Monday morning, Sally had some news, but not news about the case.
“Hey, guys. Yesterday I caught up with a few friends from the Burton station. My husband drove us there. We met at a café in the town for morning tea and they surprised us by telling us that we had a lunch date at the old manor house that we had raided. The story is that the previous chefs and waitresses have done a deal with the lawyers for Quincey and his partner. They hadn’t been able to transfer the income from that last dinner into their accounts, so there was over a quarter of a million in the Hyp-Nouvelle account that they couldn’t touch. They agreed on a deal that saw the casuals take over the building and the business, in exchange for a quarter of a million.”
“So, what have they called it?”
“It’s now called ‘Off the Bone’ to mine the notoriety of the place. They now do proper food, good serves at a good price. We had a wonderful lunch, and all the staff were very nice to us. They told us that we had helped them go from casuals to restaurant owners. They gave me a bunch of cards that they have printed up. I’ve got them here in my bag. All the girls from Burton have one.”
She pulled out a wad of cards and put them on the desk. Andy looked at them and just had to laugh.
“What’s this, the ‘Prime Cut Club’. What does this give us?”
“It will give you good service and a good meal at a keen price, for life, or so they said. There’s enough here for the whole team, as well as the uniformed men who were in the raid. They have offered us the use of the upstairs room for a special dinner, should we want to take it. It’s becoming quite popular for parties and weddings, so we’ll have to book. Jim, the main guy there, told me that some of the old customers were coming back, and remarking that it was the first time they had finished a meal there without still feeling hungry.”
The three of them took a card, and Sue was called over to take the rest to hand out to the team. When Sue called for attention, she got Sally to explain what the cards were for and there was a bit of smiling and fist-bumps. Sue had enough, left over, to give to Terry and Porky as well as the uniformed men.
Maria remarked that it might be somewhere that they could take Jenny and Dave, so that she could see, for herself, where the final act took place. Andy agreed, so she rang Jenny and arranged it for the following Saturday evening.
“She told me that they would come up during the day, and then stay in a hotel on Saturday night. She says that Dave had told her that there was something that he needed to do, if they were coming this way.”
Then they all set to work with the current case. The reports had come back on the latest victim. Sally read the autopsy report first.
“It says here that she had been dead about three to four days before she ended up in the tunnel. The lab results on the stomach contents did show tinned and preserved foods, while the water in the lungs was, as expected, spring water that had been through limestone. The doctor has made a note on the bottom that he had been surprised when told that this would be the case. She was also transgender, had been a working girl, in every sense of the word, for quite a few years.”
Lee looked up from the page that he was looking at.
“The girl went under the name of Trixie Petal, but her real name was Janice Bowen, previously John. It says on the sheet that she would have been thirty-four when she died. She looked a bit older but might have been because the life she lived. She had a small sheet for soliciting and had been caught with a small amount of cannabis on one of the regular street checks. We have an address; perhaps we should go and see if it’s still unchanged, or if all of her things were stored. There’s also a vice squad name here, who had been the one to arrest her before. I think he might be someone to talk to.”
Andy and Maria finished reading the FSI reports.
“FSI has found some prints on the door and the grill. We need to take the Museum managers to eliminate them. They also said that an over-the-counter angle grinder would have taken all of two minutes to go through the padlock. There’s a note here about that. They reckon that it would have taken about thirty seconds to have separated the steel plate from the hinge, seeing that it wasn’t hardened. I wonder if the murderer was trying to make life easier for others to just replace the padlock?”
“Doggy has trawled through the pictures from the cameras in the area. None of them show any cars other than locals going about their business, mainly the people from the band night, going home. If I was to take a guess, my friends, I’d say that this guy is a local; one who knows that there’s someone who regularly uses an angle grinder, close by.”
“One thing about that, Maria,” said Lee. “The guy who makes the bridge models stops working around eight. Or so the local bobby told us.”
“What if the lock was ground off during the early evening. That would account for it not being noticed. I took note, while we were walking along that path, that sound carried along the riverside, more than normal. We can’t assume that the grinding, and the dumping, were both happening at the same time.”
They made a couple of phone calls. Lee rang the vice squad in Manchester, where the girl had been last seen, while Maria rang the CID in that city, to ask for an appointment with the CID Inspector. They took two cars, Lee with Sally, to meet the vice squad officer at a place he had told them to go to, Maria and Andy off to the main police station.
