook whilst trying to keep up with the longer strides of the other. '...Mr Wallace Tiernan, found the body at eight-thirty this morning. He was about to finish a grave he had started yesterday. He had collected his wheelbarrow from the tool shed adjacent to the church and wheeled it over to his work site.' Desmond paused.
'As he approached the grave he could see something in the bottom. Once at the edge of the hole he saw it was a body. At that point he called us.' Desmond closed his notebook, aware that Collins had stopped and was listening intently to his account. It never ceased to amaze him that whist Collins could act like a total git most of the time, he was outstandingly good at solving cases. In fact, his solve rate was higher than any other officer of his rank in the Wessex Region.
'This Tiernan, is he still here?'
'Yes Sir. I thought you'd want to speak to him so I had uniform hang onto him. He's waiting for us in the tool shed at the rear of the church.'
'Right, let's go and have a look at the scene, then we can pop in, say a few Hail Mary's, and have a chat with our gravedigger.'
'That's the Catholics Sir.' Desmond said quietly with a little catch in his voice.
'Hmm?' Collins had already started off towards the scene. He turned back. 'What are you blathering about Desmond?'
'Hail Mary's Sir. It is the Catholic church who call upon the sinners to say them...' before he could say any more, Collins interrupted him.
'And your point is?' his voice heavy with sarcasm.
'St Luke's is C of E.'
Collins stared at him attempting to take in what the man was saying.
'Okay, I'll say it again for those sitting at the back. Your point is?'
'St Luke's is not a Catholic church Sir, so you wouldn't be saying Hail Mary's.'
'Indeed.' Collins uttered the word with a finality that said DROP IT. Desmond looked down at his shoes for a moment before looking up and again gesturing towards the scene.
'Shall we, Sir?' He managed to make the last word sound like an insult. The two men made their way across the graveyard. As they approached the scene a nondescript man dressed in a white all in one coverall approached them. He had two pairs of the blue paper booties worn by the best dressed attendees of crime scenes these days. Collins motioned to wave them away but thought better of it and slipped a pair over his Italian loafers. Desmond pulled his pair on over his black hush puppies. The two detectives then continued on to the group of forensic scientists clustered around the hole and the body bag next to it. Collins approached the scientist clearly orchestrating the organised chaos that was the forensic investigation.
'Well George, what have we got?' Collins looked at the corpulent, pouchy faced man in the white all-in-one. The man turned to look at Collins with a mixture of scorn and distaste. 'Do we have a CoD yet?' Collins continued.
'Probably something to do with the large flat indentation on the back of his head.' Senior pathologist George Duncan did not like Collins, had never really got on with him. In his opinion, the man was an upstart, a young wet behind the ears whipper-snapper. He even had his own term for him, in Duncan speak he was a jumped up jackass.
'Very droll. Any idea what caused it?'
'Single, blunt force trauma. I suspect something large, and flat.' said Duncan without the hint of a smile.
'Again with the droll. Any idea what it could be?'
'Okay.' Collins had a catch in his voice by now. He didn't like being given the run around by anyone. When it was a pathologist it annoyed him even more. Pathologists were an insular group with an unusual slant on life, probably due to the fact they spent many of their waking hours with the dead. The I see dead people syndrome. He often felt that he was viewed by George Duncan as too slow witted to be admitted to the stratospheric upper crust of criminal investigation that he inhabited.
He took great pleasure in needling Duncan at every opportunity and whilst he was used to Duncan's returned hostility, it had never manifested at a crime scene before, he usually saved it for private meetings in his own domain. 'Care to guess?'
'No.' Duncan bit off the word and looked at Collins coldly. 'I don't make guesses. I leave that to amateurs like you.' Duncan turned his back on Collins and began a discussion with one of the other forensic scientists. Collins' cold ferocity surprised even himself as he reached forward and grabbed Duncan's arm. He spun the pathologist back around to face him, moved in close so his face was only inches away from Duncan's and spoke in a low dangerous tone.
'Don't you ever, turn your back on me. Do you understand?' Duncan attempted to pull away, unsuccessfully. When this failed he grabbed Collins' hand. He too was livid, the anger draining his face of blood and making him resemble one of the cadavers he was so used to dealing with.
'You're making a scene. Let go of my arm!' he hissed.
Collins continued to hold Duncan's arm, 'I'll ask you again.' He bit off the words, coldly and calmly. 'Any idea what the murder weapon is?' They stared at each other for what seemed to be an infinity of time, but actually only spanned three or four seconds. Collins glanced down with a look of surprise as he realised that he was still holding Duncan's arm. He released it taking a step back and giving the overweight man some personal space. Duncan looked at his arm and rubbed it, then slowly raised his gaze to lock with Collins.