They had both appointments for early afternoon. Andy and Maria stopping at the Knutsford services for a light lunch, before leaving the motorway a little further on to head into Manchester. When they entered the office of the CID Inspector, he stood and came to shake their hands.
“Well, it’s not every day we get a couple of detectives who had put away a mass murderer, as well as one our own. What can we help you with?”
“It’s about the cold cases we are looking at, Sir,” said Andy. “We started out with six murdered streetwalkers that Harborne had sat on, and we added another seven, from here, Sheffield, and Nottingham. All are similar. Last week we found another girl near Ironbridge. She was a Manchester girl, called Trixie Petal. Two others, from our team, are meeting the vice squad at a place where he thinks she worked. What we would like is to be able to look at her lodgings, we have the address, and to see if we can find anything there. One path we want to take, seeing that she is the latest victim, is to see if she had a phone, then to see if that phone provider can give us her records. We would like to have the last tower that pinged her, but I know that may not be possible.”
“Right, that’s easy. I’ll give you one of mine for the afternoon, he’ll be able to smooth any problems for you. Head down to the front desk and he’ll join you there.”
“Thank you, Sir. That will be a great help.”
“Always happy to help those who take the proper channels, ask nicely, and don’t go blundering around my patch. Now, off you go.”
They were only down by the door a few minutes, when a middle-aged and rather overweight detective came into the foyer and up to them. He put out his hand.
“The boss tells me I have to help a couple of out-of-town crimefighters. I’m happy to help two of the team that cracked that cannibal case. If your car’s outside, I’ll sit in the back and direct you. Do you have an address?”
When they pulled up outside the terraced house that the girl had lived, the detective ‘call me Bert’ looked at the place.
“This is a fairly typical whore hang-out. I think that you’ll find that there’s at least three living here, and if she’s been gone a while, her things would have been shared around. We just have to ask nicely; the others will be having brunch by now.”
They knocked on the door, waiting until it was opened by a brassy blonde in a housecoat.
“What’s the fuzz want with a clean-living working girl at this time of day?”
“We’re here to talk about Trixie, or you may have called her Janice, at home.”
“OK, where is she, she owes two months’ rent.”
“If you let us in, ma-am, we can tell you. There are a few questions that we have.”
“Ooh, what a smooth one you are, young plod. All right, don’t mind the mess, it’s a tough ask to vacuum after you’ve spent half the night sucking cock.”
The other girls took it quietly when Maria explained that Janice was in the morgue in Birmingham. Andy asked if anything of hers was still in her room.
“There’s a bit of stuff. We’ve all raided her wardrobe since we last saw her, she would have done the same. We can get another girl in to share the costs, now. Her room was the second on the right, upstairs. Take what you want, so we can clear it out. Poor kid, she was doing well, had a few regulars, never did any kinky stuff. Fancy turning up dead, down south. I suppose that it can happen to any of us. Pull the door closed when you leave.”
The three of them went to the room indicated. It was a bit of a mess, and they could see where the others had pulled things out of her wardrobe and drawers. Next to the bed was a table, with a drawer, and that’s where they found her proper identification, along with some bills, one of which was from BT. Bert rang a contact at BT and asked if he could get a print-out of the last usage of the phone, reading out the number and the customer ID. Andy told him to ask if the last tower was able to be added. Bert nodded, asked his contact that question and then asked for the information to be emailed to his computer at the station.
They gathered up all the paperwork they could find and took the plastic bag full of notes, that they had found under the mattress, downstairs. Handing it to the blonde, Maria told her that it should pay for the back rent. The woman looked surprised.
“Bloody hell! Honest fuzz! If they’re all like you lot down in Brum, I’m coming down there to work. You look after yourselves, dearies. And thanks for this, every little helps.”
“Before we go, did you work the same patch as Trixie?”
“No dear, she had a special place where she would go, away from the usual places where the pimps control. I think that she spent some of her time near Salford, either at the shopping centre, or by the University. She said that you met some interesting men, with big wallets and small dicks, near there. I think that she may have been referring to the staff, rather than the students. Of course, none of them will tell you that they knew her. She would also work around the Uni by the Piccadilly Station, she knew a lot of the people from the Gay Village, seeing that she was transgender.”
On the way back to the police station, Maria rang Sally to see how they were getting on.
“Not much luck, here. No-one seemed to know her around the usual places.”
“Try the Gay Village and towards the University. We’ve been told that she worked that area to pick up randy teachers.”