'Could be a spade, or shovel.' he grudgingly muttered.
'Thank you George.' Collins smiled broadly; Duncan scowled. 'When will you have an idea of ToD?' Again Duncan scowled. Collins raised his eyebrows. The look said Do you really want to get into this again?
'I can guess if you want.' Duncan made the word guess sound as if Collins were expecting him to eat some of the dirt from the bottom of the open grave. Collins let it pass. Duncan continued a little less grudgingly 'Judging by the level of rigour, I would estimate it at somewhere between eleven and five yesterday. I should have the PM finished before close of business this evening. Come to my office later this afternoon and I will see what I can do about narrowing it down a bit.' It wasn't an invitation so much as an instruction. Collins nodded once curtly and turned away. Almost as an afterthought he turned back.
'Oh George, do we know who the victim is?'
Again grudgingly, 'William Maitland aged eighty one.'
'Eighty one? Are we sure he didn't just trip and fall into the hole, and hit is head?'
'The bottom of the hole was soft earth, there were no large flat rocks or anything else that might account for our victim possessing a flat head. Besides, this wasn't where the deed was done.' Duncan was starting to get into his stride. 'He was killed over there.' Duncan pointed across to another group of graves a few yards away.
'Then his killer manhandled his body over to this fresh grave and rolled him into it. If you look you can see the scuff marks where he was dragged. Trust me, this was blunt force trauma.'
'OK, you're the doctor. See you later!' Collins spun on his heel to face DS Desmond. 'Well Desmond, let us go and say a few- ' he stopped and thought better of it. 'Let's go and interview the gravedigger.'
'Yes Sir.' After taking off the blue over boots, the two police officers made their way across the graveyard towards the small Church.
The Church, set to the side of the graveyard, was a small old building which under other circumstances would have been called quaint. Unfortunately its quaintness was marred by being partially wrapped in blue and white crime scene tape. The detectives walked around the building to the back and across to the tool shed which was actually a converted summer house. When the Church had needed a new storage shed for its grave digging tools, the vicar had decided that a summer house would not only provide tool storage, but somewhere for the gravedigger to shelter from bad weather.
Wallace Tiernan sat on the veranda of the summer house smoking a roll up and staring off into the blue sky.
'Mr Tiernan,' said Collins, 'I am DI Collins and this is DS Desmond.'
'Aye Sir.' Wallace Tiernan had a broad west county accent.
'We need to ask you a few questions, about when you found the body. That okay?'
'Aye Sir.' Tiernan repeated. Collins smiled pleasantly at the old man.
'You work for the church?'
'Okay, perhaps now you could walk us through the events of this morning?'
'Well, I were goin' over to finish off that there 'ole I started diggin' yes'erday. I only dig in the mornin' at this toime o' year. I used to dig all day but a couple 'o years back the vicar found me passed out in a 'ole sufferin' from sunstroke. After that 'e said I wasn't to dig in the afternoon in summer. 'e still pays me f' the afternoon but won't let me work. Says 'e wouldn't be bein' a good Christian if 'e put me at risk like that. 'e reckons the Church can afford t' pay me for the few 'ours I don't work in summer.'
'I'm sure he is right Mr Tiernan. So about what time did you knock off yesterday?'
'I left at about 'alf eleven and came back 'ere for a doze. It was wicked 'ot sir and I didn't want to end up wi' sunstroke again.'
'Did you see anyone about when you left the hole?' Again Tiernan thought.
'No sir, the 'yard was empty as me wallet on a Friday night.' He cackled at the small joke he had just made. Again Collins smiled at him.
'And about what time did you go over to finish your hole this morning?'
'About ‘alf past eight sir.' Collins nodded and Tiernan continued. 'I pushed me barra over to the 'ole and bugger me it was already occupied. 'e was just layin' there starin' up at me. I knowed he was a gonna 'cos 'is eyes was all milky an' white. Fair give me the willies it did.'
'So what did you do then?'
'I got out me phone and dialed nine-nine-nine. It were the one our Carole give me last Christmas. Give it to me so we could keep in touch better, but I never used it afore today. Good job it was a 'mergency call, 'cos up 'ere on the side o' this 'ere 'ill you can't get no signal, an' it said on the screen 'mergency calls only.' DS Desmond had been taking notes all the while. He glanced at the DI and then back at his notebook.