“Righto, we’ll try there. How are you with her papers?”
“We have all that we could find. We’re just heading back to the station to see if her phone records have come through. I’ll give you a call when we know more.”
Back at the station, Bert led them up to his desk. When he logged in, there was an email from BT waiting for him. He sent it to the office printer, and they all had a look at it. The last tower was noted, at the railway station near the university.
Bert pulled out a street map and then looked up.
“Tell your friends that there are two motels very close to there. One is just across the road, and the other is only a hundred yards up Piccadilly. They’re both three-star and are typical of the sort of place that the whores like. The biggest problem with those types of place is that they have an underground carpark. I suppose that you could half-carry a body, so it looks like she’s had too much to drink.”
Maria rang Sally to let her know that the previous location was good, and to try to see if they could look at the registers of the three-star hotels on the day that they knew the phone had been in the area. They agreed to discuss their findings, back in the office, in the morning. The two then thanked the helpful detective and went down to the car to drive home.
Tuesday morning, they got together to share notes. Lee had a sheaf of photos that he had taken, showing pages of hotel registers for three days before and up to two days after the phone location.
“Typical one-night stand joints, those hotels. Both had underground car parking with a direct lift access, as well as stairs without cameras. I don’t think we’ll get a lot out of these pages, either. The whole world is made up of Smiths, Browns and Jones’ if these are to be believed. The main thing that the receptionist was complaining about was the number of towelling robes they lose, every month. If our boy draped one over the girl, on the way down to the car, it wouldn’t look too out of place. They wouldn’t give me credit card receipts unless we get down to less than four names, with a court order.”
“Right,” said Andy. “You and Sally start working through those pages and see if you can get those four names. Maria and I are going to the Coal Mining Museum to see if there’s anything we can learn. We’ll try to get hold of their employee and volunteer lists, while we’re about it. It’s out past Sheffield so we’ll be all day, so will catch up with you tomorrow. Give us a call if anything comes up.”
They went and got into the Audi for the trip north. The quickest way was to head towards Leicester and pick up the M1 north, leaving the motorway at Haigh. They made good time and pulled up outside the museum at half past eleven. Inside, they showed their warrant cards and sat down with the curator. Once he knew why they were there, he was as helpful as he could be. The file photo of the body had shown her to be sitting on the front step, with her back against the front door.
“She was in an unusual pose for these bodies, sir. It has only been replicated in the most recent case. All the others were just dumped in the open. Are there any old employees or volunteers who have a grudge against the museum?”
“We have always had staff who may not be as happy as they should be, mainly from the stress of trying to stop children doing stupid things. While we have safe things, like the café, the shop and pony rides, it’s still what was left of a working coal mine. There’s the winding house, the pump house, the shaft-head, not to mention the shale heaps and a lot of old machinery; all of which seem to attract kids intent on hurting themselves. I’ll get our office girl to put together a list for you, if you tell her the period that you’re wanting. While that’s happening, why don’t you have a look around, take the underground tour, get lunch?”
They did as suggested and found that Maria didn’t like being underground very much. She stayed with the tour, and they learned a lot about the conditions that the miners had to work in.
“Of course,” the tour leader told the group. “It all improved since the sixties, with a lot more safety features and visits from mine inspectors. These guys didn’t just look into coal mines, they oversaw safety in pits, quarries and the heap of caves that dot the area. A lot of miners survived because of the work that they did. If coal hadn’t become a dirty word, we could still be producing, and doing it faster with automated machinery.”
Back on the surface, much to Maria’s relief, they had lunch in the café and wandered into the shop. There were the usual soft toys and snowdomes made in China, but a few models caught Andy’s eye. They were scale models of the winch wheel tower and buildings and were beautifully made. Andy asked where they were imported from, and the girl behind the counter smiled.
“Not imported, sir. These are made locally; I think that these come from a retired guy down near Birmingham. They are wonderful, and that’s why they’re so expensive. We don’t sell many, mainly to Americans with taste and loaded wallets.”
Back in the curator’s office, they picked up the lists of staff they had asked for. Andy had wanted the list back as far as they could, seeing that the museum wasn’t that old, and the girl had come up trumps.
They drove south again and had time to drop into the office to leave the list before heading for home. Wednesday they were going to head north, again, to look at limestone areas and ask questions about spring-fed pools. Maria had looked up some places on her computer, the previous evening. There were a lot more than she had expected, so they had planned to stay overnight at Sheffield, and come back to the office on Friday.