'Is there anything else you can tell us that might help?'
'Well there was somthin' sir. Don't know if'n it'll 'elp. Don't think its got anythin' to do with this man in me 'ole, but since you're askin', somebody 'as pinched one o' me shovels.'
Collins and Desmond exchanged looks, and then Desmond asked, 'And when would that have been sir?' When Tiernan looked confused Desmond clarified, 'What I mean to say is when did you notice it was gone?'
'Well this mornin' o' course, when I got to me 'ole. Oi didn't pick it up when oi left off work there yesterday.'
Collins and Desmond walked in silence as they made their way down the front path from the small Church to the roadway and back to Desmond's car. Desmond broke the silence.
'How're we going to play this Sir?'
'Hmm?' It was clear that DI Collins was lost in thought.
'How do you want to proceed Sir?'
'Well, I think the way forward is to dig up, if you'll pardon the pun, everything we can concerning our new friend William Maitland. Find out who he was, why he was here and who knew he was here. We need to know what would motivate someone to bump off an eighty-one year old man in a graveyard. Let's head back.'
'Yes Sir.' Desmond used his remote key fob to unlock the car and headed to the driver's side. Collins stopped and looked back towards the graveyard and specifically back to where the body had been found.
'Hold on Sergeant, I want to take another look at something.' Collins disappeared back into the graveyard and Desmond saw Collins make his way over towards where the body had been found.
Desmond got into the car. Considering the temperature, he thought when Collins got back he would probably appreciate the air conditioning. He started the engine and pushed the button triggering a blast of icy air into his face. Collins opened the passenger door and ducked inside. Before putting on his seat belt, he paused.
'I thought it might be worth having a look at the primary crime scene.'
'I thought we already had Sir.'
'No Desmond, I mean where the axe fell, or rather the shovel. I went and had a look at the group of graves our new chum was visiting. It seems to be the Maitland wives club, there are four of them.'
'All beloved of William Maitland.'
'Could one of them be his mother Sir?'
'No there was also a double plot there for Randolph and Hermione Maitland and the ages and inscriptions on the markers indicated that they were his parents. There were also one or two other Maitlands there, seems to be the family plot. I suppose he was visiting. Still, makes you wonder.'
'What Sir?' said Desmond starting the engine prior to commencing the drive back to Regional HQ.
'Four wives Sergeant, four wives.'
The Headquarters of the Wessex Regional Crime Unit was located at Lyndhurst. The Wessex Region begins at the east end of Southampton and continues across the south coast as far as the Isle of Purbeck. It reaches as far to the north as Winchester, and includes Chandlers Ford and Romsey. Placing the headquarters somewhere in the middle was a must, and Lyndhurst filled this requirement. The Unit deals with crimes which cross jurisdictional boundaries, or which involve high profile members of the community, or in fact simply slip though the cracks between the jurisdictions of the various larger stations.
The murder of William Maitland fell into the last category as it was committed in Barnforth cemetery. Barnforth, an insignificant little village on the southern edge of the New Forest, does not come under the jurisdiction of any of the three large towns surrounding it. Therefore the murder fell under the remit of the Wessex Crime Unit.
The Sergeant parked in his usual space in the car park and got out of the car. It took him a moment to realise that Collins had not exited the vehicle with him. He opened his door and leaned in.
'Coming Sir?' Collins was miles away.
'Oh yes. Sorry Desmond.' The two of them wandered across the lawns in front of the large sandstone building. The designers of the headquarters building had felt that it was important to give the correct impression. They believed that the look of the building had to be impressive but in keeping with the rural nature of the surroundings.
Therefore they had designed in Purbeck Stone, but the contractors building the place had placed a bid using an alternative sandstone and due to budgetary constraints, their bid was accepted. As it was, although it wasn't built of Purbeck stone, it was a pleasant looking building, all told.
They made their way through the main reception, and up the central flight of stairs. At the end of the first floor landing was the main office for the working officers within the unit, what Collins liked to refer to as the squad room. Here was where the cases were profiled, leads followed up and information collated. This was the hub of any investigation.
Desmond moved over to his desk, and Collins continued on past into the small cubical which was assigned to him as an office. He slipped off his jacket and hung it over the corner of the cubical screening partition. Leaning back in the chair until its back pressed against the magnolia wall behind him, he stared into space. Those who didn't know him might think him guilty of day dreaming, however, his methods of work were well known among his colleagues. He rarely made a start on a case without what he called one of his fugues.