Mid-morning on Wednesday saw them at the Visitors Centre in Castleton, between Sheffield and Manchester. They spoke to the manager and picked up a map of the caves. The closest cavern was the Peak Cavern, or, as the Manager called it, the Devil’s Arse. They were told that the visitor area was a lot less than it was a hundred or more years ago. When Andy asked about pools of water, he was told that there was an area, now closed off, which flooded at times, and was such a trouble to clear out debris before the visitor season started, it had been closed. Otherwise, there was also a small stream the passed through the further caverns.
They had a good look, never having visited these caves, Maria not too happy when they got out of sight of daylight. The next cavern that they saw was the Speedwell Cavern. It was exciting for Andy, when they got down to the bottom a lot of steps, Maria getting more agitated the deeper they went. At the bottom was a large pool of water. The rest of the cavern was only accessible by boat. Andy realised that the site wasn’t what they were looking for, seeing that the brochure told them that the system had been well searched, and was securely locked out of hours, as was the Peak Cavern.
The other two show caverns were discounted, because the water in the victim’s lungs had not shown any trace of Blue John, a sedimentary material, which had been mined in both caverns. Both were also run by private owners and access was limited. Back at the Visitor Centre, they asked about other caves that they should look at, where they were set in limestone cliffs. Most were a long way further north, somewhat outside the likely area that would be readily accessible from the targets area between Manchester and Birmingham. They found a hotel in Sheffield for the night, after ringing the office to see if anything had happened.
Thursday, they went south, to the village of Creswell, as they had been told about a number of caves in an area called Creswell Crags. There was a large colliery site there, as well as a limestone gorge with several caves. They parked outside the museum and went in to have a mid-morning coffee and cake, while looking at the brochures. Of the caves listed, they put a line through two, because they were off the edge of Crags Road, which didn’t have anywhere to park out of sight. The other two, on the other side of the lake, looked promising, or else one did.
That one was the Church Hole, so they left the car outside the museum and walked to it. On the way they passed the Boat House cave opening, with a solid-looking iron grill and a padlocked gate. When they looked in the Church Hole, they were disappointed as it was totally cleared for visitors and had no nooks or crannies that could lead to a hidden place.
On the way back, Andy looked closer at the Boat House. The brochure had said that it had been converted to a shelter, with a concrete floor and a concrete wall to hold back the lake. The wall was now part of the walk. When Andy shone his pocket flashlight into the cave, all he saw was a large ‘room’, totally clear, except for what looked like an iron door with a ‘Danger, steep scree slope’ in faded paint on it, off to one side. He then shone his light on the padlock, seeing that it looked used.
Back at the Museum, he asked to see the manager, asking him about the Boat House.
“That one’s been closed off for some years. It was a concrete floor, and someone wondered if there were any finds left there when it was poured. They didn’t find much, and it was left as it was. It’s not really interesting enough to be a show cave, so we concentrate on the others around the lake. It was filled with rubble and, when the workers cleared it, they found a small fissure. We had a government safety inspector look at it, as some experienced cavers had said that the acoustics felt as if there was another cavern. He reported that the fissure that led to a deep scree slope, which, he said, was too dangerous to allow visitor access. He had the inner door made and we built the barrier at the entrance.”
“Does anyone go in; I thought the padlock was easily usable?”
“No, we haven’t opened that gate since the inspector left. He never came back. He may have retired, as he looked old enough, or so my predecessor told me. The only things that have been inside are birds and other local animals.”
“Is there a key we can use?”
“No, there isn’t, but even if there was, I wouldn’t allow you access without authority from the Inspectorate of Mines, in Sheffield. I expect that you would have to have a qualified caver with you, along with correct safety equipment. Get that, and a professional lock-pick, and the place is yours to see. I can’t see what you find so interesting about an empty and uninteresting hole in the cliff.”
“Thank you, sir. I hope to see you again, soon.”
They had seen all that they wanted to see, so got into the car to drive back to Birmingham. On the way, Andy was quiet until Maria asked him what was on his mind.
“It’s that Boat House Cavern, it’s just so bloody unlikely that it bothers me. Every other place we’ve been to has been too public. Either this guy has found a cave that no-one else knows about, or else he created somewhere that was perfect for his needs. The one thing I can’t understand is how a locked cave, which has only been visited by rats and birds for ten years, can have a floor that looks as if it was swept yesterday.”
Marianne Gregory © 2023
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