His approach to any case was to sift through as much of the information as he had during the first few hours of a case, collating and integrating new facts and data as they arrived such that, by the end of the first six to twelve hours, he had a basic working theory. Over the next half-hour he sat and thought, calmly and carefully. He mulled over everything he had found out at the graveyard and put his mind to working on an initial hypothesis. Although the information was meagre to start with, he was confident that it would be added to. This was how he worked.
He would have continued with his fugue had Sergeant Desmond not wheeled his chair over and around the screening partition and placed himself in Collins' face. He had worked with Collins almost since the inception of the Unit, and had a solid understanding of how his superior worked a case.
He knew that his DI would be lost in the facts of the case, as limited as there were up to now, and he also knew that he would be as desperate for new information as a starving man would be for food. He had that food, and he also knew that the only way to get Collins' attention was to place yourself right in his path and wait for him to notice you. After a moment or two the senior officer's eyes dropped back into focus and he noticed his Sergeant.
'Well Sergeant, what do you have for me?' Knowing not to beat around the bush, Desmond bowled right on in.
'William Fredrick Maitland, born 23rd August 1930, died, well yesterday we think. Lived in Barnforth, at 5 Emerson Close, that's on the Wilderness Retreat. You were right Sir, he had been married four times and had outlived all of them.' Desmond paused for breath and gave Collins time to cross examine.
'Anything fishy about the wives departures?'
'Not really Sir. Number one died of a brain haemorrhage, number two died of heart failure, apparently she had been born with a small hole in her heart, number three and number four both died of cancer.'
'Not good at picking them was he?'
'I mean he hadn't had the best of luck with his wives. What type of cancer?'
'Third one was bone cancer, and the fourth started out as cervical and eventually spread to the brain, some form of blastoma.'
'Surprisingly enough, only one son, from wife number two, although does have two step-sons and a step-daughter from the last marriage. Son lives in Southampton, runs a car sales business. Maitland has one sister Jessica Ann, who never married and lives up in Peterborough.'
'Oh well, someone has to. Probably one of those batty spinsters with two dozen cats, all called Tiddles. What about his finances? If he lived in the Retreat he had a bit of money, those places start at about four hundred thousand.'
'Seems to be nothing out of the ordinary. He had a portfolio of investments and a pension. He also had an income from his late wife's residuary.'
'The last one. Janet Marie Maitland. She died about five years ago and a trust was set up which holds the remainder of her estate some eighty thousand in an investment bond and pays Maitland about four grand every year. When he dies, sorry now that he is dead, the trust will be dissolved and his three step-children and four step-grandchildren inherit the residuary.'
'Anything odd about it? You know my mantra - follow the money.'
'No Sir, everything seems straight and above board, although the trust was drawn up by Goldwin, Goldwin and Crane, and we know what that means. And further more, Issac Goldwin is one of the trustees, along with the Life Tenant, Maitland himself.'
'Wait a minute, surely that's not allowed. You can't be a beneficiary of a trust and a trustee as well.'
'Actually Sir, you can. Although it isn't that usual, due to the obvious conflicts of interest it can cause. A trustee is supposed to act in the best interests of all the beneficiaries of the trust not just one. I was also quite surprised it was kosher so I took a quick look into it. It seems that whilst you can do it, sooner or later the Remainder Men usually get involved and with the assistance of the judiciary, get new trustees appointed.'
'A legal term for the direct beneficiaries of a trust. Those who benefit from the trust property, not real property necessarily, but that of the deceased's residuary remaining after the trust has been dissolved, in this case the descendants of the fourth wife.'
'Hang on, you said he was taking four grand a year out of the investment of eighty. I'm no specialist but at the sort of shabby growth rates we've had over the last few years he must be dipping into the capital to fund that kind of income. That might give us motive.' Collins looked smugly at Desmond as if to say Look at me, I've gone and done it again. Let's all go home for a spot of tiffin.
'I don't know Sir. Seems a bit thin to off the bloke over a few grand.'
'Which bit of follow the money didn't you understand Sergeant?' It was a rhetorical question. Collins continued. 'I think we will need to pay a little visit to the Remainder Men at some point. Not yet though; I want to see what sort of a place Maitland lived in. If we move now we should still have time to go and have a look at his gaff and still be back in time to go and torment George Duncan before he goes home.'
'Is there any reason that we need to torment Dr Duncan Sir?'
'Just for the hell of it Sergeant, just for the hell of it.' Collins had an evil grin on his face when he raised himself out of his chair and grabbed his coat. 'There's something we'll need to pick up before we leave though. Coming?'